Now, six months into our response to the pandemic, one hears the term stir-crazy with increasing frequency. Even those residents who are known for good humor and a positive outlook are starting to feel the pressure of restricted family visits and lack of opportunity to enjoy such everyday diversions as museums and movie theatres. Bad news afflicts us every week. Who can fail to be downcast by the recent permanent closing of the Bethel Movie Theatre? It offered first-line films within easy reach, and good Japanese food was just around the corner. We hasten to add that this is not a complaint about our treatment here. The staff has done a brilliant job of maintaining a positive outlook and keeping us well fed, entertained, and as safe as possible from the effects of Covid-19. Even that is not enough, though, to keep stir-crazy from becoming a normal part of everyday conversation.
So what is “stir-crazy?” Where did it come from and why is it such a useful term in our present environment? As with other definitional problems, increasingly one resorts to Google or some other form of internet magic. The term “stir” appears to have arisen in 19th-century London. This detail from a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting (The Fight Between Carnival and lent) shows a man with a spoon through his head cloth, a 16th-century symbol for a person being slightly demented. Does the spoon suggest that he might have been stir-crazy? One authority suggests that it was a derivation of “start,” which to criminal cognoscenti was a name given to Newgate Prison. Another suggestion is that it was derived from the Romani (Gypsy) term “stardo,” which meant imprisoned. Gypsies seem to have been unjustly run in with some regularity in 19th-century London as in so many other parts of the world.
“Crazy” appears to be a 20th-century American addition. Lexicographer Jonathon Green (the source of most of the lore in this report about sti r-crazy) says the word was added to describe “a person who has succumbed to prison-induced insanity.” Does that describe most of us who carelessly throw the term about?
Our form of insanity might spring to life in quite a number of ways. Some of us invent games. For example, count the number of tree stumps in the plantings circling the Ring Road from the tennis court to the end of Spruce Parking 4. The answer is 14 or 15, depending on one’s definition of stump. And while we are on the subject of the Ring Road, how many benches are there to accommodate the weary walker? The answer is seven or eight, depending on whether one includes the bench overlooking the goldfish pond. An answer as to how many spruce trees are in the same plantation awaits the patient explorer who knows a spruce from a white pine.
The number of small riddles is endless. What is the length of the Spruce hallway leading from the Atrium? What is the square footage of The Country Store? How many lengths of granite comprise the curbs of the driveway from the Ring Road to the main entrance? What is the decibel level of one of our emergency generators? (“Too loud” is not considered an acceptable answer.) You get the point. As our vision turns ever more inward, amusements may need to be invented. And those amusements in turn might cast some doubt on the sanity of their originator.
But there is hope. Some of those who fled into exile on the appearance of Covid-19 are thinking about a carefully masked return. Wine-centered celebrations have been observed both in the Atrium and in the Patio garden. John Scott has successfu lly promoted the return of bocce to the Spruce Courtyard. And the Laurel Courtyard positively buzzes with increasingly intense games of croquet and family visits arranged by our friends from Resident life.
In short, all of us-staff and residents alike-will find our way through this thicket of inconvenience. Let us just try to join those who throughout have preserved their good humor and positive outlook. We have a lot to be grateful for. And let us say Farewell to stir-crazy.