This is part 1 in a series of journals I began keeping in March of 2020, when all this stuff began. It has been interesting to revisit.
March 31, 2020
I hadn’t planned on writing about all this beyond my social media posts and conversations with friends and family, of course with social distancing in place. I really hadn’t, mostly because I don’t presume that my perspective on any of these events will be particularly noteworthy or of interest to anyone.
That said, I am a huge genealogy and family history wonk. I love the stuff. I’ve spent countless hours working on my family tree, and know for a fact, as a result of said obsession (since I was nine) that it is a bit of a family birthright. The men in my family, for at least the last five generations have been wildly obsessed with the same thing: connecting all the dots and finding out who we are as a family and where we all came from.
Trust me, it’s not just me. I’ve renewed my Ancestry membership now that we are stuck at home. My son is quite interested.
That said, and while I love the data, what I miss oftentimes are the stories. I miss the narratives about what life was like. I have some old letters and they shed some light on a few very limited areas, and I have some stories about my ancestors but not nearly enough for my taste. As a writer, I suppose it’s an occupational hazard: I can’t walk away from a story.
For example, I know for a fact that I had family, quite a large contingent of them living in Philadelphia during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. I know they were there. I know where they lived. I know who they lived with. But I don’t know who they were and how they faced that crisis, so similar to the one that we are facing now. I don’t know what they were thinking about, scared of, excited by, or anything else. While the evidence suggests none of my ancestors in Philadelphia perished from the Flu Pandemic, I don’t know their stories. For the most part, that part of my history is, like that of many of us, lost to the winds of change and time.
But, apparently, I’m some sort of writer. So, there’s really no reason that I can’t keep some record of what this is all like. This Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be among the most significant events in my children’s lives. At least I hope it is. I’d hate to think about this sort of thing happening every other year for the rest of our lives.
This is going to be a time that everyone remembers. How my children recall it in their advanced years is, of course, something I can’t predict, any more than I can predict how they’ll grow up at all. But I can write about how things are at the moment.
How we all are at the moment.
Who we are in this unique time and place.
Maybe it’ll only matter to my great-great grandson, Robert Allen Kugler the VI, but if that’s even as far as any of these words matter, they’ll have been worth something.
If nothing else, it’s another way for me to put myself on assignment. So, let’s get into it, shall we?
I’m writing today on March 31, 2020. We’ve been on “stay at home” directives since about March 15. The governor of Virginia made it a formal order today, and we are supposed to follow that order until at least June 10.
We’ve all been doing our part to stay at home and keep the virus from spreading, but it’s not the ideal for any of us.
Before this all really started, we had a few family friends over to the house for a small St. Pat’s dinner. None of us hugged or shook hands. Even then we were beginning to socially distance. It was nice and in retrospect, kind of a last hurrah to seeing people other than those who live in our homes.
School was cancelled for the rest of the year not long after, which was a real bummer for all the kids. Boyo and J-Bird and the Bear all connect with their school experience in different ways and for different reasons. Boyo has really taken to the high school track team, earning a varsity letter in the high jump and making it all the way to regionals in winter track. He was excited about the chance to compete in spring, but that’s all cancelled. J-Bird has clubs that she loves and friends she is now missing daily interaction with. Both twins are missing the regular input on their advanced academics. J-Bird, I think is not missing the stress of a few of her classes, like Algebra 2, but the structure for them is a loss.
The Bear is less of a big fan of the “middle school experience,” but has really struggled with the lack of social interaction and the missing of her friends. Like me, she’s an extrovert and has really struggled with having to stay home. Facetime and phone calls help, but there was a recent stretch where, for some reason, she became obsessed with the idea of raising a pair of ducks in both the backyard and her bedroom. I think we’ve moved past that all, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ve heard the last of the quest for ducks. I enlisted my sister last night in an effort to help us move forward, and she was helpful.
The Wife is exclusively working from home now. We moved my old desk from Boyo’s room into the downstairs office space, which I spent last weekend reorganizing and cleaning up so that we could both work here. Whether we can truly share the space is to be determined as I think we are both noisier in our own way than we would like. She’s the breadwinner, so her work is vital.
After eight years, I’ve been furloughed from what I’ve affectionately called my “side hustle,” at Mount Vernon. It’s only two shifts a week, or it was anyway, but it really made a difference in my life and is honestly the job that keeps me sane. I liked making drinks and I miss the people. I had regulars and have been there over eight years. I love Mount Vernon and I’m still dealing with the loss of that place in my life. I wonder if it will ever be the same again. It’s hard to envision what the next normal will be for any of us, but in my heart, I think a place like Mount Vernon, which has existed for hundreds of years will probably find a way to help us all return to some semblance of normal, after all this.
What I wouldn’t give right now for someone to ask me to make a Mojito.
And I hate that drink.
So, we’ve been home. I’ve gone grocery shopping exactly twice so far. Boyo’s Tae Kwon Do studio is doing online classes now and J-Bird’s rock-climbing gym is doing online workouts. Bear’s horse barn is closed up now too and regrettably, there isn’t really a way to do that online. I think I’m going to have to help her get some exercise. Maybe she can lift weights with me tomorrow. I’ve been doing that more, since I have my dad’s fifty-year-old weight set. Maybe I’ll let them try my bike on the indoor trainer.
We’ve taken my 1970 Plymouth Duster out for a few rides to help keep the engine running, even doing a forty-minute Facebook live stream the other day that was fun, but I think those activities are kind of no longer allowed. I’ll keep doing the grocery run and med runs, once a week or maybe we’ll drop to bi-weekly, but I just don’t know.
I started doing “Dad School” with the kids today. Our county is not yet ready for distance learning and they won’t be grading the kids work for the rest of the year anyway. They’ve all had over two weeks where we, since we didn’t know where this was all going, kind of just let them do their own thing. They’ve had all that time to sleep until noon, eat and do whatever they want.
That stopped today.
I got them up at ten this morning, which I thought was still pretty fair, and we did some work. I had them check all their google classrooms and everything else from their teachers and we tried to figure out where they were in their classes. Then, I gave them work; some of it based on what the teachers sent and others I came up with myself. It’ll be two weeks until the school district says they’ll be ready for teachers to start doing online classes and stuff, but I’m getting them ready.
And boy, were they mad at me about it! Somehow, we muddled through and I only had to almost suspend one student. Is that Masters of Education and Principal’s certificate finally paying off? Maybe. Maybe not, but eventually, they seemed to settle into the routine. I only asked them to do about three hours and I fed them, so I think we’re setting up a system that can work. It reminds me of when J-Bird was home following her surgery a few years ago and she used the robot to go to some classes virtually: I didn’t so much care if she got every bit of information, but it was so much more vital that she have something to wake up for and be accountable for. As I think about it now, I wonder if that’s why she sometimes seems a bit more relaxed about all this. She’s done it before.
Maggie the Labrador seems equal parts excited that everyone is home and confused that everyone is home. So, she’s right in her wheelhouse. She’s getting more walks.
Learning today that we are in this form of lockdown for another 60+ days was a gut punch for me today. I don’t mind doing my part and I’ve preached that to the children. We talked a few days ago about Gandalf and Frodo’s exchange in Return of the King.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It might be time to make the kids watch all those movies. Boyo’s seen them and loves them, but the girls haven’t really. Maybe that’s my own feelings coming up but I think watching Gandalf and some Hobbits fight off the destruction of the world might really be helpful right now. We watched Dunkirk recently and I feel like that added some needed perspective.
So, the short answer is that we are managing, but we are just at the beginning of all this. A friend of mine has already had someone in his life die of this. Heidi’s former Bishop’s wife has died of it. I am not certain that our friend from church didn’t die of this a month ago. And now they are saying that 100,000-200,000 people could die in the USA alone? I’m not great at math in general, but percentages I’m spot on with.
I’m not going to get into the politics of this all right now. It’s exhausting. I hope for the best, regardless.
I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels over the years. It’s a genre that’s fascinated me in large part because it scares me. I’ve read them all: The Passage series, The Road, World War Z, The Ship, the Wool series, Station Eleven, California, all the Hunger Games books, and loads more. I read them because they scared me, and in many ways, that was the fun.
It’s less fun now, although I’m oddly tempted to reread a few of them. Heck, I have a crazy idea about writing one of them myself, based at Mount Vernon. Might be time to storyboard that one.
So, this is largely where we are. I’ll add to this as the story progresses but right now, we are sheltering in place; we are doing our bit to stop the spread; we are grateful for all we have.
We are also occasionally driving one another crazy, but as I reminded the kids earlier today, we do have a hammock in the yard. And a deck. And each other.
We’re all going to be stretched thin by this thing, but we have each other. All the time. That’s a big adjustment in our small house with so many big personalities.
But we will manage.
It’s what we do.
It’s what we’ve always done.
And we will keep doing it tomorrow.
At the moment, it is 57 degrees out as I sit on the couch here in Northern Virginia. It’s lovely out after what I would call a pretty tough and confusing winter.
