Contemplation on Social Distancing

How has self isolation changed my life? Not as much as I would have thought. I certainly don’t miss the commute. Since I am primarily working with a team at another geographical site, coordination is by Webex and Mattermost. Mattermost is an open source persistent team chat application somewhat like Slack. The actual daily routine hasn’t changed much. If anything, it’s gotten better since now everyone is attending remotely and observing teleconference protocols including keeping their mikes muted when they aren’t talking and depending on the meeting owner to call on them.

I like having lunch with my wife without having to take an extra hour out of my day to meet her somewhere and then drive back to work. I like being able to take my dogs for a quick walk in the back yard when I take a break. I certainly have a wider variety of healthier snacks.

Even my social calendar has managed to improve some. I attend a weekly meeting where we get together and talk for a few minutes. Then everyone writes for an hour and a half. Then we take turns reading three or four minutes of what we just wrote.

Before the quarantine, we met at the Huntsville Madison County Library Downtown Branch. I had to figure out something quick to eat for supper and then drive to the meeting. Afterwards, I had to drive home. Now, we use Google Hangouts, and we even have an attendee from San Diego that would never have made it to our physical meetings. And because there is no time pressure, we’ve started reading four minutes of what we wrote instead of three minutes like we used to at the library.

And doctor appointments have gotten easier. Instead of having to drive to the doctor’s office and wait in a waiting room until the doctor is ready to see you, you can just sit at home and wait for them to connect via Zoom or one of the other telemedicine video chat apps. My psychologist prefers the face to face meeting but I like the teleconference.

Don’t get me wrong. I like seeing people face to face. I like shaking hands and hugging my friends. I like meeting in physical meeting places sometimes. But quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind keeping up some of the social distancing measures even after we get COVID-19 under control. I’m not an introvert. I just think we can use our time more safely and efficiently. Driving around in rush hour traffic, exposing ourselves to whatever virus is making the rounds, eating unhealthy fast food because it’s convenient is not very smart.

The quarantine has been great for reducing the carbon footprint of the whole world. People aren’t driving. Factories aren’t producing pollution. What could we do to retain some of those benefits after the COVID-19 crisis has been managed? And the other big question is, how can we ensure that we don’t find ourselves in this same situation the next time a deadly virus breaks out? We need leaders that respect science and depend on expert advice instead of making things worse by trying to ignore the problem and hoping it will go away.

There are a lot of important questions we need to look for better answers for. We need to restructure our economy so that we can better survive the outbreak of a pandemic. This is not going to be a one time crisis. The next viral outbreak could come at any time and we need to be ready to deal with it.

And there are other crises we could plan better for. Things like hurricanes, tornadoes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, meteor strikes, etc. Planning is the wise thing to do. Having a plan in hand can save numerous lives and large sums of money instead of floundering around in the chaos that accompanies not understanding what has happened and how we should respond to it.

Wash your hands, keep social distance, stay home, and tell the people you love that you love them.

Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

One of my writing groups meets once a week. We talk for fifteen or thirty minutes while everyone gets there. Then we write for an hour and a half. Afterwards, we take turns reading a three minute segment from whatever we have written. It is not a critique group so only positive comments are allowed. We all have other source of the kind of critique one needs to hone their work. This meeting is to give us a time and place to write uninterrupted and then share the victory of getting words on paper with like minded people.

Often, before we start writing, we talk about what we plan to write. Some people are working on novels, some on short stories. Sometimes, they don’t even know what they are going to write. That is the place I started from three weeks ago.

I started writing with no particular plot in mind. The character and setting faded in as I was writing like the beginning of a movie. I recorded what was happening as it occurred to me. Mind you, after I wrote the first segment, I went back and took notes. I listed all the characters and what we had discovered about them as the story unfolded. I even filled in backstory that I thought might be useful in later parts of the story. I also noted every location that appeared in the story.

The second week, I started where I had left off. I still didn’t have a clear idea of where the story was going. I had some ideas about the broad outline of the story that had begun to come into focus as I wrote. And the characters began to take on depth. Each week I discovered new, mysterious facts about my characters and their background. The main character was trying to figure out why he woke up ninety years in the past.

The third week, I again took up where I had left off the previous week. The main character started making short term decisions about how he was going to survive in this strange yet familiar environment. It was while writing this segment that I realized that unlike so many things that I had written, this felt more akin to watching a story unfold in a movie, like someone else was writing the story and I was just observing.

At some point I am going to have to step in and tighten up the story. Cull out things that don’t move the story forward. Add exposition where it isn’t clear exactly what is going on. But that will all have to wait until I find out what happens in this story. Where it ends up. What happens along the way. How the main character changes as a result of what happens to him.

This is how I’ve imagined writing to be. I have always been too anxious about figuring out the plot and describing the characters. It is refreshing to relax and let the characters tell me about themselves and the story to unfold as it wants to. I have a vague fear that I am pulling a delicate thread out of my subconscious and if I pull to hard it will break and I won’t find out how the story ends.

