A Year Living the Pandemic

Today is one year since I first reacted to the oncoming pandemic threat and made necessary lifestyle changes. A year ago, I flew back from the Baltimore Pen Show, somewhat nervous, yet conscious of a risk I might catch COVID-19 (albeit a low one at the time). I also had the odd feeling it would be my last flight, or traveling anywhere, for a while.

I knew when I flew to Baltimore things were getting real on the West Coast, but not yet in Michigan. That changed by the time I flew back. Indications were increasing that Michigan would mandate, if not the whole country, a lockdown.

I’ve always been wary of flying, since airplanes are essentially high-flying germ laboratories. That wariness combined with anxiety over whether anyone on board came from the West Coast, or worse, from the Far East, made for an uneasy flight. During those innocent early days we were not yet savvy on the science of this contagion, so masks on that flight weren’t the fashion statement they are now.

Nobody back then would believe we’d be here a year later knowing the virus rampaged our country killing over 500,000 Americans (20% of worldwide deaths) and infecting over 26 million of us (23% of worldwide cases). And who can estimate the extent of damage economically, socially, or worse, mentally, from the onslaught of COVID-19? We’ve crossed over into new, uncharted territory for certain.

It’ll Be Over Soon

We all likely thought this would be a short-term effort to avoid contagion, and like most flu-like bugs, would soon play out. Still is a matter of time, but the scale shifted from hoping for soon to realizing it’s now an open-ended, who-knows-when window for the foreseeable future. I think many Americans adopted the classic American attitude of NIMBY (not in my backyard) and went on with their merry, socializing lives.

When I got home after Baltimore, my housemate and I altered things to improve our odds of staying healthy and not impacting others. Common-sense steps soon emerged to limit outside trips and exposure to only essentials, mask up when outside, sanitize everything incoming, and of course, begin the pandemic two-step dance we’d all come to love: don’t touch your face, and wash your hands like a surgeon. We used up hand lotion quickly until our hands eventually acclimated to the abuse.

We continued grocery runs and library visits (they would soon shutter), but did more targeting of visits during hours with the fewest shoppers. Alas, my beloved and frequent coffee shop and library hauntings came to an abrupt stop. Another related banning ceased my all-day outings via bus to putz around downtown Ann Arbor. Oh, how I miss those coffee shops and downtown days! I took both for granted and didn’t fully appreciated them as I should have… obvious now in hindsight.

Soon we were in the trenches with the masses trying to find and buy masks, gloves, disinfectant, and toilet paper. Through all of it, we never lost our humor, nor did the Internet, forever a source of laughs and giggles from the deluge of memes around hoarding toilet paper at least. From that first taste of wartime-like rationing, it just got more fun. Months crawled by. We couldn’t name the day but could the date, sort of. And some months seemed to have not 30, but 60 days. Endlessness.

Rear-View Mirror

Looking back over the year, I coped well and progressed in many areas, aided by being a natural introvert. But I am cognizant many, many others suffered and were not in the stable mindset and financial place I was. To them, the pandemic was far beyond inconvenience into the realm of a deadly and life-altering plague. So many have suffered, many more than should have. Poor timing on the virus’ part to show up when our country was enduring the worst leadership in its history combined with a lack of empathy at the helm. Political ego, narcissism, greed, and lies remain high on the list of reasons we’ve suffered the staggering deaths and contagions.

It was also a year I was greatly helped by a kiss of serendipitous timing. At the close of 2019, several key events and decisions would set me up to better survive the year ahead in relative happiness and possibilities:

  • My housemate and I swapped rooms, and I took the larger one which helped me set up a writer’s studio for my expected work ahead. This room proved to be an ideal retreat to spend most of my days. Conducive to reading, studying, and writing, it would provide some solace over my loss of coffee-shop hopping. With most of the room devoted to these activities, lockdown was, and continues to be, bearable.
  • In the fall of 2019, I revived my online stationery shop, thinking it would embrace my stationery passions while providing a consistent, part-time activity offsetting the mental energies needed for writing. An added plus would be the online socializing and community building with like-mind stationery geeks through Notegeist, the shop I launched on January 2, 2020.

