Thursday, May 28, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. This story from a bookstore in Massachusetts reflected some of what I've heard from local small business people.  Yes, they miss customers.  Folks browsing are far more likely to come across something they didn't know they needed.  But keeping customers and employees safe is a tough proposition right now.  
2. This Steve Buscemi profile was fascinating.  
3. Silvana has a wonderful post about flower folk in romance, a subject dear to my heart.  
Also, a reminder that I wrote about tear gas being a weapon not allowed in war, and other things here.  Tear gas blankets the area.  It seeps inside homes.  And well, during a pandemic where a larger than normal portion of the population is having trouble breathing, it is especially cruel. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Let's Talk About Mental Health Days

I was talking to someone recently who had been advised to use up some of their accrued vacation time in the next few months.  Since I've been working a freelance life of late, let me tell you I totally understand that it can be very hard to take a day when there is always stuff to be done.  I wrote this post on a weekend which tells you how good I am at following my own advice. 

And for many of us who have bought into the work more, get more, because we only rest when we're old mentality, the thing that got you away from your desk was the prospect of going somewhere new.  Going to a new city, or just somewhere new in town, but something you couldn't do sitting at home.  In places where stay/shelter/whatever we are calling it orders are in place, it seems silly to say, hey I need a day where I can sit in essentially the same place I'm sitting now, staring at the same four walls I'm staring at now.  

You still need it.  And probably not just for a day, probably two or three, or maybe even a week.  I have essential workers in my life, and they are still taking vacation days, even if they can't travel to where they had hoped to travel. 

You may feel super privileged to be doing your job at home.  You may have lost your job or been furloughed.  You still need breaks.  Even if the break is from applying for jobs. 

While culturally we have accepted the idea of mental health days, I think we tend to think a few things about them.  You should only need one.  And you should probably only need it if things are really bad for you. 

Partially this is tied in with our thinking about mental health which is not great.  But also, hi, things are really bad.  I know sometimes we are asked to look at the bright side, to be grateful for all the things we do have. And hey, if your job and your health, and your loved ones are all doing great, then yes, things are good.  But, that doesn't mean your life has not been altered by this global event.  It doesn't mean that things aren't hard.  And it really, truly doesn't mean that you never get to have a day off that isn't a regularly occurring weekend or holiday (assuming that's how your job is structured.) 

To quote an ad slogan, you deserve a break.  Even if it means you sit in the same chair and talk to the same people you've talked to, you deserve a break from emails, or phone calls, or video calls.  Take the time.  Not to make the corporate overlords happy that you aren't hoarding vacation time.  Take the time because the corporate overlords gave you this time to make you a more productive human.  They didn't do it to be nice.  They did it because employees who burnout are less useful to them. 

And speaking as your pocket friend*, burned out pocket friends are less fun.  So do it for you, for them, and for me. 

*pocket friends are friends you know through the internet and therefore they are friends who live in your pocket, since many internet devices are pocket sized. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. This short piece by writer Camryn Garrett takes a look at how social media has allowed us to feel connected in this time of  increased disconnection. 
2. This Eater piece, after a mouth-watering recitation of links to support it's premise, talks about how the latest food controversy represents an ongoing tension, as food becomes globalized, who gets to be the face of such food.
3. I confess, I have limited flour loyalties, but this is a lovely look at what things have been like for the folks at King Arthur as people turn to baking to find some comfort in the world.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Let's Talk About the Mannequins

I feel like sometimes as devout consumers of pop culture, we are constantly on alert for signs we might have slipped into an alternate world, being the one person who spots when we have gone too far.  Partly this is just human nature.  Constantly adjusting our sense of normal.  A decade ago finding out major news via the internet seemed impersonal, now it seems expedient.  
So, the internet chuckled greatly at the news that a DC area restaurant has a plan involving mannequins.  
Before we dive in, some notes.  DC and with various variations the surrounding areas are still in stay at home mode.  But obviously, restaurants cannot survive on takeout, and in fact some restaurants are of course quite honestly offering you an experience.  Some restaurants you aren't paying for the food, no matter how delightful, you are paying for tablecloths, napkins, a person to leap forward and refill your water glass before you even begin to get it half empty, mood lighting, and the chance to perhaps witness anything from a proposal to a dramatic breakup. 
This isn't to say I don't have elaborate fantasies about being about to go to a pizza joint again. I do.  But the experience of pizza travels back to my living room pretty well.  I am never going to be upsold to the wine pairing for my multi-course menu via takeout.  
So the point of this is that regardless of your feelings about mannequins, I don't begrudge any restaurant their attempts to imagine what a partially open dining room might look like.  And that includes the ones that fold up and decide to go do something else for a while.  
But, the mannequins.  Virginia, where the restaurant in question is located, has enacted a multi-phase opening plan.  As such, when indoor seating opens back up, restaurants will only be able to open 50% of their seating.  (This is where I note that according to one interview I saw, restaurants generally aim for 80% occupancy to guarantee profitability.  So, yeah.)  Filling tables that are not available to patrons with mannequins is smart. Not because your other guests will be fooled into thinking oh those just look like real people.  But the reality is you know at least one set of patrons is going to ask to change their table.  Restaurant seating is kind of a logic puzzle anyway, trying to get things to turn over steadily but staggered, to keep staff able to provide great service.  Moving one table over in normal times can throw things off.  When there's a pandemic requiring differently spaced seating, one table move can actually create a danger.  
So, having the mannequins in the tables makes it clear.  This table is taken.  I'm sure someone will ask anyway, but it gives the staff a better answer than no, I have to keep that table open.  Now they can tell them it's occupied.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

Goodbye My Friend

 As best I can recall, I met Chantell about twenty years ago.  We were working in a call center in Silver Spring.  We were on different teams, but then a third team had a huge event that spiked their call volume through the roof and suddenly all of us were taking calls for that.  At the time, when Chantell left for the day, she went to a second job where she handled a late night shift at another call center.  Even at the time the idea exhausted me.  I was impressed that she managed to ever be a functional human being in that situation. 

Call center life is tough.  Lots of folks cycled in and out.  Eventually I moved into a role where taking two hundred calls a day would be unheard of.  Chantell lasted longer than I did in the call center, although we ended up reunited on a client team later where we worked together for several years.  After that team was eliminated I moved into a different role and Chantell moved to a different company where some of our other co-workers had gone.  

We talked about TV shows, roommates, and religion. Our faiths were different and yet the questions she asked were respectful and came from a place of genuine interest. 

Chantell and I joked about having fake kids, when co workers wanted to leave early when there was bad weather.  (To be clear, we were both in favor of folks being safe. We just had some coworkers who were pretty sure we should hold down the fort while they went home.) 

She never showed up at the unofficial workplace reunions we put together to gather folks up.  So most of our contact after that was through social media.  She was quiet at work, and she wasn't a big believer in being nice to people just for the sake of being nice.  Polite yes, nice no.  She had a wonderful sense of humor and an incredible moral center.  

Chantell passed away last week as a result of COVID 19.  Chantell had moved back to New Jersey to be closer to her family, so the logistics of attending her funeral would have been tough even in non-pandemic times.  I say this to remind myself I would have had to find closure without that anyway. But the world was brighter with her in it.  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Let's Go Steal a Podcast - The Queen's Gambit

In a failure to pay attention to days, I forgot to mention that I was back on "Let's Go Steal a Podcast" discussing "The Queen's Gambit" episode, aka the one with chess and Sterling.  Also, if you haven't been keeping up with the podcast, there's a disclaimer added at the start - with a content warning - with regards to the recent news about Timothy Hutton.  

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. Fuck the Bread, is as you might expect both a bit profane, and perhaps the thing you need to read.  
2. This piece on Hong Kong takes a look at a place where the governmental response to COVID-19 lagged, and the citizenry stepped in.  
3. "Center Stage" remains such a weird and wonderful movie, and this oral history is a lovely reflection.  

Monday, May 11, 2020

Nurture and Control

I was reminded this weekend of two things.  I listened to someone say that there is nothing like becoming a mother to convince you that you have both been handed an immense responsibility, and that also that control is an illusion.  Because I am a person of a certain age that reminded me of the scene in "Days of Thunder".  "Days of Thunder" is a movie that is theoretically about testosterone and car racing, and like a lot of other sports movies is about raw talent versus practice, putting the time in versus being naturally great, and oh yeah, by the way this thing could kill you. There is of course a very attractive neurosurgeon, and of course at one point she asks the racer why the hell do you like risking your brain to run a car in circles?  (I may be paraphrasing, but not by much.)  He says, oh well, it's so fun to control a thing that is out of control.  And she responds with a tirade I loved so much, I recorded on an index card and kept it in my file of amazing quotes.  (Yes, I was that person.  Look y'all, before tumblr, we had our own methodologies.)  
She says: 
Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what's gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.  
And it seems relevant to this moment.  I can wash my hands more, I can wear a mask.  None of this guarantees I won't get sick or infect others, but they are two things that are within my control to do, so I will keep doing them until we have a better plan.  
I've seen that there is evidence a lot of folks were really hanging on to that initial no groups for eight weeks, and figuring it would be back to the status quo by then.  The challenge, as someone who tries not to harsh people's mellow, is that I know some folks needed to believe that.  But here we are, still - where possible - needing to stay at home.  

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. I think this interview with Val Kilmer falls into a trap of sorts.  The popular notion of Christian Science is essentially as presented, but as will all faiths there are variations in practice, and quite honestly, believing in being spiritually well to be better positioned to handle physical ailments is not a concept unique to Christian Science.  However, Kilmer's description of his faith is just as important as the specifics of the faith itself, and I do think this interview provides a fascinating look at that.  
2. In addition to some various virtual book fairs that have popped up to replace book tours, various fairs that are typical in person, are going virtual.  Gaithersburg is one such fair.  They are spreading the programming out over several weekends.  
3. This piece on Darren Kriss on how he recognizes that he doesn't read Asian to many people and how he has tried to navigate that was fascinating.  

Monday, May 04, 2020

Steal My Idea - Virtual Book Club

In fairness, it is not even technically my idea, but I feel empowered to allow you to steal it.  Yep.  
Let me provide an unnecessary amount of backstory.  I have always loved reading.  Books Clubs seemed like a natural fit.  And yet, so many of them wanted to read what looked to me like boring books.  (Boring is in the eye of the beholder, of course.)  So, I didn't.  We tried starting one at work.  We had like twenty people at the first meeting and four at the next.  (Many of you who have tried to put together groups are nodding your heads.)  When a work reorg took us down to three we tried to keep going. Except one of the folks consistently kept not reading the book by the deadline, refused to have a meeting where we talked about the book in front of her, and also got sad if we had the meeting without her.  So essentially she killed it.  
So, imagine my delight when I found a book club dedicated to reading YA.  And then later one dedicated to reading romance.  (Shout out to the other book club I accidentally joined for a bit that I won't name because I never told them I was there accidentally.  They read cool things too.)  I've done some online ones with mixed success.  I never could tell how much was that even if you read a lot, having some portion of your reading be assigned reading was tough, or if the online things are easier to forget because it seems like since there's no commute you don't have to plan.  
So, anyway, I recently discovered Silent Book Club.  The idea is that you gather at a place with drinks and/or snacks.  Chat.  Read silently but together for an hour.  And then you can chat a bit more after.  I was enjoying it.  But obviously, with places that serve drinks and snacks not allowing gatherings at the moment, it is tough.  
My in person book clubs have gone virtual, so I have seen people and chatted books.  But you know.  Sometimes you want more.  
So, what me and a few folks have done, is once a month, I send out an email reminder to gather up your snacks and drinks.  We read separately for an hour.  And then I send out the chat link.  (I've been using Hangouts, but like there are a trillion options - Discord, Skype, etc.) So if you have bookish friends you would like to chat with in these times but the idea of selecting a book that everyone agrees on is too much, this works well.