Amarillo by Morning

So, this morning when I woke up, as my first cup of coffee brewed, I dialed the COVID-19 testing hot-line for staff at the day job and made an appointment to get tested. They scheduled me for 9:20 am; I was called at around eight thirty, which left me with about fifty minutes to wake up, drink some coffee, and pull myself together. Our clinic’s COVID testing set-up is in the parking garage which is the ground floor of our building; staff simply drives into the garage and pulls up to the area where the tents and check-in desk are set up, and the doctor comes out and swabs your nose. Needless to say, as I swilled down coffee and brewed another quick cup to take with me in the car, my nerves were definitely feeling a bit frayed. Saturday was a better day than Friday; yesterday was better than Saturday. So far this morning I seem to feel okay other than fatigue–going up stairs to put on a T-shirt and shorts to drive over to the office made my legs and hips ache a bit; it also triggered a small coughing fit (note: the only time my lungs feel tight is when I cough; other than that I breathe fine and they don’t phase me at all. But when I cough, I feel a tightness in the center of my chest that is pretty severe–but as I said, once the coughing spasm passed, I feel fine) but I got dressed and drove over to the office. It didn’t take long as the streets are pretty empty–there’s some traffic, to be sure, and a pandemic and over-burdened hospitals doesn’t seem to be stopping people from driving like thoughtless assholes–and then I pulled into the garage, got checked in, signed my consent to be tested form, and Dr. Halperin came out and swabbed both nostrils.

And while I can see why the vice-president thought it was invasive–I imagine anything put it any of his orifices would be invasive to him–it really wasn’t that bad. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever had done to me; I’d certainly rather get my nostrils swabbed like that on a regular basis than have an abscessed tooth ever again, and the worst part of it wasn’t the invasiveness at all. The worst part is the chemical on the swab–it doesn’t quite burn per se, but the closest experience I can think of to it is when you accidentally and deeply inhale mothballs; my eyes watered and it burned a little bit, but not painfully.

In a best case scenario, the test results will be back within 2-4 days–it may be longer, who knows? But I have to go into a strict quarantine until the results do come back, which means not leaving the house or running any errands or doing much of anything. Of course I have gloves and masks, so I can theoretically do some things and leave the house if necessary, but I shouldn’t really take the risk of infecting someone else by going out in public until I know for a certain whether I currently have it, or did have it, or don’t have it at all. I was also a little confused because I’d assumed there would be a blood draw to go with the swab test, but I am also conditioned to thinking about testing for different viruses (HIV, syphilis, and Hep C) so I assumed the testing would also have to involve blood. But then I realized, afterwards as I was driving home, that mucous doesn’t carry the HIV, syphilis or Hep C viruses (virii?); but the COVID-19 virus can be airborne transmitted–which means it must be in the mucous membranes along with the antibodies.

At least that makes testing for it that much easier, so that’s kind of a plus?

I also noticed, this morning, a little bit of PTSD kicking in from the good old HIV/AIDS pandemic days–“oh, look, I need to get tested for a potentially fatal virus and have to wait days to get the results back”–but I quickly tamped that down, shoved the lid closed and firmly padlocked it. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise that particular version of all the PTSD’s I have locked behind various doors in my brain took so long to try to worm it’s way out, but it did finally show up and I was able to beat it down rather easily.

Thank you, coping mechanisms, developed over several decades of seemingly endless trauma.

I didn’t have to take a nap yesterday, but after we finished watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a lovely stand-alone film follow-up to the wonderful Miss Fisher series from Australia (it was kind of an Indiana Jones-lite adventure, set in Palestine in 1928 and quite fun), I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and opened it up to the chapter about the Black Death. Yes, I recognize that my recent fascination with plagues and epidemics and pandemics is probably morbid, given the current state of affairs in the world, yet my curiosity had always had a bit of morbidity to it and it’s really not surprising that it would take this kind of turn. (And I’m actually kind of glad; I was glad to finally read “Death in Venice” even if it left me a little cold; and it also led me down the path to rereading “The Masque of the Red Death”, and back into my Daphne du Maurier short stories) Realistically, while everyone talks about the Spanish influenza pandemic of a hundred years ago, primarily because it was the most recent pandemic (note to self: reread Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider”), the worst pandemic in history was clearly the bubonic plague, the Black Death, or, as it was known more simply during the fourteenth century, “the pestilence.”

Here’s how the chapter opens:

In October 1347, two months after the fall of Calais, Genoese trading ships put into the harbor of Messina in Sicily with dead and dying men at the oars. The ships had come from the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya) in the Crimea, where the Genoese maintained a trading post. The diseased sailors showed strange black swellings about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms. As the disease spread, other symptoms of continuous fever and spitting of blood appeared instead of the swelling or buboes. The victims coughed and sweated heavily and died even more quickly, within three days or less, sometimes in 24 hours. In both types everything that issued from the body–breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine, and blackened excrement–smelled foul. Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms, and before the end “death is seen seared on the face.”

