I heard that an asteroid is going to smash into the Earth. Just like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Fine with me.
Obviously it’s God’s plan.
Yes, I read the Bible. Yes, I remember that part about the rainbow being God’s covenant that he would never try to wipe out humanity or destroy the Earth again. I don’t buy it. I choose to emphasize the parts that I want to and ignore the parts that don’t fit my argument.
I know they have some big scientific plan to divert this asteroid, send it off into space so it doesn’t smash into the Earth. But nobody asked me for my permission.
I am not okay with other people getting together without my consent and trying to use science on things.
I don’t understand it and I object to anyone doing a process that big and expensive without making it totally clear what’s going on.
What if this asteroid gets smashed into tiny particles that get into my lungs? What if it’s radioactive? What if it causes respiratory conditions in people? What about my pets?
I don’t want anyone doing anything irreversible until we know more about the long-term effects.
What if trying to get rid of the asteroid that is going to smash into the Earth causes worse problems than an asteroid smashing into the Earth? We can’t possibly know that!
I mean, okay, almost all living creatures on Earth became extinct the last time this happened, but maybe we’re better off. The dinosaurs are gone and now we’re here. Maybe now we’re the dinosaurs and we’re supposed to be erased to make room for whatever comes next.
All part of God’s plan, right?
I don’t know, I’m just speculating.
All I know is this whole scenario is stressing me out. I need a break. I need there to be a few no-news months so I can find some peace of mind. It’s so unfair for there to constantly be one problem after another.
I’m still not over the last one. Stupid coronavirus. I heard that 54 million Americans have had the COVID-19 vaccine. They’re trying to claim that all those people are fine and cases are dropping. It’s like they’re trying to make us believe that vaccines are safe and effective and that there’s actually a chance we can be vaccinated into herd immunity.
This upsets me so much. Now what are we going to do? They’re never going to stop. They’re going to keep trying to convince people to get the flu shut, and the measles vaccine, and shingles, and who knows what else? Malaria? Lyme disease? It makes me so crazy. Like they can somehow eliminate every disease on Earth. Pfft. Whatever.
Someone was trying to make this connection between vitamins and vaccines, like the same scientific processes that proved that we need vitamins are also used to test vaccine efficacy. Okay, no way. If it’s an established fact then it does’t count as science anymore.
Just stop. Stop trying to convince me that science is capable of doing good things and helping people. I don’t trust it and I never will.
Now bring on the asteroid. I could sure use a break. At least an asteroid colliding with the Earth is something I can understand.
A pattern has become evident. I know it isn’t just me because there is this term “Sunday scaries” that indicates that many of us have mood issues on Sundays in general. I can only assume that I’m not the only person who consistently has trouble sleeping on Sunday nights.
There isn’t any particular reason for this, at least not on paper. I’m not being kept up by money worries, or relationship problems, or even loud neighbors. Our building is remarkably quiet at night.
OTHER THAN BEING IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC EVERYTHING IS FINE
I wake up at basically the same time every morning, with or without an alarm, thanks to the little bird who sleeps in my bedroom, affectionately known as Beeps Peeps. She likes to mimic electronic sounds, including the travel alarm that she has not heard in years. This can be a useful trait - she has actually kept me from being late to work once or twice - but on three-day weekends and holidays it’s hard to remember how cute it is.
So it isn’t sleeping in too late on Sunday either.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this year trying to figure out what it is that wakes me throughout the night on Sundays, messing up my track record and leaving me bleary and distracted each Monday.
I like my job, I work with really nice people, I have interesting things to do, I get a lot of autonomy, I don’t even have a dress code. There is a long list of things that other people can claim as legitimate grievances, reasons to be stressed out by their jobs. I don’t have any of those things - not that I haven’t in the past.
It seems to be simply the gear shift between my utterly formless, lounging weekends and the staccato pace of my weekday life.
Part of my brain pops up and starts thinking, “Get up early tomorrow, lots to do” and it just never shuts up.
It’s like one of those toy monkeys in every horror film. Its eyes glow red and it starts running around and clapping its cymbals together.
These are the sorts of things that happen on Sunday nights:
I wake up every twenty minutes and check the clock
I have nightmares that seem to go on for three hours
I have literal night terrors and jump out of bed, waking my poor husband, who has been dealing with that whole thing for ten years
I wake up at 5:30 am for no apparent reason and lie there like a sea lion
I go to bed extra-early and lie awake until 2:00 am like I’m jet lagged
A distinction about my sleep issues is that I take an OTC sleep aid. It works fine every other night. I can drift off in minutes. Same dose, Sunday night, about as useful as a breath mint.
Parasomnia issues have been a part of my life in one form or another since pre-kindergarten. I remember that it became a serious issue for me when I was about seven. So I have a lot of experience coming up with things to do at night, and different approaches to try. I’ve read thousands of pages of books and journal articles about sleep research and I’m determined to Try Everything.
