COVID-19 No. 15: In Search of Solitude

IT FINALLY HIT ME the other night, and the wonder of it is that it didn’t happen sooner.

I am both an extrovert and an introvert. The extrovert in me loves public speaking, cracking the joke that makes everyone in the conference room laugh, and joining 45,000 other fans screaming our heads off in support of the home team.

The introvert in me needs to go away by himself on a regular basis to recharge the batteries, refill the bucket, and simply enjoy the solitude. It could be browsing through a bookstore and then settling in at the cafe to enjoy coffee and my new reading material. It could be a bike ride by myself. It could be staying up when everyone else goes to bed so that I can watch a ballgame or play Halo. If I don’t get that time, I get squirrelly and anxious.

The past month has not been the most conducive for solitary activity if you live with others, as you may have noticed. The four of us have found our own spaces during the day, which has helped. But on Thursday night, the reality of indefinite forced togetherness — even with people I love — got to me. I felt off. Not depressed exactly, or anxious, but helpless and angry.

A little later on, R. and I settled in downstairs to watch 1917. I’ll have some more thoughts on the film later; it suffices for now for you to know that it is very suspenseful and quote engrossing. The two hours zipped by, and R. and I spoke only sparingly.

By the time the end credits rolled, I felt better. It was as if the escapism of the work itself provided, or perhaps served as a stand-in for, that much-needed solitude, despite the fact that I wasn’t alone.

I consider it a valuable lesson learned, one that I will need to call upon to stave off the inevitable feelings of mental claustrophobia as these ominous weeks drag on. | DL

COVID No. 7: I Keep Using the Word ‘Normal’ …

HERE’S MY PRIMARY TAKEAWAY after a week of all this:

Whatever you can do that safely, responsibly reflects your prior coronavirus activities, do it. Do it often, do it eagerly, do it with intention.

That’s what gonna keep us sane and ready to pick up when the risk is behind us.

Yesterday, that meant a walk, a nap, and a visit with dear friends/family, with whom we observed appropriate social-distancing guidelines while we sat on their patio, luxuriated in the early-spring late-afternoon sun, had a few drinks, and laughed our asses off. It meant ordering takeout pizza, stromboli, cheesesteaks, and fries from our favorite local shop, watching Veronica Mars reruns while we ate, and playing Balderdash to finish the night.

Today it meant finishing an intriguing, thoughtful novel, catching up on some work, taking another nap, and cooking dinner.

It was all, once I yanked my head out of Twitter and news sites and such, delightfully normal. And normal is our friend, now more than ever. Normal will help see us through this, help us to realize that there is a lot more under our control than we might think. This is no small thing.

Control what you can, let the rest go, be kind, compassionate, forgiving, generous, and understanding, and we will get through this. I don’t know what waits for us on the other side, but that’s of little concern now. Focus on today. Focus on what matters. | DL

COVID-19 No. 4: The New Normal Is the Old Normal … Kind Of

YESTERDAY WAS A NORMAL DAY at work. Interviewed a candidate for an open position, had a one-on-one with a team member, met with a program director to discuss advertising, churned through email.

Except it wasn’t strictly at work, since the coronavirus has chased us home to carry out our duties remotely, and it wasn’t strictly normal, since it was just my third day on the job, and who is fully immersed in the usual task list on day 3?

The thing is, for all the disruption wreaked by the illness, those activities were grounding. I felt comfortable weighing in, despite my newbie status. Because of the wildly kinetic nature of things now, I’ve had to jump in quickly, mixing tasks that usually crop up over time with the usual learning of the ropes. And that has helped — it has been comfortably distracting.

So. Professionally, all has begun well.

Personally, though, things are a mixed bag.

Family-wise, we’re keeping it together. The girls have structure, thanks to a general schedule and robust to-do lists that combine household jobs with online learning through resources the school district has helpfully provided. In the late afternoon, when their “work” is done, they retreat to their screens for some well-deserved downtime. There have been no meltdowns — granted, it’s been all of a week — and they are rolling with things as hardily as anyone could expect.

But this normalcy — okay, sorta normalcy — has freed up some mental bandwidth for me to worry.

Not over health. We’ve been conscientious about social distancing, and should one of us contract the virus, we’re all in good enough shape that I don’t think the prognosis would be catastrophic.

No, the worry is a longer-term, existential concern. Not about the viability of the supply chain or the health of corporate America. I’m thinking about my local bookstore, my local brewpub, my local pizza shop, my local dry cleaner, the hoards of freelancers, solo practitioners, and small businesses that fill our staffing gaps — local places and services that lack the cash reserves to withstand a months-long collapse of daily business wrought by well-meaning people heeding the call to flatten the curve.

The women and men involved in these enterprises are our neighbors. They are our friends. When we think of community, they are the people who pop up in our mind’s eye. If they fall, our societal fabric will unravel, and fast.

Are we willing to stand up for these stalwart Americans? To advocate that whatever relief is granted support them directly? To demand that we close ranks in the service of the collective good?

I sure hope so. | DL

COVID-19 No. 3: Welcome to the New Normal

TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY of the rest of my life.

As it was for you, of course.

After a week in professional limbo — two days concluding the last job, three days off while the world wobbled, a weekend wondering what was coming next — I reported to work yesterday and had a great (if bizarre) first day. Among other valuable learnings, I found out I was to head home the following day and ply my trade from there for the foreseeable future.

The foreseeable future, then, started today.

Three-plus years of self-employment a lifetime ago conditioned me to the solitary professional life. But this new normal chuckles and offers a gleeful twist — professional solitude, sure, but in a household rattling with a high schooler, a junior high schooler, and a working spouse.

And my conclusion is … bring it on. It’s wonderful to have my peeps around, and thank goodness for the work.

The months-long understaffedness of the team I joined combined with the rampant uncertainty fostered by the coronavirus have plunged my immersion into ever-deeper waters. There will be no gradual ramp-up. This is higher education in mid-March, neck-deep in yield season, during an extraordinary time when we are charged with tamping down the panic and demonstrating our value over the long term, long after COVID-19 has exhausted itself.

No big deal, right?

The work, though. The couple of hours I spent in Zoom meetings and on phone calls today, my second day on the job, the urgency of things that needed to get done … well, talk about a distraction. Having a job to do, no matter where I was doing it, cleared out the uncertainty and fear, at least for a few hours. Walking a couple of miles at lunch with my family helped, too, as did shutting down at the end of the day and making dinner.

Fajitas, by the way. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Many public authorities are mumbling about re-evaluating the situation after two weeks. I have to think that we are at least a month, if not two, away from things regaining a whiff of normalcy. And that will be trying. Two cooped-up teenagers — one a graduating high school senior — will not be denied.

At the same time, we — all of us — had a good day. The adults did their jobs. The children studied, took breaks, studied, took more breaks, assisted around the house, and mostly kept their chins up.

Gritty was there for us.

And tomorrow, we’ll wake up, log on, and hit it again.

Because we’re the lucky ones — because we can. | DL

Why January 1 Is Such a Crappy Day

AND JUST like that, on the final day of break, it seemed to hit us all at once. Tomorrow, the girls will be back at school. Tomorrow, J. and I will be back at work. Tomorrow, real life returns.

So we spent today kind of grumping around, being snippy with each other and cranky at life in general. It’s not that real life is bad. It’s just that break life — sleeping in, trampolining, gathering with friends on weeknights (!) — is, well, better. And now that all of that is about to end, we’re a bit tetchy about it.

We’ll settle back in and get our respective mojos back, hopefully before we devour each other. Until then, here’s a prayer of gratitude to the calendar gods that we’re going back to a two-day work/school week. | DL

I’m Thankful That I Have Many Reasons to Give Thanks More Than Once a Year

THE FOLKS who research happiness say that regular reflections on gratitude improve one’s mindset. I wouldn’t mind an improved mindset, so I probably ought to think more often about what I’m thankful for. Many of my Facebook friends have spent each day this month posting about the things for which they’re grateful. But the best I can do right now is to offer this list today, Thanksgiving Day, about my gratitude, as I did last year.

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