How to have a nice life in quarantine, part 1

Quar is hell. But does it have to be? Not according to my Instagram, which we all know is a perfect facsimile of real life! Joking aside, though, most of us have spent A LOT of time at home for the better part of a year now, and it’s getting kind of old.

My friend, director Ivy Jelisavac, mentioned that she was interested in reading something about how to have a nice life in quarantine, so I decided to use that as a writing prompt. It’s really hard, all of this—and in different ways for different people—so while I don’t have all the answers, I can tell you what’s worked for me. I’m not going to claim I’m thriving in all of this, but I’m not, like, super miserable, which seems like a victory in these times, which are, as well you know, unprecedented.

This is the first part of a ???-part series (I’ll replace those question marks with a number in the next few weeks). Here are a few ideas to start with:

Make the mundane luxe

Coffee at home for the 350th day in a row? How about a latte instead? I make espresso on the stove with a Bialetti Moka Pot (I have the one-cup size which is perfect for a person who gets the caffeine shakes if she has more than one coffee beverage) and froth my milk using this Miroco Milk Frother, a gift from my brother and sister-in-law (it’s also great for heating up milk for hot chocolate).

Sleep: Level up naptime or bedtime with headphones, a sleep mask, and a sound bath or binaural beats playlist. Sound baths are a Before Times luxury that actually translate perfectly to the at-home environment.

Hydrate, but make it fashion. Drink water out of fancy glasses. Maybe even infuse it with some fruit and herbs beforehand. Sparkling water? Toss in some bitters (note: bitters have alcohol but the quantity ends up being pretty minuscule since you’re only putting a dash in). Hot lemon water: Is it a scam? Probably, but it’s still nice to drink! Herbal tea: You’re likely home enough to justify beefing up your collection a bit. I like Bellocq loose teas and the Harney & Sons bags that come in tins.

Take a better shower. When you don’t have time for a luxurious bubble bath, make your shower nicer. If you’re together enough to have shower tablets on hand, congratulations: You are better at life than I am. If you’re not, shake out a few drops of essential oil onto your shower floor. When my bodega has eucalyptus, I also like to hang this in the shower to clear the air.

Get dressed

Zoom: an opportunity to embrace scroll-down casual: meeting-appropriate shirt, sweatpants, no shoes

OR

an opportunity to wear work-inappropriate clothes that look reasonably professional from the shoulders up but will never see the inside of an office thanks to their scandalous length, layers of tulle, or both.

For a while, I was in the former camp, until I realized that getting dressed in the morning tangibly improves my attitude, which in turn improves my day. Personally, I have two rules for getting dressed:

  1. Feel like I’m wearing pajamas
  2. Look like I’m overdressed

During the pandemic, I’ve frequently worked from bed, meaning rule #1 is more important than ever. So adhering to rule #2 often involves caftans, babydoll dresses, or vintage sequined tops paired with wide-leg pants (I haven’t worn pants without an elastic waistband in at least five years, recommended).

Read about glamorous women

Writer Rachel Syme has declared winter “Read A Book About A Glamorous and Eccentric Woman Season.” This is the best possible spin on winter I can imagine. Fortunately, Rachel has done extensive sharing and crowdsourcing of books that fit the bill, and you can find a thread of the books she and others recommend here. In the meantime, here are some of my favorites:

Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth: Diane Arbus was an iconic photographer with a complicated and ultimately tragic life. This book is a fascinating look at her and it.

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris: A book about academic and food writer Jessica B. Harris’s experiences as the girlfriend of James Baldwin’s best friend. My main (only) complaint about this book is that Harris herself is a fascinating woman, and this memoir focuses a LOT on the compelling people around her. Would love to read another book more focused on her feelings and experiences.

Shocking Life by Elsa Schiaparelli: Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the leading fashion designers of the first half of the twentieth century. Her primary rival? Coco Chanel, who we all know was a Nazi. (Look, to be fair, I read this book a few years ago and can’t remember whether Schiaparelli was also a Nazi but I’m pretty sure the answer is no or I would not be recommending this book. I do recall thinking she was a terrible mother which is also not a great trait BUT still better than being a Nazi.) Anyway Schiap was a fascinating woman who seems kind of insufferable but I LOVE insufferable dead people (see next book recommendation) so that’s a win for me.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret (sometimes called Ma’am Darling) by Craig Brown: Could not care less about the Royals, except this one who was pretty much awful! Basically Margaret had terrible manners but you’d have terrible manners too if you got screwed over as often as she did (not the queen, couldn’t marry the dude she loved, etc.). She’s a lot more interesting than well behaved people, I have to say.

Go to—or host—virtual events that are actually good

Attend live talks by creative people: One of the silver linings of the pandemic, for me, has been the ability to “attend” Creative Mornings events in other cities. While I’ve been bummed to miss the monthly in-person breakfast events in New York, it’s been great to drop in on events in Brisbane, Charlottesville, Calgary, Lexington, and Cologne, among others. And Creative Mornings FieldTrips are a great opportunity to learn a new skill in a one-off class. I’ve learned about brand strategy, designing my dream life, and watercolors, and on Thursday I’m learning about planning a personal retreat day (something I’ve done in the past but would love to do even better).

