Month: March 2020

My Weekly Quarantine Schedule

One of the biggest challenges when Howard quit Novell to be a full time cartoonist was lack of schedule. This is a common problem. If I have three hours to get ten things done, I’ll do all ten. If I have all day to do one thing, odds are it won’t get done at all because I will always feel like I could do it later. So with the external schedule items like school drop offs and pick ups removed from my schedule, there has been a bit of floundering and losing track of which day of the week I’m in. Fortunately some of the requirements of quarantine living have begun to show me what are the fixed points in my week.

Fixed Points
Sunday: Church at home and trying to avoid doing money earning work in an effort to keep the sabbath holy. Since work is a thing we cling to in times of stress, Sundays can sometimes be a challenge.

Monday: Mailing packages, fill up gas (if needed,) Food inventory in the evening, clear counters for groceries to arrive in the morning. Right now our online store is still allowed to function as it falls under “mailing services.” Also I go solo to a warehouse where no one else is allowed to enter, make packages, and drop them at a post office without interacting with anyone else. If my state goes full lock down, mailing will stop. Until then we still have something of an income. The food inventory is something I’m adding for next week. I’ve started grocery shopping once per week. At first we were in stock-up mode and I would pick up one or two of any item that we tend to use. Today I got home from the store and realized that I’d picked up some items we were already fully stocked on. It isn’t a problem. We’ll use them, but I need to be inventorying what we’ve used in the past week, making a list, and paying attention to it while shopping so that I’m not accidentally overstocking all the time.

Tuesday: Grocery shopping, sanitizing groceries, putting them away, updating list with things I couldn’t get this week. I have two grocery stores I go to each week. They have conveniently staggered opening hours so I can get to the first one as it opens then go to the next one an hour later as it opens. Being there for opening means the store is at its cleanest and it is as re-stocked as it will get that day. It is less critical to be there for open now that I’ve got a sufficient supply of flour, but I like getting the major task of the day done first. There are a few items that are only available at Walmart or Sam’s club, but it looks like I’ll be able to only go to those places about once per month or so. When I get home we wipe the groceries with a disinfectant and put things away. This includes partitioning and freezing portions of meats, moving dry goods into plastic canisters, and other arrangements so that everything stores in easily accessible packaging. In the evenings Howard is part of a live stream so the big TV has to be off from 7-10pm. (It used to be that Howard would leave the house for this live stream then my 17yo and I would watch movies that no one else in the house wanted to see. We’ve yet to find a replacement movie time.)

Wednesday: Is currently lacking any sort of requirement. This means it might be a good day for me to declare as Fiction First where I have to do fiction writing before anything else.

Thursday: package mailing and Writer’s group via Zoom in the evening. This means I have reading to do earlier in the day.

Friday: Accounting. I used to also have preparing the printed program for church, but that job is on hold until church meetings resume. I always sit down with my accounts once per week even if not much has happened in the week. Being regularly familiar with the numbers prevents me from avoiding looking at them because I’m afraid they’ll be scary.

Saturday: No fixed requirement

Floating schedule items
Telehealth therapy sessions for two of my kids. Times and days vary week to week.
Any other online social things I might want to schedule or participate in.

That is the shape of my weekly schedule. My daily schedule is squishier and that is where I get a bit lost. If I want to put exercise into every day, where does it fit? If I put it first thing in the morning, then the morning grocery trips interfere with the pattern. Also it is really easy for me to decide to stay up later than usual, so then getting up in the morning is variable. But writing this out has pointed out to me the squishiness of my daily schedule, so now I can think on it and perhaps find some solutions.

Making Space for Writing Again

You’d think that the cancellation of all out-of-the-house events would leave us creative types with long leisurely hours in which to create. The trouble is that fear tends to clog up the creative flow. We’re now three weeks (maybe four?) into self-isolating and the active fear of infection has waned. Logically we still know it is a risk, but the animal portion of our brains has calmed down. It can only stay alarmed for so long with nothing physically happening before it calms and goes back to sleep. For several weeks reading news reports was sufficient to re-activate that fear, now it appears I’m even acclimated to that somewhat. So now events are gone and terror has faded. Also we’re two weeks (three? time has gone very wibbly wobbly of late) into schooling from home. The routines of that have settled in. Mostly the routine is me reminding my son that schoolwork exists, him acknowledging that it does, then him ignoring it for the rest of the day. The point is we’ve fallen into patterns, I should have hours in which to create. But I’m not. Because also removed from my schedule are all of the activities where I get outside my box (house) and percolate new ideas. Any errands I have to run are done as efficiently and infection-free as possible rather than me wandering and thinking as I go.

I’ve seen all the memes. The ones which joke about thinking how creative they’d be if only they had time, only to now discover that time was never the problem. I’ve also seen the ones granting permission to not be creative or productive during a world wide pandemic. Neither of these memes nor a dozen more is what I need at this time. Instead, now that other things have fallen into rhythms, I need to look at the circumstances of my life and figure out how to adjust those rhythms to fit in fiction writing. The odds of any fiction I write ever seeing print are small, but the writing and the publishing are two separate endeavors. I can tackle publishing later. For now I need to figure out how to defend a space for fiction writing to live. Then I need to have patience if that space doesn’t immediately fill up with beautiful prose writing. This is a “if you build it they will come” moment. Once my creative brain trusts that the space will be there, it will learn to show up.

In one of my presentations I talk about willpower being a limited resource, and trying to build a creative life comes easier if you require as little willpower as possible to keep it running. What I’ve described in the last paragraph sounds like a space made out of force of will. And it is. I think that is where I have to start, but I also need to be seeking ways to build the creative space so that the rhythms of our lives just naturally flow around that space, leaving it open. It is an interesting challenge, and the first step is figuring out how to get my brain to want to engage with an interesting challenge instead of just hibernating watching Netflix and waiting for the pandemic to be over.

A List of Happy Things

I’m feeling low today, so I am going to list some things that I am grateful for or that are making me happy today.
1. My house has five people in it. This has its own set of challenges, but it means that we are not isolated and alone. We can mix and match to share activities and generally take care of each other.
2. The sun is shining and flowers are blooming. This is such a strange spring with the world shutting down and horizon’s being constricted, but it would feel so much worse if we were mid-winter.
3. I managed to find flour in enough quantity that I’m comfortable baking whenever I feel like it rather than needing to carefully ration the supply.
4. Things that had vanished from stores are starting to come back again.
5. As said even more beautifully in this tweet, people all over the world have walked inside and shut their doors behind them to protect the vulnerable among us.
6. This poem: The Unseen by Fran Wilde, which reminds me that even though the world has contracted for a time, the mountains and vistas are still out there. We’ll reclaim them when the fog has cleared.
7. The UN found a stockpile of 250,000 masks and is sending them to New York. Throughout the world those who are better off are taking care of those who are not.
8. Talking to my 76 year old mother on the phone from two states away, and hearing her tell how several of her neighbors have checked in on her and offered to bring her groceries. “They’re watching out for the elderly.” She says in an amused voice because she doesn’t consider herself elderly, instead she is looking out for those who are older than her and many who are younger because she feels they need more help than she does. (But she’s also staying home and having groceries delivered.)
9. Our three cats who continue doing all their regular things completely oblivious to any changes in the world outside our house other than the fact that there is now green grass out there which they sometimes get to nom.
10. Friends who reach out to me in various ways or reach out to each other where I get to see.
11. Howard working magic in the kitchen to turn raw ingredients into delicious food. He is a kitchen hedge wizard who can work magic with the supplies on hand.

Filtering the Noise

Part of my daily routine is to open my computer and check my social media and news sources. For a long time I only had about five places that I checked regularly. That was enough to keep me apprised of events in the world and in the lives of my friends. I’ve added a couple in the past weeks, because I am fascinated by the data around our current global pandemic. It is equal parts fascinating and terrifying. All of my usual places have gotten noisier. Pandemic related news updates by the hour and the minute. Government officials at all levels are passing legislation and making declarations. Part of my morning check in is simply to see how the rules have changed today, so that I can alter my behavior and anticipate what my family will need to weather the altered shape of our lives. Grocery shopping and food resource management occupied a lot of my attention for two weeks as I shifted from being able to run to the store any time I needed something to planning ahead for once-per-week shopping. I’m also reading the news, trying to comprehend what is going on, trying to get my mind to understand it when everything I can see from my front doorstep is so very normal. Then sometimes it swings the other way, and everything becomes too frightening.

Many people are going through the same rounds of emotions. Since humans are pro-social creatures there is this overwhelming desire to do something to help others who are feeling the same things we are feeling. So, along with the increased frequency of mandates, news, and pandemic information, there is also a flood of positivity. There are more pictures of animals. People are posting videos of themselves singing. Services are being offered for free. The online world has opened up with a wealth of enrichment possibilities. This is also noise. It fills my head just as much as the hard things. Because while I’m trying to reconfigure the way I manage food, my work routines, and my children’s education, I also feel like I should be taking advantage of the chance to watch Opera for free, or listen to dozens of audio books, or watch series that are suddenly available to me. There is also the sense that I, as a creative person, should also be creating something to help.

