Conversation In Isolation I

I’m in isolation. I’ve been thinking a lot about many things. In isolation, there is a lot of time to think.

Colleen Wagner
8 min readNov 25, 2020

I was watching a lot of short youtube videos of friends, mostly, but also famous people who I don’t know personally, reading from their new works, playing musical instruments and singing mostly uplifting songs of thanks, especially to health care workers; hanging out on Facebook reading about other people’s lives. I was also watching a lot of movies, many that would have screened at public festivals are now available on-demand on network TV. I suffer through repetitive commercials because I know these things have to be paid for somehow. I watch a carefree young couple driving a new fast car in a remote wilderness, I’m reminded I need to consume probiotics to heal an anxious gut, purchase germ-destroying cleansers, consider my financial investments and mounting debt; commercials that were made before the world stepped on the collective brakes and we all found ourselves standing inside looking out at a frightening world.

At first, I was skeptical, figured it was Big Brother flexing his authoritarian muscle for some larger nefarious purpose down the road. Then fear. What if? Gasping for painful breath was not my favourite way of envisioning my death. I bought a mask. Stopped socializing. Stopped hugging, kissing, touching. Stopped.

At first, I wondered what it all meant to our collective futures as if the future could be made transparent, more than a hopeful projection beyond the curve, that the pundits and experts who spoke daily could see into the crystal ball the rest of us couldn’t. Could they be trusted? How much of what they said is just politics? What do they really know about the virus?

How long will it be like this? Standing inside looking out. Waiting until it is time for lunch, then dinner. Waiting until it is time for a drink. Waiting for the world to change back to what it was now that the future is invisible and open to much speculation, some of which is downright apocalyptic. Waiting passively because the authoritative experts have sent us all inside, while a miasma of death passes over. The grim reaper.

I wonder if Nelson Mandela had these same thoughts as he waited thirty years for freedom. Mind you, he had a clear purpose to hang on. To enduring. Resisting. Quietly pushing back. Speaking out.

Is this also about freedom?

I call you on the phone. My hair is a mess, my face unwashed, no makeup, grey roots showing. I don’t want to talk on Facetime. Or Zoom. I want to see you but I don’t want you to see me. Yet.

I get your voice messaging.

Hello my darling, you’ve been on my mind and so I am calling, to hear your voice, your breath when you speak into the receiver, your laugh. Are you still laughing? This hasn’t gotten to you the way it has gotten to me? I know I will feel better once I can get outside. But it’s still cold with a sharp wind. I stood on the porch first thing this morning to watch the sunrise but it was overcast, and the light was only a shadow. That sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? A shadow light …

And then I am interrupted by the digital voice messaging system telling me I have used up all the allotted memory space and a shrill beep ends my monologue.

I will try you again later I say to the robotic voice, the digitized receptionist.

I’ve been doing lots of thinking. About what else could I be in a world where what I was can no longer exist, except virtually. As if I am a hologram. An image only. Digital pixels posted on a world-wide-web. A preserved moment of being that can be paused at random, resumed later, picking up where it left off, a disjointed interrupted conversation. Will it make any sense? Do we want sense?

Am I just trying to distract myself from creative death? How many youtube videos can we watch before we have had enough? Is it enough? Will we eventually live inside, parked in front of a screen, watching, zooming. A lifestreaming movie of ourselves.

I am looking outside from inside as if the answers can be found out there. Out there beyond the walls and reflective glass. I see myself. Frumpy in my old work clothes, uncombed hair. But I did put on lipstick. My lips stand out like a stop sign.

My Buddhist teacher reminds me, and everyone else on her distribution e-list that arrives as a daily reminder on how to live more fully, more consciously, that everything is found within.

I find looking within both comforting and disturbing. There are many dark corners of the mind and looking within makes me ask a lot more questions, most of which I can’t answer.

I meditate on my breath. I’m getting good at just sitting quietly, listening to the sound of air passing in and out of my nostrils. It’s possible I could sit my life away if it wasn’t for aching hips and back.

I have learned to bake. I never cared for baking.

Was never good at it. Never had all the right ingredients or baking pans and my improvisations were usually disappointing, and so realizing my limitations I preferred to purchase superbly baked goods from renowned bakers, despite the cost that comes with buying well-known brand names. I’m still not good at baking, but I am learning a new skill. I tell myself this, rather than pay attention to the creeping thought that I am filling the hours, before… well exactly, before what? Is it time to eat again? Pour a comforting drink? Wait for something to watch. Careful always of creeping addiction to food, drink, binge-watching. I open a book I’ve already read. Download a new one on my iPad because the bookstores are shuttered. So I must have an idea of what I want to read because browsing the stacks isn’t possible and the website trawlers that analyze my reading preferences based on previous purchases never seem to understand mine.

I miss bookstores. The Libraries. The smell of paper. Ink. The rows of shelves of books, many I’ve never heard of. It’s how I often read.

A title, an image catches my eye and a further browse of the inside jacket and flipping through the pages reading a passage or three determines the purchase. Sometimes it is purely intuitive, my purchase. A little voice inside me says, read this. I like the feel of paper, its texture, shades of white with a dark print font. I like turning the pages. Feeling the weight of the book in my hand, the book cover when I close the book. It lingers there with my thoughts. But…

It’s nice to read on my iPad too because I don’t need a good lamp to read by when darkness falls like a stage curtain outside and seeps inside like coloured water filling a glass. The only light is a six by nine-inch illuminated screen with rows of black print.

I am writing. I am writing because it is what I do.

I am writing because it is what I do, in the same way, I tell myself, that a bird sings. A plant flowers. Art for art’s sake. A brushstroke across a grey sky, just for the hell of it. Filming the river as a gust of wind rakes up the water, all from my iPhone, my iPad, my devices that track where I am at any given moment, search for answers to my questions, remind me of appointments, special holidays of the world, news apps and game apps. It is a library, shopping mall, food court, entertainment centre, note pad. It is indispensable.

I am reminded daily that I do not have enough iCloud storage to back up all the data on my phone. My free memory is full. To get more memory I will need to pay a monthly fee of $5.00 U.S.

My Buddhist teacher tells her followers that unhappiness arises when we are here but want to be there. So I don’t bother to pay for extra memory.

I am making my bed. I am making my bed the way my mother used to make beds when I was young.

She made them as nurses do in the hospital. One corner folded in, the other overtop, then both tucked under the mattress. Secure. Neat and tidy. A well-made bed. A reminder that bed is not only a place for a good night’s sleep in clean hygienic sheets, but a bed is also where one convalesces. And of course, dies. Although both my father and grandfather died with their shoes on. My father was on his way to the chiropractor, stood up after lacing up his running shoes, sat down and died instantly of a heart attack. He was 93 however, so his death, in and of itself, was what many would call a good one. I imagine my own death. With my shoes on. But I know that is a stubborn resistance to dying in a bed. In long-term care. Alone. Forgotten.

I am in the garden. It is still spring and it is unusually cold.

Hyacinths, Blue Bells, and the exquisite Pulsatilla Vulgaris, from the Hebrew word for Passover, or the common name, Pasqueflower, have pushed through the cool damp earth, reaching upward toward a still pale sun, flowering despite an unexpected snowfall the night before, weathering a gusty wind, a wind I turn my back to.

How patient they are I am thinking. Do they know on some molecular level that this will pass? That as a spring flower it is designed to weather the unexpected but inevitable storm?

I bend to smell the pink Hyacinths. Their perfume transforms the air, the way music changes the vibration of a wavelength, the way a dancer slices through space, a rain cloud bleeds from an opaque sky, the way words follow one after another. A thought brought into being.



Colleen Wagner

Playwright, Screenwriter, Post & Prose Writer — Conversations in Isolation