If You’re Feeling Isolated

Try writing a letter.

By Melissa Kirsch

Welcome. The Sundance Film Festival is on until Wednesday, and like most things these days, it’s gone virtual. Make like A.O. Scott and watch it from your sofa. We’ll help you select some features that suit your taste, or you could check out The New York Times’s selection of Op-Docs from this year and previous ones. Then you’ll want to read this profile of Tabitha Jackson, the fest’s new director.

There goes your weekend, if you can swing it.

Here in New York City, an hour before sunrise, it’s 19 degrees and windy, which makes an indoor film festival sound like just the thing. But perhaps you’re in Sydney, where the rain should be clearing up soon, and temperatures could climb into the 80s; you’ll probably spend at least part of the day outside, maybe have a masked meet-up. In California, an atmospheric river-borne storm is bringing heavy rain, snow and mudflow to much of the state. It’s just 6 degrees in Calgary, 27 in Oxford, Miss. Seventy-five and cloudy in Mexico City, cold with some flurries in Seoul. In Sicily, it’s sunny, humid, 60.

It’s not often that we can be certain that people everywhere are contending, in some way, with the very same circumstances we are. The virus has created a strange commonality: Others’ lives — which may seem distant, mysterious or even beyond imagination much of the time — are marked by the pandemic too. We’re all in it.

Still, many of us struggle with feelings of separation, isolation or loneliness. For that, might I suggest writing a letter? Of course phone and video calls can provide immediate relief, but letter writing has much to recommend it.

It allows you to do something with your loneliness, to write it out without interruption from an interlocutor, to think and feel your way through it on the page.

Unlike journal writing, a letter is for someone else, so you’re not just processing what’s happening for yourself: You’re creating a report that you know will be read; slowly and thoughtfully, you’re communicating what’s happening where you are.

You might write about your feelings of isolation, or you might avoid them altogether. It doesn’t matter. The point is that you’re deliberately connecting, thinking about your ties to another person, what they’d be interested in reading, what they might like to know.

Letter writing strengthens our idea of ourselves as connected to others, even if they’re not physically here.

Plus, sending a letter is giving someone the possibly rare gift of an actual, honest-to-goodness piece of personal mail in their mailbox! And the odds are pretty good that you’ll receive a response to your letter, so it’s sort of an investment in the future.

I’m planning on sending a couple letters this weekend — maybe I’ll even use the old typewriter I forgot I had. Whomever I write to, I’ll recommend they listen to my college professor Rita Dove reading her poem “Last Words” on The New Yorker’s website.

My colleague Jaspal Riyait introduced me to “A Corner of Home,” a series of photographers’ depictions of their homes during the pandemic, and I’ve loved peeking into these intimate worlds.

Here’s Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl,” singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Is this the world’s least lonely song?

And, ahead of Valentine’s Day, we want to know when you unexpectedly witnessed an act of love. Tell us about it here.

Tell us.

What do you do when you’re feeling lonely? Do you try to remedy it by reaching out? Sit with the feeling? Write about it? Tell us: [email protected] Include your name, age and location. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a full and cultured life appear below. I’ll see you next week.

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