Pandemic Diary: If this is the test, I’m failing–you?

I am afraid to look at the news today. I don’t want to read about George Floyd’s murder, or the subsequent white violence against Black protesters. I don’ want to read about the next act of despotism or terror committed by the white supremacist narcissist currently residing in the White House. I don’t want to read about the continued evisceration of my province’s education and health care systems—continuing unabated as health workers and educators have to put in 150% to keep things going—and the dissolution of its barely extant environmental protection legislation by my local moral-less Trumpling. COVID-19? Don’t want to read about that either, nor about the elder abuses the military has discovered in Ontario’s long-term care homes. Don’t want to know, read, see, anything—don’t want, come to think about it, don’t want to, don’t want to get out of bed.

Children. Students. Dogs. Work.

All the things.

Must do.

All.

The.

Things.

One of my students writes a piece criticizing an editorial that says mental health issues will become paramount after the pandemic ends. What the fuck? she essentially says. What do you mean, after the pandemic? How about now?

Things really weren’t that great on the mental health front before the pandemic—for my generation, anyway, she argues. Finally taking mental health seriously because the entire world is fucked? Too little, too late.

Too little, too late, never enough: my newsfeed—fuck, I have to turn off the news tap, again—is full of pap about mental health supports. But let’s face it—during a global crisis, when everyone is traumatized… how helpful, how resilient is your therapist, really? Any chance that she has her shit together any more than you do?

I don’t think so.

Texts with friends: “How are you?” “You know.” “Yeah, me too.” Why burden each other with details? Nothing we can do to lessen each other’s burden. She knits, you mediate, I write. Sean runs. My dad builds me a ranch—I asked for a gate; both the ask and the execution a coping mechanism. My mom makes soup. A lot of soup. Gallons of soup. Delivers it to the grandchildren she can’t see. Flora makes a conspiracy board. (Not about the Plandemic—I may have fucked up a lot of things in my life, but I did teach my children how to think critically and how to evaluate sources; I gotta tell ya people, nothing makes a journalist mother prouder than a teenager who says, “I haven’t fact-checked this yet, do you know if it’s legit?”)

Cinder punches holes in walls and wanders the hill at night—the new job is a life-saver, and I don’t care about the virus germs he might be bringing home, the man child needs to work. Ender—this week, I’m worried about him. This week, he’s not ok. This week, suddenly, he is lost, frightened, alone.

I set him loose on the Common when he hears other voices; I don’t tell him to keep his distance.

I gotta tell you, kittens, this week? I’m not sure if prolonging your Grandma’s life a few more years is worth this. I’m not sure if keeping my parents safe is worth this. I’m not sure if keeping my kids healthy is worth this.

Unacceptable thoughts, reprehensible feelings. Still, do you not think that there would be fewer Walmart-camo militants storming malls, legislatures and hot tubs (when did these become the icons of freedom?) if we were allowed to express these frustrations without being judged by the Quarantine Martyrs?

What’s so hard about staying home? Keeping six feet away from strangers, friends? What’s so hard about wearing a mask? Not getting a hair-cut? Ordering take-out instead of dining in, Zoom meetings instead of in-person workshops, online teaching instead of being in the classroom?

My “quarantine” is the quarantine of a privileged, employed person, what’s so hard about all of this?

Nothing.

Everything.

Thanks for adding guilt at my frustration and inability to deal to my plate of negative feelings, you sanctimonious “What’s so hard about staying home?” meme-sharing prick.

Sorry, that was meant to be a thought not a holler. Reprehensible. Fuck you, I don’t like you either.

Nothing.

Everything.

Today, I have a bunch of Zoom one-on-one calls scheduled with students, during which I will be trying to teach them shit they’re clearly not getting from me and the course material via on-line delivery. On my own unpaid time, by the way, thank you, Jason Kenney, for cutting my employer’s hamstrings just before they asked me to run this marathon, appreciate it, hope you get the pox and die—also, I wish cursing worked, can someone find me an immoral witch? Not one of these granola Neo-Pagan types: I want eye of newt and newborn blood in the pot, and…

Reprehensible thoughts. Because, there I will be, trying to teach, but also, really, saying, over and over again, this: “I know you’re not really functioning. I know you’re unmotivated. I know getting out of bed is hard. I’m right there with you. But you’ve got to do the work anyway. This is the test—you don’t want to. You think it’s pretty much impossible for you to do one more thing. But you’re going to do it anyway. I don’t want to get out of bed to have this conversation with you. And I don’t want to grade this work that you don’t want to do. Yeah, we’re all in this together, and if one more person says this to me, in any context, I too will need to exercise all my self-restraint to not spit in their face. Come on, honey. Deep breath, admit you hate this, you hate me, you hate Grandma, and now, get some words down on the page for me. One sentence at a time. Do the work. Write the story. It’s shit, it doesn’t matter, it’s done. File.”

I’ve told Cinder—in a split grade 12 year this semester and in the fall—that if this whole semester, year is a write-off? If he can’t pull it together enough to finish it? No big deal, That’s, frankly, the normal, healthy response: to not be able to focus on Math 30 when nothing else is right.

I can’t give myself, or my students, the same advice.

“This is the test. Do the work anyway. You don’t want to. You think you can’t. Do it anyway.”

Funny thing, at this point, I don’t even know what I miss, what I want. I just know what I don’t want: no more bad news, please. No more Zoom calls. No more statistics, directives, speculations. No more, no more, no more.

What’s so hard about this?

Nothing.

Everything.

All right.

Enough.

Negative thoughts, emotions acknowledged. Expressed. (See? Me, functioning as my own therapist.)

Time to get out of bed.

Do all the things.

But today? I’m not gonna check my newsfeed. I’m not gonna read the news.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me… and all 20 million of you…

Pandemic birthday, and perhaps that’s reason enough to feel mopey, the pandemic birthday coming on the heels of a pandemic Mother’s Day, pandemic Anniversary—what a mindfuck—pandemic Name Day, Easter. Nothing is normal, nothing is right, so why should this birthday be any different?

I feel beaten up and old—and also, fat and doughy—and unhappy, worse, meaningless and purposeless, a story without a plot, an editorial without a call to action. I’m lost in the saggy middle of my novel, and I have no faith that the editor will fix this mess, because, after all, I am her.

Happy Pandemic Birthday. 😦

Things to remember on a mopey pandemic birthday:

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

In fact, more than 20 million people share this specific birthday with me, and so, over the last 2.5 months, some 1.5 billion people have celebrated a pandemic birthday—and before all this is truly over, everyone will have had one—you ready to surf the second wave?—and… You know what? As a cheer-up strategy? That does not work at all. “I’m unhappy but so is everyone else in the world.” “Well, I’m dying of the Spanish flu but so will 50 million others.” “The Holocaust is a bitch, but at least 6 million other Jews are dying with me…” Yeah. No. Also, now I’ve brought up the Holocaust, which, let’s face it, should put everything into perspective, because, fucking seriously, I’m mopey about what? Physical distancing guidelines meant to keep me and my fellow citizens alive? Snap out of it, bitch. Let’s reframe…

  • I am not alone.

My family made a birthday door for me, and got me two chocolate croissants and a tangerine slice peel clematis, also, lots of chocolate wrapped in a beautiful blue and gold pashmina. There are happy birthday emails and texts and phone calls and even though it’s raining, I know my parents will come and visit me on the porch and maybe you will come and we will go for a walk and know what? If we go for a walk, fuck it, let’s have a $1200 hug, because it’s my birthday and I’m not sure I can do this anymore.

How was that “things to remember on a mopey pandemic birthday” list coming along?

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

When all this started (pandemic, not my life) (I don’t really remember when my life started, do you?), I actually welcomed the opportunity to be mostly alone. It had been very hard to make social small talk or engage in casual interactions given the shit we were carrying in 2019.

Conversations like this:

Them: How are things?

Me: Child sick, not so good.

Them: What about other things?

Me: What other things? Did you hear what I just said? Child sick.

Her: Hey, what are you up to? Wanna hang?

Me: Shuttling between home, hospital, and when I remember, work. I have no time to breathe.

Her: Come on, you could use a break.

Me: Fuck off you deaf bitch.

Him: What’s new?

Me: Nothing. Everything’s fine. Nice bean dip. Please, tell me more about how your kitchen renovations are ruining your life and how hard three days without a working dishwasher are.

aren’t, you know… fun. So, enforced solitude really wasn’t a bad thing—especially when that enforced solitude was solitude as a family of five. I retreated into it with relief—frankly, craved more of it. (Maybe I’d get infected, sick, or at least compromised and I’d have to quarantine alone, without my beloved family? Yesssss… Don’t you dare fucking judge me, Aunt Augusta. I love them to pieces, but this is a very small house.)

Craving, seeking deeper solitude, I killed my social media connections for more than a month—I should probably do that again. When I read your Facebook posts, I hate you, think all of your friends are pathetic losers, and have no hope for the future of humanity. Somehow, when we hang out in person, your loveable qualities are enhanced and your lack of critical thinking, poor judgement, and overall stupidity somehow muted. Fuck. Sorry. See? Even thinking about social media—Facebook, especially, Twitter a close second—makes me a bad person.

Where was I?

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

Right. When I look at the physical distancing and other safety guidelines proposed for the summer of 2020—and god knows how much beyond—I want to weep. I don’t need festivals, bar services, or even restaurants, although I do miss my coffee shops and sheesha lounges. I’m ok never going to a mall again as long as I live. Even museums, art galleries, my beloved bookshops—fine. I don’t need them.

But. I need dinner parties and pot lucks. And house parties with overcrowded kitchens. Sleepovers. Work bees. Taco Tuesdays at Yvonne’s and Whatever Charlotte is Learning to Cook Mondays at Valerie’s, I’m Feeding People Soup and Crackers Wednesdays at my house. I need my people—even the ones I haven’t been able to talk to much over the past year—back in my house.

In my arms.

A pandemic birthday with no hugs?

Fuck it, no, no, no, what’s the point?

So. Mopey.

Very, very mopey.

I’ve been offended by the right-wing and libertarian anti-lockdown protests. Not because they want to kill your grandma. But… look at it. Assholes agitating for haircuts and retail therapy. The right to leave their spittle around stores and public places.

Nice priorities, people.

Except, of course, those aren’t really their true priorities. They’re just the things that are easiest to express, protest, point to. From the conspiracy theorists on both the left and right to the sanctimonious pricks running around city parks with a metre ruler and shaming members of a large extended family for not maintaining physical distance, we’re all missing the same thing.

So, what those gun-toting, flag-waving, misinformed, uneducated and unenlightened (“What do you really think of them, Jane?”) freedom-to-be-selfish-as-fuck warriors are really agitating for when they want to hold a 1000-person Go Topless Jeep Driving Beach Party (you think I’m kidding, this is a real thing) in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed more than 330,000 people worldwide, 95,000 of them in the United States?

Their need to have a beer with their buddies in their backyard. Their need to belly bump, high-five, and drunk-wrestle in a manner that’s in no way homo-erotic, why would I even suggest that?

The need to connect, physically, with other human beings.

This is a big thing to take away from people.

Things to remember on my crappy pandemic birthday:

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.
  • I have people in my house and my covid cohort to hug and hold.
  • I am eating a delicious chocolate pain from Sidewalk Citizen for breakfast. I have a second one to eat for lunch.
  • My little son has been Skyping with his cousins since 7 am. He’s spent more time “playing” with them online in the past 2.5 months than he has “live” in the first 2.5 months of 2020, or perhaps even all of 2019. And this is good.
  • My daughter is still sleeping and this quarantine is giving her the space in which to rest, sleep, heal.
  • My eldest is enjoying is first day off this week from his first real job, and he’s going to turn 18 in a few days as a working man, how awesome is that?
  • A skinny, mostly hairless Goblin dog is curled up beside me in my writing chair, wrapped up in my bathrobe, purring. Well, snorting. Exuding peace and contentment, anyway.
  • A furry, still-damp from her morning walk beast of a puppy is snoring quietly on the floor by my feet.
  • Sean just made a second pot of coffee and, because he’s working from home, when he comes upstairs, I’ll get a coffee refill without having to get up off my lazy, mopey ass.
  • FedEx just called and my birthday Doc Martens are getting delivered today.

  • That chocolate croissant was really good.
  • Even though it’s raining, I can still have a cigarillo on my balcony this afternoon. And, maybe, Turkish coffee.
  • I don’t have to make dinner today, because, take out.
  • I am not alone.
  • I am loved.

And… with all of that? Still mopey. Still not happy. And that’s ok. Because nothing is normal, nothing is right.

But we trudge on. Do the best we can.

I am loved.

So are you.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

 

 

On this Mother’s Day: Imagine a world in which mothers stopped doing all the things

Mother’s Day has been a rough celebration for me—definitely in 2019, but really, increasingly so over the past five years, maybe even decade, more. I don’t do well with unacknowledged hypocrisy, you know, and this what Mother’s Day is to me: social hypocrisy run amok. Mothers celebrated in memes, photos, videos, song, through gifts, cards, brunches… and then left to clean up the mess made by the party.

Flora hates is—hates it—when I acknowledge that parenthood, motherhood is hard. I get her. When I first became a mother, and my  mother offered me support and respite care for my littles, saying, “I know how hard it is,” I hated and resented it—her—too. She’d say, “I know it’s hard, you need a break,” and I’d hear, “It was hard to have you, it was hard to your mother.” And then, I’d think, “She wishes she hadn’t had me, what the fuck.”

I do not regret having my babies. I would—hard as it has been—do it all over again, only maybe… sooner. Even closer together. I do not regret the sleepless nights, sore nipples, temper tantrums—and while I wish I could have just the happy, proud moments without the weeks in  hospital for Flora, the holes in the wall from Cinder, the three years of not being able to walk after Ender, the almost daily, paralyzing “Am I enough? Am I doing the right thing?” anxiety I have for all three of them—those dark moments are the price of the good ones, the cost of admission to this not-so-secret club.

I don’t regret motherhood, I don’t regret my babies—one of whom is now twice my size, two of whom now have bigger feet than I do, and one of whom is already smarter and more insightful than I ever was.

(Yes, I’m talking about you and your scary big brain, Flora. No, I’m not saying your brothers are dumb, why would you go there? I’m saying that I can still outthink them. I haven’t been able to outthink you since you’ve been seven.)

I don’t regret, not any of it. I’d do it all, all over again—yes, my darling girl, even if I knew ahead of time what 2018, 2019… and the first weeks of 2020 would bring. Without a moment’s hesitation.

But I wish someone had told me how hard it was really going to be. And that it wasn’t going to be hard for a year or three or ten—but forever.

Wait.

My mother tried to tell me. But I didn’t believe her, I wouldn’t listen…

Maternal love changes, everything. It must, of course: basic biology. It is pure evolution, the selfishness of genes in action.

And because it’s so basic, so big, so powerful, in a society that does not value the labours of motherhood and mothers themselves, but is happy to take advantage of them, maternal love fucks mothers over.

This is the part where Flora says, “See? You wish you didn’t have us!” And I scream, “No! I wish this goddamn culture, our schools, our workplaces, our medical system, every single one of our institutions didn’t simply assume that mothers would fill in all of their inadequacies. That mothers would pick up the slack wherever it exists, that mothers would make flawed systems and structures work—because that’s what they had to do to get their children through them.

This is what mothers do: whatever needs to be done.

(Look at this pandemic.)

Every single one of our modern social structures counts on—assumes—that it will be propped up by the unpaid labour of mothers.

(If you say, “But what about fathers?” or “But men also…” just stop, no. Today is not the day to discuss the glacial improvement in the de-gendering of childcare.)

Schools underfunded? It’s ok. Mothers will come in as classroom reading volunteers, lunch ladies, recess supervisors, organize bake sales and fundraisers for field trips and school computers.

Health care system overstrained? A nine-month wait list to get child to see the specialist, get a diagnosis, care, support? No problem. Mom will do all the things until then, quit her job, function as a 24/7 nurse, support worker, therapist.

No official day care supports by the governments or employers? Why bother? Mothers will find a solution, individually. They always do.

Suppose… just suppose, we didn’t?

Seriously, think about it, just for 30 seconds.

Suppose mothers stopped doing all the things. Getting shit done, problems solved.

Not for a day, the way most women, their tanks empty, sometimes do—individually, or, occasionally, in a 24-hour daily mass protest.

But for the long haul. Perhaps, forever.

Imagine. What would happen?

The world would come to an utter standstill—or descend into utter chaos.

But, don’t worry.

It’s not an experiment or social action that you will see. Because it would make our children suffer—and we will do anything, everything for our children.

The worst thing about this on-ground frontline work is that it leaves most mothers too exhausted to fight the macro battles. I am not much of an activist, and that’s in large part because after I do all the things that need to be done—and then do my work for money, and then carve out slivers of time to do my work for love—then there are more things that need to be done, and cooking and housework and a crying child, a sick child, a frustrated child—I don’t have the energy to change systems, affect policies.

I am, very, very grateful to the people who do. But, too often, the fights they fight and the priorities they agitate for—they don’t reflect the reality of what I live. And me? I don’t have the bandwidth left to fill out the five minute online survey through which they try to find out what I really need.

So I’ll tell you today, ok?

I need a school system that isn’t driven by my unpaid labour. (I speak here as a homeschooling parent responsible for 100 per cent of her children’s education until high school—and appalled by the increase in my “schooling’ workload when my teenagers when to “real” school. Without parents’ labour, schools would not function. Is this fair to working parents, working mothers?)

I need a health care system that isn’t propped up by my unpaid labour. I won’t go into the details; I can’t right now. But if you’ve had a sick child—you know.

I need workplace cultures—and employment laws—that don’t penalize me for having family responsibilities. And that don’t assume my unpaid emotional labour and my integrity/ambition/determination will get the job done, no matter what obstacles are placed in my way.

I need reliable safe, and affordable childcare options that take the reality of workplace demands into account.

Most of all, I need a culture that doesn’t actively penalize me, judge me, despise me for not sacrificing all of me on the altar of motherhood.

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good looking, good tempered, well groomed, and unaggressive.

Leslie McIntyre

I realize… I’m not going to get any of that, not in my motherhood journey anyway—Cinder is 18 this year, Flora 15, and my baby 10.5.

Sadly, though, I don’t think Flora’s going to get it either.

Flora: And that’s one of the reasons I just want to cut out my uterus now.

I remember my first Mother’s Day as a mother and what an amazing, amazing, incredibly joyous feeling that was.

These days, the feelings around Mother’s Day—and motherhood—are much more… complex.

I am very grateful for the tokens of love and appreciation from my children and their dad—who, in this fucked up patriarchal culture, does his best to lighten my load (but the solutions, people aren’t individual—they must be systemic!).

But I also think about all the challenges and frustrations of this path, and I also think about how I’ve experienced these challenges from a place of utter privilege. I’m overeducated (and white), and even when I think I’m poor, my line of credit (which is the result of my economic, educational, and social privilege) ensures my house security and food security are never threatened). I have an extended family to support me (thank you, Mom and Dad). I have a feminist partner and co-parent (I appreciate you a lot, Sean). I have friends who will pitch in with free childcare and meal deliveries when the world goes black (I love you very much, Paola, Dorrie, Valerie, Cathy, Lisa).

And with all of that… it’s rarely been easy.

Happy Mother’s Day to my fellow mamas. To my mama.

To me.

It’s too late for us, really, but do you think we can make the path easier for Flora’s hypothetical grandchildren?

Flora: I keep on telling you…

Jane: I said hypothetical!

Can we?

😦

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book

Pandemic Diary: Paradigm shift: choices, agency, uncertainty (March 17, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Navel-gazing in the time of corona (March 19, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: A love letter to this tiny, messy, imperfect house (March 20, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: On the gentle art of inconveniencing yourself for the good of the herd… (March 22, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: What is my mission? What’s yours? (March 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: We’re all interconnected and I wish you’d all screw off and give me some privacy! (March 26, 2020)

Pandemic Diary, or Suffering for the sake of covidiots; selfish like all the rest of them (March 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: A pissy note to my friends who aren’t working (March 30, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: From one sanctimonious prick on a self-righteous soapbox to another (April 1, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: On Day 23, like cabin fever but not (April 5, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Easter has been cancelled; apologies (April 10, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Even if we don’t exist, let’s pretend that we do (April 16, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: You can take your silverlining and shove it where the sun don’t shine (April 20, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Evil thoughts on Day 40+ of the Cuarentana (April 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: You’re losing time, but don’t worry, I’m on it (April 26, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Alberta reopens for petrosexuals’ golfing pleasure (May 3, 2020)

On this Mother’s Day: Imagine a world in which mothers stopped doing all the things (May 10, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me… and all 20 million of you… (May 21, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: If this is the test, I’m failing–you? (May 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Alberta reopens for petrosexuals’ golfing pleasure

I don’t golf, so nothing in my life changed this weekend—you did hear that Alberta re-opened golf-courses on Saturday as part of its economic restart? That’s Alberta to me, in one action: who are we going to pander to? The rich! When are we going to do it? Now, now, now—they’re not so good at delayed gratification, and they need their golf courses open now.

I’m being unfair. Of all the social activities that can be done together and yet six feet apart—so long as you don’t share a golf cart, cause I’m yet to meet a golfer who shares golf clubs—golf is atop of the list.

Still. The optics fit in well with the priorities of the Alberta government.

My precious coffee shops, sheesha lounges and bookstores—also, my hairstylist, dear god, do y’all need a haircut as badly as I do?—may re-open as early as mid-May as part of a “safely staged” recovery plan through which, the politicians and pundits inform me, the world will slowly but surely go back to the way it was. Except, of course, it won’t, because, actually, we don’t really know what we’re doing and we don’t really know what’s next, and it’s all guess work, and uncertainty is hard—could we, at least, golf while the rest of you are sorting it out?

When I say “we” don’t know what’s going on and what’s coming, I mean, all of us. Everyone. From the people in charge all the way down to you and me. We’re all trying to sort fact from fantasy, best practices from delusions, whether we’re doing the sorting in our newsfeeds or during high-level briefings with epidemiologists and economists.

Do the epidemiologists and economists know what’s coming? I don’t know. I am, as you know, a borderline pandemic denier—or, to put it more fairly, I totally think there’s a pandemic happening but, frankly, it’s not deadly enough. There are too many of us and if 10 per cent of us disappear tomorrow, Mother Earth will throw a little party and then turn her attention to designing another plague that will clean house even more effectively.

Still, the part of me that recognizes the binding force of my social contract with you is staying home, wearing a mask to the grocery store, and limiting my mammalian social contact interactions to my small, safe covid cohort, and to walks—six feet apart—along with river with a handful of friends.

Having done that for—I’ve lost count, more than 40, fewer than 60—days, I’d rather do it for two, four more weeks than rush out to golf, shop, dance… and have to do it all over again, for another 60 days or more, through July and August.

I am, of course, neither an economist nor an epidemiologist, and most of the numbers about the pandemic’s infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates as well as its impact on the local and global economy make about as much sense to me as Donald Trump’s press conferences. But, from my layperson’s, mathematically impaired point of view, the world economy got such a profound kick in the gonads that two weeks more, two weeks less is not going to make much of a difference to its recovery. And Alberta’s economy, given the petrosexual fixations of its premier and ruling class, is going to recover never. So, really—wait! I figured it out!

Alberta’s economy is going to recover never—so we might as well golf now. Right? Suddenly, it all makes sense.

I don’t golf, so I didn’t golf yesterday and I won’t be golfing on Monday, but I don’t begrudge those who will be. Enjoy. Caress those golf clubs, breathe that fresh air, club those balls hard—soothe your aching petrosexual heart on the manicured, human-made unnatural landscape of the province that you so dearly love. I’ll be outdoors too, soothing my unpetrosexual heart in my own way, and not thinking about how you’ve fucked over the economy of the province I try to so hard to love.

I won’t be rushing out to do all the things on May 14th either though. I’d rather give up two, or four, more weeks of coffee shops and sheesha, art galleries and hairdressers—First World Whines, people, from us the so-very over-privileged, would the people with real problems please make us shut up?—and let others conduct the community transmission experiment.

You, however, should go out and do all the things, and maybe lick some door handles while you’re at it.

My experiment requires it.

