Post 67: Viktor Frankl Provides Hope for Today

Viktor Frankl’s name was invoked three times this May by writers sharing thoughts for dealing with these challenging days. This motivated me to pull out and review a yellowed, heavily marked up copy of Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, that I read many years ago.

Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who died in 1997. Personal Health columnist for The New York Times, Jane E. Brody, whom I quoted two weeks ago in my blog, wrote about Frankl’s recently translated book entitled, Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything. In her article, “How to Maintain Motivation During Dark Times,” Brody cited Frankl’s path to finding hope even in these dark times. She was referring to the pandemic but the lesson applies to recent social unrest as well.

Kristin Wong, a contributor to The New York Times – Smarter Living series, quoted Dr. Sarah Kate McGowan, professor at University of California medical school, in the April 29, 2020 article “Despite Uncertain Times, Choose Optimism.”

“I’ve been thinking frequently of the quote from Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Those who have a “why” to live can bear with almost any how.’ … “We can choose to use this time to connect to ourselves and what’s important to us, our values, who we strive to be in the world.”

In last Sunday’s The Washington Post, Diane Cole, author of the memoir, After Great Pain; A New Life Emerges, provided a review of Frankl’s recently translated work,”In the midst of despair, he discovered a way to have hope.”

Cole begins by mourning the loss of a friend to the “corona virus” –  while her friend was not infected by the disease, the pandemic caused her despair and unable to look forward to all the things she had planned. She committed suicide after seeing her life “crumbling into ruin.” Cole then shared Frankl’s uplifting story:

It’s the challenge posed by any crisis:  How do we hang on to hope?  It is the question that Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), the Viennese psychiatrist and author best known for his exploration of trauma and resilience, Man’s Search for Meaning, devoted the bulk of his career to answering.

Now, with the publication for the first time in English of Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything, originally written as a series of lectures in 1946, we have the opportunity to read what amounts to a brief, early draft of the concepts he presented in more accessible form and in greater detail in his later classic. But in whichever version you encounter them, Frankl’s ideas bear particular consideration right now.

Frankl stressed the importance of what he called the will to meaning. He believed that having a sense of meaning or purpose or a goal in life drives us forward from one day to the next, even when we confront personal suffering, family tragedy or public calamity. That is the inner compass that gives us direction; when we lose it, we begin to drift and can become lost in, and to, despair.

Frankl had begun to develop his ideas about the pivotal role meaning plays in our lives before the Nazi regime deported him and his family to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. As Jews, the Frankls were in Hitler’s crosshairs for annihilation.

But despite four years of being shuttled from one camp to another, suffering the ravages of typhus and starvation and the nonstop threat of being shot, beaten or gassed to death, Frankl endured. He held onto the hope that he would see his family after the war. He also set his sights on completing the unfinished manuscript describing his theories that the Nazis had seized and destroyed when they imprisoned him.

Those goals kept him focused on the possibility of a postwar future. He even jotted down brief notes on scraps of paper, which he hid in his threadbare uniform, about how his experience of life in extremis bore out his ideas. He observed that fellow inmates who were able to maintain an inner purpose were less likely to give up and give in to the futility of camp existence.

It did not matter what the goal was — whether to reunite with loved ones, to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, to stay true to religious faith or to spite the enemy simply by staying alive. Just having a reason to live bolstered the will to live, to try to persevere, evade death, survive, even if just for another day and then the next, with each day holding the possibility of bringing the goal that much closer.

After the war, Frankl was devastated to learn that neither his parents nor his wife had made it out of the camps alive. But he did have his work, and he buried himself in it, reconstructing and in time completing the manuscript the Nazis had seized, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” as well as composing, less than a year after being freed from his hellish incarceration, the three public lectures that make up “Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything.”

….

How could survivors return to life if they did not believe that their lives held value? In the approach to psychotherapy he developed, which he called Logotherapy, Frankl proposed an antidote to giving in to such nihilism: taking hold, instead, of life’s meaning — and more precisely, the particular aim we set for ourselves. If we search, such a purpose can be found embedded in our values, beliefs, experiences, and capabilities, and in and through the different personal and professional interests, communities, and caring relationships we’ve created.

The fate Frankl confronted was the Holocaust. Our fate today is wrapped up in the coronavirus pandemic. Finding and sustaining meaning in the midst of crisis is not easy. I wish my friend had known about this strategy and had sought help that could have harnessed her back to life.

