Victoria

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.

COVID-19 & supporting your community

photo by gayle

If your employment isn’t impacted at this point and you’re feeling really grateful for that or you’re just fine when it comes to money, (How do I know you?), there are so many places you could support during this difficult time.

I’m worried about all the artists and musicians and writers who are barely making it as it is.

I’m worried about all the places I like to frequent here in Victoria because without them the city would be so much less, and there are so many restaurants and arts organizations that will really suffer given that the economy here is so focused on tourism.  

Either order take-out or pick-up from them (doing your own risk assessment on that) or donate to them. 

Places like Intrepid Theatre and The Belfry and the independent bookstores and the hole in the wall restaurants and the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera and Dance Victoria and Il Sauvage Brewing, Nourish and Hermanns because of the musicians who rely on that venue to make some money, and to do what they love.  Here’s a blog post by Frankies in Vancouver about supporting the musicians who normally work at the club.

And then there are all the market vendors on Salt Spring who depend on the next 7 months of the year to make a living. Some are set up for online purchasing but many of the smaller ones are not.

I’m worried about the vulnerable people I see on the street every day and know that donating to places like Mustard Seed and Our Place and Women in Need Thrift Store and Megaphone Magazine vendors  or Union Gospel Mission, the YWCA, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre or Atira Society, The Bloom Group or Covenant House for Youth or Victoria Women’s Transition House or Youth Empowerment Society can make a difference.

Think about where you live and your favourite places or social service and arts organizations and donate if you’re able to.

Don’t forget that you can write donations off your taxes (for next year). Find out more from TurboTax if you’re Canadian: https://turbotax.intuit.ca/tips/tax-benefits-of-charitable-donations-5414

Here are some places that are either delivering or doing take-out in Victoria, B.C., although I’m sure there are many more since this list was created: https://www.victoriabuzz.com/2020/03/these-greater-victoria-businesses-are-offering-special-services-in-light-of-covid-19/

Obviously you are only one person with limited resources, (and those have taken a big hit recently) but you are better off than someone else. That’s indisputable.

Just figure out which group in your community you would feel good about donating your limited resources to and Just Do It! Today. By the end of this week. No procrastinating.

Amusing yourself during a pandemic

The thing about being an introvert and being told to hunker down is that it’s almost like being told, “Hey, just be yourself.” Finally! You mean I can just stay home and binge read, watch TV, clean my apartment, go for a walk in the park, go down to the beach, drink some wine, make some soup and chili and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing SOMETHING Instagram worthy?

It would seem the most important thing to control during this pandemic, as is true every single day, is our own thoughts.

A friend told me that she heard this cool thing. The word Pandemic can be broken down with the middle syllable “dem” — which originates from Greek and means “people” — and when you take out the people or “dem” in Pandemic whaddya got? Panic! Pan-DEM-ic! Very clever! And accurate.

Here’s a few suggested diversions to lower the panic, you dems you!

  • In B.C., keep up to date on what’s happening in your community by listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, on the local news as they report out daily, often at 3:00 p.m. or on the Government of BC Facebook page.
  • Then again, be aware of how much time you’re spending getting freaked out by broadcast and social media.
  • Watch the emotional eating and ramp up the self-care. If you’re scarfing down cupcakes and other crap like I was on Friday night like you’re the winner of a zombie apocalypse emotional eating contest,  you might decide that now is a good time to focus on extreme self-care.
  • Forget the toilet paper, buy some greens and avocados and get your guerrilla Dr. Gundry warfare on.  Take your Vitamin C and organic spirulina.
  • Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Look at the flowers, take photographs which requires your mind to focus on the present and on only what’s in front of you.
  • Don’t go to a big box store or stand in a long line-up for food surrounded by all those people who have not kept their panic at bay.
  • Try to practice the 2 metre rule of distancing yourself from people – that’s 6 feet.
  • If you’re feeling super anxious, start doing boxed breathing. 
  • If you’ve meditated in the past but stopped, this seems like a good time to breathe in, breathe out, stay focused on your breath.
  • Read a book – Check in on some Canadian authors at Canada Reads.
  • Make some soup from scratch and freeze it.
  • Write in a journal knowing you’re documenting an historic event in human history.
  • Seems like a good time to get back to the practice of the gratitude journal or just take time each evening to think of three things you’re grateful for – apparently just the process of seeking out those three things is good for your brain and can help you focus on your “wealth.”
  • Think about what arts organizations really need your support through this and purchase a ticket or give a donation.
  • Listen to public radio – CBC, NPR in the States.
  • Take an afternoon nap if you can, alone, or even better, with company.
  • Watch a movie, preferably a comedy, not Contagion.
  • Listen to some great jazz or blues or whatever you like best, maybe one of those “poor me” country tunes.
  • Find some podcasts that you’d like to start following.
  • Do your taxes (Yuk for sure, but it is that time of year).
  • Clean your house in a way you never get around to.
  • Do that chore at home you’ve been putting off for months.
  • Kondo your closet.
  • Play a board game or throw a baseball back and forth in a nearby park with your kids or your dog.
  • Call your friends or family who live elsewhere using whatever technology you can.
  • Make a Femo monster of the virus and smash it afterwards. Okay. A little weird, but could be fun. And the video is hilarious (to me)!
  • Yesterday, I was speaking over video chat with my 96 year old friend who I now feel, because of her vulnerability to the virus,  I shouldn’t go visit. While we haven’t quite perfected our use of the technology, we’ll get there. And as she so succinctly said, “What am I supposed to do, dig a hole, take some food and jump in?” The answer? “No. Don’t do that! Not yet, anyway. You’ve excelled at aging. Hang in there!”
  • Research where you want to go when we get past this, even if it takes months.
  • Mostly, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, follow the recommendations and for now, remind yourself that in this moment you are safe. Focus on how well you are right in this moment and focus on the facts, not forecasting the worst.  And carry on.

If you insist, here’s a few links to be over-informed by:

BC Centre for Disease Control:
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19

Definitions:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center#Terms

Infection Prevention and Control – Canada
https://ipac-canada.org/coronavirus-resources.php

How it spreads: (If you have high anxiety, don’t read this link).
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

Qi Gong: Awakening the tiger

In the new year, I decided  it was important to do something that was out of my head so I signed up for a few courses at my local community centre.

Sunday morning is for Somatic yoga. I call it yoga for lazy people because it feels like the instructor is doing all the work. It’s as if she’s leading some organized travelogue around my body while I’m just the tourist, on the bus, staring out the window of my mind, assessing my limbs and their weight against the ground. 

“Is your right calf touching the floor in the same way as your left? How does it feel? What about your hips? Is one hip higher off the floor than the other. Strangely enough, the day after the first class, I woke up and my left hip, which has given me problems, was feeling looser. The pain in the morning wasn’t really there. Am I just imaging that, I asked myself. Three weeks later, the stiffness has remained less.

Wednesday night is for Guided Meditation and realigning the chi, listening to soothing music and rebalancing the chakras.

Thursday night is for Qi Gong.  I’d heard about Qi Gong but didn’t really understand what it was. Body. Breath. Mind. Being aware of energy. Moving energy in a healing way inside the body.  The instructor is a man who I’m guessing to be nearing his late sixties. He might be older and because of his fitness, looks younger.

As one would hope, he’s very calm. He speaks very softly but as soon as he takes control at the front of the room, you know he knows his stuff even though you have no idea what that stuff is. 

The class is packed. He seems to have a following. It’s as if everyone in the room, except me, knows each other. It’s as if they’ve been doing this for years. When I go back home, I Google him. It says: Eric Tuttle is the only person in Canada who can do all four traditional Chinese internal martial arts at a master level. He is also the highest ranked non Chinese person in the history of the rare art of Xin-Yi Quan (Heart, Mind, Fist), the oldest internal martial art in China. 

The morning after, as I was Googling him, I looked up Qi Gong on YouTube to see if I could find out more. I found this video. I think it’s a great way to start the morning.

 

The Levee, the Westie and the Lieutenant Governor of BC

Having had the most uneventful New Year’s Eve on the planet, in bed by 10 p.m., I sprung out of bed on the first day of the New Year at about 6:30 a.m., a typical time for me. Well, you know what they say about consistency and routine and sleep! I’m on it.

I wanted to partake in something I’d heard about the year before which was the New Year’s Day Levee hosted at Government House with the Lieutenant Governor, Janet Austin, in attendance.  

The word levee (from French, noun use of infinitive lever, “rising”, from Latin lev?re, “to raise”) originated in the levée du soleil (rising of the sun) of King Louis XIV (1643–1715). … It was in Canada that the levee became associated with New Year’s Day.

I didn’t know what was going to happen at this levee but I was looking to get some exercise and the 45 minute walk from James Bay to Government House fit the bill. It was a beautiful morning and the streets and Beacon Hill Park weren’t completely empty but they were silent. Just the odd dog walker and photographer there the way early mornings are on a holiday.

The event started at 10 a.m. with advisement to go early.  By the time I walked through the gates of Government House, I had it in my head that surely I would be one of the first to arrive. As the house came into view I saw a huge line of people, two by two and three by three, including one of my coworkers and his partner, standing in a snake of a bloody long line that wound around the front of the old regal place right on up onto the red carpeted entrance. I couldn’t believe it. I got in line behind two women who either said they’d come every single year or hadn’t ever been in spite of having lived in Victoria most of their adult lives. One of them was the President of the Victoria Bluegrass Society.

We eventually stepped over the threshold in a consistently moving line and were directed down the red carpeted stairs into the basement, past the Susan Point prints that flanked each side of the staircase, past the official necklace on display, past a billiards and games room, snaking back around on the other side of the hall. Then  back upstairs and through the main entryway again, past the collection box to drop a donation into for The Cridge Centre for the Family and eventually past an attractive police officer who appeared to be high ranking, for all I know he may have been the Chief of Police for Victoria.

Next there was another man dripping with medals who asked my name and proceeded to repeat my name to the Lieutenant Governor by way of formal introduction who proceeded to wish me a happy new year as I did to her as she shook my hand.

When I woke up that morning, having no idea what I was about to partake in, focused mainly on getting some exercise, I threw on my sweat pants, was still wearing the T-shirt I’d slept in the night before under my Gore-Tex jacket and laced up my MEC lace-up boots.

I wasn’t anticipating being up close and personal with a government dignitary, The Honourable Janet Austin, before 10:30 am on New Year’s Day. That poor woman! She had to shake more than, and I’m guessing here, 500 hands first thing on Near Year’s Day and one can only imagine the names that came at her, forcing her to attempt them or just let them slide by, the number of syllables so many, no point in even trying, a smile and a greeting having to suffice.

After that, we entered a gracious wooden room, grand staircases sweeping up to the landings on either side that ran the full length. I could hear a military band playing but couldn’t see where the music was coming from. I looked up and more uniforms with instruments were crammed into the very front of the second floor, like the prow on a ship, the light from the big windows gleaming off their shiny bits. I felt like I was on the Titanic.

There was a grandiose feeling of anticipation. More and more people were streaming in. The sound of bagpipes were wafting in from some distant part of the building. There were tables lined with cups (Styrofoam I might add. Change that for next year if you please!). The right side of the table was set out with alcoholic punch and the left, non-alcoholic, the Styrofoam cups filled and ready for the taking.

Further on there was another busy table with little bags being set out like gifts, and staff replenishing the bags as people took them. Inside the bag was a small bite-sized quiche tart, a shortbread, a chocolate chip cookie and a tiny croissant. Tasty! Thank you very much.

I wandered around taking in the scene, feeling like a true Settler, like I’d stepped onto some movie set of some soiree of colonial re-enactment.

I made my way up to the second balcony on the opposite side of the room and soon enough, the pipe band was being introduced and marched towards the front of the room, the whirring of the pom poms on the drums, and later, my co-worker describing the antics of one of the drummers who was throwing his sticks in the air as confident and proud as the majorettes at the front of the marching bands in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl Parade.

An elderly woman beside me, in great shape, stood to attention as soon as the pipes and drums sounded  and she began to mimic with her hands as if she were playing her own imaginary drums. I got close and spoke loudly to ask her, “Did you used to play?”

In a voice that could have been Robin Williams’ accent in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, she said, “Oh, dear, I’m from Glasgow, the old country. As soon as I hear the pipes, the wee hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I once played the Calgary Stampede. That parade was 4 hours long, wandering through those streets. It was so hot. My name is Iona, like the island.”

The Lieutenant Governor was finally piped in and her little dog, a white westie (West Highland white terrier) whose name I couldn’t hear when she introduced it, led her proudly on his red leash. She said some humorous things about everyone being there for the dog. She introduced the elder. She gave a nice speech to greet the New Year and introduced an interesting new initiative focused on conversations about democracy at a time, she said, when we are seeing too often how fragile democracy can be, more fragile than expected, even in the places we never imagined it would seem threatened and to watch out for ways to participate or host such conversations.

Near the end of the event, the band in the balcony played a short version of a song. I wondered why it sounded so familiar. When I asked someone I knew who was there, he said, “It’s Auld Lang Syne, Gayle! Maybe you don’t recognize it because usually you’d hear it after you’ve had 7 or more drinks by then,” referring to the time of night it usually gets played on New Year’s Eve, not to my drinking patterns. I laughed a lot at that witty response.

I was intending to spend maybe 30 minutes at the levee that morning, but greeted by such a unique spectacle, such pomp and circumstance and feelings of community, I couldn’t pull myself away.  Next year, I’ll be sure to dress for the occasion.

Happy New Year!

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

The emotion of Art

I was at the Jane Siberry concert in Victoria last night. And she was singing Calling All Angels.

In the row in front of me,  there were what I guessed to be three generations of women in a family. A grandma. A mother. A daughter. And when Jane Siberry started singing her song, Calling all Angels, the daughter in her late 30s started to cry.

She was wiping tears away from first the right side of her face and then the left side with the fatty palm of her hand and she made those motions for quite a long time. Had she not been doing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that she was crying. I was wondering what had caused her feelings to push to the light. I noticed her mom didn’t even turn her head. Was that because she didn’t notice? Or was it precisely because she had? And when I found myself mesmerized by this young woman’s emotion, I realized how much it made me feel better to experience her crying.

Just seeing her response quickened something in my own chest. I closed my eyes and reached for it. I wished I could take that journey right alongside her. I was envious. It was like a memory I’d lived so many times before but have now pushed so far down, again.

Earlier in the day, I went to Chelene Knight’s presentation about home related to her book, Dear Current Occupant. She was speaking about what home means and how do you know when you’re there? Do you feel at home because of a physical place or what factors make somewhere feel like home? Afterwards, a woman in the small audience couldn’t get through her comments to Chelene without her voice quivering and the tears pouring out. Chelene’s book and the thoughts about home she’d evoked were able to touch this woman so deeply that she couldn’t help but be there in that moment fully, emotionally, in feeling.

So to that woman and to the young woman last night at the Jane Siberry concert, I bless you for your tears.

You’re alive and you can still feel it.

Here’s the beautiful song in case you’re not familiar with it: