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The Virus Chronicles – Life in the City

The packed trains and busy streets have given way to empty carriages and an eerie silence as Melbourne locks down in the wake of COVID 19.

I always find a spot at the station car park and I always get a seat on the train. There are usually about four people in the carriage, two at either end, and a couple in the middle, so we all sit far apart.

The trains run so frequently I never bother with the timetable and I usually get an express. It amazes me that they’re all still running, considering how few passengers there are.

When I reach the city, I stop and get a coffee and I can take my pick of vendors. There’s a little coffee shop across from Parliament Station and a handful in Madame Brussels Lane. Today, I get a long black from the one across the station to take with me to work.

I’ve come in early and I would have liked to sit down inside the café and have it bought to me in a china cup by a friendly barista. I would have liked to find a quiet nook amongst the bump and jostle of people in woollen business suits and good-natured but harried floor staff. I would have liked to create that little oasis between myself and the working day. Just like I used to before COVID hit.

But of course, the inside of the café’s closed, so all I can do is peer through the window. I haven’t dressed warmly enough, so I draw my cardigan around me and hunch against the cold.

The girl in the patterned mask calls to me from behind her bullet-proof glass. She’s just like the tellers in the bank next door, but of course, the bank is closed.

The coffee in its cardboard cup is almost too hot to hold, and I pass it from one hand to another. I stand and wait for the lights to change, without having to press the button. The lights now change automatically, and crews of cleaners patrol the streets, constantly sanitizing anything that people are likely to touch.

I watch several busses pass through the intersection but there are hardly any cars. My son tells me I should drive in, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort. Parking is still expensive and my aversion to traffic has always kept me out of the city. I wouldn’t know the way.

I cross the road and walk through the expansive marble entrance to my building. I wave to the security guard as I do every morning and then again every night. I think it’s the same man every time, but with the mask on, it’s hard to tell.

At lunchtime, I escape from the office and hurry down the stairs to Madame Brussels Lane. The long, grey arcade is a wind tunnel today, and rather than find a spot outside, I almost think about heading back to the office and the shelter of the lunchroom.

There are a handful of eateries that remain open and I’ve done the rounds of all of them.  There is Greek, Asian and standard Aussie fare but after a month of takeaway lunches, it has taken a toll on my waistline and wallet.

As I hurry through the lane, I curse the combined locksmith and drycleaner for being closed. I really need a new key cut and my overcoat needs dry cleaning. I wore it on public transport all winter and I’m worried about the germs.

Avoiding the temptation of the cafes, I take my homemade sandwich and find a place to sit in the historic Little Lon precinct. I walk past the cordoned-off outdoor tables, the mock outhouse and the display of domestic artefacts where a little plaque informs me that women in the olden days became either sex-workers or domestic drudges.

I take a seat in the little native gardens near the blown-up black and white photos of women from colonial times. It’s 1.47pm and I’m the only one in sight.

When my husband ended our marriage a few months ago, I had to move fast. With only a few months before he stopped paying the rent, I had to find a job and a cheaper place to live. I am thankful to have found both.

With a tiring daily commute and a busy office job, I never have trouble sleeping at night. I hear reports on the news and friends telling me how lockdown life is seriously affecting their ability to sleep. Despite being envious of those who work from home, I am grateful to have missed the endless ground hog day of what the new normal has become.

With spring in the air, and COVID numbers falling, there is talk of restrictions ending earlier than expected. There is talk of streets being closed down to allow outdoor dining and some return to normal life just in time for the Grand Final, the Spring Carnival and Christmas.

I hope that all going well, that is going to happen.

I hope that we will soon get together in the city for brunch, lunch and a long-awaited drink.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 0 comments

Life in the Time of Corona – Short Story Anthology

I am Thrilled to be a Part of this Wonderful Anthology by Mana Press, available on Amazon.

Amazon Aus: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08BZCFHN9?fbclid=IwAR1STn0n1bAWr0LBgPZ-xgFdg6uwxA2mPHPHOMh9A1NmwVLwiyVxnAesdrU

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BZCFHN9?fbclid=IwAR2Hbrgrkr4bQZEM9oRK7doYs3vBtDi9NhF0mjwDTcFdIsNLlpHsDiQrh5A

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08BZCFHN9?fbclid=IwAR1CJBgOZn9Qz5KKULkIX7j8ClDOhj1n4LSJy9a8BOaIr7vXINPlGKAloPk

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/life-in-the-time-of-corona-aramiha-harwood/1137265753?ean=2940162956235&fbclid=IwAR0ieoJTY3KzBGAH6Cc2Vl6lh_B_RScNzwDmW6559ABmggmlU8Rfk7Zaqvs

Posted by naomilisashippen in Life in the Time of Corona - Short Story Anthology, 0 comments
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 – 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 – 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