To an outsider we would have looked like any normal family going on a weekend hike, but each of us, mum, dad, sister Kit and I, knew it was not. We had no choice but to pack up and head west. Away from our once shimmering, pulsating city now gasping for breath with only the stench of fear and rotten garbage its only reminder of modern civilization.
We headed out with a sense of excited relief and quiet despair, dad trying to keep the mood light and mum’s brown eyes smiling behind her mask covered in silent tears. We had all worn masks outside for months. Most had. But still most had died. Or left like us. Disappeared without a trace.
Dad drove our old Toyota Hilux till it ran out of petrol just on the other side of the mountain range. Then we had to walk carrying our gear through the steep descent into the valley of thick bushland. Dad was on a mission to the get there by nightfall to set up camp. ‘Keep walking. We will be safe there’ he kept saying. I limped along; pain shooting from throbbing blisters on my heels. Kit was crying and dad picked her up and carried both her and the heaviest backpack with our water supply. Mum stumbled, and I grabbed her hand. It felt warm and comforting. We continued for what seemed hours, Kit on Dad’s back and mum and I behind.
‘This is it!’ Dad smiled. ‘Let’s set up camp here.’
It was nothing like our home, but the small grassed clearing with the freshwater creek nearby and dense tall gumtrees all around that night was heaven. Mum soon had the fire burning with the smell of garlic and dried vegetables wafting through the place. We feasted and told funny stories, we laughed and we shed a few quiet tears in the dark. Life almost felt good and normal again; as if we were just on another camping trip.
But it wasn’t. We left the city, but the city came with us. It stalked us through the bushes, and safety was only a momentary illusion. We knew as soon as we lost Kit. We knew it was with us. We stopped hugging and sharing utensils. But we stayed together. Like robots without souls, we walked the bush further and further inland. But it stayed with us. One by one, first mum, then dad, then…..for the first time in my 17 years I was all alone. Totally and utterly alone. Not alone in a house, not alone in my room. No, I was totally alone in the outback. God only knows where. I didn’t. I sat for hours in the thick bush surrounded by an abundance of wildlife that had no idea what was happening in the world, in my world. I yelled into the empty vastness and finally cried myself to sleep.
That was 75 days ago. I have kept tally of the days in my notebook just to keep my mind sane. Somehow knowing what day it is makes me feel normal. I have a routine now. Every day I walk till the sun is highest in the sky, then I find a camp site and spend the rest of the day catching and preparing my dinner. My slingshot it great for getting little birds, a perfect size meal. Sometimes I go for days with just water and berries. I have gone for 75 days without human contact. Not sure which hunger is the worst. The rumbles of my stomach can be quietened by a descent feast, but the rumbles of my soul are always there. The longing for human touch, for a connection, the need to ease the anxiety, the fear of being alone, is always there beneath the surface of toughness.
Today my routine changed. It was cold, and I kept walking to stay warm. The breeze cut right through my worn jacket and dirty jeans in spite of the extra layers of shirts underneath. I was still searching for a protected campsite or a small cabin, if lucky, when the sun was starting to set. I felt a sense of panic as I heard my dad’s voice in my head ‘Always set up camp and a fire before dark.’
That’s when I smelt the smoke and saw the glow from a distant fire. Another hiker. Another human being. My heart raced. From fear and from excitement and the thought of maybe a warm meal. Could I risk it? I circled closer. In the dark, I could make out only one person. A slight build. I felt braver. I could win a fight if I had to. I was only metres away from the camp fire, and could feel the inviting glow on my body melting away any last bit of resistance. I stumbled, the person turned and pointed a gun at me.
‘Don’t come closer or I shoot you,’ the voice yelled.
Big blue eyes looked into mine, full of fear. A girl my age, her face dirty and streaked from days in the bush.
‘You look worse than me’ I tried to joke and smiled.
Her look softened and her gun lowered just for a moment.
‘You don’t need that’ I pointed to the gun. ‘Im not going to hurt you.’
‘How do I know you’re not sick like everyone else?’ her voice trembled.
‘Im not. I have been by myself for over 75 days. No contact with anyone else since my whole family passed. Im clean.’
She looked into my eyes, the frown on her forehead disappeared, and in that moment we both felt it. That overwhelming need to hold someone.
“Can I hug you?’ I asked, taking a step towards her.
She put down the gun and slowly moved into my outstretched arms, and for a long time all I heard was the beat of our hearts and the quiet sighs escaping from us both. We instantly knew from that day on we would begin our new normal. Together.
