Life: Vivid Friday

I didn’t do any shopping of any kind, but got in some exercise and natural beauty. It was a GOOD day.

I have lots of post fragments waiting, and I’ll consider getting to them over the weekend… Maybe.

Writing: About Travel

Clouds offer a gorgeous range of landscape-like forms…

Having been unable to travel for so long due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a wicked case of wanderlust.

Some of my wanderlust is just caused by escapism: I’m dealing with lots of dull obligations, so the appeal of being AWAY is as alluring as the idea of specific places I may enjoy! I know myself well enough to recognize this, and am evaluating my fantasies carefully, to see what they are REALLY about.

As part of thinking about why I travel, I’ve been reading my writing about past trips, from my first, solo, trans-Pacific trip (to Japan) to my more recent writing about my taxing, trans-Atlantic business travel, where I was able to convey both the hardships AND the glamour.

That first solo trip was an amazing experience, but writing about it while I was sick with a persistent case of bronchitis skewed my reporting. Writing to friends who didn’t share my interests in art narrowed it further. I managed to convey the difficulties well, but not the gorgeousness of misty paths leading to ancient shrines in wet, shady forests, or the beauty of clouds clinging to mountain tops, or the satisfaction of soaking in deeply sulfurous waters… While my friends (fairly) interpreted my writing as disappointment, and I did describe negative experiences and states of mind, I still enjoy memories from that trip: of oversized leaves that fell so noisily while I sat in a forest, lush carpets of moss in a chess-board-like temple garden with stone lanterns as chess pieces, the unexpected appeal of my German hiking companion as he boarded his departing train, the hot lemon drink that warmed me when I was rain-drenched, the bliss of soaking up to my neck in deep hostel bathtubs that I didn’t describe…

The frustrations of the noisy crowds and the jostling students are also vivid, but are less important now: that wasn’t my only trip to Japan, that wasn’t my only visit to those sites in Kyoto, and my subsequent experiences at popular tourist sites mean I understand the limits of what they can and can’t offer me in a way I didn’t at the time.

That trip helped me see and accept what popular mass tourism is. I accept that there are lists of “must-see” destinations (which I don’t actually have to see), and that some of those destinations may be worthwhile if I am willing to accept the consequences of their popularity. (This has also led to my intentional photo series of tourists taking photos at crowded sites, which I enjoy making, and which are only possible due to the nature of such sites.) Accepting this helps me make more informed choices about opting-in AND opting-out. I freely do both.

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My business travel was also highly educational. Being overseas as part of an initial team that dispersed at the end of the business day/week, leaving me unexpectedly alone in a new place, I had to orient myself, and then decided to use my newfound knowledge to orient others. I recognized and appreciated the collegiality of someone with more experience there, and ensured I repaid that collegiality when our project changed sites, and that I followed his example in general. I knew what kinds of social and logistical support I had wanted, and I provided that to those who followed.

I gave tours, and took newcomers to my favorite spots if they shared my interests; I wrote a brief visitors guide; I recommended restaurants, dishes, beer, museums, hotels; I met up for meals with colleagues who didn’t want to dine alone; I translated; I learned train lines, bought tickets, and guided colleagues to work, and in doing do, expanded the practical hotel range for a suburban office with a limited pool of hotels, so my colleagues could spend time in a world-class city rather than sit in a remote, rural hotel at night; I took colleagues on field trips… That felt GREAT! I felt useful, I made things easier, I enjoyed good company, I had good fun.

With multi-country business trips that spanned several weekends, I had a chance to learn about different approaches to exploring: about how to use hotels (the sort that are too cramped to linger in, and the sort that are a pleasure and destination of their own); how to pace myself based on my energy levels, moods, and the weather; how to go away for a weekend; and how to stay put.

Both on business and on my vacations, I learned about the complexity of traveling with others. Of how the wrong traveling companions complicate a trip, and the right ones make my experience of a destination better than I could have managed on my own. This last point is the best lesson: I do have a few friends whose company is great ON THE MOVE, and I should experience places with them more often!

