Power Mad—CoronaLife Day 397

I am researching the Kings of England, after having researched the Kings of Scotland, and I have read about war upon war for power, power, and more power. This seemed especially true of English monarchs. It wasn’t enough to be King of England, you had to also be King of Ireland, and King of Scotland, and, what the heck, King of France. War after war, so much death and destruction because whatever they had, it was never enough.

I admit that I do not understand this mindset. Maybe it’s because I am an introvert and I would never in a million years want to rule all those people, have all those administrative nightmares. Or because I am highly empathetic, and the responsibility for the well-being of all those people would weigh terribly heavy on me.

These people were mad. In two separate cases, a nobleman murdered children to get what he wanted. In 1440, the Regent of Scotland, Crichton, invited the 16-year-old (some sources say he was only 14) Earl of Douglas, William, and his younger brother David, to dinner at his castle—a meal that has come to be known as the Black Dinner. Crichton trumped up charges against them and had them beheaded, in the presence of the distraught 9-year-old King James II of Scotland. This was done as part of a larger power struggle, and many historians believe it was with the full consent of Crichton’s ally, the powerful head of the Douglas family, James the Gross. As James was next in line, he became the 7th Earl of Douglas, and so had much to gain by their deaths.

The better known instance is Richard III of England. When his brother, King Edward IV, died in 1483, Edward’s 12-year-old son Edward became King Edward V. Richard had other ideas, and locked Edward and his 9-year-old brother Richard up in the Tower of London. They were never seen again, and two skeletons found in the Tower in 1674 may have been theirs. Whether they were murdered or simply allowed to die of starvation is not known, but the heinous crime was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

I cannot imagine wanted power so much as to murder children. Then again, I cannot see wanting power so much I would start a war, either. So I guess it’s just as well that none of my villains are power-mad. Or maybe my inherent lack of understanding of their nature is why they aren’t. It’s hard to write believable characters if you cannot grasp what makes them tick.

Speaking of writing, both the above stories had satisfying, if not happy, endings. In 1452, King James II of Scotland, now 22 years old, invited James the Gross, Earl of Douglas to dinner. They argued and, in a scene that eerily echoes that of the Black Dinner, King James stabs the Earl to death. King Richard III also did not profit from the deaths of the Princes. Disgust for the murder was a main driver for the nobles to back Henry Tudor, who claimed the crown for himself. Richard III’s reign lasted only 2 years, and the usurper was himself usurped by the incoming Henry VII.

Do you think it’s possible to write believable villains if you yourself don’t understand their emotional and psychological underpinnings?

Point of View—CoronaLife Day 390

As many of you know, I am very into genealogy, which sometimes means learning about the history of the place your ancestors came from. Thankfully, I like history, so this is not burdensome. I have been researching the Kings of Scotland and England lately. And I have been treated up close to the concept of point of view—and that the villain is always the hero of their own story.

Reading the histories, some written by Scottish researchers, some by English researchers, you can see the different points of view. Scotland and England were enemies from ancient times. Even when they weren’t technically at war there were raids across the border, and schemes and plots to take Scotland and make it part of England.

I happened to research the Scotland history first, and the theme was the constant struggle to remain an independent country while England kept trying to make her a feudal state, bowing to English sovereignty. They mostly raided into England either in self-defense, or to uphold the mutual-defense pact they had with France.

Then I switched to the same history but from the English side, and sure enough, it was mostly them trying to take over Scotland. Sometimes it was to try and make them submit, sometimes it was pre-emptive strikes because they were afraid Scotland was going to attack, and sometimes it was because England was at war with France and Scotland was her ally.

The one main point where they differed was this: England claimed that Scotland had, in fact, submitted to them as a vassal state and they were the rightful sovereigns, while Scotland said that was false. Yet this claim of submission was the basis for many of the attacks of England into Scotland.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is true that in 1174, King William the Lion of Scotland, captured by the English, swore fealty to King Henry II and made Scotland a vassal state under English sovereignty. But it is equally true that the next English king, Richard the Lionheart, released Scotland from vassal status in 1189 in exchange for money to go on Crusade—a transaction Richard’s successors conveniently overlooked.

It is also true that during the Great Cause of 1292, when Scotland literally had no clear heir to the throne, English King Edward I was asked to help determine which contender to the Scottish throne had the best case. King Edward chose a man called John Balliol—largely because he was pliant and agreed to make Scotland a vassal state to England. Although King John Balliol was crowned, the nation of Scotland rose in rebellion, and the Scottish Wars of Independence (led by William Wallace and the future King Robert the Bruce) made it clear that the people would not accept this. At the conclusion of these wars, in 1328, England formally acknowledged Scotland’s independence with the Treaty of Northampton.

It was interesting to see how the point of view made all the difference as to who were the aggressors, the aggrieved, and the heroes. The facts remained the same, but the undercurrent, the slant was always different. Each side was very sure their kings were acting for the good of their country. Each side was the hero of their own story.

So it was a real-world lesson as to how point of view can work in our stories. Opponents looking the same set of events will see and interpret them differently depending on the lens they see them through. It can be subtle, or it can be stark. Even people on the same side might interpret events differently, which can lend extra conflict and tension to scenes.

Oh, and for the record, all of England’s insistence that Scotland was a vassal state came to naught, for in 1603 the King of Scotland, James VI, succeeded to the throne of England as well, becoming King James the VI and I of Great Britain.

A Bit of Normalcy–CoronaLife Day 383

The coronavirus pandemic turned a lot of things upside down, and made everyday activities fraught with danger. Now that the vaccines are here, we can look ahead to a time where normalcy inches its way back into our lives. Today, I went to visit my parents for the first time since October.

I have not driven for so long, nor on a high speed road, since then, and it was strangely exhausting. It didn’t help that it was raining and the traffic was heavy with tractor-trailers.

Because of the rain, we met inside the house—the first time I have been inside their house since the pandemic started last March. All previous visits were outside.

Because we were inside, we all remained masked, except when eating, and that we did 6 feet apart with the porch door open for ventilation.

What will it feel like to be normal again?

To hop in the car and drive wherever, whenever?

To enter other people’s houses without precautions?

To see each other’s faces?

We have forgotten so much. It will be an adjustment to find our way back.

We still have a long way to go, before normalcy becomes, well…normal again. My parents both had their second shot, but are not yet two weeks past to full immunity (my daughter and I got tested before going over). I am not yet eligible in my state, but hopefully by May. My daughter will likely not be eligible until the end of the year. So it will be a long time yet before I can breathe easier about my family. Before we can all be immunized and gather without precautions.

Meanwhile, case numbers are rising again, this time among the younger people who are now starting to fill our hospital beds. I know they, and the rest of us, are tired of the precautions, but now is not the time to let down our guard. We are in the final minutes of the game, and the score is tied. We must keep up our defense until we regain possession of the ball. Then we can slam it home for the final victory.

We must continue to hold the line.

Hold the Line—CoronaLife Day 376

Sometimes in life you can feel change coming. It comes slowly, inching along…until all of a sudden it flips, and it’s like you are rolling downhill. I feel rather like that with this virus right now. We have a vaccine, people are taking it…but I’m not seeing any effect.

Case rates are at best plateaued where I live, at worst climbing a bit. We are at a transmission rate of 1.09, when we need to be below one, ideally closer to 0.8. We have gotten a second case of Covid in our school (thankfully only 2 since all this began), just as we are all hoping for things to get better. I feel that we are at a tipping point…but I’m not sure which way we will fall.

Honestly, I was hoping to see a greater impact from the vaccinations at this point. And maybe that’s just me not understanding how this all works. Maybe the plateau is because of the vaccines. I was hoping, though, to see a steady decrease in cases as the vaccination rate went up.

Now, the vaccines were not tested to see if they stopped transmission, and with the new variants that are more contagious, maybe the transmission rate is higher than expected. The vaccines WERE intended to decrease hospitalizations and deaths, but both of those are lagging indicators, and I don’t expect to see impact from them for a while.

But I also feel like people have given up, have stopped taking precautions. Like, “The vaccine is here, and so is spring, so let’s just pretend everything is normal.” And that might be one reason why the cases aren’t going down.

We need to hold the line.

I know people are sick of it. I am sick of it, exhausted of the precautions and the remote learning and not seeing my parents often. I get it. We’re tired and we’re fed up.

But we need to hold the line—just for a few more weeks.

We are at the tipping point in this fight. But the vaccines aren’t a cure-all, they were never meant to be a silver bullet, and we all still have to do our part. Even after we’re vaccinated. If we can hold the line just a little longer, we will tip this thing in our favor.

For all that lots of people are being vaccinated, many of us aren’t eligible yet. I won’t be for possibly another month or more. And none of our kids are, and probably won’t be until fall.

So please, for me, for my kid, hold the line just a little longer. Wear the mask. Keep the distance. Stay home as much as possible. The longer people ignore the precautions, the longer the end of this will take to arrive.

We’re so close.

Just hold the line.

Civil War—CoronaLife Day 369

In the year 1292, Scotland had a problem: it had no direct heir to the throne. There were multiple claimants, but how to choose between them? King Edward I of England, who desired to claim Scotland as his own, kindly offered to choose between the claimants, and promptly chose the one who would swear fealty to him, making Edward overlord of both England and Scotland, with Scotland in the subservient condition.

This caused more problems. King John Balliol, Edward’s pick, was disliked by a large portion of the population because they were furious that Scotland had been handed to her hereditary enemy. But Scotland was full of Anglo-Norman nobles, who held land in both countries and therefore wanted the merger. So a double war broke out.

The Scottish Wars of Independence, headed first by William Wallace, then by the future King Robert the Bruce, mirrored America’s Revolution in many ways. But it also held a second war inside the first, because the nobles who wanted England to rule were also fighting the Scottish armies who were fighting for their freedom. Many a noble family was torn apart by these wars. Robert Bruce himself fought WITH the English before finally switching to the Scottish side and rising to King. Within noble families, father and son often fought on opposite sides, such as the Earl of Strathearn fighting with Edward of England and getting captured in battle by his own son. Which was lucky for the Earl, since his son begged mercy for his father of Robert Bruce and thus saved his father’s life.

Scotland won her freedom, although she did eventually merge with England when the Scottish King James the VI inherited the throne of England to become King James I of England in 1603. Today, Scotland is semi-autonomous, with its own Parliament, and a movement is growing to vote to break from England completely. This time, any break with England will be significantly less bloody, and hopefully peaceful, leaving families intact.

We in America have heard of the family fractures in our Civil War, with brother fighting against brother. Like Scotland and England, the warring sides came together afterwards.

The past 4 years, with Trump in office, we have seen the outbreak of civil strife again. Families once again fractured, and old national scars burst wide open. I have to wonder if, unlike Scotland and England, we never did really heal from the Civil War, and instead just buried the old resentments to fester. The same questions seem to be raised now as then: Who holds the power in America? When it says “We the people,” does it mean the rich, or all of us? What does freedom mean in America? When it says “all men are created equal” exactly which men does it mean? The questions of justice and equality and equity are as stark now as they were in 1861, even if the context looks different.

I admit that some days the American divide depresses me. I so clearly see two Americas inside the same borders, and I despair that we can live together, the ideas held are so different. But other days, I read history and I see the bloody conflicts that tore countries and families apart, and see eventual peace and hope. Maybe, someday, historians will look back at this epoch of American life and be able to say that our country managed to heal and move forward together, knitting the wounds closed once and for all.

The story of whether we remain the United States, or whether we evolve peacefully into separate but allied nations is yet unwritten. We each have our part in history to play. Choose your path wisely.

The future is watching us.

New Starts—CoronaLife Day 362

It is coming up on a year of coronalife for me. I started counting the day my daughter’s school shut. Other people have slightly different timelines. But about a year ago, life drastically changed for all of us.

This week, as well as marking the end of an incredibly long year, has also seen some new starts. The weather where I live has been warm, with a breath of spring on the air. Daffodils and crocuses are blooming, and people are wearing light coats or even none at all. It is much easier to take a walk when not trussed up like a sausage.

I am helping an adopted friend find her bio family. We have determined her mother, and are close to finding her father. So that, too, is a new start. A new family, and a new journey of getting to know who she is, who they are, and who they may be together.

My mother retired in January, and lamented the loss of her work laptop. So my brother’s family and mine bought her a new one as a retirement gift. I have spent many hours already on the phone helping her get it set up, since the virus means I can’t just pop over there this weekend to do it myself. (Me being tech support is not new, LOL.)

A year into pandemic life, there is finally something new in the air: hope. People are getting vaccinated. My folks have gotten their first shots. My husband just got his second. 10% of my state are fully vaccinated, with another nearly 10% having gotten their first dose. While the need for precautions is just as strong as ever, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

So this week has seen many a new start. I hope to build on these fresh starts to find a new way forward this year, and build a more productive and less stressed life. My greatest wish would be for my creativity to come back. The anxiety and demands of coronalife crushed it. As the weather warms and we begin breathing easier, maybe it will come back

That is the new start I long to see.

