thunderstruck

A few days ago, I was running around a campsite, desperately grabbing electronics and non-waterproof items to throw into the car as a storm bore down on the Poconos. I threw in chargers, sleeping bags and tent bags; towels and shoes and all the detritus of a car campsite.

And all the while I was doing this, I was trying to listen and engage with a recruiter on the phone who was patiently explaining to me what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. The conversation ended abruptly when the world shook from thunder, and I dove into the front seat of Doomie, our Honda Civic, and had to say “just a moment please BEN GET IN THE CAR”

“There’s no room for me Mom!” Ben wailed back as he started to cry from fear of the storm.

That was the point where either the executive recruiter realized I wasn’t paying full attention or the phone cut out as I desperately tried to clear space in an overstuffed hatchback for my teenager to smush himself in, while rain pelted down and tree branches began to fall around us. Grateful to have only one thing to focus on, I pulled the camp pillows and sleeping bags out of the way, effectively burying myself in the front seat so Ben could get in.

My phone began to ring again just as soon as Paul jumped in next to me, shaking the water out of his newly short hair and chiding Ben for panicking instead of moving the camping gear items himself. I resumed the conversation with the recruiters, apologizing for being distracted while rain hammered down on our car and I watched the tent we had just set up shake and shudder in the storm, hoping that I could be clearly heard and that the tent didn’t blow away.

Mountain Vista Campground - Family Camping in the Pocono Mountains
Campground, minus storm. Note that this turned out to be an RV park with terrible tent options.

The next day, I sat in a damp two-piece swimsuit in a hallway outside the HR department of Camelbeach Waterslide Park, the quietest place with wi-fi I could find within the park, while I discussed with my own department lead what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. I was still thunderstruck that OMD was so invested in having me stay.

Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark (Tannersville) - 2021 All You Need to Know  BEFORE You Go (with Photos) - Tripadvisor
No, I cannot do conference calls while on a lazy river…but I am pretty sure some desperate working mother has had to do so at some point

And yet, despite having spent two and a half years at Omnicom this time – more than twice as long as I spent there the first time in 2004/2005 – I still managed to quit.

It was hard. It was really hard to redefine success for myself. There was something so satisfying about the idea that I would become successful as a thought leader at the company that I started my career with back in 2004. I always thought success looked like being good at my job at the biggest media agency, proving once and for all that I could polish myself into the sort of person who could be successful there.

195 Broadway Lobby, Retail Spaces and Galleria - Sciame Construction
I feel like a NYC success story walking through this fancy lobby to get to work. The gilding alone!

Then I realized that I was about to turn down a more potentially lucrative opportunity, with a SVP Media title, at a nerd shop where I would be reporting into a Canadian. I realized that, while I had a tremendous opportunity to drive change at OMD, the best path for me would be the path that paid the most while offering the best work/life balance for the remaining fifteen years I plan to work. And that path leads through the smaller agency that I start with next month.

I’m still kind of thunderstruck that this even happened, that I have left Omnicom a second time. But I’m on a track where I just want to retire early and go chase all the passions I have that don’t make money. I’d like to be able to finish writing a novel or two. I’d like to go back to school for urban planning or social justice. I’d like to be able to travel the world with my husband, in the time we have together. Life is too short to spend it waiting to retire, so I chose the path that would reduce the wait time.

The Old Couple Camping In The Forest To Relax In Retirement Stock Image -  Image of couple, adventure: 165994949
I’d like this to be me and Paul in a few years only we would have a real goddamn tent

Also, I have to face the fact that I was burning out so fast and so hard at OMD that I was becoming a sloppy mess. Numbers in media plans weren’t matching. Work was slipping through the cracks. I had two separate colleagues this week become disappointed with me because work wasn’t done or delivered as promised, and at my level, it’s expected that I can manage to get deliverables out with the time and quality promised. Staying at OMD would have not only burned me out from the volume of work I was trying to manage, but burned me out emotionally from constantly fearing people would resent me for letting them down or causing them more work. It would have been an ugly, vicious circle that would have continued to corrode my self-confidence.

DAVID FARATIAN - Cumbria Hypnosis | Confidence / Self Esteem Clinic
When I fail at work, half of these say LAZY and the other half say SLOPPY and a few more say MESSY BITCH for the hell of it

So I’m a little more hopeful today. Hopeful that I’ll get my brain back from where it’s been in a constant state of overwhelm the last six months at OMD. Hopeful that I’ll remember to write a bit more, or remember that I am still a creative person somewhere underneath all this corporate facade. Hopeful that I’ll be able to connect more with my husband and my son, especially as Ben goes back to school and we lose the days together we’ve had for the past seventeen months. And finally, hopeful that I’ll get a summer vacation this year, even if I had to pay for that guaranteed time off by quitting my job entirely.

Oh, and that thunderstorm on Tuesday? It ended a few minutes after I finished my call, and tapered to rain. And while I am capable of camping in the rain (hello, BC childhood!) I don’t see why I would choose to do that on my break. I especially didn’t see the point of staying at an RV park where the rationale for staying there at all was for Ben to be able to find other teens to hang out with at the pool or tennis court or other on-site activities. Obviously, with the rain, all the teens had retreated to their parents RVs to play video games. So we decided to just pack up and move to the last room available at the local Holiday Inn, where we ordered in shwarma and watched Back To The Future Part II for the second time as a family. Ben declared it the best money I could have spent that day. All’s well that ends well.

the beginning of the after times

Well, that’s it: the CDC must have had one too many White Claws this weekend, because the masks can come off for the fully vaxxed.

Unless you are on public transportation.

Or you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re a science-hating conservative.

Or you just don’t want to look like an asshole who doesn’t care about public safety. So I guess the masks cannot come off and I will be matching my masks to my outfits for a little while longer. (Everything I wore in Summer 2020 was black and white polka dotted for a reason.)

I still feel like we’re in the Beginning of the After Times. When we visualized this moment, back in the spring of 2020, when the first wave was subsiding, we thought we knew what the After Times would look like. We thought one day, the schools and theaters would open, the streets would fill with tourists, and NYC would throw the biggest party since VE Day.

Now, we’re not so sure what the After Times look like. The day to day life of Brooklynites seems to be coming back tentatively, as the city creeps up towards the halfway point of vaccinations. Some night, like tonight, I walk through Prospect Heights, and there’s a quiet sense of jubilation in the streets, like everyone considers it a small victory just to be out on a nice night in May.

I hope we don’t lose that sense of gratitude as we slowly inch back towards the normal pace of life in the city. The theaters and the schools are the last two major areas that remain either closed or reduced. But those will be both open by September: there are opening dates for Broadway now and the schools are holding parent forums on how to safely reopen at full capacity. (TAKE MY CHILD NOW NYC) The restaurants and bars have been spilling into the streets for weeks. The subway is going back to 24/7 and actually has people on it again. Everywhere I look, I see the city slowly regaining the sense of self that really only comes from its citizens.

Still, we’re not quite in the After Times. I’m not sure what will even define the After Times: will it be when we end the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID? Or will it be when we feel like time passes normally again? Right now, I still don’t feel like time passes the same way it did in the Before Times. It seems to pass too quickly or not at all. My perception of time stops and starts in a way I haven’t experienced since I was home on maternity leave. I still have a sense of being disconnected from the world that causes me to either look up and realize it’s May 14th already, or wonder why last May seems like it was three years ago. Time is hard to measure right now because we don’t have all the little differences from day to day that we used to have two years ago.

