Tuesday, March 17/Wednesday, March 18 – Practical Optimism
Day 54. “We’ve been in some scrapes before, and we’re gonna get out of this one,” says Captain Dan Holland in a space opera called ‘The Black Hole,’ in 1979, the year I was born. It’s apt for today’s news cycle. As I hear my talking points from the past weeks recycled word for word on mainstream media, “this is a marathon, not a sprint,” and others, I can let my foot off the gas. The world is taking this seriously, and there is emerging a unified wartime measures response to this invisible threat, this invisible war. It might get messy, but we’re going to get the job done.
I started the day tired. Forget lighting the candle at both ends. I’m tossing my torches into the fire, but I have a deadline. Today after lunch and a lot of coffee, Xiaolin and I have a 2-hour conference call with my team at iChongqing and the Beijing publisher interested in putting my book out. Although my old friend in Canada is a trusted colleague, I cannot throw away the opportunity to rush my work out this spring when it might be able to inform and contribute to a healthy, peaceful, and productive quarantine of millions of people around the world. You don’t get a chance to help so many people like that every day, and so I’m burning the midnight oil and working around the clock to finish this section of my work and rush it to the printers. The plan is for a digital release in May, although I will push to have my work ready as soon as can be and push for this to come out as fast as is possible. After the meeting, Xiaolin packs up and takes our egg cake to her family house. She knows I need to focus, and she’s looking forward to family time with baby Ethan and company across town. I work until late afternoon and go pick up four pizza’s she’s sent to the school for me, a new phone screen protector that arrives in the mail, and four giant jugs of water. After spending weeks boiling and refilling water for emergency purposes, I’m relieved our water person is back on the job, and 72 liters of spring water gets dragged up the hill and into our flat.
Many young people, ironically, after complaining about boomers all their lives, are the most resistant to staying in and flattening the curve. There’s a selfish tendency to ‘whataboutism’ it to the common flu and say that since they’re not old or sick, it’s not their responsibility to sacrifice for their society or their families’ most vulnerable members.
A study in Denmark showed half the people in ICU are under 50. One marathon runner, 37 years old, excellent shape no problems, was in for close 3 weeks of ICU. People on the ground have described many young, healthy individuals in Italy as suffering alongside their elders in the ICU as they struggle to draw breath.
The biphasic attack, a week or so after the onset of “Flu-like” symptoms will include a dry cough and shortness of breath, even if you’re between 30-50. Please seek help as oxygen concentration and other support can help support you. If you have a mild case and are unable to get medical help right away, making your own “nebulizer” by putting a towel over a hot bowl of water or ginger tea and deeply inhaling, can help when suffering from a bad cold or flu and might ease your early or mild respiratory symptoms. I am not a medical doctor, before taking any advice from me, you should consult your doctor.
As I’ve been saying for 54 days, wear a mask, wear goggles, and wash your hands! If you are exposed to the virus, not all infections are created equal, so anything you can do to mitigate your exposure is going to be helpful for your immune system. Accidental exposure to a small viral load (a few particles), such as some particles sneaking in the side of a surgical mask, or a half a fingerprint on a door handle getting smeared into your mouth, your body may have a chance to fight it off or at least will take a long time to develop a mild illness. A large inoculum, or viral load, for example, such as someone coughing right on you, will infect you with trillions of virus particles and your body is quickly overwhelmed before it can even respond. This explains why some young, healthy doctors and front line workers can develop such serious complications.
The most significant comorbidity factors: smoking and obesity. It’s a good time to lose a bit of weight and quit smoking.
A study shows over 50%-75% of people can be asymptomatic. This is good news and bad news. This means many people will carry the virus with no traces, and contribute to the rapid building of herd immunity. The bad news means these people represent a significant source of contagion, and everyone must take self-quarantine and wear masks, even the healthy, to protect those who will not get an asymptomatic version of the virus.
So one hundred million in Europe locked down, with more expected this week across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Italy, Spain, and France are now in lockdown. France requires paperwork to leave their houses for emergency use only. People are crowding grocery stores to stock up.
Some are still voluntary, such as in Argentina and Canada, and might be flouted by those who cannot see beyond their own nose, or feel any obligation to contribute as part of a healthy organism being more important than their temporary, erratic and often selfish desires. But war measures and emergency powers have been invoked in some regions, such as in San Francisco. They are considered in other places, such as New York City, or, all of Canada.
By nightfall, I take a short break and try to switch gears. I exercise a bit and take my work to google docs, where my friend Stephanie and I can work on it together.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau speaks live from in front of the cottage his family is self-isolating in, where his wife Sophie is under medical quarantine. He looks healthy enough and promises substantial aid is coming soon, even as lockdowns close restaurants, gathering places, and put the gig economy on their heels.
I speak with a friend, a tattoo artist, who isn’t sure what she’ll do for the next while, and we hope the aid will materialize soon in the form of cash payments, business loans, rent, and mortgage freezes, and other assistance.
Trump is making his own announcements about sweeping aid. His focus, as always, seems to be on the economy, but he offers to help the people too.
In the British parliament, I watch a real-time session where they promise the most radical benefits package in their history to keep businesses afloat and people fed and safe during this incredible wartime situation.
I’ve been watching this sweep across the world for two months, but it still feels surreal to see the vast consequences and interconnectedness we all share.
