Quelling the Quarantine Blues

As of writing this post, we are about two months in our global lock-down due to the infamous coronavirus. With several businesses having to reduce or halt their operations altogether, many people have been laid off from their jobs and are ordered to stay home by the state in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

It sucks, I know.

You want to go out with your friends and do an escape room together, have a sit down dinner with your family at a restaurant, or even spend some alone time sipping a java while reading a book at a cafe–but you can’t. We are all stuck at home, literally left to our own devices. The usage of smart phones and computers must be on a rise with how many more people need a little bit of escapism through watching things on YouTube and Netflix.

Then of course there’s the go getters who always need to be on the go and do something productive to feel at ease with themselves. After all, keeping busy does help keep us stable by providing value to others and reaping the rewards of being responsible. Some people get the option to work at home, while others don’t.

Whether this global lock-down has altered your life in any significant way, one thing this strange time in history is inspiring–or forcing, depending on how you think about it–several people to start considering is slowing down the gears and taking the time to pause and reflect.


Rustling the Hustle and Bustle

For about a year now, I have been working at an accounting office doing something completely out of my element, and trying my hardest to adapt. After all I am more of a wordsmith and math was never my greatest subject in school. This has come with it its own set of stress and problems I had never faced in my life before, and while it has been trying at times, I am incredibly proud of how I have survived thus far. And just when I thought I was hitting my stride at doing this job somewhat perfectly, I get laid off due to the decrease in business.

Maybe in a future post I’ll write more about my experiences there, but for now I’ll sum up the year I’ve spent there in one sentence:

I came to this job as an awkward novice who knew literally nothing, and eventually became a dependable team member who teaches new things even to veterans of the office.

This was my first full time job and it made me realize just how busy all my friends and family have been back when I was in my part time job Heaven. And yes, I do mean to be dramatic in saying that being a part timer is Heaven because you really start to feel the difference between working four days a week vs five.

Now it made sense why so many plans with friends and family sometimes had to fall through, adult life is quite difficult when it comes to juggling a job, relationships, and responsibilities at home. To stack on top of that, and what I really want to talk about in this post, is something not many people put much value on, though they should if they want the previously mentioned aspects of life to truly flourish.

What I’m talking about of course leisure and recreation.

It’s weird, right?

How dare I mention having fun and saying that it’s important?

That’s because it is important. They are just as important as the job you need to excel at, the relationships you need to maintain, and the home you need to keep in order. Leisure and creation, especially of the meaningful kind, are the jobs, relationships, and home you need to keep in order within yourself.

We live in a culture that puts so much emphasis on the hustle and bustle, and we often make the mistake of deriving our sense of identity out of it that we lose sight of why we work so hard to make a living. Is it not to be able to afford to enjoy ourselves with the things we buy with the money we earn, as well as serve as a reward and contrast for putting our best feet forward on a daily basis?


Presence Over Productivity

So I’ve been keeping up with some friends and family, and not while all of them are down and out about this lock-down, for the ones that are, this post is for you. If you’re feeling guilty about having this state enforced home time or even feel anxious about it, I invite you to take a moment to breathe, put your hands to your chests, and reconnect with yourself.

You feel that? You still have your breath and your heartbeat which means much more than whatever sense of self you derived from being busy. Again, not bashing how important it is to making a living as it is required for us to thrive and survive as human beings–but basing our identities and sense of self esteem over them is a deadly trap.

This global quarantine is a strange opportunity to take the time to pause and reflect. It may seem scary if you don’t intentionally do any self-work, but trust me it’s worth it, no matter how painful it is. It may be agonizing to start having all your anxieties fill your head faster than when you were busy, but the sooner you confront them, the sooner they become your friend.

Especially if you’re the type of person who just needs to be productive all the time, in which case I suggest taking up new hobbies in this time and/or learn to be okay with doing nothing.

I, for one, am just continuing to do the things I’ve always enjoyed outside of work which is to do some creative writing, self-knowledge work, and studying Korean. When that’s all said and done, I like to strap into a video game and lose myself to these inventive and interactive worlds.

But if you know me already, these passion projects don’t come easy. I know how much my own mind likes to turn on itself and give me resistance toward doing the things I know I love to do, and for quite a long time I let my resistance win. Hence I haven’t posted much here for quite a while until recently.

The point, of course, is to start taking up new hobbies or reviving old ones more for the sake of the presence it gives you than for the sake of being “productive.”