I also won’t feel like we’re in the After Times until I’m able to go out in a group of people again without completely freaking out. I just spent the past twenty five years re-wiring my brain to not short circuit in large groups of people. But now, the sensation of being in a large group of people I don’t know is overwhelming. I feel simultaneously invisible and vulnerable, and it’s challenging to remain calm and present in a large group. Maybe this will change over time, or maybe it will vary with my comfort level with the environment. Would I be okay in a goth club because that is my habitat? Is this a wiring left over from a childhood fear of rejection by groups? Do I now have to put the time and effort into actually figuring this out and trying to calm my brain like it’s a spooked horse?

So, I walked home tonight, past clusters of people out carousing on Flatbush. I took my mask off when I got to Grand Army Plaza, so I could smell the greenery in the park, and so I could actually feel air on my face. And for the first time in a year, it felt like the After Times were actually approaching, and in fact, might already be here for some people. I expected that the After Times would be like the Day the Rain Stops in Vancouver, when we all agreed, usually in early April, that the rain had stopped. It would rain again, but the winter rain, the Long Rain, was over. Now, I’m realizing that we will not have a consensus like that when we come back from COVID. This is a once in a century experience, not an annual change in seasons that every Pacific Northwesterner is attuned to. There are still people grieving those lost to COVID, for whom the impact is forever. The symbolism and the milestones may also be different for everyone, as we look to regain the parts of our lives that are most important to us. But we’re at the beginning of the After Times now, and it’s a time of cautious optimism trending to all out joy I’m grateful to be here for.

from zit remedy to downtown sasquatch: a multi-generational degrassi journey

Many, many years ago, when Paul and I were much younger parents, we discussed how we were going to handle talking with our child about all things related to puberty and being a teenager. Paul did actual research into the topic, and ended up purchasing a copy of “It’s Perfectly Normal”. I, on the other hand, did exactly zero research and instead announced that I would just plunk Ben down in front of reruns of Degrassi Junior High, as is the tradition of my people.

It’s Perfectly Embarrassing That This Book Even Exists (according to Ben)

Paul chuckled indulgently at me upon this declaration and did not believe that this plan would work for our American-raised child, especially after we actually did try to run the show for a ten-year-old Ben. Our then 5th grader announced that he hated the original episodes from the 1980s, and that this was the most boring show ever. He was marginally more interested in the 2001 reboot, called in true nerd homage style Degrassi: The Next Generation. Those kids at least had computers and the Internet and modern clothing, whereas the generation I grew up with were weird and boring!

Degrassi Junior High (Series) - TV Tropes
These kids are not hip with the musics of today (the first generation of Degrassi Junior High circa 1987)

Part of this problem was that the first generation of Degrassi kids were not consistently trained as actual actors, . Degrassi Junior High, as most Canadians know it, started in 1987 as a follow-up to the CBC “after school special”, The Kids of De Grassi Street, which ran from 1979 to 1986. Unlike the American shows though, none of the Toronto children who appeared first in in Kids, and later, in Degrassi Junior High, were really full time actors. They were Toronto kids, the same age as their characters, who showed up on weekends in a working high school to appear in what would eventually become a cornerstone of Canadian culture.

In contrast, the kids of the Next Generation, the reboot that started in 2001, were actors who could consistently project emotions. And while the first few episodes leaned heavily on the adults from the first generation (now turning thirty in 2001) to provide context and continuity, the show quickly transitioned over to the rising 7th and 8th graders, born in the late 1980s when the first generation was in junior high. Degrassi: TNG initially centered on one 7th grader girl who had been born to an 8th grade mom in the first generation of the show, but the plots quickly expanded to cover a dozen 12 and 13 year olds and their stories within the first few episodes.

Obviously, I didn’t watch TNG when it came out in 2001. I was a 23 year old grown adult, and even with the nostalgia factor, I had no interest in watching a show about teenagers. Therefore, when I flipped it on as a 40 year old grown adult, I was immediately engaged in finding out what happened to the characters I had grown up with. Ben, however, was very engaged in the story of the 7th grade boys, the pre-teens like him who were still focused more on goofing off than on chasing girls. This led to a lot of me yelling at Ben to shut up because I wanted to see what happened to Lucy after Wheels almost killed her drunk driving in the 1992 series finale, while Ben complained that the adults were getting too much screen time and he didn’t think we were seeing enough of the kids.

Unfortunately, we only had one season of the 2001 episodes that our then 5th-grader could relate to before the kids aged up a year. When we moved on to the second season, the actors and their characters aged up to grades 8 and 9…and four episodes in, the show took on date rape. And while TNG had already covered pedophiles on the Internet, recreational use of Ritalin, gay parents, taking Ecstasy, and Not Having Sex Before You’re Ready, those were still “light” issues compared to the physically abusive parent and teen date rape narratives that opened the second season. These traumatic storylines were more than Ben could process as a 10 year old, and as he was really just not that interested, we decided that we would take a break on the show until he was old enough to understand it. (Also, Paul was genuinely shocked by the intensity of these episodes. I think this was when he realized the show was just going to go for broke on every issue possible without sugarcoating or cutting away from very traumatic depictions.)

Cut to quarantine in Toronto this fall: with Ben and me in lockdown, I decided to take a second try at the show together. We re-watched the first season, and 12 year old Ben was much better equipped emotionally to connect with the narratives for both the 7th and 8th graders. When we got to the second season, he was able to process and take in the much more emotionally intense and traumatic situations the now 8th and 9th graders were facing. And suddenly, my seventh grader was very engaged with a Canadian government subsidized teen drama where every episode was a Very Special Episode. Also: baby Drake when he was a duckling!

Ben was so into the show that he and I started bingeing episode after episode while in Toronto in December. We continued when we got to Pittsburgh for the holidays, as I attempted to explain the show to my American in-laws. We kept going after the holiday break, watching two or three episodes a day even as the kids aged up into grades 10 and 11, and the issues became more complicated. I would use the subject matter to introduce topics to Ben, and then reference back to It’s Perfectly Normal to reinforce the biological aspects where necessary. I got to work in all the topics, across the major areas of Coming of Age. We hit everything from teen pregnancy to coming out, from gay bashing to drug use, from child abuse to gender stereotypes, from studying science to inappropriate boners. (side note: nothing I have had to discuss with my child has been quite as mortifying as explaining to him what the term “boner” refers to…except maybe the plotline where I had to explain how a character contracted oral gonnorrhea)

Degrassi: The Next Generation Season 2 Now Available On Youtube – Kary's  Degrassi Blog
Apparently in 2001, all 7th graders looked like a Zellers catalog.

Finally though, as the characters became older, the scenarios became more complicated, and Ben and I were both concerned that he would not be able to relate for much longer. In Season 5, when a character considered plastic surgery for her acting career and I had to explain breast implants, we decided that these issues were too mature for a seventh grader. We had to find a new option to watch, where we could show kids Ben’s age again. Without a viable modern option, I opted to try again with the first generation. This time, despite the “weird” clothes, and the complete lack of technology (not even an Apple IIe!), we discovered that kids had the same problems in the 1980s as they (probably) would in 2020 (if there wasn’t COVID!) Kids still struggled with being accepted! Kids still struggled with pregnancy and drugs and drinking! And most of all, high school kids still struggled with being honest and vulnerable thirty years ago! Who would have thought that being a GenX teenager was every bit as emotionally challenging as being a Gen Z teenager?!?

So after retreading the stories of Canadian teenagers born in the 1970s (ME: “Ben, these kids are only a year older than your dad! This is what high school looked like for us!” BEN: “MOOOOOM NO STAWWWWP”), we had covered even more issues: abortion, being sexually confused, the stigma around AIDS, and teen suicide. The original Degrassi Junior High was light-years ahead of its time with a commitment to covering genuinely uncomfortable issues, and some episodes that addressed homosexuality or abortion were even banned in the United States. The first generation featured real-looking teens who wore their own clothes and did their own makeup, and represented a wide socioeconomic range of East Toronto, and even if that was because CBC clearly had no money to pay for wardrobe or makeup, it made the show that much more authentic, especially compared to American contemporary shows like Saved by the Bell and 90210.

More importantly, Degrassi covered issues that were so relevant, I remember watching key episodes about pregnancy and AIDS as educational supplemental videos in Health class in Grade 10. Paul, wandering in and out as we plowed through the original Junior High in January, even remarked he was surprised how progressive the show was. I got to be a Smug Canadian (TM) about how my country subsidized this particular teen drama and brought issues to the forefront that are still underrepresented in American media. Degrassi Junior High reinforced the Canadian cultural mosaic message of the late 1980s by including first generation Canadian kids in their cast, covering both the stigma of the Vietnamese boat refugees as well as racial slurs against a Nigerian-Canadian boy, both within the first two years of the show. Junior High even worked in a storyline about accepting a gay older brother in 1988 (who would never be seen again), and featured a significant arc about de-stigmatizing homosexuality and AIDS in Degrassi High in 1990. These are all values our son takes for granted, as immersed as he is in the progressive ethics of Brooklyn, but as we keep having to explain, even as recently as the 1990s, these narratives were important to humanize the very real issues seldom shown on national TV.

Even starting over with the original kids only bought us a few weeks though and Ben and I eventually ran out of time with his age range as the 7th and 8th graders approached grades 12 and 13 (Grade 13 was still a thing in Ontario in the 80s and 90s). Ben decided he wanted to try again with the older kids in the newer show, so when the first generation ended with the School’s Out! movie, we resumed TNG already in progress with Season 5, taking a little extra time when necessary to discuss the challenges outside of Ben’s pre-teen frame of reference.

Throughout the series, Ben has related to some stories more than others, and has been more disturbed by some plotlines than others. He found it very hard to watch the infamous school shooting episode in Season 6, in which Drake’s character is shot in the back and paralysed. Still we’ve consistently kept watching, even as the show managed to veer into the ridiculous several times. As TNG picked up steam in the early aughts, the commercial network behind it began to syndicate the show to the USA, and needed new hooks to keep the audience growing. This gave us one of the worst and least realistic narratives when CTV brought in Degrassi superfan Kevin Smith to guest star in a half-dozen episodes across two seasons, under the premise of filming a fictional installment in his franchise called Jay And Bob Go Canadian, Eh!. This is only worthwhile because it led to this hilarious scenery-chewing cameo by famous Canadian Alanis Morissette:

Even as the show started to spin off from After School Special into into Teen Soap Opera style drama, it still covered what I just started referring to as VALUABLE LESSONS (TM). Every day, Ben and I would watch a few episodes and then I would quiz him on what valuable lessons he had learned. Every episode includes at least two plots, with Plot A featuring the Tough, Thorny Issue of the episode and Plot B being the lighter, more day-to-day story. Multiple plotlines means lots of conversation points to work with, almost all of which result in Ben eye rolling and mumbling “mommmmm, stawwwwwp” at me while I pause YouTube and inform him that if he wants to keep watching, he will listen to me sidebar about the relevant topic. I’ve even been been able to work in our son’s responsibilities as a cisgender male, which include:

  • CONSENT. EVERY TIME. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Don’t ever make another person feel like they need to consent to sex for you to like them!
  • Watch your female friends’ drinks so they do not get roofied!
  • If you get a girl pregnant, your role is to support her through HER decision!
  • Be a good ally: stand up for your friends with less privilege than you!

We also learned other VALUABLE LESSONS universal to all kids:

  • Tell the truth, because people will find it out anyways and then it will be WORSE
  • Drugs are a bad idea every time, but prescription painkillers are significantly worse than marijuana
  • Having sex before you’re ready will mess your brain up because hormones.
  • If an adult is making you uncomfortable, trust your instincts, get away from them now and tell another adult you trust
  • Do not be an idiot on social media because it will backfire and cause you to get socially ostracized or suspended from school or both.
  • Do not sext or encourage other people to sext because naked photos will never go away and will end up being distributed to people you did not intend them for.
  • Did we mention consent?

In both the first and second generation though, I believe that that the producers never meant for the show to run more than a couple years. In the first generation, the 12 and 13 year olds in 1987 ended with a made-for-TV movie centered on their 1991 graduation, and no new characters were introduced to keep the series going. In the second generation, the characters who were 12 and 13 in 2001 didn’t end their narrative until their first years of college (which allowed me to plug the Canadian university system)…and then the show had to contrive a plot to bring new 10th graders in for Season 7 to re-fill the cast. By Season 8 in 2008, the kids still aged up, and graduated high school, but the show stopped following graduates to university. Instead, new 9th and 10th graders would show up every season until the “Next Generation” kids from 2001 were completely aged out, and the show became just Degrassi in 2010. Around the same time, seasons went from twelve episodes to over twenty episodes and eventually to over forty episodes per season. The episodes are still 23 minutes, but there is just a lot more of them.

This extension into the “telenovela” production style is a byproduct of what I call “America Money”: the transition to MuchMusic in Canada and Nickeodeon in the USA. By 2008, the show was radically changed from the 12-episode season CTV-based series that started in 2001. Gone were the cheesy synthesizer soundtrack themes, initially replaced by in-show music clips from CBC3 indie bands, but then expanding to feature five or six songs from major labels per episode (I just heard Imagine Dragons on an episode Ben is watching). The show’s production values increased, with the school suddenly acquiring more elaborate facilities beyond the original handful of classrooms. More episodes means more commercial airtime money after all…but it also requires more drama to fill those episodes, and the show became a full on teen soap opera, ending Seasons 6 and 7 with made for TV movies that took the characters to US cities (Degrassi Goes Hollywood!, Degrassi Takes Manhattan).

Even with the format change and 200% more drama though, show still covers VALUABLE LESSONS, and features groundbreaking narratives for a mainstream TV show. Very few teen shows in 2010 would heavily feature the story of a FTM trans boy, but Degrassi had one struggling to just to use the boys’ washroom. However, the format change also means that Ben has been plowing through at least four episodes a day since he hit Season 9 because it feels like there is a never ending supply of teen drama to watch. We’re in Season 12 now and we still have at least a hundred episodes on the MuchMusic/Nickelodeon run before we even get to Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix. We’re also on at least the seventh teen pregnancy plotline, the second school shooting, and the third character with a self harm/cutting problem, so the show is retreading over its Greatest Hits pretty hard. The timeline has also only allowed for coverage from Facebook (“Facerange” in Seasons 9 onwards) and MySpace (“MyRoom” in Seasons 6 and 7) to date from the social media sphere, because we’re just not at Instagram or TikTok until Next Class.

After four months of watching though, I am still surprised by Ben’s interest as neither Paul nor I thought our son would be so enthusiastic about this show. He is genuinely engaged with these narratives and situations, mostly due to the effects of COVID. After all, Ben hasn’t been in a school situation for a year now. He misses being with other kids his age, the teens and tweens he’s used to seeing every day at school. Watching a TV show every day with kids interacting in a very authentically awkward (albeit scripted awkward) way makes him feel like he’s still able to pick up some of the social behavior examples he’s missing at school. Degrassi allows him to see a dramatized version of what social interaction looks like for kids in the grades immediately above him. He is so into the show that even the use of the over-dramatized situations as teaching tools for his parents to bring up HORRIBLY EMBARRASSING TOPICS is acceptable if we can just watch another episode. And Paul has acknowledged that this actually was fantastic parenting on my part to just plunk our kid down in front of a Canadian television show because it covered way more VALUABLE LESSONS, and with much more emotional impact, than my American husband thought a TV show could. (Canada: Telling Teens It’s OK to Be Gay Since 1986!)

Now, after almost 300 twenty-three minute episodes, we’ve covered teen problems from four years of GenXers (born 1965-1980) and twelve years of Millennials (born 1980-1995), and we’re just getting into the later Degrassi and Degrassi: Next Class years that feature members of Gen Z (born 1995 – 2010). Just as Paul and I are among the youngest GenXers, our son, born the year I turned 30, is one of the youngest GenZers. This is why it’s disappointing that Netflix canceled Next Class in 2018, just as the students started to include children born in 2000, but before the show could include children born after 2005. It’s also a strange parallel that, just as the original generation ended with characters born five years before I was, the Next Class ends with characters born five years before Ben was. The most time we’ve spent has been with the seasons featuring characters born in the mid-90s, halfway between each of our generations. But so long as they have cell phones and the Internet and their clothes aren’t weird, Ben can relate to them, and we’ll just keep on covering all the teen issues until we run out of time and only see these characters in Drake videos.

Finally, for those GenXers who followed the original generation: Snake is now the principal of Degrassi Community School, like he has been placed under a curse that prevents him from ever leaving the school. And he eventually married Spike, and became Emma’s stepdad, and stayed friends with Joey Jeremiah and yes, we did have to hear the occasional rendition of “Everybody Wants Something” even as late as 2004. (Thankfully, all the high school bands featured in the show since 2001, have been actual bands with more than one song.)

You can find all the seasons of Degrassi except for Degrassi High (1990-1991) and Degrassi: Next Class on the official YouTube channel (along with plenty of best/worst, first/last, etc videos https://www.youtube.com/user/epitomedegrassi). You can find the original Degrassi High and its finale movie Degrassi: School’s Out! on YouTube but you’ll have to hunt around for them. Finally, you can find Next Class on Netflix, although these kids all seem to be in their 20s like the producers decided to 90210-ify it. And no one seems to have a good source for the original Kids of De Grassi Street, which I 100% would have made Ben watch if I’d been able to find it when he was younger so HEY CBC GET ON THAT.

the value of normal

One week ago, I had a day that felt like a normal day. It was a Tuesday. I woke up early (not by choice), did a live Peloton class, showered, blow dried my hair, and went to work. I worked in my office for a few hours, then walked up to Sweetgreen for my lunch salad. I left work at 6:30 for drinks with my friends at a bar in SoHo, after which we walked to a bar on the Lower East Side for a nightcap. It felt like the kind of day I could have had any any point before 2020, and I came home energized from it.

Since March of 2020, we’ve all learned to place a high premium on “feeling normal”. In New York City especially, I think we have a heightened appreciation for the idea of normalcy. So many of the things that we associate with this city have disappeared or been radically changed by the pandemic: the subway, the arts, restaurants. Even the most basic of New York necessities, the public space, has changed. All of those third spaces that we used to go to when our tiny apartments closed in on us, have been rendered inhospitable. Whether it is the privately owned coffee shops or the publicly owned libraries, a workspace or a bar, the idea of shared indoor space is gone, and with it, much of our lives in the city.

After ten months, the idea of returning to any of those third places is intensely appealing. There’s a sort of muscle memory to normalcy, the feeling of being in a non-pandemic world that goes with a presence in a third place. While I am home, I am constantly reminded that my son and I have both compressed our lives into our apartment, with Ben doing remote learning from the couch, and me constantly trying to replicate my office a few feet away. When I am at the office, even though it is empty, it feels like a normal workday. And more importantly for me, it also feels like I am there to be my working self, not trying to stretch between two identities, dividing myself constantly between my personal and professional existences. That was the work/life balance I was used to before the pandemic: being able to exist in one state or the other, based on the physical location I was in.

So last Tuesday, I worked a full day. (Okay most of a full day, as I also spent an hour chatting with a woman on the office maintenance team about our teen kids and how much Biden seems like a far nicer person than the outgoing president.) Then I hopped on a J train and booted it up to the Bowery to meet my friends at Feliz Coctelería. We had booked what is being referring to as “mezcal cabins” for a ninety minute seating. “Mezcal cabins”, fyi, translates to “backyard greenhouses with holiday decor”.

You can rent a private mezcal cabin in Nolita for the holidays
This is the most of the exterior of the mini-greenhouse I could find in any promotional photo

I applaud the creativity of New York City restaurants in creating individual spaces for households or other integrated COVID pod groups to sit in! There are bubbles, yurts, tents, all sorts of structures throughout the city. But the most popular does seem to be the suburban backyard sized greenhouse, that square structure, usually about 6 x 6, that just holds a party of four at their table for their adorable holiday hot drinks:

Hot toddies and one carrot–and-mezcal cocktail in the snowman (mine)

After we were done with our cabin, we wandered the Lower East Side for a while, looking for another open bar with decent options. Of course, it was deserted: the combination of cold and COVID on a Tuesday night does not exactly encourage nightlife. After ten minutes of wandering though, we stumbled upon Attaboy, where my friends were able to order another round. (I am old and therefore stopped at one-and-a-half cocktails rather than dig myself a hole for Wednesday). But even without ordering myself, I was able to vicariously enjoy the experience of going to a bar, telling the bartender what you enjoy, and having a drink mixed to your taste. Even sitting outside, in a wind shelter, it still felt like we were at a bar, in that shared space. It was an experience that, while chillier, greatly resembled a pre-pandemic night out.

We finished our drinks (I had a club soda), and then walked to the B line and went home…but I was practically giddy when I walked in the door. I had had what felt like a normal day. I had a day in which I went to work, accomplished actual work, and then went out with my friends. I left the house for well over twelve hours, during much of which I was able to forget that there is still a deadly pandemic happening around me, and the price of mine & my fellow New Yorkers’ safety is to have our lives reduced to fragments of what we used to have in this city.

Such is the value of normal right now. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see more normalcy as the rates come back down again, as vaccinations go up, and as the city re-adapts to the post-pandemic world. Normal once would have sounded boring. Now it sounds inspiring.

will we all be ourselves again in 2021?

Ben and I are back in Canada again. We put in our 14 days in self-isolation before moving over to my sister and her husband’s multigenerational home. We were welcomed with open arms after our two weeks in the AirBNB we returned to for this second quarantine, a few minutes away. However, unlike the last time we were here, this lockdown took place during American Thanksgiving. I took the part of the spirit of the holiday to heart, and opted to catch up with friends and family. And even in conversations that might have otherwise been awkward, given how many years have gone by, this year there is no shortage of material, because in 2020, we have COVID-19. Even for my friends and family who have not had direct experience with the disease, the impact of the pandemic on society is the common denominator for everyone I know.

I tell the same stories repeatedly with regard to the pandemic, all of which end with “…and we were so lucky.”. We were lucky that neither Paul nor I ever got sick. We were lucky that no one we knew who had the disease actually died from it (although we do have friends who sustained serious lung damage.) We were lucky that neither of us lost our jobs. We were lucky that I was able to work from home at a time when Ben needed me. We were lucky that Ben was in middle school and able to manage remote learning (mostly) by himself after the first few months. We were lucky in that we had almost no direct, personal losses from this horror show.

And most, if not all, of the people that I talked to last weekend have similar stories. In Vancouver, the lockdowns and closures have been similar to Toronto and New York for the past few months, even if the infection and death rates are lower. All of us, in our major cities, have all transitioned to outdoor activities and social distancing. Coming from New York, I have a slightly more extreme story, from the first few months of illness, when the numbers skyrocketed and it felt like an apocalyptic event. I can tell the story of that shared city-wide trauma when we all helplessly watched the hospitals fill with the most vulnerable and committed New Yorkers. As an individual though, my story is still one of privilege.

Still, this shared event has impacted us all. And in the US, we had the pandemic coupled with the presidential election, a season of stress and fear that the very fabric of democratic society was going to tear out from under us. Canadians watched the election with only a small amount of emotional distance, fearing an overflow of white nationalism or the economic and cultural impact of seeing the United States tear itself apart. And so, the twin fears of the pandemic and the end of democracy loomed over all of us this fall to some extent, as we all struggled to keep ourselves going with our day to day. I feel as if everyone has been in their own personal struggle, together and yet alone, knowing we were all impacted, yet being unable to pull back from our own individual degrees of madness.

Now, we’re seeing the first rounds of vaccine coming out, and have hope that after a very long winter there may be a suggestion of normalcy on the horizon. The election is settled and we are almost at the end of the lawsuits that the outgoing president seems determined to inflict on the country as part of his final grift before leaving. And once these two terrifying crises are over, will we all be able to be ourselves again? How do we go back to the people we were before everything fell apart?

For most of 2020, I don’t feel I’ve been myself. I had to narrow my field of vision, keeping myself focused on just getting through each day, unable to look up or around for fear of being completely overwhelmed by just how much of a dumpster fire America has been. For four years, we’ve gone about our daily lives, all the while with the vertical shadow of Trumpism over us, a giant sun blocker set up exclusively for the personal profit of its enactor:

If there was a way for the president to profit from it, I’m pretty sure this would have happened IRL

Then, we had the horizontal landscape domination of COVID, which took over every aspect of our lives. We’re still watching our city slowly falling apart under the strain, with so much of what makes New York wonderful cancelled in order to save the lives of more New Yorkers. The impact of COVID is overwhelming when I look outside my own little family. This is why I feel like I’ve been wearing horse blinders for the past nine months. Seeing too much of the world would have kept me from going forward.

Blinkers (horse tack) - Wikipedia
We all needed some sort of blinders in 2020

So as we wrap up this year, and as I talk to friends, I have to wonder whether we will go back to being ourselves in 2021. Who are we without these two huge, overshadowing disasters? Who were we in the fall of 2016, before nationalism put a would-be oligarch in office? Who were we even in February of this year, before we began to live under the impact of COVID-19? Can we go back to being ourselves in 2021 and if so, what will we even talk about without these all-encompassing disasters?

the junk drawer of the brain

I’ve had a lot of metaphors for how I’ve felt since the COVID-19 crisis started. The most frequent I use for myself is an image where my mind is clogged with short pieces of thread, a drifting mass of incomplete thoughts that I am constantly trying, and failing, to braid together into coherent strings. This is often at its worst when I have not taken the time or headspace for myself, which I need in order to focus on smoothing all those little pieces of thread out. Once I parse through my thoughts, I can often transform all those incomplete fragments into substance that can be subsequently spun into extended threads of consciousness. It’s a new condition for me, because while I am used to writing to make sense of my thoughts, I am not used to having my thoughts this fragmented.

My brain has become a junk drawer.

This isn’t a new condition, but seems to be worsened by two separate factors, both circumstantial from the pandemic. The first is from my professional sphere, combination of task switching and call overload that is killing my discipline to focus. My job often requires a lot of task switching, but the virtual nature of my team has resulted in a substantial uptick in how many times I am task switching per day. With a dispersed team, we are all IMing each other instead of engaging in person at the office. This results in more interruptions and task switches, as we can no longer rely on the visual clues of a person at work to better time our messages with their breaks from flow. We also IM much more because of the lack of hallway conversations, an inability to chat with each other in natural conversations that would be far more efficient than the all-day random Teams chats we use as a substitute. The result is a constant switch between Microsoft applications. I feel my ability to focus on just writing a PowerPoint is deteriorating as a result.

Eliminating Task Switching to Improve Productivity of Teams
The knowledge worker at the best of times.

The second factor is from my domestic sphere. It is the nature of being the person at home, working, with a child in the house. Let me preface again here, I have a child that requires far less effort than he would have two years ago. He’s able to log himself into Google Classroom and Hangouts and get through his own day. He sets up his own playdates in the afternoon and bikes (or scoots) to play dates and sportball practices all by himself. He logs himself in to his online activities: D&D, comedy, guitar. But even with all this, I am still constantly identity shifting throughout the day between Boss Lady and Mama. I’ll come out to refill my water bottle and find Ben sitting on the couch, camera off, reading instead of participating in class. I’ll find him procrastinating assignments or playing Words with Friends during school hours. I’ll realize that it’s 2pm and while I have been eating protein bars and leftovers at my own desk, he has not eaten lunch yet because he was too distracted reading to eat. And while he tries not to bother me, if I am not in a call, he will come in to ask for permission to watch TV or shift his Fortnite time from the weekend to a weekday.

Fortnite for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details
“No, child, you may only pursue your highly addicting game on weekends”

All of this is exhausting and is training my brain to expect to go from one task to another instead of remaining in flow. Flow is that state of being on which I wrote a solid blog post a couple years ago, the week before I started my “new” job at OMD. Here is the TED talk that also summarizes this state:

I need the efficiency from a flow state to get through my day as a knowledge worker. Being in flow is also where I really create the work that shows the talent and intellect that powers my career. Like much of my childhood, my career is partially built on a reputation for being “smart”. The pieces of work that showcase my intelligence are built in a state of flow. Without being able to go into that state, where my ideas come together into a narrative and where I’m able to put something together that ties together all the tech and details that go into the back-end of my job with the concepts that make up the front-end of it, that is where I excel.

