Practising gratitude

As we head into week 17 of public health measures to protect ourselves, others and our health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s hope for a shift into stage 3, being reunited with loved ones, and looking forward—with both trepidation and excitement—to what the world will be like when we come out of this.

Right now, many of us are also dealing with a prolonged heat wave and dry spell—and, if like me, you don’t have a yard, balcony or air conditioning, it can be particularly oppressive. And my fridge is now on the fritz; luckily, the apartment next to me is vacant, so my super gave me the keys and I’m using that fridge. Building management has been notified, and now I wait to see if it will be repaired or replaced; it’s an older second-hand model, so it will likely be replaced. And I’m grateful that I was able to salvage the contents of my fridge (freezer is still working, thankfully).

With all the recent upheaval and so many things out of our control, it can be hard to stay positive and keep the faith, as it were. And if you struggle with anxiety and depression (I do), times like these can make you feel even more fragile than usual. I’ve been feeling particularly vulnerable this weekend, as I write this post. I’m extra gentle with myself at times like this; I tell myself it will pass. And I remind myself that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Here is my gratitude list:

A cozy, comfortable, safe home

Access to safe, clean water and good, healthy food

Access to cellphone, Internet and cable TV

Access to amenities within a 10 to 20-minute walk from my home

Some work coming in

I’m well, as are my family, chosen family and friends

I have supportive family, chosen family and friends—so I’m in solitude, but not alone

We have a great combined, cooperative federal, provincial and municipal effort on COVID-19 and its impacts

Time for art projects, reading, reflection, playing Scrabble against myself, doing online word search puzzles

My beautiful, playful four-legged friend Camille (cat) to keep me company

Ability to take daily walks, with pedometer to count my steps

Access to stories on Netflix, TV, movie collection, books, Internet, social media, online performances

Being able to see beauty and kindness in the world during these uncertain, heartbreaking times

A neighbour and I helping each other out with groceries, errands, laundry change

It’s a good, insightful exercise: reflections on gratitude. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Signs of hope

Each week since we started our pandemic public health measures of staying home, physical distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and looking out for each other, I’ve posted a marquee message.

Here are the ones I’ve created to date. My aim is to provide hope, inspiration and food for thought.

The list of lasts

The following is my list of lasts from the Before Time (pre-COVID-19)—the last time I ventured outside my neighbourhood on transit and had in-person contact with other people. It really sums up the people, places and things I love—and really miss.

Last time I saw my parents: November 3, 2019 at the Elm Hurst Inn (Ingersoll), for our extended family pre-holiday brunch (they headed to Arizona that week and returned home in March)

Last time I saw my sister, brothers, sisters-in-law and nephews: December 26 at my sister’s house for our annual Boxing Day feast (brother-in-law was in New Zealand; saw him last at Elm Hurst Inn brunch)

Last time I saw a close friend: Dee, on March 11 at Presse Café at Bloor/Yonge

Last hug: March 11 (see last time I saw a close friend—we totally forgot to do the elbow bump)

Last time riding TTC: March 11 (see last time I saw a close friend)

Last reading I saw: March 6, Studio 180 Theatre’s The Cane at Buddies in Bad Times

Last brunch: March 7, with friends Brenda and Kerri at 7 West Café

Last play I saw: March 7, ARC’s OIL at Geary Lane

Last thrift shopping: March 4, with my friend Lizzie in the Bloor/Lansdowne area, finishing at Value Village

Last dinner out: February 27, in the Distillery at Mill St. Brew Pub with my friend Myriam, before seeing Lucid Ludic/Why Not Theatre’s Brain Storm at Dancemakers Studio

Last hair cut: February 25 at Top Cuts, with Rhonda at Avenue/Lawrence

Last art show I saw: February 23, Winter Stations at Woodbine Beach

Last gathering: February 22, friend Zoltan’s birthday party at his/Lizzie’s place

Last movie I saw: February 17, Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the Varsity

When was the last time you saw loved ones in person? The last hug you gave/received? The last movie you saw at a movie theatre?

p.s. Since I wrote this post and scheduled it for publishing, the Government of Ontario announced that Toronto and Peel will be heading into stage 2 today (Wed, June 24). Now, as we’re gradually able to be together again—still following public health measures—we can finally look forward to some firsts.

Reflections of home during COVID-19

When I went on hiatus with the blog in February, it was with the intention of taking some time away, to step back, get some R&R and figure out where the blog was going to go next as I made the move away from reviewing and focusing on my own art. Since then, I’ve posted a few times, with reflections on the early days of COVID-19 stay-at-home and physical distancing measures, and sharing an interview and book launch shout-outs.

Now, I want to share some other reflections and images from my time during the pandemic, starting with these images I took on April 15 (or Week 5, for those who are keeping track), during one of my daily walks. Most of the images are of doors that caught my attention as being both unique and beautiful. Going beyond their appearance, though, I also became mindful that these doors are entrances to multi-million-dollar homes; homes that have at one or more vehicles, ample yards, and lots of living and storage space. Homes that offer the highest level of comfort during these days of staying home and physical distancing; the people in these homes can drive for groceries – with contactless pickup – can afford delivery, and have enough square footage for each resident to take space for themselves, as well as store an abundance of supplies. It is a reminder of the stark differences in circumstance for Toronto residents, where not everyone has the privilege of so much living and storage space or safe, distanced travel – or even a home at all.

There are also a couple of images that give me a sense of hope (the child’s rainbow drawing in the window), whimsy (the Christmas decoration on the leafy tree) and quiet solitude (the open book, left on a bench).

Throughout these weeks of pandemic, early plans for productivity and self-improvement made way for moments of stopping to take a breath and self-care. And that’s okay. There is no “normal” during these uncertain times. The best we can do is take it moment by moment, day by day, week by week. Look after ourselves and each other. Try to be kind and compassionate, to ourselves and others. Reflect on how we can do better as individuals and as a society, as we work toward recovery and reopening. And keep the faith that our collective efforts and sacrifices are working. And that, one day, we’ll be able to see and hug our loved ones again.

Virtual Toronto Lit Up: Inanna’s Spring Releases — Meet Me at the Soda Fountain

On Thursday, June 18th at 5pm, Toronto Lit Up and Inanna Publications will be hosting a virtual book launch to celebrate Inanna’s Spring 2020 releases! I am so excited to be launching with these fabulous authors! Here are the details: Join us for a virtual celebratory evening of readings and revelry featuring authors Heather Babcock […]

So excited about the upcoming June 18 virtual launch of Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar, published by Inanna Publications!

 

via Virtual Toronto Lit Up: Inanna’s Spring Releases — Meet Me at the Soda Fountain

Stay the Fuck Home Guest Post by Cate McKim Theatre Edition — Lizzie Violet

It’s been heartbreaking to see all the cancellations of live theatre performances—not to mention devastating for theatre companies, festivals and artists—with seasons being cut short or delayed indefinitely, and productions and festivals cancelled during the COVID-19 crisis. But there are still ways you can support companies and artists, and stay connected with theatre while we […]

via Stay the Fuck Home Guest Post by Cate McKim Theatre Edition — Lizzie Violet

Interview: Lizzie Violet & her Stay the Fuck Home blog series

Lizzie Violet. Photo by Zoltan Hawryluk.

 

Everyone has their own way of dealing with today’s new normal of staying home and following physical distancing guidelines—and we’re all finding the need to develop new routines and methods of navigating everyday tasks and errands in a pseudo war-time environment, with standard items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour and yeast becoming hot commodities. And all this while dealing with the emotional, financial and social impacts of living in a world with the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.

Writer, horror afficionado, zombiephile and avid bat watcher (and good friend) Lizzie Violet started a blog series called Stay the Fuck Home; offering practical and inspirational how-to and entertainment info and resources as we all hunker down at home. I asked her about the genesis of the blog series, and her thoughts on DIY and remote personal connection going forward.

Hey, Lizzie. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your Stay the Fuck Home blog series! What inspired you to start this series?

Thank you for interviewing me!

There were a few things that inspired me, to be honest. I was seeing a lot of people struggling with what was happening and the fact that necessities had vanished from our lives. When I say necessities, I don’t just mean food. Many of us, myself included, depend on many different types of resources, activities and interaction. Plus, blogging daily gave me something else to focus on. I also wanted to do something positive, and hopefully give others something else to focus on aside from the bombardment of news and negativity.

What post(s) was/were the most fun to write?

Definitely the bats post, Stay the Fuck Home Bats, Bats, Bats Edition. Because BATS! And the Stay the Fuck Home the Dried Beans Edition was fun to write. I got a little silly with that one.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new wave of DIYers; and folks who didn’t previously make things themselves or bake, etc. have started doing so. (Necessity being the mother of invention and all.) What kinds of projects have you heard people undertaking for the first time? And do you think this experience will inspire rookie DIYers to continue DIYing after physical distancing measures have been lifted?

I hope people who either started DIYing out necessity and are new to it, or those who pulled out their sewing machine or baking tools after not using them for ages, continue to do so. I am fortunate that I was taught all of the skills I have at a very young age and have always used them. I have always said that you should know the basics of how to sew, knit, bake bread, can food and grow your own food. In the state of the world right now, these are necessities. Heck, I’ve even shared my sourdough starter with a few people. I truly hope people keep this going.

The main things I’ve seen being undertaken is sewing (mostly for masks) and bread making. It makes my heart happy, especially the baking of bread. Homemade bread is much healthier for you and really not that hard to do.

Needing to find new ways to conduct professional meetings and stay in touch with loved ones, a lot of folks (myself included) have also been introduced to, and become new users of, various video chat platforms like Facebook and Zoom, as well as performing arts live streams. How do you feel the use of this kind of technology has impacted our sense of personal connection during these unprecedented, uncertain times—and do you see this kind of remote connection as something that organizations, arts companies and folks in general will keep employing as we move past COVID-19 restrictions?

I’m actually really glad we have these resources available to us. Had this happened 10 years ago, this may have not been as possible. I do enjoy being able to see music and other forms of art through video platforms, but I personally would rather see all of it in person. What I am hoping for is once we are able to go out again, I really and truly hope that audiences start going out to live indie events again. I hope that they support artists and also smaller businesses, so they can get back on their feet. It was already hard enough as an artist to survive before the pandemic and they will need all the help they can get.

Anything you want to mention to folks about the blog series?

When I can, I am shouting out performers and artists I know and love. Please go support them! I’ve put links to them when possible. It was also a huge part of why I started doing the Stay the Fuck Home series.

Anything else you want to shout out?

I really want to shout out small businesses. They are doing everything they can to stay alive. They are being creative and innovative and deserve our love! Especially restaurants. They are trying their best, go order some take out from them!

Now, for the fun part. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? FUCK!

What’s your least favourite word? I have a couple. Umami and bespoke. Because no one uses them correctly!

What turns you on? Kindness.

What turns you off? Any kind of disrespect and that horking noise. Don’t do that.

What sound or noise do you love? Cawing of crows and ravens.

What sound or noise do you hate? The scraping noise the subway or street cars make.

What’s your favourite curse word? FUCK!

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? It changes every once in a while. Currently, Forensic Anthropology.

What profession would you not like to do? Veterinarian. At one point I did want to become one, until I found out you had to euthanize animals.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Oh no! Not this one!

Thanks, Lizzie!

You can find Lizzie Violet on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@lizzieviolet13). She also curates and hosts Killer B Cinema with her partner Zoltan Hawryluk, offering monthly screenings of B movies. Normally hosted upstairs at See Scape in Toronto, they’re working on posting screenings on YouTube as we continue to practise physical distancing—and hope to be back at See Scape soon.

Lizzie posted this piece after we did this interview; it’s one of the most important ones yet: Stay the Fuck Home It’s Okay to Be Kind to Yourself.

 

 

A sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar

Heather Babcock photo by Astrid Monge. Filthy Sugar cover design by Val Fullard.

 

Two years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of getting a sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar after she approached me to give it a read and write a review blurb. Published by Inanna Publications, it’s set to be released on May 26—and was to have its official launch in Toronto at Queen Books the same day; but since brick and mortar book stores have had to move online, and with events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authors and book sellers are now relying on virtual shout-outs and online book sales.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Filthy Sugar (and think it would make a great movie); and hope that Babcock will get to celebrate the launch of the book with colleagues and loved ones soon. Here’s my review blurb:

Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working-class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle’s rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock’s storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry—tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working-class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

You can pre-order Filthy Sugar online at your favourite book store website (I’m a big fan of indie book stores like Queen Books and Glad Day Bookshop) or on Amazon.ca

It will be some time before we’ll be able to attend readings and book launches in person again; in the meantime, you can get your own sneak peek at Filthy Sugar with Babcock’s excerpt reading on YouTube:

And if you’re a fan of 1920s and 1930s film and pop culture, check out Babcock’s blog Meet Me at the Soda Fountain.

Reaching out during COVID-19

In these strange new normal times of physical distancing, we’re reminded how important it is to stay connected—staying in touch with family, friends and colleagues, as well as neighbours who may need company or assistance, is so important for both our mental and physical health.

Even introverts like myself, while generally well-equipped for staying home and keeping our distance, can miss the in-person contact; the hugs, physical presence and closeness of loved ones.

It really reminds us just how much we need each other; and people are coming up with innovative ways to connect: co-worker meetings and even drinks time, and online weddings, via Zoom; people singing from balconies, reading plays and sonnets, recording music and sharing video; coffee chats over Facebook video chat or Google Hangouts; and people are actually using their cellphones to make phone calls!

At first, keeping safe space between us and others was called “social distancing”, but this has since been replaced with “physical distancing”—a more accurate, descriptive term that also recognizes the need for us social animals to reach out and connect with others remotely/electronically.

The two-metre spacing image has also evolved into a two-metre bubble—making sure we have safe distance in three dimensions. It also feels like a more protective space. Thinking about physical distancing in terms of a bubble made me feel a lot easier about going out for a short walk along quiet side streets in my neighbourhood on Sunday (I am well and not a candidate for self-isolation)—a beautiful, unseasonably mild day that I didn’t want to waste by staying indoors.

Being together apart can be challenging—but it’s what we need to do right now. And, together, we’ll get through this.

And just think how joyful those physical reunions will be!

 

For info, check out these websites:

City of Toronto: http://toronto.ca/covid-19

Province of Ontario http://ontario.ca/covid19

Government of Canada: http://canada.ca/covid19

 

A smile during wearying, uncertain times

With COVID-19 in our midst, we’re living in some intense, uncertain, life-altering times right now—and, frankly, we could probably all use a good laugh. Here’s a little smile: a throwback to my first stand-up performance with Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Girl Level One class at Comedy Bar in Toronto. With thanks to my sis Colleen McKim for shooting/editing.

 

 

Wash your hands, practise social distancing, stay home if you’re sick, and keep up-to-date from medical officials and reputable news sources. And be kind to each other. We’re in this together—and we’ll get through this together. xo