FEBRUARY 2020: By now Laurie and I are keeping an eye on Covid, which we're assuming has hit the United States even though there seems to be dispute about that - and, now famously, government officials, politicians, and pundits who have already started downplaying it. By the end of the month, when we hear the news about Lombardy being locked down, we take stock of what we would need if we end up getting locked down for (we optimistically believed) 6 to 8 weeks, and fill in the gaps of what we realize is missing. There's not that much missing; we live in a rural area and tend to keep a lot of stuff on hand anyway. But the gaps could have proven disastrous if we'd had to do without them for a long while.
This month I also went to see 1917 in the little local theater, which unbeknownst to me was the last movie I'd see in a theater until August 2021.
MARCH 2020: The pandemic heated up. Again unbeknownst to me, I ate inside a restaurant - the Bojangles in Rocky Mount, Virginia - for the last time till the Summer of 2021. The college I work for went virtual and into lockdown. All of my coworkers at the library became virtual workers, but I kept coming to the building every day. I had no way of working from home - no Internet connection, and I didn't yet have a Smartphone - so I became the one to take care of whatever the building itself and the things within needed, right down to watering the plants, while doing my job from within. I was also hearing bits and pieces of worry about the college's financial state from various people; we'd been having financial challenges already, and this vastly increased the pressure.
MAY 2020: Close to the middle of the month I got a phone call from the college that I'd been half-expecting: I was being furloughed till the beginning of August (which became the middle of August). I was extremely concerned about this at first, but after a few days that tapered off - I was able to get unemployment for the duration, which was life-saving, and in the meantime, especially with Laurie's counsel, I recognized this as an opportunity to make metaphorical lemonade. The main concern ultimately would become worry that I wouldn't have a job when August came around, which is to say, that the college might have to close its doors.
I did a Movie Night with my sister and her kids, aware that due to the pandemic, I wasn't sure when I'd see them all in person again. Ironically, the movie I brought was 1917.
JUNE - AUGUST 2020: The Furlough. This deserves, and will get, it's own entry. But I did everything I could to maximize all those open days. I did a lot of writing - adding 40,000 words to the college history book. I did a lot of reading, two or three books a week, including (what I thought appropriately at the time) John Scalzi's Collapsing Empire trilogy. I started gardening again, and discovered that as I'd hoped, my previous failures at gardening came not from me being a bad gardener, but not putting enough time and effort into it.
In the meantime, the unemployment was, ironically, paying me much more than I made by working, so I was able to save a fair bit of it in case there wasn't a job waiting for me at summer's end.
My only regret about the furlough overall was that Tucker, Hayes, and Nate weren't also there to spend the summer with me. However, at night I would grab dinner at Dairy Queen, go down to campus with a Chromebook - since I could get online while on campus - and use the computer while spending those evening hours with Elgie, the library cat I started feeding not long before my previously last entry in Live Journal.
JULY 2020: My Furlough days at home came to an abrupt end on the last day of July not from getting called back, but from Mom needing to go into the hospital. She's originally gone due to low sodium levels, but while there she stumbled and fell after being told she was told to go to a room in the ER waiting for her, but without a nurse helping her despite Mom being a fall risk. So while she spent the next week in the hospital - and then the following month doing physical therapy in a nursing home - I stayed at Mom's house, about 40 miles from my house, to house-sit and pet-sit. This was odd but also strangely nice as she still lived (lives) in the house my sister and I grew up in.
Little did I know, however, how long that stay would extend. In fact, Mom's stay in the hospital and nursing home drove home to me just how many medical issues she was having. Long story short, in an ongoing effort to keep her out of assisted living or even a nursing home, I'm still living with her more than a year later. My commute has gone from a third of a mile to 40 miles one way. As anyone who knows me well will learn to no surprise at all, the room I'm sleeping in (formerly my Dad's room, not my old one - my old one is where I do my writing these days) is now filled with books. Two full shelves, and a large number of stacks on the floor.
AUGUST 2020: I went back to work, in person. Things were not exactly back to normal - we wore masks, we had virtual classes, and the campus seemed deserted more often than not. But...again, we were back to work in person, which felt like a different world than the spring.
OCTOBER 2020: I turned 50 with some trepidation. The day was beautifully warm and sunny, so I spent a few hours sitting and reading at my favorite place, the stretch of the Roanoke River where it crosses beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. Specifically I sat on a rock in the middle of the river reading Philip Jose Farmer's recently published eco-catastrophe novel Up from the Bottomless Pit. By the time I got back to Mom's house my sister had already been there for awhile preparing the place for my arrival in the form of black balloons hanging across the porch entrance, and more draped across the stairway railing and doorways, all wishing me a happy 50th birthday!
The balloons and well wishes are still on the railing, awaiting her 50th birthday this December.
NOVEMBER 2020: Our little dog Weezie had been slowly going downhill for a long while, though Laurie made huge efforts during that time to make life better and longer for her. I was only barely home, usually in jaunts of just a few minutes at the end of my commute and just before heading into work, but I always tried to see Weezie when I could. She'd always liked to go outside with me, stroll sentry around the yard while I watched, and then crawl into my lap when she was done, and for awhile she still did this during my too-short visits. When she quit patrolling the yard and crawling into my lap, wanting to just go back inside after she was done going to the bathroom, I knew she wasn't going to be with us much longer. Weezie was always a scrappy fighter - her previous owners abandoned her in a pen when they moved away, and she first got Laurie's notice from the story that Weezie bit the animal control officer who first handled her - but finally her fight ran out. We had to euthanize her, our last dog, on the last day of November.
NOVEMBER 2020 - JANUARY 2021: With the vacation I had banked before my furlough, which rolled over since I couldn't take it during my furlough, and with Christmas Break falling in this time, I actually would up having six straight paid weeks off from work, from before Thanksgiving to early January. As hard and as frustrating as Mom's health issues were making life for her, it was nice to be able to spend that much time with her, without having to leave most every day for work.
DECEMBER 2020: We may not have had our normal annual summer vacation, but the family did get together for Christmas, and I did my normal thing that I'd been doing since my brother-in-law passed away in 2007: I stayed with them Christmas Eve, to be up with them on Christmas morning (despite them all being aged late teens to 21 by this point), and for a few days afterward. For awhile all seemed well with the world, and peaceful, and normal.
MARCH 2021: With everything else going on, I'd been struggling to keep up with my work doing book reviews for Publishers Weekly. I'd thought about this for a long while, but finally decided to give it up when I had to rush through reading three out of my last four books, and only barely making my deadlines in time. I regretfully sent my note to my editor, Phoebe Cramer, telling her the situation and saying in detail that this had nothing to do with PW or anyone there, and that I'd talked to some people who might become my replacement. She thanked me for all of that, and helping smooth her transition to the editor's job the year before, and told me I was welcome to come back if I was ever in a position to do so.
I thought that despite everything else going on, maybe I'd have some more time to pleasure read now. Then . . .
MAY 2021: At the beginning of the month I had something you'd think would've happened by then, but never did: I dreamed the outline of a novel. I mean the entire outline, beginning to end. That fascinated me, and the book it was outlining fascinated me...but in spite of myself. Because the book was a spinoff from a famous novel now in the public domain that I'd always been ambivalent about at best. And more to the point, it was about the antagonist of said famous novel, whom I'd always hated, as the author intended. And what business, I thought, did I have starting a novel while I was still working on the college history?
Yet the dream's spin on the character had seized hold of me, and over the next few weeks I only grew more intrigued as my brain kept filling in details of the story that the original outline hadn't provided. And honestly, I needed a mental health break. This was one thing that was wholly mine, which it seemed like nothing else (including the college history by that point) was. I needed something fun and frivolous yet creative. Finally, especially with the prompting of author friends, I began writing the novel on the last day of the month.
I typically max out at spending about 4 hours per week writing the novel, but thanks to having the bulk of the book handed to me all in one go the writing is going quickly, and as I type this it stands at 96,350 words. Before trimming, the first draft will undoubtedly hit the 140-150,000 word range by the time it's finished. The college history, untrimmed thus far, stands around 150,000 words. With a few interviews still left to go.
I may add a part 3 to this, but there really isn't much to add.
I'm still living with Mom and getting home only in occasional snatches, but reminding myself that someday I'll look back happily on being able to spend so much time with her. I'm still commuting 80 miles per day. I'm still working on both the novel and the college history. I only did a little bit of hiking this summer, even though I wound up having 3 weeks off work total across the summer. An old friend I met years ago on Live Journal returned to the area after spending many of those years out west. Another old friend is coming to visit me from out west over this coming weekend, my birthday weekend.
In August I went to see a movie in a theater again, with friends. In September I helped my nephew Evan, the youngest of my sister's kids and the last of them to head off to college, move to school - specifically Hampden-Sydney.
The stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway containing my favorite section of the Roanoke River is closed till next spring due to the bridge being repaired and rebuilt, so visiting that stretch again anytime soon is out. I'm still eating too much fried chicken but am doing a lot better with not having too much ice cream.
I'm getting a little bit of pleasure reading done. I need to get a lot more exercise. I need to be spending more time outside, especially in the woods around my house, which I've almost wholly been away from since staying with Mom.
And I'm still seriously considering resuming my regular posts here on Live Journal and Dreamwidth.