This writing collection is a fictionalised account of the world around me. The prompt that I’ve given myself is an acronym.
I’ve titled the piece and created a fictional author which reads:
A CHRONICLE OF PERCEPTION IN UNCERTAIN TIMES – BY MISS INFORMATION
If you’d like to start with the latest writing added to this collection click here, to start from the beginning continue reading below.
It was all over the news, over people’s faces, over the internet but we hadn’t seen any evidence of it.
I was so rattled by the fear that it made me afraid.
‘What if I kill someone?’ I thought to myself alarmed that it could happen. I could be a killer without even trying, I could take someone’s life unaware of my actions. They could walk away from me and drop dead days later. The fear grew with a sense of powerlessness weighing down on my conscious. I needed help, some sort of advice, some insight, a tactic to protect people from me and me from them. I wasn’t sick but I went to the doctor anyway.
Sitting in the waiting room was an experience, everyone was edgy with eyes searching the space for a sign of danger. Fight or flight was already present. The doctor called me in, he was wearing a mask, cotton gloves with clear plastic gloves over them and I wondered if he was being cautious because of a patient prior to me, or if I looked like I had it. Were there obvious signs? Did I have it? Could he tell?
I had trouble understanding him speak. His distorted speech filtered through, he wanted to know why I was there.
‘I work with elderly and vulnerable people, people with health problems, I’m here to see if I can get a doctor’s certificate to not go to work tomorrow, I don’t want anyone to get sick because of me.’
He listened until I stopped talking about ifs and maybes and I didn’t even know what.
‘I can’t give you a certificate unless you are sick and we don’t have tests yet. Are you sick?’
He was sitting back from me on a chair with wheels and inched it back slightly as he spoke to me.
‘No but how would I know?’
He talked through symptoms, of which I had none. I asked what I can do about the situation, I talked about my guilt and the danger of being near others. It was a strange conversation like none I’ve ever had before. I’ve never been dangerous or had to worry about killing anyone. I felt afraid of myself.
The doctor talked me through how to handle the unknown and the unseeable.
‘When you go home take off all your clothes inside the front door and put them into a plastic bag or straight into the washing machine, take off your shoes, wash your hands. Keep a bucket of bleach near the front door and wipe down the door every time that you get home. Wear a mask and gloves everywhere, don’t go near anyone.’
The suppressed tones of his words filtered through the medical muzzle getting lost in the layers at times, but his eyes were expressive enough for me to read his face. He looked like he was going into surgery for the first time nervous, excited, filled with theory but no real experience. It sounded like a lot of precautions with no real information, he didn’t tell me anything but how to perpetuate the fear.
I walked home in a daze wondering how many people I knew that would soon be dead, wondering if I would soon be dead or worse a killer.
There was bleach under my kitchen sink, so I pulled it out and mopped my door; I’d never mopped a door before. Halfway through I realised I hadn’t washed my hands, I still had my shoes on and my clothes. Confusion overcame fear momentarily, I wasn’t certain what I was fearful of in that moment. Myself, other people, being outside, the world or something that I couldn’t see. Fear that pervasive was a new experience and that rattled.
There was a lot of talk about what we could and couldn’t do. Nobody seemed to know what was going on and if they did or could show where they found information no one would believe them or want to listen; no voices could be heard over the deafening fear mongering. Fear was everywhere, its stench pervaded everything, seeping from TVs, radios, computers, phones, and fixed in wide-eyed expressions across the city.
The consensus was nobody knew anything, only to be afraid, also most accepted that questions were now unacceptable. Don’t ask, don’t try to make sense of anything and most of all don’t think about it, thinking was no longer encouraged.
Official websites appeared with pages to scroll though mandating rules of dysfunction that took hours to decipher. The finer points changed with regularity leaving readers in a state of confusion.
‘It didn’t say that yesterday’ was a common response from any who attempted to play by the rules by reading official websites. Rules were made to be broken was typically an idea embraced by rebels not those who made rule after rule after rule. The rules weren’t set in stone, they existed in flux in a sketchy arena where the goal posts moved so often that they were completely off the playing field in no time.
There were many rules but they made no sense.
- You must follow the rules but nobody will check on you.
- You must only follow directions from authorities to manage your health even though the authorities are the ones spreading the sickness along with fear.
- You must not question but you must vote.
- You do not need to understand that is not required or encouraged.
- Trust no one only organisations.
- Spy on your neighbour to promote a sense of community.
- Isolate because socialising is dangerous but reach out to others for your mental health.
- Keep 1.5 metres apart at all times except when grocery shopping; being a good consumer will protect you from any health threats.
Those with discernment searched for verification of the narrative but found only a mish mash of hysteria and contradiction. Facts disappeared into the ether along with the need for medical minds to address medical problems. People obeyed, people listened, people embraced the fear huddling as a hive mind alone together.
Temporary tiptoed into permeance as lives slipped away taking a chance at bouncing back with it. Trust became elusive, lost in a needy hope that it was all going to be ok, that it would all make sense, that nothing like this had ever happened before so there had to be hope and not hopelessness.
More and more the news made no sense. The people paid the price for the government’s mistakes, they took the blame for decisions they played no part in making, they hanged tough and stayed strong or so the news said.
Stories of suffering were bandied about. Everyone knew someone who had been coerced into the lies or who’d taken a payoff to comply or that ignored the rules with no consequence. If not they’d heard it on the news but no one could quite believe it to be true.
It had to end soon didn’t it? People looked forward to the end but it wasn’t in sight all that was there was a man in a mask with a carrot on a rope dangling it in plain view of every ignorant ass that looked that way. It wasn’t a pretty picture so many turned away and just stopped looking. The view out the window had become common place, the neighbourhood blocks began to resemble prison yards. With no hope in sight most stopped seeking cues from the outside world and went within meditating on their sanity.
Fantastical stories were on every channel, they littered the internet and competed for attention trying to out do one another. Disillusioned with the illusion more and more people stopped tuning in to the news and instead chose their own fantasy stories. Others stayed vigilant searching for a hint of truth online but the internet failed even though the connection was fine.
To best capture the multifaceted character of a city under arrest let’s take a look at a cross section of citizens captured on this page; all are inspired by more than one person and crafted into a single character.
Carol had her shit together more than most, yet most were oblivious to this. Some called her a friend and heckled her ideals because they had no insight into themselves so couldn’t recognise Carol’s as such. Carol was passionate and idealistic yet starkly aware of the injustices in the world. Carol was the calm in the storm and able to point out in a matter of fact way that things just weren’t right, and why. The whys that she recognised and discovered in her explorations of the truth in information presented to her didn’t resonate with most but Carol didn’t care about resonance. Carol was a truth seeker and a truth speaker, an alienating combination in a world constructed of illusions.
When the city became a prison, Carol stood strong and stayed calm. When police were repurposed to intimidate Carol assessed her safety to avoid their overbearing presence but did not change her behaviour – a hallmark of just how together her shit was. She busied herself reaching out to console strangers with kindness and compassion, she directed the attention of those who cared to listen to the small things in life and the wonders of nature. Carol had heart and shone bright as fear loomed to block out the sun.
Olive was never happy with anything. She didn’t like her name, her job, her boyfriend, her friends and mostly she didn’t like herself. Olive was cluey to most things in the world but possessed a narrow-mindedness that separated her from independent thought. People were ok in her mind up to the point where they annoyed her just cause, she liked to have a conversation if the topic was chosen by her and the talk finished as she pleased. Olive was a bit of a pill – bitter, chalky, and hard to swallow unless you had a big drink handy to wash it down.
Olive cruised through the indoctrination of the city to prison rules to begin with because it was a gig that paid well with a TV in your cell. The government funded compliance which many took advantage of without consideration beyond the dollars that appeared in their bank accounts as pay off. What can be wrong with that? Shortsightedness in those that don’t wear glasses is a problem that can be hard for them to manage when usually they lose interest before anything comes into focus. Liberties disappeared as intimidation tactics amped-up and Olive shrank further into her couch raging at the media with an outrage left over from a now disappeared privileged life. It was all a bit much, so she began to drink a few martinis now and then because they go well with Olives.
Victor liked the system, it was his religion, his sport, his guiding light. The system might fail but not where he placed himself in it. A mark of success in the modern world in Victor’s mind was working the system from the top end not from the bottom end and being subjected to it. Things and stuff are what make the man. The right job, clothes, shoes, home and freedom to do whatever you want. Those that couldn’t do this were failures or lesser at best. Of course, Victor didn’t blatantly treat people with contempt, he was a nice guy but only to those that he decided were deserving and that he could tolerate. Anything that popped up in life as a problem was never recognised as such by Victor, he only saw challenges, and the worthy like a good challenge.
When the fear mongering began Victor shrugged it off, he wasn’t rattled easily and knew that he fared better than others in stressful situations. His life didn’t change much, he kept going to work, earning money and moving about as he pleased. He was exempt in his own mind to most things in the world that others had to adhere to and used to working the system to his benefit. Life carried on for him. As time progressed though the world around him crumbled and faded. There was suffering on the street where he lived, hysterics on the news and the downward spiral of his loved one’s mental health that distracted from his shoulder shrugging response to most things. Whatever thoughts and feelings that he reasoned away or pushed way deep down in himself began to niggle at the corners of his psyche as he wondered where everybody went, where his life went.
Irene liked information a lot. She had always sort it out with a curious fascination about what and how and why and when and the rest. Irene didn’t limit herself to one source of information, everything was up for grabs. The information age was a goldmine for her mind, the internet was a communication hub for her social life; she was very good at juggling her real life with the digital world. People made up a life of rich experiences for her, she thrived on meeting them, making friends and living it up. She had an assortment of friends that enriched her life of all ages, genders, and inclinations.
As authorities began to insert themselves into the lives of people Irene of course had a lot of questions. Who had made these decisions? Although there was some explanation as to why decisions had been made there was no information to back it up much to Irene’s frustration. But Irene wasn’t a quitter, she needed more and as a digital native knew that if she looked for long enough and hard enough that the information is there; so, she did. She searched and shared and connected and became more confused with each action. The most common point of information that could be agreed upon and confirmed is that nothing made sense. Stumped and stunned at the world around her declining into ignorance Irene turned her attention and skills instead to self-preservation and got out of dodge.
Doug had been the stinky kid at school. No other kids would play with him or talk to him or take him seriously. He grew up spending his time fighting for attention and puzzling at the behaviour of others toward him because that’s the big problem when you are the stinky one – you can’t smell yourself. Unable to smell his own stench Doug couldn’t make sense other’s behaviour toward him. As Doug grew older he became determined to get the respect that he knew he deserved. He studied hard, he stood by anyone who would let him get that close, he spent his youth searching for a place to belong. It became apparent overtime that people would only tolerate his presence if he made them so overtime Doug’s search for belonging became a lust for power.
The loss of people’s liberties put a twinkle in Doug’s eye. His years of inching up any ladder that he could find had left him in a position that was as untouched by the escalating imprisonment of the city as it was by any responsibilities. This suited Doug just fine, he’d never had a desire for responsibility, it was only all the freewheeling power that he could grab that interested him. He thrived on the conditions of strict rules built on vagaries that aligned with his total control – no responsibility ethic. Doug made sure that he had a good view as events unfolded standing on the backs of yes men and women. A lifetime of wrongs was now being righted for him because a world had been created where everybody had to wear a mask over their nose leaving them unable to get even a whiff of his stench. The stinky kid was redeemed, Doug smiled beneath his mask at the new world made just for him.
I live at a busy crossroads a few buildings from the corner of the main road which cuts at an angle leaning in toward my street. The main road leads past the hospital into the city and spans 6 lanes that hug tram tracks in between. The cross street is the path that the fire engines take, they’re housed not far away, I can hear them coming in the distance wailing their way through the streets with deep horn honks as they clear each intersection on their approach. Continuing over the main thoroughfare the road splinters to enter the beach suburbs where suburban tourists would flock on weekends, in the other direction the road travels back around the lake.
There’s a petrol station across the street on the corner of the crossroads that’s open 24hrs; the position is a gateway to and from the city for chaos, emergencies, and the commute. Nobody commutes anymore, everyone is locked away at home twitching their curtains to glimpse the outside world. The sirens haven’t stopped though with mainly police and ambulance sirens frequenting at all hours.
Day and night there’s sirens yet no one is around. In between the sirens there’s helicopters overhead constantly tracing the grid layout of the city streets. When the sound of them fades I can still see them further out over the city trailing across the sky.
It’s strange looking up at the stars at night, they twinkle with a brilliance that seems a little too bright at times. I wish I knew the stars better at a glance but for a lifetime I have spent my nights inside spent from my days scurrying after life. There’s time to stop and look up now, the annoyance of the helicopters has served to draw me out to look up at the beauty above and wonder if I’m looking at a star or a satellite.
The fee for freedom daily is paid with paranoia, fear and confusion. There’s also fines for breaking rules which change regularly or not, no one’s really sure. With all this though the 24 hr petrol station never closes and cars continue to stop for petrol, people continue to walk there at all hours through the darkness to buy cigarettes and snacks. The intersection traffic lights continue with their sequence with the regular beep of the cross-walk warning that you need to wait for the red man to change to green before you can walk even though there’s nobody there.
Further back down my street away from the main road there is a boarding house, further down the street again there’s another. These places are filled with people who have broken lives and lost hope. Before the city was restricted I’d watch them from my window struggle their way up the street in turn to visit the petrol station to buy ciggies or a packet of chips, or whatever excuse got them out of their boarding house room for a spell. Some use walkers, some don’t, but they all limp and teeter their way along the footpath labouring the few blocks walk. Their meagre routines built around miniscule incomes had shrunk even more with mask wearing enforcements. Outdone by the journey before masks most had to stop to catch their breath, when coerced into wearing them they donned masks to comply. The parade of their trek declined into stops and starts to sit and catch their breath for some, others pressed on with gapping masks for breathing or walked mask free with a cigarette or coffee in hand. There’s a fine for breathing fresh air but none for walking mask free holding a cigarette or coffee.
When life was as it was before there would be noise on the street over the weekend with dealers in the petrol station carpark and late-night partiers returning in the early hours, during the week it was comparatively quiet. Lockup or down or whichever direction you prefer confused time making any night a free for all. Darkness gave cover to the never-ending party that some sort to lose themselves in to escape where there was no escape or freedom. Evidence littered the footpath every morning in the wake of night-time slurred bickering rambling along the streets in all shapes and forms with a collection of beer bottles and stubbed out butts and sometimes an occasional shoe. A break from the rowdy night street dwellers only comes when roadworkers claim the streets breaking up the road with diggers until the breaking of dawn.
During the day a high-rise is going up across the street, they broke ground as restrictions began. When the night ruckus fades, and the sun rises the construction workers emerge with whirring drills and obnoxiously loud machinery to set to work at hemming in the streetscape. My view across the street to the open sky has filled with scaffolding and men wearing safety colours who keep their chins strapped with dangling masks to be able to breath as they labour throughout the day.
As the sun sets the workers leave and so it begins all again with the only respite Sunday, I know it’s Sunday because that’s the only day that there is no construction. The world has to shut down for now we’re told or we could die or somebody somewhere could unless they work in construction of course, high-rises are essential after all.
My place in life has always been with other people, I found this out at an early age. I learn from them, I challenge them as they do me, I deflect them back upon themselves; it is not my intention it is my nature. Without people my life would be stagnant, other people make up my world.
On the days when awoken resentfully by my alarm I would lay there and reflect on who I would see that day and why, and the urge to embrace the day flooded me carrying me into that day with a wave of anticipation that came from without not within.
Navigating life is a task that I’d approached with joy and enthusiasm from a young age, people would respond well to this for the most part. I grew older and uncertain of my place in the world, the world grew around me challenging my development. Sometimes this came in the form of other people who criticised, doubted, and raged against me, some were dismissive and then one attacked.
I looked to those around me to recover. I looked for guidance and help, but the best that I received was sad looks, medication, and advice to shape my being to the unknown expectations of strangers. It seems that I provoke violence and that I must be responsible for the violent tendencies of those I have never met.
I embraced self-medication and re-joined the world a smaller version of myself tempering my joy and enthusiasm to protect against the unknown intentions of others. I learned to dim and hide and moved far away from the person I had been before I learned to supress. It was a confusing time bridging a gateway into who I thought that I should become from who I really am so I packed up and moved again and again chasing opportunities to create a new me that could live in peace protected from violence.
A dimmed light is easiest to hide, adjusting it relative to the darkness and light about us is easier still. Dullness blends in more acceptably bringing no attention and with this I had a measure of security to harbour a new ethic of mistrust. Embracing this way of being gave me an understanding of the world that I could never have imagined again proving how essential others are be they good or bad with the experiences they bring to us. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who’d been chosen to suffer at the hands of another with the approval of the world at large looking on complacently because that’s just the way life is. People entered my life as I followed my passions for story, writing and learning to share my knowledge; it’s here that broken strangers found me, and I recognised them for what they had suffered.
I thought that I had learned a thing or to on the journey to this point, but it had only been a starter kit, an introductory course at best. The learning I experienced in the role of teacher finally gave life some context for me to work with. Here was a place where I could learn to trust again by humbly asking those who’d suffered far more and longer than me to trust and give and be vulnerable, to create a safe space for all to grow and learn.
This was the point that I had reached, accepting a small space in the world where I could hide in plain sight with little ambition. I lived a low paid existence rich with purpose that was fast tracking into a role as another broken character slated to receive the services that I delivered. Before I knew it I would be sitting as a student in the room where I taught past my ability to keep working with no savings, no opportunities and likely homeless; that’s the way the world worked.
Sickness came to the world and had us running scared, so we all went home if we had one and hid. It was hard, it was confronting, it was scary, it was an opportunity to stop and look in the mirror. Mirrors offer no answers, but the news usually did so I watched and listened and scrolled and researched only to become more confused overtime. The idea of fake news became far reaching and what a news source is became questionable, no one could agree where to look or who to listen to. Taking a break from the news I returned to the mirror and saw greys appearing at my temples with lines of worry etched into my face. Fear wore me down, I felt more powerless than ever before and frankly became sick of it all. There was no place for me in these happenings, I had no control, no voice, no evidence to invest my thoughts in to experience some reassurance and I questioned why I was listening at all.
Birds sang outside my window hopping from branch to branch on the native eucalyptus that grows up proudly through the pavement. The tree towered over my 3-story building dwarfing the bricks and mortar to remind me what this place once was. Gum leaves dance in the breeze all day like long delicate fingers gracefully moving with the unseen forces of nature and it is here that the world makes the most sense to me. Rainbow lorikeets, starlings, minor birds, magpies and crows visit periodically with their song alerting me to their presence, it’s then that I stood staring at the tree appreciating it’s flaking bark that fell away to reveal the twisted branches that contorted themselves to be close to the light. I forgot about the nonsense that I was expected to respond to peaceful in the world that lived in the tree and it occurred to me that this could be my life every day. I did not need to check in, follow, update, participate or respond and instead am free to be just me and find assurance in myself.
This was easiest to embrace, it makes sense, I have a part in this process and am able to again step into the light rather than hide from a suffering that I can’t see or influence. Just like the tree I will stand tall supporting the world as it comes to me and push down roots to connect with what I can see and feel and know. The innate reality of the world is what I crave not maybes and I don’t knows, and for better or worse I may have people in my life again.
Hiding now has become common place, it has given me the opportunity to come out of hiding myself while those unfamiliar with the process struggle through; the streets are empty and that makes me feel safe. Pausing the process that was my camouflage has let all my bad habits fall away, habits that existed for me to be able to deal with others, to help them feel comfortable, to tone me down for reasons unknown to me.
Finally, free of the burdens of the world I feel light and joyful and recognise myself. People that I teach now let their worries slip away while learning from me. We are separated now by mandates and enforcements, so my smile is into a camera, but it is genuine and true unlike most things they see displayed on their computer screens. People may not be in a room before me, but they still make up my world.
Fear is everywhere. It’s on the news, in every headline and fixed into people’s expression on the street. The kind of look that once would have made me stop and ask a stranger if they were ok. Nobody is ok. The biggest trouble with the fearfulness is the snowball it’s become; people are afraid of a sickness but that’s not all it is. They are afraid of catching it, not knowing who has it, not knowing how to protect their health. At first it was just something that was happening overseas which is a long ways away from an island at the bottom of the world. Here we watch world events happen from afar.
It’d never happen here.
Looks what happening over there.
These statements were part of our national identity, we are not equipped for the tragedies of the world. It’s a cultural pass time to stand gawking from afar at the mishaps of other people’s lives, witnessing disasters mainly happens on TV as misfortune sandwiched between commercials just before a favourite sitcom. Of course, that’s not the truth of it all, Australia has real tragedy, real issues, real unrest but for the most part we live up to our brand – the lucky country. Lucky enough to be removed from global issues that spill over from one neighbouring country to another. Island life hasn’t saved us this time though.
Walking is my transport, whenever I can I walk and it’s long been an annoyance to me when people walk me off the footpath or shoulder barge me when passing, but that has all gone. People see me coming and step down into the gutter without even looking to see if I’ll move aside to let them pass. A wider berth has never been given to me even within the rulings of our maritime law. The need for distance disappears in the supermarket aisles though which I find puzzling and even more so that the entire population isn’t scratching their heads at this incongruousness.
A temporary feel ignited events with the promise of some time off at home to kick back and have some respite from it all. A sigh of relief breathed over the city with most settling into the complacency that politicians encourage.
Just keep away from each other to be safe was the message.
We will manage everything, we have it under control.
The sickness wasn’t evident anywhere except for those places under government control. In Sydney it was dockside, in Melbourne they stuck to hotels enforcing strict measures to do everything wrong and antagonising the clever contagion. It was fine left alone it seemed but didn’t respond to government controls as well as the majority of the population. Just when it seemed that it was all going to be fine it got worse because bureaucracy increases contagiousness. The answer of course was that its everybody’s fault unless they’re a local member and even less so their doing if they were part of the decision-making process. The higher up in government that a person is the less accountability they have to the population; it’s the Australian way. To dodge the possibility of questions parliament was cancelled because it’s not essential to the country or economy.
All the while the fear keeps rising to take the headlines by storm taking attention back time and again. Fear has become the main player pushing political ineptitude into the backseat, the perfect scenario for a government full of backseat drivers. There is nothing there for the people, no leadership, no hope, no sense, nonsense.
So still on the streets there’s fear, it’s settled in. With no one to look to people look at one another, with no one to take responsibility people blame one another, with no one listening people refuse to listen to one another. There’s no hope offered, or real advice given. So little sense can be made of dictates that the government is spending more and more time in court having to answer to the people, they try to back out, but the judges won’t have it. Isn’t it the job of politicians to be in parliament not as defendants in court answering to crimes against their own people? Isn’t it doctors that we should listen to about health advice not politicians and businessmen?
The only writing that I’ve seen published that makes any sense is written in chalk on the planks of a wooden fence not far from where I live. It says:
BE STRONG BE PATIENT BE KIND
It’s the best read that I’ve had for a while and quite likely a cure for fear that neither medicine nor self-styled leaders could subscribe.
Teachers being called an essential worker at the onset of lock-in was a nice thing to hear about the profession but felt like a back-handed compliment. Teacher’s pay did not go up. There were no benefits provided to reflect the words being bandied about by those in power stating how grateful they were for the essential service.
Life got harder. The job went from teaching, to teaching and learning a new system, and teaching beyond the teachers’ subject of expertise to guide students to learn online, and embracing new technologies that had been mandated by institutions in response to government restrictions. Whew! Essentially it was exhausting, like running on the spot in a bad dream while chained to a desk.
People all around were being paid to stay home and do nothing but teachers were asked to stay home and do more with no extra pay.
The commute was much shorter though.
I teach and it’s always been a challenge to keep up with the rising cost of living given the stagnated wages available; and I think all this with guilt because even though I struggle I know that compared to many I do well.
How much things are worth and why they have that worth I have never really understood, I’m not the number crunching type. It’s hard to keep up with costs and taxes and living expenses, and whenever I seek out some self-help financial advice it always says, ‘put aside money for leisure’. It would be leisurely to not have to worry about money.
Surely there was a subject at school that taught how to manage navigating the modern world, or at least understanding money. A little information on how a mortgage works or what a franking credit is or how to open an offshore bank account; but I think you have to go to specific schools to learn that stuff…
Information is something that I like to investigate, even so I could never find the time to work, keep training for my job to keep it, learn new things to stay relevant so I can earn a living, and educate myself on the financial system. The plan is to have a home right? To be able to stop working and enjoy old age and look back over a worthwhile life, but I could never see that happening when my wage has only ever barley covered the rent.
Trying to learn about money when you have none causes depression, it always seems to come back to that saying, ‘you have to have money to make money’. Not having any to make any with can leave little clue as to how it all works. The internet offers answers for most questions except money. I really tried to understand by starting at the beginning but had to stop trying to make sense of the nonsense because I went cross-eyed.
Understanding the idea of worth is a struggle and questions about value get pushed to the back of the mind with my immediate attention consumed by working and chasing money. The big conundrum was that my job was so fulfilling that it was invaluable to me enriching my life beyond any experience that money can provide, worth so much but with little value in the world of money.
Despite the extra workload imposed under restrictions I got into a rhythm where I could manage time better than before. The worthiest addition to my life was the time that I gained. This time has a richness that allows for reflection and to reach out into the world without having to run around exhausted. Time to look for new opportunities and reject all that seemed necessary before.
Teaching taught me long ago that the most valuable thing that you can give anyone is your time and now, compared to before, there is a wealth of it.
Time makes life richer than anything that value can be placed upon.
People watching is a hobby of mine that I enjoy in my busy neighbourhood. These days with not so many people on the street more people stand out. There are dramas daily on public display along with happy moments to provide contrast; a few are written here.
A clown with yellow curly hair, top hat to match and red suspenders holding up spotted pants dashes across the petrol station carpark. He skips along in his big shoes down the street leaving in his wake a collection of sharply turned heads that have whipped around to take in the sight of him in disbelief. Does he have a mask on someone asks but no one answers because everybody knows that clowns always wear a mask, it’s full face and topped off with a big red nose.
‘You’re a bloody liar’ she screeches in a raspy voice that rings out over the sound of passing cars. More yelling follows, the words are indistinguishable, but her voice is angry. A man mumbles back his defense.
‘Give me the beer’ she screeches again then her voice fades as she heads away down the street triumphantly with beers in hand.
He struggle with his load, his arms are full with shopping bags, he wears a long coat that slides off his shoulders as he walks in thongs that slap loosely on the ground with each step. To top it all off he is carrying a chair, a dining room chair that is padded and armless and has wooden legs. It all looks too much for him to carry far and it is, it all gets too much. He stops to readjust realising that he is out of breath as he shrugs his jacket back up onto his shoulders. He places the chair on the footpath at the edge of the road facing the traffic, places his bags beside it then sits with relief. For a moment he just sits to take in the view then in a loud voice for all to hear proclaims,
‘I am the chairman!’
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a packet of cigarettes and sits on his chair smoking until he is ready to be on his way.
‘You dog! You Liar!’ menacing words cut through the night; the threat is clear in the tone. There is two of them, they struggle briefly leaning in on one another threatening violence with the action of their movements but not coming to blows.
‘It was mine, where is it?’ Their voices sound the same, both have that junkie way of stringing words together that is either a mumble or a snarl.
‘Are you going to stab me?’
‘I’m not going to prison for you’
Either or both could have said the words, the darkness hides them from the street with the drama of their struggle travelling through the night from the edge of a dark driveway. People living in surrounding apartments open balcony doors and bedroom windows alarmed at the violence of their words.
Curfews are in place so there isn’t a cop in sight, nobody is allowed out at night because the clever sickness plaguing the city can tell what time it is.
The junkies keep at one another and it seems that it will not end well, then from overhead an object is thrown down and strikes one of them. Shocked they stop not sure what has happened and go their separate ways. The few neighbours who have come out onto their balconies to observe from above go back to bed.
‘Whooooo!’ her voice rings out across the busy intersection carrying off in every direction. She stands at the front gate to a courtyard apartment dancing beneath the streetlights enjoying her youth. A man stands in the gateway; they are both wearing black tracksuits. She dodges and weaves playfully before him pushing him this way and that so that he loses his footing a little. The traffic grows louder and so does she, the traffic lights turn red, so she steps up to the kerb dancing for their entertainment lifting her tracksuit top to reveal her sports top beneath. She turns back to the man in the gateway behind her taking off her tracksuit top then spins back to face the traffic flinging her top overhead in circles as she again lets out a cry of joy.
At dusk everyday he makes his way to the petrol station stopping a block away on his return. He stands facing the street in front of an empty building and sings. His voice is strong and true and filled with expression. He sings tunes from Australian past rock stars, mostly Barnsie and Johnnie Farnham. He sings songs from his youth when he was free, and it is wonderful to hear him.
Concerned faces on the news speak in serious tones repeating words spoken across the world. The same picture appears on different sides of the world slotted into news stories and passed off as local content which adds to confusion creating a descent into incredulity, into a lack of credibility. As hard as I try to make sense of it all I can’t.
It doesn’t make sense. The script spoken at updates morphs into white noise against the backdrop of the elderly locked up for their health and denied contact with their loved ones. No hugs, nothing familiar, no one they know and denied their regular physician for a mandated doctor unknown to them who is unconcerned with their concerns.
To be fair there was a glimmering moment when information seemed real, someone high up said not to worry or be concerned, they contradicted the businessmen with a solution for sale but then took it back. Politicians in a few places rejected their place on the payroll mocking the ruse in the news then inexplicably their country crumbled into disarray on the world stage.
People turned to elected leaders for guidance only to find grey men and women who second guess and dither and bicker and finger point without knowledge to reference. Decisions were made on whims with no foundation and an absence of truth. Slowly slowly people stopped and challenged and went to court. The investigation of process revealed no planning for the protection of people’s lives, only a schedule of shutdowns that separated people from one another, themselves, and their lives. So many lost so much that they had nothing left, not even a remnant of their life from before, some checked out altogether.
Still the white noise of voices ranting about they don’t know what hummed as a din across the city polluting minds, breaking hearts and ruining lives. I ached with apprehension and powerlessness and anxiety at the worldwide suffering that I couldn’t affect. I pined for some place to help and be useful but there was nowhere in my life where I saw the suffering depicted on the screen. Nowhere I could help that needed help nearby or sick people I knew. Nothing.
Witnessing society crumble on the screen was too much so I turned it off and tuned out. The silence that ensued was a lost delight that I welcomed back into my life. Birds sang outside, someone laughed in the distance, a child called to their mother and everything seemed fine. I went to my window to look out into the day where the sun shone down on the street outside. I couldn’t see mayhem or death or disease, I could see across the street in some neighbours’ windows where they sat there staring at their screens with their back to the sun. Outside there weren’t many clouds in the blue sky, it was clear like my mind and I felt the relief of it.
I realised that I had been overwhelmed by the din with no room left to think so I sat in the fresh breeze and thought about this for a while and it felt good. I realised that if I left off the news and didn’t check in that I could feel this calm every day and take the time that I’ve gained as a gift for myself rather than a sentence of another’s making.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think. It was hard not to feel guilty at first but I let that go because I have a clear conscience. I help people all the time online with information, kind words and reassurance, I stop and speak to neighbours to ask how they are, I help friends when they need me. In my life as much as I am able I give and contribute. Carrying the stress of the world for broadcasted uncertainties and misguided politicians was bad for my health so I gave it up and have found relative peace for now. My mood has lifted, now I smile more that frown and that is contagious.
Staring at screens and working with purpose on purpose has become a restriction of the mind layered on top of the restriction of movement. For all the good intentions that I have I need more beyond me, something that is positive and natural and dependable and there it is every month, the moon.
It causes me to be present and grateful to have a regular visitor who dazzles me shining in the night and moving about unincumbered by any restriction. It peeks over the rooftops soon after dark tracking across the sky in the wake of the sun. The glow is so bright some months that light from the supporting cast of twinkling stars seems dull by comparison; the moon is the star of the show.
My full moon ritual has evolved with my confinement and is something that I have come to look forward to. It consists of looking out of my kitchen window from dusk to midnight hoping to glimpse the moon as it tracks across the sky. Beyond midnight the full moon rises into the midheavens and out of the small portion of sky framed by my window, it’s a spectacle I’ve come to enjoy every month.
It was a full moon recently marking another month gone by and the last hint of cold from winter. The sun hid behind clouds that had cushioned the sky throughout the day and remained in place into the night. When the moon rose I was excluded from the show by the cloud cover still in place. A hidden moon was apt though for a scorpio full moon buried deep in the night beneath layers which concealed it’s mysteries from the world. The next day the chill had left the air replaced by a summer-like day heralding spring with the promise of a hot summer beyond.
Spring in Melbourne is all about fashion.
In fashion this spring there’s no horse race fascinators or stripes or eskies in the carpark, there’s not even an alternative “I’m not into that no matter how Melbourne it is” event. This spring the new Melbourne fashion is wearing masks as chin straps. Both men and women have embraced the trend walking in the sunshine with chins and jaws adorned in a variety of colours and patterns. From a distance the trend appears to be a beard trimmed short and coloured curiously so as to not always match the colour on the persons’ head. Even stranger from afar is the bearded ladies who make more sense as they come into view where the fact that they’re wearing a chin mask can be plainly seen.
The easy adaptability of everyone on the street is an ode to how conscious people are of their pocket in these uncertain times when work has disappeared for most, and the police patrol revenue raising for the sake of our health. An unhealthy bank account is the most contagious condition of people I know as they struggle through complying not to make trouble or be noticed or be targeted for fines they can’t afford to pay.
Along with spring, life has returned to the streets as people come out of their homes tentatively stepping forth into the world again. There are people on the footpaths and cars on the roads; at first glance things appear to be normal. People come and go making their way through the day seeking out routine that is familiar or dependable or profitable in leading them back to the point their lives were at before the city stopped. I sit and watch from my perch behind the tree which stands on the footpath, tucked away with a view of the street that allows for leisurely observation, and I think back over the past year and reflect, and I can see no normalities that I recognise.
It was never normal to see people driving past alone in their cars wearing a mask with the windows rolled up. Never was it normal to see hand sanitiser at the entry to a shop, or have a stranger stare angrily at another just because they could see their face, or have grown adults ask one another earnestly in conversation “do you know how far we are allowed go from home?”
With freedoms removed and the confinement of the self, many became used to their own company, own time, own space, and the world opening up again all of a sudden seems too big or too much. Secluded from autonomy the world shrank to multiple microcosms no longer independent but interdependent removing the idea of self from the individual to apply it to the collective. We are now the self, to recognise the self as anything other is selfish, the hive mind has been activated with the majority buzzing synchronously with complicity.
Spring brings a new season, new life to the world, it begins a new cycle, it brings return and coaxes all into the sunshine after the dark of winter. A new season has arrived, a new day has dawned and although this is not the writing on any wall it is the writing on a fence near where I live.
All around, the world is morphing from one extreme to another and turning seasons on their head along the way.
Wind stirs up the remnants of the seasons passed by and sweeps them away on a shifting breeze. The plans that were made and never came to pass are no longer dormant but gone, lost to a time left behind. The ‘I meant to do’, ‘go to see’, ‘catch up with’, ‘must start doing’, and ‘want to learn more about’ things that once fueled the journey into the future have fallen by the wayside in the wake of a world turned on it’s head.
Awe and wonder are on the faces of those arising from the depths of hibernation as they venture out into the world to see what remains of the life they had known. Reality is a stark vision when compared to a television screen, and when no longer confined in a room at home all alone hunkered down and investigating solitude, the shape of the world can be intimidating. Those unschooled in themselves have been confronted by insights that they never sort to determine and have been left wide eyed and bemused by the sight of themselves revealed in the final days of a revelatory year. A new world is taking shape shining fresh light into eyes still blinking from the illumination that flooded the dark corners of their psyches.
Life beckons beyond prescribed confines, waiting beyond is a chance at freedom which is cresting uncertainty like a new day dawning, twinkling it’s first rays filled with hope and promise. A chance to break away from the cloistered past where neatly organised lives kept passions idle and dreams stacked away out of site. Time in the meantime has been a gift, a present, a chance to be present, but not appreciated by all. Time has been a torture for those with more thoughts than actions, those impotent in the face of introspection, those lacking experience in harnessing their mind against adversity.
The monkey train has disappeared leaving the monkey mind to rant and rave and doubt and demand resulting in alienation from the self that comes from too much chatter about plans that lack purpose.
Trailing along into change with the movements of the seasons there’s a curious wonder as to how things seem the same. There’s something missing now from the once regular rhythms that carried through the days into weeks, then forward into the year following through with intentions proclaimed with plans made for the future.
A shift has taken place that has realigned values opening hearts and minds to possibilities unseen and illusions untold. Change for some has been obvious with the discovery of shadows looming on the fringes of their lives, for some it unveiled something hidden to reveal true clarity, others carry forward a blinkered view whilst trying to come to terms with that little voice inside. Like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day the change is sweet relief from the cycling time that had dwindled throughout the year.
Sharp eyes detect glimmering hope, a dazzling spectacle that gives rise to a feeling once familiar from a time that was recognisable. Out of the darkness it shines as a small spark that warms the heart and settles the mind with the knowledge that a new landscape abounds where there will be a chance to stake a claim in this unknown land. Opportunities to grow and change promise more than the known structures of the past where fixed mindsets laid the foundations of routine.
There’s a tree in the park down the street that grows on the edge of a main road. The road is part of a busy junction where the city and the suburbs come together then break off into every direction branching out across Melbourne. The tree is a river red gum that has stood at a crossroads for between 300 to 500 years or so it says on a plaque where it stands; a wonderful sign that doesn’t claim knowledge that can’t be proved.
No one really knows how old the tree is, its age is an estimation based on what is known about trees, this native is thought to live up to 1000 years or more. However old it might be it is the last river red gum standing where there were once many, and it is far older than any other living thing that I have seen in the city where I live.
The crossroads where it stands have always been there in one form or another; the Yalukit Willam
This river red gum tree is an elder standing tall over the land surveying life in every direction as it has done for longer than any living man or woman. In its youth it was cared for by the caretakers of the land who gathered to celebrate against the backdrop of this ancient place that served as a nursery for the fledgling river red gum. They call it the Ngargee or Corroboree tree.
Rooted in the scrub that covered the land in every direction from the ranges to the coast it thrived and grew. Sparse undergrowth allowed for sunshine to beat down where the tree radiated in the heat under the summer sun, in winter it weathered the damp cold. There was no need to push high and fast toward the sky, the surrounding trees grew standing apart enough to share the light so the river red gum grew wider and broader over time taking up space and staking it’s claim.
Contorting itself toward the light it grew lush and large spreading its canopy with fecundate ease then mutated from lush to sparse dropping limbs in drought time. Branches shed from the giant as near as a century or two ago were already giving back to the landscape homes for the possum and cockatoo, the hollow logs serve and have served as havens for generations of natives. The caretakers took leaves from the elder to make rubs and vapours using the medicine of the leaves to guard against sicknesses that came and went with the changing of the seasons.
It twisted up slowly toward the sky pushing roots down below deep into the earth to stand fast over the centuries claiming above as it does below. It taps into secrets of the land that we can never know as surely as it reaches down with a deep sinker root to tap into water far underground that we could never discern.
It reached taller, it grew fatter, it filled to the brim with history and life and knowledge. A person could never know the wisdom of a tree, our bodies would wither beneath the forces of nature unable to sustain a life beyond survival. The elements of the world are too harsh for us without the land and water and the shade of a tree.
I miss dancing.
Don’t get me wrong, I still dance. I dance in the kitchen, bop around the loungeroom, bounce up the stairs to my front door keeping the beat all the way.
Sometimes it’s to tunes that I play through speakers letting the music spill out onto the street for all to enjoy, other times it’s through headphones that encase me in a private audible world, sometimes I have a tune stuck in my head that carries me along for hours at a time. Music is always there at the fringes of my mind or its centre stage taking my full attention.
The music hasn’t stopped with the rest of the world, neither has dancing but I do miss dancing to a degree even though I haven’t stopped stepping to the beat. I’ve never been much good with dance moves or steps, following or taking the lead but I never miss a beat, not any of them. I like to dance to all the beats, not all at once, I like to chose my beat of engagement with the rhythm and to switch and change as the beat grows and lessens with the journey of sound taking me from interlude to lyric then from crescendo to the drop.
The beat is the one thing that I still don’t miss as I groove daily when the mood strikes me but so many other things about dancing have left me lonely. Dancing, like making music itself, is a collaboration when best realised, a shared experience – the foundation of fun.
I miss the crowd, the energy generated by a throbbing mass of strangers sharing a sensory overload in a dark room.
I miss twisting, turning and stepping to the beat in mutable space that expands and contracts with the music in time evolving throughout the night with the mix of the set.
I miss connecting without words with strangers as we share a look or a knowing smile, or a thumbs up as our worlds collide momentarily without touching but because the music has synched us together.
I miss feeling the rhythm course through my being consumed by the throbbing beat that coerces my senses to fall in with the room, in time with the senses of people I don’t know and never will but share an experience with that words fail to truly capture.
I miss claiming my space on the dancefloor – dancefloor real estate I call it – where when given the right conditions, right circumstances, right crowd and a talented DJ I can claim enough space to move and shake it into the night. A fixed point of focus undulating with the movement of the music and the bodies following the beat.
Dancing is zen, dancing is freedom, dancing is connecting my right and left hemispheres bringing my mind together as a moving meditation. Dancing is enlightenment, it raises my vibrations unleashing a feel-good sensibility that is hard to come by.
To reach the heights of unlimited happiness invoked by being lost in dance I may have to become a whirling dervish to make dancing my official religion. I have always managed to keep in time while lost in the dizzying elation of dance without any turns, all it takes is moving and changing with the beat.
The relentless construction that has carried through for the better part of the year across the street from where I live has provided a focal point for so many aspects of life.
In March, after over a year of no activity, breaking ground on the vacant city block that stretches from side street to alleyway commenced.
The site was enclosed with cyclone fencing to keep the dry brown dirt and weedy tufts of grass safe from the general public, when construction began the fencing along the street front was replaced by signs that promised a home for retirees only. A haven was to be built in the city for those who could afford to buy into it, and to be erected blocks away from boarding houses and social housing provided for pensioners who can’t afford the luxury of choice.
Dust kicked up from the lot daily forming dirty clouds that hung over the area then trailed out to the footpath and swept away in the wind to scatter over neighbouring homes. Digging down is very important, foundations are needed and the mechanisation of construction began with diggers digging onsite.
As the footings dug in so did the restrictions, as the din of traffic halted the whine of high-pitched drilling began, as advertising morphed into establishing what an essential service is to society construction workers busied themselves coming and going from the site across the way. The high-density area populated with apartments and multiple dwellings showed neighbours faces in their windows and on their balconies watching powerlessly from home confinement as the power tools built to a crescendo of noise pollution daily.
Not a nurse or police officer or supermarket worker could be seen amongst the din to help verify that the construction was essential. Only an assortment of safety-colour wearing tradies who wore masks as chin straps could be seen littering the street along with the noise pollution that they created.
Escape from the deadly contagion was mandated as full proof as long as you stayed home, from the rowdy grind of construction though there was no escape.
Decisions made by people who don’t live nearby mandated noise pollution along with home imprisonment creating a bubble of anguish amidst ever-changing rules for health, safety and the institutionalisation of uncertainty. Thinking straight about anything amidst the din is impossible but makes news reports more acceptable because of the inability to question or apply logic. Any break at night from the constructed reality of a street transformed into a construction site is lost to digging up water mains, or sirens, or nightly street congregations of the lost, lonely and depressed. Health isn’t a struggle but finding certainty in rules that change as soon as their acceptability filters through to real people on the streets is. Don’t ask, don’t think, don’t question – these aren’t against regulations but frowned upon and openly discouraged so therefore restricted in practice.
With over 2 months of no community health threat the biggest threat now is to choice and freedom, which have been removed by stealth leaving a community of millions masking their faces along with their minds, complicit in the construction of a world built to benefit someone unknown and that is filled with noise.
Escape from Melbourne for the new year break seemed like a good idea; escape from the pervading structures that have been cast over Melbourne to find some relief from the relentless uncertainty of surprise announcements and divisive conversations. Surely a trip away to Queensland where the beach is allowed, and freedom shaming is a headline from elsewhere was a good idea….? It seemed so in theory.
Longing for escape has become a popular past time for most these days along with seeking out destinations that provide a getaway which are in reality now no more but exist only as reminiscent thoughts about the past. There is no place to escape from the headline mongering being pressed upon our consciousness.
Over 1000km of terrain doesn’t change the landscape of our times but does change the timeline by transporting me to a place where people gobble up the mainstream media with a tenacity that could be better applied to an exploration of values, beliefs and the foundations of their lives. There is no motivation to question when on the surface it appears that nothing is happening, yet there’s a niggling awareness gestating in the background.
Conversations abound with the salt and peppering of comments detailing limited interest in events that don’t infringe on everyday life such as It hasn’t changed anything here, or we’ve hardly noticed it or most worrying to me for our nation what’s happening in England is terrible. Furthering discussion beyond these comments result in silence or judgey looks at best. Any recounting of my experiences has been met with disbelief and a there, there now countenance which perfectly encapsulates the inept skillset of any without first-hand encounters to digest what isn’t on their front doorstep.
All of the un words have come into play on a new level with the inability of people to identify with what they have never experienced before. Unprecedented events, uncertain times, unacknowledged influences, unnecessary divisions are ignored for the most part by the collective; a normal response given the world that we all came from but when digesting the mish mash of information it needs to be recognised that normal has gone for good.
There’s no reason to consider reason with so much patchy information scattered amongst the propaganda and “news” that delivers a dose of confusion with nothing adding up and no-one allowed to ask questions. The pervading tension resonating through society has everyone on edge unwilling to discuss what’s going on in the absence of any real information. Discussion by definition allows for consideration of a broad perspective with a view to resolve but requires being able to autonomously explore ideas which is becoming limited daily by those that we do not converse with.
Hanging tough has become my new hobby and turning inward my point of focus to maintain a sense of calm in the storm that the majority here only think is brewing even though the deluge has begun. The sun is shining and the rain is pouring down in the sunshine state giving the impression that it’s just a little sunshower and it’ll all be gone soon enough.
Fear has become the ruler of the land whether it’s recognised or not. Fear is expressed in a myriad of ways but it’s most recognisable as anger. Some people are angry because their fight or flight response is fight, some respond with anger from the pressure felt because of pent up energy from confinement of their life, choices, and movement, some don’t know why they are angry, but they are and it’s explosive and it keeps seeping out with regularity.
Anger is an emotion just like happiness, measuring one against the other as with love and hate provides some perspective. It can be helpful to ask when feeling a strong emotion – why do I feel this way? A precise answer is not the point of questioning, the point is to consider the self. No matter what or who or where we are on the journey through life these times are testing us in ways that we may not perceive. There is no measure for the external experience being thrust upon us, but we all do have an internal measure of ourselves even if it’s not a familiar tool.
Not many people like to think of themselves as emotional; to be in touch with your emotions to the point where you can sit with them, experience them, let them out before others and own them is seen as weakness. Beyond thought emotion is all that we are – happiness is the prime ambition in life for the majority and happiness is an emotion.
Think about it. If you’re not responding with thought, then you are having an emotional response to the world. When there is no real information to process with thoughts then all that is available to us is an emotional state of being.
The true rulers of our lives are our minds and our emotions tangled together. If they can be embraced, then something familiar may gain a place in the world again.
Focussing on what is beyond my control has become a touchstone for a state of powerlessness that captures observations which stick with me as criticisms I don’t intend to make. We are all powerless right now. We are all lost or deluded or confused or any combination of emotions that hinge on uncertainty. Making plans has become laughable – literally; people make jokes in conversation about not being able to plan more than a day ahead at a time.
For me life has become challenging with focus placed on chronicling and making sense of the world. A shift to sort out the mess that this creates within has been at the forefront of my mind and the only path that seems clear is going within mindfully and creatively – turning away from all that disempowers to embrace what empowers. This is not an attempt to exist in a state of denial, the problems of the world will remain large, undeniable and beyond my control, but it is the fact that they are beyond my control that causes me to get real and turn away from what I cannot affect.
Focus and energy and peace of mind are finite things, they must be cultivated mindfully for wellbeing, this though requires established habits or steady ground. Creating a routine which doesn’t include rabbit holes or anxiety or masked emotions in the face of this adversity is difficult. We are not rabbits, a sense of purpose is our natural right not a state of anxiety, and masks shouldn’t be necessary for us to connect.