“Getting Re-Started” (a draft)

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“I have a wish list,” insisted Jack. “And the first thing is, I never wish to keep a list.”

Tech writer friends and lunchtime walking buddies, Jack and I spent hours in adjoining cabins, creating checklists, assembly instructions, getting started guides and other must-know things for the nerds who hardly ever read them. Then we would blow the dust with rides around the office park and have debates about to-do lists and other lively topics.

Jack was ready to never have to use his geeky skills to plot anything outside of the office. Report to work. Complete assignments. Repeat as needed. Collect the paycheck. Do. No need to flesh out these simple steps for continued success, he thought.

But me, I was all about the lists. Since I had the manual dexterity to hold a pencil, I jotted down must-haves and things to do. The addition of flowcharts, spreadsheets, getting started tips — anything I could put in my toolbox to lay out the steps for optimal success — got me even more excited. To hell with the nerds who don’t pay attention, though! I was throwing myself into self-publishing, following my own instructions away from the cubicle walls. I had begun writing the biggest and most daring rewrite of my life: The Big Move to Rangeley.

Would the house be sold so Tom could retire? This was the crucial question for all the arrows pointing to camp for good, triggering the next steps and sub-steps stretching halfway through the alphabet until, before we knew it, we ticked the myriad of checkboxes and unpacked the moving boxes for the last time. After that, the lists got a little wacky, the daily flow slowed down to a nice trickle, and the decision loops became just that. Loops. In town, out and around the lake, and back inside. Rangeley’s sequence of “if…then” decisions throughout the year has never been hairier than changing outerwear and/or adapting actions to daily circumstances and/or weather conditions. . On winter days when, for example, you wanted to go to the IGA without just going to the IGA, if the road was clear of snow and if it was a weekday between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., then you could go further — to the PO, for lunch, and maybe even a haircut. But if it was the weekend, the flow had to stop at the grocery store and the junkyard. We pretty much had it all mapped out. For the first decade, anyway.

When I first started hearing about COVID-19, it felt like I was back in one of my engineering meetings, the weekly updates where network gadget gurus would talk to technical writers of a potentially dangerous issue, and writers should understand how to advise the public accordingly. Was it a pursuit with caution or an immediate stop and change of course? Did it need a few sidebars with an exclamation mark containing additional information or the universal lightning bolt symbol of impending doom? Were the operational lights still flashing amber or, God forbid, stuck solid red?

A few months later, I was grateful that I had a great tolerance to move on and figure things out as they went, to score action shots on the fly. In pencil, with a big eraser. I put everything I had into understanding nerd talk, CDC coding, and all of the “subject matter expert” communications from Drs. Fauci and Shah. But even so, planning exactly how to do it was, as we used to say in the business, “like nailing Jell-O to a tree.”

) Do you have masks? Check. 2) Do you have hand sanitizer? Check. Do I really need to go inside? If so, then see step 1 and 2, go fast and hope for the best. If not, can someone who is also “with the program” come and put my things in the truck? If so, record their contact details and any detailed requirements. Survival, of course, was the number one goal. Beyond that, I knew most other things were a ‘nice to have’, prioritize and get as part of old business as usual, a luxury. By the first COVID summer, I had advanced far enough on the learning curve to earn the title of “Curbside Clough” at the IGA and be known among my friends as a go-to for logistical advice on any given day. And when I got home with, say, a whole gallon of my specified milk dated within the specified freshness time frame, I felt better than my best day in the cabin.

Never was the power of my pencil greater than when I finally wrote VACCINE with an exclamation mark rather than a series of question marks. A year into the pandemic, I marked the action on my wide-open calendar and eagerly prepared to rehearse, if needed. Because even if getting vaccinated wasn’t the “one and done” reset button originally hoped for, it’s a great example of fail-safes through redundancy, well worth replicating to keep living at the edge of the lake.

Now, although some Jell-O is starting to stick to the tree, it looks like there won’t be any quick fixes to pick up where I left off “when it’s over”. Factor in the yet-to-be-determined virus variants — plus all the nasty, nasty stuff going on outside the scope of these thoughts — and getting back there is certainly choppier than a soft launch. Accelerate. Brake! Accelerate. It reminds me of Uncle Bob driving his old station wagon and how he was trying to turn away from an unseen danger long before it was in front of him. That’s fine, though. Because you know that special people “somewhere” started looking to escape in 2020? For me, for us, it’s here. And, when people from far and wide suddenly stopped wondering how Tom and I had survived so far from the rumble of city things to wondering how they too could hole up in a place like this for the long haul? There we were, socially distanced in style, seeing how the original prerequisites for The Big Move to Rangeley put us in pretty good shape for a pandemic and other previously unimaginable scenarios. We had: 1) Enough resources and faith to believe that enough is enough. 2) A sense of adventure and humor. 3) A vision of a new lifestyle with the courage to follow through when opportunity permits, and the grace to backtrack or change course when it doesn’t. Basically, this is how we got to this corner of happiness and health, and how we hope and plan to stay there.

So, while I won’t be writing a full “Restart Guide” anytime soon, I’m compiling some back-to-school rules. For now, I plan:

Go out in more comfortable clothes. No going back to “hard” pants and convincing myself that my social sphere requires tightening my ensembles to the old standard. I’m going out with pants and tops with 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, hair clippers and gadgets to remotely control your life from the couch. But not the kind that squeezes me in the middle like a balloon animal just for fashion either. Plus, no more of those Wonderbra-type tops or swimsuits that make me look like a popped box of cookies wondering where my cheerfulness went!
No more halfhearted hugs. No need to greet those I want to bring within six feet with a limp one-arm slap… pat… pat… back slap in which I always stop at the fourth superficial slap. I laugh at my life and hug myself tight enough to get rid of my pre-Rona failures. I’m going to be a New Age Cuddle Ambassador, an adult Play-Doh extrusion toy with arms ready to squeeze, providing a counterweight to my cuddle buddies in this windstorm of change.

Engage fully in face-to-face conversations whenever possible. Not two-faced, but naked, from the front. And every time I do, I’ll remember how uncomfortable I felt the first time I saw almost everyone wearing masks, how I wondered if that was really my friend so and so below and, if so, why she looked slightly sinister. How I gradually learned that everyone who wore masks was truly my friend in spirit, and so I started having in-depth conversations with eyes only, hoping that the lower half of each face was engaged with as much enthusiasm as mine. How nice to see and show your teeth again, to start smiling and pouting and plugging people’s ears again rather than talking to them with their eyes closed. I will never forget those first post-vax encounters with whole faces peeled off, when I was maskless I felt like I had my spacesuit off and was floating free. If/when it becomes dangerous to maintain, I am ready with a resupply of masks – KN95 for BA.5 etc. They are brand new, without the rest in the glove box/chinese takeout scent, ready to be used again, if needed.
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Relearning social norms and determining my role in applying them appropriately. Am I good company? What is a good company? I can still cook and entertain, can’t I? I might do what Jack and I would call WAGs (wild guesses) to find the answers, but I’ll write a rough outline.

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