Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Friday, August 27, 2021

procrastinating about externalities

Forgive me. It's been a few months since my last confession. I have had severe writer's block since the release of my latest book - the Peithosian CurseThe Peithosian Curse : Cristina Archer : 9781913662486 (

I started writing the third and final part of the Peitho trilogy - the Peithosian Legacy - a few months ago, during a brief period when my city was almost in a 'normal' state (read: in between pandemic waves).  Before the lockdowns resumed with the spread of the Delta strain. And then I struggled to write.

I am back in the confines of home - complete with a very short list of reasons I can leave my home - and it looks like it will be like this for a while. Unlike the last long stretch, most of the country is facing similar restrictions and, for the first time, friends in other cities are 'relating' to my city's experience last year (the longest lockdown then was 112 days).  My city's sixth - clocking up over 200 days (so far) in collective days over those several lockdowns - there is a definite vibe of frustration I am hearing in the voices of those I am chatting with 'virtually' this time around.

Sure, there is plenty of blue sky moments each day for opportunities to walk in breezy suburban loops outside of those video calls.  Yet, feeling the essence of Groundhog Day permeating our collective bones. When I see passers-by on my daily walk, I want to lecture those who are breaking the rules. I find myself swearing at news streams about anti-lockdown protests.  For the more those people resist, the longer the rest of us suffer.

It's more than a mental health issue. As I walk, in my mind, I am working out the debating points on what I would say if I had to explain to a person why the laws that protect civil liberties can be a threat to society.

There's a concept in economics - an externality - that relates to a side effect or consequence of an activity which is not reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved - positive (such as the pollination of surrounding crops by bees for honey) and negative (such as pollution from a factory). In that particular discipline, a lot of thinking has occurred to figure out ways to internalise a 'price' for those externalities so that markets can adjust (mainly to produce less of the negative ones).  Carbon prices are an example.

I tend to contemplate individual choices with a similar construct. The only circumstance  in which I would not have any impact on other people in the choices I make is (likely) if I was living alone on an island and there were no other people.  As soon as I am in any enviroment where there are other people, unless I am a totally selfish person, I believe I need to consider whether there are any potentially negative (and positive) impacts on others in the choices I am making.  There are MANY philosophical approaches to the "how should I choose" question - and, in truth, I have a lot of books on ethics on my bookshelf. Yet, I tend to consider this question from a cost-benefit point of view - both in terms of costs and benefits for me AND the potential costs and benefits for the person or persons on which my choice will have an impact. At some unconscious level, I think most people do this, but place more weight on the impact on themselves compared to others.

The odd analogy I considerd on my walk today was along these lines...

Imagine you and I are talking. I suddently slap you (and it hurts). You grumble, why did you do that. I say, it was an involuntary spasm, I couldn't help myself. But I am aware of this tick so I could have made the choice to keep my twitching hand in my pocket and thereby spare you the harm. Instead, I chose to ignore the potential negative impact on you.

To me, the person who walks around without a mask, knowing they might contract and then pass on a contagious disease is essentially doing the same as above.  

Individual selfishness versus societal good. The rule breaker is in it for themselves. But if more people placed a little more weight on the consequences of their choices/actions, wouldn't society be better off?

Anyway, I've procrastinated enough for today. I really should get back to the writing.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

a year of sharing

I came up to the one year anniversay of working from home during a pandemic a few weeks ago. About two thirds of that last year was spent in 'hard lockdown', including a 112 day stretch where there was a night curfew, and leaving the house could only be done for grocery shopping, caring/medical reasons, an hour of exercise (all within 5km of home) or essential work.  The idea of personal bubbles came about half way through that stretch of time but otherwise people living alone only had pets to keep them company.  For all the Skype, Zoom and Teams virtual calls and meetings are just not the same when it comes to connecting. Nothing beats a real hug from a real person.

I got into the habit during this time of daily virtual check-ins with my team - complemented by an almost daily email reporting on priorities, sharing how I was feeling, and random 'offerings' - the latter ranging from light entertainment, humorous material, and educational pieces. It was a way of practicing my writing skills, particularly during periods where my creative writing efforts was in hiatus.  There were large stretches in the last 12 months where the procrastination consumed me so there was a lot of random offerings found during those periods of doomscrolling.  

In contrast, I kept most of my social media feeds content 'light weight' - with the bulk of the limited postings photographs from my daily walks.  I took a lot of photos of flowers and bees.  I also wrote and published three pieces of poetry during the last 12 months on my Medium page (Cristina Archer – Medium), two of which bookended the year as reflections on the pandemic, and one was a piece reflecting on grief on the anniversary of the passing of my mother.  The year gone and largely confined to home seemed to amplify those feelings.

Looking back over the almost daily emails, over 70 pages and some 25,000 words, I have been surprised by the depth of my year of sharing. I asked a few times, more frequently as restrictions started to ease, whether the team still wanted this product. I was equally surprised by the feedback - quite a few in the team looked forward to receiving it, enjoyed reading it, were delighted by my streaming suggestions, laughed many times out loud at the cheeky material contained in the content, and appreciated my willingness to articulate the emotions they were all feeling about our year of living aimlessly.  

Some of the feelings content of those emails has been reproduced as part of my written blogs about "notes on existential threats" - a little chicken and egg - see last few postings on this blog. As a writer, I am relaxed about germinating ideas in one communication channel and refining it in others. Some of my poetry finds its way into paragraphs in my novels, and vice-versa.  To complete the picture, I have now extracted some lighter highlights from the daily reporting emails in the reproduced material below:

  • I was trying to explain the concept of risk/likelihood consequences to my older brother – a staple of risk management 101 – and eventually decided to send him the picture below.

  • Reproducing the chart shared at the team meeting – because it’s the long weekend ahead of us and if you are heading out and about, please take care with your physical distancing.

  • A play on one of my favourite collective nouns (see below).

  • A sign from Montreal. I was perplexed about what behaviour it was trying to target. Any thoughts?

  • Taking the quintessential weather conditions measure we’ve seen on many a travelling road and replacing the terminology to measure anxiety levels. Not mine – as in no circumstances would I EVER kick the cat so I’m replacing that measure on the dial with pillow fight.

  • A bit of Escher in construction.

  • Some pig Latin.

  • A way of explaining virus transmission to anyone.

  • The amusement park in the picture is more my pace these days…

  • Personally, I would rank ferrets closer to cats on the scale. Thoughts?

  • Given the egg is NOT over-easy, I think the lever choice is obvious. No prizes for guessing I think the image is a metaphorical illustration of 2020.

I am writing this blog in Lockdown 4.0 here in Melbourne. I hope to be able to travel at least 25km from my home by week's end.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 5) - real people!

I usually reserve my reflections on the year that has been to closer to New Year's eve. It's close enough now and I'm in a writing mood so will get it done while the thoughts are fresh in my mind.

Red eyes and a sore nose today are a distraction. A few hours in a park earlier in the week surrounded by grass and trees that I'm allergic to will take a few days to get out of my system. Practising safe social distancing to see my team in person for the first time since early March this year. Stepping away from the virtual interactions to something almost forgotten - a Christmas picnic.

The social interaction sparked a wonderful creative burst when I returned home afterwards. The best feeling in the world (for me) is when the characters of the stories I am writing come alive inside my head and I figure out what to do next in a story arc.

I also had the usual introvert response following any social gathering when I got home - utter exhaustion. It didn't matter though - because it was REALLY wonderful to see real people in technicolour 3D surrounded by the grassy knolls.

When asked how I've felt this year in the strange circumstances that have been 2020, on a person level, nothing describes it better than a quote from Sputnick Sweetheart's writer Murakami.

And the world around me - movie critics' Marge and Dave's review of 2020 was insightful - Margaret & David Review '2020' - YouTube - as usual they disagreed. A year of the absurd - one recently from the Tracys NSW contact tracers had me laughing and crying at the same time - Contact Tracys - YouTube - a new normal.

Nostaglia played a bigger role than usual in the year that has been, perhaps because there was more time for think music in the confines of home. Reconnecting with friends (even if only virtually) long located in faraway places over the year gone was definitely a highlight and an unexpected bonus in the year of solitary confinement spent overthinking the meaning of life. The philosophy schools guide (see below) was of assistance.

In the past, you could be reckful (considerate) as well as reckless. People were also gormful (careful); feckful (responsible), ruthful (compassionate), wieldy (agile), ept (adroit), and definitely gruntled. Maybe because I balanced the doomscrolling news with good news reading, I noticed more that we (mostly) brought back the lost positives in our approach to the circumstances. I was in awe at reading about the finer humanity moments. Made me wonder if there was a behavioural economics thesis topic to contemplate about the tragedy of the commons and whether existential threats threatening the lives of so many made a genuine difference to incentives.

I look back over the year that's been and there have been serious low-lights. The day job workload has been unsustainably heavy - effectively seven days a week since early March. Living alone made this all the harder, even with two super-smoochy cats to keep me company. Probably explains why I felt so overwhelmingly disappointed when the plans for the one tradition I was looking foward to (on the only three public holidays of the year I could rely on not being taken away from me) fell through.

I also look back over the year and realise that even in such challenging circumstances there were moments of joy. Many little things. From watching a bee floating into a Spring bright blooming flower to chuckling with friends virtually over the silly things we've discovered online over the course of the year. Mostly appreciating the hokum of it all. Perhaps I am more Absurdist than I dare to accept.

I am close to the copy-editing stage on the latest manuscript - doing some redraftign over the next few days to adjust for some beta-reader feedback. Working up the story-board for the next project - on track to start writing proper in early 2021. Part three (and final part) of the trilogy - the Peithosian Legacy. The time stuck at home has certainly given me more time to write.

The coming 2021 will be better. How's that for optimism.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 4) - the stir-crazy reflection

I have always been a bit anti-social. Comes with the territory - introverted writer. It explained why the stay at home lockdowns did not trouble me because, in truth, the restrictions imposed involved very little adjustment to my normal routine. And, largely, the time has passed smoothly from when I first bunkered down at home in early March without feeling like the time spent apart from others has been hard.  

Others I've talked with on the phone, in virtual meetings on my computer, in written messages, have seemed to struggle a lot more for a variety of reasons. For some, it has been the challenges of juggling working while looking after children. Noisy households seven days a week. Much harder during the time of hard lockdown when curfews were imposed and activity outside of the home was limited to a 5km radius and 1 hour a day. Several weeks in that stage of restrictions felt like several hundred.  For others, it was being stuck at home alone with only pets to provide company and, in some cases, not even that.  It did not surprise me that governments here in Australia - state and federal - have invested a lot of extra resources in providing wellbeing support services. The kind of virtual access available (so I've been told) is outstanding.

I reached the point (that others arrived at much sooner) about seven months into the restrictions. It matched closely my prediction (see earlier posts) on when I would start to feel the need for human connection again. And, the continuing absence of it, would fuel the stir-crazy feeling. Even introverts need some face-to-face time with their (small) circle of super-close friends. 

Little signs marked the shift in mindset:

  • Getting teary while walking over the lyrics of a song playing through the earphones (this happens normally but not when the song is about something unlikely to bring a tear to the eye).
  • Getting teary at the sight of a baby magpie falllen from its nest and its siblings and mother watching over the little bird's last breath before moving on (actually this is something I cry about normally).
  • Getting teary over the smallest of emotional scenes in movies or television shows (actually this might just be menopause).
The pattern might be obvious. The swings in emotion more marked. Triggered intensity by the littlest of things. Talking to someone virtually about it doesn't quite cut it for dealing with the feeling.

My routines have dulled as well. There's only so many podcasts I can listen to, books I can read, black mirror viewing I can do before it all starts to feel a bit "m'eh".  Although I did find the book "24 hour mind" an interesting read. But I have to STOP listening to existential threat themed podcasts no matter how good they are. (See: Brave New Planet.) Even the walks around the suburb are starting to feel a bit repetitive. (I know local residents' gardens like the back of my hand now.) 

I have started watching old favourite shows again because I remember they made me feel good on earlier viewing and I live in hope that the second viewing will spark the same joy. It probably doesn't help that most of my favourite shows of years-past have deeply philosophical themes about the meaning of life so maybe not the best option right now. (See: Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me for example). Fallback one alternative are fantasy action or whimsical comedies. (See: Nikita, Community.) Fallback two alternative at this time of the year is to watch the plethora of trashy Christmas movies and show specials where the cheesy volume is pumped to the max. (See: Holidate, Dash and Lily.)

Even as restrictions are starting to be lifted, I am finding it hard to venture out without the irrational fear that the disease is still out there.  Even harder is rustiness in social skills. It's been so long, I seem to have forgotten the basics of interaction. 

But the thing that has disappointed me the most is realising that it will be 2021 before I see the majority of the people I know (work colleagues, friends, my siblings) in person again. In stark contrast, I'm less fussed about not seeing my office any time soon (looks like I may clock up 12 months working from home before that is a possibility).

In the meantime, the house pets - Sterling (the caped super-feline) and Mallory (the poser) - continue their never ending quest to win the who's the most smoochy badge from me.

Monday, August 31, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 3) - the nostalgia reflection

Coming up to six months working from home and looking like it will be another six at this rate. The last few weeks have been harder because a second wave of infections hit Melbourne and led to Stage 4 restrictions. In practical terms, it meant only leaving the house for essentials shopping, care related appointments with medics, and up to 1 hour of exercise daily within five kilometers of home. Any minute spent out of the house requires the wearing of a mask. Rules to live by.

It turns out I've been applying this model since March with one exception - the 'shopping' is delivered because I have been keeping my distance from any situation where exposure risks are increased and supermarkets fall into this category. I haven't had another person in my home since late February, with connection limited to what I can do virtually with friends and family online.

I've doomscrolled through a ton of media that suggests those living alone are particularly disadvantaged by the restrictions. It is true that a lot more thought went into how couples who don't live together would be handled (they could see each other), without recognising that intimacy between friends is also worth creating 'bubbles' for.  While I hope this glaring inconsistency will be addressed, I brace myself for another few months of excessive alone time.  I will remember this year as the year of living in solitary confinement.

The current round of restrictions seem to have hit my work colleagues and friends hard, particularly those with kids who are back to home-schooling their youngsters. Hard when the only thing you have to look forward to on a weekend is the possibility of collecting some supplies from a hardware store (without leaving your car) as long as the store is close by. 

My (almost) daily walks have taken on a whole new dimension - now called my bee-odyssey flower photography walks - as I trade one form of anxiety (lockdown) with another (allergies). My artistic effort has been remarkable in keeping me calm (and carrying on) - see photo below.  I have a number of decent parks within walking distance of home and have probably discovered more about my suburb's occupants front yard gardening habits than I would ever thought possible. Also, I have learned to smile with my eyes - called a smize apparently - given my mask hides my mouth. (The mask does allow me to talk to myself without any passerby giving me a strange look.)

I am taking a week's break from the day job this week in an effort to recharge my batteries. (The day job has been batshit crazy busy and the near constant exhaustion was getting me close to that point where I thought I might fall off my home office chair.) Most folk would complain about a 'staycation' but I have seen it as an opportunity to clear my head (full of bees). 

No surprises for guessing I am spending some of my time writing. Redrafting the latest novel for editorial feedback. It has been good having several days in a row to do this work without interruptions. Really helps with the flow. And nothing like a bit of surrounding dystopia to really spark that creativity.

There has been a bit of procrastination (of course). It wouldn't be a writing session without it. I've tried to be disciplined about it. Setting aside my midday for a "movie" of the day. This approach triggered a measure of nostalgia for me - the days I used to be at home sick from school when I was a kid. The highlight of the day was curling up under a blanket on the sofa with a cup of soup watching movie critic (Bill Collins) talk about the movie about to be screened as if it was the best thing since the invention of sliced bread. He was always so animated in his excitement. The movies themselves were always old Hollywood B-graders but they filled the time. My movie choices are a little more eclectic - the library offerings from many a streaming service makes selection so much more challenging. I have laughed, cried and cringed at what I have watched so far these last few days.

That sentimental longing, and wistful affection for a period in the past? It seems to me that this feeling is stronger and more prevalent right now. We can never go back to what we had - whether there is a pandemic or not - yet the reflection over and our desire for something lost in time grows stronger by the day. What we create from the ashes will be something new and hopefully better.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 2)

I was chatting with one of my London based friends on Skype last night talking about a particular cognitive bias hardwired into us that helps us to deal with intense emotional experiences. The result of it is we tend to shape our memory of events past with a certain selectiveness that allow that emotion (and details of the experience) to fade. Therapeutic forgetting. It is a thing.

We also talked about my father’s favorite mantra “plus ça change plus c’ést la même chose”, which translated means “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. It is another way of saying those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. You’ve probably guessed by now that historical record is something in which I place great value, even if the words I write today will produce something that generations to come will interpret in ways I cannot even begin to imagine. (Assuming what I write is even read.) Nonetheless, it is worth sharing my experiences with the hope there will be enough budding historians in the future wanting to learn about and learn from the past. 

Now four months into what is likely to become a “staying at home” year, the  pandemic has been the sort of event that could give even the most resilient among us stress eczema. My first Facebook post at the start of the year was “2020 is going to be awesome!” - yeah, right… looking back now, the irony of that hopeful statement seems almost lost in time.

The Australian National Archive has partnered with Australia Post to encourage the writing and gathering of letters written and artwork by Australians sharing their experiences in these times. I wrote about my experiences over the last few months (and posted my letter) because of that belief that we can only learn from each other if we share our insights. In conversations now and for those budding historians looking back and reading our words.

Continuing from my last post, thought I would share some more random notes on existing in these pandemic times. 

Unlike my colleagues also working from home, I have not yet reached a point of lethargy that seems to be growing in prevalence among them. With the adrenalin of the first couple of months of anxiety subsiding, we still all wondered whether we would end up like some other countries unable to control a first wave, or even second wave (yet to hit). We also realized we were shifting to a space where home was work and there was no escape. 

As I've always had a home office space with my second vocation of speculative fiction writing, I haven't felt this lethargy as much and have long-established routines to distinguish between the days when I'm doing the day job and the days when I am following my writing passion. This might seem odd but it is little things like consuming different types of yoghurt to distinguish what day of the week it is that help to distract from existential dread!  I know, the weird habits of a borderline OCD-person, but it should not be surprising how reassuring basic routines and habits can be. (Grooming habits aside, these seem to have slipped a fraction into the 'optional extras' list, with the absence of people to notice.)

I do wonder at what point I might start going stir-crazy without face-to-face contact and a proper hug - my best-guesstimate is at the six-month point of social isolation (end of winter here in the southern hemisphere).

I have been thinking a bit about the habits that have made this time a little easier. To balance the doomscrolling, I have been sharing random 'light' material with friends, family and colleagues. Things that make me laugh:

Photos from nature that remind me of the beauty in the world (from others, and my own, taken on the near daily walks):

Photos of my feline overlord (also known as Sterling) at his demanding best:

And the 'dad jokes' shared between siblings has gotten a little out of hand:

Don't get me wrong, I'm still anxious. There is some seriously scary stuff happening around the world and my own town is not without new challenges populating my news feed on a daily basis. I should not get used to this as a new normal as a matter of principle. 

Saturday, May 02, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat

Most people's panic shopping product of choice has been toilet paper. Mine has been gourmet honeycomb from Tasmania. Not really Wahls Protocol friendly but I think on a subconscious level, my mind might be weighing up a cost-benefit of messing up my immune system's effectiveness and an end-of-days binge on a stockpiled honeycomb sweet treat. Weird.

A few weeks over February, I listened to a podcast by Josh Clark - aptly named The End of the World. Recommended to me but for the life of me I cannot remember by whom. Covered existential threats facing humanity one of which was a pandemic. It was a very educational podcast although it left me filled with a sense of dread that only a 'are we living in a simulation' programmer from the future could have designed to amuse themselves. If I convince myself I am not real, maybe the fear about the current pandemic may not feel so bad.

Been working from home since early March. Compromised immune system put me in a high risk category to do all to avoid potential exposure. A week later the directive came from my Victorian government forcing the entire state to do the same. As a part-time speculative fiction writer (the day job also involves writing although focused on evidence-based advice), adapting to days without human interaction was unsurprisingly easy. Past home isolation sojourns related to poor health lasting days, weeks, and months have long been my normal. The only practical change for me was getting a few more essentials delivered. Did discover how much of a valued client I was to my pharmacist who arranged delivery of medications the moment it became allowed under new rules. Not so easy for some of the people I work with - those dealing with homes filled with others - partners, kids, extended family, pets - much more challenging to mix work with other commitments in a confined space. My introverted alone time with two felines who value the quiet as much as I do is something I cherish.

My creative spark has charged into overdrive. It seems dystopian prospects sprouts new growth of ideas like forest growth after Spring rain and sunshine. Will meet a deadline months ahead of time such is that heat banishing the writer's block of months past. The vivid dreamscape even stranger than usual - a sign of anxiety. The eczema also a measure of the bubbling underbelly.

Something unexpected has been the messages, reconnecting through social streaming services - from friends of decades past extending the current circle. Also, forging new connections through the virtual world. This seems to me to be one of the better things about staying at home. The virtual coffees, lunches, drinks, viewing of theatre, accessing all manner of activity from around the world. Snow leopard cubs at Melbourne Zoo - live cam delight. I hope this feature remains long after we are no longer housebound.

The evolving language of circumstance changed is truly fascinating. Obsessing over "offnungdiskussionsorgien" - a little pearl originating from Germany, which loosely translates to "orgies of debate about opening things up". The "sidewalk dance" has been a feature of my weather-permitting daily walks as I try to steer clear of others wandering (maybe there should be some guidance about what is acceptable active wear for lower key promenades permitted under current restrictions). But it is the "doomscrolling" that has been the most common routine in my day - the act of mindlessly consuming an endless stream of unsettling, unnerving, maddening, or otherwise terrible news on an electronic device - so I can interpret the data and provide summaries to my two brothers in almost daily conversations. Using a critical thinking analyst skill set I have so that they can be spared the torture. Finding myself being asked about and lecturing on economic supply and demand shocks for laymen friends in need of explanations. Reminding me of my university days when it was acceptable to talk and express opinions about any subject - everything old is new again.

"Quaranstreaming" in the "Coronaverse" - my daily consumption of movies and television seems to be trending upwards. More so than my reading. It's harder to read after a day, every day, sitting in front of a computer. A black mirror television screen somehow seems different. Watching things I would never have contemplated in normal times - but then, I was out and about more which is strictly limited now. Viewing more light and fluffy comedy or gentle drama from all over the world, less thought provoking science fiction about frightening trends that may (have) come to pass. Outbreak is on my blacklist. Blacklist is not. Old whimsical favourites from previous viewing are getting reruns - Fooseball and Nocturnal Animals on my all time best episodes of Community.

Perhaps the strangest correlation (note not causation) has been an observation that I started my day job at a time when unemployment was 17 percent (recession in Australia at the start of the 1990s) and it now looks like the last few years of my working life will be marked by a once in a lifetime downturn. The 30 years in between have been an economic wonder. Relieved beyond measure that I am still able to work. Doing all that I can to design support and facilitate to help those who cannot. Under the banner "supporting economic recovery". Keeping me busy - big time.

Reading about the situations in other countries - worrying about friends and family located in some of them - feeling "Weltschmerz" - that particular mood of weariness and sadness for the suffering of the world, tinged with empathy and love for humanity. For now at least, Australia has dodged several bullets. It's a country that has often been described as "lucky" - the tyranny of distance living on an island on the other side of the world. Who knows why we are faring better? I just hope it stays that way.