No longer do I have to make creative excuses for the things I don’t want to do. Science and nature have done that for me.
We isolated as a family a full 10 days before others; one of my sons has asthma, and it was clear we weren’t getting good information — Sure! Masks won’t help prevent a respiratory illness! Sure! We became like Pompeii, frozen in place in a house in the suburbs that I’d longed to leave until all of this happened. Now, we’re left to find the smaller things that give us joy, and I’m not finding much. Also, my 9-year-old? He hums all the time, it turns out. All. The. Time.
I find joy not in the small things that used to be rarities and are now regulars: a family movie night, a morning in bed (doing my work but still), leggings and also sweatpants. Those things are great, but they’re not new. No, joy for me has come by watching my calendar alert me to plans that are now canceled.
Here’s how it goes: Ping! My computer or phone alerts me to the fact that I have to drive car pool to basketball, or that I have a Moms’ Night Out with the other mothers from school (I like the moms but hate the nights out, the implication of which is that we’re all prisoners except for some kind of temporary shore leave, but vis-à-vis the play date hustle, they’re the room where it happens), theater tickets or a family bar mitzvah.
The first reaction is a millisecond of dread, which is followed by a layer of relief. It’s canceled. Whatever I’m doing, I don’t need to do it more. The Thing is gone. And not only is The Thing gone, but I don’t have to even pick up the phone to undo it, or send a text, or beg off with an excuse that isn’t quite a lie but, well. In pre-pandemic times, I canceled 80 percent of my plans — sometimes for good reasons (“babysitter canceled,” “deadline was moved up”) and sometimes for bad ones (“I hate New Jersey Transit even more at night,” “I don’t wanna go, but I made these plans because I was hoping to become the kind of person who did in the interim”).
Normally, when I cancel, my relief at being off the hook only slightly outweighs my sadness at knowing that people are still getting together without me, that I’m missing out, that something inside me is deeply broken because, if I could, I would stay inside forever.
But now no one has plans anymore. It is irresponsible to have them. Plans are done; they’re extinct. There is no choice.
(Now: I do have some FOMO over the number of Zoom drinks some of my friends are having. I don’t know if I’m sad that they know not to invite me, or if I’m relieved because it would be harder to cancel them. But they fall under the category of Stuff I’m Not Invited To, just like we had in the Before, and my noticing it is just another dig at a rot inside me that will never feel loved enough, but this piece is about joy and so inside a parenthetical this will remain.)
Yes, joy: I start the day in sweatpants; that’s where I end them. There’s a way to shut off the calendar alerts, but I won’t do it. Because the joy comes not from staying home, but from knowing I can stay home — in fact, that I must.
Soon there will come a day when all my plans have evaporated, and if we are still here when that happens, when there are no longer any alerts, then maybe I will begin to focus on the implications of this. And maybe the way our lives and world are ruined forever will finally begin to feel real to me. When that happens, please accept my Zoom invite, because I know then I will finally understand why people didn’t want to be alone in the first place.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a contributor to the Culture desk and the author of the novel “Fleishman Is in Trouble” (Random House 2019).
Doodles by David Furst. David is the picture editor for International at The Times.