Archive for April, 2020

Sometimes in life, you’re in the middle of something and a pandemic suddenly arrives without warning. For some it might be an emerging love affair, the tail end of a university degree, a half-cultivated pregnancy, or a marriage that’s falling apart. For me, it was dealing with the detritus of a repressed memory of childhood abuse and trauma. I won’t dwell on it, as I’ve already written about it before, and once is more than enough.

What I will say is that, when you’re dealing with psychological trauma, and another larger sort of trauma comes along like a tsunami wave, you’ll have a hard time finding your sea legs again. What you usually use to anchor yourself likely won’t work, and you’ll find that friends in couples or in families sort of disappear as they batten down their own hatches, pulling in to protect their loved ones. None of this is unexpected. People who have their people are busy.

When you’re a single woman of 49 and a bit, and someone with an underlying health issue that has to do with lungs, you’ll find yourself thinking that now you’ll know what very elderly and isolated widows must feel like, housebound. You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about how your lungs are made of something like tissue paper, something easily torn or ripped, and that even if your body is physically strong and fit, your lungs are like…those rice paper fire lanterns that are pretty in the night sky, but so bad for the environment.

And, when you’re a single woman, an introvert and mostly shy, and a survivor of mental health issues, you’ll find yourself a bit like a solitary leaf, being swept down a fast moving river. It will at times seem as if there is absolutely nothing to grab onto. You will do yoga, and you will walk far and fast (as if you are the girl in that story that Hans Christian Andersen wrote about with the cursed red shoes, the ones you can’t ever take off and that won’t let you stop dancing), and then you’ll try not to think about how rarely you are normally touched. And then you’ll cry again because you’ll think you may not be touched again.

And sometimes, a few weeks into the apocalypse having a hissy fit, you’ll see people start to say things on social media like ‘reach out’ and ‘here’s a 1-800 number’ and ‘call me if you’re desperate,’ and you’ll just sit there and shake your head. And then there will be others who say ‘Are you on meds? Should you be? Can you find your psychiatrist again?’  As if a pandemic isn’t supposed to shake a human being, a human soul, to their core. As if a virus that infects so insidiously isn’t supposed to make you fearful and nervous. As if that isn’t just about being human.

From inside this snow globe, I keep thinking, “Why won’t you just say that you’re afraid? Why do you pretend it’s fine?” So much of what a poet friend of mine out west has called ‘The Before Times’ was all about people creating illusions of lives that were Instagram pretty—perfect family and vacation photos, two wine glasses kissing in front of a fire, or too many selfies. Now, in these new days and nights, is it so awful, so upsetting, to actually voice fear, or worry, or concern? I hope not. I think ‘The Before Times’ were overscheduled, full of things, full of superficial social posturing, and an avoidance of the real vulnerability and intimacy that comes from sharing and feeling things deeply. Better, it seemed, to stuff all of that in a box and put it in a closet. Now, with the threat of losing people we love, maybe the too-carefully-constructed societal masks will start to slip.

Here’s what I think, as someone who’s a survivor of depression: please don’t re-stigmatize people who are dealing with, or who have survived, mental health challenges. Please don’t be condescending. Please know that we’re all still people, too. A lot of us have struggled through very dark places to learn how to use tools to survive. A lot of us manage after having been very ill, and a lot of us somehow manage to recreate ourselves in new ways. But, to have people think you are depressed or suicidal because you’re struggling, can actually make you doubt yourself during the very days and nights when you most need them to let you know that you are strong, and not fragile. Maybe, if you haven’t struggled with mental illness, you won’t know this, and I’m glad for you not to have to know that. It’s best you don’t. It would add another layer of complexity to this pandemic stuff, and who really wants or needs that?

These last few weeks, I’ve had to re-think my work/life balance, and my return to teaching in September. It’s been stressful. You don’t want to have to look backwards, to constantly be looking over your shoulder to see if your past has caught up with you, but you also want to be mindful of what your own human side can handle, especially when you’re living alone as a single woman. You always need to make all of your decisions by yourself, without a partner to bounce questions and ideas off of. You need to think ahead to your finances, and how they will be when you’re a much older woman in your seventies or eighties, if you are even blessed to live that long.

People have difficult choices to make during these pandemic days, for what comes afterwards. Do you keep a small business open, or do you close it? Do you work full time afterwards, or do you choose to work part time so that you can have a life outside of your workplace, one that’s richer in ways that have nothing to do with money? Do you stay in a relationship or marriage with someone who’s just not the right person for you anymore? Do you date someone who just wants to have sex with you and not really get to know you or spend time with you? Do you think you’ll go back to who you were before, in “The Before Times,” and…really…should you even want to? There’s the biggest question of all: who will you have become when you exit the chrysalis of this COVID-19 pandemic? Will you just return to your old ways, or will you have evolved into a more interesting, and more compassionate human being?