The two other planned efforts for 2020 would sadly not happen, namely writing leading to publishing (the shop quickly took all my focus and became full-time), and my beginning a multi-year, major travel effort enabled by stopping my full-time RVing and the selling the van in October 2019.

Forward With Renewed Hope

At the end of 2020 I was ready to shut down the shop and head into 2021, positioned (finally) to write full time. And travel? Still have to wait (maybe in 2022?), but do expect I’ll get some Michigan camping bursts in this coming summer.

Life under a pandemic eventually settled into a different “normal” than we’ve known, once again proving humans can be resilient creatures. While some of us suspected our “normal” would not return soon, few realized how long it may take to even partly reverse pandemic’s undeniable altering of what “normal” could look like.

Unfortunately, pandemic life also revealed shocking responses from too many Americans. From the stark, selfish actions of many who cared zero about others but only raged about their “rights” infringed by masking, to the weirder-still denial from educated (we assume) citizens about science and the virus, believing a “making shit up” President over science and virology experts. Many claimed (and some still do) that it’s a hoax, or a liberal conspiracy to swing the election. If it is a hoax, it’s a damn “good” one since the facts now are it’s killed more Americans than died during BOTH World Wars I and II. That’s one clever hoax! America is closing in on passing the totals for ALL wars except the Civil War (620,000 then). Let’s hope we don’t eventually eclipse that one too before this is over.

As a practicing Stoic, perhaps the credit for mentally surviving my first pandemic year should go to my learned resolve to focus on and react only to those things I can control. For those I do not, I remain aware but not react or freak out (mostly). That steering of my ship through troubled waters has been key to my keeping it together and healthy.

The reality of now is to stay healthy, avoid infection, and avoid affecting others if it happens. These should be everyone’s goal in the weeks, months, and yes, years ahead. There will still be deniers, and a growing concern that after vaccination many will unwisely toss their masks and distancing protocols thinking they’re immune now (and as has been shown, ignoring the risk to others around them).

I’m in the vaccination queue here now, waiting for the “lottery” to draw my name. The shots will not radically change my behavior until vaccinating the herd majority happens and data rapidly declines. Even then, I’ll continue wearing a mask when out and distancing from others. But it will certainly make me feel my risk factor dropped considerably. For the future me, inside dining is off the list indefinitely, as is being in large groups.

Experts now say we may be at the beginning of a continuous wave of similar, deadly viruses. Our annual Fall flu shot will likely now have an annual companion: a coronavirus booster or new annual unknown vaccine, ever morphing to handle the latest onslaught.

Despite the grim year, there is hope we’ll come out of this to be smarter and more caring about others than we have been. I’m betting we’ll continue to find ways to prosper, be happy, and enjoy life. It seems the final pandemic casualty is our labeling everyday life as “normal.” Our future reality may become one of ever-shifting “normal” du jours.

A Journey of Now

Time flies, as the saying goes. I can’t believe it’s almost March 2021 At a time in life when I want to slow time, getting past the pandemic can’t happen too soon. If you asked me what was the one, single big thing the mentality of retirement changes, I’d tell you it’s how different I feel, sense, and enjoy time than before.

My awareness of what I do and how I spend time is helping to open up thoughts for deeper reflection and to finding new paths of opportunity. While I have much to do and write about in my days ahead, I’ve learned not to think of life as what we do to get somewhere, but a slower absorption and savor of the moments as they happen.

In my youth, I thought, as many of my peers did, the wisdom of “it’s not about the destination but all about the journey” was, well, lame. In those days focusing on the goal, the target, the outcome seemed singularly important, and you did what you did to achieve it.

When you’re young and energetic—unlike the older “car” our lives eventually become, the one that still runs, is fairly dependable, looks decent, but requires frequent maintenance—, the “car” of our youth seemed to never need repairs, always looked great, ran fast, and the chicks loved it when you put the top down and the wind danced through their hair.

Still, I’m happy where I am now and in a better place than in my youth. As I take each step on this path of now, I notice how the ground beneath my feet connects to the Earth in my purposeful walk upon it. How much more I notice of the forest surrounding me and the natural delights from her, ones continuing to amaze and delight from slowing down and taking time to notice.

