How Americans (mis)handled another inconvenient truth

To heal we must remember. I know it’s hard, I promise you I know it’s hard. I remember. That’s how you heal, you have to remember. And also, it’s important to do that as a nation. 

Joe Biden

As a nation which prides itself on being the best in the world. A nation with 510,000 Covid-19 deaths. A nation whose citizens consistently refuse to remember.

This is America, land of the free and home of the most Covid-19 cases and deaths on the planet

Less than one year ago, America watched as countries like China, Italy, and Iran seemed to be taken over by a virus (SARS-Cov-2) foreign not only to us, but to the world. Then, on March 9, passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship –– which had 21 confirmed Covid cases –– started disembarking in Oakland, CA, giving Americans a glimpse into the havoc and fear spreading alongside Covid across the globe. The next day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a “containment area” in New Rochelle to stop the novel virus from spreading outside of the New York suburb, which had become an “epicenter” of the virus in a matter of days. Now the U.S. leads the international community in highest Covid cases and deaths –– total and per capita –– while countries like Australia, Taiwan, and South Korea seemingly have the pandemic under control.

One could argue the main reason for the country’s downfall is that Covid wasn’t the only pandemic the American people were fighting in 2020. 

Police brutality and systemic racism, wildfires and the effects of global climate change, political distrust and the ignorance Donald Trump ushered into office with him each took their turns dividing the nation. On top of mixed messaging from government offices, like the Centers for Disease Control, Americans’ lack of media literacy paired with the sitting president’s blatant lies made the U.S. Covid’s wet dream.

With few reliable sources to turn to, Americans turned to their peers for guidance –– the age-old life hack otherwise known as social proof. 

Scientists and doctors struggled to find answers to questions the American people didn’t feel like asking, while public officials issued guidelines the American people were already ignoring, and what could have been an exemplary standard of the American political and healthcare systems at their best quickly spiraled into the dangerous precedent of creating and living in our own versions of the truth.

Covid by country

And there lies an epidemiological mystery. The usual trend of death from infectious diseases — malaria, typhoid, diphtheria, H.I.V. — follows a dismal pattern. Lower-income countries are hardest hit, with high-income countries the least affected. But if you look at the pattern of Covid-19 deaths reported per capita — deaths, not infections — Belgium, Italy, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom are among the worst off.

Siddhartha Mukherjee

When the world shut down early last year, there was no clear idea of what was going to work and what wasn’t. Countries like China and Italy demonstrated the efficacy of lockdowns. Others, like Sweden, took their chances with herd immunity. 

Roughly one year later, we’re finally starting to see which factors affect Covid’s strength and persistence. Everything from a country’s age and population distribution, citizens’ interferon levels, and how families cohabitate can all affect how quickly a population can overcome the virus.

The best way to determine a person or community’s chance of Covid transmission, survival, and eradication is to cross-examine intrinsic factors (like an individual’s age and health) and extrinsic factors (like whether a person lives in a crowded NYC apartment complex or on a farm in the middle of Kansas). 

But with minimal black and white in sight, scientists are forced to weigh the shades of grey. 

“Are the risks greater for a younger country with a larger family size but with infrequent social contacts or for an older country with a smaller family size but frequent contacts?” –Siddhartha Mukherjee

Regardless of when a country had its first Covid case, or whether its elderly people live among family or in assisted care facilities, there are three measures that foreshadow a community’s chance at eradicating Covid.

According to public-health experts, these successes are the result of a clear recipe: Create a cohesive federal plan with consistent messaging, get everyone to wear masks, and implement widespread testing and contact tracing.

The countries failing to curb their outbreaks are missing at least one of those elements.

The US lacks all of them.

Aylin Woodward

What’sTheFacts

*BIG FAT DISCLAIMER* 

I am not an expert on anything really, so I’m especially not an expert on Covid. I have researched, cross-researched, and tried to find the most trustworthy and up-to-date information to answer each of these questions. Sources are linked throughout and I highly recommend going directly to the sources if you have any other questions or need clarification.

Also, this is long. Feel free to search (by holding down the Command and F keys /or for Windows users/ Control and F keys) for any specific section, keyword, or question you may have.

You can also skip ahead to the final section of this piece (What now) this is simply a mini Covid encyclopedia for your benefit/clarification/use.

If you find any errors, please let me know so I can update accordingly.

What makes covid different from the flu?

There are multiple reasons Covid-19 is deadlier and more contagious than other viruses such as the flu. The first difference between Covid and the flu is that Covid cells have the ability to block interferons (proteins that exist in the body and act as an antiviral defense). Typically, interferons will detect a virus in your body and kickstart your immune system to fight the intruder. Since Covid blocks the cells’ ability to detect its presence, the virus can run rampant.

This is also why Covid takes time to make you feel sick –– your body doesn’t detect the virus from the start, so it doesn’t respond to the virus from the start. By the time your body starts fighting the virus and symptoms like a runny nose, cough, or fever show up, Covid has already been in your body for some time (which is why you quarantine for 14 days after coming in contact with someone who’s Covid-positive).

Since you don’t immediately know when Covid has entered your system, you might continue working and socializing which exponentially increases the amount of people you could infect (and the amount of people they could subsequently infect). 

Covid also affects our cells differently than the flu. Instead of simply killing lung cells, Covid can lead to your cells fusing and forming syncytia (one big cell that contains several nuclei) which stops the cells from functioning properly. This means that while your lungs can completely recover from a serious bout of the flu, the same isn’t true for severe Covid infections.

Covid can also cause increased blood clotting and inflammation, both of which impair the body’s ability to fight Covid and properly heal. These complications are heightened among people who are overweight, causing them to have an even harder time fighting Covid (which is not the case for other respiratory viruses like the flu).

How long does Covid live

On surfaces:

  • Aluminum: 2-8 hours
  • Paper: 3 hours
  • Copper: 4 hours
  • Cardboard: 24 hours
  • Cloth: 2 days
  • Wood: 4 days
  • Plastic: 3-7 days
  • Paper Money: 4 days
  • Glass: 5 days
  • Metal: 5 days

In the air:

  • 3 hours
  • Droplets can travel 13 feet via talking and breathing
    • Droplets emitted from speaking and breathing can stay in the air for 8-14 minutes. That means if you’re outside around people with no masks, you will come in contact with their breathed (and potentially contaminated) air.

Researchers and health experts agree your risk for contracting Covid from touching a contaminated surface is significantly lower than direct interpersonal transmission. These tests were completed in a lab and don’t necessarily reflect Covid’s response to factors like sunlight or extreme temperatures. 

Spreading
  • Can asymptomatic people spread the virus?

Yes, you can spread Covid even if you don’t have symptoms. Earlier, we discussed how Covid can wreak havoc on the body roughly one week before symptoms arise, meaning you can carry the virus (and spread it) well before you realize you’re sick.

  • Does it only spread if you don’t wear a mask?

No. Masks have proven to dramatically reduce the airborne spread of Covid (protecting mask wearers from both spreading and contracting the virus). Still, recent findings suggest Covid particles can still spread through some masks via cough or sneeze (N95 masks blocked all* particles from spreading). This means people who have Covid can spread small amounts of the virus while wearing a mask and people without Covid are susceptible to small amounts of the virus while wearing a mask. 

Essentially, close-up face-to-face contact with a person who has Covid, even if asymptomatic and wearing a mask, could still expose you to the virus.

This doesn’t mean masks aren’t effective, or that you shouldn’t wear a mask. It simply provides scientific data that masks (when properly fitted) and social distancing work, and we absolutely should continue doing both. 

*The study reported “the N95 mask has statistically zero particles escaping through it in the ‘protection’ configuration.” 

Symptoms
  • Can you have Covid if you don’t have a fever?

Yes. In fact, studies show Covid often exists in the body for roughly a week (5-7 days) before symptoms such as a fever arise.

  • What are the most common symptoms?

Fever, body aches, dry cough, sore throat, chills, and headache. 

Other non-respiratory symptoms include neurological symptoms like loss of taste and smell, muscle weakness, and dizziness, along with gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

  • When should you get tested?

If you’re regularly in contact with other people, especially high-risk populations, you should get tested regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms.

At the very least, you should call your primary care provider or local testing center as soon as you develop Covid symptoms to see when and how you should get a test.

Testing
  • Is testing accurate?

Yes, molecular tests (like PCR tests) specifically identify Covid’s genetic material, so a positive test means the virus is present in your system and a negative test means Covid could not be detected. 

It’s important to remember that you can contract Covid shortly before or shortly after your test and get a negative result, even though you have the virus. Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands.

  • Does more testing lead to higher Covid numbers?

No, kind of, but no. The more people who take Covid tests, the more Covid statistics there will be. This inherently means there will be higher numbers of positive (and negative) cases reported. But testing doesn’t create more Covid cases, it simply identifies them

A simple way to tell that increasing testing does not increase case rates is to check the percentage of people who test positive, rather than the total number of people who test positive. 

  • Can you test positive when you don’t actually have Covid?

A rapid test could potentially render a false positive, but it isn’t likely, and the odds of a false-positive PCR test are close to none. False positives are more common with rapid Covid testing in areas with low Covid rates and with antibody testing.

If your Covid test comes back positive, it’s because the test detected the virus in your body. Ipso facto, you have Covid.

  • Can you test negative and actually have Covid?

Yes. If you’re tested early after your infection, you can test negative even though the virus is present in your system. 

You can also test negative and contract Covid shortly after your test. While this isn’t technically a false negative, you would still have Covid even though you tested negative.

Even if you test negative for Covid, you need to continue wearing a mask and social distancing. 

  • Does rapid testing work?

Yes, but not as well as PCR testing. Rapid testing is best for people who actively have Covid symptoms and, therefore, are at or near peak infection. 

If you take a rapid test too early, it is more likely to provide false negatives than a PCR test. 

When you have Covid
  • What happens when you have it?

For most people, Covid poses mild symptoms including dry cough, sore throat, chills, headache, and body aches. Many Covid cases are also accompanied by high fever, and some people experience loss of taste and smell, muscle weakness, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

For those with minor symptoms that go away on their own, the CDC recommends quarantining for 10 days or until you are without a fever for 24 hours and your symptoms are decreasing or gone.

  • How long does it last?

That depends on a variety of factors. Some people have minor symptoms and overcome Covid in a matter of days. Some are severely affected by the virus and are sick longer, and some people even face long-lasting effects of the virus well after they have healed.

As we all know, Covid also claims lives. With over half a million U.S. Covid deaths, it’s clear that some Covid patients pay the ultimate price. 

Wear a mask.

  • How does it affect people with preexisting conditions?

As we’ve discussed, Covid affects almost everyone differently, and it’s very hard to predict how someone’s immune system will react after contracting the virus.

People with asthma, for example, could face more serious lung problems with Covid than someone without, but “there are no published data to support this determination at this time.”

Still, conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, stroke, and cancer can increase a person’s risk of death after contracting Covid.

  • Do you have to wear a mask in your house?

If you live with other, uninfected people then yes. You should also quarantine separately from all healthy people and sanitize any surfaces you touch. 

  • Does it only kill older people?

No. Your risk of severe illness or death increases with age, but Covid can seriously infect and kill people of all ages, including children. Other preexisting conditions like asthma and factors like smoking can also increase your risk for severe sickness.

Still, 18-39-year-olds account for roughly 2% of U.S. Covid deaths, while people 65 and older account for roughly 81%.

  • Why do some people die and some don’t even get sick?

It isn’t completely clear why some people never have Covid symptoms while others face severe cases and death. But remember the interferons we talked about earlier? It might have something to do with those little proteins.

“New research suggests that up to 14% of people who develop severe COVID-19 have an inadequate interferon response. In some people, this happens because their own antibodies mistakenly attack and neutralize their interferons. Others have a genetic mutation that prevents their body from producing enough of a certain type of interferon. … Another important reason for differences in severity of COVID-19 illness is also related to the immune system. If the immune system doesn’t turn off once the virus is controlled, it can go into overdrive. The result: an intense and widespread inflammatory response damaging tissues throughout the body.” –Harvard Health

  • Does it affect your life after?

It can. Some people experience Covid symptoms like shortness of breath, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and chest pain long after they’ve recovered from the virus. Other cases, although less common, show Covid can cause problems in the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain but the long-term implications of these effects is still unknown. 

After you have Covid:

  • Are you immune?

Yes, but not forever. Some studies suggest that Covid-19 antibodies can provide immunity (or keep previously infected people from contracting Covid again) within six months. This data is still preliminary and more tests are in the works to get a better idea of how long Covid antibodies protect people from reinfection. 

  • Can you get it again?

Yes, there are cases of people who have recovered from Covid and become reinfected, but this is still relatively rare.

  • Do you need to wear a mask?

Yes, you also need to continue socially distancing. Since scientists are still studying how strong and long-lasting antibodies are, you should move forward as though you could contract Covid again in the next few months (since it is likely that you can). 

  • Do you need to quarantine if you come in contact with a Covid-positive person?

No. If you come into contact with someone who has Covid within three months of recovering from Covid yourself, you do not need to quarantine. 

If you come into contact with someone who has Covid after the three months, you will need to quarantine (or be sure to get the vaccine shortly after the three month mark to avoid contracting the virus).

Quarantine
  • How long if you have Covid?

10 days. According to the CDC, people with Covid can interact with others 10 days after their symptoms first appeared as long as they have gone 24 hours without a fever and their other Covid symptoms have improved.

People with severe Covid cases and preexisting conditions may need to quarantine longer than those with less severe cases.

  • How long if someone in your house has Covid?

14 days after your last exposure to a person with Covid. 

You do not need to quarantine if you have completed your Covid vaccine within the last three months and don’t have Covid symptoms OR if you’ve recovered from Covid within the last three months and don’t have Covid symptoms. 

  • Why 14 days?

“About 97% of the people [exposed to Covid] who get infected and develop symptoms will do so within 11 to 12 days, and about 99% will within 14 days.” –NPR

Vaccine
  • What’s the difference between different brands?

Please enjoy this super rough and largely plagiarized (data and layout from Business Insider, plus data from CNN, NPR, and NYT) chart displaying the major differences between vaccine brands. Effectiveness of the vaccines increases when considering severe cases vs. mild cases, each vaccine has been tested in different regions of the world and with different Covid variants, and each company presented its findings differently.

Health experts recommend getting vaccinated regardless of which vaccine is available to you. All vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. protect against severe cases of Covid and can help prevent mild to moderate cases.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have not been granted emergency use authorization in the U.S. Both vaccines are in the process of pursuing approval –– AstraZeneca is undergoing a U.S. clinical trial and J&J is expected to be FDA approved for emergency use in the coming days.

  • When you get the vaccine, are you immune?

Vaccines don’t magically grant immunity for any disease, so to expect that of a Covid vaccine would be unfair and simply implausible. 

Vaccines work by helping your body build its immune defense for whatever virus you’re trying to inhibit. Covid vaccines specifically have been designed with a focus on reducing or completely preventing symptoms from showing up. 

Since the Covid vaccines are still in relatively early stages, more testing is underway to examine what type of immunity the vaccines provide (whether effective –– preventing serious illness but not preventing the virus from entering the body –– or sterilising –– totally preventing contraction and asymptomatic cases) and whether they can prevent or reduce spreading the virus.

Even though Covid vaccines don’t provide perfect protection from the virus, you should still get a vaccine when it is available to you. 

  • Does it make you sick?

No. Each vaccine brand has different side effects (like chills, headaches, and muscle aches) and complications for those with certain allergies, but a Covid vaccine won’t give you Covid. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine (which is still being tested in the U.S.) has side effects including fever and nausea, but also will not give you Covid.

  • Is it dangerous?

The vaccines largely haven’t been tested on children, so certain vaccines are not intended for them or anyone who has certain allergies or health concerns. Pregnant women can receive the vaccine, according to the CDC, although research still needs to be done to fully understand the effects of Covid vaccines for pregnant women.

(Refer to chart for more specific information on who shouldn’t receive certain vaccine brands.)

Covid vaccines essentially teach your body to make certain parts of Covid cells (specifically the spike protein) that can help invade and attack the virus, and continue working to build your body’s immune response.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do this by storing the instructions in single-stranded mRNA which teaches the body to make the Covid spike protein then breaks down (never affecting the cells’ genetic makeup). 

The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines work a bit differently.

J&J took the gene which makes up part of a Covid cell (the spike protein) and added it to Adenovirus 26 –– a modified version of a type of virus that causes colds and flu symptoms, which can enter the body without replicating or making the host sick.

Whereas Pfizer and Moderna vaccines store instructions in single-stranded RNA, Adenovirus vaccines can store instructions in double-stranded DNA which is stronger and gives the vaccine a longer shelf-life. 

Each of the vaccines helps boost your body’s immune response to Covid and help prevent severe cases.

  • Why do you need two doses?

The Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca vaccines require two doses for full protection. While some protection was evident after only one dose, it is simply not enough to be effective in fighting the virus.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one dose. 

  • How long does it last?

Right now, studies are showing that those who receive Covid vaccines are protected for four months. This can change with further studies and further vaccine development.

  • Can you spread the virus once you have the vaccine?

Potentially, which is why you should continue wearing a mask, staying home, and social distancing even if you’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid.

Vaccines are currently being tested to see whether they can prevent asymptomatic spreading.

  • Is it safe for pregnant women?

The CDC states pregnant women can receive the Covid vaccine, but should consider the lack of testing before getting vaccinated.

  • Is it safe for children?

As of right now, children cannot be vaccinated for Covid. Testing is underway and results are expected by “midyear.” 

  • What is herd immunity and does it work?

Herd immunity is the protection of a community from a disease due to the large majority’s immunity to said disease.

Basically, when enough people in a community (or country) are immune to a disease, whether caused by naturally gained immunity from surviving the disease or by boosting the body’s immune response with a vaccine, it protects those who aren’t immune or who can’t get vaccines. Since most people can’t contract the illness, spreading the disease becomes highly unlikely.

Herd immunity absolutely works. We’ve seen it happen with polio, mumps, and measles (that’s why you rarely hear of people getting these diseases in America today) ((unless they’re anti-vaxers)) (((we don’t support anti-vaxers here))).

  • How many people need to be vaccinated before life goes back to normal?

Roughly 70-90% of the population will likely need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Since children account for roughly 24% of the population, and trials for vaccine efficacy and safety in children are still in progress, it will take until at least the end of summer before nearly a quarter of the American people even have access to the vaccine. 

Still, “the U.S. may never reach vaccination rates of 75 to 85 percent, the experts said.” Many people are choosing not to be vaccinated for various reasons. Hopefully, once more testing is done and we have a better understanding of how effective and long-lasting these vaccines can be, more eligible people will be vaccinated. Until then, expect to keep wearing your mask and staying home.

  • Is it safe to travel once you’re vaccinated?

Kind of, but you probably still shouldn’t. Plus, every state and country has different restrictions and requirements for travellers, and even those who are vaccinated often have to show negative Covid test results before going to certain countries or boarding planes.

Masks
  • Do masks really stop the spread?

Yes. Not all masks block 100% of Covid particles, but they still significantly reduce your risk of spreading or contracting the virus, especially when paired with social distancing.

  • Do masks protect you or other people?

Both! Wearing a mask protects you from getting the virus and spreading the virus by reducing the amount of water droplets that transfer between people when speaking, breathing, and coughing.

A UC San Francisco study suggests those who do contract Covid while wearing a mask may face less severe sickness compared to those exposed to Covid without a mask. 

Some particles can still escape certain masks, so close face-to-face contact with others still poses a risk for transmission. Keep wearing your mask, but keep socially distancing, too.

  • Do you need two masks?

Kind of, but not really. The CDC suggests multi-layer masks provide more protection against Covid, but it all depends on how your mask fits. For cloth masks, the CDC recommends choosing an option with two or three layers that fits your face snugly enough so there are no gaps. 

If your mask has multiple layers and fits your face properly, you only need one mask. If your cloth mask is loose or thin, wearing an additional cloth or disposable mask underneath will simply increase your protection.

  • What kind of mask works best?

N95 masks are most effective at blocking transmission of particles while coughing and sneezing, but the CDC and FDA request that these masks be used in healthcare settings only. 

Cloth masks, when worn properly and paired with social distancing, provide proper protection for the general public. 

  • Do I need to wear a mask outside?

If there are other people around you (aside from those who live in your household) then yes, you need to wear a mask outside.

If you are by yourself or away from others, then wearing a mask outside is not necessary.

Kids and Covid

  • Can they spread it?

Michel Barbaro summarized it best: “The essential thing to know about kids — especially younger kids — and the coronavirus is that they are not great spreaders, but they are still spreaders of the virus.” Data shows that kids can spread Covid, but children 10 and younger seem to spread Covid half as effectively as adults. Older kids exhibit similar patterns as adults when it comes to spreading Covid.

  • Can they get sick?

Yes. It is much less likely for children 10 years and younger to contract the virus or get sick from it. Still, there have been cases of severe Covid illness in kids, and 250 children have died from Covid-19 in the U.S.

Older kids (roughly 15+) exhibit similar patterns as adults when it comes to contracting Covid. 

  • Can they get vaccinated?

Not yet. The vaccine has only been tested on adults, so kids won’t be vaccinated until more studies can show whether the Covid vaccines are safe and effective for children.

  • Someone in my house has Covid. Can we combine our laundry?

Yes. When coming in contact with a Covid-positive person’s clothing, be sure to wear gloves and don’t shake their laundry out. Wash the clothes on the warmest setting and dry them before touching the clothes without gloves. Be sure to sanitize any laundry baskets or shared surfaces the clothes come in contact with.

Social distancing
  • Why six feet?

“The conventional wisdom behind six-foot separations originated from research by a German biologist, Carl Flügge, who in the late 1800s suggested that was as far as microbe-containing droplets could travel.” –Washington Post

But science from this century shows that six feet realistically isn’t accurate or adequate, especially without use of masks. The Washington Post reported in March that an infected person at a Washington choir practice spread the virus to 52 people, one of whom was 45 feet away. 

The trick about outdoor dining is, yes, being outside away from others without a mask on is safe. But at many restaurants, proper distancing isn’t possible. 

Plus, if you’re meeting people out to eat who don’t live in your household, you’re just as exposed to Covid as you would be among a group of strangers. Not to mention, sitting at a table with your mask off does little to protect the restaurant employees who are serving you.

The best way to support your local eateries during Covid is to order pickup and tip well.

  • Indoor dining

The short answer: “it’s still safest to avoid.” –CNN

I repeat, the best way to support your local eateries during Covid is to order pickup and tip well.

  • Malls

Believe it or not, going to crowded places during Covid does in fact increase your risk of getting Covid.

Contract tracing in El Paso over the holidays found that 55% of positive cases could be tracked back to large retail stores. 

Depending on local regulations, hair salons and beauty spas may or may not be open in your area right now. Many salon services avoid face-to-face contact between customers and technicians, reducing the risk of spreading Covid during your treatment.

