Nostalgia

Have you noticed them creeping in now?

Arriving separately,

that one always early, that one always late

to a party years after the kitchen’s been cleaned.

Moments

as we were then.

Catching up with me on a sidewalk,

sneaking into an elevator,

following me on those stairs.

The darkness of a last stare

strolling through the back door.

A touch,

warm arm hairs,

that itchy sweater of yours,

a reproach, a grin,

apologies never spoken.

Screen door slams

goodbye.

And all that white light.

My sunglasses? Where are they?

I must cover my eyes.

Their. No, there.

There. They. Are.

Pointing down

from the heavens

laughing and shaking their heads.

Is that pity? Are they pitying me?

Shush.

They’re examining their hands.

Looking back at their lightness.

Catching their bearings.

Who’s dead now?

A collective wondering.

 “What’s that covering their faces?” they mouth, confused.

Is it Halloween?

Just dropping by.

Did someone drop the cutlery?

Why so many line-ups? they ask.

Whatever happened to spontaneous?

They’re mocking me now. And you. All of us.

In the breeze through the poplars

through the trill of red winged blackbirds and

the turtles on that log clinging to the scent of

spring flowers:

clematis, hydrangea and calla lilies

befriending me on my 6:30 am walks

when I’m trying to lean into

so much sorrow,

I must steady myself,

ignore the vertigo

because they’re so alive,

no doubt about it.

I can feel them

in a surge of yearning

so strong

I have to resist an overwhelming desire

to be there with them

and

not here,

just carrying on.

Crisis and opportunity

photo by gayle mavor

Liminal space. A latin word for threshold. In between, on the precipice of something new and yet unknown.

It was a lovely conversation between the CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, (also the Chancellor of the University of Victoria), and the poet Lorna Crozier that led my attention to focus on this word and that’s how writing begins.

Something that resonates, grabbing hold, pushing me to open my laptop, turn it on and feel the necessity of putting words together, getting something down.

A sentence captured. A scene. An emotion. The way the light hits a pair of old curtains at a certain time of day and shadows the folds of the fabric. A memory jarred. About how so much of life, including life itself, is a liminal space, a time of waiting or being in an emotional state in between another emotional state that was less or more, or just different than the one we’re currently in.

I have lived my life as if everything is a liminal space and to my detriment, I think. I have rarely felt permanence, not since I’ve been my own person with what little control we have over our own lives.  

I think about what it must feel like to be in a relationship that we know is permanent, someone there, for better and worse, such a strong love that we know the other is it to us as we are to them.

Life gets easier when someone is in our corner and we know they are at home waiting. And what must it be like for those who thought they had that permanence, and it gets taken through the death of their person, through betrayal, through the loss of feelings, especially unanticipated, that force us to consider what next? The fear rising because we know a liminal space and messiness awaits if we make a choice we never imagined we’d have to make.

I have always been drawn more to the liminal spaces than to permanence all the while recognizing the illusion of permanence. Permanence, in the past, has felt like the jailor. Liminal is just over there, the greener grass, the other side of an escape that must be made.

And in this time of staying close to home, the anticipation of the threshold of new scenery, new faces, new ideas has been challenged. And that unsettles me. The summer, usually a time of anticipation, is filling me, no matter how much I don’t want such a feeling to rise, with dread.

There will be no festivals. No Moss street Paint In. No Powell Street Festival. No Harmony Arts Festival. There will be no plans of big escapes on an airplane to exciting foreign locales, landscapes of new beauty  and new chance encounters with strangers I’d have never met otherwise.

In a way it’s a return to a childhood in a working class family where the neighborhood was all there was. The park. The close by. The down the street and around the corner. The next door neighbours. The best friend. The family contained. The scenes played out at a dinner table. Every newly introduced guest was a curiosity then.  That’s what my childhood felt like.

There was, at times, hopelessness as well, a hopelessness that came from that small seemingly endless world of permanence. And in that realization, perhaps those past feelings of hopelessness that are attached to my childhood permanence hold the key to the appeal in the liminal for me.

How will I fill this summer? How will I rethink staying put? Every day and year more precious the older we get, not wanting anything to take any of our precious moments and dictate that, for a time, especially a time that we can’t predict, things will have to be less. And the even greater fear that less will be the new norm. Recognizing how less can be good — for other species, for ecology — and yet not wanting to accept less as an imposed way of being in daily human existence.

I’m left with the question of how to make this summer meaningful as this pandemic stretches on. What will I find and choose to look forward to? How will I figure out the best way to rethink the here and now in a way that works for me?

I have not been sick. Friends have not been sick.  I still have a pay cheque being deposited into my bank account. The impact on time and space are the least of the impacts for us lucky ones right now, and yet still challenging.

I guess I will really have to explore inside to redefine Liminal as possibility, to redefine how to create a pandemic summer of staying close to home that doesn’t depress the hell out of me.

I guess the challenge is to perceive of this upcoming summer as that Chinese symbol, the one with the double meaning – crisis and opportunity.

***

This idea for this post came from a conversation between Shelgah Rogers and Lorna Crozier in a new show called Good Company. 

 

Marty, Bam Bam and my morning coffee

In the past when things were not normal but relatively predictable, I never watched TV before work. I watch enough TV and therefore it was a personal rule not to turn the TV on in the morning to prevent myself from spiralling further into the category of “activities I will hate myself for” although pretty darn tame in the range of horrors that could actually fit into such a category.

But nothing is “predictable” anymore, so whatever. One morning, I broke my rule. I turned on the TV at 7am and came across this show called Backroad Bounty.  It seems an unlikely attractant for a “lady” and yet I have grown to love it. It’s my morning saviour.

If I’ve had my fix of Backroad Bounty, I can face work. Because this pandemic is pretty much the only thing that’s keeping me in the lane I’m currently in.  I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

I love hanging out with the two main guys on the show: Marty and Bam Bam whose real name is Peter Bamford. They’ve become my buddies. Hey, you have to find your friends where you can find them these days, imaginary, through the TV, or in your delusional little head.

When I watch it, I’m in their white van and excited to see where our treasure hunting adventures might lead us. As long as I’ve had an hour of Backroad Bounty in the morning I feel ready to face the day because these guys, especially Bam Bam, make me laugh out loud guaranteed. They’re so Canadian!

And when it’s done, I get up and walk three feet away to my computer between my table and my couch. I sit myself down at my desk and it’s almost bearable because I’ve had a few laughs and a visit with my buddies.

They drive down rural backroads all over Ontario and come across people with huge barns or warehouses chock a block full of junk or treasures as they like to call ‘em, and they pick through that stuff and negotiate but in the nicest of ways.

When they’re in the van, or meeting new people, they’re just so real and that’s what’s great about the show. I like the spontaneous, silly banter between these two.

I love seeing the properties they find and the people who own them are usually as vintage and full of character as the stuff they’re hoarding. 50 acres of classic cars. Three full warehouses. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign! The owners of these places have bought property for their stuff, not for their lives.

Apparently old signs are worth a lot but you have to know what you’re looking for. How about an old cigarette tin, comics,  old toys from the 50s and 60s, decals off old cars, wooden boxes from pre-WWII, old T-shirts with weird slogans and so much more? You can really get a small sense of what might be valuable just by watching them.

So that’s it.

Don’t you dare judge me! What would you like me to write about at this point? Sourdough starter?

If you want to check out Marty’s Facebook or Insta pages:  @modernhipsterantiques. I couldn’t find Bam Bam on the Interweb!

 

Pondering the individuality of isolation

 I’ve been thinking a lot about how this experiment of physical distancing and how having to stay home as much as possible is such a personal experience depending on your personal circumstance.

I can’t keep thinking about the huge discrepancies that exist which is always true in life. But this crisis seems to be exacerbating that and that, perhaps more than anything, makes me feel a lot of sorrow.

No two people’s experience of it are alike… 

If you live alone. If you have a family. If you have a partner and no children. If you have school age children at home while you’re trying to work. If you still have a job or you’ve been layed off. If you were unemployed before this even happened.  If you have teenagers or young adults stuck in the house (or refusing to stay home enough).  If you live with an autistic child who no longer has the supports they need. If you were already struggling with depression. If you have a parent living with dementia and is in a care home and depending on the quality of that home, that alone would be so stress inducing. If you’re worried about your parents in another country.

