When the workday ended on Friday, I waved goodbye to my editor and ended our Zoom call. The weekend had arrived—I would also spend it online. I poured myself a glass of wine, and fired Zoom back up again for a happy hour with a few friends.
As more states put lockdowns or orders to stay at home in effect, millions of Americans face the new normal of social distancing. “No, this is not life as usual,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (or as we call him in my household, Dad). “Accept it and realize it and deal with it.”
So the familiar backdrops of our lives—bars, exercise classes, movie theaters, best friends’ kitchen tables—have been replaced by our own living rooms. We may only be able to leave the house for a few precious moments to take a walk or re-up groceries, but through Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts (pick your player), our social life goes on. Sort of. It just may need some time to buffer.
True, this weekend I spent a lot of time staring out of my window, like a pigeon perched on a railing. But I also attended dance classes and improv shows, tried the social distancing version of a live drawing class, and was welcomed into a virtual knitting brunch.
I could have spent the past 72 hours watching the extremely soothing Georgia Aquarium’s Jelly Webcam. There is no better way to whittle down the hours than follow the lives and loves of its undulating jellyfish. But our lives have already reached peak hermit, so human interaction is necessary. Enter: Socially Distant Improv.
This Instagram page hosts different comedians and groups performing live sets. Instead of a stage, we see them in their apartments, roommates walking by, Internet cutting in and out. Viewers chime prompts into the comments, and the comedians make a scene based on them. It’s incredibly awkward, just as it is in real life, but isn’t that the point of improv?
Gloriously, and more than a little surprisingly, none of the sets I watched featured coronavirus jokes. The scenes I saw were centered on “rainbow bagels” and “animals,” so consider it an escape from reality. As an added bonus, Irish exiting has never been easier to pull off on Instagram live. Just click out of the page, and do something else. No need to climb over a row of people and stage-whisper “Excuse me,” like we did in the old days when the clubs were open.
Maddison Cave works as a colorist at the David Mallett Salon in New York City’s SoHo; this weekend she bleached her husband’s hair. I followed along, thinking I might do the same thing on my own head, but she urged followers not to try at home. There were too many steps and products for me to buy anyway, and to handle bleach you have to wear gloves, which are out of stock everywhere.
One thing I do have are colored pencils and construction paper; I used both to do an at-home art project inspired by Greenpoint Figure Drawing. The class usually meets on Fridays in Brooklyn; now, one of the models who goes by the mononym Ume uses the hashtag #DrawMeAtHome to encourage creatives to keep sketching her form.
Her nude poses are beautifully staged and lit. Some of the art Ume has inspired is brilliant. My attempt at capturing her ended up resembling a Shia LaBeouf mugshot (blame it on quarantine wine consumption, I guess). Still, drawing her was one of the very few times this week I completely forgot about the disaster raging outside my apartment.
In Seattle, where Governor Jay Inslee ordered a statewide emergency shutdown, forcing Americans indoors and banning gatherings over 50 people, the popular Dance Church class boogies on. According to Crosscut, over 1,000 people tune into the event’s livestream. I was one of them on Sunday afternoon (10 a.m. their time, 1 p.m. for me).
The “pre-class” began with three very hot instructors in sweats and spandex warming up to Kesha—while maintaining the appropriate personal space. “Say yes to the choices and the choices happening 6 feet away from you,” one said over a pulsing beat. “Be careful of the edges of your furniture! We’re going to the floor and getting nasty.”
The nastiness would last for about “50-ish minutes,” they told me. I made it to 20, jumping around in a kaftan while my boyfriend sat on the couch texting. The instructors narrated their movements, cardio class-style, telling us to try certain movements along with them. Like many people posting their experiences at home, I didn’t really follow along, choosing instead to headbang and high kick as if I were at some death metal concert/revival meeting hybrid. Apologies to my downstairs neighbors.
I took a quick shower, because I only had a few minutes before The Knitting Tree’s sewing circle brunch began. I have never been to the Los Angeles yarn store, but owner Annette Corsino-Blair graciously let me peep inside her weekly group’s virtual meeting. Dozens of women, and one man making a baby blanket for his new puppy, braved Zoom to share the progress of their individual projects.
One knitter, a Home Depot employee still going to work, dialed in while on her break. She wore a crochet face mask. Another sat in her living room, but decided to put up a digital island scene backdrop. She was using hemp yarn to complete a pattern she saved 10 years ago. “I wanted to make it then, but I had a kid instead,” she explained. (Said kid popped in the video chat to say hi.)
Anyone who wants to pick up a new hobby, take note: knitting is apparently easy to hide while you’re Zooming with employees at work, since it can be done underneath a table below the range of a computer camera. With the extra time out of offices, projects are getting done quickly. One woman held up an impressive Afghan rug. “At the rate this is going, I will have it done by next week,” she laughed.
One knitter couldn’t figure out how to use Zoom—she had the window open, but her computer crashed. So she called in, and Corsino-Blair held the phone up to the screen so everyone could hear. “I miss you all!” she said. A newbie who had only been to one sewing class before the pandemic shut everything down showed off what will eventually become a scarf.
Then Corsino-Blair held up the new yarn she had in stock. “Sorry you can’t feel it,” she said as club members oohed and ahhed over the plush multi-colored fabric. After everyone updated each other on their progress, the conversation inevitably turned to coronavirus.
“There’s no traffic! No traffic!” one Angelino marveled. One woman said she had to cancel her trip to London and Paris. She’ll read A Tale of Two Cities instead.
One of the weekend’s best-attended parties was one hosted by DJ D-Nice, aka Derrick Jones, a 49-year-old who hosts marathon dance parties from his Los Angeles apartment. As an emcee, he’s worked with Barack Obama and Dave Chappelle, and his celebrity following joined in for the nine-hour set he played on Instagram Live this weekend.
In total, over 100,000 people tuned in. I was one of them, and I was not wearing pants as I saw Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay drop by. (Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both made appearances, too.) Their presence made me run and put jeans on. It was the first time in weeks I had denim against my skin, tight and unforgiving. You know what? I missed the feeling.