“You have a lot of time to think when you can’t go anywhere,” she says.
“I know what you mean,” I tell her. “There are always things you have to do. Work and chores. Responsibilities. That sort of thing. They don’t go away just because there’s a pandemic raging. But the distractions… well, there are fewer of them.”
“And there’s a lot less variety,” she offers.
“Yeah,” I say. “There’s a sameness to all the distractions you can access when you’re always staying in one place. And after a while, they have a way of blurring into the background. They’re not as distracting anymore.”
We both get out a little. She does it for work — as her job has her partly on work from home, partly on working in the office. (Their compromise since some of what they can do can be done remotely but some can’t.)
I go on drives every few weeks. I don’t get out of the car, but even seeing the outside whir past me helps. Sometimes I mask up to go for walks outside, although I live in a densely populated neighborhood — and almost no one is wearing masks. In non-pandemic times, people often invaded my space, finding me approachable, wanting to talk. It’s a little better nowadays, but I struggle with folks who are walking their dogs and not paying attention, absorbed in their phones. The dogs drift towards me, dragging their barefaced owners with them. Is outside lower risk than inside? Sure. But there’s a distance that’s inadvisably close even outside (especially if it’s for a sustained amount of time).
So far I’ve managed to dodge close contact, Frogger style. But it’s unexpectedly stressful — and works against the relaxation aspect of the walks.
I tell my friend about it. “I used to go for walks everywhere.” I tell her about the restaurant that isn’t a coffeeshop but makes extraordinarily good coffee. How on a tough day, I might pick up one and walk to the park with my notebook.
How I’d listen to the birds singing, the wind in the trees, the sound of people carousing in the park. And I’d sit and write. It was there that I finally figured out the naming scheme for my Psychic State mysteries, watching long-tailed grackles strut.
It’s not the same anymore, this little field trip.
“I can’t believe it,” I tell my friend, “but I took it for granted. That life was a certain way. That I could let my guard down and relax in the park like that. And forget about going out to eat, sitting in a restaurant. Might as well eat off the floor.”
She tells me she knows what I mean.
“I took so much for granted before the pandemic,” I say. “I won’t again.”