Musings From Quarantine

Like most of you, I have barely left the house for some time now. Two weeks, or three? Honestly, time is a blur, and I have no idea anymore.

I go out for groceries — more on that shortly — and to walk a bit. Thats it. Otherwise I’m at home, trying to keep occupied. I suspect many of you are in similar straits, while others are actually far too busy. Those now working from home and who have kids to teach may be pulling their hair out for lack of time. I get it, even if I don’t have that problem.

Our infection rate here in BC still seems low, at least as far as I can tell, and those in charge seem to be doing a good job of managing things. Officially there is no lock down or shelter in place order, but restaurants and coffee shops are closed (except possibly for take out) and most businesses are either closed or have notes on their door with varying rules: call first, delivery only, only X customers inside at one time, and so on. Those of you who live near a downtown area will probably recognize the drill. Here in North Vancouver, though, stores are not boarding up their windows to avoid theft, as is happening with high end stores in downtown Vancouver. At least not yet.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of walkers out on the streets. People stuck at home who might normally be doing other things are out and about. The sidewalks are not as crowded as usual, but it can still be iffy to keep two metres between each other if people aren’t paying attention. And — inevitably — some aren’t.

Thursday morning saw Marchuary continue:

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Those white streaks are snow, falling on Marchuary 33rd, also known as April 2nd. Weird.

My week has consisted of a few major things.

First, a dear friend is having me review and edit the second draft of a novel he’s writing. That’s been a lot of fun, and has definitely kept me busy for a fair number of hours. When it’s released, I will let you know, but it will be months before that comes to pass. These things take time.

I have also been researching the solution for where to live permanently. That’s meant staring at a real estate website, checking house listings & prices, and then looking at Google Maps to see what services are where in the area, and so on. Sometimes a StreetView pass through a neighbourhood is helpful too. This is just to help me figure out where to spend more focused time in person when SARS-CoV-2 lets that happen again.

As for art, I’ve done some fiddling with folded paper tessellations. I’m only learning at the moment, but the intent is to see if there is a sculptural approach to working with paper that I should consider.

Tessellations are patterns — often repeating patterns — of shapes that fit together like jigsaw pieces. I started with simple parallelograms:

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In that photo you see a failure and two successes of different sizes. The colours are just to help me see how shapes and folds actually lay out on the paper. After that, I tried something a bit more complex:

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That’s a pattern I created on my computer and printed, then coloured in just for fun. Note how the pattern goes from narrow to wide and back to narrow again. That was deliberate, to test how that would work. It folded up like this:

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I didn’t know if this would work at all. Turns out it does, but it was challenging to fold. Things don’t line up in places, so pinching folds together isn’t as straightforward as it is when the rows are all the same.

From these tests I have learned the following lessons:

  • Printer paper is an awful medium. Sadly, it’s what I have at the moment, and I don’t feel like I should go out and get other paper given the virus situation.
  • The easiest way to dent where you want to fold the paper is with a ball point pen. I use a ruler and a bit of cardboard below, and scribe the lines with it.
  • Sadly, the pen I am using still has ink in it. That’s not great. It gets all over my fingers and it weakens the paper. I picked a pen that should run out of ink soon, though, and I am looking forward to that event for the first time in my life. Thankfully, these are only tests, so no harm done if they get dirty or rip.
  • The markers I used made the paper even more wet, and that was a mistake. You can see all kinds of odd wrinkles in the green & yellow folded piece because the paper was weakened by having been made wet. It was dry by the time I folded it, but it was definitely weaker than printer paper that has not been exposed to water or ink.
  • Smaller features are harder to fold. (Duh!) For me, so far, about half an inch long is at the lower end of what I can work, at least if the folds are intricate. Lots of wrinkles get introduced if things get too small. Tools might help with this… tweezers or something, perhaps.
  • Thick paper — like watercolour paper — is probably right for the kinds of things I am contemplating. It’s not cheap, though, and that’s a good reason for working with printer paper for now. The local art supply places sell heavy bond watercolour paper for some dollars per sheet, depending on size, weight, perceived quality, and manufacturer. Eventually I will have to experiment to figure out what I like and how to minimize cost. It’s all a bit complicated, and the virus doesn’t help. But I can keep testing and learning on the cheap stuff until the time is right — assuming it ever is — to tackle better paper.

