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

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

Mr. Hadfield’s four pointers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it matter, what is the point?

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

This is not normal.

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

Very, very hard.

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

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

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

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

Not everyone is that lucky.

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

How are we going to do that?



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

draft one

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

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


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

draft two

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

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

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

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

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

Stay home.

Not hard, right?

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

And vice-versa.


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

I can’t fucking stand them.



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

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

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

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

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

Hello, Day 10. We can do this.


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

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

Pen. Paper. Coffee.

Dogs going crazy.

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

I love my house.

I really love my house.

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

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

Also, it’s built on a flood plain.

Also, I love it.


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

The messy spice drawer.

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

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

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

The house is an ongoing, eternal work in progress.

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

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

Which we’ve never tried to get perfect.

But which we love, very much.

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

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

Just this: #staythefuckhome.