The Virus Chronicles – The Change

The Virus Chronicles – The Change

With So Much Time to Think, COVID May See Some Seismic Changes in Our Lives.

#writersinquarantine #Writerslife #writingcommunity #amwritingwomensfiction #womenshealth

I got an email from my employment agency yesterday, just touching base and seeing if I was still available for assignments. The email said they didn’t have any work at the moment but would let me know when they did. This made my heart sink for two reasons, firstly, because I don’t have a job to go to and secondly, because one day I will.

While it is not sustainable for my family to live on one income for the long term, the prospect of resuming my 9 to 5 existence doesn’t have much appeal. The thought of squeezing back into a business suit and doing battle with peak hour traffic makes me want to pull the doona back over my head and press the snooze button on my alarm.

Being at home has been a novelty for me. I have always worked 9 to 5, even when my children were small and I have always craved more time at home. The end of the Monday to Friday working week leaves me shattered, with little time or energy to do the things I want to do.

Now, I wonder how I managed to cram the most important parts of my life around that 38 hour block of time: the 9 to 5 working week. That voracious, soul sucking monster who is never satisfied, is was always demanding more.

A year ago, I left a job where I was comfortable but extremely unsatisfied. Since then, I have  been in a couple of jobs which seemed the right fit but despite my best efforts, just didn’t work out and I had no choice but to leave.

For many women in their fifties, the way they have always done things seems to stop working and they begin casting around for something new. Their children grow up and no longer need them, the careers they have become proficient in no longer satisfy them and they no longer give much of a crap about what anybody else thinks.

Comedian, Billy Connolly, once said that women are like trees, always branching out and growing, spreading out in all directions and reaching for new sources of nourishment. His own wife, comedian Pamela Stephenson, is testament to this. She became a psychologist later in life before taking up round the world sailing and Latin dancing.

With life lessons learned, skills acquired and wisdom gained, the later middle years can be a time of rebirth for many women. We are smarter, stronger, tougher than ever before and we are no longer afraid to pursue our dreams.

I cast my eye over the email again, racking my brain for an appropriate response. I don’t want to cut ties completely, but I really don’t want to go back.

I do some calculations, and although it will be tough, I reckon I can manage to stay home and write for another couple of months. Give it a red hot go.

My husband finishes his work for the day and I sit him down for a serious chat. I know that ditching paid work to write a novel makes about as much financial sense as buying a tattslotto ticket.

But I want to do it anyway.

Although my husband has always been supportive of my writing, I am bracing myself to hear his objections. But he says, “Sure, no worries. You probably don’t have much other choice, anyway.”

And so the decision is made.

I will devote the next few months to writing my second novel, and I’m going to give it a red hot go.

I go back into the spare room, where I do my writing and retrieve the plan for my second novel, the one I abandoned about a year ago.

Sometimes we choose change, sometimes it’s forced upon us and maybe sometimes, it’s just meant to be.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 8 comments
The Virus Chronicles – Swimming Pool

The Virus Chronicles – Swimming Pool

One Day The Crowds Will Return to the Local Swimming Pool

April 9th, 2020

The road that leads to the swimming pool is completely deserted. Usually, it’s so full of cars that you’re lucky not to take out someone’s side mirror when you drive through. Especially during school holidays, which it is now.

Under normal circumstances, this street would be full of cars from the overflowing car park. Harried mums and their gaggle of kids would make a colourful, noisy parade, festooned with floating aids, towels and bright beach bags.

But today nobody’s here. Nobody but the tradies in their hulking, four-wheel drive utes. There are about half a dozen of them in the deserted car park, taking the opportunity to work in peace.

The back door of the swimming pool is propped open and a coiling, silver cylinder snakes out, like the spiralling slinky I used to play with as a kid. This door is for members only, I know because I used to be a member here. I wore a plastic band on my wrist that allowed me entrance through the Members Only door. I would hold it up to the sensor as I approached and the tall glass door would ease open with great reverence, heralding my arrival.

I would ascend the wide staircase that led to the members only change rooms, which would also require a swipe of my plastic bracelet. The change rooms were nicer than the public ones downstairs, small but immaculate with white washed brick walls and blond wood benches. Ladies would hang their business suits on coat hangers while they attended yoga, spin class or did a workout in the gym. The 6am classes were popular for busy professionals, allowing them to keep up with their fitness program and still get to work on time.

As a member, I had a special program designed for me. One that would help me achieve my weight loss goals. I had been required to get a doctor’s certificate before I was allowed to join the gym. I was overweight and had high blood pressure. But with a sensible diet and a proper exercise plan we would soon fix that.

I would get to the gym about three times a week and go through the exercises, as I had been shown. Medicine balls, floor mats, gym equipment. The gym was always packed at the peak times before and after work. Sometimes I was lucky to find a space on the floor. I would get annoyed when there were people lying on their mats, looking at their phones. Didn’t they know that just being in the gym was not enough? Did they think they would just absorb the vibe and let osmosis do the work?

No matter. I preferred the walking machine, anyway. There were lines of them overlooking the swimming pools below. There was the kiddies pool with spurting water fountains, the wave pool were people could enjoy the thrill of the tides without the dangers of open waters and the lap pools, with the designated lanes for beginners, intermediate and fast swimmers alike.

My dad used to take me to this pool when I was a child, and if he could see it now, he would not recognise it. There was no gym back then and a kiosk, not a cafe. The kiosk sold hot chips and ice cream, pies and lollies. The ladies couldn’t even get a salad sandwich, they had to bring one from home. Now there is a café, with spacious, comfortable seating. Smiling, aproned baristas bring you latte and frittata, chai tea and salads. If you want a pie and chips, you have to go to the takeaway at the back.

For reasons of time and money, I gave up my gym membership and reprised the one and only exercise I truly enjoy – walking. I like the freedom of putting on my shoes and taking off whenever I want. And my dog likes it, too.

I live near the pool now, where I used to be a member, where my dad used to take me when I was a kid. I walk past it every day, as part of my isolation fitness routine. I walk past the water fountains that have stopped flowing and the wide glass doors that have stopped opening. I look in through the windows at the empty kiddies pool and the deserted cafe. I follow the path through the native gardens to the back, where the outdoor pool sparkles behind the high cyclone wire.

I remember the days when my dad would bring me here to cool down on hot, summer days. I remember the crowds, the sunburned children laughing in the water, the teenagers doing water bombs and the mums frantically calling their children to stay in the shallow end.

I remember the days before the arching, elegant lines of the sprawling sports complex that’s here now, when the local pool was a boxy, yellow brick building, housing two single pools. I remember the days when we pushed through the stiff, rusted turnstile to a world of fun and adventure, a reprieve for the long, drawn out days of oppressive summer heat.

There was only one entrance then because there weren’t any members. There was only a rusty old turnstile, and everyone pushed through it.

I hope that one day, the people will return to the swimming pool. I hope to walk past and see kids and their parents enjoying the water.

I hope I will come back here on a hot summer day and feel the ice-cold water on my febrile summer skin.

Just like I did with my dad when I was a kid.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 0 comments
The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

Insomnia and late night TV lead to some interesting revelations about a notorious Aussie football legend.

#WritersInQuarantine #WritersLife #WritingCommunity #amwriting #takecareofyourself #insomnia

Photo by Chanel 7

April 11, 2020

I try to keep to my 9 to 5 routine, but today things have got the better of me. I woke up at 4am, showered at lunchtime and now, I’m awake at midnight.

Not being able to get back to sleep, I go into the kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea. My son is up watching a documentary about former football star, Ben Cousins, and invites me to join him. I have no interest in sports but when your 20-something son wants you to hang out you take the opportunity. You never know when it might happen again.

My son is sports mad and growing up, he and his mates idolised Ben Cousins, arguably the best player of his day. But all I remember about him was getting arrested for taking drugs. I remember seeing him on the news, handcuffed and shirtless, being forced into a police car.

I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that someone in peak athletic form could be a drug addict. Ben Cousins’s body was superbly muscular and his skin glowed with good health.

“How could he be a drug addict?” I say. “Don’t drugs destroy your body?

“He trained really hard,” my son explains.

But I still don’t get it.

We watch the two-part series Such is Life: The Troubled Times of Ben Cousins. The introduction shows a fresh-faced Ben Cousins warning of the dangers of drug addiction. Staring straight into the camera, he is a talking head reading off an autocue. His warnings about drugs are empty, because he seems to be having the time of his life while his family are distraught with worry.

The psychologist interviewed for this film says that Ben’s adult life had only been about “receiving and not giving.”

“No wonder he’s a narcissistic prick,” I tell my son. “He doesn’t know any better.”

The second documentary, Coming Clean, is hard to watch. Filmed ten years later in 2020, Ben has changed a lot. He no longer looks like a little boy. His face is weathered and there are patches of grey in his shaggy beard. A plain white t-shirt replaces the immaculate dress shirt and dove grey blazer he wore in the earlier film.

But the most striking change is in his demeanour. The smart arse, rapid fire answers have been replaced by long pauses of introspection, where he struggles to find his words and evade the interviewer’s confronting questions. And they are confronting.

Ben’s life has not been easy in the ten years since the first documentary was filmed. He has become estranged from his family, lives “between joints” and has spent time in prison.

Ben made a go of it in prison, getting a job in the cleaning party, responsible for the prison maintenance. Getting a job in prison is not easy, and not everyone does. And Ben says with a smile that it is work he thinks he could do on the outside.

“So, from Brownlow to garbo, inside a jail,” says interviewer, Basil Zempilas. Zempilas then goes on to quote the Cold Play lyrics: “I used to rule the world, and now I sweep the streets I used to own.”

“That interviewer’s a bastard,” says my son.

And I am inclined to agree.

Zempilas brings up some deeply personal issues, making Ben look most uncomfortable, even pained. Like the near naked selfie that became public. The interviewer asks Ben why he took the photo in the first place.

“Trying to get a root,” Ben responds with his characteristic cheekiness.

“And did it have the desired effect?”

Ben looks uncomfortable. “No, it didn’t.”

Next, Zempilas reads the letter Ben wrote to actress, Lynne McGranger of TV Soap, Home and Away. The private letter is heartfelt and respectful. Grainger expresses surprise that he wrote to her and she reads it on air. She supposes he reached out because of the character she plays, a former addict who takes in young people struggling with addiction.

She wishes him all the best with his recovery and points him in the direction of his higher power.

Zempilas takes Ben to task about the trouble he has caused the AFL by “bringing the game of football into disrepute.” Chastened, Ben is apologetic, but in an earlier interview he says the AFL wouldn’t care if he was hanging from the beams in the roof.

Young footballers devote themselves to serving an apprenticeship that they cannot take with them into later life, after the game is over. Like modern day gladiators, they put their bodies on the line for the sake of public entertainment and when they are too old and broken to amuse us, we throw them on the scrap heap.

Throughout the film, Ben says he wants to be normal and that he would love to be living a traditional, family life. But after the life he has lived, how can that be possible?

The AFL have turned their back on the problem child that they have created and turned him out into a world for which he is in no way prepared.

The documentary finishes and my son goes out into the cold night air. He sits at the far corner of the outdoor table and the red tip of his cigarette glows in the darkness. I don’t like him smoking but I tell myself it could be worse.

I got both my sons into every sport going when they were young. Football, cricket, basketball. I thought all that running around would use up their energy and keep them out of trouble.

But Ben Cousin’s has shown the flaw in my thinking.

I say goodnight to my son and head off to bed.

But I don’t know if I will sleep tonight.

Coming Clean by Chanel 7

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 2 comments
The Virus Chronicles – Looking for Work

The Virus Chronicles – Looking for Work

After 14 Days in quarantine, it’s time to find a job.

