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Isolation survival tips from Straight Jacket Winter

Tips on surviving isolation from the authors of Straight Jacket Winter

By Jessica Lewis Date: May 26, 2020 Tags: Author Interviews

As we start to enter the third month of self-isolation across Canada, it’s easy to feel like reality is slipping from our grasp. We probably need a reminder or two on how to keep our days interesting, how to tolerate each other’s quirks, and how to stay connected to our outside worlds without actually being in them.

So we turned to some experts. Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis wrote about the isolation they experienced after moving from Montréal to Vancouver in the play Straight Jacket Winter. Between culture shock, a language barrier, and rainy weather, the couple learned to utilize their solitary homebound time and not only turned it into art but also some helpful and charming survival tips for us years later!

Check out these words of wisdom on cohabitation, keeping the mind active, and dealing with boredom. Then make sure to read Straight Jacket Winter!


Making up a fake roommate/colleague is a great way to avoid tension. We have a new flat mate called Dobby (yes, like the elf in Harry Potter). Whenever something annoys us in our house/workspace, it’s somehow always Dobby’s fault. For example, Esther hates that Dobby always leaves Gilles’s socks strewn about the apartment and Gilles would really like for Dobby to make Esther’s voice not as loud during her Zoom calls.


Confinement is a great time to sit on your couch and take a deep dive into all the books you haven’t read (may we suggest reading the play Straight Jacket Winter). Of course, you can replace the word ‘book’ here with ‘smartphone,’ ‘iPad,’ or ‘laptop.’ But falling into a YouTube wormhole about catfish noodling in Alabama won’t make you feel as smart as rereading your whole Dickens collection (I’ve never read Dickens, but we recommend Réjean Ducharme’s works).



A heavy feeling of solitude has crept up on them.

The WOMAN seems affected by a deep melancholy. The MAN looks at her a moment, saddened to see her like this. He picks up L’hiver de force and starts to read.

MAN: Listen: “In a few months, we will spend our time looking at the tips of our shoes without being bored at all, with the satisfaction of not having to fight against this fierce anguish. We’ll be gone forever but still here to revel in our absence . . . ”

WOMAN: What’s that?

MAN: Réjean Ducharme.


WOMAN: What else does Réjean have to say?




It’s hard to stay in touch with friends through a screen, especially if you’re having a hard time making friends in the first place. We suggest making friends with your plants. Give them names and talk to them, they’re great listeners and they never talk behind your back (maybe just a bit when you’re sleeping).

Alternately, if you’re lucky enough to have a clear view of your neighbours through their window, consider having a dinner date with them. They don’t even have to know. Just figure out their dining schedule, serve at the same time, and pretend they’re asking you about your day. “Why, yes, Helen. I did finish that grant application. Thanks for asking.”

Education/Keeping the Mind Sharp

In Straight Jacket Winter, we present a series of rewarding activities like crafts, mime games, playing dictionary, and who stays on the couch the longest. We also like the Rock, Paper, Scissors Plus version, where at every turn you have to make up a new more powerful item such as Train, Dragon, Weather Balloon, Zeus’s thunderbolt, and so on. The possibilities are endless!!!

Also consider learning a second language, especially if you don’t speak the dominant language of your immediate environment. Imagine how great it will be to be able to interact with people once you finally leave your house.



WOMAN: I know, let’s play dictionary. I want to know every English word in here by the time we leave this couch.

MAN: Okay.

The WOMAN cracks open the dictionary.

WOMAN: Okay . . . “A bone in the human leg, extending from the pelvis to the knee, that is the longest, largest, and strongest in the body.”

MAN: Thigh bone.

Woman: Almost.

MAN: . . . Femur.

WOMAN: Yes! Good.

MAN: Okay, ready? “A strong garment with long sleeves for confining the arms of a violent prisoner, mental patient, etc.”

WOMAN: Wait, I know this . . .

She thinks hard.

The French word is “camisole de force!”

MAN: Yes. In English?

WOMAN: I don’t know. Forced shirt?

MAN: Straightjacket.



Mental Health

Make a fort in a corner of your apartment (if you live in a house, just use your second or third spare bedroom, you land baron). This is the cocoon. It’s a magical place to get away from your loved one (or the entire world) when you need some space. Everyone in the house needs to obey the rules:

  1. When someone is in the cocoon they are not to be bothered.
  2. Don’t take it personally if they need to get away from you for a while. (It’s not about you . . . unless it is.)
  3. You can’t live the rest of your life in the cocoon — it’s temporary.
  4. No candles in the cocoon. It’s a fire hazard.


If you’re bored of being bored inside how about trying to be bored outside! Of course, zigzagging your way on the sidewalk while trying to keep socially distant can be stressful. On the bright side, there’s nothing like putting your life on the line to feel unbored. Otherwise, early morning walks is a great option. It’s strangely soothing to walk around in a city with near-empty streets as the sun comes up — feels like the apocalypse, but safer. And if you want to chat while you walk, maybe bring your new plant friend with you. Plus, walking around while talking to Vera, your aloe vera, will make sure people keep a two metre distance.

We hope this helps! How are you surviving isolation?

Want to know more about Esther and Gilles’s experiences? Get your copy of Straight Jacket Winter now!