Update from Italy: Communicating from Quarantine

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Today marked a day on which Italy is taking a tentative step to move into a new normal, but everything still felt the same. It’s day 36 of the national quarantine. Day 40+ for us, but I am honestly going to stop counting the numbered days, because there is no need for it. This is the new reality. Small pieces might be put back in place, but unlike the Great Pause switch, there will be no Great Restart lever. This will be like having a newborn: you will claw back bits of your life, bit by bit, and when the kid is five, you might see a glimpse of what you were last like when you were four month pregnant with your first child.

Jason is still working full days, and some days, more than that. My work is picking up again, in different ways, and I am glad for some semblance of a less-domestic routine.

But nothing on the outside looks like it has changed. The sun shines into our courtyard. I move my chair around the apartment during the day to sit in its warmth. Drones buzz overhead. Some of them seem like pleasure drones, others seem like law enforcement drones. I wanted to go for a walk yesterday to take out our trash and recycle, but the polizia were on the square, in front of our building, asking people for their permission slips. I did not have one. Sure, we had blank copies upstairs, but that form is an entire page long. I did not feel that my anxiety level and language skills (solid B-level in Italian) were up for the exchange, so sat in the garden and watched Francesca water the plants until the sky started spitting drops.

While in quarantine I have had some totally weird exchanges with people from my past or in outer orbits that left me shaky and sweating. Everyone is depressed and stressed and tender and worried and in grief and struggling. Feelings are raw and just below the surface whether you admit it or not. Filters are erratic and hard to predict. Everything is both shaken and stirred. Emotions are a bit like pathogens: they don’t care if you don’t believe in them; they will continue to surface. It is hard to hear things the right way sometimes when your nerves feel like shattered glass and the worry wakes you up again and again in the middle of the night. It is hard to not misattribute meaning or motive when people pop up to say things. It’s a great time to reach out, but it might not a great time to reach out, you know? People are not bored. There is stress. Everyone is working through the terror and insecurity at their own pace, if at all, and some people are much more burdened than others. I worked remotely for the past years, and cross-culturally for 15 years before that, and I learned one thing: when a conversation lacks context, as would be found in face-to-face interactions. It helps to ask people, at the start of a conversation, is this a good time? How are you doing today? Can we connect? I’d like to connect, if you’re able. Choose words carefully, if you can. Sprinkle in tons of extra niceness with words. Conversations need it. Strange cheerleading is not helpful. Abrupt words are too easily taken sideways.

This is not a linear journey, friends. We’re going to be walking this labyrinth for some time. At times we will all feel very, very alone, but in brief moments of clarity, we will see that about 7 billion people are having these same worries, fears, and grief.

A friend posted this recent thoughtful piece by Jack Kornfield – I’ve been a fan of his writing for years. This really helped me today. I urge you to take a look, if you can.

And no one’s saying you need to be Samuel Pepys, but maybe consider starting a pandemic record for yourself and your kids about what these weeks are like, because we’re all on our own, together, stepping the same dance steps in our own houses and apartments – if we’re lucky. Remember those less fortunate who are unable to practice preemptive quarantine, whether for work or economic reasons. Remember those who are forced to quarantine in an unsafe situation. If you’re safe at home, chances are very good you’ll make it, but what about everyone else?

That’s all I got tonight. Much love to everyone everywhere.