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Monday musings on Australian literature (and the arts): COVID-19

March 23, 2020
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I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to settle to read, let alone write thoughtful reviews right now. (I’m sitting on one at the moment that I really want to do justice to, but my brain is all over the place.) Consequently, I’m going to just write a COVID-19 Monday Musings – and try to keep it simple, and focused on the things most important to us, that is, books and the arts.

A couple of days ago, The Saturday Paper (paywalled except for one free article a month) published an article by award-winning essayist Alison Croggon on “COVID-19 and the arts“. In it she discusses the impact on the arts, particularly on small companies and independent artists in the greatest jeopardy, of COVID-19 containment measures. These measures have certainly affected me with various cancellations, including our beloved National Folk Festival. Mr Gums and I count ourselves lucky to have managed to see the Australian Ballet’s last performance of the season of “Volt”, before Melbourne Arts Centre was closed down.

Anyhow, Croggon writes that:

As always, the brunt is being borne by thousands of small companies and independent artists and ancillary workers – publicists, stage managers, technical staff, ushers, caterers and others. Many are in desperate situations, exacerbated by the fact that their major sources of alternative income – teaching, casual work in the hospitality industry and so on – have also dried up.

She shares the experiences of a musician and a theatre designer to put flesh on the facts. And it’s pretty withered looking flesh. One talks of having all those jobs carefully cobbled together to create a living income disappear in one go. It’s important, therefore, that governmental assistance package/s include support for freelancers and independent arts workers, because they are critical to the survival of the industry as a whole.

Meanwhile, “freelancers are calling for institutions to pay out cancelled commissions” but not much of that is apparently happening. I certainly think that those of us who can should do this, and/or not ask for refunds for cancelled events. I figure that I’ve spent the money anyhow. However, I appreciate that life will become more tenuous for some people and that money recouped (or not spent) will make a difference to their surviving this period. All I can say is that each of us needs to do what we can but to not judge what others do – unless we’ve walked the proverbial month in their moccasins!

For up-to-date information on COVID-19 and the arts, the Australia Council for the Arts has a web-page and the Australian Government’s Office of the Arts also has a COVID-19 Update page.

Bookish stuff, in particular

I can’t even begin, really, to offer suggestions about this because ideas and opportunities to maintain our literary culture are coming thick and fast, ranging from ways to keep buying books and supporting our bookstores to potential livestreaming of literary events (like the Yarra Valley Writers Festival). It’s impossible to keep up and, anyhow, I suspect that those of you reading this blog are well enough connected to be receiving news and notifications yourselves. We can’t catch it all, but we can catch enough to keep us well engaged.

My reading group, which was to have met at my place next week, is setting up a WhatsApp group to try out virtual book discussion. There may be better apps, but as this one is known to many of the group already, it’s where we are starting. Within minutes of the group being set up, 8 of the 12 of us had joined, which is a measure, I think, of how much we value each other and our book discussion.

Many bloggers have written COVID-19 posts, including Lisa (ANZLitLovers) with three posts to date, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) more personal one, and Welsh blogger Paula’s “Coronatome” version of her Winding up the Week posts in which she provides a bumper crop of reading, including one of Lisa’s posts and a Books + Publishing article about the expansion of Australian Reading Hour.

Albert Camus, The plagueBooks have been written over the years about epidemics/pandemics/contagions, including our own Geraldine Brooks’ Year of wonders. This is historical fiction inspired by the Derbyshire village of Eyam which, when struck by the plague in 1666, quarantined itself to prevent the spread of disease. An interesting read in the light of what’s happening now. But, my favourite of them all is Albert Camus’ The plague (which I’ve read a few times, including since blogging, so here’s my review!) Camus explores the three main responses to plague – rebel, escape and accept – through the actions of his various characters. Rebelling, of the right sort, is his preferred approach. Read it if you haven’t already! In the end though, whatever happens, I’m hoping that what the lovely Dr Rieux says proves true with our COVID-19 experience:

… what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

Finally, if you are finding it difficult to cope with the stresses of the current situation, there’s always Up Lit (check my post from 2018 to get you started.) Seriously, though, many jurisdictions have their helplines, including, in Australia, Lifeline (13 11 14). Do call the one most appropriate to you if you find the impact of isolation or just overall worry about COVID-19 starting to seriously affect your mental health. It’s not easy right now, and we all want to come out healthy and ready to go on the other side.

Take care and be safe my blog friends.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2020 11:38 pm

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks! Yes. Everything you wrote here – absolutely! With you 100%.Take care – stay safe – keep up your reading and commentary! A bright spot every week. More so now that times have darkened. Thank you, WG!

    • March 24, 2020 8:21 am

      Thanks Jim, that’s lovely to hear. I’ll do my best. It’s hard to keep the mind focused isn’t it.

  2. March 24, 2020 12:09 am

    Thank you so much for the mention, Sue. 😃

  3. Carolyn permalink
    March 24, 2020 12:15 am

    Settling down and reading without my mind wandering back to the pandemic is getting hard, so thank you for a wonderfully pertinent blog. I’ll definitely explore your review of The Plague, which I read so long ago. I hope your reading group goes well. We used Zoom and it was almost as good as a real meeting. Take care!

    • March 24, 2020 8:24 am

      Thanks Carolyn. We have been wondering about Zoom. Don’t you have to pay for more than 45 minutes? Does only one person have to pay?

      • Carolyn permalink
        March 24, 2020 8:54 am

        Right now they are waiving that time limit for educators and one of the members of the reading group teaches at a college and already had such an account. I think it’s also easy to rejoin once the 40 minutes are up. I just now finished participating in a 2 hour meeting for school and I kind of wish we’d been forced to end at 40 minutes though😃

  4. March 24, 2020 5:25 am

    I agree it is difficult to concentrate about writing thoughtful reviews these days. But although I have cut down on my news intake to avoid Corona overload, I quite like to read these chat posts about how the current situation affects fellow bloggers from all over the world. That is very different from reading the news and makes me feel connected in a different way. Hope you stay safe and get your reading mojo back. Some light, entertaining reads might be easier to get through.

    • March 24, 2020 8:27 am

      Thanks stargazer. I’m glad I’m not the only one. It’s frustrating though isn’t it when you’ve now got the time. I like the blogger chat posts on the situation too.

  5. March 24, 2020 6:12 am

    I would promise never to become in the slightest degree depressed were some kind soul to suddenly discover a dozen Jane Austen novels hidden away, and for their being instantly produced as audio books.
    Sighh ..

    • Marie Zuvich permalink
      March 24, 2020 7:33 am

      On the Facebook page Writers Go Forth…Promote there’s a wonderful reading of a book by a very young Austen. Read by Hugh Saddler. Very enjoyable I must say

      • March 24, 2020 8:37 am

        Ha, I wonder which one. She wrote some very entertaining juvenilia. You can see her wit. It’s broader in the juvenilia but it’s there. So much going on here but if I can I’ll try to check it out.

      • March 24, 2020 8:53 am

        Thank-you, Marie ! 🙂

    • March 24, 2020 8:29 am

      You are not the only one M-R. Oh would that there was a secret stash somewhere.

  6. Marie Zuvich permalink
    March 24, 2020 7:31 am

    My daughter-in-law Madelaine Dickie has put me on to the Facebook page Writers Go Forth..Promote etc which is for all writers whose books were to be launched this year and for all those with cancelled speaking engagements. A forum for them to promote their work. Worth joining .

    • March 24, 2020 8:30 am

      Thanks Marie. I’ll check that out.good idea. Are they linking to Twitter too I wonder?

  7. Sara Dowse permalink
    March 24, 2020 7:33 am

    Hi WG You may not have seen it, but about a week ago I started putting up excerpts from my long ago written but unfinished memoir. I was prompted to do this for a granddaughter who’s been recovering from a particularly grisly operation and was keen for the stories of her grandparents, and also by reading Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments. After that I pulled out the file and started. I figured that since I was extremely unlikely to find either the time or the oomph to finish it, especially since I’ve got other projects going, I might as well entertain people with it. I have to say have had a lot of pleasure doing it, and I’ve received both interest and praise – no little boost in these trying times. If you’re so inclined just go to my timeline and you can pick up the posts.

    • March 24, 2020 8:33 am

      Oh Sara no, I haven’t. If I had I would have commented. I wonder why? I will check it out.

      • Sara Dowse permalink
        March 24, 2020 10:30 am

        Thanks,WG, I think you may like it.

        • March 24, 2020 7:29 pm

          I’m sure I will Sara!

        • March 24, 2020 7:46 pm

          Hi Sara, it seems your old blog is gone, which is probably why I didn’t receive notification of these new posts. Can you please tell me where to go now to see your work?

  8. March 24, 2020 3:44 pm

    Like you Sue, I’m trying to turn my pre-bought tickets to events into donations or, at the very least, gift vouchers for future seasons (which I have done for the opera and theatre, given that my subscriptions are $1000+). However, like everyone else, it’s hard to know how long we have to make the money last… My job is continuing (I’m in health) but my husband’s work is rapidly disappearing. Although not significant to the household overall, three of my kids have casual jobs, which are now gone. But, as I write, I can hear one of my kids on the ukulele (he hasn’t played in years but it’s made a reappearance); one is at the sewing machine; one has gone for a bike ride; and one is listening to music… and I feel somehow lucky that despite the chaos at the broadest level, that this whole experience is a way for everyone to hit the pause button, to slow down, to remember simple things.

    • March 24, 2020 7:38 pm

      Silver linings, eh, Kate? The challenge will be maintaining this sense of action and new ways of being over the long haul as it is likely to be, isn’t it?

      I’m sorry about your husband’s running out of work.

      • March 24, 2020 10:25 pm

        I know I’ll never run out of things (according to my calculations, I have enough books to last me approx. 3 years of isolation) but it will be a different matter keeping four teenagers occupied!

        • March 24, 2020 10:28 pm

          I have enough books to last the rest of my life I think … though of course the rest of my life less than the rest of yours. But four teenagers? I wish you luck 😂👏

  9. March 24, 2020 3:45 pm

    Oh, and I did enjoy this earlier today, direct from the Victorian Arts Centre – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clzed_sIS0I

  10. March 24, 2020 6:13 pm

    I’m the same as you and so many others, struggling to concentrate on my reading.
    I read Year of Wonders too, very clever of you to think this up. I’ll add Stephen King’s The Stand which is a fictional (fantasy) story set around a pandemic of extraordinary proportions. Maybe not to your taste, but I loved it. Not recommending it now, though.

    • March 24, 2020 7:41 pm

      Thanks Rose … you’re probably right about the Stephen King, though I have enjoyed some film adaptations of his work. I think I’ve heard of The stand.

  11. Sara Dowse permalink
    March 25, 2020 1:18 pm

    Hi WG the website is up again. Was about to bring it up to date but then this crisis came along. The posts are on my FB timeline.

    • March 25, 2020 1:30 pm

      Ah, on Facebook not your blog? Thanks, I will note to go there. Would love to see them on your blog?

  12. March 25, 2020 10:25 pm

    I think I have the same problem as Sara Dowse, my family will only read those posts I put up on Facebook.

    I wonder what will be the outcome of 6 months or a year of this. I imagine that the government once having taken control of our lives will be much slower to relinquish their new powers. Will we ever return to a world with people intensive industries? Opera, bookshops, schools, tourism even? I’d be surprised if there are not some big changes.

    • March 25, 2020 10:31 pm

      As my sociologist daughter says, there’ll be PhDs for decades after this (also on economics, psychology not to mention political studies, medicine and epidemiology). And yes, it will really be interesting to see how life in so many ways will change in the long term. As with most things I expect there’ll be good and bad outcomes with some being potentially worrying, as you say, in terms of controls and surveillance.

  13. Moira Nolan permalink
    March 26, 2020 6:46 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful post Whispering Gums. It is an anxious time and I wish us all lots of good comfort reading.

  14. Sara Dowse permalink
    March 27, 2020 10:42 am

    Hi WG. The website is back up. We were going to update it but Covid intervened. In any case it’s irrelevant. The posts are on Facebook. Search for my timeline- Sara Dowse and they’re there. Starting from March 15. There’s stuff in between but not much. To complicate things somewhatI have two FB pages owing to a stuffup I won’t go into, but the posts are on both.

    • March 27, 2020 9:21 pm

      Hi Sara, thanks very much. Yes, I found that it was up, and I have found your Facebook posts and have had a quick look. I look forward to reading them from next week, when I expect things to have settled down here. Having read your Ava story in The invisible thread back in 2013, I am looking forward to much to reading more of your story.

      Two FB pages. That’s a bit greedy isn’t it?!

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