December 31

Still Alive!

Yeah, I’m still among the living and finally getting the opportunity to get back to my creative life. Not yet full time, but I’ll now have a little more time to spend on it. 

The past month and a half has been rough. A couple of elderly family members have been declining health-wise and my partner and I are the only ones around to take care of them. That turned out to basically be a full-time job for both of us. We took a couple of weeks off from work in order to have the time and energy to do all the things that needed to be done. And we’re still mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.

But I think we’ve gotten past the worst of it. In the beginning we didn’t know what to do, what decisions to make, where to find answers. We were running in circles, barely getting any sleep, and incredibly frustrated and anxious. In situations like this, there’s no way to prepare and it’s not easy to find answers when you don’t know where to look. 

We got lucky, however, when Big Bend Hospice entered the picture. One of the family members was deemed ready for hospice care, and so they’ve come into the home to help us with medical stuff, bathing this individual, getting us the necessary medical equipment, and most of all, allaying our fears and pointing us in the right direction so we can access the information we need to make decisions. It’s an amazing non-profit organization and I can’t thank them enough.

Additionally, we were able to find a memory-care facility for the other family member. It’s just barely affordable, but we’re working on that. Again, we’ve gotten lucky and found a place that had an available bed, wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and hasn’t had a single instance of COVID since the lockdown began. The staff has been amazing – reassuring, polite, professional, and I’ve been impressed by how well they handle the residents. 

The thing is, both my partner and I still feel on-edge. I think it’s PTSD. For a couple of weeks there we are pushed to our limits. Dealing with someone with dementia isn’t easy, especially when they get themselves worked up about odd things. Like, fixated on taking care of some babies (no babies in the house – haven’t been for decades), looking everywhere for them, and panicking when they can’t find them. It was trying.

If nothing else, this chapter of our lives (my partner and mine) shows that we have a good relationship and a strong bond. Despite all we’ve gone through, we’ve stayed side-by-side, supported one another, tag-teamed responsibilities, and kept each other sane. Mostly. It goes to show that as long as we sincerely care and respect one another, we can accomplish anything. We’re a good team, she and I. I’m proud of that.

So yeah, I’m slipping back into the shallow end of the creative pool, dipping my toes in before I fully immerse myself. I have a lot of creative energy and ideas that have been shelved for far too long. Time to pull them out of storage, dust them off, and have a little bit of fun. 

RB

December 9

Review – The Name of the Rose

Back in the late 1980s, I saw a film titled, The Name of the Rose, and thought it was fantastic. It starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater, and told the story of murder, intrigue, and forbidden books in a medieval monastery. Connery’s character, William of Baskerville, was a sort of a Sherlock Holmes in that he paid attention to little details to discover clues. Slater played his apprentice, Adso, who also narrates the story as an old man looking back on an exciting part of his young life. Sadly, the film didn’t do well at the box office, but it’s always been one of my favorites. The movie, like so many, was based on a novel by the same name and written by first-time novelist Umberto Eco, an Italian medievalist and philosopher.

Now obviously, I was interested in reading the novel, but I hesitated. This was in part due to the fact that the book was daunting. Over five-hundred pages and filled with philosophy, theology, social and political commentary, and peppered with all sorts of references to other sources – books, art, historical events, biblical prophecy – and was apparently a difficult read. In fact, someone who had attempted to read it warned me that in order to truly understand the novel, a reader needed to be well-versed in medieval architecture, monastic life, philosophy, and fluent in Greek, Italian, and Latin. I decided to pass.

But earlier this year I finally found the courage to pick up a copy of the novel and read it. Of course, I had two choices – a physical copy or an e-book. I went with the physical copy, hardbound, because I knew that if I made it through this beast, I wanted to have a trophy for my bookcase. And yes, if I chose the e-version I would have all the translations at my fingertips. But I felt that was cheating. I wanted the full experience as Eco intended.

Was it a difficult read? Yes and no. The story itself is wonderful. William and Adso arrive at the monestary to prepare for an important theological debate between religious orders. But they arrive just as a murder is discovered, and from there the story turns into a murder mystery that rivals anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote. William’s character is definitely inspired by Sherlock Holmes, seeing the minute details of different situations and amazing the other monks with his discoveries.

The mystery – and additional murders – all seem to center on the monastery library, a collection said to rival and possibly surpass the great Library of Alexandria. Books from all over the known world, in all known languages, and many of them forbidden and kept hidden from all but the Abbot and head librarian. William and Adso are told at the very beginning that they are not permitted to enter the library, but they both know that’s where they will find the answers they seek.

The narrative, however, can run into dry spots. Eco was an incredibly intelligent man and the writing shows this. There are pages and pages of theological discussions about the nature of Christ, his poverty, the place of the Church in a changing society. While interesting, it can be a bit of a slog to get through. And no, it’s not necessarily pertinent to the story itself, but it does help to give perspective and background to the many characters. Additionally, with careful reading you can find little clues as to their motivations and possibly the part they may – or may not have – played in the murders.

There is also quite a bit of untranslated Greek and Latin. I did okay with the Latin. Well, I was able to discern small bits. I grew up Catholic, attended mass on a regular basis, and my great-aunt was a nun, so when the Latin was religious text, I was able to make some sense out of it. The Greek was, well, Greek to me and I ended up going online to translate it. There are also a lot of references to ancient texts and religious dogma that I wasn’t familiar with, so I kept my pad nearby for a quick Google search every few pages. I’ll admit, it definitely slowed my reading speed to a crawl, but that was okay. The book – the story – was immersive and having to do this research made the experience interactive. It’s like I was participating in the story to some degree.

I’m glad I finally found the courage to read this novel, and now that I’ve finished it, I plan to re-read it in the near future. The next time, however, I plan to do some research ahead of time to find out what tidbits I missed on my first pass. As I mentioned above, Eco peppered the novel with all sorts of meta-references, so I want to make sure I catch them all. It’s sort of like watching a well-written movie. You watch it the first time for entertainment, but then you go back and rewatch it to catch all the little things you may have missed the first time. To me, that’s good art because it warrants additional viewing, or reading.

If you enjoy murder mysteries, medieval history, philosophy, theology, and a story that blends fact with fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel. But be warned, it’s an undertaking and you may want to go with the e-version to make it easier on yourself. It might also help to watch the movie, first. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation. Plus, Sean Connery is perfect in the role.

RB

December 7

Knuckleball

It’s been said that life occasional throws us a curveball. You know, things go sideways, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust and adapt. However, it’s not just curveballs that life tosses at us. On occasion it’s a knuckleball.

For those unfamiliar with the baseball terminology, a curveball is basically a ‘breaking ball’, meaning, instead of it coming straight at you, the pitcher makes the ball curve (up, down, this way or that way) and that, in turn, makes it difficult to hit. But they tend to fly on a consistent trajectory, an arc. A knuckleball is an entirely different beast of a pitch, and it’s rare that you can find a pitcher who can throw one. The way the ball is held on release causes it to wobble wildly on the way to the catcher (who has to wear an oversized mitt in order to have a chance of catching the ball). A knuckleball is almost impossible to hit.

And that’s where I am at the moment. I’m at the plate watching these knuckleballs coming at me and I’m trying my best not to strike out.

Not to get into too much personal detail, but my partner and I are dealing with ailing family members and it’s extremely difficult, especially with the ongoing pandemic. Assisted living is out because those are hotbeds for the virus. Home health care is a possibility, but it’s also ridiculously expensive. And it’s just the two of us trying to maintain two homes, tend to two elderly people, and at the same time work our jobs and keep our relationship intact.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not looking for help or handouts. At the moment we have things under control. Mostly. But I wanted to write this post to let readers know why I haven’t been as active online as I usually am. My blog posts dried up, my social media accounts are sprouting cobwebs, and my creative output has come to a screeching halt. I’ve been prioritizing family, first, and everything else comes after.

The selfish part of me is frustrated because I love to be creative, to write, record my podcast and cooking videos, to interact with all the amazing people in my social media feeds, but at the moment it all seems so far away, so insignificant when it comes to quality of life and doing the right thing. I miss it dearly and I’m trying to make the time to be creative, even for just a few minutes every day, but in the current situation things seem to change hour by hour: The pharmacy called and meds are ready for pickup; this doctor called to reschedule an appointment; another doctor called because they want bloodwork done; we’re running low on food or other needs; and my dogs need to be fed and exercised; my fish need to be fed; yard work; house work; nine-to-five job…

I think another apt analogy would be comparing our situation to those amazing Chinese acrobats that keep plates spinning on top of those long sticks. Can’t take your eyes off them for a moment or else one will drop and shatter. And if one goes down, others will follow.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to keep things going, to swing at those knuckleballs and avoid getting hit by a wild pitch. I’ll be working on getting back into some sort of creative routine and hopefully you’ll hear more from me soon.

Wish me luck!

RB