Nightbird

Tuesday and back to the office. Huzzah?

I guess. It doesn’t feel like I accomplished much this weekend, but that’s nothing new. I always feel like I should have done more when the weekend–especially a long one–has ended; but I am trying not to beat myself up as much over stuff like this as I used to. It’s not good for my mental health, for one–always a shaky thing at the best of times–and it’s counter-productive. I feel very strongly that one should never regret things–no regrets is kind of a mantra of mine–because regret is really a waste of time and energy. You can’t change it, after all. (I am not saying this rule should apply to everything–murder, for example–but for anything that isn’t a crime, you should have no regrets. All you can do is change the behavior and not repeat it if you feel regret but wallowing in the regret is counter-productive and kind of self-defeating. I think you get the point. I’ve not had enough coffee to be certain I am making the point properly.) I didn’t finish reading my book, I didn’t write nearly as much as I could have, and I certainly didn’t get the apartment as clean and organized as I would have preferred. But it’s also a short work week, we have a regular weekend coming up and then another three day holiday after that; and then I am off to Florida for Sleuthfest–which makes that an even shorter week than usual. And since yesterday was a holiday, I actually get to use my Friday as my work-at-home day of the week. Huzzah! That will be nice, and I have all kinds of things I can take home and do this Friday.

We finished watching The Defeated last night and it’s really quite good. It was originally released in 2020 and approved for a second season, but the pandemic interfered and it looks like they went into production sometime last year, but where is the second (and final) season? It’s really good–if you enjoy Babylon Berlin or have any interest in the second world war and it’s aftermath, you’ll really like this show.

Well, yesterday I ran my errands–Metairie and the North Shore–and after I was finished and heading back home, I realized something: you can actually tell where an area falls on the political landscape based on the length of the drive-thru line at a Chik-Fil-A. The one in Metairie on Veteran’s Boulevard yesterday, for example–was so long it backed out onto Veterans and was blocking a lane of traffic. No offense to right-wingers, but there’s really no fast food in the world good enough for me to sit in a drive-thru line that would take that long (although now it occurs to me that it could also be an indication of how slow the line moves, which again–no fast food is so fucking good that it’s worth waiting in line for a minimum of twenty minutes for).

It was exhausting, of course–the heat index was well over a hundred yesterday–but it was also a beautiful day for a drive across the lake. I used to loathe driving over the causeway bridge, and it’s still not a favorite thing for me to do (the five dollar toll to come back to the south shore doesn’t help; yes, it’s free to go to the north shore but you have to pay to come to the south; just like when the Crescent City Connection was a toll bridge going to the West Bank was free but you had to pay to come back to New Orleans), but I’ve adapted and can now relax (depending on the idiot drivers, of course; there are always a few) as I drive across and enjoy looking at the beautiful expanse of water. The bridge is twenty-four miles long, so you can reach a point where you can’t see land in any direction, like you’re out there in the middle of the water with no end to it in sight–I think that was what always used to bother me about driving across the bridge. The north shore is also actually quite beautiful, too–you really feel like you’re in the South on the North Shore, more so than on the south shore, where it feels like Louisiana, if that makes sense? (although it would make for an interesting thing to write about in a Scotty book, hmmm) I do wish I had more free time, because I would like to go exploring around the city a bit more–the north shore, the river and bayou parishes–but the cost of gas is also making such explorations prohibitive. Maybe over the 4th of July weekend I can head down to the river parishes….I kind of need to for this new Scotty book. Then again, I am inventing a parish out of my imagination, but it also doesn’t hurt to ground a fictional parish in reality, either.

And on that note, I need to head into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday and will chat at you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Beauty and the Beast

Holiday Monday, which is celebrating Juneteenth (if you want to know more about the holiday, this is a great place to start). It’s hard to believe, and more than a little sad, that it took until recently for this to become a federally recognized holiday. Honestly.

Better late than never, I suppose–which is hardly any consolation, really.

