Getting back into the swing of things

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt’s been ages since I was here.. I know. My bad. Life has totally taken me over (favorite excuse).. and yes, we are still far from normal.

While a very small percentage of people at work returned to the office, including my boss, I continue to work from home. I was fortunate that she insisted the commute to and from work was not worth the risk, plus there was the boy who I opted to do full remote learning for. I just gave her the option to call me in if the need ever arose. The numbers are rising again, and while we had hoped to inch our way towards “normal” in the weeks to come, there is a threat of another lockdown or shutdown or shelter in place hanging over our heads. So much for returning to normal.

The truth is, I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that this is now our new normal. Masks every time we go out. Social distancing. Washing hands the minute we get home. Having a container of hand sanitizer in our pockets all the time. No more shaking hands or hugging. Being careful what we touch and how we touch things.

I just wrote the second half of this post and it just disappeared on me with a stroke of my finger. When things like that happen, I attribute it to the simple conclusion that whatever I had written wasn’t meant to be published. I can try again, but it’s late.

New York City schools just announced that everyone will do remote learning beginning tomorrow due to the rising numbers in positive cases. I’m not really affected because my son has been fully remote from the start of the school year. The long commute and the transfer it would take was too much of a worry in terms of the possibility of exposure to the virus, so he has been learning remotely. I’m lucky that at 16, I can easily leave him at home if I were forced to return to work. But I am even luckier that I don’t have to and I continue to work from home. Working parents of younger kids are not as flexible because there would be the issue of childcare while they try to put food on the table.

Another day ended in the time of Corona..

Autumn in New York

In the midst of it all

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe past couple of days have been very emotional for everyone. Although our emotions may run in different directions and come from varied perspectives, it is undeniable that we have all been moved. We are in pain. We are angry. We are grieving.

As a person of color who migrated to the United States 20 years ago, the concept of discrimination is very real for me. I was not born here, and when you see me in the very diverse crowds of New York City, you know by sight that I am one of “the others”. I am one in a sea of immigrants that make up this great country. The color of my skin and my hair, and the shape of my eyes and my nose tell you that I’m not your typical American. I identify as Filipino. When people ask me where I’m from, I instinctively say the Philippines. Because that’s where I came from and that’s who I am.

No matter how progressive this part of the country is, you know that you continue to be viewed through a different lens. Sometimes favorably, sometimes not. But your color makes people see you a certain way — even among us who are of color.

New York City has been in the middle of some very violent expressions of anger and grief. What makes it worse is that there are many who have sought to take advantage of this collective grief and indignation, and used it as a smokescreen — literally — to commit acts of vandalism and criminality.

This is indeed, a sad time for my home city. As a New Yorker, it breaks my heart to see New Yorkers hurting fellow New Yorkers.

While you may think that the bigger brands and establishments can bear to suffer the loss of their wares and the destruction of their physical stores, we forget that there are New Yorkers who man those stores and actually look forward to returning to their regular jobs in the not so distant future. There were smaller establishments who were operating on a very thin lifeline and are now further burdened by the need to rebuild and restock. Deli stores, souvenir shops, name brand stores — beyond the shattered glass and the lost inventory, this whole period of violence has cast a pall on the job prospects of those who were hoping to cling to their employment there.

I watched some of the footage of these looting sprees and found myself suddenly gripped with fear as I saw throngs of people forcing doors open, breaking glass, peeling away the wooden barricades. Then there was anger as the frenzy began and they stormed the stores and came out with their own haul. One deli store owner stood by his door giving away water just so the looters would not ransack his store like they did the others who were open in the midst of the violence. One guy went into a computer and electronics store and came out with a MacBook in a box, and got chased by two others who grabbed it from him despite his efforts to protect his “haul”. One of the guys started attacking him while another ran off with his boxed Mac. I am sorry, but I can’t even be sad for the guy who lost his loot. I am, however, sad for the three of them who fought like barbarians over the stolen goods.

Friends and family have been asking how my son and I are doing. We are far from the fray, and this is another instance when I’m grateful that I’m working from home, and not forced to commute to the city to earn my paycheck. But even if I’m not in the heart of the violence, it is felt all around us with the constant reminders of a curfew in a city that used to be touted as the “City that never sleeps”.

I feel the outrage in the death of George Floyd and can understand the emotions that run deep. It was a senseless act showing a lack and even an absence of compassion. I grieve him, too. I understand the cause that the protesters are fighting for — but the message has been heard loud and clear all over the world. Even when we protest peacefully, if we defy orders to go home when the curfew has ensued, the civil disobedience we commit can detract from the message and the cause we are fighting for.

Other groups have been taking advantage of the anger and the grief. It is suspected that some of the violence instigated by supposed protestors are actually the doing of groups who want to sow further violence and discord. More people are getting hurt. Cooler heads need to intervene. The voices of reason need to make themselves heard.

And for the last few days, the issue that has beset us for the last almost 100 days of stay-at-home/sheltering-in-place has taken a backseat. I look at the sea of people in all the places where the protests have been taking place and I am afraid at the spike I anticipate we will see in infections in the next 10-12 days. All those lives lost to the disease, and here we are tempting fate again, brazenly daring the disease to come and overtake us anew.

Ten days ago, I was getting ready for the ultimate return to office — and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know when that would actually take place. With a Phase 1 reopening slated for this coming Monday, the delineated two week gap per phase, and knowing that I would likely be returning in Phase 3, I don’t think I will be called back earlier than mid-or late July. Possibly even later. Still, I feel a need to get ready for that day when I would have to wade through the commute and enter the building via a transportation hub were thousands of people walk through on any given day.

At the back of my head, I was also trying to prepare for a possible second wave. Disposable face masks are available again, and there are the very expensive bottles of hand sanitizer on some store shelves. Alcohol and disinfectant spray or wipes continue to be a prime commodity that continue to be unavailable, so I am trying to just have some in stock so that I am ready if they disappear from the shelves again.

I know that our battle with the disease is far from over. We have just managed to catch up with it with the social distancing and the sheltering in place. We managed to prevent people from congregating and giving the virus a Petrie dish to fester in.

Until the last couple of days.

I want to see people going back to work again, and the economy taking a deep breath that will somehow revive it even at the slowest of paces. I want to go back to something close to normal — because I know we will never go back to the way we used to do things before we were all sent home to slow the spread of disease. But I do not want to return to the daily report of hundreds of people dying and losing their battle with the on Covid. That is one place I don’t think any of us would want to go back to.

So I keep my fingers crossed that the protests happening in our midst will not be an ember that will light up a fire that we will battle to put out later on. We have barely recovered from the battle we are yet to wrap up. What happens if we get into that kind of a race against this disease again?

I don’t have a solution to the problems that face us regarding race. I think it has sparked a new stream of dialogue that will hopefully help us flesh out the pain and the struggle — and maybe bring us to a better place. Eventually. This is one problem that, like Covid, will take time to solve. One problem at a time, they say. No matter how unrelated these two issues may be, they beset us and besiege us. We need to fight each one as if there were two attackers threatening our lives on two sides. We cannot forget the one that took thousands of lives in the very recent past, while we fight for the lives that continue to be lost because of the color of their skin.

I’m afraid all I can do is keep my fingers crossed. That, in itself, is sad, and almost makes me feel helpless, because that only means there is really nothing I can do either way, except see how things play out in the weeks to come.

Making the Stay at home situation work

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It’s the 6th weekend since we started this shelter in place / stay at home / but not a lockdown (because the Governor doesn’t like to call it that) new normal for New York City. Again, I’m not complaining, but of course, I long for what we had before March.

I don’t even want to think of going back to that, because I know that the reality of it is, this whole situation will change how we move forward, even after we are allowed to go back to a semblance of normalcy. I don’t know how soon or how far off that is — except that it won’t happen before May 15. Our state authorities have said as much. The way that New York City has suffered through the pandemic, it will be harder and a longer journey for us to try and reopen the city as we knew it.

Not that I’ve gotten used to this new way of doing things — but I think I’ve managed to adapt myself to this new way of living. It’s not just about adjusting to the “home office” situation, but more importantly, I’ve had to make some adjustments as part of trying to stay healthy and avoiding getting exposed to germs.

I washed my hands as much as I could — and the first two weeks, I developed a rash on the back of my left hand. It wasn’t anything alarming or painful, but it was uncomfortable and started to itch. Fortunately, I had my ointments from previous dermatological conditions. In a week, my hand was back to normal.

You just have to be conscious of how you do things, more so when you’re outside.

I live in a second floor unit with a common doorway with my first floor neighbor. We are in a u-shaped courtyard. It’s a residential community with minimal foot traffic, and my laundry and garbage bins are just a stone’s throw away from my doorstep. Still, I’ve tried to avoid going out as much as I can by doing things at home differently.

(1) Entryway essentials

– A Box of disposable gloves: so that it’s within easy reach for when I have chores to do outside.

– A trash bin with a disposable trash bag for discarded gloves and mail.

– A pair of scissors to open the mail or deliveries with

When I go outside to pick up the mail or a delivery, I open everything just inside my door instead of bringing everything up. That way, I can dispose of the wrappers or fold away the boxes right there for disposal.

(2) Develop the habit of sorting even your regular trash. I normally threw all the garbage in my huge 13-gallon garbage bin in the kitchen, but I have now reserved this for “wet” garbage. Paper and other “dry” garbage goes into regular or smaller trash bins. I can consolidate these later into a bigger bag, or tie together. Even when I cook, I consciously put away the wrappers with the dry garbage, and I collect the vegetable and fruit peels and containers separately. This will prevent the garbage bin from filling up and minimizing the trips to the garbage bin.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to others who have regular garbage pick up, or who live in buildings where there is a garbage chute. But speaking from experience, consciously disposing of garbage at a time when you don’t want to be taking too many trips outside your door has helped me keep things in order.

(3) Set regular office hours. If you’re one of those who have had to start working from home like me, it’s very important that you delineate your office hours — and be disciplined enough to observe them.

Begin your work day as if you were working in the office. I think I’ve gotten down to a manageable level of “busy” by pacing myself better now. The office closure didn’t really mean a slow down for our office, so I have had to adapt to the work-from-home routine and make a lot of adjustments beyond the smaller laptop screen, and only one screen instead of the two I had back in the office. Some days have been truly exhausting.

– Observe a lunch hour. This is important whether or not you grab a bite. The thing is to observe an actual break, get up from your desk, and pause. Literally.

Aim to finish your tasks for the day and send out the last e-mail the same time you would normally be walking out of the office. One thing that working from home robs us of is the urge to stop and get up to leave when we were actually in the office. We have buses and trains to catch, actual travel time to hurdle before getting home, and we need to be mindful of this even when we are in the “comfort of our own home”. Otherwise, you will find yourself working longer hours and exhausting yourself needlessly.

If you use audio alerts for email and meetings reminders, turn them on and off according to your office hours. My phone emits a sound when I receive an email in my work mailbox — I turn that off. My boss has her own text ringtone and I figure that it was urgent enough for her to reach me after office hours, she will text. So to the rest of my colleagues, there’s tomorrow. This last habit has helped me to keep myself focused on family and home when my office hours end. It has given me the chance to breathe and recharge.

– Shut down or log off your work system at the end of your work day. My personal and work email are both on my phone, but I’ve tried to make it a habit not to look at work emails after I’ve logged out of the network and turned my laptop off. All it takes is the discipline to literally watch the clock.

(4) Find a hobby or passion that you can pursue/continue even within the confines of home. For the first part of my stay-at-home journey, I focused on my art journal. I paused for a week or so, and I’m ready to continue. I’ve started sewing again, but it’s been in stops and starts because I am often too tired to do this at the end of the workday.

Not surprisingly, a lot of my colleagues at work who know I do jewelry were presuming that I’ve had more time to pick up my beads and pliers. The truth of it is, save for that one attempt at crocheting a necklace of glass crystals, the only other time I picked up my tools was earlier this week to restring a favorite necklace of gorgeous pink agate. I am going to try to do something about that in the at least 4 weeks more of this.

It can work if you choose to make it work. It doesn’t have to drive you crazy. When it does, you should find a way to get over the stress of being in this new normal.

I’ve started to cook and even bake. But that’s another blog post. I hope that sharing these things that have made this current way of life easier or more livable will help someone out there. We will get through this — we just need to hang in there and do our part.

Picking up my tools again