Perhaps it comes from being the child of Jewish refugees. Though I live the kind of life my parents could scarcely imagine, I still carry the deep-set feeling of wanting. Empty pockets. Empty me. There must be a term listed in the DSM, but FOMO will do. “It’s a meme,” my 31-year-old son explains patiently. “Fear of Missing Out.”
As New York City begins to open up, I’m already nostalgic for the lockdown. Yes, we were all isolated from our friends and families as we struggled to get our groceries (if we could afford them) and wiped everything down.
But the conspicuous display of wealth was gone. We all wore our masks (except the young ones strolling down the avenue) while we walked stealthily, avoiding each other’s eyes and breaths. Holding our clandestine toilet tissue. Not a lot of selfies. Fewer phones. The 79th Street crosstown bus rumbled by with one passenger. There was a strange calm on the street, except for the occasional sound of sirens. It was Blursday.
If I’m honest, I felt more peaceful during the lockdown than I ever have before. No need to maintain the “mad pursuit,” as Keats called it. Vanity was obsolete. Our gray hairs multiplied. As did “Covid 15,” as a friend calls the extra pounds gained from recreational eating and lack of exercise. Why tweeze eyebrows — or chin hairs for that matter? Deodorant? What’s dat? A bra? Let the girls rock and roll. Who needs a facelift? No marionette lines nor jowls when you wear a mask. Glad I didn’t get Botox. COVID — the great equalizer.
“How are you coping?” And no one asked, “What are you doing this weekend?” I’ll tell you what I was not doing during those quarantine weekends (and what’s a weekend, anyway?). I was not going to the latest play by that brilliant new playwright and I was not paying a $14 service charge for a $100 ticket. I was not seeing my high school friend’s posts from Patagonia. There were no vacation pix on Facebook! And is there any greater generator of FOMO than Facebook? Besides Instagram. The lockdown was a blessing! I had FOMO no mo.
“Are you still holding up okay?” a neighbor called.
My brother texted he was going to Zabar’s.
A friend emailed: “How are you coping?”
I taught my writing workshops on Zoom.
Many of the economic consequences did not affect me. I don’t have a business to run. Nor do I have a job. This was not so different from my normal life. I took my daily walks, often ending up across the park at the Metropolitan Museum. I ran up the empty stairs. When I got to the top, I raised my arms Rocky style. I’m still here. The world was still here.
For a writer, self-quarantine is not the worst thing to happen. I keep thinking of the Yiddish word sitzfleish. We are forced to sit on our tuches more than ever before. A perfect opportunity to tell a story. Read, or write, a really long book.
I once spent three months in a rehab facility. A woman in her nineties grabbed my arm with her bony fingers. “You look so angry,” she said. I repeated my woeful tale, the misdiagnoses, the surgeries gone wrong. She looked sharply at me. “This is your new life. Make it count. Or at least don’t despise the ground you walk on.”
This deprivation, if that’s what it is, has suited my psyche. Having been born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, my childhood was a long lesson in coping with adversity. In fact, when things were “too easy,” too comfortable, I felt a loss of energy and purpose.
But I awaited the daily city catharsis. At 7 p.m., not a minute earlier, the city exploded for four minutes – I timed it — in a riot of car horns, bugles, shouts and applause — for our angels: the health workers, Fed Ex, postal employees, masked guys on bikes delivering take-out food. Someone even blew a shofar. I imagined the positive pheromones floating in the air.
With frying pan and metal spoon in hand, I stepped outside my 19th floor window to a narrow Juliet balcony and began banging like Ginger Baker. Every night, across the street, I saw a couple in their window. They both clapped their hands. We waved. Will we recognize each other on the street one day? Or will we revert to New York anonymity? I wonder too if I will be agonizing about not being invited to a literary party?
Perhaps not. Perhaps the virus has recast our values.
“Have you heard about JOMO?” my daughter-in-law asks over FaceTime. “It’s the latest thing.”
“No,” I say. “What is it?”
“It’s the Joy of Missing Out!”