What I miss most is human touch. I don’t get touched enough, really, outside of when I’m my visiting my hairdresser, esthetician, or massage therapist. I imagine other single woman in their late 40s are like this, unless they are open to random hook ups organized via Tinder. I’m not that woman. I never was a ‘lark in the park’ or ‘spring fling’ person. Last year, a very handsome man asked me if I was dating anyone, and then proceeded to tell me about his lengthy roster of previous sexual partners. Numbers. And I would be the next, perhaps. That wasn’t enticing to me because it felt more like a transaction than the start of anything that could be a collaborative, healthy, interesting, fun or long-term sort of grown up relationship. It felt as if I’d been objectified. This was not his fault. Not at all. He’s a good, kind, and handsome man. It’s the time and it’s the way of the world, which leads me to my next point.

I am rarely touched. I’m lucky to get hugs from a few very close friends, occasionally but not often, and usually a few times a week after my dance classes from one or two dear friends there. I was likely in a severe touch deficit before this pandemic thing began. I was, I know, because I couldn’t hug people for most of this past year, given the trauma of working through repressed memories from childhood abuse by my paternal grandfather that rose up last May. I felt, through a lot of the fall and winter months, that, if someone I trusted and cared for deeply would hug me, I would fall apart in their arms. My worry then was that I’d have to come home to an empty house and try to pick myself up again afterwards. There wouldn’t be a man here to gather me in while I fell apart. How do you explain this, though, to people who aren’t single women, or who aren’t shy or introverted? You can’t. (And yes, you can be a straight woman, and a feminist, and still wish to have a man who will hold you after you’ve broken apart emotionally, and that doesn’t mean you’ve sold out or fallen prey to old school gender stereotypes…but that’s another blog entry entirely…)

So. Here it is.

Please don’t worry. I’m not depressed or suicidal. I’m very, very sad that the world is in such a state. I’m used to being independent, so no worries there. And, as I’ve said at many small dinner parties with three close women friends, I have a couple of very good vibrators with a stock pile of AAA batteries, and one relatively new one with a technologically advanced USB cord for charging, but that is not the same thing as being held or comforted when you are worried or are crying, or having a long and interesting conversation that moves tangentially from place to place, but still somehow finds meaning there. And it is not the same as being caressed or cherished, and it is not the same thing as holding someone’s hand and wondering how their day went, or even kissing them on a walk in the woods.

What I worry about is how the world will work afterwards, in “The After Times.” Will I be able to let myself be held and cry in front of friends who hold me and don’t let me go, even when I try to turtle in? Will I be able to trust people? If you’re not a Tinder person these days, as a single woman, then you’ll likely know what I’m talking about. You might not want to say it out loud, though, and that’s okay too, because saying it loud makes you feel naked and vulnerable and raw. If you’re a man, you likely won’t know what I’m talking about. Funnily enough, things for men are still fairly privileged, even though we’re in 2020. I think it’s much different for younger women, who seem much more bold and free to me in their relationship choices, but I could easily be wrong about that observation as I am so often on the outside of so many things.

How much of this is mental health, and how much of this is being isolated, and how much of this is just being uncertain about what your future looks like? I don’t know. My friend Lara calls it “the butterfly soup,” the time and space where the caterpillar becomes a gooey mess before it emerges from the chrysalis. How such beauty and light comes from such darkness, I have no idea. I’m hopeful that what comes next will be brighter, in some ways, than the world we knew before.

Yes, it’s okay to be sad right now, to grieve what’s been lost. So much has been lost, but maybe some things that are of greater value will have been gained, after it’s all said and done. Who will know? That’s the thing. We’ll have to lean into the flow of things, trust the Universe a bit, and know that we did something, collectively, that speaks to how humans can really care for one another without knowing who they’re saving just by staying at home.

And, for those of you out there who were ‘in medias res’ when this corona virus shit storm blindsided the world—whether it was a sudden cancer scare with deferred appointments, or a wobbly and crumbling marriage, or a mid-life career change, or a plan to travel the world in a free and whimsical way—here is the thing: we will still be ‘in medias res’ when it’s all moved along. We will always be ‘in medias res,’ I think, but it’s how we choose to face that challenge that speaks to our survival and, later, too, to our blooming.

For those of you who, like me, may be dealing with pre-existing trauma in the face of the trauma of a global pandemic, I’d say that it’s okay to admit it’s hard. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or fragile or sick. It means you’re brave, able to say “This fucking sucks. Now I have to deal with more than what I ever imagined I’d have to.” To say it isn’t, to say that you’re “fine,” is only going to hurt you more, I’d guess, in the long run. So many people won’t understand it. If you’re living alone, it’s even more important to know that this is just probably not even the middle of a five act Shakespeare play. Pace yourself. Be kind to yourself. Know that you’re stronger than you can imagine.

