Pandemic Diary: April 2nd, 2020

Quarantine is the cultural appropriation of depressed people.

—Comment from a recent Reddit post on r/Coronavirus

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.

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Pandemic Diary: April 1st, 2020

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 have tried—Lord knows, I have tried—to limit my news consumption. As I wrote in the COVID-19_support subReddit:

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.

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

And apparently, a lot of people are baking during the pandemic:

As more Canadians work from home and practice self-isolation due to COVID-19, there’s been an increasing interest in turning on the oven and baking.

Baking-related search terms are up on Google, grocery stores have experienced an increase in flour purchases and sugar and flour manufacturers are working overtime to keep up with a spike in demand.

If you are looking for my last-updated list of good, credible, information resources about the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

I leave you with an inspirational video, which was put out by the very talented people at Travel Manitoba (who, obviously, aren’t being called upon to promote much travel at the moment):

Stay home, stay healthy!

Editorial: Somewhere Down the Road (Finding Comfort During a Coronavirus Pandemic)

Vince Gill and Amy Grant on last night’s Opry Livestream

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

Amy Grant, Vince Gill, and their daughters perform to a deserted Grand Old Opry

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.

I have kept my list of mental health resources during the coronavirus pandemic up-to-date as I find new items to share.

Lessons Learned from the Educators in VR Conference

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.

Here’s a link to the entire article on the Educators in VR website, and I would very strongly encourage you to read it in full. However, I will highlight just a couple of things that the Educators in VR group co-founders Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Lorelle VanFossen, and their hard-working team of volunteers, learned along the way.

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.

In fact, the team behind AltspaceVR learned so much from hosting this conference that they just announced a slew of new features, including links to Patreon and EventBrite to allow for ticketed events in future!

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.

Other conference organizers were quick to take note. HTC decided to have its annual Vive Ecosystem Conference in ENGAGE. And both Mozilla Hubs and AltspaceVR were used for the recently concluded IEEE VR 2020 conference, which, for the first time, was held entirely in virtual reality (and opened up for free to the general public) due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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.