One in three people in Los Angeles County have probably had COVID-19.
That doesn’t surprise me at all, since I live here and I was one of the early cases. Everything I have seen around me since the very beginning has indicated that we would not do well in the pandemic.
This is what it’s like for me and my household these days.
I took a Mucinex about an hour ago. Ten months after being exposed, I’m still having shortness of breath. Worse, every month or so, I start feeling heavy lung congestion to the point that it makes my back hurt.
I just learned that apparently COVID-19 scars the lungs worse than years of heavy smoking. The way my chest feels right now, I believe it. My last chest x-ray did show peribronchial thickening, and I have no idea how long that will last. I’ve never had a cigarette, vape, or pipe anywhere near my mouth, so it seems a little sad and unfair.
I’m not getting around much. The weather has been getting nicer, but I almost never leave our apartment. There are still maskless people flaunting their nostrils inside our building and all around our neighborhood.
We see nobody. I mean zero. No family, no friends, no acquaintances. Nobody comes over and we don’t go anywhere else.
We even quit hanging out with our quaranteam buddy a few months ago. She went to Hawaii for a couple months, and when she came back, we just all decided that the infection rate was too high. It was one thing when we came through coronavirus together and got tested together and celebrated our negative results together. It was another thing entirely after a couple of plane trips.
We’ve quit taking rideshares. This has already complicated things, as we had to borrow a friend’s car in order to go to an appointment.
I’m second-guessing that appointment, a visit to the periodontist, because my current chest congestion started a few days later. It was really scary to be in that office with my mask off, knowing that everyone who goes there throughout the day is also sitting there with no mask for an hour at a time.
When I got to my appointment, they checked my temperature with one of those forehead thermometers that doesn’t touch the skin. It registered as 102.
We figured it out, that I had just gotten overheated in my sweater and three masks out in the car. By the time I had gone to the restroom to brush my teeth and come back, the reading had dropped to 99.
However, the few minutes while I was standing in the waiting room were enough. If I had been infectious, after riding in the elevator, walking in the hallway, and touching a few doorknobs, then it would have been too late for everyone who walked through after me.
Two people, both wearing masks, are far safer than if there are no masks. But it’s not 100% effective. It isn’t magic.
It seems like the worse things get here, the more people shrug it off. The young men especially.
I got into the elevator of our building with some packages. There was a guy already in there. It wasn’t until I had adjusted my stack of boxes that I realized my mistake. At a glance, I thought he was wearing a mask. It turned out that he really just has a very thick, very dark beard. He started talking to me, offering to help me with my boxes.
He probably thinks of himself as a courteous and kind person. He doesn’t realize - how could he? - that the sight of his uncovered mouth frightened me more than he would have if he had started talking about kidnapping me or cutting me up.
We rode together for two floors, probably not even two minutes. I had two masks on, a cloth mask and a plastic face shield. I beat myself up for an hour afterward, thinking how lazy I was not to take the stairs, how dumb I was not to look more closely.
My husband had no sympathy for me. He said if he sees someone in the elevator, he doesn’t get in. If he’s in the elevator and someone else wants to get in, he just blocks the door and refuses to let them in until the door closes right in their face.
He means it, too. When either of us gets exposed, we expose the other.
It’s entirely possible he hasn’t had it yet. There have been other couples who have emerged from the illness of one, only to discover that the other has no antibodies. Thus it’s harder to guess who is more at risk if coronavirus re-enters our home - him, because he’s over 50, or me, because my system is still run down. I can’t imagine how I’d live through it a second time.
The virus is starting to take down more and more people that we know. I’ve been texting back and forth for the last couple of weeks with a friend who wound up in the hospital with COVID pneumonia. I have relatives as well as colleagues who’ve gotten sick now. My closest friends keep reporting back to me how many of *their* family, friends, and colleagues are getting sick, going to the hospital, dying.
If I tried to make a list of how many first- and second-degree contacts of mine have been exposed, I’d actually have to get out a sheet of paper and concentrate, because it’s getting pretty complicated.
A friend of mine just described trying to get COVID tests for himself and his family. We work in critical infrastructure. He wasn’t able to get a test at the first two locations he tried because all their supplies had run out.
We’ve been getting alerts on our phone about the coronavirus surge in our region, urging us to stay home.
We’ve been getting texts from Kaiser alerting us that the hospitals are full and to please be careful.
Local news has been reporting that ambulances are no longer transporting people who can’t be resuscitated at the scene. The ones who are transported may be in the ambulance for as long as 17 hours before they can even get inside a hospital. Patients are left unattended in the hallways.
We live on a busy road, and we hear emergency vehicles going by with sirens blaring every single day. We’ve quit even mentioning it when it disrupts our work calls.
We’ve been getting email alerts every day at work, notifying everyone of areas of our building that have had COVID exposures. (Only people with written permission can even enter campus). They have to be closed off for “natural decay” for several days, meaning that nobody can physically go in there. Again, we’re critical infrastructure.
This is what it’s like after 1 in 3 people in our county has been exposed.
The vaccine is slowly being distributed. I don’t know anyone personally who has had the opportunity yet. I don’t even know anyone who has been offered an appointment. I do know one person who is about 99% likely to refuse the vaccine, but otherwise, everyone who has mentioned it to me is eager, ready, and waiting.
There is another finding that affects 1 in 3 people. Out of people who contract COVID-19, one in three have persistent symptoms, just like me. I wish people would take that risk more seriously. If they understood what was at stake, maybe they’d be more careful.
If everyone would actually wear masks and avoid socializing with bare faces, we could beat this thing in just a few weeks. My area is a striking example of what happens when people simply refuse to believe it or change their behavior.
Sure enough, after dropping a little over four pounds in my first week, I’ve plateaued.
Fortunately, I know what this is like. It doesn’t confuse or upset me the way it did when I was first figuring out how to keep a food log and track all my metrics. I mean, it’s annoying, but it’s not going to end me.
I lost a tenth of a pound four days in a row.
With older scales, that change wouldn’t have even registered. It would have just looked like nothing was happening whatsoever.
This type of thing is noticeable when you’re hungry enough that you can smell cold bread from across the room.
What?? Why is this happening? WHY am I not making progress, why??
Calculate it out, though.
A tenth of a pound a day means a pound every ten days. (Lost or gained, mind you).
Three pounds every thirty days. (Again, lost or gained).
Thirty pounds in three hundred days, a little less than a year. (Note, again, either a loss or a gain).
This is how the game is won, in the tiniest of increments.
This is also how the game is lost.
Other people seem to be pretty darn delighted with their shape and size, and good for them. For me, when I put on extra weight, it seems to start a downward spiral that makes it harder and harder to reverse. Like I’m drilling myself into the ground.
I gain weight, I don’t sleep as well, I start being tired all the time, I start getting headaches, my energy level craters, my daily average mood drops from like an 8 or 9 to more like a 5 or 6. It isn’t fun.
I start pulling myself out of the ditch, I start feeling more cheerful, I start having more energy, and after a while I realize it’s been weeks or months since I had a migraine. This is when I feel like the Real Me (TM).
This is why I pay so much attention to this little problem of the tenth of a pound trend line.
For someone like me, someone with a small frame, it doesn’t take much to pull me out of alignment.
As I’ve discovered, it can be a difference of as little as a hundred calories a day one way or the other.
What is very disappointing to discover is that 100 calories is the equivalent of:
Or a 1” square of a brownie
Or a handful of chips
On the other hand, it’s fairly easy to avoid eating that extra hundred calories a day. This is especially true if you’re very busy.
For instance, today I was in back to back meetings for five hours. Ordinarily, I would have gotten up around 3:00 and had an energy bar, which is part of my plan. By the time I had a moment to switch off, it was so close to dinner that I shrugged and skipped it.
This is probably true for a lot of people, but it’s easy to put something in your mouth just because it’s there, or you’re bored, or it’s there, or it’s there.
The other thing I learned, the first time I did this food-logging exercise, is that it is not easy to estimate how different one food is from another. If I saw three bowls of soups, all different flavors, how would I know whether one had double the calories of another?
In my mind, “dinner” was just a category.
I never thought of my various snacks as snacks, either. I just wanted to eat something, and I ate it. It never seemed to amount to much because I never put it all into a pile and observed it.
A food log does that, though.
Before I got married, I would eat dinner, and then go back a couple hours later and eat a bowl of breakfast cereal. I thought of it as “a bowl” but it typically was more like five servings.
I didn’t learn that until I actually got out a measuring cup and looked at it.
I’m grateful for all the work that Past Me put in to learning all these skills. At the same time, I’m annoyed with Past Me for gaining this weight. Obviously I understand that getting coronavirus is a reasonable excuse, and that’s fine.
I’d rather live in what I feel like is my real body than live inside an excuse, though.
This would seem to be a question of self-compassion, and it is. I have to have enough compassion for myself and my situation to reach for something better.
After what I’ve been through, I deserve the time and space to work my way back to something that feels better to me. I’m doing what I need to do, even if it has to happen one tenth of a pound at a time.
Most goals are easier than we think, especially if we pick the kind of commodity goals that millions of other people have already done.
Commodity goal - I just made that up and I think I’ll keep it!
A commodity is something that is widespread, inexpensive, and easy to acquire, like... ketchup packets. If you want to start a ketchup packet business, best of luck to you, because you’re going to need a pretty excellent idea to disrupt that industry.
Just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals are standardized and very easy to find.
Also just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals wind up never being used and just clutter up the place.
What are we keeping those commodity goals for, to impress people? Not hardly. Almost everyone has a ketchup packet problem. It’s more like we never realized they were building up to that point.
About your goals, I would ask the same questions that I would ask my hoarders about their ketchup packets.
When are you going to use them?
What are you going to use them for?
Throw them away, give them to someone else, or just start having, say, Tater Tot Fridays and eating your ketchup packets at home instead of adding more. Hey presto, problem solved.
It’s the same thing with goals and resolutions.
When are you going to do it?
What do you need to make it happen?
I was just talking to my friend about her resolution to DRINK MORE WATER (Hark! A commodity goal!). I pointed out that I have the same issue - true - and that I use a hydration app to remind me to drink enough fluids. Another way to go about it is to buy one of those water bottles with the hours of the day marked on it, or maybe a pretty one with a crystal in it or something.
