Excited and Not

I get my first vaccine shot this week. I’ll keep following public health guidelines, but what a relief it will be to soon not worry about catching covid myself. I foresee a summer of porch visits and maybe even a restaurant patio once servers get a chance to get their shots too. I’m even starting to dream about going *inside* libraries and museums.

But I’m not excited about things getting back to normal. I wasn’t thrilled with normal. How did you feel about your daily life before the pandemic? I was a bit burned out and remember the wave of relief washing over me those first few mornings that did not involve three of us taking turns in the bathroom and kitchen, rushing to leave the house for the day and crashing back home later, too spent to do much of anything fun at all.

In the winter, I didn’t see the sun some days, walking to and from work in the dark and spending my days in a windowless office and meeting rooms. I daydreamed about upcoming escapes – to a writing workshop, a yurt, New York City – and the promise of getting away from normal for awhile. I started to skip lunchtime yoga because it was too hard to keep up with an instructor whose pace felt like watching a YouTube video on 1.75x speed. Finding yoga too stressful was a sign I was struggling for sure. I knew I was clinging to trips and events as ways to avoid facing whatever was bothering me, but to be fair, that’s been my coping mechanism for ages and I don’t regret it for a second 😁. Then, boom. COVID.

This past year was difficult in unprecedented ways, including having the word unprecedented filling up newsfeeds and conversations. I am eager to get back some of the freedoms I took for granted, but I don’t want my precedented life back.

I got rid of all my pants with zippers and buttons, I gave away formal shirts and blouses, and never being a fan of bras in the first place, I got rid of all but one that’s really just a short camisole. I promised myself I could spend the rest of my life wearing clothes that I like. I mean, I wrote it down – I have a signed permission slip for Karen Lowry to wear whatever the heck she wants to each day.

I was able to move to a new office at work and have a glorious window now, so there will be no more fully dark days. I’m not there often yet but when I am, even on short December days I get a view of the sunrise. (The picture above may not be a stunning landscape, but compared to no windows? It makes my heart sing!)

Will vaccination, comfy clothes, and sunlight help? YES. So much.

So why am I still filled with dread? That’s why I’m writing this. Putting my fingers on the keyboard to put my finger on the source of my angst. I have less than a year left at my day job, and while it’s been exceptionally stressful during the pandemic, much of my day-to-day work is already back to how it was before. I do prefer working from home, where my schedule and routine suits my work habits better, but this pit in my stomach is bigger than the inconvenience of shifting back to an office schedule.

I’m worried about having to rush again.

I miss kids’ school shows, having drinks with friends, eating out, travelling, and live music. I don’t miss doing all of those things every single month.

There it is. My fear is that once it’s safe, everyone will want to do ALL THE THINGS right away. I need my life to be on 0.75x speed, maybe even 0.5x. I won’t rush back into life, I’ll savour each step, watch the sun rise, and continue my slow yoga.

Namaste.

Anecdotal Evidence

I’m adjusting well to the pandemic this last little while, getting in the groove while we look ahead to new vaccinated grooves. I still don’t like that businesses are closing, I hate that people are sick and dying, loneliness makes my soul sad, and the impact on my teenage children, well, is rough. I’m finding the upsides more easily though, working from home and getting to spend tons of time with my daughter.

I do want to talk about a little thing I miss a big amount. Anecdotes. I miss stories, little snippets of everyday life. The other day, I saw two people I’d chatted with at least weekly for years, but hadn’t seen once since covid started. One lives only three blocks away, such is the ungrooviness of all this.

We exchanged Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Happy Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc. We talked about any big changes for our families over the past year. It felt great to catch up, of course. What we didn’t share were all the little dramas, fun ones or scary ones, that still happen despite the smallness of our worlds. I miss all the chit chat that doesn’t happen over zoom.

I broke my glasses. They were my first-ever pair so I don’t have old ones to fall back on (haha, I fell front on these, that was the problem). I got in to see the optometrist quickly and new glasses are on their way. It’s caused huge changes in my daily life because my kinda-stuck-together frames are painful to wear and yet necessary for everything I do on the computer, which is everything. The thing is, by next week I’ll have new ones and by the week after that, I’ll forget all about it. When I bump into someone a year from now, I’m hardly going to demonstrate how I smushed the frames with a shovelful of snow jamming into my coat pocket. I won’t recount the evening I screamed in frustration (sorry Julia) as I tried to put them back together – without being able to see – in a way that wouldn’t give me a pounding headache. I’ll likely neglect to mention the impossibility of choosing new frames while wearing a mask.

What happened to you this week that you wish you could be chatting about? I miss hearing about my colleague’s dogs’ antics. I hope their health issues are stable. I want the scoop on people’s dating adventures and indignance at parking lot drama. I’m sure my neighbour’s granddaughter has done a million cute things I don’t know about.

I think this is one of the reasons that time feels so wonky these days. There was a rhythm to our lives. Acknowledging someone’s string of bad luck or saying ‘things happen in threes’ after their second happy coincidence – those were markers, keeping the beat. Our collective pulse has become irregular.

red glasses with electrical tape, glue, and clear tape holding them together
Yes, this was a bad repair job. No, I couldn’t see how bad it was.

When she stopped laughing at the tape on my glasses, a friend asked, “When did you break them?” And I didn’t know the answer. I still don’t as I type this. It was quite recent. I saw the optometrist on a Wednesday. Today’s Saturday and it wasn’t this week, so … sigh. There was no one here to tell at the time. I don’t know exactly when I broke my toe last fall, but I do know when I dyed my daughter’s hair because we timed how long the colour lasted (waaaaaaay longer than the box said). I don’t know when I took my cat to the vet or had the, um, incident when I was stuck at the liquor store in my pajamas in the middle of the day with my car not starting. There was snow on the ground, my not-in-boots feet remember that. What about last summer? What happened then?

I find my memory less reliable as I get older (who doesn’t?) but instead of struggling to pull up a few details about an occasional event or two, this past year all I see is a faded collage of blurry pictures in my head. From a distance. With broken glasses. Telling anecdotes made the pictures clearer.

I searched (briefly, it is the weekend after all) to find research on how telling stories helps us remember events, but all I found was evidence – heaps thereof – that we remember information better when it’s told to us in a story rather than in dry, factual lists. I knew that. I can remember lots of stories that prove the point 🙂 Storytelling helps the teller remember too, though.

If I didn’t tell anyone about the funny thing that happened on my morning walk, did it even happen?

I guess the answer’s yes, but will I even remember it? Nope.

I hope you’re all well, and if you don’t have anyone to share your little daily stories with, I’d love to hear them.

The Joy of Joy for Joy’s Sake

Of all the freedoms that come with age, embracing who I am by doing what I love is the most fun. Not giving f*cks about what others think is right up there, entwined with the self-actualization, but the core of this particular joy is joy itself.

I didn’t even know I was on this journey while I moved through its steps over many years (decades), but the path is clear in hindsight.

Continue reading “The Joy of Joy for Joy’s Sake”

Oops! The Cost of Multitasking

Through detailed scientific investigation, I determined the cost of multitasking to be $49.95. US. What’s that, $70 Canadian? Ouch.

Like any academic endeavour, I started with a hypothesis. I predicted that while the guy on the webinar was introducing his topic, I could scroll through Instagram on my phone. And answer a few quick emails in another window. My methods involved leaning back in my chair, scrolling Insta with my left hand (a talent perfected with practice) and moving my computer mouse with my right. My ears were engaged (theoretically) with the webinar. I chose a time of day (not really, the webinar schedule was not within my control) when one cat was sleeping and the other satisfied with an occasional pat with my foot. The only unusual aspect of the experimental design was that I had no food or beverages with me, an oversight I will rectify in future studies.