But it’s nice to have another three-day weekend (I can’t remember which holiday we gave up for this one at my dayjob, but we only are allowed no more than eight holidays for some reason), and I slept late again this morning. The cappuccino yesterday morning had no effect on my sleep, so I am having another one this morning, which is lovely. I really do love the way they taste; I just wish making them wasn’t so complicated and dirtied up so much stuff. I made Swedish meatballs yesterday afternoon and that mess still needs to be cleaned up as well. Heavy sigh. What can I say? I got caught up in watching television once the meal was ready and stayed in my easy chair until it was time for bed. We watched the new episode of Becoming Elizabeth, which isn’t bad but it’s not overly compelling either–which is weird, because the period between Henry VIII’s death in 1547 and Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1558 was very fraught and very dangerous (Anya Seton brilliantly captured this period in her seminal novel Green Darkness, which I highly recommend along with the warning “it’s quite long”); but it’s not really translating to the screen very well in this production. I also spent some more time with John Copenhaver’s marvelous The Savage Kind, which I hope to do again today.

We also started watching an amazing show on Netflix that originally dropped in 2020 and whose second season was endlessly delayed by the pandemic (I checked it out on-line as we watched) called The Defeated starring Taylor Kitsch as a Brooklyn homicide detective who is “loaned” to a small precinct in the American sector of Berlin in 1946 to help rebuild their station along American police standards; which is a challenge. None of the people working as cops there have any experience in being police officers; some are young boys while the majority are women. The Germans aren’t allowed to have guns, so they have an “arsenal” where they keep their bedposts and other wooden sticks; the Russians are horrible; and Kitsch himself is looking for his brother, a soldier with mental problems who’s gone AWOL and whom Kitsch suspects is targeting and murdering Nazis. It’s extremely well done–think Babylon Berlin but only in another twenty years–and it also asks a lot of ethical and moral questions that really don’t have answers. The woman who runs the station, is the “superintendent” or captain of the squad–wasn’t a Nazi but her protestations about “we weren’t all Nazis” have the same credibility of a prisoner at Angola claiming innocence: no one admits to being a Nazi once the war was lost, after all. At one point she says, very poignantly, “The war is over and the entire world hates us because of what we did, or allowed, and who can blame them?” This seems particularly poignant given the current political climate in our country; I know it seems extreme, but I’ve seen other people comment on Twitter and other social media about how they feel sometimes like “they are living in Weimar Germany and it’s just a matter of time.”

I know I’ve certainly felt that way at times.

We also watched a classic old Bette Davis film, The Letter, which I’d realized I’d never seen yesterday so I pulled it up and started watching. I had read the original short story by Somerset Maugham a few years ago for the Short Story Project, and enjoyed it tremendously. The story is told from the lawyer’s point of view, while the movie certainly shifts the focus over to Leslie Crosbie, wife of a Malaysian rubber plantation owner, who shoots and kills a man she accuses of trying to rape her. Everyone believes Leslie…but you see, there is this letter that exists that contradicts her story, and the more lies she tells, the less her lawyer believes her–although he ultimately pays a blackmailer to get the letter back so she escapes conviction. In the story it’s all from the lawyer’s point of view; she’s merely the wife of a friend he is taking on as a favor, and he doesn’t know her well…but as he (the lawyer) discovers the existence of the letter and recovers it, he slowly begins to see through her lies and to see her as she really is. He doesn’t expose her–he allows her to escape her punishment–but he confronts her with the letter after the verdict and she confesses everything…only to return to her loveless marriage at the rubber plantation. The story and the movie both are steeped with the Imperialistic and racist overtones of the time the story was written and the film made; the ending of the movie is different than that of the story because of course, for the Hays Code of the time she couldn’t be seen as not being “punished” for her crime; she is murdered at the end by the Eurasian widow of the man she killed (his marriage to this mixed-race woman is what sets the tragedy in motion) during a party celebrating her verdict. There was one scene in particular that really made me shake my head: after she has told her story of being almost raped and committing murder to protect herself, she makes dinner for her husband, a friend of the family, and the local police magistrate and they sit around eating and talking about things like nothing’s happened. As we watched this season, Paul–who had no idea of what the movie was about–said, “Oh, he didn’t try to rape her, did he? She’s a cold-blooded killer.” GREG: “It’s Bette Davis, what do you think?”

Although it did make me think about false accusations of rape again, which is one of the myriad of reasons women generally tend to not be believed about being assaulted. There’s probably a really good essay to be written about that.

