I am a big fan of the Thursday Next series, the alternate reality, extremely British series by Jasper Fforde. Last year, I read his new, even more insane book, “Early Riser“:
The basic premise of “Early Riser” is that everyone hibernates, like bears, through the winter. Society is therefore structured around the hibernation season: eating more leading up to winter, surviving the winter without starving to death, and shutting down everything that isn’t absolutely essential during the winter season. For those of us with seasonal depression, this actually sounds like a fantastic idea as it would relieve 100% of the pressure on us to function during the winter months.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a society structured around winter hibernation, and as a result, I have to keep functioning until the time change and vernal equinox in March. With depression though, I have to expend twice as much energy to accomplish what feels like half as much work. It is difficult to start an activity or action, and I do not feel any sort of joy or sense of reward from completing it. With the commitment level that I have in my life, I then feel stress, anxiety and guilt for not having completed the tasks that I owe to other people, whether that is at my paying job, my volunteer work, or to my family. The resulting pressure mounts up over the next few months and by March, I’ve usually hit a wall:
This year, however, I’ve been blessed in that spring seems to have come early to the Northeast. The weather this weekend has been sunny and brisk, but not freezing. The world is filled with light and early blooming spring flowers. I feel like I am waking up, like my hibernation is over, like it is mentally safe to emerge and take back on my usual day to day existence without having to fear that I won’t be able to honor or complete my commitments. We may be doomed to changing weather patterns in the Anthropocene, but at least the 2020 weather patterns are benefiting me personally!
Still. I wouldn’t mind a hibernation period every winter. I would love it if nothing was expected of me every winter for about three months, while I slept and allowed my brain to rest and heal itself. Perhaps someday I’ll be in a position where I can align my life with the seasons, allow myself not to fight and struggle as hard as I can against the constraints of depression every winter. Perhaps I am made to hibernate. Between the idea of hibernation, and the concept of literature as a driving force of society, Fforde is onto a lot of alternate reality ideas I would be happy to get behind.
Many, many years ago, back at a small agency called Integrated Media Solutions (now integrated into Assembly at MDC), one of the agency owners thought it would be smart to put “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters around the office. My immediate smart-ass response was to purchase a “Now Panic and Freak Out” T-shirt
It’s a good thing that I still have that T-shirt, because this mentality has taken over the entire world this week as the coronavirus panic spreads across continents. My college friend who is now in Basel, Switzerland is waiting to be put on quarantine. My former co-worker in Melbourne, Australia is trying to buy supplies at the local grocery store only to find bare shelves. And here in New York, lines for Trader Joe’s are two hours long, while the Park Slope Food Coop volunteers frantically try to keep the shelves stocked. Y’all, it is not even a real apocalypse and you’re all terrifying me in your survivalist style hoarding.
I am rationally not afraid of COVID-19: Paul and I are both young-ish and in good cardiovascular shape, and this particular disease only manifests as a bad cold in 80% of the population. What is terrifying is the global response that triggers my anxiety from years of reading flupocalypse novels. I’ve read The Stand at least four times. Station Eleven captured me with the intensity of its characters and vision, an elegy for the world as we know it today. Severance struck me with the comparisons of nostalgia and routine comfort to a fatal disease. All of these are haunting novels that portray the extreme transformation of the human aspects of the world due to the spread of a highly contagious flu, and I have absorbed each of them. Hence my low grade fear and anxiety as everyday people around the world engage in preventative actions that could well be from any of these books. It is too easy for my brain to connect the coronavirus preparations being taken in NYC to plot points taken out of an apocalyptic narrative.
Most recently, I read Kimi Eisele’s The Lightest Object in the Universe, which is described as “hopeful apocalyptic fiction” for its depiction of communal living and support among neighbors. However, the book opens with a quick history of how the infrastructure fell apart, depicting a series of economic and environmental factors, including the flu, leading to the breakdown of electricity and supply chains:
Eisele’s factors are more Snow Crash than the Stand, with hyperinflation and oil supply chain breakdown. While the complete breakdown of the supply chain and power grid may be unlikely in the immediate future, the impact of the coronavirus on the world economic markets has made me feel that we are all more financially vulnerable than we would like to think we are. Seeing the impact of the virus on the world’s economies, combined with the obvious drain on the supply chain from stockpiling for quarantines, it is a reminder that the reason dystopian fiction sells so well is because we are always only two steps away from society potentially breaking down, with or without without the electrical infrastructure we’ve built on for the last century.
In the event of a breakdown of society in the U.S. though, my family unit is better poised than most to survive thanks to our experience in the Scouting and Guiding systems. I have never been worried about mine or my loved ones’ survival. Rather, I have been worried about having to deal with everyone else acting like a crazed maniac in irrational attempts to survive. Seriously, New Yorkers, you are buying bottled water and stripping stores bare over one confirmed case in Manhattan where the woman is already quarantined. Stores are sold out of what I still call “SARS masks”, even though less than half the population bothers to get a flu shot. I can’t find the statistics but I would bet money that the same people who are preparing for the flupocalypse are also not washing their hands any more frequently than before. What kind of mayhem would result if this disease had a higher mortality rate than 2.4%?
Fear of the disease has become irrelevant in the wake of the imminent disease strike in NYC though, so we’re preparing for quarantine at home. We’ll stock up on dried beans and rice, canned tuna, frozen and long-life storage vegetables. We’ll prep to work from home, or to have stores around us closed, because we can. I am more concerned for those who cannot take time off, or who cannot afford to stockpile, or both. Food pantries are worried about providing supplies to people in case of a quarantine. Care workers, especially those working with vulnerable populations like the elderly or hospitalized, are already underpaid and given little time off – is it any wonder that the outbreak in Seattle is centered around a seniors care facility? We have set up a society where we have a massive working population whose pay and vacation are so limited that they literally cannot withdraw from contact with others at the risk of food and shelter insecurity. It is meaningless to have a quarantine in a society with this level of inequality. Perhaps, after all, a societal collapse is not only imminent, but needed: a panic and freak out for the ages.
This weekend, I found myself with an unexpected block of time on my hands. OMD closed on Friday for the day, giving me a four day weekend. Originally, I had planned to go to a BTC3 camp in Virginia, as a trainer, to assist there as needed. (“BTC3” aka “Brownsea Training Camp v3.0” is the B-PSA weekend experiential training for leaders). However, with 12 trainers and only 7 attendees, I wasn’t actually needed at the camp. Still, I wasn’t particularly needed at home, either: both Ben and Paul have gone to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit Paul’s family. Without work, without my men, without even my friends (who all left town this weekend), I was suddenly left with four days of unscheduled time.
Fortunately, I have never had a problem filling time. I always have a zillion things I would like to be doing at any given moments, but due to the limitations of time and energy, I find all those things difficult to actually get to in the course of a day. So I promptly filled up the weekend with a whole list of things I wanted to do, and then got to about half of them, which is par for the course.
I started my weekend, however, in Pennsylvania, visiting my friends the Northeast Commissioners for B-PSA. Basically, it was Scout nerding out for sixteen hours. As the NYC Commissioner, I oversee the biggest concentration of Scouts in the Northeast, and working through how NYC as a District works and integrates the Northeast as a region has required some discussion. Also we all love talking about just general Scout stuff, like hikes, songs, skits, get togethers…and that’s just for the adult Scouts. Talking about shared visions for our particular organization is also one of my favorite things ever, and I loved being able to visit my fellow Commissioners and talk through all the things we want to do.
Also, we got to go to Longwood Gardens, which is seriously like an American Versailles, except it doesn’t have a chateau. But it does have both formal water gardens as well as meadows and treehouses. It reminded me of Versailles because it had both sides of the planned garden experience: the formal gardens, and the composed countryside, almost like Marie Antoinette’s hamlet
After walking the gardens though, it was time to say goodbye. My fellow Commissioners were packing up their Pathfinder and Timberwolf and heading to BTC3; I was heading home to NYC. Of course, despite the day off, I was still on a schedule: I had had to cancel my Thursday lunchtime session with my anxiety therapist due to a client call no one else had the knowledge base or authority to cover. I had rescheduled to Friday at 4:15 and, assuming that I might not have time to go to Brooklyn and park the car, I chose to pre-book parking as close as possible, near my office in Lower Manhattan. And the timing actually worked out perfectly: despite a slowdown in the Holland Tunnel that appeared during my half-hour snack-and-pee-break in New Jersey, I made it to my appointment at exactly 4:18pm.
After I finished at 5pm though, that was when my free time really started. I had the car parked until 10pm, was already wearing my workout clothes, and had taken advantage of a ClassPass “two weeks free” offer. It was time to go do some sort of trendy workout where I would be the oldest and heaviest person in the room! Enter FitHouse!
I then decided to get a CitiBike, which I almost never use because I prefer my own bike. CitiBikes are heavy, and it is almost impossible to feel like myself when riding one. I’m used to flying down a street, leaning over my handlebars, my center of gravity ready to swerve between cars, my hands and elbows loose to absorb shocks when I hit NYC potholes. CitiBikes force me to sit up straight in a way that makes it impossible to merge with the bike like it’s an extension of myself, like how I feel on my bike, plus I have to have my arms out with my elbows almost locked, which is much more jarring. However, needs must when in the city, and I just wanted to get from Tribeca to Bryant Park with a stop at Trader Joe’s for a picnic.
Why Bryant Park, you may ask? Bryant Park was where I was going to see the “picnic performance” of Othello, a Shakespeare play I had not seen before, but one where I was very curious to see. Why did Shakespeare choose to tell the story of a black man? How did this reflect the emerging globalization of the times? What cliches about racism remain consistent to this day about black men? Put into the modern American context, Othello raises a lot of questions – which may be why the play directors chose modern America military dress for the men, with white outfits of varying modesty for the women.
After Othello, I was out of time on my parking, and so, I headed home: across the Brooklyn bridge, back to Prospect Heights. One thing I had not considered, however, was the impact of the West Indies Celebration on my neighborhood at the beginning of the weekend. I had expected more people coming in towards the end of the weekend, especially on Sunday night when the celebrations run all night long, and on Monday when the parade goes down Eastern Parkway two blocks away. I had not, however, considered that all my neighbors would have friends and family visiting, and my street would be so short on parking that cars would be double parked, possibly waiting hours for spots. I know in theory that two million people show up each year to celebrate West Indies culture, but I had neglected to consider that many of them would be arriving via car for the weekend. Cue twenty minutes of desperate circling, before eventually catching a car leaving a spot a quarter mile away.
And then, that was it: the end of Friday, of Day One. I always miss my men when I’m away from them, but it was so nice to be spending the day knowing that just because I was on my own, did not mean I was taking time away from Paul and Ben to do so. I see so little of my men on a day to day basis – between work and school, we’re almost like roommates during the week (and I have a whole comedic monologue about what a terrible roommate Ben is). I’m therefore reluctant to spend time on my own, away from them, when they’re available for me to spend time with. This weekend, however, there was no option for me to be with my family. There was only my time, and how I would spend it. And with Friday over, I was very content with the choices I had made for that time.
I generally try to keep my birthdays somewhat low key these days. While they used to be long-weekend all-singing-and-dancing productions, these days, they are more like me trying to hide from what I think is unmerited attention
After all, shouldn’t my mother be getting the credit for my birthday? I mean, it’s HER birthday tomorrow, and she likes to say I was her early birthday present, but honestly, she did the work to build me and should therefore get the celebration. (Ditto my son. Why am I not the one being celebrated every June?)
I thought I was getting away with a quiet birthday this year, with the celebration focus on my mother. On Saturday we all celebrated Mom’s birthday at the Oak Bay Marina restaurant, aka The Place We Have Gone On Fancy Occasions Since 1982. The big difference now, however, is that the kids meals are composed plates representing miniature versions of the adult meals, and not the dry hamburger I was so excited to get as a kid.
At the end of this delightful meal, we sang happy birthday to Mom, with only my son and nieces chiming in “AND YOU”, meaning me, at the end of each line. The focus remained on my mother and her milestone birthday!
I was also very quiet in my birthday party this year: I invited less than ten friends to just come get a drink at Bearded Lady around the corner. We had a really lovely time too: the conversation flowed well and the cocktails were exceptionally well crafted to match. But in my haste to get out of the office in time for said happy hour, I mentioned to my two group directors (with whom I form a triumvirate) that I was leaving early for my birthday. They asked why I didn’t say anything, and I grinned, and just explained that every year on a new job, I always manage to fly under the radar for my birthday. It was on Monday, but I thought I was safe!
Then today, I was dragged into what I thought was a Client Innovation Day planning meeting, only to be joyfully surprised by MY ENTIRE TEAM singing Happy Birthday…complete with Melissa’s Gluten Free Cupcakes and a birthday card and drawing:
I am sorry to say I was so surprised that I did tell the guys they were the worst for tattling on me, but I said it smiling. I really need to be more gracious when people throw me a surprise party. I did let them know I was teasing and then sent a separate thank you email telling them how grateful I was not only for today, but for every day. I do actually really love this team a lot – it’s a HUGE operation with no end of craziness but it’s really become a work family over the last few months.
So while I am no longer throwing crazy house parties, or taking a whole crew of people to Bats Day, I am still #blessed enough to have people who want to celebrate me even as I try to hide.
EDIT: I would have had this up half an hour ago, but I got distracted looking for Bats Day photos and ended up organizing Google photos instead for ten minutes, and then I clicked over to Facebook and ended up reading THAT aimlessly for twenty minutes. ALL THESE SITES ARE BAD NEWS.
The metaphor I use the most for being in Canada or being with other Canadians is that it’s comfortable. Canadian cultural references are embedded in the foundation of my brain. They are patterns I recognize. Some people’s brains light up at the idea of comfort food, or their own local state traditions, mine lights up at talk of parliamentary government and references to the Hip. It is that bedrock of knowledge that corresponds to my childhood in Victoria, which means it brings a sense of security and comfort, an emotional halo, as it were. Being in a space with Canadian culture is the mental equivalent of wearing pajamas.
This is not uncommon for immigrants. If it were not, we would not have opportunities to experience other cultures in NYC. Everyone coming to America needs a connection to their home cultures. It’s just that mine isn’t that different from the dominant, mainstream, white American experience. I’ve said to my husband before, I feel like I just came from a slightly alternative dimension of America, one where a bunch of stuff happened that didn’t in this reality that he and I live in. Being Canadian, after all, I still have the historical knowledge of America as it happened in my lifetime. I just have an extra layer of Canadian specific memories on top of that.
So that’s why I appreciate the opportunity to go to Canadian expat gatherings. This includes going to Dirt Candy for the Great Canadian Beer Hall, to which I enthusiastically drag my American friends. Often this is more of a Canada themed event full of Americans who are fans of Canada rather than actual Canadians, but it is still a direct connection to the homeland, and one with an excellent house wine to drink if one does not feel like drinking a Molson’s (I didn’t drink Molsons in Canada, and it therefore has no nostalgic appeal to me.) Last night we went to see a screening of Iron Chef Canada because the Dirt Candy chef, Amanda Cohen, is from Toronto and is a proud Canadian as well as an extremely badass chef:
The main point of the event was to screen the episode of Iron Chef Canada where Chef Cohen took on a challenger from Ottawa, but afterwards, the Canadian culture resumed, with Anne of Green Gables on one screen, SCTV on the other, and both without sound so the restaurant could play a mix of Canadian music that was heavy on the Hip. That is the draw for Canadians: the references to our own cultural touchstones, an environment where our brains are constantly releasing serotonin as a response to familiar media. It’s also a reminder of some of the cultural influences that have impacted my own personality: the open-hearted nature of Montgomery’s original Anne series, and the smartass comedy we keep exporting to the USA. Hey, I’m a smartass with a soft spot for my own Island too!
The flip side of all this is that one cannot sit around all day in pajamas (although when working from home, I certainly try to do so). Similarly, I felt like I needed a different challenge than I was going to experience as a grownup in Canada. Staying in my homeland would have been both too difficult and not difficult enough. My life has been significantly easier in America: within two years of moving to L.A., I had met my husband and placed myself squarely on a solid career path. Even now, my income-to-housing expense ratio is better than it would be in Toronto or Vancouver, and my career options are wide open because I work in a city with a high concentration of marketing jobs. However, the cultural challenges are much more intense in this country.: America has much less equality than I thought it would have when I studied the Constitution and resulting Supreme Court decisions at university. In the last two years especially, America’s worst legacies, of racism resulting from white supremacist foundations, along with the economic inequality resulting from capitalism, have been at the forefront of my consciousness in a way that those issues might never have been raised to me in Canada. Those issues certainly exist in Canada, we are just better at making them less extreme and less visible, with our socialist leanings and our cultural mosaic narrative.
I’m not sure if this is a common dichotomy for all expatriate Canadians, to feel like our lives are easier here, but to also feel like being in America is less comfortable than being in Canada. Maybe that’s also an experience that differs based on location. I might feel less psychologically challenged in Seattle, a city that is culturally similar to Vancouver and Victoria due to proximity. I might feel more discomfort outside of my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is pretty much Vancouver in NYC. Still, when given the opportunity to take comfort in a Canadian expat activity, I take it as a few hours of nostalgia. But at some point today, like every day, I will take on the challenges I’ve chosen by moving to the States, and I will also change out of my pajama pants.
Last night, I stayed home instead of going to House of Yes with my friends There was no doubt that this was the smartest decision I could make. I’ve been struggling with a cold the last few days that migrated from my allergy-weakened sinuses down to my throat and chest. I need to rest and keep my defenses up.
This was me on Tuesday, until I realized…nope, sick.
Ever since the Great Walking Pneumonia episode of 2015, I have been extra careful when sick. That episode cost me the summer of 2015 (much like my broken ankle ligament cost me the summer of 2018). I had reduced capacity in my lungs due to the fluid in them and had asthma on top of that. So now, when I don’t feel well, I stop moving. I work from home. I try to get extra sleep. It may make me stir crazy, but at least I know I’m not making it worse than it has to be.
Unfortunately, this time, the cold hit right before Halloween, meaning that I had to make a difficult choice for a Friday morning. I could keep my plans to go out with a half-dozen of my good friends, or I could hand off my Halloween party ticket and my costume to a friend who missed buying hers, stay home and rest.
I chose the latter and then was disappointed all day. I didn’t regret the choice, I resented the choice. Therefore, I allowed myself to wallow in a certain amount of less-than-adult resentful pouting. I was supposed to go out with my friends! With my best friends! In a group costume! And we were going out in Brooklyn, which I love doing with my friends because they all live in Manhattan and I like showing off how cool my borough is! And we were going to the House of Yes which I am probably too old for but is super inclusive of everyone and always has the best costumes. (the David Bowie x House of Yes party at the Brooklyn Museum had amazing costumes). I love my friends, I love costumes, I love going out in Brooklyn. And I had to miss all of this because of a stupid cold.
Of course this was the right choice for me for my health. But still, as I sat on the couch at 8pm, combing Ben for lice while watching Parks and Rec with him, I still resented it. And I realize, there isn’t going to be some sort of epiphany to this tale that reduces that resentment. As adult women, we’re told that our best place is as wives and mothers, so if this was a piece of popular culture, then this story would end with me combing my son for lice and sharing a beloved TV series with him and then getting in bed with my husband and realizing that my place was with my men all along. If this was a show on Lifetime, it would end with me feeling like my cold was truly a blessing to make me stay home and realize that I belong here – not in a converted warehouse in Bushwick with my child-free friends.
Nope. Not here. I’m still disappointed that I couldn’t go out last night in a wig and horn and sparkles to a converted warehouse in Bushwick. Perhaps that makes me less sanguine than I should be at forty. Perhaps that makes me slightly immature even, to have that response to missing a night out with my friends. And if so, that’s okay. This is the response I have to missing Halloween and I accept that.
Oh, and the cold? It’s drying up. Much less coughing today, and the goopiness is receding from my chest. Paul and I even made it to Pilates this morning so I’m back on to my top priority of fitness goals. I got nine hours of rest. Taking care of myself by staying home was the right thing to do. It just wasn’t the easy thing to do.
1. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that remains even after the cause of the event is forgotten by everyone but you
2. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that continues after a particularly shameful action
I am in the throes of #2 of a shameover from arguing on the Internet. It isn’t the argument itself I’m ashamed of, but the sheer waste of time it represents. It’s time I could be spending with my family, or time I could be practicing the piano, or time I could be doing my writing class homework. It’s time I could use to clear out my work inbox or finish up some Scouting responsibilities (as District Commissioner and acting GSM for one group, the Scouting never stops) or just return personal emails. There’s a dozen ways I could productively use time. Arguing on the Internet is not one of them.
Therefore, after two hours of generally wasted time arguing over the child migrant separation crisis, I have a shameover. And it feels awful. I feel like I do when I over-indulge in other ways. I feel like I do when I carb binge, when my blood sugar spikes and I know it will eventually crash as well. I feel like I do when I watch waste of time TV. I feel like I do when I spend too much money, on impulse, on an item I do not particularly need and cannot return. I feel like I do when I drink two glasses of wine too fast and know it will mess up my sleep. I feel like I did last week when I trolled Trump supporters on the street. I feel like have cost myself something I cannot get back: in this case, time, energy, and a whole lot of adrenaline.
I consider it a waste of time to argue online, because no argument online can be won anymore. No one’s mind can be changed anymore. No one wants to acknowledge logical points or even facts in an age when everything can be dismissed as “fake news”. There was once a day when people would engage in civil, well thought out discourse on bulletin boards; now we all wallow in fallacies of online arguing. There is no winning an argument or changing anyone’s mind online anymore; there is only being better at arguing and feeling better about being right.
The only saving grace of arguing online is that there are some cases where I learn something new. Which I did, actually, tonight, from the original post that sparked the entire argument, which was moderately educational! This Medium post similarly argues that arguing is a positive in that it helps one “bulletproof” one’s arguments. Unfortunately, it’s almost always at a disproportionate amount of time and energy investment to argue for that knowledge. Often, the knowledge I get from arguing online is information could have acquired elsewhere without paying such a high price in time, energy and effort, without arguing, without getting my blood pressure and my adrenaline up. If I go poke around outside my own liberal bubble, I am pretty sure I can hear others’ points of view without having to waste time being polite and logical to random people I don’t even know who jump in the middle of an argument and decide to engage via deflecting and whataboutism.
TRUE. Because one person’s “FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE” is totally representative of thousands of other experiences and makes them an expert in the subject!
Why then, do I continue to waste time arguing online? It inevitably results in me losing sleep, not over the argument itself, but over the guilt of the waste of time and energy from it (not to mention the adrenaline coursing through my veins from any argument). I think it’s because there are two factors of appeal to online arguing for me: the need to hold people accountable for the social injustices they are supporting or failing to fight, and the need to be right. On the one hand, I have always wanted to crusade for justice and against what I see as wrong, so having the entire Internet in which to do so is great for arguing for what I see as morally correct. On the other hand, I just really like being smarter than everyone else and I will totally admit that.
Arguing online may hold a thin veneer of justification in that it allows one to try to use rhetoric to convince someone to do good. Perhaps one will have the opportunity to impart knowledge and understanding to someone else. Perhaps one will learn some critical piece of information or insight into the logic of the argument. Perhaps one will learn a new way of looking at something, a new perspective that helps one understand the initial discussion topic better. In some cases, when people share their perspectives with me, I’m actually grateful for the insight and knowledge.
However, ultimately, the knowledge that one cannot win an argument on the Internet means that if one is arguing, one is very likely arguing wholly due to ego. It then requires a degree of mindfulness to recognize one’s ego as a primary motivator so one can pledge that one will not argue on the goddamn Internet and then have to write an entire blog post on why doing so is a bad idea before one can peacefully fall asleep. Now, 900 words later, I feel like I’ve acquired some of that mindfulness – and I can go to bed. Goodnight world! Tomorrow is another day of being nicer on the Internet.