“I do have a wish list,” Jack insisted. “And the first thing on it is that I wish to never keep a list.”
Fellow technical writers and lunchtime walking buddies, Jack and I spent hours in adjacent cubicles, cranking out checklists, assembly instructions, getting started guides, and other need-to-know stuff for nerds who hardly ever read them. Then we’d blow the dust off with jaunts around the office park, and running debates about bucket lists and other lively topics.
Jack was all set with never having to use his geek skills to plot anything outside the office. Show up for work. Complete assignments. Repeat as required. Collect paycheck. Done. No need to flesh out those simple steps for continued success, he figured.
But me, I was all about the lists. Ever since I had the manual dexterity to hold a pencil, I’d been jotting down must-haves and to-dos. Adding in flowcharts, spreadsheets, getting started tips—anything I could put in my toolbox for laying out the steps for optimal success—got me even more jazzed up. To heck with nerds not paying attention, though! I was getting into self-publishing, following my own instructions far outside the cubicle walls. I’d begun drafting the biggest, boldest rewrite of my life: The Big Move to Rangeley.
Would the house sell so Tom could retire? That was the pivotal question for all arrows pointing to going upta camp for good, triggering next steps and sub-steps stretching halfway up the alphabet till, before we knew it, we’d checked off the myriad of checkboxes and were unpacking moving boxes for the last time. After that the lists got a little woods wacky, the daily flow slowed to a pleasant trickle, and the decision loops became just that. Loops. Into town, out and around the lake, and back in. The sequence of year-round Rangeley “if…then” decisions never got hairier than switching outerwear and/or matching actions to daily circumstances and/or weather patterns. On winter days when, for example, we wanted to go to the IGA without just going to the IGA, if the road was plowed and if it was a weekday between 11:30 and 3:30, then we could proceed further—to the PO, to get lunch, and maybe even a haircut. But if it was the weekend then the flow had to stop at groceries and the dump. We had it pretty much all mapped out. For the first decade, anyways.
When I started hearing about COVID-19, it felt like I was back in one of my engineering meetings, the weekly updates in which the networking gadget gurus would tell the tech writers about a potentially dangerous glitch, and the writers would have to figure out how to advise the public accordingly. Was this a proceed with caution or a stop right now and change course situation? Did it require a couple exclamation-pointed sidebars with further information or the universal lightning bolt symbol of impending doom? Were the operational lights still flashing amber or, heaven forbid, stalled on solid red?
A few months later, I was grateful I had a high tolerance for forging ahead and figuring things out as I went, for marking up action plans on the fly. In pencil, with a big eraser. I put everything I had into figuring out the nerd speak, the CDC coding, and any “subject matter expert” communications from Drs. Fauci and Shah. But even so, planning how exactly to proceed was, as we used to say in the business, “like nailing Jell-O to a tree.”
1) Got masks? Check. 2) Got hand sanitizer? Check. Do I really need to go inside? If yes, then see steps 1 and 2, go quickly, and hope for the best. If no, can someone who is also “with the program” come out and put my stuff in the truck? If yes, then save their contact info and any detailed requirements. Survival, of course, was objective Number One. Beyond that, I knew most other stuff was a “nice to have,” prioritizing and procuring within the old business as usual framework, a luxury. By the first COVID summer, I’d made it up the learning curve far enough to earn the title “Curbside Clough” at the IGA, and be known among friends as a go-to for logistical advice on any given day. And when I actually came back home with, for example, a whole gallon of my specified milk dated within my specified freshness timeframe, it felt better than my best day back in the cubicle.
Never was the power of my pencil mightier, though, than when I finally wrote VACCINE with an exclamation point rather than a string of question marks. A year into the pandemic, I marked the action item on my wide open calendar, and enthusiastically prepped to repeat, as necessary. Because while getting vaccinated wasn’t the initially hoped for “one and done” reset button, it’s a great example of built-in security through redundancy, well worth replicating to keep living by the lake.
Now, although some Jell-O is starting to stick to the tree, it looks like there’ll be no quick solutions for taking up right where I left off “when this is over.” Factor in the still TBD virus variants—plus all the mean, nasty stuff going on outside the scope of these musings—and getting back out there is definitely more herky-jerky than a smooth launch. Accelerate. Brake! Accelerate. Reminds me of Uncle Bob driving his old station wagon and how he’d try to divert from unseen danger way before it got in front of him. That’s fine, though. Because you know that special “somewhere” folks started looking to escape to back in 2020? For me, for us, it’s right here. And, when folks from away suddenly stopped wondering how the heck Tom and I survived so far from the cluster snarl of city things to wondering how they, too, could hole up in a place like this for the long haul? Here we were, socially distancing in fine style, seeing how the original pre-requisites for The Big Move to Rangeley put us in pretty good stead for a pandemic and other scenarios previously unimaginable. We had: 1) Enough resources and faith to believe that enough is enough. 2) A sense of adventure and humor. 3) A vision for a new lifestyle with the guts to follow through when opportunity allows, and the grace to back pedal or change course when it doesn’t. Basically, that’s how we got to this corner of happy and healthy, and how we hope and plan to stay.
So while I won’t be writing a comprehensive “Getting Re-started Guide” anytime soon, I am compiling some rules for re-entry. So far, I’m planning on:
- Going forth in comfier clothes. No stepping back into “hard” pants and convincing myself that my social sphere necessitates tightening up my ensembles to the old standard. I’m gonna be stepping out in pants and tops featuring quarantine stretch and the freedom of post-pandemic style. Not the “one size fits all” type things you see in those funky catalogs that also sell plush toilet seat covers, nose hair clippers, and gadgets for remote controlling your life from the couch. But not kind the that cinch me in the middle like a balloon animal just for the sake of fashion, either. Plus no more of those Wonderbra type tops or bathing suits that make me look like a busted can of biscuits wondering where my perkiness went!
- No longer settling for half-hearted hugs. No more greeting those I want to bring in closer than six feet with a limp, one-armed pat…pat…pat…pat on the back in which I always stop at the perfunctory fourth pat. I’m muckling on for dear life and hugging hard enough that I would’ve snapped outta my pre-Rona duds. I’m gonna be a New Age ambassador of embraces, an adult Play-Doh extrusion toy with arms ready to squeeze, offering counter balance to my hug buddies in this wind storm of change.
- Fully engaging in whole-faced conversations whenever possible. Not two-faced, but bare naked whole-faced. And each time I do, I’ll remember how uneasy I felt the first time I saw nearly everyone wearing masks, how I wondered if that was really my friend so-and-so under there and, if so, how come she looked slightly sinister. How I gradually came to know that everybody wearing masks truly was my friend in spirit, and so began carrying out in-depth conversations with eyes only, hoping each face’s lower half was as enthusiastically engaged as mine. How nice it is to see and show teeth again, to go back to smiling and pouting and talking people’s ears off rather than talking their eyes out. I’ll never forget those first post-vax encounters with whole faces peeled, when going mask-less felt like I’d doffed my space suit and was free floating. If/when that becomes unsafe to sustain, I am ready with a resupply of masks—KN95s for BA.5, etcetera. They’re brand new—without the left in the glove compartment/Chinese food takeout scent—ready for fresh use, as needed.
- Relearning social norms and determining my role in applying them appropriately. Am I good company? What IS good company? I can still cook and entertain, right? I might be making what Jack and I would call WAGs (wild assed guesses) to come up with the answers, but I’ll draft a rough plan.