A Modern-Day Tale of Two Viruses

This afternoon I got tested for COVID-19. Part of me wanted the test to be positive so I would know why I have had this killer headache for four days, but most of me wanted it to be negative so I could continue my life without having to quarantine. I needed groceries! I didn’t feel too sick, so if it was COVID, the vaccine was working.

I wracked my brain as to where I might have gotten the virus. I wore my mask everywhere. Did I get it at church? Unlikely because I was isolated at the piano with my mask on. Did I get it chatting with the neighbors while walking Annie? Shopping for groceries at Fred Meyer? Picking up my library book? I know one friend who has COVID right now, but I haven’t seen her for weeks. Was it the writer I had lunch with on Thursday? Nah. Well, maybe.

But my test was negative. No COVID. I still have the headache and a slight case of the sniffles, but maybe it’s just a plain old cold. Remember those?

The guy who administered the test was not very friendly. I felt like a leper. To all those who test positive, I wish I could give you a big old hug.  Meanwhile, I’ll be more cautious than before.

COVID is not the only kind of bug I have been dealing with. I got hacked. Last week I received a direct Facebook message from a musician friend with a link to a video. “Is this you in the video?” she asked. Well, I’m in quite a few videos because our church music gets uploaded on YouTube every week and I participate at least once a week in a Zoom literary reading or open mic that is recorded. So I figured, sure, it’s probably me. I’d like to see myself—come on, who doesn’t? So I clicked. It just brought me an error message. There was no video. Oh well, I thought, and went on with my business until that evening when friends started bombarding me with messages asking if my Facebook account had been “hacked.” Meaning someone had invaded my account and taken control of it.

Some days, I wish we could go back to typewriters and snail mail. Typewriters and paper only receive what you put into them. They don’t interrupt with thoughts of their own. Nor can what you put into them be stolen by people who aren’t even in the same state or country as you are. Nobody ever got “hacked” writing with a pen or typing on a typewriter.

All of my Facebook friends received the same message asking about the video. Don’t click on it, I said, but for some it was too late. They clicked, and now they too will be spreading the virus to all their friends. I can only change my password, apologize and warn people to be careful. I could quit Facebook, too, but as a writer living alone, I need the company and the connections.

The next day, while walking Annie, I received a text message on my phone from my credit card company that my account was locked. Uh-oh. The virus had spread. There was a link to click to resolve the situation. It’s good I was not at home and Annie was pulling too hard for me to mess with my phone. I had time to think wait, this might be a scam. It was. At home, I checked my account, and everything was fine. I went on a password-changing frenzy for all of my financial accounts.

I hate that this world has gotten to a point where you have to be constantly suspicious, where you can’t just pick up the phone and say “hello” without making sure the caller is someone you know, where you can’t click on any link that comes your way or accept every Facebook friend request. Nine out of ten of the requests I get are from hackers posing as friends or from handsome widowed men who are not real. Within minutes after accepting such friendships, my messages start spewing garbage.

I think things have settled down in the Internet world for the moment. I have not sent anyone a direct message or a friendship request since Thursday night, so if you get such a thing, it is not from me. If you receive a link from someone you do not know or from someone you do know who would not usually send you a link, DO NOT CLICK IT.

Have you had a COVID scare or a positive result? Feel free to share how that went? Have you been hacked on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet? We can talk about that, too.

If you’re isolating yourself these days, check out the science fiction mini-series “Solos” on Amazon Prime. In each episode, the single character is alone, either by choice or not, and some pretty spooky stuff happens. Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Anne Hathaway are among the famous actors who appear.

In my isolation, I’m streaming a lot of shows. Best movie I have seen in ages: “Here Today” with Billy Crystal. Fascinating Renee Zellweger transformation: “The Same Kind of different as Me.” Dark and sure to make you cry: “News of the World” with Tom Hanks.

Click carefully, get your shots, and don’t go out without your mask. See you on Zoom.

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The Future of Freelancing

I have been traveling in Western Oregon and northern California over the last week, catapulted from home by a conference at Stanford University called the Future of Freelancing. I feared I would meet 120 young college grads who’d make me feel like a fossil, but that wasn’t the case. I found myself surrounded by mid-career freelancers and laid-off staff writers trying to figure out how to make a living in this new world of fading newspapers and growing Internet communication. As the author of a book called Freelancing for Newspapers, I feel as if I should include an addendum these days: take the advice in these pages and apply it to the Internet with a heavy dose of blogging, Twitter, Facebook and whatever comes up next.

We had enlightening talks by editors of Esquire, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and Wired, by book publishers and publishers of Internet news sites, and by writers who have found new ways to do the old jobs. We took classes on blogging and social networking. It’s a whole new industry for those of us who grew up in the days of typewriters and carbon paper. The message overall was that the world still needs good writing, but we need to either catch up or give up. In an age where so many staff writers and editors have lost their jobs, each of us must become an entrepreneur, not only writing but creating a “brand” that draws people to what we write.

Cell phones were banned during the sessions, but many writers were busily tweeting, Facebooking, blogging and writing during the talks. I didn’t, but my fingers itched to hit the keyboard. This new media world is addictive, but we have an obligation not to abuse it or waste it on garbage. We need to think before we post.

I learned a lot, but I will be glad to head back to the Oregon Coast, where traffic is lighter, the sea cools the air, and the only voice I have to listen to most days is my dog’s.

Future posts will cover some of the wonders I saw on my trip. Meanwhile, I have limited Internet access, and I’m having trouble making my father, who doesn’t believe in computers, understand any of this.

One of my favorite moments during the class came when blogger/professor Staci Baird asked, “How may of you have Googled your ex?” Most of us raised our hands. Think about it.