And it has become increasingly clear that finding activities to keep you occupied for a two week self-quarantine is not the game.
The game is now sustaining a life and maintaining a measure of serenity while remaining at home for an indefinite period of time.
Learning how to be present.
How to let go when your entire field of work has been cancelled indefinitely.
How to accept that the best you can do is let the people who can help do their jobs, and not create any additional strain on the system.
And… how to throw a really excellent house party for exactly two people.
1/3rd of the planet is actively adapting to a new, more isolated lifestyle. However temporary it may be, it’s what we’re learning to live with right now.
I’ve been talking about entertainment skills, but there’s a lot of new lifestyle lessons I’ve been learning. This is not a lifestyle of fabulous nightlife. It’s a lifestyle of fabulous home organization and kitchen management. It’s about DIY crafts and baking from scratch. It’s about meticulously detailed projects that you’d never otherwise have the time for. It’s about fabulously stylish patience.
Here are some of the new things I’m looking forward to learning in the continuing Lifestyles of the Patiently Isolated and Fabulous.
How to make homemade jam
How to make ginger beer
How to make pie crust, sweet rolls, and biscuits from scratch.
How to juggle five objects in a house with low ceilings
I was planning on writing about puppets today, but instead, I’m writing about something else. Because after a week and a half of staring at the same three rooms, I’m ready to really mix it up. Break the mold. I mean, do something just absolutely WILD.
So I baked oatmeal raisin cookies.
And I’m not even going to talk about the recipe I used (plot twist – it’s the one on the quaker oats website). No, I’m going to talk about why I made them.
I have not left the house in a week and a half. There are things I love to eat that I’m starting to run low on. Tortilla chips. Fresh salad. Chamomile tea (I clearly live a wild life). But I have a LOT of oatmeal.
Here’s the thing about oatmeal.
It makes sense on paper. It is cheap. It stays good for ages. It’s a great part of a balanced diet. But I just don’t like it.
And because it makes sense on paper, I keep thinking it’s something I need. I’ll be in the grocery store, and think “oh, I haven’t bought oatmeal in a while. I probably need more.” And I’ll buy some. And I’ll get home, and reach up to put it in the cabinet to discover another container of oatmeal is already there, and it has been used exactly once since I bought it four months ago.
On top of that, oatmeal is on every single recommended supply list for if you’re looking at stocking up on groceries. In fact, these lists are stuffed full of items that look good on paper. None of the major lists address the fact that everything you’ve stocked up on for the month appears to be beige and bland. You know what should be on those lists? 32 oz. containers of red pepper flakes. Family size bags of cheetos. Cans of diced hatch green chiles. If you’re holed up inside for a very long time, make sure you also have ingredients that make you WANT to eat.
All that to say, I now have 3 separate containers of oatmeal, and I may very well retire before I finish eating them.
So I did what everyone always does whenever they need to put a dent in their supply of dense, beige, practical-on-paper food. I paired it with something that actually tastes good. Butter. Brown sugar. vanilla.
And we all know that raisins are in the recipe due to the same problems, right? Someone way down the line was like “man, I need to clear out the back of this cabinet. It’s jammed up with 4 mostly full containers of oats, and 17 individual serving size boxes of raisins.” And before you know it, oatmeal raisin cookies were invented. (I’m also convinced the dirty martini was only invented to give everyone a reason to use up that jar of olives in their fridge door.)
But you know what? Once you throw in all of the ingredients for a birthday cake, this healthy survival food isn’t so bad!
I had a substantial phase where I built catapults. I built them out of anything. LEGOs, K’NEX, matchsticks, pens, pencils… Anything that could take tension or create leverage got co-opted into catapult pieces.
I primarily referenced The Art of the Catapult for blueprints.
This book outlines the development of catapults through the ages. It also comes with handy construction outlines for each model. Sadly, most of the instructions require extensive power-tool usage and advanced hardware.
Fortunately for the safety of everyone in my vicinity, I did not have access to power tools in my teenage years. So everything was pretty much hot glue and ingenuity.
