Whether anyone can change their mind is something that we’ve been pondering a lot lately. Usually it’s an abstract question.
These days, it’s literally life or death.
Of course it doesn’t pay to approach a conversation with that sort of weight. How unfun. It’s not like anyone is going to be convinced of a single thing with someone looming over them, broadcasting I WILL CONVINCE YOU at them with a steely glare.
We’ve been exploring low-stakes conversations with strangers and near-strangers, just to see how it goes.
The other day, my hubby was in a rideshare. He had just been at work, one of the rare occasions where he has to be there in person. The driver turned out to be... a Fake Moon Landing Conspiracist!
Oh my goodness, I wish I were there. I missed out on the whole thing. I adore conspiracists, especially when they unabashedly hold forth on whatever is their particular brand of lunacy.
Just pause with me for a moment and imagine how funny it is, the juxtaposition of an aerospace engineer riding around in a car with a guy who believes the Moon landing was faked.
It gets better - he also believed that satellites are not real!
“You’re using GPS,” pointed out my hubby.
Most people, especially screenwriters, would imagine my hubby to be either a cold and arrogant scientist or the other kind, the wild-eyed, disheveled absent-minded professor type. On the contrary, if he didn’t have his badge on, not a soul on Earth would guess his profession. (What else would he be doing? I dunno, but I wonder about it a lot).
The magic gift that he has, and something that I could use more of, is to connect with almost anyone. Babies, dogs, neighbors, doctors, customers, interns, whoever. I’ve seen him break up fights and administer first aid. As he described the conversation, I could easily picture how it went, how he drew out this naturally skeptical man and got him to share his convictions.
His main argument for why satellites are not real? They take so long to make!
Well, sometimes, agreed my hubby. I *make* satellites. Sometimes they do take a long time, but not always.
They talked for twenty minutes, and at the end of the trip, the driver said he’ll believe in satellites, “just because of you.”
I love this. Being in the active process of using GPS on his smartphone could not convince this man that satellites exist. But talking to my husband could.
It wasn’t the “facts” of the matter, and it wasn’t something that the man could easily demonstrate to himself. It was the personal testimony of a credible individual. He didn’t believe “facts,” he believed *stories.*
Facts aren’t interesting enough on their own.
Remember a while back, I was talking about a conversation I had with someone who was alarmed by the prospect of the COVID-19 vaccine? I shared that I was excited about getting my shot, because I’ve already had COVID and I was looking forward to being able to travel again.
[When what I wanted to do was barrage her with “facts” and “information” and links and articles, for that is my nature. I’m helping!]
Well, we talk from time to time and she shared how excited she was that she’d already gotten her shot.
What happened in the couple of months that had elapsed to affect her choice? I have no idea. Was our casual conversation, where we chatted about travel, some kind of subconscious pivot point? No way of knowing. We’re not *that* close.
I suspect that when people truly change their minds, it’s almost always subconscious. More so, I think when it happens they usually convince themselves that they’ve felt this way all along. They no longer identify with the version of themselves that was going to go the other way.
There isn’t really a strong cultural narrative of courage or charisma for people who readily change their minds.
It’s one of the reasons I married my husband... Not long after we met, we got into the practice of verbally sparring over hot political and ethical issues. One of the all-time hottest of hot-button topics came up - pretend it was ‘the gold standard’ - and... after a few days, he actually conceded. He told me I had convinced him. I had no idea this was possible, for an adult to budge on this topic. It hasn’t been the last time, either.
It is vanishingly rare to meet someone who will not only change their mind on a major issue, but remember what it was like to hold both opposite opinions at different times.
This is why it’s better not to go about formally trying to convince anti-vaxx people.
...or is it?
I’m never going to let it go. I’m never going to be able to be close friends with someone and agree to not bring it up.
I’m just learning that it’s better with more finesse, with some approach other than the glowering, pompous I WILL CONVINCE YOU.
There has to be a better way, though. Right now it’s very challenging to live in a parallel reality next to people with the potential to, you know, kill you with their breath.
The best thing I can think to say, to the few people I know who are vaccine-hesitant, is that I got it.
I had COVID-19 myself, personally. Then I got the vaccine myself, personally.
Maybe not make any pronouncements or share any opinions. Just describe my personal experience.
Look at me. Just like over a hundred million people, I got the shot and it was totally fine. Nothing happened. It took half an hour of my time, and then it was done, and for the first time in a year, I finally feel like I can relax.
Probably that’s what it takes, if we’re setting out to convince people of things. Learning to relax.
I had another iteration of a conversation I have had with several people. Someone tries to convince me that they are lazy, after I’ve gotten to know this person and have every reason to think of them as highly productive.
“You are NOT lazy,” I will say, already knowing how the conversation will go.
“I totally am,” they will say, and then proceed to argue all the reasons why they are so lazy.
There is a quote out there that goes “never argue for your limitations”
[pause to find out who said that?]
[Richard Bach: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”]
...but I don’t necessarily think that’s what people are doing when they claim to be lazy.
Something complicated is going on here.
I’ve done it myself, even though I don’t really believe in laziness as a thing that exists, and I’m not even sure what I’m trying to accomplish when I’ve said it.
There are a couple of arguments I could make in favor of my own purported ‘laziness.’
For instance, yesterday I made canned soup for dinner and just chopped up some collard greens to throw into it. I have a robot vacuum cleaner and sometimes I just brush crumbs onto the floor so the robot can get them later.
Another person who read that, knowing more details about my life, might say, Yes, but that’s farm-fresh organic collards from the community-supported agriculture collective. And you only have a robot vacuum because you’re a neat freak; I’ve seen your apartment.
It appears that “laziness” is a matter of perspective.
Chances are high that I know too much about the housekeeping and productivity habits of most of my friends.
