Monday, May 25, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 64: May 25, 2020

March 7 was a predictably chilly day here in Southern Indiana, typical for late winter. Probably it was a day where it wasn't quite cloudy, but not quite sunny, either. I honestly don't remember. What I do remember about that day is that I spent the afternoon in the company of two of my oldest friends, Michael and Anna, and their sons, Wes and Miles. I held three-month-old Miles for a little bit, and hugged Michael and Anna and Wes, and we didn't do much of anything--just sat about, close to one another, making lazy conversation, and playing with our phones. Eventually, we ate pizza, and I bade them good-bye. I ran to Target for a quick shop, and returned home for the evening.

Later that night, I jotted down in my diary, Coronavirus fears still running high. Target was sold out of a lot o stuff.

I didn't know it that day, but Michael and Anna were the last people I saw, socially, before the world ended. And so I thought it rather fitting that they would be the first people I would see, socially, when I emerged back into this new world. Which is what I did today. Today was 40th birthday, and I had originally intended to spend this day with an intimate group of family and friends in Cincinnati, and goddammit, I didn't want this day to be a total wash. So when Michael and Anna reached out to see if they'd be able to do a drive-by today, I thought, Fuck it. To my surprise and relief, the spike that so many models had predicted has not yet happened. And so, we concocted a plan for a picnic. Just me and Michael and Anna and Miles, outside, on picnic blankets in the shade at Bryan Park, giving each other plenty of space. And it was absolutely a joy to be with them--these dear friends who have been family to me for a very long time. We didn't get near each other, we didn't hug, I wasn't able to hold Miles--almost three months older, and bigger, and changed, so changed! This is the "new normal"--the necessary normal, the normal that I am trying to make work for me.

Which makes me think--it's now time to bring this volume of The Plague Diaries to its close, on the day when I "broke quarantine" and began to resume life in its altered form. Next week, I start back to work in the library building. And while we'll be following all sorts of protocols of social distancing and PPE, the fact remains that my risk vector will go up significantly once this part of my life starts back up. It doesn't mean that I'll be going to get-togethers, or demanding pedicures, or hopping on planes to see my family and friends. But it does mean that I will have to take cautious, calculated risks in order to start rejoining the world in its altered form. Or, as I laughingly told Middle Sister earlier today, "time to resume my usual, voluntary social isolation.

If there's another lockdown/quarantine, I'll probably start "Volume 2" of the Plague Diaries, but I will be very surprised if this will happen. Because, of course, #'murica. But regardless, I will definitely try to post more regularly here, whether or not it's about Life During COVID-19. Posting on here regularly--it's been one of the only 2020 goals I've really been able to follow through on. And really, it's been something I've been meaning to be better at for years, and now, finally, it's happened.

All it took was a pandemic.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 63: May 21, 2020

Question: Why is divorce so expensive?
Answer: Because it's worth it!

The other day, in the middle of the day of meetings that never ended, a few of us got rather punchy and started doing a show-and-tell of "What's on my desk." I'd like to think I won the contest when I got my boss to dissolve into giggles when I showed them all the picture that my sister gave me right after I filed for divorce from my husband:

And then, because the universe has a sense of humor (and when you're middle class white chick, of course you think the universe is paying attention to you) my ex-husband called me later that evening.

Now, the artist formerly known as Mr. Melissa and I have a fairly amiable, amicable relationship. I've never been particularly talented at holding grudges against my exes, and once my ex-husband and I managed to disentagle from each other, we were able to re-establish a cordial, sometimes even warm, camraderie, perhaps like two seasoned soldiers who have weathered untold battles and trials. Except we were the battles and trials for each other.

Anyway, turns out that he needed a copy of our divorce paperwork. I'm always happy to take a stroll down memory lane and recall one of the best decisions I ever made, so I dug out the packet (still haven't gotten the decree framed, but perhaps it's now time?) and as I was flipping through, I noticed that the paperwork also recorded our wedding date: May 21, 2020.

Well, well, well. Happy not-anniversary. It would have been our 10 year anniversary today! Thank god it's not.


