Today is Day 306 of my pandemic journal, a tome which I’ve been writing every day since March 15, 2020, the day of my Aunt Shirley’s funeral. There is one day missing, a mishap of technological ineptitude or a glitch in the system (I’m not sure which): Nov. 26, 2020. I know I wrote that day. I had quite a detailed entry, as a matter of fact, because what’s the point of a pandemic journal if you’re not detailed about the facts of everyday life?
Anyhow, it’s gone. One day missing from a nearly year-long daily journal. I suppose I should be satisfied and proud of my effort with the other daily entries, but gosh, that missing one bothers me.
I’m not sure how you’ve been getting through the pandemic. Now we’re deep into the second, or is it third?, wave, things have changed a lot. Last spring, when the world was quiet and everything was in lockdown, my kids would actually go on walks with me. We took family walks. My son and I would play Pokemon Go together on our walks. We did puzzles together. A lot of them. Now, in a matter of months, neither teen can be bothered to even go outside. They’re on their screens constantly. Puzzles hold no interest. Only TV, PS4s, iPhones – these are the things that now define their days.
What I wouldn’t give to have the house to myself again! I feel the tension and pressure of needing to monitor the schoolwork, especially for my son, who equates education with playing on his PS4. My pandemic has threads that have emerged over the last year, threads that have weaved my daily life moments together, and become the touchstones of my experience of this moment in history. Those threads, oddly, all start with P; puzzles and Pokemon Go (mentioned above), and I’ve added some more Ps to the list:
I am a pedestrian. I do a lot of walking, mostly around my neighbourhood. I walked to my job at city hall for 12 years. I’ve also walked the entire length of the Avon Trail (120km), in preparation for what would have been the trip of a lifetime last year – a walk on the Camino Primitivo in Spain – a trip I cancelled in March because, well, pandemic.
As someone who has always avidly documented my experiences, I think I was made for the pandemic.
I’ve walked many streets in the Central Frederick, Civic Centre, King Street East, Mt. Hope-Breithaupt, The Aud, Cherry Hill and Cedar Hill neighbourhoods and in downtown Kitchener. Walking has helped me maintain mental health in this extremely stressful time in our world. The exercise is good for me (I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting fatter in the past 11 months), and I’ve been able to watch the city change through the seasons. I’ve invested in good walking shoes, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll walk masked and physically distanced with a friend. Or my husband will come along. If I’m really lucky, I’ll go for a longer hike outside the city, in the forest or along the river. The gift of walking, besides the exercise and the improved mental health, is also being present and noticing the details of nature and the cityscape around me. Which brings me to my next P.
While I walk, I take pictures with my iPhone. I have a DSLR Nikon 700, but it’s a tourist camera and with the amount of walking I do (and sometimes in the places I’m in), I don’t want to carry a big camera with a big lens. Since March 2020, I’ve documented not just the changing seasons in the city, but also its changing skyline. Within a five-block radius of my house, which is close to downtown, there are no fewer than five condominium and apartment buildings being built. Expand to a 15-block radius, and there are 10 condo projects in the works. In March, I could look out my bedroom window and see only the lovely Victorian houses across the street, but now, 11 months later, I see two buildings rising above the rooftops of those houses.
And while the skyline changes dramatically, the heritage neighbourhoods around me offer comfort in their stability. My photos of these neighbourhoods include front-yard surprises and signs to support our frontline workers, details of houses and gardens, guerilla artwork and public art, and the patterns created by architecture, nature, shadows, light, sunshine. I have seen my city in a whole new way through the lens of my iPhone. Sometimes I don’t even stop to focus and frame the photo – I snap the picture as I walk. There is an appeal in the impermanence of the act of photographing, and also in the contentment of the subject. The blur this technique sometimes creates reflects the blur of these past months, when every day runs into the next and you’re not even sure what day it is. It is only our interactions with others that help delineate each day; those moments that help us reconnect and find solace. And that’s my next P.
Our household has been holing up and mostly limiting our trips to the stores or into other buildings, although up to Christmas, my kids were in the classroom, too. I have to admit we’re tired of each other. Over the past few weeks, my kids, both teens, spend less and less time with us. This is partly the result of their slow maturation over the past months, but also, we’re just not interesting to them anymore.
I have been going to the market on Saturdays, a routine I missed for many weeks in the height of the first wave. This limits exposure to just me, who is by far the most conscientious in our house about washing and sanitizing and mask-wearing. I don’t even roll my eyes when I do it. The market is much cheaper than the grocery store (I had heart palpitations at our food bill the first couple of weeks the market was closed, and we had to shop at the grocery store!). And the market is where I see people I know, often stopping to have a quick (distanced) chat.
For many weeks through June, July and August, I had a walking partner – my neighbour, who is a teacher, and I would walk and walk and talk, always with masks and always apart. Every day at 7 a.m., she’d stop by and wait on the sidewalk for me to lock up the house while everyone else slept. I have her to thank for exploring new places in the city, always on foot, and at the best time of the day when the light hasn’t quite warmed to a glow, and the air is the coolest. When she went back to school, the risk of her exposure increased, and we no longer walk together except on the odd occasion. But when I needed to have a human face-to-face connection outside my family, I texted one of a small group of friends to see if they had time to go for a walk. Even though the Covid protocols required distance and masks, it was a good way to catch up, to laugh and to see the city through a different set of eyes.
And, of course, there are online video meetings. We’ve been in touch with family much more often online, using whatever app works best for those who aren’t using these things all the time. We have had chaotic video calls with our family in the UK, where Covid has slid its way into my mother-in-law’s nursing home, claimed her brother-in-law, and into the home of our closest friends. I’ve participated in workshops, panel discussions, board meetings, team meetings, celebrations, all by online video call. The connections, even if by video, are essential.
I have one more P to add to the list, and this one is not of my choosing. In fact, it brings me anxiety. But it makes my son happy (this is important), and in its own way, it connects him to others.
Last summer, my son got a couple of manual labour jobs that earned him enough money to buy himself a PS4 and a new iPhone. Both of these had been points of contention in our house. He kept breaking the hand-me-down phones we gave him, probably intentionally, and he needed something exciting to keep him at home, especially during the pandemic. I’m proud of him that he was able to save for these items – this is no small feat, I can assure you. But it’s another screen that takes him away from the rest of us who live under the same roof.
The upside is that he can connect with his friends online and they play the games together. This prevents him from leaving the house (okay, that’s a bad thing, too) and meeting up with others – it’s a long story, but with his history, the contact tracing if he got Covid would be impossible. So, the PS4 is keeping him happy. And at home. Of course, there is still contention about how much he’s on it, and whether we should limit the wifi on it, as we do on both kids’ devices. The arguments are different, but the underlying important thing for me is that I always know where he is. I am ‘way less stressed because of that one simple fact.
This pandemic starts, and will likely end, with P: puzzles, Pokemon Go, pedestrian photographs, people and the PS4. These six things are keeping me sane in an unpredictable time. Those and my daily journal. This, I am arranging to donate to the regional museum upon my death. As someone who has always avidly documented my experiences, I think I was made for the pandemic.