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Pickle Me This

December 14, 2020

Enough

My word of the year, I have realized, is ENOUGH. Yes, of course, like, enough already. I’ve definitely had enough. We’ve all had more than enough of bad news, death and sadness, loss and heartache. Enough as in too much.

Enough as in, seriously? How much more…

*

The spot right in the middle of this photograph is me, swimming back and forth across the Ward’s Island Beach one beautiful Wednesday in late August. A day that kept threatening to storm, whose breeze almost made swimming untenable but then it was warm enough, and the lake was warm too, and I swam.

Until March, I’d been swimming daily, but then after that very little, except for our week in Haliburton in July (what a gift) and dips in our amazing 8 foot plastic pool all summer long (never has a $77 purchase from Walmart delivered more magic). And I am not complaining. To have had a holiday. A backyard. $77 to spend. We have so much more than enough.

But I still wondered, as I was swimming under that big moody sky back in August, when I would next be able to swim again?

And then the thought that crossed my mind: “But I am swimming now. And maybe that is enough.”

*

2020 has taught me everything I’ve ever known about living in the moment, about not jumping too far into an unknown future. Which is not much, to be fair. And these are lessons I needed to learn even at the best of times, and it has been somewhat edifying to realize that nobody actually knows what’s going to happen next, even the people who know the universe right down to its most essential particles. But I find that really exciting, actually. Even during the most terrifying moments I felt in March and April, it was not lost on me what it means to have impossible things become possible, how expansive and amazing that actually is.

*

To meet the moments as they come has been my intention through much of this year, a year when I grappled with anxiety attacks, so much fear and loss of control. To just breathe, and be present, and acknowledge the totality of experience. And how much enoughness and more-than-enoughness is to be found in such an experience—to have enough food, enough shelter, enough money to buy my kids shoes. Fulfilling work that we can do from home. The sustaining enoughness of our neighbours and community, of nature, of trees, and the sky. Friends and family. Artisanal cheese.

I have always been fortunate to have not just enough but also a good sense of what enoughness is—our apartment is enough, our relatively modest salaries are enough because our expenses are low. This beautiful, ordinary life is enough.

But never before has enough felt like such abundance.

Against the bleakest backdrop I’ve ever set my eyes on, I’ve spent so much time this year counting blessings, tallying up just how lucky we are.

Enough. Enough. So much enough.

Such dizzy, dazzling gratitude.

December 10, 2020

Eating Food in 2020

It all started with food, the panic. March 11, 2020. We were supposed to fly to England the following Monday, but after two days of agonizing, we’d decided to cancel our trip, speaking of unprecedented. We’d been saving up for two years and there was $5000.00 down the tubes (no small potatoes), but I knew something was very wrong, and I didn’t want to chance it. Stories of ICU doctors in Italy, how what was happening there was nothing like what they’d ever seen before. Italy was not so very far from England, was what we were thinking, before it became clear that nowhere is actually far from anywhere.

And so I went shopping. I picked up my children from school and we went to the grocery store, the last time my children were at the grocery store. “This is the panic shop,” I told them, and they were delighted, because I told them they could have anything they wanted. Our cart was laden with chips and ice cream, but also frozen vegetables, and cans of soup and beans. It was too much for me to carry home, because I hadn’t brought my shopping buggy, but I carried it anyway (there’d be no such thing as hoarding if we all had to carry it home on our backs), all the way up the road to the Bulk Barn where we bought a huge bag of mini-eggs.

“I don’t know if any of this is actually necessary,” I noted, “but at least we’ll have mini-eggs.”

A month later, it was with a sense of disbelief that we finally cracked that bag of mini-eggs open, that whatever was going on had lasted all the way until Easter—and that the mini-eggs had lasted too, but I am by nature a stockpiler of splendid things. It’s how I roll. I would rather anticipate something than eat it any day.

These days I get emails from all the grocery stores, because in mid-March I passed along my details to all of them in an effort to have groceries delivered, and it was always after I’d signed up that I was informed that the next available delivery window was never. But then somebody I followed on Instagram alerted me to a office snack supply company who’d quickly pivoted to groceries, and my first delivery arrived the next day, which included a box of 40 bags of Miss Vickie’s chips a palimpsest of the pre-pivot times.

