Alternate Ending

Leading up to my birthday this year, I was a little bummed. While I don’t usually work on my birthday, this year I was supposed to be at the Strung Along Retreat with my dear friends Debbi and Judith, and a hoard of knitters I adore. I’d thought I would be sipping a spectacular glass of wine, toasting Debbi (her birthday was last week) while I showing everyone at Port Ludlow the latest pictures of my beautiful grandchildren, and did a job that I really enjoy. I imagined that when I got home I’d have a big party with all my beloveds around me. Obviously the stupid pandemic (and a few other knots in my metaphoric skein) meant that things were going to be very different and it was really getting me a bit down.

Since things really got wild over here a few months ago, I’ve made the decision to put my friends and family first, to cling to them and try to be nice to them and try to make this hard time a little easier, and doing that has brought me a lot of happiness during the lockdown, or as much happiness as you can have in a lockdown. It turns out that this is a family trait. There have been a thousand little kindnesses we’ve extended to each other during this time and I’ve been so grateful for all of them. My favourite part of all of it is watching the people in our family who neither need nor particularly want these kindnesses bestowed upon them accept them with a tremendous amount of grace, understanding that sometimes it helps the helper more than the helpee. There have been occasional mismatches, but mostly I am proud to tell you that this family has freakin’ nailed it as we navigate the hardship of a pandemic/loss/separation triple whammy. (Can you have a triple whammy? I know it’s a sports reference but I’m not sporty enough to have the nuance of it.)

I didn’t know what this birthday was going to look like, but I am an adult and I was prepared to make the most of it, but this family – oh, they are divine, and in the end I received such amazing gifts. First, my girls and Ken and Joe came up with an amazing plan, and it was so funny and charming that I laughed my way through the entire afternoon.

They got in touch with everyone that I’ve been missing and sad for, and came up with a scene of fantastical proportions.

 

Every hour, another few darlings of mine turned up in my back garden, and I had a physically distanced visit with all of them.

Every hour Amanda and Joe cleaned the furniture, put out fresh bowls of snacks (separate for every person) and and trotted out drinks in disposable cups and glasses of champagne, and every hour all day we sang Happy Birthday and had cupcakes.

 

Every 60 minutes. (I was careful to pace myself on both the cupcakes and champagne, realizing early that this could end in disaster.)

Through they came, a parade of all my favourites, and by dinner time I was overwhelmed with happiness, but it didn’t stop there, oh no, it did not.

The greatest gift I received this year (oddly, from the province of Ontario) was that Ontarians were allowed to expand their social bubbles. It’s not perfect, you can only have 10 people in your bubble, and no person in Ontario can be in more than one bubble – there’s a massive element of trust and monogamy, but that day, for the first time in months, our family was together.

It wasn’t perfect. Ken and Pato remain outside our bubble (their living arrangements mean they’re automatically in other bubbles) but I was with Elliot and he was with his Aunties, and the whole thing was as much a celebration of the family as it was my birthday. We lingered together long in to the evening, Elliot asleep in Grammy’s big bed upstairs, talking and eating and sitting in the garden under the twiklelights, all wondering how we’d ever managed without each other for so long.

I thought watching Elliot fling himself into the waiting arms of his aunties would be my favourite part, or even holding him in mine… but it wasn’t. Do you know, as the girls grew up and starting from when they were very little, I made a decision. it was a tricky one and one that has taken years to reinforce, years to implement – and years of quietly working things out so that they sort of had no other options, but I wanted my daughters to be each other’s best friends. I know that being sisters isn’t perfect, and they all have relationships outside the sisterhood, of course, but I wanted them to be close, to depend on each other. To be a team, if nothing else. This worked. I don’t know if they are each other’s besties, exactly, but they are a united force, and they depend on each other to a very great degree.

Watching them be able to embrace for the first time in 87 days was the best gift I have ever, ever received. I know we had to be apart to protect each other and our communities, and for the sake of vulnerable people and none of us could imagine doing something that would endanger someone else’s mum, not after we know what it was like to lose mine, but watching them console each other after so long… I can’t believe now that we did it.

We all pine for having our family all together, and for a time when we don’t have to sit so far from those we love, but that Sunday? It was perfect, and I mean it when I say it was the perfect gift, even though Elliot made me a pipe cleaner bracelet that is clearly going to fit right into my wardrobe.

 

It all came right as I thought I couldn’t take a minute more. For those of you who still can’t be with the people you love, hang in there. It’s worth it, and maybe it will be sorted by your birthday.

Finally – so many of you have asked about the Bike Rally – it being sort of traditional to donate to the ride if you were feeling the urge to give me a present on my birthday – so here is where we are at.

It’s not happening. I mean – of course it’s not happening. How could it happen? A group of 450 cyclists and crew (a bunch of whom are immunocompromised) travelling together from one province to another? The province currently isn’t allowing groups of more than ten people to gather, the campgrounds set up are only at 50% capacity, and the city of Montreal isn’t issuing permits. Of course it’s not possible. We’d kill people and spread the virus. The Rally is supposed to help, not hurt so this year we are trying to take the Rally virtual.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not consoled by virtual events. I am too clever and I suspect you are as well, to think that they are even remotely the same, that they scratch the same itch. That said, it is a heartbreaking truth for PWA that as our event goes virtual, their needs remain not virtual at all – in fact, the pandemic has meant that they are seeing an increase in the number of people with HIV/AIDS who need support now, and a reduced ability to fundraise, thanks to the cancellation of Pride Festivals and with many donors being under financial strain. To boot, it is far more complex to provide those services with the restrictions we have in place. Clients who had jobs that were helping might not now, clients with support may be missing that now, and clients with children are now under additional strain, with no school, childcare or camps. The needs rise, and the fundraising goes down, and so here is where Team Knit is at.

We talked it over and we decided we would ride the Rally anyway. Not together, and not all at once because the restrictions won’t allow it, but we decided to cycle 600km between now and the end of August. Then we looked at that goal, and we decided it wasn’t lofty enough It wasn’t… hard enough. The Bike Rally exists as a fundraiser as sort of a contract. We commit to doing something difficult, and you commit to supporting us, and tootling along riding a paltry 600km (I cannot believe I just typed that) doesn’t seem… inspiring, does it? It didn’t to us.

We talked it over again, and now Team Knit has decided to (oh I can’t believe I’m typing this publicly)…. cycle the equivalent of the rally each month for three months. June, July and August, and let me tell you that seemed crazy, and then we started trying to do it. All four of us still have jobs (thanks for the Patreon you lot!) and then Ken fell off his bike and hurt his knee (he’s going to be okay don’t panic) and there are no organized rides and we can’t ride too far from home because there’s no infrastructure for it (like bathrooms or food) and we can’t really be together, and… it turns out it’s really hard. Super hard, but we’re going to try, darn it – because no matter how hard it is, it’s easier than having AIDS during a pandemic, and PWA needs a way through the next year.

This year, Team Knit is the old faithfuls. (Photo taken last year when we were still allowed to touch each other.)

Me
Ken
Cameron
Pato

I know that things are tough all over, and I know that it’s possible all you can send us this year is luck and love, and we appreciate that a great deal. I know too that usually now I would fire up the Karmic Balancing machine, and I might yet – but I wanted to get a feel for what you all thought first? I know I’m tired of quarantining or wiping down packages, and I know that it would be an extra trip out to the post office for me to send something to someone now and while things are starting to be less scary in Canada (and I have been to the post office once) we’re still supposed to keep our public contact to a minimum.  I know so many of you are in the US- the epicenter of the world’s pandemic, and that with hundreds of people dying every day still – you might not feel comfortable going to the the post office, or getting a package. I am wiling to consider it if it seems or becomes reasonable, but don’t want to facilitate a system that gets anyone hurt – that’s so totally not what the Rally is meant to do (despite Ken’s banged up knee.)

Let’s think on it, and I’m open to feedback in the comments – thanks for being there. Let’s try to find a way to be nice to as many people as we can, with the minimum amount of risk.

You know, someday we’ll all read about this year in books.

Seasonally Appropriate-ish

Now that I hang this finished thing in the back garden to show it to you, I can see that I was wrong about it. (I am physically distanced from all the World’s Top Knitwear models at the moment. I guess I could ask Joe to do it, but I know exactly how it ends and choose not to go there. For two people who’ve been locked down together for eleven weeks we’re getting along just fine, and part of that is that we try really hard to care about the things the other person is interested in and in return, don’t ask the other person to have to pretend too often.)

Shawl: True Colors Yarn: Fiber Optic Kashmir 6-pack in Spice, along with a skein in the natural grey.  (Edited to add: Thanks to everyone in the comments who tipped me off that I’d forgotten to link to the pattern – there you go!)

While I was knitting the last little bit of this one, it seemed to me rather hopelessly autumnal and it didn’t scratch the itch of spring fever that I had.  I was looking to embrace summer with my knitting, bright colours, hope and joy – it didn’t speak to me of flowers and warmth and water. (To be fair, not much in my stash does.) Now that it’s done though?

Doesn’t it just.  I love it.  I think it’s just so pretty, and I believe I’ve got that little jolt of bright acid springtime yellow to thank for it.  It’s exactly the colour of new leaves, and that ruby red is like the red of ranunculus or sweet peas.  I’m entirely smitten.  I admit, it hurts just a little to finish something so cozy as it gets truly hot around here, and I am rather short of places to wear it,  but I have hopefully hung it near the back door, ready in case there is a cool evening.

Still hungry for summer colours, a rampage through the stash turned up this kit, and I started to feel like I had the hang of this season. Summery – right? I’m getting the hang of this.  I’m out of my box.

Yarn: some antique (and sadly discontinued) Schaefer Heather (in bluebell) Pattern: Undulating Waves.

Don’t those little beads remind you of water trickling through a stream on a day with bright blue skies? Of forget-me-nots and rhododendrons…

It is a shame then that I dropped it like a hot rock when yarn came from Lichen and Lace (the used-to-was owner of the famed Lettuce Knit here in Toronto, now turned dyer extraordinaire in New Brunswick.)

They’re beautiful to be sure – but I opened the package and was disappointed for a second, wondering if I was retreating to my typical fall colours. (That’s 1-ply merino in “woods” and Marsh Mohair in “Shrub”)  I wondered if I was really any good this spring and summer knitting thing, and then I laid the little beginnings of my sweater in the heuchera by the door for a photo, and look.

It’s a summer Love Note after all. (Literally.  Now that the whole rest of the world is finished knitting that sweater I might as well make one. Nothing says Toronto heat wave like mohair!)

Wednesday, I think

I just turned off the TV.  For us, the escalation of the pandemic and lockdown (still locked down, thanks for asking) went hand in hand with Charlotte’s death, and in the weeks that followed I fell into the habit of waking up in the morning and getting my coffee, and then sitting myself on the chesterfield and anxiously knitting while watching the virus rip through the world, fixating on the numbers and rates of transmission and being really anxious about it all. I thought it was making me feel better – I thought information was some measure of control over an out of control world. After a while, as the fog of grief and shock began to lift and I could think a little more clearly, I realized that the TV thing was not helping. Sure, some measure of information really made a difference, I really did need to know what was happening, but it slowly dawned on me that I have never actually gotten around to picking up PHD’s in Epidemiology and Public Health, and that I was essentially unqualified for this whole thing. I decided then to concede to people who actually have PHDs in Epidemiology and Public Health (not politics) and do what they asked me to do without questioning it too much. This flies in the face of my nature, but this is an exceptional time when my opinion or what I’ve managed to cobble together from the internet really doesn’t make me qualified to come up with my own plan.

I stayed in touch enough with the news to understand that the impact the virus was having was unequal, that I had a responsibility to protect those at greater risk than myself with my own actions in my community and to help those trying to solve the broader problems it is causing in the world. Do I know what to do about the impact this is having in developing countries where poverty is already entrenched, where public health measures aren’t possible to enact, where there aren’t health care systems in place, never mind overwhelmed ones? No – but I do know that I can look to the people experiencing that, and organizations who specialize in understanding those problems, and support them as much as I am able. For me, this took the form staying home (since I am a human alive right now with the ability to do that, and can therefore make sure I’m not part of the problem) and of supporting health organizations (like MSF) community organizations like food banks and PWA. Empowering the experts seemed better than me guessing, and I wrote my politicians and told them it was important to me that they centred the people who are most vulnerable, and that it was a path to my vote or the loss of same.

To be clear, I haven’t been able to do this every day. Some days I have only been able to knit, and cry about my little granddaughter while physically distanced from the world at large, and the big picture has gotten entirely away from me. I don’t even know for sure if the things that I’ve done have been the right things, but I know for sure that it was better than just watching TV and feeling completely helpless.

Then last week, while watching an emotionally and situationally appropriate amount of TV, Joe and I watched the news in horror and over the next few days, the TV habit was back. I’ve been glued to it, searching for understanding, trying to absorb the rage and fury, and waiting – like the pandemic, I guess – for the moment that watching enough of it gave me understanding and I knew what to do. It didn’t work, and after a few days of not knowing what to do or how to help I realized that this problem is the same as the other one. A global crisis is killing people, and just the same as with Covid-19, because I am a human alive right now, I am a part of the problem, and can be part of the solution.

At the risk of comparing a very small problem with a very large one, do I need or want Joe’s advice on whether I should rip back a piece of knitting? No Knitter, I do not, and I can tell you that the fastest way to make the problem I’m having worse and make me feel unheard, angry and disrespected is for him to give me uninformed options. Am I sure I need to rip this out? Yes. I have been knitting my whole life and I know a problem when I see it. Also, I’m experienced enough to know that other solutions haven’t worked, and I’ve tried the ones that could have worked already, and just because he can’t see what’s wrong with the knitting doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. It means he’s unqualified to know. Just pass me the ball winder and extend your help dude, it’s what I asked for, and what I know I need, because I am a damned expert.

So, a few days ago I turned off the TV (enough, not completely, I still feel like there’s a responsibility to know what is happening) and started looking for more experts. People with the lived experience that is a PHD in systemic racism. I conceded that I do not know what needs doing, and that they don’t need me and my lack of experience questioning what will work and what won’t, what’s been tried and what hasn’t.

I recommitted to hearing what I do that could make things worse. I know nobody wants to say their actions are racist, and I see that this is the moment where white people balk, – but there is simply no denying that I’m part of a system that is racist, and that the same way that a world built by men has resulted in greater suffering and death for women, a world built by white people resulted in the same for people of colour, and that means that every day I get to experience whatever hardship and suffering I encounter within a system designed by people like me to make that as easy as can be. The same way that know that even though I try to be a good person, I could give someone Covid-19 if I don’t comply with anti-Covid guidelines, I understand that I can be racist if I am not actively anti-racist.

I’ve doubled down on trying to find people who are experts (that’s people of colour, and the organizations that support them) and listening to what they say will help – what they think I can do – what actions they know will make a difference, and every day I’m trying to do some of the things on that list. (What list? You’d be surprised how easy it is to google “how can I be anti-racist.”) I’m also working (like Joe and the knitting) not to offer suggestions and judgments about how to solve a problem that I can not experience.

Like the things I’ve done around the pandemic, I don’t know if these are the right things, but I do know that it has to be better (and takes less time, ironically than just watching this on TV.) I’m just telling you because I think that if you’re a white person who’s currently feeling really terrible about every aspect of this, I want you to know that looking at it from the perspective of the experts, and doing what’s asked of us by people who know better  could actually improve things. At the very least, it’s respectful to the people with the experience to show them that you understand if they say it’s time to rip back the knitting.