Tag Archives: Covid-19

Plagues, isolation, the boredom of waiting around, or why everyone should read The Magic Mountain, right now.


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)).

My arm gift to you. You are on your own for legs.

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.

Aw, shaddup!

PS: Do listen to the excellent podcast on this book via The History of Literature.

On depression, the risk of hope, the covid vaccine, and the blessed sweetness of chickadees


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.

even the dogs are stressed…

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…

Don’t go into the basement, or the inevitable drag towards danger


I confess to a terrible idea.

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.

Insomnia people and mobile addiction concepts.

(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.

Note accusing look. Not my son but I feel certain that if he ever gets shingles, he’s look at me like this.

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.

Alice, in happier, pre-fridge times…

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…

And so…or waiting waiting waiting


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.

It’s unsettling.

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.

Ant sac, or disturbing my nest again…


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

Evaluating…or those artists who self-isolate in the woods – did it work for them?


So here we are, heavily into the pandemic, learning how to talk to ourselves just so we can test our vocal muscles. I am following the advice for keeping a car running, and taking my voice out once a week for a trot around the verbal block. Cat remains unconvinced.

FH021312_003_CABREP_02For my part, I am noticing just now how every single one of my cupboard doors is slightly off-balance, with a wee dip to one side or the other, making all the spaces between the door fronts ever so slightly variable. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t UNsee it. I know it will drive me crazy over time. It’s making me want to get out the screwdriver except that I know if I do, they will end up even more tilty. And they aren’t my cupboards. Ruining them is not an option.

Messy is the way things are happening lately. Make coffee – spill the coffee and the water, drop the container holding the coffee, sweep that all up, only to miss the garbage as I tip it in, spilling it again all over the place. Make dinner, creating a mess on the counter because – see coffee –  clean that all up, wash pots, put away dishes, only to drop one, shattering it amidst the food still scattered on the floor – see coffee – and trying to clear that up before the cat walks all over it, so rushing so I spill it as I dump the dustpan. Start over.a-messy-kitchen

I suspect this all has something to do with the lack of finger dexterity I conceal in my stitching through pure will, but which means I can’t tie a knot in the floss or pick up a needle without my handy dandy magnet stick. (repurposed from my canning set because  I can too readily imagine the mess that would ensue if I made jam, for example.) Last night I took a full five minutes trying to tie one bit of floss to another. I eventually did but there may have been some language involved.

I was just testing my voice. Honest.

I am surrounded by things I am seemingly too busy to put away, thinking longingly of packing boxes, so help me, and their soothing plain brown sides and healing shutness. I feel certain I would feel better if I could put everything away behind those plain brown wrappings and send it away – but of course, no one wants my things, especially in the pandemic shut down. I imagine charities will be completely overwhelmed once we are let out…

Meanwhile, stories of artists and writers and creatives of all sorts moving out to glorious isolation in the woods or wherever are all over my internet feeds. It all seems like a more glamourous version of the isolation we are all in now, focused isolation, creative isolation. Could this be the way to go to get creative juices flowing?

reflection of trees in lake

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am becoming convinced that these folks really did this so they would never have to clean up. Or dress up, or brush their hair. I’m getting into this sweatshirt and pant existence. My hair is growing like a wayward shrub. If I was to never be seen again, except to tumble out into the sun some years hence with a brilliant novel in one hand, well, that seems like a viable idea.

So, my silenced-in-the-isolation brain tells me, ‘you could live in the woods! Never have anyone come by! Never have to account for your clutter or lack of progress or general moodiness! It could be done! Like Thoreau! You could write! Write! Write!”

“Hold on,” my brain says, “Thoreau had a maid and ate regularly in pubs and at friend’s houses. That’s not isolation, that’s just hiding clutter…” and “Internet, remember the internet.” and “But wait, you actually like talking to people, especially the kids whose toys you tidied back when you tidied things. And friends! You have some. You like seeing them.”

