Pandemic Diary: On living life, versus “filling up time”

A text from a friend:

So what are you filling your time with before you start work? Want to go for a walk?

Oh yeah—I’m starting a new gig on April 5th, more on that in another post. This one is about “filling up time.” And, walks.

Let’s tackle walks first. I used to love walks. Walking the dogs, walking the kids, myself, you—I could spend hours being a flanneur, rambling city streets, alone or with a companion, perfectly happy.

One year into the pandemic (unhappy anniversary to us all, again), I am so thoroughly sick of walks as a social activity, I can’t even. If I’ve gone for a walk with you in the last few weeks, it means I really, really love you. And I probably won’t do it again, I just can’t, OMG, no, no more walks, let’s just sit somewhere and talk, please, my neck is already getting a crick in it from its two-hour tilt sideways in your direction, also, I’m getting anticipatory shin splints.

One of my loves wants to go hiking, again, and I’m pretty sure this falls in the category of walks and, honestly, we never went hiking together before the pandemic—actually, it’s quite lovely, fine, let’s do it, just don’t call it a walk through the woods. It’s a hike. Let’s not talk and march really fast, up hills and through the snow. Hike. Not walk. What you call things is important.

Him: You’re insane.

Jane: Pretty sure that, after a year of walks being the one legally sanctioned social activity, none of us are sane.

Enough about walks. Time, “filling up time.” I’ve written before about what the pandemic has done to our sense of time. Today, I want to focus on that terrible phrase—“filling up time.”

I have nothing much on my plate for this Friday. No deadlines, no dreaded Zoom meetings. Some chapters to revise on the memoir I’m ghostwriting, but my plan is to get to them on the weekend—Friday is kind of my unscheduled day off. I’ve got an in-person lunch—the first since, god, I can’t remember when—with a treasured colleague at noon. A “share a bar of chocolate” and “pick up some plant babies” drive-by outdoor visit at a friend’s house. In-between those two events, I’ve got to drive Cinder to work, and in the  morning, before the lunch—well, the usual: morning walk with Bumblebee as soon as I wake up, then morning pages, a writing sprint, some chores, meal prep, then, to the kids’ house to drop off Bumblebee, see Ender, walk the dogs again. I don’t have anything planned for the evening, not until it’s time to pick up Cinder from work. It’s not my night with the kids, and Ender’s going for a sleep-over with his (vaccinated!) grandma anyway, taking Bumblebee with him. I’m feeling kinda low energy and I think I might spend the night on the couch with Netflix and a book… if I feel a burst of energy, I’ll go grocery shopping, maybe go buy some pots for my new plant babies. The Sean texts—he’s working an evening event out of the house, and Flora’s feeling off, home alone. I text her, and we go to Value Village together, then out for Peruvian food. After supper, on my couch with the fireplace blazing, and Maggie the elderly Boston Terrier who didn’t get to go along for the sleepover at Grandma’s, I let Flora convince me to watch the first episode of Hannibal with her.

Flora: Am I still the child most likely to befriend a serial killer?

Jane: Or, be one.

Flora: You’re a terrible mother.

Jane: Or a very honest, insightful one?

I’m sorta kidding—and getting off topic—but also, I’m pretty sure that if Flora decided her grand master plan required the removal or you—or me for that matter—from the Earthly plane, she’d do it without hesitation. She’d feel mildly bad about it, maybe… but she’d do it.

Flora: And they wonder why I need therapy.

Jane: It’s ok. I’d probably help you hide the bodies. Well, unless it was one of your brothers. Please don’t kill them. Also, if you kill me, I can’t help you hide the bodies, so you’d better keep me around.

Mid-Hannibal, I get a panicked text from a client. You wouldn’t think there’d be such a thing as a Friday night writing emergency, but they happen more frequently than, say, Monday night writing emergencies. We pause Hannibal and Flora reads fan fiction while I deal with the emergency—then, yelp!, I’m late to get Cinder from work. Car. Drive. Son. He’s happy—he got another bonus at work. Schoolwork? Ugh, yes, he’ll get to it on the weekend.

We swing by my place to pick up Flora and the farting Boston Terrier (how can something that small and cute be that gassy—note to self, do more research on dog breeds next time you get a dog). I take the teenagers home, leave the family car in their driveway.

Walk to my home briskly, to finish dealing with my client’s emergency.

A friend texts as I’m finishing. He’s driving by on his way to work, night shift. Time for a quick hi? I just want to crawl into bed, to be honest, but pandemic, I haven’t seen him in forever—the last time he planned to drop by, I had to cancel because COVID scare at Flora’s school again, isolation, precautions. I say yes, and we have a brief but delightful visit. When he leaves, I check in with the client—is she going to be able to sleep tonight? Are we good? Have I pulled the chestnuts out of the fire? (She likes old British metaphors; I like thinking about chestnut trees.)

Yes.

I crawl into bed, with Death in Paradise on BritBox for company. I’m wiped, but happy. It was a very good day.

I realize that I didn’t respond to my friend’s text, you know, the one about how I’m filling up my time.

The answer, I suppose, is “with life.”

I’ll try to remember to text him tomorrow. And to convince him to do something other than a walk. Art galleries are open, outdoor social gatherings permitted. Takeout on the riverbank, coffee on my patio on a sunny afternoon? If you still don’t feel comfortable socializing inside, there are alternatives to the walk now that Spring is arriving, even in this corner of Viking Hell. Let’s do one of those. And let’s… live life, not “fill up time.”

Of course, if you do need to fill up time—by all means, go for a long walk.

Just, like… without me.

xoxo

“Jane”

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”

Sultry, slow, summer, time

I.

Saturday couldn’t decide if it wanted to be the summer’s hottest day or its stormiest; it compromised and so the kids got heatstroke and our evening barbeque was ruined.

But it was all okay, because, in the evening, the Mother of ALL Fireworks displays, to celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada. Which is really the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Canadian Confederation, through the creation of the Dominion of Canada, which, at the time, included the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

My family came to Canada in 1984. I was ten; my parents in their very early thirties. We got our citizenship three years later—so, I’ve been Canadian for 30 years now.

Patriotism is a tricky thing for immigrants and children of immigrants—especially when your relationship to your birth country and its government(s) is… you know… fucked. It leaves you… cynical, at best, I think. Anyway. Happy though I have been to call Canada home and myself a Canadian, I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten goose bumps singing the Canadian anthem.

But I totally got goose bumps listening to this:

II.

Sunday was hot.

So hot I melted. I wasn’t skin and bones: I was a fountain of sweat. The day was the definition of sultry and it was glorious. It made me slow and lazy—I moved slowly through the day and I loved it.

I thought, a lot, about process. Also stress and cortisol levels.

Also, why it is that I like smoking cigars so much. And how really, I’m lucky that the Cuban street stash is long gone and I have to pay extortionate Canadian prices for my tobacco, because it keeps my indulgence to a level that’s on the okay side of addiction.

(I’m not addicted, okay? I just really like them.)

(But, um, if you’re going to Havana… there’s this place I can send you… let’s talk…)

Flora: It’s disgusting and it’s going to kill you.

Jane: I’m doing this at least in part to make you sure never think smoking is cool.

I’m doing this at least in part because it slows down time.

Did I tell you? I’m taking back time.

One slow lazy sultry day, hour at a time.

III.

Monday hasn’t happened yet.

Isn’t that wonderful?

It’s all in the future. All potential.

At its end, I will have Cinder back home, and all five of us will be HERE.

And it will be hot. And sultry.

And even though I have so much to do so much to do so much to do, I will move through my day slowly.

See?

I’m doing it.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I moved so marvellously slow I didn’t get around to posting this until the cooler evening. 🙂

Time, Magic Lessons, Hitchhiking & Silence: an only slightly annoying meditation

For… um, I’m sorry, I never asked your name. Travel safe.

I.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. How about yours?

How do you feel about me throwing that cliche at you? Are you embracing it joyously—are you filled with the desire to use PicMonkey or equivalent to turn it into an Insta-Graphic and send it into social media memeland?

Or do you want to throw a handful of mud at my smug face and tell me to go fuck myself and my empty platitudes?

II.

My kitchen sink is, miraculously, empty this morning. Flora put all the dishes away before she went to bed, and, as Cinder is 600 kilometres away, he did not spend the night eating and filling it up again. I stand in front of the empty sink in the morning and fill up with gratitude… and then immense sadness.

As I make the coffee I’m no longer really drinking, I cry and miss my son.

III.

(My face, by the way, is not smug.)

IV.

I drive 500 miles and 500 more to Kelowna most years since my Marie and her brood moved out there. I didn’t go last year, and we suffered. I mean, Marie and mine’s connection. There is only so much you can do by text, Facebook, the occasional phone call. Real relationships require real life, real time, person-to-person investment. Snotting on each other’s flesh and blood shoulders, not just cyber ones.

So this year, I drive Cinder and his friend to Kelowna, to visit their forever friends, and mine, over four days I wrench from a too-heavy schedule. I leave Calgary a few hours after attending a “can’t-miss-it-you-are-so-important-to-me” event; I come back a few hours before an important (yes, it really is) community planning meeting.

In-between, Marie and I squeeze in urgent together time. Precious but also exhausting: we do not have time on this visit for leisurely conversations that meander and unfold. We have very little time for each other, really: we are mostly ferrying six manic boys (and their bikes) around.

It’s all right, we tell each other.

It’s their time more than it is ours.

Our time will come… when?

V.

I am having an uncomfortable relationship with time right now. It feels like my most precious and most finite resource. I feel I don’t have enough of it—I hate feeling that way. After all, time is… time is time. We actually have all the time in the world, right? Sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, 365 days in a year…

Where the fuck have the last 365 days gone? Actually, the first half of them, I can account for rationally. The last half? These last six months?

I feel I have blinked and they have disappeared.

VI.

My time in Kelowna is both too short and too long. Too short, because, Marie, soul sister conversations, beauty, beaches—and the world’s best Value Village—I swear, people, the Kelowna Value Village is a fucking treasure trove. (Would that I had more time to explore it this time: I do find a pair of gorgeous yet practical and virtually unworn shoes.)

Too long, because… so much to do so much to do so much to do.

I hate it. I hate that feeling. That feeling of time slipping through my fingers, of the pace of my days moving too fast, of never feeling on top of things, of never feeling done… or allowed to rest.

I hate it.

I watch the boys plan their days and all the things they want to do on this trip with a total disregard for the reality, the tyranny of time.

I love it.

I envy them.

I watch them with love—and envy—and maybe, I think, maybe I learn something.

VII.

I leave Cinder behind in Kelowna and I leave Marie’s house early in the morning on a Sunday for the near-eight hour drive back home.

I am…

(Don’t throw the mud pie at my face.)

I am aware that today is the first day of the rest of my life. As they all are.

And that I can think I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time… or I can have all the time in the world.

I plug my phone into the AUX port and start playing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast.

She’s going to be my companion and the background to my silent meditations on this precious solo trip home.

Eight hours. Alone.

If you’re a parent, if you live amidst a web of obligations—no matter how willingly entered into—you know how precious each of those eight hours is.

VIII.

I pull over to pick up the hitchhiker just outside Revelstoke. It’s 10 a.m., and I feel the bone-tiredness and fuzzy-headedness that comes not so much from not enough sleep but not enough good sleep.

He’s in his 50s—maybe 40s. He has the weathered-withered look of a person who works outside, who works with his body. Also, the withered-weathered look of a person who’s suffered.

All his worldly possessions in a backpack about the same size as the backpack I took with me to Kelowna.

It’s sweltering hot already, and there is no shade where he is standing. I see car after car whiz by and I actually whiz by too… I want to be alone. With Liz Gilbert (who’s already annoying me, but I am learning things in-between), and with my thoughts and meditations. With myself.

I look in the rear view mirror, and I see his shoulders slump, and I think—fuck it. I can make one human being’s life easier today.

And I don’t actually have to make mine harder.

He runs to the truck. And looks startled when he opens the door. It’s interesting: I hear the thought as sharply as if he had spoken it, “Lady, you should not be picking up hitchhikers.”

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“Calgary,” he says.

I nod.

“I have a request,” I tell him. “I’m happy to give you a ride all the way to Calgary. But I don’t want to talk. About anything. Not where you’re from or where you’re going or the weather. Nothing. I’m going to be listening to these podcasts the whole ride and thinking and occasionally murmuring to myself. From you, I would like silence.”

“Works for me,” he says.

And we go.

IX.

Ferrying six teenage boys around Kelowna, from beach to park to waterfall to beach, one becomes hyper-aware how precious silence is. Ditto–living with three children, in a community full of children, in which gangs of seven-year-old boys alternate places with gangs of preteen-oh-no-they’re-teenagers-now! girls in my living room.

Their noise—especially when happy—is precious too.

But silence—fuck, silence is a gift from god.

The hitchhiker does not say a word for five hours.

Our ride is a prayer.

X.

Elizabeth Gilbert and her guests share a lot of insightful things in Magic Lessons. Although—did I tell you, I find Liz annoying? It’s because she’s… so fucking perky.

I guess that’s why I didn’t like Eat Pray Love, either.

I’m not perky.

But every once in a while, despite being annoyed by Gilbert’s perkiness, I do… perk up.

It’s a nice feeling.

interruptions

(this, by the way, is the point in the composition at which I was thrown off by life. Ender was hungry. Flora needed a hug. A bookstore owner pinged me in a panic, and I had to run to the print shop and then the post office. In-between there was also lunch, four attempts to set up interviews, and a phone call from the dentist. But, there was also a nap and meditation (interrupted by the phone call from the dentist). Still. With all of that, I am having a hard time picking up the thread. Platitudes. Time. Silence. Perky.

Busy.

Time

Today is the first day… Yes. Right there.)

XI.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Sunday, I shared five silent hours of my life with a stranger.

Grateful.

I came home to joy and hugs… and then was promptly abandoned by the children who “We missed you so much, Mommy!” but who wanted, in the moment, to be with their friends more.

I took the opportunity to fold into Sean’s arms, and he took the opportunity to take me down to the bedroom and take off my clothes.

Ender knocked on the bedroom door about three seconds post climax.

“What do you need, dude?”

“I need to hug Mommy!”

Grateful.

Also… you know. Other things.

I am not sure my mountain meditation to the soundtrack of Elizabeth Gilbert and the silence of my traveling companion solved anything for me. Or gave me clarity. Penetrating insight.

But I wasn’t really looking for that, anyway.

I was looking for… time.

And time… I got.

All the time in the world.

xoxo

“Jane”