By reader request (hello darlin’) I have gone back and categorized all my COVID-19 posts.
There are two categories:
COVID 19 Chronicles, covering the time from when I found out I was exposed, through my illness, to the point when I was off antibiotics.
COVID 19, for everything I’ve written about the pandemic, isolation, and my experience recovering from the virus.
This was kind of a bummer. I didn’t have a COVID category last year because I was hoping it was just a blip. Six years of keeping a blog and it should have been nothing but a blip!
I agree, though, that this material should be easier to find. The reason I wrote, even when I was so ill it would literally take me all day to write two pages, was to keep people informed. I hoped then, and hope now, that my experience will help people to understand that this thing is just as real as any other cold or flu - while significantly more dangerous.
I also hope that my experience may be of service to anyone who falls ill after me and wants to know how to cope. If this is you, there are better treatments now, and doctors know more than they did last year. I wish you well.
Hang on, everyone. The vaccines are here and we might all have our chance at our jabs by summer. Let’s all see 2022 together!
Something is going on with my lungs all of a sudden again. It’s not great. I was feeling fine earlier in the week, climbing up on a chair to rearrange the kitchen cabinets. Then Wednesday, I was working, and one minute I was fine, and the next I felt feverish and like my lungs were congested.
It was bad enough that I thought, Oh no, am I going to die of this after all? Did I somehow get re-exposed to COVID? I was racking my brain trying to figure out when or how that could be.
But then I drank a few glasses of water, and ate some soup, and I felt less bad.
Some days my energy level has been up to maybe a 7 out of 10. Suddenly today it dropped back to a 4, a familiar feeling. It’s scary and sad.
Every time it happens, though, I remember how far I’ve come.
One of the worst parts of being ill was not being able to read. I couldn’t concentrate or follow a thread, and I couldn’t remember any details. It was... think of the most boring thing you could think of, and it was more boring than that.
Now, even on low-energy days, I can still read. (At least so far). The novelty has not worn off.
Not only that, I’m doing language lessons again. Io parlo Italiano!
Will I ever get my cardio endurance back? Will I ever be able to rebuild my lung capacity enough to go hiking again, or run another 5k?
I have to think, yes. I have to think of people like Theodore Roosevelt, who was basically an invalid in childhood but who overcame his asthma to become an athlete and wilderness explorer. If his lungs could heal, then possibly mine can too.
I also think of all the medical innovations that I read about every day. The only real silver lining of a catastrophe like the coronavirus pandemic, or the Civil War, is that it fast-forwards medical research and technological advances. What we’re already seeing, and will see more of, is research breakthroughs about the immune system, and vaccinations, and pharmaceutical development, and respiratory therapies, and all sorts of other things.
That’s what I’m hanging onto, the idea of a new treatment that can regenerate healthy pink lung tissue.
Any time I make a wish for something selfish like that, something that would benefit me, I also imagine how many other people it would help. People with lung cancer, or mesothelioma, or asthma, or emphysema, or cystic fibrosis, or sleep apnea, or who knows what else. Also the people who did that research could win awards, show up in the news, get promotions and raises, and feel the satisfaction of knowing that their work helped so many people. And their families.
This is one of those ripple effects that isn’t always appreciated. Think of the coughing person, and the entire family and friend group of that person, who are relieved and happy that the treatment is working. Then think of the family and friends of the medical researcher, who smile when they think of their person being so good at their job.
There are so many people working in concerted effort to beat this thing, and their work is going to touch off innovations in other related fields.
Maybe it won’t help me in my lifetime, but I’m fully confident that it will help people who live after me.
I think about dying a lot these days, which is at least as dreadful as it sounds. But then I think, everyone dies at some point anyway. There’s no way I’m going to be alive in, say, the year 2589. (Unless I’m reincarnated, but then, would I know??) I still like to think of those future people, though, and wonder what kind of shoes they wear, and how they communicate, and what they eat for lunch.
Life goes on one way or another. Not just my life, or the life of some human somewhere, but the life of a tree, a sea creature that remains unknown to science, perhaps a sentient being elsewhere in the universe. I try to pull back and remember that, to put it all in context.
I’m still an optimist, even though I’m still living through the aftereffects of a devastating thing. Even though I’m surrounded by mask deniers and people who do not respect the commons. Even though it’s plausible that a million Americans will die of this before it’s all over, and many of them will refuse to believe that it is what it is even upon their very dying breaths.
The truth is that there is always something terrible happening at the same time as something incredible.
This has been true throughout human history, and it was true before us when dinosaurs were doing some unutterably messed-up things to each other, and it will be true after we are gone when there is eventually a heat death of the universe.
It’s all about where we put our focus and our energy.
What optimism means is the belief that it’s always possible to think of another way to approach things. It’s always possible to keep trying, to keep making even the most feeble or misguided attempts to repair a situation or think of something better.
