The more I think about it, the more I like that title. Everything seems temporary right now. With most of us at home — because we’re either telecommuting or out of a job — and with the future being a bit vague, it feels as if we’re in a holding pattern. It’s an odd sensation. I’m at a loss for how to push forward under the circumstances.

But I try. This week I have a brief story, and a few other odds and ends. Temporary life is difficult to describe in an exciting way, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to bear with me.

The last time we bought TP was many weeks ago, before all the Covid-19 panic buying / hoarding. In the before-times we purchased it at the local superstore, which meant we bought in bulk. When things went sideways we had a good supply on hand, but with time it has been reduced. As a result I’ve pondered the acquisition of more TP.

It’s not that simple, as you probably know. I’ve been the one risking life and disease by venturing to the grocery store during the lock down. I have not seen TP available for purchase on any of my visits. I might have noted people carrying some during an early shopping run, but at the time it wasn’t on my list and if it was in stock I didn’t pick any up. Rookie mistake. On all subsequent outings I’ve been sure to check the paper products aisle. They’ve always been empty. Always.

I am not a hoarder, but the math is simple. If it takes three or four weeks to find and purchase a thing, I need three or four week’s supply of that thing on hand to get through to the next chance to buy it, right? On Wednesday I decided to tackle the approaching lack of TP.

I’ve read that the real problem is not actually hoarding at the moment, though that was an issue early on. Instead, it seems that TP production is split into two supply chains: retail and commercial. The two products are different in many ways: quality, packaging, delivery mechanisms, and even producers. And it’s not simple for commercial manufacturers to switch to producing for the retail market. Also, because TP is a low profit margin product there is no excess capacity in the factories. They’re already running 24x7 and really can’t increase production much.

Foreshadowing: I’m not sure I believe all of that anymore.

The theory is that with so many people now at home, they need more TP where they actually are and less at work. And of course office buildings need less, now that they are mostly empty. At some level, that argument makes logical sense, and it agrees with anecdotal stories I’ve heard about people going to pick up take-out and getting a roll of commercial TP from the restaurant in the process. After all, the restaurant has no dine-in customers, so their need is reduced. And if they can sell it (or give it away… I don’t know the details) why not?

A weirdly related oddity is that the house we rent is so old the TP dispenser is smaller than a current standard roll. Most rolls we buy don’t fit into it until they’ve been used a bit. It is possible to buy smaller rolls that work, but not in the giant packages available at the superstore. As a result, we’ve developed a system where a new — larger — roll is hung on the doorknob with a bit of macrame we had laying around. Once it’s been reduced in size it gets moved to the regular dispenser, and a new larger roll is hung on the door. Crazy, I know, but it works.

The important point is that any size roll can be hung on the doorknob, even a giant one intended for commercial institutions.

With all of that in mind, on Wednesday morning I opened up my web browser, searched for [ commercial toilet paper ] and found a Canadian wholesale supplier in the results. But it turns out there’s a note at the top of the page listing their various TP options. It says something like: “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, TP products are in short supply. Each detail page notes whether a given product is in stock or on back order.”

Ahem. Commercial TP on back order? That doesn’t agree with there being gobs of it to go around because everyone is at home. I am confused.

That’s the payoff for the above mentioned foreshadowing, just in case you missed it.

Anyway, it turned out that three of their nine TP options were on back order, and six were available for purchase. Fine. I picked one at random, threw it in the cart and went to checkout. There I learn the supplier is in Ontario, so this will ship via UPS and take a while to get here. That’s also fine. We should have enough left for it to arrive. I am solving the future problem, not an immediate need. I place the order and pay $19 (CAD) in shipping costs. This may be expensive TP, but it is TP, and it will get here eventually.

You already know where this is going, don’t you? More foreshadowing!

Just before lunch I walked to the neighbourhood Safeway to buy fruit and milk. Outside the store I put on an ancient, disposable N95 mask I had laying around from my old stone carving classes back in California, and covered it with a bandana to keep the mask clean. I also put on a pair of disposable vinyl gloves from a box we’ve had around for a long time too. I looked like a rather odd bank robber as I entered the store. (I need a set of blinking antenna to go with this outfit, just for fun.)

And in the store? Well, I found milk and fruit, as expected. I also found both whole wheat and dark rye flour, which we were running low on, but which were not critical. And, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, there was TP on the shelf. Not a lot, to be sure. There was only one brand, only one packaging style, and customers were limited to only one per visit, but it was there. Twelve rolls, wrapped in plastic. As if the universe was taunting me for my online purchase not two hours before.

I bought it. The commercial stuff will be fine in the event that we completely run out, and I don’t think anyone will accuse me of hoarding under the circumstances.

And there might be a related piece of art that comes of this. Hear me out:

Imagine a large, deep frame hung on the wall. Inside are — at least — the following items: one giant roll of commercial toilet paper, a package of yeast, a piece of paper bearing the URL of a video conferencing software platform, and several other more-or-less non-perishable things that I have yet to pick. Covering all of these is a sheet of glass. And in the back, in large, dark red letters, are the words:

In Case Of Pandemic Break Glass

If you come visit someday — assuming that is ever possible again — you might see that hanging in our home. Perhaps even on the wall of the guest bedroom. We’d be well prepared hosts, don’t you think?

If you have suggestions for other items that should be included in this work, please send them to me.

A postscript to the TP tale: On Thursday morning I read a news article about the best time to go grocery shopping during the pandemic. It turns out grocery stores are least busy on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. If they’ve managed to restock, perhaps those are the best times to find TP on the shelves. And it might explain my luck. In any case, avoid weekends. Even when working at home, people want to shop on weekends. Oh, and also avoid the superstores. Neighbourhood stores are less crowded. If you’re trying to avoid exposure to the virus, fewer people is a good thing.

A postscript to the postscript: As I walked to the grocery store I noted a very long line of people down the sidewalk in the shopping centre. At first I thought it was for the Safeway. I was about to give up and try again later when I noted a gap in the line. It stopped before the store I wanted. Turns out it was for the liquor store. The grocery store was only lightly in use, but the liquor store was in heavy demand and they were lining customers up outside to reduce exposure. I guess I know how at least some Canadians are coping with recent events.

I am still making art, or at least trying. At the moment, I am playing with three media with differing levels of success and enthusiasm:

  • Paper folding
  • Tablet based image creation
  • Stone carving

In the paper folding world, I have been stymied by this for a while:

That’s my latest folding pattern. In folded tessellations, the rows normally alternate direction, and reinforce each other. Also, the folds of one row (or column, in the orientation of that image) meet the next row/column over. As you can see, though, I’ve violated both of those principles in this case. Folding the result is not simple. I’ve worked on it a bit and gotten nowhere, but I have not given up. The lack of motivation is a challenge that I have yet to overcome, but I will keep working at this as I can. There are things to learn from it, even if I declare it a failure.

The next option — tablet based art — is the result of an email exchange with one of my readers. It turns out her daughter (a fellow student at school, which is how we know each other) has a new drawing tablet and has been working with that. I started to reply that I have no tablet and had been pondering buying one, but realized I have a Chromebook that becomes a tablet, and it has a stylus. Maybe I can use an art application on it to create something. At this point I’ve installed two apps and fiddled briefly. Nothing to show yet, but I might have something one of these days.

And finally, stone carving. Yes, really. Back to my roots.

I have several pieces of differently coloured soapstone that I bought for a sculpture class assignment at school, but that project shifted around quite a bit and become something else. I knew I’d use the stone eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And I was right. I’m using only hand tools, cutting it into small slabs with the plan to make hexagons out of them. Many hexagons. It will be a variation on the work I installed in the Langara library:

I don’t know if the new work will feature open or solid hexagons yet. I’ll figure that out later.

And of course the first issue I hit is obvious: the first hunk of soapstone has fissures in it, and several of the slabs I cut broke along them. Normally I would glue them back together with epoxy, but I don’t have any on hand. Technically I could go to a hardware store and get some, but that violates the spirit of the lock down, so I am testing a fix with wood glue. Soapstone is strange stuff, and it might be porous enough for this to work. I will figure it out.

It’s a dusty mess that I dislike making in suburbia, but it’s also something to do outdoors in the nice weather. Plus, it keeps me busy.

The single biggest time sink in the past week has been reviewing my friend’s novel as he writes it. That level of editing is mentally challenging, and I quite enjoy it, in addition to the story itself, which is fun too. I’m sure there will be more of that in the coming week, which is good.

Another thing happened today: the local transit district suspended the program that gives college students cheap transit passes. (In the absence of open schools, that totally makes sense.) Since I am done with school it doesn’t matter to me, but I was reminded of an entry in my calendar — once a month — to renew that pass. I went out and deleted that event, which prompted deeper thought than I’d expected.

The change in my calendar over the last few weeks is amazing. While school was on, I had all my classes in there, along with events for when the studios I needed were occupied by other classes, due dates for various assignments, and all the dates related to the grad show, not to mention oddball things like the monthly renewal of the transit pass. Now my calendar is nearly empty. Even without the current virus weirdness, I would be adrift at some level thanks to all this schedule change. Add Covid-19 to the mix and suddenly time has no meaning.

I’m far from the first person to point that out, but removing that event from my calendar drove the point home. Again.

Last week I shared a photo of dog hair in the yard, courtesy of Tinkerbelle. It was meant for the local birds to line their nests. On Thursday, I caught sight of this:

I’m pretty sure that is a mated pair of crows. Before they left both their beaks were full of hair, so there will be warm chicks in the area soon.

Life goes on, it seems, and that’s a happy note to end on.

Stay safe and healthy!

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.