The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947

…Thus the first thing that the plague brought to our fellow citizens was exile…Yes, that hollow that we carried constantly inside us, that precise emotion, that unreasonable desire to go backwards or, on the contrary, to speed up the march of time, those burning arrows of memory – all this really did amount to a feeling of exile. If sometimes we gave in to our imaginations and indulged in waiting for the ring of the homecoming bell or a familiar step on the stair, if at such moments we allowed ourselves to forget that the trains were at a standstill and if we then made sure to stay indoors at the time when, in normal circumstances, a traveller returning by the evening express might reach our neighborhood, these games, of course, could not go on for long. Then we knew that our separation was going to last, and that we ought to try to come to terms with time. In short, from then on, we accepted our status as prisoners; we were reduced to our past alone and even if a few people were tempted to live in the future, they quickly gave it up, as far as possible, suffering the wounds that the imagination eventually inflicts on those who trust in it.

Sprinklings of memories

Last night I walked by a sprinkler in the side yard of a beautiful old yellow heritage house in James Bay.  

It was one of those old-fashioned sprinklers from the 60s that moves back and forth in pinstripe lines of needle-like water. You can adjust the stream so it fits in small spaces or turn the water on, full pressure, so it can move back and forth across a bigger expanse of lawn.

This sprinkler was on a very small rectangle patch of grass and some sort of lush greenery, tall grasses that blocked the view slightly past the fence, if I’m remembering correctly. The grass was mostly in shade, but with the soft light of 7 p.m. shining onto a dry patch of it.

The water, jetting out of the sprinkler, glinted in a stream of sunshine that hit it. And in my two seconds of passing, because I was walking fast, I was immediately transported back to a side yard at my house in New Westminster during my sixties childhood.

I could feel the needle stream of wetness on my legs, hear the joy of running under it, especially if my best friend was there. The trying to avoid the water, running straight through it, putting my foot on top of the stream to prevent it from hitting me. I could see a red bathing suit bottom, perhaps of my friend but I’m not sure, and the way it sagged at the butt when it got wet. I could feel my brother’s hands trying to push me into the water. And see him being silly, his face over the stream, his black hair dripping wet. Two seconds of passing this scene in a stranger’s yard and I was right back at eight years old in another yard, during another time with the same type of sprinkler and all those visual memories.

Is this what happens with aging?

When you’re 90, should you live that long, does every image become stacked upon the scenes you’ve kept your entire life, little vignettes and snapshots hidden away, awakened only by an image or experience in the present as if every day is a taste test of the most delicious 14-layer chocolate cake, the most painful collage of things you’ve tried to forget?

Visions of daily life Post-COVID

When COVID has run its course at some point (we have to hope in the next 12-15 months), I think we all must have an inkling that on some level there is going to be an explosion of change – in personal lives, in work lives, in who we keep close and who we move on from and we can only hope, because humanity’s future is dependent upon it, in the organization of our society.

It’s good to pay attention to the thoughts that come up for you at all times. That was not so easy to do in the busyness pre-COVID. It’s even more important to pay attention to the thoughts that arise during times of crisis. I really believe these thoughts are signposts about a vague vision of your future that is already formulating inside of you.

I’m not sure if this happens to others but there are places I’ve visited that keep coming back to me. For years! I think of them as places as visitors, ringing the bell of my consciousness, calling out as if home is a part of their imagery.

One of those places that keep visiting me is a little village I spent time in when I went to Thailand in 2013. I got on the train in Bangkok. I got off the train about 3 or 4 hours later farther south. While journeying there, the train was open air, and all the seats were taken. Uncomfortable seats, very upright, if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. We stopped once or twice to let passengers on and off and at one stop vendors selling food came on during the stop. There were women carrying bags of ice, Thai ice tea, in different colours, pastel pink and orange, and noodles as well.

It was beautiful, rural countryside, the opposite of Bangkok’s frenzy. Tall palms dotted the grassy landscape. The breeze, extremely warm, was blowing in through the windows and the tracks clacked as we moved farther south. I was one of the few foreigners on it, or at least that’s what I recall about the compartment I was in.

A middle aged white woman alone always piques interest, pity, admiration, curiosity at the very least, especially in those countries organized around the sanctity and cohesiveness of family.

I got off the train and walked, late in the afternoon, towards the sea because I had been told that’s where the best old hotel (owned by the Russians) in this small place was. I had been told by someone who recommended the place to me to ask for a room close to the top floors in what was a five or six-story very sparse building.

I checked in, English not really spoken, except in gestures, and took the stairs up four flights and opened the door to my room. I inhaled quickly, a gulp of heat shocked the inside of my mouth and my lungs. I went to the balcony and the view from my tiny deck was stunning. Limestone cliffs rose from the blue grey of the Gulf of Thailand and the heat, mist like, fogged the scene in a mirage of heat waves. Boats that looked like Chinese junks were in the distance. There was no denying I was in S.E. Asia.

Over the course of four days I explored the small place. There was a daily market that ran the full length of an alleyway. There was a 7-11 on the corner, or a store that resembled it. The entire length of the waterfront had a walkway where early in the morning, individuals would dry the catch of fish from their nets, small squid I think. I remember, even then, thinking to myself that this was the kind of place I could just hang out for a while. To just take in its rural version of small town Thailand, a version I’d enjoyed more of than any other place I’d experienced in Thailand.

I walked along and there were children in uniforms behind big gates, running through a dusty courtyard and I said Hi to them through the gates of their school.

There were smaller Stupa-style temples with gold and turquoise tile works and small clay elephants and roosters arranged like offerings on the tile around ceramic elephants standing three feet high. On Friday evenings there was a local market on the waterfront and I spoke with a Thai man who spoke English. He was curious about where I was from and of course I had to correct his immediate impression that I was American.

Along the waterfront there were a few local Thai restaurants, and further along, past a military checkpoint, there were beautiful stretches of beaches that had lots of room, the softness of murky waves rippling along the sand-coloured shore and back out again, melding with the blue-green sea.

I could image going back there. It keeps poking at me. I always pay attention to those places I’ve visited that never leave. Oban, Scotland is another one.

I could imagine renting a place to live and just being in this small Thai town for a while at some point in the future. One thing I’ve learned from the pandemic, although I sort of knew this beforehand, is that I can be in the world, by myself, and be relatively okay regardless of where that might be, especially in the age of Zoom.

I’m genuinely curious to know whether any of you have places you’ve visited in the world that accompany you psychically and you’ve never really been able to explain precisely why.

Stay home, stay grounded

I feel like I hit the COVID wall last week.

It’s been about 15 weeks since I’ve been working from home. To make matters worse, I switched jobs right before we were all sent home to work from home so I don’t even know the people on my team. Timing is everything! I can’t send these new co-workers overly honest, sarcastic and rude chat messages like I could with my former coworkers. But, unlike 8 million Canadians who have applied for CERB, at least I still have a pay cheque.

Whenever I think of my former co-workers, they are all where they were pre-COVID. They’re in their cubicles or their offices as if I’m the only one working from home. Every time I send them a message, I picture them at work. Perhaps it’s because I know them at work, but I can’t visualize them in their homes since I’ve never been to their homes. I have immortalized them in my mind’s eye where I last saw them. Statues. As they were. Like toy employees I can move around if I want to. The way the Friendly Giant used to move the chairs in front of the fireplace.

I look in my storage space off my hallway and I count as many bottles of wine as weeks working from home. I have energetically contributed to the increase in alcohol consumption of British Columbians. Just doing my part! We’re all in this together, remember? Even if it means drinking alone.

I try to convince myself that of course, silly, there is always something new to see in the neighborhood even if only in a grain of sand. William Blake. I just need to change my perception I tell myself. Viktor Frankl. Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle. So sometimes I reluctantly push my sloth-like self out the door. Other times I can barely stand these walls and this laptop and as soon as the clock strikes noon or 4:30 pm, I’m outta here. On weeknights or at lunch, I walk around the neighborhood and Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road and the inner harbour for the 795th time the way I used to walk around the block to my best friend’s house as a child, a well-worn path.

I walk past the ducks in that house on Battery Street and Emily Carr’s family home on Government.  I spend hours on a log on the beach off Dallas Road talking to a friend. I search for hearts on trees and in windows. I put out an intention before I leave. Tonight I will find a new faerie house I tell myself. I am an aimless neighborhood wanderer. And yes, surprisingly, there is always something new to see, even close to home.

Tonight on my walk I saw an amazing trumpet player givin’ er, joining other neighbours who were out with their spoons hitting poles, one beating an Indigenous drum, clapping and tapping and participating in a ritual that makes them feel connected. But those gatherings aren’t about health care workers anymore. At least not in Victoria. I don’t think so.

I mean, no offense, but when you think about it, the health care workers on Vancouver Island must be less busy than they normally are, given the low COVID numbers. If that’s not true, forgive me. It’s the home care workers and the health care workers inside senior’s residences that are chock a block around the clock. And the grocery store clerks and maybe small breweries delivering their golden liquids and small mom and pop restaurants doing what they can to make takeout a reality. I feel for those small restaurant owners.

I’ve gone back to “just call me.” I don’t need to see your face on a screen. Or my own face. I’ve resorted to hugging myself and I wonder if couples know how lucky they are. Are some of them having way more sex because they’re bored and they have the time or are they sick of each other so it’s hard to “get in the mood?”  This is the minutia I wonder about.

I watch as the colour slowly leaves my hair fascinated by the non-colour that is replacing what was a version of auburn and I can hear my mother say that women of a certain age shouldn’t wear their hair long. She was wrong.

I try to seek out the little joys. A friend’s brother eloped the other day. Togetherness was obviously good for him and his love. I receive a photo of a baby that was born to a friend back east. A baby whose middle name now bears the name of my friend, Judith, who died two years ago. She would have been happy to be a grandmother. She would have smiled at the baby’s full head of dark hair, just like her daughter’s, that baby’s mamma.

I search out television shows I can binge watch next and just finished Dead to Me and the documentary, 13th.  I watch National Theatre Live and when I’m in absolute veg mode, which is alot, I watch 90 day fiancé and Alone on the History channel. Sometimes I tune into live concerts on Zoom with 260 others who have paid $10 to listen in. I finally clean my balcony and plant some succulents, dahlias and kale. I put my bag of marbles in my round glass bowl and fill it with water for the bees. It must be summer now, I tell myself, through that one act.

I have a fabulous artist friend, Keiko, in Vancouver. I asked her to paint me a watercolour of The Sylvia Hotel. I wanted a painting of it so I could look at it and it would remind me of some of the good friends I would meet for a drink or two there. She did. And now I just have to wait to get it framed.

I sent my nieces and sisters a surprise gift from Salt Spring Lavender to brighten their days and then included myself. I introduced myself to audible and then heard about Libro FM which lets you support independent bookstores when you subscribe and download books to listen to. My first book was called The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. It’s a book about these women in a matrifocal society on an island named Jeju off the coast of Korea who have for centuries been the ones to support their families by diving for seaweed and shellfish all wrapped around a Korean history lesson. A tale of hardship, love, women, family, hatred, betrayal and forgiveness. I’ve moved on to Italy now. My Brilliant Friend.

I peruse my bookshelf for all the books I’ve yet to read trying to settle on one that I’m interested in but my concentration is as fleeting as the lavender spritzer I spray on my pillow at night.

Sometimes I eat salads with greens purchased from the James Bay Saturday Market. I walk a lot more than 10,000 steps. I refrain from wine with dinner. I don’t buy chocolate. I don’t eat Haagen-Dazs. Then other weeks I’m an emotional eating machine. Sourdough bread. Peanut Butter. Hagendaz. Nachos. Licorice. Peanut Butter Cups. Craft Beer. A donut from Discovery coffee = coconut crème or mojito flavoured. An endless pit.

I think of my parents a lot. And many other people who have flowed, like a river, through my days in the past and I wonder about their personal experience of this time. How are they doing? I do this more than I have ever done this before.

I came back from doing the laundry tonight and a book that was given to my father as a child, a book of poems with illustrations, was lying on the rug right in front of my bookcase. It wasn’t there before I went to do the laundry. I swear! It’s called Songs of Innocence. A shaky inscription says that it was given to my father from his mother in 1927 on his 9th birthday. Inside there is his scrawled handwriting denoting he was passing it on to me. Is that a message, I wondered? Is my father trying to tell me I’m not alone? Why of all the books that could have fallen out of the bookshelf, did that one end up on the rug right in front of me?

I wonder if anyone else has noticed that all the things they’ve needed to work on their entire life are getting in their face?  For me it’s a tendency to run away. Not this time! You just stay right where you are young lady…And deal. I wonder what others are being reminded of about themselves that they wish they didn’t already know?

This COVID thing is a cheaper, much more boring version of therapy. Stay Home, the sign flashes on the freeway, which is ironic because it’s too late. You’re in your car. You’re out. You’re going somewhere.

And the thing is, metaphorically, I’ve now decided that those two words — Stay Home– they really aren’t just referring to where you live.

They might just be referring to that place, inside, that keeps you grounded.

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!