Recently on Facebook, I posted Alexandra Petri’s excellent fashion advice, which encourages us to dress appropriately for our quarantine meetings, if the meaning of appropriately has been skewered by pandemic cocktails to suddenly require a costume director to live in our closets:
I always put on pants. For video calls, I put on a full tuxedo. It is important to show a minimum of respect to your interlocutor, and that is why I always don full evening dress, a top hat and a set of cuff links, before hopping on to a Zoom conference. If it is a particularly important conference call, I put on a full Prussian army uniform dating back to the time of Frederick the Great, so that my colleagues know that I value them. Respect! That is the word! For work-related socializing, I reserve my ermine robe, chain of office, and a spangled garter. You Should Be Wearing More Pants
April 23, 2020
As a friendly grammarian pointed out to me, and my beloved seconded, “wearing ‘more pants’ would mean wearing several pairs at once. I think they mean “wearing pants more often.’ ” And it is true, in normal times, that such a headline would not have slid past the wise copyeditors of the Washington Post. However, since these are not normal times, our beloved humor columnist explores the rigors of our new all-consuming work-from-home life and the requirements of Zoom couture. She concludes her satiric refection:
Oh, are you not as productive, working from home, tending to your house and family and strained nerves, as you feel you ought to be? Well, have you considered dressing for the job you are doing? Have you tried wearing pants? Have you tried wearing another set of pants on top of the first pants? Have you tried putting a kilt on top of that? And then, lastly, a third pair of pants?
Just put on pants. Pants will fix all of this.
Nothing will fix all of this, of course, which is why every third joke during our awkward online staff meetings is a variation on wearing pants, not wearing pants, or wearing a costume to fit a theme day carefully vetted by HR to be neither offensive nor interesting.
In our desperation to pretend that our situation is normal, we report our second-quarter sales results in a tone of scholarly seriousness while simultaneously choosing a Star Wars background that clarifies how desperately we would prefer to be on another planet right now. Preferably one with universal health care, or at least herbal remedies for viruses.
There is a deeper reality at the heart of Petri’s comedy and much of our current cultural casserole. Somehow, “quarantine” and “lockdown” have become synonyms for “projects” and “enrichment” when actually they are much more likely to be closer to “weird” and “unpredictable” since we can’t go anywhere and online retailers constantly inform us that everything we ordered will arrive two weeks late only to deliver it an hour later tied with a bow. We attempt to be productive and at the same time maintain a polite awareness that everyone is typing with one hand tied behind their back and the other swatting a cat off the laptop.
Apparently, some of us have an aversion to admitting that a worldwide pandemic changes us. A central lie we have told ourselves is that if we just keep working and shopping, everything will be ok. Now is the perfect time for crafting and cooking… because you have nothing else to do while you are wrangling children into distance learning appointments, arguing with the cable company about the speed of your internet connection and turning three peppers and one sausage into dinner without the use of a knife because someone in your household decided to soak every kitchen utensil in garlic juice as an antiseptic. Why not also hand sew a few dozen masks and finish that quilling project you started twelve years ago?
Actually, always is the perfect time for crafting and cooking if you have materials and food or money. Now is the perfect time for whatever you want. Likely, you want to live, so you’re staying home except for exercise and errands. Even more likely, it feels weird to be home so much and it sucks not to see people you’re used to seeing daily or weekly or just randomly at the supermarket.
You may need someone to talk to who doesn’t live with you and has no idea that you’ve spent the last eight hours playing Toon Blast because you’re determined to be the family champion of a smartphone app. You may just want a game of Uno played with people who show you their cards because it’s the fun of the game and not the final outcome that matters instead of treating it like the SuperBowl of card games.
More likely, you crave the structure of your former life and the security of your work shoes. Reliable daily footwear built for commuting, conferences, and conversation sends a message of normalcy that can’t be achieved with slippers, sandals or flip-flops.
That day will come again.
Until then, moisturize, hydrate, wear a mask, and wash your hands.