Life is good, and soaking up each moment is the only way to travel this journey of now.

Recording a Life’s Events

Some of you may have tried user the multi-year diaries before, designed to capture highlights on specific days across three-, five-, or ten-year spans. I’ve dabbled in a five-year version, but wasn’t consistent enough plus didn’t really like the layout, and five-years felt like an enormous commitment… so I abandoned it.

Being a stationery nerd who occasionally just has to check out the latest on JetPens.com, I stumbled onto this Midori three-year diary late last year and loved the layout, the size, and ooh-mama that slipcase. At the time they were out of stock, but recently my color choice finally came back in stock. How did I know? What kind of stationery nerd would I be without a JetPens wish list and the de rigueur “notify me when back in stock” button clicked?

What follows is mostly a visual review, but here are some stats and impressions I have, although I’ve yet to write in it.

Oh, and if you think these are for January-December timeframes, ain’t necessarily so. I plan to start my three-year devotion to capturing each day’s highlights and importance on my birthday in March. Seems like an appropriate anniversary and look-back date for the next three years.

Specs & Initial Impressions

  • Size: 4.5″ x 7.3″ x .9″ thick
  • Layout: Three days per page, all open dated (20__)
  • Pages: ~ 480, ivory color
  • Line spacing: 6.5mm
  • Binding: Hardback
  • Extras: Two ribbon markers, slipcase
  • Cost: $35
  • Color options: Three-year brown/green or light blue/red; five-year black/brown or red/pink
  • My impressions:
    • Midori paper, fountain-pen friendly and should be a delight to write on
    • Lines available should be sufficient per day
    • Binding quality is superb
    • Love the slipcase for long-term keeping

The Love of Older Reference Books

I admit to being a nerd about obtaining reference books for my personal library. And extra nerdiness happens when said books are vintage. There’s something about paying homage to these elderly veterans from many a library bookshelf in their days.

My library used to contain hundreds of reference books. The Internet’s unfortunately proven to be so bloody useful and quick for frequent needs, that I eventually sold, traded or donated away most of my reference books. What remained were the unusual or the old, wise, referred vintage-is volumes whose info still might be Googleable but never anywhere the delight of having them ready for browsing on my shelves.

On a recent trade with local West Side Book Shop, I added these two interesting ones (three actually, since one was a two-fer) to my library. Seems I’m always on the look-out for older reference volumes, and they’re becoming difficult to find these days.

While I expect these new ones, like my other, similar library residents, won’t see deep use, I do expect when I open their seasoned covers and browse within it will be a pleasant, analog experience.

One Mouth, Two Ears

The philosopher Zeno once observed we have only one mouth yet two ears for a good reason: listening makes more of a difference than talking.

When we are silent and open to thinking, or quiet and open to learning, we almost exist in an extra dimension. Some might even say the ability to go silent is a superpower. Being silent better prepares us to learn to minimize noisy distractions and stimulations. Eliminating sound creates more room for deeper understanding and awareness of what’s around us and within us.

Thoughts will not work except in silence.
– Thomas Carlyle

The path to better listening lies in becoming better at silence. Learning to be silent, and steep in that world of quietness where epiphanies and creative ideas can bubble up to the conscious surface, is a sure way to increase one’s awareness within.

  • Composer John Cage, well before his famous (some would say infamous) 4’33” composition, visited an anechoic chamber, a special room designed for complete silence. Is there such a thing as complete silence? As Cage discovered, no. He heard two sounds, one high and one low, that upon discussion with the chamber’s engineer, were Cage hearing his own heart pumping blood and nervous system firing throughout his body.
  • In Helsinki there’s the Kamppi Chapel, designed not for worship but for seekers of spiritual quietness amid the noise of the surrounding city.
  • A study of hundreds of CEOs and financial leaders revealed a common aspect in how they spent their downtimes: activities ensuring an absence of voices.

So set aside some time each day, matters not how little or much, to sit in silence and embrace the absence of outside noises and voices. Over time, you’ll become a better listener and more aware of your own valued internal thoughts.

That quiet is so rare is a sign of its value. Seize it.
– Ryan Holliday