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How To Escape Quarantine Brain Without Doing Any Work, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:38am

So I was putting together a post on linen bedding, because I need a new duvet cover, and I suddenly knew with overwhelming certainty that today was not that day. Have you all become more erratic in this time of quarantine? Me, yes.

And I cannot control my well-being. One day I might do everything right: exercise; eat lots of fiber and not too much sugar; log an alcohol-free evening, dig holes and fill out forms as planned; but the next morning rise wholly uninspired. Or maybe I wallow in anxiety, olive oil and red wine all day long, only to wake up full of talent.

Anyway, never mind, I don’t like it when bloggers tell you what they aren’t going to write, because, bait and switch much?!? As I said, erratic.

In recompense for postponing the delights of linen bedding, let me suggest a few TV shows that have helped me escape my quarantine-brain. It takes a whole new world for me to forget my querulous self. And, not just world that’s new, but one that is seen from a whole new perspective. (See how erratic? We are using italics, my friends, veritable italics.)

Also I have a splinter in my hand.

Anyway. First I watched Unorthodox on Netflix, a story of a young woman leaving her very strict Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I loved it. The young actress who plays the lead character, Shira Hass, is incandescently spectacular.

So I began to watch Shtisel, featuring that same actress, also on Netflix, and I love it even more. Less Hollywood, more small details of which a life is made. Not only does Shtisel provide escape but when I return I can’t help but bring it with me. It’s about a Hasidic family in Jerusalem. That’s it. Made in Israel, Hebrew spoken, English subtitles, it’s a cross between our American Cosa Nostra series, The Sopranos, and the Australian show, Offspring, about an OB/GYN and her crazy family.

Netflix/Dori Media/via JTA

The characters stay with you. They start to lead a life in your mind. You want to ask them questions, give them advice, feed them some salad. Highest possible rating. Also the lead actor is really good-looking but I promise that’s only icing on the cake.

Michael Aloni in Shtisel

For similar looks into other worlds, also from the perspective of that world itself, I also recommend Delhi Crime and Shrill. (Delhi Crime is on Netflix, Shrill on Hulu) Delhi Crime is about a female detective and a crime that involves police and governmental corruption. Subtitled. Fascinating. Shrill is about a young woman, a journalist for a small local paper, who happens to be obese. No subtitles required, just a shift in mental models. Absorbing.

I got the splinter from my shovel, in the process of digging a hole. Thank you for putting up with my folderol. I remain, despite the italics, just fine.

Have a stable weekend, or, may whatever constrains your volatility be kind. Much love, Lisa.

59 Responses

  1. We all have quarantine brain. It seems impossible to focus on one thing and accomplish it. Then we wonder if this will ever really be over..

    1. Yes, that’s exactly how it works. The only thing I can reliably focus on is, oddly, revising my novel. I am pretty sure it’s because I now have a critique group and extroverts love to deliver to humans and discuss. It took me three weeks to complete the tax documentation for my mom’s estate because I could only work in teeny increments.

  2. I’m so erratic it scary. One day full of energy, cooking, painting, walking, reading, doing a jigsaw puzzle – the next day I wake up absolutely scrambled, no energy and a complete inability to concentrate on anything.

    I’m reading a really good book “My Dark Vanessa” and I’ve never taken so long to read a book I’m truly loving and engaged in.

    So – today is a down day and I’m not in the mood to fight it. I’ve heard great things about the TV shows you’ve recommended and will try them. xo

    1. Ooof. I’m with you. Your good days do sound brilliant though. And I will look at that book. I’m finding it so hard to read. Attention span approaching zero:(.

  3. Lisa, this post resonates with me – yesterday was my day to wallow; today I am motivated and working my to-do list. Will look forward to a post on a linen duvet; I have considered purchasing linen sheets which I think would be wonderful.

    1. You get that list! Love my linen duvet cover and pillowcases, didn’t like having the bottom sheet in linen, was too rough. More details to follow;).

    1. Sorry you are here too, but, even as water sploshes in over the side you manage to be very kind. Thank you.

  4. Erratic is my middle name and I have an attention span to match. We are just emerging from two weeks of almost constant rain and gloom and I’m hoping that being able to get outside again will help.

    1. I find being anywhere but in my house, even if it’s just my car, is better. Good luck!

  5. Yep! I’m doing that Erratic thing too — glorious bike ride in sunshine yesterday after signing tax return at accountant’s, little picnic at beach (distanced, of course). . . and then plummeted, so hard. . . .
    TV series really do help, and I’d wondered about Orthodox so thank you for that and for Shtisel. Will watch for sure (and it was thanks to you that I watched — and loved! — Offspring). Last night we watched Portrait of a Woman on Fire, gorgeous. . .
    We watched Delhi Crime a few months ago and I must say I’d add a caution: it’s really disturbing, with graphic descriptions of a horrific (true) crime. So well done and important, but some will find it too tough, imo

    1. You are so right. I had forgotten how brutal the crime was, so absorbed by the story and setting. It’s a good warning. Thank you. I’m sorry you plummeted. I would describe my bad spots as flurrying so hard that I spiral and leave my heart behind. If that makes any sense whatsoever.

  6. Nice read, Lisa. It is so hard to concentrate right now that even baking sourdough bread is a challenge for me. I loved your suggestions of what to watch. There is so much out there. I too, await your blog on linen bedding. I have an uncovered comforter and just can’t decide. Hang in there!!

    1. Thank you. If even baking bread becomes a challenge we know we’re in a dry spell for concentration. I hope you get a chance to see the shows; they take away the burden of concentration for you. I will do my best on the linen. I hope this extra week will let me call some of the companies and maybe hear from them directly.

  7. “Veritable italics” — love it! :). And thank you for the recommendation re “Orthodox,” as I’m in the market for good new offerings that are not the usual Hollywood memes.
    I am not so much erratic as spacey — this feels like a limninal period, a kind of bardo. Self-discipline is hard when work/home and isolation/connection boundaries are so blurred. About every five days or so I am awash with anxiety or sadness (or both); the rest is sheer gratitude for still having my job, access to the internet, groceries, and the health of my loved ones. This is a Moment, for sure — writ large.
    Sending love ~ stay healthy and safe! xxx

    1. “this feels like a limninal period, a kind of bardo.”

      Yes. And I did not know what lay in the Bardo for me.

    2. @Alex, Hey Alex
      I too feel spacey and you piqued my interest with the words ‘liminal’ (threshold) and ‘bardo’. From the Buddhist tradition, it is the time after death when the soul is between 2 states of being, the first part on realising it is dead and looking back at the life it just lived. How appropriate. Imo, we will see a life before Covid and a life after Covid, and they will be 2 different things. What I am gleaning from Lisa’s post and the replies, is that we are in a collective state of mourning and grief for the life we knew. Like you, I am grateful for a steady income during this time, and that my family – even though I can’t be with them in the same room – are safe and with me in mind. Comforting to know I am not alone in my symptoms (body aches, migraine, fatigue) which I thought were a bit irrational and was putting down to Menopause. Love to you all TJ Xxxxxxx

  8. I didn’t do much all week but today I am pickling onions and making puff pastry so we can have an Easter dinner tomorrow that is somewhat fancy. Then back to staring into space and taking my temperature.

  9. Glad to know it’s going around – and only after I wrote that did I realize what I guess is the irony of that comment. Also glad to know about the series you like, although I think it’s “Unorthodox“, no? I’ve been enjoying Schitt’s Creek, although it took me several episodes before I started to like the characters; now I love it. I also should add that on your recommendation I read “Circe“. I was put off at first by the somewhat (deliberately) pompous tone, but I got totally engrossed in the story – so much so that I have now bought her earlier book about Achilles.
    Stay well, and I look forward to reading about linen bedding.

    1. Glad you stuck with Circe long enough to get engrossed. The Achilles book is good too. You are right, I will correct my post, it’s UNorthodox:). I love Schitt’s Creek. It reminds me of some of the movies Eugene Levy has been in, Best in Show, etc. You have to kind of make room for the tone, but once you do they are so rewarding. I have to wait for the final season to show up on Netflix, am waiting with bated breath.

  10. One day I managed to get all the carpets vacuumed and floors mopped. The next day I couldn’t care less that there’s a ring in the toilet bowl. Now I’ve got to prepare an oral presentation for French class via Zoom and I am really not inspired. Tired of talking about the coronavirus or recounting how my grandson broke his arm requiring a trip to the hospital in the middle of a pandemic- last place you want to go. So Netflix sounds perfect. Thanks for the recommendations – now that’s information I can really use!

    1. I am never happier than when I’m useful. Sorry about your grandson, hope you like the TV series:).

  11. “Quarantine brain” is an excellent way to put it. Am finding myself unable to know what day or date it is, so, whether the energy or focus be high or low, you are way ahead of me.

  12. I’ve become quite the homemaker, folding towels and sheets, cleaning the kitche, today I’m planting wildflowers seeds, Well, I think I’m going to throw them around and see if they bloom. Not really getting anything done and now wanting too. I’ve never eaten so many carbohydrates in my life. I really need oranges. It may be a week before I get them. Just watched an excellent British series, The line of Duty. Well revisit Shitsel and Othodox. Truly scattered. I needed to pay some taxes yesterday and would you believe I forgot. Going out there right now. But I’m not scattered No.

    1. I feel like your energy and good spirit would always carry you through scattering, whether of wildflowers or goals. I liked Line of Duty too.

  13. Thanks for making me feel better about my erratic energy patterns! I’m in Southern California so we’ve been hunkered down since mid-March. I don’t consider
    myself a depressed person (unless I’m watching or reading too much news.) I’m just off, and I can’t keep myself to a regular routine. Some days are very productive and others are not. I saw a “mental health expert” on TV (there I go watching too much TV news) who said that these are typical patterns of grief. Interesting, no?

    1. It is interesting to compare this state to grief. The way it’s outside of our control is the same. But I don’t feel sorrow when the bad days come in the pandemic, I feel blue and angry.

  14. How nice to see your post arrive in my email. Thank you for that. At the beginning of the shelter-in-place I saw a potential slide into a dark place so I made myself a daily schedule. A very specific daily schedule. Now I laugh at daily schedules, though I do look back to mine for guidance. During my most recent FaceTime call with my therapist, with whom I was finishing up in 2017 when the car accident made a BOOM in my life (still going on in litigation that was put on hold during this period), I was on an optimistic, grateful Very Good Day. She told me to write in my journal what I had said to her the moment I got off the phone so I could refer to it if needed in the future. I did as she asked, but haven’t yet re-read what I wrote. The next day, or the day after that (the days are starting to run together), I had a Very Bad Day which began innocently with my daily cup of coffee with cream at 8 a.m., and then descended into nerves and emotions without outlet. When I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep and realized with surprise all I’d consumed all day was water and a gin & tonic. I got up at 3 am, had food, and then went to sleep. At the start of this I’d resolved to avoid alcohol since I don’t enjoy it that much in a home setting without friends or a restaurant to make it festive. I’ve since revised that to a daily glass of red wine or a gin & tonic at 5 each evening because it’s a calming routine and I need a calming routine. It astonishes me how good I feel one day, and how bad I feel the next, without reason. I’m trying to ride the waves. Reading, once my comfort in dark times, is not working for me now, neither prose nor poetry, because I can’t concentrate. For my sanity I avoid the news except glimpses in my morning email, and the BBC and PBS NewsHour, each which have a woman as moderator and a number of excellent women reporters (Yamiche!); try to exercise 30 minutes a day; and eat a nutritious diet. I’m doing pretty well at those things some days. Still, my nervous system rebels. I watched and loved Unorthodox. My current take on our days comes from my youngest niece who texted me, “Whatever it takes to get you through the days until this is over.” Take good care, my dear. xo.

    1. @Katherine C. James, Katherine, your comment was so honest and real. I think it resonates for so many of us regarding how we feel and behave during this most challenging time. I’m dealing with the waves as well. As a therapist, I think journaling can be quite useful given if one is motivated to do it. I think most of us are grieving the loss of our “normal self”, when we could engage with others and activities outside the home. For now, it’s one day at a time, and discovering simple pursuits.

    2. @Katherine C. James, It sounds to me like you have done a really good job of digging yourself back up out of the dark place, using all the tools at your disposal. Much love to you and thank you for being such a wonderful commentor here.

  15. I like the fact that you have found a label “Quarantine Brain” for what we are going through. Sometimes I just feel lost and then I move on.


    1. @Luci, I am not sure that naming this is much better than simple moving on but I am glad it gave you a moment of liking.

  16. Yes these are very uncertain times – everything is out of sorts! I’m a physician, and now I “see” my patients by telephone. I work at a University health centre, so my patients are young adults, mostly in undergraduate school, who are totally bewildered by the rapid changes: online rather than in-class work and exams, loss of camaraderie and group work, loss of personal contact with profs and TAs, unsure if they will have a summer job or how they will fund their education, parents have lost their jobs too. Their world is collapsing around them, they are doubtful about the future. I encourage them to take it one day at a time, even though the future is uncertain, they have the strength within them to push through to the other side. It also helps that I’ve lived through several difficult times myself, and survived (I’m almost 70). I remember what helped me pull through; I highly recommend a book by Dr. George Vaillant: Adaptation to Life. The positive adaptive strategies in this book last a lifetime and can be used under many different adverse circumstances. Stay well, my friends!

  17. So, a few days ago I decided it was cleaning day. I started by dusting and vacuuming the family room. Unfortunately, I found a magazine tossed on the floor, open to a lemon cookie recipe. I abandoned the vacuum and went to the kitchen to make the cookies. Part way through the recipe, I realized I didn’t have the requisite white chocolate chips, so I went to the computer to query my neighbors for a trade of dark chocolate chips for white. While waiting for a response, I got sidetracked reading blogs on the computer until one of my neighbors responded and I set off down the street (in my house slippers I’m ashamed to say) for the great chocolate chip exchange. Once I had the proper chips in hand, I headed home only to encounter another neighbor walking her dog (on the opposite side of the street). We talked for 45 minutes before I made it home and resumed making the cookie dough. While I waited for the cookies to bake, I glared at the vacuum and decided I was not in the mood to dance with her anymore. So off she went to the closet, just in time for the cookie tasting. My days have been like that, mostly.

  18. So many ups and downs these days. Yesterday, I did the housework, beta read for another writer and did the laundry. Today, I ate three breakfasts and played around on social media. It’s all about balance.

  19. Oh, Lisa! Your days sound like mine…minus the gardening. Add the Cheetos. Loved Orthodox and now I’m adding Shtisel and suggesting This Way Up from the great minds that brought us Catastrophe. I’m finding that the tears flow easily these days. Stay well, my friend.

  20. @Cynthia, Have you read the books if you give a mouse a cookie? That is so what the days feel like! I loved what you wrote. Thank you Cynthia

  21. Thank you for the steadfastness of knowing there would be a Saturday post. I am quite curious re: linen.

    But your watching suggestions are timely. I did watch Orthodox which I felt a little like it sucked me and then spit me out. Not in a bad way exactly but…intense.

    My days are all over – as our my two kids. From one minute *so* happy about a project or activity to *desperate* tears. Zoom meetings frame our day in a good way. And zoom yoga is sustaining me. Silver lining of being able to practice with an amazing teacher in a city hours from me who I have know for decades.

    Take care and thank you, italics and all, for a lovely hello in an uncertain time.

  22. What a perfect description of my mental state – quarantine brain! Working at home, my son is finishing his senior year remotely and looking for jobs, much more cooking and food prep, and food acquisition is not straightforward. Some days I accomplish a fair amount, others not much, and I can’t say where the hours go. I am losing weight, eating much less and being at home all the time makes a mild sort of intermittent fasting natural. I still have a sense of unreality about all this.

    I, also, loved Unorthodox and would like to read the book. I suggest Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. I had a hard time getting through the first season but persisted because of good reviews. I love it now and love the characters. Will try Shtisel.

  23. I thought Orthodox was very good. Will now watch Shtisel. We are in self isolation in rural Australia, lots of hours being spent in the garden. Have recently finished watching The English Game on Netflix, told my husband I would not enjoy it as it is about the start of football (soccer) in the late 1800s it is an excellent show. Will check out your other recommendations. We have a son, daughter in law and 3 year old granddaughter living in San Francisco, thank goodness for FaceTime.

  24. Hello Lisa,
    I loved your comments and they cheered me up as I’m finding it very difficult to “ achieve “ anything much.Every day I write a list of useful things to do but….they never get done.Yesterday, however, I made scones and enjoyed eating some, the need for sugar is getting ridiculous! Here in the U.K. I’ve been watching “ Belgravia “ another Julian Fellowes ( Downton Abbey ) production but much better I think, delightfully twisty!
    Best Wishes,

  25. Quarantine brain is exactly right, and your second paragraph is perfection. You have exactly described my life and floating state of being. I loved Orthodox and now need to look up Shtisel. I have not watched Offsrping yet and now I will. Delhi Crime was excellent and powerful and I am glad I watched it even though I had a great deal of trouble with some of the graphic violence. Today looks like a floating kind of day, but then sometimes things start one way and then suddenly go off in another direction.

  26. I just saw “Delhi Police” on Netflix, and will put it on my watchlist. I watched another Indian Detective show recently and I think I’ll probably like this one too.

    I recently finished two seasons of “The Sinner” on Netflix and that motivated me to watch the 3rd season on USA Demand. There is a lot to be said for watching shows without commericals on Netflix.

  27. I am in the Covid Bardo, just waiting to see when and how to move ahead in wonder I can’t focus on anything.

    thanks for recommendations, just finished Unorthodox- riveting. Ready to start Shtisel. Also,adding one of us.

  28. Lisa as always, you are so prescient. Quarantine brain as defined and amplified by commenters- what a help this on line community is!
    In November we moved from Guelph in Ontario to Madison CT. So instead of snow it’s been spring and yesterday was such a great day for this inveterate gardener. Planting for the pollinators, with plants gathered from a native plant nursery that set them out for us to pick up- no contact. It was so good to be digging; a real tonic for the soul. Today, well rain and high winds so no garden. Maybe bake, maybe reread the Elena Ferrante. Maybe do nothing……
    Thanks for your reliably wonderful and timely posts.
    Barbara formerly from Guelph

  29. I’m glad that someone (Barbara, above) mentioned Elena Ferrante – the 2nd volume of her “My Brilliant Friend” series is now on HBO, and it is just terrific (“The Story of a New Name”). Re-reading Ferrante is good too…

    I find myself reading much more poetry than usual during these dark days, and memorizing more as well – somehow that is both calming and stimulating. And of course doing more cleaning and clearing out of long-untouched cabinets. I even spent a whole day returning our all-white master bath to an almost painful state of pristinity. My husband even asked if he was still allowed to use it!

    But we have daffodils and tulips outside, and a sprightly new garden of purple grape hyacinth and white anemone blanda by the front porch, surrounded by wildly blooming vinca … so I choose to paraphrase the poet Shelley and say, “If springtime comes, can joy be far behind?”

  30. Splinters here too, or little snags, not sure. Have settled into a flow, rather than a routine, with a strange ease and acknowledge the harder days just as I do the serene ones, no judgement attached. That’s important, I think. Relinquishing control doesn’t necessarily mean chaos but it does mean readjusting our mental tick lists. I have a base line for dread and anything above that, it’s a plus. Glad these times are being documented otherwise we just might not believe it.

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