Delete your free Slack backlogs!

Why delete Slack backlogs?

Slack and other chat software tend to retain conversation history so that you can see and search what was said in the past. This can be very helpful for historical context and avoiding repeat conversations, but there’s all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to retain backlogs indefinitely:

  • people who join some time after the Slack is formed may find themselves being discussed in backlogs in terms that are uncomfortable now they can see it
  • the relationships of people in the Slack may change over time and previously friendly conversations may be weaponised by members
  • any malicious person who gains access to your Slack (whether by hacking or by being invited) gets the entire history of everything said there to bully or blackmail people with
  • the contents of the Slack might be subject to legal discovery at some point in the future and be used to win a lawsuit against members or owners of the Slack, or else simply dumped into the public record

Learn more in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Slack privacy campaign: What if All Your Slack Chats Were Leaked?, Slack should give free accounts control over retention.

How to delete Slack backlogs.

If you pay for Slack, you should use their message and file retention feature.

If you have a free Slack, you can do it yourself. If you are using the free plan, you can delete messages through the API. Here’s a really simple sample Python script any admin of your Slack can use, which will delete most messages posted more than 6 weeks ago. (Instructions.)

Alternatively, slack_cleaner2 is nicely flexible if you want to develop your own script. Or members could delete at least their own messages with eg the Message deleter for Slack 2.0 Chrome extension.

Script caveats

You will need owner or administrator access to your Slack instance (or else you cannot delete messages other users wrote).

The script operates with the credentials of the admin who runs it, and will not be able to delete other people’s messages in 1:1 DMs, or any messages in any private channel that admin is not in.

The script will not delete messages older than the 10,000 recent messages that free Slacks have access to (even deleting the newer messages doesn’t restore access to these). Yet these older messages are retained by the company and could be accessed if, eg, someone pays for the Slack in future or if a discovery motion is granted. Unfortunately, you will need to pay for Slack, at least briefly, to access these older messages for deletion.

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Delete your free Slack backlogs! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Getting a COVID-19 test in NSW, as of May 2020

NSW is encouraging all people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Since I have what I assume are seasonal allergies, I meet the testing criteria and probably will continuously for months to come, so I’ve had a few tests. Curious? Here’s what you need to know.

Test access has got much easier. I’ve heard from several people that they don’t understand how to get tested, because a friend of theirs tried in March and their doctor flat-out declined to refer them without clear signs of pneumonia, so what is this stuff and nonsense about how everyone with symptoms should get testing?

If you want to learn about tests before you get one, try and find someone who got tested recently to share their experience. Here’s mine:

  • no referral is required
  • testing is readily available and swiftly administered
  • results are often available same-day

Check the date and location on anyone’s testing story before deciding testing sounds too hard and inaccessible.

You can get tested, in many places without a referral. Here’s the testing sites.

Here’s the testing procedure at the drive-through clinic I went to:

  1. drive up
  2. a person in full PPE approaches the car and takes your personal details: name, address, phone, email, symptoms, employment status (do you work in health or aged care, or no?), risk factors (recent travel, contact with known or suspected cases)
  3. you drive forward to a second person who reads the details back to you
  4. that person does the deeply unpleasant thing you’ve probably seen videos of where they put a swab up your nose and into your sinuses, wave it around, and withdraw it a couple of seconds after it becomes really really difficult to tolerate
  5. you drive away
  6. you are asked to behave as if you are positive until you get that result. This means strictly staying at home and minimising contact with household members.
  7. later that day you get a text message asking if you opt into result-by-text and if you do, usually some hours later you get your result.

I asked them what they do with children and they said, as of late May, for children they are doing throat swabs rather than nasal ones.

They only acted a little bit startled when I reported that I had had a runny nose for 12 weeks. (Some guidance on how regularly to get re-tested with symptoms that don’t change would be handy!)

I’ve not been positive (and hope not to be prior to vaccine or effective anti-virals!) so I do not know what additional things happen if you are positive, presumably contact tracing and fairly high levels of health monitoring kick off from there.

If you do want a doctor to examine you, look for a “Respiratory Clinic” on the same page that lists the testing clinics. The respiratory clinics are clinics where the doctors are already wearing full PPE and have good patient isolation set up (eg, no waiting room, you wait in your car). This saves you and your regular GP considerable fuss around them needing to don full PPE and change their waiting practices for you, and are a good place to head with cold/flu symptoms this year.

Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting

Some employers are beginning to announce transitions to remote-friendly or all-remote workforces even after office work is judged safe again. This has a lot of potential upsides in reducing commutes, in increasing job opportunities outside of established tech centres, in giving people access to their preferred working styles.

But there’s also a lot of potential downsides where employees personally pay to recreate the parts of the office experience they need and nevertheless find that their career tops out early or that they’re summoned or semi-summoned back to a tech centre just as they’ve started to realise the benefits of remote work.

Thus, just as I’ve written before about questions you should ask when hired into an existing remote position, you should ask a similar set for a company or position transitioning to remote work, to make sure that it is invested for the long term and is clear about any career or financial sacrifices you will be required to make to be remote.

Are there limits on where employees can be located? It’s quite common for remote employees to be required to be based in certain timezones, countries, or states/provinces where the employer already has some kind of established presence.

Is this transition in fact permanent, or is there a review date? Moving away from a city is a very large investment, often in direct costs but definitely in opportunity costs. Best to make such a decision on a strong commitment from an employer to a long time frame.

Will compensation be adjusted downwards for employers who relocate to an area with lower cost of living (or lower market salaries)? There are some remote-first or remote-friendly employers who pay the same salary no matter where employees are located, but also many which pay against local cost of living or local market conditions.

Will all remote compensation be adjusted downwards on the assumption that everyone will leave high cost of living areas? Hopefully not! Because some people have substantial investments in their current area of residence, eg commitments to their partner’s career or to their local family or friends, or to the cultural scene or their hobbies, or to retaining the option to leave their current employer for another that will require them to be office-based.

Will employees who move to an area with less generous minimum benefits have their benefits cut? Eg, will they lose days of vacation or carer’s leave? Will their insurance be revised in line with their new residence’s minumums?

Will there be formal limits on which positions are available remotely?

Even in the software, creative, and research positions that can be done remotely, it’s common for companies to not allow all positions to be remote. Here’s some possibilities for what this might look like:

  • you can’t become an executive if you’re remote
  • you can’t become a people manager at all if you’re remote
  • you can’t do security-sensitive or personnel-sensitive work if you’re remote
  • you can’t achieve a certain job level if you’re remote

Best to know!

If the company is indeed open to all positions being remote, how are they going to ensure equality of opportunity?

If there are going to still be offices, it may in theory be possible to become an executive or a high level staff member while remote… but it eventually emerges that no one is actually doing those jobs remotely, that those folks are all office-based.

What does the employers plan for developing remote staff careers look like and how will they audit its success?

Will there be training and resources for workers transitioning to remote, for managers who are remote or managing remote workers, etc?

There are specific skills required to manage and be part of both all-remote teams and mixed-remote-office teams. Will these be taught to employees? Will there be trained support for specific situations that may arise (eg, it may be more difficult to reach remote employees in a suspected emergency)?

Will there be financial support for the costs of remote working?

Remote working passes the office maintenance costs onto employees, eg substantial extra energy costs (particularly in areas with very cold winters or very hot summers), additional space, need for office furnishings, higher Internet bills and larger mobile plans, IT equipment, etc. Will the employer reimburse these costs and to what extent?

Ideally this support isn’t too specific. Eg, “we’ll pay for a co-working space”: co-working spaces usually have open office plans and quite a few involve hotdesking (especially if you’re part-time). They’re thus generally not suitable for people who have a lot of sensitive meetings (ie most managers or HR staff), some people who need physical accommodations, or people who are unable to work well in open plan offices.

Conversely, “we’ll pay to fit out your home office”: establishing a home office requires that people have or can afford to move to a place with an extra room, and usually that there are only one or at most two people in the home who need a home office.

Flexibility is better.

Will business travel be mandatory or strongly encouraged?

Quite a lot of remote teams rely on an mandatory or near-mandatory all-hands in-person get together once or twice a year for team building purposes. This may be an easy trade for some to get the benefits of remote work, but it may not be for others, especially for primary carers.

This question may be especially relevant for people who are going to be one of the few remotes on their team and may be expected to travel to the office regularly; and also for managers, who are occasionally expected to travel out to each of their remote reports periodically.

Will there be allowed to be children/dependants in the house during working hours and are there restrictions on their care arrangements? At least when schools and daycares are open, it’s common for employers to insist that if there are children/dependants living with a remote worker, they must have a carer who isn’t the worker. It’s possible (jurisdiction dependent) for them to insist that the house must not have dependants present in work hours at all.

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Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

How I’m going to talk about what it was like

When I was six, I was in a boring classroom, bored, and really longed to fast forward time until I was an age when things got really interesting. My guess was about three years would do it. I just wanted to look back on that whole time and only go through it hazily.

When I was nine or ten, I remembered this really distinctly and looked back with what I assumed was adult fondness on my baby self. And I never wanted it again, except for any weeks containing surgical procedures, and also now.

The ideal beginning to this story would be indulged innocence, where the West swanned around catastrophically drunk on our own inevitable but unforeseen stunning defeat, but in Sydney January was, of course, the season of fire and smoke. Just after New Year, Andrew heard wailing from the living room and assumed that V was hassling A, but found instead that I’d just told them our holiday was cancelled. Too much risk of being trapped, being burned.

We explained the entire situation in the context of other people’s lives, that one day they lived in a house and the next day they lived in an evacuation shelter under a red and black sky. Later urgent bulletins came from the school about respiratory safety, sudden changes to children’s sport. Folks burned themselves out on Twitter sharing information, people were uncertain whether they could ethically bring new children into the world.

My children never heard the estimate that a billion animals burned to death last summer, I think. I ran into a friend at a climate change protest who was hurriedly fleeing home with a distraught child because one of the speakers had mentioned it.

We packed the Sydney CBD body to body for many streets more than the police or the organisers had bargained for.

We heard about the Wuhan lockdown, distantly. I thought of it, not as the press would talk about it in March and April, as if I was surrounded by a deluded magical shield that would prevent me from getting diseases originating in Asia, but in relationship to the Xinjiang internment camps. A lockdown was like the camps and was something as big and terrible as the death of a billion animals, and it would cut my mind open if I thought about it too carefully.

January was perhaps the last month that I remember the Xinjiang internment camps receiving any coverage or commentary in Australian media at all.

Someone at work travelled to China for Lunar New Year for one of their very first overseas adventures, and came home early when everything was suddenly closed down. It was two weeks before they were allowed to return to our office. Someone else spent New Year in Singapore with their family, and their parents worried about what was later called COVID, but they did not themselves worry.

February was something of a blank around COVID, like it apparently was for Donald Trump.

It rained on the east coast of Australia to the point of flooding, but it was a catastrophe of a few weeks, not the years of drought and the months of fire. Fires whose names we knew like we were later to talk about R0, Gospers Mountain and others, were extinguished by the rain.

There were changes at work and I was up in my feelings about them. I cried at some point because I was becoming a full-time birthday party planner for everyone who lives in my house who isn’t me. I was managing 18 direct reports, about twice as many as is sensible to do, and I carefully planned a series of weeks off in March and April to recover.

On the 16th February Andrew and I went out for his birthday, had dinner at Bennelong and saw The Necks perform, and on the 23rd we took V and three other boys to Treetops in Western Sydney for them to climb in trees and ride ziplines. I was so proud of A for being able to do all the younger children’s rope courses. The boys threw rubbish at us from the back of the van as we drove them home and we were pretty angry.

I had no sense that these were the last weeks of anything.

I have work emails in late February about there perhaps being a few cases in the US.

I started to get nervous, I’ve always had a niggling worry when travelling internationally that the entire setup is awfully contingent. They could just stop the planes someday and then I’d be in real strife. I imagined this might happen in, say, the event of war.

I expressed a preference for not doing any work travel for a while.

By April, everyone had settled on quarantines and border closures as the only possible response to pandemics, but in early March they were unimaginable, including I think by WHO, or at least they were felt to be extremely unwise and impossible to actually do. I knew people were fleeing the north of Italy and being turned back by the military. I was horrified.

Italy was overwhelmed and its doctors were trying to warn the rest of the world. Twitter responded with its usual prescription for catastrophes, fresh from the bushfires. “Don’t look away, you must not look away, you are required to know every detail of everyone else’s pain, if you don’t know about this you are deeply complicit in it.”

I read story after story after story of doctors panicking in Italy and people being dropped off at hospitals and next seen by their family on Skype calls, dying.

I cried for hours most nights in the first two weeks of March about both Italy and Iran.

I accomplished absolutely nothing at all I am aware of by refusing to look away.

Perhaps when I write this story for the last time I will have learned to delete Twitter from my phone and memory at any point whenever no one has better ideas than “bear witness or be damned”.

By mid-March, I was clear enough on what was coming. V had played his final cricket games and I half wondered if they’d be cancelled. The weekend after cricket finished, V had the first training for his new winter sport (AFL) and by then I knew for sure that it would also be the last training allowed. It was like walking around behind glass: the coach and team didn’t seem to know this, we also ran into former soccer teammates who were enjoying their rugby season and seemed to think it would continue.

We started building expectations, bad ones, in the kids. We maybe think your tryouts for representative cricket will be cancelled (they were), it’s very unlikely our rescheduled-from-the-bushfires coastal trip will happen (it didn’t), skiing is unlikely this year (still unknown, but I can’t imagine it).

You won’t see your grandparents for a long time.

They cried. We explained the situation in terms of other people’s lives, doctors and nurses working long hours behind masks, people we saw every day in cafes and at school who don’t have jobs any more. One grain of rice, two grains of rice, four grains of rice, eight…

We bought a few tins of food at the shops each day, as the media was starting to recommend. Believing we were heading for a near-complete retail shutdown, I bought all our Easter eggs, a new microwave, and a bike for V in the same weekend. I fought for a while with my hatred of working from home but accepted that I needed to get a desk again. I heard an older child at a supermarket say to his mother “you’d better not get all weird about coronavirus.”

I work from my bedroom now, if I roll over too far in bed I will hit my head on my office. I tell people I’ve accepted it will be six months or more but I haven’t.

I tell myself I’ve accepted it will be three years or more before carefree international travel is available, and that’s assuming it’s affordable. But I haven’t.

In late March, the modelling for Australia teetered between “barely survivable” and “tears will outnumber those in Lombardy”.

Tears in my beloved New York began to outnumber tears in Lombardy.

For a few days in Australia, events of 500+ people were cancelled, then gatherings handfuls of people, and then anything but one guest in your home and only for a specific set of reasons. My recovery holiday from overworking lasted one day, and then the state premier advised us to remove children from school, and then from the second day I had two jobs. I cancelled half my holiday in April.

I had a pretty good idea of the economic implications. I cried at big layoffs, I cried removing my children from after school care knowing that they were going to stop giving all those smiling staff members any more shifts.

I was wrong about retail in Australia, although there were many many voluntary shutdowns and also many from economic necessity. But Easter eggs were available right up to the day.

I taught my daughter to ride a bike. Both kids were devastated about the cancellation of their extracurriculars, but very stoic about the cancellation of school, and more compliant with home education than any other story I’ve heard from parents.

In late March and early April, we waited patiently. The case numbers dropped noticeably, at first, over a weekend. The daily briefings were stern: less testing on weekends, less doctors open, we don’t expect these numbers to stay down, community transmission is happening and will only get worse from here.

The Australian numbers stayed down, week after weekend after week, into mid-April. First days with less than a hundred new cases in NSW. First days with less than twenty. We can’t get enough people to take tests because no one has a cough any more, they said. You can get them for the asking, they said.

And we waited.

Conscientiousness in a pandemic: a howto guide

Rachel Miller writes for Vox:

my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.

The Answer to All of Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions Is No

Captain Awkward picks this up and adds:

Every time I say [not to call the police on neighbours if it’s avoidable] somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they had to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?

Link: The Answer To All Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions is “No.”

Here’s the thing: Miller is wrong to guess that everyone knows what emergencies and unique circumstances trump public health right now. We know this, both because people are not seeking hospital care for life-threatening emergencies and because abusers are successfully telling their victims that one of them for sure has the virus, or that they will surely die if they go outside, etc.

I have a bunch of experience with being conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional. (Hot tip by the way: never phrase something this way to your boss, because while you may think you’re helping them understand you better, they are thinking “wow, ‘conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional’ is such a neat way of phrasing things in a performance review!”)

I’m fine making rules. I’m fine following rules.

What I’m not good at is breaking rules. I definitely do not personally come equipped with good intuitions about which emergencies or unique circumstances should cause me to break rules and if someone finally talks me into following their intuitions I have a huge struggle with it.

Chidi Anagonye is having a really hard time right now.

I have a specific and dramatic illustration of this. One day several years ago, in fact the 1st September 2012, I was starting to feel “fluey” while trying to fit my toddler son for shoes (he kept running away screaming and I was soooo tired). I asked my husband to walk home, I admired the new baby spring leaves on the trees in the park as I walked past them and said suddenly “you know, I think I’m about to get really sick, let’s get home now.”

Reader, I did indeed get really sick. I spent the next week in bed drinking apple juice and watching the shadows of leaves dance on my windows. I didn’t bathe because I was too tired and sore. I cried all the time because my all muscles hurt so much.

And there was this spot on my inner left thigh that was especially painful to the touch, like a really bad bruise. Weird.

We didn’t have a thermometer, but if we had, we probably would have found that my temperature was stable at around 40°C for much of that week.

I get ill fairly often, and had a kid in daycare so it was especially true at that time. The preceding year, I’d gone to the doctor to report that I’d been dry coughing until I vomited and that I couldn’t breathe for coughing.

It’s interesting that COVID survivors often call this out as a really abnormal and alarming thing, because my GP told me that day that “it’s just a widdle viwwwwwus, Mama!” and that it was really normal and I should wait it out. (Doctors often address mothers accompanied by young children as “Mum”, or “Mama”, and often baby talk to them.) After that, I inferred that, among my many existing rules about not bothering people, that “coughing until you’re choking” and any symptoms of similar severity are not a sufficient reason to bother doctors.

So, I wasn’t coughing, but I was similarly uncomfortable. Every day on the phone, my mother begged me to see a doctor. Every few hours, my husband begged me, increasingly in tears, to see a doctor. But I didn’t, because that was my rule: doctors don’t like viruses and don’t want to hear about them (Mama).

To be clear I’m not normally remotely that dysfunctional about rules. I assume being in terrible pain and running a fever that was much higher than we realised had pushed me to my absolutely most irrational degree of rule following. But these are the emergencies and unique situations that people will need to navigate.

Finally I reluctantly agreed to call a triage line, and they told me that high fevers and muscle aches are non-specific signs of severe illness, are not specific to viral infections, and also that having a really tender spot on my leg did not suggest influenza. They very strongly recommended I find out more specifically what severe illness it was that I had.

And so I went to the GP at around the point where the spot on my leg became so painful I couldn’t stand to walk far. I had an ultrasound that showed that it was a massively swollen lymph node, and also that my entire left leg was filled with other swollen lymph nodes. I went to another GP the following day to review the results, I asked if I could maybe lie down to talk to her, and she told me to immediately go to hospital. By that point my leg hurt so much I needed a wheelchair and I was so dehydrated that they ran an IV immediately.

I spent 6 days in hospital running a fever that was closer to 41°C while a couple of layers of skin peeled off my entire inner thigh due to the incredibly aggressive bacterial skin infection that it turned out I had. (It was never cultured, they assumed it was staph.) I refused to eat for almost all that time and for several days I also refused to drink at all and needed IV fluids and painkillers (along with antibiotics).

When my temperature finally went down, the infectious diseases specialist, who tended to address me at all times as a rather dim medical student, dropped by (on a Sunday, in his civvies) and said conversationally “it’s cases like this that really remind us that, even with antibiotics, these things can be very serious, and sometimes even fatal!”

So, it’s indeed safe to say that I’m in the group of people who need to do some work around identifying the emergencies and unique situations where we should take care of ourselves! It is not safe to rely on me recognising my needs and not asking for permission.

But I do have some tips for being slightly safer about this.

Are you a conscientious person? The first step is know this about yourself. Do you:

  • believe that rules usually have a good reason for existing?
  • feel safer knowing and following the rules?
  • tend to reduce ambiguity or make yourself or others feel secure by making rules or otherwise systematising things?
  • prefer to be led by rules?
  • prefer to lead other people with rules?
  • have at least one dramatic story in your personal history that goes something like “and that’s why I didn’t call a doctor for a week” or “and so I was the one who ended up pleading guilty” or “and then I paid back her debt for her” where you’re still sort of slightly proud that you followed the rules right into hell?

You might be a conscientious person! And it might not always be an entirely helpful way to be.

Understand that not everyone is like you. Quite a lot of people don’t like doing what they’re told, don’t believe that rules are generally a good idea or that rules are usually abusive, believe that they are a smart person who does the right thing naturally and that rules are only for those other losers, or use rules as means of having power over other people.

Many of those folks have their own excellent reasons for being that way; if you’ve been abused by rule-making a lot, you likely won’t end up in the “rules make me safer” camp, for example. (I think it’s also worth noting that conscientious types aren’t all good people either.)

Rules are often written to allow for all these responses. Rules are thus often very absolute and strict, because the framers assume that everyone will do 50% more than the rules allow (often recursively so). Rules are backed by the power of the state both because some people won’t respond to anything less, and because the state loves power. Etc.

And so if you’re highly conscientious, statements along the lines of “you wouldn’t be asking for permission [if this was actually bad]” may not apply to you. Those statements are aimed at another group of people. If you always need to ask for permission to take care of yourself, that won’t have suddenly changed since February.

Reflect on the purpose of rules. Pandemic rules are a tool for public health and safety. Know that there are other serious threats to health and safety and they may also happen to you.

If you’re a conscientious type, it could be a good time to engage with civil liberties organisations to make sure framing of the rules is proportionate to risk, and makes clear exemptions for, eg, escaping abuse, seeking treatment for other medical conditions, and getting fed. Help your community out against the abusive or unimaginative conscientious or power-hungry types!

Make a plan. Depending on your relationship with anxiety, extensive worst-case scenarios can be a bit risky to play with. But you can cover the major bases and use your affinity for rules to save yourself some decisions later on:

  • if you’re in an endemic COVID area, familiarise yourself with
    • the typical onset symptoms
    • the current testing criteria in your area, and where you would go for a test if eligible
    • the difference between “care at home” and “go to hospital” symptoms
  • have a plan for spending 14 days entirely inside your front door, eg an appropriate stock of food and painkillers, in Australia learn about Woolworths Priority Assistance and Basics Box etc
  • if you have a known health condition (including mental health!), have a guide to when you are sick enough that you need medical attention for it, and know where you would get such medical attention
  • find an authority you trust (in the best case some level of your government, but perhaps your personal doctor, a different country with a better government, etc) and follow their public health guidelines, not the strictest intersection of every guideline posited by every single epidemiologist, infectious disease physician, and random individual on Twitter
  • if you’re required to work outside the house, see previous point for specific precautions and also remember that physical distancing is a societal measure to slow disease spread that does not require the same thing of every individual person
  • consider #StayAtHome an excellent rule for most people for current circumstances (hopefully eventually in specific regions, very widespread at present!), not the new official way to be a good person forever

Be generous to others. You can’t save the entire world by calling the cops on folks’ parties. Captain Awkward’s post, for all that I’m using it as a jumping off point for “it’s not about you”, has some great tips for more sustainable interventions.

There’s plenty of stories about of people screaming “I see you out there every day! Stay at home! Murderer!” out their windows to people who are on their way to work, at a hospital, because they are a nurse, in a COVID ward. Make a rule to not be that person!

Do something good. Many conscientious people struggle with beliefs they are a bad person. Some of the policing is because people want to actively be good and the only way they can think of is to yell out their window at nurses.

Do some real good: donate some money, or become a civil liberties activist, or let nurses stay in your AirBnb for free, or start working on your plan to go to med school, or send a thank you postcard to hospitals, or join a mutual aid group, or phone a friend.

Work on your dysfunctions. Some of these patterns revolve around overfunctioning and anxiety disorders. Consider therapy or other management techniques.

Manage your own conscience. This is some of where Captain Awkward’s “why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?” comes from. Some Bobs: “haha, I trumped you in an argument, alleged Internet expert, gotcha!” Other Bobs: “please please, apparent authority figure, reassure me that I’m a good person even though I did a bad thing that was against the rules.”

You have to have better boundaries than this, and a more functional conscience. The rules can’t tell you if you’re a good person or did a good thing, and neither can advice columnists. (I guess I just outed myself as not a deontologist, huh?)

You need to figure it out case by case, and stand by it, and manage your own guilt. Much rule-following is about outsourcing your conscience and self-esteem and you need to stop doing that.

Correct impulses

A couple of impulsive things from earlier this year that I don’t regret in the slightest:

We decided to prioritise experiences over things for birthdays, which is very hard now, but was very correct in January. For A’s 6th birthday we went to see the Flying Fruit Fly Circus which might have been more of an adventure for me personally: I feel like acrobatics has moved on to the point where the kids in training are doing tricks that would have been world-class 30 years ago.

We promised V that as his 10th birthday present he could go and see a Big Bash game anywhere in Australia which was initially complicated—people remember the fires in January and the pandemic in March, but there were also flooding rains in February, and they meant the final was at risk in Sydney—but we impulsively pulled the kids out of school and flew down to Melbourne on a Thursday afternoon in order to see a semi-final somewhere where it wasn’t raining.

We had business class seats to Melbourne (the only points seats left), resulting in the following in the lounge:

Me: see all this food kids? it’s all free!

Kids: WOOOOOOOW!!!

[Five minutes later] Kids are sitting at the table with plates piled high with… plain crackers.

We stayed within walking distance of the MCG which meant I could take grumpy A home from the game early (although she was sad not to see “the big things”—team mascots—up close) and Andrew and V could see out the game. Then we went to Brunetti which both kids thought was the fanciest restaurant they’d ever seen, and Legoland, and flew home.

A colleague had tickets to The Necks in February and couldn’t make the show, and the show date was exactly Andrew’s 40th birthday, so I bought them at half price, and we had dinner at Bennelong prior. It will be at best months before fine dining is a likely thing, and may be years before stangers can sit together in auditoriums and listen to experimental jazz.

What I learned from this: impulsive hedonism, because it all could be taken away at any time. Maybe not the most sustainable approach to life to have learned.

The best thing of the last week

It was jalapeños, in Cantina Bar‘s menu, for my birthday dinner. I have a chilli tolerance such that jalapeños are not painfully spicy, but a reminder that they could be painfully spicy and have chosen not to be.

Right now, getting invited to my birthday dinner is quite the accomplishment: if you haven’t been married to me for (checks notes) nearly 13 years or spent some portions of your life living inside me, you don’t meet the public health bar. I’m 40 next year, I hope for more of a “we have met several times” level of intimacy for that birthday.

5×2: more news from the organisations

I spoke to several more 5×2 organisations about what they’re working on (several of them, by waiting to call me, had the advantage of discovering the blog series):

UNICEF (day 4) is working to make sure that children receive other vaccines: measles vaccination campaigns have been (hopefully) temporarily interrupted and without good tracking and catch-up campaigns, they risk cohorts of children who go unvaccinated for other diseases.

The Haymarket Foundation (day 2) have worked to move many people who were sleeping rough in Sydney into hotels. They’ve also secured PPE so that they can visit these folks rather than have them staying all alone in hotel rooms indefinitely and have been able to distribute some to other agencies too. They’re working on supplying devices too so that people can access telehealth services. They’re not accustomed to donor outreach or publicity and are working on a way to connect with donors without compromising the privacy and safety of their community.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ACON (both day 5) are both working to transition a very in-person based and community-centred service model to a one-on-one, low contact model, while working with community members who have previous traumatic experiences of confinement (asylum seekers) and pandemics (LGBTQ people).

The ASRC writes:

People seeking asylum are often denied the right to work and simultaneously denied the right to safety nets such as Centrelink and Medicare. Right now this means that thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia are being left stranded and forgotten by cruel Government policies. It is clear that people seeking asylum will be among the hardest hit by the impacts of COVID-19.

We are still open and this is why

ACON has a clearinghouse of resources for LGBTQ people during COVID and is providing information on drug and alcohol use in this context at their Pivot Point site.

If you have the capacity to support your community by finding frontline organisations working with Indigenous people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, homeless people, people without food, disabled people, chronically ill people, children, elderly people, and other vulnerable and at-risk groups, please support them today.

Things you’re allowed to be sad about, an incomplete list

  • getting seriously ill, or having someone close to you become seriously ill or die
  • not being able to see them while they’re ill or before they die
  • choosing between two of your patients’ lives because you only have one ventilator
  • being unable to hold or attend a funeral for a loved one
  • needing urgent medical attention at a time when it’s less available or when you risk catching COVID-19 while receiving it
  • being trapped in a house with your abuser
  • losing your job in the middle of an enormous economic crash
  • losing your home or your possessions likewise
  • shutting down your business you sunk all your savings and time and dreams into
  • having all your savings evaporate
  • living in another country from your loved ones in a time of closed borders
  • planning labour, delivery, and early parenting without the guarenteed access to pain relief, Caesearean sections, midwives, or home support you’d been relying on
  • not being able to care for close friends or relatives in need of help
  • cancelling or postponing your wedding
  • getting uncomfortably ill, particularly if you don’t have good access to sick leave and medical care
  • living alone and dealing with the prospect of not seeing anyone face to face for weeks and weeks
  • not being able to see close friends or relatives for an indefinite period
  • needing to look after your children while holding down a full time job
  • needing to lay other people off and knowing that they face long-term poverty
  • listening to a bunch of people you trusted opine about how “only” sick people (like you) or elderly people (like you) are at serious risk
  • watching news reports about people who were happy and prosperous weeks ago dying alone in hospital corridors
  • being cooped up in your teeny, dark, noisy house for months
  • not being able to fix up problems with your house because handypeople aren’t essential services
  • cancelling your holidays, and telling your kids you cancelled your holidays
  • explaining to your kids that the new normal is that most days there will be bad news about schools, jobs, friends, holidays and you don’t know when the news will stop getting worse
  • cancelling your birthday party or regular board games night
  • liking Milan, or Rome, or New York, and not being sure whether or when you’ll be able to visit them again or what you’ll find if you do
  • liking cruising, and not being sure it is a thing that will exist in the world after this year
  • not being able to hook up with strangers
  • not being able to go to the beach during some of the best weather you’ve seen lately
  • being subjected to people on social media wanting to take whips to “juveniles” seen outside their houses, or wondering why you even bothered to have children if you aren’t thrilled to be locked in a house with them for a few months at a time at short notice

Yes, not all these things are created equal, the list is loosely ordered and of course you don’t want to complain about taking time off from surfing to someone who just missed their mother’s funeral.

But, at the same time, they’re all sad. You have the right to acknowledge if only to yourself and hopefully to fellow less affected friends that it sucks that your holiday is canceled and that you liked your regular board game night a whole lot actually.

This is important for two reasons, one is simply for peace of mind, insofar as such a thing exists right now. A whole lot has changed in the world in the last four weeks. You’re struggling to keep up and you’re grieving. It benefits no one, especially you, for you to pretend to yourself you’re suddenly all cool with anything short of imminent death.

The other reason is that eventually we want it all back. We want to be mostly free of the looming threat of infectious disease, and for hospitals to be safe, and to be allowed to leave our houses whenever we damn well please, and to have jobs (even if we have children!), and to be able to retire, and to see our friends, and to have new sex partners, and for people on social media to stop hating children so much.

Being deprived of all this is a really serious imposition on civil liberties and while we’re certainly called upon to go along with it for the sake of our communities, and it’s useless to be angry or sad about it non-stop or to heap stress on politicians and public health officials in difficult times, it’s also not a good idea to convince ourselves that we like it this way.

We don’t like it this way, and we’re not supposed to. It’s really really really sad.

Fiction: better together than alone

Lots of requests right now for fiction recommendations for folks who need escapist or collectivist themes. For me these are more or less the same theme: when I summarise my fiction recommendations they tend to be “and this one is… another found family dealing with trauma and emerging better together than alone! Optionally with a chosen one who wishes they weren’t!”

Note that the trauma theme means that several of these contain on-page violence or recollection of it, etc.

Without further ado:

The Good Place, my only televisual recommendation: a woman dies and goes to The Good Place by mistake and begins to learn how to be a good person. And how to have friends and be a friend. Complete with moral philosophy classes. In a network comedy. And there’s a Rashomon-style episode. There’s also an episode-by-episode podcast, note that you should watch the first two seasons of the TV show before beginning the podcast. After that, they were taped at the same time.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison: an isolated and abused teenage boy already has good instincts about how to be a good person, and they’re sorely put to the test when he unexpectedly becomes His Imperial Serenity Edrehasivar the Seventh and has to learn to navigate court politics, his absolute control over the fate of all his female relatives, being half-black (goblin) in a world of snow-white elves, suddenly having life-or-death power over his former abuser, and not knowing how to dance. This one is a pinnacle of good people finding each other in a difficult world.

The Wayward Children series, by Seanan McGuire: a series of novellas about teenagers who each found a secret door to the fairyland of their heart, dwelt there for a time, and then were cast out for various reasons, and have come together at a survivors’ boarding school to form an uneasy version of found family, the found family you have when your real found family are in a different universe. It alternates between stories set at the school, and stories set in the fairylands.

The October Daye series, by Seanan McGuire: you’ll need a more substantial runup at this one, there’s thirteen full-length novels in it, several novellas, and probably another couple of novels worth of short stories on top of that. And it’s probably a bit more than half done. Secrets and lies of the fae of the San Francisco area, as slowly revealed to the half-fae and all-grumpy protogonist, the least pleased of all Chosen Ones. The found family here is more multigenerational than many found family stories, which I appreciate: the protagonist and her closest allies are middle-aged adults, but their crew contains many teenagers and also several immortal beings.

The Simon Snow series, by Rainbow Rowell. It starts, in a way, with Fangirl, a novel about identical twin sisters in Nebraska who write fanfiction about the Simon Snow magical boarding school series that exists in their world, and how they cope with leaving home for college, loss, sex, not wanting to be a twin any more, and still wanting to be a twin. However the main two novels, Carry On, and Wayward Son, are actually set in the Simon Snow universe itself and are fanfic aesthetic with a lot of Harry Potter fic tropes: outsider Chosen One, insider aristocrat, mysterious pasts, questionably moral Dumbledore figure. And how you assemble a found family to avenge your mother.

The Hidden Histories series, by Karen Healey and Robyn Fleming. Son of a fisherman discovers on his father’s death that he’s actually the bastard son of a nobleman, moves to the big city and needs to deal with class and birth status discrimination. Yes, you know this trope, but the adults are brave and competent, the nobleman’s acknowledged daughters are also bastards (because their mother refuses to marry if it requires her to forfeit her property rights), the pirates have better sexual politics than the empire, and otherwise, this series never takes the easy way out. But it’s the formation of Team Bastard Half-Siblings (when you find your blood family?) that merits its inclusion in this list.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: if two time warriors from opposing undying galaxy-scale factions can fall in love through letters written in the blood of their enemies and the age rings of trees, who are we to doubt that there’s love in the world? It’s a novella, and it’s excellent, you have no excuse.