Notes From the Pandemic, Day 41

A couple days ago, I posted the following to Facebook. First, as a comment on a friend’s post, then again, as a post on my own page:

The fact that introverts are by nature more comfortable with social distancing does not mean we can handle social distancing indefinitely. We too enjoy being able to spend time with friends and loved ones — we just don’t recharge our batteries that way. Over time, we also start missing that level of human contact. It’s a mistake to assume that introverts aren’t feeling many of the same emotions as a result of all this.

We are all in the same boat; we just boarded it in different ways.

Because it was originally a comment to someone else’s post, some important context/additional information is needed. Sheltering at home presents new difficulties for an introvert when doing so with a family. There are four of us sheltering together: Sally, Brandon, Charlie (my step-daughter), and myself. Finding true solitary time is rather difficult under these circumstances. Furthermore, even though I’ve worked from home for 10 years, doing so with three other people in the house is very different from when you are literally alone for hours on end. Getting outside to take walks helps alleviate some of the need for alone time, but it’s not the same as truly being alone in your own home, recharging without the possibility of interruption.

However, walks are different these days as well. Before the pandemic, going out for walk and getting lost in your thoughts, an audiobook, or music was a simple thing to do. Now, one needs to be aware of the surroundings and others at all times. The outside is safer than being in a crowded place of business, but it’s still an excellent idea to keep your distance from everyone else who is out walking, running, riding their bikes. In fact, I’ve stopped using the various exer-cise trails that wind through the community because they just don’t feel safe. There are people who still aren’t being fully mindful of others, and many of those paths don’t have sufficient clearance to step off and make some distance. Furthermore, at certain times during the day, there can quite a few people on them. It’s far safer and easier to stick to the sidewalks, where you can actually step out into the street to circumvent others as needed. Still, you always need to be aware, and sometimes need to anticipate and plan a few steps ahead (pun intended) where you need to turn or take a slightly circuitous route. It’s like playing a real-life, real-time strategy game.

No, these days taking a walk is definitely not an efficient way for an introvert to recharge their batteries.

A few shorter items to close today’s post:

  • Yesterday’s post left out that I didn’t go out for my birthday bacon cheeseburger this year. While Five Guys, my preferred burger joint, is open for takeout and delivery, it’s not the same as actually eating the burger immediately, right there on the premises. In case you read yesterday’s post and are wondering why there wasn’t a burger on Sally’s and my date night, I try to avoid eating meat in her presence, out of respect for her vegetarianism, which is strict and absolute. (Unlike mine, which has a quarterly bacon cheeseburger exemption — birthday, Father’s Day, Brandon’s birthday, and the holiday season — because I just love the things too damn much.
  • My Lego Mini-Me is getting an update. Thanks to my hair growing out, the current hair piece on the minifigure really doesn’t properly represent me anymore. Lego doesn’t have a piece that’s a great match for how my hair looks now, but there are a couple parts that might be in the realm of close enough. Yesterday, I ordered them from a seller on Before and after photos will be posted.
  • According to The Washington Post, as of 7:44 AM EDT, at least 44,673 have died from the coronavirus, with 2,574 reported deaths yesterday. Amazingly, a number of GOP governors in the south and midwest have either not enacted any restrictions to slow the virus’s spread or are now relaxing any they put in place. The GOP values money over human lives. They are not pro-life. They are death cult with a fetus fetish.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 40

It’s rather unsettling to properly contemplate the long list of things that are getting postponed or canceled. Concerts, sporting events, weddings, senior proms, family gatherings, high school reunions… In the giant list of things, my 48th birthday isn’t necessarily the kind of event that should be a big deal. Yet, it was casualty of the pandemic, and canceling it was nonetheless disappointing.

When Loudoun County Public Schools abruptly shut down at 5:00 AM on March 12, Sally and I immediately knew that the birthday plans were in jeopardy. They actually weren’t anything elaborate. We were going to celebrate a few days early by grabbing dinner and drinks in downtown Winchester on the evening of March 19, spend the night at the George Washington Hotel, which is just a couple blocks away from there, and then spend the next day visiting favorite shops and restaurants in the Winchester area. It was something we have done numerous times over the years, so it wasn’t in of itself anything special. However, in addition to being my birthday celebration, it was going to be our first night out of the year, which we eagerly anticipated for weeks.

Initially, there didn’t seem to be any pressing reason to not go through with the plans. However, that quickly changed less than 12 hours after LCPS announced the school closings, when Governor Northam issued a State of Emergency. Over the following days, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths increased — both locally and nationally — and authorities enacted various additional measures to prevent its spread, we modified the plans in a manner that would still let us at least spend some away from the house. For a few days, the revised overnight getaway involved spending the evening at the hotel, ordering takeout from the nearby restaurants, and getting drinks from the hotel bar and/or bring our own alcohol to the room.

Those plans collapsed completely on St. Patrick’s Day when Northam issued a public health emergency order that barred more than 10 patrons at businesses. Although that is what ultimately necessitated canceling the hotel reservation, we had started leaning towards that decision the day before when O’Faolain’s announced that they were temporarily closing as a result of the increased danger to public health. In the end, our big getaway turned into taking Friday, March 20 and the following Tuesday (my actual birthday) off from work, and the two of us simply spending those days together. The closest we got to eating out was over the weekend, when we went to Five Guys, got a large order of fries as takeout, and then proceeded to eat them in the minivan in the parking lot.

We called that a date night.

Chances are good that many of the guidelines and restrictions currently in place will still be there when each of our next birthdays come around. With any luck, we’ll be able to properly celebrate my 50th in 2022. It will be even better if Sally and I can properly enjoy our 10th wedding anniversary at the end of 2021.

A couple other tidbits to close this post out on:

  • I actually made the decision months ago, before COVID-19 turned our lives upside, but Albert Camus’s The Plague is my classic novel for the year. I’m now about a third of the way through it.
  • Along those same lines, it feels like a rewatch of 12 Monkeys is in order. Either the movie or the television series will do nicely. There’s really no reason why it can’t be both.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 36

In my first Notes From the Pandemic post, I stated that my life hasn’t changed a whole lot since all the various social distancing recommendations, quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and non-essential business closures first started. Yet, it is actually rather difficult to go about the daily routines without always being aware that the surrounding and some of the daily routines are radically different.

Case in point: Brandon being at home with me. He has now been here for over three weeks straight. This is the longest stretch of time we’ve been under the same roof since his mother and I finally moved into new places after our separation. I’m enjoying the having him around — even if as a teenager most of his time is spent in his room playing games, doing his distance learning, and socializing online with friends. The only slight drawback is that his room is right next to my home office. Frequently, he will open his door and start excitedly talking about whatever it is he wants to share. I am working on getting him to wait until I can properly disengage from work, but it’s likely this effort will take a while.

On the plus side, Sally is home all the time as well. It’s rather nice to be walk away from the office, go up the stairs, and then spend a few minutes with her. Happily, this happens at least a few times a day.

The other most notable change in routine is my actual work schedule. During the school year, I make use of the flex time scheduling benefit in order to be able to visit Brandon one during the middle of the week. This results in two 9½-hour days, a five-hour day, and two eight-hour days. His staying here means a traditional work week — not to mention significantly less time in the car. No more weekly 80-mile round-trips or the two trips each weekend to exchange him with his mom. Actually, there’s almost no time driving at all. The gym is closed, and we’re trying to minimize our visits to the grocery store — which is just a little over a mile away — as much as possible. As someone else on Facebook put it, we’re getting three weeks (or more) to the gallon.

Having all that time back, as well as a more regular schedule, is greatly appreciated. However, there’s lots of driving that I miss. Driving to O’Faolain’s to simply unwind and have some fries with a couple pints of cider… Driving to favorite shops to simply browse… Occasionally driving to the town center at lunchtime just to grab something different to eat… Making a one-day road trip with Sally to visit the nearby places we love… These were not regular parts of the daily or weekly routine, but even though the inability to do so is not always in my thoughts, it seems to unpleasantly linger like an barely perceptible smog.

