What a year. On March 13 of last year, I entered social distancing here at home and have ventured forth only for essential services like food pickup, health checks, etc. If you would have told me all this would have happened a year ago, I would have thought you were crazy. But it all came to pass.
I won’t go into all the details on a global or national level, you can find that elsewhere. But I do want to (mostly for myself) detail how the pandemic changed me. It definitely strengthened certain attitudes I have, but these aren’t really changes. (I might dive into these in another post). But today, I’m talking about whole new ways of thinking or doing things. Things which I do now, but had never done before the pandemic (or only intermittently).
So, I thought about this some and I came up with some points I’d like to share. Mind you, none of these touch on writing, per se. But they all inform and touch my writing.
ONE FINAL NOTE: Most of this post is written as if the pandemic will soon be in the past. There’s no guarantee of that. We might return to a closed or semi-closed stance later this year or in the coming years. Just wanted COVID-19 to be aware of that and not totally jinx things for everyone.
Here are ways I changed in the pandemic. I wonder what yours might be? Let me know in the Comments.
Working from home
I think it’s funny that for years/decades employers said teleworking wouldn’t work. It wasn’t feasible. And then, the moment it became a necessity, we all made the transition seamlessly. Of course, it had a lot to do with technology. But still it makes you wonder how many more “impossibles” out there are really “easily achievable.”
Needless to say, I feel very lucky to have a white-collar job that let me work from home over the pandemic. It’s the same situation for my wife. So, we were able to keep our jobs and had security throughout all this and consider ourselves lucky to have done so.
I have already pre-negotiated with my boss for a couple of weeks to work remotely every quarter. And I might do the same for each Friday or something like that. 4 days in/1 day out per week. I encourage all of you to do the same. In-Office work is overrated and we DON’T have to be there all the time. Just saying.
Wearing a mask
My good friend, Dr. W–, based in Hawaii, says one fundamental change he intends to adopt for the rest of his life is wearing a mask on flights and public transportation. For the foreseeable future, I plan to do the same.
Here’s the thing. I have NOT been sick for an entire year. Not a sniffle, not a cough, not a single incident of food poisoning. NOTHING. If anything, this pandemic for me has been a tour de force in the germ theory of disease. Remember flu season? It essentially collapsed this year. Why? Because people are social distancing and wearing masks. These two methods WORK, people.
I don’t know EXACTLY how and when I will wear a mask when all of this recedes, but I will definitely have masks in the house and intend to wear them on flights and public transportation, at the very least. That’s a big change.
Down the ages seers, philosophers and thinkers have extolled the virtues of living simpler lives. Thoreau is a great example of this in American history: a man who went to live by himself in nature. As he tells it, he went to the woods
“…to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it.”
The interesting thing about the pandemic was that it was a sort of forced mass exercise in simpler living. No more travel, no eating out, no heading to bars and concerts. For some, like me, this was by choice. True. For others, it wasn’t.
In any case, here’s the thing. It’s hard to throw everything away and just retreat to a cabin in the woods. It’s hard to adopt simple living, but it’s easy to adopt simpler living. And you know what? It’s not bad. I found I can live without fancy restaurants, or going to a bar for drinks, or having a fancy latte instead of a coffee at home.
In face, it makes me wonder if, after a year, I haven’t lost the taste for those sort of things. I think when I get out of this, I’m more likely to get a simple burrito instead or a nice lunch at a some swanky place. One of my greatest pleasures during this time has been sitting outside in our backyard with a book and a good cup of tea. The whole thing in cost for tea, book, pencil (to mark passages), and Index cards (a bookmark) would be in the single digits of dollars. A great, quiet time at a low price–that’s hard to beat.
When this is over, I think I will be much more quick to consider the simpler, cheaper option for things. But we’ll see, many say we’ll be more likely to splurge. (I could see that for “life experiences” like travel or live events perhaps which give memories, but don’t take up space in your house). Time will tell.
Gardening for food
Now, I have gardened for some time now, puttering around in the backyard. But last year was the first time I gardened for the express purpose of growing food.
My wife and I talked about doing this for some time after the pandemic began in March. Finally, we decided to get a raised bed. We ordered one through the Web and it came. We loaded it up with soil and we were in business. Last year we planted and harvested tomatoes, poblano peppers, chives, herbs and lettuce. We made sure to spray it with a mixture of water/cayenne/garlic to keep the squirrels away.
It’s a very small bed (2 feet by 8 feet), but I figure it’s better to learn this skill than not. And at times, it felt like we were resurrecting that great American tradition of the Victory Garden. (All my grandparents had small gardens on which they raised plants for both food and decoration). There’s nothing more satisfying than eating a salad made of lettuce and herbs which came from your own garden. There’s something that’s peaceful and just feels right about it. (Side note: we also started composting our scraps and turning it into soil this year. My grandparents also did this.)
This year, we’re going to try potatoes. Gardening is something we want to keep doing once this is over.
Meditation is something I read about and tried here and there (without much success or commitment) over the years. But 2020 changed that. Meditation is now something I do regularly and it’s really been helpful during the pandemic.
This could be a post on its own, but here’s the short story. My good friend, Matt, convinced me to look into the Headspace app. So, I downloaded it. I did one free meditation, then another. Soon, I finished all their free meditations. I decided I had the basics down when I ran out of free meditations and decided to do it on my own.
So, I took a quiet part of the day. I went into the home office, put down a cushion, and set a timer on my Android phone. I started at 5 minutes, worked up to 10 minutes, and now 12 minutes is where I’m at. I “just sit” silently during that time in a what I’ll call a quarter-Lotus position. I let thoughts float through my mind without latching onto them. Sometimes, I do try to keep thoughts out of my mind entirely, but frankly, that doesn’t last long.
In case you’re wondering, I have picked up some of this from Dogen and his writings on Soto Zen. (His Shōbōgenzō is a good place to start, by the way). I was drawn to this sort of meditation because it seemed simplest and because it emphasized “just sitting” without too much…dogmatic baggage. I really could have done any sort of mediation, but this seemed the most accessible and straightforward. So…Thanks, Dogen, you’re the Man!
Meditations does seem to calm my mind some and provide a bit more…perhaps…clarity is the word? Of course, Dogen would say something like: “Darius! Meditation is its own reward. Just sit. Don’t forget!”
Anyway, it’s something I plan to keep doing once this passes.
You’re at home a lot, with nothing much to do. So what do you do? Like many others, I simply looked up. At night…When it was clear…Wondered what I was looking at…And realized I had no idea.
So, first, thing I did was get a constellation App. I landed on the Star Tracker App and was able to identify my first star: Vega…Cool, bluish white, sparkling Vega. For the first time in my life, I was looking at a star and knew exactly what it was.
I grabbed the pair of binoculars we already had. They were a simple 8×34 pair for birdwatching. But for some backyard star watching they were perfect: they gave you a wide field of view and the magnification added a little more detail than your naked eye.
Well, after a new pair of astronomical binoculars, a good book on binocular stargazing, a few months of changing sky, and a few more Apps, I have pretty much learned the night sky (or the Northern half of it). I could list all the things I was surprised to find, but here’s just one to stoke your curiosity: I found an asteroid, Vesta, using just my 10×50 binoculars. Again, if you told me a year ago I could see an asteroid using binoculars from my light-polluted suburban backyard, I would have thought you were nuts!
Stargazing is definitely something I want to keep going in the new year. I might even buy a scope!
So, that’s it for me. The changes from the pandemic year. One thing that has NOT changed, by the way, is my writing. I kept the stories, and word count, building throughout 2020 and I’m proud of that.
Next time, we’ll turn away from all this pandemic stuff and finally, FINALLY, get back to the writing. Until then…
Keep reading, keep writing,