Friday, June 26, 2020

Pandemic life: Three long months and counting

I've started a couple of posts since the pandemic hit Nova Scotia in mid-March but haven't got round to finishing them - largely because the drafts felt too negative or whiny somehow.  Here's the most recent effort:
What I've learned from the pandemic: 
People's grasp on reality varies widely - even when they listen to exactly the same news reports - based largely on what they want to believe and what they see directly in front of them. 
The human capacity to normalise both good and bad stuff that happens can't be overestimated. We are masters of avoidance and self-deception, and largely unable to come to grips with our own mortality.  
Greed, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other blights manifest in endlessly creative ways.  
Even low levels of anxiety take an enormous toll when they go unrelieved for months. I no longer remember what it's like to wake up without a sinking sense of dread. 
Grief and guilt at being one of the "lucky ones" is sometimes more painful than fear. 
See what I mean?

It's not that there isn't plenty to be angry, scared and upset about. God knows, reading the news these days feels a lot like reading dystopian science fiction.

And it's not that I feel particularly obliged to be positive all the time. I don't. In fact, I often wonder whether all the memes, websites and self-help books flogging positivity are sponsored by people who'd prefer we not think too hard about the root causes of what makes life difficult for many of us.

I guess it's because blogging feels a little pointless. After all, if we're nearing the end of human life on the planet because of climate change, the coronavirus, and corrupt and incompetent governments around the world, what's the value in me sharing my few marginally coherent thoughts on a blog or anywhere else? It's not as if many people are going to read them.

But then I remember why I started this blog in the first place - which was, to motivate myself to think - really think - about what I ought to be doing with my life.  Twelve years on, I'm not sure I've made much progress in that regard - though the fact I'm pickier about the topics I tackle may mean I've learned something along the way. 

As I write this, I'm sitting on our back deck at the end of what's felt like a long tough week. A moment ago, a robin caught my eye as it flitted across the sky to perch briefly on the lowest branch of a massive white pine that grows just behind our house, before dropping back to earth to resume his search for a pre-dinner snack. In the foreground, there's a small cluster of daisies swaying gently in the afternoon breeze. I'd like to tell you that all I hear is birdsong, the wind in the trees and lapping waves on the riverbank, but the truth is the road past our house is a busy one so those natural sounds are too often drowned out by cars and trucks roaring by.

Still, I'm glad there are so many birds visiting our property these days - where it's relatively safe for them, as well as for bees, butterflies, and other critters. In the ten years we've owned this place, we've never used pesticides, and are now working with a local company called Helping Nature Heal to begin transforming it into something even more environmentally friendly - a micro-sanctuary - by re-wilding most of the lawn, reintroducing a mix of native plants, and protecting and planting more trees. The project was inspired in part by a documentary film entitled The Biggest Little Farm and in part by a couple of books I picked up at the library, including The Living Landscape.

When we started, the space in front of our house was a dreary bit of ground dominated by an overgrown spruce tree and mostly covered in moss. With the initial work done, we're already seeing positive changes. For the first time in years, I caught a glimpse of a firefly the other night, and we seem to have a wider variety of birds and butterflies than in the past. Added to which, there's the joy of watching newly planted shrubs, trees, and plants settle into their new homes. Here are a few pics of the work done by HNH in the area we now refer to as "the Meadow".

So far, the biggest changes have taken place at the front of our property, which folks see as they drive by, and I have to say it's amusing to watch their reactions. Last week, a young man pulled into the driveway to ask if we'd like to hire him to mow.  I said, "No, thanks, we're letting the grass grow on purpose", which I could see puzzled him. Others appear just as bemused and intrigued by it all. It's not a typical approach to landscaping for sure. And its not exactly neat and tidy, which is just as well since, outside my veggie beds, I'm an intermittent gardener at best.

Whatever the outcome, I'm glad we're using this pandemic time to make a small peace offering to Mother Nature.

So that's it for today, friends - a few rambling thoughts to let you know I'm still here trying to work out what's worth writing about. Hope you and yours are safe and well, wherever you are. Love to hear how you're coping through the pandemic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Worth Reading: City of Girls

Image result for city of girls 
I stayed up way too late finishing Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls before I went to sleep last night.

Mulling it over as I climbed the stairs to bed, I realized I found most of the characters and much of the plot completely improbable. Why then did I stay up so late to finish it?

To begin with, because it contains an assortment of wise and insightful passages like this one:
"When we are young, Angela, we may fall victim to the misconception that time will heal all wounds and that eventually everything will shake itself out. But as we get older, we learn this sad truth: some things can never be fixed. Some mistakes can never be put right -- not by the passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either.

In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain -- yet somehow, still, we carry on."
And this:
"This is what I've found about life, as I've gotten older: you start to lose people, Angela. It's not that there is ever a shortage of people -- oh, heavens, no. It is merely that -- as the years pass -- there comes to be a terrible shortage of your people. The ones you loved. The ones who knew the people that you both loved. The ones who know your whole history."
And I couldn't help but fall in love with the main characters, who, despite their many flaws -- or perhaps because of them -- radiated love and compassion for those around them. It seemed to me the story was one long lesson in the giving and receiving of grace - something the world could surely use more of.

Of course, since it's a Liz Gilbert book, all the earnest stuff is packaged in a rollicking good story, set in a intriguing time and place, lyrically told, which makes it perfect reading for a long winter's night by the fire, or lazy day on the beach. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Happy New Year - 2020!

I haven't blogged much in the past year, despite the fact I'm retired now and should have more time for writing. I'd like to think 2020 will be different but, honestly, I'm doubtful it will.

Still, I've decided to try writing something to kick the year off. After all, I used to enjoy blogging and it's a good way to exercise my writing muscles.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I've been up to since I retired the end of January. In some ways, retirement's exactly what I expected. My retired friends told me I'd feel a bit lost and confused for a few months at least, and that's certainly been true.

It's also true that I've been far busier than I expected. I've picked up a larger share of household tasks, spent more time with the dog, completed a couple of short consulting gigs, tackled some long-postponed projects (such as sorting photos and other memorabilia, started a couple of new ones (including the Nanny Project), joined a local choir and a photography club, began swimming again, read a bunch of books, and volunteered time to work on environmental justice projects - all things I hoped to do when I retired from working full-time.

But there are a few things I really wanted to do that just haven't happened - for example, running and blogging regularly, editing the novels I drafted a few years back, playing my guitar, knitting, quilting and getting back in shape.

Running has been a challenge because my body got really cranky last winter and it's taken awhile to figure out what it needed to feel better. I haven't figured it out totally yet but regular chiropractic treatments, gentle yoga, and closer attention to my diet seems to help, so I'm hoping I'll feel up to running more regularly in the year ahead.

When I stopped to think about why I haven't written much, I was surprised to realize it wasn't that I had too little to write about, but rather that I had too much! I think about writing nearly every day and compose countless stories and articles in my head, but somehow I never get round to writing them down - mostly because I have no idea where to start.

There's another issue around writing for me these days, which is that many of the topics that interest me are damned depressing. I desperately want to participate in ongoing conversations about climate change, political populism, democracy, and inter-generational tensions, for example, but I'm only rarely able to summon the necessary emotional and psychological energy to do so. 

So, then... where to go from here?

I'm not starting this new year feeling especially optimistic or upbeat. It's hard to feel good about the future with so much bad news coming out of Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

That said, I don't see much point in despair. It won't get us to be where we need to be to overcome the environmental and other challenges we face. As George Monbiot noted in a recent piece published in the Guardian, those already dealing with the impacts of climate change haven't the luxury of despair and soon we won't either. The same is true of cynicism.

Given all that, I've decided to adopt "lift" as my word for 2020. Lift as in "raise up", "brighten", "improve", "move to a higher/better place". My intention is to try lifting my own spirits and those of others so that we feel more hopeful about the future.

I'm still figuring out what I mean by that but I think it includes sharing good news about efforts underway to tackle climate change, being patient and supportive with those who are - consciously or unconsciously - dealing with their own environmental grief, finding things to celebrate amidst the deluge of bad news, taking and inspiring action, and filling my own cup so that I don't run out of energy before the job is done.

Here's a little doodle I made while meditating on the word "lift".  I don't think it's finished yet, but it highlights many of the activities, interests and attitudes I intend to make a bigger part of my life in the coming year.

What about you, dear readers? What are your intentions for 2020? How are you coping with environmental grief? Have you adopted a "word of the year"? If so, what is it? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Retirement Lessons: Harder than it looks

Nearly 5 months in, I'm just starting to get my head around what it means to be retired.  It's harder than it looked before I took the plunge - mostly because the days aren't anywhere near long enough to do all I want to do, but also because things haven't unfolded exactly as I expected.

To begin with, I spend much more time doing household chores than I imagined - which is only fair, given that Husband did the bulk of them during my last few years of work. Still, I didn't anticipate how much time chores and puppy care would consume each week.

