Life: Escaping the Fog Belt

Watching the fog roll in just over sailboat height yesterday

Life in San Francisco: July was a very foggy month in my San Francisco neighborhood’s microclimate, and I’ve had to make field trips to other parts of town to see beyond the edges of our gray blanket. It still amazes me that a blue sky can be just a streetcar ride away!

Last weekend, I spent 6+ hours walking in the sun with another fog refugee on the east side of town. It was a delightful, relaxing, restorative day. I watched a bike rally and its DJ on the back of a flatbed truck; I had an excellent (yet overpriced) espresso drink; I advised my friend not to interact with a gathering of furries; we squirmed through a cheerful crowd of baseball fans; we enjoyed a delicious vegan Indonesian lunch at a picnic table; we explored a neighborhood she’d never visited; we had delicious frozen vegan desserts… [Drifting into a saffron-flavored reverie…]

I kept saying aloud: we are so LUCKY to live here. After sunset, we walked back to catch streetcars to return to our still-foggy homes. *sigh*

It was restorative not only because we enjoyed bright, mild weather, but also because it felt like the Before Times. The many traumas of the past year weren’t on the surface, and it was barely noteworthy to wear masks on transit or while ordering food.

We are so very lucky.

*

Life in a Global Pandemic: It has been discouraging to read the news on the dominance of the Delta COVID variant, and to see the local cases rise from low double digits up into the hundreds.

It is especially discouraging knowing that this scenario was preventable. That future similar (or worse) outcomes are preventable. But too many people are choosing not to contribute to prevention.

I now have my first, close/personal, vaccinated friend with a ‘breakthrough’ case. She is an organized person with natural curiosity, so she formally polled her social circles, and has come up with 14 breakthrough cases within her network. (Yes, she is in the greater Los Angeles area, which has been an infection hotspot this entire time, likely due to right wing anti-prevention sentiment.) This alarming information helps me reset some of my own planning about indoor activities as a vaccinated person, which I am less likely to expand now.

I’ve ordered some more fabric face masks in nice patterns, and in black. Including more that have a pocket for an anti-particulate-smoke filter.

*

Life in a Climate Crisis: Speaking of smoke masks, the climate crisis is in the news daily, for all the wrong reasons. Rather than great news about countries meeting their climate goals, there have been a long series of disasters relating to increasing, localized extremes. There were so many flood stories last month (Japan, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the US (New York City)) and so many fire stories (we have more area burned here in California than even last year gave us; Siberia is on fire; tourists are being evacuated from fast moving fires in the Mediterranean by boat!) that any disaster image that appeared on my phone’s screen from the news could be from ANYWHERE.

Because: the climate disaster is striking everywhere.

There were some unflattering quotes from survivors of the German floods saying that they had not believed this sort of thing could happen TO THEM, in THEIR country. (One of them named places where they WOULD expect this to happen, as if such events reflect a personal flaw of the citizens of those regions.)(*facepalm*) It suggested that they hadn’t had sympathy with flood-hit regions they had seen on the news. They hadn’t found it relevant when people in low-lying Pacific islands went to the UN, or when Greenlnd’s high northern communities were suffering, but NOW it is real to them.

Perhaps this is what it takes. Wealthy, developed countries watching flood waters destroy their own cities and towns. Perhaps that is what makes it real enough for urgent action.

*

The news is filled with stories of Americans who are hospitalized with COVID complications, who want the vaccine too late to save their lives. I desperately want us to be smarter than that – not just about COVID, but about our environment. Perhaps we are already in the climate-crisis-hospital stage, and I’m just not accepting it.

Life: At the Fog’s Edge

Market Street mural by Ryan Montgomery
One of countless storefronts that have been tastefully decorated while we wait to emerge from pandemic hibernation. This mural on Market Street is by Ryan Montgomery of Geary and Hyde Design. Such great stenciling!

There was a brief time period today when objects in my neighborhood had shadows. It was gradual: the fog became very bright, and suddenly, everything had a defined edge!

It didn’t last, and that’s okay.

Yesterday, I escaped the fog bank by heading across town northeast, and managed to shoot film for one of my projects in bright sunlight. I was nice to experience that direct warmth, to see how colors pop and objects shine. (*fond sigh*) (You can see phone images from these field trips at the July 2021 section of mobilelene.blogspot.com.) It was also delightful to sit near the waterfront, hear seagulls, listen to water moving, and watch hundreds of people wearing Pikachu visors wander around, staring at their phones while playing some game.

I love this town.

I love so much about San Francisco, even while I’m able to see its flaws.

