Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus, Being Home, and New Normal

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Working from home is not a strange idea to me. While I have worked full-time for employers for most of my working life, I have also maintained a pretty consistent (if not always profitable) freelance side-hustle; combining writing, graphic design, laughter yoga, workshops and presentations, and most recently, teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Rutgers University. At several points I was divided into thirds, working retail and other side jobs, at the same time.

So, working from home is something I can do, that I am good at, and actually is more attractive to me for the most part — other than the teaching and speaking engagements, which is my sweet spot. 

This national emergency that has sent so many of us home from work with boxes of stuff we can work on offsite has been caused by a pandemic that is disrupting daily life on a scale perhaps not seen since the years of Plague. That said, at any time, on any day, there is somewhere in the world where "normal" life has been disrupted — by war, famine, disease, or natural disaster — and for many, life will never be "normal" again. In fact, the most horrible thing about the level of suffering currently going on without relief in certain areas of the world, is that it is the "new normal" for those trapped there.

"New Normal" is a term popularized during the financial crisis starting in 2007, although it may have been used before. It's use has grown beyond fiscal situations of "the abnormal becoming normal," to describe any situation in which a clear "before" and "after" line can be drawn between periods of time vastly different from each other. It most often describes the societal change where something, someone, or  some situation previously thought of as unacceptable or unthinkable, becomes commonplace and unremarkable.

It is not clear, but it is possible that this Coronavirus pandemic may be creating a "new normal" globally. Not a resignation to pandemics, but the sense that, no matter where we go from here, life as we knew it will never be the same again. Or at least, not for a very long time. In that regard, it is reminding me of the Kennedy assassination, now generally accepted as the dividing line after which America's "innocence" was lost. The attacks on 9-11 draws a similar line for another generation.

I know that the older you are, the more you have to compare to. My grandchildren will live in the new normal created by this crisis. As is so exquisitely expressed in "The Handmaid's Tale," various episodes of The Twilight Zone and James Clavell's "Children's Story," the first generation living in a new normal suffer the most. Those that follow gradually accept.

Despite so much evidence that a world where things are calm, stress-less, healthy and stable is really an easily upset social system — in fact, that version of the world may actually be the unusual and rare — we still expect it, and cling to the times when we perceived it to be true. 

And perhaps that IS the greatest strength of the human race — the ability to hope, and actually believe, the better times are coming; that "new normals" happen with regularity, some of them terrible, but most of them, are something we can get used to.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Year of the Rat and Thinking Differently About These Rodents

The cover photo from my previous blog, "Roderama"
Having written "Roderama," my blog about rats and other small creatures, I have been concerned about what we do to rats in labs. While I still do not want rats in my house, the things I have learned about them has made me feel a certain respect for their socialness, intelligence, memories — and especially knowing that they actually laugh. In my book, "Treading Water," I dedicate a whole section to those blog stories about them and other "critters" I have encountered in My House of Rhyming Pests.

In this, the Year of the Rat, I was considering writing something about my complicated feelings about rats. I am still working on that.  In the meantime, this writer must have had some of those same feelings, and makes a powerful point about using other sentient beings in laboratory experiments. 

Why Don't Rats Get the Same Ethical Protection as Primates?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Leap Day is Coming! A look back to the last leap year

It is 2020, and Leap Day is upon us! 
What will you do with the extra day? 
How about some laughter and fun? 
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Here's a reprint of my thoughts from the last leap year.
2016 is a leap year, and today we enjoy the gift of an extra day on the calendar, thanks to science.  The explanation for doing this is based on the fact that our calendar year is based on the time it takes the earth to wobble its way around the sun. A time period that takes about 364.25 of our 24-hour days. Well, actually, that would be 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. And then there is true solar time, which can vary the “real” time of midnight by up to 146 seconds.  So, an extra day is added every 4 years, except (as I learned here at CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/29/tech/why-do-we-have-leap-year/index.html), by “century” years that are evenly divided by 400. And that, my friends, still doesn’t get us synched up exactly with the Universal Timekeeper.

I tell you all this because, to me, the month of February is long enough at 28 days.  When my children were growing, it seemed that February was the month of flu, bronchitis, frozen pipes and blizzards. Thanks to the modern marvel of Facebook, I now get daily reminders of previous February misery packaged as my “memories.” Ah yes, the sick days, the shoveling, the shivering. Not much to laugh about there.

Or, so one could assume. No doubt that trying to laugh with bronchitis is painful. But if laughing for the health of it is something we only do when it is easy, it isn’t much of a practice, is it? February, as it turns out, is a great month to get together with friends for a laughter night. Queue up a funny movie (this month, we enjoyed  watching, and laughing at, “The Intern.”)

It is a wonderful month to bring a Laughter Wellness Program to your place of employment; a real stress-buster just when we feel as if winter is never going to end.  The staff at the tech company I visited last week was ready and willing to get their endorphins flowing! And, the challenge of more indoor time with restless toddlers and older children can be broken up with time specifically devoted to laughter and dance. Go ahead, get out those old dance/exercise DVDs and challenge your kids to bust a move with you. Once you’ve got them moving and laughing, you may even get them to help you shovel the driveway.

Before you know it, February, even in leap year, will have passed and Spring will be in the air. (Please, don't write me to tell me about your March and April snowstorms and strep throats. Let me live in the fantasy.)

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A New Year, A New Decade, and An Old Philosopher

( While Snoopy is one of my favorite philosophers, he is not the one being referred to in this post. Photo (c)2019 Noreen Braman)

I am still in a holiday frame of mind, and for me I don't count the holidays as being over until at least January 6th. My tree and decorations will most likely stay up a little bit longer than that, depending on how soon I can part with their festive touch. I've set myself up with some goals for this year, things to accomplish, including a journey with the Greater Good's well-being toolkit. I haven't started yet, again because of still considering myself in a holiday mode. However I came across a great article that reminds us that our issues and concerns of today are not so new or unusual. Marcus Aurelius in his "Meditations" shows us that some of our issues thoughts and worries have been dogging humans for centuries.

The LOML and I were inspired to pull out the book and spent some time reading from it as we had breakfast in bed this morning. (One of the simple joys we try to reward ourselves with every weekend)

16 Things Everybody Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Successful.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2020 – A Year of Seeing Clearly?

Yes, it is a pun, a play on words with the year, something we all might be tired of hearing by the end of 2020. However, I am going to start out as if I am the only person who has thought of it, and it is a perfect year-long vision statement for me. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist one more pun.

Back when I was in my 20s, the future appeared to me as fog-enveloped road. I knew the trip was a long one — at least I hoped it would be a long one — but I couldn’t quite see very far ahead of me. As I made my way along this road, there were days when the fog lifted, revealing stunning vistas. Other days, I could barely inch along. In addition, the road was ever-changing; smooth, level, and wide at some points; full of potholes, detours, and even the occasional fender bender at others. Sometimes I traveled with a full load of family, friends or coworkers, sometimes it was just me and a poorly plotted map.

In 2020 I have a significant birthday. Yes, I’ve passed these artificial milestones before. However, this next one has been held out as the “big one,” not only for the mileage I’ve covered, but all the things that culture, society, and tradition expect of me. Things that generally fall into the “should have done by now” category. I should have reduced my indebtedness and obligations to barely anything by now. I should have squirreled away a huge retirement fund for the “golden years.” I should have already experienced the highest pinnacles career-wise in anticipation of “taking it easy.” To remind me, my snail mail and my email is full of solicitations for Medicare supplements, reverse mortgages, hearing aids and cemetery plots. But in my head I am setting fire to all this, while the voice of Dylan Thomas is screaming at me “Do not go gentle into that good night!”

The detours along my road have been long, circuitous, and costly, both in matters of finance and time. I’ve reached a point in my life where the expression “return on investment” has come to be a consideration of where to invest myself. So, it is almost a message from the universe that I approach a year whose number is so closely aligned with vision and time. As  I prepare to rage against the dying of the light, my answer to the question, “How will I clarify that vision, and where will I spend my time?” is: “We’ll see.”

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts


Thanksgiving is often thought of as the "All American" Holiday, a time to pause with family and friends to reflect on those things and times that have given us the most joy. A list of "Gratitudes" such as:

Grateful are those who have enough to eat
Grateful are those with a safe place to sleep
Grateful are those who feel love in their hearts
Grateful are those who have others that help
Grateful are those who are able to help
Grateful for comfort when things are not easy
Grateful for laughter for health and for healing
Grateful if only for the end of a hard day
Grateful for the days filled with unbridled joy

These are my Gratitudes today, what are yours?

Thanksgiving Emotions and the Helpfulness of Sharing Laughter 

Thanksgiving can also be a time of self-reflection, nostalgia, and for some, heartache. The person who no longer shares our table - through  death, estrangement, or distance. The sharpening of hurts, disasters and tragedies experienced since last Thanksgiving. Personal and global anxiety. Mixed emotions of the history behind our celebration. Who knew that the sharing of a roasted bird, the bird that Benjamin Franklin wanted to declare America's official bird, would, so many years later, be marinated in so many feelings?

And while I might say that we all gather and laugh together for bonding, healing, and comfort, I know that even laughter, can, like that turkey, be stuffed with many sentiments.  And yet, I do encourage you to bond, heal, and find comfort during this time of year. In fact, it is my wish for you that you expand your laughter to other holidays, gatherings, conversations, social media posts, and work life. Laughter is the social bonding survival skill that has been with us since before humans had adequate language.

The very act of smiling helps pave the way to cooperation and understanding. In fact, the growing of America was helped tremendously by those of different origins and languages learning to smile at each other, even if they came from older traditions that discouraged smiles and laughter. Shared laughter over a shared meal can go a long way to create bonds of tolerance and understanding with strangers, and, yes, even with your opinionated relatives.With my family and friends, there are just some stories and memories that we can't help repeating during these gatherings because the still make us laugh until we cry.

And because the power of Laughter can both heal and hurt, I encourage you to use your powers for good. It is not always easy, and I have struggled with laughter in my life, at one time only seeing its weaponization. I've written about it several times, here is my recent essay from LinkedIn.

It's the Laughter, We Will Remember

Originally appeared in my Smile Side of Life Laughter & Happiness Club Newsletter. You can subscribe here

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Cautionary Tale About Baby Screen Time

Image by Nadine Doerlé from Pixabay

Everyone knows I am all about tech and new gadgets and social media. I am also aware that people have been scared and concerned about "new" ways to access info since the Gutenberg Bible was published and some clergy thought it was evil for the "rabble" to be able to read the bible on their own. Victorian women were told that too much reading was bad for their brains. The radio took families away from dinner table discussions. In the 50s, comic books and the boob tube were the enemy. And, it is true, that the human brain adapted to incorporate these things into daily life. 

Anyone born after 1995 has grown up with smartphones, and there have been social and behavioral changes resulting from that - much in the way that access to books, newspapers, radio and television created changes. However, in the wake the recent generation's early exposure to "screen time," the intensity and close proximity of small children to phones, tablets, and other electronic things, disturbing physical changes to the brain are being discovered.

 Screen Time Lowers Brain Development in Preschoolers