How to Handle Covid Exhaustion

white hanging bench with stainless steel base
Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

Are we there yet?

I am absolutely positively over Covid. I have reached the maximum exhaustion level where, as far as can be determined, everyone else in the U.S. also stands. Or lies, among those who are squashed flat under a purple cloud of weariness. We are all suffering from Covid Exhaustion.

Covid Exhaustion, the national condition, is not unlike Covid Fatigue, the diagnosis. Not having had Covid the accursed actual disease, all I can attest to are these symptoms that the WebMD people list: chronic tiredness or sleepiness; sore or achy muscles; slow reflexes or responses; poor decision-making skills; moodiness and irritability; short-term memory problems; poor concentration; inability to pay attention to surroundings or the situation at hand. Yep, I qualify, and I am not alone.

Things around the U.S. Capitol are “testy,” reports the New York Times. Well, yes, there is a certain amount of testiness loose in the land. And with the addition of testiness to exhaustion, that purple cloud is pretty much squashing us all. So in the public interest, this writer has compiled an Exhaustion Protocol. The following is not FDA approved.

WALK. When I reach the screaming stage with Covid Exhaustion, I walk out the door. And just keep going for two or three miles or more. You may not have San Francisco’s agreeable walking climate (or hills & views & destinations) but wherever in the world you are, there is something therapeutic about entering the outside world and slamming the door behind you.

SLEEP. All the answer sites for Covid Fatigue (which I consulted just to feel authentic about this) advise getting plenty of sleep. Since part of Covid Exhaustion involves regularly waking up at 3 AM worrying about the news, getting enough sleep requires creativity. Just think naps.

EAT. Most advisories about exhaustion recommend things like avoiding sugar, fats, alcohol etc, just about everything good. I say eat cookies and donuts, burgers with fries, salted caramels, shrimp tempura; drink white chocolate mochas and coffee milkshakes. You’re on your own with alcohol, which I quit a few decades ago, but I suspect martinis are probably good for Covid Exhaustion.

THINK, but only selectively. Do not think about whatever you just read in the newspaper or glanced in your news feed. Think about (a) lakes and forests, (b) soft music, (c) any of the first three solutions above, or (d) nice people. Which brings up:

VISIT. Friends in parks or parklets – those outdoor eatery places – or any pleasant outdoor space. I’m fine with anybody who wants to go indoors to see nice people, but if you meet them outdoors it is a guilt-free experience, and we try to avoid guilt because it leads straight back to Exhaustion.

REPEAT. If you’re still suffering, you might try rearranging the order of the above. I have personally found that WALK, EAT, SLEEP works pretty well with endless repetitions, as long as a couple of VISITS are occasionally interspersed. And/or, simultaneous applications such as WALK/EAT/WALK, if you strategize for white chocolate mocha along your route.

More than one news source (excluding Facebook, which, c’mon, is an anti-news source) is now reporting that Covid  will become simply something we learn to live with. And to treat: add it to measles, flu, etc and perhaps the unvaccinated crazies who are pushing hospitals to the breaking point will get the #%&*#+ vaccine; and eventually we return to normalcy. So I propose the above regimen as a way to get us from crisis to acceptance.

I wonder if Dr. Fauci will sign on?

Reach Out & Touch Someone in 2022

(Ed. Note: At the end of this essay is the solution to today’s major problem. You may want to skip right to the end and just blow off eveything in between. Or not.)

One of my favorite memes, among those currently floating around, is this one: Nobody claim 2022 as your year. We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don’t touch anything.

Okay, but I’m worried about the no-touching business. Two lonnng years ago, the World Health Organization first identified the SARS-CoV-2 virus, now known as our familiar non-friend Covid. And we quit touching. Handrails, restaurant tables, countertops, each other. This made perfectly good sense, as the unknowns about this deadly invader outnumbered the knowns by about a zillion. No sooner had one exited the store with a spritz of hand sanitizer from the ubiquitous jars at doors than one entered the café where entry was prohibited without hand sanitizing again. We re-learned how to handwash to the tune of the birthday song, and shame befell anyone who was seen failing to scrub for the requisite 20 seconds. My mother would be proud. This country soon had the cleanest – or at least the most sanitary – human hands on the planet. All carefully not shaking each other.

Meanwhile, because we knew the invisible enemy lurked in our fellow humans, we began the social distancing thing – creating no-touch zones in check-out lines, along grocery aisles or at street crossings. Pretty soon it also became evident that Covid – and its innumerable invisible variants – hopped around from human to human via invisible air currents, so the next perfectly sensible thing was the mask.

For this new year, masks are us. Masks are just totally good things. Handy for proclaiming messages, honoring your favorite team, encouraging eye contact, upscaling your wardrobe – the concierge in my building, a hip young 30-something, has a collection of matching ties and masks worthy of the New York Times Style magazine. For the record, the older you are, the more wrinkles your mask conceals. The political thing is regrettable, since my mask protects you and your mask protects me and conceptually this creates a beautiful community.

But the touching thing. If we learned anything from all the quarantining and isolating (which will likely be happening intermittently for the foreseeable future) it is that humans don’t do well without being around other humans. Plus, we really need to reach out and touch someone.

One of my regular venues recently inched into in-person events, masked and distanced and please show proof of vaccination. On one’s nametag is your personal choice of dot: Red Dot = Please keep your distance. Yellow Dot = I’m good with elbow bumps and peace signs. Green Dot = Please, let’s hug! The Reds and Yellows are still in no-touch-land, and bless their hearts. I am a hopeless Green Dot person.    

We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. I can go with that. Goodness, quiet, courtesy and respect are still plentiful today, and Lord know we can use a lot more of them. Wear a mask. Keep your distance as needed. But don’t touch anything?

Let’s hear it for the Green Dots.

A New Year’s Ode to the Tree

green trees
green trees
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Events and humankind in general being iffy these days, this seems a good time to talk about trees. I am a tree-hugger to the core. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer for probably never writing a blog as lovely as a tree, herewith.

Other flora and fauna offer unique contributions to the planet and to us planet-dwellers, but The Tree offers food and sustenance, healing, shelter, mystery, wisdom and peace. What can I say? Actually, Fred Hageneder says it pretty well in the introduction to his latest book, The Living Wisdom of Trees. After listing things we humanoids aspire to such as “extending compassion, feeling gratitude, and love for fellow inhabitants of the planet,” Hageneder holds that trees show us “life is worth so much. Trees and humankind,” he points out, “have always had a symbiotic relationship.” (I’m going to hope I haven’t misrepresented the good botanist/ scholar/ author; he writes great books.)

There’s the Tree of Knowledge, for example, and do we ever need it today. Separating good from evil has unfortunately gotten terribly tricky.

Not to mention the Tree of Life (some people say the two are one and the same, but two trees are always better than one IMHO.) So many sacred trees run through human history they can boggle the mind – unless the mind simply relaxes into the notion that humans throughout history have tried to make meaning of things and trees help us do that. I mean, there they stand, firmly rooted and gracefully growing to the full extent that Mother Nature allows.

Brian Abeling, Iowa Road Trip.net

The cousin of a close friend is working on a tree-centric ancestry book, and gave permission for me to quote from it. Here’s what Mary Gilchrist of Iowa City, Iowa writes: “Arriving in Iowa in 1880, my grandfather’s grandfather and his brother were measuring their land and stuck a stick that the latter had cut for a walking stick into the ground in order to mark the boundary. As cottonwoods will do, the stick took root and grew to a majestic size. When the road was moved a bit, the tree was smack dab in the middle of the intersection. Prized on the Great Plains, the cottonwood tree was left in that intersection, nestled in the area which also housed members of the Troublesome Creek Gang, aka the Crooked Creek Cowboys, who terrorized the area until shootouts ended their rampages.” Those cousins still gather around that tree for periodic photo ops, and perhaps to give silent thanks.