And…if you are blessed enough to be with other humans in a house, be sure to hold them. You may be sick of them after these long weeks of pandemic self-isolation. I can understand that. Still, imagine not having close physical human contact for just as many weeks. If you’re not getting on with your spouse, or your marriage is falling apart, then hold your child close instead. But, above all, be grateful that you even have another human to hold, to feel, to touch. You can’t imagine what it’s like not to have that physical closeness in the midst of this uncertainty. Find some of your peace and calm in that great gift of physicality, for that is what it most certainly is…



(…and…too…please do not try to set me up with your male friends after this is done. I’m not into set ups. Never have been, and…really…this hissy fit of an apocalypse won’t change that. This may be the only thing of which I can be most certain these days…)









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The calls for pandemic literature have been coming in recent weeks, from around the world, really. Writers and artists will help to document what’s happening, maybe without even knowing they’re doing so. I’ll blog, as I do when I feel compelled, but I’m having a hard time writing these days, so I don’t know that it’ll be that often. Here is the first, in who knows of how many entries, of things I’ve been thinking about lately. Thanks for reading, if you do. Kim


The news across Canada these last few weeks grows more and more grim, and the tales of people who continue to disregard the government’s request to stay home and think of others first can often be disheartening. So many Canadians are ‘sheltering in place,’ as some people would say. But, there are those who seem to seek out the ‘loopholes’ as ways to make themselves think that ‘normal’ is ever coming back again after this pandemic has swept across the country. It’s the ones who look for loopholes, for reasons to just think it’s all a conspiracy theory, or who have theories about government control, who actually make it worse for the larger group. Who will suffer? Or, perhaps, who will suffer most? And why does that matter? Or…why should it matter? It’s an ethical debate, really, and there are some who will disagree with me. That’s fine. Keep it to yourself, please. Write your own blog. Bitch somewhere else.

I’m a poet, and a philosopher I suppose, too. (Can you ever have a poet who isn’t a philosopher? I personally doubt it.) I’m also someone who has underlying health conditions. My lungs are not happy ones when I get a bad cold. Those things–for me– often morph into severe bronchial infections or pneumonia. I have adult onset asthma. Its arrival in my late 20s was shocking and meant that I needed to learn how not to panic when I couldn’t breathe deeply. So, this virus terrifies me, on a very personal level. I feel it’s only fair and honest to admit to that fear, because it’s a real thing. Those others I’ve talked to since COVID-19 arrived, those who are also adult asthmatics in their 40s and 50s, are just as afraid, as are many others with “invisible” underlying health issues. They just won’t always say it out loud…and that’s okay, too.

I am also someone who spent a great deal of my 30s taking care of elderly parents who both had severe health issues. The health care system is not friendly at the best of times, whether you consider the structure of long term care or hospitals. It isn’t ‘user friendly,’ and it often requires an injection of compassion during the most difficult times in a person’s life. Sometimes, if you’re an advocate for frail elderly parents, you’re made to look crazy, as if you’re mad because you stand up and ask questions on behalf of those you love. Sometimes, it’s easier for people in high places to gaslight you, if you’re an advocate for the frail elderly. Sometimes, it always felt to me, people in charge would rather just not worry so much about the frail elderly. Why not just assess them, stuff them into a hospital bed, and then have them shuffled into long term care? Why not just say they are ‘bed blockers’ instead of human beings? Out of sight, out of mind. This, sadly, is still the case in Canada if you visit a nursing home and see how many elderly people are without family members to show them love, affection, or support. Those who do visit are the ones who become vocal advocates for the elderly, and for their rights. Some of us keep on, even after our elderly parents have died.

The news of the numbers of deaths due to the corona virus, when you look at them, tend to speak to how brutally this thing is hitting residents in long term care homes across Canada. There are calls for masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), calls for gloves, and calls for proper quarantine within long term care residences, but they have come–it seems to me–too late. What this points to, I think, is a blatant disregard for our elders. The same thing is happening within group homes for adults with disabilities, as well. In both cases, there is serious discrimination against two high risk groups. In both cases, frontline workers need PPEs and support. That they don’t have these things is, I think, a travesty, and speaks to a sort of moral and ethical decay within our society. At the ends of my parents’ lives, both of them were physically disabled. Neither could walk. One was confined to a bed for the last year of her life, and the other was in a wheelchair. Both had issues with breathing, and with underlying core morbidities.

