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Distractions

I got back to the mystery project yesterday, staring a round of revision, during which I hope to come up with a plot for the next book and an idea for series titles.

You’d think I’d have more time to write right now, but I seem to be being more social during lockdown than I usually am. My parents and friends are checking in on me, so I’m talking on the phone a lot more. Then there are video meetings and livestreams. People are putting concerts and shows online. Our local PBS station is doing educational programming for various levels of school during the day, and their “high school” programs are the kinds of things I like to watch, with history documentaries and literary adaptation movies.

As a result, it takes a lot of willpower to get to work when there are so many distractions.

Not to mention, cute animal videos. I love the videos of penguins getting tours of their aquariums while there are no visitors. I think in my next career I’m going to be a penguin wrangler. Or there’s the orangutan playing with the otters, or the one who’s now washing her hands a lot after seeing her keepers washing their hands more often. And there’s the bear who set the fallen traffic cone upright. And the mountain goats who are invading the Welsh town now that there are fewer people around (the version with the video edited to “Ride of the Valkyries” is classic).

In real life, I just have squirrels, lizards, and the Canada geese who seem to have decided to stick around in my neighborhood. Most of them are gone, but there’s this one pair that’s hanging out with a mallard family. If I hear them honking, it makes me think of fall, and then I remember what time of year it is.

This is shaping up to be a really weird year (and I imagine that’s the understatement of the century).

The Outside World

I ventured into the Outside World this morning because I had to pick up a prescription, and I restocked on groceries while I was out. Now I’m back safe at home with provisions for another couple of weeks. I may have to get somewhat creative with menus and I’ll have to bake my own bread, but I got most of what was on my list.

I made my own mask to wear for when I go out. It will require some fine-tuning because the instructions I followed were probably for a larger person. And it seems my ears don’t work well with the elastic loops, so I’ll have to make the kind that ties on. Although the WHO was saying healthy people don’t need them, I’ve seen a lot of other research showing that the countries where mask use is more universal have a much lower infection curve. The mask may only reduce your risk by about 50 percent, but the real benefit is that if more people are wearing masks, then they’re all less likely to spread the virus, and it looks like as many as 30 percent of people infected have no symptoms. It’s safest to act as though you’re infected in order to protect others, and along the way you may also be protecting yourself. I live in a majority Asian neighborhood, so a good number of people at the stores were wearing masks.

I also managed to get some socializing last night with a video chat with my church women’s group. So I may not go entirely feral while isolated.

And I took the long way to the store, mostly to let my car get up to highway speed a little bit, but that also meant I got to see fields of bluebonnets. That was a nice little lift to the spirits before I hide away for another couple of weeks.

The New Normal

It’s funny how quickly my worldview is adapting to the new normal. My dreams and nightmares have changed. I used to have nightmares about being in a crowd of people where I knew no one. Now I’m having nightmares about being at parties with all my friends and realizing that we’re all standing too close to each other. I had a dream last night about finding unexpected fresh produce in my refrigerator, a head of lettuce I’d forgotten about that was still miraculously fresh. I’ve found myself daydreaming about what I want to buy next time I go out for groceries.

Meanwhile, it’s affecting the way I see entertainment. I haven’t been watching TV all week, but I watched an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist last night, and the scenes of crowded restaurants and bars really bothered me. It was like watching a horror movie. I may have to stick with fantasy and historical settings, where it seems less strange and frightening for people to be acting like “normal.”

But then that brings up the issue of how to write contemporary works now. The first book in my mystery series takes place in February of this year. There’s no obvious date stamp in the book, but it’s planned for release this year, and the primary election is mentioned in the story as coming up soon. The second book takes place after spring break, so right around now. I found myself wondering if I needed to rewrite it, since there are large public events and school is in session. I decided to leave it as it is. After all, it’s already an alternate reality, since it’s a world where people have strange “magical” abilities. In the first book, there’s a huge ice storm that plays a big role in the plot, and that didn’t happen this year in the approximate location where the book is set. If I’m not rewriting to remove an ice storm that didn’t happen, then I’m not rewriting to add social distancing and sheltering in place. The books may be released this year (I hope!), but people will be reading them at random times, hopefully years into the future. But that may be why I can’t seem to make myself work on these books right now. I don’t want to write current events into the books, but I also can’t visualize anything contemporary without the current reality. So, I’m playing with fantasy works for now.

I’m kind of seeing why the book I’m re-reading didn’t sell. It’s rather quirky, and the heroine doesn’t have a lot of “agency,” which is big with publishers. But she’s in a situation that’s entirely out of her control. That’s the whole point of the story. Her agency is in how she copes with the situation. I’ll have to read through to the end to be sure I want to inflict it upon the world in some form. It does seem as though it’s made for serialization. I was really good about scene-ending cliffhangers.

New Old Stuff

Since I have very little brain these days, I pulled up an old book that made the rounds of publishers about 12 years ago and didn’t sell. I haven’t looked at it since then. I’m re-reading it to see if there’s something I can do with it, either to publish it myself or maybe just put it out there as a serial to give people something fun to read right now. It’s a YA portal fantasy based on the Sleeping Beauty story (the version used in the ballet and Disney film, in which Aurora is sent away with the fairies to live in hiding). Instead of just living in the forest, the fairies take her to our world until after her 16th birthday. But when the evil sorceress’s minions finally track her down, there’s a mix-up and they grab the wrong girl, an ordinary teenager from our world who suddenly finds herself living the Sleeping Beauty story. Meanwhile, we’ve got a Disney princess who doesn’t know what she is setting out on a rescue mission.

I like what I’ve read so far. The question is how well the plot will hold together along the way. If I’m okay with the story without needing to do massive rewriting (or if I can figure out what the rewriting would be), I may see what I can do with it. I’ve been thinking about publishing it here in installments, or maybe setting up a mailing list people can sign up for to get “episodes.” Or there may be some other place I can put it. It would be nice if I could use this to get people to try my work, and maybe they’d move from there to actually buying books, but I’m not sure how I’d spread the word beyond the people who already know who I am.

I have a couple of other books I’ve drafted but haven’t gone back and revised or polished that I may have to take another look at. This one’s complete to the point that it went on submission. The rest have never gone beyond me and would require a lot more work.

I need to get back to my mysteries, but at the moment I’m finding it really hard to work on those. They’re a little too “real world” for me right now. I need to revise book 2, and I need to think of titles for the series so I can find someone to design the covers. And I need a plot for book 3. I’m drawing a blank on all of these.

Coping Strategies

I’m amusing myself in isolation by setting up little challenges. There’s the one I think of as “menu Tetris,” in which I plan meals based on what I have in the pantry, fridge, and freezer, prioritizing ingredients or cooked foods that are likely to go bad first and arranging meals to maintain some kind of nutritional balance. Today I’m going to use one of my last garlic cloves and my last fresh tomato, along with some shrimp from the freezer and some olive oil to make something to toss with pasta. I wish I had some fresh basil, but my plant died during the winter (even though I kept it indoors). I’ll have to settle for fresh parsley.

I’m trying to ration my online time, so I’m using it as a reward for completing other tasks. I did a big disinfecting wipe-down of frequently touched surfaces, so I got to check Twitter.

I’m making it a point to exercise daily, preferably outdoors. My morning walk is really helping my sanity. I’m lucky to live in a spread-out area with good walking paths, most of them waterside. It may just be my imagination, but the air feels fresher right now with fewer cars on the roads.

I’m also trying to spend a lot of time with music, both listening and performing. The classical radio station has become my soundtrack. I make sure I’m up and going before the March of the Day in the morning, and I listen while I eat breakfast. I may turn it off during the rest of the day, depending on what kind of work I’m doing, but then they play entire concerts in the evenings. Monday night is usually some local symphony, Tuesdays are the New York Philharmonic (last night they played Rachmaninoff’s second symphony), Wednesdays are the Chicago Symphony (tonight they’re doing Mozart’s Requiem, so I’ll have to listen and resist singing along. I do have the sheet music), Thursdays are the Pittsburgh Symphony, and I think Fridays are Los Angeles, but I seldom listen to that. I’m not watching all that much stuff, either TV or movies. The music makes a good soundtrack for reading, doing work-related stuff, goofing around online, or knitting/sewing.

I don’t actually have a knitting project going at the moment. Instead, I’m adding beads to the knitted bedspread I made a few years ago. It’s a lace pattern for airflow, and is what I use for the summer. Now I’m adding beads to it for extra weight, since the weighted blanket I have (and love) is way too hot for warm weather. It’s fairly tedious work, so I have new respect for people who do lovely beadwork on clothing. It’s not going to be pretty, but it will live under the comforter during the day, so it won’t really be seen. I found a pound of beads on clearance, and though that doesn’t seem like it will add much, I can already feel a difference, and I’ve barely begun using up the beads. I’m focusing them all on the area around where I’ll be lying.

I’m trying to keep to some kind of schedule, more or less what my regular work schedule would be, but I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to work. Reading also counts as “work” for me, so I’m catching up on that.

Anyone have any coping strategies they want to share?

Isolated but Outside

We actually have sun today after weeks of rain, so this morning I sat on the patio to drink my second cup of tea and then took a walk.

My patio lizards are back, and it was nice to see them. I’m not yet to the point I’m naming them and sewing little outfits for them, but I enjoyed the company.

Plants are growing in the pots I left outside over the winter. Some look like they’re from the mix of seeds I planted last summer that are finally sprouting, some may be from seeds that fell from last year’s plants, and some are probably weeds. I’m leaving them as long as they’re pretty because going out to get seeds, potting soil, plants, etc. is a low priority right now. It will be an exciting surprise to see what happens.

Last week on the day I designated as a “wallow” day, with no expectations, I ended up being more productive than I was the rest of the week. So I’m easing up on myself. It’s hard to think and concentrate, so I’m doing the work I can do and not worrying about it. I’m also trying to take advantage of all the fun online classes and events going on right now. It’s a way to learn and have connection.

Today, since it’s nice, I plan to spend as much time as possible on the patio. I may be reading. I may be brainstorming. I may be researching. I might even be writing.

Day of Wallowing

I’ve been struggling with concentration all week, so maybe trying to edit wasn’t the best idea. Because of that, I’ve decided to lean into it today. It’s cold and rainy, so today is an official Day of Wallowing. I let myself sleep late (didn’t set an alarm, but I got up at about the same time I usually do), made waffles for breakfast, and have enjoyed a leisurely morning. The rest of the day will be devoted to work-related play. I’m going to watch documentaries and other things that relate to a project I’m brainstorming, do a little reading, and maybe some baking.

I’ve been cooking a lot this week, in part because I’m making sure I use my fresh ingredients before they go bad, in part because cooking is comforting, and in part because it might be a good idea to have some meals prepared and set by in case I do get sick but not enough to be in the hospital. Then I can just nuke things and be set. Or if the urge to cook wears off and I’ll just want to nuke something. So far this week I’ve made jambalaya and a vat of lentil soup, plus today’s waffles (the recipe makes five big waffles, and I can eat one, so the rest are set aside). I may bake a batch of pumpkin muffins this afternoon and put most of them up in the freezer. Tonight’s dinner will be chili, made using some cooked carne asada I found in the freezer.

I’ve also been trying to get back into my music. With no choir practice, I need to keep singing so I don’t lose my voice, and I’ve been playing the flute. I still have the fingerings down, since I have a habit of mentally playing my choir music as I sing. It’s my way of finding notes. If I do the flute fingering, I hear the note in my head. That means I’m rusty on notes that are outside the normal vocal range. I have to stop and figure out what the notes way above the staff are and remember the fingerings. My real problem is my lip. I get sore and tired after a few minutes of playing, and I don’t have a lot of control, since I’ve played only sporadically in the past thirty or so years. I hope with practice it will get better. Yesterday I found the music for my 8th grade chair test, and while I could still play it, I don’t think I’d be getting first chair right now.

Something I forgot to mention in my list of comforting things to watch:

Look for “Slow TV” online or on the Pluto app for Roku or other streaming devices. It’s from Norwegian television, and it’s mostly train rides. They put a camera on a train, and it goes for hours. No editing, no narration. Sometimes they show what’s happening on the train, but mostly it’s either out the front or side windows. You just watch the countryside go past. The “episodes” generally tell you the kind of weather and the season, like “rainy summer day.” When I can’t take anything else, I find this really restful to watch, to just sit and see the world go by. As a bonus, I’m thinking of modeling the kingdom I’m creating on this general landscape, so it kind of counts as work. It’s like watching Google Street View for getting a sense of the location.

Nature documentaries can also be good, if you can be sure you’re not watching something about animals attacking other animals. There was one on Amazon called something like “Beyond the Garden Gate,” in which a wildlife photographer focused on the wildlife around his village over the course of a year. Lots of hedgehogs, foxes, birds, and deer. It was lovely.

And now my sofa is calling me. Time to make a pot of tea and get my book. Next week maybe I’ll manage to get back to “normal.” For now, I’m in my fleece pajamas and fuzzy socks and treating the day like a holiday.

The New Normal

Life has been pretty much put on hold around here. It feels kind of like a snow day, even though it doesn’t change things all that much for me. I was thinking about how much more I can get done, then realized that I’m gaining maybe about five hours a week.

This was going to be a busy weekend, with a get-together Saturday afternoon, a party Saturday night, the usual church service Sunday morning, and a choir rehearsal Sunday afternoon. The get-together was canceled. I bowed out of the party (the weather was nasty, plus I figured it everything else was being canceled, going to a party would be silly). The church went to an online-only service for Sunday morning, and choir rehearsal was canceled. This week, I don’t have the usual Wednesday-night stuff. Otherwise, it’s my ordinary work week. I need to get my act together and not treat it like a holiday, even though that’s the temptation.

I’m fortunate in that I already didn’t have any author events planned. I don’t have a book being launched. I’m just hunkering down and writing new books, though I’m finding that the mysteries are less appealing to work on right now. I want to play in a fantasy world.

Are you finding your reading interests changing right now? I’m trying to read the books on the Nebula ballot so I can vote, but a lot of them are darker or more intense than I’m up for at the moment—even the middle-grade books. I want fun, fluffy fantasy stuff right now. Science fiction, even space opera, isn’t doing it for me.

I will need to go out tomorrow because I need milk. I’m hoping the stores might have calmed down a bit by then. I’ve got plenty of food, and I even have some evaporated milk I could use with my tea, if I get desperate. In fact, I’ve probably overcooked already. I could get through the rest of the week just with the food I already have cooked. I made a batch of jambalaya yesterday, so that’s enough leftovers for a week. I may have to freeze some. I also have the sauce for cheese enchiladas. There may be soup later in the week. It’s going to be rainy all week, so I’ll probably be cooking even more.

Hang in there, everyone. We’ll get through this.

Rainy Weekend at Home

Most of my weekend plans have either been canceled, or I’m canceling them, which means I now have a rainy weekend at home. I have a lot of reading to do, so that will be my plan for the weekend.

Tonight’s movie night is going to be the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, mostly because I just read a book on the economic system of pirates back during the prime age of Caribbean piracy, so I’m in the mood. It was fascinating seeing how they operated as a constitutional democracy long before the Declaration of Independence, and they had profit sharing, healthcare, and disability pay long before that became a thing — not because they were wonderful people, but because that was what was most profitable. They were also really good at marketing, so they probably weren’t nearly as bloodthirsty as the stories make them sound. They made a point of spreading that reputation so that the crews of ships they captured would be quick to surrender and they didn’t have to risk their lives or their profits in a battle (since battle damage and payment for injuries suffered in battle were taken out of the prize before the profits were divided among the crew).

