It’s not quite three weeks since I got my second COVID-19 shot. This is how it’s going.
About a week after my first shot, I felt the lifting of my lingering long-haul symptoms. So that was great.
I had no aftereffects from either shot. My arm was sore after the first shot, but I barely felt the second injection at all.
As soon as I had my appointments, I booked a plane ticket. I would be flying on the first day I was considered fully vaccinated.
The week we got our second shot, our county changed the rules. It’s now allowed for people who have had both their shots to walk outside and go to the park without a mask. We took advantage of that fact! Nobody got within ten feet of us anyway. It felt like such a luxury to be outdoors, something that we never used to give a second thought.
We went to the grocery store to buy ice cream. Another activity that used to be completely normal but that we had given up for a year. It was nice to go to the store without a face shield and not break into a flop sweat.
I prepared for my flight with trepidation.
It’s one thing to walk around the neighborhood and go to the park, knowing there are no other people within several yards. It’s something else to go to the store, where max occupancy is enforced.
It’s an entirely different category to go to an airport with thousands of other people traveling from who knows where.
As much as I want things to go back to normal, my tolerance for personal risk is basically zero. I knew there would have to be a way to go on my trip without being exposed to every type of pathogen from every region under the sun. I bought a special helmet.
Much to my disappointment, I was required to take off my mask in the security line. Everyone has to. When you show your ID, they want to make sure it’s really you, so you can have the correct name on your headstone after they give you COVID.
I put my helmet back on after I got on the plane, hoping it wasn’t too late.
This is the important part. Despite all my planning, I was exposed to roughly two hundred people with my helmet off. Not only that, I had to take off my cloth mask in a spot only a few feet away from the line, where one person after another had also stood with a bare face.
Nothing about that felt safe at all. I strongly doubt the CDC got any say in the TSA regulations.
For my purposes, while I’m definitely still worried about COVID-19, I want to avoid any and all respiratory illnesses. I don’t even want the common cold, much less influenza or, worse, any emerging thing that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’m definitely a convert to the mask life.
I had a good time wearing my helmet and realizing how much of the world was now reopened to me. I would feel safe wearing my helmet on the bus or the subway, and that means I can basically go anywhere I want.
I got to my destination, where about half of the people I came to see are fully vaccinated, while the other half have only had their first shot.
If you haven’t had to manage this yet, it’s not all that complicated. The fully vaccinated can hug in one room, and those who aren’t there yet can keep their masks on in another room. When everyone is together, we all just put our masks back on.
Now it’s been five days since I was at the airport with my mask off.
I’ve been nervous, I’ll admit it. I sneezed a couple of times and had to ask myself:
WHAT WAS THAT???
Reaction to pet dander?
I sneeze in bright sunlight, and I also sneeze if I taste strong peppermint, which is probably why it has “pepper” in its name, but it still seems like a corny joke.
Culturally, our natural reaction is going to be, “Wow, this person is really a hypochondriac.” Getting worked up over a sneeze? Get over yourself.
Yet my first symptoms of COVID were a sneezing fit and itchy eyes.
At the time that I got sick, these were not recognized as potential coronavirus symptoms. I was feeling very weird, and I had gone to a social outing five days before, so my husband and I Googled and read through several lists of COVID symptoms, just to be safe.
I didn’t have a single symptom on the list, and not a single one of my symptoms were on the list.
Two weeks later, I was gasping for air like a trout on a riverbank and having tachycardia several times a day.
This is why I still pay careful attention to my state of health every time I sneeze.
I keep hearing of local cases - cases in my area, cases of people in my industry, cases of people who are one or two degrees of separation from me - where half a dozen or more people got the coronavirus at work because one individual thought they had “mild allergy symptoms.”
It’s high time people quit going out or going to work in person when they are sneezing or coughing or having a runny nose. Yet I fear it’s never going to change. Our Puritan work ethic is too deep in the bone, even though nothing destroys productivity more than a global pandemic.
The good news is, in spite of a couple of sneezes, I appear to be fine. I appear to have escaped the TSA plague gauntlet with no repercussions.
That sorta supports the idea that the shot worked. Or at least it doesn’t refute it.
Soon I will have been on my visit long enough to pass through a quarantine period. Then none of us will have to wear masks around each other and it will be just like the old days, sitting at home like normal.
I have become average.
I am now average at something I used to be good at.
I used to be an experienced, one-bag, minimalist traveler. Now, apparently, I have lost those skills. Therefore I make the claim that travel is only like riding a bike if you are actually riding upon a bicycle. You don’t pick up where you left off.
Or maybe COVID did more to my brain than I realized.
Let me start off with a confession. I have apparently brought a hundred pounds of luggage on this trip.
For many years, I would bring my little blue roller bag, the one that fits so neatly under the seat and never gave me a bit of trouble.
How is it, then, that I have found myself pulling items out of one bag and putting them into another so that I don’t have to pay $75 for an overweight bag??
“Jeans, towels,” shares the baggage clerk, offering examples of heavy things that might be quick to grab.
Towels?? Who the heck packs a towel?? Where are people going? What destinations do not include towels? If you’re staying with family, and they have no towels, perhaps then it would make sense to bring a few. If you’re staying at a towel-free hotel then I simply hope it is not at a nudist colony.
