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Straight A Student: Evolutions in Researching Myself by Tressa Ford

Résumé:

A brief study of certain adjectives and how they form personality and personhood. This study draws on both dictionary definitions and lived experience.

Research:

Agender (adjective)

-Of, relating to, or being a person who has an internal sense of being neither male nor female nor some combination of male and female: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity is genderless or neutral (Merriam-Webster)

A label first suggested to me by friends in high school, a term that felt audacious even then. The linguistics are simple. You start with the prefix A-, signifying “not” or “without,” which is then glued to the base morpheme GENDER. A word that by nature connotes an absent space, a discordance in the “natural” order of things. In practice, it signifies a state of incomprehension, of looking inwards, searching for an internal label that pronounces definitively “male” or “female.” And never finding one.  

My curious mind cannot let this matter rest. I pass people in the street and wonder how rude it would be to sit them down with a recorder and notepad and ask, “Excuse me sir/ma’am, where exactly in your inner constitution does it even say Woman? Man?”

I cannot tell if GENDER is friend or foe, and the antagonism of A-GENDER exhausts me. There’s no place to stand when living in the state of A-, no place to be that’s not in conflict with GENDER. And my quarrel was always with other people’s perceptions of gender anyway. Not gender itself.

I ease away from this term, turn instead to the appealingly modern NON-BINARY. If the first is a battleground, then the latter represents a neutral territory, a safe house located off the map. NON-BINARY doesn’t exclude that mystifying concept of GENDER – only stipulates one that isn’t confined to a binary existence.

Today, I look inside and find no battleground. Only uncharted lands and an internal label proudly proclaiming Here There Be Dragons.

Aromantic (adjective)

-Characterized by or involving no romantic feelings; experiencing or expressing no feelings of romantic attraction or attachment towards others (Oxford English Dictionary)

A term that debuted in my life the first time a boy told me he loved me, and my heart seized with a special kind of dread. “No,” I wanted to say. “No, that’s not going to work out for you. For either of us.” Not out of insecurity or self-deprecation, but the fear of an unhappy future. A future where a relationship is worn down, eroded, through presumptions of sentiment, an unequal meeting of emotion. But how do you tell that to someone?

Not even sure if this deviation is a facet of me, my brain, or my environment, I at first accept the state of A- vs. ROMANTIC. I begin the conflict tactically, attempting to separate ROMANTIC from its mystique. Attempting to turn it into something logical, definable – something I can defeat. But it eludes my grasp, twisting and morphing, until I’m staring down the barrel of the far grander concept of LOVE. And like with gender, I question whether this is really the foe I want to face.

I retreat, turn in on myself, begin drafting the terms of a ceasefire. In the end, I am unable to externalize my conflict with ROMANTIC, unable to lay it at the feet of society and call it a day. The space between A- and its target is a gap fueled by my own confusion – bridgeable, but only when ROMANTIC starts making some damn sense. In the end, I let this label pass from my life.

Asexual (adjective)

1: lacking sex or functional sex organs

2a: involving or reproducing by reproductive processes that do not involve the union of individuals or gametes

b: produced by asexual reproduction

3a: not involving, involved with, or relating to sex: devoid of sexuality

b: not having sexual feelings toward others: not experiencing sexual desire or attraction

4: not having or showing a particular sexual identity: neither male nor female

(Merriam-Webster)

This final piece clicks into place to form a solid triad of dissonance, setting me solidly adrift from the human experiences of gender, romance, and sex. In a sci-fi story, I’m better suited to play a dispassionate vessel of AI than the relatable human protagonist. Still, I’ve got flesh and pulsing blood beneath my skin, so back to the drawing board for those looking to pin down that “Universal Human Experience.”

For many A-SEXUAL is a term exclusive to a textbook or a lab, but the clinical simplicity of this term doesn’t bother me. With it, I flip the narrative, transforming myself from subject to scientist, replacing the minority under the microscope with the majority.

Through observation and the subject interviews, I find that there is an observable force, like gravity, that exerts itself upon the majority of the populace. A force from which an estimated 1% of the population is exempt. Further qualitative research shows that this force is so great that many subjects struggle to imagine a reality in which sexual desire plays no role. What a luxury that must be – to be so comfortable in your normality.

I wrap up the results of my study, concluding that the dissonance is external and not my own. I shed it, gladly. 

