We’d already been drifting apart for years
Real knowledge of what’s outside one’s garden cures fear
Subscribe for the full yearly price and I’ll send you a copy of one my books. “Not a bad deal.” Coming up later this week for paid subscribers we’ve got a look at one of the most egregious cases of qualified immunity for police violence I’ve seen in a long time and also me doing my classic run-on sad sack type of bullshit just as soon as I can decide what these hornets outside are a metaphor for.
New York magazine asked me and the boys down at the emails factory to share our picks for our favorite newsletters. Here’s what I said.
“I’m not in recovery, although as someone who has lived through, and lives with, whatever-you-got in terms of addictions, I find [A.J. Daulerio’s] The Small Bow to be an extraordinarily great resource that also happens to be beautifully written. Kind of like reading ahead on the syllabus for a test I’m going to have to take later on in the semester.” —Luke O’Neil (Welcome to Hell World)
Read it here.
Some notes of optimism in today’s issue (?) I’m sorry I know that’s not what you come here for but it was uh an accident of circumstance.
(This piece is too long for an email you’ll want to read it in a browser to see the whole thing.)
First up we’ve got Joe Keohane writing about the transformative power of talking to strangers which is something I’ve been in desperate want of for the past year and a half. I am fully sick of the people I love I want to see strangers and casual acquaintances. As I wrote recently “I appreciate and miss my half-ass see you around from time to time friends. Everyone we like doesn't have to be someone who’d die for us or whatever. To me a good type of guy is the guy who you see out and think ‘I gotta hang out with him more,’ then you never do, but you also think that again every time after.”
And also in the Lockdown book from the early days of Covid:
Here’s what I want I want to walk into a bar and sit down next to some fucking guy and be annoyed by every single little movement he makes and every comment about what’s playing on the TV. I want me to want him to shut the fuck up. I want to have the bartender ask me how I am and I want to tell them not too bad man and mean it. I want to wheel a carriage with a fucked up wheel down the aisle of the grocery store and find someone standing in front of the vast array of Cheez-It options taking their sweet ass time deciding and I want to think hurry up with the Cheez-Its Jesus Christ. I want to peel off my clothes in a room full of gross old man dicks and balls and climb into my shorts and walk to the pool and hurl myself into it and swim back and forth going nowhere just moving through the water. I want to be dragged to a dinner party I would prefer not to go to and sit there on someone’s stupid couch and reach a pita chip over and scrape it across the bowl of hummus and say ha ha that’s wild when someone is telling me a story about whatever cute little job they have and I want to go meet a friend I haven’t seen in a while and sort of not feel like it all day but then realize halfway through the visit that I love them and there’s a reason why I still know them even after all these years. Then once I’ve done all that once I’ve talked and talked I want to go home and be alone for a little while like it’s a pleasure I’ve earned not a punishment we’re all suffering through.
I did actually sit next to an annoying guy at a bar recently. He was annoying as shit and wouldn’t in fact shut the fuck up. I want to say I loved it for the purposes of the general theme here but no it was just irritating in the same way it always used to be. Still better than staring at the wall.
Either way I think I might be going to my first show this weekend.
Some of you will know the Sheila Divine are not only my favorite Boston band of all time but in my top ten or so bands from anywhere of all time so if you’re around you should go. I am going to walk around the entire time saying “this fucking guy over here” so many times then probably leave before it even starts because I don’t know how to drink normally in public anymore and I’ll be blacked out by 6:30 pm. Still better than staring at the wall though.
Down below I asked a bunch of readers to chime in on something positive (relatively speaking and with all the obvious caveats so you don’t have to yell at me) that came out of the Covid era (which to be clear is not over even though a lot of us in Massachusetts as far as I can tell are acting like it is. Japan just declared a state of emergency two weeks before the Olympics are about to start. That seems bad imo).
Previously readers talked about how not having to commute lately had changed their lives and how their addictions have gotten better or worse throughout Covid.
