My coronavirus confines are virtually crowded, which helps me stand social distancing

Nita Lelyveld
In a city of millions like Los Angeles, it's surprising how lonely one can feel in the time of coronavirus. Some in Play Del Rey discovered this in a near empty beach after the L.A. County announced the closures of all beaches and trails in an effort to reduce crowds  (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

On any given day now in my coronavirus cloister, I might gaze at waves on a beach, trek up trails in a park, bake bread in a friend's kitchen, laugh while watching another friend costume her cats to pass the time.

I might listen to the sound of rain hitting a grapefruit tree in one friend's backyard, and then go with another friend for a drive down a dreamscape-deserted 405.

All these activities ease my stress. And I do them without risk to anyone. I rarely leave my house. I am living a virtual, vicarious existence.

It's what I need to do right now, both for myself and for you.

For all I know, I could be a coronavirus carrier. For all I know, you could be one too. If we met and mingled in person, I could infect you or vice versa. I take pains to avoid such a risk and to do my part to help us try to control this health crisis.

I limit my physical travel to solitary walks near my home and infrequent shopping runs for essential supplies.

Still, beyond those I live with — my husband, my cat, my dog — I really have no shortage of comforting company.

Day and night, thoughtful and creative visitors push open my front door and crowd into my home. Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without them, given how grim the news has been getting.

In ordinary circumstances, I worry about people who live in virtual cocoons, always staring at screens, devoid of regular, real human contact. But right now I am grateful that technology allows us to so easily huddle together while also safely staying apart.

I am grateful that it allows me a steady social life, even if that life is now centered, other than phone calls, almost solely online.

Because I am a social person and sometimes I need more in my confinement than a book to curl up with or a new recipe to try.

Years ago on Twitter I started building a Los Angeles community around the hashtag #mydayinla. L.A. is so large, my thinking went, that most of us see only our little corners of it. What if every day we shared our own parts of L.A. with each other? Could we make a big city feel more like a small town?

The idea caught on. And over time, a lot of us who participated became friends even though we'd never met in person. Our own busyness and the traffic might curb our urban wanderings, but through the photos, videos and experiences we passed back and forth, we could simultaneously experience Venice and Hollywood, downtown, Tarzana, Boyle Heights, the whole region — because #mydayinla has never recognized borders.

I couldn't love #mydayinla more than I do right now, in the midst of this isolating and potentially terribly lonely coronavirus crisis. It makes my small sequestered world feel airier and roomier and easier to tolerate. Others tell me that it does the same for them.

I am the type of person who is prone to overdoing things — to reading too many scary reports, to watching too much cable doomsday prognosticating, sometimes to sinking into the dread.

It is easy in such a frightening time to start summoning up imagined symptoms.

Sometimes suddenly my heart starts to race. My throat gets scratchy. My breaths grow shallow. I feel flushed. I am sure my temperature is rising.

Then someone shares a video of a toddler bouncing up and down in a crib. A song joyfully performed on a rooftop. A simple idea for how to help some of the particularly vulnerable among us. Someone goes for a stroll around San Pedro or putters in an inviting backyard — and invites me to tag along, too.

I am not really there but I am there. I step outside my fears and am elsewhere. I can't tell you how much relief such moments have brought me in our recent dark days.

People across the city offer up evidence of the good in the world, the neighbors who put out a box of fresh lemons or a child's reminder of why we need to stay safe. They tell me of the many people they are seeing on their forays out who are working so hard to take our collective risk seriously.

None of this makes the anxiety and the fear disappear. These are anxious, scary times. We all know that. But it helps to get together and talk about it. It helps to try to find amusement.

Early on in our collective home stay, I held a #mydayinla talent show. I begged people to come up with entries.

A painter offered up her still life of a bottle of bleach, a roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer. A young musician played Bach on his cello. Someone spelled out My Day in LA in popcorn kernels from an all-but-emptied-out Trader Joe's.

It wasn't anything professional or fancy. But it let us pause our worries for a while, which in my mind made everyone who participated a winner.