I realized that if my bag was overweight, then my suitcase must have weighed 54 pounds. The other bag weighed 40. (Ish?) Therefore, my checked bags weighed a combined total of 94 pounds. Added to my laptop bag and my carryon, it was quite likely I was dragging at least a full hundred pounds onto my flight.
I should have realized this earlier, when I was staging the bags in our minuscule hallway and I tripped over the duffle bag and almost went flying.
This is the amateur traveler I have become: tripping and stumbling over my own oversized, overweight luggage.
I had to repack my suitcase because I had trouble zipping it closed, and then I realized that I hadn’t put in my shower kit. I had dropped in some nicely folded stacks of clothes straight out of the laundry basket.
My usual method is to lay everything in flat, lining up the shoulder seams or waistbands with the top edge of the suitcase, and then flipping in all the sleeves and hanging hems. It’s fast, has fewer wrinkles, and seems to fit more stuff.
That was probably where I got myself into trouble. Those additional four overweight pounds got crammed in during that second pass.
“I’m packing like this is a road trip,” I realized, “and I have the trunk and the back seat all to myself.”
I actually did all right with my carryon bags. The work laptop is what it is. All I had in there was the laptop itself, my fob, noise-canceling headphones, my work bullet journal, charging cables, and a pen.
The other carryon was mostly for the benefit of the MicroClimate helmet, just in case someone forced me to stow it. Otherwise, all it had was my wallet, keys, lip balm, sunglasses, iPad, and a Band-Aid. I probably could have carried most of those things in my pants pockets.
It surprised me, as I passed through various airports, how heavy and cumbersome those two bags were. I’m just not as fit as I used to be. Remind me to weigh these bags - but I suspect I would have been a bit tired just from standing in line and walking from one gate to another.
I saw someone lifting a carryon into the overhead bin, something that used to be a negligible task on my own trips. I realized I would have struggled to do this for myself if I had packed a larger bag.
Something else that I noticed, as I dragged my unwieldy pile of detritus hither and thither, is that my heart was beating very hard. While I certainly need to get back in shape, I have never in my life struggled so much with the physical act of hauling my own stuff.
Or, rather, the last time I felt this way was as a 26-year-old, moving my stuff into my fourth-floor walk-up college dorm. I thought I would black out. I was having a harder time than my hugely pregnant friend who was helping me.
A couple months later, I was running up and down those same stairs. All I can do is hope that a similar opportunity to rebound is presenting itself. Carrying luggage is functional fitness.
Something else that I did during my trip, that is very average, is that I underestimated how long it would take a rideshare driver to pick me up, and I also underestimated traffic time, and I also underestimated how long it would take to check my bags, and I also underestimated how long it would take to go through security.
I gave myself two hours to get from my apartment to my gate at the airport, and wound up twenty minutes behind schedule.
When I arrive, I will be tested. I will unpack and go about my business, and I will find out whether I misjudged anything else. Namely, did I bring everything I actually needed?
It’s woefully common for people to get very distressed about what outfits to wear on their trip, only to forget something truly important like their ID or their glasses or their inhaler.
Have I done this? Not sure yet.
As the world starts to return to normal, and the statistical picture starts to improve, I suppose I will start feeling as normal as everyone else again. That probably means I will return to traveling at least a bit. This experience has shown me how rusty I am. What that means is more work for myself, more hassle and inconvenience, and an inevitable ripple effect as other people are forced to deal with my big heavy bags.
Time to remember who I am and start getting my act together. Make it simple, make it easy, and make sure not to stumble on it.
My director just won a loyalty upgrade. I asked for what I consider to be a major concession, and he immediately said, “Whatever you need.” I am so happy about this that I would probably come over and mow his lawn or paint his house.
What that means in business terms is several things.
One, if he needs me to expedite something, I’m eager for the chance to show my gratitude and I will leap into action.
Two, if he needs me to come in early, stay late, or skip lunch, why sure, I can probably do that.
Three, I’m not planning to go anywhere any time soon. He isn’t going to need to recruit or train my replacement.
I knew I had a good shot at getting a yes, because I took my job right at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. The whole team had just turned over, and it was a bit chaotic. I’ve had a year to demonstrate that I can get things done remotely. In fact, while I have worked for this organization, I’ve never done it any other way. I don’t even know where my desk is.
I also know that my boss is a future-focused person. He is generally ready to try new things, willing to experiment and shrug off anything that maybe doesn’t pan out.
What an employee will ask for depends on the person. I’ve seen it happen. One person wants a standing desk. Another person wants to start the day at 6:30 AM and leave in the afternoon to beat commute traffic. Someone else wants to job-share with another person who also wants to switch to part-time. Yet another person wants to go back to grad school, someone else needs physical accommodations after surgery, and someone else wants to cut back hours and ease into retirement.
All I wanted was to continue to work from home in another state, so I can help out with some family stuff.
As far as employee requests go, this could have either seemed completely impossible, or come across as a cheap way to earn some brownie points.
In fact, the only effect my request should have is that I took some short lunches and then left early on Friday so I could go to the airport.
Whether this is going to sound like a perfectly acceptable request, or an unbearable imposition, depends a lot on company culture, the makeup of the team, and the attitude of management.
A scarcity-minded boss is naturally suspicious. What is going on?? What are these people trying to pull? How is anything going to get done around here if people are off gallivanting around? What else are they going to ask for? Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.