This is what separates us from the other animals.
To elaborate, in some ways, animals never quit because they have nothing else to do but try to survive through pure grit. I once watched a black beetle at the zoo spend over five minutes wriggling around, trying to flip itself over, because somehow it had landed on its back. It eventually did it, through sheer... not abs, but... thorax energy?
What is it in us that keeps us from quitting? When we have our imaginations and the ability to preserve thought after death through writing and other recorded communications? When we have so many pessimists amongst us to remind us that there’s no point, that everything is dire all the time?
Whatever it is that keeps us going, it’s gotten us out of the caves and the mud huts where so many of us coughed ourselves to death for so many millennia. Here we are, in the future-that-was, figuring our ways out of yet another disaster scenario. We’ll never give up because it’s in our nature to keep trying.
Even when I personally don’t have much energy left to carry on, I know that someone out there does, and I send that person my good wishes.
It happened. I finally found myself in a direct confrontation with an anti-vaxxer. I am sorry to report that I did not comport myself in a ladylike fashion.
It’s long been my general policy to keep my deepest opinions and beliefs to myself, because I hate conflict. I hate arguments. I hate debates. I don’t even want to hear a rumor of that kind of thing happening between other people on topics that I don’t care about.
I don’t see the point of it at all. Nobody involved is going to change their mind, so why bother?
This whole concept of “owning” someone, also, I find confusing, weird, and distasteful. Who keeps score? Who is the umpire? Who ultimately tallies the points and adjudicates who lost or won, who “owns” whom?
Despite all this, I recognize that I am sometimes seen as an argumentative person. I think this is because I don’t agree with mainstream views on a lot of things. This is why I’ve become pretty secretive about most of my opinions.
All that went out the window when I realized that this person, whom I know quite well, has no intention of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
When I say “know quite well,” I mean I know her life story, her major traumas, beefs with people at her old job, names of her pets, where she keeps stuff in her house, what color her kids are dyeing their hair this week, what her tattoo means, favorite movies, why she picked her degree program, and all that sort of thing.
It’s surprising how well you can know someone in some ways, and yet also not know them at all in others.
This is how the conversation broke down.
Me: “I can’t wait to get the vaccine.”
Me: “What, you’re not getting it?”
Her: [slowly shaking head from side to side]
Me: “Okay, we need to change the subject because I can’t talk to you about this.”
Her: “I know...”
She told me she wasn’t anti-vaxx - most vaccine-hesitant people will say the same - she just “wanted to wait to find out the long-term effects.”
What, like, forty years from now??
I replied, “I still have neurological problems and heart problems and breathing problems ten months after I was exposed. You think a vaccine is going to do something worse to you than all that??”
She made an elegant shrug.
My heart was absolutely hammering in my chest at this point. My hands started to shake.
This sort of thing really, really gets to me. I realize that my personal emotional reaction is mine alone, and that not everybody in my situation would react the same way. What I’m hearing, time and time again, is that people basically do not believe me when I share my experience.
Either they don’t think that what I said was true, or they simply and utterly do not care.
Or maybe they believe me and they care, but they genuinely feel that what happened to me can’t happen to them or to anyone they know, so it is not a valid data point.
Which is super weird because the thing that happened to me has already killed over two million people and infected over a hundred million around the world. It’s not like I’m trying to stand out as some kind of fluke.
I know that reporting facts to people does not work. Worse than that, it backfires. It makes people dig in their heels and double down on their commitment to their false belief. Nobody likes to be fact-checked.
Even though I knew it was a bad idea, I was flooding. My body had stress chemicals pouring all through it. I didn’t have a good sense of how to exit the conversation politely and keep my mouth shut.
I started asking questions.
I tried not to!
I tried to stop myself!
Did you vaccinate your kids? Weren’t you vaccinated when you were a kid? It was fine, right? You get your tetanus shot, right?
So twenty million people have gotten the vaccine already...
[same slow head shake again]
How about after a hundred million?
[shaking head again]
You said you’re worried about the long-term effects. [painstakingly trying to bring my cortisol levels down by putting on history-lecture voice] The human lifespan has doubled in the past two hundred years. That includes the timespan when vaccines were introduced. That’s deaths from all causes, including car accidents and heart attacks and cancer and everything. So if vaccines were causing long-term negative health effects, average lifespan would have decreased, not increased.
I paused, having surprised myself, because I had never thought of this particular angle before.
Then she said, “I realize I’m being irrational.”
...wait. Is this strategy... actually working??
“Okay, what if someone you trust gets it, would that help you feel safe? What about [her husband], what if he got it?”
She had mentioned that her husband was planning to get the vaccine, and, though they have three kids and they’ve been together since high school, he was surprised to hear that she was hesitant.
She went so far as to say that if her husband got the shot, and he was okay, then she would consider it.
