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.

When the poetry arrives

There’s something so special about reading a book by someone you’re acquainted with after it has finally been written and published.

When I came home from an evening walk and saw a slim cardboard box leaning against my apartment door, I knew right away what it was.

I ordered it from Indigo way back in February (which I realize isn’t that long ago but now feels like another decade). The poet created it over 7 years.

I was sad the poet couldn’t see me rip it open. That would have been gratifying for her, I’m sure.

Her name is Tanja Bartel, the “j”, the Finnish give-away, perhaps.

She was one of my SFU Writer’s Studio peeps and by day she’s a high school English teacher in Mission, something she’s done for a very long time. She appears to be one of those high school teachers kids talk about into their futures and at reunions.

She’s been published in a bunch of literary journals: Geist, New Poetry, Antigonish Review, Rusty Toque, Grain, Maynard and others. This is her first book of poetry.

She’s of Finnish heritage with white blonde hair. She’s a wife and a mother to two children, now grown, including a son who lives with a rare genetic mutation. It’s almost guaranteed that she must be the only poet to have written an article that’s been published about a member of her family in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

She has an old yellow lab named Romeo who, in Facebook photos, I love.  She loves to walk Romeo on the dikes near her home in Pitt Meadows. And she’s a woman with a mind full of intrigue and eccentricities as I expect poets to be.

What I have just told you is pretty much everything I know about Tanja.

Her book is called Everyone at This Party, published by an imprint (icehouse poetry) of Gooselane Editions in New Brunswick. It’s 71 pages. And it has a fantastic cover you can see above by artist/photographer, Alexey Turenkov.

She’s agreed to let me write this blog post and to share a poem from the book with you. I picked the poem, Whisper Street, because it really captured me, including the line about the “caged hamsters,” or maybe especially that line. A commentary on suburbia that anyone who has ever lived in suburbia could relate to. While the themes can be dark, there’s a lot of humour in the poems as well. 

When I told Tanja which poem I’d picked, she told me it was the last poem she wrote, added to the book in the eleventh hour and one of her favourites.

There are so many other poems I loved every bit as much, like Oxygen, Everyone at This Party, Sawmill Town, Backyard Wedding, Best Laid Plans and others.

Whisper Street

People are not as friendly as you’d expect

in places that run on friendliness.


Work, parties.

Work parties.


I came to see all co-workers and all partygoers

as one rude unit.


And to view myself as an only

(a single rude unit).


On my street, crumbled clouds, a half-eaten sun.

Agony rolls underground.


Something stings my wrist in the fattest vein.

The day ahead itches and I embark on a radiant


laziness in an effort to mimic the way

of dogs, envying their thoughtlessness.


My deaf dog’s hauled his shapeless old self to bed.

I’d follow, but for all the noise:


One thousand caged hamsters crack

sunflower seeds. Neighbour removes the Earth’s crust


around his property with a pressure washer.

Toddler next door screams blue murder


that he won’t go to bed. A mirror busted in half.

Rubber gloves snapped off and flung to the tiles.


I want to live on Whisper Street where a lounging

willow tree soaks up all our consequences.


Where nobody kills dandelions and everyone

grows yellow roses that hug one bee per blossom.


Violins play from tree houses.

No one mows their lawns and laundry blows by


like sails down a stream.

Green traffic lights that say you’re allowed to keep going,


but you don’t have to.

Good luck that won’t let me be.
Congratulations Tanja. I’m savouring them.

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.

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.

Shut the Front Door to stay sane during COVID Crisis

Monks on the street in Phnom Penh.

For the first week, I couldn’t put down my cell phones.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I was watching the daily updates from Dr. Bonny Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, which I feel obligated to do as a government employee, and because I love watching how Dr. Bonnie Henry relays the information.

But then, come today, I felt like enough already! I know everything I need to do at this point. Wash my hands. Distance myself 6 feet when outside or around anyone. Stay home as much as possible. Get outside in the fresh air, maintaining the recommended distance.

I got out for a walk the past two days and it was so wonderful to feel the fresh air and to see spring beginning to bud all around.

But it’s when when I’m in my own space that I need to control myself in terms of watching media of any kind.

I’ve been on Zoom. I’ve been on messenger chat. I’ve been checking in and staying connected to others that way. It’s good. It’s almost a novelty at this point.

Deepak Chopra announced today that he is removing himself from all social media and is going into a room in his house to meditate and find and cultivate inner stillness for an entire week beginning today.

I’m not going to do that. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I do however feel the need to get some quiet from the noise and to think about some of the things I’ve learned from the stress reduction courses I’ve been taking since January and focus on extreme self care.

It’s time to put the old practice to the practice!

By the way, Deepak Chopra will be hosting a worldwide meditation next Sunday, March 28. Check out his Instagram page.

I want to share with you this fantastic chanting of Tibetan monks that I love. So sit yourself down, plug in, take a few deep breaths in and out, close your eyes and just listen to shared humanity focused on a single intention: https://youtu.be/0D4V5awe-PA

And afterwards, if you haven’t already, you could download Calm and Headspace

One day at a time peeps. Just one day at a time.

COVID-19, the almighty revealer

The corona virus has reminded us that the most highly educated and the least are of equal value in their service on the front lines.

The artificial socioeconomic value system that ties human worth to occupation is once again revealed as the arbitrary paradigm that it is.

In this time of crisis, and needing all hands on deck, the people whose socioeconomic status is at the bottom–the retail clerks, the janitors and cleaners and private home care providers or nursing home staff, child care providers and delivery/truck drivers are every bit as critical as the PhD medical staff, the online technology software wizards, the virologists and pharmacists and medical researchers.

Regardless of how undervalued the lowest paid people may feel on a typical day, they are now the canaries in the coal mines and the heroes on the front lines. They’re providing services that are every bit as important as the doctors and nurses responding to the deadly puzzle unfolding before their eyes.

These contributions have been revealed to be of equal value in our reliance on them but the difference is, those on the lowest end aren’t being protected in the same way. Many aren’t wearing gloves. They can’t back away when they’re ringing through groceries. They’re depending on you to do that, to keep them as safe as you can by not being there at all, or by following the rules of distance,  6 feet or 2 meters, and staying home if you’re feeling any of the symptoms at all. And self-isolating if you’ve returned from a trip, meaning, going right home, not to any grocery store where you’ll be in contact with others, then staying at home (14 days) until you know you are not ill.

Parents are on the front lines in a whole other way. Their roles are now magnified. They are having to offer the comfort, provide the distractions, set the example, waylay fears and anxiety, cook and be especially fastidious around the house in cleaning and making sure everyone in their family, from children to octogenarians, understands and keeps themselves and others safe by following the advice of the public health officers.

It’s a challenging time for social butterflies. They’re already losing their minds or they haven’t even taken the advice to heart, still going about their lives as if nothing is all that different.  

Someone pointed out that sometimes people respond to anxiety that way. They pretend everything is the same, denial their modus operandi.  They fail to understand or take to heart that their actions can no longer be dictated by preference or whim when those actions may cause someone else to lose their life because of how well or how poorly they changed their behaviour.

That’s the difference in mortality numbers between Taiwan who did everything right (100 deaths) and what’s happened in China, Italy and what’s to come around the world when seemingly draconian protective measures happen too late.

Sometimes I feel like the people who have had little hardship in their lives, emotional or otherwise, are just not very equipped to have the resilience required when things change for the worse on a dime like this.

They are so used to getting what they want, everything at their beck and call, that it’s hard for them to imagine they have to do something different when that something isn’t their choice.

And the most dangerous, the conspiracy theorists, are in heaven and in hell, so status quo for them, I guess.

The human body and its frailty holds the power.

Accept everything you must do to keep yourself and other’s healthy.  Accept everything. Accept what you can not change.

Flattening the curve means fewer people get sick quickly and all at once and that alone can save lives.

I’m not saying instant adaptation is easy or nice, but it’s not that hard either. Not really. Not in comparison to the worst case scenario you or someone who matters to you might find themselves in.

This video from an artist named Matteo Marchesi speaking near Lombardy, Italy, is compelling.

His father is an intensive care doctor. https://vimeo.com/398651424

Learn more about what’s happening in B.C. via the B.C. Government’s Covid-19 updates: www.gov.bc.ca