Pandemic Diary: What is normal?

August 4

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A few normal things from the past couple of weeks: I have an in-person interview, I meet a client face-to-face (well, across a room, but still); I go to a restaurant; I take an Uber; I shop at Canadian Tire; I take my kids out for lunch; Flora and I spend hours looking for the sketchbook that defines her as an artist in a local art store—and not online.

None of it feels normal, though. We wear masks in the stores, my hands burn from the sanitizer. The client and I do not shake hands. The entire time I’m in the Uber, I’m torn between

a) gratitude that this dude is working because I’m too drunk to drive,

b) guilt that I’m endangering his health by providing yet one more contact point of potential infection,

c) mild fear the previous passenger was a COVID carrier and so now, because I’m doing this normal thing, I might accidentally get the virus and infect and kill your grandma,

d) low key hate for your grandma and your auto-immune deficient cousin and also, your respiratory illness suffering son,

e) guilt at the hate, because what sort of monster is this selfish (me),

f) OMFG, it’s just an Uber ride—can you just relax and go with it already?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me see. No.

Because none of it is normal.

Still.

It just is.

At some point, surely, this low grade stress will recede? Perhaps, even, disappear?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Still there.

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A few normal things from today: coffee. Morning pages. Lunch with Cinder and Flora. Nap. Work. The work feels like a slog and that’s the new normal too. But maybe the old normal as well. Was it ever easy?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Often a slog, often hard.

Sometimes, joy.

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A few moments of joy from today: coffee (it was exceptionally good). Lunch with kids. The discovery of James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers murder mysteries and their televised Grantchester version. A cool afternoon breeze. Cardamom in my afternoon tea. The flowers you brought me dropping their petals on the table.

Good things, normal things. Happy moments.

xoxo

“Jane”

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic: The Mostly Uncensored–Ok, I Lie, I Totally Censored It, What, You Think I’m Stupid?–Process Journal

July 15, 2020

I’ve spent the last seven days unplugged and locked in my friend’s apartment, writing. Well, not literally locked in. I left for walks and things. But mostly I wrote. Also napped. But mostly wrote.

The documentation of the process is exhaustive and exhausting, and it’s mostly for me, and not really for you–but if you’re struggling with shit, and reading about other people struggling with shit makes struggling with shit easier for you? Dive into my diary.

As you’ll discover somewhere around Day 6 or 7–writing doesn’t actually exist until a reader reads it. 😉

But now that I think about it–most of what I’ve written isn’t really appropriate for the eyes of internet strangers. So here’s the deal–y’all can look at the pictures. 😉

If you’re in one of those places, though, and your life will be utterly incomplete without the voyeuristic experience of ‘watching’ me pick at my scabs, email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com and ask for the password to the protected posts. I might give it to you.

Or not.

Fun and games. 😉

Yours in the struggle,

“Jane”

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RETREAT IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC DIARY; Table of Days

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1: In which our heroine wants to be alone (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1.5: In which the heroine arrives at her destination, and needs wifi to watch porn (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2: In which our heroine doesn’t matter (yeah, this one too)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2.5: In which our heroine plays with bad gardening metaphors (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3: In which our heroine defends her addictions (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3.75: In which our heroine tries hard not to identify with Virginia Woolf (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 4: In which our heroine regrets this, but not the other (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 5: In which our heroine is a writing machine and also, actually wants to work (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 6: In which our heroine tortures a client and finishes all the things (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7: In which our heroine counts words and embraces uncertainty (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.25: In which our heroine has one year to live (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.75: In which our heroine changes her mind and jumps in a river (protected)

You: Navel-gaze much?

Jane: Too much. It does seem to an essential part of the process though. 

Pandemic Diary: Creative process in uncreative times—especially when that creativity’s supposed to pay the bills…

In the process journal: A page and a half of rambling about—I’m not quite sure, either why I hate Facebook or why I hate people. Big X. Note to self: “This is not going anywhere.”

Visit to JuliaCameronLive.com. Surely, my guru has something for me? Yes. “The Power of Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Goddammit, she just peddles the Morning Pages, again, and you know, I haven’t stopped, although I do do them wrong intermittently, even though Julia says there is no wrong way to do them. The second tool she offers—another standby. Artist’s Dates. But of course. What else would Julia recommend, has the woman had a new idea in the last 30 years?

