We Did Everything Right and My Daughter Got COVID-19 Anyway

We did everything right. We’ve been quarantining since March 2020. We maks up when we go out. Sanitizer is always on hand. No in-person association with friends or family indoors, and six feet apart when we do see them outdoors.

So, how did one of our daughters get COVID?

We’ve been strict. Our middle daughter has special needs and is immunocompromised. We’ve been making adjustments to our lifestyle to accommodate Cami since she was born 16 years ago, so in that way we were better prepared than most to roll up our sleeves and say, “Okay, well, life is gonna look a little different for a bit and we’re gonna isolate. We can do hard things, so we can do that.” Cami trained us for this.

So, we knuckled down. Given the choice between what the CDC says and what that dude on Facebook who swears he knows better says, we went with the CDC. It was tricky, as everyone knows. Initially, we were pretty alone. I remember the first time I walked into the grocery store with a mask on and felt so conspicuous and foolish even though I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do. “Two weeks,” we were told back then. But not enough people bought into even the reality of the virus (much less the protocols) for that to ever be true.

Two weeks turned into two months turned into 200 days. Until that point, we celebrated as a family with an ice cream party or a movie marathon or service in the community every ten days to both mark the time and create our positive within the big ol’ negative that was 2020. After day 200, we pared our celebrations down to once every 20 days. Like I said, we’re lucky enough to be pros at this stuff. Hard to hit us with enough lemons we can’t find more new and delicious recipes for lemonade. (That’s not a challenge, God.)

And all the while we kept pace with the protocols. We did everything we could for the sake of Cami and I’m happy to say there hasn’t been any real complaining. Even our youngest daughter—who hasn’t played with a friend in person in nearly a year now—is on board because she gets it. This is what we do. Virtual schooling? Check. Not eating in restaurants? Check. Buying lots of board games and even resorting to puzzles to entertain ourselves? Check.

So, how in the world did Elora, our oldest daughter, get COVID?

The short answer is: I have no idea. It makes no sense. She did everything correctly. We did everything correctly. It is one of the most unfair things to happen to us in a while now.

And yet, it isn’t at all. It does make sense. It is not unfair.

I’ll come back to that.

We knew something was up when Elora started complaining of “feeling sick.” None of us had had even an inkling of illness since February 2020. We took her temperature. Sure enough, she had a fever. How?

How!?

It didn’t really matter. We sent her to her room immediately and did not see her again for two weeks. For two full weeks, her only company was her turtle, all her meals were brought to her, and, I’ll be honest, there were days we kind of forgot she was there. It was harsh, it was cruel, and it was possibly unnecessary.

The day after sending her to her room, Elora went and got a local rapid test. Sure enough, COVID. So, we were all exposed. Her symptoms had only just manifested, but how many days had she had it now? Three? Four? A week? The damage, to all of us, had probably already been done. Crud, we knew of so many families where COVID-19 just rolled right on through the whole house. It was basically inevitable we would now all get it.

So, why isolate her?

Because we can do hard things. Because that’s what the CDC recommends. Because we don’t live in fear.

There’s a certain confidence that comes with knowing you’ve done everything you can. It’s not a confidence that everything will be alright, but just a peace in being able to say, “I’ve done what I can do, it’s up to God now.” Was there a moment of panic when Elora got her results back? Of course. But knowing we were acting responsibly on the knowledge and light given us meant a greater possibility of being blessed. Of having our diligence rewarded.

I don’t know about you, but the thing I’m afraid of most of all is regret.

The good news was: we truly had no reason to fear at all. None of the rest of us developed symptoms. Cami stayed safe. There was a day there when it seemed like every random tingle or small ache we might otherwise ignore was an indication of symptoms and that was weird and kind of maddening. When Erin’s allergies acted up and she couldn’t shake the thought it might be more, she went and got her own rapid test. Negative.

We all stayed healthy. Elora’s symptoms only lasted a couple days, and two weeks later she emerged. I’m telling this story for the first time now with her permission. While she was enduring her extreme isolation it was too lonely and too difficult emotionally to have her business out there. But she has things in perspective now. There’s no shame in getting COVID. She did everything she could to not get it, and even more once she did. Boy, are we grateful for her sacrifice.

