Today’s diary entry is simple because today I’m trying to finish Dear Mustafa, my second novel.
I’m copying and pasting three pieces. First a letter from novelist Francesca Melandri who’s been locked down in Rome. It’s a letter from your future if you’re about to or have just started isolation.
Next is a set of tips from my friend Rigel for keeping productive during isolation. Rigel has worked at home for the past five years, so he knows what he’s talking about.
Last is one of those stupid humor pieces I read on the Internet that I always promise never to copy and paste, but now I’ve gone and done it! Sorry, and sorry I don’t have an attribution. If you know who wrote it, please leave a comment (and hopefully not a take down notice).
Before we get started, I just wanted too ask if anyone out there remembers how to code in Cobol? The state of New Jersey seeks volunteers to improve the performance of its overwhelmed Cobol-based benefits system. It seems like a reasonable question is whether a crowd-sourced re-write in a living computer language might be faster. Anyway, to my New Jersey friends, good luck getting your benefits!
The acclaimed Italian novelist Francesca Melandri has written a letter “from your future”, laying out the range of emotions people are likely to go through as they enter isolation.
I am writing to you from Italy, which means I am writing from your future. We are now where you will be in a few days. The epidemic’s charts show us all entwined in a parallel dance.
We are but a few steps ahead of you in the path of time, just like Wuhan was a few weeks ahead of us. We watch you as you behave just as we did. You hold the same arguments we did until a short time ago, between those who still say “it’s only a flu, why all the fuss?” and those who have already understood.
As we watch you from here, from your future, we know that many of you, as you were told to lock yourselves up into your homes, quoted Orwell, some even Hobbes. But soon you’ll be too busy for that.
First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.
You’ll find dozens of social networking groups with tutorials on how to spend your free time in fruitful ways. You will join them all, then ignore them completely after a few days.
You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out of your bookshelves, but will soon find you don’t really feel like reading any of it.
You’ll eat again. You will not sleep well. You will ask yourselves what is happening to democracy.
You’ll have an unstoppable online social life – on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom…
You will miss your adult children like you never have before; the realisation that you have no idea when you will ever see them again will hit you like a punch in the chest.
Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: “How are you doing?” Many women will be beaten in their homes.
You will wonder what is happening to all those who can’t stay home because they don’t have one. You will feel vulnerable when going out shopping in the deserted streets, especially if you are a woman. You will ask yourselves if this is how societies collapse. Does it really happen so fast? You’ll block out these thoughts and when you get back home you’ll eat again.
You will put on weight. You’ll look for online fitness training
You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll flaunt a gallows humour you never had before. Even people who’ve always taken everything dead seriously will contemplate the absurdity of life, of the universe and of it all.
You will make appointments in the supermarket queues with your friends and lovers, so as to briefly see them in person, all the while abiding by the social distancing rules.
You will count all the things you do not need.
The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.
Literati who had been omnipresent in the news will disappear, their opinions suddenly irrelevant; some will take refuge in rationalisations which will be so totally lacking in empathy that people will stop listening to them. People whom you had overlooked, instead, will turn out to be reassuring, generous, reliable, pragmatic and clairvoyant.
Those who invite you to see all this mess as an opportunity for planetary renewal will help you to put things in a larger perspective. You will also find them terribly annoying: nice, the planet is breathing better because of the halved CO2 emissions, but how will you pay your bills next month?
You will not understand if witnessing the birth of a new world is more a grandiose or a miserable affair.
You will play music from your windows and lawns. When you saw us singing opera from our balconies, you thought “ah, those Italians”. But we know you will sing uplifting songs to each other too. And when you blast I Will Survive from your windows, we’ll watch you and nod just like the people of Wuhan, who sung from their windows in February, nodded while watching us.
Many of you will fall asleep vowing that the very first thing you’ll do as soon as lockdown is over is file for divorce.
Many children will be conceived.
Your children will be schooled online. They’ll be horrible nuisances; they’ll give you joy.
