Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 25

Over the past five years I have lived a rather mobile life. In many ways, I maintained three places of residence: London, Vienna, and Melbourne. Granted, my time in Melbourne was far less than that of the other two locations, but given that all my junk still fills a bedroom in my brother’s house, that some of my mail is still delivered there, and that Damian and Holly still refer to the room as “Jono’s room” despite the fact that they live there alone and have done so for five years now, I claim squatter’s rights. 

Unsurprisingly when attempting to stretch oneself between three countries of habitation, I have become very familiar with the various modes of transportation available in this modern age. Between long haul international flights to and from Australia and Europe, and regular smaller flights skipping across from London to Vienna, I have mastered the process of moving through an airport while allowing for time to drop off luggage, get through passport control and customs with some minutes allotted for a good frisking should the need arise, have myself a sneaky coffee and a sandwich, and locate my gate with just enough time for a quick dash to the toilet before boarding my plane. To date, I have yet to miss a flight, however there was one close call that had me sprinting through an airport praying to a god I don’t believe in. In this instance, I joined the tailend of the boarding queue and collapsed into my seat, relief and sweat pouring out of me. A win for me but not so much for the passenger beside me breathing in the byproduct of my relief and sweat.

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While district nursing across all the compass points of London, I learned to navigate the spider web of bus, tram, and train routes, and got to see the city from this variety of perspectives, as well as to meet and mingle with the people of London, including but not limited to that one gentleman who asked if he could light my hair on fire (I declined his invitation, for anyone wondering). To date, I have absolutely missed buses, and trains, and trams, and gotten myself so horrendously lost that I found myself wandering through industrial and distinctly creepy parts of London in the very early hours of the morning (for a full accounting of this occasion, please refer to LIFE IN LONDON #01).

The past few years has bred in me a distinct animosity towards these various modes of transportation, of being crammed in with strangers, the delays and cancellations, and of being herded here and there like cattle, the chewing habits of my co-commuters helping to complete this image. But, as is always the way when a viral pandemic sweeps across the world, now that the object of my disdain has been taken away from me, I find myself longing for those earlier golden days. Much like after a break up, I catch myself romanticising those elements that previously drove me mad. Oh, to be back in that train carriage, the moist armpit of an overweight passenger crammed in beside me hovering centimeters from my face, wavering ever closer as people attempt to push in despite the fact that there’s scarcely room to breath as it is. Not that I was breathing all that deeply, what with the armpit. Oh, the glory of moving with my community.

One of the highlights of my train trip into work used to be as the U2 trundled across the Danube River. I would look up from the meditative trance I had put myself in in order to pretend that I was in a quiet rainforest instead of squeezed in next to all the other morning commuters, and soak in the view of the winding water reflecting the colours of the rising sun and bracketed by the city of Vienna and the mountains perched behind it. It made me feel lucky to live in this city. I miss that.

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As an expatriate, the other thing I miss about transportation since the worldwide lock down is access to said world. It’s not always easy to be the one whose homeland it isn’t, to not get the references everyone else around you grew up with, to not always know the culturally appropriate thing to say (I have learned that Australians come on strong with the niceness and it can be confusing and unnerving to Europeans when we talk to a stranger like they’re already our mate), to miss your own country, and family, and in-jokes, and landscapes, and food, and friends. It was a comfort to know that, technically, if it all got too much, I could board the next plane out and be back amongst all the things and people I miss within twenty-four hours. I mean, super expensive buying a ticket that last minute, but technically possible.

Knowing that that option is no longer there is scary. For the first time since moving overseas, I truly feel cut off from my family. Already, trips away to see them have had to be cancelled and the reality is, I don’t know when I’ll next see them in person. In a time of uncertainties, that uncertainty is proving to be the hardest to live with.

So I’m just taking it one day at a time. Thinking about the unknown quantity of time between now and a future reunion doesn’t do me any good, so instead I just focus on the next twenty-four hours. I keep eating overnight oats and doing yoga with my wife. I keep writing silly blogs and going for strolls in the evening, thankful to have Alex in all of this. I keep messaging and video calling and sharing photos with my family so I can feel them close even if they are, in fact, far away. 

And I’ll keep doing this until enough days have passed that I can once again be herded like livestock through the maze of an airport, be packed in with all the noisy and smelly passengers, sit in those cramped seats and eat that crappy food, and do it all with a smile on my face, grateful for the miracle that is transportation, and ready to see my family at the other end.

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Tomorrow: Vacationing.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 24

I was not a sporty child. Or, to put it another way, I never understood why someone would sit back and watch a game when the latest Harry Potter book had just come out. Why put yourself through the tedium of a ball being kicked back and forth when you could lose yourself in Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s magical exploits? This perspective did not win me as many friends as you might think.

But I was raised right and when it came to AFL (the Australian Football League for any non-Australians reading), I knew I supported the Hawthorn Hawks. When the attributes of my team were questioned, I knew to parrot back lines I had learned to defend the honour of my team.

“No, [insert opposition team here] are worse at playing the game.” Got him.

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My father and older brother were passionate supporters and observing their excitement made me want to get into the sport in the same way. From the outside, watching them watching a match was like seeing someone riding a rollercoaster, pulled along on the exhilarating highs and gut-wrenching lows. But every time I settled into the beanbag on our living room floor, determined to enjoy the game in the same fashion, I would watch the kick and catch of the ball, hear the referee’s whistle and then wait for game play to resume, and after ten minutes would find my interest wandering and, invariably, I’d be asleep by the second quarter. 

In my defence, you couldn’t really find a better source of white noise. The muted roar of the crowd, the drone of the commentators, mutterings of “You bloody goose” from my father and the odd screech of “Kick it! Kick it!” from my nerve-wracked mother all wove together to hypnotise me into sedation. Maybe that was the origin of my need for rain sounds in order to fall asleep? I’m sure if I could go back in time and make a recording of our living room of a Saturday night, I would never have a problem getting a good night’s sleep again.

My parents reasoned that perhaps what was missing was the immediacy of the sport, the smell of the crowd, the dazzle of the flood lights, and the slap of skin as two players collided, and so we regularly drove down to Waverley Park to watch the mighty Hawthorn Hawks in action. I would proudly adorn a beanie and scarf bearing my team’s colours (brown and gold, definitely not yellow, and definitely not the colours of the human digestive and urinary systems as many of my classmates not-so subtly insinuated), and would take my place amongst the sea of supporters also decked out in our noble colours. 

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And, to be fair, I loved the experience. The hot pies with sauce, the cans of soft drink, bags of chips, and sitting with Damo and making each other laugh all combined to make these matches incredibly memorable. The game I mostly ignored, but sitting in that grandstand, I got some of the best reading done of my life. When driving home, Dad would ask if we’d enjoyed ourselves and we’d all chorus “Yes!” and he’d look satisfied until I’d elaborate by telling him what a great book I’d read during the match, and then I’d see a disappointment come into his gaze that I never quite understood. Maybe he was wishing he’d taken the opportunity to read a good book too?

But having grown up, I now see the value in sport. It’s not just a game of kicking a leather ball between sticks (again, for any non-Australians, that is the primary objective of AFL), it’s about the competition, the community that grows around that competition, and the chance for a community to get a win now and then. Sport can be a distraction in the best way as it allows a person to switch off from their intimate worries and care about something bigger than them and yet something that doesn’t ask a lot from them. 

Right now, for the first time in my lifetime, there is no sport to watch, no victories to tally, no team for a community to get behind. At a time when we could all use the distraction of sport more than ever, we have been deprived of it, and I know for those people who used it to vent and switch off, they are feeling its absence. 

There is no easy fix for this. The sacrifice of sport is done to ensure the safety of the very community that supports it. My only suggestion would be to transfer that passion and that pride to those who are still out there, working hard and playing the game until our world can return to normal. Instead of your sports club, cheer on the teachers, and the supermarket workers, and the delivery men and women, and the healthcare workers. Applause when you see the number of cases drop and cheer when the recovered return home. These are the wins we can get behind and celebrate, and we can do so knowing that each victory brings us closer to the day when we can return to our sports where the stakes aren’t so high. 

Tomorrow: Transportation.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 23

Given that all hairdressers and barbers are closed along with the rest of the world, and that I am sheltering away from humanity like a mole person, I had mentally committed during this time to taking on the hairstyle and grooming habits of prehistoric man. However, my wife and quarantine roommate made it very clear that, as she has to cohabitate with me, spend the majority of her day looking at me, and is associated with me during those few times we mingle with the public, a long matted beard and head of hair would not be the look of the season and that basic self care still applies in the time of COVID.

I am one of those men who, despite approaching his mid-thirties, is lucky enough to still sport a full head of hair. Or, as my mother so lovingly stated to my wife the other day, “You got the hairy one.” Thanks, Mum. You always know how to sell me.

But being of the hirsute persuasion does raise the question: what does one do when all professional groomers are closed? When Alex raised this question, my answer was joyous and exclamatory “You could cut it!”. 

To comprehend the exuberance behind my reaction, you have to first understand that I am someone who does not enjoy going to the hairdressers. I don’t know if it’s the intimacy of a stranger running their hands over my head, or the way they sharply angle my head from side to side and up and down, or the forced efforts of holding a conversation while my head is being jerked in various directions by a violent puppeteer. Regardless of the reason, I dread having to go for a haircut and usually delay until the point that I look like a sheep that has been lost in the wilderness for the past year. 

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As such, for the past five years I have been hinting to Alex that I would be more than fine if she wanted to have a swing at trimming the follicles, you know, if that were something that might interest her, no pressure. Despite my subtle efforts at incepting the idea into her subconsciousness of her becoming my resident hairdresser, Alex has declined all such invitations and I have had to go to the barber like a proper adult. But the closing of the door that is the world shutting down due to a pandemic has opened the window of my wife attempting a home haircut. It’s all about looking for that silver lining. 

After spending the last few weeks suggesting that now would be the ideal time for her to take up the new hobby of hairdressing, what with all access to professional trimmers being denied and with all socialisation being forbidden, meaning no one would see her efforts were they less than satisfactory, Alex eventually capitulated and agreed to cut my hair. Her only stipulation was that she do so after her birthday. Given that she wanted to avoid people looking at birthday snaps and saying “You look great, but who is that homeless man who has apparently been wrestling with an active lawnmower?”, that seemed more than reasonable. Alex turned twenty-nine on Thursday and so on Saturday this guy got a haircut.

For those of you playing at home, here is what my hair looked like pre-snip:

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Alex approached the task with some trepidation, due in part to her complete lack of practical experience, her desire to not destroy my self-confidence by making me look like a toddler who just figured out how scissors worked, and because, rather than a set of professional hairdressing implements, the tools at our disposal were a beard trimmer and some kitchen scissors. I reassured her that she should just give it a shot, that it would grow back, that currently very few people would see it anyway, and that my self-confidence was not wrapped up in my looks. It is wrapped up in her constant approval, but given that Alex is locked inside with me 24 hours a day, I currently have that in spades. Swish.

We set ourselves up in our tiny bathroom, clicked on the beard shears, and got to work. We had some music playing from our bluetooth speaker, hair was falling around my feet like rose petals, and Alex was far gentler with the head angling than previous hairdressers, so I was feeling pretty good. This was until I heard a soft “Oh-no” from my wife. My concern deepened when I asked her what had happened and was met by a long beat of silence followed by what can only be described as maniacal laughter. 

Thankfully, it was only a closer than expected shave and by no means disastrous. She persevered and after a few breaks to allow the beard trimmer to recharge (poor thing wasn’t used to tackling a whole head), my hairs had all been cut. Alex even went so far as to change heads on the shears and make the back and sides a little shorter so my hair had a bit of shape and style rather than just looking like a cue tip (not a fault of my wife, more the shape of my head and my hairs’ propensity to stick straight up and out when short).

The end result was better than I had dared to dream, to the point that I am proud to peacock about and show my face in public (of course I can’t, what with the need to wear a mask, but I would if I could).

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These are strange times and things that we have always taken as a staple, such as the ability to go out and get your hair styled, are no longer available. But some good can come out of these restrictions. We are being forced to adapt and get creative, and along the way people from all over the world are learning new skill sets. People are in their kitchens discovering the joys of baking their own bread. Others are playing and inventing new games with their kids. And in our house, my wife has unearthed a talent for trimming that may mean I will never have to go to the hairdressers ever again. It is a weird, surprising, and sometimes fortuitous time to be alive.

Tomorrow: Sport.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 22

Yesterday was the anniversary of my wife’s birth, an occasion that requires the utmost of fanfare, obviously, but fanfare in the time of COVID is a tricky thing to come by. There can be no gathering of Alex’s adoring public, no party with a chorus line of handshakes and warm embraces. Luckily, Alex and I share everything, including microorganisms, so I could distribute the warm embraces on everyone’s behalf without the risk of being infected. It took up the better part of the day, to be honest. She’s a popular girl.

Given that restrictions dropped into place in Vienna almost a month ago, I had some time to prepare and make sure isolation didn’t get in the way of a proper celebration. Firstly, it’s important for you to know that my wife’s glee in birthdays hasn’t diminished over the years like the rest of us cynic adults, but rather she will bounce up and down and tremble all over at the mere mention of her birthday like a puppy who just heard the word “park”. As such, there is no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to birthday decorations, which is why I was out of bed at 6:45 to ensure our living room looked like the inside of a clown car. 

The first step was to deconstruct our home office as Alex had made it very clear that monitors and office equipment do not set a birthday mood. The next was to coat the walls and roof with every possible decoration we had. As this is not my first rodeo, I had some already prepared, but had intended to buy some more up until the world went into lockdown and my access to party supply stores became severely limited. But, dredging up memories of making Christmas decorations in primary school at that time of the year when the teacher has all but given up and will use any time-killing activity at their disposal, I set about making some of my own. I had scissors, sticky tape, wrapping paper, and a whole lot of time on my hands, and from this collection spun out some of the best paper chains the world has ever seen. 

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The birthday cake is often the lynchpin to a birthday celebration, so I approached the task of baking with some trepidation. My apprehension was doubled as my wife is an amazing baker of cakes, both in flavour and appearance, and tripled as cakes hold great importance to the Austrian people. Coffee and cake is to the Austrians what tea and biscuits is to the British, or what vegemite toast and milo is to the Australians. Needless to say, the pressure was on. Fortunately for me, my wife is very direct when it comes to matters of food, so when it was time to select the variety of cake to make, she said “I want that one” and no further research was necessary. The result was a lemon sponge with raspberry cream, with a ratio of one part cake to two parts cream. This is a ratio I fully support. 

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Once cake and decorations were unveiled to a reaction of happy foot taps from Alex, which immediately made all efforts worthwhile, it was onto the real deal. The present giving. Being a creative guy, I normally like to make something by hand to give the gift that personal touch. But after five years together, Alex has about all the paintings, drawings, crocheted beanies, and pieces of writing that any sane person would need, so this year I went in a different direction and just spent as much money as I could to compensate. The gift was a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones that I had intuited that Alex might want after picking up on subtle clues, such as her stating “I really want those”. She planned to buy them herself with any and all birthday money she received, not thinking I had budgeted to buy her such a gift, but she severely underestimated how far I would go to buy her love. 

The noise-cancelling headphones were originally intended to be used when flying to exotic destinations, but the whole global pandemic resulting in all planes being grounded really put a wrench in the gears of that plan (thanks COVID). But a new and better use for them has arisen in the meantime, one which could see an improvement to our time in quarantine, and even, in the long term, our marriage: Alex can wear them to avoid hearing me eat.

I no longer have to live in fear of getting a fork to my baby-soft skin every time I go to eat an apple. Sometimes things just work out for the best.

In addition to this gift, I also lashed out and got her the most luxurious birthday card that money could buy.

The rest of the day was made up of video chats, socially distant visits from friends, cake, walks in the glorious Spring weather, phone calls, cake, a socially isolated trip to the people responsible for Alex’s birth in the first place (her parents), different cake, and then crashing early to lie in bed and try to digest all the cake we had eaten.

My wife is an incredible, generous, considerate, loving person (see Easter post Re: “Angel in a human suit”) whom I love to bursting, and it pained me that someone who so loves their birthday would have to spend one in isolation from the people in her life. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the beautiful people who texted, phoned, video chatted, sent photos, and voicemails, and videos, sung happy birthday, left Facebook posts, who sent cards, and presents, and flowers, and made pasta salad, and showed their love à la Love Actually, and made Alex feel as unisolated and as special as these times will allow.

Rather than it being a birthday that was forgotten, you all made it a birthday she will never forget. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and whatever else you do with these days, make sure you eat some cake. I know I will.

On Monday: Grooming.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 20

We have experienced our first, and god, please, let it be the last, isolation Easter. And, given that this day of rebirth and new life was conducted from the confines of our apartment, locked away from the rest of humanity, it was pretty good. 

Even from the encapsulation of our rabbit den (pun definitely intended), we were able to observe the day’s rites. We awoke and hunted throughout our surroundings for hidden Easter goods, we gathered the offerings into baskets, eyes growing wider as our collection amassed, and we ensured that the first food to pass through our lips was chocolate. We are very devout like that.

The morning started with a scroll through the family group chat to watch our beautiful niece and nephews get all kinds of excited over the discovery of sweet snacks. Photos of our younger nephews, Eli and Callum, faces smeared with chocolate like lions whose snouts were decorated with the blood of their latest kill, brought a smile to my lips and warmth to my heart. 

Alex was up and out of bed before me which meant that the honour of the first hunt went to me. Anyone who’s been following this blog series will be aware that our apartment isn’t all that cavernous, so I was confident I would round up my treats rather quickly. After the first ten minutes of foraging, I had found four of the five goodie bags she had hidden, but felt my confidence fall away by pieces as the fifth eluded me. As stated, the place just isn’t that big and in a short amount of time I had simply run out of rooms to look through, and so quickly transitioned from a cocky swagger to a pathetic shuffle as I approached my wife and asked for a hint. Alex was quietly proud of herself, by which I mean she was laughing, jumping up and down, and clapping her hands. She eventually relented and we played hot or cold until I found it behind a pot plant. The pot plant, in my defence, had the exact same proportions as the goodie bag. The girl knew what she was doing; It was a damn good hiding spot.

Knowing in advance that I couldn’t compete with my wife’s subterfuge, I went in a different direction and instead planned a treasure hunt, equipped with rhyming clues written on burnt and aged paper. My philosophy is and always has been, if you’re going to do a treasure hunt, you do the damn thing right.

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Except for the first clue, Alex whipped through the rest in about ten minutes. Apparently my rhyming riddles were not as enigmatic as I had thought. Still, I went to the effort of lighting things on fire, risking sending our tiny apartment up in flames, to give the clues that authentic look, so I get bonus points for that.

Then, as is traditional, we proceed to eat a dangerous amount of food. We feasted on savoury waffles with scrambled eggs and bacon, complemented, of course, with a sampling of chocolates. One of the treats that I scored was a box of chocolate bananas, which technically does exist in Australia, but the Austrian variety are very different and I like them much more. I like the Easter edition of these chocolate bananas the most, however, because, while they are in fact identical to the regular chocolate bananas, the packaging features one of the most sexually suggestive cartoons that I have ever seen. How this made it onto a candy designed for children, I will never know. 

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In the lead up to Easter, Alex made a huge batch of Easter cookies to distribute to family and friends because she is, I’m convinced, an angel in a human suit. On Good Friday, we made it our mission to visit the recipients of these baked goods and bring a little jubilation to their isolation, albeit from a distance of a least two metres away. One of our deliveries was to Kerstin and Thomas, Alex’s cousin and her partner, who have been isolating with their two month old son and who is too damn cute to accurately describe with the written word. While we couldn’t squeeze the little ball of adorableness as we would have liked, we did set up a system wherein we perched on their front lawn while they set up camp just inside their house, and we waved to the cute little man and had a much needed catch up with our friends. 

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The four-day religious retreat also had us video chatting with an allsorts of family, facebook calling with my folks on Saturday, zooming with our party people on Monday morning (Damo, Holly, Dom, and Nikki), and skyping with Alex’s sister and her family and Alex’s folks on the Monday afternoon. It meant that, even with the global hibernation hampering the holiday, we still managed to feel like we had the requisite familial recharge.

However your isolation Easter was spent, I hope you managed to experience the thrill of the egg hunt, chat with someone you love, eat your weight in chocolate, and that a giant man-sized bunny broke into your house and hid food in inconvenient places.

Tomorrow: Sleep.

(P.S. For those of you playing at home, the answer to the pictured clue was the space in the couch where we keep the spare blankets and pillows. If you got it right, you have my permission to reward yourself with some chocolate, regardless of the time and location in which you may be reading this. Happy Easter.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 18

I think it’s only natural, four weeks into self isolation, to feel the boredom creeping in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife’s company and the activities we do together in our home, but the conversation about what you did that day grows a little stale when what you did was spend every waking moment within a three metre radius of each other. It’s hard to regale my wife with a funny story about the day’s events when her response is, inevitably, “I know, I was there.” Even worse is when you find yourself telling a story that she told to you only yesterday, and that you told to her the week before, and you realise you’re trapped in an endless feedback loop of story swapping that is likely to drive you both mad. The upside being, if we were to go mad, that at least we’d have something new to talk about.

The recycling of stories all comes down to a lack of stimulus. With social interactions being whittled down to the bare minimum, there’s no longer any fuel to keep the fires of interesting anecdotes burning. It’s gotten so bad that I find myself longing for the days when I would use public transport, when mentally unstable men would approach me and ask if they could light my hair on fire or when drunk chicks would vomit on the carriage floor only for the neighbouring passenger’s dog to start lapping it up (both true stories), because then at least I would have something to talk about.

The other day I found myself alone in the living room and I realised that if Alex were to walk in at that moment and ask what I was doing, the only honest answer I could give her was “I am standing in a sunbeam”. 

The day before that, a man was walking past our apartment with a young puppy and I watched that puppy like a stalker whose object of his obsession just strolled into binocular range. And when the man and his dog eventually ambled out of my field of view, a part of me mourned the loss.

Just yesterday, Alex suggested that we take down and wash the scrim that hangs in front of our windows and I was excited, excited, at the suggestion. Ladies and gentlemen, no one should be excited by the prospect of washing scrim. Surely, the early signs of insanity are talking to yourself and getting a small thrill when considering putting your gauze curtains through a gentle spin cycle.

The obvious solution to this boredom, and to staving off insanity, is to entertain yourself, but given our resources are limited to what is currently on our properties, that means getting creative.

My father is waiting out the end of the world on a five acre block of land on the outskirts of Traralgon. He has decided to combat his boredom by revitalising his veggie patch and, much to his joy, while doing so he discovered some potatoes had managed to grow despite any active cultivation on his behalf. In what can only be assumed was an effort to keep his mind stimulated and himself entertained, Dad then proceeded to make a potato man from his findings, starting with a simple mock-up before deciding that features were required and adding eyes and facial hair.

Now while some may claim that making a small friend from fresh produce is, in fact, a sign that his sanity has already slipped, I instead choose to see it as an effort on my father’s part to bring some levity into the lull. Of course, he did then proceed to dismember his new friend and boil him in oil, so that does make it tough to make an argument for his mental faculties.

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Photo credit: Peter Robb

Please note that the eyes are still present, as if my father wanted to be able to lock gazes with his tiny friend one last time while he fried. Another strike against his stability.

One of the methods my wife and I are using to combat the boredom is to set up small competitions with one another. With the Olympic Games being cancelled, it’s now up to us to fuel the spirit of competitiveness and in that vein we are currently in the middle of a battle to see who will use up the last of the toothpaste. The rivalry is waged silently, unspoken, with each of us stepping up to the line every time we go to brush our teeth. There will be no awards, just a sense of shame for the loser who is unable to wring a final blob of paste from the tube, and a sense of victory for the winner who discovers a new tube the next time they attend to their dental hygiene. 

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Whatever strategies you’re using to beat away the boredom and to cling desperately to your sanity, I suggest getting creative, find merriment in the mundane and excitement in the everyday, and if you do happen to make a little friend along the way, do your best not to eat them. As the poet said, “That way madness lies” (King Lear Act 3, scene 4, 21).

Tomorrow: Introvert vs Extrovert.

(P.S. For those of you wondering, our scrim looks great now.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 17

I’ve talked on here before about using creativity and art as an outlet and a form of meditation during these trying times, and I’m now going to do it some more because this is my blog and you can’t stop me.

For me, the act of creating something is one that gives purpose to the day. If I have made something, been artistic in some way, then it’s as if I have permission to sign off the previous twenty-four hours as productive, useful, and not just me sitting around eating chips in sweatpants and watching The Office for the twelfth time. Don’t get me wrong, I will still use my day like this, but if I’ve slipped some creativity into the mix then I don’t feel so guilty about it. 

There is something very fundamental about the joy of creation. Of making something tangible and stepping back from it and looking at it and thinking “I did that”. Of putting something new into the world that didn’t exist before. 

Perhaps this is how God felt when he tinkered around with heaven and earth. Maybe he stopped to savour the whole formation of reality thing and got the same flush of pride I do when I sketch a cute animal. Happy with his progress, he cobbled together some light and firmament and got into the meat of it all, what with the plants, and the moon and the stars. Then, seeing as he was on a roll, he also sketched some cute animals. Only, you know, using flesh instead of a grey-lead pencil. Finally, wanting someone to whom he could look at, nod in the direction of all existence, and casually say “I did that”, he slapped some clay together and made humans. He might have gone a bit too far with that one. A good artist really needs to know when the work is done.

Of course, I can’t know the mind of a god, what with not being one or even being convinced that such a thing exists, but I do know that when I draw a picture or write a goofy blog and I make something, it feels good. 

I’m not the only one who’s been taking advantage of this surplus of home time in order to make and create. An artistic bent runs in my family and I’m proud to say the next generation has absorbed this genetic trait and are already whipping up masterpieces of their own. My niece and nephew, Ella and Harry, six and four respectively, are currently out of school and daycare and bearing up rather well under the homeban, all things considered. It helps that their parents have broken down the days into hour blocks of subjects and activities, and that a lot of those blocks include self-expressive electives.

Most recently, using the medium of chalk, they transformed their driveway into an explosion of art so grand it rivals the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (if not in technique, then at least in passion). 

Rainbow

Callum, my youngest nephew, is also pictured, but to my knowledge his input was more that of emotional support and encouragement than actual drawing. He hasn’t quite got the fine motor skills needed to wield the jumbo chalk. 

The father of these adorable children, a man I am proud to call brother, or just Matt, that works too, only recently discovered his own creative outlet after watching the always inspiring and always soothing Bob Ross. Having YouTubed countless Bob Ross painting videos, Matt eventually decided to pick up a brush and give it a go himself. Depicted below is his third attempt and, I love the man, but I hate him a bit too. His third attempt! Show off.

Mountains

 

The brother of this adorable man, a man I also call brother, or Damo, or womb companion (were twins, it’s not weird), is also of the artistic bent and about ten years ago decided he wanted to teach himself photography. These days, it’s as if he can’t help but take a glorious photo every time he clicks the button. It makes holidaying with him a challenge because, even though I know we’re both pointing our cameras at the same thing, his always has the habit of coming out as masterpieces and mine come out as happy snaps. Thankfully, we share all shots over Google photos, so I just pretend all his photos are mine.

His own method of fighting the frustrations of self isolation with artistry has been to post a photo a day to instagram displaying the beauty that can still be found even when your field of inspiration has shrunk down to your home and small excursions to the surrounding area.

Below is a sample of the work he is producing.

You can see more of his work on his instagram account. His username is damian.robb.

Finally, you were promised cute animals, you came here for cute animals, all anyone really wants to see on the internet is cute animals, so here is my latest work-in-progress. 

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God damn, but is he cute. Good pup.

I sketch with a Faber Castell TK9400 3mm 4B Clutch Pencil, which is a fancy way of saying a grey-lead pencil that comes in a metal casing rather than a wooden one. I draw because it’s an outlet. Because it makes me focus on one thing and forget about the stress of everything else. Because putting something new into the world feels good, even if I’m the only one who ever sees it.

Whatever your art is, be it crochet, or cookie baking, or hair cutting, or fingernail art, or home improvement, or soap making, or sowing, or tailoring little outfits for your cats, or origami, or music, or writing blogs to try and make people laugh, go do some of it. Make something. Make anything. It will feel good, I promise.

But I don’t need to come up with the words to convince you because a cleverer writer than me already has. Neil Gaiman gave this commencement address at the Philadelphia University of the Arts in May 2012 and his words are as powerful now as they were when first delivered.

Tomorrow: Boredom.