The popular culture being consumed right now — movies, music and books — sometimes serves as background, providing the white noise to our elastic days, and other times flits to the foreground, commanding our attention as we become absorbed in worlds beyond our windows. During this time of isolation, everyone is engaging with media in their own way, seeking tailor-made moments of escape.
For me, music is an essential constant that must shape itself to the activity of the moment — the need dictates the genre. Lately, I’ve been starting my days with a restless sort of mobile meditation. With my canine copilot, I take an early-morning drive around a mostly deserted island, literally spinning my wheels. But something happens with the windows down and the sun coming up. From the protected bubble of my car, I find a reprieve, fooling myself into thinking this is just the start of a road trip. My daily delusion requires a nostalgic and shameless soundtrack — Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, a dash of Nirvana, maybe some ’90s rap if I’m feeling the bounce. Back home, I sit down at my bedroom workstation to focus. For my scattered thoughts, there’s no more calming body of work than that of Johnny Greenwood. Best known as the multi-instrumentalist for Radiohead, Greenwood has spent the past 15 years composing brilliantly textured instrumental works, including a commission for the Australian Orchestra and several noteworthy soundtracks. At the end of the day, I emerge from my work-at-home cocoon, turning to The Beatles and the artists of the ’60s and ’70s Laurel Canyon music scene to provide the backdrop for cooking and solving one of the puzzles strewn across the kitchen table.
When I need to disconnect the critical lobe of my brain and just escape, movies fill the void. My watchlist grows daily. With it, the hierarchy of quality recedes, so I’m happy when I find a gem.
“Sweetheart” debuted at Sundance last year, garnering consistent critical feedback and maintaining a 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A classic creature feature with a contemporary tone, the film follows Jenn (played by the brilliant Kiersey Clemons), a young shipwrecked woman who washes up on the shores of an island that’s deserted, save for one lethal resident. All in all, it’s a perfect distraction that also makes our civilized state of isolation seem quite manageable.
“Low Tide” didn’t quite hit the mark for becoming a critical darling, but nonetheless provides a fun, moody and easily digestible (86-minute runtime) distraction. It’s basically “Stand by Me” with buried treasure. The film follows a group of Jersey Shore teens navigating an act of summer troublemaking that escalates beyond their control.
The middle ground between the escapism of film and the easy flow of music, books require a level of engagement that forces some introspection and discovery while keeping us entertained.
For those seeking isolation empathy, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” will imbue the current situation with a little dose of wonder. The nonfiction piece is author Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s account of her time spent trapped in bed by a debilitating illness. Looking for distraction wherever she can find it, she hones in on the daily life of a snail that’s hitched a ride to her bedside on a plant. Through her study of this counterpart, she finds a renewed sense of connection while trying to come to terms with her own confinement.
“Ordinary Girls,” a memoir by Jaquira Diaz, takes readers out of isolation and drags them through the streets of Miami and the neighborhoods of Puerto Rico. Diaz recounts her struggles with violence, her complicated relationship to her complicated family and her search to define both her sexual and cultural identity. A vivid and frenzied portrait of a life in progress, and an intermittent history lesson, “Ordinary Girls” provides an unflinching glimpse into another world.
What’s on your isolation list?
I posted a Facebook question about what people are watching, reading and listening to in these days of social distancing and physical isolation. Perhaps not surprisingly, people had plenty of time to share some of their favorites — and those with potential that they’ve added to their watchlists.
Movies and TV
• “Schitt’s Creek” (Pat Henriques)
• “The Amazing Race” (Karen McCharen)
• “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” (Melody Cooper)
• “Jojo Rabbit” (Michelle Clauson)
• “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”
• “The City We Became” by
N.K. Janison (Margo Ellis)
• “Love in the Time of Cholera”
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Rosi Ware)
• “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn about female spies
in World War I (Erika Biddle)
• John Prine (RIP, old friend)
• CW Colt and Jeff Clark
• Journey (Carol Tedesco)
• Bob Dylan (Cat Johnson)