Once the shock of all that’s happening gets acknowledged, how do you deal with enforced confinement? Perhaps you’ll be able to work from home, but even if you can, this is a time for active rest, to do stuff that’s cheap, playful, and social. With thanks to many friends, here’s my restdoctor’s partial list of things to try:
Talk – phone, facetime, Skype, Zoom, message. In a time of social isolation let people know you’re there and thinking about them, that you miss them and care for them. Speak to old friends you might not have had much time for before. Calling folks who are disabled or ill or without close family is a particularly good deed.
Walk: Even if you’re cooped up inside, there’s decent evidence that people who walk have less frequent colds and when they get them, less severe ones, and colds are normally inflicted by rhinoviruses. Immunity appears to improve with activity and sunlight. Sunlight turns on NK (natural killer) cells, part of our anti-viral response. If you can’t get outside safely, move in place near a window. Steppers work.
When you can move outside, admire nature. Some folks tell me they think coronavirus is one of many attempts by Mother Nature to rein in human hubris. What I can tell you is that people’s moods are better in light and in natural settings, particularly if bodies of water can be seen.
Play: This is a good time to be playful, to create stuff that gives you pleasure and even grace. Loads of people are making up their own games, like story times: people telling each other different stories, or creating them in tandem with each person who’s around adding the next sequence. If you have an internet connection and it’s working, there are thousands and thousands of games. For those without, there are card and board games. Internet gaming will spike in ways not yet seen.
Write: These are historic times. It’s a great time to write a diary, a daily record of events. Samuel Pepys’ diary of the seventeenth century London plague years is an iconic work; will you become his replacement?
This is also a fine time to write memoirs. Send them to family and friends and see what they think. You can also play with one of life’s guiltiest pleasures, writing poetry. For those who want to know what AIs think of us, you can go to poemsbyais.com (disclaimer – I know the author.)Rest assured the great Covid-19 novel is not yet written.
And don’t forget lists. Consider a bucket list; a list of things you’d like to do when this over; a list of people you admire (this might change); lists of your friends and people you want to reach out to, including –
Music: If you have an instrument, even a kazoo, this is a good time to take it up. If you don’t have an instrument, sing. Singing makes people feel better. You can sing a cappella, sing karaoke style to your favorite song, sing with whoever is around you, or like the Italians, sing on the balcony; but please be sensitive to your neighbors with whatever music you do make. Brass instruments can be a problem in New York apartments, something I know as a former trumpet player.
Of course, you can listen to music. Much of the world’s total production is now available on the Net. If you’re a classical aficionado, think of listening to jazz; if you’re a hip hop lover, consider African rock. Listen to stuff you’ve never listened to before. You may love it.
Exercise: One of the great points about rest, what we do to rebuild our bodies, is that it’s active. Even if you’re in a tiny space, yoga, stretching, stepping and many other activities are possible. Never tried yoga? Go to youtube, watch some session, watch again, then try the simplest, quietest moves.
If you’re in a home of your own, your plants need you. Gardening can help them and you. And this is a great time for self-learning-
Learn: Mark Twain famously said don’t let school get in the way of your education. Even if you’re not in school, this is an opportunity to cultivate yourself in ways you may not have imagined. Teach yourself how to bake or fix your faucet; how to knit and crochet; fill out your taxes. Self-education can provide great dividends for mind and soul. Besides the millions of lectures available, the classics are available on the Net. Shakespeare had a lot to say about times like these, as do the great poets of every culture.
Read: Plenty of people will be reading beach books without the beach. Think of reading material that takes one far away, like travel, adventure and science fiction, which can provide options of how you’ll spend the future. Since as Faulkner knew the past is never past, reading history, of all ages and peoples, can provide perspective and solace for what’s going on now.
Organize: Many folks have told me they are already rearranging and decluttering their closets, even if there’s no Goodwill to take the items. But you can reorganize more than shelves and closets, as this is an opportunity to reorganize the concerns and aspirations of one’s life. Writing out where you want to be in a year, externally and internally, has its risks, but can be a thought provoking declaration of who you are and what options you might have.
Feel the Spirit: Whether you’re atheist or believer, this is a time to connect to something larger than yourself. You can join online groups of fellow believers, meditate, or just think of what you wish to connect to whether it’s family, community, nature, the environment, life.
Get Crafty: Anthropologists call humans homo faber, the human maker. We love to make things, whether it’s clothes or fashion, think of how to design and reorder interiors, or just clean and buff stuff around us. I’ve recently found how soothing it is to polish silver, though I have very little of it. There’s lots of things that might take a new shine.
Draw, sketch, paint: Painter Keith Crowley points out how simple and cheap it is to use Chinese brush technique; all you need is brush, ink, water and paper. Even newspaper will do. If you’ve got copy paper and a ballpoint pen you can portray a lot, including recording what’s happening in this new world. My artist friend Nick Kavoukles can show you how the simplest materials can be used to create great beauty.
There are many other activities you can try. As the restdoctor, I believe there are near infinite activities people can engage with their minds and hands. But please, over the next month at least prepare for the unexpected. As I wrote yesterday, you have to think contingently. Internet providers may fail, as I’ve ruefully learned with my pharmacy and electronic health record software. Stuff may not work. Be flexible. Write out options. Try to think in terms of redundancy, having options in depth, just as living beings do through biological intelligence. If you don’t have physical cards to play with, see if you can find them on the Net. If you can’t download a book you want to read, consider outlining one that might be better.
Above all, connect. We’re a social species, told suddenly to stop being social. That will be hard. Unlike days of old when people might wait years for mail from overseas, we have ways to connect that are quicker, faster, cheaper.
Use them. If an epidemic teaches anything it’s that we’re all in this together.