Self-isolation and the beginning of the rest of all this
I thought long and hard all week about whether to write a newsletter at all.
In Hmm Weekly this week, Tom Scocca wrote that: “Everyone is talking about how Shakespeare wrote a lot during the plague, but I read a piece that specified that he barely wrote about the plague, possibly because it was too terrible to discuss but maybe also because it didn't feel like there was anything to say.”
And it mostly feels like that for me, too. I imagine many readers feel the same.
I was thinking this week about all the 9/11 art that exists. Nothing stands out. I mean, yes, I know, there are some books and movies and songs about 9/11 and the aftermath, but the biggest 9/11 art installation is a mall across the street from the former Twin Towers site.
Because when it comes down to it, what is there to say, really, about the events of September 11? And what is there to really say about everything happening right now?
But eventually I came around to believe I owed it to myself and to the subscribers of this newsletter to keep the train running. At least this one. Because this week I know I struggled at home, I struggled at work. And there are many long weeks ahead.
And it’s the looking ahead part that really got me.
Most of the time, life is about counting down.
How many days until summer? Until your wedding (202)? Your birthday? The Masters? Vacation?
The challenges that face all of us now are many. Keeping our heads, our health, our cool. But the challenge that has been most daunting for me in the past week is the challenge of counting up.
The last time we were in prolonged close contact with anyone but each other was last Saturday. There were three other people there.
Since then we’ve been to the grocery store one time (last Sunday). We’ve done daily walks through the neighborhood. Central Park has posed some social distancing challenges, but I think we’ve done a good job. Maybe the loops around the Jackie O reservoir on Monday and Tuesday were cutting it close.
But so with reasonable confidence I say this is day n+8 for us, our eighth day without prolonged exposure to anyone but each other.
I don’t know what number we need to get to — what number any of us need to get to — before we think about doing anything other than what we’re resigned to right now: sitting at home, sleeping in, taking slow walks, looking at the resistance bands we bought to use in the apartment before the strain of this whole moment made clear the time for new exercise regimens is not quite now.
Maybe the number is n+14 — that seems to be when self-quarantine turns to social distancing for those with known exposures.
Maybe the number is n+28 — double the self-quarantine recommendation seems like a safe bogey to rule out severe symptoms and dangerous exposures for those taking a social distancing slash self-isolation approach.
I could keep going with the potential n+ combinations and guesstimate which is most prudent, which seems most realistic, which n+ gets you, me, and all of us something like a life back.
But if we all count up from our own date of last “living a normal life,” from our own date of last known exposure, or the date of our own diagnosis, I think we still manage to undersell the changes on the other side of this. In some ways counting up seems to offer something like hope. In some ways it seems to be the cruelest measure of our new confusion, a way to track the days since we last saw the shore that offers no map for the path ahead.
Because when Governor Cuomo tells New Yorkers we can go to restaurants as long as no more than 25% of the seats are full, which of us is going first? What about when the number is 50%? 75%? 100%? Which restaurants are even open?
And when your office re-opens, who is going back first? Who is getting back on the subway? Back on your commuter train? Back in an Uber?
When the airlines restore their flight schedules are you getting on the first plane out of LGA? The second? The third?
And what about those vacations and weddings and birthdays we’ve always counted down to — will you still?
I asked a group of my friends this week if we’d look back in 30 or 40 or 50 years as old men and tell our kids and grandkids and young colleagues about how crazy it was back in the day when people just went out all the time and basically did what they wanted, when they wanted. No one thought we would.
But sometimes I think we will.
Last week I wrote that the public’s acceptance of coronavirus was somewhere between disbelief and panic. We might be firmly in the discouragement phase now. I know I am. So maybe I’m just projecting.
Financial markets, I imagine, will react enthusiastically when there seems to be a flattening of the curve, a light at the end of the economic lockdown we entered on a national scale in the last week. I’m sure that will, when it happens, bring me some cold comfort. Good news is good news, even if financial markets aren’t real life.
But then again, neither does my actual life seem real right now.
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