If You Let Me Down Let Me Down Slow

One of my favorite lines from All About Eve is not, actually, one of the more popular or famous (infamous?) ones. It comes when Margo and Karen are stranded in the car on the way to the train station so Margo can make her curtain; they’ve run out of gas and Lloyd has gone for help (Margo doesn’t know Karen has drained the tank deliberately to punish Margo for–well, for being right about Eve all along), and they start talking. Margo turns on the car radio and music plays, and Bette Davis makes a patented Bette Davis sneer-face and turns it off, snapping, “I despise cheap sentiment.” I love that line, and use it whenever it feels appropriate.

I do feel it important to say that I don’t despise all sentiment, just the cheap, sappy kind. I used to love It’s a Wonderful Life, frankly, until I started really thinking about its message and how truly dark it actually is; now I love to fuck with people who still love it by called it the darkest Christmas noir ever put on film. But The Princess Bride and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are still two of my favorite movies; and earned sentimentality, that arises from strong character development and a good story, still moves my heart and can make me cry a little bit.

Yes, I cry at movies and television shows; there are even songs that make me tear up a little bit, too. I know I project that I am deeply cynical–probably because, well, I am deeply cynical. People and systems have disappointed me far too many times for me to have a glowing opinion of humanity as a rule; my friend Victoria often accuses me of being a misanthrope–to which I always reply, “And I’m not wrong to be.” I do prefer to believe that most people are decent at heart, but there are just so many examples on the other side of the scales that it’s very hard to keep believing in the kindness of random strangers. (Just look at our current society and what is going on in the world even as I type this.)

So, I went into Heartstopper not expecting an awful lot. It looked cute from the brief previews I’d seen, and so I knew already it was about two teenaged boys falling in love and their friend group. I’ve often been disappointed by queer representation in films, television shows, and sometimes in books as well; I figured, despite the enormous popularity of the graphic novels this show was based on, that this would yet again be the case.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I was so completely charmed by a television series with gay characters–if ever. I have always been harshly critical of fictions targeted toward queer youth for any number of reasons; the primary one being a serious lack of authenticity in the ones I’ve read and/or watched. Some of them were so blatantly unrealistic I couldn’t even get past the third page, and even the ones I managed to hold my nose and get through were incredibly problematic and disappointing. I never got into Love, Victor because it seemed…well, phony to me. I can’t give any examples of why I reacted that way to the show, and believe me, I wish I could have watched more of it so I could (I may go back and do so at some point). So when I saw the first previews for Netflix’ Heartstopper, it looked adorable…but as I said, didn’t get my hopes up. I checked into it before watching and learned that it was based on a series of graphic novels that started as web cartoons, written by Alice Oseman, and I thought, well, be supportive and give it a chance. We were just coming off season 5 of Elite, which had thoroughly shocked and surprised me with the amazing storyline and arc they’d given the character of gay Patrick (who literally stole the entire season out from under the rest of the cast; it was a stunning performance by Manu Rios), and the thought that I might have another terrific show with gay characters and a romance was too much to pass up on. So, the Saturday before we went to New York, Paul and I queued up Heartstopper and…

We were both enchanted.

Heartstopper is just so sweet and lovely I felt my Grinch heart grow three sizes while watching it.

I even happy-cried several times per episode; so it’s like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek in that way, but it also touched me deeply. I kept thinking, over and over again, how marvelous this show was; how beautifully written and acted and produced–and how lovely this would have been for fifteen year old me to have seen.

It’s like I don’t know who I am anymore.

It really is just so damned sweet and charming.

The queer rep I’ve seen in y/a novels–romance or not–has generally not been satisfying or engaging; I tend to raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes a lot–if I can even make it all the way through. But this….this was different somehow. Maybe because the actors playing the roles were the actual age they were playing? They just looked so young and innocent and sweet….which was perfect for this kind of show, really. It does make a difference when teenagers are played by teenagers, as opposed to actors in their twenties.

Charlie is the main character, who was accidentally outed by one of his friends the previous year and has suffered some bullying, which has left a few marks on his psyche. But it’s a new school year, some older boys put an end to the bullying, and he’s starting over in a way. On the first day of class he finds himself sharing a table in Form (what I guess we would call homeroom) with Nick, the big star of the school’s (Truham) rugby team. As they continue sitting next to each other, they slowly but surely start becoming more and more friendly with each other; enjoying each other’s company, etc. Charlie is also involved in a toxic relationship with Ben–who will meet him privately to make out, but only on his terms and when he wants it, and is also seeing a girl–that Charlie is trying to get out of. Ben tries to force himself on Charlie one day… Nick stops it, and then their friendship blossoms even more, with more texts and Nick proving himself to be a really good friend to Charlie, who is also developing a crush on Nick.

Nick is also starting to have feelings for Charlie that go deeper than “being mates”–so we see him looking stuff up on line about being gay.

Kit Conner, who plays Nick, plays the role so pitch-perfectly–the confusion of having feelings you’ve never had before, which upsets your entire worldview and everything you think you know about yourself (it wasn’t my experience, personally, but I’ve heard this from countless others) and being terrified to express it; afraid of what will happen when you admit it to yourself and start admitting it to others, and what it all means. He’s falling in love with Charlie, but what precisely does that mean?

His mother is brilliantly played by Olivia Colman, who is just such a treasure. One of the sweetest scenes in the entire show is after she’s met Charlie, and she comments on the friendship, “You’re more you when you’re around him. You’re different around your other friends. With Charlie, you’re you.”

Yes, it brought tears to my eyes–especially watching the emotions of what she means being processed in Nick’s mind and the lovely smile when he realizes that Charlie really sees him…and what THAT means.

It was also lovely seeing their relationship develop and blossom and grow–and that everyone is supportive and excited for them for the most part (yes, there’s some homophobic bullying, but not as much as one would expect, but it’s also dealt with strongly and doesn’t really hang over the show, either). There’s a young lesbian couple as well whose development and growth mirrors that of Nick and Charlie; a wonderful young trans character who has left the boys’ school and is now at the girls’ school, and a burgeoning romance for her as well–which I hope develops more in the next season.

But most importantly, the show is about acceptance and the sweetness of falling in love for the first time–and the usual obstacles that keep our adorable young couple apart aren’t heavy drama, and their suffering is more along the line of does he really like me? Am I his boyfriend?

It’s sweet, and adorable, and charming. As I said, I happy cried any number of times throughout the show…and the soundtrack is fantastic.

In fact, I am so obsessed with Heartstopper that the day after we watched I bought all four graphic novels and read them the following afternoon.

The show follows the books pretty closely, but they are just as adorable in the graphic novels as they are on the show. The graphic novels take a bit of a darker turn in the last couple of volumes than I would have liked, but the dark stuff is handled not only optimistically but in the same charming, loving, kind way the rest of the story is told.

Highly recommended. I am probably going to rewatch, too. It made me all warm inside, and shows like that–Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso and now Heartstopper–are necessary, especially in these dark times in which we live. Thank you, Alice Oseman, for the books, the story, and the characters. Highly recommended.

I could write about this show and the books forever, and may write more later…but I am going to go ahead and post this now.

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Here to Stay

And it’s Friday. January is slowly slipping through my fingers, but that’s okay; I’d rather life not really slow down to accommodate me, to be perfectly honest. It’s raining and gray outside this morning–last night I managed to sleep completely through the night, which was a quite lovely thing, to be honest, and I feel awake and rested this morning. Rain always helps me sleep better, so I always prefer the rain to come during the night, frankly–but I love rain as long as I don’t have to go anywhere and do anything important while it is happening.

We finished Bridgerton last night, and I must say the show definitely lived up to its hype and word-of-mouth. It was a delightful entertainment, with a gorgeous young cast (and even the older members of the cast were quite marvelous, both in talent and appearance) and I daresay many of this cast will become stars in their own right–the leads, Daphne and Simon, are impossible to look away from when on screen and I am not afraid to confess I got teary at points, particularly the scene at the ball in, of all things, the rain. Visually the show was absolutely stunning–those sets, those costumes, those color palettes!–and the writing was strong. I’d say Shonda Rimes deserves every penny of her massive Netflix contract; the same cannot be said for Ryan Murphy. I am now quite curious to read the novels by Julia Quinn, to see if they are as delightful as the show. I’ve always enjoyed romance novels–while always preferring crime, of course–and it has been a long time since I have read one, immersing myself in crime novels the way I have over the past two decades. Perhaps broadening my reading to other genres again would be advisable? I had mentioned when we first started watching Bridgerton that in another lifetime I might have been a romance novelist; now I am thinking that writing one might be the kind of writing challenge I need in order to keep my own writing fresh and invigorate my own career again. Despite my own cynicism, which has only gotten deeper and more strong as I have aged, I am a hopeless romantic who always wants there to be a happy ending for the characters I read about, and TV shows and movies often move me to tears. The aforementioned rain scene had tears spilling down my cheeks, and I am not ashamed to admit it. (Both The Princess Bride and the animated Beauty and the Beast still bring tears to my eyes, despite the fact I have seen both dozens of times.)

I was exhausted yesterday; pretty much the entire day I was running on accessory. I thought upon waking yesterday morning that it might be a good day, but it was not to be, alas. For some reason I felt tired and drained almost the entire day, like my batteries were recharging, and I had no energy to face anything or even try to get much done. I couldn’t face my emails! Let alone trying to get any writing done; I abandoned that possibility early in the day when I realized my brain was fatigued. I made condom packs for most of the day, and watched two movies–one was a rewatch of the exceptionally amazing Angel Heart, starring a young and astonishingly beautiful Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, and Charlotte Rampling. Part of the film was shot in New Orleans–still stunningly beautiful and different in the 1980’s, but still the same New Orleans–and the visuals are exceptional. The plot is genius, with all of its twists and turns–I read the Edgar winning novel on which it was based several years ago; it’s also quite excellent–and I don’t know if it gets enough credit. I find myself becoming very interested in 80’s “Neo-noir”, whatever that means; I consider these films to be noir, but am also not an expert on noir or film, nor am I really sure why the noir films of the 70’s and 80’s are called “Neo-noir” rather than noir–more research obviously must be done here–but I think that may well be my next film festival–but shall have to come up with a catchy name for it, undoubtedly. There were some terrific noirish films made in those decades–Masquerade, Body Heat, No Way Out, Angel Heart–and I wonder if there is–there inevitably always is–a book or two examining these films?

The second half of yesterday’s double bill was a 1983 British made for television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which reminded me of why Holmes never really resonated with me when I was younger. Perhaps it was simply the film, but the characterizations were so two-dimensional the story never really caught fire–and I do remember this was my favorite Holmes story when I was younger; which is even odder because Holmes is hardly in the story at all–but I’ve always been drawn to hauntings and family curses. As I watched, I kept thinking to myself how I could possibly adapt this story to my own Sherlock world–now that I’ve dipped my toe into those waters I cannot stop thinking about them–and rather smiled to myself when I thought my version could be called The Hound of the Mandevilles and be set on the North Shore. I already have an idea for a ghost dog story set in New Orleans–“The Hound of St. Roch”–but I don’t think that would work as a Sherlock story, unfortunately.

I really need to get Sherlock out of my mind, and I suppose watching film adaptations of his stories is probably not the best way to do that, is it? But I’ve grown weary of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and need a break from it for awhile; but I think I’ll hold off on a Holmes film festival for a while. Last night while I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen I kept thinking about writing a Holmes novel–which is the last thing I need to be thinking about right now.

And on that note, it is time to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

The World Turned Upside Down

So, Hamilton.

Amazing.

I mean, wow.

I can’t think of many musicals that when I finished watching, I was simply awestruck. Oh, sure, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin both always make me cry (the animated film versions, natch) and I’ve enjoyed some others, but as a general rule I kind of missed out on the gay musical gene. My general lack of interest in musicals, particularly stage ones, generally catches people off-guard; the stereotype, indeed, runs that deep. Some of my friends were stunned that I wasn’t an enormous Sondheim fan, for example. (They did turn me on to Company and Sunday in the Park with George, but while I recognize the ability and talent involved…I haven’t sought out others.) In some queer genetic DNA mix-up, I got the football gene instead of the musical theater one.

Hamilton, though. I mean.

Alexander Hamilton was always one of my favorite founding fathers. He literally came from nothing and nowhere to become one of the most important US historical figures of the Revolution and the creation of the country–the American monetary and financial system was his work. (It is definitely flawed, and has become much more so with the passage of time; unchecked corruption inevitably seeped in and exploited, and continues to exploit, those flaws, but it was still an enormous achievement.) He was killed in a duel, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, aide-de-camp to Washington during the war…truly remarkable. He was flawed, of course, as all the Fathers were. The development of the need for a mythology in which our founding fathers’ flaws were erased and they were raised to God-like stature over the centuries to come has inevitably clouded the necessary truths of history and papered those cracks over with lies and myth. The history I was taught, and read, as a child, was fictional.

I remember being excited when the Chernow biography was published to great fanfare and acclaim; I had a copy, but I don’t recall if I read it or not. That was during the cloudy times, and I am not sure where my copy of it is today else I was have spent most of the rest of yesterday rereading it. When the stage show debuted, to great acclaim and quickly became a national sensation, I was again happy, but couldn’t believe all the buzz and rapture I was hearing. I listened to the cast show recording and, while some of the songs were definitely catchy and memorable, it’s really an opera–and out of the context of the show itself…you literally have to listen to the entire thing to get it and appreciate it.

But watching the film yesterday was a revelatory. In context, with the visuals and seeing it all together–the lighting, the staging, the choreography, the performance, the costumes–it is truly a rousing masterpiece. I was moved to tears several times…and at the very end the number “Who Will Tell Your Story” reveals that the true hero of the show (and his life) was Eliza Hamilton, his wife. And what an extraordinary woman she was! She outlived her husband by fifty years, preserved his legacy, founded the first orphanage in New York City, and launched the drive to raise money for the Washington Memorial (with Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams), not to mention losing her oldest son as well in a duel–and the humiliation of the public exposure of her husband’s affair. The performance by Philippa Soo was exceptional (as was the young woman playing her sister, Angelica–and that number, “Satisfied,” with the rewind? Amazing).

My friend Pat Brady, a historian who wrote a biography of Martha Washington, always says that “women were the secret weapon of the American Revolution,” and she was right. Those American women of that time were just as exceptional as their men.

Was it historically accurate? Not completely, but not as inaccurate as offerings such as The Tudors, Reign, and The White Queen.

Now, I get the mania and the fandom. From the opening notes, I knew I was watching something different than anything I’d ever seen before. An excellent, highly talented cast; terrific staging and choreography…and an appealing story. There is nothing quite as American as the rags-to-riches story; because in our heart of hearts, we always think of ourselves being that underdog who is somehow going to take the world by storm and not miss our shot.

I’ll probably watch again at some point, but I am going to bask for now in the pleasant afterglow of seeing it for the first time.

Now I regret not seeing the original cast performing it live on stage. It must have been amazing to witness.

Hey Jude

Well, yesterday was a bust. I got practically nothing done yesterday, other than laundering the bedding, doing the dishes, and straightening up some around the house. I was surprisingly tired, somehow, and wound up relaxing in my easy chair for most of the day, streamed a movie (G. B. F., which was really cute; it’s lovely to see that they are making teen movies with gay characters front and center) and then watched old episodes of Dark Shadows. I simply gave into the being tired and listened to my body, and decided it wasn’t smart to force myself to do anything when I was so tired and listless. I overslept again this morning–stayed in bed until ten again, just like yesterday–but am again refusing to feel any guilt. Obviously, my body, mind, and spirit need rest. Today I will have to go get groceries–no choice, really–and work on some things. We’ll see how it goes; trips to the grocery store rarely end well, you know? That always seems to wear me out somewhat.

And much as I loathe the very idea, my taxes do need to be done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And I need to go to the grocery store.

Heavy sigh.

Oh, well, it has to be done, no sense in moping about it, right?

And since I embraced my lazy yesterday, I have to get things done today. There is no choice. It simply must be.

At least it’s a beautiful day out there, right? That has to count for something.

I am a little worried about my tendency to stay in the house. I mean, I have a new car and could spend time on the weekends doing things; like exploring New Orleans, going to the beach–all sorts of things–and yet it’s true: a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Like even now I am dreading the very thought of getting out of this chair and going out to do things. It really is sad.

But at least today I feel rested. Yesterday I did not; I felt tired all day. I already feel rested and awake this morning even though it’s already 11:30 and I’ve only had two cups of coffee. I do feel like if I can just get motivated I can clean and make groceries and edit and write and do some of my taxes and so on. And maybe, just maybe, I can get that rewrite of the story finished and maybe make some progress on Crescent City Charade and figure out some other things.

The day is rife with potential and possibilities. You have to love that, don’t you?

I also rewatched my old DVD of Beauty and the Beast yesterday; I’ve been thinking about writing about it and the live-action version that’s just been released (I do want to go see it; just am not sure when I’ll be able to get to a theater) and some of the controversy involved with both. I love the movie, I love the stage play based on it, and if people want to read things into it that are offensive and whatever, have at it. I will still love the movie and the story, and read into it what I see in it: namely, the entire movie is a metaphor for HIV/AIDS, and hope.

Next weekend is the TWFest/Saints & Sinners; I’ve made the executive decision to not stay in the Quarter for more than Friday night; I shall simply commute back and forth between the evejavascript:void(0);nt and the Lost Apartment. That way we won’t have to mess with boarding Scooter. I’ve taken Friday off from work; I shall head down there in the early afternoon and go shopping at the outlet mall for an outfit to wear to the opening parties, and then after everything I am doing on Saturday I shall take the streetcar home, and then take it back down there for Sunday’s events.

All right. I am getting nothing done here. So I shall post a picture of one of the attractive young actors from G. B. F. before I go.

This is Taylor Frey, who also played gay on Days of Our Lives.