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Some Loose Thoughts

Somehow the beginning of the new year has become the middle of January. Logically I know that this particular transformation only takes about two weeks, but this time the newness only lasted about three days, which feels like an unfairly short lifespan for new year’s optimism. The good news is that I seem to be emerging from the week-long discouragement. Better news is that I was still able to inch some necessary work forward even while feeling discouraged about it all. Always good to remember that the discouragement/optimistic energy pole doesn’t have as much effect on getting work done, nor on the quality of the work done, as it feels like it does in the moment.

This week we successfully accomplished the medical appointment which has been looming on the calendar for five months and for which I carried a fear that Covid would cause it to be postponed or canceled. So that is a huge relief and I can ride out the rest of the current Covid surge with less anxiety. Less anxiety, not no anxiety, because this surge is very surgey indeed. I keep thinking the rates can’t keep going up, and then they do. Last winter’s mountain has started looking hill-ish by comparison. I don’t like that. I also don’t like witnessing the societal Great Surrender, where 18 schools in Utah reach the threshold where “Test To Stay” is required, but because there are only three Test To Stay teams, the state just shrugs and tells everyone to use their own judgement. All of the language and information isn’t saying “help us flatten the curve” it is saying “Don’t worry, this will be over soon.” Which isn’t the same thing at all. I keep hearing that the Omicron Covid variant is more mild. I wonder if it will still seem mild when the deaths happen in three to four weeks.

I can’t control the world. I can’t stop Omicron. My ability to influence legislation is minimal. So for now I’m focused on things where I do have significant influence. I’m finally working my way through re-drafting House in the Hollow. I’m working through XDM2e copy edits. I’m teaching kids to drive. I’m practicing a homebrew yoga in the mornings. I’m making sure we don’t run out of groceries. And I’m trying to stay on top of dishes and laundry. If I keep doing these things, eventually I’ll find myself in spring.

Moving Forward in the New Year

On January 3rd my New Year optimism met my To Do list. This was an expected collision, but I don’t like that it dropped me into a low-level discouraged state. So I wrote a little Twitter Fiction that captures my current state of mind:

The discouragement sat like a lump in the middle of the path she needed to take, so she hefted it to her shoulder and lugged it along with her as she trudged forward toward her goal. Sometimes she gave it a pat when it whimpered as she walked. #TwitFic

@SandraTayler 2:09 PM · Jan 5, 2022·Twitter Web App

That is me right now, trudging along shoving my daily tasks along the road in front of me, carrying a load of discouragement, but still shuffling my way forward. The good news is that I’ve (so far) managed to integrate my new goals and focus into the pre-existing To Do list. My cocoon realizations have helped me alter the trajectory of the path I’m shuffling along. I wish I could trundle along that path with the same joy and optimism that filled me on New Year’s Day. But since that joy and optimism has declined to show up for work, I’ll keep inching my way forward because the best way to get somewhere else is to keep moving.

Exiting the Cocoon

I woke up and the world feels new. The year feels full of potential. I want to pause and really center those feelings as I mark the change from one calendar year to the next. It is nice to have this feeling on New Year’s Day when so many of my recent years have featured some flavor of dread about the year to come. (2020 2019 2018 2017) Some years I wanted to hide from the coming year, others I was girding up to meet it as a battle. So to receive this one as a gift is an unexpected blessing that I want to hold in reverence for a while, before the inevitable challenges of living have a chance to wear at me.

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the words I grabbed when describing 2021 (and also 2020, they were the same year really) was cocoon. I’m thinking about those tiny containers of metamorphosis today. The protective shell contains so much transformative work which can’t be observed from the outside. From the outside nothing is happening until one day the butterfly or moth bursts free. The phrasing of “burst free” downplays how much work there is in extricating oneself from a cocoon. I’ve seen videos of butterflies working themselves free, slowly unfurling their wings, and orienting themselves to being something new. Exiting a cocoon is work, and is as much a part of the transformation as what happens inside that cocoon.

If 2020-21 were a cocoon and today is the day it cracks open, I have work to do in order to finally be free. This image makes sense to me, because the worst pandemic surge is about to hit. I’m going to need to hunker down. I’ve still got the XDM2e project to steer to completion. There are family and friendship tending tasks which continue. Yet mixed in with these continuations, I’m also glimpsing what this year could be. For the first time in decades, my morning schedule isn’t dictated by the needs or schedules of others. I’m experimenting with claiming that time for me to lay in bed and let my mind wander. Then climb from bed and wake up my body with a yoga practice. Then flop back into bed to write. All before emerging from my room to where other priorities start claiming pieces of me.

The yoga practice has been a particularly useful addition. For the few in-person classes I attended (before Omicron necessitated staying home again), I found a teacher who constantly emphasized accepting our bodies for where they are at. Reach for your toes. It is okay if you can’t grab them, because the reaching is what matters. I discovered that sitting in that reach, breathing in and out, slowly the reach extends farther. By repeating this practice gently day after day, in an unexpectedly short amount of time I can touch the toes I’ve been reaching for. Patience, breath, and acceptance has led to far more progress than I thought possible. Yet I’m not reaching for progress, I’m reaching for the sake of reaching, progress is just the inevitable result. There are so many lessons in this physical practice that I can use in all the other aspects of my life.

Casting my thoughts on the year ahead, January through March are “exiting the cocoon” months. During them I will work, breathe, and reach. I will finish things off to release into the world. I will focus on inward growth and writing rather than on outward expenditures of energy in community efforts. When I get to March things will shift again. I’m not sure how or in what direction I’ll launch, but at some point between now and then my next direction will become clear.

Happy New Year everybody. I hope that you have been gifted with hope in the year to come. If you carry some other emotion today, that is okay too. Let your emotions be what they are. Sit with them and pick some small reach you can do in the direction you’d like to travel. Reach and breathe and accept. Progress and hope will come to you.

Closing Out 2021

My strongest wish in bidding farewell to 2021 is that I be done with it today, on New Year’s Eve. The last two years slopped their events over into January, making the transition muddy. I want this year to stay contained within its calendar. More than that, I want 2022 to be after. All of the events of 2020 and 2021 are blended together in a shared memory mire. I’m ready for after. Even though I know that so many things are still in the middle and will be for a while. Pandemic will continue. Economic uncertainty will continue. Political wrangling will continue. Personal challenges will continue. I am going to be carrying so many unfinished projects with me into this next year. However I still believe that I can cultivate the next year to be something different than the last two years have been. It can feel like after even while being a simple continuation of all the things I began in prior years. The first part of making things feel different is to really mark this New Year’s Eve. Note its passing. Make conscious effort to contemplate the year and lay it to rest before crossing the threshold into the next one.

As part of that effort, I have made my annual compilation of blog entries, correspondence, and private journal entries. It is my One Cobble book that I print into a bound format and set on my shelf. This will be the seventeenth volume. I also printed out The Year Compass booklet and wrote my way through its exercises even though that sort of guided contemplation usually sets my teeth on edge. (Don’t try to make me pick a favorite event!) For once I didn’t let instructions like “list the most important events of the year” tangle me up into an anxiety ball over what in my life counts as “most important.” Instead I treated the whole thing like a snapshot of this moment in my brain. Instead of “most important” I wrote down whatever response jumped to the top of my mind when I read the question. This means some of my answers are tangential to the questions and occasionally I simply declare that the question is shaped wrong. (Who did I have the most influence on? I don’t get to decide that, other people get to decide if I was influential in their lives, not me. Also the attempt to exert influence is an attempt at control, which is a thing pandemic has slowly been teaching me I can’t cling to.)

I’m so earnest about trying to put my pandemic years to bed that I’m willing to come up with three words to describe my year and write them into little boxes. I grabbed the three at the top of my mind rather than searching for the perfect ones. I wrote Exhausting, Growth, and Cocoon. I was quite interested to see a news site a few hours later where a survey had people list their words for 2021 and the top of the list were Exhausting, Growth, and Relentless. There is a shared experience in the year just past which has a million different expressions, but is still somehow shared. I am grateful for all the gifts 2021 brought to me. I’m grateful for the growth I’ve had during it. It hasn’t been a bad year on the whole. So I plan to Konmari this year just past, thank it for what it gave to my life and let it go.

Only a few hours left and then I’m on to something else. I hope.

Feeling My Way Toward a New Year

In theory, Boxing Day (The day after Christmas) is a great day to spend cleaning up, sorting, giving unneeded things away, and generally settling the house after the holiday celebrations. Some years that is how I spend it. This year I aggressively did very little at all. I put together a puzzle, played a couple of games, took a nap, watched a couple of shows. I chose that path because I was listening to my mind, heart, and body, all of which were telling me that I needed rest. So I rested. It felt like yesterday still belonged to Christmas. I woke up this morning solidly in the space between Christmas and New Years. This is my week to drift a little bit and contemplate the year to come.

I’ve actually had my eye on 2022 for almost a month now. I’ve been stewing and thinking about how I want next year to be different. This year and the year prior have melded into a sort of amorphous lump in my mind. Memories are muddled, some of them pulled closer than is accurate, others pushed much further into the past than they actually belong. It doesn’t help that 2019 lapped over into half of January 2020, so that most of that month felt like it belonged to the year prior. We had my daughter’s wedding, and all of the stress of wedding planning and execution felt like it belonged in 2019 even though the wedding landed beautifully in mid-January. Then the transition from 2020 to 2021 did the same thing, with anxieties over the election, capitol hill riots, and inauguration slopping all the way through January. This year I want a clean break. I want 2021 to stay contained inside its calendar year and to start having a different year on January 1st. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make that happen.

In quest of that goal, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions. How do I make 2022 feel distinct even while it is likely to be impacted with ongoing pandemic which might want to muddle it in with the two years prior? What do I want to be different in my daily schedules? What to I want to make more time for? What do I want to spend less energy doing? How would I spend my time if I didn’t have to worry about paying bills? Since I do have to worry about paying bills, how do I still make some room in my life for the answers to the prior question? I’m still gathering answers for most of these questions. Collecting the answers into a mental basket and letting them bump into each other and change each other to see what emerges. It might result in me rearranging my weekly appointments scheduling, or in me rearranging my physical spaces. It might result in concrete, stated goals and resolutions or it might result in an intention or feeling that I hold in my mind while I move into next year. I’m still waiting to see what will emerge.

For today, I have some pieces of regular life to pick up and get done (packages won’t ship themselves) and I’ve got bits of celebration to start cleaning up and putting away. I’m approaching it all in a leisurely way as is appropriate in this liminal space between the holiday and the new year.

Two Days in Pictures

It started with putting up the Christmas tree. Milo “helped.”

Gray cat crouches among a pile of artificial Christmas tree branches

This led to the second phase of putting up the tree, which I call “Milo! No!”

Spray bottle full of water in the foreground, undecorated Christmas tree in the background

Fortunately the cats seem to have learned from prior Christmas/spray bottle encounters. They didn’t try to climb the tree at all this year. However I discovered that all of our tree lights had gone dead, so I had to go on a fetch quest for new lights. I succeeded.

Christmas tree with red and white lights on it.

After all that work, Kikaa reminded me to sit down and take a rest.

Elderly tortie kitty asleep leaning on an arm and hand.

But Milo lurked. He seems to regard me as a very complex food puzzle, something to manipulate with cuteness until I get up and give him treats.

An elbow on the arm of a chair, gray cat peeks over the elbow at the human.

I also had one of my kids help me take a reference photo. I’ve started a yoga practice. Right now I can’t reach that foot with my hand, but someday I will.

Person in raised pigeon pose reaching behind to grab the same-side foot.

I put our first ornament on the tree. For us 2021 was a much better year than 2020.

3D printed ornament: dumpster with flames coming out of it and the year 2020 on the front.

I finally dragged myself outside to go rake up the leaves that were threatening to kill off the lawn. I made a massive pile on a weed patch so that they can kill off the weeds instead.

Tired from raking, I sat down at our little bistro table. I’d only been there a couple of minutes when our Scrub Jay friends showed up and made clear that I should go fetch some peanuts. Which I did.

Western Scrub Jay perched on the edge of a metal table looking at a peanut sitting on the table.

We’ve named the jays Screm and Lurk. They’re the same pair which nested in our pine tree last May. For a final picture, I leave you with this hand-painted wooden egg I bought in St. Petersburg on my day trip as part of a Baltic cruise. My one regret is that I didn’t buy a dozen more of them. So Beautiful.

Wooden egg ornament painted blue with a pink flower.

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.

Resting from Tending to Others

I spent the week feeling jumbled and harried and stressed. It was the sort of list where I make a list titled: Ways My Life is Suddenly More Expensive. Having the list didn’t make the expenses go away, but I felt a little better for having complained about them in a word document which I stowed into a computer folder. The list was concrete, evidence that my elevated anxiety is not unfounded. If I hurry and do all the things, I accelerate the income which will let me cover those expenses, so my hurry makes sense too. It all makes sense. It is all important. Even the friendship and community building efforts which occupy portions of my days and bring me no income at all. I was at one of those community-building, supportive events when I spoke about being tired and busy, swarmed with small tasks. I said I was, oddly, not feeling depleted because so many of the task were the kind of tasks that fill me up.

And I was right. They do fill me up.

But I was also wrong because they simultaneously deplete me.

I am a multitude of wellsprings and sometimes filling one depletes another, but the depletion is hidden even from me, until I take a step back and wonder why I’m being so earnest in insisting that I don’t feel depleted. It is because I don’t want, at a community event which I planned, and which I love, and which invigorates me, to also admit that my introvert self is ready to crawl in a hole and hide from everyone she loves.

So I gave myself permission to do that over the weekend. I gave myself permission to participate in a religious celebration without wondering what others would feel about my choices. I watched shows and asked myself what I thought of them without trying to figure out how they would fit into a larger cultural conversation. I left emails unanswered until Monday, I only responded to messages that were actual emergencies (of which there were none). For two days I tended and made space for my own emotions in exactly the same way that I try to hold space for others. It was restful.

More than restful, it was important. Because in my effort to tend my own feelings, I realized how very often I interrupt myself to ask how someone is doing simply because they walked into the room where I was sitting or popped up on a social media app I was scrolling through. Over and over again I had to stop myself from volunteering to do emotional labor for others out of my habit, not from their need. It was the emotional equivalent of spending all my cash on vending machine snacks instead of holding on to that resource to buy a full meal. I suspect that not everyone has this constant tending-to-the-emotions-of-others compulsion, but I definitely do. Resting from that was educational.

Today the cloud of entangled tasks cleared almost by magic. Much of that is because of the muddled work I pushed through last week, but the feeling of calmness is a direct result of letting myself actually rest. It has me thinking how to find the balance of being a person who shows up for others and being a person who lets people do their own growing by managing their own emotions. Someday I want to catch more of these thoughts in a focused way rather than this ramble. Not this week though. This week I need to use my rested mind to push forward on the task that will pay those very real bills.