Just a couple years ago, I was always on a plane, heading east to a meeting on an overnight flight, living out of a suitcase, meeting colleagues for breakfast in airports, and now… my life is completely different . That way of life is no longer possible – and may not be again for YEARS.
HOW IT WAS: After five years of frequent business travel, I joined a company headquartered just six miles from my house (NOT in Switzerland!), with ZERO offices in Europe (though of course, they have one NOW, and I was volun-told to go…), so I could have some semblance of a local life again. Although my two most socially adventurous pals moved full time to SoCal (booooo!), my local habits rebounded: I resumed taking local photographs, eating in local vegan restaurants, visiting the many museums I have memberships at, enjoying strong coffee in pleasant cafes around my hometown, buying books from local bookshops, meeting friends for brunches and hikes, taking long walks to watch the city grow… 11,000 steps per day during my routine errands inserted stealth exercise into my car-free lifestyle, along with the intimacy that walking daily in a place provides.
The way sound travels through fog, the scent of blooming flowers in their peak seasons, the aromas from restaurants, the many languages of conversation – it infuses everything when you are out IN it. My hometown seeped back into me, and kept me delighted to be lucky enough to be here.
THE END OF THE OLD WORLD: My ordinary habits continued until the end of that first week in March, when my employer announced (over a weekend, no less) that we should not go back to the office for at least two weeks, but work remotely and try to stay put to avoid the highly contagious coronavirus. The timing was amusing: my company had held a big party to celebrate a company milestone just DAYS before the precautions began, and so it was almost comical to go from everyone clinking beer steins in one room to being banned from the office in the span of a weekend.
I enjoyed a (fantastic) museum show that final weekend, my last big public event for… well, maybe a long time.
I read news voraciously, and had been following the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I was expecting it to arrive, and the quarantines in Asia were underway long before we started ours. When a colleague suggested postponing a meeting until after the two week initial precaution period, I told them not to count on returning anytime soon: by then, real restrictions were cropping up elsewhere, and UK reports had been leaked suggesting months of precautions were likely.
PANDEMIC DECLARED: If you had told me that there would be panic buying of toilet paper, I would not have believed you.
Nor the pasta panic buying. WHO DOES THAT?
Between the toilet paper and the pasta + sauce panic buying, I began to envision my neighbors as devoting 100% of their time to eating spaghetti and sitting on the toilet.
-me, then and again right now
I was able to get most of my gluten-free, vegan stuff for a while, before the panic buying by others expanded to ‘whatever is there.’
My friend K and I joked that people who had never cooked in their lives were now sitting on sacks of flour and lentils that would emerge, unopened, months from now, and that it would be our duty to our friends to mock them savagely. Meanwhile, I could have all the fresh greens and fruit I wanted, because the survivalist manuals people were suddenly relying on didn’t involve banana hoarding. (Though banana hoarding would have made for some very funny Instagram stories.)
Beyond inconvenience, there was the horror movie quality to the empty streets, the abrupt end of streetcar service, the sudden absence of voices, the eerie sound of a city of 800,000+ people sheltering inside simultaneously. The weird feeling that you could stop looking before you crossed a street, because THERE WERE NO CARS MOVING IN EITHER DIRECTION AS FAR AS YOU COULD SEE.
THE NEW WORLD: This is early in my sixteenth week of working remotely, avoiding other humans, and changing so many of my habits. I am tired from managing the logistical burdens of closures, limited hours, crowd control, overpriced delivery options, random shortages, and physical distance minimums, but I keep at it.
I am one of the lucky people who CAN work at home, and who still has a job.
I am extra lucky, because I have a room that was already set up as my home office, so I have a space to work in.
I am lucky even beyond that, because I’m an introverted writer-artist, and I do my best work when I have some time alone.
Not that I get time alone – my job entails about 4.5 hours of Zoom meetings daily – but when I am uninterrupted, I GET THINGS DONE. I don’t have small children demanding to be home-schooled; I don’t have a partner shouting into another Zoom meeting a few feet away from where I am working; dogs do not bark every time I try to present a slide; only deliveries interrupt my meetings (despite the odds).
Yes, it took me a few months to see real toilet paper again. Yes, buying groceries went from something I did a few times a week for freshness to something I dread. Yes, the logistics of getting supplies and keeping things in order has become onerous since the use of public transit was restricted to essential workers, and we were asked to stay within walking distance of our homes (my favorite grocer is just a tunnel away on a streetcar I can’t use…).
OH YES, I WORRY ABOUT THE DISPOSABLE, BLEACH-FILLED NEW WORLD in which driving a private vehicle and spraying disinfectants on things that should not have poisons sprayed on them (like FOOD) while throwing out everything that has ever been touched has suddenly become normal.
I like the birdsong, though. And having breakfast every morning during the time I used to spend commuting. The way the light shines into my bedroom in the morning, and into my office in the afternoon. Making myself a hot lunch in my own kitchen. Being home for dinner at a reasonable hour (because I’m always home). The relative quiet when I sleep. Living in a region where people care about each others’ safety, where the counties coordinate to align on precautions, and where people generally are looking after each other with noticeable courtesy and respect.
Yes, I am TOTALLY looking for SOMETHING to like during this global tragedy, because I have accepted that the world will be this way until we can interact safely, which may take a while. Hopefully not too long, but… a while.