It's about the image that some of us feel compelled to create, and what things actually look like behind the scenes.
Meet Gretchen Goldman. She's a scientist, a mom, and the research director at a nonprofit in Washington. Part of her job involves doing television interviews and briefing lawmakers.
Since the pandemic, she's been doing a lot of it from home. And this week, after one TV interview, she shared some intriguing photos of what it looks like from another, wider angle.
(Her tweet is below; if it doesn't load for some reason, you can see it here.)
Photo 1: Goldman, in a tightly framed shot on television, wearing a professional-looking jacket. It's clear she's doing the interview from home, but the image is one of calm and competence.
Photo 2: Goldman, but from a wider, side view. She's sitting on what looks like a kitchen chair, with her laptop perched on another chair, which is in turn stacked on top of a coffee table. She's wearing shorts, and the fact that she's the mom to two young children is instantly clear, since the room is filled with toys.
"I felt like I wanted to be honest about the situation," Goldman told me in an interview afterward. "Parents, and especially moms, are struggling right now. It's really hard."
I've written a bit lately about how entire academic careers will likely be made on the backs of the sudden, global, hacked-together, work-from-home experiment we've all been conducting together.
Sure, there have always been opinions and anecdotal evidence, but up until this year, we just never had data available to study whether working from home could be as productive or satisfying as working in an office.
But now take a look at how Goldman's photos struck a chord, with thousands of comments and nearly 300,000 people reacting.
We're all with her, one way or another. Most of us are doing some version of this. We all have to laugh.
Goldman, who works for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me she's heard from people who spent a lot of time analyzing the wider-angle photo, deducing where she went to college and where she's traveled based on things in the room. It's funny.
But also: Maybe laughing along isn't always the right reaction. Or at least, not the only one.
Frankly this is the direction my own emotions went in, the more I thought about the photos, and why they resonate. It's clearly how Goldman feels, too--honest humor, but coupled with increasing anger.
"Our leaders should be doing more to address this situation, and I'm actually very angry that it's not even in the national conversation," Goldman told me, adding: "Our entire support networks have been pulled from under us. And we're just expected to go on, day-to-day, as if nothing is different, and it's total crap."
A lot of people deserve a lot of credit for the way we've managed to keep going. And those who've had a hard time keeping up deserve only sympathy.
But you know what makes working from home harder? It starts with the fact that for most of us, neither our lives nor our homes were designed for work.
Maybe it's time we at least admitted that. And, maybe we can also insist on a better solution.