Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead!!*

As I mentioned the other day, it has now been over 6 weeks since I've been at home isolating due to the coronavirus.  I expected I would do a lot of reading during this time.  Oddly, I have not.  I still read my usual amount - a chapter or so before bed - but I haven't really sat down and spent long periods of time reading.  I've just been too antsy and distracted.

I had started reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn before the pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders hit.  While I really enjoyed this novel, and was glad to have a good book to sink into at this crazy time, it still didn't grip me the way I think it would have had I been reading it at a normal time.  I think it had the potential to be a book that really grabbed me, but because my mind was on other things, it never really had a chance.

This is the book we have slated for our October Book Club meeting.  As I read it, all I could think was, "God I hope we can have book club meetings by then."  Because, let's face it... everything is cancelled.  From now until at least the end of summer.  And with still so much unknown, we really have no idea when we will be allowed to "do things" again.  That said, I have hope that small gatherings with friends (we would rarely be more than 10 people at book club) will be allowed by then.  Fingers crossed!!!

While I wasn't able to completely immerse myself in this book, it actually was a great one to read at this time, as it reminded me there have been far greater hardships experienced in the past 100 years that having to sit at home on the couch and watch Netflix.  The story begins with young Charlie St. Clair travelling to Europe with her mother, as she has fallen pregnant and is unwed.  They are heading to Switzerland to have her "little problem" taken care of.  At least, that is her mother's plan.  Charlie has other ideas.

Set in the late 1940's, post-WWII, Charlie is intent on searching for her cousin Rose, her dearest and closest companion, who went missing during the war.  She has a scrap of paper with a name and address on it for a woman named Evelyn Gardiner, who lives in England.  She has been told Ms. Gardiner might be able to help her track down Rose.  Charlie tracks down Evelyn and also meets her handsome hired man, Finn Kilgore.  The three of them embark on an adventure as they follow Evelyn's leads in an effort to find Charlie's cousin.

While on their adventure, Charlie learns much of Eve's past, including her involvement in a network of female spies that made a huge mark during WWI. That group of women who put their lives on the line to report German secrets back to British authorities was called The Alice Network.  Eve's time spent in that role as a spy shaped the rest of her life, and while her work was remarkable and worthy of accolades, it also scarred her deeply, both physically and mentally.

This was not just a story of war and spies.  This was also a love story, as Charlie gradually falls in love with Eve's hired man, Finn, and they begin to think of a life together beyond their current escapade to find out the truth.  Eventually, Charlie is able to stop thinking of her pregnancy as a "problem" and starts envisioning a future with Finn, where he becomes a solution.

I have read several novels regarding WWII over the years, and I have to say, this has been one of my favourites.  It doesn't go into gory detail, and yet the chapter that tells the story of the French village destroyed by the Nazis filled me with horror and I can still picture it.  I was even more horrified to learn in the author's notes at the end that it was based on a true story, as were many of the events and characters in the novel.

Throughout the story, both Eve and Charlie, who the chapters revolve around back and forth in an alternating pattern, are displayed to be strong, heroic women, and they often remind themselves that they must endure.  In times of desperation over the past 6 weeks, I have echoed that word in my own mind:  Endure.

You can do this.  It will pass.  People have gone through much worse.  Hang in there.  Endure.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Hard to see the light sometimes.

Yesterday marked 6 weeks since the Sunday I fell apart as coronavirus became a reality, and I moved in with my mom.

Life has been so very strange since then.  I have come down from the extreme anxiety I felt in those early days, and this new way of living in limbo has kind of almost started to feel like a new normal, but I'm still not ready to accept this.  I'm still hanging in there, waiting to see when restrictions might relax a bit, what the new way of life might look like when we get even just a little bit of our old lives back.

Every day, we are encouraged to hang in there.  Have hope.  See the light at the end of the tunnel.  This too shall pass.

But this past week, my God. It was hard.  It was hard to see the light.

A week ago Sunday, we awoke across our country to the news that there was some kind of active shooter situation happening in Nova Scotia, of which very few details were available.  I have been to Nova Scotia twice now, and it was hard to reconcile the peaceful, lovely maritime province with the notion that an armed gunman was on a rampage through its communities.  By that evening, the shocking details began to reveal themselves.  A 51 year old denturist from Halifax had dressed like an RCMP officer and travelled in a vehicle that looked like an RCMP officer's, and had gone on a mass killing spree.  Some of his victims were targeted; others were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.  All told, 22 were killed before the shooter was brought down by police late Sunday morning.

This is the worst mass killing in Canadian history.  And it is heart-wrenching for so many reasons.  Firstly, as I mentioned, for happening in a province and in communities that are known to be quiet, peaceful, and trusting.  Secondly, for happening at a time when we are already under the dark cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic.  There can be no group gatherings, no big vigils or memorials or public funerals.  This is a time when people would go to one another, to hug and bring food and provide comfort in any way possible.  To not be able to do that in a physical sense right now?  It is crushing.  Devastating.

Now, our little community is feeling the same way on a more local scale, as well.  Over the weekend, our village lost three people (non-coronavirus related).  Three people who were well known, who have families and many friends.  There are very few who live here who haven't been touched in some way by these losses.  It is a very sad and heavy time to go through at any time, but so much more difficult now.  It goes against everything we are accustomed to doing at this time.  We gather, we cry together, we hug, we bring food, we console, we share stories and reminisce.

And now we can't do that.

I know this is something that is very difficult, and being experienced across our country daily, as not only the coronavirus claims lives, but other losses continue to happen from other causes.  You don't get the closure you would normally get, having to put off celebrations of life, burials, funerals. It isn't the way it should be.  And I hate this virus for many reasons, but taking that comfort and closure away from people at these sad times makes me hate it even more.

These are dark days we are living in, and over the past week, it has felt even darker.

Still, we are reminded that spring is here.  Grass is turning green, buds are appearing, and there is a fresh smell of new life in the air.  Today, our province is supposed to reveal it's plan to ease back restrictions in the coming days. The light is small, but it is there.  We just have to keep our eyes trained on it, and have faith that there are better days ahead.

Keep looking for the light, my friends.  Keep hanging in there.

Friday, April 17, 2020

I hate this.

Yesterday, I was asked by a friend why I wasn't blogging anymore. Well, pals... I'm a little bleak these days.  And in a world that is already pretty bleak, I didn't figure I should be adding to it if I could help it.

How are you all doing out there in this new pandemic world we are living in?  I'm... okay.  I'm not great, but who is?

I will say, I'm better than I was that first week as Covid-19 became a reality.  On Wednesday, March 18th, I had a bit of a breakdown.  I couldn't wrap my head around all of this, and I was a mess, to be quite honest.  When I left work that day, Lindsay told me she thought I should take some time off.  I have been at home (well, at my mom's) ever since.

Week 1 was rough.  I haven't experienced a level of anxiety that high in a very long time.  I run on anxiety on a good day.  This was a whole nother level.  It was physically painful.  I had knots in my stomach that hurt.  I had zero appetite.  I cried a lot.  I had the worst heart palpitations I've had since the early days of having that condition.  My right eye was twitching steady.  I felt that if this was a normal time, I would have been calling my doctor, but considering all that was going on in the world, I figured my ramped-up anxiety was the least of anyone's worries.  So I dealt with it.  With the help of my mom, and wonderful friends & family who checked in, I continued to function, and eventually got through the worst of it.

That doesn't mean things are rosy now.  But I have got myself into a routine, which helps.  The days pass more quickly when I keep to some sort of schedule.  I have an appetite again (which may or may not be a good thing, ha!), I have been exercising regularly, I am taking care of myself, getting up and dressed every day, trying my best to stay occupied during the day, and I sleep relatively well at night.  I am still spending way too much time on social media, checking Facebook and Twitter, but trying very hard not to be glued to it ALL day.  I seem to have a lack of focus for many things.  I don't seem to stick with anything for very long, including shows on Netflix, crocheting, or reading - all things I thought I would be LOVING right now - but I keep at it, even if it is just for short periods of time.

Another thing that I have been doing that has helped - and perhaps why I haven't been thinking so much about the blog - is journaling.  I haven't kept a journal since I was a kid.  For the past many years, this blog has, in fact, been my journal.  But this... these inner feelings and questions and worries - felt a little more personal, not necessarily something I wanted to share with the whole world.  So I sit down every morning and write a few pages in my journal.  It is very repetitive.  "Why is this happening to us?"  "When will this be over?"  "Why can't someone fix this?"  "I HATE THIS."  Like I said... it's bleak.  I'm bleak.  But writing it all out has been helpful.  I have come to very much look forward to this time each morning when I just put pen to paper and explain how I feel.

Despite all of the darkness and despair, I cling desperately to hope.  There is so much of the "normal life" that I miss.  And it's not even so much the big things.  It's the little things.  Chatting with folks at work.  Making plans for pedicures and dinner with Lindsay.  Hearing my nieces call out "I'm heeeeeerrrreee!!" as they come through the door.  Going for a walk and not having to make sure I'm 6 feet away from someone I meet along the way.  Going to church.  Eating at restaurants.  Going for groceries.

Hugging. I am not even much of a hugger, but I now I daydream about the day this is all over and I can hug people.  Especially my nieces and nephews.  I miss them SO much.

I pray every night for a miracle.  For the virus to just go away, or for the brilliant people of the world to find a vaccine quicker than they tell me they will, or even for some kind of medication or treatment that will help.  This is something I never imagined happening to us.  Even as it was coming down the pipe and we were hearing more and more about the coronavirus, I never pictured this.  I never actually thought it would become "real".  And if anyone could wish it away with pure will alone, my God, you guys, I would have done it by now.

This blog post could go on and on, trust me, and maybe I'll pop back in more regularly than I have been, because this has felt good.

I'll end today by giving the biggest shout-out possible to all of the people on the front-line who have had to keep going out in the world when every instinct in me told me to curl up and disappear.  The doctors, nurses, medical staff, pharmacists, cashiers, grocery store employees, truck drivers, and so many more who are essential and continue to brave this scary new world that I hate so much.

Thank you.  We love you.  You are our heroes.