Truth is, I am getting out of the habit of communicating. I messenger people and try to connect as I can, but it is all getting more difficult to push myself to do so. Like the clutter around me, it all seems too much to take on. As time goes on, it becomes more comfortable to just not.

But am I writing? Creating?

Um. No.

I have to tidy up first.

 

Alone, so very alone


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It’s hard not to love Despair.com, especially in these times of comprehensive aloneness.  They hit the nail right on the head.  A few years ago they had another Demotivator that had a picture of a broken chain, with the title Dysfunction – which plays a lot in my head these days, lemme tell you, as I perch above my town, looking down at the empty streets.dysfunctiondemotivator

When I get feeling lonely, my immediate response is to flee, go elsewhere, start again somewhere, better, be a better friend, Roman, countryman. Distract myself with the busyness of motion, thrashing myself into various new holes, tossing out shreds of my past, leaping into a new uncertain future.

Of course, as my wise son has pointed out – if I do this I am still carrying the problem with me. Because it’s the one doing the packing.

I imagine this time in solitude is, for many, a time of evaluating relationships, a time to reattach if possible, to sever if not. We are all defining ourselves without boundaries, except those sharp ones of the buildings in which we are incarcerated. (Though, in prison, I suppose you might still have company of a sort…) So much of who we are is formed as we bounce against others, rounding our sharp internal curves, finding our borders. Without these, it gets hard to feel real.

I’ve always liked the image of the Velveteen Rabbit – the stuffed animal who was so loved that bits of it had fallen off, its seams were all rubbed bare, ears bent into improbable shapes. All done by love. And making the rabbit REAL.

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I used to feel very real. I had three loud, messy, imaginative children who were constantly pushing against me, forcing me to create new reactions and stretch my creativity. I was covered in kid slime and food and washable clothing. I never sat quietly without having one ear lifted to listen for pending disasters, fights, or suspiciously silent activity. I never ate anything without thinking if I should save it for the kids (or hiding it from them).

We used to have fascinating discussions. I miss those.

Now, they are grown and off and discovering their own realities, and while I know they are there for me if I need them, they are no longer here, smooshing peanut butter into my hair, emptying the fridge, scattering toys so I step on them. I can’t use them for edging. On the good side, that package of cookies is ALL MINE and no one else can have ANY. And, best of all, I can leave them in plain view on the counter and know I can return to find them just the same, without one missing.

My prior loves are off having meaningful discussions with someones else, and my dear friends are all tucked into their own cozy siloes, all finding their own edges. I find that as this isolation goes on, we seem to be turning ourselves inward more, getting involved in our interior selves – especially those of us who don’t have gardens or yards or big projects to throw our bodies against (or big men…sigh…but I digress). Others become fans of TikTok and do videos to share with others. I’m afraid my inner introvert (and serious lack of personal hygiene at this point) preclude such activities.

I know I am forgetting how to speak. It’s weird. Forming thoughts and words out of my mouth seems nigh impossible. I’ve taken to talking at the cat. He has taken to yowlingcute-dog-listening-poodle-thinking-2524377 back at me. I don’t quite understand him (yet) and know I should probably let someone know if we start having serious discussions about the world situation. I mean, I used to have lengthy chats with Pickles, the wonder dog, but he at least paid attention and had meaningful contributions that didn’t have to do with his service requirements…

People are getting crusty, and I’m beginning to want to step back from even mild contact because it can so easily go wrong when we are all strung tighter than a wire. Everyone is taking offense. Bluster abounds.

But there are also so many that are stepping up to the plate to help. I’ve donated as much as my budget can afford, but I still am tempted by this fundraiser being run by Despair.com – selling a T-shirt that says “A Lifetime of Social Distancing Prepared me for This” and, by doing so,  donating money to the Feeding America Corona Response Fund. Why not check them out? I live in Canada and the gaps are also fierce here, but gosh, if I lived in the US I’d be really needing a way to try to stop the madness and discriminatory damage being wreaked by the governments. (I hasten to say not ALL governments, but a significant number)

After all, as Despair.com says:

Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can walk…