April 1st, 2020

My quarantine period ends next week and I need to get a job. Before I left for my overseas holiday in March, my temp agency said they would have plenty of work in April. But it’s April 1st today and they haven’t returned my calls or emails.

No matter. There’s plenty of call center work around. I used to work in call centers many years ago and I swore I would never do it again but I might have to. I gave up on them years ago when all the work dried up and went overseas. The work all went offshore but now it’s back on shore again and they need new people.

And so, with some reluctance, I update my resume and fill out the online application form. Apart from being an insidious form of soul destroying mental torture, call centres are rife with germs. People sit at close quarters, sharing the same recycled air and often using each other’s headsets and keyboards. If one person gets sick, then everyone around them goes down. Maybe these days the call centers practice social distancing, or maybe it’s set up so that people can work from home. But then they wouldn’t be call centers.

I went for a job a few weeks ago. One I really wanted but didn’t think I’d get. My husband’s work was looking for a Bid Specialist, someone to help write business tenders. I read the job description but didn’t think it was for me, I didn’t have the right experience. But my husband spoke with the manager of the department and told her about the writing I do in my spare time. He told her that I had written a novel, short stories and that I keep a regular blog.

“Oh, yeah,” said the manager, “she’s a writer.”

Just like that. As someone who has never earned money or prizes for my work, I struggle with identifying myself as a writer. I feel like a fraud. But that casual acknowledgment meant the world to me, I could have kissed her.

So on the strength of the creative writing I do in my spare time, she wanted to see me. We met for coffee and a casual chat. The meeting went well and she encouraged me to apply for the role. I applied but didn’t get it. I didn’t think I would, it went to someone with bid writing experience. Naturally.

And so I’m back to the drawing board. Looking for the same familiar roles that have kept me going in circles my entire working life. Like the woman in the cartoon who forgot to have a baby, I forgot to have a career. I always thought there would be more time.

My husband has stuck a red notice from the electricity company on the fridge and has mentioned that he is the only one earning an income. I feel guilty for putting all that pressure on him, it’s not fair. He’s got a job for now in the essential industry of telecommunications but who knows what could happen.

They say on the news that landlords will not be allowed to evict tenants and that utilities can’t cut off supply. I’ve heard that you can access your super and that Centrelink are offering extra payments. But I wouldn’t like to put any of that to the test. I don’t trust governments and I don’t want to burn through what little super I have.

And so instead of writing stories I need to start writing job applications. Instead of finessing my website I need to update my Linkedin profile. Instead of enjoying video chats with other writers I need to get on the phone to prospective employers.

I saw a man on the news last night who had lost his job and only had thirty dollars to his name. He was waiting in the line at Centrelink and hoped his landlord would cut him some slack for the few weeks it would take for his benefits to come through.

I don’t think Centrelink understood that this man can’t wait that long.

So I better get a job soon.

You can’t rely on the government.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 0 comments

The Virus Chronicles – A Changed Landscape

Returning to the outside world after two weeks quarantine, I found a very different place.

#Writersinquarantine #writingcommunity #amwriting

Our quarantine period is over today, and we are free to go into the outside world, well some of it anyway. Even after being relegated to the house for two weeks, I’m not keen on going out. We can’t take a long drive, I can’t see my mum, I can’t cash in the book shop voucher I got for my birthday.

The only place we can go is to the shops. For essential items only. My sister has told me about the empty shelves and the circles painted on the floor. You can only stand in designated places don’t get too close to anyone else. She says there are no cafes, no clothing shops no hairdressers. She says there’s nothing to go out for.

“But you can go for a walk,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says, “but it’s not the same.”

My sister lives in a semi-rural area, with some lovely bushland walks. Sometimes, we go to a little café near her house for a breakfast of fat, juicy bacon, eggs cooked just the way we like them and buttery sour dough toast. Enjoying every mouthful, we don’t worry about the kilojoules. Doesn’t matter, we say, we’ll walk it off. And we do. After our sumptuous breakfast, we take a long walk through the creek, the Sunday markets and the horse agistment.

Now we can’t go to the café and we can’t take a long walk. At least not together, anyway.

I go outside to empty the coffee grounds on the garden and the wind has an arctic tinge. The sky is overcast and it looks like it might rain. Drawing my cardigan around me, I hurry back into the warmth of the house.

My husband comes into the kitchen, ready for Saturday morning shopping. Usually, I don’t go with him. Worn out by a week of 9 to 5, I delegate this task to him.

But today is different.

He holds up a pair of black latex gloves and a conical face mask. He had some PPE left over from a job site he was working on, which have been sitting in our garage till now. He passes the mask and gloves to me.

“You’ll need to wear these.”

I take a step back. “Are we going to rob a bank?”

“Very funny. Just put them on.”

We drive down the street that leads to our local shopping centre. This busy rat run passes the swimming pool and is usually choked with cars but today it’s deserted. We arrive at the usually chaotic shopping centre and get a park straight away. Right outside the door.

The place looks the same as it always does, but there are fewer people and most are wearing masks. It’s more like 7am on a weekday than peak time, Saturday morning.

My husband asks if I want a coffee and I say yes straight away. It will be the first store bought coffee I have had in two weeks.

We go upstairs to the food court and it’s here that I see things have really changed. The expansive, gleaming floors are devoid of chairs and tables and the usually pulsing food court is closed.

Last time I was here, the mouth-watering smell of popcorn filled the air. A girl in a peasant dress carrying a wicker basket handed warm paper bags of the salty treats to passersby. They walked the shiny corridors, munching as they went, chatting to the person beside them or making a picnic with their kids in the seating areas.

But today there’s no popcorn and nobody’s having a picnic.

My husband and I drink our coffees as we walk the empty corridors. A man in a face mask gives us a dirty look as he walks by. Maybe it’s because we’re together or maybe it’s because we have removed our face mask to drink the coffee. My husband is offended.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say.

Most of the shops are closed and I gaze through their darkened windows. The surf shop is still open which strikes me as ironic, considering the beaches are all closed.

We head down the escalators to the supermarket, where there are a few people browsing the aisles. We try to work out what we need for the next two weeks so we don’t have to keep running to the shops.

Flatten the curve.

We fill our trolley and stand on the painted little circle in front of the checkout. I’ve seen on the news that some cashiers stand behind a plastic screen, like the ones in banks. I wonder if this will become the norm, and if they will replace all the cashiers with automated checkouts. I wonder if there will even be anyone to help if you screw up, as I often do.        

Will the last of the sentient beings be replaced by a menu on the screen, an automated voice or a pop-up chat when all we want is someone to listen?

The lady on the checkout smiles and waves us forward. “How are you, today?” she asks. We load our groceries onto the conveyer belt and meet them at the other end, where we pack them into our shopping bags.

The lady holds up a bottle of pasta sauce. “I’ll have to put this back, you’ve already got two.” She puts it aside, under the counter, where I see there are a few other random items.

“Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t know the limit.”

The lady smiles. “That’s ok. Everyone’s still getting used to it.”

My husband and I leave the store and he says we will stop by Bunnings on the way home. I ask him what he needs.

“I’m going to buy a pressure cooker,” he says. “And some tomato plants.”

And I think that is probably a very good idea.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, The Virus Chronicles, 0 comments
The Virus Chronicles – Working Bee

The Virus Chronicles – Working Bee

Week One of Quarantine – March 29th, 2020

Will the COVID-19 lockdown bring welcome changes on the domestic front?

Today is Saturday and I have declared it a Working Bee. The floors need to be vacuumed and mopped, the garden needs to be weeded and the avalanche of laundry needs to be sorted. With four adults in the house all day, there is no excuse for the place not to look like a showpiece.

I have spent all week writing, which has been bliss. I have been putting in a full eight hour day at the times I would usually been going to work. Old habits die hard.

Being in quarantine, we are not allowed outside the house, so I have not been going for my usual evening walks. I can’t say I’ve missed it. I’m tired after all the walking we did on our holiday in Japan. My husband showed me the graph on his phone. Last week while we were away, we averaged around 8000 steps per day, this week you could barely see the little red bars on the screen. That curve sure flattened out quickly.

