Well. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. I hope you’re hanging in there. As someone with hermetic tendencies, I’m weathering it fairly well, but there are a lot of people I care about who are either deeply extroverted or have jobs/careers that require direct human contact, and they are struggling right now. I normally don’t send out a newsletter this often, but I thought perhaps I could offer up some things I do to occupy myself in the hopes that at least one of them might give you some comfort.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Everyone is doing this. Most probably have a long queue to work through. But in case you’re looking for suggestions, here are a few:
I really enjoyed I’m Not Okay With This. It’s done in a sort of miniseries format, like a long movie that’s been broken into episodes. It’s basically a quirky indie comedy/drama, except the main character secretly has super powers. Or if you’re looking for something animated and actiopn-packed, Castlevania is great. It’s loosely based on the old gothic video game series, but it’s written by the immensely talented Warren Ellis and requires no foreknowledge of the games.
If you don’t mind grotesque, my sons and I really enjoyed The Boys, starring Keith Urban. It’s loosely based on the comic by Garth Ennis about a world with super heroes gone horribly, horribly wrong, but it takes a lot of liberties, in my mind mostly for the better. Also, Tank Girl is on there, and if you haven’t seen it, I don’t know why you deny yourself so cruelly from the greatness of kangaroo mutant Ice -T and punk rock Laurie Petty performing a fully choreographed Cole Porter song.
I don’t currently have HBO because I have a hard limit of three services at a time (not counting Prime) and I tend to bounce around a lot. But if you have any love for grunge, punk, or the band Nirvana, I urge you to see Montage of Heck, the documentary about Kurt Cobain. There’s also that Game of Thrones thing, which is pretty good.
If you’re tired of the mainstream services, why not give a niche service a try? They’re usually cheaper, and often have a free trial period. The anime service Crunchyroll is a staple in the Skovron house, offering a vast array of stories from overblown action to gentle slice-of-life. Disney+ has soothing classics as well as some original content, such as the excellent Mandalorean series, which is basically The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly set in space. DC Universe is extremely niche, focusing exclusively on Batman, Wonder Woman, and other staples of DC comics, but even if you don’t normally enjoy that sort of thing, Doom Patrol is amazing (full disclosure, I went to school with co-star Matt Bomer and he’s a lovely guy). If horror is your thing, there’s Shudder, for the anglophiles there’s Brit Box, and many others. We are in the golden age of streaming, after all, so there are plenty of options. Sample some stuff. You might find something you love.
There’s nothing quite like a book to sooth the soul. It require a different kind of engagement from video. A deeper, more empathetic connection to the work. And if you have a Kindle or other e-reader, you don’t even have to leave your quarantine. And many library systems use Libby or some other e-book lending service, so even if money is tight, you should still be able to feed your reading habit. I put library books on my Paperwhite all the time. I've been re-reading the old Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber books and they hold up really well for the most part.
If you enjoy comics even a little bit, now’s the time to try out Comixology Unlimited, which for a low monthly fee allows you to read from a vast selection of comics. I’m pretty sure there’s free trials as well. Tablets are ideal, but you can also read directly in a web browser. Marvel and DC have stuff on there, but I tend to lean toward creator-owned stuff from Image, Boom, and Dark Horse. Pretty much anything by Kieron Gillen will set you right.
So far, my suggestions have been fairly passive activities, but may I suggest learning a new language? I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for over a year, and I am mostly terrible at it, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I can boldly declare that my little cat is drinking water or that my son is in the kitchen (they are less amused). Some services like Duolingo even have a free, ad-supported option.
Look, maybe I’m weird, but there’s nothing quite like turning on a Radiolab podcast and doing a deep house cleaning. I am always reluctant to start, but once I’m finished always happy I did.
The boys and I tackled the attic the other day, and discovered an unopened Hobbit Lego kit. On a whim, my teenage son opened it up, and low and behold rediscovered his love of building Lego sets! Again, that feeling of accomplishment once you finish can really improve your mood.
Nobody likes isometric exercises like push-ups and sit-ups. Trust me, you’ll feel better and sleep better after you do ‘em. If you have a pair of dumbbells and a jump rope, even better. We also have a small lake within walking distance of our house that we have been walking around every day. Thankfully the weather here has been reasonable, and while there are other people waling the lake, everyone's been pretty respectful of social distancing space.
There are a bunch of apps and podcasts for guided meditation out there. But because I’m a broken and terrible person, I do mindfulness meditation where I just sit for ten minutes with nothing, doing nothing, watching my thoughts come and go like I’m at a train station.
Some people claim they don’t like games. I say they just haven’t found the right game for them. And particularly video games, it seems a lot of people only think of unforgiving platformers like Super Mario Bros, or ultra-violent shooters like Doom. But there are strategy games like Fire Emblems, which is basically a really complicated chess game in which all the pieces are pretty and you can marry them. Or the newly released Animal Crossing, in which you slowly, gently build your perfect island getaway (I think that game almost counts as therapeutic). Both of those games do require the Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite, but there are similar games you can play on a PC, phone, or tablet. And if table top games are more your thing, my friend Holly is starting an D&D campaign with friends over video chat, so you could try something like that.
Check in on your friends via phone or text, especially the ones you know are completely alone (like I will be next week when the boys go to their moms’ house). Or if you are one of the alone ones (like I will be next week), don’t be afraid to reach out to others. It’s a global pandemic. Everyone is feeling isolated. Nobody’s going to mind. And if you have the ability to video chat or Facetime or something like, even better. Humans usually find great emotional comfort in seeing the faces of other humans. And it will encourage you to take showers.
So hang in there. Feel free to reach out to me here or online (Instagram, Twitter, etc), if you find yourself slipping into a dark place. I may not be able to help, but I will at least recognize you, and sometimes that can make all the difference.