Behind the masks

College started back again this week, and I was a bit flummoxed as to what my reflections might be today. I have stewed about writing it for days, then I realised that this selfie pic, of my massage course colleagues and me wearing Covid-19 face masks that featured my own artwork from my Redbubble store, might be inspirational.

Masks to be CovidSafe

As I had suspected, in the first few minutes of our new term, we had to focus on the new government and College requirements to keep our workspace CovidSafe – strict, new procedures for fetching and returning patient files, using PPE (personal protection equipment) correctly, appropriate physical distancing, etc – on top of the stress of moving from therapeutical to more remedial massage treatments in the Clinic sessions. The Monday and Tuesday train rides into the city were eerily quiet. My standing-room only express trains have been so empty, and yet a different trip on Friday, in the middle of the day, saw all of the socially-distant seating occupied. My masks are coming in handy, although as yet they are not compulsory.

I mentioned in a previous blog entry that I am struggling – as are most of the world’s population in this Bizarro World of the pandemic – and it is usual for me to feel this way for an extended period. I have recently made concerted efforts to reach out to a range of friends, relatives and acquaintances, with very mixed results. A lot of them are struggling, too. At the same time, I have been the sounding board for other contacts, who seem to be coping less-successfully than I am. So I am buoyed in the knowledge that I am not alone, but the extended periods of alone-time are daunting. More time for the voices in my head to interfere in my day. I am also aware that those not reaching out may also be in need. I am sure I have developed a phobia to using the telephone. The home line, which changed numbers when the National Broadband Network came, rarely rings. Magically the “junk” cold calls have also stopped. Somehow, they never found my new number? And recently many of those cold callers seem to have lost their jobs, although I always assumed they worked from home? Maybe not.

As the “second wave” attempts to take hold in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria, the debate rages about the effectiveness of face masks, so the ones I ordered for myself (and friends) from Redbubble, may became even more important if the virus keeps leaking into New South Wales. But I am struck by the irony that I seem to wear several masks that are not made of fabric. Very different times, for sure.

One year ago this week…

Facebook reminded me this week that my Diploma of Remedial Massage course at Endeavour College started one year ago. A four-term, one-year course that turned into five terms, as we spent the second term doing lots of the online subjects (that are normally evenly distributed throughout), while we waited for more students to do their Term 1, then combine the two groups to form one class.

Palpation

Unfortunately, that term did not run – and now we have just come from another term at home, due to the unanticipated delay created by the Coronavirus Pandemic lockdowns. We are now not scheduled to finish the course until the end of the year, but there is really only practical clinic sessions (and accompanying theory) to go. Frustrating, yes, but a comedy of errors that wasn’t really anyone’s fault. So we are just going with the flow. I am grateful not to be dependant on the delayed income from working as a massage therapist and the additional delay gives me more opportunity to consider my options for renovating the house to create clinic space.

Next week is the commencement of our delayed, penultimate term. First up we will be unpacking the latest updates for ensuring our space is – and remains – CovidSafe. A brave new world, and our “New Normal”, at least for the time being. Hopefully, Sydney continues to win the many battles. The recent return to lockdown for Melbourne reminds us all how tentative the situation still is.

I look forward to the next learning hurdles with some trepidation. I guess if I can palpate a human hair hidden under 16 sheets of newspaper, I can palpate a human client through disposable nitrile gloves…?

Grappling with Life After Lockdown

I have been struggling these last few weeks/months. As I have mentioned before, I do tend to be the Glass Half Full guy. In the current world pandemic situation, is is definitely getting harder to keep afloat, even though most of Australia has, seemingly, been making good progress.

None of us in Australia should be complaining too much – maybe my current negative feelings are more a product of Survivor Guilt. So many others in the rest of the world are dealing with situations far worse than us. I heard a theory a few months ago that, when singer David Bowie died, we were all propelled into an alternate timeline. As each month of 2020 has brought more new and unusual surprises – Australia’s horrendous bushfires, the awful smoke hazes, a drought (and water restrictions) that killed off any greenery that had not already been burnt… – that alternate timeline theory became more and more believable.

It was delightful to chat with a long-lost friend on the phone a few weeks ago; it really made my day to catch up with him after over 20 years, but I deliberately kept the first call short. I tend to talk way too much and I had this nagging thought that a brief conversation first might be wise after such a long time. But his followup emails of gossip and news have not been coming through to me. We have now had several more shortish calls trying to ascertain what was happening. His phone doesn’t receive texts, and emails seemed sensible. I’m trying not to be too paranoid, but he’s not the only one sending emails that apparently disappear into the void. With the prevalence of Junk Mail and phishing schemes in recent years, it is rare enough that I get many emails that I actually want to read (most of them are correspondences about online purchases these days). When you are really looking forward to an email – one that never comes, but supposedly was sent – it gets hugely frustrating. In my desperate searches, I have found a Social drawer, a Promotions drawer, a hidden email Junk drawer… So many places a stray, important email can hide.

Complicating matters, I had recently created a new Googlemail e-address because temporary codes to enter various sites were taking to long to arrive in my regular mail before expiring. When the new system asked if I wanted to copy across the full address book from my usual mailbox, it sounded a rather useful thing to do. What I actually managed was to let it pull across everything into the new, empty In-box. Now new emails come into one box, sit there a few minutes, then get whisked away to my new account. Sometimes they sit just long enough for a copy to come into my iPhone from the iCloud. While this accidental strategy has cut down on incoming email to my phone, the rest has to be checked manually via the laptop – and for both accounts. Do I really need more apps on the iPhone? I am hesitant to attempt to undo the transfers, but if mail keeps going missing, I will have to resolve this issue.

Several of my concerted efforts to make sure my life stays full and interesting into retirement have been unravelling. The “New Normal” we are having to expect and accept. My monthly writing group has to meet with Zoom, which is a totally different experience. Some benefits, but also some pitfalls, resulting in more preplanning. My literary agent is now semi-retired and no longer taking on any new children’s book manuscripts at all. (I can’t believe such a great advocate of mine is now essentially gone from my future plans. I really missed the boat with that, just as retirement had granted gave me the additional time to write – and rewrite.) The Young Adult novel manuscript still needs at least two more drafts before it is ready to show anyone.

But the old days of gregarious Star Trek clubs seem to be long gone, despite my best efforts to revive the local groups. The mainly US-based action figure collectors’ group, Playtrek, has, however, met twice by Zoom during the lockdowns. It was a fun way to lift everyone’s spirits.

PlaytrekFest on Zoom in June

My Diploma of Remedial Massage course has had to tread water with weekly Zoom lectures – where would we be without Zoom? – but the college has now exhausted all the remaining theory classes that can be converted to online modules. Most of the next two terms (extending our course, now, to an 18-month commitment instead of only one year) are highly practical Clinic sessions, requiring members of the general public booking in for remedial treatments. It is sounding like social distancing and full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are to be part of our New Normal. At this point, massaging through single-use nitrile gloves seems almost incompatible with using my newfound palpation skills. I know it’ll be possible – and is mandatory – but I do feel that some clients might have to be in considerable pain before they seek out a massage from gloved hands.

My doctor once asked how I was feeling (about a year before I retired) and I told him I was worried I was becoming depressed and he said, “You’re not depressed, you’re just lonely”. That line has given me much to think about. So many things were happening that were cutting me off from my reliable positivity networks, and several more were about to be lost (or at least strained) due to retirement. I was hating that I was getting invitations to funerals, but hearing about other gatherings after they had happened. I know other doctors who probably would have written a prescription on the spot, not that I was asking for one. I think he was probably right. I am trying to monitor the situation and firm up some networks, but building a new friend network is something that gets harder each decade, I think.

Online friendships are good, but different, and no replacement for what I am needing at the moment. The best thing about Facebook, for example, is its immediacy. Several of my penpals have become Facebook buddies, meaning the wait times between letters is greatly reduced. Especially now that interstate and international snail mail services have become so unreliable. I recently reconceived the Instagram account I set up (then ignored) years ago, and it is finally pulling some interest. I am digging up some old pics of various vacations. My Andorian Sock Monkey travel buddy is quite a drawcard, although a dedicated Facebook page for him, created a few years ago, received no traction at all.

Spinning globe in the Daily Planet building

I suspect I am not the only person feeling a cut off from reality in this New Normal of social distancing. Remember that line people used to put in autograph books? “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.”

Hopefully the “old” is not too tarnished, eh? Wish me luck.

Life in lockdown

The days, weeks and months blur into each other in retirement. I am used to that already. But now the days, weeks – and months? – are blurring even more, due to the abrupt changes imposed upon the whole world as a result of the Coved-19 pandemic. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the stuff of legend. After a crazy couple of years of drought in Australia, followed by 2019’s weeks, then months, of unprecedented bushfires – not to mention political turmoils in so many countries – a new worldwide coronavirus outbreak seemed like the last thing we all needed.


Ian as Massage Therapist

In July last year, after a couple of strange and frustrating dead ends, I finally commenced a full-time Diploma of Remedial Massage Therapy at Endeavour College, Sydney. Brave New World: terrifying and wonderful; challenging and rewarding. It should have been a four-term, one-year course, but we had already accepted that subjects would be stretched across five terms, mainly due to the small number of students who had joined us. Term 1 went swiftly enough, and the last term of 2019 switched to a fully online component, which caught us up on all the regular online subjects that usually would have been dripped throughout the course. No matter! As challenging as the Business Plan assignment was, it was nice to have at-home time to tackle it properly, and in context with the other online topics, which did complement the tasks in the business plan.

After decades of creating activities for young students that encouraged the sharing and discussion of ideas, and collaborating with teachers and teacher-librarian on units of work and conference programs, working on a business plan alone was not doing my confidence a lot of good. I was missing the daily banter with my colleagues, though. I did organise one in-person consultation with my lecturer, mainly to reassure myself that I was on the right track. But I survived! And I came to grips with a few of the trickier questions about my future possibilities for how this course might earn me some future spending money.


Towels

I also had a welcome reunion with former teaching colleagues when I attended their annual Christmas shopping bargain bus trip. (Once again, token male on the bus, but always such a fun day.) My mission, of course: towels for my future clinic. Twelve towels, in two sizes, plus four hand towels. I answered lots of questions about my course that day. And then: an afternoon on Youtube learning how to roll the towels to have a professional look. (I also taught this skill to the staff at my local bathroom renovation store, and their display towels look spectacular, as do my two new bathrooms!)

2020 started with clinic hours, with therapeutic/relation massages for real, paying clients, to reinforce all of our skills learned so far. Very daunting, but I am thrilled with how my confidence grew. So much more to learn. I came into this course as a novice. The other students all had some massage experience, or came from a sporting background. My only experience with massage was having had a few massages as a client. We barely made it to the end of the term before the national lockdowns happened. We knew the next term was going to be… unusual. Of course, therapeutic massages were one of the first “non essential” service industries to close. By government decree. (Remedial massages were still allowed, but we weren’t approved for those yet, of course, having not started any remedial work in our clinic sessions.)

So the current pandemic lockdowns mean that, instead of moving to our next set of practical clinic hours, to practise our newly-acquired remedial massage skills, we are back doing another online subject, although this time complemented by weekly Zoom meetings. (Very welcome addition, I think.) This one covers professional development, self-reflection and journal writing, so I have spent a few days reevaluating this blog (which I already pay for to get access its professional capacities). I am thinking that “Booked Inn” can morph into a series of self-reflections in further education, rather than its previous theme of self-reflections in teacher-librarianship. I have reconfigured a few of the attached “Pages” and I am sure other ideas will come to me.

As always: a “Glass Half Full” will be my attitude to any dilemmas. The power of positivity has always worked for me before, so I think it will be a good fit for this term’s reflective journal writing.