Wednesday, January 12, 2022

My COVID-19 Saga

Happy New Year! When I last wrote, I was full of hope for 2022. Unfortunately, the year got off to a very disappointing start, as my family succumbed to COVID. I almost wrote finally succumbed. There was a definite sense of inevitability as it dawned on me, through heavy brain fog, what it was that ailed me. Today is the family's first day out of isolation, and I'm trying to get my head back on straight and process what happened to us. Forgive me as I completely abandon Austen for the moment and use this forum as a place to record and reflect on the experience.

It's really difficult to know where to begin.

My husband and I are double vaccinated. We had appointments to get boosters (now rescheduled for next week), but because of the Swiss system of eligibility, we could not have legally gotten them within this country in time to avoid infection. My brother-in-law, who lives in Germany and received his booster just about a week before we got sick, was with us over Christmas, while we were all infected, and repeatedly tested negative.

First my son got sick, and on his birthday, poor little guy, but it did not appear to be COVID. He had a sudden fever which went down quickly with medication and dissipated completely over the next 24 hours. No other symptoms. I wrote this off as another of the many common, mysterious childhood ailments that circulate in nursery schools. Fortunately, everyone was home for the holidays (when everything, including most test centers, are closed here) and not socializing outside the house, anyway. Then my daughter complained about headache, ear ache, and throat ache, but only when she was bored. As she danced about the house the rest of the time, I did not worry. She has a history of anxiety headaches, and she was starting a new school on January 3rd. This seemed the more reasonable explanation for her discomfort. Then, suddenly, my ears started to ache. I thought it could be sinus pressure, but it felt different. More like a dull ache in the ear canal itself than the far too customary throbbing from my sinus cavities. John said he felt off, maybe sick. Alarms were starting to knell in my head, but it was now his birthday, and he seemed to be rallying, so we proceeded with our cooking and feasting plans. Shortly before dinner, I said I needed a quick nap. I pretty much slept for the next 48 hrs. Fortunately, John was not as debilitated as me. He and the kids managed to enjoy a cozy New Year at home sans Mama, and for that I am grateful.

I do not know what variant we had because of the difficulty accessing full testing options over the holidays, but I can tell you what it felt like. It was certainly what is referred to as mild COVID. I had no fever or trouble breathing. It did not feel like the common cold or rhinovirus, to which I'm susceptible. The brain fog, as mentioned, was prevalent, but it wasn't only effecting the clarity of my thoughts. My entire head felt kind of vacuous: a strange sense of emptiness. "Fog" is an inadequate descriptive. The lack of mucous left my nose feeling voided, and the sensation seemed to penetrate outward until it pressed against my skull, causing a dull but constant pain. I had never felt anything like it before, and because of the novelty of the sensation, I pretty much knew exactly what I had before the test confirmed it. After I woke up and rejoined the world, I continued to have short waves of sickness over the next several days, despite otherwise feeling pretty normal. By the end of the week, this had passed, but then, seemingly suddenly, both John and I lost our sense of taste and smell.

This is terribly disconcerting.

I am the buyer and preparer of my children's food. How can I pick out fruit, when I can't even smell sour milk? I also can't tell if they need a bath, or smell smoke from the fire.

The good news is that we seem to be slowly regaining our sense of taste. I can now vaguely taste cheddar cheese (my favorite), when I couldn't a week ago. I can tell if I brushed my teeth or not. All this is a strong indicator that we will recover. I cling to that thought and look forward to the day that I can bring a vast new appreciation to every thing I taste and smell. May it be soon! We're a foodie family. I don't know what we do without that joy in our lives.

Other good news: though my daughter was horribly disappointed to not be able to begin school in person on the 3rd, we found the new school's home learning plan massively superior to what we had before. She was very happy and surprisingly calm when I dropped her off this morning. This afternoon, she takes her first ever school bus ride (they are not common here). She's so excited, and so I am. I can't wait to hear all about it.

So that's the bulk of my saga. To cope with isolation, we went ahead and celebrated Christmas again last weekend. We made gifts for each other and cooked up another feast (which the kids tell us tasted good). We also watched the entire Harry Potter film collection while running about the place on broomsticks fashioned out of old wrapping paper rolls. We had fun, but thank goodness it's over.

Now to start picking up the dropped pieces of my life. I should probably start by taking down the Christmas tree. It's dried to a crisp, and I can't smell smoke.

May 2022 fulfil all my best hopes for it, despite this inauspicious start. I wish you all health, happiness, and Austen galore. Next week ...

Monday, December 20, 2021

Happy Holidays

This will be my last post of the year. I give myself time off to completely indulge in the joys of the season. First I'd like to offer my The Madness of Mr. Darcy continuation, Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present, for free Kindle download. The promotion will begin tomorrow and end on the 25th. Merry Christmas!

I had grand ambitions of writing a new Christmas story or poem parody, as I used to in days of old, but that did not happen. Schade. So how about a few quick limericks, instead? I only spent maybe twenty minutes on these, so forgive the quality (that's why I chose limerick as my medium: it's forgiving). This was inspired by chapter 21 of Pride and Prejudice

Whilst proclaiming the utmost sincerity,
Miss Bingley's lacks it transparently.
Gaieties still abound
Without her around.
Our Christmas relies not on her verity.

But then we think of the other,
Who left Jane's heart torn asunder.
Since he suffers, too,
(as he ought to do),
Let the sister be blamed for the brother.

Jane Austen commands us most cleverly
To forgive weakness and behaviors unmannerly,
When justified
By pride mollified
And the beauty of the grounds at Pemberley.
For slightly more (only slightly) cerebral Christmas offerings, check out the afore mentioned parodies, written about a decade ago:

(warning: this one is kind of depressing)

Happy and healthy holidays to all, however you celebrate, wherever you are. I'll catch you in 2022.

Monday, December 6, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week Four, a week late

Even as I feel fairly positive about my improvement over last year's performance, I really checked out that last week. Between the school stuffs, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah starting so early, I never quite finished those last few scenes I meant to write. I totalled out at 12,649 words, but that does not reflect the huge leaps I made in turning three novels into one, functioning story. The manuscript is in a much more tolerable state now. From the NaNoEditMo perspective, this is something to celebrate, and so I shall.

Today is the last day of Hanukkah (last night was the final candle) , and now my mind is fully engrossed in Christmas. I'm terribly behind on preparations (same tune, new lyrics), but I ought to catch up. Samichlaus visits my children in school today, bringing sacks of tasty treats. The Christmas markets are mostly open and accessible. It's lovely visiting them once more.

It is uncertain how much writing I will continue to accomplish amidst all the upcoming hubbub, but I will try to stick to my mostly regular blogging. I also want to dig back into the Mixed-up Mashup conundrum. It would be wonderful to finish it this year, but I won't hold my breath. 

Here is a very short, very rough excerpt from the beginning of the now nearly finished rough copy of Tales of Pride and Prejudice. I'd love to hear your thoughts:

Pemberley, January 1791

It was a cold-hearted visitor for whom Pemberley, at any time, was an unimpressive sight to behold, but only those so fortunate as to be included in the estate’s annual Twelfth Night celebrations knew the house in all its glory. One wondered how the surrounding woods could remain so lush, when surely a hefty percentage of the foliage had been harvested and moved indoors, there to festoon every window pane, stairwell, and mantelpiece. With all the multitudes of candles alight and the torches lining the drive blazing forth towards the sky, every invitee who traversed that fiery avenue knew that their evening would be one they should not soon forget.

However, that time had not yet come. The day was still young, and though all the greenery was already in place, casting its festive atmosphere, the only sound of merriment currently ringing through those hallowed halls were those emanating from young Mr. Wickham, son of the estate’s steward, who ran through the gallery, laughing all the while, and down the servant’s stair, concealed behind a tapestry. The young master of the house, normally a proper enough gentleman, was in hot pursuit of the imp, who had moments before pilfered his favorite toy soldier. His progress was impeded by a most effective obstacle: the great form of his aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, her dear friend, Augusta Westingham, both of whom were currently guests of the house, and, most formidably, his mother, Lady Anne Darcy, who frowned down at him disapprovingly. “What is this, Fitzwilliam? I expect an explanation for such unruly behavior.”

Young Fitzwilliam Darcy reddened with shame under the glare of his mother’s reproach. He knew he had behaved wrongly, and past experience had already taught him that no explanation he attempted would pacify his mother’s pique, but he was only eight, and he felt all the indignation of being the wronged party, unfaiurly held to account while the true perpetrator got away, and struggle though he might, he could not contain his indignation. 

“George was in my room again, Mother. It is all his fault … ”

“Yes,” she interrupted. “I saw him come careening through before you, but in what way can his uncouth behavior in anyway account your lack of conduct? I expect more from my son.”

“You ought not allow Mr. Darcy to so indulge that young rascal,” Lady Catherine inserted, never one to be left out of a conversation. “T’will come to now good, as I have warned him time and again.”

Lady Anne ignored her sister, an art in which she was well practiced. “Do you think the conduct becoming Mr. Wickham’s son is on par with what is expected from the heir of Pemberley? Is this how the sprig of a noble tree presents himself to the world?”

The boy hung his head. “No, ma’am.”

“Never forget who you are, Fitzwilliam. Now, it is past time you were dressed for the children’s party. It will not do for your guests to begin without you.”

“Yes, Mother,” and without further objection, the young master obeyed, retreating, if not with noble hauteur, than at least at a far more sedate pace than that at which he had charged forth, mere minutes before.

“Try not to be too hard on him, Anne,” commented Augusta, once the young gentleman was gone. “He is just a boy. It is a short lived phase that they grow out of it all too soon.”

“Youth is a dangerous excuse for not knowing one’s place,” retorted Lady Anne. “I will speak to George about young Wickham. He becomes more unruly by the day.”

“You should witness the antics in which my nephew James engages. The young rascal will be the death of my poor brother. He won’t heed a word he says.”

“I have broached this subject with Sir James,” Lady Catherine confided. “I warned him it is far easier to break a colt while he is young, but your brother will spoil the boy so! He shall grow quite impossible as he ages,” she predicted.

“Nonsense!” laughed Augusta, well used to her friend’s interference and not at all intimidated by it. “Never have I known a more charming young scamp.” She sighed longingly. “I begin to fear I shall never have one of my own.”

“You are yet young woman Augusta,” reassured Lady Catherine. “Have you tried that tea I suggested?”

“I assure you that I have tried everything that has been suggested by either the doctor or you, Catherine. I have been pushed and prodded far beyond the bounds of decency. So far, it has all been to little avail.”

“Yes, we have all been inspected and examined. It is most unpleasant.”

Mrs. Westingham sighed. “But at least you both have something to show for such invasions.”

“You assume too much, Augusta,” Lady Anne said. “Fitzwilliam sprang into existence with little enough fuss.  I have been expecting five times since his birth. Nothing has come of it,” she concluded sadly.

Mrs. Westingham eyed her suspiciously. “Not nothing, I should say. That emerald set Mr. Darcy bestowed upon you deserves some attention.”

“The emeralds are inadequate consolation,” she responded seriously, but understanding her friend’s desire to lighten the suddenly sour mood, continued, “but do not take that to imply that I am anything but exceedingly pleased with my Christmas present from George.”

“It was the least he could do after your sufferings!” Lady Catherine continued, not knowing when to let sleeping dogs lay. “I, too, have endured my share of medical intrusions, and I begin to doubt the doctors have the slightest notion as to what they are doing. I, for one, am done with being experimented upon. For all we know, it is the gentlemen whose health is to blame. Why not badger their poor persons for a while, instead of ours? Besides, the future is already secure. Anne shall marry Fitzwilliam, and they will united the two estates.”

“I see you have it all organized, Catherine,” Lady Anne said, inspecting her older sister quizzically. “Shall they have nothing to say about it? What shall you do if he cannot like her, and she elopes with your rector?”

Mrs. Westingham laughed, the argument about the futures of Anne de Bourgh and Fitzwilliam Darcy already being an old source of disagreement between the sisters. “Shall you wear the emeralds this evening, Anne?”

That lady happily assented and began regaling the others with tales of her gown, future speculations and old sorrows forgotten for a moment, as they all set their minds upon the imminent delights before them.

Monday, November 22, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week Three (Going to School)

Thomas Rowlandson, "Dr. Syntax Visits a
Boarding School for Young Ladies," 1821.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Well! Currently at 10,973 words. I think it is very safe to say I will not be "winning" NaNo this year. That's ok. I am going to have a complete rough draft. Finally! I have one more big scene to fill in.

That being said, I haven't written a word since Thursday, when we attended a parent's night at my daughter's school. This was not routine. It was held in response to an ongoing situation in her class. Unfortunately, I did not hear what I needed to from the principal, who pretty much gave the parents the run around. It was very disappointing, and it raised the stakes for this week, when my daughter is visiting a private bilingual school for three days. It is the only school we've found that both fits our requirements and can take her in January. I so hope she likes it, and that they like her.