Post 66: Still Learning from the IHM Nuns

From my years in kindergarten through eighth grade, I was taught by nuns who belonged to the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary or “the IHM Sisters” in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was prompted to write about them today because, over the Memorial Day weekend, I received and read a copy of their semi -annual publication entitled Journey. The publication noted that the year 2020 marked the 175th anniversary of their founding by Theresa Mavis and Father Louis Gillet. Mother Theresa, as she was known, was the daughter of a multi-racial, unmarried couple- quite a stigma in those days. Founding a new religious order was a remarkable accomplishment for her, indeed.

The present IHM community is some 400 plus Sisters strong.  They serve as educators, health care workers, retreat masters and pastoral ministers throughout the United States and Latin America. I am most familiar with their work in Scranton, where they have operated Marywood University since 1915 (my dad served on the board of directors for several years). The Sisters have maintained a center that houses and treats 140 persons with “multiple and profound” health challenges and have conducted a continuous outreach to the poorest families in the surrounding area, the “Friends of the Poor.”

I developed a special friendship with one in particular at IHM, Sister Michel Keenan, when I was a student at Notre Dame.  In those days, the only women who studied at Notre Dame were members of religious orders enrolled in graduate programs. Sister Michel earned a Ph.D. in Education while I was an undergraduate. She went on to a most distinguished career and became Graduate Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Marywood and served as Superior General of the IHM sisters for eight.

Two years ago, I had a wonderful visit with Sister Michel at the IHM Center on Marywood’s campus. She did not talk about her academic or state-wide honors. Rather she wanted to tell me about her sixteen years of service at the Heritage College (now University) in Toppenish, Washington, a school with a “multi-cultural and inclusive” student body, 95% of whom are on scholarship.

In March of last year, Sister celebrated her 95th birthday. I sent her flowers. Six weeks later, I had the sad duty of traveling to Scranton for her funeral.

While the IHM congregation remains a dynamic and active religious community, many of the Sisters are elderly. Sister Ellen Maroney, President of the Congregation, often has the duty of paying tribute to one of the Sisters who has passed on, tributes which are reprinted in the publication I read over the weekend. Sister Ellen has a remarkable ability to find a poem or reflection that portrays the life and personality of the deceased. I wanted to share a few of them as illustrations of what was said of these good souls as well as what we may want said of ourselves – not years later but by the persons in our lives right now.

Describing Sister Francis Borgia O’Donnell, who shared her love of music with students and friends, Sister Ellen quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Music…will help dissolve your perplexities

and purify your character and sensibilities,

and in time of care and sorrow,

will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

She described Sister Jane Frances Dunnigan as always being available to her friends and students, with this poem from an unknown author:

Take the time to love and to be loved;

it is a grace from God.

Take the time to make friends;

it is the voice of happiness.

Take the time to laugh;

it is the music of the soul…

Take the time to give;

life is too short to be selfish.

Sister Theresa Bonanza was one of twelve children, and elementary school teacher and a minister to the elderly. For her, Sister Ellen shared these words by Don Pedro Casaldaliga:

At the end of the road, they will ask me:

“Have you lived? Have you loved?”

And not saying a single work,

I will open my heart full of names.

The tribute to Sister Dorothy Ann Haney, a philosopher and “connecter” contained two poems:

            You were home to us and within the shelter of your good company,

we safely laid our burdens down.

You were healing for us as you listened to what we had to say and,

in so doing, we were made more whole.

You allowed us to be our true selves and because of you,

            we are more of whom we want to be.

You encouraged us not merely by your words,

            but by the example of your own strivings, questionings, and yearnings.

You challenged us, our beliefs, and values with your persistence,

and helped us learn that our differences broadened our perspectives,

spurred our growth, and, yes, at times, honed our patience.

You were our advocate, our compass,

our cheerleader, our light.

You were a priceless gift for us, one we did not earn,

but one we received with wonder, joy, and gratitude.

You were our friend.

~ Melanie Svoboda SND

And…

I will not die an unlived life

I will not live in fear of falling

or of catching fire

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

making me less afraid,

more accessible;

to loosen my heart

so that it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

to live so that which comes to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom

and that which comes to me as blossom

goes on as fruit.

~ Dawna Markova

Post 65: “Optinoia” may be beneficial after all!

Over the years I have had fun describing myself as having a serious psychological condition called “optinoia,” a phrase I coined for it. Simply put, optinoia causes me to suspect that there are many people conspiring to help me succeed when really no one is! I guess another phrase for this condition might be unjustified or excessive optimism. Anyway, it has not really done me much harm and brought me a lot of good.

It turns out that optimism may even bring out important health, as well as business and professional, benefits.  Jane E. Brody,  an optimist and the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times since 1976 (that tells you something right there), explained this in her column on January 27,2020 entitled “Looking on the Bright Side May Be Good for Your Health.” She explains below:

My husband and I were psychological opposites. I’ve always seen the glass as half-full; to him it was half-empty. That difference, research findings suggest, is likely why I pursue good health habits with a vengeance while he was far less inclined to follow the health-promoting lifestyle I advocated.

I’m no cockeyed optimist, but I’ve long believed that how I eat and exercise, as well as how I view the world, can benefit my mental and physical well-being.

Admittedly, the relationship between optimism and better health and a longer life is still only a correlation that doesn’t prove cause and effect. But there is also now biological evidence to suggest that optimism can have a direct impact on health, which should encourage both the medical profession and individuals to do more to foster optimism as a potential health benefit.

According to Dr. Alan Rozanski, one of the field’s primary researchers, “It’s never too early and it’s never too late to foster optimism. From teenagers to people in their 90s, all have better outcomes if they’re optimistic.”

Dr. Rozanski is a cardiologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York who became interested in optimism while working in a cardiac rehabilitation program early in his career.

In an interview, he explained, “Many heart-attack patients who had long been sedentary would come into the gym and say ‘I can’t do that!’ But I would put them on the treadmill, start off slowly and gradually build them up. Their attitude improved, they became more confident. One woman in her 70s said her heart attack may have been the best thing that had happened to her because it transformed what she thought she could do.”

In a major analysis of 15 studies involving 229,391 participants published in September in JAMA Network Open. Dr. Rozanski and colleagues found that people who ranked high in optimism were much less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event and had a lower mortality rate from any cause than did pessimistic participants in the studies.

“The data are very consistent,” he said. “In every case, there was a strong relationship between optimism and a lower risk of disease. Optimists tend to take better care of their health. They’re more likely to exercise and eat better and are less likely to smoke.”


Another researcher, Julia K. Boehm, a psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., said: “Optimism promotes problem-solving. It helps people deal with challenges and obstacles in more effective ways. Optimists tend to pursue strategies that make a rosy future a reality. Their hearts are not constantly pounding.”

Dr. Boehm and colleagues examined the association of optimism with three health behaviors — physical activity, diet and cigarette smoking — and found that more optimistic individuals were more likely to engage in healthier behaviors. Their findings were published in 2018 in Circulation Research.

Lewina O. Lee, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed several decades of data from women in the Nurses’ Health Study and men in the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.

They found that, on average, those with higher levels of optimism, as measured by an assessment tool called the Life Orientation Test, lived longer. Among the most optimistic study participants, the women had a 50 percent greater chance and the men a 70 percent greater chance of surviving to age 85.

In an interview, Dr. Lee said that optimists are better able than pessimists to reframe challenging circumstances and react to them in less stressful ways. They’re also more likely to embrace a can-do attitude toward life and persist in trying to overcome obstacles rather than think there’s nothing they can do about a bad situation, she said.

I also asked these experts whether there’s a downside to optimism. The answer: not if it’s realistic and fosters views and outcomes that are within the realm of possibility.

On the whole, though, optimists tend to be happier people who are better able to bounce back from a serious loss and perhaps even parlay it into a vocational, emotional or financial gain.

Post 64: A Voice For Millennials

Millennials often receive a negative reputation. Some claim millennials exhibit a sense of entitlement and narcissism. I disagree. One person who speaks for this generation’s idealism and concern for others is Rebecca Collins Jordan, a 27 year old teacher in New York City who has contributed to National Catholic Reporter’s Young Voices series. She is a graduate of the University of Montana and the Union Theological Seminary. In two columns she described how she learned compassion as a 14 -year -old and looks for seeds of hope today.

Both columns appeared before the lock-down due to the pandemic. How much more admiration and hope should we have for this generation when contemplating how many of them are risking their lives as front line and health care workers today?

On November 7, 2019 Jordan wrote, “How Simon and Garfunkel settled my years of doubt.”

In December of 2007, the same month that I, a 14-year-old cradle Catholic, began to doubt the existence of God, I also snuck my dad’s complete Simon and Garfunkel collection into my room. Little did I know that their words — the words of two Jewish New Yorkers — would transform my spirituality and propel my life toward justice.

… in the fall of 2008, I began commuting to an all-girls Catholic high school in downtown Portland. Every day on my way between the train station and school, I walked through urban struggles I had never much considered or known before. People begged for money, pushed shopping carts, kept their kids warm under makeshift tents, and lined up outside soup kitchens. The scenes only grew with the recession.

While I struggled with a spiritual vocabulary for what I saw, Simon and Garfunkel did not. Bleecker Street became the anthem of my daily commute…

My sophomore year of high school, a religion teacher handed me a biography of Dorothy Day. As I paged through her life story late at night, the neighborhood of her ministry was already present to me, in the songs of two Jewish musicians. My initial spiritual crisis had concerned my own mortality; Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics nudged me to finally orient my prayer beyond myself, toward the world of suffering under concrete walls. Being a person of faith was about turning one’s suffering outward, finding it mirrored in the words of the prophets “on Subway walls” and “in tenement halls,” and, of course, in those mysterious, scary and doubt-inducing “sounds of silence,” the places that seemed devoid of meaning. The vocabulary came from Simon and Garfunkel; the model continued in Dorothy Day…

On February 13, 2020 she wrote”We all have paper stars of some sort

There’s a woman I talk to when I visit a Catholic Worker House every so often. Her hobby is to go up to people, hand them a folded paper star and say, “Here’s your star. Open your star to find your word.”

Mine was “harmony,” a word that resonates deeply lately in my first year in a new career as a teacher. It’s a year of stress and chaos, but also of a deep sense of vocation and anxiety about caring for the students around me.

The woman with the paper stars makes them constantly, handing them to people on the street, in line for soup, old friends, strangers. People open them to find words like “bliss,” “faith” and “compassion.”

I don’t have any answers for the political times we live in now, really. And as much as we all talk, I don’t know that anybody else does either. The rising tides of hatred and apathy and inequality seem insurmountable, and reinforced daily by political discourse that is locked in stubborn and spiteful camps of opinion. The news is a daily deluge of tragedies, massacres and absurdity. It’s hard to keep a sense of faith and hope in our ability to create and maintain a society of mercy.

So I’ve stopped looking for solutions. I look instead for moments of humanity and tenderness. How do we keep the people around us, in our communities, within and outside of these borders, human and happy? That’s my question.

You can’t think or talk your way to recognizing humanity and tenderness, as much as I’d like to. It requires going outside and looking around. It requires a posture of prayer to which I am not always accustomed. It requires turning on the radio, hearing the story, and having a moment of patience to ask not, “Who did this?” but, “Who will be harmed? Who will be helped? Who can help? How can I help?” It requires a fresh set of eyes. It requires a willingness to plant a seed of hope that might not grow, but to plant it anyway…

One of my neighbors rides around on a bike with a loudspeaker. Every time he passes me, I hear Clarence “Frogman” Henry croon, “I don’t know why I love you, but I do.” The line has become a short passing anthem to all the people in this city — I don’t know why I love you, but I do. These times are high-stakes, not because of ideas but because of the deep hope we all have that the humans around us can flourish.

Other neighbors sit on street corners, some in large groups that make people jovial, that end for a minute the loneliness of being outside in New York City. Others worry about deportation and house people who are at risk. Others worry about their own gigantic worries that are closer to home — cancer, depression, debt — tending to the worries of loved ones as their own with humor and deep care.

… I don’t have a thesis or a platform, except to say that I believe we all have paper stars of some sort, or seeds to sow if you like that metaphor better. Every day, I plan lessons for my students in the hope that some sense of wonder beyond test anxiety will stick for them. Those are seeds planted. And then I go out, searching again for the others, unknowingly and in anonymous and unique ways, planting reminders of tenderness in a brutal world.

