Month: November 2021

Holidays and the Contraction of Time

Despite its problematic historical roots (I live on lands that were taken from the Goshute, Paiute, and Ute peoples), Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love that people gather around shared food and a deliberate intention to be grateful. I love that the holiday invites people into the idea of practicing gratitude. I even love the fact that its problematic roots gives people the opportunity to contend with a deep and complicated history, to salvage the good from the harm. To recognize that those of us who have benefited from past harm have a responsibility to try to move through the world in ways that repair harm. It is on all of us to help create a world that is better and kinder than the one we were born into.

This year I get to have all of my children gathered into my house rather than dropping a box of food on my daughter’s porch and waving to her on Zoom. I am grateful for the vaccinations which make my small gathering possible again. I am VERY grateful to not be in 2020 anymore with it’s perfect storm of November stresses. I just re-read this post where I named each of the contributing factors. As I read through, I was completely shocked to realize that the US presidential election was only a year ago. Time has gone so wobbly, that feels like several years ago at least. It feels as if the things which happened before the pandemic belong to a different lifetime, things which happened during the pandemic are a pocket universe that is both one long yesterday and a long time ago, and then there is now, where pandemic is sort-of done, but not really. Today is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but somehow feels like the Saturday after.

Last night on the drive home from work, my son said “Oh. We’re going to have to put up the Christmas tree.” with an air of deep resignation. I teased him lightly about his tone of voice while also checking in to see if he really experiences the Christmas tree as an unwelcome burden in his life. He doesn’t. I likes having the tree up, but putting it up is a several-hours-long project where we haul branches and poles from the basement and assemble nine feet of tree. This lead to a discussion of how Holidays celebrations are consciously constructed, often with a lot of extra work. We create them for each other when we do things like put up the Christmas tree. The grumbling about effort becomes part of the tradition.

But before we can start making Christmas, there is a lot of food preparation to do. And that starts with grocery shopping that I need to go do right now.

A Post in Three Quick Topics

I spent a portion of today writing letters. Sending written messages is a regular part of my life as I sent emails, texts, and DMs in the course of getting work done, scheduling appointments, or catching up with friends. But there is something special about handwriting a letter on paper. As I’m putting the words down I feel how I will cast this message out into the vagaries of the US postal service. It will physically transit over the course of a week or two. Then on the other end I can only hope that the words I picked conveyed the emotion and stories I wanted to share with the person on the other end. In a way this is true of every message I send in any format, but it feels more real and more precarious with a written letter. I like the magic of that. The weight of my words being counted in ounces of paper.

….

I took myself to a fitness class. It was the first since pandemic times began, but really it is the first since a long time before that as well. I picked one at the city fitness center with a focus on families. I figured it would have a wider variety of body types and capabilities, I might blend a bit better as I displayed all my awkwardness while learning how to move in the modes the class taught. Comparison is the thief of joy. I know this. It is one of the tasks of attending class, to learn how to see myself in the mirror without being embarrassed, to feel the joy of movement without concern for how my movements compare. To focus on myself and my body without concern for how my body and movements might be seen by others. I haven’t succeeded in this practice yet, because I couldn’t help but notice that while I was the fattest and probably the oldest person in the room, I was not always the most awkward in motion. So I kept moving and existing and tried to turn my mind away from considering the opinions and bodies of the other people in the room. After class, as I walked to my car, I could feel my body being glad that we did something active. So I’ll go again.

….

It will be Thanksgiving in a week. The thing I am most grateful for this year is how this November I can make choices from a place of joy rather than as a reaction to anxiety. Last November was one long low-level panic attack as I tried to figure out how to navigate a pandemic holiday with one of my kids married and living in a different household. The pressure to do our part against the spread of Covid 19 warred with the heart-longing to gather with my child I hadn’t seen or hugged in months. In fact, just go read my Weirdsgiving post from last year. I read it and I am SO GLAD that I don’t have any of that to deal with this year. This year we’re all vaccinated. This year I can have my daughter and son-in-law in my house. This year I have a road map for how to manage the holidays. This year I can be glad for other people when they gather. This year is already so much better than last year and I haven’t even pinged the kids to say “what food shall we have for Thanksgiving.”

Thinking About the US Worker Shortage

In the past decade I’ve occasionally employed my children to work for my business. I got assistant work done, they got some job experience and spending money. Everybody won. My pay rate was $10 per hour because I’ve felt strongly that the minimum wage was ridiculously low. But sometimes I worried that I was spoiling my kids for real entry level jobs. I couldn’t have anticipated the current job market. My son has a fast food job and is currently earning almost $16 per hour. That is entry level right now. Because my brain wants to understand these sorts of shifts, I’ve done a bunch of digging into what is causing everyone to be short staffed. Note: this includes package delivery services who have been accustomed to hiring seasonal staff. Place your online holiday orders early!

Obviously the shift is caused in large part by the pandemic. As of today the US has lost 750,000 people to Covid-19. That is 3/4 of a million people dead. (Source) All of those people who died had roles they filled in life and the workforce. That is 750,000 holes that other people have to cover. It is 750,000ish families who are now grieving and thus not working as efficiently as they did before. It is children who need new caretakers. Jobs that are seeking new employees. The impact of this alone is significant.

But on top of that, 3 million US women left the workforce in 2020. (Source) Each of these women did a cost-benefit analysis based on their situation and decided that their situation was better off if they stopped working. Many of them shifted to unpaid work in childcare.

Then there are the 2 million people who decided to retire early. (Source) Again, people are deciding that their lives are better if they just bow out of the workforce. In an interesting trend, many of them have stopped working but have not yet started taking their social security benefits. Much analysis is trying to figure out what is going on there.

Harder to calculate are the effects of long covid on employment. Studies have shown that anywhere from 25% to 75% of people who get Covid-19 have symptoms that last six months or more. (Source)(Source) Some long haulers have been struggling for a year or more and may be permanently disabled. This has long term implications for the US disability system. (Source) Long Covid is already recognized as a valid disability under ADA guidelines. (Source) If 1% of covid cases result in permanent disability, that’s half a million people no longer able to work. If 5% then that is 2 million people. And we’re still collecting them because the disease is still actively making new people sick. Though vaccination does seem to reduce the incidence of long covid by a lot. (Source) However for every household dealing with long covid, you have workers who are distracted by care of a loved one and, depending on how bad the disability is, might need to leave the workforce to concentrate on care.

EDIT: New article landed today that estimates between 1.3million and 6million people out of work because of Long Covid. (Source)

All of this leads to today where we have 2.1 million people collecting unemployment (Source) and around 10.4 million job openings. (Source) This ratio is not what we usually see. (Source) Over the summer some employers thought it was the result of increased unemployment benefits, but the benefits ended and the job market stayed skewed. (Source) (Source)

The result for my family is that my 18yo lucked into a very good time to join the workforce. He is stashing money away for college at a much higher rate than he ever expected. My other two young adults will also be able to enter the workforce in ways that are advantageous for them when they’re ready to do so. It also means that every where I go the quality of service is down because all of the stores and restaurants are under staffed. I worry about the compounding effects of all these small delays. I watch store shelves have empty sections because of shortages caused by production or transportation. Most products return the next week or two, but then something else is missing. All of it makes the world feel unstable to me. Like I should be cautious with my resources and careful in my purchasing.

Ultimately this shortage of workers isn’t likely to last more than a couple of years, however I fear that the rebalancing will happen, not by an increase of available workers, but by a decrease in ongoing businesses. Sort staffing will cause some businesses to fail, releasing their workers to go take jobs with their competitors. I don’t know how it will shake out. And that is the part that scares me.

Focusing on Picture Books

My final event at SIWC was a panel discussing picture books. I loved having the chance to talk about the business of picture books with other people who had published them as well. In preparation for the panel, I brought out some of my favorites and put them up as a display in my zoom corner. We didn’t end up discussing any of them, but I liked having them there.

Two photo shelves with an assortment of picture books arrayed on them. The picture books overlap each other.

The day after SIWC was over, I sat on my bed and looked over at my Zoom corner. I realized that seeing the picture books makes me happy, and it reminds me that writing picture books is a thing I want to be doing. I like having that sort of a reminder so I’ll be keeping the picture books in place for November while I focus some of my writing time on completing picture books drafts. I’m also reading Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Cover of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. On the cover a young girl rides a black fox through a forest with manuscript pages flying out of her backpack and scattering behind her.

I started reading this book over the summer, but the effort was disrupted when I had to do fulfillment for one Kickstarter and then prep and launch another one. I’m going to play with picture books this month, both writing them and reading them. We’ll see how much I can delve into that. Then I’ll probably shift gears again in December.