Woroni is pleased to present a heart-wrenching excerpt from bestselling author Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Breaking Down (ANU Faculties)’:
“Bella, we’re cutting them.”
I took a deep breath. I thought I was prepared. But I still had to ask. “Why now? The damage it will do to our courses–”
“Bella, I don’t actually care about you and your peers.” ANU spoke the words slowly and precisely, its cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what it was really saying. It looked away as it spoke again. “Of course, I’ll always love you… in a way. But what happened during COVID made me realize that it’s time for a change. Because I’m… tired of pretending to be something I’m not, Bella. I am not an institution invested in student welfare. I’ve let this go on much too long, and I’m sorry for that.”
“Don’t.” My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. “Don’t do this.”
“I would like to ask one favor, though, if that’s not too much,” it said.
“Anything,” I vowed, my voice faintly stronger.
“Don’t do anything reckless or stupid,” it ordered, no longer detached. “No protests, no petitions. You need to accept the economic reality. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded helplessly.
“And I’ll make you a promise in return,” it said. “I promise that this will be the last time you’ll see these staff members. They won’t come back. I won’t put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from them. It will be as if they never existed.”
My knees must have started to shake, because the trees along Uni Ave were suddenly wobbling. I could hear the blood pounding faster than normal behind my ears. Its voice sounded farther away, even further than Menzies.
It smiled gently. “Don’t worry. You’re a student– your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind. You’ll have something new to protest about soon enough.”
“And your memories?” I asked. It sounded like there was something stuck in my throat, like I was choking.
“Well” –it hesitated for a short second– “I won’t forget. But my kind… we’re very easily distracted. I’ve got the 2022 plan to double international student fees to work on.” It smiled; the smile was tranquil and it did not touch its eyes. It took a step away from me. “That’s everything, I suppose. We won’t bother you again.”
The plural caught my attention. That surprised me; I would have thought I was beyond noticing anything.
“The Arabic language staff aren’t coming back,” I realized. I don’t know how it heard me–the words made no sound–but it seemed to understand.
It shook its head slowly, always watching my face. “No. They’re all gone. I stayed behind to tell you goodbye.”
“What about in CECS? And the National Security staff?” My voice was blank with disbelief.
“They wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced them that a clean break would be better for you.”
I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare.
“Goodbye, Bella,” it said in a quiet, condescending email tone.
There was a light, unnatural breeze. My eyes flashed open. The leaves on the trees around the Kambri lawn shuddered with the gentle wind of its passage.
It was gone, taking valued staff, the future of Australia’s tertiary education, and my heart with it.
‘Breaking Down’ will not be available at major booksellers as sales staff have been cut for economic efficiency. Just as future students may have to rely on self-guided learning, Woroni recommends our readers make up the plot in their heads and hope they’ve got it right.
Read the first in the series here
Think your name would look good in print? Woroni is always open for submissions. Email email@example.com with a pitch or draft. You can find more info on submitting here.
It was early August, and my family had spent the better part of a week binge-watching Killing Eve (late to the party, I know). In an alarmingly short amount of time, we had reached the last episode. Being Melbournians, we decided it would be rude not to indulge in a Persian fairy floss frozen yoghurt to mark the occasion. I was yet to use my allocated hour of outside-the-house time, so I grabbed my keys and headed to the door. Sitting in the car, I turned on the engine and looked down at the dashboard. Shit. It was already 8:04 – four minutes past curfew. That’s when it really hit – the grim reality of being a Victorian during the second wave of COVID-19. How on earth did we get here?
When Australia tentatively opened up in May, we were all united in our intention to put the previous few months behind us. Like the details of a bad dream, memories of life during the first wave became more elusive the harder you tried to remember them. As winter set in, the rest of Australia began to enjoy an ever-increasing number of freedoms. Victorians, on the other hand, grew more and more anxious as case numbers edged higher. Almost as quickly as we were freed, we were told to ‘stay home’ once more. Our winter months are notoriously miserable. During this winter, however, ‘miserable’ has taken on a new meaning.
I asked some friends to help describe how it feels here.
Some were positive:
Our beautiful city has been asleep for months and we are all counting down the days until she wakes up and returns in all her glory…
… tbh I’m really just waiting to go back to rats (if you know, you know).
More common responses, however, were along the lines of: “horrible”, “utter shit”, and “depressing”.
Personally, I think one friend in particular put it best:
It’s like purgatory. I know for sure it isn’t heaven, but it also can’t be hell because we’re all still f*cking stuck here.
Most of us support shutting down to save lives. And we realise, of course, that we are incredibly lucky compared to most people in the world. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make lockdown any easier.
And this lockdown is not at all like the first. The novelty of pandemic entertainment – Zoom yoga! Zoom baking! Zoom Kahoot! – has long worn off. No one is trying to pick up a new skill or hobby; I gave up on learning Arabic with Duolingo months ago. My baking trays are gathering dust below the oven. I no longer Zoom my friends every Friday night. At this point most of us are just trying to get through each day. And these days seem to last forever, stretching into weeks that merge into months that form an indistinguishable blur in which time has lost all meaning and nothing is ever of consequence.
But how long have we been here, anyway? I’ve had the 16th of October marked in my calendar for quite some time now. This date marks one hundred days of lockdown in Melbourne. 100 days of living under some of the harshest government restrictions imposed anywhere in the world. 100 days of mundanity, insecurity, tedium, restlessness, and melancholy. 100 days since we’ve seen most of our friends and family. 100 days since we’ve enjoyed our marvellous Melbourne.
I don’t think I need to tell you how fiercely (and perhaps irritatingly) proud we are of our beautiful city. Watching silently on the sidelines as it shut down again – witnessing drone footage of a CBD with empty streets and boarded-up businesses – has been particularly cruel punishment.
The attitude of Australians outside Victoria has compounded the sense of isolation in the city. We certainly are not all in this together anymore, and, frankly, I’ve never felt less Australian. Whilst many of our compatriots show support and sympathy, others seem to relish Melbourne’s suffering. For evidence, you need look no further than comments made by other state premiers. All of this has left us feeling even more alone. For those outside Victoria, this may be difficult to fathom. For most ANU students, life is almost back to normal.