By early morning, I’m ready to call it quits for a bit as the first rays of new dawn creep through my heavy curtains. Still, I push a little farther and edit for another two hours while I listen to Bernie Sander’s fireside chat and call for widespread support for working families. It’s essential to have tools to cope with losses, be they economic or emotional, anxiety, fears, and depression. We should try to focus on our own resilience.
I recruit a team of beta readers and prepare to grant them access to help me polish my thoughts. I’m lucky to have such kind, caring, and capable friends.
Now is the time for patience and practicing kindness and empathy.
Stress during a disaster or emergency can include anxiety, worry, even panic about your health and your family, and financial situation and cause changes in sleep and eating routines, difficulty working, or the accentuation of chronic health problems. Other byproducts of increased stress are the increase in risky behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling.
Children respond differently to stress. Pay attention to irritation and crying, devolution to outgrown behaviors such as bedwetting, worry, sadness, or unhealthy hygiene and personal habits. Teenagers might act out or avoid the positive activities they previously enjoyed.
You should talk with your loved ones, reassure them that they are safe. It’s ok to be worried, but a positive attitude can increase the body’s immune response. Sharing coping mechanisms and limiting exposure to draining news coverage and social media is a good idea during a crisis. Try to keep regular activities and routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and fun and physical activities. Be a role model: get plenty of exercises, sleep, eat well, and take breaks. Use the benefits of tech such as Skype, Wechat, of Facebook to connect with friends and family.
Being a responder can take an emotional toll. Be aware of physical fatigue and mental signs, such as fear and guilt. Allow time to process and rest. Meditation and exercise are healthy, grounding rituals. Self-care activities such as reading, spending time with loved ones, and playing an instrument are very therapeutic. It’s ok to seek help when you need it.
It’s also normal, I know, for someone like me who is coming out of quarantine to have a mixed reaction when others I love are still in rocky waters. I may feel relief and guilt intermingled. Fear and worry for others is nature. The experience was stressful, and I will need to take time to recuperate. Sadness, frustration, and anger will bubble up. However, I will try to bring myself back to tranquility and acceptance each time.
Around 7:30, I make a coffee, eat a pizza loaded with four hot sauces and chia seeds, and refuel my drained batteries to push a little harder, a little farther.
In this challenging time, there are 4 M’s that can make a big difference to how we triumph and come out the other end more durable, wiser, and better than we go in.
The first is mindfulness. If we practice being grounded in the moment, we can eat, walk, and observe our breathing mindfully. Connect with our senses, pause between actions, and embrace our interactions with all of our attention. Meditate daily and find your flow state: get lost doing the things you love. For me, the RZA’s guided experience mixtape was the key to grounding my own inner turmoil and finding a place of peace to handle the chaos orbiting around me every day. I thank him often on Twitter for the gift that keeps on giving.
The second is the movement. Physical activity and exercise will boost the probability of successful social interactions and other increase other positive reinforcement. It’s an essential feature of coping strategies useful in treating depression. Movement, exercise, and staying active will improve your mental health, reduce negative thoughts and moods, improve your self-esteem, physical sense of your self and even your cognitive function, including better sleep.
The third is meaningful engagement. We should pay attention to reaching out to people as a positive influence in their day and productive use of our time. We can reach out to people all over the world with technology, and connecting over our own struggles and challenges and how we cope on the day to day, sharing tips and tricks can be a cathartic experience.
The final m is for mastery. The journey to knowledge is one that is open to everyone. When in your life, will you have another chance to dedicate all your waking hours for weeks or months on end to improving a skill or talent that you genuinely love? With enough effort and persistence, we can all achieving excellence in a focussed area. This will bring us intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. While a long path, this may be the springboard your soul has long cried out for and could be a turning point in your life after this experience is said and done.
Rather than focus on the material rewards that can accompany mastery, focus on mastery for the intrinsic joy, the practice of being your best at something you love will bring you. When you focus on a subject you are drawn to, your advancement will fill you with purpose and joy. In this flow state, you will be drawn to further hone your craft and stay on the path for years to come. You’ll connect with other inspired people, and have stimulating engagements. Your creativity will produce work that will bring you respect and acclaim. Four hours a day of focused, dedicated practice is conventionally seen to be an upper threshold for those pursuing a focussed mastery, such as playing an instrument, learning to paint, or writing a novel. However, as you expand your physical and mental endurance, you will tap into your core potential, and your capabilities will grow exponentially.
When choosing what to practice mastery of, consider your passions and skills. Draw upon your strengths. There are more opportunities to learn from the experiences of masters today than ever before. Many fields lack conventional obstacles, and you can become a self-trained expert with proper care, craft, and dedication.
I finally put my sleep mask over my eyes around 8 AM and surrender to the need for some rest. I wake up again, around at 11:11 AM, and realize that for now, this is the best night’s sleep I’m going to get.
The dogs sit and bask in the sun, and later today I’ll take them outside to enjoy the fresh air and run around. I can only imagine how excited they are going to be.
Xiaolin calls to wish me a good day today. The sun is shining, it’s 20 degrees outside and she’s taking the family downtown to Jiefangbei to walk around and enjoy the beautiful sunny spring day. Her father’s garden is beautiful today, full of spring flowers and we feel a sense of practical optimism.
“Become the best in the world at what you do,” says Naval Ravikant. “Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”