Still, going in public will pose a risk, and times when you’re cashing out or close to your tech or other clients could also increase your likelihood of spreading or contracting the virus.

Check your local ordinances and salon guidelines to gauge whether proper health and safety precautions are in place (like temperature checks, minimized in-person seating areas, and increased cleaning measures). And make sure to wear a mask during your services to reduce your risk of transmission.

Drive-thrus are a great way to minimize your contact with employees and customers in businesses like restaurants and pharmacies. Keep in mind that the same safety protocols apply in drive-thrus (i.e. wear your mask) even though you aren’t in the same building as the people serving you.

  • Grocery stores

Based solely on the fact that I watched a man walk into a grocery store maskless and with no shoes on, who proceeded to eat fruit out of the produce section while perusing, I’m gonna say you should avoid grocery stores.

Ordering groceries online for pickup (which is often free) or delivery can help reduce the time you spend in stores, the amount of people you come in contact with, and your chance of getting or spreading the virus.

Antibodies
  • What does antibody testing show?

Antibodies are proteins your body makes to fight foreign substances, and these tests measure whether your body has produced Covid-specific antibodies. If you have Covid-19 antibodies, it’s likely that you’ve had and recovered from Covid.

  • If I have Covid antibodies, does that mean I’m immune?

There are two types of antibodies: binding and neutralizing. Binding antibodies help your body fight Covid while you have it, then slowly decrease after you recover. These don’t necessarily fight future infections (or make you immune). 

Neutralizing antibodies –– in cases of other coronaviruses (aside from Covid-19) –– have proven to boost immunity and prevent reinfection. But the effects and strength of Covid antibody immunity are still being studied.

Globally

There are 14 countries which have reported zero Covid cases, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO has designated a “no cases” transmission classification to 23 countries in total (including the 14 with zero total cases) signifying few cases or small, contained outbreaks.

  • Why has Covid lasted so long in America?

As a non-answer, I will leave you with this Atlantic piece from last August, and a bitter remark that Americans largely refuse to learn from both our mistakes and others’ intelligence, leaving little room for growth or change.

  • How long will Covid last?

Short answer: it depends.

Long answer: read this.

What now

Above all, what’s needed is humility in the face of an intricately evolving body of evidence.

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Covid is far from over. 

More people are spreading, contracting, and dying from this virus every day. We’re learning more about this virus every day, too. But if we continue moving forward without making changes, people will continue contracting and dying from Covid for the foreseeable future. 

The facts are clear: wearing masks, social distancing, and getting vaccinated can and will decrease the spread of Covid. But the implications of this virus go beyond the lives it has and will cost.

America lost control of Covid the moment it began because our leaders and people chose to value the information we knew over the information we didn’t know, and the latter well outweighs the former still to this day.

It’s natural to form opinions based on the information you know, that’s how we learn to interpret the world around us. But we need to keep seeking new information, even that which makes us uncomfortable, and when we find something that challenges our current understanding, we need to be willing to change our opinions accordingly.

It’s healthy to ask questions of people in charge. But when interrogating experts leads to trusting fools, only chaos ensues. And we’re still learning, still testing vaccines, still finding new and more contagious strains of the virus, still determining how to move forward in schools, businesses, and society at large.

Covid is still new and people (even health experts) were bound to make mistakes along the way. Our worst mistake yet was choosing to create truths that fit our own narrative rather than believing hard truths from the experts. 

Don’t let those mistakes be for nothing; let them give us purpose moving forward.

We can find purpose. Purpose worthy of the lives they lived and worthy of the country we love. So today I ask all Americans to remember. Remember those we lost and those we left behind. But as you remember, as we all remember, I also ask us to act. To remain vigilant. To stay socially distant. To mask up. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. 

We must end the politics and misinformation that’s divided families, communities, and the country. 

It’s cost too many lives already.

Joe Biden

With love,

Jacklyn

Featured image via United Nations Covid Response

Post-rebrand emotional revelations

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting, goal-setting, and preparing for my blog which, in turn, had me doing a lot of the same for my life.

In 2020 I put in a lot of work building a solid foundation for myself to have a clearer perspective and better self-understanding before I moved forward with my goals, my brand, my career, and just my life in general. 

But the other day I got to thinking and the thinking got to me.

Am I becoming a housewife? 

What if I never have a job that fulfills me?

When’s the last time I made a societal contribution that wasn’t just a small donation to an independent organization?

Are the mundane aspects of my life becoming the things I live for?

If you’re new here, let me catch you up to speed. After spending the majority of my time in college unsure of my calling, I stumbled into student journalism. I loved it. I hated it. I got yelled at all the time and I sometimes got the chance to yell myself. I wrote about garbage topics and my own opinions that didn’t matter and I spoke to hundreds of people from all paths of life and parts of the world about their stories, studies, and the things that mattered to them.

It was fulfilling. It was exhausting.

I, along with much of our editorial team, spent 15 hours per week in classes and roughly 40 hours per week at the paper. That, minus 8 hours of sleep every night, and I was left with 57 hours each week to shower, workout, do homework, edit pieces for the paper, drive back and forth to campus, work at my retail and host jobs, and to maybe look at my boyfriend once a day if I could sneak in the time. 

So when I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to pursue news. At least not now.

Thanks to networking I was offered a great opportunity freelance writing about home insurance and I snatched that up, moved to California, and haven’t looked back since.

Until Sunday.

Doubt started settling in and I worried that, not only am I not pursuing journalism now, but without a consistent record of journalism experience outside of college, I may never pursue journalism again. 

If I’m never a journalist, what happens to my humanitarian goals? Will I ever change the course of America’s political demise by sharing someone’s honest, gut-wrenching, emotional plight in this unequivocally racially divided country? Or alter the course of global climate change conversations through thorough investigative reporting and longform environmental journalism that takes me to the best and worst places on the planet seeking new perspectives from the world around us?

And the other day when I spent hours home alone cleaning the house and feeling genuinely accomplished afterwards, what was that? Who am I? Are my jokes about becoming a housewife (along with my stellar relationship that I would probably –– not dramatically –– give my life for) actually manifesting in front of my eyes? What’s next, cooking family dinner for the household? Passing over my finances to the husband I don’t even have? Turning 45 and realizing I have nothing to show for it but a happy family, healthy relationship, and seven dog children?

Wait actually, scratch that last one. That one doesn’t sound half bad.

Sure, I’m already happier, healthier, a better communicator, a more present partner, and more mentally stable than ever before, but what does that matter if my job doesn’t give me the opportunity to change the world?

In 2021 it is highly unlikely that one job will turn into a career and provide ample compensation, a healthy work-life balance, and opportunities to fulfill humanitarian initiatives. 

I know this. That’s why I started this blog in the first place, because I can write whatever I want on my own platform. 

Look at this!

Jacklyn Walters is the kindest, most beautiful, and genuinely good person I have ever met. She should take my place as Queen when and if I should decide to retire.

Beyoncé

All jokes and blatant lies aside, I saw an opportunity to stop searching for fulfilment through an employer and start providing it for myself. If I can use this blog to share information, make people question their biases, and divulge my experiences –– the good, the bad; the self-doubt, the self-love –– then maybe (hopefully) I can simultaneously satisfy my desire to educate others and find a job that actually pays a living wage.

Regardless of what I do for a living or whether I run this blog or spend the rest of my life seeking a better self-understanding, I am exactly where I need to be right now.

I spent time stressing about my potentially fruitless future because I felt stagnant in the present. But the time I’m taking to find myself, to heal, and to pursue the person I want to become is intentional and meaningful in itself.

I decided that I need to have a better understanding of how I work (and the parts of me that don’t) before I make any more drastic decisions (like moving across the country or starting a new job).

As I continue rolling out my new content and IG series Prompted and Ponder This, I hope you decide to find yourself along with me. If you do –– or if you don’t, that’s not my business –– I hope you move forward with intention and an understanding that life is like one really long practice. We’re all learning as we go, and sometimes it’s best to tackle one problem at a time.

So if you get caught up in pursuing mindfulness or healthy eating or your job or your hobbies and find yourself losing touch with the things you put on the backburner, remember that you put those things on the backburner for a reason. 

You decide where your focus goes and you deserve to pursue your goals without spreading yourself too thin.

Journeys don’t end simply because I’m taking time for myself. My personal, professional, and humanitarian aspirations are all still there. Taking time to find myself now only means I’ll be better equipped to fulfill my long-term goals as they come.

Today is good. Just keep working.

Excerpt from my Feb. 15 journal entry

With love (and my first Ponder This post coming Wednesday),

Jacklyn

Featured image by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

What’s cookin’ good lookin’

Hello and happy Friday!

This is a quick update on my life, my blog, and things to come. As you likely know, I’ve been doing a lot of work lately. Working on my brand, my site, my content. Working on InDesign and Illustrator. Most importantly, working on myself and letting my self-work guide the rest.

What I’ve found is that All Who Ponder, while a lovely amalgamation of journals, current events, poems, and my thoughts in general, hasn’t been serving me (and therefore probably hasn’t been serving you) to its fullest potential. And that’s because for a loooooong time I haven’t been serving myself to my fullest potential. 

You see where this is going, I’m certain. When we work on one aspect of ourselves it affects all other aspects of our lives yada yada yada.

My vision for this blog was always to learn more about myself and my perspectives by learning more about the world, and, in turn, to help other people do the same. I’ve always understood that true self-reflection and mindfulness is the only way to progress and grow, it just wasn’t until now that I realized what’s been holding me (and plenty of others) back.

What I’ve come to find is that self-work is great –– I grow every day and can see the ways my mental health and personal progress are affecting my work, relationships, and overall well-being. Yet every time I’m faced with a new opportunity to grow, an honest perspective to see myself through, or a different worldview to consider, I still manage to meet these phenomena with the same defensiveness I always have.

And before I started beating myself up for solidifying healthy coping mechanisms but never unlearning my defense mechanisms, I realized that this is just another crossroads in my life that I’m going to learn from. Through All Who Ponder, I hope to help you learn, too. 

Starting next week, I will be rolling out two new series: Prompted and Ponder This.

Prompted will offer biweekly journal prompts to guide our self-discussions and reflections, and pose questions to help us honestly uncover our truest and best selves. Ponder This seeks to expand our worldview and teach us to question our perspectives by exposing us to new and surprising truths about our world. 

Hopefully these will make more sense when you see them on your Instagram feed, but I hope you choose to meet these guides with true reflection, even if they make you a little defensive at first. 

You can also expect more podcasts (the first Friday of each month) in more accessible places (think Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc.) and more regular blogs and posts (every Friday other than podcast days). 

Thank you for being patient with me, and if you haven’t been patient then thank you for being quiet about it. I still have plenty of weird odds and ends to fix on my site, and plenty of brainstorming to do (maybe I’ll host a Zoom brainstorm session for anyone in need of some creative inspiration in the future). But this is the happiest, most disciplined, and most enthusiastic I’ve ever been about the state of my life blog and I hope y’all are just as inspired to follow along with me.

I’m excited for what is to come and the things we’ll learn about ourselves and each other along the way.

With love and a total reset,

Jacklyn

Featured image by Markus Winkler from Pexels

The sweet sound of commercialized affection

It’s been a while! (and it’s gonna be a while longer)

This week I have a banging’ playlist for you in light of the most trivial holiday in the world that is nearly upon us.

Keep checking my IG stories for Black History Month facts and dope content from Black creators.

New podcasts (and posts) coming soon.

With strictly platonic love,

Jacklyn

Yesterday was too much for just an Instagram caption

Yesterday the world watched as violent extremists took over the Capitol with guidance from the president and apparent permission from the police.

