Touched by the Hand of God

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee and eating coffee cake and trying to wake up. I slept very well again last night, and am starting to feel more…normal, whatever that means for me, since I am anything but normal. I have things to get done today, but the apartment is starting to feel like home again for the first time in a while (since everything went haywire week before last). The laundry room is mostly reassembled, and the book shelves in there look neat and tidy and organized, which rather pleases me. The living room is….well, the living room. I am always going to have too many books in my house (even typing that a voice inside my head was shrieking you can never have too many books what are you talking about?); but I am developing a certain heartlessness as I continue to fill boxes with books for the library sale. At some point, I am going to have to start going through the boxes of books on top of the kitchen cabinets and the ones in the storage attic, and my goal is to have cleaned out not only the attic but the storage unit I’ve rented for far too long.

We finished the first season of Very Scary People on HBO last night, concluding with the two-parter on Jim Jones (we skipped Gacy–have seen enough of him lately already–and Aileen Wuornos, because we watched one on her already recently) and will be moving on to season two probably this evening. I am way behind on Superman and Lois–mainly because it’s something I started watching without Paul and so, rather than trying to get him caught up, I am just going to continue watching without him (I always, inevitably, have to fill him in on super-hero backstory and so forth anyway in most cases, though I think he knows enough Superman lore–doesn’t everyone, really–that he wouldn’t need explanations in this case).

I’ve started–sort of–working on Chlorine this weekend, mostly free hand and mostly in my journal, mapping out backstory and so forth for the main character, and I’ve also started working on the backstory for the body in the surf, and the plot–which was kind of amorphously planned in my head, but yesterday I started nailing down specifics in the plot. It’s going to be kind of fun to write, I think–I always think that going into a manuscript; ever the optimist–and while it’s very tempting to use real people as characters, I think I will make the ones who actually are on the page and participating in the story fictional, but mention others–Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, etc.–in passing. I know the studio is going to be fictional–tempted as I am to use Fox or MGM–and I also know I need to sprinkle in some of the conservatism that reigned then, as everyone was afraid of Communists and having to testify in front of HUAC in Washington; it was the time of ‘the lavender scare” (also the title of a terrific history of the period and this very thing, by David Johnson; I highly recommend it) and so homosexuality was also driven even further underground because we were seen as security risks, particularly if we worked in government since it put us at risk for blackmail by Communists (I touched on this briefly in my story “The Weight of a Feather”, collected in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories).

I also worked on getting organized yesterday. I did a lot of filing, and took a lot of books off my desk and replaced them with ones I’ll be using for research and background for this book. I kind of feel like I already know my main character (even though I couldn’t remember his name yesterday as I wrote notes in my journal); he grew up in Kansas, was caught by his father in a “compromising position” with his high school basketball coach in the tiny little town he grew up in and was forced to enter the military at age 17–going into the Navy and serving in the South Pacific, where he found other men like himself, and thus became familiar with the underground gay community within the military, as well as in Honolulu and Los Angeles (on leaves). After mustering out in 1946 he comes to LA to become a movie star, is discovered by a Henry Willson type agent, and at the start of the story his seven year control with Pacific Pictures is coming to an end, they aren’t going to renew his contract, and he is in fact being sacrificed to a tabloid in order to protect another client, a rising star the tabloid was going to out–loosely based on how Henry Willson sold out Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter to Confidential to save Rock Hudson; but unlike them, my character’s agent has a plan for him: a long-term contract to work with an Italian film company making sword-and-sandal epics.

It’s a great set-up, and one that I hope to not let down…right now I am feeling confident that I can write this and it will be amazing; of course, once I start the doubts and imposter syndrome will start creeping in and I will spend most of my time wondering what the hell I was thinking to try to write such a thing in the first place.

I couldn’t have picked a better career path for a neurotic, could I?

I also lined up all the potential short story calls I am interested in submitting to, matched them up with an in-progress story that fits their call (or at least what does in my mind; I am really not that great a judge of these things, in all honesty) and need to plan out when to reread and when to rewrite. It’s very strange; now that I am coming out of the exhaustion from the writing of the two books back to back I am amazed at how light I feel; I don’t feel that oppressive burden nor the stress that comes from carrying it. I know both manuscripts need work and I need to revise and rework and edit one last time with each, and there’s a deadline for the first for sure–but I am going to put that off until next weekend, when I have the time to sit and go through Bury Me in Shadows from beginning to end, making notes, making corrections, and so on and so forth to get it polished into a diamond…or as close to one as I can get one of my books.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning swilling coffee and trying to finish reading The Russia House. I love LeCarré; he is such a terrific writer I can get lost in his sentences and paragraphs forever–but I find myself not loving the plot or the characters in this one, which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this one, I think. He also does an excellent job of taking me back into that 1980’s world/mentality of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union–that halcyon time when the fear of nuclear annihilation began to fade somewhat but at the same time the worry of what would fill the vacuum created by that collapse was almost nearly as intense (it didn’t take long for conservatives to replace Communists with Muslims as the scary other from another part of the world determined to destroy us); not to mention the wondering if glasnost and perestroika weren’t real or sincerely meant; LeCarré does an absolutely amazing job with that cold intelligence paranoia.

