Monday, April 27, 2020

COVIDiary: Back to Work

First day back at work today since March 20. A new plan for working remotely and funds from the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program has allowed Atlanta History Center to put me back to work 25 hours a week, 9-2:30 M-F.

I'll be transcribing Veterans History Project oral history interviews. Each interview should take about 10 hours to transcribe, and we have interviews going all the way back to the mid-1990s, so plenty of work, eh? The video interviews and transcriptions are then sent to the Library of Congress, according to its guidelines.

I was worried about getting back on a schedule after over a month of staying up till the wee small hours of the morning and sleeping till mid-morning, but I found it invigorating getting up at at 7:30 to start the day.

Before work, I got a video call from Charlotte who's wanted to teach me how to make scrambled eggs her way. So she guided me through getting the eggs, adding a little salt, warming the pan, and whisking the eggs to make sure they are nice and fluffy. Now her process is suspiciously like my own, which she's watched many times, but I loved having her give me instructions every step of the way. Both her eggs and mine turned out perfect.

Then on to a team video call, where we got our assignments and caught up with colleagues. The rest of my day involved downloading various apps and instructions and previewing some of the oral history videos to get an idea of what I would be facing. The time went very fast, including the 30 minute lunch.

Getting back to work was really enjoyable, giving some real shape to my day while leaving me plenty of time to do other things after 2:30.

An early morning cooking lesson and a few hours of real work. I could get used to this!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

COVIDiary: Things Done and Things Mostly Left Undone

Coronavirus Quarantine Day 43.

I start back to work (remotely) on Monday, April 27, and I'm wondering if I should have set goals and accomplished more throughout this ordeal. There have been no shortage of projects that needed doing around here - closets to be cleaned, personal papers to organize, Lego to be sorted - or projects offered up via social media - choirs to join, art therapy, clever ways to stay engaged or get ahead.

Well, no excuses, but I haven't set any goals during this time (except that one day to clean my office), unless you consider making a point of staying up beyond 3am and taking a lovely afternoon nap every day. Both worthy goals, marked "accomplished," by the way.

Should I be suffering from some sort of COVID-19 anti-goal guilt? Should I be suffering from the lack of COVID-19 anti-goal guilt?

  • Bed made every day (but I always do that, so not sure it counts)
  • Hands washed multiple times per day,  a la Lady Macbeth
  • Faucets, handles, counters, electronics disinfected with alcohol or bleach once or twice a day
  • Teeth brushed, shower or bath every day
  • Furniture dusted once a week
  • Weather permitting, sitting on the balcony reading, listening to audiobook, or just being in the evenings for an hour or more
  • Books read (but I do that all the time, so. . . ) Finally got through that damned Hilary Mantel book, the last of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which I hated, by the way. Not sure why I felt I had to read it since the others didn't impress me - consider it  quarantine punishment. 
  • Yes, office cleaned and organized!
  • Lego sorted (in progress, actually, but getting close)
  • Well fed
Not Accomplished:
  • The list is too long. 
I haven't worked on any of my writing projects (though Daughter keeps saying "Finish a book!"). Haven't learned to draw better, sew better, cook better, clean better, think better, work better, dance better, dream better, sing better, pray better. No goals. In short, yeah, perhaps time wasted.

Or is being anti-goal the right approach right now? Is lying fallow a worthy goal? Once something is a goal, does it lose its anti-goal luster? Am I overthinking this goal-thing?

Ah, well, all that will have to wait. Time for my daily nap. Stay well, y'all!

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVIDiary: Seein' Stars

"It's like God and Mother Nature put the whole world in time-out." A brilliant observation by my daughter about our current universal (mostly) quarantine. The virus is scary. The death toll staggering. The pain - physical, emotional, financial - is brutal.

Is there an upside to this, beyond demonstrating areas of huge dysfunction in the US healthcare system and pointing out the desperate need for compassionate, intelligent leadership that defers to experts in essential fields rather than TV doctors and folks who make bad pillows?

Well, it seems when humans stay put, the earth has a chance to heal itself a little. Nature starts reclaiming what's rightfully hers. Animals roam, wondering where all the crazy things on two legs went. Water and air pollution diminish. We'll have to wait to see the results of this time-out, as climatologists and other experts in the study of Mother Earth gather statistics, but I reckon we'll see some amazing changes.

For me, though, the most telling example of nature doing its best to clean itself up without human interference is that for the first time I'm seeing stars at night. Lots and lots of stars. I live in Midtown/Buckhead Atlanta, one of the city's busiest areas, especially where night-life is concerned. On clear nights I can always see the moon and some of the brighter stars, depending on the time of year. But now, wow! I see the moon, the bright stars, but - whoa! - I see millions and millions of tiny, wonderful stars in the night sky over the ATL. It's glorious!