Post 63: “All About Eve”- A Vicarious Trip to the Theater

One of the great benefits we all enjoy during this time of pandemic is the ability to stream an abundance of wonderful dramas, comedies, and documentaries that are available on any number of streaming platforms. It is in many ways a golden age of television. Sometimes, however, the range of options suggested by friends or recommended in the papers is confusing. Last weekend, Faith and I solved this problem by responding to a suggestion of The New York Times co-chief theater critic, Ben Brantley. On April 25, 2020 he wrote a beautiful piece about the 1950 Academy Award winning movie, “All About Eve”, and the world of the New York theater. Ironically, we had scheduled, then cancelled, a trip to New York to see some plays the very weekend that Brantley’s article appeared. Reading his review and watching the film provided an enjoyable alternative.

… For readers uninitiated in the joys of this addiction, “All About Eve” is the most pleasurable, most quotable film ever created about those who make their living on the stage. This 1950 anatomy of backstage backstabbing tells the story of an aging Broadway star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis, in full sail), whose romantic and professional lives are imperiled by her duplicitous young assistant, the title character (played by a vulpine Anne Baxter).

Written and directed with galloping wit and gallons of gloss by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, “All About Eve” racked up 14 Oscar nominations, winning in six categories, including best picture. Reviews were gleeful in pointing out that the film industry — long a target of satiric disdain in Broadway plays — was finally getting a bit of its own back.

“THESPIS ON THE ROPES; The Theatre Gets a Sock From ‘All About Eve,’” read the headline of Bosley Crowther’s Sunday column in The New York Times. Crowther, succumbing to the purpleness with which “Eve” tends to infect everyone who sees it, wrote with the excitement of a ringside boxing announcer: “Hollywood, butt of sarcasm from the stage for these many cruel years, has finally sent forth a Goliath that wrings David’s impudent neck after tossing his stinging stones back at him with swift and relentless force.”

But after the dust cleared, it was obvious that theater, the so-called Fabulous Invalid, had not only been left intact but was also standing taller than ever. And for many people, including the 10-year-old, stage-struck me — who first saw “Eve” on television with eyes as big and devouring as Bette Davis’s — the movie became a definitive Bible of this business we call show, as sublime as it is ridiculous.

At this point, I should explain what I do for a living — or did, before the theaters of New York were shuttered by a pandemic. I shall step aside here to let my vocation be described by one Addison DeWitt, a character portrayed with Oscar-winning acidity by George Sanders: “My native habitat is the Theater — in it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the Theater — as ants are to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field.”

Though I, too, am a Theater critic and commentator — and have been for 26 years at The New York Times — I have little in common with Mr. DeWitt other than my nominal profession and a fondness for dry martinis. I do not share his withering trans-Atlantic accent, his soigné wardrobe, his social coziness with the people he eviscerates in his column, nor his love for making and destroying reputations overnight.

Nor are the show folk I write about much like the egomaniacal, mythomaniacal, dipsomaniacal crew that Addison chronicles. Yet the musky, intoxicating fragrance that permeates “All About Eve” has everything to do with why I came to New York, and how I wound up in my job

….

…”shiny artifice is what gives “Eve” its energy. The world of Theater, as Mankiewicz envisions it, is a place where exaggerated style, sweeping gestures and impeccably sharpened zingers are a necessary defense system for people whom Addison characterizes as largely “emotional misfits and precocious children.” It is said of Davis’s Margo that she “compensates for underplaying onstage by overplaying reality.”

This makes the characters incredibly entertaining to watch when they feel threatened. Even as a young teenager, I didn’t mistake “Eve” for a work of realism. But the New York culture it represented, in which everyone is a self-invention and ambition is oxygen, was the place I dreamed of escaping to someday. “We are a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we Theater folk,” says Addison, and for me you could also substitute “New Yorkers” for “Theater folk.” “We are the original displaced personalities.”

Such pronouncements exude the blessed reassurance of belonging to an exclusive sect. And perhaps what I love most about “Eve” is its portrayal of the theater as a religion, a celebration of the divine mystery of what happens when a performance onstage catches fire.

That is, after all, why Eve insinuates herself into Margo’s life and studies her like “a set of blueprints.” The theater-struck, self-effacing waif she presents herself to be may be an act, but the theater-struck part is real. She’s not faking it when, taken backstage to meet Margo for the first time, she pauses to gaze out at the empty theater. “You can breathe it, can’t you?” she says raptly, “like some magic perfume.”

I think most of us who came to New York to “make it” in the second half of the 20th century shared some of the wonder and appetite of Eve. Most of us also discovered pretty quickly that we lacked the ruthlessness (never mind the talent) that propelled her to stardom. And the Manhattan of Mankiewicz’s movie, if it ever existed, had long ago vanished, like a shimmery Brigadoon.