And then, for something similar yet completely different, I am going to reread Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

I also would like to get back to the gym today; it looks absolutely lovely outside, and the walk will be lovely.

Until tomorrow, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

Misled

Saturday morning, and everything is dripping outside. A thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night, but the rain lulled me back to sleep almost immediately. I feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing. Today I am going to write and edit and clean and go to the gym; it’s been a while–I haven’t been to the gym since before the Tennessee Williams Festival, which is not only shocking but scandalous–and I have to make sure this mess of an apartment is under control. I also want to do some reading today; I am rather behind on the Short Story Project, and I really want to finish that Bryan Camp novel. (Preorder it, seriously.)

I reached the halfway point of the Scotty novel yesterday, which was both a relief and a little off-putting. It’s not very good so far, but it’s also a messy first draft; first drafts are supposed to be messy. This weekend i am going to reread it, as well as track the various plots while doing an outline of the first half; this will hopefully help me to catch mistakes and errors, and places where the story may have gotten off track. Sigh. The drudgery that must be done. It’s lovely to not be on a deadline, though, so I don’t that horrible pressure, that sense of time running out. I think that’s all part of the reason I have never felt satisfied with anything I’ve ever published; I always feel like I ran out of time.

So last night I watched the end of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then, bored, scrolled through all of my Apple TV apps until I found Red Dawn–not the remake, but the 1984 original–and thought, Hmmm, I wonder how this holds up, particularly in reading Molly Ringwald’s piece about The Breakfast Club, so I watched that, and have some thoughts. (And yes, I know it was remade recently, and perhaps that might be worth a watch at some point–Chris Hemsworth–but I was more curious to see the 1984 version as a time capsule of its original period).

So, Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember when it originally surfaced in the late 1960’s, a new take on the New Testament and the ubiquitous Christ story. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive during that time to understand how different the world was then than it is now; the changes that the 2016 election was a reaction to were beginning. Christians felt Jesus Christ Superstar was an abomination, a heresy, an attack on their faith; a modern day reinterpretation of the story, an attempt to make all the characters of the New Testament human was seen as an attack on their faith. Telling the story from the viewpoints of Judas and Mary Magdalen was even more offensive; the betrayer and the fallen woman? An attempt to justify and understand Judas, who committed the biggest crime in the history of the Christian faith? And well, the whore?

It was, regardless, incredibly popular; it made Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber stars (paving the way for everything they’ve done since; so in some ways we can blame Cats on Jesus), and the music was everywhere. “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Superstar” played on Top 40 radio incessantly; even Helen Reddy recorded the former and had a hit with it. Ben Vereen was the original Judas and it made him a star. It was made into a film by Norman Jewison, which sparked more outrage and yet the soundtrack was a huge seller, with Yvonne Elliman playing the Magdalen again, with Carl Anderson as Judas and Ted Neeley as Jesus. I loved the film soundtrack–those vocals by Ted Neeley are intense–and listened to it all the time. I think I know the score by heart; but I also remember being criticized by classmates when I moved to Kansas for loving it so much.

I was rather dreading this live concert staging, to be honest; I like John Legend, but just wasn’t sure he had the vocal power to hit those intense notes. I also liked that they had cast a man of color as Jesus; Judas has always been a role for a man of color, and knowing that Brandon Victor Dixon, who’d played Burr on Broadway in Hamilton and Sara Bareilles was playing the Magdalen was reassuring. I didn’t watch it as it aired; we were watching something else Sunday evening, but I was following the live tweets and Facebooking, and the reviews were definitely mixed. But when I watched it myself, despite my misgivings and how much I associated the roles/vocals as already having been definitely performed, I thought it was very powerful and beautifully done.

Even as a child, certain tenets of Christianity, and the mentalities that went with it, made no logical sense to me (I know, trying to find logic and reason in religion is a fool’s game; which is why it’s called faith). The vilification of Judas, for example, never made sense to me. If Jesus is venerated, not just as the son of God but because his sacrifice made our salvation possible, didn’t it stand to reason that had he not be crucified our salvation through faith and Christ wouldn’t be possible? So, to me, it only made sense that Judas also should be venerated; without his betrayal the rest of it wouldn’t have happened. Likewise, the anti-Semitism reverberating through the century, based in the Jews being Christ-killers; if Christ hadn’t been crucified there would be no Christian faith, and no salvation. 

No one I ever asked these questions of were ever able to give me an answer that made sense to me.

So, my watching Jesus Christ Superstar as an adult who no longer considers himself to be Christian was vastly different from the twelve-year-old who saw the film after church on a Sunday. As I watched this time, I was able to see it from a new perspective, a new appreciation of the story; how would people see something like this happening in their lives, in their reality today? Over the centuries Jesus’ Jewishness has been whitewashed out of him; images of the blond blue-eyed Jesus are everywhere (Ted Neeley in the original film is one of those great examples) and I also realized that all the fiction about the mythology of the Christ (and there are a lot of them, from Ben-Hur to The Robe to Quo Vadis and on and on and on; the enormously successful mid-twentieth century author Taylor Caldwell wrote enormous, bestsellers taken from these stories–Dear and Glorious Physician about Luke, Great Lion of God about Paul of Tarsus, and I, Judas) always played up the supernatural and religious aspects of the story; Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the very few I am aware of that actually tells the story from a human perspective. Who were these human beings, these apostles, who listened to the message of Jesus and saw religion and faith and the world in a new light? Who witnessed the events described in the contradictory gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

To me, looking at the story from that perspective–“he’s a man, he’s just a man”–is a lot more interesting, and can provide fresh insight; make it relatable to newer generations. I always thought the resistance of organized Christianity to Jesus Christ Superstar, which made the story more accessible to younger generations, was kind of strange. But times, as I said, have changed. In 1970, the possibility of a live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was unthinkable. And yet here we are today.

Red Dawn, in its 1984 original version, is a whole other ball of wax. And yet, as a historical document, watching it again now was an interesting experience. We forget the paranoia of the Cold War years, and people now in their thirties don’t remember the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the anti-Russia anti-Communist sentiment that was, in truth, the precursor to the prejudices of today. The fall of the Soviet Union and eastern European communism, the fear of world domination by Communism and the end of “Western freedom” as understood by Americans, was a serious thing; and while it heightened after the end of the Second World War, it existed since the Romanovs fell and the old Tsarist Russian empire became the USSR. Cuba was a huge part of that, too, and the anti-Castro hatred; a Soviet outpost just ninety miles from Florida, the fall of Central American countries under the sway of Cuban Communism…the geopolitical world of that time is incredibly hard to imagine today if you didn’t live through it, and even I forget…yet watching Red Dawn brought it all back vividly.

This is not to say it’s a good film, because it’s not. As a film it fails on many levels, not the least of which is acting and the script itself.

At the time of its original release, the movie was a big deal. People my age–early twenties, teenagers–made it into a hit, and also saw themselves as the characters in the movie, which even then I was all, yeah, right. (We always identify with the heroes in movies; we never see ourselves as the quislings.) The movie is about the outbreak of World War III and a Soviet invasion of the United States; it opens with Patrick Swayze dropping off his younger brother (an incredibly young Charlie Sheen) and his best friend (C. Thomas Howell) at the local high school. The score from the last football game is still up on the scoreboard; a loss for the local team, some good natured joshing about how it’s a disgrace and an embarrassment, the usual straight boy ribbing, and then it’s time for school. During History class soldiers start dropping in from the sky; when the African American teacher goes out to see what’s going on, he becomes the first casualty of the invasion (and my first thought was, of course the only black character in the movie is killed in the first five minutes). There is chaos, a group of the boys escape when Swayze comes back for them–why they drive past any number of commandos and soldiers who are killing everyone in sight and blowing shit up and aren’t targeted or killed themselves is move magic) and then rush out to hide out in the nearby mountains and forests, armed and dangerous, with no idea of what’s going on. Eventually two sisters join them–Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey–and again, there’s really not much development of the characters; ‘something happened’ to the Lea Thompson character which is never discussed, but it’s changed her. Eventually, the kids become the Resistance, calling themselves Wolverines after their high school mascot, fighting back against the invaders.

There’s also a rather telling shot in the opening of the film, where you see the bloodstained back of a pick-up truck, with a close up of the bumper sticker reading You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. The camera then pans down to the dead body holding a gun; a commando reaches down and literally pries the gun from the cold dead fingers.

Eventually, they hook up with an American soldier who teaches them strategy, tactics, and they become an impressive teen fighting unit; he also explains to them how it all happened (paraphrasing): “All our allies in Europe stayed out of it because they’ve forgotten how to fight especially when they’re not the ones being invaded” and “Cubans infiltrated the country, coming in through Mexico pretending to be refugees from Central America or workers, and were able to get into our bases, ready for the signal.”

You can connect all those dots for yourself. All I will say was I sat there, watching and listening to all of this, and was like, really? And they talk about Hollywood’s liberal agenda?

There’s also a scene where the invaders have lined up a bunch of Americans who refuse to be re-educated, to be machine gunned, and they start singing “America the Beautiful” just before the Wolverines take the invaders out.

I also found myself wondering if anyone in 1984 saw this film as problematic, but I also rather doubt it. I know all my friends thought it was amazing, imagined themselves as freedom fighters, etc.

I know I thought about writing a book about an invasion of the United States; a seed of an idea that over the years has encompassed many themes and realities. Rewatching Red Dawn when my imagination had already been triggered by Jesus Christ Superstar  was an interesting experience.

But the most interesting thing was to see how much my own perspectives have changed over the last thirty or so years.

And now, to get some shit done.

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