DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: A lineup of escape mechanisms

Here are a few ways to stay busy, or at least pleasantly distracted, during the covid-19 pandemic and the resulting need for social distancing.

The list is especially useful if, like me, you are semi-retired (or out of work for the time being), the mother of a college freshman forced to flee her dorm room for the safety and boredom of her mom's home, and going out of your stark-raving mind.

• Read some of those books on your to-be-read list. For me, that will mean finally finishing a 623-page collection of Anne Sexton's poems and Billy Collins' much shorter and generally less stark book of poems The Rain in Portugal. Collins said his book's title was a play on "the rain in Spain" and thereby took a stand against rhyming verse, according to The New York Times.

I just bought Lily King's newest novel Writers & Lovers. I loved her previous novel, which she loosely based on a 1933 trip by anthropologist Margaret Mead and Mead's second husband to the Sepik River in New Guinea. There, they collaborated with another anthropologist, one who would become Mead's third husband.

Battling for my attention is Elena Ferrante's The Story of a New Name, the second of her four Neapolitan novels that follow the lives of two young girls as they grow up. The first book, My Brilliant Friend, is a wonderful story (and the basis for an HBO series, now in its second season) by Ferrante, a pseudonym.

• If you have small children, read some of their favorite books to them and share others that can become new favorites. Even if your library is closed, you can "borrow" digital books online and listen to audiobooks free of charge if you have a library card and pin number.

• If you're in a book club or a writing group but don't want to risk getting the virus from anyone, have an online discussion. I like Zoom, but there are other online meeting forums.

• Turn on your TV and clean out your DVR by watching some of those programs you taped last year or the year before that. If you have a streaming service, you can watch a new documentary or enjoy a new drama series.

You also might consider renting a movie that you missed in theaters. For me, that was Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix in a bizarre Oscar-winning role. The film is not for the immature or the easily impressionable, but it gives insight into why Joker is the way he is--crazy mean. Oh, and you don't need to have seen any of the Batman movies to appreciate this film.

• Watch CNN's Chris Cuomo interview his older brother New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about covid-19 even as the virus has left the younger Cuomo quarantined in his basement with some wild, feverish illusions.

• Rotate other cable TV viewing between Fox's Sean Hannity and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Then schedule a telemedicine visit with your therapist.

• Start cooking dinner if you already weren't, and I don't mean Stouffer's frozen dinners, though if you're like me, you'd be wise to keep a couple on standby.

Try to keep the prep and cooking time short if you're a stranger to the kitchen. That's because you're going to need the next couple of hours to wash dishes and wipe splattered food and grease off the stove, floor and kitchen counters.

• Experiment with new food ingredients such as some of the less-common mushrooms. I buy mine from a small farmers market in Conway where the vendors wear protective masks and will deliver any purchases to shoppers' cars.

I first sauteed a mixture of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, chopped onions in olive oil, and some of that pricey truffle oil I'd saved for a special day. I tossed in some favorite spices: flavored sea salt, garlic and pepper. A couple days later I sauteed chestnut mushrooms, the first time I'd ever tried the tiny morsels. They were good until they burned while I was bragging about them to my daughter. I'll next try a more unusual variety: lion's mane mushrooms.

• You can't go to your favorite fitness club, so find a free workout video on YouTube. Jugs of laundry detergent can replace the weights you may not have at home.

• Start a garden. Since I moved a few months ago, I'm starting from scratch with a container herb garden and a few decorative plants. Already awaiting a home in the garden are pots of thyme, basil, flat-leaf parsley, mint, lemon balm. Coming soon will be rosemary, chives and bee balm. I also have a couple pots of milkweed and other plants to help butterflies thrive.

• Feed the birds, and remember it's almost hummingbird season in Arkansas.

• Foster or adopt a rescue pet. Everyone needs a home, especially now. If you can't have a pet, consider a monthly donation to a rescue group.

• Sign up for an online class. I enjoy learning about other religions. Even when I disagree with some of their tenets, I gain a better understanding of others' beliefs.

My father's death in September, two heart surgeries in two weeks, and now the covid-19 pandemic have left me scared and lonely at times. So when a friend told me about an eight-week online class called "Cultivating Joy in the Midst of Suffering," I signed up.

We'll be reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. We'll keep a journal, meditate daily for 20 minutes, and practice silence. Best of all, the class is free except for the book.

• Finally, when all else fails, clean house, do laundry, and treat yourself and sleep in.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

Editorial on 04/12/2020

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