“How to Spend 42 Days Stuck in Your Room.”
Searching for something literary and inspiring, as I am wont to do during trying times in my life, I saw that headline.
I clicked. And got a huge surprise
The inspiration for the article popping up on my screen came not from a list of 10-best Netflix-streamed films, but rather something more fascinating than Bruce Willis’s chest muscles in “Die Hard.”
A young man’s answer to house arrest.
A Journey Around My Room came into being because its 27-year-old French author – Xavier de Maistre – spent 42 days under house arrest for illegal dueling back in 1790.
The author mutters:
But you must not let yourself think that instead of keeping my promise to describe my journey around my room, I am beating the bush to see how I can evade the difficulty. This would be a great mistake on your part. For our journey is really going: and, while my soul, falling back on her own resources, was in the last chapter threading the mazy paths of metaphysics, I had so placed myself in my arm-chair…
I can just visualize him sitting in his Louis XIV-style chair, no powdered wig sliding off his head, eyes bleary from too much vin the night before, bored out of his skull. I sort of know the feeling.
Ironically, memes making the rounds of the internet offer a reminder of the silver lining to be found in the very sort of isolation I’m going through. That meme, as well as de Maistre’s book, reminds me that long stretches of time are vitally necessary for flourishing creativity. Some of my favorite examples will suffice here, I think:
- William Shakespeare began writing King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra
- Isaac Newton worked on developing calculus and his theory of gravity
- Thomas Nashe wrote Summers’ Last Will and Testament
- Giovanni Boccaccio produced The Decameron
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the inspiring Letters and Papers from Prison
Struggling to fill the seemingly endless time – despite such distractions as the internet, the phone, and cable TV – that’s what’s facing many people in many parts of the world right now. Busy, rat-race lives, lived at full speed suddenly slow to the pace of an inch worm crossing the Sahara Desert on foot.*
I’m trying to hold onto Viktor Frankl’s wise conclusion, that what I do still have here is the ability to mold my attitude to everything that is happening. And that is not just a one-time event – I now realize it’s going to be a daily event. But it can be done.
Ten days of self isolating.
I swallowed another sip of the insipid orange-spice tea I’m drinking in the mornings now instead of hot chocolate. I don’t want to use up my precious milk. So I’ve switched, as the old commercial used to say.
Several weeks ago, I began reading an article in The Atlantic, about the murder of an ordinary young man. I stacked the magazine on top of one of my filing cabinets and went on to other things. Yesterday, I decided to finish the article. About an hour later, a fiery discussion broke out on a friend’s Facebook timeline. A COVID-19 denier labeled The Atlantic‘s coverage as “fake news.” So that got me to thinking about The Atlantic, an American publication that dates back to the 19th century.
The Atlantic began publishing in 1857 under the editorship of none other than James Russell Lowell, with contributions from some of the greatest American writers ever to put pen to paper, Ralph Waldo Emerson being one and Harriet Beecher Stowe for another, among many, many others. It saddens me that so many Americans don’t know their history well enough to recognize that such a publication continues to uphold the high standards of scholarship and writing that began all those years ago.**
At times like this, the unleashing of repressed emotions in the news reminds me of attack dogs trained to maim and kill. So many rage-filled comments aimed at the vulnerable among us, and it breaks my heart. I’m dumbfounded at what I am seeing and hearing.
A strong desire for comfort food surges in me, an almost-physical urging, to be honest.
I remember breakfasts in my childhood home, my father slinging bacon and eggs, and – on snow-days or long weekends – making pancakes, spread first with margarine, then smothered with sugary maple-flavored syrup, because the real deal – and real butter – were not things my parents could afford with four children. It wasn’t until I much older that I first tasted real maple syrup. And while I rarely make pancakes, I always have maple syrup in my refrigerator. 100%.
Mid-afternoon, I thought about dinner.
And the answer came immediately. A breakfast dinner.
The salty bacon, drenched in the sweetness of the syrup -and real butter, not margarine – sheer heaven.
And the talk at the table?
We planned a trip to Paris, in our minds retracing our footsteps from previous trips. May it be so.
Stay well. Stay safe. And stay home, if you can!
*I am well aware that for many people, this down time is a struggle to find money for food, rent, childcare. For healthcare workers, the threat of disease stares them in the face every day. That’s why those of us who can stay out of regular life, surviving on food in our houses, going to the grocery store only when necessary, we owe it those others to do our bit.
**The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.