Masks. Is yours comfy?

Early in the Age of Mask Mandates I noticed a puzzling thing: I had adapted MUCH more easily to wearing masks than others I knew.

Masks leaves a large percentage of my friends feeling breathless or dizzy, they give people headaches or leave them exhausted after a short time. They hurt. My friends are NOT using these problems as excuses to endanger themselves or others by going mask-free, mind you, but they do suffer major discomfort to be safe and save others.

But me? I’m not suffering. I find masks relatively comfy. This surprised and puzzled me, because as a rule, I have major problems adjusting to new physical demands. (Just ask my very, VERY patient optician.)

So why has mask-wearing been such a breeze? The answer came to me, after much pondering, while washing my face after a 3-hour mask-wearing shift at work.

I don’t mind masks because I was a competitive swimmer for six years, and I’ve spent countless hours swimming laps for exercise in the years since.

No, seriously. Here’s what I’ve learned from playing in the pool:

  1. Swim caps & goggle taught me how to endure the literal pain of straps and seals diging into my head. Anything that presses near the ears or nose, covers the sides of the head, or ties above the neck in back can lead to mysterious, horrendous headaches. You learn which precises spots on your head will tolerate intrusions by trial and error, and even then, tiny adjustments make a huge difference. I do all that without thinking.
  2. Wearing goggles also taught me how to tune out the sensation of things grinding against my cheeks and sinuses. Yes, that matters. We all have lots of nerves there. New experiences and sensations are exhausting even when they’re nice ones. Masks aren’t nice.
  3. Lap swimming taught me how to override my body’s interpretation of pressure. There’s nothing natural about putting your face into water and convincing your lungs it’s FINE, GO AHEAD AND WORK. Inhaling deeply when your senses tell you there’s resistance goes against instinct and sets off an unconscious stress response. Cloth doesn’t create that much resistance to inhaling, but it doesn’t take much to make the experience stressful. And stress = headaches, weariness, and anxiety. Me? I just…tune it out.
  4. Swimming taught me breathing discipline. Exertion in water ups the volume on that constant “not enough air getting through!” message the brain is sending. There is no way to compete without passing out from O2 deprivation unless you re-learn how to breathe in specific resistance-avoidance ways.
    Now that I’m looking for it, I catch myself breathing in through my mouth and giveing the breath a little deeper oomph than I “normally” would whenever my mask rides up against my nose. And then I exhale just that tiny bit more forcefully through the nose than I would without the mask on. Exactly as when I’m swimming.
  5. Competition taught me the importance of evaluating equipment. Comfort, looks, and performance all matter, but comfort has to be priority 1. If my cap gave me headaches, my goggles fogged, or my suit dragged, they weren’t right for ME, even if the whole Olympic swim team swore by them. Whichever one fits me best, meets the monimum specs and won’t get me disqualified.
    Same for masks. I don’t understand anyone who accepts the first mask type as the Only Type. I went through 5 styles and 3 different material combinations to find ones that I can wear all day.
    I am aware not everyone can afford that, but I think everyone should learn that they CAN find a different mask if the one they’re wearing is uncomfortable.
  6. Swimming also taught me how to accurately gauge a 6′ distance, to avoid touching my face, and to read people’s emotional state when half their features are obscured, but those skills aren’t quite as critical as the other ones.

Are masks the best thing ever? Ugh, no. I hear people better when I can see their lips move. I have a better chance of interpreting non-verbal cues correctly if I can see mouths as well as eyes and bodies. They fog my glasses. They make my face sweat. I constantly want to fidget with them.

But the kind of serious issues that make healthy people understandably unhappy about wearing them at all? Nope.

Last little point of interest: people masking up hasn’t significantly affected my ability to identify them. That isn’t a trick from swimming, though. That’s an unexpected silver lining to my faulty facial recognition software. I didn’t recognize people by faces before they wore masks!

So for me, a mask is just another head accessory, and I am thankful for that. I suspect I’ll be wearing one in public spaces for a quite some time yet. So it’s a good thing I love having the right accessories.

I am curious how all y’all are dealing with Mask Life. If you want to share which of your life experiences have helped you make your peace with wearing them, I’d love to read about it.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Until later!

gold carnival mask with red feathered headdress
This is not a protective mask, but it is pretty.

My sister reminded me about this one

Today in Klingon fables, as told by Kahless to Gowron in the STtNG episode “Rightful Heir:” 

Long ago, a storm was heading toward the city of Quin’lat. The people sought protection within the walls, all except one man who remained outside. I went to him and asked what he was doing.

“I am not afraid,” he said. “I will not hide my face behind stone and mortar. I will stand before the wind and make it respect me.”

I honored his choice and went inside. The next day, the storm came, and the man was killed.

The wind does not respect a fool. Do not stand before the wind.

Gee, why does this story feel so relevant to the experience of living in America right now? Oh, right. Willful ignorance & pure hubris.

Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Stay in your lane.

It’s windy out there. The storm is already here.

Squirrel gardening: a tale of time lost

This is a thing I’m writing while most of my brain is occupied with uncooperative idea pieces I need to weave into a different post.

It’s a story about a day earlier this spring when I had two simple activities planned. One: salvage vintage hardware from three, nasty old interior doors that were cluttering up my screen porch, so I could toss the panels into the trash. Two: plant some flower bulbs I’d purchased.

Here’s how that went. <cue Law & Order sound effects>

First I put on my headset and started my music. That part will be important later, so make a note of it. See, my endurance is about two hours, but once I get going on…well, anything… it’s easy to ignore the passage of time, data from senses not directly engaged in the task, and yes, even pain. And if I push past three hours of physical labor, I’m physically wrecked for a couple of days.

I lean on audio input as an attention filter, so my solution is a 2-hour playlist with a short catchy jingle that repeats at half-hour intervals and plays 4 times at the end to assist in breaking hyper-focus. It isn’t perfect, but it works better than an alarm I can turn off without ever noticing. If nothing else, the silence eventually nudges me back to reality.

So. Out I went, rocking my tunes, tools at the ready.

The door part went as well as I could hope. Doors were wrestled out of their winter storage corner in The Screen House, bashed with hammers, scraped with razor blades and liberated from four generations of screws by four different screwdrivers. All manner of knobs, screws, backplates, and hinges were collected into bags for unspecified future crafting project fun.

I brought in the hardware, announced victory to Spouseman (working from home) then went out the front door to check the dirt in the front yard. The clay was soft enough for digging & also a flower was blooming! I pulled out the phone & went down on one knee to immortalize the momentous occasion. Then remembered I was wearing new jeans & would get filthy dirty planting bulbs. Time to go inside & change into old clothes from the wash basket.

Outside again, retrieved shovel & gloves & digger tool from the garage, can’t find bulbs. Moment of doubt. Did I buy them or just consider doing so? (This happens.)

Wait. I have the receipt on my phone. YES. I bought bulbs.

Went to the back door so I could to go inside and find Spouseman, who might remember where I put the bulbs. Multi-tasking win, right?  I could also ask where he thinks the bulbs should go.

Except the back door was locked. And the keys were in the pocket of the jeans I took off.

I went around to the front door. Removed dirty shoes to go through the house to the office at the back. Minor win, on the way, I remembered where the bulbs were & consulted with Spouseman anyway to discuss placement.

Back on track. Outside again. Dug into the untouched flower bed against the back of the house. Hit root. Not unexpected; upon moving in, we removed three large suckering trees that had been unwisely allowed to grow RIGHT UP AGAINST THE HOUSE. The stumps are too close to the foundation to grind down, and the stump-killer didn’t actually soften things, just killed them.

So I tried a new spot. Dug in. Hit root again. Moved to a different section. Shoveled. HIT BIGGEST ROOT YET. Muttered expletives, went back to the garage in search of loppers and pruning saw to aid in the digging process.

Loppers and pruning saw are both MIA. A bunch of gardening stuff went into The Screen House in the fall. Search for loppers & saw continued in new location for some time.

You may think the whole planting plan was well off the rails at this point, but no. THIS was where everything really went over the precipice into the Chasm Of Distraction.

A LOT of Things went into the screen house in the fall. More was added when the basement had to be emptied for renovations. Here’s an incomplete list: sofa, loveseat, folding picnic table plus benches, multiple coolers, metal trash can, multiple 5 gallon buckets of gardening tools, all the yard ornaments and solar lights, three vintage wood panel interior doors in various stages of disrepair, and sundry other bits of flotsam & jetsam.

I’d braved the clutter zone earlier when I moved the doors, but that was early on, when I could still power through the Valley of Temptation by using the “Ignore All The Things, Stay On Task, Stay On Target,” mantra.

Concentration failed this time. I just HAD to move the couches. And then organize the garden tools. And put out the bird feeders. And place the bird bath. And…and…and…

Three hours later, the screen house was cleared, organized & swept, ready to enjoy, the loppers and sundry other tools had all been located and given summer housing, the gardening-related shelves in the garage were clean, and I’d found the seed packets I bought way back in January & promptly lost…along with the loppers I’d originally wanted.

But the bulbs were still in their bags. And the music was over.

(I told you the music would come up again.)

I had no business opening up those bulb packages & seeds, or spending another hour or two digging & planting. I should’ve gone inside & washed up. But I didn’t, because I really am a squirrel sometimes, and there were holes still to be dug!

Yeah. I did use the big shovel and the loppers instead of the little digger tool I usually use for planting. And yeah, I was wrecked by the time I finished, but it also started raining as I was wrapping up, which is kinda like the universe saying, “Good job, you did a right thing.” All in all, it was worth the aches & pains.

And there it is. That’s my tale.

Eventually I will write about the Black Lives Matter rally I attended yesterday. That’s what I originally sat down to write today, but it was not to be. Every sentence was gibberish. See, sometimes my thoughts and feelings are so big and so knotty I need more time and better tools to cut them into wordable forms.

What I’ll do is keep writing other little posts while my squirrel brain hunts around for its figurative loppers. But make no mistake, I never stop thinking about the important stuff.

Until later!