Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Three

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March 27th

 Today was a full day, even though I decided to step away from working on my classes for the day, apart from sending and replying to some emails. It’s a funny thing, this switch to virtual classrooms, I’m actually busier now each day and indeed, I have longer days, than when I’m teaching a normal semester. But normal this semester is certainly not, so I rewarded myself with having a bit of a free day. I started watching the AMC series The Son. It is pretty interesting. Granted, I’ve read the book before (technically, I listened to it on Audible) and so I roughly know how it is going to play out, but it is nice to see how they converted it to the screen.

At 4:45pm, we had our first virtual happy hour. It was fun. A colleague and I intentionally dressed alike (white shirts with red ties). I think we had 5 or 6 people there at varying points. Hopefully we will do it again soon. It’s nice to see colleagues, even if it is on a computer screen. I’m lucky because I’m not along at home. My wife is here, and most importantly, my little girl Anastasia Colleen. I went to bed around 2300 hours, but I woke up every two hours all night long. Probably because I’d drank more water (and kool-aide) during the day than normal, so my bladder was a bit more active than is typical.

March 28th

Though perhaps best known for their song Eye of the Tiger which plays on an endless loop in boxing gyms across the country, Survivor has another song called Moment of Truth (which, if memory serves me, was used in the Karate Kid movie). There’s a line in the song that says, “Deep in the night, a dream is born. One that you can’t ignore.” Why am I quoting that here? Well, Dear Readers, while I was laying in bed around 0130 this morning, I got to thinking about something. I was mulling over the plot of my third book, which I planned on starting to write here in a few weeks’ time. Everything is sketched out from characters to plot outline to chapters. I have it set during the Russian Revolution, at least I thought I did. As I stared at the ceiling, I got to thinking. What if I lifted my plot out of Russia and transported it to our side of the world, and dropped it into the Mexican revolution? It would work. Both revolutions were happening more or less simultaneously, though Mexico’s started earlier. Other than the setting, the plot would not need to be changed all that much, only tinkered with a bit. Revolutionary Mexico is as fascinating an era as Revolutionary Russia. In fact, my minor field in graduate school just so happened to have been Revolutionary Mexico, which is why I speak Spanish in addition to Russian. And, since I live in Texas and it comes in handy, I speak Spanish a whole lot better than I do Russian. I haven’t decided for sure, but I’m leaning heavily towards shifting the setting.

March 29th

 Today is the last day before the Great Online Course Migration begins, or rather, the first day of virtual classes begins. I had to do some last minute preps that stretched into the entire day, mainly because after two weeks of working to get all this shit set up, I’m tired. One of the reasons I don’t much care for teaching online classes is that they take three times the preparation compared to face to face classes on the instructional end. In a typical semester, I only teach one online section, out of six classes, but now all six will be online for the duration. I’m also scheduled to teach two sections during the Summer 2 semester, but the jury is still out as to whether or not those courses will be in person, online, or even held at all. I have a sneaking suspicion that they will be online, but we’ll see. The cats are enjoying us being home. Or at least they appear to be enjoying it.

March 30th

 Today is D-Day. Classes have resumed. When I checked my email at 0930, I already had four messages from students. For sake of comparison, I’ve had three student emails total from March 6th through the 29th, so I guess this is a harbinger of things to come. Of course, the college is bombarding us with emails this morning too. As if they don’t know that we are getting lots of student emails today and the demands the college keeps sending out could wait a day or two…it isn’t urgent. But those who aren’t instructional, have time to send emails out in a constant stream all day to make it look like they are working, and so I have no doubt this will continue unabated until the end of the semester.

On the writing front, this is a big week. Molly’s Song will come back from the editor on Friday. I’ll take a look at her feedback and then start on revisions. It’ll go back for a copyedit in June. Right now I can’t give a firm timeline for when the book will be published. It could be late fall…or even later. So stand by for information on that as I will keep you updated as things go along. And now I must go back to checking emails.

March 31st

 There’s a wrinkle in the self-isolation plan…the pharmacy. I had to submit my refills this morning via the Walgreens app, but I’ll have to go or get my wife to go to pick them up. I can go through the drive thru, of course, but I still have to give them my card and, of course, they’ve touched the bottles. I can wear gloves, I guess. I’m not sure how many cases we have in the immediate area, since the news doesn’t say specifics other than over 1000 cases in the Greater Houston area. But the Greater Houston area encompasses quite a few counties and the total population is larger than many states.

I’m not suffering from cabin fever, quite the contrary. There’s plenty to keep me occupied by work related items and stuff on TV to watch. I had a nice surprise this morning. The SyFY Channel is hosting a 24 hour Twilight Zone marathon! Normally, my New Year’s Eve tradition is to watch the 48 hour marathon they host at the close of every year, so it is nice to have a 24 hour mini marathon. I know what I’ll be doing today apart from replying to student emails! At 0830, they showed “Time Enough At Last” which is one of my favorite episodes. That bodes well for the rest of the day. In the spirit of quarantines, I think they should also show “The Shelter” and “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”

April 1st

 I’m afraid it has happened. Yesterday afternoon, I developed a nagging sore throat. I took various sore throat remedies to no avail. Overnight, I had a hard time getting to sleep. When I woke up this morning, my throat was still sore, though perhaps not as pronounced as last night. However, I feel kind of weak and shaky. I am not running a fever as of yet. The thing is, for me to have caught The Rona, it would mean that it travelled in on bags from my wife’s last trip to the store. She wore gloves when she was there and I wore gloves when I helped put everything away. All the plastic bags went straight into a trash bag. And when we finished putting things away, we wiped down all the surfaces with Lysol, including the doorknob. So if I have it, then it is truly a durable virus. I guess time will tell. Either I’ll develop a fever or I won’t. That will be the telling symptom.

In the meantime, after much reflection and a few sleepless nights, I’ve decided to keep my third novel set during the Russian Revolution as previously planned. This epiphany occurred to me as I was laying in bed last night looking at the photo of Maria Nikolaevna that I keep by my bed. I don’t think my guardian angel would approve if I moved the location, especially seeing as how she was to make a cameo appearance in the book if it were set in Russia. I think I owe it to her to keep her there. I’m planning on starting to write it on Monday (it’s already plotted out), assuming I don’t have The Rona, that is. If so, all bets are off.

April 2

 Yesterday, I admit I was a bit lazy and did very little other than reply to emails and watch funny YouTube videos. As of yet, I have not developed a fever and, assuming I can make it through the next 24 hours without getting one, then it is likely that I do not have The Rona. Today, however, I have been sneezing up a storm this morning which does tend to reinforce the notion that this is allergy based. I have some more videos that I need to shoot, but I don’t want to risk a sneezing fit on camera, so I am probably going to put that off until the weekend and then do some binge recording.

I was planning on doing a giveaway when my Instagram account hit 400 followers (you can find me @LeeHutch_author ). However, due to the virus, I can’t mail out the books even though I’ve surpassed that number. In fact, the author copies I had ordered to send out won’t even arrive until today due to Amazon shipping delays. I’ll have to put gloves on to open the package, then wipe the books down with Lysol, and then place them in quarantine until such time as I can get to the post office. And Lord knows when that will be.

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I don’t have a whole lot on tap for today other than to keep up with some work-related items and at 3pm I have a therapist appointment. (It is a telehealth appointment, so I’ll be socially distanced). I neglected to mention this earlier, but on March 30th I learned that So Others May Live is a finalist in the General Fiction category of the Independent Audiobook Awards. That’s kind of a big deal. It’s the small/indie press equivalent of The Audies which are like the Academy Awards for audiobooks. I had a stellar narrator, of course, and all the accolades on this one go to her.

And I’m counting down the hours until I get Molly O’ back from my editor. It is, of course, amazing to me that seeing early drafts of my novels haven’t driven her into early retirement.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

(From six feet away, of course!)

