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The Isolation Diaries v32

We created the Isolation Diaries as a way to keep motivated and inspired during our lockdown. We recently teamed up for a content collaboration with LA-based architects LOHA to bring a special global perspective to the project, where we take a look at what people are reading, watching, making and listening to—across continents. Our special guest this week is author Jonah Lehrer.

The Isolation Diaries v322

A truly captivating story that highlights how the memory of captivity can pass down through generations, Homegoing traces the thread of two half-sisters out of Africa, one captured and sent to the USA, while the other remains on the homefront. We’re examining the Collapse of Complex Societies, an interesting read in our time, and making our way through The Gentlewoman cover profiles, as featured in issues 1 to 22.

The Isolation Diaries v323

A thrilling series about the rock’n’roll lifestyle of competitive chess, complete with 1960s fashion and astounding game accuracy? It’s hard not to binge-watch The Queen’s Gambit. A hidden gem in our books, The Politician is a ‘90s throwback of a Gen-X political message (but with present-day Gen-Z). Plus, Bette Midler! Michaela Coel’s fearless and frank series I May Destroy You will not destroy you, but it may be the best drama of its time.

The Isolation Diaries v324

We’re making artist matches on the Frans Hals Museum website (try all three games in the ‘play’ section). Wherever you might be in the world, it’s never a bad time for jams and preserves, from strawberry jams to peaches. Top tip: add a sprig of rosemary, lavender or choice of herb to the syrup to mix things up. We’re trying not to lose it over this making the news: Pistachio, a rare green puppy born in Sardinia. Collective awww.

The Isolation Diaries v325

Zebulon Café Concert, a favourite LA music venue, live-streamed the 80th birthday concert of legendary jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Though not exactly the same, it reminded us just how special live music is—we’ve been playing his Live in Paris 1975 recording ever since. Though the humour can be slightly crass, we’ve been enjoying Last Podcast on the Left. Bringing new perspective to the pop culture we love and hate, or love to hate, we know we love Fanti.

The Isolation Diaries v326

The author of A Book About Love, Imagine, How We Decide, and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He's written for The New Yorker, Nature, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles. We spoke with Jonah about mystery, pancakes, and embracing boredom.

What’s the view from your home office?
My home office is currently a rotating cast of corners. I used to have a proper writing studio, but that has been transformed by quarantine into a Harry Potter Lego display area and kindergarten zoom center. Over the course of a day, I might write a few sentences in the laundry room, then shift to our bedroom, then edit at the kitchen table while the pasta is cooking. They’re all lovely spots with lovely views - I’m very blessed.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently finishing up my next book. It’s about the strange pleasures of mystery - why the human brain is drawn to what we don’t know. It’s about detective stories, difficult poetry, magic tricks, military codes and a long list of other puzzles that compel our attention.

How do you structure your day?

The question assumes there is a structure! There really isn’t - one of the lessons of quarantine has been learning to stay flexible. There’s always caffeine, then usually pancakes, and then we complete our “farm” chores around the yard. (We have six chickens and a little vegetable patch.) Then it’s on to class zooms - my wife and I take turns working and juggling the kids. In the afternoon, we take a neighborhood walk, bribing the children with gummy bears and shoulder rides. While we make dinner, the kids argue over what to watch. (Usually Blue Planet, Coco and various Pixar shorts.) Then it’s the typical chaos as we slouch towards bedtime. My oldest child is 9, so she likes staying up “late” with us and binge watching various shows. We have chickens named after Pam (from the Office) and Eleanor (from The Good Place).

What was the last thing you bookmarked or saved?

Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe. I’ve been on a nature writing jag for much of quarantine. I’m not sure why - I think there’s something about the long time horizons of the best nature essays that takes me away from the frantic quality of the 2020 news cycle. Also, Eiseley’s words (like those of Thoreau) are infused with a melancholy that feels appropriate for our times. He understands that the story of nature is mostly the story of loss, that evolution is all struggle, but that there are still consolations to be found in the act of observation. My six year old son shares this philosophy. He’s taught me the great pleasures of digging for worms and watching the corvids bicker in the pine tree.

What are you looking forward to?

We’re going for a bike ride this afternoon. It’s a beautiful day.

What will you take away from Isolation?

Such a cliche, but quarantine has taught us to slow down. We used to have such a crowded calendar - every afternoon was a traffic jam of activities, from karate to softball to playdates. It was wonderful. But this can be too.

Any insights that you can provide that have come out of this time?

I think I’ve gotten much better at being bored during quarantine, and that’s an important skill. It’s too easy to reach for a screen at the first hint of tedium. But being stuck at home has taught me push through that initial sense of boredom and let my mind wander. Sometimes, those crows in the tree are more than enough stimulation.

How have you been maintaining creativity during isolation?

It might sound crazy, but my best ideas usually come when I’m looking up at those crows or watching the chickens on the lawn or watering the weedy kale with my toddler. It’s not when I’m focused at my laptop - it’s when I’m really doing nothing at all.

Related Project — Isolation Diaries, Volume 31