The hydration answer would then be, When? First thing in the morning and then throughout the day. What? An attractive water bottle and/or a hydration app.
Another fairly common goal is to learn a new language. I love this goal for everyone in the galaxy so much that I refuse to label it as a commodity goal, but it sort of is. I’m personally working on my [counting...] seventh language and it’s the most fun possible. (Am I fluent? No. Can I read signs and menus and book tickets? Yes). I have a lot of advice on this particular one.
Where people lose track on the language front is in either thinking that they have to study the same way they did in a school classroom, which is destined to failure for 99.5% of American students, or spend a bunch of money buying Rosetta Stone. Neither of those are true. There are lots of other ways that plenty of polyglots have used to become fluent in other languages, and it’s possible to do it for free.
For instance, where I live, I could become fluent in Spanish, Armenian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Ukrainian (to name a few) just by talking to people in my neighborhood. If the goal is to learn “a language” then why not pick one that you could use while you run errands?
That’s my first advice on most goals: make it more specific. If you’re going to study a language (or a musical instrument, as a parallel example) then which one? When are you going to use that new skill? Like, do you want to emigrate to another country, talk to your relatives, or go on a trip and visit cities all around the world? Your strategy is going to be a bit different for each of those, just as it would be if you want to play guitar by yourself versus joining a band.
If you’re going to study a language, *when* are you going to do your lessons? *What* study tools are you going to use? I aim to do my Italian lesson right when I clock out at work, so I can transition my mind to free time and also to keep me from getting sucked into the never-ending news vortex.
Replace your most annoying default habit with your exciting, fun, new habit. If you’ve chosen the right thing, which is something that you truly enjoy, then you’ll never look back.
I’m the kind of person who can’t resist making tons and tons of goals, and then struggling to fit them all into a realistic Earth-month. Maybe on a different planet it could work, I dunno. If you’re like me, it might actually help to lay out a month and plug in the different things you want to do. What are you going to do on weeknights and what are you going to do on weekends, for example?
For most people, people with more sense than me, it’s probably better to pick just one thing and experiment around what time of day you will engage with it. The ‘when’ is the toughest because all this time, you’ve been spending that same hour of the day doing something else. That different thing, that thing that is not your goal, is going to have to either leave your life or get moved to a different time.
Another thing to figure out is separate fallback plans for what to do if something interrupts your chosen time slot. For instance, I don’t necessarily want an audience for my Italian lesson, so I’m likely to do it when my hubby is either in the shower or brushing his teeth. Since I’m doing only 5-10 minutes a night, it’s a matter of 1. Wait for him to leave the room and 2. Open the app on my phone.
Make your goal as easy as possible to do. That’s contrary to the Calvinist idea that we must punish ourselves and work as hard as we can every single minute, but it works. You have the right to have fun and frivolous goals.
It’s easy to get a bit hung up on the ‘what.’ The perfect notebook before I can start my bullet journal! The perfect running shoes! The perfect water bottle! What’s likely to happen is that if you really start to make your goal a part of your identity, it will be such a part of your life that you’ll wind up replacing these objects many times. You’ll use them up.
It’s better to have commodity objects than to be uninspired by commodity goals.
What is it that you are working on these days? When are you doing it and what are you using?
For the first time, I took up the offer to be accountability partners with someone.
I’ve had supposed accountability arrangements with people before, and it hasn’t suited me. I had come to the conclusion that what people are asking for is to abdicate on their decisions and try to outsource their willpower.
“I will literally only ever do this if someone else forces me.”
Sure, I’m very good at this type of nagging, but it’s part of what I do at work. Essentially, if someone is asking for me to be their accountability coach, they’re asking me for administrative support.
You can program your smartphone to do this for you if you want to, and it will probably only take you a few minutes to set up.
I did this type of accountability coaching as a coach for about a year, but the amount of stress on my part went far beyond the measly pay. It seemed like, from my perspective, the clients would have either done it on their own without my help, or would never do it at all, either through blackmail or at gunpoint or for charity or under extreme hypnosis or any other reason.
I think it’s better if more of us just admit that we don’t want to do certain things, that we have no intention of ever doing them, and that we’re not going to pretend to try. The end.
I do! I do this. I have no intention of, let’s see: making scrapbooks, learning to wear liquid eyeliner, or making any kind of food that has a shape. When I see attractive stuff on someone’s pinboard, I just wave my hand, Ehh.
Another lifetime maybe.
It’s easy for me, as a Questioner. If I think something is a good idea, I’ll do it right away. If it makes sense to me, I only need to hear about it or see it once and I’ll jump on it. Or at least give it a try.
For instance, I tried those little suspenders for the fitted sheet? They work, but they’re miserable to put on. I’ve basically given up on them and determined to just buy slightly more expensive sheets next time.
This is the more challenging part of being a Questioner. If I don’t think something is a good idea, I won’t bother. This is fine for me but apparently very trying to other people, most of whom are not fellow Questioners but some of whom are, and should know better.
I have an Obliger friend (actually many, as a plurality of people are Obligers and they are the nicest kind of friend). What they have in common is that they will go far out of their way for others, but they have a tough time sticking to things that they see as benefiting only themselves.
