You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and that is true of so many things. A good night of sound sleep. A quiet neighbor. Gum tissue. Your favorite hair tie. Your keys. Most of all, a general lack of pain.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a hot, throbbing pain directly behind my navel. That was a week and a half ago. I can recall it distinctly because it’s been bothering me off and on ever since.
Nothing else was wrong. Nothing graphic, don’t worry.
I’ve been blessed with a cast-iron stomach all my life. I can eat extremely weird combinations of foods. My kitchen tends to be stocked with dozens of spices, half a dozen vinegars, at least two types of mustard, and exotic things my husband can’t pronounce.
I don’t get motion sickness. I can read in the car, face any direction on the train, and ride in ferries and boats, no problem. I can even do the spinny rides at the amusement park.
I don’t usually even lose it when I get a stomach bug. I’ll just find that I’m tired and have no appetite, to the envy of those around me who are leaning over their buckets, green for two reasons.
All this is to say that days of burning, stabbing pains wandering around my stomach and duodenum were out of character for me.
What the heck was going on?
My life has been a mess since I got COVID-19. It’s really one darn thing after another. While I’m proud of my body for fighting off something that has killed a million people, it feels like the watershed between when I felt fairly young and athletic, and when... well, maybe that will change, but... Now it feels like I’ve turned the corner and I’m walking the straight path toward old age.
I figured it was a virus. Then I thought, what is it really? Aren’t these things usually of the 24-hour variety? But then I remembered the two occasions when I’ve gotten a norovirus, and those lasted more like five days.
Then I thought something that normally occurs to me more quickly. What if there is a nutritional fix for this?
I’m going into detail on my troubleshooting process here, because I know a lot of people have mysterious digestive complaints and they haven’t been able to get answers from their doctors. Just because your doctor can’t figure it out in a 15-minute appointment doesn’t mean there is no solution.
Let me say that again. Just because medical science hasn’t done enough clinical trials or peer review, that does not mean that a health issue is untreatable or permanent.
My basic organizing principle is that different people get different results with their energy level, mood, and overall state of health because they eat differently over the course of a year. In some cases, there may be a genetically-based food tolerance issue. Otherwise, I believe it’s a combination of timing (more than anything), volume, and proportion of cruciferous vegetables to everything else.
The food input regulates the gut flora, and the gut flora help process the nutrients, and the nutrients determine everything else.
Wonk that I am, that’s my working hypothesis.
This is an objectively testable hypothesis. Let me point that out. It’s common for ‘alternative medicine’ to make untestable claims, and that’s fine, because a lot of subjective things like mood are quite real and a major determiner of quality of life. I do think it’s helpful to distinguish when there is something that could be tested in a lab, something that could be the subject of traditional double-blind peer-reviewed studies.
With the will, with the funding, with the time...
I think all of this will happen over the next couple of decades. I think Big Data will provide a lot of answers. This is going to include all the DNA testing that so many people are doing. I also think we’re going to find more and more previously unidentified viruses that cause all sorts of health problems that were previously chalked up to ‘stress’ or ‘anxiety.’
Psst: What if ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ were not root causes, but in fact near-universal symptoms of underlying 100% physical causes, such as viral infections, chronic sleep deprivation, or nutritional deficiencies?
So anyway. Here I was with this haunting, distracting, annoying gut pain that seemed to have no obvious cause. I knew I hadn’t injured myself because I’ve torn an oblique before, and this was definitely chemical. Or was it? I started to wonder if I had an ulcer (something with a bacterial cause) or maybe something way weirder. It went on long enough that my husband told me to call my doctor.
Which never happens.
Then I suddenly remembered the existence of probiotics.
See, I had a deadly viral infection this year, little thing name of coronavirus, and then I had to take courses of antibiotics twice in three months. It seems obvious to me that the balance of helper microbes in my body might have been thrown off by all this.
We went to the store, and I bought a 32-ounce carton of juice with probiotics in it. I proceeded to drink it out of the bottle, since we were on a long walk and I had no way to refrigerate the rest of what was the only form factor of this juice in the store.
I started feeling better literally within minutes.
By the end of the day, the pain was back.
We went to Whole Foods, a store that stocks a much broader range of probiotics. I bought more juice (half the price that it was at the conventional grocer) and some little shot-size containers. The quantity that I proceeded to consume was probably double what was recommended. I didn’t check because I’ve used this stuff before, and it worked, and I was fighting a bigger fight this time.
Over the previous several days, my pain level had been between a 3 to a 5. It woke me up at least once every night and came at me in waves throughout the day.
As soon as I started getting the probiotics down, literally within minutes, the pain would recede.
Three days later, I’m basically fine.
This has been an impressive experience for me. I didn’t have to take more antibiotics. I didn’t have to get palpated or have some kind of body scan. Basically I got to avoid going to the hospital and getting exposed to possibly contagious people, which is my priority right now. I didn’t even take antacids (not an acid problem) or anti-inflammatories or anything.
One day, possibly in the near future, it will be possible for the average person to do a simple, inexpensive test, and find out which specific things make up their personal gut flora. There will be better data and better access to personalized treatments. There will also be better indications that something like probiotics actually aid human health - or don’t. A lot of “treatments” will eventually go the way of the goose, flapping off into the distance while making a great deal of noise.
For today, I’m a person who gets my flu shot, who takes my antibiotics as prescribed, who regards mainstream medicine seriously and obediently. I also think it makes sense that if I eat a thousand meals every year, what goes into my meals matters, and has a lot more to do with my daily state of health than a rattling bottle of pills.
Hey, did you pack your go bag yet?
Someone close to me has been on an evacuation order, the fires are that close. Seven people on his work crew had their houses burn down.
I told him, yeah, my good friend had her house burn down last year.
Between us, we probably know almost as many people who have been affected by wildfires as we do people who have contracted COVID-19. (Which, by the way, has started touching my own personal family in a most offensive manner).
The first thing to think about with go bags is actually not your own stuff - it’s your pets and their stuff.
This is what I reminded my person, who claimed that his cat likes to ride in the car. True. Cool story, bro. Have you tested that theory when there are flames down the street?
Animals panic when things are on fire. This may save their lives, if they can outrun the flames in the right direction. It may also mean their certain doom, if there’s nowhere to go. It’s also unlikely you’ll be able to find them again.
BTW did you get your guys microchipped?
We have a parrot, and fire would be extremely bad news for her. Smoke inhalation would probably take her out before we could get her into her carrier. Nevertheless, I keep it directly under her sleeping cage, door facing out. All we would have to do is pull the Velcro so the door flaps down and stuff her inside. Right next to the carrier is her go bag, with styptic gel and a few other supplies.
Styptic gel, you haven’t heard of it? Neither had our vet. It stops bleeding if you smear it on a wound. It stings a little, but it’s got a topical analgesic in it so they calm down right away. Birds, dogs, cats, people, probably lizards, I dunno. Most useful veterinary first aid item I know of. I keep it in the outside pocket of the go bag for easy access.
First aid. That’s the thing that nobody really thinks about until something happens. Like this time I was running for the bus, and I tripped and flayed open my knee just as the bus was coming. I got on but I didn’t have so much as a napkin to stop the bleeding, and that was the end of my white capri pants. Now I take those large bandages and the gauze and the rolls of tape a lot more seriously.
Our smaller first aid kit is right on the top inside my go bag. It’s bright red, of course. No matter how many times I might pack and repack this bag, the first aid kit is staying on top.
What else goes in there that we always meant to pack, but never got around to it?
Somewhere, somehow, you want all the contact information for your insurance. (Medical, car, homeowner, whatever else you have). Also all your bank information and anyone you’d want to get in touch with if you have to evacuate.
Assume, of course, that you’ve lost your phone somewhere.
Strangely enough, I had a second conversation right after I talked to my person about evacuating his pets. This one was about restoring a device that hadn’t been backed up.
* this is your regularly scheduled random reminder that, oh yeah, you kept meaning to get around to that, too *
I explained that, considering what the device was used for, it was probably okay that it had never been backed up. But please talk to the free tech support person about getting that set up, so you won’t continue to run into this situation every few years?
Imagine the perfect combination of factors: your device was never backed up, you never packed your go bag or listed off your emergency contacts, and then you actually did have to evacuate. You’re sitting in an emergency Red Cross shelter trying to rack your brain and figure out how to get ahold of everyone. Anyone.
Facebook, probably, and someone would probably be kind enough to let you log in for a few minutes.
But then, with your life up in the air, how many hours do you really want to spend tracking down all your insurance and bank info? As well as lining up somewhere to stay?
And trying to track your poor missing animals?
Hopefully not while your kids cry down to their chins over them?
I have had to evacuate my apartment because of a fire. I’ve also had to evacuate my building at work after explaining to my customer why I had to hang up our call, which they did not believe. When it happens, it’s not like they write you several letters first. You’re either sound asleep or doing something important when BOOM BOOM BOOM. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a firefighter come and beat on your door.
I don’t mean to be scary, except that I totally do. Packing a go bag is somewhere way down the list from writing a will, becoming an organ donor, and putting your fire extinguisher somewhere accessible. (Um, you do have a fire extinguisher, right?) Try to make it vivid and visual in your mind that these things happen, and lately they happen all the time.
Practice. Practice grabbing your stuff and rounding up your small dependents and actually getting them out the door. It will immediately become obvious if there are any flaws in your plan.
I tried it with the dog, the parrot, and my backpack. It was nuts. I could barely walk 1 mph. Fortunately, nothing was on fire so they were both like “Walk? Right on!”
Suddenly all my great plans about packing a paperback book and some playing cards didn’t sound so great. Keep it light.
If you don’t actually have practice walking long distances with a heavy backpack, don’t put yourself in that position on the one day you really need that backpack. Either train for it or keep culling what you have in there. Keep putting it on and weighing it.
Having a solid evacuation plan is more valuable than a go bag. Even better is to have several plans. Think out what you would do if certain roads are blocked. Think out what you would do if you have to shelter in place for several days. Talk it out with your best friends, especially the fluffy kind.
Hopefully we never need any of this stuff. It sure is a lot easier to sleep soundly when we know that we have it zipped up and ready to go.
I love knives, so it made sense to me that a knife would be the symbol of becoming completely debt-free. Not sure if anyone else in the world has ever done this, so I am sharing my idea of the debt knife.
An inkling of the idea of the debt knife probably came from something I read years ago. It was the foreword to a cookbook written by two friends who signed a three-book deal. They did really well off their first book. In the second book, they mentioned that they used some of their money to buy a set of really high-end kitchen knives.
?? I thought.
I started my adult life with a bunch of hand-me-downs from various family members and whatever my roommates brought in. I had pots with missing handles, wobbly dull knives, mismatched plates, cracked cutting boards, and melted Tupperware. Nobody was going to offer me a publishing deal on a cookbook because my cooking was terrible. If I wanted to make a recipe and I didn’t have all the ingredients, I would just... skip them.
It wasn’t until I’d been married a few years before I discovered that my measuring spoons were inaccurate as well. That explained a lot.
It hadn’t really occurred to me, when I read this cookbook by the successful cooking friends, that one would... upgrade one’s gear. Was that... allowed?? Could one simply go out and... buy brand-new stuff?
When we got married, my husband’s uncle bought us a really, really excellent soup pot. I love that thing. We have cooked, oh, I’m sure hundreds of gallons of soup in that pot. I think warm thoughts toward that uncle all the time. A close family friend got us a set of salad tongs and likewise, we think about her and her terrific cooking every time we use them.
On the other hand, I didn’t think good thoughts about anyone the last time I used our cheap plastic pancake flipper and part of it crumbled off into the pan. Eww.
It’s my considered opinion that splurging on small items of daily use is better than other extravagances. For instance, if I buy a very fancy bar of soap, it might cost triple what I’d pay for regular supermarket bar soap, but it’s still under $10 and it will last for months. I’ll enjoy it more than I would an expensive pair of shoes that I would only wear to special occasions - that would then make my feet bleed anyway.
This is part of how I’ve gradually developed an appreciation for well-made kitchen gear. This is also part of how I arrived at my debt knife as a symbol of financial freedom.
This is how you can tell what a nice knife it is. It came in its own special box and it has a sheath.
That’s not how you can tell. You can tell what a nice knife it is because when I showed it to my husband he went “OoooOOOOooo.” Then he wanted to hold it and angle it back and forth.
Lolololol men crack me up, all you have to say is “Damascus steel” or “carbon fiber” and you have their full attention. Try it sometime.
What we had been using for the entirety of our marriage were a couple of IKEA knives that I think cost $7 apiece. They were adequate, except that after some time the handles started to dissolve and ooze black goo. Something happened to them after they got cooking oil on them enough times. You’d make dinner and then your hands would turn black. Gross and very annoying.
We kept using them, though, because nothing is easier than getting used to small miseries when you’re busy.
I though about it and I thought, if I buy one very nice santoku knife, that is all we’ll need. We can chop vegetables with it, then wash it and dry it and put it in its special sheath and put it right back in the drawer.
Indeed, that’s exactly what happened. We both like knives and this knife has its own gravitas.
The first thing I cut up with the debt knife was...
(what would you cut if you had one...?)
...a bunch of kale. I liked the idea of chopping up something that symbolically is flat and rectangular and green, like dollars. I also liked the idea of associating it with a healthy habit like cooking at home.
Another thing I like is exploring holiday traditions. For many years now, I’ve been making Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. I can’t argue against its claims to bring good luck and financial fortune, because we have gradually done better with money every year since I started making it. Also, at this point I’ve gotten my recipe down to the point of perfection, and sometimes we eat it just because it’s so good with cornbread.
Money used to be a painful topic that made me cry. It was like that for many years. In fact, when I met my husband, I was still at the point when I would make a payment on my student loan and the balance would actually be higher because the interest was front-loaded. Many a bitter tear over that. I was so poor I slept on an air mattress that I kept having to patch because I’d wake up on the floor.
I haven’t forgotten.
Becoming debt-free was a victory that took many years of focus and hard work. It’s something worth celebrating. When you’re still in the trenches, it can feel like it will never happen. It’s so easy to slip into a sense of futility. Don’t give up!
Every time I use my debt knife, I think, I did it. I made it through. I will never be in debt again.
Every time I use my debt knife, I think, others can do this too. I believe it. Cut yourself free and imagine what symbol you will choose to represent your freedom.
This book fell into my lap, figuratively anyway. I had just used a coupon to buy an e-book, when Royce Christyn’s Scripting the Life You Want popped up in my recommendations. As soon as I saw that the foreword had been written by Mitch Horowitz, I bought it immediately. I started reading it at the park later that day. (Mask on, of course).
It’s a little unusual for someone like me, who works in a hard science field, to openly admit to reading woo-woo books like this. My official position is that it is inherently unscientific to rule out entire fields without exploring them at least for a couple of minutes. I didn’t realize until many years later, but my first academic field of interest was folklore. At minimum, it’s worth finding out why so many people are interested in something.
One of the problems with the woo is that subjective individual experiences can’t be replicated. That does not, however, render them invalid. I can’t replicate the way you fell in love with someone, or whatever last made you laugh so hard you could barely breathe, but that doesn’t mean those experiences didn’t exist.
Thus, when I share experiences where I have manifested something into my life, you probably won’t be able to do the identical thing. It should still raise at least a modicum of curiosity in you, to wonder, is there maybe something here?
The number one reason manifesting doesn’t work for everyone is that most people want many mutually exclusive things. We don’t pick one thing to focus on because it either hasn’t occurred to us, or it drives us crazy when we feel like we’re ruling out something else. (Live in a treehouse or live in a Hobbit hole or live in a castle??) The other big reason is that a lot of people are sort of allergic to positivity and gratitude. If they had everything they ever wanted, what would there be to complain about?
I started doing the exercises in Scripting the Life You Want before I finished reading the book. I did a ten-day script and then started the morning scripting.
I’ll tell the truth: The entire week was pretty wretched. I was fighting a stomach bug, had to cover three people’s roles at work, and ended with a migraine and a twitching eyelid.
On the other hand! Only a few days into the first ten-day period, and it is a little uncanny how some of the things I put in my script have already come to pass. There were also a couple of surprises. Our landlord wrote to us about renewing our lease and offered us a discount, plus a renovation he wants to do. He basically volunteered to let us set the terms on how long to extend our lease, which where we live is bonkers. I found out I had overpaid on my oral surgery a year ago and suddenly got a refund check for over $700. Then my boss casually mentioned he is thinking about reclassifying my job in a rather intriguing direction.
I had no idea any of that was going to happen a week ago!
Thanks, Mitch and Royce!
Manifesting doesn’t magically make every single problem in life go away. I mean, I did get COVID-19 this year. But also, I lived - and came out of it with my dream job. Even in the worst of times, something good can still happen. Now more than ever, and especially when we’re stuck inside looking for things to do, it’s so important to put our focus on what we do want, more than on what we don’t want.
Why not get out your journal and get yourself a copy of Scripting the Life You Want?
When you are writing as if it is ten days in the future, you can sometimes feel like you are faking it, and it can feel a little weird—which is okay!
The word ‘lucky’ has been coming up a lot lately. This is great, because I am a big believer in luck. It seems to me, though, that this is a term that benefits from careful definition. Most of the time, the way I hear it used, what people are referring to is really good fortune rather than luck.
‘Luck’ was me getting COVID-19 the one and only time I went out in six weeks.
Oh, I agree, it was definitely BAD luck! Luck just the same.
There are elements of luck that we can influence, and areas that we can’t. For instance, shortly after my hubby and I moved down here, we saw Jermaine Jackson at the grocery store. That was luck. We had no idea that he was in the area or that he was promoting a charity campaign, which is probably the only reason that a Real Celebrity (TM) would be at a grocery store in person.
The only part of this encounter that we really influenced on our end was renting a house within jogging distance of the Hollywood sign.
This is where the distinction between ‘luck’ and ‘good fortune’ comes in.
Luck has everything to do with timing. It’s the chance encounter, the coincidence, the surprise connection.
Good fortune tends to be something that’s built up over time or the compounding of significant effort.
Think of the Olympics. Nobody ever won a gold medal by luck. I think we can all agree there.
On the other hand, it is great good fortune whenever an Olympian makes it to the podium, because it means they’ve managed to avoid any incidents that would prevent them from training that hard.
The torn ligaments, the bad case of mono, the concussion... Any number of things could happen to keep someone from performing at top level during that one year in four.
Bad luck, right?
One of the differences between Olympians and the rest of us is whether they would let something like a terrible injury put a permanent stop to their sporting career.
I was very surprised to discover, when I suddenly developed an interest in endurance sports in my thirties, that every athlete I met had a history of serious injuries. At the same time, everyone I ever met who was 100 pounds overweight or more would blame it on... an injury. In both cases, there might be a “when I blew out my knee” or “after I hurt my back” or “after my surgery.” But one of them would be telling the story while racking weights.
Part of good fortune, then, is what story we build after something awful happens.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the summer, since this was the year that I “lucked out” and got COVID.
There is an interesting visualization exercise that anyone can do, which is to tell two separate versions of your life story. Make one version as bad as possible, with the worst spin on everything that ever happened to you and emphasis on only the negative. Then do another version with as much Disney spin on it as possible, focusing only on the positive. It will sound like two completely different people - yet both are technically true.
Let’s see, we can do one about... Stephen Hawking.
Stephen Hawking was born during World War II and grew up under austerity in England, where he had to eat British food. When he was in college, he collapsed, and learned that he had motor neuron disease. He was just 21 when he was given only two years to live. His health deteriorated until he was confined to a wheelchair, and he couldn’t even speak anymore.
This would be a great story for a GoFundMe, right?
Of course the other version is that Stephen Hawking was one of the most famous scientists of his age, who outlived his prognosis by decades, had a family and a dazzling career, traveled the world and even went to space, contributed to multiple fields, and of course got to prove doctors wrong over and over again.
Two stories, both true.
Okay, so... was Stephen Hawking lucky, or unlucky? Was his life fortunate, or was it not?
This is a question with no right answer. It’s really a question of temperament. The real question is not what you think about a celebrity’s life; it’s how you answer this question about your own, one true personal life.
I can tell two versions of my 2020, and both of course are true.
Version One: The year started out badly. My husband almost lost his sight in one eye, I missed my big opportunity to teach my first workshop at a big conference, then we both got the flu and had to put our dog down. Then I got COVID-19 and then I had pneumonia on my birthday. My health has never been the same and in fact I’m in the middle of what seems to be a week-long stomach bug as I write this.
Version Two: The year started out great. We didn’t realize how lucky we were when we decided not to book any trips this year. My husband miraculously had no damage to his vision after his eye injury. We had no idea what a blessing it was that we were able to help our dog cross over before COVID, when the clinic was still open. If we were off by even a month... Then I got COVID but all our friends made it through okay, no hospitalizations, and my hubby somehow managed not to get sick at all. Even though I was sick, when my dream job came open I was able to apply for it, and I got the position! We’re both able to work at home and stay safe. Might be a long haul, it’s nice to have something to do to keep busy.
Two stories, both true.
A technique at play in Version Two is the ‘counterfactual’ statement. This is a double-edged sword. It’s easy to use counterfactuals to delude oneself. They are helpful, though, in reconstructing and reframing situations that may not be tolerable, much less feel fortunate in any way.
What’s missing from Version One of my story is any acknowledgement of the good fortune that is still in place. We have a happy marriage, we have health insurance, it was an eye injury and not, say, a sucking chest wound or a rattlesnake bite. Any list of grievances and sorrows is incomplete, not a fully accurate account, if it focuses exclusively on the negative.
Good fortune is good for everyone. It’s not a zero-sum game. Being in a fortunate position allows us to reach out and help others. At minimum, at least we’re not someone else’s crisis. (See, another counterfactual!) Distinguishing between ‘luck’ and ‘good fortune’ allows us to compile a thorough list of our resources and advantages, which is the first step to solving our problems. Ours, and then maybe others’ as well.
‘Mouthbreather’ has always been a potent insult. Times have changed, and now it has added dimensions.
I thought about this as my husband and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. We both work at home - long hours - and we almost never leave our apartment. Since we had a long weekend, we decided to have a little picnic at the park and then take the long way home, along the beach.
That was a mistake.
There is a well-publicized fine in our city. Anyone caught in public areas without a mask is cited for $150. The neighborhood list has been lit up about it, because of course the people who refuse to wear their masks are also the exact sort of people who throw fits when they are caught breaking the law.
Despite this, and despite the fact that it was a Friday afternoon, there were maskless people all over the place.
It’s hard to avoid these people, because you can’t always see them coming. A lot of the sidewalks in our area are curvy because we’re on a hill. Walk along and suddenly *boom* there is a bare-naked face a foot away from you. Sidewalks are narrow and there isn’t always anywhere to go to dodge these encounters.
There are definitely two schools of thought about this, here in Corona Cove, still leading our state and the nation in total cases of COVID-19.
One school of thought says, I’m taking a personal risk and so are you. If you don’t like it, stay home.
The other school of thought says, The law is the law, we must all cooperate so this can end quickly and we can go back to normal.
I base my position on personal experience - I had COVID-19, felt like I would die, still have issues five months later, and several people in my social sphere have either had it, been in the hospital with it, lost a close family member to it, or died. I understand that the coronavirus has been consistently underestimated, time and time again. There’s no margin for me in walking down the street flashing people my mouth-hole.
We were in San Francisco one day when two cheerful gentlemen walked down the street in our direction, wearing nothing more between them than one backpack and two pairs of shoes. Honestly I’d rather see that than people’s mouth and nose parts anymore.
Here on the West Coast, we generally shrug and let people go about their business. If a young mother wishes to tow her kids down the sidewalk in a little wagon while wearing only a bikini, good for her. If an older gentleman wishes to ride his bike while playing disco out of a large speaker, sure, fine, have fun. In normal times, freedom here is colorful and you can dance to it.
The school of thought that says it’s fine to go around breaking the law and refusing to wear a mask deserves some more examination. What makes these mouthbreathers tick, anyway?
There’s this thing called the Tragedy of the Commons that I feel is disrespected and poorly understood. Worse than that, any allusion to it seems to drive some people up a tree. The very concept that certain behaviors should be voluntarily curtailed out of courtesy and altruism, so that we can all get along in dignity, makes them apoplectic.
Let’s say I like tapping my pen. I do, actually. I love tapping pens. At the same time, I realize that most people find this distracting and annoying. How many people are going to support me in my desire to tap my pen all the time, at home or at work, in a restaurant or during a movie, because it’s my right to be free and do whatever I want every single second?
Some, probably! There are plenty of people in this world who are either oppositional-defiant, antisocial, borderline, or psychopathic. Even if they collectively represent only 1% of the global population, we need them to be covered, too, because the virus doesn’t care what character disorder someone may or may not have.
(Say it’s 6% for conduct disorders, up to 4% for antisocial, 1% for borderline, 1% for psychopathy, and some overlap. If only 10% of the population are even near the vicinity of some of these traits, that’s over 32 million Americans).
Alas. Reports are that more like two out of three Americans go out at least occasionally with no mask on.
How can we explain ordinary, average people going out and recklessly endangering other people on a routine basis, without a care in the world?
I dunno about you, but I have read and seen a LOT of fictional representations of the post-apocalyptic world. I think we probably brought this on ourselves with our obsession with dystopian TV shows, books, and movies. All that endless variety of burnt-out husks filled with wandering mercenaries. I never got over Orange Backpack Guy, if you Walking Dead fans recall who I mean... We have this collective fantasy where All the Annoying People die, or most of them, and we have license to finish off the rest so that we can be masters of all we survey.
The apocalypse wasn’t supposed to have so many other people crowding up the end of the world and buying all the toilet paper. What gives?
This is all astonishing to me. We didn’t reckon with the science deniers and the mask refusers and the protesters and the mass coughing and spitting. It’s nauseating.
Hey, mask refuser. You think you’re cool but the rest of us see you and think: Gross, dumb, selfish, annoying, eww. You don’t understand germ theory? Do you eat boogers too?
This is what I thought as I passed literally dozens of bare-faced young people in their twenties, usually in groups. It’s what I thought when I realized how many dozens of people were out crowded together, not distancing at all, on the new sidewalk restaurant pop-ups that I didn’t even know were there.
I wish that people would think more about the commons. I also wish we would think more about the categorical imperative. I suppose I’ll have more time to do both, now that once again I’ve been terrified back into my apartment by my mouthbreathing neighbors.
I had flashbacks when I overheard his phone conversation. “I lost the key.” Being within unintentional cellular eavesdropping range has been a feature of public life for twenty years; it just stood out more because it hasn’t been happening as much during lockdown.
My husband and I were sitting at a concrete picnic table in our local park, masks on, reading. We had both noticed the daddy with the tiny daughter, maybe three years old. He had been letting her play with his keys and now it looked like that wasn’t such a great plan. We watched as they started wandering around, looking at the grass.
This was really a high drama day at the park. Only moments after we sat down, a little boy fell out of a tree a few hundred yards away. An emergency crew came, and he eventually walked away with his arm in a temporary sling.
All this is to say that it wasn’t the best day for concentrating on a book. I kept looking up to see how it was going with No Keys Daddy. I felt for him.
I dropped my keys down an elevator shaft one night. It’s been fifteen years and I’m still scarred. See, I had locked my phone and my purse inside my car while I made a quick trip to my storage unit. (This is also part of why I hate storage units). I got someone to let me use their cell phone to call the number on the elevator, but it was after hours and nobody answered.
I tried slipping various objects under the crack in the elevator door at the bottom of the shaft, including a yardstick and my unrolled yoga mat, to no avail.
I considered walking across town to go home, but my roommate worked evenings and nobody would be there to let me in. I would still be stuck with the problem of my locked car sitting in front of my storage unit. I’d have to figure out how to get to work the next morning and then come back and figure out how to get my keys during business hours.
There was plenty of time to think just how much depended on this one small object, my keychain.
And then the succession of other important objects. My keychain, my phone, my wallet (to pay for a cab). Without my phone I didn’t even have a way to call anyone, because I quit memorizing phone numbers back around 1995.
I sat in the cold, with a full bladder, waiting to get the attention of the facility manager who had a little house onsite. I waited there for 45 minutes. But she did arrive, and she did drive right up to me to see what I needed, and she did unlock the door and help me get my keys.
After that night, I got together every object I had that resembled or would attach to a keychain, including a bottle of hand sanitizer, until my keys were about the size of a soda can. Every time I walked by a storm drain or anything else with a crack, I gripped my keys until my knuckles turned white.
Now I have them clipped to a large carabiner. I clip that to my bag. It’s convenient, I always know exactly where my keys are, and I can use the clip to punch elevator buttons.
I thought about all this while I watched the daddy wandering around looking for his key.
It was easy to see what was happening. He couldn’t get into his car, so he was waiting for his wife to finish work and come pick them up. He seemed to be taking it well... the little girl was happily romping in the grass, no stress in her young life!
I’m really good at finding things, so I discreetly got up and wandered around for a bit where these two had been playing. Maybe I could find the key?
The grass had been freshly mowed, it was quite short, and it didn’t take long to realize that if there were keys here, they would be easily visible.
Not outside the realm of possibility that a crow flew off with them?
Then I wondered. He did say ‘key,’ not ‘keys.’ Was it possible that this man just put a single key in his pocket? And left the house that way?
I saw him glancing into his backpack. He did not do what I would do, which is the method I teach my students when they can’t find their stuff.
Sit down and spread out a piece of fabric, a towel or even a shirt. This is so nothing gets lost (loose pill, earring backing) or bangs up the furniture. Then methodically take out each object in the bag, one at a time, and lay them out in a grid. Throw away any trash. When the bag is empty, turn it upside down and shake all the crumbs out.
What usually happens is that the lost object is loose in the bag. Every single time, *every* single time, my person will say, “I already looked in there twice!” Yet there is their missing ID, parking lot voucher, or whatever else they thought they had lost.
This is what I thought: I bet the key is in the bag somewhere. I also thought: He’s been a daddy long enough to realize that tiny kids are predictable in a lot of ways. If you give them scissors, they will either cut off a chunk of their hair, or someone else’s. If you give them crayons, they’ll scribble on the wall. If you give them chocolate, they will smear it. Why would you give your keys to a chaos muppet?
At the park?
I thought about dropping my keys down an elevator shaft, and how that cost me an entire evening of complications, and yet how much easier they were to find than they would be in five acres of greenery.
This is why Being Organized is so much better than the default.
Literally one single habit - keeping your keys on a clip - can prevent untold hassles over and over again.
This sort of habit is much more important for parents of young kids, who probably haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in several years and who can hardly be blamed for the full spectrum of shenanigans each day.
Ultimately, though, as adults we can keep it all in perspective. The little girl was fine, unlike the boy who fell out of the tree and wound up in a sling. They were a little family, able to call for help and know they would be taken care of. The tiny tot will probably remember nothing more than a warm fuzzy blur of going to the park with daddy, no inkling of the havoc she had wreaked.
Why let a paltry missing object disrupt all that?
(Which is why I have my keys on a clip, the end).
If you’re looking for a clutter book, they tend to come in three types. There’s the type written by the ‘born organized’ person who loves label makers; there’s the reformed hoarder; and then there’s the seen-it-all professional who has clearly borne witness to all kinds of family drama. Peter Walsh is that third type. Let It Go is the book to get if your struggle with clutter is easy compared to the struggle over it with your relatives.
By the way, that first type of organizer? Is a lot like a young trainer at the gym who has never had an injury or carried extra weight. They may have studied hard and they may have a lot to offer, but there’s a certain level of emotional connection that may not happen.
What distinguishes Let It Go from other clutter books is that it has guidelines for how to have certain types of discussions with family in specific situations. Walsh even offers some personality types that are relevant in all scenarios, not just dealing with clutter, and will undoubtedly provoke some amusing reactions. This may be a “mind blown” perspective shift for a lot of people who know their family makes them crazy, they just aren’t sure exactly why.
Any organizing book can tell you to sort your stuff, toss some, and donate the rest. These books are very helpful for the literary type who aren’t hindered by emotional attachments but more by executive function issues, like categorizing or sorting what “belongs” in which room. This book stands out because it has so much solid advice on, frankly, negotiating with the family wingnuts.
I’ve been thinking about clutter and minimalism lately because a friend of mine finally called me for coaching after a three-year standing offer. Why? Her elderly dad is coming to visit for the first time in many years, and she wants to impress him. It wasn’t getting evicted for failing her habitability check that did it; it wasn’t the offer of free help; it was love. This is what we should keep in mind when we sort our stuff: Who are we doing it for, and are we as careful to preserve the stories as we are the heirlooms? Are we keeping the right legacy alive?
Many items you need to shed are firmly glued to you with a sticky layer of memories, sadness, anxiety, and guilt.
Always remember that the stuff you own influences how you think.
I got a new job this spring. This is interesting because of the timeline and because of the type of place where I work.
My husband and I work for the same company, a place where a significant proportion of the staff have doctorates and/or patents and/or academic publications. He is an aerospace engineer. Everyone was sent on mandatory work-from-home the Friday before restaurants and bars were closed statewide. Nowhere in the US had shut down yet.
Incidentally, everyone got sent home two days before I contracted coronavirus.
Quite suddenly, while I was languishing on the couch, pretty sure I only had a few days to live, a job opening was announced. I thought, What the heck, if I die everyone will forgive me, but if I live I’d really like to work at this place. My husband filled out the application with minimal nods and hand-waving from my settee.
By the time we got to the phone interview stage, I was on the mend, and I was well enough to make it through a workday in time for my start date.
I started to notice very early on that our company was different from other companies. If you’ve read Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem you’ll get a sense of how I feel about this place.
First off, I noted that only three organizations seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously in the early days. Those were our company, Apple, and Toastmasters. They all sent their people home, the latter two because they have an international presence and leadership needs to be consistent.
The first two did it because in Smart People World, your colleagues are actual assets.
In the outer world, I see a lot of stuff that scares me and makes me feel more emotionally attached to my employer.
I see stores and restaurants supposedly banning people from wearing masks.
I see companies forbidding their staff from wearing masks. I see companies pressuring staff to come in and work even when they are symptomatic. I see companies completely disregarding the health or caregiving status of their employees, treating actual human beings as consumable items.
Even appliances and industrial equipment are given more care and respect than people.
The gamble seems to be, oh well, “we’re” doing what’s necessary “to survive” - meaning the company, an inanimate, abstract entity, gets to “survive” while flesh-and-blood people are expected to service it by sacrificing not only their own lives, but their loved ones’ as well.
I take note of which companies seem to be on the side of mass human sacrifice, bloody stone pyramid style, and which actually revere their human assets. It’s not like I’m going to forget three years from now.
Where I work, it’s like this:
Working from home is mandatory.
If you have a need to go to the building, you must get permission. To be on site, you have to fill out contact tracing forms each time, you have to distance, and you have to wear a mask on the premises. If you are caught being lax about these regulations, you will be warned, and it could be a firing offense.
You’re also expected to tactfully remind any visitors about these rules.
How far do we distance? You probably assumed it was six feet?
In our realm, not just our company but others that we pal around with, it’s actually eight feet.
Personally I aim for twelve and hope for fifteen, but then I don’t go out my door very often any more.
There is an entire system with a building floor plan and certain areas marked off. People have to sort of bid for these spots. One of the reasons that we are WFH is that almost everyone shared a small office, and that doesn’t work for distancing. When people work on site, they’re expected to stay only in the area where they said they needed to be.
We are fortunate that we have the kind of work we can do at home. We are fortunate that we had the space, the equipment, the electricity, and the phone and internet access that support our work. I would say ‘lucky’ but good fortune is based on direct action and the situations it creates, like a happy marriage, while luck comes sheerly from timing.
I also know with objective certainty that there are tens of thousands of people who could do their jobs perfectly well from home, and would prefer it, but their management forbids it. They do it because they don’t trust that people are professional enough to work without close supervision. They also do it because they don’t have the technical knowledge to figure it all out, and they do it because they are too lazy to ask.
Yeah, I said lazy. I generally don’t believe that ‘lazy’ is a thing, but when it comes to a matter of actual life and death, it is very hard to understand why else someone would avoid the marginal effort involved. Especially when working from home can have vast productivity improvements and cost savings.
Our company announced today that the signal for us to move from our current posture, and start sending more people back to work in their on-site offices, is wide availability of a vaccine for COVID-19.
This is new!
Previously, we’ve had updates once or twice a week. During my presence there, the message has consistently been to expect to WFH through the end of the calendar year.
Since then, there have also been various surveys and tracking dashboards. The message is clear that not only are people noticeably more productive, most are generally happier. One of my colleagues said she happened to be home to see her baby take his first steps. People are getting more work done, and also sleeping more, exercising more, reading more, and finishing projects. Surveys indicate that this move has left most people, like me, impressed with the company’s judgment and grateful to have job security.
I wish this were true for more people, and I have a strong suspicion that about another 20% of the workforce could do it if they were allowed.
To sum up, it’s like this. We work from home, and sometimes it’s a hassle, like when the VPN glitches or we have a power failure or we’re both on a call at the same time. A lot of the time it’s sirens going by, and that helps to remind us to stay inside and help end this thing. We work for a company that has taken a strategic position to keep everyone as safe as possible for as long as possible. They said today that we’ve had 33 total positive cases, which is less than 1% of the staff at our site.
We stay at home. We do contact tracing. We wear masks. We stay eight feet apart. We might go in again after there is “wide availability” of a vaccine. Then again, I suspect they’ll let most people work from home... forever.
The pandemic will probably destroy the reputations of a few businesses after they demonstrate their whack, psychopathic values. For companies like ours, the pandemic has confirmed our sense that we are actually doing something important, that our contribution matters, and that our leaders make sound decisions. We might not personally live through this, but our company will, and it’s actually reassuring to know that.
It’s that time again. 1. Time apparently for me to have sniffles and sneezing fits and start freaking out that I’ve picked up germs off some gross mouthbreathers in my building, and 2. Time to round up the latest developments in pandemic news.
Since the last time I posted an update, something terrible has happened. Two different people have been confirmed to have coronavirus reinfections, with genetically distinct strains. There are a couple of other reports with less data. (Hong Kong, Reno, Belgium, and the Netherlands are the locations involved).
In a sense, this is a moot point, because coronavirus is not the only contagious virus that can infect and kill humans. It’s not even the only epidemic going on right now. Ignore any arguments about how deadly COVID-19 may or may not be, because the point is that we need to get our act together about pandemic response.
Okay, mask refuser, what are you saying? That zero viruses can kill humans? What if it’s Ebola next time, would you wear a mask then??
If the answer is No, then get away from me, you’re not entitled to be in my social sphere. I doubt you’d enjoy hanging out with me much anyway.
If the answer is Yes, then how do you distinguish between which pathogens deserve mask protection and which don’t? Fatality reports? Okay cool. From which sources? What’s your cutoff line, will you write it down for me? What if it was a newly emerging pathogen and nobody knew how deadly it was yet - would that make you more or less likely to wear a mask?
It’s so exciting that you’ll discuss this with me. Believe me, I encourage your skepticism and contrarian nature. I just want to amplify it and clarify it a bit.
I still think everyone is focusing on the wrong stuff. Based on my experience, the point is not that COVID-19 can kill you, or your spouse, or your kids, or your parents, or your neighbor, or your pastor, or maybe your cat. The point is that nobody wants to be that sick!
I dunno about you, but I don’t have six weeks of paid sick time. If I’d had my job when I got COVID, I would have had to go on temporary disability and fill out a bunch of paperwork. That almost happened when I got bacterial pneumonia in July, and I was only sick for half as long that time. Do you have temporary disability insurance? Do you enjoy working when you’re so sick you have to lean on the wall?
It feels terrible, it’s expensive, and it does weird things to your body. I think the PSAs should focus more on the aesthetic stuff. It gave me acne, it gives a lot of people purple blotches on their toes, it can cause pinkeye, and now it turns out it can even make your hair fall out. So yeah. Get a mild case of COVID and you might never wear open-toed shoes again, et cetera.
Let’s see, what else have we got for updates?
There’s a new strain that is 10x more contagious.
Coronavirus is airborne and it’s more likely to spread through air conditioning and ventilation systems than by surface contamination on phones, keyboards, door handles, or toilets.
But then it can also spread through bathroom plumbing.
And on planes.
The saddest thing I think I ever heard was the Brazilian woman who isolated for the first eight months of her pregnancy. Then her coworkers threw her a baby shower. ...One of them was an asymptomatic carrier. The mommy-to-be contracted COVID-19 and wound up in the hospital. They managed to get the baby out before she died. The End.
The way you get COVID is not that you see it running toward you over your shoulder and you start sprinting. You can’t steer to the side when it veers into your lane. You don’t get to aim your handgun at it as it breaks through your front door. The way you get COVID is from hanging out with people you like and trust at a fun, casual social gathering with great drinks and snacks, while wearing a cute outfit.
Happened to me. Hope it doesn’t happen to you.
There is some good news in all this. First of all, my good friend who got a severe case of COVID-19 is finally back at work! She was out for over three months. I was crushed for her and so scared that she would never make it back. She is several years younger than me and does dance and martial arts. Or at least she did. I still worry.
Some other comparatively good news: Reinfection may be real, but by this point, with 26 million cases worldwide, we probably would have heard of it happening more often if it were very common.
There may be a cheaper, faster, easier test available soon. It’s an antigen test, like a pregnancy test. Think if it was easy to get a test that cost $1 that you could carry in your wallet. You could buy them by the box and give them out as party favors. Just have your guests do the test out on the sidewalk or in their car before they planned to come in.
I still think we’re going to lose at least a quarter million Americans to COVID-19 before the end of the year, and it sucks. I just profoundly object. None of this had to happen. It’s also appalling how many of these preventable deaths were people with medical training, which is exactly the kind of tactic a terrorist would use. ...If terrorists killed a quarter million Americans, we’d be out in the streets chanting for revenge. “Nuke ‘em into a glass parking lot.” Let’s channel all that innate rage and retribution toward this nasty, human-hating, godless, unAmerican loser known as the coronavirus.
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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