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Practicing Safe Six?

Masking for a friend.

LOL and haha.

We need to laugh more, huh? It’s hard to laugh with a mask on, yes? You risk passing out. It’s also hard to laugh while witnessing the coronavirus disaster south of us, knowing from our Canadian experience that, with a proper and serious response? It didn’t have to be this bad!

OMG! On a day when the US hit another single day record for new cases – 67,417 – the President* was more intent on blaming China for sending a “plague” and campaigning from the Rose Garden (a serious, but typical for this guy, breach of protocol). Empathy? Fuhgetaboutit. All that’s in 45’s bag-o-tricks? Blame, denial, lies. Oh, and self aggrandizement.

For laughs? How about the Trump administration’s insistence that the only reason coronavirus case numbers are up is because of the phenomenal amount of testing the US is doing? My favourite fb meme in response to this is a woman, highly pregnant, saying, “If only I didn’t take that pregnancy test . . .”

I want to do what the President* does, assign blame (to him) for the horrific mess the US is in, but what good does it do? It’s painfully obvious he’s in over his head, has been from day one. He’s doing what he does best: con, verb, from the Oxford dictionary: persuade (someone) to do or believe something, typically by use of deception.

This “profile of a liar” is interesting, from The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova:

“He does not answer questions, or gives evasive answers; he speaks nonsense, rubs the great toe along the ground, and shivers; his face is discolored; he rubs the roots of his hair with his fingers.”

Sound like someone you’ve been hearing, seeing way too much lately? Well, it’s from 900 BCE, so either liars haven’t changed much in almost 3,000 years or someone back then was real good at predicting the future.

It might be helpful for all of us to read The Confidence Game right now, as it “takes us into the world of the con to examine not only why we believe in confidence artists but how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us”. A good future political prophylactic.

That’s the tricky thing about a democratic society, eh? Sometimes people don’t know what’s good for them and they elect Mickey Mouse, because of his TV ratings, his spritely manner, his ears perhaps. When they could have had . . . John Kasich.

Kasich, a Republican, was the last candidate standing against 45’s bid for the presidency. And he has tons of political experience! He was governor of Ohio from 2011 to 2019. He was a member of the US House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001. And, also unlike 45, he writes (and reads) books. Here’s a helpful one for the times, published by Kasich last year: It’s Up To Us.

It is up to us. We can look to our leaders for guidance, for inspiration, but if and when they fail us? It’s time for a grassroots revolution. I guess, kind of like what’s happened with the racial unrest movement that began in the US with George Floyd’s death, then expanded worldwide. As Dave Chapelle pointed out in his Netflix special 8:46, “This is the streets talking for themselves!” It’s up to us to make a difference.

Individually, we can read Black history, examine our responses, thoughts and attitudes about race. We can do some of the suggestions in Kasich’s book:

*be the change where you live
*love thy neighbour
*put yourself in someone else’s shoes
*examine your eternal destiny
*know that you are made special

And, as the particular areas in which we live begin to relax coronavirus restrictions? We can continue to follow the guidelines of health professionals and scientists (lordy, lordy, not the politicians, as another fb meme points out that would be like getting a colonoscopy from a plumber) so that we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Coronovirus is real and still exists. For people who think it’s all a hoax, I ask:

Why would Wuhan have built a hospital in 10 days to deal with coronavirus patients?
Why would we have gotten so many stories from Italy about having to enact wartime measures to deal with critical patients?
Why would we have had to endure so many daily pressers by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo? Oh, scratch that. (Blushing.) I really did not mind at all. I’ll admit: I’m cuomosexual.

Practice safe six. Mask for a friend. As another fb meme wisely observes: “If you hate wearing a mask, you’re really not going to like the ventilator.”

Website photo: Me, masking for a friend, and realizing how great masks are  for the, ahem, older person, taking selfies!

Practicing Safe Six? 2020-07-15T15:25:43-04:00

Hindsight is 2020

Hindsight is 2020: learn from your mistakes. The year is certainly living up to its name, huh?

With three major crises gripping the globe – racial tensions preceded by an ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic fallout – and a fourth lurking – the climate crisis – you’re forgiven for feeling overwhelmed on where to start breaking it all down. Here’s a quick distillation of some recent discoveries I’ve made while following my own advice to Listen and Learn:

#BlackLivesMatter

On white privilege: I’ve had a number of discussions with friends and family about this term, which is best understood by knowing what it’s NOT. Cory Collins writes in “What Is White Privilege, Really?”, “White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled.” Collins groups his observations under the following:

“Power of Normal”
*flesh-coloured band-aids in the first aid kit
*a small “ethnic hair product” section in the pharmacy
*a grocery store stocked with white choices
*TV shows and books predominantly portraying whites

“Power of the Benefit of the Doubt”
*whites are less likely to be followed, questioned or searched by law enforcement
*white skin does not cause distrust for credit, financial responsibility
*whites are less likely to be presumed guilty of a crime if accused, less likely to be sentenced to death and more likely to be portrayed in a fair manner by media
*faults by whites are less likely to deny opportunity later

“Power of Accumulated Power”
This encompasses everything from wage gaps to medical care to job, education, and housing opportunities which all result in opportunities for families to pass along their wealth.

