Sunday, January 24, 2010

The End of a Friendship... or, Life Without Technology

Okay, not totally without technology, because I wouldn't be posting this if that were so, but lately it's been rough going. Our wireless internet connection has been working less than 50% of the time and today my trusty cell phone finally bit the dust, never to be revived. According to my offspring, my phone was an antique, because it didn't have a camera or texting, let along the ability to play games or download books. Did I need those? Because I never missed not having them.

I am in deep mourning. Inconsolable. I vowed we would be together forever. That it would be the only cell phone I would ever have. I resisted even getting one in the first place, but once we figured each other out, well, we needed each other - although there were moments when I wanted to flail the thing at the wall either for scaring the heck out of me when the ringer went off or making me accessible at all times. (I like being aloof and unreachable). This means I will have to get a new cell phone and learn all over again how to operate the dag-nabbed thing, because of course those techno-geeks who sit around and get paid big bucks to design these things will have devised a 'better' product, with more applications, menus, settings and doo-hickeys than Carter has pills. Oh, am I dating myself? You bet. The first phone I ever used had a rotary dial. There was no speed dialing. Voice mail was non-existent. Pagers were a futuristic gadget available only to elite medical personnel for life and death situations.

So why am I moaning? I mean, I'm long overdue for a replacement phone, so it'll be free. Well, I am a creature of routine. Learning new stuff takes thought and if you only ever do it once in a blue moon, you get rusty. Like most folks, I shun manuals and try to figure things out by trial and error, which usually means a lot of colorful language. And, and, and... there was nothing wrong with the old one. I miss it already. Hand me a tissue.

Anywho, the lack of reliable wireless means crawling around on the internet at Snail Factor -5 on the dial-up connection. They don't build web sites anymore for those of us cursed with outdated technology. While waiting for pages to load, I've been known to: let the dogs out, fix myself lunch, let the dogs back in, go outside and feed the sheep and ducks, fill up water troughs, come back inside, empty the dryer, transfer clothes from washer to dryer... and when I return to my desk the page is still not loaded. Although sometimes I get kicked off altogether, thereby mercifully sparing me hours of my life spent staring at a blank screen, waiting. And what's the point of whittling away hours on Facebook if it takes five minutes just to establish a connection?

But there is an upside to everything, right? Indeed. Distractions have been minimized. At this very moment I am hidden away in the library, and nobody can reach me unless it's a dire emergency. Bliss! This week I finished reading one book and am 3/4 of the way through another. I have time to write. Time to talk with family, to shop, work out, fuss over the dogs. Maybe there's more good to this than bad after all?

Until later,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson is a sweeping 16th century saga that follows the tumultuous life of Mary Stewart from her days in France until her death. Mary inherits the throne of Scotland as an infant, leaving her mother, Marie de Guise, to serve as her regent. Although wed at a young age to the meek King Francis, Mary settles into the comforts of French court life and has little desire to return to her homeland. But when Mary is eventually widowed, it is the arrival of the charming and roguish James, Earl of Bothwell, that convinces her to return to Scotland with him.

Mary, however, is not prepared for the power struggles that divide her country and the anti-Catholic reception she receives and thus her authority is never firmly established. Bothwell becomes her closest advisor, but his obligation to marry another woman drives Mary to seek a husband elsewhere. When the self-absorbed Lord Henry Darnley arrives in court, Mary, like so many others, is drawn to his physical beauty, despite his selfish behavior. Although Bothwell warns her from him, Mary weds Darnley. The marriage is disastrous from the outset, the only blessing being the birth of her son, James. When Darnley is murdered, both Bothwell and Mary are implicated; but Bothwell manages to have his marriage annulled and he and Mary soon marry. Fighting the tide of public condemnation, they must take to the battlefield, where they are eventually forced to terms: Bothwell flees into exile and Mary is taken into captivity. In time, desperate to escape her Scottish enemies, Mary seeks refuge under the protection of her indomitable cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England.

Although Erickson freely admits that some of this book’s events are her own interpretations, it is an enjoyable and worthwhile read for those interested in Mary Stuart or the period. It may even have benefited from expanding on some events, as Mary’s story is indeed a complicated and tragic one. The prose is unencumbered and Mary’s transition – from an indifferent adolescent queen, to the young woman in love with a hotheaded Scottish earl, to the wiser, more regal ruler who bears the responsibility of her birthright with grave determination – is believable and engaging. Erickson’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth as a very complex, sometimes enigmatic and decidedly imperative figure adds an intriguing layer to this standoff between royal cousins. By far, the highlight of The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots is the enduring love story between Mary and Bothwell, which one only wishes could have had a happier ending.

(Originally posted at The Historical Novel Review, 1-1-10)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Farewell, David R. Ross

Recently, I began reading David R. Ross's non-fiction book James the Good: The Black Douglas as part of my ongoing research for my Bruce trilogy. It's history written with the ease of a storyteller sitting around the campfire with good friends. It's not overloaded with scholarly details about politics or daylong battles, but conveyed in a way that people of today can relate to. I love history books like his that both seek to entertain and humanize while they unwittingly educate us. Some of Ross's other works include: On the Trail of Robert the Bruce, On the Trail of William Wallace, and On the Trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie. These and his many other books can be found on or at his web site. If you scroll down the home page, you can see Ross in his plaids waving the flag of St. Andrews.

So it was with sadness that I learned today that he had recently passed away at the age of 51. Although he has left much behind which connects us to the past, he was not with us nearly long enough. He's someone I very much would have loved to speak to and glean just a smidgeon of his knowledge and bask in his passion for history. Farewell, Davie.

Until later,