Are We There Yet?

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

I have to be honest with you. These past few weeks I’ve been feeling a little like the kid who sits in the back of the car asking repeatedly, and somewhat annoyingly, “are we there yet?”. And it’s not because I have to go to the bathroom or am feeling a little peckish and want to stop for a bite. It’s because I just want to get the hell out of the damn car that I’ve been in for way, way too long. Truthfully, it’s a trip I never wanted to take in the first place. Because who wants to embark on a journey without having the slightest inkling of when it’s going to end? Or, for that matter, where you’re going to be when it does. Which, if you ask me, is pretty much what we have all been on for the past year and a half. The thing is, now that it looks like we are approaching the end of our little sojourn and there is, as many are wont to say, a bright light at the end of this rather long tunnel, some of us are asking ourselves, what we are going to do now that we are “there”? And where the heck are we, anyway? 

As can be expected, there are lots of psychologists out there with lots and lots of theories about how people are going to act and react to the new found freedoms they are being doled out. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, let me quickly point out that I am not a psychologist, and rarely do I spend time developing theoretical constructs of why people don’t do or do, do what they do. But as an introspective shallow person I have a pretty good idea of what it is I do and why I might do it. Which explains why, at this stage of the game, I think it should be ok for me to add my voice to theirs and share with you my thoughts, and I’ve had quite some time to formulate them, about life after the pandemic. From a shallow person’s perspective.

Hand Washing. Let’s start with the easy stuff. I don’t know about you but I pretty much always wash my hands at the appropriate times, even before I was threatened by a global epidemic, and I expect I will continue to do so after it passes. Admittedly, I might not frantically search for a spot of sanitizer each and every time I leave the grocers or find myself accidentally placing a finger on the escalator railing to avoid losing my balance and crashing into the person 6 feet in front of me. Still, I suppose it will take some time to use up that 14 gallon bucket of “Germs B Gone” I purchased in the frenzy at the beginning of this whole thing, which means I’ll likely not give up this newly formed habit for quite some time. 

Going inside: With other people. I don’t know. The weather’s pretty nice right now so what’s the rush? Coffee on the terrace is lovely and those restaurant patios have expanded so much that there’s now more space outside than inside for most of them. Besides, I love inviting people over to my home knowing there’s no way they’re going to step inside which means I don’t have to clean for a day and a half before they get here. For now, I’m going to stick with the outdoor only regulations and cross that other bridge once there’s a bit of a nip in the air.

Concert and Movies: I should be more excited about this possibility than I am. I have to admit that I loved going to concerts, especially those intimate little coffee house venues where complete strangers come and sit at your table because you’re cool and they’re cool and the sweet smell of something lingers in the air so no one really notices how hot or stuffy or exceedingly crowded the place is. No wait. That was the sixties. Sorry. I seem to have lost track of time. Nonetheless, I think I’m going to hold off on these for a bit. What with my pandemic subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Crave, Prime and something else I can’t remember the name of, it will be a while before I can afford a large popcorn and drink at the movies anyway.  

Baking: Well I baked a little before the pandemic and, like many others, I baked quite a lot during it but I am still not a baker. I know this because I was never good at science and I have come to learn that real bakers are. I was however, an English major which could explain why I am good at reading and interpreting recipes even though I can’t make up any of my own. Now that this pandemic seems to be coming to an end I intend to keep baking. But sadly, I suspect I will never be a baker. 

Wearing Masks: I know most of us, including me, are chomping at the bit to ditch these. They’re hot. They make our glasses fog up. And almost always, just when we thought we were ready to pull out of the driveway and be on our way, we realize we forgot a mask and have to run back into the house to find one. But before donating all of your carefully selected, colour coordinated masks to your local quilting guild for their commemorative pandemic project, think about this. When was the last time you had a cold or the flu? How much money have those of us who wear it, saved on lipstick? And how many times did you thank your lucky stars that your chit chatty neighbour didn’t recognize you and walked right by without stopping to share all, and I mean all, of the neighbourhood news. Think about it. And maybe do what I’m going to do and keep them on just a little bit longer.

Social Distancing: I’m pretty sure my comfort zone has always been somewhat wider than most so this one might not be as problematic to me as to some of you. I mean what’s the big deal about a few extra inches between friends? It won’t be difficult for me to keep those one or two extra steps between us for a little bit longer. And by “little” I mean into the foreseeable future.

Hugging: Last but not least, and I would be remiss if I left without mentioning it. I know this has been a really big deal for a good portion of the population. Me? Well to know me is not to hug me so perhaps my perspective on the return of the hug is a little skewed. Let me just say this. There’s an old adage that claims “Father knows best” and I’m starting to think that if everyone had listened to mine we might never have found ourselves in the backseat of this car in the first place.

Regardless of how you do it, as you step back into the world please remember the wise words of our own Dr. Henry. “Be kind, Be calm, Be safe“. And as my Dad would say, whether we were in the car or not, “Take it easy“!

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It’s Just a Survey, People!

I’m not sure whether you know this or not but a very long time ago I worked for the government. That’s right. I was a servant of the public and let me just say I have the utmost respect for those who still are. My job, somewhat ironically, was finding other people jobs. In good times it was a relatively simple job, in bad times it was a bit more complicated but either way, it was always a pretty busy job that took up most of my time during the day. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there wasn’t a little bit of slack. A few moments to gossip with my workmates about the latest scandals. You know. Some tongue wagging about who was going out with whom, and who knew, or perhaps more interesting, who didn’t know. And I’m certainly not going to deny that I may have played an extra game or two of Bejeweled on the computers set up in the lunch room for that very purpose (I told you it was a long time ago). But most of the time you could find me sitting behind my desk, welcoming each and every one of the people who were counting on me to help them out of what was often a rather unfortunate situation. So it was a busy little job. Which is why a recent news item baffled me just a bit. 

Bear with me now as I just need to backtrack here. Last week, like most everyone in this great country of ours, I received my instructions for completing the census questionnaire. It wasn’t a big surprise. After all, there have been a multitude of commercials on the TV reminding me that this very thing was going to happen and it would be my responsibility, as a good citizen, to do my duty and answer all of the questions asked. Those advertisements even went as far as explaining the importance of doing so as apparently, the programs and services you and I might access in the future depend on the answers we provide. Since, at the moment, I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, I figured I could spend a few of my precious minutes helping those who run this country figure out how to do the right thing. Honestly, that was motivation enough for me so one afternoon, after working on my jigsaw, I sat down with a coffee, a computer, the instructions and my guy, to get to the task at hand. Because that’s all I really needed. It all seemed so straight forward. At least that’s what I thought. 

You can imagine my surprise when, while watching the nightly news, I found out that someone, somewhere in those hallowed halls of Statistics Canada, decided there was a little something else we all needed to rev up our engines. It seems that we needed playlists. And not just a few. Many playlists. Each with many, many songs. Music to accompany the completion of the 2021 Statistics Canada Census. Now I don’t know about you but as much as I wanted to have a chuckle about this, I found myself overwhelmed by the number of questions that began swirling in my head. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem becoming apprised of the many wonderful Canadian musical artists whose talents add so much to our lives. And if being part of a playlist means a few extra shekels for those hard working artists, in what we all know has been a really difficult time, you can count me in (swidt?). But I was still left wondering what in the world Statscan (that’s what we call them around here) wanted me to do with this treasure trove of Canadian music. Was I supposed to get up and dance once I figured out how many people other than myself lived in my house?  Break out in song because I was actually able to remember where my ancestors lived before they landed in this great country of ours? Recount the days of my youth as I listened to Trooper belt out “Raise A Little Hell”? Or perhaps wallow in a little self-pity as Ms. Murray crooned “Snowbird” reminding me of what I wasn’t this past winter. What exactly was this all about? And when did Statscan become the cognoscente for the Canadian music scene throughout the ages.

