Map: Wildfire near Portland Oregon

Nine days ago my neighbors and I stood out on the sidewalk peering up at the sun gone an eerie red. A massive dark ominous cloud devoid of rain seethed an angry yellowish red just to our south. We felt like extras in a Poltergeist movie, and it was descending on us fast.

Within a day the air thickened and became so unbreathable we had to duct tape around our doors to keep the acrid smell from leeching in. The small mountain across the highway out front slowly disappeared into a reddish-gray haze, then all color disappeared as the cloud of smoke shrouded the sun completely.

We were already wearing masks in stores due to the pandemic. Now we had to wear them to put out the trash or to talk with our neighbors, the air was burning our lungs. One of us commented, “all we need now is a volcano erupting”. I nodded my head at this. The world seemed an unfriendly place to live all of a sudden.

Living with a view of purgatory was only the beginning, as local news tallied homes burning and lost just to our south, barely a dozen miles away. Soon our cell phones all bleeped at once: we were on Evacuation Alert, Level 1 (“Get ready”). Online, we could see the Level Two evacuation area (“Get set”) was perhaps ten blocks away, and Level Three (“Go!”) barely a block behind that.

Already suffering through a pandemic, our trust with strangers at a premium, where people can no longer visibly smile at each other, jobs are gone, or we’ve dropped out of the workforce for being in a sensitive health demographic; and now this: We must choose what we can’t afford to leave behind. And hurry.

As a minimalist, I’ve grown less dependent on physical things as much as possible. But without an income for several months, the things we have suddenly become more valuable since they cannot easily be replaced. A bed, a computer, a set of plates, clothes. Suddenly we are asked to prioritize what will fit in a compact car before we drive from the encroaching flames. And if you have a family, or a couple of fur-children like I do, most of that space will probably be taken up by them.

Staring at the alert on my phone, I suddenly felt what it must be like for people living with war, or refugees running from their own country. Their homes gone or occupied. Everything they owned lost, except for what is on their backs. The smoke thick between my place and my neighbor’s only helped to paint this picture. Life seemed so tenuous and frail for that moment. I knew I was only getting a tiny glimpse of such an awful life. I felt almost thankful later to be able to appreciate their plight, if only a little.

Last night thunder and lightning hammered and flashed across the sky like a war approaching. But instead of a barrage of shells, a roaring rain pounded down. It was three in the morning and I was watching it from the living room window, tempted to run out there and cheer it on. I imagined tired smoke jumpers doing just that.

Later that morning, as a normal-colored sun lit the floor, I opened my window for the first time in nine days and let fresh air pour in, thankful that the world was feeling merciful this time.

Although the feeling of life’s frailty has stuck with me, I have to admit we had it easy. We get to sleep in our own beds in our own homes, unlike many to our south who have lost theirs and whatever they had to leave behind. I am sad for them–for anyone in the world who has lost a home. That has to suck so badly.

It’s a funny time, when gratefulness meets guilt, to have survived unscathed.

Be safe out there. I wish you all the best.

You’ve probably heard enough about pandemic stuff to make your brains leak out of your ears. I’m with you. Whenever my well-meaning neighbor gets on the subject, I can feel imminent cerebral leakage occurring. Please don’t think that I’m not concerned–I have no intention of making little the pain this is causing too many people–but we have to push on. We need to help each other to stay positive, get through it, perhaps even thrive!

In that vein, I would like to offer a little comfort to those of us who are “sheltering in place” to prevent it from getting worse.

The Problem

For those of us stuck indoors without our jobs, afraid to go out and get breathed on, there are many ready distractions to keep us from thinking about the outside world or our own growing cabin fever. These include:

  • Watching too much CNN or other news channels, where horror is the name of the game, because they believe good news won’t keep you watching
  • Bingeing Netflix and cable streams to keep your brain from thinking anything at all for long spells at a time
  • Gaming and other virtual realities (my favorite is Second Life) where we can mentally escape this planet altogether

Distracting ourselves in these ways isn’t a bad way to keep the troubles of the world from overwhelming us (well, except for the first one), but from personal experience it’s not a very fulfilling life at the end of the day. Is it?

A Solution

Here’s a question you might not have asked yourself lately, with all this other stuff going on:

Do (or did) you have a dream?

Something you’ve always wanted to accomplish with your life, but never seemed to have the time, because you were too busy trying to make ends meet. While you’re thinking fondly on that, here’s another question:

Wouldn’t this be a great time to pursue that dream?

Thanks to the Internet and all kinds of tools, schools, and pools of people online looking for collaborators to do the same thing, perhaps this is the time to:

  • Retool, to make yourself better, faster, stronger
  • Refocus on what you really want to do with your life
  • Explore the many ways others have succeeded where you want to go
  • Brainstorm the steps you might take to progress toward your dream

If you’re stuck at home without work, like me, isn’t this exactly what some of us were wishing for–a break from all that mandatory mundane life, to make something of our own? Well, here you are…

This is your time.

I’ve just been told tomorrow they will be removing the furniture from the coffee shop where I write, to keep people from hanging about the place. I will be forced to work at home, where all the distractions lurk.

I can understand the logic behind the preventive practice they’re calling “social distancing”. I can even see people quietly doing it on their own: I’ve noticed them giving each other a little extra room in line at the register. Cashiers leaning back a little, with that subtle nervous look that seems to say “how healthy does this one look?”.

The speculative fiction writer in me is quietly playing with ideas of bad people high in government, plotting to separate people using disease, sowing distrust to keep people from uniting together against some unexpected power play. It’s not my kind of story to write, but there’s a lot of interesting–and unfortunate–source material happening in front of our eyes these days.

Meanwhile, back in reality, it seems even writers are being affected by our current world situation. I wish you luck against your own distractions, if you are similarly stuck at home. I also wish you the best of health and safety out in the world. If you are out in the world anymore. Hopefully this will end soon.

We are social creatures after all. I would hate for this “distancing” to become a permanent feature in our societies.

I’ve heard that “Interesting Times” thing was originally a curse, by the way.

What is so cool about Zero. I mean, it’s nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I think zero is cool because, for a while, humans weren’t sure if it was a number at all. Back in the day (when people were still getting used to writing “AD” on their checks), the Greeks were all philosophical about the meaning of nothing as a something, while other math-users on the planet were trying all kinds of slashes and stuff to fill the “holes” where we put zeroes now; while others were trying to do math without it altogether, and experiencing hair loss…

But the coolest thing of all seems to be that the lovely donuty shape of zero came from such a meaningful visual image: it’s a drawing of a hole with nothing inside.

Secretly I think they knew even then that donuts had no nutritional value, but they had to commemorate them anyway. Because … donut!

New home (cat in a box)

Welcome to the new, self-hosted! Don’t mind the UFO, it usually behaves itself. I hope you like the new look (and lack of ads).

Hopefully I managed to bring all of my followers along. Let me know the moment you don’t get this. giggle (I’ll post to the old page, too.)

In the meantime, I’ll be tweaking the mobile version (it looks terrible at the moment–sorry about that), along with a few other things. But I should be posting stuff in the meantime.

As always, feel free to comment on whatever.

I’m looking forward to supporting each other online.