How many of your personal relationships were adversely impacted by Covid-19? It is no secret that, for many, the virus was not merely a physical threat, but an emotional one. Whilst the restrictions have eased, and in most places, completely ceased, Covid has left an indelible mark on our collective social psyche; a mark which continues to permeate.
Many people have asked me where I got the inspiration to write my forthcoming novel, Banksia Close. Unlike so many other sources of inspiration, Banksia Close came to me in a fit of frustration. Being a resident of Melbourne during lockdown was not an easy experience for anyone. We had one of the strictest, longest, and harshest lockdowns in the world, but Melbournians weren’t the only ones climbing the walls. Covid was a global affliction, and there isn’t an individual alive who was not impacted in some way.
I believe a large part of the frustration, for most, came from an inability to discuss anything but Covid. Having a single topic absorb a society would not usually be such a destabilising thing. After all, it wasn’t the first time that the world found itself in the death grips of something so oppressive that it kept one up at night, clenching with the inability to find sleep. I am sure that both WWI and WWII were as horrific in their impact on the human condition. Unfortunately, unlike world wars, where countrymen are, for the most part, aligned with the goal of action, Covid had the opposite effect.
The disinclination to talk about Covid, then and now, had little to do with the fatigue of the topic itself, and more to do with the fracture such discussion could cause. I’m sure you know what I am talking about. It’s the feeling of looking at someone you respect, even love, and watching as shit falls out their mouths. This response, far from being a righteous action for those who were ‘right’, was actually subjective. Everyone was correct in their opinion on Covid for themselves, and it didn’t matter how crazy the theories and fears sounded. If you think I’m wrong, try and recall the last conversation you had with someone who disagreed with you on any other topic aside from Covid. Odds are, it got a little heated, but the inner intelligence of both parties, and a want to protect the relationship, generally allowed for compromise - for consideration of opposing views (even if you’re faking it), or even a bittersweet chuckle as you change the subject and move on to other matters.
This did not happen with Covid, and it remains a topic that is largely off-limits socially, even as the massive change that it evoked, continues to impact our lives. Indeed, this is a post-Covid world. Things will never be the same again, in ways both seen, and unseen. The most startling fallout of Covid, however, has been the division it has caused on a micro-level.
Whilst differences of opinion are often tolerated, even encouraged, in normal social interactions, Covid-19 brought out the ugly in everyone, because it caused a seismic shift in perspectives. The various nuance of every social molecule that makes up the mind of a single person, converged and became set as the individual made their play and refused to deviate from it. These perspectives were often surprising, even flawing, to the point that some close friends and family, no longer recognised one another. Covid was a cluster bomb on culture, personal beliefs, rationality, fear, and objectivity. It was a form of cabin fever that sent everyone rather insane for a time, and the shrapnel flew in a disarming, yet spectacular fashion
There were the extremes on either side. We had the goodie goodies, who were happy to toe any line and judge everyone who didn’t. Then, there were the belligerent buffoons, who disagreed with even the simplest, most logical governmental requests. Throw into the mix a few anti-vaxxers, some liberal socialists who thought Sweden did everything right, some capitalists who thought Trump was a hero, and some formally sane individuals who spent their lockdown days, stretched out on the couch, clicking social media links like cyborgs to be convinced that the entire thing was a farce to usher in the new world order, or some others who (still) think that Qanon made sense, and it became very difficult to discern who would align with what you believed personally, even if you were talking to your best friend. People you'd known for years, suddenly surprised you with their stance, and irrespective of that stance, it altered your perception of that person at the least. At the most, it may have imploded your relationship on the spot. Spontaneous combustion for the acutely fed up.
I saw families fall apart as the stress of Covid, and the stances it conjured, impaled the strongest bonds. I watched friends cross the road to avoid one another after tense discussions that I was not privy to. If you were unlucky enough to be burnt once, your ability to navigate your social sphere for the sake of self-preservation, became as crucial as survival itself.
Rational perspectives didn’t seem to matter with Covid. They still don’t. I’m not sure they should. Unlike the political parties we vote for, or the moral stances we hold – both of which are often oblique in their ultimate impact on our day to day lives, the impacts of Covid were immediately tangible, and the wounds still exist for many. For some, the scars still remain.
The restaurateur who was about to lose their livelihood (and perhaps did), shouldn’t have to agree with the nurse with the infectious disease specialty, no matter how much sense she makes. The out of work retail assistant, stressed to the hilt trying to live off a measly welfare allowance, shouldn’t apologise for feeling angry when his government-employed brother, sat at home on full pay, in the equivalent of an extended holiday, and insisted that it’s been hard on everyone. The mother of four, trying to home school children in varying degrees of psychological decay, was right to snap at their childless friends for complaining that they’re bored because they’ve exhausted their Netflix watchlist.
And here, we are going to get really contentious….
The anti-vaxer, who was likely anti-vax long before Covid and (whether you consider it fortunate or not), lives in a free country where such a stance has had limited implications on their life, shouldn’t be made to feel like a disease-infested fleabag for not getting vaccinated when you are, and it’s supposed to protect you. From your 'informed' standpoint, their stance makes them the ones more at risk. Not you. As for herd immunity, it was hardly a new argument and not one that was greatly recruited. Okay, so they sound insane. I’ll let you in on a secret: making them feel like shit in an effort to evoke change, doesn’t make you much better. Attacking people never evokes change. Rather, it serves only to further inset destructive perspectives. Covid was an illogical stress machine, and people, at the height of tension, require understanding and support, even when it’s hard to give.
Sooner or later, most of us became exhausted with the conversations, the fights, and with the further destabilisation that we brought upon ourselves when the world is unstable enough. Losing relationships that we need and care about is not a loss worth living with. The solution, then and now?
Avoid the conversation.
I always knew what Echolocation was, but it was only on this one specific night, as I grappled with yet another warzone at my own family’s table, that I went out for some air and saw an article by National Geographic in a thread on my phone. It was about bats, and how they navigate. As I read through the text, I saw myself in the information. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I love shredding people apart in a good debate. I live for intellectual conflict, ideas, and for knowledge. However, somewhere between July and the end of 2020, I realised how futile intellect, ideas, or even knowledge were when it came to discussions on Covid. Friends would rudely elbow me expectantly during any number of debates, and I would shrug with a simple ‘whatever', which was usually followed by ‘do you have any more scotch?’
They were perplexed, to say the least.
Animals use echolocation to navigate and survive in their environment. Last I checked, we are animals too. The only difference between us and every other creature, appears to be our seemingly acute ability to self-destruct and cut holes in our strongest bonds, despite the other avenues available to us. At this juncture, the bats are laughing at us.
I had met my match. I couldn’t be bothered, and as I tried to navigate my social sphere and all the crazy narratives that flew around my head, I realised that my survival lay in the strength of my relationships. I did everything in my power to avoid having real-life conversations about Covid then, and I continue to avoid the conversation now. There are no winners, and even as I had so much that I wanted to say, to scream, I refused to unleash myself on the people I love.
So, I did what every writer does. I created characters to unleash for me. In fact, echolocation is the very first word of the book. Now that it has been finished, and my beta group have been faithfully entrusted with the manuscript as the final edits take place, the ones I know eagerly ask me if any of the narratives are about them? The beta readers that I don’t know, are openly curious about where my own perspective lies in the story. They have been unable to identify my own position within the text, which is as I intended it. Banksia Close, for me, wasn’t about espousing a position of my own. Rather, it was an attempt to get my head around everyone else’s; a need to locate myself in the positions of others, so that I could continue to respect them despite my own.
If I’m honest, writing Banksia Close transformed my overall perspective on many things. It changed my habit of considering my own insular viewpoint as the only one to apply, and even as my stance never changed, I became more tolerant of those around me. Worldviews, moral positions, and political stances are complex vines that are often impossible to untangle when you’re looking in from the outside. Indeed, they are often difficult to unknot for ourselves. The nonsensical nature of many beliefs are often rooted in experiences we have never shared, teachings we can’t align with, and fears that, whilst they seem intangible, are real for those who hold them. Whilst I allowed my characters to tear one another apart in the name of therapy and entertainment, fiction and life should not align. I can only hope, that if you have made it to the end of this very long article, and you have relationships to repair, that this provides some incentive – even clarity.
Clarity is so often missing in society now. It is, altogether, a beautiful thing when you can harness it.