Post 62: “Not Every Minute Needs to be Optimized”

May 1, 2020

Last week I encouraged my readers to make good use of the time made available by the lockdown. As Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker reminded us, Shakespeare had dreamed up Macbeth and Newton had discovered gravity during a pandemic. At the same time, I was noticing that many of the projects I had planned were just not getting done. It turns out, this is a rather common occurrence. Taylor Lorenz the New York Times reporter who covers internet culture, talked to numerous persons and families across the country with the same problem and offered the wise counsel that we should not be too concerned about it. On April 5, 2020 she wrote:

The internet wants you to believe you aren’t doing enough with all that “extra time” you have now. But staying inside and attending to basic needs is plenty.

When Dave Kyu, 34, an arts administrator in Philadelphia, realized that he would be working from home for the foreseeable future, he began to fantasize about the projects he could now complete around the house.

“We went and bought all this paint and cabinet hardware and thought we were going to do the kitchen cabinet project we had wanted to do forever,” he said. Two weeks later, he and his wife haven’t touched their supplies. They have two children and demanding jobs. There’s no extra time.

“We realize now it was a silly thought,” Mr. Kyu said. “It’s a lot more stressful than I expected.”

As the coronavirus outbreak has brought life largely indoors, many people are feeling pressure to organize every room in their homes, become expert home chefs (or bakers), write the next “King Lear” and get in shape. The internet — with its constantstream of how-toheadlines and viral challenges — has only reinforced the demand to get things done.

“It’s everywhere,” said Julie Ulstrup, 57, a photographer in Colorado. “It’s in blog posts, it’s on social media, it’s in emails I get from people like, ‘use this time productively!’ As if I usually don’t.”

But in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every facet of modern life, people are finding it harder and harder to get things done.

“It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times let alone when we’re in a global crisis,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity consultant and the author of “Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction.” “The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much.”

After her office announced that it would be going remote, Sara Johnson, 30, who works in philanthropy, created a detailed schedule of all the things she’d do with the extra three hours a day that she would no longer spend commuting. “I sat down last weekend and just felt like I hadn’t been maximizing this time that I have that I don’t usually have on my hands,” she said.

“I set an hour on my cal every day for a home workout. Then I’d be on calls for three hours, then I’d make a homemade breakfast, take a walk at lunchtime, work on something non-screen-related in the evening, cook dinner and go on a run,” she said. So far, she admitted, “none of this has stuck.”

This urge to overachieve, even in times of global crisis, is reflective of America’s always-on work culture. In a recent article for The New Republic, the journalist Nick Martin writes that “this mind-set is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement.” Drew Millard put it more directly in an essay for The Outline: If you are lucky enough to be employed, the only person who cares what you’re doing right now is your boss.

Maggie Schuman, 32, is facing that very quandary now that her family is taking part in a Peloton challenge through the workout platform’s app.

“Every day everyone sends around a green check mark, and for some reason, now that I have that in my head of this thing I’m supposed to be doing, I’m not doing it,” Ms. Schuman, a product specialist in California, said. “I feel a bit like a failure.” She also ignored her sister when she tagged her in a push-up challenge on Instagram.

Instead, Ms. Schuman has started a gratitude journal and is working on practicing acceptance. “You’re supposed to be inventing something or coming up with the next big business idea or doing something great that’s going to be worthy of time spent at home,” she said. “I’m trying to be more OK with just being.”

Noelle Kelso, 38, a scientific consultant in Georgia, said that she’s “trying to find productivity in the small moments” but that the recent events have given her perspective.

“For a lot of Americans, everyone’s job is at stake right now whether you thought you were upper middle class, middle or working class, everyone’s livelihood is at stake,” she said. Right now she is focusing on not allowing her mind to “drift to a place of fear, concern, panic or stress,” she said, and instead encouraging herself to “keep the faith and remain grateful.”

“Putting all this pressure and stress on myself, it’s incredibly counterproductive,” said Ms. Ulstrup. “I’m putting stress on myself during a time that’s already stressful.”

Finding small pleasures helps, too. Mr. Bailey offered one suggestion: “Get yourself some Indian food and drink a bottle of wine with your spouse. We’re going through a lot and we all just need to take it easy.”

Post 61: Adjusting to the Lockdown: A Collection of Ideas

It has been over a month since we have been “locked down” and practicing “social distancing.” During this time, I made an effort to collect ideas; some encouraging, some practical and others lighthearted and even profound, that might help us adjust to the new state of affairs.

Susan Coley first gave me the idea when she wrote the following to the Editor of The New York Times on March 18th:

Are you self-isolating? These are good times to be alone and quiet, go inward, seek meaning from paths our lives have taken, write memoirs, gather family photographs.

Hunkering down does not mean hiding. Send out positive messages. Wave and smile from the front porch. Grow flowers. Bake bread and cookies for the neighbors who shop for you. Would we rather burn out than rust out? Find a way to make a positive difference in your community. Rock on!

Five days later on March 22, Ayman Hakki offered his ideas in The Washington Post:

…I recommend we think of the great things we do have. Family and friends come to mind. Talk to them. Remember, this too will pass. Thank God that you are alive and healthy, when many are neither. Stay safe but keep yourself connected to the ones you love. Reach out to those you’ve forgotten, because the rat race is temporarily on hold. Think of this moment as an opportunity to connect, in small numbers of course. Do what you’ve been meaning to do for years but didn’t have the time or energy to do.

Most of all, try to give more than you take. There are many worse off than you. Find a way to help them. You will reap the rewards, in time, and you’ll find yourself happy right now.

Judith Matloff teaches crisis reporting at the Columbia School of Journalism. On March 21st, she answered questions in Alix Strauss’ article in the Times, based on her own experiences isolated in crisis situations:

Do you believe in maintaining a daily routine?

Absolutely. You want a sense of control over your life and a routine helps you with that. If you have a set schedule you have targets to move toward. For people who are not used to working at home, a lack of structure can be confusing.

How important is it to keep up appearances?

It’s crucial to feel put together. If you look put together you feel more in control. If you wear jewelry or makeup, put that on each day. Dress in the same clothing you’d be wearing if you went out socially.

On March 18, Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the Times, urged readers to support there favorite restaurants as soon as possible – I might add – even now by ordering take out:

If the world needed the banks in 2008, it needs the restaurants this year — as soon as it’s safe to leave our homes again. David Chang has a slogan to help sell America on the big fix we need. As he wrote in a tweet addressed to the mayor, the governor, New York’s two U.S. senators and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

“Restaurants are too small to fail. Please act quickly. Thank you!

On March 16, Eric Asimov, wine critic of the Times, encouraged even those who are “self quarantining” to go ahead and open that bottle of wine:

…The bottom line is: We are all doing what’s necessary in an unexpected predicament to protect the health of family, friends and ourselves. We are sacrificing, whether missing out on travel, sports, theater and other public gatherings. For some of us, that may mean spending time in physical isolation.

That does not mean that all pleasures must be lost to us. So let’s make the best of it and toast, even from afar, the day when we can all gather again, hug, kiss, shake hands and touch our faces with impunity.

On March 20,  Kathleen Parker writing in The Post, expressed her hope that Covid-19 will help many of us release our creativity:

Ultimately, covid-19 may liberate us from our vanities, if it doesn’t kill us first. Meanwhile, I predict creativity will surge as millions of people muddle through sheltering and realize they have been suppressing emotions and guarding hidden talents for too long. The bright side of all this darkness is that the light will out. Newton discovered gravity; Shakespeare dreamed up “Macbeth” and Boccaccio conceived “The Decameron;” all while sheltering in place from plagues in their day.Creation, like life, is a force that won’t be denied. Who knows what masterpieces await the imaginations of the still-sheltered artists among us.

Lastly, I share the thoughts of Kate Bowler- an historian at Duke Divinity School, a cancer survivor and mother- as quoted by Elizabeth Dias in the Times on April 7th:

The second I see all these nurses and doctors going out there trying to save somebody else’s life, I realized it’s such a window into how gorgeous it is to be a human being. And the more we see fragility, sometimes the more we understand what an incredible miracle it is to have been created at all. So I think just having a higher and higher view of our gorgeous and terrible humanity.

We’re learning right now in isolation what interdependence feels like and what a gift it is. And the more we’re apart, the more we realize how much we need each other. We’re allowed to be like beautifully, stupidly needy right now. We’re allowed to FaceTime people and be like, I feel like a mess, and all I want to do is be loved.