Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 12 (June 1-June 7, 2020)

I started a contract job in October that, thankfully, has provided me with steady employment. My work week goes Wednesday-Sunday, which isn’t my preference, but as with many aspects of the position, I’ve adapted to it. From one perspective, why should it make any difference? It’s not like there’s a natural law bestowing special qualities upon Saturdays and Sundays. Having two consecutive days off is what matters, not which days of the week they are. So, not wanting to work Saturdays and Sundays is more about mindset or the perception that those days are more worth defending. Granted, the cultural and societal values ascribed to the traditional weekend mean they seem more like days when work should be out of the picture. Also, if most people follow a “normal” Monday-Friday work week, then having your schedule out of alignment may feel like a greater imposition on the freedom to do what you want to do. Not that my calendar is an unceasing competition among social events. Instead, the circumstance of my non-standard schedule conjures the illusion of restrictions or loss of choice.

Of course, between working from home and lacking events these last couple months that might fall more on weekends, every day tends to be indistinct anyway. The date on the calendar and the day of the week have increasingly been freed from significance and meaning. Generally I’ve done well keeping track of what day it is, but I’m starting to lose that. A couple times this week I woke up and had to pause for a moment to remember what day it was. I suppose that’s not a big deal, but the experience of time has grown increasingly strange. At least here the seasonal changes help to distinguish that indeed I’m not stuck in some Groundhog Day scenario. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that this is the twelfth week of the current normal of social distancing. 

Painting no.6 - 6/5/20 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Bonneville Salt Flats - Tooele County, Utah - June 26, 2019
Photo by Mark Pfeiffer

I was tasked with choosing the week’s painting challenge. Wishing to stick with something aligned with my newbie skill set, I suggested an inspiring landscape. I dipped into my photos taken from my 5,000-mile round trip drive out west that was almost a year ago. That trip was semi-planned but featured a lot of making it up as I went along. My destination was Colorado Springs to visit family. From there I thought I might use it as a springboard to visit other states out west that I hadn’t been to. If something popped up with a recruiter or potential employer that required coming back, then I’d come home.

The recruiter’s initial contact turned into silence, so I decided to keep going west to visit friends in Boise, Idaho. They wouldn’t be ready for me when I was looking to leave Colorado Springs, so I ended up stopping in Salt Lake City for a few days. When leaving SLC, in a completely nonsensical decision in terms of travel efficiency, I drove north of the city to Antelope Island State Park to see the lake and other sights, like bison that were freely roaming. Then I drove back to Salt Lake City and headed west to be able to see the Bonneville Salt Flats before cutting across Nevada en route to Boise.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are such an unusual landscape to come across along the highway. One can be forgiven for thinking all the white dusting the ground is snow, but no, it’s salt. (Like a character on a salt planet does in Star Wars:Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, I too dipped my fingers and took a taste. I don’t know why, and yes, it was probably a stupid thing to do.) There isn’t a park, so to speak, just an area you can pull off and then walk onto that great expanse. I’ve never been anywhere at all like this. While I had to backtrack a fair bit and added a good amount of time onto my drive to be able to see the Great Salt Lake and the salt flats, I’m glad I saw both.

I based my painting on one of the photos I took at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The foreground was giving me fits until I started messing with texture and discovered that doing so came close to achieving the kind of look and effect I hoped to achieve. I’m inclined to believe it’s the best painting I’ve done to date.


The garden is coming along, so I decided to plant some broccoli and arugula seeds to see if I can produce a little bit of food in addition to beautifying the space. This week I also added a bird feeder to my (mostly) enclosed patio area. I filled it up and proceeded to be annoyed that the birds didn’t seem to show any attention to it. Dinner’s ready, birds! Where are you? A friend suggested putting some seed on the ground below the feeder, so we’ll see if that entices them to check out the area. It’s almost as though the birds are punishing me for sweeping the patio. Until now, I would see them pop by to check out what was on the ground. I set out a meal, and these avian ingrates decide to stop flying by. We’ll see if they make their way back.


I’m not sure why, but I’m still in more of a TV or undemanding viewing mood. Space Force, a Steve Carell-starring satire about the newest U.S. military branch, debuted on Netflix and was an easy choice of something to watch. (There’s a marketing campaign for Netflix: It’s There, So You Might As Well Watch It.) The reviews I came across characterized the show as middling and I agree. The series struggles to find a tone. Space Force is supposed to be funny but also possesses some Prestige TV aspirations that I don’t think are to its benefit. I would have been happy if the creators utilized this setting along the lines of the short-lived, single-camera 2014 sitcom Enlisted that had fun with misfits in the military. Space Force indulges some fairly broad, scattershot humor--the topical jokes are particularly half-hearted--while attempting to take on some more serious character beats. Unless I missed the explanation, I don’t know what the point is of playing coy about why Lisa Kudrow’s character, the wife of Carell’s Space Force-leading general, is in prison after the “one year later” time jump in the pilot episode.

It’s nice to see John Malkovich in this, strange as his participation is to me. I don’t recall coming across him in much recently even if a review of his filmography does pull up a decent number of films I have seen. Bringing him up allows me to share that, when seeing actors and actresses in real life, it is common for them to be smaller than you imagined. Whether it’s Sylvester Stallone or the great French actress Isabelle Huppert, the largeness they convey on screen can be jarring when seeing them in person. On the other hand, Malkovich, who I encountered a couple times at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival and was in line with at the University of Illinois student union coffee shop , is a fair bit bigger than I expected. That’s it. That’s the observation.

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