Sleeplessness isn’t the worst thing that can befall someone, of course! I try to take it in a matter-of-fact way. Oh well, another one of these. Perhaps an approach that I try will help someone else. Maybe this will be the only night that this particular, individual distinct reason will come along and mess up my sleep. Cross it off.
I do occasionally have lovely, restful nights of sleep. I also often have fantastic three-hour naps. It’s getting easier.
So what’s up with Sunday nights? What have I tried?
Well, I can say with great certitude that there are some things that will keep me awake, me and probably any other person who tries them. One is eating a large portion of Mexican food followed by birthday cake earlier in the evening. Another is eating sweets too close to bedtime, something that I have confirmed and that I yet continue to do to myself from time to time.
Another is arguing with someone, another is reading politics at bedtime.
Obviously another is lying awake quite deliberately, reading when it’s past bedtime. I have finally gotten smart enough in midlife to quit tormenting myself in this way, and it does help to feel more rested.
Those are things to definitely avoid.
What have I tried to fall asleep more deeply?
Showering before bed
Same, but also drying my hair afterward
White noise (waterfall variety)
Going to bed an hour early and making sure everything is orderly first
Guided visualization (leaf drifting downstream, triggering for some reason)
Heated mattress pad / no heated mattress pad
Weighted blanket, the worst! Not for me
Drinking hot herbal tea earlier in the evening
Maybe it’s the sense of “Doing Something” that is not helping. Maybe I’m too conscious that I want this to work, in the same way that you can jinx yourself out of sneezing.
Have you ever tried to focus your attention on tying your shoes, remembering each loop step by step, and then found yourself unable to succeed until you looked away and went back to doing it by feel?
The situation is that I am finally at a time in my life when I can usually fall asleep right away six nights a week. About 80% of the time I sleep the night through without any issues. I’m between 7 and 8 hours most weeknights, and 10 or 11 hours on the weekends. It’s just this one particular night, when I seem to be too revved up to get down and stay down.
I am not done with my explorations. I’m not much of a creature of routine, and sooner or later some element of my lifestyle will change, either due to external circumstance or intentional experimentation. At some point, this blip in my life will quit blipping.
My goal for the time being is to increase my overall level of chillaxation. I seek to be a person of gravitas, a calming presence, to start winding down my tightly wound watch and maybe be less revved. Even if it doesn’t do anything for whatever is sucking away my sleep on Sunday nights, that attitude still feels worth cultivating.
Today we were all looking at the floor plan of the building where I nominally work. I’ve been to the building, coincidentally, but I haven’t been within miles of the place since the day I was hired. I don’t have a security badge and there is no computer on my desk. I might not even have a chair - I don’t actually know.
My name is on the map, though. Might as well take this as a sign that the world is going to be more or less back to normal in the near future.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone. I know a few happily retired people whose lifestyles haven’t changed much at all since the pandemic. I also know several people who have driven to work every morning without a hitch, the only differences being the masks, the sanitizing, and the distancing requirements.
Statistics show, though, that only 34% of people can now claim they never work from home, and 44% are working from home all the time now.
That means a lot of us are going to need to shift gears pretty radically when we start going back in to the office.
Predictably, there are probably going to be a lot of long lines and wait lists for things like haircuts.
(I’ve been fine cutting my own hair, and my big headphones are graciously covering a lot of… transition… in my hair coloring… but I would rather make my debut with one consistent shade than a giant ledge in the middle of my head).
I know I won’t be going into the office in person for at least another four months. That might sound like a long time. If I think of it in terms of wearing the mask and being cooped up in our dinky apartment, it’s crazy-making. Then when I think of it in the context of everything I have to do, it sounds like the blink of an eye.
Time to start making a backlog.
Cut and color - I can do that in the same appointment. What else do I need to do in that end of town? (Haha, just kidding, I get my hair cut in the building next door).
Work clothes - alas! I can’t wear my beloved “work pajamas” to the office and I know I don’t fit in any of my office-type clothes from 3-4 years ago. This gives me four months to either put together a new capsule wardrobe or drop a few pounds, something I have been trying to do for the past year with little success.
Shoes - same. Whatever clothes I wind up wearing, coordinating shoes are on the same list.
Work bag - I can use what I have. Do I need to clean it out? What’s in there, anyway?
Lunches - I haven’t had to pack a lunch to take to work since 2009. What am I going to eat?? I don’t even know what this place has in terms of a break room. This brings back so many memories of having food stolen from the communal fridge, the reason I used to bring ugly melted containers for my leftovers.
The commute! - I haven’t had to commute in over a decade, either. How am I going to get there?? It is out of walking range and I’m not sure I will ever feel brave enough to board a public bus again. Last time, last summer, I wound up with bacterial pneumonia and I’m not sure whether that was a coincidence or an unfortunate consequence of sharing space with Other People. This is a non-trivial problem that I hope is resolved by the decision that everyone may continue merrily working from home.
But - just in case - plan I must.
I read that in the before-times, a lot of people worked from home at least occasionally. In those types of offices, it appears that the people who come into the office are the ones who get promoted. This is obviously a factor in this type of decision.
On my team, I also happen to live the closest to campus. If one of us were to be called upon to commute in, I would feel stingy if I kept wheedling or positioning myself so that Someone Else had to go in instead of me.
Thus I am facing the prospect of going in, working in person, and sitting at a desk with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, resignation, and of course a healthy dollop of mortal terror.
It turns out that we don’t have a legal basis for requiring people to get vaccinated before they can come to work.
What we have here is a raging case of Uncertainty, and being in the Place of Uncertainty is a phenomenally strong motivation to attempt more planning and preparedness exercises.
This is what I do. I visualize myself getting up, getting dressed, grabbing my lunch and my work bag, and making my way to work.
As opposed to putting on my “work pajamas” and wandering twenty feet to my desk, where I can work barefoot or bundled in a blanket and nobody even knows.
There are other things that we can all consider before the world goes back to normal. These are the things that Today Me has not felt like doing, but that Future Me is going to be too busy to do once that hour a day or more is lost to commuting.
Cleaning out the car?
Trying on work clothes and sorting out whether they fit, whether they need repairs, or whether they should get recycled
Sorting through all the various bottles, jars, and potions in the bathroom
Practicing all the hair and makeup styling tricks I have completely forgotten how to do
The stuff I wish everyone else would do, to wit, learning to write a decent email subject header and figure out when to reply-all or not
And, honestly, the stuff most of us are more likely to do once we realize that WFH is almost over and may never return:
Staying up as late as possible idly scrolling on our phones
Binge-watching a few last shows
Suddenly feeling premature nostalgia for this time that we all hated so much, until we realized it was almost gone.
All right then. Assuming you can have literally anything you ask for, that someone else will do all the associated remodeling, cleanup, installation, and furniture moves at your direction, what do you actually want?
This is where we are right now at my work, imagining what we want work to look like. We’re stuck in the imagination stage because the majority of us still don’t know when we can get our vaccines. We’re on mandatory work-from-home.
Want to know something funny? I designed a survey and built in a “no preference” response and about 10% of the respondents chose that.
No preference, really?
You have no preference whether you commute or not, or whether you have your own office or not?
I believe there are people like this in the world, people whose least favorite thing is to have to choose something. I am not one of these people. Maybe what we need is a benevolent AI that keeps track of decisionless people and randomly assigns them to things.
Further, I think almost everyone is so hung up on all the annoyances and things that we dislike about working that it hasn’t occurred to us to wonder what we actually DO want.
Personally I like variety. I like to be able to get up and work in different places, maybe outside, maybe on the bus, maybe in a cafe, maybe even on the library stairs or something. All of that has been extracted from my life by the pandemic. The best I can do is to occasionally work on my blog from an inflatable chair at the park.
Right now I am sitting at my desk, which I normally reserve for work-work, because I dropped my phone on my iPad and it’s in the shop.
Note, shouldn’t all Apple products be immune to each other? Why is it possible for me to do $330 worth of damage to one of my products with another one of my products?? (At least I didn’t shatter both of them at once…)
I’m willing to bet that a lot of people are leaning toward working from home because we have become accustomed to the convenience of doing household chores while in meetings.
(I do a lot of mine either while I’m waiting for my computer to warm up or while I’m in the process of making my lunch).
Okay, let’s think bigger. What if our homes are modernized as quickly as the office? What if algorithms and robots are reliably taking care of more of our bandwidth and we’re actually able to do the fun, creative, intellectually stimulating stuff ourselves?
What does THAT look like?
I’m still waiting for an AI that can work as a companion, listening genially as I ramble on and on, ideating and shifting between completely unrelated projects, circling back, changing the subject with no warning, the way that my human friends have come to expect and
OH, that reminds me
By the time an AI can keep up with a creative, non-neurotypical person such as myself, it will be able to do virtually anything.
The only way that will ever happen is if we keep dreaming bigger, learning to hand off more and more mental tasks, and thus incrementally training this concept of an artificial brain.
From experience working with the chronically disorganized, I can say that problems at work are similar to problems at home, which is, the routine parts are too boring to get done, but the non-routine parts are often too confusing.
Who do I call to handle this? How do I describe it? What actually needs to get done? How much of it am I expected to do myself and how much can I delegate to someone else? What order do the steps go?
I used to have a social services job in which, every day, I would get calls from people looking for a completely different department or a completely different branch of government. If I didn’t help them myself they would just call me again.
Almost nobody on Earth will actually Google something on their own, even if it was faster and easier and came with cute photos. They’d rather Talk to a Real Person (TM) so they don’t have to engage System 2 thinking.
This is why I am torn between thinking that AI will never happen, or that AI will eventually save us all.
What if AI convincingly sounded like that proverbial “real person”? An endlessly patient and useful person, who knew every answer, never asked you to repeat yourself, and read your mood perfectly? What if that “real person” was always available and you never had to wait on hold?
I think it’s possible.
