Anyone who has ever cared for or been in close contact with young children knows they like to eat, read, and watch the same things over and over. Well, over and over and over and over and over. This can drive a parent bonkers as they wonder if a human being can not only be sustained over a prolonged period of time on Cheerios and chocolate milk, but also wonder if prolonged and excessive exposure to Disney songs could be considered torture under the Geneva Convention.
But children are smarter than we give them credit for. They are natural scientists trying to make order out of the chaos that is the world around them. Repetitious movie watching or listening to the same book again and again is another way to organize, discover new details, and to better understand what is happening within a particular story. It also gives them a sense of security.
Knowing what is going to happen at each turn of a familiar story (and let’s be honest, meal) not only validates their expectations, but also allows them to relax because they know what’s going to happen.
We all need this kind of control right now.
Everything that is happening with the ongoing and growing threat of Covid-19 is a series of unforeseen events, plot twists, and even jump scares as death tolls rise and city after city goes on lockdown around the world (or doesn’t, which is a whole other point of stress).
I, for one, do not like this plot line and wish to escape it. Unfortunately, none of us can.
Except for our healthcare workers and other essential workers on the front lines of this pandemic, most of us are tasked with just staying home. I don’t know about you, but the inactivity of being order to literally do nothing is chafing. I’ve been obsessively cleaning, and when I’m not cleaning I’m knitting and watching dramas and movies. But you know what I’m not doing? I’m not really watching any of the new dramas or the newly released movies.
I have repeatedly pressed play on new content only to find myself drifting away from it within minutes. I open one of the many books on my to-be-read bookshelf (Yes, it’s an entire bookshelf. Don’t judge), and put it down after only a page or two. But when I press play on an old favorite, or open the cover of a novel I’ve read countless times, I sink in and tune out the noise of the news cycle.
Meeting new characters takes energy and mind space that I, and I suspect you, just don’t have right now. Nothing makes sense at the moment. Our health, our livelihoods, and our communities and families are under siege from a virus. No one knows what the world will be like in year, a month, or even tomorrow, and frankly, that’s a tad unsettling.
Give yourself permission to surround yourself with familiarity. Children do this instinctively to help make sense of their world. So, as everything spins out of control, isolate yourself and don’t feel ashamed to crack open Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time.
Alternatively, what I have found myself able to do is to watch sequels or adaptations of familiar stories such as season 2 of Kingdom on Netflix, or the new movie adaptation of Emma. Though, truthfully, Kingdom might be hitting just a bit to on nose in the reality department despite being a Joseon era zombie series.
Reading a modern retelling of a favorite classic has also worked. There are endless modern adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, and there have been some particularly well done versions in the last few years. Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last, and Pride by Ibi Zoboi, are just three Pride and Prejudice retellings that quickly come to mind. I have enjoyed them all, and highly recommend them not just for the comfort of re-meeting familiar characters, but to maybe also get a glimpse into some different cultures.
Do you have favorite modern adaptations of classic novels?
Another way I’ve been filling the hours at home (and trying to not chafe at the continual omnipresence of family), is by reading fanfiction. Last fall I fell into the rabbit hole that is the Chinese drama The Untamed, and I haven’t quite managed to climb out yet. Okay, I haven’t actually tried to climb out, but this world is filled with characters and actions that just seem to have wrapped their claws on my psyche. And I’m not the only one because the fanfiction well is deep with this one, and many talented writers are either rewriting the timeline and course of the original novel, or breathing life into these characters in modern and more familiar settings. Truthfully, if you set these people in a social media fic, I’ll be all over it like, well, Lan Zhan on Wei Ying. I’ve always loved epistolary storytelling and the different kinds of social media that we use now have exploded the ways that writers can exploit this form of telling stories. I like it.
What fanfiction world do you dive into again and again?
Speaking of epistolary storytelling, have you read 84 Charing Cross Road? No? Well, do. I know, I know, I just pounded out hundreds of words telling you that it’s okay to stick with familiar works and characters, but if you can, I really recommend this quiet gem that in its own way shows the deep connections we can make with people we do not meet in person. This is especially important now.
So anyways, if someone in your home is questioning or teasing your rewatch or reread of an old or new favorite, tell them you are surrounding yourself with familiar friends, and maybe they should reacquaint themselves with their own.
Finally, it’s okay to eat the same thing every day if that makes you feel better. I mean, within in reason because living on Cheetos or potato chips for weeks is probably not wise. But if you want to have congee for dinner every night for the next week, that’s fine. You do what you need to do to make some sense of this craziness.
Be safe everyone, and if you’re anything like me, stop touching your face.