COVID-19 No. 18: Gaming the System

WORK IS AT HOME and home is at work. For many if not most of us, there is no physical place to escape to when we need to check out for a while.

Which is how I rediscovered my Xbox.

Since that first Atari 2600 when I was 9 or 10, I’ve gamed, though it was always more off than on. I went to the arcade at the mall every so often, but I was never the guy who piled a ten spot’s worth of quarters on Galaga or Tempest and locked myself in for the long haul. The Atari was fun, but no more than that — if I had any obsessions at that age, they were baseball and reading, not video games.

When I got my master’s, Mrs. D bought me an Xbox, and I had fun with a Tiger Woods-licensed golf game and, notably, Halo, a nifty first-person shooter. You could (and I did) battle with friends on a split screen, as well as make your way through a solitary campaign in which you were charged with destroying evil alien forces on a far-off planet. It was complex and layered and ridiculous and utterly fun. On vacations with my brother or brother-in-law, one of us would bring along our console and, once the families were put to bed, we’d drink beer and play late into the night.


Then jobs got busier, kids got more active, and middle age began to rob me of evening energy. The Xbox quietly made its way to the back of the cabinet on which the TV sat, relegated to semi-yearly appearances. A couple of years ago, our children much older and no longer needing hourly attention, a bunch of us upgraded our units and played a few times online, trash-talking via headsets from our respective locations on the Eastern seaboard. We meant to make it a regular gathering, but it just never happened.

And then, a couple of months ago, we all ended up indefinitely homebound, in need of both brotherhood and escapism.

For the last few weeks, whoever among us is available has fired up the Xbox at 8:30 or 9 in the evening, launched Halo, connected online, and lost ourselves in make-believe worlds and cartoon violence. We play for an hour or two, laughing all the while, forgetting the tragedy of life in 2020.

On top of that, I‘ve returned to solo play. I’m back making my way through the original campaign, sometimes before dinner, sometimes late at night. When this one’s done, I hope to move on to the next campaign, and the next and the next.

It makes me feel … not like a kid again. At my age, the mantle of adulthood weighs too heavily to be forgotten, even briefly. But while I play, that fantastical world is the one I inhabit. A world where I can vanquish the bad guys, rise from the dead, and protect my people. The real world, the one soaked in illness and death, amplified by corruption, evil, and incompetence, fades into the background, providing a precious respite from my rage and sadness.

Welcome back, Master Chief. | 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. 6: You Mean We Have to Create Another New Structure?

HAVING SPENT THE BETTER PART of a workweek building a new daily structure to adhere to — all the more fun while onboarding at a new job — I’m now faced, as most of us are, with figuring out what Saturdays and Sundays are going to look like for the foreseeable future.

No trips to the dry cleaner.

No hanging out in coffee shops.

No browsing through bookstores.

No dinners out with friends.

No walking through the mall.

No ballgames to watch.

No Sunday-night visits to a favorite watering hole to conclude the weekend with a great friend, good beer, and the world’s best wings.

Hell, I probably won’t even be going to the supermarket for a couple of weeks. We stocked up a couple of weekends ago in anticipation of being housebound for a while.

As if we weren’t all making it up as we go along anyway, our viral lockdown has layered a whole new swath of What do we do now? onto our lives.

For me, I’m guessing that Saturdays and Sundays will include more reading and writing, more walking, more board games, more phone calls and texting sessions, more online shopping, more hanging out on the deck (thank goodness warmer weather is nearly here), more Wii and Xbox, more movies, more catches and soccer in the backyard. A lot of museums are opening up their digital collections to greater access, so I’ll probably check them out. And I have all kinds of work stuff I need to start learning.

How about you? What are you up to this weekend? | DL

COVID-19 No. 5: Walking Down Harrison

FOR THE LAST MANY YEARS, weekday exercise has been a first-thing-in-the-morning activity. Get up and get it done before any work and family obligations, following oft-shared advice. Some mornings it’s the gym, some mornings a 2-mile walk through the neighborhood.

This morning, the soaking rain that moved through overnight was still hanging around when I got up. Ordinarily, that would be no problem — a trip to the gym for a brisk half-hour on the elliptical. Of course, gyms are closed now, so that meant there wasn’t much to do except ride out the weather.

Which I did over the course of the day, jumping on numerous Zoom meetings, drafting messaging, and doing my best to learn as much as I could at the new gig.

Twitter, though. Twitter, man. I have a browser tab open to Twitter all day long for professional reasons, and today I participated in a great online discussion of things we higher-ed marcomms types need to be keeping our eye on. But that also means I regularly expose myself to the less reputable side of Twitter, the online free-for-all where everyone — everyone — feels empowered to weigh in with their own expertise, whether it’s legitimate or self-conveyed.

And today, that had me a bit more jittery. My work continued to provide welcome distraction, but the Twitter noise — ominous predictions especially — was impossible to filter out. I was left feeling angsty.

By this afternoon, the rain had drifted eastward, and though the skies remained appropriately gloomy considering our shared circumstances, the weather was fine for a walk. I finished up work, did a final check-in with a team member, and put on my sweatshirt to head out.

The activity did me well, and not entirely because of the physical exertion. Twice as I strode diligently, I encountered neighbors and friends, giving me the chance to chat for a few minutes about … well, everything that’s going on in the wider world. We talked with compassion and kindness, empathizing with our common situations and wishing each other well. At any other time these would have been meaningless, forgettable interactions, but today they were oases — islands of normalcy amidst a raging storm of fear, anger, anxiety, and uncertainty.

And here’s the thing: I walked away from them feeling better. Not rainbows-and-unicorns better, but just less flattened, less adrift. My heart was a little lighter. Not a lot, but enough to notice.

Connect with your peeps, friends, however works best for you. Whether it’s a walk observing the 6-foot distance or a FaceTime with your bestie or just a damn phone call with your mom, connect with your peeps. The normalcy will do you well.

At least, that’s what I found. | DL

What I Learned at My High School Reunion

HAS FACEBOOK rendered the high school reunion obsolete?


Last night I gathered with several dozen people with whom I graduated 25 (gulp) years ago. Several of them are Facebook friends, so I already knew about their professional successes, their personal situations, their kids, and what they looked like. In other words, most of the reasons you go to a reunion had been obviated.

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