Are Old People Lives Worth Less Than Young People's Lives?
The Universe Decides That, Not Me

A TGB READER STORY: Structure in a Time of Pandemic

By Adele Frances

After three weeks in self-quarantine, I have learned, along with billions of others, that adding structure to your day is a necessary bulwark against inertia leading to boredom leading to depression leading to insanity. So I have created a schedule that I generally follow each day, unless some new exciting thing comes barging into my life (like picking up cheap toilet paper at a neighbor’s porch.)

First, I make my tea, write in my journal and check the morning news on my iPad. This usually makes me want to call everyone I’ve ever known and loved and say good-bye, but I wisely restrain the impulse.

Next I call my friend trapped in her small room in an assisted living home and check to see that she: a) is still alive; b) remembers who and where she is; and c) still laughs at my jokes.

So far, so good. If I am clever, I do my leg exercises while talking to her from my bed. If I forget, (four out of five calls), I have to add this later, but before I dress or my exercise routine is lost for the day.

Next I try to remember if it is shower day (every other day—I live in dry New Mexico) and then act accordingly. Unless I can’t remember and I shower anyhow. (Remind me to buy stock in Nivea lotion.)

Then I eat my breakfast between 10 and 11. I’ve been cutting down the amount of food consumed and am eating three meals between 10 and 5, leaving my body to digest and outsmart my GRD (acid reflux) for roughly 15 hours. Works most of the time. (If not, I stay awake from 2AM to 5AM and watch movies.)

Now comes the big decisions: what do with my day? Today I will finish the simple cloth masks I started yesterday and give them to friends. Then I will Zoom with my siblings (which I taught to them - Zoom, that is. I am 75 and they are in their 80’s, a clear example of how the younger generation needs to lead the old. Don't tell them I said that.)

I will also spend time in my small garden, admiring the plants I’ve recently potted (the only reason for going food-shopping) and talking to the goldfinches, sparrows and white-winged doves that are feeding a few feet from my patio table. I’m assigning them names now, but that’s only normal, right?

After lunch, I may sit and read awhile or even watch the latest on Netflix. Having devoured Tiger King, Unorthodox and Caliphate, I’m now searching for the Next Best Thing. I think I dated Joe Exotic once, but perhaps that was a dream.

Then the neighbor across the fence plays his car music way too loud, the bass reverberating throughout my home, and I call his apartment manager while my neighbor calls the police. Again. This takes up a good half-hour that is well-spent. Do we need noise in this pandemic of silence?

At dinner I turn on TV to catch the evening catastrophic news and then quickly go onto lighter fare, like Jeopardy, where they are showing earlier shows and Alex Trebeck doesn’t know pancreatic cancer is in his future. Happier times.

As I watch, I am sewing a million running stitches of embroidery thread onto a red Eileen Fisher jacket that a friend recently gave me. I don’t wear red, so I decorated it with various colored circles around which I am sewing stitches into infinity. Or until I run out of embroidery thread. Again, I consider this a normal activity, but you may disagree.

Sounds fairly orderly. Right? But remember, all throughout the day I am sending and answering phone calls, emails and texts. A constant but necessary interruption for staying in touch. At this point I have no idea what I’ve told whom. “Did I send you the pix of the 2000-piece puzzle on my table? Or my stitched red jacket? Oh well, enjoy and don’t ask why I sent it. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Okay, it’s almost time for my shower. Or is it? What day is it? How dry is my skin? Perhaps I should write my schedule on the shower curtain.

How are you coping with your structure-setting?

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


Love this essay. My day is much like that but with different activities. Thank you for writing and sharing your average day.

I love this, love it! Upon reading the title my first thought was "Oh no, pleeez, no more info on how to stay healthy, upbeat, and alive in the pandemic." My inclination to just take a peek was more than rewarded! This will definitely get a re-read from me, and another chuckle or two, surely. It may even be on my before sleep "joy bubble awareness time" for today. Oooh, that sounds so corny when put into words. At least, in those particular words.

So, into the second month of mostly sequestration, and really, some days I'm fine tooth combing for those joy bubbles. The ingredients are there, it's me who's not so available. Though a continuing event that makes the list is to see the fields swarming with daisies. Another is meditation, seeing a Summer Tanager at the water dish, the new tender plants pushing up through the soil. Talking with a friend by phone or from 6 feet. A delicious meal. Reading.
And, for the past several days, the recurring memory of climbing up out of the Grand Canyon with a still laden back pack . Having started before dawn, at some point the heat clamped down, and I remember heaving along slowly, at time.
Some days now, feel a bit like that, and that's okay too. After all, doesn't the hiker's pray say "You pick 'em up, oh Lord, and I'll put 'em down." Still makes me smile.

Thanks for the smiles!!!

I've changed by daily shower from morning to late afternoon. I don't know why. Maybe to wash off all the germs of the day. Don't watch TV, esp. the news which is only designed to raise our blood pressure. Watch amazon or netflix instead. Somehow World War II shows are easier to watch than Covid-9 news.

Adele - Very funny! You have not lost your sense of humor which is key in this pandemic. Thanks for sharing, Camla

Love it, yes, and connecting with friends on FB also a fun thing to do I find some days I have three or four lectures or ZOOM times doing Bible/Torah Study and Meditation, or catching up with college friends from USF back in the late 60's... Did we really have the Hong Kong Flu back then, how come we don't remember that? Today played Messenger, we really have never met, but give me a name, I can find our kids Elem. School Counselor, took me about five minutes... and what is a weighted blanket, a 15 lb one is just too heavy, a friend can't sleep wants to get one, well stream of mind.... and some jokes, now to call friends who are five or more years older too... "18 I don’t mean to interrupt people. I just randomly remember things and get really excited. 19 When I ask for directions, please don’t use words like “east.” 20 It’s the start of a brand new day, and I’m off like a herd of turtles" sharing wisdom...m

I’m reading one of May Sarton’s Journals where she says (in 1941): “One must have some invulnerable structure to one’s personal life these days…” I was not sure what she meant, but after reading your essay I understand that she meant your day (-:) – structure, not panic. I loved it!

Adele, thanks for the laughs! The news is so awful, now I'm a silliness-seeking-missile. I've moved from not knowing what day of the week it is to being surprised at what month it is. One friend said she continues to wash and change her bed linen once a week, another told me she hasn't done laundry in two months and has enough clean bedding to avoid going for another two months. (I'm not actually sure which friend makes me the more uneasy....)

Wonderful, ADELE. There is somebody else like me! Thanks.

Even in pre-Covid days I sometimes forgot what day it was. But my computer always knew. In the last few months, however, there have been times when I woke up quite certain about what day it was -- so certain that I was pretty sure the computer was wrong.

And can we talk about haircuts? I wear my hair in a very short, layered "pixie" (hate that name). My last haircut was the first week in January! Need I say more? My salon has reopened but is not seeing "high risk" customers. And I'm 77.

I used to be a news-aholic, but who can watch news anymore without getting depressed or angry? So I immerse myself in video games, where I can escape into other worlds. I'm told it's odd to be playing video games at my age, but I really don't care.

Thank you.

Two years ago we adopted a young terrier mix rescue. We had no idea what chronic excitability and outpouring of energy we’d invited into our lives. But thank goodness we did. The little doggy keeps me on a daily schedule, complete with walks, play time, and training reviews full of praise and treats.

Husband stays active with spring yard projects. We enjoy morning coffee outdoors now that it’s warm, and we end every day with reading aloud until I fall asleep. In between, we are not too structured, but then, we weren’t before the outbreak either.

Best to you all.

Hilarious! Thank you!

Adele, you are too funny! Keep it up!

Your day actually sounds rather nice, aside from the lack of human contact. But I am a committed introvert, and am not finding the quarantine too onerous except that I can't go out to eat or hug anyone. Last time I saw my son I covered him with a clean sheet and gave him a long, long squeeze. I'm hoping the virus didn't make it through the fabric during that time.

And I have a sweet little cat friend, whom I talk to and am allowed to scratch and stroke when she is in the mood. Yes, I'm a little lonely, but in many ways I am a very lucky woman. The things that get to me most during this time are the confusion and uncertainty, but neither is going to go away soon, so I very much limit reading the news.

Hi Adele,
Loved reading your post. To help me schedule my days better, please let me know when you go to bed and about what time you get up everyday. I'm staying up way too late and not getting up until 9 or 10 which leads me to watching boring tv shows in the evening.

You made my day, Adele! Thank you, thank you!!

I liked it, I liked it!

You may want to try to figure out why several of us have commented by repeating ourselves here. I noticed it as I read through the comments!

Very funny piece!

P.S. I was brought up to shower every other day. If I showered every day, what's left of my skin would just sluff off down the drain.

Thanks for making me smile. I've always craved structure in my life. Shortly after breakfast, I start thinking about what I want to make for lunch (being a vegetarian, I make most of my meals from scratch). I look forward to dinner, too, because that's a marker in the day, and then it's all downhill from there. But during this lockdown, I've played around with the idea of trying to feel or sense what it is I really want to do, instead of grabbing onto things I think I should do. So if I let myself settle down, I might feel like playing the piano or making a stew or rereading a favorite classic. It's been an eye-opening experience, as all my life I've followed a work structure and then a retirement structure. It's kind of liberating.

Thanks to all you wonderful readers who get my slightly demented sense of humor, and endless thanks to Ronni for sharing it with you. Now, five weeks later, I seem to move from purposeful activity to meaningless sloth and back again, often within the same day. My creative efforts do a dosie-do with my total squandering of time and energy. And yes, the birds all respond to their names now and come sit on my lap. After all, my last name is Frances. Carry on, you amazing people, and try to stay sane....

Thank you, Adele, for creating and sharing this gem!

You are exactly right! Making up our own small routines is extremely important. It helped that I've been retired for a few years, so I had already put some structure in place. I call my life now "Retirement on Steroids." We've found new ways to communicate, positive uses for technology, and creative methods to connect. I do Car Coffee Dates where a friend and I go through a drive through, then sit in the parking lot in our cars and chat. I've also been sending letters to people, which is also lots of fun.

Very enjoyable Adele! It would be great to see your embroidery work on that jacket. It sounds colourful!

I like your sense of humor, thanks for the smiles.

Thank you, Adele. I love the way you wrote that.

Thank you, Adele, for the grins and giggles. A bit of humor does make the world a brighter place~

It may seem weird, but even in a pandemic with few places to go and more time to stay at home, a distinct break from my “job” serves me well.

You know, the job of living a structured life to get through the day, as Adele explains.

It used to be a coffee break in my law practice days — but it still is. No shame in that! Some do meditation to get grounded, but I worship the aroma and taste of a good brew.

My son orders estate beans and roasts and grinds them. I can savor the manufacturing experience too, now that I am sheltering-in-place per Massachusetts directives.

I don’t need Frappuccinos or other curated drinks, just the black magic of the healing liquid, with a touch of milk and a pinch of sugar.


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