Today I was two weeks after my second Covid vaccine, which means I'm officially at full theoretical efficacy. As the running jokes go in one of my communities, it's now safe to dry-hump strangers in Florida bars, lick doorknobs party on South Beach. While I don't intend to do any of those things, it does feel kind of like a super power. You don't appreciate that as a kid, because no one is saying, "Yay, no polio or measles for you!" (Unfortunately, mumps and chicken pox were not something we were vaccinated for, so yeah, I'm that old.)
While it's not a free pass, especially given the fact that the vaccine trials aren't complete for kids, and I have one, it's still a personal milestone that I've been looking forward to for a year, and it causes me to be reflective about my own health. I don't feel physically good, in a non-specific way, but it's a familiar feeling I've had in previous years. At the end of 2019, I started to correct for it by paying better attention to what I was eating and when, and I dropped a few pounds. When the pandemic started, I successfully pushed soda out of my diet, or at least 90% of it. It wasn't until the holidays last year that I really slipped and began emotional eating, mostly crap late in the evening, and unchecked amount of carb sides with meals.
My two biggest successes with behavior modification came in the midst of divorce, and then again when I moved to Central Florida. These were both enormously symbolic times that represented new beginnings, for obvious reasons. Where I got sloppy in both cases was happy comfort, oddly enough. Things like getting married or getting used to eternal summer, as it turns out, for me feel like reasons to pile on the happy with poor eating and less activity, both of which feel good in the short term.
I'm not in some place of despair where I can't understand what I have to do. The math for eating right and relative fitness is wholly uncomplicated. Choosing to commit is the challenging part, because fuck you,, I like tater tots and sprawling out in comfort to do nothing. Those are not evil or bad things. They make me happy. They just have to share the stage with restraint and getting off the couch, which are decidedly less fun. I envy the people who get a runner's high, but I'm just not wired for it. I don't run unless something is chasing me. The only time exercise feels good is if I'm playing volleyball or tennis, and those aren't easy to make time for.
Fortunately, I don't need to be one of those people who think that others want to watch them exercise (that's a form of narcissism I'll never understand), but I do need to stick to the basics. I've learned that not eating between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m. is a rhythm I settle into easily. I live in Florida, so doing a lap around the neighborhood is possible really at almost any time. If I do those two things alone, I'm more than half way there. The rest is portion control and breaking up the day with movement. Weight comes off and I feel physically better. It's just habit.
I finally bought a standing desk, after contemplating it for years. I like it so far, probably up 40% of the time, and not all at once. What I need to get better about is blocking time, not just for physical health, but mental health. I was shuttling Simon to school the last three weeks since Diana couldn't drive, and I was surprised at how refreshed I felt just getting out for 30 to 40 minutes.
So with my new immunity, it seems like a good time for a general health reset. What I know works for me is not a heavy lift (or any lift, to use exercise parlance). The challenge is largely psychological, because this has to compete with everything else, including parenting and work. It's not always easy to prioritize me.
There was a post on an Ashland University radio/TV alumni group asking about how many people were still in the business, and where all they worked. Few of my classmates, give or take a few years, are still in the business, but those who stayed with it now have more than two decades behind them, which is crazy. The guy who started the thread has more than 40 years!
I wanted to be a radio DJ from the time that I was 10-years-old, and then working for the city's government access channel in high school, I wanted to make television, too (nothing more gripping than televising city council meetings and high school basketball!). I started doing the DJ thing in my second week of my freshman year (poorly), and in my junior year, started working part-time at a commercial station, where I was informed that I was doing it wrong. Shortly after graduation, I landed at a "large market" station in Cleveland to do it full-time, making almost $16,000 a year (about $28k in today's dollars). That lasted a year and change, before a ratings shakeup moved the midday guy to my overnight slot since he had a contract and I did not.
A few months after that, I landed in a suburban city as their first Cable TV Coordinator, charged with building out government and public access. It was everything a know-it-all 20-something could want, with a chance to do the engineering, production, talent, management, all of it. Getting to be a department head, even if it was ultimately only 2.5 people and a budget around $150k annually, was something that I didn't realize would set me up for a lot of leadership roles later, especially when consulting. I ultimately left that gig not because dealing with politicians was hard, but because they weren't interested in legislating me into a pay schedule similar to those of my peers in surrounding cities. That, and it was hard to resist the promise of the Internet, where I was already dabbling in software development and felt like I could go the distance. It was a really good choice.
Leaving the business was only partially a financial consideration, though I can assure you I was not content to live at home on a starter radio salary. I remember my first week as a full-timer thinking, "Wow, so here I am. That was fast. Now what?" It really appealed to my ego, sure, but the job is largely sitting alone in a room answering the phone from 14-year-olds who wanna hear "Macarena" again. My mom had even built up radio personalities as "famous," but if there was any fame, it sure didn't come with fortune.
The TV gig, as I said, was ideal because I could do everything. I didn't have to worry about union rules that prohibited me from doing certain things, and there was no daily news grind. On any given day, I could be soldering some wires on to a connector, doing a stand-up or cutting video (first on tape, then on a computer). This job had a similar problem as the radio thing, where it wasn't clear how I could level up quickly in terms of responsibility and skills. In the job itself, it literally took an act of legislation for a raise, but in the industry in general, most of the jobs were news or freelance, both of which are very lifestyle driven. I usually enjoyed the work, but I couldn't see long-term outcomes.
Fortunately, the intense desire to "play" with computers as a kid, which seemed to be treated as an annoyance to most of the adults in my life, started to resurface after college, in part probably because my "in between" job was working retail at a CompUSA for a few months. Aside from becoming an expert at reinstalling Windows95, there were some basic things like composing HTML markup and writing little Perl scripts to do stuff on the World Wide Web that were exciting to me. By 1999, four years after graduation, I was confident that I could write code for a living.
Do I regret my course of study? No, but it's clearer than ever that college is really not job training. The radio/TV program fancied itself as just that, while my other major, journalism, was more academic. I didn't have particular good grades in any of it because I was bored and felt like I was checking boxes so I could work in the "real world." I could have learned everything specific to the broadcast work from other people, blue collar style. Because of the transition to digital technologies, the shelf life of the technical education was very short. The most valuable thing I got out of college was learning how to live and work with people, and in a few classes, learn how to learn. College was valuable, but in none of the ways it had been sold to me and my generation. It was absolutely not job training.
My general attitude about the value of college is not what it was, and I'll write about that at some other point. Software is surprisingly blue collar in nature as well, as far as experience and knowledge transfer, and for the most part, no one cares if you went to college at all.
The funny thing is that I revisited "radio" for years doing our old podcast, before podcasts were cool. Last year I figured out how to do music radio shows via PRX, and had fun doing that. On the video side, I've messed around doing mini-docs or just video of my kid doing kid things. We've even made some YouTube videos for fun. The deeper appeal to the work was always the act of creation, and especially in the Internet age, you don't need to have a broadcast signal to make stuff and share it. And when you work in my field, you can afford to buy the toys, too, which can be dangerous if you have a gadget fetish.
I don't miss working in those fields. I like what I do now. I can still make things, even if I don't get paid for them.
Americans have for a long time had a cultural contract intended to remind you that our way of life was made possible in part because because of the service of others. Specifically, it has referred to military service, and the cost of that service is sometimes the life of our citizens. The deeper intention, I hope, is for people to understand that keeping the machine working does in fact require sacrifice and some degree of selflessness on the part of its people.
Personally, I embrace a wider view of this American history. Revolutionaries fought for independence, others fought to abolish slavery, women fought for equal rights, the civil rights fight is ongoing, healthcare workers and teachers have been putting their lives at risk for the last year, as have most people working in service industries... you could go on forever with examples like this. The freedom that we enjoy, imperfect as it is, comes on the back of a great deal of sacrifice.
I don't think that's something to shame people into believing, I think it's something that we should celebrate. And whether it's a Veteran's Day parade or people all over New York City clapping for first responders and healthcare workers, we do that.
Unfortunately, it seems there is a subset of people who do not practice what they preach. With the pandemic, we have essentially had to go to war against a faceless pathogen, and winning that war requires sacrifice. It previously meant that we had to temporarily cease business to keep it from breaking our healthcare system, and later it broke regionally anyway. It meant limits to in-person social interaction. It still means wearing masks to protect ourselves and each other. It means getting vaccinated.
And yet, an extraordinary number of people have made this a political issue where they believe that their freedom is threatened. Where is that core belief that freedom isn't free, that sometimes it requires some sacrifice? Some of what has been asked of people has had devastating results. We've lost more than a half-million people. There has been extraordinary sacrifice. But is wearing a mask, or being asked to avoid crowds, really something that has interfered with your freedom? I certainly don't care for the mitigation protocols, but they're one of the few things that I'm qualified to do to help get the world beyond this. It's not a heavy lift, and honestly, I wouldn't even qualify it as a sacrifice.
The last year has made me more aware than ever about the role that individuals play in improving our communities and the world. I have been trying to be more deliberate about charitable giving (mainly not just doing it in reaction to a need), looking for ways to improve inclusivity and equality in anything I'm involved with, and getting involved when I think my talents or time can help. We have a lot of work to do to keep that freedom flowing, or get it where it needs to be for those that don't yet truly have it.
A week ago I had my second vaccine dose, and what I didn't know then is that I would be largely knocked on my ass for two nights. As is the case with a lot of people who got the Moderna shots, that second one put me deep into that sick funk, with some intermittent fever even. I tell myself that maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought, because I haven't been actually sick since late 2019 (turns out that avoiding Covid means avoiding everything). While this was not convenient, in the middle of my time off from work, I'm still thankful to have it done.
While I still technically have another week for full efficacy, the difference between 90 and 95%, probably, and likely 100% against hospitalization, I tend to view nearly every situation differently. I don't walk into a restaurant thinking about table density, or into Home Depot wondering if that contractor hacking up a lung is spreading disease. At the grocery store, I look at the old folks as the first line of enhanced humans, while I wonder how long it will be before the teenage baggers get their shot. We can make plans to see grandparents. We're talking with other parents about getting the kids together. We're even wondering when it will be time to return to the theme parks, not out of concern of Covid safety, but wondering when they'll be able to service a reasonable capacity.
But what to do with the kids? There is growing concern that youth sports and kid parties are causing a lot of community spread, and obviously the more kids get infected, the more you see some percentage of them get exceptionally ill or have long-term effects. (The lack of testing in club sports in particular seems pretty dumb.) It turns out that pediatric Covid death is also significantly more common than flu death, in part because it's more contagious. The crappy reality is that, best case scenario, the trials for kids won't be done until September.
While vaccinated adults will certainly help to slow down the pandemic, it seems like we need guidance about the kids. I think the schools have it figured out (at least, they do in my district), but their efforts assume some portion of kids are remote learning, which no one wants because it's fucking terrible and ineffective. Adult gatherings that may include kids also need some guidelines.
Vacation travel has to be figured out, too, which absolutely will include families with children. The CDC isn't getting anything right with the cruise industry, which has started to figure that their only way forward is to vaccinate crews themselves and require it of passengers. That's probably fine for most of them, but not Disney Cruise Line. The theme parks need a long-term plan as well, to understand when they can appropriately increase capacity, do standing room night spectaculars, allow queue density, with children, and probably above all, set mask expectations. For a significant time forward, there really are two populations: vaccinated adults and everyone else.
And then, what do we do about the holdouts? If herd immunity is not effectively achieved without 70-90% of people getting the shots, then what? We don't reach that level without children. We might not get there if these goofy anti-vax people don't get on board. We need to start getting the vaccine to all the places in the world that haven't started yet, too.
It's a weird time... you can see something awesome on the horizon, and it feels good. Just need to push it across the finish line. One more week and I'm licking doorknobs with reckless abandon!
Within a few weeks of writing about unloading some of my older camera gear, I pulled the trigger on buying a Canon R6 mirrorless camera. I expressed my concern earlier about the apparent deprecation of the classic EF lens mount, and sure enough, it looks like that's happening as they discontinue lenses. The new RF mount, which the R6 has, is obviously the new hotness. (I also swapped video cameras, but that's a different post.)
I think it has been obvious for awhile now that ditching the mirrors in DSLR's while keeping mechanical shutters was going to be the new normal in photography. Several years ago I had a great time with the tiny Panasonic and its micro-4/3 lens on vacation in Alaska, and while there are compromises in using a small sensor like that, optically the results were pretty great. A little over two years ago, Canon announced the RF lens mount, which decreased the distance between the lens and the sensor by more than half, and without the mirrors, the cameras could physically be smaller. Having four "old" EF lenses, three of which are the mid-level "L" lenses (the more capable, and more expensive, lenses), I was in no hurry to jump into the new system, but understood it was the future.
My first full-frame Canon was the original 5D, back in 2008. It was the first time I ever had the good tools, and it made me remember just how much I loved photography (my first outing with it was at WDW). The next year, I bought the 7D, which was not full-frame, but I wanted it for the video capability. The 5D came with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, easily the most versatile lens I've ever had. I previously bought the EF 70-200mm f/4 (non-IS) to use with an older cropped sensor body. I also scored the 50mm f/1.4 for dreamy portrait photos. Those three lenses covered almost everything, and I shot babies and 5K's and engagement photos and weddings. Later I would add the EF 17-40mm f/4, which makes some amazing wide angle images. In any case, I was really invested in the Canon system, and I've had most of that gear for more than a decade.
Despite the nomenclature, the R6 is the spiritual successor to the 5D. The body by itself is priced similarly to the various 5D versions (when each of the four was new). The R5 is much more expensive, and much higher resolution, but I compare that to the 1D X, though not as expensive. For video, the R5 in theory can shoot 8K video when it isn't melting and shutting down, but its 4K down-sampling is actually terrible and not as good as the R6. All this to say, maybe a pro would be satisfied to have an R6, but it's likely more targeted to the high-end amateur and hobbyist like me. Adjusting for inflation, I paid about the same amount as I did for the 5D in 2008.
Getting the camera in your hand, it's strange because the body is smaller, by a lot, compared even to my original 5D. Part of that is the much smaller flange depth and lack of mirrors that I mentioned. The battery is about the same size as those they've been making forever, and there are two slots for SD cards. There is no LCD on top for your shooting parameters, which is fine because you can see them on the touch screen on the back or in the viewfinder. The controls have not fundamentally changed in more than a decade, but you have two more dials than you did back then. One dial is on top, by your right thumb, which I've used mostly for menu navigation and zooming when reviewing photos. The other new dial, and it's an interesting choice, is on every new RF lens, on the end of the barrel. I think the default is for under/over exposing or something, but I honestly haven't thought of a reason to use it. You can dial in the ISO on the touch screen, and that's the only thing I might change from one scene to the next, but just once.
From a capability perspective, the thing blowing my mind is the auto-focus. I can't even put into words how amazing it is, that it has come so far in 13 years. If you set your focus to AI servo and turn on face tracking (which can be set to humans or animals), it nails the focus so crazy fast and continuously. Note the photo of Finn below, with his eyes in sharp focus at f/2.8, while he's jumping in the air. That took no special skill to get that photo. Where 1600 ISO used to be pushing it for "good" image quality, you can safely go to 3200 and still feel pretty good about the results, while 800 seems almost indistinguishable from 100.
It can also shoot video in 4K, up to 60 fps, and it looks pretty great. I have a "real" video camera for shooting video, but what this can do is basically the most cinematic vacation video you've ever made, with dreamy blurred backgrounds. The exposure setup is a little weird, but the win is that you can set the ISO to auto. You still don't have neutral density filters built-in, obviously, which is the most annoying thing about trying to shoot video on these cameras (meaning mirrorless or DSLR photo bodies). You change your shutter speed above 1/50 to compensate for over-exposure, and the video looks like a shitty Michael Bay movie.
In the new world of magical RF lenses, the broad advantage is that they're all a little shorter than their EF counterparts, and slightly less heavy. Lenses are still where the money matters the most, and you get the most out of your investment. While I love my EF lenses, I always had a little regret that I couldn't justify buying the more expensive versions that opened to f/2.8. In the case of the long zoom, not getting the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS, with the image stabilization being the most important part, was always a slight regret. Sports and animal photography would have been much better with that lens, but it was the difference between paying just under a grand and paying $2,600, and 35-year-old me made a good choice. This time around, I don't want to make those compromises, which is why I started with the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS. When it's time to get the long zoom, I'll save my pennies for the better one. These lenses will be with me literally to retirement.
The RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS is universally reviewed as great, as its EF predecessor was. If you photograph things that aren't moving, you can be blown away at how sharp and beautiful everything is, even when you freehand shoot wide at 1/30. But combine it with the insane auto-focus ability of the camera and the speed of the motors, and again, you can get crazy cats with sharp eyes without a lot of trying. I am really floored. I put the lens on my C70 cinema camera (review forthcoming) and on a gimbal, and while the AF is slightly slower, the results are still pretty stunning.
Now, I still want to use my 50mm and the 17-40mm, so I have to buy the $100 EF to RF adapter. I mean, I can't, because they've been out of stock forever, but someday I'll be able to do that. I still have my 5D body, because it isn't really worth anything, so I can dual-wield if I so desire. I sold my 7D to a friend who is getting great use out of it.
Overall, the R6 is outstanding, in the same way that the 5D was amazing 13 years ago. I know the gains in image quality, noise reduction and auto-focus have been happening for years, it's just surprising at how dramatic it is. I'm also kind of proud of myself in that my gadget problem is not that serious when I go so long between upgrades of big ticket items (cameras, TV's, game consoles, computers).
Samples below using Canon R6 with RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS
I got my second Covid shot today, about a year and three weeks after the pandemic was officially serious in the US. Obviously my first feeling is one of relief. I don't have to go to public places and wonder if there's something around in the air that could put me in the hospital, potentially carried by someone who doesn't know it (or doesn't care).
I'm absolutely astonished at the scientific process that led to a half-dozen effective vaccines in under a year. Like the miracle of smart phones, I think people completely take for granted how amazing this is. Mind you, the approaches to these vaccines were based on existing work for preventing other diseases, but creating the substance and then organizing huge trials all over the world so quickly is a big deal. Granted, the financial incentives were a big deal as well, but they needed mountains of data because the scrutiny by regulating agencies was going to be enormous. This just doesn't happen under normal circumstances.
The stats say that I'm in the first 14% fully vaccinated in Orange County, the first 17% in Florida, 19% in the US, 1% globally. Lots of privilege here, which makes me particularly grateful. Diana gets next her second next week. Simon is 11, so unfortunately he's not eligible at all yet, and they're just starting the trials for kids. As someone who lives in an international tourist destination, getting kids and the world vaccinated will have a lot to do with how "normal" things get here.
Thrilled to be part of the progress! After two more weeks, I can safely lick doorknobs again. I'm excited just to have people over for small gatherings.
I am off work for a week, starting this evening. Unfortunately, I'm not going anywhere. I can't really blame this on Covid, either. It has more to do with the fact that I have a school-age child.
Certainly I'll have to get creative and figure out how to do leisure in a non-travel way. In the fall of 2019, we actually stayed at the Disney resort closest to Simon's school, Coronado Springs, exactly five miles away as the crow flies. We dropped him off in the morning, did stuff, then fetched him for the evenings. While not ideal, it meant pool time at a cool hotel, meals we didn't have to cook, and then that weekend, solid family theme park time in a way that you ordinarily don't do as a local. It was a fun week.
I'll be blocking one day off for Diana's surgery follow-up, and my second vaccine shot (Moderna, known for kicking your ass a little). Beyond that, there will be rum sipping, LEGO building, and hopefully I'll figure out some kind of short video project to do with the family, if I can talk them into acting. Hopefully we'll do some grownup lunches, too. I also give myself permission to take long walks and take naps, if I so choose.
I wonder how things will be in the summer, once significant numbers of people have been vaccinated. Not having kids in that pool is still a concern, but it will help a great deal if their parents are pricked. While being low risk for illness or long-term problems, they are potentially a vector for those who can't be vaccinated for whatever reason, which is a drag.
Selfishly, I just want to cruise again. We spent that money more than a year ago and Disney Cruise Line is still holding on to it (though we had it refunded for the planned Alaska sailing). For now though, I just have to figure out what I can do between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., which I've learned this week is surprisingly not a lot of time, as I've been acting school bus driver while Diana recovers.
I was browsing about YouTube when a creator that covers an interest of mine posted a video indicating that she would commit full-time to making content, and quitting her day job. I thought, cool, it's great to see the Internet being a means for individuals to reach an audience and even make a living from it. I've been there myself, to a limited degree. But I realized in watching her that she also has an advantage in making this leap: She lives in the UK, and she will always have healthcare available to her from the NHS. She doesn't need a job to make sure she has healthcare.
If you're an American, like me, you have no idea what this is like. One of my friends from Norway half-jokingly said that maybe it's why we seem so unhappy (Norway is always a top 5 happiest country). I think most people generally acknowledge that healthcare being tied to insurance being tied to full-time employment is a chain that doesn't make sense, and we become particularly aware of it during recessions and global pandemics. We hate the thing where treatments aren't covered, there are massive deductibles and co-pays, billing almost never goes as planned.
I relate to that young YouTuber because I have been in positions before where I might have an opportunity to explore some side hustle or maybe develop a real business. But every single time, it comes down to the fact that there's no universe where I can risk financial ruin by way of an unexpected medical problem, and this is even more true now that I'm over 40 and have a family. Simon's ADHD medications alone would be impossible to cover. And thank God none of us are diabetic and need insulin to, you know, not die. Universal health care would be incredibly helpful to stimulate new opportunities among those who want to start a business or work indefinitely on gig jobs, whether it be professional consulting, performing in the arts or even driving for Uber.
Not only does universal healthcare benefit gig workers and entrepreneurs, but it so obviously gets employers out of the healthcare equation entirely, which would vastly change the equation in what they have to pay for. No employer likes paying for health insurance, and many only pay the bare minimum in the first place, leaving the bulk of the cost on the employee. This isn't just a problem for employers attracting and retaining unskilled labor, either. Even cash rich technology companies know that the insurance benefit is part of the overall compensation package and they have to be competitive.
Obviously this means another deduction line on your paycheck, but it would replace the one you probably already have. At a previous job, I was already paying about a grand of month right off the top for health insurance, and it wasn't even that good. Closing the loopholes that allow crazy profitable companies to not pay corporate income taxes would also help. At the end of the day, the important thing to accept is this: We pay more per capita for healthcare than any other country, and we don't have even close to the best outcomes. It gets worse every year. I don't understand the people who fear single-payer, expanded Medicare or even some transitional thing. Your cost sucks and outcomes suck today. You're paying for steak dinners and getting McDonald's food that will make you sicker.
Am I suggesting that it's OK to wipe out an entire system of a middle-man market, and all the jobs that go with it? Yes. That industry doubled in head count from 1970 to 2000, and in the last few years started rising again. For what? What value are we getting out of that? Health insurance pays for less and is less service oriented than ever. It's 2.5 million people, which seems like a lot, but for context, the economy added 900k jobs last month. There is larger economic opportunity ahead. And in real life, we know America doesn't have the nuts to make a bold change like that. Whatever we come up with, it will be incremental and gradual.
But let's stop with this nonsense that the free market is better at paying for healthcare. It clearly is not. The only one benefiting from the enormous per capita cost is the insurance companies.
After more than three years in our house, and seven of Florida home ownership overall, we finally bought some patio furniture.
That probably sounds wholly unremarkable, but we spend so much patio time, all year. We previously had a not that comfortable love seat that a neighbor gave us, where two out of three of us could sit. For some reason we were OK with that for years. Now we have an L-shaped couch and a rocker thing, and it's glorious.
I don't know why we're cheap about buying stuff for home. It's sparsely decorated, though basically functional. In seven years, we replaced a mattress and bought a dining room table, but that's it. I mean, Diana cobbled together a makeup table from spare parts last year (and then mostly stopped wearing makeup because pandemic), instead of buying something. Today we ordered a little end table to put between the couch and the chair, after years of putting drinks on the floor next to the chair.
I think this year we'll replace the carpet. The stuff the builder used is total shit, and it's a matted mess after just three years, with three people living here. That's gonna suck. I don't wanna do the Florida thing and do tile either (first thing the buyers of our last home did).
Diana had surgery on her other foot today to repair or remove a nerve wrapped in benign tissue that was making it painful for her to walk. I don't entirely understand the science, I just know that being on her feet, especially without shoes, hasn't been going well for months. The surgery went pretty fast, about a half-hour or so, and she's home and resting.
Certainly this is scary and difficult for her, but I've largely pretended to be Zen about it, because that's what you do when your life partner is experiencing something scary and difficult. I feel like we've had more than our share of these kinds of things (including immediate family and friends), so I'm hoping that's it for awhile. We've got an ongoing series of important decisions to make in the next two months, then boom, hopefully we can resume the party.
I generally resist finding patterns where there is only coincidence, and I loathe when people say "everything happens for a reason," to suggest that it's some cosmic process and not a series of obvious and real reasons. But the four-year cycle of awesome things is once again due this year. 2017 was the big move to our current house, 2013 was the move to Florida, 2009 (and change) was getting married, moving to Seattle and procreating (that was a bit much for one year), 2005 was my forced life reboot. 2021 has enormous potential, as long as a few things continue on their current path.
It sounds like Diana's recovery should be pretty smooth and not take months the way that it did when they had to reconstruct her other foot with the bone cutting and screws and what not. That's good, because we are both fully vaccinated with waiting period as of April 28, and hopefully the rest of the adults get their shit together so we can beat this thing. I think we're all due for a solid year.
Everyone knows someone who can't sit still and has to have all time planned and accounted for. In my super judgy way, I find this a convenient way to avoid thinking about life or engaging in self-reflection. But in the last year, I think I have the opposite problem, because I wallow in thought. At times it interferes with me doing, well, anything. In my defense, sometimes I don't have a lot to do. (And you don't either... you just make different choices.)
I was having a day like this today. Allergy meds were already taking a toll on my general alertness, but what would normally be a half hour of quiet reflection turned into two hours of wallowing in my thoughts. I covered it all... health, mortality, parenting, career, finances. Mercifully I skipped over the parts about "why am I me?" because that topic has been beaten to death in the last few years.
I've said before that my variation on meditation is often to find a quiet place to lie down, where I can feel a good breeze or listen to good music, and let my brain be quiet and present. When that isn't coming to me easily, I get into that wallowing. I often confuse the two, and often go into one or the other in an indeliberate fashion. Thinking about all the things can be a serious rabbit hole, and it's hard to break out of that cycle.
That's the funny thing about comparing your personal life to your career. As a manager, I've learned and developed habits that lead me to process things quickly so I can move on and go to the next thing. (Sidebar: Like many things in work, this is absolutely learned and practiced, which is why I tend to agree with folks who believe that education is not a skip-the-line entitlement in business.) But when it comes to real life, it's exceptionally difficult to do the thing and move on, because the things are never simple and discreet tasks. As a 40-something who never gave much thought to retirement and is making up for it now, I couldn't when I was 25 just open an IRA, fund it, and then contribute to it twice a month for the next 40 years. Setting yourself up to do something 1,000 times over 40 years isn't simple or immediate. As a parent, I can't teach Simon to make a sandwich for himself once and consider him ready for college. Big life things are not like taking out the garbage or buying groceries or filling out a TPS report.
If wallowing in my thoughts has caused me to arrive at any conclusions, it's that you can't manage life at all. You can set up some broad targets, but they're moving. I didn't plan to change careers or get divorced or even move to Central Florida, but here I am. Ultimately, I think returning to that reality is the way to not get too lost in thought, and that's what I hope I can do going forward. You can only type so many words on the keyboard of life.
I'm fortunate enough to have four weeks off per year (plus holidays), and for a long time I've been in that boat. Typically I try to take a week off about every quarter instead of breaking it down into smaller pieces. I'm almost to another week off from work, and I find myself right at the place of being mentally spent.
To be clear, I love the work, but it is challenging, and I work pretty hard. I've never been a workaholic, but I've never been great at really creating boundaries when working remotely, which is to say that I'll roll into the office between 8 and 8:30, and not really take any meaningful break until I end at 5:30 or 6. Being that plugged in for that long everyday I think has a cost, which becomes obvious on Friday nights when I turn into an intellectual blob.
I'm sure the decompression need is compounded in similar ways that it is for everyone. The pandemic has challenged everyone, and the relative stability of a good job doesn't isolate you from it. Like anyone, we have some serious challenges at home, too.
Am I doing it wrong by waiting three months to take time off? Maybe, but I think the pandemic context is why it feels harder. In "normal" times, we get out and go bowling, or to theme parks, and we have parties, and we travel to places. We're even pretty good at hacking around having a child in school, with our wonderful Epcot lunches, or even local hotel stays while Simon is still in class. Some of that will come back as soon as the next few months, fortunately. By the end of April, Diana and I, and our parents, will all be fully vaccinated plus the two weeks. Simon obviously won't be, but he's the least vulnerable.
There have been some "discoveries" certainly over the last year that have made up for our routines. A combination of much carry-out food, socially distant fire pits, berry picking, routine Zoom meetings, etc., have all helped things out. I think the limitation is less about the availability of things to do and more about how spontaneous you can be. It seems like you have to plan more to do stuff.
Diana and I had a two-year running tradition of visiting New York in early April, and I hope we can resume that next year. With any luck, maybe I'll get to our office in One World Trade Center before the end of the year. This year, I'll just be hanging out, shuttling Simon to and from school and maybe catching up on my crafting.
I finally figured out my midlife crisis, and it's fortunately not prostitutes and cocaine. I won't rule out a Porsche just yet, but mostly in trying to game out retirement. As I often say, I'm half way between wearing diapers and wearing diapers, so now's a good time to think about this.
I think I've got a fighting chance at making up for the dipshittery of my 20's and early 30's (not saving). But wow, all of the financial outcomes are tied pretty hard to property. We reset the clock yet again refinancing the house late last year, because the rates dropped our payment several hundred dollars. We're 30 years out again, but have way more equity in a house we'll leave before paying off. What will the next place look like? Downsized? Same area? Coastal living? Mountains? Overseas? Private island?
The usual caveats apply... I couldn't have predicted where I am now ten years ago, and the crazy thing is that's exciting to me now instead of terrifying.
What I'm struggling with right now is an obsession with the ocean. The sound of the waves brings me great peace, whether it's on a ship or on the beach. Logically I follow that I should live on the beach, much as I realized getting away from Midwest gray skies would feel better. I just don't know if that's a transient sentiment or something fundamentally me, and in either case, I don't know if Diana would really dig it.
If it really is our permanent vacation, how does it look? I'm not interested in condos. Maybe townhomes are OK, but the bottom line is that it has to be a single-family house, and I'm not sure if we could really afford that. And what of the timing? Try to buy now and rent it out (hopefully covering an expensive mortgage and insurance)? Buy an empty lot while they still exist? Find a shit hole that needs rehab? Keep saving and buy in our 60's? There's no playbook for this.
All of these outcomes are also contingent on economic prosperity, which frankly seems fragile. I might have a new sense of adventure, but I have no faith in "the system."
Of course, the beach is just one idea. I don't want to really deal in winter in old age, so that limits me to tropical and desert locales. Also Hawaii, but that seems out of reach because it's so expensive.
This is what a year spent 95% at home will do to you.
I read a couple of things recently that got me to thinking about the metaphors one might use relative to the pandemic and mental health, and what is hopefully its turning point.
We're dealing with the third straight day of cold and gray weather, which is exceptionally rare around here. It's no secret that I'm seriously impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it was a major factor in moving to Central Florida. I'm tired, low energy and it feeds into a feeling that I've had a lot in recent months. (Allergy meds are making this worse.) Maybe I can just sleep a bit longer, until I have both shots, and there's more of a sense of normalcy. I'm not sure what that even means, but it probably means Simon seeing his grandparents, having people inside of our house, open cruise lines, TV news anchors not sitting 10 feet apart, etc. It's not far away. Mentally, wondering when we would see it comes with a certain exhaustion, but now I equate it a little to what flying is like for me. It's not really comfortable or enjoyable, but there's usually something fun after the flight, so if you can just turn your brain off for a little bit, you'll get there.
Then I was thinking about what it will be like when we do stuff that we couldn't do for the last year. Will it be intoxicating, like the rush of a first kiss? I think about seeing friends from out-of-town, meeting up with them at a resort for drinks, or boarding a ship, or even going to an otherwise boring kid birthday party. We'll have all of these "first times" that are really just first times in a long time, and that's kind of exciting. I'd like to think that I have been reasonably appreciative of life's seemingly unremarkable moments, but I predict new levels of appreciation going forward for the most mundane of activities.
And if I'm being really honest, the last year has been difficult, but working remotely in the first place in a great job, being able to afford delivery of things and essentially private rentals on the beach for vacations, we haven't had the worst by any measure. We're weeks away from getting to full vaccination without any of us getting sick, or worse, losing friends, family or coworkers to the disease, as many of our friends have. While all of this is true, we're definitely ready to get beyond the long naps and look forward to the first kisses.
Apparently some blowhard on Fox "News" declared that Generation X, my generation, must rise up and fight this "cancel culture" that is aggrieving entitled white Boomers all over the country. Now, to be clear, no such thing is actually happening. Sure, Disney is throwing up some warnings about culturally icky things in its classic Muppet Show, the Dr. Seuss estate has chosen to stop publishing some less popular books with some equally icky racial stereotypes, and Hasbro has dropped the "Mr." from the Potato Head brand for reasons I don't even care about. And I'm confident enough in my own identity to say that, yeah, you bet I put a little lipstick on Mr. Potato Head as a kid, because he deserved to be pretty too. We all do.
Now, let's pretend for a moment that any of this shit matters, when there are actual problems like a dramatic rise in hate crime against Asians, Black folks are still getting disproportionately shot by police, women still don't make as much as men for the same jobs, and you risk bankruptcy and can't get proper healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic unless you have a job with excellent benefits. How does anyone really have the balls to ask my generation to help you with these non-issues? Do y'all remember what you put us through?
In the 80's, you vilified everything that we liked to do. You came after Dungeons & Dragons because it was "Satanic." You flipped out when boys wore earrings. You claimed without data that video games were ruining us, and our music, especially metal and rap music, were rotting our brains. To fight this danger, you made sure that all of our art was labeled, and that stores wouldn't sell us stuff that was "harmful," in part because you were too busy to get involved in our lives. (And we later swung the other way and invented helicopter parenting and participation trophies, so, sorry, we're not great at this either.)
Then in the 90's, having survived puberty, we called you out on all of the bullshit, and you didn't listen to us. No offense to younger folks, but being "woke" isn't calling out bad behavior on the Twitter. We didn't even have Twitter. We had to show up to stuff and write letters to newspapers and legislators. Our music got darker, its heroes committed suicide. We were dragged into a war over oil. Rodney King got the shit beat out of him and you did nothing about the systemic racism. We tried to explain why AIDS was a crisis, and you championed abstinence while proclaiming it's just a "gay disease." Shit, you're still casting aside gay people as inferior, and rejecting pandemic science. When we advocated for women and called out the blatant sexism built into our culture, you doubled down and said a woman's place is in the home. We normalized recycling as a first step to respecting the environment, and you dismissed it as virtue signaling.
I have to admit, we're partially at fault for the fact that so little has changed in the last two or three decades. If I were to generalize, we tend to be artists, dreamers, nerds and technologists, and those are not attributes well suited to politics. We have few impactful politicians among us (technically we could claim Obama, but he's a little old for Gen-X), in part because we might be too smart to want those positions. My hope is that we've made up for it by commercializing the Internet, making software a part of our daily lives, quietly developing sustainable energy, making our communities and workplaces more inclusive and, on average, not complaining about how disadvantaged we are. You sent us to school with keys on strings around our necks and we came home to empty houses. We can take care of ourselves.
So if you're in the camp looking for Gen-X to help maintain the status quo in some kind of culture war, you might be out of your fucking mind. We've seen this movie before, and I'll repeat what we were saying decades ago: What you say and do has consequences, and you're not victims. Don't mistake "cancel culture," which you used to call "political correctness," for just not wanting people to say and do reprehensible shit. As someone now dealing with the discomfort of middle age, it doesn't seem like you should be spending your remaining time worrying about whether or not Disney warns you about Fozzie Bear making a sexist wife joke. Is that how you want to spend your golden years? Maybe it is, because your priorities weren't much better in the 80's and 90's.
I'm not going to spend a ton of time talking about this, because I don't even know what to talk about (or what I can talk about in situations like these), but Olo, the company I work for went public today and I wanted to record the event.
I've worked for a lot of companies that wanted to grow, and perhaps go public, but the pattern early on that I observed was that it didn't happen very often. But then, sometimes it does.
Hello, NYSE! pic.twitter.com/RBNljvYvSS— Olo (@Olo) March 17, 2021
I famously declared in my first year of parenthood that having a child may in fact change you, but that the change tends to be more additive than transformative. Among my friends who I knew pre-parenthood, I would probably generalize that most haven't changed, exactly, but they're definitely more than they were. Does that difference make sense?
Simon had his 11-year doctor visit, and yeah, he's at the age for the HPV vaccine, which is crazy. Shots aside, he's generally pretty healthy, but a little high in weight percentiles, because aren't we all right now. Of course this makes me contemplative of those early visits, not to mention the ER trip when he dislocated his elbow (and the face he made when the doctor popped it back in). But how did I develop?
Obviously, I learned I had to just roll with all the shit, literally and figuratively. I don't even think this is related to the autism or ADHD challenges, because early on, kids barf, they're hungry when they just ate and even though they have few opinions, they also have no fucks about your schedule or needs. I can't think of anything in my life more chaotic and unpredictable, whether it be the typical teenage experience, buying a house or even getting divorced. Kids force you to adapt, because you don't have another option.
So here's to giving in to chaos, losing control and not trying to manage everything. Life is definitely easier this way.
Today I finished fixing a series of problems related to our washing machine, and it felt good. At some point recently, one of the intake valves started leaking. The laundry room has a drain pan connected to a pipe, and that pan had a big crack in it and it wasn't firmly connected to the pipe, which is to say the water was leaking all over the floor. Fortunately that wasn't serious, because the tiles on the floor don't allow the water to go anywhere.
Popping the top off of the washer, it wasn't hard to find the leaking intake valve, and two minutes of research on the Internets revealed this was a common problem. (Also surprising, this same part appears to be used in most washers under several brands for much of the last decade and a half, and I have to wonder why some of them cost a grand and others don't.) I found the part online for $20, and it took 15 minutes to replace. The new drain pan took some messing with, because the pipe sits kind of high, and I had to Dremel off the lip of the pan so the pipe would be flush. As it is, it has to angle a little since the orientation of the pipe isn't straight. But I think I got a good seal with some large washers.
None of this was particularly complicated, but in terms of achievements, it felt good and validating to fix these, instead of having to pay someone else to do it. I have to solve complex problems every day at work, involving many people and over weeks and months, but that kind of thing never has the same satisfaction as the quick home improvement thing. Parenting problems are even harder, and frankly no one is ever there to thank you or high five you when you work through those problems.
Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, I rotated the tires on one of our cars, and replaced the cabin air filters and cleaned the AC coil. While not particularly complex, it did require pulling off some panels, and it's great that even after sitting in the sun, the car doesn't stink when the air conditioning starts spinning up. And who doesn't love saying that they have activated charcoal HEPA filters in their car?
I don't do stuff like that very often, and when I do, it usually involves buying tools that I don't really need. Rotating the tires properly means having a torque wrench, which cost $50, even though Tesla will literally come to my house and swap wheels around for $35. But doing it yourself is satisfying, like installing ceiling fans in every room when you move into a new house.
A year ago this week, we ate inside a restaurant for the last time, cancelled a cruise and stocked up on liquor for the spring break that didn't end. The last year caused a lot of chaos, and the dark anniversary causes a lot of reflection for me. For some it results in a lot of entitlement and righteous politics, but I'll get to that later.
Just before Covid-19 started to spread in the states, the thing that already concerned me was the middling nature of the threat. The early science, which panned out even if the "right" mitigation strategy was a moving target, suggested that this was a disease that was frighteningly easy to transmit, but the odds of dying from it if you were hospitalized was 1 in 4. It took six months to get that down to 1 in 10, mostly by changing the drug treatments and getting people off of their backs. But just looking at general odds of dying of the disease painted a picture that disadvantaged those over 50, because if you were under, the odds of you dying were very low, but in the process you became a transmission vector that was a real threat to lives over 50. We also know now that "long Covid" is a thing that knows no limits. Regardless, the disease was going to be bad, but not bad enough that people would take it seriously. Catastrophic consequences for relatively few from a disease easily transmitted is a recipe for apathy.
So far, 530,000 Americans have died from the disease, and it didn't have to be that way. Some of my friends lost parents, coworkers and friends, but my immediate circle has been spared.
I work remotely, so nothing really changed in my day job capacity, except that I've not had the chance to meet any of my team in real life. Well, the importance of the job changed, I suppose, when your company handles online ordering for major restaurant brands. We've obviously done a lot of take-out and delivery in the last year, and we're not alone in that.
For a good portion of the summer, our sunny Friday evenings involved making drinks, watching Suzy & Alex play covers and lots of neighborhood walks. That was the crazy thing, that I had never seen so much of my neighbors in the 300 or so units that make up our subdivision. Diana bought her first new bicycle in her life. There was a comfortable rhythm to life, though it sucked not having the theme parks, where we went not just for our own amusement, but to meet our friends.
Then came the Zoom calls... so many Zoom calls. Diana had a regular cadence with her work friends, we did calls with family and friends. I had virtual happy hours with my coworkers. On Christmas day, we just left a call open, posted the link online, and people dropped in whenever they felt like it. We had our Seattle counterparts on for about six hours. It wasn't ideal, but it was nice to catch up.
Diana was able to go back to work late in the year for outdoor shows, in an industry otherwise destroyed by this thing. No sooner did that begin that she was hit by a careless driver, totaling the car. I spent some time talking to the deputy as we waited for FHP to write up the accident, and I asked him how the pandemic affected his job. He told me he lost three friends to the disease, likely exposed from a public that was apathetic about the pandemic. Knowing a few nurses and doctors, I know it had been pretty terrible for them, but framing the problem in the context of a non-medical, first responder, that frustrated me. It still does.
We've been careful not to be shut-ins, but at the same time tried to avoid obvious risk. Diana and Simon have had their share of bronchitis and pneumonia, so there's some elevated risk there. We've all had our share of time in retail establishments and outdoor activities. Simon went back in to school once their mitigation strategy was validated. We've avoided grandparents since they're the most vulnerable, especially with surgeries and cancer treatments.
The end of this is in sight though. I've had my first vaccination, and April 19 I'm two weeks after the second, and protected. Diana could get her first maybe as soon as next week if the state or county decides it's time. Simon may not be eligible until later in the year, but if adults are doing their thing, they become extremely low risk for infection, let alone serious illness.
We may have to wear masks in many public indoor places for awhile, but I don't think that's a huge deal. The mask thing is the single most frustrating aspect of the pandemic though, because this relatively simple and effective thing has been made political to an insane degree. Americans have demonstrated a willingness to be entitled and selfish in a way that made the pandemic far worse than it had to be. People (usually white, well-off people) say things like, "I should be able to choose what's right for me and my family," not grasping that defeating disease is not something that comes down to individuals, but collective effort. One's actions affect everyone else. So explain your grasp of freedom to someone who lost a parent or coworker or friend, I'm sure that will be reassuring for them. Explain it to people in New Zealand or Australia, where they have concerts and don't have to wear masks anymore.
American reaction in general seems typical of our culture: Think about right now and disregard the future. What we've learned from other nations that mitigated hard up front is that the short-term economic damage was worth it in the long run, because it led to better economic and health outcomes in the long run. We collectively have ignored this, and we've had more deaths per capita and the economic carnage to go with it, because all of that death isn't free.
Having wholly incompetent leadership at many levels didn't help, especially those that thought it prudent to hide or question the scientists. A friend of mine who leads a municipal government in Florida has repeatedly over the last year expressed his frustration with the fact that no one at the federal and state level was really doing anything to help. Even fundamental and honest communication based in reality would have been a great start. To that end, the clarity we've seen in the last two months, with a CDC enabled to do its job, things are getting better. Vaccine distribution and manufacturing has ramped up and has clearer outcomes.
The biggest question for me is, how do we move forward? The investment to plan for this sort of thing isn't large compared to the possible outcomes, and it was on the Bush administration's radar almost 20 years ago. Furthermore, the pandemic has demonstrated how broken our healthcare system is, how vulnerable we are to hunger and homelessness and the cultural destructiveness of those inequities. We can't just sweep that under the rug and pretend it's OK. After two hundred years of American exceptionalism, it's time to own up to the fact that we're not all we're cracked up to be, but a little self-awareness could lead to action that would give us something to really boast about.
Psychologically, yes, this has been a challenging year, though in my case, much of that had to do with other factors outside of the pandemic. But realistically, my societal rank allowed me to coast through the year with minimal risk or difficulty. I'm not going to insult anyone who had to stand in line for food by complaining I had to have my wine delivered to me. I'm definitely not going to claim entitlement to freedom of masks when the FedEx delivery woman has to enter a crowded warehouse and then go door to door dropping things off to uppity suburbanites who get to work from home. We might all have our struggles, but they're not the same.
As we emerge from this, we need to do a better job at being a functional society. I don't think that's political, it's about basic human respect.
When I got home from my freshman year of college, in 1992, I almost immediately fell into a routine of watching MTV, which was not available on the cable system in Ashland, Ohio. Back then, it really was Music Television, but they had a few shows, including something new called The Real World. The premise was simple enough: Throw seven people into a loft, living together, document their interactions, and see what happens when "people stop being polite, and start getting real."
I was completely infatuated with the show, in part because documentary filmmaking was interesting to me even then, but also because it involved people my age who were passionate. They were people I wanted to be around. Everything going on in the world then, and the focus in the show on race, was a conversation not being had anywhere else. There was no reality TV back then, so we were seeing a genuine experiment at the time, which of course the critics hated. Even then, us Gen-X'ers were pretty skeptical of everything, and to avoid being called naive, I think we all felt like it was a little contrived. I mean, what could possibly happen when you put a Black activist and a southern white girl who never left home together, right?
But going back and seeing clips of the show now, I don't believe it was contrived at all. Sure, the producers had to expect some level of conflict, but what they captured was raw and I think very real. The casting brilliance wasn't the diversity as much as it was the fact that every last one of them were artists and performers. They were deep feelers, naive themselves, and vulnerable by nature. The intense arguments were memorable, but even with the immaturity of that age, they had real, important conversations about race. It's literally everything coming back to the forefront in the last year, but the difference I think is that they were willing to go there back then, whereas now, people don't. In fact, that context, seeing history repeat itself, makes me feel like my generation really dropped the ball. Many of us were pretty "woke" in those days, but as life happened, we didn't do much with it. Talk about white privilege.
Paramount+ (not sure why all streaming services have to end in "+") is doing a short series putting the roommates back in that loft for a few days, and they put the first episode for free on YouTube. Maybe if there's a free trial I'll binge it, because I'm super curious. Every one of those people were flawed in different ways, but I really did like them all. Like everyone my age, we're at that spot where we are contemplative about the choices we made then, and how we choose to proceed. There's more past than future, and fucking around without consequence isn't a thing anymore.
I had a lot of feelings that summer, and it was lonely. But I had the roommates on The Real World. It was the right thing at the right time. And because there was no blueprint for that sort of thing, it was probably the only time that a reality show was real, not a mess of attention whoring. Subsequent seasons never had the integrity or authenticity of that one, perhaps with the exception of half the San Francisco cast, as Pedro Zamora really put a face to the AIDS crisis.