Write every day: Biomimicry in the time of coronavirus

I wrote a piece for the Biomimicry Institute titled “A Quiet War: Biomimicry in the Time of Coronavirus about how a biomimicry call-to-action can help us now during coronavirus and fortify our healthcare system and economy when we face future pandemics. Here’s the link:

Here’s the full story:

Never underestimate the power of the small. In a matter of weeks, the microscopic virus COVID-19 has reshaped our macroworld in ways we never imagined possible. It is understandable that many feel fear, anxiety, and distress right now.

Active participation in an effort to help others is one way to temporarily alleviate some of those emotions. Biomimics have a valuable role to play in this moment. As biomimics, we are trained to find solutions to the world’s complex and often-painful challenges by turning to nature’s designs for guidance and wisdom.

First, we must scope the challenge we face. What do we know about the context of COVID-19?

  • There is currently no cure, vaccine, nor medical treatment.
  • It is a novel virus, meaning that it’s new to the human species; this explains why we do not yet have a medical solution to it.
  • The research on this virus is being conducted urgently and collaboratively all over the world by our colleagues with expertise in infectious disease and public health.
  • From past experience with treating other novel viruses, a cure, vaccine, and treatment could be as much as 12-18 months away. Why is the time horizon so long? The medical solutions must be created, administered, tested, analyzed, approved, scaled, and then distributed. Scientists are working at a feverish pace to do this work, and we must understand that this process, to some extent, takes time. Therefore, in the short-term, we must fill the gap between now and the time when we have a medical solution.
  • We do know it spreads by person-to-person contact. This is why social distancing is so important right now to limit and contain the spread as much as we can for as long as we can.
  • Though we are not certain how long the virus survives on different surfaces, we know it survives for some amount of time and that the amount of time it survives can vary by different surface types (metal, plastic, cardboard, etc.).
  • Soap and hot water, as well as hand sanitizer with 60-percent alcohol content, breaks down the virus.
  • Healthcare workers are the absolute heroes of our time. They are our frontline of defense in this pandemic. We must urgently do everything we can to protect their health, because they are coming into contact with the virus continuously throughout their work as they care for sick patients.

For it being a novel virus, all of this context is a tremendous help to us from a biomimicry perspective. When we synthesize all of this information, we can build out the frame in which our solution must work and identify which types of solutions we need to help find. It’s in this spirit that we present a call to action to the entire biomimicry community to develop innovation in materials science and product development in the following fields:

Medical innovations

Nature has many possible solutions to future pandemics and existing viruses. Species such as a wide variety of bats seem to be able to carry these diseases and not succumb to them. Studying these species and distilling the deep design principles of their abilities to be carriers could hold powerful keys to human health. Wiping them out through climate change, habitat loss, and hunting could literally translate into wiping out their potential to help us find preventions, cures, and treatments. Species conservation is vital to human health. Let’s honor what other species have to teach us. Let’s protect them and learn from them.

Medical technology

One of the greatest shortages right now in the healthcare field involves PPE—personal protective equipment. Medical masks, gowns, face shields, and shoes are vital to protect our healthcare workers while they are saving the lives of and caring for people who are so sick from COVID-19 that they need to be hospitalized or placed in the ICU.

It might seem simple to just ask PPE manufacturers to increase their output. The challenge is that these manufacturers are facing shortages of the raw material to create PPE, which are mostly made from specialized types of plastic woven in specific ways by specialized machines. We need better materials (and more of them) to create these lifesaving products, and we need faster, easier, cheaper, and more efficient ways to manufacture them.

There has never been a more urgent time to develop biodegradable materials that can replace the various types of plastic with a more sustainable material.

Food packaging

The discussion about plastic also leads directly into our food packaging issue. Much of our food is packaged in plastic for sanitary reasons, and sanitation has become a hot button issue in the past months due to COVID-19. Plastic packaging, like medical waste, is a main contributor to the plastic waste issue we have. By developing a biodegradable alternative to plastic, we may be able to feed two birds with one seed—create an alternative and sanitary packaging material for food and an alternative material for PPE.

Surface coverings

In addition to washing our hands, we’re also cautioned to avoid touching surfaces whenever possible, because the COVID-19 virus lives on surfaces for some amount of time. If someone with COVID-19 touches a surface and then at some later time someone else touches that same surface, they risk getting the disease. One solution that would be immensely valuable would be some type of covering (a film, paint, casing, etc.) that would resist the attachment of viruses to it, or better yet degrade them on contact the way that soap and alcohol do. This type of material would also be used in PPE to resist the attachment of the virus to keep it clean and sterile.

Cleaning and personal care products

Sustainable cleaning and personal care products could also be a solution to the PPE shortage and the need for the sterilization of physical and personal surfaces. Healthcare workers could safely re-use PPE if it could be properly cleaned and sterilized. Likewise, if there was some type of personal care product (a lotion, gel, etc.) that we could put on our hands that would degrade the virus on contact, that would also be a tremendous help.

Short-term solutions with long-term benefits

While so much of our collective attention is now focused on COVID-19, our efforts have far-reaching benefits that will last long after this current pandemic ends. And it’s not a matter of if we’ll see another pandemic in our lifetimes, but when. COVID-19 will not be the last time we face a viral pandemic. With climate change, we are likely to see more pandemics in the future than we’ve seen in the past. Innovations in all of the areas detailed above are not only helpful for managing COVID-19. They would help us better manage any crisis like this in the future.

Our healthcare systems are at the breaking point now, because we have not been properly preparing for an event like this despite the warnings from epidemiologists and public health professionals. They warned us. We ignored them. Let’s not do that again.

Let’s innovate now to help our current situation, and help our future selves better identify and manage a pandemic when it finds us again. There has never been a better time to turn to nature for help, counsel, and wisdom. Biomimics, our time is now. The world needs us; it is crying out for help and innovation. Let’s answer that call.


Write every day: How my writing is helping me cope

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.” ~Hannah Arendt

As a fiction writer, I create worlds and characters who are as real to me as anything and anyone outside my door. They’re my friends. They’re my lifeline right now. As always, they’re helping me write my way out. This doesn’t mean I’m not scared or worried or anxious. I am all those things. My writing gives those emotions and feelings and thoughts some place to go, it gives me a tool that helps bear the burden so my own heart and mind and shoulders don’t have to bear them alone.


Write every day: Coronavirus Log #4—Plastic

A bright bit of news today. This weekend I turned in the rough draft of my biomimicry project about creating a biodegradable alternative to plastic. When I started this research back in 2019, I never imagined that it would take on the relevance it has today. In a time when it’s easy and understandable to feel useless or helpless, this project has given me an intense sense of purpose.

Being in NYC amid the coronavirus, there’s a lagging threat to our environment that isn’t yet coming into focus because we have to be focused now on protecting and saving human lives and protecting our healthcare workers and first responders. All of this personal protective equipment (PPE) of masks, gowns, gloves, and respirators, as well as medical equipment like ventilators, syringes, tubing, IV drips, etc. are all made from plastic. Even all of the sanitary wipes we’re using – personal and household disinfecting – are all plastic. What we will eventually have to reckon with is that coronavirus has created an exponential spike in plastic waste that may be very slow to ease, and it will have dire environmental consequences.

It happens to be that polypropylene, the kind of plastic I study, is one of the most popular plastics used in healthcare. Most of this plastic medical waste is either buried or burned. It’s not recycled because it’s (rightly) considered biohazard waste. With coronavirus, we’re obviously seeing a huge uptick in the amount of this plastic waste from hospitals, as well as more plastic waste from homes, offices, restaurants, stores, etc. because of disinfecting wipes. The increased demand is also causing us to extract and process more fossil fuels which significantly contribute to climate change.

This will eventually become a problem because plastic is already a huge issue that’s contributing to climate change and the degrading of our ecosystems. Now, it will exacerbate a difficult problem even further. Anything that accelerates climate change even further contributes to creating an environment where viruses are more likely to thrive. It’s a vicious, ugly cycle.

So what could make a difference? Creating a biodegradable, virus-resistant alternative to plastic as the raw material to create PPE, medical devices, and healthcare products. That’s what I’m working on with the lab I’m collaborating with here in New York City. This research has now taken on an added importance and urgency. We’ll be polishing this research over the next two weeks and submitting for funding months sooner than we ever imagined we would. Our hope is that we will be able to create a company to create jobs to create products that create the opportunity for a greener, healthier healthcare system that will be much better prepared when a public health crisis like this finds us again (and it is a matter of when and not if). It will also help us create a cleaner, healthier world in general if we are successful in replacing plastic with a biodegradable alternative that has all of plastic’s virtues and none of its vices.

We have a long way to go and we have a lot of hurdles to clear but beginning this work during this time feel like a way to make some progress. At the very least, it helps me feel like I’m doing what I can to be both helpful and useful from where I am with what I have.


Write every day: Coronavirus Log #3

In these final moments of the evening, I’m coming to this log tired and anxious and grateful and sad. It’s a jumble of emotions that feels like a never-ending roller coaster. I woke up to a police helicopter flying over my building; there was a fire set to three subway stations in my neighborhood. One was badly damaged, two were not. We lost a dedicated transit worker and several people were hurt in a city where we already have too many people dying and too many people hurt. The police suspect it to be arson.

It was sunny and warm today, a day that would have felt like a perfect spring day. The parks and streets would have been full of people. Laughter and smiles would have been everywhere. There would have been ice cream trucks and people eating outside at sidewalk cafes. Dogs would have been barking and playing fetch. We would have all reveled in the sunshine and in the fact that spring had finally sprung. Instead, we huddled inside and cheered for our healthcare workers from our apartment windows high above the streets. Alone. Together. Apart. Connected. Sad. Hopeful. Tears and smiles and every emotion in between. We’re all mixed up now and I don’t know when or how we’re going to make it right again. But I know we’re trying. So many people are trying and giving and supporting and donating.

I talked to friends and family and classmates today. I wrote. I walked my dog very far away from everyone else. I made my meals. I listened to music. I watched live cams of the deep blue sea. I listened to the news. There is some light, some progress, and that light shines because it is surrounded by so much darkness.

The number of sick people mounts. The death toll climbs. The additional hospital beds are built by brave military soldiers for brave healthcare workers being asked to serve as soldiers. The supplies are scarce, and therefore precious. They are the difference between living and dying for too many people. We sit while Washington fails us and then pats itself on the back for a job terribly done.

Every day, I give myself 10 minutes to unpack the box of my worst feelings, to imagine the worst of my fears. I take them out and look at them and toss something-like-a-prayer up to the ceiling asking for all of this to just be a terrible, terrible dream. And that something-like-a-prayer gets a simple 2-word reply fro m the abyss—”Not yet.”

I cry. I wipe away my tears. I blow my nose. I hug my dog. I put my very worst fears back in the box. I put the box back on the shelf. I go back to work—writing and creating and inventing and finding ways to be of use from where I am with art and science and business. They are the tools I have to use to be of use. And so, I use them.

It’s strange that the greatest act of love and compassion for our country and our community is to do absolutely nothing, to stay home. It feels unnatural. It feels wrong. We should be doing something. We should be taking action. We should be out in the world making it a better place. But the very best thing we can do is to stay home, stay right where we are, and do what we can from our own couches. All our productivity and hustle and ingenuity won’t save us now. What will save us is to sit and stay. I never thought I’d see this day. Never even imagined it would be possible, much less necessary.

Our Governor of New York offers us the facts and hope, which is exactly what we need in our city, our state, our country, and our world. He is the nation’s governor now, and I’m so proud he’s mine. He is a light. He is someone to look to for strength and courage and resilience, things we all need in hefty doses.

I spent a lot of time this week talking to people about how we will come through this, who we will be when it’s over, and what the price of getting through, scars and all, will cost us. We have to dare to talk about silver linings and opportunities and lessons learned. It’s all that keeps us going, and we must keep going. We are being forged right now, on the open flame. What will be left in the ash when the fire is finally tamped down by science, the only weapon we have in this war? I don’t yet. But I’m determined to find out.


Write every day: Coronavirus Log #2

Magnolias in my neighborhood

The hardest thing about coronavirus in New York is the paradox we live with in every moment. We are trying to find sources of comfort, to stay productive and helpful, and to remain calm. And, all around us, we see so many of our neighbors struggling. In yoga, we often contemplate how to be present with suffering and not succumb to it. I never imagined I would have to test my practice in this way.

First, the facts:

  • Elmhurst Hospital in Queens is facing the greatest crisis in a sea of darkness. Dr. Colleen Smith, an ER doctor there, grabbed her cell phone and filmed the scene there so that the world would know what it’s like for her and her colleagues. This is war reporting by a warrior. It’s devastating and necessary to see what’s happening there.
  • The figures are staggering: we have over 37,000 cases in the state with 23,000 of those in New York City alone. 365 NYC residents have people died from the virus. Overnight we had a 40% increase in hospitalizations in the state.
  • Anyone who says New York is “hysterical”, “over-reacting”, or “managing just fine”, or that this is a “hoax” should come sit with the families and friends of those 365 people we lost, or walk in the shoes of any one of these heroic healthcare workers.
  • We have over 5,000 people hospitalized and nearly 1,300 in the ICU, which is a 45% increase over night. Many of the ICU patients admitted before today have been on ventilators for 20-30 days, and their hope of recovery grows less likely every day.
  • For the first time since 9/11 we now have refrigerated trucks set up as make-shift morgues outside our hospitals.
  • When someone is put on a respirator, they must take painkillers, muscle relaxers, and sedatives so that their body doesn’t fight the intubation. We are running out of those drugs.
  • We are still in dire need of ventilators. Even if the splitting technology helps some respirators to service more than one patient, we still don’t have anywhere near what we need.
  • We are also in dire need of more hospital beds and Governor Cuomo is scouting more sites tomorrow to set up tens of thousands more needed beds in the greater New York City-area.
  • PPE supplies are dangerously low. You’ve probably seen the pictures of healthcare workers wearing trash bags to protect themselves. That’s what it’s come to.
  • As a result of the low PPE, we lost our first healthcare worker: Kious Kelly, an assistant nurse manager at Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan. This is my closest emergency room to my apartment and is where I was treated almost two years ago when I had a very serious double-eye infection. He was diagnosed just a little over a week ago and was immediately admitted to the ICU. He was perfectly healthy prior to COVID. His death could have been prevented with proper PPE. He died trying to save others.

The hopeful:

  • A lab I collaborate with on research efforts is having a massive call to action to bring together scientists to help fight COVID. It’s our hope that in this terrible time, we will find new innovations that can help heal our city, our country, and our world, and better equip us for future pandemics (because they will happen).
  • NYU has stepped forward to allow all of their medical, nursing, and healthcare students to graduate now so they can immediately begin helping COVID-19 patients. 
  • Many companies have offered help: personal care, hotels, airlines, universities, home goods, retail, clothing, media outlets, a small handful of celebrities (though many more should be helping), food, restaurants, banks, and energy. Here’s the full list. It all helps. We’re very grateful.
  • The number of volunteers is growing as well. We now have 52,000 volunteer healthcare workers from all over the country helping us. Nearly 9,000 mental health counselors have volunteered their services to help us deal with the mental and emotional challenges being felt all over the city and state.
  • To help with social distancing, New York is running a four-day trial of some street closures so people can get outside with some additional space while maintain proper social distancing. I’m hoping this trial goes well and that we will open more streets to be pedestrian-only.

The helpful:

  • We’re grateful for all the companies who have stepped forward to help NYC, and we need more help. If your company wants to help, please contact Governor Cuomo’s office at: Albany: (518) 474 – 8418 , New York City: (212) 681 – 4640.
  • I met with the lead scientist who’s advising me on my biomimicry capstone project. I took my moonshot and pitched an idea to him about how my research can be helpful with COVID. He was completely convinced it was the right thing to do. This weekend I’ll be formally drafting the idea for him to review, and we’re hoping to submit it for funding.
  • My work with Carnegie Hall continues. We just got back two videos that I co-directed and produced with an exceptional director of photography and crew. They came out beautifully. We’re absolutely thrilled with them and I can’t wait to share them with you soon.
  • I doubled down on my breathing (pranayama) practice. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, I figured one of the best things I can do is continue to keep my lungs strong in the event that I do contract it. Essentially, I practice a long inhale, a hold, and then a long exhale. Much like toning muscles, this helps to tone my lungs. It also calms the mind.
  • I talked to a friend of mine for a couple of hours as she navigates an end to one chapter of her career this week and begins to see what comes next. She’s fierce and fearless, and it was really uplifting to talk to her. Also, her daughter read my book in a single sitting and is already asking for the sequel and the movie. That made my day.
  • Thank you to everyone who’s been texting, calling, and emailing to check on me. Rest assured I’m fine. I’m mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially preparing myself for this to last many months. I take things one day at a time—the good and the bad—and am finding ways to be helpful and useful in this time of great need in our city. All we ever have is this present moment. That truth has come into sharp relief in this pandemic.
  • #WhenThisIsOver I’m looking forward to giving my friends hugs. I expect to see a global hugging party ensue at some point, and that is a happy thought.

The Phineas update:

  • On our afternoon walk we saw one of our elder neighbors who’s been isolating. It was warm and sunny today so she got out for a short walk wearing a mask and keep a safe distance from others. Phineas ran right over to say hello. Dogs don’t carry nor catch this virus so it’s safe for people to interact with them. She was so grateful for his wagging tail and smile. I stayed 6+ feet from her and we chatted. She said I was the first person she’s talked to in 7 days. Check in on your senior neighbors. If you see them in the hallway or outside, say hello and ask how they are. It can make all the difference, COVID or no COVID.
  • Spring is gearing up and we’re seeing lots of lovely flowers bloom. We’re grateful for both Central Park and Riverside Park in our neighborhood, and to all the park workers who take care of these beautiful spaces for all of us to enjoy.

Inspiring quote of the day:
“Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Tress don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself. A flower’s fragrance is not for itself. Living for each other is the rule of nature.” ~Unknown

More tomorrow…


Write every day: Toronto Symphony

I’m so grateful to the artists doing what they can to lift people’s spirits during this tough time. This one by the Toronto Symphony is stunning: the wonder of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It reminds for what we’re fighting for and why it’s so important to stay home to stop the spread.


Write every day: Coronavirus Log #1

Phin outside of Canine Styles, his favorite neighborhood store. They had to close due to coronavirus.

Since I’m in NYC, which is currently ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic, I decided to write daily nighttime logs for a few reasons:

1.) I wanted to give you a glimpse into life here;
2.) What’s happening in NYC now could happen in cities around the country at some point so this might serve as a ray of hope for you to see how someone gets through this;
3.) Some of the information about what’s happening here isn’t accurate so I wanted to give you a first-hand look at life here and someone to whom you can ask questions;
4.) Writing has always helped me to work through difficulty and I expect these weeks and months will be no exception

I don’t know what will come of this set of posts. My hope is that at the end of this that it proves to be fruitless because nothing happens and we quickly resume our daily activities. I don’t think that will be true, and I really hope I’m completely wrong. Time will tell.

I’ll always give you the tough news first, then move into hopeful and helpful moments, and finally give an update on my quarantine buddy—my dog, Phineas. I’ll end with an inspiring quote that helped me today.

So here’s what life’s like for me right now, what I’m thinking, and how I’m feeling:

The sad:

  • The silence is deafening. The usually buzzy, busy energy of our streets has nearly stopped. Right now, the only places open are grocery stores, some bodegas, drug stores, some pet supply stores, medical clinics, and hospitals.
  • Our hospitals are facing a huge amount of pressure. They’re running out of supplies, beds, and equipment. Our healthcare workers are absolute heroes.
  • We are just buying time. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I either already have coronavirus (I have no symptoms) or will get it. I’m hopeful that my symptoms will be mild if it happens because I’m young, healthy, don’t have any pre-existing conditions, have never smoked, and take good care of myself. That said I’m absolutely taking every possible precaution, following all guidelines, sleeping well, eating well, and exercising to stay strong.
  • The $2 trillion Senate bill doesn’t do much for New York. Even though 1/3 of our country’s cases are here and we have 15X the magnitude of the problem than the next state, we’re only getting 0.19% of the aid for the state of New York. I hope this will change. It has to change. We need more help in terms of money and supplies, and we need it now. We have a wonderful governor in Governor Cuomo but he can’t do this alone.

The hopeful:

  • The rate of hospitalization is slowing a bit. This doesn’t mean that cases are going down. It means that right now severe cases requiring hospitalization are coming in more slowly than they were over the last couple of days.
  • New York now has a mental health hotline that provides free counseling sessions thanks to 6,000+ mental health counselors who have stepped forward to help. Call 1-844-863-9314.
  • 40,000 medical volunteers have stepped forward in New York City—the vast majority of them are retired healthcare professionals or healthcare professionals who currently work at places like insurance companies.
  • The Four Seasons Hotel is offering free lodging to all medical professionals working here in New York City.

The helpful:

  • I took some time today to lay down on my yoga mat and listen to Matthew McConaughey read a sleep story through the Calm mobile app’s free programming that they released to help us through this time.
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center is one of our wonderful arts institutions here in the city and in my neighborhood. They have released so many wonderful resources through their website and social media channels, including several full concerts. Today I listened to South African Songbook – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. My heart sang right along with the music.
  • I wrote a piece today about how biomimicry can help spur innovations that will help ease this pandemic and pandemics in the future. It’s with the editor now and should be published next week. It felt empowering to use my new biomimicry knowledge to write something helpful and hopeful.
  • I can now be seen wildly waving and saying hello to people (from a very safe 6+ foot distance) I’ve never met before; to be honest, I’m just so happy to see anyone in the distance that I’ve decided they’re all my friends.
  • #WhenThisIsOver I’m looking forward to visiting the many museums filled with inspiring, priceless pieces of history and art. I’ve always been in awe of their collections over the years. Now they feel even more precious.

The Phineas update:

  • My 10-year-old dachshund, Phineas, is my quarantine pal. On his afternoon walk today he literally ran to see his favorite store in the neighborhood, Canine Styles. He loves the people who own the store and we regularly go there to say hello and pick up some treats. (The jacket he’s wearing in the picture above is from there.) They have closed because of coronavirus and Phin stood at the darkened doorway and cried. It was heartbreaking.
  • Otherwise, he’s doing well but he certainly misses all of his human and dog pals that he’s so used to seeing every day. He especially misses D is for Doggy, his doggy daycare and second home.
  • He’s more snuggly and cuddly than ever, proving that no matter how much of an expert we are, we can always improve even further.

Inspiring quote of the day:
“If you feel like you’re losing everything, remember that trees lose their leaves every year and they still stand tall and wait for better days to come.” ~Unknown

More tomorrow…


Write every day: Sundance Episodic Lab

I hope you’re all well and safe in these ever-changing times.

I have some good news in the midst of a lot of difficulty: I made it into the second round of the Sundance 2020 Episodic Lab program with a TV pilot that I wrote. I’ll know by August if I’ll be invited to their Lab in October. Just making it to the second round feels wonderful.With all the tough news in my city of New York, this is a bit of light and I’m so grateful.

Special thanks to John Bucher, Script Pipeline, Ruth Sabin, ScreenCraft, Ed Freeman, F.J. Lennon, and Ken Lacovara for their invaluable notes on my scripts and their endless stream of encouragement for my writing.



Write every day: Free meditations for troubled times

A huge thank you to the team behind the Calm app who made a set of their wonderful meditations available for free during these difficult times. Highly recommend them! I appreciate their kindness and compassion for our global community. Listen for free here:


Write every day: How can I help you?

Teachers, students, parents, what can I do to help? I have excess capacity and resources when many do not. If you need someone to chat online with your students, please let me know! Things I can talk about:

-Writing and storytelling
-Secret history
-Cool animals and plants that inspired products we use every day (biomimicry)
-Product design and development
-Paper collage art
-College prep including evaluating schools, college essays
-Theater, film, and TV writing and production
-Need something else? Just ask and I’ll learn it!

And hey, if they just need to talk to someone about anything that’s making them anxious or nervous, I’m here.❤