I think the emotional scale goes somewhat along these lines:
Full-on saboteur, single-point-of-focus influencer, denial, refusal, hesitance, reluctance, anxiety, compliance, enthusiasm, vaccine booster. There are probably only a few individuals on the sabotage end of the scale. Most people who aren’t lining up for the shot yet are probably in the range of hesitance through anxiety.
It’s quite possible that with enough personal examples and gentle coaxing, many of these nervous people could be nudged up a rung and might be willing to get this shot, just as they probably got a dozen vaccinations in childhood.
I used to be a flu shot refuser. I had all my booster shots in childhood, and it was fine, and I have read a bunch of huge fat epidemiology books, and I know the science. I just had needle phobia and I didn’t want to go. Every time I had to get a shot I would get dizzy and have to put my head between my knees.
I learned to move past that. I embraced the flu shot after I saw it work firsthand. My husband got the shot and I didn’t, and I got the flu and he didn’t. The next year, I got my flu shot, even though I had a massive dizzy spell afterward and was shaky for the next half hour. It wasn’t anything in the needle, it was just my own fearful self and my unhelpful emotions taking over for a while.
Phobias can be beat.
I even think that pseudoscience can be beat.
It’s just that it will probably take compassion, and tact, and the slow patience of praxis.
I blew up at my friend, but she kept talking to me, and maybe budged a little, and we’re still friends and we still talk almost every day.
If she gets her shot, I’ll cry, and I’ll send her a bouquet.
I would have written this earlier, but honestly I was too busy.
About 1/5 of people have tendencies toward chronic procrastination, and I am one of them. This is an issue that has haunted me almost my entire life. It probably started when I was 7 and occasionally had to miss recess or sit in the hallway during a movie because my homework wasn’t done.
Isn’t that nuts? To take a tiny little kid who barely weighs 50 pounds and put that kind of pressure on those bitty little shoulders? Rather than *teach* a child whose brain is not fully developed, who can’t yet write in cursive or do long division, to *punish* and *withhold* and publicly shame and pelt with sarcastic remarks?
Of course, I’m 45 now, and I could easily have a grandchild that age. Can’t use it as an excuse today.
Last year I made it a resolution to work on my procrastination issues with one specific thing, which was responding to text messages. I also made it a ten-year plan to stop procrastinating entirely, or at least to quit feeling like it was an issue.
Lately I’ve been feeling like maybe I’m actually... there. Maybe I’m on top of it after all?
I took a new job last year, right after my... call it “transformative”... near-death experience with COVID-19. The pace has been referred to, more than once, as “frenetic” and as “hair on fire.”
We work long days in exchange for long weekends, a schedule that is known as 9/80. It means we work 80 hours in nine days instead of ten. It’s great, and more people should probably be allowed to do it. It also means, effectively, ten-hour days.
What I’ve found is that I have to run a pretty tight ship to be able to do the things I want to do, as well as work at this job.
My job itself is wildly fascinating. I work with really cool people and I learn new things every day. I recently got a great performance review and an unexpectedly satisfying merit increase, all things that are nice for morale. My boss literally said, “I’m behind you 100%, keep doing what you’re doing.”
It is tricky to get all my stuff done in between meetings, though.
When I first started, I admit, I probably wasn’t really recovered enough from coronavirus to be working a full schedule at such a busy place. It was hard. Then it got worse when I got bacterial pneumonia for my birthday and took a month to really get better.
I often felt low-energy and overwhelmed and like I was messing up.
Gradually, as I really started to get well again, I started to realize that my feelings of despair and dread were... symptoms! I was just anxious because I had been so ill, and that is one of the lasting effects of the virus. I read an article about post-viral syndrome, and as soon as I had that in my head, something clicked into place.
I was doing fine - I had direct testimony to that effect from the people whose opinions matter - and I was freaking myself out because my biology insisted on it.
This is the kind of thing I can talk myself out of.
Suddenly it felt as though I really had plenty of time to do everything at work, as long as I used a planner. I started doing a separate bullet journal for my job, and it was like rainbows started shooting out of my desk.
When I clocked out for the day, everything that lay before me in the evening was something I wanted to do. Eat dinner, obviously. Order groceries, same. Take care of my little parrot, who has been ludicrously well behaved during the pandemic and deserves so many smooches. Lay out clothes for the next day, a nice favor for Morning Me. Italian lesson, a reward.
But what about the aversive stuff? The annoying tasks that nobody wants to do?
There are still things I don’t really want to do, such as fill out forms or schedule appointments. I’ve learned to do two things about those.
I still have as many chores as anyone else who lives in a dinky apartment. Still have to put away laundry, which I still despise and probably always will. Still have to unpack groceries and scrub the bathtub and dust the ceiling fan and scrape pulped fruit off the window.
(What, don’t you have to scrape fruit off the windows at your house?)
The secret there was to choose. Would I rather cram these tasks into the day during the week, or put them off for the weekend?
