Nostalgia, One Year In

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Welcome. The comedy critic Jason Zinoman wrote this week about how he misses being a member of an audience. He recalls “the buzzing, drunkenly anticipatory energy of opening night of the Broadway blockbuster ‘The Producers,’” the collective gasp when the crowd is awed or surprised, the emotional release at witnessing a powerful performance. He even misses the specific etiquette of being an audience member: “I mourn the loss of its minor rituals: the delight of eavesdropping on the row in front of you, the economical art of the intermission conversation, the discreet discussion with a friend on the way out of the theater.”

I had a drink at a restaurant last night, the weather warm enough for a minute to sit outdoors at safely spaced tables. The scene was ordinary — servers taking orders, couples sharing fries, kids’ voices occasionally audible above the low din — and not ordinary at all. I imagined we all felt how special it was to be part of this scene, to sit near and be aware of one another, to take in the feast of information that just the sight of a stranger provides. It felt extravagant to wonder where the guy at the next table had gotten his shoes.

When my companion went to the restroom, I did not, as I might have before the pandemic, check my phone. I wanted to soak it all in, to be present and participating as a member of this temporary assemblage of other humans. I wanted to take part in the “minor rituals” that Jason Zinoman described; I wanted to eavesdrop and observe.

I saw a tweet when I got home that made me laugh at my own preciousness about sitting in a restaurant with strangers:

I, too, feel nostalgic for a time many years back, a time before the advent of cellphones, when waiting was a social activity. When the moment we had unscheduled alone time, we didn’t evacuate the premises, flee to texts or email or social media. Being even six feet away from strangers feels like an odd privilege now, and it feels wasteful to allocate our attention elsewhere when there’s so much to be gained from nods of acknowledgment, small talk, seeing one another and being seen.

A reader recommends.

Lisa N. Finder of New York City spent a day without screens and wrote a poem about the experience:

For 24 hours I looked at no screens.

Off work; no appointments

So I had the means.

I’ve had many headaches from reading messages galore.

So I decided I’d be a slave to email no more.

I’ve lacked sustained concentration,

another source of my frustration.

Plus my online activity

no doubt explains my proclivity

for reading less. That takes a toll!

You see books feed my soul.

P.S.

The Times’s Well team is examining what loss looks like, collecting stories and photos depicting objects of remembrance. Find out more about the project here.

Here’s a good article by Katie Heaney in The Cut about what’s happened to our social skills over the past year.

Several people wrote in to say how much they loved drawing their own icebergs a couple weeks ago; those people might enjoy making their own 3-D rainbow blobs.

And if you’re looking for a new cooking project, try J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe for the perfect schnitzel.

Tell us.

What are you experiencing cultural nostalgia for lately? Is it laughing with your fellow audience-members at the movies? Is it something from long before the pandemic, like phone-free bars and restaurants? Is it video rental stores? Tell us: [email protected] We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for leading a good life at home appear below. See you on Friday.

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