Recently we found out our company won’t be calling anyone back on site until there is wide availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Today, I read in the news some speculation that that wouldn’t happen until summer or fall of 2021. Looks like we’re buckling in for the long haul.
I bring this up because guess what, all the fall and winter holidays will pop up on the calendar regardless of what is happening in the world. We might as well plan now for alternative ways to celebrate.
I used to visit my family three or four times a year. We live a thousand miles apart so it takes some planning. I haven’t seen any of them in person since December, and it’s looking like we may not even be halfway through yet. Believe me, I’d love to be making plans to see everyone during Thanksgiving.
Which is what I’m doing. I’m emotionally planning to see them on a video chat.
I know a lot of other people are planning to meet in person. Or if not, they will have extremely intense family pressure to meet, which will ramp up in double proportion to any resistance from the more science-minded or cautious voices.
DO IT I REALLY WANT YOU TO
Look, I got COVID at a social occasion. I’m pretty sure the person I got it from, got it at the airport. That is my bias.
I’ve heard some pretty compelling talk about “love over fear” and people making choices based on how they interpret that. I feel the same exact way.
The way I interpret it, I choose love. Any sacrifice that is demanded of me, I’ll make it gladly, because I love my family. I will do anything to keep them safe. That means depriving myself of their physical presence for a while.
I choose this sacrifice of physical presence over fear:
The fear I know I would feel if my parents got sick
The fear I would feel if I realized I was the one spreading the virus to people I love
The fear I would feel, standing in the hospital parking lot, holding a big sign over my head
I don’t need to love someone from inside the same room. That would seem to me to be a very low-battery kind of love. A weak love.
Mine is a love that radiates across continents. I have no fear that it can’t be felt.
I know this because if anything, I hear from my family more often than I did before. They really pulled together for me when I was sick. We’re on family group chat every day, cracking jokes and sharing pictures. Of course we’d rather be able to see each other in person.
Which we will. One fine day.
Just not this Thanksgiving.
This is why I say we might as well plan now. There’s time to make it fun, if we’re all united in agreement that we’ll do things virtually.
For the rest of you poor souls whose families are going to try to guilt-trip you into risking their lives by carrying your body to them, there’s time to plan your responses.
Keep in mind, we might all be wrong. There’s always time for people to change. But you can probably write out a pretty accurate script of what each of your family members will say in most discussions. You can probably predict all the ways they’re going to try to “force” you to do what you don’t want to do, which is to go to their house, hug everyone with no masks on, and potentially have to plan a virtual funeral two weeks later.
A good friend of mine taught me how to do this. I told her I needed to learn to say no. She said, “Don’t say no. Say, “Um, no.” We practiced it together until I got the intonation right.
There are a few ways you can go about this. What you choose depends on individual temperament.
Passive-aggressive: Say yes and then claim that someone is too sick at the very last minute.
Workaholic: Say maybe and then claim you have to work on a report (school or work).
Tech-savvy: Make a recording of yourself saying No and play it on a loop so you don’t have to rely on willpower.
Executive: Pay someone to handle the guilt calls for you.
Honest: Say you have no intention of traveling during a pandemic and you aren’t going to do it.
This is what I’ve learned from being married to an Upholder. They just say what they intended to say. They don’t do guilt - they either do what they committed to do, or they do nothing, because if it isn’t part of their system, it kinda doesn’t exist. One simply does the correct thing, and in this case it is obeying shelter-in-place orders and working together to end the pandemic.
This is what I’ve learned as a Questioner. My answer to every possible situation is, Here, read this. Then I turn on the firehose and send mass quantities of links, articles, books, charts, and pre-review journal articles. I can genuinely do this ad infinitum. Wear ‘em out. Of course, there is the other variety of Questioner who gets sucked into the information vortex and does not necessarily have the academic rigor to distinguish fact from conspiracy theory.
I don’t think Rebels need any help giving people a firm No. Rebels don’t react well to peer pressure.
It’s Obligers who have the issue. There is a distinct Obliger tendency to operate by group consensus. If the Obligers in the family all got together and came up with a beautiful fantasy of eating and drinking in large groups, then by gosh you’d better not mess it up.
This is where I think planning can come in. What if we simply came up with a variety of plans that are more interesting and fun but still allow everyone to live until next year?
These are some of the things my family has done:
Try to copy a picture blindfolded, on a timer, and then give points for individual parts of the drawing. This could be fun to do with gluing tail feathers on the turkey.
Two partners try to wrap a gift and tie a bow around it using only one hand each. Also on a timer. Extremely funny on video.
Wear matching ugly sweaters.
Trade stories and jokes.
Simply put a laptop on the dinner table and casually hang out.
One thing we have not done, which would be great fun, is to learn a TikTok dance and have a family dance-off.
