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YOLO through a Pandemic (You Hope)

YOLO through a Pandemic (You Hope)

When the pandemic started last year, I posted this dire warning about how the fun was all over. Financial markets and supply chains were in deep trouble; Generation X could kiss their 401Ks goodbye. I guess I really thought we were in for some serious hell. I mean, doesn’t everyone remember the toilet-paper shortages? Didn’t it seem like we were doomed?

I don’t mean to be glib. 2020 was a terrible year for many – either because loved ones died of Covid-19, or because of economic hardship. And on top of that, politics in the U.S. hit a new low. But for many of us – those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, those of us who didn’t lose family members – the lockdown turned out to be a boon.

For one, we spent less money. I keep a pretty close watch on my budget, and I know from having done so for years that the three things which eat up the most income are housing, healthcare, and food. Well, it turns out that not eating out ever means spending a lot less money on food. I know this was bad for the restaurant industry, but I’m telling the 2020 story from my perspective here.

In addition, because we were suddenly never leaving the house, I ended up moving in with my BFF. So housing costs also went down for us. Add in the money saved by not travelling, and our savings grew. Frankly, it’s also really nice not to have to commute. It’s hard to imagine now that I used to spend two hours a day driving to and from work – whatever for? Staying at home means an easier pace of life, with no rushed schedule and more time for family.

The icing on the cake: because of the measures to avoid infection by the coronavirus, we didn’t get sick from anything else either. Normally we catch a few colds each year, what with the teenagers going to school and the girl doing her theater work. But not in 2020.

It all just seems like the next level in the steady progression of my fortunes over the years of the Crisis Era. Literally, from 2008 on things just keep looking up for me. I know I’m not the only one having this experience. It’s like for some Gen Xers, the pandemic lockdown was the perfect situation.

We’re even seeing this idea now of the YOLO economy: workers ready to quit their jobs and pursue their passion, now that they have savings and have had a taste of what it’s like to *not* drive to work every day. Should I resign from my FinTech job to become a full-time blogger?

Now I couldn’t do that without first consulting with my partner. And for her, 2020 was a different story. She’s basically a gig worker in the theater industry, so the pandemic was a disaster for her from a work perspective. All of the gigs she had worked hard to line up just evaporated. So I’d better stick with my job that pays well.

Another story we’re hearing is that retail businesses are struggling with a hiring crisis now. Essential workers are better off on unemployment benefits than going back to their low wage jobs. It makes you wonder why they are deemed “essential” but then not compensated very well. Perhaps an improvement of the conditions of the lowest paid workers in our economy will be a lasting effect of the pandemic. Pandemic relief (“stimulus payments”) is sort of like basic income, after all.

Now that restrictions are being eased, my partner has actually been able to find gigs again, and I can tell she is excited to get back to work in 2021. But are we really out of the woods in terms of the pandemic? One of my projects this year has actually been research on pandemics throughout history, and from what I’ve learned I’m not feeling too easy.

Just take a look at this list of the worst pandemics in history. One pattern you’ll see here is that the more recent large scale pandemics are caused by ineradicable viral pathogens. The older ones chronologically are typically bubonic plague or cholera, which are controllable now thanks to improved sanitation and antibiotic medicine, or smallpox, which has been eliminated through vaccination.

But some viruses cannot be wiped out by immunization, both because they can reside in non-human hosts (waiting to infect the next generation of non-immune human hosts), and because they can mutate (nullifying previously acquired immunity). These include the influenza virus and the SARS coronavirus. We’re stuck with them, barring some next level development in medical science.

A pandemic like the Covid-19 pandemic, the eighth deadliest in human history according to that list, should be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But you never know. So enjoy your time on Earth, because as they say, you only live once.

The Bear Comes Home

The Bear Comes Home

The culmination of years of events has finally come to pass – I am now officially moved in with my BFF in Morgantown, PA. Depending on how much you have followed my blog and whether or not you know me IRL, you may have been watching the story unfold.

First, she came to visit me from Pennsylvania while I was living in North Carolina. Then we started visiting each other frequently and travelling together, and a new phase of our lives began. I went up and met her kids for the first time; they were boys age 10 and 13. She came down and met my tabletop gaming buddies. She even brought the kids with her sometimes, and they all joined me at gaming conventions.

Sometimes I would go up to see her, and sometimes she would come down to see me. And we went on a lot of fun trips together. She took me on my first trip to New York City, and to my first Broadway show. We’ve seen so many shows since then; I’ve basically become her theater buddy. And since she’s a director, I got to see a lot of her shows. I became her number one fan.

We travelled to Chicago every summer for G-Fest along with the boys’ Dad, who is also my friend. This was a tradition with them since the boys were even younger, and my joining them was part of the process of being enfolded into their family. But I wasn’t completely enfolded yet, since I was still living in North Carolina. The distance between us was kind of fun at first, since it was exciting to see each other again after an absence of a couple of weeks. But the travelling got tedious. It was a seven hour drive between our houses. Flying was an option, too, since we could get cheap tickets on Frontier Airlines, but even that has its inconveniences.

Then, a few years ago, some Water Spirits came and trashed my house, teaching me a lesson about the relative importance of material things, but also helping me to realize what a spoiled bear I am. Some months later my job in North Carolina came to an end. It was starting to look like the Universe was sending me a message. I went up into the mountains to watch a solar eclipse and ponder my next course in life.

I started looking for work in Pennsylvania, so that I could move closer to my BFF and her family. I enjoyed my last months in North Carolina boardgaming with my buddies and performing with my choir. Then I landed a position in Wilmington, DE and in a whirlwind five weeks got an apartment in West Chester, PA and moved on up. My recently renovated house quickly sold, and I’m pretty sure the buyer re-did all the work that the insurance company paid for.

The apartment was expensive and the commute to Wilmington was a pain. It made sense for me to eventually move in with her family, though I would have to find a new job first that would put me closer to her house. I have to admit I was dragging my feet. I have a lot of stuff and I like to control my personal space. It would be a big change for me to move in with someone for good, after more than a decade of living alone.

I did get a new job, which took care of the commuting problem. And then along came a little thing called the novel coronavirus. Suddenly I was working from home, and it only made sense for me to be doing this from my BFF’s house. I brought my essential things over and hunkered down with her. The apartment languished, unused.

As we got used to the routine of living together and sharing her house, it was obvious that I should just complete the move. There was a little wrangling over how we would use the space and where my stuff would end up. I mostly fought to have a place to shelve all my books and boardgames – that carefully curated collection I’ve built up over my many years. Figuring out how to share space is just part of the hard work of building a lasting relationship.

The big move happened last week, and all that’s left now is to clean up the apartment and collect a few final possessions. The lease expires soon. As for my new commute – well, I’m not sure when that will start up. Pennsylvania is loosening coronavirus restrictions, but I haven’t heard anything about going back to the office. So I’ll be here in Morgantown for the foreseeable future.

It’s been a long trip to get to this stage of my life. Along the way I’ve done a lot with my BFF, and our relationship has bloomed. I’ve joined her family and I’ve watched her boys grow up – her eldest is in college now, and has a car, a job, and a girlfriend! And it’s good that I’m living with her now, considering that she needs support at a time when her industry – theater – is so troubled.

It’s also good that we got so much travelling done during the past six years, considering that we’re likely to be homebound for a long while to come. I’m just glad that home is here now, with my girl.

Books and games waiting to be unpacked in the office.
Old Letters

Old Letters

I sorted through my collection of old letters and cards. Not to dwell on the past, but to follow the dictum of Socrates to examine one’s life. I tried to order them chronologically, first in a stack, but as that proved unwieldy I layed them out on the floor by year. The oldest was from the year 2000, so there is no record of my correspondences from the 1900s. Once the sorting was done, a pattern clearly emerged. There is not much from the early 2000s, then there is a big gap in the mid-2000s, when I was isolated and having mental health issues. Then around 2008 things pick up, as I stitched my social life back together and recovered from severe depression. The 2010s stack is nice and big.

