Montreal·Indelible Ink

How many more sleeps?

I'm sure many people have planned out their lives while crouching in a foxhole, but I don't think I could be one of them. I'm starting to peek over the edge, though.

I still think hope is absurd. But I've accepted that it is also necessary

Pedestrians cross a snowy street in Montreal. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC)

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It's been two years. Before that, I had been living through a two-year shutdown of my own.

Two years of burnout. Two years of dragging one foot after the other, drudging through the daily annoyances of the before times. Commuting. Depressing news. A creeping boredom with activities that passed the time without marking it. More commuting. It's a sad little laugh that escapes me when I tell myself, "those were the good old days."

2020 was supposed to be my easy year. I'm gilded with privilege, so every year is easy compared to most of the other eight billion people here. But knowing I'm lucky doesn't magically restructure my brain. I had crawled to the finish line after completing a self-imposed gauntlet of projects, and was starting to recover the ability to plan again. To imagine things that might grow over months and years of creative work, instead of simply reaching the point of unburdening as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I spent years commuting from the 'burbs to the Plateau, through some of the worst contortions in this city's transit system. Life was a bohemian delight of festivals and artsy hanging about once I arrived, but the back-and-forth made me feel like a serial tourist. 2020 was the year I moved within walking distance of a Metro station and started thinking of my life as a full-time Montrealer. Popping into cafés on a whim, dropping in on creative types with hastily acquired dep wine in hand. It was finally going to happen.

Barely a month into my new life, the shutdown happened. No more lingering in artsy corners, no popping in on friends. I was locked down, nowhere more so than in my head. I've always been pessimistic and overly cautious, and my scientific literacy gave me lots of reasons to indulge in these tendencies. So began 24 months of feeling frozen in place, vigilantly scanning the horizon for threats.

It wasn't all bad; I started writing, I continued to read voraciously and I found some podcasts that made me feel less alone. These momentary escapes from dread were necessary, and helpful. But they failed to restore the promise that I had before the world stopped — that I was finally going to figure out what to do with myself.

I'm sure many people have planned out their lives while crouching in a foxhole, but I don't think I could be one of them. I'm starting to peek over the edge, though.

I'd be the last person to demand, or expect, that things "get back to normal." I wasn't a fan of "normal" anyhow, with its failing democracies and spiralling technological disasters and wholesale ecological destruction. But if I don't start planning a life within or beyond those horizons of livable catastrophe, I'm just resigning myself to animal survival. People write great novels during wars. They find love worthy of sonnets during famines. And they are doing it right now, with COVID added to their troubles.

Early on in this pandemic, I and other like-minded people joked that we just wanted to hibernate until we were vaccinated (back when vaccination was the finish line of this grim marathon). And hibernate I did, digging in and shutting down. Real, metabolically depressed hibernation would have been healthier, if only to preclude the reading of news.

Someday soon, however, I will wake up with the urge to do something. Something that will continue to draw my aspirations and efforts for days and months to come. Something to embrace rather than evade. Spring is coming. How many more sleeps?

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Mike O'Brien is a Montreal writer with a focus on philosophical, political and ecological issues. His work has appeared at and the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. He is also an occasional educator, moderator, editor, photographer and stage performer.


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