Letters from the Pandemic 4: Dear Diary

Dear Diary
by Bob Foulkes


I am approaching the mid-point in my GLS program; by April 2021, I will be three-quarters done. I am devouring courses. They are my lifeboat in the storm of the pandemic. They give me purpose, discipline, structure, puzzles, and paradigm shifts to fill the emptiness created by our temporary self-isolation.

GLS has also gifted me something unexpected. At lunch recently, a long-time friend asked me a simple question. “What have you gained from this late-in-life return to academia?” This, at least, is my polite paraphrasing of his more pithy, slightly profane, and pointed query.

I had an instant one word answer: “uncertainty.”

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

His look of incredulity only deepened. I went on to explain that, at this late stage in my life, most of what I had come to believe was true had been cast into doubt. Instead of succumbing to a “hardening of the attitudes” often seen in men of a certain age, everything seemed … messy.

My GLS studies were the cause. Our readings, our professors’ clarifications, and my colleagues’ conflicting perspectives ignited an exploration of dualities: reason vs passion, debate vs dogma, simple vs complicated, clear vs muddy, straightforward vs nuanced, and ambiguity vs certainty.

Bertrand Russell. Photo courtesy The Bertrand Russell Society

My Covid-forced isolation inflated and conflated this intellectual turmoil, multiplying my doubt and filling me with unsettling uncertainty. The Covid crisis seemed to say that nothing could be taken for granted ever again, that everything was changing, that nothing would be the same.

Facing this turmoil, I take consolation in the wisdom of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who wrote in 1951 that “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”[1]

There is hope.

Yours in uncertainty,

Bob Foulkes


Bob Foulkes

The GLS program has become Bob Foulkes’s latest adventure and self-administered antidote to the perils of the pandemic lockdown. He is a retired business executive, running away from boredom and restlessness and making up for lost time by stuffing as many adventures into his awake time as possible. He has written two books, Adventures with Knives, chronicling his attempt at culinary education at Granville Island’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, and Off the Couch and Out the Door, a story of travel adventures and misadventures. He now blogs intermittently.


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The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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[1] Bertrand Russell from New Hopes for a Changing World (1951), reprinted in Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Denonn (editors), The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (London: Routledge Classics, 2009), p. 676.

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3 comments on “Letters from the Pandemic 4: Dear Diary

  1. LOVE THIS: “Instead of succumbing to a “hardening of the attitudes” often seen in men of a certain age, everything seemed … messy.” HUZZAH to that, I say, Bob!

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