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Friday, July 24, 2020

Agoraphobia

I've never really liked going out. I mean, sure, as a kid I enjoyed the park and the beach, but I preferred to sit in the car for an hour than go into the store with my mom. Going to school every day was this whole exhausting thing.

At boarding school it got worse. A lot worse. Our only trips out were to the park, and that wasn't too bad since I like the outdoors. But every once in a while I would accompany an adult to the store (they weren't allowed to be alone, ever) and it was horrible. Ads everywhere. So many brands. Music. Noise. Strangers. I felt like I was braving the devil's territory. Airports were even worse.

I got over that some when I got back. I think what it really was, was a lack of practice. If you haven't been to a grocery store for a year, it's a big overwhelming experience. If you go a lot and know your way around, it's no big thing. I went to community college and had a number of jobs and the leaving the house bit was tiring, but I wasn't scared to.

Kids, of course, changed the equation. There's just so much to remember and so many ways your attention is divided. You've got to have diapers and wipes and spare clothes and keys and a wallet and sunglasses and sunscreen and a sweater and and and ..... And of course you can't come home without the bread or the milk you left to get. I pride myself that I usually make it through without disaster, but the effort of making sure it's not a disaster is real.

Over the past couple of years, I have worked hard at building normal adult routines. Leaving the house every day, dressing up for work, doing the work, maybe even going to work and doing several chores on the same day! Making phone calls the day I think of it instead of months later. Having meetings with teachers at school where I don't forget what day it is and where I show up with my ID so I can get in. I can't say it's been a huge success. I mean, this past year I did hold down a job and even kept records of what the  kids were learning without anybody telling me to. I felt like I was adulting well, but it wiped me out. Jackie too--I mean, that was a big part of it, that two hours at daycare made her need constant attention for an hour or two before and after. Before the pandemic, I'd already decided not to do it a second year. I was going to try to put Jackie in preschool, but while she was there I wanted to stay home. I thought maybe I could take an editing job. Just anything where I didn't have to put on uncomfortable clothes and remember twelve different items.

The pandemic took a big burden off my plate. There's no work, no preschool, and no big kid school. I don't have to remember what day or time it is. I don't have to get dressed at any given hour or find anybody's shoes for them or pack any lunches. At first this felt like a relief.

But the lack of structure is really getting to me. I'm trying to build my own routines, but it's not the same. Whole days seem to just disappear into filling sippy cups and scrolling facebook. Like, where do they even go? Why is it four in the afternoon? When did that happen?

Worse, I'm out of practice going out, and that means every trip out is that much harder. Where are my keys now? Where's my purse? Why aren't my sunglasses in the car? This, of course, isn't helped by the extra stuff I have to do because of the pandemic: wash my hands, forget and touch my face as I'm heading out the door, wash my hands again, find my mask, check if the store is even open at the same hours, worry about what might not be in stock . . .

Then I get there and it's this whole overwhelming thing, just like when I was in boarding school. Noise! Strangers who may or may not be scowling at me! Signs! Remembering not to touch my face! The stress I feel morphs into fear, as I remember that I could catch the coronavirus on this trip, and that it's my job to do all the things to make sure I don't. I can't just decide not to care, like with many of my other fears I can choose to ignore. I'm anxious all the time about whether there's hand sanitizer at the entrance, whether everyone is masked, whether the aisles are one-way now, whether I'm keeping my six feet (or whether I can, in a narrow aisle), whether people are mad at me, whether they think I'm mad at them, whether I'll accidentally try to buy more loaves of bread than the limit, whether someone will spit or cough on me on purpose because they think the virus is a hoax, whether they'll have any tuna . . . on top of all my usual store fears of going over budget, forgetting something important, forgetting the reusable bags, or embarrassing myself.

Some of these fears are rational, and some are not. So far I haven't caught the coronavirus or been spit on. I have tried to buy too much bread, bumped into people, forgotten bags, and embarrassed myself. My emotional reactions to going on out seem to be getting worse. My mask makes me feel like I'm gagging, and while I know there's no physical reason for this, I can't think it away.

I feel really ashamed of this. As long as I can cope with it, it's my problem only, but if I decide I can't do it? If I order groceries or have John do it? Well, then I'm a failure. My fear of going out is making me incapable of doing something that has always been my job--something I want to be doing myself. I'm not even any good at making a list for someone else, because I can't remember the stuff I need to buy till I see it. (Somebody needs to make a VR Instacart.) I feel like I do so little as it is, especially with my job gone. How do I justify my existence if I can't go out? How do I feel like a grownup if I can't go out?

Even deeper than this fear is the fear that, the more I cede ground to my fear, the less I'll be able to face it. What if I give up grocery shopping, and then the library becomes overwhelming? What if I give up the library and then the park is too much? What if I can't see my friends anymore, even when the pandemic is over? I know lack of exposure makes it worse. So is this pandemic going to set off a chain reaction that ends with me being somebody's weird grandma who lives in a single dark room with the curtains drawn, and she'll text but you can't call because the phone is too scary?

