What did you do today? I came home from work early, a half day. My workplace, a public library, closed on Tuesday. The board dismissed all employees for emergency leave—which is paid, so far. The high school is closed for the rest of the month; my kids are on an extended break, the teachers expect nothing from them, no online learning, no term papers, so far. Susan set up a low desk on our meditation bench–a small platform abutting the picture window at the back of our bedroom. She sits cross-legged with a cat at her side as she writes grant proposals. She’s working full days from home, so far. The kids are on vacation and the adults are getting paid; I can’t imagine better luck. Our situation couldn’t be better, so far.
I have lots of spare time right now. Short work days. With my kids out of school, I sleep later. My after-dinner time extends longer. I’m in no rush to get to bed. Plenty of me-time. Plenty of time to read. When my boss released us from work, she listed some ways we could keep engaged with library work on our paid leave. One of her suggestions: Read a book. “Awesome,” I thought, “I’m now getting paid to read.” But I’m not.
For the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly scattered-brained. I can’t focus. I’m consuming data in snippets. I blame CNN. They run “live updates” of the coronavirus situation. A steady drip of news, every five to fifteen minutes. One hundred-and-twenty-word articles. Quick splashes of info. Just a bit more data to paint a picture. When I wake up in the morning, I review what I missed. A small red oval on the screen reads “46 new updates.” I click the oval and teleport to the top of the screen. And I review the past seven hours, one headline at a time.
Snippets. Focus. I’ve been reading the same book for ten days—Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. Isherwood Williams is a young man living in a cabin in the mountains. An intellectual, a geological researcher. Not a people person, he prefers his time alone. After a rattlesnake bite, he returns to civilization for medical attention. And he finds… almost everyone dead. Yes, I’m reading another pandemic book. This one is different from most. It’s an anthropological study of the changes in the remaining society over the rest of Ish’s life. But I’m not really reading. I’ll pick up the book for fifteen minutes each night. Then back to CNN, back to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map, the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. Snippets.
Because of their length, I’m reading lots of blog posts. Five hundred to a thousand words is the upper limit of my attention span right now. Plus, with a computer in my lap I’m never more than a tab toggle away from CNN. Read a blog, read some updates. It’s how I’m spending my evenings. Eventually, I get self-conscious of my behavior, my screen time, and pick up Earth Abides. But twenty minutes later, I’m back on my laptop.
I follow a lot of bloggers. Well, that might not be accurate. By other’s standards, maybe not a lot, but some. But I read every post in my reader. At times this can seem like a challenge, sometimes a chore. When I’m busy, I can’t keep up. I even skip a post now and then. But right now, there just aren’t enough posts to read. A couple of bloggers, clearly with more time on their hands, are posting daily. But most of you are posting less. Possibly, like me, you only have one topic in your head. You think the world doesn’t need another coronavirus post. Maybe you think anything that can be said already has.
But nobody out there is writing about how you’re feeling. And that’s what I want to read. I don’t need facts. Through my obsessive digestion of everything posted on CNN, I know all the facts. I want to know if you’re scared. If you think the whole thing is overblown, made up. If you’re simply tired of it. Have you reached your saturation point? Are you now avoiding news stories? My kids are. They’ve grown sick of the whole thing, “Can we just stop talking about it?” I tell them to get used to it. This story will be with us for a long time.
So, come on people, up the output. I can’t focus on books, and I’ve already read the news. I’m sure I’m not the only one turning to WordPress for distraction. For quality reading, the WordPress Reader is my only hope.