on self-care, timelessness, and boundaries
I watched a few episodes of The West Wing recently. I joked that I was playing a West Wing drinking game. I would drink whenever:
- Josh has his backpack over one shoulder
- any reference to a musical
- “Just saying”
- Walk and Talk
- Donna asks Josh to explain something
- someone repeats verbatim what someone else just said
And I would take a double drink for:
- any Latin phrase
- Mrs Bartlet’s terms of endearment
- Someone refers to their SAT score
- The Jackal!
The implication here was that I’d be drinking pretty much constantly – which was the point, because it was that kind of night. I could just as easily have said I was playing a Stare At The Wall drinking game. You drink whenever you stare at the wall. Double for blinking.
I knew it was likely, after my post appeared in the Micro.blog timeline, that people would say something about how it’s too painful to watch a show like The West Wing now. Of course it is. But then, everything – even self-care – can seem too painful now. So I figured: if joy is laced with pain anyway, I might as well take comfort anywhere I can. And some of that comfort comes from watching escapist TV.
Where I’m escaping to is, of course, jarringly different from the world as it is now. But this, too, has been oddly helpful. It has let me practice the transition back and forth between these two worlds, the comfort world and the Covid world. That moment of reëntry is, I think, what we actually find most painful: when we look away from the screen and see, out on the sidewalk, people walking by with face masks on. Oh, that, we think. I’d forgotten.
I’ve worked from home partly or completely for many of the last twenty-two years. One thing I learned early on was how important it is to set clear boundaries at the beginning and the end of the work day or else everything might start to blur together. So, in March, I thought this quarantine wouldn’t be too unfamiliar, or too challenging. I was wrong.
Working from home is, of course, vastly different from living in quarantine. The numbers on the clock almost never seem to line up with my sense of what time it is. If an event isn’t on the calendar, if a to-do isn’t pinging me with a repeating notification, it simply doesn’t happen. I keep hearing Ford Prefect saying, Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so. (I’ve been trying to write this blog post for nearly two weeks and I just haven’t been able to get my shit together to finish it.)
One reason for this is that many of the normal boundaries around different activities and emotional spaces have broken down or disappeared (for instance, commutes). I have found that I need to be far more conscious than usual of what sorts of routines and rituals demarcate different activities for me.
When I have good days, it’s at least partly because I’ve managed to maintain strong borders. And when I have better days, it’s at least partly because I’ve been able to cross back and forth over those borders somewhat smoothly, with as little stumbling as possible (by which I mean, a lot of stumbling but not as much as on other days…).
And by letting (or making) myself drift away into truly escapist activities like old beloved TV shows, I am slowly learning, and practicing, how to cope with the shock of returning, again and again, to this world.
April 2022: Some tangents that I trimmed from the early drafts of this post went on to become this essay.