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Overwhelmed by quarantine possibilities

Who knew that staying at home could be so exhausting?

(Image: fahimxyz |

Each day brings with it, along with the bad news, ever more suggestions for what we can do with all our free time during the quarantine. I’m not sure where all the free time is supposed to come from since I’m a university professor and I still have to teach all my classes on-line, which actually takes more time, effort, and planning than in-person classes. But there are so many new opportunities being made available each day, it’s hard to refuse.

Operas, ballets, and concerts I never would have had the money to go see are now available for free streaming. I live in Houston, and I’ve never had the time or money to go to the Alley Theater, but now Terry Treachout at The Wall Street Journal tells me that I can stream a really good performance of 1984. I better do it now before they take it down.

So too, each day brings new of “the best things” streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and HBO that will presumably only be free for a limited time. So if I want to see Chernobyl, I had better binge watch it now. Should I watch all six seasons of The Sopranos, or the seven seasons of Mad Men? Everyone tells me I have to watch The Wire, the best television series ever. Is now the time? How about Veep, Six Feet Under, or Silicon Valley? All come highly recommended. How about that Tiger King series? Even my physician is watching it.

But this is just the tip of the quarantine iceberg. I read an article the other day suggesting that this would be a good time to read Boccaccio’s Decameron. That’s certainly true. But once I started it, I looked over and realized I should probably be re-reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A friend wrote to recommend the Inspector Littlejohn mysteries by George Bellairs. Volume 7 is free on Amazon. I guess I had better get started. But this reminds me that I meant to read through several more of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin seafaring novels. Another friend has decided now would be a good time to re-read all the major works of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and wonders whether I would like to do the same and discuss them with him.

My wife has decided that we should read through a canto of Dante’s Inferno out loud every evening before bed. I prefer not to let her know how much sleep I am missing because of the nightmares. She is starting a reading group of people to read through the short stories of Flannery O’Connor together on Zoom. I expect more nightmares.

She also has been reading articles about things people have been learning to cook during the quarantine. “Guess what?!” one web site announced. “One thing you can definitely do, and should be doing, is COOKING AT HOME! You will most likely find yourself with big chunks of time that you aren’t used to having and what better way to spend it than cooking up a comforting meal for your family?” We are supposed to fill these “big chunks of time” (which I don’t have) with big loaves of home-made bread, it seems. I have been assigned to figure out how to make something called chicken tikka masala. Lord help me!

None of this cooking happens without shopping, of course, and upon the advice of a You Tube video made by a physician in Grand Rapids, we are carefully wiping down all our food as we unpack the bags of groceries — that is to say, after we’ve carefully disinfected a clean surface and kept it separate from our unpacking area. “You should be doing this,” our dutiful physician suggested, “in all the extra spare time you have now.”

We’re told we need to keep in touch with friends, so we’ve been devoting time every day to Skyping or FaceTime with people we would otherwise see serendipitously. We are also supposed to keep exercising, so we try to put in an hour or more each day. My wife signed us up for online yoga.

It occurred to me that this might also be a good time to compare documentaries on the Vietnam War. Which reminds me I never got a chance to watch Ken Burns’ series on jazz. Another website said this would be a good time to learn a musical instrument, but I can’t decide between the guitar and the tin whistle. I’m trying to brush up on my German, but an article said this might a good time to learn Mandarin.

So, unlike some others, I am grateful that President Trump extended the quarantine until the end of April. I have so many projects in the works, I will certainly need the extra time.

By the same token, I am pleased to hear that plans are being made to lift the lockdown. I don’t want anyone to get sick, but quarantine is exhausting.

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About Dr. Randall B. Smith 44 Articles
Dr. Randall B. Smith is Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where he teaches courses on Moral Theology, History of Theology, Faith and Science, and Faith and Culture. His books include Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide (Emmaus), Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris (Cambridge), and From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body (Emmaus), due out in October 2022. He is also co-author of Why Believe? Volume 2: Answers to Life's Questions (Augustine Institute). Prof. Smith is the author of numerous articles in academic journals, but he also publishes a regular bi-weekly column for "The Catholic Thing."


  1. I’m sincerely glad you can work from home & it’s great that there are a multitude of things we can keep busy with in quarantine. What a blessing. Sincerely.
    The only thing, and this is not meant unkindly, but there are those of us who have to put ourselves in harm’s way each day to keep essential business & public services going. The opportunity to exhaust ourselves at home in recreations & hobbies is not an option.
    So, I realize you’re attempting to mix a little humor into the darkness & I think that’s generally a good idea. But my son in law works in the ICU with Covid patients & can’t even come home to spend time with his family for fear of infecting them. He sleeps in a hotel now.
    My daughter in law also works in a hospital & puts in 14 hr. shifts.
    I work in an “essential” service & encounter opportunities for infection daily.
    Two of my children are currently unemployed & one may be risking his health trying to make a little income driving for Uber.
    So some particular types of humor may strike discordantly just now.
    But I do appreciate your thoughts & perhaps in a few months we’ll all be back in a better, healthier, & happier frame of mind.
    God bless!

  2. I have just discovered the report. Times are lonely and diffcult reading the post gives my hope and adds some cheerness to my day. many thanks

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