7 Minute Pandemic Lifestyle Changes I Plan to Keep Forever

My pandemic has been a relatively easy one. No one in my family died or got sick. We've had food, shelter and a cat. We had air filters when the wildfire shut us inside, and no one in my family is remotely essential to society. Within the context of everything being shit, we could not be luckier.

That said, the past year has not been a good time for me or my family by any stretch of the imagination. Like most sane people, I have hated this past year. Hated it. And I have no desire to cling to this reclusive, disconnected lifestyle indefinitely. I want to live again--everyone to live. I want to give friends uncomfortably long hugs. I want to use the public pool and the sauna. I want to be with family on Christmas. I want my kids back in school.

Realistically, however, this pandemic will always be with us. COVID-19 isn't going to disappear completely even after its rendered essentially harmless by vaccines and herd immunity, and the personal coping habits we've developed over the past year will likely linger even longer. After all, many of the habits I was taught as a kid were post-war lifestyle trends drilled into my parents decades before--three words: corned beef hash. We carry history in our bodies. I have no big revelations about humanity or lifestyle to share here, but I do have some incredibly random pedestrian new habits that will be staying with me post-dangerous phase-COVID.

My List

7. I listen to pre-assembled music collections. 

As a kid, I had the kind of older brother who found all my music tastes inadequate. "Oh, you like that? Well, if you're looking for good music instead ..." Everyone knows this type of boy/man. Anyway, while I do have my own strong preferences when it comes to music, I have to say that I am fully converted now to the ease and freedom of relying on Apple's music collections. Did you know that you can search for "Isolation" or "Melancholy" and get curated play lists? It's true, and so useful. After all, who has the energy to have a mental catalogue of every artist and album they've ever loved, let alone search out new stuff, particularly when you are legitimately melancholy? In my darker moments this past year, I liked to imagine the passive aggressive company Slack messaging that must have erupted over whether it was aesthetically acceptable to include yet another Bright Eyes track on these lists.

6. I make bread with all-purpose flour instead of bread flour. 

Before the pandemic, I made weekly sourdough loaves, though not well. Once the pandemic hit, there were suddenly flour shortages as everyone also took up baking (no shade, baking is great) and I had to improvise. I tried a lot of different things, some intentional and some very accidental and stupid, but it's all been surprisingly good for my bread. I've discovered that changing the proportions, using all-purpose flour and patting the dough with water before each rest keeps my bread far more tender and effusive post-bake. I've met the bread I want to eat for the rest of my life. 

5. I grow herbs that refuse to die.

Like a lot of people, I also went on a farming kick when the pandemic hit and planted a variety of herbs, beans and various other things that didn't ultimately thrive. The basil was abortive, the high-needs beans amounted to one meal after many months of care and the watermelon never grew at all. The cilantro, though, and the lemon verbena and mint have defied all attempts to kill them--and I mean all. These herbs made it through the wildfires, cold, rain, hail and heat, cats, raccoons and other things I don't want to consider. I didn't even check on these plants for a few months this winter, let alone water them, and they're still thriving. So, I'm calling it: these are my herbs now. When it comes to plants, love the ones that love you back.

4. I spend evenings in the semi-dark.

This past fall when my level of worry about the world was at its peak, I decided to start turning off the overhead lights at a certain time every night and only use lamp light plus the occasional candle. It worked so well. The darkness was remarkably effective at bringing my mood to a place of calm before bed. It also helped me appreciate the light during the day. Air and weather feels personal now, and far more primal. I think this is healthy.

3. I wear visors.

San Francisco is almost always sunny for at least part of the day, and sunglasses used to be a must pre-pandemic, even if you were just going down the block to pick up milk. The sunglasses plus mask combo, however, is challenging, to say the least. So now I don't go anywhere without a visor. I love that visors protect me from the sun, don't interfere with my mask and leave my head free to absorb the hot sun and cool air. Plus, while it is absolutely possible to look like a tool in a visor, you also have a good chance of looking pretty amazing. I get an unexpected number of compliments from strangers on the street. I am absolutely sold.

2. I don't touch my ears.

Most of us have probably lain awake in bed many times over the last year, panicked we'd come down with COVID-19 despite all precautions. Maybe you coughed a couple times, maybe you felt bone tired, etc. I've had plenty of those nights--and I've always been wrong about it being COVID. Instead, I've realized that if I ever touch the inside of my ears, and I mean ever, I get sick. I don't know why my ears are like this; I am a dedicated hand washer and generally clean person. Yet if I touch my ears, I inevitably come down with something between a cold and an ear infection, the symptoms of which happen to overlap with COVID. Then I end up in bed in the dark hours, planning out all the things I'll need to do to ensure my kids will be okay before I land in the hospital COVID ward and die. Ergo, no more touching my ears.

1. I believe in fresh air the way my grandma believed in vitamins. 

My late grandmother's kitchen was, essentially, three shelves of vitamins, and some baking powder and tangelos. She went to her (peaceful) grave believing in the curative power of vitamins. While I will not be singing the praises of sharkilage anytime soon, I do now have an overwhelming belief in the power of fresh air thanks to this pandemic. A year of feeling claustrophobic and slightly blind in masks, worrying about a virus that would steal my breath, taking deep breaths when I felt overwhelmed, being literally shut inside by apocalyptic wildfire ash and using walks to shake off emotional funks and treat what ails my kids has proven to me over and over the value of a deep breath of fresh air. I am so grateful for the passage of those oxygen molecules in and out of my lungs. In fact, for the rest of my life, you will never be able to tell me that fresh air isn't the most precious thing in the world. The pandemic was in the air. The cure to the pandemic's grip on our souls will be, too.