I’m an old guy now, but as a kid in Brooklyn I was, as my attorney once said, less than well-informed when it came to the nature of legal and illegal behavior. Nobody died because of me, but my work for the neighborhood mafia guys, who were people I simply knew as uncles, aunts, and friends of the family, often took me outside the law.
Funny thing about stepping outside the law. People who do it usually stay there until they get caught. I earned my time in prison, but part of my re-education after being sentenced to seven years for theft was to slowly unravel a childhood full of false information and social values that plain don’t work. I was getting fake news every day before anybody knew what it was.
In addition to petty crime, I also had a tendency to mouth off to whoever was around, which is how I landed in solitary confinement. The hole. Forced isolation from just about everything. Some of you out there – alone in your locked down apartments and houses – you already feel me, do you not?
How could I have known that being tossed into to the Hole would end up teaching how to survive a pandemic lockdown without losing my unpleasantly scented biological material?
I’m writing this in early summer of 2020, and at this moment, millions of people have had to face this challenge on the fly. They’re finding out what every con in the Hole already knows (or at least the ones who survive intact).
So okay, I won’t keep you in suspense. Here’s the secret trick to surviving lockdown and keeping your sanity:
(It wouldn’t hurt to read those two words a couple more times.)
Think very small: no long-term planning or imagining. The reason? Simple. The more you look ahead, and the more details your imagination puts into your thoughts of eventual freedom, the longer your confinement will feel. You can’t affect the future right now, anyway, so get your eyes back on the ball and keep them there.
Thinking small means after breakfast your job is to get to lunch with body and mind intact. You read, maybe talk to others by banging on the plumbing pipes of social media. You do unspeakable things alone in the privacy of your home.
Fine. Entertain yourself however you can. But keep your mind off of future speculations. Such things add to the weight of your confinement. Time in the Hole forces us to learn that time itself is mostly a mental construct, which is what eggheads say right before they get beat up, meaning time really does get longer if we sit idle and grow shorter if we stay busy.
Get busy at thinking small.
After lunch, your job is to get to dinner in one piece. After dinner, your job is to get to bedtime. Others are already giving in to despair, some will commit suicide. But you remain determined to exit from this alive. If you do, it will likely be because you mastered the art of thinking small.
The logic is simple: after we endure great loss, we cherish what remains. Gratitude has that natural effect of increasing our sense of peace and strengthening us against despair. We sustain that sense of peace by thinking small.
So we keep ourselves fed to do squats by the bed to sustain our bodies while our brains think small. And for the time being, we are one with the inmates in the Hole. Our task in the Hole is to make it through this day, then the next day, and then the one after that. Nothing else matters if we don’t achieve that, and we accomplish it by thinking small.
Cons in the Hole who force the future by trying to already live there are the ones who end up stacking odd-smelling balls in the corners of their cells, captive to despair.
Sure, sure, society encourages us to think big, act big, win big. Every con in the Hole knows that. But the successful ones among them – and among us – will be those who get through this time by mastering the art of thinking small.
That said, let’s talk about what we’re having for lunch. You start. Take three steps back and tell me.