Tuesday morning and it’s dark and cold outside. I’ve got my coffee keeping my hands warm and the space heater is on. I did try to turn on our new heating system the other day, to no avail. It’s currently thirty-eight degrees outside, which means it’s probably about that inside. I didn’t want to get out of the bed, obviously–warm and comfortable and layers of blankets on top of me–but I have to get back to work today at the office and frankly, it’s a bit weird. I lost track of my days several days ago, and hopefully, going back to the office will put me into a place where I can get a better grasp on the days of the week and the dates of the month and so forth. It’s been very disorienting not knowing what day it is.
And this is an odd week anyway; I have taken Thursday off for a doctor’s appointment, so I am only in the office two days this week as it is; I am not sure if that will help or not. But getting readjusted to the week is going to be a part of my to-do list this week; easier said than done. I am hoping my mind will snap back into place once I get to the office this morning. I do sometimes think the structure the day job forces on me is a good thing in keeping me on track and requiring me to pay closer attention to everything; I have to plan to get everything else done that I have to do structured around seeing clients and being at the office for slightly more than eight hours per day on the days when I go into the office.
One thing that definitely has to be gotten under control this week is my email. My email has been out of control for quite some time–hard to believe as recently as the first of the year that the ole inbox was almost empty. The trouble with email is it’s very similar to tribbles–it just keeps multiplying no matter what; sometimes it’s even worse to actually answer it all rather than just letting it sit there; as emails beget more emails. Emails are like those old phone calls where no one would hang up because no one wanted to be the first to hang up; it’s like no one will ever let the conversation die on an email chain for some reason. And of course, my personal betê noir: the “reply all” person (mine are all set to simply “reply”; I have to manually switch it to “reply all” because i don’t ever want to be the person who becomes the “reply all guy”) who replies to every email on the chain so suddenly you have over fifty emails, and then the person he replies to replies all and on and on and on it goes…
And yes, I am mentioning it because this is what I saw in my inbox this morning when I looked at it….like checking your email first thing in the morning isn’t traumatizing enough without seeing a number well over 100 next to “Inbox” and having to start praying that it’s all spam.
The book got a couple of weeks extension, which of course is the worst thing that can happen to a writer on deadline because you immediately think oh there’s more time and slow down the frantic pace you were working at that would have gotten it done on time–well, a few days late, but the deadline was the Saturday of a holiday weekend and no one would have been in until Tuesday at the earliest anyway so why not ask for an extra few days and voila, two extra weeks were in the offing. This does relieve some of the pressure, but not really; the pressure is still there and there are other things I need to be doing, so instead of having this out of the way I still have to work on it and still have the other things that need doing, so here we are this morning.
It’s in the forties.
And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.
There really is nothing quite like a good read, is there?
Alafair Burke has become one of my go-to’s; an author whose every book I preorder and start salivating when I get the shipping notice. I’ve not read her extensive backlist as of yet; I was late to the Burke party and began with The Ex. I do possess most of the backlist and it’s all in my TBR pile, but I’ve gotten so addicted to reading the new ones when they come out I never think to go back to the shelves to get one of the older titles–which is something I clearly need to do; and never have I felt that pull more than while reading her latest.
You see, she wrote a series about a New York cop named Ellie Hatcher–and Ellie comes back as part of the ensemble cast of Find Me, and what I saw of Ellie made me want to go back and read more about her. Well done on that front, Alafair! (This is something that I absolutely love when authors do; like how whenever Laura Lippman needs a Baltimore private eye, she brings in her old series character Tess–which is always a welcome joy whenever it happens….and maybe something I might be able to do with Chanse at some point. Hmmm.)
But I was very excited when Find Me was delivered into my hot little hands, and yesterday, while I was freezing inside the Lost Apartment, I grabbed a blanket and repaired to my easy chair, intent to read for an hour.
I didn’t stop until the book was finished.
Hope Miller shifted her gaze from the gas nozzle to the pump.When the gallon counter hit twelve, she scolded herself for not filling up before her trip into the city. She couldn’t risk an empty tank.