Even on a good day, a normal before-the-pandemic day, my mind is a very noisy place. I’m slowly coming to realize that it is just as important to tune out the positive noise as it is to step away from the hard news and numbers. I will never find my center out there on the internet. It lives inside my bones and I have to quiet everything else down enough that I can listen. Listen to myself. Listen to the quiet voices of inspiration. Listen to the divine which is always there for me once I quiet the noise enough to connect with it. I’m doing my best to use religion-neutral words to describe this source of strength in my life, though my experience of it and framework for it is very much grounded in the tradition I was raised inside. In all the noise, I have been distracted from prayer and from studying scripture. This is a thing my life will be better if I correct. Meditation is not an integral part of my religious framework, but I’ve long felt that building it as a practice in my life would help me stay more centered. I don’t need more noise, more stories, more enrichment, more distraction. I need more quiet to balance out the shifting craziness of living through a pandemic and the probable economic depression which has yet to fully hit.

Now I just need to figure out how to make myself follow through on all these grand thoughts. Building a system which requires a daily exercise of willpower is setting myself up to fail.

Site Update

I’m updating the site architecture because the WordPress theme I’ve been using since 2012-ish was terrible for reading on mobile devices. The site looks more plain now, but it is more readable, especially on mobile devices. Hopefully I’ll figure out how to pretty it up as I go.

No Longer the Conductor

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I see pictures and posts from my friends who are parents of young children. They are all scrambling to adapt their families to life in various states of quarantine. I see the photos of crafts and outings. I read about frustration and being overwhelmed. Occasionally I have words of support to offer. I have to admit that along with the sympathy I feel, one of the emotions in my head as I read these posts is jealousy. These families are struggling to contain young ones who want to be busting out into the world. They are building new structures and patterns. In my family the strictures of quarantine are requiring everyone to sit in old, depressive patterns that we were trying to escape from. Last night my 19yo had a bit of a cry saying “It is silly. I’m at home all the time anyway, this shouldn’t feel any different.” But it does, because there is a world of difference between choosing to stay home because of depression and being required to stay home because of mandate. Yes we were already sitting in a pit with depression, but now pandemic has slapped a lid on top of the pit trapping them in the hole with the depression. All of our solutions were aimed at getting them out of the pit, now we have to learn how to conquer mental health while being cooped up with it.

When my kids were younger, this quarantine would have been exactly the sort of challenge that excites me and spurs my creativity. I would have been researching optimal schedules, planning crafts, feeling overwhelmed, feeling guilty for letting them watch too many movies, making them help clean the house. I would have lamented difficulties and found moments of joy. All of which is exactly what I see in my friend’s posts. Through all of that, I would have given myself a structure because “the kids need it.” I tried to do some of that last week. I declared that each day would have a Mom Project in the middle of it. It would be the fixed point in all of our days that would give us structure. They could then plan their other things around it. Day one my attempts caused a meltdown, which wasn’t surprising since any expectation often leads to meltdown around here. The following days went better, but by day four I had a conversation with my 17yo where it became clear that my young adults neither wanted nor needed the structure of a daily Mom Project. I was the one who desperately needed some control lever on our new life patterns. As soon as I realized the Mom Projects were more for me than for the kids, they stopped happening.

I am no longer the creator of my family culture, not in the ways that I used to be. We all create it for each other. We used to be a musical ensemble with me as the conductor. Now we’re a quintet that really needs me to step off to podium and pick up an instrument instead of pretending to be in charge. I miss being the conductor. It was my role for so long and was a comfortable space for me. I got to choose and manage and plan. My current job is much harder. I have far less illusion of control. I care deeply about the happiness of my children and their futures, but I have to step back and let them make choices. Sometimes I can see where the choices they are making don’t lead them in the direction they say they want to go. Then I have to decide whether to allow them to experience natural consequences or whether to place myself as an obstacle trying to redirect their course.

We were just finding a balance for my 17yo attending school, going to therapy, and managing household chores. Then pandemic, and suddenly teachers are emailing me and expecting me to step back into a schoolwork supervisory role that I had carefully and deliberately stepped out of. Every time they email it pokes me right in the hurting guilty place where I’m not at all certain I’m making the best choices for my child, who is almost not a child anymore, and who definitely would like me to back off. Wanting Mom to back off is an important and age appropriate stage of emotional development. He is claiming his own identity and becoming responsible for his own life. It is difficult to try to honor his need for me to back off while being barraged with emails asking me to step in. So strange to have to withstand the barrage and hold space to allow my son to choose to fail so that he can (hopefully, eventually) learn from that failure in ways that motivate him to build a future he wants.

So among the other griefs that pandemic has dished out to me, I’m also managing the ongoing grief of figuring out parenting. I need to acknowledge this. Then I need to spend some time in the rest of today consciously noticing the gifts that being trapped in quarantine is giving my family, and the things I love about my kids being young adults and not small anymore. There are joys here and I need to focus on them.

Scattered Thoughts

You’d think that since we did partial homeschooling for a year an a half before Covid-19 that switching back to schooling online would be easy. Instead I’m watching increased likelihood that my teen will drop out and do a GED instead.


I’ve read books and seen movies about people living in times of upheaval. Often it is a war, sometimes a Great Depression. Those fictionalized accounts focus on people whose lives intersect with the most dramatic parts of their setting, like the way that somehow Rose and Jack manage to see every exciting moment of the Titanic sinking during the course of the movie. I never understood before how much of living through a major world shift is boring. Boring mixed with inconvenience and sprinkled over with uncertainty.


I’m glad that my state government and health department have created a cohesive plan with action points which trigger based on scientific data. That feels like the right approach to me. This is also a moment when I’m glad to have a state government that is separate from the national government and a city government that is separate from the state government. It creates a world of political wrangling, but there are people out there making hard decisions as best they can. I also think that Utah has an advantage in that our Governor had already announced he’s not seeking re-election. That means his choices are not being tugged at by needing to make voters approve of him.


Some people are posting their experiences using number designators (IE: Quarrantine Day 3.) I have no idea which day was my day one. Do I start from the day when Howard and I started pulling back and self isolating? Do I start from the day I canceled a trip? Do I start from when NBA was canceled? Or church was canceled? Or school was canceled? I suppose I could start with the official Utah social distancing instructions. It all rolled out in pieces without a specific day as Day One. I’m pretty sure I’m somewhere in week two, but we might have rolled over into week three. I’m watching updates and graphs, wondering if my state will also end up with a Stay At Home order. Right now many people are still going to work and many businesses are open. We’re prepared for it.


I don’t like wondering if tightness in my chest is anxiety or illness. So far, anxiety.


I wish that in this time of crisis my country had a president who would choose a course of action and stick with it by explaining and educating the public on why the course was chosen. Instead we have a weather vane of a president who changes his position with every shift in societal winds. Sometimes he shifts his position halfway through a sentence or a thought. I watch the rippling reactions on social media to his every sentence. In the past 24 hours he’s started suggesting that we need to re-open the economy and just take the hit in lives lost. I would not be surprised to see him swing back the other way as the death toll climbs. He’s already wobbled in his course multiple times, I expect that to continue.

I think we were always going to have a broad spectrum of reactions to this crisis, but I wish we had a national leader who would draw us together into one country. Instead we have to look to more local leaders for inspiration to pull us together. I’m not just talking about elected officials, but also those within communities who step up to calm, explain, exhort, and organize. None of us knows what the future will bring. Every choice has consequences. All we can do is try to think beyond ourselves and help each other as best we can.

Emotional Reactions and Grocery Shopping

I read a twitter announcement of another state issuing a Stay At Home order. The thing that was most interesting to me was the responses to the announcement. There people angry that the governor had decided to participate in “this unnecessary hoax and farce.” There were people asking fearful questions trying to determine how their particular situation was impacted. Some advocated ending the craziness by letting people go back to work. Some were doing the terrible math of cost benefit and were more afraid of permanent economic damage than the body count. Some were grateful that the step was finally being taken. Some praised the decision. I did not spend too much time reading these comments, the first two dozen were emblematic of what I expect the remaining thousands would also say. As I read, I felt so much sympathy for all of these frightened people whose worlds have become uncertain. Yes I even feel sympathy for the ones who are defiant and angry about disruptions they consider unnecessary. I’ve heard each of these opinions inside my own head as I look at the world around me. I think all of these things and then I choose which of those thoughts get expression in word and action. I hope for the sake of the angry defiant people that they get to keep their angry denial rather than being a person who ends up in the hospital or being a person who loses a loved one.

