“Chronicles of the Boy in the Bubble” by Damon Wallace
I was a shy only child with an active imagination, who became a reserved man that treasures his thoughts and quiet time. Shelter in place? No problem. On the island of isolation, I am a titan – the Boy in the Bubble – a legend in my own right. I’m no stranger to self-quarantines, and I’m not afraid of being alone. I’m perfectly content with an active imagination. I’ve been maintaining a safe social distance since 1971.
I’m untouchable. This is my moment.
I never considered my ability to “disengage” a talent or benefit. If anything, in the real world, escapism has been a handicap that’s left me faded from the scene, feeling more misunderstood, out of place and socially awkward than not over the years. In difficult times, isolation has been my go to, while my imagination has been the ethereal hot air ballon that lifts me away to distant lands where dragons survey the skies, cellar doors open wormholes to other dimensions, and a magic poem can transport me back in time.
How an absent man like me can be of assistance to you remains unseen. Yet, here we are. At one time or another each of us is called upon to lend our voice in troubling times… And now that Earth has grounded to a halt and the Sun and the Moon orbit us each individually, amid the shifting bricks, chirping birds and otherwise awkward silence, I wanted to offer some guidance from an adjoining courtyard to help improve your stay in isolation.
The boundaries around you are as restraining as your anxiety leads you to believe; take a sledge hammer to the walls. If you can afford it, treat this quarantine as a gift. Turn off the TV. Write some poetry or a short story. Learn a new language. Workout. Draw some critters. Practice acting or singing in front of a camera… Whatever you do, don’t waste this lockdown accounting for inventory, worrying about bills or obsessing about something none of us can control. Be a testament of the times, not a reaction to them: fighting over toilet paper, fearful of boogeymen, needing to be told which way to run. Perspective matters more than ever. Before it’s over, stretch yourself to consider this moment of universal solitude to be a gift, a unique once in a lifetime opportunity for us all to simultaneously hit pause and become reacquainted with our ourselves.
None of us knows what lies on the other end this pandemic. I use this time to exhale, but I do it to get grounded and to gain some perspective without the influence of the outside world. We’ll all need our wits about us when the buzzer sounds, our front doors unlock and we set foot into a world where we coexist with COVID-19 (don’t touch me). Treat this time as an investment, because make no mistake – At some checkpoint in the near future, we’ll all be asked to pay our dues for this time slot we didn’t ask for. It’s simple math. Actions have consequences, and everything has a cost; time most of all… Spend your hours wisely.
I’ve enjoyed several extended stays on the island of isolation in my lifetime, but none was as remarkable and documented as my stay a decade ago. Unlike other periods of seclusion in my life, but much like our current reality, my time alone was not a choice; it landed on me. The abrupt sense of alienation and helplessness triggered me to think about other periods of isolation in my life. I traveled back to darker, lonelier times, to when I was grappling with my sexuality and questioning the value of my life. I found myself opening my eyes in 1985 again, staring down the same three-headed dragon casting shadows over all of our rooftops today: me, myself, and eye… How I weathered the storm back then set into motion my forties and redefined how I frame isolation today.
“The wind on my face blows so cold. I dedicate this poem to a man 40 years old…”
Back in 2010, I was laid off from my job amid the Great Recession while at the same time my partner was leaving for 8 weeks of intensive job training, which left me little to no contact. As to be suspected in such times, all the good things: money was tight, prospects were bleak, tensions were high, and my confidence was at its worst. After a meteoric rise in my career in my late 20’s, I’d collided back into the Earth full throttle and rose to find the planet scorched and not hiring. It wasn’t my favorite time, and it had the potential to be downright depressing if I harped on the failures that led to me to my newfound reality. Not helping matters, however, my implosion was taking place in the shadow of my 40th birthday, which came with a self-imposed milestone I’d placed years prior.
When I was 14, I wrote a poem called “Time To Play” that I dedicated to the man I’d be at 40 (*Gulp). In 1985 I wrongfully assumed that by 40 I’d have my shit together. Unemployed, pudgy, disheveled, and overdue for a visit to the dentist were not the qualities of the renowned author I envisioned being when I first put pen to paper. Idealist that I was (little shit) I actually believed I had the heart, discipline and wherewithal to see a dream through. I needn’t be reminded of who I was and who I am not. There were a lot of things I wasn’t and even more I’d never be. The well intentioned poem of yesteryear backfired; it only amplified the noise, made me painfully aware that I was no hero worthy of dedications, least of all to me. For all the bullet points on my resume, I’d never felt less accomplished than I did when I looked at myself through the lens of me at 14.
To my credit, despite the 26-years bridging me to the lost poem, I could still recite the first and last verses. And as my weeks of isolation unraveled in 2010, those verses grew louder. Try as I might to ignore the them, the words would become my tribal call, my battle cry as I bid farewell to the outside world and charged head first into the murky depths of my unhinged cellar doors…
“One day a man will write about a teenager and his courageous fight. He’ll look at me, smile and say – We’ve made it kid… Time to Play.”
In the autumn of 2010, I uncharacteristically elected not to obsess about the future or concern myself with things I couldn’t control. Instead, I stepped out of my bubble and assumed the heart of a 14-year old boy and confronted goblins nested in my childhood. I gifted him the time, resources and liberties afforded to me at 39. And once settled into Bubble Boy Inc., I posed a question to all of me – If I could custom build a job, what would it be?
