Staff Picks: Inspiration during a Quarantine

As the American Humanist Association has switched to near-total telework (big shout-out to staff who have been handling mail!), we AHA staffers have been checking in with each other in various ways. Here we share stories that have inspired us in the past few weeks and also share how we’re managing to balance the attention and concern we’re paying to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to feel productive, happy, and even amused.

The myriad creative ways humanity devises to remain connected in the community inspires me. Emily Larson, the mayor of Duluth, Minnesota (my home state) recently announced that city librarians will be presenting online story hours. It warms my heart that the mayor, as well as the fire chief, police chief, and others are taking the time to bring stories to kids across Minnesota. My family is also finding and rediscovering ways of being together. At a time when my daughter would normally be away studying at Colorado College, my son consumed by high school activities, and my husband off working long hours, we are finding solace in each other’s company, baking scones, cohabitating in shared space, playing Wii bowling, and watching movies.

Kristin Wintermute, Director of Education

When I specifically set aside time in my schedule to check in on friends and family, read the news, and have a little meltdown about all things pandemic, I find I’m more productive than when I don’t specifically schedule time for worry. “Work now, worry later” has become my mantra.

Monica L. Miller, Legal Director and Senior Counsel

It’s been encouraging to see a diverse array of people come together to recognize that we need to look out for each other in this time of public health emergency. Everything from musicians installing sanitation stations to aid people without permanent shelter, grocery stores offering seniors a priority shopping time so they don’t need to compete with others for essentials, to communities feeding their neediest, as well as streamed concerts and new content available to watch online has provided a much-needed reprieve. Some things as trivial as Conan O’Brien doing funny videos from home or “Weird Al” Yankovic reading his children’s book to kids on Instagram has helped keep my mood uplifted through the uncertainty. To me, that’s true humanism—everyone coming together to make things better and to look out for one another.

I’ve taken a step back from social media during this time, as I found the overexposure to commentary about COVID-19 made me more nervous than comforted. I’m already taking plenty of precautions to ensure I stay healthy and to keep those close to me healthy. Calling people to check in, writing a screenplay I’ve been putting off, digging up old books—even college textbooks—to read through, walking around my neighborhood, trying to bake sourdough bread, redecorating my apartment, and playing a couple new video games has helped me pass the time and has renewed interest in subjects and hobbies I hadn’t visited in quite a while.

—Sam Gerard, Communications Associate

I’m inspired by simple but surprising moments of hope, like this story about an Indian restaurant in Seattle donating meals to exhausted medical staff or this piece about an athlete who’s helping an elderly woman buy groceries. It reminds me that we all have the capacity for radical kindness and that the most difficult periods are when our humanity shines most.

As for coping mechanisms: earlier this month, I was paying way too much attention to the news and it was making me increasingly panicked. Now I’m limiting my news/Twitter intake and trying to connect more with friends over FaceTime, email, and text, especially with people I haven’t contacted in a long time. Spring and summer have always been my favorite months, and I can still enjoy happy hour beers on the porch with my husband and dog.

Sharon McGill, Art Director

I’ve been incredibly inspired by Delegate Danica Roem of Virginia. I follow her on Twitter, and it’s been amazing to see how she’s stepped up to serve her community and her constituents in the midst of this crisis, including going out of her way to personally deliver groceries to at-risk elderly folks. It’s nice to know there are public servants out there who still serve the public.

One silver lining for me is that it’s become easier to schedule my long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign with my old law school friends. We play online and voice chat through Discord, so there’s no need to break social distancing protocol to play. When the real world’s getting you down, there’s nothing quite like retreating into a fantasy world of your own creation, at least for a little while. It’s really helped to keep me grounded and ease my anxiety. This Sunday I’m doing a live-streamed D&D game, playing via mic and webcam to a live internet audience through Twitch. Viewers can pay money to influence the events of the game, and all proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders! Nothing like a bunch of nerds coming together for a good cause.

Colin McNamara, Staff Attorney

The biggest source of positive inspiration I’ve found lately is in local news stories. If you branch out too far and only see national or global calamity, you’ll miss the stories of hope and community support right around the corner from where you live. For hard news, I’ve been trying to (theoretically) stay sane and balanced by paying most attention to non-opinion news outlets like the BBC and NPR and by listening more to medical professionals than to pundits or politicians. Of course, I’m not always successful at striking that balance, and I can get lost in messy Twitter threads like everyone else.

I still allow myself to indulge in silly things to make me happy and distracted: the Houseparty app lets me easily video-chat and play games with friends, YouTube videos from Marion’s Kitchen and Binging with Babish provide entertaining cooking inspiration, and the newly released Netflix docuseries Tiger King has been making my jaw drop for reasons totally unrelated to a global pandemic.

Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager

Two kinds of stories have inspired me in the past few weeks. First are the stories about doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who are working on the front lines of the pandemic with inadequate protective equipment and yet are still there, caring for the sick in the face of danger, long hours, and exhaustion. My second source of inspiration are all the different ways people are finding to make community when we are physically separated: singing from balconies and front stoops, virtual happy hours, FaceTiming family and friends, shopping for elderly neighbors who can’t get out. A great example of someone creating virtual community is actor Patrick Stewart reading a Shakespeare sonnet each day of the pandemic on Instagram. We can’t enjoy the communal experience of live theater, but we can still listen to one of our best actors perform Shakespeare.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a particularly good way to balance concern with happiness. I’ve been reading way too much news and not relaxing enough. My new goal is to find more time to sing out my window, join virtual happy hours, and help my neighbors in need!

Nicole Carr, Director of Development

I appreciated seeing this article about restaurants and companies providing people with their excess toilet paper (especially since my local stores are out). It’s a great example of people thinking about what they have that other people may need, and a nice contrast to stories about people hoarding and fighting over supplies.

To stay balanced and positive, I remember the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life“ from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. There are a lot of things we can still enjoy in these difficult times, though it may take some creativity and patience.

Emily Newman, Education Coordinator

I was recently inspired by efforts political activist groups are making to turn their attention to ways we can support our neighbors. Just the other night, my local political committee shared action our issue caucuses are taking to use lists normally used for canvassing and phone banking to call and check in on folks regardless of partisan ID and offer to run an errand. Whether a registered Republican or Democrat, this pandemic has been the great equalizer, and the folks making the phone calls and recipients alike become more aware of our shared humanity.

I think laughter is important right now. I live with my partner and his childhood best friend, and we all shared laughter and joy watching What About Bob? starring Bill Murray the other night. I very much appreciate the opportunity to find joy and gratitude in each other’s company right now. We can only control so much in this moment. I am at peace knowing that I can’t fix this but that I can control how my actions impact others. Given that I’m not a medical professional, the best thing I and my fellow household members can do is to take care of each other and offer support to neighbors and friends as I’m able.

Isabelle Oldfield, Paralegal