Advice to Myself (and Others) About The Great Pause

Dear creative folks (and the people who love and/or buy their work):

Like many of you, I am looking at our current situation — which it seems were are moving toward calling The Great Pause — and wondering what this means, both in the long and short terms, for our careers and livelihoods. This is a perfectly reasonable concern! We should be having it! Because otherwise we will have to go back to actual jobs, which to be clear, are also kind of up in the air during The Great Pause. The Great Pause is like that.

The actual answer to what The Great Pause means for creatives is: Nobody knows. Because at the moment no one knows anything, except that staying at home and washing your hands so as not to overwhelm the medical system is a really excellent idea. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about the current moment a lot. Given where we are at the moment and where it seems reasonable (to me) to project where we are going, I have formulated a plan for myself, regarding expectations for the immediate future, and for the slightly longer term. I will share them with you now. Hopefully you find these points useful.

1. I’m grading 2020 on one hell of a curve. 

As many of you know, I have a new book, The Last Emperox, coming out in (checks watch) three weeks. It’s a very good book! With great reviews! And it’s the conclusion of an award-winning, best-selling series! With popular characters that people like! Which is in development for TV! If any book is positioned to do pretty well, it would be this one.

And it might! Still! Also, people are now shut up in their homes and away from their jobs, if they still have them, which rather suddenly a lot of people do not. My book tour, which is the way I usually promote my new work, has been cancelled because it’s not safe for me or my readers to meet up right now. Bookstores are still out there but a lot of them are closed for the duration. The economy is crashing and people are prioritizing where their money goes. And so, while a good book is in fact a really excellent way for people to pass time whilst in self-isolation, I understand that people, and this is an understatement, have a lot on their minds right about now. It’s possible that getting my book when it comes out may not be the same priority that it might have been even a month ago.

Nor am I the only author or creative in this position — a lot of us have work scheduled for release this year that now we’re looking at and wondering whether the audience will be there for it. Authors and musicians, at least, can get their work out; people who work in film, television or theater (as examples) are finding their work delayed, postponed or even dropped outright. It’s a mess, and it’s a mess that none of us have control over.

I want The Last Emperox to be a financial success out of the gate — I want people to find it and read it and love it. I also realize that, more than in any other year, that success is so very not up to me anymore. If the book doesn’t do what I hoped it would do in terms of sales, my official response is going to be to throw my hands up in the air and say, “It was 2020, baby.” And then watch every single creative I know nod and get a rueful look on their face. Because, man, 2020. You remember how that was. And if, in fact, Emperox does do just fine — and it might! Still! — then I’m going to be especially happy. Because, man, 2020.

So, yeah, creative folks: Don’t beat yourself up this year about how your work does, or doesn’t, do. This is nothing we could have figured into our plans. Do what you can to let people know your work is there, and be happy for the people who find it. But this year is not like other years. Be kind to yourself (and your work) when you think about it.

2. It’s going to take time to get to somewhere like we were before. 

Probably. Maybe we’ll get lucky and flatten that curve and navigate the economic fallout and come out of this all in six months not really worse for wear, and go back to something close to where we were in January. But, you know, I wouldn’t plan for that. I would plan for us dealing with this for the entire rest of the year and then spending a few years with the fallout, retrenching and then rebuilding. I’m assuming a recession of 2008 proportions.

Nor do I think we’ll get back exactly to where we were before — things are going to change and the models of how we sell and distribute and share things will likely be something other than what they are now. Mind you, “things will change and be different” is a statement that was going to be accurate anyway; a decade ago the landscape of my book sales was very different than it is now. Audiobooks came up, Borders bookstores went down, and there was a big fight over what the cost of an ebook should be. What I mean here is that the changes now are likely to come faster, because the economic situation we’re in is going to be that much more volatile. What’s going to come out of it will be good for some, less good for others, and who will be in those respective camps, we don’t yet know.