Marching On—CoronLife Day 355

It is hard to believe we are in March of 2021 already. It is also hard to believe we are approaching a year of the pandemic. Some people have already marked the first year, depending what their marker is. For me, it is the week the schools closed in March. That’s when my family’s world shifted.

My daughter was home every day. My husband switched to working from home. I had to figure out how to snag a spot for grocery pickup (it was as bad as trying to get a vaccine appointment for a while). Everything stopped, but at the same time the change was moving at lightspeed. Life became disorienting and stressful, with even minor things that had been on autopilot now taking a great deal of conscious thought.

Now we are about a year in. Vigilance is still necessary, but we have learned. We have learned what activities are safe, what risks we are willing to take (this differs from person to person), what precautions to ingrain in our habits. Will I ever be able to feel comfortable standing closer than 6 feet from someone again? How weird will it be to someday be able to leave the masks at home, gathering dust in a drawer?

The stress has morphed throughout the year. It started as near-panic, and the steep learning curve of living in our new reality. As we got used to working from home, learning from home, shopping from home, zooming from home, the stress became a steady thrum of “stay safe” in the background of our lives. We learned to deal with too much togetherness and too little emotional and mental space. Creatives either saw their Muses flourish, or saw them flee (mine fled). And losing one’s creative outlet is another kind of stress.

Finally, we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, and the stress has shifted again. Now the scarcity of vaccines is causing stress as people scramble to get their loved ones protected. We spend hours on sites trying to snag appointments that disappear as fast as concert tickets on Ticketmaster. And we brace ourselves against pandemic fatigue, the very real desire to just toss all precautions to the wind and forget for a while.

But we cannot let down our guard. The pandemic is not over, it is not done, and it will find those moments of forgetfulness and gleefully infect a new batch of people—perhaps creating a new and deadlier variant in the process. We must stand strong for a while longer. Just a few more months, then we can perhaps breathe easier without worrying what respiratory droplets we are breathing in. We will not achieve full return to normalcy in a few months, but we should be much closer. We should be in the middle of the end of the pandemic.

So in the meantime, I am simply marching on. I am distracting myself with my genealogy work. Today I have spent a long time with 9th- to 11th-century Norwegian Jarls of Orkney and the Norse Dukes of Normandy. All I can say is that with all the fighting warring, and raiding everyone did back then, it’s a wonder any of us are here at all.

So as I march with them into their next battle, I urge us all not to give up our current battle. The vaccine cavalry, with all its delivery flaws, has arrived, but the war is far from won. Stay strategic. Stay strong. Stay safe.

I want all of us to be here a year from now, when the end of the end of this pandemic will be behind us.

Do What You Can—CoronaLife Day 348

Everyone I know is hitting the pandemic wall. As we approach a year of CoronaLife, many of us have exhausted our reserves of patience, grace, and stay-insidedness. I, for one, have actually felt worse anxiety and stress since the vaccines came out, a desperate feeling of “so near and yet so far.” Like starving on the street and seeing food on the other side of a shop window.

So seeing as I—and many of us—am mentally and emotionally drained, it is hardly surprising that my creativity has crashed and burned. As much as I want to get to writing, I just have nothing in the tank nor the quiet space needed to go there. I am far from alone in this—many, many writers have commented on the same phenomenon. They have the time to write, but just…can’t.

Not being able to write drives me to berate myself often. The lack of productivity makes me feel not like myself, further unsettling me in this time of upheaval. So what’s a writer to do?

Do what you can.

For me, I decided to turn to non-fiction and my favorite hobby, genealogy. Many years ago, I published a book on my father’s side of the family. I began one for my mother, but never seemed to complete it. This month, I decided to try and get to THE END.

I have revamped several chapters, including updated information newly discovered since last time I looked at it, including indicating which ancestral couples have DNA matches to them. I am now wading through the rest of the chapters, finding them in various states of disarray. Some are written but the source citations are missing, some are partly written, and one hasn’t even been started yet.

