Fueled by Randomness (Part 2)
This is the second half of an essay I couldn’t finish last week. You can read the first half here.
Surprise, surprise: COVID sent me into a depression last year the likes of which I’ve never felt in my life. No sense in spilling typeface on it. We were all there.
I was maybe a bit surprised to the extent I was depressed though, because in some ways, COVID provided me a lifestyle that was my natural inclination. I consider myself a home body, somewhat of an introvert, and can run off the fumes of listening to and re-listening to the same podcast episodes while playing the same video game series ad infinitum. Outside of the general health scares and societal fears, why did COVID make my day to day life so dreary?
I think the source of my depression was because COVID was the final death knell of whatever last vestige of randomness I had in my adult life. COVID, from the outset, completely killed the possibility of spontaneity.
COVID reinforced an adults already rigid set of routines to make you live as cloistered as possible, only venturing out to do things that were deemed essential. The weekday routine at our house was brutally rigid, involving getting our daughter awake and out the door, working our respective jobs remotely, getting our daughter home from school, feeding her dinner and putting her to sleep. By the time my wife and I had time to ourselves we were braindead, and even if we weren’t, what could you go and do at 8PM by yourself on a weeknight anyway when anything of consequence was closed?
Even if your pre-COVID routine was rigid and predictable, it robbed you of very simple acts of random pleasure venturing out into society can provide. Even something as simple as the commute to work, where you may need to take a different route because of an accident, or find a new song to love off of a playlist, or decide to pick up a bagel sandwich and coffee, was swept off the table. I even developed a pang for being in an office. When people talk about the “death of the physical office”, I think they are greatly discounting that an office environment was a great catalyst for randomness that you can’t really recreate with remote work and Slack channels. Little pockets of small-talk fueled by an office environment— some of which may morale boost you out of mundane parts of a day, but others of which may serve the business in a productive way—is never going to be recreated via schedule Zoom calls and calendar blocks.
Looking back, it’s was almost pathetic the types of things I derived pleasure from just in the hunt for a new, routine-breaking experience during early pandemic. I remember at some point, a Lidl opened up down the road, and one of the most exciting parts of my week was shopping at a new grocery store witch exciting private label European products. Do you understand how embarassing it is, that for the whole of 2020, one of my most thrilling recollections was turning my cart into an unexplored new aisle of a grocery store? That I remember the electricity in my fingers as I picked up and perused all manner of store-brand Hazelnut Butters, Tea Cookies and Haribo-knockoff gummy treat? That is a dire fuckin’ existence that can only exist when you are starved of any semblance of randomness!
So while COVID killed a lot of the randomness that makes life feel vivid, l also think randomness fueled a lot of my rehabilitation as well.
I’ll leave this weird phase of my life with a much greater appreciation for the neighborhood we live in, which was a catalyst for so many of the random and enriching interactions we had during this period. You generally assume suburbia to be pretty sleepy, but since COVID, our neighborhood took a social vibrancy akin to a city block. For the period of time it was still taboo to see your people, disparate sets of neighbors who typically outsourced their social time out of the neighborhood now started to naturally rely on one another. People would just sit on the front deck to take in the sun more, or go on walks just get some blood flowing. That pent up energy and desire to just get out there resulted in people talking to one another more.
One of my favorite things that seem to happen on nice weather days, are the impromptu block parties that just pop up in peoples yards. One neighbor comes to talk to another, or one toddler beelines over to her friend, and it soon becomes the nucleus of a social conglomeration that other passerby’s would also to glom onto. The dynamisms and unplanned nature of these fleeting chats recollect the energy of a college dorm room, with rotating sets of people dropping in and out of a hang.
Even the nature of my interactions with people, I feel personally more random in terms of conversations I start or comments I make. Perhaps it’s due to a year of cloistering, but I feel like I’ve gotten oddly less self-conscious in terms of strange remarks or jokes I might make, as my inner voice is leaks out a bit more with people I don’t know as intimately. Similar to dressing well, I think being a bit more socially daring is tied to the fact I want my interactions to be purposeful and memorable after a year of being deprived from them. In a way, I welcome this change, because I think introducing a little randomness into conversation can push small talk into something more significant.
Regarding relationships, I left Section II on a bit of down note, complaining about how the longer relationships progress, the less spontaneous your life can accidentally become unless you keep an eye on it. This obviously isn’t entirely true, and one possible vector to ensure this isn’t the case is if a relationship progresses to the decision to have kids. Having kids is a booster-shot of randomness injected into your life, as parenthood taps into a reserve of love so primal and potent that your reactions and instincts feel random to what you know even know about yourself.
Perhaps I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth here, because a mere section ago I was complaining that raising a kid during COVID required a strenuous rigidity that kills randomness. That’s true. But that contradiction is true of the dynamics of having kids in general—in their waking hours, when they are stomping their socked feet in the dogs water bowl or precariously mimicking older-kid gymnastic moves on an older-kid playground, you are often fraught with paternal anxiety and clock-counting to bedtime. When you finally close the door on them at the end of the night, all you do is miss their presence terribly.
Being a parent feels like a great unlearning and unburdening of the habits that you have cultivated since high school that have forced you to shed randomness. Save for certain routines, if you try to force a kid to adhere to a schedule as strict as the ones you do at work or in school, you are setting up for constant anxiety and disappointment. Instead, when you are watching your kid, you are in a constant reactive posture taking on the whims and impulses of the being with the attention span of a moth—pinballing you around their carnival of ideas, activities, and explorations that may last as long as hours or as little as seconds. In order to keep up with your child, you need to be spontaneous and silly in ways that are antithetical to what you adult brain is trained to do, and you find yourselves channeling silly voices and mannerisms you did as a kid as a remembered muscle-memory to speak their language.
Sure, parenthood is rife with banal moments compared to the most thrilling of parties or the most sensual of dates, but within those banal moments you find moments of profundity through your child’s eyes. There is this book I’ve been reading with my daughter around bedtime that involves a crew of construction trucks going to bed at the end of the workday, and every time we get to the second page, she cheerily explains “he’s peeing!” at a mixer laying cement. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard and parenthood is rife with these little random in-jokes that become the private lexicon of your family.
Another underrated factor of having kids is that they are great catalysts of creating spontaneous social interactions. While previously spontaneous, meeting new people seems to increasingly be pushed into self-selected lists that exist on disparate web apps where you need you self-select as status that indicates “I am open to XYZ”. You obviously see this the most with online dating: people self-select into the “types” of relationships they want to find themselves on whatever brand of dating app you choose to use. (Tinder for flings, OKCupid for something serious, FarmersOnly for animal husbandry both in and out of the bedroom). Even finding friendship can follow a similar trajectory, where you may rely on something like MeetUp.com, or clubs or churches that pair you based on some common thread or interest.
In parallel to the services like these, it also feels like there has been a cultural shift from just approaching and talking to strangers. Certainly, men feel this pressure from a romantic perspective, but I think this suspicion flows downstream into even more anodyne interactions as well. I know when I am out and about, I take an initially defensive posture when someone strikes up a conversation because I always assume it will translate into a direct sales pitch or a invitation to a new age church, and am often times right .1
Having kids is an underrated tool of organically and spontaneously meeting other people in a volume I haven’t experienced since college. Since, there is no preconceived notion or baggage when two like-aged toddler’s start interacting with one another, children almost do the heavy lifting the adults should be doing in providing a pretext to interact. In that way, having kids is a interesting back door into an entirely random new network, and an unexpected way they introduce more randomness into your social life.
Writing this felt like a blood-letting of sorts I needed to do to come to terms with some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had over the last year, so I apologize if it was a bit rambly and unfocused. Maybe the whole “randomness” angle was me searching for a frame less obvious then “2020 year bad”.
Regardless, I do think there is something to the fact that over my life time, due to life and technological circumstance, randomness is getting increasingly priced out of my life, and it feels like something to be conscious of. Coming out of such an odd time in my life, I hope a lesson I take to heart is to embrace putting myself and my family situations with opportunities for randomness and ensuring a life filled with a level of dynamism.
My dumb joke in Part 1 regarding someone complimenting my shoes only to pitch me on a direct sales opportunity has happened to me in some form or fashion over ten times while casually shopping in a Target or a Walmart.