Because, even though many of us carry incredibly powerful computers with vast search engines in our pockets round the clock, we aren’t using them to further our knowledge or understanding of the world. Instead we use them to spy on each other, argue with each other, and look at video clips. If we genuinely had this helpful and eager “customer service rep” waiting there to do more of the steps for us, maybe we would take advantage of that opportunity?
Or is it more like, the more things are automated for us, the more things will feel like “work” even though they are less work than what came before?
I have a desk job, but I know a lot of people who don’t. They are gradually adopting more and more automation, from power tools to GPS to digital levels, etc. Who doesn’t enjoy using a pressure washer?
That’s what I’m personally looking for, a work experience that feels more like playing with a toy or having a fascinating conversation. Does that feel possible?
Or do we really all just want to go back to commuting, honking at each other, rushing to stand in line to buy coffee in disposable cups, scrolling through hundreds of emails, and tapping our pens in endless meetings? Do we miss normality so much that it actually looks like it was ever a good idea?
It’s only been two weeks, and the results are indisputable. I made a minor tweak on my phone, it led to a pretty major behavior change, and now I’m sleeping almost two hours more per night on average.
I can’t believe it worked that well and that fast.
It’s actually a little embarrassing.
Not everyone feels this way, but for me, I feel like, if I was able to sleep then I obviously needed it. Not only will I refuse to apologize to anyone for sleeping, but if another person is actively interfering with my sleep, I will put them on blast and deal with it.
You! Have you ever woken someone else up because you were annoyed that they were sleeping? And they weren’t behind the wheel of a moving vehicle? Then you should probably reconsider what the heck is wrong with you.
Sleep is free and healthy. When other people are sleeping, you are then free to read or enjoy your alone time. So make the most of it.
Anyway. I sleep a lot because I’m a COVID survivor and I also have a parasomnia disorder. Sometimes I have issues sleeping, even with various OTC sleep aids, and I can struggle for weeks or months in this way. Being chronically sleep-deprived is bad for my productivity at work. So it’s quite a pleasant surprise when I’m able to sleep a lot.
This year I started to notice that I was sleep-procrastinating, which is staying up too late even when you’re tired because you’re so desperate for downtime. It’s a way for Night-Me to “get revenge” on Daytime-Me. You know, for having a job and responsibilities and stuff.
Sleep-procrastinating is a pernicious habit because the rewards are immediate. Look at me! Reading late at night! In my pajamas in my bed where I am so cozy! This is my favorite activity of all time!
Then there is Daytime-Me, crabby and irritable and tired, oh-so-tired, until it’s bedtime again and Night-Me gets this big ear-to-ear grin and starts the whole cycle over again.
I had a solid idea of what was behind this. My news queue. I knew without having to track metrics that my default mode was skimming my news app. I also knew that I was most likely to get myself into trouble with this after I was already in bed.
I made three tweaks, all of which work together.
First, I set up a bedtime routine in my Morning Routine app. It turns out that it takes me forty minutes to get ready for bed, partly because I see a periodontist now and I may have some of the most elaborate oral hygiene practices on the planet. So whenever I start that app, add at least forty minutes before my head hits the pillow.
To me, a bedtime routine is the number one keystone habit. It determines whether the household is always on time, early, or late. It determines quite a lot of health results. And it definitely determines whether everyone is fighting or basically getting along.
My bedtime routine is elaborate because I like to sleep until 7:30 am for an 8:00 am start at work. The more I do before bed, the less I have to do in the morning. Basically throw on clothes, straighten my hair, and make my tea.
Anyway, I had been using the bedtime routine app with some success, but then when I was finished, I would flop down and start skimming the news again. This practice was indeed streamlining my morning and making sure I remembered to start the dishwasher. But it wasn’t really helping me fight the bad habits and self-destructive tomfoolery of Night-Me.
Don’t feel the mogwai after midnight
I happened to stumble across an article that indicated I could customize my access to specific apps on my phone. As soon as I knew it was possible, I knew I wanted to do it.
This sort of thing only works if you trust yourself to be your own advocate. My superego is pretty good at driving the bus around here. I am not particularly vulnerable to psychological reactance, where we get mad at ourselves for setting limits. I just shrug and say to myself, Ah yes, I remember that I decided that was the best idea. Questioner Power.
Tweak One was setting up a bedtime routine that is gamified with a timer.
Tweak Two was setting a bedtime on my phone. Almost all apps are unusable between 10pm and 7am, which is a moot point since I’m still asleep at that time. I had to go back and add in a few apps, like the Morning Routine, that I use after 10.
Tweak Three was to set a one-hour time limit on my News app.
It turns out the third tweak was the biggest deal. I am now quite aware that every minute I skim through the news queue takes away one minute from reading that app during my workout.
There are a lot of ways to cheat; for instance, I can open an article in my browser instead and read it outside of the one-hour limit. This is perfectly fine by my standards. In fact, most of the news that I consume is through my speed-reading audio app anyway.