The nearest customer leaned against his green Jeep, sharing her same awkward wait, watching the digital numbers tick by. She noticed him looking at her. When he noticed her noticing, he flashed a practiced grin. She didn’t smile back.
That phrase, “It takes more muscles to frown than smile?” She had googled it once. Turns out,facial descriptions are subjective. Smiles, sneers, frowns, and smirks are all in the eye of the beholder. And the so-called facial nerve controls forty-something muscles, but some people have all of them, while others are missing almost half.
But scientists did agree on one thing–that smiles are innate. Reflexive. And viewed across cultures as a sign of friendliness.
A single man smiling at a single woman alone at a gas station at night?
Pretty great opening, isn’t it? The entire opening chapter is an exercise in suspense: is the woman imagining that this man isn’t just some stranger at a gas station? Is she being paranoid, or is this just the start of an innocuous encounter encapsulating the micro-aggressions directed at women by men on a daily basis? I understand that paranoia myself a bit–I experience it every time I travel throughout the deep South and have to stop for gas or to get something to eat; I am always on high alert during these times, paying attention to any and everything around me, and especially the people. I’ve stopped for gas and noticed someone staring at me before, and then following me back onto the highway, my heartrate increasing and adrenaline pumping through my veins as every mile ticks off on the odometer; I will often deliberately slow down to force the suspicious vehicle to eventually pass me…and this happens more regularly than it probably should. Anyway, I can relate to the main character’s paranoia; this is masterful suspense writing by the author, because now I have been pulled into the story and I am worried about the main character.
The book is mostly set in the Hamptons, with some scenes taking place in New York City; there’s even a detour to Wichita (KANSAS!!! It keeps popping up everywhere lately!). The main character of the story is NOT the paranoid young woman in the first chapter (and I cannot explain to you, Constant Reader, how wonderful that first chapter is; everything in that first chapter, every tiniest detail–everything she feels and thinks and remembers–is crucial to the story), but rather her sort-of adopted sister, criminal defense attorney Lindsay Kelly. The young woman in the first chapter, Hope Miller, is already, in and of herself, a mystery. She was found some years earlier, as a teenager, thrown from a wrecked vehicle with no memory of who she is, where she came from, or how she wound up in New Jersey. (The car had Indiana plates and was reported stolen.) Eventually, she takes the name Hope Miller and moves in with the Kelly family–a woman without a past that Lindsay somehow feels responsible for; more so than as a friend or as a sister. Hope is damaged, obviously, and has only recently decided to take control of her life and start over somewhere different than the small town in New Jersey where she’s been living since the Kellys took her in–she wants to go somewhere where everyone doesn’t know her as “the mystery girl with amnesia.” Hope disappears, and Lindsay is desperate to find her; has her true past finally come back to haunt Hope? Who is she? And what, if anything, does she have to do with the murder of a local charter fisherman who was murdered around the time she disappeared? Is she dangerous?
The search for Hope soon draws in some more characters–including, as mentioned earlier, police detective Ellie Hatcher from Manhattan–and there are multiple stories going, all of them tied together, all of them leading back to Hope’s mysterious past, and there’s also a potential link to a serial killer Ellie’s father investigated back when she was a girl. The characters are all well-drawn and developed enough to be real enough to draw the reader in to root for them; Burke is also masterful at pacing and when is the right opportunity to play yet another card that will either further confuse or enlighten the reader as the story continues to take shape out of the amorphous confusing mist entangling the characters.
Juggling all of the subplots and keeping them tied into the main story is also not an easy task for a writer, but Burke manages to do so, tidily winding up every loose end to leave the reader, as they close the book, smiling and satisfied with the experience.
It’s cold again on this Martin Luther King Jr Day here in the Lost Apartment, and as always when it’s cold and I don’t have to get up, I malingered in my bed much longer than was absolutely necessary. I won’t apologize for not wanting to get out of a warm, comfortable bed and from under a pile of warm blankets to brave the cold, either. Our new system came on briefly the other day when it was cold, and since then–nothing. I don’t know what I may have done wrong with switching it from cool to heat, but as usual, the guys are going to have to come back out and reset it or do something to make it functional. It’s not that big of a deal–the cold never really gets to the point where it is so incredibly unbearable (like last year on Fat Tuesday) that I am not functional, but it sometimes skates very close to that edge.
