Happy Blogging / My Quarantine

My Quarantine

Created on September 26, 2020
Updated on June 12, 2021



(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.

February

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.

lake at night

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.

tree at night

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.

March

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.

closed kitchen

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.

out of stock

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.

working from couch

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.

April

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.

social distancing sign

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.

Stanley

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.

On April 11, John Conway died from COVID-19. Some thoughts here.

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?

geese

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.

sunset

April 26, sunset

May

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.

little lunch bird

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.

running path

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.

quarantine mustache

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.

Stanley on the porch

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.

I started writing p5.js tutorials and rewriting the Processing tutorials.

On May 25th, George Floyd was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

June

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.

Black Lives Matter protest

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.

working from home with Stanley

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.

squirrel friend

June 14, my squirrel friend

Google entrance

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

I started playing with music visualizations. It was cool to get retweets from Trampled by Turtles and Just Jack. No love from Taylor Swift though.

Stanley on the porch

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.

plants

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.

take what you need

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.

NASA sign

July 18, NASA sign

I see my first shadow person since moving to California. She’s younger, and gets closer than the others did.

August

I start playing with combining multiple videos. Here’s Batman and Star Trek. I started this mostly to see what it would look like, and it turns out the answer is pretty creepy.

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.

wildfire sunset

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.

sunset

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.

wildfire sky

August 19, wildfire sky

I start seeing a puppy in Maia’s yard. I don’t know what its name is yet.

September

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?

Stanley helping me work from home

September 7, Stanley helping me work from home

wildfire snow

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.

daytime during the wildfires

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.

wildfire golf

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.

todos and meeting notes

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.


October

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.

pocket squirrel

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.

Stanley with lights behind her

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.

ducks on Shoreline Lake

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.

Downtown Mountain View has opened back up for “outdoor dining” which is a crowd of people without masks yelling their orders at servers who have no real choice but to risk exposure for a little more than minimum wage. I’m still not sure that I’m not the jerk for not supporting local businesses enough.

outdoor dining

October 20, outdoor dining

hand-written sign saying "I believe in you"

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 little bit of a name for myself by constantly asking questions and trying to change things about my job, 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.

two people sitting by Shoreline Lake

October 31, date

I voted early by dropping my ballot off at the Computer Science History Museum while listening to Conversations with People Who Hate Me. This moment feels very representative of my life right now.

full moon rising

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.

November

It starts getting colder, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to go on my daily walks anymore. I start getting pretty depressed about this, but then I remember: pants are a thing. I literally forgot that pants existed, because I’ve just been wearing basketball shorts for 8 months.

People start talking about “another lockdown” which confuses me, because my first lockdown never ended. I don’t know if this means I’m being too careful, or if other people aren’t being careful enough, or both.

The church across the street has been giving out boxes of food every Saturday. The line of cars is backed up about a mile.

line of cars

November 14, line of cars

I hear people say things like “I couldn’t imagine not seeing my family for Thanksgiving” and I can’t help but think that they must not have very good imaginations.

I did a sober November just to reset some things, and I re-lost 13 pounds in the process.

December

Stanley has been sick, and I take her to the vet. After a bunch of back and forth, the vet tells me that Stanley has cancer. I spend most of December crying, taking Stanley to the vet for chemo (yes, apparently cat chemo is a thing), and petting her so much she gets annoyed.

Stanley

December 6, Stanley

This is my fourth December in California, and it’s always a bit surreal. Christmas lights on palm trees, light sweatshirt weather instead of snow, and the general weirdness of silicon valley means that it never feels very Christmas-y. Add to that some quarantine and a sick cat, and this year is especially un-jolly. But this is also when the citrus trees start ripening, and everybody is always giving away lemons and limes. For some reason that feels pretty Christmas-y this year.

free limes

December 18, free limes

Stanley seems to be responding to the chemo. She is hungry but refuses to eat, and I have to give her some pills every day which we both hate, but other than that she seems fine. The vet says they’re still calibrating dosages and whatnot, but it feels like there’s a lot of room for optimism.

Stanley and me

December 20, Stanley and me

Stanley

December 23, Stanley rearranging the blankets

Stanley

December 24, hanging out on the porch

Stanley

December 24, boop

On Christmas I go on a run and spend most of the day with Stanley.

Stanley

I spend a lot of time trying to find a food that Stanley will eat. One of them is SO LOUD and alarming that I ask the vet if something is horribly wrong with her jaw. Nope, it’s just really squishy.

December 25, Stanley eating treats

vet

December 30, picking Stanley up from chemo

The outside tables I eat lunch at every Saturday are finally “closed” when somebody wraps them in very official-looking plastic. Not like I was relying on them as the only sense of normalcy in my life or anything.

closed table

December 31, shut it down

New Year’s Eve is virtual beers with Liz and Shawn.

coloring book

December 31, fold the cheese

January

Stanley

January 1, Stanley

Stanley

January 5, Stanley

Stanley dies.

I thought the chemo was going well, or I at least thought there was room for optimism. But she quickly gets worse, and she dies on Friday, January 8.

Here are some words I originally posted on facebook:

I had to say goodbye to Stanley yesterday.

I found Stanley in a tree 13 years ago, and she’s been with me ever since. From college, through my twenties, halfway into my thirties. Through multiple friend groups, relationships, states, jobs, and coasts. She was my best friend. She was my family. She was a part of me.

She was a funny cat. She used to climb on top of the cupboards and then jump down on people that walked underneath her. She’d hang out in the kitchen with us, back when the kitchen was the place we hung out. She spent most of her time curled up right next to me, but she scratched me if I pet her too much. She jumped in the shower with me every morning, because apparently drain water tastes better than tap water. She loved laying on the porch, not in her cat bed, but right next to it. She understood some English words, especially “treats” and “wet food”. She knew that if I said “stand up”, and she stood up, she’d get some of that wet food. She also knew her name, but she wasn’t going to stand up for that.

Animals don’t know our names, but I think they probably name us after the feelings we make them feel. I hope her names for me were feelings like safe, and warm, and loved.

I’m not sad for Stanley, not exactly. She had a good, relatively long life, especially compared to the life she would have had if I hadn’t saved her from the bugs 13 years ago. Selfishly, I’m sad for me. My apartment is literally quieter, colder, and emptier without her. It’s no longer my home, and I don’t want to be here anymore. Nobody is waiting for me when I come back from my daily walk. I like to think of myself as independent: I’m not very close with many people, and I’ve spent the last year in quarantine. But this is the first time in my life I feel truly alone. I know that will likely eventually change. But I always thought Stanley would meet my wife, maybe even my kids someday. The fact that she won’t breaks my heart.

Stanley has been a big part of me for 13 years. She’s been a real member of every friend group I’ve had since college, and she’s poked her head into just about every video meeting I’ve attended during quarantine. When people think of me, they think of Stanley. Losing her feels very much like losing a part of myself. Anybody who meets me from now on will meet a version of me that is less than I was when Stanley was alive.

The only job of a pet is to be loved, and I think they make us better people because of it. They give us a reason to manifest our kindness, even when we don’t think we have any kindness left. I know Stanley made me a better person. From college, deciding whether I should spend my last dollar on kitten food for her or spaghetti for myself, to trying to figure out which wet food she liked the best (Fancy Feast Gravy Lover’s Turkey), to now, as I’ve helped her live out her final few weeks, it has been a privilege that I am so thankful for.

I always want to find meaning in death, so I feel like I should say that I’m going to honor Stanley by bringing the kindness she taught me that I had with me through the rest of my life. That I’m going to stop procrastinating on the things I wished I’d done while she was alive, that I’m going to resist my tendency to become even more disconnected from the world now that there’s less tethering me to it. That I’m going to reflect on what the closing of this chapter of my life means, and that I’m going to find meaning in the next chapter. But the truth is I’m just really going to miss her.

Cats aren’t supposed to care if you leave, or notice when you come back. But one of my favorite memories of Stanley is her screaming her little head off at me when I came back from living at NIST for a few weeks. Cats are also supposed to want to be alone in the end, but Stanley spent most of her last days in the same place she spent the last 13 years: curled up right next to me.

I wish I had more time, but I have so much gratitude for everything Stanley gave me. Thank you Stanley. I love you. You were a good cat.

(Believe it or not, I don’t like the idea of using a pet for fake internet points. Posting pictures of Stanley made me laugh, and I hope it made you laugh. But for every picture I posted, we shared a thousand uncaptured moments that made up Stanley’s life, and my life with her. So I absolutely hate the idea of posting this for likes and comments. But I know that a lot of you knew Stanley, even if just from facebook. I’ve had strangers come up to me and say “oh you’re that guy with the cat album”. So posting this felt like the right thing to do. But instead of liking or commenting, please just give your pets some extra love today. That’s what they’re here for.)

This happened back in January and I’m writing this in March, and I still don’t really know what to say here. I tell people that I try to focus on the positives, that she had a good life, all of that. But that’s mostly a lie.

I’m proud of the life I gave Stanley. It’s honestly the thing in my life that I’m most proud of. But I can’t help but look back with regret: what if I had caught her sickness earlier? In hindsight I see that I misinterpreted a lot of what she was trying to tell me. What I thought of as her being cute and hiding under the blankets gets a different connotation when I realize she was just a couple months or weeks away from the end. Part of this was inevitable, but part of it is my fault.

Remember how back in October I said I felt like I needed to cry but couldn’t? Well that’s not a problem anymore.

I also recognize a tendency in myself to feel like I don’t quite deserve to have feelings. This has been true the entire quarantine: I’m pretty privileged and have been able to work from home without much disruption while others are forced to risk their health or lose their jobs entirely, so how can I complain about a little isolation? That feeling of not deserving to have feelings is especially obvious now, and whenever anybody asks me how I’m doing, I always preface my answer by saying that I know my experience doesn’t compare to real problems people are facing. Even typing this out now, I feel like I’m whining about how hard it is to be a white dude in America. But I can’t help but feel a little… emotionally truncated?

Like I mentioned a year ago, I tend to react to stress by taking more on. So in the weeks following Stanley’s death, I have a sense of, not quite energy, but resigned productivity. Like if I stop moving for too long, I’ll fall into something and never come out of it.

So during this time I do a lot of things I had been putting off: I start a YouTube channel, I visualize Sonic the Hedgehog, I participate in #genuary, I sign up for online dating, and I put out 34 coding examples in January alone. By themselves these should be fun things, but I recognize it as a sorta manic coping mechanism. But at least some of the projects look cool.

bonsai tree

January 18, bonsai tree

flower

January 19, increase the randomness along the Y axis

color palette

January 23, color palette

campfire

January 31, campfire

After a few weeks of pathetic lunches on some bleachers, I find a really nice park right across the street from my normal tables, which are still closed. I know it sounds dumb but this is a weirdly big deal to me.

park art

January 23, art in the park

By the way, I’m still going on those daily walks.

broken clock

January 24, out of time

sunset

January 31, sunset

February

I notice that the local dive bar is open again. I guess this means that the “second lockdown” has been lifted. Throughout the whole quarantine, I’ve never been worried about getting sick, and I’m not the type to constantly refresh the latest death numbers for my county. But I absolutely do not understand the appeal of forcing a server or bartender to put themselves at risk just so I can have a beer and some breaded mushrooms, no matter how good that sounds right now. But again, maybe I’m the jerk for not supporting local businesses.

trees in a parking lot

February 5, parking lot trees

Side note: I pay such little attention to the news that I had to remind myself of when the lockdowns actually happened so I could backfill some of this post. This article is a good summary.

mask sign

February 7, mask up

I don’t have much else to say about February. This is probably the worst month of quarantine… so far. I do go on a few hikes, doing close to 50 miles in a weekend. Just another form of that manic overcompensation, I guess.

hike

February 10, hike during my “lunch break”

hike

February 12, I can see my house from here

beach

February 13, Half Moon Bay

neighborhood street

February 19, street in my neighborhood

March

Ever since Stanley died, I’ve felt an all-encompassing sadness pretty much every second of every day. Around March, that sadness starts to quiet down a little bit, but I find myself not quite returning to normal. It’s not like a graph that dipped down and went back up. It’s more like I’m returning to a different version of myself. This version is angrier, less patient, and more stressed out. I don’t know if that’s a direct result of the Stanley stuff, or maybe the shift was always happening but I couldn’t feel it because of the layer of sadness on top of it.

At some point around here I start listening to This Podcast Will Kill You (thanks Liz!), which started back in 2017 and covers a bunch of diseases and pandemics throughout history. It’s amazing to me how much they already knew, or how much of what they talked about historically ended up applying to covid.

I’ve been thinking about going on a road trip, and in early March I’m invited to a wedding on the east coast at the end of May. I think maybe I’ll go on a long antisocial road trip, maybe rent a car, maybe work from the road for a few weeks. This becomes my go-to daydream.

On March 12th I almost get into a physical fight with a guy who isn’t wearing a mask. I’m not proud of the toxic masculinity of that moment, but it is fascinating to think about how much I’ve changed in a year.

extremely distanced singles

March 13, this sign is mocking me

My birthday party is a video call with the usual crew. Not a bad way to turn 35.

On March 30th I’m told that my job is being moved to London. I don’t want to rant too much, but I’ll just say this “decision” is the dot at the end of a very long sentence for me. For the first time in over a year, I go have a beer at my local bad bar. The inside is surprisingly crowded, but I take my beer to the outside tables in the parking lot. I’m the only one there. The next day I start looking for a new job.

April

I go on my first in person, socially distanced date(s). This blog is already more of a personal journal than I intended it to be, so I’ll just say that it’s nice to be around another human again.

I’ve been daydreaming about going on a road trip, but with the job uncertainty I’m not sure if it’s still doable. I was also originally planning on the trip being very antisocial, but now that the vaccine is almost available, I’m stressing out about whether I’ll be able to get it in time. I get a new car on April 9th, and in my brain that’s one less uncertainty to worry about.

little free pantry

April 10, little free pantry

But then Santa Clara county opens up vaccines to everybody on April 12th, and on the very next day, I get my first dose of the (pfizer) vaccine. The whole process is much easier than I expected, and getting the vaccine takes exactly 30 minutes. My only side effect is a sore arm, and I swear my beard feels weird. But that’s probably the placebo effect.

vaccine sign

April 13, thank you for choosing to get vaccinated

On April 18, I go out to a real bar (the parking lot of bad bar doesn’t count) for the first time since quarantine. It’s all outside, and we’re (half) vaccinated, but taking our masks off when we get to our table still feels like being naked in public. It feels weird, but it stops feeling weird pretty quickly.

Throughout April I’m talking to a bunch of folks about potential jobs, and interviewing at a couple places. For the first time in my career, I understand the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” aspect of the industry. Or maybe more accurately: it’s not what you know, it’s who knows you know what you know. I find myself talking to people I met on Twitter, or through my volunteer stuff, or from other random encounters I’ve had over the years. Part of me feels a little guilty about that: am I using my privilege to my advantage? But most of me just wants a job.

wish you were here

April 28, wish you were here

I watch a 2011 movie called Contagion because This Podcast Will Kill you occasionally mentions it (pre-2020) as an accurate portrayal of what a pandemic “would” look like. And man are they right. I don’t think I’ll ever watch this movie again.

May

On May 2nd I take myself to lunch at Sports Page. They no longer have breaded mushrooms, but it’s still nice to drink a beer in the sun around other humans.

lunch date

May 2, lunch date

bar sign

May 2, bar rules

I’m facebook friends with an anti-vaxxer who is convinced that covid is a liberal hoax, that there’s a secret cure, that vaccines are more harmful than the disease, and that people who wear masks are sheep. I find myself compelled to respond to their frequent posts, and it turns into an honestly unhealthy compulsion to fact check and post links to snopes, despite knowing that I’m never going to convince them of anything. I hate these rabbit holes, but I’m also fascinated by the sociology at play here. People on “my side” often think that it’s a problem of education, that if we just explain how vaccines work carefully enough, people will get it. But how do you educate somebody who honestly believes vaccines are a government plot to poison the world?

On May 5th, I get the second dose of the vaccine. My only side effect is feeling a little cough syrup-y that night, and again the probably placebo effect weird beard symptom. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have more memorable side effects to mark the importance of the occasion.

vaccine selfie

May 5, obligatory vaccine selfie

The weekend of May 7 to 9 I go to the Star Trek rocks. They’re about 8 hours away from me, and they’ve been on my nerdy bucket list since I moved to California (along with the Windows XP hill, which I saw back in April). I use this trip as practice for my upcoming road trip.

Star Trek rocks

May 8: Star Trek rocks

The trip was fun, but the thing that sticks with me is the casual cruelty of white people when they think they’re surrounded by people like them. From the old white woman who went out of her way to tell a transphobic joke, to the guy at the bar talking about “white blood”, to the guy who apologizes for that guy but then adds a little homophobia to the mix when I tell him I live near San Francisco, I’m reminded that, oh yeah, this is what the world is like. I wonder why it’s such a shock to me. Have I been living in my little silicon valley bubble so long that I forgot that hatred was a thing?

restaurant bubbles

May 8: restaurant bubbles

On May 13, the president tweets this out:

I’ve been wearing a mask, and I’m already vaccinated. And in fact I’ve been fighting with people who don’t wear masks or won’t get vaccinated. But I can see why this would piss people off. I originally saw this tweet as a screenshot on a conservative’s facebook page, and I thought it was fake.

I know this is armchair quarterbacking, but I’m a little frustrated by how “my side” (pro science, pro social distancing, pro vaccine, pro masking) has approached the “end” of the pandemic. I know the previous administration took an anti-science stance which caused a ton of problems, but we’ve had 5 months to put together a cohesive narrative or set of recommendations. But people still seem confused about what the “right” thing to do is, which turns it into a weirdly subjective personal decision. Why not go county by county and apply a rule like “when 75% of the people are vaccinated, businesses can open back up”? And then celebrate when each county reaches the threshold? I’m sure there are reasons that won’t work, but I can’t help but being frustrated by the lack of direction, even from “my side”.

I find a role in engEDU within Google. To oversimplify, engEDU is Google’s education department, and I’ve been daydreaming about moving there pretty much since I started at Google back in 2016. I’m optimistic, and it opens up some interesting questions about SPS, which also recently moved to engEDU. But more than anything, I’m excited about being able to hit a reset button on my day job.

My last day on my old team is May 21, and on May 22 I leave for my road trip. Part of me wants to end this quarantine blog there.

But this whole thing is already self-indulgent and way too personal, so let’s keep going!

The first thing I notice on my trip is how different places have vastly different reactions to quarantine. I was expecting rural Pennsylvania to be different from silicon valley, but I’m shocked when nobody in Longmont (just outside Boulder) is wearing a mask. Not even the people working at the bars! I also “overhear” a conversation where a group questions their only member who got the vaccine, so it’s not like everybody is vaccinated. I have a weird moment where I’m literally the only one in the bar wearing a mask, but I’m not sure if I should take it off. It feels weird to take it off, but it also feels weird to keep it on. What am I signaling by keeping it on? Am I somehow signaling that I’m not vaccinated, even though I am? I feel like people are looking at me funny, and I even feel like the bartenders are actively ignoring me, so I eventually take it off.

restaurant bubbles

May 24: Des Moines, be safe wear a mask

fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear face coverings

May 25: Iowa, fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear face coverings

brighter days are ahead

May 25: Chicago, brighter days are ahead

In Chicago, about 50% of people are wearing masks, and I have a suspicion that most of those people are tourists. My Chicago friend explains that because winter in Chicago is quarantine anyway, when the weather got nicer, Chicago gave up. This is SO interesting to me.

pandemic story

May 25: Chicago, a pandemic story in one picture

masks are recommended but not required

May 27: Maryland, masks are recommended but not required

roburritos

May 29: Lancaster PA, Roburritos

now open and staying safe

May 31: Nashville, now open and staying safe

June

wear a mask when you can't distance

June 1: Nashville, wear a mask when you can’t distance, it’s the law

dunkin donuts alien wearing a mask

June 3: Roswell, the entire road trip in one picture

be safe wear a mask

June 4: Las Vegas, be safe wear a mask

Before my trip, I assumed my area was fairly average: of course everybody wears masks indoors, and most people wear them outside as well. We take them off when we sit down to eat or drink, but we put them back on when we get up. But after visiting a bunch of other areas (and stopping at a ton of gas stations along the way), I realize that my area is actually very far to one side of the masking spectrum. Most people in most places were not wearing masks, especially outside. In some places, literally nobody was wearing masks, including the people working at the bar or store or wherever.

When I get back from my trip, I find myself relaxing on my own feelings about wearing a mask. After two weeks of feeling other social pressures, the social pressure of the bay area no longer seems as obvious to me. I still wear a mask inside stores, of course. But I realize that maybe wearing a mask outside is a little pointless. Or rather, the point of it is to fit in with the local social norm. But if that’s the only reason, how do we ever get out of it? Should I stop wearing a mask outside entirely, to help move that social norm back to, well, normal?

I’m fascinated by why the bay area would be so much more socially strict about wearing a mask than other places. I ask a few people who live here what they think, and I get a few theories:

  • Maybe people from the bay are just more considerate than people from other places
  • Maybe people from the bay travel more than people from other places
  • Maybe wearing a mask started out as an anti-Trump reaction, but then was internalized and became actual fear

I’m not really convinced by any of those theories, or rather, I still don’t think they explain why the bay area is different from other places. I also wonder if it has something to do with the area’s relatively high Asian population (since wearing a mask was already normal in many Asian cultures), or maybe it’s because we’re more antisocial to start with? I really want somebody smarter than me to study this and tell me the answer.

The guy who runs my Saturday Subway tells me that even though Santa Clara has declared that unvaccinated people can stop wearing masks, he’s going to keep the mask policy in place because he can’t tell who’s vaccinated and who’s not.

I start on my new team in engEDU on June 7. Other than the typical new job stuff (how to run server?), I think a lot about what it means to start a new job while working from home. I started at Google (and in the industry in general) when we were working in person, which meant that I built up a lot of knowledge and relationships just from being in the same room. A lot of my knowledge in my first year came from overhearing conversations that my coworkers were having within earshot, and I truly value the friendships I formed with people I don’t actually work with day to day, but who just happen to sit near me.

When quarantine first started, there was a scramble to keep these relationships alive: a lot of optional “fun” events over video chat. But those quickly died out. I’ve had a lot of empathy for people just starting out in their careers, because “the shoulder tap” is one of the most useful resources you have while starting out. But I’ve been able to lean on the knowledge and relationships I had already formed, so I didn’t really need the video chat happy hours.

But when I start on my new team, I don’t really have that anymore. But the interesting thing is that I don’t necessarily see it as a loss. I have my own WFH routine that works for me (the new normal?), and I feel like I can stumble my way through not being fired. So maybe it’s okay that my coworkers aren’t going to be my friends. Maybe that’s actually a good thing, and it’ll be easier to close my laptop at 5:00?

I talk about this with someone I work with, and they point out that maybe new folks are filling that gap by having virtual lunch with their IRL friends rather than their coworkers. This makes sense to me, since one of my favorite “work” meetings is with my friend Liz, who I have never worked with.