Where you live in the world. If you’re an American versus Canadian or a Kiwi. 

If your husband or wife or loved one works on the front lines of health care. If you’re homeless. If you’re living in a new city where you don’t know many people. If you’re younger or older. If you’re an elder who can’t use technology versus an elder who can. If you feel loved. If you don’t.

If you have access to technology. If you were planning your wedding right in the middle of this. If you were waiting for elective surgery and are living with pain. If you’re a new immigrant or a refugee. If you’re living with a serious addiction. If you were deliriously happy before this. If you were or are in love.

If you have a faith. If you don’t. If you meditate. If you’ve been through enough hardship that you’ve had to develop inner resources to cope that now seem pretty valuable. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, an optimist, or an all-or-nothing type. If you’re a single mom. An introvert or an extrovert. If you’re living in a relationship that was emotionally or physically abusive before this even began. If you’re pregnant and expecting your first baby. If you’re a dreamer. An artist. A writer. A thinker. A runner. If you’re living with a disability.

The list goes on and on, and now for Canadians,  a senseless, inexplicable horrific act of violence layered on top.

Tonight for the first time I’ve felt a little down and a lot grouchy. So it’s a good thing I live alone. I can be however I need to be, acknowledge the feelings and it really won’t impact anybody but me.

Then a cousin in Toronto sent me a Youtube link to a beautiful choir from Saskatchewan called the Greystone Singers who you should definitely Google.  I listened to them and it made me feel a little better.  And then I found the Camden choir and it made me feel even better. It’s hopeful. If you can’t be anything else, be hopeful.

Who knew there were so many choirs in the world? And who knew you could see them singing together but apart but still so joyous and emotional just as they are in person.

https://youtu.be/2xWUL4N26vM

Corona virus and the myth of “normal”

I call this accidental pocket IPhone photo: Whirlwind. I thought it fit

I was listening to CBC Radio as I do most weekends and a retired minister from somewhere in Ontario was asked this question: “If you were still preaching, what do you think your message to your parishioners might be this Easter Weekend in the context of this novel Corona virus crisis?”

His response was very short because of time constraints but he suggested that if we learn anything, it should be that the “new normal” that keeps getting referenced is a misnomer.

He pointed out that for most of the people in the world, there is no “normal.” Normal is that mythical reality that a very small percentage of the world population gets to live because of their education and their economic wealth.

Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to the “normal” that existed immediately before this crisis because that normal isn’t something any of us should be aspiring to return to. It isn’t sustainable.

 That normal is all about the one percent.

That normal is about how as humans we are encroaching upon other species to a degree that is forever changing the world’s biodiversity to the detriment of our health; a point this novel Corona virus hasn’t got through pointing out, in an almost retaliatory way.

Normal is being okay with the inequities that exist in society with the impoverished, as always, bearing the most direct and painful impacts on their lives. They live in crisis every day.

Normal is all those problems we have shamefully incorporated into our daily life – passing street people with toques on the ground for spare change – with no collective will to change that.

Any new normal might be all the things we knew were problems but have never acted upon.

Things like providing appropriate levels of resources including services for prevention, intervention and adequate treatment for mental illness.

Things like providing decent social housing so instead of being okay with people begging for money, in every city in the world, recognizing that every person deserves the dignity of having a roof over their head at the end of the day.

Seeing the compassion and wisdom, and even financial savings to society, in providing a guaranteed universal income.

Taking one’s personal moral opinion out of how we treat drug addiction and accepting that it is, first and foremost, a health/mental health issue and then providing the resources to treat it as such.

Switching to prevention as the main medical model, not treating illness that has taken decades to develop because of lifestyle choices, including my own.

Rethinking how we change social isolation, not just in the elderly but in young adults, in seniors and in middle-aged and older men. Especially since so many of us live alone now.

Coming to terms with ethical questions about the value of any life – at one month or 100 years.

Understanding that thinking small, thinking only about yourself and your family’s well being is now a threat to humanity.

Internalizing once and for all that climate change is still the greatest threat, much more so than this virus.

I was listening to another interview where an evolutionary biologist from UBC, Sally Otto, PhD, was speaking about how humans have brought more destruction on the biodiversity of the planet than any other species. Of course, we’ve head that before. She says we’ve become  particularly good at destroying those species which could be considered “the specialists” and contributed to the greatest biodiversity in the first place.

While she says, she doesn’t have a lot of hope because of our impact on the natural world, she does have hope because of the way scientists around the world are working together with collective knowledge leading to better and quicker solutions. We see that as work on a vaccine and general research about the virus proceeds at unheard of before speed, because of global collaboration.

My friend Gwen pointed me towards this interview with Malcolm Gladwell. In this interview on the Munk Debates, Gladwell spoke to the issues I summarized above using a soccer team as the example.

A soccer team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you were going to improve the team, focusing on that weakest link and making it stronger would be the quickest way to make the entire team stronger. Our unsolved social problems are the weakest link in humanity.

I’m making mental notes of things I need to change in my own life when this is over. I expect many of you are doing the same thing.

The novel Corona virus is shining its wily contagious ways on the old normal and all its problems like never before.

We are now at a crossroads that will shape the evolutionary biology of human beings just as we continue to deliver the death blow to so many others species.

Breathing your way through anxiety

I’ve been noticing a few posts on social media about how some of us who have experienced anxiety and depression throughout our lives are feeling a little better than we expected to feel during this pandemic.

And let me be clear: I’m not holding this up as something to aspire to. If you’re finding yourself to be a total wreck, trying to get out of bed, trying to find the motivation to do anything, acknowledge how you are feeling. Acknowledging feelings helps you let them go. Denying them keeps them stuck in your body. Then accept it.

If you or someone you know has spent most of their lives in the “fight or flight” response and suddenly now, you are surrounded by others who are feeling like you’ve felt for good chunks of your life, to lesser or greater degrees, feeling relatively well right now in the middle of this pandemic becomes a little easier to understand.

If in childhood you were in a family situation that put you in the middle of crisis intermittently for whatever reason. Maybe you lived with an abusive or a very moody and unpredictable parent. Maybe one of your parents was living with a mental illness, officially diagnosed or not. Maybe one or both of your parents was addicted to alcohol or other substances. Maybe you experienced difficult things that left your physiology and mental health impacted. 

Those things might range from sexual abuse to witnessing another member of your family being abused to any experience that really emotionally affected you negatively and changed you in some ways from that point on. The list is endless. That’s trauma! All of those negative and unhealthy experiences will impact everyone very differently but with some predictable commonalities.

For those of us who can relate, living with uncertainty and being prepared and being on guard or being hypervigilant is just a lifelong way of being. It’s not healthy. It’s hard on the heart and the kidneys. And sometimes in times of extreme stress, it can make you seem less intelligent than you are.

That’s especially true if you begin to disassociate where you lose your train of thought. You might just freeze. Your vision fogs. Everyone around you suddenly feels like they are there but not there, mere human outlines drenched in a soft hazy wash.

If that’s been your experience, then a pandemic is just falling into line with the uncertainty you’ve lived with your entire life in in one way or another.

You hear people focusing on the uncertainty right now, wrestling with that when it seems like just accepting what’s happening could be a more helpful response.

I’m not saying I haven’t been anxious lately. I’m feeling anxious writing this now that I’m paying attention to my body. But I’ve been aware of trying to recognize that. STOP and be aware of it. STOP and sit down. Stop and BREATHE. STOP and go out for a walk.

Because let’s get real, if you aren’t even a little bit anxious in the middle of a pandemic then honestly you need to check in with yourself and get real.

Anxiety isn’t the issue. It’s what you do with that anxiety that can make a difference in how you function.

If you’ve haven’t done any meditation or investigated other modalities of healing then the exercises in this video might seem weird to you. Having experienced just a taste of somatic movement earlier this year in a class offered by a yoga practitioner from Mayne Island, I’d recommend just watching this and trying it.  

I trust the experience of this individual and that’s good enough for me.

Join Dr. Levine as he leads us through a series of Somatic Experiencing® exercises to help regulate our nervous system. #somaticexperiencing #drpeterlevine

Posted by Peter A Levine, PhD on Thursday, April 9, 2020

 

Daydreaming the past in April 2020

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat

There’s something about being inside mostly that has set off my daydreaming about all those times I felt the most free and so I decided to make a list of 25 experiences that came to mind.

I hope you’ll reflect on your own special times of exploration that were particularly satisfying while you’re cooped up these days.

  1. Walking along Walker Hook Road on Salt Spring Island and down to the Fernwood dock and back again to the cottage where I lived on Hedger Road. Camping at Ruckle Park.
  2. Riding a bike on a day trip to one of the Mekong islands across from Phnom Penh and on a dirt road that passed by wooden shacks with little children running out and saying Hi to me as I rode by.
  3. Walking on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, with almost no one around, with a young woman who was also on a day trip and passing fields of those hairy Highland cattle as we made our way to the other side of the island to see Duart Castle.
  4. Daytrips to Mayne Island and walking from the village to the lighthouse over to Bennet Bay and back again on a beautiful summer’s day. I once saw a pod of Orcas rounding the corner in front of the lighthouse, some of them spyhopping.
  5. Driving in a sports car from Phoenix to Flagstaff and on to the Grand Canyon in the middle of February and having to finally “give” and put up the top and blast the heat. Silly Canuck moves.
  6. Being in the beautiful Botanical Garden outside of Hilo, Hawaii, beside the ocean and being so inspired by the lushness and tropical beauty, and staying in the village of Volcano, Hawaii.
  7. Running down an empty country road in Finland on the way to the country store at least a mile away that summer in 1980.
  8. Walking across the Painted Desert at The Ghost Ranch in New Mexico on a hot day in June on the way to the other side near Georgia O’Keeffe’s house.
  9. A seven day kayaking trip through the Discovery Island Group and setting up camp on a beach every night, often with a fire.
  10. Hiking the Stein Valley with Will and the ponderosa pines reminding me of the annual summer trip to Osoyoos with my parents when I was a child.
  11. Walking across a courtyard in Greenwich, England, and hearing someone playing a beautiful piece on the piano, the light high notes sparking into the air like electricity.
  12. Walks in Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island on the farthest dike on a hot August afternoon where it used to be possible to sit on randomly placed benches, soak up the heat and watch the red winged blackbirds among the tall grasses and just linger.
  13. Whale Watching in the zodiac when Ian Gidney used to own that on Salt Spring and the joy of speeding across the water in search Orcas but mostly just enjoying the wind in my face, especially on hot summer days.
  14. Exploring a ruin in Mexico called Uxmel and hearing the rustling of leaves behind me only to see two big green iguanas coming in my direction and feeling, stupidly, afraid.
  15. Exploring the streets of Chiapas, and one beautiful afternoon of exploring an historical centre called NaBolom.
  16. Riding a bike from Prachuap Khiri Khan in Thailand across a military checkpoint to the most beautiful deserted beaches.
  17. Taking that boat to an island off Sihanoukville in Cambodia to a small place where a group of us spent the day, playing volleyball, hanging out, barbequing. Koh Ta Kiev.
  18. Walking along a footpath in Bath, England that led from the city, overlooking the weir and back up to the Italianate mansion on the hill converted into a hostel. And a footpath in Oxford past the river boats with Don, the man I met at the Summer Opera Festival on our way to that famous restaurant, La Petit Blanc, which I understand is now gone, not surprisingly since my visit was 19 years ago.
  19. All the times I’d go with a friend and ride my bike around Point Roberts on day trips in the 90s that always included back then, a stop at that restaurant that started with a “B”, now gone unfortunately. It was always such a nice place to have lunch. Carrying on past the marina and onto the bluffs before heading down the big hill to the beach.
  20. Riding a bike around the Palace of Versailles grounds with a guy from the hostel in Paris where I was staying.
  21. Riding the Bamboo Railway near Battambang Cambodia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk1B-GSG6Mg
  22. Long walks around the Stanley Park Seawall with the end point The Sylvia, one of my favourite things to do.
  23. The rapids of the Fraser River on an overnight rafting trip along the Thompson into the Fraser with Kumsheen Rafting before they had a resort and we camped.
  24. Giving up our seats on the plane that was overbooked and the joy of having one more day to explore San Francisco, and the meal in that Italian restaurant in North Beach, Calzones.
  25. Walking through Saguaro National Park in Tucson and being awestruck by the purple and orange sunset as the backdrop for the tall saguaro cacti.