Reading and drinking coffee, but offline

I’m here! I really am! I’m just… adjusting to a new schedule, commute, job, and all that stuff.

I read a stack of books before work started, but haven’t yet stayed awake long enough to write about them.

I did keep up my Duolingo practice, at least!

Today, March 20th, is day 1000 for me! Yippee!

I’m quiet, but things are good. I’ll write more… soonish.

Pandemic Life: Late January 2022

I was hoping to post a pandemic living update AFTER the omicron peak was far behind us, but the peak isn’t happening everywhere at the same time. While there is a lot of chatter about how the infections can be less serious with the omicron variant of COVID-19, they are still serious for too many people: the US is still losing more than 2,200 people to COVID EVERY DAY.

But: a downturn in local new case numbers after an alarming spike is still somewhat encouraging, and we’ll take encouragement where we can get it.

Screen grab from https://sf.gov/data/covid-19-cases-and-deaths this evening, showing how BIG the recent infection spike in San Francisco was, and how alarming it was considering our success in keeping rates low earlier in the pandemic. (There’s a lag in data gathering, so we’re always about a week behind the trend, but the steep drop is promising.)

As noted in an earlier post, there aren’t many restrictions that affect me, as a fully vaccinated and boosted person here in San Francisco. I now have some fashionable and very comfortable FFP2 masks (a European variation of a good mask standard) for transit and indoor public places, and can largely go anywhere and do anything. Outdoor dining has been delightful recently.

The bigger things I’m not doing – like flying on airplanes to visit other regions – relate to my risk tolerance. Why go to locations with poor health figures (indicated by low masking/vaccine rates), dangerously full hospitals, and/or unusually high case numbers? No one is preventing me from going, but regions that are struggling (or which are actively opposed to infection prevention politically) are unlikely to be both comfortable and fun.

(There are still countries that are restricting non-essential travel, and I don’t blame them – the US did the same thing! Some are much safer to travel within than the U.S., but that’s also why they are closed to Americans right now.)

A friend in [a European country] who had COVID in 2020 said they are tired of COVID restrictions, but… they’ve been under so few meaningful restrictions over the duration of this pandemic that I’m wondering if they are just saying that to be polite. (Currently: restaurants there must have guests depart before 11pm, and there are limits on group sizes of 8 for dinner, 50 for other events… how would this even be noticeable?) Another friend in their country just got COVID this month, and so may view it differently, but it may be too soon to ask.

I’m just excited that ZERO friends have announced new COVID infections in the past two weeks! That bodes well.

I visited an office that requires masking and vaccine boosters (YES!), and was quite comfortable. It was novel and vaguely pleasant to be in an office and around other people in a place with a safety culture! I… could get used to that.

Color: Celadon (green)

I am always looking for these shades of green, and always looking for excuses to buy more paints to mix them, since they don’t seem to exist as high-permanence prepared paints…

Pandemic Life: New Year

Lavender latte made with almond milk, enjoyed outdoors in January because: California

The sky is blue, the sun is low, and my home state is not on fire: it is a lovely day.

I’ve run my errands for the day, filled with the confidence that a well-fitting KF94 mask provides. The KF94s from Korea are new for me: I had been wearing lighter and lighter fabric masks (with/out layering as situations required) as the pandemic dragged on and our local risks sunk ever lower (high vaccination rates, low case numbers). The new omicron variant is more contagious, however, so we’ve been advised to step up our protection standards. KF95 is one of the recommended standards, and the masks I am wearing are quite comfortable, and hold their shape well around my face. I appreciate their stiffness in the right place, so the material doesn’t rest on my nostrils or mouth, even while wet.

Since I last wrote about the COVID 19 pandemic, the remarkable achievements of vaccine development and (uneven) global rollout have been overshadowed by more contagious variants, continued political opposition to infection prevention, and more contagious variants.

The U.S. has maintained its place as the country with the highest number of cases and deaths. I feel lucky to live in a city with great mutual respect and care, where most people are vaccinated, and most people wear masks indoors willingly. If more of the US was like this, I would have gotten on planes and traveled for fun, at least before omicron…

JHU data as of right now, Monday, January 10, 2022

A friend in another region asked me how I’m managing, and I told her that the situation continues to improve: thanks to masking and air filtration, I get out of the house regularly, ride trains and streetcars, eat in (non-crowded) restaurants where vaccine confirmation is required (YES!), have visited several museums, and have even seen a few movies in movie theaters. A comfy mask makes many fun activities possible!

Four people in my long-distance social circle currently have COVID, and at least four relatives on the East Coast contracted COVID in December. Determination to celebrate the holidays with larger numbers of people with unknown habits comes at a cost! One friend wanted to host as safely as possible, and required negative tests to attend her 12+ person event: two of the negative-testing-guests turned positive on NYE morning, and had exposed other guests unknowingly, so even those precautions weren’t enough. Another friend had just three people over (such a reasonable number!) on NYE, and she still wound up with COVID, along with all of her guests.

This is a great time NOT to see your friends! 😀 (All my pals who postponed our planned meetings over the past two months have won my automatic forgiveness.)

Sign up for a phone exposure notification system! While on my first pandemic-era, out of state trip last month, I received a notification from MassNotify (the Massachusetts version of CA Notify, which my phone asked for my consent to participate in) that I was near someone on December 20th for the threshold exposure time who subsequently tested positive for COVID. While I had no symptoms and had already home tested (negative) as a precaution, I still appreciate the alert AND the instructions on what to do. This is a clever tool, and we should all use it!

I usually post a link to some data, so I’ll share the Year In Review from Johns Hopkins:

Right now: despite the new variant of the moment, I’m optimistic. We should have high quality masks distributed to us by health authorities, and access to home tests should be easy and cheap – we need progress in those areas! The fact that masks work, that vaccination numbers continue to rise, that good cleaning practices are in place at businesses, and that new businesses are opening up now are all encouraging. We need that encouragement! (I know I really needed it.)

Life: 2021 Personal Year In Review

It’s been… a year. Since time had no meaning (due to the sameness of being at home every day during so much of this pandemic), it is hard to believe it ended, rather than continuing on in a Groundhog-Day-like fashion.

I’m TIRED. But alive, which is a victory unto itself!

Here are some of 2021 highlights from my iPhone photo blog, mobilelene.blogspot.com.

January 2021: Monotype printing

I made great progress with my acrylic monotype printing practice this year, producing hundreds of prints, and expanding from my favorite opaque colors into transparent paints.

February 2021: Leaving the house to explore SF

There are entire new parks that didn’t exist before the pandemic!

March 2021: Botany

I like plants!

April 2021: Botany and Murals

There are murals I’d never seen before out there, and they’re great.

May 2021: Architecture, Monotypes, and Playing with Instax Cameras

Instax cameras are fun! Yes, I have THREE Instax-compatible cameras, one for each size of film, PLUS A PRINTER that uses the mini size. Judge me, while I have fun with my tiny little prints.

June 2021: SF Exploration, continued (and medium format photos)

I will not admit how many photos I have of this building. On multiple cameras.

July 2021: Mostly Murals

This month starts to look like me: all my interests are reflected, and I was taking more photos because I sprained my right arm and couldn’t write or draw.

August 2021: Museums, Duochrome, and Sunshine

Have I made the book I planned to make of these? No. Did I produce another photo book mock up which I’m not sharing? Yes.

September 2021: I LOVE SF (architecture, sailboats, contemporary art, and phone photo filters)

The photo I wanted to show is cropped too hilariously to post here.

October 2021: Art experience in the park

It was the most fun I’ve had being enveloped in smoke in forever.

November 2021: Sunsets, Plants, and Murals

By this point, you realize how conventional my phone photos are, and how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE San Francisco.

December 2021: Holiday lights, holiday projections, Boston, and textile arts

I really do love this town. 🙂 And I’m completely predictable in the photographic ways I express that love, and THAT IS OKAY.

Life: First Visit to Boston and Cambridge

For reasons that I may/not eventually disclose, I visited Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts this month. I wanted to get a feel for what life is like there, so I bought some new “base layers” for winter weather (!), and headed out of the Bay Area for the first time since the COVID 19 pandemic began.

Boston and Cambridge each made a good impression on me. As a happy San Franciscan heavily integrated into the fabric of my multicultural, open-minded, caffeinated City, I wasn’t sure that Boston would feel comfortable. Happily, the diverse population, reliable subway system, and great vegan food won me over!

Both towns were walkable. The subway system made sense, and my Charlie Card (their version of Clipper) made travel easy.

Each time I ate in restaurants within earshot of others, other patrons were chatting at their tables about trying to get their research funded. (A good sign!)

Yes, many of the Freedom Trail sites were closed due to the pandemic, but I found other things to do. Yes, it got down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius?), but I was dressed very carefully (lightweight yet insulating base layers!), and I could handle it. It snowed gently, and that was kind of fun. Puddles froze and never thawed, and I caught other tourists trying to break one, which was hilarious (adults playing with puddles like children!).

I did not fill my suitcase with art books. I did not go out to take photos at night when it was below freezing. These were good decisions.

My masks were comfortable in all indoor settings, and I learned that masks are very cozy when it is snowing.

Boston and Cambridge are both booming, filled with new construction of businesses, housing, streetcar stations, and more. Infrastructure matters, and they are clearly planning for growth.

I had a good time and a positive experience.

There is an awkward/funny postscript. I was there before the omicron variant of COVID was well understood. I participate in CA Notify, which is my home state’s bluetooth exposure tracking system. While I was in Boston, my phone asked me if I want to participate in MassNotify, and I agreed.

MassNotify sent me a COVID proximity/exposure warning 8 days after my return home (and three days after my negative home test). Someone with the right combination of proximity + duration on the day before I flew home subsequently tested positive for COVID. The instructions were clear, and since I’m both vaccinated and boosted, quarantine was never required – vigilant masking is enough. I’m impressed that the system worked, even though I was just visiting! Yaay, technology!

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.