A Year of Sheltering in Place

First, the summary for March: Ontario only recently lifted its “strict stay-at-home order” for Toronto, which most people interpreted as a strong request. Retail shops opened to limited capacity while restaurants still cannot accept dine-in patrons. The vaccination effort in Canada has only really gotten off to a start. While the government had set that expectation, it has been frustrating to see the United States jump out to a 30% to 7% lead as of today, March 13th, though we are told that this week marked the first major delivery of vaccines to provinces. If critics of the Ontario government are to be believed, the provincial authorities had planned on the federal government not delivering on its promise, and thereby blaming them for the ensuing mess. All signs point to that not being the case, with the feds more or less meeting the expectation and municipalities picking up the slack of setting up the infrastructure.

I didn't run much in the last two weeks of Feburary/first two weeks of March due to some achs and pains plus cold weather. I did set out to walk for an hour every Saturday and Sunday with shorter walks during the weekdays.

A Year of Sheltering in Place

My pandemic "anniversary" is today. The February 29th, 2020 headline that helped me realize that COVID-19 was here and a serious threat was the Toronto Star's “The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses” (see below).

Headline in the Toronto Star on February 29th, 2020: The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses

Even so, at work, for the first two weeks of March, we would wash our hands when entering and leaving, and we had the feeling was we were doing enough. I worked from home on Friday, March 13th, as I normally would do so once a week or so. That day the rumours inside the company that they would assess the situation in a week after that, but my direct manager called it right away, urging us to work from home the following Monday. Every month on the 13th of the month, I would write a summary of how I felt and what I did. I've collected them all in once place, in chronological order, at justagwailo.com/sheltering-in-place.

Up until then, I was planning a big trip though the United States. It was to start in Kansas City, to catch a Royals game, visit the Negro League Hall of Fame, and stroll through downtown. Then I would go on to Las Vegas to take in a show (Penn & Teller) and a baseball game, and more or less that’s it. Then on to Portland, OR to visit co-workers and friends, with the possibility of swinging through Vancouver, B.C. on my way home to Toronto. Luckily I didn’t buy any tickets or book any hotels, as airlines in particular struggled to figure out how to compensate travellers who weren’t going on their planned trips.

My last haircut before sheltering in place happened a week before, so I had a couple of good hair months while many people were upset that barber shops and hair salons were closed. I joked to my sister that I was growing my hair out, though I realized this was a good opportunity, as not many people would be interacting with me for a while. I haven't gotten a haircut since. The current plan is to celebrate receiving a vaccination by waiting a few weeks and getting my mane shorn.

Things that have kept me sane:

  • Watching a movie every Saturday night with co-workers, organized by one of our line managers at work. That was an inspired decision by her, and helped us get to know each other a bit better.
  • Keeping active through #ActiveTO by biking the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway in the warmer months and kickstarting running in the colder months.
  • I initially doubled the amount of cooking I did per week, but reduced it slightly when it emerged that I was bored with 6 servings of a meal. I still cook more than pre-pandemic times, in part to eat healthy, but also as a way to pass the time because there are no events to go to.
  • Weekly calls with my parents and getting closer acquainted with my siblings, all of whom are in British Columbia.
  • Doing architectural tours of Toronto when the "strict stay-at-home order" was not in place.
  • The two trips to Toronto Islands.
  • The time fixing my blog (the one you're reading!) was worthwhile.
  • Studying Chinese through Duolingo has been fun, with much of what I leared in university coming back to me. Don't worry, I'm aware of the implications of a white guy learning Mandarin, and my motivations are a bit different than the criticisms levelled against doing that.
  • While not something I talked about much publicly, I have an interest in mindfulness, and a perk from my employer is a free account on Headspace. It has helped calm the nerves and give me strategies to avoid thinking about COVID-19 so much.
  • Something I go back and forth about is drinking alcohol. My rule before the pandemic was no alcohol on a day before a work day. I've bent that rule to one beer an evening, and it has to be an Ontario craft beer. At the outset of the pandemic, I worried about having to go to the LCBO to stock up, but I caught wind of the Ontario Beer Delivery Index (after relying on a poorly-maintained page by a running group). A recent article in The Globe and Mail on Canadians' relationship to alcohol, especially during the pandemic, has put my decision in perspective.
  • Two great purchases during the pandemic:
    • Good speakers for my work area, though it will be my last Sonos purchase, most likely, as I'll replace the system entirely in the years to come.
    • A sturdy lawn chair for sitting in the park. If I wasn't going to venture far, I still wanted to sit in the neighbourhood park and relax during sunny days, which Toronto has an abundance of.

Things I avoided:

  • I didn’t attend many virtual events. At work I was on an always-on Zoom, so I didn't want to be reminded of that. That said, I don't think I suffered Zoom Fatigue, because videoconference has been a normal way of communicating for a while now. I did attend a virtual meetup or two, but I generally avoided lectures or live musical events, because they reminded me of missing the in-person events.
  • I didn’t start any new hobbies. No sour bread baking for me. I attempted to commit to PC gaming with mixed results.
  • I didn't binge-watch anything. I almost always had a full day at work on weekdays, plus an apartment to keep tidy, plus other volunteer commitments, so I was busy enough that I didn’t watch several episodes of TV shows. That’s to say I didn’t watch any episodic series. I watched all of The Crown one episode per day, and restarted watching The Expanse, also one episode per day. I plan on restarting watching Westworld, having forgotten where I left off (DVDs don’t keep track of the episodes you’ve watched like streaming services do). I assumed I would watch more movies during the week. The aforementioned Saturday movie night helped with that.
  • I avoided bringing COVID-19 to somebody. Living alone means there was nobody in my household to bring it to, assuming I ever carried it. (The truth of the matter is I don’t know until I get an antibodies test, which I hope to get sometime before receiving a vaccination.)
  • I did not go home for the holidays for the first time ever. Staying in Toronto over the Christmas holidays was the right decision. My family kept a Christmas Eve tradition alive, and I even cooked Christmas dinner!

Surprises:

  • How busy the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto would be in hosting virtual events.
  • How inactive the neighbourhood association became. We made our voices known in a virtual setting, though there was less activity in the neighbourhood to respond to. The local park’s redevelopment was postponed until this year, and few new developments were announced, though all developments proceeded, so we kept aware of those as best we could.
  • I thought I would spend more time gaming, but that has not come to pass.

Frustrations:

  • The way people were talking about the virus was as if COVID-19 were a death sentence. I don’t want to quote “survival rate” numbers because a) I don't think they're real and b) every single person who talks that way never cites their source. That said, at times, it felt like some people believed it killed everybody on contact. Also, we won’t know for some time what the effects of someone who has tested positive for it are.
  • Dating felt next to impossible. I matched online with some women over the course of the year, but with no desire on my part to meet up.
  • Having experienced a rough Valentine's Day just before the declaration of a pandemic, I set out (yet again) to do something about the isolation. An in-person counselling group was just the ticket, and after a few sessions, my mood improvded tremendously. It moved online due to the coronavirus, and was for the most part about coping with the anxiety introduced by the pandemic. I decided to skip it, joining the virtual sessions for guest speakers only.
  • Not owning a car meant braving public transit, which at the outset was a great unknown, to venture out farther than city limits. I took transit maybe 2 or 3 times, just to run a couple of errands. I didn't get the sense that any other town had much to experience anyway, but I decided against hiking trips because I don't drive. Maybe I might be more comfortable this year as vaccines increase in uptake.

Regrets:

  • I regret not joining a mutual aid society. That would have been quite the learning experience.
  • A course on urban planning for non-planners that ran late at night in my time zone would have been bearable for the one day a week it happened, but I decided not to enroll. At least the course is recurring.
  • Beyond the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer, which were eye-opening to me (someone who considers their eyes open), I don't think I learned much else over the course of the year. I read fewer books than hoped for, and even work seemed to stagnate (though my manager doesn't fully agree, and he has a point).

I had time to reflect on the things that were shut down that I missed, and what the pandemic revealed to be the reality:

What do I think I miss Reality
Concerts I attended them alone, and never met anybody. It was annoying when someone nearby would be talking, or would walk in front of me (thankfully I’m tall), or would bump into me (I would be constantly making way for people).
Dining in restaurants I dined alone about 95% of the time before the pandemic anyway.
Going to the pub I do miss the pub nights when it would be a watch party or a meetup, especially if it was a basketball pool draft. One pub in particular was my go-to for a first date, since it was a public place with the privacy of the surrounding din.
Working in an office I definitely miss that, having moved to Toronto for that experience. I’ve spent most of my career working remotely and it’s very isolating. None of the objections to aspects of working in an office have been compelling to me.

I didn't come out of 2020 stronger, nor did many people I know. It was a downgrade of a year. There were signs of hope at the start of the pandemic and they've only grown in number. 2021 looks to be quite the improvement over the last one.