For the past several weeks, isolation has been all the rage. I work remotely. I make coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. I listen to the PBS news in the evenings, make myself light suppers. I choose a book to read, a thought to write, a language to learn, a show to watch. I roll out my yoga mat diagonally in narrow quarters to accommodate lateral stretches, and when the sun goes down and the heat retreats, I go for walks. This is my routine, this is my habit, today, last month, last year.
The streets are empty, those wide, long stretches of concrete avenue eerily deserted, stricken with edicts that enforce inside living, an idea so adverse to certain lifestyles it feels inept to comply; but slowly, fewer restaurants stay open to accommodate the take out orders, as slowly, pop-up residents pack up their lives and head back early to summer residences. As the numbers inch higher along the trajectory paths of TV and phone screens, the traffic streams dip lower, and cities across many parts of the world have become landscapes from the past. Because really, now that the office suites have their employees working virtually from home, now that businesses are offering online versions of services and goods, do I need to make the trek and fight the traffic to go into an office, store, or business ever again?
Space has opened up where less existed before. The land below the sky and next to the oceans has seemingly spread wider and farther. And maybe, after all, there is now space for everyone, if we take turns in using it. A peace of certain kinds has accompanied these new spaces, a peace through which one might suddenly become aware of new sounds by turning off old ones. Sounds that have space to move through; pick up a listener’s ear, a platform, a sound wave on which to travel. A whole new exercise in auditory discrimination is available in this rediscovered and ironed-out peace and space. A department store’s invasively loud jingle and an impatient customer edging right up back-to-back in check out lines are two violations of peace and space that come to mind, although many others have insidiously wrecked havoc on sensibilities before closures and distancing became mandatory.
The media try to help the extroverts with this stay-at-home exercise. They offer ways to work out at home, games to play with the kids, books to read, upgrades to premium for free, ingredients from the pantry to extract for innovative meal recipes; ways to clean and declutter, to reevaluate financial portfolios, and of course space to get your Covid-19 meme to go viral. I know it’s all out there, I know the extroverts are talking and singing over balconies, using open doors in hallways and driveways in subdivisions as forums; I know the extroverts are calling people and checking their phones for posts and the Internet for camaraderie, and the TV for updates and the radio for talk shows; but try this: check yourself. Use the new space and sound scape to closely inspect the silence and listen to how you respond to yourself, not necessarily how someone else responds to you.
These days are a suspension in time, a floating through space that is not confined to a clock or calendar. Slightly analogous to a wind-chill deep freeze in the dead of a midwestern winter, businesses and schools would close for up to three days. The frozen space zipped up both city and people-made noise, allowing the tightening of house beams to crack, the faucets to slowly drip in preventing pipes from cracking. The shutdown might recall a time suspended by a pending or post hurricane, or by a tornado that wipes a city from a map. Time came to a halt – somehow, someone, something gave you permission to do that – for only those numbered days. Either you let yourself go stir crazy, or you let yourself stir up an imagination that lay dormant for too long. It gave you just enough time to assess your life, prioritize your family and health back where they belong, or think of a terrific project to start before a generator would arrive, or a Com-Ed truck found their way through to jump start life, or somewhere in a thermometer mercury would drop, and house doors across a cold nation pushed open and wiped an embankment of snow off the stoop. Some of us said thank God, others said oh darn.
And some today are breaking the rules by driving out, walking out, the edict too strong to ignore, pressing the accelerator far out onto the highway to feel the gears shifting into movement, the wind whipping and the sun spilling through an open window; others are pacing inside, moving from one screen to another, looking out the window, checking a watch, checking their contact lists, using household goods, pets, siblings and other props to post, to connect, to exercise their right for social closeness. Others are bent over a box pulled from storage, spending hours going through old photos, old journals, old recipes; or over an old book pulled from a bookcase, long ago shelved for that one-of-these-days days or weeks, a book for which dinner must wait and space becomes larger.
Thank you to the extroverts who’ve spent hours utilizing their platforms to post a youtube video, a meme, a social media post which occasionally have been forwarded to me by friends who know that despite my laconic nature I can still belt out a good laugh. And when things get back to normal (I hereby concede early to this fact), when you’ll soon be spinning out from crowded pubs, attending lawn concerts, rubbing up chest to chest in a subway, spewing invectives to the driver squeezing into the smallest of spaces in your lane on the beltway, I will pay homage to all you do to keep this world interesting and the economy going. I appreciate all you do for us introverts, during this, perhaps your most difficult exercise of all.