Category Archives: life

the beginning of the after times

Well, that’s it: the CDC must have had one too many White Claws this weekend, because the masks can come off for the fully vaxxed.

Unless you are on public transportation.

Or you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re a science-hating conservative.

Or you just don’t want to look like an asshole who doesn’t care about public safety. So I guess the masks cannot come off and I will be matching my masks to my outfits for a little while longer. (Everything I wore in Summer 2020 was black and white polka dotted for a reason.)

I still feel like we’re in the Beginning of the After Times. When we visualized this moment, back in the spring of 2020, when the first wave was subsiding, we thought we knew what the After Times would look like. We thought one day, the schools and theaters would open, the streets would fill with tourists, and NYC would throw the biggest party since VE Day.

Now, we’re not so sure what the After Times look like. The day to day life of Brooklynites seems to be coming back tentatively, as the city creeps up towards the halfway point of vaccinations. Some night, like tonight, I walk through Prospect Heights, and there’s a quiet sense of jubilation in the streets, like everyone considers it a small victory just to be out on a nice night in May.

I hope we don’t lose that sense of gratitude as we slowly inch back towards the normal pace of life in the city. The theaters and the schools are the last two major areas that remain either closed or reduced. But those will be both open by September: there are opening dates for Broadway now and the schools are holding parent forums on how to safely reopen at full capacity. (TAKE MY CHILD NOW NYC) The restaurants and bars have been spilling into the streets for weeks. The subway is going back to 24/7 and actually has people on it again. Everywhere I look, I see the city slowly regaining the sense of self that really only comes from its citizens.

Still, we’re not quite in the After Times. I’m not sure what will even define the After Times: will it be when we end the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID? Or will it be when we feel like time passes normally again? Right now, I still don’t feel like time passes the same way it did in the Before Times. It seems to pass too quickly or not at all. My perception of time stops and starts in a way I haven’t experienced since I was home on maternity leave. I still have a sense of being disconnected from the world that causes me to either look up and realize it’s May 14th already, or wonder why last May seems like it was three years ago. Time is hard to measure right now because we don’t have all the little differences from day to day that we used to have two years ago.

I also won’t feel like we’re in the After Times until I’m able to go out in a group of people again without completely freaking out. I just spent the past twenty five years re-wiring my brain to not short circuit in large groups of people. But now, the sensation of being in a large group of people I don’t know is overwhelming. I feel simultaneously invisible and vulnerable, and it’s challenging to remain calm and present in a large group. Maybe this will change over time, or maybe it will vary with my comfort level with the environment. Would I be okay in a goth club because that is my habitat? Is this a wiring left over from a childhood fear of rejection by groups? Do I now have to put the time and effort into actually figuring this out and trying to calm my brain like it’s a spooked horse?

So, I walked home tonight, past clusters of people out carousing on Flatbush. I took my mask off when I got to Grand Army Plaza, so I could smell the greenery in the park, and so I could actually feel air on my face. And for the first time in a year, it felt like the After Times were actually approaching, and in fact, might already be here for some people. I expected that the After Times would be like the Day the Rain Stops in Vancouver, when we all agreed, usually in early April, that the rain had stopped. It would rain again, but the winter rain, the Long Rain, was over. Now, I’m realizing that we will not have a consensus like that when we come back from COVID. This is a once in a century experience, not an annual change in seasons that every Pacific Northwesterner is attuned to. There are still people grieving those lost to COVID, for whom the impact is forever. The symbolism and the milestones may also be different for everyone, as we look to regain the parts of our lives that are most important to us. But we’re at the beginning of the After Times now, and it’s a time of cautious optimism trending to all out joy I’m grateful to be here for.

will we all be ourselves again in 2021?

Ben and I are back in Canada again. We put in our 14 days in self-isolation before moving over to my sister and her husband’s multigenerational home. We were welcomed with open arms after our two weeks in the AirBNB we returned to for this second quarantine, a few minutes away. However, unlike the last time we were here, this lockdown took place during American Thanksgiving. I took the part of the spirit of the holiday to heart, and opted to catch up with friends and family. And even in conversations that might have otherwise been awkward, given how many years have gone by, this year there is no shortage of material, because in 2020, we have COVID-19. Even for my friends and family who have not had direct experience with the disease, the impact of the pandemic on society is the common denominator for everyone I know.

I tell the same stories repeatedly with regard to the pandemic, all of which end with “…and we were so lucky.”. We were lucky that neither Paul nor I ever got sick. We were lucky that no one we knew who had the disease actually died from it (although we do have friends who sustained serious lung damage.) We were lucky that neither of us lost our jobs. We were lucky that I was able to work from home at a time when Ben needed me. We were lucky that Ben was in middle school and able to manage remote learning (mostly) by himself after the first few months. We were lucky in that we had almost no direct, personal losses from this horror show.

And most, if not all, of the people that I talked to last weekend have similar stories. In Vancouver, the lockdowns and closures have been similar to Toronto and New York for the past few months, even if the infection and death rates are lower. All of us, in our major cities, have all transitioned to outdoor activities and social distancing. Coming from New York, I have a slightly more extreme story, from the first few months of illness, when the numbers skyrocketed and it felt like an apocalyptic event. I can tell the story of that shared city-wide trauma when we all helplessly watched the hospitals fill with the most vulnerable and committed New Yorkers. As an individual though, my story is still one of privilege.

Still, this shared event has impacted us all. And in the US, we had the pandemic coupled with the presidential election, a season of stress and fear that the very fabric of democratic society was going to tear out from under us. Canadians watched the election with only a small amount of emotional distance, fearing an overflow of white nationalism or the economic and cultural impact of seeing the United States tear itself apart. And so, the twin fears of the pandemic and the end of democracy loomed over all of us this fall to some extent, as we all struggled to keep ourselves going with our day to day. I feel as if everyone has been in their own personal struggle, together and yet alone, knowing we were all impacted, yet being unable to pull back from our own individual degrees of madness.

Now, we’re seeing the first rounds of vaccine coming out, and have hope that after a very long winter there may be a suggestion of normalcy on the horizon. The election is settled and we are almost at the end of the lawsuits that the outgoing president seems determined to inflict on the country as part of his final grift before leaving. And once these two terrifying crises are over, will we all be able to be ourselves again? How do we go back to the people we were before everything fell apart?

For most of 2020, I don’t feel I’ve been myself. I had to narrow my field of vision, keeping myself focused on just getting through each day, unable to look up or around for fear of being completely overwhelmed by just how much of a dumpster fire America has been. For four years, we’ve gone about our daily lives, all the while with the vertical shadow of Trumpism over us, a giant sun blocker set up exclusively for the personal profit of its enactor:

If there was a way for the president to profit from it, I’m pretty sure this would have happened IRL

Then, we had the horizontal landscape domination of COVID, which took over every aspect of our lives. We’re still watching our city slowly falling apart under the strain, with so much of what makes New York wonderful cancelled in order to save the lives of more New Yorkers. The impact of COVID is overwhelming when I look outside my own little family. This is why I feel like I’ve been wearing horse blinders for the past nine months. Seeing too much of the world would have kept me from going forward.

Blinkers (horse tack) - Wikipedia
We all needed some sort of blinders in 2020

So as we wrap up this year, and as I talk to friends, I have to wonder whether we will go back to being ourselves in 2021. Who are we without these two huge, overshadowing disasters? Who were we in the fall of 2016, before nationalism put a would-be oligarch in office? Who were we even in February of this year, before we began to live under the impact of COVID-19? Can we go back to being ourselves in 2021 and if so, what will we even talk about without these all-encompassing disasters?

the junk drawer of the brain

I’ve had a lot of metaphors for how I’ve felt since the COVID-19 crisis started. The most frequent I use for myself is an image where my mind is clogged with short pieces of thread, a drifting mass of incomplete thoughts that I am constantly trying, and failing, to braid together into coherent strings. This is often at its worst when I have not taken the time or headspace for myself, which I need in order to focus on smoothing all those little pieces of thread out. Once I parse through my thoughts, I can often transform all those incomplete fragments into substance that can be subsequently spun into extended threads of consciousness. It’s a new condition for me, because while I am used to writing to make sense of my thoughts, I am not used to having my thoughts this fragmented.

My brain has become a junk drawer.

This isn’t a new condition, but seems to be worsened by two separate factors, both circumstantial from the pandemic. The first is from my professional sphere, combination of task switching and call overload that is killing my discipline to focus. My job often requires a lot of task switching, but the virtual nature of my team has resulted in a substantial uptick in how many times I am task switching per day. With a dispersed team, we are all IMing each other instead of engaging in person at the office. This results in more interruptions and task switches, as we can no longer rely on the visual clues of a person at work to better time our messages with their breaks from flow. We also IM much more because of the lack of hallway conversations, an inability to chat with each other in natural conversations that would be far more efficient than the all-day random Teams chats we use as a substitute. The result is a constant switch between Microsoft applications. I feel my ability to focus on just writing a PowerPoint is deteriorating as a result.

Eliminating Task Switching to Improve Productivity of Teams
The knowledge worker at the best of times.

The second factor is from my domestic sphere. It is the nature of being the person at home, working, with a child in the house. Let me preface again here, I have a child that requires far less effort than he would have two years ago. He’s able to log himself into Google Classroom and Hangouts and get through his own day. He sets up his own playdates in the afternoon and bikes (or scoots) to play dates and sportball practices all by himself. He logs himself in to his online activities: D&D, comedy, guitar. But even with all this, I am still constantly identity shifting throughout the day between Boss Lady and Mama. I’ll come out to refill my water bottle and find Ben sitting on the couch, camera off, reading instead of participating in class. I’ll find him procrastinating assignments or playing Words with Friends during school hours. I’ll realize that it’s 2pm and while I have been eating protein bars and leftovers at my own desk, he has not eaten lunch yet because he was too distracted reading to eat. And while he tries not to bother me, if I am not in a call, he will come in to ask for permission to watch TV or shift his Fortnite time from the weekend to a weekday.

Fortnite for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details
“No, child, you may only pursue your highly addicting game on weekends”

All of this is exhausting and is training my brain to expect to go from one task to another instead of remaining in flow. Flow is that state of being on which I wrote a solid blog post a couple years ago, the week before I started my “new” job at OMD. Here is the TED talk that also summarizes this state:

I need the efficiency from a flow state to get through my day as a knowledge worker. Being in flow is also where I really create the work that shows the talent and intellect that powers my career. Like much of my childhood, my career is partially built on a reputation for being “smart”. The pieces of work that showcase my intelligence are built in a state of flow. Without being able to go into that state, where my ideas come together into a narrative and where I’m able to put something together that ties together all the tech and details that go into the back-end of my job with the concepts that make up the front-end of it, that is where I excel.

Transforming knowledge workers into innovation workers to improve corporate  productivity - ScienceDirect
Insight, information and knowledge all require focus

Where I am struggling now is that all of this disconnect, all of these short attention activities, do not deliver the value to my work that just being present and paying attention does. It’s multitasking on calls, it’s spending more time flipping through emails, it’s being unable to work consistently without getting distracted doing stuff that is kind of worthwhile but not worthwhile in the context of interrupting my workday. Part of this is just having too many things to do (did Anthem process the claim for Ben’s doctor visit? is OptumRX sending my prescription?) but part of it is that the quick tasks feel easier than the longer tasks, and surfing for weekend getaways or quarantine AirBNBs feels easier at any time than working. Now that my brain is in this horrible place of constant disconnect and short-term procrastination, it’s exceptionally hard to be present in ways that reinforce my value at work, much less get anything worthwhile done…and those are the losses and misses that are ratcheting my anxiety up…and anxiety is exhausting.

I could now go into all the ways I am going to fix this, but I think instead of that, I am going to process this for the weekend and re-set the habits and behaviors. Maybe it’s just putting a “BE PRESENT” post-it on the wall behind my computer. Maybe it’s resuming meditation. Maybe it’s focusing on goals, not tasks. I am pretty sure it is all these things and more, but something has to change to combat the clutter that I feel my head is just constantly stuffed with every day.

perspe-x-tive

I have lobbied for years to be included as Generation X. I associate most with the generation that came of age just in time for the post-post punk that became termed as “grunge”. My husband, born in the mid-70s, is squarely in the GenX timeframe. My late 70s birthday was, for years, debatable as GenX vs. millenial, with the original GenX cutoff being 1977. My argument was that, because I graduated high school in 1994, with kids born in 1977, I should be counted as culturally Generation X. Finally, in 2014, Good Magazine coined the term “xennial“, and now GenX has been re-defined as being through 1980. I am therefore Generation X, and can lay claim to that culture in its entirety. This has never been more relevant than it is right now:

It’s still a little weird being among the youngest GenXers though, because so many of the cultural touchstones of the generation are really five or ten years before my time. I got to thinking about this lately because I subscribed to Luminary so I could listen to the Roxane Gay/Tressie MacMillan Cottom podcast, and ended up also listening to “Break Stuff: The Story of Woodstock ’99“. For most of my life, on the very rare occasions I thought of either festival, I would think of my generation’s event as being Woodstock ’94. I always thought of Woodstock ’99 as being for people who are younger than I am, like the elder Millenials. Then, this week, I realized that most of that festival’s attendees were between the ages of 18 and 25 at the time of the event. Meaning these people, who went to this exceptionally awful festival all about nu-metal, are literally exactly my age. Why did I always think of this festival as being for people who were not born early enough to be part of what I think of as “my” generation?

Part of my mental distance from the pop culture of 1999 was my status as a full fledged ADULT (TM) at the time, just like all the other GenXers who started their careers in the 1990s. I was living in Texas in 1999, a college dropout with a car and an apartment, trying to climb some mythical corporate ladder that I didn’t quite understand, because I just wanted each rung to take me further away from high school. My mid-teen years had been an absolute disaster, and even a couple late-teen years of Reasonable Bohemian Normalcy weren’t enough to redeem the concept of youth. I wanted to be an adult fast. I wanted to get away from all the youth culture so I could get away from my own expectations to fit in as a Young, Cool Person. It was with the smugness of an adult that I read the MSN.com reports of Woodstock ’99 at the time, thinking “oh, those crazy kids!” as I saw the video of the fires and looting and broken stuff. (I went back to being a young person a couple years later when I returned to UBC in 2001, but that’s a different story.)

The bigger reason that I’ve always had a mental distance, as well as a sense of smug superiority, to separate me from attendees of Woodstock ’99, is that I am highly judgmental of the two awful genres that came after “grunge”. I remember in the years after high school as the music industry desperately scrambled for a replacement for first Nirvana, and then, by 1997, Pearl Jam, when the latter left the spotlight in protest of the industry. The music industry promptly filled in the gap with nu-metal and pop-punk, lifting up genuinely terrible (and often misogynistic) music to fill the liminal space between post-punk and classic hard rock that the Seattle pantheon of bands had filled. And most of the “alternative” music of the late 1990s is terrible.

Look, I know there’s someone reading who probably thinks the late 1990s was a great time for music. And I even recognize that a lot of these bands are made up of talented and hard working individuals. that these late-90s bands all worked hard to pay their dues before being headline acts. However, I will never accept that the nu-metal bands, exemplified by Korn and Limp Bizkit, have the artistic or aesthetic appeal of an Alice in Chains or a Soundgarden. I will also never accept that the pop-punk bands of the late 1990s (with the exception of Green Day) have the same appeal as the post-punk bands of even five years before. And I will never accept the existence of Kid Rock. As far as I am concerned, most of the genre lumped under “alternative” music could jump from 1994 to 2003 and with the exception of Fiona Apple and Garbage, I doubt I would miss anything.

It is these kind of cranky old person rants that put me squarely in the camp of GenXer.

