• Life

    Algonquin Park

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    COVID has changed the way a lot of folks look at travel, I think. In our case, we’d been planning a big bucket-list trip for our 25th anniversary. The basic progression of that went something like:

    1. Two weeks in South America exploring Machu Picchu and/or the Galapagos Islands plus other “nearby” really cool things. (The Nazca figures and the Rainbow Mountain come to mind.)
    2. International travel not looking so hot right now. What if we defer that trip a year or so and do some cool touristy stuff on the eastern seaboard of the US. We’ve never been to New York city and there are some pretty awesome things to see in Boston, Rhode Island, etc. Could be a lot of fun.
    3. Well, things are really spiking in the US. You know, we haven’t been farther east in Canada than Montreal since our honeymoon. Maybe even extend that a bit and spend a week oceanside in PEI or Newfoundland.
    4. Oh, well, that’s not so good now, is it? How about a cottage in the woods on a lakeshore somewhere within a couple of hours’ drive.
    5. Hey, the back yard looks pretty good. Campfires to help burn all the brush I’ve cut down, barbecue, our own bed, and lots of money not spent on gas.

    Change, it happens.

    Now that things have started to ease up a little and we’re adjusting to how stuff works in a COVID age (at least until changing weather in the fall throws multiple wrenches into things, but I’m hardly the first person to predict that), we’ve starting exploring our general area a little bit, finding little, out of the way beaches, lesser known trails, geocaching. More outdoors and more adventurous than the couple of months leading up to now, but still mostly keeping a distance away from people.

    Our farthest trip afield was the drive to Algonquin Park last week. It’s a bit more of a drive than some things, a little over two and a half hours straight to get to the East Gate, but it’s the oldest and third largest provincial park in Ontario and we’ve lived here for almost eighteen years, with ten years in Toronto before that, and never managed to go. Even just thinking about the Highway 60 corridor through the park with no thought to camping, there’s a lot to explore. On our first visit, we did the Visitor’s Centre, three trails, and one beach.

    There was a little geocaching involved (there usually is when we get far from home for leisure purposes), but the hiking and the views were the thing. Lots of great pictures and a mere 7.5km of hikes, though only about a kilometre and a half I would call easy. Tough footing at times on one, so you had to go slow if you wanted to look around, and a lot of steep uphill on another, so it was a solid workout, too. I allowed myself to perform two kata at the top of the cliff on the Lookout Trail while my wife took pictures. The footing was… interesting, but I was careful, not performing at full speed or power, not close enough to the edge to scare her, and the backdrop was awesome. And my wife always enjoys finding a place to swim.

    The only down point to the day is that the few remaining black flies in the park all migrated to me and considered the repellent I was wearing too much of to be seasoning rather than deterrent. Fortunately, I don’t react to the bites, but I have to wonder what they live on when I’m not around.

    And I’m pretty sure one of them followed me home for an early morning snack today.

    Not exactly the awe-inspiring, glorious trip to mark 25 years of marriage that we’d been considering early in the year, but it had its moments, even coming three months late, and it’s a place I think we’ll go back to.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    Will COVID Change the World?

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    Seems like an obvious answer: yes, it will. It already has in some ways, but there’s a lot more to come as we, and a variety of other countries, realize that a lot of the systems we’ve set up and rely on really aren’t working.

    I’m not just talking about policing, but that’s up there. Policing, on the whole isn’t working. While I’m not interested in rehashing all of that here again, we need to take away most of the things we’ve made the police responsible for so they can get back to doing what they’re supposed to do, and then we need to set some real definitions on what that is.

    But beyond that obvious thing, there’s a lot more changes. Some of them equally obvious.

    Masks. Love them, hate them, resent them, agree to them, they are going to be part of things going forward. I used to see a couple here and there when I went to a major city. They’re all over my small town now and were even before the local mandate for them happened.

    We’ve developed new habits and hobbies and anti-habits and appreciations.

    We have a new definition of front line, even if a lot of corporations are trying to go back to the old definition if we let them. I don’t think we’ll let them. Along the same lines, we’re having to revise our definition of things like ‘essential’.

    There’s a turn back to trusting experts. Oh, not everyone, but more than a year or so ago. My current experience is the antivaxxers are quieter, for example, hopefully having their sincerely held beliefs rubbed into reality.

    Individuals think more about communities than they did until recently, and definitions of community are broadening, and will continue to.

    We’ve found some pretty fundamental flaws in our health care system, and I’m not just looking at long term care even if that’s the most glaring one. There will be reform. Eventually, it will probably include true universal healthcare broadened to pharmacare and dental care.

    It’s amazing how many things actually can be done online. For some of them, there won’t be any reason to go back. So many things that were impossible or impractical really weren’t, we just couldn’t present a reason to do them. COVID was a good reason, and now we’ve seen how easy some of it is, things will keep going. This will change the structure of offices across the globe.

    People are thinking more about how they can help other people.

    UBI is going to become a viable idea. I may already have happened.

    Telemedicine is on the rise. This is another thing that probably won’t need to go back. Half of my visits to the doctor in the last ten years could have been accomplished virtually. I’d be fine with calling in on his tool of choice and he can decide if an in-person examination is necessary. I imagine a lot of people would be fine with it.

    Maybe some government can be done virtually. Committee meetings, even full parliamentary sittings. They’ve experimented and will likely continue to. MPs can spend more time in their ridings getting stuff done and still be available to vote and have question period and work in committee and a lot of other stuff. Our antiquated voting system is going to need overhaul. And I mean structurally, not just the fact that the electoral system is broken.

    Government service is going to become more important because government is going to keep being more involved in stuff. Because this is going to happen again. We’re not even through this one.

    People are angry at how poorly most governments and corporations have performed. COVID gave a lot of those people time to express that anger. There’s more to come, and I think there’s going to be a lot of reform. Things are going to look very different from the ground up a decade from now. Capitalism isn’t dead, but more people understand that it isn’t sustainable anymore. Things will change. What’s meant by government will have to change with it.

    We’re far more careful and intelligent shopping than we were, buying what we need to get through the week because we don’t want to step into the plague pits and go shopping again tomorrow.

    We’re going to go back to making sure we can cover our own needs more. Just In Time replenishment and ordering will still exist, but JIT will be measured against a projected supply rather than getting there just as what we have is about to run out. Especially in health care environments.

    Fossil fuels are on the way out. That’s going to accelerate. We’ve seen we need less. And there will be less commuting in the near future, so that demand isn’t going to happen. We’ve noticed how much nicer the air can smell, how much clearer the water can be. There will be pressure to make changes so that we can notice that all the time. Related: we’ve noticed that outside isn’t as scary as we thought, and that maybe we like to spend time there.

    People have started to recognize how important the arts really are to their lives.

    Most of us are learning to cook more, which means less dining out as we discover it doesn’t have to be nearly as hard as we thought it was.

    Most of us are learning to appreciate more. What we have, who we are, the life all around us.

    Things are going to change. They’re already changing. We have the chance to actually build a better world. I’d like to think we’ll take it.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    Seven Days of Selfies

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    As time goes on and the list slowly grows shorter and I spend more and more time by myself, I have to find new challenges and new ways to entertain myself.

    This week, I’m going to try to take a selfie every day.

    Which is a weird challenge for me. I do the occasional selfie with Ollie, but that’s more for a picture with him than it is for a picture with me. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to see how we’re basically the same size.

    The last time I did any significant amount of selfies was for Movember a couple of years back. Before that… here and there. More often, I’m joining the picture as my wife takes one.

    This will be a little different. Seven days, in a row, involved in seven different activities. Still have to figure how I’m going to work some of them out. Yes, that means there’s a plan. I’m not going to post them here each day, but I’ll probably do a wrap up with all seven when it’s done. And then I’ll need a new challenge of some kind.

    There are probably more pictures of me than I think there are, but I don’t feel like a lot of them are active ones.

    Maybe my great-grandchildren will appreciate it someday.

    Day one, after my first shave in more than a week. Captioned: “Smoother than an android’s bottom.” A Star Trek reference, of course.

    Stay safe, and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    You’re Wearing a Mask, Right?

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    So you wear a mask when you go out in public, right? When you can’t be physically distant enough from the people around you?

    Not everyone is, though in the various jurisdictions of Ontario, it’s quickly being made a public health order or an actual bylaw everywhere. By tomorrow, nearly everyone will have to wear one to go into a store almost anywhere in the province.

    And in some places which probably should go unnamed but are located in various spots in the United States, things are not so cut and dried. Well, they are, but for some reason, there are people who don’t see it that way. Hardly an hour goes by where you don’t read or hear about someone suffering from verbal abuse because they’re enforcing the local requirement. There are people who are trying to use the provisions of the ADA to avoid wearing it and have printed up these very entertaining fake cards to try to force the view on other people. One enterprising reality denier bought a box of masks and then captured video of herself burning them before issuing a challenge to anyone who saw the video to do the same.

    This is why the border needs to stay closed for a while yet. One of the reasons, anyway.

    This is also the poison pill lurking in the heart of American exceptionalism culture, the belief that someone can act in any way they choose, regardless of the consequences to anyone else, and be free from consequences yourself because they have “the right” to do so and no one can tell them otherwise.

    It seems like it’s impossible to reason with these folks. The only thing that seems to get them to back down is when things get to the point where the police have to be called to enforce things, and that’s not really a great use of police time.

    I don’t really understand the reasoning or the behaviour, but it’s symptomatic of people who have lost sight of the idea that they’re members of society, instead grasping at the thought of society only existing to serve them.

    I wonder where that came from.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    Don’t forget your mask.

    And wash your hands.

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  • Life

    I’m Actually Not Missing Work At the Moment

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    Meaning, I’m currently at a mental place where I don’t miss work.

    Really.

    Some of the people, certainly. But being out of the house 50-55 hours per week to see those people while I bring home a paycheck, not so much. Oh, I’ve been there during this enforced shutdown of my industry, and I’ll get back there too, but right now I’m good.

    Since I’ve been off, I’ve pounded down the list of household projects to about a quarter of its original length. Of course, there are a couple of big projects (<cough> kitchen <cough>) we can’t afford with me off work, or even very easily if I’m back at work, but in terms of the small stuff and the small-expense stuff, I’m kicking it. Painting, de-cluttering, tree, brush, and stump removal, cleaning out the garage, tuning up our bicycles, small repairs… I’m probably going to be okay until I run out of stuff to do that isn’t just housework.

    Yes, finances are tight. Not precarious, but we have to pay attention to every dollar. There’s no real disposable income anymore (if there ever really was, but now we’re keenly aware of it). The 27% increase in Ontario’s COVID “recovery” hydro rate isn’t going to help that, but we’ll adjust.

    And I’m getting a lot of writing done.

    And I’m going to more marital arts classes, albeit virtually, than I’ve had time for in a really long time.

    And I get to be more politically aware and able to learn and write and comment and express.

    And I’m available for my kids all the time. (Although they’re old enough that they mostly don’t need me.)

    And I’m learning how to not suck at cooking. (Ask me about the sesame mushrooms.)

    And my dog loves having me around. So do the cats, but the dog is more active at expressing it.

    And my wife, who is in a very essential service and so has worked through the whole thing, claims she likes having me around all of the time, although maybe that’s because I’m doing all of the household chores instead of the half of them that I don’t actively dislike.

    I do want a new normal at some point, but it needs to be different than the old normal and I’m in between wanting that right now.

    I actually feel kind of guilty about that.

    So the question becomes, what else should I be doing? Can I do more to make the world a better place while I’m at it? I’m trying, but I don’t know that I’m trying hard enough.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Publishing,  Writing

    Indie Publishing Update

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    So, beyond the inconveniences associated with sheltering in place and only making a weekly trip out for supplies, the COVID19 shutdown in Ontario has offered me the chance to catch up on a few things and even get ahead in certain areas of my life.

    One of those is creative work.

    I’ve written several times that I didn’t plan to do a lot of drafting of new material for the first half of 2020. There are too many things that are in various stages of editing that I need to get to readable so I can either publish independently or look for markets for.

    The second piece of that is harder than the first these days. Aside from the natural market tightening when something society altering happens, a lot of the publishing industry still works at a very slow pace. It can be the work of months or years to place a novel with an agent or publisher and then months more before it’s actually published. I’m taking this route with a couple of “finished” novels in the background, so you won’t see a lot of progress there unless there’s something big to announce, so it looks like all my efforts are on the indie publishing side of things.

    Since my last day of work before COVID made my industry a ghost town, I have made some significant progress there.

    Published:

    • “Mummy Powder” – 6.7k words that I could call either Dark Fantasy or Mild Horror
    • “Trollsign” – 13,000 words of Urban Noir
    • “Behind False Doors” – 8,300 words long and starring a vampire who takes a job as a high school night custodian
    • “Natural Order” – 7.2k playing with the myth of the Green Man
    • Hero’s Life – the second novel in my superhero trilogy
    • “OCS Bound” – Star Trek TOS fan fiction starring Chief Kyle
    • “Subsolar Whispers” – Star Trek TOS fan fiction starring Lieutenant Commander Uhura

    Prepping/planned for publishing:

    • The Undead – a collection of forty stories that range in length from just shy of 200 words to a little over 8,000 and total 100k of weird Fantasy and SF reading. In spite of the undead theme, there’s not a lot of horror here.
    • Universal Destiny – the first book in what I’ve been referring to as the Lords of Creation trilogy. This is military SF set a few hundred years from now.
    • “For Whom the Gnome Tolls” –
    • “Common Ground” – a SF monster story. Sort of.
    • “Bits of Metal and Footprints in the Dust” –

    Progress in the background at novel-length

    • Big Hair Day 2nd and 3rd – my first foray into Historical Fiction, a coming of age story set in the 1980s. The second draft (fixing the things identified in the revision notes phase) was the first project I dove into when I realized I was going to have a few weeks without work. The third draft, where I make sure everything says what I want it to say, is currently in progress and I hope to have it complete in another week or so. Sometimes, it’s a little slower going here as I need to make sure it ties to the real world 1980s and not just my memories.
    • Warforge: Caledonia 2nd – a little more involved, my major editing project for April, spanning March 30th to April 25th. This is actually a set of three shorter novels that each stand well on their own, but together tell a larger story.
    • A Matter of Honour 3rd – my second TOS fanfic novel, starring a young Lieutenant Chekov. As I did most of the dictation clean up in the second draft, this was actually pretty clean, so I blew through the third draft fairly quickly with really only minor touch ups overall.
    • Fallen Heroes revision notes – this is the third book in the Heroes Inc. trilogy, and I’ll be moving into the true second draft as soon as I’ve finished the third draft of Big Hair Day. There are fewer things to adjust than I expected but a lot of dictation clean up, so this draft may not be quick.
    • Strewn Across the Stars plotting – this is a sequel to something I’ll mention below. It’s probably the next thing to be drafted, but I don’t have a specific plan to start significant raw word production again yet. Still a huge amount of editing to do.

    I actually have three novels I consider fully edited that I’m beginning to try to find more traditional publishing routes for

    • Ancient Runes – SF set on a colony world a couple of thousand years from now with a thousand years of planned slow-growth stability and deliberately limited technological advancement, and an AI-driven conspiracy.
    • Scattered On the Wind – near-ish future YA SF. Something on a colony world is slowly introducing mental health issues to the entire population of 50,000 colonists.
    • Draugr Rising – Fantasy set in the world as we currently know it. A single dad recruited by the Norse gods to stop a necromancer from running amok.

    And there’s where I’ve been spending my writing time for the last few weeks. While it’s a bit frustrating to outwait a pandemic, I’m grateful for the time I’m able to spend on creative endeavours.

    Which I should probably get back to. Or maybe I should be doing yard work today since leaf pick up is tomorrow. We’ll see.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    #CovidCooking

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    I’ve been making the occasional big deal out of learning how to cook during the shutdown. Under ordinary circumstances, my wife does most of the cooking while I do most of the dishes and related cleanup. This division suits us both. She’s a much better cook and seems to enjoy the process, and I don’t mind handling the dirty dishes or dealing with spills and wipe downs, though I’m sometimes entertained by just how many dishes can be generated in the preparation of one meal.

    But the truth of the matter, and I suspect it’s true for a lot of people who are in similar boats right now, is that I’m not really learning to cook, at least not directly. I’m learning how to follow a recipe. And here’s the secret: it’s not that hard.

    The cooking part comes out of the learning how to follow a recipe, and it’s just like any other skill that way. You learn something new by following the instructions for things that have already been shown to work. Slowly, you build the body of knowledge to be able to manage the skill on your own, in this case flavour combinations, substitutions, measurements, and so on.

    Almost five weeks into the shutdown (well, when my work was shut down), I have a pretty clear idea of just how much a teaspoon (or half of one), tablespoon, and cup are. I still measure carefully, mostly, but I can tell what looks approximately right.

    I know the proportions to mix my own onion salt (3 parts salt to 1 part onion powder) if I run out. I know that it makes my cooking life a whole lot easier if I prep everything in advance and gather all the ingredients before I start the prep.

    I know that clean up is easier if you can put stuff away as you finish using it (oil back in the cupboard, salt goes there, remaining peppers go back in the fridge, that spoon I’m not going to use again drops in the sink, and so on.)

    I’m learning when to check on things because just because the recipe says X minutes at Y temperature, doesn’t mean it won’t cook a little faster or slower because you’re not in the same kitchen as the person who perfected the recipe.

    I’m learning that I’m less fond of the cleanup when I’m the one who generates most of the mess. This has probably helped me develop a fondness for one-pot dinners.

    And probably dozens of other things. It’s funny the knowledge that builds up inside your head by following instructions from someone who’s skill in something is far more advanced than your own. And it’s funny just how many things work that way.

    I’ll never be a world-class cook, I expect, but I can do a lot better than toast, pizza, and the same stir fry one a week. Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Opinion

    Opinions on the Internet (Or in the Real World)

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    It seems likely that anyone reading this in the moment knows that there’s a worldwide pandemic going on. There are certainly people out there who don’t get what that means, but it’s likely there are fewer folks all of the time who don’t know that something is going on.

    I’m personally in a non-essential industry and have been off work for two weeks now. Staying busy, so it’s not so bad yet. That may change. My wife works for an essential service, so her stress level is higher than it needs to be. That probably won’t change for a while.

    Busy or not, I’m spending too much time on social media. Yes, it’s most of the social I really get right now, but that’s no excuse.

    And there are trends.

    Most of those trends are people keeping themselves amused in ways that don’t involve COVID or help keep each other in touch with friends and coworkers.

    But some of them essentially boil down to opinions on medical advice.

    In terms of opinions, remember that everyone is free to hold any opinion they like, but the rest of us don’t have to agree with it or listen to it. And, really, regardless of what social media platforms would have us believe, we’re only entitled to hold an opinion we can back up with sound reasoning and facts. Anything that can’t be defended is entitled only to be dismissed. And the phrase, “I’m entitled to my opinion” is either an open admission that you don’t care about facts or that you’ve lost the argument.

    It’s hard to have an informed opinion and it’s work to make sure our opinions are as informed as they can be. Which makes us lazy, so anything we can halfway back up with a little handwavium inside our heads is good enough for the most part.

    Except it’s not.

    In terms of medical advice, I think the rest of us should be gently, and sometimes not so gently, reminding those folks to keep their medical advice to themselves and leave things to the experts.