Because I know that if I work with focus and strategy, I can lounge around on the weekend and do nothing, I choose to fit the housework into my busy, busy weekdays. A little in the morning while making breakfast. A little during my lunch break. A little while making dinner. Perhaps something while I’m dialed in to a long meeting that I don’t have to transcribe. Somehow, it all seems to get done.
Living in a small apartment makes it stand out if anything is not done. A single dish out on the stove or the counter really looks terrible and gets in the way. With a dusty, fluffy parrot and dark floorboards, the floors can look absolutely shambolic the very day after mopping. The punishment for skimping on something is to have to live with the aftereffects.
How quickly we forget, when we commute to a workplace, that somebody else is probably cleaning it! Polishing the tiles, washing the windows, hauling out the trash. It’s a curiously orderly environment that seems to put itself to rights, every night, by magic.
Not so much how it happens when you work from home.
What I’ve been finding is that when I am doing something that I might formerly have put off, I am thinking, “Good, I finally have time to get this out of the way.”
The truth is that procrastinating feels emotionally horrible. It is not rewarding in any way.
Finishing stuff and no longer having it weigh on your conscience, that’s a huge improvement.
Who taught you to job hunt?
This is a question that I think few people ask themselves, but it’s important.
A friend of ours reported struggling to find a job, and we asked her process. She was dropping by places where she wanted to apply, in person, during the pandemic, to ask if they had an opening.
I didn’t even have to ask to know that a Baby Boomer suggested this plan. Back in the 1970s, it was a solid strategy that actually got people jobs. (Not the “visit during a pandemic” part, though!)
Having worked in an employment agency and having met dozens of interview candidates at a dozen different companies, I can tell you with some authority that this process does not work if you want an office job.
(It might work if you want to bus tables at a restaurant or do manual labor on a construction site, but I’m not sure. Just guessing).
Your very first rule is not to annoy the front office staff. This must be said because apparently a shocking number of people find it impossible to do.
This is why it’s a good idea to ask yourself, where did you get your ideas on how to conduct a job hunt? Does the person who gave you this advice work in your actual field? (Not “did” as in “many years ago,” but does this person actively work in this field today?)
Have you checked those ideas with anyone else? Do these other people also have successful careers in your field?
Something it took me much too long to discover was that it’s better to ask for advice from people than it is to ask them for job leads. The ratio should be about 10% asking people for their time to help you, to 90% doing your own reading and research.
People ask me to look over their resumes all the time, which I do because I’m super nice that way, and it typically takes me an hour. It’s really important to understand that an hour of a busy person’s time is a big ask. You need to be paying that forward and making absolutely sure you are doing at least 1:1 hours of nice, generous things for other people.
Because that’s what ‘work’ is.
It gets a lot easier when you take on the persona of a finisher, a closer, someone who will absolutely not just bend over backward, but try to put your foot behind your head if that’s what it takes to get something done.
That’s when people start reaching out to *you* with unsolicited offers, rather than you chasing after them.
You can build a reputation like this in the volunteer world.
This is that type of ‘duh’ advice that makes people’s eyes roll back in your head. Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. How will I have time to do that when I’m so busy with this job hunt?
I never understood how true it was until I did it myself.
I’m firmly convinced that all the volunteer leadership I did in Toastmasters is what got me my dream job - well, that and the spec work I did on my tech newsletter.
There are two forces operating here, and I’m firmly convinced that almost zero job applicants put them to use, even as the standard “submit resume to hundreds of companies and wait” method returns so few results.
One is the force of networking, building a solid reputation with perhaps a hundred people who only know two things about you. First, you’re useful to have on projects, and second, you’re interested in a particular kind of job opening.
The other is the sheer mystical power of the portfolio method.
This is how I got my job.
First, I applied for two jobs and did not hear back. No rejection letter, no call, no interview, no nuthin. What I did do, though, was to attend a resume workshop and talk to a consultant. I hadn’t had a regular job in over ten years, and I wanted help figuring out how to explain that. We met, I wrote my resume and had two other business friends give me notes on it, and then I sent it to her and we talked over it again.
The third job I applied for was the job that I got. Same resume, same type of position, with two key differences.
I actually knew the specific person I would be working for, and I had met at least a dozen people, not just in the company, but in the specific division where I wound up working.
Also, I had been doing my spec project for over a year. I had inside information that it was on target. I figured it would eventually get me a job at this company - I gave it four years - and when it actually worked, I was simply surprised that it happened faster than I had thought.
Two things are happening here. One is that I am a known quantity to the people with whom I want to work. The other is that they have an ongoing sample of the quality of my work. By the time they interview me, it’s more or less a formality, because they already know I can do high-quality work on a consistent production schedule.
Twenty years ago, I knew that most jobs and promotional opportunities are never publicly advertised. I also knew that answering ads didn’t work very well. What I did not know was how the heck a person like me with no connections could get ahold of one of those jobs.
Now I do know.
Did it take hours of unpaid work on my part? Yes.
Did it take paying to hire someone to look over my resume? Yes.
Did all of that magically get compensated by my first paycheck at the new, higher-paying job? Yes.
It’s true that the existing system is not designed to be welcoming to outsiders, no matter what field you’re in. It’s also true that it’s still possible to become an insider. With a sincere desire to fill a specific role in a specific field, and consistent effort strategically applied, probably anyone can eventually become one of those insiders.
Spoilers, this post is going to touch on the Wonder Woman 1984 movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet but you plan to, come back to this later. The rest of you can read this whether you’ve seen it or not, because what I really want to talk about is the misunderstood art of wishing.
Okay, this is where the spoilers start, and I’m only belaboring the point because one of my wishes is that other people would work harder to avoid spoilers. H/T to those who spoiled my personal experience of the fourth Harry Potter book while I was still reading the first one, and the person who spoiled the ending of The Crying Game for me, and the person who spoiled the main plot point of The Walking Dead season 6. Geez you guys. Schtaaaaaap.
I have a serious problem with the wishing issue in WW84.
...wait, that looks wrong... not planning on eighty-four world wars... Whatever, I trust you can disambiguate.
There are two big problems with the way that wishing is portrayed in this movie.
First, it shows people getting their heart’s desire, which then makes them selfish and corrupts their morals.
Second, it shows everyone all around the world making purely selfish and destructive wishes.
I just don’t think people are that mean.
I also know that most people can’t really articulate a wish, not even a single one.
Perfect example: A couple hours before I wrote this, I was on a group Zoom call, and we were joking around about Conan the Barbarian. “What is best in life?” I quoted. Then I thought, what the heck, why not actually ask everyone this?
You next - what do you think is best in life?
Nobody asked me, although the answer is obviously “listening to audiobooks on triple speed while solving cryptograms.”
Everyone was stumped by this idea!
“Don’t you all like anything??”
One person said “sleeping” and another person said “vacation.” That was it. There were no other answers.
I was like: Coffee? Beer? Chocolate? Tacos? Baskets of puppies?
Why aren’t people better at wishing for things and having favorites and enjoying things?
I talk about this all the time, because I want to inspire more people to try it, but all my clients have universally quit on the “perfect day” exercise. This is a very basic thought exercise, the point of which is, what would you do on your perfect day? Because most of those things you could probably do every day.
The art of wishing is very closely connected to this concept of the perfect day.
I have a variety of “perfect days,” at least one of which I pretty much live out every weekend.
One variety is that I go to downtown Portland, have lunch, then spend about two hours wandering around Powell’s Books, after which I have dinner with my family. In normal times I would do this three or four times a year.
Another version is that I sleep in, have Fancy Breakfast with my husband, then take a three-hour nap, and then we go to the park for a while and walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, and then we eat popcorn and watch a movie. That’s the easy one, the one we do all the time.
I don’t see why my first wish, the wish about the bookstore and having dinner with my family, is such a selfish or mean-spirited wish that it would destroy the planet if everyone tried it.
In one way, it is a rather selfish wish, because I think the real heartfelt wishes that people do carry are much more altruistic.
Why wasn’t there a single example of a worried parent making a wish by a child’s hospital bed?
Why wasn’t there a single example of an estranged couple reconciling and falling in love again?
Why wasn’t there a single example of someone wishing for their dog to be cured of dog cancer and live another few years?
There are other wishes that I think real people have wished. Wishes for lost objects to be returned. Wishes for ruined or deleted photographs to be restored. Wishes to not have dropped one’s smartphone in the river.
I mean, those aren’t so bad, are they?
I was at the coffee shop one day, back in the good old days when you could just sit there with your entire face out and nobody would care. A grade-school kid was in line, asking his high-school-aged older brother for money for a hot chocolate. The older brother was like, Get lost, kid.
I reached into my bag and pulled out a $5 bill. I got up and handed it to the younger boy and said, “Here, you can get yourself a cocoa.”
I probably enjoyed watching him smugly order his drink in front of his brother more than he enjoyed actually drinking it. I’ve paid more to watch movies that were less entertaining.
The best wishes are simple and easy.
Realizing this has transformed my life. I’ve gradually become aware that not only is it straightforward to make many of my own wishes come true, but it’s also pretty easy and fun to grant wishes for other people.
That’s why I keep doing micro-lending, and why I sponsor a child’s education, and why I contributed to build a well, and why I do the giving tree thing in the winter. It is very satisfying to do nice things for other people.
Maybe you’d like to grant a wish? Maybe a wish for me?
Maybe to wear a mask when you go outside? Or if you don’t want to do that, maybe to get your COVID-19 vaccine?
