thoughts from the porch

As an Australian, the Thanksgiving holiday doesn’t have the same resonance for me that it has for Americans. However, my own personal day of giving THANKS is Boxing Day. On the fateful day of December 26, 2012 I almost died from a stroke, but Julia came home to find me paralysed on the floor and rushed me to hospital, and I’m grateful for the reprieve. 

Even though 2020 has been a difficult year, I count myself very lucky to have a job and thankful that it can be done from HOME. Stroke survivors are in the ‘at risk’ category for covid infection, so I’m lucky to avoid a commute. I miss being at a working studio, and the close collaboration with my colleagues, but do not miss the process of getting there. Bay Area public transport is a filthy viral bath, the absolute worst place to avoid airborne creepy crawlies, and my gratitude in being spared that grueling grimy gauntlet knows no limit. Apart from the health/hygiene issues, my commute took a huge chunk out of my day; upwards of 3 hours, even if connections were smooth (which they weren’t) but now those hours are MINE again, to use as I please. Sleep in, catch up on work, draw personal projects, or simply hang out with Julia.

Julia & I are fortunate to live in an area with a lot of green space, where the vehicular traffic is light. It’s a very pleasant place to live, and this year I’ve acquired the habit of sitting on our little porch each day, to write emails or think about my work. Sitting outside (originally on folding picnic chairs) became such a part of my 2020 routine that Julia gave me an (early) Christmas present of some posh wicker furniture, complete with weatherproof comfy cushions. Lovely!

From our porch this year, I’ve become attuned to the rhythms & routines of our community. Not just the daily comings and goings of neighbours and mail carriers, but the movements of local pets & wild critters too. I’m frequently amused by the ongoing turf wars between our local crows and the seagulls who sometimes fly in from the nearby coast, agitating the crows no end, and I’ve learned several juicy crow cusswords (“Flock off!”). Now that humans seize any excuse to escape the confines of their homes, dogs are getting walked multiple times a day, smiling from ear to floppy ear.

With both Julia and I working at home together in our tiny flat, I did worry that we might drive each other stark raving bonkers during this lockdown, but that hasn’t happened, and I am very grateful for that too. Though crammed together in our space-capsule since March, we’ve gotten along together very well, and we each get out for frequent walks. We move at very different speeds, so our exercise is done separately, as my doddering pace wouldn’t be a workout for Julia and her speed would be too fast for me.

Anticipating a Christmas/New Year covid spike, San Francisco is currently in a full lockdown. Up till a few weeks ago however, restaurants with outside seating could serve meals on site, and a fave restaurant we used to frequent in the pre-covid era had tables outside under heat lamps, against the foggy climate. Visiting this old haunt, as we had already done countless times, was such a pleasant experience and somehow more special now than ever before. Similarly, I’ve been grateful for the occasional visits from friends, for a walk to a nearby sandwich place or bar. Simply sitting outside with pals for a meal or drink was a real treat. I look forward to restrictions being relaxed, so we can all enjoy such things again.

Like the real Thanksgiving, it has been my tradition since 2012 to celebrate my own day of THANKS by sharing a meal with a group of friends who were with me at the ground-zero of my crisis. I’m truly sad that I cannot do that in person this year. When the tallies are finally done, I suspect that covid won’t be the only medical issue of 2020. The lack of simple human connection will have taken a toll too, in a variety of ways that may take time to fully assess. In this year of distancing lockdowns, I think of the many people who live & work alone, had a medical emergency – just like I did – but had nobody to help them. In any other year, they’d have been more likely to get assistance but in 2020 they died alone (as happened to an ex-colleague a few months ago). Let’s keep up the physical distancing by all means, but maintain SOCIAL proximity, and check in with each other more than we’d normally do.

We’ve always had had a good rapport with our immediate neighbors; minding each other’s pets and so on, but this year we’ve gotten to know them much better, and we all agreed to get together for a physically distant (but socially close) potluck lunch on Christmas Eve in our shared courtyard. Each household brought food & drink and we all participated in a most marvelous meal, appreciated by everyone. 2020 has been full of moments like this, where a previously unremarkable event is suddenly imbued with a special aura, simply because we give it more care, attention and gratitude. The trick will be to hold onto those feelings when the ‘new normal’ gives way to the old normal again. Perhaps we can incorporate the best of the two ‘normals’ to create something new, with a better work/life balance.

Although I pause to reflect on my gifts on this anniversary day each year, it’s true to say that I’m still grateful every day for my second chance at LIFE. I haven’t yet forgotten how lucky I am to be above the grass, and hope I never do.

50 thoughts on “thoughts from the porch”

    • nice! We were thinking of getting a propane heater. It does get frosty sometimes, but i wonder if having an outdoor heater in California is overkill. Makes sense where YOU are though!

  1. The porch is a special place for a hundred reasons some of which you have articulated in your usual straight up manner. One of the many things I’m grateful for is the fact that I have you as a mate.

  2. Thank you Jamie. You’ve always had the rarest of gifts – the ability to put everyone at ease in just about every situation. Simple moments, fleeting moments, and big moments. And here you come in at a time of great pain and fear with another brilliant annual dispatch that puts it all in perspective. No matter how challenging a time, your gratefulness is contagious and just what we need.

  3. Happy Holidays Jamie. Another inspiring one. These always make me feel better about myself and everything around, which I can’t say much of anything else this year. Thank you!

  4. Hi James.
    My Dad sat on front porch in Armidale that faced north each day. He read paper, did crosswords and talked and
    Feed the magpie that come and took food from his hand. The magpie, kept coming months after he died.
    Hope 2021 is good to you. Baci

    • My Pop’s verandah had a bloody GREAT view across Armidale, likewise facing north. He didn’t have any tame maggies though! I miss Australia’s vivid birdlife. When I was home in Armidale last year to visit my Dad i loved seeing (and hearing) the galahs & cockatoos again. And the maggies and currawongs.

  5. Hey James. So nice to hear how you’ve survived the year! We’ve been very lucky here in your old home town and Covid hasn’t had as great an impact as in many other areas, but it has still been a challenge. I can’t imagine how it would be living in your part of the world. Heard yesterday that the son of a friend who lives in upstate New York has come down with the dreaded virus. I’m sure we all know people who have been touched in one way or another. Happy to hear that you are well and been able to keep working! Your Boxing Day celebration sounded like a great one. Always great to have a get together like that. Here’s hoping 2021 is a much more ‘normal’ year for all of us — whatever that may end up being. Thanks for keeping us in the loop. Stay safe and take care.

  6. Jamie… Great to see you perched on that front porch watching the world around you. It’s pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Never a dull moment, provided you teach yourself to actually see. As always, thanks for the inspiration as well as your steadfast refusal to join the International Society of Victims.

    • Yeah. Teaching ourselves to see. Exactly so.

      Great hearing from you, Brent, as always. I hope life down your way is treating you well. Hopefully when we’re all shot full of miracle drugs (and/or sinister microchips from outer space etc) we will be able to see each other again someday.

      Till then, there’s the Internet. Woo hoo!

  7. I’m a secret fan of your posts, Jamie, though not anymore, I guess. Your eloquent reflections are like a meditation. I always come away feeling more centered and peaceful. Gosh I’m glad you’re still gracing us with your presence and wisdom…and sense of humor. I agree that while there have been challenges, there’s so much about working from home that will be difficult to leave behind. Like having space to appreciate this gift of life! Thank you for that reminder. Happy 2021 (finally)!

  8. Happy New Year James! Wonderful to read your latest blog post. I hope 2021 will be good to us all. I can still vividly picture our stay in Rangoon, Burma and our bicycle tour in Pagan at dusk. Not to speak of the Irrawaddy river. Hopefully travel be possible soon again. Hope to see you again old chap!

    • Jan! great to hear from you, you old viking! I was recently looking through some of my photos of those events that you mention. Unfortunately it is hard to take an in-focus photo from the back of a moving bicycle, but they serve as fond reminders of a very happy time. I have posted a few FOCUSSED Burma shots on my IG photo account HERE:

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