Because I also have the 10:00 pm shutoff, most of the time that I would have idly been reading news articles would be in the time between 10 pm and, on weekends, 1:00 am. As long as I’m not browsing in that three-hour window, any amount is probably fine.
My new setup started working the very first night. I picked up my phone, saw that it was shut down for the night, shrugged, and started getting ready for bed. I’m “allowed” to read books on my phone after 10, just not the news or email, and it turned out that I was asleep before midnight.
As time has gone by, I seem to be falling asleep a few minutes earlier each night.
Part of my higher weekly average is that I take three-hour naps on the weekend, but then, I was doing that before I set up these time boundaries on my phone. Almost all the increase in my average sleep time has just been going to bed earlier and falling asleep earlier during the week.
I have the power to change what I’m doing any time. I can turn off these settings on my phone. I can also start getting ready for bed even earlier and see what happens. It is pretty interesting to be able to track my metrics at a glance.
How do I feel? I feel great. I also feel like I could easily take a second nap each day on the weekend, but I haven’t yet. Daytime-Me keeps thinking there are “things I should be doing.”
But... are there?
We played hooky.
By that I mean, I went to the dentist, and my hubby drove, and he used comp time and I used two hours of vacation.
I was supposed to take the whole day off. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.
All the same, what we managed to do with a fairly brief window of time off duty felt like a vacation day. Properly planned, it doesn’t take very much.
The first thing that made this day feel like a vacation day is that neither of us had to sign on at a particular time. I blew off my morning stand-up meeting since I had already written up and submitted a status report. Delayed delivery is our friend!
More of us should start taking it seriously when we say “this meeting could have been an email” - and actually write the email and then cancel that meeting.
I did have a meeting scheduled that I had forgotten about when I asked for the day off. I wanted to keep it, though, and we wound up finishing our discussion in under fifteen minutes. Whether “work” feels like “work” depends almost entirely on how much agency you have around your project. It doesn’t even have to be interesting or challenging if you feel like you are the boss of getting it done.
Since I had this meeting that I wanted to keep, I made an intuitive decision that I would put in a certain amount of a proper workday, and that I would do it sub-rosa. I simply wouldn’t log in or talk to anyone else, and I would get some stuff off my backlog.
This was a little nutty but it totally worked. It felt like I got two days off in one - the equivalent to my working Fridays, when nobody else is around and I can be 3x as productive - plus a fun outing.
It turned out my hubby also had a morning meeting that he had forgotten about, even though he, too, scheduled a day off. His was a little later than mine, so I used the time to get some stuff done. We both left feeling productive.
We took off, having temporary use of our friend’s car. (Everyone loves you when you have your own personal parking spot in a secured garage, at least when that spot is empty).
We drove to our old town, where neither of us can quite bring ourselves to break up with our dentist, even though it’s quite a haul. The truth is that trips to the dentist also make room for a quick tour around our old stomping grounds, and we still enjoy that, so much so that we keep talking about moving back.
(That is, until we drive home again and realize all over again how untenable the commute would be, even for a day).
While I had my appointment, my hubby sat outside our favorite old Starbucks, drank tea, and read a book.
One important secret to playing hooky is to do it during a season when you really appreciate the weather. Some people are going to want a snow day, some people are going to choose rain rolling down the window, and we of course are going to choose hot summer weather.
This is really the ingredient that made our day special. Half an hour of driving was like fast-forwarding from spring to summer. It was about 15 F hotter in town than it was at home. I wore a sleeveless top and a skirt, while I’ve been wearing sweaters for months.
It’s not quite enough to forget that one is wearing two masks plus a face shield, but maybe it’s as close as one can get right now.
I went to the dentist, and the news was not good, and I sometimes wonder what I have done to have this sort of saga visited on me. On the other hand, it does mean I’m going back again, and I have another appointment to look forward to, and I can try to think of all the fun parts of that day rather than dental implements.
After my appointment, I had a nice sunny walk down what used to be one of my favorite parts of town. I remembered all the times I went into the bookstore that was now open for curbside pickup only. I remembered past years when I had bought Girl Scout cookies from a table on the sidewalk, right at that corner. I remembered living there and having no idea that 2020 was coming and just swinging my arms and having a bare face.
Then I saw my hubby sitting at his little outdoor table. It has been a very long time since I was just able to walk up on him from a distance and see him from that vantage. I like to pretend sometimes that he’s just a random single boy and I’m a single girl and that I’m going to try to chat him up.
He told me a little about his book, which I imagine he would have done if I were flirting with him, because that would totally work.
We ordered sandwiches from what used to be our favorite sandwich shop. Sometimes we would eat there and then go see a movie. This time, we got our food in a bag and drove across town and went to a park.
Eating a meal in a park, when you haven’t done that for a long time, can feel like a vacation in itself.
It was such fine picnic weather. I saw a yellow-rumped warbler and a black phoebe and a very saucy squirrel. We ate potato chips and drank lemonade and felt that we had the entire day to do whatever we liked.
