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/

Hedgehog therapy

In a world currently plagued by COVID-19, falling stock markets, the condo insurance crisis in B.C., protests and rampages and climate destruction and possibly the end of life on earth as we know it, today I would like to talk to you about hedgehogs.

Up until this past Christmas, I never gave hedgehogs any thought. I might have seen them in a children’s book when I was a child, but other than the boxes of chocolate hedgehogs that Purdy’s Chocolates sells, I never think of hedgehogs. Do you?

Oh, on second thought, I’ve already lied to you. I guess there was that one day last fall when I wondered whether I might consider getting a hedgehog as a pet since I can’t have a real pet, a cat or a dog, in my apartment which I consider to be a human rights slight. 

Then I found out that hedgehogs are nocturnal and I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise creature and I didn’t want the spiky little thing running over me or manically racing for the edge of an imaginary cliff on its hedgehog wheel at 4 a.m. during a strenuous workout right smack dab in the middle of my preferred hours of shuteye.

At Christmas, I thought I would give a few neighbours on my floor in my apartment building Christmas cards. Rummaging  through my Christmas box, I came across some cute cards from years gone by. There was a quaintly illustrated picture of a stylized hedgehog on these cards. I don’t actually recall what the hedgehog was doing or what the card said or what hedgehogs have to do with Christmas at all, but it was a Christmas card so I wrote something in each of them and slipped them under the doors of a few neighbours.

The next time I ran into one of my neighbours, she thanked me for the card. She proceeded to tell me how she thought it was very strange that I should give her a card with a hedgehog on it since she’d just returned from France, she may have said Normandy, and every night, through the mist in the backyard, they made a ritual of watching for the hedgehogs. The spunky, spiky little ones would never disappoint. In turn, I found her story a little odd since in my research on whether to get a pet hedgehog or Erinaceinae, I thought it said that you weren’t likely to spot a hedgehog during the winter months because a little like bears, they hibernate, albeit less intensely.

When she told me her story, I had to remind myself that hedgehogs were actually real. They weren’t just cartoon characters or stuffed animals or chocolates in triangular boxes waiting to be devoured. I smiled inside with  contentment learning that somehow my choice in card had been so innocently spot on.

Before Valentine’s Day, in my local Pharmasave, there were a bunch of hand drawn cards and it said on the back that the artist was a mere 13 years old and a James Bay resident. These cards were wonderful and the first one I spotted was of two hedgehogs, one giving the other a single rose, the rose in the shape of a heart. It was so damn cute. What is it with hedgehogs lately, I thought to myself as I bought the card. That was hedgehog coincidence numero trois!

Yesterday in my Saturday wanderings, I was at Munro’s, a local iconic bookstore adjoining Murchies, a local iconic tea shop. I was doing what you do there: scanning and browsing and considering, and I came across a package of things called “Book Buddies.” And to think I’ve always considered the book all the “buddy” anyone would ever need. I didn’t know what these “Book Buddies” were so I had to read the package. I thought they were bookmarks. But as I took a closer look, I realized they were perfectly useless post-it notes for your book in case you had an epiphany during your reading.

This particular package of “Book Buddies” when I looked even more closely, contained paper hedgehogs. What is going on here? There they were again. Three hedgehogs of varying shades. “Helpful Hedgehogs” the marketing said. And they even had plucky names: Henry. Stucky. And Frenchie.  How could I not be charmed?

Sometimes, it’s these inane moments that bring such joy in their innocence and the uselessness of something like a Hedgehog post-it note for your book, with only enough space to write a single word, that can make an ordinary day almost sublime.

How would I use these? What one special, cryptic word would I write to myself that could be so significant and necessary? Someone had killed a tree for this? Would “Kaboom” suffice on page 35? How about “Wow” for page 42? Page 240: “Kowabunga?” Page 350: “Hegderama?” You see? Useless! Utterly useless.

But having said that, can I just say, I’ve come to understand how lowering one’s expectations is a highly under-rated exercise, and one that I partake in almost every single day.

Maybe we should all learn to be happy with the small coincidences and the weirdness of that unspoken but well known life law. You know the one. The one whereby as soon as something–a name, a word, a car– enters your awareness, especially when you’ve never previously given it two thoughts or even knew of its existence, it will pop up everywhere. Like a hello from a long lost friend, you will feel like everything you need is suddenly in that moment. For a few seconds you will be very happy and for a change that will be enough.

Family: Then and now

Where I have worked for the past two and a half years is all about families. Especially the ones that aren’t working very well. Love cracked open, disappointment spilling out. Yet even as my fingers type that sentence, I realize, no, that isn’t quite right.  The part that isn’t working in these families is just one part of their complicated stories.

On the flip side of the brokenness are individuals who are absolutely driven to create a family, so much so, they’re willing to go through more than anyone who conceived kids the old fashioned way probably ever would.

After I listen to the people I sometimes get to talk with, their stories linger for a long time. I think about them because the stereotypes I hold become really clear whenever I talk to someone who has chosen to create or grow their family through adoption.  

And there are so many versions of families these days. I wish there was a less loaded term, something other than the word “family” to describe the multitude of scenarios that bring people together into co-habiting units.

Compared to years past, adoption seems now to be a whole other dimension of relationships and hearing firsthand about that shift is what I most like about the conversations I have with adoptive and foster parents.  

Almost all of their stories are about connection and re-connection across multiple families, of light finding its way through the cracks, just like Leonard Cohen said it would.  Foster families might still be in touch after adoptions or even provide respite to the new adoptive parents. Extended families are caring for relatives’ kids. Same sex families are adopting kids who identify as trans. Indigenous families are taking on guardianship. There is no such thing as a “typical” family.

Yes, we hear horrible stories in the news about some foster parents. But we rarely hear about the life changing being there for kids like they have never known that I know happens as well.

Whenever I speak with foster or adoptive families, I’m reminded that, “We all need backup. We’re not islands unto ourselves.”

I often wonder about all those faces I conjure up in my mind –  children and teens –  in foster care and wonder how broken their hearts might be, and all the complexity of the scenes that unfolded to land them there.

Excruciating decisions and no decision-making at all. Neglect, addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, the fallout from poverty. The death of parents or any combination of the above. And then miraculous resilience in those same little ones, like paper whites inching their way back up in spring. Overcoming all odds.

And so many kids so eager, in spite of everything they’ve already been through, to find that elusive loving relationship. The one that’s going to work, that they can count on. A place to call home that they feel good about calling home.  A mom and a dad, or a dad and a dad, or a mom and a mom, or just a mom, just a dad, grandmas and Nana and Oma, aunties and uncles. Sometimes just a family friend who has stepped in, lives overlapping, coming together in the best case scenarios to put the kids first.

What is it that sets the best parents – biological, foster or adoptive – apart? I wonder about that but it always returns to the simplest of answers: unconditional acceptance and love.

Your children can only be their own person. They won’t grow up to be who you wish they could be or who you wish you’d been. Stop trying to make them someone else. You will lose that battle eventually or ultimately you will lose them. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…” I’ve always believed that. It’s as if we were were all formed in spirit before we were even born.

When I cast my mind back on myself as a toddler,  I see myself with dolls. I’d carry them around. I’d sit across a small wooden child-size table and have invisible tea with them. I really liked to put different dresses on them.  I don’t think I ever consciously thought about whether I’d have my own kids while I was doing it.

In my thirties, I didn’t experience any ticking of the proverbial biological clock. Maybe that was because my own life was so often in emotional chaos that having a baby was just relegated to some reality that had nothing to do with me. Depression played a significant role in that detour, among many other things, usually related to men, that with the benefit of hindsight I see much more clearly now.

And while it’s true, I have some regret about not having created my own little family, if I’m being honest, those regrets are actually relatively minor because I stopped romanticizing the reality of family a long time ago.

For as long as I can recall, I wasn’t interested in creating a group of people who would feel like a burden, because that’s how I viewed family. My entire focus had been on being free of constrictive responsibilities and, my God, I have succeeded beyond all expectations in that regard.

I guess the lack of a strong meaningful emotional connection that both my parents seemed capable of creating with their children was a major contributor to my family-as-burden archetype. But an even bigger factor was probably just observing my mother and how much work she did every single day to raise five kids, seemingly single-handedly. No thanks! I know my parents did the best they could based on their own upbringings and they worked so hard, maybe too hard. And I’m pretty sure, if they’d had more choice, they would have made different choices.

Now, when I see/hear good parents in action, just listening to how they speak with their children can melt my heart (because it’s so caring) and break my heart (because it reminds me of the type of loving softness and comfort that my parents weren’t able to give to us), not that they didn’t give in other ways.

I guess that’s why it’s a bit of a surprise to me now to recognize how I have come to understand, albeit a little late, how much family matters.

They push our buttons to an extreme. We might be estranged. We might fantasize about how things could have been so much better if only we weren’t related to THEM! Or they can be our best friends. They are that cast of wacky characters in our own weird little “All in the Family” mini series. They are the ones who are there when family members get sick. If we’re lucky, they are the ones most likely to be there at the end.

The older I get, I have come to understand that there are few things more comforting than a feeling of belonging, and nothing generates the feeling of belonging the way a family can, especially  through the sharing of happy moments.

That’s why I hope you do something this Family Day weekend that brings enjoyment to your kid(s) and shows them that you still actually know how to have fun. Be unpredictable! It doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Be who THEY need YOU to be.

Microcosmic Orbit intercepts my own orbit

I absolutely love it when I’m introduced to something that I’ve never heard of before. In my guided meditation class the other night, we were introduced to the Microcosmic Orbit.

This is from Traditional Chinese Medicine and refers to the meridians in the body in which qi or life energy flows throughout the body.

Apparently there are 12 standard meridians in the body. The fire channel, or sea of the yang meridian, is up the back of the spine also called the Governor, running from the  perineum to the top of the head, over the head and connecting with the water channel, the conception, sea of yin meridian, that circles back down to the perineum.

Starting at the belly, imagine molten lava boiling in your belly as you breathe deeply in and out of the belly.

The tongue is held against the top of the roof of your mouth, as far back in the mouth as comfortable, and when the yang energy arrives just above the upper lip and the circle becomes complete, the tongue seals the meeting of the two. At least I think that’s what’s going on.

Imagine a pearl of energy circling the body in this way with your mind focused on the energy of the pearl as it makes the microcosmic orbit or small heavenly wheel around the body joining the yin energy with the yang.

Based on what I’ve learned so far in my qi gong  and meditation classes, I thought this video did a really good job of describing how to do it and what’s happening in the body. Of course, it could take quite some time to get good at it to reap the rewards and probably another lifetime to get my big old belly to move like his. Whatever!

 

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.

 

Taking the toxic out of masculinity and femininity

I heard that term toxic masculinity the other day, which of course I’ve heard before, but this time for the first time ever, I thought to myself, Ouch!

It could be that I felt that pang of emotion because I spend most of my weekdays with guys who seem to have more feminine qualities in many instances than the females they work with and I include myself in that assessment.

They’re quiet. They’re thoughtful. They’re intelligent. They read a lot. They have excellent manners. I feel like they barely take up any psychological space at all which is a rare and precious quality even though it sometimes leaves me wondering how all that restraint impacts them. Do they go home at night and beat the hell out of their childhood stuffed animals after biting their tongues all day long?

If there was a toxic masculinity scale, I’m sure they’d fall within the under 5 percentile. They’ve all probably even been victims of the reality behind the term.

On the other hand, our leader, a female, while very feminine in appearance has no trouble pulling out the yang when she needs to. She often yells out between walls when she wants to talk to someone like she’s some old grizzled print editor from a 1940s newsroom. She does have a really good sense of humour but in order to be funny, it does help to not be overly concerned about political correctness, so she isn’t.

And then there’s me. Let’s just say, should toxic masculinity raise its entitled head anywhere within the vicinity of our cubicles, it would be smacked down faster than unevenly matched opponents during a wrestling match in a high school gymnasium!

Toxic masculinity is all about power and entitlement to that power and then blindness to each of those things and the impact of those qualities on all those around who are being impacted by it.

It’s always confused me that men still have all the power in the formal world when it seems like women have almost all the power in interpersonal relationships. Or maybe that’s just true of the people I know. Or maybe it just looks like that observing people’s intimate relationships from the outside. 

It made me wonder what toxic femininity looks like. Helplessness. Pretending to be less intelligent than you really are. Talking about nails to an extreme. Expecting dates to pick up the tab even when you make more money than they do. Using sexuality as a manipulation tool. I wonder what else might fit into the category.

There are those who argue that there is no such thing as toxic femininity because all femininity is a response to toxic masculinity and the imbalance of power that has resulted from it.  This assumes that everyone in the world is cis-gendered.

As you can imagine, I’m not here to defend men, but it would still hurt to have a term that trashes an entire gender applied to oneself as an individual, especially if you’ve been a victim of that reality yourself. 

Here is a way more assertive, insightful and sometimes humorous reflection on toxic femininity in a feminist magazine I’d never read before called Bust.

And here’s a history of the term toxic masculinity in a sometimes hard to understand article in the Atlantic.  

You’ll never get this time back so don’t blame me if you click the links.

I liked thinking about this topic through these articles even though there are way TOO MANY ADS getting in the way.

Top of Mind 2020

1. Privilege  Educate yourself about what the term privilege means and how it’s bigger than you, yourself and oh yeah, you again.

2. Gender Pronouns

If you don’t already know, discover why personal pronouns matter and what it means to not just be okay with them but how respect for others is inherent in using them.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iKHjl5xAaA

 3. United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf

 4. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Final Report: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/

5. The #Me Too Movement in Canada

6. Climate and Earth

7.  The Sustainable Way