It’s not often one feels the need to address the topic of toilet paper, but these are unusual times.

People are hoarding toilet paper: not, it stands to reason, because it is especially needed with coronavirus, which is primarily a respiratory disease (although in about five percent of cases it is also gastrointestinal), but because in cases of self-quarantine (or, more drastically, the possibility of imposed confinement), it is a comforting thing to have.

The need for it (or greed for it) is clearly psychological and imagined, not physical or real. 

Certainly such hoarding is not to be condoned, as a grimly anti-social activity, but also in this case a fatuous one. This combination of characteristics is no doubt what has drawn so much attention. 

Of course, it’s a real and specific need, we can agree. Food stores have lately been scenes of concern and near-panic, but I rememb er once (in a non-crisis time) checking out at the market, and the guy in front of me had a big order he was staring at, shaking his head. 

“I know I’m forgetting something,” he muttered.

“Coffee?” asked the cashier. 

“No,” the guy said. 



“Toilet paper?”


“Then forget about it.” 

Most things have ready substitutes, but not all. 

Probably no one needs to hear all that much more about coronavirus, but there still are things to learn.

Early on in the pandemic (before it officially was one), I was listening to the news on National Public Radio, and the broadcast introduced a segment on how to wash your hands, which at first made me scoff (“What am I, five?”), but I listened anyway, and actually picked up a tip: to interlace fingers when washing, to get the sides. 

The thing about 20 seconds I already knew and practiced. But if you’re really smart, don’t think you can’t be smarter. 

As the crisis grows, people are worrying about their responsibilities, activities, and even psyches, with the all the cancellations of events, closures of businesses and institutions, and general social distancing.

The day-to-day problems can be tough, but the general mental and emotional challenges can be meetable, if not exactly treatable or defeatable, by expense of creative energy in isolation.

I recently spoke with a Cornell acquaintance who said maybe this is a good time to start a big book. 

“Writing?” I asked. 

“I meant reading,” he said. “But now that you mention it,” he said, his voice trailing off dreamily; so I was happy I took the trouble to fake him out (I knew what he meant), thus maybe encouraging him.

As simple a thing to do as reading a book (and easier than writing one) is learning to play ukulele, a great potential palliative. (This is something the mass media has not stressed much yet, but hear me out.)

Ukuleles are small and simple enough that dexterity and musical knowledge are unnecessary for beginners. With $60 or so for an instructional songbook and cheap ax (our local music stores have lots), you can learn to play a simple two-chord song in minutes.

The satisfaction of a new skill, and the basic anti-anxiety power of singing and playing, for example, “Waltz Across Texas” (my first number), can hardly be overstated in rewarding one’s provisional seclusion.

Inside closed doors, yoga is another skill you can readily learn, and a spiritual door you can open.

There are good instructional videos online: check Ekhart Yoga on Youtube for some free introductory ones, among others worthy of note.

I first took up yoga as a teenager, when yoga and meditation were offered as an elective by my high school. In trying to interest some recalcitrant friends I thought could use the rudder, I succeeded by mentioning that Jerry Garcia once said he wasn’t afraid of going to jail, because then he’d have more time and focus for a practice which he considered higher than making music or taking drugs. (The extent to which he meant it is another story, but it worked.)

We’ve all been reminded lately that perhaps “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural speech. No doubt this is generally true, at least rhetorically. (Realistically, “only” is probably a stretch.)  

Today, some skeptics cite this quote in speaking of over-reaction about the current health crisis. But maybe that accusation is the greatest over-reaction itself. 

In taking care of ourselves in this plight (and others: we are literally all in this together, and what each of us does can affect everyone we meet), doing too little is probably our least concern, and most extreme of all reactions.

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