My own affections are more fickle, as they jump from tree to tree. At the start of my MFA program (University of San Francisco, Class of ’00) we were assigned the task of writing an autobiographical narrative. An interesting project at any age, creating something essentially true and minimally boring at 60-something which I then was – whew. Fifty pages max. But it turned out at least essentially true and minimally boring.

pink cherry blossom tree under blue sky during daytime
Alexandra Dubinina on Unsplash.com

FAMILY TREES, it’s titled. Early on it tells about Willie Oak, the giant Virginia Oak around which my kid-gang gathered when I was six or seven or so. Named for Mrs. Inez Hatcher’s gardener (who could climb higher and swing farther than any of us,) Willie Oak was located on a large, grassy vacant lot next to Mrs. Hatcher’s house and centered an entire social system. It offered limbs to climb, a tire swing secured from a high branch, shelter on hot summer days and the freedom to create around these – pretty much out of sight of parents or passing grown-ups. Then there were the plum trees in our back yard whose fragrance was beyond glorious and whose fruit regularly made us sick because who can sit in a tree full of ripe plums and not overeat? And the leafy maples for sitting and reading in, while also eavesdropping on passersby who had no idea a small person was up there hidden and listening.

Later there was the elegant, matriarchal magnolia (which I also climbed, although 40-some years older by then,) in the front yard of a post-divorce Dutch Colonial. And lastly the majestic Monterey Pine my good final husband Bud had planted in a small basket years before. By the time I took up writing residency in a fourth floor studio it was flourishing outside my window, hosting bees and butterflies and lovely Anna’s Hummingbirds; if bees and butterflies and hummingbirds in tall pines can’t inspire a writer, nothing can.

Need a good New Year’s resolution? Hug a Tree   

How to Build a Village: You May Need it One of These Days

three person riding bikes on green grass field
Dikaseva on Unsplash

Does it really take a village? Probably.

Some of us need a sturdier village than others. But villages are good. Worth both the cultivation and the acknowledging. I admit to needing a LOT of villages; some cultivated, some spontaneous, most acknowledged, all appreciated.

For instance. On getting home from a recent cross-country trip rather late one evening I did a little unpacking, a little going through the mail, and eventually I played the accumulated messages on my land line phone.

“Hello, Mrs. Johns,” said a pleasant voice. “This is gate agent Sheiako with Alaska Airlines. We have your wallet, that was left on the plane . . .” This is news that’s particularly welcome before one notices the absence of the wallet and enters full panic mode. And it definitely proves the existence of the village: cleaning crew, miscellaneous supervisors and agent Sheiako all together. I’ve no idea when or if I’ll fly Alaska Airlines again, put I’ve paved any future path with letters of sincere gratitude to and about every member of that village I could think of. Villagers usually appreciate knowing they’ve been of help.

A similar village assembled only a short time later to retrieve my Discover card at the local grocery store. One would think some earlier lesson might have been learned, but anyway. What’s interesting here is the fact that when I went to collect (with extreme gratitude again) my credit card from the store manager, she opened a drawer literally crammed with credit cards, miscellaneous cards and at least a half-dozen driver’s licenses. Are all those owners unaware of their villages?

My friend Pam’s husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, not long before their 50th wedding anniversary. She offered to make their planned overseas celebration trip happen anyway, but he was apprehensive about being away from his physicians. So instead, Pam joined with her son and daughter-in-law (relatives are primary villagers) to send invitations around the country to a giant anniversary party. Her husband, as it turned out, did not live to make the party. But she found herself not only widowed in an unexpectedly short time but also surrounded by a village. In her case, it is strengthened by her unfailing habit of recognizing every birthday, anniversary &/or significant occasion in the lives of her friends and family with a hand-addressed, snail-mailed card. Some villages are cultivated over the years.

person's hand over brown floral field during daytime
Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

When my own good husband died I was fine with attending him through the very few days it took to complete that journey; but I balked at being nearby when the cremation people came. So from another room I heard the front door close on their departure – and realized, with a sense of utter desolation, that I was the only person in my suddenly silent apartment. Next, I realized I was in a retirement building into which we’d moved a few years earlier so I could see us through this. “So, why am I here?” I asked myself; by now it was 7 AM. Thereupon I went down to the dining room and surfed among the tables saying, “Bud just died; I need a lot of warmth and hugs.” Not what most folks want for a conversation-opener while they’re having their morning coffee, but everyone blinked a few times and then surrounded me with comfort. Some villages come about by design. Or a reluctant move.

