Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There Is Nothing To Fear -- Or Is There?

I remember reading somewhere once that fear and excitement are the same feeling, just interpreted differently. At the time, I was trying to deal with something that had become more prevalent for me as time went on -- performance anxiety.  I was a performing songwriter, out there trying to sell my CDs, and the only way to do that effectively at the time was to play live. But sometimes I would literally feel sick before a performance, my heart rate and blood pressure so high it's a wonder I didn't pass out.

Excitement my foot.

I tried to talk myself out of the fear, I tried many things over those years to lesson my anxiety, but eventually I gave up and stopped performing entirely.

The statics say that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying. I get that. And if you've ever been with someone who is having a panic attack, you'll know that you can't reason with them or try to rationalize their fear. In fact, trying to reason with them might even make it worse.

But fear and anxiety are also one of the reasons we've succeeded as a species. I mean, if you're not afraid of that wild boar staring you down like you're his breakfast, you're not going to last long.

There are plenty of people out there who do things that terrify me just to think about. Like jumping out of a plane with only a big piece of cloth to prevent them from smashing into the earth. On purpose. Or walking on a rope suspended a hundred feet up between two buildings with only a big stick to give them balance. Who in their right mind?

We might thrill to watch OTHER people do those terrifying things, and sometimes we might even be a little guilty of fantasizing about what would happen if they failed. And, of course, many of us  like to be scared poop-less by movies or haunted houses on Halloween. But there's a knowing to all of that, a knowing that we're safe and nothing bad is going to happen.

All of us at some point in our lives have experienced the "not knowing", however. Not knowing if things are going to be okay. Maybe there was a bad accident or a job loss, or serious illness and you didn't know how or if it was going to end. That's not a very nice feeling. But that's what we are experiencing as a global community right now. The Great Not Knowing.

Even if scientists and health authorities try to calm us with facts, figures and projections, that fear can just take us over at any moment and we can find ourselves in a panic. Sometimes, it's our own fault. We read too many tweets about the pandemic, we follow the number of deaths as they rise around the world, we inundate ourselves with scary information. But fear can also pop up out of nowhere and with no rational explanation.

In BC this week, May 19th, we are beginning Phase 2 of our "restart" program. It's a sign that we are doing the right things and keeping the virus at bay. The other morning on my walk, I saw a barber open for the first time in months, and a man sitting in the chair with a big smile on his face.  A coffee shop had little tables outside, spaced apart at an appropriate distance, for the first time in months. For some it's going to be a great relief to see things come a little closer to "normal", for others it's going to up their level of anxiety.

We have to trust our Federal and Provincial governments and people like Dr. Henry (isn't she wonderful?) to carefully lead us through this pandemic and bring us out of it relatively unscathed. So far, they've done a fabulous job. One day there will be a vaccine available to us, but in the meantime, listening to and trusting those in charge is our best bet.

There are some, however, who are not going to be calmed by anything. They are scared, they are anxious, and nothing short of a complete annihilation of the virus will make them start to feel better. You probably know someone like this, and you might be tempted to secretly roll your eyes at them or giggle just a little. But just as we've had to be patient with this whole pandemic process, we need to be a little more patient with, and kinder to, those who are still pretty worried.

Because, you know, they'd probably already be half way up that hill before you even noticed that wild boar coming at you...


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hey! I'm Walkin' Here!

One Of My Favourite "Dad Jokes" In the 'Hood

I open the kitchen door, go down the steps, wander out on the street beside my house, and it all seems so wonderfully normal. The sun is just peeking out from the clouds, the birds are gossiping and life is as it always was.

Sort of.

I've been walking in the same neighbourhood, the same route, for many years, and I know it well. Over time, little things are bound to change. People move out, others move in, the colour of a fence changes, a garden grows and then dies back again. Sometimes big things change, like an old house being torn down to make way for a new one. Or a corner store changes hands and becomes a new kind of business. Still, there's a nice rhythm to life in my neighbourhood that gives me comfort.

The changes that have happened over the last couple of months on my little route have been very different ones, as I am sure you've also experienced wherever you live.

After the state of emergency was declared in BC, my first couple of forays out into the streets were strange to be sure. There was an eerie silence on the roads, as many people stayed home, just as they were told to do. Very few cars. At first there weren't that many people out walking either. I'm used to seeing some of the same folks at the same time every week day, but very few showed up for the first week or two.

As time passed, we adjusted to this strange, new reality and more people ventured out.