We are now halfway through 2020; a year of turmoil and change, but also a year of hope for a better life. Hope because the events that have unfolded this year has made us all appreciate what matters; love, family, human contact, freedom, time to reflect, our health and waking up every morning still BREATHING.
In fact, BREATHING seems to have been a common thread through the chaos we have experienced in 2020.
First the bushfires that ravaged such a vast part of Australia in our summer season and continued into the start of this year. Smoke filled the air even in places far from the burning bush. It blanketed Sydney for months and many stayed indoors because of the worst air quality experienced in our normally bright and clean city. Our BREATHING was restricted, and we felt it in our lungs when venturing outdoors on bad days.
Then Covid-19 started surfacing in China, a virus affecting the respiratory system and in worst cases requiring ventilators to assist with BREATHING. By March Australia saw a surge in cases and we went into lockdown. We needed to contain the virus as our hospitals and medical supplies were not ready to deal with mass infections. Mass production of both masks and respirators commenced in the anticipation of hospitals potentially filling with people not being able to BREATHE by themselves.
The restrictions has helped Australia manage Covid-19 so far, and we are seeing very few cases emerge now apart from travellers returning or cluster cases. We are in a new phase of easing up on the restrictions, though many businesses continue to work from home. Some are going back to what they used to do, as if everything is back to normal, but we are far from it. Right now we are in ‘holding our BREATH’ mode to see what happens next.
To top it off amidst all the turmoil an American police officer arrested and killed George Floyd. His last words ‘I can’t BREATHE’ was captured on video and plastered on headlines online everywhere. This gross injustice lead to a massive protest movement across not only America but the world. Amidst the dangers of Covid-19 people gathered in peaceful protests wearing masks to voice their opinion about the injustice against people of colour. It escalated and within days America was in chaos.
George Floyd’s last words echoes what has been the issue for many all of 2020. For people of restricted freedom and privileges, it has been an issue for a lot longer.
What are we being told? What is it we need to learn before we can move forward to a new normal?
BREATHING is our life force. Not just for us humans. It’s the basis of all existence. Animals breathe, plants breathe. We all breathe in coexistence and codependence. Our breath brings us back to a balanced life, it grounds us, it sustains us, it nurtures our bodies. We must breathe to exist.
A new normal must make BREATHING a top priority on all levels, from daily interactions to top corporate visions. It’s that simple. And also that complex.
In Sydney we may go out for exercise, either with people from our own household or with one friend. It has to be close to our home. We can’t drive 100km and go for a walk on a favourite holiday beach. But we can exercise in our own neighbourhood.
When I was out on my walk early one morning last weekend I walked around a corner and noticed an elderly lady looking confused. She turned and said, ‘How do I get across? We cannot not touch.’ pointing to the button to change the traffic lights. I smiled, lifted my arm up and said ‘Use your elbow’.
I also noticed, even if I only met very few on my walk, most people did not move to the side. The footpaths are less than 2mts wide, so unless one person moves to the side we will not adhere to the suggested 1.5mth distance. Even when walking in pairs they seemed to be ok with taking up all the footpath. I always try to move to the side to make sure I keep the distance, but it would be nice to see other people offer the same sometimes.
This made me think how confusing this time is for many. What we can and can’t do. We are living in a way that has transformed, often with daily changes, and many are still struggling with the new norm. Either through ignorance, arrogance or just plain not knowing any better and having lived the ‘old’ way for a long time.
This is what I do when I head out. Maybe this post can help others with suggestions on what to do. I rarely exercise outside on week days, as I work from home, and find it easier to fit in some yoga or dancing in my days inside. But on weekends I try to get at least one descent walk in.
I head out early to avoid the crowds. So often around 7 or 8 in the morning.
My walking bag has tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Before I go, I wash my hands with soap and water and put a dollop of hand sanitizer in my palm, but I don’t rub it in till outside of my apartment building. That way I know I have clean hands after touching any common door knobs.
I often wear a cap and sunnies for a bit of protection, but no mask. We still have a low number of cases in Australia, and my suburb is very quiet.
When I see someone approaching I move to the side.
I look up and try to meet their gaze for a greeting, but many do not. It’s as if they think making eye contact can be contagious.
I don’t stop for coffee. In fact, most places I walk in and the time of day have no shops open so not a temptation.
Favourite places to walk to are areas that have an abundance of nature, either bushland settings or waterways. The sound of animals going on with the morning chatter and the sound of running water or waves has a calming effect.
Crossing the road, I use my elbow to change the traffic lights
Walking is a brilliant form of exercise. It’s gentle and most people can do it, plus, if on a sunny day, gives you a nice dose of vitamin D. It also helps clear the head of all that clutter and worrying thoughts that might creep in with everything going on in our world.
Another week has gone by in this strange Covid-19 stay-at-home lifestyle. This has now been my life for almost five weeks. I have accepted it and maybe as an introvert it has not been too hard to adjust. Like everyone, I long to be around people, to have the freedom to get out and about whenever and wherever and with whoever I want. But for now we all just have to make the most of the situation. My motto in life has always been ‘if you cannot control the change then either accept it or do something about it’. Feeling like a victim and just complaining will not change anything.
So how do I cope and make the most of what this virus has thrust upon us all on a global scale?
But then I accepted my circumstances, and with acceptance came a strong focus and desire to learn, develop and to look for activities that gave me a deeper satisfaction. The start of an inward journey, a reflection, a slowing down.
To look after my health both physically and mentally became a driving force. I have a natural interest in nutritious food and health. My old uni studies into biology/nutrition and later Reiki/Massage therapy and personal training has provided me with an excellent base to look after myself. Trust me, I’m no angel. I know how to indulge in terrible food and couch binge on Netflix like a pro, but I love healthy food and exercise more.
So here are the things I have implemented. Not all at once, but bit by bit as my body and my mind craved them.
I have connected a lot more online with friends and family. Zoom meetings and messenger video chats are now a regular pass-time. It seems with the social distancing rule of staying physically apart our social connections have increased. With more free time and not rushing around ‘doing stuff’ we now have more time to nurture our relationships with people we care about.
Every Friday night my girlfriends and I meet up for a drink and a bite to eat online. We chat and we laugh; we share our fears and our hopes, and most importantly we stay connected. It’s a gathering we all look forward to.
I have loved yoga for a long time, but because of shoulder issues I could not do much till recently. This epidemic has renewed my love for this exercise. I now do a 30 minute Yin stretch class online every morning in the fresh air on my porch and after a few weeks I am so much more flexible and stronger. Even on a mental level. The focus on your breathing brings you into the now and helps reduce stress about the future. With daily changes, we cannot plan tomorrow. We can only focus on one day at a time. Today.
I still work five days from home, which means a lot of sitting in front of the computer. Not having to commute means we move so much less than on a normal working day. It is so important to incorporate movement into your day. At least twice during my working day I put on some loud dance music, plug my blue tooth earplugs in and dance like no-one is watching. Hang on, no-one is watching! It gets me moving and makes me feel good.
I have also found a strange love for Les Mills cardio classes on YouTube. Never been a massive fan, but for some reason doing Body Combat with 7000 other people feels invigorating and for a brief moment makes you forget you are by yourself at home. Heart pumping and loads of feel good endorphins rushing through your body.
I love writing and creating stories. Into my forth draft edit of a romance suspense novel. Had plans to finish another draft, then send it off to agents. But 2020 has so far been draining. First, we had the horrendous bushfires here in Australia, then it flooded and now we have Covid-19. I have felt a lack of any creativity. I decided early on to not push myself. To just focus on adjusting, on work and on myself. But I want to ignite the muse again, hence the reason for these ramblings. So I registered for two online writing courses with The Australian Writers Centre. I have 12 months to finish them in, but I plan to do them much sooner. It will give me some focus, teach me some new skills and get me back to my manuscript and to writing.
From the love of nutritious healthy food, the next step into growing my own vegetables seemed a natural one. My only issue is I live in an apartment. I do have a wonderful porch, large enough for a few pots. So I bought a few seedlings; climbing beans, tomatoes and snow peas. They have doubled in size and seem to be thriving. It has been a long time since I have grown anything and it has surprised me how much enjoyment I get from it. Checking on them every morning is now a routine I look forward to. In addition to my outdoor vegetable project, I also bought a Micro-greens plant box that now sits in my kitchen window seal waiting to grow enough for me to cut and put into a delicious salad or smoothie.
The nutrition we put into our bodies is so important, and even more so now. Despite my family no longer living with me, I make sure I still cook myself delicious and nutritious meals. I eat lots of vegetables and fish. No other meat apart from the occasional bacon with my breakfast. Like this morning’s scrambled eggs with bacon, spinach and parsley; mouthwatering as it’s a treat these days. I find the more I focus on eating healthy food, the fewer cravings I have for unhealthy food. But yes, chocolate cravings still exist. Sometimes you just have to indulge and be ok with it.
The benefits of pets are many. Watching them go on with their daily lives seems somehow relaxing. Their simple needs of food, shelter, and love brings us right back to basics. Reminds us to appreciate the simple things we still have in our lives. Nothing is better than cuddling up to a pet and forgetting about the outside world. My cat Schnooks, now almost 18 years, is an old girl. She doesn’t jump as much as before, need a bit of help to get up onto a sunny chair and sleeps/snores an awful lot. But since working from home she has been my constant companion and pretty much never leaves my side. Where ever I am she follows and finds herself a comfortable place to sleep. I think we will both find it hard to go back to working away from home.
The Australian government advised us to stay at home here in Sydney except for essential trips to go to work, to the supermarket for food or for medical reasons. We can also go out for exercise with the people we live with or with one friend, but are encouraged to do so by ourselves. During the week I stay at home as I work all day. I find I have no desperate need to get out. I love my home and feel very comfortable in my own company. Never get bored.
But on weekends, if the weather is sunny, I long to get out either to the beach or nature. So I get up early and go to a quiet natural park next to our local beach. It’s quiet except from the noises of birds and animals in the bush. On a typical 45-minute walk I might see ten people, all staying far apart, practising the 1.5mth social distancing. All the park benches are now blocked off stopping people from gathering or staying long.
It’s peaceful, and a brilliant time to reflect and exercise at the same time. Plus on this morning’s walk I found a few dead branches/sticks that I think may come in handy for my climbing vegetables.
Walking in the bush also provides me a chance to take a few photos.
Photos are only taken with my iPhone as I haven’t had the desire to grab my Canon yet.
Interesting how my creative side took a dive with Covid-19.
I wonder if anyone else has felt it? The lack of creativity. How are you coping?
So many thoughts run through my mind these days. I don’t know where I am going with this post, but I have a powerful urge to put pen to paper and try to explain what has happened to us all. What’s happening to me and to us from my eyes and my perspective. We are all going through this together but with our own unique experiences.
In typical Australian slang we have ‘affectionately’ nick-named this virus Rona. It makes it appear less threatening, but we are still witnessing a historic moment unfolding before our eyes. We are part of it. Documentingit from a personal point of view is important. For future generations to understand what it was like, and perhaps for us to remember and learn from.
I try, and mostly succeed, to stay positive and make the most of this ‘exile’ that Covid-19 has forced us into. But I also suffer many moments where my mind takes me into a deep sadness. When I think of the future; wonder when this will all end. Anxiety takes hold then, and I worry if I will ever see my family again and hug them tight.I try to not go there and rather stay in the moment. Worrying serves no purpose, but I am human like everyone else.
Life is so precious and we are now all witnessing just how precious and how quickly we can lose it. On a global scale it has reminded us of our own mortality; we witness the loss of so many lives; we feel the crippling grip that anxiety produces; how vulnerable we all are and mostly how much we depend on each other. How connected and alike we are no matter what race, religion or political stand we may take in life. This virus does not care what colour our skin is or which member of parliament we vote for. We are all equal in this.
This virus has turned lives upside down across the whole globe, and we seem to find ourselves as earth’s actors in Groundhog Day. Social restrictions has peeled back life to a simple routine of staying home as much as possible; of eating, exercising, working and doing things in our home.
For me I am lucky enough to be able to work for a company that has allowed us to work from home. I have been home for over three weeks with my work desk set up in my bedroom. I reduced my commute from 20km each way to 1.5mtrs. I no longer need an alarm to get me up on time. My car sits in my garage pretty much all the time apart from a weekly drive to keep it going, often to a remote part for some sanity and exercise in the fresh air.[wpvideo x8UTw6IE ]
I am blessed with a wide veranda and as the weather in Sydney is still sunny I spend a lot of spare time out there. I have enough space for a dining table,a small area for a few pots of vegetables (I’m a newbie gardener) and an open space for my yoga mat. Enormous trees in front of my veranda are often a popular hangout for local birds, and despite Sydney being a big city it is peaceful and I am part of nature.
It is Easter Sunday and many are experiencing the loss of connecting with family, even more so today. We are not allowed to visit over this break. My family are all over the world so big family gatherings do not happen often. Still, that doesn’t make today any easier. I connected with my girls on Zoom earlier today. We laughed and chatted and were also saddened by the distance and absurdity of this whole experience, knowing we no longer have the choice to just hop on a plane. I was only days away from booking a trip in August this year to see my family in Denmark and my daughter in San Francisco when this all hit. This is now on hold…….typing this brings me to tears.
The emotions of these weird and scary times always silently lurking under the surface; only routine and immersing myself either in work or my favourite activities seem to be able to ease my mind. In fact, routine seem to be the saviour in these strange times; the routine grounds us, makes us feel nurtured and in control in a world that right now feels out of control.
Many are no doubt going through the same negative emotions, but I also want to acknowledge there is so much positive in this experience. I have poured my emotional brain out in this post; a bit of a ‘no filter’ post, butI need it to get me back into writing. My muse went on holidays when Covid-19 hit.
In my next post on my experience on Rona, I will focus on the positives coming out of this. Amongst the vast amount of despair, sadness and fear there are countless examples of positive aspects. It’s essential we hold on to that while riding this out.
Stay well peeps, stay at home and wash your hands.
Of course we can. In fact, ‘non writing’ activities take up a huge chunk of our time. Many of us fill with guilt when not sitting in front of laptop writing, but to be honest so much of our writing ideas and skills come to life when we are not busy writing. These activities may ‘take us away’ from our writing, but I believe they also enrich our writing by providing ideas and additional knowledge and invaluable connections in the writing community.
Here are the top five activities that I have enjoyed ‘taking me away’ from my actual writing time this year.
I am part of both a writers’ group (FAW) and a writers critique group. We meet 3 Saturday afternoons every month. The writers’ group have some excellent speakers and workshops, and the critique group provides me with valuable feedback on my writing.
Attended the Sydney Writers festival and Writers Unleashed in the Shire. Some regional festivals sound awesome and on the radar for next year.
Participated on the committee for our own local Writers Unleashed festival this August. I learnt so much during this on how much is involved in organising an event like this, and connected with a huge number of fantastic writers.
Newsletters & Social Media
Sourcing materials on educational and informative news on all things writing for the monthly newsletter for FAW Sutherland has been fun and increased my own knowledge on what goes on out there in the writers world.
As Social Media officer for the Writers Unleashed I have put together a large number of posts to promote our festival and its many fantastic speakers. This has provided me with new skills and knowledge that I can now use on my own social media updates.
Author Book Launches
Many writers are introverts and public speaking does not always come easy. Attending book launches not only is a way to network and meet likeminded people, but also a way to learn what an audience enjoy and want to hear at book launches. What works and what doesn’t. Small gatherings of close friends and publishing supporters at book stores or libraries seem a winner. Even better with a bit of champagne to relax everyone! I frequently visit our local bookstore Anna’s Shop Around the Corner in Cronulla for some amazing talks. A true gem for writers!
Books & Podcasts
I love Podcasts. They make commuting a breeze! My favourites are @So You Want to be a Writer and Talking Aussie Boooks.
Reading as many books across a varied number of genres is essential. It hones our own craft and supports other writers.
To get as many into my busy days I use different media. My Kindle when travelling light. My audio when driving/exercising or doing housework. And a real book, the best, when I do find time to sit and enjoy the read. Which unfortunately is not always easy working full time as a planner and trying to fit in my writing in my spare time left.
Any writing course will hone your craft even if not in the genre you’re currently writing in. My MS is a romance suspense novel, but I write short stories across various genres.
My most recent course was on publishing children’s books and was fantastic. Learning expands your mind and never wasted. The AWC have so many great courses both in class and online. Check them out and build up your writer’s tool-kit.
Of course in the end actually sitting down to write is the only thing that will get your MS finished. But all of above still assist when you do sit in front of your laptop.
At least by writing about what gets me away from writing I actually got some writing done!
What do you find gets you away from writing , but also helps you in your writing?
The sign of a great book for me is when I can’t wait to read how it finishes, but when I do I want to continue reading and stay in the story; stay with the characters that have come to life, come into my life. When seeing ‘the end’ makes me feel both sad and good inside.
That is exactly how I felt reading and finishing A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird. One of the better books I have read lately; a book that will stay with me for a long time.
It’s a beautifully written story about the Willas, one female character during three stages of her life; eight, thirty-three and ninety-three. Each character with their own distinct voice yet linked together expertly. It’s a story of life, healing and acceptance woven into a wonderful concept of time travel and being able to meet your younger and older self.
Some of my favourite lines in the book were:
‘Fabulous wrinkles from talking and laughing and crying. Living and wrinkles, they go together’
‘Because it’s good to share ourselves. That’s what happens over bikkies and a good cuppa’
I could go on but I will let you read the book and find your own little gems.
I can highly recommend this book. It’s sad and uplifting, and totally draws you into the world of the Willas.
In the back of the book there is a list of book club questions.
This one intrigued me:
If you could time travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
For me it would be ‘ Don’t stress about what you can’t control or change. Most challenges are not life threatening and work themselves out with time’
What would you tell your younger self?
Love to hear your answers, or feedback if you have already read this great book.