“It is my hope that during this period of uncertainty we lean into our creativity, awakening our spirit so that we feel more deeply alive.”

Ugh. Julia. Did you just tell me to lean in? Also, I feel dead inside, and also, I want to smash things not lean in or create—I feel betrayed.

Next stop: Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.org. “A Young Poet’s Love Letter to Earth and to the Double Courage of Facing a Broken Reality While Refusing to Cease Cherishing This Astonishing World in Its Brokenness.”

No. This does not suite my mood at all. Next? Who can I try next?

Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal, of course.

Well. That’s more like how I feel… except it’s probably not what I need.

Oh. “Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity.” Yes. This. Let’s have a read…

Oh. Matt.

“In the context of your work, you don’t matter.”

Ouch. WTF?

“If you’re like me, then my advice is to buckle up, motherfucker, because you’re destined to die under a mountain of false starts and sad, exasperated poetry. You’re destined to put your personal life in the backseat while your creative spirit gets blackout drunk and takes the wheel.”

from the The Wondrous Utility of Self-Loathing” section

 

Actually, yeah. That helps.

So do the parts about killing your darlings and not making babies, and the business of art.

But especially, that. Thanks, Matt.

Except… I still don’t really want to do the work.

I don’t want to get out of bed, have a shower, turn on the computer.

I’m doing a tech/social media detox starting tomorrow and I’m claiming I’m doing it to clear my head and get myself into a creative space fuelled by boredom—but honestly? I just don’t want to do the social medial and marketing aspects of my work.

I don’t want to do any of the work.

And usually, I’d give myself the advice to just ride the allow period, it’s part of the process, just read poetry, smoke cigars, dance naked in the kitchen—but I don’t want to do any of that either.

When I say I want to smash something: I want to smash that feeling, that mood.

Myself.

Next? Hafez:

Last night, pansy addressed flowers and itself displayed
My swinging in this world, so and so’s hair would braid.
My heart was a treasure chest of secrets, the hands of fate
Closed and locked and its key, to my Beloved bade.
Physician sent the broken me to my Beloved and said
My panacea and cure, only by Your hands are made.
May he be healthy, and happy, and in bliss
That his healing hands upon the needy laid.
Take your own advice, O incessant counselor
Sweet lover and wine, whosoever forbade?
Passed by poor me, and towards my rivals strayed
Said, “my poor Hafiz has given his life, I am afraid.”

Ghazal 113
Translation © Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, Ca January 23, 2000

Um. I don’t know how you’re interpreting that, but I sure hope it’s not the way I’m interpreting it…

I’m running out of gurus. Colette? Frida? Jane? Anaïs? Can one of you please send a demon down (or up, I guess?) to yell at me and tell me to get to work?

Her: The blog’s not work?

Jane: No. One, I don’t get paid for it; two, whining about how you can’t, don’t want to work is not work. Get with the program here.

What I have learned, over a career that now spans two centuries and three decades—I’m not really that old, not yet, I was just almost a child prodigy—almost a true story—is that the only cure for when you don’t want to work?

(You’ll hate this.)

It’s to start to work. Open the notebook—laptop. Get the dry paintbrush out of the jar. Pick up the rake. Fold the first sock.

(I probably meant to write towel—but I like that image—and who folds socks, by the way? Anyone?)

That, in the end, is the difference between the professional and the amateur. The working artist and the wanna-be artist. The published author and the eternally aspiring one.

One learns to work when they don’t want to work… and the other doesn’t.

I don’t want to work.

I don’t want to play, either.

But. Here I go.

Words.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain

 

 

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You are, perhaps, curious as to how my decision to make fewer decisions and to just execute is going. Remain curious—curiosity is what keeps us young. I have, as of yet, nothing to report. One major decision made, but not executed. And the rest of life—not miraculously changed. Still. I am getting out of bed in the morning even though I don’t want to.

Today is Canada Day, and national holidays for immigrants and children of immigrants are a time not so much of patriotism but of reflection and gratitude. I am very grateful that my family landed here when I was ten. I am grateful for the closed border to the United States (sorry, American friends) and free public health care. I am grateful for Flora’s medication, Sean’s dental benefits. Cinder’s job.

