Not my worst nightmare precisely, but rather, my ‘work nightmare’ - we’re all on camera during meetings now. This wasn’t supported by our previous software package. I asked my boss during my first week, “What percentage of the time will we be on camera?” He replied, “Zero!”
Alas, it was not to last.
Technically we use three separate software platforms for calls, depending on who is involved. The rules are slightly different for each, meaning there is the usual amount of confusion over how to dial in or mute. To compound matters, individual results depend on whether each person is logging in via phone, company laptop, or VPN, whether they’re at home or on campus, and then whether they’re on iPhone or Android, Mac or PC. It’s still a little messy.
Let’s just say it’s not always easy to tell when you think you’re on mute and you’re not. I was just on a call with 140 people, and suddenly there were the outraged screams of a child piercing the background. For several minutes. If the child had been the victim of a dog attack or had fallen out of a tree, the cries would not have been inconsistent. No adult seemed to be supervising. Whose kid was this?? I figured out the only person with an open mic other than the speaker, whose unfazed expression showed it couldn’t possibly have been going on in his background. The guy with the wailing child ironically raised an eyebrow - and I realized, this must just be what parenting and home-schooling while working from home is like.
At other times, I have been treated to the sounds of someone chewing, shouting, holding a long rambling phone call, watching a football game, and even peeing and flushing a toilet. I’ve heard cats meowing directly into the mic. I’ve heard doorbells and lawn mowers and car alarms and sirens and barking dogs. Of course, I’m a fine one to talk, as I have a parrot who likes to sit behind me and peer over my shoulder at the screen. And beep, peep, and whistle while I’m on a hot mic.
This was all one type of mayhem when we were just on the phone together. Now that we’re on camera, it’s oh so much more.
There are several things that I hate about being on camera. For one, it makes me extremely self-conscious that I always look like I’m paying attention. I am camera-shy at the best of times. At work, it feels like the stakes are higher. The entire reason we’re on camera is to demonstrate that everyone is fully engaged in every meeting. This is where I feel compelled to monitor my facial expressions.
One day, I turned on my camera, went to wave to someone, and realized that there was a stack of empty boxes visible in range of my camera. My face morphed into annoyance and disgust - not a sexy expression - and then I realized that it looked like I was frowning AT someone. Not myself and my own recycling schedule, my own ability to frame shots - but AT a person. I would never make that face at anyone outside of politics!
Now I have to be self-conscious not only about my facial expression, but what is visible in my living room as well.
I’ve read up a bit on this, since everyone and literally their grandparents are on Zoom these days. People complain about anyone having a blank wall behind them. In other words, they want to SNOOP. They don’t want to look at me or listen to what I’m saying - they want to spy in the background, read the titles of my books, and assess my character, taste, and lifestyle based on what they can see over my shoulder.
In my personal opinion, that is far, far worse than being judged on my body image. I’d much rather have someone make snarky comments about my caboose than about how I decorate my living room. This is my private home, and if I wanted to invite you over to see it, I would. I doubt most people signed on for their jobs with the desire to have 100% of their professional colleagues inside their home.
It’s worse for some of our early-career colleagues, most of whom were caught out by the pandemic. One of our young ones has to work on his bed because he’s temporarily staying with his parents, and they work at home too. Another works on her couch with a TV tray in her lap, because she’s a newlywed and they don't really have furniture yet. It’s a little unfair for those who are still in the student lifestyle, sharing a video grid with a manager or director who has owned a home for 25 years.
At least two of my older colleagues have their work stations out in the garage. Why? With a spouse and two or more kids in the house, there just isn’t enough space or sound-proofing for everyone.
This is part of how I have finally gotten over my camera shyness and learned to fight my self-consciousness at work.
I turned on a blurry background, so all that can really be seen behind me is that I work next to a window. If you know where to look and what you’re looking at, you can sometimes see a blur of a red parrot tail somewhere over my head. A slight tilt of the laptop screen and the camera aims more toward the ceiling and less toward the scattering of feathers and shreds of lettuce on my floor.
My competition on camera includes a lot of people who are less tech-savvy than I am, at least in terms of video calls. The rules of the game start to include more about competent use of the tool than oneupmanship over hair, makeup, and wardrobe - at least in our industry. I can certainly be thankful that I work with engineers and not in fashion, marketing, or television.
One day we all might start working together at the office again. (That’ll be weird since I don’t even know where my desk is yet). On that day, I hope that my colleagues will be surprised at how much better I look in person. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep the bar on aesthetics and personal disclosure low, returning the focus to merit, where it should be.
This book came to me at a really helpful moment, a time when I was struggling with whether I had it in me to fill the role I was in. The idea of The Alter Ego Effect is basically to pretend you’re someone else when it’s time to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you. I really think Todd Herman is onto something here.
I invented a persona for myself when I was 11. Her name was Veronica Vanderbilt. She was in her early 20s, she lived in Beverly Hills, and she drove around in a cherry-red convertible. She had everything a little kid doesn’t have: money, a driver’s license, the right to vote, her full height, and every other privilege that adults take for granted.
Now that I’m actually an adult, I don’t want to be Veronica anymore. I don’t particularly want to live in Beverly Hills, I hate driving, and if I did drive I wouldn’t choose a red convertible. Pretending to be her - an extroverted, wealthy young blonde - gave me feelings of freedom and possibility.
Though now that I think of it, I have grown up to become a blonde who lives in Southern California... Hmm...
What The Alter Ego Effect asks of us is to figure out what we really want, and imagine what we could feel like if we had it. The perfect job? A conversation with someone? The opportunity to pitch? What if what is holding us back is nothing more than a self-image that doesn’t match what we want? What if we just never ask? How would the world be different if each of us stepped forward and went after our dreams?
The Alter Ego Effect is a great, short, fun, approachable and uplifting guide to creating an alternative persona for yourself. If you aren’t going to go after your dreams, maybe your persona will?
Admitting you want something isn’t egotistical. It’s honest.
An icebreaker question came up recently, one of those “getting to know you” things. It was, Which people have traveled to ten countries or more? Out of all the questions, like “Who can type over 50 words a minute?” this was the one with the most people who answered yes.
I was one of them, although just barely.
It made me think about travel, and how much I miss it. But then those images of travel come from a world that has essentially vanished.
The point of travel is to see the world, learn about other cultures, and connect with people.
Right now, what I’m learning about other cultures is that most of them are doing a far better job managing the pandemic than we are here in the US.
The way I’m connecting with those other countries now is in shared adversity, knowing they have just as much reason to fear this issue as I do.
It’s different than something like an earthquake, hurricane, volcanic eruption, or wildfire, because those events are regional. Two of those are highly relevant to Californians, and two we just have to imagine if we want to try to share those emotions.
We probably don’t have to imagine the feeling that others are having under current conditions, of wishing everything would go back to the way it used to be. I’m sure almost every person on Earth feels that way every day.
I wish I could go outside and not have to avoid other people or see them as a threat or an infection risk.
I wish I could go to the airport with nothing on my face and hang out with nothing more stressful than making sure I board my flight on time.
I wish I could walk around downtown in any city, sightseeing and people-watching and going to museums.
I wish I could have a long conversation with some random person I met somewhere.
I wish I could strap on my backpack and go climb something and see the view.
I wish I could be with my family, a thousand miles away.
It’s legal for me to go visit my family. I could rent a car or I could book a ticket and fly there in a plane. There are two reasons I am not doing those things. One, it’s far enough that there is no way to get there without person-facing transactions, either at the airport or at a gas station. Two, I live in a hot zone and they don’t.
I feel that it is extremely unfair to travel even a short distance from a hot zone to an area that has been more insulated from the pandemic.
The farther the trip, the worse.
Basically, it’s just rude!
So I miss my family and I insist on traveling a thousand miles to be with them. Maybe I pick up the coronavirus along the way. (Again). I breathe this airborne virus all over the place, in every restroom stall and at every countertop along the way. I will never know, until I cross over into the next world and collect my karmic debts, how many people I might have infected.
Then I spread it to my own personal family?
And everyone they interact with?
Everyone in my family is still working. That is both a blessing and a curse. While my husband and I are our only cubicle mates, my other family members all have to go in person. Maybe they’re distancing, but so are most people in the country, and the pandemic is still spreading. There is obviously something we still don’t know that we aren’t getting right.
How can I waltz in and breathe into all that with my possibly tainted breath?
Like a super-villain?
I look at the records of some of the countries I visited in the past, and how they are doing with COVID-19. The first country I ever visited was New Zealand, and they’ve just eradicated it from their borders for the second time. Another country I visited was Iceland, which was doing pretty well for quite a while, and now maybe not so much. Neither of those island nations really needs someone flying there from Southern California right now.
It’s a moot point, because Americans can’t travel to those countries right now. Or most other countries. Most of those that are available require two weeks of quarantine, and who has that much vacation time?
This is the real question. How long will it be until the world is “normal” enough that it’s considered safe for people to go from here to there?
I live near one of the world’s busiest international airports. If I’m traveling, that’s where I’m going first. No matter where I’m trying to go, that’s what I have to consider. At this time last year, over three quarters of a million people passed through there every day. It’s hard for some people to remember, but this debate is not about COVID-19 and whether it is or is not dangerous. (I had it, and it is).
This debate is about whether mixing and mingling at international airports is a contagion risk of any kind. Obviously the answer to that is yes.
