Archive for June, 2020

I’ve been finding the contrast between social media and real life hard lately. It’s led me to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram, which I’ve never really done before. In the ‘before times,’ before the virus swirled around the world, the pictures helped me to feel more connected to other people. I live alone with a dog, so being able to see the lives of friends from around the world helped me to feel included. Mostly, I have friends who seem to like nature, so I didn’t mind seeing photos of hikes near lakes and in amidst trees. Social media felt inclusive then. Lately, I find it makes me feel excluded and lonely inside. I’ve been thinking about why, and there are likely so many reasons.

I think of Susan Sontag and her On Photography, and how she says people curate images to create an image of what they think the world would like to see (or believe) of their lives. My images are almost always of nature. I don’t usually do selfies. I do, though, take photos of my feet. There’s a reason behind this. Near the ends of their lives, both of my parents were without the use of their legs or feet. My mother had a trans-metatarsal amputation of her right foot for the last eight months of her life, so was bedridden until she died, and my father fell on a fishing trip and ended up as a complex quadriplegic during the last two and a half years of his life.  As a result of this, I grew to be much more aware of the gift that I had in being able to walk and hike, and to be grounded into the earth I love so much. Now, I take photos of my feet, sometimes on hikes against the black of northern Ontario rocks, and sometimes on the shores of a lake before I go for a swim. Mostly, though, I take photos of my feet when I highlight poetry books I’m reading and reviewing. Poetry, for me, grounds me. My feet do that, too. For both of those things, I am grateful. My feet, for me—in a symbolic way—mean that I can still keep moving, after a lot of struggle in life. They help me to stand strong on my own, even in storms. (Sometimes, though, I also imagine myself as a birch tree, so that I envision my whole body as a strong, but bendable tree with my feet as roots and anchors…but that’s a whole other story I tell myself.)

When the pandemic began, and when self-isolation was new and felt like it might not take too long, it was easy to pretend things would (or could) continue as they had been. I tried to think I was just in the middle of a serious writing retreat. Just before it all hit, I was making revisions to my latest play, All The Things I Draw. I had a session with my dramaturge on March 11. Later that afternoon, the local university shut down. It felt surreal. I had edits to make on that play, and I have a date set to finish it by, one I’ve set for myself. Still, since that day of dramaturgy in mid-March, I haven’t been able to touch it. I haven’t been able to make the edits and rewrite the sections that need rewriting. I have all of my meticulously taken notes, with all of my questions scribbled in the margins of a piece of the script, but they sit next to my writing chair in my little ‘in between’ room, where I sometimes sit to read or write. The play, it seems, is now frozen solid in time, in the ‘before times,’ as one of my online poet friends has so aptly called it. No matter what I try to do, I am drawn to my play, but it repels me, and so I repel it in turn. We are strangely drawn to (and yet also repel) one another. It’s likely a very complex toxic relationship. Fucked up magnets, me and this little play of mine…

I found I have lost the ability to read novels, which completely unsettles me as a writer and avid reader. Some part of my brain seems to have come loose. Nothing connects. There have been more than a few tears shed over that lost bridge between my head and heart. What I’ve come to, instead—and it is the thing I have always loved since I was a girl—is poetry. I can pick up a book of poems by Mary Oliver or Seamus Heaney and read one or two, and not feel as if I’ve failed, or as if I have been irretrievably broken. My mind only ever sees and understands things in image and metaphor. Things, right now, seem fragmented and jig sawed to me. Being on social media has been harder and harder. Wherever I turned, once well into May, there were people saying how wonderful the time has been for them as readers, or as writers, or in their couples, or in their families. Even the divorced couples with shared children seemed fairly happy, playing card games and taking selfies alongside photos of family outings.

This hasn’t been my experience of the pandemic at all. It hasn’t been pleasant. It’s been a struggle. What used to make me feel connected now makes me disconnected. Still, we are all on the same tempestuous ocean, but in very different kinds of boats. No one’s experience of it all will ever feel similar to someone else’s. This is what I tell myself. So comparison, when I see too much togetherness on social media images—whether it’s real or whether it’s curated for the comfort of the person who’s posting it—makes me feel ‘less than’ of late. Can’t stay in a place where you feel less than. I’ve learned that from people and experiences over a long period of time. I miss the images of trees and rocks and lakes, and knowing what people are up to, but I can’t handle the rest right now…so it’s good practice for me to gather my energy inwards into making sure my own boat doesn’t sink.

Some writers will post on Twitter that they’ve finished drafts of novels. Others will say they also can’t write. Right now, I gravitate to the orbits of those who also confess that they can’t find the words, or the links, or the sense of connectivity to literary creativity. I put together a manuscript of poems through April, but it felt like an exercise of ‘doing something’ rather than of ‘creating something new.’ I like to feel I’m amongst others who can’t find the words, or who are looking around trying to pick up pieces of a life that you had planned, but isn’t quite working out as well as you’d imagined. I get fed up with writing pandemic poems. I have written too many pandemic poems. Then I think, ‘Well, of course you’re writing pandemic poems. You’re living through a pandemic. You’re writing. The words you write, in poems, will of course reflect your concerns and experiences.’ And, really, how could I write anything but pandemic poems right now? My lexicon has changed, poetically, inside my head. The images are shifting. I can’t find the lighthouses I used to find, but I keep seeing hourglasses and boats without anchors or oars. Fitting, somehow.

What I have done to cultivate creativity has felt a bit haphazard and daft in its intention. I don’t like puzzles. I don’t like adult colouring books. They make me anxious because I can never complete them. There are too many tiny pieces and spaces. So, what did I do? I ordered a paint by number kit. That seemed to be a decent idea. It arrived, and it was lovely, but it was lacking in numbers. (People who have known me a long time will laugh because they know I have a very long string of crap luck. One only needs to ask me about the time a tow truck driver stopped at a pharmacy to dry shave—all to impress me and then ask me out while taking my broken down car to the garage—to know that my historic string of crap luck goes back at least twenty years.) In any case, I tried to paint the little shapes in the guise of the photo that came with the outlined paint by numbers canvas, but I only got more and more frustrated. One more thing I couldn’t do properly in a pandemic. Fuck.

So. This is what I did.

I took out all of the little acrylic paint tubes and opened them, covering the canvas with paint and creating a mess of strange, alien-like red flowers with dark green vines underneath. It’s not at all pretty, but it’s something that I made. It’s the making that seems to help. I’ll post it here, because I can’t curate my life at all right now, and I’m learning to practice letting go of things I thought I knew were truths, and accepting that new truths are making themselves each and every moment of each and every new pandemic day…even if they make me mostly feel nauseous and in need of a Gravol.


I planted tiny seeds in empty egg cartons. At first, they didn’t sprout. For weeks, I stood over them on the back porch, bending down to see if they would grow. No. Of course not. Like the words that wouldn’t emerge or link themselves into being, the tiny egg crate seeds were saying ‘Fuck you, Kim.’ Last week, though, after a few days of cooler and rainier weather here, the carrots emerged in tiny fern-like fountains of green and I said out loud to them, a big cup of coffee in my hand, ‘Are you sure you want to be here now? Things are really falling apart out there…’ (Yes, I know I’m referring to Pema Chodron’s brilliant book…) But still they grew. Stubborn, these seeds of mine. They conjured themselves into being, with the help of a few hot days followed by a few rainy ones.

I planted window boxes, even the one outside my bedroom window, the one that I’ve never planted in all of the seven summers I’ve lived here in this little red brick hobbit house. This year, I told myself—while remembering William Morris’s philosophy of cultivating beauty in your home—I will make my window box beautiful. I will be able to see beauty, even as the world seems more and more like an out of control and very weedy terrarium to me. And so the little sweet potato vines are growing, tossing themselves gracefully and poetically over the edge of the box, looking hopeful. (I want to warn them, though…and tell them to mind what the lemmings did…but…)

I sing Irish songs out loud now, as I always have, as if to prove to myself that my lungs, my breath, and my voice are strong, and will continue to be. The plans I had made, the ways I’ve been making meaning over the years, worked for the old way of living, for the time before the arrival of the virus. Now, there are no set plans because what I’m learning is that plans aren’t really well suited to an apocalyptic time. I’m learning that I can do a lot more yoga than I’d ever imagined, except when the dog walks under me. I’m learning that my feet will always keep me rooted down to the earth, even as my Sagittarian self longs for something dreamier.

I was thinking of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art yesterday. It’s a book I’ve always loved. One quote that seems to resonate with me these days, in all of their uncertainty, is: “Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we really are and become it.” The time before the pandemic was more about the first part of the sentence, right? And now, well, now we’re living in the second part of the sentence. We’ve had to spend time with ourselves in ways we haven’t before—the single people, the married people who are both happy and unhappy, and the separated and divorced people with kids moving between houses. We’ve had to face things we couldn’t before, because we always made ourselves too frantically busy, too much with the ‘doing’ and not enough with the ‘being.’ Now, well, now the ‘being’ feels terribly hard, when the default has always been to just fill spaces with ‘doing.’

I miss reading fiction so much that my heart hurts. A friend offered to bring me books, but I can only handle poetry, so to see anything else makes me feel physically sick inside right now. This week, I started Harry Potter. I have prescribed it for myself, trying to focus on reading two chapters a day. Why this book? Because. I know what the dark and light do in these books. I know there will be battles and that good will win out, even though people will struggle for what’s right and even though some will likely perish. I know that the ‘outsiders’ and eccentrics in the story will triumph because they are unique and true to themselves deep inside. I know I will lull myself into a rhythm of reading that will pull me back—I hope—to being able to read prose again soon.

And I’m immersing myself in Charlie Mackesy’s beautiful little book, The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse. It’s not hard to read because it’s full of tiny illustrations. You can start at the beginning and then make your way to the end, or you can open it at any point—just as you can with a book of poems—and find yourself lost in the lovely words and images. It reminds me of my mum’s favourite book, which was The Little Prince. In both beautiful books, which seem on the surface to be written for children, there are messages of wisdom and kindness from which the world could learn right now.

Here is the thing I think I’m trying to say: this pandemic time is not about learning a new language, or teaching yourself how to make stained glass, or bake really complex opera cakes in their tiny, multitudinous layers, and it’s not even about pretending to do any of those things well. Those are (and let’s just all call them what they are) distractions from the uncertainty, fear, and grief we feel as humans—living in the midst of a global pandemic and, now, witnessing the horror of racism and violence. I won’t speak to that because I am white and privileged. I want to listen. To not mention it here, though, would be ridiculous. If the first wave of the corona virus was an invisible health threat that swept the planet, as well as a real cluster fuck for your mental health, then the second wave is revealing humankind’s inhumanity towards itself. The third wave…who knows? It will likely just be the second wave of the virus, and that’s hardly a ‘likely just be’ if you ask anyone who has silently lurking health issues or who has someone they love living in a long term care home. So. How do we manage, then, is what I’ve been asking myself. As a creative person, I need to create. If I can’t create with the words I’m used to creating with, and if even reading (which is usually such an escape) is hard to do, I have to think it’s because we’re living through trauma.

Yes. We’re living through global trauma, of more than one kind, and then we’re living through trauma that’s been freakily reflected and embedded in our individual lives. Maybe some people still flourish in the pandemic, but I’m not one of them. I’ve surviving. I kind of imagine we all are. If I say I’m only surviving, praying for a vaccine, does that mean I’m weak? No. Mentally ill or ‘fragile’? No. It means I know that I can’t expect more of myself right now. I can’t expect to finish a novel I used to love writing every day. I can’t expect to make the ‘right kinds of edits and rewrites’ on my newest play. It means I have to be less hard on myself, more gentle, and more accepting of the fact that we’re living through a very surreal time. I have to hold myself tightly, and closely.

If you’re a writer, and you’ve been watching other writers on social media say how fantastic a time they’re having, finishing stuff up, just know that I’m not in that cohort. I feel broken as a writer right now. I can focus on small poetry book reviews, and I can write blog posts, and I can write pandemic poetry (which I hate writing), but I’m mostly trying to find other ways to assure myself that I can still create something worthwhile. I’ve signed up for online writing courses, and then been really worried that my frazzled head will let me down. My mind is the thing I like most about myself, but lately it’s rusty and clunky in how it works creatively. That worries me, leaves me trying to find my sea legs again as a writer.

I also am part of a small group of local playwrights. Once a week since this began, we respond to a prompt that one of us sets out. We only write for an hour, and then we post our work around a text-based sort of campfire that proves we can still set aside an hour a week to create something imaginative beyond what’s lurking ominously outside in reality. We don’t ‘zoom’ this. We just write separately and the pieces appear for reading and commentary. It proves we still exist, that we can still create, that we are somehow still connected by words and writerly friendship. It proves to me that I can still write, that once a week time slot. It’s not the same as meeting in person, though, and that’s hard, especially because writers tend to be introverts anyway, so writing groups can offer that sense of community you might be craving. After all, even the most introverted of writers need human contact…

I keep looking for lessons during this time. Poets do that, I think. It’s likely why we end up with other poet friends, so we feel less awkward in the world. Maybe the lesson is to be found in looking for the tiny silver linings, in trying to find light in darkness, and maybe it’s just even about breathing through a difficult yoga pose that could easily be renamed ‘life in the pandemic era,’ or maybe it’s just about leaning into the uncertainty of the unknown in the face of 2020’s chaos and brutality.

I think–for the creatives out there–we know that creating is important. It’s what we’re here on the planet to do. Often times, I think, too, that what we create has a purpose beyond what we can intuit at the time when we create it. A painting, a poem, a song…these things can move through us, and then ripple out in waves of light to other people. We create because we need to create. When we feel we can’t create…it’s hard. And, too, we create and speak up against darker things like oppression, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, hatred, and bullying in the work we do. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s more subtle. Art…the creation of art…is so important these days. So, even if I’m struggling with my own creative process right now in a really tangible way, I can think….

….maybe…if I plant carrot seeds and they grow, I’ll be thankful. And, if I can write a pandemic poem that reminds me of what has been lost, I’ll be thankful for what I remember loving most about that ‘before time.’ And if I can listen to a piece of music that makes me cry while I sit underneath a tree at the end of the day, I’ll be thankful again. It’s a time of being within ourselves, and of being true to ourselves, and we will all do that in different ways. It’s a time of speaking up after being silenced by others for too long, and also a time of knowing when to listen more than to speak. Different boats, same big ocean…and all of us looking for our lighthouses…



And…an addendum for those who wonder: I may love the Harry Potter books, but I’m not keen on J.K. Rowling’s TERF-dom this week. Still working through that discrepancy in my head and heart now, and very angry about—and disheartened by—her comments. For me, the books have lit up my life during my very darkest times, and will likely continue to do so. That she has spoken so hatefully is wrong. In my life, her books have saved me in ways I can’t even begin to express here. Thinking this week of those who have also loved her work, but who this week feel betrayed and battered by her ignorant and hurtful words…

…and wishing for the wisdom that only Dumbledore could offer us during one of our darkest and most challenging of years. (He’s his own man in my mind now, anyway…separate from her entirely…as all good characters should be.)

I kind of think Dumbledore would say to keep fighting any kind of darkness, to keep creating, to keep spreading light and compassion, and to be lighthouses for one another…but you’d have to ask him to be sure…




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