I was asked to give an impromptu speech about civic engagement today. This is an awkward kind of question for me, because it’s almost impossible to talk about in a neutral, nonpartisan way. Yet that’s the only way to really get anything accomplished any more.
Right now it seems like a lot of people are more motivated to stop their “opponents” from doing anything than they are to do anything specific themselves.
We have to pull back from that image of “winning” and find a way to frame our projects as non-zero-sum. Meaning, there is more than one winner and there are many ways to win.
I mentioned five things in my speech, which I wish was as organized when it was coming out of my mouth as it is here:
Most people are complainers. Everyone complains about things - I think it is the main driver of all innovation and progress - but most people are *only* willing to complain.
I’m a helper by nature, with many years of training in social services. When someone has an issue, I often know how to get it resolved. I’ll ask someone, what do you want to have happen?
Almost nobody ever has an answer.
If someone I know very well is annoying me with a complaint, I will ask, Do you have a request?
Meaning, if you want me to do something for you, ask me and I will probably do it, but otherwise, shut the heck up.
For example, if I’m late all the time, I probably deserve to be told off in some way, but I’m never going to stop unless you ask me for what you want. What counts as “not late” to you? Get specific. If you want me standing by the door with my coat on by T-minus whatever, believe me, I can’t read your mind. You’re going to need to spell it out.
It’s very much the same thing with local issues. People will go on until they turn purple about “traffic” or “this place sucks” but they don’t usually have an actual, specific plan for what they would rather see instead.
You can show up to town hall meetings, campaign for various candidates, write letters to the editor, vote for every single thing, sign petitions, apply to get propositions on the ballot, host a podcast, march with a sign over your shoulder... but if you aren’t clear about exactly what you want, nothing will happen.
How would you even know that you got what you wanted if you were never sure exactly what it was?
Part of this is an issue of empowerment, the feeling that you can ask for things and get them, the feeling that if you try to make something happen, it probably will happen.
What I’ve learned is that power is not given, it’s taken.
Power can also accrue through various unofficial means. It comes in different forms: charisma, leverage, influence, gravitas, money, job titles, specialized knowledge.
An example would be someone like my husband, who sought out special training as an EMR. I’ve seen him in action several times. He will rush up and identify himself as an emergency medical responder. Then he starts asking questions. No matter where this happened, people would probably react in the same way, by making space for him, watching and listening. At that point, if he called out for someone to call 911, someone would obey, no questions asked.
Most people don’t want to be in power during a crisis. They don’t want to be the one with the fire extinguisher. They don’t want to be the one to get the snake out of the toilet. They don’t want to make decisions, they don’t want responsibility, and they certainly don’t want to be held accountable for the results.
Likewise, most people don’t want to bother learning whether something is handled by their city, their county, or the state. They might be able to get their request granted almost immediately by their district rep, but when it comes down to it, they’d rather complain for eighty-five years than spend twenty minutes typing into a web form.
People have more power than they think they do.
We all have the power to pay attention, to introduce ourselves to others, to ask questions, to learn new things. We have the power to imagine all the ways that things could be better. Not in the abstract of “things” like “the universe” or “land of rainbow unicorns” but *specific* things. Things like potholes or noise ordinances or how fast the traffic flows through a certain intersection.
When we have a more specific idea of how we want the world to look, what we want to see happening around us, then it becomes more obvious that a lot of the time, we can start making it happen, all by ourselves.
My parents taught me this when I was a preschooler. They got together with some other parents in our neighborhood. Each family took a street and a garbage bag. We all picked up trash and empty cans, and we turned in the cans for the deposit and bought popsicles with the money. I was unclear on the concept that other kids were doing this, too, because I couldn’t see them (and I was 4), so of course I thought I deserved all the credit.
There are some policy decisions I’ve made over the years that make it obvious what I should do in certain situations. I always pick up broken glass at the park, even if I have to get a stick and dig it out of the mud. I sleep with my phone by the bed in case I hear someone screaming in the night, so I can call 911 right away. When I find a wallet or an ATM card, I turn it in. I don’t have to ask for permission to do any of these things.
I’ve done what anyone can do to be more involved and engaged. I’ve decided that if I can easily help others, I will do it. Sometimes I will help others even at considerable effort, like writing them a reference letter or revising their resume. I do nice things because it’s fun, and also because it helps me to feel like I am a person who knows how to get things done. I like to be where the action is.
Anyone can make decisions about what they are willing to do and what they refuse to do.
After that, it’s just a question of how many things you think you can do and how many people you think you can help.
Most of us are probably feeling it, the tangible levels of tension and dread. The restless sleep. The bizarre dreams and outright nightmares.
These are the reasons I run.
Or used to, before the last time I went out and ran myself into a full-blown case of COVID-19.
I’m still recovering, still not totally feeling normal, still having trouble with concentration and focus sometimes. External events are obviously a bigger deal than my private little hassles. Still they are real to me.
We all work with what we’ve got.
I’ve been trying to rebuild my base level of fitness on a cheap, clunky, creaky elliptical machine next to my bed. I skipped a day, and I paid for it.