In response to the question, I purchased the domain cellardoors.me, which I used as an incubator to nourish my creative endeavors (🐣). Writing ghost stories and fairy tales fulfilled the needs of younger me that thrived on goosebumps. Since 1985 I’d also wanted to learn computer graphics and animation, so why not teach myself and bring the stories to life? Lastly, in a gesture of goodwill, we turned to me in my twenties – dancing in the corner in headphones, without a care in the world – and added dancing to the job description, because outside of working that’s all I ever recall doing in the 1990’s (or at least all I care to admit).
WANTED: Adult male to write fairy tales, dance, and play on a computer.
JOB REQUIREMENTS: Work as hard for yourself as you have for others.
While seeking employment that paid, I interned for myself starting in the autumn of 2010, intent on creating a series of animated shorts starring, written, composed, directed and edited by yours truly (one must be resourceful in self-quarantines) as seen through the lens of a 14-year old boy. But as a first order of business, I had a promise to fulfill…I wrote back to the sender of “Time To Play”. Not to be outdone by a kid, I put my words to a beat and slapped it like I owned it while lip syncing my words in front of a camera, and later debuted the video with the kick off of Cellar Doors on October 12, 2010.
Ten years ago, I traveled back to my teenage years, a period of my life when I was the most detached and alone. Had the timing of events been different, had I been unemployed at any other moment, the outcome of what followed that fall would’ve been something other than the illuminating experience it was in otherwise dark times. This revisit is not about the product, which is to say the videos produced from that time. It’s about the round trip ticket I inadvertently purchased back to this place after 10 years abroad.
My trip to “the better part of me” was fueled by time, silence, and peace of mind. Only solitude could afford me the parts and wherewithal to reconnect with a past perspective, only isolation had the power to unleash the wormhole that linked me to 1985, where a 14-year old me is awkwardly waiving at us now (waive back, he’s sensitive). In the end, he was the part of me (still waving) who saved me from the Great Recession.
However rewarding the journey, my stay in isolation a decade ago also led to a much needed reckoning. I emerged from the experience in the spring of 2011 with a more grounded perspective. While I may have been a titan on the island of isolation, I was nonetheless a titan approaching 40 who traveled by bubble like a hamster. My reunion with me was needed and rewarding, and it certainly fulfilled the time, but if I truly wanted to be a man that I could be proud of, I had to stop pretending. It was time to say goodbye to fantasy and hunker down in reality for good. I looked ahead to my 40s wanting to fight but realizing I needed to be liberated of me, to coexist with others and be free of the self doubt and insecurities that kept luring me back to remote childhood fortresses.
To be a hero to anyone, I had to be willing save someone other than me. So I bid farewell to seclusion and rode my tamed, three-headed dragon to the shores of my 40th birthday, where I chain locked the cellar doors closed and hammered an “Out Of Business” sign on a nearby tree that didn’t exist. And before parking my imagination, I exhaled into an imaginary setting sun and pictured a man 10 years my senior on the horizon, smiling back and waving at me… repeatedly (so awkward).
Before going to bed on Saint Patrick’s Day, I started getting body chills and woke up the following morning with a fever. Under normal conditions I would’ve gone to work and trudged through my day, but I stayed home out as a precaution, and I’m glad I did. While there were only a couple hundred confirmed cases in San Diego County at the time, I was about to be added to the list of residence testing positive for COVID-19.
And, like that, within nanoseconds of my doctor saying that I’d tested positive for the coronavirus, I was transported: the gears began churning, the ground started shifting, the vine covered walls surrounding me crumbled skyward, and on a distant mountaintop a three-headed dragon awoke from a 10-year slumber.
God has a wicked sense of humor. I’ll give her that. After Cellar Doors, I’ve spent the last decade fighting to be more present and less withdrawn. Not even 3 months ago, my New Year’s Resolution was to officially retire my bubble and to be more engaged and in the moment. 2020 was to be the defining final act of my forties, the year I was liberated and began to exist… Fast forward to this morning, and everyone – my neighbors, the cops, the Governor of California, society at large – is screaming, “Get your ass back in your bubble, idiot. And put your mask on!”
In the plot twist I never saw coming, I’m out here alone, and you’re in there with an ear pressed against the door. Now that I’m at my most present – holding a pink rose on an empty dance floor, beneath a super moon and the starlit sky – a staticky voice echoes through the avenues reminding you and all the others to stay inside.
Before bidding adieu, I’ve a final bit of advise, a warning I wish someone had shared with me years ago… Make the best of your quarantine; harness your superpowers, take to the skies and sprinkle the horizon in the color you. But don’t get lost in the stratosphere like I did. Keep a foot anchored in reality when stargazing, and be mindful of the checkout time; if you fall asleep dreaming, you best wake up with a purpose. Dreams are meant to inspire us to live more enriched lives. But if you find yourself not living because you’ve overdreamt, it’s time to wake up. You’re dreaming wrong.
Wherever you are, be there completely. Pay no mind to the familiar voices calling from remote locales and don’t be lured by the promises of that shimmering skyline on the horizon. Of the choices before you, the present is the only door that exists. The past and future are romantic concepts, but they are figments of our imagination all the same, detours to steer you away from the uneasy unknown of the cellar doors opening before you.
Step inside. The man who finds eternity in the moment, wins.
Time to Play.