Control

We want it, but we don't have it.

I hosted a conference last week (on Zoom, obviously) and in one of the breaks another organizer asked one of the presenters how she was doing. And she said, to paraphrase, “Bad.” When she elaborated, it wasn’t just one thing. Her kid’s daycare was still closed. Adapting to remote teaching was challenging. It’s cold.

A lot of us are feeling it. It’s harder (in some locations) to go outside. We’re up until all hours waiting on vaccine appointments to open, either for ourselves or others. School is in, no, it’s out, no, it’s back. As one friend put it, “I’m exhausted and I left my goal weight behind months ago with the Bailey’s and ice cream.”

Part of these struggles are sadness, and grief. But I think also underlying it is a simple feeling that we have no control.

Every morning, I check the New York Times vaccine tracker, and the state I live in falls further and further behind in the rankings (as of today: 50 of 50, still holding out a lead over the Marshall Islands). I cannot understand why this is. It feels so important to me to vaccinate people as fast as possible. And yet! I have literally no way to control this. I can only be angry and frustrated. I can complain, but this is totally out of my hands. The same is true of school openings (mine and others), of travel, of … everything. Our choices have been so radically limited by the virus (and, in some cases, by governmental mismanagement).

In an odd way, it feels a bit like those months when you have a first child. All of a sudden what you can do is radically curtailed. You can’t just pop off to brunch or take a nap whenever you feel like it. Your life is suddenly, abruptly, entirely driven by a small yelling person. It can be easy to feel like you have no control, no agency. Of course, you love that little person so so much that you ache about it. So, the loss of control is set off by a tremendous upside of joy. This isn’t true of the present moment.

It’s easy for this to manifest in a desire to take control where we can get it. For me, it’s my backyard ice rink. With repeated applications of water when it’s under 15 degrees, I can control having an ice rink in my backyard. In a normal year, this might be a fun activity. This year, it’s perhaps gone a bit beyond that. As I realized when I got the hose caught in the hose spool and spent 30 minutes in my basement screaming profanities as I tried to unspool it. This may have reflected a frustration that went beyond the ice.

Perhaps it’s odd to talk about this in a newsletter focused on data, but I think of this as a community and if I’m hearing something from all sides, maybe it’s good for us to know others are out there.

I wish I could say I had a magic data-based solution for this problem but, of course, I don’t. All I can say is that we are in this together. And, at least for me, it’s productive to acknowledge that it’s okay to be a little more obsessed than usual with the things we can control.

For example: last week, I had a very difficult Friday afternoon. When I got home, I suited up, went outside, put on Evermore and sprayed the rink in the dark. It seemed insane and, yet, I felt a lot better after. For you, it’s probably not an ice rink (or maybe it is! That’s cool! Let’s be friends and share tips about how to smooth it out!). But we can probably all make some space for the small, weird, moment of controls we do get.

Don’t worry, this won’t be too much self-reflection. I’ll be back Thursday with more on vaccines, why the messaging around the role of vaccination in protecting others is so confusing and what we really know about it so far.


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