Seeing photos and videos on social media beaming to us from Canberra is like watching life unfold in a parallel universe. We want to disconnect, but at the same time, we don’t want to sever the only connection to the lives we should be living. We care how our friends are going, but at the same time it hurts to know. The response from those in Canberra has been interesting. Some call and talk to us in a tone of voice you might normally reserve for someone who is dying, while others call us blind drunk after finally convincing the DJ at Mooseheads to play Melbourne Sound. The sad reality is that, for the time being, relating to those on campus is hard.
That same night back in August, as I sat in my car with nowhere to go, it all felt like too much. I went back inside to finish Killing Eve, but my excitement for the finale had dissipated. And then, just when I was about to click ‘play’, my phone dinged. “Check your front door”. A friend in Canberra had sent a tub of ice-cream through an UberEATS promotion that invited people outside of Melbourne to send free desserts to those in the city. Words cannot explain how much this meant. Not only had she thought of me, but she had also taken the time to find my address (somewhat concerningly) through social media.
It really is the small things that have made the difference; the spontaneous acts of kindness from friends and strangers alike have kept us warm in this long and cold winter.
Despite – perhaps even because of – the lockdown sadness, Melbournians have come closer as a community. These *strange and unsettling times* remind us of the importance of our loved ones – both near and far – whom we cherish now more than ever. Being apart really has kept us together (Thanks, VDHHS).
So, if you are wondering how you can be a good friend to those of us stranded here in ‘Sic(k)toria’, you don’t need to do much – no, you don’t even need to send us dessert. Just hearing from you, knowing that you’re thinking of us, makes all the difference.
And for my fellow Melbournians, hold on, we really are close now. Before you know it, we’ll all be back in downstairs Mooseheads spilling $2.50 vodka raspberries and rapping every lyric of Melbourne Sound.
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Content warning: mental health, racism
This story is dedicated to my mother, who always encourages me to read and write and trusts in my ability to write well.
I have finally sat down to write about what has happened to me the past two weeks (January 17 2020 to February 2 2020). I have finally sat down to face the phantom haunting me and recount the fear, anxiety, alienation, isolation and discrimination Chinese people have encountered since the outbreak of COVID-19 . As I am under strict self-quarantine for 14 days and can’t go anywhere, I have a relatively undisturbed environment to write down these unfathomable fragments.
Xue Zhao takes a deep breath in as she walks into the departure hall. She checks in at the counter with her parents Fang and Feng. Fang’s hair is mostly black and curly, with some white hairs. When she smiles, her eyes look like two slender crescents. She wants to walk slowly, but she is pushed by the passing of time. The usually busy air- port is now almost empty. Everyone’s face is covered with a mask. Everyone stands apart, keeping a safe distance between themselves and others. Xue looks at the boarding time of her flight to Kuala Lumpur, 3:15PM.
Xue and her parents walk to the border force. She gives her father a cuddle. His smile is warm and strong.
“你现在到是逃离疫区了!（Now you are es- caping the epidemic country!）” Feng says.
“ 这并不是我希望的！（But it is not my will!）” Xue pursed her lips. “ 不要忘记去马来西亚升舱！（Don’t forget to upgrade your second flight to the first class in Kuala Lumpur! ）” Feng holds his daughter’s shoulders with some pressure.
“你要来澳洲陪我!（You should come to Australia to keep me company!）” Xue cuddles her mother and cries.
“以后三，现在肯定不行。(Sure, but not now. ) ” Fang’s eyes are red and filled with tears.
After passing the border force and security check, Xue tries to connect with the airport WiFi but she can’t. She misses the chance to read the news article her classmate Yingying sent her several minutes ago: Australian President Scott Morrison Restricts People of Republic of China Passport Holders from Entering Australia.
Xue finally enters the first class cabin and sits next to a middle-aged Malaysian man. He stares at his phone for a long time be- fore take off. Xue is too exhausted to keep her eyes open. By the time she wakes up in the middle of the flight, the travel ban policy has been widely circulated on WeChat.
Xue huddles up in the corner with a blanket, looking at the changing clouds from the window. The Malaysian uncle right next to her has fallen asleep, tilting his head towards her. There is only an hour left to reach Malaysia. Feng sends Xue an audio message on WeChat about the travel ban, as well as a news article on this new policy. Xue wants to go to the bathroom. She can hear his gentle snoring. She jumps over his crossed knees, waking him up. She smiles awkwardly.
After they land at Kuala Lumpur, Xue con- nects with the airport WiFi and listens to her dad’s audio message on Wechat. He says: “你大孃刚刚在朋友圈发了这篇关于澳 洲禁止中国人如境的新闻。你到了吉隆坡， 给澳洲海关打一个电话，问问他们明天还可
不可以入境，要是不行的话，你也不用再飞 去澳洲，你在吉隆坡买张机票回家吧！(Your auntie just posted this article about the lat- est Australian travel ban against Chinese on Wechat moments. You must call the Austra- lian border force and ask them whether you can enter Australia tomorrow in Malaysia. If they say no, you must buy your flight back home in Kuala Lumpur so you don’t waste your time flying all the way to Sydney.) ” Xue loses her sense of direction. She stands in the aisle, blocking the Malaysian uncle.
“你需要我帮忙拿你的行李吗? (Do you need help taking your luggage out?)” He asks.
While Xue is waiting on a sofa in the airport lounge with a cup of fresh coconut water, her classmate Yingying videocalls her.
“雪， 不要去悉尼。你去了也是浪费时间。 我在朋友圈已经看见有人被遣返了！（Xue, don’t go to Sydney! You’d be wasting your time and efforts. I have already seen Chi- nese students sent back to China!）” Yingy- ing says urgently.
Xue hesitates. She doesn’t know what to say.
“澳洲海关还会罚你的款！（Australian border force will also fine you after you land in Sydney tomorrow morning!）” Yingying continues.
“莹莹，我必须去试一下。你不懂。我已经 出门了，已经在路上了，我明天早上必须要 去试一下！（I must give it a go, Yingying. You don’t understand. I have already left home and on my way. I must give it a try tomorrow morning!）” Xue says.
“但是如果你被拒绝的话，你相当于在飞机 上浪费了30个小时，而且还需要自己花钱买机票回来！（But if you are turned down, you would have wasted 30 hours in the plane and paid for another flight to come home! ）” Yingying asserts.
“我知道但是我不介意。我本来改签已经 花了3000元。我刚刚升舱又花了5000元。 如果我花了8000元，哪儿也没去到，我会是 这个世界上最大的傻瓜！你难道不明白吗？ ！这是一场赌博！（I know but I don’t care. Changing my flight to today has already cost me 3000 yuan (600 dollars). I have also just paid 5000 yuan (800 dollars) to upgrade the second leg of my flights. If I just go no- where with paying 8000 yuan (1400 dollars), I’d be the most stupid person in the world! Don’t you understand?! This is a gamble!）” Xue says.
“。。。我只是。。。（…I just…）” Yingy- ing trails off. “我知道你担心我。谢谢你告诉我, 我必 须得去。（I know you worry about me. Thanks for telling me. I’ve got to go.）” Xue says finally.
She hunches her back and lowered her head. She covers her face with hands and takes a deep breath. Should I really go?
“May I sit down?” The Malaysian uncle points to the seat next to her.
“…Sure…” Xue says.
“I just saw you upgrading your ticket at the counter. I’m still sitting next to you in 2B. If you need to go to the bathroom during the flight, please let me know. I do not mind getting up at all.”
“Thanks a lot.” He smiles like Xue’s father, warm and strong. Xue glances at her watch. There are only 10 minutes left before boarding.
The Malaysian uncle helps Xue with her luggage, without asking her. She settles on the soft leather seat and puts on her eye cover. God, please, let me enter Australia. Or what else can I do except pay for another ticket to go home?! She doesn’t notice the tears leaking from her eyes.
In the plane, Xue thinks about what she should do if she is rejected by a border officer. I can argue with the border officer by saying I have never been to Hubei, nor have I met anyone from Hubei.
“I can also say I have spent almost all of the time at my home and did not go out much to the Australian border officer!” She gets excited about how strong her argument will be.
“They do not care about what you say.” The Malaysian uncle looks at her.
“Did you hear my conversation with my friend in the cabin?” Xue asks.
“Yes, sorry. I accidentally overheard your video call. I didn’t do it intentionally. I am sorry again.” His brown skin looks darker in the dim light. His eyelashes cast shadows underneath his eyes. “Try not to worry too much. You can only know whether Australian border force will let you in after you land. All you can do now is have a good rest. Otherwise, was changing the flight worth the money?” His voice is deep and calming.
“But what if I can’t enter? I don’t want to buy another flight back home.” She asks.
“Don’t think too much. I will help you when the situation comes up.”
Xue is stunned for a moment. “Thank you. You are very kind.”
He gives her two gentle pats on the shoulder. She falls asleep and wakes up when the plane lands at Sydney Airport. She lines up with other passengers, waiting to be examined by the border force. She grips her passport and incoming passenger card tightly. She writes down Malaysia in the column of the flight origin instead of China.
Xue squeezes a smile to the poker-faced border officer. He frowns at her dark red PRC passport without even opening it.
“Are you a student?”
“…… Ma’am, sorry, you cannot enter Australia because the latest travel ban has already been in effect since yesterday.” He opens his hands and holds his palms against each other. He looks at her like a circus show audience looking at a performing elephant.
“But I am NOT from Wuhan, nor have I been in contact with anyone in Wuhan.”
“I understand. But I cannot do anything except inform you the time and the price of the next flight to Chengdu.”
“But it is unfair! I have been studying in Australia for five years and I will graduate this December.”
“Ma’am, you have two options, either purchase the 10PM flight back to Chengdu at 800 dollars or I will have to cancel your student visa and quarantine you in Kangaroo Island for two weeks.” Xue’s eyes are wide open. Humming fills her ears.
“Oh……okay, please get me a flight back home.” Xue’s face is grim.
“Please tap when you are ready,” the officer points to the POS machine.
“Di.” The POS machine shows a tick and your payment is successful! Surprised, Xue turns back to see the Malaysian uncle standing behind her.
“Why?” She asks him.
“Hahaha…… didn’t I tell you I would help you when the situation comes up? My daughter could not finish her studies. You remind me of her.” He says gently.
She waves goodbye to him as he passes through border force. The same way she waved goodbye to her father.
For the first time in most university students’ lifetimes, Australia is in recession. But this is not an ordinary recession. It is a recession that I think will change our society for the better.
When we hear of the current state of the economy, the phrase “this is the worst recession since the Great Depression” is often used. So, what happened in the Great Depression and what did the economy look like after it?
Unemployment in 1929 reached up to 30 percent. The government of the United States responded to the depression in a way that is unimaginable now. Based upon the economic thinking of the time, the government pursued cuts of 20 percent to spending and 10 percent to wages in the name of ‘balancing the budget’. This was well intended but only worsened the economic environment.
Whilst the Great Depression was occurring, a Cambridge mathematician-turned-economist known as John Maynard Keynes wrote of a new way of approaching economic crises. Keynes thought that when the economy enters a recession, governments should spend more money than they earn, creating a budget deficit.
Keynes’ theory was not adopted in the Great Depression, but ten years later when another crisis shook the globe, World War II, his theories were welcomed by policy makers across the world. In Australia we pursued a policy that was known as Full Employment, where the government facilitated a job for anyone who was willing to work. There was massive stimulus to welfare, housing, electricity generation and manufacturing after the war. And this was all done based on Keynesian theories.
Fast forward to a decade ago when the Global Financial Crisis threatened the livelihoods of Australians. Our policy makers continued this near century-old Keynesian method. The Labor Government injected billions of dollars into the economy, saving Australia from recession whilst creating a budget deficit.
Since that deficit was created, it has been the mission of both sides of politics to ‘balance the budget’ and deliver a surplus. At the 2019 election, the Liberals based their campaign off delivering a surplus in 2020 whilst Labor promised an even bigger surplus than the Liberals.
However, no one could predict COVID-19. Instead of delivering the first surplus since 2008, this year the government is going to create the largest budget deficit in history. The deficit is predicted to be upwards of $200 billion whilst debt will exceed $1 trillion.
These are financial figures which are incomprehensible. And something is going to have to change in our management of the economy. Right now, I am taught in my economics major that governments should achieve a budget surplus and then pay down debt. Australia won’t achieve a budget surplus whilst I’m at university and it will take at least 20 years of budget surpluses to pay back the $1 trillion of debt. I will be nearing retirement before Australia can achieve what I’m told is ‘good economic management’.
So what needs to change? Like Keynes did in the 1930s, there are already economists now thinking of new ways to approach budget management. And whatever new approach is adopted, it needs to consider that budget deficits must be continued in the long run. The only way you can create a budget surplus, especially in the post-COVID economic environment, is if governments tax more than they spend. There are only two ways to achieve this:
Spending stays the same whilst taxes are increased
Spending is cut whilst taxes stay the same
When unemployment is above 10 percent and the economy is in the worst recession since the Great Depression, doing any of those two things in the name of a ‘balanced budget’ would only spiral us into a deeper recession. It is what occurred in the Great Depression and we’re still learning from it a century later. But we need to do more than just learn from the mistakes of the past. We need to respond to the issues that pervade our current economy.
Wage growth was stagnant even before the crisis. That needs to change. The workforce was increasingly casualised before the crisis. That needs to change. The climate was not at the forefront of economic policies before the crisis. That needs to change. And marginalised groups in society had not achieved economic equality before the crisis. That too needs to change.
When we can acknowledge that budget deficits are now going to be integral in our post-COVID economy, and when we acknowledge that there are systemic barriers in the economy, we can progress the economic management of Australia to a more inclusive economy that promotes sustainable growth.
This is the worst recession since the Great Depression. And this is a horrific economic environment to be living in. But it is also a moment which will change the future of our world. Let’s hope that change is for the better.
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CONTENT WARNING: NSW/Victoria Bushfires
Let’s be honest, things are quite shit right now. The world has always had problems, but the problems we’re dealing with right now are on a whole different level. Reading the news every morning, which is both a great and terrible habit at the same time, has been giving me a headache. I’m sure I’m not alone. But, contrary to what we (and the news headlines) might think, everything isn’t terrible. There are some positive things happening in the world. I’m not talking about the dozens of quarantine feel-good stories you’ve seen on Facebook. I’m not dismissing them – hearing about balcony concerts and daily clapping sessions for healthcare workers is undoubtedly nice, but they do constantly remind us of the situation we’re in. I wanted to step out of isolation (purely figuratively, please don’t call the cops) and find stories that didn’t have the word ‘virus’ in them. So, in other news…
Koalas are going back to their natural habitat.
The bushfires that wreaked havoc across the country might have momentarily taken a backseat in peoples’ minds in light of other ongoing disasters (man, what a year) but there has been some recent news that gave me hope. Koalas, who suffered terribly because of the bushfires, are now slowly being returned to the wild. Five koalas were taken back to their home in the mid-northern coast of New South Wales by Port Macquarie Koala hospital, where they had been sheltered for over five months. The bushland they returned to is not the same, but according to experts at the hospital it has replenished well enough to sustain the koalas. Amongst the five released, one has become known all around the world. Severely burnt, her picture and her sad story has been shared by people all over the Internet. Now, she makes for a much nicer picture as she goes back home, healed and healthy.
Scientists are a little closer to understanding black holes.
Whether you’re an astronomer or not, any scientific breakthrough is cause to celebrate. Intermediate-mass black holes have for long been considered the ‘missing link’ in understanding black holes, but scientists have now finally found one. While super- massive black holes and smaller black holes have been studied extensively, few midsized black holes have ever been detected. Observed by researchers through the Hubble telescope, it is located 740 million light years away from Earth. Intermediate-mass black holes are hard to spot because they are too small to be supermassive black holes that are located at the heart of large galaxies, but they are also much larger than smaller black holes that are formed by the collapse of stars. Studying these black holes will allow scientists to finally understand how supermassive black holes come to exist.
African black rhinos are now a little further from extinction.
The extinction of animals and loss of biodiversity has been one of the foremost challenges of our time, so it’s nice to see some glimmers of hope. African black rhinos have suffered immensely at the hands of illegal poachers, almost reaching the point of extinction. But, over the last six years their numbers have gone up by several hundred. A 2.5 per cent increase may not seem like a lot, but it is a significant number for conservationists whose painstaking efforts might finally be paying off. It’s thanks to a combi- nation of tough law enforcement and several measures to improve rhino survival and breeding rates that has led to these positive results. While there is no space for complacency as black rhinos are still under threat, this recent increase in numbers is definitely a much-needed win for conservation.
Greece has its first female president.
Like most other things, politics has largely been a highly male-dominated affair. Most countries around the world can boast only a few women in positions of political power. Greece has now taken an important first step by electing its first woman president. Katerina Sakellaropoulou, 63, is a former high court judge who was elected by an overwhelming majority in the Greek parliament. Not only is she the first female president, she is a progressive leader in a country that has seen incredibly divisive politics. As a judge, she has a rare track record of supporting strong, progressive positions on environmental issues and civil rights like same-sex unions and refugee rights. Her appointment is being seen as a powerful symbol of change in Greece. She is determined to bring about a more humanitarian approach, hoping for a Greece that moves towards “A future of prosperity that will have room for us all.”
Well, there you have it. Not everything is shit. These little snippets of hope are tiny compared to the barrage of bad we receive daily, but it’s important to remember good news is out there, no matter how small it seems. The world is still spinning. Spring is coming to half the world, and cherry blossoms are blooming. People are still falling in love, children are still laughing, puppies still exist. There are reasons to smile.
I have a tiny note on the board in front of my desk that says ‘everything goes’. It’s the title of a song by one of my favourite artists. Whenever I go through something difficult, I always go back to that song, to those words. There, surrounded by the low, comforting voice of RM, who repeats ‘everything goes’ again and again, I can breathe a little easier.
The aim of this piece is not to convince you that things don’t suck – they do, immensely. But I just wanted to give you (and myself) a little bit of hope to get through these trying times. While writing this article, I struggled to find the kind of stories I was looking for. In a moment of desperation, I went on Twitter and asked if anyone had any good news. The first response I got was, “We woke up this morning.” Yes, random Twitter friend, so we did. Thank you for reminding me. Let’s all just keep waking up, morning after morning, yeah?
Comments Off on Our Great Test and our Great Opportunity
“There are decades in which nothing happens, and there are weeks in which decades happen.” That insight can be attributed to Vladimir Lenin, a historical figure who may well be described as the personification of political upheaval. The first months of 2020 may not be in the same ballpark of catastrophe as the Russian Revolution, but Lenin’s aforementioned insight is certainly apt to describe the events of 2020 thus far. Such dramatic interruption to our relatively comfortable way of life in Australia is striking, and almost surreal. A glaring truth has emerged: few of us have lived through anything like this.
In Australia, our year began with an historic bushfire season. The last fires in New South Wales were still burning when Australia recorded its first coronavirus death on March 4. Despite a stressful beginning to the year, many remained optimistic that life would otherwise continue as normal. The cataclysm unfolding in Wuhan was far away and seemed like just another distant tragedy. While news reports around the country commended the heroic efforts of our firefighters and criticised the actions of politicians, a greater threat continued to incubate overseas. Few anticipated that the Black Summer would be almost immediately succeeded by the arrival of an incur- able pathogen from China. Within weeks, Australians found themselves subject to a near total civic lockdown.
The rapid progression of events over the last two months has certainly come as a shock. The media has spilled much ink conveying this drastic change of circumstances. I have noticed a particular idiosyncrasy in news coverage of the Great Lockdown thus far: the inclusion of the word ‘unprecedented’ in what seems like every second or third headline. Though it is true that the COVID-19 crisis is novel in many ways, a brief revisit of modern history will reveal that it is not truly without precedent.
So, why is all of this so starkly unfamiliar to us? I would contend that the reason is simple: few alive in 2020 can find a close analogue to the present crisis in their lived experience. Most 21st century Australians will remember recent epidemics, but nothing that can hold a candle to what COVID-19 has already become. H1N1, SARS, and MERS were global problems, but Australia was largely insulated from their worst effects. Nor has Australia suffered a severe financial crisis in recent years, having emerged relatively unscathed from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Even those who remember the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s have not witnessed six million Australians effectively lose their jobs overnight.
From a social perspective, that is what makes this coronavirus different for Australians. None of us have lived through a crisis-level pandemic. The 1918 Spanish Flu, the most recent pandemic to devastate Australia, occurred a century ago and much has changed since then, in medicine and in general. This experience is as new to older generations as it is to us, and that is certainly a rare phenomenon. If one examines Google search trends, one might notice a sudden spike in worldwide searches for the terms ‘Spanish Flu’ and ‘pandemic’ beginning in February 2020. By contrast, searches for ‘recession’, ‘GFC’, or ‘global financial crisis’ have risen in recent weeks, but not nearly as explosively. This is observation, not scientific inquiry, but it can reasonably be said to demonstrate if nothing else that public curiosity of the Spanish Flu is greater than that of the GFC.
What can we make of this observation? Presumably, people search things on Google to investigate them, even if the extent of that investigation is to half-heartedly skim a Wikipedia article. This escalation in interest is ostensibly a comparison of the current pandemic with a historical analogue. That, in itself, is fascinating – millions have turned not to collective memory, but to history, to better understand the crisis the world currently faces.
To refer to history to understand the world around us is to transport ourselves to a dis- tant time with a different context. The world of 1918 was markedly different from ours, but perhaps not to the extent one might expect. It is true that medicine, transport, and information technology have evolved rapidly since then, and that the Spanish Flu is not a perfect comparison to COVID-19. Yet both pandemics share essential characteristics. Although the world in 1918 was a far less connected place than it is now, millions of servicemen and women were travelling all over the world to fight in the First World War and its successor conflicts. A gloomier observation is that many world governments are no more trustworthy in 2020 than they were in 1918. A century ago, governments suppressed the extent of the Spanish Flu to preserve morale among their war-exhausted citizenries. Just as that pandemic was named after neutral Spain by the governments of belligerent countries in order to disguise its true origins, world leaders have blatantly attributed blame for COVID-19 to other countries. Authoritarian governments have lied to mask their own culpability and incompetence, with detrimental effects on the medical response to the crisis. Thousands have consequently suffered and died. The cascading effects on the world economy will hurt exponentially more. The lucky society of 21st century Australia, which has collectively known little but historic peace and prosperity, is finding itself a victim of rapidly unfolding history.
We can expect that the consequences of this pandemic will be mixed at best. Though it now seems that Australia has already seen the worst, cautious voices warn of the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 – just as occurred in the case of the Spanish Flu. Whatever happens, the global death toll will increase but every epidemic has an eventual end. The festering wound that COVID-19 leaves on global society will remain long after the pathogen itself runs its course. The most obvious consequences will be financial. The IMF has predicted that the recession we are now entering will be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. If that comes true, we can expect to live through a trying time indeed. For all of its flaws, the world economy as a whole has been remarkably resilient since the Great Depression ended with the adrenaline shock of the Second World War. This is to say nothing of the potential for many un- stable nations around the world to implode under economic and political pressure. On the domestic front, our relations with China are entering new territory. A generation of young Australians who have known nothing but peace and prosperity are now contemplating the prospect of a lifetime dealing with the consequences of COVID-19. Predicting the future is tantamount to shooting in the dark in the best of conditions, to say nothing of our present situation. Four-figure daily death tolls are not typically seen in headlines in first-world countries.
Yet not all is bleak. A fatalistic view of history would suggest that each generation is destined to suffer eventually. As morbid as it sounds, we can expect war, depression, and pandemic every now and then. Tragedy is an inherent feature of history, but does not define it. Australia is well placed to watch history transpire around us from a position of relative strength. As confining as our social quarantine is, our doors are not being welded shut. In all likelihood, our economy will not collapse, and our death toll will not number in the thousands. The challenge we face will probably be not quite as unfortunate as the Spanish Flu or the Great Depression. For all its abruptness, it has not begun with a world war. Ideally, it will not end with one. Instead, we will likely witness a rapid evolution of our society. Crisis shines a powerful blacklight on any system and catalyses change. For better or worse, we have an uninvited opportunity to witness the evolution of the post-coronavirus world. The community response in Australia has already been significant. Everyday people have been moved to evaluate how their everyday actions affect fellow citizens, and all sides of politics have largely cooperated to act for the greater good. It would be presumptive to speculate precisely how COVID-19 may affect our society in the long term, but communal unity and accountability are reassuring foundations to build on. Adaptation is the mechanism of survival, after all.
It goes without saying that this is just the beginning of a difficult time. Even in a country as fortunate as Australia, great trials lay ahead. For those of us born in the late 1990s, it will be the first great test of our generation. It will be a defining experience.
With that said, there may be a silver lining to all of this. The opportunity to experience history in first person is one that comes once in a blue moon. Our older generations saw worse, and gained strength. This experience will cost us wealth and comfort, but if we face it with conviction, it will enrich us.
Comments Off on Can Organoids Ease the Blow of Future Pandemics?
Stem cell therapy is one of the latest technologies equipped to transform medicine. One extremely important application of stem cells are organoids – miniature, simplified organs grown in the lab. The tiny organs are 3D tissue-like structures around one millionth the size of an adult human organ, with profound implications for drug testing and studying diseases like cancer and viral infections.
The research goes as far back as 1906, but the methodology for growing organoids has rapidly progressed since the 2010s. Even with massive breakthroughs, organoids were still seen as complements to other forms of testing due to their lack of a nervous system, immune system or vascular structure. But medical researchers have now solved this problem.
Scientists from the Wake Forest School Institute for Regenerative Medicine have just created the most sophisticated lab model of the body using microscopic organ replicas, including the liver, heart, lungs, blood vessels, testes and brain. Built from tiny samples of human tissue and stem cells, these organoids last a minimum of 28 days and mimic many functions of their life-sized equivalents. For example, the heart organoid pumps about 60 times per minute just like a regular human heart!
This ground-breaking development has so much potential for the medical industry and, I believe, for fighting future pandemics. Here’s how…
Faster, cheaper drugs and vaccines
According to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, it costs about $868 million to $1.24 billion USD to develop a drug (which is over $1.4 billion to $2 billion AUD). Many drugs are pulled from shelves because existing testing models, including animal trials, can’t adequately predict toxicity to humans. This makes the price tag even higher.
Vaccine development is also a long and complex process, typically lasting 15 to 20 years. Despite this, researchers are hoping to have a vaccine for COVID-19 ready at a global scale in 12 months. This would be an unprecedented achievement, especially since there’s still so much we don’t know.
However, the recent organoid innovation can save us the time and money in future virus outbreaks. The tiny organ system contains a realistic mixture and the correct number of cells, making it much more predictive of human biological responses compared to traditional cell cultures. They are grown in 3D and have a blood circulatory system just like ours, providing experts with a more comprehensive understanding of how diseases impact the body and how viruses spread in human cells. Because of these properties, the organoids can determine if a drug is toxic to humans and if the vaccine is effective very early on in their development.
The end of animal testing
We are heavily reliant on animal models for drug and vaccine testing in the lab. As I’ve discussed already, these models are often inaccurate and extend the research process. The organoids, on the other hand, can imitate the human body for clinical trials and skip the animal testing phase altogether. They also provide an unlimited supply of material for study (given their stem cell self-renewal properties) along with ethical benefits.
Viral infections affect each human being differently, as we have seen with the new coronavirus. This makes it difficult to understand virus behaviour and develop appropriate treatments for everyone. But organoids can take tissue directly from a patient to create a better understanding of virus behaviour in that individual.
An organoid contains the DNA of its donor, and it carries the personal characteristics of that donor. This allows researchers to study differences between age groups, sexes and genetic make-ups, providing a great visualisation of how viruses spread in different people. This raises fascinating possibilities for personalised medicine and treating patients in future outbreaks.
Amid coronavirus transmission fears, organ and blood donations have shrunk. Donated lungs suspected of containing the virus won’t be used. The pandemic has also caused delays for non-critical surgeries and transplants. This increases patients’ time in the hospital, where risk of exposure to the virus is higher compared to a home setting.
The ultimate goal of organoid research is to grow working organs for transplant. We are still far away from this, as organs are complex self-organised systems that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Nonetheless, the most recent label model of organoids is a giant step forward and re- searchers can see a path to get there. When it does happen, we will no longer require donors and enter a new age of medicine. That’s pretty massive.
There is no doubt that organoids will act as an important stepping stone to more advanced treatments. Their applications, along with other major scientific developments soon to come, equip us with a revolutionary tool that can transform medicine and the way we handle diseases.
CONTENT WARNING: Racism
I don’t know about you, but I regularly fantasise about being a dictator. While wholeheartedly believing in the values of democracy, I do sometimes think it would be nice if I could click my fingers and make a few things happen. I want to protect the Great Barrier Reef. I want to make genuine amends with First Nations Australians. I want to invest in renewable energy, provide free healthcare for everyone and have a world class national curriculum. And I wish, wish, wish most governments had been quicker and more serious in responding to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Democracy is inherently inefficient. A large amount of to-ing and fro-ing usually has to take place before anything gets done. Now that I have so much extra time for social media and internet trolling, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how authoritarian governments have been more successful at deal- ing with the coronavirus. This stems from the idea that they can crack down on it (and their populations) more harshly. I suppose this prompted my return to fantasies of a utopian dictatorship – with myself at the head. Nevertheless, I contend that it is not actually regime type which defines success in clamping down on COVID-19. Authoritarianism has responded in some very problematic and self-serving ways to the outbreak of the virus.
Firstly, authoritarianism is not a necessary factor to successfully contain the virus, demonstrated by the firm responses of South Korea and Taiwan. Both democratic countries acted promptly with early travel restrictions and began testing and isolating positive cases immediately. The common denominator here is a strong state capacity, which comprises effective systems of bureaucracy, public infrastructure and centralised political power at the national level. Whilst cases in Europe and the United States skyrocket, South Korea and Taiwan at the time of writing have much fewer cases relative to the size of their populations, performed a significantly higher number of tests and suffered relatively fewer deaths. As of today (Tuesday 14 April), Taiwan has had only 393 cases, but performed 47,215 tests. Hence, some democracies have performed exceptionally well, whilst others have failed miserably.
Similarly, some authoritarian governments had successes, whilst others performed like a toddler trying to drive a car. Singapore (despite its recent miscalculations) was off to a very effective start, with strict quarantine rules and contact tracing. The global spread of the virus was arguably due to Chi- na’s decentralisation of power and incentives for the regional government in Wuhan to cover up the emergency. However, if we believe the statistics that China has been reporting, once they got going, they were incredibly rigorous and aggressive in their containment of the virus, and as a result the daily increase in cases seems unbelievably low. On the other hand, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has prioritised economic interests, encouraged the reopening of millions of businesses, and relaxed social distancing rules. Their case count is now next to China at 73,303.
I would argue that rather than regime type, it is culture and experience that influenced the success of many East Asian states. The previous coronavirus strains of SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2015 were in some ways a dress rehearsal for COVID-19. It was already a norm to wear masks in public, and those populations had experience with periods of staying inside and having civil liberties infringed upon, all of which remain sensitive topics in the West. Furthermore, centralised authority leads to much more efficient decision-making, and after SARS, Taiwan founded a central command centre for epidemics. In Asia there is no stigma attached to wearing masks — you are likely doing a general public service by being cautious, or perhaps you are immuno-compromised and simply taking a precaution in crowded places. Additionally, masks are more widely and immediately available in Asian countries. This is unlike many Western states where people wearing masks have experienced racial discrimination, and shortages have affected those most in need. We have also not had to experience contact tracing before. One only has to look as far as the Bondi beach-goers to find many people who valued their individual rights and freedoms above public health or government mandates.
Authoritarianism is inherently more efficient than democracy because it completely cuts out the process of debate. There are aspects of it that would be useful in these chaotic times when our ideals of individual freedom and ‘rights’ could manifest dangerously for our society. Unfortunately authoritarianism is often served with a side of state controlled information and human rights abuse. Democratic governments, in order to effectively contain the virus, were forced to adopt aspects of this. In South Korea and Taiwan, there were costs to human rights as a result of their harsh containment of the virus. Yet this occurred in China to a far greater extent due to initial efforts to hide what was going on and the disappearances of people daring to criticise the Communist Party of China (CCP). Authoritarian and authoritarian-leaning governments have also exploited current circumstances to strengthen their regimes. Hungary is a notable example. The Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, can now rule by decree for an indefinite period, and has responded to accusations of restricting freedoms and violating democratic norms by insisting this decision is purely about fighting the coronavirus.
We have also seen significant problems caused by misinformation and a lack of transparency typical of authoritarian governments. For example, Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, stated that no one would die of the coronavirus and that it can be remedied by drinking vodka and going to saunas. The leaders of Turkmenistan and North Korea have insist- ed that they have zero cases of the virus, despite receiving money from the World Health Organisation to combat it. These responses are likely to have very dangerous implications for the citizens of these countries.
Whilst I love the idea of instituting my own utopian dictatorship where we cultivate symbiotic relationships with dolphins (after everyone stays inside and acts responsibly to stop coronavirus), in practice, authoritarianism is not the answer. Despite what some people are saying, coronavirus has not been a shining moment for authoritarian- ism. Instead, we should be encouraging our leaders to take responsible action for the sake of the health of the global community. It is a time for governments to take firm action and make economic sacrifices, not humanitarian ones.
In January, it was fire and smoke. Now, it is silence and emptiness. In February, a month before Australia closed down, the chemist I work in was flooded with people buying masks and hand sanitiser. Every second person would ask for both and leave with thirty masks and five bottles of 70 per cent alcohol solution. We had to scramble to put limits on the amount people could buy and fight to secure stock that might be the next thing people decide they needed to hoard. We had people asking for toilet paper, pasta and things you would never imagine would be sold at a little chemist on the side of Northbourne Avenue. Of the little conversation I had with customers all they talked about was the virus, who was responsible for it, how the government was responding to it and above all, how afraid of it they were.
Even then, on the cusp of a nation-wide lockdown, I didn’t believe it would get this bad. I, like many others, assumed that these people were overreacting and that the world had changed and grown so strong that another pandemic like the one in 1919 could be easily and swiftly crushed. But then, one by one, my friends started to go home, my brothers came back from university and people seemed to vanish off the streets of Civic like they were never there. The night shift feels much longer now, and 7pm could be midnight. The people that do come in leave quickly and the front counter is cleaned so many times that it reeks of bleach and alcohol. And despite all this, I am far luckier than most.
The contagious, unpredictable and insidious nature of COVID-19 has meant that the only real way to fight the spread of the virus and save lives is for all of us, save some essential healthcare workers, to isolate in our homes for as long as necessary. This has killed most small businesses. Cafés, restaurants, bars, clubs, corner-stores and cinemas have all closed down as COVID-19 has taken their customers and their workers away. There is no way to run a restaurant knowing that in a time like this. All it would take would be for one person, chef, waiter or customer to infect the 100 other people who happened to be in that night. This same fear has meant that shopping malls, financial districts and recreational centres have all but shut down. Those that haven’t had skeleton staff have had people working from home. Hours have been cut, benefits slashed and wages reduced, depressing business activity. The COVID-19 has created a vicious economic cycle where businesses, who need trading and finance to operate, are cutting costs due to decreased revenue by laying people off. This in turn decreases the spending power of those workers who also serve the economy as consumers, further depressing revenue and decreasing the amount companies and individuals can pay to the government in tax.
Even though the official state of the economy will not be formally announced for some time, we are already seeing signs of the economic free-fall that COVID-19 will bring. The unemployment rate is forecast to reach 11 per cent by June, with some saying it could climb as high as 17 per cent. This is more than five per cent higher than the highest level recorded in Australia in modern times. The American Government has been advised that unemployment in the United States could reach 25 per cent by June, an increase of 22 per cent since February. This would be the highest rate of unemployment the United States has ever experienced, outdoing even the Great Depression. The Australian Government has predicted that the economy will shrink by almost 10 per cent by September, and that gross debt will reach $300 billion by the end of the year. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that 2020 will see the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The world is past the point of preventing a recession. The only focus of politicians, economists and experts around the world is on stopping another Great Depression, which would take decades to recover from. Recessions can be brief and are generally localised to certain countries or, at worst, certain regions of the world. Those who have lost their jobs during recessions will probably have jobs again during their working lives. Depressions are world-wide, and the scars linger for generations. Most of the people who lose their jobs during a depression will never work again, such is the damage that these economic events do to workers and their families.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, the world has faced many crises similar to the one which presents itself to us now. In 1919, just after World War I, the world was plagued by the Spanish Flu, a pandemic similar to COVID-19 which infected over a quarter of the world’s population and froze post-war reconstruction before it began. The 1930s saw the Great Depression, which brought with it 25 per cent global unemployment and the steepest decline in living standards since records began. The world economy shrank by 15 per cent, and international trade halved. The effects of this global economic crash would last up until the start of World War II. Almost 70 years later in 2008, the world faced another economic collapse when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit. Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by one per cent, and governments passed unprecedented stimulus measures to bailout the big banks and stop the financial system from collapsing in on itself. The world survived each of these crises, but its politics and governance were forever changed. Each time the world has overcome an economic crisis like the one we are facing now, a political and ideological realignment has taken place.
In the 1930s after the onset of the Great Depression, the United States elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president on the promise of a ‘New Deal’. This created social security as we know it today, and it led to the vast and unprecedented involvement of the federal government in the economy. The success of Roosevelt’s policies and the economic recovery that he delivered redefined political life in the United States for more than 50 years. Politics became split between those who favoured big government and those who wanted small government. Roosevelt went on to govern for 12 years, and his successors contributed to the expansion of civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, government housing and the minimum wage.
The GFC split global politics on another dividing line. The greed and stupidity of the big banks, responsible for the world’s access to finance and credit, were bailed out by governments around the world from the brink of collapse. In the United States, despite these trillion dollar bailouts, the crisis, compounded by the loss of jobs due to the expansion of international trade, led to a deep recession. People lost their jobs in factories all throughout the industrial Midwest, while rich bankers all down Wall Street kept their jobs and seemed better for the crisis. The resentment towards these institutions and the federal government for protecting them has given birth to the anti-government, anti-elite populism which has taken over our politics. From President Donald Trump and Bernie in the United States, to Pauline Hanson and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at home, politics is now defined by an aversion to big government. The GFC seemed to tell people that the government would bailout billionaires and their banks before they would save ordinary people.
Now, we are faced with a crisis not borne in economic mismanagement or financial greed but in the deterioration of public health. This virus threatens to infect most of the world if we don’t put our lives and our economies on hold. The world will survive, but what will life look like on the other side? Will our politics change? Will our economy recover?
This crisis has required fast, efficient and coherent decisions, made by those who we trust on issues of public health, emergency governance and economic recovery. The response of the United States represents a unique failure to provide the leadership that the world and the American people need. The administration has surrendered all its authority to an ill-informed and narcissistic demagogue, who believes that he knows more about the pandemic than the doctors and nurses on the front lines. The president and his advisers are a direct result of the anti-elite populism, which was created in the aftermath of the GFC. By contrast, Australia has allowed its experts to run the response, taking the advice of people who are trained and educated to prepare for an event like this. Australia’s response has been slow and evolving but ultimately effective, and it has no doubt saved lives. Our government has never claimed to know more than the experts and at no point has the prime minister downplayed the threat of this virus, nor the effect that it will have on the economy.
The Australian economy will recover. Governments all around the world will move towards heavy intervention, like they did in the 1930s, to stimulate the economy and rebuild the workforce. A shift in our politics towards government and away from universally free markets and populism will see the government take more responsibility for the economy. The key role of the government in the aftermath of this crisis will be job creation, and we might see a return to the goal of full employment for the first time since the 1940s. Getting people back to work will reignite the economy by increasing incomes and creating more disposable income for consumers, catalysing spending. This could see the government proposing massive infrastructure projects and creating new manufacturing industries to increase employment. A government funded and supported full employment strategy could see people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 find new ones without waiting years and having to acquire new qualifications.
After this crisis has passed, with any luck (and I realise saying this in 2020 is a bit pointless) our politics and our economies will change for the good. Governments will use the opportunities that this crisis presents to build a better world. One day soon, people will come back to the restaurants, bars, clubs and shops they love and be reunited with their friends and family. People will (finally) stop buying hand sanitiser, we will meet again and 7pm won’t feel like midnight anymore.
CONTENT WARNING: Mental Health
“If you do not first lighten yourself and your soul of the weight of your burdens, mov- ing about will only increase their pressure on you. A ship’s cargo is less troublesome when lashed in place.” – Montaigne, On Solitude.
In times of crisis, I always find I return to books that comforted me as I was growing up. Last week, in a state of absolute boredom, I pored over my old and dusty shelves in search of anything that might provide some comfort or reprise from the chaos that has been caused by the recent pandemic. A novel – an Austen, or Lewis, or Tolkien.
But what caught my eye was the complete opposite: a book about philosophy. A book on isolation. A book that, instead of providing an escape, forced me to confront my situation very directly. This was Montaigne’s On Solitude, which I have quoted briefly above. It’s not particularly long – the section on being alone spans 20 pages – but it is nonetheless relevant and potent.
In a sentence, Montaigne quietly suggests that the calamity and chaos of the outside world isn’t just outside of us, it is something that is brought inside of us and manifests in our anxious mindsets and behaviours. This is not to downplay the severity of the situation – I am one of many who has been put in a difficult situation with rent, income and the like. Rather, Montaigne is asking us to focus on how the world’s affairs are affect- ing us. How is COVID-19 exacerbating our fears – and sometimes our biases – to bring about negativity? We’ve seen horrendous instances of racism, as well as excessive stockpiling of essentials, which has taken away resources from those vulnerable members of our community that can only afford to buy week by week.
COVID-19 did not cause this. Our thoughts and beliefs about COVID-19 did – and that is precisely what Montaigne invites us to challenge. When we are alone with our- selves, we are uniquely positioned to interrogate and consider our own thoughts. It is an opportunity for us to remove ourselves from the bustle of everyday life and reflect deeply on how we are internalising and projecting our feelings into the world. In his words, “It is our own self we have to isolate and take back into possession.”
Over the past few weeks, I have tried to take this advice on board. Rather than ruminating in my sadness from having my life disrupted, I have realised that those feelings of hopelessness and despondency are caused by me. They have resulted due to my choice to view my predicament as a disaster rather than an opportunity. Now, I won’t pretend that this realisation made everything better. Far from it. But what I did find is that viewing isolation as an opportunity gave way to a more productive mind-set.
I’ve decided to see isolation as a gift, a rare chance to make good on all the promises that I made to myself. One of these was to spend my time with my cousin. He has Asperger’s syndrome and often has trouble socialising with people, but one thing he adores is the gym. He loves talking about CrossFit, WWE Wrestling and MMA. I’ve told myself for the longest time that I would work on a fitness project with him, but it never eventuated. Until now. Together, we’ve built a home gym that we use most days. He teaches me bits and pieces about fighting (he’s a brown belt) that I can use if I’m ever in a situation where I need to de- fend myself (watch out Mooseheads). In re- turn, I’ve taught him how to correct his form for certain exercises in the gym. In its own way, it’s been a blessing and has brought our family closer.
As time goes on, there will certainly be ups and downs with isolation and COVID-19. I don’t believe I’ll navigate these perfectly. But what I do believe is that a focus on what I can control rather than what I can’t control will situate me best for whatever happens.
“So we must bring her back, haul her back, into our self. That is true solitude. It can be enjoyed in towns and in kings’ courts, but more conveniently, apart.”