The other aspect of my GenX status is my early adoption of technology. I have had an email address since 1994. I have had a cell phone since 1997. When we think of a tech early adopter now, we think of someone who gets on the latest social media platforms. I was such a tech early adopter, I got on the internet before it was a thing, without even using AOL to do it. I remember a text only internet as it transitioned to Netscape. I remember when the Internet was for engaging in actual discussion and not oversimplified arguments!

This is one of the other keystones of Generation X: we are also referred to as the “Oregon Trail Generation”, a generation who grew up with personal computers and then transitioned seamlessly onto the Internet. I’ve been working in digital for a career since 2003, which is not even a decade after the first banner ad appeared, and I remember placing media buys on Excite.com. Some of these huge sites from Web 1.0 that don’t exist anymore or are so radically altered as to be irrelevant, I am old enough to have put ads on them. That career starting point, along with my encyclopedic knowledge of 90s Simpsons episodes and Seattle grunge bands, should be my GenX resume.

The final reason I disconnect so much from the late 1990s and insist on a retroactive cultural association with the pop culture earlier part of the decade (even though I was a hopeless nerd completely disconnected from the zeitgeist at the actual time) is my pervasive sense that, by the year 2000, we were trending back away from any promise of inclusivity, cultural or gender, promised in the earlier 1990s. Perhaps this is the jaded view of someone who doesn’t want to do a ton of research right now, but in the early 1990s it felt like we were seeing more perspectives, more representation in pop culture from non-white groups. By the late 1990s, it felt like any responsibility for inclusion had fallen by the wayside, as the North American culture tried to convince itself that we had reached a point of equality and therefore didn’t need to do actual work for equality. By the year 2000, colorblindness would prevail over any active anti-racism, and third-wave feminism would be transformed into a weak “girl power” glitter sticker.

So this is why I cling so much to my status as a GenXer, and despite my love for tech, kind of wish it was still 1994 some days. Maybe the trajectory of the 1990s is where history went wrong. Maybe the existence of the super-white, super-male, super-violent festival that ended the decade should have been a warning sign that we needed to fight harder and make the 2000s about representing other voices, other perspectives, other visions, instead of assuming a neutral stance and throwing our collective hands up in the air. Maybe we should have realized that the Internet should have some sort of learning based barrier to entry so the lazy and gullible would have less access to it and we wouldn’t have elected the worst president ever. Maybe being a GenXer is a way to keep my nostalgia point fixed at a time in history when we thought things were going to get better, not worse. I’m not sure. I will, however, continue to happily place as much blame as possible on Boomers until such time as we get the first GenX president and might actually have to take some accountability for everything that’s happened since we got old enough to not care.

the lassitude of lockdown

I have been looking for a good word to capture the inertia of the past thirteen days in Toronto, the time Ben and I have been spending on hold, waiting out our time in self-isolation. There is an exhaustion to it that I couldn’t quite describe. Eventually, I started looking at synonyms for lethargy. This time has been slow, but not languorous. Languor implies a more pleasant state of tiredness. Lassitude seems to sum it up better:

It is easy to enter this sort of scenario, as we did so much of the pandemic, with the best of intentions for self-care and self-development: journaling, meditation, education. Instead, I have found myself too mentally exhausted on any given day to do anything more taxing than watching Netflix. The first week, I was barely able to get through the four days I had committed to work, and spent Friday zoned out with my twelve year old, unable to ask him to practice his self-care regime when I clearly was not practicing my own. By the end of the day, I had sunk to watching romcom movies while drinking wine, as if I were some sort of cultural cliche, a metaphor for fortysomething women in the pandemic.

A contributing factor to this exhaustion is my current bout of insomnia, the kind where I wake up at an inappropriate hour, and then cannot convince my body it is time to sleep again for three hours. I usually read during this time, until I’m sleepy again, and then I will try once, twice, three times to fall asleep. Each time, I’ll take off my glasses, turn out the light, close my eyes and try to sleep. Each time, my brain revs back up, convinced that I have to be awake at that moment, and I’ll turn the light on and resume reading to keep myself from descending into a whirlpool of anxiety. I am usually able to fall asleep again for a few more hours, thus capturing 6.5 or even 7 hours of sleep for the 9 or 10 hours I’ve been in bed, waking up when Ben does at 8. This week, the hours I wake up have been later each day, culminating in 5:15am today, a point where I just decided to stay awake and read.

I have to ask though, what is causing my insomnia? Why am I so consistently anxious and charged with cortisol that I cannot even sleep through a night without my body chemistry waking me up? I feel as if I am constantly in a state of adrenaline rushes, fight-or-flight, or in a state of anxiety where I am waiting for the next stressor to attack. Paul wisely suggested that the state of lockdown is something of a callback to the trauma of March and April, where we all watched New York City shut down and reach its pandemic peak, fearing for our friends, our neighbors, our very city. I also feared for my job at that time, as my agency underwent layoffs. Perhaps the parallel is why I am hyper-sensitive about my job performance again this week, staying up until 10pm to answer emails, self-berating for not performing at my peak throughout the pandemic as I go through old, uncompleted action items.

