Avoiding the Quarantine Crazies

Okay. So we are all starting to get used to this new, slower pace of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting easier. Sometimes I’ll think I’m actually starting to enjoy all this time to myself to relax and work on whatever project my heart desires, then within hours, I’m spiraling into a lonely self-pitying anxiety funk.

I know I’m not alone in this, but I am observing that we all have different coping mechanisms to deal with these funks. I think a lot of us are turning to booze, cannabis, netflix binges, masturbation, or wild sex romps if you’re lucky enough to be cooped up with a partner you still like… *Glares at lower neighbors menacingly* I consider all of the above to be “avoidance” techniques: ways to escape reality.

Some of us are traveling in the complete opposite direction, choosing to dwell in a constant state of terror: reading every Covid article the second it’s published and scouring Facebook to pick fights with anybody “too ignorant” to grasp the imminent danger of the current situation.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think either of these habits are completely wrong, but they definitely aren’t sustainable. We could be self-isolating for months. I think we owe it to ourselves to find a way to allow ourselves to be fully present, but not stressed the fuck out.

Even though I am single and live alone, and my family all lives out of province or country, I am coping relatively well with all this. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, maybe it’s because I spent a LOT of time alone as a child. But it may very well be because I am a master at extracting the good out of any situation. I’m going to share with you a list of all the things that are saving me right now, in the hopes they might help you too.

  1. When you’re feeling anxious, sad, lonely, or angry… put down that bottle of wine for a moment and just… acknowledge it. Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and scan your body from head to toe, paying attention to all the sensations happening no matter how small. I know personally when I’m feeling really anxious, I often feel a burning on my upper back between my shoulders. Don’t dwell on these sensations- and don’t label them as good or bad; just observe, and keep moving right the fuck along. This is essentially the technique of Vipassana meditation, which Jesus Christ himself apparently studied in India. And we all know Jesus had some pretty stressful fucking times. Did he complain once? No. Vipassana.
  2. On that note, Tara Brach has put together a great list of pandemic care resources on her website such as guided meditations and short talks.
  3. If you don’t have a live-in cuddle buddy, get yourself a gravity blanket!! I got myself this one last week when it hit me I may go months without a hug. I wrap myself in it every time I feel really anxious and I feel like a baby being swaddled. I got the 20 lb blanket even though I’m closer to 150lbs and it’s perfect. (You’re supposed to go with 10% of your body weight)
  4. Lots and lots of video chats, in all possible combinations. Mix it up! Start a Facebook thread with people you don’t know that well and start a video call! Dress up in an evening gown! Drag out your costume box and become a different character for every conversation! We are ALLOWED to get weird right now. We are re-writing all the rules people!!
  5. My freakin’ cat. Yes, he may be peeing on things more than usual because he’s not used to me being home 24/7, but it is nice to have someone to kiss on the lips and talk to nice to carry on a very normal human-cat relationship. Word on the street is the SPCA is desperate for people to adopt right now. As of the date published, the Montreal branch is still operating, and you can adopt by making an appointment.
  6. What else… okay a lot of people are doing live instagram shows right now, but my absolute favourite is Kate Bradley’s show “I Din Jus Wake Up.” You can catch it by following @redrandom and tuning in at 11am on weekdays. She is a staple in the Montreal Improv Comedy community and the show is hilarious. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to watch famous people I don’t know right now doing high-budget productions… I want to watch people in their pyjamas, drinking whiskey at 11am, yelling at their dogs and singing along to their in-house karaoke machine.
  7. Long walks. I don’t know how much longer this will be kosher, but as long as you can safely stay 6 feet away from people, going on 1-3 hour walks every day reminds me my muscles have a purpose other than bending over to pick up a chip I dropped on the floor before eating it. I particularly really enjoy watching other solo walkers sitting on a rock in the park, a smile on their face, just taking it all in. They get it. There is still so much beauty in the world.
  8. Okay so of course I still drink and smoke the green things and watch Netflix. Just, as little as possible. And I most definitely avoid anything too stress-inducing. Contagion? Pandemic?!? Jesus people what are you thinking?!? Here are my Netflix recommendations for creating a blissful bubble of ignorance for a little while: Self-Made. Please Like Me. Love is Blind. Feel Good. Queer Eye. Glow. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Lady Dynamite. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The End of the F***ing World. Sex Education. Freaks and Geeks. Lovesick. Salt Fat Acid Heat. Easy. And yeah yeah, that tiger show.
  9. If you follow me on Facebook, it may seem like I have been extremely productive. In all reality, I spend most of my days sitting around on the couch wrapped in a 20lb blanket. But what I’ve taken to doing on my whiteboard fridge calendar that was previously reserved for anticipating my crazy work schedule, is RETROACTIVELY writing one thing on it every day that I did that made me happy. ONE THING. I’m not making a list of all the things I want to do or should do, I’m just going about my day doing what feels right, and then usually by the end of the day, one things pops out as somewhat useful.

Notice I added a couple of frowny-face “fails,” because while infuriating at the time, they were essential to my finally conquering said goal the next day. (That question mark for anybody wondering marks the day when I will probably erase more weeks out of my work schedule.)

You know what, I’m going to stop at 9. Because those are legit all the things that are getting me through this, and a 10th thing would be trying too hard. And this time is all about “less is more.” Let’s be okay with ourselves at our laziest, at our saddest, at our most vulnerable. If other people are being super productive and you’re not, who the fuck cares. If you see people enjoying meals with their loved ones and you’re all alone, let yourself feel sad. But don’t run to the booze the second you feel uncomfortable. Try to figure out how to give yourself what you’ve turned to other people and vices to get up until now. Trust me, you have everything you need.

I left my Heart in Paris and my Appendix in Berlin

Last year in early March, I was so stressed out from working up a high-stakes violin audition, living with a (now ex) boyfriend who was incapable of love, and getting bombarded by walls of anxiety texts from friends looking for advice or validation; that I downloaded an app that literally kicks you off your phone and MAKES YOU PAY to get back on. It’s called “Off the Grid,” and it is AMAZING. I made it so that friends could only solicit my emotional labour from 9-10am, and 5-7pm. (Realistically the problem was my boyfriend but I didn’t figure that out until 7 months later) On top of the $100/month I already pay for my phone bill, I added on another $5.95/month to have unlimited use of 5 apps that ensure my daily survival: Music, Clock, Transit, Google Maps* and Uber; plus the threat of a $1.29 penalty fee per infraction just to be able to NOT USE MY PHONE. (*I have zero sense of direction and there’s no way I’m going back to that dark time when my phone was in a repair shop for 2 months and I had to hand-draw maps in advance of every single place I went.)

I know what you’re thinking, “Do you have literally no self-control?!” “Can’t you just like, not respond to texts?! Or tell your friends to find a therapist??” And the answer is, nope. It stresses me out beyond belief to leave walls of text hanging in the air, unanswered, because I care WAY too much about other people’s needs. I’d probably help a complete stranger move during the apocalypse if they begged me nicely. I think because I’ve been disappointed so many times and know how it feels, I never want to be the one doing it to others. (I’m aware this needs re-evaluation)

Anyway, I was pretty excited to go on a 2-week tour to Europe with the Montreal Symphony in mid-March; to get out of the half-snow half-slush hellscape of Montreal and see a hint of spring. Embrace some new surroundings so I didn’t feel so tied to my phone. I could feel my anxiety dissipating already… I just had to pack my suitcase and get myself to the airport.

After a few days of extreme packing because I overthink everything, I’d finally assembled the perfect suitcase. All my outfits and shoes are perfectly planned out to accommodate the most possible color coordination combos; I have enough socks and underwear to defy all logic; travel pillow, travel blanket; some tasteful scarves to disguise the fact I’m wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row… 5 hours before my transatlantic flight, I’m making a last minute swap. The white blouse will match my jeans AND the green skirt while the purple one only really matches my jeans… when I get a whiff of a familiar scent from my suitcase.

It’s cat pee. My boyfriend’s cat has rage-pissed all over my beautifully packed suitcase, mirroring the way his human treats me in perfect feline symmetry. All over the clothing, books, inside my shoes… in and amongst the suitcase lining. I start frantically throwing all the clothes in the wash, hand-washing my black suede shoes in the bathtub (*tear*), and DOUSING my suitcase lining with baking soda, scrubbing it with hydrogen peroxide, then vacuuming all the powder up like some sort of hobo dry-cleaning service. I fucking HUSTLED, and made it to the airport smelling only a little bit like urine.            

WANTED: For Petty Pee

When I got to Germany, they had lost my suitcase, but I didn’t even care. I’d made it to a land without snow. I almost immediately started indulging in the local diet of beer, bread and sausage, and continued to do so for the next 12 days. I got constipated. Like, really constipated. So constipated I had to stop eating because there was no room for anything else… I felt like shit. I mean, I was probably 80% shit. But at this point I had a horrible cramp in my lower right side, a fever, and no appetite. Do these symptoms sound familiar to anyone? Yeah I hadn’t eaten too many brats, I had fucking appendicitis. I just didn’t know it yet.

For the last few days of my trip after the tour was done, I’d booked an AirBnb in Berlin to do some exploring, but all I wanted to do when I got there was go to my room, collapse on my bed and let the darkness consume me. Thing is, I had saved TWENTY WHOLE BUCKS by booking a “shared apartment” with a chain-smoking, neurotic old German lady with a penchant for leaving dildo boxes out in the open; who made it her business to knock on my door every few minutes to give me tips on Berlin or more rules to follow in her apartment. The Parliament Building is a “must-see, it’ll only take 6-7 hours. (I’d rather die) No eating or drinking in bed. (Where else am I supposed to do it?!) Don’t turn on the heat. But if you must, shut your window.

At one point I’m sitting on my bed fresh out of a hot shower, window wide open and heat on full blast, trying to simultaneously warm up and cool down from fever flashes. I’m so exhausted from pain I’m just staring at the wall. She comes in, ignores the fact I look like I’m about to drop dead, and asks me to squeegee her glass shower stall and then dry it with a towel. So here I am, appendix about to burst and kill me, on my hands and knees drying out her fucking shower so it doesn’t get water spots. Why? Because heaven forbid I disappoint this weird German lady.

After I finish, I calmly call an Uber to escort me to Emergency.

I leave most of my things in my room because I’m convinced the doctor will just push on my belly and I’ll let out a big fart or something and go back home… but he confirms I need to have my appendix removed the next morning and spend three days in the hospital recovering. I’d left my cell phone charger, my toothbrush, every single piece of clothing I’d packed… wet… and hanging to dry all over my room because of course I took advantage of the free laundry. But the last thing I want to do is contact my crackpot air bnb host to bring me all my things. So post-surgery, I just rest in my nifty hospital bed being doted on by nurses that don’t speak my language as my phone battery fizzles out; wearing half a paper-thin gown and hospital issued mesh underwear that broadcasts my entire ass to other hospital guests every time I walk to the washroom. I’m overcome with this feeling… Complete bliss.

I’ve been upgraded to “Off the Grid” premium, where for only $5000…

Living my Best Life

Death to the Internet

It’s March 15, 2020 and the world is in lock down. A few days ago, when EVERYTHING was cancelled for the foreseeable future, my first reaction was Cool! A chance to slow down, get creative, connect with those around me on a deep level and start thinking about how to grow as a society. Well, after a minor panic at losing all my income as a freelance artist that is. I am an optimist almost to a fault and some may call me crazy, but I believe the Universe (some call it God, some The Force…) knows exactly what it’s doing. This may seem devastating, but something bigger is at play here. I have been dreaming of something that would wake us all up… something that would scare us into making big, collective changes. If we can band together to reduce the impact of coronavirus on the healthcare system, maybe we can do something similar for climate change! Maybe people will realize what’s important! It’s not “work;” it’s Family! Health! Toilet paper! Maybe by cancelling all live concerts and events, people will realize just how important artists are to a community! With all this time off, I can lean into my writing, develop my professional website, learn some new repertoire on violin, do some improvisation with all my special effects pedals, work on my solo show…

And then I went on Facebook.

Facebook (or insert any other form of social media) is a dark, dark place right now. Sure it’s full of people offering support and information, but mostly it’s people freaking the fuck out. Sharing articles on how we are 2 weeks from becoming a cesspool of disease and suffering. Coronavirus is making it’s way here from Italy quicker than pizza did in the late 50’s. (Yes I looked that up) People starting innocent threads that turn into angry emoji bloodbaths, with some internet cowboy on their high horse preaching about how THEY’RE doing things and how anybody who has a different perspective is clearly a flat-earther. I can’t. Stop. Reading. It’s partially for survival, partially because it’s FASCINATING. Before I know it, it’s 11:30 at night, my blood is boiling, and I haven’t done anything that actually makes me happy.

A “quarantined musician’s schedule” has been going around social media that my friend @auditionplaybook had the good sense to edit, and I don’t think it could be more accurate:

It’s HARD to be productive when you’re burning to a crisp in the flames of your own anxiety!!

I’m finding myself wishing that the internet would somehow just stop working. Maybe we can still call our friends and family, we can still get essential news, but the internet… just… dies. Would it be so bad if all we could do for 2 weeks is read, write, play music, cook, meditate, and go on walks? I mean, we used to live that way, didn’t we?! I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat a while back where EVERYTHING was taken away: no phone, no books, no writing material. It was definitely “social isolation” in the sense that so much as making EYE CONTACT with fellow leg-crossers was forbidden, let alone any other form of communication. All I had to entertain myself was my own neurotic brain. (And two hairy legs with a set of tweezers) Did I go crazy? Well, yes. But after 4 or 5 days, I learned to slow down, and relish in the tiniest of details. How the sky looks completely different every day. How the greens in the tree leaves are the most vibrant just after it has rained. The woman in the cafeteria who manually peels her apple with her teeth, spitting out each partial spiral onto her plate and then looking at her bald apple with pride, before consuming it along with the spit-covered peels anyway. At the end of the 10 days, I was BLISSED the FUCK OUT because I had learned how to be fully present.

The moment my phone was handed back to me in a ziplock bag along with my keys, wallet, and contraband peanut butter, a surge of anxiety went through my body. This small hunk of glorified garbage has the power to send my brain catapulting in all directions. Did my boyfriend, who I got in a huge fight with before I left, text me? Notre Dame cathedral BURNED DOWN?! Ooh better post about how much better of a person I am now because I did this retreat… #sospiritual… Crap, nobody is liking it, should I change the wording so it sounds more humble?! Fuck it, delete…

We are ALL holding the one ring in our pockets. Within minutes of taking them into our hands, we are flooded with feelings of anger, jealousy, anxiety, greed, narcissism. In this Lord of the Rings analogy, replace Sauron, the dark lord who created the ring in the fiery pit of a volcano with… Capitalism. Whoa. Didn’t think we’d end up here, but I’m pretty sure I’m a genius. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety over the next few weeks, just turn off your phone and focus on those little details. What it sounds like outside with no angry rush hour honking. How your thick winter blanket wrapped tightly around you feels almost like a hug. How your cat’s breath smells, as he meows 2 inches from your face, begging for dinner 1 hour after dinner. Like rotten fish.

#sospiritual

Music for a Funeral

Yesterday for the first time in years, I played violin at a funeral. I hesitated when I was asked to do the gig a few days ago, by a dear colleague for a death in his family; because of the horrible travel time to pay ratio on a precious Saturday off, yes, but also… I cry when other people cry. I used to tease my mom when she would cry during a sad movie or so much as a sappy commercial about a family shopping for furniture at Ikea; but I’m realizing as I age, I am turning into a blubbery overly-empathetic mess.

And that doesn’t exactly make it easier to play sad music, contrary to what you might think. It makes it a whole hell of a lot harder; my shaky tense arm shitting all over the soft wistful beginnings and oh God why does it have to end on a high sustained harmonic…not to mention all the tears blurring my eyes making me unable to discern between sharps and flats, playing a disturbingly happy version of Schindler’s List. Nobody wants to see the musicians crying at a funeral!! Just like nobody wants to see the priest crying, unable to get through the words. We are on the Titanic, and something needs to remain stable while everything around us sinks. The musicians must go on.

So I take some deep breaths before walking into the church, and put up as much of a “wall” as I can muster to keep all my emotions inside. Ah, this must be how men feel.  

Upon entering however, I’m struck with how happy people seem! Wow, maybe I won’t need this wall after all! The guest of honor (is that morbid?!) passed in her wisest old years, a life lived to the fullest. This seems more like a celebration of life, a gathering of loved ones to reconnect and share stories, than a dark somber affair. I breathe a sigh of relief.

That is until the woman’s eldest son comes up to speak. There is something about watching a grown man, unable to get his words out while remembering his mother because he is fighting so hard not to cry. The energy in the room starts to shift. Oh God. Now they want me to play this slow beautiful ethereal piece… KEEP IT TOGETHER LAUREN!! I pull my violin, and my wall up; and get through the piece somewhat successfully. Those slight shakes in the long notes are a deliberate musical choice dammit!!

As the ceremony draws to a close, the priest walks over to the coffin and holds an incense bowl at the foot, letting smoke gracefully twirl and dance over this woman’s final resting place while a soprano sings one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Mother Fuck. I can hear it start in the front row… those very people that were all smiles and laughter when I first walked in are now hunched into themselves, Kleenex in hand, sobbing. Audibly. My wall starts to crumble. As though they’re doing “the wave” in a football stadium, the sobbing spreads to the back of the room and EVERYBODY is crying now. HOW the CRAP is this singer KEEPING HER COOL?!? I am so relieved I don’t have to play this one.

As I’m sitting here, taking it all in, my chest burning and my eyes welling up… it strikes me, what an honour this is. To be able to give these people such a beautiful release. Music has this incredible power to allow people to take their walls down and really process their emotions. If we were playing happy upbeat music, they might have stayed in that “celebratory” mode from earlier, but because we are playing slow, beautiful sad music, they feel safe to cry. They know it’s okay to be sad. That we will be up here playing until it’s all over, so they feel no pressure to do anything but reflect on their loss. They don’t need to talk to anybody; they don’t need to smile and pretend everything is okay. We are their protection when they are at their most vulnerable.

And so I build my wall one last time, but I build it big enough to surround everyone. I am strong so they don’t have to be. I take a deep breath, and make it through the last piece.

How to be Sick and Single

Despite getting the flu shot a month or so ago when I thought for a hot second that it would make me immune to coronavirus, I came down with a nasty cold this week. Most people have the luxury of taking a few days off of work when they’re sick, but I’m a freelance musician! So you better believe I’m marching that cold into work and sharing my germs like it’s Christmas because orchestra subs don’t get sick leave. If you miss one rehearsal, you miss the whole week and hence the whole week’s pay. Do I care about my colleagues enough to forfeit $substantial amount of money that I depend on to pay my 4-figure rent just so they don’t catch my minor cold? No, no I don’t.

Lucky for me (and my 80 or so colleagues) I had 2 days off before the week’s concert cycle began to shank my cold, and I think I did a pretty amazing job. I don’t think I’ve had somebody take care of me when I was sick since I was young and still living with my mom, and I’m okay with that. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love it if a guy I was dating brought me some soup and a flash drive full of movies to watch together while slowly rubbing my back; but I am REALLY good at taking care of myself, so I thought I’d share some tips.

  • Start stockpiling bones NOW. Chicken bones, you weirdo. Plop that carcass of whatever bone-laden roast you made for dinner in a freezer-safe ziplock bag and into the freezer. Then as soon as you have a free day to chill at home, make a bone broth* in your instant pot. (If you don’t have one of these, get one! You can make things that take hours on the stove in a fraction of the time) *If you’re vegetarian, stockpile the ends of all your veggies: peels, cores, roots, whatever; and make a veggie stock. Chuck a whole bulb of garlic in there, it’s a natural antibiotic.
  • Save 1 litre of this bone broth and whip up a chicken soup (Or do this at your next convenience, but I like to just do it all in one evening while trying to dance to afrobeats and drinking vodka)
  • Now take your freezer-safe ziplocks and freeze all the goodness you just made into 2 cup portions. Next time you’re sick, you’ve already got buttloads of homemade soup and broth to sip, made by the person who loves you most! *wipes away a small tear*
  • At the first sign of a tickly throat, start popping Cold-FX twice a day. I swear this stuff works though at $25 a bottle, you might as well just buy whisky
  • Get yourself to a grocery store before you become a walking snott blanket and stock up on gatorade, saltine crackers, oranges, lemons, ginger, honey and trashy magazines. You won’t really need the gatorade or crackers for a cold, but they’ll come in handy the next time you drink too much tequila/eat bad sushi/contract a trendy virus
  • Every morning for the duration of your cold, blend or shake about 1 cup of orange juice, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of honey, a knob of grated ginger, and a pinch of cayenne and drink before you eat anything.
  • Use your cold as an excuse to bail on ALL the things
  • Put on your best fleece onesie and order enough food from UberEats for 8 people. Tell them you won’t be needing 8 plastic fucking forks though because that’s bad for the environment. 2 will be fine. (Your UberEats driver mustn’t know you are eating all this food by yourself)
  • Have the food delivered directly to your blanket fort.
  • Coerce your cat into the blanket fort and use a wrestling hold to force him to cuddle. If no cat is available, fill up a hot water bottle and hug it, whispering “I love you” until it feels real.
  • Then, when you inevitably have to go to work still kindof sick, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little Sudafed to give people the illusion that you are healthy. Just don’t be a dick; use hand sanitizer every time you fuck up and sneeze or cough into your hand like an animal, and don’t ask to try a sip of your friend’s oat milk latte.