Friday, April 9, 2021

A New Dress, and Displaced Grief, In the Last, Dying Days of Covid


In a way, my heart's not really in writing this post. To say I have "Covid Fatigue" is an understatement. I went out for a little walk/roll around the neighbourhood. I wore a new dress. We took some photos. Big deal. Everything feels like that these days, doesn't it?

Even things that we normally enjoy feel blah, at best.

When you're living with huge grief, fear, and sorrow, as we all are now, those painful emotions spread past their cause - Covid - and darken the rest of life as well. As I chose which photos to use for this post, I found myself overwhelmed with grief about the ways in which my beloved East Vancouver is changing. Even as I tell you about that in this post, know that my grief would not be quite so heavy on my heart if we weren't all grieving for all the losses Covid has brought.

That said, my going for a walk really was kind of a big deal. I'd gone for months without even leaving the house. One of the last times Beau and I went for a walk/roll, we had a horrible encounter with ableist assholes who walked right toward us, with no masks, and no social distancing. Even when they saw me frantically trying to back away from them and getting stuck in the mud, they kept coming. 

Their response, when Beau reminded them that disabled people can't get out of their way easily and quickly? "I don't give a fuck."

"I don't give a fuck." 

Ableism in a nutshell. It's common. Not just now, but always. Common enough that I stopped feeling that it's safe to go out at all during Covid, ever. I know I'll be careful, but what about all those other people, the ones who don't give a fuck? If I were able bodied, I could just dart out of their way, but I'm not. I'm badly disabled.

So I've stayed home, month after month after month.

Yes, I'm taking even more precautions than my government recommends, but other people aren't taking any, so it seems like the only genuinely safe course of action for someone like me to take.

The vaccine is coming. But not fast enough. Canada is quite a bit behind other countries, so I won't get my first shot until May. I won't get my second one until August. Yes, you heard right. Here in BC, we all have a four month wait between shots.

Plus, as I write this, the P1, Brazilian variant, and other variants too, are ripping through our province. 

It just does not feel safe to go out at all now, not even a little.

On good days, I feel like a dog lunging on a leash, desperate to be free, knowing that freedom - herd immunity from vaccination - is just past the end of that leash. But that feels like forever.

On bad days I feel like someone is pushing my head underwater, and I'll die. But somehow I must go on living under water. We all feel that way, don't we? I mean, those of us lucky enough to speak of not being able to breath as a metaphor. For so very many, it's not a metaphor at all. They really can't breathe. 

You may be thinking, "Doesn't she have a big yard? Why doesn't she spend time in her yard?" Yes, we do have a great yard... but it's down a flight of stairs and I can't do stairs anymore. Every time I try, I end up throwing out my back, or a shoulder, or both shoulders. It's been driving me absolutely bonkers! When we finally own our own home, you can bet we'll be putting a lift in. In the meantime, I've been spending time on our tiny, uncomfortable porch, when it's not too cold.

So, one day, a few weeks ago (before the new variants hit our province), I told Beau that I couldn't take it anymore. I had to just go for a roll, or I'd lose my mind. And I needed him to come with me, so he could trouble shoot if any more ableists came at my with their potentially poisonous breath.

Dress: Eloquii; Boots: Ecco; Coat: Hell Bunny; Gloves: Penningtons; Necklace: Effy; Pendant and drop earrings: bespoke; Triangle ring: Birks; Stud earrings, brooches, and brown ring: vintage

We took a lot of precautions. We double masked, wearing medical grade masks under cloth ones ...

.. making me feel like one of those 17th Century, plague doctors who came to be associated with the angel of death. 

As much as possible, we stuck to back alleys. Back alleys in residential neighbourhoods are the norm here. They're not all that grotty, and they afford interesting glimpses into backyards, so that part wasn't too odious.

We deliberately picked a blah weather day, a weekday for our outing, knowing there'd be fewer people out and about.

It definitely wasn't a good day for taking photographs. The light and colours are all off in these photos, and my white skin looks absurd. I mean, it kind of is absurd, actually. Given how little I've been going out, my skin is now whiter that it's ever been, and that's saying something. I'm translucent. 

The weather looked the way my heart has been feeling: heavy, leaden, colourless, breathless. I'm sure your heart's been feeling just about the same way too.

It's been a very very hard year, for all of us. 

And remember: I almost died from gallbladder disease during Covid too, and then went through a long, painful recovery. A difficult year indeed!

Knowing the vaccine is coming has obviously helped. I remind myself of the little things to come even more than the big ones. I look forward to being able to wear sundresses out in the world this summer, and I think about how fun that will be now that I have a waist again. I thought about wearing a more form-fitting outfit, so I could show you that waist ...

... but then I happily remembered that soon I'll be able to out all the time, so I'll have lots of other opportunities to show you the positive effects of last May's surgery. Certainly, my vastly improved health is one of the things I have been able to find joy in in the midst of Covid.

I might need a new coat though! This one is clearly too big now.

So, did the walk/roll itself improve my spirits at all? A little. 

How can anyone not feel her spirits lift at least a little when she sees these mountains? 

And spring is here ...

... earlier than anywhere else in Canada, as it always is.

This year, we actually paid some nice gardeners to tidy up our backyard a bit. (I'm too disabled to garden, and Beau's too busy doing the things around the house that my body won't let me do.) 

We don't own our home, so we don't want to sink a lot of time and money into it. But we thought we'd at least get rid of the jungle of weeds, for ourselves, and we went ahead and asked the gardeners to plant some bulbs too. So, this year, we have our own crocuses and daffodils.

But not snowdrops. Apparently these little bulbs are, as the gardeners put it, "gold," they're so expensive. We don't want to plant them, just to find our landlords have turned the place over to developers, and our snowdrops are about to be plowed under and cemented over.

One of the things I love about my city is how incredibly green it is. The task is not trying to get things to grow; it's trying to keep them from growing too much. Everywhere you turn, you see moss, lichen, and fungus thriving. I know some people might find this kind of gross, but I like it. I just like that there's so much life here. This is especially so during Covid when life, any life, brings hope.

Taking the back alleys, I see a lot of spaces that remind me of old East Vancouver ... 

... the East Vancouver I fell in love with 31 years ago, and miss so much. 

Taking the back alleys, I realize that's it's not all gone, not yet anyway. I miss it so much, I dream about it often, at least once a week: my beloved old, humble, beautiful, affordable East Vancouver.

The back alleys are also a good place to make interesting, unexpected discoveries ...

... like these chickens!

Full disclosure? I actually wore this dress to match the chickens! We'd discovered them on an earlier outing months back, and I thought it would cheer us up to visit them again.

They're always just as interested in us as we are in them. They always make me laugh.

In appearance, they remind me a lot of the Rhode Island Red chickens we had in our 300 year old farm house when I was a little girl in Massachusetts. Even before that, in a much humbler home, when my auto-mechanic father was still around, we had chickens that we gave an old VW van as their coop. Somewhere, there's a photo of me wearing a little footed onesie, standing in front of that van/coop, but I couldn't find it

Unlike our Rhode Island Reds, these chickens were very mellow. This cute one was the most talkative, and we had a lovely conversation about this and that, as neighbours do.

The middle chicken here had a really beautiful pattern on her feathers that I thought kind of matched my dress.

Now, their coop is a bit... unconventional, perhaps even more unconventional than our VW van was. Note the chair on the roof.

Remember those old chairs, all chrome and vinyl, with their little steps?

I sure do. We had a few of them when I was very young. Both my best friend and I are sitting on them here. I think mine has arms, more like a "real" highchair. (That's chocolate cake all over my face.) I suppose they're expensive, collector's items now. They were cheap, second hand chairs then. 

This alley also afforded us the back view of ...

Photo from my blog post, Versatile Feminine Frills: the 1930s Day Dress

... an old house that's a little bit world famous around here. It's unusual here for a few reasons. First, it's made to look like brick, which we have very little of here, but it's actually cement.

Photo from my blog post, Versatile Feminine Frills: the 1930s Day Dress

Second, it's a duplex, built in the days when there was so much space here, there was no need for such a thing. 

Now duplexes and other "multi-family dwellings" are springing up everywhere, but they're not half as durable ...

... or beautiful.

Making way for these monstrosities entails the demolishing of perfectly good, modest, little homes, with lovely, modest little yards.

The last time we were in this alley, I said to Beau, "Drink it in. This is old East Van. It will be gone soon." Heart breakingly, I was right.

I know what's coming on this block: a piece of shit like this. It will be very cheaply made, ugly as sin, and extremely overpriced. That last part is the real kicker. I wouldn't mind all these changes anywhere near as much if they weren't driving poor, working class, and even middle class people out of the city they love.

Way back in my university days, my girlfriend and I rented a house just like these ones being torn down. It was falling apart a little, though not much, and the neighbourhood was rough, but we could
afford it.  All our friends lived in the neighbourhood too. These were the days when there still was such a thing as a poor part of town - with mountain views, no less.

This is the same address, nearly thirty years later. My little house is long since torn down, making way for these hideous, and hideously overpriced townhouses. It saddens me so much, I still have bad dreams about it.

From my post When "Home" Was Hell: Love After Slavery

Beau and I now rent a similar house. We know it would sell for an absolute minimum of $1,500,000. No, that's not a mistake. I put the right number of zeroes on the end.

What would the buyer do with it? Knock it down, naturally, and build another huge, poorly constructed, vastly overpriced, "multi-family dwelling." Of course.

Photo by Pop Snap. His photos in this post are from the 1970s, but the neighbourhood looked just the same still in the 1990s.

Don't get me wrong, I know these older houses weren't beautiful. I mean what is up with all that stucco? I remember that shocking me when I first moved here from Massachusetts.

But the houses were often quite beautiful on the inside. 

Photo by Pop Snap. Houses like these ones are still known as Vancouver Specials

And they were affordable. Working class families built their lives here. Children grew up here. Neighbours looked out for each other here.

In my particular part of East Vancouver, artists, activists, lesbians, and students all jumbled up together and formed a real community. We liked each other. We helped each other. It was not just a collection of houses and people. It was a neighbourhood. 

Photo by Fred Herzog. I think this is 1960, but, again, not much had changed by the 90s.

Meanwhile, people from the richer parts of town were afraid to even roll down their windows in East Van! Can you even imagine? Sure, we had our drug addicts and street people, but they were really no bother. In fact, they were neighbours too. That's how it worked.

Now? Now it's all condos, and duplexes, and intense gentrification, the new residents calling the cops every time someone quietly smokes a crack pipe in an empty park. It may sound strange to you, but that part pisses me off. If they don't want to deal with drug addicts, they don't have to live here. It's not their place to push out those of us who were here first. Yes, that includes the drug addicts.

This photo is by either Fred Herzog of Pop Snap
And then there were the gardens! Oh the gardens. When I first moved to this neighbourhood in 1990, it was still very Italian. Virtually every inch of every yard was given over completely to the growing of food: grapes, tomatoes, lettuce, figs, beans... It was a beautiful thing to behold.

I don't mean to say that's 
all gone now. You do still see all of these things (including the drug addicts) some. Note these carefully bound fig branches in the backyard we encountered just the other day. But it's all disappearing.

Most of the remaining gardens, like this one, are tended by the elderly. As they go, so do the gardens, and the houses themselves. 

When we first moved into our current house, an elderly Chinese couple lived next door. They'd been there since the 1960s, when they build their house. The entire backyard, the husband's terrain, was given over to food; and the entire front yard, the wife's terrain, was given over to flowers. But the husband passed, and, a few years later, the wife went into care. The garden has fallen into disrepair. No more food. Very few flowers.