The easy part of being a good friend to an Obliger is that I can explain to them how something they are reluctant to do for themselves actually benefits other people. For instance, if you take your meal breaks at work, you set a good example, but you’re also in a much better mood than when you attempt to go until 3 pm before you have your first calories of the day.
*ahem* You’ve all done it at least once, admit it.
So my Obliger friend asked if I wanted to be accountability partners, and I did the best I could. I told her my honest feelings.
Eww, she said. That wasn’t what she had in mind at all.
All she wanted was to check in every now and then and talk about our goals.
I agreed to this, because talking is something I know how to do. Also, and this is the secret lure if you’re trying to negotiate with a Questioner, she had privileged information that I found compelling. She was going to tell me about her system for tracking goals.
This wound up being a good part of our call. We traded details of how we’ve set our goals over the years. There was something about her system that really appealed to me, and something about my system that caught her attention too. It made me feel closer to my friend, realizing that goal-setting is such a big part of both our worlds.
There are very few people who take all this as seriously as I do, or at least, if they do, they haven’t told me yet.
Both of us had goals that we weren’t really sure how to tackle yet.
In this sense, our accountability arrangement is closer to what is usually referred to as a mastermind.
My friend wants to learn a language, and wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I don’t think she realized quite what a linguistics nerd I am. I told her all about language exchange partners, and which exact app has the language she wants to learn, since they’re all different. I told her, if she has any questions at all, I can’t help her with her chosen language, but I definitely can help her find resources and figure out her study plan.
It turns out that my big work goal of learning data visualization is right in my friend’s wheelhouse. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to ask her to look over my charts, because that’s overstepping. We did agree, though, that she could point me toward some resources. She told me I was making a really sound choice and that being good at data visualization sets people apart more than anything else.
After our talk, we were both laughing and excited. We agreed that we would do two-week sprints, just like we do at work. Our first task would be to share what we’re working on for our first sprint. Then we’ll check in every two weeks and see how we’re doing.
Our accountability arrangement is as much about sharing how thrilled we are with the whole goal-setting process and making accomplishments. I think we’ve both found that most of our friends are not up for this sort of discussion in any way. Couple of goal nerds.
If you want to do something similar, the most important thing is who not to choose. Almost all humans of Earth will naysay everything you ever wanted to do, left, right, sideways, and upside down. It’s better to keep your ideas to yourself than to expose them to this sort of negativity.
Honestly, it might be better to meet a random Internet friend who enjoys goal-setting than to choose from amongst your family or friends?
The main thing to remember is that your life is yours. You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you want to learn certain things or do certain things with your free time. You are perfectly entitled to have goals and resolutions, and enjoy them to the fullest extent. If your goal is to spend 18 hours a day with your phone, who’s to stop you?
The Year That Shall Not Be Named. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to say ‘2020’ any more, we’re all just supposed to move forward and pretend it never happened.
‘Yeardemort!’ I blurted.
(Inspired by Voldemort, the character in the Harry Potter universe who also should not be named).
I don’t see anything particularly to be gained from completely trying to shut the door on the annus horribilis that just passed.
That’s probably the historian’s lens, right next to the futurist’s lens on the other side of the frame. Spectacles, one side of which looks forward and the other side of which looks backward.
Okay, 2020 was miserable. I’ll go with everyone on that. I got COVID, our dog died, I did not get to see my family for a year, and that’s just on the personal level.
Has anything really ended, though?
In my personal life, I still have no dog, I still can’t make safe plans to visit my family, and I’m still dealing with weird heart issues and shortness of breath. What’s changed?
We have a vaccine now, and millions of people have already been vaccinated, which is great and very encouraging.
That’s the only major difference.
Everything that sucked about 2020 is still in play as of early January 2021.
The death toll from the virus is actually higher, and rising. There are still millions of people unemployed and many facing eviction. Everything that was bad about politics and the economy before is still bad now. We don’t need to go into details on that; as an historian I see these things in twenty-year phases anyway.
(Actually I was saying a few months ago that the political situation will probably be yet more volatile in 2021, and probably natural disasters like big storms too).
One thing that is encouraging about the study of all the dire, dreadful, even nightmarish events of human history is that somehow, in spite of it all, we progress.
Every year has had something lethally bleak going on, and yet at the same time, every year families continue to produce new generations, there is music, we innovate and build and create.
The vaccines that we have now originated in someone coughing wetly in a cave a hundred thousand years ago.
Our air conditioned homes, complete with shower, microwave, and deadbolt lock on the door, are a linear progression from our ancestral, flea-ridden thatched huts.
Every year humans have murdered each other (often for money but more often for ideology), committed arson and burglary and treason and every other type of crime and cruelty.
We’ve also donated organs, rushed into burning buildings, raised orphans, and built charity veterinary hospitals.
It’s because we’re both savage and kind, altruistic and bloodthirsty. Sometimes within one selfsame individual.
This is why history echoes. It’s our original sin, our duality as murderous philanthropists.
Whenever we see something like a volcanic eruption, a political coup, a typhoon, a wealthy crook, crops failing in a drought, riots, livestock die-offs, war, accidental explosions... whenever we see something newsworthy and awful, humans have been through it before. Many of these things happen season after season without fail, and they always have.
Is it true that they always will?
Hard to say. Nobody has been here for every generation, not even the history books. History just means the stuff that happened that we wrote down. Dendrochronology doesn’t have much to say about human pestilence or political unrest.
The thing about this most recent plague is that we have survivors of the last one within living memory.
Did you see in the news where the last remaining Civil War widow just died? How nuts is that? In 2020 we also lost the grandson of John Tyler, who was the tenth president of the United States, elected in 1841 and born during George Washington’s first term.
How does living memory work?
Living memory means that someone who is still alive was there and can tell us what happened. Sometimes that’s quite a lot of people.
Depending on how old you are, you can probably tell people with vivid detail what you were doing when you found out Kennedy was shot, when the Challenger exploded, when the second plane hit on 9/11, or when Kim and Kanye broke up.
Most people can probably also remember stories their parents or grandparents told them. For instance, I’ll never forget my mom telling me about her little cousin who died of chicken pox.
The problem starts to come in the fourth generation, our great-grandparents. I had the privilege of meeting three of mine, when they were very elderly indeed and I was quite small. There are moments like that when someone might have an opportunity to pass along a vivid story to a tiny great-grandchild, a story that might make a vivid impression - but not many. It didn’t happen with me.
(My best memory is that my great-grandmother gave me a $5 bill).
The Spanish Flu happened in the lifetime of my great-great-grandparents. It’s too far back.
We’ve been here before, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘people of the world’ and by ‘here’ I mean ‘mass die-off due to airborne virus.’ Last time, nobody even knew what a virus was. People would feel fine in the morning, come home sick, and be dead in twelve hours. Whole families might die in three days. People bled out their eyes. At least fifty million people died in three years.
It was pretty upsetting.
Then everyone quit talking about it and moved on and had the Roaring Twenties, and then everyone was distracted by the Great Depression (also global) and the Second World War.
Collectively we let go of the idea that millions of people can die of an airborne virus, and that masks help, and that quarantines help. This terrible collective memory of a plague simply left pop culture.
1919 was an annus horribilis, another Yeardemort, another Year That Must Not Be Named.
If we’d remembered, if collectively we all popped our heads up like prairie dogs and went “Uhoh, time to stay home and make masks,” maybe we could have staved this off. We could have fended it off the way we did with SARS, Ebola, and Zika.
The way we actually progress, the way we start winning more fights against more destroyers of humans (plague, famine, war at least, maybe not death itself), is to start paying more attention to the battles of the past. As soon as we start trying to slam the door shut on the bad memories of the recent past, we quit trying to teach and help the generations that will come after us.
What’s left to those of us who are lucky enough to survive unusually bad years is to keep moving forward. What do we have the power to do? Love those around us, raise children, work, invent things, find better ways of doing things that were shoddy before. Tell stories and keep the lights on.
I haven’t finished my New Year’s planning yet.
This is the first time this has happened that I can think of. Usually I spend all December working on my goals and resolutions. Now that I have a day job again, I’m super busy.
I figured it would be fine if I did the rough sketch, then spent New Year’s Day and the rest of the weekend filling in my bullet journal, making my goal board, and all that stuff.
Instead I wound up sleeping all day on the first. By “all day” I mean that I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, and fell asleep for an hour and a half. Then I woke up again just enough to waddle to the bedroom and pass out again until 4:00 pm. I slept an average of 11 hours a day all weekend and barely did a thing.
I felt pretty bummed that I had slept all day, when I hadn’t finished all my goal stuff on New Year’s Eve either.
By the end of the weekend, when I still had basically nothing done, I thought, Oh no, the magic moment has passed.
It hasn’t, though. In one way, every day is like every other day. We each get 24 hours, and that’s the one and only thing that everyone has in common.
What I did, rather than write up all my plans like normal, was try to fit in the few things I had determined I would do. Mini actions. These are also known as ‘habits’ but I think that the word ‘habit’ has negative connotations. Action, maybe not so much.
One thing I did was to order a new Apple Watch to replace my old one, which is now over five years old. I’ve managed to crack the screen (ask me about my outrageously aggressive arm-swinging habits, which also involve having punched a fire hydrant). It’s also going dim in the middle, so that it doesn’t really serve as a watch anymore. Mainly I use it to unlock my computer in the morning.
It’ll take two weeks to get here, but that’s okay. In a way it gives me a fresh new start on trying to rebuild my baseline fitness. The only thing I really want this year is to feel that I’ve totally recovered from coronavirus.
Another thing I did was to start a new foreign language app (Speakly) and start doing 5-minute Italian lessons. If you’ve been following along, I was going to learn Dutch last year, but this app doesn’t have Dutch lessons, so *shrug* whatever. Next on the list.
This has been so much fun and so instantly rewarding that I’ve maintained a perfect streak so far. Normally I advocate for avoiding streaks in all situations (and I mean all) but especially in the sense of trying to attain instant perfection. Whatever we do, it’s more valuable if we do it 45% of the time than if we get discouraged and quit after skipping a couple days.
Io non parlo inglese!
In the app world, I also started logging my hydration and food intake again. It turns out I’ve been relentlessly dehydrated during the day. Logging my water helps me remember to make sure to drink water - it shouldn’t be 3 pm before I grab a glass. I’ve also had basically instant success with the food log, which is uplifting.
I took care of setting up a few appointments and ordering some stuff, since we were running out of shampoo and a few other things. I did manage to get the case of prescription parrot kibble, so that’s a relief. It’s hard to say what a big deal it feels like to do these 5- and 10-minute tasks when things are popping so much at work.
Sometimes it feels like a big deal just to start the robot mop, and how dumb is that?
Something that happened last year that I didn’t like was that the blog started to fall apart. I was posting more regularly when I was desperately ill than I have been since I got my job. This task that I can never quite seem to get to is to write up a list of topics and then schedule a few posts in advance, the way I used to do for years.
Part of the problem has been feeling like I’ve run out of things to talk about. It’s hard to figure out ways to talk about my cool new job without, you know, talking about it.
This is part of what I love about New Year’s. I have all these shiny new projects that I’d like to do, and I finally have enough energy recovered to attempt them. It gives me plenty to think about, and thus plenty to write about.
Not everyone likes making resolutions or having goals or projects. In fact, it seems like most people don’t, because they get so discouraged when they quit. I think this is because of unhelpful framing, lack of planning, and probably having a dark concept of what resolutions are for and how they work.
For me, it’s the light of my life.
When I was lonely and single after my divorce - I had a plan. I made over my bedroom to make space for a new love, and I started learning to cook - and then I got married again.
When I was flat broke and desperate - I had a plan. I went back to school, and I got a cruddy job, and I determined that I would focus on that job even if all I did was work, eat dinner, and go to bed. I paid off all my loans years early and the degree paid for itself the first year.
At a certain point, I didn’t have as many immediate fixes any more. I had more room to want to play around, go on adventures, and learn new things. This is of course when I started forcing difficult challenges on myself. Those have probably paid off most of all.
Could it be that I’m procrastinating on my big new personal challenge of beating my math anxiety? Perhaps.
Failing to live up to our own standards isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning. It’s recognizing that it’s better to have values and desired end goals than not to. It’s a reminder, one of many in a series, that we’ve chosen these purposes for reasons that are valid.
I haven’t finished all my planning for the year, even though it’s one of my favorite things, and that’s okay. The year is still pretty much brand new and we haven’t even cut the tags off yet.
Please don’t read this if you have body image issues and you are triggered by concepts around weight loss.
I personally don’t. I like to think that I can choose to follow the same sort of method as any rational-minded person and make changes to my own physical vessel at will. When a male person decides to lose weight, everyone nods. When a female person decides to lose weight, it can launch tens of thousands of concerned or outraged voices. Here lies madness!
The madness of determining your own choices and taking ownership of yourself, asserting bodily autonomy. It’s allowed when someone wants a piercing or a tattoo, so why not this.
*shrug* Oh well, here we go.
I hit my top weight last year, after having COVID-19. The last time I weighed that much, I wore a size 14, so it seems strange that I still fit in a size 4. That’s due to body composition. I put on a bunch of muscle mass when I was taking boxing, and muscle is far slower to lose than cardio capacity.
Let’s keep the muscle and lose the adipose tissue.
Why do I want to lose body fat?
I have a list of specific reasons, any one of which would be enough motivation for me.
The dark secret, though, is that last night I discovered I had worn off a little patch of skin on my belly from wearing tight pants all day. It itches like crazy and looks terrible. The time that you have to slather antibiotic ointment on yourself due to a pants-related injury is the time to reassess.
Would I rather have new pants or a new... middle area? To me that choice is obvious.
Okay, so how am I going about this?
The first thing I did was to tell my husband I’m not messing around, I’m losing weight for the next few months. Since I’m not spending time around literally any single other human being, he is my only treat trap. (Oh yes indeed he is). Note that I’m not using him for an accountability partner - we’re usually out of sync when one of us is trying to drop weight. I’ve just put him on notice that if he wants snacks he has to eat them alone.
The second thing I did was to reinstate my food log. I use MyFitnessPal. It’s pretty easy because a while back, I logged every single thing I ate for a year, so most of my meal choices are already in there. I also use the bar code scanner on my phone. I’ve been spending maybe five minutes a day on the food log.
I already knew that I was eating too much for lunch each day. I have a favorite sandwich that I find irresistible, especially when I’m busy at work. It only really works if I’m working out regularly, and since COVID, I haven’t been. There are several ways to go about this.
I went with 4 and ordered a couple cases of Soylent, because I’ve tried most of the flavors and it does the job. I have used them to tide me over when I have back-to-back meetings and can’t get a meal break when I want one.
What I’m doing is eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, bottle of Soylent for lunch, energy bar for afternoon snack, and then a normal dinner.
So far I’ve dropped 4.1 pounds in the first week.
Now, that is widely considered to be an unsafe rate. Two pounds a week is recommended.
I’m okay with this right now because we’re coming out of the holidays, and I was eating a bunch of large, heavy meals. We had pizza and brownies on New Year’s Eve. It’s highly unlikely that I would continue to drop weight at that rate after this first week.
On the other hand, I have a specific amount of weight I want to drop, after which I will revert to my normal, vegetable-packed, healthy diet. I will check in with updates to show how the plan is working.
If I happened to reach my goal in three weeks instead of six weeks, I would be totally okay with that! It seems unlikely that I would do damage to myself in that short a timespan. For my body type and food-oriented habits, nothing is as easy as gaining back weight.
The main advantage of doing a regimen like this is that it’s only a part of my mental bandwidth for a short period of time, and then it’s done. I’m not the kind of person who likes to spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, taking pictures of myself, or fussing around comparing myself to other people. I look fantastic for my age, and especially for someone who almost died this year. My body pulled me through a potentially fatal illness.
I trust my body, I trust my emotions, and above all, I trust my powers of reason and discernment. I set out on this brief process of body transformation with a specific image in mind. That is of a healthy, lively person with a lot more to do than worry about what is going on with my pants.
It’s been said that we create our own reality. I believe that is only true to a certain extent. It does seem obvious, though, that we can have more or less influence over our lives depending on how prepared we are.
Preparation, not prediction. It’s a futurism thing.
We can’t necessarily guess what’s going to happen next, whether in the near or distant future.
I didn’t guess that I would get COVID-19 last March, that’s for sure. As a senior in high school, I never guessed that I would wind up working in the space industry - since there effectively *was no* space industry at that time. Anyone who pauses to think about it can probably list of a bunch of events that were major surprises when they happened.
Everyone has major surprises at some point or other. Sometimes those surprises happen to all of us at once, like a category five storm, or a global pandemic. (Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t believe in you).
The question isn’t what happens, the question is how we react to what happens.
The further question is, what do we *make happen* regardless of external events?
Everyone responds to stress and trauma in different ways, and there’s no right answer. There’s no correct speed or reaction time when something goes wrong. I would never say otherwise.
Personally, though, I strongly resent being toppled by external events. Shocks in my life like my early divorce, an IRS error, or getting COVID have been deeply, shall I say, offensive and annoying. My response is to drag myself back to my feet and keep on pushing.
That’s why I applied for a job when I still wasn’t 100% convinced that I would survive COVID. I wasn’t about to quit setting goals just because I might die in a couple days.
(I tried. I tried to officially relinquish all my goals, but my system didn’t really accept it).
What if you can’t guess what’s going to happen next?
Well, you can. Anyone can take a wild guess. Can you get it right? By the time you know the answer to that, it’s a moot point because you already know the answer.
This is the inherent frustration of living in the place of uncertainty.
There are probably infinite ways to deal with the emotional load of being in the place of uncertainty. One of them is to shrug, and another is to go WHEEEEE and wave your arms in the air. Of course another is to curl into a ball with your hands over your head.
My preferred way is to go back to strategy.
The great thing about finding out that the rules have all suddenly changed is that, guess what? If the old rules no longer apply, then it’s likely that almost *no rules* apply.
You can step out of the maelstrom with a new identity.
Not to say that it’s easy. It’s not.
It hasn’t been easy, for example, to get onboarded at a new job while still recovering from a near-death experience. It’s hard to learn proficiency in half a dozen new software titles while still so tired that it’s hard to sit up straight.
It felt familiar, though. It felt a lot like getting back on my feet after my divorce.
This is why people who have lived through hard times can look back and say that it all turned out okay. Not that going through trauma has any sort of intrinsic value - I don’t think that it does at all.
It’s more like being backed into a corner by life forces people to be more decisive and bold than usual. We spend more time strategizing because that’s our only choice, and if we made it out, that’s why. We finally thought of options that normally wouldn’t have occurred to us, and did things that were out of character because that felt like the only choice that made sense.
This is where preparation comes into the picture.
What I did after my divorce was to eventually go back to school and get my degree. That put me in a significantly better position to deal with the next batch of high weirdness that life threw my way.
There is nothing about college that makes a natural and obvious connection to ending a marriage. “I have nothing, let’s add thousands of dollars in debt” is not an automatic response, right?
It just seemed to be the most obvious place to add skills, and adding skills is always a good answer.
I reacted the same way when I was bucked off my horse by COVID. Should I keep on doing what I was doing before? Not really, not when I had just had a universal reset.
Instead I thought, what is the most interesting thing I could be doing right now? And I got a new job.
Other people in other situations might have a natural “most obvious” repositioning station. For some, it would probably be moving in with their parents, especially if there was a need for a caregiver around the place. For others, it might be selling all their stuff and relocating, or taking some time off and getting their teeth fixed, or something else that feels more personal and necessary.
What is always helpful is to regroup and try to put things in their new, oddball perspective.
Remember, when times are tough, that every minute feels like a million years. It isn’t clear at all what the right choices are, or how things will turn out. That’s prediction and it isn’t something that humans are very good at.
In retrospect, though, what felt like forever might only be a few months.
Looking backward from whatever happened next in the storyline, whatever was going on during that time of mysterious transition won’t even be an interesting footnote. Nobody will care.
I could tell my story as “my husband left me and I lived on my friend’s couch for a year” - which happened over twenty years ago - or I could say, “I got a degree in history and then I became a futurist, and let me tell you what I think about lunar habitats.” Both versions are true.
That’s how preparation can turn into prediction. In that one sense, whatever you do to prepare for your next phase of life has the ability to predict how your life will turn out. You can shape it if you choose which direction you want to go and put yourself in motion.
I’m starting this year with a mix of pessimism and optimism, both because I can’t help it.
I’m pessimistic about the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. I think it will happen very slowly, partly because it already has and partly because there are just so many people to vaccinate. Israel is crushing it, with 10% of their population vaccinated in just two weeks - but that means it will take 5 months to reach everyone. My county happens to have roughly the same population as Israel, meaning if we were extremely efficient, I could have my vaccine by June.
Therefore, I’m accepting that there may be another lost year, another year when we can’t safely travel or visit people in person. This sucks, but not as much as dying of COVID-19. (Or COVID-21?) I’d rather assume that 2021 will be more of the same, and be wrong, than get my hopes up and have to keep resetting expectations.
The optimistic part is that I’m still alive, and there don’t appear to be any vaccine refusers in my immediate family. That means all I have to worry about this year is staying safe and keeping busy enough to manage my disappointment.
Making my goals and resolutions is my favorite part of the entire year, even when I don’t reach them all. Many years I’ve hit all of them, or 90%, and that’s enough reason to keep trying and keep planning even when the outside world is a mess.
I have some hunches this year. I have a super strong hunch that we’re going to wind up moving. There is a non-zero chance that we will wind up relocating for work at some future point, and it’s absolutely impossible to guess when that might be, but this year is more likely than last year. I dreamed I was driving again, so I think it will be outside of SoCal. (Several years ago I had a premonitory dream that we moved to Sacramento, and then we did).
Some people would be horrified at the prospect of moving, especially a sudden move to a new city. For me, at this point, in many ways it’s less hassle than packing for a camping trip or... going to Costco. Mainly this possibility will inform whether I hang stuff on the walls or make bulk purchases.
I also think this might be the year I manage to get back into school in some way. This would impact whether I commit to any other large-scale projects. I’d like to keep my dance card open.
Now for my 2021 goals:
Personal: To expel my math anxiety. [uggggghhhhhh] Every year I like to take on a massive personal challenge, something that intimidates me to the point of making myself a little ill. It started with running, then public speaking, then martial arts, and now I don’t have all that much left that freaks me out! The only thing that really and truly gives me dread and trepidation now is mathematics, by which I mean, algebra and beyond. The deal here is that I want to go to grad school, which likely means the GRE, which means I have to master calculus, and that is something I’ve never done. I did a math placement test that had me stuck on some 5th-grade math things, so I guess this fits the bill. Try to always work on something that keeps you humble and it can help from having your ego balloon out of control.
Career: Become a futurist. It’s plausible that I can move in this direction without grad school, and it’s also plausible that this can happen through my current job. I really love the company where I work, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now, so I’m going with it. This promises to be a very lively and intriguing year at work.
Physical: Back to my goal weight. I was shooting for this last year, but I got COVID instead. I’m at the point where I feel like my weight gain is actively interfering with my respiration. Strangely, I was in the same position in 2004-5, so I have reason to believe this will work. It’s not that I regret learning to box, but the weight I put on that year has been disastrous for my health and energy level.
Home: Probably move to a larger home. We’re waiting until the pandemic winds down, because it just doesn’t make sense to move right now. But we are ready for a place with a washer and dryer and a proper kitchen. Probably also a second bedroom, so we can shut a door between us when we’re both on conference calls.
Couples: Save for a house. We’ve decided that if we buy a house here, where we currently live, it would have to be after a slightly improbable series of events. (Start our own company etc). Maybe we’ll buy a house elsewhere. We’re learning a bit about remodeling and interior design, trying to figure out what style of place we would like.
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material. Okay, this one is painful but I feel it has to be done. My husband looked at me and asked, “Including digital?” I nodded and he winced. It is a key part of my job to Read All the Things, but I don’t really need to have absolutely thousands of articles in my queue. Do I? I don’t even know how to do this goal other than to quit putting library books on hold. The point of all these goals and resolutions (this is a resolution, BTW) is to explore and learn new ways of doing things.
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed. Our bed went like this: Years 0-10, glorious. Year 10, lumpy. Year 11, terrible. If only we’d known to replace it before the pandemic...
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH. I might work from home forever and I like it that way.
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. This is a goal that is inevitable, due to my job responsibilities, so I might as well give myself credit for it. By this time next year, I’ll know all sorts of things that I don’t know right now.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025). A quest is quixotic and I’m not ready to let this one go. If I can ever run any decent distance again, I’m sure I’ll cry so hard I’ll soak my shirt.
Wish: To visit my family safely!
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Categorizing these, the math anxiety thing is a challenge; the futurism career is a mission; reaching my goal weight again, moving to a larger home, saving for a house, and getting a new bed are goals; and it is a resolution to stop hoarding reading material. Ultralearning is a project. A quest is something big that probably takes more than a year to do, and a wish is something that you can’t simply make happen through an obvious action. I like to be clear with myself about how I’m going to go about making something happen in my life. That’s all this is: pick something and do it!
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Get your flu shot.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Go around and set all your clocks, including the microwave and the dashboard in your vehicle.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Throw out any expired medications.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
If you haven’t already, find out if you can open an IRA account at your bank.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them. A lot of libraries no longer charge overdue fines!
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Set a reminder to sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class (maybe this fall).
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Delete some apps.
Reconsider your social media engagement.
Call an old friend and say hello.
Apologize to someone.
If you have your own URLs, look them over and decide whether you still want them all.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
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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