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What the Devil won't tell you

Tips on surviving the Hiber Nation from someone who's been there

That thing sticking out of the wall over the bathtub is called a “shower.”

The little gizmo with the handle and the sharp cutty thingy is called a “razor.” It’s for shaving the hair off your skin.

The typical GenXer or Boomer's bedside is adorned with a little box that has numbers in the front and buttons on top. It's known as an “alarm clock.”

We forget about the little things that can become smelly things as we transform from a country on the go to a country on the couch, with no particular place to go.

Social distancing and sheltering in place are — no doubt — doing something to our collective psyche. In the words of the "president," no one is talking about what those things are.

Human inaction is spiffying up the air over Los Angeles and inviting lions to stretch out on South African highways to catch some sun. Some things just happen a lot faster than you would think.

So America is joining the world as a Hiber Nation and it's easy to get accustomed to just hanging out on your couch. Trust me when I say: Don’t get used to it.

Do stay inside, for God's sake. If you are smugly pretending to be smarter than the experts, then your ignorance can be willfully deadly to others. It's just as easy to be smug and safe as it is to be smug and dangerous. There's no honor in making martyrs out of others.

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Keep safe by keeping others safe. It won't last forever.

But that's just it. It won't last forever and when the next normal starts (every normal in history has been "the new normal," so I hate that phrase) the people are going to have to dust off our social skills.

Take it from someone who's been there: Isolation can make people forget how to act around others faster than you can think. A social butterfly can get agoraphobic in the two shakes of a penned lamb’s tail.

In the 2000s, I was always a man about town. If I was stuck in my apartment for more than two nights in a row, I would think about adopting a dog to kick. I would get stir crazy. The one caveat was when my kid was over. Then all was right with the world but for the most part, I was stepping out into the Pueblo.

Then in 2008, the Tucson Citizen decided it didn’t need a political reporter anymore and suddenly I got a severance package. That meant looking for work 24-7, and that was before Instagram.

Suddenly, three months went by before I saw another person other than my daughter, and that got really sporadic.

When eventually I did head out, it felt weird. It was weird.

I found others like me were going through the same thing, too, in the midst of the Great Recession. I wasn't nuts (not because of that, at least).

Some of it was the fully employed feeling uncomfortable around the suddenly unemployed. But a lot of it was me and my circumstances, which are now you and your circumstances.

You get used to being alone and inside your own head, with your own self for company. If you are with family, you get used to them being part of that world but not the rest of it being around you. Others, though, can seem part of an outside world that you are not a part of.

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So a couple gentle suggestions from a guy who considers "social distancing" to be the years 2008 to 2010.

Up and at ‘em

Set the alarm for a specific time, wake up and jump in the shower. Don’t just tumble down the hall and grab the remote control and wait for the spirit to move you. The spirit is busy moving you down the hall toward the remote. Ignore that spirit.

Moss can grow on the part that remembers what it’s like to be an appointed time and place. This is why businesses aren't completely evil for limiting their employee searches to those with jobs.

Sitting around and social distancing can make you less than an ideal worker. So get started early and get your game face on, even if it’s just to binge watch "The Wire." Binge with purpose and attitude.

Set a time to Skype friends and family and for the love of all that’s holy, stop texting and use the phone. Conversational skills can wane. You may – and this just may be me – have a thousand things to say that get all pent up. It’s easy to forget how to listen to other people (again, this may just be me).

The point is to keep those social interaction muscles in good working order.

Human beings are social creatures by our very nature. It’s not good for us to be without human contact for extended periods.

It may be professional improvement. It may be learning how to cook. It may be something else that you can tell yourself makes you better at being you. The point is to keep a positive state of mind because it’s phenomenally easy to start feeling like shit day after day. Then the Fry’s beer cooler starts looking better and better.

Just saying.

Call out of the cave

If you live alone, reach out. Just try to get in touch with people.

I was all “I’m looking for work! No one bother me until I figure that out!” And it cost me valuable state of mind.

When I was first socially distanced back in the day, all I had was MSNBC, CNN and CNBC telling me the markets were imploding. That was my company. It got ugly.

It’s fine to binge-watch "The Wire" (though, honestly, you might find it horrifying and depressing in the current context). It’s fine to binge "The Sopranos." Just don’t make that your day.

FaceTime, Skype, freaking Zoom are all important ways to just keep that social portion of your inner humanity functioning.

It’s fine to be alone. It’s not fine to get lonely. And it’s not something you’ll just snap out of if this goes on for a while. Find company where you can spot it and take advantage.

Upskill

Hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but after the distancing is over (to the degree that it will be), be prepared for a mad dash to keep or find a job. 

Maybe the economy will jet back to the "greatest of all time" -- y'know: Obama's economy. Maybe it won't. Uncertainty will rule the day. People should hope CEOs go on optimistic bender and celebrate their way out of the murkiness of a global work stoppage. But be prepared for corporate leaders being very conservative and controlling what they can of their bottom line. That's managing down and cutting costs.

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Don’t know Excel? Don’t know how to outline in Microsoft Word? Don’t know how to video edit or whatever other kind of skill that you've been meaning to acquire? Then this is the opportunity for you to take advantage of the free nature of the internet.

Weird point: once businesses started getting bad PR for not hiring the unemployed, I started  seeing under "required skills" the demand that candidates know the latest Microsoft Office programs. It never would have occurred to an employer in the 1990s to ask a candidate for sales if they knew Word 4.0 versus Word 3.0.

"You are a great engineer. You designed the Space Shuttle and the iPhone and we see that you work with AutoCAD ... but we use SolidWorks. I'm sorry. You aren't really LEGOland material, are you?"

A whole bunch of millions wish they saw the Great Recession coming so they might be able to prepare for it. As long as you are social distancing and not busy, might as well busy yourself getting ready for worst-case scenarios to come.

There's a key bit of language in the federal aid package meant to keep business employing their work force. To receive federal loan forgiveness, a business simply must rehire the same number of people on June 30 that the they had on payroll prior to the outbreak. They don’t have to hire all the same people back. That’s a huge difference.

Business used the last recession to repurpose, reposition and reconfigure.  Don't be shocked if employers may use the outbreak and the layoffs as an excuse to get rid of “dead wood,” or people the boss doesn't particularly like and poach workers who are suddenly out of a gig over at a competing business.

Take a crap job for America (and your family)

Arizona's $240 weekly unemployment benefit won't do much for a budget depending on $160 a day. Stocking shelves at Basha's will seem pretty freaking good about then but you will find yourself competing against a bunch of people with actual experience in that field.

So with the caveat of staying safe, this may be the time to find a minimum-wage job in an essential industry. Don't look at it like down-classing. Look at it as joining the effort to keep the country going because that's the kind of hero you are.

If your hours were cut or eliminated, it's a good idea to think about stocking shelves. Trust me when I say, if this economic stoppage turns into a full-blown recession, you are going to want some experience in a sub-optimal field because holding out for a job like the one you lost is often the worst way to go. Businesses want to see a solid employment record.

The point of all of this is, to keep your head on straight and keep plugging away at life even if it seems like it's a great big stop of all things you. It's not. There's an other side of this and you are going to want to be ready to roll when it's time to roll.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens when an entire country/world comes out of hibernation. We’re a not a species built for long seasonal rests.

Before all this started, we were already becoming a country locking ourselves away. Shopping was a matter of clicking and not picking through racks of retail. An entire generation treated an actual phone call as a social affront, in favor of text messaging. We blurted our imagined and anonymous superiority on Twitter and turned into a virtual mob at the first sight of Pocahontas. We traded the noun “friend” for the verb “friend” on social media because we forgot media wasn’t social. It was sort of a social substitute.

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Now we’re being forced to OD on seclusion.

There are good ways to come out of it and bad ways to come out of it. Make yourself a soldier and not a victim. And if all turns out OK, ask for a frigging raise because you now know the newest software.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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