Siege Diaries 4/23/2020


Tonight, I’m speaking about my writing.

My Toastmasters groups, like just about everything these days, have moved online.  This has been quite the pivot for a group that only a couple of years ago moved to an electronic curriculum after over 90 years of paper-based projects, a group that has always given primacy to in=person interaction, resisted doing training online, and only in the past couple of years has started permitting online-only clubs as well as hybrid clubs that allowed some members to join remotely.  My noontime club was one of these, and for the last year and a half or so we had been including a couple of members from our Mississauga branch.   But with the swiftness of the pandemic, Toastmasters has managed to pivot to a world fuelled by Zoom and WebEx, realizing that communications skills are even more vital in this new world–and even when the crisis recedes, we will likely never completely go back to a structure based on over 95% of clubs meeting in person.

The project I’m presenting this evening is called “Focus on the Positive,” something we’re being reminded over and over and over again to do in the face of a daunting health crisis and the economic fallout that accompanies it.  The project is based on improving speaking skills and focusing on developing speaking strengths, but suddenly it has much larger implications.  Optimism can be elusive when you look at the big picture, the unknown future, the friends and family you can now only see on video, and the sense of loss of a way of life.

I think I have gained an appreciation of what it must have been like for an Allied soldier in WW2, especially in the early years.  Victory was by no means assured; in fact, the losses were horrific.  But somehow soldiers went out every day into danger, living each day as if it could be their last, and somehow continuing on.  It’s by no means that bad for me, in my warm house, with my husband and cats and job which I can still do, but this isn’t a competition regarding who had it worse.  This is the hand of cards we have been dealt, and I’m not ready to fold quite yet.

So my daily writings have been a lifeline so far–a way to express the ups and downs, the hope and the fears, the thoughts and the gut reactions.  They are helping me live in the present, to find activities to feed my soul, to keep going.   The purr of a happy cat is even sweeter now, as is the taste of raspberries, which I can still eat every morning.  I can rejoice in once again making music, tentative though my steps are, and remember with great joy the feeling of playing with others and dream of a day I might do that, too.  And today, I subscribed to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, which will stream live concerts this weekend from their empty concert hall.   I also plan to catch the Stratford Festival’s production of a couple of years ago of King Lear–just one of many filmed productions they will be showing over the next several months.  These are experiences I would not have had had we not had this crisis.  Gradually, as the planned future fades, another future is replacing it, one with things I can once again anticipate, no matter what happens in the next couple of months.

And that’s the key–being able to make plans for the future that are not dependent on the end of the lockdown will help begin the process of working through  the long months ahead.  If I get my project to learn to make YouTube videos going, that will also start to lay out activities to look forward to over the next weeks and months and even beyond.

And that, for me, is the key to mustering positivity in the face of such negativity:  Focus on what I can do now in the life that I have.  Focus on the people I care about, even though they may be physically distant.  Rather than mourning the events I will miss, find the events I can still eagerly anticipate.  Most of all, I am looking at my dreams, and working to understand which of them are now in my grasp.  My physical world has become smaller, but that is all the better reason to expand the world of my imagination.