Ender’s love.

All the self-help books are right, you know. Gratitude helps. “I am grateful” is a powerful phrase.

I am grateful.

I am an adult Third Culture kid with a twist, which means I was born in one country, spent my formative childhood years in another (three others, actually) and then finally landed in the True North (which I keep on leaving, because, Third Culture kids do that). I am grateful for all of those experiences. They make change and uncertainty the norm.

They normalize that nothing is forever.

Nothing is forever.

Everything passes.

But we celebrate permanence, not transience. You know what I mean? On this July 1, we celebrate 153 years of the apparent permanence of the Canadian Confederation, not its fragility.

Not what it replaced.

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I am grateful I am here.

But when I look at the history that brought me here, feeling gratitude gets harder. Am I supposed to be grateful for the 50 years of the Soviet-Communist oppression of my natal land that made my parents’ immigration a survival imperative? The germs-and-gun genocide that effectively cleared the Americas for the first waves of colonizers who established the nation that offered us sanctuary?

When I practice meditation and yoga nidra, I practice a form of intention setting called sankalpa. It’s a fancy Sanskrit name for affirmation—manifestation—intention. (Don’t mock me. You smoke week, she binges on Netflix, I future-plan while breathing in the moment. We all have different coping mechanisms.)

In the yoga nidra practice, before you set the intention, you are supposed to feel nothing but gratitude for all the things that brought you to this moment, this place.

That… instruction has always been a stumbling block for me. And it’s th ekey reason I stopped the practice in 2019. Grateful for my child’s suffering? Grateful for this pain? Fuck you, Buddha and Krishna, and don’t you dare say a word, Jesus, this is why I am an atheist.

Breathe.

I am grateful I am here.

I am grateful I am alive.

I am grateful my daughter is alive.

I am grateful we survived the various really shitty things that life threw at us. In 2020, 2019, earlier.

But grateful for the shitty things? You can take that fatalistic ideology and shove it up your left nostril. Then plug it.

iii

So on this Canada Day—I am grateful I am here.

But I acknowledge that I am here in large part because of terrible historical injustices, driven by foul ideologies.

I am aware of the suffering these have caused. Continue to cause.

I guess I am grateful that I live in a time when we are, as a nation, as a people, becoming aware of the injustice of this suffering, and the need to address it.

Pro-actively, passionately.

At a time when global events (pandemic!) and personal stresses (don’t ask, but you’ve got them too, right?) make it difficult to get out of bed.

I am grateful for this painful awareness.

Happy Canada Day.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Enjoy this gorgeous rendition of O Canada by Calgary choir Rev 52:

And then–because the world needs more Canada:

Grateful.

But also–committed to change.

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths

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I’ve figured out why everything has been so much tougher the last few weeks, even though, theoretically, it should have been getting easier.

Ready?

(I am so full of insight.)

It boils down to this: decision fatigue. In March and April, and into May, when everything was cancelled and closed—and the weather was shit—things were very hard and frustrating, but our decision-making wasn’t taxed. The directive was clear: stay home, flatten the curve. And even if you didn’t want to stay home—well, everything was closed, so there was nowhere to go. Except for the grocery store and the liquor store (my poor liver). The big decision we faced on most days, in my privileged family anyway, was what board game we’d play that night—or maybe, shake things up, movie? Or, enough family time already, everyone go hide in their own rooms.

These days? There are options and no clear directives—plus a lot of mixed messaging about what’s safe, what’s irresponsible—what’s allowed. And so, every time you step out the door… decisions.

Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wear a mask? Just take it with you to put on in the store? Nobody else is wearing a mask, fuckers, and you happen to know you’re COVID-free cause you just got tested so you’re only wearing the mask to protect them and you don’t need it and they clearly don’t care about protecting you, so why inconvenience yourself for those selfish motherfuckers? Get that coffee and croissant for take-out? Or risk sitting down, eating in—even if you’re not really concerned about your own safety, you’re thinking about the wait staff, other customers. Is your presence causing them stress? Are these genuine feelings, a true sense of risk or just paranoia induced by excessive media consumption?