Amid yesterday’s attack, I, like many, couldn’t help but look back on last year’s BLM protests, when non-violence and cries for justice were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. 

I think of every black man, woman, and child who have been murdered by police officers in their own homes and backyards.

I think of Breonna Taylor, who was sleeping in her bed as officers unlawfully broke into her home and blindly fired 16 rounds, ultimately ending her life. In the 10 months since Breonna’s murder, not a single officer has been charged with her death.

Then we watched as hundreds of armed white domestic terrorists storm into the nation’s Capitol under the president’s command, damaging national property at best and disrupting democracy and leaving four dead at worst, and faced few, if any, repercussions. (Nearly 80 people have been arrested, but we’ll see how far that goes.)

And I, yet again, can’t help but turn to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, as I did when Americans turned on Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee and as I have done each time this nation has refused to listen to the cries of the Black community.

While Dr. King’s letter comes from 1963 after he was arrested while non-violently protesting for civil rights, yesterday’s attack clearly demonstrated the ways that white people in America continue to profit off racial injustice today. 

“An unjust law,” Dr. King wrote, “is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.”

When Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrated at Lafayette Park, the group “was charged by a force made up of Washington police, U.S. Park police, over 5,000 national guard troops and federal agencies like the Bureau of Prisons. An army helicopter swooped low over the heads of the protesters. Teargas, batons and horses were used to clear a block so that Donald Trump could stage a photo op outside a church across the road.”

Yet, when white Trump supporters violently raid the Capitol, police act as though national security isn’t threatened. 

“This is difference made legal.”

Yesterday was a terrible display of white privilege in America. But let us not gloss over yesterday’s victories. 

Like Georgia’s senate election, where over 4.4 million voters, led predominantly by Black voters, came together to elect the state’s first Black senator, Reverend Raphael Warnock, along with Jon Ossoff, securing yet another uncharacteristic democrat-led victory in the state.

Or the news that Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes, two of the officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death, were fired from their positions. It’s a far cry from the murder charges they deserve, but it’s a long-awaited, minuscule step in the right direction. 

As we quickly approach the transition to Biden’s presidency, let’s not forget that one moderate white man will not solve all of the problems that have withstood each of his 45 predecessors. The systemic inconsistencies and racial injustice that allowed armed white terrorists to storm the capitol and empowered police to kill, teargas, and arrest non-violent Black protesters will still exist in 13 days. 

“Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists,” King wrote in ’63. “I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

The tides are turning because we’ve decided to turn them. Let’s ride the waves of these upcoming political changes and elicit real social change through the same “strong, persistent and determined action” that Dr. King called for 58 years ago. 

Let’s eradicate the coronavirus with masks, vaccinations, and a call for public health; let’s reexamine America’s police and military forces by throwing away historic practices and reevaluating and reallocating their massive budgets; and let’s educate our citizens, ourselves, based on the facts that higher education leads to well-rounded world views, increased empathy, and a better understanding of political processes due to increased media literacy. 

We vote for government officials who we believe will represent us in office, and hopefully our chosen legislators will do just that. But don’t let yesterday’s terrorist attack distract us from the changes we need to make; let it fuel you. And don’t expect politicians to make these changes unprovoked. 

Our actions make the difference. Not politicians, and certainly not time.

“Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively,” King wrote. “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Sources & more

Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Breonna Taylor:

What’s happening in D.C.:

Georgia election:

Photo by Sogand Gh on Unsplash

Learning to try and D.I.Y.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but 2021 isn’t going to be that much different than 2020.

Don’t believe me?

Are you still waiting for this to be the year you get in shape? Or the year you change your career path? What about the year you finally pick up that hobby you forgot about or learn a new language?

If you’re still chasing the dreams of New Years past, good for you –– persistence is key. But it’s funny how we let certain goals slip through our fingers year after year and still expect that each New Year’s Eve will be the year that everything changes overnight.

Again, I hate to be the bearer of bad news –– and I’ve really been trying to lighten up on the pessimism lately –– but the only things that change overnight are werewolves and the length of your leg hair even though you just shaved before bed (how does that always happen anyway?).

So, unfortunately, 2021 is probably going to be a lot like 2020. But that doesn’t mean you have to be.

If you recall, last year my “non-resolution” was to be less judgmental (we all see how that worked out). The reason I never stopped judging people is because I never really focused on it or tried to change my behavior. And it’s just the sad, unfortunate truth that the year of 2020 didn’t magically change that for me, either.

Oftentimes we set New Year’s resolutions because there’s something about January 1 that feels refreshing. It’s like once the weight of last year is lifted off our shoulders, we can finally find the motivation to achieve all those dusty old dreams we forgot about.

But 2020 was the year that I realized motivation doesn’t elicit progress.

Not for me, at least. When I think of motivation I think of some magical energy that will float down from the heavens and land on my shoulders and, by the grace of this foreign aura alone, I will accomplish all of my work, master my hobbies, and set new goals to chase after tomorrow.

And this year was the opposite of motivating.

The world shut down in what felt like a matter of days. Americans have been falling ill and succumbing to the virus every day since.

I went from spending 60+ hours per week on a campus with 20,000 people to spending every second of every day in my 700-square-foot apartment with Zach. I watched as my family members worried about their businesses, and my friends and colleagues lost their jobs.

Even with everyone stuck at home, police brutality didn’t come to an end.

America watched as George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, and countless other unarmed black men and women were killed by police in our own backyards. People across the globe protested the injustices plaguing their criminal justice systems as well as ours.

The police who killed Breonna Taylor have not and likely will not be charged with murder.

Wildfires have burned over 10.2 million acres across America.

Donald Trump still has supporters and Mitch McConnell is still an asshole, and that’s all I have to say about that right now.

But I’m not here to shit on last year. And it wouldn’t be fair or honest if I said this was a bad year for me.

I was lucky enough to begin 2020 managing a staff of amazing writers, photographers, and just overall wonderful human beings. I graduated from college, found a job at least moderately related to my degree, and was able to see my friend before she moved out of the country. Then I moved across the country, started and “graduated” therapy. And my family and friends are in good health (or at least as good of health as any other year). These were not widely shared experiences this year, and I am beyond grateful for my life and circumstances.

What 2020 did show me, though, is that when you’re looking to the world for motivation, you will always remain stagnant. But where motivation falls short, discipline picks up the slack.

Last year didn’t automatically eradicate my judgmental pettiness. But it didn’t finish my degree or plan a cross-country move in 30 days, either. I did those things.

I’m capable of changing my behavior if I genuinely put my mind (and consistently put in effort) to it. This year taught me that hard work really does work, it just also takes a significant amount of time (and a heavy dose of privilege and support never hurt). And it reminded me that even when I’ve forgotten about my goals, I can always pick up and start again.

Life is about setting new goals and committing to achieving them. It’s about putting in work and committing to progress. But overall it’s just about committing to yourself.

So I don’t expect 2021 to make me a healthier or kinder or more forgiving person, and you shouldn’t either.

I’m going to do it myself.

With love and a Happy New Year,

Jacklyn

Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

She’s making a list and checking it twice

Today I want to take you on a journey, an expedition which takes us through the darkest corners of my mind. 

As I guide you through the spiraling crevices of my cortex, you may come to find that the skeletons in your closet walk a lot like mine. They may dress a bit differently and speak with incomparable accents, but I believe that even our most devious inner demons have more in common with others’ than we think. 

So as we navigate my self-deprecating behaviors over the past six days, please, quell your judgements. And prepare yourself for the introspective ride of your life.

Let’s begin, shall we?

December 12.

It all started Saturday, my first official day after ending therapy. Also the first day after the end of my post-graduation student loan forgiveness period.

Now, I’ve calculated my monthly loan payments various times across various platforms, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I crunched the numbers again Saturday to find a $691 monthly balance.

Yet, surprised I was. Surprised indeed. 

But the surprise didn’t last for long, oh no. It quickly transformed into stress, then panic, then a complete mental breakdown, until finally my surprise planted me at my desk, opened up Indeed, and started applying to some of the most mundane jobs you’ve probably never heard of.

Technical writer for a healthcare startup. Digital copywriter for another healthcare startup. SEO content writer, staff writer, marketing copywriter, digital content writer, branding consultant, and last but certainly the most degrading, content writing intern.

In a sea of minimum wage jobs, I struggled to muster even an ounce of interest. 

Then I looked outside my window and saw the fattest, rolliest, most perfect french bulldog puppy standing in the parking lot, looking attentively at his owner. The owner pulled out a treat and with two quick indistinguishable hand gestures, the puppy sat and laid down and was met with the treat for his job well done.

I immediately burst into tears. Ugly tears. Huge, heavy tears that rolled continuously down my face as my body heaved with sobs.

December 13.

Sweet Sunday morning.

My yoga practice invited me to explore peace. Just what I needed.

“How do you handle discomfort?” Adriene asked.  

I reflected on Saturday’s struggle to suppress my anxiety. And, legs trembling in Virabhadrasana 2, I cried. 

“You want to know how I handle discomfort, Adriene?” I threatened in my thoughts. Well I don’t. I don’t handle discomfort. I give in to discomfort, I feed it, and I allow it to consume me. 

“Can you be still and present in a moment?” Adriene inquired.

How can I be still and present in this moment when you keep compelling me to think about the past? If you want me to be still and present then don’t make me stand here for so long and for the love of god just shut up.

“Can you access the power you have within you with your breath?”

I can’t access my power with my breath, I can’t even breathe. My legs are shaking, my eyes are filling with tears, it is taking the last ounce of power I have to keep my head over my heart and my heart over my pelvis. 

December 14.

I woke up to my period. Sluggish, grumpy, and in pain, this must be some sort of punishment, I speculated. 

I asked my sister what was happening with the moon. It’s the last new moon of the year, the day of a total solar eclipse. 

Of course. 

I found an Instagram post by a spiritual advisor.

“Because it’s the final New Moon of 2020, it’s a key moment in the Moon’s cycle to set an intention to close out the year. Sagittarius is a fire sign, and as the final fire sign in the zodiac, it represents pure transmutation. Outdated emotional weight is burning away, and what remains is your true self.

Suddenly it all made sense. My end of therapy, my period, my incessant crying. 

I am connected to the moon. My power goes unmatched. 

I cried again.

December 15.

The day I was supposed to board a plane and fly home for Christmas. (A text from my mother confirmed this, in case I had forgotten.)

But I pressed forward, stuffing my time –– and brain –– full of work to avoid reflecting on how I truly felt. Sad, defeated. I continued with my day.

After work, Zach wanted to go to the store, and I insisted he wait for me to finish painting my nails before we left. When it came time to leave, he said we weren’t going to our normal store, he had scheduled pickup from a slightly farther location.

What would have been a 30-minute trip had just turned into an hour-long escapade before my eyes. 

I got angry. This threw off my whole schedule, which I was sure to make very clear. I still needed to workout, shower, eat dinner, and get more work done. 

Alas, after my tantrum, we left for the store. Driving into (and out of) LA during rush hour quickly transforms a one-hour drive into a two-hour drive, but that’s nothing that a good playlist and even better company can’t fix.

We finally arrived home and things were looking up. That is, until an Instagram post reminded me that I’m too fat, too ugly, and too prude to deserve love, and what little sense of self-acceptance remained amid my week-long emotional storm quickly slipped through my fingers along with the rest of my sanity.

I did yoga, cried, and went to bed without eating dinner.

December 16.

It’s funny how you can talk to people all day, and still, one simple conversation can push you over the edge.

I mean, we do it all the time, talking to various people about various things. So what’s really the difference from one conversation to the next? And how is it that a monologue so dull, so unrelated to your own life, so outside of your concerns or control has the power to crumble your very understanding of who you perceived yourself to be only moments prior? 

On Wednesday I had a discussion that unravelled me. Then, just as Weezer said, lying on the floor, I’d come undone.

The events of the week accumulated. They formed a gang and pinned me down and –– you guessed it –– made me cry.

December 17.

My emotions controlled every second of every day this past week. And the saddest part is that I allowed it to happen.

I’ve been struggling to take responsibility for the shortcomings in my life.

Let me try again. 

I’ve been struggling to take responsibility for my decisions when they elicit shortcomings in my life. So I hand over the wheel to my emotions and let my brain sit back, get stressed, and watch as it orchestrates its own demise.

I dig myself into pits of despair. Misery loves company but my favorite company seems to always be myself. So we (my sad self and my self-aware self) sit and talk about how things don’t have to be so bad, we have a lot to be grateful for, you know. But my sad self has the cunning charm of a 6’3” man with a great beard and arms that seem sculpted by Michaelangelo himself. (Yes that description happens to apply to my boyfriend. But I can assure you that my sad self is equally as charismatic as he.) And, ultimately, my sad self drags my self-aware self down into the pits of despair with her, that shady bitch.

But a good friend told me that I am the gatekeeper of my mind, and I realized that I’ve been sacrificing boundaries in my pursuit of emotional resilience.

I’ve been so hellbent on proving that I can handle everything the world throws at me that I forgot that just because the universe threw it, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to catch it. In fact, there are plenty of things I would prefer never to catch. 

Shade. 

An attitude. 

Anything that can be classified as a disease, infection, or virus.

So why in the world would I expect myself to juggle every emotional trigger that arose this week? And how could I ever anticipate keeping this up for the rest of my life?

Emotional resilience isn’t about seeing how much garbage you can carry around until you break, it’s about recognizing that garbage is coming your way so you don’t mistake it for a good friend and invite it into your home to stink up the place.

I am the gatekeeper. I choose what comes in. I choose what goes out. And I choose if, when, and how something affects my emotions. 

Catchers don’t just go out on the field and let pitchers chuck baseballs at their chest. They arm themselves in protective gear and they catch that shit and throw it back.

In order to be a healthy (and moderately stable) adult, I need to set boundaries. I need to actively decide what I allow in and what I let go. I need to control how I react to negative emotions. And I need to let go of outdated emotional weight and set new, realistic, positive intentions for my future.

There was no crying today.

Afterword.

We all have baggage that sits in the back of our minds and holds us back from pursuing more. The good news is that our baggage may exist within us, but it doesn’t need to stick around. You can decide to tell the skeletons in your closet to scram! Get out of here! And don’t come back! (Although it’s often a much longer and more complicated process than that.)

Always remember that your life has a gate. Plenty of people, thoughts, emotions, and information come and go, but it isn’t because the gate is just open all the time. It’s because you allow them in and you decide what goes out. 

When negativity comes knocking (or mocking, taunting, reminding you of all the cringey things you’ve done in the past) remember that you don’t have to let it in. The longer it sits outside, the quieter it will become. Until one day, you don’t care who (or what) comes to the door. 

Negativity can’t come in, it’s not on the list.

With love and a newly curated guest list,

Jacklyn

Photo by Karl JK Hedin on Unsplash

Covid can’t stop us from being ‘crazy for Christmas’

In today’s episode, join Jacklyn and her first guest, Alexa, as they ponder being away from home for the holidays. Stick around to learn how to embrace Christmas (or your holiday of choice) during Covid, and to hear some wholesome sister banter.

Intro & outro song: “Christmas Wrapping” The Waitresses

Transcription:

Alexa– That’s fine, I don’t think, I think I’m probably not going to look at you.

Jacklyn– We have a whole blooper reel for this, okay

A– Exactly

J– Are you ready?

A– Yah

J– I hate it, okay

A– I can’t I’m turning you off I can’t look at you.

J– Oh thanks, okay. Hello and welcome back to another episode of all All Who Podcast. I am Jacklyn and today we have our first guest. Her name is Alexa, Alexa Walters, do you want like your full and proper name?

A– Just Alexa is fine

J– Okay. Her name is Alexa, and she is my sister. She is qualified to talk with us today because she moved away, when was that? After college.

A– Yes, I moved away in 2014, so after I finished grad school.

J– Wonderful. And that is a qualification because today we are pondering being away from home for the holidays. So, I thought this was timely because, obviously it’s Christmas but with Covid I know a lot of people either can’t go home for the holidays, or they just shouldn’t go home for the holidays. And Christmas is, like even if you aren’t religious I feel like Christmas is one of those holidays, times of year where like family just seems the most important and traditions seem more important than normal.

A– Mhmm

J– So, being away from home for any holiday but especially Christmas can just, it can be a little sad and confusing and we’re here to provide some clarity. So yeah, you are here today because you moved to Virginia. Was that, did you come home your first Christmas or were you away?

A– I think for the first Christmas… so to give a little bit of background, I moved away to become a teacher. At that time in New York State there were very few teaching jobs so I moved with my fiance at the time, we moved down to Virginia. And, you know, being a teacher, we had a lot of time off for the holidays. So the first few years we were able to come home, but then it was splitting holidays with my family and with his family. So that kind of puts a whole ‘nother spin on it. But I do believe the first year that I moved I did come home for Christmas. So that was still, that was nice.

J– Well, and you’re also, like we’ve talked about this a little bit because of my Thanksgiving which was like my first real holiday away, like you’re still driving distance. So if you ever need to, you eventually can get to New York on your own.

A– Right, exactly.

J– Whereas, well like obviously I can drive. I can. I’m never going to ever.

A– Once was enough?

J– Whell I didn’t even drive that so I can’t even take credit. But yeah, once was more than enough of driving for me. So, and I know that there’s a lot of people too like, even if you can drive into New York, like New York is bad right now. I mean everywhere is bad right now. But yeah, let’s get to today’s proposition, then we can talk some more about all of this.

So, I’m new to this whole being away from home nonsense. But I propose that this is an opportunity to make your own traditions instead of just being sad that you can’t maintain traditions the same way this year. So yeah thanksgiving for me was my first time like being properly away from home for the holidays. I’m trying to think, like I think I’ve missed Thanksgiving for work before like if I had to like work retail, or whatever, on Thanksgiving or on Black Friday. But this year was like the first time that I was away from home not because I was making money. Which it was weird because like when I was working, it was kind of just like a justification.

A– Mhmm

J– Like Thanksgiving didn’t really happen because I was working, I had to make money, like, that’s just the way of the world. But this year, and especially because Zach and I hate Thanksgiving, like he is not a holiday guy, I just don’t like Thanksgiving. You can listen to my last podcast to hear about that. But that’s what we did, you know like we made our own traditions. I absolutely did not cook a turkey and we didn’t eat stuffing. We actually only ate pie and I think Chick-fil-a. I think that was our Thanksgiving.

A– That’s perfect. That’s all you need really.

J– Right. Exactly. And we watched the Thanksgiving episode of Gossip Girl, and drove through Bel Air, and it was the best Thanksgiving that either of us have ever had.

A– Awe

J– Because like we weren’t tied to those obligations. As bad as it sounds, like your family is not an obligations, but like…

A– No, but that’s I like, I like that word for thinking about… because if we’re thinking about holiday traditions, I do think that a lot of us keep to those traditions out of obligation, not necessarily because that’s what we want to be doing. So I like that you used that word.

J– Well, do you agree? Disagree? How has this like making your own traditions applied to your life, whether you were in Virginia by yourself, or with your fiance’s family, or like anything like that?

A– It’s definitely. So, I guess I want to break this up into a couple different parts.

J– Okay

A– Being with a partner and having to split holidays is its own thing because you’re very used to whatever your family does. And when you are with someone else, they have the same thing with their family. So it’s just an adjustment and it’s making sure that you are, you know, respecting and honoring their traditions while still potentially mourning missing out on your family traditions. So that’s one thing.

But I actually, I stopped teaching, and last year was the first year that I was working in a new job that I didn’t have an extensive amount of time off for Christmas. And that, it was hard because I knew that I wouldn’t be spending the holidays with any family at all, whether mine or, you know, my partner’s. And it’s exactly what you said, it’s a matter of coming up with a new way to celebrate. Because, you know, if for you that means staying in your house and just enjoying your own company, then that’s fine too. For me, I have a big loud family and I knew that I was going to miss that. So it was just making preparations ahead of time, ‘Okay how am I going to face this day? What am I going to do so that I’m not just thinking about what I’m missing out on?’ And luckily down here I do have really good friends so I went over to one of my friend’s parents’ houses and they had a whole big Christmas Eve family thing so it felt very homey to me, it felt very familiar. But yeah, it is, it’s just a matter of what’s going to work for you if you are in a position, for whatever reason, that you are not able to be with your family or follow your, you know, your traditions that you have had in the past.

J– For sure. And, like you said… well, I guess I have a related but unrelated question. So around Thanksgiving I was just very much like, ‘We aren’t going to do anything, we aren’t going to do anything.’ And ultimately like we didn’t really do anything. And it was just kind of that sentiment of like, I made this fucking pie and we’re gonna eat this fucking pie and we’re gonna go see nice things and like do something together, you know. But, not to throw Zach under the bus while he’s not here to defend himself, but he was kind of, because he’s just not a holiday guy in general, he was very resistant to the idea of setting our own tradition. So I guess my question is, do you think that it’s important to celebrate even if you don’t feel like celebrating? Or do you think that kind of, if you’re away from home and you don’t like celebrating then just don’t? You know what I mean?

A– Yeah, absolutely. I think, I mean it’s a cop out answer but I think that it’s important for you to do what feels right for you. For me, I geek out over Christmas. Like I’ve had my Christmas tree up since before Thanksgiving this year because time means nothing this year. But for me growing up like it just, it always was a big deal. And I don’t care at all about Christmas Day, because that just wasn’t something that, you know, my family ever made a big thing about. So for me it’s the whole season. It’s the lights and the music and the movies and the this and the, it’s just kind of the whole season. So for me, even though like now I’m by myself and I’m down here, I still make a point for myself to still do all of those things. I have been watching Christmas movies every single night, I have Chistmas music on all the time, I just was telling you a little bit ago like I have my Christmas candle burning so it smells like a Christmas tree. It just, you know, it’s, I think it’s going to be different for everyone and it’s just what feels right to you, what feels best to you. And I know for me, even though I am alone and like last year being alone, I knew that there were still things that I needed to do so that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on Christmas, even though I couldn’t honor Christmas in the way that I would have had I been with my family.

J– Right. And that’s something that I wanted to get into too, was the difference between being just away from home and away from what you’re used to, and actually being alone. Because I know that there are a lot of people who are quarantined alone, or if they’re not, like I was originally planning on going home for Christmas so Zach was going to be here by himself. And I think, well I mean, being alone for me is like a recipe for disaster. So, I like can’t even imagine. But then on the flip side of that, for some people being away from home for the holidays or being alone would be a dream. Like, I had no doubt in my mind that Zach would be happy and fine by himself on Christmas down here, you know.

A– Mhmm

J– But also for me, like now that I’m staying here too, I’m going to be away from home but I’m not going to be alone.