Technology is going to hit the market before this problem is solved. There’s already a helmet-thingy in the $200 range that might help. I have no problem whatsoever in wearing weird costumes in public. When results start coming back on this thing, such as how long it can be worn, I might buy one. I can wear it in the airport and I can wear it on the plane.
Is our future as a collective group of humans going to include leisure travel at all? Are we all going to be wearing goldfish bowls over our heads? Or are we going to be in AR goggles, wandering around our own living rooms while pretending to be somewhere else?
What is travel going to look like in 2025?
Here I am with a case of the sniffles again, just as I thought I was finally getting better and feeling well enough to work out. I haven’t made it two months yet. It put COVID-19 on my mind, and I remembered that I had written up some predictions a while back. Let’s see how I did.
I do this periodically because I think it’s super-important as part of inquiry and intellectual rigor to always admit when you’ve made a mistake. That’s the only way you can improve your cognitive models. If you can’t ever admit you were wrong, then you can never have a solid working strategy for anything in life. You can never be a true adult, and you certainly can’t be a serious person.
The mistakes are more interesting than the accuracies!
What I did was to brainstorm a random list of stuff, much of which I figured would come into play in the 5-10 year range and beyond. That is a stipulation that sounds like a cop-out. On the other hand, what’s the point of predictions if they are only for the near term?
Mentally I try to live in the year 2025 as much as possible. I like it there.
Now, on to the predictions. Most notably, I failed to predict that there would be COVID-19 in the actual White House. This is why predicting events is always a lost cause, because the most significant event is always a wild card - like how Back to the Future II didn’t predict the internet. How could it? That’s why future visions are always so funny in retrospect.
I went back to my post from May 7 and copied and pasted the prediction section. Then I cut some explanatory material. I’m italicizing anything that is still indeterminate and attaching links to anything that seems to have come to pass.
I don’t think we’ll be done with coronavirus until, like, 2023. I don’t think a vaccine will offer long-term coverage; I think one season, like the flu shot, at best. I also think a huge percentage of people would refuse to get it. I don’t think we’re going into the “second wave;” I think the first wave has barely gotten started. I don’t think everyone who gets COVID-19 will have antibodies and I don’t think antibodies will provide immunity for more than a few months, if at all. I think the predictions that at least 100,000 Americans will have died by the end of May 2020 are probably a little on the sunny side.
I am stone-cold certain that the statistics of who died, and when, will still be actively being updated at least a year from now. There are vast areas of the world where an accurate count would not be possible due to infrastructure, and in those areas we will never know. At time of writing, over 270,000 people have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, about 77,000 of those in the US, and I believe the true numbers are at least 10% higher [*cough* up to 100% higher *cough*].
Regardless of hospital capacity, there are people who, if infected, will not survive. We simply don’t have the interventions yet that might save them. This is why I think the fatality rate isn’t really going to drop much [WRONG!] even if we supposedly “flatten the curve.”
Okay, what else?
I think a lot of companies, especially in tech, are going to move to permanent WFH and then they are going to want to unload their commercial real estate.
I think a lot of investors have already realized that they need a different formula if they want to live off passive income. Investing in the market or buying rental properties are a totally different game now.
I think a lot of people in the service industry are going to get shafted out of unemployment, disability, or death benefits because there is no “proof” that they have/had COVID-19. I think in the near-to-mid future we’re going to be relying on people for certain jobs (food service, warehouses, deliveries) who would have been considered unemployable (even in the gig economy) just six months ago.
I think AR/VR could actually become a thing in entertainment if the price point for the rig is low enough.
I think certain communities will get delivery drones/robots and most won’t.
I think a lot of people are going to want to relocate or change their housing situation if this keeps up for another year. Some will want roommates or want to combine forces with broke/lonely family members. Others would rather live in a tool shed than stay where they are.
I think attempted burglaries will be up [our apartment building has been burglarized twice since I posted this!!!], and I also mentioned the word ‘brigands’ in casual conversation with my husband recently.
I think there will be a significant turnover of people working in the health care industry, some who will run screaming (if they still can) and others who will enlist and seek out ad hoc training.
I think travel will go back to being as expensive and exclusive as it was in the 1920s-1960s. Wealthy-ish people will buy some kind of suit, helmet, or connector hose to get their own clean air supply, and then go back to normal. (The “really” wealthy will just cheat and use personal transport/yachts/private jets).
I think a LOT of people will return to normal levels of socializing, and the toll of that will always take a month to reveal itself.
I think certain parts of the world, starting with island nations, will achieve total eradication and then require at least a two-week quarantine before anyone can visit.
I think the “immunity passport” will definitely become a thing, and will definitely be hacked, and will definitely lead to sickness.
I think society will polarize even more than it already was, specifically in the area of “health expertise.” Those who would drink bleach will start doing even dumber stuff, and those who were already inclined to get their shots will start seeking out deeper reality-based knowledge of scientific and medical topics.
I think philanthropists will start funding vaccine research, not just for COVID, but also for diseases that arguably kill a lot more people, like TB.
I think a lot of people will quit smoking and vaping, and a small portion will also drop weight and work toward getting off their meds (asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure).
I think 2020 is going to be a great year for conservation and species reintroduction. (Cite white-tailed eagle, storks in Britain, beavers, tortoises, etc). [Worth its own post]
I think residential construction will move toward isolation-ready floor plans with larger pantries and more home-office alcoves.
I think a lot of people, like my personal household and our techie friends, will just shrug and stay home for the next couple of years. People on the other extreme are already experiencing crisis fatigue to the point that they will quit following coronavirus news, and accept a background fatality rate of 2,000-3000 deaths per day (and up) in the same way that they previously accepted traffic fatalities and gun violence.
I think the Pacific Northwest will be mostly clear by fall [FALSE!], but my part of Southern California will continue to heat up. Most deaths in my state are right here in my county, and as far as I can tell, most of the local community doesn’t even care.
I was totally wrong about a couple of things, namely that COVID-19 would basically be eradicated in Oregon and Washington, and that case fatalities would remain steady. Sad about the first, glad about the second. Looking back at my trend analysis, I’m surprised at how much of that seems to have been borne out by reality in the relatively short term.
I wish I could predict when my stuffy nose would clear up, or whether I’ll ever feel fully recovered from COVID-19, or how long the pandemic will last, or when I can see my family again. *sigh*
This is the secret to “doing it all” when you’re really too busy to do any of it.
Simply: don’t do most things on most days.
This is a corollary to the idea of only doing one thing at a time. Choose the most important thing you think you could be doing, and do that. Even more importantly, consciously choose to not do certain other things.
This is how I finally started being early to things, instead of late. I made a list of all the stuff I would try to do in the mornings before I left, and I decided to quit doing those things. I allowed myself to:
If I wanted to do additional things such as bathe or eat breakfast, I had to count backward and make sure I got up earlier. Those were my incentives. Otherwise I was going to be eating a protein bar out of my purse. Which is fine! And certainly better than the sick, hurried feeling I would have been getting by running out the door late.
The idea was to replace that lateness feeling with some kind of reward. What I realized was that if I got somewhere a few minutes early, I could just sit and read something on my phone. Relaxation instead of consternation.
Let’s transfer that idea to other things such as errands, paperwork, and chores.
I’m a fussy housekeeper, and I clean things when I’m stressed out. This can snowball quite badly when you suddenly find yourself under a kind of house arrest for several months. I can’t document this? But I’m pretty sure it’s not a legal requirement to dust your baseboards every day. I knew I was going to need to set limits or I would be doing circuits around my house like a cuckoo in a clock.
My main goal in housekeeping is to only do it on weekdays. I like to know that I can kick back for a three-day weekend and not feel like there’s something I should be doing. Other people might like to bang it all out in one day, which is a perfectly valid system in its own right. Personally I just don’t want to spend four hours doing housework unless someone is handing me an envelope full of cash afterward.
Competing with this minimalist system is my other goal, the subconscious one that keeps overriding the sensible one. That is to have every surface 100% tidy and speck-free at all times. That way lies insanity.
One of the areas that I could be cleaning perpetually is the bathroom counter, including the sink and mirror. If I started doing it every day, how long would it take to morph into twice a day? It has its designated cleaning days, and the rest of the time, the rule is: Don’t do that today.
I remind myself of all the other things I want to do, and that I never feel I have time to do. Reading! Learning to draw! Lounging around listening to music and learning the lyrics!
Granted, I don’t always do those things, because I am a restless spirit, but at least I don’t waste all my time doing housework.
There is an opposite extreme here, the end of the spectrum that would rather live in a certain amount of chaos than, again, waste all the time doing housework. That is legit. At a certain point it also makes life more complicated. I would list off here: respiratory issues, any kind of trip hazard, not being able to find stuff, paying late fees, being late everywhere or missing appointments, relationship stress, and generally being unhappy and dissatisfied with the results.
Entropy is not the same thing as inspiration or creativity.
Three things happened when I decided that I just wasn’t going to do most things on most days.
One, I just... worked 44 hours a week and collected my paychecks.
Two, I started reading a bit more again.
Three, and unexpectedly, when I would go around to do whatever the day’s thing was... it would sometimes... already be done?
I created space for someone else to step in and do things.
The problem with being super-organized and efficient is that everyone in an ever-broadening gyre around you starts to relax and abdicate more. It’s not necessarily that anyone in the circle is unwilling or unlikely to do these things... They’re just not going to be the first person to do these things.
Unless you step back and make space for that to happen.
Most individual chores only take 2-5 minutes. Wiping down a countertop or squeegeeing a mirror. Taking out a bag of trash. Wiping down a shelf in the fridge. Putting a load of laundry in the dryer. Et cetera. I know this is true because I spent a couple of weeks running around timing everything I did with a stopwatch. The only exception is folding laundry, which is more like 10-12 minutes per basket.
When someone around you starts to realize that a 2-5 minute contribution will be noticed and appreciated, it starts to happen more often.
These are the goals:
Keep weekends chore-free
Do laundry once a week and don’t do it the other six days
Grocery shopping no more than two days a week
Automate everything possible.
Automate, delegate, eliminate!
Then what do you do with the remainder of the time? Where do you put the former feelings of habitual stress, worry, anxiety, or resentment?
My recommendations would be along the lines of: relaxing, making something beautiful, going back to get your degree, training for a marathon, or writing a book. That’s where the flip side of my directive comes in. Definitely do that today!
This year has been so nuts that I forgot it was time to do my quarterly check-in. It almost seems like I should just scrap it and start over for 2021 - but then, everyone in the world probably feels that way. This is why I do this level of planning. There is literally always something that feels distracting enough to derail our plans.
Granted, those obstacles and disruptions are usually nowhere near the scale of the mess that has been 2020. It doesn’t change the fact that if we don’t make our plans, we are at the mercy of the plans of others.
There is another point to make here, which is that one thing anyone can do, free of charge, is to think back and look for patterns. Where in our past have we felt like life was just as chaotic as 2020 has been? Looking back, was it - or was it not? I can say, having thought about it a great deal, that while COVID-19 ruined my life, it wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t even the worst or most scared I’ve ever felt. Though it still only gets one star. Do Not Recommend.
What’s up in Third Quarter?
Let’s see, in First Quarter I contracted COVID-19. In Second Quarter I got a new job. The drama quotient is dropping steadily, and for that I am grateful. The big news for Third Quarter will hopefully be something like “put funds in IRA” or “organized closet.” Who knows.
How am I doing?
Personal: Body transformation. Very funny, Past Me 2019.
Career: Learn how to do webinars. I wanted to put on at least one or two webinars this year. Instead I am on video calls almost every single day. I’ve learned to use all the features of several platforms. I’m also so busy that I now have no idea when I would host one of these.
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs. Going in the wrong direction. I gained a few pounds when I was sick with COVID and I haven’t been able to get rid of it yet.
Home: Automation project. Coming along apace. Now that we are both WFH my hubby is doing significantly more housework.
Couples: Build an app together. On hold.
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I am doing great on this, partly because I get a lot of work texts now.
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery. Oho! My periodontist says I don’t need gum surgery, although I do have to go in there instead of the regular dentist now for cleanings. Instead of this rather depressing and elderly sort of “lifestyle upgrade,” I have overhauled our little patio, which is much nicer.
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel. Um, a decade from now? This goal was so far off reality for 2020 that I can’t even really laugh about it.
Ultralearning: Dutch language. Would still like to do this, but instead I seem to have learned a dozen new software titles for work. I suppose that counts.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025) Would also still like to do this. I have not written it off because five years is a long time.
Wish: Publishing deal! Also have not written this off, especially after a dream I had last night that I was told to work on a project I wanted to do back in 1998 that I had completely forgotten.
For the ten-year goals, we technically have a garden now, small as it is. We are also technically saving for a house. We have been hanging out together at a local park on weekends, and that is going to have to suffice for our outdoor goals for now.
This has been such a crazy and unpredictable year. Obviously I never guessed, back at the New Year, that I would almost die this year and then get my dream job immediately afterward. It goes without saying that I didn’t guess about a single darn thing that has been in the news. Let it be noted, two of the most transformative things that have happened in my life in the last several years happened despite everything else that is going on.
The message here is, don’t give up. Whatever your dream is, please hang onto it - or let it go and replace it with one that means more to you.
Personal: Body transformation
Career: Learn how to do webinars
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs.
Home: Automation project
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
I’m putting together my Hallow-tober reading list, and that includes a few other types of media. By the end of the month, no way will I have gotten through everything on the list, but that’s okay. It’s aspirational. Like a bag of jellybeans, it’s more fun when there’s a wide selection.
TANA FRENCH has a new book coming out!!! She is one of the few authors who, whenever I see they’re publishing something new, I audibly gasp and start flailing my hands around.
RUTH WARE too!
All things Johannes Cabal, forever and always. On the short list of fewer than a dozen books I would re-read, and these are five ***WAIT*** 7 of them!!!!
Hoping to finally read more Adam Nevill, David Wong, Nick Cutter, and Vivian Shaw.
Planning to re-read The Dark Dark and wishing there was just more Samantha Hunt in general.
Forlornly checking and re-checking for something new from Audrey Niffenegger.
Podcasts I’ve been hoarding:
The Black Tapes
Green Room - I think I’m finally over my resentment about missing it in the theatre.
I also might re-watch all the Addams Family movies.
There are other things bookmarked on my list that might or might not be good. Believe it or not, as much as I love this genre, I save almost all of it up for October. If I enjoyed it all every day, eventually I would RUN OUT, and that’s the scariest thing of all. That’s the title I would choose for the movie where no new books are written and no new movies or podcasts are made.
Scared ya, didn’t I?
Last year I realized that there was nothing stopping me from extending my Halloween celebrations from “Halloween week” to the entire month of October. If Christmas can last two months or more, and fireworks can go off all summer, then I get two months for the New Year and a full month for Halloween.
SPOOKY TIME m***********s!
2020 has been a rough year. It was stressful for us even before I almost died, and then it was stressful due to lockdown, and now it’s stressful because we work 9-hour days and we’re constantly in meetings.
All of this is exactly what I love about horror and true crime!
Not everyone is into this kind of thing. My hubby has literally had nightmares from just one scene in the preview of a scary movie. No ghosts, period. He’s not the only person I know like that. We are friends with another couple, and they are like the reverse of us. Right before COVID, the other husband and I went to see The Invisible Man. Our spouses were saying there should be a “cute puppies, kittens, and rainbows” festival in the theatre next door, and you know what? They’re absolutely right. How many people would totally pay to see a cuteness festival. Especially one that was technically rated R just so no children would be allowed to come in and kick the back of the seats.
Ah, but I don’t want a cuteness festival. What I want is controlled horror. Horror and true crime are both ways to explore the paranormal, violence, and abnormal psychology from a remote perspective. We can pause if we need a break, unlike real life.
I watch my stuff with a different perspective now, after earning my first belt in Krav Maga and doing some knife fighting, counter-abduction training, and situational combatives.
There are some very common tropes in horror, like the one where there’s a noise and spooky music, but it’s only the cat? I’ll take “Cheap jump scares” for 500, Alex. One of these tropes is the one where the killer picks someone up by their throat - almost always a woman - and she hangs there, hands and feet dangling helplessly.
Now when this happens, I shout, “Throw a knee! Come on!”
Before COVID, I was “in talks” with the instructors at my studio about an idea that they thought would totally work. We were going to do some Halloween workshops where the instructors and black belts would come in dressed like famous horror villains and do iconic attacks. Then the students would practice how to get out of them. Martial arts people generally find violence pretty amusing, and everyone was in. Practice knife fighting in a ski mask, why not?
It actually is quite funny how alarmed many people are when they hear that an otherwise docile-seeming female studies martial arts. The ones who are most riled up by this are men of height and large stature. The big dudes. I’m like, the last time you were my size you were probably ten years old, and I’m sure you were “big for your age.” You have very little experience of being the smallest person in the room. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of me, a middle-aged little orange belt?
Martial arts teaches discipline and self-control. It changes your neurochemistry, making you calmer, more patient, less reactive. Most situations when someone is behaving aggressively become funny instead of scary, because most people are trying to intimidate others through sheer bluster. Even if they knew how to fight, it’s not like there are no defenses against their moves.
This is another area where studying martial arts changes the game for the horror aficionado. As you start to learn better situational awareness and how to think more strategically about your position, you start to have a lot more opinions about the decisions made by the protagonists in the films. In a way, watching this stuff, particularly the home invasion/serial killer type, is like a training seminar.
The main thing about horror right now is that it’s an entirely different stripe than whatever is going on in current events. My goal is to ride out this month. I have no plans to watch any pandemic movies. I have no plans to watch any apocalypse movies. I certainly have no plans to watch any political movies. I’m picking my poison.
What I’m doing is claiming time for myself. I’m doing something alone for 1-2 hours a day, something outside of work, something that does not involve being present or available for other people. This is somehow tough for women. My husband keeps slightly different work hours than I do, and he has no problem putting on his noise-canceling headphones and watching a movie while I’m working. Why would I?
Why do so many of us feel guilty entertaining ourselves alone? Choosing our own shows? Relaxing in a different room?
I think that since we’re all isolating now, most households should have a strict policy of alone-and-separate time for an hour or two a day. Each person can either take a nap, soak in the tub, read quietly, go sit outside, watch a show with their headphones on, play a game, write in their journal, or whatever they want.
Since these types of policies can often be difficult to keep, because most people aren’t great at setting boundaries one way or the other, something like an appreciation for horror can help. Do whatever the other person is going to want to avoid! This is easier if you also like tasty treats such as pickled garlic.
I’m super-excited that it’s now, what shall I call it? Hallow-tober? I’m going to do nothing but read horror books and watch horror movies and wear Halloween socks and eat candy all month. That is, in between work and chores. Let’s try to pretend all that is not happening. Better a horror of our own creation, something fake in a time when too much of it is real.
I’ll never forget the first time it rained after we moved to Southern California. I had tried running outdoors, and the air quality was so poor it made me wheeze. I gave up and decided that I would run on rainy days.
It finally happened. Not just a “thick mist” sort of rain, but a drenching downpour. I whooped and started getting my kit on. The dog followed me from room to room. He had about a hundred signals he could easily detect that indicated someone was going for a W or an R. (You couldn’t even use the words “walk” or “run” around him in any context, and then he started learning to spell, so we had to use initials).
“It’s raining, bud, are you sure you want to go with me?”
I opened the front door and showed him that it was raining just as hard out there as it was in the back. He signaled quite clearly that he wanted to go with me. We were both ready.
It rained so hard that he had to stop once or twice every block just to shake himself.
When we came home, all my layers were sopping wet, so wet I threw them in the tub. I gave the dog a rub-down with a thick towel, which made up for the soaking, and then I took a hot shower and put on dry clothes. An hour later, my husband came home to find us both bundled in blankets, poor Spike still visibly wet.
“What happened here?”
What happened was that I took advantage of weather conditions that most people in our region will avoid. I had the streets to myself.
The reason this matters in this year of grace, 2020, is that there are still so many mask deniers out there. I live in a hot zone in the state with the highest case count. The statistics don’t phase my neighbors at all. Any time we leave our apartment, we pass more people without masks than people who are wearing them. It’s scary.
I’m hoping that many of them are out to enjoy our “endless summer” for as long as it will last, and that they will then grump off inside over the “winter” to binge-watch something. That then it will be safe for me to exercise outside.
There’s another reason I hope I can run in the rain this year, and that of course is that I am a COVID survivor. If I can run at all, ever again, it will be a miracle.
Running is sort of what got me into this whole mess, but that’s okay. I forgive it.
Going by the dates, I was exposed on March 15. I remained asymptomatic until the 31st, sixteen days later. I went for a run on the evening of the 30th, and that was my first real indication that anything might be a little off. Later that night I found out I was exposed.
While I’m convinced that the exertion of that run is what tipped the balance for my immune system, I see being able to run again as a major victory over the virus that tried to kill me.
In fact, if I go out again, I have every intention of running the exact same route I did that fateful day.
I’ve done that before. Several years ago, we used to run in a regional park that was full of gloriously muddy and technical trails. I tripped over a rock, flew through the air, and landed on my face. Covered in bruises, bleeding, I limped home in torn pants. Did my first 5k a couple of days later. When I got home, I made a point of running that route over and over. Each time, I would shape my hand into a laser and “shoot” the rock that had tripped me. I recorded over the bad memory of that fall with dozens of uneventful trips, until finally I erased the anxiety that I had been feeling around that spot.
It became my power spot. I would go up there and stand on the bad rock when I had tense phone calls to make or emails to send. I would get it over with, and then I would pause for a moment to appreciate the victory.
There has been a lot of negativity directed towards runners during the pandemic, since apparently a lot of people have been out running with no mask on and they don’t distance from people. That is unfair and not how I roll at all. Honestly, when I see people coming I will sometimes go stand in some bushes or walk out in the road rather than pass near them. It ain’t me.
I deserve to be able to run outdoors without being afraid of my mask-less neighbors, just like my neighbors deserve to be able to go for a walk without being afraid of me running up and breathing heavily on them. There’s plenty of room for all of us.
The difference is, I’ve already been there. I’ve already been flattened by the coronavirus, and I was certain it was going to kill me, and yet somehow I lived when a million others did not. I know it’s real.
I still have after-effects months later. Fortunately, the heart palpitations seem to have stopped. I almost never get hand tremors anymore, but I do sometimes when I’m very tired. The symptom that has hung on the longest is the weird thermostat problem. I still wake up shaking with cold probably once a week, even though the night-time lows have been in the high 60s. I will also start shaking with cold outside in temperatures where my husband is right beside me, sweating in shorts. I want to run just so I can feel warm again.
It means a lot to feel like I’m starting to get well enough that maybe I could run a quarter-mile, like I tried to do on my very first day.
I believe that COVID-19 damaged my heart. That scares me. There were several moments when I was ill and felt like I was moments away from having a heart attack or a stroke. There were a few times when I thought, I should probably call an ambulance, but then it passed. Something interior happens that you have never felt before, and a deep alarm system goes off.
Yet running healed me, years ago, and I believe it can do it again. Obviously cells can grow, like we see every time we get a cut and it heals again. Just because there has been damage somewhere doesn’t mean it will never heal. Running helped heal my migraines and my night terrors. Running healed things I never knew it could.
I hope I can run in the rain one day soon, and wave my arms over my head, because that will mean I still can.
Something I have learned from working with chronically disorganized people is that they don’t tend to think in terms of categories. My people are fun to work with because they tend to be exceptionally nice and creative. It’s also funny to surprise them with patterns they hadn’t noticed until you point them out.
Others may ask, “Why are they doing that? How can they live that way?”
I know that the answer is, “It hasn’t occurred to them yet that it might be a problem.”
Why is there a pot on the kitchen floor?
Why doesn’t he have a shower curtain?
Why are there things behind the door so it can’t open all the way?
Organizing books and techniques tend to focus on the items in a home and where to put them. I prefer to focus on the living space itself, which is usually the absence of any and all items, and whether my person has room to do anything.
Can you sleep in the bed? ...The whole bed?
It’s surprising how common it is for my people to pile clutter of all types on their beds, and then sleep on only a narrow little sliver of mattress. Or the couch, or a chair.
Can you open all the doors? All the way?
Again, incredibly common for stuff to be piled behind doors. It may have fallen back there. Maybe nobody noticed. There may just be so much stuff that it’s the only space left. My people don’t tend to realize that they may be subconsciously blocking their doors for protection, a barricade that insulates them in their comfort zone.
Can you walk safely up and down the stairs?
I try not to be judgmental in my work, because people are entitled to arrange their personal space however they see fit. I do set the boundary early on that I ask people not to keep “anything with DNA” and to please fix obvious safety hazards. Storing stuff on the stairs is one of them. Putting fabric like dish towels on top of the stove is another.
Can you use the shower, sink, and toilet?
I have been in a lot of homes with nonfunctional plumbing. These are usually the “ones” on the Readiness Scale, the people who are absolutely not ready to do the work. They are fine with the way things are. I don’t work with them - they wouldn’t want me to - but they do make great case histories for my twos and threes.
Note: Any professional who does home visits, whether it’s a mover, a cable installer, an exterminator, a plumber, electrician, or whoever, has seen it all. Every single day. (I know because I always ask them for stories). Don’t be embarrassed to call and get something repaired. Your place probably won’t be the worst they’ve ever seen, and it might not even be the 500th worst. The only thing I’ll say is that an exterminator will charge more to service a place that is packed with stuff than they will for a more streamlined home.
Are you constantly annoyed by rodents, bugs, mold, or broken stuff?
See above. Please take action and take care of yourself. You deserve to be safe and comfortable.
Some of you may be reading along and thinking, Whoa, maybe I’m not as bad off as I thought. Probably true! Pop culture has developed an awareness of hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization - although it doesn’t distinguish between them - but it isn’t well-known how very common it all is. I would estimate that maybe 10% of people are so clean and tidy they could do a magazine shoot, while 80% are basically messy most of the time. The bottom 20% are totally like what you’d see on TV. Yes, I said 20%!
Almost all of them either think it’s their dirty little secret, or they don’t care at all and they’re essentially rebelling against what they think other people think.
The truth is that most people are too busy worrying about how they themselves are being judged to worry much about anyone else. They’re not thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.
For those who are more in the middle, there are more practical questions to spot issues that could be fixed by Getting Organized.
Are you often running out the door late, in a panic?
If you have kids, does someone start crying in the morning more than one day a week?
Do you have to go to the grocery store more than twice a week?
Can you remember the last time your car ran out of gas?
Can you remember the last time you had no piles of laundry, either clean or dirty?
Can you eat at the table if you want to?
Would it take you more than five minutes to find: your keys, driver’s license, phone charger, prescriptions, passport, umbrella, or a postage stamp?
Most of these issues reveal the lack of a system. That’s all. Often one simple change can get rid of a whole series of hassles. For instance, out of the above list, most of those items in my home are within ten feet of each other.
Organizing issues aren’t graded. There isn’t a report or an audit. (Unless you’re in an apartment or townhouse, in which case you might have 24 hours to prepare for a habitability check).
What it really comes down to is your tolerance for a background level of stress, anxiety, or confusion.
Where most of my people have issues, besides not being highly skilled at putting things in categories, is that they are reluctant to ask for help. They’re embarrassed, they don’t know where to start, they don’t even know whom to ask. They blame themselves for “being lazy” or “procrastinating” when the real issue is that they have no idea what to do. How is that someone’s fault?
One way to approach it is to collect stories. Simply ask other people what they do in a certain situation, like whether they have trouble getting themselves and their kids out the door on time. Maybe they’ll share similar stories and you can laugh about it together. Maybe they have some tricks that would work for you, too. Just don’t go it alone, and please, don’t keep tolerating baseline misery. You deserve better.
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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