Touch of cabin fever hits you, and you can go—to the parks or to the mall, or hey, the library is opening tomorrow. Should you go? Wait? Haircut? Yes? No? What’s the right thing to do? Fuck it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m just going to stick my tongue down the throat of a stranger whose risk-profile and safety practices I don’t know at all—ok, I won’t, but OMG, I understand the people who do and I just don’t want to think about what the right thing to do right now is anymore.

Decision fatigue.

I have some larger, more important decisions to make these days and the brain, it hurts, it is tired, so I don’t, I put them off. I’d cut myself some slack on this paralysis except if everyone in the world cuts themselves some slack for the next two years and does nothing, because decision fatigue and also, don’t not want to get out of bed, we are fucked.

I have, incidentally, very high executive skills (I’ve been tested; if there’s such a thing as excessive executive functioning, that’s me). That means I gather data, analyze it, make a decision quickly—and act on it immediately.

I try to tap into that part of myself now: it seems to be buried under something. Not scar tissue—more like piles of wet toilet paper, snotty Kleenexes. I can get at it, if only I get all these soggy used Kleenxes out of the way.

If only.

Decision fatigue.

It’s real.

It kills.

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If decision fatigue is killing me, so are empaths. This pops into my newsfeed:

OMG, so true.

My insincere apologies to everyone who goes around identifying themselves to all and sundry as an empath, usually in the first two minutes of a conversations… you’re not.

Stay with me. Empathy is real and critical, and it’s something that makes the world a better place, and we need to teach it, foster it, and act out of it.

But a lifetime of experiences had now taught me that anyone who says, “Well, I’m an empath, so all this is really extra hard for me,” is actually a self-centred, selfish prick to whom the most important thing is their own feelings.

Self-awareness, of course, isn’t a bad thing. (Well, maybe. Too much self-awareness, as you and I both know, leads to too much drinking, other things.) But wallowing in your own navel while telling yourself and others that you’re deeply affected by the feelings and suffering of others—come on. Get your head out of your ass, look around and instead of shouting from the rooftops (I mean, I suppose, social media platforms) about how much the suffering of others is affecting you… fucking DO something about their suffering.

Just a suggestion.

Empath fatigue.

It’s a thing too.

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Grateful that I am not an empath and that I own, for the most part, my narcissistic tendencies—by the way, owning your boundaries and telling people who violate them is not narcissism, it’s self-preservation, fuck the fuck off, I may not be a fragile empath but I have feelings too and you’re stomping on them—I try to solve my decision fatigue problem.

Mostly, I think I need to make fewer decisions—which means I just need to commit to some consistent actions. And execute them.

Ok. I got this.

Maybe…

No. I got this. I got this.

Execute.

Get out of bed.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you wanna read that Empath Fatigue Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/RebeccaRennerFL/status/1276673896150859776

 

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right

I don’t know for sure if K-pop stans reserved tix for the Tulsa rally as an act of protest and resistance. Mostly, I think Trump is a liar, and that one million tickets thing? A lie. But never mind that. He doesn’t matter. Really. The Orange Beast doesn’t matter and I’m not saying that just because I’m Canadian. He’s old, and he doesn’t matter—and neither, frankly, does your Grandmother, except for the fact that you love her and want her to die peacefully in her own bed and not choking on phlegm on a ventilator. Grandma’s not gonna change the world, not now. And neither is Trump: he’s old, he’s gonna die soon, worry not.

What matters is the kids—and the kids are all right.

What? Your kids suck? I’m not gonna say, you should have done a better job raising them because… what? Oh, your kids are ok. Other people’s kids though—oh, and the grandkids! Your grandkids suck. So again, babe. Who raised them kids who are raising your grandkids? And, anyway, you’re wrong. The kids are all right. More than all right. And the very fact that all you do is complain about them, it’s a sign that your time has passed. You too don’t matter: you’re over. Like the tantruming president of our Southern neighbour, you too are going to die soon. The kids are going to take over.

And thank Sheela Na Gig (google it) for that, because the kids are all right.

OMG, babe, seriously? You’re gonna continue to shit on your own progeny? No wonder they hate you. But fine. Your kids suck. My kids are all right, and they’re going to save the world.

And you’d better hope that I’m right. We’ve had our shot at it, and we’ve spent two to four generations—depending on how you count—going rather aggressively in the wrong direction. Gen Z, it’s gonna right the ship. Frankly, the best that we can do is to not get in their way.

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Flora—your future overlord, you heard it from her mother first—resents this burden. But also, accepts it. Her expectation that salvation—or even lukewarm support—will come from above, from people in power, from society’s “elders,” is very slim. I lie. It’s non-existent. She doesn’t expect anything from her teachers, and less from her government. You can blame me if you like—but the cause is greater than my anarchist parenting.

She is 15 now, and she was 11 in 2016. Look at the leadership example the most powerful people in the world set before her in those formative years. How stupid would she have to be to put her future in their hands?

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Ender, age 10, still genuinely believes all you need is love. Cinder wants money, has a job: knows that while love is great, you also need resources. Flora’s the big picture thinker who’s going to figure out how to get the resources to feed the army that’s gonna reshape the world. With love… but tough love. The revolution is going to leave tantruming dinosaurs behind.

So before you bitch about kids these days, remember:

  1. We made them. You made them.
  2. They’re gonna take over. They always do. That’s the natural order of things.
  3. They’re all right.

They’re more than all right.

And you’d better hope I’m right. Cause they are our only hope.

xoxo

“Jane”

The family that protests together gets tested for COVID-19 together…

 

Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead

I feel fat, which means I am very unwell and about to stop eating. My mouth feels full of yesterday’s food and I feel layers of fat and flesh obfuscating my soul. My belly–I grimace at it in the mirror–looks large and swollen.

I feel shame.

It is possible that I’ve put on a few pounds over quarantine. I’m drinking too much, people who love me are feeding me a lot of chocolate and ice cream—and chocolate croissants, with chocolate and ice cream on the side—and the other day, Cinder made lasagna, delicious, poisonous cheese and gluten, and I devoured it, gastrointestinal discomfort be damned.

So it is possible that I’m heavier. Fatter. Flabbier. But that I am having these thoughts, drowning in these thoughts? It has nothing to do with my actual weight or body shape. And everything to do with my mental health, which is, at best, shitty.

Yours, too? Yeah. I’m not well and neither are you. Nor is she. He. Them. Not to mention our therapists.

Flora’s medical team, notably her psychologist and our family therapist, fuck up big time last week. I lose it with them in a pretty spectacular way. Hang up in a fire of righteous anger that has still not burnt out.

Later, while not letting go of the anger—it’s still burning, hot—I recognize that everything I’m feeling? They’re feeling too. They’re not well either. Nobody is. So how can we help each other?

 

Over the weekend, we hold the first YYC Queer Writers meet-up since COVID. Via Zoom, still, cause half of us are waiting on post-protest COVID-19 tests (we are a cohort of socially responsible anti-racists and anarchists) and the other half don’t have the energy or will to leave the house or couch. We love each other and hold space for each other… and almost all of us break down.

I remember thinking, writing, when all of this started that the fact of this being a communal, global crisis rather than my personal tragedy helped. It kept me from navel-gazing and drowning in personal sorrow as I had the year we were trying to save Flora’s life.

I lied.

This is worse. Broken people helping broken people, mutual salvation stories? It’s the stuff of films and fantasies. Empty people attempting to fill their wells from other empty people end up drinking sand.

Yesterday’s meal, coats my gums, tongue, saliva even though I’ve brushed my teeth, once, twice, thrice. It tastes like sand.

 

The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. Yesterday, there was rain, hail, flash flooding and a tornado warning. I looked at the pictures from around the city on my phone and then, the rising level of water in our alley—“Are we going to have to evacuate again?” Ender asked., “We need to go clear the drain, Mom, now, hurry,” and there we were, in the alley, clearing debris off the storm drain so the torrents of rain would have a place to go.

And I thought—no more. Seriously, you throw one more thing at me this year—I fucking quit, no more, no more.

We don’t flood or suffer hail damage, but other parts of the city aren’t as lucky.

I think about them, helpless. What if they felt like me—no more, one more thing, and I fucking quit—and then, one more thing, fist-size hail stones breaking house windows?

No more. I’ve got nothing left to deal with this. I quit.

I know you feel this too. And many of you are going through much worse things than I am. I have work—not stable work, mind you, thanks, Jason Kenney, for delivering on all your election promises to eviscerate education, appreciate it—but still. For now, work. And, despite the incompetence of her therapists, Flora is doing well. Cinder is working and thriving. Ender is love. The call just came—I don’t have COVID-19, so there’s that. Also, even if I ever get it—I have a robust immune system and I’ll probably just have the sniffles. Of course, I did just see the other day that obesity is one of the contributing risk factors to complications and death. And I am now fat—need to stop eating. On the other hand, a few weeks in a hospital bed—I could use the rest. Death? I probably wouldn’t die and if I did—honestly, kitten, right now, it’s difficult to get motivated about living, so, you know. We must all die sometime.

This is bad. Right? You do not want mothers, people with responsibilities—the normally resilient people who get shit done, who keep calm and carry on and do all the things to think like that, do you?

I think about this, a lot: if things are this hard for me right now, how hard must they be for people with no house security, no food security? For those families who have lost family members to COVID-19—run-of-the-mill cancers—police violence—domestic violence?

What I don’t think about, much: the future. Do you ? Can you visualize it? It eludes me, and that’s frightening. So I turn my attention to what I can control.

I feel fat. I feel the flesh on my belly, my ass and it repulses me. I can control that, make that disappear.

I can stop eating.

My form of self-violence, self-harm.

Deep breath.

An act of immense will: I eat some chocolate as if it were a Communion wafer and take the dogs and Flora for a walk in the sunshine instead.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: Getting out of bed to protest–also, to make breakfast–during a global pandemic

i.

Another day of not wanting to do things, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to teach the workshop I so lovingly designed, not wanting to deal with dogs, children, family.

Sean takes our beast for her early morning walk and when I finally come up to the kitchen to start my day’s work—don’t want to do it—he is on his hands and knees washing the kitchen and living room floor. “Pee or puke,” I ask, don’t really care. “Muddy paw prints,” he says. He didn’t want to walk the dog either, doesn’t want to start his day washing the kitchen floor. I should feel grateful.

I don’t.

I do wonder—did he want to get out of bed?

Probably not—the whole world does not want to get out of bed right now.

But. We do.

ii.

Something good: yesterday, after Flora and I get back from the Black Lives Matter vigil and Sean picks up Cinder from work—Ender is violating lockdown rules and having a sleepover with his grandmother and cousins, ssshhh, don’t tell the self-appointed sanctimonious “deprive yourself of all human contact until there’s a vaccine” quarantine police—we kind of reaffirm the beauty, the power—the necessity—of the ordinary. We take our furry beast for a rumble on the hill. Then, Sean makes us gin and elder flower tonics in badly washed martini glasses. We sit on the balcony watching a storm approach. So many things we should tak about, but this calm before the storm is precious, and we are exhausted.

So. We don’t.

The teenagers come down to join us. And take us on a trip down memory lane… and alos, carefully, tenderly… look to the future.

When I start to chase Flora to bed a couple of hours later, she protests.

“I’m enjoying family time!” she says.

We look at anti-racist memes on Insta and Twitter together for a while longer.

I am, in the middle of battle and uncertainty, very briefly, at peace.

iii.

Out of bed. Pen. Notebook. Coffee. But this is not  a happy moment, for I don’t want to do any of the things that usually bring me joy, and the things to which deadlines are attached I want to do even less. Also, I hate people, all people, even you, and hate is an ugly, exhausting emotion, I want it gone.

Coffee. Pen. Paper. Words. My prayer, my meditation.

Halfway down page two, I feel at peace.

It’s gone by the halfway point of page three. Still. It’s something.

iv.

Something’s got to give, break, crack, change.

The Black Lives Matter protests  in the streets, peaceful in Canada and most other countries, intermittently crossing the line into fire and violence in the US, are an external manifestation of this individual, internal feeling in my heart, perhaps in yours. They are the foment—not yet the explosion. Not yet the change.

Something’s got to give.

The pressure is building.

v.

I get out of bed, pen, paper, coffee, words, and then, all the things, because, one day, Cinder and Ender’s children—Flora does not plan to use her uterus—will ask me, “What did you do in 2020, Babciu,” and I don’t want to say, that was the year I didn’t get ouf of bed, that was the year I suffered, whined, complained, wanted to be over.

But it’s very hard. I wonder if I’ll remember to tell them that.

I did the things we had to do. But it was very hard. 2020, the year that you will remember as the year that changed the world? That was the year that it was very hard to get out of bed.

But.

I did.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Yesterday’s vigil in yyc can be viewed here: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1mnxelybwwNJX?

Pandemic Diary: Protests in the time of the Pandemic

(Note: this isn’t really a post, it’s a collection of notes from my journal.)

i.

June 1

My son turned 18 last week and, you know, when he walks down the street? Takes the bus to work? Gets pulled over by the police for any reason, goes to a bar with friends? (OMG, my baby can go to a bar with friends now, when did that happen—right, last week!)

I never worry that he’ll be shot by the police.

Or even treated unfairly by them.

I mean, I have a lot of other worries. Obviously. I’m a mother.

That one?

Never, ever.

I never worry that my son will be shot by the police.

My Black American friends? They’re devoured by that fear every time one of their kids, loves, siblings walks the street.

I never truly understood this until this week.

I will never be able to really comprehend that fear—or how emotionally damaging it is. Simply imagining it causes me pin.

How did we build a world in which that is a thing?

More importantly: how do we change it?

ii.

June 2

I am still having a hard time getting out of bed. Doing anything. Moving.

But this week, I am attending, children in tow, Black Lives Matter protests, marches, a vigil.

I haven’t been inside a store or a coffee shop since they’ve re-opened. Not getting a hair cut this summer. Not holding any parties. Wearing a mask to the grocery store so that your Grandma doesn’t die, choking, because we’re out of ventilators.

Because everyone has the right to breathe.

iii.

June 3

As the Black Lives Matter / George Floyd protests were escalating in the US and beginning in Canada and around the world, I ran away for a day to Kananaskis Country, an expanse of wilderness, mountains, lakes and hiking trails about an hour’s drive from my city.

Yes, Paradise.

That’s privilege, by the way. White privilege: being able to run away. Step away from the conversation, conflict about race.

Black people, people of colour do not get to take a break from that reality.

That’s privilege. And so is this.

On the way to Paradise, my friend and I stopped at a gas station and my friend, who had been driving, discovered he had left his wallet at home.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over.”

“They give YOU 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over,” he said, handing me the keys. “I’m not a white girl, remember? Here. You drive.”

Later, I tell the story to Flora. As I get to the part when I say, “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence,” she interrupts me.

“Wow, what a white privilege thing to say.”

I’m proud of her.

And ashamed of our world. Because, people, how fucked up is that? We know the police will go out of their way to NOT give me a ticket. To not inconvenience me.

My friend? He’d better not step over any lines. Ever.

We need to change this.

iv.

June 4

It’s the moment before I open the laptop, reach for the phone. The day is still ok. I’ve done my morning pages, cuddled the Ender and the dogs. An drinking coffee. Am thinking, I might do things today. Today might be a beautiful day.

I reach for the laptop, I check my newsfeeds—I fuck it all up.

I don’t know how to navigate this right now, people. Under most circumstances, I’d shut the tap off. But right now, that acts smacks more of cowardice than self-care. I think of my Black activist friends—and strangers—who just can’t do that. I think of the parents, families of George Floyd. Breonna Taylor.

David McAtee.

So many names I don’t know, didn’t notice, didn’t pay attention to. The Washington Post reports that since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,252 Black people have been shot and killed by the American police.

1,252.

(You should read/listen to this, by the way: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die)

I am a conflict-avoidant coward. I am not an organizer. And I think most of the time, I’m a shitty ally, too wrapped up in my own story to really pay attention to the experience of others.

The least I can do right now is to bear witness.

I see your pain.

I see the injustice.

I don’t know what the fuck to do, honestly.

But. I witness.

Jane

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

I am, of course, blogging the pandemic. What else would I be doing?

Below is a collection of my Pandemic Diary posts, from March 17, 2020 onward. I’d say, “Enjoy,” but they’re not really fun. Yet? Maybe eventually, I’ll get funny again? One can hope.

In the meantime: I’m documenting. You’re welcome. 😉 xo

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 silver lining 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: Protests in the time of the Pandemic (June 4, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Getting out of bed to protest–also, to make breakfast–during a global pandemic (June 7, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead (June 15, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right (June 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths (June 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain (July 1, 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: