Life During COVID-The New Normal?

My writing process is simple. I base my post on whatever I happen to be thinking about, and what I am thinking about is often stimulated by world events or personal activities. I never seem to lack for a topic. However, that appears to be changing. My life has become so routine that new activities are limited, and exciting writing topics are on the decline.  COVID-19 stories dominate the news, and I have written quite a few posts connected to that topic.  But how much can I write about COVID-19?  Hold on to your seatbelts; here is another post.

The current health crisis has dramatically changed my lifestyle. I’m not bored, and I’m still productive.  However, a routine day is, well…very routine.  Yesterday, I walked to my friend’s townhouse project.  We chatted for a bit before I took his MacBook Pro and started to write a blog post for his construction website.  Tom kindly went to get bagel sandwiches for breakfast.  I was left alone to write about home remodeling, a subject where I can’t claim expertise.  It’s not that I’m unable to put a coherent story together, I’m more concerned that I’ll phrase something incorrectly and somehow embarrass my friend to his more knowledgable readers.  With that said, I wrote the post to which I added the construction photos that I had taken over the last few days.

Writing Tom’s blog post on a makeshift desk.

Before Tom had a chance to review my writing, his friend Wess arrived.  Wess is a talented carpenter who has worked with Tom for decades.  He was “volunteering” his Saturday to help Tom remove a large bay window, that space being repurposed for a sliding patio door. Tom and Wes usually converse in Polish, a language that I have no comprehension of. Recently, Wes has made an effort to talk in English, which has been much appreciated, and it allows me to join in. 

Wes and Tom discussing the project’s next phase. It is amazing what you can learn about something by just watching and listening.

The morning transitioned into the afternoon, and I headed back home and emersed myself into one of my obsessive interests, technology.  Julie had given me a pair of AirPods at the beginning of the year, and I love them.  When I become interested in a topic, I want to know everything about it.  In this case, I was interested in the difference between my costly device and much cheaper clone products. I understand that most would find such an exploration utterly dull, but it held my concentration for hours. 

Spending hours becoming an “expert” in Bluetooth earbuds.

After a few telephone calls to loved ones, it was time for dinner; the offering was Domino’s pizza.  Domino’s has a low ranking on my pizza desirability chart, but my kids love it. The group’s lively conversation quickly extinguished any negative feelings about the pizza dinner.  As a family, we have worked hard to eat dinner together and to focus on interacting with each other. Our meal was filled with talk, laughter, and a lot of kidding.

Julie suggested that we all play a game, but board games are not my thing.  We reached a compromise; I took a shower, and the others played a game. Later that evening, we were glued to the family room TV, rewatching a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  We viewed the show with the same enthusiasm as some might when watching a football game. The show concluded it was time for bed.

I took a shower while the family played a game.

A perfectly routine day.

I have had disturbing dreams as of late.  I wouldn’t call them nightmares, but they are unsettling.  A recent one had me repeating both graduate and medical school, as I wondered if I could still take on these arduous tasks.  Such dreams are a window to my subconscious and suggest hidden stress to me.

I pondered the question of stress this morning as I sat in the big chair in my study. I contemplated my current life and asked myself, “What is wrong? What is missing?”  I centered myself, closed my eyes, and opened my mind to a stream of consciousness.  At first, my mind was blank, but it soon was flooded with images and sounds. These are some of the ideas that flowed over me.

Despite talking to my siblings daily, I was missing them terribly.  Before COVID, we had developed many in-person activities, “Sibling Breakfast,” “Sibling Lunch,” and random visits for coffee and conversation. I longed to see them in person.

Although I see my friend Tom nearly every day, I missed the spontaneous and crazy things that we did before the pandemic—driving into Chicago at sunrise just to have breakfast at our favorite greasy spoon, going on camping adventures and road trips, exploring locations. 

Tom and his son-photo from a camping adventure.

My friend John had invited me to spend a few days at his Florida home.  Julie and I had booked a flight before the pandemic but had to cancel it months ago. Speaking of trips, Julie had I started to go on them as a couple.  We would find a cheap airfare to somewhere, and the two of us would explore our destination.  I missed traveling. 

Massive engines from one of the stages of the Saturn rocket. Exploring Houston on a random trip.
Discovery Vegas with Julie.

Three of my children have returned home, two from college and one from the Peace Corps.  My college kids had to complete their spring semesters on-line.  My Peace Corps daughter had to leave Africa and a teaching job that she loved.  Their loss makes me feel powerless. 

William showing us his campus.

Last year I took Violet the campervan on many adventures.  She currently sits idle in my driveway.  There is no place to go during this explosion of infection.  I feel guilty about Violet. I feel like I’m letting her down. I invested a lot of time and money into her.  Once a symbol of my retirement freedom, the pandemic has reduced her into an icon of what I can’t do.

Violet the campervan sits idle.

I am a photographer, and I have continued to do photography work.  However, I have a keen interest in landscape and cityscape photography.  However, it isn’t feasible to travel to a town or bucolic pasture to photograph these subjects during this time.

A door from an abandoned college that I found in a small town west of Chicago.

I’m not much of a shopper, but I miss the ability to go to a store for a single item.  I now limit my shopping to only grocery stores, which I go to once a week. Trips are currently done as purposefully and quickly as possible. There is no time to try or discover exciting new products. 

I miss my daily walks to Starbucks and the quick but pleasant chats that I had with my favorite baristas and the early morning coffee crowd.

I miss my walks to Starbucks where I would chat with friends and write.

I miss going to the movies, and “sneaking” in a bag of popcorn. 

I miss going to cheap restaurants—places where I could sit down and enjoy my food without the worry of preparation or clean up. 

I miss making new friends.  I miss family parties.  I miss catching up with my cousins.  I miss getting dressed and going to church on Sunday.  I miss the act of standing next to a neighbor when chatting with them on the street. I miss the smell of a campfire. I miss… I miss so much.   

Joining hands to give thanks last Thanksgiving.
a snapshot taken at Christmastime at church.
Rain and umbrellas. Camping with the cousins.
Christmas in Minnesota.

I explored all of these thoughts and pondered how they were connected. Many contained a grain of spontaneity and a sense of a future.  What would I do tomorrow?  How can I plan for my next activity?  Before COVID, I could anticipate an adventure with Tom, or a trip with Julie, or an upcoming photo project. This has changed with the routine regularity of my current life.

I like to shake hands. I want to give hugs. I like to push my creativity.  I like to feel free.  I want to feel safe.  I like to be responsible, and I love being mischievous.  

Activities that I do have an impact on who I am. I am in the process of grieving over who I no longer am. My world has changed in a matter of months.  I want my old life back, but I may have to accept the ways things are now.  I think this is the conflict that fuels my sense of “missing.”  and “missing” is just another name for loss. With loss comes grieving.

Dear reader, I have worked hard to simulate those things that I can no longer do. However, a simulation is like saccharine, still sweet, but with a bitter aftertaste.  

As the crisis has continued, I have tried to keep my interests alive. I do order food from those restaurants where I formally dined-in.  I have made an effort to take creative photos.  I  call my sisters and connect with my friends in many ways.  It is all good, but these good things still have the aftertaste of a synthetic solution.

That is to be expected. Will life return to normal, or will I need to accept my current situation as the new normal?  Either way, I plan to make the most of it.  Every day is a gift, never to be repeated.  I can’t waste today pining over what I have lost.  I have to accept my feelings as real, and I need to respect them.  However, I cannot submit to them.  I have to live in the present and plan for a new future. That will be my effort.

Peace

Mike

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