#WFH Diaries: Suzanne Kamenir of The Walt Disney Company

Even as parts of the world are beginning to open up during the pandemic, most folks are still working from home. We're continuing to check in with people in the creative industry to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Suzanne Kamenir, VP of creative advertising at The Walt Disney Company.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

Creative executive, innovative strategic leader and AV guru, mom, chef, teacher, housekeeper.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

At home in Calabasas, California, with our crazy family of five—husband and three kids, ages 12 (son), 15 (daughter) and 17 (son). In case anyone is wondering, I don't know the Kardashians.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

Been staying pretty busy. Lots of Zoom calls with teams, task forces, agencies, you name it. Been expanding into some new and interesting areas and opportunities that have been coming up in the company since this Covid-19 situation began.

It's been challenging finding a good room in the house to go into, where no one else is doing homework or playing video games or where my husband isn't on a conference call.

Yesterday, I set up my office in the dining room, then slowly moved into my son's room (he was downstairs playing video games) because it was hard to concentrate, then ended up with a makeshift office in my bedroom, using a folding chair and a pillow to sit on while having a Zoom call with the computer at the foot of my bed! I got a lot of compliments on the bright colored wall behind me. That was pretty funny. If they only knew … lol.

Describe your socializing strategy.

Definitely been keeping in touch with people on a daily basis on Zoom, FaceTime and Houseparty, plus talking on the phone a lot and texting, as usual. We've been doing lots of group calls, and some happy hour calls. On Houseparty, you can even do trivia games with your friends while everyone is on there. Kind of fun to do on a Friday night with a glass of wine or two … !

How are you dealing with childcare?

I've been taking care of the kids while trying to work at home. I'm working really hard on keeping a routine and schedule, especially with my youngest. He needs the most supervision and help. We are keeping his class periods and school days the same as if he were at school and tackling each class and lesson assigned one at a time.

I've been jumping back and forth between teaching him and doing my own calls and work. I never knew I would have to learn so much about insects and weather climates, or review the history of ancient China and Greece, and that I'd have to go back to pre-algebra and start figuring out inequality equations. It's hard-core! We even had to make a 1-foot life size carpenter ant!

Thankfully, my husband has been helping in the early morning doing PE with our son. He's got him doing all kinds of cardio and muscle strength exercises (as part of his PE school assignments), and I try to use that time to get some of my own exercise in. It's been a huge help for me before the rest of the school/work day starts and I have to jump in as the teacher! You should have seen them the other day doing the PE yoga assignment where they were both on the floor doing "downward dog." Let me tell you, they are not yoga people.

We had a nanny to help before the quarantine, but she hasn't been here in two months. My husband has been trying to help where he can, but he works a major full-time job, too! Here he is today, while he's in between conference calls, trying to get our other son's freshly washed comforter onto the bed:

What are you reading?

I haven't had much time for reading these days, outside of the news, unless you count scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, looking at interesting articles that people post on random things, reading funny jokes or posts, or going online to research new cooking recipes.

What are you watching? 

Tiger King, The Last Dance, Schitt's Creek, some SNL, and late-night reruns of Seinfeld. We've also been doing lots of family movie nights! Haven't had much time for watching anything else.

What are you listening to?

Music, all kinds, all genres, every day. Lately, I've been listening to hip-hop and pop. That's because I need it to motivate me while I'm exercising. My kids listen to rap music a lot, so I can't seem to escape it wherever I go in the house, no matter what I do.

How are you staying fit?

Lots of walking, running, bike rides, and resistance bands! My goal is to try to hit 20,000 steps every day, somehow, someway.

Have you taken up a hobby? 

The only hobby I've taken up is cooking. It's not really a new hobby, I loved to cook before the quarantine. I just didn't have as much time to be able to do it before with the demands of my job and long commute to and from the office. I've been exploring lots of new recipes and making some awesome meals I didn't know I could make! I think cooking has been therapeutic. It's about using your intuition and creating art and science simultaneously. It's been really fun trying new things and making some really yummy meals for my family.

Any tips for getting necessities? 

Make grocery lists every week and figure out what you need for all your meals so you don't have to keep going back out to the store. Keep planning ahead and manage your essential supplies in advance. Estimate what you will be out of in two, three, four weeks from now, and get those items either at the store or on Amazon, Target online, etc. If you're at the store and see an essential that is really hard to get, and that hasn't been on the shelves for weeks, buy it, even if you don't need it for two weeks. It could be gone then, and you could be scrambling. Better to get it, if you are able.

An awkward moment since all this started.

Having to tell my son's science teacher that it wasn't my son being confused and complicating things, but that her instructions were confusing, and that even as an adult I didn't understand the assignment.

Best work email you got since all this started. 

Hmmm … this is tough, I can't really share that info, but I was excited about it because it pertained to some new opportunities I am getting to work on.

An aha! moment since all this started.

One aha moment for me is about self-care and work-life balance. I already knew how important this was before, but now that I've been forced to work from home, I realize I wasn't doing as good of a job of the self-care thing as I could be. Getting rest, getting more exercise and being with my family, is so, so important—now more than ever. Learning that I can work from home, and still do a great job without going into the office, is really big for me and I'm sure for many of us. Things are changing now for everyone, and workplace environments will be much different after this whole thing plays out. 

What's your theory on how this is going to play out? 

As far as the virus, it's scary and no one knows, but I agree with Fauci that the virus is dictating the timeline, not us. That said, we need to get this economy open soon! People are hurting and they need to make a living to survive, put food on their table and keep a roof over their heads. Kids need more in-person socialization and in-person instruction at school. I'm concerned about everyone feeling so isolated, especially those who are older and can't go out. We need to keep finding/implementing new ways and safe measures to allow our communities, counties, states and countries to open up while still fighting this virus. It's going to take a long time for it to go away and for the economy to recover.

As far as our business and the entertainment industry, I pray that production will start to pick up again by the fall and that the studios can start making more content soon. My hope is that we will still have great things to keep working on and put out into the world for people to enjoy.

As long as we can stick to the phased plan that the governor has put in place, and we can all honor what needs to be done in the best way possible, we will get out of this place and we will move forward. It will be a new normal in so many ways—in how we all do business, in how we deal with being in the workplace, in how we socialize, in how we help our kids, in how we stay healthy and how we stay safe, and in how we live our lives overall.

I just hope and pray that we can still keep things moving, that people can still keep working, that businesses can stay open and be successful. I pray that business owners and the people who work at those companies, or even those who work independently, can still do what they were meant to do and they can still follow their dreams. 

I'm maintaining the idea that this is just a setback and that we will all rise above it. Every day, we have to find a way to stay motivated, push ourselves and do the best we can and be the best we can be. If not for ourselves, then for our families, our work lives and our future. Otherwise, we will let this get the best of all of us.

A year or two from now, I think we will be better, stronger, wiser, safer and adjusted to our new normal. Maybe something better will come out of this for everyone in the long run.

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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Ashley Falls
Ashley Falls is director of Clio Entertainment.

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