COVID-19 has had a weird influence on me. There’s a pendulum where my brain once stood. It slides and glides in the space where freedom used to be. Sometimes, the crushing weight envelopes me. At other times, I feel electric and driven.

Where apathy used to roam is a sort of freedom-encrusted nihilism. A devil-may-care desire to create has replaced a lot of the pre COVID-19 confusion I had.

Here is the land of opportunity and art without pressure. Where the words tumble freely and back away from ghastly sales pitches. Indeed, those who sell look like stunning Marie Antoinette and out of focus marionettes.

A stack of handmade greeting cards is on a tray table. One of them reads welcome to the wild ride in reference to the title of this blog about COVID-19

Patreon cards by Rebekah Lambert

The old way of selling has died. People are more authentic somehow. More in touch. The people who want to remain out of touch, without change, seem even more gaudy somehow.

You can tell a person’s level of comfort and safety from how far they lean into the language of the old tricks of sales and marketing.

Roll up to see my sassy talking head. Only a dollar a day for those crying in their beds!

I have the TARDIS; I see the future. My sparkly new course is your financial bleed’s suture.

There’s no small amount of saviour complex, too. I was crippled by the knowledge that the world was about to implode. I felt the tin foil from my hat tighten as I tried to get anyone to listen.

The vampire virus is coming,

You breathe it in, your lungs give in.

But not before your business is dust,

And the lack of money gets the rest of us.

The house of cards is windswept

Up every day with three to four hours sleep, my mind felt oddly calm. One thousand electric snail eyes sat on my body at the end of each tiny hair.

They pulsated with writing, courses, and advocacy. While my mind screamed, “Will anybody care?”

It was weird, watching it all unfold. I launched a petition. Was mocked for writing blogs about COVID-19. I could see people tense up and start in with blame, anger, and lashing out.

Sometimes, it felt better to shut up and blend in.

But inside, there was this pressing need. Like a sensation to try and grab as many people as possible, drag them to safety, run inside and get more.

But this was a flu, right? A cold that took your breath.

People were rolling their eyes, speaking of sunshine cures, and still talking about their holiday plans.

Even when we started to get the message, when Italy didn’t feel so far away, when China didn’t feel so distant or in some circles, to blame. They still blame.

By and large, it still felt like the majority of Australians thought we could switch the country and the economy on and off like some errant hard drive.

“Have you tried rebooting it? Yeah mate, she looks f*cked.”

For such a long time, Australian freelancers have been divided up in little camps. People hating on the word freelancer, people referring to themselves as a royal we to signify them and their cat, people using small business or sole trader or “I’m a writer” to signify who they were.

We all had one thing in common- that there was enough of this to be excruciatingly painful if we went down. But we (and everyone else around us) had been so caught up in getting the work done and the language used to describe it, we hadn’t thought to think of the greater meaning.

That if you are smart enough and able enough to create your own job, you do so often without rights, protections and industry afforded other people.

Why is that?

Why is it that the more entrepreneurial people, the people smart enough and creative enough to work their way out of the system, are penalised for doing so? Why aren’t we rewarded for creating a job for ourselves out of thin air?

How come the people squeezed out of traditional workspaces due to a lack of flexibility for their family, disabilities, mental health issues, geographic location, or age fly without a net? Shouldn’t we be applauded for innovating outside the structures and keeping ourselves gainfully employed?

Who is the real threat to society?

The freelancers and the creative practitioners? Who, despite creating their own jobs and navigating the systems that seek to prohibit them from doing so, accept low wages, high debt, and general thuggery from client and system alike only to face further gut punches? Who will continue to catalogue what has happened, question the system, seek to innovate under fire, and take as many of the community with them that they can carry?

Or the people who roll their eyes at us for speaking up and tell us to go get real jobs? Real jobs that have failed us because we’re over-reliant on offshore manufacturing, international students, and have been frightened (before now) to get truly online?

Let’s never forget that the writers, artists, musicians, photographers, actors, the film makers, designers, the digital movement, and more- we’re cataloguing the times we live in. We’re the time capsule of this moment under COVID-19. Our creations explain how the world continued to function. They capture the emotions of the time. They help the rest of the world soothe themselves of the stress. They are keeping everyone motivated.

Heck, our very existence as freelancers and creatives continues to tell the world how to cope with change.

The negative gets us nowhere

I am frustrated by whiny comments on articles and clapback moments on social media.

A friend asked, “Have you noticed a rise in entitlement in the last two weeks?”

I thought for a moment. I gave a virtual thumbs up. We’ve entered that cycle where we no longer feel like the chips are down. Now, it’s about anger and frustration.

We quickly forget that to put your boots on every morning, even if there is no path to walk, is a brave thing.

Celebrating the days you have a shower when you really don’t want to get out of bed. Or to look for the turning point when the road looks flat and barren. I am reminded of the voices of the people I have grieved with and how, in immense grief, we find hope.

It is hard to look at what is coming out of the USA. COVID-19, racism, pain. I think of friends who live there in NYC, Colorado, and Minnesota. I watch people get angry at Brene Brown for saying ‘this administration’ when referring to problems who keep talking about angry letter writing campaigns.

It’s so incredibly strange.

When the world is trying so desperately to get better, it can be hard to cope with how much has to be ripped to shreds before it can begin in earnest.

COVID-19 and collective grief

We can grieve what has happened. For assuredly, we have lost a sense of ourselves along the way. And we can wish upon certain sparkling wish, that we had known six months ago what we now know today.

However, we also need to realise that what will come from this pain is strength. Like anyone who has ever lost someone unexpectedly, we’re allowed to feel the pain. But then we have to also give ourselves permission to live and work again.

In our odd little digital realm, there are people working too hard with too much pressure. There are people tentatively stepping out each day to come back at night, disinfect keys, phone and body. Ghost towns where the vibrancy used to be, they haunt us with a new normal. There are people who for the first time in their life have no work, no purpose, and only time. Some still wait to find out their eventual fate.

All of these places are littered with the glitter of smashed dreams and innocence.

And yet, getting angry and lashing out, making others feel bad, trying to force the normal when it went clippety-clop down the highway with the horseman of the apocalypse, this is foolish.

You are not entitled to hurt me simply because you can. You are not entitled to tell someone their pain is invalid because your pain is manageable or non-existent.

Life has not paused other pains like cancer, loss, domestic violence, broken hearts, uncertainty, chronic illness, or dread. They are merely another layer of soggy newspaper designed to cover the sagging balloon of the person within.

You have no idea the impact COVID-19 truly has until you cannot travel to comfort a grieving friend, a frightened father, or have to consider funerals with only 10 people.

We have to learn this is our new normal. Create a new space for it. Water it’s tender shoots. See what grows.

Pull up the bottom lip. Roll it up off the red carpet sent to invite the entitlement in. Pull back your shoulders. Retract your head back in.

Keep open to the icebergs of grief all around you. For they are many.

Gently navigate the waters. Let others find the stream to follow you. Instead of making waves to further rock their boat.

Creativity gives me hope

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”

This song is on repeat inside my head. For the sorrow I feel for the USA and how it’s reflected back to Indigenous Australia. For the moments where people come in pain. Watching the deaths of so many people with disabilities play out. Feeling the terror and the fear. Hearing the systemic failures across so many areas.

Meanwhile, my partner’s job in the education sector has dangled like so many for weeks. We wait for the final announcement to come this week, unsure if we want the closure we sometimes seek. We put our grief on hold until we can honour a friend who recently died. We wait for it to be safe to travel, comfort her loved ones, and celebrate her in earnest. I catch myself sometimes hoping my Dad’s cancer has the decency to at least finish the job it started during a less restrictive and hellish time.

All while other people turn their rock bottom into a lead generation campaign. And while the people who seem to have no real problems to speak of doggedly attempt to push my nose into theirs.

It would be lovely to have a tee shirt (or perhaps a jumpsuit with flares and a cape) that reads REAL PROBLEMS IN PROGRESS. That way, all of us who have been snapped, trapped, and are currently orbiting Saturn high above eBay’d chick peas and quibbles could beam that down as our excuse not to attend. It would be nice to have a pause button marked EXTRANEOUS CRAP to push at certain times.

But this is life, isn’t it? You get bored with it on occasion and it screams, “Bitch, hold my muthertruckin’ COVID-19 special release beer!” 

I feel this ghastly sense of responsibility to the 6200 odd freelancers who sit in a Jungle with various issues. As they try to work with kids on hips, dust bunnies in the bank accounts, trying to reinvent themselves. Or conversely, enough work to grind their shoulders to powder without the ability to speak up. I burn at my marketers’ brain for thinking of plans, products, and possibilities at a time like this. Before slapping myself with a sensible “you’ve got to eat, girl” and getting out of my own way.

In the flames and glitter of 2020, the year of ultimate hindsight, I see people creating, doing, loving and being like never before. COVID-19 is giving us a new topic to talk about. But COVID-19 is also creating a greater need for us to lean in on creativity like never before.

That person you never got to see is on Zoom, sharing a wine. That trivia event you couldn’t be arsed driving to is now so much more important. That virtual place you kind of snickered and sneered at seems a lot more welcoming now.

Learning the hardest lessons, we will fail and fail again. Relationships will break. Our dreams will look at odds with the real world.

And in all things, creators will keep creating. Artists will bring their brushes or lens. Stories will be written and recorded. Ideas will flourish in the dust. Money will gain new meaning and somehow, somewhere, after we’ve fought, railed, been kicked and come back for more, life will begin again.

It has to. Because anything else is simply not an option.

Let us not fall into the temptation of pissing on the things that give others comfort. If you’ve spent all your time in the high up gallery with your binoculars on, watching people try and yes, fail, they haven’t done it for your entertainment.

Right now, we need to move away from destroying what get up and go freelancers, creatives, and the story-makers have. We have to embrace imperfection. Be real and vulnerable.

This is what it’s like to see a one in one-hundred-year event play out in real time. Don’t miss the opportunity to see it for what it is by being too busy rolling your eyes. Don’t be so enamoured with dragging the present back to the past you understood that you fail to see the potential for change all this heartbreak is bringing.

Thank you for allowing me this indulgence. Yours in COVID-19 creativity, Rebekah


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