Monday, July 4

I’m stuck in post-pandemic limbo, but don’t Zoom me again | Emma brockes

TOA bat mitzvah invitation came in for a friend’s daughter, and to the surprise – and annoyance – of many on the list, the hosts opted to host it through Zoom. The historic celebration through Zoom seemed to belong, like the models of remote learning and the accumulation of toilet paper, to an earlier and darker stage of the pandemic. Nobody obviously wanted to go to a party; most of us are still struggling to muster up enough social energy for a no-mask dinner with a friend. Likewise, who, now, at least in New York, wants to spend Saturday night in a break room at Zoom trying not to talk to five people?

The marking of the stages of life is always approximate, giving an external framework to vast variables in personal development. With the exception of reaching 18, or 21 in the US, these limits are rarely set by actual rule changes about how we might live. The shift to post-pandemic life, hampered by uncertainty around new strains of the virus and rising rates of infection in parts of the developing world, brings with it what feels like a profound set of new options governed by non-rules. established. Is returning to work and life as before the pandemic an invitation, a compulsion, a duty or a task? Can we choose not to participate? How much can we choose not to participate? And should we want to?

I have no answer to these questions, mainly because my response to this transitional stage seems to be one of enormous and insurmountable apathy. The few social interactions I’ve had since the Covid rules were relaxed in New York have been fantastic; I loved seeing friends. In each case, however, I have suffered in the days since what felt like a social hangover, the shock of a hermit being pushed into Times Square. Two days after eating inside with a friend at a crowded downtown restaurant, I became ill for the first time in a year. Ugh, I thought; people are disgusting and i will never do that again.

Of course, there are great vested interests for us to get up and enter our offices. A new variety of articles are emerging that extol the virtues of office life and remind us that the adjustments we made to make remote work tolerable – or even preferable – must now be intelligently abandoned. Displacements takes you out of the house! It gives you time to think about the train! Re-familiarizes you with joy of chatting with people they are not really your friends! Some of this is undoubtedly true. The need for processing time is real. It’s also not unreasonable to wonder if there could be a better way to achieve this than getting stuck in a packed train car every morning, followed by sitting in a cubicle for eight hours straight.

Perhaps all that is needed is a period of reflection, to avoid the lash of an inevitable return to normalcy. “I don’t want to do anything,” a friend said recently. She insisted it was not depression. In part it was a habit of mind triggered, at the height of the pandemic, by the suspension of all future plans. And I suspect it was also an acknowledgment of the fact that not deciding is a luxury that many of us don’t want to give up. A small example: Summer camps in New York are for the most part fully open and pre-pandemic, to secure a spot with all the early bird discounts you should have booked in March. Nobody thinks like that anymore. Everything remains open. Nobody knows what they are doing or where they are going. All plans remain flexible, they can be done or canceled at the last minute. Sometimes I think this must be what it feels like to be rich.

The flip side of non-decision making is inertia, and no matter how much you convince yourself that time to think is just as important as making time, the cold stream of guilt for coming out of it begins to make itself felt. We can’t stay stuck forever, if being stuck is what this is, caught between resenting Zoom’s interactions as tedious and inappropriate, and real-life interactions as germ-spreading nightmares. Just a little more, I find myself thinking; just a couple more weeks to figure things out, though I can’t really say what these things really are. Inaction turns into avoidance. At some point, we will have to get up and go to the party.

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