Monday, April 13, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 4 (April 6-April 12, 2020)

Pink moon - April 7, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Four weeks into social distancing I feel as though I’ve generally adjusted to how things are. That doesn’t mean I prefer to be at home almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I’m just saying that I suppose I have accepted this as normal for the time being, however long it will last, and figured out how to deal with it as best I can. Maybe that statement makes me sound resigned or defeated, but I hear it as a net positive. I wrote the first four entries in this series over a day and a half a week ago, so hindsight surely mitigated what I wrote about how I felt the first week or two of social distancing. The first week especially was rough, not in any way that should be cause for serious concern but rather in a manner probably similar to grieving. And why not? Collectively I think we are mourning even if we’re not certain what exactly we’ve lost.

So I can recognize that incremental emotional progress even if I would be happy with not having to have gone through it to arrive at this place. Keeping busy and maintaining a routine have been part of that. Texting and Slack messaging through work have provided a considerable boost to my mood as well. Whether the conversations are substantial, whatever that means, or not, they provide connections and support that I think we all need--OK, fine, I’ll be direct and say that I need--when there’s so much uncertainty. I worry about seeming too earnest when telling friends I’ve made at work that I appreciate them, but it’s better to let others know you value who they are and how they help you than not do it, right?


I called my 88-year-old great-aunt this week to check on her, although to my surprise it required making two phone calls to reach a voice on the other end. No one picked up the first time I called, which let my mind wander a little because surely she must be at home. As it turns out, she was walking down the farmhouse lane to the mailbox when I first called, so I demonstrated impeccable timing in giving her a ring at about the one moment when she wasn’t near the landline phone. I forget if she said she’d only driven somewhere twice this year or twice per month, but seeing as the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and possibly church are her only destinations, two times away from home for 2020 would not be a stretch.

It’s funny then that she of all people would lament feeling housebound. She’s never liked going that far from home anyway, so she should be perfectly suited for when we’re all being advised to stay put. I believe she has more contact with people over the phone than with visits, so the times shouldn’t affect that. My guess is that she’s reacting to the perceived loss of choice. If she wanted to stay home all the time before, that was her decision. Now that doing so is recommended, does it feel less like exercising her own will?

Rabbit practicing social distancing - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
With the number of hours I logged working this week, I didn’t get out much myself. I did drive to a supermarket on the chance that they had a Nintendo Switch that I decided I wanted to get. I came up empty with that search but did come across toilet paper, one of the other seemingly rare items in the market right now. (Eventually I purchased a Nintendo Switch preorder bundle online, meaning I have to be patient waiting for it to ship by month’s end, which feels like an eternity.)

Other than that my time outside for the week was limited to popping out to look at April 7’s pink moon and going for a post-work walk as the sun was going down. Outside my apartment I came across a rabbit that definitely wanted to ensure at least six feet of social distancing. In regard to nature, I’ve become more aware of the Canadian geese honking outside my place in the morning and afternoon, and I like to watch the squirrels and birds that skitter across my small patio area.

On my walk this week, regrettably just the one, I noticed the caution tape around the playground equipment in the park and realized that the rims were not on the basketball backboards likely to avoid tempting anyone to shoot around. The park in my neighborhood is adjacent to an elementary and middle school, places where no one is expected to be, so imagine my surprise after 8 p.m. on a Saturday night to see someone under a light in the parking lot dribbling a basketball with his right hand and tossing a ball in the air with his left. There was nothing exceptional about this. Would I have even paid any attention under normal circumstances? It just seemed so strange as I passed by under the cover of night while wearing my improvised face mask.

Dalgona coffee - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I didn’t do as much baking as I did last week, but I tried making pancake muffins, which probably looked better than they tasted. I blame the frozen blueberries, which were virtually tasteless, and me substituting milk for buttermilk the recipe called for. Hey, you use what you have on hand. I also made dalgona coffee, the social media phenomenon. That turned out better, although drinking it out of a mug had the effect of the coffee foam sliding away from the milk. Stirring it into the milk as a kind of latte was more effective.


Talking Heads’ greatest hits compilation Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites was among what I listened to this week and made the biggest impression. I’m very familiar with their hits, and of course I’ve seen the joyful Jonathan Demme concert film Stop Making Sense. Somehow their albums eluded my attention, though. Revisiting this best-of overview was revelatory in how timeless their music sounds even as it can also be pegged to when they made it and how I’d been overlooking a lot of great songs that weren’t singles.

“(Nothing But) Flowers” was familiar to me, but the lyrics landed differently now. David Byrne sings of a new Eden that has overtaken (or retaken) a landscape of fast food restaurants and highways while feeling wistful for a 20th century world subsumed by nature. I think the song expresses a lot of what many of us are feeling in this specific time. Those things we took for granted--going to a movie theater, window shopping at the mall, driving any distance, working in a cube farm--aren’t available to us and feel like they may fundamentally change. Even if we felt indifferent about or disliked boxy suburban developments and nondescript exit ramp dining and shopping centers, they were the world we knew, which provides its own familiar comfort. 


I didn’t watch much this week because I didn’t have the time, and what I did carve out hours for was necessary viewing for the podcasts we’re planning to record tonight. (If you’ve not listened, 109 episodes of Filmbound are currently available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and probably wherever else you subscribe to podcasts. Some episodes are better than others, but isn’t that a given for everything?

Because I need to finish prepping for recording, I won’t say much about Onward and The Last Starfighter, which I squeezed in this week. I didn’t see Onward during the one week it was in theaters before they all temporarily closed, so I had to catch up with it on Disney+. I don’t think this is going to be anyone’s favorite Pixar film or animated movie under the Disney umbrella--the formula seems too apparent to me--but its message of acknowledging and being grateful for what you have rather than fixating on what you’ve missed out on strikes me as coincidentally well-timed and not hammered too hard.

For the most part the podcast has focused on new releases, but those aren’t really in the mix right now. I liked Trolls but am not dropping $20 to stream Trolls World Tour so we can have a wider release film to discuss. Plenty of indies are out there too and available for streaming rentals in conjunction with local theaters, but the Brazilian film Bacurau and Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, both of which I saw at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, are political hot potatoes I don’t want to touch. I liked Bacurau but can only imagine the fireworks that might result from that discussion, and I much prefer I, Daniel Blake to Sorry We Missed You among recent Loach portraits of the modern economy’s cruelty toward the working class, not that I’m in the mood to watch either right now.

I suggested we discuss a couple more escapist films from the 1980s. I pitched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mainly because I couldn’t believe my co-host had never seen it. I offered The Last Starfighter as an option because it seemed sufficiently frivolous. Both films should yield some good talk, if just about how movies have changed since these came out in 1984. I vaguely recall liking The Last Starfighter as a kid, an evaluation that doesn’t hold up today. It’s not necessarily the film’s fault, but when I think of how many 1950s science fiction films look silly to a young audience seeing them decades later, the same is true of this movie. The Last Starfighter copies the skeleton of Star Wars--teenage nobody is the hero the galaxy needs--while lacking the filmmaking chops and grandeur from the source it pilfers. I appreciate that there is sincerity here emblematic of the era, a quality that has shifted to favor grittiness in similar films today, but beyond nostalgia, I don’t know that there’s much to take from this.

Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing

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