Past Habits

Listening and living in place

It isn’t just that I’m not going out much at all. It’s how optimized my activities were, previously, for being out and about, something I was aware of but hadn’t thought about much until now, because now is now different enough from the past that the differences of the past have begun to come into focus.

Is that what we’re calling what amounts to just a few months ago? “The past”? I was calling it “The New Weirdness,” and then I shifted to “Slow Chaos.” But those felt too colorful, almost like celebrations, and there’s nothing to celebrate. Giving a colorful name to what’s going on feels like printing the photo of a serial killer. Not to lend agency to a phenomena, but a cool name feels like what it wants. Things have changed, and we put markers where changes occur so as to map the change. Markers, however, needn’t be celebratory. They can just be sticks in the road.

I’ve worked for myself for a decade, as of this coming July. That already meant working from home, at home, a lot. It also meant a significant amount of variability. I worked wherever I wanted (or needed) to be: at a cafe, at a museum, in a park, at someone else’s office, and frequently simply en route. “En route” isn’t merely a motion toward somewhere, but another kind of somewhere. I get a lot (excuse me: got a lot) done in public buses (my preferred and most frequent mode), in the occasional car (driving or being driven), planes (remember them?), and while walking. I am good (was good?) at related calculations: “I could drive there in X hours. If I take the train, it’ll be Xx2 hours, but I’ll get Y more done.” Also: “I have Y number of transit hours, so I’ll store up the documents I need to read until then.” Those particular skills haven’t found much utility in our unfortunate new present.

There were numerous resulting circumstances resulting from the variability and mobility I was accustomed to, most of which have evaporated: Certain types of music in certain travel conditions. Audiobooks and occasional phone calls on a drive I took once a week most weeks. A little MIDI device for use with my laptop as a productive distraction. A tidy backpack, the contents of which were adjusted as the years passed, that now sits in a closet, wondering what it did wrong. The three little cases for cables, pens, and such, now stacked on my desk, their contents dispersed. The MIDI device is available for when I want to make the long hike from the office … to the living room.

I’m used not just to walking, but to having a narrative in my ear as I go, lending a bit of fictional associative meaning to everyday instances, much as a movie soundtrack might. I’m used to certain albums that I only feel comfortable playing “that loud” in a car. I’m used to favorite drone albums merging with and blocking out the noises of public transportation.

None of that exists now. New habits are forming, some of which might even be good habits, but it’ll be some time before I can put a marker down and look back and understand them.

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