More than anything, the extension of ‘world’s largest lockdown’ measure has made me feel nostalgic—as if hurled into a period where time stretched indeterminably and I drew both comfort and displeasure from domestic circumstances; a bossy family, my well-arranged table, the changes in weather, I don’t quite miss it as much as I am reminded of the familiarities of childhood. As much as we have adjusted to them empty and walled-in time of social distancing, we should remember what we lose when habit sets in. Childhood and the little intimacies of adolescence might just be the closest guide I have to staying connected to those whom I love, those who too are alone in their little islands of domestic precarity.
Back in school, a classmate of mine left for three months, and her closest friend would write little notes every single day of her absence and slip it into the desk. When the absentee friend returned, her desk was full of little coloured scraps of paper—full of anecdotes and jokes, notes about missed homework, and admissions of love. The gift was neither extravagant nor one that required painstaking effort, the usual hallmarks of gift-appreciation. It was a slow, but steady reminder that the absence had been felt every single day, and the desire to reach out struck with a regularity.
Gifts like these are gifts of sustainability and time, and they can be adapted to the digital and the virtual during times of distance and uncertainty: even in the form of a google drive of notes and messages, even music collections updated daily. Gifts, especially those that are constantly renewed, may be among the softest ways to tell your loved ones that they’re on your minds. They’re not the same as instant messages, immediacy is not of import, but the habit of the everyday moments is what draws you close.
The most thoughtful care packages can be conceived of differently: a collection of cat videos, a list of films you love and would have wanted to watch together, recipes that take into account the stocks more readily available, links to online games that can be played together and even a folder full of angry memes. A well themed Spotify playlist (or many, for different moods) can help get through a heavy load of laundry of WFH mundanity. Over the internet, what you share can be infinitely added to and changed, and putting it together in one place (like a dropbox folder) provides you with a place you can always turn to.
Similarly, now time stretches as it does, as indeterminably as to make no distinction of its passage, and days blur into one another. Now, more than ever, it is a kindness to have something to look forward to, every day, at the same time, from the people you cannot be around. A video call at sundown, or a phone call at midnight while you’re already in bed makes it easier to get through the day. The changes in time that can be marked are few—sunrises and sunsets—but they can be shared. While the act of putting together gifts for far-flung lovers keeps me rooted to them, I feel distant from the person I am when I am around them. Keeping a journal or a scrapbook, hoping to share it someday can be just as comfortable as reaching out every day, at every moment.
On the other hand, having grown into the digital, I am constantly connected, available at a moment’s notice, continuously doomscrolling. While I am networked in, I am disconnected. The disjunct between the mundane and the panic-stricken has left me with what feels like no time at all, even in a period of too-much-time. I hope that while being disconnected (quitting social media, not reading the news, not seeking information) might be difficult and anxiety-inducing, other forms of connection may just alleviate the dread. My sister reminded me of how fun it could be to turn to playing video games with friends when she calls—a new anecdote about “too many dragon eggs” or a “new nest” colouring our conversations with a hard-earned intimacy. Collaborative and multiplayer games have the effect of immersing you in a shared world for a while, even if the world isn’t your own. And while games and apps may not save us, they might provide new and distracting modes of engagement.
Despite our desires, and how they have been thwarted, this time calls for us to slow down—to take stock of what we have and how stay-at-home conditions may vary from person to person. Our modes of engagement should be kinder than ever, more generous and considerate than before—both towards ourselves, to those we live with, and those who we are away from, those whom we know and those whom we don’t. Share what we can, whether it is time, or space, or even resources of all details and degrees. The new normal may not be a drastic undoing of our lives, but only a slow unfolding of desire, reminding us of the ways in which we already knew how to love.