I’ll now return to my daydreams (and online research and list-making) of safe and enjoyable travel, with expectations well grounded by my actual travel experiences…

Life in a Drought: the Rain is Back!

Clouds reflecting on a wet shore
Clouds reflecting on wet sand at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA

And it is delightful to hear the sound of it…

Also, the clouds have been glorious! Blue skies are nice, but clouds can be so much more dramatic, especially as they arrive or depart. I’m a big fan of huge, puffy clouds blowing over between storms, and dramatic patterns that cast bold shadows or have the textures of quilts… They remind me that the sky has depth, not just color…

Pandemic News: 5 Million Global Deaths

It’s been about 19 months, and we’ve lost SO MANY HUMANS. 8-0

5 Million is a large number of deaths in the age of modern medicine (which not everyone has access to, yet there has been a history of successful, big interventions; also, this is just the OFFICIAL number).

The news right now is focused on the other major crisis, the climate emergency, which also deserves plenty of attention. It similarly has an element of high threat, as disasters break out around the world in new extremes.

The two combined are a lot to process. And that’s before we get to the rise of authoritarianism and fascism that we are also struggling with here in the U.S., and the weird denial of both the pandemic and the climate emergency from both the same crowd AND random, persuaded stragglers. It’s not just that circumstances beyond our control are tough, but people are choosing to make both things worse, and their bad intentions are difficult to bear.

I appreciate articles like this one, about the sense of being on edge during this extraordinarily difficult time:

Overwrought is a good word.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to everyone around you! Now, but also always!

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Recent hints of positive change feel extremely precious. I love seeing people enjoying the outdoors, chatting, and having positive interactions after so much isolation. I enjoyed the live stream of the Outside Lands outdoor music festival, and bought three albums after being impressed by the performers. I’ve enjoyed misty walks and have eaten indoors with friends.

I’m looking forward to planned restaurant openings that will fill spaces left vacant since early in the pandemic, and seeing the new businesses that have sprouted up already.

There are some visible business adjustments to the so-called “New Normal” of remote work. A luxury office furniture company opened a showroom/shop in a residential area, which makes sense because remote work needs to be ergonomic – their shop is a commitment to the business of proper home offices. The maker of my computer hardware had a promotional event that touted some outrageously powerful laptops, a product line that is a practical concession to effective remote work across more industries requiring more computing power than the average laptop. (Laptops are also easier for corporate IT to support than desktops – just mail them in when there is a problem!). My mailbox has more ‘we’re reopening’ type messages from a range of businesses that had been waiting for people to re-emerge into public life. Like the cicadas, people are emerging!

It’s good to have positive, vaccinated social and routine activities to look forward to.

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P.S. Yes, I know that the excess death rates are much higher than the official ones, but until recently, I had only seen that figure for a few countries. The Economist has an excess model for the world: they think the figure of both COVID deaths and impacts of COVID on access to care push the number closer to 17 million.

Pandemic Life: Early October

Someone in my yard was excited that I was watering the camellias, and had to check me out.

This week, I had an early morning medical appointment, so I caught a commute train downtown. I was worried that it would be crowded.

It was not crowded. Which is a worry of its own.

I was happy to see the commuters who were present wearing what are now known as “soft” clothes (with a new meaning about clothes that are not simply made of soft fabric, but which are also largely unstructured and are made without hard fasteners; this distinguishes them from items that are now called, “hard pants,” for example), but was surprised that there still weren’t a lot of people. That was nice for being able to get a seat on the bus, but still eerie.

It’s still SO DIFFERENT. It still feels so unnaturally quiet here in my City.

One of the interesting elements of great cities is how lively they are: how there are always people out and about, day and night, because so much work (and play) of various sorts are happening. Even though SF has become a relatively sleepy city during my lifetime (which sounds like some veiled complaint about how it is hard to find somewhere good to eat in the middle of the night (ahem), but is more a commentary on how the music venue options have become so limited, as luxury housing displaced industrial and commercial corridors where theaters and concert halls can operate freely), it was very lively by day in the Before Times. It isn’t now. Not on weekdays.

