Old Habits For New Times

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how quickly we went from “rediscovering the simple pleasures of being at home” to retooling our old habits to suit our new shelter-in-place lifestyles. But I still was.

Way back a few weeks ago when we first found ourselves locked in our homes, we quickly realized how rushed and distracted our lives had become over the past several years. With events and activities cancelled, we suddenly had the leisure time we hadn’t known in years. Gone were the relentless obligations, the harried mornings, the over-scheduled days, the stress-filled evenings.

Now we were home with nowhere we had to be — nowhere we could be — and fewer demands on our time. Many of us were alone. Others were cocooned with spouses, children, and other loved ones for the first time in a long time. For some, it was the first time ever.

And after the initial panic subsided, we happily filled that new free time. We pulled out old hobbies, got out our paint brushes and knitting needles. Families took walks together. Played games. Did puzzles. Watched movies together. We baked bread and cooked dinners and we cleared off the kitchen table and actually sat down for family meals. And we reconnected: parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and roommates.

We embraced the better angels of our nature too. We looked in on one another. We carried meals to vulnerable neighbors. We pitched in where we could. We made masks. We cheered our healthcare workers. We watched as winter turned to spring and nature began to open up around us. We literally stopped and smelled the flowers.

We rediscovered the simple pleasures of a different, slower-paced, less crazy kind of life and we realized everything that has been lost in the gotta-do, gotta-have, gotta-get, gotta-go world that we’ve been living in.

This pandemic was turning out to be the wake-up call that we’d all needed and we understood that in the midst of terrible tragedy we were being given the chance to re-write our future. This virus had pushed the reset button. Life after COVID was going to be different. The world was healing and so was humanity! You could hear the dolphins frolicking. You could almost hear the angels singing.

And then suddenly the whole beautiful experiment went right in the toilet.

It only took a few short weeks before we discovered how to retrofit all of our old dysfunctions to suit our new lifestyles. The very same magical technology that allowed us to maintain our productivity at work and school and which helped us feel less socially isolated could also be put to use to boast and strut. The minute we rebooted our book clubs and bingo nights, we went right back to our bad habits. Twenty-first century culture came rushing back.

Maybe we couldn’t post poolside pictures from enviable vacation spots or foodie photos from the hottest restaurants. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t take — and post — a million pictures of ourselves being just as fabulous at home.

Now instead of musings about the better world we were moving towards, I enjoy a constant stream of social media posts letting me know how great everyone’s quarantine is. My feed is filled with pics of Zoom parties, romantic date nights at home, and endless tips on how to live my best #athome life.

“If it’s Friday night, it must be another Zoom party!” “#BestLifeAtHome” “Busy Saturday: went from Zoom baby shower to Zoom fundraiser to Zoom cocktail party. What’s a busy girl to do?” “Being at home can’t stop date night! Wine, candlelight, and take out from the best restaurant in town!”

Like a dog chasing its tail, everyone has rushed to make sure that everyone else knows that one might be trapped at home, but that doesn’t mean one is missing out on anything! Nope, life here in the box is every bit as hashtaggy as it was when we were living free-range.

And you can see all the same feelings of inadequacy and fear of missing out. People have somehow managed to make one another feel totally inadequate even in the privacy of our own homes.

As if the FOMO-AH (fear of missing out at home) generated by the constant stream of social media posts isn’t bad enough, we’ve got to be productive and creative too. Clean out your garage. Organize all those old family photos. Paint the dining room. Shakespeare wrote Lear from quarantine while the plague ravaged London, for god’s sake. What are you doing with your time?

And if you need help figuring out how to master all those at-home demands, there are thousands of websites and YouTube videos kindly offering up tips on how to #impress from home. How to perfect that #natural look for your next Zoom party. How to master that massive to-do list.

Retailers haven’t been idle either. They’ve been plenty productive brainstorming things –so many things– that we need for our new SaH lifestyles (including new acronyms): New tech to stay connected and productive. New tools to make your home workstation more functional. New accessories for those bookshelves in the background of all your video chats. New make up to look your best for your next Zoom. And of course new WFH outfits — cozy, comfortable, and oh so chic!

And you can see that the ad execs have been Zooming too. They’ve been coming up with new ways to let us know that we should be buying. New ad campaigns for “these uncertain times” with just the right balance of melancholy (these are sad times, after all), concern (trust us to take care of you), and positive messaging (nobody wants to buy a new car when they’re feeling depressed). And that strange piano music that plays in the background of all the ads. Looks like that’s going to be the soundtrack of the COVID years: haunting, surreal, yet not too sad.

And they’ve been creating new safer ways for you to buy it too. Touch free purchasing. Contactless delivery. Drive through pickup. Delivery right to your car’s trunk. Innovative ways to get everything from food to new cars.

If you find it all to be exhausting and stressful don’t despair! There are plenty of apps and programs to help you deal with the pressure of it all. You can buy programs to do yoga at home. Apps for mindfulness during lockdown. A hundred ways to de-stress from the effort of doing so much nothing at home.

I’d had high hopes that we’d emerge from this pandemic a better society: one that had grown during our time in isolation; one that had learned from the mistakes of the past. It looks like the only thing we’ve learned is new ways to make old mistakes.


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