‘What Covid has taught me over the past 12 months’

Image: Guy James Whitworth.

It’s been nigh on a year since the first Covid-19 cases were diagnosed on Australian soil. Sydney artist and author Guy James Whitworth shares some life lessons from the past 12 months which have helped form his ‘new (not so) normal’.  

Last week (25 January, to be precise) marked one rather unholy year since the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed by the health authorities in Victoria – followed by several more the same day in NSW. And, well, we all know how things went from there …

Things were so different in those simple, sweet-tempered days of innocence and willy-nilly face touching. Cast your mind back, dear reader, to a year ago, and how life as we knew it has since changed forever.  

Indeed, this time last year, the most troublesome issue on my mind was what to wear in the Mardi Gras parade – although in that respect not much has changed: I’m at the same point again right now, although this time I have the added bother of how to incorporate a face mask into my outfit.   

The following list is made up of random life lessons I have learned over the last twelve months. It’s been a massive learning curve for many of us and I advise everyone to compile or at least consider their very own list of learnings. 

1. World class nations can, very nearly, come crumbling if they are mismanaged by an orange buffoon who would rather promote their own ‘brand’ than listen to experienced experts. 

2. You shouldn’t ever try to make your Covid test nurse laugh before she inserts the swab back into the lower regions of your brain. Nobody enjoys a jiggly swab that needs a second attempt.

3. Waterproof mascara in such a situation is an absolute must!

4. ’80s music is still the best music ever created. If you ever need cheering up, a quick dance around the lounge and some quality ’80s choons will do exactly that. Crank up them bangers! Who can dance to ‘Love in the First Degree’ by Bananarama, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper or ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham! and not fall into joyous hysterics?

5. Sydney is still one of the best places in the world to live; but only for some. Inequality still exists and if we put some work into redressing these imbalances while we are reworking everything and shaping the ‘new nomal’, it could be a much better place for all of us. 

6. Lockdown certainly isn’t for everyone, but those of us who enjoy solitude and can create whole new worlds in our own heads will probably fare better than others. We may even thrive.

7. Face masks save lives. If you happen to see someone out and about not wearing a mask, do your duty: fart as loudly and violently as you can, as near to them as you can. When they glare at you, throw back a casual glace and calmly proclaim, “What? I just presumed you didn’t care about anything you breathed in?” 

8. Presuming people in positions of power are natural leaders and make informed decisions is a bad move. That wishful belief can even cost thousands of lives. Sometimes individuals get promoted way beyond their ability or skillset because they are well connected, their skin burns easily in sunshine and their genitals happen to be outside their body. 

9. Some people just refuse to accept the need for physical distancing. For example, in a supermarket queue, whilst most observe the 1.5-metre rule, there will always be at least one cockwomble who will choose to stand directly behind or beside another person, literally breathing down their neck. In this instance it is perfectly acceptable to publicly shame that person. However, in hindsight, shouting the words, “Back the fuck off, cockwomble!” may be slightly over the top.  

10. If it’s raining and you try to run while wearing thongs (or flip-flops, for our international readers) and carrying a take-out coffee cup in each hand, when you inevitably come a cropper people in nearby coffee shops will point and laugh without offering any assistance whatsoever! The best thing to do in this instance is to take off the broken thong now wrapped around your ankle, do a curtsey to the audience and pray to God no one got your fall on camera. (OK, Covid may not have been the catalyst for this lesson – but it is something I’ve learned in the last twelve months!)

11. Just when you think it might be safe to go back into the water, it probably isn’t. That’s the thing about waves, whether it’s a second or third or fourth: they just keep coming. Sorry, people on the Northern Beaches (or the Peninsula of Privilege, as I recently heard it called) – you, more than anyone, should know this. Entitlement should never outweigh caution.  

12. Telling people that I do not have enough time for their nonsense does not make me a bad person.  

13. Always try and be at least a little bit brave. I had an exhibition here in Sydney last September that was by far my most successful to date, in both sales and attendance numbers. Countless people advised me against it. I did research on what might work, did things differently and kept the gallery safe and accessible. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Also, fortune favours the brave. 

14. There is no longer a social situation in existence where it is not perfectly acceptable to stand up and proudly say the words, “I think I need to go and wash my hands.” Although that said, you can have fun with that by mumbling the last word so it sounds more like “glands”. 

15. It is rarely the case that you can ask the question, ‘How are you?’ too many times to people you love. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to tell people to ask you how you are, if they don’t voluntarily do so. When people bring up their problems or struggles, I’ve started using a new (to me) technique, of asking, ‘Do you want me to just listen, help you work out an action plan or do you want me to get directly involved?’ More often than not, people just want someone to listen to them whinging, which, all things considered, is really rather justified.

16. Laughter is a cure for both fear and anxiety. The level of fear and anxiety we’ve experienced in the last twelve months has been overwhelming at times. However, the best way to deal with those negatives is to introduce frivolousness and fun.

17. The words ‘cluster’ and ‘clusterfuck’ are not always interchangeable in polite society. Then again, what the fuck is polite society? Say whatever you need to, whenever you need to. 

18. People you love and respect may secretly be closet anti-vaxxers. This is extremely disheartening, because, well, it’s just shit, isn’t it, when you have to listen to nonsense arguments dribble out of the mouths of people you love? Small reminder here: it is possible to still love someone while utterly disrespecting their views on specific subjects. 

19. People’s composure changes slightly when you casually drop the words ‘zoonotic diseases’ into a conversation. Meat eaters’ backs will stiffen and cheeks become slightly sucked in. Carnivores do not want to discuss the bigger implications of where a zoonotic disease actually originates.  Just FYI, tofu doesn’t cause pandemics.  

20. Turn off the news if it all seems too much, don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by things you can’t change. Turn off the TV and put on some music – when was the last time you danced around the living room?   

That’s it, them’s my lessons. I’ve stopped at 20. I could go on but I think 2020 bullet points might be over-egging my pudding somewhat.

Now, I’ve shown you my lessons, I want to see yours. Perhaps you’d like to share on our Facebook or Twitter?

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney-based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle – is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.