The last person to claim to me that she is lazy - “SO lazy” - is an especially comical case. This particular person is one of the two individuals I have ever met who keeps Inbox Zero as a default. Both are basically allergic to having an email in their inbox for more than five minutes after they’ve spotted it. Same thing with having a to-do list. Anything that can’t be handled immediately feels stressful and draining to this type of person.
That is true about procrastination: it does feel stressful and draining. Yet those of us who are prone to procrastination will do it anyway. We can’t even figure out why we are tormenting ourselves by dragging out how long we will have the task breathing down our necks.
It’s a funny thing. It’s hard to tell the truth and say, “I need help! I’m stuck procrastinating on this thing and I don’t know why and I can’t seem to get started.” Yet almost anyone will claim, “I’m lazy, so lazy, no, you don’t even understand how impossibly lazy I am” even when every detail of their life is immaculate.
It seems like there are two parts to this:
One, the virtue-signaling of acknowledging a high standard - for productivity, fitness, home-making, maybe grooming, but probably not personal hygiene;
And two, also signaling an approachable and friendly level of relatability.
Because think of the alternative. What if we all were as busy and productive as our wildest dreams, or maybe even a little more so?
And what if we met, and judged each other for it?
And nobody ever had any fun because we were just chasing each other in circles with our clipboards stuffed full of checklists?
Loose thread, check. Speck of dust, check. Nope, sorry, you simply are not perfect enough to have coffee with me. And besides, I’m much too busy to consume coffee in a sitting position. I drink it iced because it works better in my hydration pack. Onward!
I’m starting to think we should flip this standard the other way.
Lounge around as the default, occasionally do something, and then brag about how hard we worked.
I’m saying this because I’m sort of mad at myself and I’m not sure what to do. I have alternating three-day weekends, and I keep trying to set aside that block of time for lounging and relaxing, yet I keep finding myself doing housework.
On Saturday I was going to read a book, and instead I found myself reorganizing my linen closet.
Why?? It’s not like anyone is coming over???
I bought my husband a neck massager. It’s shaped sort of like a scarf. You drape it over the back of your neck and put your hands through the stirrups, and you can pull down on it to decide how much pressure. He says it’s already fixed neck problems that he’s had for years, and now he’s encouraging me to use it.
I’ve tried it: twice.
I keep finding myself sitting next to the magical neck device, setting up calendar appointments or making grocery orders or... or something. And then suddenly it’s bedtime and I haven’t done the neck massage.
Tell me, if you identify with any of this at all, do you think it’s some kind of perceived moral hazard?
That if we relax we might actually become lazy?
That we’ll fall off the tightrope and wake up to find ourselves living in complete squalor?
I asked my husband, Do men do this? Do men ever tell each other how lazy they’re being? He said yes, and he’s done it himself. Turns out this isn’t a gendered thing, it’s a ‘productive people’ thing.
I was going to tat up this lace tablecloth before you all came over, but I was being lazy and I didn’t finish.
I was going to bake 27 dozen cookies for the school fundraiser, but I was too lazy.
I’ve been trying and failing to think of something that I would consider genuinely lazy. (At least, not when someone else does it. Everything I do is obviously lazy to the extreme). I could tell you a lot of stories about hoarding and squalor, for instance, yet I know the backstories and I don’t believe laziness is implicated there. Not in the slightest.
What is lazy, exactly?
Can someone tell me? Because I’m starting to think maybe I should actually try it. At least for an hour or two on the occasional holiday weekend.
I saw something funny the other day. I got into a rideshare vehicle, and the driver had something hanging from his rearview mirror. It was: a Bitcoin.
Or rather, it was a gold-colored token or medallion in the shape of a Bitcoin icon. A “real” coin made to look like a virtual coin.
I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This solid Bitcoin was one of the single most hilarious and interesting things I’ve ever seen.
What was it saying? I couldn’t really ask this driver because he had a plexiglass divider installed between the front and back seats. Between that, both our masks, and my face shield, there wasn’t much point in idle conversation.
What was it saying?? Payment accepted in Bitcoin? I heart Bitcoin? Wish I had some Bitcoin? Buy me a coffee and I will explain the blockchain to you? Bitcoin bought this car? If I had a Bitcoin mining rig I wouldn’t have to drive a rideshare vehicle during a global pandemic?
I liked that solid Bitcoin so much I considered trying to buy one for myself as a joke. But then if anyone else saw it, they’d probably insist on talking about Bitcoin with me.
I’m not necessarily against the idea - of Bitcoin itself, mind you, not of inviting bros to lecture me about it. In fact I’ve decided to charge for that. I’m available to debate you on any subject for $10,000 an hour, and I’ll let you rant at me without responding for $25k. Why not. A girl’s gotta eat.
Will I take payment in Bitcoin? No.
I think it’s the currency of the future. That or something like it. It stands to reason that all the space colonies will take either some kind of digital payment, or scrip, whether that’s at the “company store” or whether it’s some kind of provisional territory currency. Marsbucks or Lunacoin.
Perhaps it will be more along the lines of an automatic debit to an account, such that the user is barely aware of the balance. In space there probably isn’t much to buy.
It was a strange day in rideshare world, because the Bitcoin driver dropped us off, and another financially-oriented driver picked us up an hour later.
“We” would be myself and my little gray parrot Noelle, who exists in a cash-free world of total abundance. People just come over and hand her radishes and lettuce and turn on various music playlists and build her forts, and she shrugs and enjoys. As far as she is concerned, even your shoes belong to her, so why should she apologize for destroying your shoelace tips?
Wealth is whatever you think it is.
Our return driver described himself as a trader.
“A day trader?” I asked, partly out of politeness and partly because it seemed amusing to me. Perhaps he would show me the setup he used to make trades between drop-offs.