When my pen pals ask what it is ‘like’ to live in a famous tourist city, I tell them about the diverse local restaurant culture, farmers markets with farmers from around the region (including produce varieties you can’t find in stores), large parks and widely accessible outdoors, local coffee roasters, bookstores, museums, universities, hospitals, mild climate year-round, a robust economy, a strong sense of community and volunteerism, and a welcoming, come-as-you-are cultural history.

The City’s flaws are also present, though the pandemic has confused when/where they are most visible, with life disrupted for so many people in so many ways. These are the sorts of flaws that come to mind when you have sheltered visitors from out of town visit, where you try to figure out how to warn them away from dodgy areas and give them tips on how to cope with visibly unhinged people. Not all these flaws are of local origin: we have housing shortages in urban areas throughout the west coast, and a lack of mental health services throughout the country. We do try to manage them locally, and the pandemic has disrupted our solutions for those things, too!

I’m making time to get reacquainted and see what has changed.

The City’s structure is visually stimulating, and the combination of old and new buildings, spaces, and parks gives me a lot to see and think about. Buildings I photographed in the past have been wholly replaced; shipyards have been turned into parks; brick industrial buildings have been gutted and turned into luxury housing… there is always something new, something old has a new neighbor that provides an interesting new contrast to, or old things age in interesting ways.

ASIDE: This sort of renewal is healthy, though it often feels like it risks pushing key activities out of the county – it should be possible for light industrial to operate without being priced out, to have foods and tools and clothes and messenger bags made here, to roast coffee and sell used books, to NOT require every shop to sell something with an luxury brand logo on it.

We should have some economic diversity – you shouldn’t need to be a brain surgeon to live here! If you think of wealthy communities down the Peninsula that are filled with brain surgeons, you realize that they have nothing to recommend them to visitors.

I missed having daily experiences of the City while I was a frequent business traveler at a prior job (especially from late 2013 through late 2018); I hoped to refresh my relationship with my hometown, yet missed it while working long hours in the first year of my current job (2019); I then couldn’t access anything beyond my neighborhood during our stringent local COVID ‘stay home’ year (all of 2020 until May of this year), which was somewhat beside the point, because many of the indoor things I’d want to access were closed for our safety. So, as I go out now, seeing some favorite places still boarded up while others are back and lively, I feel that I need to refresh ALL of my local knowledge. Which is a good excuse to wander!

Weekend Under Clouds

Is it time to add another banner? I think it is! This isn’t recent, but I like the texture.

It was a good day to wear a jacket here in San Francisco, but just two and a half hours east where my parents live, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 107 there yesterday. The fact that there could be a fifty degree difference over such a short distance is amazing. I am grateful that the difference is in my favor. Hooray for the cooling waters of the Pacific! Hooray for the insulation of San Francisco Bay!

While my photographic plans today were foiled (they required direct sunlight from the east prior to 11am), I did travel to the eastern edge of town after lunch, and so enjoyed having a shadow for a few minutes.

*

The City still feels… off. Sleeping Beauty isn’t awake yet, and the sounds and sights remain muted. It is lively in spots – Japan Center’s Kinokuniya Building was HOPPING at 11am! – but then I can walk blocks without encountering another human.

Some favorite places are still boarded up. Paper covers too many windows. There are still holes in our urban fabric, and a sad sense that even more people are suffering than usual.

*

A friend has admitted that she dreads full re-opening and what passed for normal, because “normal” was too frantic for her, involved too many obligations and interactions that didn’t really suit her. It was an unexpected insight from someone who had previously just avoided the news.

It is worth thinking about: what the smaller impacts to daily life are that manifest along the edges of this still-unfolding tragedy which we might learn from.

(Aristotle described tragedies as being caused not by intentional villainy, but by a flaw in the character of the hero-protagonists. (See the explanation of Hamartia in Brittanica.) There certainly are a lot of human flaws on display during this pandemic!)

We could all benefit from living more thoughtful lives!

Never sprain your UCL, and other advice

I’m back online and typing very gently after a few weeks’ rest for my dominant arm, which needed to recover from a sprain of my ulnar collateral ligament. I hadn’t even really known it was possible to sprain an arm outside of sports involving throwing balls, and yet, I achieved it!

While my twice-broken, once-surgically-reassembled LEFT arm has more reasons to resent me (!!), my right arm is still making its displeasure known. I look forward to not waking up fast and for the wrong reasons due to its response when I stretch in the morning, half-awake! (Gaaahhhhh!)

Good advice: do not sprain any of your ligaments!

Outside of sitting around in pain, there has been a lot going on. My very liberal hometown achieved getting 80% of adults vaccinated against COVID-19 weeks ago AND has had a less than 1% rate of positive test results, and so has started to ramp up ordinary urban activity. This means that going to the store no longer has a high personal risk score I have to calculate.

