I’ve been thinking long and hard about what to write for this entry. I knew I was going to write one, but how I would go about it was somewhat of a mystery. There are so many people meditating on the current situation, on one side or another. We’ve been so bombarded with information that at times it’s hard to keep it all straight. Everyone is posting to raise awareness, or to make rallying cries for support, or musing on how fortunate they are. I don’t want to spend this post doing any of that, but I also didn’t want to seem like I was making light of the very real and very serious situation that we’re in. So here we go:
- I’m complaining about having to switch to online instruction, sure, but I’m aware that it could be much worse. At least I can transition to online, and my students have (mostly) been great.
- I have friends and family who are in the high-risk group. I worry about them.
- Many people in my life work in healthcare. I also worry about them, and am extremely grateful that they keep doing what they’re doing, even more so than usual (many of my college friends were pre-med or pre-nursing. It’s no picnic. English is so much easier).
Okay, now that that’s out of the way...
Thoreau has gotten a lot of flak over the years for Walden, and deservedly so. The book is a dreadful, self-indulgent slog, and every few years somebody new points out that Thoreau wasn’t as independent or isolated as he claimed to be. If you want a work celebrating the natural world, simplicity, and/or self-reliance, there’s a laundry list of better and more enjoyable reads to choose from.
But the reason I bring him up is because it seems to relate to our current lifestyle, or at least to mine. We’re isolating, but we’re not totally isolated. Even though the only person I see on a daily basis anymore is my girlfriend, who lives with me, I am constantly texting, and calling, and video conferencing with the important people in my life. The fact that I can’t go out anywhere to act on these social impulses is surreal, and in those moments that I’m not interacting with someone via technology I find myself alone with nothing but my thoughts and my immediate surroundings, much as Thoreau was for his time in the woods.
I’m not living simply, certainly not in the way that Thoreau intended when he started his “isolation,” but I am living more introspectively. As much as it feels like a man trying to prove that he’s better than everyone else because of his experiment, Walden also serves as a meditation on what happens when you’re alone with your thoughts, and the kinds of things you notice when you’re not swept up in everyday life. I can get behind the spirit of that idea, even if the execution leaves something to be desired.
And that’s what I’ve been doing. Sure, I have grading to do and assignments to plan, and I spend a lot of time reading, or watching movies, or playing video games, but there are many moments in a day when I’m doing nothing. It’s not stagnation, and it’s not boredom. I just find myself sitting quietly for a moment, listening to the sounds on my semi-deserted street as I reflect on...whatever pops into my head. Sometimes I stare at my bookshelf, or the art on my walls, not because I’m looking for any sort of inspiration, but just because they’re there, and serving as convenient focal points. There’s something pleasant about it, and a weird kind of enjoyment in the knowledge that I don’t have to be anywhere, regardless of the reasons why.
So yes, I think I’ve made the transition to quarantined life better than most. I don’t mind my thoughts, or being in the same space all the time. I realize that I’m fortunate in that regard--several of my more extroverted friends are going a bit stir-crazy right now. But if what the world needs from me is to stay indoors, in my pajamas, drinking tea and watching movies as I occasionally drift off in though, then by God I will do my duty. Maybe I’ll even squeeze some writing in there.
Stay safe, friends. Don’t go out unless you have to. Wash your hands. Get some sleep. And, as Douglas Adams famously advised in large, friendly letters: DON’T PANIC.