Writing for me has become harder.
It’s October 6th, day whatever of our home quarantine thanks to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus and President Trump’s utterly abysmal failure to confront it early on. We’ve been essentially holed up since March going out only for essential shopping, medical appointments, takeout or curbside food, and little else. My company shuttered its downtown Raleigh office in favor of an everyone-work-from-home model. I haven’t hugged my mom or dad in over seven months.
We do get out for exercise every weekend possible. Kelly and I have put a few hundred miles on our bikes riding the greenways. But I still won’t go into an office building or an enclosed space for any longer than necessary.
We’ve learned so much about COVID-19 since those early days. Poorly-ventilated spaces are the worst, particularly if they’re crowded. Outdoor activity is safest. Experts roll their eyes at the photos of people at beaches used to illustrate pandemic news stories, as those scenarios are among the safest.
January marked a year since we said goodbye to our Black Lab, Rocket. The house has been clean but quiet since then but facing the prospect of an emptier nest this fall, Kelly and I began kicking around the idea of another dog.
In February, a friend who is a volunteer dog rescuer brought over a dog she was trying to home. While this female dog seemed okay, she was unusually focused on tracking down our porch cat and seemed to pay us little attention. It would have been nice to help our friend out by taking in this dog but that spark I expected to feel just wasn’t there with this particular dog. Our search resumed.
One of Kelly’s friends mentioned to her that there were two dogs needing a home. These dogs had been abandoned at a neighbor’s boarding service ad were part of a trio of dogs, one of which found a home with another neighborhood friend. We arranged for them to visit us so that we could decide which one we would adopt.
Our boarding service friend Laura brought the dogs, Abbot and Tobin, over March 1st and gave us their long backstory. Both are hounds who had been in the kennel for the best part of a year. One was a stray and the other was part of some kind of dog-hoarding situation. They’d been together for months.
After a public performance or two over our New Years trip I thought I’d take my singing more seriously. I quickly realized the huge library of karaoke songs on Spotify and that could use this and some Googled lyrics to turn a PA speaker into a karaoke machine. I’ve posted two of my songs to YouTube already (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” By Elvis Costello and “Pink Cadillac” By Bruce Springsteen) and have gotten positive feedback. It feels good to be able to try something new, share it with the world, and get feedback on it.
It’s been a good lesson on how I sing, too. I sang in chorus in middle school and sang in my church’s youth choir around that time, too. I’ve been singing along to my favorite music whenever I’m alone at home or in the car. Once my colleagues caught me singing in the server room when I thought the roar of machines was drowning me out! Rarely did I sing for an audience before.
I have learned that singing with the goal of sounding the best is new to me. I realized that many of the songs I’ve been singing along to, ones that I’ve enjoyed singing, are not necessarily songs fit for my vocal range or style. When I’ve tried to do karaoke versions of these songs I quickly realized the ways in which my voice came up short. You know what? I have learned to be fine with this. I can’t nail every song but there are still hundreds or even thousands where my voice fits just fine. My list of karaoke songs is now well into the hundreds and I can easily organize a hefty, interesting set list to cover any performances.
Wednesday marked the start of our seventh week in COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine. Not much has changed in our situation, which is good. We have gotten into a bit of a routine, with Kelly and me sharing an upstairs office, the kids doing remote classroom work in their rooms in the morning, and everyone retreating to quiet areas of our home when needed. Our new dogs (did I mention we now have dogs?) have taken to this routine very well as it’s the only routine they’ve known since we brought them home from the kennel. Having them around has provided us good company.
I still go out on occasion for groceries, braving the line at Costco about every two weeks. I try to get there when it first opens to minimize contact with potentially sick people. At the start of the pandemic, I might wait outside for 30 minutes while the store metered the number of people inside at one time. By my last visit on last weekend, the wait was down to six minutes.
The routine is this: wait in a “socially distant” line outside of the store, with 6 or more feet suggested between people in line. Get to front, show card, get let in in a group of two or fewer at a time. Grab a freshly-sanitiz3ed cart, then shop as normal except for following the taped arrorws on the floor, indicating what direction traffic should flow in each aisle. When it’s time to check out, wait 6 feet behind the person in front of you (helpfully marked again with tape on the floor), then put your items on the conveyor, being careful not to mix them as the plastic dividing sticks have been removed. Stand in front of the cashier with a large plastic shield between you. Take your items to the door, where your receipt is placed on a small cart in front of the inventory checkers. Walk out of the store through the “exit” area that’s been set up and back to your car.
Life as we know it has changed in an astonishingly quick moment. Last week it was fairly normal when it looked like China might be able to contain the virus but then panic set in across the country. Sports leagues like the NBA, NCAA, ACC, and NHL canceled their games. Raleigh’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade was called off. Then Wake County Public Schools decided last Friday to not count absences before turning around on Saturday and closing schools. A week ago I worked my first day at home and have not been back to the office except for a brief time Saturday to retrieve the plants off my desk.
We are doing what is termed “social distancing,” where we interact with as few people as possible. The kids are at home, Kelly and I are at home and we have largely given up any trips outside of the house except for dire emergencies. It is frightening and surreal. In an instant life has changed drastically.
It has been day three of our all being at home. Our home is big enough that we can find our own corners and not disturb each other. When we’re sharing our home office, Kelly has complained about how loudly I chew gum (narrator: it’s not that loud). Spirits are high now but the realization is setting in that this will not be over any time soon. We may have to shelter in place like this for months.
The saving grace is that we are not strictly confined to our homes. At least, not yet. We can go for drives, walks, bike rides, dog walks. Whatever. We are just encouraged to maintain that six-foot distance experts suggest will keep us safe from getting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Writing tonight’s CAC op-ed was the first several-hundred-word piece I’ve written in a while. Looking through my blog shows that I used to do this on a regular basis. Used to do it with ease.
It’s difficult to pin down what has changed. Certainly I’m older and It’s harder than it used to be to string words together. My suspected Gulf War Illness could be another factor. Still, it’s also true that the nature of online communications has changed.
Many people started their Internet experience using America Online (AOL). Nothing wrong with that, of course, but my beef with AOL was the beautiful walled garden that it provided: people would log on and think there was no world beyond AOL.
Today the same could be said about Facebook. Facebook has captured much of the attention that used to be on blogs like mine, only now it’s also walled off and shot through with conniving advertisements. It’s all built to encourage short attention spans, while blogging can be as robust as I feel like making it.
Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) has worked hard to try to turn me from a producer back into a consumer again. It is an easy trap to fall into – “there are so many voices out there, what can I add with mine?”
And yet, people still visit my site. I still have many gems I’ve written here and I can tell the story of my life exactly the way I want to tell it. This is more valuable than ever.
Maybe I still have it, maybe I don’t, but there’s no doubt of the value of my words here. Let me know if you want to see more.
I haven’t posted a TSA story in a while because I’m lucky enough not to travel as often as I did. When I have traveled, I have come to appreciate how professional the team at my home airport, Raleigh-Durham, is. I’ve never had a bad experience with them and this – I want to stress – is not a bad one, either. Just unusual.
For years I have enjoyed the benefit of TSA-Pre, allowing me to speed through security lines. Naturally, I headed into the TSA-Pre line when I flew out of Raleigh on Wednesday morning. Expecting all to be well, I was intrigued when I apparently set off the metal detector.
“Wait right here, sir,” the screener said, calmly. “We’re going to screen your electronics.”
I waited on the mat next to the metal detector while another agent got through checking another traveler’s electronics. He invited me over and I carried my bags to the testing station.
“Got any thing that is sharp, going to stick me, contraband, etc?” he asked. When I answered no, he politely asked if I had a laptop in the bag. I showed him the pocket it was in and he laid it out on the counter.
He then swabbed my laptop with a chemical pad, popped the swab into the sensor for analysis, and stepped away. To my surprise, the sensor began beeping. My newish work laptop had only been on my office desk and my home desk – not to the coca fields of South America or anything. I began to think over kind of substance could have possibly set off this false alarm.
For the past few years I’ve been getting a chip in my front tooth patched by my dentist. This patch will last anywhere between 8 months to as short as one hour before it pops off and I have to get it done again. I’m not a fan of the look of this chipped tooth but I can’t keep getting it patched, either. My dentist, recommended I get orthodontics to help keep my teeth from smacking together and dislodging the patch.
The orthodontist recommended by my dentist put a hefty price tag on moving my teeth and I just couldn’t justify the cost. I put that on hold before I checked out Smile Direct Club (SDC). SDC would use the same invisible aligners (InvisAlign) that the orthodontist would use but the cost would be less than two-thirds the price. The downside is I wouldn’t receive personal care from an orthodontist. I decided to go for it, since I have had three years of orthodontics experience as a teenager and know what to expect.
So far, it’s been so good. I put in my first aligners a week ago Saturday and began my second one this past Saturday. My teeth ached a bit for most of the first week but by that Wednesday I felt comfortable enough wearing them that I didn’t mind them anymore. There’s no question that my teeth have shifted in the 9 days I’ve worn the aligners, so I have no doubt that they’re working. And I’ve become a bit obsessed with wearing them.
I woke up early this morning, restless after putting Rocket down last night, and decided a walk would be good therapy. I stepped out of the house and began my usual route around the neighborhood.
As I approached a stretch of Plainview Avenue that’s bordered by cars on both sides and a construction dumpster on one side, a car passed me from behind without incident.
But a minute later I heard another car approaching from behind. Instantly I was filled with alarm. I was walking along the farthest left edge of the road that I could be but something didn’t feel right.
“Please don’t kill me,” I thought firmly in my head, not pausing for a moment to wonder why something so ridiculous would occur to me.
The car, an off-white Altima-type with California tags, came up quickly, taking up much of the left lane. It passed by so close to me that the driver’s side mirror actually gently brushed against my jacket.
If I had taken just one step to my right I would be seriously injured or dead right now. I’m so thankful for my spidey sense.