An abundance-minded boss will think, Oh good, my team is comfortable coming to me with things. If I wasn’t seen as a reasonable, flexible person, then I wouldn’t be hearing about this. This is a much better situation than someone handing in their notice. Nobody wants that.
A decent human being is still open to the fact that real life proceeds while we are at work just as it does when we clock out. A person who has not been shut down and made callous by rigid structures will think, Of course, anything you need. Let me know if I can help.
The pandemic has shown nearly half of the workforce that we can do our work from almost any location, and in many cases we can be more productive while we do it.
I know of an early-career person who took off for a few months, working out of his van and driving from one campsite to another. That trip seems, if anything, to have enhanced his work ethic and commitment to the mission. It also seems to have had positive ripple effects on morale, as others heard about the trip, realized that they could probably do the same, and that they weren’t going to because they didn’t really want to live in a van that long.
It’s fairly common at my company for people to work late into the evening, and sometimes clock in on weekends, but then log in around 9 am. This arrangement is probably open to me, but the very thought depresses me. A younger version of me definitely would have preferred to sleep in every day and work as late as necessary to make up for it. The more mature me wakes up before 8 am, even on weekends, and might as well roll out of bed and get cracking.
What is it that we want out of work?
I submit that it isn’t any one thing. We can accept particulars such as a strict dress code, long or weird hours, high stress, tight deadlines, and other quirky rules. For instance, I worked for years for a company where nobody was allowed to use a phone with a camera. It was a security thing, and we shrugged it off. Constraints are a part of working.
What we want is to feel appreciated, that our contribution matters in some way. We also want to feel a certain amount of autonomy.
The core tension seems to be about that autonomy.
From one perspective, the requirement seems to be: demonstrate that you are on task by strictly obeying all rules and regulations at all times. Do not deviate.
From another perspective, the question is: if I get all my work done on time and meet or exceed all deadlines and other criteria, then why does anything else matter?
Are you really going to tell me that it is more important for me to wear shoes when I’m on the job than it is for me to go above and beyond on my projects? That you’d rather have total compliance on issues like being physically present, even if it came at the expense of many other things?
There is soon going to be a large-scale Game of Sorting. Some companies are going to insist on returning to 18th-century office procedures as soon as possible. Others are going to read the room and accept the new normal. Then the more traditionally-minded, authoritarian companies are going to find themselves surprised by the stampede for the exits.
I can already guess where my company stands on this issue. How about yours?
I went to the airport for the first time in a year and a half, and I bought a new MicroClimate helmet for the trip. This is my experience.
My itinerary began at LAX, with a layover at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, and continued on to PDX. This is a trip I have made many times, and I have spent untold hours at each of these airports over the past 15 years.
I’m a pretty experienced traveler - or at least I used to be, in the before-times. Things are different now.
I figured that the form factor of my MicroClimate helmet would advertise itself pretty clearly. This is a serious piece of equipment. I had read up on the corporate website, and it looked like other users were experiencing friction from various airport personnel. I assumed that I would get different responses depending on where I went and who I interacted with, and I was right about that.
TSA and my airline, Southwest, were both pretty clear that a mask “covers the mouth and nose” and that it loops behind the ears.
Obviously my MicroClimate helmet covers the mouth and nose, correct? But my mouth and nose are visible!
This is where I recall all the cartoons I ever saw of confused computers and robots with steam blasting out of their vents, going all swirly-eyed and then exploding.
My first issue was at the baggage check counter in LAX. I had been in the airport just long enough to check in and print out my baggage claim stickers. The agent told me that she understood, but TSA was going to make me take off the helmet and they weren’t going to let me wear it on the plane.
I turned away, took off the helmet, and pulled out the double-layer fabric mask that I had in my pocket. “I apologize for making you uncomfortable,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not me, I’m here to help *you*,” she said.
I put the helmet back on for the short walk down the hallway and into the public restroom. I saw nobody, and thus no one said anything. I had felt anxious about being in the enclosed area of an airport restroom during the pandemic, and wearing the helmet definitely helped me feel better.
When I emerged, I realized that swapping out the helmet for a cloth mask in the security line was not an experience I wanted to have. It was a cattle call. Nobody was distancing more than about 18 inches and there were at least 100 people packed together.
I stepped to the side and put on my fabric mask and zipped my helmet back into my bag. This was very disappointing because this 1000-square-foot area was the precise reason I wanted the helmet in the first place.
Hundreds of thousands of people a day pass through LAX from all over the world. I have gotten respiratory illnesses probably more than half the time that I have traveled through this airport. I don’t care what the statistics are about being onboard an airplane, or how their filtration systems are rated. I care about standing in line at the airport itself so the TSA can examine my internal organs.
When it was my turn to hand over my ID, the TSA agent asked me to remove my fabric face mask.
There ya go. My exact worst nightmare. Standing in the filthiest place on Earth with a bare face, where another dude was standing doing the same thing five seconds earlier. Buy any mask or filtration system or biohazard suit you like, and TSA will interfere with you and insist that you participate in equal-opportunity disease exposure.
I made it to my flight on time, boarded, waited until takeoff, and put my helmet back on. Not a single person said a thing. My seatmates on either side glanced at me and went back to whatever they were doing, clearly unfazed.
We landed, and I decided I would just push it as far as I could go. I would leave the helmet on as we disembarked. A few of the flight attendants and gate agents made eye contact with me and said nothing. Cool.
