Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Two weeks in isolation and time for assessment of where we are and where we might be ... later.
In the last two weeks, after Day 1, Marianne has left 904 Cambridge Avenue twice, both times to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. I went on those trips and almost-daily walks in the neighborhood, three or four times stopping at stores. No stores in the last week.
Marianne stays busy with calls and video-chats with family and friends and with painting, both practice and Internet-connected lessons. We are enjoying her cooking even more than before, maybe because we have simplified to a combined lunch and dinner and because she has time, plenty of time. For food and ingredients, we've been helped by neighbors' shopping for us, although we will probably transition to some sort of commercial service (ex: Instacart)
I read, walk, take neighborhood and backyard photos, make calls with my boys, and write this diary and emails for family and friends. Nothing important has broken, so there's been no need for Ace Hardware or visits by plumbers, electricians, or air conditioning guys. Thank goodness.
We are both busy, busy enough. I find I enjoy the comfort of routine. I remember never liking travel to a destination the first time, but knowing there could be no second or third, without a first. We both miss up-close interaction with friends and, especially, family, but we are not going stir-crazy.
(The Free Dictionary:go stir-crazy. To become acutely anxious, restless, irritable, irrational, and/or depressed from remaining for too long in an unstimulating, confined, and/or isolated environment. "Stir" in this usage is a slang word for prison.)
I would guess we have two to eight weeks left of isolation. Make June 1st the target. People will still be dying of COVID-19, but popular support for continued shutdown of the economy will be under assault. Unfortunately, I believe The Trump Party may be reading this better than the Democrats. Unemployment kills. After I worked in Ukraine, people asked how many people died as a result of Chernobyl: Near-term, acute radiation, about 200. Longer-term radiation shortened the lives of thousands or tens of thousands. Collapse of the economy, only partially due to the accident it's true, killed millions from alcoholism and suicide. "Deaths of Despair" we now call it. "Its the economy, stupid."
More specifically, what will John and Marianne do after isolation? I don't know. Before we have immunity, from flu recovery or, eventually, from effective inoculation, how can we feel comfortable back among people? Official lock-down will end by decree, but self-isolation is another thing. (Very specifically, Marianne has cancer radiation treatment on hold. When will we feel comfortable sending her daily to the cancer center?) Hopefully, things will become clearer in the next, isolated, weeks.
Meanwhile, how did the Saturday neighborhood photography go? I shifted to my "action camera" and its longer-range lens, not my huge birding or safari lens that needs a tripod, but walk-around gear. First, I did snap some of the twittery bids. Since they were around, I have to assume our neighborhood hawks are in isolation somewhere else. I wish I could capture their cheerful sounds.
Of course, there were flowers. As repetitive as this may seem, I just like adding the color and intricate shapes of these easy-to-photograph subjects. I have downloaded a video course for making better flower pictures, so I plan better offerings, once I have time to learn.
From the next-door parking strip, simple but I still grab a picture when I start.
From Jon and Susan's front garden.
Speaking of Jon and Susan, here they are with Elsie, at proper social distance.
The guy on the right was being pulled by his dog, a pooch that would actually turn corners on voice command. Elsie, time to learn new tricks.
Birds of Paradise and a Bird of Paradise - Lost
All kinds of colors, shapes, and textures.
Of course, I needed to look for wildlife besides birds and dogs-on-leashes. This frog almost qualified.
In our neighborhood, it's the squirrels that provide the best practice for wildlife shooting. Today, one posed among flowers while another one ran at me along the fence in our own back garden. I think this last one may be my best animal action shot ever. Not an elk or moose like in Rocky Mountain National Park, but photographers must shoot what's in front of us.
And that was Saturday, Day 15 of the New Era. (15 n.e.)
Sunday, March 29 (16 n.e.)
From habit, here is another daily diary. I hope to move on to more interesting themes for these postings, but, for now, I have little more imagination than to simply memorialize our experience in this historic time.
I think I have almost abandoned television news, even the Sunday morning shows that used to be of considerable interest. Now, I feel everything is a variation of bad, but not different, news. We are already doing all Marianne and I can do to stay safe, and more messages to wash our hands are not useful. And every time we think federal politics can not get worse, it does. The current administration is, literally, killing us. Bah, humbug.