So, are the protocols bunk? Everyone who knows us say that if they were to choose someone to hang out with during a pandemic it would be us. Because who else do they know who is more careful?

No one. And one of us got it anyway. So, the protocols are bunk. Stupid.

Right?

The reason COVID came to our house is the same reason why some children are born even though birth control was taken or a condom worn. You take what precautions you can, but eliminating all risk is impossible. The protocols are in place to give us the best chance at not getting this virus; they are not a guarantee.

But not being a guarantee is not the same as saying the CDC protocols are bunk. The same protocols that failed Elora also kept the rest of us—and, more importantly, Cami—from getting sick. How much worse off would we have been if we’d just said, “Eh, forget it. Elora, let’s party?”

I have no idea. And that’s the point: you don’t know what will happen, you only know what gives you the best chance. And that way…

That way lies no regret.

***Because this is the online world and I didn’t fill this little essay with a million caveats, let me just say here that this is not a political post. I mean, I hope that’s obvious, but I’m pretty sure you can post a cat video these days and be accused of being political. However, I do take certain things for granted that, for some reason, are political for some. Things like: COVID-19 is worse than the flu, COVID-19 kills a lot of people (see: “pandemic”), and wearing a mask is just the neighborly thing to do. So, just FYI, my goal here is not to engage in any of the debates of the day; I’m just sharing in the hopes it might be helpful to someone. That’s it. I learned in Kindergarten that sharing is cool. So, let’s be cool, okay?***

Will You Stay Home This Christmas? Please?

Will you stay home this Christmas? Please?

This isn’t a condemnation. This is a plea. Opinions on this virus are as varied as my friends list and I’m not trying to debate or engage with any of that. I know there are many who have probably already stopped reading and tuned me out and believe me, I’m not here to convince you. I don’t think I can and I won’t try. I love and respect you despite our differences on this issue. Feel free to move on.

I’m here for those who might be on the fence. For those who are feeling the pressure from family to join together or have been invited to a party and really want to go but maybe, in the back of their minds, there’s a voice that’s saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t.”

To you I say: please, stay home. You are not alone and I and many others support you. Cancel that party. Tell your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your children, and your friends that you love them and don’t want to upset them, but this virus is really bad right now and hospitals are overwhelmed. If we repeat the aftermath of all the traveling and togetherness of Thanksgiving it’s only going to get worse.

I genuinely don’t know what worse will look like or how we will accommodate that. For example, where I live–right now–there are no beds in the ICU left. And Christmas hasn’t even happened yet.

There are many who have been sacrificing all year to help stall the spread. It’s time to join them. It’s not just about how you or I personally will be affected by the virus. Odds are in your favor and mine that we will live through it, no doubt about that, but a virus is just that–it’s viral. The less we associate with others, the less it will spread. It’s not just about whether or not you personally will get through it, it’s about slowing that spread by minimizing contact. Please, even if you feel healthy, don’t go to a place where you are cooped up with people you don’t live with. In a very real way, people you don’t even know (and maybe some you do)–the future temporary residents of E.R.s and hospital hallways and rooms and ICUs–are depending on you for help.

I’m with you. My little family has been living a strict life of isolation for over 280 days, since March. The only other person who has been in this house since then was a handyman who came over to fix a broken sink. We all stayed on one side of the house while he made the necessary repair. Other things broke this year that we can live without. They remain broken. We will get them fixed later. When we do venture out, we mask up. We socially distance. We get takeout. We haven’t had a sickness in our house–not even a cold–since February. But even given that, for the week and a half leading up to Christmas, we have doubled down on our isolation and are not venturing out except for walks. Why? Because we’re giving our kids back their Grandparents for Christmas. They’ve been doing the same–zero contact with anyone on the outside world, not even with masks and social distancing–for 10 days as per CDC guidelines. To ensure we are all virus-free. And if you and your family are taking similar measures, then by all means, enjoy this time of year together.

But if not, please, stay home.

I’m not looking for a gold star here. I’m not telling all this because I want credit for “doing my part” or whatever. That would be dumb and I don’t care about that. I’m only speaking specifically of our efforts to encourage you and demonstrate that you would not be alone should you choose to isolate this Christmas. And it’s not just us, I have many friends who are making similar efforts, quietly and reverently with a sense of duty and purpose.

I’ll say it again: You would not be alone if you do this thing with us.

Please, let’s help keep the numbers down and give the hospital back some beds, together. Let’s stay home Christmas morning. Let’s skip the parties and family meals. Let’s do what we can not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s a sacrifice, and I get that, but you’re probably used to that, if you think about it. That’s what being a person of faith or a responsible citizen of the world is all about, right?

Huh. Sacrifice and Christmas. Can’t get much more in the spirit of things than that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Let us pray–and do our part–for a Happy New Year.

Why I #GiveThanks

Recently, Russell M. Nelson, the Prophet and President of the church I belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued a challenge to the world to spend the next week giving thanks each and every day, and post our expressions of gratitude on Social Media.

Millions of people took up the challenge. What happened was a week of almost total positivity on social media feeds and it was an incredible (and needed) change of pace.

Here, then, are my contributions:

Friday, Nov. 20

Stepping up to the challenge to #givethanks this week. I am eternally grateful for my wife who, in every other, more likely alternate universe probably ended up with someone else. I don’t think there was any ball during our pre-marriage gamesmanship I did not fumble. How she saw through my bad plays to the devastatingly handsome and athletic husband I mostly became, I’ll never know. But it fills me with gratitude. (Also, she has the best smile in the world. I should take lessons.)

Saturday, Nov. 21

Today, I #givethanks for the girls who turned my world upside down in the best possible way by making sure the second half of the life I’ve lived so far is the extended gender studies lesson I probably needed. I would do anything for them.

Sunday, Nov. 22

Say what you want about a pandemic, but DO NOT knock week-in-and-week-out church attendance in pajamas. Grateful for my Creator. Grateful for billowy pants that feel like they’re barely there. #givethanks

Monday, Nov. 23

Today, I #givethanks for hair. Not because I have any, but because I once did and I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Hair really is the whipped topping on the marvelous sundae that is our bodies. Or maybe the cherry. Or the nuts. The point is: my sundae stops at the ice cream now and I’m grateful for the time when I got to have toppings.

Tuesday, Nov. 24

I have to #givethanks for creativity. I went from wanting to be a banker or a lawyer as a kid, to creating comics, writing books, and making movies as an adult. I don’t know why I always seem to walk the wrong path first, but the brush clears away eventually and I am happy to take off running.

However, I don’t run alone. Many, many people support these efforts and have either helped or currently are helping me get these works made and out into the world. And so, I am grateful also to my creative partners: Th3rd World Studios, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, VidAngel, Stellar Lense Productions, Tremendum Pictures, Pen Name Publishing, Oops Doughnuts Productions, Samaco Films, and the many, many individuals within and without those organizations who are so talented and with whom I am so fortunate to work.

Wednesday, Nov. 25

No matter how brilliant the light—the fortune, the love, the joy, the strength, the blessing, the peace—we can never truly comprehend or appreciate it without the dark—the poverty, the hate, the sadness, the temptation, the trial, the conflict. One without the other is meaningless, so I #givethanks for both.

This may seem like some weird, not-great stock photo, but I actually took it in Venice, Italy about 4 years ago.

Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving)

Finally, I #givethanks for faith and science. For that which can give us confidence we will see an end to this pandemic, and for that which tells us how.

#givethanks for the many inspired women and men who are working tirelessly to heal and to prevent. My hope is that they are properly supported and that the rest of are making the small sacrifices necessary–masking up, social distancing, taking time away from family and friends (especially during the holidays), and prayer coupled with fasting–to stem the tide of this thing and be rid of it once and for all.

There are spiritual laws and there are natural laws, and He is the master of them both. I am so, so grateful for that understanding and the peace that comes with it. 

I gotta say, I super enjoyed doing this. I make it a point to be grateful every day, but thinking harder about it and all putting these things out there like this gave them even greater resonance and importance. My contention is that even in the most dire of circumstances we have much to be grateful for, and if we can focus on those things, we might not find our burdens changed, but they will be lifted.

