What’s Saving My Life Right Now (Winter 2022, COVID Edition, The Second)

Every year, at the midpoint of winter, Modern Mrs. Darcy publishes her list of what is saving her life right now. Big things, small things, doesn’t matter. I participated (I think for the first time) last year (hahaha, I called it COVID edition because I thought COVID would be done by February 2022).

Last year I came up with seven things. I read my post again before drafting this one. Some of it made me smile. A lot of it made me sad. So much of what I’m feeling right now reflects exactly how I was feeling last year (although now the feelings are even stronger after another full year of the pandemic), right down to the difficulties I’m having reading, one of my most important anxiety-management strategies.*

Coming up with a list this time around was HARD. As I have written here and here, I have been really struggling over the past few months. And I think you see this in the things I’ve chosen because they are all little in the sense that they ask little of me and they take little time.

I don’t have the bandwidth for anything larger.

WORDLE

Mel put me on to Wordle at the start of December. I have played it every day since. It is the first thing I do when I wake up (although I stop until I’m more awake if things are looking dicey). I feel deeply pleased with myself when I get the word (especially if things had been looking dicey). I have a perfect win record and a streak in the mid-high 60s (it took me multiple days to write this post). I love it. I especially love that I can only play once per day as this is exactly the kind of game that I would find addictive (cough Wordscapes in spring 2020 cough). E. has started playing it too. I am sad that the NYT has bought it and may well move it behind a paywall, but I also respect the developer’s decision to take the ‘low-seven figures’ offer for a game that he made to be a bit of fun for his partner.

MARVEL SHOWS ON DISNEY+

I guess it’s hard to argue that these are saving my life right now since there isn’t new Marvel content appearing weekly (and they delayed the release of the Hawkeye Assembled episode by three weeks so it won’t be out until the 9th), but they provided so much joy in 2021 that they still make the list; even thinking about new content or reading about fan theories about new content makes me happy. Today I read that season 2 of Loki is scheduled to film this summer and it seriously boosted my mood. The end credits scene from the season finale of Hawkeye made my entire winter break – it was like Marvel had read my mind. (It did take me weeks to get the earworm out of my head.)

I love these because a) I love the MCU and getting more time with characters overlooked in the films or with new characters in the slower-paced world of the tv shows is great; b) When a show is streaming I get a new episode every week so I always have something to look forward to (and then something to read about online once I’ve seen it); c) The shows take less commitment than a movie. I’ve seen the new movies that have come out on Disney+ too (Black Widow, Shang Chi, Eternals) and enjoyed them, but it is really hard to find enough time to myself to watch a movie these days. One episode, though? I can watch that during lunch on Wednesdays when the kids are at school and Q. is teaching and that makes it a little treat just for me. (There is very little that is just for me in a house where more often than not all four of us are home.)

FUNNY PEOPLE ON TWITTER

I’m not actually on Twitter, but I spend a lot of time (more than I should) (doom)scrolling Twitter, mostly checking COVID stuff from the people I trust or keeping tabs on what’s happening in the province’s schools. I’m not on most other social media, so I’m usually way behind with memes and things, but I do really appreciate a clever take on things. Neoliberal John Snow (‘Addressing preventable disease through deregulation and individualism’) is fabulous. Just recently, Noelle has been dedicating her days to listening to the Zillow channel for the ‘trucker’ ‘protest’ in Ottawa (scare quotes because most of them aren’t truckers because the truckers are vaccinated and doing their jobs, and because it’s not a protest so much as it is a temper tantrum). What those on the channel are saying is not meant by them to be funny, but it really, really is. Again, short time investment, big boost to my mood. (Also, this tweet, also about the ‘protest’, in my opinion, won the internet.)

HAWKS IN THE CITY

We have a pair of red-tailed hawks who live in our area plus some smaller raptors. It makes me happy to see them circling overhead. It reminds me to look up. It reminds me to slow down. It reminds me how blue the sky is, how lucky I am that my legs work, that my lungs work, that my body does all the things my father’s body no longer can. Hawks help get me out of my head and into the present.

The best blue skies come on the coldest days when the snow squeaks as you walk on it.

APRIL

Our semester ends in April. Neither of us is teaching in the summer. If we can just get to April, we will have some time to try to put ourselves back together, or so I tell myself about fifty times a day. I know it is bad practice to put goalposts on uncontrollable things because when those goalposts are met and things don’t change it makes it harder to keep on keeping on (the appearance of Omicron really hurt. I hadn’t realized how much I had been counting on my kids’ second vaccination as an ‘end’ point.) So many things could still prevent the summer months from being restorative (school closures for all of May and June, as an example). I am maybe setting myself up for crushing disappointment. But right now, the thought of April is the only thing that keeps me from curling up under my desk, covering myself in a blanket, and crying pretty much every day, so I am going to hang on to it.

And that, I think, is it. Everything I said last year about privilege and what’s actually saving my life still holds true. In the grand scheme of things, we remain immensely fortunate. But even with all our privilege, Q. and I are shadows of our former selves. So when I find a moment of lightness, I try to really acknowledge it.

*Taking suggestions for a fairly light, well-written series, bonus if fantasy/sci-fi, MG or YA target audience welcome – something like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers, or Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo [which brought me so much joy last year] or Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache. Ooh I just learned Guy Gavriel Kay has a new book coming in May so that’s something to look forward to.

If you read all the way to the end, please tell me, dear reader, what’s saving your life right now?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, COVID-19, Daily Life

The Postscript

Like I said in my last post, we sent the kids to school on Monday morning.

They both had a great day.

Late Monday afternoon we got the email that a parent had reported a positive case in P’s class to the school. (There had been no such emails in the previous two weeks when we’d been keeping them home while they built immunity from their second dose.)

We debated but ultimately decided to send her back and take her out if any more cases arose.

We pulled P. back out at lunch on Tuesday because we learned of a second case. I heard about it from parents at drop off and I would have turned around and taken her home with me right then except she was already in the classroom.

A third case was announced via email by Tuesday afternoon. The parents of that child haven’t self-identified on our group chat thread but I suspect it might be the kid who had a play date on the weekend with the second case (and whose mother was the one announcing the other kid was positive and that her child had had a play date with said child as she was sending her kid into the classroom where they, I only later learned from P., sit AT HER TABLE).

So E. is still going to school and P. is at home until at least Monday and Q. is grumpy because, for the first time in the entire pandemic, our assessments of the risks do not align.

Q. is of the view that we’ve done everything we can to make ourselves safe, that Omicron is so widespread and so transmissible that it is inevitable that we are going to get it, and that the disruption from having the kids home (especially P. – not her fault, she’s just younger) is unsustainable and has to end.

I am of the view that we should refuse to accept infection as inevitable and that we should continue to remove ourselves from high-risk situations, especially during times of peak infection when the health care system is overloaded and dangerously close to collapse. I get that my kids are extremely unlikely to end up in the hospital and the evidence is looking better on long COVID if you’re vaccinated, but if COVID turns out to cause problems after infection years or decades down the road, I don’t want to be part of the group that learns that the hard way. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ‘one and done’ doesn’t apply with COVID infections; the idea of ‘let’s get it and then we’ll have gotten it over with’ just isn’t true.

Q. is right that at some point we are going to have to reenter our lives.

He is also right that we are losing our minds after two years of teaching online while juggling the kids (who have been home far more than they have been in school).

But I can’t rationalize keeping her in a situation that would have shut down the classroom in December. The only thing that has changed is the public health guidance, which is based on our government’s decision to give up on the pandemic and just pretend everything is fine, especially in the schools full of un/undervaccinated children.

Our public health protocols are bad protocols.

So she stays home until the situation looks better, even if that means I get up at 5 am to do the marking I thought I could do during school hours. P.’s schooling right now is low stakes. She’s not even legally obligated to be there. She misses her friends and she’s concerned that the class is learning French letter sounds without her but a few more days, even a few more weeks over the course of this year will not have grave long-term consequences for her.

What keeps me up at night is that it might already be too late. The day and a half she was in school might have already given her COVID.

I keep saying to people if she does get it, we really are all screwed. She’s at peak immunity, wears a CA-N95 mask (and wears it properly, all the time), is in a classroom with a HEPA filter, and we pulled her out at lunch.

So maybe I’m fighting a futile battle, thinking I can avoid this. Personal responsibility can only take you so far if there’s no systemic government/societal support.

I guess we’ll know in a few days.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19

I don’t wanna fight Cerberus

Getting out of bed right now is hard.

Doing the bare minimum of what is required to keep work/house/kids functioning is hard.

I am really struggling.

I ran into a school parent who’s also an academic (not quite a solid friend but better than an acquaintance) while picking up take-home PCR tests before the winter break. She told me she was on stress leave for depression.

I am not proud of this but my first, gut, reaction was jealousy.

I wished I could be depressed and go on leave too.

I have another good friend who’s a high-school teacher who is on leave for burnout. The mother of E’s best friend is trying to find a locum to cover her practice so she can take a few months off (she’s a palliative care doctor).

The number of people falling apart around me – strong, focused, driven people with good support networks and masses of privilege – is staggering.

We’re all hitting our breaking points.

I went so far as to look up my collective agreement and I could get six weeks of medical leave with the right documentation but it would be incredibly challenging to find someone to cover my four classes (and the responsibility for finding said replacement would land on Q’s shoulders and he is also hanging on by a thread) and I feel a sense of obligation to my students, so I think I am just going to try to push through until April and then sleep for all of May.

I last posted in late November, right before my kids got their first vaccine. I thought that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was pre-Omicron, of course.

E. had one week out of self-isolation before another case in his class sent him home again. P. followed very shortly afterwards as an outbreak at the school emerged (caused by, according to the parental grapevine, an ill-advised birthday party). Neither of them caught COVID.

They were home doing online learning (with varying degrees of success) until the winter break. Then they were home for two weeks because of the break. Then they were home for another two weeks of online learning (with even less success) because Omicron had exploded and our hospitals were overloaded. And then they were home for another two weeks even though the schools resumed because we didn’t want them to go back into the school until they were two weeks past their second vaccine. They’ve been home now for almost two full months.

The NACI has recommended an eight-week spacing for 5-11s for their vaccine based on research showing this interval produces a longer lasting immune response. But parents can opt for an earlier interval if they provide informed consent. We moved their second appointment four times trying to keep up with what the province was doing. In the end, we gambled that there was no way they would send the kids back into the schools two weeks ago since the hospitals were still overloaded and they’d done basically nothing to make the schools safer.

Instead, our provincial government sent the kids back at the same time as they:

  • removed schools and daycares from their list of high-risk settings
  • restricted access to PCR testing to high-risk settings (making all kids and educators and their families ineligible for PCR testing)
  • stopped tracking and reporting cases of COVID in the schools
  • stopped dismissing cohorts if a case was reported in a class

They made the schools LESS SAFE and said they were empowering parents. (Counting the days until the provincial election in June.)

E. called the premier’s office to explain to them that stopping testing was ‘just like if you told everyone not to call the fire department. It wouldn’t keep any houses from being on fire, it would just mean that no one would know which ones were burning’. The (long-suffering) woman who took our call said he had made a very good point and that he had a been a bright spot in her day. (Many people are very angry.)

The thing that E. couldn’t get over was that we all made fun of Trump when he said he wanted to cut back on testing and now here we were doing the exact same stupid thing. (Yes my kid is more qualified to be premier than our premier.)

In the end the kids got to seven weeks from their first dose, so almost the full recommended spacing. They are now a full two weeks past their second appointment. We are sending them back tomorrow because we can’t keep them home any longer and continue to do our jobs. They have CA-N95 masks (not an affiliate link, I just love them – they are always sold out but you can sign up for email notifications when they’re back in stock and then drop everything when you get the email and rush to the site to order them). We are taking them home for lunch for at least the entire month of February. We are keeping P. out of her aftercare program.

The logistics surrounding FOUR separate trips to the school per day are horrific but as I said to Q., it can’t be worse than having them at home (especially P. who desperately needs the socialization and the French exposure. E. would be fine to keep home for longer).

In the fall, I felt they were safe.

I don’t feel like they’re safe anymore.

Our board has decided to continue to inform parents if there is a confirmed case in the class, but this requires:

  • The parents to have access to RATs to know that their kid is positive (since no PCR eligibility)
  • The parents to notify the school (since they are not required to do so; even if they, by some miracle, get a PCR test public health will not automatically tell the school)
  • And even then the class won’t be dismissed so we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we pull our kid for the rest of the week
  • Oh, and did I mention that we’ve decided positive cases only need to isolate for five days and then can merrily rejoin society without needing to use a RAT to confirm that they’re no longer contagious? Fun times.

The public health guidelines are a joke. The only way they make sense is if you take the view that the government’s plan is for everyone to get Omicron so the wave can be over by the spring and it can look like they beat the pandemic in time for the election. And while I 100% believe this is their plan (and I do think it’s a plan and not just extreme incompetence), I’m still not sure how it’s all meant to work out if we’re crashing the hospitals. Or if a whole bunch more kids end up in hospital (because our vaccination rates for 5-11s are ridiculously low and 0-4s have no vaccine coverage at all).

The cognitive load of trying to decide what to do with the kids, of trying to manage my work with the kids at home, of trying to rationalize sending them back knowing that the government has made them less safe, has been really hard. I know that they are now extremely unlikely to need to be hospitalized. I also know that recent studies are suggesting that they are now very unlikely to get long COVID. But I refuse to take the view that ‘we’re all going to get it’ and we should just accept the inevitable. I don’t want them to get COVID. We have no idea what the long-term effects of infection are going to be.

So they are going back and I hope I can sleep at night and I hope the next time I post on here it isn’t to tell you that my kids caught COVID at school.

(Post title from Surface Pressure which I like to watch on days when I feel I haven’t done enough crying already.)

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Soapbox

Fractured

A couple of months ago, E. broke a glass while emptying the dishwasher. He didn’t drop it – he was putting it into the cupboard and he went to stack it with another glass (like we always do) and it…just broke.

For months now, I have felt like that glass. Outwardly whole, but inwardly one wrong knock away from breaking into little pieces.

I had started to seriously consider whether my languishing had tipped over into becoming a true depression.

I was tired all the time.

I couldn’t concentrate when I needed to read challenging texts or do precise work.

The things I enjoyed in the early pandemic – taking photographs, tending my garden, raising butterflies – all now seemed like too much work.

Then Andrew Morris posted about burnout in one of his biweekly emails (he’s great, highly recommend), and a light bulb went off in my brain. And then the Atlantic produced an article on why the pandemic is still making us feel terrible and another light bulb went off. And then there was this article in Macleans, where someone put into words exactly how I was feeling and why I was struggling. It made me ugly cry, especially the line (emphasis mine):

Children have sacrificed so much with no say in how all of this would go down: two entire school years, a sense of careless normalcy, any semblance of routine or stability, countless birthday parties, hockey games, recitals and playdates, even the version of their parents that they would have gotten if all of this were not hanging over our heads, still.

I am burned out.

More burned out than I have ever been in my life before.

Despite all the privilege that Q. and I enjoy (and we enjoy a great deal), I am hanging on by a thread.

My burnout cannot be fixed with cheery exhortations from my institution on Wellness Wednesday to “go for a walk!” or “make time for self care!”.

How I feel cannot be fixed with a massage or a cup of tea.

I have taught for ten semesters in a row, every semester since Fall 2018, including every semester of the pandemic thus far. I have a four-course load this year, two of which are brand new preps outside my field of expertise.

The only reason I am keeping afloat is that the kids have had a blessedly disruption-free fall (although E. is currently in our basement, in the final days of a two-week self-isolation period caused by a positive case in his class). And there is finally, finally some light at the end of the tunnel for my household, as both of my kids have vaccine appointments this weekend. Our provincial vaccine portal was supposed to open yesterday at 8 am, but experience had taught me it’s always available earlier, so I logged in and booked both kids at 6.30 am, before anyone else in my house was awake. And then I put my head down on my kitchen table and cried. I cried because at some point in early February (assuming an eight-week spacing between shots like the NACI is recommending) my kids will be as safe as I can make them, and I can stop carrying the continuous weight of what-if worry that has been my constant companion since the pandemic started.

In early October, I asked my Chair not to run the course in SU2022 that I usually teach for them every summer. It’s an entirely online course that I’ve taught several times before. Under normal circumstances, I quite like teaching it. Under normal circumstances, it’s not that much extra work (other than the marking).

But I need the rest so much more than we need the income.

My Chair has school-age children who, like mine, have spent the majority of their past two academic years at home (from mid-March 2020, when the schools shut for the first time, my kids were in school from mid-September to the first week of December 2020, and then again from mid-February until the first week of April. Until September 2021, that was it. Five months out of eighteen.). “T.,” he said, “I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. I get it.”

He approved my scheduling request.

I’ve read so many stories of women leaving the work force because of the pandemic, unable to balance their job and their caregiving responsibilities.

I’m not leaving.

But I am taking a step back.

So I don’t shatter.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, COVID-19

Chasing Endorphins

I linked that NYT article on languishing on this blog already, but it was in my (spoiler-filled) post on TFATWS, so I’m linking it again here just in case you haven’t seen it.

When I posted it on my FB feed, saying that I was definitely languishing and asking who was right there with me, a friend commented that she had for sure been languishing but that getting vaccinated produced a huge rush of endorphins.

At the time, I thought that was a really interesting reaction, but didn’t think I would feel the same way. I wanted to get vaccinated, but I doubted it could have that big an impact on my mood.

Call me corrected.

Q. and I got the AstraZeneca vaccine the very next day, the day after my province opened it up to the 40-55 age group.* I had tears in my eyes as I drove to the pharmacy. I wanted to cheer when the pharmacist jabbed me. When my waiting period was up and I was allowed to leave, I bought a big bag of chips and drove home and then Q. and I drank cider and ate chips with the kids and we picked up takeaway for dinner and we turned it into a big celebration. We took a vaccine selfie and posted it on social media (they really do help counteract vaccine hesitancy) and it turned out that some of my best friends (some in other provinces) all got vaccinated that day too.

It finally, FINALLY felt like we were getting somewhere.

I felt AMAZING.

And I completely understood how my friend had felt.

The vaccine high lasted until about 9 p.m., when the vaccine side effects kicked in. I spent the night shaking and running a fever and hallucinating about rescuing people from Nazi prison camps and getting the shield back to Sam Wilson (I think they were related). I barely slept. Q. barely slept either, although he felt fine – it was just my tossing and turning.

The next day I still had a fever and shakes and just generally felt like I’d been hit by a truck (Q. had a sore arm). By the afternoon I could just about manage lying on the couch ‘supervising’ the kids. I slept fine that night though and by the following day I was mostly back to normal, both physically and mentally.

It made me realize how rarely in the past year I’ve felt that excited about something, how rare it’s been to have that flood of endorphins.

We’re languishing.

We’re in a holding pattern.

I was emailing with an academic out in Atlantic Canada about a book review and when she asked how things were going I told her it was like Groundhog Day, as we started corresponding about said review back in March/April 2020.

Really, though, that’s not correct. The situation’s much worse.

Our kids are back online (as predicted) and are likely to stay that way until September. Q. and I have finished the winter semester and are about to start the summer term, still teaching from our basement. We’re still staying at home, as much as we can, while the entire province implodes and the ‘government’ blames individuals while refusing to take responsibility for the situation they’ve created where the health care system is on the brink of collapse and they’re building field hospitals and training doctors how to tell families that their loved ones don’t qualify for life-saving care.

I was hesitant to get the AZ vaccine because in the (extremely unlikely) possibility I developed the blood clotting issue, I didn’t want to be going into the hospital system when it was so overloaded.**

So the endorphins have been few and far between.

And then last Sunday, my family did a virtual escape room to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and THAT WAS THE MOST FUN any of us had had in MONTHS. It was so much fun several of us had trouble getting to sleep afterwards! As a team we absolutely killed it. We got through the main storyline so quickly we got to do a bonus puzzle and then we blasted through the bonus puzzle in under ten minutes. It was so deeply satisfying (and labmonkey was for sure our MVP). We used Looking Glass Adventures which I am linking to here because it was so so so good and you can do a virtual escape room no matter where you are in the world and I am serious – get some friends or family together and chase the endorphins!

So that’s where my endorphins have come from recently: getting vaccinated, beating the escape room, and chasing fan theories about Disney+ Marvel shows down rabbit holes.

Where are your endorphins coming from these days? Have you been able to break out of the holding pattern, or are you still mostly languishing?

*Our story, like that of so many other people in this ridiculous Hunger-Games-inspired vaccine rollout, was about how privilege gives you all of the advantages. We got vaccinated because:

  • Q. and I had used our stable internet connection and web literacy to register online with one of the major pharmacy chains and had received confirmation codes via our mobile phones
  • I had read online that some locations of that same chain had been given permission to vaccinate 24/7.
  • I had the time to call one of those pharmacies to ask how the appointments would work (because we thought maybe we could go at 5 a.m.)
  • When the pharmacist said, “If you want a vaccine today, you should come right now because right now we have doses and no line ups but I think we’ll have run out by tomorrow”, Q. was able to drop everything and walk out the door, get into the car, and drive to the pharmacy.
  • When he got back home again, two hours later, I could drop everything and go up myself.
  • We had the time and flexibility to chase the vaccine, a co-parent to look after the kids, and jobs where no one would notice (or care) if we didn’t work at full capacity (or at all) the next day.
  • While Q. was waiting in line, a guy turned up who was obviously working on a construction site and had come over on his break. Even though there was almost no line, he had to leave to go back to work before he could get vaccinated. An elderly man with little English turned up too but was turned away because he hadn’t registered online to get a confirmation code (even though he said repeatedly he didn’t know how to do that). Q. was so mad – if he had had a smartphone he would have registered the man himself. The people who most need the vaccines have the most trouble getting them. It’s infuriating. It’s discriminatory. And it’s going to kill people.

**I underestimated how much my anxiety would affect how I felt about the AZ vaccine. I knew (and believed wholeheartedly) it made sense to get it, but I’ve been struggling a lot with irrational thoughts over the past two weeks. Now that I’ve made it to day 14, I feel a lot better, but I won’t be completely free from anxiety until it’s been four weeks, and I’m not going to complain if they start recommending mixing vaccines and I can get one of the mRNA ones for my second dose.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Family, Medical issues

(Super) Fan

There’s probably a lot of things I should write about it on here – it’s been six weeks since I last posted. But since my brain has been nothing but a Sam Wilson & Bucky Barnes stan account ever since the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dropped on Friday, I thought I’d put up a post with my thoughts in the hope that I then might be able to think about something else.

Lots of spoilers, don’t read if you haven’t finished watching TFATWS (or if you don’t want to go down this rabbit hole with me)

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I have never cared about Bucky Barnes. Pre-2021 me was bored senseless by pretty much every scene he was in. Why did Steve Rogers (my least favourite Avenger) care so much? Blah blah, end of the line, blah blah, Hydra, blah.

Sam Wilson, I liked a lot. And the only times I found Bucky even moderately amusing were in his scenes with Sam (e.g., the car scene in TWS and the banter with Spiderman in Civil War).

So I wouldn’t have described myself as excited about TFATWS, in the same way I was excited about WandaVision, but I’d always been planning to watch it because, duh, new Marvel content.

Six weeks later, I’m a ride-or-die Bucky fan, so well played, Marvel and Disney+. Well played.

It didn’t hurt, at all, that Sebastian Stan looked really really good in this series, with the short hair, and the stubble, and the eyes, and the ‘Bucky goes to war’ outfit.

But really, what happened, was that, just like WandaVision, there was finally time for these secondary characters to shine.

And Bucky just lit up the world.

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I think WandaVision was a braver show, a more interesting show. Possibly a better show, although they’re so different and it’s tiresome reading social media posts comparing the two and criticizing one because of the other.

TFATWS needed eight episodes (at least). At times it felt way rushed. The Flag Smashers storyline was a mess (almost certainly because of the pandemic arc that they had to cut and reshoot because, COVID). There were too many villains who weren’t villains. Too many shades of grey. Walker gets rehabilitated in the final episode but Karli becomes irredeemable? I’m not opposed to Sharon Carter, Power Broker, but I feel like her history in the MCU meant we needed more backstory to believe her 180 degree turn. Zemo, I will broke no criticism of (except maybe having his guy blow up the Flag Smashers in that frantic rush to the finish). He was a (Turkish) delight.

The heart of the show, of course, was Sam and Bucky, and the writers rarely set a foot wrong with them. It’s so obvious from press tours in the before times (and virtual ones for this show) how much Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie like each other, and that came through in spades (please, please, release the thirty-minute therapy scene that Mackie has said is out there. If you can give us the #Zemocut, you can do this). Watching the growth, as Sam wrestled with and ultimately chose to embrace the complicated legacy that Steve had just foisted upon him in Endgame, as Bucky shed the Winter Soldier like an old skin, as their relationship shifted and deepened and shifted again, was marvellous. I think episode five is the best in the series (I would watch an entire show of Sam and Bucky fixing the boat and training with the shield and staring at each other and making smart ass remarks), and I am beyond excited that its writer (along with the show’s main writer) is tapped to pen the just-announced Captain America 4.

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Some random thoughts (mostly about the finale) to try to get them out of my head:

  • When Bucky gets knocked over the edge in the battle with the Flag Smashers – he lands in the stereotypical ‘hero’ pose (one knee, one fist to the ground). Pair that with Karli’s “give him someone to rescue” and the stunned look on his face when he does do the rescuing and people thank him for saving their lives, and we see what the MCU might hold for him. There was a lot of nervous chatter on social media during the show about the possibility that Bucky might be killed off – that the character development was being shown because his arc was ending. I’m so glad it didn’t – I think it’s so much more interesting to show Bucky determined to find a way in this new world than to give up and suggest that he’s an empty shell with no meaning once he’s been deprogrammed. (On that note, one of my few complaints about Bucky was handled was how short his final scene with Yori was – we should have been allowed to see more of what Bucky said.)
  • I kinda wish Sam and Bucky had been allowed to be mad at Steve. I’m not a “I’ll hate Marvel forever because Endgame ruined Steve’s arc” fan, but even I (with my limited interest in Steve and Bucky) recognized that Steve’s decision in Endgame was really weird [don’t get me started on the time travel/ alternate timeline issues]. And I get that Steve had five years of dealing with shit that Sam and Bucky missed because they were both blipped and maybe he was tired of all of it, but it never sat right with me that he finally got his friends back and then he just handed the shield to Sam and left. (I did feel very smug when Bucky confirmed in episode five that Steve told him in advance what he was going to do, because I’d always believed that had happened after Bucky said “I’m going to miss you” in Endgame.) The bit in the therapy session when Bucky says “and if he was wrong about you, then maybe he was wrong about me” and his voice breaks, was fabulous, and I wish there had been more of that. At the same time, I’m really glad we didn’t see old man Steve (or young flashback Steve) in the show. He was an imposing presence and both characters needed room to discover who they were without him. I loved that Bucky left the book with his (terrible, let’s face it) therapist – showed he truly was letting go of the past.
  • What do we all think Bucky said when he looked up at Sam and saw him in the Captain America suit (that, let’s all remember, Bucky ASKED the Wakandans to make)? My best guess (after much time spent studying the many, many GIFs of that moment) is “Oh, man!” (like whistling through teeth admiration). Many people want him to be saying “Sam” but I think the lip movement is wrong.
  • Did anyone else have a literal “Awwwwww” moment when you realized that Bucky asked the Wakandans to make another Redwing with Sam’s new suit? Even though he always complained about Redwing?
  • I love that the composer for TWS and Civil War (Henry Jackman) scored TFATWS. I loved hearing the echoes of the previously established themes. I love that Zemo’s theme came back, and the Winter Soldier’s, and the Falcon’s (which, as Jackman himself has said, was able to be expanded out to a full theme). But I think my absolute favourite musical moment was when Sam first came through the window as Captain America and the music did the two big beats that normally lead into the Captain America theme, and then the Falcon (extended) theme played instead. I thought it was so clever. I’d been waiting to see if Jackman was going to pull out the Cap theme, and then he teased it, and then he didn’t use music that would have made Sam into Steve Rogers’ shadow, but reminded us all that he is his own person. So I guess mentally I need to start thinking about the original theme as the Steve Rogers (Captain America) theme and the new one as the Sam Wilson (Captain America).
    • The ‘not my Cap’ brigade (aka the ‘shoulda been Bucky’) on social media are just gross. So gross. The Captain America twitter account changed its image on Monday to be the new poster just released by Disney+ and I can only assume this has provoked howls of outrage. But I LOVE IT. I love Anthony Mackie and I am so excited for him. And Sam Wilson proved over and over again in this series why he should be Cap.
  • I will admit I thought Sam’s speech was a bit much, and it was pushing the willing suspension of disbelief to accept that the US, after covering up what they did to Isaiah Bradley, would just turn around and make a museum exhibit telling his story for all to see, but I also want to recognize that I have NEVER seen a Marvel movie even try to engage with the issues that TFATWS repeatedly raised (the profiling scene with the cops in episode two where the cops ask Bucky if Sam’s bothering him was so important). So yes, the work isn’t done and it could have been done better, but there was (I think) a sincere effort here, and Carl Lumbly was spectacular.

*************

We have to talk about the ending (or, as I like to call it, the scene that launched a thousand fanfics). I don’t care WHAT Marvel and Disney thought they were filming, the sight of #sambucky walking off into an ACTUAL SUNSET with Sam’s thumb brushing against Bucky’s neck as he pulls him in closer will live rent-free in my mind until the end of time.

  • #sambuckysupremacy
  • #isawwhatisaw
  • #lovewins

Not gonna lie, all I want now is for Captain America 4 to have a very early scene where Sam’s at home, on the phone to someone, lots of ‘yep’ and ‘uh-huh’, ending with ‘right, we’ll be there soon as we can’ and then Sam hangs up and yells ‘Buck? We gotta go!’ and Bucky comes in with his shirt off or toweling his hair. Like they don’t need to make it a THING. They laid all the groundwork they needed to. Just move forward.

  • I know, I know, they’re not going to do this. This is Disney and Marvel, after all. This is “we’ve made 23 movies so far but the only LGBTQ+ representation you get is Joe Russo’s nameless cameo”. This is promising representation, hinting at representation, but chickening out at the last minute, again and again and again. So I shouldn’t expect anything but disappointment.
    • I recognize that even if my interpretation is completely off, it’s still a good result to have two men onscreen as friends who are that comfortable with each other. We need more of this.
      • But we need LGBTQ+ representation more.
      • And I just love the idea of them SO MUCH.
      • Did you SEE how Bucky looked at Sam in that final scene? And when Sam was giving his big speech? And when Bucky saw Sam in the Captain America suit for the first time? And even back in episode 5, when they said goodbye after training with the shield and Bucky was BITING HIS LIP while giving Sam heart eyes?
        • Ok, maybe this is just how Sebastian Stan looks at everyone?
          • But let me tell you, if Bucky looked at me like that??!!
      • You could do worse than finding somebody who looks at you like Bucky looks at Sam, is all I’m saying.

***********

The New York Times published an article last week that really spoke to me (and to many of my friends when I posted it). We’re all languishing.

These Disney+ shows have been one of the brightest spots in my week. They’ve been one of the few things I’ve been genuinely excited about. I haven’t had as much fun as I did going down the #sambucky rabbit hole this past weekend (because let me tell you A LOT of people read that last scene the same way I did) in months.

So yes, they’re silly shows about superheroes, but in a very real sense they’re saving me.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Daily Life

The End of Normal

Thursday 12 March 2020 is what I think of as my last ‘normal’ day.

It was the last day I taught in person.

The last day I took transit.

On the way home from (what would turn out to be) my last in-person class, I got a text from my sister with the news that the premier was shutting the schools after March Break ‘for two weeks’ (hahaha, sigh).

By noon on Friday my university had announced it was pivoting to online instruction, effective Monday. When P. and I went to go do the groceries that afternoon (as we usually did on Fridays), we couldn’t get into our usual grocery store because the panic buying was in full swing.

We knew it was coming, and yet, when it did, it seemed to happen all of a sudden.

On the 1st of March, Q. and I ran a big public forum connected to our research, with hundreds of people in attendance (in retrospect, we only JUST snuck that in). I remember chatting with other faculty members who were supposed to go to Italy in April for a lecture and research tour. At that point, they still thought they’d be able to go, although they were concerned that the libraries might be shut. No one at that point seemed concerned about Canada at all.

By the 6th of March, Q. went out to do our “what if we have to quarantine for two weeks” shop.

The WHO declared it officially a pandemic on the 11th.

And the 12th was the end.

It’s been a weird year.

A year without restaurants, without movie theatres or plays or musicals, without museums and zoos, without playdates (except virtual ones). A year without setting foot in someone else’s house (except for the brief point in the summer when we could bubble with my mum). A year without swimming lessons, without trips to the bakery for treats after school, without adventures on transit, without all the little things that add up to the rhythm of our days.

A year without friends.

A year of mask-wearing, of online grocery orders, of extreme hand washing, of waving hello at a neighbour and then taking a nervous step backwards when they approach.

A year of crossing the street when you see someone else coming.

A year of both too much family togetherness and too little.

It’s been a hard year.

The most difficult part was mid-March to early August, when the kids were at home with us 24/7 and we were trying to keep all the balls in the air (work! school! food! book project! mental health! more food! exercise! house! still more food!) without any room to breathe. My mum was able to take the kids for a few days in August, and again in early September, and that helped so so so much. Then the kids had two and a half months back in school, which was amazing (but then two more months at home). Currently we’re at almost a month back in school, long may it continue (probably not past mid-April).

I’ve been so focused on the kids and on how much of the past year has been spent with them at home with us that I only just realized the other day that it’s also been a year since Q. and I spent any significant time apart. We’ve had months of trading off responsibility for the kids while one of us hides works in the basement, and sometimes one of us goes out for a walk without the other, and there’s been the occasional medical appointment, but we haven’t had a single day that resembles what (in the before times) was our normal: only one of us at a time in the house between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. There’s probably only a handful of meals we’ve eaten over the past year that we haven’t eaten together.

I guess it’s a sign of the strength of our marriage that it took me that long to realize how little space from each other we’ve had over the past year (and how little it’s bothered me).

Throughout the pandemic, my little family has been fine. We’ve been safe. No one we know well has died from (or even contracted) COVID (and please may it stay that way).

But fine doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Trying to use my brain is like swimming through treacle. It feels like when E. and P. were tiny and I was up multiple times per night, every night, for months…but I am sleeping fine. It feels like when I was depressed during graduate school…but I am not depressed.

I am functioning, but only just.

I am so burnt out.

I stare at a screen all day long for work and then at night I stare at a screen some more because the thought of reading makes my brain physically ache.

I don’t know where I would start the process of recovering.

I don’t know what I would need to feel like I can start the process of recovering.

Teaching online is like playing whack-a-mole: I get one thing organized, one module finished, and something else pops up. On my non-teaching days, there’s always marking to finish, or quiz questions to prep, or translations to post. I am counting the weeks until the end of the semester, hoping that in the summer, when I am teaching only one course, a course that I always teach online, a course that is fully prepped (because I need would like to revamp it but nope, not this year), things will get easier.

But I suspect I won’t feel like things are truly getting easier until we can say that it’s over. Because, the truth is, it’s not the teaching that’s taking up such an enormous cognitive load that my brain feels like an old computer being asked to run a program for which it doesn’t have enough RAM.

It’s the pandemic.

We’re safe, we’re fine, but we’re tired.

Get up, get through the day, go to sleep.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I know it will be over eventually.

But we’re not clear yet.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Family

Delayed Gratification

E. has been saving his money to buy a Nintendo Switch. He only decided a couple of months ago that this was his savings goal, but lack of spending opportunities over the past year (because, pandemic) meant that he once he made this decision, he already had a good chunk of the money he needed. He gets a weekly allowance ($4 = $2 in his ‘spend’ jar, $1 in ‘invest’, and $1 in ‘donate’) and some birthday/Christmas money from relatives. He also earned royalties from the novel he wrote in the spring lockdown, self-published, and sold to his relatives. I’ve told him that I won’t pay him for doing most chores around the house (I don’t want to establish a precedent of paying him now to do something that when he’s older I’ll be expecting him to do as part of his contributions to the household). But I did pay him when he made a spreadsheet for me cataloguing all the styles and sizes of hand-me-down footwear in our basement waiting for P., and he also earned some money helping me sort and record all the canned goods in the basement (left over from last spring’s ‘what if there are food shortages’ worries) and the contents of our big freezer. He’s saved me a lot of time, and these are both very much one-off tasks, so I feel paying him is the right thing to do.

Last night he determined that he now has enough money to buy the Switch (with a whole 70 cents left over!). He’s already decided not to buy the Switch until closer to his birthday, because he thinks it will be too hard to have it without any games. He’s going to write a letter to his relatives asking for money to buy games and explaining why that’s what he most wants for his birthday, and I’ll scan it and send it via email.

Last night he also had a phone conversation with his Grannie – he called to thank her for the book she’d sent him (#18 of the Dragon Masters series- they’re much too easy for him now, but he still enjoys them and it’s become a tradition that Mum sends him the newest one as soon as it’s released. This means that P. will have access to the whole set in a couple of years!). During the conversation he happened to tell her about all the holds on that particular book at the library, and how glad he was he didn’t have to wait. He also commented that there are currently over 200 holds on the latest Wings of Fire (which also came out this week). E’s had a hold placed for six months, but he doesn’t know where he is on the list yet because the library doesn’t have its copies entered into the system. He’s predicting he’s #152, I’ve guessed #56, and P., wildly optimistic, has chosen #2.

Because I know my mother very well, I was not at all surprised to find a message from her on my phone after they’d hung up and E. had gone off to bed. She had the latest Wings of Fire book in her online cart, but it was only available in hardcover. Should she still buy it?

I said no.

Partly it was because I think if you’re going to collect the whole series, you should try to get them all to match.

But mostly it was because I’d already asked E. a couple of times whether he wanted me to order that book and he could pay me back out of his ‘spend’ jar. He always thought about the question carefully, but every time his answer was the same: he wanted to save the money for the Switch.

My mum can afford to surprise him with books, and I know that gift giving is one of her love languages (even though it is most decidedly NOT one of mine). I respect and appreciate that she checks with me beforehand, that she’s always willing to take suggestions, and that she never buys my kids crap that I’ll hate (example: she only buys clothing from stores that we know fit my kids well, she always pays attention to what I say they need, and she never buys stuff with problematic messaging [‘I’m a princess’ or the like]). I also know that she adores my kids and the separation from them during the pandemic is breaking her heart (our separation from my mum has now been longer than in the first lockdown, since we were at least able to bubble with her for part of the summer). So I felt like an asshole for putting my foot down and not letting Grannie come to the rescue, but I also felt that this was a really important lesson E. was learning. You have to make choices in life. You can’t get everything you want, all at the same time. When he finally gets the Switch, when his library hold finally comes in, he’ll appreciate how hard he’s worked, and how long he’s waited for both.

E. said last night, once we’d tallied all his money and determined that he had, indeed, reached his goal, that once he had his March allowance, he was planning on using some of his ‘spend’ money to buy Robux (the currency in Roblox that lets players buy game passes and new skins and cooler pets (?) and to be honest, I don’t really know what else or how it works, but he’s excited about the possibilities). He’s known for ages that he would have to use his own money to buy Robux, and he’s also known that he had lots of money in his ‘spend’ jar, but he wasn’t willing to use it on Robux if he was still short of what he needed to get the Switch. Now that he’s reached his goal, he’s happy to blow some of his money on something that he clearly sees as both frivolous but fun.

I’m thinking he’s probably worked out this delayed gratification thing already.

But I’m still making him wait for the book!

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Filed under Books, E.- the tenth year, Money Matters

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I’m addicted to US news.

It felt like a survival tactic for years: know what was going on south of the border so that if the orange fascist-in-chief started a war, you’d at least be aware it was happening.

It was an anxiety control mechanism: if I understood everything that was happening, everything that mattered, I could feel better about my total inability to change what was happening.

Gradually, over the past couple of months, I have begun to realize how these patterns of anxiety played out. I have begun to recognize (again) that the US is a separate country, and I do not need to know how the Senate confirmation hearings for President Biden’s cabinet picks are going. I feel like I need to know, in the same way that I once needed to know the names of (far too many) counties in Arizona or Georgia, but the truth is, I don’t.

Nor do I need to obsessively follow the people on Twitter who used to tell me how terrible everything was. They’re still there. They’re still tweeting. But the adults are back in charge, and things are finally, blessedly calm.

You can log on to Twitter at any given point in the day and the hashtags are just normal, boring hashtags.

You can no longer immediately tell what the president has recently said or done from what’s trending.

I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m realizing how often I was in the habit of checking particular websites to see what was being said or done, how often my go-to ‘break’ was a quick troll through the international news, how much of my time and mental energy was sucked up every day by these habits, this need to know.

I am not for a minute suggesting that all the problems in the US have been magically solved with the arrival of the new administration, just that it is time I stopped paying as much attention to them.

I should know more about what is going on in my own country than I do about the state of the US.

That hasn’t been true for years.

I can easily name more governors than premiers. I can’t name a single Canadian supreme court justice, but I can rattle off the names of those who sit on SCOTUS.

I need to reset my priorities.

But addictions are hard to break.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Soapbox

‘Late’ Fans

I was a late-arriving fan for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The history of my chat thread with my sisters tells me that it was in November of 2018 when I pinged them looking for a fun movie on Netflix to watch on a rare day off. One recommended Black Panther, if I liked Marvel movies, and the second chimed in with Thor: Ragnarok, at which point the first changed her recommendation to Ragnarok as well.

I watched Ragnarok.

I liked it so much that by the time Endgame was released the following April I’d worked my through all twenty-one previous movies, including heading to the theatre (by myself) to watch Captain Marvel. And then I watched Endgame in the theatre four times, which at the time seemed both ridiculously frivolous and utterly necessary (I was in a bad space with work and needed the outlet for crying), but now seems more like a dream (an enclosed space with lots of other people – what was I thinking?!).

I recognize that Ragnarok as the gateway drug for the MCU is a cliché, but I think it came at just the right time in my life when I was a) ready to embrace a big new universe and b) old enough to no longer care about going to the movies by myself. Having easy access to most of the films via Netflix and/or the public library also helped.

I realized as I worked my way through all the movies that I had seen a couple of them before. I think Q. and I saw the first Iron Man in theatres in 2008, but Q. is not into superhero movies, which possibly was only made clear on that occasion, so we didn’t make the effort to see more (especially after E. came along). I maybe have memories of watching the first Avengers film on a plane (or possibly it was Age of Ultron). I hadn’t quite realized just how many Marvel movies had been made, until I devoured Ragnarok and turned my attention to the backlist.

And it was GLORIOUS.

So many films to track down and watch, in order, with a recurring (ever-expanding) cast of characters. So many great moments. I devoted myself to the MCU with the same fervor that resulted in me being able to identify every ST:TNG episode within the first forty-five seconds as a teenager. When I decide to love something, I am ALL IN.

I get that some people don’t believe that you can be a ‘real’ fan if you discover something late, and want to make it a thing about how superior their perspective is because they loved it earlier. I recognize that there is a difference between discovering something right at the outset and coming to it later, when it’s already complete (or nearly so). But both are equally valid, fabulous ways to love something. The people who watched Endgame who had been travelling with those characters since 2008 would have had a different experience than I did, the newly-minted fan. But their experience would have been different again from those people who had read the comics. Not better, not worse. Different.

It didn’t matter how we got to that theatre, just that we were there. And I, the newbie, cried just as shockingly hard as a seasoned fan might have (or perhaps harder, let’s face it – I’m a weeper). My opinions (*cough* should have been Hawkeye *cough*) might not have been grounded in years of speculation or decades of comic book narratives, but they were still valid.

I think we don’t celebrate this enough – how glorious it is to find something you love only after it’s been around for a while and there’s heaps of it to discover. I see the difference in E’s experience of the How to Train Your Dragon series (the books), which had all been published by the time he was old enough to read them and his experience waiting (and waiting) for the fourteenth book of the Wings of Fire series to appear. Burning through a dozen novels in the space of a few weeks (and then reading and rereading them, often out of order, for months to follow)? Fabulous. Awaiting that magical moment when the library shows how many copies of the book they have (and your position in the holds queue) rather than just “copies on order”? Also fabulous.

I’m now entirely caught up on the MCU content. I am a WandaVision super fan. I watch the new episode every Friday and then I go on Twitter to see what everyone else thought. I am thoroughly unaccustomed to having to wait for a new episode. On Netflix, I binge my way through anything good (unless I’m watching with Q. who has more restraint). Every week it feels weird (and somewhat uncomfortable) to reach an endpoint without actually reaching an end.

I don’t know how the MCU and I will get along in the future. Their universe is getting bigger and more complicated in Phase Four. Will I care about these new characters? Will it all get to be too much for someone like me, with minimal comic book knowledge and limited time? When will I feel safe in a theatre again?

Whatever the future holds, it’s been a glorious romp over the past couple of years, and I’m positive I’ve enjoyed the movies more than I would have if I had been watching them as they were released. They really reward a binge. And yet, I also think WandaVision works better on a drip feed, as if I had been able to binge the entire season, I know I wouldn’t have appreciated some of the moments which have stuck with me over the past few weeks.

Do you like to get in at the ground floor with new things or discover them once they’re already completed, so you don’t have to wait for the end? Are you also watching WandaVision?

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Filed under Choose Happiness, Daily Life