May 12 2020

Love in the time of Corona: Long Distance Relationship edition

It’s May 2020. COVID19 has been spreading around the world, infection millions and killing over 285K people, as of today. The impacts on everyday life have been swift and in some cases severe – social distancing, panic buying, many services and retailers shut down, students learning from home, and people who are still able to work often doing so from their dining room tables rather than their offices. It’s a crazy, and very scary, time to be alive.

There have been a lot of articles published about the impact of lockdowns and social movement restrictions on families and relationships. Some people are relishing the additional time at home to learn new skills, to explore creative outlets that they don’t normally have time to do, to reconnect with their families, and to binge on Netflix. There has been much concern, too, about the impact of this shutdown on relationships that may not be faring so well. Rises in domestic violence cases. Stresses erupting around struggles with helping reluctant students get through their assigned school work. The general toll on relationships that may rely on time apart when that time is now in diminishing supply. And I get all that. I find myself grateful that I’m not going through this pandemic crisis still married to my ex – life was stressful enough for both of us when we were together, without adding 24/7 contact into the mix. I’m dealing with this with my 17 and 20 year old daughters in the house, and we get on really well,  but yet there are still moments where we are getting on each other’s nerves. I can’t imagine being trapped in the house with younger kids, trying to navigate all the tensions and frustrations that are associated with that.

For me, though, this pandemic is bringing about a different kind of stress. My partner lives on the other side of the country. We are used to not seeing each other for long stretches. He has his work, and I have mine. We try and schedule trips to see each other every few months, depending on school holidays and family commitments. And we communicate really well across the miles. So I thought, at the beginning, that we’d be ok. We’re experts at communicating virtually, we’d tell ourselves and others. Plus, we’re both nerdy, geeky introverts, more comfortable in our own spaces than in large crowds or social situations. This is our bag. We’ve got this.

And yes, that’s partly true. We still talk every day, multiple times a day, via phone or text or messenger. We still have our long-distance date nights, sharing movies or shows or books together, and then chatting as we curl up in bed, before saying goodnight and drifting off to sleep together. We’re still feeling as connected as we ever have, and enjoying our time at home alone together. But there’s something very different about all this.

I last saw Jacob in February. I headed to Perth for a long weekend, almost a week, in fact, and we saw Amanda Palmer perform her wonderful show, There will be no intermission (complete with intermission). We saw Neil Gaiman talk about his writing life, and answer questions from the audience, and read some of our favourites of his short stories and poems. We both cried at the sheer joy of these experiences. We ate delicious food. We watched some great TV. We went to work – him in his office, me in the library on campus, and we met up for lunch. We held hands. We laughed a lot. We smiled a lot. And then I came home.

Coming home, or saying goodbye to him at the airport after he leaves from a visit, is always the hardest thing. It’s the marker of the start of the longest point between then, and when we’ll get to see each other again. That February night, I thought we’d be seeing each other again in a few months. At the very latest, June when I’d be back for his birthday and Supernova, our now annual tradition, but probably there’d be at least one more trip in before then too.

But then COVID started gaining traction. States started to impose restrictions on international travel. Then borders were closed to interstate travel. Within states, even, there were restrictions placed on regional travel and all other travel that was deemed non-essential, and 14 day isolation periods required after any such travel. And, given all the travel restrictions, airlines are cancelling flights and running only skeleton services, so even if I wanted to head to Perth and could wear the 28 days in quarantine that a trip there and back would land me, I’d struggle to find a flight over.

Let me give you some context. We are in different time zones – Sydney, where I live, is 2 hours ahead of Perth, and it’s a 5 hour flight to get there. It’s also an almost 4,000km 41 hour drive away, so even if I was able to get across state lines it’s just not doable. And now, even despite the slight easing of some restrictions around social movements, we don’t know when things will get back to normal for us. We don’t know when we’ll be able to fly to see each other without worrying about having to be quarantined. We don’t know when flights will be available. There’s just so much we don’t know.

I recognise that we aren’t alone in all of this. So many people have had their lives impacted, and in the grand scheme of things, we’re doing ok. We are physically healthy. We are safe with our respective families. We have jobs, and can pay the bills, and buy the mince and toilet paper that are now starting to appear on the shelves again. And we can continue, like we always have, talking on the phone, sending each other texts throughout the day, chatting whenever possible, and being so grateful that we are lucky enough to have someone with whom communication is so easy. But others having it worse doesn’t mean that our current difficulties aren’t valid or real, because I’ve gotta say I’m hurting like crazy.

It’s not all bad though. The rapid increase of online meetings through platforms like Zoom, and social catchups and virtual game sessions that people are now putting into place, has made us realise that we hadn’t actually utilised the technology available to full effect. Facetime calls used to be a once-a-week or so occurrence, for a special date night, but the rest of the time we’d just audiocall. Now, I’m getting to see his beautiful face far more often – we’ll video chat over messenger in the morning as I’m having coffee and he’s about to head off for a run. We’ll video call during the day, and compare our work schedules, commiserate at how much we hate all the zoom and teams and skype meetings that are now so much a part of our everyday, before blowing each other a kiss and hanging up to dial into another one. We’ll cook dinner together in our respective kitchens, wandering in and out of view as we gather and prep things, and then curl up on the couch together to eat. We’ll video before bed to chat about whatever we’ve just watched, or how our kids are doing, or he’ll read to me. We’re seeing each other, albeit virtually, far more than we did before.

Yes, it’s great that we get to stay so connected. I can’t imagine doing this without the easy access to technology that we have now. But in someways, that’s just serving to heighten for me how far apart we are. When he presses his fingers to his lips, I’m reminded at how long it’s been since I’ve felt those fingers entwined with mine. When I see his eyes crinkle up when he laughs, I’m reminded how long it’s been since I heard that chuckle in person, and felt his whole body shake when he does so – he laughs with his whole body, so enthusiastically and passionately, and I miss that like crazy. And when we hang up on the last call of the day, I’m reminded that the pillow next to me is woefully empty. I’m always happy to hear from him, and to talk to him, but I’m also always desperately sad when that’s over.

I know that this will all change, sooner or later. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I don’t know whether we as a society will go back to what we had before, or whether all the changes we are seeing around us with bring about some kind of new normal. And I don’t know how long it’ll be before I can fly again. But I know that I’m very glad I’m going through this pandemic with a strong, supportive partner. I’m so grateful that, despite the distance that separates us now, I can feel his presence in my life, even during those times where I increasingly feel his absence keenly. And I’m so lucky have the constant reassurance that even when I’m feeling alone, when the tears flow and I can’t stop the overwhelming feelings of loss, fear and anxiety, I’m NEVER lonely. So that’s something, right? It’s something I don’t ever take for granted.

I know, this is a long, personal blog post. And I know that my target audience for this blog is mainly just me – the few other people who actually do read it are here for book reviews. So I doubt many of you have made it through all of this. But that’s ok, I didn’t really write it for you. I wrote it for me, so that at some point in a few years when I’m doing a tidy-up of my blog I’ll stumble across it, read through this snapshot of life in 2020, and marvel at how long ago that feels, how strange a time it was, and how good it is to be on the other side of it. And I wrote it for Jacob, who mused the other night that, whilst there were plenty of articles about how couples were coping with lockdown, and the impact it was having on relationships, that there were none about relationships like ours. So here it is.

I love you, my Jacob. I can’t wait to see you face again – on my phone screen will be wonderful. In person will be so much better.

xoxo

Tamara

 

 

May 9 2020

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Title: Dragon Hoops
Author: Gene Luan Yang
Genre/ issues: Graphic novels. Sports. Race. Life journeys.

Shop local where you can: search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia.

In order to get myself out of a bit of a reading slump, I’ve been smashing though some books that are new styles and genres to me. Graphic novels and comics have been high on my list lately, but I usually pass right on by sportsing books. This one looked interesting though, and that first impression was upheld by the wonder contained in its pages. A graphic novel from the point of view of the author, a teacher at a school whose basketball team were headed for a State championship, and who was looking for a new story, Dragon Hoops is fascinating. Part personal narrative, part historical exposition, part cultural analysis, it doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult topics, like the former coach of the school who faced historical sexual assault charges, or the questions about whether treatment of individual players may have been the result of unconscious racial bias. It’s self-reflective, thoughtful, gently humorous, and so compelling that it had this non-sportsing geek girl sitting on the edge of her seat hoping for a last minute win at the championships – even though, really, that’s not what the game is all about. It’s still satisfying though, right?
The recurring motif of the importance of a single step, small but so powerful, really struck me, and had me thinking about all those steps I’ve taken in my life.
This is a compelling graphic novel. I thought I’d read it and then pass it along to someone else, but I loved it so much that I’ve just added it to my newly-created graphics shelf on my bookcase. Off to stalk the author, and get everything else he’s worked on. I love his style. 

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 25/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 8 2020

Ms Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel

Title: Ms Marvel, Vol.1: No Normal
Author: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Artist)
Genre/ issues: Graphic novels. Comics. Superheros. Culture, religion and identity.

“Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!”

When I said I wanted to get back into reading comics, this was on my list, and I was thrilled to open the mail this week to discover that Jacob had lent me his copy! I LOVED this. Smart, funny, beautiful artwork and some really thoughtful reflections on religion, identity, individuality and the way we value people in society. Definitely getting some more Ms. Marvel in my life!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 24/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 7 2020

Percy Jackson series, 1-3

Percy Jackson series

Percy Jackson series

Title: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, and Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Fantasy. Greek mythology. Action/ adventure.

I’ve not read Percy Jackson before, but Kelsey always speaks highly of it, so when I found the box set recently I decided to pick it up and give it a go. I finished book 3 today, and I’ve enjoyed them. Are they the best things I’ve ever read? Well, no. I know a bit about Greek mythology, so a lot of it was fairly predictable for me, but I definitely don’t mean that as a criticism. This mid-40’s woman is definitely not Rick Riordan’s target audience. Whilst not groundbreaking, I’ve found them engaging, and a whole lot of fun. I really love the “ADHD as a side-effect of hero status” element of the books. I’d totally wear a Camp Halfblood tshirt. I find the choice vs destiny theme really fascinating. Without wanting to be too spoilery, the ending of book 3, Titan’s Curse, made me genuinely emotional. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next 2 books, and would recommend them for your middle grade or high school readers who are after a great series with some fantasy, mythology and cracking action.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 21, 22 and 23/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 28 2020

Paper Girls 1

Paper Girls 1

Paper Girls 1

Title: Paper Girls 1 
Author: Brian K. Vaughan (Goodreads Author), Cliff Chiang (Illustrator), Matthew Wilson (Colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (Lettering)
Genre/ issues: Graphic novel. Comic books. Mystery. Sci-fi. Coming of age.

Another installment of Tamara Reads Comics tonight, with Paper Girls 1. A suburban supernatural mystery, with stunning atmospheric illustrations and some really interesting commentary on life in the late 80’s. It represents the 80’s aesthetic really well, both in terms of the visuals and the attitudes, and I felt very much like this could have been set in my smalltown Australia as much as it was smalltown USA.

I felt like this one a much slower burn than my previous comic reads – I was just feeling like I was getting a handle on what was happening and was starting to feel invested in the story when we hit the end. Regardless, I really enjoyed this, and will be checking out the next volume, as much for the art as for the story!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 20/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 28 2020

Lumberjanes: Beware the kitten holy

Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the kitten holy

Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the kitten holy

Title: Lumberjanes Vol1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Author: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Faith Hicks, Brooke A. Allen (Illustrator), Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak (Illustrator), Carey Pietsch (Illustrator)
Genre/ issues: Graphic novel. Comic books. Fantasy. Mystery.

I’ve been wanting to get back into reading comics again for a while now. I remember loving them when I was a kid, but I grew up in a town with no comic store so was limited to whatever Archie and Casper comics the newsagents would occasionally get in. I’ve seen so many great comics released in recent years, and whilst I want to read them, it’s quite overwhelming to figure out just where to start! So, in my “supporting independent stores” focus for #iso2020 I hit up some comic nerds for advice, signed up for a Kings Comics gold card, and ordered me some comics! 

Lumberjanes is one that I’ve been hearing about for a while, so it was the first that I delved into when my parcel of comicky goodness arrived. Volume 1, Beware the kitten holy, is a collection of editions 1 to 4 of the Lumberjanes comics, and I adored it. The blurb reads:

“At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.”

It’s quirky, funny, a great balance of mystery and action, with some fab positive representations of female characters of all kinds. I’ll definitely be going back for more of this female-created comic about the creepy happenings at the summer camp for “hard-core lady types”. An utter delight, and a great place to start back into my comic reading adventures!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 19/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 28 2020

On hope, by Daisy Jeffrey

On hope, by Daisy Jeffrey

On hope, by Daisy Jeffrey

Title: On hope
Author: Daisy Jeffrey
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Memoir. Environmental issues. Youth activism.

Non-fiction is not really a genre I delve into very often, but in the interests of picking up the pace in my 2020 Reading Challenge I decided to give this one a go. Written by Daisy Jeffrey as part of the Hachette Australia Little Books, Big Ideas series, it’s a compelling discursive piece on the power of hope, believing you can make a difference, and putting that belief into action. Daisy is 17 years old, and is one of the key leaders of the Students for Climate Change actions that have been gaining prominence over the past year or so.  It’s a fascinating insight into how you balance everyday concerns (family, friends, school) with a desire to change the world for the better – or at least, call on those with the power to do so to step up and do their jobs. I particularly love Daisy’s thoughts on the dangers of only hearing the voices of people who think like you, but balancing this with the need to recognise that at some point, truth matters. A powerful piece of writing from a writer who is dealing with her HSC right now – it’s just been added to the #nswprc booklists as well, so if you’ve got students taking part in that pick this up for them to read, then have a read yourself!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 18/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 19 2020

Aurora Burning, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Title: Aurora Burning: The Aurora Cycle, Book 2
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Genre/ issues: Sci-fi. Finding your people. Family – born and chosen.

Sometimes you have plans for the weekend. Mow the lawn? Sure. Clean the carpets? I mean, that is why you borrowed your mum’s carpet shampooer. Maybe even read one of the many books on your TBR shelf. But then you get post on Saturday. And that post contains this firecracker of a book. So, you read it instead.

I will say, I’m glad I didn’t get this too early – I often get review copies of books well before the release date. Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff comes out next week I think, and I’m so glad that I’ve just read it – if I got it much earlier than I did, I’d have far longer to wait for book three, because the ENDING IS A HELL OF A CLIFFHANGER! That’s not spoilery at all. If you’ve read anything from the dastardly duo of K+K you’ll know that they are sadistic bastards who thrive on causing pain for their readers. And boy, do I want more of their delicious brand of torture.

I loved the character development of #Squad312 in this book. I love the complexity of relationships. I love the diversity represented amongst this glorious group – from physical differences, to dealing with emotional dissociation from PTSD, to some positive queer representation, to contrasting depictions of family connections, there’s something in here for everyone. Sci-fi is definitely my bag, and these two authors are masters of their craft. I’d definitely recommend this one when it hits the shelves – if you’ve not read Aurora Rising, though, grab that first!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 17/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 17 2020

The Magnolia Sword: A ballad of Mulan, by Sherry Thomas

The Magnolia Sword, by Sherry Thomas

The Magnolia Sword, by Sherry Thomas

Title: The Magnolia Sword: A ballad of Mulan
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre/ issues: Historical fiction. YA. Retelling of a traditional/ familiar story. Gender roles.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. In fact, when I scrolled back to find out what number I was up to in my #2020readingchallenge I had to go back to March 9. Whilst I’ve been encouraging others to find solace and inspiration during this pandemic in stories, I’ve been struggling to do the same for myself.

At the beginning of the year, I started running a Thursday lunchtime #ReadWithMe session. Rather than eating lunch at my desk, I’d make the effort to take a book into the kitchen, sit, and read for half an hour. I’d take in a pile of anthologies and collections of non-fiction essays so that anyone who wanted to join us but didn’t have a book they were reading could pick something up and get through it in the session without feeling pressured to commit to a whole book. Now were are all working remotely, I’ve been continuing to encourage others to do this, but hadn’t been fully committing myself, so last week, I dragged myself to the couch during cracked open this gem of a book.

I finished it that night. Such a beautiful, sensitive and culturally respectful retelling of the ballad of Mulan, The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas deals with issues of gender and power, the dangers of stereotyped expectations, and the problems of homogenising culture. It’s particularly powerful a message now as we are surrounded by so much hatred and anger being directed at China and its people – this book speaks to the importance of allowing people to find their own path, and not be victimised or tied down by expectations or identities that don’t fit them. Some great queer relationships that are delightfully represented, and some great reflections on the power of language and its role in representing history and a people’s place in it.
I do love me a Disney musical, but this book pays far greater respect to the story of Mulan than I’ve seen before – although I’m not gonna lie, there were moments that I broke out in an internal chorus of “let’s get down to business!”

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 16/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

March 10 2020

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre/ issues: Fantasy. The power of stories.

“We are all star dust and stories.”
I love stories about stories. Books which honour the role of stories in our lives, that treasure narratives and that unapologetically love words? They’re my favourite types of books. This one, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, is utterly wonderful. Honouring then stories that have come before it with sweet little references to Narnia, the Potterverae, and a Lev Grossman vibe that’s unmistakeable, but simultaneously creating its own unique fantasy in which a subterranean library of all stories ever told, past present and future, is curated and tended by a secret society … can you see why I love it?

Morgenstern books

Morgenstern books

I’ve read some wholly excellent books this year, and The Starless Sea ranks up there with the best of them. A friend from work loaned it to me, after we’d had a chat about books we loved, and I gave her another of my faves to read. I confessed that I was a dog-earer, but promised to not do so to her book, and she said that she didn’t mind at all as she did the same! It made me happy to find a kindred spirit. As I read, though, and marked pages that touched me deeply, I realised that I wanted to keep this copy with all its folded corners, so I ordered her a fresh new copy – only to find out that she’d done the same thing for the book I had loaned her!

I’m so glad to have added it to my story, to have made a connection with another book soul, and to be a part of the journey of The Starless Sea through the world. If you’ve not read this, do so – and grab The Night Circus while you’re at it, it’s similarly brilliant. 

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 15/52

Happy reading,

Tamara