Ep. 24: Alone but not lonely | Some Scuffs

Staying connected in the lockdown

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THIS IS PART OF A MINI-SERIES CALLED THE BLANKET FORT SESSIONS, A COLLECTION OF PERSONAL ESSAYS THAT EXPLORES HOW PEOPLE FIND HUMAN CONNECTION DURING THE PANDEMIC.

Written by Joshua Poh

 

What does connection mean to you? 

For me, it’s moments where you’re immersed in conversation with a loved one or friend. All distractions are out. Time feels distorted – how did hours feel like mere minutes?

I call this the traffic light test. If your vehicle stops at a traffic light and you’re in conversation with someone, do you wish for the traffic light to continue so you can prolong the enjoyment a bit longer? 

These rare moments become etched into your memory.

With the lockdown, unable to visit friends, partners and family. we may feel robbed of connection, yearning for what was lost. 

But what if we thought of these restrictions as a creative constraint? 

If writer Stephen King managed to horrify social media with a 42 word short story about a tick on an eyeball, constraints and restrictions can empower us to get creative. 

“In the midst of chaos, human resourcefulness is having a field day”

Robert Poynym, author of Do Pause wrote these beautiful words as a testament to human creativity in times of struggle.

For all the gloom of the pandemic, it has transformed on how we connect and relate to people.

We’re seeing an explosion of virtual forms of connection. Yoga studios and fitness brands turn to virtual classes to engage with their students and foster community. 

People and organisations provide offers of food, coaching, resources and materials for free.

Digital connection has also transformed community initiatives. In May, I sold pre-loved books online to raise funds for a mutual aid initiative for individuals affected by COVID-19. Funds raised go straight to people in need to help put food on the table or pay off rent for another month. 

Participating in this amazing, digitally-enabled initiative was a personal highlight. 

Think about it. A self-organised fundraiser facilitated online by people who may not have met in person. It’s a powerful example of the amazing reach and scale of the Internet to empower and transform.

At home, my wife and I are bonding over classic video games like Super Mario and Kirby as a new couple activity. Video games have brought out our competitive sides and added new dimensions to our marriage. 

As my wife says: “video games provide an environment where you can control your outcome by pure effort. Right now, you can’t control anything happening in the world”. It’s a timely balm for a society under lockdown. 

Funny how a medium villanised for breeding anti-social behaviour is now an ‘accepted’ form of digital connection. 

The World Health Organisation is recommending video games as an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19, one year after adding ‘gaming disorder’ to its list of addictive behaviours.

But, I’m mindful that these observations come with a recognition of privilege. I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and financial stability during these rocky economic times.

 

Alone, but not lonely

You know what I miss most about being out and about? 

People watching. Wondering what people are thinking. Serendipitous conversations with strangers. Staring out of bus windows and watching the world go by. Hearing human voices that aren’t transmitted through screens. 

These are reminders that your world isn’t your smartphone or the walls of your house. But it’s inhabited by living, breathing people. 

Being forced to isolate has forced us to improvise and find new ways of connecting. 

Maybe during these times, we are alone, but not lonely. 

What we have temporarily lost with in-person connections, we have found extraordinary alternatives to connect with the people around us.

I’m someone who segregates his spheres of life. Work connections stay at work, personal relationships stay private and family life remains within the family. Yet, lockdown forces these spheres to intersect. I’m learning what it means to have honest, open conversations about personal struggles. 

For example, sharing experiences with writer’s block and low-grade anxiety on social media or opening conversations about work struggles with my colleagues have been challenging, but a liberating experience. 

I’m learning that leading with vulnerability and honesty can create environments for people to feel safe to open up with their own struggles – fostering a connection that is better for everyone involved. 

With the absence of connection, we see how strong our need for connection is. 

One may wonder, when will we go back to normal? But “going back to normal” isn’t the right question to ask. Going back to normal implies we return back to our original start point. There’s no difference between the you of today and the you of four months ago.

Perhaps “adapting to the new normal” is more appropriate. As economies and societies open up over the next few weeks, may we remember the lessons of human connection and creativity forced upon us during these times.

Joshua is a book nerd. His current reading focus is on Southeast Asian literature and non-Western authors. He is also obsessed with the art of taking notes. Follow him on Instagram at @letmereadthis, his website http://www.joshuapoh.com or subscribe to his biweekly newsletter at http://www.notingthisdown.substack.com.

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