Anyway, that made me think about pirates, so that’s tonight’s movie. I scored some pizza crusts on the bakery overstock rack at the grocery store yesterday, which means pizza tonight without having to make a crust. The urge to “quarantine bake” is pretty strong, especially on a rainy day, and I’ve found a brownie recipe I want to try.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to read as much as possible from the Nebula Awards ballot so I can vote by the end of the month. I still have several books to read and a bunch of short stories, novellas, and novelettes.

And I’m trying to come up with titles for the books in the mystery series I’m working on, which means coming up with the pattern for titles, since those kinds of books tend to have some kind of pattern that ties the series together. I’m drawing a complete blank so far.

Pandemic Precautions

I ran my weekly errands this morning, and it does look like the panic shopping is a real thing. The shelves of things like toilet paper and dried beans were empty. Fortunately, I stocked up on toilet paper a couple of weeks ago, mostly because Target was having a sale and was giving a $15 gift card if you bought $50 worth of household items. But that means I’m set for a few months. I haven’t stocked up on dried beans, though I do have a couple of bags of lentils. I wonder how many of those panic-bought beans will ever be cooked.

I think I could survive two to three weeks without leaving the house, if I had to. I’ve figured out meals I could make with what’s in my pantry and freezer. It might be lighter on veggies than I usually go, since I eat a lot of fresh produce, and I might have to cut back on dairy. I have some shelf-stable and evaporated milk, but that’s mostly good for cooking or putting in tea.

I’m not too worried yet, though there has been a Covid-19 case in my city. If it ramps up, I may avoid people more than I usually do, mostly to reduce the risk of being a vector. I used to work with the epidemiology department when I worked at the medical school, and one thing I learned then was that something like this can spread exponentially. One person can spread it to multiple people, who can each spread it to multiple people. The cluster they have in New York now came from one guy. Each person you remove from that chain can drastically reduce the number of infections. Even if you’re not at high risk, you may spread to others who are. If you’re not infected, you can’t spread it.

It’s probably good that they’re canceling big public events. One of the things that allowed the 1918 flu to spread was a parade that wasn’t canceled. Anything that slows it down helps, and bringing hundreds of people together really amplifies all the vectors.

The big thing is washing hands with soap. That’s more effective with this kind of virus than alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food, which I hope everyone is doing already. A new habit to make is washing your hands when you come home from being in the outside world, before you do anything else. I’ve also started intermediate cleaning measures, keeping a packet of wipes in my car (hidden in the console container so my car doesn’t get broken into), and when I come out of a store, I wipe off my hands and the surfaces on the car I touch, like the steering wheel, parking brake, gear shift, and door handle. Then I do a more thorough washing when I get home. Avoid touching your face, if at all possible (which is tough when you wear glasses that tend to slide down your nose and when you have wispy hair that likes to get tangled in your eyelashes). Fortunately, I’m set for soap for ages, thanks to gifts and hotel soaps. Dish soap is also quite effective because it’s designed to break down grease, and this virus has a lipid layer, so the best way to kill it is to basically de-grease it. Panic buying soap, to the point you have a year’s supply and you’re hoarding it, is silly. You need everyone around you to be able to wash their hands in order to protect you, and if you’ve got all the soap, you make it harder for them to do that. A couple of weeks ago, I was in line at Target behind a guy who had literally an entire shopping cart full of hand sanitizer. I hope he was buying for something like a school or office building. If he was just hoarding it or planning to profiteer, then he’s part of the problem.

Because of allergy season, I’ve already been using a saline nasal rinse when I come in from outdoors to get rid of pollen. I don’t know if that’s at all effective for getting rid of a virus, but I do know that keeping those tissues moist can help protect you, in general. That’s what they’re there for, to catch things before they get into the lungs.

Take care of yourself to maintain your health, in general. That means sleep, exercise, nutrition, and hydration.

We really are all of us in this together. This kind of thing can bring out the best and the worst in humanity. I really hope we see the best.