Get off the disaster porn

The tiny cat judges you.

“Hi everyone, my name is Markus and I am an addict.” “Hello Markus”, reply the voices in my head.

I may have a problem.

When I started travelling three years ago, one of the first things I did was to stop keeping up with the news. I got rid of all my news apps, deleted all my bookmarks and cleaned up my browser history. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems I’m right back where I started.

Sure, there are lots of stuff going on out there. But why do I have this crazy urge to keep track of every second of it? Am I going to jump into the PPE that I totally do not have and start tending to hospital patients? Not fucking likely. Even if I did, what would I do there anyway? I’m not trained for this, I’m just some dude rambling on an internet blog.

You know why I think I keep watching the news? It gives me a pleasurable illusion for a few seconds, in which it seems that I’m on top of things, instead of staring into an empty void most of the time. And yeah, it feels great while I’m doing it. But it also makes things all the emptier when I switch it off. So I switch it on again, but every time I need more to feel satisfied.

And yes, it does sound a lot like jacking off, thank you for noticing. But you know, come to think of it, it actually really is that. Because when I really come down to it, watching the news does nothing for me. Absolutely zero.

Think about it. If things get a lot worse, then I’ll know. People will tell me about it for one, but just looking outside my window will probably tell me that shit is going down. If things get better – same story, really.

For most people out there, this is probably even more true than for me. Because they have a boss who is going to call them in. Especially if you work in retail, hospitality, or anywhere in the service industry, you can bet your ass your boss is going to ring you up at the slightest whiff of COVID-19 not being a thing anymore.

I don’t know. Point is, the news suck. Sure, you can get a rise out of them for a bit. But all they’ll really do is drain what little meaning these days still hold. Next time I feel that itch, maybe I’ll do pushups instead. Or color something in. Maybe I’ll surprise myself, who knows.

The art of not wasting time

Not pictured: Inspiration.

Do you know how many hours of videogames I played last week? Because I completely lost count. Every time I start gaming, I think that it’s not a big deal. We are living through an epidemic, there is nothing else to do anyway, so why the hell not?

Well, because all of these statements are absolute horseshit. To start with, we are not living through an epidemic. At least not in the sense that all of us are constantly, directly and intimately experiencing COVID-19. Instead, most of us are sitting at home and our only contact with COVID is whatever we gobble up from the news trough.

Also, there is a lot to do, actually. If I look at the things I could do every day, and then look back at what I actually did, it almost makes me physically sick. And it’s not just the gaming, either. It’s also sleeping until noon and pointlessly watching the news or binging on reddit. 

Finally, why the hell not? Because it’s driving me insane, that’s why. I saw someone on reddit today saying that (I’m guessing) he wonders why gaming feels so much like work these days. Well, because it is. For me, anyway. I just need to make that progress, only for it to seem completely meaningless when I finally do make it.

So much for the art of not wasting time, then. But there has to be a better way, no? For those of us who don’t have to worry about food or rent, or being infected, who are not fighting the pandemic on the front lines in the hospitals, this is the one time in our lives that we actually have time.

But how do we not waste it? Well, this is what I’m doing, starting today. First, no more sleeping in, period. I don’t care if all I do in the pre-noon hours is watch the newborn kitten fall over, staying in bed until noon stops right now. I can only use time productively if I have the time in the first place.

Second, no distractions. This one is going to be the hardest. Because it’s already hard on a regular, non-apocalypse day. But it’s also the most important one. This is what’s going to decide if I come out of this with my head held high or strapped up in a straitjacket.

I just deleted the reddit app. I’m going to keep one news app, and one only. And I’ll ration my gaming – two hours a day, max. After all, doing anything for two hours straight is pretty intense. After more than two hours of blinking lights, it’s frankly a miracle that my brain doesn’t start dripping out of my nose. More changes pending.

Third, fill the time well. Some things here will be easy. I want to improve my French, exercise again and write every day. But even if I do all of these things, check the news once and then game for two hours, I’m still going to have at least half a dozen waking hours left. That will be the true test.

Wish me luck, internet. If any of this sounds familiar, or you have a silver bullet you want to share, please do let me know. There must be some things I haven’t tried before, and at the very least, we might as well suffer together – as long as it’s a minimum of 6 feet apart.

The Ultimate Quarantine Snack

Snacking is an integral part of any half-decent stress management program. It is a pillar that props up our COVID-19 home quarantine life. But while the pleasures of the usual big bag of chips are undeniable, we thought the present time demanded more than a bomb of preservatives, fat, sodium, and sugar.

Enter the ultimate quarantine snack.

