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Blog #1: Quarantine Activity Pack

Tl;dr: Not wanting you guys to get morose while at home, I’m giving out recommendations for things to do while quarantined at home and bored out of your skull. With more and more of my friends stuck indoors and proclaiming how bored they are on Facebook, I figured I’d try my best to help. I may not be stuck like the rest of you, but I’m very good at being bored. In fact, I’m so good at being bored, being bored is how I started both of my writing series! In all honesty, I do encourage you to consider doing some of these things. I’ve had a history of mental health problems, and I’ve found that the easiest way to get to a dark place quickly is to not do anything. The lack of stimulation and tangible progress can put you in a slump that’s hard to get out of. That feeling sucks. It’s horrible, and I wouldn’t want to wish it on anyone I know, much less any of you. So if you think that’s a risk for you, try one of the suggestions below. These activities aren’t too crazy, and they give you a visceral sense of satisfaction that you can’t get sitting around and watching YouTube. They always make me feel competent, and proud, and get my gears turning in a way that propels me forward out of my blues. Plus, who knows? You might even enjoy it.

1. Read I don’t know how many times I’ve recommended a good book and the first response I get is “I don’t have time to read.” Guess what! You do now! Although that’s the response I usually get, the main reason people don’t want to read is they find it frustrating. Reading skill is something you have to foster and, contrary to popular belief, the way our schools teach it actually tends to kill your reading skill, not improve it. By the time they’re out in the real world, reading is far harder than any amount of enjoyment they would have received. My advice? Take it slow. Read in tiny little bites, and don’t be afraid to put it down and go do something else. And don’t set goals. Pick up the book only when you want to, and put it back down when you feel like it, too. Even though the books I’m going to recommend here are fairly easy reads, it still takes some patience to get into the habit, so don’t feel bad about reading through it slowly. I mean, that just means you’ll enjoy it for longer, right? My number one recommendation is The Dresden Files series. I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t enjoy these books. And what’s not to love? Modern-day fantasy about a wizard private eye with a .44 magnum? Check. A supernatural world of angels, fairies, vampires, demons, spirits, and other players vying for power through politics and secret wars? Check. A cast of colorful characters engaged in fast-paced action throughout? Check. Humor? Oh, you bet. Trust me, if you get hooked on this series, you will thank me. Those of you interested in the more medieval-centric fantasy, however, might find Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series more to your liking. A highly satirical series taking place in a well thought-out and interconnected world, the Discworld wraps magic, mundanity, comedy, and wholesome, enlightening messages into one large bundle that makes you believe in the dawn at the darkest of times, which is what a lot of us need right now. If you’re looking for a place to start, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents would be a good entry point, as it’s easy to read and stays out of some of Discworlds more complicated world-building. If sci-fi’s more to your liking, my best recommendation would be one of my most recent reads, Will Save the World for Food by the hilarious Yhatzee Croshaw. Set in a world where all the brave Flash Gordon/Han Solo-esque Star Pilots are now out of work and begging for money on the streets due to the development of teleportation technology, this story starts with a horribly ill-conceived con and quickly spirals out of control from there. The world is incredibly immersive, the writing can make you laugh out loud at certain points, and if you want to see someone who's got it way worse than you, the main character is a great candidate. Finally, those people who would like to stay firmly planted on planet earth, thank you very much, or are looking for something a bit more serious for their palate, can read I Am the Messenger by Mark Zusak. Centered around the world’s most luckless cab driver in a shitty Australian town, this book focuses on Ed Kennedy’s life after he’s chosen to improve the lives of those around him, some with acts of kindness, others with vigilante justice, through mysterious playing cards he gets in the mail. Painted in oddball renditions of lives we’re all too used to, written in a beautiful style that blurs the line between poetry and prose, and containing a powerful message within, this book is my all-time favorite, standing out head and shoulders above the rest of my library. Of course, one of the biggest problems here is the fact that everywhere you normally would get books are closed. There’s