Pandemic Paranoia and Perplexing Porch Pirates

I usually don’t get paranoid about much of anything, but you know, it’s a new world out there now. I can wrap my mind around the new norms: no shaking hands, six+ feet apart, masks in public, wash my hands so often my new friend is hand cream (not something that’s easy for a guy to accept using…a lot), and so on.

Since receiving packages at home is a bit risky for theft, last fall I got a private mailbox set up for the shop business and conveniently, a safe drop for personal packages. Mr. Pandemic wrecked that brilliant plan, so I’ve shifted everything to come to the house now.

But wait…how many people have TOUCHED these packages? Or sneezed on them? Perhaps these goodies from Amazon and elsewhere are just silent taxi cabs for Mr. & Mrs. Covid19 and their darling two million offspring to hitch a ride and then onto my hands. And even though I’ve gotten much better about not touching my face, I am a guy, so you know: takes us longer to do the sensible thing.

Rewind three weeks ago when my overly process-oriented mind developed a way to take the risk probability of package contamination so low it’s out there four of five digits past the decimal point. Here’s how the conversation went (south, some would say) in my head:

Me brain: “Wait, can’t viruses live on stuff for like, days and days?”

Inner logic-man: “No, the CDC already said risk is super low on mail and packages, and at best, they survive for 24 hours on paper, which is, in essence, your incoming packages.”

Me brain: “But how many DOZENS of people, most likely those near-zombie-like postal workers forced to slave away in the sorting centers when they should be home waiting to cut cards with the Covid devil to see if they live or die? And those UPS drivers: never trust someone who wears all brown. And brown socks with shorts? Really?”

Inner logic-man: “But even so, the risk probability is so low that it’s likely very safe.”

Me brain: “Not taking chances. I’ll develop a process to disinfectant the box outsides, AND everything inside, too!”

Inner logic-man, sighing: “Whatever, dude.”

And so I started my “keep my packages from killing me cuz I love to order online” process. I call it “Operation Armedreadon.” Here’s how it (now) works, after evolving the process through trial and terror:

  1. Waste several hours sitting and watching for the package drop, despite having an app that shows me about when it will arrive. Nevertheless, diligence is protection. Because, you know. Porch Pirates.
  2. When said package arrives, wait for the delivery person to leave the scene, based on the principle that every one of them has Covid19 and likely bubonic plague and Ebola too, just for grins. Six feet? Hell, 60 feet, please and thank you.
  3. Open front door and enter the contamination zone, armed with only freshly washed hands and a sharp knife. Occasionally I forget I’m still in pajamas and bathrobe, but that isn’t important right now.
  4. Using only the forefinger and thumb on each hand (to limit contagion, and when, er, if this rule’s violated, I have to go back inside and wash hands again and restart), carefully position package so I can slit the tape to open the box. Again, just using those digits and the knife.
  5. Now unceremoniously dump contents onto porch (remembering to be quick since contagion’s time clock is ticking a deadline countdown to absolute contagion). All this time M.C. Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” is my ear worm to remind me DON’T TOUCH THE STUFF INSIDE CUZ YOU JUST TOUCHED THE BOX.
  6. Again, using two of my sacrificed four hand digits, deftly carry the box to the recycling bin at the end of the building, cut the rest of the tape, and drop in the big blue box that’s helping to save the planet.
  7. Returning to the house, deftly use the remaining, non-contaminated fingers to open the door, then…you guessed it, go wash my hands. And the knife, too. I do know where’s it’s been, so…Must…Be…Sanitized.
  8. Now I go back to the porch, smug knowing that any Covid19 cooties are dead by now and retrieve my goods.

“But wait…don’t you sanitize the inside stuff?” you’re probably thinking. At first yes, but now, through countless packages and even more countless bumblings of clumsiness (you try doing something with a sharp knife and a box using only two fingers and see how your patience thrives), I figured those have gone days and days without being touched. No self-respecting virus would dare live that long.

And those ever-watchful, ever-opportune porch pirates? Ha! They cruise around looking for lonely boxes. This process totally confuses them because instead they see some new socks, a bag of Ricola cough drops, a new book or two, a bag of coffee beans, and on a good day if I’ve won the Amazon Lottery for Vitamin C, a bottle of that.

Plus, I think there’s fewer Porch Pirates roaming the high seas of empty roads these days because, you know, they touched all those boxes and surely most of them have died off from Covid19 cooties by now.

What Day is This? Must be Blurgmuffday.

After I retired at the end of 2018, one of the first things I noticed was apathy regarding which day of the week it was. That previously important knowledge was a construct needed because of work-life stuff, like when to go to work, how close was the weekend, when to take kids to activities, attend scheduled social engagements, dentist, doctors, etc. Basically, a lot of choreography rooted in a system relying on week days labeled to keep things straight.

During my subsequent year of RV roaming, this lack of which-day-is-it knowledge got worse (the Zennie in me says “got better”) as one day was much the same as any other. Campsite reservations or access to RV-related services were the primary reasons I needed a passing awareness whether tomorrow was a Monday or Friday. Other than that, any day could be called Blurgmuffday for all it mattered to me.

Now, in my stay-at-home life, day names are once again fairly useless. Which I don’t think is a bad thing. Some have taken to thinking we’re all living the Groundhog Day movie, where we’re in an endless loop, same day after same day.

What helps our mental and emotional survival in these dark times is to focus on being present minded in the now and embracing a one-day-at-a-time approach to living. Honestly, that’s the true extent of what each of us can control on what we can do and how we choose spend our time. Beyond that, we’d be constantly shifting from what we can control to struggling with only how we react to everything else. And in the rapidly changing landscape outside (look how things have rapidly changed and altered over the mere weeks we’ve been in stay-at-home mode), provide more reasons to toss your anchor out each day rather than sail in the someday-hopes of finding safe shore.

While I am planning out things for a week at a time, largely to block out activities to ensure progress, the focus is on my daily routine. I’m not dwelling on when this will be over, just on what I will do today (and in the evenings, planting a few mental seeds for the next day). I’m not giving any weight to what others say or predict we’ll be in or out of danger, when we’ll reach the other side of the slope, or when things will get back to normal. Just being here and now. (Hint: I don’t think things will ever be normal, as in, how they were before. And ideally, I don’t think they should be. A rare, wake-up-call event like this should be enough to compel humanity to fix our and the planet’s problems.)

So as I wake up each morning, I asked myself to focus on today, called “Day,” instead of…wait a sec. I have this…uh, Thursday? Yes, that’s right (I cheated: I had to look at the laptop calendar as I wrote this).

That’s all I can control, and that’s as far as I want to look ahead. At least for now.

Routine Behavior

Yesterday’s lesson in the Alive Time Stoic challenge was about creating a daily schedule and sticking to it. And through that effort, enable routine by committing your schedule to paper with defined times or blocks of when you’ll do what.

Like children who respond well to boundaries, we as adults can find comfort and solace from daily routines. For anyone chasing a creative endeavor, you innately know it’s all about consistency and chipping away daily at your practice. Scheduling daily time for writing, or sketching, or reading creates an expectation and anticipation for your mind to shift into focus on these activities.

“We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

I wrote in my March 29 post “Routine is the right-hand enemy of fear and anxiety….” A scheduled day keeps us distracted and helps avoid falling down that sticky, black-lined media rabbit hole, thus spinning your imagination to places you’d rather not go. When I find this happening, I quietly go in my mind through the three Zen foundation stones:

In this very moment, there is nothing to worry about.
In this very moment, nothing is lacking.
In this very moment, there is always something to be grateful for.

I believe the ability to embrace habits and routines is one fundamental reason introverts are likely to handle at-home isolation better than extroverts. We introverts find comfort in our solitude and intellectual pursuits, things we typically routinely did before becoming “official” shut-ins. Extroverts seem to relish more serendipity, being entertained unexpectedly, and the freedom of social interaction. To an introvert, too much of that becomes chaos and confusion. That’s why introverts, who’ve mastered an on/off switch to be an occasional extrovert, look forward to retreating to our trusted cocoons to recharge and reset.

In times like these, it’s likely valuable not just to state an intention of doing x, y, or z, but to schedule it. And by that I mean make an appointment. Spread your day’s tasks out in a planner and make specific time blocks. At day’s end, review and congratulate yourself on what you accomplished (but don’t beat yourself up about your misses), then plan what you’ll do tomorrow.

Scheduling activities will probably result in a lot getting done. And by the time we exit these abnormal days, making positive progress through routine habits will be your norm. Routine through scheduling should also add much needed order and clarity to your day, something that’s important and useful to us in these trying times.

Humor Helps

Sometimes, even in dark times, a little levity lifts the spirit. If you follow me on Facebook, then you may have seen at least some of these already. If not, then have a few giggles and a belly laugh or two. It can only help.

Time to Get Up and Do the Work

My home base for work, study, creation, meditation
No, I don’t have a job in an office away from home where I should be. And while I do have the shipping setup in the basement for my online stationery shop, I don’t mean that either.

The current stay-at-home mandate is not stopping me from going to work, because my work is to get up each day and go through my health-supporting routines, then go through the day pursuing creative efforts and mental stimulation. That’s my job in these dark times and it’s a seven-day-a-week gig.

Routine is the right-hand enemy of fear and anxiety, while the left-hand works on staying active through creative or mentally stimulation. Without this right-left defense, that foe (or obstacle) could easily render me incapable of doing much else beyond fretting and stewing.

My perspective on these odd times has slowly shifted to an appreciation of the opportunities during this new, highly restrictive phase of life. That may seem like either a crazy idea, or at least insensitive to other’s plights. I can only control how I react to my own plight, but I do empathize and understand others struggle daily.

How many of us have various projects, whether around the house, starting a journal, sketching, painting, or fill-in-the-blank we’ve wanted to get to for a long time? Now you have the time.

How many of us feel we haven’t engaged enough with family in a meaningful way because we’re too busy with other things? Now you have time for that also.

One way (some would say it’s the best way) to deal with an obstacle in life is to go through it, meaning adapt to it and creatively deal with it. Skirting around it does nothing but give it a chance to do its finest obstacleness later. Trying to run headfirst into it without a plan or thinking it’s fake news or hoax, is unfortunately the modus operandi of a certain ill-prepared political party. And we are witnessing that epic fail. By finding ways to defeat it through personal actions you control, by choosing to take advantage of what is available (in this argument that being ample time for x, y, or z), is how you can shift your thinking away from “it’s in my way and I give up,” or “It’s big and scary and I can’t do anything about it” and to seeing opportunities.

One quote found on that infrequent source of gems, Facebook, amplifies this change of thinking approach to what you can control:

“Do not change your behavior to avoid being infected. Instead, assume you are infected and change your behavior to avoid transmission.”

To spin it differently:

“Don’t focus on the unknown timeline of when we’ll be able to resume normality, but instead look within to make the best use of daily opportunities sheltered time provides.”