Our day was "as usual". Marianne mixed house chores, including a great mid-afternoon meal (enchiladas), art work, and walking in the back yard. She now has a path that takes one-minute and walks it 10, or 20, or 30 times. I imagine it kind of like a prisoner's walk, but more pleasant.
Out in the art studio, she has shifted from the cutesy figures back to her preferred abstracts. Some of her best abstracts are showing in a nearby winery, a closed winery. I wonder when they might open so we can retrieve them. Oh well, no need for material for any new show since art shows and festivals across the country have been closed. That must be very hard on full-time, need-to-pay-the-rent painters and sculptors and potters.
As for me, it's reading, garden cleanup, and walking. On those walks, I take pictures. Today I used a wide-angle lens, just to change viewpoints, although the first thing I saw in our front garden was this gross mushroom, so I needed to get very close. Kind of a strange viewpoint.
Kids and adults are making their marks on sidewalks. This positive messaging needs to be copied!
Neighbors are socializing, from the required distance. Annie and Debbie were harvesting some kale for Carole, the boss over at FCC and their long-time friend. On our street, FSU historians were gathered to compare stories, while the Cambridge Avenue long-timers were spread in the Selland's lawn instead of the porch. The wine looked the same.
With my wide-angle lens, and afternoon light, I was finally able to get a picture of my favorite neighborhood tree. This huge pine towers over the house next door and is home to all kinds of squirrels and birds. The Hawks live here too, when they are in town.
Monday, (17 n.e.)
I got up, made coffee, ate, wrote diary, screamed because I'm-tired-of-all-this-and-it's-at-least-eight-weeks-from-ending, read, ate again, walked, went to bed. Marianne did similar plus Facetime with an artist friend.
So, as I get around to writing this, I have to ask: Is writing worthwhile? Did anything happen I'd want to remember ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow? No. Well, maybe simply that nothing happened is worth memorializing, given the long, dark, tunnel of the last six months. Good enough.
For my walks I always carry a camera, in case something remarkable or pretty or visually interesting shows up. On this Monday, highlights were limited. I mean, I have walked these same Tower District streets for over two weeks, weeks when people have almost disappeared. Annie Leibovitz could not make art from what is in front of me.
One house did have a nice set of colorful quotes on their sidewalk. Struggle to read them all, it's worth it. My favorite was : "Man can not live by bread alone. He must have peanut butter." by James Garfield. Or maybe, from Ellen DeGeneres: "I don't need buns of steel. I'd be happy with buns of cinnamon." Or, continuing the food theme: "Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing." (Ron Swanson) I think this family is missing their normal variety of restaurant meals. We too.
Finally, I took more pictures of my favorite tree, the one next door that may fall down and crunch Clay's house to bits. If it falls our direction, I THINK it will miss us by inches. These are actually the same picture, but the detail version shows the nest where the neighborhood hawks live, when they are in residence. I hope they show up because, now, I can spend hours trying to get good shots. (Annie Leibovitz would not have bothered with these pictures. No imagination.)
Tuesday, March 31 or Day 18, n.e.
I had hoped Tuesday would be as exciting as Monday. It was.
The day started early, thanks to the birds in the trees outside our bedroom windows. Normally, this rite of Spring is welcome, but this year these little critters insist on the loudest of chirps and they start at about 3:00am. After the sun came up, I tried to at least get a mug shot or two, but they were pretty good at hiding among the branches. One little guy did come out to sing on the street-light pole and he kept it up for hours - hours! Give it up. She's not answering.
After that, it was "a day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there." I wonder how Walter Cronkite would cover these current times, political, health, and otherwise.
Our day-like-all-days continued with Marianne doing housework and art work, while I wrote a little, read a little, and went for walks. One of these days, I will do a picture spread of her art life, but for now, what I record on the camera comes from my strolls. Even these have become programmed: a long one in the morning and a short one in the afternoon, combined for my 10,000 step goal.
I am struck again at how empty the streets are. I can stand in the middle of Wishon, normally a busy one-way thoroughfare for our neighborhood, look both ways, and see nothing but a single bicycle.
Along my walk, I pass "The Red Church", again normally a scene of coming and going, but in our current lock-down, even these church-goers are taking a break.
Elsewhere , I snap flower and tree and shadow pictures, not because they are remarkable, but because I HAVE to do something to keep up the muscle-memory of taking pictures.
On my afternoon walk, I pass neighbors socializing. One group is spread out on porch and lawn, sipping wine and comparing lock-down notes. As always, they invite me to join, but I decline, based on our own assessment of the safety of "six feet" (see below) and the cost of making a mistake. Across the street, a couple of friends are joining THEIR friends via Zoom for a guaranteed-safe cocktail party.
At the end of my walk, I check our rose garden for progress. I can see real blossoms should show up soon and I need to get serious about my flower photography e Course. No matter how shut in I am, I seem to run out of time. Interesting.
In the morning, I had written down my views on the reliability of the six-feet-is-safe guidance and shared it on Facebook. I repeat it here.
Six Feet. Stay six feet apart and you are safe. That has not struck me as correct and let me explain.
First, it ignores the wind or ventilation flow. It seems to me to be reasonable, that particles will travel farther downwind than upwind. A fixed distance for all directions has to be some sort of simplification, done because the real problem is hard. However, if you are downwind, or the ventilation flows from the sick person toward you, is six feet still enough?
Second, and this is much harder to understand, so it will take longer. In my old business, we worried about the spread of small particles, radioactive particles. An enormous amount of money has been spent studying the dispersal of particles, from bomb fallout to nuclear plant accidents. Non-natural radiation can be identified at extremely low levels, so dispersal has been well measured. What did measurement of radioactive particles show?
Big, heavy, particles do generally fall toward the ground on some sort of trajectory that is a function of gravity and air currents. Gases, such as the radioactive chemicals that are gaseous, do not fall toward the ground. They simply disperse on the wind and are more concentrated near the source than farther away.
At some small size and light weight, particles behave like gases, never falling by themselves. They can get removed from the atmosphere by agglomerating other material, normally rain, or by impacting on devices such as filters.
It seems to me, that sick people might expel mixed sizes of particles, including small, light ones. The classic picture of a sneeze may show the heavy drops, but lighter virus-laden moisture is not visible. That does not mean it is not there. Besides, simple breathing may be expelling virus-laden moisture as well and particles too small to even see. Tragically, more energetic breathing, singing for example, may disperse even more moisture and tiny particles.
So, what are we doing? My wife and I are not young and she is clearly compromised, so we will be cautious.
1. Stay away from sick people. Obvious, right? But until testing is cheap, quick, and convenient, we won’t know who all these sick people are, so this gets modified to “stay away from people”.
2. Stay away from enclosed spaces, especially unventilated ones. Enclosed work spaces need to be actively filtered and/or ventilated. For example, I am less concerned with outdoor markets than indoor ones. At one level down, I would favor large, open, uncrowded spaces versus small cramped ones.
3. If #1 and #2 can not possibly be met, stay as far from anyone as possible and, if you can tell, stay upwind. If six feet is what you are allowed, so be it, but try more, upwind.
4. On masks, I have concerns. First, until the people who, by definition*, can not implement #1 or #2 all have effective masks, don’t worry, unless, you are “compromised”. Still, staying away from folks is infinitely more effective than masks, homemade, surgical, N95, or even N98 or N99. My wife wears an N95 mask for hospital visits, and simply does not go to any other space with people, even grandkids.
For us, this will not be over until every person in every shop or office or space we visit is regularly tested and declared “virus free”. We will patronize businesses that do that and avoid others. Think about it.
* medical staff, emergency staff, store clerks, bus drivers, etc., etc.
Day 19, Wednesday, April 1
No one is in a mood for April Fool's jokes, including me.
I started my day, like usual, with a to-do list or, more properly, a try-to-get-around-to-doing list. In the olden days (a month ago) each day's items would get half to 80% done and crossed off. I would write a new list every day. Now, the list largely remains and I just cross off the days along the top. There is something about our forced quiet that leads to chronic lethargy. How is it with you?
For the task of "clean office", I managed two parts: try to give away books and move travel references down to the basement. I figured my collection of thrillers, espionage, and spy novels could be purged to make room for more. A couple of neighbors helped by taking a few.
As for the travel references, I'll admit a bit of melancholy as I moved the crate of state maps and brochures out of my office. No need to clutter the space with something that has been rendered useless, at least for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, not much of the future IS foreseeable, but long driving trips around America or flights back to Germany are out for 2020, I'm afraid.
Marianne had a morning art class with Ava and Sam. She gave a face-drawing lesson over Facetime. (There must be a quip in there somewhere.) She will be expanding her art class to twice weekly, not exactly making up for the recent cancellation of all California schools until summer, but a little distraction for all involved.
My big event of the day was a drive to Costco to fuel up the Jeep (in case we need to escape into the Sierras when the Apocalypse hits) and a quick stop at the Wednesday Farmer's Market. Both places were outdoors and folks were well-spaced. According to my theory of virus spread, that's about as good as it gets. (I could not tell if I was always standing upwind.)
Back home we were in our set routine, with a mid-afternoon meal and return to our "activities". For Marianne, that means more Art Hut time, although she also had to work in her 30 minute around-and-around-the-backyard walk. For me, it was a walk circling Fresno City College, kind of like a city park, with empty buildings.
Friend Jeane's dog Goose was swimming in the fountain. The landscape bushes glowed nicely in the late afternoon light. And these five statues seemed appropriate for the current times, especially the upside-down person top, right. I recognize the feeling.
Day Nineteen. Done.
Thursday, April 2
No plans. Routines, but not plans.
Word from the California grandkids was that they cried when told classes were canceled for the rest of the school year. Maybe they believe their world, outside of mom and dad, has permanently changed. Facetimes with friends are not the same as face-to-face laughter. Mom, Dad, and Gigi classes are not the same as real-with-buddies lessons. And baseball. And tennis. And golf.
Back home, we needed to shop today. Neighbor Steve's load from eight days ago, even with Blain's small reload, has begun to run out. Milk, for coffee, was urgent, so I walked to the nearby (small) Food Giant and bought the old-fashioned way, from a friendly clerk, exchanging pleasantries across the counter. I surprised myself with how fun this was.
After that, Marianne and I navigated our first experience with Instacart, managing three separate shopping sprees: a drug store, a regular grocery store, and Costco. The first two orders showed up within an hour or two, but only about half of the groceries were available, as we had specifically limited substitutions. Our shoppers, Alfred and Cecilia, appeared efficient, friendly, and tidy, an important criteria in our new world. We have to wait three days for Costco shopping and delivery. It's a bit discouraging to think this is our future for the next months.
Otherwise, our day was unchanged from yesterday, and the days before: eat, read, paint, talk on phones and computers, and walk, inside the yard for Marianne, around the block for me. At least I could say hello to Hazel and Blain on their front porch, as the family prepared to celebrate Blain's birthday with a take-out meal from The Annex. That restaurant is one of Fresno's best, but celebratory take-out?
My walk was focused (note pun) on photography of tiny things: small flowers and even smaller bees. Some of the blossoms were an inch or two in diameter, or even less. All my work was done hand-holding the Canon D6II camera using a 100mm "macro" lens I bought years ago, but hardly ever use. I experienced several problems. Camera-shake and flower movement made many of the shots useless or, at best, not-very-good. A shallow depth of field from the macro lens made it very difficult to focus on the whole flower, although I stopped down the lens to f18, the thickest depth-of-field setting. To do better, I'll need a tripod, a windless day, and more patience. Oh well, it's all learning and, besides, what else do I have to do?
On Friday, I added the following four from the Q2 for comparison:
Bees were even harder. Neighbors Annie and Debbie have a fragrant field of lavender along their front sidewalk and there were plenty of interesting opportunities flitting and landing. When I started, I was so concentrated on seeing bugs, that I did not even see the owners doing their own front-yard cleanup, their stay-at-home work. After I shot the bees, I enjoyed socializing, at a proper distance of course.
The moving bees offered more challenge than flowers.. The fliers move around a whole bunch more than simple flowers and they are pretty darn small. I'm not sure what the solution is in this case, as tripod shooting seems not practical and manual focus also was too difficult with the narrow depth-of-field I was allowed. Oh well, maybe just more patience. It was fun to see the details of the bugs and lavender flowers in any event.
