A Month into Isolation

We went into semi-lockdown one month ago today. Prior to then, people were being urged to practice healthy safeguards but we weren’t confined to our homes. We engaged with people, greeting each other with smiles, elbow bumps or perhaps a slight bow. The ability to socially interact was taken for granted.

IMG_7988Now anything ‘social’ is done remotely, via phone and digital media like Facebook, FaceTime and Zoom. Even if we aren’t sick, we’re essentially in quarantine, urged to stay home except for essential travel or an emergency, and maintain a six foot separation from people when we venture out for supplies.

Until recently I didn’t consider any of this isolation to be much of a hardship. I’m an introvert; I enjoy staying home. When hospitals also enforced it, closing their doors to everyone except those needing emergent care, it seemed like a good idea. Then, as the COVID-19 death toll rose, we learned those who were dying were leaving this life while alone among strangers. Spouses and other family members were prevented from being present. (See one story HERE.)

That, considered along with the statistics that tell us approximately 50% of all deaths across Canada have happened in nursing homes, and 90% were people over sixty, make the numbers more personal. Too personal.

My heart aches for both the patients and the families. The pain of separation at such moments must be unbearable. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to.

hospital visitingOn March 11th a long-time elderly friend died in a long-term care facility. COVID-19 wasn’t involved. A friend/caregiver spent time with her the previous evening and said she was “unresponsive but content”, and she died peacefully early the next morning. Another friend, ten years younger, is also living in long-term residential care, but she is more active and aware. I’m not allowed to visit her now, and I’m concerned for her. She can’t comprehend the pandemic and its impact on her community, only that her family and friends are no longer visiting.

It seems inhumane to warehouse in isolation those who are the least able to understand what’s going on. But then I have trouble with the whole concept of shunting our seniors off to live out their final years/months among strangers anyway. Then to have them die among strangers, too? I know…I know…sometimes there are no other options; but I don’t have to like it.

Perhaps being a ‘senior senior’ makes me biased.

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That Time of the Year

Around here, spring is a long awaited season for many reasons. We’re not big into winter activities so when the days lengthen and warmer sunshiny days finally arrive, we’re more than ready to head outdoors.

At first it’s pure exhilaration — enjoying the woodsy scent of our ‘Wildwood’ acres and marsh, the sound of returning zippy, dippy hummingbirds, glimpses of new buds and greening shrubs. And then … reality sets in.

 

There is SO much outside work to do in the spring. We’ve lived on this acreage for 23+ years. When we came, there were a few garden beds but none at the back of the house where we tended to spend most of our time. So, year by year we added more. A curved bed here. A rockery there. A few ornamental trees (as if we didn’t have enough trees already!). A strawberry bed to accompany the blueberry bushes.

As the years evolved, so did the property. We pruned leaning-for-the-sunshine shrubs and relocated others, divided and tried to conquer overgrown perennials, replaced things that didn’t like our shady acidic conditions.

And every year, my hubby dutifully power-raked the winter’s accumulation of moss from of the lawns, limed and fertilized them, then power-washed the green grunge off the deck, house and driveway. It was (and is) never-ending, but when one’s home is surrounded on all four sides by tall trees, you keep ahead of these tasks, or they become overwhelming.

The only problem has been that as the plantings matured, so did we. As the yardwork increased, our energy waned. Twenty-three years ago I loved spending a day puttering in the gardens. Age and arthritis have reduced my ambitions to an hour at best, sometimes less. While dear hubby gets a whole lot more done than I do in a session, everything takes him longer, too.

Two years ago our family contributed to a gift certificate for his eightieth birthday for several hours of a landscaping service. He elected to use it for the initial spring cleanup. The business was a local one, run by a very energetic young women who astounded us with her speed and efficiency. My hubby says she gets more done in three hours than he could possibly accomplish in three weeks! As a result, we’ve come to rely on her every spring.

Having a little help means maintaining the property is still possible for us. Otherwise, I think we’d have to consider downsizing, and we’re reluctant to make that decision yet. We appreciate the space here, the peacefulness, the great (but not-elbow-close) neighbours, the wildlife. City living just can’t compete with this semi-rural lifestyle we’ve come to love.

COVID-19’s mandated physical distancing and staying at home  is no hardship to us, although we do miss seeing our friends and family. At the rate this pandemic is progressing, we could be in enforced isolation far longer than we expected. The scoured lawn will turn green and lush. We’ll soon be bringing out the deck furniture, and before long there will be a few baskets of flowers added, but it’s possible we won’t be able to have neighbours over, family gatherings, or the annual church barbeque…nobody will be here but us to enjoy them.

This spring is unique in our experience. We’re learning to distinguish between aloneness and loneliness. I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

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Springtime thoughts overshadowed by COVID-19

My last post was exactly one month ago. At that time the new coronavirus hadn’t yet received a name as the world watched it gain hold in China. On January 30 the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. For a time, we were lulled into believing that our excellent Canadian health care system would ensure that, with a few normal precautions, we wouldn’t need to worry too much about it. We were “low risk”, they said. “Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” they said.

Then we heard of the cluster of confirmed cases just across the border from us, in Kirkland, Washington. The subsequent deaths. The outbreak in Ontario. Confirmed cases in BC. The first Canadian death in BC.

As Canadians watched this new respiratory infection, now named COVID-19, spread rapidly throughout the world, it became obvious our risk of catching it was no longer low. This morning there were 240,589 cases worldwide, 801 of them in Canada, with 231 of those right here in BC. The numbers change every hour.

Every focus right now is on COVID-19. We are urged to practice social-distancing, sneeze or cough into the elbow, wash hands frequently for 20-seconds, don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth, and self-monitor for signs of illness. All public events are cancelled. Schools are closed. With the exception of essential services, buildings and businesses are closed. Non-essential cross border travel between Canada and the USA is prohibited. Television carries constant updates, interviews and ‘breaking news’ broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Minister of Health. It’s hard to think of anything else. We are daily reminded to “take good care of yourself, and of each other.” [Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer]

This past Tuesday came and went. For the first time since beginning this blog in 2008, I didn’t think of writing a St. Patrick’s Day post. I didn’t think of St. Patrick’s Day until it was almost over. I didn’t even wear anything green! Woahhh!

And now it’s spring; or it will be this evening. I absolutely refuse to let its arrival go undocumented. It’s a big deal, especially this year. We all need the sense of hope and renewal that accompanies this particular season.

Also, Lent began on March 1st — “a time of self-examination, of contemplation and of returning to God” as we move toward Easter. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by all the negativity that accompanies this virus outbreak…but it could be.

While our congregation has currently suspended Sunday services and all midweek groups, the work of the church continues. Our minister stays in contact with phone calls and emails, providing resources for individuals and families.

One of our Lenten activities has been PRESBYTERIANS READ, the reading of NT Wright’s book, LENT FOR EVERYONE. Some folks are reading it by themselves, others in weekly study groups (at least, they were until the groups had to disband), and still others are interacting in a cyber forum.

N.T. Wright invites readers to explore the truth (that “the God of heaven and earth was coming to earth to establish his sovereign saving rule”) through Matthew’s telling of the gospel story. Through close readings of the lectionary texts for each day during Lent, Wright draws us into the biblical scenes as they unfolded, revealing more and more about what it means that Jesus is King and Lord, not just ‘in heaven’ but on earth as well.

At the beginning of Lent we received bookmarks with these scripture readings, so with or without Wright’s book in hand, we can continue exploring them on our own.

I don’t know about you, but I need this daily reminder that despite the turmoil in our world, God is still in control. From the beginning of time he has had a plan for ME. He loves and cares for each one of us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
[Jeremiah 29:11]
On this first day of a new season, I’m trying to ignore all the COVID-19 hoopla and instead, rejoice that so far, I and my loved ones are still healthy; that regardless of the worries and inconveniences of this time, God’s love is unending, his mercies are available to me fresh every morning; and together we will prevail.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is his faithfulness.
[Lamentations 3:22-23]
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A Writer’s Vulnerability and Discouragement

How often do you unmask? Bare your soul in public? (This is me as an introverted writer asking.)

If you happen to follow the writings of Steven Pressfield you will know that he and his community are currently responding to a writer from Finland. “Katie”, at 4 a.m. after staring at the ceiling for some time, wrote him a raw message expressing her discouragement and saying that writing is a bad idea. “Failing is really hard, particularly when you are too tired to get up anymore.” She concluded with, “I hope I am the only loser. I really do. I want everybody to succeed. Maybe I am just a sad exception.”

No, Katie, you are not an exception! At least not as a discouraged writer. Perhaps an exception in your honesty.

Writers spew out words onto the page all the time, but they are most often words belonging to their fictional characters. We rarely “bleed onto the page” from within our own hearts. Admitting our uncertainties is too painful.

But at 4 a.m. Katie had hit rock bottom. In facing the reality that she could not make a living from her writing and at 60 she was too old to find another job, she concluded she was a failure. When Steven asked permission to reprint her letter he had no idea the number of people who would respond. In his next post he admitted, “Sometimes when I’m writing these posts, I wonder if I’m crazy to keep doing them. Some posts will get three Comments, or four, or six. I find myself asking, Is anybody out there? Is any of this doing any good?” Nearly one hundred fifty responses provided his answer.

So, what am I taking away from the discussion?

The writing community is awesome.
Discouragement is universal.
We’re more resilient than we realize.
We haven’t failed unless we’ve quit.
We can always start again tomorrow.
Success means different things to different people.
Age is a relative thing and I’m not the only “old” woman
still writing.

We’ve often heard that writing is a solitary activity. It is indeed. Some writers get together occasionally for a shared time of putting words on the page, but the majority of our creative time is spent squirrelled away in our office or some quiet corner in a library or coffee shop, oblivious to the presence of others. We focus on writing our stories. We don’t compare notes about our feelings of success or failure.

Katie from Finland did us all a favour in sharing her pain-filled yet very brave message. In doing so, she also reminded us it’s okay to reach out to others for encouragement. Knowing how many successful authors admit to the same need is in itself empowering.

We don’t have to make a living with our words. We just have to find joy and satisfaction in getting them out. Publication of them isn’t always something within our control. If it’s something we hope for, doing so should be seen as a bonus. Not doing so shouldn’t be seen as failure, but as motivation to find alternative ways of making our writing feel purposeful.

~

Where do you look for encouragement when writing begins to seem pointless?

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Not a Resolution

Many people begin a new year with resolutions … fresh goals, usually focused on some kind of self improvement. Unfortunately, statistics say that more than half of resolutions fail by February. Personally, I abandoned even making resolutions many years ago.

It’s not that I don’t have any ambitions, but making a resolution is like making a promise to myself — one I know from experience I’m not likely to keep. If I have goals in mind, I’m more likely to pursue them as ‘intentions’ rather than ‘resolutions’. Intentions suggest a desire more than a promise. A desired goal is less intimidating than a promised one. I’ve talked about this in an earlier post.

While I was working on a New Year’s post for our church website I came across an article on the GoSkills website that offered ideas for ways to make goals more attainable:

  • Prepare for change by taking a personal inventory. Evaluate what you’ve realistically been able to accomplish (or not) in the past. Recognize your limitations.
  • Write each goal on a separate sticky note, then arrange and rearrange the notes on a handy surface in order of priority until one emerges as a manageable goal that will inspire you toward achievement.
  • Break up your goal into specific manageable chunks. For example, instead of losing fifty pounds in 2020, set mini-goals of five or ten pounds per month, and celebrate each milestone.
  • Write down your goals, share them with supportive friends/family, and document your progress. This will help keep you on track.

Do you have goals for 2020? Things you’d like to accomplish or maybe even intend to do? How do resolutions work for you? How do you get the tasks done?

One of my main intentions this year is to make inroads into the boxes of family and historical photos that fill a corner of my office. They’ve accumulated there because I didn’t want to put them back downstairs where they’d be out of sight, out of mind again. I thought if I had to keep looking at those boxes I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. Wrong! Now they’ve become such a permanent fixture that I take their presence for granted. I don’t even see them anymore! I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to tackle the job. I have empty albums; I have scissors, paper cutter, archive quality pens and glue. I just need to s-t-a-r-t.

I guess saying it here constitutes writing it down and telling my family and friends, doesn’t it? Gulp.

Well, I DO intend to make a start and hopefully get the task completed before year end. Note that’s an intention, not a resolution, but I’ll ‘document my progress’ and report in here periodically, and then we’ll just see how it goes. Okay?

(I think this is called ‘Documentation #1’)

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Ornaments or Decorations or Neither?

A few days ago a writing friend of mine blogged about Christmas Ornaments. She said she had been asked to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it was special to her. It wasn’t really her thing, she said, and she hadn’t planned to take part. Then a box arrived from her sister and inside were “five small prettily wrapped gifts—Christmas ornaments for [her] first tree and [her] first Christmas in [her] first house.” Each ornament was special.

(Click photo twice to enlarge detail)

It was a loving and meaningful gesture by her sister and as she displayed and explained the significance of each ornament, I was reminded of the ones our family has accumulated through the years … only I’m not sure what they should be called.

Ornament: a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine.

Decoration: the process or art of decorating or adorning something.

Memento: an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.

Just below the centre of this photo, nestled among the branches, you can see a small cross. (It looks like it’s comprised of little jingle bells strung together, but they don’t make noise.) My parents passed it along to me the year my first child was born, with the reminder that it had been on every tree since my first Christmas. Not shown is another small circle of well worn nylon bristles with the picture of an angel affixed to the centre.  It has also been on every tree since my birth.

Yes, it makes the tree more attractive but has no practical purpose. Yes, it helps adorn the tree. Yes, it’s a special reminder of my first Christmas. It’s all of the above and yet it’s more.

My parents weren’t religious. I’m sure they believed there was a god, but he played no role in their lives. We didn’t attend church or say grace before meals. Christmas wasn’t thought of as a holy holiday but was traditionally a celebration of friends and family…of visiting, eating, singing and gift giving. So I’m not sure what prompted them to choose a cross and an angel to commemorate the first Christmas of their only child.

I’m glad they did, because it’s meaningful to me, but I wish I’d asked them about their motivation when I had the opportunity. At this point in my life it waits out the months between Decembers well padded in a box labelled as ‘Heritage Ornaments’, along with others given to me from my grandmother’s tree–a fragile red teapot, two glass birds and a tiny brass bell. I treasure them for the memories they evoke of the people we celebrated with…my parents and grandparents.

The cross wasn’t a thing of beauty. At some point many years ago the wire holding the ‘bells’ together broke and the silvering began peeling off. My hubby thoughtfully restrung them and bought a can of silver paint so we could refurbish it. I sprinkled silver glitter on the wet paint, and, while it was an amateur job, to this day it continues to shimmer in the lights on my eightieth Christmas tree.

This same tree marks our sixtieth year together. That makes it pretty special, too, although earlier this year while on a cruise to Alaska I bought a little ornament to specifically mark that occasion. Looking at it, I’m inclined to say that these are neither ornaments nor decorations, but are mementos. What do you say?

Do you have holiday decorations / ornaments / mementos that are especially meaningful to you? I’d love to hear about them.

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Speaking, Writing and Freedom of Speech

Have you heard of Don Cherry? His name is well known in Canadian hockey circles, often for all the wrong reasons. While he’s extremely knowledgeable about the game, he’s best known for his televised Coach’s Corner opinionated rants. Mmm, yes, well he’s also known for his outlandish taste in fabric for his suit jackets! He’s controversial. Few people admit to liking his on-screen persona, but he makes money for the television stations and sponsors by getting viewers involved. At least, he did until last weekend. That’s when his comments got him fired.

His choice of words overrode his message. They were deemed racist and they riled the audience. Racism is defined as the superiority of one race over another. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says it’s “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” With that in mind, it’s hard to define Cherry’s comments as racist, although there’s no doubt they were derogatory and divisive. The station and network were quick to take steps to avoid the backlash.

If Don Cherry had apologized, that might have been the end of it, but he says even if he wishes he’d chosen his words more carefully, he stands by the truth of them. Thus his conviction (or maybe his stubbornness) brought his forty year career to an abrupt end.

Public reactions are mixed. Nobody likes what he said. Some are celebrating that this diatribe was the last straw and he’s finally been removed from the airwaves, while others are questioning if his right to freedom of speech has been quashed.

This steps into the realm of censorship and It’s a dilemma that many authors have also faced: do you speak or write from the heart and risk offending, or do you carefully filter your words to be safe?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says “The right to express yourself and form your own opinions is an essential feature of a democracy.  Freedom of expression is a core part of the right to dissent and a basic feature of personal development … In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication’.” There are lines drawn, however — lines between derogatory statements and hate speech, between criticism and defamation, lines that restrict verbal bullying and obscenity.

The National Post said recently that “book banning has become passé in Canada, and when works do get challenged, it’s often for opposite reasons than those seen in the past.” The Freedom to Read website publishes a list of some of the books, magazines and public papers that have been challenged and/or banned in Canada. It’s a selective list, yet it carries more than one hundred titles.

Parents frequently desire to protect their children from literature or art that they find offensive — words or pictures they believe are disgusting, that depict anything that opposes their personal standards of decency, that glorify evil, etc.

The Canadian Library Association resists these attempts when it comes to banning books, although individual schools districts and communities occasionally succeed within their local boundaries. The CLA states, “Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, in accordance with their mandates and professional values and standards, libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.”

So, where do YOU stand in all this?

  • Is there a difference between punishing Don Cherry for his comments, refusing public speakers with offensive agendas, and banning written words in our country?
  • What guides you in your choice of words when reading and/or writing?
  • Do you keep a particular audience in mind as you write?

 

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