Other side of the story
My colleague, C.L. Brenton, has written a fantastic article about the Holiday Hole, Cards Against Humanity’s latest annual satirical take on the American ethos of buying and giving.
The psyche of the American public
For the uninitiated, it’s not as if this is the first time that the CAH team has made a point of being contrarian at Black Friday time. Last year, they collected over $71,000 from their customers for literally nothing in return.
What did the CAH team do with the money then? They divvied it up amongst themselves, with some team members making donations to charity, but otherwise funding purchases for themselves ranging from a divorce to a suit of armor. This year, they’ve topped that amount, and as of the time of this writing, have crested to nearly $100,000 and climbing. In return?
A literal hole, to be sure, but a metaphorical gold mine of insight into the psyche of the human condition in America.
While the CAH team makes it clear on the Holiday Hole website that this is just a hole, with no grander aspirations, I politely disagree. And it’s this disagreement with them that’s at the core of my counterpoint to C.L’s article.
Just because one claims that something is or is not art does not make it so. Art lies in the beholder’s eye, and this growing void is certainly artistic. In some ways, the Holiday Hole is like the magician’s illusion; what’s visible (or invisible depending on your perspective) isn’t always the trick at all. An ordinary hole certainly isn’t.
We imbue it with meaning — even at its creators’ protestations not to do so — because we know that it has greater meaning than what it is.
An eloquent statement
Whereas my colleague says it’s an irresponsible gimmick riffing on American greed, I think it’s an eloquent statement.
The majority of donors have donated small amounts in the $2-$5 range (the five largest donors appear to be websites using CAH as a form of cross-promotion), making this performance art accessible in both meaning and price point for the common man.
We buy, and buy, and buy, and the hole grows larger. Isn’t it the same for us?
We routinely see news stories of assault and injury of stampeding shoppers during Black Friday, and yet we’re not phased. We continue doing what doesn’t satisfy. To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, we’re spending this next month buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have for people who’d rather have something different.
What are people going to remember more in fifteen years? That sweater that’s now out of fashion, worn, and too small, or the gift of your time that you gave them doing something together? When I think of loved ones, family and friends alike, that are no longer in my life, the gifts that they gave me that I remember the most intensely aren’t usually tangible ones. They’re gifts of time and love, of a word or deed administered directly at the correct time.
Buying into the statement
So if a few thousand people want to donate small amounts to make a statement on the fact that all the gifts in the world make them feel incomplete, so be it. If they want to make a statement about how this season and its wanton commercialism make them feel inauthentic or flat, let them have that opportunity.
What started as a hole for comedic relief isn’t any longer for them, even if they don’t or can’t articulate that. The Holiday Hole is their small form of therapy, administered in a collective dose.
But certainly the money collected could have been used in a better fashion, people will say. What about the environment, what about the poor, what about the sick, the needy? These are all valid questions, but miss the point entirely.
The funds CAH is collecting for this project come solely from us. Why aren’t we doing responsible things with our money to help these causes more? Remember that the majority of donations have been in small amounts. Many of us are doing things to help our community and fellow man. Is it CAH’s responsibility to not have a forum that some deem wasteful?
Your money is your responsibility
It’s a bit naïve to expect a board game maker to be the keeper of your moral compass. I’ve long posited that if every church, synagogue, mosque, social club, and civic group did daily what they profess to believe all year, we’d have no children in need of adoption, and a lot fewer hungry, homeless, and harried among us.
Our neighbor is not the responsibility of Cards Against Humanity; they’re ours.
And we shouldn’t expect any company, especially one who lives with their tongue as firmly planted in their cheek as CAH does, to do the things that are ours to do.
Ways to socialize safely during quarantine
(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.
Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.
Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”
We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.
The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.
Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:
Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.
While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.
Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.
Online trivia in real time:
There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!
Online book club:
First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.
I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.
Cooking class or virtual tasting:
You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.
Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.
To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.
Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.
Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.
Talk to mental health professionals:
If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email@example.com.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
- Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.
There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.
Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.
Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.
When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?
Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.
We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.
What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.
Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.
But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.
The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.
We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.
The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it
(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.
Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?
This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.
It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”
It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.
More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!
The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.
1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.
2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!
3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–
4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.
Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.
Ergo, fact number five…
5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.
That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.
The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.
To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”
Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.
I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.
Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.
I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.
Keep your heads up, and masked.
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