As I walked into McCarran, it was immediately obvious that we were in Vegas, for two reasons. First, the slot machines, and second, the anything-goes atmosphere. A lady walked up to me, all smiles, and asked where I got the helmet. A man gave me a thumbs-up. People were checking me out as I walked to my gate. I sat for an hour, texting with my family and my husband.
Someone sitting directly behind me coughed, and I didn’t have to worry.
The performance of the helmet itself is, as far as I can tell, flawless. The fan does a good job of unobtrusively tuning out most background sounds, like a white noise generator. I was a bit hot, but probably because I tried to dress for Oregon, not Nevada or California, and I would have been more comfortable in short sleeves.
Face ID recognized me on my iPhone, but not on my iPad. Go figure. I was able to pair my AirPods and listen to a show, although I did have to turn up the volume higher than normal.
I don’t really like the chin strap - I wear a XXS bike helmet and the MicroClimate helmet is one-size-fits-all. It took a lot of finagling to adjust it so it would stay in place on my tiny little head. As a competent costumer married to an engineer, I will probably go in and rig a more customized strap setup for myself. And then send a drawing and photos to MicroClimate.
We boarded our connecting flight. The ticket agent greeted me but said nothing about the helmet. The flight attendant at the end of the jetway greeted me and said nothing. The flight attendants doing the safety presentation said nothing.
Then another flight attendant came over and handed me a surgical mask, making eye contact but saying nothing. I put it in my lap.
We took off. After the safety presentation, a different flight attendant came over and firmly told me that I needed to wear the surgical mask.
I understand how this works, because I also work on a team in which we sometimes take turns being “the enforcer” or “good cop” or “bad cop.”
Having no desire to give any hard-working safety professional a bad day, I indeed put the mask on underneath my helmet and obediently wore it over my mouth and nose throughout the flight.
Is this all they want from me? That I check the box for their baseline instructions and pointlessly wear the paper mask, even though I am wearing a helmet that literally covers my entire head and has its own air filtration system?
All right, fine.
Get used to it, though. Given another pandemic of a respiratory virus, and/or heavy wildfire smoke or a volcanic eruption, and/or any kind of chemical spill, and/or [insert nameless dread here], more and more people are going to decide to get themselves a helmet just like this.
The reception of the crowd to this device was either positive or neutral. Almost everyone completely ignored me. Not a single person gave me a dirty look or appeared scared or annoyed. A little girl waved at me - and I waved back and smiled - and it may have been one of the few times she saw a stranger’s actual smiling face in well over a year.
A couple of women came up to me and asked me where I bought the helmet, looking very intrigued. It would have been a great opportunity for MicroClimate to include a bunch of business cards, or even put a QR code on the back of the helmet. I wouldn’t really mind if people wanted to take pictures of me wearing it. I am a photo-shy person but I feel somehow anonymous in my helmet, like a person from the future.
Which I am, now.
This is a story about planning and procrastination, a story about simplification and about complication.
This is a story of how it can take two weeks to plan a trip and twenty minutes to pack for it.
In ordinary circumstances, I’m a one-bag traveler. The more I have traveled this way, the better I have liked it. It argues for itself. I always know where my stuff is, I don’t have to go anywhere near the baggage claim, and in extraordinary circumstances I can dig out important items from my seat on the plane.
I’ve been flying on my own for over 35 years. I’ve tried so many different combinations of luggage and packing styles. I’ve got it down to a science: I open the suitcase, lay out everything I’m going to wear one on top of the other, matching the top seams to the edge of the suitcase, and then fold in the arms and legs and zip it closed.
I have literally made a video of this process and demonstrated that it takes less than five minutes.
Why do people get so worked up about packing? I ask myself. It has to be one of two reasons: worry about what people will think when they see you, about which I care not a fig, or worry about What Will Happen.
What if it gets cold?? What if it gets hot?? What if it rains?? What if Henry Cavill asks me on a date?
I will admit that I do worry about that first one, because I despise being cold and it has become a non-trivial problem in my life. The other three, eh, who cares.
I no longer attempt to pack a ball gown just in case I find myself in a simulation modeled after a romance novel. If I have to choose, I’m taking the thermal underwear, and I doubt there’s room after that for a crinoline.
Have I traveled through multiple countries with just a backpack? Yes I have.
This is why it is such a conundrum: why does it take so long, for someone who packs so quickly, to get ready for a trip of any duration?
For a vacation, surely anyone can understand that the more planning goes into the trip, the more fun it can be. I will never forget the day we arrived at a museum that we wanted to see - the entire reason we had stopped in this particular city - only to discover that it had been razed to the ground. All that was left was a flat gravel patch. Whoops.
Normally I will spend days or weeks researching restaurants - and double-checking that they are still there in the same location, with the same hours and the same menu. I will book shows and plot out grocery stores and pharmacies, and check the annual weather forecast and read blogs to find out what kind of bugs live there. All that good stuff.
This is part of why I can pack so quickly. By the time I get to the stage of hauling out my suitcase, which is an obstacle for daily life in a tiny apartment, I have a very strong sense of what the weather will be like and how I will be spending my time.
(The other secret is to only have clothes that you like to wear, stuff that you rate at least a 4 out of 5, so it doesn’t matter which ones you bring).
There is more to the planning of a trip than the activities that one does on the trip, though. That’s the future forecast part.
The real work is in getting ready to leave the apartment.
One of the bummers of travel is that such a large part of the trip involves re-packing, the return trip, and then walking in the door to resume normal life. Jet-lagged, perhaps sunburned, most likely dehydrated. With a suitcase full of dirty clothes to wash and put away.
And a messy apartment to clean?
This is the gift that I give to Future Me. After too many bummer weekends and road trips that ended in weird smells - ask me about the green juice I left on the bookcase by the front door one summer weekend - I decided that I needed to, at minimum, take out the trash before I left.
And clean out the fridge.
And make sure there was nothing damp in the laundry hamper.
And check for wasp nests in the bedroom.
Each, one by one, added to the list after bitter experience.
Trip planning has started to push itself further and further back into the timeline. Now, it involves making sure we don’t overbuy groceries, starting the week before the trip. It involves timing the laundry for optimal packing and minimal scariness. Ideally, it involves putting clean sheets on the bed the morning of travel.
There are other things that need to be arranged. Putting a hold on our produce delivery. Making sure I don’t have any appointments that need to be rescheduled. Perhaps putting a stop on the snail mail. Ensuring no packages are going to show up and sit inconveniently on the doorstep while nobody is there. What else, what else, what else am I forgetting?
On this particular trip, I ordered a box of supplies to be there on arrival. My special matcha, a case of soy milk, a bottle of mouthwash, and what else will I need? Hmm...
The biggest thing that I needed to arrange in advance was the ordering of my new MicroClimate helmet. I am hearing mixed things about how cooperative the various airline personnel will be in actually allowing me to wear my helmet through the whole trip. This is something I will have to write up. In the meantime, it seems possible that it might free me to ride the city bus once again, if I no longer have to worry about picking up every cold and flu the way I did in 2018.
There is one other important thing that I arranged in advance - over a month in advance, in fact - and that was getting my COVID-19 vaccines. I will be officially “fully vaccinated” the day of my trip.
I used to like to joke that all you really need is a bikini and a tiara. Now I think you don’t even need that much, just antibodies and a smile.
“I just thought I should tell you that I’m up to some shenanigans again,” I told my husband. It only seemed fair.
“Oh, what is it this time?”
I told him I had stumbled across a video interview about a homeless woman a few miles from us who happened to have a master’s degree and some interesting engineering, logistics, and mathematics credentials.
I rewound and wrote down those credentials. I can help with this, I thought, and now to track down this person. How do I find her?
Those of you who have known me personally for several years may recall that the last time I got interested in something like this, it ended very poorly, but I was indeed successful in tracking down my target person a couple of times. With concerted effort, you can generally find a specific homeless person, because they have a strong gossip network and they keep track of each other.
This time it was a bit easier. I looked through the comments on the YouTube channel, didn’t find anything, and then emailed the channel owner.
He wrote back within ten minutes, saying he would be seeing her the following week and that he would pass on my message. [That was basically: I think I can get her a job, and please ask if I can bring her a small present, such as a pair of socks or a bottle of ibuprofen].
Several days went by, and I thought, alas, perhaps nothing will come of this after all.
Then I got another email. The YouTube channel owner passed on a GoFundMe link, which he said he had verified, so that the money would go directly to the engineer.
Oh cool! I thought. That is smart thinking.
What would you personally do if you were living at the park and you needed a job?
I know what I would do. I would use my credit card and get a room at an AirBnB, just like we did the last time we were technically houseless. I would call my family and I would call an employment agency. I have tons of resources, such that I would only wind up at a park if there had been a wildfire and I had to flee for my life.
Plausible where we live.
But then, I used to work in social services. I’ve worked at a couple of homeless shelters. I understand that the main difference between “the homeless” and the rest of us is that they tend to get hit with more disasters in a given time period. They always say they never thought it would happen to them, because nobody does.
I also live in a very expensive area. The reason it costs so much to live here is because this is where the jobs are. If you want to be within commuting distance of one of the many engineering firms in the area, then you’d better be prepared to pay. Renting a place is not for the faint of heart. We expect, every time we plan to move, that we may have to call on eight listings for every one that is available to look at. We know we’d better be prepared to make an offer on the spot, because the landlord usually has a couple other people lined up to tour the place after us.
I watched the video and I thought, this woman is a great deal like me. We’re close in age, we’re both White and we even have similar hairstyles. We could probably swap clothes.
Is it unfair that I took an interest in her story? Yes, of course it is.
There are well over half a million homeless people in the US, and nearly seventy thousand in my county. This is a societal decision that we made sometime back in the Eighties, to recognize that a lot of people have nowhere to live, and shrug, and train our children to step over them and go on with our lives. It’s easy for us to blame them for their situation, easy for us to accept the concept that over half a million people are lazy, or that all of them are drug addicts, or whatever it is that we tell ourselves. And our kids.
In this case, I listened with compassion, and I realized - this is one starfish I can probably help. I know that I can get her resume looked at. I have personal influence with HR people and hiring managers and program directors.
I spun out my story to myself a bit more. I thought of a few other women I know who would be in a position to help. I realized, I could help her get a salon haircut and an interview suit. With interviews lined up, it would be easy for me to get her into temporary housing and raise some funds to help her set up shop.
I hadn’t even talked to her yet, and I knew I had a plan. I had a hand-picked action team. If we met, I would make my pitch. Simply take one step forward and you are back in the game. We can do this.