a few ways to get around that, though. One option are ebooks. Amazon is a good place to check, as well as Smashwords, the e-publishing site I use. And if you can stomach it, many libraries offer free ebooks through a site called Overdrive. Having used that system, though, I can tell you that it’s frustrating and really not worth it. My advice would be to look for used books at Ebay. They’ve got a wide selection of all kinds, you’ll be able to use it as long as the post office is running (which it will), and you can usually find what you want for under five dollars and free shipping. Hard to beat that. Of course, if you don’t want to put up with that, you can always check out my own series here, Creepy America and The Adventures of Solaire. What, you didn’t think I’d miss an opportunity to advertise my own stuff, did you? 2. Podcast One of the easiest ways to feel accomplished is to learn something, and feelings of accomplishment, no matter how small, are important when you’re stuck. Most of us can receive that from our work, knowing that, no matter how trivial or overlooked our efforts were today, we did our part contributing to society, and we have something to point to prove that we did our part. And if you’ve been deprived of that, you may need something to substitute it for a bit (i.e., learning!) Now while you could go and binge-watch Ken Burns documentaries, television’s not the best way to do it, simply because the visuals combined with the audio shuts your brain off completely, and if you do that too much, the poor guy will get depressed that he can’t go out and play with his friends. Ideally, you’re looking for something easy to digest, yet still obtuse enough to give your mind something to wrestle with. Enter podcasts. I use these guys all the time while I’m driving to keep me alert and entertained. Allowing the mind to fill in the visual details keeps you engaged, and they’re easy to listen to while doing more mundane tasks (like doing the mountains of housework you really have no excuse not to get to now). Plus, they’re free and easy to get to on any podcast hosting site, including Spotify, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and so many more! One of my recommendations is The Parcast Network. The best way to describe them is the intellectual equivalent of popcorn. Hosting a wide range of series delving into various topics, from Serial Killers and crime Kingpins to Secret Societies and Supernatural events, each show contains thoughtful explorations into individuals and events within these groups, dissecting one completely before moving onto the next. Each one is narrated well and, more importantly, well-researched, staying away from sensationalism and speculation while carefully considering the facts and explaining the conclusions they draw. On the other hand, there’s Lore by Aaron Mankhee. In a similar vein, Lore explores various aspects of cultural folklore around the world, things like fairies, ghost stories, vampires, demons, urban legends, and more. The quality of this podcast, though, really stands out above the rest. Each episode is told with a masterful narration that keeps you engaged, masterfully paced, and interspersed with haunting music. Most impressive to me, though, is Aaron’s attempt to explain beyond the story, digging into the roots of each myth and explaining why we, as people, need storytelling and why we fall into superstition so easily. And if you become as hooked as I am on his tales, you can also check out his other podcast, Unobscured, where he applies these practices to long, in-depth investigations of historical events like the Salem Witch-Trials and the 19th Century Spiritualist Movement. It doesn't have to be all work and no play, though! If your mind burns out on knowledge, you can listen to dramas like Welcome to Night Vale, which is a horror-comedy set in a sleepy desert town where the only thing that happens at night are the movements of the Sheriff's Secret Police and the mysterious glowing lights in the sky. With the bizarre dead-pan acceptance of things like forbidden dog parks, a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home, Glow Clouds (ALL HAIL), and entities that are definitely NOT angels, Night Vale blurs the line between amusing you and creeping you out in the best way possible And when you’re ready to swing into full horror, there’s MrCreepypasta’s Storytime. Narrating internet horror stories known as “creepypastas”, this speaker attacks these stories with an enthusiasm and emotion that few similar narrators can match; anger, excitement, even fear is audible in each character’s voice. Especially fear. And containing both long series like “Tales From the Gas Station” and “My Name is Lily Madwhip” and shorter, self-contained stories, there’s always time for a scare here. 3. TRPGs Online By far, the hardest thing to deal with is social isolation. All of us, even the most introverted of creatures, need social interaction. Humans are just wired for it. Now, with all of us at home, we run the risk of becoming secluded and depressed. So might I suggest the tabletop role-playing game? These games allow you to step outside of yourself, stepping into the role of a character you design yourself for a few hours of adventure and fantasy outside of the normal and boring. Want to be a graceful elven archer? A powerful warrior? A wizard with the power to change the very fabric of reality? You can do that here! Yes, it may seem silly, but trust me: once you immerse yourself in the game, it becomes a wonderfully positive and powerful thing in your life that you look forward to every time. The most famous member of this group is Dungeon and Dragons. If you want to get into this kind of game, this is the best place to start. The system is beginner-friendly and easy to learn, and with millions of players around the world, you’ll always find someone willing to play it, and plenty of resources online to teach you. And after that, you can find a group at r/lookingforgroup, or https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/ . This is a meeting place for people who are looking for players to join their group. Many of these people are looking to play online, and they’ll be happy to accept you and get you started in their games. (And I do have to give a disclaimer here in the interest of honesty: as much as I’d like to assume that my fellow rpgers have the best intentions at heart, I have heard some horror stories from these kinds of groups and, like everything on the internet, it’s full of its fair share of idiots. Approach it with an open mind and use your best judgement, and if you do run into one of these, do your best not to let one bad apple spoil your judgement on a whole community) Of course, the best way to play is with your friends that you know. If you want to run your own games, there’s plenty of ways to do that online with tools like Discord and Roll20.com. These tools are easy to use and the perfect way to get you out of the house and interacting with others (metaphorically, of course). 4. Create Something And here comes my hardest sell: the best way to get out of your head and enjoy the life you’re living is just to create something. Anything! A drawing, a story, an improvised piece of music: it doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t matter how good it is. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if you finish it! All that matters is that the act of creating something and the positive energy it brings. Aaaaand I’ve lost you. Look, I know none of you really want to do this. I know that none of you think you’re even able to. You probably don’t consider yourself talented, or creative, or have anything worth creating inside of you. That’s not on you; most of you were forced through an educational system that squashes such ideas and aspirations, and then placed in a world that elevates large, creative go-getters as celebrities who were literally born to do the things they do. All of us have been subtly told that we’re not good enough every day without even realizing it. Guess what? Those are all lies. And guess what? Nobody’s good at anything when they first start! Beginning actors suck. Beginning authors suck. Beginning musicians suck. Anyone whose done anything was once at your skill level, and the only reason they succeed is that they did that thing, and continued to do that thing until they did that thing well. And I don’t care what excuses you come up with. You don’t have enough time. You do now! You’re too old. And? This isn’t a career change, it’s an improvement to your lifestyle; you can always do that. You’re not talented enough. Yes you are. Maybe you’re not skilled, but that comes with time. Believe me, if I showed you my first attempts at writing, you’d think I wasn’t talented enough to try this, too. Even better, this is an improvement that will travel beyond this crisis. How many of you come home from work in a slump? How many of you are angry at your lot in life? How many of you feel that you’re not going anywhere, never going anywhere, nothing’s going to get better so you might as well lie down and die? I ask because that’s how I was for a long time. The only thing that let me claw out of it and allowed me to live the life I’m living now, one that has nothing to do with the writing I’m doing but I still wouldn’t trade it for the world, was the ability to come home, every day, and work on something that I can say “this is mine. This is a part of me that no one can lay claim to.” So if nothing else comes from this time, do this. Find something that lets you make something. It could be coding. It could be gardening. Voice acting, animation, sculpture, crafting, I don’t know! There’s a whole world out there, and whatever you want to do, there are ways to start right now if you just look hard enough. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if that’s what the legacy of this Coronavirus was? Alright friends, that’s enough from me. Stay healthy, stay entertained, and enjoy the journey. -N

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