The contrarian in quarantine

When a pandemic means having time to change your mind

4 minute read
Josh Herren, left, with his husband and Seymour T.D. Steinberren, is on a whole new journey. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
Josh Herren, left, with his husband and Seymour T.D. Steinberren, is on a whole new journey. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

My friends have always called me a contrarian. Historically, I haven’t found this label to be especially true, fair, or generous. Sure, my tastes don’t follow the beaten track, and I do get a certain thrill from dethroning cultural mainstays. Is it such a big loss that I prefer the Monkees to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? (At least they’re honest about being sell-outs.) Is it a crime that CATS was my favorite movie of 2019? And so what if I didn’t like dogs OR cats? (I’ve always been more of a bird and fish guy.) Okay, I guess when you look at my opinions and my instincts, you could argue that I do have a contrarian streak.

Furry conversion

While I have enjoyed the countless spirited debates that can spring from my opinions, I also like to think of myself as convincible (even if my husband might say otherwise). While no one was prepared for all the events that 2020 has brought far, I was also absolutely not ready for the feeling I got when I gazed upon an Instagram post in late March from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Proudly sitting under a sculpture is Bentley, an English Bulldog, displaying his tongue.

All of a sudden everything seemed to change. I was looking at #cutepuppy feeds on Instagram. I was smiling at dogs on my walks to the grocery store. I was even looking at furry friends available for adoption on Petfinder. I don’t think I even realized how deep into the doggo hole I had fallen.

On April 14, 2020, we officially welcomed Seymour T.D. Steinberren (T.D. stands for “thee dog”) into our home. At two years of age, Seymour defies any lingering stereotype of the ferocious pit bull. He’s loving and energetic. Welcoming Seymour into my life has helped me change a lot about the structure and order of my day. I am, for the first time in my life, a morning person. I love getting up while the streets are still quiet and driving Seymour to an empty park or nature preserve to go for a long hike. Hating nature was another one of my most sacred controversial opinions. If I didn’t have that belief, what did I have? What could I count on?

The Beatles and the Met

To see how much quarantine had changed me, I decided to try to take on my longest held and most contested opinion: the Beatles are boring. I decided I would do a meticulous deep dive through the band’s entire discography. I went chronologically, listening to an album about five times before moving on to the next one. I kept a timeline open so I could be sure I was listening to the singles in the proper order. As I forced myself to listen to music that I had gleefully detested for years, I noticed a certain rebellious spirit in the band’s early records that I had never encountered before. In later records, I found myself enjoying new melodies that were charming, even endearing. It turns out that I still think “All You Need Is Love” and “Yellow Submarine” are inane, but I can absolutely not stop listening to “I Saw Her Standing There” and “You Won’t See Me.”

Of course, not all matters of taste can change. At the urging of a friend, BSR writer Cameron Kelsall, I have been trying to introduce myself to opera with the help of the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly stream. I spent about a month trying to watch a new work every day. While the production values surely wowed me, operatic music and the singing that accompanies it did not.

Time to explore

So what have I learned almost four months into the world of COVID-19? I have learned that my bombastic opinions prevented me from engaging in material that I found challenging. I recognize now that it was easier to be clever and dismissive than curious and uninformed. I hope that I carry these lessons with me the next time I have the urge to take down some piece of beloved art, or to disagree with a friend for the sake of disagreeing. Many of us have the time right now to explore our own biases, false pretenses, and assumptions. I hope that we can leave this extraordinary moment in history more willing to change, to push, to challenge. And if you're like me, you might even end up with a new best friend.

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