This morning my church issued a statement to remind all the missionaries who’ve been pulled back home about the importance of isolating for 14 days. Apparently a large mass of missionaries came home all at once and they were greeted at the airport by a large mass of family and friends who came to greet them. The perfect mix for a transmission event. I understand this behavior too, the longing to hold onto some fragments of the things we expected to have. Missionary families look forward to that reunion moment for years and it has always taken place at the airport. In fact the new construction at the airport is designed to allow for exactly that. It hasn’t hit everyone yet how much has changed, how much needs to change. On a smaller scale, my family had to decide whether my married daughter and her husband are allowed to come into our house bringing their different germ exposures with them. It is the same decision as greeting at the airport, do we get to continue doing this thing the way we’ve always done, or do we have to lose this thing we enjoyed. The answers are not easy because the emotional need to retain what we can is critically important.

I set my alarm this morning so that I could be at Walmart when the doors opened at 7am. There was a line outside of about 15 people. Everyone entered politely and most scurried to the toilet paper aisle. I went for baked goods because the first item on my list was flour. Flour wasn’t available, but I was able to get a pack of toilet paper and a pack of paper towels. One per customer. By 8am the small supply was all claimed. Supply chains are still functioning and still trying to adapt to the shifts in consumer behavior. Flour will probably become available again in a week or two, but I’ll probably have to be present when the doors open to be able to get it. I had yet another expensive shopping trip, because we’re still doing our initial stock up on essentials. Flour is the last item. After this the trips will be smaller because we’ll simply be replenishing.

And now I’m off to learn how to run a Zoom meeting because apparently I’m drafted to run tech for TypecastRPG while they can’t meet in person.

Predictions, Realizations, Trolleys, and Metaphors

Unprecedented, that is the word for the pandemic experience. It is a hard word to live with because it means we don’t have a map for what to expect. Humans like maps and patterns and predictability. If A happens then B is likely to follow since that is what usually happens. I see this longing for predictability in news posts and graphs. The graph of the current state of Covid-19 in the US is compared to graphs from other countries: Italy, China, Singapore. These were the unwitting trailblazers. Their experiences are the only signposts we have in the fog. “We’re mapped to Italy, but about 11 days behind.” “We can get the Singapore graph if we’re more stringent about isolating.” Only US culture, geography, and necessity means that our graph will be our own, perhaps similar to some of the other graphs, but still unique. It will be the job of future historian/statisticians to explain to us why our graph looked the way it did. Why some segments of population were so much more impacted than others. From this end of the experience, explanations aren’t yet possible, only predictions and decisions.

On a smaller scale, I’m watching realization play out in the minds and hearts of people. For me the reality that the future is forever different first hit on March 11. I’ve had to re-recognize that experience as I try to come to terms with it. As I face the fact that there is no going back to the way things were, not even if the virus magically vanished over night. For my daughter, newly married and living with her husband in her father-in-law’s house, the realization hit on March 15. I’m watching others make the realization now. And I’m in communication with people who are still making plans for June and July in ways that suggest they think that normality will be restored before then. I see posts from people and recognize the emotional place I was in a week ago or two weeks ago. I’m sure others read my posts and recognize my emotional stage as something they’ve already been through. This is a rolling, growing, expanding crisis. My neighbor is one week behind me emotionally, which means I can empathize and be kind in helping them deal with where they are at. Italy is ten days ahead of us in crisis, which gives us a signpost and means government leaders have graphs to argue over as they try to decide whether to hold course or to swerve yet again.

A thing I saw on twitter and retweeted feels very true to me:

“It’s a trolley problem, see… if we stay the course we’ll hit all those old people, if we swerve too hard we could hit all those poor people.”
“Wait, who tied all those poor people to the tracks?”
“Not now, we’re in a crisis!”

We’re all on the tracks waiting to see if a trolley will hit us, if it will hit someone else, if collective action has made the trolleys evaporate, or if there are multiple trolleys and impact is inevitable. Government is frantically trying to put together legislation to get people off the tracks and frantically trying to convince people to stay home and remove themselves from the tracks. Only time will tell which actions saved lives and which caused them to be lost.

I suspect I have entirely too many metaphors in this post, ships and fog and trolleys and signposts. Which pretty much matches my state of mind, so I’m going to let the writing stand as it is and go think about other things for a bit. We have an in-home church service to run later today and a Skype call with my daughter to arrange so that she feels less exiled from her family by quarantine. No matter what the situation is or what the outcome will be, we have to help each other through it. That is how we survive.