My interest peaked, I decided to delve just a little further into what exactly was going on and it was a fine thing to discover that our government wanted us to “experience the different facets of Canadian culture through the sounds of our celebrated musical talent”*. (Statistics Canada) Certainly a laudable endeavour, although since we do have a Ministry of Canadian Heritage I had to wonder if it was perhaps a bit misplaced. But digging a little deeper I also found that this rather extensive undertaking was also about time. That’s right. Time. You see, in Canada there are two types of census forms. The short one, that we all keep our fingers crossed we receive, and the dreaded long one that we don’t. Since we only get one and not the other it can sometimes be hard to discern which one we received. And, as a result, how long it will take to complete. Statscan has now come up with a way to help us out. We are told the short one will take only a few minutes. And the long one? Apparently about seven or eight songs from one of the playlists. Which only opened a whole other can of worms for me. Like which seven or eight songs? And wouldn’t they have saved a whole whack of time and energy by just telling me how long it would take in, oh I don’t know, minutes maybe? 

As a shallow person I’m not prone to judge others but I do have to wonder whether there’s someone walking the halls of Statscan with not quite enough to do. I know there are no more Bejeweled computers in the lunch room and maybe no one really cares much anymore about who’s doing what with whom, but surely there’s something more important to be done than putting together playlists for those of us who are dedicating, at most, a half hour of our day to complete a survey. I mean, it’s just a survey, people! Point us in the right direction and we’ll get it done. And if you really can’t find anything else to do, maybe give me a call. I know it’s been awhile but I might have a few tips I can share with you on how to find another job.

*Statistics Canada. “2021Census Soundtrack.” 2021Census Soundtrack, 2021, https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/ref/soundtrack-bandesonore/index-eng.htm. Accessed 12 May 2021.

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I Love your Mask

Photo by Anton on UnsplashYou bet it’s been a while. There’s something I have to tell you which, given your own circumstances, you may not know so you’ll have to trust me on this. It’s not all that easy writing a shallow blog in the middle of a pandemic. Don’t get me wrong. Even in the midst of this disaster, there remain ports in the storm. Places where you can escape reality. Suspend your disbelief for a little while. Glimmers of a time that may seem a lifetime ago. Like Hallmark which, in the midst of all the current chaos, has held up their end of the bargain by releasing one love fest movie after another. I mean who doesn’t want to escape reality for a couple of hours watching a handsome young Prince fall in love with a beautiful, albeit common woman, against the better judgement of his most ardent protectors. Sure there’s a little turbulence along the way but it’s all hunky dory in the end. Like that would ever happen in real life. Or a young photographer who is chasing mythical waterfalls but literally falls head over heels in love with a very grounded and handsome, in a rugged sort of way, trail guide. Sure these remarkably familiar flicks can get a tad tiresome but fortunately Hallmark has now come out with their own vintage wine which, I am pretty sure, means they acknowledge we will need a little “somethin’ somethin’’” to help us get through their Spring season, not to mention this seemingly everlasting pandemic of ours. Hallmark aside, what I am saying is, while our world has not become entirely bereft of these refuges, they are about as difficult to find as hen’s teeth. And I only put it that way because apparently it is possible to find a hen with teeth. 

Now I’ve said this before but, in “Shallow Be My Name” fashion, I’ll say it again. Shallow people have feelings too. We can be happy or sad, empathetic, sympathetic, sorry, confused even surprised at times. Pretty much the whole gamut of emotions just like everyone else. Because like everyone else, I am heartbroken each time I turn on the TV, or read the paper, or wake up to the news on the radio to learn that more people than we had ever imagined have become sick and died from this virus. Who would have thought that one year later we would learn that the worst case scenario would not be the worst case. But here we are. Many of us isolating in our homes having not seen friends or family for what seems to be an eternity. Spending our precious time figuring out who can see/hear us and who can’t as we fiddle with technologies that we are led to believe are “user friendly”. We just haven’t figured out who those users are yet. It’s been a long haul for us all but, as they say, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. It’s true. Someone said that on the news just last night. So we hope. And are hopeful. In the meantime, it never hurts to try to put a smile on one’s face.

Which brings me to what I want to talk about today. Masks. We’re all wearing them. At least I hope we are. Here’s what I would like you to do. Think back to when this whole thing started. You remember. When you were lined up for toilet paper and finding Lysol wipes was like finding a needle in a haystack. Which, I understand, is slightly more difficult than finding a hen with teeth. But I digress. Think about masks back in the day, as some like to say. The first thing that’s likely to come to mind is not actually being able to find any. Hard to imagine these days but there was a time when you couldn’t snag one of those blue puppies for love or money. Not even quite a lot of money. They were simply nowhere to be found. If you did manage to find any, you guarded them with your life, because it was your life they were guarding. Admittedly they weren’t pretty but they worked and we could get our hands on them if we really tried. And then this happened. 

I first noticed things changing while watching Ms. Pelosi in those United States of America. Can’t say when for sure but I do recall one day remarking that no matter what she wore she had a mask to match. A little blue in her jacket, a little blue in her mask. Florals complimenting florals, plaids enhancing other plaids. I should have known something was afoot right then and there. Next thing I know my fav clothiers were adding masks to their repertoires. It now appeared that I could order a mask/sweater combo. I was beginning to realize there was an apparent need for me to acquire a more diverse mask wardrobe. From that moment on the whole “masks as a fashion accessory” just exploded. No longer were we satisfied with the two pieces of a bikini. Now we were offered the trikini designed to cover our most and least private of parts. It wasn’t long before I noticed there were walls of masks available at my local dispensary, everything from solids to florals, understated to overstated, lbm (little black masks) to full out, rhinestone adorned, velvet evening masks. Seemingly there was no longer any excuse for a fashion faux pas when it came to masks.

Perhaps however, the most telling experience I had was standing in line at the grocers. A young woman at the next till called out to me from under her mask. At first I wasn’t quite sure what she was saying, what with the mask and all affecting my hearing. Had I accidentally cut in front of her? Was my milk leaking onto the floor? Did I somehow mistakenly pick up the non-organic zucchini? Did she like my new hat as much as I do? Nope. It was none of those things. My new friend was complimenting me on my mask. She loved the design on my mask and she just wanted to let me know. Hmmmm. Masks as a fashion statement. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not all that difficult to find those refuges in this storm of ours.

 

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Hey Mr. Starbucks!

Warning: Some people might think this is a teeny, weeny bit of a rant. Could be.

I don’t have to tell you that 2020 has been tough. So tough it’s driven this shallow gal to bake. Don’t get me wrong. I love baking even if I’m not really a baker. But how much can two people eat (you don’t have to answer that, it’s rhetorical) so, every once in a while, we venture out for our afternoon refreshment at what has become “our” cafe. We sit on the patio (of course), physically distanced but not out of earshot of our fellow coffee drinkers, and spend time watching, talking, listening and just taking some time to pretend there’s no “new normal”. The sun shines down on us and, if it doesn’t, the well placed heaters do. We’ve been doing this for quite some time now and expected to be doing it for some time longer until last week. Last week we were advised that, like many others these days, our cafe is closing. For good. But please don’t shed a tear for the owner. This is no local barista trying to make a go of things in hard times. This is Starbucks. And since it’s kind of hard for me right now to write my shallow blog, I figured I had nothing to lose by voicing my concern to the rather large corporation who would like us to believe they have our best interests at heart. I’m sharing this with you mostly so I can share it with them too


Hey Mr. Starbucks. Remember me? I’m the one who wrote you a while back about the not so great renovation you did at our local cafe. That’s right. The one where you removed all of the comfy chairs, replacing them with rock hard subway seats, I suppose to remind us that while you don’t mind if we sit for a bit we really should be thinking about where we need to be next. It’s the same one where you removed almost all of the tables that seat more than two people because, and I can only surmise, who needs more than one friend? Oh yeah. Just in case we decided it might be nice to wile away an hour or so in the sun on that wrap around patio you have, you managed to take away many of the tables and chairs out there in the fresh air too. You remember that, don’t ya? 

