Well, although I often try to avoid topical stuff on this blog, I thought that I’d write an extra article about passing the time during the current Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK. After all, as someone who wasn’t exactly the most extroverted person in the world before all of this happened, I’ve gained at least a little bit of knowledge about how to spend meaningful time alone on a reasonably low budget.
So, let’s get started:
1) The Internet: If you’re reading this, then you probably have an internet connection. This is good. There are an absolute ton of interesting free things on the internet that are well worth taking a look at if you want a substantial and meaningful way to pass the next few days, weeks or months. Here’s a small selection:
Let’s start with webcomics. In particular, the one webcomic I’d recommend taking a look at these days is probably Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“. In addition to featuring lots of cool-looking ultra-detailed artwork, a subtle punk sensibility and a level of emotional and intellectual depth that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-brow novel, pretty much every comic update is also a small graphic novel in it’s own right (the perfect length for the current time). This is the kind of enriching and utterly fascinating webcomic that you can lose yourself in for hours and not feel like you’ve wasted a single second.
As for reading matter – although I prefer physical books, I’d recommend taking a look at the free selection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” short stories and novellas on Project Gutenburg. It isn’t a complete selection (since one short story collection is still copyrighted in the US), but almost everything there can be read in any order that you want to – but be sure to read “The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes” before you read “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes” though.
Yes, the Sherlock Holmes stories are fairly old – but the writing style is surprisingly readable when you get used to it, even the novellas are often short enough not to get boring, most of the stories have aged surprisingly well (although one or two short stories unfortunately haven’t) and they usually have really gripping mystery plots too.
Another pair of out-of-copyright books that are well worth reading are John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” and its sequel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat“. Yes, the writing style is a bit old and some moments may seem mildly dated – but, these things aside, these two comedy novellas about famous historical figures hanging out in the afterlife and having silly adventures still hold up reasonably well when read today.
Oh, and, of course – I can’t not mention Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of The Red Death“. If ever there was a 19th century horror story more suited to the current situation….
If reading isn’t your thing, then there is an absolute mountain of interesting Youtube channels that can provide many hours of interesting binge-watching too.
If you want something relaxing, I’d recommend this general interest/film-making channel by Austin McConnell, the landscape painting videos on the official Bob Ross Youtube channel or possibly a channel of long-form relaxation footage filmed by people walking around pre-pandemic cities on channels like Nomadic Ambience.
If you want to learn about how videogames are designed, then I’d recommend taking a look at channels like Extra Credits or Game Maker’s Toolkit. If you’re in the mood for the macabre and aren’t squeamish, then I’d recommend taking a look at Ryan Hollinger’s extended reviews/critiques of various horror movies. If you want an art channel with a slightly quirky and gothic sense of humour, then I’d recommend Mary Doodles. If you want high-brow mini-documentaries about art, film-making etc.. then take a look at Nerdwriter1. I could go on for a while, but there are a lot of very interesting binge-watchable Youtube channels out there.
If you want free games that will run on almost any computer and don’t try to sting you for micro-transactions or anything like that, then take a look at my old reviews of the following freeware games: “Freedoom“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “Treasure Adventure Game“, “SkyRoads“, “Tyrian 2000” and “Hacx 1.2“. Plus, I should probably give a shout-out to OpenArena and SuperTux too.
2) Your imagination: Hour upon hour of solitude is the perfect blank canvas for daydreams. Yes, you probably already know how to daydream – but, if you haven’t had any practice with doing it for sustained periods of time, then doing so might sound “weird” or “difficult”.
One of the best ways to train your imagination for extended daydreaming is to read a few novels – these will provide you with a focused and sustained “daydream” that will get you used to the idea of it. Just choose a novel that you think you will enjoy and, if reading a whole novel sounds difficult, then start with short stories.
Whilst going out to a physical bookshop or library is out of the question at the moment, there are – as I mentioned earlier – lots of older out-of-copyright novels that can legally be downloaded for free on sites like Project Gutenberg, there are still websites that sell second-hand physical books cheaply and, of course, you may possibly have a “to read” pile that you’ve been meaning to take a look at for a while. This is the perfect time!
If books aren’t your thing, then films and television can sort of provide a substitute. Sort of. At the very least, these things give you images and ideas that you can use as source material for any daydreams you might want to have after you have finished watching them.
And, no, daydreaming isn’t a “waste of time”. A long and interesting daydream can turn a “boring” moment into something much more interesting, it can lift your mood (provided it isn’t a worry-based daydream. And, yes, worrying is basically just daydreaming – but in the horror genre. So, you might already be more well-practiced at daydreaming than you think) and it can also provide you with all sorts of creative ideas and moments of inspiration. Which brings me on to….
3) Create stuff: Yes, it’s a massive cliche – but this really is the time to start practicing a creative skill.
Yes, you probably won’t be very good at it at first – but, if you do it for the sake of fun or to pass the time, then this won’t matter. It’s a way of having fun and also having something to show for it at the end. Not to mention that setting a regular practice schedule can provide you with a highlight for each day and will also mean that you will gradually get better at whatever you are doing. And, best of all, you don’t need a massive budget for any of this sort of thing too.
Quite a lot of creative skills can be practiced with equipment that you probably have lying around right now. Drawings can be made with ordinary pencils or ballpoint pens. Digital art can be made with completely free open-source programs like the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).
All you need to start writing fiction is either a pen and paper or a basic word processing program (either the one that came with your computer and/or a free open-source one). Smartphone cameras or that old digital camera you might have lying around can be used for photography/film. I could go on for a while, but you almost certainly have something near you right now that you can use in a creative way.
And, yes, thinking about what to do with it can be a challenge. All creative people feel uninspired from time to time – it is perfectly normal. But, try to make something – even if it isn’t very good or very imaginative, you’d be surprised at how satisfying making things can feel. Even if you never show it to anyone else, then it is worth at least doing it for the fun of doing so. At the very least, you’ll have a funny story to tell people when all of this is over.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