Erasure of distraction

Yesterday marked Day Fifty of this Strange New World in which we live. I have refined my daily routines to a specificity that embraces my ID, fits my EGO and and enhances my SUPEREGO. My OCD is in exaltation and my Type-A personality is blissfully doped. It’s like refining life to a science, possible only during life in a bubble of one during a global pandemic.

It occurred to me last night, after spending hours in the afternoon reading, the current novel being The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago, a tale of comic and story-telling genius. The nightly pot-banging signaled the start of evening, the first whiskey, and the question, « What shall I do now? » Practice ukulele, watch a film, or write something?

I decided to continue reading. And that is when the occurrence, which I mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph, transpired. I thought, « Wow, I have never before been able to sit down and be so absorbed on a task for so long. » I have never been more focused and calm and productive. I have never lived with such non-regret, such satisfaction with how I spend my time. I am finally doing the things I somewhat did and sometimes did and planned to do and did a little in the Old World. In our Strange New World, in my bubble, my private pinpoint of perfection, I feel so « Zen, » so free of « shoulda-woulda-coulda. » There have never been so many parts of me so simultaneously harmonious.

Part of it is age, of course. Older, slower, wiser. Part of it is a video that my friend B shared with me on March 29th, a young Day 16 of All This; the video is of a talk by an ex-monk, Dandapani, given in San Francisco on the subject of Conscious Accounting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapX9xiDAFY&t=6s). And, part of it is this warp of time that is now reality. The perfect trifecta of Receivership (my readiness due to age and experience), Influence (a fateful reminder at a crucial crux in time) and Opportunity (our Strange New World). All signs point to focusing and to concentrating on what is really important to me, what nourishes my Soul and my Psyche.

(The only thing missing now is Nature.)

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Stations of the lost

Station one, day one, condemned to our dens, self-isolation begins, crucified by the thorns of our chosen lives, our own minds, some will whither, some will thrive.

Station two, the dining bench has become my work bench.

Station three, the kitchen, breakfast, three pasture-raised eggs with avocado and Frank’s. Or dark rye bread with caraway seed soaked in two pasture-raised eggs, fried, served with red onion and tomato, avocado, salt and pepper. I could have this as my death row final meal. The cupboards are strictly stocked with only the healthiest foods during this time of solitary sedentary confinement.

Station four, the chaise lounge beside the antique chest is for the glorious reading of old-fashioned, paper bound books. I don’t even listen to music, sublime silence as I fully focus on the wonderful tales and the ways of telling them, adventures to sustain me while the world detains me!

Station five, the roll top desk. It’s where I keep the song book and the ukuleles: the soprano and the concert. It’s where I strum and sing, new songs, old songs, their songs, my songs. Music always helps the soul and the mind to which we are now so very confined.

Station six, the shower, symbolic these days, we aren’t washing the dirt away, we are washing the day away.

Station seven, back to the kitchen for lunch. Peppers and hummus. A cup of spinach-pineapple-pea-protein shake. Coconut curry lentil stew. One of these delicious and nutritious three.

Station eight, the forty inch portal of selective distraction, the television set. I am vigilant about keeping the ratio of films watched to books read at two to one. Watching a film is like reading, but lazier, with the added disservice of instant gratification. Books are better, but take longer, hence the two to one ratio.

Station nine, back to the kitchen for dinner. Rice or soba noodles with wild-caught tuna, frozen vegetables, and sriracha sauce. Or wild-caught cod with vegetables. Homemade kombucha. Maybe a clementine or two.

Station ten, I leave the den, like a sneaky, slithering snake, I shed my skin, my prisoner’s clothes, and don protective layers from mud and wind. Guiltily, I walk with pretended purpose, abolishing the bloodsuckers in my brain with the open air atmospheric therapeutics, movement medicine, the tonic of trees and the breeze and bending knees, the only thing that distinguishes day from evening, this hour walk outdoors in the late afternoon.

Station eleven, in a corner, my makeshift gym of bars, dumbbells, step, mat and stability ball. One upper, core and lower body set.

Station twelve, to bed for a sweet little taste of death.

Station thirteen, morning coffee and cigarette on the balcony.

Station fourteen, my precious sanctuary, my tomb, my sliver of pie in the sky. It has morphed into these stations of separate business and function visited in rotation, each with its own physical area and in each I am fully focused, immersed and gone, far from here, deeply content, some reprieve from the world, heaven sent.

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I called Paul.

Reject me with a reason, so I know what to fix
Tell me you hate me, outright, so I don’t drown in self-doubt, wondering
Talk about me behind my back but don’t say nothing
Care that I am alive, or I mightn’t be

No matter what’s in the package if one can’t see past this logo
A society simultaneously embracing mental health issues but still
judging from the perch of billboards and bandwidths so
no better off at all, not at all

It’s a cycle I recognize, once, twice a year
A horrible angst of crippling insecurity
Pride in tact as I deal with it, this round, in my foxhole for one
But it’s also terribly intense this way, even scary

Afraid to go for a walk to clear my head
For fear of social disease rather than physical disease
So the mental disease festers
I called Paul

Everyone seems so damn righteous whereas I feel horribly unsure
About absolutely everything except one thing, the singing
I called Paul, begging
So it’s back to Bobcaygeon, I go

To stop peering through The Almighty Portal
To instead see myself through his eyes, a Diva
To make music, create, write, sing, be holy
Secret salvation.

 

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I’m fucking melting.

Day twenty-four. The isolation used to make me feel invisible and forgotten but now it just makes me normal, and so it began gloriously for me.

But as work resumes and real life comes trickling back, I am mentally revolting, wretching at it as I fight to finish my sentence, my thought, my testimony, my proof of person, but am already being spoken over in the first phone call in forever. I remember the war of conversation, being trampled by stronger personalities or apparently more important thoughts, but now at all how I tolerated it. How I didn’t fucking scream.

And then there’s the wolf, the wolf and his callous opportunism, looking for the inside scoop on how this experimental emergency e-teaching works but forgetting to don his sheep’s clothing and to ask me at all how I might or might not be coping, living alone in my thirty-nine-meters-squared isolation. I can’t bring myself to respond, nor do I have the mental fortitude to do so. I’d rather be left alone, thanks.

Sinking further into myself, anything from outside feels like an intrusion, harsh and abrasive, and I am cut up into scraps by simple words and the perseverating and the dwelling and the lack of a sounding board. Too far gone within to know where to begin the tale without coming out attacking, alienating, back right where I did begin. So I perpetuate it all, the surreal and strange sequestering. Anyway, I don’t believe in simple words. There are all kinds of emotional evidence woven everywhere, especially there.

And all this inertia, my gawd. I feel like I’m Jell-o, not the cool, firm, delicious kind in the fridge, but the uneaten bowl left on the counter, warm and wobbly, horrifically unappetizing. The Wicked Witch of the West said it best: « I’m melting, I’M FUCKING MELTING. »

The eyes get wet and the chest heaves when they bang their pots, and I bang mine, too, awkwardly, alone, on my balcony. It’s nice what it means, and even to see the people, for a few minutes and from afar. Because it isn’t just for the emergency services workers, it’s also a hello, I see you, I  am still here. But it’s all so very strange, still, and I am doing just fine but sometimes we are wrong about things.

 

 

 

 

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This is massive, this part is easy, what comes next?

Is it strange that I am doing just fine being confined to my little bubble, My Queendom, as I’ve called it many times, and that what I worry about, what I am, in fact, fearful of, is what comes afterward; I am afraid of re-entering the « world, » the « system. » I feel that I have curled so much up into myself that re-entry into « society » will be challenging, to say the least, daunting, to put it more precisely.

I use quotation marks for the concepts of world, system and society because what will that even look like? Different, I hope, to be sure. For the better?

How will this end? One magical day where we rush into each others’ arms and hug and cry and rejoice? Doubtful. A slow, murky progression back to a strange new form of the way it was, no real closure to cleanse our minds with? Much more likely. Will we be kinder to each other, more appreciative of the ability to socialize? Or will the world be a colder place, forever changed bearing scars of paranoia? This is massive. This part is easy. What comes next?

Yesterday we received an amber alert, an escalation of the isolation parameters. Only leave the house for groceries and medical appointments. My daily two-hour walks have been my salvation. I am a strong Type-A. Ants in my pants. Born to move. Restless. I dare say my energy defines me. With this huge part of me thwarted, I am beginning to suffer.

I have often joked that since breeders get so much time off work for maternity leave, we, the non-breeders, should get a vacation bonus at menopause for not having kids. Just seems fair. Now I look out my window and gaze jealously at the dog-owners out walking their dogs, no shame, no guilt, no furtive steps made to look purposeful and necessary. I similarly think that we, the non-dog-owners, should get parallel permission to walk ourselves each day. Is this selfish? Reckless? Well, these are the incestuous thoughts of my shut-in brain, goddamnit, and I really want, I really need, to go for a damn walk.

Shamefully, like a true junkie, I obsessively check Facebook between the regular cycle of puttering (normally called the cycle of procrastination, but there is nothing to put off right now, is there?). Eat, coffee, read, clean, ukulele, write, repeat. A low-speed cyclone of leisure, little black holes of pleasure. How quickly I’ve adapted to the new reality. So why do I think I will be less resilient when it comes time to mentally shapeshift back?

 

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Blasphemous Boredom

Occupying just a few square inches of space, I am amazed and appreciative of the hours and hours of pleasure experienced through learning via the thought-provoking, mind-expanding, and vocabulary-enriching content of books. My new favourite thing to do is to read as I listen to the audio book of same. This extended self-isolation permits my conscious mind to glaze over and be overtaken by that which I am reading. I guiltily admit how much I am enjoying my little bubble of solitude, days spent reading and writing , singing and playing, they pass so quickly! I don’t understand at all « stir crazy » and « bored » as the sentiment incurred from this surprise end of the world as we know it. It’s repulsive. Testimony of a terribly lame mind.

And what about just being? You in nothingness. Are you so unsatisfied, unfamiliar with yourself? Your real self. No lens. No reflection. Introspection fed/starved by distraction.

The world will be forever changed after this. Even after eighteen days, I still find it all so hypnagogic, which is my new favourite word. I was irritating myself at calling this « all so surreal » so often that I checked a thesaurus and this one word was offered as an alternative. It’s perfect. Hypnagogic. And a massage-for-the-mouth to say.

So life unfolds behind closed doors. My aunt has just let me know that my mother called 911 to find out the date and time. It’s not the first time. The healthcare workers in her nursing home aren’t too happy. I’m angry. In trying to write a single sentence explaining why I’m angry, I resolved my feelings of anger and am back at acceptance and understanding of the rich colour she is in the pièce de résistance that is moi. The sweet 25-year-old has such a pure soul. I have one cigarette left in the freezer. I bask in the absence of the mirror of eyes which are, too often, « a face prepared to meet a face » (T.S. Eliot). Girls like us flourish. A second flooding, of sorts, much needed. I revel in the silent pause and likewise simultaneously anticipate the unknown aftermath.

Francisco, I think of you intensely during all this, the only human I’ve ever met who doesn’t listen to music, how I have been and am still in awe of you and understand how at peace your soul is, how not needy of distraction your pure mind is. You will be fine in all this. I am fine, too, and I have spent each day in silence, no music, though I do not equate myself with your greatness, but congratulate myself for seeing it.

« If a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would…learn to perceive in water, leaves, and silence more than sufficient of the absolute marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams. » (Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire)

I hope we realize and always remember how, when work went away, we started singing and creating and sharing our art for the sake of art. It’s our true soul, but we’ve been tricked into thinking we need to be industrious.  « People pay for their own subordination. Accepting a precarious job or paying thousands of euros for a postgraduate degree are signs of living in a society of grateful slaves. » (Chomsky). Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption. The very necessary microcosm of getting intoxicated at night to escape the machine is now happening in the macro and without the passkey of alcohol, so cleansing and essential and euphoric. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all see it and be that annoying thing that privileged, self-proclaimed-intellectuals call being « woke? »

Instead, the people say they are bored, ffs.

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My Not-So-Vegan Manifesto

« For some years now, a heated controversy has flared up among scientists. Can plants think? Are they intelligent?…this threatens to blur the boundary between plants and animals…The distinction between plant and animal, is, after all, arbitrary and depends on the way an organism feeds itself…the only other big difference is in the amount of time it takes to process information and translate it into action. »

(The Hidden Life of Trees, Chapter 14, Peter Wohlleben) 

At the end of February, I began reading « The Hidden Life of  Trees » by Peter Wohlleben. It’s basically the science of trees in language for hippies. It’s dry, but interesting. I’m getting through it. Reading Chapter 14 earlier this week made me think about my journey as a vegan.

In September of 2017 I became vegan. In the beginning, I did it for selfish reasons, for my own health and aesthetics. My turn to veganism had little to do with the treatment of animals. But as you immerse yourself in the culture, it is impossible to be blind to the information and evidence of how shamefully poorly most factory farming in North American (and elsewhere) treats animals. Thus, soon my veganism had two very equal motivations: my personal welfare and the welfare of those poor animals. However, just two years and two months later, in November of 2019, I actually came to loathe the word « vegan » and did no longer wanted to be associated with this group of people at all. I still eat a predominantly plant-based diet for the same two reasons. I practice full veganism at work. My home remains vegan except for wild-caught fish and a donation, once, of some wild-caught venison from a hunter. However, I am no longer « a vegan » and I actually think veganism is ridiculous.

The seeds of doubt began almost immediately. I went to a vegan social mixer for Hallowe’en in 2017. One vegan gentleman I spoke with there told me he hated most vegetables and mostly ate cereal, rice, etc. I  was dumbfounded. What an absurd and unhealthy diet. I chose veganism specifically so I would eat more vegetables. Much more. He would not be the last stupid vegan I would meet. I went on a date with a fellow teacher and vegan who also told me, « You know how it is, most days, you come home, you pour yourself a bowl of cereal for dinner. » No, dude, I don’t know how that is. We need to make smart, responsible choices in life, for the animals, and for ourselves. And so the disillusionment continued to grow.

In March of 2018, I was promoting a book I’d written, which brought me to New Brunswick. I had events at Chapters in Fredericton, Chapters in Moncton, and as a guest speaker at a very cool soirée of about a dozen avid cyclists, also in Moncton. I also visited friends while there. One of the friends was a lovely older woman named Lonny. We had a plan to have coffee at her house where I would deliver her a book, as well. When I arrived, Lonny had actually prepared an entire dinner (and thought I was spending the night). She had made mashed potatoes with beef gravy, chicken, and boiled broccoli. Without any forethought about what to do in a situation like this, I immediately knew in my heart that there was no way I was going to refuse her wonderful gesture or start asking if there was butter in the mashed potatoes or ask for only broccoli or explain why or anything of the sort. I knew there were only two words acceptable to be said in this situation: « Thank you. » So I ate the meal and was thankful to Lonny for it. I knew that this would forever be my policy. You eat what someone serves you with gratitude. Politeness, respect and appreciation are more important than my politics in a situation like this. Refusing the meal isn’t going to un-buy the chicken and butter, after all. Someone’s welcoming home is not fair territory as my own political platform. Period.

In the Summer of 2018, I flew to Spain for my first time and embarked on the Camino de Santiago. I walked over 800 kilometers in 27 days. You stop in tiny little villages and your choices for food are very limited. Veganism is simply not practical in this situation. Furthermore, to seek out a vegan restaurant or vegan meal option isolates you from the community you are there to connect with, so it is antithetical to the pilgrimage. And, finally, you don’t travel to another country to do the same thing you do at home. You go there to do things their way, have new experiences, and that includes the food. Even an extensive traveler such as myself, travelling about 13 weeks of the year, if vegan at home, is still 75% vegan. Sometimes you need to look at the bigger, overall picture. Most vegans are way too militant and inflexible for me to respect their judgment. Even at 75% vegan, my carbon footprint is still highly commendable.

In the Spring of 2019, I learned that octopi are not factory farmed thus, in my opinion, completely ethical to eat. So I started eating it, on occasion. Giving much thought and having many conversations with friends and family, I concluded that this applied to all meat (and fish). If the animal lives its normal, full life in its natural environment, then is killed as needed food, and is respected, given thanks for, all its parts used and not wasted, I am okay with that, too. That didn’t lead to me eating any more meat since wild-caught meat is, understandably for health reasons, illegal for sale. But my ethics were continuing to evolve.

In June of 2019,  my niece came to visit me before she set off to start a journalism program in British Columbia, all the way on the other side of the country. We did many fun things like going to the Pride Parade. Another thing we did was stroll through Kensington Market. The militant vegans were demonstrating in front of a locally-owned, non-chain little burger business with their photos of mistreated animals, their signs, all standing in a self-righteous, smug chain. I thought, « Aren’t you attacking a little low on the totem pole, you bullies? » Even if they successfully dissuade all customers from entering this business, what good does that do? There is literally a taco shop and burger joint next door. You dumb-dumbs, go lobby the government and change factory farming policy. Don’t antagonize and sabotage an honestly-run local business. That’s someone’s livelihood. They are not the enemy. The policy that allows the horrific factory farming practices to exist is the problem. The government is the problem. I can’t imagine what these vegan protesters hope to accomplish by putting someone out of business.

In the Fall of 2019, I began preparing for a 2-week solo hiking/camping trip in the wilderness. I would need to carry everything I would need to survive on my back, including my food. The weights of everything was extremely important. And what is the most nutrient-dense, lightweight and economical food to carry? Meat. Individually-wrapped pepperoni packages that did not need to be refrigerated are the holy grail of thru-hiking trips (though, oddly, in the extensive research I did, nobody mentioned this). So here was another exception to the vigilance of vegan rule. As well, at this time, quite conveniently, Ocean’s put a new product on the market: 90g packets (as opposed to cans) of wild and responsibly caught tuna. Again, perfect for the efficient food-packing necessary for a long thru-hike camping trip. Although the pepperoni consumption would cease after the trip, I ethically had no problem eating this kind of fish and continued to eat it after the trip.

And what about bivalvia? I learned from a colleague, around this same time that vegans are okay with eating clams, oysters, cockles, mussels, scallops, etc. because they have no brain, don’t have feelings and can’t feel pain? Are they sure about that? Isn’t it about how we treat /obtain these living organisms that is what’s important? I’m starting to become very confused here, vegans!

The last straw for me happened during a little weekend trip to Montréal in November of 2019. Plastered everywhere were stickers that said « Meat is murder. » Mentally, I snapped. No, actually, it isn’t. It’s called the food chain, for crying out loud. Yes it is horrifyingly wrong to mistreat animals, to separate them from their children, to confine them, to deprive them of a happy life, a long life, a natural life. But eating them at the end of their life is not only fine, it’s what needs to happen in a healthy food chain. Also, vegans, where do you think the fertilizer comes from to plant your gardens? It’s animal poop, you know. You can’t escape that we are part of the food chain. Yes, do your utmost to make sure that the food chain is not exploitative and abusive to animals, but MEAT IS NOT MURDER. This is such a ridiculous statement and was my final cue to exit stage left from the ignorant vegan microcosm.

Do you know that there is such a thing called « fruitarianism? » Fruitarians take veganism to another idiotic level. Generally speaking, fruitarians will eat only what falls (or would fall) naturally from a plant. In other words, plant foods that can be harvested without killing or harming the plant. These foods consist primarily of fruits, nuts, and seeds. According to author Adam Gollner, some fruitarians eat only fruit that has actually fallen of its own accord. Good luck getting all the calories you need, never mind all the nutrition you need, Fruitarians! What do these people do, live in an orchard?

Again, my diet remains predominantly « vegan » because it is healthier for me and for animals in this society for it to be so. But to be inflexible and militant about veganism is impractical and unsustainable. I believe the current verbiage for what I advocate here is called being a « flexitarian? » Who cares what the current title, trend or « club » is. Just make thought-out, considerate choices, in your diet, and always. Be open to new learning. Always. I began a vegan journey, took what I thought was smart and good out of it, then continued to evolve as a global citizen. Okay. Enough. Time for lunch.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/12/octopus-farming-unethical-and-threat-to-food-chain

Where the heck did these crazy nutritional guidelines come from, anyway? Revisionist history with Gary Fettke, MD

https://chriskresser.com/why-you-should-think-twice-about-vegetarian-and-vegan-diets/

https://lowcarbcardiologist.com/lccp039-lierre-keith-the-dark-truths-behind-veganism-vegetarianism/

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