Life Under Lockdown: Every Little Thing

 

Trends that develop in the Lower 48 usually take a while to reach Alaska. For example, even though Seattle is in quite close proximity (three hours by air), their silly sagging pants fashion required a bit of getting used to by people in the habit of covering up to keep warm. So it was a good year, maybe even two before the doltish amongst us decided to experiment with taking penguin strides in order to keep their belts from falling down their thighs.

The novel Corona virus, on the other hand, required no such persuasion: it simply hopped on people and their belongings like so many nasty little stowaways as travelers went back and forth for Spring Break, involuntarily and unknowingly providing the little bu**ers with transportation. Not everyone travelled: My son’s excursion to Italy and Greece was cancelled the week before, perhaps more because parts of Italy were locked down and in pretty bad shape, than because we knew, then, how out of control things would become.

Truthfully, in some ways I’ve been very much luckier than a lot of other people. I qualified to hang up the “And just like that, I became essential personnel” meme and continued to go to work every day. My son, on the other hand, stayed home and discovered how much he loathed distant learning. Of course, this wasn’t like the computer-based classes I engaged in in college: at that time I could walk out the front door and go anywhere I pleased when I was done. This kid, though, had to stay home all day, every day, growing more bored and lonely with each passing sunrise. There was plenty to do, but I’ll be the first to concede the weight of this state of mind is horrendous, and doing it is easier said than done. I did keep telling him to go outside on the deck, and a few times forced him to go on walks, which he resisted. I started to realize he was sinking deeper than I had first understood.

I’ve passed through this state myself – it’s awful. How does one describe the dual-minded awareness within which you know something like getting busy outside could help, or engaging in a hobby you really love, but just can’t muster up the will to do it? What if you really are inclined to just stay where you are but don’t have what might be referred to as “the luxury” to remain in bed? (I haven’t yet developed the language to describe what I can still only refer to as a cloud that hangs heavily over me, almost as if it weighs me down to the spot.) I have a son to support, so had to perform some mental gymnastics to push myself out of bed, though in my case this was exacerbated by COVID, not initiated. At work, I found myself almost zombie-like, under tremendous pressure to function properly, and by the end of the day I was so exhausted most evenings I did next to nothing upon reaching home. So I couldn’t become upset with my poor boy; we both had our own burdens, even if each one affected us differently.

But as time continued on and our imprisonment extended into what seemed like an eternity, I felt even more for him, because he is much more extroverted than I am. Even though it wasn’t just a matter of being in the company of others or not, still that affected him. He is pretty social and has made, I am pleased to say, some quality friendships, important relationships. But he yearned for them desperately.

If all that is sounding pretty uninspiring, then this is the opposite: I’ve struggled with this sort of thing before I ever even heard of COVID, so…well, I’d love to say I had some great insight into how to make things better quickly, but I don’t. However, I do know that some days, before and during this time, were better than others. On the days that weren’t so much, I was very lucky in that my son, who is passionate about film, provided me with mental stimulation, at times persuading me out of my metaphorical corner, into an open area in which he could toss ideas out about movies we’d watched, many of which started life as books. That was great for me too because it helped me connect with my own passion: literature and the analysis of it I’d learned to engage in university. He didn’t always find success, but a lot of times he did, and we helped each other find our way back, or at least closer on many days, to where we needed to be.

I had a wonderful time in this city (Click image)

It’s not exactly a happy ever after, but I try to bear it in mind because I know many, many people in this world don’t have what we do: an amazingly close relationship filled with casual and intense conversation about all sorts of topics, uncomfortable included, and we both have—for the most part—been able to be honest with ourselves and each other. It has been thus since before he could even talk, because I communicated with him all the time. I showed him things, asked if he was happy, we went for walks and read together, I taught him a little sign language so he could tell me something of what I knew existed in his mind in instinctive form before he had the words to express it. The beginning of his speech was a very magical time for me because, having started to talk a little and then suddenly stopping, his re-emergence was gigantic, a full sentence that expanded into a river of words explaining exactly how to navigate the idea he was relating to me.

He hasn’t stopped talking since.

As an introvert, there are times I feel overwhelmed by his words, but I try to keep perspective, partly because they went away once and I don’t want that to happen again, and partly because they have provided so much joy and fulfillment for me. He has been able to aid me during my not-so-much days, and I also feel such pleasure at the idea that he could turn his skills into his life’s work and find great success. What parent wouldn’t be thrilled at that?

Another hope I have related to all this is that I have been able to give back to him what he has given me. Some evenings, I really didn’t want to do much of anything, but he persuaded me to watch something or other, a somewhat risky proposition given the high chances of me falling asleep. So often I wanted to just beg off, but didn’t because the kid was starved for company and, even more, someone to share his thoughts with. As mentioned, we had some of the greatest conversations on those evenings, even if I moved into doing some baking (rare for me, I’m more a cook than baker) or other activity.

I’ve loved this book since I read it on an airplane at 16

More recently, I sat at the table while he watched a movie and out of the blue he said, “This is nice!” He liked just being in the company of one another, even though engaged in our own activities. I think it’s because we have our own little ways of acknowledging each other: hair ruffles, me performing exactly what is coming up in a scene, him wandering over and doing something interesting with a ribbon or stamp. One of those occasions led to a conversation about what we’d been doing during quarantine, and we listed as many as we could recall, counting each one as a small (or large) triumph during a time when the ordinary became just a little bit more than that, because the forces that be seemed to be trying to steal them away from us. Reclaiming our lives became a trend that we could get on board with, even if it took us longer than others, even if we had to start anew each day. Every little thing, every victory counts.

Here are a few of my own:

Crafting – I’ve been doing some simple pieces that I’d hoped would lead to others. I started with journal pages.

Binge-watched Breaking Bad— Having rejected it about a year before quarantine, owing to the unsavory content that I really wanted nothing to do with, I surprised myself one evening when Turtle turned it on, I watched a bit passively, then suddenly had to know what happens to Jesse and others. Sure, Jesse is a junkie, the sort of person many dislike, but he was my favorite character and I really grew to care about him.

Went to work— Life has to go on, you know? Our building pretty much cleared out but our section mostly stayed on, which I was very grateful for. I really didn’t want to work at home, as difficult as getting to work on some days became. And it could be rough. But I did it! People were stressed and anxious, but we persevered. I’m really proud of our section.

Finished Outlander – It sort of fell off my radar a year or two ago, mainly because I only had the first season at that time. It had been hard to get because that season typically sold in volumes and they were outrageously priced. Then my son, who is a master Blu Ray shopper and finds fantastic deals in a variety of places (that’s how he built up his own collection), found the complete season in great condition for $5.00. More recently he gifted me the rest of the seasons I now own, which is up until four.

Started a novella – Because, yeah, wrangling to do the research reading and then writing for two works at once isn’t enough, right? I struggle to work on it most of the time (ditto those other two), but I’m determined to get it (and them) done. Lots of the ideas within it come from the conversations Turtle and I have had, and the analysis videos he watches and shares with me.

Baked – I think I said it above: I’m a better cook than a baker. Baking is a very precise science, and I’m afraid I just can’t cut it most of the time. But this reminds me of how, as a teenager, I über focused on drawing, a craft I had pretty much no talent with (and still don’t). However, I vowed to stay the course for one year, and all year I drew my heart out, producing a few pieces that were not too bad. I still have some. Anyway, I sort of went focus lite this time, and made muffins, cake and a couple of different cakey breads, such as pumpkin. I also discovered I actually can make brownies without burning the heck out of every single edge up to an inch in.

Started a junk journal – As in focusing on and actually following the instructions from a video tutorial. I did a couple of practice runs and then started on the real deal.

Began to re-read the Harry Potter series – after Turtle and I both got a bee in our bonnets from watching the movies for the millionth. It’d been quite a long while since either of us had read any of them, and we both started up again.

Spring Cleaning — Not sure where I started, but I know I did end up pulling apart my bedroom, wiped it all down and then put it all back together, rearranged. Did the same for the living room, and then decided to move the (stand-alone) freezer to a completely new spot and out of the kitchen (into the storage area). Also rearranged and re-organized my crafting supplies three times. I think I’m happy with where they are now.

Lots of movie watching – Also unsure of where this began, but one biggie was The Godfather, which my brother showed me when I was a kid and I really didn’t get into it. It’s still not my favorite movie in the world, but I appreciate it a lot more than I did before or even more recently, when I’d tried to watch it with Turts. (Beware the oranges.)

  • The Godfather
  • The Godfather II
  • Inception – from my boy Nolan, whose movies are amongst the very best.
  • Parasite
  • Grand Budapest Hotel – Three times was a charm for this hilarious film.
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower – Surprising line we repeat from this movie a lot: “They’re playing good music!”
  • New Beauty and the Beast
  • Old Beauty and the Beast
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — Brad Pitt becomes a better actor the older he gets.
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • Office Space
  • 1917 – The Great War. Oddly-positioned battalion lines, continuous movement, a day in the life.
  • El Camino – Continuation of Breaking Bad that probably shouldn’t have even been made. But I got my Jesse Pinkman fix in, and don’t regret watching.
  • Little Mermaid
  • Ladri di Biciclette – didn’t finish yet but am really intrigued. (Edited note: Finished it! Wow.)
  • 3 Idiots – Same as above; this movie already had a very poignant moment, intriguing given the title and what it is like so far, and I definitely want to watch the rest.
  • The Odd Couple – A Turtle discovery that I want to see more of: the actor who played a juror in 12 Angry Men is also in it, and I rather liked him in the legal drama, even though his role wasn’t super large.
  • Zodiac – Don’t love Mark Ruffalo, but he did a fantastic job here. Had to be persuaded to watch as serial killer stories scare me, a lot. While this did have some violence in it, the film was more about the mystery of finding the killer as he engaged in cat and mouse with the police. Also amazing: it’s a cartoonist who takes interest in the case because, as he says, he saw it fading away and no one would be brought to justice in the wake of overworked police whose caseloads increase every week.

This might look bad, especially given what I recently wrote about reading…

…but since I drafted this post (about one week ago), I’ve perused the virtual stacks and reserved a bunch of library books. (I have no problem gathering books, looking at them hungrily and wanting to read them – it just rarely happens.) However, I started one yesterday, All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love and Petty Theft, intending just to get a feel for whether I wanted to keep or send it back.

I finished it today.

(Click the image!)

Book Review: Savior

Savior by Martha Kennedy

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

savior-2-edition-coverSavior is Martha Kennedy’s poignant tale of Rudolf and his brother Conrad, inhabitants of thirteenth-century Zürich and a society immersed in religion and warfare. Rudolf suffers from depression, a condition he is counseled comes from Satan and can be eradicated in a fight to save the world from such sin. A local priest explains that with Jerusalem once more in the hands of the infidel, who “wasted no time in desecrating the holy sites and persecuting Christians living within its walls,” fighting these invaders would help to expiate sin and contribute to his salvation.

Kennedy opens Savior with a quote from St. Augustine that reflects Rudolf’s state of mind—“I bore a shattered and bleeding soul,” it reads in part—and a downpour reflecting the emotion, as if nature herself was as anguished. No amount of service to travelers escaping the downpour, or joy in his fiancée, Gretchen, eases Rudolf’s internal torture.

Conrad, on the other hand, is restless and though negative about Gretchen or some content of the minnesingers’ songs, sees a bright future elsewhere, such as under the tutelage of a knight, who could teach him the rules of chivalry. He longs to see the reality behind the travelers’ wonderful stories, so filled with the strange and faraway, the wild and brave. One could easily imagine Conrad delighting in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville had he known of even the outlandish within the travelogue, yet to be published.

Thus begins Rudolf’s aim to join the latest Crusade, following his own examination on the roots of his torment, and Conrad’s in his quest for adventure and something beyond the confines of the Longfields’ estate and his father’s goal for him, to serve his brother as a stable hand.

Image from first edition cover: Herzog von Anhalt from Codex Manesse (Wikimedia Commons)

As the boys prepare to leave, Kennedy alternates between Rudolf and Conrad and their conversations with those who seek to dissuade them. Through expressive, sometimes heartbreaking, dialogue readers are given an internal view to the opposing motivations of each to make the dangerous journey, the same their father had made in his own youth, and which had driven their mother close to the brink: Rudolf, to rid himself of feeling suffocated by the presence of evil, Conrad to “be[come] the hero of his own romance.”

One of the first features I noticed in Savior was the manner in which Kennedy brings to life not only her characters, but also the emotion swirling through so many scenes, while simultaneously managing its effect and keeping it out of the realm of the overwhelming. Readers feel each mood as it hovers, and the author consummately provides the history that we need to know behind each person’s perception.

Despite their opposing motivation both Rudolf and Conrad search for self, and the dialogue, whether between the brothers or one of them and a supporting character, reflects this intuitively. It is as if Kennedy overheard and recorded real conversations rather than created ones that sought to speak from distinct perspectives.

Character growth in Savior is depicted beautifully, largely utilizing the author’s dialogue expertise but also the internal discourse of several characters, including that which plagues and then begins to inform Rudolf as he faces the terrible reality of war, and the now-porous walls of his depressive prison. While his understanding is not exactly as he thought it might be, there is a greater openness to his examination that questions circumstances while retaining the devotion he had always known.

Kennedy wisely allows Rudolf to be the thirteenth-century man he is rather than forcing on him either genuine modern sensibilities or political correctness, while truthfully opening his understanding to the political machinations that had made their way into bonafide belief. The changes wrought by invasion and crusading alters his individual world and eventually society as a whole, and the pain of that transition is felt in Rudolf’s experiences.

Through the current trendiness of Christianity bashing in our own time, it would be easy to label Savior as an indictment of the religion given its early misdirection. While Kennedy does not pull her punches in illuminating the misdeeds of those who abused power and manipulated religiosity, she does also address human failure to recognize the beauty Rudolf’s God desires for him, and how ignorance is the main driver behind misinformation treated as the nature of God.

“Brother Youhanna, did those priests lie when they said my sins would be forgiven if I came to fight the infidel?”

 “Lying? No, yet I doubt they spoke the truth. They spoke from their beliefs, in the limits of their understanding, but Truth is not carried on the edge of a sword.

 “But if the Holy Father in Rome told them, would it not be the truth?”

 Youhanna shrugged.

 Rudolf never imagined the Holy Father could speak anything other than the truth. “What then?”

 “Confusion. Desire. Blindness. Anger. No one is free.”

As historical fiction the novel is top notch. Kennedy brings readers to the brutal Battle of La Forbie where injections of stark prose match what lay out in front of the arriving fighters: too few of them—the Hospitaller leader looks at them “thinking only that they had come to die”—horrendous confidence-destroying heat—shedding layers of protection one at a time, eventually succumbing grievously to, “Who cared if a sniper’s arrow picked them off? They were in Hell now. Death would bring Heaven”—and locals trying to “redeem themselves for the crime of survival.”

From their position on the coast to de Brienne’s impatient and premature strike from a disadvantageous terrain, Kennedy remains true to historic events, smoothly writing in both Conrad and Rudolf’s places in and before the battle. Rudolf experiences a watershed moment, flawlessly written into a scene leading to the moments both he and the fighters have been waiting for. A bridge in the novel, it is filled with an array of memories, sensations, activities and song of the minnesinger, and displays an achingly beautiful passage of time both ghastly and poetic, a combination not often seen done, even less often done as well as it is here.

While Savior is a work of historical fiction set in a time when religion was a way of life and not just part of it, it also is a coming-of-age story, though related within a cultural milieu so different to many of the same stories of today. This is not a Vietnam, or a coming to grips with gruesome urban events, and though it retains the spiritual with its mood and prodigal son angle, it opens itself to readers in its search for truth, an age-old quest, even while appearing in some ways so foreign to what many readers will know, such as medieval attitudes toward mental illness. It is also a book audiences will want to read again and again, it being easily recognizable as one with layers that often reveal themselves upon subsequent visitations, which I highly recommend.

Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)
Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Martha KennedyHer third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area,but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her websiteFacebookAmazonGoodreads, Twitter, or her Savior blog  and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of Savior in exchange for an honest review.

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Photos courtesy of and provided by the author.