Yesterday came dangerously close, frankly. I was freezing all day to the point where I needed to use the heating pad underneath my blankets in my easy chair, which finally made me feel close to comfortable. I did manage to finish reading Alafair Burke’s marvelous Find Me (which you should also read), and then we finished watching the second season of Cheer–which sadly kind of limped along to the end, and by the season finale, poor Monica was simply a wreck; I think the show’s producers might have hit the “cost of fame and how to handle it” a little bit harder than they intended; but that message did come across fairly clearly, so maybe that was their intent. Dealing with the fallout from the scandals that arose in the wake of the first season–especially in the case of the breakout star who was accused of sex crimes with young boys–certainly put the producers (and the cast) into an awkward position: how do we deal with this? The episode that did deal with it did a fairly good job, and it’s also sad to see that abuse of children is just as rampant in cheerleading as it is with other sports at this level (gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, football).
We always hear so much about how “children” need to be protected from books and ideas almost every day–and yet protecting them from sexual and physical abuse doesn’t seem to be as big a priority with people. Hate to break it to you, but a book never sexually assaulted a child.
The sun is out this morning and I feel much better than I did yesterday morning. I overslept yesterday, if you remember, and felt sort of unable to engage my ignition yesterday and get the Greg started, if you know what I mean. I did make some notes yesterday and I did clear out the spam from my email inbox, but today I actually do have to get work done since I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. Today I am going to work pretty hard on the book, and I am going to try to read a Laura Lippman short story later on as a kind of reward for getting work done. My kitchen this morning is in pretty good shape overall; I do have a load of dishes to put away and some laundry to do around the writing schedule today. But I feel this morning like I can actually get stuff done tonight and not be derailed or distracted…probably because it’s not as cold this morning as it was yesterday (and believe you me, I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning). But I am going to get this finished, work on a review of the new Alafair Burke while drinking coffee and folding clothes and putting away clean dishes, after which I am going to get cleaned up and dive back into my manuscript.
I feel more like me today, if that makes any sense. It’s been a hot minute, frankly; I don’t know if it was subconscious depression over not being able to go to New York or something, but today is the day I would have been home–I was flying back yesterday–and so maybe my mind/subconscious was depressed and/or mourning the loss of the trip? I think I probably slipped into an alternative mindset/reality the moment the trip was cancelled and it’s taken me until when the trip would have been over to get over that loss, if that makes any weird kind of sense. Maybe I navel-gaze too much, but I know I can tell when the chemistry in my brain is off, and it always affects everything in my life. But the point is I can look at my to-do list and not be concerned about it to the point where I panic and think I’ll never get that all done but rather, “one task at a time gets all the jobs done”–which is kind of where and how I am feeling this morning. This is, of course, a good thing. I will admit that I had some ideas last night while watching Cheer (reading Alafair’s book helped in that regard as well) about other things to write and other things i need to get done. I also have edits on a short story I have coming out in an anthology next month–quick turnaround, what can I say?–but I have to say my year is getting off to a good start–despite the cancelled trip to New York.
Fingers crossed the year continues to remain not only on track but continues to get better rather than worse. But one can never tell these days–if we’ve learned anything from the last five years it’s not to constantly be optimistic that things will inevitably get better as we continue to move along.
And on that note, it’s time to drive right back into everything and get my act together once and for all for today. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.
But a cold spell has descended upon New Orleans overnight, and its chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning. I overslept–much later than ever–and didn’t rise until ten this morning; obviously, all that “outgoing energy” I spent on the MWA ZOOM board orientation drained my batteries completely. That, and the cold, I suspect, combined to make me not want to get out of bed this morning–in fact, I could just as easily go straight back to bed and probably could fall asleep for a while. I am sure that has more to do with the cold than anything else; all I really want to do is get underneath a blanket and stay warm–so when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair under a blanket and read some more of the new Alafair Burke novel before diving into this morning’s writing. I am going to do my best to pretend my email inbox doesn’t exist today and solely focus on resting, reading, and writing.
We finished watching Murders at Starved Rock last night, which was actually kind of annoying; the entire premise of the documentary is the man who served over forty years for the murders might be innocent, and yet they finished filming before the DNA tests came back (due in 2022)? I mean, sure, they can always do one more episode later, but come on–you left the audience hanging? Why put the documentary together and release it now? Paul and I found this to be terribly irritating and annoying. We then moved on to Season 2 of Cheer–I had wondered if they would do another season, given how incredibly popular the original was back in those early days of the pandemic; I actually think it may have come out before the pandemic–it’s so hard to remember these things now. I had wondered how they would do the second season–given how successful the first was–and I have to say, the decision to focus on how the sudden fame has affected everyone there at Navarro College and the town, while still trying to get prepared for the next Nationals–and taking a look at their arch-rival from Trinity Valley as well–was a very wise choice. The Trinity Valley coach also makes a good villain, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. So far so good; will keep you posted as we get further into the season.
We haven’t even gotten to the part where one of the breakout stars is arrested for inappropriate behavior with an underaged boy yet–although I am not sure I am all that keen on watching how that plays out, really, other than in a “can’t look away from the train wreck” kind of way. And isn’t that really the allure of reality television in the first place? The opportunity to be voyeurs without judgment? (Hmmm, that would be an excellent jumping off point for an essay, wouldn’t it? Hmmm.)
But I need to write today; reshaping and revising my manuscript so that it’s ready to go to the editor, and everything else I have to do is going onto the back-burner to simmer for a little while longer. I have been thinking also a lot about a couple of stories I need to get finished, “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “Solace in a Dying Hour,” and I need to go over “The Sound of Snow Falling” one more time. I was also very pleased to see the Cincinnati Bengals won their play-off game yesterday (I don’t really care about the NFL outside of the Saints, but I, as an LSU fan, am also a huge fan of both Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, who are now killing it at the professional level so I follow the Bengals a bit; I also pay attention to the Chiefs more than I ordinarily would because two favorite LSU players are also on their roster.)
And on that note, I am getting another cup of coffee and retiring to my chair to read some more of Alafair’s new book before diving back into mine.
Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and I slept fairly well. I will be spending most of my day on ZOOM with the new Board of Directors for Mystery Writers of America doing Orientation (we should be doing it in person in New York today, but yet another event is a victim of the coronavirus variants). I am not a fan of ZOOM, for obvious reasons–I cannot stand seeing myself on camera, and hate the sound of my voice–and while I can’t necessarily hear my own voice, I can see my face on screen, and I really don’t like that. I don’t really have space for a ZOOM studio in my little nook office right off my kitchen–and I need to make sure all the counters are cleared off and the cabinets are closed, etc.–and so I’ve avoided doing ZOOM things like the plague during these plague years. I am not an extrovert by any means (and yes, well aware that my claims to be painfully shy, socially anxious, and introverted are often greeted by laughter; but the appearance of calm and ease I project in these situations is always just pure dumb luck because I am always a twisted tangle of anxiety-ridden knots on the inside the entire time, and completely exhausted when it’s over), and thus these things are never easy on me. I imagine this afternoon when the calls ends I will adjourn to my easy chair with a drink and will spend the rest of the day there.
Yesterday we started watching Peacemaker with John Cena on HBO MAX; it took a minute for us to get involved in the story but we eventually got sucked in. It’s an odd kind of super-hero show, really; Peacemaker is theoretically a villain (I’m not familiar with the Suicide Squad and haven’t seen any of the movies) but he sees himself as a hero. John Cena is a very charismatic leading man; there’s something about him that is very watchable, and he plays comedy very well; which is surprising, since he comes from the world of WWE (then again, Dwayne Johnson and Bautista also did, and also play comedy very well, so maybe it’s not surprising), and he really shines in this part. I’ve always been a fan, and am glad to see his career outside of WWE taking off. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the show. We also started watching a docuseries on HBO MAX after we finished the three episodes of Peacemaker that have been loaded for streaming called Murders at Starved Rock, which is interesting enough but probably isn’t going to have a resolution.
I did started reading Alafair Burke’s Find Me yesterday and am enjoying it thus far–maybe when the meeting is over I can spend some time with the book, which would be marvelous and a definite reward for spending so much of the day talking to my computer (which is some seriously weird Jetsons shit). I started making a to-do list yesterday so I can keep track of everything I need to do and need to get done and with some sort of time-line involved; I am confident I can get everything done but it’s going to take some serious focusing on my part to get it all done. It’s a bit overwhelming and stressful to be sure, but as long as I can get a handle on everything I need to do, it can all get done. Over the next two days I am going to work, over my morning coffee, on getting my email inbox cleared out once and for all; I am going to get some filing in order; and I’d like to finish reading Alafair’s book. I think we’re probably going to watch some movies in the evening–Power of the Dog and The Tragedy of Macbeth are at the top of my list–over the next couple of days, and I am also hoping to start back at the gym tomorrow morning (after getting all my morning chores finished); hope springs eternal. My weight has climbed back up somehow, and so getting back to the gym is a lot more important than it has been. I hate that my weight is climbing again, and I am sure it has to do with me being more sedentary over the last few months than I had been in the months before. (Just thinking about how good it will feel to stretch and work my muscles out again just sent a shiver of delight down my spine.)
But making the list made me feel much better about things, honestly; I don’t know why I have so much trouble falling back into the habits that help me get things done and reduce my stress.
I bought our first King cake of the season yesterday–and yes, it’s quite delicious. I don’t think I bought any last year, since there were no parades or hardly anything Carnival-like; I doubt very seriously that Paul and I will be heading down to super-spreader central out on the corner this year. It’s a shame because we’ve always loved the parades and catching throws, even when the weather is bad; how many times have we stood out there in the rain to catch things? (It’s actually more fun in the rain because most people leave and there’s more room and they throw more because there are less people to throw to…) But I just can’t see taking the risk of getting sick out there–and you know there are going to so many unvaccinated people out there who won’t wear masks at all; the parishes surrounding Orleans are ridiculously defiant when it comes to taking measures to protect other people, which is terribly sad–but those are also the people who drive in to the city and hang out along our parade routes (while posting comments on news articles about how much they hate New Orleans and how the city is so dangerous and riddled with crime–keep your racists asses out in your paradise parishes then, trash), so yeah, no desire to put myself at that much risk, thank you very much. I can only imagine what Carnival is going to do to our infection rates.
Given how many people used to die annually in New Orleans AND Louisiana from malaria, yellow fever, and other pandemics that used to rage through the population, you’d think we’d handle things better as a state, city and parish, but nooooooooo….(if you ever want to read a great book about the horrors of a pandemic and massive death in New Orleans during the nineteenth century, Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season is pretty amazing)
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have to hide things from the computer camera and do some straightening up as well as preparing. Heavy heaving sigh. And I will see you tomorrow, Constant Reader.
Friday morning and it’s not as chilly in the Lost Apartment as it has been. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and all seems right with the world this morning. I have a lot to get done today–tomorrow is another work day, heavy sigh–and have errands to run later on. I am going to do some things this morning before I leave for the afternoon errands; hopefully once I return home from said errands I will be in the mood to do some writing/cleaning/filing/organizing. I’ve been remarkably productive thus far on this stay-cation (sob, I should be in New York right now); I need to keep that momentum going and I also need to make sure that I am getting properly rested as well. I feel like I’m getting decent sleep and I feel rested when I get up, which is always a plus.
Yay, well-rested Gregalicious!
And it’s a holiday weekend, which is theoretically marvelous. Monday was going to be my re-acclimate to reality after my New York trip, which is no longer necessary or needed, so I should be able to get my focus in order and write write write. I also want to get some reading done this weekend as well. I have Laura Lippman’s short story collection, the new Alafair Burke, and a massive TBR pile full of prospective treasures, which is very cool. I think maybe today when I get home from the errands I may curl up with a blanket and a book for the rest of the afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve lost myself in a good book–or so it feels–and reading is a pleasure I don’t allow myself to indulge in as much as I would like. Partly because reading is compulsive for me; once I start reading a good book I really don’t want to do anything other than finish reading it, and will make endless excuses to justify or rationalize doing nothing other than reading until the book is finished. This is dangerous, obviously, when I am on deadline…I have enough trouble with deadlines as it is; I don’t need to add something else that will keep me from writing to the already crowded ADHD-addled brain inside my skull.
The kitchen needs to be cleaned, obviously, and of course the floors always need attention. I am going to try today to not be as awful as I have been about the upkeep on the Lost Apartment over the last few months; I am not certain how successful I will be with that, in all honesty. There’s been a lot of lethargy lately–not sure what that’s about, but it’s definitely not the post-book malaise, that’s for sure. I suspect it comes from being overburdened and overwhelmed a bit with everything I need to get done, which inevitably leads to the why bother I’ll never get this all done blues which includes paralysis and the inability to focus and get things done, when the answer is always make a list and start crossing things off. I need to make a grocery list this morning for sure; I am having some “Greg-time” today with an appointment for self-care and I intend to go get groceries once that is over. I need to empty the dishwasher, I need to take out the trash and recycling, and there are numerous other odds and ends that need taking care of around here–which is why the list is of utmost importance this morning. Putting it all down on paper makes it seem less scary and intimidating, and of course, once you have a picture of everything in your head that needs doing it becomes easier to get it all done.
So, after I finish this I am going to make a grocery list, a to-do list, and then I am going to start organizing and cleaning around the kitchen before showering and getting the day off to a good start. Sounds like a good plan, does it not?
And maybe this afternoon, after I read for a bit and while I wait for Paul to come home, I can watch a movie or a Marvel show on Disney Plus. I really liked Loki, despite its slow start, and would like to see some of these other shows as well. We did start The Book of Boba Fett but that first episode was really kind of boring, frankly; I don’t know that we’ll return to it. (I never got the Boba Fett fandom in the Star Wars fan-base; he was really not much of a character in the original trilogy but for some reason caught on, so Lucas made him a key player in the next trilogy…which didn’t play for me.)
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely pre-holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
Thursday and I have a lot of work to get done today. I was exhausted yesterday and very low energy for most of the day; the coffee never kicked into high gear (I assumed that all it managed in the face of yesterday’s exhaustion was keeping me awake, alas and alack) but it’s fine. Sometimes you need those low energy, low production days to recharge your batteries, and mine certainly feel charged this morning. I am hoping against hope that this means a highly productive day here in the Lost Apartment; one can certainly hope so at any rate. I did start some things yesterday that I never finished, so that’s up first while I am still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (which has always struck me as an odd thing to say) and then I am going to dive back into the book headfirst.
Under normal circumstances, I would have woken up at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square this morning and would be writing this on my laptop in my room while swilling coffee from the Starbucks on the eighth floor (with which I became very well acquainted during my stay there back in November). But thanks to the latest variant, the trip was cancelled and no New York for me in January for the second year in a row. It’s just as well, I suppose–I’m not certain I would have been able to finish the book while on the road, and that’s kind of important; although knowing the trip was still happening would have made me push harder last weekend and this week before leaving to try to get as much handled as possible.
I was very tired last evening after the day’s business was concluded, so I basically went down some Youtube wormholes while waiting for Paul to come home so we could get back into Stay Close, the new Harlan Coben show on Netflix, which is quite intriguing seeing how all the disparate stories are connected together as the show progresses. Ozark is coming back soon, which is exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing the new John Cena super-anti-hero show when it finally drops. Superman and Lois has also returned, and I watched the first episode of its second season last night while waiting for Paul to get home–it’s the best interpretation of the Superman mythos since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan you really should be watching it–and it looks like the second season will be just as good as the first.
It’s chilly again this morning in New Orleans; not as bad as yesterday (I did wonder if the cold had something to do with my low energy day yesterday) but chilly enough to be noticeable. The sun is out though, which is always a plus, and the sunshine certainly helps my mood dramatically. I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I? Heavy sigh. But this is working to warm me up and get my brain going while I swill down my coffee, and that’s always what the purpose of this has been–to get my brain and creativity going in the mornings so I can get things done. I just realized I didn’t mark the anniversary of the blog, started on Livejournal back in the day; right around Christmas 2004, to be exact, which means this blog has been going now for well over seventeen years over two different servers. That is a ridiculous amount of blogging, really; it’s something I should probably be better about archiving. (Which reminds me: I still need to find my old journals, don’t I?)
I also want to start reading the new Alafair Burke; maybe I’ll carve some time out today between the writing and the watching of television to come tonight to spend some time with it. I am choosing not to read the jacket copy; I want to be completely surprised by the story when I read it. I also want to start reading some more of Laura Lippman’s short stories in her collection Seasonal Work, and of course my TBR pile is completely out of control. Heavy sigh. But I think I can get some pruning and organizing done around the writing today; sometimes you have to get up and walk away from the computer, and that’s going to help me get some other things done over the next few days (oh, the shelves in the laundry room stress me out every time I walk in there) and of course, there’s always some laundry to do, and the floors, and the dishes…heavy sigh. It never ends, does it?
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow morning.
The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.
As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?
The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.
If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?
We tell ourselves lies in order to live.
If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.
There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.
But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”
And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.
And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?
We tell ourselves lies in order to live.
We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.
George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.“
We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.
Tuesday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment, if a little tired/tiring.
Georgia won the national championship last night! I had to go to bed at the start of the fourth quarter, when the score was 13-12 (Alabama had first and goal inside the five, and had to kick a field goal to pull within one) and I thought to myself, Georgia might actually win this–something I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to, quite frankly–Alabama being, well, Alabama–but I can only imagine how wonderful it felt last night for the Dawg fans to finally beat Alabama and win a title–of any kind (and yes, I can completely relate–I still savor memories of LSU’s win over the Tide in 2019 for the first time in eight long years). This is the third time in the last decade an SEC team has won the national title without winning the conference (Alabama has done it twice already); the third straight year a different SEC team has won the national championship (LSU, Alabama, Georgia); and the first time a team from the SEC East has won a national title since 2008 (Florida)–as well as Georgia’s first since 1980 (!). FIVE SEC teams have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and now Georgia)–which should definitely bring the SEC haters out of the woodwork for sure.
And for the record, haters, only Alabama has won more national titles this century than LSU.
I was tired last night by the time the game actually started–I had the time wrong, and tuned in at the end of the first quarter, just before Georgia tied it 3-3–because I’d been doing the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon promotional reading with four other writers with new books out this month, which was a lot of fun…but coming as it did after an hour-and-a-half television interview that came on top of rushing home from work to get there in time for the call…yeah, by the time I settled into the easy chair and opened up Hulu I was worn out. I managed to revise/edit a short story yesterday during my lunch break and while the other authors were reading–I am nothing if not a multi-tasker–and also finished another blog post for the Bold Strokes website. I also managed to get most of my email answered yesterday; there’s no telling what’s in there this morning as I haven’t really had the heart to look, to be frank. (I just did–nothing really other than spam, huzzah! At least for now.) It’s also only 41 degrees this morning–small wonder I didn’t want to get out of bed, really–so that means a sweatshirt under my T-shirt for work this morning and a lot of bitterness on my part. But at least I am on vacation starting tomorrow (this would have been my travel day to New York) which means I don’t have to get up tomorrow and I can dive into the final revision of the book. It’s technically due on Saturday and Monday is a holiday, so I’ll be checking with them to make sure it’s okay if I send it in on Monday (probably really late that night), but I am assuming it will be since most publishers don’t work on weekends or holidays).
I am kind of looking forward to this staycation, despite the enormous disappointment in not going to New York. I have a lot to do–as long as I stay focused–and I am hopeful I will be able to get most of it taken care of since I have been so productive lately. Last night’s interview went well, as did the ZOOM reading, even if that much extroversion exhausted me. I want to get back to reading again–I stalled out on the last book I was reading, and have decided to alas cast it aside and choose another; returning that one to the TBR pile for another shot later…sometimes a book just doesn’t click with me when i try to read it, so I always try to give said book a second chance later. If it doesn’t take on the second try…that’s when it goes into the donate pile. I probably shouldn’t give books a second chance–given the status of the tottering stacks of books in the living room–but there have been any number of books that really grabbed me the second time I tried (The Stand is actually one of these, and there was another one in the pandemic times that I picked up and tried again with the end result that I absolutely LOVED it; I wish I could remember which one it was…) and so I am hesitant to deny myself even the possibility of missing out on a chance to read something fantastic.
But I also need to do something about the books. I also need to stop buying more until and unless I actually get rid of some that I have on hand–or at least until I can clear out some space in the storage attic to move some of these to…but that again shows the hoarder mentality–I will never go digging through boxes in the attic to find a book that’s stored up there; I would just buy another copy. So…maybe just clear them out and if I want to read them at some point in the future just suck it up and buy another copy, or get it from the library?
I don’t know.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and congratulations again, Georgia fans!
I was supposed to leave for New York on Wednesday, but thanks to anti-vaxxers and maskless wonders, our in-person board orientation for Mystery Writers of America was cancelled for the second consecutive year, which is annoying. I could cancel my vacation requests, but…am kind of hoping that I can use the time to get caught up on everything and my book is due soon, so….extra time certainly can come in handy about right now. So I only have two days in the office this week, and since next Monday is a holiday, I have essentially a week off from work, which is lovely.
I worked on the book yesterday–huzzah!–and now have only one chapter left to do and the revisions. The revisions aren’t going to be easy–but at least with the New York trip cancelled I’ll be home on vacation starting Wednesday, which should give me some breathing and working space in the meantime. Huzzah? Huzzah. At least the cancellation of the trip has a good side effect in one manner. Tonight after work I have to rush home to do a phone interview and after that, the January Bookathon for Bold Strokes Books; so it’s going to be a rather long day for me. I need to try to edit my short story and try to finish/edit the article I have due today between clients–which won’t be easy–so overall, it could very easily be a rather stressful day for me; long at any rate, and will undoubtedly be very tired when it’s finally comes to an end this evening, about an hour or so before I have to go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow morning…but then I have Wednesday off, so we’ll see how it all goes. Wednesday I definitely am going to have to spend writing and revising my butt off….Thursday and Friday as well. Sigh. But I like the book and think it is going to turn out okay, which is always pleasing for me–the crippling self-doubt will inevitably come later. It’s been a fun challenge working on this book; I am relatively certain by the time Monday rolls around I’ll be quite over it by then, in all honesty. but it’s a fun little book and I hope that the revision process develops it into the nice little read it has always intended to be (my brain is feverishly working on how it all turns out and how to get to that place in the story).
We got caught up on Yellowjackets last night, and have come to the sorry conclusion that this is merely season one and not a self-contained mini-series last night; I see no conceivable way they can wrap this all up and all the mysteries with a single hour episode–and I also suspect we are probably not going to get the answers we want and need, either. Which is fine; we certainly have been enjoying the ride thus far, and the writing and acting are pretty pinpoint sharp, too. We also started watching the new Harlan Coben Netflix show, Stay Close, which is also quite fun if a bit confusing. I still don’t understand how all the disparate storylines all come together or what is going on, but as always, it’s just fun to sit back and enjoy the ride with Harlan’s shows.
I also need to get back to reading once I finish this book; I’ve not been able to focus on doing any reading lately because I’ve been focusing what little energy I have on writing the book. I was on quite a roll there for a while, and it would be very nice to get back to reading again. The TBR pile continues to grow, and it’s past time for me to do another living room book purge. I’d intended to get another box down from the attic this weekend but…book and cleaning focus prevented that; I may be able to get to this whilst I am on vacation this week. (I suspect I am planning to be overly ambitious again this week with my time off, and of course a gazillion other things will pop up in the meantime that will distract me from getting everything finished that needs to be finished–as always–but hope will always spring eternal.)
Seriously, just looking at my inbox gives me the hives.
But recoiling away from it isn’t going to solve the problem, so it’s best for me to grit my teeth, put on my helmet, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.