What to Do With the Weird Things You Learn About Yourself in Isolation
Quarantine has illuminated my most annoying traits. But that might be a good thing.
Journalist Rebecca Solnit recently wrote in the New York Times that “every disaster shakes loose the old order,” and though she was talking about political regimes, I’m finding it to be true of personal behaviors as well. Like many Americans, my wife Alex and I are self-isolating at home, and while we’re thankful that our conditions are comfortable (read: we don’t have kids), the unprecedented amount of time we’re spending together has illuminated a few of my more unsettling traits.
I shuddered when these things were first brought to my attention, but now I’m trying to grapple with them. After all, it’s only when we truly know who we are that we can redesign who we want to be. Here’s what I’m starting with first:
I’m inconsiderately loud
There’s no way around it: I’m too loud.
First, I’m a loud typer. I attack my laptop, clacking at the keys as though my computer were really a typewriter. When I get excited about a thought, or when several thoughts demand to exit my mind in quick succession, it takes all the restraint I can muster to keep my hands from flying away from my laptop entirely, like birds of prey released from captivity.
That’s not all. I speak loudly when I’m on the phone. And I’m a loud singer. I’m even loud when I walk around — I open doors and cabinets heedlessly, the way pirates ransack ships. The other day, Alex asked whether I was aware there were other people in the house besides myself. Aargh.
I’m disastrously disorganized
In the intro to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo promises that “tidying can transform your life.” Unfortunately, that’s about all I’ve read of her book.
I’m disorganized. I pollute the rooms I inhabit, leaving increasingly hazardous piles of Daniel-detritus everywhere I go. I’m often late to meetings. I’ve lost just about every jacket I’ve ever owned. Last week, I caused drama by accidentally scheduling two separate virtual happy hours for the same day and time.
I’m easily befuddled
About a week ago, I misplaced a tube of benzoyl peroxide with which I’d been treating a pernicious chin zit. I spent 30 minutes looking for it, overturning laundry hampers, cursing inanimate objects, and twice accusing Alex of having hid the acne cream on purpose.
“You’re acting like a first grader,” she told me. As a former elementary school teacher, this cut to my core. I realized it’s true. I become enraged when I forget passwords, sad when I overcook dinner, and inconsolable when I stub my toe. In fact, in isolation, I’ve taken to responding to inconveniences — a faulty internet connection, a broken kitchen appliance, customer service who can’t magically fix my malfunctioning cable modem — exactly how I once counseled my students not to: as if these were things that happen only to me, rather than things that simply happen. This is not a good look for a 30-year-old man.
I’m a bit of a space cadet
“Dan… Dan… DAN!” Alex said to me recently from the kitchen, eyes wide behind her glasses. “I just got an email from our landlord; did you pay rent like we talked about?”
I always knew that I spend an unusual amount of time inside my own head, disregarding material concerns, like completing my taxes or replacing light bulbs, in favor of whatever fever dreams are populating my imagination. But self-isolating has made me newly aware of just how much time I spend gazing whimsically out of windows, focused on matters far removed from the here and now, like whether To Pimp a Butterfly is actually a better album than DAMN. My primary mode is “aloof,” which troubles Alex, whom self-isolation has rendered somehow even more responsible and on the ball.
Look, while no one should feel pressured during this time to do anything other than take care of themselves (and continue staying inside), I do believe that isolation offers a unique opportunity to see one’s self in repose. It feels possible to me that, when we’re able to look back on this crisis, we’ll remember it not just for the despair, but for the manner in which it compelled us to a higher level of conscientiousness. In my case, thanks mostly to Alex, I’m hopeful that when the time comes, I’ll emerge from our apartment and proceed into the world more cognizant of the fact that this planet is precious, and that the quality of our time on it depends on how hard we try to share it well.