Among the by-products of the pandemic has been a tsunami of advice, especially about living your best life in lockdown. Was it any good?
Advice: if you're working from home, keep your routines
Early on, the news reports were that people working from home were flailing: cleaning the kitchen when they should be working, bingeing shows when they should be eating, eating when they should be cleaning the kitchen. Was this ever true, or was it just irresistible to imagine people collectively unable to get their shit together?
The advice was predictable and perfectly capitalistic. Keep your routines, they said. If you usually dress up and wear full make-up to work, get up in time to dress up and do your make-up, they said. If you usually commute to work, walk around the apartment for 30 minutes before you sit down at your desk. Take a virtual coffee break with your co-workers.
I thought to myself: who would be so stupid as to add the old burdens of their old life to the new burdens of their new life? Me, I worked in my exercise clothes and took naps over lunch. Did this advice work for anyone?
Advice: go easy on yourself
This one is complicated because clearly, for some people, "go easy on yourself" was the perfect advice. I'm here to tell you about the rest of us.
As for so many people, in March 2020 my job became an endless series of Zoom-style meetings, unanticipated problems, and difficult conversations. Early on, I thought "I'll go easy on myself" -- instead of trying to do things during weekends or early evenings, I'd spend the time "resting" or "hanging out."
Three weeks of this and I was mired in despair. My always-present sense of my life drifting away and passing me by intensified; thoughts in the "what am I doing and what is the point anyway" category buzzed around my brain like a bunch of gnats. I felt the mold between the bathroom tiles mocking me. With extra free time, my irrational body self-criticism meter ramped up from the blue "Guarded" category into the orange "High Alert!" range.
The advice to go easy often reminds me of some advice my mother once gave me about cleaning. I was complaining that on the occasions when I was on my own and cooking, I hated having to cook *and* having to clean up, which does feel to me like an outrageous burden at the end of a long day. My mom -- whose motto in life was "If you don't want to, you don't have to" -- told me I should clean up the dishes in the morning, and that if I didn't want to wake up to a messy kitchen, I should just "put the dishes in the oven" after dinner. I'm sorry, but dirty dishes in the oven? What kind of a bizarre suggestion is this?
Anyway, to stay sane in the pandemic, I switched into "mental discipline" mode. I scrubbed the floors. I did a zillion live-stream workout, yoga, and ballet classes. I made an elaborate system of calendar alerts. I recommitted to Duolingo.
Obviously, for some people this particular challenge didn't arise, because they were working massive hours or juggling child care or whatever, and obviously "go easy on yourself" makes total sense in that context. For other people, "go easy on yourself" was just what they needed to hear for whatever reason. It just didn't work for me.
I feel like there's a lot of pointless social aggression out there between the "go easy" people and the "mental discipline" people. Can we please have a détente on this issue?
Advice: create a Zoom social spot
This is the idea that if your job is virtual meetings and your social life is virtual meetings, you should do those two things in two different physical spaces in your home.
I love this advice, because it is geared toward people with lizard brains and I am 100 percent a person with lizard brain.
Virtual interactions give me a special kind of social anxiety. I'm not sure why, but one possibility is that when I'm with people, I'm used to relying a lot on subtle physical and facial cues in figuring out how to interact. Also, I feel like in a room with people, I enjoy the small pauses and silences -- I've always been good at being together and being quiet -- but somehow on a screen, I feel like I have to fill the air with talk, like some kind of demented TV show host. Ugh.
Because I have lizard brain, the layers of Zoom-social-anxiety particular to work-Zoom are queued right up for me when I'm in my work spot -- the chair, the wall behind me appearing on my own screen, the light bouncing off the desk in just such a way. What a relief to take the laptop to the dinner table for the friend-Zoom!
Verdict: the best.