Ok. You may remember Joe Keohane from a previous piece he wrote for Hell World last year for the Last Normal Day series. I quoted this section in here a couple times because it is good:
It’s been said before the Covid-19 exploited some key American vulnerabilities: an individualism that can be indistinguishable from pathological selfishness. A society that moves around a lot. And, of course, a government ruled by vandals, paranoids, and dead-enders. But for me one of the hidden vulnerabilities was our national addiction to a certain idea of heroism. James Baldwin wrote this about cops during a protest march: “There they stood in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with most American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club, or a fist, or a gun.” The coronavirus crisis was incompatible with American hero mythology, with our idea of action. We simply did not have the psychological tools to cope with something that would not respond to violence, threats, or bombast. You couldn’t kick its ass, or root for the army to kick its ass, or even console yourself with fantasies of kicking its ass yourself--that sad but enduring Walter Mitty man-saves-the-day fantasy that I suspect provides much of the drive of the American male’s love for guns. No, with Covid there was no comfort in violent fantasy. You couldn’t do anything. You really could only do nothing. In fact, for the vast majority of us, nothing was the thing you had to do. And the country failed spectacularly, and 2020 feels like the year that will never end.
He also as I will always point out every time he comes up in here is responsible for firing me from my first real job ever a tale which we told in the Oral History of the Weekly Dig the alt-weekly where I got my start.
Years later he brought me along at Esquire though and without that happening I probably never would have ended up here and you wouldn’t be here reading this. We worked on my first ever viral story there called The Year We Broke the Internet. It was 2013. I had no idea how much worse it was going to get. I was so fucking pissed off out of my mind about Buzzfeed and viral dogshit sites like that all the time back then.
Media malpractice like this didn't trigger the collapse of traditional revenue models, but it's hastening the job. Everyone wants everything for free now—news, music, movies, etc.—which means the companies don't have any money to pay people to produce original work. None of this is anything you haven't heard before, but it bears repeating. In order to make a living, those of us who had the bad sense to shackle ourselves to a career in media before that world ended have to churn out more content faster than ever to make up for the drastically reduced pay scale. We're left with the choice of spending a week reporting a story we're actually proud of (as I do just frequently enough to ensure a somewhat restful sleep every other night), reaping a grand sum of somewhere in the ballpark of two hundred to five hundred dollars if we're lucky, or we can grind out ten blog posts at twenty-five to fifty bucks a pop that take fifteen minutes each. That means the work across the board ends up being significantly more disposable, which in turn makes the readers value it less, which means they want to pay less for it, and so on. It's an ouroboros of shit.
Ah, well, nevertheless.
So here’s Joe. If you like what you read please check out his forthcoming book The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. Then stick around for the reader contributions after that.
The Case for a New Social Renaissance
Our recent crises—from plague, to loneliness, to polarization—have given us a rare chance to rethink the way we interact with the strangers around us. We squander it at our peril.
by Joe Keohane
Like many of you, my esteem for humanity over the years has not been consistently high. That’s not to say humans don’t have their charms. They’ve invented pesto, for example, and the Manhattan, and they perform sweet and wondrous things like trying to learn the piano. But they also keep killing one another for completely stupid and pointless reasons, and tormenting the powerless for spite, and they’ve turned the actual literal weather against us. And they invented Facebook. And they run my hated cable company, Spectrum.
But I’ve also spent the last several years traveling around, talking to as many strangers as I could, for a book called The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World, out on July 13. I wanted to understand why we don’t talk to strangers, and what happens when we do. It turns out there’s a fair bit of research that has found that talking to strangers is good for us, enhances our sense of well-being, and helps us feel more connected to where we live and the people we live among. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But while I was poring over all this psych research, I also started digging into humanity’s history with strangers. Not just the war and genocide parts—which are abundant—but those crisis points in the history of the species in which we got over our wariness of strangers, and figured out ways to talk to one another, and cooperate with one another, and even treat one another as “honorary kin,” as anthropologists put it. These social renaissances, which range from hunter-gatherers devising greeting rituals, to the invention of hospitality, to the rise of human rights, etc. etc., all worked the same way: they allowed us to continually expand our definition of who “we” are, and, ideally, benefit from all the ideas, and perspectives, and company of strangers.
I did this work between 2018 and now—hardly the most cheerful stretch in the history of this country. And I recognize the irony of saying this on Luke’s newsletter, but I came away from the project feeling weirdly optimistic about our ability to actually not be pointlessly fucking horrible to one another every day forever. I felt like I saw a path out of the several dozen existential messes we presently find ourselves in, in those social renaissances, where humans flexed their cooperative genius and figured their shit out. And I think we stand a chance today at forging a new social renaissance, which comes in large part from learning to talk to strangers. (Not Spectrum executives, necessarily, who recently responded to my humble request to replace a broken cable box by damning me to wander for months through a dank labyrinth of bullshit, dysfunction, indifference, scorn, and malice. But to other people, 100%.)
