Life: Writing Amid Too Much Real News

Tiny clip from the reliable site

I’ve been quiet here, because there is a lot happening. A LOT. I’m not good at pretending otherwise.

I don’t want force false cheer or deny current events in my posting, because then it will read as, “A dangerous pandemic is raging out of control around the globe, my home state is on fire, my lungs are filled with smoke, my country is sliding into fascism, and HERE IS A NEW RECIPE FOR PICKLED BEETS!”

–me, just now

I’m having two kinds of interactions with people about the current state of affairs.

People who are cautious and have changed their lives since the pandemic became widespread are easy to chat with about our condensed, indoor lives. We’re trying to stay healthy and almost sane. We exchange recipes, movie recommendations, tell each other stories, share links, have video calls, compare masks, and discuss ways to solve pandemic-related logistical problems. (I want some of that fancy, vacated office space to be made available to schools which can no longer safely accommodate all of the students. Some of those offices (the ones that won’t have elevator lobby traffic jams) have VAST amounts of floor space, decent ventilation, zippy fast internet, and natural light. At even 30% occupancy per floor, they could support a lot of students! And yes, we’ll need to hire more teachers and support staff to make that work, and that would be worth it and potentially good for the recovery! And and and and…) My friends who are cautious may need to visit ailing relatives, and plan long, arduous car trips that may not involve stopping. They run errands, but do so cautiously and efficiently while masked. They avoid non-cautious people. If I have seen them within the last six months, I socialized with them outdoors and while wearing a mask.

People who are not cautious are living very different lives, and I can’t entirely relate to them. They are flying in airplanes. They are going on vacations and drinking in bars. They might as well tell me they are from Alpha Centauri. They aren’t appearing in Karens-gone-wild videos, thankfully, but I’m still judging them the way I judge people who don’t stop at stop signs. It’s not that I don’t understand taking risks to oneself: it’s putting others at risk that really bothers me.

These events are also changing what I read, and my reading has become GEEKY IN NEW WAYS. I have waaaay too many conversations about virology, antibodies, vaccine development, how clinical trials are supposed to be done (no, not all the researchers who don’t have the illness injecting themselves – THAT is just a bad version of Phase 1, people!); I’ve given two brief informal gushing chats on angiotensin-converting enzymes 2 (ACE2); I’ve translated acronyms for cardiac conditions potentially aggravated by COVID-19 to my father; I’ve started “liking” too many posts from UCSF about their nanobody-based potential treatment, AeroNabs; and I am constantly frustrated that I’ve got a lung health issue that is holding me back from going out to show up in person for the biggest civil rights mass movement of my adult life, Black Lives Matter.

I am NOT sending Twitter invitations to that asteroid that everyone is writing about, either.


Will #asteroid 2011 ES4 hit Earth? 🌎 No! 2011 ES4’s close approach is “close” on an astronomical scale but poses no danger of actually hitting Earth. #PlanetaryDefense experts expect it to safely pass by at least 45,000 miles (792,000 football fields) away on Tuesday Sept. 1.

I’m sure I’ll find a way to write, perhaps even as if there isn’t ash in my hair from taking my compost bin out, but my brain is full, I’m tired, I’m discouraged at the state of my country, and I have not done anything to get the abs I was convinced (half-heartedly) that I could have had by now. This will all inevitably seep into my writing, and that is okay.

News: Writing during a global pandemic

The numbers from Johns Hopkins ( ) as of 10:11 this morning,

If the US was doing well, the current coronavirus numbers would be shouted from rooftops; instead, they are dire, and are noted quietly, without fanfare, and set aside. Or denied by partisans or by people who can’t manage bad news.


I was reading an interview with William Gibson, one of my favorite fiction authors (possibly this one in the UK Guardian from January of this year), and was really struck by how he had to rewrite his novel then in progress, because the 2016 elections in the United States made the story he was telling unmoored from the reality that was unfolding.

The COVID-19 pandemic currently spreading around the world, and in particular spreading in an uncontrolled fashion throughout the US, is a similar, world-changing, culture-changing experience. This is evident to the point that people watching films that were made prior to the pandemic are uncomfortable with how close people are standing together, and how many things the characters touch, because we are looking at these interactions in the context of a new risk profile. These scenes of people in crowds, or in enclosed spaces with strangers, or speaking close to the faces of people they barely know, have a new meaning. They are no longer of our time – they feel out of place. So clearly from Before.

This is an unevenly distributed problem: in New Zealand, people are living reasonably normal lives; in the city in China where the virus was first recognized as a problem, life has moved on and people are attending outdoor pool-party concerts with no real fear. (This contrasts with people who are oblivious to the risks, and are spreading the infection actively in countries where infections are still rising, in part due to this obliviousness: their very obliviousness is creating dread – and danger – for others.)

Everything has context. I’m wrestling with the conceptual changes to my own right now, after 24 weeks of adjustment and precautions. There is a lot to process.


Depending on how long getting this under control takes, there are lots of adjustments that will need to be made: many people who will need to be tasked with providing support, current under-utilized (abandoned in favor of working from home) office space could be safely set up for students who need zippy internet and lots of space (especially for those whose parents are essential workers and need a place to be, but also because our schools aren’t set up for this, nor is everyone’s home set up for remote lessons; supervision and appropriately staggered arrival and departure times are required). We’ll need lots of workers to renovate ventilation systems, very large service centers for the unhoused (more dining rooms, more places to stay, more services generally)… There is so much to be done. There are SO MANY KINDS of emergencies that we prepare for, but the pandemic is messing up THOSE plans also (fire shelters don’t have capacity for crowds during a pandemic), and those plans also need to be revised.

None of which is my job, but somehow a lot of it is on my mind. I mean, this likely isn’t the only pandemic we’ll have. And, we can’t keep stumbling around like this, hoping it will pass while not changing things up. A lot of people are available who could be put to work if we have new plans. And… my optimism is breaking out of it’s tiny container again, but it’s still there…


Will this have an impact on my writing and vision of the future, to the extent there is a future with the climate crisis in full effect? Yes. I’m adjusting it now, as if my one dystopian novella wasn’t dystopian enough…

News: US Passes Four Million Coronavirus Cases

That… didn’t take long.

U.S. passes 4 million coronavirus cases as pace of new infections roughly doubles

The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.

Here in California, where we took precautions, but also had rebels unwilling to prolong the quarantine-style precautions. We’ve just topped New York in the number of cases, and jumped up more than TWELVE THOUSAND CASES IN A SINGLE DAY. We’re twice as big as NY, so we’ll still try to make bold claims of superiority, but… still. STILL.

California surpasses New York as state with most coronavirus cases after record day

California has recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a single day, as the state surpassed New York for the most total cases in the country. The state saw 12,807 confirmed cases on Tuesday, the governor, Gavin Newsom, announced on Wednesday.

Other countries got this under control, but due to a lack of risk comprehension (being geographically far from all but two countries really messes up the perspective), widespread belief that the illness is a hoax, and the extended childhood that constitutes adult life for many Americans, we have to suffer EVEN MORE before coming to our collective senses.

I do want to note that griping about “Americans” is unfair: it’s like lumping all of Europe together, as if there is no difference between the UK and Germany, for example. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. There are regional pockets of science-based precautions and good behavior. That’s a thing! But there are also many individual failures within those good pockets, which is why I can live in one of the FIRST COUNTIES IN THE US to issue a health order, yet still had to have a conversation with a neighbor who doesn’t think COVID-19 is real, or even if it is real that the news is just exaggeration and hysteria. (He is being yelled at by family friends; I get the easy task of merely agreeing with this friends enthusiastically!)

Years of pretending that everyone’s opinion is equally valuable, and that even basic facts have at least two “both sides” elements, have taken a toll on the critical thinking of many of our citizens. And here we are. Together. Depending on the most foolish of us to keep our communities safe.

News: US Achieves Three Million COVID-19 Cases; World Achieves Twelve Million

US reaches 3m confirmed Covid-19 cases as Pence pushes for schools to reopen – as it happened

Johns Hopkins tracker confirms US has hit 3m mark, representing about a quarter of the world’s total cases

That was fast.

Also, it occurs to me that “pandemic” might be the wrong tag for this in the long term. Because, you know. This might not be the only one during the running cycle of this blog. (Yikes.) (No, really, it is OPTIMISM, because I think I’ll be able to live through it to write about the next one!)

The Johns Hopkins Corona Virus resource page shows there are over Twelve Million cases globally, While that also seems fast, you have to realize that my own, very large country is going up 60,000 CASES PER DAY.

News: Pandemic-inspired Slow Streets in San Francisco

With so many of our streets largely deserted by cars, and people desperate for some fresh air, why not give the streets back to HUMANS?

That’s the idea behind Slow Streets, which also helps local businesses by providing space for customers to wait outside their businesses in safely spaced lines, while other people can safely walk through the area. It is a clever adaptation, and a good one to see!

Slow Streets

Find local businesses, view maps and get driving directions in Google Maps.

On seventeen weeks of pandemic (and local prevention)

Tea in my favorite tea cup, which gets daily use now that I am always home

As you can tell by the prior posts, while my life (and the life of many people in my county/region) has changed significantly, yet not all of us are actually sticking to the plan to limit the spread of the pandemic.

Yes, the health orders are still in effect – here in SF, the active order explicitly says:

8. All travel, including, but not limited to, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit, except Essential Travel, as defined below in Section 15.i, is prohibited…. This Order allows travel into or out of the County only to perform Essential Activities, Outdoor Activities, or Additional Activities; to operate, perform work for, or access a business allowed to operate under this Order; to perform Minimum Basic Operations at other businesses; or to maintain Essential Governmental Functions.


And there are similar health orders in effect in other counties, yet… people within my social circles within California are taking vacations. *face palm* As in: leaving their homes, going to another city/county/state, staying in hotels, eating out, socializing with travel companions who are not from their households, sitting in the sun on beaches even they describe as “packed,” etc. Because: they are adults who are slightly bored.

I’m so glad I’m not interacting with any of these people in person, dear though they may otherwise be – and luckily, they don’t live in MY county. But I’m disappointed in them. Yes, we are all restless. Yes, I’m daydreaming of glorious, sunny, breezy moments from past trips. (I stared adoringly at maps of Lugano, Switzerland, today, which came to mind because the Swiss have decided that Americans (and visitors from 28 other nations) are too risky to allow in as visitors right now. (See the last item in this summary from the UK Guardian.) Really, based on the lack of self-control of people I know, who would blame them?) Yes, I’d love for the pandemic to be over – we would ALL love that. BUT IT IS NOT OVER. In fact, it is getting WORSE, because Americans have the self-control of small children. (No offense intended to any small children WITH self-control out there.)

I’m blaming those few, reckless people I know for the delay of museum re-openings, hair salons, and other services that could have gotten more of us living something closer to normal life, with more people CAUTIOUSLY working again.


The “New Normal” is more established now. I no longer receive mail about upcoming museum shows, library lecture series, bookshop author signing events, or public festivals: those colorful, festive newsletters have been replaced with small, polite-but-desperate pleas from local non-profits about our uncertain future, and how every activity they would ordinarily do to raise operational money cannot be done safely.

Many stores are closed permanently. Signs are down, and windows are papered over or covered in plywood. I’ve received numerous goodbye emails from those that were only open for office worker lunch shifts. My friend at a beloved local coffee chain let me know that many of our mutual friends are now seeking work.

Food delivery app-backed services are now (finally) viewed skeptically, as their business model of taking 35% or more of each sale while somehow also underpaying their delivery workers is recognized as exploitative of both restaurants AND delivery personnel.

To escape from that exploitation, restaurants near me are now running their own on-line ordering & delivery. This means some of them won’t deliver to me at all (they chose to service smaller delivery areas), foiling my earlier, successful attempts to support local restaurants. The few that do deliver to me still require full contact delivery (they want a human to touch their pen to sign a paper copy of an on-line receipt for a transaction that has already been paid (!) OR want tips handled as in-person cash transactions).

Companies that CAN support working remotely but never did before suddenly realize that people DO WORK while remote. This is transformative (I’m hoping this could be great for the physically disabled, who were not adequately accommodated in the past), and permanent remote work arrangements are being cemented at some large, digital-economy-centric corporations. The ripple effects of that alone are huge.

I continue to stay inside.

I am resolving my supply logistics. I have a stockpile of gluten-free, vegan dried proteins to tide me over if my deliveries are interrupted again. I subscribe to a local, weekly, produce-waste-prevention service, which gives me a crate of hardy fruits + veggies that can’t be sold in supermarkets due to size or color standards. My local gluten-free-sourdough bakery order will come through once the bakery completes their COVID-19 deep-cleaning and implements additional safety measures (hopefully the employee who tested positive will recovery quickly!). I am using local suppliers (for tea, olive oil, spices, grains) that can ship to my home.

My diet has changed in unplanned ways based on what I can/can’t get, which has caused me some problems (I have heartburn for the first time in 14 or 15 YEARS), and I’m trying to get a handle on that WHILE ALSO doing things like making sauerkraut or pickling beets for the first time, and making the most of what I have.

I appreciate that I have food, that my housing is stable, that my COVID-19 screening test yesterday came up clear, that I have a job, that my loved ones are reasonably healthy, that I have medical insurance. I am not going to risk the lives of others and stamp my feet over an inability to take fancy vacations to relieve some unstated existential crises or gaps in Instagram lifestyle posts. I AM going to continue to be concerned that so many Americans aren’t good at what the kids call “adulting.”

News: Current Confirmed Pandemic Figures

July 3, 2020 Johns Hopkins Coronavirus home page
Current count at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center homepage (3 July 2020 at about 9:40AM)

I had intended to comment here on major milestones, but we are just flying through them so quickly now that recent “reopening” (which is more like “denial” or “pretending coronaviruses take time off” than it is “cautious and aware activities”) has had its incubation period run out.

Reading news on the phone is now called “doom scrolling,” to give you a sense of how poorly management of this virus has gone in my part of the world. (It’s possible to do better, and many countries have, but the US has chosen a different path.)

News: Pandemic Rise in California

It seemed like all was going well, and then… people decided that coronaviruses take vacations, and now we can’t continue with our expansion of business activities: here in SF, the June 29th planned expansion has been “paused.”

People who won’t wear masks are ANNOYING – and are now costing people their livelihoods!

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health has an additional dashboard available now, and it shows how we are doing against our activity expansion metrics. (I love living in a City that loves data!)

Key Health Indicators on Containing COVID-19

Safely reopening San Francisco requires a strong partnership among city leaders, public health experts, businesses, and the community. Our commitment to safely moving forward together comes with the awareness that reopening too quickly may pose health risks and economic setbacks.

To give you a sense of one of the two metrics that we flubbed, here is one of the graphics from the site above as of June 30th showing the steep increase in hospitalizations:

The San Francisco Department of Public Health does data WELL.