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”

 

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 Diaries: 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

 

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…

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

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