This was something I wrestled with for the first month of being laid off from my job. When I was given the news I was driven to plan my entire days around writing, self-knowledge, and studying, but what ended up happening was that I just laid around the house a lot feeling lazy, tired, and bored despite of all the wonderful video essays I’ve consumed on YouTube.


Giving Yourself a Hall Pass

The real reason why I talk about this dangerous trap of deriving your sense of self around how busy you are, if you haven’t noticed yet, is because it’s what I started to do having my first full time job. While I don’t think a little pride in one’s efforts is a bad thing, I did start to define myself by how busy I was at work and the value I was providing to the team with my refined skills. Especially after spending most of the year sucking absolute ass at the job, I was bound to overcompensate by focusing so much on the growth I’ve gone through during my time there.

Now while I don’t want to make light of this pandemic and treat this order to stay home as a vacation, it actually could not have come at a better time. For all of April, lying around the way I did, it made me realize just how burnt out I’ve actually become. For a whole year I’ve been firing at all cylinders to get a grasp at this job and even though I did spend my time off gaming and watching Netflix, my mind was always fixated on how I will do at work the next day. I couldn’t truly enjoy myself.

For a while I used my passion projects in writing, self-knowledge, and Korean to keep me upright as something to do in the morning before going to work, but due to the fatigue I developed, I had been staying up later than I should and losing a lot of sleep causing me to drag my feet throughout the day at work and then either half ass my passion projects, or completely ignore them.

So come April with being laid off, it made sense I couldn’t do much for an entire month except for muster maybe one or two “productive” days a week before lying around and doing a whole lot of nothing for the rest of the week. I was tired because I hadn’t given myself the hall pass to just laze about with no direction required.

This doesn’t mean stop giving a crap about life and start neglecting your grooming needs or anything like that, but it is very important to consider how much our minds and bodies take a toll amidst our hustle and bustle. And now that we have this strange opportunity, I think it’s important to be a bit kinder to ourselves and use this silver lining to inspire us rather than string us up with the help of our own anxieties.

Whether you’ve lost your job or not, and whether you’re an extrovert or not, I’m just here to remind you that it is important to give yourself the time and permission to rest. You don’t always have to be going to get to where you want. Perhaps pausing to rest can get you to your intended destination much quicker because it is in pausing and reflecting we refuel the gas tank.

Words Left Unspoken Leave the Strongest Impact

One important aspect of compelling storytelling is putting meaningful words in the mouths of your characters, also known as dialogue by some professionals. Good dialogue conveys what the characters say to each other with purpose and direction, in addition to non-verbal communication, and even small talk if conveyed correctly. But today we’re talking about a more subtle level of character interaction much deeper than meaningful words and actions: the lack thereof.


It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters

Dialogue may move the plot forward and reveal who the characters are through their communication style and vocabulary, but sometimes it’s what they do not say that creates the most interesting of conflicts. When characters hold secrets from each other, how they feel about those secrets cause their interactions to be strained because withholding information from either their loved ones, or enemies who could use the secret against them, can change their relationships forever.

The most common feeling accompanied by a secret is shame because as human we are fundamentally flawed, and knowing this we strive to be better than we are, thus having a tough time admitting or even acknowledging having any flaws. After all, it’s these flaws and mistakes we make that degrade our self perception in the eyes of our better potential selves, and how we’re perceived by others.

Our self image is important to us because having an identity is comforting, and identifying ourselves as good virtuous people is how we navigate the strange and difficult canals of life. Rocky waters are just part of life, but secrets can be deadly waves that drown us all.

But amidst all the watery turmoil we may face in our lives, perhaps learning how to weather the storm is how we come to discover strong we truly are, assuming we have the strength to survive.

So if anyone ever comes close to exposing our secrets and insecurities, whether they mean to or not, it can cause us to becoming defensive and deflect the topic. Unless you willingly go to therapy to talk about your problems and share your secrets, chances are, you would much rather keep your secrets to yourself and not let anybody catch wind of them.

You could either be protecting others from something you perceive as dangerous to them, or something that is dangerous to your public and/or personal perception. A secret that if word got out could potentially hurt several others, or hurt your ability to deserve any trust from others.


A Happy Accident For a Set Up

Let’s take Bob, for instance, who gets so drunk at his best friend’s bachelor party that he ends up cheating on his wife with the “hired entertainment.”

(I’m talking about a stripper, of course, not a party clown. Though hiring a party clown instead of a stripper would make for a good best man prank. Even better if the party clown turns out to be the stripper’s character gimmick, but anyways! Let’s actually roll with that for this example.)

Imagine how awkward it will be for Bob to wake up to his wife Jane the next morning, knowing what he had just done the night prior. She could ask how the bachelor party was and he could admit that he got down and dirty with a clown stripper named Trixie, but where would the drama be in that?

No, instead, he would do anything to avoid the topic because of the guilt eating him up inside. He’s questioning if he’s a horrible husband and if the drinks were laced with something strong because there’s no way he could have cheated on Jane. Maybe it was a drug induced hallucination? Or maybe the Clown Stripper took advantage of him? In either case he perceives himself as weak and unworthy to called himself a married man.


Bob and the Clown Stripper

“How was the party?” Jane asks.

“F-fine,” Bob stammers. He swiftly sits up in bed, causing his head to spin from the heavy hangover induced from one too many whiskey shots and using beer and wine as chasers.

“Hey, be careful.” Jane caresses Bob’s bed head from behind him and smooths out his hair. “Just fine? But you spent weeks setting up this prank. Did it back fire? Did Jim end up hating it?”

Thoughts of last night’s shenanigans flood Bob’s memories, and the fact that they are hazy is not the part that troubles him. It is the image of Trixie sitting on his lap and possibly kissing his neck, which is where the dirty deed may have began. He gasps and snaps out of the memory and tugs at his black polo shirt’s collar to see traces of white make up and cherry red lipstick.

Bob leaps out of bed, unbuttons his shirt and rushes to take it off to hide any evidence of his misdoings from Jane. He immediately regrets it because it comes off as suspicious.

“Thank God because you reek,” Jane says. “I was going to take your shirt off for you when you climbed into bed last night, but I didn’t want to wake you.”

Jane knows how much of a light sleeper Bob is, even when he’s punched out drunk. Bob feels ever guiltier considering how much Jane knows and loves him so much. Despite his shirt being off, he begins to sweat.

“Bob?” She asks, but he doesn’t hear her. He feels guilty considering how she had to sleep next to him stinking of alcohol.

“Sorry,” Bob says steadying himself against the dresser. “I am so sorry, Jane, I really am. And thanks.”

“It’s no big deal. Everything okay?” Jane shuffles over to the edge of the bed. “You should lie down, I’ll go make you some breakfast.”

“It’s okay,” Bob says, feeling undeserving of her affection.

Jane goes to pick up Bob’s shirt off the floor, and he tries to grab for it, but grabs for air instead. As she heads to the hamper, he hopes that she just tosses it in so he can grab it and wash off Trixie’s make up off his shirt while Jane cooks breakfast. Just as Bob is about to let out a sigh of relief when Jane takes the lid off the hamper, she pauses and turns around clearly staring at the clown’s make up smeared on Bob’s shirt.

“Bob?” Jane asks.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he says.

“Did you cheat on me with a clown stripper?” Jane giggles.

“N-no, of course not.”

“Gosh, I sure hope she took her foam nose off before you whisked her off to the circus.”

Bob is frozen, slowly realizing that Jane is obviously joking, but doesn’t know how to shake off his guilt exuding demeanour. Jane’s grin slowly fades into a questioning frown and Bob licks his lips after realizing how dry his mouth has become from the laboured breathing.


Less is More

As you can see from my morbid example that less is more. The dialogue is for the most part short with a few actions, thoughts, and exposition to provide context to why the seemingly innocuous conversation between Bob and Jane is more tense that it would seem at face value.

Though when it comes to a character trying to hide a secret from another, they don’t always have to be sparse for words. They could even over compensate by spinning lies rather than simply avoiding the truth. Bob doesn’t have to say anything, his entire avoidant responses imply that he’s hiding something, but poor Jane is non-the-wiser, even when she jokingly asks if he cheated on her with a clown stripper.

On top of hiding the truth from Jane, Bob apologized profusely for something his wife didn’t take as that big of a deal when it came to coming home drunk and falling asleep reeking of alcohol. That itself is a subtle tell that the reader could pick up on to gauge Bob’s guilt over possibly betraying his loving trusting wife.

It is implied that cheating is unusual and unexpected of Bob, and that he and Jane have a solid marriage with how she’s joking around with him with the idea of…well…the possible truth of what happened. I will leave it up to interpretation whether he actually she cheated on her, and whether she figured it out after where the examples off from.

That is it for today’s Workshop Wednesday! I hope this helps you make good use of a valuable tension building tool.

What are your favourite unspoken words from fiction?

Do you have any thoughts, questions, and criticisms about this post?

Was the example too out of left field and not very family friendly when it could have been?

Whatever the case, let me know in the comments below!