Good advice: live in an area where people believe in science!

There IS still a risk score, what with news of the delta variant rising elsewhere, but also because I have people in my social and professional circles that I just can’t TRUST to protect me (or others). I’m not spending any time indoors with anyone who refuses to be vaccinated, and while I like to think I don’t know such people, it turns out I do.

They will not be appearing on my indoor social calendar.

Combined with the social calendar hygiene that I applied for people who expressed unreasonable right wing and/or conspiratorial views in the last 4 years, I’ve only had to drop a few people, but the quality of my social calendar is much improved!

Good advice: spend time with people who care about your health, safety, and well-being.

After writing a terse letter to a pen friend who takes lots of medicines, but also insists broadly, in defiance of facts, that the COVID vaccines have not yet been tested (!?!) , I have had to reflect that smart people can be hopelessly GULLIBLE. Not just about how drugs are tested and approved in the US (where our regulatory regime makes them more valuable and widely trusted than those of many other countries, counter-intuitively – regulations can be quite beneficial in unexpected ways!), but gullible or oblivious to a range of things. Peers I care about have expressed unexpected lack of awareness of: the fact that eggs they buy in the store aren’t fertilized; what forms of birth control are available and how they work (and that some also prevent transmissible diseases); that heart disease is not random, but caused by lifestyle (or, infrequently, by genes – just like cancers); that there is more than one kind of cancer, and that cancer treatments differ; that the main way to obtain vitamins is through eating foods that contain them…

As someone who is curious about the world and who reads constantly, the idea that some of my peers wouldn’t know these things shocked me at first… but should it?

Good advice: read, and spend time with other people who read.

(John Waters has a more strongly worded sentiment about this, which also applies.)

Speaking of reading, I’ll find my notes about recent books, and share them here…

Life: Emerging from health order isolation

I’m writing after having some exciting experiences. I’ve dined with friends in a tent! I’ve visited an art museum!! I’ve eaten INDOORS, as the only customer at a restaurant! I’ve ridden INSIDE A STREETCAR! I’ve tested a camera! I’ve been outside without a mask!

These experiences are not what have kept me from posting here: exhaustion did that. I have been reading and drinking coffee, thankfully, so I do have books to write about, but my work schedule (unhealthy) plus a controlled experiment to determine if wheat is safe to eat again (IT IS NOT) laid me low for a few weeks, and I’m just emerging again now. Like the cicadas! Like my fellow SF residents, whose health order was updated on May 20th (sfdph.org).

I work in law, so I like the “redline” of the health order, which shows what changed:

It’s as if I finally exhaled some of the stress of ambient world conditions, but didn’t stop exhaling, and partly deflated.

~~~

My parents are both fully vaccinated. (Hooray!) I am fully vaccinated. (Hooray!) My local public hospital went a day without COVID patients for the first time since last spring. (Hooray!) My local public health department is celebrating ONE MILLION DOSES of vaccine successfully administered within our county. (Wow!) Even the national averages for new infections are dropping, despite strangely partisan resistance to disease prevention.

Locally (at least), we’ve turned a corner. I can exhale a little. I can hope a bit more.

~~~

The pandemic isn’t over, but I’m already looking at some elements of it retrospectively. I’ve formed some new habits that I will continue, like:

  • I will keep having a box of ‘environmentally responsible’ groceries delivered each week. (These are from an anti-food-waste business I’ve previously written of, which manages safe surplus and off-spec produce, such as potatoes that are too big, carrots that have two points, or tri-color quinoa that has too much of one color. NOTE: it takes a while to adjust their recommended orders until they really work for you: modify it actively until it makes sense! )
  • I continue to support my local, independent bookstores with my subscription to audiobook service Libro.fm, and will order from those same local bookstores at their websites (first choice) or through bookshop.org (second choice) when I can’t get across town to browse in person, rather than put those purchases off indefinitely, as I used to.
  • I may still mail film to my professional photo lab, rather than waiting until I have free weekends to visit them.
  • I will surely have dinner delivered twice a week, too, now that the delivery ranges expanded.
  • I’ll keep up these new pen pal relationships I’ve started, even though writing in German is more challenging than I’d expected. (See postage image, somewhere below.)
  • I learned to save some time for myself, rather than ALWAYS be available to others by phone or video call. (This sounds absurd – I live alone at the moment! – but you’d be surprised. Especially since some of my friends’ coping mechanisms involve very long contact, and/or working evenings and weekends to avoid dealing with pandemic news, and needing my help with things at odd hours, so that every evening and weekend day is interrupted by some work item…)
  • If I can arrange to work remotely, I’ll certainly do so: I get more sleep, enjoy more hot meals, and get more done with the time I’ve reclaimed from commuting, even though my commute wasn’t bad.

Staying indoors for a year has been hugely detrimental to my physical health, however, and resuming my sensible old habits may not be enough to correct that. I’m trying to ‘ramp up’ to at least the levels of activity I engaged in before the health orders took effect, and will need to adjust from there. How long does it take to undo a year’s worth of sedentary-yet-high-stress life? I’ll find out!

Life: February and Early March 2021

Did I mention that this sentimental sunset is from the Before Times, shortly before the first local COVID-19 health order took effect? It is.

We are coming up on the one year mark for San Francisco’s local COVID-19 health orders, and there are reasons to HOPE, which I have… tried not to develop.

The reasons AGAINST early hope include: a rising third wave of infections in Europe (guardian.co.uk); the 2.6 million PLUS global deaths; the recent crossing of the 500,000 death line here in the U.S. (coronavirus.jhu.edu); and the mental health effects that all of this has had on all of us, and especially the impacts on essential workers.

The reasons FOR hope include: the approval of additional vaccines, the emergence of a government in the U.S. that believes in them and is making progress in rolling them out, and local test results finally sliding below 1 percent positive. You read that correctly!

This feels like REAL PROGRESS. Like the incredible sacrifices that so many have made are paying off. And with 200k+ residents of SF already one-shot into the vaccination program, it feels like we may beat the new variants that are wreaking havoc elsewhere, and get ahead of any potential additional waves.

I’ll feel better when my parents (who don’t live here in SF) are fully vaccinated. I’ll also feel better when most of the folks who need it the most here are covered – SF has extended eligibility to food service workers and people with qualifying conditions over the age of 16.

*

There have been some virtual memorials, but I feel like I need to go to a physical place to reflect on this and light a candle, or something. Something not just on a screen.

*

Colleagues are asking how I’ll celebrate when it’s safe to do that, and… I’m trying not to get attached to any particular plan.

I’m also trying not to yell at social contacts in Europe, who are complaining bitterly because they’ve been subject to restrictions since NOVEMBER or DECEMBER. I’ve been at this 51+ weeks, and I just am having trouble working up sympathy. Yes, I remember what it felt like, but no, I have difficulty feeling that they are reasonable.

*

Last night, I dreamt that I was wandering through the Inner Mission District, along an imaginary tributary to the real river that used to run down Caesar Chavez/Army. (Click for the real, historical waterway map (museumca.org).) There were paved plazas around the river, and European modernist buildings with long bands of horizontal windows all around. It was safe to eat indoors or out; it was safe to wander into cafes and chat; it was pleasant to do that. It felt normal and right.

My subconscious is already looking forward to post-pandemic cafe-sitting, and I look forward to catching up with its forward-looking vision…

Life: January 2021

I did not enjoy the month of January.

I’m not saying I didn’t have some good days, but the world and my country had some UNUSUALLY BAD DAYS, and so the math is unfavorable.

Beginning of the month: right-wing threats seemed to flood social media sites, egged on by the now-former president. I’d already been stressed by his ‘even if I lose I will stay’ rhetoric dating back to last summer, and no one seemed to be taking it very seriously. The lack of attention to on-line rhetoric was alarming.

January 6th: my midday meeting was interrupted when the partner of the person I was meeting with walked in to say that the US Capitol building was being attacked, and perhaps he could give that some attention? That was the beginning of many hours of horror.

January 8th: while the people who violently attacked the Capitol had been allowed to wander away freely, which was exasperating on every possible level, the US hit a daily death rate of FOUR THOUSAND PER DAY.

U.S. tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus for 1st time
By EUGENE GARCIA, LISA MARIE PANE and THALIA BEATY
January 8, 2021 at ap.com

January 15th: The official global death tally from the COVID-19 Pandemic hit 2 million.

View of my phone’s home screen that morning

Global report: coronavirus death toll reaches 2 million
Tom Phillips, Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
Sat 16 Jan 2021 00.21 EST

January 19: The US hit an official death toll of four hundred thousand.

My homescreen again. Background art by me (Swiss watercolor pencil)

US coronavirus death toll passes 400,000 amid grim forecast over winter
Jessica Glenza, UK Guardian
Tue 19 Jan 2021 14.42 EST

That was ALL TOO MUCH. Plus, local COVID cases spiked again; another dear friend remained sick with COVID-19 for the entire month of January in a city with no hospital capacity; plus the US went on high alert once the authorities decided to actually read the threats against the government that people had been making online, and nearly every state had some threat made against their capitols and other government offices.