Then, of course, we realized that we really needed to get a move-on if we were going to beat traffic, and remembered all over again what it’s like to drive on a six-lane freeway, and why we decided never to have a freeway commute again, and why we got rid of our car.
We were back before 4:00 pm. It was a coin-toss whether I would log back on and work a bit more, or not. But it was too late to take a nap, and I had to sign my timecard anyway, and I realized I wanted to get stuff done. So I worked another two hours. But it felt like nothing.
The best parts of the day were enjoying the fine summer weather and having hours together to chat casually about whatever. In every respect, it was like a vacation day.
Except that I only had to take two hours of vacation to pull that off.
I’m sad to say that if I had taken the entire day off, like I originally planned, I probably would have spent a lot of the day thinking about work. I would have worried about what was lurking in my email and I would have stressed about how much more I would have to do the next day. This is definitely something that I need to work on - and a lot of people in our culture should probably join me. I will give myself credit for taking a part of a day and using it recreationally, which is what vacation time is for.
How about you? Are you leaving comp time or vacation time on the table? When is the last time you took an afternoon off, or even took a long lunch?
It’s about that time again. We look up and realize another year has passed, and we still don’t feel like making a car payment or paying insurance. We’re some of the few business professionals in Southern California who choose not to have a car.
But - but how do you do that??
The first thing is to acknowledge our privilege, some of which is timeline privilege. If we lived in 1547 we would not have the option of buying a vehicle with a combustion engine. If we didn’t have a donkey or a large dog we would just have to walk places. If we were serfs, there wouldn’t be anywhere we could really go anyway.
Come to think of it, the same would have been true in 1847. Even in 1947, if we lived where we live now we would probably ride the streetcar.
We just happened to become adults in the age of automobile supremacy, and we bought into it just like everyone else, until suddenly we didn’t.
If you’ve been reading my blog that long, we had a series of events that led up to our sudden ejection of a personal car from our lives. My hubby’s old truck sort of died around 200,000 miles. Then we replaced it with a regular four-door sedan, which was recalled by the manufacturer just as we were changing cities a couple years later.
This is where the privilege factors in. We knew we could buy a car any time. There wasn’t any time pressure. I am pretty sure that if we really wanted, we could find a broker or car salesperson who would sell us a car quite literally 24/7. We could call someone, and buy the car, and have someone drop it off for us at 3:00 am. It might even be easier to purchase a car in the middle of the night than certain kinds of food, say, a Vegemite sandwich or out-of-season Girl Scout cookies.
Why not wait, then?
We were very busy moving. By that I mean that we had 11 days to find a place close to the new job, so we sold or donated all our stuff and put it in storage and went directly to an AirBnB and we could only eat meals that went in the microwave and then we had to look for an apartment. Buying a car just was not something we felt like doing that month.
We had practice. For the last year that we owned a car, we didn’t really use it. We had cased out a neighborhood within walking distance of my hubby’s work, which we both loved. We only took the car out about once a month to get groceries or go to the movies. Mostly we felt like we should probably turn on the engine from time to time, and then we would have to go through the car wash because the windows were coated in pollen.
We did then what we do now. Most of the time, we walk to the grocery store. We do our banking and everything else online. The biggest difference is that for the past year, I have been cutting our hair so we don’t take the bus to the hair salon.
Most people get very stressed out when they think about getting rid of a vehicle. Not switching to car-free and saving all that money, or living in a more pleasant area where it’s fun to walk to the ice cream shop. They think about having to share a car with someone else and they start feeling their blood pressure rise.
The thing is, nobody is asking you to do anything. I don’t even know you!
All I’m doing is sharing that it’s totally possible to be normal adults with two normal full-time, demanding jobs, and still live a totally normal modern lifestyle without owning an automobile.
In fact, we are probably living a more luxurious lifestyle than a lot of people... a dark little secret that I don’t elaborate on too often, but I might as well.
A major factor in our decision to jettison our Jetta was that it cost us $700 a month all told. That’s car payments, insurance, gas, oil changes, parking, bridge tolls, etc. Now that we don’t own a car, we don’t have to pay for any of that at all. Other people may pay less because they have owned their vehicles for longer, but then again, they may be paying more because they have two, and maybe they’re older, and maybe they need more repairs and the gas mileage isn’t as good. I dunno.
All I know is that $700 a month is enough to make a big difference in a lot of budgets.
It is in ours. We’ve used a small portion of that (let’s count it, 4 years x 12 months x $700 = $33,600) to... HOLD ON, HOW MUCH???
I was just going to blather on about how we bought a window-washing robot for $200 and I buried my own lede.
The main thing that we have done with the $33,600 we didn’t spend on cars is to never, ever fight about money.
When we go on vacation, we just do whatever we want and get appetizers or whatever, because we know we can afford it.
That’s what not having a car means. It means that sometimes we have to pay to have something delivered, and sometimes we have to leave a few minutes early to take a rideshare. But while we are doing those things, we have this sense that we can afford it because there’s a giant empty place where other people have vehicle expenses.
