When Coronavirus started affecting the wider world, I was somewhat fortunate. I had wrapped up my early trips for the year, and had three months of downtime scheduled. So from a travel perspective, I wasn’t immediately affected. Of course, that eventually changed as we began to see the long-lingering affects of the pandemic. Now, a couple months later, I’ve been forced to cancel nearly all of my 2020 tours outright, or reschedule them for 2021.
In the meantime, Jenn and I have been doing our best while confined to home like so many others. It’s been interesting to observe not only the community, country, and world at large react to what’s going on, but also to see how this is affecting my own family… and myself as an individual. Here are some random thoughts and items of note that have popped up during self-quarantine.
Winning Twitter: Seattle Sounders
Sports fans have been desperate for something to latch onto during the shutdown, and sports organizations haven’t been much better while their seasons have been put on hold. The defending champion Seattle Sounders had just kicked off their season before everything was shut down. Since then they’re been filling their social media feeds with lot of great content… mainly in the form of game replays from their (relatively short but) successful history. And they’re treating game replays as if they are happening live, so goals and other great moments are being tweeted as they’re being replayed.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) May 24, 2020
It’s been a nice diversion to be able to watch highlights—some of which are fun memories, others which I’ve never seen—come across my feed every couple of days.
Losing Twitter: Denzel Washington
I’m sorry, Denzel. Every time a famous name trends on Twitter, folks wonder if it’s our latest COVID casualty. And of course, when they find out it’s not, this gif is inevitably the first response you see.
I know y’all hate this Denzel Washington gif but really it’s a masterpiece. It’s saying so much without words. Right now its saying Henry Winkler is a national treasure and he is still with us❤️ you can calm down now. pic.twitter.com/94DfyNnQvZ
— MegAz (@phoenonemalMeg) May 23, 2020
Over and over and over…
The COVID 15 is Real
My poor waistline. Jenn has been really good about continuing her workouts at home. I, however, detest running, and the last time I tried a serious home calisthenics routine I ended up in the hospital for a week with a major malady (a story for another time). Instead, my main workout in recent years has centered around… pickleball. That’s right, pickleball! Born and bred right here in Washington, it’s a very fun paddle sport and has been a fantastic way to keep active whenever I’ve been home.
The problem, of course, is that I’m the only one in the family who plays, and all of the public courts and rec centers around here that featured the game shut down once COVID got serious. Other people are apparently more fortunate, be it our star freshman softball player at UW, or Utah head football coach Kyle Wittingham… for those that can still do it, pickleball provides relief for Corona-doldrums!
Instead of being on the court, I’m at home much more. That’s led to more baking… despite the early concerns about the availability of flour and sugar (we do need fleur-de-sel, if anyone has an emergency stash). Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to getting in a bit more exercise, and maybe finding a way to return to some form of dietary discipline. Now that our family’s stretch of birthdays and other celebrations is in the rear view mirror, maybe I can pull it off.
On the plus side, my chocolate chip cookies may have improved.
Do I Have More Time or Not?
In the first month or so of self-quarantine, I was wondering where all my extra time had slunk off to. I was confined to home, so surely I should have more time to tackle the backlog of work waiting for me… but it didn’t feel like I was getting anything done. Mainly because, for the first time we were home alone with our son all day long, and didn’t have any grandparents chipping in to help. I know, it’s not the greatest sob story. We have finally joined all the other parents who aren’t lucky enough to have other family members around to help with child care. But it was a major adjustment for us, so it felt like “spare time” during isolation was simply a myth.
Slowly, however, I started noticing a few accomplishments here and there. I got back into video editing for the first time in a few years. And not just a little bit. I’ve posted five new videos to my YouTube channel while quarantined.
And it’s not just video content. I was also able to tackle reprocessing of old photo collections for the first time in ages:
So yeah, I guess I have found a bit more time to tackle these projects, though I couldn’t tell you when exactly it’s occurring. It’s probably helped that we’ve become more familiar and comfortable with the rhythm at home, balancing parenting with computer work time. Of course there’s also the fact that…
I Feel Like I’ve Turned Back the Clock 15 Years
I was going to say it’s like I’m back in college, but I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in until 10:30am. However, we’ve both been working much later into the night (almost 11pm just a few nights ago!). It’s probably a bit more productive than our pre-COVID routine, since we’re not spending as much of our evening in front of the TV, but our bedtime is almost always around midnight (or later), and we’re not getting out of bed until 7:30 or even 8am on many mornings. Somehow we’ve squeezed an extra 2-3 hours out of each day while stuck at home.
The last time I was doing that—at least, the staying-up-late-working part—was back when I had my old job. I’d come home from the office and then tackle all of my more interesting photo work and independent projects each the evening. Back then, it probably wasn’t great for my long term mental or physical health. Now at least, I have fatherhood occupying many of the daytime hours, which is a blessing… especially given the tradeoff I’ll have to perform next year with so many trips rescheduled for 2021!
I Definitely Need to Shoot MORE Video
There was a stretch several years ago when I was shooting a lot of video footage on my trips to supplement my still photos. It was all done for fun, since I enjoy video editing much more than editing stills, but I was finding that I didn’t enjoy making the choice between still and video in the field (video interfered with my photography too much), and I wasn’t finding as much time to edit videos at home anyway.
So I sort of gave it up about five years ago, only recording the odd snippet here and there. But now that I’ve been putting in more video editing work lately, especially with my new educational video series, I feel like I need to create a more robust stock video library… even if it’s just for my own pet projects.
Why Is Michael vs. LeBron Such a Big Deal?
One of the great diversions sports fans have been able to enjoy in recent weeks has been the early release of The Last Dance, ESPN’s Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary. That recently ended, and it was a lot of fun… except for the endless Michael vs. LeBron James sniping on social media among fans.
I’m not sure why one has to only like one of these players. Jordan is my favorite athlete of all-time, and as close as I ever got to having a sports idol as a kid. But I’ve greatly enjoyed, respected and rooted for LeBron James during his career. I root for greatness, because it’s a privilege to be able to witness sports history… with the exception of the Yankees or Patriots, of course. I’m not sure why more people can’t find a way to root for history-making achievements. Dismissing one athlete completely doesn’t make the other’s achievements any greater, and we deprive ourselves of acknowledging and appreciating rare moments of human achievement.
Speaking of Sports…
Did you catch this moment from the NFL Draft?
This year’s draft had to be conducted remotely. General managers, coaches and other personnel had to run their team drafts from their homes, and ESPN was there with cameras set up in various home offices. That’s Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta. On his wall?
That was sort of shocking. But I confirmed it by tracking down the sale from a few years ago (via my Pixels.com store), and he even showed it off during his pre-draft virtual tour (4:39 mark):
GM Eric DeCosta checking in with a tour of his Draft room setup: pic.twitter.com/Sqb6GfLY5A
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) April 22, 2020
A fun and unexpected moment to brighten another monotonous day at home, for sure.
Speaking of Customers…
It’s been a difficult couple of months on the business side of things, there’s no question. Two-thirds of our income is tied to the travel industry, which has come to a standstill during the pandemic. So I sincerely appreciate everyone who has placed store orders, whether they’re tied to my spring sale (ends May 31st, *ahem*) or not. Some people have even gone so far as to support other charitable causes during what is a challenging period financially for so many people.
A photo print of my Collared Scops Owl image recently raised $390 for the SOS Wildlife auction supporting Indian Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, part of a record-breaking effort for that charity.
One thing I quickly realized as things shut down was that, as bad as our own situation seems, we are not alone in these struggles. We have been doing our best to support local eateries that are under a more immediate threat of going under, and so many others in the community are too. I’d once again like to express a massive thanks to all of those who are able to not only support my own business, but other local small businesses that are hurting during this crisis.
Cool Animal Stories
A lot has come out about wildlife taking over urban areas during these quarantines, or air pollution being reduced in various parts of the globe. Some stories turned out to be bogus, like the elephants in China and the dolphins in Italy. But some are legit. Heck, we’re having more wildlife sightings in our own neighborhood (we recently heard our first neighborhood owl since I moved back into this house!).
I know urban coyotes are nothing new, but this photo of a coyote running through an empty downtown Chicago was pretty cool.
Saturday, April 4.
Michigan Avenue, Chicago.
This feels like any number of scifi flicks.
And here we are. pic.twitter.com/W9u1NCWvHt
— Charles Jaco (@charlesjaco1) April 6, 2020
Of course, the coolest wildlife moment (which has nothing to do with Coronavirus) still has to be those bioluminescent dolphins.
I’ve enjoyed seeing some of these stories, and if anything the real ones show how quickly Mother Nature can adapt to our absence. It makes me a bit wistful too, knowing that this period of calm will end soon, and then we’ll be back to stripping the natural world apart faster than we’re restoring it.
When I study my own patterns and behavior during self-isolation, there’s plenty I can find that’s less than ideal. I mentioned how diet and exercise have suffered. But perhaps the biggest disappointing trend has been the lack of reading. I suppose it’s sort of how I initially felt about not having more time to work. I figured being stuck at home would mean I’d get to read a lot more books. I usually read a fair amount, and have had some years when I’ve been able to cram in 20-50 books in a year. Traveling actually helps in this regard, so perhaps the lack of travel has made finding time to read more challenging.
I’ve barely finished the equivalent of one book this whole time. Sort of pathetic, really. And I actually abandoned a book simply because it was a paperback. The only time I can find time to read is bedtime, and I’d rather sit in the dark with a backlit Kindle than having a blazing light shining on my book and keeping everyone awake. The subject material of these most recent choices probably hasn’t helped (nature and science-oriented fiction and non-fiction), but I’ve been better since I switched back into some escapist fiction. Maybe I’ll make more progress from here on out.
Aside from work, we have still been watching some TV. Recent shows we enjoyed (in case you’re interested): The Great, Giri/Haji, Sex Education (Season 2), Counterpart, What We Do In the Shadows (Season 2), and the aforementioned The Last Dance.
My New Favorite Word
This, of course, is in reference to Cuban chess grandmaster Jose Raul Capablanca, who rose to prominence in the early 20th century. I am about as far out on the fringes of the Chess Awareness Scale as one could get. I have not played chess since I was a kid. Before the pandemic, I could have named, at most, four or five famous chess players from history to you (including current world champion Magnus Carlson, after reading a few chess articles out of curiosity in recent years), but I had never heard of Capablanca.
This all changed when we were looking for more board games to entertain our son. I decided to get him a beginners’ chess game, and we’ve been playing a little off and on. So, with chess fresh in my mind, I caught notice when a chess video popped into my list of YouTube suggestions. It happened to be a video from Agadmator’s Chess Channel, in which the host posts almost daily videos of himself giving play by play and analyzing various big time chess matches. I got sucked in instantly, which probably shows how bad this pandemic is getting.
I still know almost no chess theory (though thanks to Agadmator, I’m learning a little here and there), but I do find the history and background stories accompanying these videos to be fascinating. So right now I’m immersed in the “Capablanca Saga,” in which our host recounts the important tournaments, games, and matches from Capablanca’s career.
It’s all Capablanca, all the time in this house. I am hearing that word spoken about 200 times a day at the moment. Even Jenn perks up when she hears, “Capablanca!”
Now that I think about it, this is probably the real reason I’m not reading nearly as many books as I used to.
Social Media Distractions
I’ve always enjoyed sharing photos. It’s something I’ve discussed many times before, a constant that has motivated me throughout my career as a photographer. During self-quarantine, a few social media accounts have provided plenty of excuses for me to share more images, have fun, and even be creative.
Among them, Ben James’ almost-daily Lockdown Photo Challenges:
DAY 6️⃣2️⃣ 24/05/2020
Daily fun for all the family!
🟥 🟧 🟨 🟩 🟦 🟪
Post as many photos as you like matching the theme & use the hashtag #BENPC
Be creative & most of all, have fun! 😄@BenJamesPhotos x x
— Ben James Photography 🔆 (@BenJamesPhotos) May 24, 2020
On Facebook, someone invited me to join #BirdTheFeckAtHome, a “birding from home” page with a laid-back atmosphere and, thankfully, a big sense of humor. Daily bird family quests (an excuse to show off species you’ve seen or photographed), Big (Sun)Day bird counts, and other random games and posts make me very happy that I learned to appreciate birds all those years ago. It’s even allowed me to delve into my illustrative side a bit.
In one post, someone asked for bird images with fun captions…
At one point, someone asked a serious trivia question: Which bird order is an anagram of another order? I couldn’t help myself.
Can you tell I’m ready to get outside more?
COVID Fatigue is Also Real
We’re obviously seeing many areas around the country opening up before this thing is contained, including my own state. Probably all too soon, but you can tell people are getting worn out by all of this.
I’m actually seeing the fatigue manifest itself in things like Zoom Meetings. It’s apparent that people are getting tired of virtual socialization, which ultimately hasn’t done a great job of replacing face-to-face contact. Early on, members of our pre-school co-op were eager to join in on virtual Happy Hours, the adult-themed parental supplement to the virtual classes being led twice-a-week by our son’s teacher. But in recent weeks the effort to organize such outings has fizzled. In another example, a virtual reunion some friends suggested a couple weeks ago earned immediate feedback from several people… but nobody’s followed through since then to make it happen.
I think we’re all getting tired of this, and it’s randomly had me thinking about how our future society will look. I keep thinking of dystopian/sci fi stories (like Ready Player One, or the Fifteen Million Merits episode from Black Mirror) in which society is largely plugged into their devices and looking at screens non-stop—something we’ve always seemed to be trending toward—and it seems even more horrifying now that we’ve had more of a taste of it. It doesn’t taste great.
In my own case, I was constantly worrying about the financial fallout early on… but eventually I began to wonder how I’d fare if all of my trips were cancelled and I didn’t get any chance to go out and take pictures this year. Sure, it would be feel like a “wasted” year from a professional or artistic perspective, but will the isolation and lack of real adventure affect my level of happiness as well? So many routines are being disrupted that I’m not quite sure how we’ll come out of this. Societally we’ll struggle a bit, but as family units and individually, I wonder how much we’ll be changed when life resumes.
I’m Proud of My Community
The my outdoor exploration the last couple months has been limited to my back yard, and to family walks around the neighborhood. It’s quiet and peaceful on our streets, even though we see a fair number of like-minded individuals who need to escape the confines of the house with mini-exploration. Families on bikes, older couples, dog owners… Folks cross the street when you’re coming to give plenty of room, and nobody is screaming at someone else while carrying a wooden bazooka and a Cold Cut Combo. People are more willing to smile and say hi from a distance, just for a small sliver of the social interaction we all crave right now. We’re all stuck in a bubble with the volume turned down a bit. Nobody can actually be enjoying this, but here in my neighborhood at least, people are trying like heck to make the best of it.
After a couple months of this mess, most of my neighbors keep putting on a brave face… and I’d like to think they’re doing it for the greater good of the community.