This was all before I saw the GoFundMe link.
Aha, I thought, girl power. Good for you!
When I first saw it, the target amount was $10,000 and she had raised about $3,000 already.
I saw the necessity of it. She had nowhere to live, no furniture, no work wardrobe, no groceries. In our area? Half of that was going to go to first month’s rent and deposits. It could easily take four months of interviewing before she actually started a new job and started collecting a paycheck.
I kept checking back out of curiosity.
The donations poured in. The target amount was increased to $15,000.
Wow, I thought, go girl go!
Donations closed in on $14,000. The target amount was increased to $20,000.
Haha, I thought, excited for her. I showed my husband. “I’m starting to understand that she has a good head for numbers.”
“Now she’s getting greedy,” he said.
“I don’t know about that,” I said, “she literally has nothing. She’s living at the park. What she’s trying to do is step from that back into a profession, into an upper middle class lifestyle.” I reminded him how long it takes to get a good engineering job and how much rent is in our area.
“If I were the hiring manager, I would ask her, can you raise funds for my company the way you raised funds for yourself? It makes me wish I ran my own company so I could interview her myself.”
This is the American way. Rugged individualism in action. It isn’t a personal tragedy, it’s a societal tragedy. We were willing to let a perfectly good mathematician and engineer live at the park, and nobody cared, and all that human potential was wasted because we tolerate long-term homelessness with a shrug. If that much.
Nobody else was going to look out for Number One, so good for her.
I’m still going to reach out to this woman. I’m going to offer to take her to lunch. I’m going to offer to introduce her to my stylist. I’m going to ask for a copy of her resume, and if it’s a little lumpy I’m going to connect her with the person I hired to redo my own resume. If all goes well, I’m going to pass on her materials to my HR person and ask what we can do.
Then I’m going to ask her who else she met while she was... on sabbatical. I’m going to ask who she thinks is the next best prospect, and maybe we can see what we can do for that person.
Not because this person or that person “deserves” my help, but because it intrigues me and it’s something that I have certain powers to influence. It’s also high time we stop having a homelessness problem and instead have a reintegration project.
I had to double-check the news just to make sure that it applied to California, but I did, and we were good to go. We are officially allowed to walk outside and go to the park without masks! The very first day that we had off, that’s what we did.
Every week I check the weather forecast to see if there is going to be a nice enough day. All year, it’s been touch-and-go. Sometimes, there will be one warm-weather day, and sometimes, that day will fall on the weekend. I plan our entire week around making sure we get to the park that day.
If there is only a two-hour window of warm and sunny weather, by gum, we’re going to be sitting in the middle of a grassy field and making the most of it.
It was glorious. 78F, not a cloud in the sky, flowers blooming, butterflies and bees and hummingbirds, the full springtime experience.
We walked down the trail to the park, and we didn’t have masks on, and nobody came near us, so it probably didn’t matter anyway.
We’ve both had our second shot. I wanted those shots, and I booked them the first day that I had permission, and I got there early. I’ve already started feeling the effects, as the sense of lingering illness that I have had over the past year has finally started to dissipate.
At the same time, though, I don’t know if I truly believe that it will work.
I talked it out with my husband. A hundred million people in the US have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and about 5600 have had breakthrough infections.
“That’s about one in twenty thousand,” he explained.
“Yeah, that feels like a big enough risk to me to still be careful,” I replied.
I was one of the first 400 COVID cases in California, a state with a population of nearly forty million people. I’m not great at math, but that’s... one in 100,000. I have no problem with being extra-cautious, considering that so far, most of the planning I thought was very conservative was nowhere near what we truly needed.
Storing food supplies for one month, for instance!
In February 2020, I thought we were planning very carefully and being smart.
What I’m worried about right now is the indication that the Pfizer vaccine might not be effective against the South African variant.
A vaccine-hesitant person might use that as some kind of excuse not to get the shot.
Not me. I see it as a laundry list of Pandemic Problems, most of which I have just crossed off by getting my jab. Let’s see, now all I need is a booster shot that covers that strain and I’ll be good to go.
I fully expect there to be annual boosters of the COVID vaccine, and I am ready and eager to roll up my sleeve.
I have two other plans for the future, considering that I’m 45 and a COVID survivor. One is to start getting the flu shot twice a year, once at the very beginning of flu season and the other six months later. Say, late September and again in February or March.
Although... it looks like all the social distancing and masking may be driving influenza to extinction all around the world. Even better, it looks like all this medical research may be bringing us a universal flu vaccine, which is magnificent!
If you’ve been paying attention, it looks like we may also be getting both an effective malaria vaccine and an HIV vaccine. Coronavirus bonanzas.
I said I have two plans for the future, and one is to get the flu shot twice a year instead of just once. The other is to ask my doctor what other vaccines are on the market and please can’t I have them?
I don’t think it will happen for us this year, but I do believe that eventually world travel will be back on the table. (I’m still sticking with my original prediction, circa March 2020, that the pandemic will last until January 2023). I am much more concerned now about picking up some random contagion now.
I’d far, far rather go through a course of multiple injections that just lock my door and never go anywhere interesting ever again.
These are the sorts of things I’m thinking about as I sit here in the park on a beautiful warm spring day.
The park is very busy. We got to watch a group of third-graders give each other presentations on the US presidents. They were so much more confident than I was at that age, or, to be honest, even thirty years later.
