So I’m sick again, sore throat sniffles, probably not COVID but maybe and even if it is, who cares – I feel like death, for the third time since October. Between our three core households, someone’s been sick all fall. I can’t remember if it was like this every fall pre-COVID (it probably was). It definitely wasn’t like this during the restrictions of the pandemic.
Inevitable conclusion: we may have hated the mask mandate and the lockdowns… but they worked.
My kids usually get sick first (schools are disgusting) and as soon as any one of them is coughing or sneezing – they’ve been sick so much this fall – I wear a mask to the grocery store, to Pilates, and I don’t go into the office. These days, I feel self-conscious in a mask. I live in Alberta after all, the anti-masking and anti-vaxing capital of Canada. Odds are most of the people I’m trying to protect from my children’s germs are pegging me as a paranoid freak and thinking unkind things about me. (And how whack is that, friends? The worst thing about the pandemic: it seems to have killed the capacity for kindness and compassion in so many of us.)
Thing is, I’m resigned to getting sick myself. If my kids are sick, I’m gonna be sick. In most families, children are the patient zero, binging in diseases from their schools. All I’m trying to do is not to pass o this latest gross thing to you and yours just before Christmas. You might get it from elsewhere – I just don’t want you to get it from me.
(I know you’re not grateful. Whatever. My capacity for kindness and compassion is also not where it was pre-2020. If someone invents a pill or shot to give me back that, sign me up.)
When I’m sick, wearing a mask in public basically doesn’t arise because since my bout with COVID last spring, when I get sick, I get hammered: I can barely get out of bed, never mind the house. Isolation caused by inability to move is my default setting.
I also start to think that life has no meaning and that if the cold-flu-COVID takes a turn for the worse… well. What does it all matter?
Yes. One of my flu symptoms is existential angst and despair.
I had a pre-Christmas weekend full of fun planned as I felt the first tickle in my throat develop into hacking and needles in my lungs. There was to be a work Christmas lunch, a solstice celebration and a crazy 90s dance party, the YC Queer Writers Christmas party and, most importantly, a family pierogi making assembly line… Throughout the week, during the good moments, when the meds kicked in, I deluded myself that I’d be ok, I’d be fine – surely, a sore throat wouldn’t last all the way until Friday, right? I’d be good to go by Saturday, right? I’d get to do all the things on Sunday, right?
Hope springs eternal until the existential angst sets in and I crawl back under my blankets, sobbing.
If I don’t survive – have a merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Rocking Omisoka and a Happy New Year.
If I make it through – see you in 2023… or next week if I have a really good idea for a post.
I don’t know precisely how things stand in your neck of the woods because of sparkling COVID—by the way, this is the best COVID joke ever, maybe the only good COVID joke:
–but here in Viking Hell (it’s so, so cold) things aren’t great, although, of course, things could always be worse—things could always be worse. My kid who’s graduating from high school this year continues to have crappy, interrupted schooling. The kid who should be in first year post-secondary is working in a restaurant—well, when they’re open. My youngest is starting to think that this is all life has ever been or will be. Me, I’m about to start a second year of 100% remote work, with colleagues who are going into their third year of working in their basements, living rooms, and bedroom corners. It all kinda sucks and we’re the ones who’ve had it pretty easy…
All this is to say, inelegantly, that if you’re frayed and frustrated, irrational and irritable? It’s not without reason. Our reality is really not that awesome at the moment… and this moment has lasted a really, really—really—long time.
Still. With all of that, I see a shift in myself. Like, I actually want to live. This is so exciting folks—for most of 2019, 2020, let’s face it, at least the first half if not more of 2021, it was largely a matter of indifference to me whether I ended a day breathing or not. (And let me tell you, inconveniencing yourself for the sake of protecting others while you’re indifferent to your own survival? Really hard.) I wasn’t actively suicidal—chill, Mom—that would have required more energy than I had. I was just… indifferent.
So the best thing about leaving that space—on most days, I’d really like to be here tomorrow, and what a great feeling that is—is that I’m feeling my ability to feel compassion for other people return. Did you know that’s one of the things that happens? That when you don’t much care about what happens to yourself, you really, really don’t care about what happens to other people, their suffering, their pain… let alone their point of view?
I’m not going to pretend that I’m all sweetness and light, Kumbayah my Lord, let’s all hold hands and love each other (we’re still discouraged from holding hands with strangers anyway). But when you cut me off in traffic (how is there even traffic when we’re not supposed to go anywhere?), say something stupid online, of fail to be competent at the most basic requirements of the job you’re being paid to do… I generally think,
You must be having a hard time right now, nothing’s easy at the moment, hope it gets better for you soon, and until it does… I, at the very least, don’t need to make it worse.
End of 2020, early 2021? When you annoyed me, I wanted you dead.
So hey, progress, right?
Lest you think I’ve gone all Zen and enlightened on you—come on, you know me, that’s never going to happen—I’m still struggling with extending that compassion and understanding to those nearest and dearest to me when they… disappoint me, let’s use that verb, shall we…
We are always more unreasonable and demanding with the people we love, and they with us.
Still. Generally? I want to breathe tomorrow, and so I recognize that it’s hard for you to breathe right now, and I feel for you, even when you’re being a total ass.
I am doing my best to let everyone deal with the dumpster fire that is Alberta’s second wave lockdown as best as they can. I’m letting people scream—not that I could stop them (control reak much, Jane? Yup, not just a little), but you know what I mean. Regardless of whether they are “it’s a hoax” anti-maskers, herd immunity libertarians or “lock ourselves in iron lungs and never come out” extreme protectionists—whatever they are screaming feeling? It’s all valid. Yes, even the hoaxers. This situation sucks so much, and angry, frightened, confused—disempowered—people don’t make good decisions.
So I let them scream.
(By which I mean, I don’t leave nasty, contradictory or disempowering comments on their rants. I just let them… be.)
I know I’m doing better, myself, because I can let them scream, and I can listen to them. In mid-November (fuck, mid-October), I couldn’t, and I’d look at the tweeting masses and kinda go, “God, I only wish this virus was more deadline—none of you deserve to live.”
I’m slightly more compassionate now—this week… this day… this precise hour, anyway. Scream, baby. Scream all you want to, need to, my pissed off little love. Christmas is coming, ditto Yalda and Solstice, Hanukkah is here, Kwanzaa just around the corner, and all of this sucks ass.
In my newsfeed, a meme like this: If you’re moaning that Christmas is cancelled, then what did you learn from the Grinch?
That Christmas is about holding hand with your people and signing together around a naked pole, then carving the roast beast for all the members of your community and, like, celebrating together. What did you learn from the Grinch? That it’s about sitting alone in your cave and hating the Whos?
Dammit, sorry—that thread of compassion in me… it’s thin and it just snapped. Sorry, sorry. You too are screaming: you’ve missed Christmas Day celebrations before because shift work, travel, university, illness. Whatever. But you know it’s not Christmas Day we’re mourning.
It’s holding our people, tight. And babe… I know you gotta scream. But you also gotta let me scream. Because I want, I want, I want to be part of the three generation pierogi-making assembly line. I want to have Christmas Eve brunch with my friend and get kinda tipsy if not outright drunk (with my friend) so that I go to the over-the-top Polish Christmas Eve dinner at my parents’ house with a buzz. I want to experience all the family fights and the over-eating and the present orgy that on other years frustrate me. I want to do it all with my kids, my parents, my brother and his wife, my nieces and nephews, and any and all orphans we’ve gathered around us that year. I want to end the night at my beloved neighbour’s annual Christmas Eve open house. I want to wake up on Christmas Day not knowing who will drop by that morning. I want to swing by your house mid-afternoon with your present and disappear into your arms, into your love for a few exhilarating minutes. I want to spend the evening, night with everyone I love.
And the fact that I can’t do that –it really, really sucks. And you—I’m talking to you, lockdown lover, so in love with the righteousness and self-sacrifice of your suffering—you need to let me scream that it sucks.
Because it does.
I am, of course, doing new things this December so that Christmas does not utterly suck for me, my parents, and especially my children. (I don’t have an awful lot of energy to spare for my friends, to be honest, forgive me.) I might even make it beautiful: I came up with a fantastic idea for the kids Advent calendar, and I’m doing a Yalda/Solstice thing for the first time, and… well. Stuff. But when people tell me, with relentless positivity, to embrace this lockdown as an opportunity to create new traditions? I want to kick and scream. Just… let me mourn the old ones, okay? Let me be ad. And let me hope that in 2021, I’ll do all the old things again. (Maybe some of the new.) With my people, tightly in my arms.
I’ve seen this type of messaging too: “This isn’t the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family. You’ve never worked shift work, travelled, gone away to uni and been to broke to come home for the holidays? Suck it up.”
Come on, people. I’ve spent lots of Christmases away from my family—a country away, a content away, two oceans away (is that even possible? I’m not sure…). But in none of those situations was I alone. The first adult Christmas my brother and I spent away from my parents, we were together in Korea—and we organized an old school Polish Christmas Eve for my roommates. The next day, we had a Southern Texan Baptist meets Pennsylvanian German Quaker meets Toronto Atheist Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day, we celebrated Korean-style with our students. My Christmases in Montreal, all of us “orphans” came together. The Christmas my parents spent on a cruise in Australia—it was a great Christmas, but we all chose to spend it the way we did.
This one? It’s not a choice. It’s forced on us by circumstance.
I’ve started doing this thing in my morning pages where I begin every day with a Month… Date… 2020.
November 13, 2020.
November 14, 2020.
November 15, 2020.
And when I say I’ve started—I’ve been doing it for months. All year, really—definitely since March. My pre-2020 habit was to include the year in the first one or two entries of a new notebook. Now? Every day. 2020. It’s still 2020.
Well. Yes, it’s still 2020 but also, 2020 is almost over, isn’t it? Six weeks and this year ends and 2021 begins.
I’m kinda worried it will suck too. Maybe even worse. Lockdown, relaunch, get sloppy, bitch and complain, lockdown, repeat. I am hoping Pfizer will save us all—at least, the 80 percent of us willing to take the vaccine—but my optimism is in my heels. Also, I hate you all. I’d apologize but a) I wouldn’t mean it, and b) you hate me—and us all—too. We’re frayed and we’re angry, and it’s getting harder and harder to be kind.
I get it.
I don’t like it—but I get it.
My notebook is full of a month of posts, untranscribed and unpublished, in which I let myself hate you audibly, loudly, enthusiastically. Not constructive, I know. But cathartic. I feel a little better now—not loving and selfless, by any stretch of the imagination, but. You know. Somewhat compassionate. A little understanding.
It’s a start.
So, 2020. Six weeks to go in the year in which nothing went as planned. There must have been high points, beautiful moments, right? Halloween was one of mine but if I tell you that, you’ll make me feel bad, so I suppress that post. And there were others, too, ones that maybe I could share, recall, if I tried, but it’s hard. The shadow of the pandemic and the paralyzing uncertainty it created in the souls and lives of everyone who thinks and feels—it’s a long shadow.
I think it eats happiness.
I know it eats your happiness as much as it eats mine. We show our frustration in different ways. You hoard toilet paper—I mock you for hoarding toilet paper—you call me an idiot for not taking anything seriously enough.
Both reactions—all reactions are valid. 2020 and the pandemic are kicking our collective ass. So, like… let’s not be nasty to each other because we’re suffering. Imagine this. Let’s not, let’s just not. Is it possible? Let’s not be nasty with each other for being frustrated, confused, angry, depressed, frayed to the breaking point.
Let’s keep in mind that while a record number of Canadians filed for unemployment at the height of the lockdown, twice if not thrice that many have seen their income halved—or decimated—and don’t qualify for any assistance. (Raises hand, looks at line of credit, sighs.)