But back to the lost-and-found department. My friend Carol is a retired schoolteacher and thereby knows stuff. Such as: put a card with the phone and address of your building into your wallet. (Some villages need advance planning.) Returning from a visit to a nearby town she stopped at a downtown bank to get some cash. And – you guessed it – dropped her wallet into the cushions of the chair in which she was reorganizing things. A few minutes later she was seated in a Lyft car, having quickly made friends with the driver. (All villages function better with friends.) She soon realized she was without money or identification, and her wallet was somewhere in an unfamiliar bank. But she had her cellphone. Not to worry, said the concierge at her building. “The bank has already called, and all you need to do is show up and utter the magic code: Star Star 7.” So the Lyft driver did a wheelie and returned to the bank, she uttered the magic words and was reunited with her wallet. Some villages seem downright weird.

Here’s the thing. It really does take a village to get us through this life.

The good news is that villages are everywhere.  

Reporting from the Facebook Dungeon

Galaxy Survives Black Hole's Feast – For Now | NASA
NASA view of the Black Hole

I have been disappeared by Facebook.

Well, not totally disappeared yet, although I recognize that could happen any day now. So far, I’ve just been made essentially invisible. It happens. I do understand one should not get one’s feelings hurt by an app, but still. Facebook algorithms, I further understand, are managed by some faceless Facebook Artificial Intelligence machine, and no actual human beings are involved other than the evil cabal sitting in a dark room somewhere setting in motion mysterious controls over the most intimate details of our psyches.

My psyche is in pain.

Ten or fifteen years ago my granddaughter created a Facebook page for me because, she said, it was imperative that I get into the 21st century and besides, this was how I could keep in touch with my grandchildren. They, of course, have now moved on to Instagram and Twitter and who knows what other wondrous technological barriers to personal interaction. But meanwhile I have come to enjoy Mark Zuckerberg’s toy. Long lost, faraway friends have become friendly and familiar, friends and nodding acquaintances from other pieces of my convoluted life have arisen, even some current friends and (older than the grandkids) family members reappear on my merry page. And try as I might to avoid patronizing the maddening ads I’m satisfied that I spend enough on its sponsors to keep Mr. Zuckerberg in the style to which he is accustomed and thus have repaid my free-space debt a few zillion times over.

So now I resent being disappeared by his algorithm crew; it seems an undeserved case of disinFacebookfranchisement.  

Here’s what does show up on my feed – after “Fran, we care about you . . . Your memories on Facebook . . .” In order of appearance:

Something posted by a nice young woman whom I did like (in the original sense of the word) when she waited tables in my building six or eight years ago.

Two ads.

Something re-posted by a distant friend of my daughter.

Something else re-posted from a 4-year-old post by someone whose name is vaguely familiar so I must have Facebook friended him sometime in the distant past.

Another ad.

Something posted two days ago by a woman who lives in Borneo and whom I must have Facebook friended at some point because we do have a few things in common even if we’ve never met.

Two more ads. At which point it’s time to give up and quit scrolling.

Here’s what does not appear in my feed: Anything posted by my children or other family members, anything posted by good friends, Facebook ‘Close Friends’, or by others with whom I’ve been happily, frequently interacting over the past 10 or 15 years.

I assume Facebook is sharing my own posts with one or two people who are Facebook Friends but don’t really remember who I am – since part of my disappearance is the total absence of comments or emojis of any sort on the three photos I have bravely posted over the past week. This, of course, is the final blow to one’s fragile ego: Nobody likes my posts!

It is very dark down here in the dungeon of the disappeared.

The Dark Side of Airline Travel

The 7 coolest airplane interiors and how the designs spice up your flight
Matadornet.com image

What is it with dark airplanes? Those of us addicted to sunlight, open air and cloud-watching may have to establish our own airline. Or unionize in favor of at least a passenger area dedicated to open window shades. We might, I fear, find it slow going.

I am a confirmed window-seat person. I have nothing against aisle-seat people; endowed with a better-than-average (I’ve been told) bladder, I generally don’t bother them. Middle-seat people, unless they are part of a devoted couple, simply had the misfortune to book their tickets late; for purposes of this essay they count for very little. What power do they have, anyway, poor squished-in things.

On settling into my window-seat corner, the first thing I want to do is raise the shade. More and more often it seems there’s a rule against this until we are at least airborne. Which is OK with me; I’m a cloud-watcher, not necessarily a greasy-runway-watcher. So once we level off above the clouds I am eager to slide my shade up.

That’s when I get the frantic motion from the aisle-seat occupant who wants it shut. If window shades were open elsewhere in our sardine can I might be emboldened to resist. But no, a glance around reveals nothing but gloom. Every shade drawn tight. We might as well be in a submarine.

“Folks,” I want to shout, “it’s 10 AM!” But I do not. There’s enough hostility loose in the land as is.

So we travel across the country in darkness. Outside are rivers and plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, too many cloud formations to name. Sunsets. Weather conditions creating phenomena we may never again see. What can I say?

Naps, you argue. Well OK, I’m a #1 proponent of naps. But what’s wrong with eyeshades? We’re all masked up; we might as well be fully hidden from sight. I’ve tried napping on airplanes myself. You can take this to the bank: approximately 45 seconds into a deep sleep the captain will come on with some 80-decibel announcement about how grateful the crew is for our loyalty, and how he (it’s always a he; she-captains at least generally speak at an acceptable decibel level) wants us to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We are supposed to enjoy being rudely awakened just to be reminded we are being held captive in a dark-grey tin box for five or six hours? Lacking any other announcement excuse we will encounter rough air that mandates an interruption about tightening our seat belts. My seat belt was already tight.

 Small children whine loudly. Who can blame them? There’s no glimmer of daylight into which mommy can point to say “Look at the pretty puffy clouds.” Or even rain. We drought-weary Californians would so relish the sight of rain on the wings – but no, everybody wants to plunge westward in solemn gloom, back to the wildfires without even a small memory of possible salvation.

It’s enough to drive one to train travel. Or cars. At least you can’t drive a car with all the windows covered over. Uh, oh. I may have given the self-driving car crazies a new idea.

Finally there is the closing announcement. “We’re beginning our descent into San Francisco. Thank you for flying Shut-in Air.”  

The Luxury of Hope

sun rays coming through trees
Wonderlane on Unsplash

“We don’t have time for the luxury of despair,” said a recent political pundit. Because this space tries to avoid politics the source will remain anonymous. But the pundit had a point. 

Despair is easy to come by these days. Even if you’re not just a teeny bit worried about the future of democracy, or the loss of civility in today’s world, or fill in the blank: (homelessness) (pollution) (nuclear weapons) (immigration) (gas prices) (prejudice) (create your own fill-in) – despair hunkers down behind every one of them. And if none of those get to you, roam around California for a while and consider the thought of one errant spark sending the state up in flames. Planetary extinction can sometimes out-despair everything else you can come up with.

The anti-despair forces point out that it is a crippling state of being, that nothing changes if we the despairing are pulling the covers over our heads, as we are some days inclined to do. Luxuriating in despair is the coward’s excuse for inaction, they say, a surrender to the bad guys. OK, we say from underneath the pillow, go tell that to (fill in the blank.)

As it turns out, though, there is an anti-despair mechanism lurking within most of us. It’s called hope. I got that word straight from Rev. Marci Auld Glass. After writing the above first two paragraphs on a Saturday night, my friend Marci threw out an unsolicited follow up on Sunday morning. “We’re wondering if we can hope,” she said (from the pulpit, for goodness’ sake) “because we are exhausted by despair. But we are not in the despair business, we are in the hope business.” The message here was obviously for me to go home and finish this essay.

 On Monday afternoon, a sentence or two farther along, the mail arrived. It bore this word from my friend Ally McKinney of Justice Revival. “The political violence of January 6th surprised me,” it began, “but it did not steal my hope.” Imagine. Among other things, Justice Revival is working to get the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution formally adopted. You thought the Equal Rights Amendment was a done deal? Actually, no. It’s been ratified by the required 38 states, but women (to cite one category of humankind) still have no constitutionally guaranteed equality here. Anyone working to finish a bill proposed to Congress in 1923, reworded in 1943 and first sent to the states for ratification in 1972 – who is still hopeful – that says a lot for hope.

Despair gets lonely; groups offer hope. Here’s where I find hope, in addition to the above: Climate One. Greenbelt Alliance. Trust for Public Land. Doctors Without Borders. Ploughshares Fund. Fill in your own nonprofit blanks. Throw in a little music and art and the ancient Sequoias still standing despite the drought and hope begins to win out.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,” Martin Luther said, “I would still plant my apple tree.” Maybe we should all go out and plant a tree.  


 [FJ1]

High Drama on Seventeenth Street

Cops on bikes arrived, dashed toward the action

The motorcade was led by four guys on motorcycles, followed by one long, black limo with a governmental emblem on its side, followed by another couple of motorcycles. Sirens, flashing lights, the whole catastrophe. But this was at dinnertime, so maybe somebody important was just late for dinner. I went right back to my own, which was in the dining room of the Army & Navy Club in our nation’s capitol, my DC home away from home thanks to my late ex-Marine husband. There was a large table full of dark suits who were seated (when my guests and I were midway through our entrees) immediately behind me. After catching a few titles when introductions were being made I eavesdropped for a while – but we quickly decided they weren’t Cabinet level so probably not worth the trouble. That scene, though, was only a preamble. The real drama started about 7 hours later.

Reinforcements also standing ready

Flashing red, white and blue lights on the ceiling interrupted my dreams at 2:30 AM. Below my window – which was on the fourth floor of the Army & Navy Club, overlooking 17th Street and Farragut Square – were several DC police cars, including the one with revolving lights. Across 17th Street was a Metro bus. There seemed to be no passengers on the bus, but near the rear door a bit of action was visible: a large, yellow-jacketed person could be seen moving somewhat ominously to and fro. I drew the line at getting dressed, going downstairs and peering across into the bus window. Still, there was definitely something sinister going on. People with brains close their blinds when staying in street-front rooms near the center of cities such as Washington DC; the rest of us get up in the middle of the night to follow urban dramas. But this one was clearly something of national urgency.

Pretty soon a few more of DC’s finest appeared, joining the several who had ridden up on bikes earlier. While no guns were drawn, they were clearly ready for anything. Temperatures were dropping into the low 40s and I worried about their un-gloved hands. But they kept careful watch. This went on for about 20 chilly minutes. At approximately 3:10 AM, one of the watchers sprinted around the corner, and returned with an emergency van of the DC Fire Department. (More flashing lights, but I was already up.)

Not just up, I was glued to the window by now. Watching a crisis unfold before my very eyes. A Russian spy? An undercover hit man intercepted just before executing his crime? A dangerous escapee from international custody?

Mission accomplished

The bus lights went out. A hunched-over person emerged from behind the bus, followed by the large person in yellow vest. A side door opened in the FDDC van, the hunched-over person climbed in, the officers biked off, the vehicles turned out their lights and drove away. It was 3:16. Peace and quiet were restored to Farragut Square. Admiral Farragut (“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” – he’s on the pedestal at right, hidden by the trees) would undoubtedly have approved of the speedy solution to the problem of a homeless guy sleeping on a Metro bus. At least one observer, however, felt the entire episode had come to a rather anticlimactic end.

All quiet on 17th Street

Your tax dollars at work.

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