Anyway, my plan is to keep experimenting with the base tessellation for a bit, and then move on to more complex things. Where it goes from there, if it goes anywhere at all, is anyone’s guess.

As for where I am learning about this, the answer is YouTube. I found a couple of tutorials for the basic paper tessellation, and followed them. Neither was great, but I figured it out. Then, having watched those, the YouTube recommendation engine hums up and my feed is full of paper folding suggestions. Easy.

The last thing that I will mention this week is…

There are two grocery stores within walking distance of our rental, but neither is great for most of our shopping needs. One is just poor in general, and the other — the new one — is much nicer, but is geared towards urban dwellers who want to eat, but don’t want to cook.

As a result, we mostly shop at stores that are not as close to home. This morning (Friday, April 3) I went to two of those.

The first is the local SaveOn, which is a reasonable, general purpose grocery store. Good produce, good selection, and so on. Covid-19, however, has forced some changes that many of you will recognize. Customers are supposed to keep two metres apart, but nothing forces that in the store, so people are forever getting too close together. It gets particularly bad when they walk around parked shopping carts and at the ends of aisles. And many of the registers are closed — probably to keep people from being too close together. As a result, we get herded into one of two central lines — one for cashiers and the other for the self checkout — and wait our turn.

And that’s all fine, I guess. The toilet paper section is empty, and several other areas are picked over or wiped out completely as well, of course, but you can, as a rule, get what is needed to keep body and soul together. The shopping experience is a bit weirder than it was before Covid-19, but it works if you are hyper aware of your fellow shoppers.

The other store is the Real Canadian Superstore. It’s kind of like a nicer Costco. (For the record, I hate Costco.) For example, there are no people pushing samples and clogging up the aisles in the process, even before the pandemic. The selection is large and reasonable, and the prices are pretty good overall. They also are completely out of toilet paper, and flour, and other things, but I am sure they restock regularly and the trick is to get there just after the seniors only shopping hour in the morning.

The interesting thing about this store is that despite it being much, much larger than the SaveOn, they manage the crowds very differently. We were lined up outside the store today. I counted. There were 27 people ahead of me in the line when I got there. They let us in in groups of 10, I think. Probably after 10 people had left the store. Once inside, despite wide aisles, it was still a zoo. People were buying lots of stuff they probably shouldn’t be, and half the items marked down in the weekly flyer were completely gone by the time I got there. The line to check out was absurdly long, but probably only because it was one line. It started in the front, at one end of the registers, and went down to the side wall, turned and went all the way to the back (passing in front of the yogurt, eggs, and milk cases, among other things, which made for lovely tangles of people getting too close together), and then turned again and went down in front of the meat cases. I got into it basically halfway around the store.

When I finally got far enough up, I noted these on the floor:

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Someone is already selling tape with those words on it. Even in Canada, there’s profit to be made in a disaster. (Though, to be honest, the tape could be made in America and exported here. Who knows?)

Anyway, between the two grocery stores, I spent about four hours bringing home the basics to keep us hunkered down for another two weeks or so. There will probably be a walk to one of the local green grocers in a week for more fruit & veg, but the staples are taken care of for a while. Again.

Shopping for food is far more stressful than it used to be. This new normal sucks. From what I read, there’s currently no ability to get added to any store’s online buying programs. They’re all full, and can’t take new customers, so we’re pretty much forced to go to the store to get what we need. Yay.

Next week the weather looks better — warmer, and less chance of rain — so I might get started carving some soapstone things that are on my mind, along with continuing my paper folding experiments.

If you are the kind of person who is bored and doesn’t want to wait for these weekly updates, it turns out that I occasionally post on Instagram. You can find me there as “jrpstonecarver”. Please note that I don’t see messages on that platform, since I only use it on a computer, not my phone. (Which makes posting an interesting task, let me tell you, but I will never install anything made or owned by Facebook on my phone. Personal bias. Sorry.) Still, you can follow me there if you want to see earlier photos of any progress I happen to make. I can go weeks without posting, though, so don’t be surprised if you follow me and all you hear is crickets.

Please stay healthy and safe out there, and help your fellow human out when you can. We’re all going to need some help by the time this mess is over.

Written by

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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