My husband, Sandy, says he’s been practicing social distancing long before it became a trend. He’s honed the process to a fine art so I can’t argue with his statement. Sandy is enjoying sheltering at home more than anyone I know. He has his “amusements,” as he likes to call them – all sorts of electronic gear for music and videos, an ironing board turned into a tiny snooker table to practice his shots and ample private space on the third floor of our house where he can retreat whenever the urge overtakes him.
Since he lives with me, a woman who spends a good portion of her day alone at the dining room table or in my study actually researching and writing, we’re discovering how easily we mesh during this strange and unprecedented time. We take our meals together. I cook dinner and he washes up and shops for groceries. Other than stealth missions to the grocery store or the pharmacy, and long walks in the country, we’ve managed to isolate entirely.
And then digital get-togethers came into our lives. On Friday nights, our friends from Ottawa, Lynn and Bruce, Patty and Graham, and Richard and Mary, gather for our weekly online happy hour. It’s most enjoyable, not just because we’ve known each other since our twenties, but because we still have so much in common. We share ideas for streaming movies and television. Since we all have underlying conditions and we’re teetering around that seventy-year-old mark, we’re extra careful about social distancing. Finding a balance between private activities, be they physical or mental, while staying connected with others, is my recipe for staying sane. It also helps us to know what day it is.
“What day is it anyway, honey?” is a nuisance we can avoid if we stick to some sort of schedule that relies on others. No matter how well self-isolating is going, I suggest making a calendar of online events you enjoy with friends and family – or organizations – outside the home. That way, the balancing act between isolation and keeping occupied is met, and you don’t wake up one morning wondering what you did with all that time during the pandemic. As retirees, we now have the absolute pleasure of choosing what and how much we wish to do, so let’s try to make the most of it in ways that suit our individual temperaments.
If you’re like my husband, you might wish to do most of what you enjoy on your own. If you’re like me, you might want to transition between solitary tasks and remote learning and social events. Here’s a list, with links to the opportunities I’ve taken advantage of during these last months, ones that have enriched my life during isolation or helped me to understand the long term implications of the virus.
- The Munk Dialogues. So far, I’ve listened to two online discussions, one with author, Malcolm Gladwell, and the other with the Washington Post’s Fareed Zakaria. Both speakers present lively and astute observations about how the world will change after COVID-19. If you’re interested in hearing from great minds who speak frankly and with endearing humanity about our changing world, you can watch here on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.
- Classical Pursuits. Every summer, Classical Pursuits offers a week-long array of seminars for those interested in open-minded, but rigorous discussions of great books and big ideas. Although the event, held at the University of Toronto every summer for twenty years, has been cancelled for this year, it will return in 2021. In the meantime, online presentations and shared inquiry sessions by Classical Pursuit seminar leaders are being offered online to the public throughout the spring and summer. Full disclosure: I’m giving a two-part workshop at the end of May about Dr. Zhivago and the struggle between the Kremlin and the CIA to release Pasternak’s novel.
- Every Thursday at 2 p.m., Classical Pursuits presents talks about art that have transported me to other times and places. After watching these free talks online, I feel both elated and connected to the complexity of artistic expression. I’ve also learned a great deal about the composition of great paintings and how painters influence each other. The links above will introduce you to a unique learning experience, including the Thursday afternoon online calls and to the Classical Pursuits website.
- If you enjoy opera, the Metropolitan Opera is offering live streaming of its operas. One of the great joys of my life is attending the opera at Lincoln Centre in New York City. Here they are for free and available for viewing in your own living room. You can even sip wine or munch on buttered popcorn while watching.
I couldn’t close this newsletter without a few recommendations from the current golden age of television. Here are my favourites:
- The Plot Against America on HBO. You can check HBO or Crave for all the episodes of this remarkable series. Created for television by David Simon. He was the creator, executive producer, head writer, and showrunner for all five seasons of the HBO television series The Wire (2002–2008). This series is based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Roth. Roth imagines what might have happened if Charles Lindbergh had run and won the U.S. presidency rather than FDR. The drama makes for a startling alternate history mini-series.
- If you haven’t watched Schitt’s Creek or even if you have, the last season now found on CBC Gem is most delightful. The cast of characters played by Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy and Eugene Levy are the epitome of how Canadian values make for grand narratives about good-hearted people who care about their friends, family and community. If you get the warm fuzzies while viewing Schitt’s Creek, it feels a little like listening to Doug Ford talk about protecting the vulnerable during this pandemic. By the way, Schitt’s Creek is a humungous hit in the U.S., and I can’t think of a better time to watch this hilarious and ingeniously comforting sitcom.
- Tripping the Rideau Canal on TVO is what’s called slow TV. “This beautiful, immersive documentary takes viewers along a 27 km voyage of the historic Rideau Canal in real-time, allowing audiences to soak in the sights, sounds and history of the canal itself.” If you wish to relax and experience the splendour of the Canadian landscape while sheltering at home, give it a try. We watched for three hours straight and drifted off to sleep with a smile on our faces.
My husband and I have managed to watch The Plot Against America on HBO and the dark comedy Better Call Saul on AMC together, without missing one episode. Usually, our schedules are so different that viewing an entire series together is impossible. But not now. We’re both trying to find a balance between being busy and having alone time. For now, it seems to be working.
Be safe. Stay healthy.