Need a pick-me-up? This quick read offers a few suggestions on how to make the most of found time while lifting your spirits.
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in the US, sparrows in San Francisco have started to sing a “sexier” tune. According to a recent study of the effects of noise pollution on birdsong, male sparrows in the Bay City, given a reprieve from competing with traffic and other city sounds, have begun to explore the full range of their voices when warning rivals, and especially when wooing potential mates.
In more normal times, when the buzz and bustle of city life is at its height, the sparrows are forced to limit their songs to the higher ranges, regretfully neglecting those lower Barry White tones that everyone knows are the most sensual and seductive. Female sparrows evidently agree as the higher bird songs have been shown (somehow, using data collected by smarter, more creative researchers than I) to be less attractive and effective. However, lighter loads on the roads means more open sonic space for the birds to really show off their pipes.
The birds are obviously using the commute-free time and space to its greatest potential. For those of you who are still working from home and haven’t yet landed on a set plan for how to make the most of the 30+ minutes you usually spend in your vehicle, on a bus, or in a Metro car, may we offer a few suggestions?
1.) Do like the birds are doing and…learn a new song!
Dust off that old guitar, keyboard, recorder or accordion. Or order a new one from a local store. Don’t be afraid to get weird with it. Always wanted to play the zither or the theremin, or go biblical and pick up a lyre? Just want to find out what any of those things are? Well, you can find just about anything online, so use that commute time first to shop and then to get all musical with it.
There are innumerable self-teaching books and apps, some of them great. Some music teachers offer online video class sessions. Or you could just put on a favorite song, turn it up loud, and just whale away at the keys or strings or whatever. You may not get much better this way, and you’re not likely to maintain happy neighborly relationships, but as long as you wear some hearing protection, you’ll likely feel a lot better afterwards.
2.) If you think music is for the birds, do something else that you’ve always wanted to do.
Put the time and energy that you would normally spend on your commute toward something that you actually want to do but have never taken the time to try. Start typing out that novel or memoir that you’ve been silently writing in your mind for years. Break out some oils or watercolors and paint some landscapes, or if you’re feeling anxious or frustrated, go all Jackson Pollack with it. (Just be sure to put down some towels first…no one wants to spend their commute time cleaning!) Begin learning to code and design your own website or video game.
All of these things can easily be done incrementally, during the 30-minute window that you usually spend on the way to work. And, if you start something and decide later that it’s not for you, that’s still great! You’ve learned something new about yourself.
3.) Alternately, you could use the time to really spread your wings: discover something new that you never knew you wanted to do.
Learn basket-weaving. Try an air boxing workout (or air guitar). Cut things out of magazines and make collages. Recite Shakespearean sonnets aloud to yourself or your dog in your living room, or craft some quatrains of your own. Look up a recipe for some food you’ve never even heard of and then cook it. Cook something more challenging the next time; if it’s good, cook up a ton of it to eat throughout the week.
What we’re saying is this: try things indiscriminately (within reason), and don’t prejudge.
4.) Whether, like the sparrows, you’re trying to attract a mate, attract your mate, or just feel happier and healthier, exercise.
Your body is already beautiful as it is, no matter what. This suggestion isn’t about weight or shame; it’s about state of mind, about feeling better, and how that might affect the perceptions of others around you. Happier people are more attractive people; exercise can make you happier. It floods your brain with feel-good chemicals, including those little bundles of hormonal joy called endorphins. Once you get over the initial aches and pains and any mental blocks you may have, running or biking or yoga or weightlifting can help activate your body and mind, stretching and strengthening both.
Commercials often promise rock hard abs or glutes “in only 30 minutes per day.” We make no such promises (or any promises for that matter), but take the 30 minutes you’d normally spend in your commute and put it into yourself instead. Just see what happens. Take one step today—one foot first and then the other—and again tomorrow and the next day, then check back in a week to see how far you’ve come.
Obviously, you should consult a physician before starting an exercise regimen, and then take it slow at first, paying attention to your body and its signals. You could also use a coach or trainer (or a coaching or training app) if you need some help getting started. Even if the rest of your day is stationary for the most part, that 30 minutes at the beginning will be enough to get you up, get your heart pumping and blood flowing.
Besides, you’ll have the rest of the day to ice your legs when you’re at your desk answering emails.
5.) Adopt a new pet. Maybe even a bird, a nice budgie or parrot, perhaps.
Play your bird some birdsong—there are tons of videos on YouTube—and see how that affects both its mood and your own. If you’re scientifically inclined, start your own little experiment on bird behavior.
Dog-walking is good exercise and a legitimate excuse to get out and breathe some fresh air (though still keep a mask with you, please). Or, spend the 30 taking care of your cat’s many needs—as a bonus, a cat will help to make sure that you take breaks throughout the day by physically inserting itself in front of your screen and sitting on your keyboard.
6.) Enough with the birds already! You’re not an animal person or can’t have pets? Just grow something, then.
Use your 30 minutes to tend to houseplants or a garden. Water and fertilize and talk to your living room cactus, or go for broke and try to raise an orchid or two. (There are probably even more difficult plants to take care of, but I have accidentally killed SO many orchids, y’all…) Grow fresh herbs in a window box or patio planter, or turn your backyard into a full-fledged veggie smorgasbord.
Taking care of something else and watching it grow is fulfilling and as good a way as any to spend your commuted commute time.
7.) If all else fails, just do whatever you would have done on your commute anyway (minus the travel…maybe).
For those who are usually Metro-bound, take the freed-up commute time and read a book. Drink a cup of coffee. Just look out the window. If you have kids or a spouse, get them to jostle you around for a while and insert themselves and their belongings into your personal space while you just sit trying to politely ignore it all.
If you normally drive, still take the time to listen to music or podcasts. Catch up on the news. If you have kids or a spouse, maybe actually go for a drive to get away from them for a while. (If you have someone, of course, to watch them…otherwise, it’s probably illegal.)
Anyway, take the time that you would have spent on the road and use it for something other than home stuff or work stuff. Make a mental separation between work and home, even if they have to be the same basic physical space for now.
Or, in the end, just ignore everything we’ve said here, and prepare your ongoing plan for world peace and/or domination.
That’s what the birds are actually doing with those new songs anyway, you know. We may think they’re amorous and twitterpated fools, but really, they are vengeful and murderous descendants of dinosaurs. And, now they have a head start, so use your 30 minutes a day to plot efficiently and wisely. You’re smarter than some bird, right? Right?