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Johnny Carson's Bathroom, Self-Isolation

by Tracey Haynes

I had a dream I was changing clothes in Johnny Carson's bathroom. I was staying at his house I while I rode out the quarantine. It was a modest bathroom. The clothes were someone else's. I put on two mismatched dresses, one on top of the other, and looked at myself in the mirror above the sink. The resulting outfit looked awful, but I didn't know what else I could do. In the dream there were no other options. I looked at Johnny's belongings—his hair brush poking out of an open drawer, two towels on a hook, one on top of the other. I switched their order on the hook. Then, before I left the room, I switched them back; I didn't want him to notice anything being out of place in his space.

There is a palpable shift that's happened among us, a shift to self-isolation. It's even sprung up a new vocabulary—shelter in place, self-quarantine, social distancing. In many ways, my daily life hasn't changed at all. As an artist living here in San Miguel, and as an introvert, I spend most of my time alone, anyhow. But the shift is in the ability or freedom to make other choices. Chafing against that restriction, suddenly that's what I want to do—to go to the cafe, be with friends, go to the party. In another way, the restriction gives me approval to do what I should likely be doing anyway—staying home to paint, work on photographs… to be productive.

I remember a study that was done about buying jellies at a grocery store. Customers who had five varieties of jelly to choose between were more likely to buy a jar than those who had nine options. The study's conclusion was that people are overwhelmed with too much choice.

I've thought of his idea often because I believe it relates to many situations in life. Locked down because of Corona Virus, our lack of choice can wonderfully crystallize what really matters, where we truly want to invest ourselves. Like the limited choices I had of clothes to put on in the legendary comedian's bathroom, it requires us to get creative.

For an artist, it might seem that more ideas, more materials, more variables would be a good thing. In fact, having restrictions, like using cardboard, because you have nothing else, or being limited to three colors, means that you have a well-defined structure from which to grow. Like a child-sized chair for a child, it's comfortable, perfect.

For me this is a guilt-free time to work on my projects without feeling bad for not engaging with the wider world. It is like a series of snow days, a gift where I can hunker down, concentrate, and paint. And even in my self-isolation I am not entirely alone; thanks to the miracle of electronic technology I am still able engage with friends, loved ones and you.


Tracey Haynes is a photographer and painter living and creating in San Miguel de Allende. She left her home in St. Louis, Missouri, about a year and a half ago, searching for an artist community, and a good place to settle in. She started in Europe, and worked her way eastward around the globe before a fellow traveler in Thailand suggested San Miguel.


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