I don’t think we’ve ever experienced such a dramatic global shift in our lifetime. I can’t imagine another time when things have escalated so rapidly. Entire industries have been wiped out, others are making contingency plans.
Here, in Australia, despite the entire events and arts industries shutting down overnight, it hasn’t even begun to impact us as much as elsewhere, which is I think why people are still being a bit blase. Victoria had 30 confirmed cases last Friday, so I wasn’t really worried. The figure tripled in three days, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was cancelled, and apparently the data we’re getting about numbers is at least 7 days old. It’s not a matter of getting the virus, now, because we probably will, it’s about slowing the hit to the healthcare system.
I’ve gone from laughing at stockpilers (Friday morning) to cancelling everything including medical appointments (Friday afternoon).
The speed at which we’re receiving news about changes in this situation is breathtaking. Yet also confusing. I have three good friends who work in healthcare, and they’re the only ones who seem to know what’s going on – the government certainly doesn’t, from not sharing any information to sharing the wrong information. We should have been social distancing, staying in our houses and handwashing like maniacs last week. But the show has kept going on.
Half the private schools have closed, most of the public schools are still open, and the Formula 1 Race (which involved flying in competitors from Italy), was only cancelled after everyone arrived in Melbourne!
Some of us have been social distancing since last Saturday, but I’ve been having tough conversations with many of my friends, who didn’t know the extent of the danger. Today – Wednesday, I know two writers who have been tested and are currently in quarantine. Yet another writer just invited me to have a coffee with her at a local restaurant and accused me of overreacting when i said I wouldn’t!
Why are we all doing different things? Because the Government isn’t sharing the right info and there’s mixed messages everywhere. People are pretty lazy, and if you don’t force them into changing their behaviour, they just won’t do it. My partner has a workmate out at a pub tonight. Others in high-risk categories are catching trains and eating take-away. Like I said: I think we’ll all probably get it, but it’s a matter of when, not if. Personally, I’d rather slow the flood of pressure on the healthcare system. I’m staying home because I can. My boyfriend had an awkward conversation about skipping footy training last night (hello sweating, touching, sharing air!) – and just the fact that other players were surprised he was choosing not to go shows a lot about how things are playing out here in Australia.
What does this have to do with memoir?
Facts and data can only tell us so much – particularly about a global pandemic. Anecdotes, photos of bare supermarket shelves and $59 hand sanitiser and and conversations about how things unfolded give us a much fuller story. For instance, in the space of four days I now have the phone numbers of almost every house on my street! I’ve lived here for about a year and usually avoid too much interaction, but now, community is more important than anything – because this is how information is spreading.
I like data. I’m as fascinated by data as I am by human psychology and behaviour, and the way this intersects with memoir is that I can tell you that we only have about 500 cases of COVID in Australia right now, but me telling you that some people are still going to the Pub for a beer on St Patrick’s Day gives you a stronger sense of the story behind this giant thing – and also (darkly) gives you a sense of what’s to come. Who did Johnny have his beer with? Where had that person been? What about the guy behind the bar who poured the beer who is visiting his 97 year-old relative tomorrow? And so it goes.
Memoir is precious and valuable historically for this very reason. You could read a piece of data and understand intellectually that, say, a pandemic happened and people were affected in large numbers, but it’s not until you read an account of the build up to that event, the experience of how it unfolded in the communities affected, and then how life changed afterwards, that you can really begin to understand it.
When I studied my late father’s diaries for what he learnt and how he learnt it during the lead-up and declaration of World War Two, it wasn’t so interesting in terms of what they were told about the global unfolding of war (I could find that in old newspaper reports) but how they felt and what the general beliefs were versus the reality of the situation.
And then while it all played out, how that experience made them feel, the specifics of how certain daily activities were affected, what they were told, and the difference between their experience of the situation and what was happening in various quarters, as well as who was pulling the strings, and how that affected an entire generation.
But it wasn’t just that: a quick observation that the Prime Minister of England looked frightened in 1939 speaks to me. It was the same urgency and fear in a certain Doctor friend who switched from encouraging me to fly to Brisbane this week to urging me to instead social distance as much as possible, that struck a chord. When someone in a position of more knowledge than you is frightened, you pay attention.
Global Information delivery was so much more precious and expensive and slow – they’d huddle around the ‘wireless’ to hear a once-in-a-lifetime international broadcast about WW2 because live-tweeting and updated hourly statistics weren’t available.
Frankly, I feel so privileged to be able to access the kind of global information I can, right now – last night I watched a scientific breakdown of how this virus spread in Italy on my laptop in Melbourne, Australia, and it’s influenced what I’m personally doing in my life to avoid our community going through the same thing.
But – let me get back to memoir.
Me telling you that on Sunday night everyone was still planning to go to school and the next the Premier declared a state of emergency in the State of Victoria gives you a sense of how swiftly things are changing. Public gatherings of 500 were banned on tuesday. Today – it’s 100. When will lockdown come, like Paris? I must confess I panic-bought 50 biros in case the power went out!
If, like me, you’re journaling both to self-soothe and keep a record while these strange days play out, here’s some things to consider in your daily reflections:
- What is the general mood or belief in your community and how is it changing day to day? For example, on Sunday I had friends questioning why I was social distancing, now people are taking their kids out of schools en masse. It’s been 48 hours.
- When have things sunk in for members of your community? I’m still seeing elderly folks out and about like normal, but those whose livelihoods have been cut off in the blink of an eye are scrambling to deal with the shock.
- How have your opinions, beliefs and convictions about certain things changed in the last week or two?
- How are you feeling? Physically and emotionally? I saw a funny thing (oh how comedy saves us!) on the TV report tonight about mental health, and how for some, their mental health may actually improve because life takes on a certain simplicity when you don’t have many choices. Hm.
- What resources are you now needing to rely on that you never have before?
- How are you managing anxiety around the information that you’re being given? Or are you just limiting the info?
- Who in your social circle has most influenced your beliefs about all of this?
- Who are you supporting through this? Who is supporting you?
- What are you noticing in the community? I’m seeing so many great ideas and posts about home schooling and entertaining kids in my facebook groups – feeling for all the parents now stuck inside trying to be resourceful with little ones. I love the colourful home schedules, though. Maybe I’ll draw one up for my partner and I?! “Quiet playtime” Lol.
- Has anything made you reconsider where you get your information?
- Are you being conscious with what information you do share and how you share it? How?
- What daily actions are you taking to deal with the crisis and how is that changing?
- How has your life altered in this situation from a domestic point-of-view?
- How has your life altered in this situation from an economic point-of-view?
- How could this possibly work out for the best on a community or a global level – even if you can’t see it right now?
Allow yourself to dream up a best case scenario. For me, thinking of how the grounded flights are cleaning up our carbon footprint and how Venice canals are clean and pure and the fish and swans are returning after just one week of the city in lockdown, makes me think of nature calling Sabbath on the world – really, we’ve been going too hard, too fast, too extravagantly, for too long. Maybe, like Mystic says here, this is the global reset we needed? I loved Steph Jagger’s post about what the trees might be observing now, too. If you’d like some lovely meditations to get you through, Jessica Snow just added a heap of free resources to her website. She’s so awesome. Buy one of her downloads too, if you can. She’s just had to cancel all her live workshops.
- Who are you bunkering down with, if anyone? If you’re solo quarantining, where are you going for connection that feels good? To some of your favourite thought leaders online, to books, to art…to your cat? As mentioned above, I’m heading to my astrologers, my writers, my meditation guides and positive thinkers.
- How are you connecting with others differently? For me, in four days I now have almost all my neighbour’s phone numbers and emails. Crisis brings clarity – and we all know we may need to call on each other sooner rather than later.
- Have you panic bought anything – why, why not? I confess I panic bought wayyy more coffee than usual last week, and fifty biros and two notebooks. I wondered how the electricity grid was going to cope with everyone working at home so I wanted to make sure i had back-up.
- Are you feeling hopeful, anxious, scared? Excited?! Why, why not? For me, the economic impact is what makes me anxious, but as a sole trader I’ve always had to think month-by-month anyway. Still, it’s nerve-wracking, because i don’t know if i want to push my paid courses in a time when everyone is struggling. I had another friend, who is a paramedic, post that he felt simultaneously frightened and excited, because he loves risk and the unknown (well why else would he work in ER?) but others, like my dear community-minded Doctor who treats at-risk patients all day, every day, burst into tears of disappointment at the supermarket at the shelves stripped bare. She’s also incredibly proud of her staff, who have stepped up and are behaving so much better at work. Crisis is such a funny thing how it can bring out our best qualities.
- What are you doing to soothe yourself during this situation? Personally, I’m seeking out poetry like this, and reading more. I’m reading The Power of Habit right now and up to the bit where he discusses what actually causes large-scale habit change. If ever we needed it, it’s now. I’m also downloading Jessica Snow’s podcasts to listen to in the bath.
I’m also curiously observing how artists are responding to this radical time in history.
- What major life experiences have you had that have perhaps prepared you to deal with something like this? The reason I mention this is because there’s significant research that shows people who have dealt with war or death or disease once before, have much higher resilience in future crises.
I loved this essay by memoirist Susan Shapiro about thriving during international emergencies through what she’s learnt in addiction therapy.
- Lastly, who are you connected with, and what has this taught you about them, and made you appreciate? What has now become sacred to you, because it’s suddenly dangerous? For me, the whole thing has made me realise how sacred the whole idea of whom we share air and space and touch. My partner and I are social distancing together, and there’s something sacred and romantic about that. He is literally the only person I am allowing myself to touch, right now!
What could be a more sacred vow than that?
These are some things to reflect upon, record, and write or create art about, as we navigate this fascinating and unprecedented time in history.
I used to think my dad lived through one of the most interesting times in global history (world war 2), but over the last 3 days, I’m wondering if 2020 could just be the biggest shift in centuries.
Be kind. Be observant. Be well.
Write it all down…
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