A Japanese Goldfinger poster, circa early 1960s. Credit: Handout.

They say Leo Tolstoy became so distraught over the poverty in Russia that he ran outside and gave away all the money he had – only to come to the conclusion that it made no difference whatsoever.

What Then Must We Do? was a non-fiction work by the famed Russian writer, in which he described the social conditions of Russia in his day.

Perhaps that phrase also seems apt for our current plight, in this crazy Covid-19 world, which has shut down everything we love – well, almost everything.

There are those who say, like my friend Ty, that we should be grateful for what we do have, and not what we don’t or can’t have at the moment. That we need a reality check.

Fair enough, but what do we do in the meantime, while we feel all this gratefulness.

Here are some things you can do, aside from drinking heavily or cooking, to make your isolation a little more bearable.

Take a free course

Jump on your aging computer and point your browser to coursera.org. How would you like to take a free course on anything under the sun, from the top universities in the world – that’s right, free. I’m currently taking a course on Russian history at the University of California, Santa Clara, and it’s not costing me a dime. Yes, you can buy a certificate after you pass, and that’s totally up to you, but you can also take the course gratis, and that is cool!

Bond binge

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that means it’s time to revisit the James Bond films with Sean Connery – the best Bond ever. I recommend them in proper order – Dr No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, followed by Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is pretty cool too, with George Lazenby, and why not finish up with Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig?

Visit a national park

That’s right, you can now “virtually visit” a national park via several websites, including the National Parks Conservation Association, which lets you tour famed sites such as Yellowstone National Park, or Denali National Park, or explore the history and culture of the parks. Google Earth has also launched a series of virtual tours with an easy-to-use interactive planet earth that allows you to click on and visit every national park in the United States.

Read! Yes, read

I know, it sounds trite, but, a book will always be there for you, and you can take it anywhere. A real book, I mean, not a Kindle or a digital book – something you can touch, smell and feel.

Fantastic deals can be found on abebooks, including even rare first editions. Whatever your taste is, surely there is a book for you. And if reading is not your thing, how about buying a book on CD? You can listen at your leisure, while sipping a glass of wine. I listened to Keith Richards’ A Life that way. I also recommend The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson, which documents the family saga of Winston Churchill.

Revisit the speeches of JFK

YouTube is known for its great music selection. However, I suggest you point your browser to this website, put on your wireless headphones and check out – the greatest speeches of John F Kennedy and his writer, Ted Sorensen.

The one you should really hear is JFK’s American University speech titled “A Strategy of Peace.” This is the speech that basically sealed his fate, as he tried to stop the military-industrial complex from destroying the world. Perceived as “soft” on the commies, he was gunned down in Dallas just months later. Sorensen would refuse to work for Lyndon Johnson after Jack’s death.

Take the model approach

Remember when you used to build plastic models as a child? Well, there are many online model shops out there, and still many models to be made – the Titanic, the P-51 Mustang fighter, a German Tiger tank or a Formula One racing car. Take your pick, the choices are immense and affordable. HLJ, or Hobby Link Japan, claims to be the biggest hobby, toy and figure store in the world, and it will ship anywhere.

Unleash your inner Van Gogh

How about buying some painting supplies, and doing some painting with artistic guru Bob Ross? You don’t need to be Rembrandt to come up with a masterpiece. You just need to feel your artistic side, and go for it … whether it be watercolors or oils. Remember, Vincent van Gogh never made any real money while he was alive, and was roundly dismissed.

Solve a virtual crime

Are you a big fan of murder mysteries, a closet detective? Well, thanks to the website 5 Minute Mystery, you can solve a mystery a day. The site lets you find the clues, identify a solution and solve the case – testing your skills against others trying to do the same thing. My favourite? “Murder in the Early Morning.” Not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular or anything …

Cleared for takeoff!

Fly a modern jetliner to your favorite destination. This is now possible, thanks to a number of flight-sim softwares available on the Internet. For example, for just US$59 you can download X-Plane 11, which boasts high-quality flight environments and several aircraft to choose from. The website also allows you to download and try a free demo (I tried it, it’s rad!). Just be sure to check the minimum requirements for computer operation before you buy or download – the newer and faster the better.

Let Joyce Carol Oates guide you

Stand aside, Will Shakespeare! Now that you have time on your hands, you can write that fabulous piece of fiction you’ve always wanted to pen. Truman Capote locked himself away in a cabin for several weeks when he went about writing his classic In Cold Blood. Masterclass.com has writing courses offered by famed writer Joyce Carol Oates, who has published 58 novels and thousands of short stories, essays and articles. Start small, with short stories, then work your way up. 

Making waves with radio

One way to relax in the evening is to turn off the television, and dial up a radio show – there are literally thousands of online radio stations to listen to from all over the world. Music, talkshows, dramas, whatever – you will be surprised just how good radio has become, especially if you accompany it with your favorite bevy. The BBC runs award-winning radio features, that are not about Covid-19 – a wonderful escape from the madness. And for great music, check out Canada’s best, CKUA. No ads, just great DJs and great music in all genres.

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him

So, you always wanted to become an actor, and now you can. Google some famous movie quotations, and practice them – then send a WhatsApp/WeChat voice message to a friend, or leave a cellphone message, and read your theatrical part with gusto! Just think – you can be any actor, play any part you like. I once read a Brando scene from The Godfather and totally freaked out a friend!

Dave Makichuk is a veteran writer and copy-editor with 35 years’ media experience who lives in Calgary and freelances for Asia Times. A dedicated Detroit Red Wings, Tigers and Lions fan, Makichuk relishes his chosen role as enemy of the state, and defender of the oppressed and downtrodden.