COVID-19 Series: #7

Author: Tina Tsironis

2020, for lack of a better metaphor, is an onion. A ridiculously frustrating and repetitive onion, with craploads of layers. Yes – I kind of stole this metaphor from Shrek. Sue me. (Please don’t sue me). Honestly, though – the first few layers, as much as they elicit a sizeable sting, are relatively easy to handle. They consist, after all, of the things we’re sad about losing, but which bring with them a strange sense of novelty – novelty which, at least for me, continues to this day.

Who can say they’re mad about rolling out of bed one minute before a lecture or a workday is due to begin, after all? I’m sure some of you can. But many of us cannot.

It’s when we keep peeling, however, that we unearth the potent layers. They elicit the type of sting that feels more like a burn; immediate and forceful enough to pierce through our tear ducts with such force that we can’t help but remark, to nobody in particular, that we’re not actually crying because we’re sad. God no! It was the onion that made us do it!

But then those layers unravel and fall away, against all odds, and now we’re forced to reckon with the layers within. If the shittiness of this metaphor wasn’t immediately clear to you, it sure as hell should be by now – because there’s no onion-core in the world that can describe the feeling of being forced, against all odds, to reckon with your own mortality.

To her credit, the moment the threat of COVID-19 became clear to her, my friend Kushlani Premachandra confronted the pandemic head-on. She practiced social distancing, stayed home after being stood down from her job as a conference producer for an events company, and tried to throw herself into her first semester of postgrad study.

“Before lockdown, I had a semi-pattern of going to work, coming home, and then on Thursdays and Fridays doing my uni work,” Kush told me during a Zoom call.

During the first month of lockdown, when this routine disintegrated, Kush said she “just felt excited.”

“I wanted to go on leave anyway, so this was kind of an extended holiday, except I’m at home. So I [figured] can spend more time brainstorming and doing all this stuff, and study whenever I want.”

In reality, however, the separation from home and study was non-existent. “I was waking up at midday and staying in my pyjamas all day, and then I didn’t feel motivated to do any work…you just want to be a couch potato.”

By the time we sat down for our chat, Kush had been out of work for four months. With a large part of her role involving interstate travel across Australia, her eventual path back to normality seemed like a long way off. At this point, Kush believed she should be picking up more units as part of her course.

“It felt like this internalised pressure,” she said. I should be spending all my time writing…I should be picking up more units.”

The combination of her disintegrated routine, however, and the continued threat of COVID-19, proved to be a potent motivation-sapper. Amidst this upheaval, Kush’s uncle Sumith, a 55-year-old disability nurse, had also been diagnosed with coronavirus in March.

“I was dropping food off at my parents’ house during the week, and while I was over there my mum got a call from my aunt, and she told my mum my uncle was in hospital.”

Sumith was struck with the virus after covering a colleague’s shift at work. “He was isolating at home from the weekend, then within three days it got worse, and he was in hospital by Wednesday.”

The family had been told that if Sumith didn’t improve, he would soon die. But by the time Kush heard from her aunt again, one week later, her uncle “had not gotten better, but he hadn’t gotten worse.” At this point, Kush and her family had no choice but to settle into a strange pattern of distorted familiarity. If you’re trying to imagine what this feels like, imagine the exhaustingly mundane, subtly unsettling “new normal” we currently experience while rolling out of bed for the 50,000th time this week, and multiply that feeling by thousands. This is a waiting game that no family should have to endure – but sadly, thousands of Australian families have.

Kush, myself and another close friend communicate primarily through a messenger group chat that we bitingly, yet somewhat accurately, have entitled Hyped Up Anxiety Corner. During this early April week, Kush stayed silent about Sumith’s illness, instead treating the chat to videos of Ina Garten making huge cocktails at 9:30AM, and WA premier Mark McGowan struggling to contain his laughter during a widely shared press conference.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable dread she must have been feeling, Kush’s warmth and quirky humour remained on-brand, serving as a wonderful source of comfort for our friend and I, who were both wading through our own isolation-driven feelings of dread. But on Monday the 6th of April, roughly two hours before my workday was due to end, Kush sent the Hyped Up Anxiety Corner a series of messages that appeared to come out of nowhere:

“So

My uncle passed away

The 38th Australian death”.

Sumith had passed away the night before.

“When I got the call from my brother I just remember asking, are you sure?” Kush recalled.

With her mind laser-focused on an assignment she had coming up, at first, all she felt was shock. “I remember it was raining that day and I went and sat outside on the back steps and just got rained on, because I didn’t know what else to do,” she explained.

“It was during stay at home orders, so it’s not like we could go and see my aunt, because she still had to be isolated…the two-week period hadn’t passed for her.”

The impact of Sumith’s passing on his loved-ones and friends, of course, cannot be overstated. Every single tribute I have come across has mentioned his kind heart, friendly nature, generous spirit, or a combination of these these qualities. When Kush spoke to me for this story, she not only echoed these sentiments – she built upon them, painting a vivid picture of a joyful man with a witty nature. Much like this niece.

“Whenever he saw you, he would just envelop you in a giant bearhug,” Kush told me. “He was so lovely, he radiated joy.”

“I remember once, he picked me up with my cousins and we went to the movies and watched Spy Kids or something. Then we had a sleepover and he made sure we had snacks and stuff like that. But I just remember at the movies, 10 minutes in, all of a sudden, we just hear snoring. I look over and he’s fast asleep in his chair, and it was loud.”

“He was snoring in the fricking cinema with his head up,” Kush continued, “and my cousins and I were like “shut up!”, and then he’d wake up and say, “I’m not snoring, I’m not snoring,” and then go back to sleep and repeat the process.”

The weekend before I interviewed my friend, she finally got to visit her aunt. Kush worries about her, as she now lives alone, and is scared to venture outdoors due to the continued spread of COVID-19 – especially because, at the time of our interview, cases had steadily been rising again in Melbourne. The family cat, Benji, provides a slight semblance of normality. The British Shorthair, in fact, is dealing with Sumith’s passing in his own unique way.

“There’s a small table in the living room where my uncle’s urn is located,” Kush told me. “[Benji] never used to go to that table, and when the ashes came home, he was really confused, like ‘what’s this?’ Then I think he realised, and now he sits next to the table.”

Sumith’s grandchildren, and Kush’s nephews, aged one and four, have also been deeply affected by his loss.

“The elder one was very close to my uncle. He will go over to my aunt’s house and hug my uncle’s clothes and cry, and say, ‘I miss papa’”, Kush said. “He loved those kids so much.”

Kush’s own semblance of normality comes from connecting with her friends, her partner Lauren, and her partner’s father, who she lives with. Though this support cannot soften the blow of losing her uncle, alongside the stability of regular life this year, it has certainly flittered sparks of comfort throughout 2020’s otherwise tough, incredibly polluted air.

Kush’s partner Lauren, who is a trauma counsellor, has been especially supportive. “She’s been giving me all the cuddles, asking if I want to be left alone, or if I want her to come and stay with me and just be quiet,” Kush explained. “She’s very intuitive. Even without her training, she’s so caring and loving.”

In an effort to deal with her grief and continued hiatus from work, my friend threw herself into her studies. She told me that when she initially found out about her uncle, she thought, “I’ve gotta push through and keep going and not say anything.”

Ultimately, and understandably, staying quiet proved impossible. “I couldn’t do it, so I had to email my tutor Jacqui [Ross],” Kush said. “She was so understanding. She responded to my email quite quickly, maybe within the hour. She was like “don’t even worry, when you’re able to, if you’re able to, you can come back to do your work.” That was great, because it was one less thing to worry about.”

Kush finished this first unit of her course and progressed to the next with the attitude that it would serve as a useful creative outlet. During our interview, she told me that study “feels like a lot sometimes, but it’s pretty motivating and exciting.”

“I’m trying to work out what to write for my next research assignment, with of everything happening with the world,” she explained. “Not just COVID, but the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s so much happening, that’s been kind of motivating and a bit inspirational, and I can use what’s happening and tie it into my fiction piece and the current climate.”

A few weeks after our interview, however, Kush let me know that she had made the decision to take a leave of absence from her studies, due to her mental health struggles. The very fact that she momentarily tried to push through her pain in order to learn and practice her craft is admirable. But ultimately, the kindness and honesty of self that Kush has exercised, by confronting her pain and grief head-on, and pausing her creative endeavours, is far more inspiring.

In fact, Kush extends this kindness to others, stressing that, “most of us have never lived through a pandemic or anything like this, so you’re allowed to be sad.”

“You might be missing a friend’s birthday, an event that might feel small,” she said. “You’ve got to be kind to yourself, but also realise that even if you’re a young, healthy person, you’ve still got to think about your neighbours and the people around you.”

Kush does not want us to forget that all the cases, and all the deaths that have now started happening again, are completely avoidable.

“My cousin [Sumith’s daughter] was supposed to have her wedding the week of my uncle’s funeral. My uncle was 55, he did not need to die. He was called into work because [a colleague] was unable to come in. He wasn’t supposed to be working. These are completely avoidable deaths. The better we all are together, contributing to the bigger picture, the easier it’ll be trying to go back to the norm.”

While returning to the norm won’t happen for a while yet, especially for us Melburnians, Kush suggested that immersing ourselves in relaxing, pressure-free hobbies can ease the blow of our continued lockdown. Her hobby of choice? Quilting.

“I have become my mother. She made me a quilt and so I decided I wanted to make one too. She gives me little tips, telling me “no, not like that,” and I’m all like ‘thanks mum’”, Kush told me, mimicking the pouty, self-deprecating tone of a child who has just been chided – the exact type of voice that I look forward to hearing in person eventually. Hopefully by the end of this year.

“I’ll chuck something on Netflix,” Kush says, “and start sewing for a couple of hours, and it feels really productive – like, look what I’ve accomplished!”

When our eventual return to normality does come, its path will be punctured with strangeness and sadness for many of us, and continued grief and anxiety for others.

Facing these feelings now, as they’re brimming above the surface, is crucial. Face them while flicking on Netflix and weaving needle through fabric, or face them while penning stories featuring shitty onion metaphors – the specifics don’t necessarily matter. Doing so won’t completely alleviate the blow that is 2020, yet it will provide us with the opportunity to take a pause.

So, before we embark on this punctured path to normality, join me in taking a pause. Shut your mouth, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy this brief moment of silence. Remind yourself of all that you’ve accomplished, simply by enduring the last nine months – strangely and sadly, sure, but hopefully with the mortality of others front of mind.

About Tina Tsironis

Tina is the 2020 editor of SWINE Magazine. If being a certified hot sauce/BoJack Horseman enthusiast was a legitimate thing, she would be it. When she’s not obsessing over intense existential cartoons and spicy condiments, Tina is a Masters of Writing student and a marketing specialist/copywriter for a software company. She currently lives in Hawthorn with her partner, and no pets . She wishes there were pets. 

COVID-19 Series: #6

Author: Andrew Dopper

“I’m not insane!” screams the hysterical man, hair plastered to his head with sweat.

A psychiatrist sits him down. Momentarily calmed, the man begins talking, recounting his return to California.

“At first glance, everything looked the same,” he says, his eyes gleaming wildly.  “It wasn’t,” he adds . “Something evil had taken possession of the town.”

This excerpt is from the opening scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), a science-fiction horror about people becoming “pod people” or becoming “them”. On the surface, the film is a run-of-the-mill 1950’s horror about aliens possessing people. Sounds fun, right?

In fact, it is widely regarded and almost laughably obvious, that the inspiration for the film was the fear of Communism invading America. Them are the Soviets. This era is now often referred to as “The Red Scare”. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of countless films inspired by Cold War paranoia. Paradoxically, half of Hollywood at the time of filming were actually Communists. The hilarity.

In the wake of the 1973 global oil crisis, which saw petrol shortages and looting across Australia, we saw a young Mel Gibson roar through lawless highways in 1979’s Mad Max. Later, in 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max takes out a Geiger counter to detect radiation within the stock of a junk-laden water-dealer

“What’s a little fallout, ey?” the vendor says, as Max trudges off.

Whilst the first two Mad Max films remain the most loved, it’s the aesthetic of Beyond Thunderdome that is still evident in post-apocalyptic fiction today. Unlike the first two films, Beyond Thunderdome was inspired by concern of the nuclear bomb, which saw people living in constant fear of Mutually Assured Destruction (aka M.A.D: They bomb us, we bomb them, repeat––until nothing’s left.) This was a very real scare leading to countless close calls, from the Cuban missile crisis to that time Boris Yeltsin nearly nuked some Norwegians studying the Northern Lights in the 90’s. Yes, that actually happened.

On the 11th of September 2001, a terrorist attack rocked not only the US, but the entire world. After a few years, the superhero genre dominated cinema across the globe. These films usually saw American heroes come out of the woodwork and save the world by stopping foreign bad guys from blowing up Manhattan. It doesn’t take a scholar to notice the inspiration there.

The influence of world events on cinema is clear. What was essentially a 50-year-long dick-measuring competition between the US and USSR inspired not films featuring Americans complaining about Communists at BBQs, but countless sci-fi horror, espionage and spy films. High petrol prices caused by political bickering gave birth to forty years of spike-studded, shotgun-wielding post-apocalyptic media, not films about people saying “jeez, bloody petrol’s expensive. And, rather than producing films about airport bag-checks, 9/11 essentially turned cinemas into superhero viewing machines.

Today, this begs the question: what will post-COVID-19 cinema look like? Since we probably can’t expect 2022’s biggest blockbuster to be Dunny Roll Hoarders II, how do we possibly predict which genres will emerge? I mean, who knew that between 2008-2012 all people wanted to watch were shiny vampires and hunky werewolves?

One way we could gauge the type of cinema this pandemic may produce, is to look at existing films relevant to our current timeframe. Yes, this means that we have to talk about 2011’s Contagion.

Admittedly, re-watching Contagion right now is a jarring experience. I found I laughed dumbly when a Dr. told a man who should know better to stop touching his face, right after informing him how quickly the virus in question could spread.

Living through a similar crisis today, however, I found myself enjoying the film far more than I did when I watched it nearly a decade ago. Contagion was ahead of its time, a quality rare in most films. No one makes a Cold War film a decade before the Cold War.

This is where science-fiction seems to set itself apart from other genres – it often stands at the forefront of a fundamental change in viewing culture.

Recently, I also re-watched one of my favorite films, 2006’s Children of Men. and it hit me harder than ever. The film presents a version of England in the midst of a societal breakdown, one that causes the slow decay of humanity. The world around these people is crumbling under a falling capitalist empire, yet they go about their day adapting to the chaos, even as it slowly sets in and reveals a grim state of world normality, where children can no longer be born.

Unlike traditional apocalyptic cinema, Children of Men does not represent spike-studded rally-drivers and zombie-infested wastelands. It simply shows us London enduring a mass extinction.

Each country is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic differently, and it’s only  matter of time until more outbreaks occur – if they haven’t already.

Every time I watch Children of Men, consequently, I have to stretch my imagination less and less.

One prediction could be that there is a resurgence of films like Children of Men, which represent life not ­post, but during the world-ending crisis. Rather than depicting epic, country swallowing waves or Bruce Willis blowing up comets, cinema may instead represent slow yet impactful societal breakdowns. This new breed of films would provide a far slower, smaller snapshot of world crises, and in doing so, heighten the prevalence of “slow burn” cinema.

As I write this, the US is experiencing a time of civil unrest caused by police violence; unrest that has rippled across the world and is building every day. Today’s lack of trust in those who lead is a far cry from the celebrated world leaders of yesteryear.

People are seeing the cracks in the capitalist world. We’re experiencing what happens when world leaders actually have to step up and represent the people in crisis. Some countries are prevailing, while others…well, let’s not judge…

*Cough* Trump. *Cough*

In order to progress, we may not see entirely new genres come to fruition, but perhaps witness redefinitions of those we know well.

Comparing Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), we see two alien invasion films; but they are vastly different aesthetically and thematically. The former says, don’t trust anyone while the latter asks, why don’t we just trust anyone? As portrayed in 2008’s The Dark Knight, Gotham City looks a lot different than it did in 1989’s Batman. Christopher Nolan’s portrayed Gotham’s zany villains more as corrupt politicians. Conversely, the America portrayed in 1995’s Judge Dredd had a far lower crime rate than the US actually does today.

The zombie films of the 1950’s people fought zombies, yet now, the zombie hordes act as mere backdrops while people fight one another. Post-COVID, perhaps, we may see the post-apocalyptic genre become something very different, departing completely from spike-studded cars and wasteland couture and edging towards something frighteningly real.

Some of you may be screaming, “but people might want hope!”

Indeed, hope is something Hollywood, and indeed publishers, always seem to advocate for. As a writer, I have been turned down many times for that reason. Positive narratives and happy endings sell. And I do think we will see a feel-good movie resurgence in the wake of this pandemic. Honestly, if the world was on fire, there would still be Pixarfilms about animals embarking on fulfilling journeys with satisfying conclusions.

But audiences are smarter than that. McDonalds might be cheap and tasty, but people still go to 5-star restaurants.

People want hope, yes, but hope comes in many forms. Cinema, like most art, is often a reflection of culture, of the contemporary. Invasion of the Body Snatchers worries, Mad Max observes, Arrival questions, Children of Men warns. Right now, people protest for a better future, not because they have no hope, but because they do have hope.

Could we see films born not from fear of the future but from a reaction to our time in isolation? A resurgence of the frontier film, perhaps – films about exploration and discovery and the natural world. Will we see people moving to more rural areas, wanting to re-connect with the natural world, escaping the rat race? Has capitalism been exposed for its impact on lower classes? Will we see a new genre of “revolution” films?

I could go on.

The reality is, we do not know exactly what film within a post-COVID world will look like. The last six months alone could very well create a new breed of consumer––one that filmmakers will respond to in kind. Remember, an oil crisis in the 70’s eventually lead to whatever the fuck 2018’s Bird Box was.

What I am suggesting, is to watch the screens and take note.

History, after all, shows that it often takes only one or two films to start a genre or film resurgence that takes over the world’s screens for years.

Post-pandemic, let’s hope it’s not shiny vampires again.

About Andrew Dopper

Andrew Dopper is a final year writing and cinema studies student. His short story Dog’s Bend was previously published in SWINE’s 2020 Representation issue. He is currently working on his third novel.

COVID-19 Series: #5

Author: Jananie Pathiraja

Content Warning: This article references eating disorders and homophobia. 

In the event of a great disaster, humans go through five stages of grief. With denial comes the ignorance of the ongoing global change – until it is shoved right under our nose. With anger comes the silent outcry and resistance to social distancing – yes I’m looking at you, Karens of the world rallying for your precious haircuts). With bargaining comes hope, and with depression comes isolation, loneliness and a craving for human closeness and touch that we may have never realised the importance of, until now.

Finally, with acceptance comes the understanding that as it difficult as this disaster may have been, we have given it our own personal best.

For some Swinburne students, the lifestyle upheaval caused by COVID has even served as a blessing in disguise.

Chamath, a Bachelor of Arts student I spoke to, said the extra time he spent with his family has proved invaluable. Growing up as gay in a traditional Asian family has been far from easy for Chamath. Upon breaking the news to his parents? Dishonour! Dishonour on you! Dishonour on your cow! Dishonour on your whole family! (Please tell me you got the Mulan reference?). Naturally, wearing a mask is a heavy burden, especially when you’re afraid that the homophobia will spring from your own parent’s disapproval – sometimes it’s  easier not to say anything. After all, how can you accept not being accepted?

Yet lockdown has allowed Chamath to establish some middle ground between who his family want him to be, and who he actually is. While this middle ground may not be his complete self, it is still a part of him, and has enabled him to get along with his family, without feeling forced to be a whole other person.

“It made me realise my family wasn’t that bad,” he said, telling me that he appreciated this time because, after having surrounded himself with predominantly Western friends for so long, he was able to “reconnect with [his] brown.”

“I reconnected with Sri Lankan cultures, not just family, but the culture that I’m part of that I’ve been pushing away.”

For Ariel, a Science student, her family life has worsened. “Before we were coexisting, and now I’m like, I wanna kill these people,” she said. “It’s like having a favourite song and then hearing the song on repeat everywhere, and you start to hate it. Not ‘cause of anything being wrong with the song, it’s just you’re sick of it.”

Other students, however, have enjoyed the family time they got out of this, despite the distractions they tend to bring. Yes, I am as shocked as you are that their families aren’t completely annoying…maybe it’s just mine and Ariel’s who become the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard given enough time to do so.

Braden Grady, who is studying Secondary Education and Science, has spent  lockdown with his younger sisters, aged two and four months. He told me that at times, they have interfered with peace and quiet, explaining that at one point, his younger sister “found staples, tipped them all over the floor and started playing with them”, requiring Braden to abandon his work in order to remove the sharp objects from the indignant baby.

Though his siblings can be “small and annoying and loud”, in their own cute way of course, Braden has valued the time he has been able to spend with them during such an important, formative stage of their lives. “I can see them and play with them more, there’s been more cuddle time and time for bonding. I’ve had a bit more of a part in them growing up,” he said.

Initially, Braden thought the new distractions in his life would impact his time management – both loud siblings, and “all the extra time I [had to] spend on Netflix.” Lockdown presented a battle between his identities as “procrastinator and perfectionist,” but ultimately, his perfectionist side has actually won out. “My time management has gotten better,” Braden said. “Though I had to adjust to a whole new study schedule, I have not submitted an assignment late, and have kept my work to a high standard.”

Many students, Braden included, have also adjusted to this lifestyle shift by taking up a new hobby or reconnecting with an old one. Personally, I realised that my suburb is its own little community – I made friends with the old cat lady across the street and found out she was a complete badass who brought feminism to New Guinea decades ago.

Braden and Chamath, on the other hand, have allowed their creativity to bloom. Braden took up the flute, and Chamath has been documenting his isolation experience on camera. “Before lockdown, productivity was focused on physical things. Creating something was centred around my uni studies, which closed borders for me,” Chamtah said.

Now, Chamath wakes up, showers, and documents his life on camera. Pre-lockdown, “life was stagnating,” he added. “I had so many plans. Internships, job placements, etcetera. All that changed in 2020, but I’ve made something out of this [lifestyle change] and preserved memories through my disposable camera. After all, this is as much a year of my life as all the others, best not write it off and pretend it never happened.”

Chamath believes that a “new dimension” has been opened during lockdown, without the threat of external distractions. “I just used to make TikToks,” he told me. “Now I’m taking it to the next level.” He finds joy in doing this for himself, minus any pressure of disapproval.

Lockdown has also been a useful time for self-reflection, especially for Hannah*.

She explained to me that “staying home all the time made problems outside life seem surreal and allowed for some mental peace, even with the problems still existing.” Having lost her job amidst the pandemic, she added that “the time to kick back despite the lack of money and income, really makes you question the value of trading money for time. A lack of daily expenses means you no longer count your pennies.”

“It’s like a storm, the winds of change are upon us – if we stay stiff to the change and don’t bend, we will break,” she said. “That being said, we do need to change certain things. People aren’t getting paid as easily, they have to withhold work for payment and then release the work. This shows us how little control we really have in our lives. Being aware of this may be the first step to taking the control back.”

A lot of students have struggled to gain control during lockdown, with some struggling with body-image issues they did not have at the beginning of this crisis. This may have been triggered by the decrease in exercise spurred by lockdown, along with Melbourne’s many gyms closing. However, Ariel’s experience has made me understand that this has also been triggered by a change in our own perceptions. She told me she is keen to get outside again and see “normal bodies”, because the time spent at home with only herself and Netflix for company meant all she witnessed was the media’s portrayal of “sexy”.

Yes, Hollywood may be getting better at their “all body types are beautiful” campaign, but they’re certainly not there yet. Centuries of beauty culture has conditioned us to think we’re not good enough, so, for most of us, going outside and seeing someone we think is beautiful despite their non-conformity to society’s superficial standards can subconsciously reinforce our own positive perception of ourselves. Feeling comfortable in our own skin presents as much a cultural shift as it does an individual one, so for Ariel, who has been stuck at home in her sweatpants watching seemingly perfect Gucci clad supermodels trapped within a glass screen, she needed a reminder that this was not the real world. In the real world, you are beautiful because you are you.

Evidently, social distancing has also led to social isolation, and although we have had more time to catch up with old friends online or over the phone, the lack of physical interaction has nonetheless felt trying for most of us. However, social interaction is multi-dimensional and while we might have lost some of the magic of face-to-face social interaction, it hasn’t all been bad.

Lockdown has been a period of self-growth for many of us, including Chamath. He told me that staying home has forced him to get his “pandemic priorities straight.”

“I’ve saved money and not spent it on unnecessary things like drinks and drugs. I’ve been able to deal with my depression head on, without [these distractions],” he explained.

“There’s no need to get laid all the time, ‘cause I don’t really need it. A lot of things became background noise against the backdrop of ‘I matter more’.”

While everyone has worked through this pandemic at different paces and in slightly different ways, COVID-19 has allowed us to share more than a few undeniable commonalities. Case in point: the complete lifestyle change required in each and every one of us a change in mindsets, time commitments, and in our travel and sense of sociability. While COVID has (thankfully) not been as dramatic as the Black Plague of 1665 (during which Sir Isaac Newton basically invented physics because he was bored – thanks for that, Isaac) the pandemic has definitely shaken up our lives.

No matter what 2020 looks like for you, one thing is clear: it has marked a turning point in our lives. COVID-19 has meant that some of us have reconnected with our families, while others have reduced their vices, found inner peace, and developed a deeper understanding of the world. While we may be glad to go back to normal life, these lessons have the potential to shape our future for the better – depending on how we choose to perceive and view them, of course.

What will life look like for us post-lockdown? Personally, in the short term, I’m excited to go to restaurants with my friends again and eat good food, and hug people! I am definitely going to become a hugger.

While all of us have lost touch with the external, mundane parts of life, most of us have learned their true value. We had to lose these things to realise we loved them. Perhaps we can take this as a call to start taking life by the horns rather than for granted? It is equally important that when we resume classes on-campus, Swinburne does not take us for granted, and introduces measures designed to help students feel safe.

It is also important that we accept the diversity of change that may occur post-lockdown. The integration of the online world into the workforce may result in a better or worse work-life balance. A lot of people who were on a nosedive to ruin their lives, may struggle to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people may go straight back to their vices, while others will emerge with a new hobby and solid body of work that they’ve created.

As it does now, this will all serve to demonstrate that change on its own, in the context of a forced lockdown, is never really good or bad. More often than not, it’s entirely up to us what we make of it.

While I can’t say for sure what a post-COVID world will look like, one thing is clear. A lot of people are going to rediscover the world – and when they do, it may just transform their lives for the better.

If you are struggling with your mental health, Wellbeing at Swinburne can help – they  offer free psychological support services for Swinburne students. Please phone (03) 9214 8483 for more information.

If you need a more informal group of friends to support you through this crisis, hop onto Swinburne’s H.squad Instagram @h.squad_swinburne  and take part in the numerous activities they run throughout the semester, designed to alleviate the burden on mental, sexual and nutritional health. 

*This student wishes to remain anonymous.

About Jananie Pathiraja

Jananie Pathiraja, better known as Jan like January, is a student at Swinburne University about to complete her Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Biomedical Science. She is a major health buff and a complete science nerd (yes, chemistry included).

She is a part of several Swinburne initiatives and clubs, including toastmasters, and loves writing for SWINE. This ice-cream biting almost-psychopath is passionate about a career in health and in her spare time is an avid reader (currently devouring the pages of the count of Monte Cristo which she assures us, is a must-read – fair warning, she says this about 90% of the books she reads). You can connect with Jan via her LinkedIn here.

Iso Pet Peeves: Lockdown 2.0

Author: Grace Ashford

By now, I’m sure everyone has experienced their fair share of frustration regarding all things corona. But is there anything more irritating, blood boiling and hair-pullingly exasperating than having to go back into lockdown because a security guard couldn’t keep it in his pants?

We’re back for a Lockdown 2.0 edition of Iso Peeves – this time, focusing on our favourite variety of aggravating personalities, all of whom played a role in The End of the World: Part Two.

“I just needed to see my gals!”

I hope that ‘last hoorah’ with the squad was worth Grandpa getting sick, Tiffany! Just a quick reminder: our mate COVID-19 doesn’t pick and choose when it will be highly infectious. It’s the night before lockdown, not the night before you’re most likely to contribute to the spread.

In a single night, you and your girls jeopardised the health of everyone you came into contact with afterwards! I trust you found the perfect Snapchat filter to hide the shame. ♥

“Pete Evans is my god.”

5G conspiracists, please leave the chat. It’s really cute how you think you can fight science – oh, wait! It’s actually not, because people are dying. Take off your tinfoil hat and read the stats.  It seems you haven’t allowed yourself time to process the severity of the global pandemic we are amidst. Once you’ve come to terms with your denial, please kindly buy some hand sanitiser and stay the fuck home.

“Wearing a mask doesn’t actually do anything.”

Out of everything to complain about, you lot are choosing to get strung up over a piece of fabric. (And you were likely the same people to blame the BLM protests for the outbreak while simultaneously hanging out at Chaddy with your other 7000 pals every weekend). Fact check: you’re wrong. While wearing a mask doesn’t stop you from contracting anything, data from the World Health Organisation states it severely reduces the spread of oral and sinus droplet transmission via breathing, coughing, and even talking by 95%. That’s a serious statistic, and if you feel the need to take issue with attempts to reduce the spread of a disease with a global death toll of more than eight hundred and twenty-nine thousand (as of 27/8/20), you need to check yourself.

“Just one last stop at Woolies on my way home from getting tested.”

Congratulations Patricia, you are literally doing the opposite of what has been so clearly reinforced since the beginning of this sh*t show! While our everyday supermarket workers are putting their lives at risk for minimum wage before our economy comes crashing down, you thought you’d quickly nip in for some quarantine supplies. And yet, you’ve not even had the respect to place actual necessities into your basket. Instead, you’ve had the audacity to snatch up a family size bag of Maltesers and a nice big tub of iso ice cream. Hope you ate up your chocolatey treats along with your words when you saw the news announcing Stage 4 restrictions.

Featured image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash

COVID-19 Series: #4

Author: Imogen Williams 

One thing keeping me entertained during isolation is scouring the weekly TV guide for films showing free-to-air. I have seen great films such as The King’s Speech, and not-so-great films such as Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. One of the former such films I’ve watched is the 1959 classic On the Beach, directed by Stanley Kramer, based on the novel by Nevil Shute. I’d been wanting to watch it for a while, since my Mum had told me it was a fantastic film with a brilliant cast including Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins (best known as the creepy smiling guy from Psycho). Plus, it is set in Melbourne!

Eager to find out what Melbourne looked like in the days of my parents’ early childhood (spoilers, very different), I watched the film. All my Mum said was true; it was an eye-opening and thought-provoking masterpiece. The film is set in an alternate Melbourne of 1964, in the aftermath of a nuclear war that had wiped humanity from existence everywhere but Australia. The film follows the final months of a group of people’s lives, as they struggle with the knowledge that a cloud of deadly radiation will inevitably reach Melbourne. So, it was quite a distressing film to be watching in the middle of a pandemic, a time when many of us are experiencing a downturn in our mental wellbeing. For me, however, the viewing of the film seemed apt since many aspects of the film have direct comparisons to our current COVID-19 crisis.

In the film, a young Australian woman, Mary Holmes, is in denial about the situation. She is unable to accept that in a few months, humanity will be no more and she cannot bear to hear anyone talking about it.

People have also had this reaction in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Some, like Mary, are in denial and wish to carry on as if the virus does not exist. We have seen this happen in Melbourne prior to the second wave, with several large families gathering and thus causing outbreaks. Like the film, people are literally gathering on the beach in Australia, and in the US and in the UK. They are ignoring restrictions, not wanting to miss the warm weather, despite the stupidity of such actions. This is still happening during our second lockdown, with people having parties despite the danger they present. Although we can all get tired of constantly hearing about coronavirus, as Mary did about radiation, we must understand the intensity of the situation and respond seriously and sensibly. Mary’s husband Peter understands the enormity of the circumstances and recognises the need to accept the facts and prepare for the worst, which is what we must do too.

Once Mary stops denying humanity’s dreadful plight, she plunges into depression for the remainder of the film. The stress and horror of the COVID-19 crisis has caused some people to do the same, with calls to mental health services in Australia increasing substantially from last year. Crisis support service Beyond Blue reported a 66%, 60% and 47% increase in calls in April, May and June compared to the same months in 2019. Callers reported feeling “worried, uncertain … overwhelmed” and experiencing “exhaustion and fatigue”.

Mary’s denial and depression, and Peter’s pragmatism, are seemingly familiar and justified responses to an unprecedented event. However, the way On the Beach depicts the overall community response to life’s total upheaval, is surprising, I am shocked by the incredible order and calm demonstrated within the film, as the end approached. People having parties, all conducted with an air of civility. There are scenes of drunkenness, sure, but everyone remains fairly reserved. Citizens line up in an orderly fashion to collect their government-supplied suicide pills, as their names get ticked off a list.

There are no fights as people collect their pills – a stark contrast to the video back in March that went viral, of two women selfishly fighting over toilet paper. There was no panic buying, just an acceptance that there will be shortages, like that of petrol, perhaps because WW2 was still fresh in the characters’ minds. Rather than panicking and taking all of the alcohol for themselves, in one scene featuring two men at a club, they simply grumble that there is no way the members will get through all of the bottles of port before the end comes.

Last year, I watched the 2012 American film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which detailed the final weeks before Earth was destroyed by an asteroid. This film depicted people behaving and reacting to their impending doom in ways I considered to be far more realistic than in On the Beach. In the modern film, there are riots with people burning buildings and committing murder, because they can get away with it. There is a drunken orgy in a restaurant, and people stop going to work because there is no point, so they generally run around doing whatever they damn well please.

Near the end of On the Beach, Captain Dwight Towers, commander of an American submarine, feels an obligation to captain the submarine back to the US when his crew tell him they would prefer to die at home than in Australia. Dwight is unwilling to do this, since he would like to stay and die with his lover Moira. However, he decides to leave her behind to help his men head home, as he sees this as his duty. He does this despite the fact human civilisation is mere days away from its end.

I told my Mum that the order and goodwill shown in On the Beach seemed unrealistic, and was surprised that she believed this behaviour to be perfectly accurate. Mum explained that she was alive during the tail-end of the era when the film is set, during 1950s and 60s Melbourne, and that in many ways, people showed more care and respect for the good of the whole community, rather than only caring about self-preservation and promotion.

My mother’s words concerned me, and made me wonder – has this sense of good for the whole been lost? I feel that maybe it has, that the good of the individual is now considered more important. However, often what is good for the whole, can also be good for the individual. Though an individual may decide to sneak across the NSW border, because in that moment it seems right for them, in the end this could cause another outbreak, which would in turn negatively impact that individual.

These days, many people seem to be rather disparaging of the phrase ‘the common good’. I have encountered those writing in newspapers and on social media, complaining of how the government is forcing people to be tested “for the common good” as if it is a bad thing! However, some do believe in the importance of ‘the greater good’, and I hope that with time and discussion, more of us will.

In On the Beach, the deadly radiation infecting Melbourne is invisible. An unseen enemy, just as COVID-19 is. Ultimately, though, you cannot hide from this silent killer. It is inevitable, it is going to kill you. The characters of On the Beach cannot self-isolate indoors to escape danger as we can, yet they deal with their situation graciously.

The film concludes with shots of a deserted Melbourne – not a soul on the streets. This is eery because there is no sign of destruction. The buildings are intact, with no markers that anything is wrong but the sheer emptiness of the city. These images are of striking similarity to our quiet Melbourne streets, alongside scenes of deserted precincts in other cities around the world  this year.

When On The Beach was released, the Philadelphia Inquirer stated: “There is not the slightest doubt that this is the most important motion picture ever produced… and the most moving!”. The film is considered important because of its strong anti-nuclear message, yet I now believe this is not the only reason for its importance. On The Beach can teach us plenty about the world today, and how we have changed. Beyond its thematic message, I also recommend the film for its fabulous cinematography, remarkable acting and haunting use of music (a kissing scene backed by the sound of drunken men singing Waltzing Matilda may sound unusual, but is especially poignant).

The media often focuses on the negative and selfish responses to the rules designed to help us. Yet a silent majority do remain, committed to altering their behaviour for the common good. This can be seen by the number of people who write into the ABC’s coronavirus live blog, for example, asking about the right thing to do. Like Dwight, these people personify social responsibility, which we should all aspire to.

If we all do the right thing, then eventually everything will be fine. So why not act with reason and benevolence?

About Imogen Williams

Imogen is a first year student studying a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Business double with majors in History and Marketing! In 2018 she won First Prize in the Senior Secondary School Short Story category of the My Brother Jack Awards with her piece Pensioner Purgatory, which was published online.

COVID-19 Series: #3

Author: Jessica Murdoch 

When the stay at home orders were announced, mixed amongst my general concern was a sense of excitement that isolation would provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on reading, and allow me to (finally!) get to all those TV shows people keep recommending.

However, two months in (or however long it’s been. What even is time anymore?) that hasn’t really eventuated. One of the things I noticed early on in this crisis was my disinterest in watching new shows, or picking up anything unread on my TBR pile. Whenever I tried to settle into something, I felt restless. Choosing something new felt stressful, so I found myself falling back into old favourites I’ve seen or read a hundred times.

The thing is, this it isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon. Around exam time or during a busy work period, when I’m feeling anxious, I often find myself falling back into these familiar patterns.

I’ve noticed others acting similarly, too. Is there a reason we reach for something comfortable and familiar when we’re feeling anxious or stressed?  If people aren’t seeking out their old favourite books or shows, they’re sharing their holiday throwbacks on social media, or even simple pictures of past ‘regular’ hangouts with friends, reminiscing about the good times with desperate pleas to ‘take me back’. This type of nostalgia seems to be a behaviour many of us are employing as a counter to the current situation we are all enduring.

In his book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource, Clay Routledge discusses the way our understandings about nostalgia have changed over the years. Routledge explains that nostalgia was first studied in relation to soldiers fighting away from home, and was believed to be a medical illness. The Swiss medical student who coined the phrase actually defined it as “the pain caused by the desire to return to one’s native land”.

Since that time, researchers have developed a greater awareness that there is a lot more going on for soldiers than homesickness. With continued developments in the field of psychology, scholars started to look at the concept differently, and nostalgia began to be seen more as a general longing for aspects of the past. Not just places, but also people or objects. Rather than being an illness causing these symptoms, nostalgia began to be thought of as more of a behavioural response to distress or stressful situations. Over time, researchers began to consider that nostalgia might be a coping mechanism used to counter a negative state.

By the 90s, psychologists started to embrace a more positive and functional view of nostalgia. While current research still explores whether it is ‘good’ for you, it does recognise nostalgia as an experience that can generate positive affect – that is a greater propensity to happiness and positive emotions.

As far as the question of causation, Routledge points out that nostalgia is far more likely to be experienced when people are distressed than when they are happy or content, and that loneliness may be a particularly potent nostalgia instigator. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to assume that in a global pandemic, even if our immediate safety needs are being met, there may be plenty of reasons to be reaching for nostalgia to help us cope.

For me, it seems like the reading, cooking and listening I’ve been doing could easily fit into this idea of a coping mechanism. So, I’ve decided to outline some of the nostalgic ‘comfort-doing’ I’ve been participating in recently, and explore the kind of thoughts this practice has raised for me, in the hope that it might help you gain some clarity on your own nostalgic behaviours.

Now, I’m probably older than many of you reading – I’m an actual millennial, as opposed to the constantly lazy short-hand way that it’s misused as a synonym for ‘young person I have a preconceived prejudice against’. So, some of my nostalgic throwbacks are probably going to seem ancient to some. Or maybe you’re cool and you like my throwbacks too!  Either way, feel free to sub in whatever books/movies/music you were enjoying through your teens or childhood, and consider whether you’ve been using them in the same way.

Comfort Reading

Sweet Valley High and Anne of Green Gables are both series I read as a teenager. They’ve been providing me with the same level of comfort, only in different ways. Not only are they taking me back to a time when I had far less responsibilities, but they’re allowing me to press pause and escape from my ‘real life’ – just as they did back then.

The Sweet Valley High books have been pure escapism – and pure trash (in the best possible way). Now, anything that young teen girls love is often dismissed as being valueless. And if I’m honest, the feminist in me could rip them apart – particularly the early ones. The first one has unrealistic body expectations and body shaming… and that is literally just on the first page. I mean, they were published in the 80s.

But having the opportunity to figure out some of these things for ourselves is important – I mean, how can you learn what ‘good’ literature is, unless you read all types? That’s not to say these books do no harm to teen readers, but leaving that discussion aside for now, they served a useful purpose. That is: being dramatic, ridiculous, yes problematic, but ultimately soap-opera fantasy fun. Reading doesn’t always have to be serious.

On the other hand, the Anne books have a completely different, much more wholesome feel. There’s always the risk that when you go back to a childhood fave, you’ll discover just how problematic they were, which your naïve kid-self failed to notice (not like SVH above, I think they were blatant enough even for teenage me to see)…now, Anne is not perfect, but I have to say overall that they do surprisingly well for writing published in the early 1900s.

There isn’t glaring overt racism (aside from the overwhelming whiteness – yikes the bar is low). There’s plenty of heteronormative expectations being celebrated and some icky ideas about beauty norms but overall, Anne as a character is so interesting and complex and sweet, and there’s plenty we can still find relatable in her stories today. The vocabulary in this book is not oversimplified for children – and for a kid who loved learning (and mispronouncing, because she’d only ever seen them in print) new ‘big’ words, as Anne herself did, relishing this was a joy in itself.

As an adult, I found myself feeling much more emotional about her horrible start in life, but it also makes her growth, and the growth and growing love of those around her, that much more effecting. The thing about this series, is that it really does feel like it was written to be read as a serial – each chapter often feels very complete – which is perfect for a child to read with a parent. And I’ve been spacing them out to read just a chapter a day – reminiscent of the way I had to read when I wasn’t in charge of my own bedtime.

Comfort listening

I have a pre-adulting playlist already set up on Spotify, which I usually listen to when I have to do the shittier kind of adulting like cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming – but until now, I have never listened so regularly to so many of my high school faves. Spotify has started curating 90s and early 00s focused playlists for me, and it’s been fun rediscovering some oldies that I haven’t heard in a while. Vanessa Amorosi’s Have a Look came on at one point and I was instantly transported back to my high school bedroom, where I sang all those desperate break-up tunes so passionately, having never even been kissed.

It’s not surprising that we are so often attached to our high school hits, even in more typical times. The music that we love in our puberty years – when all of our emotions are often experienced in extremes – will always have a powerful place for so many of us.

Writing for Slate.com, Mark Joseph Stern says, “between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).”

Comfort cooking

Don’t worry, this subheading is not about making bread (although more power to you if you find that comforting). In fact, a little content warning for this paragraph: like so many of us living in a society where diet culture is constantly being thrown at us, I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with food. And at times when my mental health has been at its lowest, the effort of making food is often the first to go. Luckily, I’m in a place of my recovery where I’ve learned to notice early warning signs.

For me to make healthy (and by that, I mean, not disordered) food choices, it’s important to remove as many barriers to cooking as possible. That might mean buying precut vegies for example, or ready-made sauces. While I’ve been working to be more mindful of environmental impact and reduce my meat/animal product consumption  for the last five or so years, for my own mental health, I can never place completely rigid rules around my food consumption. With the added stressors popping up currently, I’ve had to loosen those restriction even more and simply give myself permission to accept that I’m doing the best I can.

Usually, I still make the vegetarian option, but the easy, familiar meals of my childhood – often a stir-fry with vegies and some kind of meat – are the best way I can take care of myself right now. The constant jokes and memes about people’s fear of weight gain is damaging enough, putting restrictions on the way I keep my body alive in a global pandemic is something I can’t afford to do.

Those are a few of the ways that nostalgia is helping me at the moment. The truth is, I don’t think I’m feeling terribly lonely right now. I’m an introvert. I’m independent. I enjoy my alone time. But I am anxious, and more than a little stressed about the general state of the world.

Besides, there’s a difference between choosing to stay at home and having to stay at home to keep everyone safe from a global pandemic.

For me, the truth is, having an excuse to stay home is not always the best thing. I may like being shut away at home (insert introvert meme here) but having the perfect built-in excuse to isolate from people is not always the best thing for my health. It’s human nature to do the comfortable thing and with the way ‘self-care’ is often packaged to us these days, it’s easy to convince ourselves that leaning into comfort is the best thing to do. It’s like I have society’s permission to shut myself away and that’s not always the healthiest thing for my brain. I like being on my own but that’s not always the best thing to keep my brain healthy.

So, although I’m enjoying relaxing into some of these nostalgic comforts, I’m also trying to stay aware, so I can catch myself if I start to spiral a little too deeply into my comfortable past.

I mentioned earlier that researchers weren’t completely convinced that nostalgia is ‘good’ for us. While it can be a soothing behaviour, that doesn’t automatically equal good for us, and research has shown that in some cases it can lead to feelings of frustration and discontent.

Dr. Krystine I. Batcho, a licensed psychologist who researches the psychology of nostalgia, says that “the main risk for unhealthy nostalgia lies in trying to do it all ‘solo’”.

Speaking to Mary Grace Garis for Well and Good, she says, “if we find ourselves becoming trapped in sadness, we need to reach out to others. Not only is it great to receive support, but it’s incredibly beneficial to extend support to others. Extending a digital hug to another feels good and can encourage us to look forward to better times. Just as there were good times before, there will be good times ahead.”

Overall, aside from the inconvenience of trying to self-motivate when it comes to studying online, I’ve not found my isolation to be the worst experience. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be in a more secure position than many – the increase in Austudy has meant I’ve actually had enough money to pay rent and manage other living expenses – which is a whole other piece of writing.

I have a safe place to live, enough money to buy food and pay my bills, and friends and family to check in with. So, taking comfort and joy in familiar things while also making sure I’m staying in contact with friends and family, and looking after myself physically and mentally has mostly been manageable.

The truth is, it is important to be gentle with ourselves right now. I’m not going to say that we’re living in unprecedented times, because holy shit am I sick of hearing that from companies still trying to sell us their products. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t the experience we thought we would be having in 2020.

So, if you’re feeling a little stressed about your current circumstances, or more than a little anxious about the future, remember that you can take a little comfort in some familiar experiences, solo or with others, and you’ll be in good company.

About Jessica Murdoch

Jessica is a writer, teacher and experienced list maker who is currently doing a media and comms degree.

She has spent almost a decade teaching primary age students and is passionate about young people having access to critical literacy skills, opportunities to express themselves and quality representation in media. She uses writing to help her figure out her opinions about books, pop culture and the world.
 
You can find her collection of bookish thoughts and reviews, as well as the occasional food shot on her blog or Instagram @mermaidhairandtales. She’s also had writing published in previous editions of Swine and Other Terrain.