Pandemic Diary, February 8th, 2021: Life at -47°C (with the Wind Chill)

A person walks through Assiniboine Park with sun dogs (properly called parhelia) in the background on Friday, February 5th, 2021 (Photo by Chris Procaylo, Winnipeg Sun).

My alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., and it’s still dark outside as I fumble my way out of bed, and check the Environment Canada weather website:

It is -33°C (-28°F for you Americans), which feels like -47°C (a bone-chilling -53°F) when you factor in the wind chill from the stiff breeze. Quickly, I jump into the hot shower, and wash my hair, which is now long enough to tie back in the tiniest of ponytails (I have not had a haircut in one whole year). My goal is to have my hair sufficiently dried by the time I venture outdoors to my destination: my local Walmart store, where I have arranged to pick up my groceries between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. When it feels like -47°C out, you do NOT want to have wet hair.

It is a cold, clear, crisp morning, with the waning crescent moon a thin, sharp scythe in the black sky. My car radio stutters and sputters in the extreme cold. On my way to Walmart, I decide to hit up a McDonalds drive-through yet again (the fourth time in two weeks!) for an sausage and egg McMuffin, and to pick up a box of muffins for later. I am wearing an N95 mask, and two scarves: one beneath my down-filled parka, and one over top, covering my face mask. Trying to make myself understood via the McDonalds intercom system, through an N95 mask and a warm scarf, is a challenge!

“A box of eight muffins, please.”

“An egg McMuffin?”

“No, EIGHT muffins. Five. Six. Seven. EIGHT. MUFFINS.”

I hand the cashier a twenty from my winter-gloved hand, and I tell her to keep the change (I am absolutely NOT dealing with potentially germy change). Then, I pick up my order and find an empty parking spot. I open my bag and groan: once again, they have gotten my order wrong, giving me a sausage and egg McGriddle instead of a McMuffin (I know, I know, First World problems!).

At the Walmart, I park my car in one of the grocery pickup spaces behind the store, and call the number on my cellphone. Shortly, a young woman wheels a cart laden with my groceries to my waiting car. It is bitterly cold, so I leave my car running, and I definitely would not want to be her this morning, as she loads up the back seat of my car with her groceries. I yell a muffled thank-you to her as she closes my car doors, and I drive away, as the sky begins to brighten in the east.

I check my gas tank, and it hovers at just under one-eighth of a tank. (I am still on my second tank of gas since mid-March of last year, which tells you how infrequently I use my car!) I decide that I will visit a nearby full-service Co-Op gas station on my way home, and let somebody else pump my gas for me, just this once. All the attendants are well-bundled against the cold in full snowsuits, warm hats, and scarves, their breath hovering in the air around them, under the fluorescent lights, as they wait for cars to service.

I hand my gas attendant forty dollars through my car window, tell him to keep the change, and drive home. The Shopping Cart Gods have smiled upon me; there is an empty shopping cart standing next to my apartment garbage dumpster, and it only takes one trip to ferry my groceries the last few dozen metres to my doorstep. I also give silent thanks that I have a first-floor apartment door which opens directly to the outside—no need to traverse any pf the stairs or other common areas in my building!

Glasses foggy, I doff my parka, hat, scarves, and pants, wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water, and carefully remove my N95 mask, gingerly setting it aside on a corner of my kitchen table. I take a small bottle of Purell out of my pocket and set it next to my wallet, keys, and iPhone. Finally, I collapse on the sofa, exhausted by a simple grocery trip made difficult by the bitter cold and a novel coronavirus.

I do not plan on leaving the house again today, and I am reconsidering a planned second grocery-shopping trip to Walmart tomorrow, for the remainder of my pandemic supplies. Perhaps I can live on sandwiches and canned soup for a few days, at least until it gets warmer? I check the Environment Canada weather forecast for the rest of the week, and see that we are going to be at a (relatively) balmy -23°C (-9°F) by Thursday! Hooray!! I think I can hold out for three or four days…I have lots of Kraft Dinner in my cupboards, and I just stocked up on margarine and milk.

It is now 9:00 a.m., and it is time to brew a small vat of black coffee (something I also stocked up on!), and face the rest of my day.

Pandemic Diary, February 6th, 2021: I Need a Miracle

When my best friend John called me at 12:45 p.m., my iPhone announced his FaceTime call. I groaned, rolled over, and pulled the covers over my head. The winter cold and the pandemic lockdown combined have tipped me over into full-blown hibernation mode, and made me a grumpy, sleepy gay bear.

It is currently -27°C (-16°F) up here in Winnipeg, and with a strong north-west wind, it feels like -44°C (-47°F) with the wind chill. These are the kinds of things that you do not learn from the glossy Travel Manitoba brochures, people.

Even worse, we are expecting a full week of bone-chilling temperatures:

I have learned (and written previously about) how my subconscious sends me messages through song lyrics. At that precise moment when I become aware that I have a particular song running through my head, the lyrics usually have some sort of meaning—something that I’m not consciously thinking about, but which my subconscious is trying to tell me.

Well, on Friday morning, I woke up to this song running through my head:

In other words, my subconscious is telling me: I need a miracle. Or something akin to a miracle, to get me out of this weeks-long period of acedia, depression, and despair, triggered by these unprecedented circumstances. I am having serious trouble getting out of bed and facing the day, and I am having serious trouble feeling motivated to get any work done, both around my house and at work (which, of course, is also “around my house”, as I have been working from home since March 16th, 2020).

I know that a great many other people are struggling, and I also know that I am luckier than most. But honestly, the combination of a bitterly cold patch of Winnipeg winter, combined with the continued province-wide pandemic lockdown (which has been in place since early November), leaves me struggling to cope at times.

Finally out of bed, and low on staples like bread, I decide to bundle up in my down-filled winter parka, don an N95 mask, and head out to warm up the car. My local McDonalds has been closed to in-store dining for three months, but the drive-through is still busy, and I place my order for a burger, fries, and a diet Coke (lunch) and a box of six muffins (breakfast tomorrow, I tell myself, although they will likely all be gone by midnight).

I carefully remove my mask, scrub my hands liberally with hand sanitizer (just in case), and dine in my car, engine running to keep the heat going full blast, in the McDonalds parking lot. This time, when John calls, I pick up, and we chat via FaceTime about how our respective weeks have gone. My day has finally begun, albeit a bit later than usual! And so it goes…I drive home, brew a large pot of coffee, put I Need a Miracle on auto-repeat and crank it, and face whatever challenges come my way.

I hope that you are all taking good care of yourselves and each other in these unprecedented times. Stay strong, say safe, and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, February 2nd, 2021: Groundhog Day, Murder, RuPaul, and Yearly Beloved

Today is officially Day 324 since I first began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system, and frankly, I think I am starting to lose it.

I am finding it hard to get out of bed, hard to get moving, and hard to get any productive work done (despite looming deadlines). And I am feeling inordinately cranky, tired, and just absolutely, positively FED. UP. with dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and all of its consequences, both anticipated and unexpected.

My mental health has been taking a dreadful beating over these past few weeks in lockdown, and I am ready to scream myself hoarse and shake my puny fist at the universe. And YES, I most certainly will use this blog as my soapbox, to vent my frustration! (Better than keeping it bottled up inside…and we’ll return to my regular reporting on social VR and virtual worlds with the next blogpost, I promise! Thanks.)

An article in today’s National Post newspaper sums it up quite nicely:

Nearly three decades after its premiere, the 1993 movie Groundhog Day has reached a new level of relevance under COVID-19. The world’s locked-down, working-from-home millions often report that they feel trapped in the movie’s plotline of an unending, inescapable time loop. “It does have this feeling like we’ve done this before. We’ve been here before. There’s nothing new on the horizon,” psychologist Steve Joordens told the Canadian Press last week.

Now, I must confess that I have never actually watched the movie Groundhog Day from beginning to end (not being a particular fan of Bill Murray, either the actor or the man). Perhaps it’s time to add it to my Netflix viewing queue. What I have been watching in the evenings are two long-running murder mystery television series, one Canadian and one British.

Murdoch Mysteries (CBC website, Wikipedia) is a popular, long-running CBC TV drama set in Toronto during the late 1890s and early 1900s, which has just been renewed for its 14th season in 2021. I have access to the first 13 seasons on Netflix, and I am currently binge-watching season 7.

The lead investigator, William Murdoch, has a scientific bent, and often finds ways to incorporate newfangled inventions and technologies (e.g. X-rays) into his sleuthing, assisted by the highly capable coroner Dr. Julia Odgen, who is William’s off-again, on-again love interest throughout the series. (I peeked ahead, and yes, William and Julia do finally land up together…at least, by the end of season 13! We’ll see what happens during season 14…)

The other murder mystery series that is currently keeping me somewhat sane and entertained in lockdown is the venerable Midsomer Murders (ITV website, Wikipedia), which started in 1997 and is is now the U.K.’s longest-running contemporary detective drama at 22 seasons long! (Mind you, British TV seasons tend to be much shorter than North American ones.) I am currently watching season 8 on Amazon Prime Video.

Now, I do find some of the murders and their resolutions, in some of the episodes of Midsomer Murders, to be a bit contrived, but I quite enjoy the characters, especially the lead investigator, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (played by the wonderful John Nettles), as he sorts out the suspicious deaths which take place in the many small countryside villages located in the fictional English county of Midsomer. Also, I am a big fan of picturesque English villages and cozy village murder mysteries! I treat every episode like a mini-vacation in England.

And, of course, I am also greedily consuming every. single. crumb. from season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race—I even watch Untucked! to get more of the behind-the-scenes drama! I’m also watching season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K., which has seen some jaw-dropping eliminations of drag queens every week. I quite regularly pop into in the subReddits for both shows, chatting and kiki-ing with other fans, who discuss all the twists and turns in these reality TV shows. (I catch both these shows through a streaming subscription to OUTtvGo, Canada’s LGBTQ television network, easily the best CA$39.99 a year I have ever spent!)

I am just completely fed up with living under a code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown, so I was more than ready to enjoy a brand-new comedy special I watched this evening on Amazon Prime Video, which left me with a great big grin on my face, called Yearly Departed, in which a succession of female comedians give eulogies to various things we lost in 2020: rich girl Instagram influencers, pants, casual sex…

If you are as fed up as I am, you might find Yearly Departed to be just the tonic you need to help you grieve and process your pandemic-induced losses! Be sure to watch until the end for a special surprise guest, plus a mini making-of coda! Highly recommended viewing.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary: January 26th, 2021

A year ago, on this very blog, I wrote the following:

Sorry, guys, but I am going to be continuing to post about the Wuhan coronavirus situation on this blog. Given my background as a flu prepper, and despite my attempts to inject some laughter into previous potential pandemics, everything I have seen and read so far indicates that this is situation which requires all hands on deck.

Given that this blog gets between 600 and 6,000 views per day, I am hoping that I can use my little soapbox to help bring other people up-to-speed as to what is happening out there in the real world. Yes, we in virtual worlds do tend sometimes to use them to escape aspects of reality that we would rather not have to deal with. I am certainly guilty of this myself, and I suspect some of you, my readers, are as well.

But as a librarian who works at a university science library, I owe it to you to make sure that you are connected to the best, most up-to-date sources of information to make the best decisions. So here goes. Expect a new blogpost with updated information and links every day.

Well, as it turns out, we did, indeed, have a global pandemic on our doorstep. Now, I did not write “a new blogpost with updated information and links every day”, but I did keep up-to-date on the rapidly-evolving situation, and I wrote many blogposts warning people about the danger, and urging them to prepare for it, starting with that very first blogpost on January 25th, 2020, and throughout the next several months.

Here we are, one year later, and I must confess that I am struggling. As I have often written before, anticipating and preparing for a public health emergency is one thing; actually living through it is another. I am feeling emotionally battered, and quite worn down, on Day 317 since I began working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. I wonder how much more of this I can take.

I find that I have to keep reminding myself that these are unprecedented times, that it is okay not to feel okay. Some days I am sorely tempted to take sick time off work, pull the bedcovers over my head, and stay there—but then I tell myself that I would be struggling even more than I am now, if I were to become unmoored from my job as a professional academic librarian. So I force myself to stay the course, and I try to do the best I can every day, even though I know it is not my very best work.

And I find myself clinging to the other avatars I encounter in the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds I write about on this blog, talking their ears off in my fervent desire to have some sort—any sort—of social interaction. I have become a Chatty Cathy! (Not that I wasn’t before, mind you. But I do find myself talking with strangers I meet up with, in my peripatetic metaverse travels, much more frequently than I used to.)

Today has been a difficult day, but I will get through this, in one piece. Whatever it takes, I will do. You are my witness, and you have my word. I will survive!