A– Exactly. Exactly. And that, so the past two Thanksgivings, so not this Thanksgiving but the two prior, I was alone. I was completely, my partner that I was with at the time had gone to be with his family and I had to work or whatever the situation was. And that, I think that I’m very similar to you in that way. It was a nightmare. I literally just sat in my house and it didn’t even feel like a holiday and that’s the way that I needed to look at it I was like, ‘Oh I’m not missing out on a holiday. This is just any other day that I happen to be in my house alone.’ But then for Christmas last year I kind of felt both. So I was with my friend Kyle’s parents at their house, and it was so wonderful and I was so happy to be there. But then there came a point in the night that I got so emotional and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s time for me to leave.’ I just need to go and like be by myself and think about my own, I don’t know, experience with Christmas sounds weird but that’s kind of what it was.

So it’s, I can completely relate to people that want either. Like I wanted, I knew that I didn’t want to be alone, but then there came a point where I needed to be alone. So I was able to do both. But it’s exactly what you said like, there are people that are very overwhelmed by being with their families and prefer not to be with their families, and that’s fine. It really is just a matter of what’s going to work best for you. But I do think that there are so many more people this year that will be alone or won’t be able to be with the people that they would normally be with. So to those of you, I just say, you know, think about what is going to mark the day best for you. Do you want to just treat it like it’s a regular day? And that’s fine. Or if not, if you still want to make it special, just you know, Zoom, everybody Zooms now. Just do whatever you need to to make it special. For me it’s decorating and eating all the Christmas cookies and doing everything that I can to make it feel home until I’m actually able to get home this year.

J– Yah exactly. Well, that’s another thing that I guess we probably should have disclosed is you are going home.

A– Yes, I am.

J– You actually will be home.

A– Right, exactly.

J– Which entirely disqualifies you from being part of this podcast.

A– For this year.

J– For this year.

A– Right. And that’s the thing that that Covid has blessed me with, I am able to work from home. So even though I don’t have time off around Christmas this year, I am able to still work at my family’s homes so I’ll be able to be with them for the first time in, I believe, three years. So I am very excited.

J– Yeah. It is definitely, I have a lot of petty things that came into my mind throughout the course of you speaking just now.

A– Mhmm, mhmm.

J– And, um, for the sake of personal drama I think that I’ll leave them until after we’re done here.

A– Save it for your therapist, it’s fine.

J– You’re right, I literally have a call with her in an hour. So it’s good, it’s good that we’re doing this back to back. But yeah, kind of related to all of those things and talking to my therapist, I think that for the people who, like me, who aren’t going to be home for the holidays and are kind of fucked up about it. I also have been thinking a lot about my seasonal depression, and I am so, I mean I can’t talk because I’m sitting in California and it’s 80 degrees today and I wish I was dead. But just thinking back and like every time Christmas comes around, there’s always like this, like, it’s like I put on rose colored glasses and don’t take them off until December 26. And everything is perfect and everyone is happy and the Christmas spirit is going to change every narcissist I know into an angel donor or something. And like, I think that that perspective about Christmas and like the holiday season, well I mean first of all, it stems from being raised in the situation that I was raised in. Because Christmas was nuts. Like always. Like my mom can be quoted, I’m going to probably have it put on her tombstone. She said, ‘I’m not crazy I’m crazy for Christmas.’ And that…

A– I just love it so much. I love it.

J– I can’t get over it. And like, sometimes, I mean yes like that was always great for me as a kid. And it, I don’t know, kind of inspires you to get into the Christmas spirit more.

A– 100%

J– But also going home for Christmas as a college student with seasonal depression, sometimes that just makes your mental health worse. Like being in someone else’s house, it’s out of your element, and sometimes your family sucks. Well, a lot of the time family sucks, I feel. I’m very fortunate that my family just drives me crazy sometimes. But a lot of people are in situations where being around family is actually like devastating to mental health, and just general well-being. So I think that this year also is kind of an opportunity to embrace, whatever you have going on and just kind of think like, ‘Whew. Thank God I don’t have to bring my baggage back to my family.’ You know. And like you said about sharing Christmas with your partner’s families. I’ve never ever had a Christmas with Zach, we have never spent Christmas together in, what is it now, four years. Because we both just have so much family going on that there’s no way that we could split it. Because it’s like ‘Who goes to whose mom’s and whose dad’s? And what about all of our step families? And what about this, and what about that? And well my family starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 5 and then I have to go to my dad’s at 7.’ And it’s just been a mess. So, being stuck here this year is just going to give me a whole new opportunity to see my actual boyfriend on Christmas.

And I’ve also decided that I’m going to, well, yeah. I guess now we can slide into how you perform all of this. Because I’ve decided that I’m going to make Zach do all of the Thanks- Thanksgiving oh my God, all of the Christmas traditions for me. So I’m used to waking up at an ungodly hour to cinnamon buns and French toast casserole and sausage and gravy, and all of that nonsense. So I’m just going to make Zach do it for me. Which is not fair to him. But like…

A– I mean he’s an angel and he’ll do it.

J– Exactly. He is an angel and he will do it. So like, and I know that I’m not gonna walk downstairs to a living room full of more presents than anyone has any business ever receiving. But just having that simple like waking up and doing cinnamon buns and watching “Elf” and those little things, I think, is how I’m going to try to perform all of this this year. But I mean obviously there’s no one way to do this. Everyone, Christmas especially, well and the holidays like there’s so much going on. But it’s so individual and like so personalized to everything from… I don’t even know, like what hour you wake up to what food you eat to who you see first and then what you do and, and how you feel about it. I think that I often just kind of assume that everybody loves Christmas because I love Christmas. And I think that when it comes to finding your own traditions if you’re unable to go home for the holidays, it just, it depends on what you like and what you don’t like and what you’re able to do. If you’re by yourself obviously you can’t sit around with family and open presents because you’re going to be by yourself. But like for Thanksgiving I FaceTimed my family and made pie, the pie that Brian used to make but then got too lazy to make so I just did it for myself this year.

A– I think that this is a really good year if you’re not able to go home, if you’re not able to do what you traditionally do, this is a perfect opportunity to take a minute, be introspective, and figure out what it is about Christmas or about this season that gives you good feelings if you have good feelings. You know it’s exactly what you said, some people don’t like this season and that’s fine you know just keep pushing. We’re almost to 2021, we can do it. But if you are someone who does enjoy Christmas, does enjoy the season, just take a minute to sit with yourself and think about what it is that gives you those good feelings, and how you can translate what you have done in the past to this year still get those feelings. And I talked about it earlier, for me, it’s having my tree… I mean really, it’s the tree, the tree does everything for me. I don’t know, it’s just nice to sit and look at the lights and watch my movies and do whatever. But it’s, just take a minute, you know. I think that no matter what, this Christmas is going to look so different. Even if you are with family it’s not going to be the same, hopefully. And if it is the same, take a look at yourself and figure out what you’re doing because we’re in a global pandemic people like, let’s relax. But, yeah, you know, just just figure out exactly what it is that makes you feel good and how you can do that this year, too.

J– Exactly. And I love that you bring up introspection because that’s literally like what we’re about here. ‘Cause yeah maybe you don’t even, it’s something that I didn’t even think about, but maybe you don’t even know how you really feel like about the holiday season. Maybe you’ve spent so long having like the same ideals shoved down your throat that you don’t even know what is up from down and whether you prefer fake trees or real trees, which is also something I would like to get into.

A– We’ve talked about it, the conversation has been had. Artificial trees are the way to go if you have small animals and you don’t want to mess. That’s it. That’s all it is.

J– But anyway. But no like for sure, just sitting down and actually thinking about, ‘What are the things that I actually care to do?’ That’s what we did with Thanksgiving. I like pie and I wanted that pie so I made that pie. Whereas for Christmas, I would love to have a whole Christmas tree. Last year, we set up a Christmas tree, oh my God and we fought. And we fought and fought and fought about this stupid tree. And then Zach asked if we were getting a tree this year and I said ‘Why so you can fight me the whole time?’ And that’s where we stand.

A– And that’s fine. You know, you are learning from your experiences and figuring out what works moving forward. That’s all.

J– Exactly. And we don’t have plans for Christmas yet. Like we don’t do gifts, Zach and I, so it’s probably gonna be a lot of sitting around and looking at each other. But also I know that I’ll have to carve out time for FaceTiming family and things like that. But I’m honestly not even worried about making a Christmas plan because, Thanksgiving we just decided what we wanted to do as the day went along, and it was one of the best days that we’ve had here since moving. And it was, it was about figuring out new things about ourselves. Like we both thought that we hated Thanksgiving and now we can look back at that day and be like, ‘Oh, we did what we wanted it and we liked it? What a concept.’

A– Exactly.

J– Yeah, I have high hopes for Christmas, and I hope that it goes similarly. I don’t know. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add? Do you think that we left them with enough knowledge for Christmas?

A– I think so. And I just, you know, if you’re sad or if you’re feeling emotional because the holidays do look and feel different this year, just try to remember, you’re not alone. We are literally and truly all in this Hellfire together. And everybody’s just figuring it out day by day. But I hope that you do have someone that you’re able to reach out to. And if you don’t, then reach out to Keeks, reach out to me, and, you know, we’ll talk you through it.

J– I don’t think anyone on here is going to know who Keeks is. That’s me, kids.

A– Okay well Keeks is Jacklyn and that’s what I call her. So that’s that.

J– So yeah, that’s it kids. I hope that you learned something. I hope that you actually do that, too. Like I hope that you really do take a few minutes to sit down and really evaluate how you’re feeling about Christmas. Maybe, if you’re anything like me, you have a knack for repression. And maybe you haven’t even thought about it yet, but it’s it’s the middle of December, and better to think now think now, than be sad that you didn’t do anything for Christmas later. So, I will leave you today with love and a little bit of Christmas spirit. Bye kids!

*The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” plays.*

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. Couldn’t miss this one this year. (Repeated until music fades out.)

Photo by Lauren Klassen on Unsplash

It’s a rich man’s world

Money. Can’t find a man with it, can’t live without it.

(That was a joke. If you know me, you know my man has money.)

((That was a joke, too. I’m like a baker, I make my own dough.))

But all jokes aside, today we’re talking about debt. Now I’m no expert, but I do have an impressive amount of debt at the age of 22, so I think I’m qualified enough to tell you all how to manage yours. And since every 18-30-year-old American student is shivering with

antici

pation

for Joe Biden’s proposed student debt relief program, there seems no better time to divulge my debt concerns than the present.

America is the land of the free and the home of student debt. Americans collectively owe $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, a number which bypasses credit card debt and car loans, and is Americans’ second-largest consumer debt (only falling behind mortgage loans). Not to mention the average American has over $90,000 in debt including credit cards, student loans, car loans, and mortgages. 

Of course Boomers and Gen X have much more debt individually than us Zoomers, but I don’t have a ton of credit card debt, I don’t own a car, and I’ve never bought a house. Still, here I sit with $50,000 of debt that I’m expected to pay off over the next 10 years for an education that would have been more comprehensive if I went to clown college.

Meanwhile, I know plenty of 20-something-year-olds who have seven maxed-out credit cards and still apply for more every time they go into a new department store. And it isn’t because of elitism or impulsivity. Shit, it isn’t even because we all want lip injections and pay $150 for eyelash extensions every month.

Everyone is in debt because not a single person tried to teach us about money management when it mattered.

Think about it: Who taught you about money? Who taught you how to spend your money? Who taught you how to balance a checkbook (which literally no one does anymore but that’s beside the point)? Who sat you down and taught you how to save your money and plan for the future?

Chances are, you probably learned these skills on your own by observing your family’s behaviors. Or maybe you didn’t learn these skills at all, per se, but rather just adopted the same behaviors as your elders.

Some would say it’s a parent’s job to teach kids about money management. You learn how to cook and clean and behave because of your parents, so it must be their job to teach you about money.

But I don’t think that’s fair. 

Many parents don’t have the time to teach money management because they’re out working and living paycheck to paycheck to provide for their families. Others may have the time, but most don’t have the expertise –– or spending habits –– to responsibly teach their kids how to save and invest and minimize their debt.

But I have plenty of time and not very much expertise but a lot of research convinced me that I have the knowledge to teach y’all about finances. Plus I’m only going to talk about student loan debt and credit card debt because, let’s be honest, I’m already in completely over my head here and those are the two monthly payments I currently make. So let’s get into it!

First, student loan debt. 

A quick Google search asking “how to minimize student debt” will remind you that your 17-year-old self didn’t do enough to save money or choose a cheap enough college. And, yes, you certainly should have a savings and a plan for the ridiculous expense that a college education has become. But at 17 I had no idea what $40,000 meant, and it’s a little late to turn back time. What’s important is that we learn how to responsibly pay off our debt now that we have it.

Now is also a great time for me to deliver some bad news. Joe Biden is not going to relieve you of all of your student loan debt. 

Biden’s current plan, the Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School, is as follows:

  • Two-year colleges
    • Provide free two-year community college or equivalent trade school program for “hard-working individuals”
    • Issue grants to two-year colleges to help increase retention and completion rates
    • Allow student to use grants and financial aid to pay for living expenses outside of their degree program (although somebody might want to let Joe know that we’ve been out here doing this)
    • Implement financial incentives for student support programs, specifically regarding veterans, students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income and single-parent students
    • Initiate a grant program to help community colleges establish emergency funds for students in need
    • Invest $50 billion in training programs
    • Invest $8 billion to improve community colleges’ facilities and technology
  • Four-year colleges
    • Provide free education for families making less than $125,000 annually
    • Double the value of Pell grants
    • Alter loan payment programs (this is where we start paying attention y’all)
      • Those making $25,000 or less per year are not required to make student loan payments (the debt is still there, but you pay when you make enough, not six months after graduation)
      • Those making more than $25,000 per year will pay 5% of their income (minus housing and food costs) each year for 20 years
        • Those who make “responsible payments” will have any remaining student loan debt forgiven after the 20-year mark
      • Everyone with new and existing loans will be automatically enrolled in the loan forgiveness program (but you can opt out!) 
      • Change tax code so forgiven debt isn’t taxed
    • Change loan forgiveness program for public servants
      • Relieve $10,000 of student debt per year of national or community service up to five years
      • Automatically enroll government, education, and non-profit employees in the program, including those with five years of previous public service
    • Initiate a grant program for student support programs, specifically regarding veterans, students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income and single-parent students, and establish emergency funds for students in need
    • Allow individuals to claim bankruptcy on private student loans
    • Specific and additional investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges And Universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American And Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), Alaska Native-serving Institutions and Native Hawaiian-serving Institutions (ANNHs), and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), and Native American-serving Nontribal Institutions (NASNTIs) 

So, that’s a lot (and I glossed over many of the plan’s less-related points). And you’re probably wondering where the “total loan forgiveness” part is. I’ll tell ya where it’s located, right in your imagination that’s where.

Biden has urged Congress to forgive $10,000 of federal student loan debt for every individual in light of the pandemic, but that’s more of a one-time pandemic assistance program than a total student loan forgiveness program.

Essentially this means that Biden (currently) has absolutely no intention of forgiving $50,000 of student loan debt. 

But even if Congress passes this $10,000 relief program, or if Biden attempts to forgive $50,000 via executive order (which, again, don’t count on it), getting rid of your loans won’t solve all of your problems, even if it reeeeally feels like it will. 

That’s because if you’re anything like me, your student loan payments are a pain and they take resources away from living expenses, sure. But student loan debt probably isn’t the only damper on your finances, and even if it is, you’re going to have more debt in the future. 

Debt isn’t bad; we need it to build credit and to buy expensive things like homes and cars. What’s bad is our saving habits and, likely even worse, our spending habits.

So back to your current student loans. How do you pay them off and how do you avoid paying them off for the rest of your life if this 20-year Biden forgiveness plan doesn’t work out?

The first, and most obvious, step is by making your monthly minimum payments. There are plenty of programs to help lower your payments and implement more affordable repayment strategies, but you do eventually have to pay back your debt because you can’t claim bankruptcy on student loans (at least for now).

But be strategic. Right now, federal loans are in a forbearance period until the end of the year, which means you aren’t required to make payments on your federal loans. Still, these loans also currently have a 0% interest rate, so if you can pay off a little bit now, it’s going to save you on the exponential interest your loans will resume accumulating come January. 

You can, and probably should, also refinance your loans. I don’t completely understand the refinancing process, but refinancing my private loans (which I haven’t done yet, but plan to do soon) can help me lower my interest rates by over 4%. That might not seem like a lot until you remember that student loans are in the tens of thousands of dollars and 7.5% interest on a $10,000 loan is going to add up very, very quickly. 

Personally, I’m choosing not to refinance my federal loans at the moment for a few reasons. There’s no better interest rate than a 0% interest rate, and I’m riding the wave of forbearance baby. But refinancing my federal loans would make them private, and the federal government can’t forgive private loans (at least for now). This might change depending on a multitude of factors, but that’s where I’m at right now.

Bottom line for student loans: take what you need (the more federal loans and fewer private loans the better), make monthly payments (during school if you can), refinance if and when it makes sense for you. And Gretchen, stop waiting for total loan forgiveness to happen, it’s not going to happen.

Now for everyone’s favorite type of debt, or at least mine. Credit card debt.

I love the concept of opening my wallet and seeing 75 credit cards and knowing that 74 of them are completely maxed out. But I also love the concept of eating only mac and cheese every day for every meal for the rest of my life. And honestly, I think the latter would probably be better for my health.

I opened my first credit card the first second I could at the only place I knew how: Pink.

And I swiped that sparkly pink card left and right. 

You need yoga pants? Got ‘em. Sports bras? Throw ‘em in the cart. 30 pairs of cheap underwear because they’re $10 for $35? Already done. Oh, you saw a matching velour set on the way out? Better turn around and buy it! 

The first month that I was in college I dropped over $1,000 at the mall in just one week and I couldn’t honestly tell you that I still own a single thing I purchased.

I still have my VS Pink card, but I also have a proper Discover card. I make my monthly payments and keep my spending under 10% of my total credit limit. Now I can gladly say that I have phenomenal credit, mostly due to my phenomenal amount of debt, but also partially due to my phenomenal ability to spend money in at least some of the right places (like on my credit card bill). 

But understanding that I should keep my VS Pink credit line open even though I will never use it the way I did in 2016 helped me boost my credit, rather than hurting it by closing the credit card just because I don’t really use it as much anymore.

Having multiple credit cards can seriously help boost your credit score, but only if you’re using them right. 

The best way to use –– and pay back –– a credit card is to buy only what you need and what you can afford to pay back, and to make payments on time and in full.

I know it seems like you need that $1,300 Gucci bag, and in the grand scheme of life $1,300 isn’t really that much money. But if you can barely afford to make your $35 monthly payment, then that $1,300 is going to start gaining interest (just like those student loans!) pretty quickly. Then $1,300 turns into $2,000 turns into $3,000 and you’re swimming in credit card debt for a purse you can’t even use during winter.

Having multiple, mostly unused, lines of credit shows potential lenders (like mortgage lenders or car dealerships) that you are a responsible borrower. As long as you make payments on time and you pay off your full credit line when you can, your credit score and future self will thank you for all of the new credit opportunities you’ve created.

Bottom line for credit cards: have a few designated for different purposes (like groceries and gas), pay them off completely when you can, always make payments on time, keep your credit utilization (how close your spending gets to your limit) low (ideally less than 30%).

We’re going to finish our time together today discussing two basically foreign concepts to me and those are saving and investing.

I have such little money that saving it seems impossible, and investing it seems impulsive. But the reality is that saving is very possible (in my current financial situation) and investing is one of the best things you can do for your future self. 

Now I’m not telling you to go buy $5,000 in Tesla stocks, that’s unrealistic and overall irresponsible. But once you can confidently stand on your own two feet and providing for yourself isn’t a regular concern, you should absolutely start saving and investing.

When it comes to saving, I would rather starve to death than put money away instead of spending it. But savings are there to help you in times of need, like during a global pandemic when everyone is losing their jobs and the government isn’t doing all that much to help them, for instance. Savings can also help you prepare for large expenses so you don’t have to rely on your credit card for that $1,300 Gucci bag we talked about earlier.

The most important part of saving is understanding your budget. I have a spreadsheet for my finances that lists all of my income, expenses, savings, and my monetary goals (because I’ve apparently become a 98-year-old fiduciary for myself). But regardless of whether or not you spread out your finances into a beautiful visualization, saving your money starts with understanding how you spend your money. 

As an avid spender, I try to be very realistic about the amount of money that leaves my checking account each month. I know I’m going to get Starbucks a few times each week and splurge on clothes every so often. But recognizing my unhealthy spending habits helps me cut back on them while still allowing myself to indulge in a latte once in a while.

Bottom line for savings: know your budget, understand your expenses, cut down on excessive spending. Your savings is intended for short-term purchases (within roughly five years) and emergencies (to cover living expenses up to six months if necessary). Keep saving until you’re there.

Now I absolutely do not have six months worth of rent and groceries and living expenses saved up but I’ve decided to start investing regardless. I’m not planning on day trading or waking up before the sun to check where the stock market stands, but investing is a long term, well, investment. 

There are plenty of places to invest your money, whether it’s the stock market or real estate or whatever weird scammy start-up your brother is working on this month. If you can put in money and grow your returns, call it an investment and reap the benefits of exponential growth opportunities. The most important thing to remember is to diversify your funds, which is really just a fancy way of saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I’m not going to leave you with an in-depth analysis of how to invest or where to invest or how much to invest. (I know my limits.) But there are plenty of Youtube tutorials and tools you can use to invest on your own, and you don’t have to start out with a huge investment. 

What I will do is leave you with a simple insight in the form of a simile.

Investing in stocks, bonds, real estate, start-ups –– pick your poison –– is like planting your money in its own little garden. Some seasons will have great turnouts, some will bring drought, but at the end of the day you’re increasing the amount of plants you can harvest for years to come. And the better the season, the more you can replant and expect to bloom the next year.

Bottom line for investing: start young, educate yourself, invest what you can without being frivolous, use a robo-advisor if you want to invest in stocks but don’t know how, diversify your portfolio. And be patient; understand that there will be losses but gains come in the long run.

Whew. (And by “whew” I mean “holy shitballs.”) That’s a spicy amount of information. 

If you read it all, thank you and god bless. 

If you’ve scrolled to the bottom for a quick summary, check the pink bolded sections for the tl;dr.

I’m out here talking out of my ass like I know something, but don’t get me wrong, I still hate finances. I hate being responsible and I hate that Joe Biden isn’t going to come flying into my apartment on a unicorn and wave a magic wand to rid me of my student loan debt. But this is the world we live in, and I think facing our financial responsibilities can help us take control of our money and not have to live in fear of financial crisis (even when our finances are, in fact, in crisis). 

With love and definitely not enough knowledge to have written this blog,

Jacklyn

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Gratitude removes the platitude from your attitude

In today’s episode of All Who Podcast, we ponder gratitude. Stick around to hear about Jacklyn’s qualms with Thanksgiving, and why we should make gratitude a daily practice.

Links mentioned in today’s episode:

Transcript:

Hello and welcome to another episode of All Who Podcast. I’m Jacklyn, for those of you who are new here, but most of you are not new here, so let’s get into it.

