My husband and I sat down at the kitchen table the other day, with calendar print-offs, computers open and phones out, as we attempted something left untouched for a year: planning. That’s right, we were looking ahead, months even, trying to wrangle upcoming events—or hopes for upcoming events—along with deadlines and appointments into the little shared squares we call our family calendar.
For months, what have I had to manage besides online piano lessons for my kids and my deadlines for this very column? But the world is opening again, arms are being shot up, and even Macron said people can come back to France. I have to figure out how we’re going to send the girls to their three-day camp in June and somehow visit family in July? That seems close together. It’s time to once again be good at time management.
Except it’s hard. I forgot how to commit to things. I forgot how to stagger Friday’s pizza night with Saturday’s neighborhood barbecue and still find energy for the Sunday chores. Which, speaking of, I also forgot what it was like to have four to five mountains of laundry instead of two, and now we’re wearing real clothes again, making real messes besides accidentally dribbling wine down the sweatshirts we’ve been wearing for two days.
That’s a pretty good indicator of the COVID slide in my social skills, and a few weeks ago, I think I came on a little strong to the new girl at yoga. “OH YOU’RE NEW HERE. LET ME GIVE YOU MY PHONE NUMBER AND ANYTIME YOU NEED ANYTHING YOU CAN CALL ME. By the way, my name is Sarah.” This is how we make non-internet friends, isn’t it?
The ironic part is, I’m also off the internet. Quarantine deprived me of in-person human interactions, but it also made me completely despise social media. My interactions, digital or otherwise, have decreased by about a million percent, and I think I need a crash course in speaking before I can begin the real world again. My dog and I have been having lovely conversations at home, though, and the characters in my fiction work have really come to life to me as well.
Actually, a friend of mine did ask me to coffee the other day. “When are you free?” she asked. I opened up iCal and the next week was a long stretch of wide-open days, which was how I realized I was in trouble. I spent an inordinate amount of time rationalizing which day to choose, ensuring I preserved plenty of time for… well, something important, I’m sure. “How about Wednesday?” I said initially, considering that Monday was the start of the week and I like to start slow; Tuesday I would need to get some work done; Thursday I had to pay a bill; and Friday is reserved for wrapping up the week. But then I remembered I go to yoga on Wednesdays, which is obviously a socially strenuous undertaking also, so maybe I just didn’t have any time available. (These are jokes, everyone. My friends and yoga buddies know that I love them dearly.)
All this past year, we were wallowing in sweatpants dreaming of the days when we apparently wore ball gowns and attended daily luncheons and soirees in the evenings; the time when we marked our days by the social seasons and an empty calendar square was a social Scarlet Letter.
Of course, we’ve heard we’re not going back to that. This is the new normal. And we can take baby steps to get there. First things first, shake out those jeans that have been sitting on your shelf. Do they fit? Don’t panic! It is normal to feel the denim against your body; it is normal to have to jump to get into them. Next, do you have a shirt with buttons? Other than the one you’ve kept hanging on the back of your office chair, reserved for Zooms with the three weirdos in the world who still care that your top half looks camera ready? Okay, this is called getting dressed, and even though it was the old way of doing business, probably the world is still going to require clothing moving forward.
It might also be necessary to revisit additional grooming rituals. Anyone had a haircut recently? Like, other than the one your wife gave you in the garage while you sat there wearing a ratty hand towel around your shoulders? Ladies, alongside your calendar preparation, it’s time to reallocate some dollars. Once, before we felt justified in $100 a month on various video streaming services, it was important to budget for self-maintenance. Yes, good for you for taking on your nails and eyebrows in your bathroom this past year, but you don’t have to be alone in that forever! Cancel HBOMax and add a wax to your calendar.
Feeling fly, and it’s time to present yourself to other people. If you’re out there, they will come. Remember, eye contact and a smile goes a long way. I’m pretty sure everyone is getting used to identifying a masked smile, so long as you remove your sunglasses before you grin. Conversations normally start with, “Hello, how are you?” and you don’t have to punctuate every next sentence with, “You know, COVID… ” It’s understood, just like it should be understood that we are not reemerging from home just to scream about politics. No one ever wants to talk about the weather either, but this is Colorado, so everyone still will.
I’m telling you all of this, sending you out into society like a proud parent… or like the strange hermit who will still be huddled at home, afraid of everyone and everything, waiting for you to report back while I stare at my obsessed, lunatic-style calendar taped to the wall like an unsolved puzzle. It’s going to be a long journey back into real life. Now booking meetings for August—of next year.