Words and Photos By Mike Gioscia.

We often live as if we’re running a race, but for what?
What’s the end goal?
If we’re happy in the moment, then aren’t we successful?

Just as with Pavlov’s dog, a “ping” from my phone can detach me from a thought, a conversation, a project, or just about anything. To make matters worse, that ping may send me down a rabbit hole for five, ten, maybe thirty minutes before I refocus and return to what I was doing. I call it “Covid Brain,” but I think we all had these symptoms long before that pesky life-changing virus made its appearance.

Watching people…frolic around fire pits with music blasting was a highlight of the first month of Covid on social media. 

Remember the initial positive thoughts we had when we had to “stay home” for two weeks? We finally had the chance to do some things around the house, cook meals with the family, walk the dog more, drink during the week—a lot of little victories. “I’m helping defeat a nasty pandemic by having bourbon at 3:30 on a Tuesday!” How bold. How patriotic. As the weeks have turned to months, and the months to even more months, I beg you to reconsider those things you first embraced at the beginning of “the Covid Times.”

Why don’t we have time to walk our dogs as much as we like in non-pandemic times? Why don’t we spend more time with our families? Why can’t I drink at 3:30 in the afternoon? Yes, I know, stumbling around the yard with a tumbler of scotch may not be the best look for us on any given weekday, but you know what I mean. Why are we so conditioned, in a so-called “free world,” to stay in our ruts, to accept cubicle lives, to not break out of the norm and carve our own paths? To work, work, work?

Watching people cook new foods, hike new trails, and frolic around firepits with music blasting was a highlight of the first month of Covid on social media. People were feeling free, as if they’d been given a pass. No early mornings. No rushing. No ironing. No sitting in traffic! Not even a school schedule or a sports practice regimen. Nothing. Just … us. Our pets were certainly the winners in those early weeks and months.

I say, welcome aboard! Since my newly-minted daughter (now a college student) arrived in 2003, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad. And I freelance (often penning columns for eSS&SC). And I live in the “sticks.” So you see, I’ve been social distancing for years! Yes, those kids and their activities drove the schedule season-after-season, but there was always time, with the help of scheduling and an awesome partner (my wife Linda), to get that long dog walk in, get the firepit built, and generally enjoy the small things. There’s no chore at home that isn’t more fun with a great playlist to ease the task.

When my wife and I first learned of Covid, and watched people stock up on TP like hoarders, we stocked up on extra seeds for the garden—you know, just in case. While the food panic didn’t last too long, we were rewarded all summer long with more than the usual amounts of eggplant, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and cukes. And while my family actually complained about eating too much eggplant parm, it was nice not to have to shop or go out as much.

My kids. My wife. My pets. Some friends. Local food. Music. Work I enjoy. I really don’t need much more.

Haircuts? Nail salons? These are important? Really? I can’t remember those things being too important pre-Covid. We’ve made, as a society, a culture completely preoccupied with creature comforts and habits. It’s more than just enjoying things, it’s a feeling of being entitled to things, and then going crazy when these small things are taken away … for a day, or a week, or a year. We seemed to have forgotten the small pleasures of talking to people. Not at them, with an agenda, but just talking to people. Just conversation. About the kids. The dogs. The garden. The team. Food. Films. Yelling about these things on social media doesn’t count either. That’s a place to project, usually, one way—my way! Blah, blah, blah. Listen to me! And look, here are 42 “friends” who agree with me! Even though we’ve never been to each other’s homes or been in each other’s company, ever, they mean more to me than you do.

Sitting around the table for a family meal is something that has a shelf life. Kids grow up and out. My family savored our nightly sit-down, and the fact that it lasted months was just fine with us. How could that ever be a hassle? Was I supposed to be playing golf or doing something “normal”? Hopefully, when we emerge from this period, we will cherish some of the things brought on by the pandemic and make a habit of them. Like more cooking!

Band Photo: Joshua Pickering. Altered: Hart Design

Here are some of my own Small Pleasures, no particular order, Covid or not:

  • Cooking or baking with a cocktail not too far from reach, tunes playing, family around.
  • Firepit roaring, family talking. Yes, talking.
  • Walking the dog. Anywhere. NO TUNES for this. Enjoy the sounds of nature.
  • Hanging out at The Soule Homestead farm in Middleborough, with fresh air and animals.
  • Playing with my band, which includes my wife.
  • Riding my bike. Also, sans headphones. Listening to the world.
  • Catching up with my best friend on the phone. Yes, talking. Not texting.

What does your list look like? When I look at mine, I see nothing that requires a great deal of money. I see nothing that requires a phone linked to social media, though I do stream music from my phone. (Yes, I’m a DJ and have a full audio setup in my office, including two turntables, but I use the easier streaming option for pleasure.) I’m not whittling my own lute for music; I’m a creature of technology in 2020.

I often drive around the South Shore and notice that many people have what I call the “Two Chairs Landscape.” This includes a finely trimmed lawn and two Adirondack chairs perfectly placed to look over it. The problem I see, or don’t see, is that there never seem to be people in these chairs. It’s almost like an art installation, titled “When I’m Home Someday I’ll sit Here.” Where are the people? Long hours at work? OK. Running the kids around? Sure. Golf on the weekend? Working on the boat? Sports to attend? Tailgating? Another trip? Stuff to do! Run, run, run. Rush, rush, rush. They have it half right–sitting in a chair to look out over your lawn is great. Now you just need to be present, in the present, to actually slow down and enjoy life. The perfect space needn’t be a perfect lawn, but rather the special time we spend with our loved ones on that lawn.

I once wanted to save the world. A noble goal, for sure. Then I realized the world is a really big place, and the pressures were too great. So, I decided to focus on saving my world. Much smaller. Much easier. I can control that, or at least make an honest attempt to try. Simple pleasures aren’t merely throw-away things or short-lived moments. Rather, they are the things that ground us and give us the chance to maybe be world-changers on a bigger stage.

My kids. My wife. My pets. Some friends. Local food. Music. Work I enjoy. I really don’t need much more. Sure, I’ll take some creature comforts or opportunities to travel far and wide, but any true journey will be grounded in the simple pleasures. Let’s all try to create a more positive space for those, and if the big fancy things come along, great! If not … oh well. Turn up the tunes–I love this song!