Transforming knowledge workers into innovation workers to improve corporate  productivity - ScienceDirect
Insight, information and knowledge all require focus

Where I am struggling now is that all of this disconnect, all of these short attention activities, do not deliver the value to my work that just being present and paying attention does. It’s multitasking on calls, it’s spending more time flipping through emails, it’s being unable to work consistently without getting distracted doing stuff that is kind of worthwhile but not worthwhile in the context of interrupting my workday. Part of this is just having too many things to do (did Anthem process the claim for Ben’s doctor visit? is OptumRX sending my prescription?) but part of it is that the quick tasks feel easier than the longer tasks, and surfing for weekend getaways or quarantine AirBNBs feels easier at any time than working. Now that my brain is in this horrible place of constant disconnect and short-term procrastination, it’s exceptionally hard to be present in ways that reinforce my value at work, much less get anything worthwhile done…and those are the losses and misses that are ratcheting my anxiety up…and anxiety is exhausting.

I could now go into all the ways I am going to fix this, but I think instead of that, I am going to process this for the weekend and re-set the habits and behaviors. Maybe it’s just putting a “BE PRESENT” post-it on the wall behind my computer. Maybe it’s resuming meditation. Maybe it’s focusing on goals, not tasks. I am pretty sure it is all these things and more, but something has to change to combat the clutter that I feel my head is just constantly stuffed with every day.

perspe-x-tive

I have lobbied for years to be included as Generation X. I associate most with the generation that came of age just in time for the post-post punk that became termed as “grunge”. My husband, born in the mid-70s, is squarely in the GenX timeframe. My late 70s birthday was, for years, debatable as GenX vs. millenial, with the original GenX cutoff being 1977. My argument was that, because I graduated high school in 1994, with kids born in 1977, I should be counted as culturally Generation X. Finally, in 2014, Good Magazine coined the term “xennial“, and now GenX has been re-defined as being through 1980. I am therefore Generation X, and can lay claim to that culture in its entirety. This has never been more relevant than it is right now:

It’s still a little weird being among the youngest GenXers though, because so many of the cultural touchstones of the generation are really five or ten years before my time. I got to thinking about this lately because I subscribed to Luminary so I could listen to the Roxane Gay/Tressie MacMillan Cottom podcast, and ended up also listening to “Break Stuff: The Story of Woodstock ’99“. For most of my life, on the very rare occasions I thought of either festival, I would think of my generation’s event as being Woodstock ’94. I always thought of Woodstock ’99 as being for people who are younger than I am, like the elder Millenials. Then, this week, I realized that most of that festival’s attendees were between the ages of 18 and 25 at the time of the event. Meaning these people, who went to this exceptionally awful festival all about nu-metal, are literally exactly my age. Why did I always think of this festival as being for people who were not born early enough to be part of what I think of as “my” generation?

Part of my mental distance from the pop culture of 1999 was my status as a full fledged ADULT (TM) at the time, just like all the other GenXers who started their careers in the 1990s. I was living in Texas in 1999, a college dropout with a car and an apartment, trying to climb some mythical corporate ladder that I didn’t quite understand, because I just wanted each rung to take me further away from high school. My mid-teen years had been an absolute disaster, and even a couple late-teen years of Reasonable Bohemian Normalcy weren’t enough to redeem the concept of youth. I wanted to be an adult fast. I wanted to get away from all the youth culture so I could get away from my own expectations to fit in as a Young, Cool Person. It was with the smugness of an adult that I read the MSN.com reports of Woodstock ’99 at the time, thinking “oh, those crazy kids!” as I saw the video of the fires and looting and broken stuff. (I went back to being a young person a couple years later when I returned to UBC in 2001, but that’s a different story.)

The bigger reason that I’ve always had a mental distance, as well as a sense of smug superiority, to separate me from attendees of Woodstock ’99, is that I am highly judgmental of the two awful genres that came after “grunge”. I remember in the years after high school as the music industry desperately scrambled for a replacement for first Nirvana, and then, by 1997, Pearl Jam, when the latter left the spotlight in protest of the industry. The music industry promptly filled in the gap with nu-metal and pop-punk, lifting up genuinely terrible (and often misogynistic) music to fill the liminal space between post-punk and classic hard rock that the Seattle pantheon of bands had filled. And most of the “alternative” music of the late 1990s is terrible.

Look, I know there’s someone reading who probably thinks the late 1990s was a great time for music. And I even recognize that a lot of these bands are made up of talented and hard working individuals. that these late-90s bands all worked hard to pay their dues before being headline acts. However, I will never accept that the nu-metal bands, exemplified by Korn and Limp Bizkit, have the artistic or aesthetic appeal of an Alice in Chains or a Soundgarden. I will also never accept that the pop-punk bands of the late 1990s (with the exception of Green Day) have the same appeal as the post-punk bands of even five years before. And I will never accept the existence of Kid Rock. As far as I am concerned, most of the genre lumped under “alternative” music could jump from 1994 to 2003 and with the exception of Fiona Apple and Garbage, I doubt I would miss anything.

It is these kind of cranky old person rants that put me squarely in the camp of GenXer.

The other aspect of my GenX status is my early adoption of technology. I have had an email address since 1994. I have had a cell phone since 1997. When we think of a tech early adopter now, we think of someone who gets on the latest social media platforms. I was such a tech early adopter, I got on the internet before it was a thing, without even using AOL to do it. I remember a text only internet as it transitioned to Netscape. I remember when the Internet was for engaging in actual discussion and not oversimplified arguments!

This is one of the other keystones of Generation X: we are also referred to as the “Oregon Trail Generation”, a generation who grew up with personal computers and then transitioned seamlessly onto the Internet. I’ve been working in digital for a career since 2003, which is not even a decade after the first banner ad appeared, and I remember placing media buys on Excite.com. Some of these huge sites from Web 1.0 that don’t exist anymore or are so radically altered as to be irrelevant, I am old enough to have put ads on them. That career starting point, along with my encyclopedic knowledge of 90s Simpsons episodes and Seattle grunge bands, should be my GenX resume.

The final reason I disconnect so much from the late 1990s and insist on a retroactive cultural association with the pop culture earlier part of the decade (even though I was a hopeless nerd completely disconnected from the zeitgeist at the actual time) is my pervasive sense that, by the year 2000, we were trending back away from any promise of inclusivity, cultural or gender, promised in the earlier 1990s. Perhaps this is the jaded view of someone who doesn’t want to do a ton of research right now, but in the early 1990s it felt like we were seeing more perspectives, more representation in pop culture from non-white groups. By the late 1990s, it felt like any responsibility for inclusion had fallen by the wayside, as the North American culture tried to convince itself that we had reached a point of equality and therefore didn’t need to do actual work for equality. By the year 2000, colorblindness would prevail over any active anti-racism, and third-wave feminism would be transformed into a weak “girl power” glitter sticker.

So this is why I cling so much to my status as a GenXer, and despite my love for tech, kind of wish it was still 1994 some days. Maybe the trajectory of the 1990s is where history went wrong. Maybe the existence of the super-white, super-male, super-violent festival that ended the decade should have been a warning sign that we needed to fight harder and make the 2000s about representing other voices, other perspectives, other visions, instead of assuming a neutral stance and throwing our collective hands up in the air. Maybe we should have realized that the Internet should have some sort of learning based barrier to entry so the lazy and gullible would have less access to it and we wouldn’t have elected the worst president ever. Maybe being a GenXer is a way to keep my nostalgia point fixed at a time in history when we thought things were going to get better, not worse. I’m not sure. I will, however, continue to happily place as much blame as possible on Boomers until such time as we get the first GenX president and might actually have to take some accountability for everything that’s happened since we got old enough to not care.

the lassitude of lockdown

I have been looking for a good word to capture the inertia of the past thirteen days in Toronto, the time Ben and I have been spending on hold, waiting out our time in self-isolation. There is an exhaustion to it that I couldn’t quite describe. Eventually, I started looking at synonyms for lethargy. This time has been slow, but not languorous. Languor implies a more pleasant state of tiredness. Lassitude seems to sum it up better:

It is easy to enter this sort of scenario, as we did so much of the pandemic, with the best of intentions for self-care and self-development: journaling, meditation, education. Instead, I have found myself too mentally exhausted on any given day to do anything more taxing than watching Netflix. The first week, I was barely able to get through the four days I had committed to work, and spent Friday zoned out with my twelve year old, unable to ask him to practice his self-care regime when I clearly was not practicing my own. By the end of the day, I had sunk to watching romcom movies while drinking wine, as if I were some sort of cultural cliche, a metaphor for fortysomething women in the pandemic.

A contributing factor to this exhaustion is my current bout of insomnia, the kind where I wake up at an inappropriate hour, and then cannot convince my body it is time to sleep again for three hours. I usually read during this time, until I’m sleepy again, and then I will try once, twice, three times to fall asleep. Each time, I’ll take off my glasses, turn out the light, close my eyes and try to sleep. Each time, my brain revs back up, convinced that I have to be awake at that moment, and I’ll turn the light on and resume reading to keep myself from descending into a whirlpool of anxiety. I am usually able to fall asleep again for a few more hours, thus capturing 6.5 or even 7 hours of sleep for the 9 or 10 hours I’ve been in bed, waking up when Ben does at 8. This week, the hours I wake up have been later each day, culminating in 5:15am today, a point where I just decided to stay awake and read.

I have to ask though, what is causing my insomnia? Why am I so consistently anxious and charged with cortisol that I cannot even sleep through a night without my body chemistry waking me up? I feel as if I am constantly in a state of adrenaline rushes, fight-or-flight, or in a state of anxiety where I am waiting for the next stressor to attack. Paul wisely suggested that the state of lockdown is something of a callback to the trauma of March and April, where we all watched New York City shut down and reach its pandemic peak, fearing for our friends, our neighbors, our very city. I also feared for my job at that time, as my agency underwent layoffs. Perhaps the parallel is why I am hyper-sensitive about my job performance again this week, staying up until 10pm to answer emails, self-berating for not performing at my peak throughout the pandemic as I go through old, uncompleted action items.

Both the cause, and the result, of the poor sleep are the same: it is exhaustion, through and through. And yet, I feel I am returning to life a bit more this week. I spent Sunday in an almost-normal state, working through a course on Aboriginal Canada and then spending time in the yard of our AirBNB with my mother for her birthday. We have been fortunate that our hosts here are campers, and we often have unfettered access to the yard on weekends:

Subsequently, I have felt a little better each day. Each day, I have been a bit more focused, a bit more committed, a bit more willing to engage in activities that have more meaning than the mindless consumption of television or novels from the first week. Much of that activity is still work, as I clear out my Outlook at the end of each day while listening to podcasts. Still, as we edge forward towards our release from lockdown, and as time resumes meaning, there is a sense of moving forward again. With that motion, I am more motivated to take action: to turn off the TV and write, to do the HIIT workouts I promised myself I would, to continue the slow, life long development each of us undergoes as we engage with the world around us.

Tomorrow, we are released from lockdown. I cannot wait to run again. I cannot wait to be able to go to a grocery store. Perhaps this mental inertia is due to physical inertia being forced on me and my son. Back in May, I reflected on the absence of choice, how the pandemic took away so much of the dynamism of each day by reducing our options and making our lives flatter. Being in a two week self isolation period has reduced our choices even further. I cannot wait to be able to appreciate the choices I will have again after tomorrow. Perhaps when time has meaning again, this lassitude will lessen.

I miss the Salish Sea

In 2010, the Canadian and US governments made a decision to recognize the “Salish Sea”. This is the network of waterways that meander from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the southern end of Puget Sound. It includes the Strait of Juan Fuca between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula as well as the Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.

Salish Sea Bioregional Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail ~ Map ...

I am from a city at the heart of the Salish Sea. Growing up, I thought that Victoria would never change. I thought even Vancouver was reaching the apogee of its change when I left in 2004. Now, I have to say that the cities on its shores are the places I used to know by heart. Not because those maps and vistas and landmarks have faded out of my heart, but because those places have changed. Victoria has moved into its future, and has become a real Canadian city instead of the lost British colony it was for so long. Vancouver has become even glassier and more unattainable for my generation to stay in.

I am growing used to change in my homeland. I am adapting to the idea that these places cannot stay the same as they were in my childhood. And I have never lamented change on the Island so much as I regret that I am home so rarely as to be surprised by it. Even changes a decade old are new to me, like the SkyTrain extensions or the Olympic Village in Vancouver. Vancouver Island has changed less than the Lowe Mainland, as it is is made up of a series of towns built on exploitation of natural resources and indigenous peoples in the 1980s and 1990s. As the exploitation subsides and those industries run out, the Island will change. As Vancouver continues to be more and more expensive and more difficult to live in, more of my peers will take their families over the Straits, and the Island will change.

In order to adapt to change in British Columbia though, I have to actually see it. My family were supposed to be in Victoria a few weeks ago, together. My sister, mother and I were supposed to be bringing everyone to our home. We were supposed to stay four days in our old neighborhood in Victoria, followed by four days in Parksville and one in Vancouver. We wanted to revisit the magical time we had with Ben and his cousins last summer on the shores of the Salish Sea.

MAGICAL I TELL YOU. Kids in Bastion Square, Victoria

Obviously, this trip did not happen for a myriad of COVID-19 related reasons, not least of which was that we did not want to risk bringing COVID-19 onto Vancouver Island. We canceled all the flights and hotels ages ago, accepted the loss as a minimal event in the upheaval of April, and moved on. It would take a lot of entitlement to complain about not going on vacation, especially in the wake of the disaster and mass death that is the spread of the coronavirus. To complain about my inability to travel to a high-end hotel would be a whole new level of self-centered. The only appropriate reason to publicly lament a lost vacation would be to express regret at not being able to spend tourist dollars in an economy that depends on that income.

“Disappointed,” however, is how I might have expressed the sentiment felt at the loss of a trip to any place but BC. “Grief” feels closer, even if it is “grief lite”. It’s sadness, it’s a sort of longing, it’s homesickness. We are lucky in that we are not grieving a loved one, like so many families this year, and we are only grieving the loss of time with our loved ones. It feels like the culmination and the apex of all the longing I’ve had to just be with my family during COVID is represented in the loss of this trip to BC. We had hoped to be together in the place where we are all most at home, where my sister and I are most ourselves, in the place we know by heart. We were supposed to be together, on the shores of the Salish Sea, the place where we scattered our father’s ashes. We were supposed to there with our mother, our husbands and our children, connected to the islands we know by heart.

Instead, we are still separated, and still unable to say when we will be able to return to British Columbia. I am here in Toronto, back in Canada, but still in self-isolation for one more week until Ben and I can actually hug our people. We are still not able to be with our family, and can only wave at them when they kindly stop off to bring us food or games or books to make the quarantine more bearable.

It still feels a little safer here than in the United States, knowing I am home, knowing I am back in a country that places a higher premium on the common good than on demonstrating individual liberties through an absolute lack of compassion. Being in Canada, especially since 2016, always makes me feel at ease, as I slip back into the emotional pajamas of the culture I was raised in. I know Canada isn’t the kind, accepting, cultural mosaic that I always wanted to believe it was, but it’s a kinder, more accepting, and more welcoming place for diversity than the United States. That’s a low bar, but it’s still always comforting to be in Canada.

Right now though, I would give almost anything to be home, in British Columbia, on the shores of the Salish Sea, just to have the solace of being in the place I love the most in all the world, at a time when the world is at its worst. I have never regretted my decision to leave, and to go out into the world, because I belong in a much wider world than the cities of the Salish Sea. I still miss my home though, every day, and losing my time there to COVID-19 has amplified homesickness into a sense of loss that is hard to move past.

Add it to the list, I suppose, the list of the hundreds of cuts that bleed my emotional strength every day. Compared to the fear for my neighbors and for New York City, this should be a minor concern, a small loss. And yet, at a time when every emotional impact lands in a different way, when the world wears on each of us in disparate, yet consistently exhausting ways, I grieve for that lost week on the shores of the Salish Sea in a way that is greater than the loss itself. I physically feel the loss at a higher intensity than I typically feel the low level of homesickness that has dogged me at every step of my journey in the States.

I do not have a path that takes me back to any of the Salish Sea cities, nor do I intend to create one. I only hope that the world rights itself soon, and the movement I took for granted, the roads and ferries back to my homeland, is restored to me and my family.

how capitalism ruined my birthday

Note: I am being somewhat “facetious” or “tongue in cheek” about my birthday being ruined. I just like pointing out where capitalism has had negative impacts on what our society considers a special day.

I turned 42 on Wednesday. Whereas my birthday have been becoming lower and lower key over the past few years, this year had low-key-ness imposed upon it by the Canadian government. Ben and I are waiting out our mandatory 14 day waiting period in an AirBNB suite in Toronto, about a kilometer away from where my sister, brother in law, nieces and my mom live in Baby Point. It should be noted that the Canadian government are not messing around with this, as unlike the shelter in place in NYC, going to local parks for exercise or local shops for necessities are not permissible activities. Between the actual law, and the justified concerns of my extended family, we are therefore on lockdown with limited exposure to the human population of Toronto.

These were all anticipated mitigating factors on my birthday. And at the time we planned the trip, knowing I would be in lockdown on the day itself, I accepted these circumstances. After all, it would relieve a lot of the pressure on the social side of the birthday, meaning that I wouldn’t have to agonize over scheduling an event in the time of corona. I thought would be able to quietly celebrate with my son, under the radar, and save the big celebration for next week with my family. My mother is the 23rd of August; my brother in law is the 28th, the same day as our release from lockdown, therefore prompting a family celebration. I would therefore just ignore the date, and choose to enjoy my birthday at the appropriate time.

Then we had the Great Uber Eats Debacle and my entire perspective on my birthday changed. Ben and I had ordered sushi for lunch from a local restaurant, using Uber Eats as the laziest option. The order arrived slightly early, prompting me to send Ben upstairs for the contactless, outdoor pickup, as I was still on a work phone call with one of my client’s bigger, more valuable media vendors. Ben triumphantly returned…with only one of the ordered lunch combos. I immediately called the driver, to let him know we had not received the entire order. The driver insisted that we had to call the restaurant to sort the situation out. When we called the restaurant, the business owner was then upset because she had absolutely given the driven the correct order. I continued to text and call the driver, to no avail. Stymied, hungry, and with limited lunch time, I decided instead to burst into tears, collapse into a puddle of cortisol, and give Ben the only delivered combo so at least he would get to eat before returning to comedy.

I continued to Tweet and email Uber to remedy the situation, and the driver eventually texted back and informed me that he had been given the orders and directions from the restaurant and it was clearly the restaurant’s fault for not giving him the correct order. When I asked if the driver could possibly bring the extra meals back, he informed me that he had delivered them to the subsequent customer and that I would need to sort this out with Uber and the restaurant.

This did not resolve the bigger issue, which was that it was my birthday lunch that had been given to another customer, and I had had limited time to eat said lunch before resuming my workday. And while Uber was willing to promptly refund me the cost of the items not delivered, they refused to refund delivery or platform fees. So as I understand it, I ended up missing my lunch, the restaurant ended up losing the cost of the items mis-delivered, and the driver lost his tip. The only entity that made money on this entire transaction was the megacorporation that set its own rules and standards.

It took me some time, as well as an afternoon snack, before I was able to fully think through why I was so very angry about this situation. Part of it was that the driver could very well have checked the receipt that was stapled to the bag we received when he handed off the food. Part of it was that he could also have called the restaurant or done a double-check when I first alerted him to the issue. My bigger issue was why he didn’t take either of those steps at the time, and chose instead to continue on his path to incorrectly deliver my birthday sashimi combo to the next customer on his route. This is where capitalism, and the gig economy, conspire to overshadow the entire incident. My hypothesis is that Uber’s failure to take accountability for the people whose labour they exploit contributed to this debacle in two key ways:

  • The gig economy pays by the job, not the hour. Uber pays based on an algorithm of time and distance. Any additional investment of time by this driver would put his next delivery and his daily earnings at risk
  • Uber offers zero training for their Eats drivers. The entity making the profit here should have been responsible for communicating the delivery roster to the contractor they parceled out the work to. The driver should have been taught to check a receipt or check off the items in an app rather than rely on the restaurant staff and the potential language barrier inherent there

Thinking through this entire issue made me take a step back and re-evaluate who pays for the convenience of these apps, and how that might change or impact the behavior of the contractors who provide these services. Is the Uber Eats system partially responsible for the loss incurred across the board by the restaurant, the driver and me? Or is the driver just a jerk? Perhaps it is both, as I am not willing to discount the impact of the gig economy on this situation.

Taking a step back, I also have to question where else the capitalist system is responsible for my inability to celebrate my birthday appropriately. There’s no question that capitalism and fiscal gain have driven the US response to the coronavirus, as the federal administration have prioritized a return to a “normal” economic state over further lockdowns. Trump has also empowered states to determine whether or not those decisions should be made on a state by state basis, resulting in decisions motivated more by fiscal policy votemongering. The resulting patchwork of inconsistent policy has resulted in continued resurgence of the disease, with almost three times the infection rate of Canada (even Canada’s right wing newspaper confirms America has horribly botched the response!). Hence: the border closure, and the forced self-isolation for all returning Canadian citizens.

I am basically in lockdown because America’s leadership chose to roll the dice on people’s lives in order to preserve the gains made from the extreme capitalism of the current administration.

I’m not sure if capitalism entirely ruined my birthday. I received dozens of kind texts and Facebook posts from my friends. My mom attempted to make the day special within the restrictions of the law. My family will still celebrate me after lockdown, and my friends will still want to connect with me for a very belated party. However, between my beloved socialist democratic homeland having to put me on lockdown because of my sojourn in Capitalist America, and the gig economy exposing itself as a failed system incapable of delivering my sashimi, capitalism definitely put a major dent in my birthday.

Finally, I would like to note that we re-placed our sushi order through SkipTheDishes.com today, and received the correct order. Both mine and Ben’s lunches were still intact and beautifully presented, and our delivery person took the time to properly wear a mask and set down the food for contactless delivery. We were very pleased and recommend Tokyo Sushi for their lunch specials going forward.