Elderly people will disobey you like rowdy teenagers: you’ll have to fight with them in order to forbid them from going out, to get infected and die.
You will try not to think about the lonely deaths inside the ICU.
You’ll want to cover with rose petals all medical workers’ steps.
You will be told that society is united in a communal effort, that you are all in the same boat. It will be true. This experience will change for good how you perceive yourself as an individual part of a larger whole.
Class, however, will make all the difference. Being locked up in a house with a pretty garden or in an overcrowded housing project will not be the same. Nor is being able to keep on working from home or seeing your job disappear. That boat in which you’ll be sailing in order to defeat the epidemic will not look the same to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone: it never was.
At some point, you will realise it’s tough. You will be afraid. You will share your fear with your dear ones, or you will keep it to yourselves so as not to burden them with it too.
You will eat again.
We’re in Italy, and this is what we know about your future. But it’s just small-scale fortune-telling. We are very low-key seers.
If we turn our gaze to the more distant future, the future which is unknown both to you and to us too, we can only tell you this: when all of this is over, the world won’t be the same.
Francesca Melandri, 2020
Tips on staying productive in isolation from Rigel Cable.
Tips I have learned from 5 years of working at home:
(Public feel free to share.)
I am phrasing these as rules – these are my rules for myself, of course some people won’t relate or will disagree, but maybe it’s helpful for someone! Also some of these will not be possible for some people.
If you know me, I’m married, I don’t have kids, I have space in my house for a home office. If this doesn’t pertain to you, that’s ok. It might help someone else.
- It’s easy to start to get into a less-productive mindset
- Get dressed every morning – this will keep you feeling professional, motivated, and clear
- It’s easy for your day to blur into an endless flow and for your day to run much longer or faster-paced than if you were in a physical office
- Set a clear schedule – start work at the same time every day, end work at the same time as much as possible
- Plan your morning routine so it’s something you can depend on each day
- Don’t answer your phone at all hours just because you are near your computer/home office at all times; set some boundaries, but obviously determine what is important
- Your entire house will start to feel like a working space – that interferes with work/life spaces
- Keep your work in your office or a designated space, not in your bedroom.
- People won’t be able to visit or chat with you as much outside of meetings during the workday
- Plan to get all your social and fun time outside of your workday and make sure to actively initiate these activities
- Physical activity is completely different when working from home. This is not good for your body. It’s easy to move less than 25 feet in an entire day.
- Get out of your house every day or every other day and make sure to get your circulation going
- Your spouse/partner/kid/dog is now your only co-worker
- Don’t bring your spouse or partner into all your work conversations just because you don’t have a coworker to discuss with nearby; it will add relationship stress that’s not real
Hopefully someone finds this helpful! Or if you don’t agree, just ignore it!
Unattributed humor circulating on the Internet that I never share, but I’m sharing it!
Imagine if 10 years ago you were approached by a time traveler and he was like, Look, I don’t have much time to explain, all I can say is that the year 2020 is going to be an absolute circus.
You know Donald Trump, the star of The Apprentice? Well, he’s the president of the United States and at the beginning of 2020 he gets into a Twitter beef with Iran that almost starts World War 3.
Australia catches on fire and a woman tries to save it by selling pictures of boobs.
A little time passes and just when the world starts recovering from the loss of Kobe some dude in China eats a raw bat and starts a global pandemic that’s specifically kills maw maws and paw paws.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the only way to survive is by hoarding toilet paper. Grocery stores are ransacked and Charmin Ultra Soft essentially replaces the dollar as the United States official currency.
Eventually as hysteria grows, world governments are forced to shut the entire planet down and lock everyone in their houses and the only person that can keep the people from completely flipping out and starting a huge riot is a gun toting homosexual Oklahoma man with a meth addiction and 180 pet tigers …
I’d be like, “you’re high as f***”
Okay, I know I said three things. If you’ve been good enough to read this far, here’s your bonus.
If you’ve been feeling melancholy lately, maybe this will help. Brad shared this with me last night: Some Good News with John Kransinski.