But the chips were important. Necessary for hunkering down, and also we needed to have cake every day at 3pm, and ice cream after dinner. Treats were mandatory, and delicious, giving shape and ceremony to our otherwise humdrum days. Croissants from the Harbord Bakery, once I finally started venturing out to small shops, where I could also buy fancy cheeses and crackers, and Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream in little tiny cartons, which my children had only ever seen on television before, and called “emotional support ice cream.”

I also really got into making sourdough bread, because my friend Marissa, very presciently, had given me a starter in January, and I baked the bread regularly until it got too hot to turn the oven on. Since summer ended, I have not resumed baking the bread however, because I don’t have the time like I did before, or maybe I just can’t be bothered, but my starter is still going strong, and we use it for sourdough waffles, and the bread I order from my Mama Earth Organics is more of a sure thing anyway. (Mine frequently turned out weird.)

We have been customers of Mama Earth Organics for ten years now, and have never valued them more than when grocery stores seemed inaccessible to us in the spring and yet we had fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and yogurt delivered weekly. They increased their product list and we began to expand our orders with them, and appreciated the chance to purchase food from so many local producers. We also started buying chocolate and coffee and vegan cheeses to make better choices for the planet, inspired by everyone’s very enviro newsletter.

And speaking of local producers, and how food delivery broke up our days, I started ordering from Spade and Spoon to receive pickles, jams, maple syrup and more, and we ordered our Easter chocolate from a local producer, and there was even a woman who delivered us popsicles, and we’d order donuts too, and it was also so delicious and lovely and fun when little else was.

But not everything was fancy, A quick trip to the convenience store on the corner for mozzarella and milk, bananas, and they had flour. FLOUR. In April 2020, this was no small thing. (I’d previously purchased 44lbs of flour from an actual MILL [artisanal, of course], but then when I was alerted to just how much flour that was, with no preservatives at that, I had to cancel. It’s been a very strange year.)

And remember in April when we made a lasagne that was featured in the New York Times?

And then there was takeout, which was performed as a public service, and we were nervous about it the first time we did it, ordering sushi because it seemed like if anyone would be conscious of food safety and hygiene, sushi was it—but after that we didn’t worry so much anymore. Though I would also routinely have mini nervous breakdowns after people on Twitter outlined their intricate processes for receiving pizza delivery in the pandemic age (“our youngest child gets the pizza, and then we hose him down and burn all his clothing in the backyard”) and rue other people’s anxiety for piling on my own.

We started ordering takeout once a week, and we had the money to do so ($5000 lost dollars aside) because we weren’t doing anything else. Making a rule to only support restaurants that were local to us which we could walk to, mostly because walking to these places gave us something to do. And so we ordered from my favourite restaurant Chadwicks, and bbq, and more sushi, and tacos, and more. And then Chadwicks started doing fried chicken on Fridays, which we’d pick up and then go to eat in the park, and soon infection rates were falling and we could have other families join us in the park (picnic blankets six feet apart) and it was take out picnics all summer long, and the greatest pleasure.

I have eaten the most wonderful food this year. Chips have returned to rare occasions, because one should be sensible in some capacity, because we continue to have cake breaks (and cake fills up a container in our children’s lunches now that they’re back at school). Croissants are also less regular, but the takeout life continues, and now that the children leave us home in the daytime, we’re free to have the spicy food they don’t appreciate as much, and I have fallen in love with the butter chicken at Elchi Chai Shop.

I am probably fatter than I was in March—I wouldn’t know because that was also the last time I was near a scale before the gym closed. And I mention this only because this seems to be the preoccupation of many people in December at the best of times, which is ridiculous, and this isn’t even the best of times, so how about we just stop it?

I am so grateful for the food we’ve enjoyed this year, and the extra time at home to make great meals (March was the last time we had our signature hot-dogs-and-edamame busy night supper), and the pleasures that eating gave us when pleasures in general were few.

PS Support your local food bank and/or food justice organization. Everyone should have access to good things to eat.

