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Adaptation in the Face of Crisis

I have been trying my best to limit the amount of news I take in daily. But every day there’s one new gut punch after another. I was in tears this morning before my coffee was done brewing. Like some, I am lucky to still have my job and it is one I am able to perform from home. But like I’m seeing others state, I am at home during a crisis, trying to work. It’s not the same as when I worked from home before, in the Pre-Hanks/Wilson era. That’s a term I picked up from the Staying In with Emily & Kumail podcast. It’s pretty perfect. I remember having to go into the office one more workday after the news broke about the Hanks/Wilson diagnosis. But that really did feel like a turning point in the US. Anyhow, last night I needed an escape after my workday was done. Our small two-bedroom condo is starting to smell stale. And it’s not yet warm enough to air it out. So I sat in our building’s cramped backyard, drinking alone and listening to podcasts while sitting on the glider swing I brought along when we moved in last summer. This morning brought news that the City of Minneapolis won’t open beaches, waterparks or wading pools for the summer. It makes sense. But our condo doesn’t have central air. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that it will be a mild summer.

When I came back into the house I felt like zoning out to some TV. I settled on rewatching Counterpart. J.K. Simmons is brilliant in it. So I put on the pilot and quickly remembered one of the subplots. Residents of Berlin are walking around in face masks because a deadly virus had killed hundreds of millions of people. Not so relaxing. So I played a little Animal Crossing before bed instead but my danged museum still isn’t ready yet.

This morning I listened to the latest Endless Thread episode, with Max Brooks. If you haven’t yet, watch the adorable PSA with Max Brooks and Mel Brooks. Then listen to this: Max Brooks, Preppers, And What ‘World War Z’ Can Teach Us About Coronavirus

Good stuff. It includes an interview at the end with a longtime prepper. I used to be more dismissive of those folks, I will admit. But this advice tickles my list-making heart. Do you feel unprepared or underprepared for the current crisis? Do you want to be better prepared in the future? Start by making a list. That’s what I’ve been using Evernote and Trello for, for years, as well as plain old-fashioned paper. Though the adorable 2020 planner I picked up in Portugal in January? That seems pretty useless right now.

And from author Charles Stross, a writer I’ve been enjoying for years, who posted about reality stealing his line. I would much rather read a novel about the coronavirus written by him than actually live through this current bullshit.

Lastly, the message we’re receiving from all corners boils down to inequality in health outcomes putting the entire population at greater risk. In other words: “We all do better when we all do better” (man, I miss Paul Wellstone). Yet, our greedy and power-hungry political and corporate overlords keep making all the wrong moves. And all I can do is keep watching the train wreck.

Remember hugging?

Soundtrack for Daydreams

Is it really the last day of March? The longest March I have ever known. Last March flew by. All week Facebook Memories have been reminding me how much fun my son and I were having this time last year, in the Netherlands. The only netherlands I’m visiting now? Our slightly spooky basement and storage locker. It has been a particularly strange and stressful day. And it wasn’t until this evening I realized two things: 1) our state parks pass expires today. And 2) my long-estranged mother turned 70 today. Strangely, I remember the day she turned 30. Which makes me feel old and sad. And there’s more than enough of that going around. Thankfully, I saw a pair of perfect tweets the other day that took me back to my alternative youth:

@ItsTripp
The new NIN albums that came out today are like spa music for goths. Super love it. cc: @kittenwithawhip

Kat Kinsman @kittenwithawhip
This is extremely accurate. I had no idea as an angsty, misfit goth teen in my parent’s basement listening to Pretty Hate Machine on repeat that Trent Reznor and I would somehow evolve together, but here we are. The new stuff is so, so good and needed right now.

Since then, I’ve been listening to it non-stop. Some write-ups:

It has been the perfect quarantine soundtrack. Though I have also been taking an extended island vacation. In Animal Crossing for the Switch. We broke down and bought it last weekend when the weather was non-stop gloomy with some extra snow thrown in. But yesterday the sun came out again. So I took a long walk near the local lakes. But it wasn’t nearly as relaxing as I’d hoped. Everyone else had the same idea and most people weren’t practicing proper social distancing, despite the posted signage. It was frustrating and only amped up my anxiety. Today’s walk was better. I realized that cemeteries can be a great place for social distancing and there happens to be a gorgeous one near us. Much more peaceful. I posted some photos, of course. A friend saw them and sent along this interesting article. Right up my alley. Or walkway.

Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries
From tiny plots to wide-open “rural cemeteries” and modern “memorial parks,” the evolving design of cities of the dead

I’ll definitely be returning for more leisurely strolls. I’m still trying to convince my son to leave our condo for fresh air more often.

Untitled

Fear is the Mind-Killer

Years ago I was at a Half Price Books when I stumbled on a stash of ridiculousness, on clearance. A giant pile of activity books from David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune. I bought multiple copies of each. Over the years I’ve given some away as gifts but I still have two complete sets. I’m not the only one totally baffled by this strange marketing tie-in.

Elsewhere:

We reached a point in our last week of social isolation / quarantine where my kid was SO bored, I allowed him to put the papercraft together from one of them. We have not made the Spice cookies. Yet. (I tweeted about this and it was moderately popular among my fellow nerds.)

Dune activity books
Reverend Mother's Mind Trick
The spice must flow
Paul Atreides, facedown on a giant sandworm

Fixation on Future Outcomes

It has been strange to see so many people grappling with the same mental health challenges I’ve faced my entire life. But we are all grieving on micro and macro levels these days. What I’m feeling most acutely, other than anxiety, is anticipatory grief. My son was slated to participate in a summer internship program. He was scheduled to attend a big mentoring session the other night, with practice job interviews. I was slated to be on an AIGA panel today to discuss and review portfolios with a group of young designers. And had been looking forward to that.

My son misses his job. He had been enjoying the work. And I found out too late that he was allowed to take home a cookie after every shift but never did, because he’s still a strict vegan. Hey now. Mom’s a bit more flexible these days. I would have eaten those danged cookies! But I never even got to sample one of them. A minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. And we’ve been doing plenty of baking and cooking while social distancing. Minnesota’s official “stay at home” order went into effect Friday. But it seems like every other state has another name for it. Wisconsin is calling it “safer in place” and San Francisco called it “shelter in place.” Whatever you want to call it, we’re staying home. And it’s looking like it will be for the long haul. This pandemic is getting out of control thanks to a combo of this nation’s individualism, a broken healthcare system, and a federal government that is not looking out for its citizens.

Five Distractions in the time of Covid:

We’ve made nearly every meal at home since we began social distancing. I splurged on delivery from our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, and we’ve gotten Pizza Luce and Glam Doll Donuts as well (my son’s favorites). I’ve been feeling anxious about the safety of takeout and all grocery delivery, but this article made me feel a little better.

A treat while social distancing
Pizza Luce delivery

Creatures of Habit, Revisited

Every day feels like a new reality. And this is just the wind-up. I had a particularly discouraging start to my morning. I’ve been turning to The Daily podcast from the NYT more and more as this pandemic unfolds but this edition was too much of a reality check.

Why the American Approach Is Failing
“Shelter in place” orders and the closing of businesses are a reaction to the failure to act earlier to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

So far, the United States has been losing the battle against the pandemic, with a patchwork of inconsistent measures across the country proving unequal to halting the spread of the virus. Today, we ask: What will it take to change the course of the crisis?

Honestly, I was shaken and haven’t recovered since listening to it. But only so much is in my control. I feel powerless but am trying to focus on what I can actually manage. We have been social distancing at home for a week and a half already. I ordered two new digital thermometers off ebay at a markup, I’m sure, because other sites are all sold out (we seem to have lost ours in the last move). I am still employed, for now, and have a job to perform. And, as a parent, I am trying to prepare my son as much as possible without scaring the crap out of him. We are both homebodies who thrive with a certain amount of structure and routine (the last time I used this post title was under far more adorable circumstances). We’re still trying to blend old routines with new ones, just like everyone else. I’ve been continuing with my lunch walks, but they aren’t nearly as relaxing, now that I have to veer off sidewalks and paths to avoid less conscientious pedestrians in my neighborhood. And my son is too terrified to go on walks at all. He is sticking to his same sleep schedule and mealtimes mostly, but has opted to forego lunch, in order to make our food stores stretch more. I’ve ensured him this is not necessary but he has seen his Dad adhere to this calorie restriction technique and decided to give it a try. It saddens me. But I have no doubt that life is going to be very different on the other side of this, for those who survive. Now it’s only a matter of time before we are completely engulfed by this pandemic.

A bit of blue sky and tree branches

Melt and Surrender

So much has changed in just one week. On a personal level, our household went from two people with three jobs to two people with just one form of income. But I am grateful I can work remotely for my full-time position. The one that pays the most and covers our health insurance. We are in ok shape, for now. Our household is well stocked with food, supplies, and distractions. And I’m so relieved I bought this condo last year. It’s just a 2BR, all on one level, but it is comfortable. It figures that our dishwasher crapped out on day one of our social isolation. I’m glad I taught the kid how to cook when he was younger but now we have two cooks in the kitchen throughout the day, making messes. At least hand washing the dishes gives him something to do while I’m working. And my employer provided all staff with a Wellbeats subscription, to encourage exercise while we’re stuck indoors. I tried one of the yoga classes and it was just the thing, and the inspiration for this post title.

I’ve always been an extremely online person. But now almost everyone is! It feels real weird. I can’t keep up with all the tweets and FB posts and live streams on FB, IG, Twitch, etc. Though I am glad I helped my son set up his Steam account. He was video conferencing with his Dad (via Jitsi, so much tech out there!) who was walking him through how to use Tabletop so they can continue their D&D campaign. Nerd life. It was the happiest I’d seen him all week. Speaking of, feeling this tweet real hard right now:

hey y’all bless the SREs all over the world keeping twitter, twitch, zoom, webex, discord, etc etc etc etc etc, all going right now

My son has been self-isolating to the extreme. He didn’t leave our 4-plex, other than to take out the trash, from Friday to Friday. Yesterday morning I talked him into taking a walk around the neighborhood, in the cold sunshine. And today I convinced him to take a hike. We took a long-ish drive to a state park, while they are still open. If I had gone solo I would have walked a lot longer but my son has little patience with aimless walking. For him there must some sort of reward on the other side. Often in the form of a movie theater, a basket of onion rings, or a comic book store. He doesn’t understand why I want to walk for the sake of walking. Maybe that will come with age. And I hope I’m around to see that.

My son, on a deserted trail at Afton State Park

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Last night I listened to the audible version of N.K. Jemisin’s Emergency Skin, eerily and perfectly narrated by Jason Isaacs. I highly recommend it. But it hit close to home with our current crisis. Highlighting what happens when a small group of greedy people hoard all the wealth and power and the damage that does to the population at large. Like these jerks:

A medical device manufacturer has threatened to sue a group of volunteers in Italy that 3D printed a valve used for life-saving coronavirus treatments.

The valve typically costs about $11,000 — the volunteers made them for about $1. The volunteers should be celebrated, not punished. But individualism is the enemy of public health. Also on blast? All of these companies trying to operate business as usual and sending out their regularly scheduled marketing emails. Like I’m gonna book travel or buy that new Spring outfit right now. So many have already lost their jobs and those of us who still have work don’t know if we will after this all shakes out. Worse yet, the companies trying to market using the pandemic in some shady kind of way. And the non-essential businesses forcing their employees to go to the office anyhow, even when their work could be done remotely. That is definitely not flattening the curve. And many have called this out but grocery store workers - who are now critical infrastructure - should be paid and provided with benefits in a way that reflects that.

As discouraged as I’m feeling, I want to shout out some positives.

  • People Are Fighting the Coronavirus With Mutual Aid Efforts to Help Each Other
    An explosion of mutual aid networks is happening online. Like this, from Bandcamp: Supporting Artists During the Covid-19 Pandemic

    To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

  • Calm suggests we Take a Deep Breath and offers up some of their resources at no cost.

    Without a doubt, many of us are feeling anxious as we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19. We’re feeling it too, and we wanted to share some of the tools we’re using to take care of our minds and stay grounded.