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Two

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Dear Readers,

This is the second installment of my Journal of a Pandemic Year series. If you missed the first one, you can find it here.

March 19th: Night

My wife and I sat on the porch tonight between the hours of 8pm and 9pm, as we do every night, pandemic or not. The internets is rife with rumors of martial law (which people misspell as “marshall law”. I don’t believe the rumors. That’s the negative thing about social media. These things spread like wildfire. Still, we only have enough supplies for one more week. If people are believing the rumors, it might cause another run on the stores, so my wife and I decided that she would venture out to Dollar General in the morning. (I can’t go out due to my health and with my damaged spine being what it is, I can’t lift groceries anyway). When I got in bed an 9pm, I decided to watch the movie 28 Days Later. I’ve seen it one time, many years ago. The scene in the church when the infected priest appears still scares the shit out of me. I only made it halfway through it. I’ll finish it tomorrow. I went back outside at 10:15pm or so until around 11pm, and then it was time for bed. I’m having a hard time falling and staying asleep right now. Inevitably, I toss and turn until around 2:30, then I’ll manage to sleep for a couple of hours. I get up and go to the bathroom, but then I lay awake until around 7am when I crash hard for an hour and wake up groggy at 8. This is an every night thing and has been since I started Spring Break back on March 9th. What’s odd is that I normally don’t have this issue during breaks from school. I’m not sure if it is stress or something else. My back is killing me, so it could be due to that, but I think it is something more.

March 20th

I made it out of bed around 8:15am. I had an Ensure and a big slice of red velvet cake for breakfast. The pandemic breakfast of champions! My wife left around 9:30 to run her errands, returning home at 10:15. She wore gloves. While she was out, a friend sent her a text message of a grocery store in a nearby town with people lined up around the corner. That’s why she went to Dollar General instead of Kroger. She was able to get most of what we need and top off our supplies. We can make it around a month without leaving the house again. When she got home, I wore gloves to help put the food away and the empty bags went directly into a trash bag that we then placed outside. Then we wiped down the cabinet door, the front door, and the fridge door. I washed my hands all the way up to my elbows under water hot enough to be scalding for around four minutes and my wife got in the shower and put her clothes directly in the washing machine. If the virus finds access into our house, it’ll be through this but there was nothing else we could do. So we tried to be as safe about it as possible.

California has ordered the entire state into lockdown according to the news which broke last night. Governor Newsome announced it. I’m in Texas and though we are urged to do the same, it isn’t really mandated yet. With those measures taken by California, I wonder if other states will follow suit. Probably. I had to check my work emails this morning and didn’t have much that needed my attention. Now it sounds like New York is doing the same as California. I turned on the radio and there was a press conference on, but I missed the beginning of it.

This afternoon, I started working a script for my favorite podcast, All Bad Things. I won’t tell you what it is about as I do not want to spoil the surprise, but I hope it will be good. I also binge watched Season 8 of London’s Burning on Amazon. I replied to a few emails and did very little else of value. I have a rough plan of how I’m going to proceed with the semester and I will start working on the details next week since technically the college is still closed this week. Around 7;45pm, my wife and I sat outside for an hour and fifteen minutes or so. I didn’t listen to much in the way of news this evening, as I figured it wouldn’t be anything good anyway. I did, however, get an email that informed me that my novel, So Others May Live, has been selected as a finalist in the War & Military Fiction category of the Forward Indies Book Awards, so that’s one piece of good news!

March 21st

Last night I tossed and turned until the wee hours of the morning. I really don’t know what is wrong with my sleeping patterns. My back felt okay yesterday, but it doesn’t today. I had an Ensure and some yogurt for breakfast, a bit healthier than what I had yesterday. Today, I’m planning on working on the script a little more. My co-worker set up a meeting on Zoom for us scheduled for 1:30pm to test out and see how it works. I spent around 30 minutes this morning setting up an account and I made a virtual background with a photo of my history crush Maria Nikolaevna. 😊

In the afternoon, I had my Zoom conference. Everything worked fairly well. I then checked my emails, talked on the phone to a colleague, and watched funny YouTube videos. That evening, I decided to go back and play one of my favorite PlayStation games, Red Dead Redemption (the first one). I am a creature of habit and I take comfort in familiar things, so I often watch the same movies/shows over and over again. And I play the same games religiously too. I’ll probably keep playing it for the duration of the crisis.

March 22nd

I slept…okay…last night. I fell asleep around 11pm and slept until 3:30am. I woke up and got out of bed to go to the bathroom and sat outside for a little bit. I fell back asleep around 4 and slept until 6:45am. I didn’t want to get out of bed that early, so I messed around on my phone and fell back asleep around 7:30 only to wake up groggy and confused at 8:30. This has jacked up my whole schedule for the day. For breakfast, I had ham and eggs, though the eggs were regular colored and not green. I worked on the podcast script until lunchtime. I’m getting close to finishing it. I am hoping to get it done this evening some time. Tomorrow I have to start back to work on my class stuff and try to get everything set up for the students when they virtually return to class on March 30th. I have a pretty good plan for what I’m going to do, now I just have to do it.

The Zoom conference went well. We are going to try and have a weekly get together (virtually) with some other co-workers. It should be fun. I didn’t do much in the afternoon/evening other than play my game. Tomorrow, Monday, I have to get back to work for the college (at home, of course). I also finished up my script this afternoon and sent it over to the All Bad Things podcast.

March 23rd.

Well…shit. I flat out could NOT fall asleep last night again. I tossed and turned until around 3am, so on the day I really needed to buckle down and do shit, my back was killing me again. I soldiered on though. Using Zoom as my recording platform, I pre-recorded three lectures for my 1301 class for when they start back next week and also got their syllabus adjusted and updated the course Blackboard page, so they are all set to go. It took me most of the day to do it, but I also got a head start on setting up my 1302 courses so that their Blackboard is done and all I have to do tomorrow is record three videos.

I’ve found that recording the videos on Zoom is kind of fun. I don’t have much to say for today, since I was mostly working. I wanted to record a video with me standing in front of a planet so that I could say to the class, “Look, everyone! I’m lecturing in from Uranus!” My wife wouldn’t let me do it. I made it to the missions which are set in Old Mexico on Red Dead Redemption, so that is where I’ll be tonight. And hopefully I can sleep some too. I also decided to shave off my goatee tonight. It was starting to turn white. This is what happens when you marry a redhead.

March 24th

Thank God for small miracles. I managed to sleep from 11:00 – 0200 and then again from 0215 until 0600. So I’m somewhat rested. Tomorrow morning we have a Zoom coffee hour and today I have to record 4 mini lectures for my 1302 students. The first one will be a short introduction to the new way the course is structured. The second one will be about prostitution in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The third one is about Prohibition and the Jazz Age. And the fourth one is about the Great Depression, which is depressing. But at least I’ll get to do WW2 lectures after that! Yay! I might share some of my WW2 lectures on my blog. We’ll see.

I’ve been too busy to follow much on the news, but I hear that in the US we are inching closer to 50K identified cases in the United States with close to 1K in my state. (I say identified cases because of the issues with testing that have no been resolved yet). There’s a lot more of it out there than we know. I’m happily getting my work done, though I wish I had time to start writing my next novel. (Molly’s Song is out with the editor at present). I’m going to try and get as much done for setting up my classes for the duration this week so that I can have time to write moving forward. We’ll see how that goes.

It’s 5pm and I can now say that my classes are all set for the first week back (March 30th). I’m going to spend the rest of the week trying to get two more weeks done so that I’ll have half of the remaining weeks covered. That’ll buy me a little time in which to work on writing. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it goes. I think that this evening, instead of playing my game on the PlayStation, I’m going to read a book and listen to an old time radio drama or something. And enjoy a cigar out on the porch.

March 25th

I listened to part of a radio drama as planned. Instead of one from the 40s or 50s, I listened to the BBC radio adaptation of Bomber by Len Deighton (you can find the radio version here) as I am about to start recording my WW2 lectures. (Some today and some tomorrow). Last night I slept like the dead, though I guess that isn’t an appropriate analogy to use during a pandemic. I ate some cereal for breakfast and at 9:30, had a coffee hour with some colleagues from the Sugar Land campus on Zoom. After that, I set up the Zoom Happy Hour for Friday. I hope people show up. It would be kind of awkward to host a happy hour for co-workers and have no one show up! But I’m sure enough people will to make it worthwhile. I enjoy talking to my colleagues, even if it is through a computer screen. On tap for today, I have to do some small detail oriented things for my classes before lunch, and then I’ll do some recording in the afternoon. Oddly enough, I’m having a blast recording these mini lectures. I plan on using them for my regular online classes in the future. One challenge is making sure I change shirts in between videos so that it doesn’t look like I’m wearing the same thing every day. (I’m not, but honestly I’m just wearing an undershirt around the house, but that wouldn’t look right in a video!)

March 26th: Day

Last night I fell asleep watching TV. It was around 10:15 or so. I awoke to my wife taking my glasses off and covering me up with a blanket. Needless to say, I ended up sleeping fairly well. I woke up at 0645 fairly well rested and didn’t fall back asleep. That’s the good news. The bad news, and it is a wicked trade off, really, is that when I sleep well, I’m in more pain in the morning than if I tossed and turned, so today will end up being an extra medication day.

My wife has a bunch of video conferences today, so I’m taking advantage of it to record some more lectures. I got half of the WW2 lectures done, which means I now have two weeks of material for my 1302 courses. This afternoon, I’ll start recording the rest of the WW2 lectures. That will carry me into tomorrow when I’ll handle weeks two and three of my 1301 course. It’s a brave new world we have entered into, and I’m not sure how all this is going to play out in the end. I’m going to stop this diary entry here so that I can post it.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part One

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Dear Readers,

This semester was well and truly f—-d from the beginning. I missed the first week of class due to being hospitalized for a complication stemming from the disease I was diagnosed with a couple of years ago. When I returned to class, it felt like I was struggling to get my feet under me. Then an incident happened that made me question my whole decision to teach in the first place. And now? Well, now I’ll be confined to quarters for the duration of the semester as we have switched over to online instruction for the balance of it owing to the virus. It is the right decision. But it still kinda sucks. Now, I’m not Daniel DeFoe, but he wrote a wonderful book called Journal of a Plague Year which is technically a novel (though it is often seen as non-fiction) about the Great Plague of London in 1665. I decided to do something a little similar. Not in book form, but in blog post form. While this plays out, I shall record my weekly record of my experiences here. In this first post, I will talk about everything that happened from when I first learned about the virus to now, so it might be a little longer than the subsequent posts.

CAVEAT: I am not a medical doctor. Nor do I pretend to be a doctor in bars. This is due to the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and so I don’t go to bars. And even if I did, I wouldn’t pretend to be a doctor. I’d pretend to be an attorney. So nothing that follows is medical advice. It is merely the pandemic as I have experienced it.

I first became aware of the novel coronavirus during the last week of January. Now, I’ll confess that viruses, plagues, and pandemics have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. Part of it is professional, as I helped draft my FD’s pandemic response plan back during the whole bird flu mess. At that time, I wasn’t much worried about it, though some of the leaked video and images out of China were fairly alarming, frightening even. I think I referenced it in class for the first time either that week or the next when talking about the Bubonic Plague in my 1301 class.

Around Valentines Day, I discovered a podcast that posted daily updates on the virus. It was pretty in depth and scientific. Often, they’d discuss some new conclusion reached by the doctors several days before the mainstream media did. I’ve continued to listen daily. It was around this time that I had my first twinges of alarm. Given how interconnected the world is, I knew it was just a matter of time before it reached my state.

I was kind of amazed over the next couple of weeks how not many people seemed to care of the looming threat it posed. I wasn’t afraid, necessarily, but as a person who is immuno-compromised with s–t for lungs, I knew I’d be at high risk of contracting it should it result in a large outbreak. Better to be safe than sorry? Right? Well, apparently not. Late February into very early March, we had troubling news out of Washington state. An outbreak in a nursing home. Firefighters exposed. Patients dying. Nurses exposed. What a s–t storm! Coming soon to a town near you!

And then, the first week of March, I think, the City of San Antonio said that the CDC let a patient (from a cruise ship) who had been quarantined there was allowed to walk out of the facility and even visited the freaking mall when still positive for the virus! What a clusterf–k! And then, Dear Readers, it happened!

The first case in Texas (not connected to the cruise ship passengers quarantined in SA) was reported on the evening of March 4th. It was in Fort Bend County, where my college has two of its three campus and I teach at both of them! Within a couple of days, there were six cases in the county all connected to a trip to Egypt. The college where I teach was supposed to draft a pandemic response plan back in 2006 (probably in response to the bird flu), but it was never completed. On the morning of March 5th, I sent a lengthy email to one of our VPs outlining the specific questions we needed to be thinking about. Yes, in a way I was exceeding my brief, but at the same time, I do have experience with this type of planning. She agreed and had some questions of her own. As I understand it, the issue was discussed at the cabinet meeting that day, but I know of no specific measures that were taken at that time.

We were on Spring Break the week of March 9-13, and that is when the bottom dropped out. NBA player testing positive. Tom Hanks testing positive. Baseball suspending Spring Training. The NBA suspending the season. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo cancelled, despite the Mayor having said a day or two before that it wouldn’t. And then the school closures. Wave after wave of colleges and public schools began to announce closures. My college sent an announcement on Thursday, March 12th that said we would be extending Spring Break by a week (March 16-20). Rumor had it, we were going to be switching to online instruction like virtually all of the schools around us.

My wife and I had enough groceries and water that we were able to stay more or less isolated during Spring Break, but with the extension of the break, we made a a double grocery order on the 14th which will last us for a while. We used Kroger’s click list so we don’t actually have to go in and shop for it ourselves.

The college sent out its official notice to us on the evening of Monday, March 16th. (Word was sent to students two days later). Full time faculty/staff were to report back on Monday the 23rd, but the college would remain closed until March 29th. Classes would resume, in an online format, on Monday, March 30th. I teach at least one class online each semester, so it isn’t a huge deal for me to make the switch, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Given my health issues, I do not have to report to work on the 23rd, and, to be honest, I doubt very many people will.

It was a greatly subdued St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t drink, but I do pour out shots for my absent friends and relations. Pouring out liquor is kind of a hood thing, but that’s where I grew up, so I merged it with my paddy ways. Sadly, I had to add a glass this year for my cousin Marty who passed away unexpectedly last summer. Apart from that, it was a day filled with Irish music and Irish movies.

My wife is a high school teacher and she’s working from home now too. It’s funny, really. Yesterday, she woke up at 0600 and pretty much worked all day (phones, Google hangout meetings, emails) while I played video games in my room. When she noted that we will basically be together all day until August, my response was, “Sweet Mother of God! Somebody infect me now!”

But now we are headed into a brave new world. I worry for my students who don’t have reliable internet access or technology. I worry about the ones who might lose a family member. I worry about my brothers and sisters in the fire service knowing that they will take casualties from this as well. I don’t worry about myself. As I write this, we are at nearly 9,000 cases and 150 deaths when just a week or so back, it was 100 cases. My back is f—–g killing me. I can’t sleep. And I’m bored out of my mind. I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for any of us. But I do know that we can get through it. We’ve survived terror attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and pandemics before, and we can do it again.

And for all you teachers and professors out there, this is our new anthem!

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

(But do it from six feet away)

L.H.