Wandering around all day with that anxious feeling in the belly, that tax-audit, principal’s office, performance review, collections agency, uhoh Dad’s mad feeling.
Sirens all day
Running feet and panting breath in alley below our apartment
Protestors marching within a mile of us
Helicopters, sirens, helicopters
I smell smoke, where is it coming from??
What the heck is going on, will it ever stop
What can I personally do
Sometimes it isn’t clear at all what you can personally do in a situation. Sometimes it takes time to figure out. Sometimes it’s better to stay out of the way. Sometimes you realize you’re in someone else’s movie, and not only are you not the star, you’re not even an extra, in fact you’re blocking the shot.
Other times, it’s clear that it’s your time to step up, because you’re the one who is accountable, or you are the only person who can really fix something.
Either way, it doesn’t help anyone to have a toxic stew of stress chemicals burning you up from the inside.
Burnout is largely physical.
We have to pace ourselves, and the more that is on the line, the more important it is... yet paradoxically, the harder it is.
The same predictable things happen every time, when we aren’t sleeping, we don’t have enough down time, we aren’t eating right and we have no way of dumping all that cortisol.
Our sleep is disturbed even more
We lose patience
We get snappy, irritable, and mean
We feel weepy and we’re not always sure why (except when we are)
We can’t think straight
We get spun up over even minor decisions
Something that is the same in martial arts training and in leadership is a thing called “stress inoculation.”
It’s possible to gradually train out the stress response in your body, so that you don’t react the same way even in the most intense conditions.
In both roles, you take ownership of yourself as first responder and chief decider. Nobody is coming and it’s your problem to figure out. There is no more time and the moment is now.
Some of this comes from having a plan. Some of it comes from having a formally acknowledged title and clearly defined responsibilities. Some of it is just that training in managing the physical stress response.
After a while, you feel it. You can feel the difference between when your neurochemicals are messing with you and creating the artificial sense of a real problem, or an actual real problem.
For some of us, a crisis is actually less stressful, because it’s obvious what to do. There is a specific issue that might actually go away if the right steps are taken. All this physical anxiety is *for* something.
I felt that way when my husband badly hurt his eye and I needed to get him to the hospital. Weirdly, I’ve also felt this way during the stay-at-home order, and again when I got COVID. “Just get through this, nothing else matters right now.”
Right now, three days into a riot-induced countywide curfew, I have no idea what to do.
So I do what I always do when I don’t have a plan, which is to try to run it off.
Five miles a day, miles of nowhere, going yet more nowhere.
It feels like a metaphor for life right now. Perpetual motion, tension, stress, with no end in sight and nothing to show for it. Like a hamster on a wheel.
For now, at least, the ball of tension is gone. I can chill for an hour or two.
Later tonight, sure, I’ll probably wake myself up every two hours. I’ve been having social distancing nightmares - have you? - including walking down the street six feet apart with my ex-husband, and accidentally bumping into the Plandemic lady on the sidewalk. (We both went UGH). This is in addition to the COVID nightmares - fighting a twelve-foot spider with fireplace tools in each hand, millipedes crawling out of my veins, downloading the virus by wi-fi into all our electronics.
The sleeping nightmares and the waking nightmares.
With all this going on, it’s easy to lose sight of how great it is that I can already do five miles on the elliptical. I survived! I lived through a month of coronavirus and I’m getting my body back! Reclaiming my flesh and staking ownership of myself.
In the midst of everything else, I can hit pause for an hour. I can try to get back into my body. I can try to remember that it’s the only vehicle I have to navigate this dumb old world.
It isn’t wrong to center yourself, or to sleep, or to do whatever you need to do to restore your focus. There are still 16 or 23 hours a day to worry about everything else. World events will keep happening, whatever they are, for good or ill. One of the few things you can control is your interior ability to cope with things.
We’ve been under curfew for two nights. 6:00 Sunday, 5:00 Monday.
I like to live in my little ivory tower and avoid interacting with the outside world. I like to write about my chosen topics. I don’t allow comments because I believe they activate the limbic system and turn people into their shadow selves. I don’t want to read that and I don’t think my audience should have to, either.
Politics are not my remit.
I’ve been wrestling with myself on what to say, and how.
“It’s performative, only people who already agree with you will see it, what are you trying to prove”
If this isn’t important, what is?
“It’s dangerous to criticize a totalitarian surveillance state in print”
If I really feel that way, then they’ve already won
“I’m afraid of the police”
I just survived COVID and I’m not afraid of looters or rioters, so is this really my problem?
“But they’re murdering people in public, in broad daylight, on film”
And you think people who are okay with that spend a lot of time reading your blog?
Good point, Self.
Police states are expensive. When a culture gets to the point that vast amounts of its resources are going toward security, nothing much else is getting done.
Slavery, case in point. Slave societies are held back, losing centuries of development. Almost everyone in a slave society is either a slave or an enforcer. It’s an atrocity and an abomination, that almost goes without saying. It’s wrong... but it’s also a bad idea. It creates a backward economy.
This is the same reason we make fun of Communists. They’ve got nothing to brag about, certainly not quality of life, not technological progress, not academic prowess. But their economies perform poorly as well.
This weekend two things happened. We sent astronauts into space from US soil, and police killed an unarmed civilian again.
We have to pick, one or the other.
We can’t have a true Space Age society and also have a police state. If we’re going to be multi-planetary, we need everybody.
That includes police and security guards.
How are we paying for all this? Why is there always more money for another prison when there’s never enough for anything else? Why are there always more prisons when crime rates have been decreasing for decades?
Oh dear, I seem to have made a factual claim again. Let’s try to go back to the abstract.
We need everybody. All brains on deck. We can’t afford to exclude any group of people because then we miss too much. We miss all the brilliant human potential from the oppressed group... and also from the folks with the badges.
I do a certain amount of volunteer work, coaching and mentoring. I worked with a group of foster kids in a special college prep program, there because of a combination of financial need and academic merit. There was a boy in the group who was a foster kid for all the wrong reasons. He had a loving family. He also needed a heart transplant. He was put into foster care because his family couldn’t afford the transportation to get him back and forth to the hospital.
This kid stood out to me because he talked and thought like all the engineers in my professional and social circle. I reached out and emailed him. Turns out he was in a robotics club, which definitely makes him “one of ours.”
I ran into him two years later, in a group of interns touring my husband’s company. Nothing to do with us - it was a coincidence.
We don’t need a model student like him before we can say, Black lives matter. Of course Black lives matter. Anyone who can’t say that at this point can go pound sand. It’s not my job to try to change your mind. I can’t help you, but a therapist might.
The point here is that we, as a society, are wasting a vast amount of human potential. We can keep doing that, and we can keep sliding backward into third-world status. Or we can stop, and instead move forward into a time of prosperity and progress.
Wherever we’re putting our resources right now, it sure seems to involve a lot of staff, equipment, and helicopters.
We’ve done this to ourselves. Pop culture has circled around dystopian fantasies to the point that I believe we have no alternative ideas. We don’t have a real image of what we want or what an appealing future could look like. We forgot all about the Star Trek future that, in some ways, we are living out. Instead we got all caught up in the Walking Dead version.
Technologically, physically, we can have either one.
But not both.
There are enough material resources available at this time in history that every living person could have clean water, food, sanitation, education, and a stable government. These are not complex problems, not compared to drilling a hole on Mars. They are merely complicated problems of ideology and emotion.
Almost every part of the way we live today is the result of human decisions, made by humans. Even this wretched virus has spread as far as it has due to human choices and beliefs. We can decide to do things differently.
We could, if we could agree on anything for five minutes.
At the very least, we need everybody to agree that another way is possible.
So you want a job where you can work from home, but you aren’t sure how to get one. Maybe I can help.
One of the first things that happens when people are out of work is that they start doubting themselves and aiming low. They feel insecure about their abilities, maybe even defensive about their track record. Rather than think, Hey, now is the perfect time to learn a few things and become more competitive, it’s more common to think, I wouldn’t even make a good doorstop, or, I can’t even cast a good shadow.
What I’ve learned is that employers don’t care what you did before. They only care whether you’ll show up and do something for them tomorrow and the day after.
I spent a lot of time preparing for my new job. I read at least a dozen articles on tough, tricky interview questions. I scoured my resume and reviewed all my talking points from every major project I did over the last twenty years. I rehearsed answers to what I thought would be a sore point, which was, What had I done since I quit my last day job in January 2010?
Imagine my surprise when none of that came up?
In two phone screens and a five-person panel interview, nobody asked a single question about any of my past jobs. A couple of things from my resume were mentioned, indicating that it had been read, but that was it.
I put two important things on my resume: a list of all the software I know, by category; and a list of my skills.
I’ve read that “skills resumes” are frowned on because they can be used to disguise a patchy work history. I don’t know if that’s true for most places, but it seemed to serve me well - and I *had* a patchy work history. I was transparent about the fact that I hadn’t had a traditional day job in over a decade. In my case, the majority of my most valuable skills were things I had picked up in between.
The point isn’t whether you can prove that you’ve 100% done something under an official job title at an official employer. It’s whether you know how to do it, whether you can learn new things, and whether you are enthusiastic about giving it your best shot.
This is where being unemployed, even for a very long time, can be an asset. It gives you the opportunity to study up.
Someone close to me did this a few years ago. She had never really used a computer at work, literally did not even know how to right-click a mouse or copy/paste. She did a self-study Excel course, got over a 90%, and now knows all the advanced features I never learned even though I started using Excel around 1990. Since then she’s been promoted twice, has an impressive new job title, and makes a significantly higher income.
That is my first piece of advice: Go through a bunch of job listings and look at what requirements keep coming up.
(That’s why I went back to college. I kept reading job listings for which I was qualified in every single respect, except the bachelor’s degree. It was infuriating until it became simple and obvious).
Stories keep coming up about young candidates who are shocked, stunned, and amazed that the job requires Microsoft Word and Excel. For those of us who are familiar with these programs, this might seem funny. Instead of laughing, we should be taking notes and realizing that we have been taking for granted what are actually very desirable professional qualifications.
When we get mopey and fall into doubting our employability, we focus on ourselves and our shortcomings. We have no way of realizing that our supposed “competition” may be severely underprepared. I got my first temp assignment in an office because the woman before me quit two hours into her first day, saying, “I don’t have to do this.” They were looking for 1. Someone who would work for 8 hours and 2. See #1.
It’s a similar situation with work-from-home jobs. They’re looking for applicants who are ready, willing, and able to work from home. Not everyone can do this. Sometimes these issues are not their fault; a friend of mine lives about five miles away from us, but the internet is so poor in her neighborhood that she needs two separate devices to try to get a better signal.
If you have electricity, good wi-fi, a smartphone, and a computer you can use all day, you’re ahead of the game and more employable than you realize right now.
Learning the basics of even one in-demand software title can be enough to put you over the edge. If you can pass a quiz, do a demo, or answer a few questions about what you can do, that’s usually enough. Start writing down all the programs that you have used, even if you only feel a passing familiarity. It may surprise you.
Another approach is to take on a volunteer position and build your skills there.
I spent the past three years in leadership positions in Toastmasters. They stepped up in responsibility, and I learned so much that I got back more than I put in. I’m absolutely sure that I reached a higher level of leadership through Toastmasters in that brief period than I would have if I had stayed in my previous line of work for ten years.
Again, it isn’t what you’ve been paid to do under your official job title; it’s whether you can demonstrate that you know how to get things done.
Unemployed people, and their friends, family, and neighbors, often say the same thing, which is: “There are no jobs out there.” This is demonstrably false. Also, you only need one.
Talking about what doesn’t exist, or what you do not want, is a pretty useless way to spend time.
Much more interesting to talk about what you do want to do. If there is something you really want to do because it fascinates you, that will shine through. If it is true about you that you really want to do a good job and be proud of yourself, that will show too. Right now, there are thousands of WFH jobs available. Some of them have been open for months or years without the right candidate turning up. Maybe that person is you.
Some stuff you can learn for free:
Microsoft Office 360
Jira / Agile
Fifteen years ago, I started a new job. On the second day, I met the man who would become my second husband.
It’s eerie to think of the kismet involved. I had signed up at a temp agency just the week before, something I had sworn never to do again, only now my life had been turned upside down and it was my best, fastest option. While I was still filling out application forms at the agency, the rep brought in a client from across the hall and introduced us. They were going to place me over there, at a real estate agency, but at the last minute they changed their mind and offered me an assignment at an engineering firm up the road.
What would have happened if I had started at the real estate place instead, back in 2005? Maybe I would have pushed forward and become an agent and/or a broker, just in time for the crash?
If that random moment hadn’t gone the way it had, I probably would never have met my hubby or anyone else who worked with him. Different cities, different hobbies, two worlds that were unlikely to collide.
We met and clicked right away. It was not a meet-cute. I distinctly remember that we had a conversation about how dust is mostly composed of human skin. I mean, eww. But at least he knew who he was dealing with.
Looking back, I understand that my new work buddy was just doing what he always does, which is to befriend new hires and show kindness to support staff. This is why he is entrusted with mentoring interns and budding engineers, because he goes out of his way to make people feel welcome.
This is also part of why the two of us get special treatment anywhere where we are regulars. We used to get table service at our local Starbucks before the world got crazy. We both see “customer service” as a game of generating rapport. It was something we recognized and amplified in each other.
When we met, we got into a certain amount of trouble. We kept hanging around each other, became lunch buddies, and drove a great deal of gossip. Apparently everyone assumed we were having an affair. People made bold comments to my face. It was super awkward and embarrassing. Eventually, though, we had to wonder whether everyone might be onto something.
Hmm. Why DO people keep thinking we’re together?
Every friendship makes its own little world. Whatever connection or spark there is between you, you both feed it. It doesn’t take long before you have your own points of reference, your own shared outlook, maybe even a private language. You can both crack up laughing without even looking at each other. You see or hear something and immediately know exactly how your friend would react. You get each other’s style and sense of humor.
For whatever reason, most people see romance in a completely different way, even though friend-romance is fun and easy where traditional ‘romance’ is exhausting and stressful.
What is he thinking? What did she mean by that? Do they like me or don’t they? - Are all things that friends basically never ask about each other.
My hubby and I were able to be friends, platonic friends and professional colleagues, because we both are good at friendship. He has lots of female friends, I have lots of male friends. I have, hmm, maybe a dozen male friends I’ve been close to for 25 years or more, none of whom I’ve dated.
In fact the transition from lunch buddies to “boyfriend and girlfriend” was fraught. We argued about it for weeks. If you think that was bad, it took us more like a year to eventually decide to get married.
A lot of people in our position never move forward because one or the other is afraid to “ruin the friendship.” To me this is a disaster. Almost every image of “romance” or a “love story” in our culture is based on the pursuer-distancer model, where one person chases the other and there’s supposedly some kind of magical physical chemistry. One kiss and *swoon*!
I used to be caught up in that fantasy, too. I finally got so sick of the inevitably painful results that I got down on my knees and prayed never to feel that way again. Can’t I please just be with someone I like, respect, and trust, who makes me laugh, and feel affection instead of misery?
He makes my knees weak *now* - but he didn’t when we met. I wouldn’t say either of us was particularly attracted to the other at first. It is pretty funny to think that we have in middle age what we might have wished for as teenagers.
This is what I would tell anyone who has a crush on their friend. Go for it. Companionate marriage is the best and most stable. We have so much fun. We’ve traveled the world together, saved tons of money, gotten fit, become better cooks, and basically live much better and happier lives because we belong to our own two-member mutual admiration society.
The kind of friendship we have, one that is supportive yet challenging, silly yet serious, enmeshed and yet independent, is very much like our other friendships in many ways. It’s simply that we’ve known each other longer, pushed each other’s limits more, and built up more trust. None of that comes from a lighting bolt of instant attraction or pheromones. Instead it is layered over time, like lacquer.
Now that we’re getting older together, what we have is irreplaceable. You don’t snap your fingers and suddenly pop a 15-year relationship into existence. He never knew that I would one day be leading him by the hand through the emergency room because he was temporarily blind, just as I never knew he would keep me alive through a month of coronavirus. All we knew was that we liked each other and we couldn’t seem to quit talking to each other. Through all these years, those things haven’t changed.
Still my favorite, best friend, Husband Level III, luckiest introduction of all time, love you sweetie.
Though we’ve been referring to it with the acronym WFH, telecommuting is not the same thing as working from home. Technically I’ve been working from home for over a decade. This telecommuting thing is entirely different.
I did a variety of things in my past work life, often switching between different projects and different styles in the same day. I booked client calls, wrote on freelance and on spec, traveled, worked on planes and in my lap and in coffee shops and on a hotel bathroom floor in the middle of the night.
In all those ways, my freelance life was (is?) both more versatile and less comfortable than what I’m doing now.
Telecommuting is like being in an ordinary office, only at home instead of inside a cubicle.
During my first week, I’ve spent more than half my time in meetings and webinars. Not only do we start on time, it’s necessary to start a bit early to make sure there is time for both the hardware and the software to connect.
Unlike normal meetings in conference rooms, most people are on mute for most of the call, so it’s common for someone to be talking to themselves in an empty room for several seconds before everyone realizes their mic isn’t on. Picture this happening with people sitting around a table and it’s actually quite funny.
Everyone is using different equipment, some company-issued and some more ad hoc. Most people have worked for the company for years - or decades - and others were actually hired after the shutdown. Like me, there are people who don’t have a physical desk, chair, computer, phone, or anything else. Our physical existence is hypothetical.
I have the good fortune to have visited the building several times. I’ve met a few of my new colleagues in person, some through my husband and others through Toastmasters. I know where I will probably sit, if we start going back to the corporate campus soon. A few of the new hires can only look at pictures of the building and guess.
One of the odd things about telecommuting is getting used to VPN. It’s like the movie Inception, a computer within a computer, or sometimes more. A desktop within a desktop, with its own wallpaper and its own software. “I’m opening a browser from inside a browser!” This is really important for security reasons, of course. It works well enough once you’re over the “nesting Russian doll” feeling.
This process has been fun. The days are going by so fast, and there are so many things to learn and so many people to meet.
It’s also been weird, because the interruptions are so different from the kind that are typical in an office. I joined a call with my boss first thing in the morning, and there happened to be an entire flock of crows freaking out for several minutes on the roof across from us. (“Us” meaning my household, not me and the person to whom I was speaking). Today it was a dog barking frantically in the alley on my end; last time, it was someone else’s neighbor’s dog barking in the yard next door. So many dogs.
Cats are another one. Someone will be talking, chatter chatter chatter, and then suddenly a plaintive MEOW. Must be cat lunchtime.
My parrot has her good days and her bad days. Sometimes she will play quietly in her box fort for hours. Other times she wants to be on the call and has a way of letting out a shrill whistle the moment I turn off mute. It’s like she knows. (She might).
We’ve been joking about making her a little headset of her own. She is a biped who speaks English, and at 21 she’s certainly old enough to start contributing to the household. Maybe they’re hiring a paper shredder, who knows.
Telecommuting has changed a lot in our household. My hubby and I sit at our own desks, together but apart, on opposite ends of our couch. We’re often on calls at the same time. We have the same schedule and the same days off. We work in the same department. This is how we met, fifteen years ago, though of course in those days we couldn’t have guessed we would marry and share a whiteboard together.
This style of working from home is much more interesting, now that the world has shut down for who knows how long. The time passes very quickly. I like to imagine what I’ll be working on three years from now, and how much of what is new to me today will be routine then. What will a regular workday look like in 2023?
One of the changes we’re making, as we prepare to ride out the next few weird years, is to find a sustainable way to avoid as many outside trips as possible. By ‘sustainable,’ we mean something a little different than what we used to mean, although farm delivery meets those criteria too.
Something we can afford
That fits our default lifestyle
Without a huge drain on mental bandwidth
Or massive time commitments
That we can do without fighting our mutual tendency to pack on weight
That doesn’t create extra trash
Yet also allows other people to earn a decent livelihood
In safe conditions
Including social distancing.
By my calculations, we can continue to get fresh produce delivered to our building every week, indefinitely.
We have been signed up with this service, Farm Fresh to You, a few times over the years. I canceled when we moved out of our newlywed house, not realizing that they keep expanding their service area. It hadn’t crossed my mind that we could sign up again in our new city, hundreds of miles away, until they sent me an email inviting us back.
That’s the sound of an AHA happening in my squirrelly brain.
I had been trying to figure out how to get groceries delivered, while feeling guilty and trying to calculate which risk was greater, my going out and possibly spreading infection myself, or hiring someone else who might have inadequate PPE. In my mind, one obvious solution to this issue is to quit allowing the public to enter the store, and have the grocers pick everything out, which used to be the norm well into the 20th century.
(If you’ve seen any episodes of Little House on the Prairie, that’s what stores were like. You pointed and someone else measured and wrapped everything up for you, in reusable packaging).
I actually think this is a direction that the grocery business will go, because it lowers liability and shrinkage, and a lot of people will be willing to pay for the convenience of not having to shop. The cashless, digital surveillance type will probably also become more common, and of course there’s always room for a more gentrified, boutique experience.
In the meantime, the miracle of the internet allows us to order produce directly from the farm and have it brought to us without the middleman.
There are a lot of CSAs out there. (Community-Supported Agriculture). It’s a way for the farm to guarantee a certain predictable level of income. Every year, an opportunity pops up with our farm to invest money directly for a discount on produce that year. It’s a real lifeline for new farms that might otherwise fail in the first few years.
Most CSAs will pack a bag or box, and you get what you get. That’s the commitment. If the only stuff that really grows well one year is rutabagas, then I hope you like rutabagas ‘cause guess what’s coming for dinner. The produce box comes whether you’re home or not, meaning you’re expected to pay even if you’re away. You’re also usually expected to pick up your produce yourself.
FFTY has been around long enough, as a multi-generational family business, that they’re able to offer a more customized experience. You can cancel weeks, you can cancel certain fruits or vegetables that you know you’ll never eat, and you can order extra of anything you like.
This place was the making of me as a healthy cook.
When I remarried, I took it pretty seriously. “You’re a wife and a mother now,” said this mammalian part of my brain, “so you’d better quit eating cereal for dinner and learn to cook.” I figured I’d get this vegetable subscription and figure out what to do from there.
The first time I got kale, collard greens, and chard in the same box, I had no idea which was which. I had to do an image search so I could tell them apart.
I tried so many vegetable recipes that first year, some that were kinda dreadful and some that were great. It took a long time to find a recipe with collard greens that we actually liked. That was around the time that I figured out how to cook chard stems properly and not just compost them. (Tear off the leaves, chop up the stems like celery, sauté them for an extra 2-3 minutes with garlic and Bragg’s aminos or soy sauce, then add the leaves and give it another couple minutes until emerald green).
Some of the motivation here is our little parrot Noelle, who starts wigging out when she sees the produce box. She lifts her foot in the air and waves: Who has eight thumbs and really really likes greens? She can eat a leaf as big as her entire body.
This whole experience is bringing back such a lot of happy memories from our first years of marriage!
I like the thought that a huge chunk of our groceries is coming directly from a family farm. I pray that everyone is able to stay safe and isolated. The drivers deliver everything overnight, to beat the heat, so they’re able to drop boxes off on people’s porches with no contact. Our spot along the route is around 1:00 AM. As far as I know, this is how they’ve always done it, a win on all sides.
This wouldn’t be a proper spiel without putting in my referral code ($15 coupon for you!). If you live somewhere in California, put in your zip code and see if you’re in the service area. It’s cheaper than you think and it’s a great way to support small-scale local farmers. And, of course, spend less time getting exposed at the grocery store.
“Many of us are done with this,” said one of my neighbors on Nextdoor, following a demand to “stop policing people.” Okay, fine, cool, thanks for making this decision easier on me and my household.
I’m staying inside until 2023 and getting a head start on the new supernormal.
Possibility thinking is not the same thing as optimism. For it to work as a strategic planning tool, possibility thinking has to include *all* possibilities.
At least in my region, there seems to be a pretty broad consensus that there is nothing to worry about. I read that 1 in 5 Brits believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, and it’s probably not too different here in Southern California. This makes me feel some kind of way, as you can probably imagine.
“I ate there and got food poisoning” NO YOU DIDN’T
“I got a speeding ticket along that stretch of highway” YOU LIE
“Attempted break-in on our street” NEVER HAPPENED
*shrug* okay, so I guess we’re done with the concept of social proof. I would really prefer that nobody else in our galaxy go through what I went through the entire month of April, but have it your way. My experience isn’t real to you, all right. Noted.
I feel no desire, need, or motivation to associate with people who feel that way... especially not in their physical proximity.
How am I going to deal with this emotionally, mentally, socially?
Reset my expectations.
Cases are rising in at least 18 states? My county has roughly half of the cases in my entire state, and more than half the deaths? Coronavirus is active on six continents? There may be a separate strain now that takes longer to show symptoms?
I don’t see this thing going anywhere any time soon.
Therefore, I don’t see myself doing what I used to do for fun, anytime in the near future:
Going to the airport, getting on airplanes, staying in hotels, going to live shows
Hanging out in restaurants, cafes, or movie theaters
Wilderness expeditions - will I ever be well or strong enough to do that again??
Everything else about my family, social, and commercial life can be done online, in some cases with more fun and greater efficiency.
Do I miss my family and friends? Yes, of course. Would I ever forgive myself for picking up COVID again and exposing them to it? No. Especially if any of them ran up massive debt in the hospital, or died.
We will meet again and we can hug it out when it feels obviously, finally, conclusively safe.
In the meantime, what are we going to do with ourselves?
We’ve doubled down with our quaranteam buddy. We’re helping her move to a new apartment this week, where we’re already planning a small shared garden. We’re teaching her how to pack a go bag and working on a team evacuation strategy for wildfire season. She’s our literal ride-or-die friend now.
I cut my husband’s hair for the first time. It actually turned out fine! He can’t stop raving about it and running his fingers through it. I give it... an 80%. I’m doing my own split ends and feeling glad I wear mine long. QT and I agreed to color each other’s hair, and maybe we’ll tentatively try a trim, in the back where it doesn’t show on webcam. With videos and practice... maybe it just becomes a thing and we all save hundreds of dollars a year.
We learn a few new artisanal skills, our cooking and baking improve, we expand the ways we support and care for each other, we develop a new group video call etiquette.
It’s up to us to decide - first as individuals, second as households, last as a society.
Or several adjacent societies?
I fear for those who are struggling to live in the reality-based community. It seems like an awful lot of people have lost the plot as far as what sources to trust, what is objectively testable or verifiable, and how to make decisions. Most people aren’t all that great at long-term planning or strategic positioning in the best of times, and when a crisis hits, we often begin to act less rationally than we did before. Clearly there are some issues.
One of the first things I’m personally working on is a quick vetting process. When I meet people (virtually) or see them (physically) how do I size them up? Who gets a shot at being in my social bubble and who would probably find it annoying and unsatisfying anyway?
Another thing we’re working on, as a quaranteam, is speculating on business and investment trends. Not in the “let’s gouge people for PPE” way but in the “what will the world look like in 2025” way.
Even *I* think this pandemic will be over by 2025! Though I have already made permanent policy changes, especially for travel, that I will carry forward. Reason: there are no rules about pandemics! We could have several new ones every year, which is one of the reasons why a COVID vaccine is, for my purposes, a moot point.
I got a new job while I was sick with COVID-19, as I mentioned. They’re WFH-mandatory right now, and it’s possible that most positions will remain that way because they’re already seeing higher productivity. My Plan A is to absolutely crush it at this job. Rather than mope around wishing I didn’t have to isolate, I’m going to pretend the outside world doesn’t even exist, and I work in an alternative arrangement.
Antarctica? A fire watch tower? Spacecraft to Mars or elsewhere? Emily Dickinson’s trance medium? Could vary from day to day or month to month?
As part of my job, I’m determined to get a few software certifications. There is a modest tuition reimbursement. I’d like to get a master’s degree, maybe an MBA too. I’ll have nothing but time and no particular reason to delay. It’s not like we’re going anywhere...
It would be easy to spend the next few weeks or months exactly as tense and anxious as the last few. It would also be easy to go out ONCE, like I did back before the shutdown orders, and get sick, and not even know for two weeks. Those are the default options. As a general rule, whatever is the default is uninteresting to me.
I prefer to move forward, through this intense time when we are all in the Place of Uncertainty, in a direction of my own choosing. To the best of my abilities, I’d rather come out of this in better shape than I went in. I have the power, as do we all, of determining my own attitude and my own behavior. I’d like to emerge in three years better than I am today: like myself, only supernormal.
This is Marie Kondo’s best book. I read it with a certain amount of trepidation, because I found several ideas in her previous books to be impractical or actively dangerous. It also amazes me that her clutter work is so broadly popular, because I have yet to see a hoarder like one of my clients actually complete the KonMari method. Joy at Work, on the other hand, should work for anyone.
Where this book shines is in its focus on time, rather than stuff. The reason for organizing papers or office supplies is to free up time, which can both improve one’s professional reputation and allow for an earlier end to the workday.
Joy at Work also highlights relationships and communication more than Kondo’s earlier books. Most of what constitutes “work clutter” is probably more about people irritating each other than about the arrangement of physical objects. This approach would be great for another household management book, if she ever chooses to write one.
There is a section on meeting management which obviously comes from someone with a full calendar. Here is an area where even one reader who is willing to share this material can delight everyone else in the office. Yes, let’s all have fewer and shorter meetings and excuse anyone who doesn’t need to be there.