The disease was bubonic plague, present in two forms: one that infected the bloodstream, causing the buboes and internal bleeding, and was spread by contact; and a second, more virulent pneumonic type that infected the lungs and was spread by respiratory infection. The presence of both at once caused the high mortality and speed of contagion. So lethal was the disease that cases were known of persons going to bed well and dying before they woke, of doctors catching the illness at a bedside and dying before the patient. So rapidly did it spread from one to another that to a French physician, Simon de Covino, it seemed as if one sick person “could infect the whole world.” The malignity of the pestilence appeared more terrible because its victims knew no prevention and no remedy.

The chapter is pretty horrific, and it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through in the fourteenth century. It’s impossible to know how many people died because they died so quickly that graveyards overflowed and burial pits had to be dug; people simply dragged the bodies of their dead loved ones to the pits and dumped them there. Estimates were obviously guesses and sometimes exaggerated; one monk’s reported death toll for one particular city, in fact, was more than what its recorded population showed. But it’s not inaccurate to guess that one third of the European population died during the pestilence; towns disappeared, families completely died out. Farms went untended because the farmers and their families died; there were also undoubtedly consequential deaths, not from the plague but because of it; young children whose parents had died starved to death, etc. Naturally they thought it was the end of the world, a punishment from God for sin; and the fourteenth century, which Ms. Tuchman describes as “calamitous”, was certainly ripe for that kind of belief.

One of the interesting things to me about this current pandemic is–and this may entirely be because I am not paying attention and my social media is sort of a bubble; but I cannot believe someone would be saying this about the pandemic and no one i know would notice it and be outraged enough to post about it–where are the evangelicals? Where are all those “end times” preachers and ministers and con artists to prey on the fears of their congregation? Why isn’t anyone pointing out that this could actually be the “rapture” where God is calling his own to him? I have seen that some trashbag minister called this God’s punishment for the gays–but it didn’t gain any traction.

Maybe one of the outcomes of this pandemic will be the ending of that nonsense. I rather doubt it, but you know, hope springs eternal.

I did read for a while yesterday–I got further into Ammie Come Home and I read a short story by Harlan Ellison, “On the Downhill Side”, from his collection Deathbird Stories, which I’d originally read years ago, before I moved to New Orleans, and this story is set in New Orleans. Oddly enough, when I opened the ebook in my Kindle app on the iPad (I was actually looking to see if the collection included his Edgar winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”–it does) it was already opened to that story, so I read it, and as always with Ellison, loved it–and while it certainly is brilliantly written, it was written by someone who didn’t live here. I did love the story; like all of Ellison’s stories, the humanity in it was overwhelming and identifiable and relatable. I’ll probably give it, at some point, its own entry here.

And now I am feeling a bit tired, so I am going to go rest for a bit.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads

And here we are, Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new week. I am still controlling things with copious amounts of DayQuil–it really works wonders.

I finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Menace” yesterday, and am not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest. It was very strange, and again, like “The Archduchess”, not your typical du Maurier story (if it can be said that there is such a thing as a typical du Maurier story), but I also wasn’t certain how it fit the supposed theme of the stories in The Breaking Point–people pushed to their breaking point, and how they react or behave once they break. But it was an interesting read, and I’m not sorry I read it. I may wait before moving onto the other stories in the collection I’ve not read yet–“The Limpet” and “The Lordly Ones”–because these last two seemed like lesser stories…but it’s also kind of nice to know that du Maurier didn’t always hit it out of the park, too.

Makes me feel a little better about myself, don’t you know.

I also started rereading my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home, which is just as charming, enchanting, and compulsively readable as it was the first time I read it, many many years ago when I was a just a child.

Yesterday was okay, health-wise, for the most part. It comes in waves, it seems, and I dosed myself regularly with DayQuil. At one point yesterday I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and  I could feel my nose starting to run and my temperature starting to go up, so I walked into the kitchen and dosed myself. I started shivering for a moment and then it kicked in and that was that. So, DayQuil, if you’re ever looking for testimonials…you know where to find me. The DayQuil seems to help keep the fever down, and to help with the coughing. There was a slight headache now and again, with several minor dry-coughing fits throughout the day, but no uncontrollable shivering, which for me was really the worst part of it other than feeling off. I am still sticking to my plan of getting tested tomorrow and self-quarantining for the rest of the week–it’s the only thing that makes sense and is responsible. I cannot assume that what I have isn’t the COVID-19 virus, and I cannot put other people at risk (any more than I already have–which is quite a lovely burden to shoulder, I might add). At worst, I’ll exhaust my sick and vacation time staying home for the week; at best, I’m getting better and not getting anyone else sick. I hate the thought that I put people at risk more than anything else, but I also didn’t know, so there’s that–but does that make it any better? Obviously, deliberately infecting people is worse, and now that I’ve been sick, I know better than to go to work every day until I know I don’t have it, or until I know I did have it and have taken the time to get over it completely.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely, but I did feel tired most of the day yesterday. Going up and down the stairs seemed to really tire out my legs. But my breathing seems to still be okay–no tightness in my lungs, no restriction to my breathing–and while there were a couple of dry coughing fits (which go on until my lungs ached), for the most part my respiratory system seems to be functioning properly. So far so good this morning–although I should probably take a shot of DayQuil pretty soon; certainly before my second cup of coffee.

We watched a lot of episodes of Kim’s Convenience last night, which is a really cute and charming show that occasionally takes on some interesting and topical subjects. It’s very well cast, and I think my favorite character is the mom, who is absolutely hilarious. After a few hours spent with the Kims, we decided to try something else, and I remembered that we have Apple TV Plus (yes, we have too many streaming services, and I know I really should take the time some time to sit down and figure out which ones we need and which ones we don’t), and so I clicked over to that app and saw that Stephen Spielberg’s reboot of Amazing Stories was available, so we watched the first two episodes. The show is aptly titles, by the way–it is amazing. The stories are what Harlan Ellison called speculative fiction–that terrific catch-all that covers horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with all the crossovers and gray spaces in between. The first episode dealt with time travel; the second with spirits trapped in limbo, and both were so incredibly well done. The writing and acting and directing were pinpoint sharp; and the production values made it very clear we were watching a Spielberg production. The first starred Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame, and despite being about time travel it never created the paradox issues that usually pop up with time travel and was entirely satisfying at the end, with everything wrapped up beautifully. The ghosts in limbo story was equally emotionally honest and strong, about the bond of love between two young girls of color who were track stars and best friends since they were children, until one dies in a tragic accident. The two episodes were so sharp and strongly written they reminded me of Ellison and one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was filmed as an episode of the mid-1908’s reboot of The Twilight Zone (that remains one of my favorite television episodes of all time as well); I am really looking forward to watching more of Amazing Stories–which reminded me I also pay for CBS All-Access, which means we can also watch Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which is also incredibly cool. It also made me think that the reboots of these shows should do what Rod Serling and the producers of other such shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s did–buy speculative fiction short stories from masters of the genre to film. Goddess knows there are plenty of them around these days.

And now I’m starting to fade a little bit, so I think I am going to repair to my easy chair and take it easy for a while. Have a lovely, and safe, Sunday, Constant Reader!

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Behind Closed Doors

Well, somehow we survived again until Friday. Sometimes survival is the best thing you can actually hope for, you know? Day in, day out, try to keep your head up and try to keep going forward, focusing on task after task until the sun goes down and you can somehow try to get to sleep again, to get up in the morning and get going again

I had to leave work early yesterday because I started feeling not well. It hit me suddenly after ten in the morning; nauseous and a really bad headache and my joints and muscles were so tired they were aching. Naturally, my first thought was oh fuck I’ve got it don’t I and then my second thought was, maybe not. I let my supervisors know, got in the car, and headed home.

 I was exhausted, dehydrated, and having a sinus/allergy thing going on as well. After I got home I napped, off and on, for most of the afternoon. (Bear in mind that I never nap, and I not only was I  literally  in and out of naps from about eleven to six pm, I never nap. Ever. I always envy people who can nap–Paul can nap for like ten minutes and be completely revived; napping always just makes me tired, and always makes it harder for me to go to sleep at night. But yesterday there was no problem whatsoever with that; I sat down in the chair, got my copy of The Breaking Point by Daphne du Maurier out of my backpack, opened it up to the page I had left off on, and Scooter climbed into my lap. I started reading and within a few sentences had dozed off–and continued to doze off and wake up for like six or seven hours. This morning I feel much better–rested, not tired, nothing achy–but I decided that it would be best for me to not go to work and work from home instead. Paul and I both think we had the COVID-19 virus already; we were both fairly sick for about four or five days after the time change; we both thought it was part and parcel of the time change plus the start of sinus/allergy season. Now, we’re not so sure that’s what was wrong with us; and the symptoms we had–with the exception of t the shortness of breath, we pretty much had the symptoms as described–but I read a piece on the Mayo Clinic’s website that pretty much explained that it’s also possible to get an upper respiratory infection (congestion, sinuses, post nasal drip, wet cough) before it moves into the lungs, where the breathing issues come into play and the cough becomes dry. We never reached the lung portion–and it would make sense because I couldn’t understand why the combination of DayQuil and Claritin-D didn’t get rid of the post-nasal drip.