For now, I'm keeping up with groceries. I went to the closer store the other day for just a couple items and that was pretty okay. Everyone was masked and I didn't stay long enough for my mask to bother me. Sunday I'm supposed to go to the further, cheaper store, where I usually take a good 45 minutes to get my shopping done. Last time I went, I thought I was going to puke in the parking lot, the stress got to me so much by the end. I am trying not to psych myself out that this time will be the same. Maybe it'll be different. I'm going to make myself a better mask with a nose bridge and elastic on the sides instead of bias tape, and maybe that will help. I need to succeed at this.

John says it doesn't matter if I can't. That not being able to go out in a pandemic is not the same as not being able to go out ever. That when it's over, I can slowly step up where I go, knowing this time that there's less to worry about. That giving up the store trip now doesn't condemn me to being bricked up onside the house for the rest of my life. I know he's right. But I'm scared, all the same.

Am I the only one who is getting like this lately?
Does anybody still read this blog?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

7 birthday takes

1

I had a birthday on the 7th. Not much notable; it's only 34, not a red-letter birthday. But I did get some nice presents, and we had cake in a friend's yard, each family on a different blanket a distance apart. Jackie has finally stopped crying about the birthday song and participated happily, but then melted down because there were no candles for me to blow out. Sorry, kid, expectorating aerosols all over something we're all gonna eat just doesn't appeal anymore. I wonder if that tradition is gone for good.




2

Black lives matter, right?

I about had steam coming out my ears today when I read a blog post where someone explained why she wasn't obligated to do an anti-racism post "just because it's in vogue right now." This is true. Nobody needs to say something right at this exact second. Hopefully, one has already said something, so that there's no doubt where they stand. You don't have to jump on the bandwagon if you were already on it.

But yeah, you do at some point, as a white person in America, have to "come out" as anti-racist. Because there are a lot of racists still in this country, and they rely on the rest of us to be quiet and not say anything, maybe get quietly flabbergasted if they're too blatant, but to look the other way so long as they're subtle about it. I want racists to notice that allll their friends have a problem with that behavior. I want them to feel uncomfortable at my parties the way I feel uncomfortable at their parties. I want them to wonder if maybe they're wrong. And if they don't get that far, I want them to realize the consensus is so far against them that they can't just spew bigotry all over the place.

I feel like nobody is in any doubt about my views, but I'm vehemently anti-racist and in favor of those protesting police brutality. The latter is a subject I've been following since my libertarian days, first because I was shocked that officers of the state would act that way, and later because I realized there is also a racial bias in who is getting targeted for this behavior. (I haven't noticed the All Lives Matter folks actually doing what I did in those early days, and vocally objecting to police brutality when it's visited on a white person. But I have seen Black Lives Matter people with pictures of white victims on their sighs. Funny, that. Reminds me, more than anything, of people who dismiss COVID with "the flu is worse" but didn't get their flu shot.)

The longer I've followed the issue, the more ugly stuff I've uncovered. Lynching, redlining, massive resistance, Tulsa massacre, MOVE bombing. The history is chilling, and there's no golden moment you can point to when racism suddenly ended. It's still with us.

I think a lot of white people grew up thinking racism was over. Just something people used to think, back in the olden days when people were inexplicably stupid, and is now gone and we are all equal and friends. I sure did. So when you notice how unequal the outcomes are -- and you'd have to be oblivious not to notice the difference in wages, net worth, rates of incarceration, etc. -- the automatic assumption is that Black people are inferior. That they're just not as smart as we are, not as virtuous, not as good at raising their kids. You don't say that out loud, because you know that's rude to say, but deep down you think there must be something about it. If, after all, the opportunities are all equal now.

Well, these days people are saying it out loud a lot more. And the rest of us have had to take a long, hard look and ask: are the opportunities as equal as I thought? And they are not; they are emphatically not. They're not equal when a Black person looks for a job, when they apply for a mortgage, when they are under suspicion by police, when they have their day in court. None of this is equal in any way. And if you take as given that a black person is your equal in every interior way, you have to admit this. Equality of opportunity was promised, but it has not arrived. And that means that the things you strove for and achieved, a Black person just like you strove for just as hard and could not achieve.

It's hard to accept that. Especially when you had such a shining vision of America, where everything was free and fair. And I see why people turn away from it and try to come up with another explanation. But the right thing to do is to open your eyes and look. Even when it hurts.

3

To that end, we went to the BLM march in our town. OUR town. You know, the itty bitty, kinda racist one? We actually had a march!

I wasn't really meaning to go, on account of coronavirus, but I figured a few spaced-out people, outdoors, in masks, should be fine.

Well, actually it was enormous. Over a thousand people came. I have never seen a crowd like that in my town, not for a fair or a concert or anything. There were Black people, there were white people, there were Republicans! There were Catholics that I knew. There were cops marching along. I just . . . I was deeply, deeply moved. So often I feel alone, living here, as if the whole town was one big redneck monolith. And it is not. Not only is it not all rednecks (there were people with purple hair! there were Episcopalian women ministers! there were people with rainbow shirts!) but the rednecks are often as anti-racist as the purple-haired ladies. Everyone was there. Everyone cared. It meant so much.

Ahead of the event, there were warnings on facebook that there would be armed counterprotesters, or that people had threatened to drive into the crowd. That did not happen. There was one suspicious truck with Confederate flags that drove around nearby, but the road was blocked by police cars, and if they had any bad intent, they didn't carry it out. Also when we marched by a diner, three bored-looking young men idly booed. I don't know if they were counterprotesters or just obnoxious.

The boys were not enthused about being there, so they just held my hand and walked along. Miriam was very excited and held her sign up high and did all the chants. The next day she was still running around the house hollering "No Justice, No Peace!"



I don't know what is so special about this moment, compared to other times a high-profile police killing sparked protests. But I do believe it's making a difference. More and more people who never said anything before are now starting to oppose racism and delve into the history of it. Towns are considering massive overhauls of their police departments. Even Congress is mulling over options. I think maybe some change is actually going to happen. But, of course, we can't let this be a one-moment thing. People are going to need to keep the pressure up, not just by marching in the streets but by every method open: voting, keeping tabs on whether our elected officials are keeping their promises, even running ourselves. People more deeply involved than I am could surely recommend a lot of ideas.

2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year, but this whole thing might be the bright spot. As horrible and terrifying as some of it has been. Peaceful protesters maced and beaten, an old man pushed over till he cracked his skull, a young woman tear-gassed to death, just now I read that cops are cutting people's wrists on purpose when they take their zip-ties off. It's sickening stuff. But I think the police are only proving the point that they can't be given unchecked authority like this. Nobody can.

4

Okay, moving on from that. Because most of my life has not been marching in protests, it's been staying at home every day with a passel of bored children.



Really, they're doing okay. Much better than previous summers, even without access to the pool and the park and their friends. We managed one outing to the national forest and waded in a creek, and we filled up the wading pool. I painted the back deck, like I've been meaning to do for about a year. We've played outside. Currently Marko is making up a collectible card game involving dinosaurs. Miriam and Jackie decided to learn sign language today. Some days Michael and Jackie pair off to build with blocks and Marko and Miriam play Star Wars in the yard. That's not a pairing that ever used to happen. That's the nice thing about having four kids, they resort themselves all the time so they're not getting annoyed with the same playmate all day.



School is over, and good riddance. I don't know what we're doing for school next year, because I don't know what the school is doing. My guess is that whatever they do will be chaotic, a compromise between not spreading germs and still educating in which both goals lose about half the time. So I may be homeschooling. I don't want to, but it may be the best of the available options. I'm also thinking that it may be a relief to the school not to have to deal with all of my kids, so they can focus on the kids whose parents aren't home to teach them all day, and the special needs kids who were actually getting something out of all that therapy. (Marko . . . has really not seemed to, lately.)

5

I started querying the novel I started last November, the solar sailing one. The last thing I did before sending it out was dive deep into the physics to figure out how fast my ship could go, how big the sails would have to be, and how exactly it all works. To my shock I found I had totally missed that sails can take you both away from and toward the sun, because you can set the sail at an angle and get enough thrust to degrade your orbit so you fall sunward. This messes with some plot details, but it also meant I got to add a lot more sailing bits to account for that.

Then I had so much fun with the math, including lots of diagrams and Excel charts and new physics formulas, that I thought, you know what I could be doing? More math!

So I'm trying to learn more math, but it's slow going. Somebody heard of teaching math on the internet and thought, what we'll do is VIDEOS. But I hate videos; they never go the speed I think. (The speed I think is 90 mph, freeze, glitch, 90 mph, wander sideways, wait, what is this video about?) Plus then the kids are like, "What is that? What's a percent? Why isn't that like the math I do?"

Someday, I think I would like to take some math and science courses. Christendom was sadly lacking in both. Science, I love for its own sake. Math, I mostly like for the sake of being able to do science with it, but algebra is pretty fun.

6

Oh, and on the topic of solar sails, I made a model. It's still not right. The sails should be bigger and shinier. Think ten feet across and shiny as a mirror. I'm not sure what materials I could use to make that happen. Heck, I'm not sure what my astronauts will use either. It's the future, let's assume they have figured some things out.



7

Things are slowly reopening, even though coronavirus is far from gone. I find this terrifying, even though I knew it was going to happen at some point. I mean, I find going out terrifying enough as it is. On any given outing, I could forget my purse, lose a kid in the store, get heckled by a stranger, burst into tears at the cash register, get lost on the way home, have to change a dirty child when I didn't bring any spare clothes, get a flat tire, get in a wreck, stammer, get pulled over, run into somebody I know and find they don't like me anymore . . . on and on. Now I get the added joy of worrying I will forget my mask, worrying I will touch my face, worrying I will cough, worrying I will forget to wash my hands when I get home, worrying the groceries are contaminated, worrying people are giving me the stink eye for wearing a mask, worrying they will think I am giving them the stink eye for not wearing one, worrying that people won't know I'm friendly if they can't see me smiling, worrying that people are mad at me because I can't see them smile, worrying people won't be able to understand me because my voice is muffled, worrying I misheard someone because their voice is muffled . . . .

Let's just say the social anxiety slash agoraphobia is worse than ever. And I don't even know if it's going to get better when all this is over, or whether this has scarred me so much I'll huddle at home for all of 2021 too.

John is back at work, and of course that worries me too. He's going to be doing hold pickups at the library, which means dealing with the public in a city that's been much harder hit by coronavirus so far than ours. He'll have a mask and precautions are being taken, but I still don't have to like it. However, I'm extremely thankful for our own local library's curbside pickups, so I can hardly begrudge the patrons John serves. I just hope they don't cough on him.

How are you all doing, in the Year of Chaos Twenty Twenty? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Animal Crossing, that capitalist hellscape

I am not much of a gamer. I play exactly two video games: Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. I just really like going around picking cherries while peaceful music plays, I guess.

But I've been thinking a lot about how different they are, economically. In SV, you inherit a house from your beloved grandpa, fix it up, and start farming on a small scale. In AC, you purchase a "deserted island getaway package" from Tom Nook, and spend the rest of the game making it as little like the deserted island you came to as possible.

It occurs to me that Stardew Valley is a distributist paradise. Land owned free and clear, small workshops, everything purchased for cash only. The villain is Joja Corp, the awful company that runs the chain grocery store across the river. Everyone has a job and contributes something to the rest of the town. And almost everything you need is available locally.

Animal Crossing, on the other hand, is firmly capitalist. House upgrades are always bought on credit. You're always trying to make the island bigger and more developed. And most of the decorations you can buy are kitchy and commercial: vending machine, port-a-potty, cotton candy stand. Nobody in the town works, because they have purchased the experience of an island getaway.

Distributism, I believe, is more of an ideal than a practical system. Of course having the means of production broadly distributed is a good thing. But I have read a lot of Chesterton and Belloc trying to figure out how they intended to do it, and remains vague. In a way, it's almost an aesthetic: these things are good and fit with the scheme; those are not. That's why I don't identify as a distributist anymore; the ideals are great but I don't trust anybody that's vague on details.

That said, I do think that there are reasons why a place would become a capitalist hellscape rather than a distributist paradise, and vice versa. After all, there's no truly free market. We have regulations and limitations. It seems to me that having easy credit, a stock market (or, in AC, the stalk market, for selling turnips), and millionaires like Tom Nook are going to push an economy into a large-scale, very un-distributed kind of capitalism.

So what am I saying here?

I am saying that the Able Sisters, Blathers the owl, and I are going to rise up and overthrow Tom Nook. Too long have I sold and purchased everything at the same company store! Too long have I paid money for the privilege of giving away some of my precious, unspoilt island for Tom Nook to sell to a stranger! Too long have I picked native weeds to plant hothouse flowers in rows! Too long have I sweated for his meaningless five-star rating and concerts with a mediocre dog guitarist!

Vive la revolution!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Let's call this individualized education

E-schooling may be the thing that does me in.

The first two weeks we basically did nothing, because the school extended spring break to give themselves a chance to plan something. It was great. We watched a lot of documentaries.

After that we were emailed a giant packet for each kid, with pages to print for each day. The computer fought me about printing everything in the proper format, but I got the pages for them to do. Or, for at least one kid, to scream at and refuse to do any.

Then they had a drive-thru to pick up print copies because obviously not everyone has a printer or can afford to toner to print out 90 pages per kid.

I thought that was just how it was going to be, set up a nice routine to do the work, and eventually got Marko doing most of it. But it turned out that was only enough for two weeks, and at the end of that they rolled out yet another system. Except that it's not so much a system as a giant flood of different stuff.

Each child's teacher has a different system for informing us what work needs to be done, and in Marko's case, uploading the work after. I have had to log into half a dozen sites, and since they all have to log each other out and themselves in, I have to remember all those logins. For extra fun, one of the sites had "first initial and last name" for a login. All three of my school kids have the same first initial and last name!

Miriam has her work in a Google Slides presentation with different categories for subject and week. There are these itty bitty YouTube videos embedded which take a deft hand to pop out so they're viewable.

