The first thing writer and activist Clementine Ford and I spoke about on the phone during our interview was a mutual admission that, in a way, we would miss being in this period of isolation. Of course, this feeling comes from a place of immense privilege. For Clem, a massive part of this is the quality time she’s been able to spend with her son – ‘his language skills have really exploded and we can have actual conversations with each other’ she tells me.
I must admit that one of the main things I have been grateful for in this pandemic is that I don’t have a child, but Clem has been relishing the opportunity to be more present with her kid, and develop new routines based around quality time together. This is helped by the fact that she co-parents with her son’s father, and spends ‘an essential’ three days a week by herself. But it’s also a conscious change she’s made to release herself from the high expectations of work-related productivity she had pre-isolation. It’s helped her step back and look at her life more objectively, and take stock of the things that really feel good – whether that’s taking her time to cook a fancy meal for one, learning lip sync dances on Tik Tok, or going for a long walk around the neighbourhood with a friend.
So we’re coming up to two months in isolation now – how have you been feeling throughout this time?
It’s been a really interesting experience, and I would preface this by saying that I have the privilege of being able to still work and still earn an income, so the experience of isolation for me has been different and less stressful probably than it is for a lot of other people. I also don’t live with a partner – it’s just me and my son – so I don’t have any of those domestic stresses.
I have been thinking a lot about the women in isolation who have been experiencing domestic abuse in this country, so I’m coming at you now from a place of enormous privilege, but generally speaking it’s been a very interesting ride.
In what ways has it been interesting for you?
When we began, when we didn’t know how long it was going to go for and no one really knew it was happening, it felt like the stress levels were a lot more elevated for everybody. I wasn’t sure whether or not society was going to collapse and we were going to descend into total anarchy! So that was quite scary because it’s not just me I have to worry about obviously, I’ve got a small child to look after.
Those first couple of weeks when we were all getting used to it was enormously stressful because I didn’t know how to work in isolation with a toddler. I work from home anyway, but normally he’s in childcare. Balancing that and figuring out what our new normal was had quite a lot of tension around it. But I feel like we adjusted pretty quickly, and developed a routine, doing certain things through the day like going for walks or getting on the bike and riding around the neighbourhood to spot all the bears that people put in their windows.
And how has that evolved?
I kind of let go of a lot of the tension and stress that I felt to keep working and performing at the same level that I was before. In many ways I’ve actually been a lot more productive, which is a weird word to use in this time, but I’ve been more productive and more creative. I’ve really liked my work becoming more creative in nature, and consequently more fun.
One of the things that really stood out to me is that before isolation I’d been feeling that life was moving so quickly, and particularly my son’s life was moving very quickly. I was committed to this idea that I was so busy all the time. I wanted to spend more time with him but I had so much work to do – always so much work to do!
I had been feeling a sort of pre-emptive anxiety realising that all of these years when he’s so cute and discovering so many things, that I would wake up one day and go, ‘Oh I missed out on that time’, because I was so busy working and he was in childcare every day.
Isolation brought an end to that obviously, and even though it was a tense transition at first, I started to feel like I was being given this beautiful opportunity in my life to be able to form really amazing long-lasting memories.
It did kind of feel like we didn’t have control over our lives and times before, like we were all on a ginormous hamster wheel.
And if you get off the hamster wheel, it’s so hard to get back on because it’s moving all the time!
What changes have you made that you want to hold onto after this time eases back into a more ‘normal’ normal?
The most obvious one is really being conscious about making time with my son. To just put the phone down, put the laptop down, put the work down and just be present with him. Even in isolation it’s still a really tricky thing for me to do. But just letting myself just enjoy the moment as it happens and realising that the world isn’t going anywhere.
I’ve also been doing these cooking stories on Instagram most nights and using the opportunity to have feminist chats with people who are watching them. And I really enjoy that. Part of what I enjoy about it is the process of cooking, which I’ve always loved, but I guess just making sure that I take time out of my day to recognise that as a process, to de-stress at the end of the day and perform a task like cooking a meal for myself. And just because I’m the only person eating it doesn’t mean I can’t put care and time and effort into it!
I’ve been watching a lot less TV which I’ve really enjoyed. And I guess it really is just about the slow down – not feeling like I need to be doing something all the time or be somewhere, and not worrying that not going to things will let people down.
I assume you’re doing a bit of a co-parenting thing – how has that been going?
My son’s Dad and I do 50/50. He’s a really wonderful dad and he has him for 3 days a week and sometimes for an extra night to sleepover. It’s very routine and we share that care well. It’s good, I get the best of both worlds. I get to spend time with my kid and I also get an essential three days a week to myself.
I think a lot of women are really scared of saying that they need or want that because they feel like other people will judge them, as if somehow if you appreciate time away from being a mother that it means that you don’t really appreciate it, or that you’re being cruel to your children in some way. And I think we all need to get better at saying, ‘I’m a better mother when I have some time to myself.’
It seems like you’re having a lot of fun on your social media too with things like make up tutorials and the cooking videos!
I do worry sometimes that people are going to think that posting makeup videos is really frivolous, but I like watching those kinds of videos! If people don’t like it they don’t have to watch.
I guess one of the benefits of doing that kind of thing is that I don’t have to be serious. I don’t have to be angry. I can just enjoy myself and people get to see a different side of me which is softer and a bit more fun, a bit more free. I really like doing those lip-sync videos on TikTok, and I guess in the light-heartedness as well… I actually think I’m really funny! I don’t know if people have seen that side of me before, so I’m enjoying stuff like that. Just as a consumer I’ve really enjoyed watching women on Tik Tok, women are SO funny.
What are you feeling hopeful about?
I feel very encouraged about how Australia has responded to the virus. I feel hopeful about the fact that if we continue in this fashion, a lot of people are not going to die. And I guess in a way – and maybe this is a bit Pollyanna of me – it restores my faith in community. Our communities can let us down so often, and it’s not like this has made us into a perfect group of people, but the general community-wide response in the area that I live in at least seems to indicate that people have gone, ‘This is really serious and we’re going to take it really seriously’. So that makes me feel hopeful about humanity.
I feel hopeful about how the way that we live might change, we might slow down a little bit, we might be more considerate of people’s personal space, and I think that this is a global historical moment that no one’es going to forget about. So being able to reconsider what our global community looks like is really important. How do we need to change our existence? Do we need to fly so much? Probably not. And I’m saying that as someone who flies a lot for work, but maybe we should stop making ourselves the exceptions. Maybe we shouldn’t be able to fly to Bali for $150!
I quite like how resourceful people have become. I know it’s a real cliche to learn how to bake sourdough, but I love that people are learning how to make bread!
One thing I’ve really enjoyed doing is taking socially distanced walks with a couple of friends. Last Saturday night I went for a walk around the neighbourhood with my friend Alice and it was really cold so we put our coats on and poured a bottle of wine into a couple of glasses and just walked around the neighbourhood talking for an hour and a half sipping our wine. I like that stuff. We were reflecting last Saturday that when our kids are old enough and asking, ‘What did you do during the pandemic?’ we’ll be like, ‘We made our own fun!’
It’s reassuring to think that when our creature comforts are taken away from us – and obviously we still have a lot of comfort in this country – that we will actually adapt really quickly. It feels like the mood of the country seven weeks ago which was panic, fearful and stressed, has shifted into an easier, lighter feeling of ‘What will be, will be’.
Keep up with Clem on Instagram for her nightly cooking videos + feminist conversations, and listen to her weekly podcast Big Sister Hotline!