Winter Means

A photo of a lawn in front of a brown house with collapsed inflatable Santas, snowmen and other winter characters on the grass.
Santas, deflated.

I remind myself how much there is to look forward to. The first timid crocuses in my neighbourhood of curated gardens, the slow return and slant of daylight hours, the appearance of ramps and fiddleheads in the stalls in Bloor West Village, and of course, the ebbing away of COVID-19 and our gradual return to human contact. I tell myself to look forward but in the midst of another lockdown, with the endless news of illness and death and government mishandling, the days themselves defy optimism. I read about the effects this pandemic is having on our cortisol, stress and collective trauma. I read about the repetitiveness and boredom we’re experiencing. It’s as though this pandemic were a tidal wave and we’re engulfed, gasping for breath, and when the waters subside we’ll finally get a sense of the scope of the damage. It’s still too early to do anything more than fight to the surface and to grab hold of what matters. It’s still to early to see what the tide will leave behind in its wake.

Grants I’ve yet to hear back from. A new book out next spring, and the possibility of travel and events. A writing residency next fall in a different, quieter city where I might heal and work on new manuscripts. Strangers still to become lovers, books unread, cities unexplored. I recite this list of things to look forward to but have difficulty putting my faith in these winter days. That others are undergoing this sense of delay, monotony, isolation and loss is hardly comforting. It feels like helplessly watching others tumble into icy falls and being unable to reach them. I miss not only being comforted but giving comfort. I send tiny hearts on Instagram, order books to be sent to other addresses, set up Zoom reunions, but these feel like tossing out driftwood. I hear from friends I haven’t connected with for decades. I call my parents in Vancouver more often that I ever have before. I exercise for the first time in my life, counting curtsey squats and reps. I pick random spice pastes and herbs, craving new tastes.

A photo of a snow covered river and short falls, with the water breaking through a narrow gap. Branches of a tree cross the view.
Humber River, February

It might be dangerous to list the things I’ll do when it’s safe to breathe in, breathe out again in close proximity to others. Daydreams, always a source of inspiration for me, have become outlined in heaviness and futility. That envisioning the future has become dangerous feels like yet another terrible thing the pandemic has effected. Yet perhaps it has also given us the gift of clarity and distilled our desires. Intentions we feared expressing to ourselves may at last be communicated through fantasy and hope. We’re in a filmic version of our lives, like protagonists on a personal journey with our own soundtracks, set against a strangely heightened and simplified set. Before COVID-19, my life contained an ever-changing scenery of neighbourhoods and interiors. With every new thing I required or person that I met, the city unlocked another room, another view. I’m craving other views, and when I find them unexpectedly, they feel like rare gifts: a street I’ve never walked down before, a skater in a park where I never knew contained a frozen surface.

The list grows. A return to doing laps in pools across the city. Stopping in for fish and chips on Queen street in the summer dusk. Those dance classes I always meant to sign up for. Hot yoga. Concerts pressed up against other people’s coats. That writing retreat in the Azores I meant to go to. Hiking with my mom on Vancouver Island while she’s still young enough to climb rock faces. Visiting my cousin to eat won ton noodles in Hong Kong. Reaching over to take my date’s hand, to deposit it at my waist or in my hair. Brewing coffee for writers who sleep on my futon when they’re in town to launch books. Simmering coconut fish curry for my editor in her pristine kitchen. Visits to new mothers to cuddle babies. Squatting with my neighbour’s five-year-old as we plant seedlings on the floor. These are the things I mean to do, always meant to do. They’ve become the means with which to float through this strange, submerged season.

A blurry photo of the river at dusk in dark greys and blues, with lights across the river smeared.
Blurred views of the Humber at dusk

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