Gimme Shelter: Staying Inside and Ideas of Social Distance

Isolation is an odd thing. When we’re too busy, we crave downtime. We talk about taking time out for ourselves. Today we call it self-care, though how well we actually take care of ourselves is open to debate. Decades ago, we called it vegging out. Exercise, music, sports, video games, reading or just sitting on a couch and watching shows or movies.

Forced isolation is another thing. Anyone whose been through a Northeast winter before the Internet (or a Midwest or mountain winter) knows how forced isolation feels. Snowed in. Stuck. Books, games, music, talking on the phone, watching TV and movies…and waiting for the faintest hint of Spring.

Social distancing is what we’ve collectively been practicing by insulating ourselves to the point where most of it is subconscious.

Marc Maron’s latest Netflix comedy special End Times Fun was taped last fall, but its arrival with the corona-virus couldn’t be more timely. In the special, Maron riffs on what life was like before semi-intelligent phones. He acts out a man waiting in line, forced to acknowledge the existential emptiness that we all used to feel when we couldn’t distract ourselves with anything, waiting in lines before we could occupy ourselves with our pocket computers.

2020 has brought us a possible horizon-line for Trump and this abominable administration, and it’s striking that the non-Trump crowd (60% of American electorate) have collectively chosen the safest choice. The smiling, affable and seemingly steady old Uncle Joe. We’re just trying to survive. And we couldn’t bring ourselves out of the fear we feel. After months of speculating on what path would lead us out of the darkness, Biden has emerged and now us of the 60% cross our fingers that November arrives without any other giant cataclysmic events.

In comes the corona-virus to shut the world down. As the global economy shakes, stumbles and coughs its way toward zero, Trump’s hopes of re-election diminish. This is the ugliest and most nihilistic silver living. It’s perfectly fitting. The only way out of this darkness is to close our eyes and breathe, imagining calm, green waters, warm sand and sunshine.

The mini-purgatories of the past were actually tiny tests of patience, not unlike sitting in gridlocked traffic. Tom Petty said the Waiting was the Hardest Part. He didn’t have the Internet or the semi-intelligent phone. His generation was used to waiting…the 70s recession spurred on their unemployment and angst…which one might speculate led to alcohol and drug abuse…and a different kind of existential malaise.

With that malaise, Petty made some of the best sorrowful, wistful rock music of the that two decades period between the mid-70s and mid-90s.

Cultural wisdom comes from individual people sitting in silence. Writing, thinking, dwelling, creating, screaming into the abyss (not online) and channeling that shit into something beautiful, thoughtful, genuine, and human.

Back to the idea of social distance. We have been practicing for this moment by removing ourselves from society, brick-by-brick. Avoiding lines of all kinds. Avoiding small talk, refusing to understand it often leads to bigger talk. Avoiding difficult conversations (in favor of quick texts or no communication), not realizing that difficult conversations are necessary and can lead to deeper trust, love and empathy.

We are all guilty and we’ve been guided by our habits and the algorithms that drive what we click on and how we take information in.

At the playground with my daughter, I see too many other parents at the park ignoring their kids or not being friendly with other parents. It takes very little to make small talk…but clearly we’re all out of practice and (in the Bay Area at least) many don’t seem to think its necessary anymore.

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My friend Chris Dingman is an amazing vibraphonist. His new album includes a track that surrounds, activates dream-states, is a perfect complement to writing, thinking, reading, or pretty much doing anything alone.

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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