I’ve been having a lot of anxiety dreams centering on the overwhelming bulk of news that is flowing through our daily experience. You can’t seem to escape it. It’s all that is talked about on the news and on the phone or social media when you talk with friends. I used to have trouble remembering my dreams but here lately, they last longer into the day. Even longer if I tell them to someone or write them down.

I’m wondering if the reason that I’m having such luck with the story I’m writing is that I want to think about something other than the pandemic that is dominating so much of our waking, and dreaming, hours. In either case, I’m thankful for it.

Be safe, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and wear a mask if you have to go out.

I Blog Therefore I Am

I didn’t get my blog post written last week. Now it is time to write a post for this week. I’m going to try to write last week’s post, this week’s post, and at least a first draft of next week’s post this afternoon. That is about three hours work and it is almost two o’clock as I start writing. I tend to work better under a deadline. The key is, I have to hold myself to that deadline. I gave the members of my weekly writing group the URL for my blog. Maybe that will help make me accountable for posting my entries on time.

I made a commitment to myself last December that I would post a blog post a week this year. Until last week, I managed to keep that commitment. I intend to do better starting today.

It’s not that I don’t know how to do something on a regular schedule like this. I write a minimum of 750 words a day in my journal. That is a place for me to record private thoughts and to develop ideas that may later become stories or essays in more public venues. I have written 750 words a day in my journal for 1449 consecutive days. Now I just need to make time to write a blog post every week.

I blog for several reasons. First, to practice writing in a public venue where other people can read what I’ve written. This tempers what you write. Some times, I find, it tempers it too much. I have opinions. I should not hesitate to say what I think. If someone disagrees with me, they are welcome to write what they think in their own blog. But there is the fact that I want people to read what I write and enjoy it. It is a difficult balance to hit, being honest about what you think and believe without being offensive about it.

Another reason I write is for practice writing on a deadline. It is obvious that I need more practice at that. The other benefit of practice is it helps you improve the quality of your writing. I write much better now than I did a year ago and much better than I did ten years ago. I’m to the point now where I’m concentrating more on improving the more abstract issues of plot and character than I am on the fundamental quality of my writing.

I also write to leave my mark on the world. In science there is a truism that if you don’t publish a result, it might as well not have happened. In the case of writing, if you don’t publish your writing, you have no proof you ever had those thoughts or even existed. It’s a flawed attempt at some sort of immortality but it is the best I can do right now.

I am beginning to doubt whether the Singularity will happen within my lifetime. I had such high hopes of achieving what I call function immortality, that is you live as long as you don’t destroy yourself in a catastrophic accident. Even then, if you have made a sufficiently detailed backup of your mind, you may potentially live again. You will have a discontinuity between the time you made the last backup and the time the backup is restored into a new body.

Such is the way my thoughts flow in this time of deadly pandemic. It can’t help but inspire thoughts of mortality and dreams of immortality. Besides, what else do I have to occupy my time while I am practicing self isolation? Stay well, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask if you have to go out and stay home if you don’t.

Mission Accomplished

We were sitting at home one weekday morning fairly early in the self isolation period and the power went out. I looked at Pam and she looked at me and we had the same thought. All of our cooking devices are electric except for the fireplace. Now I am sure that we could manage to cook in the fireplace in a pinch but it got us talking and thinking about alternatives.

A couple of days later I was surfing the internet and found a nice gas grill for a very good price. We talked it over and ordered it and a cover for it. This wasn’t our first grill and our old grill had died an early death due to exposure to the elements. It came with free shipping. So, Friday morning, the UPS truck pulled up and delivered it.

I asked the delivery driver to put it in front of the garage on the driveway. I have been building a lot of gardening apparatus for Pam and have learned that putting things together with small parts is better done on concrete than grass. I finished working from home and even mowed the yard before I got down to the business of putting the grill together.

The first thing I noticed was that the box was a lot heavier than I expected. I finally decided to cut the corners of the box and leave the cardboard as a padded surface to work on. The next thing I discovered was that there were a lot more parts than I expected. I found the directions and discovered that I needed a Philips screw driver and an adjustable wrench. After securing the tools, I started sorting the parts.

At this point I have to say that the thing was very sturdy but simply constructed. I followed the instructions meticulously and only had to back up and redo my work on a couple of occasions, once when I put a piece on upside down, and once when I didn’t understand that a piece was supposed to be bolted in place between two other pieces.

The box said it should take forty minutes to put together. After an hour and a half of assembly, I was only half finished and it was getting dark. I gathered the unassembled pieces together and rolled the entire thing into the garage to finish up the next day.

The next day, I was so sore and it was so hot outside, I decided to put finishing assembly off until Sunday. Sunday afternoon I rolled everything out of the garage and after another two hours and a skinned knuckle, I finally got the thing together. I didn’t strip any bolts. I didn’t have any major parts left over. The manufacturer had kindly provided one spare of each kind of nut and bolt. I had exactly one of each.

I had this wonderful sense of accomplishment. And the new found security of knowing that if we had a long power outage, we would be able to cook on our new grill.