Please Hold, Your Life Is Important To Us

I’m going to break away from the usual tech stuff and write a bit about my current state of mind. So yes, this has something to do with the pandemic. And something to do with breaking points, too.

First, the context: I’ve been working from home since January, and in an international team. Big projects. Lots of cultures. Lots of timezones.

As a result of the first month (which was transitional, and predictably demanding), most of my leisure time went down the drain, either because it was fragmented to bits or simply because as I resumed doing full-time remote, I had the tendency to work long hours.

I wrote about that before. It’s OK. It should be only a matter of adjustment, right?

Then the pandemic started (still in Wuhan), and by that time my daily schedule had shifted to accommodate working with people from anywhere between the USA and Hong-Kong, with the net effect that going out to lunch with friends stopped happening.

(My weekly schedule was also impacted by having to sync with people in the Middle East on the occasional Sunday, but hey, it’s no biggie–by itself.)

You can probably guess that by the time lockdown came into effect, it had (at the start) almost zero effect other than the loss of quiet time and a few more interruptions, but I’m luckier than most in that I can (mostly) just shut the office door.

And we’re almost a month into it, and most of the nominal hurdles have been conquered: everyone home all the time, no fresh produce deliveries, improving my conferencing setup, the works.

But it all piles up, filling every little interstitial pause you have in the day. Plus household chores, and waking up exhausted, and (of late) everything blurring into Mondays.

I’m now up to the point where it’s been a while since I’ve spent less than 4-10 hours in the office (even on weekends), and sometimes up to 12–if not physically, then mentally.

And there are people dying out there.

I know, I’ve been updating my own dashboard (in Portuguese, sorry, because it only has data that matters to me), and it’s unreal how quickly the numbers become “just” numbers and fade into the background, because at some point you get inured to them and your mind is completely detached from what they actually mean.

You abstract them away into 5% of growth rate, or “only” 30 people dead overnight (which is roughly where we’re at here in Portugal right now), or a “flatter” curve.

(The UK and US figures are also particularly terrifying for me. I have friends living in either, and they are both frustrating examples of the way politics and leadership have failed in so many different, yet so predictable ways. And, again, the Portuguese government seems stupendously wise by comparison.)

And you call it a curve even when the amount of data is laughably, tragically pitiful, and most of the comparisons done by the media make absolutely zero sense, because there is not one single country out there reporting the same things in the same way and Twitter is crammed with armchair virologists and amateur statisticians.

And many people are out of a job (including good friends of mine, as of yesterday), and we’re most definitely going to go through a recession and have at least one (pretty shitty) year.

And we finally had groceries delivered (to a degree, from another supermarket, so no more rationing coffee or the good cookies) and my family is OK, and I’m pretty lucky to have a (quite unique and demanding) job that only a handful of people on the planet can do in the same way, and I should count my blessings and whatnot.

It all piles up, and (yes, I’m finally getting to the point) you lose track of what is really positive.

So it’s probably selfish of me to wonder, at some point, if what I do at work matters at all in the grand scheme of things, and if I shouldn’t take a few days off and join the (apparently huge) number of people who are “just” home and stress baking, having virtual yoga classes or playing curling with their Roombas.

Maybe even do something I enjoy for a change, as long as it doesn’t involve leaving the house, meeting people or just having some decent sushi (and believe me, I could really do with some comfort sushi right now).

Just tossing that out there, because I usually don’t burn out quietly (I’ve had my moments, and usually explode and bounce right back the very next day), and without having the time to read, the inspiration do do anything creative or the patience to do some actual engineering (the other thing I really miss at this point besides sushi, but definitely a close second place driven by circumstances), that’s certainly on the cards.

And if you’re in the same place (or your equivalent), well, you’re not alone. At least we have that, right?

Some of my friends are going to tease me about this, but yes, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is about the only thing that makes sense (even if the rest of the UK currently doesn’t).

Next up on my drafts list, another attempt at going back on-topic regarding tech, if only to try to stay sane.

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