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  • Writer's pictureJason Simms

How I am practicing my Social Distancing.

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

As many of us are out of work during the crisis of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), if you're like me, you are grateful to have nature in your home. My houseplants and fish aquarium are providing me with much needed bio-feedback during the pandemic crisis here in New York City. Instead of responding to Performance Reports for CABARET, preparing a multi-media virtual reality experience for exhibition, or helping A LEG UP get on its feet before tech, I, like most of you, have been keeping extremely close quarters and have been trying to occupy my time around the house. While I am fortunate enough to teach one class this semester at Montclair State University, it does not require ALL of the time I am used to spending on projects and teaching. (Look for another blog in regards to remote teaching in the near future!)

A white Sketch model for A Leg Up at Bristol Riverside Theatre
A white sketch model for A LEG UP, indefinitely postponed at Bristol Riverside Theatre.

In addition to the lack of work, I have personally felt the impact of this virus as acquaintances and dear friends have tested positive, suffered, and even passed away from COVID-19. I admit to not feeling particularly social lately, even if remotely.

During this crisis, keeping myself occupied with things to do is absolutely essential to my mental health and well-being. Perhaps, some of you have seen my satirical, though sincere Social Distancing Fashion renderings. These renderings were inspired by the Social Distancing recommendations set forth by the CDC -- I hope they have provided some levity during this strange period of time.

In addition to some Orwellian fashion trends, my fish & fish aquarium and house plants occupy a good part of my extra time. In fact, I am even trying to grow some bok choy rescued from the supermarket. It is blooming and producing small offshoots already.

My houseplants are quite enjoying the effect of the recent equinox. New growth and new plant babies are springing up with vigor and persistence. My tillandsia ionantha rubra has four pups growing after displaying a phenomenal bloom last fall. My monstera deliciosa gifted via by mail to me by my friend Christopher is thriving and putting out some gnarly aerial roots. My moth orchid has produced another spike waiting to bloom, and all other plants are starting to develop spring and summer growth. Even the nepenthes has tiny budding pitchers just waiting to grow and catch insects.

Tillandsia Ionantha Rubra Bloom and Pups.

Between myself and my partner's houseplants, our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment has nearly two-hundred plant specimens. Corn Plants, Peace Lillies, various tillandsia, Ficus Trees, Peperomia, Spider Worts, Chinese Evergreen, Pothos, Aloe, Haworthia, Spider Plants, monstera adansonii, Snake Plants, Zee Zee Plant, Rubber Tree, Pitcher Plant, Majesty Palm, and many different succulents are all part of our large plant family to help our apartment feel less like a quarantine zone and more like our own private urban terrarium. In the coming week or two I imagine some repotting of various plants to take place -- assuming we can access the supplies we need.

In addition to the myriad of plants I take care of, my other ongoing project is my fish aquarium. Those who know me well know that my fish aquarium is probably my personal pride and joy. My 17 gallon planted fish aquarium contains multiple plants itself: Java Fern, Java Moss, Amazon Sword, Salvina, Duck Weed, and Dwarf Grasses. The aquarium is currently home to 6 neon tetras, 5 adult female guppies (including Coral, the matriarch), assassin snails, trumpet snails, amano shrimp, and many upon many young guppies that are now about 1/4" long. At the moment, I am in the process of starting a new tank to house these young'ns as finding homes for them has become difficult during the new era of social distancing. Also, I will need to separate the males as they develop in order to decrease the natural rate of procreation of these fish. Female guppies are capable of holding viable sperm for up to 9 months, so even if you have a male-free zone, life finds a way.

It may surprise some that an aquarium could consume so much of one's time, but it takes a lot of work and upkeep. Changing 50% of the water once a week is a necessity with the aquariums current bioload as is doing regular tests for water quality. Water changes require using a water conditioner that breaks down the chloramine bond found in tap water and adding a half a tea spoon of aquarium salt per every five gallons help keep the water in a biologically flourishing state. Regulating pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels are all necessary as well. My tank sits solidly at a pH level of around 7. All ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels are at 0ppm as these compounds are toxic to fish. Having a heavily planted tank is very useful in maintaining water quality as the plants act as a natural filter absorbing organic toxins and turning them into oxygen and new plant growth. Also, shrimp and snails help as an active clean-up crew. The temperature of the tank is maintained at 80 degrees using a thermostat heater. The lights are on a 12-hour-cycle timer and function automatically. It is important to give any ecosystem some "night time", especially if young offspring are involved.

The 17 gallon tank.

With New York City's current social distancing measures and current medical opinions regarding COVID-19 and it's affects on those with asthma, having the fish aquarium and plants has helped me cope with not being able to enjoy the world outside of the apartment. I may not have a garden, terrace, or yard in which I can retreat while practicing suggested social distancing methods, but I do have my own way of keeping myself busy and in touch with the natural world.

A toothbrush on a stick is a useful tool.

This has been a difficult time for many, especially in New York City at this very moment as we are the current "epicenter" of the spread of the virus. If starting an aquarium or introducing some plants into your home seems like something you might be interested in terms of helping curb your "cabin-fever", I would be happy to guide and answer any questions you may have.

This gif shows a time when we had male guppies.

Also, during this time, my partner and I are preparing to move out of New York City to Ithaca, NY as I have recently been offered and accepted a Tenure Track Assistant Professor position with the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA) at Cornell University. In the coming weeks, the move is going to take up a lot of our time as we prepare to pack-up and resettle in our new home.

I would be so curious to know how you are practicing your social distancing. Please let me know if you are up to it!

Female Guppy .gif
Momma Coral, our Aquarium Matriarch

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