writing

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!

 

Christmas morning, 1960s, New Westminster

Tossing and turning, you lying top bunk, me down below

in our maple bunk beds in that small room of Robin’s egg blue

with the closet that I used to imagine dark

and crowded with monsters

after we’d waited, all night,

surely long enough,

time to get up.

We’d fling back the covers,

our first slip of toes on cold linoleum

and creep past mum and dad’s room

knowing to avoid the stairs that creaked.

As stealthy as robbers at midnight,

down to the first landing, then the next

and finally, that bottom step, and freedom.

Our excitement carried us like apparitions in the dawn towards the large living room

only awe slowing our tracks, and

all those shiny boxes, rearranged overnight

under the tree seemed to have grown,

like the snowbanks outside.

Santa was real after all.

He’d been true to his word.

Our neighbour, Mr. Jack, had been wrong,

Christmas hadn’t been cancelled like he’d teased us it had been leading up to the big day.

We’d tip toe to the adjoining dining room

a beautiful black iron fireplace, and brown

beams on the ceilings, and

turn to the family of felted stockings hanging from the white wooden mantle in front of that emerald green tiled hearth.

Your stocking red, mine green,

or was it the other way around?

We’d gingerly carry our treasures to that plush green velvet window seat

our skinny arms plunged in up to our crooked elbows,

spidery fingers digging into the tippy toe of the foot,

making sure we weren’t missing the smallest trinkets.

Always a mandarin, a candy cane, a chocolate of some sort

if my memory serves me correctly, and it may not.

A few other small things as well,

maybe a plastic pink mirror, a yo-yo, a small puzzle, a hot wheels for you.

We’d compare.

I recall few words,

whispery breath between

you and me, twin brother of mine,

until the light, a stronger grey, streamed in to announce the respectable side of morning.

Then mom and dad awake, down the stairs, in bathrobes, excited to relive our finds.

The kitchen table in the next room set from the night before.

Turkey talk, time and temperature and when to shove in the oven, and coffee, orange juice for us.

Then “the twins” – Joy and June, and finally Heather, always the last one down,

would join in for breakfast and

what I remember, most of all,

is that we’d be happier than we usually got around that table,

happier than we knew we were then.

The tone of coffee, the taste of eggs and bacon comfort

no walking on eggshells or wondering what might come next

like so many other times,

but not this day,

a shift in energy,

a relief,

the auspiciousness of togetherness.

Blessings

on that 25th day

of the 12th month

in the 1960s

on the corner of Hamilton and 8th streets

in New Westminster, B.C.

The 24 days of Christmas in Victoria

On the first day of Christmas in Victoria, I bought myself a treat: A chocolate, candy cane paddy from Rogers Chocolates, and popped it in my mouth.

On the second day of Christmas in Victoria, I strolled through James Bay without gloves, and followed my favourite route to Dallas Road, not a snow drop to be found.

On the third day of Christmas in Victoria, I joined the crowds and witnessed the strange spectacle of the IOEA Truck light convoy and food drive.

On the fourth day of Christmas in Victoria, I borrowed my neighbour’s dog, and dragged her for a photo with Santa on Cook Street outside that place called PAWS.

On the fifth day of Christmas in Victoria, I peered like a friendly giant into all the Gingerbread houses in the lobby of the Parkside Hotel, and wondered how many hours those wee abodes did take to make.

On the sixth day of Christmas in Victoria, I went to the reading of A Christmas Carol at First United Metropolitan and heard Bob McDonald, Shelagh Rogers, Sheryl MacKay and other CBC types read that ancient tale.

On the seventh day of Christmas in Victoria, I snagged a ticket to Charlie Brown’s Jazzy Christmas at Hermann’s and reveled in how great tunes really do make the holidays.

On the 8th day of Christmas in Victoria, I drove out to Butchart Gardens at dusk, delighting in the winter version of that famous garden, shining as bright as the star of Bethlehem, in the glory of all those lights.

On the 9th day of Christmas in Victoria, I walked past the sailboats all lit up in the harbour, and took myself for a prosecco at The Empress bar, before wandering upstairs to admire what magical villages the pastry chef’s had created for this year.

On the 10th day of Christmas in Victoria, I took myself to the Salvation Army’s Hope in the City Luncheon to hear Janet Austin, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and to help those less fortunate than I.

On the 11th day of Christmas in Victoria, I wandered around the Bay Centre, to admire all the Christmas trees from all of the Victoria businesses and popped in for some Christmas Blend Tea at Murchies.

On the 12th day of Christmas in Victoria, I sang out of tune with the Vox Hermana Chamber Choir as the Victoria Symphony Orchestra conductor told really cheesy Christmas jokes that eve.

On the 13th day of Christmas in Victoria, I made the Border Paella from the Rebar cookbook then donned an Ugly, T-shirt that said Santa, I can explain… I put a flashing dollar store necklace around my head and carried my Paella to a place across from Emily’s Carr’s family home to join my book club to discuss Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster, and to eat and be merry.

On the 14th day of Christmas I Victoria, I unwrapped my octopi and my squid and my starfish ornaments, and hung them from the mirror of that antique oak shaving stand in my living room that used to belong to my parents.

On the 15th day of Christmas in Victoria, I visited a neighbour, who showed me how he makes his golden elixir of homemade almond milk with six tablespoons of turmeric dumped in, how beets fermenting in vinegar will seal themselves, and perfect fragrant buds of THC, stashed like mini felted green ornaments in a jar.

On the 16th day of Christmas in Victoria, I peeled potatoes for the Salvation Army, so all those on the streets who’ve migrated as far west as they could get in the country, could share in a bit of the yuletide festivities through a hot meal.

On the 20th day of Christmas in Victoria, I wandered down to Centennial Square, to take in the delayed Lights of Wonder light display, finally, something that’s free.

On the 21st day of Christmas in Victoria, I sat myself down at Il Sauvage, for a pint of their delicious Raspberry Golden Sour, my fav, a well-deserved treat, not a partridge in a pear tree to be seen.

On the 22nd day of Christmas in Victoria, I took an old Victoria Walking Tour: https://downtownvictoria.ca/event/christmas-in-old-victoria-historical-walking-tour/2019-12-01/

On the 23rd day of Christmas in Victoria, I dropped by the Legacy Gallery because I was up to here with Christmas festivities: https://events.uvic.ca/view/event/date/20191221/event_id/42735

On the 24th day of Christmas in Victoria, I went to the liquor store, like any self-respecting person you’d want to be friends with would, and I stocked up on Sambuca, Baileys, Irish cream, Kahlua, Prosecco and wine so I could be supremely self-medicated to get through the next week.

PS: The events here may or may not have happened on the dates listed, or at all.

Re-introducing yourself to yourself once a week

photo of Dale Chihuly sculpture, Seattle exhibit

The high point of my year so far has been an hour and a half on Sunday mornings at James Bay Community Centre. For the past five weeks I’ve been taking a course on reducing stress through yoga and learning about Ayurveda.

It’s taught by a lovely woman named Donna Miller, who lives on Mayne Island and comes over to Victoria to offer it. She teaches yoga, Ayurveda yoga and somatic movement and mindfulness.

There’s something so great about easing into Sunday by doing a little luxurious visit with yourself, your physical self especially, to check in on it and do a body scan which is how the class often starts.

She’s fantastic at talking the class through that moving from the toes to the crown and really tuning into to what’s going on. Is there pain? Where is it? Are there colours arising? What are you feeling at the belly, at the pit of the stomach? If you’re like me, too often scattered and overwhelmed by vatta in a pitta body, out of balance, not even paying attention to the physical body except when, it reminds you, through a pain in the knee or hips or ankle that your spirit has a container and lo and behold it’s aging and stiff.

I recently got an e-mail from a cousin who lives in downtown Toronto but does a lot better job of keeping in touch with me than vice versa and she said to me when she heard about my job that she hoped I was doing something for my spirit, my creative spirit, and it was a bit of a wake-up call. No. No actually. I’m bloody well not doing a single thing for that little amorphous creature and it’s showing. I’m feeling it. And winter is never my best time, mentally,  to begin with.

I was wondering the other day why it has always been so hard for me to maintain. Why five steps forward, 7 steps back? When I lived on Salt Spring it was pretty easy to live a life that felt in tune – with oneself, with nature, with other people who were part of a community that mattered and organically connected because of proximity and like-mindedness about the importance of connecting.

I look back at that time and think, wow, how far from that reality I’ve now strayed, again, which is what prompted the signing up to this class. And what I’ve noticed is that just taking that baby step, taking time to tune into the body, leads to all sorts of other thoughts about other changes one might make to counterbalance the inordinate amount of psychic energy required to go to a job five days a week.

Ideally, none of us would have to compartmentalize to that degree but too many of us have to and so we do, at least for periods of time.  Carving out time on the weekend, or whenever it works, is a bit of a spirit-saving necessity.