Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


Mistakes Were Made

Two weeks and two days ago, on March 11, 2020, I participated in an act of reckless endangerment to the public. If I did this thing today, I would rightly be held up to public scorn and possibly even reported to the authorities. By next week, the same act might well be illegal.

At the time I was aware of doing nothing wrong. It was a regular school day at the adult-education centre where I teach — our third-last school day for the 2019-2020 school year, most likely, although we didn’t know that at the time — and the middle of our Spirit Week. And as part of Spirit Week, I and another staff member, and one student, stood behind tables in the lounge with big 4L containers of ice cream, scooping up ice cream and spraying on whipped cream, encouraging everyone to dip a spoon into communal bowls of toppings, or pass squeeze bottles of syrup from one person to another. Then everyone sat down less than two feet apart from each other and ate their ice-cream sundaes.

Stock photo by Leah Kelly from Pexels

At the time, having a make-your-own sundae ice cream bar seemed like a fun, team-building activity. We had already heard news of the coronavirus in other parts of Canada, but nobody had tested positive in Newfoundland at that time, and while we all washed our hands well before and after serving, nobody wore gloves or masks or suggested that serving ice cream to fifty people was a bad idea.

Two weeks later, our centre is closed, as is everything else not deemed an essential business. And the very idea of communal ice cream sundae bars, or eating a meal next to anyone who doesn’t live in your house, seems like an exotic relic from a past civilization. Things are changing so quickly it seems trite to say that things are changing quickly.

Three days later, on Saturday, March 14, our church held a long-planned musical worship service. It was more poorly attended than we would have liked, since some people were already staying home out of caution. We cancelled the potluck lunch that was supposed to follow it, and we dispensed with handshakes and hugs during the greeting time. We left church that day not knowing it would be the last time we’d gather as a congregation for, potentially, quite a long time.

That same day, Newfoundland reported its first positive case of Covid-19. That night, Jason and I had another couple to our house for a long-planned board game night — again, an activity that seems positively exotic now.

Also on that day, March 14, the Canadian government warned Canadians who had returned from outside the country to self-isolate for two weeks, even if they were not showing symptoms of Covid-19.

On Sunday, March 15 — as everyone in this province probably now knows — some grieving families gathered at a local funeral home for visitation, just as people did in funeral homes all over the province. I don’t know any of the people who were there, but I’m sure people hugged and shook hands and maybe handed each other tissues as tears were shed. And, as we also now know, someone at that visitation, between March 15 and March 17, later tested positive for Covid-19.

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Press Conference: 1345

I’m indulging in a little dark humour today, aided and abetted by my lovely daughter Emma whose artwork made this project possible. If you’re OK with laughing into the darkness, please enjoy this video featuring a medieval version of those press conferences we watch every day now.

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Strange Times with Trudy: Day Two

Some people like escapist reading during a time like this; some people like dystopian futures; I like diving into history and historical fiction to learn how people have coped with plagues, quarantines, and similar challenges in past times. Today I offer a short reading from one of my own stories, and a couple of recommendations — one non-fiction, one documentary.

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Strange Times

It’s hard to believe my last post was from February, talking about how dependent I am on normalcy, routines, systems, and how thrown off I was by Snowmageddon followed by a couple of weeks of bad back pain.

Update: back is all better, melting rotting black snowpiles are still all around, and … normalcy is out the window.

On February 9, we knew something called “coronavirus” was a thing but we had no idea how serious the impact here in Canada would be, if it would be a thing at all. And now … everything has changed. The adult-ed centre where I work is closed. Everything is closed. All around, people are shaking their heads and saying “These are strange times.”

I’ve started making videos again. It’s my “Strange Times” series — a little bit of structure that might help me keep my days organized.

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Systems Failure

In January I tried an experiment on this blog. I hadn’t blogged much in the last year, and I decided that instead of getting hung up on long think-pieces that I had the ideas for but never finished writing, I would try to post something very short — a photo and a few lines, a poem or a quick thought — every day.

I did this, not quite every day, but nearly every day in January. I did this along with some other small personal disciplines I was trying to keep to: a short devotional reading every day, a few minutes of private journal-writing, a yoga routine. Again, I didn’t do any of these things every single day in January, but I did most of them, most days. And then, in February, I just … stopped. I have not done any one of these things on any of the (so far)  9 days in February.

On top of that, I also stopped working on any my several creative writing projects that I’d been working on during January — haven’t written a word on any of them since February rolled around.

This is typical of the best of New Year’s resolutions, systems and plans I put into place any given January … they often run out of steam by the time February comes around. This year, though, there were two additional factors. 

First — and you may have lived through this, seen it on the news, or picked it up from my January blog posts — on January 17 we were hit with a snowstorm of historic proportions, followed by an eight-day State of Emergency during which we were instructed by our government to leave the house as little as possible, except for shovelling and, after a few days, going to the store for essential groceries.

This was actually a great week for me in terms of all my little personal disciplines and my writing — I got ahead on my projects (without that inconvenience of having to go to my day job every day), did some yoga and journalling and devotional time every day, and posted my little pictures and passing thoughts here on the blog. With an unexpected week’s vacation, I was doing so well

Then it was back to routine, finally, on January 27 … which was when I started finding it hard to get back to my routine.

But it was OK. I was still doing OK. Everything was harder and a little weird, driving to work between massive piles of snow over icy roads, helping my son get his car fixed after it died in his driveway during the storm (and couldn’t get fixed because the garage couldn’t open during the SoE), getting my classes back on track after six lost schooldays … but it was … OK. Ish.

Then, last Saturday (that’s Feb. 1 for anyone keeping track) my back started to feel … twingy. It does that occasionally. Not very often. I had a sudden, unprovoked attack of severe back pain way back in 2007, and it got better after about a week. Ever since then, every few years, I’ve had a few days of mild back pain and no problems in between.

This was … unexpected. It was like back in 2007 in intensity and long-lastingness, and I spent all of last week feeling … well, disabled. I went to work, but I couldn’t do much after work. I definitely couldn’t do yoga. I could sit in a chair, or at a desk, so there’s no reason I couldn’t have gone on writing, and journalling, and posting to my blog, and doing devotional readings. But … I didn’t. 

All my routines, all my to-do lists … everything fell by the wayside. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that my ability to do things — something I get a lot of credit for, of the “How does she manage to do it all?!” variety — is entirely based on all my systems, external and internal, remaining intact. I need the illusion of being in control.

The snowstorm exposed how reliant I am on external systems for things to be “normal.” The ability to get out of the house, to drive my car, to shop at stores that I expect to be open. To have reliable electrical power (mercifully, we didn’t lose that much during the storm week, but it was always a threat).

My week of back pain (getting better, thanks, but not entirely over yet) revealed how much I rely on my body to work properly. To let me do the things I want to do easily and without pain. 

The real test of what a person can accomplish, I’m pretty sure, is what they can accomplish when the systems don’t work. How disciplined and focused they can be when systems both external and internal don’t function they way they’re supposed to.

I’ve always suspected I might not be great under those circumstances. That’s humbling, and makes me feel vulnerable. 

Right now, I am not making any grandiose plans for February.

We’ll see how February goes.