COVID-19

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.

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. 

 

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.

COVID-19: The Mother of all staycations

I keep finding messages. First I found a whole street of fairy houses I didn’t know existed in Victoria and then this (above), in a tree, near my apartment. I like it. Sweet.

I can take no credit for sourcing what I’m about to share with you.

My friend Susan in Vancouver sent it to me yesterday and someone sent it to her. Please share it if you are so inclined.

I started reading it while I was still in bed, early in the morning, worrying that using an IPhone in bed that I hadn’t wiped down upon waking would surely come back to bite me. You see how my brain has changed in ways that I’m not okay with?

Of course the topic is COVID-19. But it’s something that’s written with so much insight.

Yesterday, (today right now as I write this) was the first day I was feeling like, ‘oh, this, this is for real! This isn’t just some mother of all Staycations.'”

Here’s the article, The Coronation (15-30 minutes)  https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/

Here’s a link if you’d like to know more about this person, Charles Eisenstein.

Hope you’re staying the course, physically distancing at 2 meters, socially connecting, keeping up some weird new routine, taking time to go inside yourself, and think about what you might want to change once the crisis part is over. I hope you’re doing okay.

Walk like this: Do The COVID

You may not be old enough to remember this, but if you are, of course you remember the incomparable comedian John Belushi.

One of my favourite things about him was how he scurried about in the movie Animal House (1978). His movement was part sideways crab, part Pink Panther and part Muhammad Ali. He floated on his feet but in a really stupid, yet amusing “Private Investigator for Dummies” kind of way. (To see an example, it starts at 6:47 in the video clip below).

When I go out for my COVID-19 ‘keep my sanity, get out of the house’ walk, I keep thinking about the way John Belushi used to move about in that movie. And I feel like, in my head at least, I’ve taken on a lesser version of that style. Especially when I’m outside, on high alert, trying to avoid getting too close to other pesky humanoids.

I make sure that when I turn a blind corner, I don’t saunter right into one of them when uck, yuck, blech, stay the hell away from me, you disgusting Corona viral host you. Read my lips: Six feet. Actually 6.5 feet to be exact.

Because I walk almost everywhere in my teeny weeny little life that has shrunk down to some microscopic 3 square miles or whatever, and ever since the physical distancing rules came in, I have been paying attention to the way people are handling themselves while out and about.

There’s the people who just walk down the sidewalk like they’re playing a game of chicken. Who’s going to give first? I always give. No. That’s a lie. Correction. I ALMOST always give. But after I’ve given and given and given, on the 10th time I might use one of them as an experiment.

I might decide to just keep walking, especially if I was the there first. I like to think of this as the sidewalk version of manspreading because I hate to say it but too often, it’s guys who are not moving. You can feel their defiance from 25 feet away. They are not changing their location in the space not one bit. Entitlement. All mine. Move the hell out of the way. Some things never change. Yup, said it.

There’s the people who, like me, as soon as they spot a human coming towards them on the sidewalk, they cross the street. Avoidance is our life long modus operandi. We’ve perfected it. We just never realized it would really come in handy one day. We didn’t know we were practicing for The COVID.

There’s the people who, like the adults they are, can actually USE THEIR WORDS! Bless their emotionally intelligent hearts.  “I’m going on this side,” they’ll say. They tip their head. They gesture with their hand. They let you know what the hell they are thinking. They are walking like they drive. I’m sure they must all be Roadstars.  I’ll tell you what they are not. They are not COVIDiots!

Then there’s the people who are oblivious. They just keep getting closer and closer. They are walking their dogs. They are looking at their cellphones. They act like they’ve just woken up from a 100-year-long nap. Rumplestiltskn wannabes. They are the ones who behind the wheel would always go through a 4 way stop or take their turn when it isn’t theirs to take. They might as well be on vacation with Chevy Chase.

When you stop to see what direction they are going so you don’t run right into them, they think you’re actually stopping to have a chat. They keep walking towards you as you back up. Darwin Awards. Give them one.

There’s the people who act like zombies and can’t differentiate between staying six feet away and still managing to be friendly. They can only focus on one thing at a time: six feet, six feet, six feet. Don’t expect them to say “Hello” at a time like this for God’s sake.

Oh, let’s not forget the cyclists. As is often the case, just like before, they don’t think any of the rules apply to them, so why would physical distancing be any different. After all, they’re moving. So what if they’re six inches at the shoulder away from you when they whiz on by.

I liked the old days–two weeks ago–when some people were every bit as oblivious but it was just an annoyance, not a potentially life-altering encounter.

Check your attitude during COVID-19

The best thing you can do for your mental health right now, if you haven’t already, is to snooze or get rid of every single person on your social media feeds who thinks this is the time to debate what’s going on because they don’t “trust” the government or they’re trying to prove some sort of point.

Get rid of anyone off your feeds who purposely makes others feel bad or in general is argumentative and negative.

My life is already and intentionally filled with people, the ones I am closest to, who are focused on being positive, helpful, optimistic (way more optimistic than I usually am), future thinking and expecting the best. There’s no room for conspiracy theorists in my own little delusional universe and that’s the way I like it.

I work for the B.C. Government and I can assure you there isn’t a single person in any ministry who isn’t doing what they can to make things easier within the realm of what’s possible for citizens in B.C. They are doing the best they can under these very difficult circumstances that are requiring immediate response and instant decisions, in an institution that isn’t used to making change on a dime.

There is that old saying when it comes to keeping the peace in relationships: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Well, now that question has changed slightly. Do you want to be right or do you want to be sick or in the worst case scenario, dead?

Focus on beauty and positivity. Join an online meditation group or whatever kind of group turns your crank. Listen to symphonies performing concerts online. Watch comedies on TV. Once you figure out Zoom or messenger, have a chat with those people who aren’t going to ramp up your anxiety, but in direct contrast, recognize that now is the time to soothe it.

This is not the time to prove that you’re an intellectual, wiser, more enlightened or more incisive than others. This is the time to be the kindest, most compassionate person you are capable of being. Be a good listener. Be open. Watch how you’re impacting others. Your community needs you to do the very best you can do.

This is also not the time to be a rugged individualist, stubborn insistence that you’ll be absolutely fine on your own. You’re missing the point. If someone reaches out to you and you don’t even respond to them, you’re not getting what’s going on and how you could use this as a time to rethink the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are your entire life.

If you’re like a lot of people, you have probably never been so connected to family and friends online on a daily basis – checking in, keeping spirits up, having a laugh, commiserating. Doing what humans have been doing for centuries – around the piazza, around the water cooler, at the watering hole, over the fence and now, from your own living room – apart but together. Same same but different.