Sliding in and out of COVID ‘Lassitude’

Go ahead, look it up, nobody will know. You’re going to want to use this word again. I certainly did, when I confirmed its definition after it landed in an apology email in my in-box. It’s one of those almost-onomatopoeia words. Just the sound of it signals the meaning.

The luxurious ‘lassss’ at the beginning hints at lazy-ness with tones of languish. The hard certainty of the ‘itude’ at the end rings of attitude and a powerful hold. There are some notes of ‘laissez faire’ emanating from a sense of languorousness, rather than just letting things be.

Yes! I get it!

There are many overused attempts to express this phenomenon with something newer and catchier. TikToks and Memes are proliferating like never before. They’re all very clever and amusing, and delightfully visual.

But nothing is quite as elegant as ‘lassitude’.

It quietly sneaks into the day’s unfolding, though it can retreat into dark corners after caffeine shows up. It slinks around in my attempts to get things checked off my to-do list. You think it’s finally loosened its grip on you and then it pops up after lunch when you can’t seem to move on to the next thing. It vanishes entries from my mental calendar of appointments on Zoom, phone and FaceTime, making me an embarrassing no-show, on occasion.

Yes, it’s a signature word for 2020 and me.

Senioritis Senior Moments

…. local news …blah …blah …update …coronavirus …governor …blah …blah ...” and so it often goes when I’m listening to the radio as I walk and run around the neighborhood. Then a word or phrase will catch my attention, like a soundbite out of context, and I’m left puzzling. You can’t rewind live radio. Oh well, move on. If it’s big news, it’ll catch up to me soon enough.

After the national news, NPR tacks on local news snippets, including a regular report from our local education reporter. I snagged a phrase out of a recent update from her as I was running up to a busy street. Looking right, then left, watching carefully for distracted drivers who might run me over I caught the words “HISD … plans to help seniors …”

I jog halfway across to road to the esplanade and wonder what on earth our Houston Independent School District is doing to support seniors. How bizarre. Now what are they up to? The news zips along to the next report. No idea what the story is.

Without any context, I chew on it for another few blocks. These poor kids and teachers have enough on their plates right now, without adding some cockamamie old-people service project to their slate. What are they thinking?

Then I run past a house with a 2020 Graduating Senior sign in the front yard and it hits me like a bolt out of the sky. Seniors! School District! What was I thinking!

I’ve so completely taken on board my COVID “senior” status, that I think they’re talking about me whenever I hear that word now. I’ve floated into some alternate universe, where few other people exist.

Someone pull me back!

My closet is atrophying

I got an email last week from a charity group that periodically drives by and picks up ‘gently used’ articles of clothing and household goods. I guess they’re also back in business, so I clicked YES. In January — another lifetime ago — I came up with a respectable load, but surely I can scrounge around and find a few more things for them.

It turns out maybe not.

There has been little action in my closet the past 3 months. Nothing new coming in. No Spring sales to tempt me when I’m out in the world. No new fun, fresh additions to push out some of the tired-looking dated fashions from earlier years. Most of my clothes are untouched, collecting dust and wondering what their purpose in life is.

There’s a small jumble of Athleta, lululemon, Under Armour, leggings, tops, etc. in one corner that experiences a daily turnover. If I ever change out of these before getting into bed at night, there’s a small collection of casual REI-Columbia-esque styled skirts, pants and blouses for that interim window that spans supper, evening Zoom calls and the nightly neighborhood stroll. All of the above could fit in a miniature carry-on.

I can’t give away any of those essentials — I don’t even consider whether these over-used items bring me ‘joy’ or not, they are my life right now. Sorry Marie Kondo.

What about all the other stuff? Will I ever surface from this endless recycling of the same old comfy, stretchy, sameness?

I touch the flowing dresses, high heels, swishy skirts, crisp blouses, smart dress pants and wonder when I will put them on again. Will it be this year, or will I skip this season entirely? Maybe I should just dump them all and start anew — after COVID? I’m definitely too cheap for that and besides don’t have the energy to rethink new clothes. I’d better keep them for now.

Clothing has become less and less interesting the longer I hang around the house. It’s rather like eating the same meal every day – after a while you lose your appetite.

Maybe I’ll dig around in the kitchen next for some household goods to donate. That probably won’t yield much either. The kitchen has been running on overdrive — we’ve been using e-v-e-r-y-thing in there these days.

Ooops … went all the way and didn’t mean to!

BubbleIn the cold light of day — the morning after — I’m wondering what kind of mess I got myself into. I should have known better. I won’t know if I’m in trouble for a couple of weeks. Every day I’m checking for signs and symptoms of what fate awaits me. Some days I wake up strong and confident and on others I’m sure I’ll pay for my lapse in judgement.

I run back through all the details, play by play. Am I re-scripting the re-runs to favor a positive outcome? Maybe we didn’t go too far after all. Maybe we stopped just in time. Some of the particulars are less clear now. Yes, there was some alcohol involved.

… do I hear an echo from a past life? …

My resolve was pretty strong until the second glass of Prosecco. That smoothed the way to accepting the lure of an indoors invitation out of the heat. Then the mask came off — oh so easily. You don’t need to wear that here I was told. I was persuaded to cast caution to the wind by the excitement of a real conversation in the flesh. It felt so good. The surge in optimism depleted my will power to do anything but stay. Good intentions and firm boundaries evaporated in the seduction of the moment. 

Now what? Everyone around me is “doing it”, why am I so worried? Am I being a nervous Nelly or sensible Sally? When will it be the right time to break out?

For today I’m happily back in my safe bubble — but it feels like it has a small leak now.

Our Buddy Bubble Breakout to the Beach

Galveston BeachWe swooped in like Ghostbusters with our masks on, armed with bottles of disinfectant spray. After mastering the tricky keypad entry lock, we made haste to open windows and doors. The sea breeze freed the house of any trapped droplets in the air and we expunged the rest with our arsenal of sanitizing weapons of germ destruction. Yes, the owner did assure me that the cleaning service was going to be similarly attentive to disinfecting the place between visitors, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Once the space was claimed for our own, we shed our masks and packed away the disinfectants and proceeded to nest-in. The waves gently churned in the background. Looking out the window there was only a small strip of sand dunes separating us from the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The sea air filled our lungs and our souls. It was a fresh drink of tranquility.

COVID-19 was packed away out of sight in the car — removed from our reality.

The next three days we interspersed reading, napping, cooking, games, and happy hours with l-o-n-g walks on the beach.

The first day we still reacted to our various newsfeeds buzzing on smartphones, but these gradually lost their grip and were left behind. At first we were struck by groupings on the beach with no care for social distancing or masks, but that soon receded from our consciousness too.  Who cares? The conversation drifted to other areas of interest as we allowed the COVID drip-drip to temporarily dry up. Who’s Corona anyway?

With every tide the virus was carried further out to sea. With every walk on the sand we returned closer to nature. With every elaborate cooking event we recaptured a delight in our senses. With every nap we restored a deeper calm.  With every evening sunset we reconnected with the here and now.

We tasted life as we knew it before this virus torpedoed our world, and it was good. I hadn’t realized how much the virus had penetrated my psyche and my overall sense of well-being until I managed to unplug from it. My obsessive FitBit sleep tracking finally yielded the percentages of REM and Deep sleep I strive for. That was a eureka moment. Proof positive of the restorative impact of our COVID breakout.

Now we’re back in the city. The frog is back in the pot of water on the stove — the heat is cranking up again.

I’m planning our next escape retreat. Be well dear readers.

The COVID Dessert Domino Effect

domino effect-2You’re at a fancy restaurant with a big group and the waiter comes to the table to ask if anyone saved room for dessert.

You know how it is … everyone claims they couldn’t possibly eat another bite. 

And then one person says, well, we should at least look at the dessert menu, even if we don’t order anything…

The waiter is at the ready with a stack of menus and distributes them with a knowing smile. They know what’s going to happen next.

One person may order a black coffee while everyone else oohs and yumms and aahs over the selection. Then another hands back the menu declaring they’ll just have a cappuccino, or some other coffee treat to deliver that sugary cap-off to the meal. It’s a tiny crack in the group resolve.

And … then … one person asks if someone wants to share a dessert. Two or three chime in with “sure” they could do that. It’s presented more like a favor to the requester, rather than something they really want to do for themselves. We all know better. The good intentions are starting to crumble.

AND THEN … a spontaneous devil-may-care attitude takes over. All the dominoes collapse. By the time the waiter returns, almost everyone at the table is ordering a dessert, or agreeing to receive an extra utensil to taste some shared deliciousness. We’ll worry about the consequences tomorrow. Today we’re going to have some fun.

There’s always that one original black coffee holdout, who everyone wishes would just leave and not lord over the rest of us with their pious pretensions.

Ever seen that happen?

I feel like we’re all poised at that moment when the waiter arrives with the dessert menu. There are open restaurants on offer, barber shops, hair and nail salons, unlocked malls, State Parks, beaches and more. Yummy! Irresistible! Let’s DO IT.

But wait, I’m still worried about effective social distancing. I’m that person ordering black coffee right now. How long will I be able to keep this up?

I see people around me starting to negotiate and bargain with themselves just like we do with the dessert menu. Just a little taste. I don’t want to miss out on this, or that. And let’s not forget our duty to help resurrect the economy by participating in it again. And OMG the state of my hair or nails!

How long will I remain that person ordering black coffee? The temptations are mounting. I can see a gradually crumbling of resolve. 

Living in an Emotional Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerI don’t know much about pressure cookers, except that issues with the equipment can lead to super steam blowouts. They can explode, sending flying parts across the room and splattering their contents on anything and anyone within range. Dangerous stuff — so my mom always said, so that was gospel to me.

I feel like our whole house is an emotional pressure cooker these days. It’s pretty reliable and has rarely been known to blow out the top, but we have had a few ‘near misses’ over the past couple of months. Probably the biggest blowout was over where one is supposed to leave the tea towel for drying hands in the kitchen. Too ridiculous to even get into here.

I’ve also heard some blown fuses sparking across the neighborhood from otherwise very quiet and reserved households. And, of course, we’ve all been reading about much more fragile family dynamics that have lead to an increase in domestic violence of all kinds. Also dangerous. Sad.

This isolation isn’t necessarily causing new problems. It’s just pouring gasoline on existing problems that are simmering below the surface. Not to be too flip, but this tea towel issue has been going on for years!

We’re all locked down in this pot together right now. The pressure builds up every now and then. There are very few outlets that feel safe, restorative and nourishing that allow us to get away very far from each other. We’re stuck here with each other.

Our emotions are so commingled, that when our daughter finished her last final today, my husband and I felt as if we had finished too. Whew …

During her practical exam — a “tele-health” appointment with an actor — we were under strict orders to maintain absolute silence in the house for this one hour period. We didn’t think we needed such strong admonishing instructions. We get it that she’s being recorded and evaluated. Of course, I’m not going to knock on your door and shout at you to empty the dryer. Not sure why she was so worried about us – we’re just quiet retired people! Exactly! … she might reply.

Well, half-way through her sacred one hour of required silence, a piece of bread got stuck in the toaster, which sent clouds of smoke billowing through the downstairs. OMG … NOooo … not the smoke alarm! We scurried around frantically opening doors and waving smoke away from the detector within screeching distance of her door. It was like a slapstick routine from an old I Love Lucy show I could never tolerate. Disaster was averted — thank goodness! — or that pot would have blown up all over our happy little nest.  

We all survived. The exams are over. What a relief. I’m sure I’ll sleep much better tonight. She will claim that she was the only person doing all the studying and the only person taking these virtually monitored exams at the desk in her bedroom, but the whole household went through this emotional experience. 

The pressure valve has let off some steam again. We’re going to be ok for a while.




The Zoom Hangover

zoom hangoverBy the end of last week I felt like I had been at a long banquet feast from another era. I had been subjected to a steady stream of courses, while trying to keep up with the various conversation topics, continuously reapplying my lipstick, thanking the hostess, complimenting the chef and musicians, and occasionally being enlisted to perform a party trick of my own. Yes, I’m talking about Zoom!

I l-o-v-e a social gatherings, even a meeting, but these feel too one-dimensional, too straight-jacketed, too stripped of human connection. Simply put, the Zoom-jammed calendar was too exhausting. I felt like I had a hang-over from it all. And … just to set the record straight, no, none of those included one of the now infamous Zoom Happy Hours.

The week Zoom–ed by and by Friday I was bloated. I couldn’t take one more bite of one more course. I needed to push away from the banquet table, my PC in this case, and take a break — give myself a chance to feel hungry for connection again. I hated to miss church on Sunday and was especially sorry to miss the social hour afterwards, but I couldn’t stomach it. I went for a walk instead.

I’m always ready and eager to socialize, so what is it about Zoom that is depleting me so?

Krista Tippett has also been exploring this question in her On Being podcast.  She talks about how when we come together in person, we draw energy from each other, which isn’t being communicated through the screen. We’re not replenishing the basic store of life by being with each other, when we come together in a Zoom call. She goes on to say that this isn’t an ‘introverted’ or ‘extroverted’ thing, rather it’s a ‘human’ thing. Yes, thank you Krista, you nailed it for me. As usual, she’s able to name it so exquisitely that a light bulb comes on for me.

This morning, after a four-day Sabbath from Zoom, I felt refreshed enough to rejoin my Zoom life (code for all my social life outside this house). I’ve had three events thus far today and think I might even be up for the 4th one after dinner tonight. When we first retreated into the lock down, I thought this was going to be a brief interruption in how we interacted, so the approach was to simply zoom-ify my life until we could meet in person again. Don’t slow down, just ‘Carry On’.

I’m rethinking this strategy. We may have to keep this up longer than expected. I have virtual meeting limits I didn’t know about. How many drinks can you have and still walk the straight line? How many Zoom calls can you participate in and still maintain your equilibrium?

I’m going to be working on avoiding future Zoom hangovers.

What’s your limit? Have you hit it yet?


How good are you at changing habits?

mask-5My guess is that if we surveyed everyone in Houston today, about how faithful they are to wearing a mask, and social distancing in public, the results might not match our experience. Just like the results of driving surveys that ask drivers whether they are better than the average driver. Apparently 70+% of us believe that we are better than the average driver. That certainly doesn’t line up with my experience on the road in this town.

The same thing is happening out there with masks and social distancing. This should be no surprise to anyone. Not because there is resistance to the concept, or disbelief that this will have any impact — although there is some of that going on, to be sure. No, it’s just a well known fact of life that it’s hard to make changes.

When’s the last time you tried to take on a new habit? What happened? Think of what happens every year in January with diets, gym memberships, etc. And these are habits that would have a tangible, positive impact on us personally. Habits need reminders, repetition, incentives and community support to stick long enough for your brain to rewire itself. Some researchers suggest it takes 15 days to create a new habit, others suggest over 250 days. Do we have that much time?

Right now, all I have to imprint this new habit is a “recommendation” to wear a mask in public. This will offer protection to others in case I have the virus and am asymptomatic. This would be even better if everyone around me would do the same. Sign me up! I’m on board, but I’m going to have a hard time sticking to this. I know already.

My brain is not wired for this yet.

I’m sure I’m going to dash off to the store and forget the mask — I forget my reusable grocery bags all the time. I’m going to go out for a walk with a friend and forget the mask — I sometimes forget my key. I’m most definitely going to show up at church without a mask — I can never remember to bring my name tag. I’m a fan of this program, but I’m a very imperfect human being.

Thankfully, we don’t have a culture of publicly shaming people for not adhering to social norms — but that might help me remember right now. I wouldn’t dare violate a “recommendation” when I lived in Germany. The consequences could be mortifying. I love my German friends, but you know what I’m talking about here!

Thankfully, we err on the side of personal choice rather than government mandates and punishment — but that might also be quite useful to fixing this habit with me right now. I wouldn’t dare break a rule that might result in a police citation when I lived in England. It would just be too embarrassing; I would feel like such a fool.

Thankfully, we don’t plaster our public spaces with public service announcements and constant reminders on loud speakers — and that might also help me get it right now. I wouldn’t dare be that person seen doing the wrong thing when I lived in Singapore. It would make me feel so anti-social and selfish.

I don’t know what resources we have available to us in a more individualistic, wild-west culture that will help us “get with the program”. We have a pretty poor track record when it comes to disciplining ourselves for the benefit of our own person, let alone the greater good.

We need a campaign along the lines of the “Don’t Mess with Texas” slogans that were effective at reducing road litter in the 1980s. The success was attributed to the fact that it appealed to the pick-up driving, gun-toting, tough guy mentality of those who were the worst culprits. It worked. Got any ideas for a “Wear Your Mask” campaign for our state?

In the meantime, I’m trying … we’re all trying at our house to “get with the program”. Feel free to call me out, if you see me maskless (except when I’m exercising)!

may 4th



Can you ever get credit for averting a disaster?

avoiding disasterYou never get credit for averting a disaster, only for mounting a rescue operation once it’s in motion. At least that’s my experience from decades working in and around software development.

I’ve seen the debate play out time and time again: How much time and effort do you invest upfront in planning, analysis, quality assurance, risk mitigation? How much is enough? How much is too much? What’s the cost of averting a problem versus fixing the problem after implementation? We all know it costs more to fix it after Go Live, but was it worth the cost of avoiding, if the problem never materializes?

This is similar to the debate we are having across the world today. What is the cost of averting a catastrophic surge on our medical resources? How much of our wealth are we willing to give up to save lives? Does it depend on the number of lives? We’re investing up front in “flattening the curve”, but will we believe that the costs were worth it when it’s all over?

If a software Go Live is a success, no alarms are raised, no high impact problem reports are sent up the chain of command, no emergency meetings are called, or ‘business continuity plans’ activated. There’s a celebration cake, some nice words of thanks to the dedicated team, some photos taken and everyone moves on to the next project. It obviously wasn’t that complex or that challenging — there were no outside witnesses to the heroic work that went on behind the scenes.  The impact of the quality checks and testing on the final smooth implementation can get lost in the final assessment. Remember Y2K twenty years ago?

The projected COVID-19 deaths in the US are gradually dropping as we wrap up several weeks of Stay At Home orders across most of the nation. This is fantastic news! We achieved the objectives set forth by #flattenthecurve initiatives. This is the result of bold public officials making tough decisions — these are the unsung heroes.  And, I can already hear rumblings and second-guessings as to whether this was needed, precisely because the projections have dropped. Wait, don’t forget, that was the whole point. Questions are being asked as to whether the cost to the economy was worth it. This is sounding familiar.

If a software Go Live is a disaster, a hotshot SWAT team swoops in to the rescue. These saviors are treated like royalty — their heroic work is on display for all to see. Heroes are born that become legends of department lore. The unheard voices that had asked for more time to check, review, and test get buried or take the blame. Lessons learned are captured, After Action Reviews are conducted, and improvement task forces formed. We don’t want to repeat this ever again … until we do.

We’ve witnessed COVID-19 disasters in many places across the globe. There were many unheard voices trying to issue warnings and caution. Some were buried and some may be looked to for blame before it’s all over. New heroes have been born. We’re doing military style flyovers to honor our doctors, nurses and medical professionals. Infectious disease experts, scrounging for research funds, mostly hidden in their labs until this point, have found themselves on the international stage. They are getting fan mail … and some hate mail too, I”m sure. I hope they have their grants written so they can strike while the iron’s hot. We want to be better prepared next time … until we forget.

Reading about the 1918 Spanish flu has fascinated me the past few weeks. As with software projects, it would seem that we do repeat mistakes and we do forget. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel seems to have got it right when he said  “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

What will the future say about the decisions made and the resulting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic? I’m sure we’ll already know a lot more in a year from now. However, wouldn’t you love to come back in 100 years to find out what history will write about the year 2020?