    Because here’s the thing: except for the medical professionals, none of us really knows enough to have an informed medical opinion. And if we don’t have an informed opinion, we need to remember to trust the people we do. That’s something that seems to have fallen away from common sense in the last couple of decades. Somehow, we’ve made it so that trusting expert opinion is the exact opposite of the default. Yes, question authority. Yes, ask questions of the experts. Yes, expect explanations and clarity and transparency. When you do get it, that tells you something, too.

    I fully recognize that it’s not always easy to tell who has an informed opinion. We can only judge by their words and actions and try to figure out from that, and the people working with and against them, what politics might be involved. It’s just that a lot of times we can’t be bothered to try.

    And so we have thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people giving medical advice because of a half-formed opinion they saw on the internet or something they feel in their heart is true. It’s why there are still people saying not to take ibuprofen if you’ve possibly been exposed to COVID because that makes it worse when every medical authority has backed away from that unless you’re already one of those people who shouldn’t take it. It’s why there are still people who think their immune systems are fine and they aren’t worried about getting it so all of these precautions we’re taking are stupid and we shouldn’t be worried either. It’s why some people think silver solution will protect them from the virus, or praying, or vitamin C, or essential oils. It’s why the conspiracy nuts are in full swing warning about 5G and how it’s actually a bioweapon and that the vaccine they eventually develop will be to put mind control RFID chips in our blood and how the secret rulers of the planet are just doing it to take away our rights and freedoms.

    It might seem like I’m getting off track, but this is all stuff I’ve seen today.

    I remind myself that none of us are under no obligation to accept someone’s opinion, or advice based on it, unless they can back it up with sufficient reality. If they can’t, you can kindly remind them, with a grandiose wave of your hand, “Lo, before you is the field in which I grow my fucks. See thou that it is barren.”

    Or use nicer words. Your call. Mostly, I use the laugh emoji and move on.

    But remember that none of us is informed about everything, and most of us don’t really have a solid grasp of epidemiology, virology, or COVID itself. There are people who do, and those are the folks we should be listening to right now, not some random voice on social media.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion. We can talk about it if you like.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    How Are You Coping?

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    There are as many ways of coping with the current isolation practices and how they’re reshaping our lives and society as there are people coping with it. New hobbies or a return to old ones, learning new things, bursts of creativity, exercise, extra housework or jobs around your living environment, reading, binge watching, social media, and on and on.

    For myself, now on Day 14 of true isolation in the aftermath of my place of work being shut down, I’m doing most of these things. Not because of some drive to make all this extra down time productive, although I’m sure there’s some of that in my psyche somewhere, but because I’m wired to always be doing something and preferably something mentally interactive. Physically interactive is nice, too. I don’t have the 50 or so hours per week of being at or commuting to and from work, so I need to find other things.

    I wish I could just relax, and I can in short bursts, but it’s hard. I need to be doing something, or at the very least on my way to be doing something, all the time.

    So, I’m:

    • still geocaching but with certain restrictions in place to keep me away from other people,
    • ramping up my workouts and martial arts training,
    • writing and editing and creating more,
    • building a daily housework routine,
    • knocking things off the To Do list,
    • reading more and listening to more podcasts,
    • binge watching (by my definition which rarely involves more than one episode of something in a day),
    • cleaning up a lot of online stuff,
    • frequently checking in on social media to make sure folks are keeping busy and taking care of myself,
    • expanding my use of certain online tools to make sure I’m staying in contact with family and close friends,
    • sleeping eight hours per night. Seriously. Actual sleep. It’s weird.

    It’s hard for me to kick back and just relax. So I’m not.

    And maybe I’m also trying to avoid obsessing over the state of the world at the moment, limiting myself to only serious and direct information sources on COVID and how we’re dealing with it.

    How are you coping? With the stress of isolation or the stress of being essential.

    Take care of yourselves and each other.

    And speak up if that’s getting hard.

    Be well, everyone.

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