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Open Thread: Why Does Moderation Feel Impossible Right Now?

In a third-grade art class, I learned about one-point perspective drawing–wherein a single vanishing point is used to create the illusion of depth. Delighted by this newfound ability to depict infinity, I sketched what must have been hundreds of vanishing points, each one drawing the eye toward something it couldn’t see. I hadn’t thought about this in years–not until last week when it occurred to me that the experience of social-distancing strangely feels a lot like a series of vanishing points. Without the interruptive necessity of having to go out into the world, each day is free to stretch out infinitely, bleeding into the next, no obstacles or guardrails.

All my pre-programmed reflexes pertaining to moderation seem to have short-circuited as a result: I can’t stop doing things to excess. I have taken it upon myself to “test” the 12 different face moisturizers I’ve been saving away in my sample drawer without waiting even 24 hours between them to see what actually works. I’ve been eating an entire bag of Lesser Evil popcorn a day, and I know that probably sounds like an exaggeration—or at the very least a stomachache—but I assure you only the latter is accurate.

I’m frantically ticking off every outstanding item on my house chore to-do list. I constantly refresh the New York Times homepage. I keep working long past when I should or need to because I no longer have an impending commute to tell me to stop. I binge-watched all 16 episodes of Sex Education on Netflix in a matter of days. I scroll and scroll and scroll through Instagram and then I scroll some more. I ask myself “What else can I be doing?” on an endless loop and when the answer eludes me I eat more popcorn. I purchased the five-book boxed set of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series because I figure if not now, when? Speaking of books, I decided last weekend would be a great time to try and start writing one myself. Why not!

I’ve been trying to unpack the subconscious logic underlying these impulses, but it’s challenging to pinpoint. Perhaps it’s because even though this time feels infinite, I understand intuitively that at some point, things will inch back toward a semblance of “normal,” whenever our old routines are deemed safe again. Perhaps it’s because I’m so accustomed to being busy to the point of imminent burnout that I’m clinging to a version of that out of habit. Perhaps I’m trying to distract myself from the eerie quiet of my apartment–or my own thoughts. Perhaps doing something–anything!–feels better than sitting still in the midst of so much uncertainty. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things, ultimately laddering up to a primal desire to feel a sense of purpose–to feel like my hands have something to do and my feet have somewhere to go.

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Is anyone else grappling with moderation right now? What are you making of it?

Graphics by Lorenza Centi.

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