Discovering humanity in triviality: from toilet paper to sunshine


*Appreciating nature and baking cakes have become some of Josh’s newly discovered past-times. 

Australia experienced a particularly challenging start to 2020 – even before COVID – since much of the eastern seaboard was devastated by bushfires and capturing international media attention. The ferocity and destruction of the fires and smoke meant that many of us had to stay indoors from late 2019, but also for much of January 2020. Then, a violent hailstorm followed, creating much damage to buildings in Canberra and to my university.

Then the COVID lockdown happened. All state and international borders were closed. A planned trip to fly home and be with family had to be cancelled. One unexpected consequence was Australia’s panic-induced buying frenzy of toilet-paper, whose motivations are yet to be investigated with scientific rigour.

Matters were made worse by the virus’ impact on the country of my professional and personal interest, Italy, but also in Sweden where I completed my postdoctoral work, as I heard, and saw, friends and former colleagues suffer through images which bounced from the other side of the globe onto my phone.

As for others on this blog and elsewhere, the biggest problem has been the lack of personal interaction. As I gathered up screens and books from the office to take back home and set up shop there, my initial thoughts raced of boundless levels of productivity – easy access to my beloved fridge and snacks with articles one after the other pouring out! This enthusiasm dissipated when it became more and more apparent that the work I do and the person I am takes place in a community. Academic work materialised in drips and drabs (which I was grateful for), but not at a level of productivity that could be measured in monographs!


What positives can be found, or have I found? Gratitude for friends and simple acts of sharing meals together, riding my bike, baking, and messages of ‘checking everything is ok’ are simple pleasures – but they have been the most tangible, and the most real signs of keeping myself (half) sane and are useful reminders that ‘I am not my job’.

All the time indoors has made me realise that fresh air and sunshine are undervalued commodities in academic life. I have a new appreciation for the beauty of the geographical surroundings I find myself in. Meals with friends and catching up with people have also shown how much corridor-talk is where proper conversations happen, and how there can sometimes be no distinction between who is a colleague and who is a friend.

Certain internet memes have suggested that 2020 should be ‘cancelled’ or erased from the historical record. But this would also mean an erasure of the very real circumstances people find themselves in, as well as a negation of the positive aspects that have emerged this year.

Another real benefit is the renewed emphasis on the importance of mental health, and the particular way that mental health is practised in universities. A final positive has been the discovery of this podcast and its ability to open up conversations about precarity, mental health and many other topics. And I am grateful for that as well.

About the author: Josh Brown is lecturer in Italian Studies at The Australian National University (giosuemarrone.com)


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C&C announcement

Coffee & Cocktails is now on Apple Podcasts!


This is just a small update to let our listeners know that after 5,000 downloads we finally decided to bite the bullet and put the Coffee & Cocktails podcast on iTunes (don’t worry, it’s still available on SoundCloud, Castbox and Spotify). If you can, we would love it if you would give us a rating and leave a comment regarding your thoughts on the show and we’ll do our best to keep producing more episodes that meet our listeners’ needs.

Apple Podcasts: 




C&C announcement, media, Podcast production

C&C Online workshop on Podcast Production!

The podcast, ‘Coffee & Cocktails’ is running the first of a two-part online workshop series this autumn on podcast production for academics, students, and professionals interested in learning more about the media industry. Our first workshop on the creative aspects of podcast production will focus on the following:

  • Developing your ‘voice’ and presentation style
  • Script writing
  • Content production/ development
  • Researching your topic
  • Networking
  • Finding guest speakers
  • Discovering your market/ audience
  • Advertising your podcast

In addition, the workshop will provide opportunities for attendees to discuss their podcast ideas through interactive discussions with the host and their peers, followed by a Q&A.

The workshop is set for Saturday, 10 October 2020 at 2pm GMT but depending on numbers we may expand this out to several smaller workshops so that all global applicants can attend.

To apply all you need to do is become a Patreon member for £3 by 1 September. Those who apply before 8 August will be able to sit in on a live recording set for 5 September, 2020 at 2pm GMT.

Click here to become a Patreon member: https://www.patreon.com/coffeeandcocktailspodcast

If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact the host at: annwand.com/contact

C&C announcement

Podcast speakers wanted for episode on ‘Turning negatives into positives’

The podcast ‘Coffee & Cocktails’ has decided to add one more episode to their COVID series, this time focusing on ‘Turning negatives into positives’ and how individuals have been able to make the most of their current situation and thrive under what would normally be a precarious time for most. This can include anything from starting a small business, to pursuing a hobby, or being able to spend more time with family; basically what are looking for are inspiring stories to remind people that positivity can be found even during the hardest of times. Our recording date is set for the first weekend in September, however, the actual date will be dependent on speakers’ availability.

If interested, please contact the host here. 

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Did your productivity under lockdown increase? Nope, I was busy staying alive, but I learned a lesson or two on mental health

Raise your hand if you ever thought at the beginning of the pandemic: “With lockdown, there is plenty of time to rest, learn a new language, pick up an instrument, and take care of myself”. I now wonder if anyone managed these things. In a climate of utmost uncertainty about the future, remaining in good mental health should already be regarded as a major achievement.

For me, the biggest challenge has been the lack of personal interaction. I initially welcomed the idea of reduced interaction, and less social pressure, but humans (myself included) live off scents, body language and face-to-face contact. In the long run, this lack of social interaction has become more of a curse than I expected.

