Me in the Now

In the logic of things and Mathematics, which remains the core of logic in all respects, what’s happening now does not make sense. No matter how you look at it, numbers do not add up, the lockdown strategy implemented almost world-wide creates more problems than actual solutions, and there simply cannot be a germ-free “new order” because it does not work for spatial, economic, psychological reasons, to name only a few important ones.

This, I have established quite a few weeks ago, by browsing some titles, looking at the said numbers, putting one and one together and talking to these and those. People are reacting out of fear, full stop. If anything and if you’re rather clear-headed, you easily notice this craziness has brought to the surface how corrupt most governments are, how few people believe in more than the immediate – and what little power they have to convince others – how sad that blind obeyance has replaced intelligent reasoning. And possibly how God laughs at us with one eye, while crying for us with the other.

Since there is nothing I can personally do to change any of the above, I decided to use a bit differently this time of home confinement (or as I prefer to call it, “domicile arrest” – for what else is it when police nearly looks inside your home to see if you’re not an infractor?) So I’ve stopped watching the news and I could not be bothered if schools start in two weeks or in September. It was enough to know they haven’t done one iota to instruct kids during this time – interestingly, this was confirmed in a phone conversation I had with the principal of my kid’s school the other day, after I sent an email asking how come the grade 4 haven’t had ONE lesson of Math or English in 7 weeks. She said: “the Education Board has actually made clear that during the pandemic, the emphasis is not on instruction but on the well-being of the children.” Hm. Dear Education Board and acolytes, I have news for you: you are supposed to find ways to educate kids, thats why we pay you (taxes, anyone?); the children’s overall well-being is their parents’ job. Well, it seems the education now falls entirely under the parents’ responsibility. Tough, for very many. I feel for those parents, they’re completely unequipped.

So yes, I’ve homeschooled my kid – which I’m considering continuing even when this stupidity is over. I also continued to cook – for the 5 people in my household, four of whom are adults and luckily sometimes they’ve helped. I did some drawings. I switched my tutoring to teaching online and I made my own observations and notes as to how challenging this is, and impossible to consider as a long-term alternative, especially for smaller age groups given short attention spans, lack of discipline, basic manner, and variations in personality.

What I haven’t managed to do much was to relax and organize my own schedule. I am constantly surrounded by members of my family. I crave my few hours of alone-time I had when they were in school or at work, outside the house. That was the period I could organize my thoughts and my time. Going for walks by myself is the only alternative – but it’s not the same. I don’t know about you, but I think better when I have paper and pencil in front of me.

I haven’t watched many movies either and I haven’t read as much as I used to – maybe because my brain associates these activities with keeping informed… which I am resisting actually? I don’t write much either. I had wanted to keep a sort of diary of this period… but somehow, details of stupidity have ceased to interest me. I wish this nightmare were over, the Coronavirus hoax. Well, I have wished before that people used their brains. But they don’t – its easier not to. Afraid for their bellies and precarious lives, desperate to be seen and heard, the majority glides through the lies they are fed and consume fake news, while accepting to be incarcerated in their own little prisons in the name of safety.

And where’s the joy to be had in all of this? I’ve talked to God a bit during this time – He probably said a good few important things, not that I, the sinner, have good ears to hear. Still. It was truly awesome to see all families at our church attending the online shortened service on Pascha evening and then socializing with them over an extended zoom session. One of our priests said: is it just me or Orthodoxy and social distancing is an oxymoron? The best oxymoron, Father – I replied laughing. There is no social distancing, that’s bullshit. People cannot live without hugs and kisses and holding hands. If faced with the certitude of death, most would want to be held close by a dear one. So why do we refuse ourselves the joy to live free of fear? I’d rather be free for a few days or hours, than living like a dead for years in a row. Christ has conquered death so we can be free and joyful… come on, people! And by the way, He is Risen indeed!

Maslow Pyramid in today’s facts

Bottom layer – physiological needs: momentarily, if one is not sick already with the “airborne/or not virus”, there’s breathing involved, some shelter, food, water, the possibility to have sex (though actual desire becomes more and more questionable), and excretion of whatever one could find to eat. Homeostasis is debatable under any kind of arrest – just ask any kind of prisoners.