  • Other wellness articles are popping up for people new to working from home.
  • As theaters shutter nationwide, major studios are going straight to streaming
  • Hoping to participate in this Quarantine Book Club.
  • Netflix Party is a new way to watch Netflix with your friends online. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite Netflix shows.”
  • I am working on limiting my news intake. Drinking from the firehose does me no good. Now more than ever there’s got to be a balance between being informed and fixating on every new piece of awful information. I’ve found The Daily podcast from the New York Times to be very helpful.

At least I’m sheltering in place with my son. Things are particularly uncertain for him. But he is handling this with more grace than I could have hoped for, though he is obviously feeling down. His classes may be resuming online in April but it’s still unknown. I’m trying to find a way to help him structure his days while I continue working. I have tried Agile / Kanban with him in the past but it didn’t take. A former co-worker put this guide together, with her kids now at home, so our household is going to take another crack at it.

St Patrick’s Day selfie

Kings of Plenty

What a weekend. My fears have been panning out. Despite dire warnings from Italy — the country with the world’s second-worst COVID-19 outbreak imploring the rest of the world not to make the same mistakes — not enough Americans have been taking this seriously. Bars and restaurants were still packed nationwide, with idiots celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The myths of American exceptionalism strike again. Individualism is the enemy of public health. While some idiots carry on with life as usual, there have been opportunists intentionally hoarding critical supplies in order to exploit those in need be engaging in price gouging. Scum of the earth. Store shelves may seem empty but we are still a nation of great abundance.

There Is Plenty of Food in the Country

Americans have been alarmed by empty grocery shelves, but while food suppliers and retailers say they are struggling with surging demand, they insist the supply chain remains strong.

It has been too slow to happen, but state by state leadership is shutting down schools and, in some areas, public gathering places. The CDC is recommending against groups of 50 or more gathering for the next eight weeks. Restaurants are still open in Minnesota for now (hopefully that will change soon). But my son and I have been staying home since Friday. Thankfully, I can work remotely for my day job. My teaching gig at the college is up in the air, as is the remainder of my son’s academic year. I’m not so worried about myself but I am grieving a bit for my kid. He has faced u unique challenges as a young adult with autism. It’s been harder for him to find employment and to maintain friendships. In the last few months, he had just established a social circle and started his first job in January. Now that’s all on hold. I also worry about so many workers who don’t have a safety net. People who make a living from coming into close contact with others in restaurants, beauty salons, music venues, etc. This is just shining a spotlight on how needlessly precarious life is for so many, and how arbitrary a lot of it is. We need massive political change now more than ever. With safeguards like universal healthcare and a basic universal income.

The more hopeful side of things:

It’s fascinating to see how so much is moving online so quickly. Some of which had only had bare-bones pilot projects before now. Like online learning for students of all ages, first-time remote workers, online book clubs and music lessons, online therapy (of course), and groups of friends trying to zoom to socialize. I only hope our infrastructure can scale up to handle the increased traffic. I’ve been going lower tech myself, reading and cooking and cleaning and working on jigsaw puzzles. But I’ll want some sort of human interaction eventually. Ashley Fairbanks put together some great guidelines about how not to freak out during this crisis. And, I will reiterate, please stay the fuck home to help halt the spread of this pandemic.

Home work station

Generations of Memory

Since I was a teenager, I’ve spent too much time faced with the fragility of modern life. My brother died despite access to decent healthcare. I’ve experienced how the uneasy equilibrium of health and finances, particularly for residents of the US, can quickly unravel on a personal scale. And I’ve seen it at a societal level. Adulthood has been a struggle for me. From moving out the day I turned 18 and getting married and divorced at a young age to single motherhood, where I’ve been laid off during a couple of dot com busts. Then I lost my house (via a short sale but nearly foreclosure) after the housing bubble burst. Now I’m a homeowner again. A condo this time. I was just thinking about quitting my side hustle as an adjunct instructor at a local college. It has been more exhausting than I realized it would be, in addition to my day job. But I’ve been hanging on out of fear. My finances often feel precarious. And my now-adult autistic son has just gotten his foot in the door in the workforce, with a part-time gig. If we dive into another recession I’m afraid it will make it even harder for him to find meaningful full-time employment. With everything that’s going on, I’ve been getting myself too wound up and sleeping poorly.

I’d like to see us, as a society, be more proactive to contain the exponential spread of this illness. If only.

Cancel Everything - Social distancing is the only way to stop the coronavirus. We must start immediately.

I’d also like to see us vote Drumpf out of office. But the progressives need more time to grieve over Bernie and Warren’s campaigns before they can get their shit together to back Biden. He wasn’t my first choice either, but he’s our only hope of getting everything back on track to keep a conservative majority out of the Supreme Court for the next 30 years and keep kids out of cages and ensure the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens.

For now, I’m trying to limit my exposure to the news. But I’ll take news like this: Portland distillery makes hand sanitizer to give to customers

News like this only amps up my anxiety:

Personally, I prefer my escapism to be a little less real.

This weekend I’ve been invited to three birthday parties. Two in public places the third in a private home. I’ll have to decide how risky these scenarios are. But I feel like an old pro at the social distancing game already. I’ve been practicing it all winter thanks to depression and social anxiety.

Late winter stream with tree

Concerns to Evade

Uncertainty and I have never been BFFs. Other personality types find uncertainty to be exciting and full of possibilities. For me, uncertainty is more like that one super irritating classmate I can’t stand but always end up sitting next to so I try to make my peace with them. I’m hard-wired to be incredibly anxious and my therapist has been on maternity leave all year. Combined with current events, I’m not feeling all that great lately. Super Tuesday was enough of a blow last week. It feels like everything has been on the decline since then. We failed to contain the coronavirus and now it’s all about coping with the fallout while doubting government officials’ ability to manage this, particularly in Italy and the United States.

Like everyone else, I’ve spent too much of my energy consuming all the coverage about the coronavirus. And who knows how much of it is even accurate? Usually, I enjoy deflecting tension with some humor but right now all the memes make me sad. At least John Oliver’s coverage is more helpful than harmful. In that vein, I’m trying to focus on reliable sources rather than rampant speculation based on emotion.

  • I Lived Through SARS and Reported on Ebola. These Are the Questions We Should Be Asking About Coronavirus.

    For concerned civilians and journalists covering the coronavirus, the figures and projections can be overwhelming, frightening or confusing. Here’s what reporter Caroline Chen is focusing on to keep things as accurate and clear as possible.

    Instead of asking: How many test kits do you have?
    Ask this: How many samples are you running per patient?
    Instead of asking: How many samples can you run?
    Ask this: How many samples is your lab testing per day right now? How about at maximum capacity? How many hours does it take to get a result?

  • It’s hard to feel hopeful, but there are pieces like this one from The Guardian:
    Coronavirus: nine reasons to be reassured
    Yes, Covid-19 is serious, but context is key and the world is well placed to deal with it

  • And some thoughts from Malia Jones, PhD, MPH - a public health social epidemiologist and demographer

    Look, I think there are some positives here. All this handwashing could stop flu season in its tracks! We have an opportunity to reduce our global carbon footprint by telecommuting more, flying less, and understanding where our stuff comes from. We can use this to think about the problems with our healthcare system. We can use this to reflect on our positions of privilege and implicit biases. We can start greeting each other using jazz hands. I’m genuinely excited about those opportunities.

  • While this continues to unfold, I’ll focus on my personal and household health, without going into full prepper mode. Leave the masks for those who really need them (healthcare workers) and use soap and water before reaching for the hand sanitizer. Speaking of, forget Happy Birthday and other handwashing songs. Instead, I’m repeating the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear while washing my danged hands.

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

Some reminders for myself that may help others. Soften that jaw. Try some breathing exercises. When reaching for food to eat your feelings, ask yourself “am I really hungry?” If not, don’t eat. Maybe have a hot cup of tea instead. Or go for a walk. And, lastly, put down your phone for longer and longer stretches of time. Leave it in another room, even. But maybe disinfect it first.

From the NY Times, March 9th 2020