Getting used to the idea of physical distancing was awkward for me, as I'm sure it was for others. Somebody would be a block or so away, walking towards me on the same side of the road, and I'd have to zero in on them to see what they were going to do. Who would make the first move to the other side? After awhile, my experiences inspired me to create some rules for myself about this physical distancing thing.

First of all, I will instantly move over if the person coming towards me is pushing a stroller. I mean, it's more of a pain for them to move off a curb than for me. Especially if they have a dog in tow and a toddler too. I will move for them.

And if they are elderly, I will also be the first to move. I mean, sometimes I have to decide if they are actually older than me. Since I am in denial about my actual age, this can be a conundrum. If they've got a walker and I don't, that's a clue. I will move for them.

And there are those I move over for who seem to have no awareness at all about anyone else in the world but themselves. It's really about self-preservation, because I'm darn tootin' not gonna die because of them! Sometimes these people are just young. Sometimes, they are stupid. Occasionally, they are both young and stupid. Yeah, well I was that once, too. Sigh.

The number of people I now pass on a daily basis has grown considerably, depending on the time of day. That means that there's a lot more physical negotiating going on. But most of us have adjusted, and the majority of people I meet are smiling and friendly as we do our little dance around each other. Some people even move over for me, which makes me appreciative. And suspicious.

I notice different things on every walk. Like today, there was a middle-aged fellow talking and laughing to himself. As we passed each other at a distance, I realized the smoke trailing behind him was from a doobie. I took a long whiff.

And there used to be a couple I'd see every day who were probably around my age, smiling and enjoying each other's company as they walked. Now, they walk about a half a block apart from each other, and neither one is smiling anymore. I guess the "stuck at home with each other" syndrome has finally had its affect.

Happily, most of the changes I see these days are positive ones. So many more yards are neatly maintained and gardens have been tended to and nurtured in a way they have rarely been before. It's beautiful out there. Decks are being repaired, houses painted inside and out. On sunny days, people sit outside their front doors and read, kids play happily in their yards. Neighbours are chatting, at a distance, of course, but maybe more so than they have in a long time.

There are literally dozens and dozens of hearts plastered in the windows of houses, self-penned thank you notes, and the Canadian heart flag cutout from our local Times Colonist paper is everywhere. I hear more birds now than I ever have, in fact, some I'm sure I haven't heard before. A couple of weeks back, just a few blocks down the street from where I live, I noticed a chalkboard outside a home with "Dad Jokes" scribbled on it. There has been a different joke scrawled out in chalk pretty much every day, one of which you see in the picture I've posted here. I love the funny, sweet, and really creative changes in my neighbourhood most of all.

So for that reason, I've actually started walking twice a day. Oh, and also because I need to do something about the change in the size of my waistline.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Patience Is A Virtue -- And A Necessity

"Get away from technology for awhile!" my daughter exclaimed, as, for the third time in as many days, I railed at the issues I was having with my website, which I had been trying to update, and my printer, which really is a dud.

Technology. Lately, it has been both a lifesaver and a pain in the nice word for ass. But is it the technology that's driving us bats or are we doing it to ourselves? These days, the slightest bump in the road can lead to rage. Newspapers, TVs, tweets and Facebook feeds have been filled with posts telling us to take care of our mental health for good reason. At this time, when we are literally at the end of our rope, the thing we need most is the thing we seem to have the least of. Patience.

My mother was the epitome of patience. And strength. Nothing phased her. This week, she would have marked her 100th birthday. She was born on May 6th 1920, two years after the Spanish flu ravaged the globe. Her early life was poor, growing up in a large family in a little fishing village in Denmark. When she was older, she started cleaning houses, and one of the houses she cleaned belonged to a doctor. He encouraged her to study to become a nurse, which she did. She was working as a nurse in a mental hospital in Copenhagen when the Germans invaded her country, so she joined the Danish Resistance. I have no idea what horrors she may have witnessed during that time. Then, on May 4th, 1945, the Germans finally ended their occupation, and since then, every year on that date, the Danes put lighted candles in their windows to commemorate it. This year marks the 75th anniversary of their liberation, along with the rest of Europe.

A few years after that war, my mother joined the Danish Red Cross and spent a year on the Danish hospital ship, Jutlandia, which was stationed in Pusan during the Korean War. When that tour ended, she immigrated to Canada, met and married my father and had me, her only child. She died of cancer at the young age of 52. An amazingly full, but sadly short, life.

I've thought about her, and my father, a lot in the last couple of months. Everything they endured in their lifetimes. Me, I grew up in a Leave It To Beaver neighbourhood, with everything I needed. Never did I go without food or clothes, even when times were a little tight. The scariest thing I ever lived through was Typhoon Freda, here on the west coast when I was 5 years old. But to be honest, I don't even remember it.

The only diseases we endured were mumps and measles. I had both. At the same time.

There were the occasions in school in the early 60's when we were taught to hide under our desks, practicing to protect ourselves in the event of an atomic bomb. Come to think of it now, hiding under a desk wouldn't have helped us much.

The only thing that actually shook us up was the occasional earthquake. I've never heard a bomb explode, or a machine gun rattle, never had to hide in a shelter or go without the basic necessities. I've had a very, very good life.

So I think I can deal with pain in the ass technology for the time being. I'm sure I will be able to adapt to whatever changes have to take place in our world after this pandemic. I can find a little more patience, even if it's somewhere at the bottom of the barrel, to hang in there a bit longer. If my mother could live through all that she did, I have nothing to complain about.

Happy 100th Birthday Mama. Jeg elsker dig.

My mother Fanny, toasting Kai Hammerich,
the captain of the Jutlandia, during the Korean War.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Words We Should, And Shouldn't, Forget

So how have you all been keeping yourself busy out there lately? Maybe doing more reading? Gardening? Baking? Baking bread is a big one these days. Who'd a thunk it? Maybe you're playing more games and puzzles. Puzzles are especially popular right now.

Me? Well, I've gotten big into words. Yes, I know. I'm a bit of a word nerd. I turned into one years ago when I realized my lyrics had to say more than "Ooh, yeah, baby, baby." Take Joni Mitchell for instance. Now SHE could write lyrics.

"Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
Taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
Still be on my feet." 
Joni Mitchell, Case Of You

Yeah, like that. FAR superior to ooh, yeah, baby, baby. 

Recently, I discovered the Twitter account of the dictionary Merriam-Webster, set up by its editors. They post a word a day, or facts and observations on language, and I was inspired to follow them. Sometimes they just post obscure words like "pennyweighter" or "psittaceous", both which, by the way, my spellchecker immediately highlighted as incorrect. Well, this time YOU'RE wrong, spellchecker!  Psittaceous means "like a parrot", and a pennyweighter is a thief who steals jewelry by substituting a fake for a valuable piece. Just like spellchecker, I'll bet none of you knew those words. I sure didn't.

The interesting thing about the English language, as with most languages I suppose, is that it is a fluid thing. Although some words hang around for a long time - the word "love", for instance, has been around for at least 1100 years - others fall by the wayside. Every year, dictionaries cast out old, unused words in favour of new, sexy ones. Last year, in 2019, a number of words stopped appearing in dictionaries. Like snollygoster, a dishonourable person, or frigorific, something that causes cold or is chilling. I would say that COVID-19 is definitely frigorific. Maybe they should reconsider that word.

So every year, as far as dictionaries are concerned, it's out with the old and in with the new. Words can even evolve in their meanings. Remember how Google used to be just a browser? And then one day, it became a verb. We google everything now. Even things we shouldn't google. Like our painful or uncomfortable physical symptoms, because it could be CANCER right?!? Maybe we just need to get healthy and swole instead of turning into a fatberg! Okay, I'm just being a bampot now (a foolish, annoying or obnoxious person). Just so you know, I sort of misused the word "fatberg", but it sounded so perfect.

Words that we shorten just because we're lazy or trying to be cool often end up in the dictionary. Like "vacay", short for vacation, "sesh" for session, or "inspo" for inspiration. These were all added to Merriam-Webster in 2019.

Some words I'd rather not hear so often these days, but they are omnipresent. 


For instance, Google Trends reported the words "Coronavirus" and "pandemic" were trending and reached their peaks near the end of March, when many of us were hearing those words for the first time, or we just wanted to get a better understanding of their meaning. And the Oxford English Dictionary will be adding, among others, two new words this spring; COVID-19 and infodemic. How portentous. And then there's "doomsurfing" and "doomscrolling". It doesn't take much imagination to know what those words mean. We need to take a vacay from that.

There are other words that I feel confident will never leave the dictionary because their importance and their use will never diminish. Words like "hope" and "kindness" and "helpful".  And let's not forget "thanks". I'm sure you can think of some too. Let's keep using them and living by them so they never cease to be.

Thanks for reading :-)