We had snow.
There was a pandemic.
So, there’s all that.
As I write this, I am in the middle of two different novels, both very different. I have also returned to the classroom, teaching English for real after a twenty-one-year break.
It has been interesting to say the least.
As I continue the work of being a working writer, I occasionally find myself revisiting old projects. Sometimes that can be embarrassing, like the times I come across my first novel The Geography of Home, which has some good chapters, but you will probably never see it. Other times, it’s exciting, like when find the first handwritten words of the book that became The Last Good Day, written in a park on a sunny day in San Francisco.
I get a lot of feels when I come across that first little notebook and the three others that made up that whole novel, handwritten in its entirety.
I don’t write a whole book longhand anymore. It was a lot of work, but when I come across those early pages, I smile and I feel proud of myself, seeing in those early scribbles the beginnings of what has become a pretty satisfying endeavor.
When the Covid-19 pandemic really hit home in March of 2020, I did what I normally do when stuff happens: I wrote about it. I had this thought that I would write about what things were like for us, for posterity, if nothing else, but with a very clear understanding of the fact that writing is what I do when I don’t know what else to do.
It's always been how I make sense of the world when it makes the least amount of sense.
So, I’ve just re-read the 10,000 words that I wrote, beginning in March of 2020. There are several entries written between March and July.
I don’t think they are my greatest writing.
I’m not certain that they are likely to be interesting to anyone.
But, I’m going to share them. Mostly unedited.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting them as the two-year anniversary of their creation approaches.
As I wrote about extensively in An Almost Tolerable Person, I think there is value in looking back.
I think there is value in reflection.
We are living in unprecedented times.
Things are bananas.
I wrote some words about it all as it was just starting out and I’m going to share them with you soon. I hope that they will prove to be of value, but if nothing else, they are a flashbulb moment of a place and time that we all shared.
So, stay tuned, and as always, stay safe and healthy.
And of course, happy reading.
What started off as a bit of a joke in my household when the pandemic first sent everyone home ended up last 523 days. In the end, it made a very big difference in our life.
When all semblance of normalcy went away in March of 2020, and school shut down, my wife's job turned remote and my side hustle went away, we didn't have a lot of structure. We experimented with "Dad School" and other measures, but the daily reality board was often our only way to measure the suddenly slow passage of time.
Overall, we took our turns and we completed 523 boards. They got 5800 likes over the year and a half and 1119 comments.
The ten most liked boards of the series are posted above. I think it's not really a surprise that most of them are by my wife. She didn't generally spend a lot of time on the art, but she always wanted to impart a positive message and a hopeful perspective. She also liked to celebrate things and honor things that were actually happening in our lives. I think that's why her boards resonated.
I think there's something intriguing about that.
We all challenged ourselves every fifth day and it occasionally got competitive. In the end, it was a good thing that I'm glad we did. We still take turns on the same cycle as to who picks the show we watch as a family that night, but for now, the board is back doing what it was designed for: keeping our calendar.
But for a brief but spectacular time, the board was our daily reality, and it was important.
I might put a book together for the kids for the holidays this year: something they can look back on and remember having done. Someone suggested I try to publish it under Four Leaf Publishing, but the rights paperwork alone for all those characters I don't own would be crippling.
It was a good experience that I'm glad we took on. I'd like to think that the worst of the pandemic that inspired it is behind us, but we do still have a few markers that work should we be called upon to serve again.
Thanks for your support. You can check out all of the older drawings in earlier posts. Perhaps I'll post them all in a slideshow someday, but for now, they are all here.
Hope you and yours are well.
These are the photos that I'll be sharing during the inaugural LAST GOOD DAY-LIVE! Event at 7pm, August 15.
Should be fun!
All good things must come to an end...
As of now, the plan is for my family and I to retire our daily "Reality Board" postings on August 23, when the children return to school. That will give us the nice round number of 523 boards over the last year and a half.
What started out as a jokey response to one of my children asking, "what day is it even?" way back in March of 2020 has turned into something that was at times fun, at times a challenge, but always helped provide a little structure to our day.
This grouping here covers boards 431-510.
I hope you've enjoyed them. I'll have more to say when we share the final ones (and of course, the stats on most-liked, etc, once I compile them all) but I'd love to hear from you in the comments about what you've enjoyed from the series!
More to come as the project wraps up!
After starting my author career and business as a participant in Amazon's Exclusive Kindle Select Program, I have made the decision to take the Avery & Angela series of books "wide."
What that means is that they are no longer part of the Kindle Unlimited program, although if you've downloaded any of the books in the past as a KU member, they'll remain available there.
What that means is that the eBooks of the series will now no longer be exclusive to Amazon, but available everywhere books are sold, including most notably APPLE BOOKS, BARNES & NOBLE, and KOBO, to name a few. The eBooks will also available to your library system, should you have interest in seeking them out in that manner. The paperbacks and eBooks will of course, still be available on AMAZON as well.
UPDATE: The series books are now also available on GOOGLE PLAY! (It took a little longer for them to approve them.)
In addition, THE LAST GOOD DAY is now, and forever, FREE on all available channels. The hope is that people will check out book one, love it and the series, and stick around for the other three series books.
That's the plan anyway, so please, enjoy your free book, share it with your friends and family with impunity, and as always, HAPPY READING!
Today marks day #432 of our daily Reality Board whiteboard series. If you're new here, my family and I have been taking turns using my whiteboard calendar to share a little artwork and a little dose of reality. For example, what day is it!?
I used to use the board for managing our monthly schedules, but haven't had much need for that during a global pandemic.
That said, I have begun thinking about how long we're going to keep going with the project. It's been a long run so far and by all accounts, the kids will be returning to in-person school in the fall and our schedules will likely grow increasingly complex, again.
Looking ahead, if we go all the way up to the first day of school, that would be Board #523. That's not quite as round a number as I'd like to wrap this all up with, but we're beginning to think about such things.
Regardless, here are the boards from the last two months, March 15-May 24. Which ones are your favorites?
Also, if you have requests, send them along anytime!
The following is a free sample of AN ALMOST TOLERABLE PERSON: Uncommon Thoughts on Life, Loss, and Looking Back. The book is available for preorder now and is officially launching on April 20! If you preorder the book, you'll get in on your Kindle three days early!
Get your copy HERE!
The following is a free sample of the book from the opening chapter: By Way of Introduction
I’ve been a lot of different people during my lifetime. I imagine that’s true for most people, but it’s especially true for me, I think.
I’ve been “a human chameleon,” a “little ball of clay,” and “an awkward spaz.” I’ve been described as a “nice guy,” an “insecure and clingy boyfriend,” and “just INTOLERABLE. Like for REAL!”
All of those quotes are either from my own old journals, papers or letters. Two of those quotes are my own. I limited myself to ones that don’t have bad words in them, what we’d call “normal language” back home in Jersey.
Looking back, I think I was a lot.
As I write this, almost a full year into a global pandemic, I’m in my forties and live in a middle-class suburb in Northern Virginia. There is a very sweet yellow Lab trying to get me to throw her ball again as I work on this. My three teenage children are all slogging through their virtual school day while my wife works hard at an actual job.
Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty content with where I find myself these days. We’ll talk about that more, but I wanted to get that out right away because it was not always that way. Not at all. Remember, I was once considered “INTOLERABLE! Like for REAL!”
As a person, I’ve always been pretty reflective. I reflect on things. Sometimes I overthink them, but I’ve always been wired that way. I’ve always looked back, particularly at the things that have gone well, or poorly. The people who I’ve loved and lost, I look back on them a lot. I think a lot about loss and always have. Now that I think about it, I kind of reflect on everything. I should reflect on that.
OK, that last paragraph is pretty clear evidence that I probably overthink things. The more I overthink about it though, I think that, to brutally paraphrase our old friend Robert Fulghum, ‘all I really need to know I learned from loss and looking back on it. Just much later on and in a roundabout way.’
It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, I know. It would look awful on a book cover, which is why you didn’t see it there, but I think it’s a pretty accurate assessment of where I find myself when I consider the journey my life has taken, the ridiculously circuitous road I’ve taken on the road towards happiness and fulfilment, and the realization that finally, (yes, finally) I might just have arrived at a point where I can tolerate myself. Where I might actually be a person who’s almost tolerable for other people to be around.
So, how did I get here?
Outside of leaving a career in education in my beloved New Jersey to become a stay-at-home dad in Hawaii, transitioning into a life of domestic tranquility with occasional jaunts into the world of professional mixology and then eventually embracing my life as an author and founder of what my son once called a “somewhat successful publishing company” in an extremely public forum, I think what’s made the biggest difference in my ability to morph into the almost tolerable person before you now is that I’ve grown up a little. Also, I’ve run out of ‘forks’ to give about what pretty much anyone thinks about me, my life, and my choices.
Yes, that’s right, the almost tolerable author, who hopes you love this book and go review it on Amazon and Goodreads and share it with all your friends and help make it a huge bestseller so that his in-laws will finally have a reason to brag about something he did to their friends, really doesn’t give a ‘fork’ what you think about those things. For real. Mostly.
That said, I’ve already spoiled the fact that I’m pretty good with where I am in life right now, even during a pandemic. I may have given that bit away, but there’s a lot more to say about how I got there, so definitely keep reading. Looking back, it seems like the mass of my years were spent nowhere near any kind of “good with where I was” much less pretty good, so there’s a lot to talk about in this slim little volume.
When I was writing the Avery & Angela series of novels, finding my mind in the headspace of an eighteen-year-old kid was informative at times and gave me an interesting perspective on my own journey to adulthood. Writing in Avery’s voice was enjoyable, but it has taken some time for me to shed that voice for other projects. In some ways, I think that attempt at a course correction is what has driven me back to writing as myself, trying to make sense of our increasingly complex world by using my own voice.
I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a doctor. My Master’s degree is in Education and it’s written completely in Latin, so I can’t even read it without Google Translate. I’m not an influencer with millions of followers and loads of social proof. Instead, I’m a person (an ALMOST tolerable one maybe?) who, just like you, has lived a life that’s led me to this exact moment where my writing and your reading have serendipitously intersected. What a cool thing to have happened, am I right?
But seriously, I’m not an expert on anything. I’m a pretty good cook, a borderline excellent mixologist, I’m pretty good at trivia and I’m still a really strong swimmer. I’m probably not the guy you should be seeking advice from about anything seriously important.
That said, I pay attention and always have, especially when things are difficult. I listen. I think (overthink) most things and right now, I feel like the angst and hunger of my youth and the wisdom of my advancing years have collided in a pretty interesting way, and that collision has inspired me to reflect and to look back. It’s inspired me to really take a long, loving look at loss and to consider how my life might have been different but for fortune and timing. It’s inspired me to take an equally long look at myself, my choices, and the way that I have and continue to respond to loss in my life.
My hope in sharing this with you is that, if nothing else, you walk away from the pages herein feeling better about yourself. Chances are that you’re actually doing awesome and need to cut yourself a break. If you need help with something troubling, please, ask for help. It’s OK. I wish I’d done that earlier and more often, as you’re about to learn. I’m sure I’ll need to ask for help again in my life and that’s going to be OK too.
There’s a question on the last page of this book that I hope excites you as much as it excites me. There’s nothing stopping you from flipping ahead and spoiling it, but I hope you won’t. I’d rather you get there as I got there: one word at a time.
Get your copy of the book HERE!
-excerpt from AN ALMOST TOLERABLE PERSON: Uncommon Thoughts on Life, Loss, and Looking Back, publishing April 20, 2021 by Four Leaf Publishing ©2021, All Rights Reserved
My latest release, AN ALMOST TOLERABLE PERSON is coming soon! Equal parts memoir and motivational self-help, AN ALMOST TOLERABLE PERSON: UNCOMMON THOUGHTS ON LIFE, LOSS, and LOOKING BACK asks a lot of questions.
Does it stink, getting older?
(Spoiler Alert: It does not.)
We all have questions.
-How do we deal with life when it invades the pristine shoreline of our plans?
-How will I move on from loss?
-Am I spending too much time looking back?
-Is it OK that I’m not OK?
(Spoiler Alert: Yes, it is.)
You are not alone. I have been there, too.
In AN ALMOST TOLERABLE PERSON: UNCOMMON THOUGHTS ON LIFE, LOSS, AND LOOKING BACK, I look at those questions, look back on how a global pandemic might have impacted life in the late 1980’s and take a look at personal loss and what I've learned about it, over and over again.
This is a book for people with questions about moving on from loss, reconciling the past in an increasingly challenging world, and for those readers ready for all the feels of this heartwarming and occasionally hysterical book.
Check back here for updates, including a cover reveal, launch information, a free sample AND, keep watch on my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page for daily sample quotes like the one above!
I'm really excited for you to read my latest.
Today, I posted our 368th Daily Reality Board. It's hard to believe that something so silly that I started doing because we were stuck at home and couldn't keep track of what day it was has morphed into this. I started keeping a spreadsheet a while back to track what we've drawn and how it was received by the growing audience, who's even seen fit to send us markers and other supplies during the year. (Thanks for that, BTW!)
These ten represent the most "liked" of all of our drawings. Can you guess which one is currently sitting at #1? Which is your favorite of these ten?
We'll keep drawing. I need to replace our yellow, but other than that, we'll keep going and trying not to repeat ourselves.
Thanks so much for all your support.
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