Maybe better than that. Would you spend some time thinking about what is best in life, and what your perfect day would be, and what is something nice you would wish for someone else?
It seems to be the way of the world that people are better at wishing good things on each other than they are at wishing for anything for themselves. And that’s the movie I wish someone would make.
Eminem says we only get one shot, one opportunity, but apparently we’re supposed to get two. I’m talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, surely one of the most important innovations of all time after, say, the internet and indoor plumbing.
I’m excited about mine, everyone knows that. What I really want to talk about are the skeptics amongst us and what kinds of conversations we’re going to have with them.
I respect your personal decisions and your bodily autonomy. I understand that never in a million billion years will you ever get the vaccine, and I accept that. It’s fine, you’re off the hook. I would never pressure you.
I just want to know, what are your reasons exactly?
Why won’t you get your shot?
I had a brief conversation with a coworker the other day. She wanted to ask me to invite a couple of people to a meeting I had set up. Somehow or other it came up that she thought people were going to have present proof of vaccination in order to travel.
She used the emoji of the freaked-out face with the round eyes and the flushed cheeks. It’s one of the icons that pops up if you type the word ‘shocked.’
I responded, “I can’t wait. I’ve already had COVID so I’m really excited to get mine!”
Then we went on to talk about all the places we want to go When All This Is Over (TM).
That was not what I would call a proselytizing conversation. She hinted that she wasn’t super thrilled about the vaccine. I shared my feelings about taking my turn. Then we changed the subject.
Was this going to change this person’s mind? Doubtful. But I did have that opportunity to start blasting her with misinformation and paranoia, and I did not do that.
They’re injecting microchips into people!
See, we work in STEM and we know too much about microchips in my industry. Let me take a moment to explain this concept from our perspective.
You know those microchips you can have implanted in your cat or dog, so if they get lost, they can get back home to you?
They don’t track your pets. Right?
If those microchips were able to track animals so that people would know where they were at all times, there wouldn’t be these lost animals. You could just look at the map, drive right up to them, and shake a treat bag next to a bush and they’d come running out.
The only way those microchips work is if someone finds your kitty, takes it to a vet that has a scanner, and has them check for a chip. But sometimes the chips wander a bit, and it turns out it’s not on their chest anymore, it’s more like next to their leg or wherever. Ask any vet tech to confirm.
A microchip doesn’t do anything at all by itself. It might as well be... a potato chip. Ba dum dum.
It needs a battery or some kind of power source, and sure, I suppose some woo-woo person might imagine that it somehow knows to draw power from the human body. If that were possible, there would be a lot of very miniaturized pacemakers and insulin pumps and other medical implants that would be worth trillions of dollars on the open market.
Oh, and? If there were tracking chip implants available, don’t you think they would be marketed to anxious parents? Put one in your kid in case they ever get kidnapped? How much do you think people would pay for that??
The other thing a chip would need, besides a power source, is some kind of transmitter, like an antenna. Remember, this is why veterinarians can’t just find your lost dog. Or child.
There aren’t currently any microchips small enough to be invisible to the naked eye and just fit through a syringe, but if there were, they would need both a small battery and an antenna of some kind in order to do something. It just wouldn’t physically fit.
I adore, absolutely frolic in this idea that Someone is installing “tracking devices” to know where people are at all times. Uh, it’s called “your phone” and “Netflix”? Where the heck are other people going that is so interesting? Everyone I know is planted firmly on their couch most nights, pandemic or no pandemic. Most people spend almost all their time either at home or at work, with a few exceptions like the gym or the grocery store. Most of our habits are 99% completely predictable.
If we were so worried about it, we wouldn’t be posting our every word, thought, and deed on social media, practically begging people to take an interest.
I made a sandwich! Look at my dinner!
This is why there’s so much conversation about vaccine refusal. We’re trying to connect with each other, looking for validation and for someone to engage in what is certainly a fantastic, fascinating example of practical philosophy.
Do we really owe anything to anyone else?
Is society worth saving?
What absolute natural rights do I have?
Why don’t I feel more in control of my life? Why aren’t things turning out the way I always thought they would?
Where exactly is the line between liberty and license, between freedom and selfishness?
I don’t particularly want to talk to anyone about their personal reasons for not wanting to get the shot. I didn’t want to get COVID, and nobody wants to talk to me about that. It’s boring. I understand that nobody is interested in my ten-month-plus health drama. So fair trade, quid pro quo. I will leave you in peace about my long-haul COVID and you, likewise, leave me in peace about your needle anxiety.
I do, though, think it’s worth talking about in general. Maybe there are people like you, dear readers, who are looking for talking points and analogies and references to use in conversations with their reluctant family and friends.
15 million Americans have had the vaccine by now (at time of writing). Is that enough for you to feel convinced that it’s safe? If that isn’t a number, do you have a number in mind? How about 100 million?