To tell you the truth, it worked out ok, mostly because all of us “regulars” managed to find other places to enjoy a cup o’ joe. Some with you, some without. Me and my guy? Well lucky for us we found another one of your cafes to frequent. And even luckier, at this one the sun shines down even brighter during our afternoon repasts and we have been able to make a slew of new “Starbucks’s friends”. You know what those are, right? The people we meet and chat with each afternoon, even though we don’t know their name. The new place has become our place. Which, I understand from your mission statement, is what you folks are all about.  You know. “Human connection”. “Enjoyment at the speed of life”. “Always full of humanity”.  “A break from the world outside”.  Your words, not mine. So I have to ask. What the heck are you thinking?

Before I go on, there’s something you should know. I don’t write a lot of letters these days so a second one to you is kind of a big deal for me. But here you go again. Messing around with a good thing. So what choice do I have? Yes, I know I’m a shallow person and this might not seem like that big of a deal to other people.  And I know there are bigger things to worry about right now. Like everyone else, I’m more than a tad worried that the new guy (or perhaps I should say the old guy) won’t be able to pull this one out of the hat and, even if he does, the old old guy will kick and scream his way to an undeserved victory. With the help of his rather unsavoury cadre of friends. I worry too about how the world has been impacted by the pandemic. How, even when this whole thing is over (it will be over, right?) things will never be the same. Or worse perhaps, they will be. And for all those who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost homes, and perhaps hope, I worry about how they will ever be able to put their lives back together. But just because there are big things to worry about doesn’t mean the little things aren’t important too. So come on man!, (to quote the new old guy) Why on earth would you pick this of all times to close down our very busy, very robust and very important shelter from the storm? 

Now I get it. This particular cafe of yours hasn’t had a facelift for some time. Some would say it’s even a little long in the tooth. The chairs are worn, tables are slightly wobbly and the floor (if you don’t mind my saying so) could use a refresh. But none of that really matters to any of us. Because this place has become exactly what you had hoped it would be. A place to connect, to gain a sense of belonging, to share a laugh, greet old friends and meet new ones. It is, as you suggest, a haven from the worries outside. Not to mention a good neighbour. Because every time we visit we spend a little time and money at the surrounding, mostly locally owned shops. A pound of butter here, a little red fife flour there. It all adds up and makes life better for everyone. So here are my questions for you. Where do you think the kindly, elderly couple, one in a wheelchair the other with a walker, will go for their afternoon outing now? What about the lovely, older ladies who meet on the patio every Tuesday at 2 pm because they live in the area and can no longer drive? Or how about our dear friend and his dog, who loves to bask in the sunshine, while the three of us solve world problems? Have you really thought this through? Have you reflected on how this will impact the community? Your community? One that you have been a part of for the past 16 years? Tell me. Have you thought about us? Because the ways things are going, we’re not going to be thinking about you for very much longer.

 

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Follow the “effing” rules! Please.

As a shallow person I don’t make a habit of telling other people what to do. Most of the time I mind my own business and let the chips fall where they may. But in case you haven’t noticed, these times are different than most. In many ways. I mean not so long ago we were all able to walk into a grocery store without waiting in line. Without putting on a mask. Without sanitizing our hands on the way in and on the way out. And I don’t know about you but I clearly remember sitting on the cafe patio, spending time chit chatting with friends while sipping a latte. At the same table. Or inviting them to my home and letting them inside when they discretely asked to use the “facilities”. At least I would if I had managed to clean before they arrived. But those times appear to be gone. At least for now. And for now, what seems to have taken the place of all that we knew, are rules. Rules that, for our own good, we need to follow.

Now none of us are strangers when it comes to rules. We grew up with them. Right from the get go. Most of us, at least most of us who are of a certain age, remember the plethora of rules we had to adhere to at school. No chewing gum in class. No running in the hall. No talking out of turn. Simple rules but ones we had no choice but to follow lest we find ourselves spending many an hour sitting under the watchful eye of a teacher who no more wanted to be in that room with us than we with them. Little did we realize that these rules were designed to assist us in becoming decent human beings. And now, as decent human beings we know there are rules we need to follow for the sake of others. That’s why we don’t drink and drive, no longer smoke in public and do our best to eat with our mouths closed, the latter being particularly important when sharing a meal with loved ones, as we so often did in the past. Some of us go so far as to adopt rules for our own good. We pay ourselves first, finish what we start and, of course, “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”. And we are better people for it. 

Let’s face it though. Not all rules are the same. Some rules, like the ones we have to decipher when doing our taxes, are complicated. Break one of those rules and you’ll hear about it for sure but, if you’re lucky, someone will likely accept your mea culpa and let you go on your way. With a small penalty of course. Some rules have more serious consequences. Like when you decide to put the metal to the pedal on a long, lonely stretch of highway thinking there’s no one else going to wherever it is you’re going. And then you discover, much to your dismay, that you have a new friend in a black and white cruiser who has decided this a good time to get better acquainted. In this case you can say all the sorries you want but that cute little red number you love so much will be sitting in your new friend’s garage and you’ll be walking to work for the next little while. And some rules are ok to break every once in a while. I mean who didn’t sneak into the house hours after curfew, confident that the ‘rents, sleeping like logs, would be none the wiser? Trust me. They weren’t sleeping. They knew. But since you were home safe and sound, and they could now get some much deserved shut eye, they let you off the hook. Every once in a while. 

Then there are some rules that are so simple, so easy to follow, that it’s hard to understand why anyone would decide to break them. And yet, they do. So now that things are opened up just a tad, me and my guy have taken to sitting outside at our local cafe (I’m quite sure I don’t have to tell you which one) for our afternoon coffee. Not everyday, but once in a while. Here’s the thing. Because we still exist within our “new normal” a few rules have been put in place at the cafe. Nothing onerous. Like this. There is now a door to go into the cafe and a door to come out. And they are not the same. One set of doors is around the corner from the other. To make matters simple, a sign has been posted on the now “exit only” door to clearly indicate that it is, in fact, the exit. To clarify, there’s an arrow pointing to the door you are supposed to use to enter the cafe. And in case you can’t tell where the arrow is pointing there are actual words that explain the entrance is around the corner. Off the patio. It’s not hard. Yet, as I watched with some dismay, two out of three people entered through the exit. Some read the sign and clearly decided to ignore the message. Some did not read the sign at all, I suppose thinking the message was not meant for them. While others read the sign, thought about it for a moment and for some unknown reason, made the determination that the rule did not apply to them. Perhaps the extra 30 feet was too far to go.

Okay. I get it. Old habits die hard. But this one, very simple rule has been put in place to keep everyone safe. You. Me. Your kids. The people who work at the cafe. You know. The ones who are forced to wear masks all day long so we can all continue to satisfy our habit. The woman who dutifully walked around to the new entrance each and every time she needed to enter the cafe only to end up face to face with someone who chose to enter through the exit. Without a mask. So while I hardly ever tell people what to do, and I never swear, I’ll say this just once. If you do nothing else. Do this. Follow the “effing” rule. Please. And all the others that have been put in place to keep us safe. Honestly. It’s not that complicated. Not that hard. Because unlike your parents, this virus won’t be letting any of us off the hook.

An aside: I know none of my readers would do this but feel free to share with someone you know who might. 

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