Autistic (adjective)

2a: Of the nature of or relating to autism; affected with or characteristic of autism.

b: In weakened use and colloquial (potentially offensive even when used without derogatory intent). Displaying any of various traits which might be considered suggestive of autism, such as awkwardness in social situations, restricted interests, or repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Fittingly, this label arrives last – the alphabet itself acknowledging my hesitation. I cannot attest to a formal diagnosis for this label, nor can I be confident in it while a sign over my head declares Imposer! Imposter!

But what I can attest to is that my brain straddles two worlds – the one I experience, and the one that everyone else does. Each world has its own rulebook, knowledge of which is difficult to ascertain. Information is gathered through careful observation of others, taking notes on things like public comportment and voice inflection. Compiling files labelled “Oversharing,” “Small Talk,” and “Eye Contact.” Social and communication skills are maintained at a passing level through constant revision and self-editing. And every instance in memory where I failed to read a room is archived and analyzed so that the next conversation will go better.

And when my world is rocked with the waves of the other, well… In the privacy of my own space, I don’t have to pretend as hard. I seek comfort in the repetitive motions of braiding hair, the predictability of a favourite episode. Chewing on the same story for months, years even, regardless of what else in my life changes. Though these practices are well-established, new words like “stimming” and “hyperfixation” sneak into the internal dictionary of my world. Words that I can research and understand. Words that tell me I’m not the only one.

But in the end, I retreat to the safe neutrality of N’s once more. This time I find refuge in the fluidity of “NEURODIVERGENT” – a term that is just broad enough to be sure I fit. Good enough for now.

Conclusion:

The final “A” of this study is “Abnormal,” whose effects on personality and personhood require a lifetime of diligent study. The art of taking pride in abnormality even more so.

Submit your story today!

Here at the Black Bear Review, not only do we believe that everyone has a story to tell, but we also believe that the finest form of story-telling is through our art. Art grants us all an escape into a whole new reality, and gives us an opportunity to share our stories in a way that is both beautiful and unique. Whether it be paint on a canvas, words on a page, the perfect camera angle, or the notes in a song…the possibilities are endless, and entirely up to you.

We are officially in gear for another year of the Black Bear Review, and we want to share your stories. We accept a wide variety of art, including poetry, fiction, non-ficton, visual art, and other forms of media such as film and audio works. You can submit right here on our website, or email us your submissions at blackbearreview@gmail.com

The possibilities are endless…What’s your story

Huck Yeah! By Stephanie Henriksen

Moving to Nelson, British Columbia changed my relationship with skiing. It was never my passion. I was introduced to the sport by my Canadian father, but we spent most of our time in Indonesia, swimming in a warm ocean. The snow globe of Winter sports is unique because it requires one crucial element: snow. Where I grew up there is no snow, there are no seasons, constant Summer and tropical rain. In observing the cultures of my mother’s and father’s countries of origin I am left in awe at the creativity of humanity; our traditions deserve to live on and we are allowed to be proud of them.

Honestly, ski culture seemed self – indulgent and elitist to me, always on the outside looking in. Yet it was I who decided to move to a secluded mountain town. Skiing on the mountains makes me feel alive, less depressed. How can I judge a way of life that has accepted me and helped me to heal? Well, I can’t. What I can do is use my privilege to generate momentum for causes that matter, like slowing down the rate of global warming. West Kootenay communities relish their right to privacy, luscious and abundant Summers, colourful and crisp Falls, true Winters, followed by the re – birth of Spring. What will happen if our planet continues to heat up at the current rate? Parts of our world, like where I grew up, will become inhospitable. Forest fires around the world are burning increasingly often, turning clean air toxic, and ruining Summers. People will have nowhere to go but North. Mountains will see less snow, and the culture of skiing, like many cultures of human history, could very well die out before they should.

To truly adapt to the culture of Winter sports, I believe, one must immerse themselves in a community that worships the mountains. Ski culture has been refined over centuries of evolution from its initial inventions in China, Russia, and Scandinavia for the specific reason of getting around. It has not only become a physical outlet but a spiritual art form. Fluffy white snow suspended in the air, gently falling down, and compiling on the earth will always feel magical to me. Navigating my way through the snowy mountains makes me feel like I’m meditating. Global warming is threatening this precious and fragile ecosystem which gives purpose to many communities, and an entire culture built around Winter could become inaccessible or erased if humans continue to contribute.