But no matter what, I’ll be working on the assumption that for the next couple of years, at least, people will be digging out from the economic mess of 2020. That’s going to affect the new books that I have coming out in the next couple of years — and also my backlist, which is my true economic engine. I expect my publisher (Tor in the US/Canada, but others elsewhere) are going to make adjustments to deal with this new era. Same with Audible, who handles my audiobooks. I think I’m going to be fine, but I also am, shall we say, tempering financial expectations for the next couple of years, which is going to have an influence on my how I plan for my life in that period. Which means, among other things —

3. Time for a thorough vetting of expenses.

I’ve always considered myself a thrifty sort of person who has an eye on the bottom line of things, and who doesn’t live extravagantly, given his income. However, having just looked over our taxes for the year prior to handing them over to our accountant, I can say that the variance between my self-image and my actual expenditures is… wider than perhaps it should be, let me put it that way. So this enforced downtime at the Scalzi Compound will not go idly by; one of my tasks for the next couple of weeks is to go through our finances and to do a triage of things we need, things we don’t need but are still willing to pay for, and things that it’s time to drop entirely.

Among those things in the latter category: Recurring online subscriptions, which as it turns out really pile up when you’re not paying attention. I currently subscribe to four separate music services, for example, which is, uhhhh, probably at least two too many. There are other services which I will have to give hard consideration about their usefulness in this era: We have Dish Network but watch streaming services rather more, so the question becomes whether to ditch Dish or at the very least cut back on the package, which features probably 280 more channels than we ever actually watch.

Other things: Last year’s biggest expenditure by far was travel. 2020 has cut into that considerably in any event by making us all stay at home for a currently indefinite period. Even after that stay is lifted we plan on keeping closer to home for the next couple of years. My MINI is ten years old next year so I’ve been thinking about whether it was time to move on from it; now I think I’ll keep it going for a while longer. I’ve been planning to make a music studio in my basement; in the short term I’ll work on getting better on the guitar I already have.

I don’t have any intention of withdrawing from the economy entirely. I will still buy and subscribe to things. But inasmuch as I do expect things to be economically variable the next couple of years at least, it makes sense to do an audit of what I (and we) spend and to bring those expenditures to a sensible level.

With that said:

4. Also time to support creatives and local businesses (more than I already am).

At least some of the savings from above will be going into the pockets of the creative people whose work I admire, and the local business that are feeling the pinch from this slow-down. In both cases, these groups are getting hit hard by this moment, and can use support. In the latter case in particular, if I don’t support them now, they might not be around to support later, and there’s no guarantee anything will spring up to replace them.

I want to be clear that on some level, as someone who grew up poor, and as someone who (factually or otherwise) sees himself as prudent with money, my initial impulse to current events is to listen to the not-so-little voice in my head which is incessantly screaming HOARD ALL THE MONIES FOR VERILY THESE ARE THE END TIMES. I’m gonna hoard some of it. But honestly, if I won’t support my local business, and the creatives whose work I like, a) who will, b) how can I expect anyone to support me and my work? And in any event, putting money into nearby businesses is an investment in the local economy, and my neighbors. Putting money into creatives means maybe I’ll get more stuff from them in the future. Again, an investment. It makes sense.

5. Try different things.

When the global economic collapse of 2008 hit, I was on, shall we say, a pause from publishing novels, out of contract and not actively pursuing one. Zoe’s Tale was published in 2008, and it wasn’t until 2011 that Fuzzy Nation came out. In the meantime, I: Wrote a novel for fun, with no immediate intention of selling it (Fuzzy); wrote a novella that was not representative of my previous work (The God Engines); edited and contributed to a shared world anthology (Metatropolis); and worked as a creative consultant on a television series (Stargate Universe). I also worked on a video game during this time, which never came out, but which was fun to be a part of. Of all of these things, the only thing I had done before was the novel-writing. Everything else was new and worth trying, one, to see if I had any facility for it, and two, to see if I could make any money from it.

