About | | News | Writing | Contact

Against productivity

Here is a picture of my fancy standing desk, shoebox/dictionary edition. The title of this post is ironic, or possibly a declaration of longing. I’ve been a bit busy.

It does mean I have some more work out in the world.

The melancholic background is a new post for Overland, on grief, Judith Butler, and expendable humans / the struggle against dehumanisation. I have just ordered Butler’s new book on non-violence. Her thinking has been a strong scaffold for my own for many years, and I’ve found her work especially necessary during the pandemic.

Torino is slowly coming back to life. It’s all a bit anxious, but it’s also a joy to hear and see people out in the street again. I cycled up along the river on Sunday and there were plenty of youths hanging out by its banks, laughing and smoking weed – not very socially distant, but lovely to see. I was delighted and then overwhelmed by a great fear that we will all begin forgetting this too quickly, before it is even over.

Here is a small observance that appeared on a neighbourhood partisan memorial on April 25, the day Italy commemorates its liberation from fascism. Bella Ciao was sung from the balconies. It was beautiful and strange and the coincidence with Australia’s ANZAC day invited comparisons. I keep thinking about how history lives in us, which makes us its ecosystem – breaking some things down, feeding others. I guess I’ll always be fascinated by how these forms of personal and social memory work (and don’t work). It’s been interesting to realise, while editing The Airways, that everything I make has some preoccupation with memory and accountability.

While we’re on accountability: I also have a new short story in The Saturday Paper, I will not be taking questions, [$] which is a bit of political satire told entirely in questions, written a year or so ago, and reading, in the context of present corruption etc challenges, as very of-the-moment; but then, I suppose not much changes on that score.

Get well soon, world.


I have a new post up today at Meanjin on the changing of the seasons and some of the things the pandemic has been doing to time:

In the first days of the restrictions easing it was a delight to chat with the wonderful Astrid Edwards for the State Library of Victoria‘s series of author interviews.

Many thanks to Astrid for such a thoughtful interview, and to the SLV crew for making everything run smoothly. Video content is an important access point now, and we all need to get better at it – but our reliance on it does have the effect of reinforcing my commitment to the written word…

Now that many shops and activities have re-opened, and I can go for long walks again, it almost feels like Italy out there, albeit with masks and cautious distancing. In another two weeks the world will expand again, as regional and European borders re-open. It’s hard to know what to do with the time ahead. For all my railing against productivity mindsets during a crisis, I have in fact been quite productive – writing a fair bit of non-fiction and commentary since the lockdown started, and editing The Airways ahead of its Australian release, which is still a while away yet: due in mid-2021. I want to get stuck into the next novel, but I think I will try to have some kind of holiday, since the hardworking teacher I live with is certainly in need of one.

It’s good to feel the future edging back into place, to see the world and the civic life re-materialise around us, but as you can probably tell from a lot of my writing I am keen for it to take a more just, equitable, and ecologically sound form. I am still railing against that productivity mindset, but the pandemic’s also made me feel more determined for change – there is so much work to be done.

Care and counting

Hello from day 35 of lockdown in Italy. I’ve been taking some time to rest and be offline this long weekend, but here’s a quick update just to add links to a couple of articles I’ve written from the inside of this strange container:

Agents of Care
, in Overland – on war analogies, and the labour that needs witnessing now; and

The Rhythms of These Numberless Days
, in Meanjin – on trauma, dyschronia, and keeping count.

Take care, all.

Lockdown solidarity

Life comes at you fast, as they say.

I’m sitting on the terrace of my apartment in Torino, writing, while H is inside teaching children through a screen. I haven’t left the house for a week. Outside, everything is closed except essential services. I can hear the garbage removalists downstairs, the lifting and closing of supermarket shutters, and occasional, awful sirens, but other than that the city of Torino, the whole of Italy, seems to be holding its breath.

I have written a couple of things about this experience.

Italy in Lockdown: ‘An old reality and its assumptions have slipped away from us’ is up today in the Adelaide Review, about just how fast the pandemic has changed everything and some of the ways that Italy is facing the challenges.

On a more practical note, I wrote Working from Lockdown on Medium/@paythewriters about my experience working from lockdown in the hope it will help other freelancers to prepare for lockdowns/self-isolation during the pandemic.

Another essay, The Unconcerned, was published in the Sydney Review of Books last week. It’s about the arrival of climate catastrophe at the Venice Biennale, and art in the Anthropocene. It’s eerie to see Venice empty again so soon.

There will be more to come, of course – I am fortunate in that I can still get work done from here, and grateful for the semblance of a routine I am managing to maintain.

Solidarity to all in this challenging time, especially to doctors, nurses and other health care workers who are on the front lines, and to waste removalists, checkout operators, factory workers, delivery drivers, food couriers, and anyone else who is risking their own health to keep essential services working.

While I’m here, I think it’s also worth sharing this message from young Italians, who wish they knew 10 days ago what they know now: