Working from home is a privilege, and it’s super boring and lonely

Once upon a time in a neighbourhood just like yours sits a woman staring out her office window. It’s a dreary day — cold enough to snow, but it’s not snowing. It’s not even windy. It’s not anything. If the weather app was honest the day would be described as “blah.”

The woman feels like she pressed pause on winter two months ago and misplaced the remote. She is so, so, bored.

Working from home is a privilege. Working from home right now, though, in the middle of the longest winter, stinks.

an Invented drama

This woman (OK, it’s me) is so bored of her own company that she not only knows her neighbours’ schedules, but has become weirdly invested in their routines and creates elaborate narratives about the goings on that take place outside. You’d be surprised at how the smallest variation in her view excites her.

For example, this week there was a plumber’s van parked in a neighbour’s driveway. Did the hot water tank burst? Were they installing a heat pump? Did someone drop their hearing aid in the toilet?

It was anyone’s guess, really, but she spent a full hour speculating.

This morning Larry walked by at 9 am on the dot with his Jack Russell terrier, Molly. Larry and Molly always walk by at this time, so there’s no news there. But this morning, something was up.

Larry is in his late 70s or so. Molly looks young for her age, but with small white dogs it’s hard to tell as they don’t show the grey. Larry always wears a red ski jacket. This morning, however, he wears a StormRider jacket (circa 1996), and it is in pristine condition. The woman recognizes this jacket because her high school boyfriend wore the same one (albeit his was drenched in Cool Water cologne). When Larry walks by in this new get-up, she’s baffled. “What Rubbermaid tote did you pull that vintage piece out of,” she says to herself, coffee cup paused in mid-air.

What will Larry wear tomorrow? High tops? A bandana? This show just got interesting! Literally anything could happen!

people really are watching you. and judging

This is work-from-home entertainment: Invented dramas enacted by near strangers who have no idea that they are currently on set. There’s the couple across the way who perplex her: He’s retired, and she isn’t quite retired yet. They own a car, yet she runs a block to catch the 7 am bus to work. Why doesn’t he drive her to work? What’s his deal? Is he awful, or does she enjoy her morning sprint and subsequent city tour via public transit? Why would one casual observer make judgements about the state of her neighbour’s (presumably) happy marriage based on their transportation choices?

Years ago, an older, wiser colleague said: “Danna, stop worrying about what other people think of you. They aren’t. Most of the time, they’re thinking about themselves.”

(In actual fact, this older, wiser colleague might have been Oprah. And it might have been a segment from her talk show. Danna has never worked with Oprah #regrets)

For a long time she believed Oprah, but then the pandemic hit and she found herself staring out the window watching the most boring show ever produced, and it dawned on her that Oprah was wrong. People think about you all the time. They’re looking at your heaping recycling bin and wondering if you have a drinking problem. They’re noticing that you’re still going for afternoon walks and speculating about how long you’re going to stick with your New Year’s resolutions (and frankly, they’re impressed that you’ve lasted so long). They hear you yell at your kids every damn morning, shouting at them to zip up their coats, and put their toques on their heads and not in their pockets, and they wish you would just go a little easier on those sweet boys, who are trying so hard (even though, reader, they are really not trying. Not at all).

Working from home is a privilege, certainly. But let’s be honest, this show is getting old and there is a very tired person writing the script.

Sobering thoughts about pandemic drinking

“I’m allergic to red wine,” a good friend once told me when I offered her a glass. “I once drank two litres of homemade red and became violently ill.”

By this logic, I’m allergic to Smirnoff Ice, my high school boyfriend was horrifically allergic to boilermakers, and my best friend is allergic to banana flavoured paralyzers.

Like many others, I’ve washed Smirnoff Ice-flavoured vomit out of my hair following a party held inside a faux spaceship in a small Alberta town, but that was a long, long time ago, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an “allergic” reaction to booze.

These days, a single glass of wine leaves me pleasantly warm and snoozy. My clothes fit better, snacks are more delicious, and Netflix comedy specials are funnier. More than a glass or two and I risk bed spins, so it’s a delicate and delightful balance.

sobering thoughts

I’m not a big drinker, but I think about drinking often, and this gleeful anticipation has caused me some consternation.

Let’s face it, the pandemic has changed all of our habits, and our alcohol consumption is only one. Last fall, researchers at York University discovered that parents of children under 18 are using alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress. In December, Canada’s top public health officer warned Canadians to sober up, noting that by and large, we have increased our alcohol consumption over the past 10 months.

what even is a weekend?

During the pandemic I stopped going out, yet every night felt like Friday and my alcohol consumption reflected this. My uncommitted relationship with booze became monogamous. This spring, a glass of wine became the reward for getting through days filled with uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy.

I was signing into Google classrooms, checking homework, monitoring screens and ensuring tablets were charging as required, all while managing my own full-time job and struggling to complete graduate school, which I did in a corner of my children’s playroom while they were sleeping. I was hanging onto my sanity with the lightest of grips, and for the first time in my life I was underperforming in every single subject.

There was comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. Friends, colleagues, strangers — we were all drowning, but most of us were too busy to notice the water rushing up past our ears. And all the memes that normalize how moms drink to cope gave me encouragement. See all those wine memes? Everyone does it!

Booze played an integral supporting role in this drama. Nightly wine (or sometimes blueberry gin mixed with elderflower tonic because I’m fancy like that) became a bright light; it became the raft I was swimming toward. When the screens blinked off for the day, when the kitchen was tidied and the house had settled into a blissful quiet, I’d shuffle into the kitchen, reach for my favourite glass and fill it up. I’d carry it with me to the coziest chair and cup that chalice with both hands, breathing deeply for the first time all day. As that first delicious sip wound its way into my belly I’d heave a great sigh. I made it through another day. Cheers!

Meditating or medicating?

A few months of this and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the pandemic didn’t stop, and what began as a treat ended up feeling more like a prescription.

When the BC Cancer Foundation launched its Loose the Booze fundraising campaign, I opted to challenge myself and I begged a few friends to join. It’s been two weeks, and I’m fine. As I suspected, tea is delicious and much less expensive, and there are a billion flavours of carbonated water, which is nice. I’m also snacking less — it turns out I make much better food choices when I’m not a tiny bit tipsy.

There’s relief in knowing that I can stop, and that I’m not a problem drinker. Yet. But if you try and can’t, you’re not alone, and there are services available.

And by all means, support our Lose the Booze team by donating to cancer research. Already, I’m feeling great about my decision, but with your support I’ll feel even better.

This pandemic is making me less smart

I am convinced that living through a global pandemic is making me less smart dumber. 

The good news is that I’m not alone. The bad news is that I’m not alone. The American Council on Science and Health confirms (because I Googled it after the week that I’ve had) that The Coronavirus is Making us all Stupid. Friends of Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychology at Cornell, confirm they are feeling “ tireder and dumber.” Years from now, when official research results roll in, I expect that we will learn that social isolation as a pandemic control measure has resulted in a stupider populace, however, I suspect and hope that when these controls lift, and when life returns to normal, we will regain our lost cognitive capacity. I certainly hope that the pandemic isn’t destroying brain cells, rather, that it is just rendering many of them dormant and ineffective.

You’re all getting dumber, too

I make this observation in part because every time I turn on the TV or read the news I see and hear people saying and doing really dumb stuff — and they’re not even trying to be sarcastic or ironic, they’re being serious. People are refusing to wear masks, believing that in doing so they’re jeopardizing their hard-won freedom to become ill and make those around them ill. There are more conspiracy theories circulating now than there have ever been, and people I know, like, and respect are buying into them.

But mostly it’s just me. Probably.

I make this observation mostly, however, because I keep doing really dumb things. What is interesting is that I can accomplish highly complicated tasks with ease, but the simple things trip me up. To combat this brain fog, the bottom of my computer monitor is dotted with Post-it-Notes, reminding me to do the basics.

“CHECK NAME SPELLING,” one note shouts, and yet already once this week I added an s to someone’s last name, and for no good reason. 

The notes, it seems, are only effective if you read them before you do something dumb.

Yesterday, I needed to send a message to a colleague. He is someone I speak with at least once a week. Scrolling through my Microsoft Teams contact list, I became frustrated. Where was he? Where did he go? 

It took several minutes of searching for Chad before it dawned on me. His name is Todd. It has always been Todd. What’s worse is that I don’t know a single Chad. Zero Chads orbit my sphere.

And then it was dinner time. For two nights in a row I’ve made Greek salad for dinner, and for two nights in a row I’ve sat down to consume the salad and thought: “What’s missing?”

As I was standing at the sink brushing my teeth before bed, I paused, stared at myself in the mirror, and yelled: “GREEN PEPPERS!”

As you may be aware, there are five basic ingredients to a Greek salad, not including dressing. It took me 48 hours to troubleshoot this mystery. 

Let’s keep the dumb moves in check, for a little longer

So, when our public health officer makes a public statement, warning us to keep to our “safe six,” and to have “fewer faces and bigger spaces,” it didn’t surprise me to turn around and see people planning birthday parties, and halloween parties. 

However, while we might be tempted to attribute our stupidity to pandemic-induced dumbness, that’s not cool. I eventually figured out what was missing from my salad. I eventually connected with Todd. My brain fog didn’t result in a mass spreading event and jeopardize the lives of those around me.

There’s a time and place to be dumb, and maybe in a few more months we can be really dumb once again with minor impact on those around us.

Our brains are melting due to this pandemic, however, if we ensure our stupidity is reserved for unsent emails and blasé salads we will get through this. Together.

And then we can go back to having intelligent conversations with new and interesting people and reverse the adverse side effects that this pandemic is having on our collective intelligence.