When I started working from home on a full-time basis two years ago a number of colleagues were quite envious of the opportunity our employer made available to me. One of the primary reasons that I could spend my days at home rather than the office was because the majority of the people I was meeting with at the time were located in North America. This meant attending meetings between 9:00pm and 1:00am local time, when all of the schools are very much closed for the night. Managers also knew that there wouldn't be any question about whether I was working a full day or not. People would see updates to software, solutions to problems, and an absurd number of messages over Skype. Over time this allowed for a regular pattern to emerge where I could spend time with the boy in the mornings up until 10am, then work, then stop for lunch and an occasional afternoon walk1, then work, then dinner and family time, and finally a few more hours at the desk to finish off the day. It's a good cycle that works for everybody.

That said, nothing can be completely good forever. There is one thing that is sorely missed and I feel the lack of this is creating some comprehension issues: human interaction.

On a typical day I am at home for 22.5 hours. This allows for 90 minutes outside for Nozomi's two walks and the boy's morning trek around the neighbourhood. If I do have an opportunity to head out for an afternoon walk, then I can enjoy an extra 45 minutes to an hour outdoors. Aside from the people living in this house, I rarely have an opportunity to speak to anyone outside of meetings. There are occasional 5-minute conversations with neighbours but, thanks to the various "social distancing"2 policies in place, these are few and far between. Recently the most anyone can hope for is an おはようございます3 in the mornings when putting the trash out4. What this means is that for two years I've spent a diminishing amount of time around adults talking like an adult about adult things. Over the last year or so I've noticed that casual chit chat, whether it's in English or Japanese, has required a great deal more concentration just to keep up. When it's my turn to speak, I often grasp for words as though I've forgotten the name of objects or verbs to describe actions. It's bizarre. However, more than this, the problem seems to be bleeding into my reading comprehension as well. I simply don't understand what some people are trying to say on the first attempt … or the second … or the third.

Whether there is an actual correlation between these comprehension issues and lack of adult interaction is unclear, as I'm not a doctor. It does seem plausible, though. If I'm not using the communication and interaction skills learned over decades, then I could be losing them, no? The brain is like a muscle in that if we don't use certain aspects of it, the skills or abilities will atrophy to a certain extent.

My ability to understand language has not completely deteriorated, as evidenced by this very blog post, so all is not lost. The issue also does not seem to interfere as much with certain people that I'm familiar with. Perhaps this is just a natural thing that happens to people who do not leave the house often. Maybe this is an indicator of cabin fever or some other mental condition that comes about from isolation. Maybe it's all in my head and I'm overthinking something to the point where it becomes a self-inflicted hinderance. These hypotheses are nothing more than wild guesses in the dark. One thing is for certain, though: when it becomes socially acceptable to start talking to strangers again, I'll want to head outside and see how everyone is doing.

  1. Walks can happen only if the boy is napping and Reiko is home. That said, they've become much less frequent as a result of the COVID-19 issue and Reiko's fear of infection.

  2. The quotes are because I find the name silly. We already have perfectly good words for not going near other people, so why the new term?

  3. "Ohayō gozaimasu" ⇢ Good morning.

  4. There are some neighbours around here that are itching to have conversations with people, but there's always the concern that a local gossip will see the interaction and raise a stink … by having conversations with people.