There’s a scene in Stir Crazy, the 1980 comedy about two men running from the law, when Gene Wilder’s introspective character is about to be let out of solitary confinement.
“One more day, one more day,” he says to the guard in front of him. “I was just beginning to get into myself.”
Although I’d never in a million years want to be in solitary confinement, there’s a tiny bit of that scene that rings true to me now that lockdown is easing. For an introvert like me, who likes to think and read a lot, the idea of resuming a busier life with appointments, face-to-face meetings and social outings isn’t all that appealing.
For me, lockdown has given me permission to spend even more time reading, listening to podcasts, tuning into book talks and journaling. I’m one of the lucky ones who has been healthy, financially stable and lives with loving family members. My husband, son and occasional Facetime calls with friends have provided just enough social contact for me to make it through this time.
Other introverts can probably relate. We live in an amazing time when there are more lectures, podcasts, movies, audiobooks and real books (still available via Amazon or independent bookstores that ship) than ever.
I’m particularly drawn to podcasts. When I discover a new one, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I download it and save for just the right moment when I can savor it fully. Meanwhile I can fill a whole evening with a good book, the longer the better. I’d rather spend all night reading Victor Hugo than expending my energy in a social situation. (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, as I do love friends; I could just do without the many superficial interactions daily life involves.)
Lockdown has also been a good time for slower activities like letter writing and e-mail. Recently, when the protests got underway, I read as much as I could about racial injustice and engaged in a long e-mail conversation with family members across the political spectrum. Our e-mail dialogue was better than any of our past in-person conversations, as it allowed us to be more measured and thoughtful and provide links to support our points.
My husband is an extrovert. He loves sports the way I love ideas. For him, lockdown has been more difficult. A few weeks ago, when Tiger Woods played Phil Mickelson in a charity Covid tournament, he was overjoyed. For the first time in months I heard him whooping and cheering from his seat in front of the television. Similarly, when he played golf recently with a friend he said it was the most relaxing time he’s had during lockdown. He could forget the stresses of work and the worries of the world for a few hours.
Being in a mixed marriage of sorts (mixed temperaments!) has always been a challenge. Navigating our post-lockdown reality together hasn’t been easy. Things came to a head for us in late May when my husband’s golf buddy invited him back to his place for pizza–with three other people. My husband figured that these close friends, whom he hadn’t seen for two months, formed part of his quarantine “bubble.” When I found out about the arrangement via a text, I felt angry and betrayed. How could he take such a risk when we’d been so careful? I hadn’t seen a single friend since SIP began. Eventually, we were able to talk through his “infraction,” and realized perhaps it was time to ease our rules a bit.
SIP isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been socially isolated and relied on books and talks to get me through. The first few months when I cared for my newborn son at home 24/7 I missed the stimulation of adult conversation. Then my hip pastor suggested listening to NPR. It was a godsend. Those hours spent nursing and burping my baby to the soothing sounds of Terri Gross’s voice were happy ones. That was more than 20 years ago. I could never have imagined then how the whole world of online talk would open up. Iphones in particular have made it easy to listen to content, from “This American Life” to long books that used to fill multiple CDs.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve come to depend on podcasts and other inputs too much. I take great comfort in the fact that so much content is available, the same way an alcoholic might feel safe when the liquor cabinet is full. If worse comes to worst, my reasoning goes, I can listen to that set of 36 lectures on philosophy, from Descartes to Derrida, that I downloaded a few years ago. But then again, I think wistfully, maybe post-lockdown life will mean resuming all the face-to-face interactions and I’ll never get to those lectures.
For now, we are all on the precipice of a new way of life. Even for me, a confirmed introvert, I know that living like a hermit isn’t totally healthy. Ideas are great, Facetime is good, and e-mail is OK, but they are no substitute for face-to-face contact. There’s a give and take when you arrange social dates, when you help a friend physically with a task or when a friend helps you. I need this to grow and change as much as I need all the ideas I’ve ever learned online. I hope I can unplug a little—one podcast and book at a time.