One of the musical voices I counted on to cheer me up over the past 18 months was that of Carsie Blanton. She bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Ozark’s Ruth, played by Julia Garner, who is my favourite character in the series. The resemblance is somewhat more than skin deep, as both Carsie and Ruth are intelligent young women who take charge of their lives and are not afraid to say what they think. That’s about where the similarities end, though: Ruth is immersed in the underbelly of drug trafficking and money laundering and is capable of murder when the circumstances warrant it, while Carsie uses her voice to make the world a better place.
For much of the pandemic, she offered monthly online performances to raise money for the members of her band who were out of work. Called “Pay the Rent,” these shows were a mix of great music and exhortations to get out there and do something to improve the state of the world. My partner and I watched many of these performances and, whatever my state of mind at the beginning of the show, it was always better by the end.
Her song “Buck Up,” became my pandemic anthem:
“Buck up, baby, come on, sic ‘em/Make ‘em laugh if you can’t lick ‘em/Keep on shining like you know you should/When it gets bad, that’s how you get ‘em good.”
Vaxxed and ready to go
With a new album (yes, a genuine record, as well as CD and digital versions), Carsie is back on the road although, unfortunately, has no plans to come to Canada. Her shows are vaccine-required.
As she recently posted:
“Talking to strangers feels precious, faces feel precious. Visits from friends, restaurant tables, new clothes. Gigs! . . . We spent an extra-long year contemplating the enormity of the tragedy. We grieved, raged, organized, and got into therapy. We lost jobs, applied for unemployment, helped our friends do the same. We wore masks, stayed home, read the news and cried.
Now, it’s time to celebrate. Our lungs still work and we live in a precious world. This tragedy will continue, like the others. You have permission to risk delight.
“To those still in lockdown: there is light at the end. Book your flights and call your lovers. I’m still working on loving everybody alive. Music helps.”
On the road again
While I’m not stepping onto a stage with a guitar and a band, I am, somewhat more modestly, back on the road myself.
Last Sunday, my partner — who doubles as my driver when I have to go a long way for a work gig — and I headed north three hours to a small community where I spent the day delivering an orientation session to the Board of Directors of a violence against women organization. I’ve been working with this group of women for several years, usually seeing them in person every couple of months.
After 18 months of only Zoom and email contact, it was wonderful to be together in person. We kept our distance and were able to accommodate one woman who cares for her very elderly and frail parent. We had a meal together and talked and laughed in ways that, while not impossible online, are more difficult.
One woman had cut off her long braid, and I almost didn’t recognize her; others had let their hair grow. We all looked a bit wearied by the times we have been living through. I found the day to be both strange and normal; proof, I suppose, that we adapt to our circumstances shockingly quickly and easily.
Two days later, I was on the road again for work. This trip was a Luke’s Place staff day; our first since before the pandemic. Over the 18 months since we were last in the office, a couple of staff have left, one has been hired and left, another has returned from a 12-month mat leave and at least half a dozen new staff have joined the team.
Most of us have seen each other online, but I have found it strange to work with people for this long without ever having met them in person. We got together at an outdoor facility near the Luke’s Place office where we were able to spread out and feel comfortable taking off our masks.
Much of our discussion, once we had spent some time getting to know one another, was about when and how we would return to the office. It’s not going to be an easy thing to do. While some of us are itching to be together regularly for our work, others have flourished working from home and would be content to continue that arrangement.
I have more work outings ahead in the upcoming weeks, but one thing is clear from the two I have just had: we won’t be “getting back to normal” anytime soon or, more likely, ever. Instead, we’ll be creating new normals to reflect a world that has been forever changed because of COVID-19.
I’m up for that, as long as that new normal includes some live music, in-person contact with colleagues, friends and family and occasional meals in restaurants.