Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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Good Hearted Woman

Thursday, and Parades Eve in New Orleans. I have to work tomorrow from 9-2 rather than my usual 12-5, so that I can get home in time to get a place to park before they close the streets and the hordes from the rest of the city and the outer parishes descend upon my neighborhood for beads and other throws.

The gym is going well, thanks for asking. I’m trying not to get anxious about not getting instant results (seriously, you’d think I of all people would  know better) but my sleep is improving–IMPORTANT–and I physically feel much better than I have in years. I am still trying to go slowly, pace myself, and work my way back into it better–I suspect my impatience is what led to the constant re-injuring of my back–and I am starting to feel better about myself in general. That has been a constant battle with myself my entire life, but now that I am on the fast, downward waterslide to sixty, I think I am finally finding some sort of inner peace with myself.

It may have only taken me nearly six decades, but I’m getting there. Better late than never, right?

I watched another twenty-five minutes of The Talented Mr.Ripley yesterday on the treadmill, and I have to say each additional scene I watch makes me appreciate the script and Matt Damon’s performance as Tom even more. This is the sequence of the film in which Tom finally snaps and kills Dickie on the boat–and while certainly I don’t think Dickie needed killing, I do think he was a pretty awful person. The film sets this up in ways that Highsmith did not in the novel–by establishing Dickie as a player with a roving eye; the creation of the local village girl, Silvana, that he’s having an affair with, who ends up killing herself when she finds herself pregnant (although on my initial two viewings, I thought it was implied that Dickie actually killed her rather than her killing herself); the women he’s constantly ogling and flirting with; Marge’s tolerant acceptance of Dickie’s many many flaws because she just sighs and says “well, that’s Dickie”, which essentially turns her into a doormat who doesn’t think she deserves better–which really hurts Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance–Dickie has led Tom on (certainly in Tom’s mind) and while this isn’t really established so much in the film as it was in the novel, Tom is lonely and looking for friends and love while being torn apart inside as to who he actually is; so Dickie’s turning on him and cruelty in finally telling him to go away is so nasty and vicious Tom strikes him with the oar to shut him up–which results in further rage on Dickie’s part and Tom finally has to finish him off.

I know watching this film, after reading the book, is what is driving me to write “Festival of the Redeemer”–instead of what I really should be doing.

Ugh, creative ADHD is the absolute WORST.

But I finally got stuck last night on “Festival”, which means I can put it aside now while i think about how I want to structure it better. I also realized yesterday that it’s not a short story, but it’s also not enough story to be a novel; so a novella it is. I also have a kind of subversive idea about it not being a linear story; flashing back and forth from the present to the past.  It’s hard to get into details about it without giving too much away, but that’s the nice thing about short stories and, I suppose, novellas: you can play with things like structure and form that you can’t get away with in a shorter story or might not actually work, so best not to try it in a novel first, because if it doesn’t work straightening out the mess is a lot more work. I am rather curious about trying out more novellas, frankly; primarily because, as I often like to remind myself, some of James M. Cain’s novels, like The Postman Always Rings Twice, were closer to novellas than novels.

All of this speculation, of course, keeps me from actually writing, you know.

I started watching a series on Netflix last night about the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman: The Rise of an Empire, which was pretty interesting. I got a little bored, frankly, in the second episode, but I’ve always been interested in the old Eastern Roman Empire (rebranded by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, but it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. Western European historians managed to try, and succeed, for the most part, to erase that history by teaching that the Roman Empire ended when Rome fell in the fifth century–but the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years until Constantinople fell in 1453. Westerners, attempting to claim themselves and their culture and civilization as the rightful heirs to Rome, began calling them the Byzantine Empire and referring to them as Greeks, but the Ottomans thought of them as the Romans. It was the Roman Empire. Lars Brownworth has done some wonderful histories of the eastern Roman empire and the history of the eastern Mediterranean; I highly recommend his work–he also appears with several other historians in the docuseries, which is a mixture of reenactment and documentary style filmmaking). The first episode was interesting, but my mind wandered during the second; so I shut it off about half-way through preparatory to going to bed.

So, here I am this morning with my first cup of coffee. The weather is supposed to be spectacular in New Orleans today and tomorrow–someone posted a picture of blooming flowers with the caption SPRING IN NEW ORLEANS and I wanted to comment um it’s February but then I realized, our spring IS in February and March and early April–and summer generally kicks into gear in late April and lasts till early October. This week has been hit-or-miss with rain and sunshine, but has been warm the entire time. I’ve not taken a jacket with me to work one day this week, and I’ve only carried my hats with me because my bald head gets cold in our building. (I forgot my hat yesterday and my head was cold all evening.)

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you later.

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