We also haven’t done any photo slideshows, although we probably should.
I tend to be the family tech support person, which is why this occurs to me, but some family members may be resistant to doing stuff remotely because they don’t realize the possibilities. They may be very uncomfortable using most of the features of the electronics that they already own. Sometimes they’ll try something for a cute grandchild or niece that they wouldn’t try for one of their own adult children.
There’s still time to practice.
One day, all of this will be over. I sincerely hope that on that day, all of us can celebrate together. I plan to run down the middle of the street yelling WAHOO! Might as well plan for it now. It will help to have something to offer as a distraction when you have the inevitable talk with your family about why this year is going to continue to be a little different.
It might have been a relief to a lot of people if this happened to them, but it wasn’t to me. I tried to log in to a Zoom meeting and discovered it had been locked.
This came as a surprise, partly because it was an error message I had never seen before, but partly because I was logging in a minute early. I tried again a few times over the next ten minutes, only to keep getting the same message.
This is where the story gets interesting, because of what I told myself while this was going on.
When something happens, does it happen *to me*? Or does it just happen?
I had the immediate, visceral response that this was happening *to me*. It was deliberate. “Everyone” had gotten together without me and decided they didn’t want me around. As soon as “everyone” had convened, they locked the room, relieved that they wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore.
I told my husband. “This is pushing all my buttons.”
He suggested the obvious, which was to email the host because they might not have realized that anything was wrong.
I did this, because I feel better when I do my due diligence, but my shoulders were slumped as I put all my stuff away. See, there’s this whole ritual setup when we do these calls. I have a spot at the dining table where the lighting is good. I set up my equipment. I pull up a chair for my little parrot Noelle, at just the right angle and distance, because she likes to look at everybody and see herself on camera. I have to pull an old pillowcase over it because she’s dusty, and for other reasons that anyone who has spent much time with birds will understand. Then of course I have to go get her and carry her over. The reverse of this process lacks all the anticipation of the initial setup.
At least I hadn’t put on makeup or straightened my hair...
Then I checked my email again, only to see an entire thread of the other half-dozen people who couldn’t get in to the meeting. The host said to try again. Accidental setting error.
We did it all over again. My husband helped with the bird, who was quite stimulated by the unusual activity level. I logged in to the call and everything was fine.
What was going on there, though? In the ten minutes when I felt like I was being deliberately rejected?
Granted, I’d had a long, rough day. Our system was lagging and everything that would normally take five minutes took more like half an hour. I was tired and frustrated. One last hassle late in the day was just... a lot. I hadn’t felt on the verge of tears like that for a long time.
Even so. Would others react the way I did, with sadness and futility? Or were there other “obvious” responses?
One person might have been relieved and gone off to watch a movie or soak in the tub.
Another person might have been angry, maybe pounded the table.
Someone else might have used the opportunity to reach out and bond with another person over the experience.
Yet another person would have assumed there was a technical failure on the platform’s end and shrugged it off.
Someone else might have blamed themselves for lacking technical skills and felt stupid, or old.
Another person might have been distracted and forgot the whole thing, never realized there was a technical issue, and then felt FOMO the next day.
A different person might gloat over their own impeccable hosting skills and contemplate seizing leadership of the group.
Someone else might have worried that something happened to the host and hoped everything was okay.
Another person might have catastrophized: “why does everything always go wrong, this thing is going off the rails” and spun off into a paranoid fantasy that the entire grid was collapsing.
Another approach might have been to assume the meeting had been hacked and start checking for signs of identity theft.
I dunno. Chances are that each person responded differently and forgot all about it once the meeting resumed. Probably the most common reaction was, give it a few minutes and it will be fine. Technically, that was the correct response.
The puncture in my esteem was patched later on. At the end of the meeting, someone asked, out of the blue, “If there’s time, could Jessica share one or two sentences about her parrot?” It was really funny! I gave the whole spiel about her: “Her name is Noelle, and she’s 22, and she’s a Congo African Gray parrot. She loves Zoom and she likes to look at you all on grid view.” I panned the camera so they could see how she relaxes by standing on one foot and curling up the talons on the other.
Of course nobody would lock us out of Zoom! Whether I’m there or not is probably a matter of some indifference, but my sweet little poof ball is a welcome presence. She just stands there quietly blinking and nodding her head, looking ridiculously solemn. Fluffy professor.
I read somewhere that when you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks about you. When you’re 40, you realize it doesn’t really matter what people think about you. When you’re 60, you realize nobody was ever thinking about you.
I’m trying to embrace this perspective a little early. I’m mostly harmless, average in most ways, and I have solid training on keeping my remarks brief and to the point. Whatever else they may say about me, I’ve learned to keep my mic on mute unless I’m speaking and I know when to yield the floor.
I try to remember that there are over 7 billion people in the world, and there’s no reason to try to be a part of every group. Statistically, most people will never know I exist, much less have an opinion on whether they like me or not. Better to calibrate and find a way to contribute, and seek out people on a similar wavelength. Or at least people who like parrots.
A friend of mine is trying to decide whether to get married. There’s an issue she has with her beau, and she hasn’t discussed it with him. How do I know? I know because she has discussed it with me at great length. This happens all the time. When people come to me for advice, half the time my answer is: Tell them what you just told me.
This is how you know whether you’re with the right person or not. Do you turn to each other when you’re confused or in trouble? Do you turn to each other when you need someone to talk to?
Most people are still very much hooked in to the pursuer/distancer model of romance. They want someone they don’t know all that well. Often they have no idea whether that person even likes them or not, or whether they’re available. I once asked out a guy from my Latin class, and was rocked back on my heels when he gently informed me that he had a boyfriend. Our feelings of attraction to another person can be amplified by the lack of a chance that we’ll wind up together.
Why is that? Why do we keep wanting people when odds are that they don’t want us back?
What the heck is it that we’re looking for?
My 11th wedding anniversary is coming up. Whenever my hubby and I are reminded of how long we’ve been together, we always look at each other with surprise. Where did the time go?? In some ways it feels like we’ve known each other forever, and in other ways it feels like five minutes. As worried as we both were about messing up our friendship by trying to date each other, it’s worked out.
It’s weird that we got the fairytale romance when we weren’t even attracted to each other at first. This is the hardest part to accept for those who aren’t bought in to the companionate marriage concept. They expect to start with intense physical chemistry and let everything else work itself out.
...whereas to me, feeling intense physical chemistry for someone who was a bad match for my temperament and lifestyle is my actual worst nightmare. To me that’s like a drug addiction. Longing for someone who doesn’t care about me, hurts my feelings, ignores me, has incompatible values, wants a wildly different lifestyle, and can’t or won’t hold a conversation with me... sounds like... the dating/crush life of my teens and twenties?
For whatever bizarre reason, a lot of people have someone in their life who fulfills all the qualities of a solid match. They can talk about anything and everything, they’re there for each other when times are tough, they laugh at the same stuff and enjoy spending time together, they basically agree on most things - and yet something about all of this seems to be a turn-off. It’s especially a turn-off when there is another player in the game, an elusive, unattainable, and pragmatically inappropriate person who is yet magnetically captivating.
Turn to your crush? For what?
Is your crush going to take care of you when you’re sick, help you move, cook for you, take care of your pets and/or kids, do favors for your extended family, and cheerfully share your home, your life, and your finances?
Outside of your fantasies, I mean.
Does your crush make you laugh, or even make you smile?
Has your crush ever given you good advice or shown any insight into your life?
Part of why I risked my friendship with my now-husband was that I realized what a huge part of my life he had become. He was the person I turned to. Several times he had given me the best advice of my life, and after a couple of years, I was starting to realize that I just made better decisions when he was around. I liked the person I was when we were hanging out.
He was the first person I wanted to tell whenever anything happened.
This is the first sign that your friendship is worth looking into a little closer. The reason you want to tell this person everything is a combination of factors. They’re reliable and there for you. They think you’re interesting and funny and they like to talk to you. You don’t have to explain why your joke or observation or news is worth sharing because you know they’ll get it. You don’t have to finish your sentences. You can communicate with a single word, or emoji, or a facial expression, or even by trying to avoid eye contact because you know if you look at each other you’ll both explode with laughter. (That’s the only time to not turn to each other).
These are the feelings of a friend-marriage.
Obviously these feelings are for everyone, not just romantic partners. Friends feel this way, and work buddies, and cousins, and neighbors, and teammates, and all sorts of relationships that will never end in marriage. This is part of how you know that your person is the one to turn to. It feels a lot like your other friendships.
We turn to each other, and that includes our friends and families. Part of the reason we rely on each other is that we recognize the way our families have blended. I consider the well-being of his relatives, partly because I care about them and partly because I know he feels the same way toward mine.
When it comes down to it, we turn to each other because sometimes life can be really hard, too hard to face it alone. We all have to turn to someone. It’s best when we can do this on a solid basis of trust and respect, affection and friendship. When we have all that between us, turning to each other is natural, and when it isn’t, we can turn to each other to work it out.
It’s easy to panic when the money is gone. Financial transitions are one of the scariest ways to enter the Place of Uncertainty. Looking backward years later, a few months may seem like more of a blip or a speed bump. At the time, though, there’s no way to know how long they’ll last or how exactly they’ll end.
I know whereof I speak. I’ve had to do this a few times in my life for various reasons. I started wandering down Memory Lane a bit, thinking what I would do if I were out of work, single, in debt, food insecure, with no way to pay the rent.
What I did that worked for me was, essentially, to find a sponsor. I wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but that’s what I was doing. This strategy may work for others.
Getting a sponsor when you’re desperate and broke is something that plenty of people do. Usually this sponsor answers to ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ This isn’t always an option. Not everyone has parents. Not all parents are in a financial position to help out. Sometimes there is another kid there already. Maybe the parent is sort of looking for a sponsor too.
I lay all this out because some who are reading this may be in more of a position to be the sponsor, rather than hunt for one, and it helps to have that extra bit of understanding and compassion.
I didn’t necessarily go to someone looking for a place to stay. It was more like I had nothing else to talk about, and because I shared my pitiful situation far and wide, someone would pop up and offer to help out. Once it was a former roommate, but other times it would be someone I barely knew.
This is important because we don’t always realize that the world is so full of giving, caring people who are willing to take a chance on someone.
Usually the person who is willing to help out isn’t in a great financial situation either. This is why the situation usually works like this:
You can sleep there, and bring some of your stuff, but there isn’t room for all of it, and probably not for any of your pets. You feed yourself and you can have a little room on one shelf in the fridge. And you pitch in for utilities and/or part of the rent.
For a lot of families, even $200 a month can make the difference while they’re trying to keep it together.
This is where you can start to reframe yourself as an asset, not a pauper or a beggar. You have value! You are bringing something to the table! This can be a situation of mutual benefit!
I was generally welcome as a couch-surfer or fringe semi-roommate because I didn’t have a lot of negatives. Sure, I was flat broke and I didn’t have a car or even know how to drive. But I didn’t smoke or drink or have awkward substance use moments. I didn’t steal. I didn’t have a criminal record. I didn’t raise my voice at anyone, slam doors, punch walls, throw things, etc. I was (and am) generally a quiet, clean, safe person.
I’m not going to claim that I was Mary Poppins. During the situations when I needed a sponsor, and there were a few, my life was shambolic in many ways. I had what I now recognize as Drama. While I did have a plan for my situation, I did not have a plan for avoiding that Drama yet, because I didn’t understand that I could build my life in a way that would largely avoid it.
I did, though, clean up after myself. I didn’t leave trash or dishes lying around. I could use the kitchen or the shower without it looking like a bomb went off. It is impossible to overstate the importance of being clean and tidy when living on the good graces of another household. You simply can’t be as casual about your shoes, bag, clothes, bedding, dishes, food wrappers, electronics, books, notebooks, pens, etc as the people who are on the lease.
I was able to get a sponsor when I needed one because I had a plan. I always feel frantic when I have no income, and bored and restless when I have nothing to do during the day. I was always looking for some way that I could level up and earn my way out of the situation.
The first time, I had a job but not enough savings to pay a deposit on the room. It was fine - I always paid my rent on time.
The second time, I had a pending legal case and a check coming in.
The next time, I was applying for school and I needed somewhere to be until the dorms opened.
The next time, there I was again, able to pay a deposit this time but technically unemployed until Tuesday.
(There are a couple of spots in there that I’m eliding to streamline the narrative).
The thing is, I started my adult life with a part-time minimum wage job at a convenience store. When I got a job as an office temp it felt like I had won the lottery. I was thirty before I had any financial stability to speak of. I hustled my butt off to get through college because I knew that was my only way to earn the kind of income where I could quit bouncing out of penury and into financial disaster over and over.
Now I’m proud to be the one who is able to help. I’ve hosted all sorts of people on my own couch, lent or given money, sometimes anonymously (or hid it somewhere where nobody would find it until I left). I’ll never stop because I can never go back in time and not need a helping hand. It feels like a karmic debt that can never be repaid.
I know from experience that hard times are temporary. Terrifying! Traumatic sometimes! But temporary in the end. There are a lot of people like me out there, who know what it’s like and will respond to an honest plea.
Just remember to always clean up after yourself and be easy to get along with. Hang in there. When things are at their worst, that means it won’t take much for things to get better soon.
We’ve swung about as far in the direction of the individual as we possibly can, a claim that I will proceed to back up in great detail but that can be observed by anyone in any common area these days. There is only a certain amount of time it can hold in this position before it inevitably begins to swing back the other way.
An example that comes to mind is of a woman who was killed by an alligator in Florida back in May. She was informed that the same individual alligator had taken down a deer at the same exact spot. She replied, “I don’t look like a deer,” moved closer, and those were her last words, as the alligator then proceeded to do what alligators do.
If you’re ever looking for a way to explain the concept of “death by misadventure” to your kids, this would be a solid example.
What was happening there?
It’s mean to pick on someone who isn’t here to defend herself, and I don’t mean to do that. I still feel the same shock and horror that I felt two months ago, when I first read this sorry tale.
Why would someone disregard social proof or direct evidence of objective reality?
I’m not sure, because I’m not wired that way, but I can take a few guesses. Demonstrating autonomy, that nobody tells me what to do? Displaying skepticism, that I’m smart enough to tell the difference between common sense and urban myths? (Although... alligators are real??) Raw physical courage? Belief in one’s ability to move quickly and outrun danger, on the extremely unlikely chance that I guessed wrong?
This is exactly what I think is going on with the novel coronavirus and mask refusers.
I can tell you from personal experience that COVID-19 sucks. Hated it. I can also tell you that the person who gave it to me thinks it’s no big deal. She believes she’s immune now and that the crisis is overblown. She is not alone in this reaction, to be sick with COVID and then shrug it off. All I can say is that if her symptoms were as bad as mine, then she must have the grit and stamina of a thousand wildebeests.
What people are saying over and over again is that rules don’t apply to them. Emotionally they buy into the concept of the sovereign individual. They interpret the situation of living in a pandemic to mean that they are assuming personal risk, and that is their ethical prerogative.
The merest suggestion that any one human can owe anything at all to any other human, under any circumstance, seems to trigger a deep rage in these people.
I think this is only possible because of where we are on the pendulum swing between the individual and the collective. We’re at a place where the idea of “a community” of any kind doesn’t even make sense to some people.
Just because there is more than one person in any given location does not then mean that there is a “group” of any kind. No connections, no broad categories. It’s impossible because there is only The Individual multiplied by seven billion.
The opposite extreme of this would be the idea that there is only a group, and that there is no such thing as an individual with personal rights. It’s fairly easy to imagine this, and it’s possible this is how it feels to be a bee, or a fish in a school of fish. Any ant stands in for any other ant, but in this formulation they don’t have personalities or names or music preferences.
Obviously it makes the most sense for people to exist somewhere in the middle, with personal rights but also with social connections, friends, and some way to contribute to a greater good. This is the space with the potlucks and the games and the concerts. This is the space with a modern economy.
The far individual end is the space with the terrorists and the mass murderers. Arguably the mass murderer is a notch more individualistic, because terrorists tend to act based on group decisions and delusions. The lone gunman is probably acting on a personal grievance. The only reason it would make sense to inflict a personal vendetta on random strangers is if those strangers have no value to the killer.
The reason I talk about this is that an asymptomatic super-spreader of coronavirus... may very well have a higher body count than most mass murderers.
“Oh it’s just the flu...” that is 50x deadlier than influenza.
Why would someone persistently refuse to pay attention? Sure, I can understand why someone would feel allergic to mainstream news. But at this point, people know someone personally who got sick or died. I know I do. At this point I have several friends and a few first-degree relatives who have gotten sick, and someone I’ve been to dinner with several times has died. I know a dozen people who have lost a family member to COVID.
Which specific friend or relative has to die before someone finally caves and says, “All right already, I guess the alligator really does grab people sometimes”?
The trouble is that nothing is harder for the extreme individualist than admitting to a mistake. It comes across as losing face. For a sensible person, getting solid information is a cause for gratitude - thanks for looking out for me, I know you’re trying to help. (Avoid food poisoning, avoid getting a speeding ticket, avoid a sunburn, etc). A narcissist will be more and more enraged the more serious the warning was, because the bigger the threat, the dumber they might look for missing it.
One of those mistakes that is impossible to admit is the mistake of trusting a con. Being tricked is so embarrassing that people will avoid reporting fraud, sometimes even at the cost of millions of dollars. Finding a way to reframe these events in a way that is emotionally more acceptable would really help correct a lot of issues.
How do we get the pendulum swinging again, so it is at least one notch away from the farthest possible point of selfishness? What are some ways to help people feel safe to relax into a friendlier, more altruistic position? How can we help people feel proud and smart for stepping away from the alligator?
Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
Now that 99% of my social life is being performed virtually, I’ve discovered the advantages of multitasking. It’s not that I’m not listening to you - it’s that sitting still on the phone makes me restless and impatient. I got through large lecture hall classes in college by crocheting a massive afghan that I still use today. Think of these activities as ways to help me pay closer attention to you.
Things I have done while my phone was on mute:
Squeegee my sliding glass door, inside and out
Unload the dishwasher
Make a sandwich
Wipe out the microwave
Draw in my bullet journal
Floss my teeth
Update our whiteboard
Feed my parrot
Dust the baseboards
Eat a bowl of oatmeal
Organize my desk
Wipe fingerprints off my tablet
Make a fairly large breakfast
Wash the pans
Have a sneezing fit
Change into my gym clothes
Make the bed
Get in the elevator and ride down to the lobby
Examine my hair for split ends
Give my parrot a vigorous scalp massage
Sweep the floor
Look at your photo and wish we were together
I’ve done a lot of things while I was talking to you with the phone on mute. One thing you can’t accuse me of, though, is texting anyone else at the same time. At least the only person I was talking to was you!
