Archive for July, 2020

You can’t be alive on the planet right now and not know about the fuss over wearing little homemade fabric masks. I’ve mostly avoided looking at social media in recent weeks, just posting a thing or two, and then ducking out. Part of this is because I continuously shake my head at people’s self-centred stupidity. If you know something like this virus is spread through touch, well, you can pretty much manage washing your hands. Our parents teach us that as we grow up, and, if they don’t, then I know I’ve spoken quietly to a few teenage students about how soap can cure a myriad of ills, and will serve you well in life. Now, if the newest scientific studies are telling us that this virus is spread through droplets exhaled through our mouths and noses, or through sneezing, or through singing, then it would seem to be fairly logical that we wouldn’t all rise up and not consider a few things…even just in passing.

So…some points to consider:

~For those of us with underlying health concerns—either invisible or visible—a mask means that we know we need to be responsible for our own health and well-being. We don’t do it out of fear, just so you know, but because we’re being proactive with our own health. It also means that we know there are others out there, just like us, who may be a little bit anxious about how this pandemic thing is progressing. And, no, it’s not easy to say ‘I’m nervous about this virus’ or ‘I’m fearful of how it could impact my health’ out loud, mostly because now there’s a stigma—for wearing masks, or for contracting a virus that is stealthy and a bit of an asshole, if we’re all honest about it. In the early days of the pandemic, people were muttering things like “We need to know who has it, how they got it, and what their names are.” I was talking to a Toronto friend about it earlier on, just on email, and they were saying that it reminded them of the panic and discrimination after AIDS arrived on the scene in North America in the 1980s. It feels a bit like a witch hunt, and it makes me think that we need to check our hearts and minds on this one. For those of us who care for, or love, people with underlying health issues—again, either invisible or visible—wearing a mask means you know they’re more vulnerable of really dying from this disease.

~There’s a lot about fear here. Maybe, by avoiding wearing a mask, people can pretend to convince themselves that things are as they were before COVID-19 arrived. But…they aren’t the same…and they won’t be for a long time. Wearing a mask might trigger people to think this whole pandemic is real. Well…it is real. If you follow some of the scientific studies that are being published and mentioned online, even today, some of the top minds are saying this is transmitted in an airborne fashion. But…knowledge isn’t fear. Knowledge is power. So…if we know that that’s the way the thing is spread, why not try to prevent its spread…before it hurts the most vulnerable in our communities, around the world?

~I’ve written about the frail elderly before in an earlier pandemic entry. It upset me then, knowing that this would likely happen, and it’s only made me more upset now that we’re in July. Having the military being sent into long term care homes (and I’m sorry…but I don’t care whether they’re non-profit or for profit in origin…so don’t get me started there) meant that a lot of truths were revealed. Those of us who have cared for, or who have advocated for, parents in long term care know that it means a schedule of visits that are jotted down at the start of a week, varying in times and days, so that you can be sure that your loved ones are cared for as well as they should be. I should say here, now, that I have great respect for those who care for our frail elderly in long term care, but I also know that they are overworked, underpaid, and often work other jobs to cobble together a proper living in a society that really would rather shuffle our elders off because it fears aging and death. Here’s a thought: why not pay them better, and why not offer them more support in what is a really, really difficult job, both physically and emotionally?

I follow Nora Loreto on Twitter. She’s a journalist. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Loreto’s been posting stats about the numbers of people in long term and residential care homes who have died from COVID-19. As of last night, July 4, 2020, of the 8,674 Canadians who have died from the virus, Loreto has linked 7,252 to a residential care facility. That’s 83.6%, by her accounting. Now, it’s easy enough for people to say “Don’t make me wear a fucking mask” or “This is all a conspiracy by the government” or “You’re all sheep” but…I wonder if they’d start to give a shit if they had someone they loved in residential care. These are not just the frail elderly, by the way. You can count in people with disabilities, too, those who live in neighbourhood homes and who are cared for by people who are our friends and acquaintances. You can count in the people who are marginalized within our fucked up Western society. I’m not listing them off here, but maybe this pandemic should have us look to our own hearts, to see where we’ve not supported certain groups as compassionately as we ought to have done in the past.

~This also just reminds me of what it’s like to have a chat with someone who doesn’t want to wear a condom during sex. They’re usually self-involved. Now, I know, this is not the same way that COVID-19 is spread, but this speaks to the notion of caring for others and making wise decisions for your own–and others’–health. Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are something we teach kids about in schools across Canada. In Ontario, the sex ed curriculum was revised a few years ago, and we know that knowledge is power. The uproar about that stunned me. I don’t know. When I was growing up, we were separated into two gendered groups and were given two separate ‘talks.’ I remember a pink and grey pamphlet that really stymied me in Grade 8 Health class. (This was even more fucked up if you were in the Catholic system in the 1970s…as you might imagine.)

So. If you know you can ‘catch something,’ then why wouldn’t you be proactive in your planning and in the way you live your life? (If you care for a partner enough to wear a condom, to stop the spread of STIs, then why wouldn’t you just care enough to wear a mask when you’re inside a grocery store? Are you having a dalliance with the avocados? With the kiwi fruit? Doubt it. (or I certainly hope not…but to each their own, I suppose…)

I figure…if you’re having sex, then you can also likely manage the rather basic machinations of putting on a simple fabric mask with polka dots or stripes on it. (I have two that I’m especially fond of—one is brown with polka dots, thanks to my cousin, Mary Kelly, down in Kingston, and the other is a leaf pattern, with thanks to Marjorie Stintzi up near Rainy River. In total, I have about four, so…there’s always one in the car for good measure.)  Too, though, I mean…this is about caring for loads more people than just one person you’re intimate with on a regular basis. This is about caring for one another–in community–and about caring how we move forward. Your use of a mask protects the other person more than you. So…by wearing a mask, you show care for others. It’s not a conspiracy. If anything, it’s a conspiracy about spreading a philosophy of kindness and compassion.

~And, here’s the really big thing about wearing masks. Lean in close to your computer or phone now, like you’re huddled over a campfire and I’m telling you a story, or you’re trying to hide from someone: By wearing a mask, you help to keep our hospital system from being overrun. You only need to look to America to see what’s happening in states like Texas and Florida. There are others, I know, but the news reports I watched online from those two states are heartbreaking. Now, I’m not a scientist, although I once dated one fairly briefly. (He fancied himself a poet…but he wasn’t one…) So. I think it’s really about reading the science behind this virus. For me, this can be a difficult thing. (I failed science at Marymount…and there are plenty of stories of me in a science classroom that only a few women my age know, mostly because they were in the same class that year…and…it wasn’t pretty. The math and science teachers back at Marymount there were…very kind to me…) Basically, as a poet, I think in image and metaphor, not in fancy schmancy scientific terminology. I don’t understand all of it, but I’m fairly clever and a quick learner if someone’s a good teacher.

And now, here’s the other thing: Our health care workers are the first line of defence in so many ways, along with other groups of people who we’ve come to understand do much more than we ever imagined before this all started back in mid-March. They need proper PPE. They’ll need PPE for a very long time to come, if we see how all this plays out—based on the history of pandemics. I don’t know the stats on how many health care workers have died in Canada because of COVID. They died caring for people we might have known or loved. They sacrificed their lives when they really shouldn’t have been asked to do that. Just because you don’t know someone who’s got the virus, or who’s died from it, doesn’t mean that person who died doesn’t matter. The people who have died had names and were someone’s beloved. It doesn’t matter whether they were 18 or 37 or 81. They aren’t numbers. They are people with names.

~I’ve been watching, with interest, what people are saying about education, too. Come September, teachers will be front line workers again, and they will need to be properly considered. I worry about high schools. Anyone who’s a teacher will know that classes have been stuffed full of kids in recent years, and that there have been cuts to teacher jobs and hirings. I feel for those administrators who have to make decisions quickly now. I feel for teachers more, though, who are really just hoping for some sense of a plan. I feel for parents, too. But, and let me make this clear, I also want to say that this pandemic has revealed that quite a lot of people see schools as a form of day care rather than as places where children learn. To reinvigorate the economy, parents need to return to work. I get that. What I don’t want to see happen is teachers and students being put at risk of contracting this virus. Schools should be safe places. That means that there needs to be proper ventilation, access to proper PPE for all teachers, and more intense cleaning of classroom and office spaces.

What bothered me about most about watching Quebec open some schools a while back was that those teachers and children were like guinea pigs. There were spikes afterwards, obviously, and that frightens me. Our children aren’t expendable, and, just because we don’t see them affected in the same way as adults, or in the same sorts of numbers or percentages, doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to be. I also understand that mental health is key here, especially when socialization is such a key part of child development. But…this is a pandemic. It’s that “unprecedented time” thing that everyone talks about. We don’t know enough yet. We just don’t. But…if we follow the science, and include our hearts in that ‘equation,’ I think we’ll maybe have a shot at making it through that second wave. And please don’t tell me that a second wave isn’t coming…or that Bill Gates or Richard Branson is somehow mysteriously involved.


I feel like I’ll put a trigger warning on this blog entry saying “If you don’t like masks, don’t read this” because I’m tired of the self-centred, me-first philosophy of life. That’s the old way. This is a new world, and I don’t think it’s going back anytime soon. What I do think is that we should maybe learn something about community from this pandemic.

And…here’s the last thing I’ll say: the faster everyone puts on their masks, the faster I’ll be able to hug the four or five most important people in my life. As someone who lives alone, I haven’t been able to touch anyone I love in too many months. I’m in a state of what’s called ‘touch starvation.’ It’s sad that I had to research it, so that I wouldn’t feel like I was going mad. (It’s also probably why I love being outside in the rain these days, or swimming, because at least something is touching my skin…but that’s a whole other series of poems that I’ll work on in coming days and weeks.) I love those four or five people of mine, and it’s hard not to just want to latch on like one of those little plastic monkeys in barrels when I see them in person. That would scare most of them, to know that I’m a tempest inside a body right now. (I haven’t seen a couple of them in person yet…and I almost dread it when I think about getting to see them…because right now I feel like I’m in a boat without a rudder.)

I do know, though, when I do get to hug them, that they’re going to not be prepared for the gales of tears I will weep…because…you never know how long you’re here on the planet for…and this time should sort of make you value your most important people even more…especially when you live alone. They all better let me have a glass of something alcoholic  beforehand…because then maybe I’ll just fall asleep quickly and they will be able to back out off the back porch. (If they’re really smart, they’ll also just ask me for all of my important passwords…or ask me something totally mad…because I’ll be like a bad Russian spy…and spurt out everything I think or feel without a filter…)

All this is to say that, if you don’t wear a mask, and now that you’ll be required to wear them here in town, maybe think about why it’s not such a bad thing after all. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s actually what my dad used to call ‘a long game.’ I don’t understand football at all, but he always used to make that analogy when it came to my own writing. “Don’t worry, Kimber…it’s a long game. Set your eyes on the horizon, but put your head down and work hard. Look up every so often to see where you’re headed.”

This is the part where we put our heads down…where we work hard…for ourselves and for everyone else. For the ones we know and love, and for the ones others know and love…even if we don’t know them at all. That, now that…would be a lesson to have learned in a pandemic.



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