He explained that he is not a day trader because he keeps most of his stocks for as long as ten days. “I measure time in ten minutes, ten hours, and ten days,” he told me.
I’m an investor, too, I offered.
What’s your biggest return? he asked.
Well, I bought Tesla at $42...
Yes, but over what span of time? he asked.
Okay, that’s a good one. I’ve made, depending on the week, about 1500% interest on that one purchase. But he’s right, it did take me longer than ten days.
What is most instructive about this conversation is the context. Here we are, driving up the road, one rideshare driver in the front and one middle-aged office professional in the back. Both thinking that we have any inkling of finance or macroeconomic trends. Meanwhile passing through one of the most expensive zip codes in Southern California, a place where the dog walkers probably out-earn both of us.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that so many rideshare drivers have vocal opinions about the stock market, or cryptocurrency, or various entrepreneurial ventures, or real estate. With a low bar to entry, people show up from a wide variety of backgrounds with a broad spectrum of goals.
I try to collect tips from them to pass on to other drivers.
For instance, I was talking to a kid with an interest in real estate investing. I pointed out that if I drove as much as he did, I’d be taking notes on the neighborhoods I passed through and checking out comps. “That’s a great idea,” he said, seeming surprised. I told him the other thing I would do is try to pick the brains of his passengers.
I told this driver - a Russian immigrant who has lived in a dozen cities - that I’d met another driver who traveled from state to state, driving to pay her expenses. Seems fun.
The reason my driver was so interested in the stock market is that, he told me, under communism, anyone who tried to buy stocks would go to jail. Wow! He came here 17 years ago because he was so interested in the workings of capitalism.
Under communism, no jazz either, he said.
I wondered what these two drivers would have to talk about if they met, which is unlikely to happen since they are both drivers. Crypto or stonks? Both? How much of each?
I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. I like to be aware of what’s going on in pop culture.
I also consider the chatter of random people such as cab drivers, baristas, and hairdressers to be a strong indicator of trends. One of those is investing. When almost any person of almost any professional background starts expounding on the virtues of a particular investment vehicle, it’s probably getting kinda overvalued. You think?
If you care for the opinion of a random blogger such as myself, I’ve got all my new money in cash, waiting for the downturn. Eleven years of a bull market, I ask of you. Am I putting any of my money in Bitcoin? Call me when the transaction costs are down to a dollar and we’ll talk.
OMG OMG OMG OMG
We just got our COVID-19 vaccines!!!!!!
We got our first dose, second dose will be in three weeks. We got the Pfizer one. It was free of charge.
Did it hurt? No
Do we feel weird? No
What was it like?
We found out at work that our industry was added to the list of essential workers. Immediately we went to book our appointments. We could have gotten them right up the street, a 20-minute walk, but we would have had to wait a month longer. The soonest we could get appointments was a week out, at the big hospital three towns over.
Some of our coworkers were able to get their shots later that same day. It depends on where you live and how far you’re willing to drive. Those who were enduring a two-hour commute when we were all working on-site have found themselves luckier to live near medical centers with a shorter wait time.
We were pretty wound up. All week we kept looking over at each other and going, “Shots on Friday!”
We woke up like an hour earlier than we needed to. I already had my clothes laid out and my purse ready by the door.
As we were going down the stairs to get our ride share, one of our neighbors suddenly opened a door and I almost crashed into him. No mask, of course. I had this mix of feelings: BOO mixed with ‘where is your mask’ mixed with ‘do not knock over elderly man’ mixed with ‘oh, yeah, this is one of three neighbors I actually like.’
None of this was visible on my face, fortunately.
“We’re getting our shots today!” I exclaimed, to explain why we were running down the stairs. “We’re excited!”
“Oh GOOD,” he called.
We told our ride share driver, We’re getting our shots today!
“Oh, that’s good,” he said.
It’s about 25 minutes away. We chattered away, remembering how funny our April Fool’s Day event was yesterday.
We got to the big hospital complex and had no idea where to go. Most of this type of COVID activity has been outdoors. It took us about five minutes of wandering around to finally find where to go, a covered driveway area with roped-off lines and folding tables.
They looked us up by medical number and handed us each a clipboard, where we filled in our names, birthdates, and medical numbers again. There was a handout explaining about the vaccine.
After we got the clipboards, we were directed to stand in the holding area, which was really the paved part of the driveway. There were at least a dozen other people there. We were maybe 15 minutes early.
They saw us early!
We went together, since we’re married and we had the same time slot. I took his picture while he got his injection, and he returned the favor.
I chatted with the nurses. I told them that it was the anniversary of when I got COVID. They commiserated with me about what it was like to get sick in March 2020, when there weren’t really any treatments and they weren’t really admitting anyone to the hospital. “They weren’t even doing steroids then, were they?” I thanked them for being there and helping us get these vaccines.
“This is going to change our lives so much, thank you!”
I have to admit that I had poor expectations of what the shot itself would be like. I’ve had problems with needle phobia and needle reaction since I was a little kid. Forty years of wigging out whenever I had to get a shot or have blood drawn. Even three years ago, when I went to get the flu shot, I had to put my head between my knees afterward.
I also had strong expectations of how my immune system would react, since I’m a COVID survivor. One of our good friends had both his shots, and he felt cruddy for two days afterward. Never mind that he’s pushing 70 and carrying a lot of extra weight... I felt like, that will definitely be me. If there are side effects, of course I will get them all.
It’s weird to know something intellectually, and yet also have an emotional setting about a physical sensation. Like, my brain knows that this is the best thing I could ask for, a millionaire privilege, and that this is a very exciting milestone. Yet the reptilian part of my brain is jibbering and crouching in some unlighted cave.
I feel totally fine. Like, not even sore.