When the mother passes, we know her children will sell the house. Who can blame them, given how much it will go for? To developers, its only value will be in what they can build on the land where once there was a modest little house, and a magnificent garden.

The children have given us permission to transplant their mother's snowdrop bulbs into our own yard. We're waiting till we own a place, so we don't risk having them plowed under in our space too! We will look at them each year with fondness, in honour of our elderly neighbours.

Photo by Pop Snap

And there were the views. My God, the views! No matter how grotty the neighbourhood ...

Photo by Pop Snap

... no matter how poor, rundown ... 

Photo by Pop Snap

... or humble the neighbourhood, there were mountain views everywhere.

I realize that I was drawn to this tiny, little, Edwardian brooch ... 

... because it reminds me of old East Vancouver, with its etching of a tiny, little house with a view of the mountains and inlet.

The views are still here, but, as the buildings get taller, they views are harder and harder to find. You can find homes with views, but they cost the moon, even in East Van.

As it all disappears, all the affordable housing, all the yards, all the trees ...

... I keep asking myself, where will the birds go?

Where will the people go?

Or maybe I'm just sad about Covid. 
My heart is so heavy. Isn't yours?

I am sad about all the changes in my city, but I'm not sure I'd be
so sad about them if it weren't for Covid. I think maybe I'm displacing my grief about Covid onto something a bit less horrifying. Maybe it's just easier.

There is so much grief right now! We're all so scared!

And tired. 

Maybe it's turning 50, maybe it's almost dying last year, maybe it's the global stress of Covid, but, in picking which photos of myself to use for this post, I was less concerned with looking pretty than I was with looking expressive and genuine. 

I've always known that it's our character, not our appearance that matters, but that's really been brought home to me in this past year.

What I want you to see in my face is resilience, survival ...

... a sense of humour ...

... and even some happiness in the midst of these ghoulish times.

If we can find all that, in ourselves and others, even in these times, I think we're doing pretty well.

The mood of these times led me to find myself looking for metaphors in everything I saw on my walk. Spring flowers became not just flowers, but also hope and the tenacity of life itself. 

This gnarled, tightly bound and restrained, fig tree, became all of us under Covid restrictions, held back from life - to allow life itself to survive.

This sense of being bound and restrained to stay alive has been especially intense for the disabled. We've had to take precautions above and beyond those others are taking. We've had to forgo medical treatment because our doctors are too busy, or it's too dangerous to go to medical appointments.

We've repeatedly heard people soothe each other with, "Don't worry, it's just the elderly and those with health problems that are dying," as if that's no big deal, no big loss. That's us, you realize. Those people with health problems are often disabled people. 

We know exactly how much we're valued.

And we keep hearing about doctors having to make decisions about who should and should not get ventilators if there's a shortage. Doctors will have to decide whose life is worth saving, and whose isn't. Disabled people know damned well which category we'd fall into.

We've felt like sacrificial lambs, to be quite honest ...

... without the people who are saying these things and making these decisions really understanding that we're people too!

But let's talk about my outfit, okay? Because we all need the distraction, right? I can't handle all this sorrow.

I'm not going to spend much time talking about my coat. I featured it in a previous post, if you'd like to know more (like the fact that it comes with a cute capelet). It's just too big now ...

And, besides, it doesn't really go with the outfit. I nice, long, oatmeal coloured raincoat would have been much better, but it would also have been too cold. 

I will mention that more modern variations on this style are all over the place these days. Some are more toned down.

Some aren't. 

Some are not as full.

Some are.

Regardless of whether this style is trendy again, I like it, and it's great on my mobility scooter, so I think I'll have it taken in... when Covid is over.

Now, the dress. Brown is a really good colour for me, although, given how I look in this lighting, you're just going to have to take my word for it.

I wore a coppery brown eye shadow too, which I always like.

I added mascara too. I may start wearing more mascara when I go back out of the world, because, as I get older, my eyelashes are getting much lighter. It makes me look like my father! My eyebrows seem to be disappearing too. Oh the strange changes that come with age! 

Whatever. I'm still here. That's what counts. I think we all understand that better now.

Back to the palette of my dress. It's ever so 1970s. Brown completely dominated the 70s. Anyone who was there remembers it well. It was in interior design ...

... in fashion ...

... in everything.

So my outfit obviously had a 70s vibe going on.

The geometric pattern ...

... is also very 70s ... 

... though I notice "geoprints" are making a big comeback these days.

My dress is an example thereof. 

It seemed to me pretty logical to accessorize my dress with my geometric pendant (designed to memorialize my beloved cat, Bobby). After all, I designed it with both Art Deco and the 1970s in mind.

My triangle ring, aka my Keith Richards Ring, always reminds me of the 70s, and seemed an obvious match to the dress. I'm not sure when the brown, Sarah Coventry ring was made, but it seems likely that it too is from the 70s. I got it for about 75 cents in 1990. I always get compliments on it.

I suspect that my tiny ...

... bird earring is also from the 70s.

It certainly reminds me of the 70s, at any rate. 

Speaking of the Partridge Family ...

... now's a good time to mention that the geoprints of the 70s were often ...

... deliciously ...

... grooveliciously over the top.

While we're on the subject of these groovy prints, note the frequent, generous pairing of orange with brown.

Naturally then, I added a vintage...

... orange brooch to the outfit. This too is almost certainly from the 70s.

With or without the orange, we're all going to assume my geoprint is less over the top, and more tasteful and understated ...

... like Mimi Farina's as she sings with her sister, Joan Baez in 1973.

Either way, by 1980, the crazy patterns were calming down - a bit. They'd soon be replaced by the loud, garish, primary colours of the 80s.

I prefer the brown prints. But I'm still deciding if, given my diminishing size, a dress like this overwhelms my now smaller frame. "Midi" length dresses and skirts have roared back into fashion in the last few years, and that's kind of a bummer for me. I'm only 5'4", so midi dresses are often more "maxi" on me. I know I'll hem some of them to keep me from feeling like a kid wearing grown up clothes from the dress-up box.

Bubble sleeves are also all the rage this season. I do adore them ...

 ... but the question is whether they adore me, or, again, simply overwhelm my smaller frame.

They're everywhere right now, and I really like them, so I'm going to assume they look just great on me... or I at least feel just great wearing them.

Let's get a closer look at Kate's dress, shall we, so we can see the sleeves better.

The stylistic similarities to my own dress are unmistakable. 

(Please do forgive me for all my royal fashion references here. In the midst of Covid, I suddenly wanted much lighter magazine reading than my usual, The New Yorker. But we were also still in the midst of Trump, so I didn't want light, American reading. So, we subscribed to Hello Canada, and I now know way more than I ever wanted to know about every outing, outfit, zoom call, and burb of the royals.)

My dress definitely has a retro feel to it, but it's an amalgam ...

... of 70s ... 

... and 80s. 

I'm still loving those pussy bows!

Yes, it's true, I am going grey. Beau says it's only in this light that you can see it. Who knows? I am a little sad about it, but not a lot.

I can't even say quite why, but I always like them.

But, when it comes to the return of 80s fashion, I will not capitulate to any return of shoulder pads! Given that I have to use a walker or canes to walk at all ...

... my shoulders are big and strong enough already. They don't need any help! 

And thus ends my one outing in the last few months. 

I'm weary. We're all weary. I'm tired of trying to find those tiny things that give me a little joy in the midst of all this death. I'm tired of merely hanging on, but not thriving.

I'm sure you feel exactly the same way. So here's to us all meeting again on the other side, vaccinated and free once more, with breathing space to start healing from this hell.