A few other thoughts before closing this out:

  • The Washington Post is reporting that a number of meat processing plants are shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. There will certainly be shortages of various meat products coming. It looks like a lot of people will start needing to be vegetarians, whether they want to or not. On a related note, it may be a good time to stock up on some of my favorite meat substitute products — especially Impossible Burger.
  • Although I need a car less than at any time since living in New York City over 20 years ago, it still needs to be properly maintained. It needs to go into for an inspection, oil change, and a small array of maintenance repairs. Normally, picking a day to drop the car off for such things requires careful planning to make sure we can survive with just one vehicle until it’s ready. Not anymore. Pretty certain that having just one car for a couple days won’t create any hardships at all this time around.
  • As of 6:29 AM EDT today, The Washington Post reports there are 33,286 confirmed deaths in this country due to COVID-19. This saddens me greatly. At the same time, it’s infuriating that we have a President who did nothing to prepare our country for this when he had the chance back January and February. If there really is a hell in the afterlife, there should be a special, uniquely tailored punishment both for him and all the sycophants who enabled this travesty of governance. The Orange Shitgoblin has blood on his hands.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 34

Some odds and ends from the past 34 days. Some of it has already been posted to Facebook, but that platform is nearly Orwellian when it comes to being able to search for and reread old posts, so the plan is to work harder to make sure anything of note gets properly placed here.

  • We have been exceedingly fortunate thus far. As mentioned in the previous Notes from the Pandemic post, I’ve been working from home for over 10 years, so my job and, more importantly, my income remains unchanged. For the time being, thanks to working for the county government, Sally has been staying home on full paid leave since this all started. So, we’re not worrying about any of our bills. In fact, once the government stimulus check clears in our bank account, our plan is to move the money to our savings account and let it be an emergency cushion should her job status change.
  • Just before the stay-at-home orders started, I was already overdue for a haircut. This was in part due to contemplating a change of look: growing the hair out longer and combing it straight back. However, the decision wasn’t made until the governor issued his order that only essential businesses were to remain open. As a result, I’m well on my way to looking like a pudgy, middle-aged version of Ash from Star Trek: Discovery. Should probably post a new picture online sometime soon.
  • Four days into all this, my favorite local restaurant, O’Faolain’s, temporarily closed. I assume that because it’s more of a traditional pub, it really wasn’t well-situated to stay open for take out and delivery only. How long can businesses like that can survive a business environment such as this? It seems almost certain that when this is over, many of our places to shop and eat will be gone forever. The mere thought is rather depressing.
  • As a stress eater, keeping the caloric intake somewhere near healthy levels over the past five weeks has been a struggle. However, the good news is that I’m doing a decent job of getting out for walks or using the treadmill on a regular basis. Even if the gym wasn’t closed by the order regarding essential businesses, going there wouldn’t be an option anyway. No matter how hard the staff would attempt to keep everything clean, it’s still essentially a germ incubator. Note to self: contact the membership support desk to see what they are doing about monthly fees during this period.
  • Seeing as I’m going to need to simultaneously live through the worst pandemic in over 100 years and a second Great Depression, there isn’t a proper adjective to describe how thankful I am to have Sally as my wife.

Still have plenty more to write down. Will try to get more of it typed out soon.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 31

For Sally and me, our world literally started to change exactly one month ago today. At around 5:00 AM in the morning, she got a text from the Loudoun County Public School system stating that schools were closing immediately. Unlike other school systems – such as Brandon’s, the Montgomery County Public School system – there was no notice a day or two in advance of the shutdown. Usually, when schools close for days at a time, it’s somehow weather related, and we parents can anticipate and prepare in advance. Although the news about the spread of COVID-19 was already becoming a little alarming, the suddenness felt like something of an overreaction.

In retrospect, it absolutely wasn’t. If anything, more schools across the country should have been making similar decisions with the same kind of speed.

For the most part, my life hasn’t changed appreciably. I’ve been working from home for over 10 years, most of my socialization has been online for much longer than that, and I’m an extreme introvert with a number of hobbies I can easily lose myself in for days. The biggest, most notable change is that Brandon has been with me for all but one week since the morning of March 14, and that he will be for the foreseeable future. As Cheryl, his mother, is a nurse, we all decided that he was better off staying with me until the time comes in which the chances of her bringing the virus home are much lower.

There’s much more I can write about, and I have every intention of doing so over the coming days and weeks. Given my track record of actually following through with other writing projects over the past decade, take that intention with the appropriate large grains of salt.

According to The Washington Post, as of 7:09 PM EDT this evening, at least 21,994 people in the United States have died since Feb. 29, when a 58-year-old man near Seattle became the first announced U.S. death.

I’m in a really foul mood at this moment.

Wanting to Party Like It Was 1999

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization.” — Agent Smith, The Matrix

The Matrix was released in 1999. Coincidentally, that was around the time I became fond of saying that particular time and place was perfect for me. Living close to a large city with plenty of bookstores, used CD shops, restaurants and many other beloved places to frequent, for the first time my job provided the necessary income and stability to lead the kind of life I wanted. The world seemed wonderfully suited to cater to my interests, needs, and desires.

Alas, the world changes, but that was expected. Some changes would be for the better, and the others… Well, I just thought that disconcerting changes would be of the predictable variety that typically make challenge people as they age. Predominantly, the kinds of technological and cultural progressions that just move too fast for us as we start advancing well into middle age and beyond. In some ways, that is exactly what happened. For example, societal changes in how we consume books, movies, and music just feel wrong, but they are not entirely unexpected. However, there are ominous, mostly unanticipated things inducing feelings of dread — to the point of causing anxiety — about the future.

Where to even begin? Global climate change, the political decline and slide of the American republic into minority rule and totalitarianism, the incessantly-growing power of global metanational conglomerates, the increasingly daunting plastic pollution problem, the largest upward redistribution of wealth in American history… it’s all just one giant backslide, and at the moment there seems to be very little hope that any of this is going to appreciably change for the better in the near future. Hell, I totally get why climate anxiety is rapidly on the rise — I might even be experiencing a touch of it myself.

In addition to all the ways in which the current state of affairs is depressing as hell, it’s nearly just depressing that this battle needs to be fought. We shouldn’t have to. As a species, we are capable of such innovation, insight, beauty, and creativity. Yet, we are also amazingly short-sighted, tribal, selfish, and capable of frightening degrees of both self-deception and deceit. Throw in the rampant misogyny, racism, and religious intolerance that seems to be getting worse, and it adds up to something far more damning than what Agent Kay said in Men in Black: “People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it.” 

There’s a good reason why I often add “misanthropic” when describing myself as a secular humanist.

I don’t want border on churlish. I want to be optimistic and believe that this world will start becoming a better place again. But, it’s daunting… and exhausting. I will continue to speak out, vote, and attempt to change what I can. I have to, knowing that Brandon will be inhabiting this world for many years after no longer will. Sadly, as it is, 2020 is nothing like any kind of future I would have imagined back in 1999. 

Even more disconcerting: at the moment, 2020 is proving Agent Smith right.

Just Write

I simply don’t write the way I used to. Facebook still sees lots of regular posting, but I’m not engaging in the kind of writing that I find rewarding. The stuff shared on Facebook conforms to the format it demands and rewards: short, easily digested bursts. It’s not the kind of writing I frequently did until… Well, around the time I started transitioning to Facebook from LiveJournal.

It’s easy to make excuses, and there are certainly plenty to choose from. However, the most enticing ones are undermined by the fact it’s been nearly 10 years since I regularly composed the kind of lengthier posts that feel awkward on Facebook. I’m not going to make them. No, I just need to start writing again, much like I just need to properly exercise and carefully choose how I eat. Disconcertingly, years of Facebook posting has considerably atrophied that mental muscle.

Alas, that’s easier said than done. A lack of time and the far too little mental fortitude are the biggest enemies right now. I know I can do something about the former, but that means making some drastic changes — ones where the benefit of writing more may not properly offset the loss of mentally disengaging frequently needed these days to maintain some sanity in a world that increasingly appears to be careening wildly and ever more quickly towards self-immolation.

However, it may also be that making writing a real priority might provide more benefit than launching a mindless game on my phone and completely blocking the outside world. Actively giving thoughts concrete form could provide a sense of stability and structure that’s missing in everyday life.

There’s only one way to find out.

I’m not going to make any promises or grand goals in regards to this. Similar declarations in the past went nowhere — as most recently evidence by last year’s quickly aborted “Song a Week” project. Hell, nearly everything in this post is a repeat of thoughts and sentiments shared in previous declarations to change and write more.

Just write, dammit.

That’s all there is to it.