The injection itself was a peculiar sensation. I’ve had tons of vaccines, including hepatitis A and B through an old job. I swear I could feel it “squirting” in. Clearly that vial was not empty.
Something happened after I started training in martial arts a few years ago. I lost my needle reaction. I’ve had a few injections, including at least three flu shots, and I’ve had at least a dozen vials of my blood drawn. Nothing. I don’t get dizzy or shaky any more, I don’t have to put my head down, I can just get up from the chair and walk off like it was nothing.
I’m guessing that maybe there is something about martial arts training that affects heart rate variability or the vagus nerve in some way. Something about my baseline anxiety level has permanently changed.
After we got our shots, we were sent to a waiting room where we were supposed to sit for 15 minutes before leaving. A nurse sat at a desk keeping an eye on everyone. The chairs were all spaced in a diagonal grid, six feet apart. We had our time stamps written on our forms, so we could count the 15 minutes.
We sat there reading a couple of news articles, and then we left. It was fine.
We crossed the street to a little pond where we ate our anti-Dementor chocolate bar and did some bird watching. WE SAW A GRACKLE! [haha, Cornell Ornithology Lab, there are too grackles in California!] And I got video to prove it.
Now we’re chillaxing on the couch. No strenuous workouts today, just in case. Later we’re going to get takeout and celebrate Shot Day with some cake.
How about you? All fifty states have plans to open immunization for everyone 16 and up. Do you need help setting up your appointment or did you get yours already? Are you going to help someone else figure out next steps?
Let’s do this. Let’s fight coronavirus together and put an end to the pandemic.
Shot Day for all!
I’m a serial offender. I love doing pranks on April Fool’s Day. This isn’t the first time I’ve pranked people at my work, and I suppose it won’t be the last.
One year, my GM called me in and asked me to do a special April Fool’s Day issue of the company newsletter. I put on the front page that we were relocating to Arkansas. I figured everyone would take one look, snort or possibly guffaw, and say:
“Yeah, right. Good one.”
Instead, people were calling their spouses, checking real estate listings, and looking up the performance of the local school district. I heard that someone wound up in tears.
That was when I realized that different professions have their own special style of humor, jokes that fly and jokes that don’t fly.
For instance, security guards like jokes about eating your lunch or helping themselves to a donut. Finance people are game for jokes in the classic question/answer format, especially if they involve numerals, like “What did zero say to eight?” Engineers like t-shirts on which the joke is a mathematical formula.
Not everyone is prepared for satire.
My most recent prank didn’t work out too well. I filked the Tom Lehrer song “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” changing the lyrics to be about COVID-19. “We Will All Cough Together When We Cough.” The very next day, unbeknownst to me, I contracted the virus. What I learned was: Do not taunt coronavirus.
This time, I thought, I’m new here. I haven’t had my first work anniversary yet. Either this will be a great way to make friends and make an impression with my dazzling leadership and presentation skills...
Or it will turn into a massive fireball and I’ll get written up and jeopardize my chances of ever getting a security clearance.
At least I can’t get deported. *shrug*
I took the liberty of inviting everyone in my subdivision to an event that I called the Emerging Topics Colloquium. I claimed that it was sponsored by the Amalgamated Cold Fusion Corporation, which people are already referring to as ACFC.
I figured that the invitation would speak for itself. I carefully avoided using the phrase “April Fool’s Day” at any point.
Then I hand-selected everyone I knew well enough to suppose that they 1. had a sense of humor, 2. would be willing to give a public presentation, and 3. could keep a straight face while spouting pure pseudoscience.
I told my boss. The first thing he said was “Be careful.”
It’s true, there’s a fine line between hosting a morale-boosting lunchtime event and being seen to be endorsing pseudoscience under the company name.
I didn’t ask anybody to vet their material in advance. For all I knew, each individual presentation would be its own special menace, from proselytizing for a cult, to advertising for multi-level-marketed “nutritional” “supplements,” to attacking a rival’s research.
There are some lessons here in a bunch of things. Comedy. Ideation. Social trust.
What I did was to leave the invitation as wide-open as possible.
I was thinking maybe you could do a 1-5 minute presentation. Can you talk about pseudoscience with a straight face?
I made some pretty good guesses. One of the people, someone I barely know, made several slides complete with animation. If this person ever asks me for a favor I will drop everything and make it happen.
A few people either turned down my pitch or begged off at the last minute, saying they were too busy. They all attended and I bet they’re kicking themselves now.
YOU COULD HAVE BEEN A LEGEND
Part of what differentiates a comedian from an average person is that we don’t think about ourselves, we think about how funny the idea is. Wait until you hear this one! The explosive laughter that will be generated is worth the price of personal emotional risk.
Laughter is like a magic spell. When people laugh, they bond. They’ve shared something that makes them feel like family. Perhaps better than family. The joke has the capacity to expand, including more people and more material.
In fact I guarantee that after my pseudoscience event, the people who attended are going to be cracking jokes about man-sized shrimp and the Bermuda Rhombus for weeks, possibly years.
Something else about my event is that it involved more than comedy. It was a demonstration of the ideation process. What these two disciplines have in common is the premise of YES, AND. Take one idea and build on it. All ideas welcome.
One of the best things about the colloquium was the Q&A between topics. Not only the presenters, but also the audience, were absolutely killing it in keeping a straight face. Meanwhile the chat was lit up and emoticons occasionally floated into view, laughing faces and applause hands.
Another great thing was that almost by magic, some of the presentations referred to one another. We had two separate ‘Flat Earth’ illustrations, for instance. Since this was the inaugural event, it can be anticipated that next year’s topics will hark back to some of these inside jokes.
For of course there’s going to be a next year. My fondest hope is that this event will continue to expand in scale, perhaps one day incorporating props and costumes.