So it’s time for some exercise and it’s time to get the place looking ship shape. “Do we have to do it now?” my husband asks, “we’ve got all day, why rush?”

Why indeed. Why not spend the morning relaxing, eating a slow breakfast in front of the TV, catching up on social media and doing a bit of writing? After all, mornings are the best time to write. Your mind is clear and rested and the dopamines are flowing. That’s why they have Morning Pages.

And so I leave the dishwasher half unpacked and sit down at my computer. I have been a bit worried about my chair and the workstation I sit at. A cheap desk shoved into the spare room and an old office chair I bought when my former workplace was upgrading. It’s hardly ideal in ergonomic terms. If I’m going to be spending so much time here, this could be a problem. I heard about a writer who developed severe back pain from sitting at her desk all day. But she was older than me and had pre-existing health problems. Besides, I don’t have a job and can’t afford it. And even if I did have the cash, the furniture shops are all closed anyway.

I will have to make do. I will have to make sure I get away from my desk sometimes. I will have to keep up some standards at home. I can’t let everything slide into chaos, which it will do if I’m not careful. I’m the only female in the house and so it falls to me. I know people won’t like me saying that but it’s true. Studies have proven it.

A comedian once said that men are just bears with furniture. They don’t care if the dishes are piling up in the sink and the ironing basket is overflowing. They don’t care if the floors haven’t seen a mop in two weeks and the outdoor table is covered with dust –it’s outdoors! Men are pragmatic. They iron as they go. They’ll wait till there isn’t a clean dish in the house before they turn on the dishwasher.

But women are different. We like order and control. We like to plan ahead to circumvent discomfort and disorder down the track. We keep the pantry stocked, the bills paid and the toilets clean. Domestic disorder sets our teeth on edge. The world isn’t right when the house is a mess. It’s like all that’s bad in the outside world is creeping in and we can’t let that happen. We need to protect our own private space, our sanctuary and our fortress. At least we can control that much.

I refuse to be one of those women who harps on about trivial chores, the weeds in the garden I asked to be removed three weeks ago, the clothes dropped on the floor, the food left uncovered. I say it once and then I walk away.

But my dignified silence comes at a price. If it bothers you so much, then do it yourself, says the little voice in my head. Why should anyone else do it if it doesn’t bother them? What right do I have to impose my standards on them, as long as we are all well and healthy and the house is not falling down?

The men in my house would be most indignant at my suggestion that we are not all pulling our weight. After all, I have been spending all my days writing and haven’t even cooked a meal all week. My elder son and my husband have taken over the cooking and even the washing up. My younger son will run to the shops anytime we need anything. One of them cut the lawn last week, a task I have never done and don’t intend to.

I can feel a creeping sense of ennui regarding just about anything except writing. Maybe because I know this time is limited, that this impromptu writing retreat isn’t going to last forever.

Sooner or later, it will come to an end and I will return to the necessary business of being a responsible adult.

In the meantime, why waste this opportunity on my ironing basket?

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 0 comments
The Virus Chronicles: The Red Dress

The Virus Chronicles: The Red Dress

The red dress at the back of my wardrobe provided some much needed writing inspiration

Working on an old story I started months ago, I was writing a scene where one of my characters was wearing a red dress. I tried to picture the character in my mind, done up for a fancy dinner at an upmarket Docklands restaurant, and then I remembered the red dress in the back of my wardrobe.

Thinking it might help me get a bit of sensory detail, I got it out and hung it on the hook behind the door of the spare room, the place where I do all my writing.  I had bought the dress a couple of years ago from a catalog. I used to work in the call center of the catalogue company many years ago and continue my association as a customer. I am familiar with all their clothing lines and can tell if something is going to fit me or not, just by looking at the picture and reading the description.

The red dress would be just the thing to attend the cocktail party we go to for Motorclassica in October each year. My sister in law and her partner, who is a mechanic by trade, enter a car every year on behalf of their clients. They drive the cars down from Adelaide to Melbourne in a special trailer. These cars are not meant to be driven on the road like ordinary cars, these cars are strictly for show.

I have enjoyed hosting a succession of these pedigree motors at my home, and the excitement it causes as the neighbors gather round to stare. One year, it was a beautiful old Hudson, with lustrous caramel duco and a golden handle at the front to crank it up. Another year, it was a cute little rally car, stripped down to a roll cage and netting, its gaudy paint job attracting spectators at the supermarket. And then, there was the Corvette. The most glamourous of all. Long and sleek, it was the clear sky blue of a perfect summer day.

I am not a motoring buff by any means, but every year, I love to go to this event.  I wander around the Carlton Exhibition Buildings, whose elegant, art deco decor is the perfect backdrop to showcase this event. I don’t bother with the modern cars outside in the glaring sun, I stay indoors with the vintage cars.

Mesmerised, I wander through the crowded aisles, agog at the elegance and beauty all around me. There are boxy Vauxhalls with wide running boards, regal Rolls Royces with walnut dashboards and folding tray tables, but my favourite, created in the year of my birth, is the midnight blue Maserati with the creamy interior. They are more than just cars; they are relics of a time gone by, they are works of art.

When I see the dress in the catalogue, I fall in love with the floaty skirt and the flattering, cross over bodice. And of course, it’s red, my favourite color. I must have it to wear to the cocktail party.

We had attended the cocktail party previous year, and there had been a live jazz quartet with a double bass, champagne and cocktails carried on silver trays and delightful hors d’oeuvres, including miniature burgers, sushi served in folded origami and airy macaroons that dissolved on your tongue.

I bought the dress to wear that year but the cocktail party was booked out and we couldn’t get tickets. Never mind. I could wear it to the Christmas party for my husband’s work. But my husband changed jobs and partners weren’t invited to the end of year festivities. The following year, events worked against me again and there was no cocktail party and no formal Christmas event to attend.

And so the dress remained in the wardrobe. Until today when I need it for my story.

As I hang the dress on the hook, I see that the tag is still on it. I think about posting the photo in Instagram “Writing Inspiration”, will be the caption. But times are getting tough and I might need to sell it, and I will have a lot better chance if the tag’s still there. But who’s going to buy a red cocktail dress in a time like this?

I cut off the tags and post the dress on social media. Though I must admit, it looks a bit sad hanging there on the hanger with no one to fill it out.

And then I remember, there was a story on the news this morning about people getting dressed up on Fridays. It’s a reversal of Casual Friday, the office tradition where workers exchange their business attire for more casual gear.

 It was a funny story, featuring women taking out the bins and doing the vacuuming in evening dresses. Even the kids joined in, getting done up in their Sunday best. Now that everyone’s working from home, by the end of the week they’re fed up with trackies and PJs and want a bit of glam. Hence, all the #Formal Friday posts. It’s a thing, as they say

So maybe I have an excuse to wear the red dress after all. I’ll see you next week at #Formal Friday.

#amwriting #writingcommunity #writersinquarantine #writerslife #formalfriday

Red Dress

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 6 comments
The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

Having the time to write is an absolute gift for a working writer.

The dishes are done. The washing’s on the line. The homemade soup is simmering on the stove and it’s only 8.13am.

Usually by now, I would be in peak hour traffic. The dishes would be scattered on the kitchen bench, the washing would still be in the machine and homemade soup not even a thought in my mind.

But things are different now. I am quarantined because of COVID-19 and I have nothing but time.

Things have snowballed since last week, when my husband and I returned early from our ill fated trip. We set off for Japan at the time when things were iffy but more or less OK and were called home early with a dire DFAT warning.

We are required to spend fourteen days at home in isolation.

Disappointed but relieved to be back home, I am going to make the most of my time. As a writer with a full time office job, time is an absolute gift.

They say that it’s possible to write and hold down a full time job and many people do but having time and energy to devote to writing makes such a difference. I know I have achieved things in the last week that I could never have done if I had been working.

I have participated in online events during the day, like the live video critique I attended yesterday. I’ve submitted the first chapter of my novel to be critiqued by the group so it’s my turn next week. I joined in a Twitter event I usually miss and was able to follow it as it was happening and take my time to linger over the responses. I check in regularly with a Facebook writers group I’m in, where we support and encourage each. I joined a fun video catch up with some writer friends.

I’m having a go at writing short stories. Short stories are not my thing but I have a couple in the works so I’ll see how I go. I am beta reading an exciting new novel for a critique partner, one that will put me in the right frame of mind for my second novel.

Finally, I am working with my critique group on the final round of edits to my first novel. With a full time job, this project is usually the only thing I have the time and energy to do.

I know there’s a lot going on at the moment and I’ve probably got my head in the sand. But having our heads in the sand is probably the best thing to do if it means we are keeping away from other people.

Before I left for Japan, I resigned from my job and signed up with a temp agency. There is always plenty of temp work in my industry but I don’t know how I’ll go now that everything’s changed.

In the meantime, I choose to live one day at a time. I’m enjoying spending time with my family, writing and engaging with other writers.

I’m in forced quarantine for another week and there’s nothing I can do about it. This gives me the excuse not to make decisions, not to go to work, not to face the outside world.

I know I’m in a state of suspended disbelief and that reality is probably going to hit like a freight train.

But for now, I’m on holiday and I’m going to enjoy every minute.

#amwriting #writerslilfe #writingcommunity #writersinquarantine #6amAusWriters

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 7 comments
Stone Girl by Eleni Hale – Goodreads review by Naomi Lisa Shippen

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale – Goodreads review by Naomi Lisa Shippen

A Disturbing and Powerful Story of Growing up in State Care

Influenced by her experiences of growing up in state care in early 1990’s Victoria, Stone Girl by Eleni Hale is a disturbing read. The story starts with twelve year old Sophie being interviewed at the police station, following the death of her mother from a drug overdose.

Treated like a problem to be managed, rather than a child to be cherished, Sophie is moved through a succession of group homes, many lasting only a few days. The homes are run by social workers doing shifts, where pantries are kept locked and kids come and go without warning or explanation.

To escape the ever present threat of violence in the homes, Sophie decides to run away. Alone on the city streets, she is an easy mark for predators, and soon catches the eye of Elvis wannabe, Milo. He buys her fish and chips and lures her back to his place with the offer of a fizzy drink.

All little girls are told never to accept lollies from strangers, but Sophie has no one else to give her things and make her feel wanted. She accepts the gifts from this stranger and soon learns that adults are not to be trusted.  

Sophie returns to the homes where she learns to survive by keeping her feelings to herself and never truly trusting anyone. She becomes stone girl. For Sophie, everything comes at a price; love, friendship, cigarettes, train fare. She learns to read people’s motivations and weigh the risks, risks that kids with homes and families never have to consider.

For her sixteenth birthday, Sophie is given meth by her dealer boyfriend and a packet of cigarettes by Phil, her latest social worker in a succession of many. Phil tells her that her days in state care are numbered and soon she will be on her own.

This is a wake up call and Sophie knows she has some tough choices to make. Following a dramatic series of events that almost destroy her both emotionally and physically, Sophie finds a new way to live and the chance of a better future.

In her work as a journalist, Hale has attempted to uncover the truth about the broken state system but has been stymied by government secrecy. Also, teenagers are not an easy sell when it comes to raising awareness. Hardened by their experiences, they often present in ways that are socially unacceptable or even threatening.

I hope that Hale’s account of the lived experience of growing up in state care will draw attention to the way that we are failing the vulnerable young people in our society. Stone Girl is a powerful and engrossing novel that gives voice to the young people society tries to ignore. It has certainly changed the way I will look at the kids who hang out on Flinders Street Station.

Posted by naomilisashippen in Goodreads Book Reviews, 0 comments
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