I am thrilled to report that recently, on this most tumultuous year of 2020, I watched a documentary featuring pro – snowboarder Jeremy Jones, Purple Mountains, by Jeremy “Bones” Butler and a ski film, Huck Yeah! by Matchstick Productions, starring a young local legend by the name of Sam Kuch, which both highlight the detrimental effects of climate change on Winter sports. Purple Mountains is available on YouTube and entirely focused on debates between Jeremy Jones and global warming non – believers. Jones created a non – profit organization in 2007 aptly named (POW) Protect Our Winters, providing ways to contribute to the cause. Jones is trying to preserve a sacred tradition for his family and fellow mountain lovers. Professional athletes in the world of Winter sports or any sport really, are judged from the outside looking in. And yes, they are privileged. So, when this privilege is used to promote awareness on important causes such as the global issue of climate justice, I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief.

My friends and I bundled up on a chilly Friday evening to watch Huck yeah! from the sidewalk overlooking Nelson’s new drive–in theatre, created as a response the Pandemic. An event organized by the only movie theatre in town, The Civic. Tickets were sold out for the movie despite the steep price of $40.00 per vehicle. Proceeds for the event went towards supporting the West Kootenay Eco Society and The Civic Theatre. When I discovered this, I couldn’t help but feel an approving smile slide up my face. Positive change can come from supporting professional athletes! I am reminded to take action on a local level, within the community that has accepted me. But does this community accept everyone? To be continued.

All that I learn about contributing to this community, that is committed to renewable energy, can one day be applied elsewhere, where the fires are burning too often. The West Kootenay Eco Society has pledged to work towards having 100% renewable energy at the community level by 2050 with signed agreements towards this goal from the villages of Kaslo, Warfield, Silverton, New Denver & Slocan, the cities of Castlegar, Rossland, and Nelson. I’m especially grateful that the Eco Society hope to “support low – income people, help Indigenous people, and retrain workers from the fossil fuel industry to jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency.” I entered a raffle to win an e – bike today! Maybe one – day our children will all ride e – bikes to get around.

After the screening of Huck Yeah! my friends and I went to a bar and celebrated being together in our group of six. The bar closed at 10:00 P.M. (lame I know, but there is still a Pandemic going on) and we walked uphill towards the home of a very friendly group of new friends, all excellent skiers, and I know this for a fact. It started to gently snow, fluffy white flakes suspended in the air, gently falling down. A moment in time, modestly perfect with old friends and new in his mountain town, that for now, I call home sweet home.

Education in Hand by Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta

One day, I told a student I was going to be away the following week to take a course. His response was, “Ms. Roberts, don’t you think you’ve been in school long enough?” That was two degrees and a diploma ago. My family thinks there is no reason to go to school if you have a job. I disagree. I’ve spent most of my life in schools because there has always been something I wanted to learn or wanted to teach. 

Many years ago, I went to school because I wanted to learn American Sign Language. I loved the language learning but loathed the social politics of my classmates and the field of sign language interpreting, so I left after completing the first level of training and moved to a small mountain town. One day, a friend told me about a job posting at the local elementary school for an educational assistant that knew sign language. Knowing that I had less training than was ideal, I was reluctant to apply. But it turned out that I was much less unqualified than anyone else available.  My main job responsibility was to sign everything spoken and to voice everything signed. This was okay until he got older and the teacher talk time became longer. By time the student began grade eight so much signing had caused severe tendonitis in my wrists. My hands couldn’t do up the buttons on my clothes or cut my morning eggs, so they certainly couldn’t sign. With the help of many heath care professionals I nursed my hands and went back to school.

But the student didn’t really continue with school. He was officially enrolled for a year or more after that, but his attendance was so sporadic that eventually the school stopped employing an interpreter for him. I remain shocked that authorities allowed an underage student to stop going to school, but I don’t blame the student for dropping off. Once school was not about learning through play, he was isolated from his peers. He did not have any role models. He didn’t know that deaf people can do everything hearing people can do except hear. Once I took him on a field trip to a school in the city that had a program for deaf students. There he saw Deaf teenaged sweethearts talking by the lockers. He was enthralled. He didn’t know deaf boys could have girlfriends. My capitalization of Deaf is not a typo. To be lower case d deaf is a disability; to be capital D Deaf is to belong to Deaf culture – to belong to the language and stories and history and community of the Deaf. For all the years I worked with the student, I advocated without success for him to go to the school we visited, or any other that had a program for deaf students. This would have given him language, peers and education. But his family refused to relocate or send him away to school in the city. The school refused to force their hand by admitting it couldn’t meet his needs. Today he is almost 30 years old and lives with his grandfather. He has less than a grade eight education and he does not have the literacy or language skills to work. He does not have agency. 

That was my first lesson in education as a social justice issue. 

When I first returned to school, I was enrolled in an English degree program; however, one of my first instructors suggested transferring to the Human Services degree program. As it turns out both were right for me, as I ended up following up my degree in Human Services with a diploma in teaching English. The intersection of social services and teaching was perfect training for the next part of my career – teaching English to newcomers to Canada. My adult students were primarily from east African countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria and The Sudan and all had what was referred to as limited formal education. They were not just drop outs. Some had left school because of war or famine or severe poverty. Others had to care for children, and some would have had to move to cities to go to school. Many had suffered trauma. I taught them the English language and Canadian culture and they taught me so much more. Two such lessons came from journal writing. 

There was one student who was in my class for several semesters who always wrote the most superficial journal entries. They read like grade four social studies reports. I pressed him repeatedly to write more personally, and he did, and I was mortified. I was mortified because I had unwittingly pushed this student to talk about his most traumatic experience. In class, we had read a story about a natural disaster, so that was the writing topic that week. In response, the student wrote about the night a flash flood hit his village. Most of the adults drowned in their sleep. He was part of a group of about 30 young people and children who survived the flood and who walked across the desert for weeks looking for help. The youngest children died along the way before the group was eventually picked up by a UN convoy. 

Another time, the class read a story about a dog who rescued its owner from a river. As a Canadian born person, I expected the journal entries to be feel-good stories like the one we read. This time a student wrote about the time she was kidnapped by rebels because her father was high ranking in the military. She was held in the jungle for two weeks before she heard her father’s voice calling out in the night. The rebel guarding her used her as a human shield. A sniper shot him as he held her, and she was freed.  

Reading these stories were invaluable lessons for me. They taught me that I might not know, or even have the capacity to truly understand, the students’ realities. They taught me about overcoming barriers unimaginable to someone Canadian born. They taught me about resilience. They taught me that education gives people the power to control their lives. They taught me that the purpose of adult education is to make lives better in ways a lot of people with agency take for granted.

That was my second lesson in education as a social justice issue.

For those first two lessons I did not have the terminology, social justice, to apply to what I learned from students. I didn’t have the terminology for it because in my own life, I had it and took it for granted. I learned that what I was learning was social justice when I returned to school to complete a master’s degree. As an English language instructor, I had taught students from over 35 different countries and those students taught me that I wanted to know more about adult education beyond the confines of ESL, so I studied adult learning and global change where I learned that not having education is a social justice issue. Even if you have a job. 

I now teach high school English in an academic upgrading program at a small community college. Our adult students are mostly from this area. Some simply need a pre-requisite or two for further study at the college or a university, but many have had a very bad relationship with school in the past. Many of them don’t know it, but they are strong and resilient and trying to make their lives better.  Many prospective students have not made it back yet. In our province, almost half of our citizens do not read well enough to understand newspapers, instruction manuals, health information and basic legal documents such as rental agreements. And, two years ago, only just over two-thirds of grade twelve students graduated from our local high school. Yet, the number of students in academic upgrading at the community college is not overwhelming. I attribute this to a belief in our culture that the purpose of education is employment. If you have a job, then there is no reason to go to school. This sentiment makes me cringe. Because I know education is a social justice issue. Students teach me this over and over again.

Last year, a class I was teaching was reading an example of an essay that mentioned labour unions. One student stuck up their hand and stated that they did not know anything about unions and didn’t think any of their friends would either. Of course, this resulted in a lengthy discussion about labour unions that revealed that many other students were equally in the dark. At the end of the lesson they all walked away knowing that the union’s job is to protect the workers. That in the future, if they had a union job, they could go to the union when they felt mistreated.  They also had the new knowledge that the students’ union is there to advocate for students and that they could get involved with student advocacy.  Sometimes the diversion from the lesson is the real lesson.  

In another class a student shared about how they had recently learned that education was a right. They had never understood this through their troubled school history where they felt that their struggles in education were a personal failing. With this new understanding, the student now feels entitled to education. This was important because we all need to feel we have the right to be where we are and if we have that right, then we can stand up for it. That is agency.  

These were my most recent lessons in education as a social justice issue.

I may return to school one more time. Those who view education as a means to employment have asked, “what is the point of that?” I respond to this with an answer about contributing to my field and the merits of post-retirement teaching, but my inside voice silently responds, “because the students still have more to teach me.” A student once told me, “education is good, but you need your culture in your hand.” I think this is true, but we have two hands, one for education and one for culture. Clasped, they hold us up in life. 

Creating in the Time of COVID 19

In May, we put out a submission call. Send us your work, we urged. Tell us how you’ve been writing your way through the pandemic. Show us what this moment means to you.

Contributor Sarah Beauchamp asserts that “it is the misfits of the world, the artists, the poets, the writers, and the sensitive souls who have this unique ability to capture and reflect the state of the world through art and through language.” We see evidence of this here with a thoughtful, emotional collection of poems, art, even a personal essay based on an Instagram pandemic diary.

As editors, we revelled in the opportunity to stare into the maw of these poems, witness the courage it takes to write them, and then for the poet to hurl them into the midst of this maelstrom.  We are reminded that this is the poet’s job – to allow, permit, and witness, and these poets are living it. Aside from the attention to cadence, rhythm, assonance and line, these poems are a true whispering of the heart’s felt experience, raw and expectant, hopeful and alert.  We were moved by the lines “tell me who I am…the memory is sure/like I’ve been here before” and the longing and ache in “Six Feet Like Oceans”.  These are only small measures of specific moments these poets have offered up to the universal experience in this issue.   

“There is so much to say in turbulent moments like these, and there’s so much importance in saying what needs to be said,” states Jaryn Hollowink in her introduction. We at the Black Bear Review offer up this art and writing as a promise to continue to call out, voice our undying love for you.  From the safety of our den to the light of your home, the comfort and wisdom of these submissions will find a way to reach you.

Thank you for reading~

Almeda Glenn Miller, Leesa Dean, and Renée Harper

Day 8, by Andisa Shayi

During this time the few words I’ve been able to muster have been representative of the profound sense of stagnation I’ve felt within myself and with my relationships in these past few weeks, and in general. When you have no time for anything writing can be a delicious escape, but now with all the time in the world, I’ve come to also see it as scary and a huge imposition on me, as if the words are now saying ‘show us what you’re capable of now that you have no more excuses’. I teeter constantly between shooing this away, and then welcoming it with open arms.

Day 8

morbidly, you whisper
when asked for silence
restless children fill their mouths with
their forearms to kill the sound
and almost choke on creased cotton sleeves

What is there to do?
I am high on the scent of this house.

Muffled Apocalypse Sounds, by Chantal Lunardi

A poetic reflection on writing in the time of COVID :

Time I have
Creativity space equanimity?
Unfruitful solitude
unceasing cerebral racket
contaminated possibly contagious.
Not a cohesive word
down on paper
or up on the screen.

Maybe if I wait
alone safe and kind
smiling perking
washing my hands

maybe

This alienating distance
I am not designed for
neither is the viability
of going back to the incongruity
of infinite impossibilities.

I can’t.

I was not designed for this world neither

Paradises
Walled gardens
Gate communities.
How grateful we are
to live here and not there.

But the wind tells
and the rain cries
while the dark sky tries
to hide what’s over the mountains

Muffled Apocalypse Sounds

Mixed feelings after a safe-semi-private session at the Kootenay Sound Healing Centre

We bathe in gongs
and thieves oil aromatherapy.
Hearts and windows wide open
dispelling our illusions of immunity.

And the gongs went on
with tinkles and chimes
and other cosmic sounds.

Everyone looking not too well
looking better than how I feel
looking better after the bells.

We breathe beauty
health and the divinity
of what could be.  

My heart attunes with the gongs
painfully echoing the wails

muffled over the fence.
I hear the Minaret calls
prayers mixing with Native Chants
Ayahusca wind whisperers
parents humming to children
random foreign voices
probing for the divine notes
of a collective harmony.

Pod Poems, by Josh Massey

In his introduction to Selected Poems of E.J. Pratt (1968), editor Peter Buithenhuis shares a startling revelation about Pratt’s poetry: “He was over thirty when the First World War broke out, and yet that cataclysmic event, which both made and killed many poets, seems to have left hardly a mark on his poetry.” (Buithenhuis, xxviii)

This quote is of interest because it hints that a writer, even one who is considered the best of an era like the modernist Canadian poet E.J. Pratt was, isn’t obliged to engage with current events to satisfy their role as artist. In our day, while disease alters the course of history, many poets will write about other things. In my opinion, this seemingly oblivious attitude is quite healthy for art and society.

When a writer does respond to the day’s big news, his/her work risks becoming trapped in time and thus difficult to appreciate as anything other than simply a record of how things were. And because interpretations of events change, these records could be marred with the popular misconceptions of the times. All writing is prey to this sort of dilapidation, but occasional poetry is to an even greater extent.

By freeing themselves from the stories of the day, artists can chart ground left unnoticed as The Spectacle—that society-wide spectrum of control images conceived of by Guy Debord in 1967—dominates our ways of comprehending the world.

On the other hand, we also have the impressionable poet-lackeys such as myself. Having some roots in journalism, I can’t resist the temptation to allow current events to influence my work. So, busy as I was with the big twist of education into the home setting back in March and April—a braiding together of the domestic and professional—I did my best to record the charges of inspiration I found streaking in between the cracks of life and Life. I had better publish the results soon before they become obsolete!

2 Poems, by Leo Hepler

The pandemic has been a time of rejuvenation and discovery for me. It healed known cuts and let me notice new ones. I’m so thankful for these moments of clarity and self-realization, even if they only exist against a backdrop of tragedy.

The galvanizing force of global racial justice protests has inspired me to reflect on my own privilege. I have profited from my white privilege in both subtle and overt ways, and am committing to educating myself to help dismantle the structures of inequality that are present within me and my communities.

I want to send my thoughts to anyone who is struggling physically, mentally, or emotionally through this pandemic, and I hope these poems can provide some little solace.

“160 Days” and “Six Feet Like Oceans” by Jaryn Hollowink

It’s without question that we are all surviving a difficult moment in history right now. Historically, it is during times like these that art and creative release become more important than ever before. There is so much to say in turbulent moments like these, and there’s so much importance in saying what needs to be said.

The poem “160 Days” was created from the reflections I wandered into during the course of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. It’s a conceptual poem that draws its inspiration from Anne Simpson’s “The Triumph of Death” and Pieter Bruegel’s painting of the same name. Bruegel’s painting was created in 1562 and depicted a timeless landscape of war, death, and destruction. Anne Simpson took the imagery found in his painting and used it as fuel to create a striking poem depicting the modern catastrophe of 9/11, and to make a commentary on the cyclical nature of human suffering. I wanted to follow that same path in order to highlight these new modern atrocities that we are living now. There has been so much for us to swallow this year.

The poem, “Six Feet Like Oceans” is one that I wrote in response to a moving, modern painting that has been circling the web by the Spanish painter Juan Lucena. The painting is intended to make note of all those who did not get to say goodbye to their loved ones during the pandemic. I thought that a poem depicting the same would be a lovely compliment.

Beyond the tangible sorrow in both of these poems, I hope you can also find hope. We all need hope.

An Anxious Introvert’s Guide to Staying Home, by Hailey Viers

I graduated from the ceramics studio at KSA in December 2019, and having no plans for after that, crashed hard. I was starting to pick myself up a bit when lockdown went into effect in BC. Markets to sell my pottery at were cancelled. I was already unemployed. Job hunting was redundant. Instagram became a channel for my anxieties – my account has turned into a blog of life and garden updates, self-care tips as tested, and art DIYs using whatever I have on hand. My audience is small but invaluable – mostly family and friends. In the last few months, they’ve seen stories on everything from hula hooping to how to fold a fitted sheet.

AN ANXIOUS INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO STAYING HOME

Reflections on Instagram captions of COVID-19

TIP #1: PUT SOME PANTS ON

Starting with the bare minimum today.

            I’d spent January to March slowly dragging myself out of a winter depression fog. Crying a lot and bouncing between counselling appointments and job hunting. But things were looking up. I’d dusted off a selection of my best pottery for market in Creston. Said market was expected to pay half a month’s rent and I had the other half already. I was doing good.

            Faced with an onslaught of emails (what we’re doing about COVID . . .from everybody) and social distancing just when I’d started to GET social, I wanted to roll myself up in a blanket like a reverse chrysalis. Instead of emerging renewed with wings, I imagined fading away inside the shell of a hoodie. I had flashbacks to days sleeping til 3pm and being awake at 3am. Of sitting around waiting for ‘something’ to happen and not moving when anything did. Of a constant internal monologue of “I hate existing” and “I’m tired”, and “why do I even bother?”
            So, step 1: DO NOT wear That Hoodie. You know the one.

TIP #2: TAKE CARE OF SOMETHING

Pretty much all of my plants are neglect tolerant for a reason.

            No matter how bad my mental health gets, there’s something about things I HAVE to do, that I can hold myself together for.  Not necessarily well, but together. I can go to class, work, or grocery shopping. I can water a plant that is drooping. It’s a main reason it took me years to realize how bad things were. But now knowing this, I can use Have To things as a stairway up from rock bottom. Or a facade of functionality, take your pick.

            I have a paper route –  not for the money, but because it’s a forced hour-long walk through the neighbourhood for me and my fatigue demons. That first week of lockdown, I have never wanted anything less. But I did it, because I had to. In this small way I provide an essential service, and that gets me up and out every Thursday. I don’t feel particularly heroic though.

TIP #3: KEEP IN TOUCH WITH TIME PASSING

I remember last year feeling really disconnected from the seasons – different months blended together except that for some of them, I was less cold.

            My parents are farmers, so when I think spring, I think boxes of seeds and the entire dining room taken over by transplants. Being in college and having summer arrive without homegrown veggies was weird. No rhubarb, no lettuce, no tomatoes. Semesters changed, but otherwise the seasons never really touched my routine. Like things were happening, but not to me.

            I got less than a week into lockdown before I started tomatoes on my bedroom windowsill. My mum sent a curbside delivery of seeds, and soon I had a whole personal-sized garden centre on the kitchen counter. Newspapers with pandemic headlines turned into biodegradable plant pots. Cardboard from online shopping has flattened part of the lawn for zucchini. When my plants outgrew the kitchen, I sold the extra seedlings to other aspiring gardeners. The public anxiety is over a food shortage, but for me, it’s a rather literal throwing down of roots. A way to ground myself in the here, now, and there-will-be-a-later.

TIP #4: MAKE GOOD MUNCH AND DRINK TEA

Honestly, tea is never a bad idea.

            I have a theory that if I feel like Everything Is Bad, I probably just need a snack. Which is . . . difficult when the grocery store is now the setting of the latest dystopia movie. I get anxious in the cracker aisle on a good day (why are there so many options). I also don’t drive. Navigating the bus, the store – which may or may not have what I need, staying within budget, getting home . . . it’s all too much. I went once, then my sister – from  Vancouver – set up a group chat with her local friend, so I could order delivery via extrovert. When I did brave the store again, it was after a verbal ‘walk-through’ from my therapist, and my housemates picked me up.

            I spend more on food now, because it’s all I’m really buying. It’s also harder to convince myself that I don’t need some extra thing that is on sale. What if something else happens?  What if there really is a food shortage? I try to ignore this as unlikely, and instead stock up on chocolate chips for the latest batch of experimental cookies. So far, double chocolate tahini is the winner.

TIP #5: GET SOME FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE

There needs to be a line between good isolation and BAD isolation.

            I saw a post online that said to ‘treat quarantine like depression’. Great. I have occasionally wondered if that means I’m better suited to life in lockdown than someone without mental illness. At the same time, having a REASON to panic is not ideal. I already have social anxiety so hit me up with that sweet self-isolation. I make myself go out, but it feels like I’m getting away with something.

            Social distancing has intensified my pre-existing assumption that other people are watching and judging my every move. My defence has been to give them something to look at. I’ve given up clinging to ‘normal’ and have leaned into every artistic stereotype I used to save for weekends. I dye my hair a rotation of purple, pink, and red. I no longer dress for job interviews – instead layering hats, floral skirts, tweed jackets, and every shirt that would never pass dress code. I’ve taught myself crochet and made a bright yellow shawl. All this is my armour to leave my house for food and exercise.
           

TIP #6: MAKE YOUR SPACE NICE

Cleaning: always there for you when you’re bored.

            Our kitchen cupboard has a bottle of Lysol for the first time ever. (Disinfects even when diluted!) The scent is advertised as ‘Spring Waterfall’, but it’s more ‘Chemical Cloud’. Depending on the household’s anxiety level, it gets sprayed on phones, groceries, countertops, or every, single, doorknob. I use it to clean the bathroom, neglecting the all-natural, rosemary-scented cleaner that was in there before.

            I don’t take Lysol into my room. I already eye the walls and wonder if I could stay sane in full quarantine. I keep the window open, needing fresh air. I burn incense: rose, lavender, vanilla, and ‘stress relief’. The latter is unintentionally my favourite. For extra cheer, I’ve looped my plants with the multicoloured lights I never hung at Christmas. They get plugged in around 7pm, and occasionally stay on all night. I have weird dreams about the grocery store. I’m not big on dream interpretation, but I think I know where that’s coming from.

TIP #7: GET MOVING

I have to really trick myself into exercise.

            I’ve never been one for the gym, so that aspect of pandemic shutdowns hasn’t bothered me. But I normally exercise by walking to whatever things I’m doing out of the house. Without things, my options are:

            A) Long walks that don’t go anywhere, dressed like I’m in “Pride and Prejudice and the Apocalypse”, the latest historically inaccurate Austen movie.

            B) Gardening, which I do not dress up for. Except I don’t have garden clothes, so I’m slowly degrading anything that previously escaped ruin in the pottery studio. My ‘dirt release’ laundry detergent does not release the dirt.

            And finally: C) Hula hooping. I keep my hoop in the dining room, which has just enough space if I push the table against the wall. It’s very convenient. I exercise in my pyjamas while the kettle’s on, then take my tea and return to scrolling my phone.

TIP #8: HAVE YOU TRIED TURNING IT OFF AND TURNING IT ON AGAIN?

If something isn’t working, you can try again at any time.

            I hate the vocabulary that has come from COVID – especially when people talk like it’s a particularly bad trend that will slowly slide out of relevance. Or say things like “when things go back to normal”. Will they? Will they really? And is that even what we really want? If anything, I think the pandemic has proven that normal has a few design flaws. Maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

            My normal sucked. I was already anxious, unemployed, and socially isolated. My entire goal this year has been to do better than normal. At the start of lockdown, I worried about falling into a spiral of bad habits and winding up back there. I still worry about that. Like mentally there’s a cliff just behind me, and it’s all over if I slip up. But it hasn’t happened yet. Justified anxieties aside, I’m almost glad for the reality check. To see where I go when shit goes down. And it’s not my mental illness. It’s just me. Making things, baking stress into cookies, and digging holes in the backyard.

“Know Justice, Know Peace,” by Stephanie Henriksen

I spent the first two months of quarantine in Nelson (an ideal place to be during a pandemic) and then decided to visit my family in Vancouver. My intention was to stay isolated at my parents’ house, but that changed when I watched the news on May 25. I wrote this poem immediately after attending a peaceful protest against police brutality, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. There have been too many innocent lives lost throughout human history in Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities. The Black Lives Matters movement was formed seven years ago and yet the tipping point is now. Black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by the police. Recent human rights violations have jolted people out of isolation. People who have never spoken up before are finally doing so, endangering themselves and others, to fight for human equality. It is a scary and important time. I wish I was more active in the past. Why did it take me until now to write this poem?

I promise to do better. To be an activist for human rights. To stay educated. To make art. 

STORM in the Streets by Kim Robinson

In addition to running like my life depends on it, I have found writing, as well as singing, dancing, colouring, gardening, and other creative pursuits, to be what I turn to first during difficult times. Both creating and consuming art has been a huge part of my Covid-19 experience, in part because I suddenly have so much more time for it. But probably more importantly because art, specifically writing, helps me process the myriad of confusing, new and scary realities of our world, and consuming it makes me feel less alone. During this pandemic I have found myself sea sawing between deep apathy and hyper productivity. This poem was inspired by a massive weather event a few weeks ago, the killing of George Floyd and the protests in the United States, and of course the pandemic.