Even better, what if one of the pseudoscience ideas actually sparked a legit idea in someone? What if one of these ridiculous fake inventions transmogrified into a real one? What if some patents came out of all this?
I could see my silly little idea turning into something quite funny, an industry-wide invitational where perhaps some of the brightest minds in engineering and aerospace competed to crack each other up.
Here I am at the center of it all, blundering buffoon, willing to risk it all for a prank and a good laugh. That’s how I prank myself time after time.
Not sure who needs to hear this, but... don’t sit on your foot!
Of all the things we’ve all had to deal with in 2020 and beyond, I wouldn’t have thought this would become a focus for me. Working at home with poor ergonomics has finally brought home the negative effects of one of my bad little habits.
I’ve been sitting with my foot tucked under me for nearly a year.
Finally it started to cause noticeable pain. It got painful enough that I was forced to do something about it. Only now that it’s been a few days am I starting to realize this was a big deal.
That’s when I thought, I should probably share about my foot-sitting issue, why I was doing it, and how I am breaking the habit. I know there are other women like me out there.
Why sit on your foot?
This is an issue of being a small-framed person in furniture built to a design standard. There is a ‘standard’ set of measurements for countertops, doorway height, stair treads, table heights, and more. That standard is built around a human who is 5’10.”
I’m 5’4” and plenty of fully functional adults are my size or smaller.
I sit on my foot because my desk is slightly too high for someone of my frame. For me to sit where I can see my non-adjustable monitor, my chair is a little too high. Sitting with my feet flat on the floor causes my thighs to be at a downward angle.
The only real solutions for my problem would be to:
Make a custom desk, or buy something that is “child-sized”
Make a raised platform for my chair
Set up some kind of foot rest
Or do what I’ve been doing and contort my body to try to make it work.
Making the body fit the furniture is what most of us have been doing all our lives. We’re able to buy standard-sized commodities and we live in standard-sized infrastructure. We probably don’t even realize all the unique and specialized ways we adapt ourselves to our environment, rather than adapting our environment to ourselves.
I think this is why there is such a phenomenon as “man-spreading.” I can’t sit that way on a bus seat, or on a bench, because those seats and benches are too high for my skeletal structure. My feet dangle. A “man” can “spread” because those seating areas are designed for someone who is that height. Not me.
What about a standing desk?
Well, first of all, we’re in a pandemic and I have the furniture that I have.
I’m using the desk that I bought at a time when I only ever planned to sit at it for brief stretches. If I had realized I would be working at this desk for 45 hours a week or more, I would have gone for ergonomics rather than aesthetics.
Second, I learned recently that standing desks are not all they were cracked up to be when they first became a fad several years ago. While sitting is bad for us, standing all day can actually be worse. Among other things, it can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes! They never told us that!
Put simply, the human body is not made to stay in one position for many hours at a stretch, unless it is sleeping. The only way to win is to be able to move around and work in different configurations throughout the day. Some jobs accommodate that and many do not.
Some of us have jobs where it’s a challenge even to get up for a restroom break, much less shift between ergonomically optimized modules.
I did what I could with what I have. That was to order something inexpensive and hope it would help.
What I bought was an adjustable foot rest designed for sleeping on airplanes. It’s a foot hammock that is supposed to strap onto a folding tray table.
Whether this precise object would work for different styles of desk is beyond me. I’m sure it could be modified in some way, or it could spark an idea for something that would serve a similar purpose, which is to elevate the feet while sitting in a standard office chair.
My relief was instant. I was so happy!
Ahhh, I thought. Ahh, my feet are so comfy.
I know how pernicious a long-standing habit can be. I have probably been sitting on my foot as a default “relaxation” posture since grade school. I honestly don’t remember when I first started doing it. Stopping a habit like this is on the order of stopping a habit like hair twirling or nail-biting.
That’s why I was so surprised that the foot hammock worked right away.
Strangely, it wasn’t long after switching to the foot hammock that my ankle started bothering me. My attention was freshly drawn to a part of my body that I have been mistreating for hours every day over many months.
I’ve been stretching and rolling my ankles in circles. I know it’s not recommended, but I’ve also been going at that ankle and calf with the percussion massager. (Using a vibrating massager on your legs can possibly kill you by loosening a blood clot - it’s happened to people before and that’s why it’s mentioned on all the warning labels).
Other people who sit on their own foot may develop problems different than mine. I did a search on the phrase “don’t sit on your foot” and found a bunch of discussion boards talking about just that. Pelvic tilt, lower back pain, knee problems, popped tendons... Not great.
I can only assume that a bad posture habit will get worse over time. I have my reasons for feeling like sitting on my foot was comfortable and natural. It’s something that I have done for decades. Why should I change something that is so much a part of me? Can’t I have anything??
I had to make a change because what I was doing was painful and getting worse. I can only assume that something that is causing me physical pain at age 45 will only be more painful - or impossible - at 55 or 65 or 75.
Working from home has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. If I am going to continue doing it, there are a bunch of changes I plan to make, starting with moving to a place with a second bedroom and buying a proper desk at the right height.
In the meantime, this foot hammock is doing a great job of helping me stop annoying myself. It’s easily adjustable. I can bring it with me if I have to start commuting into the office again. Maybe I’ll even try it out for its intended use one day soon and bring it on an airplane.
My friend makes $1000 to $2000 a month dog-sitting. Can you believe it?
I thought I would share this story, partly because we’re thinking of trying what she is doing, but mostly because it is so illustrative of the fact that there are infinite ways to bring in money.
It isn’t really the cash that motivates my friend. It’s the dogs.
Say there is someone who absolutely adores dogs. Loves dog energy. Thinks that dogs are the best creatures on Earth. Is a total “animal person.”
