Note 26: Crawling out of the COVID cave

And accessing alternate dimensions via OTC drugstore digestion and sleep aids.

Of all the new things that I’ve been dealing with entering middle age, the worst - by far - is acid reflux. I’ll be sleeping well, nice and relaxed, and the next thing I know, the back of my throat is burning intensely and I have a bad taste in my mouth. It makes it tricky to get back to sleep.

Since I’m not ready to give up the kinds of foods that can cause this, I’ve been investigating mitigating tools that can help me manage this. I have some regular Tums that I can take before bed as a preventative measure, but I also found some interesting gummies made by Alka-Seltzer next to the Tums while running errands this weekend. They were specially formulated for night-time and included melatonin to help with getting to sleep.

For years, I’ve been aware of melatonin and its use in aiding sleep, but as someone who is very wary of getting any sort of chemical assistance for living beyond nutrition supplements, I never had a reason to look into it much. After I purchased a container of those gummies on a lark, I looked into it and learned something.

It seems that melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland to tell the body that it’s night time and to get ready to sleep. Now, given all the weird fiction that I’ve read, I was more familiar with its paranormal functions, such serving as a “third eye”, and its appearances in the stories of Lovecraft, such as From Beyond:

“Listen to me! The waves from that thing are waking a thousand sleeping senses in us; senses which we inherit from aeons of evolution from the state of detached electrons to the state of organic humanity. I have seen truth, and I intend to shew it to you. Do you wonder how it will seem? I will tell you.” Here Tillinghast seated himself directly opposite me, blowing out his candle and staring hideously into my eyes. “Your existing sense-organs—ears first, I think—will pick up many of the impressions, for they are closely connected with the dormant organs. Then there will be others. You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense-organ of organs—I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain. If you are normal, that is the way you ought to get most of it . . . I mean get most of the evidence from beyond.”

Now while I am working on a project inspired by Crawford Tillinghast’s Resonator (stay tuned for details in the months ahead), I didn’t expect a pack of $10 gummies that I picked up from the neighborhood Walgreens to open new vistas of perception to me. However, my experience with the sweet chewy nuggets has been interesting.

The first incident was when I got home in the middle of the day after purchasing them and before eating something spicy, I had one of the gummies to see how well it would function as a Tums substitute. This had to be around 2 pm or so, and shortly after ingesting it, I could very clearly feel it making me drowsy. It wasn’t a gradual process like I’m used to - more me typing on a project one minute, and the next minute asking what was going on. After an hour or two, the effect faded and I was back to normal. So that daytime test demonstrated that they worked and were not some form of placebo voodoo.

The second incident was after I had eaten before bed. (I believe it was Indian food - I can’t get enough of their spinach and cheese.) I popped a gummie as a prophylactic measure, and I had great difficulty staying awake to watch a film (RoboCop 2) when I was in bed. That night, I slept soundly and was able to sleep in positions that I typically avoid. I’m generally a side sleeper and I woke up flat on my back. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Last night, I had my last one as I had stayed up too late playing Gwent (and losing) and I needed to get to sleep to get up early for a meeting that had been pushed an hour earlier. I crawled into bed to try and read a bit and couldn’t focus on the page after five minutes. I was out soon after.

While I slept, I had a very interesting dream where I was on a cruise and we had a shore excursion to some small island nation, and I somehow missed the group that I was supposed to be with. I was alone on a pier with no idea how I was going to get back to the cruise ship, with no money or identification on me. The rest of the dream was me trying and failing to find a way back, until I found some hokey amusement park that was a mix between a pirate ship, a water park, and an indoor climbing gym. I was able to sneak in there and discovered that there was a group from the cruise ship that had chosen that as their outing, and I was able to sneak onto the shuttle back to the cruise ship, and resolve the situation I found myself in. Shortly after that, I woke up, went through my morning routine, and started my day.

The main thing that was significant about this was not the dream itself so much, but the vivid and concrete the whole experience was. The fact that I can recall it now is pretty significant, as what I dream typically leaks out of my ears within a few hours, and I’m left with an empty memory void of where the experience had been after waking. (It’s interesting to me that I can’t remember the experience, but the shape of the void it occupied sticks with me.)

In any case, this whole experience has demonstrated that Lovecraft and his pals may have gotten something right in their tales involving the pineal gland. As for me, I’m switching back to regular Tums for the time being, because while I’ve heard horror stories about people getting addicted to sleeping pills, becoming the Alka-Seltzer PM Heartburn Relief + Sleep Support Gummies Junkie isn’t the high position that I aspire to in life. So downstairs to the guest medicine cabinet they shall live, so overnight visitors can explore Captain Jack Sparrow’s version of Action Park, should they so wish.

Emerging from Whatever This Has Been

Speaking of cruise ships and having guests over, it looks like we’re approaching the off-ramp of the COVID Interstate. Judging from my news feed this week, the topic of the week is how we’re being too pessimistic about COVID now, and we should start looking on the bright side of things. The Vaccine seems to be extraordinarily good! Case Rates are on a steep decline! People are itching to get out and Spend Money!

Now, I don’t really hold an opinion on where we’re at on the COVID Proper Optimism-Pessimism Scale (I really don’t care), but from the past week - from my own personal observations - it looks like we’re crawling out of the COVID Hole back to normalcy. When I did some shopping downtown this week, it was busier than I’d seen it for the past year - by a large margin. I now have to pay attention to when I depart to and from work - the Red Line is getting close to sardine can territory again. My AMC stock got a nice boost this week on the news that New York is opening movie theaters. I’m seeing movie commercials again that are brave enough to put in release dates - for as soon as May. The Lakefront Trail is open again!

I have my own post-COVID to-do / wish list (in no particular order):

  • Beard trim and shave at Merchant & Rhoades.

  • Spending more time than I should reading at PR Italian Bistro, getting buzzed on cocktails and Crabbies while eating too much prosciutto funghi pizza.

  • Regular TV schedules.

  • Midnight comic book movie premieres at the local cinema.

  • Cursing how sore I am at the gym after a prior workout.

  • Walking the Lakefront Trail.

  • Not worrying about whether I need my mask to go outdoors.

  • Cubs games.

  • Travel (domestic and international).

  • Worrying more about the smells on trains than the presence of a virus on trains.

  • Having folks over for movie nights. (Who’s up for a Nick Cage series?)

There’s lots of light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m happy to head that way. But as my writing has likely betrayed, there’s not more than a little trepidation involved. For better and (mostly) worse, slipping into COVID Land was not a choice. My wife and I got back from a cruise where we watched things go to hell on a boat removed to the Caribbean Sea, and we were in lock-down mode when we returned. Didn’t have any say on the extent, timing, or duration of that. We left Chicago in late Februrary, cruised through the Bermuda Triangle, and returned to a different world than the one that we left.

I think that the key issue here is that - as a coping mechanism - I got used to living in COVID Land. For me, COVID brought a lot of new business and obligations, and I feel like I’m struggling to keep up with the world as it is now. It’s true that I get distracted more often than I should, but the magnitude of available distractions now pales in comparison to what awaits us on the other side. Will I have the discipline to adapt accordingly? Similarly, I ask whether I’ve made the most of the last year. It’s been a Lost Year personally and economically for so many, and I wonder whether I’ve made the most of it that I could. (The answer is “no”, but is it a big “NO” or a small “no”?)

At the end of the day, I think the lukewarm feeling that I have is the recognition that I’m a different person leaving COVID Land than I was when I entered. Probably not too different, but different enough that there’ll be some things that I previously enjoyed and am no longer drawn to (comic conventions, perhaps?) and there’s things that I will definitely miss (empty trains, holiday ghost-office, etc.) that are not healthy or sustainable on their own, but I found value in them anyways.

Anyways, this is something that I’m navigating these past few weeks, and while I’m not ready to endorse the notion that we collectively have PTSD from this experience, maybe the COVID optimists are on to something. That said, I am optimistic and confident that things will be better soon, and odds are very good that I’ll find myself eating my pizza while arguing politics with a fellow barfly, and between verbal jousts, I’ll have the random thought that it’s really weird that I didn’t think this would turn out fine a few months before.

Book report

Coyote Fork by James Wilson (★★★★★): This is a story that desperately wants to be a techno-thriller (Mark Zuckerberg-esque villian, a working predictive AI, Bay Area setting, etc.), but ends up being a story about an middle-aged English writer coming to grips with the new culture he finds himself part of and he struggles with. Given its nods to traditionalism, and “cancel culture” being wielded as weapons against his protagonists, it’s easy to see why the paleo-conservative crowd loves it. However, given the left turn that the book makes in its final act, I think it ends up being less about today’s technologies, controversies, and scandals and more about how traumas alter people in ways that are not immediately visible and end up unfolding over time. I expect that this may end up aging a bit better than other techno-thrillers (even Daemon and Freedom, as much as it pains me to write). This relatively small story gives readers plenty to chew on, even after finishing the last page.

I’m currently one book ahead of schedule for the goal (15 of 100).

Interesting reads

The bitcoin blockchain is helping keep a botnet from being taken down (Ars Technica)

The Activists Who Embrace Nuclear Power (The New Yorker)

How Canadians Derailed a Train and Drove It to City Hall for Power After a Brutal Ice Storm (The Drive)

Is Google’s AI research about to implode? (David Sumpter)

Lena (qntm.org)


Time for me to get back to work after pushing this back to it’s regular Wednesday time slot. Hope you’re doing well, CMDRs.