It’s gonna be a long winter.
Toronto is in lockdown again and at the worst possible time: the grey doldrums of January. With public health officials urging us all to stay home except for essential reasons, we’re left with few ways to safely connect with others outside our own households. While getting exercise, de-stressing and self-care are all important ways to improve mental health under lockdown, so is seeing other people.
Yes, video chatting can be a drag. But studies have shown adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than people who live more isolated lives. The daily struggle to pay our bills has given rise to more individualized lives, and COVID-19 is only separating us further. Whether you live alone or have no alone time, calling up a friend or organizing a virtual get-together can be the little boost you didn’t know you needed.
With all that in mind, we’ve come up with a few creative ways to socialize remotely in the midst of Toronto’s truly broken social scene.
Watch a virtual concert with friends
Since virtual concerts are viewable for a limited time, they can feel like a proper event. (Plus seeing all the happy and excited commenters in a live feed is a nice mood booster.) There have been stellar online shows in recent months, from Dua -Lipa’s pre-recorded pop extravaganza Studio 2054 to Patti Smith’s live-and-intimate birthday show. Video chatting with friends in real-time can be fun if you’re craving a Friday night vibe and the show’s an over-the-top production conducive to commentary (or drinks). You do risk hearing echo from other people’s devices, but think of that as ambient club chatter. For a quieter or more serious experience, set up a private Slack channel (or other messaging platform) to chat. Livestreams aren’t allowed in Toronto due to the new restrictions, but find out what’s coming up internationally via sessionslive.com, veeps.com, mixcloud.com, dice.fm and nowtoronto.com/nowevents.
Host a virtual dinner party
Bonding over food is one of the most human experiences. Watch with bated breath as your dinner guests take the first bite of the meal you created, the smile that spreads as they ravenously take another, certifying their enjoyment. It’s not the easiest thing to replicate in lockdown but meeting virtually and cooking a meal together is a fun alternative. Walk each other through the steps, have a laugh at the inevitable kitchen mishaps and toast your delectable finished product. Try something easy to prepare so everyone can follow along. Order some perfect pairings from a local bottle shop.
Host a reality TV watch party
With life as we know it becoming more unrecognizable, reality TV escapism might be exactly what you need. Organize a weekly Zoom call or group chat discussion with friends during new episodes of your favourite reality show – everyone knows the best part of watching reality TV is discussing it with friends anyway. Or you can join a pre-organized watch party, like WWW.Est End’s digital Drag Race viewing party on Friday nights (twitchtv.com/speakeasytattoo). They’ve even partnered with Shameful Tiki and its spinoff chicken tender vendor Legal Tenders to create a Drag Race cocktail club (order a single-serve cocktail for $13 or a season pass for $140). Either way, discussing who you think the final four might be on this season of The Bachelor with friends might be the perfect way to combat the stay-at-home order blues.
Donate art to seniors
Consider creating art for people in need of a little pick-me-up – community initiatives like Canadian Art in Isolation make it easy. It launched in April in response to the increased levels of isolation experienced by people living in long-term care facilities who are disconnected from their friends and family. Since then, it’s helped donate 300 works and counting. Create a new artwork or dig through your archives and submit a donation to their website. Canadian Art in Isolation is currently inviting kids living in Parkdale and Toronto’s west end to donate drawings for a local long-term care facility.• cdnartinisolation.webflow.io
Make virtual workshops a group activity
Virtual workshops and classes have become popular with people stuck at home. But instead of joining one on your own, pick a topic you think your friends, significant other or family would want to join and take it together. You could learn about everything from how to sew your own mask, how to make sushi or join a live paint night. Not only can you learn a new skill with a loved one (virtually), but you might even discover a new hobby that you can enjoy with them once it’s safe to see each other in person again.
Mail a journal to friends
Our phones and screens have been vital for staying in contact with loved ones throughout the pandemic, but staying glued to them 24/7 is a little draining. As a screen-free alternative to keeping connected with friends, mail a journal back and forth between friends. You can fill it with photos, letters to each other, art, doodles, quotes or even motivational messaging for each other. Give each other the excitement of receiving something in the mail without emptying out your wallet on impulse purchases. By the end of COVID-19, you’ll have a reminder of your lives throughout those many months and a keepsake memorializing your friendships.
Join a virtual book club
Winter is the perfect time to pick up those books that have been collecting dust on your shelves while you’ve binged everything on Netflix. No wonder CBC just announced its Canada Reads shortlist of titles and the celebrities (Including Paul Sun-Hyung Lee! Devery Jacobs!) who will be defending their choices. The debates begin March 8, so you’ve got a month-and-a-half to read each selection. The Toronto Public Library also hosts a series of book clubs for audiences of all types, including LGTBQ2S+ readers, kids and families and even those interested in book-to-movie adaptations.
Keep the trivia tradition alive
Pubs might currently be an anachronism (there are no public houses, only private houses), but pub trivia is still alive and well. A couple of the city’s most popular trivia nights made the full pandemic pivot and are going on their 40th weeks of questions and answers. Longtime Duke of York trivia quizmaster Luke Pettigrew now hosts live on Zoom (and often illustrates his own delightful AV rounds). He asks the questions on phone screens teams confer on computer screen. And Brass Facts Trivia – formerly hosted at now-closed bar the Ossington – lives on in socially distant style. Search around and you can find a lot more, in Toronto and beyond.
Join a fantasy sports league
For some people, there are few forms of bonding quite as strong as trash-talk. In-person sports are verboten right now (unless you’re a professional), but fantasy sports scratches that itch. With the NHL and NBA seasons in full swing, gather some friends on Yahoo! or ESPN, draft a team of players and use their real-life stats to compete against each other. It’s also a reason to get invested in non-Raptors games, which is a blessing considering the way the season is going so far.
Play virtual games
It’s hard to believe gaming was ever considered anti-social behaviour. It has become one of the top ways to connect with your friends, whether that means hosting each other on your Animal Crossing islands or rekindling your high school friendship via Mario Kart complete with voice chat. Among Us – the online game of teamwork and secret sabotage – has become such a hit that even Jagmeet Singh and AOC are playing it together. Zoom, too, is not just a place for business meetings. It’s a great place to meet up and play party games like Jackbox’s popular packs including the Madlibs-style Quiplash.
Volunteer for a mutual aid program
As things get increasingly dire, Toronto’s food insecure households are struggling. Community-led groups like Uplift Kitchen and People’s Pantry work to feed hundreds of people each week and they always need volunteers. Donate your time by cooking meals or dropping off meals (socially distanced, of course). In a time when we’re all so disconnected, it’s motivating to spend your time providing strangers with fundamental access to food and the joy of home-cooked meals made with love. Alternatively, you can set aside some time in your week to prepare meals for your nearest community fridge.• instagram.com/upliftkitchento and instagram.com/peoplespantryto
Kelsey Adams, Julia Mastroianni and Richard Trapunski discuss this story in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below: