Social Distancing Day 20

Today has actually been a pretty good day. I managed to get out of bed not too late, take some time to ramp up and then spend most of the day working, until dinner time. It’s still dreary and grey here, with intermittent spells of rain, but I got enough sun on Friday that it’s not dragging me down quite yet. But I’m hoping the weather improves soon.

I’ve been spending as little time as I can listening to the news and thinking about Coronavirus happenings. I heard that Virginia just announced a 70-day lockdown. It now seems likely that this will stretch into the summer. My birthday is in the middle of July, I wonder the situation will be then. One of my friends pushed back their wedding from May to August, and another may have to do the same for their summer wedding.

After about three weeks of social distancing, I think I’ve managed some amount of acceptance and routines. The days are more or less the same, a little boring, but not hard. Over the last week I’ve managed to develop habits and routines which help me beat the urge to stagnate and do absolutely nothing. My stress response is unfortunately to shut down and just hope that the stressors go away, which is not a very healthy strategy. I’ve been working on improving that over the last year, but this crisis has been something of a boot camp to make that happen faster. It’s been uncomfortable, but I feel like I’ve come out of it stronger and more stable.

For the rest of this week I’m hoping to keep up the routines and practices that have been working, and try to be more productive. As I’ve noted before, I’m in the group that is lucky enough to still be employed and paid, not have to leave the apartment to do it, and also have no caregiving duties. For me, being productive is a way of maintaining sanity, and, to paraphrase Gandalf, to do what I can with the time I have. Keeping busy helps me stay sane, which in turn helps to stay safe and take care of people around me. I hope you all find your ways to do the same.

Social Distancing Day 18

Hello dear readers, apologies for the break in posts. The last few days have featured some ups and downs. After two weeks of social distancing, I am at once both settled into a sort of routine, and also chafing against the restrictions. I’ve gotten used to staying and working from home, more or less. I don’t really seem to mind not being able to leave the apartment, but I do miss having things to do. In particular, though I’ve been pretty well fed at home, I am really starting to miss going out for meals, and having them with different groups of people.

It’s been very important to keep myself occupied. It’s too easy for me to be constantly worried, or always refreshing news or Twitter, none of which actually helps the current situation. I’ve been doing that through a combination of work and play. My mornings have usually been filled with getting a slow start, some meeting, and catching up with news and email. The afternoons are when I’ve been doing the bulk of my work: reading, programming, writing reviews, etc. The evenings have been mostly social time, either with the roommates in person, or remotely with friends over some kind of video conferencing. My life is generally better when there is some sort of routines, and I’m glad to be settling into one.

The last few days have been sunny and enjoyably warm here. I’ve been making use of our balcony, which faces south and gets lots of sun in the afternoon. I spent most of yesterday afternoon on the balcony reading. I started reading a book called This Life by Martin Hägglund. It’s a combination of philosophy, politics and governance devoted towards living a satisfying, meaningful and finite life (hence the title). It’s both aligned with my interests, and also seems relevant to the current times.

I’ve been thinking about how time is going to a time of change for many, maybe all of us. For me, my emotions have been very intense, and all over the place. I also don’t have many of my usual coping mechanisms, like going out for a good meal, or spending some time in a bookshop or museum. So I have to actually sit with and make peace with feelings when they come up. It’s been difficult, especially the last few days, but it’s also been a learning experience. I’m getting better at seeing my emotions come and go. I’m getting better at realizing that no matter how I feel, I will feel differently soon, and don’t need to get carried away. I’m also (re-)learning that physical details, like how much and when I’ve eaten, or exercised, have a big mental effect. Much of this is stuff I’ve been thinking about and working with over the last year, but this time has reinforced and accelerated that development.

I took today to be a proper day off. Played a lot of Age of Empires, did some laundry, had some good meals. Tomorrow I’ll be preparing for the week ahead. My weekdays are actually still pretty full: almost all my meetings have gone online, so I need to plan ahead and manage my time and energy like I would for any other week. My Zen group usually meets on Sunday afternoons, and we’ve been doing that online too. Hope you all are having a good weekend in whatever way you can, and I hope you’re all staying safe, staying sane, and taking care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 13

Today has been the first really productive day I’ve had since all this started. I finished up my reviews for PLDI, read a couple of papers, and actually sat down to meditate. It’s really inconvenient that the same things that meditation helps with make it difficult to sit down to meditate in the first place. I think that’s true for in general for things that improve mental health. I managed to stay off Twitter for most of the day, following my own advice to accept that I can’t really change anything in this situation. Instead, I helped where I could: I organized my research group’s meetings (and related Zoom links) into a single document that we can refer to.