I cherish my quarantine-routine of sitting on my little balcony in the evenings as the sun goes down. Sometimes I read. When it gets too dark, I may listen to an audiobook. Or maybe I don't do anything but look at the birds finding their resting places for the night or watch how the wind moves the trees and plants.

And now, I wait for the dark to see the stars. Yep. Stars. Right in the big city.

What are we learning in this big scary time-out? How can we move back out, hug family and friends, keep weird things floating among folks from making us sick, AND continue to let Mother Nature heal? Lots of lessons to learn. Are we smart enough, selfless enough to learn them?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

COVIDiary: Flower Power

OK, this one's kind of sappy, but bear with me.

By week four of solitary confinement, I was a bit blue and weepy. It was Holy Week, which is always a dark time for me, I couldn't take solace in nice, long walks to clear my head and stretch my legs. After a couple of fraught outdoor walking ventures where no one was abiding by the distance rules, the only outdoor forays I've made are to dump trash or pick up mail. The feeling of being "contained" was getting to me.

My mental health was being saved by social media, Zoom, and spending an hour or two in the evening on my tiny balcony reading or listening to an audiobook. But by this point in the quarantine, I'd come to realize there were important things that I take for granted during normal times that are missing now - mainly, actual human contact and flowers.

On Saturday, the day before Easter,daughter invited me over to spend some safely-distanced time together and to watch the kids hunt for Easter eggs. So I broke out of confinement - the first time since March 20 - and headed over to see my family. It proved to be a significant mood-changer.

How can a dark mood not lighten when two kids come running out joyously, lovingly calling your name (albeit, stopping well away to maintain safe-distancing)? And waiting for me in the middle of the front yard was a big pot of red geraniums (my favorite), a pot of Easter lilies, and an Easter bucket full of goodies - candy, a cute face mask with colorful butterflies, and some much needed Beautycounter shampoo, lotion, and makeup.

But the best things in my bucket of fun were handmade cards from the kids. Charlotte's was colorful with drawings and fancy lettering. Liam's was on notebook paper, a sweet, almost formal, letter with a striped Easter egg drawing in red and purple. ("Because I know red is your favorite color, GrandMary.") I'll have these long after the candy is eaten and the shampoo used up. Things were definitely looking brighter.

While daughter and son-in-law hid the eggs in the backyard, I sat - in a chair safely away from the kids - talking with the kids and watching the scamper and wrestle in the yard.

And then the race was on as the big hunt began. Around the yard, behind the garage, tucked in corners and under bushes - we kept an eye out to ensure all the little plastic treasures were gathered. After ten minutes or so, it was determined that the eggs had been collected, and the time had come to spread everything out on the lawn to see what they held inside (yes, candy - but what kind?). Excitement, sugar - perfect day-before-Easter combination.

The day was beautiful - sunny, not too hot - so we all sat outside and caught up with each other. Stories were shared - like the times daughter had face-planted into gravel and concrete as a child Charlotte's age, shared because C had fallen off her scooter and skinned her nose and forehead. (Lesson: protect the face!) We talked about the coronavirus and having to stay at home, and how during another pandemic scare, our Aunt Nell had been quarantined for polio in Grady Hospital when she was a child.

We talked about daughter's bout with COVID-19 and her recovery. Hard and scary stuff, and she was glad to be on the other side of it. We talked about what the quarantine had meant for them as a family, with all of them home from school and work day in, day out. Projects had been tackled and completed. The kitchen put to good use and everyone's cooking abilities expanded. With much appreciation for their new home and the privileges they enjoy, they understood that the quarantine was an historic time, and for them, filled with mostly good memories at this point.

For me, it only took one afternoon to clear away the blues and feeling of isolation. When I look out onto my balcony and see the red geraniums and white lilies, my heart gets lighter, because I feel so loved by the ones who gave them to me. That's what I call Flower Power.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

COVIDiary: So Many Books, So Much Time

Forget that tee-shirt that says: So Many Books, So Little Time. Seems now we do have time.

I was that stereotypical reader-kid who early on figured out how to pull the covers up over the light clipped to my headboard, allowing me to read way past my bedtime. Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, little Laura Ingalls, the March girls, Mary Poppins  - all kept me up at night. By the way, I'm sure I fooled no one re: reading under the covers.

My aunt Nell was an inveterate reader, too. Books were always everywhere. When I was a teenager - and long before Nell's death in 2013 - I asked her to leave me all her books and record albums (that's a story for another day). She had no children of her own, just a lot of nieces and nephews who camped out at her apartment in Orlando during the summer, so she was glad that at least someone had laid claim to a part of her legacy.

Most of the books I inherited from Nell I'd never read, since they were from the 1950s-70s when we were reading very different things. But now in isolation for the foreseeable future, with money tight, and reading material more important than ever, I've started diving into these oldies but goodies.

So far, I've gone through Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows, and Louis Auchincloss's Portrait in Brownstone. They transport me to an early- to mid-20th century world that's out of sync with our current "Stay Home" directives. They're all about movement, going places in the world, in society, in business. No one's staying put.

God bless Nell and her books. God bless characters that remind me of movement in the world. God bless the relief that great writers give to readers during unusual times. God bless the lessons we learn from them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

COVIDiary: Out of Season

Well, here it is Holy Week, in the midst of isolation and coronavirus fears. At least that's what the calendar says. But the way things are now? It's an never-ending Lent.

A few days ago one of our clergy asked those of us in lay leadership to make a video recording of us saying "Hallelujah!" Our videos would be edited together and shown online during Easter. One thing about me is that I am a terrible actor. All my feels are in my face and voice. No way to hide it. And believe you me, I am not feeling "Hallelujah!" in any way, shape, or form right now. But I thought I'd summon up a little joy and give the video a try.

I tried for three days. In various recordings I came off as cynical, underwhelmed, or wild-eyed hysterical. My meager efforts were so insincere, that I decided not to participate in the project.

It's a time out of season. I have no "Hallelujahs!" in me right now. During this isolated time I do, however, have the urge to scream good old Anglo Saxon four-letter words off my balcony several times a day. Not very Easter-y, but there you have it.

Others, I'm sure, submitted wonderful, enthusiastic videos, and perhaps I'll derive some seasonal spirit from them. Or perhaps Easter will have to wait for a while. It is a moveable feast, after all, and I'll move it to a time when I can hug my family and laugh face-to-face with my friends. I really don't think Jesus cares one way or another.

So my hallelujahs will stay buried for a while. They should be all the sweeter on the other side of this strange time.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

COVIDiary: The Silent

We are fortunate to live in an age that offers us so many ways to connect. Texts. Emails. Video chats. Social Media. The good old telephone. And family, friends, colleagues, and our various affinity groups have been wonderful at reaching out to see if everyone's okay. Having folks respond that they're doing fine (and just looking for a drive-in liquor store). But more important is paying attention to who's not responding.

Maybe the person not responding really is fine, just not inclined to chime in with their current wellness situation. But maybe the person not responding isn't fine. Maybe they are really lonely or not feeling well enough to say how they're doing. Maybe they're in a state that they don't want to share with the world - financial crisis, lack of food or other necessities, too depressed to reach out.

Pay attention to the silent. Why aren't you hearing from them? Why aren't they responding to blanket requests of "How is everybody doing?"

I suggest a phone call. It's less intrusive than a video chat and more personal than email or text.

The Silent. Pay attention.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

COVIDiary: Learning Curve

Just completed Week 3 in isolation. Well, physical isolation. As in, no human touch or getting to actually be physically present with people. There's social media and video chats and meetings - which have been lifesavers, really. Lots of TV, reading, cleaning, and naps.

What have I learned the past three weeks?

Bar soap is better than liquid for hand-washing. It lathers better and lasts longer. Old-school works better than new-school sometimes.

Regular old alcohol (70%) smells better than bleach solution and really shines things up as is disinfects instead of leaving a film. Wish I'd stocked up on alcohol - the isopropyl kind, not the gin kind (though I could really use more gin, too).

When you stay home all day (and night), you run the dishwasher and washing machine a whole lot more than when you're working regular hours.

My internal circadian clock goes something like this: wake up 7:30-8am, nap 3-4 or 5pm, hit the bed 1:30-2am. That's it. Left to its own devices, that's what my body does. It'll be hard to go back to conforming to the old 9 to 5 when this is over.

Keeping a daily log of my temperature is reassuring. So far, so good. All normal.

I haven't been able to devise a face mask that covers my nose and mouth and lets me breathe at the same time. I've tried three or four of the homemade face mask styles, and I can't find one that works. Guess I'll keep trying. I'm sure there's a trick to it.

Human touch - hugs, handshakes, back rubs, manicures/pedicures, massages, snuggles - and face-to-face interactions are essential to life.

I'm sure I'll learn a lot more as this weird, scary time progresses. For now, I just want to stay positive and not give in to sadness or fear.