I didn’t mean to be living back with my parents 24 years after moving out. I guess no one really plans that.

When I packed enough clothes for a one week stay in June, I didn’t contemplate that I would be re-packing five months later.

But I’ve seen the seasons change outside the glass doubledoors of the makeshift office/playroom my mum gave over to me, though the nieces never really conceded. 

I’ve tried and failed to dodge the inevitable Warrnambool rainstorms, gotten sunburned at 9am and 5pm, watched the baby bunnies appear and listened to the Magpie family which demands to be fed every day outside the kitchen door.

I’ve spent every day with my parents and have become a piece of the furniture for my nieces; a given presence in their playroom tapping away or on a Zoom call.    

I was able to make choices that ultimately made me lucky. 

With my only alternative a one bedroom apartment in Melbourne under Stage 4, the choice was pretty easy. 

That I can’t be sorry about Lockdown 2.0 doesn’t mean I’m not sorry about the circumstances which meant we needed Lockdown 2.0, and the incredible and ongoing impact on so many. 

But the anger I felt during Lockdown 1.0 was kept at bay as I left the house to walk the beach and for takeaway coffee, returning to a large home on a little land and people I was allowed to see and talk to. 

Life in Melbourne was already different, and different worse. So life in regional Victoria, living with my parents as an adult was simply a saviour. 

It kept me steady; sane. My parents kept me steady; sane

As the Melbourne community in which I worked faced some of the worst aspects of the pandemic, and with a majority of staff working from home and the organisation having to rally and adjust quickly, I plugged in from 250kms away. 

When we couldn’t see anyone else, the faces of my team members anchored me every day. 

Apart from the awkwardness of “how was your weekend” conversations amid the “easier” restrictions in regional Victoria compared to Melbourne, I stayed well enough in myself to try and support them, to lead them through one of the trickiest professional situations they’d faced at the same time as a drastically changed life. 

The ability to run remotely was hammered home as an opportunity – or perhaps now a requirement – in providing some flexibility and a life that makes more sense to me. 

On the weekend the ring of steel was lifted and, as the only impediment to my return, I’m now contemplating “real” home. Five months though……when 30 days is enough to make a habit…..

2020 hasn’t been what anyone expected; and each person’s experience will have been different during lockdowned life; the impact and consequences different.

I’m able to take a positive. I would never have been afforded, or afforded myself, the opportunity to spend such a long time with my parents and it has been a joy. I have been fortunate. 

I’ve counted all the blessings, and checked them twice because change is coming again.

Never has that damn cliche been more true when we say “the only constant is change”.

My oh my, is regional Victoria excited to be open.

Pubs are throwing up marquees; beauticians are inundated with furry faced clients; family or friend bubbles are gathering outdoors.

Police are pictured in the local paper promising to enforce anyone who slips through the ring of steel.

I’m a half and half; a country living, normally city dwelling remote worker currently cohabiting with my parents after decades out of home. It’s been three months.

I’ve been asked when I’m coming home. The answer is, not before I can move without fear between country and city because I refuse to be separated from my family again for such an extended and horribly lonely, mentally and emotionally testing time.

The truth is, what makes Melbourne great for me isn’t there right now. I imagine it’s the same and worse for those in it, trapped in between the hours allowed outdoors.

Meanwhile, my two wishes for regional Victoria reopening involve a pub and a waxing appointment.

Slightly more normal or not, it’s still the simple things I’m looking for – leaving the house for any or no reason and not looking over my shoulder, and a takeaway coffee outdoors at Cannon Hill overlooking Lake Pertobe.

Mask on, nothing is to be taken for granted again.

 

What do you identify as a “good day?”

Victorians may have slightly differing views at the moment because many of us are even more aware of and grateful for the small things, if we can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.

But in the past few weeks I provided referees for two excellent people who were ultimately offered roles. Happy dance.

Last week I offered a few tips and tricks to someone who wasn’t loving the thought of entering LinkedIn land; and they’re giving it a go in their own style and own way.

A few weeks before, I organised an online “Sip and Stretch” class for my team – basically what it says on the box (and yes, wine if you so choose, is involved).

In return I’ve gotten to just feel nice (oh, and drink). Remember feeling nice? Warm fuzzies on the inside?

Sounds self-serving eh? Don’t care. I’m far away from the people I work with and for, and am remembering the joy of connections – and offering a hand to – those broader than my current Zoom circle and lockdown bubble.

Last week I flippantly said to someone “honestly, if you have to do a pandemic, this is the team you want to do it with”. And I laughed.

Then I stopped. Because hells yeah, I’ve been through a pandemic with the best bunch of people around.

I’ve worked with Brimbank City Council for more than 12 months. For about half that time I’ve talked to my team on Zoom as we’ve navigated crisis, advocacy, staff and community communications required in a diverse and COVID19-prone municipality.

A skilled, dedicated, multi-disciplined team that has shifted and morphed and grown through crisis with smiles and tired faces.

Together we’ve onboarded new team members in circumstances far more challenging than just starting a new job. Hello lockdown life, remote schooling, opening and closing facilities and public health concerns.

Team building and being a team has taken on new meaning for organisations unfamiliar with remote work and entrenched in physically turning up every day.

But I can’t be sorry to be in this position. I know my team members better now than I ever would’ve, though I miss their real faces. They know me more than I would’ve allowed under other circumstances.

As a people manager I’ve grown, because of them and this pandemic, and how bloody good is that.

Peak 2020; a lockdown birthday with the Premier hovering in the background 😊

Two months ago today I packed one week’s worth of clothes and left Melbourne to visit my family in the country. 

Days later as first Melbourne partially shut down, then fully shut down for the second time, followed by mask and Stage 3 restrictions regional Victoria, I made the decision to stay. Indefinitely as it turns out. 

I was fortunate.

My folks said I could and my jobs were already mostly online with the ability to continue to work remotely. Companies had not yet fully considered returning to the office; being on the end of email and phone was hard but sufficient; team and client management was Zoom-based.

Media, and more importantly – people – have recently been talking about the need for a family or friend bubble for single people living and working at home. 

I’ve watched as my single and independent living friends have run a gamut of emotions, loneliness, loss, boredom and isolation. 

With an indefinite ending and solution, I knew I couldn’t do it again and worse. Instead, I’ve lived quietly in the country with family, waiting it out and wondering (gently) when life will restart. 

Like many, this is not something I thought 2020 would provide. But having had takeaway cake, coffee and pizza with my mum and dad and Zoom drinks with friends on my birthday confirmed I was in the right place.

The country has given me space and a different pace; and more importantly other in-person people who love me and will talk to me (more than in my Melbourne supermarket, wine store and coffee cafe….all very important in any circumstances, granted) 😆 

Everyone’s experience of this period, this whole year, is valid and different, a struggle for reasons that are varied and sometimes unimaginable to others. 

My lessons – about important people connections, resilience, work capabilities and potential, hopes and acceptance of lost opportunities – will take a while to settle. 

In the meantime I’m hanging on to the gratitude as hard as I can.

It seems like many of us plan our days around the time of Victoria’s daily presser, at which we learn the numbers of infections and deaths; and if we want to know, the issues and epidemiology. 

I’ve used a light hearted pic, because….COVID19 humour and what else do we have…. but the press conferences are long, up to an hour and a half, and with a combination of speakers. 

The Premier, coming up to 40 days straight, pledges to stay and answer the reporters’ questions until they’ve exhausted the topic/s and ‘gotten what they need’. 

There’s a rhythm to it now. Media advisers could alternatively be relieved and exhausted at the amount of pre-briefing work and potential clarifications post.

It’s an all in pile on that evens a competitive playing field, but as the ‘real news’ or ‘exclusives’ are kept behind the scenes until they break, the lengthy pressers also provide opportunity for repetitive questioning. The answers are often just as long and repetitive, full of the same words we’ve heard over and over, and little more substance. 

Unless Twitter, as a harbinger of doom, flags or leaks the news that the presser topics might impact my work or personal life, I’ve started turning off after the first initial five minutes. 

I heard again this week the question about Christmas and what that would look like for us this year.  The Premier simply repeated an earlier line he’d used ‘it will look different for all of us’. But it sent chills down my spine.

Journalists, like the community, have a job to do here. 

While not asking for a crystal ball, without an articulated, stepped out and understood plan, full of potential consequences and scenarios both good and bad, there is little for journalists to go on; little for community to go on.   

There is little light at the end of any tunnel when the tunnel is full of darkness and threats only. 

We’d like to think that ‘do the right thing and we’ll get there together’ works as a strategy. It’s too simplistic. 

There has to be time for strategic and forward planning. Recovery is – hopefully – going to come at us fast and we must be ready.  Currently, we’re all just living in confusion, fear and hope.

When you belatedly stumble across the nefarious plans made by your nieces; a four step military skirmish they roped their Nannie into 😂

I obviously stood no chance trying to work effectively (remotely) this particular day. 

At some stage during the day, Miss almost-eight studied me for a while on my Zoom meetings and emails before asking ‘Aunty Nat, do you like your work?’

What a great question.  Honestly yes. 

What my mini me would have understood was if I had described the joy of writing, reading, imagination/creativity, problem solving and talking to people. 

Instead I simply said ‘yes’ to her disbelieving face and went outside to play a version of tunnel ball with both niece 4 and 7.    

Because they have plenty of time to consider their ‘work futures’ and what they like to do, and I need more time working on my imaginary play and creativity.   

Perfect. 

Childsplay precision planning

I was first in line when my hairdresser reopened.

But as I looked in the mirror after returning the blonde to the mousey brown, I was taken aback. 

It’s quite shocking to look like the ‘usual’ you instead of the ‘real’ you. 

Stuck in iso away from the fripperies of hair and beauty, I’d grown accustomed to myself.  

Who else has found that? 

Working from home, locked away from many other humans except on Zoom, I’d become more me than I’d ever been.  

Is it unusual to have a work you and a home you?   For me, both are authentic. 

But without the physical ‘office of the manager’ to differentiate you, and with a shared vulnerability suddenly acceptable, any veneer becomes unnecessary. 

Early on a team member suggested playing the game ‘two truths and a lie’ – essentially when we all have to guess who belongs to the stories and what the lie is – and it has kept us hilariously occupied for weeks during team meetings. 

It’s brought a lightness to catch ups, and has been endlessly fascinating to learn quirky things about each other, bringing a realness to the connections.   

As we enter into the second round of ‘two truths and a lie’, even with my blonde hair and the ‘usual me’ back, my poker face now needs work. 

That’s a nice problem to have 😊

#teamwork #resilience

I was first in line

I was always rushing. And apologising. And underestimating. Because someone wanted this, someone else had promised that, we already had X to do, and Y had popped up. 

In life, I wanted to please, I wanted to do all the things, drive home in a reasonable time with peakhour traffic, fit a gym class in, drink wine, call my family, run my business. 

The paradox of productivity

Chelsea Bond spoke at a recent Women’s Agenda conference about the paradox of productivity. She said COVID19 had suddenly introduced an understanding in everyone about the lack of productivity. It was now acceptable. Recognising the privilege of solid employment, as things were cancelled and slowed, she indicated she was present in ways she wasn’t pre-COVID because she’d been so caught up in the productivity loop.  

Sometimes productivity is just another word for busy. And sometimes busy isn’t always needed. If it’s one thing I’ve learned in more than a month of shutdown it’s what I care about and what I value. Freedom to choose. Being healthy. Contact with friends and family. Work. Fun. 

This has tested us 

Not having all of those things, or being restricted in some, are the things that have tested my mental health and resilience, just like it has may others’. 

I’ve tried to accept, to “pivot”, to learn, to adjust and to wait. It’s the waiting that has in fact been the hardest; the not knowing.

As I watched the PM’s media conference and absorbed the national three-step program for release I felt a little hope and a little fear. I wanted some ‘outs’ but not too many because of a sincere lack of faith in people’s ability to follow rules that keep them safe. 

Waiting until Monday for the Victorian Premier was excruciating and also, for many, an anticlimax. However, he nailed the two things I care the most about it when it boils down to it. Seeing my family and friends. Oh, and a third happened – my hairdresser felt safe enough to reopen. 

It was obvious Victoria’s stage one didn’t help everyone and it’s a long road back. I had the luxury of being okay with that slow road back.

Seeing the next steps announced in dribs and drabs is equally excruciating for those whose businesses need certainty and guidance – and hope. 

But for some, like me, this slow release is a chance to start to right the world, stop floating and consider what the future may be like without as much fear as there was going in to iso. 

The other normal

Chelsea Bond also commented that she doesn’t want to go back “to the other normal”.

Neither do I. This new normal needs to be a little different. 

What does it really look like?

  • An opportunity
  • A hard slog 
  • Increased workplace hygiene and no more soldiering on….
  • A new workday rhythm
  • A new workday location 
  • A more gentle chasing of new dreams
  • Increased gratitude for the quiet times
  • More love of family and friends 
  • More hugs 
  • Less dependence on things 
  • Less harshness 

How many days does it take to create a new habit? The world appears keen. But memories are short. 

Is this truly our most teachable moment ?

And how much can we be taught? 

I was always rushing

I walk lots. Every day.  It differentiates my home time from my work time at either end of the day when the physical space won’t allow.  It’s a temporal marker, since time is otherwise a little wierded out for all of us.

Each walk I travel the same path. It’s the routine that soothes the Virgo in me. But though the walk is the same, the scenery is not.  Each few days I see shops previously occupied, now packed up.   Some are up for lease.  Others are “open” and scream ‘takeaway’ because they are pivoting to survive (not yet thrive) and that brings me some comfort.

This morning, I walked and the scenery had changed again. In a strip of shops along High Street Northcote, one after the other had a bear in the window. I read it’s to help children go on a bear hunt.   It made me smile; and reminded me of the power of community, and of neighbourhood.

Community doesn’t have to be geographically located and COVVID19 is the best of the times and the worst of the times to discover and explore that.

When I’m all zoomed and skyped out I step outside the front door and in the little strip I call home with the owners of the shops that are open and the regular faces, I have passing coffee chats, wine buying chats, waving chats, zoom pilates chats, texts and phone calls.

As a voracious reader, I just gave my discarded books to the newsagent for them to sell for themselves.  I’m supporting a client allowed to be open under the regulations who is supporting other businesses to stay head above water.

Another we’re bartering for services provided; it involves new clothes, helps them to keep going and I am happy.   In lieu of being able to physically front up, I signed on for online pilates and learned they’re offering alternative payment options for those who couldn’t afford it but wanted to keep on moving in the covid19 world.

Maybe none of these things are of note or worth writing about. What they do is underline the community that I value. Because they’re actually supporting me.  I havn’t told them, any of them, what the neighbourhood means to me, and what their efforts to be part of it and own it, do for everyone else.

I will though.

 

 

Note: I wrote a part two to part one because I was embarrassed at the emotion of it. Part two is supposed to have a little hope.  It probably simply highlights the ups and downs of what we’re going through.  For some, things are changing rapidly. For others, not so much.  Vulnerability is part of that, and part of surviving, but it’s an uncomfortable place to be, isn’t it?

 

Easter wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. But it was because I skirted the regulations; handed over a chocolate Easter bunny while walking Sunday Easter morning with a friend, checked on a fragile friend later and drank wine with a laugh.

Could I have done it any other way? No.

Our political leaders telling people to bunker down with families over Easter made me incandescent with rage.

Discriminatory I screeched.  To single, living alone and far away from family type of independent individuals.  Good to know that had I started dating a random two weeks before I could go see them.  But not family and friends, except if I went for the 43rd walk of the day filling in time.

Do we really understand the consequences?

I get it. With both parents in the high-risk category, I get it. With one other sibling weighed down with the all important grandkids, no one steps near the grandparents and they are weary, two weeks in.

All weekend I watched the news and the streets for those blatantly flouting the laws, anything that would bring on the threats and actualisation of Stage 4.  What’s Stage 4?  We havn’t been told but it can’t be good.

And barely, just barely, I hang on to the rage that simmers just below at the thought that someone else’s stupidity will bring me closer to being shut off from the rest of the world.

Because how will I differentiate work from home then in my one room apartment?  How will time and days tell themselves apart if I cannot venture out to breathe and to interact 1.5 metres apart in passing people?

I don’t want to do this 

For me, it’s only really a little over two weeks in working remotely and isolating. I wanted to be at home as it was safer. My mum wanted me at home because it was safer.

So, as I swing between eating my doomsday prepper food and supporting the local pizza businesses that are trying to remain open, I wash my hands yet again, use the hand sanitiser made by a local gin distillery and wonder if I need to try my hand at sewing a mask.

It’s acknowledged that life in iso is hard. At the same time, we’re supposed to be grateful; I have a job for now, my health, a privileged online shopping habit and Skype-connected friends and family.

But the grief that hangs in the air, that accompanies everyone walking and biking the streets in search of coffee and connection, is heavy. It can be put to one side for the seemingly never ending Zoom meetings during work days filled with pushing, politics, creativity and caring for people. But not forever.

So when will I cry?

How long can I ignore the fact my mum is starting to cry on every Skype call and valiantly trying to hide it?   Emotion, we’re not much for, traditionally.  And only hugs will heal that one.

This is a goddamn stupid virus

More than six weeks ago I wrote about my confusion around how to react to COVID-19 – was I under-reacting? Fear over reacting?  I wasn’t built for panic, but I was built for caution so I’d keep living life until that had to change, I said..   Three weeks ago I wrote that it was too early to see a world of opportunity and doing things differently because we had death and pain ahead first.

It’s true that in a personal sense, watching from the sidelines objectively, what I thought would happen is happening. The things I “do” in everyday life are not “essential services”. Movies, coffee, friends, family, shopping, gym. I “do” a lot of stuff; I’m always busy.    Sure, I don’t have to be. Slowing down is just fine; it’s something I’ve been working towards for more than a year all by myself.

But this year, 2020, was supposed to be mine. I had plans to launch, excitement and sunshine to look forward to. Instead, it’s been bushfires, a flooded apartment building and now iso life in the ruins of that flood.

The plans aren’t shelved; they’re just being slightly reshaped. Because when I can finally think about it, I’ll no doubt understand better what’s important, what’s necessary, what’s needed and what’s only wanted. That’s what we’re being told anyway.

Who else can feel or see that?  I’ve heard – and been a proponent of previously – that you should never let a good crisis pass without learning a few lessons.  Some of those are harsher this year for many others than me, no question.

There are things I like. Remote work generally and remote teams; trying different things and leading from the front; walking lots and skyping my nieces. They’re now things I can do any time when I wouldn’t have before.

I’ve seen the various memes around “Can we uninstall 2020 and reinstall it? I believe it has a virus.”  Without that reality, and with an extension of the declaration of emergency and stage 3 restrictions in place, a crisitunity is about all we can focus on.

Not yet. Lessons are being learned a mile a minute at all levels, but for a minute, for a moment, it’s okay to say “this sucks”. Goddamn stupid virus.

 

It’s too early to say we are in a world of opportunity.

It’s too early to say I am excited about the opportunity.

It’s too early to say because we have death ahead of us. We have economic pain, family pain, emotional pain and a change in the way of our lives. It’s going to be a certain kind of fear and hell for months. I know that and I feel it. I’m afraid for my family too because mum and dad, many hours away from me, are both in the very at risk category.

But we have ahead of us a change in the way of our lives.

This is a time for innovation. It is a time for healing the world, it is a time for doing things differently because we have to, and doing things differently because we should.

There is no going back. If we can prove that we can work so flexibly under difficult circumstances, if we can prove that we can connect appropriately, maintain connections, grow innovation and start ups, nurture our medical profession, elevate and appreciate our front line cleaners, supermarket workers, aged care carers, enjoy the outdoors differently, if we can prove we can appreciate the climate, strengthen our families, rebuild our economy more sustainably, embrace innovative thinking and make it mainstream, we can be in a better place.

The circumstances in which we find ourselves mean we have an opportunity to understand what is actually important, reconsider or confirm our values and stick to them, love, love, just love.

This weekend I spent time exploring virtual face to face communication tools today to keep in touch. Ended up with a bunny ears and nose and a beer keg hat talking to my friend in Messenger and googling Ewok’s with my 7 year old niece on Skype. ‬

If this situation means that through necessity I find gratitude in what I have and love, in multiple Skype sessions with my 7 and 4 year old nieces, I’ll take it.

As the Victorian Government starts to shut non essential services for our own good, we have a world of fear – and hopefully hope- to get through first.