Forbidden Fireworks popping off all around

It turned out that we didn’t need to find a distanced vantage point to last night’s Freedom over Texas spectacle downtown. All we had to do was to step out into our own street to see some fireworks.

There were rockets aplenty lighting up the skies above our neighborhood. Unplanned pockets of firework enthusiasts erupted all around us. Erratic bursts of crackling, pops and booms came from over the fence, down the road and through the trees.

The sounds and sites took me back many decades before sensible city ordinances put the kibosh on backyard July 4th celebrations. It was heart-warming.

A few days ago I remember wondering if the number of PSAs about firework restrictions inside the city limits was on the increase this year, or am I just paying closer attention to the news? I didn’t think that much about it until the sun was setting on our evening walk and we started hearing some pops here and there. Aha! Some smart person somewhere was tipped off — hence the PSAs. How did they know?

Yes! It’s going to be more interesting tonight than we expected. How exciting. I’m completely onboard with all our normal safety measures, and I hope that nobody was injured last night. But, we needed a collective expression of some measure of “freedom” on a hot balmy night when a mask order had just been declared, gatherings of more than 10 had been banned and the parks had been closed.

So when the firework symphony got into full swing after dark, we put on our masks, and strolled through the dark streets. What a festival of sparkles in the sky and a liberating sense that we’d taken something back that had been taken away from us.

A little bit of magic returned to the day. July 4th, 2020 didn’t turn out as deadly dull as expected.

The only thing that would have made it even better would have been having my own sparkler to run around with on the lawn making pretty patterns in the night. Remember doing that?

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.

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