Tuning in to the Summer of Our Discontent

Music, Covid, and the psychology of physical change

So here we are, almost a year into a rolling lockdown. February has already muscled in on a mission, oblivious that is is the minnow of months.

How was your dry January? Mine first got the wobbles on January 6, when I needed a few calming sherbets to try and process what was happening in Washington D.C. I tried to be consistently alcohol free, but must admit, it was harder to do this year.

The past year, though. Now that was a crazy ride.

Apart from a few odd hours in the office and scattered days on thankfully COVID-paranoid film sets, it’s been pretty much work from home for me. I am very grateful that I am able to actually work within this restrictive time.

Although that comfortable aspect aside, introspection has certainly established itself in my thoughts with all the subtlety an occupying force.

March 2020—remember those early days as the virus started infecting the headlines? My fitness evolved as my commute went from a bike path dawdle to spending the same time as a concentrated effort on the trainer.

Initially I had decided that I would use the time to train for the famously brutal Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR) in San Diego, which was all the way away in May. This lockdown would be over by late April for sure. The BWR was being held the day after my birthday, and it was a treat to look forward to—my North Star.

I had sixty sunny days and starry nights to get on a training plan and haul my power on the bike upwards. I would also get some simulated race efforts into my legs. Great plan.

And I did get the power. I lost weight and made over-and-unders a regular, masochistic ritual. I got measurably faster, sustaining higher efforts for much longer. I even made a reasonable splash during my bike club’s virtual race series on Zwift.

It’s probably the most race-ready I have ever been.

But the BWR never arrived. My birthday month came with depressing certainty — and as usual for mid-year Los Angeles weather — it was a cloudy, unembellished affair.

May gray.

By this time, the virus had gone from dominating the headlines to dominanting the general population. The indefinite postponement of what we had taken for granted was beginning to feel inevitable.

Around that time too, fire was tempted by the tinder on the hills, and the hopeful summer sun was tainted with the haze of the new seasonal realities.

So like those wildfires circling us, the pandemic was out of control. Plans for containment seemed distant. There was the collective sigh of resignation. The unwanted, unspoken feeling that this just wasn’t going to go away, like a miracle.

The Black Lives Matter protests rightfully burst onto the streets at the end of the month. Political rhetoric churned over and over, encouraged by the upcoming election and a chameleon-like base. Extraordinary events stacked one on top of the other.

It was a giant societal game of Jenga.

Now was the Summer of our discontent. At least for those in the USA.

I longed to be back in my home country, Australia. I watched enviously as they managed to tamp down the pandemic’s egress through a combination of splendid isolation and slavish rule-following. If nothing else, us Aussies love to follow the rules, and sometimes that helps.

Towards the end of Summer the pandemic in the US started to slow. It seemed a cautiously good time to get out of Los Angeles. I got to ride up Mount Lemmon in Tuscon, and over the mystical red rocks of Sedona on my brand new bike. It was a short sojourn, but a welcome one.

It occurred to me while driving those long, featureless desert roads listening to a carefully curated playlist I had made for the trip — that music, my saviour — has kept it together for me the whole year. Every month I made a playlist, and tried to expand my listening boundaries beyond the regular modern go-tos and aural comfort from my teens.

It had other benefits, too. It didn’t just affect my listening choices.

I became a more active listener.

(Perhaps this is a skill honed sitting through hours and hours of Zoom calls.)

Social starvation meant I engaged more actively with others, and they did with me. I shared more.

Introspection, it turned out, wasn’t all that bad. Discontent, wasn’t all that bad. Being uncomfortable actually changed me for the better.

I started to look further than the horizon.

Like those disparate songs, ordered into playlists which highlighted and extended meaning, the events of the last year have without doubt recast the way we plan, envision, and think.

Thanks to 2020, I know what I don’t want. But thanks to 2020, I know what I do.

I ride a bike more than I drive. Visual Effects Supervisor by day. Ponderer, dilly-dallier, idea generator. Lived in Germany, Australia, Japan & United States

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