As a general rule I am not a terribly social person, and in fact avoid in-person social interaction whenever possible, so when I was told to isolate myself because of a global pandemic, I didn’t have to even think twice about it. No problem, I thought, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.
I’m quite certain that introverts the world over were downright relieved that for at least a few weeks or months, the world would operate on their terms, instead of the other way around. We would sit home with our books and our laptops, communicating electronically, all the while never coming into contact with another person face to face for the duration. What could be better?
But as we cross over into more than two weeks of being stuck at home, if not entirely inside, I must admit, it is starting to wear thin. Sure, there is always something for me to do. Work. Write. Draw. Read. Watch movies. Yard work. Buy stuff I don’t need from Amazon. Nap. Stare into the fireplace. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Or whenever a loss for anything else, to read the endless news reports detailing the inevitable decline of Western civilization.
Stir is a bit of old world slang used to express a state of confinement in prison (Middle English stiren, Old English styrian; German stören; akin to Old Norse styrr). To go stir crazy was to become mentally deranged due to a long imprisonment.
But without breaking up the day with something as mundane as driving to work, going out to lunch, or even going to the grocery store, the walls are starting to close in.
I love my home office. It’s got literally everything I typically need. Books. Computer. Journals. iPad. Phone. Stereo. Internet. It’s next to the bathroom and just steps away from the kitchen. But I’ve been sitting in this chair for about sixteen days, more or less eight hours a day, or roughly 128 hours, and I have to say, I could use a change of scenery.
I really can’t complain though. I’m not in prison or the intensive care unit. I’m able to come and go as I please. I have access to all manner of diversions and entertainment. I am healthy. My bills are being paid—for the time being. I am safe and secure and warm. All in all, I’m doing better than most.
But what would a true first world problem be if not for an abundance of angst in the midst of our great bounty?
As the comedian Louis C.K. once observed (before he was canceled by the American media), “Everything is amazing and no one is happy.”
From time to time, I have to remind myself how good I have it, so as not to fall into the trap of self-pity. This is meant to be helpful, and in no way a humble-brag, so bear with me as I paint a rosy picture for myself of all that life has given me. Just to keep things even, let me start with all things I am happy not to be doing. I’m thrilled not to be commuting three hours round trip four days a week (even though I’m fortunate to work at least one day a week from home). I’m happy to not be traveling anywhere by car, limo, bus, boat, or plane. I’m not missing sitting in a hermetically-sealed office breathing toxic, recirculated air or sitting in endless meetings of any kind.
“Everything is amazing and no one is happy.”Louis C.K.
But there really are some honest to God things I am actually enjoying such as three home-cooked meals everyday. I get to cook the occasional meal (though it’s mostly my wife), write stories, read interesting articles and books, stare at my fireplace in the evenings, listen to endless music, and even open a window on the random nice weather day in order to let a little fresh air in.
If it weren’t for our normal onslaught of wet spring weather, we’d probably not even notice that we hadn’t gone anywhere. We have a beautiful yard and a lovely low cedar deck. If the weather ever breaks, we might end up spending more time outside, working on the yard or the garden. My wife has already started a slew of seeds in little pots in her sun-filled reading room. She’s got veggies and lavender, flowers and herbs. All growing up towards the light in little earthen pots.
Even before we were hit with the COVID-19 pandemic and forced to shelter in place, there were two things that changed my life rather drastically. The timing was coincidental, but happened within days of one another.
I quit drinking and Facebook. Simultaneously.
I’m not exactly sure how they’re connected, but I feel most certain that they are, if not to each other, than definitely to my all-around sense of malaise. Neither were good for me and both held an illogical control over my life, each asking for undue attention and taking up far too much of my time.
They say moderation is the key to many things in this life, but alas moderation has never been my strong suit. I tend to be all in on everything. When I smoked, I went through a pack of cigarettes a day or nothing at all. I have, at three separate times, stopped eating solid food for 30 days at a time, drinking only fruit and vegetable juice. I was just never one of those people who could have just one drink or just one smoke. Give me the bottle and the carton, or keep it all to yourself. Even now, I get the twinge that I would really like a drink, especially in the evenings. Something to take the edge off. But one of the things I learned from when I quit smoking for the last time, was that what I really like is the idea of it. When I quit smoking, I would crave a cigarette and then think about the fact that as soon as I lit it, I would hate it and regret it, and spend the rest of the time, just getting through it. I liked the idea of smoking far more then I liked the act of smoking. I liked the pomp and circumstance of it all. The pageantry and the paraphernalia. Drinking is much the same way for me. My intention was never to get drunk with alcohol, and most people could hardly tell if I was drinking or not. I enjoyed the habit of it mostly. But being clear-headed and not hung over is definitely a big improvement overall. It’s not a huge difference most of the time, but it’s enough.
Learning to balance our priorities in life is everyone’s problem and most likely the key to whatever happiness we can hope to squeeze out of our inexplicable existence. We all know this, I believe, at least in theory, but how many of us are effective at putting it into practice in our everyday lives? What is the opposite of balance? That’s where I’m usually floundering.
It’s not all a bad thing. Going balls-to-the-wall affords me the ability to produce an incredible amount of creative output, and allows me to be hyper-focused on my work. I used to tell people that my social skills were in inverse proportion to how much I needed to get done in a short period of time. I could get a big job done in a short period of time, with a high level of quality, but I wasn’t going to be terribly nice about it. There is always a trade off.
So now I sit here in my office, listening to orchestral music with the rain hitting the windows, typing away on my keyboard, clickity clack, and thinking of what to do next. I’ll likely write a bit more, read a bit more, post some nonsense on twitter, then shut it down for the evening. I’ll go downstairs, light a fire, and talk to my wife before dinner.
It’s what we do.