As March 2020 morphs into March 2021—how has this damn month lasted a year?—I’m trying to gather myself into a mental health check in. People, we did it—we got through this year. Perhaps not well—but we did it. We’re here. When you’ve danced with darkness and despair, being here is victory. Don’t forget that.
All my most beloveds are still here and, if you know me in real life, you know that it’s been a fight to keep one of them tethered to the world for a while. But less so in the year that was March 2020 than in 2019, 2018, and for that, I am beyond grateful. And I’m thinking about bars.
Not pubs and restaurants—although they are open now in Viking Hell, have been for most of February. Also, cafes and my beloved sheesha lounges. And you know what? I’ve been a few times—mostly in the first week that they opened—and now, well. It’s not like before the pandemic, I went to the pub several days a week. Or even, like clockwork, once a week. And it’s like that again. I’m not at the Kensington Pub or the Ship and Anchor every week, and I haven’t even been to Betty Lou’s yet—although I do kind of feel like I live at Vendome—but I just really, really like knowing that they are there, open, available to me to go to when, if I want to go…
But I digress—bars. The bars I’m talking about are the bars we set ourselves and how the secret to contentment (I’m starting to think there is no such thing as happiness) is to recognize when you’ve got to drop the damn bar because clearing a low bar is more important than slamming into one that’s just too high.
This is a very counter-intuitive conclusion for me, because I’m all about the high bar, the higher, the better, the more unreasonable, the more adrenaline, the more difficult, the more satisfaction when you actually do it.
But in the year that was March 2020? The only bar to clear was “get through it.”
I have a text on my phone that I’m delaying answering right now.
“How are you? I feel that you are not asked this question in earnest most times. Correct me if I am wrong.”
I’m not fine—none of us is, unless we’re Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Egotistical, thank you, Ruth Zardo—but none of us is, so it’s a frustrating question to answer. “I’m fine” is a conversation closer, also, a lie. I don’t much feel like disclosing the messy truth, which includes moments of pure happiness interspersed with significantly more moments of panic, fear, frustration, and stress (none, incidentally, related to the infectiousness or fatality rates of COVID-19 but many the result of what the pandemic has done to our lives), against a background of overall exhaustion.
But I have plenty of people in my life who ask, how I am, in earnest. Who are willing to hear the complex answer. I’m just, for the most part, not willing to give it to them. Why inflict more confusion and negativity on a friend who’s already struggling to keep it together? I don’t want to talk about it—that’s not my way.
I write it down instead.
On Wednesday, I cook. The desire to create and make is intense, and coupled with a need to be real, practical and grounded. So I start chicken stock in the slow cooker in the morning, and I marinate bulgogi for the kids’ Sunday supper in the afternoon before freezing, and I research chicken wing dry rubs for their Thursday “looks like junk food but Mom made it so it’s kind of good for you” supper. Then I sweat and roast eggplant for one of those easy-but-finicky recipes about which I’ve learned, through trial and error, that ALL of the damn finicky steps matter, and the order in which you add the ingredients to the pan matters.
My apartment smells like heaven. I am… content. Almost happy.
But not fine.
Which is fine.
Shots of happiness will come a few days later, in the form of a voice mail from an elated client, a whipped mascarpone cheese dessert, a happy teenager. Not all of February sucked (although it was so very hard) and so far, in March, we’re all holding the line and then some, and soon, days will be longer than nights, and maybe we can even elevate the bar a little.
It’s Sunday, and I’m making plans. To do things. Like, actual things that don’t involve Zoom or live streams.
A Vivaldi concert that we booked back in the fall of 2020 has been scheduled and rescheduled and it looks like it’s actually going to happen at the end of the month. The Van Gogh Immersive Exhibition in Edmonton is a-go, and I’m betting against a third wave, getting tickets. I feel revitalized, alive.
Her: I’m going to continue isolating for a while more. You just can’t be too careful.
Jane: Fair enough. I pressure you not, I stop you not, I interfere with you not. Do you think that you could, in return, just take a deep breath and recognize that as much as you need to do everything possible to feel safe… I need IRL stimulation to feel alive?
In a moment of pure happiness, I burst into tears and cry. My love holds me. So many feelings. What a year.
Jane: I’m not sad, I just really, really need to cry right now.
You: I got ya.
Jane: You think it’s gonna be a good spring? A good summer?
You: Who da fuq knows. But we’re gonna get through it.
Set the bar low.
Yo. I’m talking to you. Er. myself. SET THE BAR LOW. I see the sun energizing you, and I see you fantasizing and dreaming and planning—not just concerts and outings, but the real, big ass stuff—and maybe don’t, not just yet. SET THE BAR LOW. Get through it. Survive. You hear me?
I do and I don’t—I’m trying, ok, yeah, set the bar low, but I think, maybe, it’s almost time to take a running jump at something harder, don’t you think?
How many curveballs can life throw at us in one year-long month?
You: Don’t ask. Set the bar low.
Here comes the sun.