This has been a strange time, and for a lot of people, a very difficult time due to job loss, anxiety, taking care of and educating kids, sudden isolation, etc. In the midst of the challenges, I've managed to see some bright spots. As I've told people offline, it's sort of like seeing empty lots on the south side: within the cracks and crumbling concrete you can sometimes see tiny wildflowers popping up, as if they're reassuring people that beauty can exist even in areas where flowers aren't intentionally planted, as they are downtown.
Even though I sometimes feel sort of uneasy or tense, I've had the time to notice that there are things I've taken for granted that I now appreciate, and new developments in my life:
1 - I have been able to speak honestly with some of my coworkers. There is one part-time job where I have to physically work, and some of the people who remain (because most are working at home) have been fantastic. It started a month ago when someone walked in who usually keeps conversation to a work-appropriate superficial level. They asked us if seeing the empty downtown caused us to feel panic/fear (I forgot the word). I was surprised the coworker brought up such feelings, because they usually didn't share them (though we once had a deep conversation about a previous toxic workplace and abusive boss). I told them that I didn't feel any panic, but later, after hearing story after story of virus suffering and death, I started to feel it. I told the person how I felt, and they reassured me, saying that it's normal to go in and out of it. Ever since that day, I decided to share with certain coworkers how I feel, whether it's about what's going on in the country/state/city, or if it's about the challenges I'm facing at the job. The people I've shared with have been wonderful and very tolerant and non-judgmental, which is an amazing quality to have during such a history-making time. I never thought these people would provide so much support, but they have, and I will never forget it.
2 - I've learned new skills. Because work situations have had to change, I've been given new tasks which I would have never been given before. I was thrown into a situation that I had no experience with, and amazingly, I've been able to adapt. I have never learned so intensely or quickly in my life, and I'm pretty proud of that. Also, I've acquired new work that I haven't done before, and the person I'm doing it for is very cool and easy to work with. It's something that might develop into more long-term opportunities.
3 - I've had time to figure out why I have certain issues. I'm not screwed up, but just like anyone, I have some concerns and fears that I need to face. Today I realized why I have certain perceptions, and it was like something was suddenly flicked off my mind when I figured it out. The downtime allowed me to question and explore, instead of getting busy to avoid the unsettling feeling that always seemed to be with me.
4 - One job became remote a year ago, so I already had something solid. When I was told by someone that I wouldn't be working at a physical location anymore (I'm pretty sure they wanted to get rid of me), I thought that was it and the door was closed. But another person from the place said they wanted me to work remotely instead, so I switched to that. Little did I know that it would give me something steady and I wouldn't have to lose work or adjust to working at home; I've been doing it for a while already.
5 - I notice nature more. The lakefront and parks are closed, but I can still walk down Lake Shore Drive and see the lake and can walk to Navy Pier. It's usually packed with people and traffic, but now only a few people walk around there, so I can hear many birds chirping and see them flying around over the placid water. It is so beautiful and the sounds of the birds are so pleasant, I feel relaxed and inspired by the nature that exists beyond the buildings. When I walk south, I can continue to see the empty lake and river, and appreciate the flowers east of Grant Park and Millennium Park undisturbed, with no crowds walking around to break the silence and obscure the view.
6 - I live in a nice area. I live in one of the best areas of the city, where the population density is high. Yet I am very impressed that there aren't crowds of people outside, and the ones who are keep their distance from each other and are being careful. The number of virus cases in the population is low, which is impressive, since more people live closer together than in other areas. Also, I can easily cross streets against the lights because there isn't much traffic, while viewing some of the best architecture in the country.
7 - I have met some random, grateful, positive people. One night I was leaving work after midnight, and I saw a Sun-Times truck stop in front of the building. A guy got out and walked in to deliver a stack of papers. I greeted him and he said, "You're an essential worker." I said, "Yup, I am." Then he said, "It's a beautiful thing," and smiled. I will never forget that guy who offered such friendliness and exuberance on a cold, silent, dark night. Another time I was at Walgreens and the cashier started singing to a song that was playing in the store. I told her it was nice to see someone who had a good attitude instead of being uptight and paranoid. She said she was glad to be there and we had to enjoy life with what we had. And there's another guy who I saw a couple times at the front desk of a building, who greeted me in such a way that just his manner and the few words he uttered created a deep human connection in an otherwise empty, cold city.
8 - Bad weather is now good. Usually bad weather is annoying and difficult because traffic becomes snarled and it's hard to drive. Many people are still complaining about the weather (usually suburbanites), but for us downtown folks, when it rains, snows, or is cold outside, that means fewer people will be walking around, which is safer. That's why they closed the lakefront: on sunny days, too many people were crowding the paths, which caused the mayor to respond. Since we don't have backyards, we need to get outside, but we have to do it when the sidewalks aren't crowded, and the bad weather allows for that.
9 - I'm finally watching more MasterClass videos. My friend got me a discount for MasterClass back in December, and before the pandemic, I already watched some "classes" (which are really just videos, but I'll do a separate post about it another time), but didn't have time to watch more. I kept telling myself that I "should" watch them, but didn't make the time until now. Recently, I've been watching lessons by deadmau5, whose music I already liked, but who I now have a huge appreciation for because he works extremely hard and puts a lot of thought into what he's doing. If this virus hadn't come, I would've never made the time to watch all his videos and wouldn't have developed much respect for him either. Now I'm very impressed and have been listening to even more of his music since then, which provides a soundtrack while I'm working at home.
10 - I'm studying more Japanese. When I started this blog, I was translating Japanese (and other languages) and was still making an effort to maintain it. Then I got busy and interested in other things, and I pretty much rarely spent time trying to learn new words or read anything. Thanks to being stuck at home a lot, I have been reading more and have been using Twitter to learn Japanese by following various Japanese accounts. I still feel stressed when I try to read the Tweets, but at least I'm making more of an effort than I have in the past. Before the virus, I would do easier things and read a lot of English books. Now I'm slowly getting through one English book while spending more time on Japanese. I'm also on Twitter more than before; I joined over a decade ago but rarely looked at it and rarely posted. Now I'm on it every day. It's interesting and a good place to learn a language (I also follow German and French news accounts).
11 - I'm lucky to work outside the home a few days a week. Even though I have like five gigs going on right now, one of them is in a physical place, which means I get to actually go to work. Since I'm not an introvert (though I've been faking it for years to survive), working at home alone is not energizing and really zaps me and makes me feel detached from the world. By going to a job, I can talk with my coworkers and do work that involves other people, instead of work that involves churning out stuff alone on a computer. It's way more satisfying to be part of a team than a solitary individual in front of a screen.
12 - My social life wasn't great before we were forced to stay at home, so I haven't had to really adjust to having no social life at this time. I used to feel sort of on the outside looking in, watching other people have dynamic social lives and go out and be part of an ongoing social chain. I'm not even popular on social media, so my life was all-around slow. Yes, I'd sometimes go to a party or go out for a meal with someone or go to a writing group, but I didn't have the full-on group experiences that some lucky folks have. Now we're all stuck at home, and while those people are probably having a hard time adjusting, I really didn't have to clear my social calendar (except cancel a lunch downtown with someone). I'm married to an introvert, so we've never had a web of friends, so really, I just have had to adapt to the physical reality of my conceptual lifestyle anyway.
13 - I'm communicating with a couple of relatives I didn't really communicate with before. I have a relative who lives far away, and during this time, I've decided to call them once a week to check in. They have never been judgmental or uptight, and during this time, that's exactly the kind of person I need to communicate with right now. They also understand medical issues, so their professional perspective, combined with their consistent positivity and good outlook, are valuable and refreshing. I'm communicating with another relative about work-related stuff, and they are also very easygoing and positive, and full of energy that I need right now. Before the virus, I wouldn't have recognized their outstanding qualities, but right now, they shine in such a weird and challenging time.
14 - I'm realizing that we have to focus on something to stop the underlying anxious hum. Things are way more peaceful around me because so many people are staying away from my area. I don't even hear the ambulances and police cars that I usually hear on a daily basis. Yet I still feel mildly tense, like I have to be on high alert. It's hard to shake off. But if I am able to concentrate on something, such as writing this post, then it goes away. The bottom line is that my mind can be adaptable, which I hadn't really considered before.
15 - I live near a world-class hospital. If anything goes wrong (which I hope it doesn't), the hospital is so close I can walk there. It's one of the best hospitals in the country, even the world, and they are prepared to handle the virus and a lot more. I'm very lucky to have such resources around me.
16 - Certain stores I avoided before are fantastic now. Before, there were a few stores that I hated going to because they were crowded, or the people working there were apathetic. Now I like them. Even though I live in a highly populated area, for some reason, now they aren't crowded and I can get anything I need. I keep hearing stories of supplies running out, but those few stores that I hadn't liked are replenishing their shelves. Also, the employees are so nice and helpful. They have a good attitude whether they're speaking with each other or customers. It's incredible how some people find the strength within them to thrive in a tough situation.
17 - I still get to interact with people. Before the virus, I was teaching two offline classes. Then we had to move online. While one class was easy to change to digital, the other was more challenging. But the more digitally challenging class has been so fun. The students are very friendly and patient when there are technical issues, and they give me much-needed human interaction in an otherwise isolating experience. Again, I'm lucky I have the wonderful students in addition to the physical job, but then again, when you're not an introvert, a few days a week of human interaction doesn't feel like enough. It's like this: imagine being an introvert and being told you have to speak to a group of at least 30 people every single day, plus work in an open office, plus go to meals with others, plus participate in events. That's an extrovert's dream. But to an introvert, that causes anxiety and energy depletion. Well for people like me, being alone for hours and hours, day after day, is energy-depleting and anxiety-inducing, just as interacting with people all the time is energy-depleting for introverts. But at least something is better than nothing. I don't know what I would do if I had zero human interaction. I would probably panic and suffer.
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