I want to take you through a bit of this research. Studies on talking to strangers break the benefits down to personal and social. Let’s start with the personal.
2020 was an absolute sack of dog hair, no doubt about it, with Covid-19 keeping us away from one another—friends and strangers alike—for a solid year. But social distancing isn’t a new thing. We’d already been drifting apart for years. Personal technology eliminated much of the need to speak to another stranger—for directions, help, or even just to pass the time in line or at a bar. Apps mean we never have to talk to, or really even see, the people who bring us our food and whatever other necessities. Parallel to all this, rates of loneliness and isolation in young and old Americans alike have gotten so severe before the pandemic that former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called the problem an “epidemic,” posing a grave threat to the nation’s mental and physical health.
I should say I wasn’t exempt from this. A few years ago, I noticed I had all but stopped talking to strangers. I had a demanding job and a small child, which meant I couldn’t hang out in public places anymore, and even when I could, I just didn’t have the energy to strike up conversations with random people. Worse, I had a phone. When I did hang out somewhere, I promptly disappeared into it, thus joining the sad ranks of people you see lined up at a bar, hunched like a row of lower-case r’s, faces bathed in sickly blue light. I didn’t feel great about it.
So I made an effort to talk to strangers again, to rebuild myself as a social creature. And like I said, I also started researching the psychological benefits of it. I found that there’s a growing body of research—conducted in locations from Toronto to Turkey, and led most notably by the psychologists Gillian Sandstrom, Elizabeth Dunn, Nicholas Epley, and Juliana Schroeder—that has found that talking to strangers is surprisingly beneficial. Even if it’s just small talk with your barista, psychologists say that talking to strangers can enhance our sense of well-being, and belonging, and safety, reduce loneliness and prejudice, and boost everything from social trust to cognitive functioning. While those of us raised amid the Stranger Danger hysteria of the ‘80s have been conditioned by cops and teachers and TV to believe strangers are a readily available source of abduction and murder, Sandstrom and Dunn went so far as to call talking to strangers a “readily available source of happiness.”
And yet, many of us are loath to do it. “People are remarkably pessimistic about talking to strangers,” as Sandstrom put it. Maybe because of that abduction and murder stuff above. But once the participants in these studies got started—including in situations in which strangers of different races, and genders and personalities, were made to interact—they found it much easier and more enjoyable than they expected. Sandstrom says she’s seen this again and again: stranger-anxiety swiftly giving way to a sort of joy of discovery and unexpected rapport. “It doesn’t take any time at all before they’re into the conversation,” Sandstrom told me. “By the end they don’t want to stop talking. It’s fascinating. You can’t shut them up.” Ordinarily, we’re continually subjected to people who can’t shut up online, like Luke and Donald Trump, pre-ban. But here the effect was much more positive. These people actually became happier.
But the benefits can be bigger than just a surge of temporary good feeling. Done well, and mindfully, and at scale, talking to strangers can help repair social and political divides. It has in our past, and it can again. I attended a convention by a group called Braver Angels, which trains Republicans and Democrats to literally just sit in a room and speak to one another. This shouldn’t be such an impossible challenge for a hyper-social species like homo sapien, but at this point you’re more likely to achieve a positive outcome from dropping two strange chimps into a room, locking the door and coming back in a week, than from putting a Democrat and a Republican at a table together. (I know this, I also did a lot of research on people who introduce strange chimps. Chimps are nuts.)
With a lot of ground rules in place, however, Braver Angels was actually able to get partisans to talk to one another. Granted, when I was there, I single handedly unified people, because I was the media, and they all hated the media. But even without my selfless contribution, I saw the Braver Angels approach work over and over. Two visibly uncomfortable strangers—and not necessarily moderates either—who believed they had nothing in common sat down together, and in little time, they found they had some overlap, and enjoyed one another’s company, and could imagine working together on something. More important, though, because partisanship drives dehumanization, they came to see complexity where they previously saw dangerous simplicity. They saw humanity where before they only saw a mindless cog in a malignant machine. They saw a glimmer of a glimmer of a glimmer of hope. Which counts for something.