I also wrote yesterday, which was really lovely. I managed to get the first chapter of that manuscript written; I plan to look at it again today and tweak it a bit. I have a lengthy errand to run–must go over to the North Shore–and when I get home, I plan to write for a while before retiring to my easy chair with my Copenhaver book (I am really enjoying it, y’all) before we finish watching The Defeated (y’all, it’s really good). I’m not sure if what I wrote yesterday is actually any good or not; it remains to be seen, I suppose, and let’s face it, I am not (nor have I ever been) the best judge of my own work. But we shall see today, I suppose. It felt good to be creating again and it felt good to be finishing something, even if it’s just a shitty draft. I’d like to be able to get a lot more written today, if I can…

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Talk soon, Constant Reader!

Up the Ladder to the Roof

It’s a gray Saturday morning, and my body clock has definitely reset. I woke up just before six again, wide awake, but stayed in bed for another hour (just like yesterday). I don’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday, though; but I have things to dig through and work to do and lots of coffee on-hand for fueling. But that’s okay; I don’t have huge plans for the day. I am going to start doing some editing, I am going to work on my short story a bit, and i am going to spend some more time with Kellye Garrett’s Like A Sister, which will be my reward for getting the other stuff done. I need to go make groceries at some point this weekend, just haven’t decided which day to do that. I also need to go to the gym, maybe later today. There’s always organizing and cleaning to do, too.

In other words, another normal weekend around the Lost Apartment.

But that’s cool, I suppose. Trying to do normal things helps me deal with the over-all concern about the world burning to the ground around us, which sometimes makes doing anything feel completely pointless. (I do remember all the hesitation from people in December about trying not to get thrilled or be happy that 2021 was coming to an end; we all felt that way every December for several years only for the new year to be even worse than the one before. Looks, sadly, like those people were right.) It’s a weird place to be in for someone my age, or in my generation, or those of us who remember the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m sure many of them, like me, had forgotten what it was like to live under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. But that’s what we did back then–we went about our daily lives with that worry in the back of our minds at all times. I remember the amazement and joy when the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany reunified; part of their punishment for causing World War II and uncountable war crimes was allowing the Russians to basically split the country, turning East Germany into a communist satellite state while West Germany became a democracy and joined NATO and the west–basically for protection from a Communist takeover. I don’t miss nuclear apocalyptic fiction and films; Neville Shute’s On the Beach was such a bleak read, and the television movie The Day After was also dark and hopeless. There was an abandoned nuclear missile base about two or three miles from my high school in Kansas (which I’ve always wanted to write about); I remember there was a PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school about nuclear war, which was also the first time it ever crossed my mind that Kansas, of all places, would be a strategic military target for the Russians (because of all the missile bases spread across the prairie), they even named the closest town to the abandoned base as a target (Bushong, Kansas, population 37 at the time). And of course, The Day After made that very clear, as it took place in Kansas City and environs. Testament is another bleak film about the aftermath of nuclear war; and I remember reading another book, War Day, by Whitley Strieber and someone else, set about twenty years after a nuclear war between the superpowers. We used to learn about all kinds of things, like the electromagnetic pulse (the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere which somehow–I don’t remember how it worked–rendered anything requiring electricity to cease working), often simplified to EMP. We were taught that iodine helped with radiation sickness, along with the grim knowledge that those killed instantly were the lucky ones. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction used to be about the aftermath of nuclear war.

I didn’t realize how lovely it had been to be able to push those concerns completely out of my mind.

And what unique privilege it is, to be so consumed with worry over what may happen that might affect me and my life, while people are literally being slaughtered by the minute and large cities are being bombed and shelled ruthlessly and refugees are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands.

And there are other atrocities occurring around the world that aren’t being reported on, or covered as widely by the western media–primarily because the people being slaughtered or bombed aren’t white.

The great irony is that we consider our current civilization as the apex of humanity thus far–that civilization continues to evolve and grow less barbaric with the passage of time, while knowing that future generations will look back to our times and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them? How could they not see how fucked up the world was, and do something about it?

What is happening in Ukraine is just another chapter in the never-ending on-going series of books showing how incredibly inhumane humans are.

I don’t know what’s going to happen over there, and I worry that a peaceable resolution is not possible. I don’t see how Putin can possibly survive this, and he is a desperate thug with a massive Napoleon complex. I don’t know how many Ukrainians have to die before the rest of the world says enough. I don’t know how you get a madman with a nuclear arsenal to stop making war on civilians.

So, I just keep going. I get up every morning and have coffee. I check my emails, read some, delete some and reply to others. I check the news to see the latest from the front. I work on day job responsibilities and my writing and MWA business and edit. I do my dishes and clean my house and cook dinner and try to read to take my mind off the nightmares unfolding in the far corners of the world. I donate what I can to relief efforts. Little things, here and there, to cope with a reality that is incredibly worrisome and stressful and so overwhelming that I can’t allow myself to spend too much time going down that road–because I have the privilege to not have to be concerned about surviving today’s bombings. I have food and medicine and access to services. I have power and water and a working car. I have resources to draw upon. I am lucky.

I create. I write novels, fictions which may or may not have any meaning, trifles that can serve as a distraction from the worries and cares of a burning world over which I have little to no control. I have always been hesitant to use the word art when it comes to my writing; I’ve always felt that it isn’t for me to decide whether my work is art or I am an artist. But literature is a form of art, so therefore by extension my work is art and I am an artist; whether good or bad, important or forgettable is for others to discuss, debate and decide. But one of the foundations of civilization is art; art can survive the centuries and epochs and tell future generations stories about the times in which we live, to give them context for our civilization and our country and what we do and how we live. Fiction can educate and distract; it can provide a needed distraction and escape from the horrors of reality and provide comfort and joy in times of stress and terror. I have always escaped into books, and as a writer, I can also now escape into worlds and characters of my own creation. Reading and writing have always been my escapes; and now, more than ever, those kinds of escapes are necessary.

So, writers–we need to keep creating even as the world burns. There is always a need for beauty and truth, especially in times like these. And with electronic books–our words can now last for eternity, forever–or at least as long as civilization as we know it exists. I have no crystal ball; I do not have visions–although there have been times I’ve felt like Cassandra screaming on the walls of Troy, ignored and mocked as she tells them their future and of their folly. I do not know how this will all turn out, I do not know where we will be tomorrow or the next day. But as long as I have the ability to do so, I will keep working. I will keep making to-do lists and crossing off the tasks as I complete them. I will go on, living my life and doing whatever small thing I can do to try to keep the light burning. I will always try to make sense of the senseless, and I will always keep going.

No matter how dark the world might seem, no matter how much suffering we have to witness.

And on that somber note, I am going to dive into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hope you and all your loved ones are safe and secure, and continue to be.

Christmas Alphabet

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

I got some very good work done yesterday on the book, as well as an invitation to write a story for a tribute anthology, which meant it was a very good day. Today I am working at home, and am also very excited because finally, at long last, I have found Johnny Tremain on a streaming service! And while it disturbs me to no end to actually have to pay to rent it, but I’ve been wanting to see it again for a very long time, and I think I can cough up the couple of bucks to pay for it.

I’ve long wondered where my interest in history came from, and when I saw Johnny Tremain available to stream at long last on Amazon Prime the other day, it hit me: when I was in the first grade, at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago, one afternoon we all gathered in the auditorium and they screened the movie for us. It was my first time seeing anything to do with American history–at that point, I was aware of the Civil War (I was from the South and lived in Chicago; of course I did) and who Washington and Lincoln were, but it was watching this movie–about a teenager in Boston during the period leading up to the American Revolution, that triggered my interest. This was when I started looking for books on American history at the library instead of ones about dinosaurs, and I was in the fourth grade when I finally got a copy of the book (I didn’t know it was a book first) from the Scholastic Book Fair, and it remained a favorite of mine for the rest of my life. I’ve always, always, remembered watching that movie and wanted to see it again; but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was the trigger that led me to my interest in American history, and from there to history in general. I am sure, since it’s a Disney picture made in the 1950’s, that it’s very rah-rah patriotic–there’s a thirty minute clip from it on Disney Plus that I tried to watch out of context, but it was so…hit you over the head with AMERICANA and FREEDOM and LIBERTY that I couldn’t really watch all of it; I am hoping that the entire movie won’t be such blatant propaganda, but then again, it was during the height of the Red Scare and it probably was intended to indoctrinate (white) children with a pro-America mentality; patriotism to the nth degree.

So, we’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

I got some good work on the book done last night, after which I was very tired, so I climbed into the easy chair (with a sleeping purr-kitty in my lap) and finished reading A Caribbean Mystery. (More on that later.) I also started reading Nightwing: Leaping into the Light (based on a recommendation from my friend Alex, who always knows whereof he speaks) and it reminded me (again) of why Nightwing is and always has been my favorite super-hero ever since I was a teenager (since he evolved from Robin into Nightwing); and it also finally hit me last night precisely why that was the case; it should make for an interesting blog entry when I get to it. I have so much writing to do–and fortunately I am in a creative state of mind these days, which needs to be more laser-focused. I am pretty confident I will get the book finished in time now, as well as everything else I need to do. We need to make a Costco run at some point, and of course there’s always mail to pick up, dishes to do, floors to clean, and laundry. I also have condoms to pack, and so much reading to do. I inevitably always have more than enough books on hand so that I will never run out of things to read–and that’s not even taking into consideration the ebooks loaded into all the reading apps on my iPad. I slept really well last night–a lovely side effect to being exhausted yesterday–and my shoulder is starting to feel better–at least I can move my arm without feeling a stab of pain, but I do want to keep resting it for another few days before attempting the gym again. I think tonight I might also walk around the Garden District taking pictures of Christmas decorations, which is always a lovely thing to do; one of the many things I love about this city is how it dresses itself up for any and every holiday, which makes it always seem so festive here.

I also have all my Christmas shopping done, and I actually did my Christmas cards last night as well. Now if only my house weren’t such a mess, I could claim I was winning at life!

Paul and I have decided that 2022 is going to be a year dedicated to living our best lives, and we’re thinking about taking another jaunt to Europe (pandemic permitting); but Amsterdam and Berlin will be our destinations. I’ve always wanted to visit both–there’s really nowhere in Europe I don’t want to visit, really–and the appeal of the art museums in both, plus Amsterdam is primarily a walking city, is a hard pull to resist. I’m thinking we might even take the occasional weekend getaway to a panhandle beach, why not? I have to do some traveling for my career (pandemic willing), and I am sure Paul will want to come to Minneapolis with me for Bouchercon, since we both lived there (he lived there much longer than I did; I only lasted eight months, and only agreed to live there on the guarantee it would be eight months and then we would move to New Orleans–other than the weather I really liked it there) it makes sense for him to come with. He works so hard, and he really does deserve to have down time where he can just relax and have fun.

Yesterday at the office I was walking out of our cubicle area to a testing room because one of my clients had arrived. I had noticed that the Crescent Care shirt I was wearing fit rather nicely; I have three of them in purple (one for every clinic day) and one of them, for some reason, fits better than the others and looks more flattering when I wear it. I actually had just thought about it again when I stood up from my desk (“hey, my pecs looks HUGE in this shirt”) and as I walked out, our nurse (hired in July) was sitting at the front desk and she said, “You know Greg, I can see the potential that you were fine when you were younger.” Fifty year old me would have been offended (“what? I look old and tired now?”) but sixty year old me accepted it in the spirit it was intended–a compliment–so I just laughed and replied, “thank you, I was.” Like I said, ten years ago I would have let that hurt my feelings; now I saw it as a compliment–if worded a bit bluntly–and it amused me. Even thinking about it, I am smiling about it.

I do wish I hadn’t been so insecure and self-conscious when I was younger. I also wish I could transfer this very mentality to my writing. I don’t get Imposter Syndrome as much as I used to–more maturity of age, perhaps?–but I do worry about whether people will get what i am trying to do when I write. I worry about unintentionally offending people more than I ever used to before (trust me, if I am trying to offend you, it’s pretty fucking clear); and I am trying to be kinder, more aware, and to exercise empathy as my default rather than getting offended myself. I don’t know how well I am succeeding, but I certainly don’t have my Julia Sugarbaker tirades are regularly as I used to.

Interesting.

Maturity, or just tired?

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.