Paris in Lockdown. A letter from the future.

Greetings from the future.

Well, I’m not sure if it’s the future, or the new normal, or what to call it besides weird.

Today, March 17th, St. Patrick’s day is Paris’s first full official day in FULL confinement, although lockdown started a few days ago. What does that mean? We’re required to stay indoors. The only reasons we can leave are for groceries, the pharmacy, in case of emergency, or a required job where we can’t work remotely. Still, in order to leave the house I need to download (or hand write) an “attestation” from the government website with permission to leave the house. Military forces are expected to be out to enforce it, along with a curfew.

Last night even received my first text message from the government.

In his address last night President Emmanuel Macron repeated multiple times that “We are at war.” It’s not with another country, or an enemy, but an invisible virus. He made it clear that hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists would be top priority in terms of receiving masks and the provisions we need. For the first time economic hardships were addressed as businesses of all sizes hemorrhage money. No one should worry about resources at this time. The state is putting measures into place to make sure everyone is cared for, including a fund for freelancers. Macron also reminded us not to panic, and there is no need.

(If you speak French, I highly remember watching his speech—it’s not an easy one, but he rose to the occasion; you can also watch it dubbed on France24. France24 is international news from a French perspective. I find it a refreshing change from US media. They have channels in French, English, and Arabic, and it never feels fear mongering or sensational. You can stream it live on YouTube too.)

My friend Emily (@eclairereese on IG) shared an annotated version of the attestation we have to print or hand write in order to go outside. We risk a fine—currently set to 38€, but I suspect it will rise—if we don’t… Another friend pointed out, it would not be France if there was not paperwork! 

[UPDATE: According to the attestation it does look like we can leave the house, but only alone, never in groups, and it’s meant to be short. I’ll wait for a few days before I attempt a walk or need supplies. Also concerned for my spring allergies outside right now.]

As our first lockdown attempt on Saturday evening all restaurants and bars were ordered to close, and for many that meant thousands and thousands of euros in food down the drain. Many visited their businesses on Sunday to take care of it, trying to sell off what they could, or distributing it amongst staff members. The chain of how we’re all connected started to become extremely apparent.

Saturday evening’s decree lacked clarity and sent mixed messages. Stay inside. Practice social distancing. Go out and vote in the municipal elections [on Sunday].

Sunday (aka my birthday—all plans had been previously cancelled) also happened to be beautiful outside. It turned out social distancing hadn’t been clearly defined, or perhaps not understood as people gathered in parks and along the canal. The strong recommendation hadn’t been understood, and hence we’ve arrived at the next level of confinement.

I’d never thought about the French not being rule followers until this moment (ironic, perhaps it’s why I fit into this society). Both French friends and news commentators were quick to point out that the French don’t like to follow rules. I learned about “Le Système D,” a term used by Polly Platt to describe that rules are made to be broken in France. It all makes sense now.

The wild thing is on Thursday afternoon I recorded an episode of The New Paris podcast with Lindsey Tramuta of Lost in Cheeseland (and her new book The New Parisienne). It was the day we woke up to the news that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had contracted coronavirus aka COVID19. That all feels like distant news is what has escalated since. (The episode hasn’t dropped yet, but warning it will feel wildly outdated when it does. Still as we talked about the virus and tourism, I still stand by what I said: our priority needs to be thinking about what we want for our cities and support those businesses that give them life and personality. We have a moment now to really reflect on our own priorities too.)

We saw things escalate in Italy, yet somehow we thought it couldn’t happen to us. Paris is about 10 days behind… So where does that put your country???

Rumors were circulating yesterday before the President’s speech that we should brace ourselves for 45 days of confinement. That was hard only having hearsay. It also made it a highly unproductive, anxiety ridden day (until I hopped on calls with other people and shared many laughs).

In last night’s speech the President announced 15 days of confinement, which is subject to renewal. Translation: I’m not leaving my apartment any time soon. Along with it borders are closed for 30 days. Going “home” wouldn’t even be an option if I wanted to.

If I’m honest I would not be surprised if our 15 days was extended, but mentally it’s helpful to have a smaller chunk to break down. The more people who act now, the shorter this period will be. We have a responsibility to protect those on the frontline and keep them healthy and safe.

Friends yesterday asked me if I was staying in my apartment. I didn’t really think I had another option. I suppose it crossed my mind that friends could invite me to their country home, but the idea is to have less people, not more. The idea is that every contact that is avoided can save a life.

I’ve already started regular calls and check ins with friends (thank goodness for technology). I talked to one French friend yesterday who lives in the neighborhood, so it was amusing to FaceTime. Both her sister and brother live in Paris, and her parents live in a region neighboring Ile de France. Part of me was surprised they decided not to be together, but we each have our own lives now, and like having our things, and we really don’t know how long this will go on for. She said both her parents were calling from their respective computers in the the same house. Now that’s social distancing in action! We had a good laugh (so necessary these days)!

The thing about Paris even more than other cities is it’s dense. Apartments are small. While I’ve more than tripled from my first Paris shoebox apartment that was 10m2/100sf, the reality is that my entire apartment is probably smaller than most of my friends’ living rooms in the US. There are people who will be living in those tiny “chambre de bonne” for the next 15 days. I also feel for my friends with kids in Paris. Small apartments. Parks are closed. No backyards. We’re not allowed outside.

Let me reiterate the fact that in this time we can’t even socialize with friends or family members in real life. It risks the spread putting not only people who are older at risk, but also those who are high risk (I have young friends battling cancer and auto immune disorders on a daily basis; the last thing they need is a new battle).

Please don’t move. Don’t travel. Now is not the time.

Here is some additional reading/audio/video that expresses why it’s so necessary to act smart. Now.

Yesterday I even learned of the first person I know to contract the virus, travel blogger Nomadic Matt. I was supposed to meet up with him in early March when he was in Paris for a few days, but I got stuck working on a project. He’s now in Austin and tested positive for the virus, as have some friends of his. It’s a good reminder, this virus is invisible, and you never know where it’s been, nor where it’s going… Other friends know of multiple cases now too. The world is getting smaller.

REMINDER: I am not a medical professional. All the information that I’ve shared is subject to change. There is a lot unknown about this virus still so keep yourself informed and cross check your sources. Misinformation can also be a virus. Our mental health will be more important than ever through all this. 

Let’s make the most of this.

I try to look for the silver lining in any situation. Last year in the spring I was in my own kind of self-quarantine as I developed the worst allergies of my life (the doctor attributed them to the combination of pollen and pollution), so let’s hope I’m missing the worst.

I feel like now we’ve entered a phase I like to call “Empathy Camp” where we learn to appreciate all the things we take for granted most of the time. One tweet I saw pointed out after a few days of home schooling the father was now convinced that all teachers should earn more than CEOS. Funny how society can get things backwards sometimes…

Finally, I’d like to shout out to all the doctors, health professionals, and grocery store workers working over time these days and putting their own lives at risk. More than anyone I hope that there are medals of honor will be given to those who work in grocery stores. They are the new soldiers on the front line. In France, the workers already had to brave 46-days of transit strikes, which sure was an inconvenience for many of us, but in chatting with one of the check-out women at my local store she travels from the suburbs to come to her job every day. (You know it’s not one that pays the big bucks either.)

As Mister Rogers said, “Always look for the helpers.”

I can’t help but believe Mother Earth tried to warn us, but we weren’t ready to listen. What if we slowed down? Paid more attention? Asked more questions? Rather than getting lost in the hustle…

While we must keep our distance now, I do hope we can find new connection with others through all this. No, this is not easy but there is also something about going through a shared experience, where once on the other side we can all come out stronger. For now we must do our best to support others. Realize that that work deadline may not be the priority right now. Rather, you need to take care of yourself.

For me, it’s been a balance between the two: being gentle on myself, but also creating structure in my days and having projects to focus on as a distraction.

In my own work I often talk about the importance of “creative constraints” to help us rethink how we do things. (It’s the “creative constraints” of being a foreigner in Paris which led me to this alternative career I have that brings me joy and plays to my strengths; a path I never could have imagined I didn’t have constraints beyond my control placed on me.) It’s a time we can innovate and question those processes that we’ve assumed are the best just because it’s the only way we’ve worked before.

Cartoon from The New Yorker.

Getting creative and having fun with the “New Normal”

As I settle in to this “new normal” I’m taking things in stride. The irony is that of anyone, I feel like I’ve been training for this for years as an introverted freelancer who lives alone and works from home. I know it will be more of an adjustment for others.

I’ve already accepted that my April Paris workshop isn’t going to happen in real life, so I’m planning on taking that online sooner than I expected, but I figure if there’s any time to try, it’s now. Besides, we all need things to look forward to! So far the participants who already signed up are enthusiastic to do it online.

