Pandemic Diary, October 11th, 2020: Things Are Starting to Go Sideways

I know, I said that I would stop blogging until November 1st, but I really need to vent.

I called my mother, who is now in her eighties, on Friday to tell her that I would not be able to come this see her and her husband this long weekend (Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving; we have ours a month earlier than the Americans because by late November, Canada is pretty much already covered in snow). “Things are starting to go sideways” she said. I agreed.

I have driven across the city of Winnipeg to their life lease seniors complex every few weeks, to chat with them face-to-face while practicing rigorous social distancing. They have an enclosed balcony on the main floor, by which they let me in (so I do not have to traverse the common areas in the building) and I sit in their balcony while they sit in the living room, and we talk.

I have not joined them for one of Mom’s homecooked dinners since this coronavirus pandemic started. And a normal Thanksgiving dinner is out of the question.

As you can see, things are starting to go sideways here in Manitoba:

While my province was spared the worst of the first wave of COVID-19, we will not be spared in this second wave of cases. Yesterday, we hit an all-time record of 97 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, and 1,049 active cases, with a 3% test positivity rate:

The vast majority of new cases over the past few weeks has been in my city of Winnipeg.* So, instead of spending a convivial Thanksgiving dinner with my mother and stepfather, I am stuck working away in isolation in my apartment, suffering from a bad case of acedia which I am trying to push through, and desperate to meet some firm deadlines for a some work projects for my university library system.

My grandparents’ personal care home, Parkview Place in downtown Winnipeg, has reported at least 34 cases of COVID-19 among the residents and staff, with at least 5 seniors dying from the coronavirus. I told my mother that I am grateful that my grandparents both died fifteen years ago, and did not live to see this day. She agreed.

Things are starting to go sideways, and I am angry, anxious, depressed, and afraid.

And yes, I had said that I wouldn’t be blogging until November 1st. You know what? Fuck that. I am going to use this blog to vent my frustration to the world at what is happening to me, and what is happening to all of us. And if that means I have to scrawl a Pandemic Diary blogpost every single fucking day, to get some of that anger, anxiety, depression, and fear out of my system, so that I can focus on my work for the day, then so be it.

*I know, you might think this is absolutely nothing compared to hotspots like Florida, which reported 5,570 new cases today, but we only have 1.3 million people in the entire province, three-quarters of whom live in and near Winnipeg, where COVID-19 cases are surging. Trust me, this is a big deal here, especially after we largely escaped the first wave of COVID-19. And the numbers of SARS-CoV-2 infections are spiking in other provinces, such as Ontario next door, where they have imposed new restrictions in three areas. The U.S. states immediately south of Manitoba, North Dakota and South Dakota, have also seen a huge spike in cases. Thank God there’s a closed international border between that particular clusterfuck and us here.

Pandemic Diary: September 12th, 2020

It is now Day 181 since I started working in isolation from home for my university library system.

One hundred and eighty-one days since I last worked in my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries (although I have popped in once or twice to use the printer and pick up a few reports). One hundred and eighty-one days since I have set foot in a retail establishment of any kind (I order my groceries online at Walmart, and have them load everything into the back of my car, and I get my prescriptions delivered). One hundred and eight-one days since I ate a meal inside a restaurant (although I have dined outside on a restaurant patio five or six times this summer, something I soon will be unable to do with autumn fast approaching).

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I apologize for the lack of blogposts this week; I just haven’t felt much like writing “news and view about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse” lately.

Yesterday, game designer Jennifer Scheurle tweeted something that I could utterly relate to, as I near the six-month mark of working from home, lacking in external stimulation and close human contact:

She wrote:

Does anybody else feel like the quarantine has influenced their creative prowess negatively? I feel like my creative energy is at an all-time low with so little external stimuli, rarely going outside, seeing people…. It’s making me feel very sad.

Turns out for me, having time is not the main aspect of making creative things happen. If I have time but no external stimuli, travel, good conversations, food, etc… my creative energy takes a HUGE nosedive. Who knew.

In the office, I love doing brainstorming sessions with colleagues, lock ourselves in a room, whiteboard scribble things out, go for lunch to think and so on. I feel like all my creative strategies have lost all meaning.

Her tweet went viral, and was liked by almost 800 other people, dozens of whom commented that they, too, were struggling to find their creativity, zest, and joy in their work. I responded:

I can completely relate to this, and to many of the comments people have made here. The lack of external stimulation has pitched me into full-blown hibernation mode, and I am struggling just to keep my head above water at work, at a time when I have hard deadlines to meet.

And it’s true: I am struggling. I admit it. All of my energy is going towards work, and my productivity and creativity have been significantly impaired. I find myself sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours at a stretch, and I often feel exhausted, fighting to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I have gotten up, set the alarm to sleep another two hours, and gone back to bed, unable to face the challenges of the day without a little extra sleep. I am like a grumpy (gay) bear in hibernation mode.

I got myself a subscription to CalmRadio.com, and I find myself listening to soothing music all day, every day. And I keep working away, a vat of black coffee on constant standby. I was hoping that the official start of the academic year this week would help to kick-start my energy and motivation, but I still find myself pushing myself to get things done.

I don’t kid myself; I know that this is the “new normal”, and that things will likely stay this way for at least another six to twelve months, probably well into 2021. Even if good vaccines are found among the first batch that are currently being tested, it will take a long time to manufacture and deliver sufficient quantities to bring society back to some semblance of normality. Canada has already signed major deals with four vaccine producers, and I read in the news that they are close to signing other deals. The pandemic is going to make some people very, very rich and, as usual, the poor (and those without universal healthcare or health insurance) will be screwed.

This week, bowing to public pressure, the provincial health authorities have started breaking down COVID-19 cases by Winnipeg city neighbourhoods:

While the overall numbers are still low compared to many areas in the United States, we have still seen a recent surge in daily cases in Manitoba:

I vacillate between wanting to stay informed on the latest progress in the fight against COVID-19, glued to my newsfeed, and getting so disgusted and demoralized by how some thoughtless, selfish, ignorant people are responding to the crisis that I avoid the news media for days at a stretch. I still don’t have a TV set, but I am spending a lot of time binge watching various Netflix shows on my iPad.

My Valve Index is still on back order, and I don’t expect I will receive my shipment of a complete kit until November at the earliest. I am toying with the idea of throwing out the worn, old sofa in my living room, and completely rearranging the space to set up (for the first time ever) a full-room space devoted to virtual reality. We’ll see.

Stay healthy and stay sane! I will continue to keep you posted on how things are going with me.

Pandemic Diary: August 26th, 2020

My subconscious is starting to rebel against social distancing in new and creative ways.

This morning (on day 164 of working from home in self-imposed isolation due to the pandemic), I dreamed that I was participating in a full-blown, pansexual orgy. (No, you are not getting all the juicy details. But it did take place in a glass-walled house.)

Sebastiano Ricci – Bacchanal in Honour of Pan (circa 1716; source)

I will be honest; I am finding it very hard to stay motivated working from home, even though I have lots of work projects to keep me busy. All the days and times of day—weekdays and weekends; morning, afternoon, evening and night—tend to blur together. I find myself responding to work emails on Sunday morning, and working on PowerPoint slides late into the evening. I don’t seem to have any boundaries between work and non-work life anymore, a common complaint of those of us who find ourselves working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The news here in Manitoba has been not so great, with the number of COVID-19 cases increasing, rising infections in some Hutterite communities, and a serious outbreak in the western Manitoba city of Brandon, leading to new social gathering restrictions being imposed:

I feel a general sense of unease about the current pandemic situation and our response to it. To give you an idea of how little I am leaving my apartment during the pandemic, I filled up my gas tank on March 15th, 2020, and I still have a quarter tank of gas five months later. I have been making an effort to get outside during our all-too-short Canadian summer, though, just to get some external stimulation and some exercise. I need to do more.