Now, imagine that same person loves to travel, both for business and for pleasure. Is not in a position to own a pet. Does not have immediate plans to settle down.
What would be a way for this dog-loving person to have a dog around as often as possible, while not abdicating on a commitment?
This is where the dog-sitting idea came in. Why not be surrounded by dogs on demand, and also get paid for it??
It’s now easy to sign up with one of several pet-sitting apps. It doesn’t take long in a reputation-based business like that for individuals to stand out one way or the other.
My friend is a business professional with an immaculate home. She lives alone, doesn’t smoke, and has no other pets. Those qualities are true of some people and not of others.
I know from experience the way my friend spoils dogs. Our own dog used to try to jump in her car window whenever he saw her. We came home from a week overseas, and he didn’t even meet us at the door. He just popped his head up and stayed in her lap.
Oh, I see how it is!
Who is the real winner of this arrangement?
The spoiled dog? The dog-loving lady who isn’t ready to commit? Or the traveling couple who worry so much when they are out of town?
Everyone is the winner in this scenario.
We’ve been thinking of ways to expand the services she offers, without of course going to great lengths of effort or expense.
Dropping dogs off at the groomer’s before the owner comes home?
Taking dogs to their vet appointments?
Anyone who travels a lot for work would probably be thrilled to be able to hire this out. Find out the going rate, shrug, and pay it.
Personally I think ‘dog massage’ would be another winner. For someone who is willing to give a dog massage, and for the right breed, that seems like it could be a natural fit. I used to live next door to a huge elderly Newfie who probably would have loved it.
Another way my friend could make more money with her current dog hustle would be to set out on her own and book her own clients. She wouldn’t have to pay a cut to the app any more.
Another thing she could do would be to reach out to local dog walkers, veterinarians, or groomers and offer her card. Not everyone is willing to host dogs overnight; not everyone lives in a place that would accommodate it.
We in our fifth floor apartment would not be able to do this sort of business right now, especially since we work office jobs at home. Barking would not be a value-add for our video meetings.
There are probably a lot of people who live in an ordinary suburban house who also enjoy having dogs around. Just as there are probably a lot of people who have the space to rent out a room on AirBnB if they cleaned up and got rid of a few truckloads of clutter.
The bar to entry for certain side hustles is lower than it’s ever been.
A lot of people are overlooking an asset in their life, either because they have always taken it for granted or because it has never occurred to them that it’s an asset. Others are in a beaten-down and depressive state, convinced that they are no good to anybody, when the very next day they could quite easily be making someone’s life easier or better.
What are your assets?
A garage - even if it’s currently packed wall to ceiling
A yard - even if it’s overgrown and full of junk
More than one bedroom - even if the house is hoarded hip deep
Talent with animals
Decent internet connectivity, which not all neighborhoods have
A working computer of whatever age
Ability to pass a background check
Ability to pass a drug screen
A high school diploma - or not - plenty of people have a GED
I hadn’t had a day job in over ten years when I applied for my current position. I said as much in my phone screen. They still made me an offer. It is right and good for the employer to decide which candidates they want, and far be it from me to talk them out of it.
Could my friend be doing something else with her time to make an average of a thousand dollars a month? Or more? Probably. Do her clients care? Probably not. The dogs certainly don’t.
Wherever we live next, when the pandemic is over, we might very well sign up as dog-sitters. For the money? No, not really, although it’s fair to charge when we might have reason to replace our sofa. We would do it because it’s nice to have a dog around, and also it’s challenging to be a pet owner with a busy travel schedule.
How about you? Would you consider something like dog-sitting to make some extra money?
Do you have a favorite thing that could potentially be a source of income as well?
We have matching appointments to get our shots next Friday. Hallelujah!
The gossip started spreading around work very quickly. Everyone in our industry in California is eligible for a vaccine appointment. We’re critical infrastructure, so it was surprising that we all had to wait as long as we have, considering how much mandatory work-from-home has been interfering with our duties.
I heard about it from my boss’s assistant, who got it out of his email, where it was forwarded to him from another manager, who got it from a friend of ours who has moved on to another company.
All of this before it hit the local news, any of the newsletters I get from various regional governmental entities, or any kind of notification from Kaiser.
It’s been hard to wait.
The older folks in my book group were all making fun of me the other night. They’re making plans to go to Sizzler together because they’ve all already had both their vaccines. “Jessica probably doesn’t have hers yet,” ha ha ha hahaha.
Outside of work, almost everyone I know has gotten at least their first shot already.
It’s been hard to wait because I feel like I’m in the worst group. That is, middle-aged long-haul COVID survivors with no other pre-existing medical conditions.
I got COVID before the shutdown.
I couldn’t get authorized for a test. My doctor refused to believe I was sick until I emailed him a list of my symptoms a week later.
At the time I got sick, there were zero approved treatments. We weren’t even supposed to take ibuprofen. (Not sure if that’s still true). I was recommended: Tylenol.
Finally I got a chest x-ray, which showed peribronchial thickening. Basically worse than smoker’s lungs even though I’ve never smoked. I got antibiotics for a secondary infection.
It was a little easier when I got bacterial pneumonia two months later. I was able to get a COVID test that time, and antibiotics again, and an inhaler, because they know how to treat pneumonia at least.
It has taken a full year for me to feel basically recovered.
The way it feels is like, you were dumb enough to get COVID, so you’re expendable at this point. Not sick enough to die or be on a ventilator, so quit complaining.
Meanwhile, here is a long list of millions of people who are eligible for a vaccine before you, including [my coworker’s young friend] who has no pre-existing conditions and signed up to do a single delivery for Uber Eats just to get the shot.
All this time I’ve been petrified to get exposed again, particularly from the hundred people in my apartment complex who refuse to wear a mask.
Other people who have gotten COVID twice have died or wound up in the hospital on second exposure.
I’m 45 and I have scarring in my lungs from COVID. Too old to tolerate the virus well, too young to qualify for the vaccine.
Nobody cares. It’s not sexy or romantic to be chewed up and spit out by coronavirus. Millions of people have died, millions more have lost parents or spouses or siblings. Quit complaining.
Now will follow, for us, one of the longest weeks of the pandemic. The last week in which we are both completely vulnerable, the last week in which one of our thoughtless neighbors might cough near us in the lobby, or the laundry room, or the elevator.
We know what to do by now, which is to stay inside, avoid opening the door or being near anyone, and just keep our heads down. The boredom and the restlessness are a different flavor when they have a quantifiable deadline.
We celebrated, of course. We crossed the room to each other and held hands and did a little dance.
Then I texted my family and my bestie.
Helped a coworker find a location where she could schedule hers.
Talked another friend through why it’s necessary to get booster shots, that the content of both shots is the same, and basically how the immune system responds to different vaccines for different viruses.
You know, how people usually only get chicken pox once but you can get the common cold several times a year? And you had to get booster shots for measles/mumps/rubella when you were a kid? It’s because they test and find out that antibody protection only lasts a certain amount of time for certain shots, and the immune system responds better when you get another dose at a later point.
I’m going to be super stoked after I get my shot, for so many reasons, but partly because it will give me more credibility when I talk about vaccines.
65% of American adults age 65 and over have already had theirs. It’s safe!
A couple of our older friends have complained a bit about how they felt cruddy when they got their shot. But that’s okay. None of them have said they wished they could take it back.
That cruddy feeling is the feeling of your immune system responding, which is how the darn thing is supposed to work.
I’m not looking forward to that part at all. I know what my body did when COVID finally started dragging me down. It’s like bracing yourself to get punched in the mouth. Which I have done. The scientific part of my mind is very much looking forward to the onset of that woozy feeling, the stronger the better, because it will mean IT IS WORKING.
We’re making plans.
We have our “essential workforce authorization letter.”
I’ve already planned out most of what I’m going to do next week. We’ll go together. We’ll get our shots together in the same 10-minute time slot, possibly in adjacent chairs. The location passes by one of our favorite restaurants, so we can grab an early lunch together on the way home. Then I’m going to change into my favorite fleece pajamas and take a nice, long nap.
I’ve got a book picked out, and a TV series, and some nature webcams just in case the mood strikes.
I haven’t chosen my actual Shot Day outfit yet, something in layers that allows easy access to my bicep and also looks like party clothes.
Nor have I chosen what flavor of cake we’ll get to celebrate.
We’re still working out plans for what we’ll do the first time we hang out with my bestie, and whether my family will all be vaccinated in advance of Memorial Day.
(Memorial Day, guys!!!)
All of that is coming.
So many things to look forward to!
It’s almost over. Just to get through this next few weeks, staying safe, clean and careful, isolating and marking the time, making plans for a better and brighter day when we can forget all of this ever happened.
When are you getting your shot?
It’s spring, hooray! For me, it’s also been a year since I got COVID, and I’m starting to feel more normal. Ten years older, tired all the time, and still plagued with teenage-level skin problems, but other than that, more normal. Time to start thinking about working out again.
I’m starting to be able to do a full hour on the elliptical again without having sneezing fits for the rest of the evening. Only about 75% of what used to be a casual workout, but hey, it’s a start.
It’s questionable whether this is the perfect workout, though. Research indicates that the body eventually adjusts to whatever it is that we do as the default, meaning that eventually, we quit gaining additional fitness benefits.
In midlife, it’s not so much that we’re looking for Olympian levels of fitness. It’s more like staving off whatever aches or pains have been cropping up lately.
Sadly, it’s probably more motivating to feel like “I can make this nagging pain go away” with some sort of stretch than it is to feel like “If I keep doing this, I can do some cool fitness tricks.”
Make a list. Where does it hurt and when? All the time, or only when you stand up?
Other than being in recovery from whatever the heck the coronavirus did to my innards, there are a few obvious issues I want to work on:
Chronic neck and shoulder tension from working nine-hour days at a desk with poor ergonomics
General stress level - the eyelid-twitching kind
Twinges in one ankle, probably because I keep sitting on it while I work
Now it’s time for another list, and that is: the constraints.
Everyone has a list, probably mental, possibly engraved in marble, and that list is called Reasons I Must Be Let Off the Hook. “I can’t because.” Literally nobody cares - you don’t need reasons to do or not do things, just do what you want - but defensiveness causes us to catalogue our roadblocks and obstacles.
(Downstairs neighbors, tiny living room, gym is closed, no equipment, etc etc).
Meantime there is always someone in the world in the same situation, doing the thing we Cannot Do, because that person sees the thing as a reward and an entitlement rather than a chore or duty.
And vice versa.
For instance, nothing will stop me from reading for entertainment. I have a novel going at all times. I’ll read while I brush my teeth, put away groceries, fold laundry, or even while getting my teeth drilled at the dentist. There are probably people in the world who do not see reading as their escape and would not read during any of the times that I do. Therefore they’ll come up with their personal list of Reasons I’m Too Busy to Read.
I would probably match most of the items on that list and use them as Reasons I’m Too Busy to... do nail art? Whatever else I don’t want to do that feels like social pressure.
Anyway, it isn’t the “reasons” that we “can’t” do something. It’s the story we tell ourselves about what incentive we would have to do that thing.
For instance, I won’t get up at 5:00 a.m. no matter how many productivity articles I read about how great it is. With two exceptions. I’ve done it in order to get to the airport for an international flight, because DUH, and I’ve done it in order to get downtown to run my one marathon.
My mom got up with me to drive me, because she is that kind of person. Who would get up at five in the morning just to do something nice for someone.
I, uh, would not do that. Let me give you the long list of reasons why I can’t give you a ride at 5:30 a.m., starting with “I don’t have a car” and ending with “I am not the kind of person who would wake up that early to do someone a favor.”
We recognize our own inner resistance and often, we can laugh about it.
One type of resistance is to hate the idea of doing anything trendy, and I have that big-time. I’ve never gone for a manicure, I don’t drink wine or coffee, I’ve never worn Crocs, and I’m darn well not going to do a popular workout just because millions of people enjoy it and find it effective.
Or... maybe I can accept that doing what works is a good idea?
This is where I turn to my practice of Do the Obvious.
What would be the most obvious workout for someone with neck and shoulder tension?
Yoga? Yeah, you’re probably right.
What would be the most obvious workout for someone with high stress?
Probably yoga again? Maybe.
I actually have a different plan for that, and that is to draw on my natural preference for variety and dislike of routine. What if I just... chose a time slot and did whatever random workout seemed like fun to try that day? Dance, hula hoop, or whatever?
As I was sitting here in the park working on this post, a hundred yards away there was a little girl doing cartwheels and various dance moves. She might have been ten or twelve. Never in my life have I been that agile. She hopped up on her bike and rode away, streamers blowing in the breeze, and I thought, I hope she has a fun summer.
I also thought, I wonder if there’s still time for me. At 45. I wonder if there’s still time for me to learn to do a cartwheel like that?
That’s how I want to feel when I work out, like a lithe and happy child playing just because she can.
Rather than a lumpy, crooked office worker hunched over a desk, whingeing and twingeing her way into a crotchety retirement.
It’s spring, and what will I do to enjoy it besides sit crunched up in my chair?
The grass is green where I am sitting right now. It’s 65 degrees, someone is throwing a frisbee, and a local school is holding a masked rehearsal for a musical. Spring is here and most likely, it will reach you where you live soon.
Spring cleaning this year is so much more optimistic than most years.
So much to look forward to! Already 1 in 6 American adults have been vaccinated. One day I had three friends from different parts of my life getting their shots on the same day. My bestie got hers (for reasons that do not make me jealous whatsoever). It seems likely that many or most of the people we know are obediently going to get their shots.
...and then, a million years from now, when we get our turn...
And then we can all hang out!
It’s this fantasy of being able to have our one friend over that is motivating me this year. My bestie is only two and a half weeks away from getting her second shot. We live within walking distance of each other. It is entirely plausible that this summer, we’ll be able to safely invite her over.
And what will she see?
This is a visualization game that I’ve done with so many of my hoarding clients, when they’ve started to make real progress but there is still so much to do. There are probably loners who hoard, but everyone I’ve worked with is excited by the idea of having people over. So we go into it in detail, the more the better.
Who will you invite?
When was the last time they were here, and what did you do?
What will you eat?
What music will you play?
For one person it was going to be a board game night. For another it was going to be a barbecue.
The last time, for us, it was birthday cake out on the rooftop deck of our apartment building.
I try to look at our tiny apartment with the fresh eyes of someone who has never seen it before. It’s small, all right. Nothing to be done about that. There certainly is a live parrot sitting at the focal point of the room, in front of the only window. If I’m new to her, then her little belly feathers are trembling with excitement, and that does tend to divert from any lack of design elegance.
The windows need washing again
There is bird kibble strewn across the floor, as usual
Plus shredded cardboard
A small apartment has the advantage of being relatively easy to clean. It has the disadvantage that every area is high-use, especially when the occupants are home 99% of the time.
And one of them sheds feathers.
I feel fortunate that technology has developed to the point that it has. We have actually discovered a brand of handheld vacuum that picks up down feathers rather than blowing them sideways on contact.
This is one of the few things that can make housework mildly interesting: enlist power tools and robots that feel more like toys and less like traditional drudgery.
Another way to gamify the experience is to play Beat the Clock. There are several ways to do this:
One, race your roommate. This requires full buy-in from the other party (or parties) and is thus unlikely to happen. Basically if you mention cleaning to another person they will think you are bossing them around and thus loathe you, or feel suddenly unable to do what they otherwise would have done simply because you brought it up.
Two, set a timer and try to finish everything in X amount of time. In the before-times you could base this deadline around something like the start of a TV show, or having to leave for the movie theater. Now the best you can probably do is order food delivery and try to finish before your meal arrives.
Three, run all your devices concurrently and try to time them together. This is what I like to do.
Start the laundry. If you are fortunate, someone who is not you can do this. Then put up the dining chairs, check for cords, and start the robot vacuum. While those machines do those jobs, you can:
Dust the ceiling fan
Dust everything else
Wipe down the counters
Scour the sink
Clean out the fridge
Break down boxes
Take out the garbage and recycling
...but then, you can do all that every week, and perhaps you do. What makes this different from deep cleaning?
What you have to do for spring cleaning depends on a lot of factors, like how big your place is, what kind of flooring you have, whether you have a yard or a garage, what kind of bedding you have, when is the last time you sorted out your closets, whether you have storm windows, and a bunch of other things.
The key is to go around, while you are doing basic chores, and notice.
When is the last time anyone moved this piece of furniture and cleaned under and behind it?
How many dead flies are in the tracks of the windows?
When is the last time anyone checked to make sure none of the sinks are leaking into the cabinet?
...Is that... algae... growing on the bottom of that faucet??
There is something about that fully inspected, freshly polished and scoured atmosphere of a deep-cleaned room that really gives a sense of accomplishment.
Or at least it’s something to do while we all wait to get the go-ahead to hang out together in person.
While I get my apartment ready, I’m thinking about three things. What will I feed everyone? What month will it be? And how do I tactfully ask our friends to see their proof of vaccination?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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