What can you do during the pandemic? As it turns out, you can do a lot.
I graduated high school in 1977 and it was time to think about careers. I thought my choices were limited. I had no special talents. Not musical: I was challenged down to third chair flute ever year in band. Not literary: My best friend wrote her science paper in iambic pentameter. I was happy to just write the paper. Not artistic or athletic: I was one of those kids whose grade point average was brought down by art and gym classes. Not good at public speaking: I avoided raising my hand in class. Not good at languages: In Junior High, some friends started an all French language radio station, writing their own songs in French. I was happy to eek out the standard “Louise de Lavallière et pres de la port a la bibliothèque.” Not mathematical: I didn’t enjoy numbers or Fortran programming like my sister. Not a dancer or singer: I was on crew for all of our high school musicals, electrical crews like lighting and sound, because they didn’t even let me paint sets. Not handy: I didn’t make or fix things and cooking meant heating up something frozen.
Not artistic or musical or graceful or handy, not a good cook, not good with children, not whatever it took to be something else, I believed I could become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. I thought about becoming a doctor but convinced myself I couldn’t handle person goo, blood, phlegm and such, so law it was, real estate law so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself in court.
While I was in law school, personal computers came out. Most lawyers dictated years after the PC came out and entered law practice. I shared a secretary with a lot of people and since I was young and new, my work was on the bottom of the pile. So, I asked the secretary how to get into a file and how to save a file. After that, it was just typing . I learned it was easier to draft on computer than through dictation. After my law school graduation, I bought a simple PC. Soon PCs got some fun accessories mine did not have. I wanted a sound card and video chip so I learned how to pop the box open and add them. Websites seemed fun so I learned HTML and made my own websites, and some campaign websites for local candidates. My internet skills came from buying a book “for dummies.”
Then, I took some computer programming classes. After 9/11, my classmates and I became involved in politics. I planned watch parties and fundraisers and educational events. Soon, I was public speaking and won a surrogate speaker debate when my opponent stood on the proposition that short people can become president and I talked about financial regulation, health care reform. You don’t have to be a great orator, just clear and concise and very prepared. Preparedness is the key to clear and concise.
Years later, and very predictably, real estate went down the tubes so I branched out into other areas of law and found myself in court opening probate cases and defending clients in foreclosures and evictions. I won some and I lost some, but to my surprise, I won some. Best court advice I was ever given: “Talk to the judge just like you’re having a conversation with another person.”
Not long after that, my mom got lung cancer. It was horrible. She was bent over and could not stop deep coughs and in a lot of pain. The doctors were fooling around speculating about remnants the flu or bronchitis. Using nothing more than common sense, I diagnosed my mom’s cancer first, took her to the ER, and demanded a real diagnosis. Finally, the ER doctors confirmed what I knew and my mom’s doctors refused to confirm.
Then, due to insane insurance limitations on what the nurses could do for my mom in-patient and out-patient, my dad and I learned how to change her chest tube and flush her central line. I don’t advocate lay person medical diagnosis or procedures but we’ve bought ourselves a health care system designed only to funnel money to insurance companies and medical groups, devoid of logic and common sense, so we’re often, not only left to our own devices, but called upon by the medical and insurance professions to make diagnoses and do medical procedures ourselves.
That was a bad situation, but it taught me the most important lessons I ever learned: I can do things. I have common sense. Common sense answers at least the basic questions. Professionals can forget to use common sense, especially when they’re well-paid to forget. So, if I have common sense and that helps me do things, you have it too, and you can use it to do things too. But, of course, common sense also dictates that you know your limits. I’m not telling your to perform surgery in your bathroom, but you can get a pulse oximeter and monitor your own, or a sick family member’s, oxygen.
Health care and heroics aside, there are a lot of mundane things we can learn and do for ourselves. Do you need to fix something around the house? There’s a video for that. Carpenters, plumbers, repair companies post videos. I’ve spent pandemic lockdown time fixing toilets, a refrigerator and I’m always fixing the computer. Just for fun, or out of the goodness of their hearts, or to promote a business, a lot of skilled people upload instructions online. Most of it works, reasonably, and it helps you find your own ways of doing things. Take advantage of these gifts to humanity.
I watched a bunch of cosmetology videos and cut my own hair. It’s wavy and layered so that was more than cutting a line across. I’m not going to become a professional cosmetologist any time soon, but my hair turned out okay and I intend to save a lot of haircut money in the future.
I’m cooking some pretty elaborate meals, jazzing up basics or making the ethnic food we miss. It’s hit or miss, and I usually have to practice techniques a few times for them to stick. It took four tries, but I finally mastered egg foo young. I managed a Dutch Baby for Sunday brunch. I wanted lettuce and herbs without going to the store, but I live in a condo that doesn’t allow anything but grass and flowers, so I started a little indoor hydroponic garden by looking it up online. A little instruction and a lot of planning ahead, and having the right tools for the right job (or make-shifting a reasonable substitution) helps.
Years ago, I wanted to do a humorous cartoon about my cat, but I never did it because I didn’t think my drawings were good enough. During the pandemic, I learned I might be at least a little artistic and practice improves outcomes. I’m taking a zoom art class and frequently research painting techniques online.
Okay, it’s not DaVinci, but it looks like a cat. It even kind of looks like the cat I was trying to paint:
I know this sounds kind of braggy but my point is that I’m the same person. I have no particular talents or skills and only learned I could do things when I had to or really wanted to do them, and set out to learn how to do it and practiced.
With so many people so stressed out at home during the pandemic, it’s time to stretch ourselves and learn how to do all those things we used to have someone else do but now have to do on our own, or things we’ve always wanted to do but didn’t think we could. We have many resources on those little phone computers and laptops. For everyone who doesn’t have a phone or a computer or Internet access, we should demand it from our tax payments like a stimulus bill that helps people and not just the rich or corporations, like the health care we should be paying for, all the stuff our taxes should pay for in lieu of wars and corporate welfare.
My ultimate lesson in trying all these new things is that I didn’t have to be an overnight phenom at anything. I just make up my mind to do it, do the research and do the work. It might not be perfect at first, second or third, but with confidence and practice, I can do lot. So can you.