After 11 Months, Am I Too Feral for Polite Society?

Bulldog by Sally Wiener GrottaThis past Friday, almost exactly eleven months from the day I locked the door of my home against the Covid-infected world, I received my first vaccine shot. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t an oncoming train. I have started to imagine what it will be like to be out among other people. Yes, I will still have to be masked and appropriately social distanced. But with some people, like my sister once she has her vaccinations, I will actually be able to share a human touch and loving hugs.

The problem is… well, I’m worried. I think I may now be too feral for polite society.  All signs of civilization have been stripped from me. I’m a wild woman of nature, living out here in the Pocono Mountains with all the other feral animals of the woods.

My hair is wild and long, reaching past my shoulder blades. I walk around in Daniel’s old baggy pants and big sweaters. Even though I’ve lost some weight, it’s going to be almost painful to wear skinny jeans or nicely form-fitting blazers. Forget about bras or shoes other than comfy slippers or old broken-in sneakers. If my clothes from yesterday pass the sniff test, why not wear them again… and again?

When I was a child, I was indoctrinated in proper table manners. I would no more have used the wrong fork for shrimp than I would use a straw to sip wine. Now, determined to not leave behind any of my delicious homemade soups, I slurp the remnant juices directly from the bowl.

I talk to myself at all hours of the day and night. For the first few months, I maintained the fiction that I was talking with my dog Shayna. Sure, she does react to the sound of my voice. But the truth is I just need to hear a human voice, even if it’s only mine.

A month and a half from now, after I’ve had my second vaccination and waited the two weeks for it to take effect, and I finally unlock the door to my home, how will I remember the proper way to behave so that society doesn’t shun me or send me packing back up to the Poconos? Heck, how will I remember to close the door to the bathroom?

Will children point at me as I walk toward them on a city sidewalk? And will their parents take them in hand, crossing the street to avoid the crazy lady? Will I embarrass my young nephews and convince their mother that it’s best not to invite Aunt Sally to their birthday parties? Will even Shayna cringe, and try to pull me in the other direction, when I spot someone I know just a block away?

Or will everyone nod in recognition when I commit yet another faux pas? Heck, we’ve all been living locked away from polite society.

Then again, maybe I’m the only one who has gone completely feral.

 

A New Wave of Authentic Communication in the Era of Covid-19

A Facebook friend shared a music video with me: “Neil Diamond & Puppies to Put a Smile on your Face.” It’s a charming bit of fluff, photographed outdoors, with Diamond singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and puppies romping in the fields. The pups are a nice touch, though I have the feeling the only reason they’re present is that a producer or someone said, “Hey, if we want a video to go viral, we need kittens or puppies in it.” But what bothered me the most was that Diamond lip-syncs a soundtrack that is obviously studio produced, with particular attention to enhancing his voice. 

Overall, the video is missing authenticity, that special element that says, we’re all human, and we need connections to each other, to nature, and to puppies. Instead, we view Diamond through a technologically managed veil that doesn’t allow us to touch or be touched.

Okay, I’m being very unfair. That video was produced in 2014 – six years and a world away. Back then, life was filled with movement, activities, responsibilities. We were constantly running from here to there and back again. Proud of the long, hard hours we worked, we strove for grueling levels of excellence, holding ourselves and everything around us to a high standard of productivity. Is it any wonder that we expected hard-earned perfection from our entertainment, based on take after take, melded together digitally to create a flawless whole? The Neil Diamond video was appropriate for that time.

But not for today.

Covid-19 has changed so much so quickly. Sheltering in place, hopefully in our own homes or apartments, we’re unable to move about, and for many, unable to work. Some of us are completely alone, though lucky singles like me have a dog or cat or even a bird or snake to keep us company. But for the majority of us who have Internet connections, we’re not truly alone. We are connecting with each other on a deeper, richer level than ever before – and far more frequently. I’m no exception.

I find myself Zooming every day, sometimes more than once, connecting with friends and family, but also with professional peers and business associates. In the mornings, I exercise with my sister-in-law Lee, and we’re often joined by our friend Saroj. It’s an intimate hour that starts our day on a warm positive note. Before, after and even during our aerobics video or yoga or weight training, we share our thoughts and concerns, discuss our plans for the day and support each other. Our friendship has been permanently changed by these exchanges, deepened.

My family Zooms once a week. (And yes, it is now a verb.) In normal times, I’d be lucky to see some of them every couple of months. I haven’t seen the St. Louis contingent in years. Of course, the kids dominate while parents, grandparents and the aunt (me) sit back and smile, and sometimes get a word in edgewise. We take pure pleasure – or for those who know Yiddish, we qvell – just seeing the faces of the people we love,  knowing they’re safe, and being able to share a half hour of unimportant patter while ensconced so many miles away from each other. The time we spend together online is far richer than a phone call or any kind of communication – other than the wished-for, someday-soon in-person gatherings.

Itzak Perlman: a story & some musicEven in my quiet hours, I’m not fully alone. In addition to enjoying videos of plays from Broadway and London, I’m kept company by authors’ readings and musicians performing at home. For instance, Itzhak Perlman epitomizes this new wave of heart-felt communication. He posts periodic short videos on Facebook – just him and his violin. Looking directly into the camera, he shares a short story or personal feelings, then plays a few minutes of music. And we feel uplifted by the very same sense of love that makes Perlman a violin virtuoso.

But it’s not just personal or artistic connections that have become more authentic. Business meetings are often disrupted by a cat jumping on someone’s lap or a child running about in the background. Such personal interruptions would have once been deemed inappropriate but now create a warm moment that we can share with our associates. To use a Yiddish word that says it all, our meetings are becoming menschlichkeit. (Sorry, it isn’t an easy word to translate. It has to do with being a mensch — a human being — being personable, caring, involved, and more than that.)

We’re depending on Zoom and similar videoconferencing services in this time of isolation. As we connect through our screens, we’re allowing not only our friends and family, but business associates, fans and other “strangers” to glimpse who we are behind the public masks we’d carefully crafted. Our pets, our children, our private homes are on display, warts and all. And we’ve become – like the Velveteen Rabbit – real to each other, and to ourselves.

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NOTE: Thank you David Strom and Paul Gillin for mentioning this essay on their FIR B2B podcast.