COVID-19 DIARY – WHAT MATTERS

Maryland nurse who joined N.Y.'s COVID-19 front lines says it's ...

April 20

On Monday the 20th of April, the bulk of staff at work had been away for two to three weeks. We now found ourselves back in the office to get our flu shot and get back to working from home.

One of them, a particularly beloved colleague dropped off snacks for everyone which just speaks to why we love her.

While arrivals and departures were staggered you could feel it in the air. People were happy to see each other again if only fleetingly.

I was fortunate, I was there to work all day.

I enjoyed all the creature comforts of my office desk and but more so being around some of my colleagues whom I had missed. It was good to get back into the rhythm of working in the office and efforts were underway to see if some staff could rotate.

Nevertheless for the rest of the work I worked from home.

Across the State, Term 2 started and for many students it started remotely in the home.

There was a fantastic episode of the ABC program Four Corners that night that covered the early days and decisions from Australian governments at all levels to help their citizens through some dark days.

 

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April 21

Taken with Arnold Schwarznegger’s social media posts and his pets Whiskey (the minature pony) and Lulu (the donkey) I decided to buy a new hoodie he started selling.

All proceeds from the sale went to the charity he helped create – After School All Stars. It runs after-school programs for students across the country particularly in poor communities that need it even more.

There are 19 chapters helping over 90,000 kids across 468 schools in 60 cities from 13 states.

The charity had pivoted with the lockdown, knowing some of the kids involved in their programs get their best daily meals from the meals at school – they resolved to provide food for these families.

That was enough for me.

I belaboured figuring out what would fit me in US sizes trying several internet sources and it’s quite possible the Hoodie won’t arrive until September at which point temperatures will be rising in springtime Brisbane.

Doesn’t matter.

If one American child eats a meal based off my poor fiscal responsibility then that’s alright with me.

 

 

Of course if I had been completely selfless I could’ve just donated directly to the charity but I really wanted that hoodie. Although as restrictions relax I may look silly walking around outside with a hoodie that preaches to stay inside.

Some studies find that over 10% of America’s population live in food insecure households.

Kids can’t grow and can’t develop their minds if they’re lacking a balanced diet and it is estimated that could be as many as 16 million children each year.

America produces enough food to feed more than its population.

Food insecurity in America doesn’t come from a lack of food – it comes from people not having enough money to buy the food.

There are expectations that food insecurity in the country could easily double given the increasing amount of unemployed Americans.

30 million applied for welfare and unlike in Australia the amount of claims that will ultimately be approved and the length of how long they can be on welfare is limited.

On the 21st of April the World Health Organisation reported 751,273 cases in the America with a daily increase of 27,668. The number of Americans who died with COVID-19 was 35,884 with a daily increase of 1,681.

 

Closer to home in Australia the tertiary education industry was facing a daunting prospect with international student enrolment set to decline with a loss projected between 3-5 billion dollars.

I spent seven years working at the Queensland University of Technology on contracts and as a temp hoping again and again I might become permanent. Now permanent workers may need to worry about their jobs.

International students who have spent years studying here in Australia now find themselves struggling to pay rent and unable to afford flight homes. Over 500,000 international students were in Australia when COVID-19 hit.

On the 12th of April Education Minister Dan Tehan announced an 18 billion package for to shore up income from domestic students in universities. Yet a huge source of income for Australian universities were international enrolments with some projecting a decline between of 3 to 4.6 billion dollars this year alone.

Universities themselves were trying to assist students financially struggling due to loss of casual employment and unable to apply for support from the government. Up to $110 million dollars through hardship support funds.

Countries like the UK and Canada had put relief packages in place for international students.

In Australia the Prime Minister was suggesting it was time for them to go home and the price of a plane ticket would only be $10,000.

Those in the industry were of two minds.

It has once again been revealed how reliant we were on international student enrolment. Maybe this would push a reform where it was needed.

Yet universities carry out research and grow the minds and capabilities of our brightest who go out and work in industry and make innovative solutions. Could we really afford due to a loss of income to see our universities lose researchers, budding academics and students to the pandemic? Some of them international ones too.

Not to mention families overseas may remember how we took care of their children during this crisis.

After paying a lot of money for them to receive an education here, when they were cut off from them, when it was difficult and expensive to get home, when other countries provided for such students here we were shrugging our shoulders.

What would they think of Australia?

PhD Positions at Queensland University of Technology, 2016-2017

On the 12th of April, Universities Australia estimated 21,000 jobs could be lost in the next six months.

On the 21st of April, the Vice Chancellor of the Central Queensland University floated the idea of voluntary redundancies for some staff.

 

On the 21st of April the World Health Organisation reported Australia had 6,625 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 13. There were 71 deaths with a daily increase of one.

A guy I used to work with a few years ago in a part-time job I had was doing a push-up challenge to raise funds for mental health charity Headspace.

https://www.thepushupchallenge.com.au/pushuperer/65013?fbclid=IwAR3UCzdFCm5hvyW2Ud4w0rqBNeHpxoZVLUypX1NHusgdHtvMA8zTM9mQlz8

He set himself the goal of completing 3,046 push-ups over 21 days from 11MAY2020 to 31MAY2020. On day three he completed 326 push-ups alone. So I donated to his cause as well.

Headspace is foundation that helps young people and their families with their health in particular mental health.

 

I was also very inspired by the BuyThemACoffee initiative and got in touch with them. I was hoping to help out my local café at work Stellarossa Toowong but knew I couldn’t hope to raise as much as BuyThemACoffee. I asked them for advice which they very kindly gave and thanked me for my small donation. I got in touch with the Wesley Hospital near where I worked. They advised instead of delivering coffee for staff they would really appreciate coffee vouchers.

So I set up a GoFundMe Page to raise $250 to buy coffee vouchers from Stellarossa Toowong and have them delivered to the staff at the Wesley.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/stellarosa-coffee-for-wesley-hospital-staff

Work colleagues and friends immediately responded and over the next four weeks we were able to raise some money.

Closing out on any given day a business like this at this time might have three or four hundred dollars in the til. 

There was a new owner/manager at the store and at this point she was having one staff member work a day.

Most of the employees are young and find themselves ineligible for jobkeeper or jobseeker in some cases.

They’re great at what they do.

The new owner knowing this was treating them all fairly and spreading the work to all of them but there was not a lot of work to go around.

Despite this one of the baristas even donated to the GoFundMe page.

 

East Timor, war, coffee and Australia's 'debt of honour' - ABC News

ANZAC Day was also coming up that weekend and collections for support services for veterans and their families were not going to be able to carried out like they had been for the past 100 years. So I donated some money to the ANZAC appeal.

I don’t want to create the wrong impression, we need money.

Maybe I should’ve saved every extra cent I had.

But I have had a few thoughts over the past few weeks.

One that comes back to me occasionally is simply this.

What you do now – matters most.

 

ABC’s Foreign Correspondent ran an episode that day following Emergency Responders and Healthcare Workers through New York City.

In a week where Trump spitballed using bleach to cure COVID-19 here was a program showcasing American heroes.

 

 

It showed the Naked Cowboy still hanging out in Times Square bringing cheer and goodwill to passerbys.

I will admit I thought there was something foolish in him not packing up his bags and trying to avoid putting himself at risk.

Yet something touching in his desire to remain and lift spirits and risk the potential consequences.

I thought how American, that level of optimism and foodhardiness, that mix of courage and absurdity.

He was not the only one.

In the program we followed veteran Ambos, retired cops bringing supplies to those still on the streets, volunteer nurses who quit their jobs to come take care of the sick and dying in greatest city in the world.

And people were dying. Many, many, many people.

Yet here were these Americans trying to help.

WHAT WE DO NOW – MATTERS MOST.

-Lloyd Marken

 

DOCTOR STRANGE STRANGELY FAMILIAR YET NEW

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Doctor Strange does a lot of new interesting things on film, stitched together by many influences of before. Fights between souls, palavers with galactic beings, and foot chases along New York skyscrapers may remind modern audiences of The Matrix, Inception and various comic books but never before has it been seen on such a scale and never before with the witty and ass-kicking Cloak of Levitation. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding possibilities for future adventures and even daring to switch up how their third act climaxes play out.

So it’s a little sad to report that Stephen Strange follows the path of Tony Stark a little bit. Stark was of course an arrogant tech genius lay low by a life threatening experience and imprisonment. While wounded his gifts and expertise remained unharmed even if his purpose in life was changed. Stephen Strange is arrogant as an incredibly gifted and brilliant neurosurgeon that has a car accident. It’s a key difference that Stephen’s gifts are taken from him and his arrogance takes a lot longer to be stripped away. Casual fans though may find too much familiar in this comic book origin story. The film becoming more interesting as he leaves behind love interest Dr Christine Palmer and sets forth for Nepal to find Kamar-Tag and learn how to heal himself from the teachings of the sorcerer The Ancient One ( Tilda Swinton). doctor strangeStrange proves a quick study (maybe a little too quick his first showdown with powerful sorcerers sees him handle himself very well for a rookie) getting help from Karl Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong who is the keeper of Ancient Texts and gets most of the film’s best bits (Benedict Wong). Related imageThrough them Dr. Strange becomes a healed man immersed with a new identity and purpose when a disenchanted former follower Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) starts an all-out war against the Ancient One and those that stand with her.

The action scenes and effects are first rate not just for their look but also for how fresh they feel. Marvel films recently have been criticised for all retaining an aircraft hangar/industrial park aesthetic and director Scott Derrickson may go some way to challenging this with old fashioned dressed up studio sets but also real location shooting in Kathmandu, London, New York and Hong Kong on the streets that look characteristic of those cities in particular. The cast which includes Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg sometimes feel wasted here but the dynamic between Strange, Mordor, Wong and the Ancient One is strong. Mikkelsen may not get too much either neither being particularly threatening nor scenery chewing but he still gets a few chuckles and does his fight scenes well. The film is alive with the possibilities that this character and his realm of influence opens up. As the second half rolls on, Strange takes up his new mantle a bit too easily and set piece after set piece follow each other without any real further character development but the finale flips Hollywood conventions and revels in the tricks that Strange can pull off. There is a lot here to enjoy and with a little bit of luck it won’t be long before we see Dr Strange again.

-Lloyd Marken

marvel doctor strange

Brooklyn: An Old Irish Tale for Our Times

Brooklyn is a touching timeless tale of coming of age in a foreign land and the tug of home as you become your own individual away from it. Like all good Irish stories there is tragedy and pathos, by the end of the film you may feel as emotionally wrung out as you would after 3 consecutive funerals but the film is ultimately about the courage to pursue new beginnings.

It opens in 1952 in Enniscorthy, Ireland where Eilis Lacey is about to leave for America arranged by her older sister Rose through the Church. The American economy is booming and there are prospects for a young woman that is not present in Ireland. There are hints throughout that Rose recognises that Eilis is suited for bigger things. Rose herself has not planned this but she is critical of the social and employment possibilities of her small home town even as she is anxious about leaving the only world she has ever known behind. Her father is long gone and her mother is unable to watch from the pier as her youngest daughter leaves the shore. Rose does though, an unwed bookkeeper left to take care of their mother watches as her sister sets out on the adventure she arranged for her.

You never get over that empty seat at the family dinner table, it can’t be filled.

Eilis has to adapt fast on the boat ride over and then in her new surroundings. She lives at an Irish boarding house with other young women and severe landlady Madge Kehoe while also working at a department store. The first year can be tough when abroad, homesickness creeps in and some come home early. Yet once a new social network has been established and professional achievements have been earned in the foreign city you may never see your loved one return. Because that “foreign” city is home now. Brooklyn is about such a year for this young Irish girl and we see her initial struggles.

Directed by a man (John Crowley), written by a man (Nick Hornby) based on a novel by a man (Colm Toibin) Brooklyn is nonetheless a woman’s story and there are some refreshing choices here. For example Eilis does meet an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) but he appears more swept off his feet than she is. She has feelings for him but her world is opening up and marriage could potentially narrow her path. A reminder that even in the patriarchal conservative 1950s there were young people and social values were always in flux. Watch when Eilis is brought over for dinner by Tony and mentions her bookkeeping classes, Tony’s mother glances over recognising that her working class son is in love with a girl who has ambition. It’s not a look of judgment but there is concern there… and a lifetime of understanding.

There are wonderful touches throughout the movie, old Irish men singing Celtic songs in gratitude for a simple meal, young people wearing bathing suits in front of each other for the first time, girls gossiping amongst themselves while a matriarch scolds them and long walks through the night trying to tell someone how you feel. Every character is beautifully portrayed by their actor and brings a wealth of history whatever their age. How do you get to be a landlady (Julie Walters) in Brooklyn in 1952 looking after girls and quoting the Bible? How many young people has Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) looked after coming to Brooklyn? Does Miss Fortini, Eilis’s department store boss (Jessica Pare) have a fella? Is fellow boarding house tenant Patty McGuire (Emily Bett Rickards) worried about her future or just enjoying her present? Brooklyn lets us answer some of the questions with our own imagination and is all the richer for it.

In a wonderful scene Tony, a plumber by trade, takes Eilis out to a field and tells her the biggest secret he has. They stand out on a hill and he tells her he’s going to buy a block of land there and his brother nearby and they’re going have the whole family there and they’re going to run a business building houses for people. The grassy hill is Long Island. Neither Eilis nor Tony discusses the need for such a company to have a bookkeeper. A young man is letting a young woman know what he plans to do with his life, what is important to him and what he hopes to offer her and it is up to her to take that chance with him. It turns out Eilis is not the only one with ambition.

Tragedy strikes and Eilis must return home where she is set up with local boy Jim Farrell played by a favourite actor of mine Dormhnall Gleeson. Jim has good prospects too in Ireland and a maturity that recognises something in Eilis that Rose saw. This part of the film is harder because Eilis must hide a secret and while her motivations are understandable and it does logically become harder for her to declare things or keep her distance, audience sympathies may lean towards Tony and Jim instead of the central character. Everybody is human and flawed but thinking of Tony’s care in crafting love letters to Eilis with his younger brother may lead to disappointment with Eilis as she puts them in her bedside drawer. She is clearly confused about her feelings in a way that Tony is not and maybe Tony should’ve recognised that better as well in prior scenes which is perfectly understandable but still hard to take at this point. A late declaration by her is supposed to serve as rebuke and taking up the mantle of a new identity but it felt hollow due to her earlier actions.

This is not to say that the very talented Saoirse Ronan is not absolutely wonderful in this film. She plays every note of emotion just perfect conveying many scenes of emotional turmoil and also thoughtfulness in weighing decisions about her future and past. We’re with her on this journey and we want it to be a happy one for her. After terrific performances in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel this is probably her biggest role yet.

film brooklyn saoirse ronan brooklyn movie emory cohen

Brooklyn will make you cry, laugh and nod in acknowledgement of life’s little moments that make a big difference in one’s journey. It tells an immigrant’s tale, something close to the Irish experience as much as any other nationality.  With Montreal doubling for period New York the film’s production values for a period setting are solid if mostly set bound. The camera more comfortably takes in surroundings in Ireland. That seat at the table never stops feeling empty but the person missing is sitting at another table across the seas and they are loved.. and they are home there too. This is a great movie.

-Lloyd Marken