The rare times I see anybody who isn’t my partner, in person or on camera, they ask “How’s it going?” and I say the same thing each time: “The same. I’m the same. Every day’s the same.”

In California right now, it’s hard to go outside because not only do 5,000 new people test positive for COVID-19 each day, but there are enough wildfires surrounding the Bay Area that the air outside isn’t safe to breathe. So now even going for a walk isn’t advisable, and we spend all day in our 500 sqft apartment.

I’m trying to write about something other than self pity, but I do pity us in our position, and I do feel anger that U.S. profit-motive policies over my lifetime, coupled with the ruinous fascist my fellow citizens elected, have made it a danger just to leave my home. I think what I’m trying to write about is how it feels to miss the people in your life, that hard hole in your heart, while also kind of knowing that you are right now feeling exactly what they are.

We’re suspended, it feels like, and in this suspension, we’re all lonely, but lonely together.

Really what I’m aiming for here is some solution. Is every day’s being the same a gift or a poison? My nature leads me to want to see it optimistically as a gift, as I wrote here, many many months ago: This Quarantine is Not Not-Normal. Back then, I saw the pandemic as a chance to recalibrate our commitments and priorities:

Once the numbers come down, once a vaccine is available, if what results from this pandemic is a welcomed return to normalcy, whatever norms the country returns to will always only be majoritarian norms—that is, the norms of the wealthy ruling class…. Instead, I’m thinking of this moment as the normal I want, even with all its disruptions and cruelties. For if the time before the virus came was normal, it’s not a normal I want to return to. 

I wrote that in week 3 of sheltering in place. Tomorrow begins week 25. What I latched onto then was the potential for change, and what I’m affected by now is the absence of it. Admittedly, much has seemingly changed in our lives since April 1, but depressingly there’s nothing new about wildfires burning much of California, cops murdering black people with impunity, and members of this administration (finally) getting indicted for their crimes without much change in the president’s approval rating.

Nothing has changed and everything is getting worse. That’s what waking up feels like.

I don’t write about God a lot here, but one thing I learned some years back is what it means, to me, to “serve God”, and how I personally can go about it: make new things in the world. “Things” there can be anything: new ideas, new experiences, new meals to cook Neal for dinner, new essays, new blog posts. I can text a friend. I can take a different path on a walk through the park.

I can even tweet. In an absence of moments and spaces in the world to make new things in, I’ve been going online. I only kind of sometimes like online. Though we’re often happy to hear from one another there, none of us is focused on each other, and online time doesn’t provide for sustained thinking and feeling.

Mind the slippery-slope argument here, but online is, by design, a distraction from the mess of the living world; when that world is taken (however temporarily) from us, distraction risks becoming absorption.[*]

So maybe what I’m getting at is the feeling of being increasingly absorbed in a distracting medium. And I’m also getting at the removal from my life (maybe yours, too) of a future to make changes toward. The future has always been uncertain, but I’ve also always felt like I was waking up each day moving toward its becoming. Now, that future just keeps looking like the present. What should I be making new things for in this world?

Which gets me back to change. Is this what mindfulness is supposed to be like? Are Buddhists more equipped for these times than the rest of us laser-focused on teloi? I am not a mindful person. To accept the present and know what I want from it, to plan only to honor the present and be the man I want to be inside it—these aren’t things I’ve really learned how to do.

A couple years back I made a list of things that I felt together made for a good full proper day. That’s what I labeled the list, A Good Full Proper Day:

  • Pray
  • Engage in a writing project
  • Walk or physical activity
  • Connect with a friend (email/postcard/texting)
  • 2 fruit servings
  • Water all day
  • Show Neal love
  • Write in your journal
  • 30 minutes reading before bed

This is my style: make a rational plan for feeling better or doing better and Deploy Procedure. It’s a way to distract myself from the task of listening to what I want or need. I already know what I want or need, see? I made a list.

This endless present feels like it’s not asking anything of me, and that’s part of the problem, but it’s also feeling like it’s tasking me with accepting this challenge. How do we fill our days in days like these? Take these moments right now, the one when I’m writing this sentence and the one when you’re reading it. What’s the one thing you want to be doing after it? What new thing can I make in this world, this static isolated place?

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. For what it’s worth, movies made this shift 100 years ago, once filmmakers started exploiting the mechanics of this new medium—editing, chiefly—to create narratives with more character development than, say, Two Drunk Irishmen Wrestling. In time, you had The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the launching of a new high artform. We’ve had the Internet for a quarter of a century now, and I don’t see any um … content creators making such a move yet.