We sat off to the side, on an embankment that is too steep for much besides our inflatable chairs, and made up our own fake presidential facts.
“Teddy Roosevelt wrestled a moose,” I intoned.
Something we noticed is that there were far more kids in masks today than there have been any other time in the past year. Our region has been extremely sloppy about masking. It seems, though, that the news is getting out. COVID seems to be having a stronger effect on little kids. Did you see the story about the poor little boy who went on vacation with his vaccinated parents, and he died??
By this time next year, maybe testing will indicate that the COVID vaccine is safe for children as well. Or maybe there will be a formulation that is safe on infants. At that point, we can finally break the back of this stupid virus and drive it to extinction.
We noticed today that a few people were enjoying the new order, that it’s okay to go without masks outdoors like we are doing. I would have assumed that everyone would take advantage of that fact, that even unvaccinated people would just go bare-faced and assume nobody would call them out on it.
It would be useful if we had some kind of signal for who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, like a colored ribbon, although that system could be abused as well. For now, though, it seems like people are going for it. Mask if no vaccine, bare face if elite.
How weird would it be if suddenly wearing a mask started to become a signal that one was part of the vaccine resistance? If the hesitant or the politically motivated started using masks to indicate where their loyalties lie? I would think it would make a terrific canvas for various symbols or slogans, like a nice little DONT TREAD ON ME serpent. Instant Etsy income.
This has been a surprisingly great day. We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the fine spring weather and smelling the freshly mown grass. Now we’re going to walk down to the beach, pull our masks out of our pockets, and get takeout burritos.
The weather is hot, and I got my shot, so now I’ll have fun with barely a thought. And that’s a great feeling that cannot be bought.
What is the thing that you would protect at all costs?
I’m not talking about your phone - although honestly, that’s the obvious one - or your kid or your cat. I’m talking the secret little thing that you do, the part of your life that you will make happen no matter how weird things get.
Morning cup of coffee?
Afternoon chocolate bar?
Reading a little before bed?
Everyone has something. One of mine is taking pictures of trash. My hubby knows I may suddenly stop in the middle of the sidewalk, even when we’re on vacation, or go back several paces so I can get my shot. It’s just part of the deal.
We know how to protect our assets when they’re important enough to us.
I was reading a time management article in Fast Company that introduced this concept in the sense of time management.
Ah yes, I thought, that is a brilliant way of looking at it. For instance, I will not go anywhere without breakfast, preferably a hot one. Doesn’t matter if we’re on the way to the airport for a redeye flight, preparing to drive a moving van several hours, or even if we’ve spent the night in the emergency room at the hospital. I am going to eat breakfast so don’t even argue.
Then I realized that this concept of protecting the asset is the difference between tidy people and... my people, the chaos club.
It’s a matter of mindset, like most things.
Many of my people associate cleaning up and getting organized with punishment and trauma. They never learned to do these things the easy way, it could never feel like a natural part of their life because it only ever happened under high-stress, emotional conditions.
On the other hand, the sort of people whose homes look like they could be on the cover of a magazine? The HGTV people? They don’t think this way at all.
What is going through their minds is more like “let’s make this pretty.” Or “I’m framing this shot so the composition is not disrupted.” They’re not focused on the drudgery at all - they’re simply restoring their environment so that it more closely matches their aesthetic vision.
...I know, right??
It actually irked me when I learned that chefs clean their own kitchen area every night. Argh, I thought, don’t let my husband read this! I was firmly of the opinion that after I slaved away over a hot pan, someone who was not me should do the cleanup.
(We’ve gone back and forth on that over the twelve years of our marriage. Some years, one of us cooked and the other cleaned, and then we would trade the next night. A few of these stints, we’ve done both the cooking and the cleaning on the same night, which is where we are now, and we still trade nights).
As my cooking improved, though, I started to feel it. I started to feel that resonance with the kitchen counter and the sink and stove as my work area, my artist’s palette. As I wiped things down, what I’d be thinking about was the next recipe I wanted to try, and how much easier it always is to walk into a spotless kitchen and get started.
Who was I doing it for? Myself.
Protecting the asset is, in one sense, my gleaming sink.
In another sense, it’s the precious bubble of my desire to compose delicious meals. For myself, and, incidentally, my husband, or sometimes my family or friends as well.
This is the biggest difference between me and a burned-out stay-at-home mom.
Well, besides the facts that 1. I can’t have kids and 2. Most 45-year-olds don’t have little kids at home.
I know that no matter who lives with me, I live there too. No matter who else is eating, this is my meal. This is my own lifestyle.
My asset, in this sense, is my sense of my own home, my household, my lifestyle, my daily routine. I live the way that I choose to live, and unfortunately that takes a certain amount of labor.
Some are willing to put nearly infinite time into their hair, their eye makeup, their nail art, their fashion choices, maintaining their shoe collection. Others put that time into gaming and creating a virtual universe for their avatars.
This is an affirmation that whatever it is that we truly love to do, we should raise it up and enjoy it. Own it, declare it - in the secrecy of our own hearts if we don’t literally feel like telling anyone else about it.
What I’ve learned to love are fine home-cooked meals and an intentional living environment.
One of those is a sort of natural outgrowth of loving a parrot.
