Drifting in a Fog

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Have you ever been in a canoe in the fog? Paddling across a lake when it suddenly gets very misty and foggy and you can’t see in front of you, beyond a few feet? Your senses get all mixed up. The canoe rocks, and moves, but is it toward shore or away? You can’t tell. Time sort of stops. If the fog is very dense, it messes with your perception of up and down. The last time this happened to Hubby, he said he slipped down from his seat and sat in the bottom of the canoe. Feeling an odd sense of vertigo, not sure if he would suddenly tip into the lake, he just sat there quietly. He drifted in the fog, until the mist lifted a bit, and he felt confident enough to begin paddling again. Even the most competent and experienced of canoeists are messed up by fog.

Foggy morning in Algonquin Park.
Foggy morning in Algonquin Park

That’s kind of what the pandemic has been like for me. I’ve been drifting in a timeless fog. In a weird kind of stasis. Not moving backwards or forwards. Drifting. Seemingly endless days rolling out in front of me. I can’t see clearly enough into the future to do any planning. Or much planning, beyond what we will have for supper. And when we should walk or bike this week.

Oh, I’ve edited my closet and planned lots of outfits, duly documented on my blog. Outfits that I might never wear. The term “ready to wear” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Ha. I know we’re going more places now that we are in stage three of reopening. And for that I am very grateful. But this summer the usual markers of time have been suspended. And some days I forget they even existed.

Each July, Hubby and I look forward to the Tour de France with anticipation. We follow it on television faithfully each evening, and are inspired to log more miles on our bikes during the day. Yesterday, when we were biking, I said in amazement to Hubby that we’d missed the Tour, and we hadn’t even “missed” it. If you know what I mean.

Each August Hubby and I make our pilgrimage east. And have almost every year since we’ve been together. Not this year. New Brunswick still has entrance restrictions on visitors from Ontario. I understand that. But still, this year it seems that I am longing for home, more than I usually do. And even though I’ve been waiting and waiting for the borders to reopen, it seems that time has passed without my knowing it. Like living in a time vacuum. The other day, I suddenly realized that Mum’s birthday is coming up soon. Her birthday usually marks the end of our stay down east. We have always made the long drive back to Ottawa at the beginning of the last week of August. In time to prepare for whatever fall had in store for us.

In the past, when I was still working, August would be a bit fraught. I’d be contentedly enjoying my time at home, and then remember with a jolt all the work I’d have to do to get ready for school when we returned. But once back, I’d throw myself into prepping, go into school to get my classroom ready, meet excitedly with colleagues I hadn’t seen since June. And, of course, shop for fall clothes.

Since retirement, most years after our September camping trip, I’ve been excitedly planning and packing for fall travel. 2014 Costa Rica, 2016 New York, 2017 England, 2018 Italy, 2019 Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 2020 was to be Africa. Sigh. Guess I won’t be needing that new safari jacket I was eyeing in the spring. Just kidding. Well, mostly.

Fog enclosing the Rideau River.
Foggy morning on the Rideau.

But if August is tough for me this year, difficult to plan or look ahead beyond tomorrow, or maybe even next week, my teacher friends are having an excruciating August. Schools are scheduled to reopen in September. They are about to return to work, and what their future at work will look like is still very much obscured by fog. How their classrooms will look, how many students they will have, how much actual teaching they’ll be able to do is still most decidedly up in the air. And let’s not even get into the health risks.

Most of my teacher friends are secondary teachers like me. Secondary students in our board are to return for a half-time in-class schedule supported by on-line learning. Whatever that means. Will teachers have a small class they teach every other day, repeating the same lesson the next day to a different group, while students work on assignments during their “off” day? Should they forge ahead with the curriculum each day with 50% of kids in the classroom, and 50% of the kids following the same topic at home on-line? Should they cut courses to only the most essential skills necessary to move onto the next level? Will they need to double prep each unit for in-class teaching and on-line? So many organizational questions have yet to be answered before curriculum planning can begin in earnest.

And as my wise friend, and former colleague, Jo points out, teaching the grade level curriculum may not be teachers’ first priority. Students will have had vastly different learning experiences last school year. Some students completed their grade level course first semester, others had only completed a little over a month of their course when schools shut in March. Some kids continued to make progress, working diligently on their on-line learning in the spring. Others did not.

Some kids had an extended holiday, enjoying time with family, making TikTok videos, and baking brownies. Others were thrust into stressful, and even emotionally or financially precarious home situations. Parents and kids tried vainly to share the family computer, not to mention limited work space and privacy, to do their own work from home. Others parents lost their jobs, or perhaps were working every day in the front lines of health care. So helping kids to deal with the fall-out from last year, and navigate a return to school in a time of masks and constant sanitizing will be teachers’ first priority.

Part of me is very glad that I’m not still teaching. But part of me wants to roll up my sleeves, call a department meeting, and have us all work as a team sharing the work and supporting each other. Planning shorter units, culling others altogether, working the experiences of the past year into the curriculum. Scary change is not so daunting when accompanied by good laughs with colleagues, and washed down with a beer and some pizza afterwards. Enjoyed in someone’s back yard, suitable socially distanced, of course. I know I probably sound all Pollyanna-ish to those who are facing a return to work during this scary time. And I’ve not even addressed the health risks, the wearing of masks, and the endless sanitizing. And for that I apologize.

Fog lifting on the Rideau River.
I guess we all wish we could see the future a little more clearly.

I know I can’t help my friends who are returning to work during a pandemic, but maybe I can steal some of that Pollyanna attitude for my own near future. Roll up my sleeves and do some short term organizing, and even a little long term planning, dates unspecified of course. Maybe that will help clear the fog for me.

I think that several issues have arisen during this pandemic that we can tackle even if we are still sheltering at home or wearing masks and staying six feet away from everyone. For instance, I’ve been researching which two Black Lives Matter books I will suggest to my book club on Saturday. We’re pursuing that theme for the next few months. I’m thinking we’ll be reading some wonderful books, and learning a lot together. I’ll tell you about the books we’ve chosen next week.

As for my fog-clearing planning, short term and long, I’ll get back to you on that too.

You know, I don’t mind drifting some of the time. Having the odd day of aimless reading and tea drinking is okay by me. Always has been. I used to be accused of walking around in a fog most of the time when I was a kid. My mind always wandering off to whatever book I was reading when I was supposed to be doing something useful… like dusting or peeling potatoes. I’m still like that. But there does come a time when drifting in a fog can be a bit much. And it’s time to move. Like Hubby in the canoe when the fog began to lift, I think it’s time I resumed my seat and picked up my paddle.

September has always seemed like more of a New Year for me than January. Time for new challenges. New adventures. And if we’re sad that the new adventures will not be like the adventures we’ve had in the past, well, we’d better get over that. Because according to a lot of really smart people we should probably start thinking about what a world after Covid-19 will be like.

The video below is Malcolm Gladwell talking about the post-Covid-19 world. I’ve not finished watching it yet. Have a listen if you’re interested. And you can watch and listen to all the Munk Dialogues here. They are wonderful.

So, have you felt as if the past few months have been drifting by, like paddling a canoe in the fog?

Note: The “schedule” of in-class learning combined with on-line learning for the public school board where my friends work was officially made public the day after I published this post. But I didn’t amend my post because, quite frankly, the timetable is so confusing, that it raises more questions than it answers. Like how in heck can teachers be teaching a class in-person when at the same time they are scheduled to be on-line assisting kids learning at home? Ha. Don’t ask me, I’m retired. As I said to my young friends at a socially-distanced, backyard drinks party last night: Just get through this. Survive as best as you can. So you can be around to help kids when things are more sane.

P.S. And if you want to help the people in Beruit, you can donate here.

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50 thoughts on “Drifting in a Fog”

  1. Once again Susan, you have reached deep into my soul, plucked out my thoughts, longings and insecurities, and elucidated them in a way that is so on point. Not a secondary teacher, but a retired elementary school administrator, I have lately alternated days of fog and inactivity with frantic bursts of forming game plans in my head, for how I would handle setting up for a return to school. I am thankful that the responsibility is no longer mine, but like you, would have embraced the challenge with enthusiasm.

    Know that your writing is a beacon in the fog of this unusual season.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts, Sue. They so well express our current state and the fog of not-knowing-ness in which we’re all caught. Years ago, when our girls were small, a heavy fog rolled in suddenly while we were sailing. We did not then have a GPS; Paul navigated with charts and compass and slide rule. In deference to the shining white which enclosed us, he replanned our route to follow the marks which were closest together rather than those which were most direct to our destination. I try to remember that sometimes. To give up on what would otherwise seem the most direct and peer into the shining for the nearer signs and string the route that roundabout way. Tackle those near-term tasks you mention and try to trust that the fog will lift to permit some longer-term planning! As for teaching — well, as of last week, one university for which I reached changed its plan from (part) in-person to all online. There’s some planning to redo! Although as I’d never come up with a satisfactory answer to the questions you list in your post, I’m not ungrateful. (This aside from health/masks/etc.)

  3. Oh yes, fog here too. A mostly retired college professor generally glad not to have to put all my classes online since my great joy in teaching was the personal interaction with students. But then I find myself signing up to be a social studies tutor for high school students who did poorly last spring on their online classes. It’s chaos here in Florida with the schools supposed to open five days a week, but high infection rates will probably means the schools will open and close repeatedly so the best we retirees can do is try to help the students not fall through the cracks as the fog swirls around us.

  4. Sometimes. I try not to think too far ahead because it is unimaginable – can we return to something we recognise or will it all be changed forever? I actually think best – quite calmly – at about 5am, which is when I have taken to waking up. And I am getting very good at planning day-by-day, little increments. Mostly I avoid doom-mongers and Pollyannas alike and plough my own furrow. In some ways, the end of the old busy-busy-busy fashion suits me very well and I was never much convinced by it at the best of times.

    1. I also love the end of the busy, busy, busy hamster wheel. And those who were always sooo much busier than others. I always suspected that that some of that busyness was self-inflicted. No time to read or exercise because they were always too busy? Really?

  5. This is exactly how I feel to. Weaving in and out of a fog with occasional burst of sunshine then more fog. Here in Brisbane, Australia we can travel around the State but interstate travel is precarious with New South Wales and Victoria locked out for travel. Normally we would be on trips away now but it just seems too risky to leave Queensland.
    I also seem to see-saw between being Pollyanna and then wearing my cranky pants! This might be the new world and we just have to get used to it.

    1. I didn’t realize that you had interstate travel restrictions like we have here. I mean we CAN travel, just that we have to self-isolate for 14 days when we get there, and for 14 days when we get home.

  6. So thought- provoking, Sue! You are a harbinger of retirement life in the future for me, and I alternate being jealous with fascination with the milestones one inserts into a life no longer defined by the work calendar. I’ll bet you would have been great to have as a department head! I do not envy anyone who has to navigate these waters, either teachers or my bus-driver husband, or those of us higher education. Glad your book club is tackling racism. I’m in a similar study group myself.

  7. Yes,thought-provoking and describing similars situations the majority of us are in. I’m a planner,always was and always there was something to look for. I find myself not enjoying some things that were important in my “previous” life at all…..Similar to you,a huge amount of my friends are doctors,some of them GP’s,still working. I’m afraid for them,but also afraid to meet with them….
    Not seeing your mother must be the most painful thing……
    Than I say to myself:count your blessings (and one of them is that we can stay at home-and have one-although I guess I’ll be more bold and curageous if I were working ),there are so many still,help where you can,do what you can and hope for the best…..
    Dottoressa

    1. Not seeing Mum does weigh on me. I’m afraid that something will happen before I can get down there. But she assures me that she’s fine and doing okay. I respond by sending more books. 🙂

  8. What a good analogy, but I hope we aren’t at the vertiginous thick fog you described! Here in southern California, I can still hear those who think they can barge ahead through the fog. It’s frustrating.

    My brother is a bicycle race fan (one time he visited me when the “Tour of California” came near us. I wondered about not hearing anything about the Tour de France, and quickly looked it up. Instead of starting June 27, it looks like they have delayed it until August 29. So if you do find yourself missing it, you haven’t missed it yet! (If you can understand)

    1. Yes… there are always those that don’t slow down in a fog and are an accident waiting to happen.
      P.S. I’m going to go look up the Tour schedule right now!

  9. You’ve got us all thinking again & it is appropriately misty here this morning . The sun will break through though , as it does . There is a real sense of drifting as you say . They’re aiming to get the schools open again here soon but it’s all up in the air , as so much is now .My nephew is tattered trying to do the best for his twelve year old son . Running his own business from home whilst home educating a bright youngster is a lot of pressure . To prove his point he set one of our zoom quizzes around Cian’s homework – that was one very low scoring quiz !
    Our generation here in the UK has had an easy ride compared to previous ones . We’ve had a tricky few months & I don’t see it ending soon but when I think of my parents coping with WW2 & all it entailed we’re still quite fortunate – and we’ve had six months , they had six years . The old cliche of living for today really applies just now .

    1. It’s good to have a reminder of the privations suffered by those who lived through the war. Although we didn’t feel them at home over here like you guys did. Have you seen that series all about a small French village during WWII? My friend watched it and said it was brilliant. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere we subscribe to. We must be the last people who do not have Netflicks.

      1. We do have Netflix – really enjoyed the French series ‘ Call My Agent ‘ but over here ‘ A French Village ‘ is on amazon prime & we don’t have that . There’s only so many streaming services we can find time for ( I’ve got to get this book pile down 😁)

      2. We watched five seasons of Un Village Français on Netflix here and in France–and then I guess Netflix didn’t renew it and we couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, with perfect timing at the beginning of our Phase I Stay-Home restrictions, I found that it was available on MHzChoice, and we subscribed for a few months — well worth the price, especially since we then followed up by watching all of Montalbano, also available there. Subtitles in English.

  10. Yes. “Yes” to your post and “yes” to every comment. Drifting in a fog…grateful I can comfortably stay home…relieved I no longer have to do school…thinking of how this is nothing compared to WWII. Thank you all for this community.

  11. Excellent post, thank you. Today is my oldest daughter’s first day of school, the district finally made the decision last week it would be all online until October. She has been teaching for years, but this will be totally new, especially, as she says things change from minute to minute. I am grateful that my grandchildren are learning from home, worrying about them and my children was taking a toll. Life after coronavirus….that gives me hope that the fog will clear…that coronavirus can be cured, or some how gotten under control. We all just need to stay well and hang on, make it to shore safely.

  12. Lianne MacGregor

    Have you thought about volunteering? I’m heading back to the classroom to support students who’ve fallen behind, working in small groups of two or three. I haven’t taught in several years (two careers ago) but I can’t think of anything better to do with the empty weeks that lay ahead of me. Just a thought. Also, my husband and I had planned a trip to Africa in February 2021. Not likely, but hopefully someday!

  13. Oh yes, I’ve been driving a boat in fog — once with my then 12-year-old son who enthusiastically tooted the warning air horn all across the small channel we were crossing. . . . and once on my own. And I have to say what a difference it makes to have a companion in such circumstances. The sense of being completely alone, cut off from the world, isn’t one I’m keen to repeat much as this introvert loves her solitude. . . So your company during this pandemic fog is very welcome. In fact, your post functions like those leader boats I tried to keep in my sight when heading away from the dock, knowing we had the same destination “in town.” . .
    And for other guides along the way, I’ve a variety of activities that make some sense of the time (lessness!). . . .simple, repetitive ones like bread-baking and mask-making, and also ones that accumulate and build on skills — my Italian and French classes. Some days, I want that first marker to be very close by, to encourage me forward when the fog seems present the moment I open my eyes. Today was such a day. Your post helped. So did the comments of your wise readers.Thank you! xo

    1. I can imagine you were in a boat in numerous foggy days when you lived on your island. I’m hoping to learn about video editing this fall. I’m doing my research, and hoping to carve out time every week to work on that. I think it would be so much fun. As well as maybe researching another trip, but I’m not sure that I can persuade Stu to even think about that at the moment.

  14. Thank you for this post, it stirred so many thoughts. Mainly they were about people who like to be busy most of the time and people who like solitude and reflection. Finally, is it possible to have a balance of the two? I remember we were asked to choose a favourite poem at school and I chose “Leisure” by W H Davies. It starts with the lines : What is this life if full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare? I don’t think my view has changed much since then! There has been a feeling here in the UK that we are “losing a summer”
    My mother always felt angry that her generation lost six years of their youth in WW11. So lets get this thing in perspective.

    1. I do think it’s possible to have a mix of busyness and time for reflection. But like everything in retirement we have to organize it ourselves. And I’m okay with that. I like it actually. I find I am less and less able to allow someone else to dictate the course of my days.

  15. As a fellow retired teacher, I identify with so much of what you’ve said today! I’m particularly concerned for my daughter-in-law who is returning to teaching after being on maternity leave (not an actual maternity… they adopted two children last November and she stayed home for the rest of the year to focus on “family building”).

    Even in retirement, September has always felt like New Years to me too, but I suspect that this year, it will just be an extension of the fog!

    PS. Thanks for reminding me that I hadn’t even given any thought to what to make for dinner tonight! I stopped mid read and made a quick trip to the freezer to pull something out!

  16. Sue, as always very wise writing. I have forwarded this post to various friends. The description of the fog is exactly where we find ourselves right now.
    I hope and believe that in the near future the fog will lift, and we will be able resume our new lives, I don’t expect things to magically return to previous normal ways.

    Our generation has been so very fortunate. We took it all for granted.
    Ali

    1. You’re right, Ali. I think things will be quite different for a while. We have been fortunate, haven’t we. Both in the past and right now. At least I have been, more fortunate than many, many others.

  17. Agreeing with much that you (and others) have said. Existing in a fog. Unsure when it may lift.

    Living within 1/2 mile of the Chesapeake Bay, thick fogs are not uncommon. When it happens, I usually stand on my back deck and listen to the deep, mournful foghorns from the huge ships sailing up and down the bay from the Atlantic Ocean to the port in Baltimore. That mournful sound seems appropriate for some of these lost days–missing family and friends.

  18. Oh how I wish the dreamy, peaceful fog in your photos was the fog in my head! My head-fog is basically like walking around without my glasses on, and I can’t find them, and I know I can’t see, so I squeeze my eyes together hoping for a clear picture, but I still can’t see anything. I’m losing words. I start a book and lose it in the house. I called one of my twin nieces the wrong name yesterday. This must be a defence mechanism that my brain is doing to prevent me from thinking too much, as I am one of those teacher friends that Sue has mentioned. Normally, I’d be carefully planning for the school year at this time. Normally, I’d be feeling both excitement and some anxiety about going back to work. Normally, I’d be thinking about which of my Fluevogs would like to be on my feet for the first day. However, this year there is no planning, no excitement to go with the anxiety, and my focus is on learning to wear face masks and projecting my voice instead of caring about footwear (shhhh…don’t tell the shoes I said that). Sue, just as you wrote about missing out on the Tour and a trip down home, I think we can all attest to missing out on something that was a ritual or a schedule or a part of the regular routine of our lives. And it’s sad, right? As every weekend went by this spring and summer, I said, there goes that running race. That triathlon is cancelled. That trip will have to be postponed. That camp for my kids is not being offered. That sport for my kids has ended. We need events to experiences to add to our memories, and we need something to look forward to, and while this will return some day, aren’t we all wondering….when? How much longer are we waiting for….something? I guess my only trick that has worked for coping has been in shifting my attitude and teaching my children to do the same. The future for us means tomorrow – I refuse to think long-term now. And something exciting wasn’t a trip to Nova Scotia this summer, it was watching the veggies grow in our new planters. And our new family mantra is “It’s better than nothing.” If hockey can happen in the fall, it might just be practices this year – no games. It’s better than nothing! If I am able to get out of my house to teach live a few mornings this year, it’s better than nothing! And although my parents won’t permit visits once we all return to school this fall (the 4 of us attend/work in 4 different schools), I’m going to teach them how to video chat until we can see them next July, and this will be better than nothing! So I guess that’s why I have brain fog: my entire way of operating, thinking, parenting, and interacting with the world has changed. Perhaps fog is better than clearly seeing everything right now…

    1. Ah, Jo. Hang in there my friend. I know that you will. “Better than nothing” works for me. Harder on kids, though. I saw a little girl in a mask and her mum shopping for school backpacks yesterday. That kid was pumped about going back to school. In fact I saw numerous little kids wearing masks and all seemed totally unaware of them, not pulling at them etc etc. Hopefully they will be ready to wear them all day in September. Stu was wondering what they are doing about Phys Ed classes. They certainly can’t have kids running around the gym. Health classes all semester, maybe?

  19. Hello Sue,

    I feel your analogy of paddling a canoe in the fog describes the past months perfectly. A Friend asked if I felt this was the worst year ever and I had to say no, it’s just different. Certainly at my age (66) I have lived through what I would categorize as worse years than this. Perhaps living through those times has built the strength I need to be able to paddle through this fog.

    I really appreciate the introduction to the Munk Dialogues. My Husband and I enjoyed listening to the conversation with Malcolm Gladwell and feel he had some very good observations.

    Sue, you replied to Judith that you love all the commenters on your blog and how wise they are and I would agree. Whether your post is about fashion, travel, books or current events, I just love reading all the comments! I know that is the reason it takes me so long to go through your posts. Your Blog is also the only one I ever feel comfortable posting a comment to. You have created a wonderful community with your Blog Sue, thank you.

    Glenda
    XO

    1. I agree. It’s not my worst year ever, by a long shot. But it sure has been weird, and a bit lonely at times. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, Glenda.

  20. Ann in Missouri

    Thank you SO MUCH for the link to that Monk Debate with Malcolm Gladwell. I just finished watching it. I wonder how he’s feeling about things in August, compared to how his views back in April (when that was recorded).

    I’ve now signed up for a basic (free) Monk Debates membership and will be watching many other online conversations.

  21. I just watched the entire Munk podcast. Gladwell was amazing but at the very end he was very moving. Ir brought tears to my eyes. Be sure to listen to the last question and answer. Thank you for for introducing us to this podcast. I learned so much.

  22. It’s been foggy here too, both literally and metaphorically. I was okay during our early lockdown, organised, making adjustments and getting on with everything as best I could. Then a personal fog engulfed me and stopped me in my tracks. Happily, I emerged from my stasis about 7 weeks ago and I’ve been more content and much nicer to be around, well mostly. Attending to the basics always helps – finding structure in my days, exercise, meditation, eating well, making time for things I enjoy, reaching out to others, and taking some calculated risks within the bounds of our pandemic restrictions, like driving to the beach or going to shops a little further away than necessary. I don’t know why these simple things seem out of reach sometimes. Learning new things helps too, like your Black Lives Matter studies and my online short-course on finance,

    You write so beautifully and movingly, with clarity and balance. Have you ever been tempted to try longer-form writing?

  23. A wonderful post Sue! I will come back to the video you included (why am I too “busy” now to tune in???). I will also look forward to your reading list. I have deviated from my usual fare, mainly novels including some Canadian authors you’ve highlighted. I decided to sample from a reading list sent out by my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. I also live in Minnesota, very near where George Floyd died. I randomly picked Degrees of Freedom by William Green, and was amazed to learn so much Black history about my own community Post civil war. Literally, references to streets and places I know. I think many of us who live in states that outlawed slavery feel that we have played no role in the ongoing discrimination that has taken place, that this was all about the South. I now know differently. We learned so little in school about anything besides Lincoln freeing the slaves, but there is so much more to know and understand. So I will tackle some more reading from this list. I hope that learning about this history will increase my understanding of the anger and frustration of Black people in my community. I will deepen my knowledge of how we got where we are.

    1. Thanks, Deanne. That book sounds really interesting. We’ve chosen our books for my book club…including several BLM themed books. I’ll write a post about that soon.

  24. This a great post. So on point to life with the pandemic. I feel aimless, furloughed and happy about that since I’m 65. But now rudderless and not able to accomplish all I want to with this new free time. Funny how the days are so full and you wonder how did I manage life and a job? And now have some serious health issues in spite of feeling like I am a young 65. It’s discouraging and more so in this time of being shut down from the normal things that make you find some joy—seeing friends and going places. The only silver lining is my sister moved back from NYC finding an apt for a year while fleeing covid in NYC. Thank god I have her to be close by and we can at least be together as family without masks!

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