Pausing Time in Trying Times

Pausing Time in Trying Times

Posted on October 1 by Brent Van Staalduinen in Recent Releases, Teens
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Jennifer McCartney’s wonderful review of BOY, a sensitive meditation on my novel as a reflection of the stressful pause that COVID-19 has imposed on our lives, has followed me to Ottawa. This is a city not quite in motion, and McCartney’s observations seem particularly apt as I stroll around the downtown with my daughters, Alida, 4, and Nora, 7.

In my novel, Mara, a disgraced priest living in a culvert beneath the QEW, can stop and restart time at will. Boy, the main character, experiences the stoppage, but also the disorientating unspooling that occurs when Mara allows time to resume.

Ottawa feels a bit like that, early in that process, not yet at normal speed. On the drive in, I never faced more than a single red-light cycle. I had my choice of parking spot in the Byward Market, which is practically a sign of the apocalypse. The civil-servant shuffle, a Monday-to-Friday staple, is eerily absent. It feels like almost no one got the memo about Phase 3.

We walk up Wellington and find ourselves almost alone when we arrive at #111. Parliament Hill should not be this empty, especially at 10:00 a.m. on a summer Tuesday. Instead of throngs of photo-hungry tourists everywhere, there are more RCMP and PPS vehicles than visitors. Construction has reduced the space by half. Closed borders mean that the few faces in sight are Canadian. An outdated city web page shows the Changing of the Guard still happening, but in reality, it’s been cancelled. Instead of marching Governor General Foot Guards, bagpipes and drums, pomp and ceremony, and drill manoeuvres precise enough to hone a paring knife against, all we have is the whisper of light traffic and the sound of wind blowing between the buildings.

I know that normal is gone, but I grew up in Ottawa and still feel disoriented by what I’m not seeing and hearing. As we walk away from the seat of Canada’s government, I think about Mara and Boy and launching a novel about time into the middle of a pandemic, and try to keep my voice light as I answer Nora and Alida’s questions. They’re not thinking about time or this strange suspension we find ourselves in. They’re just eager to hear my suggestions about what we might do next.