By Stephen Knapp

“Resist that insidious hygienic entropy and shave away a few empty hours by learning to cut your own hair.

Like birds of a feather, humans flock together.

Lately though, we find ourselves social creatures in a suddenly antisocial society. Medically speaking, that’s a problem. Extended isolation can lead to all kinds of physical and mental disorders, everything from high blood pressure to cardiovascular disease, and from depression to dementia. Individually, we’re better together.

During this Difficult Time, then, it’s important to fight the debilitating effects of mental and physical confinement by staying busy. And, be we prisoners of Stay-at-Home, Safer-at-Home, or whatever house-arrest-lite order comes next, it’ll be up to us—and us very much alone—to find ways to satisfy our unrequited cravings for company, and to endure the interpersonal privations of residential exile without losing our ever-lovin’ marbles. But, before you reach for everybody’s favorite weapon against boredom, the smartphone, be aware that too much screen time can lead to all kinds of physical and mental disorders, everything from anxiety to insomnia, and from arthritis to infertility.

As a public service, then, a helping human hand antiseptically contained within the disposable plastic glove of the printed page, is here proffered a short list of ingenious and safely analog ideas to help you free your captive consciousness, and to escape for a while the four walls of your comfortable quarantine without imposing your pestilent self upon a plague-crazy populace.

If you’re like most people, you’ve got an unthumbed book on your shelf that’s been gathering dust since the last millennium. A garage sale impulse buy, maybe, or a gift from a friend with debatable taste in literature. Since you can’t seem to throw it away, you may as well take this opportunity to read it. What have you got to lose? It can’t be any worse than daytime television programming.

Creative types will tell you that a key element to quality creation is time, and all of a sudden you’ve got scads of it. As a creative outlet, journaling is personally enriching, purportedly therapeutic, and patently time consuming. And for the sequestered soul pining for pathos, it’s a great way to make sitting around the house feel cool. Did you spend most of the afternoon looking for toilet paper online? Or were you hunting rare treasures among the teeming stalls of the global bazaar? If you write it down, it looks true, and you should write it down on paper. It takes longer.

Speaking of creative endeavors, chronic ingredient shortages have made preparing any meal more complex than box mac-n-cheese an exercise in compromise. When rolling the grocery dice, you can either despair at your cartful of logically incompatible components, or you can proudly and confidently whip up a masterpiece of scarcity-style haute cuisine. “Foodie” is just another word for “freaky,” after all, and if anybody at your table objects to butterfly Little Smokies in a maple flavored syrup and fresh parsley remoulade served with pan-seared canned artichoke and a side of Cheez-Its, point out that if Wolfgang Puck did it, he’d get $50 a plate.

Whether or not your barber shop or salon is open for business, it may be a while before you feel comfortable with close human proximity. The primary danger here is that letting your grooming habits slide puts you at serious risk of devolving into an unshowered neo-Neanderthal who eats Chef Boyardee from the can and retrieves the mail wearing only a bandana mask and boxers. Resist that insidious hygienic entropy and shave away a few empty hours by learning to cut your own hair. Yes, haircutting is a skill best plied by professionals, and no, you’re not remotely qualified to undertake it, and sure, you’ll probably come out looking like an unhusked coconut, but maintaining a basic toilette is crucial to preserving the cultured hermit’s natural dignity, and it’s not like you’ll be having tea with the Queen anytime soon.

Time may pass quicker with liquor, but hanging around the house all day with a highball in your hand just to make perpetual partition more palatable might be mistaken by the ever vigilant forces of moderation for “problem drinking.” Set them straight by tippling in the public interest. If you’re inventing a new cocktail, then your frequent trips to the officially essential booze barn are perfectly justifiable for the procurement of necessary research materials, and the constructive hours you spend sampling your experiments are obviously product development, and possibly tax deductible. And who knows? Before the all-clear sounds, you may well introduce the whistle-wetting world to its next martini.

As the strange spring of our seclusion draws its unhappy way into summer, personal horizons collapse inward and the once familiar contours of our community grow less distinct with each passing day. This might be a good time to put together a time capsule—a few thoughtfully chosen artifacts carefully buried in the yard where some anthropology grad student who’s currently conducting the hands-on work of archaeology online can, in due course, discover them and puzzle over their significance and then write a meticulously footnoted and highly speculative PhD thesis describing the presumed customs and privations particular to we who occupied this thin stratum of the historical record. Try to stock your time capsule with objects that will be both meaningful and hard to misinterpret, like a visor made from a two-liter Pepsi bottle, or a pair of Pampers rigged with elastic ear straps, or a Calvin Klein Obsession dispenser filled with bleach water. The curious relics of this Difficult Time will paint a picture of a reclusive, resourceful and repurposeful people, and it’s nothing short of our duty to ensure that they be preserved for contemplation by the less anxious inhabitants of a more cordial future.

Thing is, you could undertake each and all of these indisputably brilliant melancholy-busting tactics and still end up battier than Ben Gunn. The term “social distance” is oxymoronic because we’re simply not built for it, and the longer we go on keeping our neighbors at two-arm’s length, the closer we get to the edge of illness, the edge of civility, the edge of sanity. Like it or not, the only real antidote to cabin fever is getting out of the house, and there’s no sure cure for stir crazy except each other.