Quarantine Queasiness

Quarantine Queasiness

Today was the first day of Spring for my bike.

I had to open the choke with a carabiner (the lever is wedged between the air filters, and is almost impossible to pull out unassisted), and then when it wouldn’t turn over, remind myself to open up the fuel valve. I guess older machines can be quirky like this. I’ve met old trucks that are similar.

If you’re used to being lost in thought, or worrying about other stuff, I’m sure that this kind of requisite attention would be infuriating. But since I was just going for a ride, it was just a little humbling and amusing reminder to bring my mind out of my head and into the machine and the road.

That’s why I wanted to go for a ride anyhow.

Blaise Pascal wrote that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I don’t think this is an observation about an inescapable condition of humanity, but a kind of laziness that we’ve arrived at. It’s as if we’ve lost the skill of entertaining ourselves because we’ve become so used to the gratification of our daily routines that we’ve lost track of the source of that sense of gratification. This kind of ignorance becomes a lot more apparent in quarantine, when we’re suddenly couped up alone or with family, and even pleasurable past-times can feel tremendously empty after a time.

The secret, I think, is that what we’re missing isn’t pleasure, but the accomplishment of something worthwhile, and these two categories are easy to conflate under more general descriptors like “good.” I don’t think anyone can honestly say that they love waking up early, chugging twelve gallons of coffee, sitting in traffic, and getting to work only to deal with petty bullshit for forty plus hours a week. It’s miserable. But at the end of the week, there’s a kind of pride in enduring that misery, especially if you can point to some tangible accomplishment or creation in the works. And in the end, I think that pride is more sustainable than petty enjoyment.

People at work often dream of taking a break, of a vacation, perhaps even a permanent vacation: retirement. But almost no factor more strongly correlates with early death than retirement. Escape from work usually isn’t what we think it will be, and those who do best find some other “miserable” grind to plug away at through retirement.

When it comes to enduring the isolation of quarantine that many people are now faced with, the best way of coping may not be relaxation and “pleasure.” Maybe the better, more healthy, and ultimately more sanity-saving way of passing the time is to work… or, at least, to do something that is somewhat unpleasant.

Perhaps that means getting into the classics. Mark Twain defined a classic as “a book everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” That sounds, more or less, like our day jobs. Perhaps that means learning to cook better, in a systematic fashion. Maybe it’s yard care. Or maybe just enduring the cold from testing out your motorcycle, and doing whatever mechanical adjustments and maintenance it requires.

When I got back in from riding, I could barely feel my cheeks. It was barely forty degrees. Mechanically, everything seemed functional, but the carbs still need to be cleaned. Maybe I’ll hunt around the basement and look for the carb-cleaner. Just the thought of doing that work feels enervating. I don’t have to do that, after all…

But maybe that feeling is exactly the cue that I need; that whatever activity is causing that feeling is what I have to do today in order to go to bed proud and satisfied.

If you’re going stir-crazy at home, perhaps it’s a useful cue to keep in mind.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I am disturbed by the thought that all day jobs are miserable. Certainly I found them so for 14 years as a lawyer and then investment banker. I found it so awful I left aged 34 and have spent the intervening 30 years worrying that I ought to be doing something more prodictive and lucrative. Perhaps everyone hates their jobs and it wasn’t just me who was the odd one out. But you are right: you need to fill the time. If I could abandon the guilt I could probably fill my time quite well!

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