I had to double-check the news just to make sure that it applied to California, but I did, and we were good to go. We are officially allowed to walk outside and go to the park without masks! The very first day that we had off, that’s what we did.
Every week I check the weather forecast to see if there is going to be a nice enough day. All year, it’s been touch-and-go. Sometimes, there will be one warm-weather day, and sometimes, that day will fall on the weekend. I plan our entire week around making sure we get to the park that day.
If there is only a two-hour window of warm and sunny weather, by gum, we’re going to be sitting in the middle of a grassy field and making the most of it.
It was glorious. 78F, not a cloud in the sky, flowers blooming, butterflies and bees and hummingbirds, the full springtime experience.
We walked down the trail to the park, and we didn’t have masks on, and nobody came near us, so it probably didn’t matter anyway.
We’ve both had our second shot. I wanted those shots, and I booked them the first day that I had permission, and I got there early. I’ve already started feeling the effects, as the sense of lingering illness that I have had over the past year has finally started to dissipate.
At the same time, though, I don’t know if I truly believe that it will work.
I talked it out with my husband. A hundred million people in the US have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and about 5600 have had breakthrough infections.
“That’s about one in twenty thousand,” he explained.
“Yeah, that feels like a big enough risk to me to still be careful,” I replied.
I was one of the first 400 COVID cases in California, a state with a population of nearly forty million people. I’m not great at math, but that’s... one in 100,000. I have no problem with being extra-cautious, considering that so far, most of the planning I thought was very conservative was nowhere near what we truly needed.
Storing food supplies for one month, for instance!
In February 2020, I thought we were planning very carefully and being smart.
What I’m worried about right now is the indication that the Pfizer vaccine might not be effective against the South African variant.
A vaccine-hesitant person might use that as some kind of excuse not to get the shot.
Not me. I see it as a laundry list of Pandemic Problems, most of which I have just crossed off by getting my jab. Let’s see, now all I need is a booster shot that covers that strain and I’ll be good to go.
I fully expect there to be annual boosters of the COVID vaccine, and I am ready and eager to roll up my sleeve.
I have two other plans for the future, considering that I’m 45 and a COVID survivor. One is to start getting the flu shot twice a year, once at the very beginning of flu season and the other six months later. Say, late September and again in February or March.
Although... it looks like all the social distancing and masking may be driving influenza to extinction all around the world. Even better, it looks like all this medical research may be bringing us a universal flu vaccine, which is magnificent!
If you’ve been paying attention, it looks like we may also be getting both an effective malaria vaccine and an HIV vaccine. Coronavirus bonanzas.
I said I have two plans for the future, and one is to get the flu shot twice a year instead of just once. The other is to ask my doctor what other vaccines are on the market and please can’t I have them?
I don’t think it will happen for us this year, but I do believe that eventually world travel will be back on the table. (I’m still sticking with my original prediction, circa March 2020, that the pandemic will last until January 2023). I am much more concerned now about picking up some random contagion now.
I’d far, far rather go through a course of multiple injections that just lock my door and never go anywhere interesting ever again.
These are the sorts of things I’m thinking about as I sit here in the park on a beautiful warm spring day.
The park is very busy. We got to watch a group of third-graders give each other presentations on the US presidents. They were so much more confident than I was at that age, or, to be honest, even thirty years later.
We sat off to the side, on an embankment that is too steep for much besides our inflatable chairs, and made up our own fake presidential facts.
“Teddy Roosevelt wrestled a moose,” I intoned.
Something we noticed is that there were far more kids in masks today than there have been any other time in the past year. Our region has been extremely sloppy about masking. It seems, though, that the news is getting out. COVID seems to be having a stronger effect on little kids. Did you see the story about the poor little boy who went on vacation with his vaccinated parents, and he died??
By this time next year, maybe testing will indicate that the COVID vaccine is safe for children as well. Or maybe there will be a formulation that is safe on infants. At that point, we can finally break the back of this stupid virus and drive it to extinction.
We noticed today that a few people were enjoying the new order, that it’s okay to go without masks outdoors like we are doing. I would have assumed that everyone would take advantage of that fact, that even unvaccinated people would just go bare-faced and assume nobody would call them out on it.
It would be useful if we had some kind of signal for who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, like a colored ribbon, although that system could be abused as well. For now, though, it seems like people are going for it. Mask if no vaccine, bare face if elite.
How weird would it be if suddenly wearing a mask started to become a signal that one was part of the vaccine resistance? If the hesitant or the politically motivated started using masks to indicate where their loyalties lie? I would think it would make a terrific canvas for various symbols or slogans, like a nice little DONT TREAD ON ME serpent. Instant Etsy income.
This has been a surprisingly great day. We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the fine spring weather and smelling the freshly mown grass. Now we’re going to walk down to the beach, pull our masks out of our pockets, and get takeout burritos.
The weather is hot, and I got my shot, so now I’ll have fun with barely a thought. And that’s a great feeling that cannot be bought.
What is the thing that you would protect at all costs?
I’m not talking about your phone - although honestly, that’s the obvious one - or your kid or your cat. I’m talking the secret little thing that you do, the part of your life that you will make happen no matter how weird things get.
Morning cup of coffee?
Afternoon chocolate bar?
Reading a little before bed?
Everyone has something. One of mine is taking pictures of trash. My hubby knows I may suddenly stop in the middle of the sidewalk, even when we’re on vacation, or go back several paces so I can get my shot. It’s just part of the deal.
We know how to protect our assets when they’re important enough to us.
I was reading a time management article in Fast Company that introduced this concept in the sense of time management.
Ah yes, I thought, that is a brilliant way of looking at it. For instance, I will not go anywhere without breakfast, preferably a hot one. Doesn’t matter if we’re on the way to the airport for a redeye flight, preparing to drive a moving van several hours, or even if we’ve spent the night in the emergency room at the hospital. I am going to eat breakfast so don’t even argue.
Then I realized that this concept of protecting the asset is the difference between tidy people and... my people, the chaos club.
It’s a matter of mindset, like most things.
Many of my people associate cleaning up and getting organized with punishment and trauma. They never learned to do these things the easy way, it could never feel like a natural part of their life because it only ever happened under high-stress, emotional conditions.
On the other hand, the sort of people whose homes look like they could be on the cover of a magazine? The HGTV people? They don’t think this way at all.
What is going through their minds is more like “let’s make this pretty.” Or “I’m framing this shot so the composition is not disrupted.” They’re not focused on the drudgery at all - they’re simply restoring their environment so that it more closely matches their aesthetic vision.
...I know, right??
It actually irked me when I learned that chefs clean their own kitchen area every night. Argh, I thought, don’t let my husband read this! I was firmly of the opinion that after I slaved away over a hot pan, someone who was not me should do the cleanup.
(We’ve gone back and forth on that over the twelve years of our marriage. Some years, one of us cooked and the other cleaned, and then we would trade the next night. A few of these stints, we’ve done both the cooking and the cleaning on the same night, which is where we are now, and we still trade nights).
As my cooking improved, though, I started to feel it. I started to feel that resonance with the kitchen counter and the sink and stove as my work area, my artist’s palette. As I wiped things down, what I’d be thinking about was the next recipe I wanted to try, and how much easier it always is to walk into a spotless kitchen and get started.
Who was I doing it for? Myself.
Protecting the asset is, in one sense, my gleaming sink.
In another sense, it’s the precious bubble of my desire to compose delicious meals. For myself, and, incidentally, my husband, or sometimes my family or friends as well.
This is the biggest difference between me and a burned-out stay-at-home mom.
Well, besides the facts that 1. I can’t have kids and 2. Most 45-year-olds don’t have little kids at home.
I know that no matter who lives with me, I live there too. No matter who else is eating, this is my meal. This is my own lifestyle.
My asset, in this sense, is my sense of my own home, my household, my lifestyle, my daily routine. I live the way that I choose to live, and unfortunately that takes a certain amount of labor.
Some are willing to put nearly infinite time into their hair, their eye makeup, their nail art, their fashion choices, maintaining their shoe collection. Others put that time into gaming and creating a virtual universe for their avatars.
This is an affirmation that whatever it is that we truly love to do, we should raise it up and enjoy it. Own it, declare it - in the secrecy of our own hearts if we don’t literally feel like telling anyone else about it.
What I’ve learned to love are fine home-cooked meals and an intentional living environment.
One of those is a sort of natural outgrowth of loving a parrot.
She’s a whirlwind of loose feathers, shredded cardboard, and nibbled kibble that she’s somehow flung six feet in every direction. She is so unfathomably messy that it’s impossible to coast along and ignore it. My fluffy little gray asset.
The other thing about choosing to accept domestic scutwork with good grace is that it helps to hide my little secret. That secret is that I live for books, always have, always will. Scooting around cleaning is my way of ensuring that I have at least a little time to myself to get into my audiobook.
The asset, the asset. If I didn’t have a certain amount of private time to read every day, I would lose my mind. I honestly don’t know how other people survive without it.
This idea, of framing things as assets and putting the focus on that - rather than problems - can change your life if you let it.
The assets of mental bandwidth
The assets of relationships and long conversations
The assets of the physical environment - the soft bed, the sparkling kitchen, the reading chair, the indulgent bathtub, the desk where interesting things happen
The asset is anything you want it to be, anything that you choose for yourself. There’s no reason to limit yourself to just one. What if it was an asset of entitlement to something like privacy or creative expression or advanced education?
My hubby and I got our second shots last week. We are, as they say, in like Flynn.
Word is getting out, and people are starting to ask questions of us. We haven’t really gotten our heads around the idea that in another week and a half, we’ll be 94% protected against COVID-19.
Now that we’re in the vaccinated elite, it’s like doors have opened to us and we don’t even know what’s on the other side of those doors yet.
The first thing that happened is that some of our young people have started asking what our rules are for socializing.
The second thing is that our work asked on which exact date my hubby would be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ and thus free to travel again. Business trips.
There you have it. Right back to where we were in 2019, with a social calendar and a variable amount of business travel.
In the meantime, we’ve only just realized that we can go out in public and get PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS again.
My hubby needs to renew his passport. I called for him and found that he can get his photo taken 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, right up the street. He mentioned getting a haircut first.
“What, don’t you like my $6-equivalent home haircuts anymore?”
Haha, like I’m offended. The only thing more stressful than giving someone else an amateur haircut is: driving on the freeway. I might be willing to cut a man’s hair again under certain pressing circumstances - not sure what those would be - but it is unlikely that I will be called upon to do this again.
We keep talking about what else we’re going to do, once we’re free to go out and about.
Well, technically we’re free now. I think we could even go to see a movie at the mall. The pool is open at our building again, residents only. The gym next door is allowing people in. Cases are finally dropping in our area and things seem to be going well.
I have done something since we got our shots. I went to the store and bought some fresh raspberries.
I went alone, I wore my mask, I distanced, I was only in the store for ten minutes, the clerk stayed behind his plexiglass barrier, I left. Chances are, these behaviors would have served me just as well before I got my first shot, in the Wild West days.
The difference is that now, I no longer approach transactions like this in a flop sweat, with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I am what seems to be fairly rare in the US: a true believer that the coronavirus exists and that it wants to kill you. I had COVID, I’ve followed the updates and pre-prints in various research journals, and I understand that I could both get it again and die of it.
A short list of things I would rather have happen than get COVID a second time:
Be audited by the IRS
Be attacked by a coyote
Or a mountain lion
Get a tattoo on my eyeball
Have a tooth pulled without anesthesia
Be hit in the face with a baseball bat
Have food poisoning
I suppose I should match this with a short list of things that I think would be worse than getting COVID again. That would basically be: being trapped in a submarine with the oxygen running out, being dragged underwater by an alligator, or, actually literally dying.
Probably none of those things will happen to me or to anyone I know. I sure hope not. (Except the dying part - can’t do much about that). Probably I won’t get COVID again, either, because I am now paranoid for life. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of wearing a mask in public forever, because so far it has kept me from getting the flu or even the common cold.
Also I don’t have to worry if there’s spinach in my teeth.
What are we going to do, now that we’re in the vaccinated elite?
Probably we will re-enter society gradually, one step at a time.
We do have rules for having people over. Those rules are 1, you must be fully vaccinated, 2, you must show your documentation, and 3, if you bring someone with you who is not fully vaccinated yet, then I will throw a huge fit and shove the whole group of you away from my door with a broom. Because a 10-foot pole won’t fit in my apartment.
Probably we will be expected to return to work soon.
I am not excited about this, because I know that there will be a certain number of vaccine skeptics on staff. I won’t know who they are, and thus I might wind up in a small room with one sitting on either side of me.
Am I paranoid? I am. The Pfizer vaccine that I just got is not protective against the South African strain. How long will it take to produce a booster shot that will include that strain? No idea.
Going in to work as a physical entity, rather than a virtual avatar, means I’m going to have to wear a mask at least ten hours a day. I will probably wind up eating my lunch in the parking lot so that I can feel safe to take off my mask.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that elite yet. I have a piece of information that stresses me out, which is that there is still a deadly and highly contagious strain of a virus circulating out there, and my injection does not protect me against it.
Going to work and being on site 50 hours a week with 3000 people, many of whom travel regularly, is a completely different risk profile than going to the grocery store for ten minutes, or getting a haircut in a private salon with one stylist and a locking door.
In some ways, being a part of the vaccinated elite is great. It’s our best chance to achieve true herd immunity and finally end the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s not perfect, and it creates a certain amount of pressure to get back to business and pretend that everything is normal, when it isn’t yet.
The rest of 2021 promises to be both exciting and super weird.
Have you booked your appointment yet? Or are you already elite like us?
My husband and I went back for our second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today. I thought I’d share my experience.
It’s been over 4 hours since we got injected. My arm isn’t even sore.
Because we work in critical infrastructure, we’re in the tier that opened right before the general community started getting their chance. A lot of our colleagues are a month or more ahead of us. We did a little canvassing, and it turns out that how people reacted to their vaccines was all over the map.
My boss and his wife reported zero effects.
A younger friend in her thirties got really tired and signed off to take a nap.
One of our friends in his seventies felt woozy for a day or two.
When I first signed up for my appointment, I was 100% convinced that I would get the full range of the worst side effects. As badly as I wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible, I was also a little scared. I didn’t really want to spend two separate weekends resting my face on my bathroom floor. I felt that if my immune system started revving up and was even vaguely reminiscent of my experience being sick with COVID, I would sob for hours, rocking myself in my closet.
That was the boogeyman that lived in my brain.
A lot of us have those, don’t we?
Instead of being overcome by waves of wooziness when my immune system kicked into gear, I felt: nothing. Just a sore arm.
Then I got the second shot. So far, it’s even less than that. My arm still doesn’t hurt.