Thin slices of sweet potatoes, potatoes, and plantains, all crispy, delicious, nutritious, cheap, and quick to make. Not sure if it is legal to use these adjectives in the same sentence really. But the point is, if you want a satisfying treat, you have whole food options like this that deliver comfort without wrecking your body. Think of it as next level snacking. All the pleasure and none of the guilt. You are welcome.

To make the ultimate quarantine snack, pick your choice of firm vegetables. Root crops are our favorite: great value for money, very tasty, and easily available, even in a pandemic world. We use a mandolin for slicing, always with a guard to preserve life and limb, but you can also just slice them thinly with a knife.

Fry in oil or bake in a hot oven and season as desired. Hard to believe, but a little goes a long way. We eat the potatoes with a light sprinkling of salt and the rest needs no seasoning to be yummy. Sadly, these snacks are really addictive. Do not let the subtlety deceive you. Proceed with caution.

So you get to choose. Will you use this home quarantine to start a fitness program or will you learn how to make the ultimate quarantine snack? You can do both, too. But we know the more delicious option.

Thank you, Coronavirus

Seeing people get infected with the new coronavirus or COVID-19 all over the world is not the best premise for looking at the big picture. But I still couldn’t help noticing a couple of things that seem to be happening in parallel to the mayhem.

First, nature is recovering. Pollution is dropping everywhere because economic activities have ground to a halt and people are stuck at home. Whether it is fish in Venice or blue water in Manila Bay, the signs are clear: just a few weeks were enough to produce impressive results in the natural world. And these are just the first and most obvious results.

Second, we learn which services are truly essential. The narrative has, for a long time been, that the more value you add to the economy, the more money you earn. But except for a few exceptions, many of the people that are keeping the world running today are part of the lowest-paid segments of the workforce.

Third, the pandemic shows in impressive fashion how important resilient, affordable and available healthcare is. The main thing it highlights is the failure of private healthcare systems. There is probably a bigger argument to be made here, but the fact of the matter is that the main goal of private businesses always is, always must be, profit. Perhaps it is not a great idea, then, to privatize an industry that should prioritize care over profit.

Fourth, a universal basic income or UBI safeguards the economy. Drawing a definitive conclusion about this now is probably premature. But what we seem to be seeing now is that a UBI makes sure the economy will not grind to a halt, even in the face of unprecedented disaster – and is much cheaper than the fallout of the alternative.

Fifth, we can do so much better. As the world scrambles to handle COVID-19, all the missed opportunities of the past are coming back to haunt us. The data, the warnings, the capacities were there to be ready for this. But we chose not to be.

As I’m writing this, the Pope pointed out that we went ahead “at breakneck speed”, ignoring the wars, injustices, and cries of the poor and our ailing planet. It may seem a bit dramatic (he is the Pope, after all), but as we examine the priorities of many societies around the world, perhaps the best thing this pandemic can do for us is to help us reconsider who we are and how we want things to be – both as individuals and as a collective.

So, for these new perspectives, thank you, coronavirus.

What to do during the pandemic

Behold the glory of the (almost finished) tiny house.

Not gonna lie, I’ve been pretty strapped for ideas lately. As an introvert, I always thought that being stuck at home for days on end is going to be easy for me – after all, I pretty much trained for it my entire life. But now that it is happening, I’m mainly fighting the onset of cabin fever.

It did give both Micah and I the opportunity to shift our focus a bit though. For one, we were looking at ourselves more. We did spend a lot of time just with each other in the past, but nothing was ever quite like this before.

Instead of being stuck at Micah’s parents’ house, who are kindly tolerating our neuroticism on a daily basis, we should be living in our tiny house right now. More than that, we should have rented it out, started a shop and café at the beach, gone to Vietnam. I should have finally completed my idea for an online course, that has been sitting on a proverbial shelf for months now.

Now, we are just sleeping in. Keeping ourselves busy with menial tasks like regularly disinfecting the house, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor… Not very inspiring, but it fills the time. On top of it all, I started gaming again. For someone with an addictive personality such as me this is playing with fire, but I’m telling myself that extreme times warrant extreme measures. For now, it seems to be working out.

Oh, and then there is this blog! This is what really made a difference in the past days. I suddenly found a WordPress notification on my phone and already wondered where that came from. As it turned out, Micah had just gone ahead with creating a website, and now I’m all too happy to jump on the bandwagon.

Maybe you clicked on this article hoping to get some ideas for your own self-isolation, but you just read through five paragraphs of feverish ramblings instead. Perhaps this is what to do during a pandemic, though. See if there is something new to be done and just do it, no matter if it makes sense or not. After all, the one thing everyone has right now is time. Would be a shame not to use it.