It’s a Brave New Self-World

We’re facing a whole new world with the coronavirus. Everything is changing, including how we use the words self- (add your word here).

Self-quarantine started it off. If you become sick with the virus or test positive, you need to self-quarantine. Then self-isolate came in. If you think you might have the virus, or are afraid of contracting it, you need to self-isolate. Or, as I saw here in Italy about a little over a week ago, the paradigm shift in thinking that if you don’t self-isolate, you could infect others. That sea-change in thinking has probably helped more than any other persuasion to get people to stay home. And finally, a more comforting term, self-shelter, has appeared.

We already have a lot of self-words. Self-control: That’s a good one that we all hear from our parents. Self-harm: That’s not good. Neither is self-destruct. Too many rock stars in that arena. Self-pity: Ew, too much of that around. Self-exile: That conjures up visions of Siberia and endless deserts. Self-indulge: We know what that can lead to. Self-pleasure: Ah yes, we know what word that replaced. Self-induce: Hmmm, take your pick on that one. Self-denial: Some government leaders come to mind.

As we’re entering into the 10th day of self-stay-at-home-or-else here in Italy, some interesting things are happening. The need for social interaction is huge, and the Italians are hugely social. So, they’ve swung into action to ensure that “you are not alone” by singing their hearts out (or playing instruments) from windows and balconies all across the country. It’s heart-warming and giving everyone hope that we will get through this. Not to mention some amazingly fantastic singers and musicians who would otherwise never have been discovered.

Closer to home…here comes some self-disclosure. I’ve been in a quasi self-isolation for three years. My husband had a massive stroke in 2017 that left him an invalid. My whole world turned upside down…and inward. All of a sudden, everything out there was much less important than what was happening in the spare bedroom-turned hospital room downstairs. My whole life became focused on administering to, and caring for, my husband. 24/7. I had to go out of the house nearly every day, but it was only for doctor visits, the pharmacy, state disability, medical supplies, sanitary supplies, hospital trips, physical therapy sessions, legal affairs, endless paperwork filing. My social life disappeared. Oh, once in a while I would run up to Montone, my little town, wave at people as I rushed through the piazza, gulp down an espresso in 6.5 seconds, and then rush off for more rounds of bureaucratic crap. After two years of this, suffice it to say I was dangerously thin and exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Luckily, I had wonderful help. I never could have done it without our care giver, and she has since become one of my best friends in life.

So, self-isolation is nothing new to me. But this time, I’m on my own. My husband died last year on March 18, 2019. I spent yesterday and last night with a lot of memories, alone in my house with my three life-saving kitties. I’ve never been afraid of living alone (for some strange reason, I rarely get lonely). I lived alone for a long time before I met my husband. And it’s strange to say this after living with my husband for 35 years, but I like living alone.

This last year of being a widow (still choke on that word) has opened up an entire world of “self.” Basically, you have to “do it yourself”. I’ve learned a lot, and I do have great help for things I cannot do myself. But the weird part in all of this is that I have not been able to write for the last year even though I now have all the time in the world. Huh? “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. On the other hand, what I went through for three years probably has something to do with it; I’ve needed to do nothing (or just the minimum) to recover my strength, my health, my sanity, my heart and soul. Yesterday marked that time.

I’m thinking and feeling and realizing that this time alone has morphed into self-immersion, self-discovery, self-emergence. Ironic how it has taken a global, external threat, locking us inside our homes, for us to look inside ourselves and let those selves emerge in whatever way they can. Whether it’s singing out of windows to comfort others, talking on the phone again—not just texting—rediscovering talents and remembering those dreams, finding closeness with family because there is no escape, and knowing that even though we are alone, we’re not really alone. Out of this madness, it feels like a gift to return to my photography and to write again. It has been three years. Self-bloom! I wish it on everyone.

Stay safe, stay optimistic. We will get through this.

6 responses to “It’s a Brave New Self-World

  1. Thank you for this, Nina. So happy to have you back, your writings and photos.

  2. Christina I Bruns

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I found your site as I was researching Cezanne. I can relate to your isolation as I took care of my mother who had dementia for three years. I was in Umbria the end of last April and I thought of you and your husband and what a lovely life you both had. Thank you for your writings.

  3. vbookish7@aol.com

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I found your site as I was researching Cezanne. I can relate to your isolation as I took care of my mother who had dementia for three years. I was in Umbria the end of last April and I thought of you and your husband and what a lovely life you both had. Thank you for your writings.

    • Thank you for your thoughts! I’m interested in your research on Cezanne. My husband was a Cezanne scholar, wrote a number of books, taught courses, discovered the sites where Cezanne painted, etc. I would like to correspond with you. I’ll send a personal email.

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