Life in Coronovirus Time

By Shirley Sinclair

CALL me insane but I am grateful for 2020.

This year has been quite the rollercoaster for me and, hands-down, the worst of my career.

Yet, I am grateful because it has given me the U-turn I desperately needed in my life.

The year began with a new job prospect and a renewed zest in my career.

The catalyst was a simple email from a retired friend and former colleague about a part-time job he had declined: sub-editing blogs and newsletter copy for a global travel company.

It could involve some travel writing.

The first meeting went so well, I was discussing the creation of a full-time position with the local company.

Within a few weeks, I had signed a contract, resigned and given four weeks’ notice to leave my position at the newspaper where I had worked for almost 35 years, to follow my passion for the tourism and travel industry.

Over the next fortnight, Australia started seeing the word “coronavirus” begin creeping into newspaper headlines, news feeds and bulletins. People were becoming sick. Dying.

By that stage, I had made public my decision to leave journalism after a lifetime in newspapers and magazines and I remember a Facebook friend commenting: “Interesting timing”.

She was right, of course, as I soon realised.

With panic, lockdowns, uncertainty and statistics building globally, clients were cancelling tours.

Purse strings were tightening everywhere.

My starting date was pushed back a month … and then another two months to the end of June.

Next, the full-time role disappeared. A new contract for four hours a week was signed with a three-month trial, to help only with writing travel content for newsletters, and sub-editing blogs.

(After three months, even that work diminished to simply freelance as required.)

My newspaper graciously agreed to keep me on full-time, pushing back my leaving date until the end of the financial year.

The next kick in the guts came on May 28, when News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller announced the closure of most of the former APN News Media print publications, including mine.

The titles would continue only in the online news space.

I had resigned, so I was not entitled to a redundancy.

I had “lost” more than $100,000 – despite uninterrupted full-time employment since August 26, 1985.

Emotionally, I’ve seen it all.

Tears at the keyboard while continuing to work 10-hour days putting a paper out six days a week.

Breaking down mid-sentence every time I spoke to anyone about the situation.

Shouting matches with my furious husband who had my best interests at heart and wanted me to fight harder for compensation.

Anxiety over our ability to repay a small mortgage remaining on our home.

Concern for colleagues left in worse positions.

Feelings of abandonment. Frustration with trying to meet JobSeeker criteria and uselessness in finding new employment opportunities.

I’m not the person I was at the end of 2019 and that’s a good thing.

That Shirley was always working, cutting conversations short to deal with yet another workplace “fire” that needed troubleshooting, rarely getting out of the house apart from driving to and from the office, making little time to exercise or enjoy simple pleasures such as cooking.

Time always seemed to be my enemy.

Today, I meet up a couple of times a month with various groups of former colleagues.

And I can take two hours to truly get to know them as friends while solving the problems of the world instead of a walk-by chat in the lunchroom.

I’ve found a couple of freelance jobs from home and now have the time to walk to my favourite coffee shop and chat with neighbours along the way.

My stress levels are at 0.

While I loved my journalism career, I knew I couldn’t sustain my commitment to the long hours – sometimes working 10 days straight to cover a weekend editor roster when 11 and 12 hours were the norm to ensure hourly social media posts, that the online beast was constantly fed and Monday’s paper was designed, subbed and put to bed.

Freelance work has given me more time for writing rather than newspaper production, has given me the leisure time I craved and helped me slow down and smell the salt air of the beachside locale I call home but have neglected to enjoy fully for so long.

I have started reading novels again and make time for my husband, two sons and my girlfriends.

I no longer feel guilty bingeing occasionally on Netflix TV series if the house is tidy, the clothes are washed and I can still prepare dinner some nights in the week.

Our faithful cattle dog died suddenly during the final throes of June but as I had been working from home since March, I could spend more time with her than usual – giving her cuddles and treats, constantly talking to her about the ups and downs of my day, feeling her warmth on my feet under the dining table’s stand-up work desk.

She knew she was truly loved.

Hubbie, a tradie, has plenty of work to pay the bills and I have freelance “pocketmoney” to play with.

Most importantly, we accessed our superannuation to eliminate the mortgage hanging over our head.

Projects I have been meaning to start for ages – including my family tree research – have begun in earnest.

And I’m even now planning a year-long world tour in 2022-23 to celebrate significant birthday milestones (if COVID-19 plays the game).

The thought of more opportunities to travel is what gives me hope of a full life.

My Armchair Travel series on Instagram and Facebook were started during COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe purely to help those people feeling the same way.

There’s no monetary gain for me, it’s time-consuming but truly fulfilling to reminisce about my adventures so far and share those memories or help create bucket lists for others.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must live our lives to the fullest.

I wasn’t doing that.

It was clear that I needed a change in my life.

My full-time workload had become unsustainable.

The change that occurred wasn’t what I thought. But I’m much better off than many.

My heart aches for the people who’ve lost loved ones, businesses, livelihoods and their health in 2020 as a result of this global scourge.

I am especially grateful that apart from social distancing, the travel restrictions and washing our hands more, life in Queensland has had little impact from coronavirus than many other states and most countries around the world.

I hope this life reset forced upon us truly makes us all take a good hard look at ourselves, how we interact meaningfully with loved ones, important people in our lives past and present … and those we’re yet to meet.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon sang.

And for me, that’s been 2020 all over.



24 replies
  1. Lee Mylne
    Lee Mylne says:

    Heartbreaking and lovely at the same time, Shirley. Thank you for sharing your story with us – and welcome to the wonderful world of freelancing and all the flexibility in life that goes with it.

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