Yes, the Inauguration on January 20th went VERY WELL – it was great – and a relief! – to watch, and nearly impossible to concentrate on anything else. Yes, the new government appears to be off to a coherent, sane start.

Yes, my friend is still on the mend, and hasn’t had to be hospitalized, despite some worrying symptoms.

Yes, I made a ton of art on the weekends, which allowed me to turn my attention entirely into paint, color, and forms, and away from the madness and sickness that dominates the news.

But… I wouldn’t want to experience January 2021 again.

Life: Printmaking (socially distanced, as always)

I wasn’t as artistically productive as I wanted to be in 2020. While the pandemic kept me working from home for 10+ months, my job expanded to fill the time I’d reclaimed from my evening commute, and colleagues would ask for assistance regularly on nights and weekends. While there is plenty of work (my department has been notoriously understaffed), I suspect my colleagues also preferred to work constantly rather than read the same kind of pandemic news I’m reading too much of. Perhaps work was a shield against 2020’s damning news cycle.

“Doomscrolling” was my preferred method of coping – I like to keep informed AND look for patterns and solutions that may be useful – and my eyes tired from taking a break from one screen just to stare at another.

Also, angst about the election kept me from making the happy art I like to make. I can manage to find things I want to photography in just about any mood, but painting and printing require a lot more of my attitude and something closer to bravery, and I just haven’t had as much of that as I would like.

So: it’s nice to have made some acrylic monotype prints today, to have tried a new paper for this purpose, to have obtained interesting results, and to have learned something I can apply in the future. It brought me joy. We can all use more joy.

Life: Windy and wavy at the beach

I went outside yesterday, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t warm, but it was good to exercise.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is a wonderful place, even on windy days. It was easy to remain masked and physically distant from others.

There are high surf warnings on through Sunday: always remember not to turn your back on the ocean.

Life: Homebound Pandemic Holiday Break

I enjoy the solstice season and taking a little time off at the end of the year! Every plan I would ordinarily make with friends and family this week is unsafe and/or not possible, and so I’m ‘making do.’ Rather than hosting feasts, treating myself to spa- or museum- days, or dining with friends in a favorite vegan restaurant, I am: contemplating fiction (after a non-fiction-dominated year); reading an amazing Alice Munro short story collection (which I love from the first page); talking rare walks that are long enough to make me ache; experimenting with another spicy peanut sauce recipe; adjusting my news consumption; re-evaluating my exercise habits; enjoying a lovely channa/palak/fresh tomato dish with fire in it; adjusting my hair color intensity; waiting for my first sweet potato pie to cool off; prioritizing my creative projects; rationalizing my sudden obsession Rumiko Takahashi’s story, InuYasha; meditating slightly more often; and wishing that so many things were different.

The weight of the year is catching up with me, and while I’ve ‘talked a good game’ to encourage others, I’m really FEELING it now.

~~~

I have a heavy-texting friend who hasn’t replied to texts all week. I’m certain it means she has boarded a plane and is socializing in some COVID-hotspot OTHER THAN the one she lives in. I’m not going to ask about it. Or comment if she tells me.

My list of first and second-degree acquaintances with COVID has been growing slowly, but not slowly enough!

There are four people I know personally who have had it. (1 in the US, 3 in Sweden), and eight second-degree “friends-of-friends” (6 US, 2 Netherlands), but from the third-degree outward the numbers get crazy.

For example: one of the second-degree contacts took on a mask-free pandemic remodeling project at her house, and after interacting in close quarters indoors repeatedly, many of those who worked on it got COVID – the architect, the general contractor, some of his team, and several of the subcontractors, in addition to my second-degree relation. And I don’t know how many people THEY infected subsequently. I don’t even want to think about it.

~~~

I was chatting yesterday with a friend who recovered from COVID, and we agreed that it’s difficult to be comfortable outside of home with the current conditions. We can’t trust others to keep us safe: some people we know take risks we find absurd, and the news has already shown us that some people with COVID symptoms and even positive tests lie about their condition in order to travel, exposing others. I’m trying to warm up to the idea of being indoors with other masked people, behaving semi-normally, but that isn’t an option on offer now, and will still require trust. (I wasn’t ready for the unmasked outdoor dining across households, and seeing that in action didn’t help! They were SO CLOSE! Yikes!)

If we were living in a more developed country, where both small businesses and individuals were being subsidized during this crisis, it wouldn’t be so painful, as we’d know that we were all moving toward the same goals with basic security in place. If only.

~~~

I’m wishing you safety and health as we wind up this difficult year. As I work up the energy, I’ll wish you (and all other living beings) even more good things!