Life interrupted – 2

I put the iron away the other day. I’d pulled it out a few weeks ago to iron my summer work clothes but it seems I’ll be doing work meetings in casual gear for the foreseeable future.  By the time we get out of self-isolation, it will be winter or maybe even spring.

Working from home is not as much fun as they said it would be on the packet. It’s a strangely dehumanising experience, where your colleagues are now just a small square on a computer screen and the nuances of your interactions are blunted by technology. Getting technology to work, and consistently, adds to the stress and emotional labour.

The nature of the work I do means my team talk a lot during our work day.  Those conversations are now much harder and strangely formal, channeled into a few meetings or on a chat stream. They are okay but cannot replace the knowledge sharing, learning and rapport building which comes from a face-to-face interaction. And without these, work feels like it has been stripped of what makes it pleasurable and distilled down to a series of tasks: we may as well be robots.

It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity to see into my colleagues private spaces and seeing a part of their lives that you would rarely get to see. And the guest appearances by children and pets, is a little light relief. But I find I’m struggling with this, even as a person who is reasonably generous in sharing aspects of my life.

Right now, I want to burrow and protect myself and sharing images of myself in my house feels like I’m way too exposed. Don’t get me wrong, I like my team, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with the smudging of the lines between personal and professional. My home is a reflection of the raw and no barriers version of myself, and work feels like an intruder forcing itself into the sacred spaces where you are your most vulnerable.

Everyone I’ve spoken to is finding concentrating hard and productivity low. I  feel like I’m doing less than ever and are more exhausted by that small effort. I really want to be the person I was at work three weeks ago but honestly right now my heart just isn’t it it. I feel as if I need to focus my energy on surviving a global pandemic, not work.

I spoke to a friend on the phone, and she said everyone needs a bit of time to come to terms with what’s happening. She’s right, we are in shock and need time to process. Things have changed so rapidly that it is dizzying, just keeping up with the changes is a challenge, let alone having the time to process them emotionally.

I’m grateful that I have a supervisor who understands this, who has said we need to be kind to ourselves right now and just get through these next few months. My team is pretty indefatigable; we will do our best, rise to the challenge and all that but these first few days are hard. I’m looking forward to the Easter break.

Quite a few of my friends live alone, and we are all feeling the isolation. Even though many of us like our own company, a week or two of that will be enough to have us climbing the walls. We have organised regular catch-ups over Zoom or text. It’s been great in helping me feel less alone, and seems so so necessary to check in and make a safe space for people to say how they are feeling.

But I feel a deep sense of loss that I can’t just run up stairs and say hi to them, or eat lunch together in the tea room. Through government regulations and our choice to abide by them, we just can’t have the freedom to move about or go anywhere right now. We know it’s for the good of all but that doesn’t make it easier.

At MPOW, there are some good souls who are organising the work drinks, and the morning teas, who are posting fun stuff in the group chat area, and honestly we just so need them right now. Staying connected and supporting each other isn’t just nice, it’s necessary, for everyone’s physical and mental health. Because despite our thoughts that this will be weeks, it’s likely to be months and we need to make sure we have a workplace worth being at to come back to.










Life interrupted

It was my birthday yesterday. But I didn’t much feel like celebrating. News from around the world is grim. I spent it pretty much on my own, although with a couple of new four legged friends called Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I’m okay with that, as it seems that it’s a time for quiet reflection and prayer.

Corona Virus – so tiny you need an electron microscope to see it, has turned the world on its head. It’s ironic, when you think about it – how something so small has had a power greater than all the rhetoric, philosophy and religion to bring upheaval.

As a science graduate, this stuff is endlessly fascinating. We studied the plague, the Spanish Influenza epidemic and all of major outbreaks of disease throughout history. Science, which is ignored when inconvenient, now is the only trusted source decision makers can rely on – as it should be.

Last week seemed like a lifetime. There was an anxiousness, I barely concentrated at work. I kept checking the news. Everything changed so fast, even the news presenters struggled to keep up. Social distancing and flattening the curve are new but unwelcome additions to the lexicon.

I’ve been trying for days to gather my scattered thoughts. Like a lot of people, I’m a bit scared. If we thought the hellish fires of summer were the worst of it, well, the world had other plans.

On Saturday we had an extraordinary parish council meeting to discuss the new government regulations on social distancing. I voiced what we all wanted, to stay open; others voiced what was needed, the decision was rightly made to suspend services. There were tears.

A number of people have said how this is an opportunity to do church differently. And how if two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am (Matthew 18:20), all it did was reinforce to me that a church is not a building or a service but a group of people.

In our live-streamed services yesterday, our vicar, talked about Psalm 137 where the Israeli captives in Babylon were wondering how to sing praises to God in a strange land. We are in a very strange land and like them I don’t feel like singing.

I can’t help thinking about all the warnings we have ignored. We didn’t listen, just kept walking down this path thoughtlessly and now we are being made to listen. We valued celebrity over checkout-chicks, CEOs over cleaners; we put stuff before people and we are now needing to re-evaluate.

As humans we believe we are in control and that we can bend Mother Nature to our will. But Mother Nature takes orders from no one. If there is one lesson I hope we all learn out of this, it’s that we control absolutely nothing, and that God, the uncaring universe or whatever you want to call it, is a force more powerful than all the schemes of people.

Everywhere you look there are stories of loss, postponed weddings, dream holidays cancelled, families separated by borders closing. Things that lift people’s spirits like arts and sports are being cancelled, so many people have lost their jobs. People’s mental health is suffering, there’s been a huge increase in domestic violence. The stories out of Italy are horrific. Death of our most vulnerable looms large in our minds.

If you have been to the supermarket it’s unnerving. Seeing empty shelves, as people stockpile food and toilet paper (!!), is the dystopian future we’ve all seen in movies. For people used to having everything laid out for them, it must be a rude shock to realise there’s not an endless supply of everything (imagine that).

Right now, it’s hard to see how we get ourselves out of this mess. I keep thinking about this being the moment to stop and reflect on our choices as individuals, communities and countries – indeed as the world. Perhaps realising that we have responsibilities to our neighbours and communities is the wake up call we need right now.

If you ever needed a reminder that you are more than just an individual, Corona virus is the strongest indication ever that you do not just belong to yourself and your family. Across the world, each of us belongs to each other, all tied together with an invisible piece of string. I find that so comforting because I think it says that there is some other bigger force in the universe. And that is the most beautiful thought ever.

The world is a bit too much for me right now… So I’ve gone small. Forcing myself to think about today only. Right now, I’m thinking about what to make for dinner tonight (steak and veggies). My solar has been installed, Hemingway is purring away beside me, Fitzgerald, in perhaps a mood we are all expressing, is hiding under the couch.

Friends have messaged me, my family brought up cakes. They have organised a zoom meeting to sing me happy birthday tonight. We have another extraordinary parish council meeting.

And tomorrow, tomorrow I start to work from home.

Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.

I received a compliment the other day someone said they liked me because I say what I think. It made me smile. Both because who it came from and well, forthrightness is not often seen as a virtue, particularly not in women and and especially not in Christian women.

Speaking up has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since Cecily Walker’s closing keynote at VALA2020. If you haven’t seen it here’s a link to the video and the essay on her website. I urge you to watch it and then watch it again.

It was an earth shattering keynote and I’m still grappling with it. Firstly, all the ways I’m privileged as an able-bodied cis-gendered white woman. Secondly, all the ways I might  not have supported my BIPOC colleagues in the past because I don’t understand my privilege. Thirdly, how I can – to put it in Cecily’s words – be the goose – in the future.

A few discussions afterwards focused on the safety of speaking up. Everyone feels it’s not safe, our BIPOC colleagues in particular. This is something I’ve grappled with too, and why I freak out every time I publish a blog post that might be controversial. I’ve talked this over with a friend who says that we probably overplay the danger of speaking up, he’s right but he’s also a white man.

I don’t know how I’ve become a person who says what they think. I mean it wasn’t a deliberate life choice. But when faced with staying silent and speaking up, I always think there’s no point in not saying it, I’m certainly not going to die wondering. And it comes from a place of sincerity, from a deeply held belief that maybe by speaking up I can make a difference.

Momentarily as well, it helps ease the burning sensation inside my chest. Which sits somewhere between my heart and my stomach and hurts like hell: it’s anger, despair, helplessness. A constant awareness of injustice, caused by seeing how bloody unfair the world is for most people, and how little I can do to change it.

It started in earnest the moment I realised the libraries weren’t the dream promised. It started when I sat in the pews week after week and saw men preaching and leading while women’s voices were mostly in the background. It’s everywhere and all the time, sometimes a dull pain, other times it roars like an all consuming blaze.

I can of course not fuel the fire – look away, not engage. Sometimes out of necessity I must but I’m drawn back in because this feels like the fight I must have. And maybe,  against all evidence to the contrary, I can maybe make things better.

If “I” was “we” though, if more of us who can speak up were willing to speak up (hello men in libraries), there’d be less risk. We know from activist campaigns that collective groups have more chances of success. And we know that we have in the past successfully forced change when we speak up together.

During the same sex marriage plebiscite campaign in 2017, many of us came together in response to our professional association’s appalling statements on the issue – if you can’t remember what happened, Lissertations has all the details on her blog. Collectively, we forced the board to issue a second statement – it still fell short of what was needed but it was the best we could get from them.

The point is, lone voices can be seen as outliers but if we all speak together it’s harder not to listen. We can only really enforce change if we gather, organise and work together. One voice crying in the wilderness when joined with others becomes a chorus and a louder voice for positive change.

Being the only one speaking up is hard, I know this from personal experience. Last year I raised the issue of saying an Acknowledgment of Country at church services. Everyone voted yes to be polite but then reneged – when it came to it, I was alone – even the vicars after initially agreeing bailed. It was devastating.

Speaking up has probably cost me a job – I mean if you ask difficult questions, in the interests of doing better things, you are often not popular. Once I was told I was terrifying and difficult to work with because I refused to compromise on what we were trying to achieve. Last year, a man I liked decided he wanted nothing more to do with me after I published a blog post about how patriarchal libraries are.

These things hurt. But, to be clear, they are nothing compared to the racism and silencing our BIPOC colleagues face every single damned day. They are nothing compared to working in an industry, which paints itself as inclusive but is really built on colonial, patriarchal and overwhelmingly white ideals.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether they are prepared to wear the costs of speaking up. In reflecting on Cecily’s talk, I realised that I don’t want a career in an industry where our BIPOC colleagues feel like they don’t belong. Where patriarchal systems and library nice (image from Walker’s Keynote address) are the status quo.

We must do and be better than this.

So I’m going to keep speaking up, and calling things out and trying to make a difference. And sure, I might get a reputation as a troublemaker and difficult but I can live with that.  Because I have too. Because it matters too much.

I urge everyone to add their voices for real and positive change, and to amplify and support the voices of our BIPOC colleagues

Be brave. Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.