Earnestness and Hey, West Covina

Tonight, we lost Adam Schlesinger. You may not know who he is, but “What’ll it Be (Hey West Covina)” from the TV show “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was one of my favorite all-time favorite musical numbers. “What’ll it Be” distilled both the hope and despair of everyday American life, and honestly was a touchstone for me during a really tough time. This loss is painful.

Once again, Chris Cuomo brought me to tears. No one in the news media has been more earnest and real. He detailed how his battle with Covid-19 led him to chills so terrible he chipped a tooth. Then he interviewed the widower of an ER doctor who could not stop crying as he detailed how his spouse died in his arms. It was one of the saddest moments I can remember.

I am earnest and as a Gen Xer, this is an occupational hazard. I should be cynical and bitter and battle-hardened, but I’m not.

Thanks to Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger, Aline Bosch McKenna and Chris Cuomo.

 

 

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Day in the Life: Coronavirus Edition

I’ve stopped writing regularly in this space. But given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, I thought it might be a good idea to document for posterity (hopefully!) life during a global pandemic.

5:30 AM – I wake up and get dressed. I pair a nice turtleneck and blazer with sweatpants, as I can’t deal with jeans right now. I make an espresso from the little machine my husband (thankfully!) gave me last year on my birthday.  I feed Sally and take her outside, then go downstairs to begin my work day.

6:00 AM – I co-own my own PR agency, which was launched three years ago. One of our clients has a big announcement today, which we are trying to get reporters to write about. Most outlets are covering COVID-19 almost exclusively, so it has been difficult to break through. I pitch my guts out, flagging stories as they appear. We are lucky enough to have a good result. We have to get reporters to update any inaccuracies that might be in a story, which is stressful. Launches are stressful. We have had three in the past week alone, which means I have had two weeks so far of 12 hour days.

7:30 AM – I make breakfast (frozen waffles) for the twins and make sure they are dressed and awake for their 8:00 AM Zoom meeting with their class.

8:00 AM – Back to media pitching for the next hour. We end up with 5 stories, which is largely a result of great teamwork by our account team of three people.

9:00 AM – I begin to prep for my 10 AM meeting, preparing a client agenda and updating  our weekly status report.

10:00 AM – Client call. We talk about the business outlook for the last few minutes, but no one really knows what is going to happen to the enterprise tech industry.  This feels unnerving, but we’re lucky we aren’t being hit like the travel, hospitality and retail sectors.

10:30 AM – I take a break and fix myself half a bagel, cream cheese and lox. My husband ordered a kit of bagels, lox, sable and cream cheese from Russ & Daughters in NYC to support this beloved business, and it was shipped out this week. I make a bagel sandwich for my son and daughter as well, as a snack during their school time. They are on Zoom calls much of the morning, participating in virtual classes with their teachers. I can’t say enough about our school. The teachers have hustled like I can’t believe, and are conducting classes almost like normal, with a few exceptions. I’ve written to the principal and advisors to express my thanks, because the dedication honestly brings me to tears.

11:00 AM – Back to the grindstone. It’s nice to have one happy client, but we have six others that also have various needs. We also have five freelancers to pay every month in addition to ourselves, and there is accounting administration I need to handle. The bookkeeping function is my least favorite part of being a business owner.

12:00 PM – Our Instacart order of groceries has arrived, via a heroic delivery person! Ordering groceries has been like trying to get concert tickets to see a particularly popular band. My husband had been constantly refreshing order pages with multiple tabs open for different grocery services, until he finally got this Instacart delivery–which took over a week to obtain and confirm. Before this delivery, we were subsisting on Russ & Daughters, a weekly order to help support our local restaurants, old food from the freezer and what we had left from a grocery run we made 14 days ago. Like everyone, we need to be careful with the way we unload groceries–we wipe down every package with a lysol wipe, and leave the packaging on the front step outside as coronavirus germs can live on packaging for 24 hours. It’s crazy how obtaining, unloading and maintaining a food supply for four people feels like it is now a matter of life or death.

12:30 PM – I need to prep for another meeting in one hour. This will be a Zoom call so I brush my hair and make sure I have on a necklace and look presentable. The wifi has been sputtering and slowing, which is a big concern. We’ve heard about people getting fired from remote work because their wifi isn’t good enough.

1:00 PM – Zoom call goes fine, I guess. I have to move to the kitchen where the wifi is better, and there is a lot of ambient noise from Sally and the kids. It isn’t ideal as I am leading the call and talking a lot.

2:00 PM – I clean the kitchen, empty and load the dishwasher and do a load of laundry. It’s crazy how many dishes are generated just by everyone being home. After this I allow myself for the first time to check the coronavirus reddit news stream. Chris Cuomo has the virus, which sucks. His banter with his brother Andrew Cuomo–about which son their mom likes better–has been a rare ray of sunshine in a grim sky. UGH. I’m worried about my friend who works in healthcare, a colleague who may have the virus, our freelancer who lives in Hoboken and many others. Checking on the news aggravates these fears.

3:00 PM – The kids have wrapped school and it’s time for our favorite activity in this new world–walking our dog.

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A few words about Sally. We decided to adopt a dog last year, after a lot of begging and pleading from the twins. I spent months researching what kind of dog would be right for our family. I didn’t want a pet that required a lot of walks (which in retrospect might not have been the right decision?), I didn’t want a puppy because I don’t have time to spend on training and sleep is critical to my life. I wanted a breed that was sweet and kind, not very energetic and most importantly–we wanted a dog who would be a loving family member. In one of the online quizzes I took to match our family with a breed, the English Bulldog was suggested and a memory was activated. When I was on cheer squad, our high school had a real bulldog “mascot,” proudly managed by a town citizen who was the official owner. This arrangement was kind of like Frank W. Seiler and his long line of “Uga” bulldogs, but on a much smaller scale. As someone who spent lots of time on the sidelines of the games, I got to hang out with the dog quite a bit. He was a total ham who loved people and especially kids, and he had a very sweet disposition. I quickly found the closest bulldog rescue, spotted Sally (who had a different name) and after passing a rather rigorous background process, we drove two hours to pick her up. Sally is OBSESSED with food and you can’t leave anything around unsupervised. A week ago, she nabbed a freshly baked precious loaf of banana bread off the counter, and swallowed it whole in about one second. She also suffers from skincare and eye issues we need to manage daily. But overall, adopting Sally has been the best thing we’ve done in years. She is our family mascot, during this tough time. Her funny face is reminiscent of Winston Churchill, and she cheers us up.

3:45 PM – Our walk concludes. It is strange to walk the neighborhood yet stay away from people and not see any cars. The atmosphere is eerie and weird. But getting outside is helpful. As is talking to the kids and my husband.

4:00 pm – After a quick break to drink water and eat a snack (everything is so carb-y and my salad days are over) I go back to conclude a few reports that are due as well as a writing project for a client.

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6:30 pm – I wrap my work for the day. While my husband prepares dinner (leftover homemade minestrone soup, rye bread from Russ & Daughters, sautéed petrale sole, roasted potatoes and peas), I prepare us a cocktail. My husband got into mixology about a year ago, but we aren’t big drinkers so we have lots of supplies left over from that fad. I make us a “fancy whiskey” as we have the ingredients (which are dwindling). We have a lovely family dinner. My daughter, so similar to her cheerleader mother, proposes a family spirit week. We choose themes for each day next week, and we vow to dress for each one.

7:00 pm – We watch CNN and hear from Chris Cuomo about what it’s like being diagnosed with coronavirus. He doesn’t look great, or maybe it’s my imagination. He gives an uplifting speech about how we all need to join together, and I cry. He feels like a member of my family, strangely, in his basement camera away from his family.

8:00 pm – Every area builds community differently. In my hometown, we have started to howl like coyotes at 8:00 PM to express our gratitude for the healthcare providers on the front lines and the grocery workers feeding us. We all go onto our porch and howl, and Sally joins in. It’s a silly moment of release, and it makes me feel better.

8:15 pm – I watch “Unorthodox” on Netflix–a Hasidic Brooklyn woman flees her marriage for Berlin, a strange and intriguing plot. I can’t help but stare hungrily at the screen as it depicts a “normal” bustling urban life full of crowds, which is now so very far from normal. I miss meeting my friends for coffee, going to meetings to see my clients and I miss the “normal” life we enjoyed so recently. But, I buck up. This is our moment to be strong and tough. This isn’t some dystopian novel I’m reading for a book club. We are in this moment, and this is our time to rise to the challenge. I need to act like those tough Londoners did during the Blitz.

When our football team was losing in high school (which was often), I chose optimism over despair and screamed my head off on the sideline. I try to do the same now, for our doctors and nurses, drivers and delivery people, for our kids and for our parents.

All we can do is hope for the best.

Xoxo, Jjiraffe

Stay safe and stay well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus

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I’ve had to track the growing spread of the coronavirus since late January, because my job required me to stay close to that news story. While fervently hoping containment strategies would work, I also had to follow the growing the calls of alarm from well-informed scientists and policymakers. There were sleepless nights. In conversations with friends and family, I often felt like Cassandra, voicing prophecies of doom. Now the doom is here, and while most have taken heed and are staying home, some still aren’t. It’s been distressing to see footage of people still crowding beaches and bars. We’re living in a state with a “shelter in place” order but even here there are still crowds strolling around the Embarcadero, enraging Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

I doubt anyone reading here has to be convinced we’re in a very serious situation, and COVID-19 is not “just the flu.”

Being in a “shelter in place” state has been calming in some ways and frightening in others. There’s some evidence from Italy that a province which took a similar path (Lodi) had less spread of the virus and therefore less inundation of cases to the health care system. But we’re also seeing earlier than others in the U.S. the effect of shuttering restaurants, entertainment venues and retail shops. The mind boggles at the long-term implications which will affect us all, and it’s so sad and scary to think of so many people being out of work. While the “shelter in place” isn’t a full lockdown, we have heard the CHP is pulling over cars and giving tickets if you are driving without a need for essential services.

Our kids are at home distance learning and honestly it’s been OK so far. The school is doing a great job engaging their students. Most of the classes are still being held virtually via Zoom, and the twins have additional assignments to keep them busy. Although as my daughter said: “This just means we have a lot of homework.”  My son is doing coding workshops remotely and even has a virtual karate lesson scheduled. I am curious to see how that will work. My daughter is constantly on Google Hangouts with her friends, and they are doing virtual dance-offs using TikTok.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have jobs we can telecommute to. I’ve been working from home for three years, so my adjustment is just the fact that everyone is in the house. But we all have separate rooms to work from, which makes us fortunate.

My parents, my brother, sister-in-law and my adorable baby nephew all live in a city in another state with lots of community spread. They are basically sheltering in place now, and my parents haven’t left their home for over two weeks now. It is a comfort to know my brother lives a block away and can supply them with what they need.

We have been taking our newish rescue dog Sally (photo above) for long walks outside. We stay in our neighborhood, and we’re careful to stay six feet away from any other pedestrians. We haven’t seen many people out and about, and we don’t see many cars driving on the streets either. Yesterday we walked to the top of a hill to look out at the highway, and traffic was as light as I’ve ever seen it. As we walked down the grade we spotted a coyote in someone’s yard — in the middle of the day! — and we had to hustle out of there pretty fast. It was reminiscent of the zoo animals roaming the city in 12 Monkeys.

It is eerie to see life change so dramatically in so short a period of time.

A few things give me hope. Here is an account of surviving a two month shutdown in Shanghai, where things are starting to return to normal. As always, taking action helps. I texted a doctor I know to offer her some masks we have left over from fire season. Medical equipment is starting to be in short supply. We’re going to order from a local restaurant tonight to do our small part to keep the hospitality industry afloat. There are everyday heroes like healthcare workers, delivery people and grocery story employees among us. These good folks should be cheered on by all of us–they are being exposed to larger risks than most of us will be. They deserve our support and gratitude.

Stoicism is harder than usual to practice. But focusing on the present, even minute to minute is still the most helpful way to calm stress and anxiety. I am grateful today that my family members, friends and community are OK for now. I hope you all are too.

Stay safe.

XOXO, Jjiraffe

 

 

 

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Thoughts on “Bad Husbands,” Activism and What We Can All Do That Matters

“Motherhood seems to be a no-win battle: however you decide to do (or not do) it, someone’s going to be criticizing you. You went to too great lengths trying to conceive. You didn’t go to great enough lengths. You had the baby too young. You should have kept the baby even though you were young. You shouldn’t have waited so long to try and have a baby. You’re a too involved mother. You’re not involved enough because you let your child play on the playground alone. It never ends.

It strikes me that while all this judgment goes on, the options available to women become fewer and fewer. I’m not even (just) talking about the right to choose—across the U.S., women have less access to birth control, health care, reproductive education, and post-partum support. So we give women less information about their bodies and reproduction, less control over their bodies, and less support during and after pregnancy—and then we criticize them fiercely for whatever they end up doing. This seems not only unfair to me but a recipe for societal disaster.” Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere

(Thanks to Loribeth for this quote and an excellent book review)

I’ve made a couple of comments elsewhere centered around one larger issue, but figure at this point I should just write a full-blown blog post.

I’ve had several recent conversations with friends who’ve admitted they’ve fallen into a state of constant MSNBC watching, which in turn makes them feel powerless and worried for the future. I think many of us are worried about the rights of women, which are being eroded at a rapid rate here in the US in individual states. We’re worried about the looming catastrophe of global warming, this existential threat hovering over us all like a huge army of white walkers.

Meanwhile, on social media (and media in general) there is a circus going on distracting valuable allies from these real issues at stake. A new skirmish has ignited a battle over household inequality, and how many chores men do vs. women. Writers with books to sell are offering tales of how their husbands don’t do enough chores, tying these stories to overall research showing men do less than women. Is this research reputable? Probably…but do these hot takes help solve this problem? I’m going to say no.

Why not? Isn’t venting to our friends about how much our husbands/partners suck helpful? Well, it depends. Some interesting research has shown that venting can go in two different ways: co-brooding or co-reflection.

Co-brooding is “…the tendency to talk about problems in a passive way, wishing things had turned out differently and feelings of disappointment and dejection would simply go away…co-brooders also tend to focus on all the potentially bad consequences of a particular problem, often predicting future catastrophe.”

Co-brooding also can lead to depressive symptoms in all parties doing the venting. So, that’s not great.

On the other hand, there could be a right way to vent.

Co-reflection “…involves speculating about specific elements of a problem in order to gain a greater understanding of the situation. Using information gleaned from this process, individuals attempt to either seek a solution or prevent the negative event from occurring in the future. In co-reflection, individuals address their problems with the assumption they can do something about them.”

As a Stoic, I love anything that involves “doing something about it.”

And we can! So think of this post as a co-reflection with you all on how to make societal changes, so we don’t get caught co-brooding while Rome burns.

What can we do?

The best chance to change existing social policy is to help elect the right people–at the local, state and national level. The right people who support closing the wage gap, working mothers, subsidized childcare and reproductive rights. So basically, Democrats mostly. (Do your research.)

So how do we do this, as a tiny peon? Groups like Indivisible and Swing Left can help.

Here’s a few campaigns that I think can be impactful:

This campaign, focused on winning back key legislative chambers in 9 critical states in 2020
Send postcards to votes
Make 5 calls
Check out Grumpy Rumblings

Don’t forget–all the collective activism helped in the mid-terms.

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Fun for Friday

I’ll be honest. This week sucked a**.

Luckily, there are some good things that kept me afloat. In addition to stoicism, of course.

Netflix

Thank the Lord for Netflix. I was literally ordered to bed by my doctor on Tuesday. In between various feverish deliriums, I was able to watch:

  1. Russian Doll–Dark, but GREAT. I can’t get that song “Gotta Get Up” out of my head. If you’ve seen the show, you know why.
  2. Grace & Frankie–When all cylinders are firing, this show is a riot. Not all episodes are winners. But the characters are lovable, particularly Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston. (Weird unrelated tidbit–Brianna looks and acts exactly like one of my college friends; I will call her SK. To the point that I am wondering exactly when the actress actually met SK. Because, it’s an impression and it’s freaking me out.)

Brianna

Nordstrom

After decluttering and organizing my closet last year, I realized I had an oversupply of some items (mostly dresses) and some major deficits. Like slacks. I didn’t have any that weren’t under five years old. So I bought two pair online. One is a pair of black pleather leggings. I know what you’re thinking–random!–but my “meeting clients” outfits are classic, with an edgy twist. I also ordered a pair of Boden black twill slacks. We’ll see how they perform. Finally, I ordered a cashmere turtleneck (my office is COLD) and another pair of Uggs, because my work-from-home outfit consists of Uggs, turtleneck, vest and yoga pants, ha! My other Uggs, by the way, are from 2007, and still in good shape.

Go Fund Me

This one is serious. I’ve been amazed to see up close and personal how effective this platform is for helping those in medical need, especially those with insurance gaps. Yay technology, this time!

 Cold Refrigerator Water

I have to drink a lot of water to get rid of this virus, and it’s so much more pleasant from the spout inside the refrigerator. Somehow, cold water tastes better than lukewarm tap water.

My Daughter

You guys, my eleven-year-old daughter woke up early the last few days and made scrambled eggs, toast and waffles for herself and her brother so I could rest. This morning, she made Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants. She proofed them the night before, and glazed them with an egg bath, and got up early to pre-heat the oven, then baked them. I cried.

Any fun things keeping you happy during this cold and dark February?

 

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Final 2019 Goal Potpourri

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I’m finally done mapping out my goals for 2019. Here are the final categories.

Career

I co-own my own business, which I started with a business partner almost two years ago. The biggest advantage of being a business owner is quite a lot is under my control. But obviously there are elements–like the economy for example–that are not.

Because of this, I try to create one career goal that is under my control and one that might be a stretch. One of my goals is revenue related (sort of / not really under my control), and one is a goal that is pretty doable.

I won’t specify my revenue goal here, but for purposes of documentation:

xx Monthly Run Rate by End of 2019

Get one feature story in key trade publication about our business

Hobby

I want to write in this space regularly, and detail more thoughtfully the value of stoicism. This should take two forms: practical tips on managing the day-to-day and more philosophically, what stoic beliefs are particularly uplifting for women. I think many women are turned off by even the word, yet there are all these key concepts that are so useful!

The other portion is perhaps communicating the values of stoicism via an Instagram account. I don’t love IG, and stopped using it a while back. But I do think it might be a good vehicle for this.

Write on site twice a week, figure out Instagram

Politics

I keep up with politics mostly through the New York Times (which I subscribe to), action-oriented sites like Grumpy Rumblings and emails I’ve signed up for. I can’t deal with the 24-hour news cycles. All those THIS JUST IN bulletins make me feel panicky and helpless. I make my calls, send my emails and donate to causes. Last year, I focused my efforts on the Kavanaugh hearing and the mid-term elections.

If I had to name it, the single biggest global issue I care most about is global warming. The messaging around it is so dire, and the impacts threaten us all. This year, I want to focus my political action on making community-wide changes. While we can all recycle and try to use less fossil fuels individually, the truth is we need to enact big changes around the world to make a difference. So I am going to work with climate change organizations.

My focus will be on trash–helping more communities (like my parents community) to get curbside recycling services. 9 out of 10 people would recycle more if it was easier, and household bins taken to the curbside weekly is about as easy as it gets.

Help more communities get curbside recycling services

Phew, that’s it! I am curious: do you have your own recycling (and composting) bins provided by your city or community?

More about my 2019 goals:

 

 

 

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A Millennial and a Gen Xer Discuss Burnout

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This mid 90s Sears portrait demonstrates the generational divide between me and my brother. Yes, that was a “Rachel” shag and no, it wasn’t a good look for me.

Like other Americans, I have been watching one article consume many media cycles this month. If you haven’t read “Burnout Generation” by Anne Helen Peterson, here you go. She has clearly touched a raw, pulsating nerve.

Her essay notes that student debt and the changing economic landscape have altered the trajectory of people in their 20s and 30s from previous generations. Millennials are waiting longer to have children and putting off buying homes. 30% of Americans used to have union jobs with pensions, healthcare and guaranteed time off; now only 10% do.

My brother is a millennial. I am a Gen Xer, and the differences between us are pretty stereotypical. He has debt from college and graduate school he’s still paying down in his thirties. He went to graduate school to distinguish himself in a crowded job market. I did not go to graduate school because I was able to find a good job without it–and my debt from college was paid off in 5 years. My brother is unable to buy a home in our expensive area, so he and his wife moved to Portland where real estate is cheaper. My husband and I bought a home many years ago when this insane market was easier to crack. While we don’t live in that same home, the equity we gained helped us to afford our current house, which we bought at the very peak of the Great Recession.

In other words, because I was born earlier, I am better off in many measurable ways. Is this fair?

Clearly not.

So I asked what he thought of the article, as his opinion is way more relevant than mine.

Me: So, you are a bona fide millennial. Although I know you would prefer to be a Gen Xer, since you love Rancid so much. Joking. What did you think of this article?

Brother:  I think systemic disadvantages do exist for millennials. College debt is higher than ever before, and millennials are facing a job force that is more hostile to workers’ rights than boomers (unions are shrinking, many fields face an uncertain future). All the while, cost-of-living increases are raging out of control, and starting wages are as slow to react to this as a snail in January.

Throw in the fact that all things look like the world is hurtling toward eminent destruction, it’s all a lot. Millennials aren’t making it up: s*** is f***** up.

Me: Do you agree with Peterson’s argument that these disadvantages cause burnout, and more specifically, errand paralysis?

Brother: I don’t think that these disadvantages mean we can’t run simple errands.

I think the reason why we don’t like making phone calls or doing things face-to-face is because we came of age in a world with easier, softer ways around those things: email, text, etc.

Even Gen Xers, who’ve all texted and emailed most of their adult lives, they had more practice doing that before alternate, more passive forms of communication came around. Take yourself, for instance: you don’t like talking on the phone, but you’ll call your insurance provider at the drop of the hat if such an act is required.

Me: True story.

Brother: I get why some errands are exhausting. I’ve made dumb mistakes like Peterson’s boyfriend, who lost out on about $1,000 because he put off jumping through s***, confusing bureaucratic hoops.

But, exhaustion simply can’t be an excuse to not exist in the world.

Also, all of the systemic disadvantages I mentioned before are multiplied exponentially for women, non-binary folks, and people of color.

Me: Very true. Speaking of which, do you think it’s worth it for millennials to challenge the status quo? Peterson indicated that burnout should excuse those infamous millennials who didn’t vote because they couldn’t figure out how to send in the darn form. Student debt is an institutional issue largely out of one individual’s control, and the way to change it is via legislation. Do you agree that millennials should make their voices heard–calling legislators, donating money to campaigns if we can and volunteering? That seems to be the only clear path to real institutional change.

Brother: I think Peterson’s defense of the infamous millennials who said voting is too hard is wrong, and I think that’s far from the reality of what most millennials are doing. In the age of Trump, millennials are learning how to make themselves heard through their legislators really quickly. In the past two years, I’ve never seen so many of my peers call on others to get in touch with congress/representatives/etc, march for what’s right, even fight white supremacists in their streets.

Some have even decided to go into politics themselves. It’s been really inspiring. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the most famous millennial in politics, is a great example of this. She’s trying to save the world for her generation and all those coming up behind her.

Action is the answer, and the antidote for exhaustion. That’s our only hope.

Me: What tips would you provide for millennials dealing with errand paralysis?

Brother: Resist the temptation to do nothing. I fail at this one all the time, but if we do nothing, we’re all dead meat.

Make the phone calls. Send the forms. Take the little actions you think you just can’t muster the energy for. Something that gives me some strength is this line from the late Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one and precious life?”

Amen, brother.

Other perspectives:

The Altantic: Millenial burnout is being televised

Laura Vanderkam: On errand paralysis

What do you think about millenial burnout? Are you burned out? 

 

 

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