So this past weekend was totally focused on shoring up the family and doing my best to encourage good spirits in this week ahead. This amidst rising COVID cases (again) and my annual frantic attempt to recreate Thanksgiving abroad. I will be very well satisfied with a completed rough draft, thank you.

Disease and school: when Austen springs to mind upon the flimsiest of excuses, this one screams to be addressed. The good news is that, no matter how acute my daughter's current situation may feel, it is not fatal. Jane Austen's time at school did prove fatal to her aunt, however, which does a great deal to put my current concerns into perspective.

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School—not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. - Emma, Chapter Three

Austen went to two different school in her formative years. The first, Mrs. Crawley's school in Oxford, she was sent to in 1782, when only seven years old. Maybe she refused to be parted from Cassandra, also on her way as a companion to their cousin, Jane Cooper, maybe not. This was the explanation Mrs. Austen used to employ when questioned on the subject.

While the three girls attended, the location of the school was relocated to Southampton, due to a measles outbreak in Oxford. But bad luck followed them and a "putrid fever" soon swept through the school.  Perhaps this was diphtheria. Jane Cooper wrote home (no communication from Mrs. Crawley 😡), and Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Austen went to Southampton to rescue their girls. The girls all recovered, but Mrs. Cooper was dead from the infection within the year. 

Side note: we now routinely provide diphtheria vaccinations to babies. Isn't that wonderful?

This experience didn't totally sour the Austens on female education, and both girls were sent to another school for a year or so, largely remembered by history for its fraudulent French mistress. This experience proved less dramatic, but the adult Austen expressed a negative opinion of girl's schools and the superficiality of the education obtained at such institutions. Proper education, she repeatedly implies, is gained through extensive reading. 

I love it when history puts my own sorry woes into such clear and stark contrast. My daughter will undoubtedly receive an education, a right only recently guaranteed to children, let alone girls, who are still denied this opportunity in too many parts of the world. This is a great blessing, and I never want to take it for granted. My daughter is unlikely to contract a deathly disease while at school, though certainly more likely than she was a few years ago. This is also (mostly) a blessing. Thank goodness for modern medicine! And on that note, I'm going to try and write this last scene. It just so happens to begin in a Regency Era girl's school (it was recommended by Mr. Darcy, so you know it is one of the better examples of this sort of establishment). How perfectly synchronistic! Til next week ...

Monday, November 15, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week Two (In the ballroom)

Hmmm. As of 9:45 AM, Monday morning, I still have no stunning results to share, though I have, at least, passed last year's total. Let's see if I can't make this number slightly less abysmal before this post goes live, shall we? I shall report back. In the meantime, I require inspiration.

Balls, balls, balls. My NaNoWriMo social calendar is excessively full. Most of the scenes needing to be written take place in the ballroom, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. Maybe I should rename this book Dancing at Pemberley? But no: I want to have the continuity of the Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice name, so it is clear that this is a rewrite. This is, of course, assuming Amazon doesn't give me a hard time about the title. Think it's worth the fight?

But I digress (or procrastinate, take it as you will). I need ballroom inspiration to set the scene through at least three more I'm writing into the book. Most of these are Twelfth Night balls, which I have proclaimed an annual Pemberley tradition. So first things first: what would they be wearing? This is a bit of a mess, for some torturous reason I have set the opening scene in 1791, at a time when fashions were rapidly changing (read more about it here). Just compare these two portraits by George Romney, painted four years apart.

Mrs. Mark Currie, 1791.

Anna Maria Hunt, 1793.

So I am envisioning a mix of styles on this occasion, the older people still in wigs and panniers, while the younger guests have long abandoned powder and voluminous skirts for those styles that are the precursors to the Regency fashions we all love so much. By the time Elizabeth has become Mrs. Darcy and is making her debut in society, her attire might have looked something like this:

La Belle Assemblée, 1811.

Now, what would they have been listening/dancing too? This changed less drastically over the years, though the waltz (which I wrote about here) was becoming fashionable towards the end of my tale. This playlist should keep me in the right mood for a while, at least:

At twenty til noon, I am at 6,936 words. Pretty pathetic, but I did finished the opening ball scene, so I can abandon the 18th century for the far more familiar 19th. That's progress. I really don't think I'll hit the 50,000 word goal. Honestly, if I just walk away with a complete first draft, I will be very well satisfied. But, hypothetically, if I were to write another 43,064 words this month, I would need to clock over 2,800 words every day for the rest of the month. My current average is 455. It's not impossible. I have done it before. Let's see where I am in a week ...

