Have you reached that part of the quarantine where you’ve decided to get rid of everything you own and become a digital nomad — the chill kind that moves every month or two to a new laid-back spot?
Because if so, me too! This time next month, I’ll be starting my new life of impermanence. First stop: Tucson.
But let me first back up and explain.
When safer at home orders came down in L.A. mid-March, I was kind of happy and kind of terrified. Happy because I’d been feeling a bit scattered and stressed and thought a few weeks sequestered at home would do me good. Terrified because I’d always kept a pretty busy social schedule and feared the abrupt stop of human contact might make me get depressed — or even go insane.
As the quarantine has dragged on, I’ve gotten — happier.
Let me first say I’m in one of the very luckiest of quarantine situations. I live alone — meaning I have neither kids to homeschool nor a partner to bug the shit out of me. I have the kind of job that smoothly transitioned into a work from home deal — I was already working remotely one day a week before all this started — meaning I now pull the same salary while enjoying a lot more small personal freedoms that just make life better, e.g. the freedom to work laying on my couch if I feel like it. I have two MacBooks, an iPhone, a Kindle, and a Chromebook I never use — meaning I’ve got Hulu and HBO and lots of free library ebooks and Facetime and Zoom and Houseparty whenever I want it. I like my apartment, I live in a pleasant and safe area where I can go for nice long walks twice a day, I am in good health and have great health insurance.
I am very much aware this is not the situation many people are in right now, and suffice to say that these days especially, I wake up each morning feeling immensely grateful.
I am, of course, isolated. Most days, I see real, live people only in passing, when I go for walks. Yet instead of making me feel lonely, this period of enforced seclusion has given me a sense of calm and peace that I’d been seeking for years without success.
It’s all made me wonder — what was all that running around I used to do for, exactly? Why did I feel so compelled to DO things all the time? What was I expecting to get, to find?
It’s taken a pandemic for me to finally realize that most of the things I felt I needed to do — even truly believed I wanted to do — were not due to any innate personal desire, but to societal pressure and FOMO.
I don’t mean that anyone was giving me a hard time or making me guilty whenever I tried to stay at home. My friends aren’t like that — they’re pretty easygoing “do what you want to do” types. I mean that, without even realizing it, I’d internalized a lot of societal messages about extended aloneness — namely that the state is undesirable, unhealthy, sad, depressing — especially for a single woman.
It’s strange, because in many ways I’ve considered myself to be somewhat nonconformist. But I’ve started to realize that even a lot of the things I believed I was doing “for myself” were really actions I took to fit into cultural norms. From where I worked out to what I did on Saturday nights — so much of that had been dictated by larger messages I’ve gotten since I was child about what it means to be healthy, socialized, acceptable — normal.
To be fair, there have been times in the past when I’ve very much felt lonely — bitterly, painfully lonely. Yet now, with everything canceled and nowhere to be, I feel not lonely at all. In fact, I feel rather giddy! Is it possible that what I experienced as loneliness in the past was not the pain of being alone, but rather the pain of believing there was something wrong with my being alone?
I haven’t become a complete misanthrope. I make sure to talk to someone every day. Long phone calls and Facetimes have been lovely. Some friends who live across the country I’ve gotten to “see” a lot more often than I used to — an added boon of the pandemic.
But the quarantine has finally made me realize just how much I love being alone — to write, to read, to walk — and to enjoy that without questioning it or wondering there’s something wrong with it.
And that in turn has made me rethink some of the bigger decisions of my life — like living in Los Angeles. Now that I’ve learned I’m quite happy without all the entertainments of the city, why am I living in an urban area with high, high rents? There’s so much I love about Los Angeles — great weather, ethnic diversity, left-leaning neighbors, robust library system — but for the first time in 20 years, I’m realizing that I can find these things in other places too.
So — I’m going to be a nomad. I’m getting rid of most of my stuff, moving the rest to storage, finding a virtual mailbox, then becoming a temporary resident in cute cities I’ve been curious about, with the help of Airbnb and, hopefully, some writing residencies, too.
I literally made this decision two days ago, so there’s a lot I still need to work out. For one, I haven’t told my employer I’m bidding L.A. adieu. I hope it doesn’t come as a total shock to them. My somewhat unrealistic hope is that the world will magically transform into a work at home forever if you want type scenario so my nomadism never actually becomes an issue I need to address with my day job….
If you remember, about this time last year, I completely ripped up my life as I knew it then — changing cities, jobs, and my eyesight (Lasik) in the space of a week. I’m wondering if this turning my life upside down thing is going to be an annual thing in this decade of my life —
Have advice on the digital nomad lifestyle? Hit me up. Also, if you need a couch, a bed, or a small dining set, let me know!
Hope you’re all staying healthy — drop me a line and let me know how you’re doing.
P.S. Three links you might enjoy:
Pedro Almodovar describes his life in quarantine.
L.A. writer Ben Loory has been reading stories every day at 5 pm PT on Instagram live. I recommend tuning in!
Pam Mandel wrote a lovely essay about getting on dating apps in her 50s.