Now it’s possible I simply lost older letters. Or maybe in my despondent period I was throwing them away. But the pattern jives with this thing I have where ever since the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession my life has just been getting better and better. Not even Trumpty-Dumpty has slowed it down.

So thanks to all the friends and coworkers who have sent me invites and holiday greetings over the years. It’s nice to be able to look back at all the memories and milestones. It’s fun to see my employment history reflected in the names signed on holiday greeting cards. Oh – and one thing, people – when you are sending those holiday cards, please make sure the year is written on them so that we OCD people can put them in the right order later. 🙂

Closed!

Closed!

The final steps of my transplantation to Pennsylvania are being taken.

Week 6 – close on the house in North Carolina.

The transplantation process is almost entirely complete. I just need the driver’s license, vehicle registration and voter registration bit. And to get a library card. 🙂

This home was my castle for nearly ten years, the only real estate property I have ever owned. But it is a relief to be unburdened of it, since it wasn’t so useful hundreds of miles away. My relief was palpable to the notary who stamped the closing papers as I rushed to get them signed and overnighted yesterday.

Thanks, house, for taking care of me through my forties. I hope the new owner finds as much joy in you as I did.

Five Week Move Complete

Five Week Move Complete

Piles of boxes fill my apartment as I contemplate my astounding five week move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Here’s how to do it:

Week 1 – Phone interview from NC.

Week 2 – Drive up to PA. Look at apartment. Have on-site job interview. Get job offer. Drive back to NC.

Week 3 – Apply for apartment remotely. Get approved. Arrange for movers. Arrange to sell house to neighbors. Frantically pack.

Week 4 – Movers pick up possessions. Drive to PA. Unload car into apartment. Frustrated by movers not arriving. Snowstorm: job start is delayed. Continue arranging to sell NC house. Movers finally arrive at last minute.

Week 5 – Start job. Sign contract to sell house.

 

All of this was much facilitated by the ease of communication and process workflow that comes with the Internet era, and that the neighbors had their eye on my house. It also helped that so much of my house was packed already because of the Wrath of the Water Spirits. And, of course, that my BFF was waiting in PA to help with stocking the apartment with groceries and then with unpacking.

As the boxes have been opened and items sorted through, I wonder how I accumulated so much junk over the years. Why was I attached to it all enough to pay movers to transport it, instead of giving it away or selling it in NC? Probably because I was rushing and not planning or processing as wisely as I could have. A lesson for the next move. This old stuff has less value now; it feels like it belongs to a dead past. I want to pick at it like a scab, peel it away like dragon scales off of Eustace Scrubb as I emerge into my new life.

Solar Eclipse Timing

Solar Eclipse Timing

This is where I went to watch the solar eclipse, up in the mountains in North Carolina.

I didn’t take any pictures of the actual eclipse, just enjoyed it as it happened. I was in the path of totality, but not the center line, so it became dark like twilight, with sunset colors at every degree of the horizon.

Now I am back at my house in Cary, which has *almost* completed reconstruction since the water leak. Just a few little things left. And all my possessions are returned, but still in boxes. So feeling like I am at a crossroads. Going to give it a little thought, with this astrology article in mind.

My Summer Vacation

My Summer Vacation

This post is about a long vacation taken with my dear friend Aileen, which included a road trip to Chicago and then a four-day weekend in New York City. We did so many things in two weeks that I am calling it a “craycation” – the opposite of a staycation.

For the trip to Chicago, we rented an SUV, since we were transporting ourselves, three boys, and a large kaiju costume. Why, you ask? We were on our way to G-Fest, the world’s largest gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans! I have to thank Aileen for letting me share her kids, since I don’t have any biological children, but believe that it is fitting in my stage of life to assume some sort of fatherly responsibility for the next generation.

Well I was certainly given that chance, and it was a test of my endurance and my tolerance. It’s a challenge for me to be in a family because I have been alone for almost all of my adult life. Part of the logic of renting a full-sized SUV was knowing we would all be in close quarters for a week and could use the extra space. When the kids asked about its fuel efficiency I said, “It gets ‘Murica miles per gallon!”

We drove to Chicago via Pittsburgh and Cleveland, stopping at no fewer than four different museums on the way. The first was Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh, because I like history – so get you some history, boys!

Pittsburgh skyline
Pittsburgh is quite a lovely city

There was also the Living Dead Museum in Evans City, where George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was filmed, including a visit to the cemetery where the first scene was shot.

In Cleveland we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a lot of fun, and if you could make only one of these stops I would recommend this one. As we got closer to Chicago, Aileen discovered this place in a brochure at a rest area, and it became our bonus museum.

Titanosaurus has been spotted on the outskirts of Cleveland!

Once we got to G-Fest, Gavin joined us by plane. Then it was three+ days of monster fun, including movies, art, action figures, our second annual victory in the Kaiju Assault tournament, and of course the costume contest.

The return to PA was accomplished in an epic 13-hour drive in one day, made easier by the audio book of Watership Down.  But there wasn’t much time for rest for Aileen and I, as we next drove to New York City to attend a Broadway teachers’ conference.  This was for her work, and I was attending for companionship, learning, and to see some shows!

There were workshops, including learning dance moves from one of the dance captains from Hamilton, and other kinds of educational workshops which were new to me, although old hat for Aileen. There were talks and chances to learn about what life is like for professionals in the Broadway world.

And then there were shows, the two best of which were Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away.  Oh, and let’s not forget a stop off at Madame Tussauds. 🙂

And just like that two weeks are over and this exhausted bear has to get back to the grind.  Five museums, two conferences, seven stage shows and three movies later the bank account feels starved.

Titanosaurus roaming the halls at G-Fest

I am so grateful to Aileen for letting me into her family, for giving me the opportunity to tell Dad jokes while driving a gas-guzzling SUV down the hot and crowded highways of post-modern America, and experience a family vacation with all its tensions and dramas and excitement and joy. I’ve been alone most of my life, and I feel like I’ve missed out on much of what life has to offer, a fate for which I am fully responsible, since it all came out of choices I have made.

But I look around, and see how lucky we are to be alive right now. Our generation is at its peak in life, and we are making our mark in entertainment and in business and in politics, and it’s messy and it’s scary, but that’s just how my generation grew up to be, so we’ll just have to go down the road and see where it takes us. As my career continues to ascend, new possibilities open up for a life the feels like it has only just begun.

This is why I vacation like I’m running out of time, ’cause there’s a million things I haven’t done. But just you wait.

Spoiled Bear

Spoiled Bear

The ongoing saga of my encounter with the water spirits continues. My house is asbestos and water-free, but not tenable. While the insurance company takes its sweet time approving the repairs, I am domiciled in a residence hotel, in a cozy little one bedroom suite with a kitchenette. It’s turning out to be a life I could get used to.

Breakfast is free every morning, and each day someone comes and washes the dishes and makes the bed. So with a smaller space and maid service, I am freed from the drudgery of chores.

My bestie has come to visit, and we have made a number of excursions to places near the hotel. Our first was to a Cinebistro to see Wonder Woman. This venue is a sort of luxury movie theater, with good drinks and food served, and, astonishingly, no ads showing while you sit in your reclining seat waiting for the movie to start. A nearby taco place turned out to be similarly upscale.

The real treat was discovering that while at the hotel we have a pass to a Lifetime Fitness that is within walking distance. This is a gigantic fitness center with multiple pools and a huge floor full of fancy exercise equipment with touchscreen controls. With monthly fees four times the amount, it puts the dive fitness center where I am a member to shame.

The hotel is not too far from my all but abandoned house, where apparently an upper-middle class commercial mecca has existed of which I was unaware. It’s newer development than my neighborhood, and on the leading edge of a consumer trend toward higher quality services and experiences over commodities.

So now it feels like I have been cast from home and marooned on the shores of affluenza. With the insurance covering the hotel bill, I’m not sure if the water spirits were punishing me by trashing my house, or offering me a free spa vacation.

I know this is all going to come across as bragging, but it is where this bear’s life is at. Curiously, my personal trajectory has been on the up ever since the financial crisis. I am in a natural place, I suppose, for a lucky man at the peak of life.