In a few days, the gathering went from feeling like a hairshirt convention to something more like summer camp. I spoke to one of the participants in a workshop, a Georgia Republican. His partner in one conversation was transgender, and while he always believed you’re either male or female and that’s it, the conversation complicated his perspective in a good way. “She’s a very nice woman; we had a lovely conversation,” he told me on a smoke break outside. “It made me think that people have these experiences that I can’t relate to, but I should be open-minded about it.” Likewise, he thinks he may have informed her opinion on his big issue, “the proper role of government.” He told me his expectations for the event had been low, he admitted. “I thought there’d be more acrimony from the sides, but everyone here is reasonable,” he said. “We’re all Americans, we’re all reasonable Americans. We can self-govern. We can talk to each other.”
That’s not to say this is in any way a magic bullet. The people who come to these conventions are self-selecting. They aren’t moderates, but they are moderate in temperament, and they’re at least willing to entertain the possibility of talking to the other side. I doubt any of them took a shit in Nancy Pelosi’s desk drawer back in January, is what I’m saying. Nor do I think this is likely to do anything but waste time in Congress, which at the moment is more like the chimp research facility I studied than a functioning body of government. Nor will it solve everything immediately. Our problems are incredibly complex, and I think it will take 20 years of hard work before this country is actually functional again. But I think that work has to be done by citizens, and I don’t think we can solve anything without first learning to communicate with one another, and without exercising curiosity about one another, and without humanizing one another. I know this makes me seem like a Pollyanna or a squishy centrist, but as Luke can attest, I’m really not. I’m frequently appalled by human behavior, and Joe Manchin is driving me up the wall. But having done the research, I think I see a practical way forward here.
And as it turns out, there’s a scientific basis for what I witnessed at that convention. Those interactions, which psychologists classify under the term “contact,” have been shown to promote a sense of shared humanity, and drive home the fact that the world defies simple answers. All forms of prejudice require a gross oversimplification of the other in order to sustain themselves. But when you talk to a stranger, as an equal, ideally about something that matters, their lives become demystified to you; their full humanity becomes undeniable. And then and only then can you work together. The philosopher Kwame Appiah wrote something along these lines that has really stuck with me. “When a stranger is no longer imaginary, but real and present, sharing a human social life, you may like or dislike him, you may agree or disagree; but if it is what you both want, you can make sense of each other in the end.”
Danielle Allen, a celebrated political scientist currently vying to become the second Black governor of Massachusetts, captured this nicely, too: “Real knowledge of what’s outside one’s garden cures fear,” she wrote, “but only by talking to strangers can we come by such knowledge.”
It worked for me. After spending several years talking to everyone I could, I came away surprisingly inspired, and reassured, and renewed by all the strangers I’d had the pleasure of meeting: people who were like me, and people who were very unlike me. I found my experiment reliably delightful and hilarious, challenging and profound. Where I may once have looked across the terrain of the world in 2021 and seen just the latest outflow from an eternal spring of folly, disgrace, and disaster, I now see an opportunity for something better: a new social renaissance, sparked by a collective resolution to talk to strangers, whoever they are, and wherever they may be.
I live in New York, which has had a pretty bad year and a half. I wrote something about this a while back for Hell World called “On Foolish Optimism.” Last year took more out of me than I thought I had to give. But I’m still here, and my city is reopening, and it’s been great to see New Yorkers out in force, enjoying, for the first time in a long time, the company of strangers. It’s been exhilarating to watch, and it gives me hope—for the city, and, more cautiously, for the country, and the world. It has also given me several properly devastating hangovers. But hope, as well. Mainly hope.
Joe Keohane is a journalist in New York City. His book The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World, comes out soon.
I was trying to think just now what if anything I actually liked that came out of the past year and a half. Certainly not all the death and suffering and grief. Nor the evidence despite what Joe wrote above that we are hopelessly fractured as a culture. But there were some developments in the ways we work and interact with one another and think about what life is supposed to be that came out of this — still ongoing — pandemic that I might like to see stick around especially when it comes to issues of accessibility to name one obvious example. I asked readers to share what if anything changed for the better — whether personally or systemically — and which of those changes they’d like to see become permanent themselves. Here’s what they said.
This is a small thing but I hope shops will continue to make curbside pickup available, especially my local grocery. I have a chronic pain disability that is aggravated by walking around the supermarket and simultaneously managing my cane and the shopping cart. The ability to place an order online and pick it up without getting out of the car is life changing.
I’m pretty sure the global economy grinding to a halt had a positive impact on carbon emissions. Maybe worth looking into further.
One positive for me is that I’m more likely to tell people that I love them and care about them without hesitation. Something about the uncertainty of a global pandemic made it easier for me.
I know it won't for the obvious reasons but making people wear masks and be more hygienic has done wonders for my allergies. I haven't gotten the colds I usually get 3-4 times a year and I'd love if we could transition into “wear a mask when you're sick or when something is going around” being a courtesy like it is in parts of Southeast Asia, etc.
One development I hope to see continue is how numerous cities around the country had to adapt to make city council meetings and other hearings that are in theory open to the public available to stream from home. It wasn’t just a positive change in terms of accessibility issues for people who might find it hard to attend in person, but also makes sense for everyone period. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t stay this way and expand to as much public business as possible. And if nothing else it gave us the LAPD Zoom meeting with the infamous sign off “Suck my dick and choke on it. I yield my time. Fuck you.”
I like spending time at home with my pets. I like having pets. I was so busy, and never home, before all of this, I never thought I could care for a dog. But during the pandemic I picked up a stray dog followed by a stray cat. I spend a lot of time with them and now I can't imagine leaving them at home for any period of time. We have developed codependency issues, which is an epidemic now, I've read.
As a frustrating side note, my company has been touting that we'll have a flexible work arrangement moving forward, but our CEO recently switched gears entirely and decided it'll be 100% capacity back in the office after Labor Day. He recognizes some people will leave because of it and apparently accepts that. It's just post-pandemic attrition to him and it's what he wants, so everyone else needs to fall in line or get out. I just keep thinking about leaving the animals at home for 9 hours a day, and I don't think I can do that, so maybe I need to quit and open a pet friendly bed and breakfast or something.
I'd like to see a lot of the outdoor dining and other allowances they made for restaurants stay in place. Let restaurant patios take over part of the road forever, don't ever give it back to the cars, and keep to-go cocktails on the table. I'm not sure I heard about any big issues caused by to-go booze, but since we still gotta check with the Pilgrims about any of the laws we have here in Massachusetts I'm sure they'll end that stuff as soon as possible.
Remote access to public meetings should never go away, road closings to create space for pedestrians, all the common sense stuff that feels obvious and makes lives easier and it feels like we should have been doing anyway but for some reason we know they won't do.
One more positive thing I'd like to see remain, and expand, is workers telling bosses that they're simply not coming back unless certain conditions are improved, whether it's pay or remote work options, etc. I love that restaurant workers are standing up and saying no, and I hope office workers do the same when all the giant companies we work for who are heavily invested in commercial real estate start trying to force us back into commutes and office buildings because even though it's clear we don't need them, they paid for them already so what're you gonna do, not go to an office?
My wife and I started walking together a lot more, like upwards of six miles daily. It helped us lose a lot of weight even with the extra booze. I also had more time to practice playing drums, so I did that too, got way better at cooking, and learned a bunch of home improvement skills while we worked on our house.
I talk to my friends and tell them I love them and miss them a lot more, and I learned I love to send people birthday cards.
Also my wife started saying "fuck the police" now lmao.
I haven't been sick in a year and a half so maybe the facemask/hand sanitizer thing isn't so bad.
Not having to spend an hour every morning making myself “presentable” for being perceived in public was a relief. I hope we hold onto some of that energy going forward and realize that, especially for women, the onus we put on looking “professional” is pretty ridiculous. I’m not saying sweatpants in the office but I’m also not not saying that.
Telehealth. Especially therapy. In situations where people are most in need of therapy, everything that goes into the logistics of getting to one's therapist can present an insurmountable wall. Waking up in time. Getting time off work. Getting dressed. Commuting. Sitting in a waiting room. Dealing with the aftermath of a tough session in public on your commute home. All of that can keep someone from keeping an appointment when they really need it. There are still a million things wrong with the way therapy is available and accessed in the country, but before the pandemic, there were a million and one things wrong.
Just the ability to not be in the office made me realize that I didn’t have to cram every single chore into the weekend. There were spans where I could take the subway to get keys or food or see a virtual doctor and miss absolutely nothing work-wise. Having the option to work virtually on days when I need to take care of myself are the one thing I hope we keep. I need some time to myself. Just not this much.
