Pandemic survival edition

Thu Apr 30, 2020

I’ve been in self-isolation for seven weeks now.

I’ve been keeping busy - working from home, trying to keep up the children’s education, doing repairs in my attic, putting in new drywall, and wondering if I’ll know it when I go insane, or if it’ll just happen so gradually that I won’t even notice.

There is, however, an end in sight. After months of hunkering down, the people of planet Earth are slowly beating the virus - and paying the cost. Yet, although a lot of money, jobs, businesses, and relationships have been lost - lives have been saved. And that’s always a good thing.

In the meantime, wild animals are roaming empty city streets, air pollution has been reduced to record lows, and oil is worth less than zero. This accidental experiment in lowering carbon emissions has given us incontrovertible proof that humans are killing our planet. It has also shown us that the financial system really is rigged toward padding the pockets of the one percent. If oil is worth less than nothing, shouldn’t gas stations be paying us to fill our tanks?

Anyway, not to get all preachy, but there is a lot we can learn from this.

Speaking of learning, how in the seven hells of Hades are parents supposed to oversee their kids’ education and work from home at the same time? Especially when there is only one of you because the other parent has to go into work? This diabolical conundrum is the situation I’m in. The teachers are doing their best, but parents worldwide are losing their minds.

Let’s be honest, with all the layoffs and pay cuts going around, you’d be a fool not to give 100 percent to your work right now. And I’ve been working my ass off. Which means my “lesson plan” mostly involves handing over an iPad to each kid and threatening no ice cream for dessert a little too often.

For those who are following a similar hands-off philosophy, I’ll be giving you a list of resources (at the end of this post) you can 100 percent do on an iPad. There are plenty of well-meaning people out there who are suggesting vague activities such as “make a book together”, which is lovely if you’re an actual stay-at-home parent, but useless for the working-at-home stiffs.

In a perfect world, a stay-at-home writer would have the perfectly cosy home office setup. I don’t. My setup is disgustingly haphazard and temporary, if you can call a couple of months “temporary”.

I would love a minimalist writing setup like the one Matt Gemmell has. He writes exclusively on the iPad, “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age”. Yet, while the iPad may not be as “clumsy or random” as a laptop - my workhorse laptop has made the working-at-home transition totally seamless. These days I do a lot of creative stuff that isn’t writing - creating websites, making videos, designing brochures - and I’d get frustrated with an iPad and it’s disaster of a multitasking interface pretty quickly.

But in the future, when all these kids who are growing up with iPads enter the workplace, you can bet that the iPad’s productivity workflows will be getting a lot better.

I got a Star Wars reference in there, so may as well let the geek flag fly and get a Lord of the Rings one in too. In this tweet, Neil Gaiman looks to be rocking a MacBook Pro, but it’s his Tolkien-inspired writing environs that drops my jaws. I’m not so sure about sacrificing electricity - although I’ll admit there’s a certain appeal.

The laptop in that tweet seems a bit incongruous though. If you’re going old-school, you may as well go all in - Roald Dahl style. This clip shows the legendary Dahl settling into his writer’s nest. The floor hasn’t been swept for five years, except for goat droppings. He gets into his sleeping bag, sharpens his six pencils, and starts writing away on a pad of paper, so absorbed in his work, the cigarette between the fingers of his left hand dangles - seemingly forgotten. It’s perfect.

Whatever the writing setup, the examples above serve as a good reminder that the only tool you need is your mind, and the only requirement for a good writing environment is the simplest and often hardest to obtain - quiet.

For a healthy Yin-Yang balance in life you can’t neglect exercise. For as the mind needs stillness, so the body needs movement. I stole that last line from a workout YouTube video by the way. I find it easier to just wake up, exercise first thing and check it off the list. So every morning, my wife and I do our squat jumps, burpees, and planks to a 30-minute workout video on YouTube. We actually did this before everybody went into quarantine. Home workouts have since, of course, exploded in popularity.

We’ve done it all, from Tabata to HIIT with all kinds of instructors. If I had to pick a recommendation, I’d choose Sydney Cummings (Sydney Squad all the way!). She’s humble, motivational, has good energy, and is not irritating. That “not irritating” part is surprisingly hard for YouTube workout instructors to nail down. Honourable mentions go out to Popsugar Fitness (better than it sounds), and the long-running HASfit with Coach Kozak and Claudia (HASfit Tribe all the way!). However, if you want the instructor to just shut up so you can exercise with a music track, you’ll dig Heather Robertson. Personally, I prefer a bit of banter for a more personable experience.

Well that’s work and exercise out of the way - let’s talk self-isolation entertainment. For maximum world immersion, I love digging into a book series. I’m currently reading my way through several of them, including The Expanse series, the Red Rising Saga, and the Mistborn series (the ones set 300 years after the original trilogy). They’re all terrifically meaty but don’t flounder at all.

I have also put together some really tasteful game/TV show pairings to enhance and heighten the old escape from reality. For instance, I’ve been watching Westworld Season 3 while playing Detroit: Become Human. The deep dive on Android ethics and what it means to be alive touches on a lot of spiritual and philosophical themes - science fiction at its best.

My next pairing is a dark, rich and earthy mix of Telltale’s Batman series and Seasons 4 and 5 of the underrated Gotham TV series.

I’ve also been keeping an eye on tech news, even though I’ve lost my appetite for spending money. The most interesting smartphone head-to-head this past month has to be the iPhone SE vs the OnePlus 8. The most obvious irony is that the aggressively low pricing of the “flagship-killer” OnePlus phones is a ploy of the past. They’re almost as expensive as Samsung phones now. On the other hand, the IPhone SE costs “only” $399 USD and includes the latest A13 chip.

I have to laugh though - the SE sports the same dated design as my 6S. And some reviewers are actually gushing about how nice it is to hold such a thin, light phone again. I was not expecting that. In moments like these, it’s painfully obvious that tech reviewers are so painfully removed from the masses.

I’ve got to bounce, but before I do, here is that list I promised you for those parents working from home with kids. These resources don’t require much parent participation, so you won’t have to constantly hit the mute button on your company’s Microsoft Teams meeting. And don’t feel bad about the crazed juggle - you’re their parent, not their teacher!

Educational resources (Pandemic survival edition)

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