Pandemic Diary: You’re losing time, but don’t worry, I’m on it

Today is my name day—it’s a Slavic-Catholic celebration, like a birthday but you share it with everyone in the world who shares your name. In three days, Sean and I are to mark our 20th wedding anniversary. Then Mother’s Day. My 46th birthday. Cinder’s 18th. All in Quarantine?

I don’t suppose it really matters that much….

When Flora got sick and life stopped, my biggest, most selfish fight and frustration was with time. I had so little time already, you see, I had already given up so much time to children, to motherhood. I was, just, finally, reclaiming some—I did not want to lose another minute, never mind another year, five, ten to this monster disease, I could not afford to, I was running out of time…

So when you tell me, cranky and pouty, that you will never that this time—this spring, this summer—back, I understand. I have lost summers, lost years. I don’t remember much from 2009 and 2010, and the second half of 2013 and all of 2014 are just a soggy blurr.

I understand your frustration, truly. But this time, I don’t share it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I finally have perspective—or I’m mourned out. What is a summer when you’ve been struggling to accept the loss of…

But. I understand it will be hard, and harder for you than for me.

Let me reiterate, again: I am not celebrating this period and all of its “silverlinings” (bar one) can take themselves where the sun don’t shine. I want “normal” back too. I miss my coffee shops, sheesha lounges, the library. And dancing.

But time, time, time… I don’t feel I’m losing time.

And I think it’s because I’m still working. I’m teaching and I’m writing, I’m putting words down on paper, transcribing them into Word and Scrivener, crossing out, deleting, revising. I’m publishing pandemic blog posts and sticking to my modified release/publication schedule, more or less… I’m working, I’ writing, my anchor is intact, and so, time… I am still mistress of this time.

It’s not getting away from me: I’m capturing it on paper.

You are working too. But your work is the things you do to earn money so that you cn do the things that you love, and it is these things that anchor you to life. And you cannot do those things now; your anchors are gone. And so, time is slipping away, lost.

I often envy you your relationship with your work. You are good at it, you enjoy it—or at least, don’t dislike it. But it does not define you. Take it away, and you would still be you—and you’d find some other way to finance your life, your passions, your desires.

I am my work in a way several therapists now have insisted is unhealthy (I’ve fired them all, passionless assholes who don’t understand vocation and artists) and so long as I can work, all is ok, and when I can’t, the world ends.

I am working this spring and summer. I am making words tell stories. I’ll record this quarantine Name Day and the quarantine birthdays. I will tell your story too, so you’ll have some record of your lost summer, so it won’t be a lost summer, a lost year.

Deal?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Evil thoughts on Day 40+ of the Cuarentana

i.

It’s been more than 40 days in cuarentana—which means, by the way, 40 days, remember your high school French, Spanish, Latin? And I’m lying in the sun on my balcony listening to the cacophony of birds singing, dogs fighting, kids gaming and I’m thinking I’ll probably skip the Zoom seminar on Instagram Ads for authors I’ have scheduled for today and just sit in the sun and drink coffee and then smoke a cigar and maybe write in the afternoon but maybe not and maybe go for a walk in the sun, with or without dogs, with or without children, and maybe stand on a bridge over our swelling river and play Pooh sticks with Ender or maybe, not leave the balcony at all today—tell the kids to walk the dogs and just chill in the stillness.

Today, I exist and the stillness is welcome.

ii.

My back has throbbed with the pain of a decade ago for about a week now. Why? Well, plague and locusts, really—I’m not seeing the motherfucking sadist who saved my life back then and who keeps me walking now, and also, I’m drinking too much and the sugars in the alcohol feed the inflammation of the root disease, also, first bike ride of the season with Ender on a bike too big for me, and also, frankly, stress, low-grade level buzzing anxiety, everything is inter-related.

The pain, while not awesome in and of itself, is worst because of the memories it brings, feelings forgotten but not expunged.

I suffer, I medicate, I push through—I get help.

And I think about all the different definitions of essential.

My daughter’s medical and psychiatric care is not considered essential. Neither is alleviating the pain that prevents me from being able to stand in the kitchen long enough to prepare supper: I peel potatoes supine on the floor.

But I suppose if one of us broke a leg…

Quarantine thoughts, first world whines.

iii.

Alberta’s rural un-elite decide to join their American half-wit brethren in protesting “lockdowns” as an infringement of their civil liberties Never mind that we’re not in lockdown here, never mind that they live in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere, where physical distancing is just the way life is anyway.

It would be funny it if weren’t so sad, and I’d mock them if I didn’t actually understand their frustrations. There wasn’t that much going in Little Town on the Prairie anyway, and now the government has ordered the closure of their one bar and playground and told people not to visit their neighbours? And why? Because a thousand people in Calgary have a cold?

I get the thinking. Totally. Still. An evil part of me wants to expose myself to the coronavrius and, coughing and snotty, attend their lockdown protests and sneeze and cough on everyone. Then, I think we should up the ante—proactively organize, say, some white supremacist rallies, and then release the infected among them….

Quarantine thoughts. Shut up. I won’t do it. The virus ain’t lethal enough, for one, for two, I just think evil things a lot. I do them only rarely.

iv.

I don’t think I will do much today. Walk the dogs, feed the kids, read a book. Coffee, cigar. Bath? Right now, in the sun, on the balcony, that seems like too much effort, involves climbing of stairs, running of water. Today is a don’t do very much day, move slowly—or not at all—day. Listen to the pain day. Think the thoughts—but don’t act on them—day.

Sit in the sun day.

Be still in the Quarantine day.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Even if we don’t exist, let’s pretend that we do

i

Week 4—or do I mean 5?—of the Quarantine and time has lost all meaning.

I joke, kinda, sorta. Time still is, an there are still many of the usual anchors to each day and week. Walk the dogs, feed the kids, Write, rest, read, write. Taco Tuesday on Wednesdays, and, of course, Laundry Monday. Do laundry, put away laundry, wish laundry wasn’t a thing—why did humans ever leave the climates and landscapes where we could just roam naked?

The kids are fine. Maybe a bit bored, but this kind of boredom is no bad thing for kids—or teenagers.

Or, for that matter, adults, I suppose. Intermittently, I wish I were bored.

Sean is probably not fine. He’s being reminded that working alone in our basement is not particularly good for his mental health. But working upstairs amongst the noise and comings and goings of dogs, children, and meals is not good for his focus. But c’est la vie, what are the options?

Me, I’m wishing I were bored, but when I stop doing things, I find myself pondering whether I exist. At the moment, I’m fairly certain I’m a figment of a virus’s imagination.

Ok, I exist. But why? To feed the kids, walk the dogs, do laundry?

I get on Zoom and teach my final class of the semester, training a new generation of bodies for an industry about whose future I am, at best, ambivalent.

I look at the stack of proofs on my desk—the clock is ticking, I must get to these. OMG, I don’t want to, I don’t exist, and even if I do, what’s the point?

ii

People die last week. A friend’s elderly father, also, a friend about my age, whom I haven’t seen or heard from in more than a decade. Neither from COVID-19 related respiratory complications. This plague that’s shrinking our physical world is not the only—not the most effective—tool of the Grim Reaper. True thing: 100 per cent of the all people alive today will die. The end result of all life is death, so what’s the point?

Ender: Mom? Are you making me that cheese tortilla?

iii

I’m not really unhappy. Still unplugged from Facebook and Twitter, happily too old for Tick Tok and SnapChat. (In my email: a free on-line webinar, “Tik Tok for Authors.” No thanks. Unsubscribe, delete.) I turn down invitations to virtual house parties, Zoom chats with people I didn’t bother to meet with for drinks or coffee over the past year, and shared movie nights. I am in Cuba, in a remote cottage by a lake on the Canadian Shield, and I want to have silence, stillness, not this frenetic rush to replace the real with the virtual.

Stillness.

I am very still and I look at the fact and purpose of my existence, and I wonder if I exist.

iv

Ok, I exist. And the purpose of my life is, simply, to live it, and maybe make this messy world around me a little more interesting, more beautiful… less bewildering? (I don’t say “better,” because, well, insipid, and who determines that, anyway?).

And these children.

Jane: Seriously? Another tortilla?

Ender: Or pickle sandwich?

Last weekend, I teach a workshop about journaling into fiction and I reassure frustrated writers that angst, non-productivity, frustration right now are all normal. You don’t have to write the Decameron or King Lear right now, I tell them. Just live your days. Document the moments. Play with words. Read and watch brain candy. Try to be or with being still with  non-action.

You still exist.

I still exist.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Easter has been cancelled; apologies

It’s Good Friday, and Easter has been cancelled.

That’s right, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, enbies of all ages—2020 is so shitty, Jesus is staying dead this year. The Resurrection has been cancelled. I repeat, the Resurrection…

Flora: It’s like you want to go to all the hells.

No, no. I want to live, mostly, I promise, on this messed up Earth. A part of me, by the way, is utterly enjoying this unexpected Rapture. The people in my city, unable to distinguish between safety directives issued for New York City, Rome and London from those issued for our piece of spacious Viking Hell, are locked down in their houses, and the rest of us get to roam the empty streets—six feet apart from strangers. At least when the sun comes out in Viking Hell, which happened yesterday. Bliss.

Yes, I’m rambling, and trying to distract you from my blasphemy. The Resurrection is cancelled, we’re living in the time of the Rapture—and we’ve all been left behind and here comes the first major Christian holiday during the time of corona—I’m not counting the infectious Florida Spring Break—how’s that going to go?

Passover began a couple of days ago, and my Persian friends celebrated Nowruz—the Persian New Year and celebration of spring, rebirth, renewal—at Equinox—at the height of the outbreak of the pandemic in Iran—and Ramadan this year starts, I think, on April 24—but North America still cycles around the Christian calendar holy days, and so, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, long weekend, and, my kids are about to have their first-ever Easter without an Easter Egg Hunt at Grandma’s.

First world whine, rich people “suffering” in the time of the pandemic. You don’t have to say it—the unspeakable privilege of every single one of our complaints smacks me upside the face before I even say it. I will never complain about my comparative poverty again. The global economy is disintegrating around me, and I have food security, house security, and a job.

Privileged.

And my kids aren’t going to get their Easter Egg Hunt with Grandma and boo-hoo—you know what? That still fucking sucks.

It sucks.

And it’s ok to be upset about it.

Holy days are peculiar times for atheists, recovering (insert the religion of our childhood here), and secular cynical types. They have no intrinsic meaning—while I’m fairly sure the Crucifixion is fact, the Resurrection and the edifice built on it, not so much—but. Family, food, ritual, tradition.

The Easter Egg Hunt.

I don’t remember the Easter Egg Hunt being a part of my childhood, but then, I grew up in a time and places where neither eggs nor chocolate were often available never mind plentiful and I’m pretty sure chocolate eggs weren’t even a thing. I do remember sugar lambs of God, though, and, as I write, I wonder if I should get them for my kids this year but no, it’s too late, the Polish butcher, even if still allowed to operate, will not be open today because, Good Friday, a holy day.

But my mom organized Cinder’s first Easter Egg Hunt when he was 10 months old and—he’ll be 18 this May—and he hasn’t missed one yet. Now, six grandchildren—two of them giant teenagers—scatter around her house and garden, looking for the dozens and dozens of chocolate eggs she spends the morning secreting away. There’s always a handful of highly prized Kinder eggs among them, and Grandma goes all Communist with these, telling the grandkids that there are three—or six—Kinder eggs each, and to make sure the littlest grandkids get their fair share.

Most prized of all—especially by the teenagers—are the plastic eggs filled with loonies…

No Easter Egg Hunt in Grandma’s garden this year. No Easter Egg Hunt with their neighbours in the Common.

Tomorrow, I will boil a dozen eggs and, after they cool, we will paint them. And I will teach them, as I do each year, how to say, “Wesołego Jajka,” and they will laugh and laugh at the “Happy Egg” holiday greeting. And on Sunday morning, Sean will hide all the chocolate eggs he bought for them around our small townhouse, and Ender will look for them all asking half a dozen times if not more why we’re not going Easter at Grandma’s house this year, and Cinder and Flora will forget that they are teenagers and look for eggs too. And we will eat a decadent breakfast, and then maybe go for a walk on the car-free street now converted for ped-use.

Play a board game.

It will be a good day, a pleasant family day.

But there will be no Easter Egg Hunt at Grandma’s and so, Resurrection is cancelled.

Sorry, Jesus.

;P

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: On Day 23, like cabin fever but not

i.

As we finish week three and start week four of staying at home, I desperately need the sun to come out so that I can have my balcony available and so that my walks with the dogs are a pleasure and not a slog through a Viking Hell deepfreeze.

And then, I need a plan and routine for the next four weeks. That’s today’s task—to draw up routines, rhythms, and schedules.

I probably won’t follow them. But I like knowing that they’re there, and the very act of preparing them soothes me.

My to-do-list right now is substantial. I have outstanding marking and learning. Also, so much copy-editing, I can’t even. A set of galleys that should have been proofed yesterday. Also, taxes—thank you for the extension, Revenue Canada, but now I’m worried I’m going to do my taxes never—don’t you understand? I’m a freelance writer, I need deadlines!

And I also need the sun. I already said that.

And my alone time on the balcony.

ii.

I the evening, when the children are fed and I feel my tasks are in some kind of state of adequately pushed forward (or, I’ve accepted I will not get to them not today, I don’t want to), I begin the Covid19 Quarantine check-in on friends. I send some texts; as I do this, texts from others come in.

Some of my friends and loves don’t participate in this dance of connection and reassurance. They neither reinitiate nor respond. I check the news to make sure a 36-year-old mother of two is not among the dead. Nope, not this week. Good. I let them be.

You think I’m joking and I am, a little. But, after all, that is the purpose of our boring as all fuck texts. “I’m still here and me and mine are fine. You and yours?” “We’re here too.” We don’t use those precise words. “How are you holding up?” is probably my phrase of choice, although sometimes, I’ll just send, “Checking in…” or “Oooof.”

Sometimes, worded out, I send a link to a Youtube video, get a meme in return.

One of my loves has chosen to interpret self-isolation as a totally inward time—even by my standards—and there are no texts at all. Coping strategy, depression, or a self-created retreat in the middle of global chaos? Hard to know. Uncertainty makes all of us a little irrational. I try not to feel rejected—but, I do.

iii.

Another friend feels rejected because I’m unplugged from Facebook. “I miss your posts! I miss chatting!” she writes. I point out we still can. Privately. But we never have before—and, she doesn’t miss me enough to do that. Yet. She also feels rejected.

It’s all right. Weird times.

We are none of us rational.

iv.

Irrational, I extend my stay in bed  mostly because there is no one in the room with me.

Ponder silence. Isolation. Loneliness. Neither alone nor lonely, I am starting to feel disconnected. I need to hold your hand and hear her voice and see their face—and not as an image on my laptop screen.

I think—if I had spent three, four weeks—months—away from you in Cuba—I wouldn’t miss you. Not like this.

Irrational.

I yawn. Stretch.

Begin Week 4 by dragging myself out of bed.

Um. In another 15 minutes or so…

God, I need the sun to come out…

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: From one sanctimonious prick on a self-righteous soapbox to another

(not in any way an April’s Fool Day joke)
(not that it’s in the least bit funny)
(except for the video at the end)

i.

When all this started, one of my people called me a coronavirus denier. And perhaps I still am—not in the sense that I don’t think it’s real, but in the sense that I don’t understand numbers. I don’t understand the math, and at the moment, the cost of the solution—not just personally to me but, you know, globally, economically—is a bit… um… well. It’s a fucking high cost. Is it worth it?

Still. I do what I’m told. Stay home. Don’t touch things, don’t touch my face, don’t see my loves.

Talking to people who love people in Spain and Italy helps make it real.

Hearing the fear in my mother’s voice—she’s on the frontlines after all—makes it real too.

And my own inability to really comprehend what’s going on is keeping me humble… making me humble.

And that’s good.

The last thing the world needs right now is another sanctimonious prick pontificating from a self-righteous soapbox.

ii.

Child abuse and domestic violence rates are soaring, in Alberta, Canada, around the world—a fact that doesn’t need any explaining. For my children—even the two teenagers—this quarantine has been, so far, paradise.

(I know we’re not in quarantine, you sanctimonious prick pontificating from your self-righteous soapbox. The infected nursing homes are under quarantine. The uninfected ones are in lockdown. Returning travellers and people with even sniffles are in self-isolation. The rest of us are in an undefined limbo; might as well call it quarantine—don’t be a fucking pendant—I know it’s your way of dealing with the stress just as me yelling at you is mine, but come on. Polish some silverware or organize your stamp collection instead, please and thank you, fuck the fuck off.)

(You should actually all be very glad I’m in quarantine, by the way, and you can’t see me, cause I am hugely pissy this week. Also, trapped in paradise with my children…)

Ok, maybe paradise is too strong a word. I imagine Flora looking at me and rolling her eyes and giving me a list of all the things that suck in her life right now: no friends, no martial arts, no D&D games at the ‘Box. Nowhere to go, no one to see. But, from my unreliable point of view, her mental health is better than it has been in months, physical health ditto. She loves having her Dad at home—does her school work curled up in an armchair beside his makeshift home office. She’s finally getting enough rest—no guilt now about the mid-day two-hour naps her illness and med cocktail demand. The forced confinement has eliminated a lot of stressors—including, frankly, all the medical appointments. Necessary, but stressful and now—apparently, not that necessary, Mom and Dad can do all the things, cause, really, weren’t they doing 90 per cent of them before anyway?

(Not bitter, at all, but kind of wondering… at the end of this crisis, are we going to recognize what it is that parents, mothers actually do? As in, make the fucking world the go round? It’s ok, chill, I’m not getting on a soapbox—don’t want to be that sanctimonious prick.)

Anyway. A lot of the stressors are eliminated, and while so is her IRL social life—there are friends of Skype and group chats galore and a worldwide D&D community.

(If I were that sanctimonious prick who gets on that self-righteous soapbox—and, by the way, I know I was in the past, I am truly sorry—I’d tell today’s accidental homeschooling parents that now is not the time to limit your kids social media, for any reason. Stress on social. And before you do—whether as a punishment or in an attempt to get them to go outside—fuck, bitch, did you look outside and see the weather, why do you hate us, Mother Earth? never mind, don’t answer that, I know, sorry, sorry, sorry, really, you should just wipe us out and be done with it—look at how much texting, Facebooking, Zooming, Skyping and what-not you’re doing.)

In the kids’ paradise, we have been playing board games or card games almost every night—not all night, but for an hour or two. And it’s been a while since I’ve been able to make the five of us do something, anything together for a prolonged period of time. (That seven-year spread between kid one and kid three matters a lot in the teen years.) A while since I’ve particularly wanted to or had the energy to contrive anything difficult, fight the teenagers on anything non-life essential. Now, I put dinner on the table two or three times a week (come on, you didn’t think even a quarantine would make me do sit-down family dinners every night?) and, despite the fact that we’ve been cooped up in the house together all day, everyone sits down. Talks. Fights.

Plays games after.

Sean and the redheads watch movies together. Cinder comes out of his room to bother everyone… show us COVID19 memes and terrible, terrible jokes.

We walk the dogs, I make banana bread, Cinder makes cookies, Flora learns how to make cocktails (don’t tell Child Services).

Boring as all fuck, yes. It’s really all the kids need.

iii.

What do I need? At the moment, I still need more space and time. There is still too much to do. The second half of April will bring respite; what May will bring, nobody dares think.

What all of us need, though—the global we, not just my familial we—is the… ability? Permission? to see the current situation as fucking weird, not normal, unwelcome, frustrating—even as we do the best we can, and discover the occasional silver lining in this most unheroic, underwhelming suffering.

As I ponder the not-formal and fucking frustrating aspects of our current situation, I have a brief texting exchange with an acquaintance who is determined to look on the bright side of everything, including the corona quarantine. If I am—was—a coronavirus denier, she is a negativity denier. You’ve got a friend (or six) like that too, I’m sure. “Positive vibes only,” “When life hands you a lemon ask for another one, and make lemonade” types.

She is still living her best life, enjoying the ability to slow down and reflect on what’s really important to her, incredible period of self-growth bla bla bla bla bla—I terminate our exchange quickly.

“I’m glad that you are finding this such a wonderful time of personal growth. I’m gonna stay with the fear I have for my mother and my longing for more privacy and my wish for real time with my students and my painful desire for my loves. I prefer to feel all the things, you know?”

(This, by the way, is a lie—at many times over the past 15 months, I’ve wished to feel none of the things, and oh-god, no more pain, please but the “positive vibes only” people bring out my inner bitch with almost as much force as the sanctimonious pricks on soapboxes do.)

She doesn’t write back; she won’t write me back for months, years, maybe ever. I’m not “positive vibes only,” so she can’t have me in her life.

I don’t mind.

She too is not what I need.

iv.

So what does this coronavirus denier need? I don’t know yet. I know I want you—do I need you? It turns out, probably not. Interesting, no?

Bu the other, that—the pain rises, acute. That, I think I need.

We will see.

Now. Excuse me. The children need… me.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS For all my cabin fever people:

Pandemic Diary: A pissy note to my friends who aren’t working

So this global pandemic sucks and nothing is normal and we’ve all got to be patient with each other and I apologize in advance that I’m about to totally lose my shit on you… but, like… I’m working.

A lot.

Online.

Learning new programs and things in real time.

Changing all my course specs.

Cancelling this and rescheduling that, and revising all the things.

With three children at home, one of whom is trying to finish high school, one of whom has health issues that are now 100 per cent on me and her dad, and one of whom, the most extroverted of the lot, is bouncing off the walls.

I do not suddenly have more time to self-actualize, attend your online yoga class, or go to your virtual house party.

I realize that in week four, five or six or this—I might want to.

But right now? While you’re trying to “fill” time?

I’m barely staying on top of the things I have to do.

So fuck the fuck off, stop sending me “Here’s something we can do with all this time off!” invites, stop sending me “Did you get my email?” texts, and let me do my work.

Um.

I’m on edge, just a little.

Day 17 here. x

Not all of us are experiencing the constraints of the pandemic the same way. Nothing is normal and we’ve all got to be patient with each other and I apologize again for yelling at you … but, like… I’m working.

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary, or Suffering for the sake of covidiots; selfish like all the rest of them

I feel selfish because I want to see one of my loves and I want them to argue with me that this state-encouraged self-isolation and social distancing is not a  full-on lockdown and quarantine, and surely, we could go for a walk? Six feet apart, exquisite torture but better, better than insipid text exchanges of COVID-19 memes, news stories, and porn.

I feel selfish because their interpretation of what the health authorities want us to do is perfectly reasonable and is, in fact, what I’m doing with everyone else in my life, my mother—the ER nurse in direct touch with the pestilence daily—included.

But I want to make an exception here, and I want them to make an exception here, and they don’t and I feel selfish, unloved, unreasonable.

I feel particularly selfish—and unreasonable—when I see packs of covidiots breathing on each other in crowded public spaces. What’s the point I demand of myself, of this sacrifice of mine when those fucking idiots… because my sacrifices are not for me and mine. We are low risk, strong as bulls—when we get sick, we will survive this, perhaps not even notice that we are ill. The thing that will kill my most vulnerable child is not COVID-19, of this I am fairly certain.

I am not doing this for me and mine.

I am doing it for the vulnerable in the human herd, and for the health care workers like my mom.

When the herd shows me it doesn’t deserve to live, it’s hard to deprive myself of the people I love.

And what should be a very easy, no-brainer act of staying at home—and deriving pleasure and satisfaction from a phone conversation, a Skype date—becomes a chore, a grind.

A resentment.

The resentment festers, the desire festers.

And I feel selfish.

We all have things, habits, people that are easy to give up right now, and others the loss of which wounds. Me, I thought I’d miss coffee shops and sheesha lounges more. And I do miss them, a little. But not so much that I’ve gone to one since things started going weird here in early March.

But I miss my love and our time together and if they were willing, I’d break all the rules to see them, and not just six feet apart.

And that, ultimately, makes me no different from the covidiot wandering the aisles of the Home Depot where my dad still works (plumbing repairs are an essential service in the time of toilet paper hoarding), touching every single fucking pack of screws, and then rubbing his cheek, touching his nose.

I hate him.

I feel selfish.

I yearn.

I am grateful, I suppose, my love’s will is stronger than mine—no, I am not—why do they not miss me as I miss them?

I feel selfish.

I stay home anyway.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: We’re all interconnected and I wish you’d all screw off and give me some privacy!

Day 12, 13 of the Apocalypse–sorry, I mean Quarantine–no, not that, because I don’t think we were actually sick with the ‘rona and now we will never know—Day 12… Day 13, actually of semi Self-Isolation—because can you really call it self-isolation if there are five of you isolating together?-Day 13 of semi-self-isolation, and OMFG, am I ever sick of people…

I like to argue that Jung and Freud were wrong about everything, and when I argue this with people, they usually throw Freud under the bus but defend Jung. The blond Nazi sympathizer from Bern—granted, they don’t usually use those precise words—had some penetrating insights. Synchronicity, for example. I demolish that one in two sentences.

Introverts and extroverts! they rally, certain they will be triumphant.

Sometimes, I argue that this division too is artificial—if not precisely a figment of Jung’s fecund mind, at the very least a gross oversimplification of what is a continuum not a Box A or Box B, 1 or 0 kinda switch.

But at Day 13 of the Apocalypse—er, Self-Isolation—I can tell you this: my love of parties, coffee shops, and sheesha lounges notwithstanding, I am so an introvert and I am sick to death of all you people.

(One probably should not use the “sick to death” metaphor during a global pandemic, hey? Note to self made for future posts.)

I’m not talking about my family—yet. (Although at Day 30, I plan to self-isolated myself in a hotel for a day, if hotels are still open… oh god, they won’t be, will they? I will pitch a tent in the backyard. Note to self, order a tent online while non-essential delivery services are still a thing. To all the mothers, active parents isolated with their fams: imagine, a day without having to talk to anyone or to tend to their moods or needs, OMFG, yes, yes, yes, bring it on…)

(There was a moment, a couple of days ago, when, as I neurotically pondered whether the tickle in my throat was a psychosomatic sore throat again or a genuine manifestation of covid19, I did have the thought that if the worst happened and I ended up in a hospital on a ventilator at least nobody would talk to me or ask me to feed them or explain shit to them, and if the price of that would eventually be death, fine, I’d take it.)

(But I digress. That really is another post.)

I’m not sick of my family yet (most of the time). What I mean is—I’m having more interactions with my various professional colleagues via Zoom and Microsoft Teams and the other wonders to technology and the internet than I did before the crisis. My students, whom I loved to see once or twice a week, are now constantly in my inbox or on my phone. People I haven’t heard from in months or years–everyone wants to reconnect and set up a Google Hangout, a Discord Channel, stream this that or the other, hold a Netflix party.

Enough already.

My Apocalypse requires more silence.

I unplug from Facebook and Twitter earlier in the week. My friends freak out. “Everything ok?” Well, no. Global pandemic, accompanied by a world economic crisis, my 68 year-old mother a fucking frontline worker in all this, much stress and anxiety, sick kid at home and all doctors’ appointments by phone for the foreseeable future—I need to process all of this in silence, away from your noise and memes.

Typical introvert response?

I don’ t know.

My response.

Online interactions with people have always exhausted me. I might even enjoy them in the moment—afterwards, my mind and heart feel the way my body might feel after scarfing down a bag of Doritos. They don’t sate my need for real people. And I’d like to make explicit here: I do, really, like in the flesh people. My friends, my lovers, my students.

My colleagues.

In small, digestible doses.

Face to face.

Six feet away is doable.

On screen, on phone 24/7?

I’ve never liked it; I fucking hate it now.

Day 13 of the Apo—um Isolation. My first “team” meeting starts at 11. Another at 5. Another at 7. In-between, phone calls and texts with students. And children, dogs, partner, supper, chores, an attempt to carve out silence, space for my work.

I hope it’s a warm, sunny day, so I can sit on the balcony for a while.

Alone.

I have a few introvert friends who are currently in solo self-isolation. They are not happy, they are getting lonely.

I have one uber-extroverted love who, after four days, was screaming into a cup.

I do realize that this weird-ass, so not-normal situation is different for the people who are physically totally alone than it is for those of us who are with our families.

I would, on the balance, much rather have this problem I’m living than that one. I may be an introvert—but I am also a social mammal.

Falling asleep to the sound and smell other beings is soothing, biologically necessary.

Still.

I do hope it’s a sunny day today and that I can sit on my balcony, alone.

For a while.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: What is my mission? What’s yours?

Before I unplugged from the world (Hi, World), a friend shared this video from Chris Hadfield with me.

Mr. Hadfield’s four pointers:

  1. Understand the actual risk.
  2. What are you trying to accomplish? What are your objectives? What is your mission for right now?
  3. What are your constraints?
  4. Take action: start doing things.

My childless friends plunge into debates about what their mission is. And, for me… It is such a ridiculous question, as a parent, is it not? My primary mission, for the next x weeks or months, is, as always, to keep my children safe, sane. Alive.

My bar on what that means has dropped a lot over the past 18 years–18 months. In isolation, my children will not be eating–because I will not be making–nutritionally optimized, free range organic beautifully presented meals, for one. For two, they will be spending a lot of time playing video games, watching YouTube and Skyping with friends–no screen time (or social media) restrictions for them. (Despite the rather strict screen time and social media restrictions I myself am following.)

And with all of that slackness, laxness, low bar–ensuring their well-being will take up a lot of my time. Most of my time. Ender’s 10 and acting, in most moments, as though he is four. Cinder’s about to turn 18–and what a time to enter adulthood, no?)–Flora’s still really sick (doctor’s appointments by phone for the  next few weeks, and how effective will that be? who will the actual medical support team be? Me, Sean.)

(Parenthetically, one of the reasons I had to unplug: listening to people whine about how they’re struggling to fill time was filling me with rage, and who needs more impotent rage now? I need to shepherd, focus, my energy.)

My secondary mission is, of course, my work. (And how it kills me that we all agree it’s my secondary mission and that, if I named it ahead of my family obligations, the world would end.) I am one of the lucky ones. I still have work–in some cases, more work, in all cases, more difficult work. The organizations that couldn’t afford to fly me for a workshop and were not interested in an online webinar all, suddenly, are experts in online class delivery.

Online teaching–and learning–is much harder than in-person teaching, by the way. There’s a reason we fork out large sums of money to be in a room with Julia Cameron, Michelle Obama, Cheryl Strayed. (Kevin McDonald.) So figuring out how to do it well is a key goal of this secondary mission for this accidental teacher.

My real work–the writing–is both unaffected and utterly hammered. There’s no real reason I can’t continue with the timelines I’ve set myself. And I expect I will… although my motivation to do that work is, to be frank, in the toilet.

Why does it matter, what is the point?

As I write, I realize the message I’m sending myself here is that my mission has not changed. And so, reflecting on this, I need to pause and reconsider. Is that fair and reasonable? Because, actually, everything has changed. For the first time in my kids’ lifetime, there is a global pandemic–and one that is affecting lives in every country around the world in a time of unprecedented global connectivity and communication. The attempt to control/respond to this global pandemic has altered many key aspects of our lives. It has shrunk our worlds to our houses–and the outdoors, for some of s still, so long as we keep away from other people venturing into the outdoors. And don’t touch anything.

This is not normal.

And doing normal, everyday things in a so-very-not normal environment–this is both necessary… and very hard.

Very, very hard.

So, the first thing that has to be done, I think–is to recognize that doing normal things right now–eating, shopping, working, sleeping–is hard.

Second thing: My primary mission is to shepherd my kids through this crisis, and its aftermath–with the awareness that nothing is normal. What is normal is the exacerbation of Ender’s clinginess, Cinder’s anger, Flora’s illness.

And for my secondary mission? Missions, really, because the teaching and the writing are two separate things, and while one makes the investment in the other possible, it doesn’t really fit into it seamlessly. Secondary missions… I don’t know, to be honest. I’ll let you know when March and April wrap up, and I deliver a cohort of students safely to the other side of the semester.

Right now, I’m just grateful there is still money flowing into my household independent of the government’s bailout package.

Not everyone is that lucky.

And that, I think, will be my tertiary mission–and perhaps yours, if you are lucky like me. Make sure that those who aren’t so lucky are getting help.

How are we going to do that?

Jane

 

Pandemic Diary: On the gentle art of inconveniencing yourself for the good of the herd…

draft one

I guess this is Day Nine in self-isolation, nine days since the five of us have really seen other people.

My mom came by to drop of soup yesterday, and we waved to each other from about 12 feet away. I saw neighbours while walking the dog, and we chatted for a while, standing in a triangle, six feet between us all.

Surreal.

Yesterday, today, my motivation to do much is pretty low. I mostly want to lie in bed and do nothing. Of course, I am sick. It’s probably not COVID19, just a sore throat, mild sniffles. But in this time, the least sniffle makes one—and the people around one—paranoid.

draft two

Morning of Day Nine in self-isolation. One of my loves got home last night and will not be spending the apocalypse away from her husband (and all of us!) in Colombia. Of course, we cannot see her for the next 14 days, and in 14 days, god knows what all this will look like. But I feel better knowing that she’s closer.

This is why this social distancing and self-isolating for the good of the herd is so fucking hard…

I put my Facebook and Twitter accounts on prolonged pause today. Not, actually, because of too much news. There’s been plenty of both necessary and good news in my feed: grants for artists, tools for online learning, free streaming concerts and conferences. I’m unplugging because the level of judgement people are throwing at each other in the face of this [adjective deleted] pandemic is sapping my will to do my part of flatten the curve.

I know why they’re doing it. They’re scared. They feel out of control. The things that most of them need to do to keep themselves safe(r) and to keep others safe(r)—and it’s this last thing that we’re doing, people—are so very… unheroic.

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch anything, actually.

Stay home.

Not hard, right?

Just… unheroic. An action that is an inaction, and we are so very bad at that. So, Inactive at home, we look at the people who aren’t at home (yet) and get self-righteous and indignant.

And vice-versa.

Frustrating.

On Day Nine of self-isolation, thanks to social media, I don’t miss people.

I can’t fucking stand them.

So.

Unplug.

Instead of opening Facebook or Twitter for my news, go straight to the CBC, Washington Post, and Guardian websites—but only later in the day, after I’ve done the day’s most essential tasks, and only for a little while.

Take the dogs for a walk. Feel the sunshine on my face.

Try to think life is worth living and protecting your life—you, stranger over there—is worth some inconvenience on my part.

(This is easier to do when you don’t act like a total ass. Hence—I’m unplugging.)

Text and call my friends, family. Interact with real people, not internet strangers.

Hello, Day 10. We can do this.

Jane

PS Can you still call it self-isolation when it’s five of your self-isolating together? Asking for a friend…

Pandemic Diary: A love letter to this tiny, messy, imperfect house

Pen. Paper. Coffee.

Dogs going crazy.

My little son on the computer. Living room turned into gym.

I love my house.

I really love my house.

It is a very imperfect house. It is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. The windows have no 90 degree angles and rattle in the wind. The doors stop shutting—or refuse to open—at random times. The furnace overheats half the house and ignores the other half. The kitchen floor slopes, and the kitchen sink plumbing does not–we keep a special plunger under the sink and use it much, much too often. The toilet plugs up all the time too, and the wall between our bathroom and the neighbours bathroom might as well not be there.

There’s only one bathroom, too, and it’s on the third floor. Also, it’s, for Canada and North America in 2020, a very small house. One thousand square feet spread out over three poorly designed levels.

Also, it’s built on a flood plain.

Also, I love it.

 

I love the couch in the kitchen and the two punching bags (And no couch) in the living room. I love the word-search shower curtain in the bathroom (although I loved the Periodic Table one more) and the bookshelves filled with all the things, in all the rooms I love the overflowing Lego bin.

The messy spice drawer.

I love being in my house. I see so much of it as an extension of myself. It reflects me. My values. My life.

I don’t love cleaning it, and I do wish, much of the time, that it was cleaner. Also, emptier. More minimalist. But, really. Even when the kitchen’s a disaster and new life is sprouting in the bathroom—it has happened—I love it.

I change it up all the time too. Repurpose spices, move furniture around. Paint of decorate this wall, that door.

The house is an ongoing, eternal work in progress.

I remember when Sean and I bought our first house, just as Cinder was born—we expanded so much time, energy and money to get it “just right.” Two years later, there was a toddler who destroyed everything in sight and a new baby and a new work reality.

Three years later, we moved. To this very imperfect house.

Which we’ve never tried to get perfect.

But which we love, very much.

Right now, many people are spending more time at home than they usually do. If I dared give them advice, I’d say, reflect on how your house fits you. Now that you’re living in it 24 hours a day—is it your second skill? Or is it a hotel room you can’t wait to leave?

But I don’t dare give advice anymore, so I won’t.

Just this: #staythefuckhome.

Jane

Pandemic Diary: Navel-gazing in the time of corona

Flora says today is Day Six. I say, it’s still Day Zero. Day One will come when it’s official. When they say, “Lockdown.” What’s happening now, it’s like practice, a trial run. And, for a family that has homeschooled and worked from home most of their lives, the change is not so great.

The low-grade anxiety kind of sucks.

My incredible selfishness and existential despair suck. Try as I might, I cannot stop thinking that the loss of 15 per cent of the population, over 65 or otherwise, is no bad thing. If I made the rules? I’d let it burn. I’d let them die.

(My love says I’m being a hypocrite; I say this, but I would never act like this. That is why I love them. They think I am a much better person than I really am.)

At the same time. I’m really quite relieved that the people in charge of the world at the moment feel otherwise.

I think.

I think.

Tomorrow, I will deliver my first online lecture. I’m not really stressed about it. I’m pretty sure nothing will work as it ought to. And also, that my students won’t actually be able to focus or learn anything. To be frank, I see the purpose of the lecture to be purely psychosocial:

Hey I’m here. How are you doing?

Today, I will try to finish my marking. I will make meals and clean up puddles of dog pee. Ask Cinder if he’s done any school work (he won’t have). Wish Ender wasn’t so fucking clingy all of a sudden—why? why? why? Smile with relief when Flora connects with a worldwide online D&D gaming community.

Nothing has changed, not really.

This has changed:

I will find inexpressible relief in the fact that this new crisis is communal. Everyone is going through it. It is not my own personal hell.

#staythefuckhome

Jane

Pandemic Diary: Paradigm shift: choices, agency, uncertainty

I’m supposed to be marking, an assortment of business profiles and a couple of overdue entertainment reviews; also, re-grading some advertorials.

I’m also supposed to be incorporating beta-reader and development editor comments into novellas that are supposed to launch… like, way too soon.

And I’m supposed to… well, it’s a pretty long list. It usually is.

Instead, I’ve spent the last few days figuring out how to move the rest of my outstanding course on-line, and in-between, re-organizing spaces in my house.

It’s a very soothing task, reorganizing spaces.

Cinder joined me in this exercise today. The closure of his martial arts class and the Y affected him much more than the uncertainty over what’s happening with school. He examined the living room—crowded with Lego—and asked if it could be reorganized so that there’d be a clear work-out space for him.

Done.

In the process, we found a new storage solution for Ender’s nerf guns.

That child of an anti-gun mother, by the way, has way too many weapons. It’s ridiculous.

Flora’s been chilling and napping.

It’s kind of funny how the past four days seem… well, none of them seemed long individually.

We have been a work-at-home, homeschooling family all of our lives, really. The current two in high school, Sean with a full-time job, and me with out of house classes to teach two or three times a week thing is new.

So it’s not really like we’re home significantly more than we usually are.

And we’re not really stressed or anxious. Not really.

Ok, a little.

Because—media, and press conferences, and closures, and wah.

And also, uncertainty—how long will all of this last?

So. As we’ve been hearing—schools closed, campuses closed, libraries closed—I think we’ve all been struggling with the uncertainty of… for how long.

Funny thing about stress—if you know how long something awful will last, and you know that it will definitely end by a pre-determined time… it’s so much easier to endure, and plan for.

Anyway. Our home arrest, if that’s what it will come to, will not be significantly different than our regular life. For me, Cinder, and Ender anyway.

But there is a big psychological difference between spending a lot of time at home because you want to… and spending all your time at home because you have to.

Choice, and even the perception of choice, is a huge thing.

I choose to stay at home to do my part in containing the speed of the spread of the pandemic.

There. That wasn’t that hard, was it?

xoxo

Jane