Classroom accommodations for neurodivergent kids. At home they could do school while laying on their bellies, petting an animal, bouncing on a mini trampoline, eating crunchy snacks, etc. More control of their sensory environment.
The whole sourdough thing seems like a relic from the early Covid-era now, but, at least anecdotally, myself and a lot of my friends put more thought into the things we cook at home, planning things out more, since running back out to the store three times a day wasn’t really an option, and taking our time again with dinner as opposed to it just being an afterthought. And since dinner was literally the only thing we had on our schedule a lot of us used it as a chance to actually spend time with family and our s.o.’s. I also ordered takeout and went out to get garbage fast food a lot less which has been great for my health. I think. I don’t know if this will last, I’m already craving Five Guys, but it was a nice respite.
I'd like it if people who can do their jobs from home get to keep doing that. Just keeping up on chores and shit in a household where everyone is working is pretty nice. No commute rocks too. That may be worth always being on the boss's tip, but when hasn't that been the case anyway.
I hit one year of sobriety right as the lockdowns started going into effect. When I quit drinking and friends asked me if it was for good, I would always flippantly say “well, until society collapses or the world ends,” and it seemed like a little bit on the nose as a challenge from the universe. But I guess a year was just long enough to hit my stride, and now getting through all this shit (covid, Trump, Nazis storming the castle, Biden rubbing our noses in the fact that our democracy is a well-massaged psyop) without falling off the wagon, I feel like my foundation really is that much stronger. I feel like I actually managed to find who I was before I was a hopeless drunk and become me again.
But wait, there’s more: I also am a weird hermit who loves my friends but sometimes hates socializing, feeling stuck out in public somewhere, etc. All the weirdo introvert basketcases who are balls of anxiety got a year off! It was so fucking great. Which of course feels a bit bad to admit, given that people were literally dying. As we reopen, I feel like people are more willing to hear it if I say that I’m people’d out or overwhelmed and bouncing early. Basically, the world is worse off, but I feel like I got a year to drop out of everything and focus on myself.
Positive things I’d like to see stay in place are thin, but the general vibe of treating hospitality staff like humans has been refreshing. You said something about how maybe we don’t need 10 restaurants that serve $12 asparagus tapas, and as much as I love restaurants I agree with you.
Something that’s been positive was the mandatory break from work. I’m a massage therapist. I was definitely overworking and letting my boundaries get pushed with regard to saying no to more work/clients. I have reset those boundaries after having a break and it’s felt much better and I’m feeling less threat of burnout. I can already feel the pace of life increase though, and it’s making me need to reinforce my boundaries constantly. I admit I enjoyed not having to do that for a year.
I would love to see my commute change so much that as the chief people officer for my organization I’m rewriting the remote work policy. If you want to break the rules, you gotta make them.
My kid was born pre-pandemic, but extremely premature. We were in the NICU for 100 days and then entered into a flu-season lockdown when she came home in December 2019 because of her weak lungs. Then the pandemic hit. We held a very strict quarantine. We were fortunate enough to keep our jobs and afford in-home childcare, and so the perverse benefit of the pandemic was that we were able (even mandated) to follow every bit of guidance to keep our kid safe. If you think about the variation in flu deaths from 2019 to 2020, you get an idea of how much quarantine meant in terms of keeping my once-very sick child safe and healthy. Now she’s fine; she is feisty. (In fact, she’s bitching at me right now.) But I think we got perversely lucky to have the time to let her get strong and for the whole world to take respiratory illness seriously at a time when we needed it most.
There was a brief period of a couple months where I thought employers, especially for those of us suddenly deemed “essential”, were going to start treating us with somewhat more than the absolute bare minimum of decency and respect. It didn’t last obviously. If we could somehow isolate that feeling everyone had for five seconds there about how hard grocery workers and service industry people and delivery drivers all work and stretch it out into forever that would be great. I hold on to no illusion that this will happen but it’s nice to dream.
Remote work/options where possible for certain professions. I know this one has been talked about a lot in the popular discourse already, but it’s been huge for me as a migraine sufferer, being able to set up my own low-light workspace and not having to call off when I’m feeling gross.
Reduced hours of operation for retail, call centers, and other service jobs. I think Covid shifted us back from the 24/7 availability mentality that’s prevalent in the US. Have known folks that have benefited from extra time with loved ones/time to rest/actually getting holidays and such off for the first time in their careers.
I think this thing that the Huntington Theater is doing as part of their reopening is cool. You can get "digital insurance" on at least one of their upcoming shows. If you buy tix for the live show and for any reason decide not to go, you can exchange them for access to a streamed recording of the production. I'm really hoping other theater companies follow suit and this becomes permanent for all kinds of reasons (especially if it helps normalize the idea of staying the fuck home when you feel sick without losing your ability to pay for your life and/or participate in the world). Over the course of the pandemic, there were a lot of theater companies trying to figure out streaming, lots of pay what you can and/or reduced pricing was part of that. One of the biggest, fairest digs around live theater is pricing. People complain about the prices of Broadway shows, but Broadway actors are among the only stage actors in the country who are actually making livings that will let them retire one day. I'm intrigued to see if cheaper streamed performances can provide more access to theater, especially to kids.
I'd like mask wearing when sick to become more common. People learning how to cook at home and developing hobbies was a positive thing I hope continues.
Personally I lost a lot of already broken trust in institutions and other people, but really learned a lot about myself and I feel more confident in being responsible for my own needs and stating my boundaries. Researching and forming my own opinion in the face of constant misinformation was already a priority, and is even more now. I've worked on making my home and relationships where I want to be most.
It ended all too soon, but early on in spring 2020, when people were still scared and MA was as close to locked down as it got, the air was fresher and the sounds of birds and small animals enjoying their freedom from humanity permeated the atmosphere.
For sure I'd like to see a more flexible or hybrid work model for in-office/at-home days, but that's kinda whatever and Ed Zitron has also addressed this better than I ever could in his newsletter. But overall I like some of the innovations that restaurants have come out with, whether it's carry-out beers or take-home cocktail kits or handheld POS systems for servers, or just letting us order online through the POS so we don't have to say to a real live human that we want four things of blue cheese for the wings, because that shit's embarrassing and now that we don't wear masks they'll see my face and think I'm some kind of sicko.
Last summer my brain exploded and I changed my whole life, I got less invested in my job and started working on a mutual aid crew that gets food from farms that would otherwise be composted and delivers it to hundreds of people every week; I also started a group in my town to defund the police and we just succeeded in blocking a 5 million dollar capital budget request from those sons of bitches and I feel fucking great about it. These two things feel like drastic, radical changes in my life—like a transition from living inwardly to living more outwardly/engaging with my community/organizing/practicing hope—that I want to hold on to forever…
Not flying. I have always hated flying and felt so shitty about it, all these fucking planes traipsing around the world constantly spewing poison into the air, and for what? Businessmen and whatever? I’m an academic so there was a lot of flying to conferences all over the country and honestly it’s insane when you think about it. Flying to New Orleans just to read a paper out loud to like 15 people in a hotel ballroom? This shit can and should be done over Zoom from now on and I will die on this hill (although many of my colleagues are champing at the bit to get back to in-person conferencing). I think as a culture as a rule we are way too blasé about flying. It’s absolutely crazy to me that it is considered normal to fly in an airplane thousands of miles every year. The year before Covid I flew on average every six weeks and it made me fucking sick, existentially. My husband and I are trying to establish a new post-Covid rule where we only fly twice a year at most. This will make our families sad but I don’t know what you are supposed to do.
I totally get the not commuting thing but I’m a professor and I miss my classroom and my real life students so much, but I will say that I hope faculty meetings will be on Zoom forevermore. I am a technophobe and also when you’re in academia you have to constantly attack the tech-bro bullshit they are always trying to shove on us about “online ed” and how great it is (they want to basically just pay someone a nickel to create a “valuable online course” that then they can run over and over again and sell to thousands of students at a time and not have to pay a teacher at all, and it’s bullshit), so initially this whole “We are migrating to remote learning mid-semester due to the Covid-19 pandemic” thing made me go “the hell I am!” And yet I do have to say that aspects of it (faculty meetings, committee meetings, even office hours) are way better done on Zoom than like schlepping 20 minutes to campus for some stupid meeting
Pre-Covid I would grocery shop every day like a European. Now I go once a week and I kind of like how it forces better planning and less food waste.
The biggest thing I hope we all take away from this horrible year is that WORK SUCKS, BOSSES SUCK, etc. I think a lot of people had some time off for the first time ever and during that time they realized the degree to which a lot of these jobs we work just suck 90% of your life away. I really hope people keep quitting their jobs in droves. I’m loving this phenomenon.
I started a coronavirus diary on March 15, 2020, and have stayed up on it this whole time. It's almost 200,000 words now. Real fucking indulgent, but that's what a diary is supposed to be, and it's become quite the document of this time and place. It became kind of a lot to deal with in the spring, though, as I got vaccinated and started microdosing and the kids went back to school for eight glorious weeks that are now over, so in May I started writing a poem a day, and that's been a lovely thing to keep going. I got through a month and a week of every day, but I'm still scribbling away in there when I can or need to, and it's really been delightful. Instead of this ponderous diary where I catalog everything (which, I've changed a little from that to today, but it still needs a lot of time and quiet to do right), I'm scribbling a page or so of lines about whatever is on my mind and it really makes me feel better, whether to kind of flush whatever I'm getting stuck thinking over and over about or to just celebrate where I'm at, who I'm with, how far I've come. Gratitude, basically. I'll keep it going forever, hopefully, because this feels better than anything else has, pretty much forever.
I also cut a lot of toxic folks out of my life (easier to do with the pandemic, to be sure) and started collecting records. Those also have helped a ton, and I hope to keep them going, too. I can't wait for concerts to start again, and to either meet friends there or just go on my own and fill my heart and spirit with something other than whiskey and IPAs, and then leave when it's over and go home and get some sleep. I got a ticket to see Mountain Goats in late August, and I expect I'll just sit there silently weeping the whole time, but for good reasons this time, not the old bad ones.
I don't want to downplay my stress or the fact there were definitely periods where my "accomplishments'' outside work and online courses were restricted to video games, but I think, on the whole, the quarantine was a boon for my creativity. I found myself experimenting more as a writer and under less pressure to justify everything I worked on as a potential pathway to boosting my portfolio or something new I could monetize or shop around to agents and publishers. Also, using a few books, I started teaching myself how to draw. I might have tried these things anyway, admittedly. But as someone who had been stuck in the freelance/underemployment grind even long before the pandemic broke out, having an actual economic safety net was like getting permission to actually live, rather than just trying to sell myself endlessly.
I wouldn't deny the premise that talking to strangers has social benefits, but there are absolutely disproportionate risks and costs inherent in being willing to converse with strangers. Many, many, many times in my life, I (a woman) have responded with mild/basic politeness to a strange man who spoke to me, and the encounter turned either aggressively sexual or aggressively aggressive (or, often, one and then the other). I've also had lovely conversations with strange men, but it's always a roll of the dice, and I often just don't fucking feel like risking it. I'm willing to set aside the benefits of talking with strangers in order to stay safe, or even just conserve the energy I'd have to spend in an encounter gone bad. I'm very sure that people from any visibly marginalized group experience similar risks and costs in conversing with strangers who have more social power than they do (as @matjef points out downthread, the transgender woman in conversation with a Georgia Republican is a pretty solid example of mismatched risk and cost in a conversation with a stranger).
If the thesis is that there are overall benefits to society when strangers are able to speak and share ideas, failing to look at who benefits more, and who risks more, is overlooking a key dynamic.
i've always been way into talking to strangers. unless they're unbearable. and i don't want to piss on joe's optimism parade, because i tend to believe he's right about the amount of progress that interacting w/ strangers can foster, but this anecdote that he points to as an example of successfully bridging a divide:
I spoke to one of the participants in a workshop, a Georgia Republican. His partner in one conversation was transgender, and while he always believed you’re either male or female and that’s it, the conversation complicated his perspective in a good way. “She’s a very nice woman; we had a lovely conversation,” he told me on a smoke break outside. “It made me think that people have these experiences that I can’t relate to, but I should be open-minded about it.” Likewise, he thinks he may have informed her opinion on his big issue, “the proper role of government.”
is, to me, a perfect example of the flawed and inequitable nature of this approach. this fucking guy had to be convinced that transgender people exist/have the right to exist and after his conversation partner put herself at risk and undertook the emotional labor to do so, she was rewarded by having to listen to his theories on small government or some bullshit. i'd love to hear her perspective on their "lovely conversation".