In other words: Comfort zones, and other pandemic diversions

This morning, my bedroom windows rattle from a wave of breezes heralding the first sign of autumn. The acorns will come next, landing on my deck in all their orchestral grandeur. And suddenly summer is over, and sweaters are pulled tightly around us.

Such is what we call “the change of seasons” — inevitable and often slightly jarring as a new month appears when we least expect it.

This year is particularly strange. One season flows into another, and we find our lives have changed dramatically.

I seek out my comfort zones wherever possible in different rooms of my house. I watch the days pass by from behind protective glass, as if cinematically viewed in slow-motion rather than personally experienced. Sheltering-in-place means exactly that: isolation. I have been safely sequestered since March, only recently daring to venture out while proceeding cautiously — a displaced person hidden behind a mask so that anonymity is the order of the day.

My comfort zones appear in a variety of ways. It could be as slight and subtle as sipping a cup of jasmine tea while watching a scurry of squirrels confiscating food dropped from the bird feeder. Or, perhaps, I find solace listening to classical music filling corners of the house in Baroque splendor. It could be a laugh wafting over from a neighboring yard, a roll of thunder in the early autumn night, or crickets performing their final seasonal chants.

Each of these take place somewhere else, while I absorb them all viscerally from inside my ivory tower. I fancy myself a prisoner of circumstances, who exists in her secluded dungeon, far from places beyond her reach. I’m a Rapunzel, afraid to let down her hair, which after six months has grown to mammoth proportions.

It feels odd to have always been full of life, when life itself has been paused and nothing is as it was. New daily adjustments test our mettle and we marvel at how adaptive we have become. We talk about “resiliency” as though it’s an acquired taste and in some ways it is. Clearly, we are being challenged and while some can’t quite pass with flying colors, most of us are smart enough to know not to mess with a pandemic.

I can tell you this: It feels daunting not to interact with humans on a regular basis.

We chose our company carefully and Zoom has become a kind of alter-ego. I conduct writing workshops, and as a writer myself, I pen stories such as these. Writing is not only my profession, but something I gift myself when alternatives are no longer readily available. I miss my pals, and my kids, who fly in from another country and then are quickly quarantined and unable to visit. I exist alone, though I’m not exactly lonely. Intermittently, old black and white noir movies, dark Lindt chocolate, and “New Yorker” jigsaw puzzles have become my new naughty indulgences. Saturday night dinners brought to my front door provide treasured brief encounters.

Some of us are better than others at doing alone. One man, a front-line doc, deals with sick patients every day. When released from his medical milieu, he scrubs down, resisting human contact with those he can no longer see. Another friend, also a doctor, declined an indoor Indian restaurant dinner/concert because he felt it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Risk, after all, is a regular consideration that forces us into decision-making on an almost hourly basis. I no longer tutor kids in person, but remotely, and many of these students are themselves house-bound and stir-crazed. For others, college campus life has been curtailed, and is an unattainable aspiration. Collegiate camaraderie is temporarily on hold.

My granddaughter, Caroline, had her virtual college graduation in May. While inspiring, it was weirdly deflating. My grandson Andrew, works mostly from home behind a computer screen. The world is no longer the proverbial oyster.

And so, we find our personal comfort zones, those special spots, which make us feel simultaneously safe, secure, frustrated and helpless.

It feels like fall this morning. The air smells inviting through my open window. I long to run outside and into the day with wild abandon, sans mask and sans fear. Instead, I turn up the music, spread raspberry jam over my toast, reminding myself how brave and persevering I have become in this “new abnormal” world I now call home.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at or at