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Quarantine & Its Discontents

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Dear Reader,

These past weeks have been eventful for me. Thursday before last, Yale University appointed me to its faculty as a Lecturer in Psychiatry. That Sunday, the Los Angeles Times published my op-ed about the psychological legacy of COVID. The next day, the New Yorker published an article about polygamy and polyamory that I’ve been researching for over a year. Links to these and other recent work are below.

COVID numbers have begun to go down and vaccination numbers continue to go up; many people have started to emerge from their year of isolation. I’ve written about the vestigial anxiety that will continue to live within us, but I should note also the newer melancholy that tends to accompany even positive change. No one will be sad that fewer people are succumbing to this virus, and few will wish us back into the fear that gripped the world last spring. The racial awakening of Black Lives Matter was long overdue, as is the collective will to end police brutality. The relentless assault on freedom and dignity that was life under the previous administration is in welcome abeyance; let us focus forward. But with millions dead and untold millions more bereaved and destitute, we have lost the habit of good news, and the first stirrings of optimism can cut like knives. March is quite a cruel month, too.

Quarantine has been a time of great intensity, immensely difficult but, at least for some of us, also intimate. I was in confinement with my husband, our eleven-year-old son, and my husband’s best friend, who is older than we are and serves as our son’s honorary grandfather. We lodged ourselves upstate between woods and hayfields. We periodically visited my father and stepmother, who live an hour away, balancing physically safe distance and emotionally safe proximity. Starting last summer, we had two friends in our pod: our son’s beloved godmother, and a dear friend who had been living by herself for months on end. We saw no one else for a very long time.

It was not an entirely adverse situation for a writer, at least so long as we all remained healthy. Long afternoons passed as I labored over paragraph upon paragraph. Such a luxury of uninterrupted scribbling is seldom sustainable in the frenetic chaos that is (or at least was) New York City. But I was hardly Thoreau at Walden Pond. We tumbled into being one another’s sufficiency, and hours fell to mutual exigencies of one kind or another. Within our tiny circle, we shared not only the loving but also the entertaining of and care for one another. We held figurative and sometimes literal hands as we negotiated our dread of what lay just outside. Some families cracked under comparable pressure, but others seem to have found some new closeness in it. For myself, I discovered that I was less broadly social than I had supposed and that being restricted forced me to be a more distilled version of myself. I became more attached to my family than I had known possible. That is not to cast some glimmering veil over the conflict and irritation that I occasioned and endured, but only to explain why I already feel a certain nostalgia for the revelations afforded by the lockdown. Nietzsche argued that only that which is painful is truly memorable. This COVID period will linger a long while in the memories of those who endured it, but though pain may be what cements those memories, it will not constitute their full content.

It is hardly all over. Often in my N-95, leery of too much gregariousness, I pass mornings wondering whether today’s numbers indicate an approach to herd immunity or the surge of some resistant variant in one of the globe’s populous corners. Pundits keep opining on a future in which people do or don’t return to offices, in which we do or don’t continue to wear masks when we fly, in which large gatherings stay rare or become commonplace as they once were, in which the performing arts rise or vanish. These prognostications are often delivered with an air of authority that belies the collective ignorance of which COVID made us acutely aware.

People have died; people have lost those they loved; people have faced financial devastation, disproportionately people of color who were economically disadvantaged in the first place. Those of us not fighting back against such ruin have at least discovered without whom we can live. We now know how much that we counted on is actually expendable. As we rebuild our lives, perhaps our newly revealed, elemental selves will be guided by retrospective tenderness more than by lapses back into narcissism. Or: perhaps not. Far be it from me to predict anything.

Do keep in touch.

My best always,



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Audio: The Quarantine Tapes: Our Mental Health in the Age of Social Distancing»

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Upcoming Events


Letter to a Young Female Physician: Andrew Solomon in Conversation with Suzanne Koven»