Set Visit: The Chosen

I had the great privilege of spending the past two weeks on the set of The Chosen at the invitation of the show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins. Dallas, of course, recently signed on as the Executive Producer of my feature film, The Shift, and this was a chance to not only see him at work and see a production on a scale unlike anything I’d experienced before, but also an opportunity to sit at his feet and learn (well, not literally “at his feet” [which I’m sure are fine and never smell]—more like on the couch next to him).

The days were long, as they always are on a production. We were out the door by 6am most mornings, and then didn’t return until around 8pm. The set, built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is more incredible than video and pictures can capture (though, as you can see, I tried). It’s the detail of the place that got me. There’s no corner that would not stand up to the tightest closeup; the feeling of immersion as you walk the streets and dart in and out of the synagogue and dark alleyways is total. It’s hard to believe that under most of the stony facades is dense Styrofoam.

The first few days I was there, I hung back. My only purpose was to observe Dallas, invading his space while also trying very hard not distract or be a nuisance. I was a little too successful. Thanks to my reticence and the face mask I (and everyone else, of course) wore constantly, no one noticed I was there at all. The most interaction I had with anyone was when Yasmine Al-Bustami (who plays Ramah) said she liked my Baby Yoda hat and Shahar Isaac (Simon) gave me a big end-of-shooting-day hug. He probably thought I was someone he knew, but I received the hug gladly anyway. Oh, and I stole Noah James (Andrew) away for a moment to tell him how much I enjoy his (seemingly—I know better) effortless, kind, and genuine performance on the show. My usual policy with actors is to leave them alone. They are so used to being accosted and the focus they must have is total, so I don’t want to disturb that, but Noah was just kind of wandering around by himself between setups and no one else was around.

I finally switched over to Production Assistant on the fourth day, and the crew were shocked to learn I’d been in their midst the entire week. Face masks really do render you invisible, though I wouldn’t recommend betting on that and trying to sneak onto set. Security and COVID protocols being what they are (I was tested for the virus 6 times over the course of the two weeks), you would not be successful.Production Assistant is a crucial position the production depends on to prevent a slide into chaos, but it’s not the most creative or active position. At least, not as a volunteer. As a Writer/Director myself, it doesn’t exactly take best advantage of my talents, but it’s a great vantage point from which to see all working parts of the production, and that’s what I was most curious about so I was happy to serve. I worked in the Assistant Director Department, under 1st A.D. Adam Drake and 2nd A.D. Mitch Hudson. Alongside me (or rather, I was alongside them) were P.A.s Willie Mellina, Jordan Roby, Gwendelynn Martindale, and Avery and Larsen (additional volunteers whose last names I didn’t catch).

What I saw was a crew designed to support Dallas in every conceivable way, to the point where he isn’t bothered with the small things and focuses almost entirely on his primary job: directing. This may seem like how it should be—and it is—but coming from the indie filmmaking world with a couple short films under my belt and some producing credits, I know it’s very easy for a director’s day to be almost entirely about anything BUT directing.

The Chosen creator Dallas Jenkins and me.

I was fortunate enough to stay with Dallas at the rather large house where he and a few of the other people on the production were staying, which afforded us plenty of opportunities to talk outside of the set where things are quite a bit more relaxed. I found Dallas to be a forthcoming mentor, willing to answer any questions I had and share insights on casting, directing actors, working effectively with the Director of Photography, etc. that are going to serve me REALLY well as I prep and shoot my film. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the importance of a solid team that works well together. Dallas has been in the game long enough he’s been able to assemble a group of people at all levels that work incredibly well together, without the personality clashes and occasional bad apples you’d normally and understandably find in a group this size. From the Production Office to the Art Department to Wardrobe to Catering to the actors to, crucially, the team that immediately surrounds him on set day-in-and-day-out, my close observations didn’t turn uncover any weak links. I’ve worked on some great, friendly sets, but this seemed to me to be on another level.

Word slowly got out about who I was, and I even got recognized a few times by some on the production and a few extras thanks to all the livestreaming I’ve done and my dumb face being out there so much. The Shift does not have near the fame and online presence The Chosen has (…yet?), so that was nice. Not that being known is a goal of mine (I’d rather be behind the camera, thank you very much), but The Shift’s message is important, something I feel led to create, and a movie a lot of people believe in, so getting it out there and known is crucial to its success. I’ll be the vessel if I have to be, reluctantly but also gladly. I would like to have a team that works as well together and is as highly functional as Dallas has, and connecting the community of professionals who create The Chosen with me and The Shift is no small thing. It’s fair to say I’d be happy to have the opportunity to hire a bunch of them. Can’t think of a higher compliment than that.

I admit I was a bit nervous to go to Utah. Living and working with a group of people I’ve never met for two weeks is high on my list of anxiety-inducing events, and I’m sure those nerves exhibited themselves through a few awkward interactions here and there, but I figured the pay-off would be worth it. I was not only correct in that assumption, but I made friends and, in some cases, solidified existing relationships along the way.

There was Dallas, of course. With so much on his mind and plate, I was grateful to have a good portion of his time and attention. Turns out, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else (note: I did not personally verify this; I’m not a creeper).

Me and Composer Matt Nelson

Composer Matt Nelson, who along with Dan Haseltine, creates not only the score for The Chosen but will also be doing the score for The Shift, visited the set for a few days (Dan was supposed to come, too, but he was busy with his “band” or something…musicians, amirite?). After all our conversations online it was a pleasant happenstance that Matt and I turned out to be kindred spirits with a shared love of good ice cream and discussing the intersection of politics and faith. No one was listening, but I’m pretty sure we solved the world’s problems in the space of about 30 minutes.

Associate Producer Justen Overlander and Me

Associate Producer Justen Overlander is another person I connected with immediately. While his endless lobbying for playing the part of ‘Satan’ in The Shift feature film did begin to wear me down (NOT in the good way, Justen!), he proved to be as kind and personable as anyone who has seen his numerous behind-the-scenes videos for The Chosen imagines he would be. Just as an example: on my first day he found me eating alone in the on-set cafeteria during lunch and came over to sit with me. A small gesture, but my inner 4th grader who was sure the entire cast and crew was snickering at him was grateful. I made no secret of wanting to work with Justen someday. And play board games together. Turns out, it’s a shared past time.

Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) hanging with the apostles between takes.

Jonathan Roumie (Jesus) and I have exchanged a few emails over the past year and there were several moments during my first week I wanted to go up and say hi, but he’s an intensive and intentional performer and I never wanted to break his concentration. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was not due on set at all during my second week. I’d missed my chance, or so I thought. Jonathan actually stopped by on his day off, clad in jeans and a baseball cap and a face mask, but nevertheless I recognized him and took the opportunity. We compared notes on coming up through the entertainment industry (he worked for several years behind the camera, including as a P.A.) and promised to keep in touch. A gracious man I’d be more than happy to cast in just about anything I do.

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon and Me
VidAngel Moderator Guru Brad Rhees and Me

From VidAngel, I was able to connect with both Neal Harmon (CEO) and Brad Rhees, my undercover brother-in-arms during the Shift crowdfunding campaign and secret moderator on all the livestreams. Aka, “Batman.” Again, it was a true meeting of minds and hearts, with all of us sharing not only a love for The Chosen, but also for what I’m doing with The Shift and beyond. I hope to have a partnership with VidAngel for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. The Chosen is just the beginning.

(Look, I’m not trying to be annoying and sickeningly Pollyanna about how nice and supportive and positive everyone was, but it’s simply the truth. For me personally, I’ve fought for a long, long time to get to a place where I’m working with people who share my passions and who believe in me and the kinds of stories I want to tell, and for a good while there I wasn’t even sure that was possible. Now that it’s happened, I’m going to celebrate that…and them.)

Taking a two week break from my life and my family to go visit the bubble world that is the set of The Chosen (seriously, it’s like a Fort Knox against the coronavirus; congrats to the entire COVID team) was not easy for my family, so special mention must be made of my wife, Erin, for making this all possible. All I can say is: it was worth it. I learned SO MUCH (only a tiny bit of which I’ve revealed here), and it made me even more excited to get going on my own project.

There is a wave of good—genuinely GOOD—Christian/faith-based entertainment coming, and The Chosen is ground zero. Hollywood is going its way, so we’ll go ours, but we have to be as good as or better than them, artistically speaking. To get just a tiny peek at those who actually ARE doing it better was an amazing thing. It looked and felt exactly as I’d hoped. I’ve been saying since I first saw The Shepherd (the Chosen pilot) that The Chosen—the quality, the depth of characterization and storytelling, the high production values, etc.—is what I aspire to, but now I have such a better idea of how to hit the target.

Just happy to be here

A big thank you to Dallas and the entire Chosen team.

How to Survive a Family During a Pandemic

It’s not just this virus. Literally anything that happens to us, good or bad, either draws us more closely together or rips us apart. A pandemic like COVID-19, of course, draws us together no matter what. We quarantine. We lockdown. We huddle together in a bubble held together by, in some cases, nothing more than proximity. The question isn’t just whether we can survive the virus, it’s whether or not we can survive each other.

Are we a family of ships passing in the night, or is there a love still there that can be rekindled by a whole lot of togetherness?

I want to make two things clear up front before I dive into this:

  1. I’m the writer in the family or you’d be hearing from my wife, Erin, right now. The following is all down to her. Her ideas, her initiatives, her glue holding us all together.
  2. All of this requires effort. I know it’s easier to be lazy during a pandemic, but that way lies madness. Family is work. Family during a pandemic is a little more work. No way around it.

Okay. Here it is. The following is what the Heasley family has been doing the past four months to survive each other during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Your mileage may vary.

CELEBRATIONS

When so many things are going wrong, you’ve got to elevate the good. We will take any excuse to celebrate. And I mean, ANY. Yes, we’ve done things like in-home celebrations of birthdays and our eldest daughter graduating from high school and an in-home prom with the help of John Krasinski, but we’ve also come up with a completely made up reason…

The pandemic itself. Starting on Day 50 and every ten days since, we’ve put together themed celebrations just to say to ourselves, “Hey, we’re doing this, we’re staying in as much as we can, we’re masking up, we’re avoiding anyone who doesn’t live in this home, and we’re doing our part. Let’s celebrate that.”

Here’s what that’s looked like so far:

Day 50 – Family Sock Hop

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.13.52 PM

Day 60 – Mocktail Night

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.15.49 PM

Day 70 – Family Fun Run

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.17.12 PM

Day 80 – 80’s Movie Festival

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.18.34 PM

Day 90 – Water Day (New trampoline with sprinklers and water balloons/guns)

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.19.53 PM

Day 100 – Service to Others and Ice Cream Sunday

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.21.33 PM

Day 110 – Blanket Fort Day

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.22.57 PM

 

Day 120 – Spa Day

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.25.27 PM

Day 130 – Christmas in July

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.26.46 PM

Day 140 – International Night (Trivia and food from around the world)

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 3.28.09 PM

Consequently, marking time during the pandemic has gone from a depressing thing to an exciting thing. Yeah, it’s a lot of work for us (again, mostly Erin), but for our kids they’re going to look back on this time as difficult, yes, but also special. Exciting, even.

I mean, everybody got presents during Christmas in July. Our kids should be LOVING this. And they do.

ONE HOUR CLEANINGS

Every day. Every day except Sunday we get together as a family and clean for one hour, at 11 AM. Four out of five of the people who live here are able to participate, which means that our house is getting four hours of cleaning every day.

Within two weeks we had cleaned literally everything in the house. Spring cleaning the likes of which we have NEVER done before. Now, it’s just upkeep. Really easy stuff. We even folded in a repaint of the bathroom over the course of a week because there’s just less to do now.

Look, my family HATES cleaning. I don’t think we even started cleaning the house in a significant way until around Day 100 because we hate it so much, but it has made a HUGE difference. We are in this space ALL THE TIME, and having it clean just FEELS good. Plus, no one gets mad at anyone else because their stuff is somewhere it shouldn’t be because know that 11 AM the next day it’ll get picked up.

Or fed to the dogs. I don’t make the rules.

ROUTINE

Speaking of doing things every day, a routine is essential for a time like this. The days can easily get away from you, you can lose track of time, and you can be so unproductive if you don’t have your routines in place. Besides the cleaning, we also get up by 9:30 AM each morning (why wake up any earlier when you don’t go anywhere?), eat dinner together as a family every night around 6 PM, read scriptures and pray together as a family at 7:45 PM, and the parents take over the TV at 8 PM. Because we paid for it.

Simple stuff, but it keeps our clocks in order and gives structure.

BREAK THE ROUTINE

If the routine is wearing you down, it’s not doing its job. Take breaks! Just the other day, Erin woke up and said “I can’t clean today.” So, we didn’t! And we didn’t the next day, either. Or the day after that (mostly because that day was Sunday). But today? We were right back on it. Breaking the routine is just as important as keeping the routine. So, break it.

But then get right back on it.

ICE CREAM

Sometimes, you need ice cream. That’s it. That’s the tip.

(But don’t overdo it.)

GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE

Don’t be in each other’s business all the time. We got both Animal Crossing and Minecraft for our Nintendo Switch for our youngest. She hasn’t seen a friend since March and it’s her major form of entertainment and socialization, sadly, but more importantly it keeps her in a private space at a time of her life when she can kind of talk your ear off.

Best way to not get on each other’s nerves? Don’t be in the same space all the time. Respect the need for privacy.

DON’T OBSESS OVER THE NEWS

The job of the news is to inform, and the most essential information is always going to be bad news. There’s a lot of bad news right now, and a lot of disagreement about what is and is not true about that bad news. You can drive yourself mad trying to sort through it all, and everyone I know who lives on a steady diet of news (TV, in particular) is pretty sure the world is going to end, like, tomorrow.

That’s not a super healthy place to be, but if that’s the place you insist on being, don’t take your family there with you. Not everyone wants to go. We talk about current events in our house, but we don’t dwell and we are conscious of who is in the room and what age they are. There’s only so much we can control, but controlling our home environment? Well, that’s all up to us.

FIND GOD

This isn’t going to resonate with everyone who reads this, but find God in all this. He is, I assure you, there. I’m not super old, but I’m not super young either. I’ve been through some stuff, and I’m telling you that even in the darkest of times–ESPECIALLY then–God is there. He cares about you. He loves you. (Yes, he’s allowing all this to happen, but that’s for a purpose that would take a whole other blog to cover (or, y’know, a movie I wrote). )

He’s in the kindness of strangers. He’s in the smile of those you pass by. He’s in the hug of a child and a meal shared. He’s on the other end of the line when you pray. I have felt tremendous comfort through all of this, and, I would argue, my wife has been tremendously inspired through all this by the Spirit of God. We are constantly, constantly looking to Him, and because of that we know peace.

And because we know peace, the Heasley family is more than just surviving each other during this forced togetherness. I daresay we love each all the more.

The Trap of Nostalgia

I grew up in two places, primarily, and they are both special to me, but the first thing I think of when I reflect on either one is gunfire.

The place where I lived was the home I grew up in on Buckingham Way. My parents moved us away from there after a FBI sting operation at a mini-mart a stone’s throw away resulted in two Agents dying and the killers hiding out in our neighborhood. One of them in the house behind ours. We were trapped until the criminals were found later that morning; my first experience with quarantine. I remember it being a lot more fun than the current one.

The second place I grew up in was my Dad’s store on the very outskirts of Fresno, where he sold guns, fish bait, sodas, candy, and cigarettes—and not always safely (I’ll spare you the details in this post). Despite the violence of the area and my father’s occupation, I spent a LOT of time in “The Shop” working, playing, shooting plastic army men out back with a BB gun, waiting for dad to finish work so we could go to a movie, and playing “fish out of water” with the minnows in the tanks he kept in the back. Just to torture them. The Shop is firmly imprinted as a magical place on my brain, burned alongside every terrible thing that happened there and because of it. In The Other Side of Fear, my forthcoming book* about all the violence Dad suffered at the Shop and the growing up I did in between it all, I describe my time there this way:

A full-sized Donkey Kong video game cabinet sat near the front door. I spent every possible minute jumping barrels and rescuing damsels in distress, my Atomic Fire Ball cooling in a Dixie Cup full of water next to the joystick (a low-rent chemistry experiment that made it easier for me to skip the “fire” and get right to the sugar). Meanwhile, just a few feet away, someone would ask Dad if he could see a handgun before purchasing a Coke and a pack of Marlboros.

I knew there wasn’t much to it. The entirety of the Shop seemed quite a bit smaller than the three-bedroom house we lived in. Definitely dustier. Winds from the surrounding countryside and farmlands kicked up the dirt surrounding it on the regular, pushing it all inside and casting a thin blanket of wispy grime on the cracked cement floor. A broom behind the counter justified its existence by shooing it all away on at least a quarterly basis. Deep, muddy puddles dressed the Shop on all sides after a rain, with the exception of the side it shared with the bar next door. The front faced out toward the highway, a flat slab of concrete its only accouterment. If you could see it. The manmade parking surface was usually covered in oil and sludge.

The backrooms—secret places at every grocery store and mini-mart my father didn’t own—didn’t hide anything special. Just palettes of beer and soda. The walk-in freezer housing the fishing bait Dad distributed throughout the Valley, as effective as it was as a refuge during the summer, reeked of worm and earth.

I was Bill’s Son, the little prince within the Shop that was his kingdom. The Donkey Kong games were always free of charge. So were the New York Seltzers (always the Vanilla Crème) that gave such sweet relief when the temperatures swelled and the swamp cooler wasn’t cutting it. Drinks, Frozen Burritos of questionable nutritional value, and candy (whose nutritional value—or lack thereof—was never in question) were all there for the taking. Long as I asked King Dad first.

That is a child’s description of a childlike time, devoid of any discussion of the perils or appropriateness of such a place. I didn’t even blink as I ran past the .45’s and the 30 ought 6’s on glorious display in their glass cases. The moral implications of my father making his living by selling instruments of death were too unknown for me to even consider. Neither did I ever imagine that any of the many robberies or arson fires the Shop suffered could occur while I was there. They never had, so why would they? And it never, ever crossed my mind the emotional and financial toll running such a place and depending on it for income took on my mother and father. Not even when Dad desperately sought employment or business opportunities elsewhere did it occur to me that maybe he didn’t love the Shop as much as I did. I thought he just wanted a change of pace; somewhere else fun that I could run around in.

I try not to be nostalgic. There’s so much that’s new, and so many things old in this world I’ve never experienced that I think looking back, even wistfully, can be a trap. We can sometimes mistake times gone by as the very best times, especially compared with today, but it’s often not really the case. Saturday Night Live isn’t “not funny anymore,” you’re only remembering the good sketches. Likewise, recalling the 1950’s as a golden age for morality in the United States is to deny the reality of so many Black Americans and women for whom it was a time of denied rights and diminished personhood.

The Shop wasn’t just my own personal arcade and Dad’s kingdom. It was his death trap.

When I look back on my childhood, the wonderful sits alongside the horrific, comfortably. This is why I can both be glad my daughters haven’t ever experienced the violence and fear my brothers and I did, and I can want to tell them all about it like it was the coolest thing ever, too. Because it was. It was very cool. Fun, even. That’s both the prerogative of youth and the privilege of looking back. Of nostalgia.

TheShop2020

Yesterday, I went and visited the site of the Shop, right at the end of Hwy 180 going West out of Fresno. It’s not there anymore. It was demolished some years ago, and nothing has been built to take its place. The Shop was right there, in the space where there is now only dark brown dirt and odd pieces of litter thrown out of speeding, passing cars.

I got out of my car and walked around a little. At near 100 degrees, it was hot, as it always seemed to be whenever I visited the Shop, even in the winter. There’s an AM/PM going up across the street and the highway didn’t used to end right there, but otherwise the surrounding area looks the same.

But it doesn’t feel the same. I got out of the car because I wanted to feel the space again, or at least see if I could. But I couldn’t. The Shop is gone, and it took all the ghosts with it.

Probably better that way.

*The Other Side of Fear is due out Oct. 13, 2020 from Cedar Fort Publishing and will be available in a variety of formats.