Monday, November 8, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week One

Hello to all, and a special thanks to those of you left messages of support last week. It was very encouraging.

The first week wasn't half bad. I logged a rather unimpressive 3,302 words, but there are mitigating circumstances that make me feel pretty good about what I have accomplished, even as the overall word count fails to inspire:

  • I had not even opened the document since December 2020, a fact I was rather shocked to realize when I retrieved the file in a week ago. I have mostly been rereading the 150,000 words I already wrote. I am about 2/3rds through.
  • I have been coping with a very difficult situation at my daughter's school, which necessarily eats up a healthy chunk of my free time, as well as draining me emotionally. There is no resolution in sight, and the fact that I am able to write at all is, frankly, amazing. Maybe things will look brighter on this front next week (I've got my fingers crossed).
  • I am within 1000 words of beating my abysmal total word count from 2020. The numbers might be small, but this is an important goal. It means I'm on the right track, if nothing else.
This week I will finish reading the document and starting composing the new scenes in my head. If I'm lucky, they'll simply pour forth. I'll let you know how it goes.

Until then, some inspiration:

Monday, November 1, 2021

NaNoWriMo begins today ...

I actually have a pretty awesome NaNoWriMo track record. 2012 was the first year I participated, and it was spontaneous. I created my account November 1st and wrote 50,042 words, just sneaking past the goal line on the last day of the month. 2013 was better. I soared past the official 50,000 word goal logging a total of 82,122 words! How did I do that? Oh, yeah. I nearly lost my mind.

In 2014 I wrote 57,626 words. I took 2015 off to move to Europe. In 2016, I snuck in 50,080 words while 8 months pregnant. In 2017, with an almost one year old at my feet, I wrote an impressive 76,706 words. I held strong in 2018, with 54,125 words logged.

All this is important to remember, because the last three years have been pretty abysmal. Obviously, I can't blame the pandemic for my total lack of participation in 2019 (I think I was studying for a German exam? That sounds good. Let's stick with it), but I can totally blame the pandemic for my poor showing in 2020, when I didn't even log 5,000 words! That is such a disheartening number, especially with my history with this event, and especially with all the other many challenges I was juggling through those years of NaNo success. My path isn't exactly clear and easy for 2021. What is to say it will go any better?

Well, I have been writing this year, unlike last year, even if not as much as I should. With my partner back in the office at least occasionally, and the kids' school schedules usually pretty predicable, my brain has been able to reorganize itself to some degree. Blogging weekly here has been very helpful, and I feel deep gratitude to those of you who stop by regularly and maybe even sometimes comment. It makes me feel more accountable to someone beyond my tiny family circle, where so much of my attention remains fixated. I've been having fun working on the Mixed-Up Mashup piece (I'm still rather amazed to find myself reengaged in this long-abandoned train wreck), though I do not have near enough time to devote to it as I would like. 

From where will this time miraculously materialize? I haven't the foggiest. I've made no special arrangements to write this month, beyond asking the man to go into the office a few extra times. A shake up in my daughter's schooling is consuming a vast deal of time and energy, thoroughly squashing my pipe dream of escaping alone to a cottage for a few days to write. And I haven't picked up my poor Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice manuscript, which will be my project for the third time running, since last year. I plan to reread it this weekend, amidst all the Halloween hoopla. Good luck to me!

But I am supposed to be building myself up, and all this self-defeating talk is throughly contradictory to that goal. How about this? Since this blog is functioning like an accountability buddy anyway, maybe I make that relationship explicit this month? I will report back here each Monday with my progress, however little or much. Perhaps it will serve to keep me motivated. There are NoNoWriMo tools intended to do this, but they feel like procrastination fodder to me. I do like the timed writing sprints, but I'm not even sure they are still featured on the site. 

If any of you (and I have a few suspects in mind) are NaNoWriMoing this year, please make sure we are buddies. My profile name is Alexa Adams. Easy enough. 

Oh. And though it has barely maintained the slightest presence in my thoughts, I did offer a giveaway. And the winner is: Mary Smythe! Congratulations Mary. I'll be in touch soon.

Now it's time to write. Please wish me luck! I'm gonna need it.