Business As (un)Usual

by Diane Duane
The virtual desk at the moment

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading itself about, it seemed like a good idea to give people a local status report of what’s going on with us over here. The short version of that is: we’re fine. Peter and I are safe at home, sheltering in place—sort of pre-cocooning (since neither of us is quite old enough to come under that aspect of the present Irish restrictions)—and life for us is going on pretty much as usual.

A little more back story might be useful here for those who don’t know us well. Since we both work from home, and have for many years, our normal lifestyle already looks a whole lot like what a lot of people are now being forced to put up with. We live in a little cottage out in the wilds of West Wicklow, a very rural area—where, unless we actually went out of the house for a walk longer than fifteen or twenty minutes, it’d be rare for us to see so much as a car or truck or tractor. And as for seeing or interacting with other human beings—sure, one might come along once a day or so walking their dogs, but that’d be about the size of it. And our business days look like this: (1) getting up, showering, having breakfast (or whatever passes for that meal, because Peter sometimes works different hours from me: is it really breakfast at 2 in the afternoon?); (2) heading into our separate work spaces—Peter’s is upstairs in what doubles as a guest bedroom, mine’s downstairs in the living room—and (3) getting on with work: writing, and the assorted business that surrounds it.

There’s no travel associated with our work beyond going up and down the stairs. Meals happen at home, the vast majority of them home-cooked. We have only one place anywhere near us where we’d eat out—the local pub, about a mile’s walk away. The next closest would be in our nearby shopping town, Baltinglass, about 8 km away. (This would be where we would send for takeout, assuming we wanted Chinese. That’s all that’s available in terms of being delivered all this way out to us.) …If you’ve noted that the concept of walking places keeps coming up, well, we gave up our car about fifteen years ago because we found that we really just didn’t need it. For six days out of seven, on the average, it was sitting out in the back, literally growing moss, while still needing to have insurance, car tax, and so forth paid on it. (We let the cats sleep in it sometimes; they started thinking it was their flat.) …Finally we said “The heck with this!”, and let the car go in favor of either renting a car when necessary—an option no longer possible since the local rental chain started making that difficult for the self-employed—or using local cab companies to take us to Baltinglass for shopping, or to connect with public transit (Bus Eireann) into Dublin and beyond. And that’s how things have gone… until a month or so ago.

Without needing to get into the entire timeline of the coronavirus as it affects Ireland, early signs of what was going to happen were already beginning to make themselves plain to me around the last time that we actually had to leave the house for anything. That was the end of February, and a week later at the beginning of March, when I needed (first) to have have routine bloods drawn and (second) to go see our GP for a routine checkup. A day or so after the second visit, I started noticing a runny nose and a bit of a cough that I hadn’t had before. Immediately I got concerned, as not once but twice within the past ten days I’d been sitting in a doctor’s waiting room for a good while. For safety’s sake, starting in the first week of March I decided it’d be smart to self-isolate until I was completely clear what was going on. (Those of you who follow me on Tumblr will have seen mention of this.)

Fortunately the concern turned out to be unfounded. By the 20th it became clear that the runny nose was just secondary to a long-standing, on-and-off chronic sinus infection, and a reaction to the usual seasonal pollens. And to say I was relieved would be understating the case. It’s tough to concentrate on managing other universes when you’re sitting there wondering if you’re about to start sickening with something that has a pretty good chance of killing you in this one. (At the age of going-on-68, I’m unquestionably in dodgy territory, and Peter’s not too far behind me.)

Anyway, by the time that Ireland declared its stay-at-home lockdown, I’d already been sitting tight for a couple of weeks, and I just kind of shrugged. So did Peter. For us, staying in the house and being at the desk for hours at a time, or sprawled in the Comfy Chair or on the living-room sofa binging Netflix (which thank God we can actually do now since we finally had real no-shit broadband installed last year to replace the pay-as-you-go cellular that was previously the best we could get in this neck of the woods)—is exactly what life around here usually looks like, for days on end. (Not least because when depending on a taxi service means we must automatically attach an extra €30 or $40 price tag to everything—from the simplest, quickest shopping trip to a night out at the pub—that’s not an option we overuse.) As for being forced to isolate with another person for a week or two (or three) on end… well, that too is what life around here usually looks like. It’s a good thing we really like each other a lot.

The main change/inconvenience at the moment is that the cab service we use closed itself down for the duration as well. (Which frankly makes sense, as in none of their cars would it be possible to enforce physical distancing.) So in the short term, we really are confined to barracks whether we like it or not… except for walking the maximum 2km from home that present restrictions allow for purposes of exercise. But by and large, other life events have been going on pretty much as usual, and immediate needs pretty much get fulfilled.

Food, for example. Our groceries are normally delivered to us by one of the two supermarket chains that serve our area, Tesco and Supervalu, because we don’t always have time or inclination to go out for them. Granted, at the moment this business is more complicated than usual. Way more people in our area (as one might expect) are now availing themselves of the service than would’ve done so before. So instead of being able to get on the computer and order groceries to be delivered tomorrow—or today, if you get the timing right—you now have to watch the stores’ websites like a hawk for delivery slots opening up, and they’re never any closer than a week or two away. (Our next delivery slot is April 14… and I really, really hope we can make the present jug of milk last long enough to keep Peter in milk for his tea until then.) Also, don’t get me started about yeast. For someone who’s routinely baked bread two or three times a week for the last 10 years or more, suddenly having other people buy the available supply of yeast and flour out from under me is a bit of a pain. Especially as I think, knowing human nature, of the many, many, MANY packages of yeast that are almost certainly going to sit in the backs of people’s cupboards and never again see the light of day until someday five years from now, 10 years from now, they’re thrown out. (…Oooh, bitter much?…)

Other life-infrastructure isn’t too much of a problem, as we’ve had lots of time to work out the bugs and workarounds of a non-car-enabled lifestyle in this part of the world. Other household needs besides food can mostly be ordered in; heating oil, for example (paid for over the phone and delivered by the nice guy who comes along, fills the tank and goes away), and firewood (call another nice guy, arrange payment: bags of wood and turf get left for us). Minor pharmaceuticals, if we need them,  we order from an online pharmacy down-country. Banking’s all done online since our local branch office closed. So is almost all other bill paying. So’s almost all of our communication. And as far as income goes, at the moment most of it comes from Ebooks Direct—the operation of which is handled from my desktop—and by other means of payment-for-writing that aren’t physical to begin with.

To sum everything up: we’re having things a lot easier than a lot of the people around us… a situation the irony of which isn’t lost on me. Usually it’s more the other way around. I look on with wonder and encouragement at the increasingly creative ways that people around the planet are finding here to get around the limitations imposed on them and still make life work, for themselves and for the people around them… especially at the small business end.

But “easy” is relative. Increasingly the news makes more and more difficult viewing for me. I was taught enough epidemiology in my public-health unit in nursing school to understand the broad strokes of how what’s now happening must play out. What’s happening in Europe and Ireland are bad enough… but I’m deeply frustrated and frightened by what’s going on in New York in particular right now, in hospitals I knew well because I worked in them or knew people who did. I’m distressed by the prospect of what will most likely unfold as the surge of very sick people starts spreading equally aggressively in other parts of the country—places that are even less well prepared or defended against what’s coming because many people living there have been taught to believe that this pandemic isn’t real. And I grieve for my former colleagues at the nursing and medical end who’re dying on the front lines, and ache for those now having to make choices they never should’ve had to make, being forced to work under conditions that they could surely never have imagined.

At this point I suspect no one’s surprised by the notion that we’re all now caught in the midst of a century-changing event, one that’ll be as profound in its influence as the events of any other pandemic or world war. And that said, there’s no escaping the truth that this will be a tough time all around, even for those of us who (out of the sheer luck of the draw) are sitting comfortably at home in our usual circumstances, without having to deal with sudden changes in the way things are on their own turf. We’ve got a roof over our heads, enough money to buy food and ways to get it into the house, work to do and no fear of being laid off or fired… with the certainty that we have not been exposed to coronavirus and are (under present circumstances, anyway, while we keep ourselves battened down) most unlikely to be. What can’t be put aside for either Peter or me, though, is the sense of the sheer luck we’re benefiting from, and the certain knowledge of the level of privilege that’s functioning on our behalf. There are a hundred ways in which things could have been very different—especially had this been one of those years that required us to be on the road in the course of work. The concept’s really unsettling.

And along those lines, our thoughts go constantly to friends who’re facing into this crisis while also saddled with financial trouble—work loss, job loss; friends with family sick with COVID-19 or something else, and unable to be with them; friends struggling to get critical work done despite the circumstances; friends stuck far from home who can’t get back there. Every day’s news, every day’s Twitter, is full of the cruelty and irrationality of people in places of power who should be doing much, much better… as well as of the sacrifice of fellow professionals and of people being gentle with each other.

It’s hard to get on with business under these circumstances… particularly the unending uncertainty about what may come next. Concentration’s far more difficult than usual. Yet making the effort to stay focused and working is part of what I described to someone, some while back, as wanting to “be found at my post” when a crisis came; since this is the job I do, the one thing I’m really suited for, and it matters to keep doing it. …So I’m staying as focused as I can on that.

A number of projects are in progress at the moment. The (LGBTQ) Middle Kingdoms-universe work Tales of the Five #3, The Librarian is well along, and I’m aiming for publication at Ebooks Direct in late April/early May. (No episode of this “prose miniseries” will appear at Amazon until they’re all complete, around the end of Q4 2020.) The new Young Wizards interstitial work Interim Errantry 3: A Day at the Crossings is in progress and scheduled for publication (at both Ebooks Direct and Amazon) in Q3 of 2020. The extremely peculiar first episode of the “Digits of Destiny” series, The Thumb of Zorbo, is also well under way and may be the next thing that comes out from me. And rather to my surprise, I find myself writing Some Watery Tart, in which the Lady of the Lake finally spills the tea on King Arthur’s court. Don’t ask me when to expect that, as I haven’t the slightest idea. …There’s also a TV miniseries being restructured for pitching, and a novel that Peter and I are getting ready to start writing together; and, of course, The Door Into Starlight. But I’m not going to get into more detail about those right now.

Anyway: Peter and I are keeping on “keeping on” through this bizarre time, and will keep doing so unless/until something unexpected happens. I’m on Twitter a lot, in the normal course of things, so if something goes wrong, goes south or gets weird, look for early indications there. Meanwhile, if you feel like encouraging the artist in her labors: feel free to buy a coffee (check the right-hand column here), grab a discounted ebook (we’ve got a 50%-off sale running for the foreseeable future)… or just think good thoughts. Those are always appreciated.

And now back to what I’m binging at the moment (Handsome Siblings on Netflix), and yet another attempt to answer the eternal question: How the hell do these people go out fighting all dressed in white and wind up without so much as a smudge on them? Sure, this is fantasy, but that’s just stretching it too far…

Meanwhile, wherever you may be: take care of yourself.

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