Samuel is probably the most excited member of our household after picking up his report card Monday, bringing the official end to his seventh grade year. I think his favorite part was actually talking to people face-to-face who aren’t part of our immediate family, even at an acceptable social distance. He and I have been spending time together during quarantine doing stuff around the house and out in the yard...when it hasn’t been raining.

And he’s already over it.

Tennessee’s schools, at least in our rural area, decided not to do actual instruction during the lock down. Besides not having one-to-one technology, some rural places out here don’t have access to cell signals and internet. I’m talking rural-rural.

All of which left Sam more freedom to try some different forms of learning, and definitely less stress for me not having daily assignments and Google hangouts to contend with. And while Samuel has missed all his teachers and friends, he has made do with video game chats and some Facetime calls. Not that it makes up for the face-to-face contact and interaction that Samuel thrives on and loves, but it’s something.

My struggle, which has been going on longer than the lock down to be honest, is finding a proper place for all the noise. News, like a deluge on a regular day, has tripled since coronavirus entered our lexicon. The mixed messages and contrary information flying at you on social media only make it worse. Add that to the constant monologue in my head about whatever my brain decides to fixate on, and it can be a recipe for insanity.

Shutting off that monologue is a little harder than logging off of Twitter or Facebook, though I’ve learned it’s just as necessary for my general well-being, at least in limited doses.

Heck, staying home and isolating seemed like a dream to me but I’m coming to realize that just maybe too much of a good thing might actually be somewhat bad for my personality.

I think the kids call it a cope. And like most personal flaws, they are easier to spot when you aren’t looking in the mirror.

Shutting out all the noise happening around you when you need to focus and get something done can sometimes be a great talent to have, like when I’m having writer’s block and Dean is asking for my column.

But as a friend reminded me the other day, shutting off the noise can sometimes shut out good people, whether that was the intention or not, at least in my self-curated bubble.

It can sometimes be hard for me to separate people from the noise, even to my own detriment. It has always been easier to just shut out the world entirely. Easier still when there are no schedules to follow or school bus to catch, and keeping track of days only happens because I have a pill organizer.

And as I’ve thought about it a little more, it isn’t even the only cope I have been using.

It’s easy to talk about politics and policy in the abstract. It’s harder to deal with the fact that friends and family have lost jobs, security or family and friends to this virus.

It is easy to talk Dow Jones numbers and unemployment claims. It’s harder to deal with the fact that people I know still aren’t getting unemployment checks for claims made over two months ago. Some are self-employed people, like hairdressers and barbers whose livelihoods and state mandated licenses have been threatened for trying to feed their family and pay their mortgage, who haven’t been able to even file a claim.

It is easy to say that food production is essential. It is harder to talk about those employees having proper protection against COVID-19 infection and that corporate contracts are why good portions of the food supply are being killed off or left to rot. Our industries have become so specialized that the first hiccup to the system causes the whole thing to just collapse.

It is easy to say that we  have to focus all our medical attention on COVID-19, to marshal all medical resources to fight a new enemy. It is harder to talk about the diagnosing and treatments not happening for very real and deadly medical problems. Harder still to talk to people whose family member works in a hospital inside one of the hotspots and has dealt with the worst of COVID-19 infections.

It is easy to stay in a bubble of your immediate circle, only viewing life through your own lens, and being careless about what is happening outside of it. And in the age of lock down, stay-at-home orders and “new normals” that are anything but normal we all are trying to find ways to accept what has unfolded all around us. Some days I’m better at it than others.

It is hard to accept that this is our life now. That what we are living is reality, not like some Hollywood scripted movie that ends with everything perfectly resolved - complete with bad guys in jail and the hero getting the girl - but instead a messy ball of information and politics that evolves as rapidly as the news cycle can barrel ahead.

We are close to 30 percent unemployment in the private sector, and the media would rather spend a week discussing whether the president should be taking a COVID-19 preventative that he discussed and decided upon with his doctor after people in his circle contracted the virus.

We’re $24 trillion in debt, half the country is closed for business, and the Congress is lining up trillions of dollars in spending with no end in sight. If that money actually made it to those that needed it, I wouldn’t be nearly so disgusted. But just a plain reading of the just-passed relief bill shows more money to special interests and those connected to Washington, D.C. than those whose paychecks are signed by people on Main Street.

But I have to remember through my actual disgust at what passes for public policy and most everything else coming out of Washington, D.C. these days, that real people, my friends and yours, have been affected by these policies and decisions. And they had no say in any of it either.

And it is even more important to remember that while everything political may be awful... and it usually is, the people in our circles and beyond are not. Even if we (maybe more I, than we) don’t always act like it.

Staff columnist Toni Butero can be reached at or by calling (209) 862-2222.