December 24, 2020

A Lockdown Lament for the Prickly Ones.

“Oh, no!” I hear you cry. “Not another listicle!” Shannon, 29: guilty.

At this point in the year, we’re sure to have encountered at least one list-like ode to 2020—a celebration of how the alternative and, for most of us, isolated reality we’ve been living in has allowed us to “slow down and notice the small things in life, to wake up and smell the roses,” and so on.

While there’s certainly value in this practice of gratitude, what if for a moment we dwell in a thornier part of the rosebush? What if we allow ourselves a little lighthearted lament for the ways in which we may have been socially changed by the (possible hyperbole) COVID-captivity many of us have endured?

And, as a vaccine and the promise of a more recognizable reality looms on the horizon, what will we have to relearn about ourselves and others before returning to the social spaces of our populated planet? How do we reenter a more peopled version of reality without becoming overstimulated and prickly?

Belgium, where I currently live, has been in a version of lockdown for the greater part of a year. For a golden window of time (from around July to the beginning of October), we were allowed to keep company with a crowd of 10 people—what in retrospect feels like a bloated and risky figure.

Heading into the festive season, our total sits at one knuffelcontact (or “cuddle contact”)—that is, someone we can be around inside without a mask—or four masked and socially-distanced people outside. Heads up: only one of you will be able to use the toilet inside.

I’m a confused introvert: I enjoy the company of others, but need ample time to recover; I’m quiet, but will talk your ear off if I get into chat mode. I’d also add that, in general, I’m patient and calm; yet, as the year has unfolded, I’ve noticed subtle changes in how I manage the energy and stimulation of the people around me. Let me clarify: I’ve noticed there are certain behaviors and tendencies I’ve become increasingly sensitive to.

Here is my personal list:

>> The late-night laundry-doers: I live in an apartment complex, which means I’m constantly privy to the daily lives of people around me. While the summer buzz of bananas in blenders (just me?) has died down, I’ve become more testy with people who insist on washing their clothes at midnight. I’m serious; my patience has…run dry. I mean, what were you doing at 10 a.m. when we were working from home? (Shout out to the essential service workers outside of this we. I see you!)

>> The slow bikers: As a foreigner who wasn’t born on a bike (unlike my Belgian vrienden), I’m pathetically slow and awkward on my metallic steed. Why, then, are you riding at a more leisurely pace than me? We’re in the middle of a pandemic—I have things to do! Like, food shop and disinfect my hands with every pump bottle I see.

>> The grocery store lurkers: I silently reprimand you, shopper, standing too close to me. Nay, even your trolley is too close! And, yes, it’s possible to have a passive-aggressive trolley, which, being an extension of your body, may just infect me. Of course, I’ll lack the assertiveness to say anything to you directly, but I hope you’ll feel my disapproval at this brazen intrusion into my bubble.

>> The incorrect mask wearers: I must confess, I do not for a second like the look of your nose bulging over the top of your mask. Also, the mask below your nose and mouth will be an ineffective chin-guard for when you, inevitably, trip over your own recklessness.

>> The overtalking Zoom participants: No, my screen isn’t frozen—unlike you, I was just trying to read the pixelated body cues of people in 10 tiny frames to decide whether there was a sufficient gap in the conversation to allow me to launch into my monologue.

>> The businesses that provide a phone number but not an email address: Do you not realize that talking to people has become the single greatest stress of my day? I have to mentally prepare and strike power poses for a solid 15 minutes just to bear hearing your voice on the other side of the line. I’ll always complain about too many emails, but will secretly relish in the distance and safety of writing.

>> The irresponsible dog walkers: Ahem, the man in the apartment block next door: Why do you never pick up your dog’s poop? How am I supposed to “wake up and smell the roses” when all I can smell is the dog poo smeared on the bottom of my shoe?

>> And, last but not least, the inept mask discarders: One word: bin. You know, the purpose-built receptacle for all things used and germy? No one needs your laziness to exacerbate the already-overwhelming issues we’re facing in terms of environmental pollution and degradation.

Since there’s no one else in the room to pose this series of questions to, I’ll float them here:

Is it me, or is it you?

Are we indeed witnessing an unprecedented growth in grocery store lurkers, or am I just “slowing down and noticing more?”

And, as we head into more promising medical territory regarding the virus, what will acting naturally post-COVID look like?

What (mask-friendly) deep breathing exercises can I do in social contexts to self-soothe when overstimulated and practice compassion when irritated?

Is there a post-COVID rewilding program to prepare us for release from our houses—cue the collective belting of Diana Ross’ anthem, “I’m Coming Out!”

If so, please sign me up; though, let’s go slowly—can I join via Zoom? Or, better yet, can you email me the instructions?


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