Saturday, March 21, 2020

Signs, Portents, and Turnings

In September 2016 my wife and I were shopping at a Marshall's in Dallas. They had just opened, and there was a Halloween costume display at the front of the store. The outfits were all uniforms. Police, nurse, firefighter, military. I said to my partner "It looks like our culture is getting ready for authoritarianism." Sometimes I am spot on with my cultural predictions, other times there is nothing to them.

Weeks later in November 2016 the Event happened in America. Everyone who was supposed to know anything had been wrong in predicting the election. America rolled the dice and decided to take a chance on a game show host with racist authoritarian tendencies.

Later that month I was called for Jury Duty. I loaded up the book The Fourth Turning on my phone, and stood around at the courthouse all day reading it. I'm not going to summarize the whole book, but here are a few highlights. Every 80-100 years comprise 4 cultural seasons- The High, The Awakening, The Unraveling, The Crisis. The last Crisis was WW2, the previous was the Civil War. Our time's Crisis was due to arrive soon, and we'd know it when we saw it. It wasn't quite Trump. He was more of a symptom, or the catalyst of what was coming. Anyway, I got sent home without seeing the inside of courtroom and continued living in that weird twilight awaiting inauguration.

That year, I really, really got into Christmas. I am an atheist, but hey, I appreciate the ritual, the nostalgia, the childish delight of flocked Santa ornaments, Red Sovine and Montovani records, mulled wine, and painfully earnest holiday romantic comedies. I opined "Mass culture is re-embracing Christmas because we are sad and miss the old times before Trump." Maybe that was true, or maybe it is like when you finally binge Breaking Bad years after everyone has given up on you ever watching it. Which I still haven't, so leave it be.

What happened next? A lot, I guess. Our life as a couple was fully submerged in politics for about 15 months. Protests, organizing, vetting candidates, making videos for the cause, leading meetings, attending meetings, calling Congress, the works. We were in it. Then we burned out, dialed it back, and decided to wait for 2020 to ramp up again.

Every year my Christmas fetish got stronger. Family traditions were emerging. In 2019 my daughter and wife threw me a Christmas themed birthday party in early November. Liberace, Kenny Rogers, Dolemite, and all the other super-stars of the holiday canon played over a cheap turntable. Bliss.

Oh! I nearly forgot-  last year was the year all of our stories ended. The Marvel films came to a strong finish, wrapping up on film tales that stretched back to 1941 in the comic books, at the start of the last Crisis.  The "villain" was brutal but sympathetic, a force of nature coming to clear the way for a new authoritarian Utopia where everyone had enough, and no one wanted for anything. He just had to kill half of everyone, everywhere first.

Star Wars wrapped up it's 42 year long story. It was about, um, something. How the thing you didn't see coming has been stealth hoarding death ships so he could eat his granddaughter's force energy but it wasn't anything the spirit of her mentors and 2 laser swords couldn't fix? Sorry, still trying to find the big metaphor there.

Anyway, pop culture was tying bows around a lot of large stories, and those were the largest. My thought to my wife- "Now that the largest stories are done, what will replace them? What does it mean that they ended? Are they clearing the way for something new?" I knew it was something, but I couldn't see what could possibly be coming.

So here we are. In the Fourth Turning when the Crisis happens it fundamentally changes every aspect of our lives. The lens focuses and we can suddenly see all the smaller crises we have struggled with merge into the singular Crisis. Everything is different, and we all know it over night. Here we are- the threads of medical care, housing, income inequality, globalism, immigration, and absence of reliable institutions, all weaving together into one grand global pandemic.

About 2 fourth turnings ago, back in the 1880s, science-fiction began to flourish in England. These Novels were stories that reflected their time, while also laying the groundwork for the technological marvels of the 20th century. One book, War of the World, was about an existential threat to the world. It was laid low by a common virus. The citizens of Woking, England, and the globe saved by a tiny invisible agent of death that wiped away the alien threat.

Here we are.

The Crisis is followed by a new high as everything rebuilds, and all efforts are native to and in service of the new reality. Keep your hands clean, your socializing distant, and we will make it through together.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Notes On Working From Home

Welcome to working from home. You might be doing it for 2 weeks, or you might be in an industry that is about to realize they want to do this full time. Either way, the transition can be tricky even when it is something you have planned to do in advance. Here are some things I have learned in 8 years of at-home office work.

Starting Your Day

People joke about working in their pajamas. They are thinking of their home as being the equivalent fo a comfortable, casual place. However, you are still going to work. I strongly suggest keeping the same routine, dress, and tone that you had going into a physical building.

What does that look like? If your daily approach has always been wake, shower, eat, dress, drive in, continue to do those first 4 the same way you always have. You need to prepare because you are going mentally into a work environment. I wear pants, shoes, and a shirt that meets the level of meetings I am in during the day. In other words, if I am just working with data, I am fully dressed but wearing a clean t-shirt. If I am on camera leading a meeting or a training, then a polo or button down shirt is my choice. I even have my wallet in my pocket.

Physical Comfort

Find the best most ergonomically supportive chair in your house. Couches are comfortable, but you will kill your back and neck by day 2. If you don't have a desk or desk chair, start at the kitchen table. If you see this lasting longer than 2 weeks, order a basic desk and chair from Ikea or something. If you will be doing this longer than 6 weeks, or it becomes permanent, buy the best rated office chair you can afford. I am sitting in a refurbished Herman Miller Aeron. I've had it for about 2 years, and it is excellent. Before this, I was buying a new chair every 2-3 years as the standard Office Depot $130 chair will simply collapse after a while.


Think about what can be seen on camera. You can share your personal character, but realize you are projecting an image. Think about your backdrop the same way you would think about clothing. At the very least, keep it neat. If your bed is behind you, be sure it is made. If you have a separate room, great. For many first-time work from home people, the bedroom is the easiest place to create a controlled environment.


Don't worry about animals. You will at first, but barking is just a part of the culture. It can't be controlled, but it can be contained. In other words, if you have a video meeting where you are speaking or presenting, put the animal in another room. Be prepared to mute if the mail carrier comes. There is a weekly meeting I attend with 5 people. Four of us have dogs, and 3 have wives/husbands that get home during the meeting. We are all used to it, and it is not a disruption.

Move and Socialize

Once an hour if possible. Stand up. Stretch. Wander around the house. Pay attention to your watch/fitness device if you have one. Let it shine, and stand when it tells you to. Did you have a habit of getting coffee at 10 AM with a co-worker every morning? Keep doing that. Get your coffee at 10, and chat your work friend. Keeping in contact with people is crucial to eliminate feeling isolation and a sense that you don't really have a job any more. You do. If you are in a role that allows it, suggest getting together with a few peers on video just to hang out, or talk in a non-structured way. This is challenging to pull off. Finding a way to have water cooler talk takes effort, but it is worth it. Dumb icebreaker/conversation prompts in medium sized meetings are crucial to staying human and not being a robot in meetings.

Take Advantage of the Commute

On a break? Start your laundry. Lunch hour? Get a start on cooking dinner. Clean the bathroom. Mow the lawn. Take a walk. Vacuum. Above all, take the same  breaks and lunch periods you did in office at the times that best work for you. You may have a hard day where you get lost at the desk and forget to take care of the basics, but that should not happen any more than it did in office. I am the worst at eating at my desk. However, I do try to use that time for distractions like Reddit, Facebook, placing Amazon orders, or paying bills.

Enjoy it. I think that we are undergoing a massive culture shift, and working from home is going to be a big part of that. I can't envision our cultural approach to being in large groups snapping back to how it was up through March 13, 2020. Check your calendar, we are still in the first week of this nationally.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or advice, please leave comment.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Let's take a look at May 31 2017. You are all a smart bunch. If you don't find conspiracy theories interesting, funny, or sociologically significant, do move on. This is presented as humor, and is in no way intended to spark an actual conspiracy theory. 


Soon after we heard from DT and Sean Spicer attempt to validate that "Covfefe" was more than the final taps of a man falling asleep Tweeting on the toilet.

From USA Today, May 31 2018 in a One year Retrospective of The Word That Would Not Die: Trump says ‘covfefe’ might have ‘deep meaning’

"Despite the negative press covfefe," the tweet read, and nothing more.He soon deleted the tweet, but instead of pretending it never happened, he leaned into it."Who can figure out the true meaning of 'covfefe' ??? Enjoy!" he said nearly six hours after the original tweet went out.
Not helping the matter was then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer's insistence that covfefe made sense. He said people shouldn't be concerned about the tweet and the fact that it was up for hours."I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," Spicer said.

Here we all are, 3 years later. Sheltering in place, delighting in self-quarantine, working from home, We subsist on reams of toilet paper while Googling how to make the perfect hominy, tuna, and pickled beet chili. Covid-19 is here, it's hip, it is NOW! We are keeping our distance, ignoring the expiration dates, and signing up for every free trial to binge-watch the end times. No need to cancel, that $1000 check will be here any minute courtesy of a substitute mail carrier with a dry cough.

Was DT spitballing names? Was he trying to type Covid-19 and couldn't remember the code word? Was this the beta version that didn't launch? Back to the drawing board? Is he a narcoleptic Nostradamus? Does a golden toilet portend great vision and precognition? Have we found the savant to his idiot? I mean, just today he spent 4 minutes talking about "studying" a vaccine. Behind him at the dais, a steely eyed science lady was moments from screaming "it's a clinical study, not study like a test, which you have clearly never done, you infantile narcissistic monster!!".

We knew something was coming. We knew we couldn't just get in and out in four years with nothing big happening. That it turned out to be a global pandemic was just the luck of the draw. I mean, who knew pandemics could be so hard?