Unless you have access to a handy 50 pound counterweight, the easiest model to go with in your apartment is the Onager, a Roman catapult from around 350 A.D. The Onager throwing arm is powered entirely by twisted cord. For the homemade varietal, the components you need are a frame to hold the cord, a throwing arm to winch up inside the cord, and a block to stop the swing of the catapult arm at its peak.
Then just load up with the ammunition of your choice (ideally the severed heads of your enemies) and fire away!
14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills
Day Six: Breakdancing
I can only speak for myself, but when I think about breakdancing, I think about dancers in contact with a hardwood floor swinging their arms and legs around wildly. Most of these maneuvers take a lot of training and/or redbull. For the armchair enthusiast, here are a couple moves that fit that description that can potentially be achieved on your living room carpet after eating half a pizza.
The Coffee Grinder
The Six Step
If that’s still too much, you can always stick with some toprocking, the showy on-your-feet stuff where you don’t have to so much as crouch down.
As for that, the only real trick is the attitude. Because if you have the attitude, it doesn’t matter if you have limited mobility. Teeny little arms. An oversized scaly head. All you have to do is have the confidence that you’re the king.
Stop-motion filmmaking: an activity for sitting confined in a small space while closely tracking the incremental changes in a subject over a very long period of time.
This is what you’ve been training for.
And speaking of trains. I’ve recently acquire two tiny lego trains that I thought would be perfect for a stop-motion exercise. For instruction I referenced the LEGO Make Your Own Movie Book. It is not comprehensive, but it came with a LEGO skateboard, so that’s cool.
I also downloaded the app Onion Cam2, which allows you to do stop-motion right on your smartphone (for free!) It’s super fun, but I also learned that the lack of storage space on my phone means I’m limited to making very short movies. The constraints of no-budget film.
I set up a tear-out backdrop from the book, lit with a desk lamp, and clipped my iPhone to a tripod. The app allows you to onion-skin, showing a transparency of the previous frame so you can judge how far to move each subject between frames. It’ll also export anywhere between 12 and 24 frames per second, depending on how much patience (or phone memory) you have.
The trains are great because, well, they don’t have limbs. So there’s very little you have to move between takes. All that to say is, this is not my most exhaustively detailed film.
It might sound like a bad idea – learning a skill that might send you to the hospital while staying indoors to help create less work for the hospital system.
But let’s face it. I don’t currently own a unicycle. I’m guessing you also don’t currently own a unicycle. So for all intents and purposes, today we are learning how to ride a theoretical unicycle.
Theoretical unicycling, like theoretical physics, is completely harmless.
I learned how to ride a unicycle from the book: How to Ride a Unicycle
Which I realize as I look at this book again, is really not a very good book. But somehow I still figured it out. I guess if I can learn to ride an actual unicycle from a mediocre book, it’s plausible you can learn to ride a theoretical unicycle from this post?
If you’re wondering if I can actually ride a unicycle, here is the most recent digital evidence I have.
Proof both that I can ride the wobble-machine, and that it’s possible to ride one and not die. Theoretically.
According to the book, it takes 7 to 15 hours to learn how to ride one of these. Which is troubling. Imagine getting on a flight (back when we still took flights) and being told your travel time would be 7 to 15 hours. What’s happening in those eight maybe-hours?
Honestly, in both cases, a lot of discomfort.
There are two tricks to riding a unicycle. Getting on top of it. And staying on top of it.
You need to start off with something sturdy to cling onto for dear life. In my case, it was the back of the sofa in our living room. Hence the indoor-learning
Based on my experience, you put your foot on the lower pedal, the seat between your legs, and kick up onto it. Hey, that wasn’t so ha–
Then it shoots out like a rocket from between your legs and puts a tire print on your attic door that stays there for the next five years.
So you practice that mount up again and again while listening to audiobooks until it stops rocketing away and stays put. Now you can sit uncomfortably on top of this thing while you cling desperately to your sofa. Progress.
Then comes the finessing of the pedals. Your first pedaling is clumsy, jerky. Each one veers the solo wheel to the right, and then back to the left. Your thighs squeeze the seat like a vice. You clutch wildly at anything for support. You’re very glad no one is watching this.
Over time, it smooths out. Once you’re comfortable enough that you can keep your center of gravity above the wheel (instead of mostly on the back of the sofa) you’ll make a lot more progress. Soon you can hold yourself up in a doorway. Then against a wall. You can’t quite go on your own yet, but you can move to practicing outside on a sidewalk.
Note: as soon as you switch to practicing on concrete, buy a lot of protective gear. Or really good health insurance. If you’re in the US, you’ll find the protective gear to be much cheaper than the insurance.
Once you’ve got the hang of it. You can ride free with no support. First just a few feet, then a few yards. Then you’re circling around the block!
You’ll find uneven surfaces to be painful, drop-offs incredibly jarring, and hills to be an absolute nightmare. (There’s a reason I don’t unicycle often in Pittsburgh.) But don’t let that stop you. For every obstacle, there’s a dozen more overly persistent athletes out there determined to overcome it. If you’re really up for some armchair unicycle adventuring, you can watch through Ed Pratt’s entire unicycle tour of the United States.
And maybe that’s the best of all worlds here. Learning about a wildly unsafe activity with all of the best cinematography and none of the personal risks.
I could say so much about cartoons and comics, I could spend two whole weeks on the topic. (And who knows, I might just get to,)
But we’re not at full blown lecture mode. Yet. We’re just looking to have fun with a few skills.
There are two contrasting how-to writers that I’ll recommend for drawing up some quarantine cartoons.
One is Mark Kistler, of Draw Squad and Imagination Station.
I didn’t catch Bob Ross growing up, but from what I’ve gathered, Mark Kistler is the Bob Ross of cartoons. I used his books for step-by-step cartoons for a long time growing up. To the point, where opening this book up today, I found some 10-year-old Daniel originals inside.
This is a great book for getting the confidence to start out drawing cartoons. It starts with super easy assignments, and then baby steps you through different techniques of shading and “3-D DRAWING!”. Plus everything in there is a specific kind of 90s zany. I picked it up today and got this lil guy in about 5 minutes while watching Great British Baking Show.
But it’s a fairly prescriptive book. It’s a little like bowling with the gutter guards up. Or driving with your eyes open. Almost too easy. If you want to take your destiny in your own hands, I recommend going with Linda Barry’s Making Comics.
I’ve written about her before, I’ll write about her again. The goddess of casual freeform cartoons and collage. She spent decades perfecting her drawing, and then took a step back and started investigating how completely untrained humans and small children draw. You can follow her quarantine art adventures on insta @thenearsightedmonkey.
Her instructions are all general recommendations and freeform exercises for getting your ideas flowing onto paper without thinking about them. A lot of her figurative exercises use a super-simple Ivan Brunetti style humanoid to move beyond stick figures, but not TOO far.
Cartooning is great, and super low maintenance. It works with any size of paper, any kind of writing implement. Less is more, and you can discover character in the most whimsical ways. It’s an easy go-to for me when I’ve got time on my hands.
And you can do it too! If you do not attempt to draw at least one quarantine dolphin, or giraffe, or mutating alien space potato in the next week… well, just know I will be very disappointed in you.
Sure, baking bread takes a lot of time waiting around. But suppose you’re looking for something to do that will really keep your hands busy. Something that requires your complete attention. Something that requires hours and hours (and hours and hours) of practicing. Something you can do with objects already inside of your house.
Let’s talk about juggling.
People are mesmerized by good juggling. People are also irritated by bad juggling. It’s really easy to identify bad juggling, because that’s when things fall on the floor. While even the best jugglers drop things, it’s recommended to do most of the initial thing-dropping in the privacy of your own home.
Which means there has never been a better time to learn juggling than now.
Here’s what you’ll need. Three objects. They should weigh more than a plague-ridden tissue, and less than a microwave oven. They should ideally be the same size and weight. If they are breakable, keep in mind you *will* probably break them. If they are pointy, you *will* probably drop them directly onto your naked eye. Keep this in mind as you select your objects.