We’ve maxed out every retirement contribution available to us, and we’ve done it for years. We’re also debt-free, and we’ve done that for years too.
When people talk about their cars, the word that comes to mind is ‘freedom.’ It’s a teenaged concept. We want to feel free to get in the car any moment, and drive off to buy a taco or get fries on demand or whatever. What most people aren’t aware of, though, is what actual financial freedom feels like. It feels like a pretty good trade to us. It also feels like maybe both aren’t possible, that financial freedom and maximum vehicle ownership can’t exist in the same budget or the same household.
Something to think about.
We’re still in the position of being able to afford to buy a vehicle any time. Probably more so than we were four years ago. It should say something about being car-free that we have chosen to continue this way.
Our system of only watching movies that got above a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes has failed us.
We watched “Greenland” and it has problems, so so many problems.
If you haven’t seen this film already, this review will be completely loaded with spoilers, so make up your mind now. Although it’s probably okay because if you’ve seen one disaster movie, you’ve seen them all.
The first problem with disaster movies is usually the pseudoscience. If you know that going in, you can willingly suspend your disbelief and try to enjoy the thrill ride.
Unfortunately, the first problem with “Greenland” is not the pseudoscientific disaster but the ethical disaster. It’s a morass. The worldview of this film does not even make sense.
In a nutshell, the plot goes like this. A comet is going to hit the Earth in an extinction-level event. A very small group of people have been selected, by profession, to get on a bunch of planes and be whisked off to some special bunkers to ride out the catastrophe. But the logistics are problematic.
Cue: humans decompensating.
The only part of this movie that we found believable, as people who [job details redacted], was the crowd behavior. People refuse to wait in line. People cause traffic jams. People loot stores. People start punching each other over the least provocation. Someone should actually just make a supercut of scenes like this from various disaster and action films, spliced with clips from actual news broadcasts, and just lay a black metal soundtrack over it.
Okay, where do the ethical issues come in?
The story starts with a quick demonstration that the protagonist is a structural engineer/workaholic. He’s going to help out with a party at the home of his estranged wife and son. Almost immediately, he gets a ‘presidential alert’ on his phone that he needs to grab his wife, kid, and luggage and get down to the Air Force base.
[There are a million and five reality-based problems with this, but it’s crucial to the plot that a) this guy never knew he was on some kind of list and had no advance preparation and b) he and his family are... deserving?]
All the friends and neighbors are present in the living room when the news hits, both that their region is going to be wiped out by this comet hitting the Earth and that these three individuals, but no others, are going to be rescued.
Alpha-protagonist convinces estranged wife and kid to go with him, though evidently he has broken their trust in some way. Neighbors start crying, following them with pleas and attempts to negotiate. One neighbor blocks the vehicle, begging that they take her daughter with them. NOPE.
What is this scene saying? We have no choice but to follow orders and obey; we would only be turned away if we tried to bring extra people. You weren’t selected so deal with it.
Everything after this point in the plot has the exact opposite message.
I think the theme of this film is that this family has grit and loyalty, therefore they deserve to make it to the end. Even though that is true of other families in the film who don’t.
What is presented is fairly realistic, in that the family are disorganized and poor communicators. They are as entitled as one would expect, given their neighborhood and social class. They are constantly interrupting people, screaming, cutting ahead in line, and convinced that their needs come first. There is only one moment when any of them shows any care or consideration for others, and that is when Protagonist drags a man out of a burning car.
(But why then? When the world is physically coming to an end?)
Part of the muddle of this film is that the family is trying to finagle their way around a government plan that is portrayed as simultaneously sinister and sloppy, both cruel and logical, both poorly and well planned, both effectively and ineffectively executed.
The motive of the protagonist seems to be, I will take advantage of my elite place in this plan, even after I have been formally cut from the team.
Is there some kind of plan to preserve certain subject matter experts in the event of a crisis? I do not know, but I strongly suspect there is. Would this plan include random people with no security clearance who were not notified until literally the last minute? Implausible. If such a plan did exist, would it include the family members of this person, regardless of their health situation? Probably yeah. We have this thing called a group insurance policy.
I know a bunch of SMEs who have significant health issues and need various accommodations to do their work. In our world, there is no requirement to be able-bodied - that’s for astronauts, Navy SEALs, the Secret Service, and that sort of high-test individual.
I might have liked this movie better if this dude drew on his natural alpha powers and rallied his neighbors in some way. Structural engineer, yeah? You have an entire neighborhood full of construction materials and tools - can’t you just get an excavator from your work site and build some kind of bunker for a couple hundred people in the next day or two?
Gimme a break. If one series of implausible events can happen in this plot, then why not another equally implausible formulation?
Such as someone somehow knowing the exact place in Greenland that would be safe for an ordinary building to ride out a planetary catastrophe? And then opening the doors after nine months to sunlight rather than sheets of ice? (There is no season when this timing would work out, even in a normal Greenland).
