A Substitute for Positive Attitude

Copyright: Maria Symchych-Navrotska

I’m having a bad day of underemployment. Sometimes, I’m able to appreciate the extra time I have, the energy I can spend on my kids or hobbies, but not today. Right now, I feel very, very insecure. I have been looking for full-time employment for seven months. The last time I seriously job hunted, I was 29 years old and it took six weeks. I have always relied — not on an optimistic nature or naturally upbeat attitude (because I don’t have those) — but on my determination: Keep sending out resumés, talking to contacts and taking interviews. Stay open to new possibilities. Something good has to happen eventually. It’s math, the law of averages or whatever.

But seven months and a pandemic, I have to admit, are wearing away at my perseverance and, honestly, my self-esteem. After throwing hundreds of applications and writing samples into the black hole of the internet and having nothing more to show for it than a folder full of rejections and a slew of unanswered emails, I am starting to wonder…lots of things:

  • What am I missing?
  • Am I doing something off-putting in interviews?
  • Am I too old?
  • Are there too many applicants out there, desperate for jobs, to compete with?
  • Do I need to give up on this goal of mine: full-time employment as a writer?

I’m open to improvement. I’ve poured over my resumé with Jason, the staffing expert. I’ve asked for feedback after interviews and gotten the unspecific and unhelpful, “We decided to go in a different direction.” I’ve continuously tweaked and updated my social media profiles, and I have stellar references. It’s hard to continue to do those things, month over month, without visible progress or results.

I’m not giving up. I’m just having a bad day. And in seven months of trying and failing to find a job, you know this isn’t my first dip into despair or my last. I’m reworking my portfolio; I’m applying for more jobs; I’m taking on contract work and submitting stories to contests, thinking something has got to lead to somewhere good, stable, long-term. I may cry, I may be irritable, I may yell at the dog and feel kinda shitty. But I won’t stop my pursuit even as my inner pessimist grumbles that I’m not getting anywhere. That inner pessimist is stubborn, but she’s not as hard-headed as I am. Fuck her.

White Privilege ~ to Make Mistakes and Not Be Killed For Them

Black Lives Matter Protest in Bloomington
Copyright: shutterbreakerli

I saw the body cam footage from the Rayshard Brooks incident.

Upon viewing it, I became certain about something I already suspected.

The video shows an officer approach Brooks’ car, where he’d fallen asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through line. The officer directs him to park the car, which Brooks does. When another officer arrives, they administer a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer; they determine he is indeed drunk.

Throughout the 20-minute interaction, Brooks is cooperative and friendly toward the officers, cordially submitting to the tests. He admits he’s been drinking. He’s in town to visit his mother’s grave, he says, in the course of the conversation. He offers to leave his car where it is and walk to the house where he is staying.

The officers ask him to put his hands behind his back, and that’s when Brooks begins to resist. He wrestles a taser from one of the officers and runs away. The cop who chases him points a taser at him, and Brooks points his stolen one back at the officer. It is at this point, one of the police officers shoots Brooks in the back two times. He died later of his injuries.

This was not just one man’s life. It was his family’s life as well. He had a father, siblings, a spouse and three kids. The day he was killed, his daughter had had her eighth birthday party. According to his family, he was a “loving husband and caring brother.” He adored his children. His niece said, “He was silly, had the biggest smile and the brightest heart,” and yet he was “shot and killed like trash for falling asleep at a drive-through.”

I have another story to tell you. There is no video footage or press coverage of it.

Two women in their mid-twenties stand on the street in downtown Austin next to a parked car. It’s around 2am. They are talking loudly and animatedly with one another when a police officer approaches them and asks if there’s a problem. They explain to the officer that they are both too drunk to drive their car home, but it’s in a space that will be tow-away come morning. They’ve secured a ride home from a sober friend. They are trying to decide which, if either of them, has the capacity to safely move the car to a nearby space where it will be legally parked.

The cop does not administer a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer. He does not ask them any questions. He would be well within the law to arrest them for public intoxication, but he doesn’t. He volunteers to move the car for them. He reparks the car, returns their keys, and they ride home with their friend and sleep safely in their own beds. Their parents, spouses and friends have the benefit of their presence to this day.

The police did not punish or even chastise the women for behaving somewhat irresponsibly; the police, in fact, facilitated their safe return home. Oh, did I mention? The women were both white. They were my sister and me.

It didn’t have to be this way.

What I suspected when I first heard about Rayshard Brooks’s murder was that it didn’t have to end in tragedy; it could have gone much the same way the incident with my sister and me did. What if, instead of trying to arrest him, they’d taken him up on his offer to walk home? What if they’d followed him in their car, or even driven him, to ensure he arrived safely and without incident? Without wasting taxpayer dollars on a purposeless arrest. What if that cop, even after Rayshard ran off with his taser, realized killing him would be a far worse outcome than the possibility he might escape?

But no, instead, Rayshard Brooks is dead, and his children will grow up without him. His penalty for a lapse in judgment, which we all have from time to time, was death.

Police aren’t trained to be helpful.

Sure, it happens sometimes, like with the officer that moved my sister’s car for us; there are cops who are reasonable and have a sense they are serving, not policing, the community, at least when it comes to white people. But how often are black people given that kind of understanding? How often, in the face of the police, is a black person allowed to make a mistake without dire, unjustifiable consequences?

If you take the militaristic methods by which police are trained and combine it with inherent bias and racism, you get the dangerously dysfunctional kind of policing we have now. You shouldn’t take my word for it, though; I’ve never been trained as a cop, but this guy has, and what he says about the toxic, racist, warlike atmosphere of police training is scary as hell.

Police officers are trained to expect conflict, to approach every person as if they are a mortally-dangerous enemy. The folks who get the worst of that mentality are marginalized groups like black people and people who are homeless or severely mentally ill.

White Privilege Redux

The point here is this: We white people need to realize that our rights are respected way more often than those of black people. And nothing is going to change by making officers attend a handful of “diversity education” classes. When you hear shouts of “defund the police” what people are really saying is “dismantle the police departments and reconstruct something better.”

Our Privilege is Showing, White People

The Stand Up to Racism march through central London
Copyright: Ben Gingell

I scrolled through my Facebook feed today, and god, it made me so damned sad. Coronavirus stats, cops killing people, riots, looting, journalists assaulted by police and protesters alike. With the Trump administration as the backdrop for all of this, it’s starting to feel like end of days, end of times, end of…something.

Harkening Back to a Previous Era of Violence

But this is not new. George Floyd’s murder called to mind another time police officers committed violence against an unarmed black man already in custody. In 1991, police officers beat Rodney King, leaving the man with skull fractures, multiple broken bones, and permanent brain damage. Those cops were acquitted in the spring of 1992, despite what most thought was damning video evidence. A matter of hours after the verdict, rioting broke out in Los Angeles. The rioting and looting were so pervasive and violent, the National Guard was called in. Mail delivery stopped, stores closed, and people could not go to work or school.

The indignation and anger were not only for the cops who went free; it was the boiling point for tensions that had been simmering in what was then called South Central LA for years. Unemployment, gang activity and a drug epidemic were rampant, and occupants of the area were not only unprotected by police but targeted and harassed.

I was going on seventeen years old, and I was shocked the perpetrating officers were acquitted. I saw the video, and the acquittal made no sense. My surprise was part of the problem. I could not fathom someone’s rights being so egregiously trodden upon by people of authority as were Rodney King’s and with no consequence. But the people of South Central LA knew. It was happening long before, by chance, someone caught those four cops on video.

Just a White Kid from the ‘Burbs

I was a white kid living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. I grew up in a place and with a face that meant people gave me the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t notice my privilege because I viewed that benefit, the assumption that I had a benign reason for walking down the street at night, as part of my natural right as a human being.

When I was in high school, two friends and I would sneak out of our houses at night. Sometimes we’d walk up to the all-night gas station and buy candy. Once, as we were walking down an alley behind the store, eagerly gobbling up melty Reese’s cups, a police car pulled up, lights and siren blaring. We were petrified. One cop got out, shined his flashlight at us and asked who we were. We gave our names and told him where we’d been. He said they were looking for someone who’d shoplifted at that same gas station. He told us to be careful and left. We were two white girls and an Indian girl.

In my twenties, I once got into an actual bar fight. These guys were being aggressively douchy, and I had just enough liquor in me to feel invincible. I got in the ring leader’s face and yelled I was going to kick his ass. A bouncer broke it up. The guys were kicked out, and my group left voluntarily, even getting our cover charge back for our trouble. The cops weren’t called; no one was arrested. We were a group of white girls, and the boys were white, too.

I remember college parties where cops arrived to find rampant underage drinking and possibly drugging, and no one even got arrested. “Keep the noise down,” was all they’d say. The party attendees were always, mostly, in appearance at least, white.

These are examples (and I can think of more) in which my white privilege — being given the benefit of the doubt even when I was acting less than admirably — showed. At the time, I didn’t notice.

I can’t tell you that the specific people in these stories — the cops, the bouncer –  would have behaved differently if we’d been black. But I do know that black people routinely have a very different experience with authority than I did in these instances.

Same Oppression, Different Day

Today, here we are in a similar boat as we were in 1992; it’s leaking, it’s on fire and the crew are fighting each other. People are rioting and looting; people are violent. We don’t have to condone it, but we do need to understand it. The black people of our country have been talking, shouting, working for change for generations, and the same thing is still happening: black people are dying at the hands of the authorities who are supposed to protect them. If you are not heard, if your fundamental rights get trod upon in both large and small ways every day, is it really so shocking that one day you grab that authority by the face and make them listen?

Trevor Noah says society is a social contract — rules we all agree to abide by for the common good. When police and people in power break that contract by killing unarmed black people, when that kind of grotesque display of hypocrisy is repeated again and again, why should anyone else abide by that contract? It’s not new: violence begets violence.

Our Privilege is Showing

As white people, we need to try to understand that the advantages we enjoy, the ones we are so accustomed to we don’t even notice them, are not available to everyone. Sarah Grimke, an early feminist activist, once said and was quoted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I ask no favor…All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Your white privilege isn’t so much privilege as it is your unassailable right not to be held down — socially, economically, even literally, as we all saw as that police officer held his knee to a handcuffed and docile George Floyd’s neck until he was dead.

Jody David Armour, a USC professor and author of a book on the civil unrest of LA in the early 90s, refers to it as “the 1992 uprising.” While the word “riot” focuses on the criminal elements, he says, an uprising is defined as “the perceived failure of the criminal justice system to fairly serve all people.” We decry protesters’ violence while ignoring the systemic violence that spurred it. When American colonists, citizens of Brittain, willfully destroyed valuable private property during the nationally-revered Boston Tea Party, we called it a protest of unfair taxation, a rebellion against a tyrannical government. It also fits the definition of a riot.

A Sign of the Times

You don’t have to decide rioting, looting, participating in an uprising is bad or good. But no matter what we choose to call it, it is a sign that something is very wrong with our country and has been for a long time. In 2017, three years before George Floyd would have the knee of a police officer crush the life out of him, Armour said, “Ain’t nothing changed but the year it is.” And now, sadly, it would seem he is still right.

But maybe this is, at long last, the catalyst we need. Perhaps, with corporate giants like Twitter, Facebook and Nike taking a stand, and the greater public finally taking notice, we can cut out the core of racism in our country and fill that void with egalitarian systems that serve and protect ALL citizens. IF that is, those companies put their money and efforts where their mouths are, and IF we don’t forget George Floyd as soon as the next news cycle starts. Maybe we can finally begin to remedy our past transgressions as a nation. Maybe it is end of times. End of racist times. We can not only hope, we can help make it happen.

Shelter-in-Place, the Good Stuff

kid drawing chalk art on sidewalkIt’s a learning experience.

When my oldest was asked, as a kindergartener, “What’s something your mom always says?” that was his response. He could’ve said any number of things:

What’s that smell?

Why is this wet?

I JUST cleaned this.

Not ’til I finish my coffee.

Get down. That wasn’t meant to hold your weight.

Or the ubiquitous, Why is there always crap all over the living room?

But my lovely firstborn chose something that makes me sound insightful. I would deliver this “learning experience” adage when he was down on himself for making a mistake, trying to point out that mistakes are how we learn to do something different the next time. I was not born with this wisdom. I, just like my kid, expected perfection of myself the first and every time. It was only later in life I began to tell myself to learn from my screwups and move on.

While all of this sheltering in place isn’t a mistake I’ve made, instead of lamenting what we can’t do, what’s not available, I can look at what I’ve learned from it. 

  1. We do not actually need all the activities we had previously scheduled into our lives.
  2. We are all pretty good at entertaining ourselves (even the oldest, extrovert child) when we have ample opportunity.
  3. While I am fond of baking, given enough free time, I still don’t like to cook.
  4. The people in my neighborhood are awesomely supportive of each other in good times and bad.
  5. Having only each other to play with for quite some time, our kids are now emotionally closer to each other.
  6. I hadn’t lost interest in my hobbies before the pandemic; I’d just lost time and energy enough to want to pursue them.
  7. Jason and I can still do projects together, and even if they are a pain in the ass, we don’t take it out on each other.
  8. Trading books, puzzles and plant cuttings with friends may not be the same as dishing in a bar together, but it’s fun and bonding in a whole different way.

These are the things I want to hang onto longterm. Most of them have to do with protecting free time so that everyone in our family has the opportunity to get bored and think, “what next?”

Some people take “what next?” time and invent things to solve the world’s problems or start new, innovative companies or side hustles. That’s not what I’m after here. I want to maintain the leisure we’ve found during this time of everything shut down — books, movies, gardening, playing. That, to me, is the stuff that makes life worth living. And coronavirus has made me realize, I missed it. What have you learned from the pandemic fallout that you’d like to keep, longterm?

Texas is Open, and Nothing Has Changed (for some of us)

parent interrupts by her daughter while working in the office
Copyright: ferli

Last Friday, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, declared that somethings could go back to normal — restaurants dining rooms are at half capacity, state parks are open with certain social distancing measures in place and curbside pickup for retail can continue. What this means for my family is…

NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

The kids are still not in school and won’t be until fall, and we are still not supposed to be hanging out with friends and neighbors in any real capacity. Our neighborhood parks are still closed and the kids’ soccer programs are still on hold.

What it made me realize is this: While I kinda miss going to Target just to wander around and try on sunglasses and hats, mostly what I miss is my kids going places. I miss it because they miss it; I want them to be happy. And I miss it because I am constantly going back and forth between my stuff and their stuff and I long for a predictable schedule where I can concentrate on writing and work for a big chunk of time.

Halfway through a lengthy job application this morning — complete with writing samples — I paused to help the younger one get on his class Zoom call and then help the older one with some schoolwork. By the time I got back to my computer, the sign-in for the application had timed out, and I had to start over again. This kind of thing happens on a regular basis these days.

I am not a natural at multitasking and the constant switching back and forth between my work and my kids’. It makes me irritable to have to change gears repeatedly. I like being able to focus on one thing, at length, until it’s finished or passed onto someone else for the next step.

I know we’re doing this for the greater good, though I am a little pissy about Bolivar Point in Galveston, which according to recent photo evidence, is packed to the gills when I can’t even send my kids to their friends’ houses. It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t know the answer.

Social distancing to flatten the curve seems right, and our economy does need to be taken into consideration. I’m not sure if opening Texas right now is the responsible move or not, but we’ll see what happens. I am glad the decision doesn’t rest on my shoulders; there’s no clear, correct answer. I can only hope our leaders make decisions based on what is best for everyone and not for their personal pocketbooks or their own political gain. My own frustrations with staying home all the damned time are personal and independent of what is for the greater good.

All greater good aside, what’s frustrating you (personally, not politically) the most about the pandemic and social distancing? What’s been good about it? Let me know in the comments.

It’s National Superhero Day

girl plays superhero
Copyright: choreograph

I was never a big superhero fan. The Superman and Batman movies of my youth were flashy and colorful but forgettable. The dialogue was trite, the plots simplistic. But you know how it is when your family of four is arguing over what movie to watch.

One night, we landed on Thor: Ragnarok as the one flick we could all tolerate. And to my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t half bad. Taika Waititi directed it, so the dialogue was clever and witty, and a couple of the fight scenes, set to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, were undeniably bad-ass.

We then embarked upon seeing every single Marvel movie in the most current anthology. Most of them were entertaining. A couple of them, (ahem, The Incredible Hulk) were pretty bad. But, when I saw Bree Larson in Captain Marvel in the theater…now there’s a movie my inner little girl and my inner latent feminist both fell in love with.

In honor of National Superhero Day, I wrote a serious, in-depth, analytical think piece about the influence graphic-novel-based movies have on modern culture and gender constructs.

Or I used this “National Day of…,” trumped up by Marvel in 1995 as self-promotional material, as an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite hobbies, talking about movies.

Probably more the latter. To be absolutely clear, both of the links above will take you to the same National Superhero Day article and all of its serious silliness.

Thanks again, to The Syndrome Mag, for publishing this article and to Editor Leigh Anne Jasheway for always making my writing better.

Riding the Socially Distanced Wave

 

reynzo-u5vx3Ke0_RM-unsplash
Photo by Reynzo on Unsplash

 

Riding the Wave

I didn’t realize how apt the name of this blog was when I came up with it. At the onset, it just described how moody I am — how I can be in love with the world one minute and convinced it’s utterly doomed the next. I can even hold both of those feelings at the same moment. The “riding” part refers to my attempt to gently navigate these mood swings instead of trying to beat them into submission.

But wave riding is not just for my personal emotional ambiance; it has applied, very much, to weathering this forced shelter-in-place, quarantine, socially-distant experiment to which we’ve all, necessarily, been subjected. People are sick, and essential employees are out there doing their jobs in the face of immense challenge and fear. I salute them. This post is for the rest of us.

Telling It Like It Is, Part 1

I could tell you that, since we’ve all been sequestered here in our house, I’ve been cooking more. The kids have been helping around the house, and Jason has ramped up his woodworking. I could wax philosophical about how we’ve learned to appreciate the little things — stocked grocery shelves, a walk around the block, our own good health. Our kids are visibly excited about toilet paper, for godsakes. I could tell you we’ve hiked and done crafts and that in a way, we feel closer as a family than ever. I could mention that this time has caused me to reflect on what is truly important and in what direction I’d like to take my career. I love the simplicity this situation has brought us. All of this would be true.

Telling It Like It Is, Part 2

I could also tell you that Jason and I had a loud, emotional argument right before bed one night last week that took us days to recover from. I could tell you how I cry into my hands in front of my computer screen at least once a week, the job sites staring back at me with offers from companies I will never hear back from — a recurring non-event that chips away at my self-worth. I could reveal that my kids, though they don’t complain anymore about isolation, long for their friends. I could mention how, introvert though I may be, I have recently started fantasizing about going OUT to dinner, about seeing a movie or having drinks at a bar with friends, about drinking a coffee IN the shop. All of these things are true, too.

Just Like Oz

Things are great and terrible. It is the best of times and the worst of times. Isolation is blissfully relaxing, centering even, and yet also distressing and identity crisis inducing. Part of being human (at least I hope so because if not, it’s just my weird, overly-complicated bullshit emotions) is the ability to hold these seemingly conflicting feelings simultaneously. So if you are also having your waves — peaks where you feel like self-distancing has changed your life for the better, troughs in which you want to run away from home and never come back — know that some of us, hell probably most of us, are going through the same thing. And it is possible to feel it all at once, too.

Comparison, Thief of Joy

When you scroll through your social media feeds and see all the crafts and baked goods and post-workout sweat shots, don’t compare yourself to that. Remember, those people have their troughs too. We all do. Don’t be too hard on yourself (she says to remind herself the same thing.)

Homeschool Advice from a Former Teacher who Hates Lesson Plans

homeschool penny hike
Coronavirus Homeschool Penny Hike

UPDATE: I wrote this two weeks ago at the beginning of our school-from-home experience. Since then, the school district has upped their game, mostly subverting my role to tech support for my children. This means we spend a lot of time arguing about usernames and passwords.

Also, I wrote this on one of the days I felt like I had my shit together. Right now, I feel like my shit is very far apart, strewn across the galaxy and into the dark side of the multiverse. (We rewatched Doctor Strange last night, as Marvel movies are the only ones we can all agree on.)

So you can use the ideas I wrote about here, or you can totally hide in your home office and allow your family to assume you’re working when you’re really having virtual brunch with friends and venting.


Educational Activity

This morning, for the edification of my lovely young children, we went on a penny hike. This is a simple concept from my own childhood in which you flip a coin every time you get to an intersection: heads, go right, tails go left.

It was a multidisciplinary hike in which we observed bees and ants in their natural habitats (science), discussed the virtues of exercise (physical education), and practiced converting measurements from the metric system to the imperial system* (math). We also discussed probability with each coin flip and practiced our geographical skills with the recognition of landmarks.

Another Way to Describe What We Did

The 9-year-old said, “Let’s go on a penny hike.” We happened across some ants, which we watched until someone stepped in their pile. The kids freaked out when I stopped to take a closeup picture of the bees, and I explained for the billionth time that the bees are not plotting a stinging onslaught upon anyone who gets within 25 feet of them.

When the kids started whining about being tired because leaving all decisions up to chance kept us walking in circles, we abandoned coin flipping and headed home. We discussed how the 9-year-old’s inconsistent flipping habits (sometimes playing it where it lay, sometimes slapping it onto his arm, depending on his preferred coin side) were biasing our results.

As for geographical landmarks, one of them pointed to a house along the way and said, “I think that’s Aiden’s house.” The 12-year-old checked his Pokemon Go app to see how far we walked, and as an afterthought, I asked him to convert the kilometers to miles.

Take it Easy

It doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. You don’t even have to plan that much; just look for opportunities in everything you do to ask your kids some questions. You probably already do it without realizing it.

In the classroom, things are uber structured because there is a gaggle of kids and one adult. If you want to plan things down to the minute at home, cool. But if maintaining a rigid school schedule while also trying to get your own work done stresses you out, know you don’t have to.

One night at dinner, we brainstormed activities we could do during this time of social distancing. They ran the gamut: read a book, rake leaves, hike, practice soccer in the backyard, watch something new on TV. Each day, we can pick several things from the list, and all the math, science, language arts, and not-so-social studies will happen naturally.  This leaves plenty of time for me to work and for the kids to still have much more free time than they’re used to.

And read. Don’t forget to tell them to read.

*I had to look up what we call our antiquated, arbitrary system of measuring things that I still, stupidly, can’t let go of.

Novel Coronavirus Transmission: Keeping Our Cooties to Ourselves

Disease Spread
Copyright: lightwise

“I feel like crap,” I said matter-of-factly. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with Jason, who was lying in it. We were discussing logistics. He had just gotten off the phone with his parents and was planning an impromptu trip to Houston. His father was having surgery.

It was Tuesday, February 18th, and we had just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York the day before — stayed with my sister, saw a Lumineers concert at Barclay Center, went to The Met, saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway in a tightly-packed theater. Flew in and out of JFK. Opened a lot of doors, touched a lot of stuff.

Jason traveled to Houston, where he stayed with his sister and her husband and daughter. He went to MD Anderson for his father’s surgery, walked the halls, was there to support his mom. I stayed in Austin and drove the soccer carpool with our oldest and four of his buddies. The youngest and I ate pasta at an Italian restaurant while we waited for practice to be over. Wednesday morning, Jason texted me and asked how I felt.

“Not great,” I said. A full-blooming oak season in Central Texas was upon us, and I had worse congestion than most years.

“I don’t feel good, either,” he texted. I’m coming home.”

He didn’t go to the hospital that morning, because he was starting to feel really sick. He didn’t want to expose anyone at MD Anderson to his illness. He sped back to Austin down the highway, through Katy, La Grange, and Bastrop. He may have stopped at a gas station or two. He got home before he started feeling really terrible.

“It’s so weird,” he said. “My body aches all over.”

“You have the flu,” I said. He’d never had the flu.

“If you go to the doctor now,” I said, “You can get Tamiflu, and it might help.”

He glared at me and did not go. Our insurance isn’t great, and it would have cost a small fortune.

Over the next ten days, he ran a fever. He stayed in bed. He developed a bad cough. At the end, his ears were stopped up and painful, and we thought they might be infected.

During that time, I went to a PTA board meeting and took notes. I attended a school STEAM night, noting conversationally how bad my allergies were to the principal who commiserated with me. At the event, I helped my youngest kid create circuits, handing him the plastic and metal pieces that were configured and reconfigured all evening by many sets of hands, big and small. A day or two later, I sat in a coffee shop with friends and noticed my back hurt in a weird way that suggested something other than muscular issues. I hugged both of them before we parted ways.

I began to suspect it was not allergies. I developed a cough that kept me awake at night, one that could only be quelled by falling asleep with a cough drop in my mouth. I suspect I had a mild fever. I felt weepy. I wrote and edited things from my couch, alternating between working and napping. I was so very tired.

It seemed to take forever, for two people who are rarely sick, for Jason and me to feel better — not days but weeks. My energy slowly came back, but the sleep-disrupting cough lingered. Jason became hard to live with when he was well enough to be irritable about not feeling well. His ears still haven’t completely recovered.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I keep thinking I feel better, then it hits me all over again, and I have to go lie down.”

The kids didn’t get sick. We were grateful.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic. And as I read people’s accounts of their symptoms — those confirmed cases who had recovered — I began to suspect. Our symptoms were eerily similar. Other facts:

  • A woman I met with for work on Wednesday, February 26, said she had been sick and was having ear problems identical to Jason’s. She was concerned it would be problematic on her impending flight to Colorado.
  • One of the friends I had coffee with subsequently got sick, mistaking her symptoms at first, as I did, for allergies.
  • Two days ago, our youngest child said he didn’t feel well. His eyes were red and irritated, so I gave him some allergy medicine. Then, his right eye got really goopy. I thought, pink-eye. But when I took his temperature because he was lying on the couch listlessly and felt hot, the kid who never has a fever was running 100.3. I wondered where he could’ve gotten whatever he had since we’ve hardly been around anyone but each other for the past two weeks. Now, his fever his gone, but he’s got a snotty nose, a cough and a sore throat. And he says everything tastes weird.

I’ve been on the internet a lot lately, and here’s what I have learned:

  1. Several reports indicate that conjunctivitis (pink-eye) is a Covid-19 symptom in some people.
  2. Symptoms can appear up to 14 days after exposure to the virus, most commonly, though, around 5 days.
  3. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.
  4. There are reports of people experiencing loss of taste or smell who later tested positive for coronavirus.
  5. Coronavirus can survive on a hard surface for up to three days.
  6. Children’s symptoms tend to be mild and cold-like — fever, runny nose, cough — with some reports of diarrhea and vomiting.

I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but even if I were, I couldn’t tell you without a test, for sure, whether or not all these sick family and friends had Covid-19. Whether the mild virus that swept through some of my sons’ friends the week before spring break was novel coronavirus before we thought it was here or something else. But it’s not at all far-fetched to think that it could have been. I’d even venture a “probably” in some instances.

This virus has likely been insidiously working its way through our communities for longer than we’ve been aware, with people mistaking milder cases for colds, allergies, flu. People who, like me, went about their daily lives, traveling, going to the store, attending social events, before Covid-19 was on anybody’s radar in the United States.

I’m betting MANY more people are currently infected or recovered from it than our official reported “confirmed cases” numbers. Don’t assume you don’t have it just because you are asymptomatic or because you haven’t been around anyone “confirmed” to have had it. Preventing the spread of the disease to protect our vulnerable populations and keep our medical facilities from being overwhelmed is not just the responsibility of healthcare workers or those who are elderly or immune-compromised. It is ALL of our jobs to do what we can, and for most of us, that simply means staying home. No matter who you are or where you have or haven’t been lately, this is the time to keep your cooties to yourself.

Pandemic Thoughts: If You’re Not Okay, That’s Okay

Businesswoman hiding behind plant wearing disguise
Copyright: Shannon Fagan

Idea Overload

I quit social media again today. Okay, so “quit” may be a strong word since I’m posting this, but I am definitely dialing back. I do this periodically when it starts making me feel like a failure in my own life. And since the response to Covid-19 has ramped up, I definitely feel like I’m falling short.

The internet is saturated with ideas for those of us fortunate enough to be healthy but also stuck at home.

  • Make a schedule!
  • Go for a walk!
  • Have a family game night!
  • Read these 18 self-care tips to stay happy and healthy at home!
  • Do these 47 education crafts!
  • Here are some video links to free yoga! Free online classes! Free footage of California Condors doing the congo!

Here’s what happens to me as I scroll through all of those helpful posts (sooo much help): I start to feel pressured. I begin to feel like I am falling short, like I am not enough. I haven’t hand-sewn any face masks for healthcare workers, I haven’t made my kids do any school work yet, I have availed myself of zero free YouTube workout videos. We are basically acting like it’s summer vacation around here, sans day camps.

The Good

We’ve been on some hikes and some walks. We are making the kids do housework, and we are discovering some new shows to watch. I am enjoying our lax schedule and the idea of distance learning as a fun social experiment. It will be interesting to see what we learn as a society from all this, what will change permanently. <— See! Positive attitude!

I have also learned that even when you do chores, go running, read a book, play a board game and make everyone rake leaves, there is still a LOT of time left in the day to binge-play video games.

The Not So Great

Here’s what else has happened in our house since social distancing began: Jason yelled and threw things because (not really because) he lost at a video game. The kids have gotten in fights. I have cried in my morning coffee because I don’t have a job. Ou dog is driving us all nuts with her constant scratching because her foot thumps on the floor, and when she does it upstairs, it’s like a seventy-pound Thumper from Bambi is sounding the alarm for approaching doom. Our very own pandemic herald.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay

You can do all the “right” things. You can meditate, make schedules and mentally list everything you have to be grateful for, and still have a hard time. This IS a hard time. Whether your stress is derived from health issues, financial worries, being cooped up in the house with your family or a combination thereof, it is okay if you’re not totally okay.

We all feel better when we take good care of ourselves and our families. I’m not suggesting everyone spend the next several weeks wallowing alone in dark bedrooms with nothing but Netflix for company. Not the entirety of it, anyway. But there’s nothing wrong with you if all those helpful suggestions don’t make the anger, worry or fear disappear.

The big stressors are there in the background, so if you still grind your teeth, get irritable and yell at someone or close your bedroom door and cry, congratulations! You’re having a normal human reaction to things that are stressing out the entire damned globe. No amount of family game night is going to fix the downward-sliding economy, make a sick loved one well or get us back to our normal lives any faster. It just might make it a bit more tolerable, that’s all. Those big things will take time; we can’t repair them with essential oils or apple cider vinegar.

“These Uncertain Times”

I have a hard time answering when people ask me how we’re doing in these “uncertain times” as the media like to put it. We’re doing pretty good. We’re not too stir crazy or bored, and we all still like each other. With more free time, we’ve been getting outside a lot and spending some actual quality family time together. And also, Jason and I are worried about our finances and the medical vulnerability of some of our relatives. Sometimes that leaks out as irritation and anger. But at least we’re talking about it.

I’ve only got one suggestion to go with the mountains of advice you’ve read lately: If you are scrolling through your newsfeed, and you start to feel bad about the way you’re handling the Covid-19 crisis, close the app and social distance yourself from social media, just a little. Hell, you don’t even have to put your phone down; go play Words with Friends or something. Call a real-live friend and vent to them everything that’s pissing you off lately.

Bottom line, at our house, we’re okay, but we’re not totally okay, and as I remind myself daily, eventually, all of this will be okay. If you’re not totally okay, either, that’s okay. Don’t make not being okay even less okay by feeling not okay about feeling not okay. Okay?