This week marks the third of our coronavirus social distancing. Because I live in the northeast, and because I have two young kids who don’t especially care for the cold or rain, I’ve spent a fair number of hours these weeks inside the house.
I don’t mind being home; as an introvert, I’ve always preferred my private space to most public ones. That sense of privacy is much harder to maintain when you have a family, and even more so now that my husband is working from home and preschool is closed until further notice, but the essence of “home” remains one of refuge.
Because we are limiting our exposure to the outside world, I’ve had the chance to (re-)consider what constitutes “outside.” For instance, the backyard is outside our house, but remains our private property and thus can be considered “inside.”
Can mental space be thus divided? I may be content to stay home, but how does that contentment shift when home offers no (or extremely limited) alone time? I’ve been trying to understand this dynamic for the last three years, as I’ve stayed home with my kids and worked from home as a writer and editor.
I may dwell in a private space most of the time, but my mind (and, let’s be frank, my body) gets precious little privacy or solitude.
These past few weeks have also had me wondering how, as a culture, we forsake our “inside” space even as we claim to cherish it. It might just be the people I follow, but I see a lot of Instagram proclamations of introversion. I’ve made some myself. But, I wonder, if all that social media use isn’t actually draining us introverts, setting us in a headspace where we feel like we can never quite recharge.
As an artist who makes a tiny living from her words, I know social media is a valuable tool that helps me reach a wide audience. But, like any other networking, it often leaves me drained, even if I’m doing it from the privacy of my home. So, where does social media fall on the inside/outside spectrum: inside or outside? private or public?
I don’t have an answer, I just want to ask the question of how social media has subverted our understanding of connectivity and solitude.
I’ve been reading and thinking about solitude a lot lately. As the primary caregiver for a 3-year-old and a 16-month-old, I don’t get a whole lot of solitude. Before covid-19 got us sheltering in place, my husband and I had worked out a schedule that enabled me to get out of the house alone (important) two nights a week and gave me a long stretch of alone time inside the house (equally important) every other weekend. It was a lot of juggling to make happen, but entirely necessary for my mental health.
As I write this, the only true alone time I get is on my weekly trip to Stop & Shop, where I – like the rest of the country and world – contend with an empty toilet paper aisle, Limit 2 Per Customer signs in the meat, pasta, and canned goods aisles, a closed deli and bakery, and as of this week, a plastic shield between myself and the cashier.
This is NOT the alone time I crave (nor is it, I presume, a time that anyone craves). Instead I spend my hour trying to meal plan (not my strong suit) and ignoring the competing voices in my head that scream This is for the public good and This is how we normalize a police state. (Hey, I’m a writer for a reason.)
To be clear, I understand and fully support the social distance and isolation practices that are currently in place. I’m scared. I know this pandemic poses a grave threat to our lives and livelihoods, and I continue to do what needs to be done to help keep this thing under control. But I am mourning a small, personal loss as well, one I’ve mourned a lot over the last few years since becoming a mother: my access to solitude, and with it, the ability to go inside, truly inside.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if this moment in time can’t be one of deep introspection, if we can find a way in. And, if so, how can I drop into it, how can I help my children understand how to drop into it, to put down all the noise of the outside world, and find the solace and beauty that awaits when the din recedes, even if just for one minute, or thirty seconds, or less?
I don’t have an answer yet, but I do have a start: I invite you to find even the tiniest ways into solitude. For me, this has meant getting up earlier so I have more time to write in the morning; re-establishing a short meditation (I like this simple one) and oracle practice (love these cards); keeping a close watch on my social media and news consumption; and limiting my computer use at night. It isn’t my ideal amount of “inside” time, but for now I am allowing it to be enough.
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