I still haven’t decided what to do about my hair, so I am letting it grow out. I am toying with the idea of just growing it long and rocking a ponytail, something I have never done before in my life. Either that, or just shave it all off (unfortunately, I have a distinctly pear-shaped head, and I look horrible in a brush cut).

I am continuing to lose weight; my clothes fit looser, and I am now wearing a belt that I haven’t been able to wear for well over a year. I chalk it up to not eating out at restaurants (not even drive-through or take-out), cooking all my own meals and shopping for all my groceries online via Wal-Mart. I haven’t set foot in a grocery store since March 15th, where I could be tempted by store displays and sales, and I refuse to buy junk food when I am shopping online: no chocolate, no ice cream, no potato chips, no white cheddar popcorn (the crack cocaine of junk food). If I feel hungry before I go to bed, I heat up a can of soup or make some Kraft Dinner.

I have been bingewatching Netflix on my iPad since my TV set died. My taste lately veers towards sci-fi, dystopian and pre/post-apocalyptic fare to match my mood: the televison series The Umbrella Academy, Lucifer, Snowpiercer, Hard Sun, Dark, The Rain, 3%, and movies like The 5th Wave, Io: Last on Earth, How It Ends, 3022, and Only (which depressed the hell out me). I don’t watch the TV series in order; I skip forwards and backwards, and even watch episodes out of order (I did that a lot for Dark to figure out what the hell was going on).

And I have been camping for Lindens in Second Life. Yes, I know a couple of secret spots; no, I am not telling you where they are (most of them I have discovered by randomly searching for keywords under Places in Search, when I was bored). But I did share one tip with you previously, which I will mention again:

I took my alt…over to Escort Oasis, plunked her down on one of the animated burlesque dancer chairs, signed into the tip jar, and let her dance among all the other working girls.

By the way, if you ever do have an avatar short of Linden dollars, this is one of the better spots in Second Life to park yourself on an animated chair, platform, or dance pole, dance your little heart out for a few hours or a half day or so, and take a chance on winning a small mount of Linden dollars (L$2 to L$9) if you are randomly selected when the sploder gives away cash every fifteen minutes.

Of course, it’s an inducement to increase traffic to the Escort Oasis sim, but it is very effective. As long as you don’t have any moral qualms about hanging out in an Adult-rated sim which is meant to be a place where virtual johns meet virtual hookers, why not dress up, go dancing, and maybe earn a few Linden dollars to spend on more fabulous dollarbies and other bargains and deals in SL?

Since I wrote that, Jenwen Walpole, the owner of Escort Oasis, has bumped up the sploder to award between L$5 and L$20 randomly to someone dancing on one of the chairs, stools, platforms, and stripper poles, every fifteen minutes, 24/7/365.

I must confess that at times I have been so bored in the late evening, that I have plopped 5 or 6 anonymous male, female, and transgender alts into Escort Oasis, just to win a few Linden dollars. You do have to check the sessions every 10-15 minutes to answer the anti-camping bot correctly in order to stay perched on your furniture, however (see image above).

You can throw on a nice outfit, dance your little heart out, listen to the music stream (sometimes they have a live DJ), and chat with the working girls or the customers (I have found that a bit of witty banter can sometimes lead to a nice tip). Of course, you do NOT have to escort, despite the name of the sim. Remember, “no” is a very appropriate response to anyone who actually tries to hit you up for pixelsex 😉

Oh, and I forgot to mention: every so often Jenwen will start a round of 30 trivia questions. Be the first to type in the correct answer, and you win L$5 per correct answer!

So if you are flat broke in SL, to the point where you can’t even buy Lindens on your credit card, you might want to consider this as an option, provided that you only need a small amount of Linden dollars. (You ain’t gonna earn that pricey Catwa head you’ve been eyeing this way, honey. Now, watch as the Escort Oasis get inundated with new avatars, like so many other spots with an active sploder. I should have kept my big mouth shut.)

I don’t even know why I am hanging out in Second Life anyway; some days it feels like only a slightly more engaging alternative to playing Solitaire on my computer. I feel brain-dead, like my neurons have been replaced with cotton wool. I just haven’t felt much like putting on my Oculus Rift VR headset to use any social VR apps, and I still can’t use my Oculus Quest because the empty space I had cleared for it in my bedroom is now piled high with pandemic preps like rice, canned soup, and toilet paper.

And frankly, I’m still feeling supremely pissed off at Facebook. My online order of a Valve Index has been confirmed by email, but manufacture and shipping delays due to the coronavirus pandemic mean that I will be waiting at least right weeks or longer to receive it.

I have heard through the grapevine of many other people who are so angry at Facebook that they are also jumping ship, planning to sell or give away their Oculus devices to protest Facebook’s announcement that, henceforth, they will have to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use them. (One wag on Reddit commented, “This is an odd advertisement for Valve Index.”)

Oh, and by the way, Oculus is now officially known as “Facebook Reality Labs”.

(No, the eye is not part of the new logo, but it may as well be there;
this modified image was posted to Twitter by LokiEliot)

I am reminded of the ancient Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times”. 2020 has been such a perverse, dumpster-fire year, and it looks like we are going to have an…interesting fall and winter.

Stay safe and healthy, we’ll see you in September!

Editorial: Welcome to the New Normal

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but things have been happening so fast that it’s making my head spin.

Today, both the provinces of Alberta and Quebec announced the essential shut down of all their post-secondary educational institutions, with a wholesale move away from in-person classes and exams to online equivalents. Originally, my employer, the University of Manitoba, was going to try and keep classrooms open to students, but late this afternoon the university president sent out an email:

Yesterday I communicated our commitment to taking measures to protect the health and safety of our campuses and our wider community. Our top priority is doing our part to help contain the transmission of COVID-19.

In that same spirit, today I am announcing that there will be no classes on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17. The University campuses will remain open on those days, but there will no classes.

This two-day pause allows the University to prepare to move classes to alternative modes of instruction.

To be clear, as of Wednesday, March 18 there will NO IN-PERSON CLASSES, with rare exceptions that will be communicated directly to those affected. All in-person undergraduate and research-stream Master’s and Doctoral instruction will end March 13. Instruction will be provided by other means that may include existing online platforms. This will continue through the end of the term on April 7.

Our staff are working hard to keep as much of the University operational as possible. The University remains open and we are continuing to provide students with as many essential services as possible under the circumstances. Please keep referring to umanitoba.ca for information and updates.

Among those essential services are the university libraries, which will try to remain in operation as long as possible.

Effective Monday, March 16th, I (along with other Libraries staff who are at a higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19 if they become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) will be working from home.

I am so truly grateful that my employer has given me the option to stay home. My stress levels have just been going through the roof, and this week I was rapidly heading off into loose-cannon territory, with both my anxiety and depression spiraling out of control. I was on the verge of getting a sick note from my psychiatrist, and taking sick time.

Hopefully, now that I know I can essentially barricade myself in my apartment, surrounded with all my pandemic preps, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and try to relax and heal a bit.

My heart goes out to all my coworkers whom I am leaving behind, who are going to try and cover as best they can, and keep the libraries open for as long as they can. Today we were all busy shutting down every second workstation and study carrel in our libraries, putting up signs and removing chairs in order to enforce social distancing. (No sitting next to each other anymore!) We’ve also shut down several “high-touch” automated services, such as our 24/7 reserve kiosks and our iPad-based self-checkout terminals. We’re going back to the old ways of doing things!

In addition, the province of Manitoba has now followed Ontario and many other jurisdictions in announcing that, effective Monday March 23rd, all K-12 schools in Manitoba will be closed for 3 weeks as a proactive measure. This will obviously pull even more University of Manitoba Libraries workers away from their jobs as they are forced to stay home and care for their children.

We are in unprecedented times, and venturing into uncharted territory. Like I said, everything is happening so fast that it makes me dizzy. I’m sure most of you are feeling the same way.