Pandemic Diary, October 13th, 2020: Binge Watching the Zombie Apocalypse

Today is officially Day 212 of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. I am having a very bad day today, having slept poorly last night, after a Thanksgiving long weekend where I did not nearly get as much work done as I had hoped.

I rarely leave my apartment, and I am suffering from a bad case of acedia: listlessness, distraction, a lack of motivation, and wanting to avoid the task at hand. The only problem is, I have firm deadlines on several work projects which I must meet before the end of the month, so I keep pushing forward anyway.

My primary form of entertainment consists of binge-watching TV shows and movies on Netflix, mostly on my iPad while lying on the sofa or sitting at the kitchen table, and sometimes on the desktop monitor of my personal computer. (In addition to Netfix, I also have relatively inexpensive streaming subscriptions to both OUTtvGo and WOW Presents Plus for their LGBTQ fare. Sometimes I think RuPaul’s Drag Race and its spinoffs are the only thing that is keeping me sane during this pandemic.)

My tastes have recently veered towards the zombie apocalypse, a category of entertainment I would never have touched with a twenty-foot barge pole before the pandemic. I am amazed at just how much zombie content Netflix has!

The blacker my mood, the more I want to watch something bleak and gory, with a high body count. I rarely watch them from beginning to end. Depending on how I feel, I might skip ahead to avoid the more suspenseful or grislier sections, or even skip right to the end of the movie (or, for a zombie TV show, watch the pilot, then watch the final episode to see if it’s actually worth watching all the ones in between or not). There are no rules on how to watch the zombie apocalypse!

Here are three of my recommendations, all recent releases:

Black Summer on Netflix

Black Summer is a grim TV series, set in an unnamed American city five to six weeks after the start of a zombie apocalypse. A group of survivors tries to make their way to a downtown stadium, where a woman hopes to be reunited with her daughter, whom she was separated from during a chaotic military evacuation.

As terrifying as a zombie attack might be, what some of the survivors are doing to each other during the resulting breakdown of society is even more horrifying. I admire the way the creator makes us care about the characters, developing each of them in some detail—even the ones who are unexpectedly and brutally killed off before the end of the season. (2019 TV series, one season, Netflix)

To The Lake, a Russian show in Netflix

To The Lake throws together a disparate, fractious group of survivors, who are trying to escape Moscow and its suburbs to reach a remote northern lake in the middle of a Russian winter, during a terrifying, rapidly-spreading epidemic. Although the infected are never referred to as zombies, this is essentially a zombie apocalypse.

The character development in To The Lake is skillfully done, with good use of pre-epidemic flashbacks. As they travel north over many days, meeting and overcoming obstacles and dangers and encountering both unexpected friends and dangerous foes, we come to care for these people as they fight to reach their destination. Once again, not everybody makes it to the end of the first season. (2020 TV series, one season, Netflix)

Cargo: a Zombie movie set in the Australian Outback

Cargo is a zombie apocalypse movie set in the Australian Outback, where a man searches desperately for someone who will care for his infant daughter before he succumbs to his infection within 48 hours and becomes a zombie himself.

This movie is about as different from your standard zombie movie as you could get, both in its setting and its characters, which include several Aborigines. Yes, there is violence, but there are also heart-warming and even downright whimsical scenes. You will be cheering by the end of this one! (2018 movie, Netflix)

So, that’s all from me for today. Stay healthy and stay sane!

P.S. Yes, things are still going sideways here in Manitoba. A record 124 new cases of COVID-19 were reported today, 95 of them in the Winnipeg area. As of today, we are second only behind Quebec for the highest number of active cases per 100,000 people:

Active COVID-19 Cases Per 100,000 People by Province and Territory (Source: CBC)

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: October 4th, 2020

I have been spending this weekend working on various projects for my full-time paying job as an academic librarian for my university library system, and doing the dishes and the laundry in my apartment (I have a kitchen counter piled high with unwashed dishes, even though I have a dishwasher). I barely leave the apartment, usually only to throw out the trash and to go for brief walks in the sunshine to top up my Vitamin D.

To give you an idea of how infrequently I have been leaving my apartment, I filled up the gas tank on my car on March 15th, 2020—and it lasted me a whole six and half months! I have been taking out my car, on average, less than once per week. I never even took off the winter tires this year!

In my off hours, I have been binge-watching various TV shows and movies on Netflix and on Apple TV+ (I got a free one-year subscription to the latter when I purchased my iPhone 7 last year).

I just finished watching season one of For All Mankind, an alternate-history TV series on Apple TV+ that examines what would have happened to the space race if the Russians had been first to set foot on the moon, instead of Neil Armstrong. It’s the little details, like Teddy Kennedy becoming president and pardoning Richard Nixon for Watergate, that make it so enjoyable! (In this alternate timeline, the Chappaquiddick scandal never happened, but Teddy does get himself mired in a later sex scandal with Mary Jo Kopechne while president, putting him at risk of losing to Ronald Reagan in the next election.)

For All Mankind: In this alternative timeline, Richard Nixon responds to the Russians putting the first woman on the moon by recruiting the first class of female astronauts

I have also been busy picking up free store credits in Second Life for my small army of alts (more details here and here). Between Addams, Bumblebee, Scandalize, and Seniha, there are L$1,750 in free store credit or gift cards available, which is a goldmine for us freebie fashionistas in Second Life!

The lag at the Scandalize store is just absolutely horrendous, with transactions timing out constantly, and even occasionally locking my avatar account out of the store credit collection panel until a certain number of days have passed. All this hassle makes me wonder why I even bother with this nonsense in the first place, but Second Life is one of those hobbies that helps keep me sane and distracted during the pandemic, so I persevere.

I picked up this beautiful Azahara ballgown for free, using the recent gifts of free store credit at Scandalize (complete styling details here). You can never have too many ballgowns in Second Life! 😉

And I actually got fooled in Second Life, something which happens rarely to me with my almost 14 years of experience in SL. I have an alt named Artist Scientist and when I teleported into the Seniha store sim to get their store credit, I got this message immediately:

{ Greenies } MoneyGrabber: [Redacted Name] stole 80L$ from Artist Scientist

I check my total balance and it’s at L$1. Even worse, I can’t remember if it was higher than that before I teleported in! The episode led to a rather lively discussion thread on the official Second Life community forums, where the culprit turns out to be a harmless prankster’s attachment for sale on the SL Marketplace.

I would flag it, but it appears to be permissible, since it does not actually steal any money; I lost no Linden dollars. Lesson learned! So now you know, if you should encounter it (and a reminder that you will see something like the following strong warning whenever anybody or anything tries to take money from your account outside of an actual sales transaction (see image, right).

And I have still been actively avoiding all social media (except for a few subReddits to follow coronavirus news and the myriad editions of RuPaul’s Drag Race) and the news media. In fact, I only learned that Donald Trump had contracted COVID-19 from a meme somebody posted to the RuPaul’s Drag Race subReddit community! But so far, my strategy appears to be working overall, and I plan to continue with it.

I have heard through the grapevine of many people who have, like me, decided to quit Facebook to avoid the toxic dumpster fire currently taking place there, where misinformation and conspiracy theories are spreading like wildfire. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Stay sane and stay healthy! May you find hobbies and pastimes to help you cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, much as I have with Second Life and other virtual worlds and social VR platforms and the blog!

Image courtesy of 1920s Berlin landlady Jo Yardley (source)

UPDATE 4:04 p.m.: The following message has been posted to the Scandalize group in Second Life:

Scandalize sim, it will be closed for a while, due to maintenance. We will be back soon.

I’m not surprised; it has just been hammered with avatars trying to get in. I really do think that the more popular SL stores need to rethink how they handle these sorts of events in future. For example, do you really need to be holding a hunt, and putting up several dozen popular lucky boards, at the same time as giving away free store credit? The Scandalize sim is already crowded due to one thing, so why combine three things to make the situation even worse?

Pandemic Diary: September 30th, 2020

Today is officially Day 199 of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system, holding staff meetings in Microsoft Teams and conducting Libraries training sessions via Cisco Webex or Zoom, depending on the professor.

My work email routinely gets spam like the following (yes, we get librarian spam from publishers ALL THE TIME, but the pandemic has added a new wrinkle):

And, no, our university library system will not invest in a STERI-Book machine; our staff just handles all returned items wearing gloves and masks, and let them sit and air out until any potential coronavirus on the surface of the materials dies off, before they are reshelved or recirculate.

(You might be interested to know that REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums (REALM) is a research partnership between OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Battelle research laboratories to create and distribute science-based information and recommended practices designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to staff and visitors who are engaging in the delivery or use of museum, library, and archival services.) 

Our physical collections are still off-limits to faculty, staff, and students (although they can search our online catalogue and request a book be sent to a hold locker for pick-up; most of our collections are online now, anyways), and all of our libraries are still closed. Two libraries have opened up only to provide study space for students, but only solitary studying (with proper social distancing) is allowed. Students cannot book the group study rooms, browse the stacks, or even ask a reference question in person!

All user queries are referred to our online chat reference system, which is staffed by Libraries employees throughout the day, into the evening, and on weekends, to get answers to their questions. I usually work one two-hour shift a week, safely ensconced at home, answering reference questions.

Our university president has already announced that, similar to our current Fall term, the upcoming Winter term (January-April 2021) at my university will be conducted online and remotely, with rare exceptions. What this means is that I will, once again, be working from home, much the same as I do now. I fully expect to reach Day 365 in my work-from-home odyssey! I remain grateful that I have the option to work at home; I know many people who don’t have the opportunity.

Even if we do discover viable COVID-19 vaccine candidates by the end of this year (which seems likely), there still remain the significant logistical hurdles of manufacturing sufficient quantities of any successful vaccine(s), and distributing them.

Additional, there will the fiendishly difficult process of determining policies and procedures for who gets the vaccine first, and who has to wait—which I fully expect will be politicized in some countries, with social-media-driven misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories adding fuel to the fire. Throw in all the anti-vaxxer nonsense that was circulating even before the pandemic, and you’ve got a very disturbing situation. (I read somewhere recently that fully one-third of Americans will not get their children vaccinated for the flu this year, which is a basic, sensible precaution experts are recommending for everybody this year.)

I am very happy—nay, make that ecstatic!—to report that my new strategy of avoiding social media and the news media has been largely successful! For example, I have heard, only in the briefest of brief passing, that there was even a presidential debate taking place, and I remain blessedly ignorant of what happened, and all the resulting social media fallout. (Don’t tell me; I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. I will be staying away from social media and the news media from now until after the U.S. federal election. I’d currently rather be ignorant than mired in anxiety, despair, and depression, triggered by whatever new low Donald Trump has managed to reach, thankyouverymuch kthxbai!)

The only exception to this rule are the Canadian and global coronavirus subReddits, where I can just pop in to get the latest headlines and then leave again, without getting tainted or infected by any other kind of news stories. So I will remain vigilant (as I have since this whole mess started in January) as to the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic. (By the way, there’s also an excellent, science-based COVID-19 subReddit, which I can recommend to help you sift through all the latest scientific research articles.)

I will not lie; I am still struggling. With my underlying health conditions, I am still at a high risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I should become infected. I worry about my brother’s family (all of whom work with the public), and my elderly mother and stepfather. I worry about my best friend John, who is in his sixties and still recovering from prostate cancer surgery.

But tomorrow, on Day 200 of my self-imposed exile in my apartment, I will wake up, and get out of bed. I will shave, shower and get dressed, I will brew a vat of black coffee (a 10-cup pot nowadays instead of 8!), and I will log in to my university email system and Microsoft Teams, ready to face whatever the day brings. I am choosing to focus on my work projects, which I have some degree of control over, and my blog, which I have complete control over, rather than continue to obsess about what is going on in the wider world that I have zero control over.

Stay healthy and stay sane! This will be a marathon.