Do you find yourself doing things a bit differently these days? I mean, besides the whole not going out of the house thing.
I sure am. There is no question that before all this I was throwing out tons of useful things. Carrot ends and onion skins, for example. Bones from pork chops and chicken thighs. Plastic netting from bags, twist ties, and those tiny elastic bands that come wrapped around green onions. The food scraps go in the freezer for stock making, the other odds and ends into the drawer of all things in case I need them even though I am pretty sure I have enough of that stuff stashed already. I’ve never been a minimalist with all my canning jars, garden implements, and stacks of books to read – and am I ever glad of that right now.
I’ve stopped tracking things – how much I write, the days I meditate, what exactly I am doing when I work out. I still turn the FitBit on to record walks and rides, but all the tracking of my days that I used to keep myself motivated, has fallen away. Because I am almost always at home, not trying to fit in this or that appointment, I am living my days more as they come to me with less need to plan all my activities so my schedule “works”. Although I don’t like the reason, I appreciate this shift, finding myself much less panicked about my lack of time to do all the things. I also note that I don’t feel the need to do as much, even though I have more time to be “productive” if I choose.
Although I am sleeping well, I am tired a lot though I’m not sure if that’s pandemic or perimenopause. There is a lot of focus in our house on what we are going to make for dinner the next day. I’m eating the occasional cookie, though my big treats I make sure I pick up during my weekly grocery shop are gala apples, sparkling water, and dried apricots. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so fixated on sparkling water before. Because of shortages, I’ve stopped eating eggs as often, a daily staple until recently. I’ve started growing small bits of food again after vowing I wouldn’t do that anymore once we moved next door to a farm.
I notice the gaps in our home supply, what I had run low on without thinking about it – canning jar lids, all-purpose flour, cold and flu medicine. I purchase an order of worms with a neighbour to see if I can fix the soil the previous owners of this place destroyed with moss killer. I’ve stopped thinking about my relative importance or success in the workplace, stopped worrying about how my teleworking life distances me from others now that we are all in the same boat. Instead I’m focused on the small daily decisions of how to organize my pantry, what canning should be done to ensure available food supply should things get worse, what garden or household projects I should turn my attention to next.
Because I’ve remote-worked for four years, my days have not changed much. I still get up early, meditate, go to work, get some exercise every day. But my life, the whole shape of it, what feels important and demands my attention – that’s what’s shifting. Saving scraps for making soup stock, planting sprouted potatoes in earth instead of throwing them in the compost, pressure canning another 10 pints of beans for the pantry – these activities situate me in the midst of the big unknown we are all living in, and remind me again of what a real life is made of.
On Saturday, some neighbours and I gathered in a park on the oceanside to say goodbye to our friend Nancy who died one month ago in her trailer around the corner from us. She has no family here (her 17-year old daughter left the island immediately afterwards in the care of family), and she didn’t live here long enough for there to be a big community send off. I realized if there was going to be anything, it would be me who organized it, and so I did. I don’t believe any life should pass unnoticed if we can help it.
Nancy died of heart failure after a long run with the flu which turned into pneumonia. She had an underlying heart problem, and I believe that her extended illness as well as some other personal stressors contributed to her heart giving out when it did. I saw her the week before she passed, and it was clear she was not well though I had no idea she was that close to the end. So, as I said on Saturday, our neighbour with underlying conditions died from “just the flu” at 61, and I think that’s worth paying attention to right now.
At the park, we gathered at a safe distance from each other, about fifteen of us in a large circle spaced six feet apart. We chanted together, took stones and wrote messages of well-being on them, and took turns sharing our thoughts with each other (shouting to be heard) before I said a final transition prayer. We broke off from each other again, as singles or pairs, and walked home to our houses and yard work, the warm sun beckoning us to stay outside a little while longer.