She’s a whirlwind of loose feathers, shredded cardboard, and nibbled kibble that she’s somehow flung six feet in every direction. She is so unfathomably messy that it’s impossible to coast along and ignore it. My fluffy little gray asset.
The other thing about choosing to accept domestic scutwork with good grace is that it helps to hide my little secret. That secret is that I live for books, always have, always will. Scooting around cleaning is my way of ensuring that I have at least a little time to myself to get into my audiobook.
The asset, the asset. If I didn’t have a certain amount of private time to read every day, I would lose my mind. I honestly don’t know how other people survive without it.
This idea, of framing things as assets and putting the focus on that - rather than problems - can change your life if you let it.
The assets of mental bandwidth
The assets of relationships and long conversations
The assets of the physical environment - the soft bed, the sparkling kitchen, the reading chair, the indulgent bathtub, the desk where interesting things happen
The asset is anything you want it to be, anything that you choose for yourself. There’s no reason to limit yourself to just one. What if it was an asset of entitlement to something like privacy or creative expression or advanced education?
My hubby and I got our second shots last week. We are, as they say, in like Flynn.
Word is getting out, and people are starting to ask questions of us. We haven’t really gotten our heads around the idea that in another week and a half, we’ll be 94% protected against COVID-19.
Now that we’re in the vaccinated elite, it’s like doors have opened to us and we don’t even know what’s on the other side of those doors yet.
The first thing that happened is that some of our young people have started asking what our rules are for socializing.
The second thing is that our work asked on which exact date my hubby would be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ and thus free to travel again. Business trips.
There you have it. Right back to where we were in 2019, with a social calendar and a variable amount of business travel.
In the meantime, we’ve only just realized that we can go out in public and get PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS again.
My hubby needs to renew his passport. I called for him and found that he can get his photo taken 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, right up the street. He mentioned getting a haircut first.
“What, don’t you like my $6-equivalent home haircuts anymore?”
Haha, like I’m offended. The only thing more stressful than giving someone else an amateur haircut is: driving on the freeway. I might be willing to cut a man’s hair again under certain pressing circumstances - not sure what those would be - but it is unlikely that I will be called upon to do this again.
We keep talking about what else we’re going to do, once we’re free to go out and about.
Well, technically we’re free now. I think we could even go to see a movie at the mall. The pool is open at our building again, residents only. The gym next door is allowing people in. Cases are finally dropping in our area and things seem to be going well.
I have done something since we got our shots. I went to the store and bought some fresh raspberries.
I went alone, I wore my mask, I distanced, I was only in the store for ten minutes, the clerk stayed behind his plexiglass barrier, I left. Chances are, these behaviors would have served me just as well before I got my first shot, in the Wild West days.
The difference is that now, I no longer approach transactions like this in a flop sweat, with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I am what seems to be fairly rare in the US: a true believer that the coronavirus exists and that it wants to kill you. I had COVID, I’ve followed the updates and pre-prints in various research journals, and I understand that I could both get it again and die of it.
A short list of things I would rather have happen than get COVID a second time:
Be audited by the IRS
Be attacked by a coyote
Or a mountain lion
Get a tattoo on my eyeball
Have a tooth pulled without anesthesia
Be hit in the face with a baseball bat
Have food poisoning
I suppose I should match this with a short list of things that I think would be worse than getting COVID again. That would basically be: being trapped in a submarine with the oxygen running out, being dragged underwater by an alligator, or, actually literally dying.
Probably none of those things will happen to me or to anyone I know. I sure hope not. (Except the dying part - can’t do much about that). Probably I won’t get COVID again, either, because I am now paranoid for life. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of wearing a mask in public forever, because so far it has kept me from getting the flu or even the common cold.
Also I don’t have to worry if there’s spinach in my teeth.
What are we going to do, now that we’re in the vaccinated elite?
Probably we will re-enter society gradually, one step at a time.
We do have rules for having people over. Those rules are 1, you must be fully vaccinated, 2, you must show your documentation, and 3, if you bring someone with you who is not fully vaccinated yet, then I will throw a huge fit and shove the whole group of you away from my door with a broom. Because a 10-foot pole won’t fit in my apartment.
Probably we will be expected to return to work soon.
I am not excited about this, because I know that there will be a certain number of vaccine skeptics on staff. I won’t know who they are, and thus I might wind up in a small room with one sitting on either side of me.
Am I paranoid? I am. The Pfizer vaccine that I just got is not protective against the South African strain. How long will it take to produce a booster shot that will include that strain? No idea.
Going in to work as a physical entity, rather than a virtual avatar, means I’m going to have to wear a mask at least ten hours a day. I will probably wind up eating my lunch in the parking lot so that I can feel safe to take off my mask.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that elite yet. I have a piece of information that stresses me out, which is that there is still a deadly and highly contagious strain of a virus circulating out there, and my injection does not protect me against it.
Going to work and being on site 50 hours a week with 3000 people, many of whom travel regularly, is a completely different risk profile than going to the grocery store for ten minutes, or getting a haircut in a private salon with one stylist and a locking door.
In some ways, being a part of the vaccinated elite is great. It’s our best chance to achieve true herd immunity and finally end the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s not perfect, and it creates a certain amount of pressure to get back to business and pretend that everything is normal, when it isn’t yet.
The rest of 2021 promises to be both exciting and super weird.
Have you booked your appointment yet? Or are you already elite like us?
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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