Recently, for the first time in his professional life, Eric Stine became a full-time remote employee because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each week, he’ll share the highs, lows, and learnings of a WFH newbie. You can read all of his diary entries here

Week Twelve — And It Seems Like It Goes On Like This Forever, You Must Forgive Me If I’m Up and Gone

There are days when I worry about maintaining perspective.

It’s now light out when I wake up at 5:30 and begin working at 6; it’s still light out when I try to wrap up around 8:30 p.m. It’s light when I’m talking to Europe, then to the U.S., then to Australia. It’s hard to even mark the days anymore; forget about every day feeling the same, every minute is starting to feel the same.

Regular, everyday stress barely feels like stress anymore. The mini-crises that seem to pop up daily feel rote, like the issues were pre-ordained and the resolution predetermined; there’s a sense of simply going through the motions.

All of a sudden I miss everywhere; it came rushing back to me in a flood of memory that is nearly overwhelming, recalling minute details of places as far and wide as the stairwells at Langham’s in London, how the Seattle skyline looks at sunset, the menu at Lucques in West Hollywood.

It’s not just cities and their venues, either — I miss finishing a run in Riverside Park and buying an ice cold Diet Pepsi from a deli on 74th Street, opening it with sweaty hands and drinking it indiscriminately from the bottle. I miss vanilla soft-serve sloppily coated in rainbow sprinkles from the clam shack in Norwalk. I miss the smell of exhaust from a crosstown bus the second I bite into a street pretzel bought from a total stranger — the pretzels that your memory has tricked you into thinking are soft and chewy and just the right amount of salty, but they really taste like day-old salt bagels, too stiff and all the kosher salt crystals have either fallen off in the cold or stuck to the underside, damp from the steam.

I miss meetings with live people and the meal service on international flights and lobby coffee that’s hot at 5:30 a.m. at The Nines in Portland and the Four Seasons in Seoul and The W in Westwood. Well, maybe not The W in Westwood… The coffee is better at The Coffee Bean on the corner, next to the Mexican restaurant.

I miss the conversations you have with people that you don’t generally work with but see in the hallway, or at lunch, or by the coffee machine. I miss the surly barista who forgets to use decaf half the time and makes my afternoon coffee a roll of the dice. I miss the receptionists, all the receptionists, every receptionist… Will there be receptionists anywhere anymore? God, I hope so.

The nostalgia for “Before” happened all at once, when my kids finished pre-school this year.

The school had a parade… Everything is a parade now; a motorcade, more accurately. Birthdays. Graduations. (What’s next? Weddings? Drive by and honk at the bride? I’m not sure it’s wise to throw crystal or china out the window of a moving vehicle.) We decorate our car with signs and balloons. We honk and yell. We bring the battery-operated bubble machine. (Please, my kids are 4 — we have three of these.)

So we took the kids to the end-of-school motorcade and it just broke something in me. We drove past their teachers from last year, their teachers from this year, the teachers they’ll likely have next year. We drove past the administrators. We popped open the rear liftgate so they could load in the belongings that were abandoned when the schools rapidly closed in early March; the art projects and extra clothes (they’ve grown so much since then, the clothes don’t even fit). All Noelle wanted to do was get her rest mat home so she could lay down on it (Neil wisely insisted on washing it).

It choked me up, and then it simply broke me down. The kids can’t even hug their teachers goodbye. 

Remember being a little kid? Remember loving your teacher with your little 3-year-old or 5-year-old or 7-year-old heart? Remember when your world was so small that your teacher was one of the few people that you knew who cared about you, so of course you loved her? Now think about being a little kid who loves her teacher and hasn’t seen her in three months, and you can’t even hug her? You have to honk at her like she’s some Sunday driver making a left turn from the right-hand lane.

I am finding some solace in the outdoors, which is weird because I don’t think of myself as an outdoors person. The weather makes it easier to be outside, and most outdoor activities appear to be reasonably safe as long as they don’t involve groups of people. We’re grilling, playing golf, occasionally going to the beach — when it isn’t crowded. Some days, I’ll just drive to the beach and look out at the water; watch the people from the parking lot. I need to see people even if I’m not ready to really socialize yet. It’s nice to resume “normal” activities, but it also feels a bit dissonant. It makes me want more: a real ball game to go to, a pool party, a week at the shore. It feels close enough to touch, but still out of reach.

Our people need more from us right now. There’s a reason you put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others: You have to have something to give in order to give it. As much as possible, take the time this summer to replenish that well. Turn off that Zoom; end the digital happy hour. Let the online classes be over. Hop off Netflix or the Peloton or put down the book. Watch your kids build a sandcastle, talk to your spouse, barbecue with a friend. Tone down the schedule, turn down the stress. The rest of us are counting on you.

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