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.

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!

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.

News: US Passes 20 million COVID-19 cases

This is not the start to 2021 that any of us wanted, but the awkward combination of federal indifference, essential worker obligation, and individually inaccurate personal risk assessments led predictably to this.

The data is wild – cases going up 237,000 cases a day in this country alone – and is what was predicted.

I went past a shopping mall yesterday, and the parking lot was nearly full. As if none of this is happening. It’s difficult to reconcile.

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!

Life: NOT Talking About COVID-19, and other topics

Some of my friends in other countries talk about things other than the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s a bit disorienting. I realize that their regions are only applying quarantine-type precautions NOW, and so their experience of 2020 was different, and still is different.

I’m sincerely happy for them, that life has proceeded almost normally for them. (It bothers me, to the extent that “normal life” got people killed, but these attitudes are so regionalized that it’s hard to even know what information they have.) I can remember what that WAS like, in the Before Times, and I can ask them questions about it, and cheer them on.

I can’t reciprocate conversationally with news of my own, because it’s like I’m reporting from a well-appointed cave. Yes, I’m still in the cave! It’s still very cave-like! My food delivery to the cave was botched today! Cave living involves too much planning! Blah blah blah, cave cave cave! (Yes, I’m TOTALLY pretending I wasn’t this boring before the pandemic! 😀 I mean, I work in law (on the systems, processes, people management, and project management sides), so draw your own conclusions there.)

Nothing is “normal.” Nothing has been normal for a while. There is almost nothing in my life that hasn’t been affected in some way by the pandemic. What I eat, what I wear, how I spend my free time, how I exercise, who I interact with, how I spend money, how I look, how healthy I am, when I can see my doctors, what I read, how I sleep, what I daydream about, what news I seek out, which charities I support, how often I see my own parents, how often my parents see each other…

~ on coping and consolation activities while sheltering in place ~

I’m a largely self-entertaining person, and I’m “holding up” well. I’m reading great books; I’m writing to great friends; I’m having audio and video calls with family and other dear people; I’ve been out on masked outdoor walks with my gal pod; I’m fearlessly experimenting with recipe modifications; I’m studying Spanish; I’m watching sci-fi films and even some television… but it’s all “making do.” It’s all a series of compromises. It sounds nice because of how I am describing it, but it’s not what I want – I want to VISIT my family, I want to TRAVEL to and with far away friends, I want to DINE OUT with my local social groups, I want to COOK for my pals, I want to see movies on HUGE SCREENS in proper theaters while eating overpriced popcorn after a day of chatting IN CAFES, buying books IN BOOKSTORES, viewing art up close IN MUSEUMS, and chattering away with pals in LIVELY NEIGHBORHOODS with cheerful ‘street life’ all around.

I know there are better versions of the activities I’m doing now. I remember them. I want them back, but won’t resume ANY of them until it truly appears to be safe to do so. (And I won’t be an early adapter to return.)

So I’m glad I’m doing so much with my small amounts of non-working time, but I am not satisfied.

~ on fictionalizing not discussing disasters ~

Although NaNoWriMo is over for 2020, I’m considering writing a science fiction novella about life during a vivid, gaudy space invasion, while people are trying to pretend that it isn’t happening. There are aliens marching down the street; there is a vast spaceship hovering over the grocery store; the skies light up with strange lights every evening… Yet people are looking down at their cars and making small talk about a new Marvel movie, a new bakery that they haven’t tried yet, or the school they hope their child will apply for in three years. My character is standing there, agreeing, brushing small drones out of her hair when they get tangled. She’s thinking: “Damned drones: I’ll need to get a repellant,” but won’t say that aloud, because that would be rude. Acknowledging the drones would be talking about the invasion. She can’t talk about the invasion. No one talks about the invasion. Except children, who have no manners and need to be shushed.

~ on metaphors for losing touch with prior ways of living ~

I have more empathy for people working in space, and especially for the people who will go on long interplanetary missions in the near-ish future. Their loved ones at home will send them emotional video messages about broadcasted sporting events, new television shows they are engrossed in, and how they had trouble parking; their children will show them their algebra homework and complain about their soccer coach; and the astronauts will smile, nod, and not entirely be able to relate in that moment because of the distance between the life they used to live, and the life they are living now. “It’s really great to hear from you! How are things here? Well, I eat lunch that I can squeeze out of plastic bags, if anything goes wrong we will decompress and die, if my mission goes well I will never see the earth in person again, I’m working on some science projects that should earn me several more Ph.D.s, and the results may allow us to survive in a space colony. Yes, sure, tell me more about parking problems you had near your favorite restaurant!”

I’m hoping there are space therapists. Lots of space therapists. And that they have a really nice mission patch.

News: COVID-19 Zoonosis summary from WHO

While I’m relieved this is being studied and taken seriously, I remain uncomfortable with the idea that our COVID-19 vaccination programs could be undermined when humans infect industrially farmed animals, who then return the favor with new variants.

If you’re interested in an overview of the animal-to-human-transmission – zoonosis – situation with COVID-19, you should read the WHO summary that focuses on mink farms and related infections, below. (When last I visited, it was updated in early November 2020; additional cases have occurred since that time: you can see more recent case counts just by running a search for COVID mink. Ick.)

STOP WEARING ANIMALS, HUMANS! (Yes, I’d be supportive of humans discontinuing all industrial farming of animals. It will be great when swine flu, bird flu, etc., aren’t human pandemics brought about by these crowded and unsanitary industrial practices.)