Seeking normalcy one year into pandemic

PHOTO: elycefeliz, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

So, let’s not sugar coat this. I’ve been working from home for almost a year. And while I like my home and have everything I need to do my job here, I am starting to notice signs that this year has affected me in many poorly understood ways.

We’ve been trying to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by working from home. We live in the woods a fair distance from town so this has been a major savings on gas and especially time. In fact, we’ve gained an average of 90 minutes a day just in reduced drive time. 

It’s glorious, actually. Dinner is never stressful. We knock out chores on lunch break. Each evening becomes a welcoming canvas on which I can layer research, writing, games or Netflix. Teaching online is challenging, and not optimal for all students, but it’s working well enough for now. Everything is mellow and safe. We are helping stop the spread.

But there is a cost.

For instance, I’m going to tell you about the origin story of the Diet Mountain Dew. Early in the pandemic, during the first stay-at-home order, I decided that I needed a new quarantine beverage. I settled on Diet Mountain Dew. Yes, I know that this is one of the most baffling soft drink chemistry experiments I could ever legally ingest, but that’s what I went for.

I rarely do things halfway. The first time I went to the grocery store wearing a mask and following the little social distancing arrows around the store I bought four or five two-liter bottles of Diet Mountain Dew. I lined them up in a row on the floor of our pantry, feeding them into the refrigerator as needed. 

When I got to the last one I restocked, lining up the bottles next to the one of the old Diet Mountain Dew bottle. I thought to myself, hey, now the old one can tell the new ones what this is all about. That felt right to me. I liked that the Diet Mountain Dew bottles might build an entire cultural tradition to make sense of their short, brutal lives. 

So I’ve always restocked the supply with at least one bottle remaining. I even make sure to push all the bottles close together so they can hear the Diet Mountain Dew origin story from the old bottle. I worry that if I ever drink all the bottles that would be the end of their culture. 

It’s been a long pandemic. Yes, I will admit this. But I think it’s made me better at relationships. 

For instance, a few months ago, during the middle of the pandemic, I bought a new coffee maker after the old one bit the dust. The new one is different. It tells me when it needs to be cleaned and doesn’t stop telling me until I do. 

I like my new coffee maker. Maybe because I respect that it expresses its needs. But then I got to think about my old coffee maker. It wanted to be cleaned, too. It just never told me. So, it died dirty. I wish I could make amends but I took the old coffee maker to the dump a long time ago. 


This pandemic has been an emotional roller coaster for all of us, no matter our attitudes or opinions about the matter. We’ve watched our world change forever and we wonder when we’ll feel normal again. I like to think that if we keep telling our stories and speaking our needs, we’ll be OK.

And maybe cut down on caffeine. Yes. Maybe.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 7, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Terry Welander says

    Mr. Brown, You have been on the Iron Range for a while; but your consideration of insanity is not Iron Ranger. The story for you is called focus, focus, focus, on what you need to be doing; and keeping the Covid story in the backround; but ever present in the background to avoid contact with anyone with COVID. You know: 6 feet distancing from anyone not in your household and a face mask in public always; until vaccinated. And you should be able to get a Covid vaccination in April or May 2021; and the Johnson and Johnson Covid vacine only requires one vaccination. I found your name with the Pauluccci Planetarium and am wondering what info you could supply on the planetarium, the HCC Astronomy Course, the book for the course, and any related planetarium info to email:

  2. Coffee makers are meant to die dirty. Their culture teaches that they will be cleaned in Paradise. That new one sounds like a heretic.

  3. I’m kinda looking for old school Bunn-O-Matic industrial type percolator found in such places as church basements and VFW.

    I heard a story about Tom Petty somewhere. Apparently he had one of those, and a precise recipe involving Maxwell House in the big can. The coffee turned out real good so fancy people always tried to figure out where he bought his super elitist hippie coffee or whatever. I thought that sounded fun.

    Smart/fancy people: “Great coffee man. You should hook me up with your supplier.”

    Tom Petty: “Oh. You like it, huh?”

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.