My Default Mode Network
in times of self-isolation
“Some days are harder, some days are easier, some nights are stranger, some mornings are more hopeful. They all smell of disinfectant, incense sticks and food simmering in the oven. They are all devoid of enthusiasm or despair. They oscillate between strategic small chores and the Default Mode Network.
I'm actually pretty high up the social privilege totem tree – I am young-ish, with no chronic illnesses, with reasonably high immunity and spirits, I have savings for approximately three months of rent and utilities, I have a flatmate that is also a friend, we even have cats that teach us all about quarantine.
But I also have parents that I worry about, one of whom is a still-walking illness collage, and a sister that has until recently gone to work on corporate office floors unprotected. I have a minor but painful recent breakup to navigate through, I have a no-alcohol personal challenge, a panic disorder which has strangely shut up once everyone else started panicking (the bitter joke) and most annoyingly I cannot do my job from home. As a freelance theatre director and day-job stage manager, all my current or future projects are cancelled or on hold. I read and I (try to) write Sisyphean applications for the future – and no, I don't want to jump yet on the all-arts-go-online bandwagon. I don't want to stream my creativity. I don't want to create online free art that may change the paradigm of putting (monetary) value on artists' work. Because I have hope that this is temporary. That cautious hope is all that's left now that José Saramago-like dystopias unfurl before our eyes.
I have to cling on my certainties, like my body, my family, my voice, my breath.
Sometimes I dance obliviously, sometimes I stare at the ceiling. I accumulate inputs, theories and articles. Everybody is giving recommendations these days. Everyone has dusted off that bucket list and sheepishly seems to believe that this is a karmic renewal bootcamp. It doesn't have to be. What it is for certain is a reconfiguration of our coping mechanisms. It can be just chips and silly series on Netflix. Nothing wrong with that. You are not a worse person if you haven't caught up with your reading or if you haven't developed a new hobby or a new remote-work technique. I choose not to let myself be overwhelmed by the peer pressure of being productive 24/7 at home. Wash your teeth, take a shower, cook what you eat as long as that's possible, stretch. That should be enough. I used to think that boredom is only for the weak of will and the unimaginative. Now I honor (horrible word) boredom as well. While I pile up watchlists and new tabs on the browser, like most of us.
It's the waiting that also brings a gloomy eye-of-the-storm feeling. In my country the number of cases is slowly growing but we are far from being a red zone (maybe also because people aren't getting tested as much as in richer countries). The big outbreak is expected mid-April, most probably. We have a long way to go and people are just beginning to observe the necessary norms. But even though our curfew is set for 10pm I admit I've started being scared of going outside for a day-run, as much as I need it. I talk to friends in other countries. Some of them haven't been outside for weeks. A couple of them are already afflicted if asymptomatic. Somehow we've never been as close and our facetime experiences have never been so relatable. It's a bit of a cruel irony.
I remember three weeks ago, I went to dye my hair after three years at a beauty parlor (so useless in retrospect for my budget). The atmosphere there was the usual bustle, chitchat and high-pitched therapy-girl-talk drowned intermittently by the sound of hair dryers. The cosmeticians were joking about the Coronavirus and one of them asked us laughing to change the subject because she had enough already. Little did she know. I think about that small entrepreneur salon now – the empty hairstyle chairs, the silent wax machines, the bouquets of hairbrushes in the corner, the nail enamels gathering dust. I think about the hands of the workers, not being able to do that million small repetitive money-making beauty gestures anymore.
I remember two weeks ago, we had the last rehearsal of a new Cinderella show for kids. The show had already opened so we didn't understand why we needed another rehearsal. Why we still had to share the same breathing space 60+ people. Some of us wore masks and carried hand sanitizers around. Others sneered and said „oh, come on, you know how many people die from regular flu anyways?” Cameras were brought, video technicians swarmed around. We stopped often and we took doubles of certain scenes. I understood then. When I got home we all received a message – the show will be available online from now on, as well as other shows. „Stay home” – and this was coming from an agressively-managed opera company that would probably stop at nothing in other circumstances to secure some more ticket sales.
I remember a week ago, I visited an ex-lover. We hadn't caught up in months. I took the most deserted path to his place. He had started working from home, in perfect accord with his hermit ways anyway. He opened the door, I washed and disinfected before we exchanged any words. „Did you touch anything on your way?” he asked. I shook my head. „Come here then” he said and offered his opened arms. We spent the evening drinking gin tonics and occasionally forgetting what was happening outside. We planned for his future hipster mecca – a combination of tattoo parlor, specialty coffee, alt porn exhibition venue and pottery heaven. We listened to music, made bad jokes and physically comforted each other in every way we knew, spiting fear of the unknown. The following morning, in the glaring spring sun, I did a walk of no shame back home, since there was no one on the streets and stopped to get that extra toilet paper and some more cans and veggies. That night was the last injection of endorphines from other-ness before tapping into my own reserves.
I remember yesterday morning, I woke up after too little sleep next to my new friend, insomnia. It was the third day I had not gotten out at all, not even to the street corner. I thought of all the help needed by our medical system. I tried not to feel guilty of not being everything to everyone. To not carry the extra burden that doesn't go away just by donating a small amount for ICU beds or by helping two old neighbours. I did the freakin yoga practice while my mind was racing out to future professional strategies if money really runs out. Youtube Adriene doesn't know the world in which she created her videos is not the same as the one I am trying her asanas right now. Italy was so imperviously beautiful in fall last year – I look through my photos as if I am looking at a lost relative. I smile at the fake news about dolphins swimming in Venice canals, while my Default Mode Network kicks in. I look from the window at this furiously beautiful nature that sent us home to get a break from us and our civilised emissions.
The Default Mode Network is a large scale brain network of interacting brain regions known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain.
It was initially assumed that the Default Mode Network was most commonly active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering. However, it is now known that it can contribute to elements of experience that are related to external task performance. It is also active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future. Though the DMN was originally noticed to be deactivated in certain goal-oriented tasks and is sometimes referred to as the task-negative network, it can be active in other goal-oriented tasks such as social working memory or autobiographical tasks.
I haven't tried keeping a self isolation diary. Maybe because everything I do these days is a diary.
INSIGHTS COAGULATE AND THOUGHTS ROAM UNIMPEDED.
Even as I'm writing I have to stop the self-censorship that whispers „this is self-indulgent, who are you helping by this?”.
But then I remember that shared intimacy is such a profoundly human thing to attempt. And it might be one of the few things to keep us sane these days. This is art and this is nothing like art. I walk this museum of intimacy as I pace around my room, stopping at each thought as if before a painting.
Who knew post-apocalypse would be in pyjamas?
Elena’s contribution is part of rethinking intimacy during a pandemic collection.