I have chosen to minimize my time on social media lately. What used to make me feel connected, as a single person who lives alone, now makes me feel disconnected. It’s a strange state to be in, to be honest. I don’t have a television, so I watch the news on CBC online once a day, just to see what’s happening. I read online newspapers, too, but I am mindful to think through what I’m reading in a critical way. If we learn one thing, besides compassion of course, after this is over…and it will take some time for it to be ‘over’…I hope it is that we will think more critically about what we read, say, and posit in public spheres.

What I worry about is that some people are thinking that it’s not so bad if older people die from this virus. The numbers of deaths are higher in this group, so surely that’s to be expected, is what they might be thinking, and sometimes even stupidly say (or write) out loud. In Italy, doctors and nurses had to make decisions to not put people on ventilators based on age or physical ability. When you’ve had a parent in a nursing home, or even in the hospital, you’ll likely already know how often some bug passes through a building, and how quickly things are usually managed, with disinfectant hand wash and gowns and gloves at entrances to patient rooms. You’ll also know, though, that people will always still die when there is a flu bug that sweeps through a long term care facility. You’ll know why you get the flu shot. Yes, it’s for you, but if you have an elderly parent in a nursing home, you’re more likely getting the flu shot to protect them, and those they live with, and their carers, too.

The things that have been happening at the Dorval and Bobcaygeon nursing homes in the last couple of weeks show us that they are simply both the more obvious canaries in the coal mine of a system that has been vastly underfunded for decades, really. In these places across Canada, where our elders live, the ratio of PSWs to residents is unacceptably low. Nurses, registered practical nurses, and personal support workers are all underpaid for the hard physical and mental work they do each and every day.

I’ve been reading bits of Richard Wagamese lately. He is, for me, a source of great wisdom and comfort. One of my favourite books of his is Embers, but I read One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet last fall. In it, he speaks of how we are all connected, as human beings. He writes this: “So the most profound truth in the universe is this: we are all one drum and we need each other.” He also writes: “The great forgotten truth of our reality as a human species is that we all came from somewhere. We all began our cultural journeys somewhere on the planet and because of that we are all Indigenous to her. Everyone. But we learned to use our minds. We learned to think, to rationalize, to know fear and to be protective. When we learned that, we learned separation. And as we practised separation we learned dislocation and disharmony….We learned to exist for the grand illusion–that we can control things on the planet.” He speaks, too, of courage and faith and fear. Faith, he says, “has come to mean ‘find an insight that heals.” See? Wagamese was wise. He still is. What he also writes about, in both Embers and One Drum, is how we are all part of one song. He writes of how elders are meant to be valued, heard, and respected. This is also what I have always been taught.

Growing up, I had two families. One was my father’s side, which was abusive. The damage they did is still something I’ve been dealing with of late. The other was my mother’s family, which was the opposite. I often think of my great aunts who lived on Kingsmount because they gathered us in when we were little. I also think, very often, of my maternal grandmother. All four of these women took us into gatherings that were for grown ups and spoke to us as equals. I don’t ever recall a time when we were made to feel ‘other’ or ‘outside of’ something, even when I was little. I learned my manners there, from my Gram Ennis, in particular, but also from my great aunts and uncles, from my aunts and uncles, and from my parents. In my twenties, I often spent time having coffee visits with my great-aunts and my grandmother at their houses, on Kingsmount and Wembley, listening to their stories. They were then seniors, and they had such a wealth of stories, and somehow wove me into them. For me, they were the women who taught me the value of story, and of telling stories, and of remembering stories, and of feeling worthy enough to write them down, and of gathering people together.

I think of those people who were wise elders in my life, and I think of the frail elderly I saw when my father was in long term care, those who often didn’t get visitors, and I think that we need to remind ourselves that all people are to be valued. Age, in so many cultures, is something that is valued, not denied or avoided. The strange Western phenomenon of plastic surgery and denial of the physical aging process is, I think, terribly sad and unsettling. Are we so afraid to be here, to still be alive, to gain more and more life experiences as we go along our paths, side by side? Are we so quick to cast off people?

As of yesterday, April 12th, almost half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths were in long term care residences. That it takes the corona virus to wake people up about the state of elder care in Canada is a worry, I think, but it may be that one of the things that might change after the virus has swept across the country will be the way in which we treat the frail elderly. That it might take this awful thing, and these great personal losses in long term care homes, breaks my heart. Why, I wonder, has it taken this for us to stop and think, just for a scant moment even, about how we treat our elders?

I go to Wagamese for comfort these days. I go to him more often than anyone else. We are all part of one song, and that he so openly shared his culture’s wisdom to teach us is a gift I’ll always be grateful for. He has been my greatest teacher in recent years…and I miss him being here. But I will always be grateful for all of the books, all of the words, he wrote and shared.





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