Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at how our journalism comes together.
While we remain in quarantine, unsure whether the slow road to normal is still a few miles or a million, Melissa Kirsch, editor of culture and lifestyle, is part of a team at the New York Times that spends a lot of time trying to thinking about how to live a full and fulfilling life in isolation. We asked Ms. Kirsch, who writes the newsletter at home, to share her experiences over the past year and to share some of her own strategies for living well in an uncertain time. The following are their edited comments.
Give me something to look forward to. On Monday evening I meet two friends on FaceTime to watch a crime documentary. We don’t talk during the film, but when we have them in the room, even on a screen, the experience becomes more exciting. When my energy wears off in the middle of a Monday afternoon, I will remember the movie night and feel both relief and anticipation. It’s not really a movie in a theater, but it still feels special.
Think about how I would like to look back on that time. I consciously try to do things that will help me feel better about this experience in the future. This can mean reading more, or cooking more, or being creative in how I connect with other people – like writing letters or meeting people for walks in the cold. I don’t want Zoom chats and Netflix blurring this year.
Write down minute details. I keep a logbook, an idea I got from the artist Austin Kleon. Every day or as often as I can, I try to write down the most mundane details of the day. Today I could write about warming up Farro for lunch or talking to someone at The Times about a computer problem. We will forget those tiny details that make up a day when we look back on that time. I hope if I read them in over a decade the complexion of the days comes alive: how it really was, separate from the larger narrative of “a year in quarantine”.
Act like I’m a person with a purpose. I try to give the day some structure, even if I just make my bed, shower and leave the house first thing in the morning to take a short walk before work. When I do these things, I feel really normal. Another thing is bedtime. Going to bed at a reasonable time helped maintain some sort of faucet for the days.
Differentiate my days. I really want to get better at clearly demarcating the weekend from the week. We usually think of the weekend as a time to slow down. Every day is so similar to the one before, so I try to see the weekend as a time to accelerate. So I could have a socially distant outdoor slope with a friend in the middle of the day and meet up with another friend in the evening and do the cooking, cleaning and running errands. I don’t have a commute or social schedule, so I usually don’t need any downtime to recover from the week. I need time.
Make exercise a part of my “social” life. When my daily life is busy and chaotic, I often view movement as a solo activity, a brief period of time to think before I get back to the world. With so much time being spent detaching myself from the world these days, I’ve started jogging without headphones, deliberately trying to take advantage of the moments when I’m outside the home and around other people, even though I am not intentionally interacting with them. I purposely jog down the street that has outdoor restaurants or a playground, routes I would have avoided before. This way I train not only to keep my mind and body in shape, but also to inhabit my neighborhood, to feel how we are all connected and to live our lives in parallel.
Find information. Whether I’m jogging in a more populous place or purposely walking in a place with more shops and more sights, I try to make every trip an exercise to replenish my experience with the world. Our thoughts, actions and creativity are inspired by the people and things around us. And when we have limited people and things around us, life becomes smaller. Even when we distance ourselves socially, we need social interactions, information that keep our minds sharp and make our personality interesting.
Create a tiny routine. These can be small pleasurable things. A routine doesn’t have to be an elaborate punishment system that you impose on your day. Rather, you can just keep doing the tiny things you do every day. It can be crucial that you just drink coffee on your stairs every morning or take your dog for a walk at 1 p.m. I make my bed every morning and do the crossword puzzle during lunch. These are pretty rudimentary elements of a day, but there are two bars between which the hours of the morning hang. Anything you do on a regular basis and on purpose can give shape and purpose to the day.