Atlantic Canada — International Women’s Day is March 8, and women everywhere are preparing for a tidal wave of false appreciation and generic …Women await onslaught of pandering posts by corporations for International Women’s Day
Two more days in paradise (aka Nova Scotia), and then on to new adventures in Kingston, On. Well, new and old adventures, Kingston being a familiar place from my college years and some other years where I thrashed my way through a career.
I’m excited. But this IS 2020, the year of random hellishness being sprayed hither and yon in a rather too excessive manner. So there’s a line of anxiety running along the excitement.
And it is sad saying goodbye to my lovely friends from my ten years here. They are warm and funny and smart and supportive and I’m going to miss them like crazy. In this insane world, I don’t know when I’ll see them again…
It’s at times like this that I am ridiculously thankful for the interwebs. I’m not a huge fan of zooming, but I’ve got to admit being able to see and talk to people in real time is pretty nice. Say what you will about the deadly virus that is spreading like wildfire, I’ve selfishly enjoyed the excuse to chat for endless hours face to face with my sister and my kids, the online games and messages from friends here and there. I’m so hoping that part will continue even after we wrestle this horrible thing to the ground.
Because I can remember when it wasn’t like this. When long distance calls had to be budgeted for, where even when you made them, you couldn’t see the speaker, and every minute was rationed.
See, with the internet, I feel I can step away from Nova Scotia and still have a chance to “see” my chums. There are also the wonderful Nova Scotia webcams, which I watched for hours before I moved here, that I can watch again. If I miss the froth from Peggy’s Cove, I can dial up that view and see those waves crash against the everlasting rocks, giggle at the tourists who insist on walking on the black rocks, gasp as they risk their lives…
It’s nowhere near perfect, but it does make it slightly easier to say “see you later” to my near and dears and spring into the future, devices in hand.
I can’t help but worry, though, as we grind into gear again, everyone will get busy, and we’ll become too fussed by everyday things to connect, even virtually. This horrible horrible year has encouraged us to become closer, to spend more time on relationships.
Of course that’s why I’m moving- I’ve been missing my family, and they are closer to Ontario than here. So it’s westwards ho…while trailing cords from various devices, And leaving a little bit of my heart behind.
Perhaps I need a special mask…
“Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes
Watchin’ the ships roll in
Then I watch ’em roll away again..”
Ah, Otis. Such an apt description of my last weeks here in paradise (aka Nova Scotia). It has been perishingly hot and humid and I’ve been forced to sit, beached carp-like, gasping for breath as my MS and the humidity do their little dance.
And then, mid-August, the cool nights arrived, the decreasing dampness. It happens every year and it is always a surprising gift – people start to walk about again, there are some twinkling eyes above the inevitable masks, the mackerel are running and the dock is filled with men casting their hooks into the sea. Sometimes they even catch things…and I fall in love with the place again.
It’s been an odder time here, of course, what with the constant refrain “stay home, stay home”, mixed with the hymn of “get out and shop local” buzzing in my ears. I am overdue for a voyage across the harbour on my sweet ferry to see one of my favourite art galleries (Argyle Fine Art), but the whole idea seems so daunting after months of hiding out at home it requires loin-girding of an unusual degree.
So I sit on my balcony with its wonderful view of harbour happenings and the occasional street crime (this IS Dartmouth, after all) and watch the tide roll in and out and in.
My motivation isn’t helped by the fact that 90% of my belongings are packed. Including most of my clothing. I have, of course, chosen the things to leave out unwisely. Getting dressed to go out to do the “shop local” part of my inner dialogue is usually a melee of shirt and dress-tossing, trying to adapt to the changing weather – a shift of 15 degrees Celsius is common these days – and somehow I have hidden all the things that go together.
My friends are kindly silent about my selections, bless them.
No matter. Tomorrow the junk company comes by to en-lighten (unnecessarily hyphenation added in honour of LD) me of a great many things (they say they will donate much of it and I am grateful, if slightly skeptical, but at this point, I just do not want to know). Today’s task is to complete the junk assembly into a digestible chunk. After that, I’m down to the last lingering few things…
And back to:
“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time..”
I suppose there are worse ways to spend the next few days…
I’m at the end of my tether. It’s so humid here every bit of my furniture is soggy. The boxes I’ve already packed for my move are looking saggy. And the cat is three times his normal size.
I love the Maritimes. I love the smell of the sea, the ships going by, the feel of sand between my toes.
I do not love the 100% humidity.
Seems like this year it’s been hotter and stickier than in past years. Or maybe it’s the additional stress of the pandemic, the madman south of the border, the inability to do anything without gloom hanging over, the impending election season…
So maybe that’s all contributing to the ultimate hair disaster. All I know is that I am now unusually tall (for me) and am having trouble getting through doorways. There’s a wee struggle, and then a “pop” as I squeeze through. It would alarm the cat but he’s stuck behind me.
The thing is, there’s so little I can do anything about. Like the fog that brings the humidity, the news clouds over everything, putting me into a state of suspended animation, visibility reduced, with only the foghorns as guides.
So, fiction. It’s time to put my head into a world I create and play there, where I can control things, where the characters can get the punishment they deserve, where all is controllable.
Back to the computer I go, brain sparking, even if it agitates the head fluff even more…
There’s a seagull who flies by my balcony every morning that has a broken tail – her tail feathers stand straight up, like a mast on a seagull ship…looks a bit like she’s punking out.
She swoops by and I wonder, how do the other seagulls treat her? Do they mock her behind her back and comment about how she just likes to be the centre of attention?
Do they feel sorry for her and whisper behind their wings about how brave she is and the inner strength she is showing?
Or do they accept her, let her mate, share their food with her?
Of course, it’s hard to see seagull interactions – they don’t generally mass together around here and it is an odd day when they would all call together- maybe fish have been dumped into the sea? Maybe the crows are pestering?
The crows come to hang out when there are eggs in nests, as do blue jays, but I suspect the delicate aerial movements needed to steal the eggs from under building edges can be a bit challenging for your average huge seagull.
So I am left to wonder, a seagull with a broken wing myself- where does she fit in?
Of course, I can’t help but think of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, whose main character is a seagull looking for … something…
And so I spread my wings, and …
You probably have seen what happens when you kick over an anthill and all of the ants panic and run all over the place, carrying the egg sacs, looking for safety?
Back in the days pre-divorce, the ex and I used to call our regular sorting and rearranging of stuff “ant sac” activity – we’d be grabbing our things and rushing back and forth between floors of our house, through rooms in a panicked, not quite sensible manner…
Now I am ant-sac-ing again, carrying my stuff there and back, up and down, in and out…
You see, the pandemic disturbed my anthill.
I live in the glorious Maritimes. In fact, I am writing this from the balcony of *the best apartment ever*, overlooking the Halifax harbour, pausing now and again to gaze at the ocean. I’m seizing the quiet moment before the heat of the day begins and I lose all sentient thought…ah, maritime humidity. I remember flying into the airport from Ontario and the air here felt like breathing through a water-soaked sponge…
(Pause to gaze at a container ship easing on by, seemingly silent…)
But see, the pandemic. I do love it here, but the enclosure of Covid-19 has left me with a slightly lonely tinge to my thoughts – my family is all so far away. And the Maritimes is all about family. If you don’t have one here, well,…
And yes, ‘friends are the family you choose’ – and I’ve been blessed to meet so many wonderful people here and I am going to miss them all madly, but as I creep towards my dotage, I realize I need to be a bit closer to my relations- my kids, my cousins, my sister…Nova Scotia is just that little bit too far away.
So I am busily sorting my stuff, carrying it here to the “for the recycler/junk people “ (a large pile) and there “for the move” (an unpleasantly large pile still). I feel like the panicked ant, trying to save my babies but also wanting to give them all away, start a completely fresh nest elsewhere…
But I just have to keep this book, this piece of art, this crafted coffee mug, the cat…and so I continually sort through the piles, tossing more things, packing and unpacking, trying to squeeze my stuff into smaller spaces.
Just heard a voice from the BBC (which I always believe because…British accent…) counselling people not to make any irreversible decisions during this time of oddness. As my father in law would say, “‘Too late,’ she cried, and waved her wooden leg.” It’s all in motion and I am on the highest point of the roller coaster, waiting for that exciting swoop down into the loops.
I’m not regretting my choice. I’ve had a lovely ten years here, way more than was originally planned. Its been like an extended holiday, with a bunch of new and exciting travel partners. But it is time to go home, and much as I tried to claim Nova Scotia as my home, it just won’t take me.
I blame the fiddle music. Lord, I do hate a fiddling jig.
So it’s farewell to Nova Scotia in about a month. I’m hoping it’s not a permanent farewell- I have the sea in my bones (and in my lungs- how I long for a good dry-out in the prairies!) and will likely have to come back to visit. Good friends are hard to leave.
The sun was setting in the west
The birds were singing on every tree
All nature seemed inclined to rest
But still there was no rest for me
Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea bound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
For when I’m far away on the briny ocean tossed
Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me
George Carlin’s classic standup routine about the importance of ‘Stuff’ in our lives. This was from his appearance at Comic Relief in 1986. Farewell George 1…
— Read on www.youtube.com/watch
Pandemic blues. That’s what I put it down to, the lethargy caused by being trapped in place, uncertain of the future, a bit frightened of it, eating way too many carbs all day and they waking at 3 AM vowing to do better, only to rewake at 7 and head directly to the carb cupboard.
Because carbs. Serotonin. That hormone that makes us feel like we are in love, happy, fulfilled.
Truth is, despite some pretty heavy medication (life on pharmaceuticals! Yay!), I haven’t been feeling the joy much. Even watching my lovely tugboats ease up the harbour doesn’t cheer me, nor the cooling sea breeze, nor much of anything, really.
I’ve spent untold hours playing meaningless video games, read a bunch of books without remembering a single one (well, except Philip Roth and his endless focus on the status of women’s nipples -ugh- leading me to toss his books out with extreme violence…), watched way too many series on various streaming services. I’ve mopped my apartment floors countless times, enjoying the physicality of swinging the mop, the swish of the water over the laminate, the shine afterwards- but woman does not live by cleaned floors alone. The cat avoids me as I lunge at him with a hairbrush for the fifth time that day – he’s too hot to play, and spends his time over-grooming which leads to hair balls which leads to the need to mop the floors…
So I’ve decided to use this time to unencumber myself and am sorting through papers and documents and get rid of furniture I don’t like etc etc. In short, preparing myself for a new adventure once the doors finally open and life approximates normal again.
If it ever does. (where are those carbs?)
And suddenly I find my joy, because halloo hallay! I find some of the writing I’ve done in the past and you know what? It isn’t half bad. It’s only half good, true, but it makes me smile as I read it, enjoying my occasional fun description, turn of phrase, dialogue.
Because writing, like art, is a gift from the gods. I love crafting things but there is a special magic in things that come out of my head…without a pattern, with a tilt all my own.
It’s been tantalizing, too, because I am finding bits of paper writings- I know I’ve saved things in the ether, but running across the bits and pieces that are handwritten or printed out makes them seem more real, more immersive. And none of them are complete…leaving me hunting for more chunks here and there and everywhere.
Today I found a bit of a story I was writing about Cuba, one that I was working on when I went to the Humber School of Writers. It made me smile. It heartened me.
Writing begets writing, I’ve always found. And, when I write, I find I see the world more clearly – I am looking for the right word to describe what I see, what I create, what I hear.
It’s time to pull out the writing serotonin again. After all, when writing, I don’t need a mask…
I can’t bear it.
I am beyond the ugly crying stage and right into the moody despair phase, and I can’t seem to shake it. It’s that being surrounded by bad things you can’t do anything about feeling…
The riots in the US and the return of Black Lives Matter protests (followed by the expected, ‘well, all lives matter’ bleating from the entitled), the unwelcome commentary about how, honestly, these people should just protest peacefully, the frustrating governmental non-response — or what I call the Smuckers Jam response (cover anything with enough jammy sweetness and it will seem tasty, even with an ugly name) – it’s all too much.
Come ON people! Way back in the 1970s, when I was living in the Boston area, I was part of a high school group called “Action (insert year here)”. We were involved in protesting the appalling state of inner-city schools, primarily black ones. At that time the push was on for busing of students from the inner city out to the fatcat suburbs, and of course, all the folks in the suburbs were appalled that black people would be sharing bathrooms with their precious babies. I went to a meeting where parents actually shouted that their kids would catch STIs from toilet seats shared with these students.
Protests of this objection ensued, not only in my little lily-white racist suburb but all over the Boston area. At the time, I was quite daring and snuck into Boston to join in a bigger protest. It was probably my only serious disobedience as an adolescent (I missed out on a misspent youth) and was about as effective as most of such things, but I felt it important to be there.
My parents would have killed me, primarily because of the risk to my person. Counterintuitive to kill me for that but hey, parents. My mum once hit me with a hairbrush because she was worried I’d been beaten up on the way home from Catholic Education class. Parenting isn’t always a rational thing, as my kids know well.
I was scared as hell at the protest. The Boston Police had their horses out and were pushing them through the non-violent crowds, waving batons at folks, and it wasn’t long before things got riled up. I’d left by then, taking my lily-white terrified behind back to safety.
Back then, I could not believe that in that day and age people were so uninformed, so racist as to deny education to students based on skin colour. (Of course, I know now it was all about property taxes and the haves really not wanting to share anything with the have-nots lest they get uppity and (GASP) want to move in next door.)
I still can’t believe it. We’re now 44 years on and it seems to me little has changed. Surely we have learned something in all the years and wars and disruptions over the years? No. People are still trapped by all sorts of nasty frameworks and by golly, in North America at least, the Blacks and the Native populations (and now the Asians, again) are seemingly never to raise their heads without having them stamped into the ground in some endless game of Whack-a-Mole.
Perhaps it IS time to be violent. Perhaps it IS time to shout louder than the NRA and supremacist idiots and make it known that we just don’t want this anymore. Perhaps this is the time to finally shake up the status quo. Heaven knows, even simply as a woman, I am mad enough about so many injustices to set some fires.
I have to admit, though, I’m scared. My still lily-white arse is 44 years further on, too, and I fear that once this violence takes off, it may be impossible to stop. Winter is a long way away. There are too many agitators working to overthrow democracy in the US who like to scare people and go about bopping people on the head, and the ‘leadership’ is using even the peaceful marches as an excuse to take away rights.
I fear greatly what will happen in November.
Up here in more quietly racist Canada, there are a lot of grievances simmering just under the surface. Deserved grievances. And, like the Coronavirus, violence can be infectious. I am worried it will spread north – especially during the recession to come after the pandemic. The competition for jobs will be harsh, people will be bitter.
I long for some leadership that would step up to the plate and hold police accountable for their appalling statistics, who would order some sort of investigation into the way things are being done…but wait…
That was done before – in the 70s, in the 60s even. Investigations happen and commissions are held and many many trees die in mounds of paperwork, and things JUST DON’T CHANGE.
If only I thought a revolution was effective, I’d be all for it right about now. The problem is, there’s disruption, violence, and singing in the streets, and then it all goes back to how it was before, except maybe worse.
Like the Boston busing issue. Or the Arab Spring.
I have a rather extensive pile of TBR books languishing on my shelves and in my various e-readers (which I prefer for nighttime reading as I can take my glasses off and pretend to be young again). My cunning plan (thanks Blackadder) was to plow through a bunch of them while we are all quiet and then be able to make the fateful decision – keep or share? Clear out the deadwood, reclaim some shelf space…
Instead, I’ve been watching endless streams of movies. This does allow me to embroider and do other things – like inexpertly knit socks again and again…(Do you know the word ‘frogging’ as applied to knitting? It means pulling the knitting back to repair mistakes. More experienced knitters can catch up the line where they want to. I end up having to rip the whole thing out and start again. This makes me intensely want to do another hobby.) (But I recoil from crochet as I actually FAILED my crochet class, the poor teacher wandering off and bringing me larger and larger and larger types of yarn and needles thinking I couldn’t see what I was doing…so that’s out.)
Imagine. Me, “brain the size of the universe” (as Marvin would intone, gloomily) unable to master simple knot-tying! It doesn’t help that I hang out with a group of sweet but extremely competent and creative knitters and crocheters who whip off cabled loveliness and multicoloured charted knits with ease…They kindly ask to see what I’ve made. There is NO WAY IN HELL I am showing them my lumpish monstrosities. I have no idea how I can blow a simple garter stitch, but if you see me wearing a knitted scarf, I beg you to avert your glance and not look too closely.
But I digress. All of this frustration means no reading, and though audiobooks are lovely for mysteries and thrillers I can’t see listening to Proust…and he was on my must read list. This is a perfect time for digging into these famous tomes – Montaigne’s essays, Proust, Dante…no one is interrupting my thoughts or making, in fact, ANY NOISE except the cat who comes by to whine now and again. I can safely wallow in the written word.
That is if I can push my anxiety over the destruction of the world to one side.
A wise friend once told me about the three circles in which we live: the inner one, ourselves, over which we have the most control; the middle one, over which we might have influence; and the rest of the world, over which we can do little or nothing about. As I get older and wrinklier, I realize that that middle circle is becoming thinner and thinner, and I am left with only myself to regulate and a world to watch.
God knows I try to widen the middle. I’ve been working with my old alma mater, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, on a project about the world reactions to Covid-19. It involved cleaning a variety of databases. My eyes refuse to cooperate and my MS lack of short term memory means I have to scan back and forth more than the average bear to check on details. I suspect I was more of a hindrance than a help. Now I just dip in for projects that don’t involve so much scanning, tugging my forelock at my betters as I do. My studies were so long ago…
All of this is slightly discouraging. Trying to keep up with things is a challenge. Showing people your work is often soul-destroying. Add the ongoing news of a WORLD GONE MAD, and it seems impossible.
Perhaps it is time to open Proust, read what a man with nothing on his hands but time (and perhaps a few madeleines) was able to write and think about. He was the king of social distancing, and look at how productive he was! He wrote about love, and loneliness, and people. Those things we are struggling without.
Maybe he has a clue for self-regulation, for wrapping ourselves in a layer of security and allowing our minds to relax into free-thinking. I find myself muttering, “Of course, he had help!” Like Thoreau, who pretended to be all alone while having maid service and regular meal preparation… But never mind. Deep thoughts. Deep thoughts.
If Proust fails me, I can always head to Dante’s Inferno and frighten myself with eternal damnation. That’s gotta make today sound better. Right?