My #1 recommended reading if you’re looking to branch into Juggling is Juggling for the Complete Klutz.
I got this book when I was 10. And learned how to juggle entirely from its pages. That’s right. BEFORE Youtube. It also comes with 3 bean bags to juggle. I have taught entire every juggling workshop I’ve done based on this book. If you’re buying any one thing for juggling, buy this.
If you’re just looking to play around though, you don’t need to get anything special. Go to your closet and grab 3 socks, ideally long winter socks. (If you’re the sort of person who has no socks because you wear Crocs all the time, I have nothing to say to you.)
Take the sock, and double knot it into a ball. If it’s a small sock, fold it inside of itself, or fold it over a second sock to make a ball. Make three of these. That’s all you need for juggling.
Sure, I could teach you how to juggle with all this:
But the point is, you’re learning something from home. So we’re using common objects and juggling with this:
Now, the method. There are only 4 steps to juggling.
1. THE DROP.
Take one sock-ball. Throw it into the air. Don’t catch it. *THUD*
Congratulations. You dropped it. That’s step one.
You can try this with all three at the same time if you’d like.
2. THE TOSS
Pick up your sock ball. Hold it in the palm of your right hand (not on the edge of your fingers). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows at right angles. Throw the sock-ball so that it arcs in front of your eyes. Don’t worry about catching it.
You ideally want the sock-ball to arc as high as eye-level and then land close to your left foot. Practice that toss.
Once you have that toss consistent, try to catch it in your left hand as it comes down. Juggling is the art of throwing – not catching. You shouldn’t need to move your left hand too much to catch it.
Once you’ve got the right-handed toss down, practice with the left hand.
3. THE EXCHANGE
Now, pick up one sock ball in each hand. Throw the sock ball from your right hand, and catch it with your left.
Wait, but your left hand is full…
How are you supposed to catch it then?
Well this is impossible. Guess we’ve just got to give up. Sorry.
What if you threw the left sock to empty your left hand? Aha! Back on track.
I’m not going to find a better way to demonstrate this quickly, so I’m just going to borrow an illustration directly from the Klutz manual.
Scoop the second ball under the first, and throw it back toward your right hand. It should go the same height as the first throw, and land evenly in your right hand. Two tosses, two catches.
This is the maneuver you can practice indefinitely. Get the height right, the position right, the timing right. Try starting from the left instead of the right. Get this two-throw exchange down solid, because once you move forward, you’re at:
4. THE JUG
Now start with three sock balls. Two in your right hand, one in your left. Throw one from your right hand like you’ve been doing. Then throw the one in your left hand so you can catch it, like you’ve been doing. Only now, when the left sock-ball comes back toward your right hand, there’s STILL a sock-ball in your right hand. Well, I guess you’d better throw that one too.
So you throw from your right hand again to catch the left sock-ball. And now you discover your left hand is still full from catching the last one. So you have to throw again to catch it. And it just KEEPS GOING AND NEVER STOPS.
This can become overwhelming very quickly.
And now you see why we started with THE DROP. Because you’re going to have to drop so, sooo many of these to get comfortable with juggling three sock-balls in a cascade – a never-ending multi-tasking loop.
Fortunately, there’s a million different sources out there to help you with whichever part you’re getting stuck on. If you like books, there’s the Klutz manual. If you’re a visual learner, there’s countless Youtube tutorials on the subject now. If you like interpersonal learning, you can always call up a friend (like me!) to walk you through it and give pointers on Facetime.
But if you enjoy it, and stick with it, you’ll have something active to do indoors for the next two weeks (or two months) until eventually, you can juggle sock-balls any which way.
*NOTE* After several takes of this video, I concede that juggling balls and bean bags are slighly superior to sock-balls. Sock-balls are totally useable, but you’ll have a faster learning curve with something a little less… socky.
(You can also make great juggling props by filling balloons with some of the rice or beans that you’ve got stockpiled in your pantry right now. Here’s a tutorial)
But practice as much as we’d like, we’ll never be as cute as this little nugget: