Books Recs for the Bored-At-Home

Over the past two months, several bored-at-home friends have asked me for book recommendations. I’ve had such fun hearing what books they’ve liked recently and getting to suggest others. 

So, as we move toward summer and it’s still best for everyone to only go out if absolutely necessary (and only while wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet from each other), here are some books I’ve recommended to others that you might like too.

Sci-Fi

Fantasy

Romance

Mystery

And here’s what’s next on my TBR:

*These books are currently being adapted, along with their entire series, by Netflix, and I couldn’t be more excited. I mean, Julie Andrews is in “Bridgerton“. And the worldbuilding for “Shadow and Bone” was always leaping off the page. Season 1 of both has finished filming, thank goodness, so we may well get them both before the year is out.

A Good Few Weeks

I had to return to working in the office full-time on Friday, the day after Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expired. 

For Tyler and I, those weeks where we both worked from home were dear and kind. Talking with my grandmother on the phone one night, she warned me that this kind of experience, especially being stuck in the house together for such an extended period, would be a trial on our marriage. But for us, it hasn’t been. Or for me it hasn’t been. I’ve had bad days. So has did he. But mostly we’ve had closeness, and cat gifs, and cat cuddles, and conversation. Sharing. 

We got used to watching Good Eats and Friends together during lunch, laughing and not wanting to turn it off and go back to our desks. We were spoiled by our ability to get up, brush our teeth, and walk to “work” in a few seconds. We’ve cuddled in the mornings more. We’ve fallen asleep together on the couch in the evenings more. We encourage each others’ hobbies with a presence and attention we usually don’t offer. He’d open the blinds in the morning in every room of the house and I’d shut them at the end of the day. Around 11:30, one of us would ask the other what we want for lunch, and we’d fix it together and work on the dishes afterward.

A good, good few weeks. 

And all of this against the background of anxiety, stress, and the horrors of a society and healthcare system increasingly strained, friends increasingly isolated, friends and friends of friends learning they’d tested positive. People are losing their jobs, their hope. People are losing their family members and not even being able to hug their loved ones for comfort.

Tyler and I are well aware that we’re in an ideal situation. We’ve recently moved into our first home, one in good shape, and we have a cat but no children yet. We could still have a work-life balance because life didn’t need to cross over into work and our work didn’t meaningfully disrupt our lives. I don’t know how people are coping without pets. I can’t imagine being without ours, for comfort and cuddles and warmth and liveliness and cuteness and the sparks of laughter throughout the day.

I had sunlight and sweatpants and didn’t wear a bra or shoes for a week or more at a time. I miss all of that dearly now. Now, I’m in a windowless box. My own office, decorated with a few paintings and some Funko Pop figures. Arranged for ease of flow. But there is no window. The florescent lights overhead are grating and flicker when I turn them on, so I’m making do with lamps instead. 

My first day back in the office, I left with a massive headache I couldn’t shake until Saturday evening. I was utterly miserable, and felt like my work life had stolen something from my home life. I had bad headaches a few times while quarantined, but could take naps during the day and work later so that I didn’t have to take sick time and slow production during one of our busiest times of the year. This is no longer an option.

For all the brightness and warmth I had while working from home—when my job was very busy but my satisfaction was so high—I feel the void now. And, because Bibb County is expecting a surge, and because so many of my coworkers are at high risk or live with someone who is, I wear a mask when I leave my office. And when I’m in my office, I close the door so I can take the mask off while maintaining control of this space, its air, who enters. 

Now Tyler and I are isolated from each other as well as other people during the day, so we’re trying to connect in the same ways we we are with those outside our home, with gifs and texts and emails. And I’m still only available to my coworkers by email or phone, just as I was when working from home.

When I get home after work, I wash my hands thoroughly, clean my phone with Lysol wipes, and set aside my mask to dry out for three days or, if it’s cloth, throw it in the wash to start on hot water, then wash my hands again. 

Forty more minutes of my day spent driving, Fifteen minutes more preparing my appearance. Fifteen minutes more preparing my food and drink for the day. Countless minutes considering where and how to move so that I don’t infect a coworker, don’t infect myself. Every day is so full of anxieties I didn’t have to worry about when I worked from home. I often focus on those inconveniences, small but needless, or the litany of injustices evident in this entire pandemic so I can pretend I’m not terrified I’ll kill my husband by a thoughtless touch of my hand to my nose during the day or an insufficiently cleaned surface upon returning home. 

I’m the one leaving the safety of our isolation every single workday. If one of us gets sick, it’s almost certainly going to be through me. I try to avoid saying “because of me,” since I know I wouldn’t be in this building if there was any alternative that let me keep my job.