The ripple effects on businesses downtown have been significant: all sorts of businesses, from dry cleaners to lunch-only restaurants to pharmacies to coffee shops have vanished, because the multitudes that had made their business a nearly sure-thing in the past aren’t around. If even national chain retailers have closed up shops, the impact on smaller, one-location businesses and small local chains remains remarkable.

I received goodbye messages from some local food vendors early on, and while restaurants normally fail at a high rate, some of them were big local employers with multiple locations, so it was still a shock. Also, going downtown now, their locations remain vacant. Not all of their signs, fixtures, and furnishings have been removed, likely because their collapse was swift, and there aren’t yet buyers for their gear or lessees for the space. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of how hard major disasters impact everything.

Because it has been distributed, we aren’t really accounting for losing 700k+ people in discussions of how things are changing. When low-wage employers complain that no one wants to take what are now relatively high-risk jobs, they don’t seem to be factoring in the fact that we are not just short workers, we are short living human beings. Also, many of those who were infected are still not feeling great, which influences what they do for work.

Oh, this data is from the always excellent Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus page.

The weekends have more signs of life, as people who are working invisibly from home go out to parks, the waterfront, and shopping districts enjoy the fine autumn weather.

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The U.S.’ international travel bans that I wrote of earlier will be lifted for vaccinated travelers in November, and some countries are opening up to Americans again.

While unvaccinated people are still permitted to fly, I am unlikely to board a plane.

It feels like it will still be a long while before I’ll move through the world with the comfort and relative safety I felt during the Before Times.

Pandemic Life: Country-level Travel Restrictions

Having taken so many precautions for the pandemic for so long, part of my brain has been eager to visit another country ever since my second vaccine dose kicked in, but before Delta made its special talents known. While in real life I have no plans to travel outside of California this year, my brain is still wandering.

Out of curiosity to see what the options (which I will not be availing myself of soon) are, I visited the CDC’s website.

So you’ll see what I’m looking at, I’ll paste in the map here:

A clear and useful illustration, but “not a pretty picture” in the metaphorical sense

Sure, we are a country with abundant vaccines, but we still manage to be in the worst possible tier, because: some Americans have… issues.

Even though we are in the worst tier, we remain fussy about who can visit us. So, contrary to the hopes a friend in Sweden recently expressed, or the plans of a new Irish pen friend to visit his sister here, or the absurdly optimistic entreaties of British Airways in their advertising communications to me about booking trips to Europe, here is our current list of banned nations:

The ENTIRE SCHENGEN ZONE is on the list!! This hits me because I used to have a job that required frequent travel between a team here (in California) and one spread between the UK and the Schengen area, and… that job would not be possible in pandemic times. I was lucky to have had such a unique job, and appreciate it all the more now that it is such an artifact of the Before Times.

I am all the more grateful in retrospect for the travel opportunities I had in the past.

Life: Smoke-Tinted Light and Casual Reading

Not the current sky.

The sunrises remain a striking yellow-gold. This still has the capacity to surprise me. The wildfires are still sending particles to the upper atmosphere, and I am sad that I’m becoming used to the yellow tint to my surroundings. I don’t want to get used to it, but it is a daily filter. It is becoming normal.

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I don’t write here about everything I read. I try to limit myself to books I strongly recommend. And the bulk of what I read each day aren’t books!

I read both US and international news each morning (not just the book reviews!), and I’m trying NOT to provide running commentary on that. (I’ve done that in the past on blogs, and it’s tiring. Also, you can get personal commentary on just about everything all the time on social media, along with an endless collection of reposts of things you’ve already read.) I don’t write about books until I finish them (notes for myself notwithstanding), which means I am always in arrears on endorsements.

I fall into Internet research rabbit holes, and love that Wikipedia has a t-shirt on this theme.

On Twitter, which can consume an entire afternoon if I’m not careful, I read posts by my favorite authors, journalists, comedians, artists, and activists. There is a beneficial crossover of articles and other media on topics that interest me, recommended by people with similar interests, and written about by professional sources. It allows me to have a positive experience of Twitter, which wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t filter carefully.

That makes it sound like I only do super-professional research on Twitter, which is not the case. Twitter is also full of jokes, puns, highly charged commentary, mockery, illustrations, photos, AI software being used to match celebrity outfits to natural phenomena, and dumb-but-funny observations. I have geeky sense of humor, so I wind up with a lot of this sort of thing (below, sung to the tune of “That’s Amore“)

This is posted to Twitter from other sites by multiple posters, so I’m unsure who to credit. Twitter only lets me see a few days’ worth of these posts on the “That’s a Moray” topic, which appears to have a longer history than you actually want to know about. If you searched now, today, you’d see this and other variations of this coming up, including more song lines… Be warned: you’ll find yourself singing this in the shower.

This continues in many flavors, and is also enjoyed by the professional media (though non-media types shared the links with me in the first place):

This, in turn, reminds me of the collection of Guardian headlines that they are very pleased with themselves over:

…and now you know too much about my non-book reading time.

Pandemic Life: Autumn approaching (through fog)

The western half of San Francisco has had a very foggy summer, which isn’t unusual, but we are confused by the consistency. Our local weather is characterized by its general mildness, sure, but also by its variability. A week may have both hot and cold days; an afternoon may have both warm and cool hours. All of the seasons may be represented during the course of any month.

Dressing for the same weather more than four days in a row feels a bit off.

Many things still feel a bit off, honestly.

The inter-COVID recovery is continuing, but is not evenly distributed. Some streets feel nearly normal, where there is a proper “street life” of locals out and about, while others feel quite abandoned, as if auditioning to be the set of a disaster film. The background rumble of the City hasn’t been fully restored, though there are days when I see traffic backed up on the Bay Bridge or on some street, and those sights are somewhat comforting. A reminder of the before-times! (While polluting traffic isn’t something to celebrate, signs of human activity, even involving vehicles, feel like a return of some kind of vibrancy, however indirect.). My streetcar filled up with schoolchildren one morning, and while it was unexpected (I haven’t been on a FULL streetcar in months), it felt like a good development.

My two friends in other regions who suffered breakthrough infections have fully recovered. My friend in month 9 of long-COVID recovery is making good progress.

My city of 800k+ people is experiencing more than 100 new test-confirmed cases daily (sfdph.org), which isn’t great, but isn’t as bad as it could be. Masking on busy streets, even while outdoors, is coming back into fashion. (I now have a wider range of mask thicknesses to get me through different activities!) My state health department says that more than 48 million of us are vaccinated, and the state’s positivity rate is dropping again (around 3.5% right now for the state; it’s just 2.3% in my City/County). For comparison, the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows still-alarming national numbers (over 8% positivity).

I would like to go to a COVID memorial site, or have one available locally to visit and light a candle or sit to contemplate the vast loss of life. I’m glad to read of this (albeit temporary) memorial art installation by District of Columbia artist by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, which is visually strong and thoughtful:

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Two of my friends this week asked me when I think it will be possible to travel safely again, despite knowing I am no expert in epidemiology. (At least I’m not a musician with a cousin with a friend in Trinidad who is misrepresenting his condition?) (If you don’t know what that reference is about, you are lucky.) Maybe I’m an expert in traveling? Anyway, I can see myself traveling recreationally outside of my state again by this time in 2022 if conditions are right. In the meantime, I’m expecting more variants of concern that will need to be studied; data from the results of the mix-and-match clinical studies currently underway (to determine if we should get a different vaccine than we started with, to see if that improves our antibody levels in a useful way); and likely a booster shot based on information from all the studies going on.

I also expect that my travel considerations will be different going forward. I have a friend in New Orleans, but I won’t visit him soon, not only because of Hurricane Ida’s lingering damage, but because of infection rates and hospital availability. Any medical emergency could become fatal if hospitals are overflowing, and the lack of medical support colors my view of any destination! It would also feel wrong to visit a place where locals can’t get the vaccine. So a new list of criteria begins to form:

-low infection rates
-high local/national vaccination rates
-traveler vaccination requirements and testing to fly (so flying is safer)
-traveler testing upon/near arrival (so tourist activities are safer)
-emergency service / hospital availability
-open to U.S. travelers
-cultural attractions are open, operating, and accessible to visitors
(note that capacity restrictions to prevent crowding during a pandemic are good and can make attractions more enjoyable; they need to be managed well, so I can know that I can get into museums and similar institutions during my visit with an easy online/mobile/kiosk reservation).
-tourism is supported by local communities & their leaders (I respect local government pleas NOT TO VISIT when they are struggling) and there is a safety culture, especially for public-facing workers.

I’m sure I’ll adjust this list as circumstances change, but this all feels reasonable to me at this time. Vaccination has made me feel safer, but having friends with breakthrough infections reminds me that my perception of safety is limited, and precautions are still required.

Life: San Francisco with approaching fog

The breeze: strong. The air: fresh.

I love living here so very much, and appreciate my luck at having grown up here nearly every day.

The City, the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, the community, the weather, the coffee, the cultures, the economy, the hills, the parks, the food, even the fog…

It’s so good to be here.

Life: A Moment of Quiet

Little bits of projects in progress are slowly taking over the horizontal surfaces of my home

We had an actual THUNDERSTORM this morning! The sound woke me up at about 4:18 am, which was NOT welcome, though it was novel. I could also see lightning flash through the curtains now and then, and after a while, even heard rain (ACTUAL RAIN!) patting against my home.

The novelty of thunder and lightning used to be delightful it happens so rarely! – but during a fire weather watch, the fear of new wildfires sparked by lightning is too real. Lovely local lightning photos on Twitter were met with a sentiment that combined “ooooh!” with “OH, NO!”

We are still more than 20 days from the autumn equinox, but rain is rare in September, and the smell of rain and the heaviness of the storm mean that it FEELS like autumn right now.

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I’ve been busy. A little too busy.

There is a quote from Dorothea Lange, which the Internet recounts as, “One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind…” and sometimes I take her suggestion too much to heart. I’ve been WORKING on my projects with intense, goal-oriented dedication, and it feels like work – creative, but still work.

Photography isn’t all being out and taking photos: beyond the planning and reconnaissance about when the light will be right and in what weather and season, there are: downloads and uploads; indexing and organizing; labeling and backing up; and just as much work for film, plus physical labeling and storage. It is a bit tedious to manage my voluminous output across multiple formats, tedious enough that I suspect my notes for possible NaNoWriMo novels may just be a procrastination plan. I’ll admit it: I suspect it would be easier to write another novella (my fifth!) than it would be to organize my photos and scan my film (and recent monotype prints, while I’m at it). It is funny, but also true. Also: to the extent I pretend to care what people think, it would be much more glamorous to say I’ve written another novella than to describe my indexing process for images. Just typing that almost knocked me unconscious with boredozzzzzzzzzz

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My dining room table is becoming a staging area for cameras and film with too little room left over to eat, and I need to get that under control soonish.

I have an unexpectedly large collection of painted shapes that were masks for monotype prints, which I am also working with for fun and frivolous purposes

The IDEA of having time is stimulating all by itself. The potential project list in my head is getting ambitious, rather than just consisting of things that can be done after work or between errands. More and more modest-but-time-consuming projects are piling up in my mind. I really will be designing inappropriately complex templates for photo albums – it will be fun and mostly harmless! 😀 I really will locate more negatives that I’ve mislaid, to see if I can pull together a book from a camera my father found in HIS father’s attic! These projects will all be satisfying in their own way.

It’s lovely to have the time to execute plans, and hopefully I’ll squeeze in rest between organization sessions!