I had such a great plan, before CoVid-19 changed us. A working car-trip across Canada to Banff residency in the summer or fall (Banff is of course now closed, all programs cancelled into early fall), an artist residency in the Shetland Islands for a month, where the shore meets the land and the land calls to my soul. A beautiful story of seeking out my ancestral story, rooted in Scotland, but so deeply connected to Canada. A working study of the migrations of people, because of poverty, climate, famine, colonialism – humans move constantly now, as water does.

If water stops moving, it stagnates. This is rare though, since water will eventually find a way to flow even if through evaporation, then into rain. People are like that too, by nature. It’s my observation, so far at least, that humans will eventually find a way to transform themselves and their circumstance – in some direction. Those who don’t are the most miserable.

If ever there was a recipe for simultaneous, global human transformation, this would be it, right now. Here we are in week four of self-isolation, and all our outer quests have become inwardly turned questions. We’re all on a new level of RIGHT NOW: parents full time with their kids, partners full time with all the fault lines in their relationship; writers full time with their blocks (and no cafe’s to write in); siblings with their mutual woundings; extroverts climbing the walls and narcissists in denial.

I’m on my own, with a foster cat. Not a problem, I say, in the first week. I’ve been in self-imposed isolation for a over a year here in Hamilton – a city where I know perhaps three people socially. In the second week I get lost in news, definitely stagnant, as the truth sinks in and statistics climb.

In week three I realize how wide open and vulnerable I am in this solitary space. I’ve become deeply grateful for Cat’s presence and companionship, since I miss simple touch beyond what I could have imagined. I realize how relational I am, and how I must now relate meaningfully with ME – there is no one else, no one else is coming. I can’t hide from my own gaze; my heart, my ache and my joy is all right there on the table (or the floor, depending). There’s a lot I can see that I love, but also much that I’m deeply, richly uncomfortable with. In my bones I know that this long isolation is going to change me, permanently.

I am afraid – of everything I can sense but don’t understand. Then I realize I’m okay. Safe, just not in control. Thank heavens for the old trees in Gage Park. I lean on them, and into them.

It’s in week three that I go back into the studio. I’ve been avoiding it but now the building is closed to the public, and very few people are there working. What a relief, to be stretching those muscles, flowing again. After some good forward motion with my commission work I try out the online instructions* for a DIY cloth face mask, on a whim – not difficult, even for a pretend sewer.

I have a great old 1956 Singer and plenty of black and white thread; I see the stash of batik fabric I’ve been hauling around for three years and there’s enough to make a modest social media gesture – I will make and send a cloth face mask to you gratis if you need one – PM me your address & colour preferences.

I Imagine making ten or so, perhaps 20 over the next week, but over the next 3 days I receive orders for 100. Donations too – generous ones – to cover the cost of making and delivering. Orders continue to come in steadily, every day.

The first 12 are urgent – high-risk friends and family. I make them – oh so slowly, in retrospect – then drive 3 hours north to deliver them, personally, invisibly: I’m outside your house right now, will leave in your mailbox.

Home late the next evening I’m feeling overwhelmed by the response. …so okay, but what about my other work? and how do I triage these orders, from front line delivery folk to L’arche workers to Factory workers to people with high risk health issues and wow everyone in my family needs these too… What ARE the delivery costs, then? No idea. Orders from BC, Quebec, and five cities in Ontario so far – I did say anywhere, didn’t I. Damnit.

I figure out a system that could fulfil 100+ orders in a relatively short time, and learn how to be more efficient. I also figure out that if I want to to keep making and sending these masks, I need to cover my costs in this time of no-income. Inspired by Hamilton’s hugely successful 541 Eatery and Exchange I build a model whereby those who can afford to donate are given a pay-it-forward figure – one that will make the project sustainable for me (tho not profitable, on principle), and also include a percentage towards a mask for someone who needs it but is financially stretched, for whatever reason.

Orders keep coming in.

didn’t take pictures today, but here’s a pre-isolation Toronto photo from February. Seven weeks ago.

In Toronto this afternoon I drive past familiar and loved places, now closed and inaccessible. Old apartments, my beloved B&B, Dufferin and College, Parkdale, Queen East. Two masks there (high risk), three here (high risk), two more there (front line worker). The streets are like ghosts.

I’m still working on the Water/ Human Migration research project. I’m collecting tree stories from people (that’s another post). I’m working with these marvellous commissions which teach me more than I’d ever imagined a project could – so very appropriate to now.

And I’m making cloth face masks, too, for whomever needs them.

If you need a cloth face mask (or a few), please write to me here: keira@keiramcarthur.ca. I would be happy and honoured to make and send what you need. If you are able to donate, the minimum suggested donation is $10 per mask. $20 pays for someone else who is stretched and some delivery costs… etc. $200 which pays it forward to a bunch of people, and their mask deliveries (thank you thank you to the generous person who did this – I just ordered more supplies with your help). Wait time depends on the triage – health risks and front line workers are top priority – I’ll give you an estimate for when you can expect them.

*If you’d like to make your own, then Hooray!! Here’s the link to the instructions I’m using: https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Cloth-Face-Mask/. I like it because the masks are reversible (fashion or mood options – black or pink today?), there’s a sturdy nose wire (mine require pliers to bend and anchor nicely on the face), they require high thread count cotton or cotton / poly (which I have a fair amount of) and most importantly, they are hand-washable – so, re-useable.

2 Comments

  1. A reflective commentary on the stillness yet urgency of this moment in time. Beautiful masks. My task for next week as my work has now become manageable. Thank you for sharing the pattern and being an inspiration. xo

  2. Finely crafted words Keira, we are likening this time to metamorphosis. And thank you for sharing your mask pattern. Daughter Rachel in Montreal is already stitching. Will be sewing for family and friends and think of you as I stitch.

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