A popular post is going around that says “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch.” Here’s my incomplete, yet growing list of things I’ve done, participated in online, or seen shared to help us get through this:

  • Just like kids do better with a schedule, adults can benefit from structure too. Yes, I could sleep in, but I’m saving that for weekends. Take a shower. Put on real clothes. (Or savor in the fact you can take business calls in your pyjama pants!)
  • Eat regular meals. (Whenever I don’t eat, I know I’m subject to be more irritable.)
  • Keep a list of things you can be working on. That doesn’t mean you actually have to do something, but I know I’m the first to forget more constructive ways I could be spending my time more than endlessly scrolling the internet. I have a few projects I’ve been dying to dive into so they can be a good distraction to focus on. (Although, I do appreciation the nature of client projects with actual deadlines to keep me accountable.)
  • Schedule calls with friends. They may be people you see on a regular basis or ones you haven’t talked to in years. I’ve done both already. It’s fun! In some ways I’m already tired from all the extra socializing I’m doing. ;)
  • Find creative ways for work outs and to get some exercise. Youtube is great. There are apps. I need to get into a yoga routine (also put it on the schedule), but last night I realized in my normal Monday night gym class I realized the room is usually so full I only stand in a little square of space anyway, so as my dinner was cooking I got my heart rate up for a few minutes. A friend even started her day with yoga with her kids. Some yoga teachers are hopping on Facebook or Youtube live 3x a day. I’m secretly very curious what gym bodies are going to look like the day that reopens…
  • Now that I’m watching more French news (I don’t have a TV so just started streaming it more) I think my French is going to get way better during this period too! In cleaning my bookshelf, I found my old French books I can review.
  • Meditate. Try the apps Calm or Headspace. Or ask a friend for their favorite meditation. Recommendations are a great conversation piece or reason to reach out to someone. You do NOT need to go this alone! We can problem solve together. It’s a good time to experiment and try new things.
  • Oliver Jeffers and other authors are hosting daily story time on Instagram Live. It started yesterday and I loved watching it. It’s simple and sweet and I love that the second time he goes through the book he talks about his process and where the inspiration came from. Join him daily at 6pm GMT on Instagram.
  • Wendy McNaughton is an illustrator who is giving daily drawing classes on Instagram Live (check out #drawtogether). I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw so now is a good time. Daily at 10am PST. Yesterday I drew a portrait and a dog! … The spirit of generosity has no bounds!
  • If you want to learn something new, Skillshare is a great place. There I teach Map MakingBasic InDesign, and Redesign Your Résumé. I also have 12 UX design classes on OpenClassrooms. I also run if you’re planning a future trip to Paris (the new challenge of tourism has already started: how to get people to visit once life is “normal” again?).
  • For parents the accounts @busytoddler and @thedadlab have tons of ideas for kids. Even if you don’t have kids (ahem, me) I think I may have to try some of these activities for my own entertainment. I mean what else am I going to do with those all those discarded toilet paper tubes…
  • On social media it’s been entertaining and heartwarming to see videos of people serenading from their balconiesgiving a standing ovation to medical personnel from their balconiescreating sporting videos, or leading a fitness class from a roof of an apartment complex, playing collective BINGO across a giant courtyard, and using sock puppet to eat cars (alas, not any traffic on my street—that’s my view for the next X days on the top photo). Our creativity runs far deeper than we realize, and it does not need to involve spending money. (Our challenge now is to find ways other than “retail therapy” to cope, while still considering how we can support businesses.)
  • You can watch an opera online or visit a museum virtually.
  • I have my stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read. Day one already passed getting distracted from books, but now is the time I need to refocus my priorities and escape into print. Reading was one of the activities Macron suggested in his speech—how French!… I shared a list of books by friends coming out this month in my weekly newsletter if you’re looking for something fresh to read.
  • Host a virtual happy hour! (Planning this with friends tonight.) … France is a reminder that quarantine will still have good food and drink… Maybe I should finally learn to actually cook…
  • Just like non lockdown times I go in and out of being chatty on Twitter and Instagram [Stories] as a way of connecting while keeping my space. It’s a place where I explore and ponder ideas. Like how can we innovate in these strange times? What if we looked to how the milk man used to deliver milk to people’s door steps for inspiration today? I may update this post for ideas, but sometimes I forget and will share them on social.

A couple examples of what happens when generosity meets technology.

Please share your favorite tips, resources, and ideas in the comments. We may be apart, but the only way we’re going to get through this is together. Right now is truly the time to embrace being a kid at any age. Yeah, this sucks, but let’s challenge ourselves to make it fun.

As a designer I often ask the question “What if…?” So I challenge you to ponder “What if… we made the most of this crappy situation?” What if it’s not a bad thing to learn to be bored again? What would you do? And how can you best support others in the process? (Particularly those without means, who can’t afford to get sick, or to not work.)


p.s. As a freelancer much of my work has dried up. The wonders of technology means I still can continue with my coaching calls and support others during this time. I’m still looking for other opportunities when the fit is right. If your company or organization finds themselves strangely overloaded at this time, I have an incredible network of freelance friends who have a wide range of skills. Shoot me a message and I’m happy to do my best to connect you to someone who can help.


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