Monday, July 4, 2022


Well, it finally happened: My wife and I got COVID last week.

Statistically, of course, it was probably inevitable. There's only so long a person can duck and dodge an endemic disease before it finally catches up with you. I'm also keenly aware of the fact that our case was pretty mild. Whether that's because we were infected by a weak strain, or because we've been vaccinated, or some combination of both, I am grateful that our symptoms haven't been more severe.

But even mild COVID has been pretty exhausting. I spent most of the weekend lying on the couch. When that got too boring, I would make an excursion to the bedroom and lie down in there for a nice change of pace. Sometimes I'd manage a nap, but most of the time I'd just sort of stare at the ceiling and think about the dull ache radiating from every square inch of my sinuses.

Coincidentally, this downtime came at the end of a week-long experiment with making time to do nothing. I've been trying to get better at this after watching Barbara Oakley's lecture at Google on learning how to learn. One of the key ideas in her talk is that the brain needs time to do diffuse thinking; in other words, time when the mind is left alone to wander.

That sounds so easy, but diffuse thinking time isn't "time spent scrolling through Facebook" or "time spent catching up on a book," or any of the other hundred little tasks that you might use to fill up five minutes. Diffuse thinking requires a certain amount of boredom and free association, and perhaps a degree of solitude.

And so, during lunch time all last week, I would take my food out to the front porch, sit in a rocking chair, and refuse to do anything in particular. This immediately provoked anxiety. What if there was a work crisis? Or a family emergency? There I was, sitting outside like some kind of caveman, when the civilized world was in its hour of need!

Nothing happened, of course. When I came back inside from my lunch hour, I did not discover a flood of texts and voicemails pleading for my help. As the week went on, I began to relax. I watched goldfinches work over the seedpods dangling in the leaves of our birch tree. I watched chickadees poke around in our peaches. And I watched the procession of cats, dogs, and their people that goes along in front of our house every day, whether or not I'm out there to see it.

Did I have any great insight after a week of this? There might not have been any thunderclap of epiphany, but I did find myself writing again with more regularity, and story ideas began to percolate. The well fills slowly sometimes, but that's alright. Slowly is better than nothing.

By Friday, it was clear my symptoms were getting worse. The scratchy throat and headaches weren't going away, even after Dayquil and ibuprofen, and I found it harder and harder to focus on much. By Friday night and on through Sunday, my mind was too tired even to wander.

Then finally, today, the worst of it seemed to be over. My wife and I took a long walk under the hot early sun of July. We stopped every now and then so she could pick mulberries off of the trees or so we could take a long sip of water. We promised ourselves not to push it, but by the time we got back we'd done our ten thousand steps and then some, glad to be out of the house and into the heat and not talking about much in particular.

Clearing Things Up

We're in the process of moving. It's going to take us a while, but as a part of all that I've spent the last few weekends trying...