Michael's teacher is my favorite right now, because all the work for each day is on one page. I can open ONE file and know what his work is for the day. Also, all of the work is independent, which of course means the world when I have the other three all needing attention at every moment. (Not that Michael doesn't still demand attention, but at least it's theoretically possible for him to do it all.) Downside is, all of it is on the computer and we have only two computers. Also a tablet, but not all of the learning websites work on it, and anyway Jackie's got it most of the time we're doing school. Also the second day of school I couldn't find the document because it was posted on the general stream of the Class Dojo app and somehow the app doesn't think I need to see posts from two days ago.

Marko's work is the worst. He has a "choice board," also known as a paralyzing array of options, all of which he hates. Plus twenty minutes of this one app and twenty of another app and 30 minutes of reading. We are supposed to take photos of him doing the work and upload them on yet another confusing app.

It's the turning in that gets me. If the other kids don't finish something, their teachers probably won't know. If Marko doesn't, there are blanks in the app. I don't like leaving blanks in the app. But I also don't want to spend the entire day pressuring him to pick one of several activities, all of which are reviewing skills he already knows.

Normally his special ed teacher has tricks to coax him to do the kind of repetitive work he hates. But she's not here, and we have been informed our IEP has been reduced to a 15 minute group live chat weekly. I'm not sure what good this is expected to do. But I also don't know what else the teacher could do.

The worst part of it all is watching my kids do something awesome and interrupting it. Marko made tickets to Neverland and was getting Miriam to write repeating patterns of shapes to earn one. Michael built a space station out of Legos and we discussed the physics required to keep it in orbit. And I had to stop them from doing that and make them play frustrating, timed math games.

Not that I cave to the pressure entirely. I wrote off Marko's assigned writing activity and let him write a medical text about healing dragons. (Him: can I write it in the original Draconic? Me: uhh how about you write at the top that it's a translation from the original Draconic?) He's sending that to his teacher. That'll be fun.

Miriam was supposed to draw and write about a picnic. Instead she drew an angry stick figure and wrote "I HAYT PIGNIGS." Who cares.

Michael was supposed to write a letter to a classmate. Instead he wrote about how it's Thursday and Thursdays are okay but not as good as Saturdays.

I'm still getting the hang of this new regime, and deciding how much of the stuff they throw at us we're actually going to do.  I get the feeling they sent a lot because they are afraid of not sending enough, and not because they actually expect us to do it all. I'm trying to chart a course between "you do actually have to do some work" and "screw it, we're doing what works for us."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Plague journal #3

Things have been a lot better since I last posted. The kids are doing proper schoolwork now; not a lot, but some. John is doing some amount of work at home--answering the phones, handling library questions by live chat. I'm used to the ongoing drumbeat of tragedy now. It only makes me anxious once in a while. Other times I can go look at the death tally and it's like I'm reading it in a history book from a long time ago. It's so bad I can't quite imagine; my mind just recites the numbers and feels nothing.

It does make me angry seeing people still minimize it. COVID-19 kills more people in the US every day than any other condition. It's killed more than six times as many people as 9/11. And there are still people saying it's overblown. I guess it's hard to change your mind and admit you didn't predict this.

My energy level seems to have dwindled to fit the amount there is to do. I don't have work to do or school to get people ready for, yet I still don't manage to get the chores done. Plus it feels kind of pointless to get the house clean when we're clearly not going to be having any company. The mess got to me a couple days ago and I vacuumed. But it's back to looking medium sloppy.

In general, I like staying home. The yard is blooming; our cul-de-sac is full of pink trees. Most days it's been nice enough to play outside, and I've planted some things. I've had time to do some more crafting than I have in a while. I even bought a huge loom and made a scarf. (My small loom got left at work, with the kids' project on it. I hope we can finish it someday....)



Jackie has been nightweaned at last. Some nights she sleeps through, and it's so wonderful. Other nights, she wakes up at 4 am and goes crazy and punches and screams. Nothing calms her down. I get very tempted to just nurse her, but I would hate to go back now. I lost quite a lot of sleep the first few nights after I quit nursing her. The first night, she woke up at 4 am and didn't go back to sleep at all.

Some days, she's very chill about hanging out with the big kids. It's like Christmas to her to have them around all the time. Other days she just isn't happy and trades off climbing on me and climbing on John. Which is still an improvement from having her climbing on only me all the time!



I've had more time to spend on each kid individually, which is really nice. Marko seems to be flourishing in particular, because I've poured some extra attention on him. He still gets flustered by all the work he has to do, and isn't quite doing it all, but given the reason I put him in school was mainly that I couldn't get him to do any work, I'd say we're doing okay. Michael has learned to spin and sew. He really loves making things. Miriam has done a lot of chores. She's the only kid who really connects chores done with screen time earned and dedicates herself to making it happen.

 I finally got unstuck on my novel and finished the first draft. It was harder to finish than anything I've written in years, but now it's there on the page for me to start perfecting. I think it's pretty good already, but there's a lot that needs to be fixed. I've made myself a firm promise not to query it till my birthday at least. Because I know, from past experience, that some of the corrections that need to be made don't appear till you've left it aside for quite a while.

I went to the store today. I hoped to stock up more so we didn't have to go so often, but the stores can't handle everyone stocking up. At first the shelves were scarily bare. Now everything has limits: 2 loaves of each kind of bread; 1 pack of toilet paper; 6 gallons of milk; 4 cans of tuna; 2 cans of beans. The first time they told me I couldn't buy eight loaves to last us the two weeks, I tried to argue with the poor cashier that I have too many kids to live off two loaves for very long. Then I felt horrible for arguing with the poor guy, who didn't make the rules, and I started to cry. I wanted to cover my face but I couldn't, because of germs. That's probably going to be one of my big memories from all this. This time, I paid closer attention to the limits. The only one I missed was tuna; I accidentally tried to buy six. And when the cashier told me I'd messed up, I chirped, "Oh, sorry!" and moved on with unloading my cart. We're all doing our best here. Him, me, every other person there getting what they need.



Today was my first time wearing a mask, and I was pretty self-conscious. But almost everyone else was wearing them too. I heard a couple of people ask each other, "Do I know you? I can't see enough of you to be sure!" People actually kept six feet apart this time. There was hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit. I feel like everyone is taking it seriously and doing their best, which I didn't feel two weeks ago.

Several friends are out of work or soon going to be. Friends with their own businesses are worried about making payroll or shutting down. It's really hard on people everywhere, and no end in sight. I was distressed to hear that the virus' death rate is disproportionately high among everyone who's already less privileged. It just feels horrible that poverty and racism not only still exist, but that they intensify the awfulness we're already going through.

Lots of other things are horrible right now, too. Domestic violence is worse, of course, where neither wives nor children can escape even for a school or work day. Special needs kids are getting no services. Parents who were barely coping are now not coping. Seniors are lonely and depressed. An autistic girl committed suicide the other day in England, because there's nothing that destroys an autistic person's ability to cope like completely shattering all the routines that work for them.

Some countries are handling this better than others. The US seems to be one of the worst. We're not fighting the virus well, and we're not cushioning the shock to workers either. Online, I see people from other countries worrying about us, pitying us. Those poor Americans. Tomorrow our death toll is expected to pass Italy's for the highest in the world.

The Democratic primary is basically over and the candidate I liked the least has won. So now we've got a race ahead of one sexual predator against another sexual predator. Not the choice I would have liked to have to make. But when do we ever get to choose the greater of two goods? That seems too stupidly optimistic for 2020. I should have guessed. Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren keeps having great ideas and then the people in charge keep not doing any of that.

That stuff is all pretty heavy. And yet, like I said, I feel okay most days. Some days it feels like my chest has gone all hollow, and I want to curl around this world-sorrow and cry. And then later on it's gone, and all I can see is that the sky is blue and my children are laughing. It's as well sometimes that I can't see past the edge of our yard: I can't encompass the world's grief every moment. Sometimes it's the best thing to focus on the fact that I, myself, am all right, that my family is all right, that so far no one I am close to is sick.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Plague journal #2

It has been one week now that we've been isolating at home.  John worked Tuesday, and then they closed the library because too many people were congregating there. Luckily he is on civil leave and is still getting paid. So far I think we have escaped being exposed, though it's hard to say because the incubation period is so long. The kids have played with one neighbor, but I've kept them away from everyone else.

John has gone out to get meds and pick up takeout one night from a Chinese restaurant that is still open. I have not left the yard except for a brief walk Sunday. I should take another one soon. I've never been one to go out if I didn't have to; leaving home exhausts me. But I worry that, having lost the habit of going out, it'll only be harder for me to get back to it later. And probably taking a walk would help my mood.

I'm struggling with anxiety and sadness. It's so hard to deal with knowing the virus is marching on while we hide from it. Reading the daily death tolls. Seeing the posts of doctors and nurses telling what they are dealing with; the masks they don't have and the contagious patients they still have to see. Hearing my friends say they are sick and can't get tested. And worst of all, the people saying it isn't really a big deal, it's a hoax, it's no worse than the flu. I know carelessness will cost lives. So I feel like I should argue, but looking up the data and the symptoms to respond just makes me more anxious and upset.

And there's nothing, nothing at all to distract ourselves with. The kids are doing fine; their imaginations are vast and they aren't worried. After all, they're safe at home, where they can't catch anything. But we adults can't so easily tune it out. We've done a lot of cleaning. I've tried to craft and do puzzles and read. It's hard to focus though. If I could finish my novel, it would be something, but it's hard to keep my mind on it.

I did manage to write a short story. It's about pandemics. I'm pretty sure nobody is going to want to read it anytime soon; and by the time people are over our collective trauma and ready to read about it there will be thousands more jamming up the editors' inboxes. But it made me feel a lot better--both writing it, and later showing it to people and having them say it was good.

At night, I try to fill my head with nice things before bed. I'm rewatching Good Omens and planning craft projects. So I try to think of those things as I go to sleep, but instead I think about the virus and my stomach and chest are caught in a vise. It's hard to make myself relax and rest.

I haven't felt that great for about four years now, since I got pregnant with Jackie. I felt like it was slowly getting better, as she gets older and I get further from the horrific memory of that pregnancy. But this school year has been hard. When it's just me and Jackie at home, she gets even more clingy and demanding. And work on top of that hasn't been so much a break as a source of stress. I was badly needing a break, or I thought I was.

But now that the break is here, and I don't have to work, and John is here to help, and Jackie is playing with her big siblings, I don't feel better at all. I feel a lot worse. I'm not completely sure if it's worry about the world, or just being forced to pay attention to how I feel instead of being numbed with hours of children's nursery rhymes. All I know is I haven't felt this bad in some time.

I think it's time for me to go see a therapist. I don't want to, because it's scary and because it reminds me of spiritual direction. The thought of opening up to a stranger, somebody who isn't anteing up with their own secrets and needing their own comfort, makes me want to puke. But trying to ride this out is not really working. I've been trying so hard to be the emotionally stable one for my whole family, but that extra pressure is only making it harder to manage.

Of course, I picked the worst possible time to decide that I want to make an appointment for anything. Virtual therapy is a thing, but if typing my feelings made me feel better, I'd be fine by now. There's nothing like saying things out loud to a person who's actually there.

There will be weeks more of this at best. The school is hoping mid-April. Others are saying June. And when we do get back--slowly, cautiously, waiting to see if the beast re-emerges--it'll be with a new fear. My dream of spending the summer taking my kids places, now that they're all old enough to be taken most places, has vanished and been replaced with the dream of getting to go anywhere at all.

I am staying very closely in touch with people. I'm on facebook more than ever. I'm chatting in several different bubbles all day. I'm calling family I haven't called in a while. I think this has served to remind me just how important all my loved ones are to me; how irreplaceable they are by any book or TV show or game.

It's too soon to say how much this will change the world. An economic depression is certain. But that won't be all of it. I feel like it's revealing how much of our economy is necessary, how much is optional, and how much is completely fake. We can simply decide to push all mortgage payments back three months, and it's so. Tax day can be pushed back. Rent can be waived, a lot of the time. And yet the truckers must drive, the cleaners must clean, the nurses must work. What will that new realization do? Will we start taking better care of the people who kept us going through this? I certainly hope so.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Plague journal

I should be working on my novel right now. There are a lot of things I could be doing, during this time of social distancing, but I just keep going back to my phone, checking on my friends, checking the headlines, checking on the numbers. I don't want to think about the coronavirus, but I can't seem to think about anything else.

So I figured I'd just write about what it's like. My kids will remember it as a time of fun, lots of screen time, playing in the yard, and no school. But when they're older, I want to be able to tell them what it was like for me.

This certainly is going to go down in the history books; we'll be feeling the cultural and economic effects of it long after it's stopped going around. Maybe, reading the death tolls, people will think, "Well, obviously it was going to be big." But of course, we don't have those death tolls now! We have hints and signs and fears, we have countries beginning to be hit hard and countries with a few cases and people saying it's a huge overreaction.

I first thought it might be a big deal when a friend of mine shared an article to that effect, maybe a month ago. I thought, yeah, okay, that's a little concerning. I picked up an extra package of rice and one of beans, got serious about handwashing, and hoped it would be handled well.

Of course it was not. This country is not being run by adults at the moment. I have ideas for how things could be managed better, but nobody is asking me. If my kids ask if people realized it was being so badly mismanaged--well, I did. But some people even now think that we're lucky to have the leadership we do.

I watched the cases get closer and closer. A few here and there, no worries, they're isolated. Then oh dear, a cluster here and there, community transfer. The sports leagues had cases; they canceled all their games. Broadway went dark. The first cases were reported in our state.

On Thursday I asked my boss if our school would close if the public schools did. She said, oh, that's not going to happen. Just because the schools are closing other places doesn't mean it will happen here. But sure, if that happens, like, next month, no worries, we have spring break soon anyway. We're certainly not going to be the only school open.

So I told my students, if there's no school next week, keep working on this chapter. They were shocked. Surely they won't cancel school, no one is saying that, it's not going to happen. But I thought, with cases already in Virginia, it would happen soon. Sure enough, the governor made the call on Friday. I went shopping before the kids got home, because Friday is my day to, but I wish I had gone earlier. It was very busy. There was plenty of most food, but no toilet paper and little bread.

Our state has had its first death. Most people I know did not go to church on Sunday. A lot of people are still saying it's a massive overreaction; it's one death and people die of flu all the time. I'm watching the news from Iran and Italy and seeing how fast this thing spreads, how high the death rate is, and I am pretty sure it will soon be that way here. I am glad the schools are shut down and I wish people were distancing themselves more than they are. Doesn't do much good to shut things down halfway.

At this point, some people are staying home entirely. Plenty of people are still going out--congregating in restaurants, congregating at bars, getting the kids together for playdates. I'm trying not to. I let the kids play with a neighbor and now I'm second-guessing it. After all, John's work still isn't canceled. I don't want to be a vector between his work and another family.

The stores are still a nightmare. I thought people would have stocked up by now and would be staying out of the stores, but they're not. Everyone wants toilet paper; no one could possibly need that much toilet paper. Somebody bought up thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer so he could resell at a profit. That kind of thing disappoints me. I would like to believe that in a crisis, we'd all choose to be community-spirited and pull together, but unfortunately in a crisis people remain about the same.

Our capitalist economy, so good at handling other kinds of change deftly, is hindering us here. People go to work sick because they don't get paid if they don't. Plenty of companies will fire you for being sick too much. People are scrambling for childcare because they have to work but the schools are closed. A coronavirus test, if you can get one at all (you can't in my town) will cost over a thousand dollars. We're beginning to realize that we are only as safe as the poorest and most vulnerable, but not in time to do very much about it. We desperately need some kind of economic help: a fund to cover sick pay for people in quarantine; eviction freezes; no payments needed on rent or loans. Instead there has been a bailout only for the banks.

Here at home, we continue on. The kids have painted, done puzzles, played with playdoh, watched documentaries, played on the computer, read books. They would like to go somewhere but don't seem too upset yet that we can't. Tomorrow it should be nice and they can play in the yard. Maybe go for a walk.

Facebook is full of selfies and memes and conversations--for me, not many arguments, just checking in. We are a little bored and a lot scared and that makes us need to talk to each other as much as we can. If we can't be together in person, let's text each other fifty times a day.

This is three days in; it's nothing yet. We're going to get a lot more bored yet, and a lot more scared. A few people I know have fevers and can't get tested. That's going to increase. Some people I know may die. I hope not. Both of my surviving grandparents are isolating themselves; everyone sick I know is doing what they can. I'm not afraid for myself; I don't want to be sick, but I am in good health generally. I'm likely to be able to get over it on my own. And I'm not afraid for my kids. They're supposed to be pretty resistant. But I am afraid for the 3% who will die if they get it, people I know and people I don't know. And I'm afraid for the many more who will die if they get it and can't get medical care because the hospitals are overwhelmed. There's a "flatten the curve" thing going around, but there's no scale bar given. And why? Because the peak of the natural curve is so steep that it's many, many times the level we can handle. To flatten it out enough, we have to stop it almost in its tracks. Which I hope--I wish I could believe we will.

I don't feel very hopeful. I feel like I'm watching a car wreck in slow motion; the outcome already determined, my feet glued to the ground. Nothing I can do can make it not unfold this way. All I can do is watch and root for humanity over a virus. I grew up thinking plagues were over; that pretty much everything serious was eradicated or treatable. Now I just worry that after this one has its way with us, there will be another, and another. And humanity too divided, too suspicious, too panicky to do anything but run and hoard and spread it.

This has been a really hard four years for me. I was just recovering from losing my faith in 2016. I thought, you know, it's a shame God doesn't have it all worked out, but we have each other. Humanity's doing pretty well considering. I read The Better Angels of Our Nature and felt like maybe things were just going to get better all the time, as we learned how to do it.

And every damn thing in the past four years has been reality hitting me with a wet smack in the face: NO! IT'S! NOT! GETTING! BETTER! Maybe there's a hard upper limit on how civilized humanity can manage to be. Maybe we're just too broken inside, not from a fruit but because evolution didn't care if we were happy or good, only that some of us were strong enough to live. Maybe we'll wipe ourselves out from our stupidity, sooner or later, with one thing or another. Maybe that's why we've never found any aliens: because nature doesn't create anything that can handle getting this far from barbarism.

I'm sorry about these negative reflections. I know it's not the whole story. I know that people are good and kind and that I'm not the only person sacrificing all the things I might rather do to save the lives of others. My neighbor braved the stores and brought me a pack of toilet paper today. That has to count for something. I want to believe things can be better. I make plans for how we'll handle the next pandemic, how prepared we'll be, what leaders I want handling it. I wait and see what will come. I wash my hands and share funny memes and try not to spiral. That's kind of all I can do right now.

That, and I can make my kids remember this as the fun school break where they played cards and got to watch so much TV.
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