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Pre-pandemic, being and living alone was a thrill. Solitude, as I previously described it in this newsletter, was a comfort, a constant.
Experiencing solitude without loneliness is a skill, and I considered myself extremely adept. It never really bothered me to spend a weekend without large social gatherings. A yoga class, a book in a coffee shop, going to a concert alone were enough to fill my time.
Now, many of the activities I once took for granted are off-limits or less accessible. And instead of spending my days at The Globe’s Toronto headquarters doing my job as an audience editor, I’ve been working remotely. Suddenly my tiny, 300-square-foot studio apartment feels like less of a refuge and more of a confine. Solitude is still a constant, but now it’s a discomforting slog.
I know my complaints about too much time alone will feel frivolous to some. As a millennial, I know some see my age group as largely responsible for this second COVID-19 surge. (Let the record show, we don’t all flout public-health advice.) Indulge me for a moment in considering that my small want – to not spend a winter overwhelmed by the crushing loneliness and despair that set in in the worst weeks of March and April – is not unimportant or invalid.
There are more Canadians living alone than ever before – 28.2 per cent of the population, to be exact. Reams of research shows how loneliness and isolation can be toxic. As we all grapple with overwhelming change, it’s worth considering that for many people who live alone, this winter will itself be overwhelming, and that’s its own public-health challenge.
Eight months into this pandemic, it’s clear this new kind of being alone isn’t a passing moment. In order to be less miserable, I have to change. As Lori Fox eloquently wrote in the Globe, the life we imagined for ourselves is over. “Things aren’t going to go back to ‘normal.’ There’s no ‘normal’ to go back to.”
So with COVID-19 going nowhere and a long, tough winter ahead, I (typically a winter hibernator) have turned my attention to crafting a three-point anti-loneliness campaign, also known as: A Pandemic Winter Survival Guide. As Globe columnist Elizabeth Renzetti writes in a column titled For the sake of our sanity, we’d better warm to winter: “The general consensus is that if we’re going to get through the next several months with all our marbles intact, we’re going to have to learn to be outside for stretches of time.” Ugh, okay, fine.
Which brings me to Step One: preparing for the weather we will have, not the weather I want. According to a friend, my normal winter attire reflects “a committed disregard for existing weather conditions” and a “refusal to be controlled by anyone, including Mother Nature.” So in an attempt to live in reality, I have purchased snow pants for the first time in two decades, dug every sweater I own out of storage and decided that boots that leak in a mid-November puddle should, in fact, be replaced. If Costa Rica’s waterfalls are not an option this year, Toronto awaits. I will explore High Park’s dedicated trails, skate the Bentway and toboggan the slopes in Riverdale Park, where I will also roll a very large snowball like we did in grade school.
Step Two: In addition to winterizing my attire, I’m upping the hygge in my home. I bought a light-therapy alarm clock, thrifted extra lights to make up for my single window, borrowed noise-cancelling headphones to drown out nearby construction and replaced my space heater with one that doesn’t make a terrifying whirring noise. Add to that a second-hand Vitamix for winter soups, a turntable and a handful of live albums to replace the real thing, a pile of books to top the existing pile of unreads, and a cross-stitch kit for my idle hands.
And finally, Step Three: This is where Globe reporter Erin Anderssen’s recent piece, How to win the winter mind game, comes in handy. I’ll make good on the concept of “behavioural activation,” which, as she explains, is “using activities to change moods and shift mindset.” Instead of unplanned, unstructured days, I’ll actively fill the endless weekends to come. As Anderssen writes, this is key: “Sameness is a risk factor of the long winter ahead.”
So to break out of that “sameness,” I’ll put my snow pants to good use (friends, I consider a verbal agreement to go tobogganing binding, so I hope you have some snow pants too), I’ll master a new repertoire of winter soups, and I’ll make my way through that pile of unreads. What else? I’m not sure yet, but one thing I do know: It’s time, at least during this winter, to embrace the new normal.
What else we’re thinking about:
I love a good thriller – or as I prefer to call it: a murder book. But I will readily admit I once looked at the mystery or thriller section of a bookstore with scorn. “Excuse me, I only read literature,” is the easiest way to describe my (flawed) thinking. In recent years, I have increasingly turned to thrillers whenever I’m in a reading rut. It started with Ragnar Jónasson’s detective novel Snowblind but was cemented by Karin Slaughter’s The Good Daughter – a 528-page mystery I devoured in a day. Thrillers get a bad rap for repetitive plot lines or thinly formed characters, especially the sometimes clunky ways some male writers describe female characters. But, if you stick with female writers such as Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley and Lisa Jewell, your reading experience will be filled with all the escapism you need.
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