Two months ago I was boarding a flight to Belize to get married. My worst fears were a sunburn and thunderstorms and whether I'd be hungover for the big day.
Dumb, stupid things, in hindsight.
(But you know how weddings are.)
In late January I was standing in our AirBnB, listening to NPR as we packed up. Reports of Coronavirus spreading. Worrying that it would come to Toronto before John and I could safely catch a flight home.
Just over a year ago we were walking down one of the main streets in street in Old Puket, Thailand. There was an old temple on one side of the street and the other was a line of storefronts spilling onto the sidewalk. One of those stores was a "pet store" of some kind I guess, because all we could see was one lonely dude eating while surrounded on all sides by cages and cages of stinky, squawking pigeons and random animals that aren't allowed as pets in North America.
As we walked by I joked
"that's how you start a pandemic!"
Don't I feel like a real asshole right now.
Just a few weeks ago we were out at Fort Gibraltar drinking beer in fur coats and listening to hip-hop while eating poutine. There were at least a hundred people at that event and we're being told to meet in groups of 50 or less right now. 10 or less if you're in the US.
A few weeks after that I was lugging extra bags of cat food and tins of fish home in case we needed to start social distancing.
That was last Thursday.
We're been at home nonstop since then. Neither of us want to get sick, or risk spreading anything around if we get sick
(I'm worried about carrying the virus and being asymptomatic)
and since we can both work remotely that's what we're doing.
But it's hard to stay cooped up and I miss my friends and I miss my city and I miss all the small businesses I used to frequent and who I know are struggling right now.
(If that's you: I see you. I understand what you're going through.)
As an anxious person it's been a challenge. I've worked a lot because work is easy and gives me a sense of control when I feel powerless, but when I'm not staring at a screen I need to do something with my hands so I clean or cook or scroll Instagram or pet the cat.
Thank goodness for the cats.
It's a weird, strange time and I'm sure good things are coming, but right now all I want to do is stay home and curl up and hide from the world until this passes
which luckily is what we're supposed to do
so maybe I'll figure out a way to make this work.
the province is starting to confirm cases and things are going on lockdown
shows and events are cancelled
the universities and colleges are cancelling classes and moving online
buses are empty which is great because apparently they're cesspools
the lines at the stores are nuts, several aisles long
and businesses are being encouraged to let people work from home.
John's office went remote so he's home and I'm home since this is where I work, and we're cancelling any social plans and not really going outside for the next while.
We stocked up tp and disinfecting wipes just like everyone else
but we went the extra step of buying lots of canned goods and dry goods and freezing extra produce as well
(because you need to eat in order to use all that tp, duh)
and as far as social distancing goes I'm feeling pretty good about it.
I worry about my Grandma, though.
And other people's grandmas.
And even John because he's 39 in a few weeks and apparently this thing takes down people in their 40's now and there's no way I'll risk losing that strange bird if I can help it.
In a few hours I have a Zoom call with the TEDxWinnipeg steering committee to talk about our event in June and whether we'll cancel it.
I'm not 100% sure but I have a feeling that I know how it will go. Who knows.
Everything changes so quickly these days.
It's hard not to be glued to Twitter and the news and all the damn articles and that guy on Joe Rogan and
then there's the debate on Sunday night which you know imma watch
and you know they'll be talking about it in that big, empty studio with no people in it because social distancing
but I'm gonna try and not obsess.
At least we just got a ton of alcohol delivered so if things turn pear-shaped I can drown my sorrows in chocolate porters and box'o wine.
Stay safe and don't forget to wash your hands!
sitting on the couch
cats snoozing on either side of me
gold sun streaming in through the tall, old window
filling the room with a warm glow.
I feel warm
deep breaths in and out
savouring this feeling of
a feeling that sometimes stays away for a long time
but tends to find me again during quiet weekday afternoons like this one.
Afternoons filled with piano, or jazz, or sometimes just silence
silence that used to be deafening
(as a kid I was afraid of silence when I was the only one upstairs in our house
and was afraid as an adult because of the unsettling thoughts that lurked there)
silence that these days offers space for reflection and calm.
I just want to hold onto moments like this one
stretching my fingers and toes and my neck and shoulders
smelling the incense and the fresh cool air from outside
trying to be as present in my own body as possible
because I know these moments are fleeting
moment of calm, moments of happiness
so I'm writing about it here in some feeble attempt to capture it
that isn't anxiety, or worry
or a million other dumb things I obsess and stress over day-to-day
and hang onto this.
Because it's such a nice change.
One of the things about living in a relatively unknown place in the middle of the flat prairies is that stuff like this tends to skip you by or not matter as much
(SARS? What SARS?)
so while places like Calgary are freaking out and swarming Costco's at 10 AM to buy toilet paper in bulk
and events like SXSW and GDC and Facebook's F8 Developers Conference are all being cancelled amid fears that the virus will spread
and stock prices are crashing and the market is slowing
for the most part things here at home feel pretty normal.
Last week I took the bus multiple times every day
on Saturday I spoke on a panel at an event where about 100 people attended
and none of my clients seem all that concerned about the Coronavirus impacting their events and businesses all that much.
Last week we stocked up on cat litter and food and canned goods and Lysol wipes and toilet paper and paper towel and even bottles of water and cans of club soda and
I felt silly, honestly
I remember when people were stocking up during SARS and then that
and that's kinda how this feels.
Like we're preparing for something that might never happen.
A lockdown or a quarantine situation that
like the last pandemic
might just skip over my cold prairie province almost entirely.
But being prepared feels stupid until it isn't.
**I wrote this back on November 19, 2019 and thought "what the heck! Let's publish it."**
Okay, it's only moving up the street to a different location which doesn't seem like such a big deal
until you walk into the current Toad in the Hole Pub location and realize that there's no way to re-create the
of drinking here.
It looks like an old English pub and it's split between two levels. There are big, worn-out booths and beaten wooden chairs and what I've always suspected is a church pew along the front window that faces the street.
It's dingy and yellow, with green walls covered in wood panelling that looks dusty and sweaty at the same time; the result of hundreds (maybe thousands) of handprints and sweat and cigarette smoke from back when they allowed smoking indoors.
I love this dumpy old pub.
I've been coming here since I was 18, and had decided well before my eighteenth birthday that one of the first things I would do "when I was old enough" was start hanging out at The Toad.
I'd walk by when I was underage and stare at the people with tattoos, drinking hard alcohol out of small glass cups, smoking, hanging around a pub situated on top of a venue called The Cavern, and a bunch of tattoo parlours.
It was exactly the opposite of the boring, cookie-cutter neighbourhood I'd grown up in and I became obsessed with it.
When I finally moved downtown and was living in The Roslyn up the street I'd walk home from work, have a shower, and park myself at The Toad on one of the long wooden benches that overlook Osborne Street with a beer in my hand.
I hated sitting alone. It made me feel anxious, and I worried that the people around me would judge me for sitting by myself. But, inevitably, someone I knew would walk or skateboard by and stop to have a drink on the patio with me.
Because that's what happens when you sit outside at The Toad.
And if nobody showed up and you wound up having a beer alone?
That was okay too, because nobody gave a shit.
(In reality, nobody anywhere cares.
I know this now, but didn't then.)
Back then they only had one bathroom for women, and during the summer or late on a Friday or Saturday night you might as well have given up and peed outside instead of waiting in the line to use the single-stall women's bathroom
(or do what I did and go for a slice at Lil Pizza Heaven next door and use their bathroom while you wait.)
I've spent hours here in various states of inebriation. Last spring John and I hung out here after we went for a fancy anniversary dinner at Sous Sol up the street and met a man who ran a dog grooming business
(or was selling it, I forget)
and a magician who did tricks for us for free.
I haven't lived in The Village for the better part of a decade and I don't go to The Toad as often as I used to. It's just not as close as The Good Will or Handsome Daughter or even The Grove.
So I don't go here much anymore. But I'm trying to lately.
I want to soak up as much of this dingy, familiar, comforting
atmosphere before it's gone.
Which, honestly, is never something I'd thought I'd have to say about somewhere like The Toad.
It's the kind of place your parents know, and because they know it and you know it you kinda expected that it would always be there. It's the kind of place you take for granted until it's gone.
But I'm here now, drinking a shitty beer that cost $3.25 for old time's sake. Basking under the greasy light of the Victorian-style lamplight fixtures hanging over me and hammering away at my laptop while sitting on that big church pew seat I talked about above.
The only other patron is an old dude with a huge white beard who hasn't taken his jacket off and is drumming along to the El Michels Affair blasting on the speakers at an alarming pace.
It's 3:37 PM on a Tuesday and the bartenders are doing shots with their friends.
I'm going to miss this place when it's moved and the space gets subdivided into a bunch of smaller units and and leased to franchises like Jugo Juices and gyms.
Nothing stays the same, kids.
So cheers to The Toad in The Hole Pub, a Winnipeg staple for so many
and to the memories made
(and sometimes not remembered)
But then I hear songs like this one
about the importance of free, welcoming public spaces
how our downtown library should be a beacon for everyone
celebrating everyone who comes there
to learn or relax or just
read a book
and I feel so lucky to be from a city that
inspires such beauty in the face of ugliness.
I'm sharing it here because mentioning it in public means it's real and makes me a lot more likely to actually stick with writing it.
I haven't written any fiction in a looooooooong time and writing those few words and watching them appear on the screen was terrifying.
Here's my opening sentence:
"Mark's headache was getting worse."
I don't even think I like it but it's what's there and it's better than nothing.
There's more, but not much, and I re-wrote the intro sentence seven or eight times because I wasn't sure if I wanted the main character's name to be Mark
even though I over-prepared for this exercise by putting together a persona for Mark, whose full name is Marshall "Mark" Campbell, that included his weight (240lbs) age (31) height (6'1) education (dropped out of high school) and some other details that are relevant to the story
and to be honest just the act of talking about a character I've created is making me second-guess all the details I made up about him.
(Creative writing make me squirrelly if I haven't done it in a while.)
I used to write stories a lot more often. I got into trouble for writing in class at school. I stayed up late writing very, very bad fanfiction when I was a teenager. I wrote and wrote and wrote for university because that's what you do when you're getting a degree in Rhetoric, Writing & Communications.
And I was thinking about all the writing I used to do and all the writing I do now and I realized that the area I've been neglecting is the part that's the hardest:
creating stories out of nothing.
It's easy to write about my opinions or write about what I know or put together documentation or social media content. Psssssssh.
I can basically do that in my sleep at this point.
But creating interesting characters and a plot that keeps the reader entertained and dialogue that isn't horrible and ohgodohgodohgod all the other details and elements I know need to go into writing a decent short story?
It's intimidating. But yr girl needs to start somewhere.
It still feels weird to say. Especially out loud.
Though I do find the idea of being John's "wife" pretty satisfying, mostly because I'm obsessed with that John Mulaney bit where he yells
THAT'S MY WIFE
and secretly I kinda wish I was the one with a wife instead of a husband, because
THAT'S MY HUSBAND
just doesn't have the same oomph to it.
But that's okay, because being John's wife comes with a lot of other good stuff. Like getting to hang out all the time and know all his weird idiosyncrasies and massage his back when it gets sore and have unusual amounts of fun doing mundane things like grocery shopping or waiting for a flight.
I always hoped I'd marry my best friend, and here we are all these years later.
Married. Still best friends.
Would ya look at that.
We got married on a dock in front of the setting sun and it was beautiful and magical and silly and weird.
Beautiful and magical because of the sunset and how good John looked in his bowtie
(blue with flamingos)
and silly and weird because we're silly, weird people with a made-up language and a pretend history as Bears in Space
oh and also because Adam (aka "Reverend Grey") married us wearing a MONK COSTUME and also wrote and performed a freestyle rap about us called
"The Fresh Prince and Princess of Belize"
which is exactly what we felt like that day. 33 people took a chance on our weird stories and descended upon the tiny island of Caye Caulker, BZ and spent several days drinking in the ocean and eating way too much seafood with us.
I even killed a lobster and then ate it! It was weird to kill my own food, but when the guy killing the lobster at the very sketchy wooden table next to the restaurant we were eating at asked "who wants to try?" and John jumped up and pointed at me and said
obviously I had to step up and take a life.
I've never travelled with friends or family before and it was a nice treat to walk down Front St and see Eddie and Kim sitting on their balcony, surveying the landscape and offering shots of Patrón to passers-by
or finding Alex and Rob hanging out in the hammocks along the beach (again)
or walking outside to see Jasmin and Matt hanging out in our shared yard at Wish Willy's
or waving at the Gilvesy's lined up along the bar at Paradise Restaurant having breakfast
or hearing Adrian and Carlene laughing from inside their AirBnb from the street
or a million other memories that I hope I can hold onto with as much detail as possible.
Because I know that the next time we visit Caye Caulker it won't be the same. Our little village of people won't be there, walking with a beer from the corner store or hanging out at the Sip 'n Dip or eating at Fran's for the umpteenth time. This trip, and our wedding, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But at least I can look forward to knowing that the next time the lobster dude asks "who wants to try killing a lobster?" John will jump up and say
MY WIFE DOES.
* Photo via Les Klassen. You'd better belize that coconut had rum in it.
Plus a day, but who's counting.
By this time next week John and I will be in Belize, on our way to the island of Caye Caulker.
We've been there before
but this time we'll be joined by 34 of our nearest and dearest because omg we're finally getting married. I just finished writing my vows and
I think I nailed it.
Getting married has been a weird experience, because even though we're doing an unconventional destination wedding those "traditions" find a way of sneaking in and making me realize
oh, right, my father isn't walking me down the aisle
oh, right, I won't be needing photos with my relatives because none of them are coming
which makes me either really sad or really relieved, depending on how I'm feeling when it comes up.
On Sunday I'm writing letters to all my relatives who won't be there. My therapist suggested it as a way of "putting down" my feelings, so I'm gonna write a bunch of letters that I won't send, probably cry a lot, then run a bath and make chicken parm and watch a movie and take time to just
sit with these disappointed feelings for a while before letting them go
because there's so many positive things I want to focus on instead.
Like how seriously Adam is taking officiating our ceremony
how Katrina has put some much time and energy into sewing my wedding dress from scratch
the number of times Kim has checked in to see how I'm doing
all our friends and family who've messaged us to say how excited they are
how excited I am to share such an amazing, beautiful place with them
and how much lobster I'm gonna eat.
In a way if feels like I've been preparing for this moment for years. Readying myself for the day when I allow myself to be accepted into a family who want me, and love me, and who choose me just like I choose them.
A few weeks ago my little brother stopped by. We were talking about the wedding, and he said "as far as I'm concened, once you get married you're not one of us anymore"
which came across harsher than I think he meant, but it didn't hurt my feelings
because maybe he's right
and maybe that's not so bad, after all.