Bounded in Nut Shells

One of my favorite fiction quotes is Hamlet saying, “I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space.” (He goes on to add, “were it not that I have bad dreams,” which, if you know the story, was a definite problem for him.) The quote has a special poignancy these days now that we’re all bounded up in our own nut shells (and trying to avoid going nuts).

There have been some unexpected upsides and down sides. Air pollution is down (an upside); reports of domestic abuse are up (a downside). Streets are cleaner, city rats are starving. Bears and wolves are roaming freely in national parks while we cower in our caves.

What changes will stick with us? How different will our future be than we might have expected (assuming we survive this)?

There are so many questions, large and small. Will working from home become the new normal? Will the office dress code finally become entirely a thing of the past?

The idea of traveling to another city for a one-day meeting may become a thing of the past. Along with it, an industry of airport hotels and medium-sized conference rooms (and supporting infrastructure).

A scare like this might have a long-term effect on the travel and vacation industry — certainly on the cruise line industry. The image of being trapped on a ship in trouble, already becoming a thing, may stick with us.

Will education be another Big Change? Will there be a big shift towards keeping our children more isolated or in smaller groups? The education system does suffer from a large teacher/student ratio.

Will this be another body blow to the whole idea of brick-and-mortar stores as online ordering and delivery infrastructure rises to this occasion? Will some restaurants become take-out only (or mostly)?

Or, as I suspect, once this passes (and we’ve become inured to the whole thing), will we flock to restaurants, bars, and show venues, to celebrate our regained freedom? The people behind these things will have income to recover. A lot of people may tour in 2021.

The other possibility is that, unless this really blows up and decimates the population, once it dies down we forget and go on with life (with the new normal, anyway). Our modern culture, with its constant flow of information, tends to push today downriver pretty quickly.

(Remember when we Impeached the President? Remember when we elected him? Remember Obama? Remember either Bush? The vanishing point of our memories these days isn’t far behind us.)


I don’t have a point today, just random thoughts from my nut shell. As I said, I’ve long liked that quote, and it’s certainly been running through my head these days.

This is a time of living with ourselves and with our family. We do have the distraction of the internet, which lets us connect with other nuts in other nut shells.

But being required to be with your family over a long period of time has turned out to be a challenge for some. One of the more dismaying pieces of news is that domestic abuse reports are up.

I read an article in The Atlantic titled “We’re Finding Out How Small Our Lives Really Are”. The subtitle is “No new friends. No new plans. Where is there to go in isolation but backwards and inward?” (With titles like that, you almost don’t need to read the article.)

Part of the author’s point is that we are a culture that constantly seeks the new. In fact, in an era when material success is no longer the given it once was (good-bye American Pie), having new experiences has become the new coin of the realm.

A great deal of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so forth, is sharing and bragging about one’s new experiences. Selfie from your couch, almost no value. Selfie from an amazeballs place, now we’re talking.

Being stuck inside poses a problem, no matter how good your internet connection is. All one really has now is FOMO.


In Psychology Today, an article suggests that this is “Generation Z’s Worst Nightmare: A Real Reason to Panic”. (The subtitle here is “The COVID-19 crisis could be good for the most anxious generation in history.” Again one can pretty much glean most of content from the titles.)

One reason the generation suffers so much anxiety may lie in that they grew up in a post-9/11 world, with all that implies and brings with it. For example, to them airports are very different places than the airports I recall.

There is also the loss of the American Dream I mentioned above. The latest generations are the first ones in the USA that can’t expect to do better than their parents if they simply apply themselves. The “Land of Opportunity” isn’t so much anymore.

And, talk about standing on giant shoulders, that generation is on top of a generation that grew up with nuclear power and all that implies.

In any event, I can appreciate what it must be like for them to inherit the modern world. No wonder they’re anxious and upset. On top of all that, now they really have something to worry about.


Hamlet and his nut shell. I like the quote because I identify with it. I have always been very self-occupied — my inner life is rich and full. Always lots of hobbies and projects. My reading list is endless. I thrive on being alone.

(I’m a classic introvert: being alone energizes me; being in company drains me. Extroverts work the opposite. It’s really not about being shy or needing, or not needing, people.)

But having to be alone makes it weird somehow. Now that I’m not supposed to go out, I want to (I’m also a classic contrarian, although I like to dignify it as “devil’s advocate”).

It felt vaguely wicked visiting a friend last week (it was an essential visit!), and even slightly wrong to visit the grocery store (even if only every two weeks; time to look into online groceries, another possible long-term change).

I’m definitely looking forward to a little normality in that sense.

And I’m really missing baseball.


We’re going to find out how fragile our world is in many areas. What industries depended on business as usual?

We’re also finding out a thing or two about ourselves during this confinement. Isaac Newton self-isolated during the Great Plague, and look what he accomplished!

Stay nuts, my friends!


About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

15 responses to “Bounded in Nut Shells

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Ironically, I’m not a big fan of walnuts. (The wood is cool, though.)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    If I had to guess, eventually life will mostly go back to normal. The 1918 Spanish Flu had faded from memory by the roaring 1920s.

    That’s not to say there won’t be changes. This situation has broken some mental hangups we had, such as not allowing more people to work from home, minimizing online education, ordering groceries online, etc. Given the need for testing and contact tracing, I suspect privacy may be another one that will take a hit.

    Hopefully we’ll be more prepared for the next pandemic. I think the east Asian countries were more effective mostly because they had to deal with recent epidemics that only marginally affected us.

    Personally, I’m wondering what the world will feel like when we’re finally able to go out into it again. I know as an introvert myself, I could work like this forever, although it would be nice to be able to go place when I wanted to.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Your assessment is much the same as mine. I think we’ll forget most of this pretty quickly. Our cultural memory is rather short these days.

      I’m discovering how much I miss going out with my friend for a craft burger and locally brewed beers. As they say, it’s not the food and drink (although the food and drink is great), it’s the ambiance. Introvert though I am, I do very much enjoy going out to restaurants.

      Even the grocery store is a social occasion in a way. I’ve been shopping there long enough to recognize the workers; some of them seem to recognize me. I’ve heard about high prices and undesired substitutions with online grocery shopping, and I just like seeing what I buy before I buy it when it comes to food. Especially produce.

      A few months ago I was wondering when or if we’d return to some kind of normal. Now the question is even more pressing. From a literary narrative point of view, it has the feeling of a social inflection point… 😮

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        So far, the online ordering has worked out okay for me. But I’m not looking too closely at the prices. (Unless the price is obnoxious, then I pass.) I haven’t experienced any substitutions yet.

        That said, eventually I’m going to have to go to the store. There are some things not conducive to ordering, except perhaps locally, and my local Walmart delivery slots (and even pick-up ones) appear to be perpetually full.

        I think complete normalcy is still a ways off, but at least we might be able to move around more next month. Unless there’s a new surge.

        I have to say I’m digging the working from home thing though. I’ll be severely disappointed if our return to normalcy doesn’t come with at least a few work from home days in the regular work week.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I drink a lot of Diet Mountain Dew. (I don’t drink coffee or tea.) The last few years, I’ve got it down to one two-liter bottle per day (used to be 6–8 16-ounce bottles). The point is, I need a cupboard full of those bottles (so I keep an eye out for sales). About a year ago I thought to check Amazon to see if I could order my supply from them.

        They wanted something like $25 per bottle. 😀 I guess they didn’t actually want to sell it. I’ve been meaning to resume a search for a bulk supply (I’d love it if the Pepsi distributor would just drop by once a month and drop off a few crates.) Back then I just laughed and forgot about it. But now online ordering is center stage, so I really need to check it out.

        My grocery chain does the online thing, so I should at least get their app and see how it works. As I mentioned, I like visiting my little local store, but I’m starting to get the feeling they people that work there wish everyone would stay home.

        (I read about how dog groomers are begging people to not bring their dogs in. Their employers are reluctant to close, to lose the income (and so are the groomers, of course), but getting your dog groomed doesn’t seem like an essential service. I always clipped my dog’s nails and bathed her, so I never used a groomer.)

        ((I’m glad I’ve been cutting my own hair for over a decade now. In my old age I like a low-maintenance buzz cut, Marine style, which is pretty easy to do for yourself with a decent set of electric clippers. It’s especially convenient now.))

        I was at my local Walmart last week. (They have the lowest regular price on DMD.) They had a Disneyland-like setup at the door, a snake path with markers at six-foot intervals to meter people into the store. But there was no line, I just walked in. My grocery store has six-foot markers on the floor at the checkout stands to remind people to keep their distance.

        When I think about, over the many years, all the bitter fighting between me and The Company over working at home,…

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On DMD, my crutch is Diet Dr Pepper, but also coffee k-cups, both of which MUST be available. We’re talking red alert if either of those run out. (The DDP has been problematic. It’s been periodically unavailable locally and hard to find at a decent price online. If I get desperate, I can get by with Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi.)

        On hair cutting, it’s funny you mention that. I have hair clippers sitting on my porch right now, delivered earlier today. I’ve never cut my own hair before, but all I really have the barber do is a combo of 1 and 2. I’m thinking I’ll just do 2 all over. If it works, that’ll probably be it for barber visits.

        On working from home, now that it’s been shown to work, I suspect a lot of employers will be thinking about how much office space they can save. Although the extra Zoom and VPN licensing costs are a thing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve loved Dr. Pepper since high school. DDP was my main beverage before I switched to DMD. I had some concerns about the phosphates in colas and Dr. Pepper, plus I wanted the (normal) soda highest in caffeine. (I say “normal” because I never got into the Jolt colas or Red Bull drinks despite the reputation us programmers have for craving those.)

        So DDP is my backup with DC or DP as a fallback when, for example, a restaurant doesn’t have the others. (It’s gotta be diet — I don’t like the taste of sugar soda. I don’t sweeten my iced tea or drink punch unless forced.)

        Assuming your clippers are like mine (Wahl?), I start with #2 all over and then use #1 on the sides and back (the “Marine” look). I trim back my hairline with the #1, too. It’s funny to look back and realize I haven’t had my hair cut since around 2010. I think I’m only on my second set of clippers, too, and I don’t buy the most expensive ones.

        (The photo on this page is semi-recent and shows the cut after a month or so. Still very short.)

        Good point about the shift of expenses for a work-at-home economy. I expect it’s still considerably less than the infrastructure for a staff, but the gotcha is that some of that infrastructure still has to be in place for those who do work onsite and for those who sometimes work onsite.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m with you on diet drinks. The regular ones taste like syrup to me now. I do keep a bottle of caffeine free coke around, mainly because sometimes I have hypoglycemic crashes and a small amount serves to quickly ameliorate them.

        I wanted a Wahl, but apparently I waited too long to realize I was going to need it and the inventory was gone, unless I wanted to wait until late May, so I picked up a small Remington thing that some sites rated #2. It definitely weren’t expensive. If I end up cutting my own hair, it’ll pay for itself very quickly.

        You’ve got a lot more hair than I do. Male pattern baldness doesn’t leave me much to worry about on top.

        Yeah, I’m not sure how the work from home thing will shake out. Where I am, there’s also a lot of concern about what the state budgets are going to look like in the next fiscal year. And of course, a lot of friends and family are worried about their jobs if the economy doesn’t recover.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I lack the MPB gene. Ironically, so did my dad. That’s ironic because I’m adopted. It is thinning a bit on top, I can feel it, but even with a severe buzz cut, it’s all hair. (Small blessings? Thing is, I don’t care one way or the other.)

        That’s the cool thing about the clippers; they paid for themselves after the first few times. I usually got my hair cut more in salons than barber shops. It involves chatting with a young woman and having her run her fingers through my hair, so it was nice. But it cost a bit, especially with tip. Of course, now those places are closed.

        Funny Wahl would be out of stock, but it makes sense. I just never would have thought of it. I got mine at Target, and I’ve seen them at Walmart (I got my first one there).

        It was strange seeing some of the things out of stock last time I shopped. Walmart had TP (even my brand) although my grocery store is still out. It was weird seeing the pasta shelf completely empty until I realized, Barilla pasta is from Italy. No wonder. The Mexican canned good (beans and such) also in short supply.

        It would be very good for us if one outcome of all this was supplying and buying more locally. Beer breweries have really shown what’s possible. Part of it is not becoming obsessed with growth. Reach for a steady state and be self-sustaining. (A point in the third Baxter Manifold book. Post comes out tomorrow.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        MPB bothered me a lot more when I was younger. Age seems to make you care less. At least it does for me.

        There are some nice things about having someone else cut your hair. The social aspects are nice, hearing the local gossip. But it requires waiting for a seat to be available, paying attention to make sure what seem like simple instructions are followed, and overall just takes time I’d rather spend on other things. So on balance, I doubt I’ll miss it.

        I actually just happened to order a supply of TP right before the crisis broke, so I’ve been lucky not to stress about it. Although that supply isn’t unlimited, so I’m being careful not to waste.

        I doubt we’ll switch that much to local suppliers, at least not long term. There’s a reason all those imports happen. Expanding the market tends to increase the quality / cost ratio. Not that there aren’t exceptions.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I’m sure you’re right; we’re addicted to the global market for all sorts of reasons. Pity. There’s a lot to be said for a more local approach. Most of the beer I drink is locally brewed, and I try to buy other local products as much as possible. But living where I do, there’s a fair amount of local farmland, so I do have those options. It’s tougher in other parts of the country.

        I had TP on hand, too, so I wasn’t worried, but it was nice to restock to full capacity. It’s weird to be careful about not wasting it, and both being able to buy it and having a bit more on hand makes me feel better.

        Now that we’re talking about it, I’m thinking back at the de-evolution of hair-cutting in my life. I was in high school when I shifted away from barber shops to hair salons (which, of course, are much more a thing in Los Angeles than in many other places). I’ve had long-term quasi-friendships with various women who’ve cut my hair regular — same person for years some times.

        Josy and Me

        That’s Josy (circa 1975-ish, I think). Her hair went down almost to her ankles. She cut my hair for many years. She had a small shop with weird hours and few customers. She was marred to a well-off guy, so it was almost more something she did for fun. I’d met her when she worked in a salon, we hit it off, and got to know each other, so when she left, she let me know about her new place. Getting my hair cut was almost like hanging out with a friend.

        There have been others. One I even dated briefly, but it’s interesting to me how, over the years, it’s been a general downhill thing. The most recent was a shop run by two gals who’d been cutting hair for many years. Their shop was in our corporate HQ; their business was entirely from the company. During a round of cost-saving measures, they got booted out (that whole floor got remodeled). They’d been cutting my hair for a few years, and that’s when I decided I was done having it done. I’d gotten to the point of a very short cut anyway. One more step to a self-administered buzz cut, and I’ve never looked back.

        Until just now. Interesting view. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m wearing a watch! And using an actual camera. 😀 😀 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m not too worried on TP. It looks like if all else fails, you can get the commercial stuff. Not as good, but serviceable if necessary. But I’m hoping by the time I need any, things will have calmed down on that front.

        Interesting picture. I have to tell you, you look like a different guy in every photograph. I’m sure it’s just different ages and contexts, but I wouldn’t have recognized you from your WordPress icon picture, the picture you linked to, and this one.

        I took a shot at self cutting. I made a mess with the transition between 1 and 2, but the front looks tolerable enough for Zoom meetings, I’m not going anywhere, and it’ll grow back. Post lockdown, I might have to get one more professional cut to see how they handle it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I have to tell you, you look like a different guy in every photograph.”

        It’s mostly just, as you say, age and context. 1975-ish on this one. The WP icon is a crop from a photo on my honeymoon cruise, the formal dinner, so July of 1998. (I don’t feel I photograph well, and that one actually turned out okay, which is why I used it for the icon.) That selfie I linked to was no more than a few years max.

        So talking 20-year jumps!

        (The one on this page is from 1960, so back another 15 years. 😀 )

        “I took a shot at self cutting.”

        “Phrasing!” 😮

        There’s a running gag in Archer where one character says something with an obvious double-meaning and someone else yells, “Phrasing!” For instance, if someone was talking about science fiction author Philip K. Dick and happened to say, “I really like Dick!” someone else ought to yell, “Phrasing!”

        That phrase of yours really made me do a double-take for a split-second.

        The nice thing about a Marine buzz cut is it’s hard to get wrong and the extra short sides are supposed to contrast with the slightly longer top. Or maybe not supposed to so much as just do. (It’s a cut you see on Gibbs in NCIS sometimes, especially the flashbacks to when he was a Marine.)

        What happens with me is that I’ll miss some (usually right around the cowlick where direction becomes chaotic) despite my best efforts. The next day I’ll realize I still have some long hairs lurking up there. It’s not easy reaching around to the back of your head.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        With phrasing, it’s all in the context. 🙂

        With the buzz cut, I struggled where to do the transition and was thrown by how jarring it ended up looking. I started with just 2 all up the side, but it looked messy at the ears. In hindsight, I probably should have just gone 1 on the bangs and immediately above the ear, and left the rest alone. Learning process.

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