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.

~~~

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:

*

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.

*

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

*

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!

Life: Time for my own projects

Keeping things visual: a screen grab of some recent favorite images on my current iPhone.

I… have… time… of my own! Right now!!!

After ten months of maintaining business continuity and transferring of all of my team’s and my own work to colleagues at a new corporate parent, I have a sense of accomplishment and relief. I left ‘things’ in good hands and departed on good terms, and now I can relax for a while!

Medical, dental, and administrative appointments took up my first days off, and more of those appointments are coming. I caught up on chores, those things I felt I must do, and did some cleaning. I took some photos, but it always felt like I had to go back to work when I completed a roll!

And then, on Wednesday of this past week, it felt REAL.

This time is really mine. Which feels rare and precious and wonderful and amazing.

I wake up early to take film out of the refrigerator to use for the days when the weather and smoke forecasts are favorable. I go out on long walks, looking at the lighting in various locations at different times of day, and choosing how I want to photograph certain buildings. I make excessively complex plans for setting up photo albums page templates for my Instax Mini prints. I fell into a rabbit hole about graffiti art by researching the Montana acrylic markers I use, which are inexplicably made in Heidelberg (!?!?!) but named after a very western state to celebrate the urban graffiti of New York City(!?!). I am now aware of the few SF Historic Districts we have; I looked up architects of buildings I like to photograph; I am reading books; I caught up on my correspondence in both English and German (!); I’ve even seen my friends!

It’s so exciting to have a life beyond my job.

I am lucky to do amazing work at amazing companies. My work offers exciting challenges and a chance to collaborate on programs that can improve human health, and is stimulating in many ways. Sometimes, they even let me listen to scientists! (Sometimes, I even understand what the scientists say! 😀 )

Yet, THIS intense self-study and self-guided time is also really NICE. Restorative. Stimulating. I can make bigger plans. I can follow my curiosity to wherever it leads me.

I’ve been having symbolic dreams at night about this. Dreams of trying to go somewhere new but being held back by other people’s issues have given way to dreams of arriving at my destination(s), and enjoying great views from a clean, pleasant location. (The cities in my dreams are GORGEOUS at night, and reflect spectacularly on nearby water!)

And then I wake up and fanatically research ink or film or glass paint or authors or book publishers or fonts while drinking French press coffee or homemade chai. (Hahahaha!)

I remain concerned about humans, and the consistently poor decision-making I’ve been witnessing. I’m going to try to vent some of this in harsh fiction, when I’m not fanatically doing something else… Otherwise, I’m hoping all this exploration will result in some good posts here, even as I wonder if this is really the best place to share what I’ve learned about spray paint nozzles. (There are SO MANY, and… oh, pardon me. Ahem.)

So books, coffee, AND MORE. 😉

Life: An Unstructured Day

Yesterday was my first weekday with no appointments or work in AGES.

It was AMAZING.

I completed some chores in the morning, which gave me a sense of accomplishment, and then fled the fog belt to test some film in sunlight. I wandered! I had lunch at a restaurant! I had a beer! (How long has it been?) I enjoyed an iced matcha drink while sitting in the shade! I RODE A CABLE CAR! (Yes, they are back now, after a very long hiatus.) I took more than 17,000 steps!

Unstructured time without appointments or commitments can be so beautiful.

I have countless obligations, chores, and tasks to complete, but taking a day to enjoy myself was a great thing to do. I’m lucky to have chosen to do this, lucky to live here in the Bay Area (and SF in particular), and so very lucky to be in good enough health to freely wander on foot around San Francisco in my purposeful “spare” time.

Life: A Year of Cheerful Hair

During the pandemic, I decided to change a few things about how I was living, and one of them was my hair color. I had previously spent late 2019 and early 2020 trying to go a respectable shade of gunmetal gray, a color that looks very modern in architectural settings, and which would match nearly all of my black and gray clothes. But, for whatever reason, the gray never really stuck. The dyes were permanent and were being professionally applied by a real colorist, yet it always faded back to an ambiguous, ashy near-blonde that didn’t quite have its own name.

In March 2020, the pandemic ended professional salon hair color visits, and I was left to my own, not-fully-respectable devices. I noodled around a bit with gray, purple, and rose tints, some of which lasted a day, some of which stuck but didn’t stay true. I watched my roots grow out (and out, and out). I had to see my roots often, because I spent five hours daily on video calls for work, and I did not like what I saw. So, I decided to change direction. In August of 2020, I went pink, a color I had never seriously considered in the past. Pink hair. On ME, a middle-aged woman who showed visible signs of being cooped up indoors for too long. It seemed… unlikely to succeed.

September 2020 reflection in pink, with matching shirt and giant, noise-reducing headphones

And yet.

Pink hair inspired people to respond differently to me on video calls. They smiled more. They were more outgoing to me than they had been previously. When my employer was acquired, I met many people at the new parent company by video meeting, and it was fun to watch their faces change when my camera turned on. Yes, I was still a legal department representative, yes, we were going to discuss serious business, but their faces visibly brightened. The mood softened. They were professional, always, but also warmer than people usually are with legal department folks.

During the long, dark dread of the 2020 pandemic, that felt REALLY NICE.

2021 arrived, and as my hometown’s vaccination campaign succeeded and infection levels dropped, I left the house and learned that this cheerfulness toward me also happens in real life. Women say nice things to me every day I go out now. We don’t even need to be talking: I was smiling at a woman walking past with her dog, and she just said, “Yaaay, pink hair!” unexpectedly. I am awash in cheer and compliments, and it surprises me every time. It’s like I’m carrying a kitten on my head, or am dressed as a huggable mascot.

I’d already picked out my next color, but it won’t be as…soft, so perhaps I will stick with my friendly pastel pink (PINK! A color I didn’t own any clothes in until recently, and would not have been caught dead in during my youth!) for a while longer, so it can continue to soften my way as I readjust to the world.