When you kinda wish you were wrong

Ever since May 1st, we’ve been angst-ily deliberating the do-or-don’t we break out of our bubble question. On May 4th I put a stake in the sands of my daily journal declaring “wait 3-4 weeks to see what happens in Texas, and then start tip-toeing out“.

The May stats remained unremarkable here. Things trickled along at a steady pace. There appeared to be a glimmer of light at the end of this dark Rona-tunnel. We didn’t do it, but a visit to a restaurant no longer seemed as outrageous – at least for outdoor dining. We could imagine a gradual return to more contact with people. We actually let a social distancing visitor enter our home to use the restroom. Gutsy. That felt like a bold move in our own ‘opening up’.

Then, poised on the edge of a shift change in our movements … the death of George Floyd brought thousands into the streets and Memorial Day gatherings enticed large crowds to beaches, parks and barbecues. On May 28th we plugged into a special vaccine update by Dr. Peter Hotez where he spoke of a potential Texas surge coming as late as July and no vaccine until 2021 at the earliest.

So I moved the goal posts in my journal again: “Revisit release date early July

2020 feels like it might be a wipe-out.

Starting June 15th, the daily Houston virus stats chart in the local paper began showing a slight increase. A noticeable up-tick followed by a couple lower readings and another higher one. Not yet sure if this is significant – a new trend, or just a blip? The signal that something might be changing became dramatically clear when I opened the newspaper the morning of June 23rd. The jump looked foreboding.

The next day, the paper removed the chart — that was even more scary. I’d been tracking the new cases every day for weeks now. The daily new cases for Houston was replaced with the % positivity chart. Is that an indicator that we shifting into a different level of alarm? We also now have people in our closer circle getting sick.

It’s getting real.

Today, a week later, the positivity % continues to rise and the conversation has shifted to ICU bed capacity and forecasting. Apparently we are going to also argue and cast doubt on these numbers, but I won’t get into that here.

Academic projections are manifesting in real life.

I am comforted that the scientist’s assessments match what is happening. Cause and effect can be linked. This is something I can understand. It makes sense when so much else around me makes no sense at all right now.

I happily pay my flood insurance every year and hope it’s money down the drain. Similarly, we stayed at home after the stay-at-home order was lifted, hoping that would have been an overly cautious complete waste of time. I’m glad we did, but …

I kinda wish we had been wrong about this.

What’s next?

Stuck in No Man’s Land

The grand re-opening continues unabated. The public has risen up and said “enough”. All the while virus cases are on the rise, letting us know that “it’s not over yet”.

I’ve had enough too.

Yet, I watch and wait for it to be “over”, though I have no clue what that might look like.

The initial glow of a welcome respite from routines, commitments and schedules has long lost it’s shine. Once we had mastered the new challenges of acquiring our basic needs and caught up on a few back-burner to-dos, we settled into a comfortable sameness. I’ts been rather dull some days, but tolerable nonetheless.

Tolerable for a while. That comfortable sameness is now old. My tolerance is wearing thin. I’m done with it.

I’m ready to move on, but not sure what makes sense.

I’m caught between friends who are out eating at restaurants again and others who haven’t even gone to a grocery store in three months.

I’d love to meet up at a noisy restaurant for fancy cocktails and tasty deliciousness served up in multiple complex dishes. My heart is ready — “you go for it girl!”, but my mind says “wait, what about all those droplets spewing into the air?” Feels too risky. I reconsider.

I’m stuck between joining in on group gatherings and life moving on without me. Are we creating even more divisions in our world? Those who meet up in person and those who remain virtual?

I’m conflicted about saying goodbye to family members moving out of state, for forever, without a hug goodbye. Should we take a leap of faith and do it anyway? We all feel healthy. Surely one big bear hug would be fine, but what if it’s not?

Time with our older loved ones is precious and yet we’re trying to limit our visits? There’s something not quite right about that. I’m questioning my efforts to protect my dad so he can stay healthy and yet more disconnected. What if I got tested before I visited? There are too many reasons why a negative test is no guarantee that I might not bring the virus to his door anyway.

What if this situation lasts the rest of the year – into next year? Beyond?

If it’s just a matter of time before we all get exposed, maybe I should just get it over with. But then again, the longer I can delay the inevitable, the more knowledge and research I will benefit from as an eventual patient.

Hang on a little longer.

It’s clear that at some point each one of us is going to take the next big step out into the open. Just like making the decision to get into my car and drive somewhere in Texas, where the rate of fatalities is tracking close to our current Coronavirus deaths.

I don’t stay at home because of car fatalities, so should I continue to stay at home because of the virus? I feel more comfortable with the risk on the freeways because I drive along under the illusion that I have more control over my safety. But I’m not so sure about this new virus.

We will eventually learn to cozy up to this new threat. We’ll integrate it into our daily micro-decisions about safety. A choice to not drive after midnight on New Year’s Eve might become similar to a choice not to go bar-hopping in the inner city. Some will still do it, but many others will choose not to.

STOP PRESS: I just learned that our local gym has reopened with strict safeguards. OH! This might be my moment of daring! I’m not rushing over there yet, but I am doing some serious investigations on their new COVID setup.

Stay tuned …

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.

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.

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. 

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