Both the cause, and the result, of the poor sleep are the same: it is exhaustion, through and through. And yet, I feel I am returning to life a bit more this week. I spent Sunday in an almost-normal state, working through a course on Aboriginal Canada and then spending time in the yard of our AirBNB with my mother for her birthday. We have been fortunate that our hosts here are campers, and we often have unfettered access to the yard on weekends:

Subsequently, I have felt a little better each day. Each day, I have been a bit more focused, a bit more committed, a bit more willing to engage in activities that have more meaning than the mindless consumption of television or novels from the first week. Much of that activity is still work, as I clear out my Outlook at the end of each day while listening to podcasts. Still, as we edge forward towards our release from lockdown, and as time resumes meaning, there is a sense of moving forward again. With that motion, I am more motivated to take action: to turn off the TV and write, to do the HIIT workouts I promised myself I would, to continue the slow, life long development each of us undergoes as we engage with the world around us.

Tomorrow, we are released from lockdown. I cannot wait to run again. I cannot wait to be able to go to a grocery store. Perhaps this mental inertia is due to physical inertia being forced on me and my son. Back in May, I reflected on the absence of choice, how the pandemic took away so much of the dynamism of each day by reducing our options and making our lives flatter. Being in a two week self isolation period has reduced our choices even further. I cannot wait to be able to appreciate the choices I will have again after tomorrow. Perhaps when time has meaning again, this lassitude will lessen.

how capitalism ruined my birthday

Note: I am being somewhat “facetious” or “tongue in cheek” about my birthday being ruined. I just like pointing out where capitalism has had negative impacts on what our society considers a special day.

I turned 42 on Wednesday. Whereas my birthday have been becoming lower and lower key over the past few years, this year had low-key-ness imposed upon it by the Canadian government. Ben and I are waiting out our mandatory 14 day waiting period in an AirBNB suite in Toronto, about a kilometer away from where my sister, brother in law, nieces and my mom live in Baby Point. It should be noted that the Canadian government are not messing around with this, as unlike the shelter in place in NYC, going to local parks for exercise or local shops for necessities are not permissible activities. Between the actual law, and the justified concerns of my extended family, we are therefore on lockdown with limited exposure to the human population of Toronto.

These were all anticipated mitigating factors on my birthday. And at the time we planned the trip, knowing I would be in lockdown on the day itself, I accepted these circumstances. After all, it would relieve a lot of the pressure on the social side of the birthday, meaning that I wouldn’t have to agonize over scheduling an event in the time of corona. I thought would be able to quietly celebrate with my son, under the radar, and save the big celebration for next week with my family. My mother is the 23rd of August; my brother in law is the 28th, the same day as our release from lockdown, therefore prompting a family celebration. I would therefore just ignore the date, and choose to enjoy my birthday at the appropriate time.

Then we had the Great Uber Eats Debacle and my entire perspective on my birthday changed. Ben and I had ordered sushi for lunch from a local restaurant, using Uber Eats as the laziest option. The order arrived slightly early, prompting me to send Ben upstairs for the contactless, outdoor pickup, as I was still on a work phone call with one of my client’s bigger, more valuable media vendors. Ben triumphantly returned…with only one of the ordered lunch combos. I immediately called the driver, to let him know we had not received the entire order. The driver insisted that we had to call the restaurant to sort the situation out. When we called the restaurant, the business owner was then upset because she had absolutely given the driven the correct order. I continued to text and call the driver, to no avail. Stymied, hungry, and with limited lunch time, I decided instead to burst into tears, collapse into a puddle of cortisol, and give Ben the only delivered combo so at least he would get to eat before returning to comedy.

I continued to Tweet and email Uber to remedy the situation, and the driver eventually texted back and informed me that he had been given the orders and directions from the restaurant and it was clearly the restaurant’s fault for not giving him the correct order. When I asked if the driver could possibly bring the extra meals back, he informed me that he had delivered them to the subsequent customer and that I would need to sort this out with Uber and the restaurant.

This did not resolve the bigger issue, which was that it was my birthday lunch that had been given to another customer, and I had had limited time to eat said lunch before resuming my workday. And while Uber was willing to promptly refund me the cost of the items not delivered, they refused to refund delivery or platform fees. So as I understand it, I ended up missing my lunch, the restaurant ended up losing the cost of the items mis-delivered, and the driver lost his tip. The only entity that made money on this entire transaction was the megacorporation that set its own rules and standards.

It took me some time, as well as an afternoon snack, before I was able to fully think through why I was so very angry about this situation. Part of it was that the driver could very well have checked the receipt that was stapled to the bag we received when he handed off the food. Part of it was that he could also have called the restaurant or done a double-check when I first alerted him to the issue. My bigger issue was why he didn’t take either of those steps at the time, and chose instead to continue on his path to incorrectly deliver my birthday sashimi combo to the next customer on his route. This is where capitalism, and the gig economy, conspire to overshadow the entire incident. My hypothesis is that Uber’s failure to take accountability for the people whose labour they exploit contributed to this debacle in two key ways:

  • The gig economy pays by the job, not the hour. Uber pays based on an algorithm of time and distance. Any additional investment of time by this driver would put his next delivery and his daily earnings at risk
  • Uber offers zero training for their Eats drivers. The entity making the profit here should have been responsible for communicating the delivery roster to the contractor they parceled out the work to. The driver should have been taught to check a receipt or check off the items in an app rather than rely on the restaurant staff and the potential language barrier inherent there

Thinking through this entire issue made me take a step back and re-evaluate who pays for the convenience of these apps, and how that might change or impact the behavior of the contractors who provide these services. Is the Uber Eats system partially responsible for the loss incurred across the board by the restaurant, the driver and me? Or is the driver just a jerk? Perhaps it is both, as I am not willing to discount the impact of the gig economy on this situation.

Taking a step back, I also have to question where else the capitalist system is responsible for my inability to celebrate my birthday appropriately. There’s no question that capitalism and fiscal gain have driven the US response to the coronavirus, as the federal administration have prioritized a return to a “normal” economic state over further lockdowns. Trump has also empowered states to determine whether or not those decisions should be made on a state by state basis, resulting in decisions motivated more by fiscal policy votemongering. The resulting patchwork of inconsistent policy has resulted in continued resurgence of the disease, with almost three times the infection rate of Canada (even Canada’s right wing newspaper confirms America has horribly botched the response!). Hence: the border closure, and the forced self-isolation for all returning Canadian citizens.

I am basically in lockdown because America’s leadership chose to roll the dice on people’s lives in order to preserve the gains made from the extreme capitalism of the current administration.

I’m not sure if capitalism entirely ruined my birthday. I received dozens of kind texts and Facebook posts from my friends. My mom attempted to make the day special within the restrictions of the law. My family will still celebrate me after lockdown, and my friends will still want to connect with me for a very belated party. However, between my beloved socialist democratic homeland having to put me on lockdown because of my sojourn in Capitalist America, and the gig economy exposing itself as a failed system incapable of delivering my sashimi, capitalism definitely put a major dent in my birthday.

Finally, I would like to note that we re-placed our sushi order through SkipTheDishes.com today, and received the correct order. Both mine and Ben’s lunches were still intact and beautifully presented, and our delivery person took the time to properly wear a mask and set down the food for contactless delivery. We were very pleased and recommend Tokyo Sushi for their lunch specials going forward.

selling cheap to social media

Last week, while on vacation, I realized how much time I was spending on Facebook. I was putting at least an hour a day into the platform, scrolling through posts, engaging in groups, liking and commenting friends posts. I would tell myself that it was social, that it was beneficial for maintaining connections, to assuage the guilt that I felt every time I put down my phone and realized that twenty or thirty or forty-five minutes had just gone into the app. I would look up from the screen, and feel sick, almost dizzy, with the realization of the loss of time.

I thought about this a lot while on break. And in my “morning pages” journal exercises, I realized why my own perceived waste of time of social media was causing such an extreme self-judgement. There is the loss of time, of course, but there is also the loss of words. Every word that I put into a Facebook post is a word I am not putting into my own writing, my own craft. It is a double loss, of both my time and my creativity, when each blog post idea becomes just a Facebook update. I am not working on my own craft when I post or comment in social media, but rather, abbreviating my thoughts and putting the mangled remnants of concepts into the massive pile of content that fuels the Facebook platform.

This is not a new concept, even for a digital native like myself. I’m an Xennial, the very last micro-generation to remember a time before Internet, but I’ve also been online since my senior year of high school. As an adult, I still use the Internet much the same way I did as a teenager, to chat and post on bulletin boards. And, like a teenager, I will lose all impulse control when allocating time and energy to those activities, no matter what platform is in vogue at the time. (A side note: people my age went ten years before social networking sites arrived on the scene with Friendster in 2003, and Facebook’s most addicting feature, the News Feed, has only existed for the past thirteen years, which is half my online existence.)

Unlike my teenage self, however, I am now a grown woman who makes a living by putting ads on the Internet. I have seen the business plans of Facebook and Twitter as they pitch for my clients’ ad dollars. Alt-dot bulletin boards had no business model: Facebook does. I sit in presentations where I hear that each grown adult scrolls through an Empire State Building’s worth of content annually. I hear the monetization proposals, of how people my age are spending at least 30 minutes a day on the platform. That push for Groups this year was obviously to restore the slipping time spent on platform…until COVID-19 drove us all back to Facebook as we clung to ways to stay connected.

In the abstract I also know that the time and writing that I invest in Facebook is for the platform’s benefit. I know, conceptually, by posting, I am the product. I love engaging on the platform though, and it is hard to reconcile that cold, fiscal reality, with the imaginary warmth of connecting with friends. When I step back and look at the idea though, it’s disturbing. I am putting my time, my energy, my ideas, into a platform for Facebook’s stockholders’ benefit, not my own. And I am selling myself exceptionally cheap: the equivalent of $0.26 for each day’s use:

Being on vacation last week, having unallocated time, truly made me question how I was choosing to spend that free time. That was when I posted that I was taking a break from Facebook. I needed to rebuild the habits to prioritize activities that are of higher value to me. I have spoken of this idea before in the context of parenting: how I need to help Ben train his brain so the dopamine reward he receives from video games does not diminish the joy he takes from his creative activities. Clearly, I needed to build the same mental structure for myself.

So even though this was a great Adulting Decision, it didn’t quite work. Without Facebook, I promptly moved over to Twitter where I also have a bad habit of losing time. Only on Twitter, instead of fondly scrolling through friends’ posts, I get into debates with people with differing views than mine. I reply politely and I try to use more compassion than many people deserve when doing so, as one cannot change another person’s mind with aggression and cruelty. Still, those replies and engagements rapidly became a new time black hole, and an addiction of looking at notifications so I would be able to fire back responses because I am also addicted to arguing with people online.

I finally just deleted both apps, and downloaded one of the multitude of focus apps available (I chose Stay Focused) and set timers for the root domains: twenty minutes a day each for Facebook and Twitter. I can log on, check for actual news on Twitter, and check my most important groups on Facebook. I can prioritize those sites for the actions they are most valuable for, and know that, should I be tempted to exchange my valuable time for less valuable engagement on either, I will be kicked off the platform for the rest of the day. If there’s a trending news event, as there was Saturday was the flop of a rally in Tulsa, or a lively debate on a BPSA Scout leadership group on Facebook, and I have already spent my time for the day, then I will not be able to use those platforms to catch up. The #FOMO!

So far, it’s helped. I sat down and wrote this post today, for example, instead of spending the time online. The last hour disappeared the same way an hour on social media would, only I have a thousand words to show for it. I have my ideas, my story, my writing, a practiced craft. Writing is not only how I make sense of my thoughts, but also the equivalent of instrument practice for me, time to work on forming sentences and paragraphs that are in order, capable of transmitting my ideas into someone else’s brain. I will now, with absolutely zero irony, go post the link to this on Facebook and Twitter to share it.

the flattening of 2020

There is a flat aspect to life right now that we are just not used to in 21st century urban America. The world seems like it lacks dimension, like everything has been reduced down to the flat line we’re all traveling on to get to the other side of this crisis. We are so used to lives with so many wonderful aspects, that to be lacking in experiences, whether those are shared or not, renders life strange and devoid of color.

Walking through Manhattan today, I thought about how one of the major impacts of this shutdown is the removal of choice. Being out of the house, walking around a city, my instinct is to be able to take a break in a cafe or restaurant, to be able to go inside a landmark or museum, or to be able to shop if I see an interesting store. All of those choices are gone right now. There is no choice to duck into a store, nor is there an option to sit in a Starbucks and doodle in my journal. At night, the bars and clubs are closed, and there will be no goth club events for the foreseeable future. These small, everyday choices are effectively negated by the pandemic, as all “third places” have been rendered closed until further notice. For a city like New York, which depends on those third places to give its citizens space outside their tiny apartments, this adds a further sense of confinement to the already narrowing world.

The second shared impact is temporal dysphoria effect of the shutdown. The pandemic has created a shutdown state in which we are all reduced to the same daily routines, in the same space, without any of the movement or change that delineated days, weeks or even months. It isn’t just an issue on weekdays, when the workday ends and we lack the transition to home lives. It is the weekends, in which we remain in the same space, often doing the same tasks on a Saturday as we might have on a Monday. It has been the months in which we have not been able to gather for holidays, or attend the events we associate with spring, or engage in any of the societal milestones that usually mark time. Time has lost meaning for many of us, as our spatially based routines have been interrupted and eliminated. Our lives have lost those temporal dimensions.

With the flattening of our experiences though, and the compressing of our sense of time, there is also a shared sense of loss for these strange months. We all feel as if our lives are passing us by. There is a lethargy and a despair that is beginning to set in among New Yorkers, as we go into our twelfth week of quarantine without a real end date in sight. There is a lack of hope setting in, coupled and connected to a deep fear of negative change. We are unable to hope without a timeline for when hope might be practical, yet we are absolutely able to fear the future without a set schedule of when it might arrive. We lack the hope of being able to look forward to all of the things we loved about the city, which leaves us all without a counterbalance to the deep sense of foreboding and dread as to what the city will look like when we are on the much anticipated other side of this pandemic.

Fear without hope means that even this flattened existence feels unstable. The one-dimensional existence we all feel we occupy right now still manages to feel as if it has a deep dread underneath it, as if we are all on a sheet of ice over unfathomable dark waters. Every day we hear new stories of loss, of possibilities being extinguished, either by the disease or by the economics of the situation. It is the only thing that moves time forward, the litany of news that seems to remind us every day that there is a disease threatening the most vulnerable among us, that the urban way of life may be a victim of the disease, and that there is a madman in charge of the country who offers no support or compassion to any victim.

I am hopeful that these will, however, be the darkest days of the pandemic. I am hopeful that we can open up NYC without putting the people at risk who already need more support just to survive, provided we are mindful of that risk as we do so. I am hopeful that experiences and choices will expand, slowly, to give us all back the connection to the city, to each other and to our lives’ experiences we miss so very much. Until then though, we will all have to rely on our sense of empathy and compassion to get through this.

every day is like sunday

Well, perhaps every day is not quite silent and grey, but it does feel a bit like waiting for an Armageddon. Especially since the President has decided to take this opportunity to start breaking down environmental laws so everyone’s lungs and immune systems will be good and weakened for the next pandemic. (Do not even get me started on how millions of Americans are waiting for checks because Trump insisted on using the government funded stimulus as a campaign stump).

It’s been just over four weeks now since what I still think of as the Day the World Ended, back on March 12th. That evening, I was supposed to go to a very worthwhile charity event with one of our media vendors. My boss and I had been invited to meet our sales reps for blowouts at Drybar before the show, and so we took the subway uptown mid-afternoon to do so. But by the time we got to the Upper West Side, the event had been canceled; by the time my hair was blow dried, Broadway was shut down. The group of us scheduled to spend that evening at the concert immediately went together to a wine bar and spent four hours drinking, watching the news alerts on our phones, as social distancing went from the opt-in it had been two days before, to a critical order to save lives. We knew things were about to change and that this would likely be the last night we had in “normalcy”.

In hindsight, listening to a siren right now somewhere in Brooklyn, this entire day was irresponsible. At the time, COVID-19 was spreading through New York. We had hundreds of cases we didn’t know about. We had a curve of sickness and death coming for NYC that we all drastically underestimated. And I still chose to go to work that day even though the office looked like this:

Of course I suspect many of my teammates who opted to work from home on Thursday the 12th, also were out at bars until all the bars shut down on Sunday the 15th

By Sunday the 15th, when the first wave of businesses were forced to close to prevent gatherings, Paul and I had decided to keep Ben home from school starting on March 16th. We saw the pleas from teachers to reduce the number of kids in school; we had the privilege and luxury of being able to stay home with our child (By “we” at the time, I meant “me”, as OMD went from “rotating staff” to “work from home” over the course of the weekend). I had barely had time to post that decision and rationale on Facebook before the schools shut down.

Two days later, the Canadian border closed, causing me to hyperventilate in panic that I might not be able to get home, as Amtrak and Porter Airlines stopped service to Toronto.

By the end of the week, we were in Cuomo’s version of “shelter in place”, watching as the governor cheerfully shamed our local Greenmarket on national TV:

The city has 24 hours to come up with a pedestrian streets plan to ...

In hindsight, I did not stop to just think through what the impact would be to the healthcare system and how many of our healthcare workers would have to put their own health at risk to save others. I did not know, that last day, that there would be this high of a curve to flatten. None of us knew back in early March that this disease had been quietly spreading below the line of public consciousness for weeks. I knew the coronavirus would rage through New York, and that it would impact the most vulnerable of my neighbors, but I did not realize how horrifying it would be to see New Yorkers put their lives on the line every day for the past month.

I did not know COVID-19 would rage uncontrolled and unchecked through the people who make New York City what it is: our MTA conductors, our teachers, our first responders, and most of all, our healthcare workers.

I did not realize how COVID-19 would kill hundreds of people who worked tirelessly for years to ensure my neighborhood’s children are taught, that we get to work, that we are safe, that we, and our neighbors, are cared for.

I jumped on the #flattenthecurve bandwagon the week after the world ended, but I wish I had jumped on it sooner and encouraged everyone else to do so. I am not sure if more of these brave and self-sacrificing New Yorkers would still be here if all of us had done so.

So here we are four weeks later. We adjust every day to a “new normal”, until that new normal shifts under our feet. At least one day per week now feels like the Day the World Ended over again, as things change faster than I can mentally process. This week, two of my friends came down with COVID-19. This week, the layoffs started at OMD. And when the first round hit yesterday at work, I shut down and spent the evening numbing my brain as much as possible:

For the record, I was drinking organic tequila mixed with CBD infused, watermelon flavored sparking water, because I intend to remain as bougie as possible and also did not need a hangover today.

This is not waiting for Armageddon, but it does feel, every day, like there is a next step towards some sort of partial apocalypse: more sickness, more death, more sorrow, or, on the other side of this COVID-19 coin, more jobs lost, more people without even basic resources, more people vulnerable than ever before to the consequences of the extreme capitalism of America in the early 21st century. Every day is like Sunday, and even a beautiful spring Friday has an undertone of being silent and grey. We will all wait this out, we will all get to the changed world on the other side. I just wish we didn’t have to all bear witness, together, to as much despair and suffering on the way as we all will before this is over.

out of hibernation

I am a big fan of the Thursday Next series, the alternate reality, extremely British series by Jasper Fforde. Last year, I read his new, even more insane book, “Early Riser“:

“Bonkers” is a very good word to describe this one

The basic premise of “Early Riser” is that everyone hibernates, like bears, through the winter. Society is therefore structured around the hibernation season: eating more leading up to winter, surviving the winter without starving to death, and shutting down everything that isn’t absolutely essential during the winter season. For those of us with seasonal depression, this actually sounds like a fantastic idea as it would relieve 100% of the pressure on us to function during the winter months.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a society structured around winter hibernation, and as a result, I have to keep functioning until the time change and vernal equinox in March. With depression though, I have to expend twice as much energy to accomplish what feels like half as much work. It is difficult to start an activity or action, and I do not feel any sort of joy or sense of reward from completing it. With the commitment level that I have in my life, I then feel stress, anxiety and guilt for not having completed the tasks that I owe to other people, whether that is at my paying job, my volunteer work, or to my family. The resulting pressure mounts up over the next few months and by March, I’ve usually hit a wall:

Cycle of depression and anxiety

This year, however, I’ve been blessed in that spring seems to have come early to the Northeast. The weather this weekend has been sunny and brisk, but not freezing. The world is filled with light and early blooming spring flowers. I feel like I am waking up, like my hibernation is over, like it is mentally safe to emerge and take back on my usual day to day existence without having to fear that I won’t be able to honor or complete my commitments. We may be doomed to changing weather patterns in the Anthropocene, but at least the 2020 weather patterns are benefiting me personally!

Still. I wouldn’t mind a hibernation period every winter. I would love it if nothing was expected of me every winter for about three months, while I slept and allowed my brain to rest and heal itself. Perhaps someday I’ll be in a position where I can align my life with the seasons, allow myself not to fight and struggle as hard as I can against the constraints of depression every winter. Perhaps I am made to hibernate. Between the idea of hibernation, and the concept of literature as a driving force of society, Fforde is onto a lot of alternate reality ideas I would be happy to get behind.