miracle year

Not long after Isaac Newton earned his bachelor’s degree from Cambridge University, the entire school closed down due to the plague. (Sound familiar?) Young Newton must have been frustrated to find himself back home in gloomy Woolsthorpe, stuck in the house with nothing to do after experiencing the excitement and discovery of university life. He spent more than a year mostly in his room and, with nothing better to do than play with prisms and apples, worked out optics, gravity, and calculus. To this day, we refer to 1666 as Newton’s Annus Mirabilis, or “Miracle Year.”

In light of the situation, I find this anecdote inspirational.

How are things on your end? You all hunkered down? Got enough TP? It’s weird how, unlike nearly anything else I’ve ever written about, this situation affects every reader of this newsletter equally. Thankfully, we’re fine in terms of food and supplies, but it’s probably time to get my 10-year-old son started on his homeschooling curriculum: 28 Days Later, Night of the Comet, and Omega Man. He’s already seen The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, but as New Yorkers we’re not going to be driving through this apocalypse. (My daughter is a little young for movies like this, but if things do go Full Zombie, I pity any manner of undead foolish enough to shamble into her path.)

One week into lockdown and I’m getting serious cabin fever despite a family walk in Prospect Park every day (maintaining a six-foot cone of hygiene at all times). Yes, I’ve been writing more steadily without calls or meetings to disrupt my productivity, but at the cost of my sanity. (Note to self: Add The Shining to the kids’ curriculum. They’re going to need it.) Technically, this shouldn’t be a huge shift for us—we both work from home anyway, and I’m hardly a social butterfly. But I still feel isolated. I guess it’s important to have the option of doing something or meeting someone, even if I don’t exercise it much.

I don’t know how long this lockdown is going to go on. Whenever it does end, it will certainly have been too long. That said, it’s already been a time of extraordinary closeness in our family and I will cherish that aspect of this long after it’s all over. I hope you can find a bright spot, too.

Whether our lockdown lasts one month or one year, the time will pass however you choose to spend it. Spend it wisely. Invest it in the search for miracles. If you can’t find time to write during quarantine, you might as well pack up your pencils. But even if you are in a bunker-for-one, you can still get support. Find an accountability partner and check in over Zoom. Use Focusmate to help soften the isolation and keep you on task. Most of us aren’t blessed with Newton’s legendary concentration and penchant for solitude. 

Then, when you’re done working, actually stop working. Give yourself a break. Take a bubble bath—we should all be taking daily bubble baths during the lockdown. Stop exhorting yourself to do more and accept what your mind and body are willing to give. Pandemics are stressful. Working as hard as I am, if I didn’t treat myself to the little pleasures—good coffee, Curb Your Enthusiasm, sleep stories read by Matthew McConaughey—I’d go Full Jack Torrance.