In plague-related news, I've been working flat-out all week, and I would say that I'm very grateful for the three-day weekend coming up...except I'm pretty sure that I'll need to put in a full day's work on Sunday. And I think that's pretty okay, honestly. It's been a long time since I was able to feel so stressed and frazzled and challenged and accomplished. We will be working from home for a goodly amount of time for a little while longer, and my co-managers and I have been enthusiastically brainstorming projects to keep ourselves and our folks in work during these "at home" weeks. Library-wide, we've been forced to think outside the box, be flexible and creative and just lean into new and different ways of doing things--virtual programming and outreach, information sharing, reference services, etc. And honestly, while I don't know if we will be able to sustain all of it once we totally return, 100%, to in-building work, I hope that we can continue some of this. The plague has been "the great disruptor" and has literally caused death and financial ruin to thousands of people, but god, it would be nice if we could get something good out of it.

Current Indiana COVID-19 Counts:
Total Number of Cases: 30,409 (up from the 28,705 mentioned on 5/19)
1,791 people have died.

Nationwide, 93,061 people have died.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 62: May 19, 2020

Consider this my change of address: I am moving into my work Gmail inbox. I live there now. And Zoom is my vacation home, and Google Hangouts is the equivalent of the neighborhood bar, except without any booze or hot young men to make time with. Seriously, I spent all day, except for mealtimes, hunched over my computer, from 9 AM until 8 PM. Who knew that the apocalypse would require so much screen time? And I've got several more days ahead of this. I mean, believe me, I prefer this dawn-to-dusk librarianing for more than 18 hours of moping, brooding, brief naps, and crying, but damn. It's a lot right now.

Nonetheless, I was able to complete the Fourth Day of Birthday--which was giving myself the gift of scheduling my diagnostic mammogram. I had my first one last year, when my doctor thought that there Might Be Something Wrong, and now that I'm officially middle-aged, I need to have one every year. And I definitely see any effort to avoid premature death to be a worthy birthday gift to myself! So later this summer, I get the joy of having a boobsmash.

The only other thing of note--and it barely counts as something of note--was that I managed to snatch some time between meetings to toss together a very basic sheetpan meal--sausage and potatoes and onions.

I know it's not pretty. But I'm actually rather proud of this--I've never been a particularly remarkable cook, and definitely not inventive or imaginative. I don't deviate from a recipe, usually, and the concept of "whipping something up" just seems beyond my ken. But today, I noticed that I had a package of sausages that I had to use or lose, and pondered what other supplies I had at hand, and fuck me if I didn't just throw this together. 

Verdict: Sausages were greasy and yummy (neither should surprise anyone), taters needed to be cooked a little longer, and next time, something green wouldn't go amiss. But it was filling and not wasteful, so, win! Now if only we can make it, like, 15 calories...

Tomorrow's another day cram-jammed with meetings, plus an evening at The Prof's house, and my brain is possibly oozing out of my earholes right now, so this is where I leave you. 

Current Indiana COVID-19 Counts:
Total Number of Cases: 28,705 (up from yesterday's 28,255)
1,678 people have died.

Nationwide, 90,340 people have died. We're still under the 100K mark...hurray?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 61: May 18, 2020

We're past the mid-point in May, folks. People are starting to emerge from their homes and resume their lives. I'm still as hunkered down now as I was in late March and all of April, but one way or the other, this will end for me at the end of the month. June 1, I will go to my library for the first shift I've worked there in almost three months. At that point, maybe I'll be willing to spend time with friends. Outside. Six feet away from them. With masks. Bright side: at least the masks will give us some sun protection?

Sunday was my second day of birthday; to celebrate, I treated myself to a Get Your Shit Together (Gyst) Day, which basically translates into a day of gentle, but not ambitious, productivity. Dishes were washed, laundry was folded, cats were cuddled, storms were watched from my balcony.

Today, Monday, was the third day of birthday; in celebration, I made a donation to Planned Parenthood. And then realized I accidentally opted to make a monthly donation, which I totally can't commit to, so I'll probably have to spend an annoying amount of time trying to undo that clusterfuck. The only other thing of note that occurred today was that I had the best power nap ever. 

Exciting times here at The Haggery, folks, let me tell ya.

Within the last few days, I've learned that two of my closest friends in Bloomington are moving away--one to Ohio, the other to Alabama. These are two of the first friends I made when I moved home in 2016. Hopefully I will have a chance to see them before they leave/ When talking to Middle Sister today, and telling her about this, she asked me, in classic LCSW fashion, "What do you feel about this?"

I paused before answering. "Hell if I know," I finally responded. "I've not seen them in months. And at this point, it's not like I can even go out and make new friends." I suppose I'm numb. I would like to process this, but I think it's beyond me at this particular moment. It's strange; I feel that my life and existence have been in some sort of suspension these last couple of months. And I assumed that others' have been, too. But I have this dreadful feeling that when I emerge from isolation, I will be coming back into a world in which everything, and everyone, is different. Possibly gone.

It's a REALLY slow news day around here, clearly.

Current Indiana COVID-19 Counts: 
Total Number of Cases: 28,255 (up from Saturday's 27,280)
1,621 people have died.

Nationwide, 89,407 people have died.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 60: May 16, 2020

Driving over to The Prof's yesterday, I noticed that the delicate green of spring foliage is yielding to the rude, thrusting, vibrant, deeper green of summer. While we hunkered down and hid in our homes, an entire season passed us by. We're halfway through May, and then, soon, we will be halfway through this cursed year. One way or another, whether we are living or waiting, time marches on.

In another way, things are shifting and changing: I spent a large portion of this past week hard at work, helping plan our phased re-opening. Countless hours I've spent in my home workspace, making calls, attending meetings, writing notes, composing and abandoning schedules, firing off emails, shooing my cats off the table, and wondering how far we will get in this process. Will there be some resurgence of the plague that sends us all scuttling back into our homes? Or will we just...power through, and ignore any potential risks, and give a half-hearted nod to precautions, but somehow just resign ourselves that COVID-19 is our unwelcome bosom companion for the foreseeable future?

I went to Target the other day, for my one weekly allowed supply run. Of the people I saw there, only about half of them were wearing masks. And as for people ignoring social distancing protocols...well, let's just say that if there was a Venn diagram of social-distancing and mask-eschewing people, that diagram would be one fucking circle. I try not to be one to be snooty and dismissive of "the masses" or think that the majority of people are stupid (they may very well be, but I believe we all have been one of those stupid people at some--or many--points) but jesus h. christ, folks. Let's at least try, okay? The country is re-opening so we can have our Chili's and haircuts and mall excursions, but it doesn't mean we have to be utter, insouciant chumps about things.

How else have I spent the last several days? Eating, like always, of course. I'm really, really, really proud of a vegetarian (and vegan? although unintentionally) curry recipe that I made earlier in the week:

The third Friday in May (yesterday) was National Pizza Party Day, so I ordered a pie from Wheel Pizza, my favorite local pizza joint.

I don't know what it is about this particular place... Mother Bears and Avers are both great local pizza restaurants, too, but Wheel Pizza is the closest I've come to a New York Style pizza.

But perhaps the highlight of my week was this evening, The First Day of Birthday. (Yes, you read that right: if I cannot have the 40th Birthday Blowout, by god, I'll do my best to celebrate it with flair in quarantine.) So anyway, this evening I celebrated The First Day of Birthday enjoying a glass of champagne, chomping down on a charcuterie board, and binge watching The Great, this obnoxiously delightful, absurd costume drama about Catherine The Great. It's a production from Hulu, and you can tell everyone seems to take great joy in rendering everything as inaccurate as possible. It's the ridiculous you didn't know you needed in your life...

Oh wait, sorry, I guess you'd rather see a picture of the charcuterie board, huh?

This layout of delicacies came from a local business called Blooming Boards, courtesy of--who else?--my sisters, who, had COVID-19 never fucked up our lives, would now be packing their bags to come see me. Anyway, of course the food was amazing, but there is still so much of it sitting in my fridge. It's the kind of thing meant to be enjoyed with others. Sisters, specifically. 

So, anyway. As time marches on, and 'Murica starts to re-open and resume life, I'm going to get more and more wrapped up in my work, which usually sucks up the majority of my time and attention and energy. I'd like to say that I'll continue blogging on the regular, but if this last week is any indication, that might not be a likelihood. I've often struggled with blogging--coming up with subject content, which is hard because my daily life is pretty humdrum; pondering, why am I doing it, anyway? Is anyone reading? And if I think it's possible that people are reading, am I writing this in some sort of performative, and therefore not entirely authentic manner? And why the hell should it matter anyway? It's my life, humdrum though it is, and I like to document it.

At least I've gotten into something of a habit of blogging more than before. All it took was a pandemic.

Current Indiana COVID-19 Counts
Total Number of Cases: 27,280 (up from the 25,473 noted on my post on 13 May)
1,596 people have died.

Nationwide, 87,315 people have died.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 59: May 13, 2020

Happy Hump Day! (I think. It's Wednesday, right?)

That's going to be one of the hardest things about coming out of isolation--we will have to actually remember what day it is, and have to adhere to more strict, unforgiving schedules. Boss, what do you mean, I'm not allowed to leave the Info Desk to take a 45 minute nap? What do you mean, I can no longer work from home at 11 PM?

It'll be a minute before we get there. But at least in my life, in my job, we're starting to take steps towards that. The last several days, many of us have been hard at work on a plan to safely restore library services to our community. It's a wrench, quite honestly, because we need our libraries...but it's still scary out there.

As part of the planning and preparing, today I spent about six hours on the phones with almost a score of my colleagues, in some cases hearing their voices for the first time in three months, talking about timelines and next steps. Tentatively, it looks like I'll be returning to my physical library on a limited basis in early June. Dang. I'm equally excited and apprehensive: will our customers respect our safety and their own? In the news, recently, there has been more than one instance of people inflicting physical violence upon those who would have them respect a business's protocols. More than once I've wondered, is this how the next American civil war starts? Because of some asshats that get their balls in an uproar about wearing masks and attempting to keep their fellow humans safe? Freedom! Second Amendment! 'Murica!

Something about those masks, though, that I am really not looking forward to: wearing them in the summertime. In fact, I'm already dreading it. At least I'll be able to hide my horrible, sweaty grimaces behind a possibly ineffective but definitely pretty scrap of paisley-patterned fabric. Bright side, I guess?

Current Indiana COVID-19 Counts: 
Total Number of Cases: 25,473 (up from Monday's 24,627)
1,482 people have died.

Nationwide, 82,246 people have died.
(Sources: Indiana State Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 58: May 12, 2020

Today is one of my favoritest days of the year--my Eldest Sister's birthday! Rather than bemoan yet another special occasion spent in exile, away from dear ones, instead, in her honor I thought I'd do a bit of a special thing here on the Plague Diaries--have Eldest do a guest post! So instead of hearing my weary, mopey voice blathering on about the end of the world, or cats, or how the world will end in a plague of cats, you get the privilege--yes, privilege, I say--of "meeting" Eldest Sister, one of the most beguiling and original voices to echo across the Internet.

Eldest Sister, otherwise known as Sarah E, or Mlle Ghoul, is quite the gadabout online: she's infamous as the creative genius behind Heal Yourself, Skeletor (have you noticed the proliferation of Skeltor memes, tshirts, and other sundries in recent years? You've got my sister to thank for that) but more importantly, she is prolific on her own blog and website, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, to say nothing of her frequent contributions to Haute Macabre. She's soon to be a published author (and not that self-published stuff, either!) In other words: Bitch gets around. 

But most importantly, she is the absolute goddess of working from home. She's done so quite successfully for close to a decade. and can certainly tell us a thing or two about a thing or two. Which is to say: here's how she manages to work from home--and how Apocalypse 2020 barely made a stir her world!

"I have been working from home for my current employer since October of 2012, and though now I have my act relatively together in terms of working alone, remotely, it was definitely a transition. As someone who would rather be left alone while I am working, and who doesn’t give a hoot about hanging with coworkers, it wasn’t the absence of human interaction that gave me issues, so I am afraid I can’t speak to that. Wooooo, no more employee Christmas parties! No more awkward small talk! THANK GOD.

What actually worried me was more along the lines of producing results without my boss, in-person, breathing down my neck. Or being able to prioritize and manage projects without being distracted by “home stuff”; being able to communicate effectively and efficiently (I worked in a small office and we yelled through the walls at each other when we needed something); setting boundaries and not overworking. I spend a lot --A LOT-- of time on the phone with my boss. Sometimes I feel that he must think that if he’s not bending my ear, then I must not have anything to do, and I’m just, you know, sitting around waiting for him to call. This is...not true.

Many of these things are issues that I still struggle with, even 8+ years later, but I mean, I still have my job, so I figure I must have figured out some systems and procedures that work for me. I think most importantly though, is that I have realized that I really need a solid foundation from which to start each day, and which will put me in the position for success from the very beginning before I even lift a finger for that day. And while yes, I am writing about these suggestions in the context of my workday, I think ...if you look at it in a broader sense, it’s just good common sense stuff for every day. Whether you’re working or not. And I realize that many folks are not working right now, and that is an unfortunate position to be in. Ugh. What a weird and awful time. I think what I have sussed out for myself is helpful in terms of just being able to exist and function, regardless if there is work to be done or people to be seen or if you can’t even see a point to anything at all, in weird and awful times, or just in the normal course of life. All of these little things help me when I can’t figure out what that point is, and they help me keep going, anyhow

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I need to structure my day around the principles of what I like to think of as R+R. Not Rest and Relaxation--what do you think this is, a vacation? No, we’re working! From home! But still working! So: Rhythm, or a strong, regular, repeated pattern (of movement or sound, says the dictionary, but we’re expanding the definition to fit our needs) and Ritual, or, a sequence of activities, or a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. In short, I need to cultivate a routine that I do regularly. I guess R+R could stand for Regular Routine. But I like Ritual Rhythms. Or Rhythmic Ritual! Or all the Rs, whatever.

For me this means waking up early. Early enough so that I can do the following things: take a walk, wash my face, make the bed (this is maybe the MOST important--if I don’t make the bed, it plagues me all day long) clean up the kitchen if I didn’t do it the night before, start coffee, record my dreams, have time to read and drink my coffee for 30 minutes to an hour before the work day starts.

For me, this is an optimal morning that got both my blood and my brain moving well in advance of being at my desk, and at the very least I got my reading and exercise in early, so even if the whole day goes off the rails and I end up working until 9PM, at least I already gave myself the opportunity to do those non-negotiable essential things for me. To coin a phrase from Amy Landino, even though I have to spend a large chunk of my day working, at least I got to start the day off 'on my own terms.'

I have to make sure I get a little something to eat before I start my day. Not as soon as I awake...the thought of that makes me vaguely ill, but sometime a few hours after. I am not one for sweet breakfasts, so I can’t do cereal or smoothies or breakfast bars; I might instead eat a hard boiled egg, or a slice of toast with almond butter or avocado--and usually that’s good enough, fuel-wise, to get me started for the day. Pictured here is some sort of bread that I made with leftover fruits and oats and to be honest it wasn’t the best tasting thing ever... but I thought it made a nice photo!

I need to make sure that I am dressed before I sit at my desk. It might be tempting to work in your pajamas but you’ll probably find pretty quickly that practice works better in theory than reality. Or maybe that’s just me. But I personally feel that there’s nothing grosser or less professional-feeling than taking phone calls and writing emails, bra-less, in the same clothes you’ve slept in. And I don’t even have a very professional image to uphold! It’s not like I’m on Zoom meetings all day or anything like that. I work with a small team and we Skype maybe once a week.

Getting dressed makes me feel grounded and connected to reality; it flips that mental switch and signals a shift in my day that I’m about to do the thing that, you know, puts money in the bank. So I strongly suggest that you do not go through the motions of your day in a bed-headed, half-sleep, pajama fog. Put on pants and a clean shirt --at the very least, in something you’d feel okay being seen wearing in public, outside the house--and take a moment to dress, in some approximation, like you’re about to do the thing that makes you money. Unless you make money with your clothes off. In which case, more power to you.

It took me a very long time to loosen up with regard to working from home. I was used to working in an office where if you weren’t on the phone, it was dead silent. No one had music playing, or god forbid, headphones on, listening to music or whatever. I ate lunch quickly at my desk, I didn’t take a “lunch hour” and I certainly didn’t eat lunch off-site. I rarely even walked away from my desk, except for a bathroom break. I didn’t even wear perfume--which I love to wear!-- because my boss was allergic, and very crabby about it, if you happened to forget this.

When I began working from home, I at first adhered to many of these conditioned, in-office habits, but as I slowly realized there was no one around to bother with my music or perfume, I began to shed all of those practices which didn’t make sense anymore. I wear my perfumes now, sometimes, sampling three or four of them throughout the day! There’s no one to notice or complain about it, so why not make my day a little more sweeter and pleasant-smelling? I burn candles and incense and run my essential oil diffuser, too! I now listen to music while I work; there’s no one around to give me weird looks with regard to the eerie pan flutes,  ghost wails, or doom metal sounds coming from my cubicle. I have art and knicknacks displayed prominently, in every shelf and on every wall of my home-office, which I never could have gotten away with in a more traditional office setting. Taxidermy and memento mori make people uncomfortable, who knew? But now that you can add different backgrounds in your Zoom and Skype meetings, who is even going to know?

 I have the freedom now to create a much more pleasant environment in which to hunker down and weather the work day, and I am finally okay with fully taking advantage of that. I still eat my lunch at my desk, though. I know work from home gurus tell you to step away and set some boundaries and eat lunch at the kitchen table, but I haven’t worked my way up to that yet. I’ve worked from home for close to a decade now, so I have a feeling I might never get there.

Lastly, I mentioned some initial concerns with regard to prioritizing and managing my projects and though I haven’t yet found the perfect system that works for me, what I have found--and this is probably just common sense to a lot of people--is the practice of writing things down. What a novel concept, right? Believe it or not, it’s just been in recent years that I have begun to do this. Before I was writing lists and scheduling appointments on calendars, etc., I somehow thought that I was...just supposed to innately remember everything? was somehow write reminders and make to-do lists and things to see visually, to motivate you to take of your obligations and responsibilities and to finish your projects and reach your deadlines? I guess I can be a little dense. Because it just never occurred to me that I could do this. It only took about three years of my annoying baby sister extolling the virtues of planners before I figured out that maybe, this once, I should listen to her.

Now I have a personal planner and a notebook for work to jot down notes and ideas and whatever might need doing, and hey--how about that! I get things done! Don't tell Baby Sister I was right, though.

These are a handful of things that helped me settle into a work from home routine, and which continue to make the workday a little easier the longer I spend time working this way. But they are also things that just...make life a little easier, you know? Wake up early enough to do the things you want to do before the day starts in earnest. Get dressed and signal that shift in your mindset from dream-time to do-time. Scent your person and your space with lovely fragrances, listen to pleasing sounds, surround your space--whether it’s your office or even your bathroom!--with things you like to look at. These things just feel good! Write things down, you can’t expect yourself to remember everything! And above all, be kind to yourself; it may take you to  get it together, and that's okay. By the time you have built a solid routine for yourself, it might turn out that your workplace has reopened. Or perhaps your employer will have concluded that working from home was a positive situation with benefits that outweigh having a team in an office, and you’ll stay put.

Either way, hopefully, like me, you’ll find that you don’t have to make things harder on yourself than they have to be, and perhaps with a few of the tips I have mentioned here, you may even make them easier. Good luck!"