The only thing that Joy at Work is missing, in retrospect, is a section on telecommuting. That could really be a book of its own, with chapters on how to balance homeschooling, electronic device sharing, and varied schedules. Maybe it could be called Joy in Spite of It All.
Someone asked me, You said you hadn’t had a job in over ten years. How did you address that in your interview?
This is what I said on the phone:
“I’m a radical candor person, so I’ll just tell you. I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years.”
They already had my resume, which was of course an accurate reflection of how I have spent my time over the past twenty years. If I got an offer, they were going to do a full background check. They’d “find me out” one way or another, if they hadn’t already. I figured, if they’re talking to me, they’re interested. I have their attention.
Might as well be myself.
What I never realized when I was younger is that employers don’t care what you did in the past. They don’t even care what you’re doing today.
They want to know what you’re going to do for them going forward.
(And can you convince them that you will?)
It’s really hard to be future-facing when you have doubts, guilt, shame, or mixed feelings about your past performance. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in academia, family relationships, or even clearing out your closets. If you want to move forward, you have to figure out a way to integrate your experiences with your identity.
A fixed mindset will say, Failure is permanent, absolute perfection is mandatory every single microsecond, the way we have been is the way we always will be.
This never made sense to me because it’s unclear where that fixed set of attributes starts. After high school? Because surely we all remember a point when we did not know something that we know today. We were all completely incompetent at something, from tying our shoelaces to driving a car to filing a tax return.
If you learned one thing, you can learn another thing.
That right there is your growth mindset.
Not only CAN you constantly learn new things, but... why wouldn’t you? Why would you ever stop?
Another thing that I said during my interview is that “I’m challenge-driven. I’m motivated by curiosity.” I can’t let it rest with not knowing how to do something. As soon as I realize there is something more to know, I’m going to dive deeper.
This was actually a significant liability in some of the lower-level jobs I had as a young person. What those employers wanted was someone obedient who could be tasked and would cover shift changes or skip breaks with no notice.
This type of organization usually starts out interviews from an adversarial position. They are trying to hide their dirty secrets, usually including high turnover, low or no opportunities for advancement, unappealing benefits, uninspiring corporate culture, demands for unpaid overtime, and at least one supervisor who drives people out the door. Because they have to lie about what they are offering, they naturally assume that new hires are hiding things too.
What are you hiding??
I’ve been asked on interviews:
What is my worst flaw (almost every time)
How I would describe myself in one word (??)
Why I left my last position (almost every time)
Where I see myself in five years
These are ‘gotcha’ questions, as is the sneak-attack “Do you have any questions for me?” Nobody is expected to tell the truth about these lame questions; they’re expected to wear a good social mask and give the expected answers in the acceptable way.
My worst flaw? I’m excessively punctual! I’m such a perfectionist!
How would I describe myself in one word? Dedicated!
Why did I leave my last position? I’m looking for new challenges.
Where do I see myself in five years? Working here, I hope!
It doesn’t really matter how you answer the “do you have any questions for me” thing, as long as you actually have a question. This time, my question was, “How supported did you feel during the transition to telecommuting?”
What did I do over the ten years that I stepped out of the traditional workplace? I realized that no employer defined who I was or what I could do. I had “F.U. money” and the incredible luxury of never having to take a job that I didn’t want. I started to learn how to think like a professional (someone with a profession) rather than an employee or, worse, a servant.
(What does someone in customer service do? Serve. And what do you call someone who serves? Right).
To be transparent, I am emotionally attuned toward service no matter what I am doing. I don’t really mind doing scutwork or waiting on people. I don’t even care if I have to wait on Rude People because I think it’s funny to return their behavior with gracious courtesy.
Two things change everything about your outlook and your appeal as a prospect:
Whether you internalize the organization’s goals as your own, and
Whether you are very clear about what you bring to the table.
I’m not *asking* for a job from anyone. I am *offering* the option to bring me on board. Nobody wins if it’s a poor fit, if either of us on either side pretend to be something that we are not.
I was an obvious choice for my new job for a bunch of reasons. One was that I had taken the initiative to do a long-term project on spec, and after nearly two years, it demonstrated a great deal about my work ethic, creativity, and ability to adhere to a production schedule. There is simply nobody like me, and nobody else who can do exactly what I can do.
NB: That’s true of you, too (I’m certain of it), but it’s up to you to demonstrate whatever that is.
Another reason I was an obvious top candidate is that I spent my ten years off doing things that did not fit in my prior job descriptions. I built my resume around a list of untraditional, non-clerical skills, including event planning, ideation, and literature search. I had years’ worth of volunteer positions of increasing responsibility, including leading a team, and I had won a bunch of awards. I had felt stymied in my earlier work life, and I had found a ladder up and out.
Your boss and your job do not tell you who you are, what you can and can’t do, or what you have to offer. You do that. If you feel limited in any way, you’re already prepared to launch straight through the roof. You’ve already outgrown what you were doing. Now it’s up to you to decide what you’d rather be doing, and start figuring out how to get there.
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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