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The Virus Chronicles – Life in the City

Peak Hour Melbourne is not What it Used to Be.

I always get 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
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