1 September 2020

Guide to isolating: an extraverts tale

Picture of Kate Moriarty

Kate Moriarty

Kate is a writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Australian Catholics magazine

On some days, when things seem especially grey and blah, when I’ve not left the house all week and gluing felt moustaches to my face-mask collection has lost its appeal, I get out my coloured pens and plan the Party of the Century.

There will be so many people. Old friends and new friends and work friends and bring-a-friends. I’ll introduce friends from different social groups that haven’t met before and watch how they click. Maybe I could set some single friends up! It’s so long since there has been juicy gossip in my life. And we’d sit around the fire and eat food and hug each other and play music. I will wear a nice dress and make-up. I will tidy the house. I will exclaim with joy every time the doorbell rings.  And it will ring so many times.

Lockdown life can be rough on an extrovert. Even for someone with a large household, like me.  I live in Melbourne with my husband and six children. When everybody else was buying their own weight in toilet paper, I had already stockpiled people to keep me company. Our first Period of Enforced Togetherness was hard, but kind of exciting. I liked to pretend we were survivors in a bunker or pioneers on the frontier. It was a chance to try out new projects; to watch and read and listen to podcasts; to relish being homebodies. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.

Zoom would be my saviour. It would be just like meeting my friends in real life. I’d sail downstairs in high heels and make-up and the dress I really liked, but didn’t usually wear because the zip at the back was torn slightly. I’d pour a glass of champagne, open the laptop and wait for my energy levels to rise with this healthy dose of socialisation.

Except that it turns out Zoom doesn’t work like that. As unsatisfying as a bad night’s sleep, the whole set-up took a lot of getting used to. On Zoom, there is no way to catch your friend’s eye to let her know you’re still listening to her anecdote or to quirk a disapproving eyebrow at your friend who’s drifted off onto his phone. If something relates directly to one person in the conversation, you can’t look across at her as people are talking and share a secret smile. I never realised how much non-verbal communication goes on in a conversation before it was taken away from me.

And I miss catching up with people I don’t know so well. I miss making new friends and exercising that social muscle. On Zoom, you can’t interject with a quip or engage in fast-paced banter. Zoom is for orderly, linear conversations. On the other hand, it can be quite democratic, with more air time allotted to introverts who might otherwise be drowned out by power-mad loudmouths like myself. Good for them.

I wonder if video conferencing has affected us permanently. How will things go when we start meeting again properly? Will I raise my hand every time I want to say something? Will we ask everybody how their week was, taking turns alphabetically? If my friend is soft-spoken, will I tell her to take herself off mute? Will I position myself strategically so that I have a nice backdrop? Will I say goodbye three times, faltering as I work out how to leave the conversation?

When Melbourne first started to emerge from its lockdown, we were allowed five guests at our homes. I found this restriction paralysing. How could I choose? What if I offend people? Five people? Come back to me when I’m allowed fifty!

Churches were also opened up, with a limit of ten. Being a family of eight people, I thought it might be unfair if we took over the entire congregation, so we waited until the quota was for twenty. The return Sunday Mass was a profound and moving experience. We attended once, then things changed again. One of my four-year-olds (have you ever been to Mass in the same church as us? You would have heard her protesting, I promise!) huffed out a sigh when she saw her sister setting things up for Mass on the TV again, “I miss actual Mass!” she exclaimed. When the time comes, I’ll make sure I remind her that she said this.

As I write this, Melbourne is in the middle of its second lockdown. I gotta say, the novelty factor has kind of worn off. We’ve already spotted all of the window bears and rainbows on our outdoor walks and it turns out I’m rubbish at making my own bread (we never managed to cultivate a sourdough starter, ours was more of a sourdough over-and-done-with).

I started to whine about the size of our house. Our four girls share a bedroom. The twins keep their clothes in a chest of drawers in the study, where my husband is currently working from home. I need to remember to fetch their clothes before work starts, to prevent the video meeting from having surprise naked participants.

It was at the height of my whinge-fest that I read about the hard lock-down of our commission flats. A Somali mother-of-seven was trapped in her tiny apartment and not allowed to leave to get fresh air or supplies. I decided I needed to shut up about my plight.

Perhaps hunger is healthy sometimes. There is value in missing things and feeling their absence. In fasting from Sunday Mass, I no longer take the Eucharist for granted. When all this is over, I will go to Mass with so much renewed joy and energy. In fasting from other people, I have come to understand my own family so much better. Some of us need space sometimes. Some of us need to go into the back yard and burn up energy.

Some of us need extra hugs and some of us need to regularly videocall our tribe of besties. In fasting from events, I have learnt that not everything we do is essential. I’ve learnt I’d much rather spend a Saturday walking along the creek with my family than driving to a dozen different activities or wandering aimlessly through Kmart. When all this is over, I don’t want everything to go back to how it was. When all this is over, I’m going to keep some of the good stuff.

Plus, I will have a zoom-free party of the century, planned to the very last detail.

Footnote: The book, Reclaiming Family Time, is available from the Majellan Bookshop for $23.95, postage included. See page 48.


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