Yesterday we walked to The Scoop and Scootery, a local ice cream shop, where the portion sizes are massive, in true American fashion. I ate a third of my sundae yesterday, and a third as an afternoon treat today and still have a decent amount left for tomorrow. It’s important to appreciate the good things in trying times.

Talking of trying times, it snowed here today. Not too much, but enough to cover everything in a layer of white for a couple hours. If it weren’t for yesterday being bright and sunny, I would probably have found today depressing. I don’t think I appreciated the beauty of a snowy day, but I did manage to roll with it.

I think there’s going to be a lot of rolling with things in the next few weeks. Massachusetts in now enacting “shelter at home” restrictions like many other states, for the next two weeks. It’s more than likely that it will be extended for longer. The number of cases in the state are spiking, but that’s likely to due to more testing, which is a good thing. It’s worth remembering that with the 5-14 day incubation period for the virus, we will see steady increases in cases for a while to come.

So for the foreseeable future there’s nothing to do but stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 12

It was a very sunny,  if cold day today here in Cambridge. The roommates and I took advantage of the weather and took a nice long walk. Some people were out and about, mostly people with pets or children, and everyone seemed to be keeping proper social distance. Unfortunately, not everyone in Boston appears to be doing the same. For the last few days I was letting my hopes rise that Massachusetts might not need stricter measures since we seem to faring well so far, but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Twitter continues to be a source of alternating rage, anxiety and depression, and the only way to win is to not play the game. I managed a good day with that today. Spent two hours talking (via Zoom) with friends from graduate school. Watched an episode of Lost in Space (the newest version, on Netflix, I’m rewatching Season 1 before I watch Season 2). All in all, I have to say that it’s been a pretty good weekend. I did probably more “socialization” than I would do in a normal weekend, it was just all in front of screens.

Something I’m noticing is a sense of stagnation, or pause, and not in a good way. It feels like everything is on hold, even though I know that time is still passing, there are things I have (and want) to do, and goals I want to achieve. I don’t expect myself to do things at the pace I would if things were normal, and some things I can’t do at all, but for other things (work in particular) I want to be moving at more of a normal pace. Right now, I don’t know how to do that. It’s fundamentally hard to deal with periods of crisis like this, where so much is out of our control. I think the best we can expect is to do a little better tomorrow than we did yesterday.

So we’ll see how I do tomorrow. Till then, stay sane, stay safe, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 10

Hello dear readers, we are now into the double digits of social distancing days, and at the point where I have to look up yesterday’s entry to figure out which day we’re on. A number of states have gone from social distancing to “shelter in place”, meaning that residents are not to leave their houses except for groceries (and other essentials) and medical necessities (and maybe short walks). Massachusetts will probably do the same within a few days. My roommates and I have been doing that voluntarily for this week, so it won’t be a big change for us, except our walks might become even more infrequent. But as I noted in yesterday’s post, though these measures are inconvenient and annoying, they are a sign that people are taking the threat seriously and reacting appropriately. Better late than never.

Some news from around the Coronavirus world: there seems to now be a test to detect antibodies to the coronavirus, which means that it would be possible to detect not only those who currently have it, but those who had it and have recovered. This means that even if you never had symptoms, you can find out if you had it. Having antibodies to the virus will render you immune to it, but it’s unknown for how long. There’s some evidence to believe that immunity will last for about a year. Here’s a detailed thread with lots of references and information on this aspect of things. And here’s an interesting video on why the hand washing instructions you may have seen are what they are (and different from how you’re used to washing your hands). Yesterday, I pointed to the Massachusetts site for tracking COVID-19 test, today I found The Atlantic’s tracker, which collects statistics across states. Finally, you may have seen some photos of nature “recovering” as a result of people staying at home. Unfortunately, they are probably not accurate.

On a different note, a few days ago I said that the plural of anecdote is not data. It turns out that I was wrong about that.

In other news, I was in two virtual town halls today, one for Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and one for the Computer Science department. Most of the questions and concerns were related to continuing education for our students, especially related to grading and evaluation. But there was also discussion of how we are continuing to support custodial and maintenance staff, which I found heartening. This is an unprecedented and trying time for us all, but it’s good to have some feeling of being part of a community that is trying to do right by its members.

I’m in the process of wrapping up reviews for PLDI, and hoping get back to doing research full time next week. I’ve made a certain amount of peace with our current situation, at least for now. There’s not much for me to do at the moment besides going about life as best as I can. I have some remote social activities planned over the next few days which I’m looking forward to. I’m allowing myself to feel excited about Apple’s new MacBook Airs. I’m focusing on staying sane, staying safe, doing the best with the time I have, while also keeping in mind what Heather Havrilesky said: We’re living through an unprecedented moment in global history. Give that the weight it deserves.