Week 30 of Self-Isolation in Covid-19

Blogging Through Covid-19

For one reason or another I have been in Voluntary Self-Isolation (VSI) since the start of the pandemic. In part this is due to my age; I am over 75. Members of my household are also self-isolating (either we all do it or nobody does). I have recently had the feeling that somehow I am becoming different to what I think of as my usual self, although I have found it difficult to articulate precisely how so. Today I recalled some of the books I read, back in the 1970s/80s, I think, written by the Oxford philosopher Rom Harré. Perhaps I should say that I retired from academic life back in 2006 and have not read much psychology or philosophy since then. I may have misremembered this material or otherwise have gotten it wrong, but I shall let my mind wander back to that time to see if that helps me understand what is happening to me now, in my 30th week of VSI.

At one time I think Harré defined the concept of person as the sum total of his or her speech acts. A speech act is something that occurs in the here and now of the present moment and, generally speaking, will have been directed to other persons present. I would roll with that and introduce the notion of Quasi-Speech-Acts (QSA) to include things said on the phone, words written in letters (and latterly emails), and so forth. If the consumption of fictional material is included and if I, the viewer or reader of said material, manage to achieve the suspension of disbelief, it is possible that these speech acts may even count as Wobbly QSAs (if you will forgive my using ‘Wobbly‘ as a highly technical term in this context). In other words, when reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, shades of Sherlock Holmes might glue themselves into my persona, notwithstanding that they do so with the fragility of a gossamer thread. I had better quit before this flight of fancy gets totally out of hand. Let me return to a consideration of my VSI during the past 30 weeks.

The first thing to say is that the range and frequency of person-to-person interactions has been greatly reduced. Actually, the same was true when I retired from university teaching in 2006. Another way of putting this is to say that my world has shrunk. Apart from a few pedestrian interactions, such as paying the milkman when he calls (yes, we still have a milkman to deliver our milk), I have conversations with the two members of my self-isolating household. Many of these conversational moments are mundane: ‘Have you put the recycling bin out for tomorrow’s collection?‘; ‘Can you take your stuff out of the washing machine? I need to do some laundry‘. Occasionally, like ships that pass in the kitchen, there will be a short flurry of deeply meaningful conversation sparkling in the splendour that members of the liberal elite are able to bestow with such eloquent ease.

To pass the time, I have watched a lot of Crap Cable Movies (CCMs). I like stuff that requires the minimum of thought and is well endowed with a pleasant variety of televisual eye-candy, including the scenery as well as the male and female actors. I am not particularly proud of this; in fact I feel too embarrassed to watch this fare if the family are present. I try to record a good supply of worthy political discussion programmes for when others are in the room. Anyway, turning to my persona, if any of this material leaches into my persona as Wobbly QSAs, if feel that the effect will be a dumbing-down. As an antidote to that, I have been reading a stack of Highly Worthy Tomes (HWTs) to fill out my knowledge of relatively recent world history and economics covering the decline of the British Empire and occasionally going back to the 18th century. Regrettably, the effectiveness of the HWTs to stick stuff onto my persona is less, if anything, than that of the Wobbly QSAs from the CCMs.

Let me turn now to Meaningful Telephone Conversations (MTCs). I have endeavoured to maintain three MTCs per week and have regarded this as being important, given that I am no longer having a social life in the real world. One of these is with my brother, and the other two are with too good friends who I have know for many years since moving to the city where I currently live, in the mid-1970s. I would say that these telephone conversations have become increasingly important to me over the weeks of VSI. I have managed to space them through my week: Sunday – Brother; Tuesday – One Friend; Friday – T’other Friend. Sometimes one or other of this trio is unable to do the weekly phone call and I do feel a tad adrift on those weeks.

I come now to another aspect of my persona: I sing, accompanying myself on guitar and piano. I stream one-hour concerts to the Internet and do this in the guise of my Avatar (Fyrm Fouroux), mainly in the virtual community known as Second Life and also in that known as the 3rd Rock Grid. I have streamed just over 1800 one-hour gigs since 2008. Currently, I play two per week (one on Monday and the other on Thursday). So, I have events to look forward to on Monday (gig), Tuesday (phone call), Thursday (gig), Friday (phone call), and Sunday (phone call). In this way I have built a weekly scaffold into the temporal sea that constitutes my Covid-19 VSI.

So, I am experiencing the gradual shrinking of the social space that consitutes the world in which my speech acts take place. My mother (who lived to be 103) told me that she felt alone when she realised that all her friends and relatives (of her generation) had passed on. I am starting to get a glimpse of how that might be. A very old school friend of mine died last summer and a cousin with whom I had a lot of fun when I was younger passed on very recently.

Of course, people do manage in conditions of voluntary or contractual isolation; one only has to think of hermits, monks, nuns and submariners (I set aside the inmates of prisons, who are hardly there out of personal choice). Perhaps I should read about hermits.

With regard to my own situation, I could regard my persona as shifting like a pendulum swinging from the extravert pole in the direction of the introvert pole of the conventional personality dimension of Extroversion-Introversion. Such a journey is not something I signed up for. Rather, it has been imposed upon me partly through the occurrence of the Covid-19 virus and partly through my own progress along the stepping stones of the life span. Whilst I have little control over this I do, however, have some control over how I experience the days, within these existing micro-constraints of what is practically possible. Within these imposed boundaries I believe that there is still enough room for the imagination to leap and bound in moments of extraordinary delight. Glimpsing such moments, from time to time, should not be beyond my ken. Note to self: must try harder!

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