Hold a virtual accomplishment salon: What’s an accomplishment salon? Invented by Jen Dziura of Get Bullish, it’s a periodic event where everyone shares the great (or even just good) things they’ve done over a certain period of time. In person, you’re limited by the number of people you can fit in your space/want to provide refreshments for. But virtually, you can invite as many people as your Zoom account will allow. If you end up with a big group, just sort everyone into breakout rooms of six or so people. Everyone can simply talk about what they’ve done, or share a visual or audio presentation if the work lends itself to one of those. And if you give invitees a decent amount of lead time, knowing they need something to share at the end of the month or quarter may help them motivate at a time when most of us are at a loss for motivation.

Brunch with hilarious friends: Step 1: Set up a Zoom line. Step 2: Convene your funniest pals. Step 3: Talk shit about people you hate on the internet. Step 4: Share dick pics of Chris Meloni (wait, what?). We all know Zoom hangs can be very dire so I really only recommend doing this with people who are guaranteed to make you laugh and/or have dick pics of Chris Meloni on hand.

Adult child powers: activate!

What did you like to do as a kid? Make a list. Which of those things still sound fun as an adult? OK, now do those. Here are some I like:

Make friendship bracelets. Remember those plastic lace bracelets we used to make as kids? We called them lanyards growing up but I knew some other people who called them boondoggles and you probably had some totally different name. Anyway you can totally have the lacing cord delivered and make matching bracelets for you and your BFF.

Roller skate. OK so this one involves a slightly larger outlay of capital and the faith that you won’t slam headfirst into the wall of your apartment and be eaten by your cat before anyone can find you (if you live alone, like I do). But also, once the weather gets warmer (or if you’re in Australia or similar), you can take this party on the road for a fun, outdoor, socially distanced activity.

Paint your face. One of the great thrills of my life as a child was bringing my Klutz Press Face Painting kit into our downstairs bathroom on a random Tuesday and painting my face like a mouse or a tiger. I recently ordered a face-painting kit and have found that this is still SUPER fun for me as an adult.

When in doubt, apply stickers. Last year, I bought a Unicorns & Rainbows sticker pack for the girl I tutor. A few months ago, I went back to the store and bought the same set for myself. Since then, I’ve put at least one sticker at the top of my daily work to-do list to trick myself into thinking I’m doing something fun.

Read kids’ books. I somehow made it through childhood without anyone handing me a copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an oversight that will astound me for the rest of my life as that book is so me as a child I cannot imagine how it wasn’t on my bookshelf. Anyway thanks to Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror (another must-read) I was reminded of this wrong and decided to rectify it. I absolutely loved this book. Next up: rereading some childhood favorites including The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery.

Become internally fulfilled

OK, easier said than done. But if there were ever a time to find an instrinsic source of meaning in your life, I think this is probably it. If you have access to therapy, great! If you don’t, or do but want to supplement it, I recommend listening to audiobooks that will drown out your negative talk track and help you deal with bullshit as it comes your way and possibly even break some patterns. Here’s what to listen to when you’re:

Fucking sick of everyone around you: Judgment Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein. Get happier by stop being angry at other people? In the words of Elle Woods, “It’s a completely brilliant plan!” Gabby takes you through a series of exercises and meditations designed to get to the root of WHY certain things, people, and situations set you off, so you can better understand and break your patterns of judgment and resentment.

Arguing with reality: Loving What Is by Byron Katie. Do you have a problem? Katie has a four-question framework that will help you realize you do not, in fact, have a problem, and are probably either feeling aggrieved about something you can’t change or projecting your own stories onto a situation (this, the nation where I live). She also has an app called The Work where you type out the answers to the questions and turn your problem around.

Missing your tough-love friend who calls you on your shit: You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. I recently saw an internet person (don’t remember which one) call Jen Sincero (pronounced sin-CHEH-ro) a snake-oil salesman, but I think the shit she’s selling here is plenty real. Ignore the silly title of this one; Sincero takes a fun, no-nonsense approach to telling you to stop ruining your own life, replete with a bunch of random but relevant anecdotes from her own life.

Mentally time traveling because this day/week/month/year absolutely sucks: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This is the book I use to reprogram my brain every time I find myself spending too much time reliving the past or trying to predict (or let’s face it, manipulate) the future. I have a tattoo inspired by it, which probably means I have just revealed myself to be the type of person you don’t want to be taking advice from. But seriously, check this out—Tolle reads it himself and he sounds like Werner Herzog which I find very soothing.

In need of some kind of self-help shit but want to pretend you’re reading literature: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. To be fair, I didn’t actually like this book or get a lot of meaning out of it BUT I suspect that’s at least in part because it’s the same information you get in other spiritual texts but told as a fable. And if you listen to the audiobook version it’s read by Jeremy Irons, an actor with a story arc on Law & Order: SVU where he played a famous psychiatrist who couldn’t remember if he had assaulted his daughter because the night of the possible incident was during his blackout-drunk days and also while trying to figure this out he was helping Benson & Stabler try to solve a different crime or something? Regardless, you may like this book!

I’ll be back soon with the next installment. In the meantime, if there are specific areas of your life at home that you’d like to know how to improve, drop me a line at kat@howtobecreative.org.

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