As I write this, I’m in my 47TH DAY of quarantine. In that time, I’ve had to figure out how to be an online teacher. I go to the grocery store once every couple of weeks. I read A LOT. Annnnnnnd that’s kinda it. So this last month I haven’t really been seeking distraction from my workload like normal. No, I’ve been looking for anything to try and make the limited, solitary life of self-isolation a little more entertaining.
So, where have I been finding welcome distractions from quarantine life?
I guess just walking can be fun…right?
Walking is invigorating and healthy and it gives you time alone in nature…or so I’ve been told. I’ve never been one to walk for fun. I walk to get places. But as recreation?? Not me scene. When I began my practice of meditation back in college I remember trying walking meditation. I even got myself “walking sneakers” as my boots, flip-flops, or Converse sneakers (so old they had holes literally worn through the soles) weren’t “right” for it. I did walking meditation for a week before I realized I wasn’t a sucker and I could just meditate sitting down.
Except now walking is a reason to leave the house and a chance to interact with other people, even if it’s just a wave and a chat from across their yard. Hannah and I have been meeting for weekly walks and some socially distant socializing for over a month now. Kalie and I have started weekly walks, too. Often I walk myself. This is what quarantine has driven me to. Walks are fun now. I dug those old walking sneakers out of deep storage, laced ‘em up, and have ventured out in increasingly larger meandering circles around my home. I’ve learned a lot about the side streets around me, too!
When I first found these old sneakers over a year ago, they received rave reviews. When I put them on Kalie and Miranda laughed SO HARD I thought they were going to pass out. They said, “If you had on high-wasted khaki shorts and a light blue polo shirt with those you’d be every dad at every barbeque ever.” Still, I guess they’re better than the Converse where the soles are worn clear through? Maybe? If nothing else, I’m digging in and using them because I won’t let any sass – no matter how brilliantly played, perfectly executed, and spot on it is – sway me
Still, what I may lack in style with the sneakers, I make up for with MY KICKASS WALKING STICK. Oh, you read that right. Years ago I was at the beach and I found this AMAZING piece of driftwood that TOTALLY resembles some sort of wizard’s staff. I took it home, not knowing what I was going to do with it but knowing it was too cool to leave behind. A few years later, when I absurdly tried walking meditation for a week, I broke it out of the corner of the garage it was living in. The stick was cool, the walking was not, so I returned it to the corner of my parents’ garage it had been living in since high school. Well Dad was cleaning a few weeks ago, found it, and I was pleasantly surprised when he’d dropped it off in my garage! (How he gets by without seeing it every day is anyone’s guess.) So now I get to stroll around the neighborhood looking like a badass wizard…admittedly often in sweatpants…but a badass wizard could wear sweatpants!
I’ve realized when I go out walking with Hannah or Kalie, without my cool walking stick, people are always waving and talking to us. But when I go out walking by myself with my amazing walking stick people are faaaaaar less inclined to chat…or even make eye contact. What the heck people?? I guess the guy with the long hair and the walking stick is just TOO COOL to be approached.
FINAL VERDICT: Just walking around for fun – entertaining! Walking stick – even better!
Cutting my hair sounds like a good idea. This can’t go wrong.
Impulsively, a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting around and reading on a Friday night when the idea of dramatically cutting my hair popped into my head. It seemed like a fun way to liven up an evening in quarantine. . My hair falls to my shoulders but the abrupt hair change is not unusual for me. It was down to my shoulder blades when I shaved it all off, buzzcut short, years ago. Then I grew it all back until a family wedding in Dallas in June convinced me it needed to go again before a conference in New Orleans a few weeks later. In my short hair/buzzcut days, I’ve had both the Star Wars Rebel Alliance symbol and Iron Man’s face shaved into the back of my head (the girl who usually cuts my hair is soooo crazy talented). I’ve cut my hair from time to time on my own, too – whether trimming it when it’s long or buzzing it when it’s super short.
However, while the idea of cutting my hair seemed like a lot of fun, I was still kind of digging my long hair. Do I chop it off for fun, or don’t I?
Then I thought, I used to shave my friend Ashley’s undercut for her for years. She loved the style and always raved about it. It seemed like the perfect solution! Right? I could keep all the long hair on top and have the super short, super soft buzzed hair underneath. Granted, I shaved Ashley’s hair. So there was no trying to bend around and shave the back of my own head. Still…“How hard,” I wondered, “could it be to do that by myself?”
I did my due diligence. I setup an extra mirror in the bathroom so I could see the back of my head with both my hands free. I spent a fair amount of time tying up all the long hair on top of my head. The line wasn’t perfectly straight but it was close. Given the fact that I was doing this myself and I didn’t have one of those fancy combs with the thin, pointy end hairstylists have for this sort of thing, I thought it was an impressive parting. Then, to be safe, I texted two friends to see if this was a) a good idea or b) a delusion brought on by quarantine. Well, the Brain Trust vote was quick and unanimous and twenty minutes later my floor looked like this:
My hair is so thick the clippers couldn’t handle it until it was shorter. So I gathered my hair in a ponytail, picked up the haircutting scissors, and started chopping through my hair. Surprisingly, it was so satisfying and so fun to hear the harsh sound of the scissors cutting through all that hair. I’ve had dramatic haircuts before but I’ve never cut all the hair off myself! The feeling of the ponytail finally pulling away from my head was great, too. I had to cut it a bit more with the scissors and then I grabbed the clippers and got to mowing! I could’ve started with a little section but I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. So I shaved my hair off up to my eye line, as I used to do for Ashley.
The next day, one of my haircut consultants texted to ask, “How’s the new cut in the cold light of day?” It was a valid question as Friday night excitement doesn’t always translate into decisions appreciated on Saturday morning XD. But I really like it! I’ll be honest, I’m damn proud of how straight the line ended up being (the curve down from the temple was intentional!). I like the contrast of the long hair with the short and it is so cool to feel my long hair swaying like a soft curtain against the even softer buzzed hair below it when I move. Given how thick my hair is, you can’t tell I buzzed it at all when my hair’s down, either. So far all the reactions have included a) I really love it! and b) I can’t believe you didn’t screw that up! Impulsive quarantine decision or not, I’m definitely keeping my hair like this.
(As you can see from the pictures, I did have to even it out a little bit by my temple but I did that the next day. Now we’re good to go.)
FINAL VERDICT: Cutting my own hair during quarantine – success!
It’s time to take phone/FaceTime/Zoom conversations up a notch.
First, who the hell knew what Zoom was two months ago? I’d never even heard the name in connection to a conferencing app and now I use it all the time. Seriously, Zoom is saving the day. Although, poor Skype. Right? No one really talks about Skype anymore. It was just sitting around, letting us video chat for years, and then POW Zoom steps up and wins when the plague comes. I’m not complaining mind you. I have been Zooming with people all the time. I’m an extrovert by nature and living along in self-isolation has been ROUGH. I’m on the phone all the time in a non-plague times so you can bet I’ve been upping my chat time now.
I even got one of those li’l stands for my phone so I can be on FaceTime for long periods of time without having to hold my phone. And YES me from two months ago would HARDCORE JUDGE ME for having a li’l phone stand. Who have I become?? Past Me would lament. Have I devolved and appropriated an iGen stereotype?? But I don’t even care. It’s awesome and it makes FaceTime easier and I love it. It makes my video chat sessions for therapy easier, too.
But I quickly realized quarantine conversations need more than just new toys to make holding the phone easier. The conversation itself can do with a kick sometimes. I will happily talk to people all day long. I’m often happiest when I’m doing just that! However, conversation can start to stagnate when the response to, “What’s new?” becomes, “Well, I moved to the other side of the couch since we talked last. It’s a totally different view of the room. It was a bold move, but I think it was worth it – even considering the trial of having to move my book and my drink over there with me.”
Enter Chuck Klosterman. In his book – Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – he has a small section called, “The twenty-three questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them” annnnd I’ve been using them in conversation with family and friends since I first read them in ’03 or ’04. As I was ordering his newest book – Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction – from Barnes and Noble, I happened upon his HYPERtheticals: 50 Questions for INSANE Conversations. It was a box of fifty cards with questions like the ones in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and I HAD TO HAVE IT.
On the introductory card to this set Klosterman writes, in part, “I see no value in asking someone a friendly, nonadversarial question if neither party cares what the answer is. Instead, I prefer to ask questions where the solution is irrelevant – I pose hypothetical questions where how one answers the query matters far more than the literal conclusion. There is no ‘right’ answer to these kinds of questions. The end never matters; what matters is how you get to the end. What matters is how you think, not what you think.”
To give an example, my favorite one from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is #5 – “You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate’s collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop that from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear – for the rest of your life – sound as if it’s being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it’s being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it’s being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you). Would you swallow the pill?”
Right? RIGHT??? You’re welcome. Have fun chatting and thinking about and obsessing over that for the rest of your day. Now imagine a box of cards with fifty amazing questions exactly like that. Quarantine can stretch for a year (hopefully not!!!) and I’ll still only be scratching the surface of where these can take me in conversations.
FINAL VERDICT: Chuck Klosterman’s HYPERtheticals – we all need this in our life even without quarantine!
Even if I’m stuck inside, it doesn’t mean nature’s stuck outside.
So there’s not really a story to build up to this one. The other night I was minding my own business when I turned on the light and walked down into the basement…and I found THIS.
It didn’t even have the decency to crawl under something and pretend like it was sorry I saw it or was scared I was there. It was just hanging out in the middle of the floor, like it owned the room. I put the crackers down for a size reference. The only reason I paused to do that was so I’d have proof of the true scale of the dreadfully harrowing evening I endured. When she saw the picture, Miranda, of the aforementioned sneaker-sassing fame, said, “Honestly you’re gonna have to burn the house down and start over.” But I would not be beaten! I would survive! We scuffled. It tried to run. It tried to come at me. But ultimately I was rewarded with hearing the sound of the crunchy chitinous exoskeleton of that gargantuan thing’s all-too-skitter-enabling jointed appendages when I SMUSHED THE HECK OUT OF IT.
I’ve always been the kind of person – ever since I was a kid – to let bugs live. If I had to remove one, I’d safely catch it and release it outside. I’ve also always tried to be very spider-tolerant, leaving as many webs up as I can and letting them do their thing so they can eat other annoying insects for me. Also, obvs., I’ve always loved Spider-Man so how can I not appreciate the namesake? I respect them. But I feel they’re sort of taking advantage of my policy. They…they may’ve crossed a line here.
While I haven’t seen one since, I’m not sure if the death of their advanced scout set a message and the rest are steering clear of me OR if they are lying in wait for me, building up their forces to take revenge for my act of aggression. Only time will tell. If I’m not back with another piece next month, you’ll know the spiders won.
If that’s the case, if the spiders get me, remember me as I was – someone with a spontaneous haircut, a badass walking stick, and (maybe) questionable sneakers. And remember me when you’re talking about whether or not you’d sacrifice your relationship to music to spare your soul mate’s collar bones from being crushed with a Crescent wrench.
Spider invasions aside, I hope everyone is enjoying quarantine as much as possible. Stay safe and be healthy.
– Michael Miller
Michael J. Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief but he tweets sporadically at best because social media can be exhausting.
 Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifest (Now With A New Middle), (New York: Scribner, 2003), 126-34.
 Ibid., 127-8.