Siege Diaries 3/14/2021

march 14

(Today, the Daily Stoic prompt has been moved to the end.)

So, the anniversary day.

When I started these diaries exactly one year ago today, I spent the first four days equating the situation we were moving into with the Siege of Leningrad–more precisely, the first four movements of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 (‘Leningrad‘).  Part of this was because I had planned to be on the road just six days later to go to Chicago to hear Valery Gergiev conduct the Chicago Symphony in a performance of that work.  I had the trip all planned–hotel booked, a tour of the Robie House scheduled, even plans to meet up with a Facebook friend at the concert.  I had planned to wear a vintage 1940s dress and my relatively new 40s Oxfords.  I had begun to plot out the visits to groceries to pick up my favourite treats.  In other words, all of the things I had become accustomed to doing for one of my concert trips.  Because none of the trips was just about the concert itself, although that provided the impetus.  I never missed a chance to enjoy those long hours on the road driving, just me and my thoughts and music, watching the landscape change through my windshield.  Every one of those trips was a kind of meditation on life.

This process, of course, predated the obsessive desire to hear various Shostakovich works live.  I have always loved to drive, loved the solitude (or sometimes, the camraderie) of the long road trip.  This dates at least back to my university days, but was honed when I moved to Canada and made trips home every three or four months and began to travel to SCA events.  The vast majority of our vacations have involved driving.  And most notably, from 2003 to 2006 I made a monthly trip to Columbus for work after I had relocated back to Canada.  I have sometimes, in retrospect, wondered how I managed to keep that up for several years, but the more recent travels revealed to me how much the long drive had become not a chore, but something to be cherished in its own right.  And there was also the chance to see my father in what would become his final years.  And I have always written about these travels, although before 2018 I focused mostly on my vacations.

That, one year in, is the void I feel most keenly.  The metaphor of being under siege by an invisible enemy still holds, but more significant for me is how it has kept me so close to home.  There was some reprieve in the summer, when there were trips to Guelph and Toronto to visit bubble friends, and while a hour’s drive is relatively insignificant, it was not nothing.  But the experience of the long, solitary journey has been put aside for now.  Perhaps that’s why the simple act of a drive to pick up embroidery thread last week–and the experience of being caught up in rush hour traffic–made me unexpectedly nostalgic.

I used to believe I was perhaps a shy extrovert.  This pandemic has confirmed for me that my default state is a particular variant of introversion–the solitary observer, the pilgrim, the wayfarer.  In fact, my whole being is based around the balance of seeming opposites.   I love the big picture, but rejoice in the flood of details.  I cherish rational thought, but know that it’s emotion that brings rationality into reality.  I listen, but I am also compelled to speak.  I do not identify with a gender and I identify with all of them.  I am complex.  Perhaps I am unusual, but I suspect not.

Now I’m confined to observing the world in the local supermarket–or through the Internet.  It’s as if I’ve backed up to the 10000 foot level, viewing most of life as if from the window of a plane.  And at the same time I have developed, by necessity more interaction than ever with people I have never met in person, from the people on my project teams at work to Toastmasters members to people over 30 years younger than me on Discord servers.   These people are becoming genuine friends.

Instead of focusing outwards to tell stories, in recent months I have spent significant amounts of time staring at an inches-square cloth of fabric and stabbing it thousands of times.  I joke about microstabbery., but there is actually no violence in it at all. I do not stitch out of anger.  To the contrary–perhaps it helps to mediate the absence of physical contact in my life.   When I embroider a cat, I can almost feel its fur while I stitch. When I embroider a person, there’s an intimate affection and familiarity with the contours of their face, their hands–a kind of familiarity that I would never seek in person.   I am listening, observing, then translating through my fingers and the medium of thread.

On March 14 of last year, I did not think I would be writing these diaries one year later.  I predicted we were probably in for about six months of this, based on what had happened with SARS.  I assumed it would be easier, since SARS was far more deadly.   I still thought masks were probably overkill for anyone outside of hospitals.  I did muse to myself about the potential hubris of invoking the 1000 days of the Siege of Leningrad.  After 365 days, I wonder whether the universe was telling me to hold my beer.

*****

(Today, the Daily Stoic prompt has been moved to the end.)
Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  How is my arrogance preventing me from learning?

As I thought about this one, I said to myself, “I’m not arrogant!  Quite the contrary!”

Sure. I am not arrogant when it comes to dealing with other people.  But do I sometimes think I know what there is to know about something, and as a result it closes me off to learning?

Yes.  This is a thing.  I mean, look below.  A year ago, I was still firmly of the opinion that masks were overkill.  They were needed for sure by medical personnel.

But I did learn.  It just took awhile.  So my arrogance was not obstinance.   I just needed to learn to separate my initial, gut reaction based on historical data from the current data coming in.   And I’ve always been open to that.  So while that initial reaction may involve some degree of arrogance, I have learned, over the years, to apply the brakes of humility to bring things into balance.  Because, in the end, I do need to have confidence in my judgement, but also I need to have the humility to seek out other learned opinions and then to apply them all to the the facts of the situation.  Too much the one way, and I close myself to ever changing or evolving.  Too much the other way, and I get caught in analysis paralysis .

Balance.  Reason and emotion.  Sounds like a Rush song.

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