A bunch of public figures have had it, including the Queen of England, the new US President and Vice President, Martha Stewart, the Pope, Willie Nelson, Sir Ian McKellan, Hank Aaron, and a bunch of other famous people.
If you think they’re faking it, is there a specific person you trust to tell you the truth? What if that person got it?
What if I got it? Would you believe me? What if you watched me get it right in front of you?
It’s okay that you’re not getting it, I remember that, but what do you think if I get it myself?
Would you come with me and hold my hand?
We went for a walk and vacuumed at the same time. This isn’t all that interesting in itself; we’ve had a robot vacuum for over a decade now, and we almost always run it while we’re off doing something else so we don’t have to listen to it.
What was different this time was that I realized I had forgotten to move something out of its way. I was able to whip out my phone, pause it from a quarter mile away, and mark off the area as off-limits.
(It turned out not to work, but that’s a story for a different time).
This is a feature that I used to joke about, and now it’s real. (Kinda?) I also used to joke about it emptying itself, and now that’s a real feature, too.
Yet another robot joke I used to make was about getting a robot lawnmower. We don’t have a lawn anymore, because we live on the 5th floor, but that is indeed a robot that somebody can buy now.
What I’ve learned is that I am really, really good at predicting consumer tech that will be available in the 5-10 year range.
(Now if I can just learn to design and sell it, we’re all set...)
The obvious question is raised. What else could a home robot do if we let it?
The case for robot vacuum cleaners is very strong, from my perspective, which is why it is a total mystery to me that so many people resist the very idea. Well what if someone gave you one?? Would you totally refuse to use it?
They’re cost-competitive with other vacuums, they go under the bed and the couch, and if something like a Lego or an earring accidentally gets picked up, you can get it out with much less mess than a traditional vacuum. The only real issue is that you have to go around and arrange your cords and cables in advance.
The robot mop is a little higher maintenance, in that it can’t drive itself on and off the charger, but it is much faster and quieter and doesn’t try to eat the bath mat, so that tends to make up for it.
Talking about chores in terms of robots was good for our marriage. We could play a game - “We live on a space station with robots” - rather than argue about housework. Because of this, we refer to dishwashers and washing machines and dryers as robots, too. Dishbot! Washbot! Drybot!
We would stroll out the door on the way to the movie theater, chortling about how All the Robots were Doing All the Chores. Laundry, dishes, and floor all at the same time.
There’s a natural transition from this concept to the question of what else a robot could do to help.
For us, the next natural transition was, how many of these features could be built into a home’s infrastructure?
My dearest wish has been to have a robot that can fold the laundry. I didn’t even care whether it put the laundry away somewhere, I just wanted the socks all matched up. It turns out that this is on the very far end of difficulty for an AI. Something that a preschooler can do - match socks - can defeat the same robot that can play chess and solve differential equations.
By the time a home robot can fold and put away laundry, it will basically be capable of doing everything.
Not just everything around the house, but basically everything a person can do.
It’s obvious why robots should do certain things instead of people, like sanitizing public restrooms or washing adult diapers. What isn’t so obvious yet is all the things that will be automated, say, fifty years in the future.
Dude! Did you know the dishwasher was first patented in 1850???
And it took 120 years before they were common in the suburbs?
The microwave oven was invented in 1946, but wasn’t all that common until the 1980s. At that time, they cost an average of $425, which is like $1300 now.
The reason all this matters is that anything a machine can do frees up a person to do something else.
You can go ahead and mock me for my foo-foo robot mop, but it is one of the reasons that I will be able to go back to school for my doctorate.
Other people will unblushingly share that they have a maid/housekeeper/cleaning service come in. But hey! That is also a person who could be doing something else! I cleaned houses once upon a time, too, and I’m a Mensan, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Coming back around to the problem of the missing laundry-folding robot, there are actually a bunch of different ways to get around this problem. 1. Reintroduce the lovely and flattering toga. 2. Do everything virtually with an elegantly dressed avatar, and just walk around nude. 3. Buy only wrinkle-free fabrics and some extra laundry baskets, and just shake everything into them. 4. Have only one outfit, like a space unitard, and have it sanitized while you sleep. 5. Print outfits on demand, then drop them back into the unit to be melted down into something fresh for the next day. 6. Spray-on body paint.
Probably more also. In the meantime, folding laundry takes 15 minutes per load, and when else would we listen to podcasts?
Something I learned when I was working with hoarders is that a lot of people are conceptually married to the idea that you do chores the 1920s way. Grimly, no music, no modern cleansers or tools, for your sins. It astonishes me to this day how resistant people are to changing up their routines. Rather than gratefully accept modern improvements, it’s more likely that people will quit doing it entirely.
Is some of this financial? Sure, of course. At the same time, the robots that I’m talking about are in the same price range as the gaming consoles and stand mixers that I often see. They’re also far cheaper than automobiles, a modern convenience that we have chosen not to own for four years now.
The question behind the question “Could a robot do this?” is, Is there a better way to do this? The question behind *that* is, If this didn’t have to be done personally by me, what else would I be doing with my time?
What did you do over the weekend? (Take ‘weekend’ to mean ‘day off from work’ - not that everyone has that as an option).
Among other things, my hubby had to spend about two hours talking to tech support, using my phone because his wasn’t working. While he was doing that, I ordered groceries and produce delivery, negotiating several products that weren’t available.
This is a reflection that technology makes our lives easier with one hand, and more complicated with the other.
Another example of this is that our bathtub faucet suddenly started dripping. I emailed our landlord about it, as part of a thread about the ceiling lights that suddenly quit on us and whether it might be an electrical issue. Due to COVID, we mutually agreed not to fix the faucet until “all this is over.”
It turns out that people have more to do than people of our same age did twenty or thirty years ago. That’s mostly because commerce has offloaded more and more tasks onto the end user, and it’s crept up on us, and we’ve barely noticed.
How much of our time is spent on things we didn’t have to do in the past, like updating passwords?
I’ve been noticing this sort of thing more, because I got a new job last year and we work 9-hour days. Since I work 8-6, almost everything is closed when I get off work, and a lot of it is closed during my lunch break as well.
The alternatives here are either to do these things during my off Fridays, or try to cram them into my breaks.
It’s amazing how quickly a free Friday can disappear into shadow labor.
I’ve decided that the only way to cope is to tag these shadow labor tasks, calling them out for what they are, and divvy them up so that I never have to do more than one or two per day.
One piece of shadow labor that I do every day, without fail, is to unsubscribe from whatever has infiltrated my email that day. For some reason, there are often as many as half a dozen new impertinences to fend off.
Another, similar task is to block spam phone calls. If you don’t get on them right away, they’ll just keep calling, sometimes four times in a row.
Yet another, similar task is to sort and toss junk mail from the mailbox. Same problem, different form factor.
Don’t we all have a fundamental right to privacy? And yet why are there marketers constantly coming at us from all sides demanding our attention? Why can’t we make it a single hour without getting an unwanted phone call, email, or piece of glossy unrecyclable mail thrust at us? At least they aren’t leaving as many on our doorknobs these days.
While I strongly resent having to attend to these things each day, I also recognize that my life is easier if I do. I can bundle these mindless activities and blast them off my mental bandwidth while listening to a podcast.
Technically, they barely count anymore.
The goal with mental bandwidth is to save room for two things: System II thinking and high-quality leisure time.
Ideally we want at least a four-hour uninterrupted chunk for the HQLT.
Deep thought, the kind of concentration you need to do something like your taxes, depends on the person. People with attention deficit issues might want to start with a short chunk like 15 minutes, and gradually work up to maybe two hours without a break. People like my husband, who is a sort of swami at this stuff, can go ten hours at a stretch. It’s nuts.
Yet something to aspire to.
What we’re looking for are as many things that we can do with as little concentration as possible, so that we can free up time in as large a chunk as we can.
I finish work at 6 pm every day, for instance, so there isn’t very much time between then and bedtime. A whole evening can vanish before I know it. If I tried to do an uninterrupted four-hour block, I’d pop my head up at 10 pm and realize I hadn’t eaten dinner, exercised, or anything else.
What I want to avoid doing is spending my evening on hold with customer service somewhere, paying bills, emailing my landlord, or otherwise dealing with administrivia or life maintenance.
It turns out that most of these things can be done in five minutes, and almost all in under 15.
I paused while writing this, and hit another shadow labor moment that is quite funny in retrospect.
We were renting a movie, and for whatever reason, iTunes wouldn’t load, so I decided to try to rent it through the Apple TV app. Because I hadn’t done this before, I had to enter my iTunes password with the remote. This is slow and complicated and I should probably figure out how to do it on my phone, except that’s yet more shadow labor.
Just as I was about to enter the last character, I accidentally scrolled too fast and clicked ‘Cancel.’
I started making incoherent blithering sounds and punching the air, as one does.
Then I started laboriously entering my password again - and I accidentally hit cancel *again.*
At that point I gave up and rented the same movie through Amazon Prime.
I had to remind myself that if we weren’t doing this, in this bizarro world that we all currently inhabit, then we would have been at the movie theater, trying to buy a ticket from a glitchy kiosk, or waiting in a long line, or getting our seats kicked by someone’s child. The shadow labor of not shouting at a person.
It’s always something.
Sometimes it seems like if we could just have one easy day, one day without friction, then everything would be perfect. The catch is that whenever friction is removed from one area, it becomes more noticeable in another. The game will never be over.
Focus on focusing. Focus on lengthening the amount of time you can concentrate, and also focus on the amount of leisure time that you have to lounge around doing nothing, thinking nothing at all.
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.
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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