In the hallway the boys gather about in smelly heaps like old laundry, laughing and pointing and dancing in their ridiculously large sneakers. Hair sticking out in every direction, body odor of newly minted puberty encircling them in a miasma, they crow like four-month roosters, stomping their feet on the small pieces of paper scattered on the ground.
Each square has a blotch of red on it, some writing, a signature.
One boy picks up a larger piece and theatrically tears it into small then smaller then tiny pieces, throws it into the air like confetti. The other boys bat at it, sending the shreds flying around through the hallway.
The boys’ voices crack as they hoot and cat-call, which makes them shout louder. The teachers are nowhere to be found.
To the side a small girl stands, dressed in a slightly off-fashion red bodysuit and plaid skort, uncertain shoes, long hair massing about her head in a ‘my mother won’t let me cut it’ study of split ends and tangles. Head down, she tries to slip by, unseen, escape down the hallway to the exit, but she can’t avoid the tangle of boys, the shouts, the destruction.
The boys spot her, and the pointing and yelling sharpens, knife-like. Like a murder of crows, they caw in her face, pull at her hair, scoop up the shreds of paper off the floor and throw them at her. Winter gravel is mixed with the paper which stings as it hits her. The papers don’t fly well, and this makes the boys finally give up in frustration and turn away. They slam the doors open, shoving each other, grinning back at her.
One boy is quieter than the rest. He knows the girl, they were friends of a sort, of whatever sort boys and girls could be friends in grade eight, clouded in hormones and poor judgement. He shouts through the noise to the boys, “Let’s go, she’s not worth it.”
She looks over at him, her face dead. She’s frozen, mortally wounded, unable to edge one cell forward out of there. Minutes after the boys finally tumble out of the door and outside, away, she thaws enough to move.
Bending forward, she gathers up the shreds of her valentines, silent. Alone.
The other morning, around 3 AM, when I was busily picturing all of the food I had eaten during this lockdown and regretting a good two-thirds of it, I turned on the excellent “Backlisted” podcast and was immersed in memories of my childhood books and library…and it got me wondering about things I couldn’t remember. Like, for example, where did we buy books in the time before Coles/Chapters/etc? I remember standing with my dad while he looked over books, but have no idea where that was. Perhaps in the Burlington Mall, land of teenage yearning and light? Absolutely no idea.
Anne of Green Gables and all the subsequent books made me long for red hair and an extravagant way of speaking – mastered the latter but not the former, and still can’t memorize poetry to recite dramatically to myself as I stroll along pathways under flowering trees. Sigh. Tasks for the 5 Am pandemic blearies?
Do I remember a bookcase where I kept them? Nope. Blank spot.
I vaguely remember the stone library in my home town, the floor linoleum with its pattern of rounded squares, its high shine that came from years and years of being buffed, the smell of the wax. I remember the spinning racks of paperback books, and the hardbacks with the heavy plastic book covers on them, so slippery and impossible to hold. I don’t remember how I got to the library (it was too far for a wee lass to walk) – surely my mother drove us? No recall whatsoever.
It’s funny the patchiness of past memories, the little gaps that, when we dig in to explore them, yield nothing but grey space. But the stories, they remain.
My family’s house was full of books – bookshelves in every spare space, filled with antique books that, to my knowledge, were never read. Occasionally, as an older child, I’d scroll along the shelves, picking up one or another, their paper-thin, tightly typed pages smooth to the touch, smelling of age and forgotten wisdom. During one explore I found, carefully hidden amongst the boring looking ones, Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. Chapter Two was all about human sexual response and I’d read it secretly, sneaking into the little closet under the stairs, pulling the coats in behind me and curling up on the window seat, afraid someone would see me and report me (sexuality was NEVER discussed in our house). I assume my dad bought it and my mother hid it.
He bought all the interesting books in the house. Books like Chariots of the Gods?, and Godel, Escher, Bach. Books on painting and drawing and doing things. He’d bid on entire sets of encyclopaedias from the 1930’s and bring them home and crow over all the descriptions of foreign places and people. He bought science books, theology books, reading everything except fiction, as so many men do.
