A Profound Look Back at the Week: March 2-6

It’s been quite a week here, with a quiet start but oh, what an end. You wouldn’t know unless you follow oil news but let’s just say I know exactly why we’ll all be paying less for petrol in the next few weeks and possibly months. It was a blast. There’s no drama like OPEC drama. But enough of that. Moving on.

The Toilet Paper Hypotheses

When I first spotted a headline about people somewhere stocking up on toilet paper I was mildly confused. The second time I saw this was happening in Australia and my confusion deepened. Had the outbreak even reached Australia?

It turned out it had but it was nothing like, say, Iran or Italy. And yet people were emptying the toilet paper aisles in supermarkets. The feature image on this post, by the way, is a genuine shot of an empty toilet paper aisle in Australia, courtesy of my Twitter friend Kathryn Hore (who’s got a book coming out later this year, incidentally, so remember the name if you’re into fantasy). It looks apocalyptic, doesn’t it?

Then the toilet paper frenzy spread north and this got me thinking. The process produced two hypotheses, neither particularly flattering for humankind but it’s not my fault. One, people had grown so stupid they were being excessively irrational. Two, people had been primed by apocalyptic films and books, and news for this behaviour, so they started displaying it the first chance they got.

Personally, I think the truth is a mixture of these two hypotheses, formulated, as you can see, very academically. People are getting stupider and they are fans of apocalyptic fiction. I know I am. But I also know toilet paper will not be on the top of my list of emergency supplies. It would be more towards the middle, right after the tea and coffee, which would in turn go below the non-perishables and water.

I asked Kathryn what all that was about. She had no clue about it, either, confirming my suspicions of mental degradation for much of our species coupled with too much virus fiction. It’s as if thousands of people were waiting to start panic-buying, just to see how it feels. And I’m not being regionally picky here.

True, Americans have this reputation of not being the brightest bulb in the chandelier but Australians are reasonable people, aren’t they? Unlike the stereotypical Italians with all their drama, but look at the Italians — I haven’t heard about toilet paper panic-buying there. Stereotypes, eh? This might, just might be because they actually do have a problem with the outbreak. I’ll wait for my Italian friend Domenico to weigh in on that.

All these signs of degradation are why I’ve been heard to call for a zombie apocalypse. I don’t want death by being eaten alive. But I do wish that millions of people with no real problems in their life looked up from their phones and returned to the real world for a while. You know, when you have to work for your survival the latest mobile banking app somehow loses its significance not the mention Buzzfeed’s personality quizzes. Priority rearrangement, that’s what we need. But instead we’re getting toilet paper shortages. That’s humanity for you, dear aliens.

P.S. We just got our first two diagnosed cases down here. I’m thinking we might need to stock up on toilet paper before the hordes of panickers descend. Take pre-emptive action, as it were. Now I’m wondering how many other people would have the same idea… A whole new angle.

How to Deal with Mild to Moderate Shock

I got an email last Friday. Well, I got about a dozen emails last Friday but this one came late in the afternoon, right after a story rejection email and it was quite shocking, in an extremely good way that I don’t feel ready to talk about yet. If there is a development I will talk about it. Suffice to say it had to do with The Lamiastriga. Okay, enough about that.

The thing about shock is that the body reacts the same way whether the news is good or bad. I’m sure I’ve read this somewhere but I also know it from first-hand experience. And I know that even when the news is good, it’s not the pleasantest of feelings, the shock. Perhaps the least pleasant aspect of it is that the information that caused the shock tends to linger rendering you incapable of doing pretty much anything other than thinking about it. And while with the great white equivalent of shocks it’s best to go with the flow and don’t try to fight it, with mild to moderate versions distraction is possible. I just proved that empirically.

I suffered the pick-up in heart rate, the flush, and that first “This can’t be true” thought. Then I did a quick check to establish it could be true because I could see it and so could mu husband. I made him read the email. A further check suggested it may not be a scam as I had initially suspected after which point I decided to stop thinking about it altogether. The good old keep calm and carry on attitude made popular by the builders of the British empire, which is not that popular right now, come to think of it. Anyway, I’ll tell you something I discovered that Friday. When you’re fighting a shock, it’s always good to have a hobby. Or a tendency to make shopping lists. I used both these shock management approaches.

First, I jotted down some important notes about my manuscript. The most important really, the questions that have arisen so far and will need to be answered at some point. The thought about the email sat there, nagging, but I kept ignoring it. Then I took my daughter to aikido practice and I was fully in the moment the whole five minutes it took us to get there. Then I went back home and made a shopping list for the week ahead. And I was focused on it while I was making it.

So what if I left my laptop on until I went to bed in the surreptitious hope the originator of that email would contact me by the end of day in New York. So what if I took my phone into the toilet with me in case she called? The important thing was that by the time we sat down for dinner, I was so beyond the shock I wasn’t even tired the way you get tired after a shock. Today, I’m pleased to say, I’m feeling as normal as always.

So I had a dream that HarperCollins had written to tell me they had accepted The Lamiastriga for publication only to realise it was already published, big deal. I also had a dream — the same night — that a friend of mine was preparing to patent an all-new EV battery. Dreams mean nothing. I managed my shock. Unlike three years ago when my first short story ever got accepted for publication and I broke down crying from happiness. Ye gods, what a cesspool of emotions I used to be.

Too old? No. Too stupid.

I’ve had several run-ins with geology lately, work-related. I’d say I have built quite a good understanding of the basics around petroleum engineering but I keep catching myself going off course to read up on this or that geological topic. Today, after doing it yet again, with metamorphic rocks, I thought why not look for an online degree in geology?

So, you’re 41, big deal, I told myself. Remember that Sikh guy in Cambridge who was at least 80 but doing a bachelor’s in something? You’re not too old. So you don’t really have free time, I thought, big-big deal, you’ll find some. It’s your genes speaking, your mining engineering parents would be so proud. Or, alternatively, are laughing themselves silly if there is an afterlife.

Anyway, I found some courses. They wouldn’t work because none was all-remote. I went into the website of our very own University of Geology and Mining, the place where I spent many of my early school-age afternoons because my mum worked nine to five but dad’s lectures ended around noon so he could take care of me in the afternoon. I found the syllabus. I saw “advanced mathematics”. My genes shut up. I’m not too old but I’m way too stupid for geology.

It’s one of life’s saddest moments to recognise you have missed your chance to study something you have just found you really enjoy and you’ve missed it about thirty years ago but it happens. I used to be great at maths until the 7th grade and then things went downhill, propelled by a horrible maths teacher, equally horrible physics and chemistry teachers, and the hormone rush characteristic of the age.

So, my geology train, as True Blood’s Jason Stackhouse says, may have sailed but I;m not giving up completely on rocks. I’ll self-educate on all the non-mathematical disciplines I can get my hands on. Mineralogy? Plenty of stuff on it. Seismology? Ditto. Structural geology? Petrology? There is so much to learn. I’ve got to go. Bye.

Email? What email?



2 thoughts on “A Profound Look Back at the Week: March 2-6”

  1. Geology.
    Mother in law’s passion – her college major, with ecology. Plus maths.
    Maybe why we never lost any time on stereotypical rows… She’d be too busty explaining preCambrian fossils to me… .
    Surely not too late ?


    1. Oh, you’ve had an interesting childhood with such a mother!
      No, it’s not too late but my knowledge of maths ends around the 2nd grade, judging by the trouble I’m having with my daughter’s homework. Advanced maths and physics? No way. But there’s plenty to read outside the realm of the exact sciences. I can still learn quite a bit about rocks.


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