I barely even felt the needle go in. Our nurse has undoubtedly given thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of injections by now. That’s one thing we can say about this. Anyone with medical training who is certified to give people shots has suddenly had the opportunity to become much more experienced.
Our nurse had just gotten back from the funeral of a cousin who died of COVID. That’s the second one in her family.
How do they even do that? How do they watch so many people die of this disease, including their own loved ones, and then just have to shake it off and get back to work?
If I ever go out to a restaurant again and I see anyone there who works in healthcare, I’m going to call over the waiter and secretly pick up their tab. It seems like none of these brave souls should ever have to buy their own drinks or tacos again for the rest of their lives.
We got our shots, we took each other’s photos, we went to the waiting area to make sure our arms didn’t turn green and fall off or whatever.
We had shown up about a half hour early - living with an Upholder will do that to you - and we didn’t have to wait. Same experience as last time. We were actually done with our post-injection waiting period and getting up to go at the time of our official appointments.
There is some advice going around about making sure you get the best vaccination experience possible. Supposedly it works better if you go to bed early the night before, because sleep is such a key component of the immune system.
I can report that I had a very cruddy night of sleep the night before my shot.
Another thing is to avoid taking anti-inflammatories until *after* the shot. Don’t pre-game. I’m fine with that. Last time I took a couple of Tylenol because my arm was really sore, but this time I haven’t felt the need yet.
Something else that I heard was to rotate your arm in big dorky arm circles whenever it feels sore, to help avoid inflammation. I did it a couple times to show my husband what I was talking about, but that’s it. Maybe it worked.
My suspicion is that I was already covered by the first shot, since I had COVID last year. My immune system must have been like “YOU again??” Preliminary research indicates that COVID survivors mount the same antibody response after one dose as regular people do after the second dose.
It’s not like I was going to skip my second dose! Just that it seems possible I am having an easier time with this shot than my husband did because my poor old carcass is already experienced.
(His arm has started to feel sore. Since we got injected about 90 seconds apart, I would have expected to have the same problem by now).
My reaction to the first dose was fantastic. I started to feel my long-haul symptoms lift away. By the second week, the difference was quite noticeable to me. I have described it as like opening the curtains in a dark room and letting the sunlight in.
Since my first dose, I’ve suddenly had the energy and motivation to do several things I hadn’t really done in a year. Cooking from scratch, reading four times as much, organizing closets, taking shorter naps, dropping a few pounds. It truly feels like magic.
I have high hopes for this second dose as well. Maybe next week I’ll perk up even more. Maybe the last vestiges of this sad year of illness will finally be swept away.
As a side note, I know two people with legitimate health concerns about getting the vaccine.
One has a serious yeast allergy - the anaphylaxis / rushed to the hospital / carries an Epi Pen type of allergy - and there were specific concerns about yeast allergies with the vaccine. Her doctor just gave her the go-ahead to get her shots.
The other is a cancer patient. Both her oncologist and her regular doctor not only gave her the go-ahead, they strongly encouraged her to get at least one dose in before her surgery. The only note there was to avoid doing it within one week before and one week after the surgery date.
While I don’t emotionally resonate with it at all, I do understand the fact that thousands of people are more afraid of vaccinations than they are of getting cancer or dying of COVID-19. It seems to be aided and abetted by this idea that “a lot of people feel this way, so there must be something to it.” This is why I am sharing my own experience and those of people close to me, to help add to the group awareness.
So far, over 91 million Americans have had at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s a lot! I know dozens of people now who have had both their doses, and it’s fine.
I’m thrilled to be one of them. We’re in the end game now. Let’s all get this done and put this sorry chapter of history behind us.
What’s on your mind?
Is it a problem or a project?
Something I decided, when I was young and broke, was that I was better off struggling with a clean bathtub than struggling with a grimy bathtub. At least at the end of the day I could soak and cry in a nice hot bath.
When you’re young and broke, there are a lot more things outside of your control to drive you crazy. It’s one of the advantages of middle age that you know how to handle more stuff. You’re better at setting boundaries and avoiding the avoidable kinds of drama.
Ah, but what do you do when you don’t know what to do?
What if your problem is that a situation is out of your control?
What I’ve found as I’ve gotten older is that most of my problems are other people’s problems.
Then the problem becomes, Is there a way to help this person? Can I personally do that thing? Would they want me to?
Usually the thing to do is just to be a good listener. That doesn’t even count as a project. Simply avoid the long list of terrible, insensitive things that other people are known to say. Try not to create a new one.
It seems that the cultural rule is, your problem does not count. Only grievances, not trauma. Only anger, not sorrow. Do not expect comfort or sympathy under any circumstances, because that is weak and we practice individualism.
It’s easier - or at least slightly less hard - when you realize that most people are never going to say the right thing. If you gave them a printed checklist, they still couldn’t do it. Given many chances, they still will somehow bungle the opportunity and fail to say anything helpful.
This is when it starts to feel like a better idea not to confide in other people. At least then you can continue to view them the same way that you did before. You don’t have to mess up your impressions with the single worst thing you’ve ever heard them say. You don’t have to witness them failing at emotional support.
And this is where it can be so helpful to have a project.
I used to have a craft project that I would bring for awkward visits. I could avoid many hours of political debate or unpleasant topics by just being deep into my work. I could pretend to be a person with no opinion.
Nobody is entitled to my opinion.
It makes sense to me. Don’t try to talk about all things with all people. Don’t expect all people to be equally good at support, sensitivity, or rational discourse. Try to appreciate people for who they are and what they can give, without holding them to standards that they didn’t sign up for.
Sometimes what a situation needs is just time to think it through.
That’s another time when it’s helpful to have a project. It’s good to have your hands on something that you can do something about. Sometimes focusing on something practical is good for focus, when everything else in the world seems very much out of focus.
It’s also true that our external surroundings can play their own part in a stressful situation. For instance, it was hard to deal with a death in the family when our loud upstairs neighbors kept banging around from 6 AM to midnight every day.
All we could do about that was to move, which eventually we did. I’m sure those people are still banging around and keeping the same hours that they always have. They’re just doing it with different people living underneath them now.
The only guarantee with problems is that there is no upper limit to how many you can have.
In fact, problems tend to compound. One of the reasons for this is that we accrue the problems that pertain to our mindset, our boundaries, and what we are willing to tolerate.
A person who has trouble setting boundaries will probably be taken advantage of by various people, over and over again, until finally they realize they don’t have to put up with that.
A person with a high standard for domestic chaos will live in it.
A person with a blind spot around money will be in perpetual debt.
A person who is at war with the concept of biologically imposed limits will suffer preventable health issues.
Sometimes, a shift in mindset can basically cause a whole set of problems to evaporate. Change the behavior and the problem falls away.
Other times, it takes a bit more hands-on effort to resolve a situation. This is where the projects come in.
The tricky part is to make sure that the project fits the problem. Or rather, that the project will mitigate or eliminate the problem in some way, and not merely serve as a useful distraction while the problem continues.
(Although sometimes a useful distraction is all we can hope for).
I’d always rather have a project than a problem. It gives me something to do rather than sit and cry on my shoes. It also gives me something to talk about when I don’t want to tell anyone what’s really on my mind.
What project are you working on next?
It’s been a little over two weeks since I got my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I’m scheduled for the second dose this week. I just thought I’d share my impressions, since they’re pretty good.
I was sick with COVID a year ago. In fact, at this point, I wasn’t at all sure that I would live through it. I was having bouts of tachycardia, I was gulping air, and I generally felt like my battery was down to 2%. My hands shook constantly and I couldn’t get warm.
The closest I can come to how I felt was Frodo Baggins after his encounter with the Ring Wraiths.
My experience with recovering from the coronavirus was so bad that I wondered how it compared to radiation poisoning, or malaria or mono. It just dragged on and on. I thought, maybe this is it, maybe I’m just messed up now. Maybe this is the best I can hope for.
I started reading how some long-haul COVID patients were reporting feeling better after they got their vaccine. I didn’t qualify yet, so I had to wait impatiently for my turn. Was it going to work on me?
Supposedly it did work on about a quarter of long-haul patients. A one-in-four chance isn’t all that great, maybe not even worth getting excited about. I was definitely going to get the shot anyway, even if it made me feel worse, because I take concepts like civic duty much more seriously after having been so ill.
When I felt like I was dying, when I had reason to believe I might have fewer than five days to live, it upset me extremely that I felt I hadn’t done anything with my life. All I could do was lie there like a washed-up jellyfish and torment myself, thinking of all the missed opportunities over the years and listing off all the things I could have done, if only I hadn’t been so lazy. I cried when I realized that I couldn’t even be an organ donor now that all my organs were covered in coronavirus drool.
That sort of perspective changes you. When I rose up from what I thought was my deathbed, I had a new determination that I would make my presence felt in some way. If something mattered, I would do it.
Getting the vaccine matters.
Okay, so I was going to get the shot, and I had heard that maybe there was a chance it would do some sort of magic trick in my immune system. What if this was just the placebo effect?
I’LL TAKE IT!
I honestly love the placebo effect. If it works, then great! I wish there was a button I could push that would just click it into place on demand.
There are hypotheses about what might be going on, and within a couple of decades I’m sure science will have determined if it is one of these, or something else.
One of them is the concept of the ‘viral reservoir.’ This means that maybe tiny amounts of a virus can hide out somewhere in the body, where they are undetectable through testing, unless someone were to get lucky and scoop them out of that exact spot. For instance, apparently Ebola survivors can have leftover Ebola virus hiding in their tears. So it is true - viruses can hide in the body - we just don’t know if it is true specifically of coronavirus.
[I suspect a huge number of cases of chronic fatigue or unexplained symptoms are actually caused by infection with one type of undiscovered virus or another, and that more advanced testing methods and Big Data will start to reveal them].
Another idea is that maybe getting a vaccination somehow snaps the immune system to attention, and it starts pushing that mop a little faster and finally finishes the job.
There are other ideas of what might be going on, but the truth is that right now, nobody knows. It’s just guessing, which is a huge part of how science works. I’m totally okay with that. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with a 100% rounded-out medieval view of medical science, or one from antiquity, or perhaps even especially one from the Victorians. Yikes. Give me continually churning modernity.
My husband and I went across town to get our shots together. We both had sore arms for a couple days. I felt a little moody and sad the next day, although probably for circumstantial reasons. That was it. No headaches, no nausea, no whatever. We were both fine.
Then... something changed.
I started feeling... better.
I started working out more. I noticed my pace had picked up a bit.
I finally dropped a few pounds, when I’d been stuck all year. I took off three pounds in two weeks.
I started rearranging closets again, and then I built a new piece of furniture.
I started reading more. In the last week, it seems I’ve read a novel a day. I read more in four days than I’d read in the previous two weeks.
I started cooking from scratch again. There are a few containers of leftover homemade soup in the fridge right now.
My weekend naps dropped from 3.5 hours each to 2 hours.
I didn’t even realize that anything was different until I thought back. How long has it been?
How long has it been since I felt like doing any of those things that used to be a routine part of my day?
It’s almost like I was locked in a basement for a year, and then someone came and unlocked the door (with a syringe) and let me out, and I just climbed the stairs and picked up where I left off.
Now, it hasn’t quite been three weeks yet. I still haven’t had my second dose. It’s probably too soon to tell. Right now, though, I feel like it’s going pretty well. It feels good to feel like myself again.
For anyone who is afraid to get the vaccine, but who also had long-haul COVID like I did, don’t be scared. You’ve had vaccines before, haven’t you? What if you get your shot and a week later you realize that you feel like your old self again?
Personally, I’m incredibly curious to find out how I will feel after my second dose. Thank you, Pfizer!
I bought myself a new desk. I realized it was time to take myself a little more seriously.
I’m still in the same 4-foot-square corner of our living room. That part hasn’t changed. We live in a tiny apartment, and if I wanted more space for my desk it was going to mean a major overhaul of our living space.
While I do intend to lean into my job more, I don’t intend for that to come at the expense of the comfort of our downtime.
So if I’m still using the same amount of space as before, what was the point of buying a new desk?
What I had was a make-do desk. A little desk. A desk that, in its cuteness, asked, Please don’t mind me. I’ll just squeeze in right here and try not to be noticed. I had a desk that apologized for the space it took up.
When I bought it, I wanted somewhere for myself, a personal spot where I could stash my papers and occasionally sit to do some writing. We were in yet another tiny apartment, and there just wasn’t room for anything more imposing.
Something that imposed simply by existing.
The tiny apartment was my idea. I didn’t want to build our lifestyle around a long commute to my husband’s job. If we wanted to live close to site, then it followed that we would have a one-bedroom apartment.
We just both assumed that The Desk would go to The Earner. He needed to work from home sometimes, and that required a computer that would run certain software, and that meant a desktop PC, and that meant a certain amount of physical space.
None of these constraints are incorrect by any means.
What it leaves, though, are certain built-in parameters. After the desk, there is square footage available.
Some people work these variables with things like a loft bed, or a desk that folds down from the wall, or they don’t have a dining table or a couch. I’ve even seen someone use his living room for a two-man hammock.
My choices again, but I like having a dining table and a couch and a traditional bed.
It was my choice to buy myself an apology desk.
My little desk was fantastic for its original purpose. I loved how it looked and it could fit almost anywhere. I usually worked at a cafe, and I don’t think I ever sat at the little desk for more than an hour at a time.
That’s why I never noticed that it had terrible ergonomics.
Then I got a full-time job working from home. I thought, look at my little desk paying for itself!
Several months went by. I started feeling very crooked and lumpy.
It was impossible not to notice. My monitor was a few inches too high, but I couldn’t stand and work because the work surface was too low. I was sitting on my foot, trying to prop myself up to optimal height. I could never get comfortable.
The other issue was that I constantly had to swap out components depending on what I was doing. Set up my company laptop whenever I had a meeting, then move it again so I could use my keyboard and work, then swap everything out again an hour later.
I started fantasizing about a different desk, but I didn’t think one would fit in the available space. I wasn’t sure how I would want it to look. I felt too busy to spend all my spare time looking at furniture listings.
I tolerated a bad situation for months.
There are lessons to be learned here. How often do we tolerate situations that other people are not in, just because we feel too tired or burned out to do something different? Because we feel stuck and don’t know exactly what else to do?
Finally I had had enough. What was the point of earning money if not to spend it on life improvements?
This is a lesson I come back to again and again. If a problem can be solved with money, then solve it.
I got out a measuring tape and set to work. My available space was 48 inches across. Since I already had a tiny desk, surely there were other desks larger than that, yet still smaller than the big beasts I was picturing in my mind?
It did take me a couple hours of searching until I found something I liked that was small enough. It was flat, with no riser to prop up my monitor. Since I’m short, this is what I needed. A taller person might want to go the other way, adding a monitor riser or buying a different style to get the right ergonomics.
The desk shipped right away and arrived in the evening, three days later. I built it on my off Friday. It took about an hour to assemble, and two hours of rearranging all my stuff. It had been nearly a year since I built furniture from a kit, and I had forgotten how fun it can be.
The next day, I had a surprising case of delayed-onset muscle soreness from all the crouching and bending and lifting and turning bolts, but it was worth it. I loved how my new desk looked. The moment I sat down and looked at my monitor, I thought, Ahh, yes.
My cute little secretary desk is now crammed into the corner of our dining room. I refuse to let go of it. I still love how it looks, even though it’s so wildly inappropriate for a nine-hour workday. There’s nothing wrong with it as a desk - it’s just not suited to have a computer on it. One day, one day when we’ve moved somewhere else, the little desk will go in our bedroom where I can use it to write in my journal. I can separate my personal life from my work life just a bit more.
One day, having a little desk will no longer be an apology. It will be a way to take up a little more space for myself. I have plenty of work to do and I’m entitled to have somewhere suitable to do it.
I’ve been on the fast track before and I think it’s overrated.
It’s fairly easy to stand out in most endeavors, if you are a person of ambition. Show up to everything, and show up prepared. Pay attention and take notes when someone offers to explain something to you. Make yourself useful. Remember people’s names.
If you have intrinsic motivation - that is, your own personal internal reasons for being there - it will show. That motivation attracts people like a beacon. It doesn’t take long before opportunities start being handed to you every time you turn around. The more you do, the more you’re asked to do, and you start getting increased responsibility.
That’s the fast track.
The trouble with the fast track is that it doesn’t give you time to build relationships or get to know the deep culture of the organization.
That’s why I decided that the next time I took something on, I would do it the slow way.
I had to realize, for my own good, that every time I get involved with something I wind up in a leadership role. Not because I have massive charisma or anything - in fact, probably quite the opposite. The problem is more that when I get involved with something, I start noticing how much work it takes, and I start picking up litter or stacking chairs.
The grunt work is how you meet the real movers and shakers of any organization.
It turns out that it’s nearly impossible to do a lot of service work without getting noticed. If your goal is invisibility, there has to be a different way.
I realized that I don’t know how to be involved in a recreational activity just for the fun and relaxation of it. I don’t know how to just buy a ticket, have a nice time, and go home. I keep finding myself on the cleanup crew. Or, worse, the steering committee.
After finding myself on the board of two separate organizations in a row, I finally had to accept that there was a theme in my behavior. 1. I would get involved in something, 2. I would start volunteering to help run it, 3. It would take over my life until I was doing something org-related every day of the week.
That was when it hit me, if I was going to work rather than play, then I might as well start getting paid for it again...
I took a job.
A paid job!
I sat myself down and said, Self, it’s probably going to happen again. You’re going to do what you always do, which is to get curious and start asking questions. Then things are going to start rolling.
I’ve started to think in the four-year time horizon. If I start throwing myself into a new activity, even if I am truly terrible at it in the beginning, within four years I tend to have a pretty solid grasp of how things work. That seemed completely plausible in a new role at a new company.
I have probably twenty years of career arc ahead of me. A lot can happen in twenty years.
This is, by the way, a very difficult mindset for a twenty-year-old kid to hold. At that age, I would not have had the patience to think, I may be in this role for four years, and that’s okay. Also I couldn’t afford it. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t think in terms of skills or certifications or increasing responsibilities. I thought in terms of my rent taking up over 80% of my income.
Now I have the time and the wherewithal to relax and look around a bit.
There are certifications I could run out and get for myself over a long weekend, or perhaps within six weeks. There are a bunch of things I could cram for in a very short time that I could tack onto my resume. If all I wanted was more money, I could target a search for open roles and start shooting my shot.
This is somewhat of an experiment, but I don’t think that’s actually the fast track. In some ways, I think it’s faster to go slower.
One thing that money cannot buy is reputation.
Reputation is the slow track.
When I was young, I used to wonder why So-and-So got a promotion. Or not really wonder, just hear about it and get mad. Isn’t it obvious that I’m the one who really needs that money! That was an improvement over my original idea, at 18, which was, Isn’t it obvious that I’m the smartest person here??
(If you’re so smart, why aren’t you the one getting the promotion?)
Now, I actually wonder. That is, I ponder over what skills that person has demonstrated, what types of problems they are known to solve, and how they earned their reputation. If A, that person has definable traits that got them a promotion, and B, I can figure out what those traits are, then C, I can work to acquire those promotable traits.
It’s also slightly more complicated than that, in the sense that not every promotion is one we would want.
I’m finally in a place where I can be glad for someone who got promoted, and also realize that I myself would never want that particular job.
Part of the slow track is figuring out how the organization is run, what roles it takes to get everything done, and then where you do and do not see yourself eventually.
For instance, in the space industry, there are a lot of jobs in shifts all around the clock. I sometimes think, I bet someone else absolutely hates working in the middle of the night, but they do it because it needs to get done. I, on the other hand, am a born night owl. Wouldn’t it be nice for everyone if that was my job?
I haven’t been at my current job for a year yet. I’m still figuring out how they do things. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in five years.
That’s okay, though, because on the slow track you can take your time to figure it out. All I need to know is that I like this place well enough that I might still be there in twenty years.
Something I’ve been noticing, as I contemplate moving from our 650-square-foot apartment, is that there are a lot of small apartments out there. In our area, there are entire houses that are smaller than this apartment!
It’s not just here. I’ve been trying to learn a little about interior design beyond “where do we put the rolling toolbox now that we don’t have a garage.” Maybe it’s just my algorithms, but I keep seeing places that are 500 square feet or smaller all around the world.
While it used to be common, before WWII, for most people to live in a home smaller than 800 square feet - and sometimes much smaller - we’ve come full circle. New construction seems to be going smaller as well. Tiny homes are hot, ADUs (accessory dwelling units) are growing in popularity, people are even bragging about how they live in a van.
DOWN BY THE RIVER!
Well, someone had to say it.
Personally, I don’t want to live in a McMansion for the single reason that I’m always freezing cold, and those big rooms seem to be drafty no matter how high you crank the heat. I think what’s going to happen to those big, multi-room homes is that more of them are going to be turned into hype houses or some other type of co-housing.
They’re going to have to, because there simply aren’t enough houses to go around. There is a shortfall of something like 4 million houses right now. By the time all those homes get built, there are going to be more young people entering adulthood and more new parents with young families. People have to live somewhere.
A lot of those somewheres are not going to be in a place with a big yard.
This is part of why I say the future is small. One of the things that I mean by that is that most people are going to be living in small homes, apartments, or shared housing for their entire lives. A century from now, nobody will even notice or care, just like most people didn’t a century in the past.
There are ramifications of this reversion to small homes.
When I think of the future, I always, literally always think of space habitats. I work in the space industry and I’m 100% positive that this is the direction we’re going. Consider the astronauts. Because of their passion to get off this dumb old rock and become spacefarers, they essentially give up all their privacy and personal space.
Dude, they don’t even have beds. The personal items they bring with them have to be weighed and measured. It’s like, I’m going to bring this roll of dimes as my item so I can distribute Space Dimes to all my friends. Well, and their families and neighbors, since I don’t have fifty friends.
In the future, I think the majority of people’s personal items will be digital. Our photos, journals, chat sessions, music playlists, and artwork will mostly be created and distributed in a virtual form. Because of this, it will be less and less common to have memorabilia in a physical form, other than something like a wedding ring.
We won’t get as emotionally attached to things like our old electronics, because we’ll associate them with being clunky, slow, and frustrating compared to what we have now. Also, there won’t be as many of them. I had a stereo in the Nineties that was the size of a small suitcase, and I don’t miss it at all. Nor do I miss my corded phone that picked up AM radio signals, or my old clock radio with the blaring alarm, or my answering machine, or any of the other 25 pounds of obsolete electronics I had 25 years ago.
Eventually it will all be mined for the metals.
Or recycled into flash graphene.
My bedroom in 1995 had an entire wall of books, housed on homemade shelves made of boards, bricks, and crates. That old stereo sat there too. All of that is now virtualized.
Next to it was a little desk with an 8086 desktop computer, big monitor, and keyboard. Took up the entire desktop. All of those functions now live in my phone.
I also had a big box of papers, including old school notes, bills, personal records, and junk mail. All of that as well is now digital.
Half the contents of my bedroom at the time were physical objects that I believed represented my tastes and interests. The way I spent my leisure time - reading, listening to music, chatting on the internet - used to take up considerably more space than it does today.
Now, it lives in my pocket on my smartphone.
The rest of it: my bed and my clothes.
We’ll still need somewhere to sleep in the future, I assume. Actually I assume that sleep will be a bigger deal in the future, as it’s when we’ll do a lot of our body modifications and perhaps also osmotic learning. It may well be some of the only private time we get to mentally and emotionally decompress.
We’re already adjusting to more personalized entertainment, in a way that is foreign to those of us who remember the Seventies and Eighties. It used to be that everyone watched the same show at the same time, because that was what there was. Everyone knew the same Top 40 songs, because that was what there was. Now, there might be five people in the same room, each watching a different show on a different device, all wearing noise-canceling headphones.
Welcome to the future, only more so.
I think we’re not going to notice the shift to smaller homes as much because we’ve all had our attention pulled to smaller and smaller screens. Our true homes are our phones anyway.
In the future, we’ll have less personal space, less stuff, and a smaller footprint in general. Our pets will be smaller, perhaps even bred that way. Who wouldn’t want a mini-giraffe? It’s also possible that we’ll start selecting for mates of smaller stature, that a century from now the average human will be closer to medieval size again.
For today, take a look around. If you had the opportunity to visit a luxury space hotel, is there anything in the room with you that you’d want to take with you in the rocket?
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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