September 26, 2020
(Note: I originally wrote this in September of 2020, but I’ve since kept it updated.)
As of this month, I’ve been quarantined for 6 months because of COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions. I wanted to jot down some notes on my experience so far, not because I think they’re going to be interesting now, but because I think they might be interesting to look back on later.
When I look back on big events, I’m not very compelled by the obvious official records, the news broadcasts, the articles. I’m more compelled by the mundane, things like journal entries, or first-person accounts from real people.
So with that in mind, I’m going to collect some notes on what the past 6 months have been like for me.
For the few weeks before lockdown, the virus was something I heard about on Twitter and in small talk in the office, but it wasn’t something I was affected by. It was unclear whether the media was sensationalizing it for clicks, or if this was going to be the zombie apocalypse we’ve all been waiting for.
February 8, grouchy bird
In late February I ate lunch with somebody who had just come out of quarantine for some number of days because they had recently travelled to China. I remember thinking that was really interesting. What a strange experience quarantining must be! Oh sweet summer child.
I also remember thinking that people were choosing to be worried. In late February a few people started wearing masks to work, and I remember thinking that it was like a costume that they were wearing for the novelty.
February 8, my favorite tree
Somebody I worked with got sick and my manager sent an email simultaneously warning us and telling us not to worry. Turned out to be nothing.
Then things started accelerating. It felt a little like how it feels right before a big storm, back when I lived in a place that had big storms. Everybody was preparing for something, everything felt different, and you bounced back and forth between “this is new and exciting” and “this could be bad” pretty frequently.
But a storm eventually hits or doesn’t, and that feeling of bracing for it ends. But this feeling kept going for weeks, maybe months. It felt like the world was ending, like the opening scenes of every apocalypse movie.
March 16, the kitchen is closed
This was happening right in the middle of the spring session of SPS. We were gearing up for our in-person retreat, but had to cancel that pretty last-minute. Then we quickly went from planning on finishing like normal, to making everything optional, to seeing most participants drop off as they were dealing with figuring out their housing, let alone their jobs and school situation. What do you do if you’re an international student who was just kicked out of student housing but can’t afford to fly back home?
My job told us that we could work from home if we wanted, but I kept coming in, mostly because I didn’t like the idea of being stuck at home all day. I very much did not want to inconvenience anybody else by coming in, but I also didn’t want to inconvenience myself if nobody cared whether I stayed home.
A few people were similar, so a handful of us were still coming in. I remember thinking that it felt like the week between Christmas and New Years, when almost the whole office is on vacation. Kinda peaceful in a way, and weirdly exciting? The few people that were coming in felt like a little secret club.
My last day in the office was Monday, March 16. I came in like normal, and ate lunch with the little secret club. We went to the only cafeteria that was still open, and we talked about our various reasons for not wanting to work from home.
Then Santa Clara county issued a shelter-in-place order, and working from home became mandatory. The original order said it would end on April 7th. Two weeks later it was extended until May 3rd. Updates would come in the form of emergency alerts on your phone, which added to the whole “end of the world” feeling.
March 18, grocery stores running out of everything
My local comic book shop, which I’ve been visiting every Wednesday since I moved here, sends out an email saying that they’re closing permanently and will not reopen after quarantine ends.
Somebody on my team had been working on letting businesses mark themselves as temporarily closed on Google. Before the world ended, this was a quiet little project designed for seasonal places like ski lodges. But all of a sudden this project was one of the most important things happening at Google, as the Italian government demanded that we close down everything and the CEO announced it in a very public blog.
Long story short, I fell into a weirdly demanding role, working super long hours and having lots of meetings with other teams and PR people for the first few weeks of quarantine.
Three days into mandatory quarantine, I turned 34 years old. I celebrated by working an 18 hour day and not leaving my apartment.
I tend to react to stress by becoming really productive, so in a way this worked out. I didn’t have time to react to anything, because I was too busy being busy. And I think a lot of people felt similarly.
By then it was obvious that the virus could potentially impact millions of people, and there wasn’t much any of us could do about it. Nobody likes feeling helpless, so sure enough within a few weeks there were a ton of ideas about how Google could help save the world. I couldn’t help feeling like we were all reacting to our own helplessness by making ourselves feel a little more important than we really were, but hey, I was doing the same thing.
I didn’t have a desk, so I was working from my couch. At the end of my work day I would close my laptop, move to the other side of the couch, and turn on the TV. This was pretty terrible, so I eventually repurposed a crappy end table and got myself the cheapest chair on Amazon, which is what I’m still using as my home office as I write this in September. Better than spending 18 hours a day on my couch though.
March 25, working from the left side of the couch
One of the managers (who apparently used to work in an emergency room) compared what we were doing to how you’re supposed to work in an ER. He said you aren’t supposed to ask how you can help, because that just creates more work for whoever you’re talking to. Instead, you’re supposed to look around, see something that needs done, and do it. Often that’s not something that feels important (stuff like changing sheets), but it all adds up to something that is important. I rolled my eyes at comparing programmers to people who work in an ER, but “look around and find something that needs done, and then do it” stuck with me more than I thought it would.
I filled a lot of my time putting together movie color visualizations. This started out as a fun hobby project before quarantine, but in hindsight I think this is another example of me reacting to stress by giving myself more to do.
April 11, good practical advice
I also noticed that I started having really vivid quarantine dreams. I’ve always had pretty wild dreams, but something about being stuck at home all day really turned them up to 11. I started writing them down. I’m inconsistent, but here are some excerpts:
- Bruce Willis asks if I’m getting physically tired. I ask him if he’s getting mentally tired, and I watch as he ages in front of me. Then I go back to the jungle gym.
- Manager of a grocery store thinks I stole a sandwich and asks if I have a best friend or a pet that could vouch for me. I say I could bring in Stanley but she’s not going to tell him much.
- I am a black girl in school. I write a paper about work done by black people being stolen by white people. A white guy in the class steals my paper and claims it as his own, and then tears my copy up.
- Also the skateboards are gummy worms?
I know this is going to make me sound like a crazy cat lady, but I’m actually happy to be spending more time with Stanley. There’s a joke about cats not caring about their people, but Stanley spends most of her day snoring next to me. Neither of us are getting any younger, so I’m glad to have this time.
April 23, Stanley being blanket cat
Companies start sending out “thoughtful brand” emails. I get an email from a hotel that includes stuff like this: “We have all been impacted by this crisis, but we take heart in knowing that with each passing day, we are closer to the end of this difficult time.” (That is a direct quote.)
My job also sends out a bunch of emails telling us how much our mental health matters. Management laughs when I suggest we should stop obsessing over launching new features as quickly as possible.
The parks and trails near me start getting way more crowded, and I feel a little defensive about this. I’ve been running along these paths since last year when it was dark and raining! How dare these smiling families crowd me out of my own routes! Of course this is ridiculous. I keep changing my running path to get further away from people. Who knew that being antisocial would have fitness benefits?
April 25, more grouchy birds
Another thing I notice on my runs is that the local fire department turned the Shoreline Amphitheater parking lot into a safe space for people who live in RVs. These RVs had been camped around parks with public bathrooms and running water, and when those got shut down, they had nowhere else to go. This parking lot full of RVs and porta potties is right across the street from the construction of Google’s newest building.
I participated in Ludum Dare. Check out my game here.
I spent a ton of time playing with spirals.
April 26, sunset
I wanted to do whatever was right in terms of wearing a mask, but the great mask debate made it hard to know what the right thing was. When the virus first hit, it felt like wearing a mask was a little obnoxious, and people would look at you weird for wearing one. As time went on, that slowly shifted, until eventually more people looked at you weird for not wearing one.
There was an interesting social pressure aspect to it that’s really hard to explain after the fact. I’m also fascinated by the in-groups that formed so quickly between the maskers and the anti-maskers. I feel like that’s going to be studied in history books 50 years from now. I was a little relieved when masks became mandatory because at least that told me what I was supposed to be doing.
I think a lot of people felt helpless in the face of all this, and they reacted to that feeling by either internalizing it and worrying about everything, or externalizing it and getting angry at others for not doing the “right” thing. I read so many twitter rants about people having the audacity to bike or jog outside.
May 10, lunch date
I remember feeling like I needed to figure out how to get groceries. It wasn’t clear that places would stay open to the public, and I was weirdly stressed out about this question for a couple weeks. How can I get my Halo Top ice cream if I can’t go in the store?? But after a failed attempt at ordering pickup, I resigned myself to weekly grocery store trips. Soon grocery availability went back to normal, so looking back on the nervousness makes me feel a little silly.
I started going to weekly Nora Jane Struthers virtual concerts. I used to go to concerts all the time, but now it’s hard to imagine going back to a room full of strangers breathing on each other. I enjoy these virtual concerts more than I thought I would though.
May 22, running path
Quarantine restrictions mean that a bunch of Google internship programs from all over the world need to figure out how to do everything virtually. Many of them turn to the SPS curriculum, which was exciting and terrifying. Long story short, about 1,200 interns and 800 Google employees ended up using the curriculum that I wrote. If you had told 2015 Kevin that a global pandemic would mean that 2,000 people from all over the world would use stuff he wrote, I don’t think he would have believed you.
May 23, quarantine mustache
I started going on walks every day after work. This was a huge improvement to my mental health, I think because it helps separate my work from my home life, even though they happen 10 feet away from each other.
The funny thing is that I’m writing this in September, and when I first thought back to when I started my walks, I would have guessed it was in March. I was very surprised to look back at my location history and see that it was almost 2 months into quarantine when I started my daily walks. I wonder what else I’m misremembering.
May 25, Stanley on the porch
Downtown Mountain View is completely empty. All of the shops and restaurants are closed, and there are no cars on the road. It’s pretty surreal.
On May 25th, George Floyd was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
I spent most of June feeling a compulsion to seek out videos of police violence and repost them to Twitter and Facebook. Originally, I wanted to show my mostly white Facebook friends that there was more to the protests than what they were seeing, or at least that’s what I told myself. But it quickly turned into something else, something less healthy, where I’d spend a good chunk of my day scrolling through Twitter to find the next horrifying video. That might have been my own reaction to helplessness. Some more thoughts here.
June 5, reflections from a Black Lives Matter protest
I was losing weight before quarantine, and I’ve kept losing it during quarantine. At some point around June I hit the -50 pound milestone. Looking in the mirror becomes way more interesting.
June 11, Stanley helping me work from home
I’ve fallen into a routine. I work during the day, then I go on my walk, then I come back and eat dinner and watch TV. On Saturdays I get takeout from Subway, do some nerds on my porch, then go on a run. On Sundays I get takeout and eat with a squirrel that I’ve been taming. I actually like my little routine. I guess this is “the new normal” people keep talking about.
June 14, my squirrel friend
June 20, entrance to a (closed) Google building
On my daily walks, my turnaround point is at a house with a dog that’s always laying in the yard. I look forward to saying hi to her every day. She’s a good dog. Her name is Maia.
July 3, Stanley on the porch
Maia died. I noticed she wasn’t in her yard for a few days, and then I saw a little memorial rock with her name on it. This is honestly the saddest moment of the year for me.
July 4, my quarantine garden
I spend some time driving around my hometown in Google Maps. Is this what being homesick feels like?
My job announces that “voluntary” working from home will continue until June 30th, 2021. That means I’m going to be quarantining for at least another year. Meanwhile when I talk to people back in Pennsylvania, it’s like nothing has changed for them. It’s like we’re living in two completely different realities.
July 6, take what you need
Downtown Mountain View starts opening back up, converting the streets into outdoor seating areas. I feel angry on behalf of the people working at these restaurants, forced to come into work and expose themselves to the virus just so some yuppies can order some french fries. Then again, maybe they want to work, and I should be supporting local businesses more? Another example of how I just want to know what the right thing to do is.
Total Wine and More has stayed open this entire time, and now has a checkout line dedicated for services like GrubHub. I’m disgusted by the idea of tech yuppies ordering a 6 pack from their phones and forcing an underpaid “gig worker” to expose themselves to the virus all for the sake of convenience and profit. But again, I don’t know if what I’m doing is any better.
July 18, NASA sign
I see my first shadow person since moving to California. She’s younger, and gets closer than the others did.
Wildfire season starts. At first it’s just prettier sunsets and a constant smell of campfires, but it quickly turns into surreal skies that are really hard to take pictures of.
August 13, wildfire sunset
I started updating the Google Cloud tutorials.
My routine has become pretty same-y. I’ve been tracking my mood since last year, and this whole quarantine has been a long string of “pretty good” days. I’m not going to complain about that, but I also feel, I don’t know, not bored exactly, but kinda gray? I find myself daydreaming a lot about going on a long roadtrip.
This is a little surprising to me, because I would normally tell you that I enjoy having a routine. I think I’m happiest when I have a nice little schedule carved out. But before quarantine, it was much easier to switch things up, by going out for drinks on a Friday, or heading up to San Francisco for a day, stuff like that. I didn’t do that stuff very often, but I now realize that being able to introduce some variety whenever I wanted is what made the routine enjoyable. Without those things, the routine starts to feel more stifling.
August 15, nature reclaiming Google’s campus
Looking at this blog post, it’s interesting to notice that the entries for March, April, and May are much longer than the entries for June, July, and August. I think that’s a symptom of that same-iness, where it felt like so much was happening at the beginning of quarantine, but by now things have settled into a routine.
I reflect on the kinds of friendships I have here. Back east, I have a core group of people I’m pretty close to, close enough that we probably could have seen each other in person without feeling much guilt. But here, I mostly have acquaintances from work. During normal times that’s fine, but now there’s a much higher barrier to spending time together, so we just don’t.
August 19, wildfire sky
I start seeing a puppy in Maia’s yard. I don’t know what its name is yet.
I’ve been listening to Our Plague Year which collects people’s experiences during quarantine. I think it’s interesting, and I think it’s going to be an important catalog of what this thing felt like for people. In fact, that podcast is part of my inspiration for this blog post. But everybody who calls in uses the exact same “formal sad” voice that makes me feel… like I’m not sad enough?
September 7, Stanley helping me work from home
September 9, wildfire snow
I go to my first social event around real humans in 6 months. It’s a tiny group of people who have been taking all of the precautions, but part of it still feels a little taboo, like we’re doing something that other people wouldn’t approve of. More of that social pressure thing that’s really hard to explain. But it’s great to be around people again.
September 9, daytime during the wildfires
I tell my apartment complex that I’m thinking of moving out since I no longer get any benefit from living so close to Google, and they make my rent $1,000 cheaper. It feels a little gross typing that, but all it took was a global pandemic to make Bay Area rent prices go down.
September 12, people playing golf during the wildfires
The wildfires get worse. The weirdest part is that people are mostly going about their normal routines. There’s something extra weird about the sky looking like doom while the mailman casually delivers the mail.
September 21, six months of todo lists and meeting notes
That brings us up to today, when I’m writing this post.
I think I’m going to keep this updated as quarantine continues, and I’d love to hear more about your own experiences. What does your everyday look like? Is everybody else having quarantine dreams?
Editor’s note: I originally published everything above on September 26, 2020. I’ve since continued updating this blog, which follows below.
I live in the suburbs, so it’s been pretty easy to stay away from people on my daily walks, by crossing the street before I’m anywhere near them. So I’ve been wearing a mask to the grocery store, but not on my walks. But I notice that more people are wearing masks, even when there’s nobody else around. And thanks to that social pressure thing, I feel like people are looking at me funny, so I start wearing my mask outside as well. And I notice that I immediately start judging anybody who isn’t wearing theirs, even though a week ago I was happy to just cross the street myself. In-groups and out-groups are wild.
October 4, can I help you??
My caffeine and alcohol tolerances are way up. For a while now my routine has included drinking a few beers on my porch, even on Sundays which had always been my reset day. I’m not attaching a value to that in either direction, it’s just something I noticed. My weight loss has also plateaued, probably because of the beer calories.
I’ve had a guitar that’s been collecting dust for a few years, and I finally took it out of the corner and started playing with it again. About ten years ago I started learning a few songs, but I never made any progress because I always got sidetracked playing random chords instead of practicing the songs. This time I gave myself the goal of just playing random chords, and it’s been a fun distraction while I’m waiting for my code to fail.
The puppy’s name is Lexie. She’s a good dog.
October 15, Stanley in a J. J. Abrams movie
I participated in an “ask me anything” session with the students and faculty at my alma mater. I’m not super nostalgic about college, but it was really touching to reconnect to my roots. It felt exactly like hanging out in the CS lab when I was in college. I work with a lot of students through SPS, which focuses on racial and gender diversity in the tech industry, and I truly, truly love that work. But I got a little bit of a pang when I was talking to the students from my old school, and I couldn’t help but wish I was able to do more for the geo-economic aspects of diversity as well.
I have a vague feeling like I wish I could cry. I don’t mean that dramatically, I just feel a little… pent up? But I haven’t really cried for probably a few years now, and I’m not even sure how to do it anymore. I come pretty close during the finale of The Good Place though.
October 15, ducks on Shoreline Lake
I believe there’s a bigger difference between zero and one than there is between one and ten. Maybe not mathematically, but I think about it this way: if you never exercise, then walking every day is a pretty big change. But if you’re walking every day, then it’s not so hard to start running. The same thing is true of writing: the hardest part is when you have nothing on the paper, but after you write the first few words, it becomes a lot easier. And I think maybe that’s true of social contact as well. Before quarantine, I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, but I was around people every day. I wasn’t at zero human contact, so that made it easier to go out to dinner, or out for drinks or whatever. But now that I have almost zero human contact, it feels like there’s a huge distance between my life now and a more “normal” life.
A weird thing happens to me, and I feel even weirder because I don’t have anybody to talk to about it. A few days later I tell Liz though, so maybe I’m just being melodramatic.
October 20, I believe in you
I got a promotion at work. I experience some mixed emotions about this, almost none of which are the ones I was expecting. I mostly feel guilty? At Google, a big part of a promotion is how many people know your name. I’ve made a name for myself by constantly arguing for the things I believe in, even though I know I come across as a grouchy old man. I also know that not everybody is allowed to present themselves as grouchy and opinionated. I’m allowed to do that, at least partially because I’m a white dude. I don’t think it’s as obvious as “I got promoted because I’m a white dude”, but I question how much of my promotion was because certain things are more socially acceptable for me than they are for other folks. I don’t have good answers to these questions, but I think they’re good questions to be asking.
October 31, date
October 31, full moon rising on Halloween
I participated in a friendly “Walktober” competition at work, and ended up “winning” by walking a total of 383,265 steps in October.