I remember pre-lockdown spending time reading posts and tweets to make sense of all that was happening to see if I would be allowed into the next country where I had a meeting or just call it a day (well, a year). My initial plan was to complete fellowships that I had been delaying for years: Helsinki, then Almaty, followed by Chisinau until I landed in February in Daegu (the Korean epicenter of the outbreak); a sort of jackpot, just the other way around. In the end, I had to evacuate.

I frightfully saw borders closing after me like in an action movie. Fearing refoulement at any stop, I made it to my “arrival point”, Kiev, Ukraine, in March – 4 days before its international borders were sealed. By the end of the month, walking sober in a park in Ukraine would cost you more in fines than being caught completely drunk driving your car.

Logistically this location was a good choice. Supermarkets were never ravaged by “buy-it-all” shoppers, and toilet paper and home delivery food were widely available. My kids were also there this year. They are old enough to be autonomous during online schooling but small enough to be tickled during breaks. In addition, I share 50% custody with their mother (one week each) so I have had some free time. To maintain being socially active, during “her” week I visit them. My affective life was not really “interrupted” like others. But being “better off” than others does not mean “feeling good”. You still need to make efforts to preserve your mental health. I have seen many around me sink into their gloomiest thoughts. I have thus tried to make up for the lack of social interaction by doing the following:

Set a deadline: It is impossible to change your life indefinitely. But you can tell yourself “for the next 30 days, I will live like this”. After 30 days you can just renew this period. Gradually sliding into a new reality will make it easier for your brain to adapt.

Be compassionate with yourself: A pandemic is an outstanding event. If you want to procrastinate more, sleep, or watch a movie, just do it. Do not feel guilty because you are not as productive as you imagined. You are unique and your reaction to a crisis situation may differ.

Get some fresh air and some sunlight: I rented a room 15 minutes’ walk from the river and 20 minutes from the woods. I walked up to 3-4 hours per day alone and in respect of the nation’s lockdown rules to make up for the lack of communication.

Eat well: Under stress, I tend to eat sweets and gain weight. Setting “losing weight” as a goal gave me something to work towards to get a sense of achievement and feel comfortable in my body, which is important when the rest of the world is falling apart.

Make going out an excuse to take care of yourself: The temptation to stay in my pajamas was high but I was well aware of its long-term risks. Going to the shop to buy that missing ingredient, or just to do some reading on a bench was an excuse to leave the house and exchange a word with the grocery store security clerk.

Reduce internet activities: Interaction with other people gives you energy, but internet interaction can suck more energy out of people than it gives, so I decided to concentrate on writing, reading and working.

Abel Polese is a researcher, trainer, writer, manager and fundraiser. He is the author of “The SCOPUS Diaries and the (il)logics of Academic Survival: A Short Guide to Design Your Own Strategy and Survive Bibliometrics, Conferences, and Unreal Expectations in Academia”, a reflection on academic life, research careers and the choices and obstacles young scholars face at the beginning of their career. You can find him on Twitter at @Abiquitous and @scopusdiaries.

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Episode 18: COVID Series Part III- The Confusing World of Cannabis Law in America

Dr Ann Wand sits down with Adrian Snead, Associate lawyer at Holland and Knight, LLP in Washington, DC to discuss the confusing ins and outs of Cannabis law in America.


The show notes (additional reading):

Accounts That Go Up in Smoke: To Bank or Not to Bank, the Marijuana Industry (2020): https://www.americanbar.org/groups/business_law/publications/committee_newsletters/banking/2020/202001/fa_3/

Complex Marijuana Laws Leave Lawyers in Legal Limbo (2020):

U.S. Marijuana Laws: A history https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/health/marijuana-laws-timeline/

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C&C announcement, Politics

New Episode coming out this weekend on ‘The Confusing World of Cannabis law in America’

Why limit our listeners to just one podcast per month when we could turn it up a notch and give you two? This weekend we thought we’d redirect our focus to what is most likely one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Cannabis industry in America.

Cannabis law ad

We hope you enjoy it!

The C&C Team

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education, Health

Episode 17: COVID series Part II: Addressing Mental Health (and poor working conditions)

‘The ghost of care in education and academia at the moment thrives on the intimate, fundamentally personal experience of these struggles, which often leads us to assume our own, isolated responsibility for causing and curing our problems – obscuring the burdens heaved by sexism, racism, elitism, etc. which converge with the current demands of education in the university space.’ – Joseph Uhlar

Dr Ann Wand sits down with cultural historian at the Open University, Dr Katy Layton-Jones, and former Male Welfare Office at the University of Oxford, Joseph Uhlar, to discuss the realities of working conditions in higher education and the effects this has on staff, student and academics’ mental health.

The show notes:

Additional reading material on poor working conditions and mental health concerns in academia can be found below:

Is College Still Worth It? | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (2020)


Too few counsellors on campus: why students are turning to mental health apps (2020)


Higher education staff suffer ‘epidemic’ of poor mental health (2019)


I’m striking because insecure academic contracts are ruining my mental health (2019)


‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis (2019)


‘It’s cut-throat’: half of UK academics stressed and 40% thinking of leaving (2019)


Lecturer’s widow hits out at Cardiff University workload (2019)


Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars (2017)


Aftermath of a Professor’s Suicide (2017)


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