Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.
Under normal circumstances, I am a very busy person. Too busy, really. I overschedule myself and scuttle, frazzled, from one appointment to another. I blow off social engagements for professional obligations. I write for TV during the day and I do standup at night. I have the work/life balance of a rom-com character whom Paul Rudd has not yet taught how to love. I pretend to be embarrassed by this quality. I wince and apologize for arriving late to a dinner with a friend or ducking out of a co-worker’s birthday party to perform at a nearby comedy club. But secretly, I take pride in my flaw. Look at how much stuff I can do, I think to myself. While everyone else is relaxing, I’m out here getting things done.
“What do people even do at home at night?” I used to ask my wife, as we met up at a restaurant for dinner before a reading or a play. So smug! So certain in my lifestyle choices!
Now I’m home all day, every day, and it is bad. Every moment feels tinged with the despair that I could have unknowingly contracted or spread a deadly disease, and even if I haven’t, hundreds of thousands of people have. After the despair comes a sense of gratitude that I am able to work from home. And then there’s relief I’m relatively safe here with my wife, whom I am always happy to be near. That’s soon followed by anxiety about how even though I’m okay, I still have the audacity to feel scared.
Fortunately, I’ve found a coping mechanism — I call it ‘sitting on the couch.’ Knowing there’s no other option, I’ve given myself over to a fully sedentary lifestyle. My couch isn’t even technically a couch. It’s one of two matching loveseats, blue leather, that we inherited after my grandmother’s death. Each loveseat is the perfect length and softness for propping my head up on one arm and my feet on the other (or letting them dangle over the side). And I love it here. My couch is my new favorite hobby.
When this current period of self-isolation started, I worried that sheltering in place would compound my distress and make me unbearably restless, but it’s had exactly the opposite effect. As lucky as I am to have steady employment I can participate in from home, when I’m done working, I am done. It feels like roughly 50 percent of everyone’s mental energy at all times goes toward thinking about COVID-19, and I’m no exception. My brain is operating at airplane–Wi-Fi speeds. I work, and I cook dinner, and I take care of other assorted household tasks all while, essentially, buffering. And when I’m done doing shit for the day, I don’t want to do shit. I don’t want to learn to play guitar. I don’t want to write the great American novel or a lesser, easier-to-complete American novel. I don’t want to raise sourdough in captivity.
My deepest desire is to stay as still as possible. And I’ve done it. There is, at this point, very little difference between the couch itself and my human body. Its cushions have formed a gentle cast around my head, my butt, my calves. Or is it I who has molded myself to the soft contours of the cushions? It’s hard to say definitively where one ends and the other begins. Is a centaur a horse with a human torso or is it a person with horse hips and legs? Either way, man and couch, couch and man, we’re now one thing.
It doesn’t matter what I do on the couch: text friends, attempt to master a game on the Nintendo Switch I was recently gifted, forge ahead on our full-series 30 Rock rewatch, sometimes all three at once. I’ve been active in my passivity. While inert, I’ve read books, called my elected officials, and compulsively donated to GoFundMe accounts. But the important thing is that I’m staying home, and more than that, I’m staying still.
This is all new to me. Getting comfortable is, ironically, outside my comfort zone. I’m used to rushing around, propelled by anxiety about falling behind in my career or some nebulous guidance counselor’s warnings not to “squander my potential.” These days, I have all the anxiety I need in my cozy Brooklyn apartment. I’m starting to understand why people do things like “relax” and “unwind.” The alternative, over an indefinite span of time, would become unbearable. I’m doing my best to not do my best, and it feels okay. Who knows how far this will go. Maybe I’ll get really into a CSI.
There’s no “brighter side” of a pandemic. Embracing any kind of comfort feels strange in this moment. But amid all the bad news and mask-wearing, I have to do something to stave off the world’s ambient stresses. And for once in my life, I intend to do nothing at all.