I’m in a different place here in 2020 than I was in 2008 (I have a long-term contract, for one), but during this time I’m still going to try some new and different things, both to find out if I might be good at them, and also (although a lower priority, for now) to see if I might be able to make money from them. As I noted earlier, things won’t go back to exactly the way they were before, so it makes sense to me to be using this time to look at other things and see what I think of them. They could pan out! Even if they don’t, I’ll have learned things, not least about myself. It won’t be wasted time.

6. Don’t panic.

Right now is not a great time — we’re all isolated, afraid of getting sick with something that can really mess us up, worried about our financial futures and careers. Immediately after this time is not likely to be a great time, either; we’ll be digging out. I think it’s totally valid to be upset, and angry, and afraid, and bored and all those other not great things. Pretending not to be those things will often make them worse to deal with later. It’s useful to acknowledge all of these things that many if not most of us are feeling, and will continue feeling in the immediate future.

I do think there’s a difference between feeling all these things, and even feeling anxiety about them, and panicking about them. Mind you, it’s easy to say “don’t panic,” however, and harder to do, especially if there are accompanying personal life and/or mental health issues that are overlaying everything else that’s going on now. I am a huge supporter of addressing mental and personal issues, through therapy or medication or both. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help, however you can and in whatever way is best for you.

For me, however, the reason I’ve been thinking about all this stuff is so that I can put structure to it, and plan, and prepare mentally and financially for what I think is likely to happen next, without undue panic. That’s useful to me, and I think it’ll be useful for other people too. Maybe also you. This won’t be forever, and when we’re coming out of it, the planning and preparing we do now will help. This has been my experience so far. I think it’ll help in the future as well.

42 Comments on “Advice to Myself (and Others) About The Great Pause”

  1. What I note next should be assumed in all things I write here, but inasmuch as I expect that I will be having some new folks to the site reading this piece:

    I’m writing this from the point of view of someone who is well-off, white, straight (and cis), male and who has a long-term contract that lets me smooth out a lot of financial bumps. I have tried to make this advice as generally applicable as possible, but I recognize that the further one gets out from my own personal state of being, the less applicable it might be. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary, sometimes considerably.

    Also be aware that I don’t know everything any more than any else does, and that I’ve been wrong before. “Infallible” is not one of my notable qualities.

  2. Hope for the best.

    Plan for the worst.

    Count your blessings.

    And pray.

    Then Wash, Rinse, and Repeat as necessary.

  3. “Try new things” is great advice. Whole new genres will likely emerge from this moment. I like to look at the historical aftermath of the great Spanish Flue epidemic of 1918 and 1919. Man, the whole “Roaring 20s” happened. Blues and Jazz were already a thing, but the sales of records exploded. Robert Johnson happened. Swing Jazz happened. What we are entertained by is likely to change considerably. And people will have been so bored/scared/traumatized, they/we are going to *really* need to be entertained.

  4. Thanks for the reminder to support creative efforts, as well as small businesses. I’ve already been doing the latter by ordering takeout from my favorite local restaurants, and I went to Amazon and pre-ordered The Last Emperox, along with ordering copies of the first two books in the series.

    Stay well!

  5. Your header photo alludes to another strength you have: a loving family.

    Wash your hands

  6. Sometimes I just want a like button I can hit around here. Well said and largely echoes my own sentiments and situation, right down to the CIS white male parts.

  7. I’m also in the process of doing a thorough analysis and cutback of expenditures, which is something I am very torn by because it is the right thing to do for ME but it is really not good for the country as a whole.

  8. RE: #4, I, too, have come to realize that I have incredible amounts of privilege right now, primarily in the form of a job that isn’t going away, pays me pretty well, offers generous PTO and good health coverage, plus not being in debt. I’ve been doing all within my economic ability to support local businesses, because even though it sucks to give up celery sticks for lunch in favor of getting carryout from a superb local restaurant, someone must sacrifice in these times. Yes, that’s a joke (clarifying because sometimes I’m not good at conveying a humorous intent in writing).

    The other thing I’ve done is to support arts orgs in my community by donating the cost of tickets I bought for performances that wound up being cancelled, plus sending each an additional donation. I support a number of local creative organizations pretty extensively already, but this has really been a wake-up call to step up and do my part.

    Definitely a new world. I’ve been emailing with younger family members and have suggested to several that they keep careful notes of their experiences and feelings in the months to come, because when they are my age, younger people will ask them in awed voices what it was like to live through this. I just wish I had that answer now.

  9. Yep, reviewing expenses is smart, planning is smarter, and these are hella weird times right now. Also, you’ve had the Mini for TEN years??! We were looking at used cars a couple of months ago and I saw a Mini Countryman and thought to myself, “Scalzi posted about buying one of these a couple of years ago, I wonder how he likes it”. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short.

    Stay safe, folks

  10. Well, as a part-time hourly teacher, I will be out of income for a while, at least until my work place reopens, which may not be for months. I’m not panicking (as someone who grew up poor I have LOTS of savings) and I am ordering delivery often. I’ve been at home in semi-isolation since March 5th (I live in Seattle and we took precautions early). I’ve read up a great deal on plagues and the like in my earlier life, so better safe than sorry was something I took to heart. But I worry about loved ones, especially my elderly parents, and wonder when / if I will ever see them again. I had planned a trip to Chicago to see them this month which is not happening. So, again, not panicking but there is sufficient reason to agree with you that things will be different after this.

  11. I’m curious what you think the future of capitalism is. If this catastrophe is teaching us anything right now, it’s that the CEOs and execs aren’t the ones who keep the gears of the world economy running smoothly, and that we need universal healthcare and we need it NOW.

    But even with all the proof smacking people in the face, do you think we can come out of this a healthier society overall — not just medically speaking, but… sociologically? Humanitarian-ly? Not sure if that’s the right word, or if I’m even expressing myself properly.

    Regardless, thanks for the read. And for the spots of sanity in this most trying of times.

  12. A few thoughts about the canceled book tour. Over the last weekend I’ve seen a number of prominent musicians in the jazz world perform impromptu mini-concerts on Facebook Live. Chick Corea started Friday night, played for about half hour and has come back Saturday and Sunday nights, and said he will keep it up as long as he can. Fred Hersch started doing the same during the afternoons. Al DiMeola has started scheduling not just mini-concerts but also Q&A sessions. I’m sure this is happening all over the music world, not just in jazz. Why not celebrate your book launch with a handful of live book readings along with Q&A sessions? You may not be able to sign a bunch of books but people would get a charge out of something like this.

  13. One correction. You wrote “Authors and musicians, at least, can get their work out.” Actually, non-famous musicians who don’t have large fan bases are really hard hit. The majority of musicians I know are heavily dependent on gigs for their incomes. Social distancing = no gigs. Also, a lot of them have second jobs doing things like being waitstaff in now-closed restaurants. And classical musicians are also out of work – some may have union contract protection but a lot don’t.

    Some musicians have done online concerts. You can check to see if any of your local favs have – if you watch and enjoy, please pay them the price of a concert ticket.

  14. One of my best friends is panicking pretty hard. I’m doing my best to talk her off the ledge, from a safe distance. She and her husband have a home-based electronics manufacturing business with a dozen part-time employees. One of them tested positive for coronavirus and only confessed after the fact that he’d been coming to work for a week with a fever. Now they are all stressed out, and the fact that three other employees live in the same house with this guy is not good.

    Meanwhile, my employer remoted us effective March 13 and now the state says we’re going to stay that way till April 19 – at least. I’m glad I have the kind of job that can be done from home. I hope I still have this job when this all shakes out.

    If you don’t feel good, stay home. If you DO feel good, and don’t absolutely have to go out, stay home. Wash your hands. Listen to some good music, or read a good book. Heck, listen to BAD music and read a BAD book. Don’t panic.

  15. Given who is in charge, there is a reasonable chance it becomes Great Depression II. Certainly Senate Republicans seem intent on using it as an excuse to pursue policy goals identical to what has driven their never ending desire for tax cuts — make the rich richer and punish the poor and middle class for not being rich.

  16. I’m finding the events of recent days harder to tolerate since they come on the heels of three years of the chaos and cruelty promulgated by our Dumpster Fire in Chief. If there were only someone competent in office, who had spent their 3 years vetting and appointing competent public servants. Instead we have a gutted bureaucracy, a president who couldn’t spell empathy if you spotted him the first 6 letters, and a Republican Senate which seems to have been taken over by pod people. MEAN pod people.

    Not panicking, but stressed even more than usual. Have lost one major client who is uncertain about their future. Both my husband & I are in the high-risk category. I had major surgery on Jan 14, so basically I have been either hospitalized or recovering at home since then. The cabin fever is real. I can’t wait until the entire populace is in the same boat. Some serious mass murders/shootings are in our future.

  17. As a retiree who is getting SS but was planning on tapping into a ‘decent’ 401-k and IRA BUT who has watched his net retirement worth get whacked in just the last three weeks or so, it’s all about adjusting expectations. Travel? Hah! That second car? Umm, no. That really nice solo canoe? Maybe next year.

    On the other hand, over the past several year I accumulated a lot of clothes, plenty of fishing rods and other ‘toys’, so as long as I can afford food and rent and minor expenses, I’ll be okay.

    I worry more about younger people who are in debt, paying for college, out of work, etc. People employed at schools? People in ‘trades’ looking at a slowdown in construction and home improvement. People in ‘service’ industries?’ ‘Hospitality’? And on and on.

    I think a *lot* of people are going to discover that their ‘expectations’ of the good life are unrealistic, at best. This might be the death of lemming consumerism.

  18. On a side note, that may be the most jealousy-inspiring picture of Krissy ever, and that’s saying something! ;-)

  19. You probably left this out as a given, but during this Pause you’re lucky having two others who love to be with you. Hope that’s on your list of things to keep happening.

  20. I’m one of the fortunates — I’m retired, so the pension goes into my account monthly; I’m out of debt and pay off my credit card every month; I live alone with a cat and don’t drive so I’m used to being home alone without it making me any crazier than usual; I get an organic CSA box delivered every two weeks so I won’t starve. There’s a very good neighborhood market 3 blocks away. (Unfortunately I live in an extremely high-rent area, but ya can’t have everything. It wasn’t bad when I moved here 40+ years ago.)

    If you did readings on YouTube I’d definitely be there.

    Don’t panic, people. And quit buying up all the toilet paper, dammit.

  21. I feel this. Fellow creative here, and my second full-length solo album is coming out this year. I am going to open a crowdfunding campaign this week because I wish to press vinyl. I am fully expecting this to be a colossal failure, butif vinyl is to be made by the release date, I have to make the effort. I am fully prepared to go “argh 2020” in a couple of weeks…

  22. I’ve had my hours drastically cut back this week, and we’re still looking down the barrel of a possible metro-area wide lockdown, quite possibly by the end of the week – Denver just announced theirs today, basically unless you’re in an essential industry or going to get something from an essential industry you’re expected to stay home. And I don’t doubt that we’ll watch the suburbs lock up one by one.

    I need to flush the wishlists out for now (something I always do when the money dries up), and start reviewing the project list – this is something like the second or third year in a row I’ve gotten projects lined up, then life has come up and kicked the preparations and I’ve had to put them off again. It’s quite possible I need to seriously reduce the scope until life is done trying to make it so I can’t do it all.

  23. I might never accept the term “creatives” but the message is spot-on.

    I’ve never earned more than a few hundred a year from writing; very far from being able to give up the day job. My employer (Salmon Companies, the #3 mail carrier in the country) is considered an essential industry, and will not be allowed to close up. At the same time, they’re stubbornly, idiotically, offering zero sick days and zero paid sick leave. They pay enough to stay alive, but not enough to save up several weeks’ worth. So it’s a near-certainty coworkers with active COVID will come to work, and we’ll all be exposed. I expect to get the virus.

    So, even though I can’t self-quarantine, it does feel like a Great Pause. I’ve been stuck on a ghost story collection for ages; now I feel I have to finish it before I get sick. And, given the likelihood of a second Great Depression, no telling if I’ll even have a roof next year; gotta get that novel done.

    Though it’s possible those of us who remain will have a country with health care and UBI. And maybe a modern Boccaccio will produce a great work from our 2020 plague.

  24. [Deleted because in a quest to be a monumental dick to me, the author forgot to have a point – JS]

  25. Really good advice for all. I’m another one of the currently fortunate because our whole state is locked down but both my wife and I will continue getting paid. I’m a high school teacher who is having to try and figure out how to do online instruction to a population many of whom are acking the resources to participate in online coursework. Hint, it isn’t going well. My wife is a peri and post-anesthesia nurse who, so far, has been fortunate enough to remain in her department and not have to go back to floor nursing. Unfortunately, that’s when we get to start really worrying since the number of Covid cases in our community is growing exponentially. Thank you Mardi Gras.

    In the bigger scheme of things, I’d be a whole lot happier if we had an opposition party that wasn’t playing a game of hold my beer. We already know not to expect competence from the current occupant of the Oval Office, but it’d be really nice if the Democrats hadn’t decided that now is the time to demonstrate their own lack of competence. Just ugh!

  26. I’d fallen down a rabbit whole of panicky friends this evening, and this piece really helped.

    Not the facts; I’ve read some things I trust, some things I don’t and, well — no disrespect — Nate Silver is a better prognosticator than you are. Or than I am.

    Instead, as is per usual, your signature style of reflective calm helps me also recenter. Especially where your view of the future is starker than the one I’m expecting, and you reflect upon it with calm and projected ease.

    That’s what keeps me coming back. Thanks, Scalzi.

  27. Thank you. Don’t Panic is my mantra.

    Is that the first time you’ve shown the cover of your new book? Looks amazing. I pre-ordered mine in the happy days of 2019.

    Hoping your fans need your books for their sanity during the Great Pause.

  28. I really like the idea of calling this time period, ‘The Great Pause.’ If it is for any consolation, I would like to vote for that name to be used.

  29. Do Krissy and Zeus often have storytime together?

    And what is Zeus’ opinion of the story his pitiful human wrote?

  30. Zeus appears decidedly unimpressed by your new book. I wouldn’t take his criticism too seriously.

  31. Yes, be wary but don’t panic. This is not the apocalypse, it is an adjustment. Hope it doesn’t do too much financial damage.

  32. I could pretty well take the ‘## Thoughts on Advice to Myself …” and apply them to myself.

    I was ‘privileged’ to go through the SARS outbreak in Toronto and my key recollection was the background of racism that was stirring. The Prime Minister of the time tapped it down very hard and made a big point of taking in a great dinner at a Chinese restaurant when the virus was on the downward trend.

    Given that we won’t see your newest for three weeks, may I point people towards Cory Doctorow’s collection of dystrophies? “Radicalized”

    For the most part they end rather upbeat, however ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is an outstanding example of the path not to be taken. And I consider the ending for that one to be the most upbeat of all (sorry).

    A couple of friends are quite sick, but expect to recover.

  33. I’m in the same boat as Dana above but in the UK – retired, getting a pension – so there is money coming in. But like Dana I’ve watched the markets ravage the savings I have and I’m hoping Trump can keep his mouth shut long enough for the markets in the US to recover. (The bulk of my savings are there as I lived there and am a US citizen). In my local area the bookstore where I usually get John’s books when they come out is a chain one and they are now temporarily closed. Amazon UK are still delivering but books are not top of the priority list. Normally I use the free shipping option which is 3-5 business days. I put a book order in Friday and estimated delivery date is 1-2 April.

  34. What is nearly impossible for so many to wrap their minds around in this catastrophe, is that every single one of us is potentially the harmed one and potentially the harmer. We have to look both ways at once, which is not a binary mode. USians in particular are nearly incapable of non-binary perception. Either Good Or Evil. That’s that.

    We all need to self isolate as much as possible and wash and disinfect constantly, for others as well as ourselves.

    Personally, my life would be less scary if I could only get a box of gloves and some masks. But they haven’t been available to the general public since December, and now, of course, the health workers, grocery store heroes, and other heroes must have priority.

  35. I am extremely fortunate in having a job, and where I can work from home.

    Creatively, it’s a bit disappointing. I work in theatre, which is going to take big time hits from now and into the foreseeable future. And I wrote a play that was going to have its world premiere the end of May—which is probably not going to happen, and I don’t know if it will ever get produced…

  36. I’m also very fortunate – I’m retired, but my husband has work he enjoys, and as of last Thursday, he’s able to work from home. He’s also in an essential field (he keeps your lights on and your computers running) so he’ll probably still have a job when all this over. But our first grandchild was born in October almost exactly a thousand miles away. We bought a new, only slightly used car that could safely get me there and back again. I was able to be there for the birth and the first two months of his life, and I’d planned to go back in April. That’s now off the table, as is my husband’s looking for a job closer to our progeny. ALL the things we had planned for the next 5 years are off the table, so we’re having to plan for not having a plan, which is an alien concept for us. We’re thinking of selling the car, because who knows when I’ll get a chance to go back?
    Thanks for the calm!
    (Oh, and I came down with the not-covered-by-this-year’s-flu-shot flu in the middle of December. I was sick for a solid month, and then took another four weeks to fully recover. My family is convinced that if I come within a mile of the virus, I’ll catch it and die. The only outing I’m allowed is running my dogs in the park next door, and everything coming in the house gets sanitized. I’m mastering the art of being stressed and bored at the same time.)

  37. Before the Great Pause there was The Before Times, where, if you believe it children, people used to gather close together in pubs and on trains and in cinemas and in big crowds at sporting events, exchanging bodily droplets! And this time I like to call The Antecovidian World, a strange foreign country where they did things differently.

    Of course, on TV there are still commercials and shows left over from the antecovidian world, and they already look old-fashioned. Panel games recorded weeks ago where the contestants sit too close to one another, dramas where people are shouting in each others’ faces or eating crammed together in canteens or, err, embracing people who do not live in their household. Full funerals, packed weddings. A child kissing her grandmother face to face and not through a glass window. Yuck! Get two metres apart! There’s a TV ad for a new Samsung phone that features, among other things, a busy pool party with people splashing about, and another ad with 30 people in white T-shirts hugging each other… they are teasing us, winding us up!

    As for me, I am not sure what the future will bring… but oddly, as I work from home and am carer for my 93-yo mother here, our lifestyle (and certainly hers) hasn’t changed too much. I can still go for a walk (one a day) in our lockdown, and still go shopping (once a week, ideally). No pub, no cinema and no partner visiting for the weekend from 80 miles away, but she wouldn’t be anyway this weekend as she is puffed up from some tooth-related surgery. (Bad timing on her part, as she was due to have the stitches out next week but her dentist has had to cancel, or anyway postpone, and self-isolate for 2 weeks due to one patient interaction.) No visit to London, which by chance I did 2 weeks ago.

    So after a bit more time in the new regime I might get frustrated (plus the weather has only this week turned sunny after months of wind, rain and in some places, floods). And the more distant future was already fairly uncertain in any case, so this is just a new wrinkle. But the short-term transition is , at the moment, between two fairly similar states. Apart from all the handwashing. And not standing too close.

    And suddenly being aware how often you touch your face.

  38. Amid all of this, thank you so much for publishing The Last Emperox. The escape and adventure will really help. While I’ll miss seeing you on tour this time, I ordered a signed copy from Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy and was pleasantly surprised by the inexpensive shipping to Illinois. Good health to you and your family.

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