The moral of the story is that one of the most selfish families in Florida gets to ride out an extinction-level event by crossing two international borders, committing manslaughter, and arguably causing a plane crash. What is the message? That they do/don’t deserve their place, that the government’s plan did/did not work, that the manifest destiny of Americans is literally everywhere, and that people should/shouldn’t be “saved” based on their contribution to the economy?
The only thing I can tell you is that if there was a nervous-making comet headed our way, we would probably see it months in advance. It’s been 66 million years since the last real troublemaker hit the Earth, just as it will be another 66 million years before someone makes a disaster movie that actually makes any sense.
Is the glass half empty or half full?
I’ve always felt like the basic formulation of the “optimist vs pessimist” question - is this glass half empty or half full - was designed by a pragmatic, convergent thinker.
Who cares what’s in it when you have the glass itself?
Think of all the things you can do with a glass!
If it’s completely empty, you can hold it against a wall and eavesdrop on people.
You can have a wedding ceremony and have someone stomp on it.
You can use it to roll out dough and cut nice, symmetrical biscuits.
You can fill it with flowers.
You can draw a picture of it - or if you’re not great at drawing, you can use it to draw circles.
Then you can use the glass to hold the corner of the paper down.
Or let’s say the glass is half empty. It has something in it, say your favorite juice, but - it’s almost gone! *schnif*
Woe, woe, the way of the world, my glass is almost empty, isn’t that always the way
But the very existence of the glass refers to the availability of a million different kinds of beverages out there in the world.
Free, sanitary tap water!
The cleanest the world has ever known!
Inexpensive industrial beverages, available not only at every single grocery store, convenience store, and gas station, but in vending machines as well.
And you don’t even need a glass to drink them!
Then it only makes sense to think, this darn glass is still half full. All this liquid is getting in the way of all the other potential beverages that could be in here. Won’t someone please come along and empty this darn glass so I can refill it with something I like better?
Chug it and empty it yourself, drain it to the last drop, knowing there will always be more where that came from!
The truth is that an empty glass is a call for hospitality. How many parties, weddings, even funerals are there where someone walking up with an empty glass will quickly have it filled?
Even the most begrudging people would probably still allow you to fill this glass from their garden hose, and that’s not nothing.
A stranger holding a glass in hand is basically crying out for someone to come up with another glass and clink it, Ting!
This is something my little parrot loves to do. If you meet her, she’s going to want to know if you ting. Take turns tapping the glass and holding completely still, listening for the ringing sound until it fades away, then it’s the next bird’s turn to go ting.
See, a drinking glass is not just good for a philosophical construct. It is an interesting material object in its own right, and of interest not just to humans but to other species.
Why, just set it down on a table and find out what a housecat will do with it.
Thus is it clearly demonstrated that it doesn’t matter one whit whether the glass is half empty or half full. The very existence of the glass itself is a testament to the problem-solving and creative nature of humanity, our ability to continually generate new ideas and new ways of doing things, making them decorative in the process.
Anyone who sees less is just too impatient to apply a bit of imagination to the question.
I’d do anything for you, I hope you know that.
If you ever need me, just call me, day or night.
If anyone ever messes with you, they better not, but if they do they’ll have to go through me.
Nothing gets me more worked up than picturing you in harm’s way, and all the things I would do to anyone who ever tried to hurt you.
I just really want you to know that.
I’m here for you, I’ll always be here for you.
If you were ever wrongfully accused, I’d get you lawyers, I’d call the press, I’d call our state rep, I’d write letters, I’d be in court every day. I would get you out if it took twenty years.
If you were ever in the hospital, I’d be by your side day and night. I’d sleep in a chair. I know you know that.
If you needed a blood donor, if you needed an organ, take mine. But if we weren’t a match I would drive around with posters all over the car. I’d set up a GoFundMe. I’d do whatever it takes and I’d find you a match.
I’d do anything for you.
If you were ever stranded, you could call in the middle of the night and I’d put on my coat and snow boots and I’d go get you.
Would I fight a bear for you? Are you kidding me? I am that bear!
I told you I’d do anything for you and I know you know how much I mean that.
So why do you keep asking me about this vaccine.
You know that is something I will never do.
But that has nothing to do with how much I love you.
I’m not getting the shot. I’m not reading articles about it. I’m not watching interviews about it. I’m not looking at posters or brochures.
I made up my mind, so stop it and leave me alone!
Just, please can’t you quit thinking this has anything to do with you or how much I love you?
I’ll do any of those other things, but not this.
Because I’m afraid of the vaccine in a way that I am not afraid of the courts, or the press, or wild animals, or any human on earth.
I will face literally anything on Earth for you - except this one thing.
This is where I draw the line.
Sure, I had the tetanus shot, so not all needles. Just this one.
Maybe there are two things I won’t do for you after all.
I won’t get the shot and I won’t listen to you on this subject.
I have the biggest, wildest heart in the world, just bursting with love and loyalty - but this is where it stops.
This is the fence around my love.
And I’m not even sorry.
Please let’s go back to pretending this isn’t happening so I can go back to loving you with my whole heart once again.
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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