Today has been one of those days where, as the day wore on, the more anxious, depressed, and angry at turns that I got. It didn’t help that I swore I would stay off Twitter and Reddit today (I was up till 1:00 a.m. last night reading through my Twitter feed, which at this point is 80% coronavirus-related experts.) You can imagine how well that resolution went.
It didn’t help that this morning I posted a musing to the r/Winnipeg subReddit community, about how the coronavirus pandemic was like a 6-to-18-month blizzard that we all had to get through, all isolated in our homes at the same time, venturing out from time to time in the storm to clear the spaces around our doors, but basically hunkered down at home. Everybody stuck at home, but going through the blizzard together, pulling together and helping each other get through this.
I got a bunch of ignorant comments and I finally yanked my post this evening, angry at the world, and angry at myself for letting some social media trolls get to me. I should know better by now at my age.
And fucking Jared Kushner dispensing pandemic advice at today’s White House press conference shit-show (which of course I heard about through my Twitter feed) just about finished me off. I’m not sure my blood pressure can take any more of this. And we are only at the first million cases of COVID-19; what is the rest of April gonna look like? May? June? July?!??
I am so completely and utterly done with this day. I am popping a couple of Lorazepam with my chamomile tea this evening.
Please, stay home. As I have already said, with my underlying health conditions, if I get COVID-19 I am a sitting duck. Flatten the curve.
April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers. Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade, And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
—T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Actually, here in Winnipeg, we aren’t going to see any lilacs until late May at the earliest. People living in more southerly regions often don’t realize that winter in Winnipeg runs six months of the year, pretty much from the beginning of November until the end of April. In fact, the weather forecasters are telling us to expect 10-20 centimetres (4 to 8 inches) of wet, heavy snow today.
Yesterday I took a sick day from work, even though I am already working from home: I was struggling with depression and needed a mental health day badly. In the morning, I had my biweekly phone call with my psychiatrist, a reassuring, stoic Russian woman who always dispenses good, sensible advice. (As someone who has struggled all his life with chronic clinical depression, I have been extremely lucky to have had good, empathetic psychiatrists throughout. It makes a big difference, as do the antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescription medications I take, although I try very hard not to rely on the latter to deal with my anxieties.)
I have been thinking a lot about the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and I suspect that we are going to see a wave of psychological and psychiatric problems after all this is over (and frankly, even before it is finished). One of the ways I deal with the stress is, of course, writing this blog: to inform, to exhort, to editorialize, and sometimes just to vent. I am still maintaining and updating my list of mental health resources during the pandemic, adding good resources as I encounter them. (I think I am doing this for myself, for future reference, more than for anybody else. I just want to have this information handy when I really do need it.)
I wake up every morning feeling depressed, and I know I should stay away from the newsfeeds and news media, but it is so hard. I plunge into the news and I get depressed, I get outraged at Trump’s latest antics, and it’s not helping me. At the same time, I want to know what is going on.
The COVID-19_support community is one of many that has sprung up online to provide a space for people to talk about their feelings and support each other. I honestly cannot imagine going through all this without the internet. I have an active coronavirus-chat channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where my blog readers from around the world (who normally discuss social VR, virtual worlds, and various aspects of the evolving metaverse) can talk to each other about the pandemic.
I have been struggling to focus on work while working from home, but I have made a commitment to set an alarm, get up every morning, have a shower, get dressed, brew a pot of coffee, and sit in front of my personal computer, to face the day as best I can. A coworker shared this video of how she was feeling about this unprecedented situation, getting up day after day, like in the 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day:
I feel fortunate that I work with such a wonderful group of people at my university library system. We are pulling together during this crisis, and I do feel that I am a valued part of the team. Among other assigned projects, I am serving as a sort of floating back-up to our library’s virtual reference service, Ask Us, helping faculty, staff, and students connect with and navigate the wealth of digital information resources in our libraries. In cases where people need information which is located in a physical, paper book (currently unavailable since our physical library collections were locked down with our university’s shutdown), we are making arrangements to purchase (or, more accurately, lease) access to electronic editions of those books when possible.
At home, I am slowly working my way through all the pandemic food supplies I had stocked up on: pasta, potatoes, rice, cheese, yogurt, bags of mandarin oranges, canned stews and soups. I have stepped outside my apartment exactly twice since I began working from home on March 16th, and I have run out of bread and almost out of milk. However, I have three large bags of instant skim milk powder, I have discovered that I like the taste of powdered milk, and can live with that as a backup. No need to go grocery shopping, yet! I plan to hold off as long as possible, and perhaps turn to online grocery delivery as an alternative to going outside.
And I have started baking. One of the 10-kilogram bags of flour I had stocked up on several years ago developed a rip in the bag, and went bad, but the other bag is just fine, and I have been teaching myself how to make basic biscuits. I am starting to get good at it! My ambitious plan is to eventually work my way up to baking my own bread.
I grew up listening to Amy Grant. I owned all of her vinyl albums in those halcyon, pre-compact-disc days, and my church youth group would always head out to see her perform whenever she came to Winnipeg. Even though I now consider myself an atheist, I still turn to her music for comfort in times of stress and anxiety, depression and despair. Her soothing alto voice in well-known songs is still a respite, an oasis, a retreat. Despite my change in circumstances, I am still an unabashed fan.
Many LGBTQ people, like myself, have complicated, convoluted, and contentious personal histories with organized religion. For example, I met my wife through that same Lutheran church youth group and, like the two well-raised Transcona Lutherans we were, we followed the dictates and strictures of our church and got married (I was 24 and a virgin). After a painful short marriage, and our separation and divorce, we both came out of the closet. (The dress my ex-wife wore for our official engagement photo was later donated to a Toronto drag queen.)
Last night, in an empty Grand Old Opry, Vince Gill and Amy Grant and their daughters put on a livestreamed performance (which you can watch here, the show starts at the 30:00 mark).
And I must admit I got chills down my spine when Amy sang her song Somewhere Down the Road, to which I know all the words by heart:
So much pain and no good reason why You’ve cried until the tears run dry And nothing here can make you understand The one thing that you held so dear Is slipping from your hands And you say
Why, why, why Does it go this way Why, why, why And all I can say is
Somewhere down the road There’ll be answers to the questions Somewhere down the road Though we cannot see it now Somewhere down the road You will find mighty arms reaching for you And they will hold the answers at the end of the road
I hope that you also find some comfort in these difficult days, wherever that might be. Reach out to your friends and family, via FaceTime or Discord or Skype, to support each other. March has been a hard month, and April is going to be even harder.
Lorelle VanFossen, one of the organizers of the wildly successful six-day Educators in VR 2020 International Summit, recently wrote up a very detailed blogpost outlining the experience of setting up and running a virtual conference on AltspaceVR and four other social VR platforms.
Their original plan was only to have 40 to 60 speakers, but that ballooned to 170 speakers in over 150 events spread over 6 days (happening at time zones around the clock for a global audience). Because everybody volunteered their time and energy for this free-to-attend event, the total costs for the entire six-day virtual conference were only around US$300! (Try doing that for a real-world conference!)
Most of the events were held in AltspaceVR:
As our home-base is currently AltspaceVR, we worked with our Educators in VR team and the AltspaceVR events team to ensure our event spaces would be safe and high performance to accommodate a variety of devices. While other virtual social and event platforms are usually limited to 20-50 attendees, AltspaceVR could be easily coaxed to larger room numbers and features the Front Row tool that allows for the mirroring of events spaces, allowing hundreds to thousands of attendees to view the experience from separate identical event spaces, improving overall user and device performance. Accordingly, we hosted the majority of our events in AltspaceVR.
I’m sure that many new users were introduced to AltspaceVR because of the Educators in VR conference, and both parties benefited from the partnership! The summit also gave ENGAGE, Rumii, Somnium Space, and Mozilla Hubs an opportunity to show off their platforms to those who never experienced them before, too.
Hearty congratulations to Lorelle and Daniel, and a special shout-out to Donna McTaggart, the tireless Summit Coordinator and Manager, and her team of 75 volunteers!
I leave you with a one-and-a-half hour YouTube video where the organizers share what they learned behind the scenes, a must watch!
Lorelle ends her article by saying that they are now taking what they have learned from running the Educators in VR Summit and making that expertise available to others as consultants:
We’re developing training courses to help you produce your own virtual events of all sizes. The Educators in VR team is already providing consultation services to companies exploring virtual meetings and conferences, and negotiating production of virtual conferences and workshops for a variety of companies globally. We planned on taking our time, but with the demand for alternatives due to the COVID-19/coronavirus, we’re stepping up and into this as part of our range of services for working with business and academia to integrate virtual technologies.
If we can assist you, please contact us for more information.