Continue reading “Oops! The Cost of Multitasking”

Breathing in 2021

There are meaningful, lyrical pieces written about hope, renewal and vaccination in the new year. This is not one of them. I do feel hopeful – and impressed, yay scientists! – with the covid vaccine rolling out (shooting out? injecting out?) already. But I don’t feel able to offer inspiration to you, lovely readers, because we’re all experiencing this pandemic so differently. You may have extra time or far less, financial strain or more money in your pocket, gratitude for relationships or strife or loneliness, good health or a sore nose from all the swabs you’ve had. You may cry each day or savour the chance to live in pajamas, or both. I’ve struggled and found new joys, and had deep lows and guilty highs (and bought lots of new pajamas).

One thing I’m sure of is that we’re all living with uncertainty. There’s shaky ground beneath us and fog clouding the path ahead, so my main intention for 2021 is to be kind and continue to cut everyone some slack.

Continue reading “Breathing in 2021”

The Joy of Quirky Kijiji

Here in Ontario, we use a ‘craigslist’-type site called kijiji. Go on, take a minute to savour how fun it is to say kijiji out loud. It’s fun to write too, with all those little dots. For me the best part is the window it opens into people’s quirky lives. I have a folder filled with cut-and-pasted ads I call “Kijiji Poetry”.

Wanted:looking for a lost passport  

the passport is in my black backpack, i lost the backpack.

My fascination started with a post asking for a “quiet horse” and I was hooked. Why quiet? Would it be kept near neighbours (neigh, haha) who might complain? Are most horses noisy? Were there no other required characteristics, just quietness?

Continue reading “The Joy of Quirky Kijiji”

My Screen-free Weekend (#NotQuite)

I’ve had lots of screen-free time before, when camping or travelling, and of course, for the decade or so of my life when the only screen was a black and white tv tucked in a dank basement.

With *everything* going on and the end of my online coursework for now, I decided to have a screen-free weekend at home. Just me, cats, books, pens, notebooks, crossword puzzles and the outdoors. I told a few key people I’d be off-grid, set my phone on Do Not Disturb at 5 on Friday, and tucked my laptop away. It was a great experience – highly recommend – but it didn’t go as planned.

My Journal

Hour one: My fingers are already covered in fountain pen ink. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

Hour two (actually, first 15 minutes, just lived in denial a bit longer): I can’t wait to tweet about this. I’ll take a picture of … oh. Can’t take pictures.

Hour two (for real): WAIT! It’s not really offline if I’m thinking about what I’m going to post online.

No more journal.

Well, lots more journal, but the kind where I’m writing to sort out my thoughts and feelings (or to enjoy a new ink), not crafting potential social media posts.

Lessons Learned

The funniest lesson was that I have no way of knowing the weather forecast without a screen and that my ability to read the clouds and wind is, um, less reliable than I’d imagined. Laughing out loud is good for the soul though, so every time the snowflakes hit my sunglasses and bare ankles, my soul (and the occasional dog walker) got a treat.

Sleep

It came as a great surprise that I could fall asleep – and wake up! – without playing spider solitaire or boggle on my phone for an hour. I turned out the light, got comfortable, and boom, eight hours of the good stuff. I do usually sleep alright, but without the game playing my eight hours started and ended earlier, so there I was, up and raring to go at 5:30 a.m. (Truth is, it was before 5 a.m., I’m just embarrassed about how early I go to bed.)

From now on, the only games I’ll play in bed will involve another person! (post-pandemic, sigh)

TIME

Ridiculous amounts of time. So. Much. Time. I’d had no particular plan to get a lot done, no big projects to tackle, but I was full of energy and there were no tweets or YouTube rabbit holes to get expend it on. I did a full day’s worth of chores around the house and, oh look, it’s 8 a.m.

It was all the extra time that did me in. I’d done more writing, reading, cleaning, walking, cooking, yoga, laundry and crossword puzzles than I imagined possible over the span of a week, and it wasn’t even dinner time. Maybe I had a lot of pent-up energy, I don’t know, but I ran out of things to do. I wasn’t bored, just done with the activities I’d been doing. Reading and writing need time to marinate, to float around in my head before I jump into the next world of words.

Focus

Every task I did got my undivided attention. Time stretched out, so there was no fluster if I needed to go back down to the basement or up to the attic for something or start over when things weren’t working out as planned. All those little mistakes I make when I’m rushing? Gone.

I use the Notes app on my phone to jot down random thoughts about what I need to do or check or buy. This weekend, when I had one of those thoughts, I wrote it on a sticky note. No big deal, right? Wrong! The first time it happened, I was making fudge and thought of a great christmas gift for my brother (non-fudge-related, no spoilers here). I wrote it down and … went back to the fudge. I didn’t see a bunch of notifications and click through to find out who was messaging me or liked an old tweet, no googling, I just made fudge. Using paper for quick notes is another change that’s going to stick. The fudge, by the way, is not complicated to make, yet somehow turned out way better this time than usual. Focus.

Cats

Our cats are not the stand-offish sort. They expect (demand?) constant attention and affection, and only settle into their hundred hours of sleep a day when they’re near (or on) a person. They were unsettled by my pottering around. They are 100% enablers of a couch-potato lifestyle. They’re also unused to being left alone now because I work from home a lot and my daughter’s school hours are less than half of usual. I did all my outdoor wanderings in one long trip to minimize their trauma, but it meant I was exhausted and hungry when I got home. Their neediness and my hangriness were a rough combination.

We found our balance again (we all had treats). But the tears in my perfect day had started, and I worried at them, pulling threads of dissatisfaction and regret. Why did I try to DO so much today? Why didn’t I just let myself BE?

Avoiding Avoidance

Almost every time I thought of reaching for my phone or laptop I realized it was because I was trying to avoid something. An unpleasant emotion? Let’s take a picture of a cat. Task I want to have done but am not really thrilled about the ‘doing’ part? Online window-shopping seems so appealing. This played out over and over again. I can still avoid things without technology, really I’m a master at it, so the interesting thing to me was the noticing. Reaching for my phone is a sign I can use to notice active avoidance.

I Gave In

Almost 24 hours to the minute from when I turned things off, I desperately wanted them back on. I’d finished a great novel (The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, also highly recommend) and wasn’t ready to start a new one. I couldn’t do more exercise, my butt was already screaming every time I shifted my weight and I’ve learned that overdoing it physically lands me in a bad mood. My writing needed to percolate too. It was getting dark outside, the cats were relaxed for the first time all day, and I thought, I’ll do a jigsaw puzzle! Except I thought it without that exclamation mark.

I tried just sitting, savouring a glass of wine. I wrote in my journal. After an hour of distracting myself from my obsessive thoughts about it, I convinced myself that the only thing I could possibly do was read the non-fiction e-book I had started on my laptop. It was on loan from the library after all, and the sooner I was done with it, the sooner someone else could enjoy it.

Without google, I couldn’t find out if there was a way to turn on my laptop without seeing all the messages and notifications because I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist checking them. I’ll tell you, it took me a long while to come up with the brilliant idea to turn off the internet, just unplug my router. No wifi, no worries.

I read my ebook (but couldn’t return it to the library without the internet, oops). I have many other books I could have read. I don’t know why the pull of opening a device was so strong. It wasn’t social media I missed, and certainly not the news, it was the familiarity and comfort of sitting with my happy MacBook. I used it more on Sunday too, to type up and edit the work I’d done Saturday on my own book and a freelance job.

I went to bed without spider solitaire and woke up with a paw in my face at 6:20 on Sunday. I loved not having my phone there as I started the day.

What next?

Experiencing the shock of time and focus available to me when I’m offline means it’s a no-brainer that I’ll make this a regular habit. Maybe every Saturday? One evening a week? Two?

As an exercise in intentionality, I used to say out loud (yes, my kids laughed at the awkwardness of it) my reason for turning on my computer or picking up my phone. I might try that again, or simply remember the joy of single-tasking and pretend no internet exists whenever I can.

Having used my laptop Saturday so already “failed” at being screen-free, there was less sense of testing myself Sunday. I again enjoyed baffling amounts of free time. There was pretty snow falling, so I left my weather app untouched and bundled up for a walk in the winter wonderland. The cats lay on top of me for ages when I returned, and we all did nothing more than watch the snowflakes fall.

Until I decided the weekend ended at 5 p.m. Sunday, returned my library e-book and spent the evening writing this post and watching Netflix 🙂

Big Thoughts and Belly Laughs

In a recent text exchange about my potato of a cat, I told a friend “I am a (sometimes) very happy large potato of a person and have never felt more myself than in this big body.”

I’ve been small and large to extremes, on and off throughout my life. My weight sometimes changed dramatically in a short period of time for no obvious reason while other times, the yoyo was due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, exercise, disordered eating, stress, and menopause. The longest I’ve ever stayed the same size was three years, and that was only once; I’ve always kept a drawer of clothing that is the next two sizes up and two sizes down to switch into as the yoyo did its thing.

Fear ruled my life for decades. Being overweight was a disgraceful fate I was warned about from childhood. At my high school for gifted students we were told, “smart people don’t get fat.” As we broke up, an ex-boyfriend cursed me, saying, “I hope you get fat!” (And I did, shhh don’t tell him about his powers). Too many people to list gave me advice about changing my size without knowing anything about me and my body. I was always praised for having the self-control to starve myself.

“I am a (sometimes) very happy large potato of a person and have never felt more myself than in this big body.”

My no-longer-disordered eating habits are nothing dramatic. I eat regular healthy meals of simple whole foods and occasional junk food. People sometimes comment on how little I eat (the “considering how big you are” part goes unsaid), and a doctor told me he’d never seen anyone with such a slow metabolism. I have no health issues, but my natural muscle tone is quite low. One consistent way for me to get smaller is by building big muscles through heavy weight training. I don’t do that right now, I mostly do yoga and walking. I ran marathons in the past (for fun, really), but that made me hungry and I ate more so it didn’t affect my size one way or another. When I worked out a lot (as in, a couple of hours every single day, as in, before I had children), I was slim and toned but also self-obsessed. I couldn’t relax because any change to my routine might lead to instant obesity.

My recent path to this big body was gradual, mostly related to going through menopause. And the neatest thing happened! My large pregnancy belly came back. I rest my hands on it all the time, half expecting to feel a kick ❤️ Rather than being upset about it, I find it nostalgic and heartwarming. I remember being in the shower with my daughter when she was a toddler. She touched my little stretch-marked pooch of a belly and lost herself in giggles at its funny movement, like jello. We played the game often because I couldn’t get enough of that belly laugh.

The odd thing is, I don’t feel shame or disgust at my big body this time around, I feel comfortable and home. During the times I was slim, I often felt like I was playing a part, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I “carry my weight well,” meaning I feel like an impostor no matter my size (a boyfriend’s mother would buy me size S clothing and I’d cut my size L tags off for fear she’d find out the truth). I didn’t like the constant worry that whatever magic combination of exercise and hormones led to that small size would disappear as unpredictably as it arrived, which it often did. This time, though, no fear. This is me, full of belly laughs.

I don’t post many pictures of myself online because even as a middle-aged woman with only a headshot showing, I get more than enough random creepy guys in my DMs. Not to mention, the natural world is beautiful, and I have cats and kids to take photos of, why worry about selfies? Today I remembered destroying all the pictures of my previous large-self each time I got small again (yeah, messed up, I know) and thought, I want to celebrate my don’t-give-a-f*ck menopausal body. I have nothing to hide, I love this body and have never felt so comfortable in it, so here it is 😊 [and thank god I got rid of those pregnancy bangs!]

Size 2 or 2X, I’m always Karen.

Ritual of Reflection

My mind can be so easily fooled, I rely on its gullibility. My brain shifted from stress to comfort with the change of a single word.

My old list of monthly tasks = chores. Weight on my shoulders. Adulting. Responsibility. Burdens.

My monthly ritual = soothing. Calm, comforting self-care. Aaaaaaah.

I look forward to the time I set aside each month to reflect, tidy up loose ends, and plan ahead. My ritual evolves as life changes (not sure about you, but things are, um, chaotic? here) and it shifted from being a list of things to do into a reassurance that at least once a month, I’d be tending to things that matter to me. I no longer worry about whether I’m ‘behind’, I rest easy knowing things won’t fall through the cracks or get lost in the whirligig of life.

I attend to the parts of my ritual over a few days around the end of each month, ideally with at least one weekend day in there to give me the s p a c e and stillness I need to reflect. I take as much or as little time as suits me.

And because it’s a ritual, I can make it as fun or woowoo as I want! I play music, say mantras, light candles, you name it, I OWN my ritual ❤️

Caring for my heart

  • Reread my journal entries and planner pages from the last month, noting anything I want to keep. 
  • Ask myself a list of questions to reflect, to help me remember the good stuff and choose how to spend my time the next month.

Caring for my kids, friends and family (and cats!)

  • Look through the month ahead and build in celebrations, down time, school time etc.
  • Check-in with my regulars as well as someone I didn’t connect with in the month before.
  • Go through photos (SO MANY CAT PICTURES), delete lots, share the best ones.
screenshot of many pictures in my camera roll, mostly cats
Cats and kids, welcome to my camera roll.

Caring for my home

  • Notice a neglected chore that’s been nagging at me and take care of it.
  • Declutter and take a load to goodwill or the women’s shelter.
  • Digital declutter: bookmarks, downloads, emails in my pending list, random things saved to my desktop
  • Fill in my planner with dates for bills due, garbage pick-up (ours is every 6 business days … not the easiest to keep track of), and anything else of note.
a view of a residential street on a sunny day with vines and trees and blue sky
the view from my porch ❤️

Caring for my business

  • Send out friendly messages and invoices to freelance clients, play with my financial spreadsheets (yes, I enjoy this, always have, lucky me 😊).
  • Update my resume and portfolio if I did anything exciting. Find something exciting to do if not.

My ritual involves pens and notebooks that bring me joy. I might trap myself under two snoring cats, away from my phone or laptop, or sit outdoors with coffee or wine (or gin! a friend recently re-introduced me to this delight).

a shelf unit with many dozens of pens
a few of my pens

I still take pleasure in checking tasks off a list (who doesn’t?) but for this, I just remember what matters and attend to it. Month-end went from being busy and burdensome to a time I eagerly await. (I mean, I’m writing this post to pass time until my next month-end).

I wonder what else I can trick my mind into? 

Chapter 1

Being accused of murder sure makes it hard to enjoy new-found freedom from an abusive ex.

Escape Artist

I’m writing a book! Wanna teaser? It’s a mystery so you might have to sit in suspense for awhile … while I write the rest of it, lol. The link to Chapter 1 of Escape Artist, set in my beloved Newfoundland, is below.

I drafted a couple of novels before, but one didn’t work plot-wise and the other didn’t work character-wise. I borrowed bits and pieces from both and put together an outline for this baby that is SO MUCH FUN to write. I’m taking a course in writing mysteries right now and I *live* for mysteries so, whee!

Have a read, let me know what you think. Neil Gaiman said,

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Neil Gaiman : https://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/22573969110/for-all-the-people-who-ask-me-for-writing

Comment here or email me (karen [at] karenlowry [dot] ca) and tell me what’s working for you and what’s not – don’t worry about how it should be fixed, I’ll have fun sorting that out myself 🙂

Click here! (or go to EscapeArtistBook.com)

Chapter 1