December 9, 2020

Marching and Movement

We’re coming up fast to my annual winter internet holiday (away from the internet), which I am looking forward to (the number of books I can read while not scrolling Instagram is pretty epic), and I think it’s probably time for it. While I’ve been doing well and feeling fairly calm, I’m also in a weird post-publication creative freeze where I’m itching to start something new but I don’t know what it is yet (and you can’t rush these things) and I’m lacking the focus for blogging right now too, although I keep writing rather epic Instagram posts that turn out to be blog posts in disguise. I am looking forward to my holiday to give the spinning wheels in my brain a rest, to do some deeper thinking, and for a reset that hopefully will bring me #BackToTheBlog in the New Year.

But in the meantime, I want to write a bit about politics. About how while I have always been political in the choices I make, the stories I tell, and how I live my life, actual politics makes me squeamish. I think I hate being pinned down, is part of it, and also being told what to do. I hate speaking in chorus, can’t stand crowds, and/or suffering ninnies politely, and maybe I am deeply allergic to earnestness. All of this an aversion that four years ago, I decided to work to overcome, because staying on the sidelines was now out of the question with a burgeoning fascist regime in the country just south of us, a movement whose reach went well beyond those borders. How naive I’d been to imagine that politics (in the electoral sense) didn’t exactly apply to me. I was going to take to the streets. We were going to fight.

And we did. Kind of. There were placards on the porch and we marched, both in sunny weather and in snowstorms. We rallied for refugees, and for the climate, and over and over again in support of public education. I went to meetings and organized petitions and baked cakes and muffins and I’m not saying I did anything extraordinary or even was terribly involved (I like community in theory, but people, ugh), but I showed up. I stood up. It matters that people do so, even if there aren’t a ton of them. Even if nothing changes, standing up means one more person who did.

But the pandemic changed things for me. Though I was already tired—when everything fell apart in March, we’d been through a winter of labour unrest in our public schools. Before schools closed altogether, there had been rotating strikes for two months, and the ways things were going, they would only have escalated. And of course, we stood up with our teachers, for education. We showed up. So many days standing out in the cold, but this is no real hardship. Public schools matter more, and I have a very warm coat. But it was dispiriting, is what I mean. I really missed the era when I just sent my children to school and never thought of it again. Being a parent of school aged children in Ontario since 2017 has been stressful and heartbreaking, the constant erosion of all those things we care about, denigration of people and institutions who are the bedrock of our communities.

At some point, I had to stop going to meetings. Any political action I undertook would leave me to collapse into an emotional wreck three days later. I was way too emotionally invested, to the point of being unable to function sometimes. How do other people do this?

And then the pandemic hit, and I was just fucking done. I did spend about two weeks wracked by incredible anxiety, convinced we were all going to die (this was my Crocodile Dundee phase), but even after I got over that an stopped having heart palpitations and nightmares, my appetite for politics was even smaller than it originally had been. I guess at a moment when so much was at stake, doing anything other than having people work together just seemed counter-intuitive and just irritating. The pandemic, to me, underlined how perilous was absolutely everything, like absolute threads we were all just hanging by, and everything political just seemed made up and phony. Like, nobody really knows anything, and we just made all this shit up to feel important, to provide ourselves with purpose, but it’s nonsense, all of it nonsense. I mean, of course, there is meaning in life and in the universe, but almost everything else is just a whole lot of posturing.

I didn’t want to march anymore. It was a performance. There was no end-game. I was tired and bored, and also proximity to others had become potentially fatal. Which was the reason I gave for not marching with Black Lives Matter in June, which was a month that shifted my perspective in terms of police funding (ie defund it) and kept anti-Black racism in the forefront of my mind. A moment in which the radical point of view managed to touch if not infiltrate the mainstream, and that’s amazing. Shifting the dial, and that’s something, not nothing. But still—I was thinking of the Black woman in Toronto who was killed in an encounter with the police during the same time as people were rising up in the wake of yet another police killing in the US. And my discomfort with the way this woman’s death was meant to be a symbol of everything rather than the specific thing that it was, a thing I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t feel certain enough to go marching for that. Plus there was a pandemic on, and (also) I didn’t want to march in the first place.

I am reading the book Me and White Supremacy now, and to be honest, not finding it particularly revelatory. I am also reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, and it’s blowing my mind. I think the former book would be more useful for the type of person who hasn’t been following Black women on Twitter since 2014 (except she’d never buy it) because everything Me and White Supremacy is telling me, I already learned from them, women like Mikki Kendall and Tressie McMillan Cottom, and so many others. Caste, however, is making my head explode, bringing the world into shocking, bewildering clarity and I know that I am only deepening the furrows on my brow as I read it, because my expression is perpetually, “What the actual fuck???”

But one interesting thing that Me and White Supremacy has me questioning is why I didn’t go marching in June, because the pandemic, I think, was definitely mainly an excuse. (That I did absolutely nothing else during this period with large groups of people is less important than it seems.) It has me wondering why I was willing to attend climate marches (two, I think) though I would not consider myself a climate radical by any means, but would be averse to marching for racial justice jus because I didn’t agree with absolutely every single item on the agenda. I mean, I agree with racial justice, obviously. But recall my previous point about the problem of the specific case standing in for the entire problem and my discomfort with that. Why do my scruples pop up sometimes and not others?

Part of the problem is the typical white person’s problem of seeing racism as a problem that does not concern one if one happens to be white. Fearing tension too—am I welcome at this party? Maybe also not knowing enough about what was going on. (Something else I’ve become tired of re activism and social media is the idea that everybody has to be aware of every single thing that’s occurring in every single place. Like, Instagram powerpoints: Why You Should Be Paying Attention to What’s Happening in the Back Shed of a Blue House on a Road in Dayton, Ohio.)

But where are we marching to, exactly? And is this what’s going to get us there? And let me tell me, my appetite for marching diminished even further once it became the primary pastime of right-wing nut-jobs. I honestly think there is nothing I would march for in December 2020, because marching has officially jumped the shark. We’ve brought the broomsticks in from the porch, finally, and the streets belong to the anti-maskers now. I think we have to find another way, and thinking about what this is is my new challenge.

Or am I just making excuses for doing nothing at all?

Because, of course, I have a lot invested in the status quo. And I don’t say this entirely glibly. I’m not a believer in the BURN IT ALL DOWN school of politics, because what this year has taught me is that it’s all just a tinderbox, and a house of cards anyway, no matter your leanings. This year has taught me a lot about the London Blitz, which is that it was probably a shitshow, but we just forgot about that part, and everybody is rational and stoic in the historical record. But that’s not how people work. People are messy, and muddly and it’s always bananas, and every good thing that ever happens maybe only happens by the skin of our teeth. And what if progress is actually that?

October 12, 2020

What the Trees Were Doing

We called them Sad Covid Walks, but only in hindsight. At the time we were walking, they were everything we had, during those months when traffic was deserted and the only ads in the transit shelters were telling us all to stay home.

We had a circuit through and around the university campus, a walk we took once a week to track the progress of spring. Two secret copses—one at the school of mining, the other at the faculty of forestry—and then the tiny Zoo Woods beside Sidney Smith Hall. Which at first were barren of anything green, just a trillium here and there, and then the season came on like a deluge. Never have I been more grateful for spring.

A woman in my blogging course last month wrote about that waiting, and watching the naked trees with an attention she’d never experienced before. About how as the leaves fall away again, she is trying to hold onto the promise of winter trees instead of sadness as the seasons change again.

We’ve taken such comfort from trees this year. Retracing our steps today even though we really didn’t want to, even though anything that was full-on in Covid spring, we’ve developed an aversion to (except for ice cream).

But I wanted to see what those trees were doing, to give thanks for the ways they have saved us, and the ways they persist, oblivious to everything, from the sad people looking up, to the pigeons in their boughs.

To their majesty, their steadfastness, and the admirable way they keep reaching for the sun.

September 4, 2020

Why I am Still Not Freaking Out About School

Photograph of a barrel of red apples, with a sign on it that says, "Welcome back to school"

I am still not freaking out about school. There are a lot of reasons why not, and some of them include denial, but mostly it’s that me freaking out about school isn’t going to make anything better. It will be as futile as all-caps screaming at the Education Minister on Twitter, and I don’t do that anymore. (Most of the time.)

This is not to say that I have done nothing. (There is a wonderful plot of land in that space between “freaking out” and “doing nothing,” and I’ll meet you there.) A bunch of parents with smarts and agency put together an advocacy group calling on the government to put caps on class sizes, which would go far in actually applying the advice of medical experts that keeping groups small lowers risk of disease transmission.

This group is called Ontario Safe, and you should follow them, and support their initiatives, which include an email-writing campaign to the Minister and local MPPs.

I have sent the letter, I have encouraged other people to get involved. I have also emailed the Minister on my own behalf. I have thought about the importance of public education, for my own family, and also across the board. (Have you listened to Nice White Parents yet? It was fantastic and challenging in the very best way. I learned so much in ways I wasn’t expecting…)

I have also not really engaged with other parents about their own thoughts on sending their kids back to school, because in general, I just don’t care. Quite magnanimous of me, because usually I am judgey as all get-out, but the best thing about there being no perfect choice is that there is no terrible one either. Usually the idea of “choice” is totally sanctimonious (and I should know—I cloth diapered) and kind of gross, not remotely as neutral as it would like to be (don’t get me started on “school choice”) but this is a different kind of situation, or maybe I’ve just evolved since the spring (I doubt it).

You will make your choice based on your own childcare needs, and your own child’s social needs, and the health of the people who live in your home, and the size of your school, and your comfort with school and teachers in general based on previous experiences, and your child’s personality, and how well virtual schooling went in the spring, and your own level of anxiety, and infection rates in your area, and whether it’s really worth it to have the people in your family start wearing pants again.

I am sending my kids to school because local infection rates are really low; because I want to demonstrate my trust and support in the public school system which I fervently believe in as much as I believe in any system, because the government is telling us that it’s safe to do so and I also believe in trusting the government (because the government is more than just the ding dongs and because not trusting the government can turn a person into a lunatic); because public schools are the only choice that is financially possible for me; because my kids are old enough that I trust them to follow processes and direction, and be smart; because when I think about sending millions of kids into schools my head explodes BUT when I think about the fact that my children will be under the supervision of two specific teachers (I don’t know who they are, but it’s always easier to break a thing down into parts) I feel better because I know how seriously teachers take their responsibilities; because the risk of serious harm to ourselves or others is statistically lower than in many activities we partake in regularly; and because if things go wrong and we’re not comfortable/it’s not working, I can take them out of school again, as we’re flexible enough with two parents working from home that this is not a big deal—and the last six months has taught me that missing school does not mean missing education. Even if they miss that remote learning transfer window, or whatever, it will be fine. Kids are resilient. I think we parents should strive to be more so.

By which I mean we should not be freaking out, I mean. Whether you are sending your children to school or not. We all have our reasons. And other people’s reasons really shouldn’t even apply to you

There is also a plot of land I’d like to meet you in between the space where you might shrug off the pandemic as a hoax and regard mandated mask wearing as a government conspiracy and where you constantly share articles from CNN about outbreaks at Georgia high schools and wake up with night terrors at the premise of a second wave (which in news headlines always gets calls a “DREADED second wave). Another plot of land between the pandemic being a hoax AND an awareness of the fact that news outlets want you clicking on their stories all the time and keeping you anxious works to their benefit. Stories about Georgia are not necessary applicable to my situation.

In March and April, children hung rainbows in their windows with signs that said “Everything is going to be okay.” In March, for a week or so, I was convinced that we were all going to die in the coming days, and it turns out the children were more correct than I was. I have been working hard to channel their optimism ever since, and in many ways, it’s been the right path. And no, “everything” is not going to be okay, but when was it ever? In general, we have been and we will continue to find a way for ourselves through all this, and working hard to keep our responses calm and measured goes a really long way.

August 31, 2020

Look for the Light

Everything I know about uncertainty I have learned from being a writer, and being a blogger. And I have never really had to use this knowledge in a practical sense until the last few months, and there have been days and weeks when I’ve done a very bad job of it, but in general I am keeping an even keel, and here is the stuff that is helping me with that.

1) Nobody knows what is going to happen next. This is a promise as much as it’s also a curse. But we keep going/reading/writing to discover, and it takes faith, stamina, courage. We all possess these things, and can cultivate them too.

2) If magic is real, it lies in the process, where one thing turns into another. And process is never a straight line. There will be setbacks and failures. Some drafts will be garbage. And it’s easy to be mired in the process, to despair at all the road ahead, if it will ever end, if that road is a road at all.

But then, please revisit my first point.

3) Take breaks. Take walks. Step away from your screen sometimes and often.

4) We move forward one word/post/page/day at a time. Breaking a thing down into manageable pieces is essential. The big picture is so overwhelming—a whole book, a whole blog, a global pandemic. But if you just focus on the challenges and tasks immediately before you, you can do it.

We can do this!

As we move into a new season, I look forward to discovering new ways to rise to the occasion, to finding new solutions to the problems that arise, to realizing our own strength and resilience as we do.

Our species has travelled to the moon, guys.

So surely we’re up to the task of autumn.

Even in 2020.

Keep going. Look for the light.

August 21, 2020

Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell

For YEARS, I have had Maggie O’Farrell confused with the author Catherine O’Flynn, and also I once read another Maggie O’Farrell book (Instructions for a Heatwave) but forgot about it completely, so I wasn’t exactly primed to pick up her latest, Hamnet and Judith, especially since it’s set in the sixteenth century and is about Shakespeare. No thank you.

And yet?

Then I kept reading reviews about it, and I can’t recall exactly what swayed me, but it was something about the universality of the fiction, and the glowingness of all the raves. And so I bought the book when we were at Lighthouse Books last month, and I loved it so completely, reading it a few weeks later when we were camping at Bronte Creek.

Which was two weeks ago now, and this week has got away from me. It is 5:31 pm on a Friday as I write this and I have to go make diner, but first, I want to put down on the record that this is perhaps the finest book you’ll read this year. Oh, the writing! The sentences! The scene in the apple store, those pieces of fruit bop-bop-bopping on the shelves to a rhythm. The whole world so magnificently conjured, and yes, it was the universality. It doesn’t matter that this was Shakespeare’s family (in fact the bard himself is not even named), or the century where the story is set—there was an immediacy to the narrative that I so rarely experience in historical fiction. Perhaps because the story is written in the present tense, but it works, the people, the scenes, so alive, so achingly, complicatedly real. And yes, the heartache, for this is the story of a child who dies, and the family who must suffer this incalculable loss, and this universal. The unfathomability. The fear as well, for this is a story of plague, and it seemed especially resonant as I read it in the summer of 2020. And the chapter about how the plague arrived in Warwickshire, fleas, and beads, and ship cats, the way that one thing leads to another, how everything is connected.

A truly magical, and stunning read.

August 17, 2020

Pandemic Things I Love

  • the sound of neighbours’ voices and laughter drifting over the backyard fences as they sit outside on summer evenings
  • my children kicking the soccer ball outside
  • people taking up space in the street—walking, cycling, playing ball, protesting, etc. etc.
  • supporting small and local businesses
  • books delivered to my porch
  • the occasion of bin night
  • local indie bookstores putting their stock online
  • the advent of 3pm cake break
  • takeout from a local restaurant at least once a week
  • a reclaiming of public space—park benches have never been more precious
  • thanking people who move to give me room on the sidewalk
  • rainbows in windows
  • learning to be patient
  • ice cream every day
  • encouraging billboards (there is one on highway 401 near Oshawa that says, “This is hard and you are doing great.” It makes me cry.)
  • picnics in the park
  • it turned us into a family of cyclists
  • and into seasoned explorers of alleyways
  • it has forced us to re-imagine the way we live our lives, and made visible the forces of poverty and systemic racism so that those of us with privilege can’t ignore it any more.

August 12, 2020

I Went to a Bookstore!

I like how no mask could hide how happy I am in this photo.

My last bookshop visit was March 8, a stop in at The Nautical Mind, the marine-themed bookshop on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Not that this experience was the end of me buying books, of course. By the end of that week, I’d already placed my first online order with a local bookshop to have a couple of books delivered to my door, and this would continue throughout the spring—I got books from Ben McNally, Book City, Queen Books, Ella Minnow Books, Flying Books, and probably others. One great thing about having absolutely nothing else to spend money on through April and May was that I could fulfill all my book-buying dreams and then some, which really did raise my spirits and help tide me over while the libraries were closed.

Most of the shops doing curbside pick-ups were just a little bit too far out of my way for me to take advantage of this, but I did finally get to partake in July when I ordered a stack from Little Island Comics. A recent development in my life is that I now have a bike, with a basket, and riding home with that basket full of books was exhilarating.

But not quite as exhilarating as my annual trip to Lighthouse Books a few weeks later, a pilgrimage we making on our camping trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park and one I never take for granted even during the best of times. It wasn’t so long ago that we weren’t even sure Ontario campgrounds were going to open this year, so everything that weekend seemed especially precious. Lighthouse Books had only opened up for customers a week before, and so the timing was great.

While many of the Covid measures in place right now put a damper on fun, one I don’t hate entirely is the rule that whatever you touch in a bookstore, you must necessarily buy. Okay, then! Lighthouse Books had the most appealing table set up by the door, and in no time I had my mitts on an Attica Locke book I’d been meaning to read for years. By this point, shop owner Kathryn had already greeted me by name, which is remarkable when you consider that my face was covered in a mask AND I only visit once a year, but this is part of the reason that Kathryn is so good at owning a bookstore. The other part of the reason is the marvellous curation of her shelves—doesn’t the photo above make your heart swoon?

I ended up getting that copy of Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell you can see on the right-hand side of the middle shelf—and oh, it blew my mind, that book, plus books for my kids to read. One of my greatest parenting accomplishments is that I’ve somehow convinced my children that sitting around with a book is integral to the camping experience, mostly likely because it really is. And then I got sign a copy of Mitzi Bytes (and no, I don’t love this bookstore just because they always have a copy of my novel in stock, but it helps), and talk to Kathryn for a few minutes…before it was time to go, because my family was waiting for me outside, and also because there were other book buyers who were lined up at the door.

PS I love that a bookshop visit has never not been remarkable.

PPS Thanks to DoveGreyReader whose bookshop post (her first since buying the new Hilary Mantel in March) inspired my own.

July 21, 2020

Measure

I haven’t paid much attention to the numbers, at all, unless they’re good (just 102 cases in Ontario last Wednesday!), but when they’re not, they don’t concern me. Because my concern doesn’t help, I mean, neither me nor the province, and there are actual people who get paid to know about these things, so instead I wash my hands, wear a mask, and focus on the things I can control. Like remaining calm, which is to say measured.

“Carefully considered; deliberate and restrained.”

I would like to call a moratorium on the word “surge.” I would like to call a moratorium on headlines. “It’s not a linear path,” says a person who actually knows what the measurements mean in an article whose inflammatory headline runs counter to the message. “Periodic outbreaks, periodic reopenings… It’s going to happen. It should happen. I think the key thing is communicating that and normalizing that.”

“an estimate of what is to be expected (as of a person or situation)”

How do you measure risk? I wrote about this in May, which in retrospect was a really hard time, and I was frustrated by other people’s demands for certainty and clarity, which seemed impossible. I continue to be frustrated by a lack of regard for any middle ground between ordinary life and lockdown, a middle ground that is possible (although less so with our provincial government’s dearth of vision and unwillingness to invest the money to make this possible). But then we all measure these things differently, don’t we. Slight odds mean something different and dangerous to people who have been outliers before, whereas to me they suggest safety. And neither of us is wrong.

“to estimate or appraise by a criterion”

I am thinking about how to connect all this to music, the measures that make a song as days make a week, weeks to years. How an archaic definition of “measure” is synonymous with “dance,” albeit one conducted with gravity instead of abandon. This is not the mashed potato, is what I’m saying, neither the latest, nor the greatest. But still a dance, a navigation in time and space with others.

“You know, sometimes we’re not prepared for adversity. When it happens sometimes, we’re caught short. We don’t know exactly how to handle it when it comes up. Sometimes, we don’t know just what to do when adversity takes over. (chuckle). And I have advice for all of us, I got it from my pianist Joe Zawinul who wrote this tune. And it sounds like what you’re supposed to say when you have that kind of problem. It’s called mercy, mercy, mercy.”

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