I’m having trouble with words these days. Or maybe it’s an issue of focus. The writing isn’t happening at all. This is a problem when you have a blog and a newsletter – so I’m still trying to eke something out that I can send for the latest installment of Comfort for the Apocalypse. But I’m not beating myself up about it. Things like canning, sewing, gardening, and offering support to those around me are taking precedence right now – as are working out, reading, and getting rest. I see what I’ve prioritized in the last few weeks, and I can’t argue with myself about it. It’s just what makes sense right now.
I’ve been posting a lot on Instagram and last week changed the name of my account to Birdsong Workshop to better reflect the diversity of things that happen in my home and studio. Birdsong Textiles felt a bit too weaving specific, and since it’s only one of the things happening here I thought a change was in order. There is a lot of sewing content right now, but I will start to include canning, cooking, and gardening content as well. Not being out in the world as much, I have more time to document little bits of our life here on Gabriola and something about Instagram appeals to me greatly in these times. I suppose it’s because I think of it as friendly social media and curate my feed to weed out political memes specifically (I get a lot of that content in all other parts of my life).
On the weekend I went through my closets and drawers and purged them of everything too large, worn out, or not my style. I also went through the shoes and removed everything I can no longer wear due to my Morton’s neuroma (basically, anything that narrows my toe-box is out these days and probably forever). While I have been quietly sewing a new spring/summer wardrobe that fits my smaller body, I had a rule that no new clothes could go into circulation until the old were cleaned out. When I was done I had a pile of “garbage” (some of which has been cut up into quilt squares), a bag of give-aways, an armload of me-mades that I am going to attempt altering down in size, and a small stack of clothes that are too big and also too complicated to alter that I’m not ready to let go of yet.
Even in these times I have a great feeling of refresh as the garden comes to life and the house gets aired out on warmer days. A new routine has emerged that involves daily yoga and workouts in my garage, trading on the local barter board (sourdough starter for kale, rhubarb crowns for canned chutney), and a weekly bread bake on Sundays. It’s not what I thought April would be, though in a lot of ways it’s better. The removal of external expectation that I be *other* places has been a bit of a gift.
But still, not everything is quite right inside my island bubble. I have trouble with focus and a hard time caring about things not concretely important, I am worried about a future where this virus is always a possibility because we can’t develop immunity but also about everything going “back to normal”. I don’t want to return to racing around all the time, but I would like to be able to go to a restaurant or an open mic again. I don’t mind working out at home, but I do miss going to my gym!
These times highlight my planning mind – one that switches easily from the logistics of work travel to maximizing food stores and community connections. Given that spring is the season of thinking ahead, I am well into turning over all of the things in my life although I don’t know exactly what I’m preparing for next.
I took last week off work, which meant I took ten days off from sitting in front of my computer in any kind of concentrated way. Of course I scrolled social media using my phone, opened up the laptop to take my online yoga classes – but I didn’t sit down to write even once in those days off. I just needed to float around inside my studio and my head for awhile without recording it anywhere.
I finished warping my loom with the impossible sauna towel project (more on that in another post, I’m sure), got some sewing done, built some food growing boxes for the garden (now full of soil that my husband Brian wheelbarrowed into them yesterday), sorted some old seeds, did yoga every day, cooked some great dinners, and made a tiny bit of headway on the colourwork of the sweater I’m knitting. And I finally started to settle into the fact that this is the way things are going to be for the next long while, though I’m not going to put a number of months on that figuring right now because it seems pointless to predict.
Given the increased home time, I’ve been thinking about #MeMadeMay, an annual sewing tradition (this is year 10) in which home-sewists set goals to develop a better relationship to their self-made clothing. It was started by Zo at So, Zo What do you Know as a way to see how much one can rely on self-made clothing in a given time period. To participate, one signs up for the annual challenge (there isn’t a sign-up post yet), sets some self-defined goals, and then uses the hashtags #memademay2020 and #memademay on Instagram to alert others to posts that relate to the challenge. This is *not* about sewing a bunch more clothes or posting incessantly on social, though one might incorporate both of those activities. It *is* about approaching our wardrobes and sewing plans thoughtfully and with intention.
The last time I participated was in May 2018, which I documented with daily posts on Instagram and weekly round-ups on my blog. My goal then was simply to wear me-made garments and photograph myself wearing them.
This time around, I’m going to use the month to spend a bit more time thinking about my style, gaps in my wardrobe I’d like to fill, and what things need to go in the donation bin. I’ve lost close to thirty pounds and three dress sizes since October, and while some of my clothes are still wearable, others are not (and some are just looking old). I am also in the process of sewing an all-new fitted wardrobe, and would like to start documenting that as well. Given these factors, I’ve set myself the following sewing-related goals for May:
I’m glad to have time to participate in this challenge for 2020, and also to spend sewing new clothes. Up until a month ago April to July was looking like wall-to-wall activity but now I am staying put for awhile. I can’t say I mind getting this unanticipated time in my studio, garden, and makeshift fitness studio in our garage. Sewing is one of the things I find myself turning to as I expand into my life at home fully, feeling rooted in the activity that sustains rather than going through the motions expected of me in the world outside. #MeMadeMay feels like a way to celebrate this time outside of normalcy, a time in which there are less daily demands that pull me away from home.
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.