Next up – safety needs: security of body and health – none in sight; security of employment and property – declining at an alarming rate with no end in sight; security of resources – only what the Party allows. Back to square one – you ask what’s square one? This is square one!

Next up – love and sense of belonging: hahahahaha! The “divide et impera” game is based precisely on the lack of thereof (which is what makes it the favourite passing time of all dictators and totalitarian rulers, officially recognized or not). Are you starting to question your friendships? What about family members? If they’re away, you might not see them again – so you’ll need to “behave” if you want privileges restored. If there’s intimacy involved (not the sexy kind, read instead: you’re stuck with them in the same house) and you guys have a history of domestic abuse, drug abuse or alcoholism, good luck! Well, supposedly, as the situation extends, there will be no booze or drugs available, never mind money to buy them. Shouting and beating, though… those are hard to stop. And the police is currently chasing non-compliant citizens or businesses’ breaking-ins. Whatever the viewpoint on this level, if you don’t try your best to love all the way to self-sacrifice, all that is left is dust.

Next up – esteem: i.e. status, recognition, respect, strength. Sorry to break it to you, but it may well be that all of these will cease to be a personal choice in the near future. Actually, let’s call a spade, a spade – they’ve stopped already. Same with any kind of personal freedoms you thought you had or may think of ever claiming again. Just forget it.

At the very top – morality, creativity, problem solving: these were for the high-classes anyway, so why bother. These days, they’re called “elected authorities” and they are the mass forming the incapable state apparatus which fails to provide a viable strategy beyond the “house arrest”. Thus, they are neither creative, nor moral, nor do they present us, the plebeians, with any decent problem solving. Oh yes, Maslow mentions “acceptance of facts” at this level. But of course! What else is there to do?

Be it as it may, but at this last level one is also supposed to achieve one’s full potential. This, one can easily do, paradoxically, by ignoring all the previous levels – which has become a real possibility lately. When you have no security of any kind, no companionship, no self-esteem or pride, you will have realized your human purpose: to be like God.

Lost and Found

Somewhere in this world, there is a village which has not been discovered yet. It is so well hidden that the newest technology did not find it, nor will it ever. That may seem strange, for we know that no one can escape technology now. Still, it’s true: its villagers have no idea what a light bulb is or a cell phone.

That is to their benefit, if you think of it. They don’t have news-papers or news-puters to stress them out. They wake up and work as long as it’s light outside, then go to sleep in their tents during the dark hours – their sleep is peaceful, why wouldn’t it be? They are very friendly people. No yucky thoughts trouble their minds. There’s enough of them so they can form families and have healthy children but not too many as to lose count – so they know one another pretty well, of course, and they enjoy spending time together. Again, why wouldn’t they?

They never worry about the outside as they don’t know there is an outside. They take care of the fields around the village and strangely enough, they have chickens which lay eggs and cows and goats and sheep. Their God provides everything they need and they thank him every beginning and end of the day.

Their land is surrounded by streams of water and none imagined they’d need to build a bridge. If they wanted to cross, they’d simply swim to the other side – but they don’t want to. They feel safer that way. Incredible that they are not tempted.

How do I know of all this? A friend sent me a letter once in which he described to me how he dreamt of this one night. He said: “It felt a bit crazy and magical, like looking through a key hole into a world I couldn’t touch but which I craved to be part of.” His letter had colourful drawings and vivid descriptions… it was a beautiful place. Quite dreamy.

As things are slowing down this second Sunday of home confinement, I think of the blessings in the village with no electricity, no WordPress to tell stories on but with human circles around a bonfire, I think of how many prayers I said today – not enough – and of all the bridges I burnt in my life besides those I built. And of all the lessons I’ve learned and those I still have to… and hope that I shall be given enough time to repent and cleanse my soul before I meet God.

Joy

Soft earth beneath my feet

Being able to move, to run even, to go backwards if I want to,

The logic of things and that of the heart

Smiling and laughing

Crying rivers of tears, or just a few

Being sorry and forgiving

The icons on my wall and in church, their golden background the promise of heaven

God is so real

My large community – how blessed am I

And all the flowers in the world and the trees and the animals

The rain and the clouds and the snow and the sun

Day and night, feasts, praying

Courage, hope, faith

Life

LOVE

A Joyous Lent

“I hate Lent” – I confessed to a friend parishioner after the Liturgy three Sundays ago, just at Lent was starting. And I’ve always felt that one can’t really say this so matter-of-factly, but I just felt like saying it that day.

“Everybody hates Lent.” – he replied.

“Oh, yeah?” – I relaxed a bit into a smile.

“Of course. There’s nothing to like about it. We’re supposed to abstain from meat and dairy, from swearing and getting angry even if we have reasons to… we’re supposed to repent from every wrong doing and be good even to enemies … that’s hard!”

We laughed together. “Yeah, tough.”

At that time, there wasn’t a pandemic just yet. And despite the fact that Lent was just beginning, the 40 days were not looking so daunting this year to me, somehow. Don’t ask me why, I have no logical explanation.

One week into home confinement now, that peace still hasn’t left me. It’s strange: in my head and heart, I’m not stressed in the slightest – but I have a skin rash which appears and disappears on different parts of my body, which screams ‘stress’ at the unconcious level. Whenever I pray, the itching subsides.

The confinement started during the March break last week which almost coincided with the first COVID-19 cases in Ottawa, at which point the Boards of Education across the province declared that March break will be extended by two weeks. Yesterday or so, they extended it again with another two weeks. They will probably keep extending it until this madness is over – which, in all likelihood, will be two weeks after the hot weather is here to stay, for the virus does not survive above 30 degrees Celsius. Typically, that means June or July in Ottawa. So much for the second term of school this year.

We are OK. I can teach my 9 year old all subjects. She misses her teachers and some colleagues, but she’s always loved it at home and we have fun learning together. We pick two or three subjects per day and we explore some topics. Yesterday, she worked on some Kumon material for writing, we looked together at map coordinates in math and we drew some. She did planks with her dad (joined by her 19 year old brother between his online college courses). It snowed, so we didn’t go out. But we did go out today, as the sun came out in the afternoon. This morning we used the map coordinates from yesterday math to find cities in the Atlas – I know, who uses an Atlas nowadays? Well, just pretend it’s always handy to know how to read coordinates on paper map – you never know when the Internet may collapse under the pressure of so much bad news.

My oldest kid is also at home, fortunately. Having been laid off from her job at a high end restaurant – which does neither deliveries nor take-outs and it was thus deemed non-essential service and closed until June because of the pandemic – it was suddenly a blessing to have room and food for free. No, she has not admitted it – yet. Yes, she has been rebellious for the past 6 years so it’s kinda hard to change over night. I get it. But after 10 days of watching movies in a messy room, she got out of bed today and cleaned the space spotless. Like, literally spotless, all Lysol-wiped. Whatever. Nice though. I rejoiced: that room had been gross for the longest time, yuck. It’s a real beauty now!

I had been praying that we could be together as a family. I had been praying that my husband and I find each other again in the midst of crazy schedules and excessive tiredness leading to lack of understanding and irritability. I had been praying for love, for redemption, for change – somehow… when there was not much hope in sight. I had been praying that time stood still and that – remember that old saying? – somebody please stop this world so I could get off. Well, God stopped it and time stands still. We play board games and are just together at home. We laugh and enjoy each others’ company, we really do. We take time to do things and take walks in the sun. Love is back and it is kind and good and warm, just like Saint Paul described it.

God answers prayers, you know. He always does. Not in the way we think; never in the way we think. And while I realize this is a completely different case for many others suffering and dying at this time, I’ve been dying inside for so long that I could do with some living: here or there. I am grateful that in His miraculous wonder-ful way, He always steers us back to Him, even when we kick and scream and refuse to do it. Who is a greater God than our God? Thou are the God who doest wonders! – says my favourite Pascha hymn. It is definitely a wonder that I can say in all truth and honesty that, for the first time in my life, I personally love Lent. And in case you didn’t know: “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quaranta” which means 40. This Lent: my forty days of blessed dessert, in the company of those I love best – my family, my saintly friends and God.

Worlds

You’re always on the other side of the glass

And I look at you with longing

You mind your business, undisturbed by my glance,

By my thoughts, by my longing,

At times you wave, your hand asks me to move over

So you can see beyond, so you can go beyond

No words, you don’t need any

The glass follows you around,

you are encapsulated, I can clearly see

Your planet is small, like the Little Prince’s

(I’ve never liked that story, what the heck)

My world has colours and mountains and deep valleys, and rivers which I’ve cried

My world has words and sounds and light, no wonder it give you shivers, you can’t even contemplate it never mind cross over

So glass it is and glass it will be

And then you wonder why you cannot feel my lips?

My lips are blood and flesh, and you can’t handle them.

Antoinette’s Babbling

Would you look at this breakfast. I’ve been having it more or less every day since Christmas. And no, it wasn’t my pastry chef who made it, I don’t have a pastry chef for goodness sake, it was me! I cook like crazy for days before the holidays in the hope that someone will appreciate it. Of course, not many do. That’s also because we don’t have guests and our holidays are generally lousy. You see, Louis hates entertaining just as much as he hates traveling. God knows only I know what I had to deal with! Yeah, he looks all fluffy and nice and dashing in that frilly suit, but trust me, he’s been sad and depressed and barely agreed to do something after we managed to escape the riots. We did escape, you know, no chopping heads. Indeed, do not believe the history books – lately, they’re making up everything. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t like anything much, my darling Louis. In the (waaaaay too many!) years we’ve been married, I haven’t really managed to figure out what he likes. I can’t ever pick a present for him. He doesn’t socialize, we don’t even watch shows together anymore like we used to (sure, the theater went into exile too since the Revolu-tions, whatever they are!! But still!) … anyway, he behaves as if he’s still on his mom’s farm. Nostalgia. Ah, men never grow up, do they. Especially when they come back from fighting, they’re done – they just want mommy. That’s just how life is. Do you think feminism happened out of the blue? Yeah, I guess that’s what they want you to believe. Not historians. Men. Well, some o’ them are historians …. arghhh… whatever.

I don’t want to talk about men though. That’s a very depressing subject, just by the nature of it. My cooking, on the other hand, is glorious; too bad nobody got to taste it much. I like to share – or should I say “liked”? I mean, I still do, just not with pigs which step on diamonds. Hey, but why worry? More cake for me. What, they don’t have bread? Who cares? I don’t. Why would I? They made up even that saying, yeah, the one with the bread and the cake. I never said that. They needed to make monarchy look bad. When you don’t have manners, you want to take everybody down to your level. Half this world experienced communism and in the west they still think it’s a good idea. Wait until you lose your head. Literally. That’s coming.

In the meanwhile, I’ve learned my lesson so I do know better now. Every morning, when I wake up, I make myself a coffee and extract one or two slices of cake – sweet bread to be exact – from the freezer (God bless the inventor!), defrost them in the microwave (God bless the American army) and toast them in the toaster. Sometimes. I love inventions! I also love that Louis reluctantly agreed to take the little one to school every morning, so I’ve slept in for more than ten days in a row now. The restorative sleep of the depressed. Again, histories would try to convince you that I’ve had it easy – that is not quite so. There’s one thing to live through events and quite another to tell stories about them. Why would I be so bloody tired if I were lying? Two more years of this daily treatment and I might get back in shape. Hopefully by then I’ll have an idea about some next steps. My mind is quite blank at the moment, thank you very much. I’ve tried too many things, I guess. Burn-out stage 7.

Incidentally, I’ve come across some writing from a priest (you wouldn’t know him, priests are not very popular characters these days, the masses have rejected religion in an organized form – of course, they made their own, but that’s a completely different matter – always, isn’t it?) Yes, that writing. He was saying that really, our life is not about progress, as everything following that stupid revolution claimed to be about. No no no… our life is about God. It is in Him that we find our purpose. Of course, this is what I thought that Louis was about (God and purpose, that is) when I thought our marriage would be a hit. Together in God, we’re gonna make it. At least, I won’t be alone. What a fraud. As I said, he failed to leave his mom’s barnyard, so God was probably lost in the process. When I reminded Louis, he made that face that all preoccupied men make when they want to be left alone because they deal with higher matters. Higher than God? Well, progress demands it – and we need to pay the mortgage or else. The bank doesn’t believe in dead kings and queens, you know.

So what if I’m dead? Who cares? I don’t. Louis will take care of the mortgage. And the ingredients for the cake. Tomorrow is another day. A-nother piece of cake!

Good night for now, sweetie. Sleep tight.

Salute to Vienna

Share your story here…

What story?

The one from my childhood, when every January 1st at noon we hurried to turn on the black and white tv set to watch the New Year’s Concert from Vienna? A drop of beauty in our dark routines. An hour or so of Strauss waltzes and gloriously dressed dancers tempting my hungry imagination to make believe that Cinderella may be actually real. The following hour when I was dancing by myself, still imagining that out of the corner a partner would materialize for me, that he would take my hand and kiss it and hold my waist and tell me I was so, so lovely…

And there’s the story of the years when the tv turned colorful and the world around turned colorful and the imagination ran wild with dreams and hopes that – finally! – there was freedom. No more oppression, no more “communist equality”, there would be some order back in place, and those who were patient, and were good and educated and civilized, and did their homework were going to get the well-deserved A, and there will be decency and elegance – in some circles, at least. All you had to do is stick to the right crowd. But the crowd, one quickly figured, was still only one, and it wasn’t quite right. They had killed the right ones. Literally killed them. So there was not much of a heritage line left of the right.

(A beautiful interlude: there was a young man one year. And we spent New Year’s in Vienna. Students as we were, we mostly stayed with our gang – but I’ll always remember how amazed he was that I dragged him to the city outskirts to visit some Secession architecture, and I also remember the tram ride on the Ring when I asked him that we step off at the Philharmonic, just to be there that day. Outside the walls, and still. There!)

Or the story about the New World? The one I hesitantly stepped into and made all effort to adapt to, language being the least of barriers. It had classes all right, still does – though the official discourse is that of “democracy”. Same crap. Vienna died a century ago precisely. So did the British Empire, baby. And it also then that the Bolsheviks made sure they were there, and here, to stay. When will you get used to it?

The story of today, when after many years of oblivion, I took my little one to a live New Year’s Concert. In Ottawa, they allow spectators to bring their coffees inside the hall – maybe in other concert halls as well these days. Some people wore sports jerseys. We were pretty, my daughter, her Christmas doll and I, all wearing our party dresses, Lagerfeld shoes and pearls. Nobody noticed, most probably – or if they did, it must have been for the wrong reason, did we stand out from the crowd? Oh dear, I do try too much. There was another old lady wearing diamonds on our row. And the show was truly lovely, fun and glorious in joy. Nobody beats Strauss at this game.

Once home, my man asked our daughter: how was the show? I loved it, she said. And then I sensed his eyes resting heavily on me, with a deep hidden inquiry to which he knew the answer. I ignored his unasked question, his doubts, his regrets, his possible hopes or lack thereof … and floated to the other room in my beautiful long skirt with golden flowers, waltzing by myself as I’m too well accustomed to.

I really wish Vienna would resurrect somewhat and no idea how. Good night for now and a happy New Year!

On Your Day

You chose to spend it with me.

You were there, behind the tree, at the front of the church, at the back of the room, by the window, by the door – always elusive, always hidden to the plain eyesight. Too much noise, the sadness of unmet expectations, stupid expectations, engulfed and stiffled your presence, as it does. I should know better by now, but I don’t. I’m sorry and not nearly sorry enough for my unworthiness. I fail, again and again, to recognize your kindness, your voice, your Being. I can only imagine it – and imagination is a tricky thing. I imagine that who is supposed to be carrying you inside and be your spokesman to bring me joy on holidays. He never does. He is too caught up in his own ways and misery, too convinced there’s nothing he can do to overcome our differences – he gave you up. I looked for you in him. Stupidly stubborn I can be, maybe it’s time to change something? Cause quite obviously, I’ve been looking in the wrong direction.

And then, when I lay down on the little couch in front of the fire and I curled up to rest, you came out of nowhere and touched my heart and this peace and warmth almost materialized, mysteriously as ever with you. And I slept, just as I wanted to – the best Christmas present, forgetting the sadness, the expectations, cancelling the noise. You held me tight and it was a wondrous embrace, one which I miss most of the time, one which I would want to never end.

I love you. Thank you for visiting me. Happy birthday! Joy to the world!

Ah, girl… girl

Yeah, that’s the kind of girl she was. The one that makes you sorry. The kind that puts you down when friends are there, you feel a fool. Still, you don’t regret a single day.

In my life, I met her a few times. I used to know her better when we were kids. She was wildly happy in her youth. She believed the sky is reachable and there were times indeed when she touched it. She was smart, she could tell things apart and what fake and true were, she was quick and witty and pretty. People were envious, how else. Some hurt so much, they couldn’t help uttering words. She didn’t believe them, she was passionate, she forged on. They kept talking – and soon enough, attacking. She stopped, bewildered, shook her head and continued. They slapped. Now she noticed. She fought back. They slapped again, harder. She cried. Then she left.

I hadn’t heard much over the years which followed. No idea how we lost contact, it was somewhat gradual, unnoticed. Occasionally, I’d see her comments on social media. She had become bitter. Not much left of that exuberance I knew. Very few people were aware that she had had some disastrous relationships which had eroded her self-esteem and confidence. All one could see from the outside was the same glamorous girl, impeccably dressed, large smile (especially in pictures) and good manners. A friend once observed “have you seen her sad eyes in their family Christmas photo last year?” No, I didn’t think they were sad, why?

A few months ago, she moved into my neighbourhood. I met her by chance when I was doing the groceries and, man, I did not recognize her at first. It was not the years – she hadn’t aged much. That was probably the only thing which looked like still typical of her. But the sadness… ah, the sadness. All over the face, her body crouched and trembling, her eyes lost when I said hello. She did not reply.

I followed her outside, tiptoeing as to not scare her further. Her moves were those of a hunted deer, running for too long. I felt so sorry for her. I wanted to hug her, to at least put a blanket over her shoulders, something to keep her warm and give her a bit of faith. She sensed me and turned.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to be well… I guess. This is not you. I used to know you, remember?”

“No, I don’t remember you.”

I smiled and took her hand.

“It’s ok. I’m not surprised. You may not even want to remember.”

“I don’t actually.” She said and tears rolled out her eyes. I opened up my arms … “May I?”

She threw herself in my embrace with the desperation of a lost child, she clung and clung, and cried with huge sobs right there in the middle of the parking lot.

“It’s ok, baby. I do love you. And I missed you. I missed you so much.”

“You can’t have missed this…”

“No no, I missed YOU. That beautiful wild true girl. The girl who told them all to go fuck themselves if they talked nonsense. What have they done to you?”

“I don’t even know… I allowed them, you know.”

I kept stroking her hair while she cried her tears. Clouds came and went, people passed us by, some casting curious looks, most too preoccupied with their kids or groceries or cell phones. She raised her eyes in the end and gave me a long look.

“I do remember you. We used to laugh together. You were the one who was nice to me.”

There was sadness in my smile. “Not really. If I had been nice, I would have stayed closer. And be more helping and caring. Forgive me.”

“It’s ok. I wasn’t much of a friend myself, too selfish and absorbed. Serve me right.” She tried to smile.

“Let me get you home. And we can talk more tomorrow if you want.”

She cuddled deeper into my arms. “Yeah, I’d really like that.”

I nursed her back to health in the weeks that followed. Gave her the space to remember herself, to clean her face and heart, and find the smile she’d lost. We did exercises together, we breathed, we sang, we danced, we read books, we drew, we cooked. Above all, we laughed. And I hugged her close all this time and I told her every day how beautiful she was, in every way.

This evening, right after I brushed my teeth, I raised my eyes and there she was, bright as a morning glory.

“Thank you” she said simply.

“You’re very welcome. I love you.”

And I knew she was ready to touch the sky, again. Ah, girl… girl…