As I’m sure you know by now next Thursday is Thanksgiving. And let me just put in my quick two cents about Thanksgiving. If you are going anywhere or seeing people… if you’re seeing people please be safe. Like there’s a whole pandemic going on. Don’t go to your friend’s bar crawl, and then go see your grandma, like please just be smart. *deep sigh* I digress. 

Today, we are pondering gratitude! But with a festive little focus on Thanksgiving. So, I hate Thanksgiving. I don’t like the food. I have always had so many different places to be on Thanksgiving, that it’s like, ‘Where are we eating appetizers? And where are we eating dinner? And where are we eating dessert? And are we going to end up at the right grandma’s house to eat dessert, because I want that apple pie with the crumb topping.’ And don’t @ me talking about how apple pie with crumb topping is not pie. And also, Thanksgiving to me just reflects how whitewashed American history is. Like we would really rather pretend that everyone just sat down and was thankful and had a good time, when the actual history between Native Americans and colonizers is pretty awful and very complex. I will link a New York Times piece in the post that talks more about the actual origins of Thanksgiving if you’re interested in. But again, I digress. 

So let’s talk about the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. So thankfulness –– as we are called upon to harness this upcoming week –– thankfulness is defined by our gal Merriam Webster as ‘being conscious of benefits received.’ Now Merriam Webster defines gratitude as ‘being grateful.’ So grateful is defined as ‘being appreciative of benefits received.’ So, as you can tell, they are quite similar. But thankfulness is the consciousness of good things happening, like, you know that they happened. Thankful, a good thing happened, and I’m thankful. Whereas gratitude is the appreciation of the good things that are happening. It’s like a deeper, more meaningful understanding. And to me, gratitude is about the big things, and the little things, and seeing the good in the bad. Gratitude, to me, is very much a daily practice. 

Which brings us into today’s proposition, which is that we should be grateful every day, not just on Thanksgiving. And I’m certain that you are gagging because that was literally the corniest thing, but there’s science so just stick with me. And let’s back up really quick. I’m, I was very much inspired to do this episode because of a podcast called The Happiness Lab (season 1 episode 12) all about gratitude. So the episode kind of talks about willpower and giving into things that we know we shouldn’t, like spending money or skipping a workout, and just kind of really focusing on the ways that we sabotage our future selves for instant gratification. And at the beginning of the podcast I was like, ‘Well, how does gratitude have anything to do with willpower?’ And we aren’t really going to talk about willpower today. But what does gratitude have to do with achieving goals and being happier in the long term? So let’s talk a little bit about them. 

In the podcast, there’s a psychology professor from Northeastern, David DeSteno, who conducted research and asked participants, ‘Would you rather have $10 now, or $30 in three weeks?’ and they honored whichever they chose. So if a participant said ‘I want $10 now,’ they gave them $10 now. If they said ‘I want $30 in three weeks,’ they sent them a check. Most people chose to get less money now than more money later. And that, at face value that does not make sense. If I can have $10 now or $30 in three weeks, like three weeks is not that long of a time. I can just wait for the $30. But still, people would rather go for instant gratification. And if I have $10 in my pocket now I can go get myself two coffees and have a great day. 

But when people were made to feel grateful, and then asked if they would rather have $10 now or $30 in three weeks, they were more likely to value the future reward. They were more likely to choose the $30 in three weeks. DeSteno’s research also shows that gratitude increases productivity, it increases your investment in your work, it improves your physical health and your mental health when practiced in the long term. And I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Well who the hell is this DeSteno guy anyway?’ But Harvard Health Publishing states that ‘gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.’ And if you aren’t a fan of Harvard, for whatever reason, a research study at Berkeley split students who were seeking mental health counseling into three different groups. One group wrote letters of gratitude. One group journaled about their negative emotions. And one group just did nothing, they were the control group. And the study found that those who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health at their 4-week and 12-week check-ins after their writing exercise ended. 

So let’s unpack this a little bit. As someone who has sought out counseling services, and as someone who has avoided seeking out counseling services, usually… not usually… it is often the case that you seek out mental health services when you are at your absolute lowest. You feel like you cannot cope on your own and you need to change something quickly because it’s not looking good. So, to know that out of a whole group of people who were all seeking mental health services, the one group who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health 4 weeks and 12 weeks after they stopped writing the letters of gratitude, like that alone had me kind of stop and think like, ‘Whoa, this whole gratitude thing might actually be beneficial in the long term.’ But did I start being grateful? Absolutely not. 

So, let’s get back, super quickly to my issue with Thanksgiving, too. Like if gratitude is so great, what’s the problem with Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a one-day celebration of thankfulness. And that is a bunch of bullshit. So first of all, Thanksgiving is about being thankful, not grateful. It’s literally in the name. If Thanksgiving was about gratefulness, it would be called Greatsgiving, it is not, it is called Thanksgiving. It is a very short term thing. It’s a momentary reflection, not even a reflection, it’s just kind of a moment of sitting down with your family and saying that you’re thankful for something so that you can eat. And most of the time, all you’re really thankful for is that you get to go home soon and not have to do this again for another year. 

So this brings us into how we perform gratitude. I have never been a grateful person, just to be brutally honest. I have always very much preferred to focus on the negative because it’s funny and people relate to it and it usually means that I can yell about something which is always a great day. And I’ve always just kind of been very entitled. I almost always get what I want. I’m very privileged and I’ve always had a really strong support system backing me up that allowed me to talk shit without putting in the work of appreciating it, I guess. So I started really focusing on gratitude after I started therapy. And I promise you that this whole podcast is not going to be ‘Jacklyn’s Therapy Journey,’ but I am feeling awfully enlightened lately, and you came to this podcast to listen to me. So, yeah, that’s, that’s where we’re gonna leave that. 

But, performing gratitude comes in two parts: reflection and expression. So you know we are all about reflection here at All Who Ponder and Podcast, and this is really where gratitude started for me. It was about journaling and thinking about what I’m grateful for. So I actually am sitting next to my grateful journal, which is a product that I can link in the post as well. And when I first got the journal I sat down and there’s a bunch of little prompts in the beginning of like, who are the people that you’re thankful for and why? And what are the things you’re thankful for? And draw the things you’re thankful for and all of that nonsense. And when I started, I had… not a hard time, but I kind of struggled to really think about the things and the people in my life that I was grateful for. But then once I started, it became very emotional very quickly. Like I started writing down the people who were important to me and why they were important to me and I kind of started to realize that, like, they wouldn’t know it. I have so many great people in my life who inspire me, and who make me feel safe, and who really know who I am at my core without judgment. And writing down… even just like writing their name –– I’m getting emotional as we speak –– even just writing down their names in the journal and like writing down all of the things that they’ve done for me, it really made me realize that I have taken so many people for granted and so many experiences for granted. And it’s, it was kind of hard for me. I mean all of therapy is hard, it’s supposed to like dig up all of the garbage. But I think I just always thought of myself as someone who was grateful and never really realized just how ungrateful I really was. 

And now that I’m past the beginning of the grateful journal, every day I come to it, and I write down three things that I’m grateful for. So it’s really, it’s personal, I keep it to myself, I don’t tell anyone the things that I write down every day. But when you think about all of the things that you’re grateful for, you become grateful for even more things. So like I, well like I just said, I sat down and I wrote that I’m grateful for my boyfriend. And that I’m grateful that I can see him or I cannot see him and I know that he’s still gonna feel the same about me. And then I started thinking about the time that I spent away from him when I studied abroad. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t think I ever actually sat down and processed the fact that I studied abroad and that is an amazing experience that I never even second guessed having the opportunity for.’ So that’s the first part of performing gratitude. 

The second part is expressing gratitude and this is why I was so. … The expressing gratitude part is what really hit me when I was reflecting. Like, the people in my life don’t know how important they are to me, they don’t. And how could they? Like I’ve never said like, ‘Hey, I really appreciate you.’ And just like it’s never occurred to me to tell the people in my life that they’re important because I just kind of always assumed that they knew. But it is important, and you should tell people when you appreciate them. And when you do, people want you around more. When people see that you’re grateful for them, they’re drawn to you, and they’re drawn to you because they can tell that you’re invested. You’re invested in your life, and you’re invested in your relationship with them, and you’re just appreciative of the things in the people around you. I would never ever spend time building a relationship or a friendship or whatever, with someone if I didn’t feel like they appreciated my time, and I don’t know why anyone stuck around with me. And that’s another reason like it’s, it’s a whole thing. Like that’s another reason why I’m so grateful for the people in my life. 

But there’s also this other part of expressing gratitude, and that’s telling yourself that you appreciate… you. We take ourselves for granted, a lot of the time, but we do so much for ourselves. I just –– and this is another one that makes me emotional this whole thing is just about me and my emotions, and you’re gonna listen because… I don’t know, I don’t know why. But anyway. Ao appreciation, or self-appreciation, rather, is it’s kind of weird. Like it’s weird to think about. For me, a lot of it comes with body positivity, that’s just something that is very close to me, it’s something that I experience a lot. So, just even sitting down and being like ‘I’m grateful for my body, and I’m grateful for my brain, and I’m grateful that I have legs that carry me places, and arms that hold me up during yoga even when it’s hard.’ And understanding that not everyone has the same privileges as you. But it’s not just about privileges. And it’s not just about your body. Being appreciative of yourself is like, I appreciate that I even started therapy. I am so grateful that I have put in the consistent efforts to make myself better and to make myself happier and that’s something that I’m grateful for. So, just expressing these things kind of. … 

Gratitude is a never ending cycle. It’s a practice. And the more grateful we are, the more grateful we become. And the more we show other people gratitude, the more grateful, they will be and the more grateful they will become. And I think that’s the important part. I think that a lot of the time we get so wrapped up in just life. Like life happens, the people who are in our life have been in our lives, and they will always be there. And ‘I’ll always have my job’ or ‘I’ll always have this person’ or ‘I’ll always have those shoes that I really love, but never really think about how much I love them.’ But the reality is that nothing is forever. Like people don’t have to stick around if they don’t feel appreciated. And life changes, and you might not always have the job that provides you the security that you have, and you might not always have the house that you’re living in and you might not always be close to, physically close to the people around you. And I think that is also a big thing in my own gratitude journey is that I’m not close to those people anymore. Like I’m not close to anyone right now. I’m literally only physically close to Zach, which is wonderful. He’s a joy. But iIf I continued going on not expressing my gratitude for the people who are in my life, I could never expect them to stick around. And I could never expect someone to put in more effort than they feel that I’m putting in back. And now that I’m so far away, that is just it’s ever more evident, and it’s more difficult, and it’s more important. But it’s also so much easier. It’s so much easier for me now to understand all of the things that I took for granted in the past, and it is easier for me to be grateful for all of the things that come to me now. And whether that’s good or bad, like, bad things still happen, and gratitude for me is about trying to find the lesson in that. When bad things happen, there’s always something to learn. There’s something to come out the other side as a better, stronger, and more grateful person because of it. 

So I think that if we all just took a few moments every day to think about what we’re grateful for–– whether we tell anybody or not –– we would all be happier, less entitled people. And shouldn’t that always be the goal? Like, if you’re not trying to be happier and less entitled then, I don’t know, maybe we’re just on different life paths. Maybe that’s not what everyone is searching for. But the more grateful you are, the happier you will be. And that is something that I can tell you from my anecdotal experience, and the science. So today I am going to leave you –– you guessed it –– with love and gratitude.

Talk to y’all soon.

Photo by Dilyara Garifullina on Unsplash