Life interrupted – 6

We are still here, and it’s not bad. Except for Zoom meetings, they can get in the bin. The rest I’m dealing with even if I’ve got a very naughty cat who keeps escaping and needs cuddles in the middle of the night. I’m not bored or lonely, although there are moments when I intensely miss people and how easy the world was before.

While we have been at home, autumn has turned the leaves to red, orange and yellow. This year, they seem to be more beautiful than usual, as though they are saying “see, here’s what we can do without you”. They are blowing away now as the winds from south are heavier and a little bit more chilly. Winter will soon be here.

Autumn always makes me think of John Keat’s Ode to Autumn. There’s a joyfulness and urgency about the poem as though all the good things in life will be no more once winter comes. And I’ve been thinking a lot about ripening, harvesting and letting die away what no longer serves, for obvious reasons.

I’m finding poetry has the vibe for where I’m at right now. Within those perfectly formed verses, they express the full range of human experience. Its hugely comforting to know that other people have the same feelings, survived terrible times and thrived in a new world.

They have also helped in clarifying my thoughts about the multiple ways the world was a bit stuffed in pre-pandemic life. I could write a long list but poets Sonya Renee Taylor and Tom Foolery Probably have done it for me.

Of course not everything was bad, there was heaps of stuff that was great. And I was a happy functioning adult, with a good life and everything I needed. But life was becoming more and more constricted, like a tie being pulled tighter and tighter until you can’t breathe.

There was always so much to do – housework, job, church, garden, keep up with professional literature, meet friends, exercise, eat well, contribute to society and on and on. Life began to seem like a series of chores; weekends left me feeling overwhelmed with the all jobs I needed to get done, enjoyable things often lost their shine. I was tired all the time, regularly needing two hour naps on the weekend to even function.

I don’t want to go back to that life.

Nor the world that was full of greed and lobbyists; where ideology was more important than science, where we lock up refugees and don’t support the most vulnerable in our community. That messed up world where we were divided and didn’t realise we all needed each other.

I’ve spent a lot of the thinking about what I want my post-pandemic life to look like. It’s not a world of an hour plus twice daily commutes, or the rigidity of a 9-5 life. In my new world, there’s time to make a pot of tea in the mornings, lie on my lawn in the sun and contemplate the world.

But in a larger sense, for the world to be different, it means I need to be different too. You need to be in the world, the way you want the world to be. Though I’m just one person in six billion, collectively we are the world and all our choices ripple outwards.

Being different, will require deep and perhaps painful examination of choices, thinking and actions, though it’s not about blame or guilt. It comes from a place of acceptance that as a human you are flawed, that you may have a privilege denied others and trying to understand that and yourself, so you can do better. 

It’s been eight weeks since I’ve been in isolation and I’m not yet ready to return to the world. I feel like the world isn’t ready yet to return to the world. We need more time as John Keats writes to…

“fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more”

That is to say – we need more time to prepare the ground for something new.

Life Interrupted – 5

Going to the supermarket is at the best of times, not the best of times. They are noisy, there’s lots of people and way too much visual stimulation. It’s hard to know which is the correct aisle to find what I need and end up walking around as though in a labyrinth. I invariably forget to buy something because I’m hopeless at writing a list.

During these days of a global pandemic; with social distancing and panic buying, supermarkets are a bloody nightmare. Never has such a mundane task turned out to be so stressful. I am constantly aware of how close I am to people or they to me. I feel pressured to get in and out as fast as possible, which adds to the stress. 

Lots of posts on community Facebook pages scold people for being out shopping at all or seemingly taking their time while doing so. This is decidedly unhelpful, as not only are you worried about the person you passed in the aisle being Typhoid Mary, you are also hyper vigilant about who’s watching as look for something I need. 

I’ve never wanted to cry in the supermarket before and now it seems to be a regular occurrence. One day, I teared up because I wanted garbage bags but could only find sandwich bags. Being forced to stand on a spot to maintain social distancing and seeing supermarket workers, in masks and gloves is confronting. On another occasion I walked straight back out again because it was just a bit too much.

Like most people, at times I haven’t been able to find what I need – though this has largely been inconvenient rather than urgent. It has led to a few hilarious things like a friend and I  sending each other photos of successful toilet paper gathering missions. And my parents sending my sister a care pack filled with Weetbix because she couldn’t get any where she lives.

There’s some weird things too – I’m still not clear why I have to pack my own shopping bags when the person on the checkout has already touched everything. And have you ever tried picking up more than two pieces of fruit using the inside of a plastic bag – that’s a level of dexterity I’m yet to master.

I realise of course, there is a massive level of privilege in being able to go to a supermarket to buy what I need. And while much of this surreal, inconvenient and stressful, I’m not struggling to buy essential things because I still have a job in middle of the pandemic.

There are bigger questions here too, which I’m not able to fully articulate yet, about the essentials of normal life and freedom. But those thoughts will have to wait until I can go to the supermarket without planning it like a covert mission. Although, even when that happens, will just popping to the shops for a few essentials ever be the same again? Maybe not and maybe that will be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Interrupted – 4

I am not as upset as I should be about being unable to go to church over Easter. While these services are always great, this year, I have enjoyed the quiet contemplation of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection at home. On my own.

The experience for me was deeper and more meaningful; communion was with what I had on hand a hot cross bun and cup of tea, I was awake early and saw the sunrise. I read the story of the women who were the first to preach the good news and deeply felt their confusion, sorrow and joy.

I often think about the women in Jesus’s life. Mostly because when I was growing up we never talked about them, it was always Peter running to the tomb, Jesus appearing to the twelve, Thomas the doubter, the walk to Emmaus. But right there in print (and in all four gospels) – the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’s body and found the stone rolled away. They ran and told the disciples and became the first people to tell of Jesus’s resurrection.

In the world of Judah 2000 years ago, the women who followed Jesus must have be remarkable but we know almost nothing about them. A few are named but you only heat more about three of them Mary his mother, Martha and her sister Mary Magdalene (my biblical hero) who once sat at Jesus’s feet to hear him teach rather than serving him.

I wonder what attracted them to Jesus. Maybe they knew him through brothers or husbands and joined his movement this way. Or maybe, I’m speculating here, they threw away conventions because they saw the same thing in Jesus as I do 2000 years later and wanted to follow him.

My Jesus is deeply human – laughing readily, crying just as much; he was a loner even though surrounded by friends, he felt the pains and sorrows of others and just wanted to love them until it was better. If hugging was a thing, he would have been great at it, with just the right amount of arms and enfolding (think David Tennant in Doctor Who).

He also had an edge, a sense of power about him that could silence the most unruly mob with a look; he was unconventional, hanging out with outsiders. I love that he was a  nuisance to people in authority and didn’t hold back telling them what he thought or when they were wrong, which may or may not be my inspiration to do the same.

In an isolated pandemic world, where there are so many sorrows, the Jesus who wept over Jerusalem and was so distressed before his arrest that he sweated tears of blood is the message I need right now. That Jesus is so human that he completely understands where the world is and wants to sit with us, hold our hands and tell us it will be alright.

The Jesus I encountered this Easter is less about sin and more about radical love and compassion. Less about eternal life and more about using whatever talents I have to work towards the transformation of this world. For all the hardships in this current situation, I wouldn’t exchange this gift for all the church services in the world.

 

 

 

Life interrupted – 3

The subtitle to this edition is: nice things during self-isolation.

As a single person you kind of get used to your own company, but in the first week of self-isolation it was a struggle, I didn’t know how I was going to do this for months on end. Now, I’m kind of loving the peace and quiet and the more gentle pace of life. It feels like a gift and a time out of time to pause, reflect and just be.

I’m lucky though, I live somewhere with a bit of space around me. I’ve got a backyard and right opposite my house is a wetlands area with walking paths, frogs and birds. Side note: anyone else noticed the quiet and how lovely that is?

Like most people, I’ve been trying to do nice things to help get through the difficulties. Nice things for me make me smile or laugh, give me soul a little lift and remind me we are all in this together. I’m grateful to all the people who are lending their talents to entertain and ease my anxieties during this time.

So here’s a list of things, I’m finding that is bringing me joy during these hard days. (Will periodically add to this list as I come across things).

  1. I can’t go to the Ballet at the moment but I can stream it, thanks to The Australian Ballet streaming their productions for free.
  2. Samuel West is reading me poetry every night. He has a soothing voice and I am loving the ability poetry has to capture a moment, a feeling, to give hope and  perspective on the world. (Who’s Samuel West I hear you ask? – Mr Elliot in Persuasion and a bunch of other stuff too)
  3. Patrick Stewart is reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets and I can’t tell you how much I love this, it’s unedited, he makes mistakes and starts again and it’s completely delightful. You can find that on all the socials.
  4. During an afternoon work break, I sat in my reading chair and rubbed Heminway’s tummy for ages. He was enraptured and so I was.
  5. #ThorntonThursday – rewatching North and South with a bunch of likeminded humans on Twitter. I’m aiming for Wentworth Wednesday at some point too.
  6. Getting to make a pot of tea and drink out a tea cup every morning. Usually reserved only for weekends, I now have the time to make a pot of tea with leaves and drink it from a tea cup.
  7. Mozart – always
  8. Marigolds they are stunning with their orange and burnt umber flowers.
  9. Meeting some new trees in my neighbourhood
  10. Watching families together out for walks on my estate
  11. Having time to read
  12. Jigsaws – it feels very much like we have gone back in time and it’s utterly charming
  13. The place I bought roses sent me their brochure and can I just say I’m going to need more roses in my life.
  14. (New nice thing) Anyone notice how beautiful the autumn leaves are this year. Particularly loving the claret ash and their magnificent colours.
  15. (New nice thing) Households putting soft toys and rainbow drawings in windows and on pavements to let little people know that it will be alright. If there was a stronger symbol that we are all united and in this together I don’t know if I could find one.
  16. (New nice thing) Going to church in my pyjamas and doing Communion with whatever you have on hand. I’ve done it with a cup of tea, hot cross buns, oat cakes and water.
  17. (New nice thing) Some married friends are making funny videos of their self-isolation world, includes K-pop dancing, meat BBQing and it has a level of irony and snark that I need.
  18. (New nice thing) Seeing the cobwebs glistening on the grass on an autumn afternoon.
  19. (New nice thing) Watching Fitzgerald stalk cabbage moths and hide in the garden beds

So that’s it for now… I know this time is extremely worrying  and I’m in a very privileged position, there is much to be anxious about but I hope like me you are finding time for a few things that make you happy too.

Take care, stay home and breathe.

 

Life interrupted – 2

I put the iron away the other day. I’d pulled it out a few weeks ago to iron my summer work clothes but it seems I’ll be doing work meetings in casual gear for the foreseeable future.  By the time we get out of self-isolation, it will be winter or maybe even spring.

Working from home is not as much fun as they said it would be on the packet. It’s a strangely dehumanising experience, where your colleagues are now just a small square on a computer screen and the nuances of your interactions are blunted by technology. Getting technology to work, and consistently, adds to the stress and emotional labour.

The nature of the work I do means my team talk a lot during our work day.  Those conversations are now much harder and strangely formal, channeled into a few meetings or on a chat stream. They are okay but cannot replace the knowledge sharing, learning and rapport building which comes from a face-to-face interaction. And without these, work feels like it has been stripped of what makes it pleasurable and distilled down to a series of tasks: we may as well be robots.

It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity to see into my colleagues private spaces and seeing a part of their lives that you would rarely get to see. And the guest appearances by children and pets, is a little light relief. But I find I’m struggling with this, even as a person who is reasonably generous in sharing aspects of my life.

Right now, I want to burrow and protect myself and sharing images of myself in my house feels like I’m way too exposed. Don’t get me wrong, I like my team, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with the smudging of the lines between personal and professional. My home is a reflection of the raw and no barriers version of myself, and work feels like an intruder forcing itself into the sacred spaces where you are your most vulnerable.

Everyone I’ve spoken to is finding concentrating hard and productivity low. I  feel like I’m doing less than ever and are more exhausted by that small effort. I really want to be the person I was at work three weeks ago but honestly right now my heart just isn’t it it. I feel as if I need to focus my energy on surviving a global pandemic, not work.

I spoke to a friend on the phone, and she said everyone needs a bit of time to come to terms with what’s happening. She’s right, we are in shock and need time to process. Things have changed so rapidly that it is dizzying, just keeping up with the changes is a challenge, let alone having the time to process them emotionally.

I’m grateful that I have a supervisor who understands this, who has said we need to be kind to ourselves right now and just get through these next few months. My team is pretty indefatigable; we will do our best, rise to the challenge and all that but these first few days are hard. I’m looking forward to the Easter break.

Quite a few of my friends live alone, and we are all feeling the isolation. Even though many of us like our own company, a week or two of that will be enough to have us climbing the walls. We have organised regular catch-ups over Zoom or text. It’s been great in helping me feel less alone, and seems so so necessary to check in and make a safe space for people to say how they are feeling.

But I feel a deep sense of loss that I can’t just run up stairs and say hi to them, or eat lunch together in the tea room. Through government regulations and our choice to abide by them, we just can’t have the freedom to move about or go anywhere right now. We know it’s for the good of all but that doesn’t make it easier.

At MPOW, there are some good souls who are organising the work drinks, and the morning teas, who are posting fun stuff in the group chat area, and honestly we just so need them right now. Staying connected and supporting each other isn’t just nice, it’s necessary, for everyone’s physical and mental health. Because despite our thoughts that this will be weeks, it’s likely to be months and we need to make sure we have a workplace worth being at to come back to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life interrupted

It was my birthday yesterday. But I didn’t much feel like celebrating. News from around the world is grim. I spent it pretty much on my own, although with a couple of new four legged friends called Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I’m okay with that, as it seems that it’s a time for quiet reflection and prayer.

Corona Virus – so tiny you need an electron microscope to see it, has turned the world on its head. It’s ironic, when you think about it – how something so small has had a power greater than all the rhetoric, philosophy and religion to bring upheaval.

As a science graduate, this stuff is endlessly fascinating. We studied the plague, the Spanish Influenza epidemic and all of major outbreaks of disease throughout history. Science, which is ignored when inconvenient, now is the only trusted source decision makers can rely on – as it should be.

Last week seemed like a lifetime. There was an anxiousness, I barely concentrated at work. I kept checking the news. Everything changed so fast, even the news presenters struggled to keep up. Social distancing and flattening the curve are new but unwelcome additions to the lexicon.

I’ve been trying for days to gather my scattered thoughts. Like a lot of people, I’m a bit scared. If we thought the hellish fires of summer were the worst of it, well, the world had other plans.

On Saturday we had an extraordinary parish council meeting to discuss the new government regulations on social distancing. I voiced what we all wanted, to stay open; others voiced what was needed, the decision was rightly made to suspend services. There were tears.

A number of people have said how this is an opportunity to do church differently. And how if two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am (Matthew 18:20), all it did was reinforce to me that a church is not a building or a service but a group of people.

In our live-streamed services yesterday, our vicar, talked about Psalm 137 where the Israeli captives in Babylon were wondering how to sing praises to God in a strange land. We are in a very strange land and like them I don’t feel like singing.

I can’t help thinking about all the warnings we have ignored. We didn’t listen, just kept walking down this path thoughtlessly and now we are being made to listen. We valued celebrity over checkout-chicks, CEOs over cleaners; we put stuff before people and we are now needing to re-evaluate.

As humans we believe we are in control and that we can bend Mother Nature to our will. But Mother Nature takes orders from no one. If there is one lesson I hope we all learn out of this, it’s that we control absolutely nothing, and that God, the uncaring universe or whatever you want to call it, is a force more powerful than all the schemes of people.

Everywhere you look there are stories of loss, postponed weddings, dream holidays cancelled, families separated by borders closing. Things that lift people’s spirits like arts and sports are being cancelled, so many people have lost their jobs. People’s mental health is suffering, there’s been a huge increase in domestic violence. The stories out of Italy are horrific. Death of our most vulnerable looms large in our minds.

If you have been to the supermarket it’s unnerving. Seeing empty shelves, as people stockpile food and toilet paper (!!), is the dystopian future we’ve all seen in movies. For people used to having everything laid out for them, it must be a rude shock to realise there’s not an endless supply of everything (imagine that).

Right now, it’s hard to see how we get ourselves out of this mess. I keep thinking about this being the moment to stop and reflect on our choices as individuals, communities and countries – indeed as the world. Perhaps realising that we have responsibilities to our neighbours and communities is the wake up call we need right now.

If you ever needed a reminder that you are more than just an individual, Corona virus is the strongest indication ever that you do not just belong to yourself and your family. Across the world, each of us belongs to each other, all tied together with an invisible piece of string. I find that so comforting because I think it says that there is some other bigger force in the universe. And that is the most beautiful thought ever.

The world is a bit too much for me right now… So I’ve gone small. Forcing myself to think about today only. Right now, I’m thinking about what to make for dinner tonight (steak and veggies). My solar has been installed, Hemingway is purring away beside me, Fitzgerald, in perhaps a mood we are all expressing, is hiding under the couch.

Friends have messaged me, my family brought up cakes. They have organised a zoom meeting to sing me happy birthday tonight. We have another extraordinary parish council meeting.

And tomorrow, tomorrow I start to work from home.

Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.

I received a compliment the other day someone said they liked me because I say what I think. It made me smile. Both because who it came from and well, forthrightness is not often seen as a virtue, particularly not in women and and especially not in Christian women.

Speaking up has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since Cecily Walker’s closing keynote at VALA2020. If you haven’t seen it here’s a link to the video and the essay on her website. I urge you to watch it and then watch it again.

It was an earth shattering keynote and I’m still grappling with it. Firstly, all the ways I’m privileged as an able-bodied cis-gendered white woman. Secondly, all the ways I might  not have supported my BIPOC colleagues in the past because I don’t understand my privilege. Thirdly, how I can – to put it in Cecily’s words – be the goose – in the future.

A few discussions afterwards focused on the safety of speaking up. Everyone feels it’s not safe, our BIPOC colleagues in particular. This is something I’ve grappled with too, and why I freak out every time I publish a blog post that might be controversial. I’ve talked this over with a friend who says that we probably overplay the danger of speaking up, he’s right but he’s also a white man.

I don’t know how I’ve become a person who says what they think. I mean it wasn’t a deliberate life choice. But when faced with staying silent and speaking up, I always think there’s no point in not saying it, I’m certainly not going to die wondering. And it comes from a place of sincerity, from a deeply held belief that maybe by speaking up I can make a difference.

Momentarily as well, it helps ease the burning sensation inside my chest. Which sits somewhere between my heart and my stomach and hurts like hell: it’s anger, despair, helplessness. A constant awareness of injustice, caused by seeing how bloody unfair the world is for most people, and how little I can do to change it.

It started in earnest the moment I realised the libraries weren’t the dream promised. It started when I sat in the pews week after week and saw men preaching and leading while women’s voices were mostly in the background. It’s everywhere and all the time, sometimes a dull pain, other times it roars like an all consuming blaze.

I can of course not fuel the fire – look away, not engage. Sometimes out of necessity I must but I’m drawn back in because this feels like the fight I must have. And maybe,  against all evidence to the contrary, I can maybe make things better.

If “I” was “we” though, if more of us who can speak up were willing to speak up (hello men in libraries), there’d be less risk. We know from activist campaigns that collective groups have more chances of success. And we know that we have in the past successfully forced change when we speak up together.

During the same sex marriage plebiscite campaign in 2017, many of us came together in response to our professional association’s appalling statements on the issue – if you can’t remember what happened, Lissertations has all the details on her blog. Collectively, we forced the board to issue a second statement – it still fell short of what was needed but it was the best we could get from them.

The point is, lone voices can be seen as outliers but if we all speak together it’s harder not to listen. We can only really enforce change if we gather, organise and work together. One voice crying in the wilderness when joined with others becomes a chorus and a louder voice for positive change.

Being the only one speaking up is hard, I know this from personal experience. Last year I raised the issue of saying an Acknowledgment of Country at church services. Everyone voted yes to be polite but then reneged – when it came to it, I was alone – even the vicars after initially agreeing bailed. It was devastating.

Speaking up has probably cost me a job – I mean if you ask difficult questions, in the interests of doing better things, you are often not popular. Once I was told I was terrifying and difficult to work with because I refused to compromise on what we were trying to achieve. Last year, a man I liked decided he wanted nothing more to do with me after I published a blog post about how patriarchal libraries are.

These things hurt. But, to be clear, they are nothing compared to the racism and silencing our BIPOC colleagues face every single damned day. They are nothing compared to working in an industry, which paints itself as inclusive but is really built on colonial, patriarchal and overwhelmingly white ideals.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether they are prepared to wear the costs of speaking up. In reflecting on Cecily’s talk, I realised that I don’t want a career in an industry where our BIPOC colleagues feel like they don’t belong. Where patriarchal systems and library nice (image from Walker’s Keynote address) are the status quo.

We must do and be better than this.

So I’m going to keep speaking up, and calling things out and trying to make a difference. And sure, I might get a reputation as a troublemaker and difficult but I can live with that.  Because I have too. Because it matters too much.

I urge everyone to add their voices for real and positive change, and to amplify and support the voices of our BIPOC colleagues

Be brave. Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.