Comfort Zone

A year ago this planet’s population got our first vision of a black hole. Now it feels as if we’re in one. We need a comfort zone. Somewhere.

What follows is not at all complete, nor is it as well-organized as I would have wished. But in such a situation my normally obsessive-compulsive anal-retentive organizers’ neurosis has gone fishing, so I have to trust you to forgive the grossly imperfect though factually reliable mess below. Reliable information is the main thing here: stuff you can do, things you can enjoy while sequestered, ways to help yourself and others. Some you may already have done, or heard about and planned to do, or heard about and planned to assiduously avoid doing. Up to you. I’ll update and add to this list each week, so if you miss any of these posts you can go to, click on The Blog, and you can read, download, or subscribe for free, as well as find the previous posts.

Let’s start with something crucial that you can do and now have the time to do—not that it takes more than a few minutes. It’s really important, and as a bonus will give you a sense of accomplishment and agency, which in turn will make you feel better. Go to and fill out your census form. Remember that money needed by your neighborhood—for schools, infrastructure, social services, and, crucially, population count to combat gerrymandering and voter suppression—all this and more depends on data garnered by the census. The right wing has been trying to eat away at the census for years and this is a particularly vulnerable time, since those most affected by skewered census data are also those least likely to fill out the form. So please go online to and fill it out. It’s absurdly easy and takes only a few minutes.

Now for some stay-at-home comforts. I’ll refrain from sharing too many personal ones, but will confess that I’ve taken to eating cookies for breakfast. Anyway.

The streaming platform BroadwayHD offers a seven-day free trial, so theater fans can watch musicals and plays, including “King Lear” and “A Doll’s House,” from their couches. Performances range from Broadway productions to shows from London’s West End to regional offerings from American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Other theater-streaming services include the Seattle-based On the Boards, which focuses on more experimental productions and currently has a code for free viewing through the end of April. The 24 Hour Play Festival Company has a series of monologues performed by well-known actors on its Instagram account. And, for Shakespeare lovers and “Star Trek” fans alike, Patrick Stewart is streaming his readings of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, one by one, on Twitter @SirPatStew, in the hope that “a sonnet a day keeps the doctor away.” It’s lovely. And after all, he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company long before he was Jean-Luc Picard.

Music lovers can enjoy a variety of free live and taped concerts online. NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, for example, has hundreds of archived performances. Pop, rock, jazz, Latin, you name it. Lots of stars are streaming free, a trend that was begun (I think) by Melissa Etheridge. The list is far too long to cite here, but you can go to the website of your favorite and find more information there. (I hope the famous musicians are setting up some kind of survival fund for the daily indispensable studio and performance musicians who usually survive by working two and three other jobs–which they’ve now lost.)

Classical music fans can tune in to performances from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free the archived films of its productions from 7:30 PM until 4 PM the following day; go to Opera buffs can also watch free recorded performances from famous venues on OperaVision, and individual companies like the Teatro Reggio in Turin, the Vienna State Opera, and the Rossellini Opera Festival are all free streaming.

Wow, a rare good thing I can say these days about Google! Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 2,500 museums and galleries around the globe to create virtual tours. The Metropolitan Museum, the Louvre, the Bauhaus Foundation Museum in Dessau, the Musée d’Orsay (celebrated for its vast collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings), The Guggenheim, the Palace of Versailles, The Uffizi in Florence, the National Gallery in Rome, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Getty in Los Angeles, the Victoria and Albert in London, and way too many more to fit here are now open at all hours for your browsing pleasure. I haven’t linked to each one in this blog post for lack of time and because their websites are so easily found on all search engines.

A special word about the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Full disclosure: I’m a founding member.) Reachable at, the museum has now gathered its digital resources at a new webpage—NMWA@Home—where you can visit 24/7 online and indulge in their fine collection of works by women artists.

I’m listing this category mainly to remind you and me to do some. Frankly, there are so many thousands of apps, instructors, and studios online that those of you who are workout enthusiasts doubtless already have your favorites. Newbies should explore according to taste. Whether kickboxing or yoga, Pilates or free weights, many are listing free classes and/or streaming live, some using Zoom for interactive participation. You’ll have to find your own way through this crowded field of offering— and you’ll need to, especially if, like me, you have a suddenly surfacing domestic demon in yourself who wants to cook, bake, and eat everything in sight. Including cookies for breakfast.

Forget about it, sorry. No major sports, no minor sports, no Olympics. Leaving you with simulated sports, video games, or immersion in knock down drag out killer competitive chess matches—played remotely, that is. Shhhhh! The tension builds! Will she open with the Sicilian? Dare he sacrifice his bishop?

The San Diego Zoo has live cameras (as well as archived footage) that allow virtual visitors to see what the penguins, tigers, koalas, and other animals are up to. Other popular zoos with streams and digital entertainment include The Cincinnati Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, The Houston Zoo, and The Oregon Zoo.

An aside: Come to think of it, if your isolation has made you desperate for the touch of some creature that’s warm and affectionate, you could consider this: the ASPCA and other animal care centers are receiving an unusually high number of pets in need of temporary foster homes or permanent adoption. These are animals whose human partners have been hospitalized or worse.

Like zoos, many aquariums have live streams to show off what their residents are up to. Monterey Bay Aquarium has cams for sea otters, jellyfish, sharks, penguins and more. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and Bolton’s New England Aquarium also provide remote entertainment, such as live feeds and virtual tours. The Twitter feed from the Shedd Aquarium follows the adventures of Edward and Annie, rockhopper penguins who were allowed to explore the empty aquarium. “The pitter-patter of their feet wandering around the exhibits is just the break from the news I needed,” says Remy Tumin of the briefings team.

OMG. For many, the Israeli mother’s rant about homeschooling that went viral is a perfect tragicomic distillation of what parents are going through. (And we need a new phrase to replace “going viral” now.) As for entertainment for short people of different ages, the zoos and aquariums above–as well as the museums and plays, for that matter–all make good viewing. There are many unofficial YouTube videos that offer virtual experiences of Walt Disney World Rides, and Google Street View has virtual tours of the parks, including Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Legoland theme parks have official virtual tours of the spaces and attractions as well.

If you have land, however small–a garden, pots on a patio or terrace, a window box—order and then plant some seeds. They will come in the mail (bless those postal workers still making that possible). Plant some food, because fresh vegetables or fruits may become harder to get as weeks go on, and a taste of fresh lettuce leaves or a zucchini or herbs may become a real treat. I don’t need to tell those of you who are gardeners that there’s a value added: few things on earth are as emotionally healing as digging in the dirt, the smell of soil, tending the earth. So get out there and garden—and share what you grow: leave a flower or veggie as a token of caring outside a neighbor’s door.

More to come, next week. But one more tip for now. As a writer who normally works at home, I learned long ago that however grumpily imposed, self-discipline and some kind of regimen is helpful. Otherwise I would just shift from cookies to potato chips and back to cookies again, with maybe a few breaks for an egg roll, a cheese nibble, grapes, ice cream, and a nap. In this crisis, I suggest booking online dates with specific days and times. This not only means you might be interrupted less when you’re actually trying to do some work, but also means you and your co-communicator(s) have something to look forward to, show up for, wash your face and comb your hair for. (Well, maybe not the last one if the date is a nightcap with a really close pal.) Meeting for brunch, lunch, or dinner, each of you plate in hand in front of your computer, is a great way to be social and safe. So is high tea or a coffee break—even a breakfast meeting, if you’re into that. (Just don’t bother me at breakfast. I’m incoherent then, and you do not want to disturb my cookie meditations.) In the 14th Century, people had no FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other such wonders, so anyone who risked meeting over a tankard of ale probably wound up on the corpse cart not long after. No wonder London’s so called Black Death in the 1600s resulted in closure of all theaters (to Shakespeare’s irritation). Might as well face it: the Internet, with all its bots and trolls craziness, makes life far more tolerable while we’re under worldwide house arrest.


Just to scratch the surface—but again, we will be returning to and updating this in the weeks to come—and we might as well understand that we’re not talking about a few weeks anymore. The following are some of the sources I consult daily and on which I base my reports and other data I cite. We double and triple check news items, statistics, numbers, and quotes, obsessively–except that I think one can’t be too obsessive about not misleading readers. When we find an error on this blog we post a correction.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is continually monitoring and responding to the outbreak. You don’t need to have it filtered through other sources; you can go directly to WHO, which is solid. Unfortunately, these days I cannot say the same for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is, remember, under the aegis of the Department of Health and Human Services, e.g. the government, e.g. currently the Trump regime. The sad result is that the CDC has been muzzled at times and simply ineffective or late at other times, despite valiant attempts by some CDC officials and most staff to retain the scientific independence they enjoyed under previous administrations. If you cite CDC data, please do triple check it against other trustable sources. It does seem that the CDC Pregnancy FAQs and their Travel Updates are reliable, though. But again, please double check.

Each of the United States has its own Department of Health Coronavirus Hotline and its own Department of Health Website, both easily found.

Journalists have been doing exceptional work. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Guardian, are reliable and update continually. If you are a news outlet yourself seeking experts to consult or interview about the virus and health, or on COVID-19’s socio-political-economic fallout, you can find vetted authorities on COVID-19 and, for that matter, every other subject, at, in WMC SheSource, the online database of media-experienced women experts.

Some folks have written and asked what I’m reading these days. Well, the answer is usually six or seven books at once. I’m a fairly fast reader since I worked for decades as an editor in publishing houses and at magazines. Right now I’m preoccupied with Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present, by Frank M. Snowden, professor emeritus of history and the history of medicine at Yale.

Here’s a taste of Snowden: “Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. that is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment—the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds. They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people, and we’re seeing that today.”

We certainly, bitterly are. The togetherness of instant world communication, travel, globalization—which enables more mobility and speed in the virus as well. The apartness in which we now find ourselves. Making the connections: Covid-19’s inextricability from the viral behavior of human beings against the environment: our invasive commercialization of wetlands, jungles, and wilderness, that drives creatures from their habitat into urbanity, carrying microbes not necessarily dangerous to them but lethal to us. The proliferation of “wet shops” selling exotic animals as pets and for food, animals that are carriers. Nature—or the planet, Gaia—fighting back, trying to correct the balance of things.

A year ago this planet’s population got our first vision of a black hole. Now it feels as if we’re in one. Take care of your self. Take care of each other. Take care.