An American Editor

April 5, 2020

On the Basics — Being alone in quarantine times (and normal ones)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:11 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

We’re seeing a lot of advice and resources to help couples and families who are quarantined together for the moment, with one parent/partner or both working at home for the first time, laid off/furloughed and otherwise facing unexpected new family dynamics because of the coronavirus crisis. No one seems to be focusing on how this works, and feels, for someone who lives alone. Since that would now be me, among many others, I thought I’d jump into the breach and see if I can help.

In the two years since my husband died, I’ve almost gotten used to living by myself again, but the current medical crisis is making this harder than usual, and I can’t be the only one experiencing some stress about it. My recollection of life-before-Wayne-the-Wonderful is that I didn’t mind living alone, but always hoped to find that person I could make a good life with. I was lucky to find him, even luckier to have 30 years with him and devastated to lose him, but am determined to have a good life on my own again. It was going pretty well until the current crisis. I’m starting to feel a little bored with my own company.

If you’re new to living alone, take heart; you can do it, even if it’s hard and not what you want from life. If you’ve been doing this for a while, congrats on making it so far; you can keep it going. Either way, this isn’t easy, even it’s become customary.

Being home alone might not be as much of an issue for the introverts among us, or those who have lived alone for a lot longer than I now have. Somehow, though, enforced isolation feels different from isolation by choice. Not only is it more conscious and public, in the sense that everyone is talking about it, but it always feel better to make our own choices about how we live. Being told how to live feels intrusive and … somehow undemocratic.

Even in good times, editorial workers are prone to losing track of time, being immersed in a project, and ending up with sore backs, blurry eyes and fuzzy brains as a result. We often do get lost in a project, surfacing after several hours of editing, for instance, and surprised at how much time has gone by. Focus is a good thing, but more than an hour without a short break and three or four hours without a longer one is not healthy, nor is it good for the quality of editorial work.

Now that so many of us are at home even more than usual, alone or otherwise, we have to space out our activity more than usual, especially the butt-in-seat, brain-fully-engaged things like writing, editing/proofreading, grading papers, research, etc. — anything that involves sitting for extended amounts of time. It’s especially challenging when we’re alone to remember to stop work and breathe, move and pace ourselves; we don’t have anyone at hand to remind us to stop work for a snack, a snuggle, a walk, an errand run … something and anything to enhance mental and physical health.

If you have a dog, of course, that does force you to stop and get out of the house a couple of times a day. A cat can be a good companion (I’m now happily a cat person again, after more than 30 years without having a cat, and she definitely makes it easier to rattle around the place by myself), but doesn’t require leaving the house, and we cat people don’t have cat parks to go to the way that dog people can enjoy socializing — for both themselves and their animals — at dog parks.

If you don’t already, this is the time to get in the habit of using an alarm of some sort (I started to say “alarm clock,” and then remembered that many of us use our computers and smartphones for such things!) as a reminder to get up and move around briefly, or stop work for more than a few minutes. It’s a good habit to have at any time, but especially now, when immersing ourselves in work or computer time — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, games, puzzles, etc. — feels like the only way to stay connected to the real world. Or to escape from it, now that I think of it.

Both before and after Wayne-the-Wonderful came into my life, I never had any real problems with finding ways to combat isolation as a freelancer who works from home (with the caveat that I’m the poster child for extroverts). In normal times, I combat loneliness and aloneness with being active in professional associations whose local, national and regional events I can organize or attend; getting together with friends and neighbors for meals and outings; running errands to the grocery store, bookstore, post office, hardware store (now that I’m a homeowner, the hardware store is a frequent destination!); going to concerts, lectures, fundraising events for nonprofits I support …

In normal times, I also suggest that home-based colleagues look for ways to break through a sense of isolation by joining hobby groups; volunteering in person for causes we believe in; extending ourselves to spend time with family, friends and neighbors, especially older folks who would appreciate our company (and maybe our help with using technology) — that is, not waiting to be called but initiating those interactions; not subscribing to home delivery of the daily newspaper so you have to get out of the house to pick up a copy; finding a congenial bar or restaurant as a regular “Cheers”-like hangout (you never know — I met my husband over Sunday brunch at my neighborhood pub!); taking the dog out on walks and to the dog park; joining a pool or fitness club (for both the physical health benefits and another way to interact with like-minded people); joining a church/synagogue/whatever. Some colleagues even prefer to have a post office box, both for privacy considerations and as a reason to get out of the house a couple of times a week. Keep all of this in mind for when life returns to normal.

Even in normal times, people living alone have access to a wealth of resources to keep from feeling isolated, much of which become lifesaving in times like now. We can get our daily news online easily (and perhaps too constantly, nowadays). We can order supplies, food, entertainment and more from home, and have everything arrive on our doorsteps. We can manage finances, for the most part, from home (thank goodness for clients who pay by direct deposit, PayPal, Zelle, etc.!). At least in the editorial field, most of us can do our work from home (often more productively and effectively than in the midst of the distractions of the average office environment). We can communicate and interact with family, friends, colleagues, classmates, clients and more on the web. No one who wants to be connected has to be unconnected. It’s worth remembering that many of us are in much better circumstances than people in other professions/industries and places.

By the way, many local animal shelters, especially Humane Society chapters, are doing drive-up adoptions these days (if you aren’t ready for the responsibility of adopting a furry companion, there’s always fostering on a short-term basis). Many have also figured out ways for volunteers to help with dog-walking and other ways to pitch in safely in these scary days.

These are not normal times, of course. Here’s wishing safety, survival and comfort to all of my colleagues here, whether you’re home alone all the time or just for now, or are lucky enough to have someone(s) with you whom you want to be with.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor and (still) planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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