What does kindness look like during a pandemic? When I go for walks, neighbours smile, wave, or say hello. At the grocery store, every exchange with a person seems more meaningful than the time before the pandemic. We look each other in the eyes as though to say, I see you, do you see me. Have you noticed the kindness and warmth in your community too?
This morning I finished reading the last 10 pages of Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear. For the last few days, I’ve held onto these pages so the book wouldn’t come to the end. Do you have books that you savour?
Birds and books always catch my attention.
Yesterday I watched two female cardinals and a male cardinal in the apple blossom tree out my front window. Some days it’s crows, cawing first to say hello, I’m here and then performing air acrobats above the tree line. Lately, chickadees peek in the windows, likely wondering why I’m still in the house.
My life stories are writing themselves now. This isn’t an easy time and I feel grateful for what I have. A warm house. Stable income. Delicious food. Loving friends and family. Books to read. Poems to write. A lake nearby that I can walk to. The beauty of winter. Sightings of hawks and geese and crows that remind me we will be okay.
It’s natural to write life stories for ourselves about the way our days and years should go. We write stories about our careers, our relationships, and personal goals. From mapping out each chapter of where we should be and what we should be doing to deciding how our character will grow and change within a set time frame, we are master storytellers.
Lately I’ve been inspired by air. Breath. Space. Sky. Flight. It started with John O’Donohue’s poetry last Spring. I started reading one of his poems every morning as a way to focus my attention for the day. While walking by the lake, I reflected on a line or a theme from his poetry, trying to connect to the world in the way I connected to his words.
Over the break I ordered Disney+ so I could watch ‘The Mandalorian’ and the movie ‘Soul.’ Then I started watching other things. The Maleficent movies. Hamilton again. Mulan. The element of air was prominent in each of them through storylines connected to flight, breath, inspiration, and the use of sky and space. Even the musical Hamilton has a song: Blow Us All Away.
Air is an essential metaphor and element.
Before the winter break, students asked their teachers as they walked out to the buses, “will you be my teacher when I come back?” We all felt the energy in the air shifting from enthusiasm for some holiday time to the worry for how long the holiday would last.
Back to school looks different this month. We return to school at home this morning. Children across the province attend classes online instead of in-person. Teachers wake up to step into their digital classrooms. Parents wonder how they will balance working from home and supervising their children.
We return to routine, yet the routines will be different. We return to learning, yet the learning will require more diligence and perseverance. Change is rarely easy.
Going deeper into character…
What do people/characters need to feel a sense of balance and well-being? How can we use this as writers to throw character’s lives off balance and/or restore balance?
Google Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and then relate the ideas to your protagonist, finding new ways for your character to change. Maslow created a theory in psychology for what humans need, often represented in a pyramid. Physiological needs are on the bottom with basic things like food, water, sleep, breathing, sex. Moving up from the base of triangle are safety, love and belonging, and esteem to self-actualization at the triangle’s tip.
For example: What if my character loses her house, how does it affect her relationships? What if she doesn’t have problem-solving skills? How will she cope? How would the story be affected if a friend tries to support her, but she doesn’t understand friendship? What events would I need to include in the story to help her to achieve her goals?
You can watch me read my 2021 New Year’s Day poem for the Mayor’s Levee launched in the Virtual Levee.
The River Under the Road
under the road flows a river
always moving in one direction
even when we forget it’s there
the current, like a heartbeat
presses on just the same
all of us home
maybe a white door
leads to a road lined
with coffees like warm luminaries
inviting friends, new and old
to join in community
maybe a yellow window
opens to a road lined
with clocks like adored toys
welcoming family, then and now
to join in relationship
maybe a red wall
hides a road lined
with canaries like lost choirs
carrying news, mine and yours
to join in song
maybe a black floor
covers a road lined
with candles like joyful children
shining hope, peace and love
to join in light
under the road flows a river—
we make the road
by redefining its lines
always rebuilding our homes
along our road together
By Jessica Outram
Written for January 1, 2021
Mayor’s New Year’s Levee