My mother bought Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christies and other mysteries in yellowing paperbacks from the thrift store, and curled up solo, delighting in the murders and the puzzle solving.
We didn’t talk much about what we were reading. In fact, I don’t remember a single discussion unless it was my dad telling us about pyramid power or whatever other weird thing he’d read. And yet, the books in our home circulated. If we sat together now (ah, remember those days, when we could?) we’d probably realize we all experienced so many of the same books and shared that language more than we ever knew.
Family. Or the family of books. Our family of memories…
Thomas Mann differs with the bromide that “Time flies when you are having fun”. He argues, in his masterwork The Magic Mountain, that time flies fastest when you are bored, that time having fun can spread out as each moment is savoured. His main character, Hans Castorp, is visiting/imprisoned in a sanitarium on the top of said mountain, with a variety of other patients recovering (or not) from the dread tuberculosis. He thinks a lot about time and boredom.
The Magic Mountain is the perfect sort of book to read during this time of waiting, this forced enclosure. I personally am envious of the sanitarium, where you are fed four times a day, ushered on healthy walks, and expected to lay about wrapped in woolen blankets for prolonged periods of time. It’s truly not that different from pandemic self-protection, except that a. no one is fixing me meals and b. there is no convivial shared time.
But our situation shares a lot with what Mann describes. We’ve been living for almost a year now in an arrested state, holding back from projects, friendly gatherings, romance, family events, education, meaningful work, travel, ukulele gangs…We could be in a sanitarium given the way we have had to live.
In another similarity, our world, as Mann’s, is regulated by doctors, who examine the situation and tell us, no, you must stay here, in the enclosure, things are not better yet.
It is profoundly boring. And the time is slipping away. I can barely recall last summer, let alone the fall. I forced myself to do a weekly stitch-along project last year just to mark the time, as otherwise there are no guidelines through the fog. I dread beginning another one, and the time challenges it will reveal.
For all the guests at the sanitarium, time is flexed and changed, spun into fever dreams or secretive trysts, whisking by too fast and yet not at all. I can feel that change in our time, too. I barely know what time it is, let alone what day. Calendars are proliferating in my apartment, each an almost bare map of a life not quite lived.
I do not easily get bored. I have 1000000 projects on the go, a zillion things I SHOULD be doing, way too many books to read (including the 727 page long Mann book), places to walk, and god knows, exercise to be done (so I don’t end up further towards the ‘Asiatic-flabby’ of Mann’s book (or just plain flabby without even the interest of the Asian background- I once had muscle tone and am desperately seeking it)).
I’ve seen countless postings about how boredom is good for you, how it stimulates creativity, etc etc. I am beginning to doubt the effectiveness of long term boredom, though working on my books does seem somehow more enchanting.
But it’s all SO BLAH! There is something to be said in that one’s life only matters if someone else sees it, ergo the mass migration to happy family social media, and try as I might, I have trouble assigning my own value to my little embroideries or weirdly knitted scarves or writings that suffer from too many commas…If no one sees me or what I am doing, does anything actually matter? (Maybe I need to put more cat photos up on Instagram?)
“Now, now”, I hear my more motivated friends say. “You still have value, even just sitting there.”
Hmm. NOT the way I was raised.
Be that as it may, I wonder about the times to come, when we step out into the light again, when we can wander freely about our environment, laugh in a bar with friends and strangers over a beer or two. Will we end up like the characters in this novel, and be loathe to extend outwards again? Will we find ourselves longing for the sweatshirt days, the quiet of an unbusy world, the reduced demand from our previously oh so busy lives?
In the book, few people escape the sanitarium. Many die, many commit suicide, and our hero gets sent to the warfront. Their time on the mountain is a special time aside, girt round with threats and death and an undercurrent of banal evils. In our time, we struggle with lack of contact, lack of employment, and profound mental illness, and are forced to hang about, while outside our circle, death and destruction reigns. Will we be able to escape the pandemic? Will we ever feel safe in a crowd again? Or will it linger, like the ghost of TB spots, shadowing our lives?
