Pandemic News: Another Treatment Candidate

This is preliminary data from a combined Phase 2/3 clinical trial, so they are still confirming the dosing along with the tolerance, but the preliminary results from this Pfizer trial are even better than those from the Merck drug. Which suggests that COVID may soon be something that is survive-able for more people!

An 89% reduction is AMAZING, and it will be good to see what the final analysis shows.

This warms my heart. We could all use some more hope for better outcomes with this terrible pandemic.

Art: Art Supply Rabbit Hole

I have been on an acrylic monotype bender this year, but I hope to return to watercolor painting again. I do it in flurries, and I’m overdue for a return.

I use transparent Japanese, Holbein brand tube watercolors (primarily: I also like a French brand); Swiss watercolor pencils and crayons; and I have a German travel set of watercolors I bought at a museum in Switzerland on one of my last trips there, but haven’t used much since. I also have a tiny mixing set of Holbein’s opaque gouache, which I love, and can mix just about any color I need from. I’ve gone through multiple tubes of it, and love its dense color.

I have enough supplies. Probably. I’m always missing a shade of green or blue that can’t be mixed, but I surely have enough.

Anyway, there’s a type of Japanese watercolor that I (somehow) do not have. It had escaped me, because we call several things “watercolor” in English, but they have different names there.

The paint is called gansai. It is often mineral based, opaque, and generally not vegetarian in composition, commonly using animal skin binders. I wanted to know more about it, to see if a vegetarian version is available, and to know if it offers colors I don’t already have in the only big set of paints I’ve ever bought, which is a set of Holbein’s “antique” Japanese colors.

Does Holbein offer a gansai range? Yes! But only in Japan: the product isn’t available through their US distributor. Also, they don’t address my animal ingredient concern, so I may need to ask.

Is it similar in color range to Holbein Irodori Antique Watercolors? Well, this was a hard question, because that set is no longer listed on the Holbein sites. Why? It has been replaced with a full line of Holbein Irodori GOUACHES!

[insert sound of me, a gouache lover, losing my mind]

Oh oh oh oh oh… I need to know more about this, and found an Irodori fan who runs her own art supply shop in Hanoi to share her insights:

Knowing that I already love gouache complicates my research into gansai… Though it’s not like a huge box of tubes and all the related equipment is very portable, and I was looking for something portable in this instance. (During my business travels, I used the portable tools and got satisfactory results. While I’m at home, the bulky tube paints give me better results, but require more space and equipment. Since I created work while traveling to justify that purchase, this means I can justify having both! 😀 )

So, setting aside how gorgeous the gouache looks (though there are only a few colors that I feel I can’t go on without in that new line), I chose to go back to research gansai.

Is there a vegetarian Gansai: YES! My local supplier, Jet Pens, offers Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, and specifically notes that they contain no animal products. Hooray!

Did I see other magical things during this research? Oh, goodness yes. Tons of tours of various art supply shops in Japan, plus this gem on one VERY SPECIAL art supply store:

My mind is filled with colorful paint fantasies now… I’ll try not to talk about paint again until I show you something I’ve made with it.

Pandemic Life: Ongoing (with Progress)

This is where I have to decide: am I just interpreting the news favorably because I need some good news? Or is it actually good?

It’s a mixed bag.

I am thrilled that there is a drug for the treatment of COVID, which can decrease the symptoms and speed recovery. Merck’s Phase 3 study of molnupiravir showed a 50% reduction in hospitalization and death, which is dramatic. This investigational drug is already emergency-authorized in the UK, and is being reviewed for use in the US.

I’m looking forward to seeing it on the US FDA’s list of emergency authorizations for this crisis. (The list is a bit depressing, because you see statements like that first footnote: “1 The virus that causes COVID-19 has led to an increased number of patients requiring critical care, such as  with severe respiratory illness. As a result, there is a shortage of adequate, FDA-approved  drugs used for their treatment, such as propofol for sedation of mechanically ventilated patients.” The idea that there is a shortage of common sedatives because of this crisis is a reminder of how broad the impacts are…)

We need more where that came from! There are other medicines in the pipeline, which I get to read about in the local pharma news summaries, and while reading about a vaccine company where a friend works. I would like this progress to be celebrated more widely, or at least recognized, though I understand that the emphasis is, and should be, on getting everyone vaccinated. (Additional vaccines are in development, also!)

My European friends are frustrated. Cases are shooting up in Europe (Germany is setting new 50k daily records (my friends there complain about the inconsistent and seemingly performative guidance there), and the Netherlands are considering another light lockdown as hospitals fill (my friend there wants to go to some educational events, and is hoping that will still be possible).

Since I’m writing from the country with the highest cumulative number of cases and deaths, I see lots of reasons for optimism elsewhere, because other countries are doing so well relative to us!! [Laugh/cry here]. A country with a fraction of our infection rate is high on my tourist destination list, and I hope they will open for vaccinated tourism in early 2022 so I can go.

~ * ~

These zoonotic diseases continue to make me resent consumers of animals, who bring these illnesses into human populations and affect all of us.

One of the stranger articles on the animal-impact theme is that Americans are infecting deer with COVID, and the illness is now raging through deer populations without our noticing. Which is just another population for it to potentially mutate in…

I wish humans learned faster!

~ * ~

My daily life is relatively conventional now, in terms of being able to get where I need to go on transit, being able to keep supplied in basic household goods, getting medical appointments for routine check ups, and such.

My City isn’t fully recovered. There are still many boarded-up storefronts. There are still For Lease signs up in even those posh shopping districts with brands I’ve never understood. (You can see all the way through some fancy shops and out into Maiden Lane in spaces that have not been vacant in my lifetime…) There is still a fleet of “recreational vehicles” serving as housing at unprecedented densities in certain locations. There are still too few shelters for the people who need them, with prior progress being undone by health distancing requirements. Some hotels and restaurants remain closed, especially those that catered to professional conferences in my once-conference-filled town.

The impacts of evolving remote work policies will also take a long time to sort out.

~ * ~

I’m happy for the new medicines, the flexibility the FDA has shown, the large number of medicines still in development, and regional improvements in infection rates. I’ll try to dwell on these things.

Writing: Novel Progress

“Novel Progress” here means I have an update on the progress of my novel, not that making progress is novel in itself… English is silly, isn’t it?

I’m over 43,000 words into my rewrite of my first novella. There’s still a lot of story to go, and I’m impressed that I’ve got so much, considering I’m 62% of the way through the printed first draft, and that draft was just over 50k. (I’m truly rewriting it, and not just retyping it. 62% of 50k would be just 31k, so…)

My writing isn’t as steady as I’d hoped: I’ve had many real-life interruptions and minor crises to resolve. I also take abundant breaks to ensure that I don’t inflame my arms from doing too much of any one activity, having just finished physical therapy for an arm injury recently.

The breaks are unexpectedly beneficial, because the time away from the writing allows me to rethink some of the motivations of the characters. There have been several nights and mornings when I’ve sat up in bed, re-evaluating how some powerful beings came to power, and how they maintain it. There’s another story there, one that I reveal partially in the climax of the first draft. While it should not be fully revealed in this book – I’m keeping the focus on the central character and how she is affected by power struggles from her point of view – refinements of these motivations have already contributed heavily to the wording of the re-write.

I hope to use breaks to decide whether or not the lead character will realize why no one else remembers the things she is talking about from earth. Not even really basic things. There’s a reason, and it was hinted at, but she missed the hint at the time, and hasn’t revisited it. Her understanding of [the cause] won’t change the arc of the story, but it may make things easier for a friend of hers, and that may be worth doing before the story ends…

Summary: I want to complete this draft zealously, and then move into continuity editing and additional story refinements. I know editing is complex, and I’m unsure how long it will really take. I am enjoying the process, and feel I am improving on my old draft. I’m glad I am making the time and space to do this!

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.

*

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: Another Way to Count the Losses

Some data sticklers find the tally of official COVID-19 deaths to be too simple. It doesn’t really show the impact of all the deaths. Another way to look at the losses would be to calculate how many YEARS of life have been lost, to demonstrate that the loss of the elderly and the loss of the young have different impacts on society.

The totals are high:

I think this approach is thoughtful. This is much like the study of how many children have lost parents due to this pandemic, how we need to think of the impact this has on them, and how we can respond.

I’m hoping these different ways of looking at the impacts on us can generate some more practical responses and ideas on how our societies can recover from this devastation in a healthy way.

Food: Wheat Nostalgia 3: Acme Olive Bread

Now that I can’t have wheat for medical reasons, I have a nostalgia for certain meals. Including simple meals that were just bread, a spread, olives, and perhaps a glass of cider or wine.

Acme’s Olive Bread was one of my favorites. It is nearly crisp on the outside, but soft and springy inside, laced with rich tasting olives (Halkidiki?) that I’ve never had outside of this bread, but which are AMAZING.

Bringing home a loaf of this bread meant I had dinner in my hands, and would pay attention to nothing else until I had my fill of it. [insert all the swooning emoji that exist, and some that don’t, here.]

Image from the Acme Specialty Bread page at http://www.acmebread.com/specialty-breads.html

Acme uses organic wheat, and since I have to live without wheat now, I’ll just have to sigh longingly and remember how good it was!

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.

*

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.

Writing about Reading: Intentional Omissions

I mentioned before that I don’t write about EVERYTHING I read recreationally, because I don’t strongly recommend everything I read. I wouldn’t feel great about spending my time dwelling on things I didn’t enjoy.

There’s a web comic site that’s been advertising on Twitter, and I eventually caved and logged in to see what they have. Their ads are promoting a tale about an abused, sheltered heroine who was married off to an ab-heavy giant who doesn’t communicate well. She is terrified by everything and requires constant rescue. That is… NOT my cup of tea – I love competence (though I’ll settle for high spirits or a good attitude). The drawings are cute, but you will not read about that here.

Likewise, there’s a well-drawn manga I’ve never mentioned here, which packed the first collection I bought with adventure, but… the story got derailed somewhere in the second collection by the artist’s obsession with looking up all the girls’ skirts and gratuitous shower scenes. Later chapters seem to be mostly shower scenes? I know the conventions of awkward falling and “it’s not what you think” physical humor, and I have laughed at good versions of that (it’s possible!), but this one is just about drawing girls’ private parts now. I’ve given up, won’t buy more, etc.

It’s still fun to write about books and stories that impress me, so I’ll stick to that! 🙂