A Dispatch from the Covid Quarantine ?

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

In writing this issue, I wondered to myself what I could say at a moment with so much uncertainty and anxiety.

The warnings are stark. The US government said all Americans should avoid crowds of over ten people just as the Dow closed down over 13% in a single day. That day, Canada closed its borders. We are living through an event, right now, that future students will learn about in history books.

It’s startling. But at the same time, this has been such a high-intensity event that I’ve grown accustomed to the daily shock. Perhaps the best that I can do is record what’s on my mind as we live through a historic event. Maybe in five or ten years, I’ll look back with a sense of wonder.

Sachi and I consider ourselves quarantined for the next few weeks and I admit to finding some comfort in that. We will go to the store when needed, but we won’t be socializing in person, traveling or, by state mandate, eating out. Our day-to-day work, which has been home-based since 2007, continues with a strange sense of normalcy. Our plan is to live affordably and indulge in home-based activities for the next few weeks, at least.

Smells like home
Smells like home

I find myself thinking about all the people whose lives and livelihoods are thrown into disarray. We have friends and neighbors who own businesses that are closed for the foreseeable future. We’re close to people in the service industry who don’t have a backup for the income they’re losing every day that restaurants and bars are closed. We work with people who are trying to juggle work and childcare. It’s a huge, frustrating, and sad reality that I hope will come and go quickly. It’s a small gesture, but today I bought a growler of beer from our local brewery, who can’t legally sell anything else.

Looking outward, I now consider everyone I meet to be a potential virus carrier. Everyone. Today we met with our building contractor and we all tried to keep about six feet between us. Tomorrow our architect arrives and we will do the same with him. No one has symptoms that we can see, but it’s just not worth the risk, especially because Sachi has asthma, which puts her squarely in a higher risk group. We may be overreacting and that’s fine. There is no risk in it.

There is risk, however, for my Dad in North Carolina who is in his mid-80s and has respiratory issues. I’ve been working with my brothers and my Aunt Pat to make sure they understand the risk and how to stay safe. I worry that too many people are assuming it won’t impact them and are not taking precautions. I hope you, dear reader, will overreact like us and consider every person you encounter to be a potential carrier.

When the virus first hit the news, I was fascinated but didn’t worry at a personal level. Then, Washington became the location of the first case of coronavirus and the first death. That was a wake-up call. As we converted to a quarantined lifestyle, we started to take stock of how the virus could impact the economy along with our business and projects. 

On the day the first death was reported, we were visiting Seattle and looking at tile for the bathrooms of the new house. One of the tile reps said, referencing a design we liked, “We don’t have a lot of this one and it’s not clear how much we’ll be able to get from overseas if the virus gets worse.”

That got our attention. What if supply chains break down and we couldn’t finish the house? It wouldn’t be a disaster, but it did cause us to think ahead. Starting then, we made final decisions on materials and put in orders to reserve what we need to finish.

We also came to see that, despite other disruptions, our house project would likely serve as reliable employment for multiple people on the island throughout the pandemic.

My book, Big Enough, is scheduled to hit the shelves in May and represents one of the biggest projects in my professional life. Initially, the book release was scheduled for spring because business book sales traditionally decline in summer. Now it’s timed to go right along with a global pandemic. Super. 

This forced me to ask some worrying questions: What if the virus puts everyone on a limited budget and no one buys books? What if everyone is so consumed with the news that it’s impossible to break through the noise? What if I look tone-deaf trying to market a book in the middle of a catastrophe?

My first book was published by Wiley & Sons, which is a major publisher and we had a traditional relationship. I wrote the book and they invested in editing, design, printing, distribution, etc. Their money was on the line and they were betting the book could sell enough for them to break even. In this case, I was insulated from financial risk. 

Big Enough is different. I choose to self-publish it with the help of industry pros at a company called Page Two who specializes in helping authors self-publish books that are done professionally. In this situation, I invested in all the phases of production and publishing. My money is on the line and in return, I get more creative freedom and earn a greater percentage of the returns. In this situation, the financial risk is all mine

It quickly became clear that my investment in the book, in both the time it took to write it and the money we’ve invested to publish and market it, could be seriously threatened by the coronavirus or the changes in perspective that come from it. Super-duper.

But then, we both started to take another look. As people became more home-bound, they started to read more. Twitter became filled with people sharing book recommendations and requests for books to read. Could it be that the book industry could thrive in the midst of a pandemic? It’s too early to say, but the idea buoyed my spirits.

I imagined all those people at home reading fantasy books or romance novels. Where would Big Enough fit? The more we looked at it, the more we saw that the timing could actually be on our side.

Big Enough is, to some degree, about the beauty and efficiency of being an intentionally small, home-based business. That sense of normalcy we’re feeling in the midst of the quarantine is by design and the book is a guide to building a business that can weather a storm like this one.

So, all things considered, we’re hopeful the book may not be a casualty. Of course, things are moving quickly and no one knows what to expect in two days, much less two months. As long as we both stay healthy and can help others, that’s all that matters.

For now, we have a good internet connection, plenty of food in the freezer, a growler in the fridge and plans to take many dog walks down empty gravel roads.

I hope that you and yours are staying home and staying safe!


Ready for Rain is  a newsletter that's personal

On most Tuesdays, I share a story from my life on Orcas Island and a recommendation for something I love. I'm interested in how to design work and home for lifestyle, livability, and fluffy dogs. Learn more.

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