I got a new job, and one of my first priorities was setting up automatic deductions for my retirement plan.
Hopefully, this is the most boring thing I’ll ever say.
It should be boring because it should be seen as:
Almost too obvious to mention
When instead it’s one of the most commonly procrastinated tasks. Women especially tend to refer to it as confusing or overwhelming. I did, too, until my first husband spent our entire house savings behind my back and I wound up divorced and flat broke.
Now I think of financial planning as the ultimate in self-care.
You think a hot bath and a massage would be relaxing? Try knowing you have an emergency savings cushion.
Out of all the causes of a tension headache, in my opinion, money worries are the worst. I used to lie awake and cry myself to sleep because I was so freaked out about my finances. Now, it’s one of the touch points I use when I want to calm down.
I set up my first retirement account when I was 26, a couple years after my divorce. I felt old as the hills, like I had been procrastinating for years, but the truth was that most of my jobs didn’t allow for such an option.
I remember the first time I got a quarterly retirement statement, and it said I had about $40.
“There are double digits in my retirement account!” I said to everyone in my office. “I can retire for... half a day!”
This is a good joke to make around older, more established people. It makes them feel better about their own situation.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and that account has significantly more in it than my entire annual earnings from that job.
Time does most of the work. It really is “set it and forget it.” For every minute you spend reading materials and figuring out where you want to allocate your funds, you get a year of peace and tranquility.
I was determined to learn all this investing stuff as a young woman because I had learned the hard way that you can’t trust anyone else to do it for you. I also knew, from observing older women among my friends and family, that I would probably get old, too. Older ladies that I knew were almost exclusively broke.
It’s been my observation that elderly people tend to live around 15 years longer than they thought they would.
Nobody can picture themselves being old, frail, and poor. Why would you want to??
I understood, though, that if I had forty years to prepare, that was plenty of time to try to take care of Old Me. Even if I always earned well below the median. Even if I lived alone and had to do it all by myself.
The irony here is that my frugality attracted my second husband. Not only am I still in charge of my own money, I have a partner to share expenses, and he’s in charge of his own money, too.
This is where the challenge came in. It was time to set up my new portfolio at my new job. Since we are working from home, for the same employer, in the same room, and it was the end of the day on Friday, my hubby noticed what I was doing. (Probably because I talk to myself a lot).
He wandered over and started peeking over my shoulder.
This is a moment of choice.
It’s so easy to sit back passively and let another person make our decisions, take our risks, do our labor. Like when I had to assemble my own office chair this weekend - it only took an hour and an Allen wrench, but I was also doing laundry and I would have loved to just have someone else do it!
There is nothing like the pride of knowing you’ve done it all yourself, though. I’m sitting in my chair right now, enjoying it so much more than the wooden folding chair I was using over the past three weeks. And that is an analogy for the two types of retirement I could have.
I thanked my husband for his interest and reminded him that I had a strong track record in choosing my own investments. I broke even in 2008 (+0.25%) and I’ve beat the market a few years.
He went back to what he was doing, probably smirking on the inside, because he loves that I am good with money. He also loves that I can stand up for myself.
The default at my employer, it turns out, is to set aside 10% and put it in a target date fund. That’s totally reasonable. It was a weird moment though to see that they had chosen the same date I would, and also to know that there are now only twenty years left of my traditional career arc.
It’s a long time, though!
I maxed out on everything. I like to think of it as being ‘extra.’ I like to think of my investment choices as somewhat flamboyant. Rather than whatever image people have of extreme savings, I like to see it more as the ‘sequins and a feather boa’ version. We’re allowed to put 15% of our incomes into our 401(k), pre-tax, so I do. I also put aside another 10% for my IRA.
We save more than that, of course - we like to live on just half our income - but where we put the rest of it is a different subject for a different day.
Where did I put my funds? It doesn’t matter, really, because there are only maybe a dozen or so options for most employers. Those funds are generally only available to institutional investors, which is cool because it means I couldn’t get into them as a freelancer.
Really the only thing that matters is that Old Me is going to look back and be proud of the decisions that Young Me made. We still have time, and time is better than money.
(Although money is pretty darn great, too).
We’re quaranteaming, which means we’ve been seeing each other in person an average of three times a month. Our quaranteam buddy, QT, has been getting a lot of flak about this from her other friends. Not because they’re worried about her exposure risk - on the contrary. They’re jealous and they think she should be open to hanging out with them as well.
Most people in our community think we should be 100% open and back to “normal.”
The rationales behind these opinions are interesting and worth looking at.
On the one hand, our friends say, they are immune to COVID-19 and therefore safe. On the other hand, since they got tests and we didn’t, we shouldn’t assume that we actually had it. (We must have been sick with something with identical symptoms, for an identical time period, that was definitely NOT COVID. Which, if true, means they should be afraid of getting that as well, just as they want us to fear that we could still pick up COVID from the community).
This is a really weird mix of beliefs. I definitely had it, which means if an infected person sneezes on me, it will magically evaporate on contact and can never scientifically smear onto anyone else. Since you did not get a test, you have to assume you are at risk - from anyone *except* me, because I now have mystical virus-elimination powers. I’m like... human Lysol!
Others in our community, like on Nextdoor, are fixated on the problem of why they aren’t allowed to go to the salon and get more nail art. All they have to do is disinfect the surfaces before they reopen! Everything is fine!
Completely absent seems to be any understanding of what “airborne” means.
These are the reasons why I feel no urge to go out. The people who would be at stores or restaurants are people who seem to be lacking in even the most basic grasp of how viral transmission works. Even now.
It’s not that this is scary - I’m afraid of far fewer things since facing death.
It’s not scary.
I read that something like 1/3 of women and nearly 2/3 of men in the US never wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Not sure how much that changed, but I’m willing to bet every single one of them intellectually knows we’re supposed to wash our hands. I bet they could demonstrate, for the chance at winning $50, that they have the technical competence of washing their hands thoroughly. They just don’t think it affects them or anyone around them. Why waste 20 seconds half a dozen times a day? That’s like... minutes!
Every now and then I imagine going back to the world that once was. I imagine going out to do things I was doing earlier this year. The first things that come to mind are the long lines, the trash and wet drink rings that people leave behind at their tables, the overflowing trash cans, the shrieking kids, the various people who kick the back of my seat.
Being home for a few months has reminded me of the peace and tranquility of my own living room.
I think about driving somewhere, and I remember what it’s like to be stuck in traffic, the people who head for the exit across three or four lanes without signaling, the tailgaters, the honking, the time we saw a car pulled over on the freeway with three-foot flames coming from under the hood. Where am I going in this fantasy? Work? The airport?
Ah, the airport. More long lines, having my bag searched, the security pat-downs, the last-minute gate changes, the interminable waits at the restroom, the inevitable bare dirty foot stuck between the seats and propped up on my armrest.
It’ll have to happen eventually. At some point, “things will go back to normal” and I’ll have to start readjusting to the epic noise, filth, and inconsiderate behavior that used to be a routine part of all our days.
When will I venture forth to hang out in my community?
I’ll go out like everything is normal when we’re at zero cases.
Zero cases would actually indicate to me that things were under control and that I had nothing to worry about from getting a second case of maybe a different strain of COVID-19.
Honestly, right now I’m worried about picking up anything, the common cold or the flu or *any* respiratory illness. Staying home, and wearing my N95 mask plus a face shield on the rare occasions when I’m forced to go out, seems hugely preferable to being sick in bed again any time soon.
When will I go out and travel again? When would I fly on a plane?
When both my continent and the other continent are at zero cases.
I have it in mind that there will eventually - soon, within a year or two - be some sort of personal air filtration device that can be worn for up to 12 hours without recharging. Hopefully more like 18 or 24. I picture a helmet or perhaps an entire flight suit. If I had something like this, I would consider flying sooner. I might even rent or lease one if I felt like they had a realistic way of being cleaned between uses.
Until then, I really can’t see being at an airport in any city or getting on any plane for the near future.
It’s not entirely COVID that I’m worried about, although having had it, I’d really prefer not to die that way, thanks. How depressing. What I’m worried about is that my nearest airport had around 700,000 individual human beings per day passing through it, not including the occasional companion animal. If there’s any respiratory illness anywhere on the planet, chances are it will appear at LAX within a day.
I started flying alone at age seven, a time when I was still learning to write in cursive and memorizing my multiplication tables. When I think back, I probably picked up a cold or some other bug as often as 1 in 3 flights. I was sick for three weeks after my first international trip. I was sick after the trip when my husband proposed. I was sick as recently as our wedding anniversary last year. Now that I recognize the pattern, there is no “back to normal” for me. At *minimum* I will never fly again without safety glasses and an N95 mask.
I’ll go out again, eventually. I’ll wear more PPE when I fly. I’ll probably be more avoidant when I go out in public, like the movie theater (and I might wear a mask there, too).
Will I start socializing with friends and acquaintances? If they can demonstrate that they understand the basic fundamentals of public health, yeah, probably. When we’re down to zero cases.
I’ll go out when I feel like going out is more fun or relaxing than staying right here, in my nice clean comfortable peer-pressure-free living room.
We had “the talk” today. The new talk, the quaranteaming talk. If you haven’t been party to one of these conversations yet, take note; you probably will be soon.
The young ones call it DTR, or “defining the relationship.” There’s this awkward point when one person realizes that the other may not have the same interest in exclusivity or commitment. Then comes the Catch-22 moment: the DTR conversation may kill the relationship, but it can’t continue without it.
If you thought that was awkward, wait until it actually becomes a matter of life and death and also involves a multi-familial org chart.
There are three reasons why we’re having the talk with this specific person:
I live my life in the crossroads between FREE HUGS and TRUST NO ONE, only now one of those roads is closed. After getting coronavirus in the circumstances that I did, I’m rethinking how I make decisions and who is in my circle of trust.
A big part of that is no more vouchers, no more “friend of my friend is my friend.”
Okay, it’s one thing to make connections between people, write references, help people on projects, or have conversations when it’s virtual. What I’m talking about now is being in the same room with another person.
One of the changes we’re going to see is that hugging and shaking hands will take on entirely new and deeper meanings. Another is that a couple feeding each other cake at their wedding ceremony will be doing something much more dramatic, something that may feel like more of a gesture of commitment than trading rings. The kiss! People may faint when they see newlyweds kiss for the first time.
I’ve always had an open door policy. We used to have an open house night every week and sometimes whole carloads of people would show up, only one of whom we had met before. We hosted couchsurfers all the time.
Those days are done.
I mean, I hate it? But I also just spent a month trying not to die. Until we all have spacesuits, I can’t be taking any chances.
I know for a fact that most people don’t understand this attitude yet.
Teenagers outside in groups of half a dozen, no masks, or maybe one hanging off an ear
Majority of people on the streets in our neighborhood not wearing masks
Nextdoor blowing up with posts every single day complaining about the “lockdown”
The same person who got me sick now meeting her trainer IN PERSON - somewhat legit since they both tested positive for COVID and recovered, but that doesn’t explain his other clients
Our friend’s neighbors hosting a “free beer” stand in front of their house
Our downstairs neighbor leaving repeatedly for two hours at some point between midnight and 5 AM, we know because his puppy howls on continuous loop, do his parents know? Doubtful
I think there are a few broad categories of reaction to self-isolation, based on what I have seen and heard.
Skeptics who think it’s “just a cold” or “just the flu”
Young people who feel immortal
Well-meaning people who don’t know how far 6’ is and won’t do a thorough job with hygiene
People who know the rules but think it’s okay to cheat, just a little
The category of person who is extremely strict and has strong self-discipline and self-control is a very, very small category. I can list off on one hand the people in my acquaintance who would qualify for an interview for my bubble.
Most of them live far enough away that it’s a moot point, at least right now. When we get limited travel back that may change.
Here’s the deal with vetting people to be in the bubble. You aren’t just vetting them, you’re vetting EVERYONE ELSE they may meet in person. Any one of them could be... sloppy.
The best parallel for this type of arrangement comes from the polyamorous community. We could really use some guidance from them and I hope they’re willing to share. How do you have these conversations about boundaries and trust and honesty and health and safety? In a cute way?
I know several poly groups - it’s quite common in the Pacific Northwest - and I have watched several split up in what I considered predictable ways. Lot of moving parts, to coin a phrase. I was privy to one group debate when one member kept dating on the side, outside the group, after being chastised. The main rule was that everyone in the group got tested every year, but introducing a bunch of random elements made that rule ineffective for all of them, and by ‘all of them’ I mean a lot more than three.
The reason I trust our friend is that we had this conversation about which of our local friends and relatives could be considered trustworthy, and we agreed that none of them could! She can’t trust her parents because she doesn’t trust her brother-in-law, and obviously that takes her sister off the list. I’m not her best friend, but two of her other close friends have been flagrantly breaking social distancing and a third has turned full pseudoscience.
There is another reason that I trust her judgment, besides trusting her as a follow-through person who has a strong track record of keeping her word. She has health conditions that made COVID more dangerous for her, and having been sick for weeks, she has a vested interest in not going through that again. I believe that she is at least as scared as I am of getting breathed on by a less serious individual.
“I just feel like everyone else is diseased,” she said, and that’s the attitude that I need to see right now.
What qualifies as ‘trustworthy’ and ‘reliable’ and even ‘clean’ now all has to be reevaluated in a new context. Someone who would never dream of stealing from my purse or talking about me behind my back might cheerfully expose me to coronavirus again without thinking it matters, or maybe even realizing it had happened. Right now the three of us are part of the 0.1% of Californians who have been officially confirmed to have COVID-19, so this kind of negotiation may seem outlandish, but keep it in mind. It may seem more relevant to you in a few more months.
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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