Let’s keep in mind that we are poorly designed to deal with an ongoing crisis. A one-day, one-week emergency? We got it! A month? That’s pushing it. A year-long crisis with no end in sight? We’re done, we’re fried, we don’t know how to cope.
It’s a thing.
I’m doing a lot of thinking about “How the fuck did my grandparents get through six years of World War 2 and Nazi occupation?” And “how the fuck did my entire extended family get through 44 years of Soviet occupation”?
(Also—how did my daughter get through 2019? She did. She did.)
And I must believe that they did this by NOT being assholes to each other.
My cup of frustration runeth over, and also, I know, does yours. Let’s drink from them to more understanding and patience and less knee-jerk hate and anger in these last six weeks of the year that wouldn’t end. With non-alcoholic pomegranate juice, because I think I’m drinking too much again and I won’t say anything, no judgement, times are tough, but so are you.
This is my goal for the rest of 2020: let’s not let the crisis and fear turn us into assholes.
We can do better.
Except that dude over there. He was an asshole before; he’s a bigger one now—he’ll be unbearable in 2021. There’s no hope—expand no energy on him, don’t fixate on him. You can’t save him.
For a family of atheists, we spend a great deal of time discussing hell. I guess mostly as a rhetorical or literary device, a metaphor. But still.
So what happened is they said something and I said something and they said something, and then:
Jane: And that, children, is why you’re all going to American hell.
Flora: Wait—there’s an American hell? How is it different from regular hell?
Jane: It’s like regular hell, except the US flag is burning and Donald Trump is president.
Flora: Isn’t that real America?
Jane: Right. I still keep on hoping it’s all a very bad, bad dream.
Flora: So what’s Canadian hell like?
Cinder: Oh, it’s very chill. You get to go to heaven as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry.’
Cinder: Yeah, Canadian hell is reserved only for the people who don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ when they accidentally bump into someone. But once you’re in hell, as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you get to go to Canadian heaven.
Cinder: Not really. I mean, if you think Canadian hell is boring, imagine Canadian heaven.
I think the awful moral of that story might be that evil is… interesting.
My least favourite part about EVERY yoga/meditation book I have ever read (which, ok, is a grand sample of… three or four. But still):
“While you can meditate anywhere, it is best to create a dedicated space for your practice…”
…followed by instructions on what to put in your beautiful ‘dedicated’ room after you first unclutter it (and then, I suppose, go shopping for all the sustainable-organic-fair-traded crap that should go on your mindfulness altar).
(Wow, I’m a judgemental bitch. I guess I need to meditate more.)
As I read these privileged pronouncements in the kitchen-that-doubles-as-dining-room-triples-as-office-and-is-also-a-pantry, and then pop into the living-room-that-is-also-the-playroom-computer-room-school-room-library-arts-and-crafts-cupboard, then navigate the stairway landing that is also the linen cupboard—and this is all before I go into the hallway-that-is-the walk-in-closet-that-morphs-into-my-writing-space, I don’t feel an awful lot of compassion and connection to these overly privileged Omming people who are solving their life’s problems by sitting on a designer meditation cushion ($425 on sale at Macy’s) on a newly installed hardware floor (tatami mats are nice too) in an empty room in their 5000 square foot weekend beach house.
(Rich, privileged people deserve compassion too.)
(But, fuck, sweetheart. It’s really hard to feel your pain and suffering when the amount of money you saved refurbishing your kitchen exceeds my entire annual income.)
(Yes, fine, so fucking judgemental. I’m taking my judgemental, compassionless ass to another yoga class. Sigh. Coming?)
So I’m laying in savasana—the so-called corpse pose—at the end of my “I’m a little worried it’s a cult because they’re all dressed in white and the teachers wear fucking turbans!” Kundalini yoga class (I’m doing yoga in January instead of writing, which was probably a TERRIBLE idea but more on that anon)—and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (don’t ask), and I’ve got to tell you, I love savasana. The first time I lay in savasana, I came up with a brilliant three paragraph pitch and completely refined AND managed to hold it in my head all the way home until I got to the computer. The third time, I rehearsed in some detail how I was going to break someone’s heart (not real) and then realized I was going to have to break someone’s very real heart and that sucked, but I was okay with that, and while not quite sure whether it was okay to use the script from the not-real heartbreak in the real heartbreaking, I had a definite script for both.
Jane: Baby, I get to lay still with no one asking me for shit for 5, 10, 20 solid minutes? I am not wasting that time NOT thinking.
…after I woke up, I really wanted to write you a long, detailed letter about my bizarre dream, but that, I did not manage to hold in my head until I got home and to the computer. There was a Phoenix in it, though, and some very bizarre Harry Potter-imprinting. Also, at one point, you were the Phoenix, and you very badly wanted some ice cream. Raspberry cardamom ice cream.
(Actually, I don’t know about that. The raspberry cardamom ice cream, I mean. I had some raspberry cardamom ice cream yesterday, and I thought about you as I ate it, so I have now retroactively put it into the dream. Which reminds me, another time that I lay in savasana, I was thinking about retrocausality and how what we do in the present and want from the future actually changes the past, and… but that’s another story. Where was I going with this one?)
(You: You were laying in savasana…
Jane: Right. Thank you!)
So I’m laying in savasana and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (ok, fine, since you’ve asked again, what’s happening is she’s beating the gong and it’s causing these fantastic reverberations that are supposed to quiet—stun?—your mind and thrust you deeper and deeper into relaxation and connection-communion with your true self—I’m paraphrasing—but for the record, I did choose the most cult-like yoga class I could possibly find, why the fuck did I do that?) and I’m laying there and I suddenly get this great idea for a murder mystery set in a yoga studio.
The murder itself, of course, takes place during savasana.
I think the murder has to be the teacher.
But… oh…. yes!
I can’t wait to get home to tell the kids.
Jane: So what do you think?
Flora: Ok, let me recap. Everyone is laying on the floor in corpse pose with their eyes closed. And this loud music…
Flora: …this gong is going the whole time. And so the murderer gets up, and kills the victim, and then gets back into corpse pose.
Flora: And no one sees or hears what happens—because they were all laying there with their eyes closed, and because of the gong.
Flora: But the teacher is beating the gong the whole time.
Jane: Or is she?
Jane: Ok, two options. One, the teacher is innocent, and she’s so focused on banging the gong that she doesn’t notice what happens. We could even have her with her back to the class. Or beating it with her eyes closed too. Or—the music is played off an iPad or something and the teacher lies down and does the savasana with all the students.
Flora: Or, two, the students think the teacher is beating the gong, but she’s actually playing a track off iTunes, and she murders the victim while everyone else thinks she’s beating the gong.
Flora: Too obvious.
Cinder: Are you going to put a police officer in the yoga class?
Ender: The police officer should be the victim.
Flora: No, the police officer should be the yoga teacher.
Jane: Oh, can you imagine how pissed… he? she?
Jane: he is? Police officer. AND yoga teacher—all in tune and aware of people’s auras and intentions and energies—and one of his students kills another right behind his back.
This is the point in the conversation at which Sean joins us. And shakes his head.
Jane: Don’t tell me I’m not doing savasana properly.
Sean: I won’t. Just… when you go back to yoga tomorrow? Please remember you IMAGINED all this, and your yoga instructor is neither a murderer nor a police officer…
Jane: She’s… he’s the victim, the victim—the yoga instructor-police officer is the victim! And, on that day, his… partner? Or assistant? is in the class for the first time, and they’re both the crime solver, primary witness, and most likely culprit, and…
I wish I wrote murder mysteries. That one would fucking rock.
The next time I lay in savasana, I write this post.
But I’m still not writing. Still not writing. This doesn’t count, this never counts.
Why is that?
Somewhere, in the space between American hell and Canadian heaven, there is…
…ordinary, everyday life.
To end this post, lay down in corpse pose and treat yourself to a gong bath: