I figured out this whole ‘capsule wardrobe’ thing. Except I don’t call it a capsule wardrobe, I call it:
I spent much of my work day, if not all of it, in meetings where we are expected to have our cameras on. Like many people in this situation, I have discovered that nobody can really tell what you’re wearing. Even the color doesn’t stand out much. The only thing that is particularly visible is my neckline.
I’m going with it!
Before All This Started (TM), I knew that I needed to replace my cold-weather wardrobe. I hate shopping, and even more than that, I hate letting go of my few favored garments. It seems that every year, the cuts, colors, and patterns available are more alienating and incomprehensible to me than they were the year before. There’s a sad irony in that I fit in everything and yet I don’t like any of it or want to wear it. What I had were four pairs of pants and a couple of sweaters.
I also had the problem that almost all my hot-weather clothes had spaghetti straps and necklines that were not appropriate for being on camera.
I needed something in a hurry - the on-camera decision was made a couple months after I took the job - and I was hardly in a mood to do a bunch of scrolling and shopping.
I picked out a t-shirt dress, tried it on, and saw that it was good. I ordered four more of the same thing in different colors.
Then the weather got colder. I ordered a bunch of leggings - again, trying on one pair for fit and then ordering variations of the same brand. This was fun because I realized that I could choose the wildest patterns that caught my eye and nobody but my husband and my parrot would ever know.
(She can see 200x more colors than the human eye, so this may in fact be a very weird and psychedelic experience for her).
The weather got colder still, and I ordered some heavy cardigans, what are apparently also known as “sweater coats.”
Keeping in mind that, post-COVID, I now start shaking with cold when the temperature drops to 68 F, I put a lot of emphasis on making sure I had multiple warm layers. Sometimes I still have to put a blanket over my legs and turn on the space heater, but I can get through the day.
The temperature dropped another notch. I found a miracle! Long-sleeved dresses with pockets big enough to hold my phone! This is basically the uniform I’ve been searching for all my life. I bought seven. Plus more leggings to match.
This is my work wardrobe now:
Five t-shirt dresses
Four big cardigans
Seven long-sleeve dresses with pockets
Roughly a dozen pairs of leggings
One pair of fake-fur-lined slippers
The big, dark secret here is that all of these garments are stupidly soft and comfortable. They feel indistinguishable from my pajamas, or in some cases are actually cozier. Plus not all of my actual pajamas have pockets.
My husband is quite envious.
None of these clothes are going to be seen on site at my new job - or, most likely, any job. There are two reasons for this.
First of all, my workplace has a “business professional” dress code. That means blazers and pencil skirts and brooches and pantyhose and all that fussy kind of thing. In no universe would something that feels like pajamas pass for suitable business professional attire.
Second of all, I may never be called upon to go to our physical building in my physical form.
My boss showed up on screen last week in a Ramones t-shirt. I have nothing to worry about from him. When we were discussing the policy change about turning cameras on, I told him, “I haven’t had my hair cut in over six months.” He said, “Neither have I.” Everyone on our team prefers working remotely, and it seems to have a lot of productivity advantages over commuting to the office. It may never happen.
If it does happen, if policy changes and we do start getting called in, I have two plans. Which one I prefer depends on my mood that day.
One plan is just to say, You know what? I’m working remote. I’ma stay right here.
The other plan is to shrug, schedule a real salon haircut, and go on a shopping bender. I have a preferred store that carries my size. I’d just get four pairs of slacks, four skirts, a couple of sheath dresses, matching blazers, and a dozen tops in various colors. I could do it in ninety minutes and get a cocoa on the way out.
All of that is part of the post-vaccine, post-pandemic fantasy in which it’s totally okay and normal to walk around in public again.
That’s the tradeoff. The thought of the world being normal again actually makes it sound exciting to get a proper haircut, go clothes shopping, and even eat in a mall food court. That fantasy doesn’t include the part about having to get up an hour earlier to put on fussy clothes and commute.
In the real world, I have to work in my living room in my tiny little apartment, which I virtually never leave for any reason, and sometimes it makes me climb the walls.
I applied for this job back in April, when I was still deathly ill from COVID, because I believed that the pandemic would last for three years. I knew that if I were right, I would be desperate for something to do! I wanted a way to keep busy. So far, we’re still on mandatory work-from-home status, continuing at least through next spring, and I have yet to be proved wrong.
Weird as the world is right now, unusual as it is to run an office out of our living room, at least I have one compensation to get me through. That is a little thing that I like to call work pajamas.
‘Wish list’ is a term that is probably used in a much more limited sense than it could be. That’s because most people are terrible at wishing.
I believe it’s good for us to be in touch with our hearts’ desires, both our own and those of others, whether they are close to us or not. It also seems clear that most people aren’t even tapped into whatever might be their heart’s desire. When the topic comes up, it can get awkward. There are those things we think we’re supposed to want, and then those things that we can allow ourselves to admit that we want, and then those things that we don’t want at all even though other people do.
Holidays are excellent examples of this, this thing where it’s not okay to say what we really want or do not want. We’re all supposed to participate in this big expensive ritual, trading gifts, and how long does it take for everyone involved to admit that we don’t even really enjoy it?
What if we simply transformed the experience by honestly talking it out with everyone?
My family has a time-honored tradition of writing wish lists for birthdays and any other gift-giving occasion. It’s a lot like registering for wedding or shower gifts. Write a list of every material object that you want, including the broadest possible price range, with enough items on the list that you can’t really guess what you’re going to get. Maybe at the top end is something expensive enough that the rest of the family can pool resources and give it as a group gift.
Example: If you drew our names, my hubby would appreciate a bottle of Cholula hot sauce or some dried blueberries. I like green tea and unlined index cards. Either of us would genuinely prefer these things to a wide variety of more expensive stuff, such as alcohol or a countertop kitchen appliance.
What people really want is to feel seen, understood, and appreciated. This is why it can be such a downer to receive a “nice” gift that will never be used. There is probably a very large audience out there who would rather get some nice mixed nuts and skip the rest.
I’m not necessarily arguing for frugality or simplicity - just authenticity.
One of the things I like to do is to choose gifts from gift drives. I like when there is an age and a highly specific item. I gravitate toward the teenagers and I try to pick something wildly frivolous if I can. Here are these kids with not much going for them in life, and they want one single thing - often a set of headphones. Sure, kid, no problem. Every teenager should have headphones so they can quietly listen to what is probably the worst selection of music they will choose at any point of their life. A gift for the whole neighborhood!
My hubby and I have been doing this together since before we were dating. He would usually pick a kid who wanted a bike, and then throw in the helmet and lock as well. We just wished we also had information on their favorite colors and motifs, like, is this a dinosaur kid or a rocket ship kid? Do they like red or blue better?
One year, I saw a Facebook post showing a big poster that someone had found in a field. It was written in Spanish. Now, my Spanish is A1 level, but I did take Latin in college, and I was curious enough that I pecked through it. It turned out to be a letter to Santa! These two little girls had tied their wish list to a helium balloon and set it loose, which is a lovely way to express a wish.
It struck me that I badly wanted to buy one of these gifts. I was a little girl, once upon a time, and I remember being starstruck by all the pink and purple stuff at the toy store. It was too late to go back in time and use my adult paycheck to buy Child Me any toys, but those girls were exactly the right age.
I realized, wait, I CAN GRANT A WISH!
One of the items was a ridiculously extravagant plastic dollhouse, exactly the kind of thing that two young sisters might want. I’m guessing, since I never had a sister, a wish that was probably not a good wish for me to wish. Make your wishes clean. A clean wish is a wish that is just for you, not one that drags in another person who might want the opposite.
I balked for a moment, thinking, is this weird? What if the parents were already planning to get this dollhouse for the girls? (Then they can use the gift receipt or pass it on to other little girls in the family). Would this freak the family out, getting an anonymous gift off that list?
I certainly hope so!!!
I did it. I ordered the ostentatious toy, and I used the address that the kids had written on their poster, and I sent it off, and nobody ever knew it was me.
Every now and then, when I’m adding an address to my Amazon contacts, I see their address again and I remember the silly thing I did several years ago, granting the heartfelt wish of two little girls in a city a hundred miles away. Every time I think, HA!
I’ve heard it said that it’s wrong to talk about giving to charity. How ludicrous. You mean you give to a charity that you care about so little that you won’t promote it to your friends? I talk about it, not because anyone is supposed to be impressed that I donated forty dollars to something, but because I want to normalize it.
I also want to normalize wishing. I think it would be fun if we spent more time surprising and delighting each other - something that is more likely to be completely free of charge, or inexpensive, than the rote materialism that we indulge for most formal gift-giving occasions.
I also think it would be fun if we focused more on wishing in general, and seeing how many of our wishes we can make happen for ourselves. What do we wish for our lives, our households, and ourselves for the next year?
I’ve decided I’m going to start writing about futurism on Fridays. I’m going to skip the next couple of weeks, since I don’t post on holidays, and then we’re going to start the Twenties by talking about our new century and beyond.
For the past several years, my aim has been to post book reviews on Fridays. Then I got COVID-19, and then I got a day job, and I have found myself unable to read enough to stay on top of this self-generated commitment.
I suppose that makes this my very first futurism prediction. In my future, I won’t be writing book reviews, and in your future, you won’t be reading them. Or at least, if you do read book reviews they’ll be done elsewhere by someone else.
This probably won’t stop the occasional hopeful author from asking me to review their novel, even though I haven’t reviewed fiction in something like 15 years. Note: Do your homework before you make a request of someone you don’t know.
Why am I writing about futurism?
I’m hoping to go back to school at some point in the near future - there’s that word again - to study strategic forecasting. Somebody’s gotta do it.
It turns out that writing five days a week and working long weeks are already pretty significant time commitments. If I go back to school as well, then something has to go. I haven’t made my mind up yet about the direction of the blog, so for now, this is a way to try to have it all.
Editorial decisions come up in the shaping of a blog, and one of them is how personal it will be. There are broad areas that I don’t cover - for instance, I don’t use the names of my friends or family, so they don’t have to worry about my writing spoiling their online reputations. I don’t write about family drama, I don’t write intimate things about my marriage, I don’t write about my political positions, I don’t share specifics about our finances. I don’t necessarily see a problem with other people making those topics their brand; it just isn’t for me.
At the same time, I see the world moving and changing. When I started writing, I focused on clutter and minimalism because I was still working a lot with hoarders, and it was something I thought about all the time. I started moving away from that work when I realized that it really doesn’t scale, that what people need is someone to work steadily with them for 3-5 years in a relationship that is at least as much therapeutic as it is practical. I don’t have it in me to become a counselor of that type and I didn’t feel that I had it in me to carry on any further in that direction.
I also wrote about health and fitness, and now that has shifted to my standoff with COVID-19. I certainly hope that quits being a topic of interest, in my personal life as well as the rest of the world. Whether I’ll continue to write about these things, I’m not sure, because my focus has changed over the past few years here as well. I remain opposed to the HAES movement, whatever it is that is currently known as “body positivity” leaves me utterly cold, and I am probably just too out of sync with trends to have much to add. Out of anything I write, this is the area that makes me the most nervous, because it just feels radioactive. It is probably better for everyone, myself included, if I keep my opinions to myself and simply manage my own mortal vessel.
This is what the topic of futurism does. It causes me to pause and ask myself, what parts of my life belong to the 20th century, and what parts are worth carrying into the 21st?
History has a school of thought, that there are watersheds, pivot points in time when everything noticeably changes. 9/11 was one of those, and so was the Vietnam War, and so was the first lunar landing. Part of the watershed theory is the idea that each new century doesn’t really get rolling until the second decade, just as each new decade doesn’t really get rolling for a year or two. Example: When we think of “the Sixties” a lot of the music, fashion, and culture that come to mind are more characteristic of the Seventies. What we think of as the Twentieth Century wasn’t really true of, say, 1903. People of the 1920’s felt modern in a way that people of the 1910’s, before WWI, do not.
Now we’re really starting the 2020’s, the Twenties again, and what is going to be different?
This is all going to be more obvious to us in the Thirties and Forties. Hey, readers, most of you are still going to be around to see how the 2030’s and 2040’s play out. How crazy is that?
I think what we’re going to see is a significant leveling up of technology, in the sense that middle-class consumers will start being able to buy stuff at Costco that wasn’t even sci-fi when we were kids. There are going to start to be thousands, then hundreds of thousands of blue-collar space industry jobs. Robots everywhere. You can already see this stuff starting to happen if you follow space and robotics news; for instance, did you know that an airport for flying cars is already being built?
(Hot take: I’m flying-cars negative because I don’t need that kind of thing falling through my roof, thank you very much).
The biggest obstacle between “us” and “the future” is human psychology. It’s tough for us to adapt to things that look and feel very different from what we had in our childhoods. We don’t always understand what we’re looking at, or why it is actually a big improvement over what we had before. This is what interests me about the future - that it’s coming at us one way or another, and it’s really all about how it makes us feel.
I’m taking another futurism class at work, and I wanted to share a bit of what we’re learning. One of the great call-outs is the idea that “there are no future facts.”
What this means is that since nothing in the future has actually happened yet, whatever we think of as “the future” doesn’t technically exist. What we imagine, may never happen at all.
The contrary of that is that many possible alternatives may happen, and we never thought of them, and we didn’t see them coming, and we are caught unawares.
One of the examples from our class was that commercial advertisements can be a good source of fringe signals. Another student questioned this and didn’t see why commercials would matter. I shared that around 1980, I remembered an AT&T ad showing a video call. We have that technology now, but at the time the commercial aired, my family was still using a rotary phone.
(I can’t find it, so I’m probably wrong about either the company or the year... or maybe I just dreamed the whole thing... or maybe we’re in the wrong wormhole again...)
I find it relatively easy to think in futuristic terms, because I’ve seen so much technological and cultural change in my lifetime. It was also easy for me to imagine what things were like when my grandparents and older relatives told stories about their own childhoods. Imagine growing up in a house with no electricity or running water, and then living to see a person land on the Moon... and *that* moment was half a century ago.
I think most people aren’t really paying attention to how rapidly “the future” is forming all around us.
It’s different for those of us who work in the space industry. It takes a long time to build stuff that is space-rated, but it does get built eventually. What we’re seeing are preliminary designs of things that will be Up There fifteen years from now.
I love thinking about the future because it makes all my present-day problems seem small and dumb. Which they are.
For instance, I’m almost out of curry mustard. (#astronautproblems) That is something that matters to my daily life, but it’s also a pretty dumb thing to be worrying about in the midst of a global pandemic. The pandemic itself is a whole lotta nuthin’ compared to the vast chasm of science denial that has appeared beneath our feet.
I’m not even worried about the pandemic anymore - I’m worried about all the otherwise rational-appearing people who are spending their spare time attempting to discredit any and all mainstream sources of information, on general principle.
“If I didn’t tell you it myself, ignore it!”
“Nobody who is smarter than me is worth listening to!”
“Only believe random bloggers or people who know how to make videos on their phone!”
This is what’s happening right now. Or actually it’s been happening since the 1990s and we weren’t really picking up on it. What is happening is that sources of information are fragmenting more and more and more. Individual people are starting to have their own completely personalized versions of current events.
Which is fine to an extent - don’t get between me and my gator news - but also, it means we aren’t even going to be aware of other people’s personal news bubbles. They’ll be thinking about, planning around, and acting on stuff we don’t even know exists.
The nice part about that for someone like me, someone who has special access to reports and diagrams and designs for future things, is that I can make plans for myself and my personal household that will help me to be resilient. I can avoid threats and I can create opportunities for myself.
Giant bummer for everyone else, though.
It’s easy to imagine... hmm... take the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters,” for example. If you haven’t seen it yet, then it’s your own fault if you keep reading before downloading it and watching it, because spoilers. Okay, remember in the movie that that one big apartment building was a sort of portal for Zuul? And all sorts of things disrupted Manhattan? “Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!”
Okay, now imagine that a few people somewhere out there in Alterna-News-World have some kind of conspiracy swami telling them that my apartment building is going to have a Zuul visitation on a specific date.
That would suck for me, because I live here, and I don’t really need rando’s camping out on our steps.
On the other hand, this sort of thing can only really touch me if these speculative people conspire to do things to my building - and only if I’m still living here. I have the resources to simply go elsewhere. For a day or an hour, or for permanently.
What “the future” is always about is the ability to handle whatever happens. That’s resilience.
In my life, and I think this would work for anyone, there are only a few absolute must-haves for someone to be versatile enough to handle “the future.” Those are a flexible mindset, the ability to think strategically, having a portable lifestyle, practical skills, physical fitness, and money.
Unfortunately, what most people want when they think about “the future” are comfort items. We can’t bear the stress of living in the place of uncertainty. So instead of preparing ourselves to have fun with all the cool things that are coming, we cling to memorabilia, buy large heavy liabilities like houses and cars, and dig ourselves into debt through recreational purchases, entertainment, and calories.
Not to say that I don’t also indulge in recreational calories, entertainment, etc. It’s just that in between, my husband and I will hit pause, turn to each other, and start discussing the fringe signals we have just seen. Or why whatever was in that movie is so unlikely and what we think would happen instead.
I’m thinking about putting together a ‘bad sci-fi’ club at work to have watch parties and either try to invent real versions of those props, or laugh ourselves sideways at what people of earlier decades thought our 20’s would be like.
Newsflash: It’s The Twenties again, time to party. But not like it’s 1999.
They’ve started in Britain. By “they” I mean both the NHS, which is vaccinating live human beings against COVID-19, and the conspiracy theorists, who are spreading their ideas as quickly as they can.
They’ve also started here, and by “here” I mean my county, which has been one of the hottest zones for coronavirus transmission in the United States since the beginning. I got COVID in a restaurant here in March, and conditions are far worse now than they were then.
The vaccine is a big topic of conversation at my work, where over a quarter of the staff have PhDs and where we have been under mandatory work-from-home orders for nine months. We’re futurists and we’re FOR IT!
What I’m trying to figure out is how to bridge the gap between my science-minded colleagues and my... regular friends.
Obviously I’m in love with the vaccine mission. I’ll get it as soon as I’m able. I don’t care, stick it in both my arms at once. I just don’t know how to translate my enthusiasm to other women.
Why are women so vaccine-hesitant? Probably because doctors never listen to us?
Things are going to happen. There are ten million people in my county, and this vaccine, like many others, is going to need a booster. Assuming every single vial is administered to someone, that’s twenty million vaccine vials just for us.
Unfortunately, things can happen in the supply chain, just like they do with everything from potato chips to donor organs. It’s unlikely that every single precious little vial is going to make it from manufacturer to person’s immune system with nothing getting dropped, delayed, lost on a shipping dock, or whatever.
What I’m worried about most of all is how bad things are in our local hospitals. The same people we are going to need to administer our vaccines are the ones on the front lines, treating COVID deniers who disbelieve what is happening to them literally upon their dying breaths.
How are they even going to have time in the day to give out shots by spring of next year? Are they even going to still be with us?
From what I’ve read, the first groups of people to receive the vaccine have already been more or less decided. Obviously health care providers have to come first. No question there. Then it looks like nursing home staff and residents - which is only fair because about 40% of the deaths from COVID have arisen from the shockingly poor, shabby, desperately tragic job we have done protecting our seniors. Please, if nothing else, can’t that misery be stopped.
There has been interesting speculation on who gets dibs after that.
Diabetics? Teachers? Prisons - staff and residents?
Someone I know thinks young people should get it first. This person also recently recovered from COVID after an ill-advised multi-family trip in which every single person contracted full-blown COVID-19.
This person may have a point.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why certain people - like you, my dear readers - are careful to follow health directives, and why others - Those People - are not so careful. It’s got to be the messaging. Something about the way that people like me communicate with people like... Them... is setting them off and making them defiant. Or skeptical at the very least.
Let me state here that I am a contrarian by nature, not preference or attitude. It just seems to be that things I think are very clear rational choices, such as not owning a car, are outrageous and annoying to others. I try my best to keep the really big ones to myself, recognizing that many of my baseline opinions are unintentionally inflammatory. I don’t want to argue; I just want to continue to live my life without other people being shocked and horrified by the many non-standard elements of my lifestyle.
Another way to say this is, I’m not isolating because I’m a conformist. I’m isolating because I had direct personal experience with COVID, and it was one of the very worst things to ever happen to me, and it ruined my life.
Because of this, I find myself regularly defying other people’s requests to socialize.
I’m also astounded by the many justifications, defenses, and rationalizations I hear from people I had never realized would behave in those ways. It has made me far more skeptical about other people’s motives and basic value structures, how they calculate risk and how they make strategic decisions. Especially those that affect me and especially when they are actual matters of life and death.
I guess whether you are a skeptic or a contrarian or a nonconformist or not depends on who’s asking.
I get my shots, including my annual flu shot, for the same type of reason that I save so aggressively for retirement. The smartest people I know are doing it, and they can demonstrate that their strategy has worked for them.
On the other hand, the people I have talked to who are still traveling and socializing and defying local public health mandates? Are not getting such great results.
The person I’ve talked with most recently, the one who thinks that young people should get priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, had been traveling quite a bit in the previous months. That family wasn’t slowed down by travel restrictions whatsoever. And then they all got sick. In my mind that’s a straightforward QED.
It would be different if the coronavirus were more like chicken pox, in that getting sick actually made you immune. Instead it seems pretty clear that there will never be herd immunity through “natural” means, only through vaccination.
As a side note, whenever I hear “natural” now I think, “Nature’s way? You mean where the ill and infirm are shredded and eaten alive by top-tier predators? Or they crawl into the bushes and slowly die of starvation, alone and in pain?” Yay, nature.
I’m heading into the future, the proper Space Age, where immunization records will become as standard as passports and driver’s licenses. That’s a-okay with me. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t get here quick enough.
Now, what remains is to figure out how to communicate the appeal of this world to those who are more wary of it, for whatever reasons matter to them the most.
It came up in casual conversation that my friend’s purse weighs over six pounds. The only reason she knows this is that she is recovering from major surgery and she is not supposed to lift anything that weighs more than... five pounds.
“What do you even have in there?”
“Everything! I’m like a Boy Scout - except I was never a Boy Scout - be prepared, right?”
“My husband is an Eagle Scout and he doesn’t carry a six-pound purse.”
Everyone knows that it’s a little silly to carry a huge, heavy purse. That’s fine - I am a big proponent of silly, as my sock drawer will attest. The main reason not to carry that big of a bag is that it can lead to chiropractic problems and chronic neck and shoulder pain.
Or at least it used to be.
The main reason not to carry a big, heavy purse now is that everything in it is vulnerable to contamination from coronavirus.
It also raises a few pertinent questions.
I happen to know that my friend still goes to church almost every day of the week. Physically. There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of people doing this, which makes me really sad, because I was under the impression that church is about love and caring and having a close community. In my mind, that means protecting each other from deadly infections at the bare minimum!
Let’s change that subject, though, and talk a bit more about the whole “being prepared” aspect of scouting. I know a bit about it because I’ve been trekking for weeks on end with my husband, the Eagle Scout. It drives me crazy with envy that he got to do that, since girls are still not allowed, and I was obsessed with survivalism when I was around 12.
You mean to tell me you know how to build an actual snow cave?? And start a fire without matches??
This is why my hubby doesn’t carry a six-pound purse - or any purse. As long as I have known him, he carries:
...and, now, his eyeglasses and a mask.
I have learned this, having absorbed these lessons through proximity. And distance running. On the vanishingly rare occasions when I leave the apartment, I bring:
...and two fabric masks and a plastic face shield.
I bring my phone and keys even when I take out the trash, because I have to let myself back through the security system. One night I forgot, and I wasn’t able to go back up the elevator, and then the call box no longer worked due to a security upgrade. I had to call my hubby to come downstairs and let me in. Good thing he doesn’t go on travel anymore!
What a big purse is about is not really being prepared - it’s feeling like you can handle anything that might come up.
Is that actually true?
My friend mentioned that she carries a sewing kit. Yeah, me too. I have a sewing kit in my expedition backpack and another one in my suitcase. How would I deal with it if I... had a sewing emergency while I was outside somewhere??
...I... look over my clothes when I fold the laundry?
I have owned a sewing kit since at least the age of ten. I have used one several times. Not once have I needed it while doing errands or out for a run. Why not just keep it in the car?
There is one “emergency” item that I keep in my work bag - a bag that currently resides inside my bedroom closet - and that is a backup battery for my phone. I used to use it at least once a week, since I spent a lot of time on the bus, going to club meetings, or writing for hours in a cafe. (Remember when?) Then it turned out that I almost never needed it, because I got a phone upgrade and the battery life was better.
Why carry such a relatively heavy item everywhere I went?
My friend evidently feels safe and prepared because she has a sewing kit, among nameless other items, in her six-pound purse.
In reality, she is endangering her health post-surgery, causing herself actual physical pain by carrying so much.
She is also endangering her health by continuing to leave her house and socialize with people in enclosed indoor spaces, like she used to do before the pandemic.
Look, I know a lot of people are still gallivanting around because they believe they have evaluated the risk and made a conscious, adult decision. I know that. One of them had a phone conversation with me last week, wanting to know why I hadn’t made a bigger fuss about how serious my COVID symptoms were, because if she had realized she might not have traveled with three other families who all wound up getting sick.
What I’m talking about is how people make decisions, and how we evaluate risks, and what we do to mitigate those risks.
I changed a few things after I got sick with COVID. One of them was to reevaluate who I accept into my social group. One of my close friends is a loving, giving person who tolerates a wide spectrum of behavior in her friends that I don’t really tolerate in mine. I don’t trust her friends, and therefore I won’t socialize with my friend until the pandemic is over. Afterward, well, I’m still going to reevaluate.
We had a quaranteam buddy for a while. That ended a few months ago for a variety of reasons.
My husband and I now socialize with zero people in person. The only people we see are our inconsiderate neighbors who refuse to wear masks in our building lobby, laundry room, elevator, etc. We are physically afraid to open our front door, much less go anywhere.
That’s why neither of us will be found carrying a six-pound purse. Carry it where?
None of this would have applied to me this time last year. I hadn’t had a traditional day job in ten years and I wasn’t in the market for one. Imagine my surprise when I found myself interviewing just a few months later.
Moral: Don’t be discouraged or disinterested, because your dream job may suddenly pop up out of nowhere, too.
I was not a person who intuitively understood how to behave at job interviews. At my first interview for my first office job, age 18, the hiring manager asked me if I was open to feedback. I said yes, of course, and she told me it would be better for me to wear tops with sleeves, that bare shoulders were not standard interview attire.
Oh! Thanks for telling me. Next time I won’t wear a tank top to my interview.
(I got the job, though).
A year or so later, I interviewed for a different job. The hiring manager asked me what my biggest flaw was, and I told her, “Probably punctuality.”
I did not get that job.
You’d think they’d go for transparency and insight? But no.
Now I’m in a position where interviews are something of a cattle call. Because we’re all mandatory WFH, most of us are generally available to tune in. Candidates do a presentation - sort of an audition for scientists - and everyone has the opportunity to ask questions. I’ve seen a lot of these lately, and I have some things to share.
First of all: We are constantly hiring, and so are all the other engineering firms in our industry. Don’t assume that There Are No Jobs because there definitely are - and you only need one of them. Keep applying!
Everything after that has to do with applying and interviewing. I wouldn’t have known any of this even a few months ago, so pay close attention. You can stand out if you do better in even one of these areas.
Don’t worry. Nobody is comfortable in an interview, and nobody is really familiar with video conferencing yet. We expect there to be issues with your audio, connectivity, etc. It’s totally okay.
That being said, there are a lot of unexpected things that can be really distracting. If you can avoid them, it will help you to look more polished.
Chipmunk eating an apple. That’s what I was visualizing. I checked everyone else’s profiles, and there were no open mics. It had to be the candidate. But what was causing that noise? The only thing I could come up with was that his microphone was on his headphone cord, and it was rubbing on his shirt. I think he had it tucked inside his shirt for aesthetics? Unfortunately, over the course of an hour this squeaking, crunching noise kept continuously interfering with his voice. It sounded like someone crumpling up paper balls every few seconds. I am 100% positive he had no idea and couldn’t hear it on his end.
The simple answer for this is to ask literally any person to do a test call with you and tell you what they hear.
Lighting. We had a candidate who was sitting next to a sliding glass door with vertical blinds. They were angled in such a way that they would shift slightly. Whenever that happened, a bright beam of light would hit the camera. It did really strange things with the lighting on the viewers’ end. Again, that has nothing to do with whether the candidate will be good at the job; it’s just distracting.
There are a few fixes for this. One would be to angle the blinds the opposite way. Another would be to set up a workstation somewhere else, maybe in a different room.
I sit next to a sliding glass door - the only place in our dinky apartment that really works - and as a result I am in dark silhouette at all hours of the day. I bought a ring light to put on my laptop, and that helped a lot, but it wasn’t really bright enough. Next I bought a flat panel natural daylight lamp that looks like an iPad, with a picture frame-type bracket on the back so it stands up by itself. It was about $35. Problem solved! Now instead of looking like I’m in a witness protection program, I have the best lighting on our team.
Clothes and haircuts. In our industry, as far as I can tell the aesthetics have zero effect. I saw a professional presentation by a young guy whose haircut made him look like he escaped from Azkaban. Everyone loved it. (The presentation, that is; I doubt they even registered his coiffure).
Slide decks. The slide deck is not make-or-break; most firms have a template and they’ll just give you that to use. If your slides are boring it’s probably okay, as long as your work is sound. If your slides are great, however, it will be noticed and discussed.
In technical fields, if you even got the interview, it means they liked your resume and they’re probably willing to make an offer. What we’re looking for are a couple of obvious tells. 1. Is this person BSing? You’d be surprised how many people try to fake their way into technical positions, a profoundly unwise decision that never ends well. 2. Is this person hoping to leverage this offer in order to get a higher offer from a competitor? If you live in a different geographical area, nobody believes you are really willing to relocate unless you emphasize that you really, really want to. Enthusiasm sets you apart.
The last thing I will say is that few people in technology fields are truly terrific presenters. They don’t like it, so they avoid it. I know what that’s like because I had an intense phobia about public speaking. After four years battling it, I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. It has been a huge help, probably got me my current job, and continues to be mentioned. If you have a video interview coming up, find your local Toastmasters and ask to drop in on a meeting.
Best of luck to you! Except you won’t need it, because you took notes and did those few little extra steps that are going to set you apart.
This is the best, most important book on paper organizing that I have yet read. The reason is that Lisa Woodruff focuses on the papers we all should keep, and why.
To wit: Disaster preparedness and financial security.
Woodruff shares how she got started. Her paper organizing system was born in chaos, debt, and depression. She also has special needs kids. Her system helped her resolve her financial issues, advocate for her children, and build a business that helps others do the same.
More importantly, Woodruff’s clients have been able to grab their important documents while escaping from natural disasters. This gives me life!
The revolutionary feature of The Paper Solution is that certain specific papers should be consolidated for action and reference. These are what I would call ‘action items’ and ‘reference.’ Woodruff’s Sunday Basket system would be a huge help for anyone who has a lot of paper in their life or especially anyone with little kids.
I can share from my experience working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized that my people struggle to think of things in categories or systems. The Paper Solution would be a very good choice, because Woodruff teaches in meticulous detail how to set up and use a streamlined, effective system.
“I feel like I’m getting back my house.”
“I have made my feelings about filing cabinets known. Get them out of your house!”
Mostly it’s advice columns. I had no idea there were so many of them. I start reading through people’s highly specific dilemmas, and I’m swept away. All of these situations are so unlike mine that I forget my own life for a while.
Then I realized that I had a backlog of news articles (advice columns included) that dated back before the pandemic.
Now I could skim to my heart’s content. Roommate drama! Classroom hijinks! Traveler’s tales! Yes, please. Give me your petty complaints about life before breathing could kill you.
Realizing that there was a date cut-off, after which was all COVID all the time, and before which was... normal daily life... was a revelation. It’s like the tide washing up on the beach, dry sand on one side and wet clumpy sand on the other.
I have other backlogs!
I started going through the 30+ G of podcasts that had built up on my phone. Some of my automatic downloads went back to 2018. Such bliss! Do you remember how much time people used to spend going back and forth on each other’s true crime shows?
One of my shows started covering conspiracies around the JFK assassination. Now there is a classic non-pandemic storyline that seems to go on forever. This weekend my hubby and I might watch a JKF conspiracy documentary together.
(Not that we are conspiracy-minded; we’re actually more like debunkers. If you are into conspiracies it probably wouldn’t survive extended social contact with an engineer).
(If you’re curious, I think it’s obvious that Oswald was the lone shooter, first of all because the passing decades have shown how common it is for a lone shooter to go out and kill people. Second, he got his job at the book depository over a month before the assassination, and it just makes much more sense that being on the motorcade route was a coincidence. Third, there are so many widely divergent conspiracy theories that for all of them to be in play in the same place at the same event is, well, it’s ludicrous. But for any of them to be true they have to give reasons that invalidate all the others, so they all fall in the crossfire).
See? It’s intriguing. The story isn’t so much about what happened on a certain day; the story of conspiracy theories is how a particular notion captivates so many people who are then so determined to convince others of their version.
I mean, what earthly use is it to play armchair detective to events that happened that far in the past? My telling someone that I think Oswald acted alone is about as useful as my telling someone that I also think Lizzie Borden was guilty.
Or that someone else wants to tell people the Earth is flat.
Why does it matter? Because stories matter, because we love telling stories to each other and we just want someone to listen.
I sometimes wonder what it’s like in the afterlife, whether all the dead folk tell each other stories and whether they can tell whether these stories are true or not.
I like to imagine that there’s an all-access pass to a sort of library, where you can look up any answers about past events and finally know what transpired, even centuries before your lifetime.
The princes in the tower? Whodunnit!
Even more so, all the stories about UFO sightings, Sasquatch... Sasquatch flying around in a UFO... How great it would be to finally know what really happened, to know the end of the story.
What then, though? To know the end of every story is to be at the end of story itself. Closed book.
Isn’t it better to get to the end of a story, knowing it isn’t over and that you’ll never really know? An ambiguous ending gives you something to think about, something to puzzle over and something to talk about.
This is why we want to be around other people so much, because of our existential need for story. We need to know what everyone else is up to.
Me? I’m mostly working, and that’s a story in itself. Once upon a time there was a sick lady who nearly died, but then her dream job opened up and her husband submitted her resume. Then she sat at a tiny little desk in a tiny little corner upon a velvet cushion, and there she will sit forevermore.
The rest of the time, it’s story that’s getting me through. Novel after novel after novel. Tough boarding schools! Blended families! Murder plots! Sorcery! Cowboys even!
Not that long ago, I was wondering what would be the last book I ever finished, or the last movie I ever watched. Paranoia about ending with a mediocre tale caused me to start being more selective. No movies rated below 70%. No boring books.
The story that we exist in today is boring me sideways right now. Thuh pandemic. Ughhhh. Chances are, at a certain point in the timeline, people who were lucky enough to be born past our era may look back at these times and find them interesting. Perhaps they will develop a deep curiosity about us and what we were thinking and doing.
Probably mostly about what we were thinking.
What stories are we going to tell these future people?
More relevant to my interests, what books are they going to be reading that have not yet been published?
It’s my desire to still be around to read these future unwritten stories, or at least glance at them as I wander around a bookshop. At some point, we will have gotten through, and there will be that many more stories yet to tell.
Time for fresh new COVID-19 updates, the most important of which is:
ANYONE CAN GET COVID-19 AT LEAST TWICE
This means the only way to get that “herd immunity” that everyone keeps talking about is for the majority of us to get vaccinated.
Alas, the same confused souls who were running around infecting each other for fun and profit are the same people who are going to refuse to get their shots.
I have no idea what to do about this, or what to suggest, other than that we simply shun people who refuse their shots and 100% refuse to socialize with them. Family included. (Gives side-eye; You Know Who You Are...) But this obviously isn’t going to work because even the threat of imminent death won’t keep us apart from each other.
Bunny suits it is...
All right, what do we know about COVID-19 that we didn’t know when I had it back in April 2020?
Reinfection is possible. This sucks. What sucks even more is that it may be more severe - or fatal - the second go-round.
There’s something else I’ve been thinking about, though I haven’t really seen any reporting that makes the same connection I am making.
Even back in March and April of 2020, when the first confirmed case of COVID entering the United States was January 21, a lot of people were claiming that they must have already had it. This was seriously problematic, because it meant a lot of people might have shrugged and assumed they were immune, when we now know they couldn’t be.
Problematic for two reasons: because they might spread the sickness to their friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors, but also because of their own health risk.
Now it’s starting to look like community spread in the US and other countries started earlier than authorities were aware. Maybe a few of those people who thought they had COVID before January 21, 2020 were right.
(Theoretically it might be possible to confirm that hypothesis by testing these claimants for antibodies, but it looks like not everyone has the same immune response, so the results might be inconclusive).
Okay, we now have four problems:
The first three types are in more danger than they realize. That third situation may already have been happening more than we knew. We should probably try harder to convince the fourth type that it matters what happens to other people.
Something like 80% of the spread of the coronavirus is driven by about 20% of infected people. One asymptomatic person was documented to be shedding infectious COVID-19 particles for over two months.
People don’t seem to find it very convincing that this virus has killed a million and a half people in under a year. That’s why I think we should start focusing on the other effects.
For instance, I know a couple of people who were exposed at work and had to quarantine. Fortunately, they didn’t get sick. Their companies are still in business, they’re still employed, and they got paid.
On the other hand:
Have you been in this situation yet? Where someone really important to your team has to quarantine?
How much is it costing the company? How much is that going to impact whether they can afford to stay in business?
Personally I think it’s a very strange idea that employers have to cover health insurance. It’s far too expensive for them, and it’s also dangerous for anyone who gets laid off and then has no coverage. How does it make sense *cough* anyway. Back to what happens when COVID doesn’t kill someone.
It can make your teeth fall out months later, so that’s new. Normal, healthy teeth.
It can also make your hair fall out.
Skin problems, too, including my adorable case of chest acne that is still with me six months later.
A friend of mine had a mild case of COVID. Splitting, never-ending headache for seven days. Any of you fellow migraine sufferers, I hope you are convinced by that. My personal record is four days and that was plenty.
There have been cases of COVID causing hearing loss, seizures, amputations, coma, and miscarriage.
Is it weird to say that any of these things might give someone more pause than the knowledge that it could also kill them?
My work buddy who had COVID in February was chatting with me today. We were talking about how close we are now to getting a vaccine. What about the people who are going to get sick and die the week before the vaccine is available?
Going to the afterlife and talking to the other ghosts:
“What did you die of?”
We’re in the home stretch now, and it’s more dangerous than ever. People seem to have shrugged themselves into complete nihilism. Maybe they think, if they’re going to get it and die anyway, might as well go on one last trip through a major international airport and try as hard as possible to take out their entire family as they go.
Ask yourself, ask your family, are you Team Virus or are you Team Humans?
There is no immunity, not without the vaccine. The only thing that can happen from running around socializing with no mask and no distancing is that more people get sick. Tell everyone you know that you can get COVID twice.
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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