Quarantime Progress Report

Learning As I Go #0014

Greetings from a cool Easter weekend in the Piedmont. The pollen appears to be slowing though the pines may have a few grains left to puff out.

The last two weeks have been unusually busy and active. Let’s crack on, shall we?


Around the home

Liz and I are among the privileged who can work from home via our laptops. Liz camps out upstairs while I’ve taken over the dining room table.

Our jobs have been keeping us both more than busy the last two weeks. I’m not suffering too badly from the “Blursday” phenomenon (thanks to Michael Leddy for alerting me to this one!), mainly because I have specific meetings staked out during the week and deadlines that rather enforce calendrical attentiveness. Still, this stay-at-home experience is teaching me how fluid my schedule really is. Calendars and schedules are human creations, after all; you don’t see squirrels checking their planner books.


Liz has taken up the no-sew masks, using bandanas and elastic bands. I keep one in the car on the off-chance I need to go in to a building (haven’t had to yet).

Just play it to hear the background music … very soothing

“Like my mask?” “I like anything that covers that face.” “Shut up.”


Liz has taken up the jigsaw puzzle. According to NPR.org, the last time jigsaw puzzles were this popular was during the Great Depression.

The final image for Liz’s puzzle, of Charley Harper's Monteverde

We’d bought a collapsible table to use for Bull City Commons events and it turns out to be a great platform for constructing the puzzle.

Though, as you see in the following photo, she needs a b-i-t more room to lay out the 1000 pieces.

The patented Liz Wing(TM) method of jigsaw sortment. We’ve never used the living room this much in the last 20 years.


I did the Power Reds donation on April 2.

The American Red Cross is always refining its protocols so I was comfortable they would look after their donors. All staff and volunteers wore masks and gloves; of the six or so donors I saw during my time there, only two wore masks (homemade). Hand sanitizer was liberally applied and available on request.

The staff I talked to said I arrived on an unexpectedly slow day. For the previous four weeks, they’d been slammed with every donation slot open and full shifts. (I’d made my appointment in mid-March, about 2.5 weeks before my donation date). They appreciated a quiet day to catch their breath.

TIP: Create an account at the Red Cross website. On the day of your donation, answer the RapidPass questions about your medical history online; it will shave about 10-15 minutes off your trip. I should have printed out the email confirmation rather than keep it on my phone, because I could not get a cell signal inside the fortress-like Red Cross building.


The azaleas and dogwoods really turned it on this last week, which featured pleasant and mild temperatures. Nature cares not for “stay-at-home” orders.

Before I went out to cut the grass yesterday, I snapped these shots of our 15-foot or so viburnum (the “snowball bush”) and the Sweet Betsy.


The huge hickory tree beside our driveway had to come out this past week.

Right there between the house and the cars.

We’d noticed over the last couple of months that a small mound was swelling around the tree’s base. And the mound was swelling and growing each week, it seemed.

Look at the slope of that shadow tracing the curve of the swelling.

Side view! At one time, that tree was straight up-and-down.

We decided it was better to take it out now, rather than wake up one night to a giant crashing sound as the heavy tree tipped forward to block the street and maybe take out a power line.

Hill’s Tree Service came out Wednesday at 7am and were done by noon. They always do a great job.

Pros: no more hickory nuts pelting the cars in August and setting off the car alarms.

Cons: a warmer house in the summer.


Bull City Commons Cohousing

As with many other organizations, BCC had to switch from in-person circle meetings and information sessions to using online-based communications tools.

No, that’s a different Zoom.

I’d started compiling a version of the monthly BCC newsletter, but scrapped it after the stay-at-home order and the prevailing mood of caution. Pictures of us smiling, laughing, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a restaurant now seemed … odd and out of place. That was business as usual in February, but definitely not the case now.

Instead, I drafted a new newsletter that addressed our changed circumstances while still charting the project’s progress.

BCC used Zoom for its monthly business meeting (about 35 people attended and it went very well!). We’ll also use Zoom for our information sessions and for the National Cohousing Virtual Open House Day on April 26.


Accountability Coaching

Part of my daily routine involves savoring my morning coffee as I comment on my fellow trainees’ progress reports and respond to their comments on mine.

It’s fun to see the progress some people are making by working on their projects only 20 minutes or less a day, though many of course put in far more time than that.

The lesson you learn is that consistent daily actions, even and especially small ones, can yield outsized results over time.

My goal, if you’ll recall from the last newsletter, was to find a friend who would let me practice on them. I was lucky enough to have someone respond and we’re about two weeks in.

Following is a bit of what I wrote for our “mid-term” self-evaluations:

  1. Has your goal changed, and if so, why and how has it changed? The goal itself is unchanged. Though I find myself wanting to reach out to others, in small ways or even more visible ways. So maybe I'm the one that is changing.

  2. If you were coaching yourself, what would you say, at this point? The six-word motto a former coach asked me to devise for myself: Eyes open. Straight ahead. Keep walking. Don't get distracted from serving your client by your thinking that you need to do more than you're doing. Also -- relax. You got this. In many ways, the coaching is the easy part. It's the story you're making up around it (i.e., marketing, stepping up and being visible) that's twisting you into knots.

A few other discoveries I’ve made:

  • Going smaller and smaller with my daily task feels like cheating but it's not at all cheating. It's just easier.

  • I go faster when I relax than when I tighten up. When I don't layer too much results-thinking on my actions, I tend to enjoy doing them more and get more responses from people. (Have always known this, have always forgotten it.)

As you can see, one of my fears is of being seen. So I’m going to start scheduling little Zoom conferences where I can have conversations with people and see what develops.

I do not have a map or plan for what I’m doing; I’m just following a feeling. Sometimes, that’s all you have, but it can be enough.

If you’re interested in what my coaching is about (hint: you’re perfectly fine, you just need a little support and structure) or know someone who wants to get some traction on a long put-off project (hint: “someday” is happening NOW), please get in touch and let me know. Thanks!


What Will You Do After This Is Over?

I was once in a rather formal community theater production of Moliere’s The Misanthrope, translated by Richard Wilbur into rhyming couplets, I think. The set was designed with large chess pieces the cast members moved around on the black-and-white checkerboard floor at the start of each act. The leads learned their lines quickly. Rehearsals went smoothly for four weeks. Most of us secondary cast cooled our heels in the dressing room. It was, all in all, a fine and boring show.

On opening night — the first night of a six-week run — as we waited backstage to do our first tableau in front of the audience, one of the actors turned around and said, “Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been doing this show for a hundred years?”

It certainly feels to me like we’ve been doing pandemic prep for a hundred years instead of four weeks. We’ve opted to stay at home as much as possible; each trip in the car to the grocery store or a curbside pickup sometimes feels like traveling through enemy territory.

What’s hard to imagine is that it will all be over at some point. Life will continue. Some things will have changed, some not. Some things won’t come back, some will, but not as they were before.

With that in mind, marketer/copywriter Ann Handley’s weekly newsletter included the following list — 14 Habits Worth Keeping Post-Covid — curated from a thread she posted on LinkedIn. What do you think you’ll keep doing once we’re on the other side?

  • Make Takeout Tuesday from local restaurants a thing.

  • Choose news inputs carefully + thoughtfully: Bad news in the morning, good news before bed.

  • Greater awareness of how much we're consuming (toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, wine!)

  • Less texting, more Zooming.

  • Flipping the script on the vague "We should get together sometime" to "Can you do lunch on this specific day?"

  • Saying No to nonessential business travel; saying Yes to being home for dinner.

  • Pajamas-on-the-bottom, business-casual on the top.

  • More appreciation for people in jobs who didn't seem "essential" before but are now literally keeping us from descending into a complete freak-out. [As a friend said to us today, “I don’t see any CEOs out there putting themselves at risk to keep us healthy.” — meb]

  • Endless gratitude to healthcare workers.

  • Honest empathy for the pressures and challenges that my colleagues experience just to get any work done whatsoever.

  • The sudden ability to conjure up "dinner" out of a potato, leftover lasagna, and a pile of rocks (metaphorically).

  • A weirdness about touching surfaces and shaking hands.

  • Newfound knowledge of how to *actually* wash our hands.

  • And finally ... SAY HI FIRST.


Coming Up

I think we move into the last week of Accountability Coach training. I continue working with my client/friend. I also need to get over myself and schedule some Zoom calls.

I start my new kettlebell routine crafted for me by Betsy Collie of Rapid Results Fitness. We met last week via Zoom where she critiqued my technique and taught me proper form. Her clientele has rallied round to attend virtual classes throughout the week. She’s created a great community.

I signed up for Betty Wolfe’s “Relaxercise” online lessons “designed for improving posture, flexibility, general comfort and liveliness … Lessons are taught sitting in a firm chair with feet well supported. They engage your thinking, sensing, feeling, imagining and moving. They can be challenging, puzzling, and FUN!” Is this up my alley or what??? I’m sitting a lot more now, with some discomfort, so I’m looking forward to this.

I’m also working my way through Buster Keaton’s two-reelers. Great, classic stuff.

And I will, yet again, borrow the writer Warren Ellis’ sign-off from his newsletter this week:

Get some rest, eat properly, sleep when you can, and turn your phone off once in a while. Nothing wrong with shutting the rest of the world off when you need to. I'll keep an eye on it for you while you're gone. Take a breath, go and look at the sky, hold on tight.  You're doing fine. 


I’m Michael E. Brown. One of my goals with my website and this letter is to keep in touch with friends and correspondents.

Learning As I Go is published on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month but don’t ask me how long it takes me to make one.