I’ve mostly managed to stop planning our hospital go-bags, trying to decide what the last straw would be before taking Tyler to the ER, how I’d need to sell the house after losing him, what it would be like to have to endure the rest of the pandemic alone without him or a single hug. These thoughts spark an anxiety spiral. I mostly manage to avoid it.

I mostly manage. I’m mostly managing. 

Which is all any of us are doing.

We’re managing as well as we can. 

Commercials in the Time of COVID-19

Over the past week I’ve noticed a shift on TV. It started when Tyler and I were watched an On Demand episode of “Good Eats”, because I much prefer it to Sports Center without live sports and the “My Cat from Hell” marathon had ended. A commercial featured a black woman in golden choir robes muttering under her breath for the soloist to hurry up. A blue-polo’d Best Buy employee pops in beside her, whispering conspiratorially that they offer next-day delivery “on all kinds of gifts.”

The soloist was singing the final phrase of the “12 Days of Christmas” and the snowflake graphics around the Best Buy logo made it clear this was a holiday commercial. So why was it on at the end of March? 

Because this was On Demand, I saw the commercial again a few minutes later, and this time I paid more attention to it than I had to the show.

I’ve been complaining privately for a few weeks that the ads on TV seem to belong to a different universe, certainly a different era. In the ads, people gather for dinner, sharing fries with their family members. They high five strangers in a sports bar. They meet up with a friend for a brisk walk in the pollen-overrun park. Rooms-to-Go, Home Depot, and Kohl’s urge us to come out for their big sales. Most commercials call for an immediate action, like a trip to go shopping or to go out to eat, and neither are part of this world anymore. I’m not treating myself to Applebee’s after work and I’m not shopping for furniture. I’m not introducing any friends to a Big Mac. I don’t live in that world, or era, anymore. And neither does most of the country.

Last week, however, the commercials that companies seem to have rushed through production began to enter the rotation. Rather than shoot something new, Best Buy pulled out their holiday ad to let us know they’ll deliver online orders tomorrow. The timeliness of the message, for the first time I can remember, was valued so highly that the dated decor and set up was ignored.

The voiceover in one commercial assured me that eventually we will all gather for dinner and safely clink glasses again. A recent Domino’s commercial featuring a pants-less, sock-sliding dancer was reedited so the emphasis was on no contact delivery instead of trackable delivery.

Certain channels are using infographics on 5-second spots to remind us to distance ourselves and wash our hands. Channels are running marathons of their most popular shows and movies (where people hug and shake hands like it’s nothing!!!!! *starts hyperventilating*). Most don’t mention the coronavirus or COVID-19 by name. They merely refer to “the current crisis” and say our social bonds are so important, “especially now.” 

I’m glad that the ads have begun to reflect our different, still-changing reality. It feels less dystopian, less disconnected, less depressing. I want those ads to acknowledge our collective reality, since I know they’re speaking directly to me. Yet I find this somewhat ironic, as I also want to escape the pandemic in what I’m watching and reading. I’ll abide absolutely no stories or movies about hospitals, police, missing people, war, or death. I’m not interested in Marvel movies or Fast & Furious. I would rather eat nothing by PB&J for a week than to watch Avengers: Endgame. I want to be comforted. I want to laugh. Movies and shows and commercials that used to do so don’t anymore.

Live sports would be great to let my mind sink into, but of course we don’t have that outlet, so it’s zany baking shows and books I’ve already read and Sarah Bareilles music videos and animal shows centered on zoos and aquariums. It’s Mythbusters and Moana. It’s Animal Crossing for a lot of people. Nothing competitive, no high stakes. It’s more timing sitting on the couch, doing nothing, and more time looking out the window at whatever’s out there. It’s far more time researching bread baking and liking people’s social media posts about bread baking. It’s dancing Tic Tocs and threads of favorite songs. It’s a lot of quarantine memes.

It’s so strange to know that so much of our usual lives has just… stopped. 

And, of course, so much changes so quickly, yet at different rates in different places. While drafting this post, NYC residents got push notifications asking that everyone with healthcare experience volunteer for hospital shifts ASAP. Reality in NYC is different than mine in Macon, GA. It’s different than in my hometown of Beaufort, SC, which is just beginning to shut down, but I’ve been working from home for two weeks. My cousin in Oklahoma is moving to Georgia this week, and it really is like traveling into a different, more frightening world the farther east she goes.

To a degree, this has always been true. Flint still doesn’t have clean drinking water. The Navajo reservation never has. Three of my friends have had and are recovering from COVID-19. Thousands of people have lost loved ones to it already. The main thing that unites us now is how not normal things are, and how uncertain and frightening that is. And if we can’t even acknowledge that much, that things are not normal, I won’t even consider buying what you’re selling.

Have you seen a commercial that was clearly released or reedited in response to the pandemic? What was it advertising?

Joy in Self-Isolation

Here is a list of things bringing me joy in these isolated days:

  • Cuddling with my husband as we wait for our alarm to go off
  • Waking up every morning to my cat nuzzling my hand so I’ll pet her ears 
  • Playing Stardew Valley for 3 hours every week with 3 of my best friends
  • A 5-second commute to work
  • Open blinds throughout the day
  • Every single pair of sweatpants I own
  • Finding new, delicious ways to cook
  • Learning new, interesting things about my Instagram friends
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Orange Juice
  • Long phone calls with my mom
  • Daily cat videos with my husband
  • My cat walking into my office and flopping onto her back so I’ll get up and pet her
  • Sitting on my front steps after work
  • Sara Bareilles’s “Gonna Get Over You”

Being a Millennial in the Pandemic and the Church

Millennials are defined by our memories of and experiences in 3 major events during our childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood: 9/11, sustained wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession. And now we’re adults, many of us with kids and mortgages, in a pandemic. 

In a lot of ways, I think millennials are uniquely suited to doing the good and hard work of this time, which so far include sacrificing social pleasures for physical isolation, patroning small local businesses that may not survive the crunch, and educating our parents and grandparents about the seriousness of the threats we’re facing. We’re used to combing through the buzz of overstimulation and over information on the internet for credible sources and realistic outcomes and expectations. We’re also used to begging older generations to listen to us, trying tactic after tactic to try to get them to understand our perspective and value others’ welfare above their own comfort or routine. We habitually use the internet to remain connected with others. And we’ve become accustomed to reality suddenly, dramatically changing for the worse. We grew up on dystopian fantasies and we learned our lessons.

We are also accustomed to being lied to by people in authority, including our parents, our instructors, our bosses, and our highest elected officials. Our parents lied to us, if unintentionally, about how the world works and our place in it, then denied us access to power while blaming us for our trauma. Our instructors insist we’re lying and demand obituaries to prove our absences while also losing assignments, not sticking to the syllabus, and repeating the same demeaning diatribes as the generations before them. Our bosses lie to us about benefits, our value to the company, and even our value as human beings.

Elected officials have lied about who was responsible for 9/11, who are our enemies, what people think, what’s best for us, who we can trust, and certainly about their motivations. Our current president has lied about…everything. And we’re pretty good by now at sniffing those lies out. Most millennials I know skip his portion of the now daily COVID-19 briefings to avoid the racist comments, misinformation, and lies. And now the president is saying some of us will have to die so that rich people don’t become a tiny bit less rich. Smells rotten to me. 

So we value stories and art and entertainment, and we do what we can to support the people who give us that. We look for stories of real people before believing what authorities tell us about the virus, its spread, and what we should do about it. We organize to help others. And we have to keep reminding news agencies and the world at large who we are (25-40 year olds) and who we aren’t (college students on spring break).

There are selfish people who think they are invincible in every generation, ours included. But we aren’t the ones on beaches despite warnings (and why aren’t those beaches already closed?).

Our spring break is working from home while trying to keep our kids on task for their e-learning.

Our spring break is developing online learning for the students we won’t see in person for the rest of the school year.

Our spring break is visiting the grocery store for our elderly neighbors on the way home from an underpaying job.

Our spring break is staying at home, hoping our disability or underlying condition won’t be a death sentence as we watch the president tell us we might have to die and as our caregivers dismiss our concerns.

Our spring break is spent delivering dozens of pizzas a day for less than minimal wage.

Our spring break is a day off from the hospital where we’ve volunteered to care for COVID patients because we are young and healthy and childless.

I see many of the same tension for us millennials in churches. We generally see loving their neighbors as a radically different process and value system than the ones we’ve been taught.

Loving queer people, for example, isn’t accomplished by excluding them or by instructing them, with pitying expressions, that they are hell-bound. And we believe this regardless of how we interpret biblical references to homosexuality, which in biblical times referred to predatory pedophilia, not the identity, lifestyle, and loving relationships implied by the word today. We are more likely to know openly queer people, and our love for them makes this issue far from theoretical.

As another example, to millennials, using funds responsibly and in Christ-like ways means handing out money sometimes, not only food, regardless of whether the person has “earned it” or is “worthy” of it. Their being children of God, human beings, makes them worthy of kindness and dignity, makes their suffering intolerable to our understanding of Christianity. We certainly won’t agree to buying yet another set of cushioned chairs for the one hour a week we’re going to be using them. We don’t believe that the only issue worth voting on, the one that *ahem* trumps all others is abortion. If we are responsible to God for the lives of those unborn children who might possibly die as a result of legislation passed or withheld by a person who we voted for, then we are equally responsible to the children kept in cages and denied flu vaccines, to the children killed on a schoolbus in Yemen by a US drone attack, to the children starving in refugee camps, and to our own children, who are taught to run in zigzags to avoid active shooters and who the president sees as acceptable losses in his efforts to save the stock market.

These understandings are largely excluded from the wider church. When voiced, they are largely ignored or vilified. We don’t habitually engage in useless endeavors, so few millennials continue pounding on those doors of power and influence that have been shut to them for their “radical misunderstandings of the Bible.” So most Christian millennials are faced with 3 choices: conform, shut up, or leave. I’ve done all three, most recently “leave.” 

We can hardly leave the country, though. And even if we could, what’s to say any other country would want us? We were told that the racists in power would eventually die off, and we should be patient for change. Instead, we see segments of our generation and Gen Z radicalized. And still we can’t protect our children from gun violence and can’t convince our grandparents not to go to church or to lunch afterwards during a pandemic. 

It’s a grim life that’s prepared us so well for the present pandemic.

Amidst my own dizzying anxiety, I’ve learned a lot from watching older generations face this pandemic. In particular, where I’ve rushed to react quickly and decisively, whether in terms of vegetables or workplace demands, my more mature colleagues have taken a more reasoned approach. They are optimistic for their own emotional well-being. They are careful. And most are generous. 

We aren’t prepared to sacrifice as a society for the sake of that society—all our experiences thusfar have discouraged it—and now we’re being asked to. We’re even required to in order to save lives. I deeply hope that every generation, including my beloved and jaded one, manage to do so.

Sports during the Pandemic

Tyler requested that I do a blog post about sports, and the lack thereof, during this pandemic. He and I usually set our spring to the rhythms of first Atlanta United soccer, then the Braves, which carries us into football season in the fall, when Tyler supports Georgia Tech, I support Clemson, and we both try to be a tiny bit hopeful about the Falcons. Neither of us are basketball fans, but in that lull between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball season, we have been known to stop on a few Hawks or Duke games, just to have something on in the background that doesn’t make us want to bake really elaborate cakes. 

And in our house over the past two weeks, as has likely occurred in yours, we’ve found ourselves a bit unanchored without these staples of our season. Sports is comforting, an escape for so many people either by playing or by watching. Tyler and I bonded over Atlanta United and the Braves games while we were dating and engaged. It’s been strange to know that such personal staples, and national staples as March Madness, have been suspended for an indefinite period. The one major sporting event I know of that’s still ongoing isn’t the sort that usually gets coverage on ESPN or Fox Sports. It’s a race over 1000 miles of the Alaska wilderness, and takes over 14 days to complete: the Iditarod.

I financially support two dog sledding teams, one of which is currently running the Iditarod. (For the record, dogs DO NOT die during the race! If any dogs become tired or injured, they are left in top vet care at the next checkpoint and are flown to the race’s end in Nome where volunteers care for them until their musher arrives with the rest of the team.) 

The mushers are almost entirely removed from the news, though some villages are opting to host the mushers outside of town to try to protect themselves from COVID-19’s spread. So the mushers must know there’s a pandemic. But until they either scratch or arrive with their teams in Nome, they won’t understand the full extent of what that means or how strange the world has become. Their dogs certainly don’t know. Which makes this event particularly interesting to follow during this pandemic, as we’re charting the paths of all these people who don’t know yet, who haven’t seen or experienced what’s now keeping us flush in toilet paper and awake at night. Their isolation is fascinating at any time, but especially so now.

If you are just getting into the Iditarod due to the dirth of other live sporting events, the team I support is led by Quince Mountain, a rookie and the first opening transgender musher. He is number 50, running in the back of the pack, which matches his slow and steady personality. (Fun fact! Q is allergic to dog hair.) His wife Blair Braverman (who I’ve mentioned before) finished the Iditarod last year as a rookie, and is covering the race with other journalists this year. You can find both of them on Twitter, along with their community of we loyal, big-hearted fans, the #UglyDogs. The Ugly Dogs are funding school projects throughout Alaska in #IGiveARod, and are crafting scarves, hats, and other warm water gear for Alaskan children through #IKnitARod. 

There are also quite a few mushers in good standing to win the Iditarod in the next day or two. Of these, I’m rooting for Mitch Seavey, who features in one of Blair’s many excellent Twitter threads about caring for the dogs on Team BraverMountain.

This thread provides a fantastic overview of the race, as does this article, if you’d like to start following along. And the most up-to-date standings are located here.

Happy trails! Stay safe out there, for yourselves and for others.