Covid-19 has affected all of us in many ways. Health-wise, we know the devastation to those who have and are currently battling this unpredictable monster. In everyday life, quarantining and distancing have become the norm, and the repetitious predictability of each day takes some getting used to. Back in March, I was determined to view this newly found time as a gift – as the universe telling me to slow down a bit and take care of myself – as well as a gentle nudge to tackle my substantial list of back-burner projects and to-do lists. But as the months wear on, my gung-ho attitude has waned, and the harsh reality of my imperfections cannot be swept under the carpet, even if I were to try and do so by pulling out a broom and dustpan – which I wouldn’t. All these years I blamed a jam-packed schedule for my neglectful housekeeping. The truth of the matter is, I will find anything to do other than housework. As a result, I’ve fallen into some habits – innocent diversions at first, but now they’ve grown. And so have I.
A standard ladies’ V-neck tee and yoga pants are my daily go-to quarantine couture. As my closet full of fashionable frocks continues to collect dust and seemly shrink to a smaller size (though they certainly haven’t been washed), I’m forced to take an honest look at myself and confront my battle with the COVID-19. Yup, I’ve picked up almost 20 pounds over the last few months. Sure, I’ve been walking and doing my best to stay fit, but this sedentary lifestyle, where snacking, online streaming and ordering-in are the highlights of each day, has taken its toll. I’m blaming binging – both with food and with all of the options that technology and streaming offer up to a girl with time to kill and household obligations to avoid.
Back when Netflix began the streaming craze, I didn’t immediately jump onboard. I really never even felt a need to subscribe to the premium cable channels, and I felt that my work, volunteering and friends didn’t leave me with great amounts of time to fritter away. As the old adage goes, “You don’t miss what you never had,” so I was good. Occasionally I felt left out of conversations about shows or series, but I didn’t feel a huge void in my life. Eventually, though, I succumbed to the lure of being a cool kid and decided to dip my toes into the streaming stream. I watched a few movies, broadened my horizons and tuned in when I had time. Life went on, but the seduction of streaming hadn’t yet become something I was hooked on. All of that changed when I discovered Orange is the New Black. I loved the plot twists, backstories and the way the storyline evolved with each enticing episode. A performer myself, I was drawn to the gritty, non-glamourous, fatally flawed quirky characters and the way each one managed to survive in the big house. Since I was late in coming to the game, I found myself playing catch-up. Setting up my tablet at breakfast so I could grab a little “Orange” with my orange juice. Joining the ladies of Litchfield for some lunch. Catching an episode before bed then being unable to sleep wondering what was going to happen next. Deep breaths. Meditation. Counting sheep. Nothing helped. It was something akin to being in my own personal prison. Finally, I would finally give in, shamefully skulking through the shadows of the house – far from the family – where I could indulge my guilty pleasure with my fictional friends. I knew I was overdoing it a little, but it was new and fun, so what was the harm? I was still getting my work done on time. My family wasn’t suffering. So what if I was in a bit of a brain-fog first thing – I’ve never really been a morning person, anyhow. Bags under my eyes? Time to try some new make-up! Weekends would fly by. I was tired, but I kept plodding along. Must. Watch. Next. Episode. At the height of summer, I was as pale as a ghost. My doctor said I was vitamin D deficient. My poor eyes were so dry and scratchy, I ordered a case of artificial tears from Boxed … they delivered, so it gave me more viewing time! I found myself making excuses to stay home rather than gathering with friends. OITNB was my literal ball and chain. I was a dead (wo)man walking. Then suddenly, I was caught up. No more episodes. Left hanging in that awkward abyss between seasons wondering what to next binge on and missing my penitentiary pals. There was that odd sense of release from obsession, but also one of loss and fear that I wouldn’t find anything to fill that void. Boy, was I wrong. A brief Facebook post asking for recommendations was all it took for a flood of streaming suggestions. I realized I was still quite a novice. While Netflix was the drug of choice for many, there were folks who also used Hulu, Prime Video, Apple TV and Roku. There were people even more obsessed than I was … and a veritable cornucopia of visual vices to suit any and every appetite. Over the years I have worked my way through House of Cards, Making a Murderer, Grace and Frankie, Ozark, Bloodline, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jessica Jones, The Crown, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, GLOW, Breaking Bad, Schitt’s Creek, and countless other fascinating documentaries, true-crime series, Disney movies and big-screen classics. I may be an addict, but no one can say that I am predictable in my viewing choices!
Since quarantine has required my husband and I to share office space (and these days we are trying to be good, distancing citizens), I one day decided to order a few things from Amazon. Much to my surprise, I found that he already had an Amazon Prime membership – and has for more than a year – something that the frugal side of me didn’t allow myself to splurge on. Or, perhaps, it was my small way of proving to myself that I can set a few boundaries, knowing that Netflix was my gateway drug and that the lure of Amazon Prime Video would provide yet another binging opportunity. My husband has never fallen into the binging cycle. In fact, he’s on the total other end of the Spectrum …pun intended. He wants nothing to do with committing to any type of onscreen regularity. A channel-surfer, he is content to flip around aimlessly, blissfully unaware of the heady allure of binge-watching. “Then, why do you have a Prime membership?” I asked. Evidently, he needed some socks at some point and ordered them online, not even realizing that he had paid for a membership. That is so very much like him. And here I’ve been jonesing for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for two seasons!
Since those first exhilarating experiences with binge-watching, I have learned to curb my screen time a bit. I no longer stay up all night or spend entire weekends slogging through seasons of shows. But quarantine’s gift of more leisure time has led to a new transgression. Something I never previously indulged in other than when I went to a movie, which was a fairly rare occurrence. Late at night, as a solitary treat to myself, I have become a popcorn junkie. After everyone has settled into bed, I find it deliciously satisfying to snuggle into my pajamas, tune-in to whatever my stream du jour is and dive into a freshly popped bowl of savory, salty goodness. Is it any wonder that I’ve gained the COVID-19? Not really, but at least I’m well-versed in the latest on-demand screen sensations. I can now converse with confidence and when some quaranteenie-bopper says that I’m not the target audience for one of their favorite streaming shows, I tell them, “Stranger Things have happened.” Then I invite ’em to a Netflix Party to give me their take on the era I actually grew up in.
Sherry Etzel is a Dallas-based creative type who enjoys seeking out humor in everyday life, is a member of the Frisco Improv Players and has been seen on stages throughout the DFW area.