An understanding of white privilege helps us see how “systemic racism” is built right into our societies and consequently, how to focus efforts to eradicate it.

On BVE (Black Vernacular English), also known as AAVE (African American Vernacular English): I had no idea these terms existed until my daughter recently got chewed out on social media for posting a picture of herself on a SUP (stand-up paddle board) with the caption “SUP bro”. Trying to be light amid all the heaviness, she got heaviness heaped on her. I guess the complainant, a white woman, took issue with her use of the term “bro”, suggesting it was a term white people should not use. I looked it up, it’s obviously short for “brother”, and although it started out referring to African-American men? According to The Atlantic, “Today, it’s a term that refers to beer-chugging frat boys.” In feminuity.com Anisha Phillips lists some BVE sayings: lit, sis, slay, hella, straight up, on fleek, I feel you, turn up. Since I’ve no clue what “on fleek” means, I’ll pass on it, but I do say “sis”. One of my granddaughters sometimes calls her sister “sissy”, has been doing so for a long time and I think it’s the sweetest so I copy it. I’m not going to stop. Let’s agree that Black people can use the N-word, white people absolutely can’t. And if there’s a term I absentmindedly use that’s offensive to a Black person? Perhaps a Black person could let me know?

On Blackface and Jim Crow: I learned how these two are connected by listening to the podcast 1619, which I highly recommend. So it was the third installment, “The Birth of American Music”, which I thought would be just a nice light listen. American journalist and film critic Wesley Morris details how in the early 1800s, white actor Thomas D Rice overheard a Black man tending to his master’s horse: the way he sang, the way he moved. Rice slapped some black paint on his face for his next show, imagined what it would be like to be Black, sang a song about “Jumpin’ Jim Crow”, earned 12 standing ovations and . . . the minstrel show was born. Minstrel shows made fun of Blacks, made them out to be lazy and stupid, yet, possibly due to white people’s guilt over slavery? They endured for over a hundred years. And those Jim Crow laws that brutally enforced racial segregation in the Southern US in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries? Well, if you didn’t already know? Now you know where they got their name and why Blackface is so very offensive.

On white supremacy being about power: thinking about this got me thinking about the opposite of power, which is a lot of negative words – inability, incapacity, weakness, impotence. While no one wants to be seen as weak, is it necessary to have ultimate power over others? And over your environment, which is what many of my white ancestors seemed to desire. Here’s a couple of other suggestions for the opposite of power: gentleness, kindness. It’s beyond time.

#Coronavirus

On being over it: it’s not over us. The WHO reported the highest single-day global rise in cases so far on Father’s Day.

On masks: Vanity Fair headline – “If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet”

On transmission: The New York Times says, “We know that being outdoors is lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors.”

#Schadenfreude

On wishing the US President* would just go away already: While being appalled at his Tulsa rally speech, I don’t feel the rush of pleasure I expected to feel while observing the glaring failure of the event, and his obvious disappointment over the mere 6,200 attendees. I guess that makes me . . . empathetic.

#Mindfulness

On the human negativity bias: Author Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reminded me of this on the podcast Ten Percent Happier, referring to it as 10-finger perception. So, say we have nine qualities within us that are positive and one negative. What do we tend to focus on? The negative one, of course. It’s the same with the news, which is abundant lately with scary, negative reports. While you should know what’s going on, with the virus, the protests, and the economy, balance it out with the numerous good qualities of life – like sitting on a patio – that can still be enjoyed despite the ongoing pandemic.

 

 

Hindsight is 2020 2020-06-23T11:35:30-04:00

Listen and Learn

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

How’s your heart feeling? Heavy? Damaged? Broken?

Your lungs? “I can’t breathe.” A plaintive mantra for the times: coronavirus attacking the lungs, daily news attacking the psyche, police officers attacking a Black man’s throat.

Whether you’ve watched it or not (I avoid violent videos), I’m sure you’ve heard all about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that a Minneapolis police officer spent kneeling on George Floyd’s throat, effectively snuffing out his life while three other officers looked on.

“You can’t be human and not be affected by that video,” Iowa Hawkeye head football coach Kirk Ferentz said, addressing his team recently. “I’m sure that many of you felt the same way I did – heartbroken. Frustrated. Angry.”

Heartbroken. Frustrated. Angry. Tears well up as I type these words, picturing Ferentz saying them, hearing the emotion in his voice. My husband B is from Iowa, so I’ve watched many a Hawkeye game and know Ferentz is an emotional guy. And a damn good leader, a moral one.

I had to look it up, because he’s said so little on the topic, but the President* used similar words to describe the tragedy: “It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief.” Here’s the thing: hearing these words from a person who sorely lacks leadership skills, has a shattered moral compass, and lies liberally and deliberately? They just don’t have the same heft.

You can’t expect comfort, advice, or a unifying message from such a man. Instead? I watched in horror, anger and grief when he had pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash grenades unleashed on peaceful protestors prior to a 7 pm curfew in Washington, DC so that he might enjoy a photo opp in front of the Church of the Presidents, where he plucked a Bible from his daughter’s $1,500 handbag and waved it around, upside-down and backwards.

I do feel we can look to our own leader, Prime Minister Trudeau, despite brownface criticisms; pictures of him dressed as Aladdin from 2001 surfaced a while back. To me? He seems like the kind of guy who likes costumes – he’s been criticized for showing off his fancy socks, got a lot of flak for the garb he wore while in India – and I can relate as I love dressing up too. But this kind of dressing up is “cultural appropriation”. While it may have been done by white people decades ago without a second thought, on this I think we’ve listened and learned. It’s perceived as mockery; it causes pain.

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time,” Trudeau said. “but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry.”

He did something wrong and apologized for it, something I’ve not seen his counterpart in the US ever do. Asked the other day to respond to the President*’s call for military action against protesters in the US, Trudeau was speechless for more than 20 seconds. Then? “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” he said. “It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen, it is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that Black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day. There is systemic discrimination in Canada.” You have to see it, admit it’s there, to fix it, yes?

I’m a white woman. I have no clue what it’s like to be Black. Trudeau’s white. Coach Ferentz said this to his team: “I am a white football coach. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be pulled over for driving while Black or to have people cross the street because they don’t want to walk alongside you.” Being white, we enjoy privileges most Black people can only dream of.

If you’re like me and you want to listen, learn, understand, I highly recommend Dan Harris’s podcast Ten Percent Happier in which he interviews author Lama Rod Owens. It’s called “An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race”. Being white, it is uncomfortable, because I want to understand, but I don’t want to hurt, don’t want to say the wrong thing. And being white in Southwestern Ontario means meeting very few Black people, but there are many other ethnic groups in the region to be considerate of.

Owens talks about what he calls Black heartbreak. “I grew up with this heavy disappointment because I was born into a system that I did not consent to,” he says. “Heavy disappointment.” That is heartbreaking isn’t it? It’s certainly something I know nothing about.

He suggests being curious, asking your friends of all stripes how they’re doing in this moment. He cautions that the intellect – a place white folks tend to go for security, escape – is not the answer, that the constant return to the body, to the feelings will help connect, point the way.

Getting back to Coach Ferentz, he pointed out, “These are painful times for our nation and community. One of the most important traits a leader can demonstrate is the ability to listen. To always have an attitude of learning.”

And we are all leaders in our own communities, families. To effect positive change? We need to listen. And learn.

Website photo: wise words from a protest sign in Des Moines, Iowa.

Listen and Learn 2020-06-03T18:08:34-04:00

Back To Centre

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” W. B. Yeats

Doesn’t it feel like we’re living this profound line from that famous poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming”? Well, perhaps that’s because the poem was inspired by another pandemic, the Spanish flu (1918-19). The death rate among pregnant women was an alarming 70% in some areas; Yeats’ pregnant wife unfortunately contracted the virus and almost died.

Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffpost and Thrive Global, wrote earlier this month, “We’ve lost touch with the center.” Have you felt that at times? Prior to the March shut-down? Running here, there: working, shopping, attending social functions, catching flights. Always busy, always searching. What are we searching for?

So, while we’re all desperate for social interaction, these past weeks have been a fantastic opportunity to return to centre. And while we may be cross with modern China for their slow and sneaky response to the pandemic, their ancient Taoist tradition of yin-yang offers us a lost piece to life’s puzzle. Throughout life, most of us have enjoyed an abundance of yang – masculine, fast, active, aggressive. What we need is more yin – feminine, slow, passive, yielding. As Lao Tzu, founder of the Tao, said, “thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the centre hole that makes it useful.”

In her inspiring article “We Are Never Going Back”, Huffington refers to our current situation as a “crucible”. If the word sounds biblical, it is: Proverbs 27:21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but man is refined by his praise. Meaning? The result of great trial by heat leaves precious metals poised to be made into jewellery; the result of great trial by praise leaves a human poised to reveal a precious character. Or . . . not.

We’ve all known men – or women – overly attached to praise and the resulting haughtiness and enlarged ego is not something you’d call precious. Preciously annoying is more like it.

We’re seeing this play out among world leaders in this trial by pandemic:

*UK Prime Minister Johnson’s response is called “arrogant complacency” by Metro News
*Brazilian President Bolsonaro calls the coronavirus “a little flu” and an economic threat
*the US President* sees it as an economic threat as well, while promoting the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure

While the coronavirus is indeed a ginormous economic problem the world over, putting money over human lives is wrong. And ignoring the advice of experts in epidemiology – as Bolsonaro and the US President* do – is both selfish and reckless.

But the crucible Huffington refers to is this Oxford dictionary meaning: “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new”.

What is wrong with something new? While man’s “progress” has allowed many the world over to enjoy fulfilling lives of relative luxury, at what cost has this been to other sentient beings and to the planet?

And just look at the glaring societal gaps this pandemic has exposed! In Canada? Eighty-two per cent of Covid-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes. “The Canadian armed forces report found instances of insect infestations, poor hygiene practices, and neglect, among other concerns,” BBC News reports. “Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the document was ‘gut-wrenching’.”

And this is ironic, yes? While well-paid CEOs of large corporations might sacrifice bonuses during these trying economic times, it’s lower-paid workers, like grocery store staff, maintenance people, truck drivers, and so on, who are keeping the economy going while hospital staff are literally keeping people alive, often without proper PPE.

Huffington mentions another ancient source of wisdom, the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which chronicles three kinds of life a person may lead:

*a life of inertia and dullness with no goals and achievement
*a frenetic life full of busyness and desire
*a life of goodness

Dullness sounds pretty, well, dull. And it’s good to be busy, but being busy for the sake of busyness? Not enough. Goodness? That sounds good, huh?

I listened to a great podcast the other day, aptly called “Holding it Together When Things Fall Apart”. Dan Harris interviewed Pema Chodron, an author and meditation teacher who lives in rural Nova Scotia. Chodron talked about a friend who was struggling with some serious financial issues due to the pandemic. He said he was going to spend a week thinking it through and then spend another week meditating on it, getting into his body and just observing. Can you guess which one provided the most relief? Hint: it was so excruciating, he did not make it through a full week of thinking it through.

Getting back to Lao Tzu, he observed that the centre hole (nothing) makes the wheel useful, the space within a clay vessel (nothing) makes it useful, the holes (nothing) cut for windows and doors for a room are useful: “therefore profit comes from what is there; usefulness from what is not there.”

Due to our capitalistic societies, most of us know all about the quest for profit, a positive bottom line. In this halted pandemic time of great nothingness let’s be okay with what is not there, happy in the knowledge that there is great usefulness in stillness. A stronger, kinder centre is being forged.

 

Back To Centre 2020-05-28T15:49:55-04:00

How We Laugh

Ghosts breathe in me through sleeping hours
Clutching clean dry hands
They float me into brightly-lit shops with my children
Reduced, made younger
Frivolously, we search for meaningful cups and sparkly shoes
Pretty dresses with brilliant flowers
Fine cotton dress shirts with pink and grey stripes
Donning the fresh trappings, we venture into other forbidden places
Restaurants and concert halls and crowded after-parties
Where we eat and drink and listen and dance and sing along and tell tall tales
Eyes aglow from the wondrous assault to our senses

And we laugh
Oh how we laugh!
Great rivers of joy recklessly flood our faces
How we laughed!

We laugh still
Can anyone hear?
Sure there has been stoppage, alarm, altered wages and stages
Illness, and death minus the ritual of funeral
Conspiracy, confusion, misinformation
But transformation! So available
beyond haunting apparitions and lurking nostalgia
A better me, a better you
In here, out there

Website photo: My son & I finding things to laugh about.

 

How We Laugh 2020-05-25T15:08:29-04:00

Refuse To Fear

“We will refuse to fear
Never surrender
Never give hate the chance to rule the day
If we all choose to heal
Love is forever
Darkness won’t win
When we refuse to fear.” Charlie A’Court

A beautiful, strong message, yes? It’s from Canada’s East Coast award-winning singer-songwriter Charlie A’Court, who performed Friday in a Virtual Vigil to honour victims of the horrific, entirely-impossible-to-come-to-grips-with mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

If you’re familiar with the play Come From Away, based on Newfoundland’s hosting of the 38 planes diverted to Gander on 9/11, then you’d no doubt describe people from the East Coast as the exact opposite of angry. East Coasters are open and warm, friendly and kind.

I knew this long ago! My father was from New Brunswick and my mother from Nova Scotia, so I got to spend a month each summer as a kid on the East Coast. Life moved at a slower pace there; we had oodles of time to chat with family, neighbours and strangers alike. Most homes sported unlocked doors that didn’t necessarily expect a knock to gain entry. Even as a kid, I noticed the uptightness of Ontario upon my return. I mean, why were we always in such a dang hurry?

Consequently, people from “down home” (as Mom called it) are appalled, struggling to understand how such extreme violence could mar their beautiful province, Canada’s Ocean Playground. When I reached out by text to a cousin who lives in Dartmouth, her shock was palpable. “He succeeded in putting us on the map for all the wrong reasons. This is foreign to us. These things don’t happen here. I’m so confused, upset and angry!”

Things like that don’t happen there. And yet? Now one person’s sick mind has made it so. All of it so hard to fathom: the number of dead, the number of crime scenes, the fires, the sneaky use of an RCMP uniform and car, and then? The added whammy that due to Covid-19 people can’t even hug one another, can’t hold funerals. “Gobsmacked” is a word I heard used to describe the feeling and it is apt.

When senseless acts of violence happen, hate and darkness are tempting. But we mustn’t succumb. As A’Court sings, “Never give hate the chance” and “Darkness won’t win”. Why? Because “Love is forever”. Love is stronger.

One person. One person! How can one person wreak so much fear, cause so much pain and anguish? But it is just one person. Most people love. Most care. We truly have to go with the odds on these things, don’t we? Otherwise, what would be the point?

You watch what is happening in the aftermath of this horror? Giant heartfelt memorials. People sharing memories, sobbing. And on Friday night for the vigil, dignitaries and musicians representing a stricken province did their best to pull the entire country together with loving words and music.

“We will refuse to fear.” We feel fear. We can’t help but feel it, imagining a neighbour walking in then pulling out a gun, imagining finding your brother dead on the side of the road and hiding in the woods for hours listening to gunshots, imagining being pulled over by the RCMP and then instead of a ticket . . .

Fear, for humans – for any living creature – is natural. Fear enables survival; there are threats everywhere. Like the coronavirus lurking with its unique characteristics that epidemiologists the world over are scrambling to identify and understand. Like the sudden economic downturn, job losses, money woes. And like one person with a devil’s trove of anger, guns and disguises.

It is possible to live an entire life in fear. Lord knows, there’s a leader south of the border that’s been stoking those flames in the minds of his followers for 40-some months now. Fear though, is meant as a short burst, to provide the adrenaline needed to escape danger, like that poor fellow who found his brother dead. Fear is not meant to be a lifelong companion.

Fear left unchecked? According to takingcharge.csh.umn.edu, “Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.”

Refuse it. Love big, hard, and wide. Work on healing. For those grieving loved ones lost in this tragedy, healing will probably feel undoable. And will be so hard, will take a very long time. But humans are unbelievably resilient. And most humans? Especially those from down home? Filled to the brim with goodness.

Website Photo: Be Well/Rainbow my grandkids made for their front window.

 

Refuse To Fear 2020-04-28T14:12:53-04:00

Always Be Grateful

“The sun’s gonna shine, ooh, ooh, it’s true
‘Cause I can always be grateful” Jewel

The sun is gonna shine. Have you noticed? While us humans scramble to figure out how to deal with this pandemic, Mother Nature just, la-di-da-di-dah, continues to tick items off her spring To Do list. A cousin wrote on FB: “You go out for a walk and the air is fresh, birds are singing, flowers are coming up and trees are in bud. You look around and you would never know anything is wrong.”

Except when you look at the man-made stuff: playgrounds wrapped in caution tape, mall parking lots empty, downtown stores boarded up. One of the comments on my cousin’s FB post: “Mother Nature knows how to go on without us humans . . . hopefully that isn’t what she has in mind at this particular time though!”

A most humbling message, huh? We need Earth. Earth does not need us.

Something to keep in mind, if/when we eventually get around to addressing Climate Change. While we may do it for ourselves, and a multitude of unfortunate species we’ve adversely affected along the way, we mustn’t kid ourselves. We’re not doing it for the planet. The planet is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old. Humans? Mere babies at 200,000 years.

We’ve been fruitful and multiplied though: seven times in just the last 200 years, from one billion to over seven billion! You can just imagine Mother Nature thinking from time to time, If only I could get these seven billion monkeys off my back.

Coronavirus has forced us monkeys to halt in place, temporarily, giving Her body and lungs a sweet reprieve. But this reset is due to economic and human distress, right? Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environmental Programme, in an article for news.un.org “has cautioned against viewing this as a boon for the environment”. When we finally get to check out and also leave “Hotel California”? We should take a good long look at how we do things, in a way I’m sure young environmental activist Greta Thunberg would approve of, and in complete opposition to the way some world leaders operate.

Writes Andersen, “And as the engines of growth begin to rev up again, we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this ‘different economy’ that must emerge, one where finance and action fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure.”

Green. The answer is green, but not money. Creation should be the new currency.

Listening to an interview with Jewel on Sirius XM’s Volume the other day, I was introduced to her website jewelneverbroken.com, an “emotional fitness destination”, where the anxiety-ridden can find tools for anxiety reduction.

Since this is such an anxiety-inducing time, let’s look at Jewel’s way of calming it. With anxiety, fight-or-flight mode, your heart rate speeds up and essentially shuts down your brain. You’re in survival mode. Contraction. The opposite is dilation. Openness. Jewel recommends getting really observant. Curious. Take a good long look at what is going on around you, take in the details. This brings you into a mindful state in which anxiety cannot exist.

Add in a dash of gratefulness? You’re well on your way to feeling better. I recently chatted with my gfs on our weekly get-together – I call it Zoom Gabba-Gabba – and we pointed out all the things we have to be grateful for: friends bringing food, random acts of kindness we see when we venture out, and time to read, workout and be creative.

With my creative time, I’ve been taking art lessons with my sister-in-law on Zoom. One of our recent subjects was the luna moth, so named because it’s nocturnal, but also it has moon-like spots. I personally have never seen a luna moth – some say they’re not so much rare as secretive, while others believe they’re threatened by pesticide use, pollution, and loss of habitat.

They are stunningly beautiful. And they have much to offer us in terms of messaging at this time. According to maynardlifeoutdoors.com, they “live for only about a week, their sole purpose – besides beauty – being to mate before dying”. Ok, we live longer than a week, but in the grand scheme of things? We don’t really live that long. We’ve figured out the mating part; perhaps we’re also here to appreciate beauty?

The luna moth, like any transformative insect, is a harbinger of change. The anticipation of it, active or passive. Again, from maynardlifeoutdoors.com, “Either change your life, or your life will be changed”.

Our lives were changed by this pandemic. Passive. Actively, let’s do what we can to change our lives for the better when it loosens its grip.

Website picture: A gorgeous water colour luna moth as painted by my art teacher Hilary Slater www.hilaryslater.com. I’m not sharing my latest attempt as it resembles a giant squashed puke-coloured manta ray.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Be Grateful 2020-04-16T09:36:44-04:00

RIP John Prine

He’s surely in heaven now, smoking that “cigarette that’s nine miles long”. Legendary singer-songwriter John Prine, died yesterday (April 7) from coronavirus. He gave up smoking after his first bout with cancer in 1997, but he never lost a desire for it, telling Jayson Greene for the pitchfork.com article “Life, Death and John Prine”: “If there is a heaven, and I’m going there, that’s the way I want it. I got to thinking, Where am I gonna have that cigarette? Well, in heaven. There couldn’t be any cancer there, and why would they have ‘No Smoking’ signs in heaven?”

No hit songs. No blockbuster album. Regardless, the man once labelled the “Singing Mailman” by movie critic Roger Ebert (Prine was a mailman in Chicago for five years) was revered in the music industry; his songs were covered by a wide range of artists, including Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt and My Morning Jacket.

In Greene’s interview, he shared with Prine a heart-wrenching story of how his song “Everything Is Cool” played a huge part in the life (labour) and death (funeral) of his baby girl. Prine had written the song in response to his divorce and Greene wondered if he was surprised that a divorce song could also be a death song for someone. “Well there’s only two things,” Prine said. “There’s life, and there’s death. So it’s a 50/50 shot.”

Life and death; a 50/50 shot. Perhaps that’s what this pandemic is forcing us all, in our remote togetherness, to come to terms with? On the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast with Dan Harris, his meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein recently pointed out this obvious fact: What causes death? Birth. Hmmm.

I was lucky enough to see John Prine live twice in 2018. He headlined the Ann Arbor Folk Fest the first of the year, then played our town – London, Ontario – at the end of the year. What a gentleman! With his top-notch band, all of them in suits, so classy. He wrote and sang simple relatable songs for everyday people living their lives. Songs that have stood the test of time. There are so very many; it’s hard to decide favourites, but I’ll pick a few so we can be soothed, and moved, by his words:

“When I woke up this morning, things were looking bad
Seems like total silence was the only friend I had” (“Illegal Smile”)

“Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naïve
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve” (“Spanish Pipedream”)

“Ya know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wider every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello’” (“Hello In There”)

Well “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.” (“Sam Stone”)

“And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” (“Paradise”)

And “There’s flies in the kitchen, I can hear ‘em there buzzin’
And I ain’t done nothin’ since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the mornin’
Come home in the evenin’ and have nothin’ to say” (“Angel From Montgomery”)

“That’s the way that the world goes ‘round
You’re up one day and the next you’re down
It’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown
That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.” (“That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round”)

“Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ‘til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven (“Fish And Whistle”)

“Now my grandma was a teacher, went to school in Bowling Green
Traded in her milking cow for a Singer sewing machine
Well, she called her husband ‘Mister’, and walked real tall and proud
Used to buy me comic books after grandpa died” (“Grandpa Was A Carpenter”)

“Please don’t bury me down in that cold, cold ground
I’d rather have ‘em cut me up and pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears if they don’t mind the size” (“Please Don’t Bury Me”)

“I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station, gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids, and sit down by her side
Ride ‘til the sun comes up and down around me ‘bout two or three times
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talkin’ again when I know what to say” (“Clay Pigeons”)

“When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ‘n’ roll band
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?” (“When I Get To Heaven”)

 

 

RIP John Prine 2020-04-08T15:35:03-04:00

Physically Distant, Socially Close

Transient hearts fly home, stay
Love from a distance today
Embrace freedom of the mind
Find joy there! A timeless kind

“Embrace freedom of the mind”?! “Find joy there!”? In my mind right now? A timeless kind of chatter that sounds exactly like breaking news.

And I wrote that quatrain! The first two lines are an ongoing duty. We must stay home! The last two lines? A desirable goal, seemingly unattainable at the moment.

I’ve been doing my Headspace mediation daily, bearing witness to zipping thoughts as I try to count breaths, glued to my chair for fifteen minutes or so, till Andy Puddicombe finally releases me, in his lovely English accent: “And you may open your eyes again.” Phew! And I pick up my phone to scroll newsfeeds, or check the TSX (up today), or catch a daily presser – Trudeau, the US President*, or if I’m lucky, my favourite, the Pacino-like, no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-with-facts governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. Despite monumental challenges – the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the US, questionable help from the feds, various medical supply shortages (equipment, beds, etc) – he’s doing a good job, huh?

I’ve been working out most mornings too, doing Jazzercise in front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom, making sure not to knock over the plant on the shelf beside me with my arm, or kick the bed on one side, or the wall on the other. I had this grand idea of doing a junior Jazzercise set with my three grandkids – 7, 6 and 3 years old – daily, over FaceTime on my computer, but the camera is small, the connection dodgy, and well, it just didn’t work. Instead, I’ve been doing that set with my sister-in-law (we ignore the tiny images, dodgy connection) in exchange for art lessons, prodding my troubled brain to expand, learn something new.

But then this happened late last week. My daughter, Randelle, texted from her home in BC: “Hey fam, we think I have influenza. My entire body aches, headache, chills, sore throat. I can’t smell or taste anything.” Nooo! I was responding when my sister, who looks after WSIB claims for a food services and support company, called, sounding upset. She was up until midnight the night before working on employee layoffs. My husband B, who works in venue management, was upset too, also working on employee layoffs.

My background is construction; layoffs were part of the landscape. Fortunately, these layoffs are temporary and the government stimulus package goes a long way toward softening the financial blow.

As real as it might be, though, I rejected the notion of putting my daughter and coronavirus together. (I feel a mild headache coming on these days? I’ve got IT, a severe case, and I’m gasping for breath.) The fatal reports I’ve read are jarring: a 16-year-old girl in France who “just had a cough”, a 25-year-old pharmacy tech in LA with no underlying conditions, over 50 doctors in Italy.

Randelle and her fiancé had just made the sad decision to cancel their June wedding due to the pandemic. Please, I prayed, if she has IT, let it be the mild version.

One saving grace? B and I had started a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen island and every time we walked by, we worked on it. An addictive and meditative distraction for a disturbing week.

Have you been able to figure out what’s going on with testing? CBC News tells me Canada has tested 221,000 and the US over one million. It seems we’re doing barely enough, and I keep hearing through medical channels that Ontario doesn’t have a good supply. Perhaps BC doesn’t either, because Randelle was not tested, despite her symptoms. Thankfully, she rallied by the weekend and was back up and about.

The experts, Bill Gates included (there’s a good new TED Talk interview on YouTube with him you should check out), say that to get our countries back on track at this point, now that the “horse is out of the barn”, we need to continue with physical distancing, while also ramping up testing so as to get a better handle on where IT is, contact tracing, etc. While Gates is truthful and knowledgeable about our current situation, he remains optimistic about our future abilities to handle a pandemic of greater consequence that may come.

I, personally, find the lack of test kits, ventilators and PPE deeply disturbing. Our countries have some of the most intelligent, creative and industrious minds on the planet and we can’t get our shit together to supply the front lines with the equipment they need to fight the war against this virus? Why? Are we that mired in bureaucracy?

If we don’t work in government, I guess there’s little we can do to fix things, except call our representatives. And, as far as our daily lives go, do we really need heads of state to show us the way, or can we help ourselves, in our own communities?

Earlier last week I listened to a great Podcast: Rich Roll and his wife, Julie Piatt. Roll made the comment that a reactive state is fear-based and therefore, not productive. Aha! That’s why the President* is an expert fear-mongerer: he prides himself on being reactive, not proactive.

So, if we go back to my little quatrain, this is a time for going inward. I mean, what the heck else is there to do? Most of us are stuck inside! One of Piatt’s cherished guides said this of our current situation: “This is a gentle way to wake us up to let us know what is going to be required for us to transform this planet.”

Pollution? Down. Consumerism? Down. Roll suggests, when we emerge from isolation, we pursue co-creation as opposed to consumption.

These are strange days. And scary and sad. I pray for the recovery of songwriting legend John Prine (“Angel from Montgomery”), who has been intubated due to coronavirus, is in stable condition. And I pray for anyone suffering, or anyone who has lost a loved one to any condition, as funerals are being downsized or postponed. And I pray for the front line workers, for the equipment they need, for the strength – physical and mental – for battle.

It’s a paradox, yes? We share the susceptibility to coronavirus with all of humanity, the world over, yet we must keep all humans, except the ones we live with, arm’s length away.

You have no choice right now. Go inward. See what you find.

 

 

 

 

 

Physically Distant, Socially Close 2020-03-31T10:16:36-04:00

Don’t Be a Covid-iot

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” R.E.M.

What a week, huh? How you doin’? Everyone ok out there in isolation land?

It feels like eons now, but it was just over a week ago that I sat on the couch with an upset tummy watching CNN. Instantly, the coronavirus became real:

  • Trump gave a solemn (he stayed on script) address from the Oval Office which was meant to calm, but ultimately rattled the masses
  • Breaking News– Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, in Australia filming, diagnosed with coronavirus
  • Breaking News– NBA suspends season after player tests positive for coronavirus

Each item has impact, but come on. We know Trump lies, so the fact that he couldn’t get all the facts straight in his address? No biggie. And Tom Hanks? While it’s shocking that someone famous, someone we think we know, has IT, Hanks being ill didn’t shut down the movie industry. “NBA suspends season”!?!? Ok coronavirus. You’ve got our full attention.

Then? Over the next few days? Like “The Amazing Triple Spiral (15,000 dominoes)” I watched on YouTube recently with my grandson, all the various pieces of fabric that hold our society together were falling, click-click-click: schools, concerts, theatres, various sports, amusement parks, the stock market!

Buckle in and buckle up, folks. What a ride!

Prime Minister Trudeau’s wife tested positive, so he’s in self-isolation, holding daily pressers from a podium in front of his house, while camera crew and journalists stay a safe six feet away. I mean, just the fact that the PM is “holding daily pressers” is crazy. It’s a fast-moving target – “fluid” in newspeak – this pandemic, and all are scrambling to respond.

It’s not like we didn’t see IT coming. I mean, we’ve been watching the horrifying news on coronavirus from China since January, then cases were discovered in various other countries, notably in Italy, which has a high mortality rate and horrifying hospital conditions. Did we think coronavirus would somehow just never gain entry into North America?

And, as pandemics go, history is jam-packed: Black Death, small pox, Spanish flu. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch Bill Gates’ TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready Vancouver 2015, in which he predicts our current state of chaos. A 2017 study from the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) by N Madhav and others states, “Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century because of increased global travel and integration, urbanization, changes in land use, and greater exploitation of the natural environment (Jones and others 2008; Morse 1995). These trends will likely continue and will intensify.” Also, since you’ve lots of time to “quarantine & chill”, you could check out a new series on Netflix, “Pandemic”.

Canada has a “Pandemic Plan”, but I don’t think we have a pandemic team. The US had a “Pandemic Response Team”, disbanded in 2018. There’s been a shortage of tests (hindering containment and accuracy of statistics) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), prompting the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to say, “healthcare workers who can’t get a mask should use a bandana or scarf as a ‘last resort’ as supplies run short.” A “bandana or scarf”?! To protect people most at risk? And another truly frightening thing? Why we must work hard now at “social distancing” to “flatten the curve”? The US population is 330 million and there are approx 100,000 ICU beds and ventilators; Canada’s population is 38 million and there are approx 5,000 ICU beds and ventilators. With this illness, severe cases have required several weeks on a ventilator.

If too many people get seriously ill at the same time? Healthcare professionals are left in the excruciating position of having to make wartime-like decisions – like they’re doing right now in Italy – about who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Says reddit.com: “Your grandparents were asked to go to war. You are being asked to sit on a couch. Think about it carefully and act accordingly.”

If you’re confused on social distancing there’s a great article in The New Yorker called “How to Practice Social Distancing”. Basically, hunker down with the ones that brung you, the peeps you live with, while keeping all others a safe six feet away. The best advice I’ve heard is to go about your business like you have coronavirus; some stats say four out of five people infected got it from someone who didn’t know they had it.

Hosting a party with fifty of your closest friends? Hanging out on a crowded beach in Florida? The complete opposite of social distancing. You are being a “Covid-iot”, a term coined by my morning radio hosts, Taz and Jim on FM96, streaming from their separate homes, in quarantine for 14 days after returning from Florida.

Think Covid-19 is like the flu? Think again. Check out this article on Vox, “Why Covid-19 is worse than the flu, in one chart”. Here’s how:

  • Rate of infection (how many infected by someone infected): flu 1.3, Covid-19 2-2.5
  • Incubation time: flu 1-4 days, Covid-19 1-14 days
  • Hospitalization rate: flu 2%, Covid-19 19%
  • Case fatality rate: flu .1% or less, Covid-19 1-3.4%

The term “novel” virus means new; IT just jumped from animal to human so our bodies are also “fluid”, scrambling to figure out how to fight IT off. On one recent podcast I listened to, an expert explained that although a certain percentage of the population will get this virus over time, delaying it as long as possible not only eases the healthcare burden, but gives time for a vaccine to be developed and also may ease the punch.

Challenging times though, right? My husband B and I spent Sunday at the cottage, and it was a normal day – a sleep in, breakfast, a walk on the beach, hot tub, some reading – but just knowing IT was out there? Odd. I’ve not been sleeping well. I’m a news junkie, but need to ration the news right now. It’s too much to process. Like really, who would imagine that by yesterday this shocking headline – “California governor orders all 40 million residents to stay home” – would seem commonplace, one among a multitude of shocking headlines? And while I’m lucky in that my financial situation is not affected (except for the volatile TSX!), others around me worry about jobs, money, their future.

In times like these we must stay positive and practice gratitude for what we have. Technology allows us to stay connected, work safely from home. As one of my daughters pointed out on Instagram, “The outside is still open!” The supply chain is still in order, heat and lights are on.

Control what you can. Wash your hands properly and often (there are great YouTube videos on the proper technique and you probably have time to watch); this bug is powerless against soap. Sneeze or cough into your elbow. Clean that elbow, use it to bump; don’t shake hands. Stay home as much as possible. Stay in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, phone, text, email, mail.

Don’t be a Covid-iot. Stay safe, stay strong my friends.

Website photo: My grandkids social distancing and dancing like no one’s watching (just Mama), wearing their homemade crowns. Photo credit, Jetanne Di Cola.

Don’t Be a Covid-iot 2020-03-20T11:24:40-04:00