The Corona Curriculum, Part 2 of 2.

Identifying the curriculum helped. For a day. Yesterday. I washed the floors and dusted, read one chapter from each of the three books I have on the go, wrote a blog post, ran out-of-door errands despite the rain, bottled kambucha and downsized my kambucha-making station, and marked student assignments. Sufficiently productive.

I awoke this morning to the paralysis caused by anxiety I am sometimes familiar with. Already! I don’t do well with large pockets of time. They loom over me, suffocate me, hold me down, render me unable to start. And, as much as « people, not a fan » is my mantra, the lack of social interaction is also taking its toll. A troll in a cave. The minutes slip by like more quicksand as I sink deeper in the mire of my mind.

I found the gumption to call a wise friend, but when we got disconnected, the fortitude was used up and calling back felt daunting. She called me back, thankfully. I liked her phrasing, « What helped me, was… » No use of the word « should, » no unsolicited advice, just something to consider, without telling me to consider it. Brilliant.

So in addition to the curriculum, a syllabus might help. Identifying all the things I can and want to do is not enough. I need a schedule, a daily checklist. Keep it simple and attainable. Here it is:

  • read one chapter from each of three books
  • write one blog post
  • go for a one-hour walk (or longer) (or the stairs) (or a home workout)
  • play the ukulele for one hour OR watch a film from your carefully-collected collection (or both)
  • mark five student assignments

That’s it. Let’s start with that. Despite my struggle, I am still appreciative of this pause in time. And even though I know it’s okay to do nothing, it’s simply not how I’m wired. I’m feeling better, I’m up, breakfast has been eaten, a second cup of coffee nearly finished, and I am the press-of-a-button away from the first tick on the syllabus for today…

 

 

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The Corona Curriculum

Three books on the go: American Isis, a biography of Sylvia Plath; The Hidden Life of Trees, a science book in layman’s terms about how forests function; and Desert Solitaire, reflections of a part-time forest ranger in the Moab Desert. I have also taken out my ukulele and song book from the closet. The home gym is good to go, too, and the thirty flights of stairs outside my door are ready to be climbed. Walking outside. My French film collection, slowly and carefully built during each of my visits to Paris over the past eight years, still contains un-watched titles. This blog, and a myriad of other writing projects and ideas, lay in waiting. And even more books to be read on my own private shelves, or online through ebooks and audio books.

YouTube. Netflix. Cooking. Cleaning. The « bird courses. »

And, for me, perhaps, even, the unthinkable: some wu-wei. Nothing at all. A « spare. »

Outside, in the forbidden world that perhaps is enduring a Second Flooding, in part not a bad idea at all if the « vulnerable sector » were defined in more sinister, karmic terms, it snows. Here, inside, at least two weeks of « self-isolation » begin. « The school is on lockdown. » I, for one, am giddy about it. And I hope it lasts longer than just two weeks.

Not that I want anyone to fall sick or die. I cancelled my trip, it seemed the responsible thing to do, even when I didn’t understand the hype, and still might not, fully. Since the most dutiful thing I can do in these times is stay home, and considering all of the occupations listed above are accessible to me here, I have a personal curriculum that will last me well beyond this pandemic.

« The difference between bliss and distress generally seems to be whether solitude is chosen or involuntary. »
– Christopher Knight, in « The Stranger in the Woods, » by Michael Finkel.

This solitude may be involuntary, but good comes of every bad, my mother always said, and I welcome the anomaly of an extended down-time where travel and my regular metropolitan distractions are not options. If I could ignore the « why » part of this equation, this would all be absolute heaven. I will need to run out to get wine, though.

The proverbial bell has rung, writing class is over, I’m off to my reading class, ciao for now, classmates.

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Not Enough Nothing

The wind howls outside my tenth floor apartment. It is negative twelve degrees Celsius outside, with a wind chill of negative eighteen. It is Saturday morning, five o’clock. What will I do with my weekend? Anxiety and pressure begin to mount. I really should do something with the time, take advantage, profit, right? But I hate the cold. And « should » is a red flag word for me.

I go in waves…sometimes it takes me a month to read a book, sometimes a day. Right now I am enjoying the latter, nourishing, through my eyes and my ears, my brain and my imagination. In the book I finished yesterday, « The Stranger in the Woods » by Michael Finkel, which I’d begun only the day before, Christopher Knight explains that for most of the 27 years he spent living alone in the woods, he did nothing. He watched Nature. He just was, just lived. « There isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore. » How true. So much flash and bling and crash, boom, bang. This one little phrase helped me; gave me permission to do just that: nothing, something that is such a challenge for me. (I think that’s probably why I enjoy hiking so much; it is like doing nothing and doing a lot at the same time.)

Furthermore, I consider it a lovely marvel how each and every day, even after eleven years living  here, in my simple, modest, warm, perfect, little 420-square-foot rented apartment, that when I return home, I still think to myself: « I love my little place! » I really do. Tomorrow an Airbnb guest will arrive and share this tiny space with me for two weeks. So maybe I should just stay home and enjoy my space while I still have it to myself. I have no commitments today. Why not just relish in the elusive focus that is allowing me to read and feed my soul and my dreaming? I could just stay home all day long and read and drink coffee and eat and do absolutely nothing. What a thought! There is also my eclectic collection of old French films that I could blow the dust from and indulge in. Shelves and shelves of books here to read, or read again. There’s a downright wonderland of adventure by proxy here, where it’s warm, and quiet and free of stupid humans.

And…AND…it’s February 29th! It’s literally an extra day. A day off from the year. Oh, it’s settled. I’m staying home. Home, peaceful, home.

Farewell to rushing and bustling and people and places,
for a day.

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Nobody is going to listen to an asshole.

Happy Family Day, my fellow Ontariens, and everyone in Canada, no matter which day you get to celebrate this provincial holiday. To enjoy this lovely holiday, I awoke early, then made my way to the gym, a necessary evil in these cold winters. After a good sweat, I treated myself to a nice breakfast at a local diner, Hazel’s on Mount Pleasant Road. It was my first time there. It’s my kind of place: simple, no nonsense, friendly service, and reasonable prices. My server, Joanna, was lovely. I read a chapter from « Beyond the Trees » by Adam Shoalts. The sun was shining, a beautiful day, so I decided to go for a walk and headed north on Mount Pleasant.

I had only been walking for a few minutes when I passed a smartly-dressed gentleman in his sixties coming from the other direction. As he passed me, he wagged his finger in my face and began shouting at me, « You should be ashamed of yourself! You should be ashamed of yourself! » Stunned, I stopped. He kept walking. « Are you referring to my coat? » I called after him. I was wearing a Canada Goose jacket, something I purchased long before the controversy surrounding the company’s inhumane treatment of wild coyotes came to light. No answer. « Excuse me, sir, you can’t just go around verbally attacking people! If you have some information to share, please do! » He turned around and gave me double-gunned middle fingers and shouted, « Fuck you! »

I wish I could have seen the humour in such ridiculous behaviour at that moment. Instead, all I felt was bewildered and wounded. And angry. He thinks he can just shit on a random person walking down the street then scamper off scot-free? No way, Mr. Coward, not on my watch. So I followed after him.

« Sir, do you think anyone is going to be receptive to you verbally attacking them on the street? If you have information you’d like to share with me, I’ll listen! You’re being a coward! Why won’t you stop and have a conversation with me!? » I shouted  as I followed back after him in the direction from which I’d just come. He stopped again, wagging his finger in my face again. « I have to go visit a very sick grandchild in the hospital. Fuck you! » And off he scurried again. « Who says « fuck you » to a random woman on the street!? » I cried out, exasperated and incredulous.

At this point, a man from a business or restaurant nearby came out to see what was going on. It was clear something was going on from the man’s aggressive body language and the distraught look on my face. The man who had accosted me said something to the newly-arrived man, again with aggressive body language and pointing in my direction, then off he hurried again. He seemed determined to not have to face up to what he started with any intelligent or respectful conversation. Then the newly-arrived man turned to me and said, « I just came out to see if you were okay. By the way, I support the teachers. »

Oh. Right. I was wearing two pins on my coat; one that says « Class size matters » and one that says « Just let me teach. » Then, and only then, did I realize that this gentleman’s tirade, and I use the term « gentleman » loosely, may have had to do with the teacher strike and not my Canada Goose coat at all.

But, you know what? I’ll never know for sure, so articulate and effective was his attack.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

If you have a point to make, be intelligent and respectful in making it. Even if you have insightful information to share, it will get lost in an angry and rude delivery. Even people who are « right » will lose their argument if they deliver their argument in a demoralizing and condescending way. And even if you don’t change the other person’s opinion or viewpoint, you might make them think differently about some things or consider new angles if you share your viewpoint in a kind and non-attacking way. BE KIND. Always.

I think what upset me most about that angry man’s actions was that his cowardice and lack of accountability. Did he give a second thought about the ramifications of him angrily lashing out to a woman alone on Family Day? Afterward, I cried. I’m thin-skinned, it’s true. I wish he’d seen that. Furthermore, what account, if any, of this incident will he share with his friends and family? « Hey, guys, check this out! I verbally attacked a random woman on the street today and made her cry and she doesn’t even know what my issue was! Who wants to give me a high five!? » A rule of thumb when dealing with fellow humans might be this: if you can’t go home and proudly tell your friends and family how you treated someone, you  should probably re-think how you treat people. He is entitled to have his opinions and voice about the teacher’s strike and Canada Goose jackets just like I am entitled to wear that jacket and my education pins. What neither of us nor any of us is entitled to do is to be randomly cruel to one another.

The kicker of all this is that I really don’t know if it was the jacket or the pins on my jacket that caused his inarticulate, hurtful, embarassing behaviour. I guess he sure made his point!

I’ll share a quote from the introduction of my book that quite applies here. « Our shared humanity and the impact we have on each others’ lives…can happen in the briefest of moments and can be either profoundly positive or deeply negative. » This incident happened 600 meters from my home. We are a community. We’re stuck with each other and our differing opinions. You won’t always be able to hide behind a screen or scamper off into anonymity.

To that gentleman, to myself, to all of us, a gentle reminder: Think before you speak. Be able to discuss what you feel strongly about in an intelligent and respectful way. If you speak, also listen. Think about the impact of your words and actions. And, above all, be kind, man, even if for no other reason than knowing that nobody is going to listen to an asshole.

 

 

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Fear and growing in This Oasis

Machines and paved roads
Comfort and ease
Survival instincts forgotten
The adventurous soul placated, suffocated
By trips to the grocery store in a car

My heart feels the pull of wild places
And strange, new faces
My mind is clearest in the woods
In the mountains, a speck in the plains
These two feet that work, and a backpack

The freedom and simplicity of solitary wandering
The kindness and majesty of trees
Quenching my curiosity, not squandering it
Being numbed by the system, the status quo
A feast for the imagination, and a pen

Make room for my mettle
I blaze an impermanent trail
No path to lead or to be left
Never-ending wonder and discovery
Nature, and worlds other than my own

The magical allure of unknown places
Of uncertainty
Electrically alive being uncomfortable
Fear and growing in This Oasis
Beyond the paved roads, infinity…

 

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Adrift

Maybe they weren’t award-winning, but I had the fire to write them. And I liked my poems. They are finished products. And perhaps my songs are simple, but I had the affliction to write them. Finished products. And maybe my book wasn’t a best-seller, but I had such passion in writing it. And I am proud of my book. Also, a finished product. I have always written. I had always wanted to write a book, I just didn’t have that unique subject to write about, until the bike ride. The bike ride was more than three years ago. The book was published more than two years ago. Since then, I have been hungry.

I thought giving up alcohol would be revolutionary. It’s wonderful that it isn’t. I am the same me, though a little more bored. It is disappointing, because I need a revolution! The dust needs a blowing, the soul needs re-calibrating. « A precise use, application, appeal. » The love of writing, the adventurous spirit. I knew writing about the Camino de Santiago was not in my heart. I tried to write about hiking up the southern coast of France, I tried to write about my solo hike and camp excursion on the Ozark Highlands Trail. These were not in my heart, either, as it turned out. So what will my next muse be? That is the torment.

No closer to finding love, though much more comfortable without it. Nothing good ever came from being safe and comfortable, though.

Fourteen years until I can retire. I can finally see this on my radar, though not what it will look like, but I’m starting to visualize. Buy three acres in Arkansas and build a yurt? Live there a third the year, live at home in Toronto a third the year, and live in Paris with  my dear best friends, Anthony et Christophe, a third the year? Sounds charmed, and vaguely possible. Four months until summer. What will my next adventure be?

So many compass points, so little magnetism, at the moment. A little CPR for the blog, then. Not lost, just…adrift.

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Hurt

Me. My version of Hurt from Johnny Cash. December of 2018. My shitty ukulele-playing. And some production added, February of 2020. Pretty fun. And I’m dreaming again…

http://www.dropbox.com/s/mt828n2srtf4p1r/Hurt.mp3

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Nómada

What cross do you bear? Knowing that is half its weight. At least. I know mine, and for that I am grateful. For with this awareness, I can choose how I handle its heavy load. My entire life, I have always felt like the outsider, the visitor, the one tagging on, arriving late, joining in to an already established circle of friends. There are varying amounts of room left for me, both truly and perceived. I moved around a lot as a kid. I went to three different elementary schools and five different high schools. Although lonely and isolating, the outsider identity is what I know best and thus am most comfortable with. Perhaps that is why I perpetuate this status as an adult. Never in one place long, always leaving for the next quest, either alone or with newfound friends.

But perhaps being forced to face the daunting challenge of leaving old friends behind and starting fresh in a new and foreign environment gave me the insight that this can be done, fairly easily, and that it brings new learning and stadiums of fascination that nourish the young soul. Perhaps it gave me the taste for adventure that so fully fashions my lifestyle. Perhaps it opened my eyes to all the other worlds that exist not just across the map but in the next city over. I vote this interpretation; the visionary adventurer over the left-out loner. I love my life, I love the exploration and voyage. I crave the fear of the unknown and thrive there.

So perhaps my role is, indeed, the outsider, the visitor. The older I become, the more comfortable, happy, and proud I feel in a role that once made me feel strange, odd, alone. Anyway, there are much worse things than being lonely. Some do not realize the cross they carry and become buried and broken beneath its weight. Not me; I’ve become strong and the cross my raft. Perhaps there will be love. Perhaps there already is. Of course there already is. I’m overflowing with it. One week until Mexico…

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Stages of winter

Oh, the winter. Longer than a season. From clocks back to clocks forward. Eighteen weeks of cold darkness. The inspiration of summer hastily extinguishes and I rush home to escape the cold; to an empty apartment where I do nothing but go to bed way too early and feel longing and guilt for all the things I could be using all this shut-in time for. I am hard-wired to move and all this rest is weighing fearfully on a frail consciousness revealed without the distractions of doing and going and seeing and adventures. I am wasting away, every year, more than a quarter of my life. I have too much time to lament my thinning hair, my face that is cracking, my vision that is blurring. I still have my body and when I can’t use it, I am lost.

Last night was the same. I came home, poured myself a glass of wine, and settled in watching « Camille Claudel 1915. » Then I put on « La Bolduc » but fell asleep half-way through, somewhere around 9:30 p.m..

Of course I could be doing things, exercising at the gym, running up the stairs of my thirty-floor apartment building, going to the rock climbing gym, and in the beginning of this cold condemnation, I do. But quite quickly my mind disallows it. What’s the use? The dark makes me feel hidden away, the coldness makes me feel buried and my step heavy. I turn in toward myself. Leaving the house is impossible. A forced hibernation I find long and painful to endure.

Some mornings, though, have somehow eluded the deathly grasp of winter’s suffocating depression. My sacred mornings! How I love to rise before the Sun, make an espresso and bathe in the peace of a new day, free from anxiety and over-thinking. When the world is still asleep and I am awake, I feel motivated, like I am getting a head start, like today might be different. Look at this morning, after all. Here I am, writing.

Perhaps there are simply stages of surviving this curse. Stage one, I ride on the life and enthusiasm of summer’s bliss. Stage two, depression. I wallow in and am flattened by the stark contrast between the boundless energy and inspiration I know in warm weather and sunshine and the lethargy and discouragement I know in the numbing, black winter. I let it defeat me.

But today feels different.

Perhaps it is the wisdom of age, not that wisdom automatically comes with getting older but it can if you are humble and open to learning. That, I am! How I want to learn how to deal with this eighteen week sentence! Perhaps it is the lesson of being receptive rather than combative when life brings you things you do not like or understand. The Camino de Santiago taught me this last summer. Had I forgotten already? Hard-wired recidivist, I also am! Or perhaps it is remembering that, yes, I still have my body. But I also still have my mind.

It is the ukulele and the piano. It is the books and the writing, too. It is the good company I have been so fortunate to find. It is the French films I have so long been meaning to see. It is the learning to cook and how creative and fulfilling that is. It is being still for a change and not hating it but embracing it; switching gears consciously rather than begrudgingly.

Stage three, acceptance.

Six weeks down, twelve to go. Perhaps it won’t be so bad after all.

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Cages

I am mourning the loss of a loved one.

This person is not dead, it’s worse.

This person is alive and hates me.

 

Quitting smoking is never a done deal.

It is a daily victory, one I have not won yet.

 

I remember showing up to my first year of university. I had taken a year off before going.

Upon arriving I saw some familiar faces from high school whom I greeted excitedly.

“Wow,” one boy said to me.

“Wow, what?” I asked, confused.

“You were such a snob in high school.” He responded, surprised at my happiness to see him.

I was struck with a moment of relieved revelation, realizing that while I thought I had appeared so weak and insecure through those adolescent days, I had actually appeared tougher; arrogant or condescending. And I would rather that they thought that unflattering thing than know the truth of my flaws and feebleness. Though perhaps still losing the game of popularity or popular opinion, I felt some dignity restore.

They never knew, they never knew.

 

I think of this little moment from my past now as I sit with the hate of this person.

It doesn’t make it feel any better, but

I understand that hate lives in this person.

It is not me this person hates but a part of their self that I manifest and they lack.

It’s a threat, it’s a jealousy, it’s that person’s own deficiency, and the burden of all that feels much worse than being hated.

 

I have learned the difference between loneliness and being alone.

Loneliness is accompanied by sadness and a lack of control;

a feeling that you ended up there despite your plans or self-worth.

Being alone is a place you find yourself through a clear path of your own choosing.

It is quiet and solitary and can even feel hollow at moments,

but you understand that this is your will, and sadness is replaced with acceptance.

 

Today seems like the absolutely perfect day to quit smoking.

It’s April Fools’ Day, and smoking is for fools.

I have been noticing for weeks, maybe months, how much I am not even enjoying it.

Noticing, telling myself, letting logic subconsciously massage my mind…

It has been like a ritual I continue simply because I am a very patterned person.

The package of cigarettes that sits in the freezer has but one cigarette left inside.

It’s the wish cigarette, first one touched from the pack, turned upside down, smoked last.

I won’t smoke it, but I will wish on it.

I’ll wish and I’ll put into action my ardent desire to cease stupid smoking.

The Sun pours in my window and I stand facing it.

I hold up my arms and my prone palms and say aloud my plan of action like a prayer,

like a promise.

No god to seek help from, I am god, I hold the power.

And so this challenge is not daunting but empowering.

I say the words aloud, an auditory actualization stirs the Earth’s energy into the direction I want it to go.

Giving sound to thought provides a reality and a life and changes desire into fact.

 

The fact is that hate is a cage of confused anger and I won’t step into it with that person.

The fact is that loneliness is a cage of sadness and helplessness and I shall not enter there.

The fact is that smoking is a cage of stupidity and weakness and today I step out.

 

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