Then there were the all the long-postponed projects to contend with - clearing out the attic, disposing of unwanted items, planning renovations, organizing photos and memorabilia, researching my grandmother's life, etc. Each of them has taken far more time that I thought it would. I've made a good amount of progress on most things but I'm still a long way from finished.

Then there were the psychological and emotional challenges of my new status - glad to be retired but anxious to make positive contributions to family, friends and community and struggling to nurture good mental health in the face of seemingly insurmountable environmental, political and economic injustices.

And finally there were a number of physical issues to contend with. I'd presumed the aches and pains that had plagued me for years would disappear immediately once work was behind me, but of course that hasn't happened. In fact, some issues became more troublesome when I returned to regular exercise. As a result, I'm nowhere near as fit as I hoped to be at this stage - though I managed to run a 5 mile race in a respectable time this morning - and the arthritis in my hands, feet and knees is making everything more difficult.

Don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly recommend retirement, and am deeply grateful I'm able to do this. It's just that I don't feel completely comfortable with it yet. Retirement feels a bit like early adulthood, in as much as the possibilities feel endless, but that there's a greater sense of urgency too - urgency that stems from realizing I have only a few years left and wanting to be selective about what I do with them.

Whatever the future holds, I hope I continue to appreciate the beauty, love and kindness that remains in this world. After all, it's the stuff that makes life worth living.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Five Questions for New Year's

Another new year and this one promises to be more interesting and fun than the last few given that, as of January 31st, I'll be embarking on new adventures as a retired person. I haven't quite figured out what I mean by "retired" but, with a bit of luck, I'll have plenty of time to do that.

On New Year's Eve, my friend Janet sent an email with five questions to reflect on as the year drew to a close, and I thought it would be fun to answer them here, then ask you to do the same.

1. Best moment of 2018?
There were plenty of great moments - seeing Mamma Mia at Neptune Theatre with my mom, sisters, nieces and friends, sleepovers with my sister's daughters, touring Ireland, hiking with another sister and her daughter in Canmore, visiting with good friends, enjoying beach suppers with my folks, and attending the King's Chapel Choir Christmas concert, to name just a few. But the moment that stands out is the moment when, driving down the highway just outside St. John's, Newfoundland, we received a text from our realtor telling us we had a firm deal to sell the city house.We were totally over-the-moon! It changed everything because it was the first step towards restructuring our lives so I could give up my day job and we could live in the country full-time.

2. Best book?
I had a hard time with this question because I haven't read much outside of work the past few months. However, looking back, I realized there were two books that really affected me - Jann Arden's Feeding My Mother and Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad about My Neck. Jann's book is a moving account of her efforts to care for her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, interspersed with recipes and photographs. I found it especially moving because I witnessed my father-in-law's struggle with the same disease. Nora's book was recommended by a friend. It too is an intimate little book,  though much more light-hearted, filled with laugh-out-loud observations on what it means to be a woman of a certain age - of any age really. It especially affected me I only realized after I read it that Ephron had passed away 2012, which was hard to fathom. How could a person with so many advantages, and such humour, insight, and zest for life be gone so soon?

3. Best lesson?
This year was chock-a-clock with lessons -  many of which weren't particularly pleasant. For example, I realized how vain I was when I got bizarrely stressed about having surgery to remove a small skin cancer from my cheek. And that age was winning when I suddenly developed arthritis in my hands and feet. Fortunately, there were happier lessons too - like how much fun it is to play theatre games, and how good Guinness tastes when it's properly stored, served in a fancy glass and enjoyed with friends in a small Irish pub. Overall, though, I'd have to say the best lesson this year was that the time has come to free up more time in my life for the people and things that matter most.

4. Best buy?
The truth is I bought very little stuff this year - not even running gear. Ever since we sold the city house, our focus has been on disposing of stuff rather than accumulating more. Given that, I'd have to say my best buy was our air tickets to Ireland. Those tickets provided months of joyful anticipation and heaps of happy memories that will last a lifetime.

5. Wish for 2019?
I have two. The first is that I'm able to create the new life I'm dreaming of - one that enables me to be more active, engaged, creative, and compassionate. The second is that, in the face of the environmental crisis, people around the world come together to take action before it's too late. Yes, I know the second seems a bit unrealistic. But - hey - we have to be able to imagine a better future in order to build it.

And what about you, gentle reader? How would answer these five questions? What books should I put on my reading list? What lessons did you learn? What are your wishes for 2019?