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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Strange Days Indeed or Things to Do in the Slowpocalypse

Actually, John Lennon fibbed a bit...people did tell me there'd be days like these.  Specifically, Mary Shelley, H. G. WellsGeorge Stewart, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Pat Frank and  Margaret Atwood, just to name a few of the better ones.  But perhaps I'm being hyperbolic...I don't actually think we're headed into a new dark age where mysticism and superstition rules, identity is forbidden and some plucky Randian soul will have to rediscover the lightbulb...although the romantic in me is secretly thrilled at the prospect of getting to live out Rush's "2112".

What we are headed for is, among other things, record amounts of downtime as we enable the oxymoron of "social distancing" and shelter in place in our homes, apartments and hobbit holes of choice.  The results, on an individual level, will be record amounts of boredom and ennui and an almost Asimov's Solarian level of isolation.  In short, pretty much what I've been practicing my entire life.

Like a lot of people, I'm facing a lot of "involuntary vacation" time in the coming weeks.  However, I am taking a rather stoic approach to all this and choosing to see it as an opportunity to do some of the things I've put off for too long now.  To quote Shakespeare when he channelled Marcus Aurelius in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Fortunately, this is the best of all apocalypses in that we at least have internet while the world crumbles around us, and with that, there's some good folks out there willing to help me amuse myself to death (thank you Neil Postman!).  Here's just a few of the things I'll be enjoying in the coming weeks, presented for the edification and delight of anyone looking for some distraction. 

First and foremost, there's the Internet Archive.  I like these guys so much that I'm a regular financial contributor to them.  They are exactly the kind of resource we need at a time like this.  There are millions of books, movies, audio files, games and programs and other material available from their website.  I'm especially fascinated by their selection of magazines (they have the entire Warren archives!), particularly their Pulp Magazine Archive, where you can read scans of everything from Weird Tales to Fangoria to Amazing Stories magazine, with lots of diverting stops along the way.  In addition to all this, they have an extensive library of books on every topic imaginable, either free to read or free to borrow through their lending library service. 
In fact, they have just announced that in response to the current situation, they are suspending all waitlists on their lending library, making sure that the necessary books are going to be available to people who are stuck at home, especially to those students who will be studying at home and will require electronic resources to do so.
For an especially apt and timely read from their lending library, may I recommend Will and Ariel Durant's "The Lessons of History"?  It's a quick read that I've found very insightful in its broad overview of human history.
Or, if you're looking for something lighter, may I recommend "Eternal Lovecraft", an entertaining anthology of Lovecraftian stories, including some that are quite amusing.
Of course, if you've more video oriented, there's a lot of gold to be found in The VHS Vault, a vast collection of digitized VHS tapes from the golden age of home video.

On a more educational note, I will be enjoying and recommending the content at Open Culture,  Similar in intent to Internet Archive, Open Culture is a more curated collection of freely available material, including courses, book, audiobooks, images and movies.  True to their name, they definitely have a more cultural bent, highlighting such things as Patrick Stewart's one-a-day Shakespeare sonnet reading, lectures from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, and Buckminster Fuller, and films by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and John Wayne

Open Culture is a great resource to do a deep dive into a topic that may have interested you for a while, but that you've never had time to explore.  Personally, I've been meaning to get to the films by Andrei Tarkovsky, especially Stalker and Solaris, and I'll probably get to those this weekend.  It may also be a great time to take in some art lectures, especially the Digital Photography course available from Harvard.

For those wanting to spend more time consuming something fun to take their minds off all the bad news circulating right now, I'd also recommend the Digital Comic Museum.  It's a fantastic place to read all those wonderful comics of yesteryear that have entered the public domain.  There's work in there by some of the masters, including Eisner, Frazetta, Bob Iger and Reed Crandall, among many others.

Naturally, I'll be spending some time just vegging out with some video as well.  Aside from the offerings from Youtube, which is an attention hole like no other, there's some great genre classics available from Shout Factory, including a ton of MST3K material.  For anyone who uses Kodi, there's a legal and official Shout Factory add-on for that app that will give you access to their catalog.
Same goes for Tubi TV, which has enough B-movies and action/horror/sci-fi flicks to while away many an hour when you need to turn off the real world.
Being the horror fanatic that I am, I'll probably also be checking out the free trial from Shudder, if only to see what's available there.  I already subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, so I probably won't want another subscription in these tightened belt times, but I am curious to see their selection.

Finally, and biggest of all for me, while I'm not working I'm going to be looking forward to....working.
I've got the strips for the next Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit.  I've got inking jobs to do and sample pages for a comic book proposal.  I've got personal projects to work on that will keep me busy for quite a while yet.
In anticipation of my income decreasing even further, I've decided to try my hand at editing other people's writing.  To that end I'm currently reading the Chicago Manual of Style to learn how to do this at something like a professional level.  I know that's probably like saying that I'm reading the dictionary, but in a weird way, I'm enjoying this book more than most fiction books I've read in the past year.  I guess I've always had a closet grammar nerd in me.  Anyway, give me a hot minute to finish this blunderbuss of a book, and I'll be ready to proofread and edit your documents into something like a publishable format.  I expect to be slow and imperfect at first, but to get better with practice, so I'm going to take my time and ramp up with some easy work.  There could be a lot of potential in work like this, and if nothing else, it will be fun (to a certain value of "fun"). 

I'm sure there's a ton more resources out there...lots of creative folks and publishers are making work freely available in response to this situation.  Feel free to leave a comment with your favorites to share them with other readers. 
Also, although it may be difficult at a time like this, don't forget that most of these services run on voluntary donations from users so if you can, give them a little bit of support.  Every little bit helps, especially at a time like this.

Stay safe.  Stay home, as much as you can.  And do what you can to make this time enjoyable.

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