Years ago I made a hasty mistake that has come back to haunt me (and would cause all of my college professors to cry). I failed to source my notes. You see, my mother’s line leads back to royalty, so a number of her families have a substantial amount of scholarly research on them. I read some of the works, jotted down notes in my genealogy program, made note of the book’s citation—and didn’t cite page numbers. Even worse, I didn’t cite which pieces of information came from which book, and just had a long prose piece on each person that mixed all the info together.

I have placed orders with the Interlibrary Loan people (who got these books for me before), and hopefully as they come in I can scan them quickly and reunite facts with sources. With my luck, all the books will arrive at the same time, and then I will have only 2 weeks to go through 6 books. I also ordered 2 books via ILL that were completely new and I will have to read in full to write the chapter that I haven’t even started yet.

So far, my plan has been fruitful. I am making progress and feeling productive. A little bit like my pre-pandemic self.

So for all of you, writers or not, who are struggling to feel more like yourself, know that aspiring to pre-pandemic productivity and goals right now may be making you feel worse rather than better. And if it is—as it was with me—take my advice and reset your goal:

Just do what you can.

Stress Test—CoronaLife 341

I took my first cardiac stress test today. For those who have never had one, you walk on a treadmill. It’s slow at first, then gets faster and the incline gets steeper, all to push your heart rate up while you are being monitored so the doctors can look for abnormalities in your heart function.

I didn’t die. And nothing abnormal was found (as expected).

I got to thinking, though, that this entire last year has been a stress test. The building racial inequality crisis, the unrelenting nature of a pandemic, the political divisions ending in violence in Washington. If all that isn’t stressful, I don’t know what it.

This thought was reinforced as I sat in the waiting room while the doctor looked at my results. Three older people, all in their 70s, were there with me. They were talking amongst themselves, socially distanced, masked. And one of them says, “I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Back in the day, there was stability. Now…nobody knows what’s going to happen.” The others agreed with him.

I agreed with him.

All this chaos, all this hardship, all this upheaval…it’s bringing in something new. A new world. There is no guarantee it will be a better world than the old. I don’t worry for myself so much. I am 50 years old; I can handle what comes my way. I worry for my daughter. She has already had a year of her childhood stolen from her. How will the continuing spasms of change warp the remainder of her childhood? What sort of a world will she step into as an adult?

We are all in a stress test.

And the results are going to determine the future of America, the world, and my daughter.

We need to get the diagnosis and treatment right.

The In-Between—CoronaLife Day 334

Have you ever been sick for a few days or more? Long enough for it to really drain you? As you recover, there is a time I call the in-between, where your spirit has rallied, but your body isn’t there yet. It is a restless, impatient time, where you WANT to do things, you feel READY to do things…but you don’t have the stamina or strength to do those things. It usually only lasts a few days, but it is an incredibly frustrating time.

I am in the in-between right now. I have not been physically ill (thankfully), but I have been in a creative slump for many years now. It started in November 2016. I am not the only creative deeply affected by that election and the years that followed. My anxiety ratcheted up, and that always saps my creative energy. Still, I was able to work in spurts—I would be very productive for a week or two, then crash back into nothing.

The pandemic wiped me out completely. Lockdowns, remote schooling, anxiety overload…I had not a drop of anything left for creating. I went from berating myself for not doing ENOUGH to berating myself for not doing ANYTHING. It got to the point where, when I turned 50, I thought, “Maybe I should just be done with this. I clearly don’t have what it takes.”

But.

I am stubborn. And I am still here.

The vaccine—as imperfect as the rollout has been—is promising a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Promising a time when we might get back to something approaching normalcy. And, after the horrific events of January 6th, having Biden sworn in successfully has slowly brought me some peace. Promising a time when we as neighbors can talk to each other again without insults, without shouting. When we can listen to understand, not just to respond.

Thus, I find myself once again at the in-between. I am, finally, feeling like I WANT to work on my projects. However, my writing muscles, so long out of use, are flabby and weak. It will take more time for me to have the strength of mind to get back to my work. So for now I am poking at one project, then another, trying to see which of them sparks something. Maybe I will round-robin them for a while—write a scene here, edit a chapter there, wonder what the heck I was even thinking on the other. When I first started writing, I always had more than one story going at the same time. It kept me from getting stuck, because if I did I would jump to another until I figured out the problem. When I got older and the demands of adulthood and motherhood constrained my time, I focused on one project at a time, just so I could finish.

The in-between is painful. It is frustrating. But it is also hopeful.

Maybe it’s not time to hang up this dream after all.

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