I’ve been essentially alone now for ten months, with the occasional jaunt out to see a few friendly faces and my desperate conversations at the grocery store being my only social contact. I have almost forgotten how to speak. I see the news where people continue to gather and cause the virus to remain a threat and I am growing to hate those people. The non-maskers, the people campaigning against the vaccine, the partiers. Each news item means more weeks of isolation for me, and so many others.
I can’t wait to escape. I need to bump myself off others to know I exist.
So, the electoral college seems to have spoken, but Mr. Sore Loser is still sulking in the White House and spewing hatred, firing anyone who dares to not be visibly supportive. People call him ‘unprecedented’ but I think we have seen this sort of behaviour elsewhere in other autocratic dictatorships. Sulkiness in North Korea, for example, or Russia…At least he hasn’t (yet) taken to poisoning the opposition – but he could be accused of inspiring attacks.
So it STILL seems like we are trapped in suspended animation, until after the Georgia elections, until after the inauguration…until the orange terror is contained and his whole family are in jail. I still can’t sleep and I don’t even live in the US!
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we watch Covid still streaming live across all formats, people getting restless after months of seclusion and having to hang out with (or without) their families, and the vaccine is waved like a flag of triumph though distribution will likely take more months. You can feel the breeze of hope, though – a slight freshness in the stale at home air, a crispness in the nostrils that hasn’t been there for such a long time.
Unfortunately, the doubters will use this as an excuse to go wander freely everywhere, coughing and spitting and doing all the things disgusting humans do…(Is anyone else grateful for the months of spit-free sidewalks? And why do men DO that? Do they ooze secretions? But I digress.) So despite that fluttering flag, there’s a whole lot more dying to go through still. Hard to be optimistic, with the combo of distribution inequalities and challenges and disgruntled humans. Sometimes I wonder why we were given ‘free will’ (a nebulous concept if you ever have a good look at it). Perhaps the gods like a good laugh.
I just participated in a survey about depression and Covid and after answering the many questions about sleep and initiative and joy (all in short supply), the interviewer asked if there was anything I could add about the situation. I had to add Trump. I suspect the entire world is still chewing through their fingernails about him. Covid seems small in comparison with the degradation of democracy, despite the huge and growing human cost.
In amongst all the sturm und drang (bless you, Wikipedia, and I did donate and remind everyone else to send them a wee penny), it’s hard to maintain that feeling of hope, that thing with feathers.
Until you can watch the real things with feathers. There’s something miraculous about tiny fluffy birds surviving the winters here. I had a chickadee sit on my hand the other day (while investigating the seeds I was holding) and it let me touch its wee skinny cold leg. I wanted to cup it in my hand and warm it, as the boy did in the story by Helen Humphreys (The Frozen Thames – a glorious book and so worth reading). Of course, I’d end up giving it a heart attack from fear, so instead I just willed my hand to radiate heat upward and poured more seeds into it.
If only I could offer a warm perch to all creatures, human or not. At least until the chill that was 2020 dissipates…
Like the nubile blonde women in horror movies that simply cannot resist putting themselves at risk in dark basements or abandoned cottages in the woods, (well, not really, as nubile and blonde no longer really apply, but hang in with me here), I am feeling the overwhelming urge to GO OUT AND CATCH COVID and get it over with.
It’s the same mad impulse that horror writers no doubt exploit – we are none of us good at living in a state of fear for a day or so, let alone NINE godforsaken months.
I’ve gotten used to masking up, living largely alone, diving through grocery stores like I’m on a shoplifting spree. I smell of alcohol gel and am probably flammable, so am avoiding the use of candles this holiday season. I’ve gone feral, bathing only infrequently, gnawing on apples for food, sniffing the cat tins to see if they seem appetizing. My muscle tone has degraded into marshmallow status from lack of exercise, and I now undress in full darkness so I don’t have to see myself. If it weren’t for my friends and family occasionally tapping in to see if I am still breathing (many thanks especially to L and P, bless your furry little souls), and the endless yowls of the cat demanding service, I’d have retreated to bed a long time ago.
(I also must thank Jacke Wilson and the inimitable History Of Literature podcast, without which I would spend many a nighttime hour tossing and turning in fits of anxiety and self-judgement (after living feral and accomplishing nothing for days on end, at 3 AM a part of me I inherited from my mother reaches out to shame me in every direction).)
But here’s the thing. I’ve been good, into self-denial for months now, and I STILL get the feeling of impending doom, hear the heavy breathing of Covid in my closets, can’t get past the heart-pounding anxiety that it is just a matter of time until it gets me, clutches me by the throat, whispers tales of sickness and strife into my shell-like ears.
I’m not good at waiting. I’m of the generation of chicken pox parties, where we smeared poxy children against each other just to have them get it at a convenient time. Of course, risky, risky. My poor son got so covered with pox I had to count them with him just to distract him from the panic of seeing himself overwhelmed. (I stopped after 100. We hadn’t even gotten off his chest and tummy). Thank god nothing else untoward happened to him, but I still give my head a shake.
Chicken pox is very rarely fatal, though. This Covid thing dances gaily along in its plague mask, stabbing people with its sharp beak, creating holes in families and workplaces and countries. So when I am sensible, I know it is unreasonable to even think of going out to catch it.
But I find I am growing to understand those who do. There’s a fatalism around that we can lay at the foot of 2020-ism, of Trump, of the immense clumps of destructive people destroying the environment for greed. It’s a constant battle to stay optimistic as the weeks and months go on, as the numbers we thought we were bringing down creep up higher and higher.
Way back in university, my friends took me to see Friday the 13th part three (I think), which captures my feelings exactly – the aforesaid n.y.m (nubile young woman) is feeling safe in her cottage, and walks through the dark to the kitchen for a snack (she has just climbed out of a bed where she has been very naughty, so as watchers, we know she is marked for some gruesome end). She opens the fridge, tra la, tra la, and sees a rotting disembodied head on the shelf. She starts to scream, but is unable to as the killer plunges an ice pick through her temple.
Alas, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to be bad of late, but this feeling of things unseen creeping up on me and wielding death has never quite left. It’s heightened by the invisibility of the attacker here. And I’ve always thought it would have been better to be one of the early sliced-and-diced in a horror movie than the one who finds everyone else lying about in bits. So the temptation exists.
Primarily because of sympathy for the health care workers who would feel compelled to try and help me survive at great personal risk, I’m still fighting my urge to go hang out with the coughing masses. So far…
It’s a weird idea to write a blog. I started this one when blogs were relatively new, and I used to have a separate MS blog (“Musings of a MadSow”) back when blogger was a thing…The latter was a place where I could whine about various things about my Multiple Sclerosis – I’d been newly diagnosed and much seemed unjust and strange at the time. (It still does, mind you – I’m just quieter about it).
This one started as an exploratory thing, writing practice, a place for me to dump my thoughts and see how they floated. I’ve done crazy things with it, like try to write a profile of all those countries you see as you scroll down the lists when you sign up for things…(for ex: https://wordpress.com/post/dorothyanneb.com/1931) – that was interesting – for me anyway – and I still have ever so many countries to investigate. Sadly, many of them will be gone as tidal waters rise. Quite terrifying to see how many places will simply be drowned in the next few years. But I digress…
I’ve written about travels and parenting and dating and living alone, about the pandemic and Christmas and politics. In short, it’s been all over the place, grounded only in my mad brain and its various wobbles.
So it’s been interesting to look at the WordPress analytics and see where I’ve touched people, what seems to interest them, how they responded. It’s worth a look to see what tags grabbed attention, what links made people look.
Oddly, one of the most popular terms that sent people to my site was “heffalumps and woozles”! Who’d have guessed that? In any case I am now going to include a reference to h and w in every blog post just to drive traffic…
I also found out how much I’ve earned from the ads that pop up on the site. I get a minuscule amount per click through and I have made an astounding $1.90!! Almost as good as my Kindle Unlimited income which seems also to be an astonishingly small amount (buy Recycled Virgin here and enjoy contributing to my coffee fund as well?)(You’d also be encouraging me to finish the others in the series which at present are languishing…)
Of course, none of this money is paid out until it reached some astonishing number like $100, a total I doubt I will achieve in my lifetime. One can dream of post-mortem success, but really, who will that help? If there is an afterlife, it must be crammed with artists ranting about how they lived in poverty and look, NOW people pay for their work! It must be tremendously annoying. I imagine Van Gogh is particularly incensed.
Not that I am living in poverty, I hasten to add. If you have extra money, please DO share it with people really living in poverty.
In. any case, I thank WordPress for its lovely analytics and its interesting if somewhat depressing statistics.
Do you blog? What were your most often searched for terms? Do people read your blog? Or is it all for you?
We seem to be stuck in a holding pattern- stuck in a growing pandemic, stuck with the defeated US president clinging to power, even stuck in autumn- we’ve had warm weather here in Ontario and, though lovely, I can’t help but feel like winter is waiting on the edge, ready to spring.
It all reminds me of a time we were in the Everglades watching a nature scene take place before us. A frog was catching insects. A snake was watching the frog, ready to spring. An egret was watching the snake, preparing an attack, and behind the egret we could see the watchful eyes of an alligator, looking for dinner.
In one instant, the frog leapt for a big, the snake leapt for the frog, the egret pounced on the snake, and slurp, the food chain played out. Fortunately for the egret, the alligator was just that bit too slow, and missed taking his place at the top.
So here I am feeling a bit like that egret. Or is it the frog? Waiting for winter to leap and release the Covid virus again, all while knowing there’s a democratic confrontation awaiting in the wings to gobble the whole disaster up.
Will the alligator be able to take the whole mass down? Or will we have a narrow escape as the egret did and fly away with a full tummy and the will to fight another day?
Or will everything leap forward and manage to continue unabated- winter, Covid, democracy-undoing…
In trying to remain optimistic, but I can feel the tension like the sound of a violin A string, scraping along the bow.
Like so many people, I am having a stressful night. It’s the US election, and as I am watching the results dribble in I am astonished and depressed. I’m consumed with questions, like:
Who would re-elect Mitch McConnell? He doesn’t have a pleasant word to say to anyone and you can see the lines of graft steaming off of him. Or is that brimstone?
But be that as it may…and I do understand that, living in Canada, I really have no say in the US election…what REALLY bothered me in this election run up was the number of people who ACTUALLY BELIEVED that Democrats are running a pedophile ring and or eating children.
I mean, really. Are these flat-earthers? How can they suspend their critical thinking processes to think this actually occurred? It boggles the mind. I went to school in the US of A so I know the education is limited (even in my swanky privileged town) but the level of ignorance is gob-smacking. Is it the lead in the pipes?
I also noticed that Trump’s campaign consisted mainly of accusing the Democrats of all of the things his administration has been accused of (and in many cases, found guilty and incarcerated for). Again, do his supporters really feel he is a goodly man, a Christian? Why? How?
And Biden, a Catholic, a church that stands firmly against abortion and birth control, was portrayed as someone in favour of those ‘late term abortions’ that never ever occur or or desired by anyone.
Biden has a plan, policies. Trump has blather. Has the US sunk so low as to prefer yelling to common sense? Why?
Again, I am stunned. I used to be proud to have lived in the US. I love the astonishing scenery, the cultures, the many and varied people. This administration has cut back on wild spaces, damned many cultures, and created hatred between all sorts of people.
My last post was one of my Pollyanna type ones about the past few years. I don’t like to bleat about my life’s sorrows…I know everyone has a sackful of their own…so I can sound a bit like I’m living the life of Riley*.
I’m trying to give myself relevance as I struggle with MS, depression, and isolation.
It’s keep busy or give up, really.
And, of course, thank heavens for better living through pharmaceuticals.
There’s been a fair chunk of grief. Losses. Of relationships, of work, of the ability to move without knocking things over. There’s a reason why everything I wear is machine-washable.
Hugely, I’ve lost my firstborn- he’s still alive, just not speaking to me. It is wrenching. Years of therapy haven’t made that hurt go away. I doubt it ever will.
Thank God I still have my brilliant and funny other sons and their delightful partners. They brighten my heart.
MS isn’t a pleasant thing to live with – the fatigue can be overwhelming and even given my relatively benign course, it’s like aging at speed. I live alone by choice, unwilling to inflict my challenged self on others. When I’m tired, I say things I don’t mean to say. I am moody, depressed, grumpy as hell. I walk funny. I sleep funny. I can’t speak properly. I develop terrible things like trigeminal neuralgia.
Sometimes a mere conversation can require I rest for the next day or more. I can fake normalcy as long as I can slip back to my den and rest up between outings…but I need that respite.
As someone who was raised to define people by what they do, all this resting is demoralizing.
I’m not complaining, truly. Life has been gentle with me overall. But it hasn’t been easy, and I do my fellow MS folks a disservice if I pretend otherwise.
It’s Thanksgiving, so in a brief return to Pollyannishness, I’ll add I am intensely thankful for the adventures I’ve been able to have, the ones still ahead (I will learn ukulele or perish), and the wonderful friends I’ve met on my travels. I’ve been incredibly fortunate.
The sun is shining, and as Emily Dickinson wrote:
I dwell in possibilities…
* I went and looked up “The life of Riley” on Wikipedia to see if My mum used the phrase to describe a life of no care, just fun. Turns out it wasn’t about that, more about a goon who stumbles through life as those around him prevent him from his worst errors. So I guess I am living the life of Riley. Grateful for those who guard me from myself…
I moved back to my old ‘home town’ recently. Now, as the former wife of a military member, child of a nuclear family, restless Sagittarius sort, the concept of ‘home town’ is a bit nebulous.
But this place, this place is so full of memories it seems to really have me by the heart. I was here for university, and the limestone buildings and pathways of the campus play back one scene.
(Well, as do the bars, but let’s not linger on that too long…)(The memories are slightly fuzzy, anyway.)
I came back here when my kids were in elementary school and saw them launched into the world from here. Everywhere I go there are memories of spending time with them – the trees by the lake remind me of a blissful day when my youngest and I went for a swim just ahead of a thunderstorm…the martial arts gym reminds me of taking my middle son to learn karate…the back roads around the city remind me of the times I drove my eldest to parties with friends who lived out in the woods.
The library down the street, where I studied for my epidemiology degree, is filled with visuals of the kids coming to ‘visit’ me while I studied (their dad would always bring them, for some reason).
I don’t know whether it is the introspection brought through extended isolation (thanks, pandemic), but it seems like everywhere I turn I have a movie reel of my past lives scrolling through my mind.
In one way, it’s a bit sad – the kids I miss, the choices I’ve made, the things I’ve done wrong…
But in another way, I am realizing I have done an awful lot with my misspent life. I’ve leapt at challenges, I’ve fallen to the wayside, but I’ve BEEN there, from running for political office, to travelling the world, to working with the deeply poor and the wildly rich, to trying new skills to failing at crochet, to finishing a book and making 100’s of felted animals with disturbing personalities, to playing a variety of instruments badly. I’ve even blown glass! Steamed in the Blue Lagoon while sipping Prosecco and feeling hail land on my head…So much fun was had.
In the end, I probably will have little to show for these adventures. Today I was listening to a grandchild going on about how cool their grandparent was and I realized that it’s unlikely I will ever be considered cool by a junior relative – in fact, there will likely be a smaller and smaller crowd of people who even care if I breathe.
In a way, this is freeing. I used to live to perform for my parents, then my spouse, and latterly for my kids. Now, should I so desire, I could drag about in sweatpants and scraggly hair (wait…what?) and no one would really care if I ever did anything with myself. I could let myself go. (Okay, more than I have already…)
It’s tempting. But then a tiny voice starts whining at me: what about your books? What about your desire to learn new things? What about music? Books? Company?
So I go forward, girding my loins for another new adventure, pandemic notwithstanding. It’s time for me to redefine myself as being in Kingston as a solo act. What memories will it give me this time?