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Lockdown 2.0

I wrote something for Overland about Italy’s second wave and the slow return of some of the restrictions. As one of the first regions designated ‘zona rossa’, Piemonte has been under semi-lockdown since the 6th November. It’s a strange time in this uncanny city, caught in the net of pandemic déjà vu. I’m privileged to be haunted by small details, like the Christmas lights that shine over the empty streets. It is horrifying to see health care workers again facing the challenges they faced in the spring.

For me, it’s not so rough – working from home is my normal, and since elementary schools are still open, I still have the place to myself. I am able to go to the park every day, which is a huge help, even if there is now a field hospital being assembled in a corner of it.

There is no getting used to this.

The social isolation is the biggest challenge, especially as the year drags on and the energy flags. Things that have helped include writing, not writing, cooking complicated meals, and this address from the brilliant Maria Tumarkin.

Also: knowing that the first pages of The Airways will be back from the proofreaders any minute now!

Trouble Breathing

I have an essay in the Guardian this week, called Trouble Breathing:

Screenshot of Guardian article. Trouble breathing: We all breathe the same air, but we don't breathe equally. The question of who breathes, and who suffocates, is a question of who deserves to live. It’s a question that will only become more urgent as the climate crisis develops

It will also be published in the book Fire Flood Plague, edited by Sophie Cunningham, and out through Penguin Australia on December 1.

Book cover image for Fire Flood Plague, text on a red triangle, an orange square, and a yellow circle, with a grey-white background

For me, breath has been very central to what’s happening this year. It’s interesting to see that link being made here in Italy between the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and the struggles of migrants trying to survive their journeys in the Mediterranean. I took this photo at the harbour in Palermo, Sicily:

Photo of Palermo harbour on a clear day, boats in the background. Painted on rocks in the foreground in large white capital letters are the words I can't breathe

It was amazing to be able to see some parts of Italy over summer, but so strange to attempt to be on holiday during a pandemic. I struggled to relax, slept pretty badly, did a lot of doomscrolling and kept being hit by waves of grief and anger. I worry for friends in the US, and whenever I think about trying to get back to Australia, it just keeps getting further away. I have had a pretty nomadic couple of decades and these changes seem existential. It’s hard to imagine that travel will ever offer the same sense of freedom again.

As the weather cools, the second wave is beginning to crash here, so restrictions are returning. I get the sense that resilience is low, that everyone is suffering from a degree of pandemic fatigue; our baseline stress levels have shifted, and we’re all still doing the work of adapting to it in various ways, but that stress and labour has become less visible.

I am grateful to have work to do, especially work that lets me think through what’s happening in the world around me.

This last few weeks, I have been busy finishing the edits on The Airways, a process that has been tiring, rewarding, and a little bit haunted! Am pleased to report that it will be sent to the typesetter this month. Publication in Australia is set for August 2021. I can’t wait for you to read it.

Working on edits for The Airways at my “desk” in Torino

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.