It’s probably not surprising that I’ve felt a stronger spiritual calling than ever during this time. So strong, in fact, that some old questions about my spiritual place in community have surfaced and become a bit more insistent for answers. On Saturday morning when I went down to the water to collect stones for our ritual, I took some time to meditate and listen, listen, listen to the ocean, the birds, and my own inner voice. Though it’s difficult to put into words, a new understanding came to me about the path that I’m on, and by the time I turned towards home I felt one more step take root in me.
As much as the atmosphere is strained in the village, I am grateful for the quiet that has come over our island. So much less activity on the roads, in the water, in the households around us. We are deeply at rest, it seems, and I have more time than ever to settle into really being here with nothing calling me away.
I’m not going to count the days or anything, but now that everything is cancelled and closed, the quiet is settling in. A few cars go by during the day; we have a couple of guys working on a shed-structure in our yard; otherwise, these days are marked by sun and silence. I’m having trouble focusing on anything work-related, but I still come to my desk every morning at six and do whatever tasks I can muster. There are union-management calls where we talk about the well-being of all the employees who have been sent home and told to work even though they have nothing to do. My gym is closed, but I still keep to my workout and yoga schedule. It’s beautiful outside but I just told my parents not to visit for awhile. I took a friend up on the generous offer of some weight equipment to borrow, but when I got home from picking it up last night I scrubbed my hands until they were raw.
In the afternoon I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things and noted the emptiness of the shelves, the produce and the meat aisles.I found myself wanting strange things – whatever was available even if it wasn’t something I normally purchase. Two cans of crab meat made their way into my basket because I convinced myself that I needed to make crab cakes. I never make crab cakes.
The cashier told me that the store might close to shopping, taking online orders only but the would decide in the next couple of days. The anxiety this provoked in me was such that I came home and enumerated all the food in the house under the guise of cleaning the pantry and main cupboard. I couldn’t shake that anxious feeling until I had put my hands on every package, jar, and bucket of food, until I had checked both freezers and assured myself that my provisioning would last us at least six months if not a year. It’s not going to come to that, but my cupboards are now tidy and I know we have an abundance of canned tuna fish (not intentional – apparently Brian and I both buy canned fish in quantities we do not eat).
As a nice side effect, Brian is not returning to the city for the foreseeable future (he is normally gone for three or more days every week). We have agreed to keep each fitness-motivated, checking in first thing with each other about the workout plan for the day (today he jogged and lifted weights, I have a Freeletics workout and a walk scheduled for this afternoon). It speaks to my privilege at the moment that the thing I am most worried about is succumbing to the torpor of being at home all the time. I have adequate housing, food, and good health, but without access to the gym and work-related travel, things could spiral downwards quickly.
There is no shortage of things to do, especially since I am working and union-repping through it all. The fact that I am occupied with work 37.5 hours, and still have a million projects I want to get to hasn’t changed since last week. In that way, everything feels very normal.
Normal, but not normal if you know what I mean.
Five days ago was Thursday, the day it became apparent to me that everything I had planned for the next two months was coming off the table. On Friday morning I spent two hours on the phone and Internet cancelling air travel, hotels, and union engagements I had booked, deleting events from my Google calendar one at a time. I felt relief once that was done, like I had started to wrap my head around what is really going on right now. And of course, it’s always illuminating to weigh out the actual essentials in life and realize how much of what we engage in is just noise.
I’ve been in the news spiral the last few days, but I managed to get out of it yesterday because I was so busy working out, then going to a presentation on the Salt Spring Island Farm Trust projects (where I sat far away from people and didn’t touch anything), then going for a walk with a friend before making dinner for some other friends. Being away from the phone and computer all day was really fantastic for my mental health. Now that it’s Monday, I’m back at my machine again (thankful that I’m a teleworker), and it’s so hard to stop myself refreshing Google News and Facebook every few minutes to see the “latest”.
The thing is, even without knowing the most recent announcement, it’s very clear to me where Canada is going with this. In a matter of a few days, we will be in shut down, as other countries have been, in order to “flatten the curve of infection” (did you even know that language two weeks ago? I didn’t).
For me, that won’t mean a drastic change except that I won’t be able to go to the gym and my social interactions will decrease. My partner and I are both fortunate enough to already work from home (he will move from part-time at home to full-time), and we’ve agreed to help keep each other to a fitness schedule even if we can’t access all the equipment we’re used to. Exercise, weight training in particular, has become very important to us in the last few months – and right now it feels imperative to keep up the daily activity (immune boosting and good for the brain). I’ve been doing a session at the gym with a trainer 3 x per week recently, and yesterday we discussed moving that training online. Not sure how they will do it, but I’ve signed up for Freeletics and am doubling down on my commitment to cycling as well.
Just like not touching my face, I am trying to control the screen refresh tic as I sit at my computer, and focus on my actual work. Besides my paid work, I have plans to develop a canning workshop series over the next few weeks, complete my “train the trainer” courses, write this month’s newsletter, sew some new clothes, warp the weaving loom, and finish crocheting a blanket for Brian’s niece who is due to have a baby in June. Also, yard work once the weather warms up which is it supposed to do this week. Additional to that, I’ll be offering an online meditation sit and reading on Tuesday nights to replace the in-person session I normally facilitate in my home. Basically, I’m going to use all this cancelled travel time to catch up with my life, and offer whatever service is useful to my community in the hopes it keeps me connected, sane, and mostly off social media.
This is day five, and there is going to be a six, seven, eight…. and who knows how many more. This is the time to create a daily schedule, a list of projects you’ve been putting off, and pick up the telephone to check in with family and friends. I feel for folks who have to keep kids entertained, or who don’t have access to good housing right now. I know that this suggestion will ring hollow if you are barely hanging in there. But for those of us who can stay healthy, we have a responsibility to keep it together so we can help those around us who are struggling mentally, financially, and physically.
We can do this. We will do it. We can help each other. But we do have realize now that this is just starting and prepare for what comes next.
A few days ago I was in my yard with a friend doing some work for us, and I noticed a weird piece of white flesh with bones protruding out at the base of a tree. I poked at it with my finger, as it was fresh and not rancid, and as I did so my eye wandered to spot the rest of the object I was poking at – the spine of a fish, stripped of most of its meat. Eagles! The eagles are close at hand, using our trees as a place to rest after fishing their dinner out of the ocean or perhaps even nesting and feeding their offspring. It’s not uncommon here to be walking in the forest and come across a fish head or spine, and if you know anything about BC forest ecology, it’s long been posited by scientists that bears and birds have played a role in fertilizing our forests with the discards of their dinners. When I see it in action here, I get a little thrill – I really do – because it means that the ecosystem is still working to some degree.
I’ve been thinking about that today as I’ve been cancelling all my union-related travel for the next two months, because the fact that I’m doing it means the social ecosystem I live in is also still working to some degree. I see that despite the individualistic, anti-social messages pumped at us non-stop, most people in my social network, workplace, and community are agreeing to band together, curtail activities, and try to slow the spread of Covid-19. I see that people are circulating petitions to ensure their contractor/artist/freelance friends can access money from the employment insurance system. I see that governments are agreeing to pay people on quarantine, and whole countries are taking on massive financial setbacks in order to keep their citizens safe. Which means we haven’t lost yet. We still have a functioning social contract of some sort, no matter how much the right wing has kicked the crap out of it in the last few years.
This is where I find hope in the midst of the chaos right now. Moment by moment we make choices about how we are going to respond. And at this moment I see people making choices to support their community, health care workers, their families. Of course, there are people hoarding toilet paper, I see that also, but in the annals of human stupidity or cruelty, this is a minor offense.
I have a friend who in relation to climate change says, “as long as spring comes another year, we are still okay.” To which I always agree, and now have my response to her “whenever a bird drops a fish, we know we have not lost yet.”