Friday, Day 21, April 3
Three weeks down, three to eight, or more, remaining. Our routines are set. We're doing ok ... ok enough. We have food and know how to order more in the age of Instacart. We are healthy ... enough. Our kids and grandkids are all healthy. Technology lets us keep in touch with their voices and faces. We have retirement income and our retirement savings are down, but not gone. We are not very religious, but we feel blessed, nonetheless.
For Day 21, I did the daily diary, called a friend or two, and puttered in the garden. I should do more, but there's always tomorrow. Marianne cleaned a bit, did art work, and cooked. Lunch-dinner was barbecued chicken on the patio - with a nice white wine. Wine with meals has become a special splurge for us, and having it at 2:30 in the afternoon seemed downright decadent.
After the meal, Marianne returned to her Art Hut and I started a local walk. There were socially-distant gatherings on porches on either side of Cambridge Avenue. I did not join them, beyond some chit chat from the sidewalk. Groups still make me very nervous, but visiting outdoors, at generally more than six feet, and trying to be upwind, is good ... enough.
I brought my Leica Q2 along, mostly because I bring a camera whenever I go out nowadays. The first photos I tried were repeats of some of the little flower shots from yesterday. I show them above, near that day's Canon D6/100mm lens efforts. The Q2 is basically a high-end point-and-shoot, with no zoom to the built-in lens. Despite its simplicity, the pictures of small flowers and flower-centers were technically better than those from the larger camera-lens combination. I think I learned something.
The rest of my walk was inside the Fresno City College campus. This has become a neighborhood park with no students or staff activity, other than a campus patrol car once in awhile. Posters urging graduation-connected events are still hanging, but classes have all shifted on-line and the events have all been canceled. I have heard that the nurse-training program has even been cut short, with students urged to immediately join the nursing workforce to aid during the current pandemic. These young people are being thrown into the deep end.
Otherwise, I tried to photograph school fountains, on the basis that flowing water is always picture-worthy. These were a particular challenge because the late afternoon sun was bright on the vertical fountains, but subdued elsewhere. Oh well, I tried.
Back home, I took a tour of our back yard rose garden. With the slow pace of our current routine, I have the opportunity to look for the day to day changes that would have been happening too slowly before. Now, we are all on a similar, bit-by-bit, schedule. Rose buds:
Day 21, done. Week 3, done
The next event on our calendars is a June 12 radiologist appointment, a part of cancer treatment that has been delayed two months by COVID-19. We hope it is only two months.
As for these diaries, I have become dependent on the routine that produces them, from the struggle to imagine new walking-distance photos to reflections on what the current world situation means for us. Week One was a new form of travel. Next was WTROL, Week Two of The Rest of Our Life. Week Three finishes here.
For the answer to Week Three's question, "What Now", I have to turn to mindfulness, or at least my very incomplete understanding of the concept. In my view, the important part of the question is "Now", meaning we need to focus on the present moment and not get too distracted by what has been or what might be. From mid-March to April Fools' Day, we operated in a one-day-at-a-time sense of now. Sometimes, it was shorter than a full day. (My worst, was the few-hour wait for Marianne to get out of the Emergency Room two weeks ago, after admission with fever, aches, cough, and fatigue. A common, not novel, coronavirus.)
Today, April 4th, I feel we can allow "now" to expand to a week. What will we do this week? Do we have food and supplies, including art supplies, for the week? Anything unusual in this week? These seem like they are answerable. Thinking beyond this week might be futile and frustrating.
So, for me, what should I do with diaries for this week? I think I will try to tell stories, family stories, of not-so-easy times that could provide us guidance about getting through. That's what Governor Cuomo says we need to do: "Get through this".
The easiest part will be re-telling Magdalena's Chapters, interviews with Marianne's mom about her first 30 years. She got through a lot. Otherwise, I may give some thought to our own step-into-the-unknown moments, not to tell others as much as to remind ourselves, especially myself, that the unknown need not be completely scary.
John and Marianne
* "What Now": Asked in a situation where you reach a point of no return or you have surpassed a dangerous obstacle and have survived the ordeal. (urbandictionary)