I’m also not 100% positive that you can’t get re-infected, either. So probably best that I stay at home today and do data entry and perhaps work on cleaning out my work emails, which are even more out of control than my personal ones.

 Between naps yesterday I finished reading du Maurier’s “The Archduchess” and started reading the next story in her collection The Breaking Point, which is called “The Menace,” and then we finished watching Tiger King. 

“The Archduchess” is an odd departure from Daphne du Maurier’s usual style and themes. I’m actually kind of curious how she decided to write this story and where it came from; it’s about a fictional small European country named Ronda, and in the story she traces the fall of the royal family of the country and how easy it is for manipulative people with something to gain (in this story, two greedy and ambitious men) can turn public opinion with lies, half-truths, and rumors to stir up a complacent population against their government and the governing system that has been in place for centuries. Ronda was a unique country with some unique properties–spring water that works as a kind of sedative, the royal family holds a secret formula that gives them eternal youth–and while it was an interesting read, again, it’s so weird and so unlike anything else of du Maurier’s I’ve ever read. The dark cynicism was there, of course, and the bleak outlook–the point of the story is how easy it is to convince people to go against their own interests in the name of progress, which may not be progress at all–but it was more of a dark fairy tale or fable than a short story. (Remember, fairy tales in their original form are much darker than the Disney adaptations we are all more familiar with) “The Menace” is also a bit different than the usual du Maurier fare; it’s about an actor, a star, but I’m only a page or so into the story so I don’t know what is going to happen or where the story is going to go.

As for Tiger King…well, it’s a viral smash on Netflix, and everyone seems to be talking about it, which is why we started watching it in the first place. It certainly isn’t something ordinary; and who knew the world of exotic animals was so crazy and competitive and could turn so dark? The real victims in this series are the animals. I don’t know whether Carole Baskin murdered her second husband or not (I am leaning towards “probably”), and I am also not convinced that Joe Exotic conspired to kill  her or was set up–I can see how it could go either way, but everyone involved is a shady person so it’s also entirely possible that both are true. The show certainly held my interest enough to keep watching to see where it would go next, but ultimately I felt bad for the animals. I joked on Facebook that I didn’t want to watch it because I was afraid I’d have “family reunion PTSD and flashbacks”, but having watched now, and remembering things I’ve seen posted on line and comments and so forth, there’s also an element to the show of “pointing and laughing at the uneducated redneck morons”. I’m not entirely sure there was a way of filming this without that coming into play, but it was also shocking to see the poverty and conditions in which some of these people lived. It was also an interesting look at how people can start out with good intentions (I want to save the tigers!) and slowly but surely that becomes subsumed within the person’s ego–it was certainly the case with all of them, including Carole Baskin. Maybe she was portrayed and edited to look like a hypocrite, I don’t know; but she came across very poorly.

Apparently she isn’t happy about how she was portrayed. I’d have been really surprised, actually, if she was happy with how she looked in the show.

And now here it is, quarter to three in the afternoon. I started feeling poorly right after I typed the above sentence, and went back to bed–I’ve now returned to my desk hours later, and my coffee cup, half full,  is still right there to my left. I started shivering as soon I got back in bed–shivering so hard the bed was shaking and it woke up Paul–so I moved downstairs with my blankets and curled up in my easy chair and slept again, on and off, for several hours, dosing myself with DayQuil and Claritin-D. I still don’t feel great, but I do feel better than I did, and I’m not really sure what’s going on with me. Is this a relapse, an initial infection, or something else entirely? I think I am going to have go into quarantine for sure, and see about getting tested at the office on Monday. I didn’t want to  have to go into COVID-19 exile completely, but if that is what this is…I can’t really take any chances on it. I just hope I don’t get Paul sick with whatever this is.

And on that note, now that I sort of am feeling human again, I think I’m going to try to get something done.

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Hello Darlin’

I was reminded yesterday morning of one of my favorite shows of all time–Moonlighting–which made me think of how this particular show (and television crime shows) have influenced me and my writing.

For those of you who are too young to remember, Moonlighting was a television show in the mid to late 1980’s, that starred Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes, a wealthy retired supermodel, who had been completely wiped out by an embezzling accountant (or agent, or manager; I’m not sure I remember which clearly) and the only asset she had left was a private detective agency–which she had primarily invested in as a business loss to reduce her tax bill every year. Facing financial ruin, Maddie needs to turn the Blue Moon Agency into a source of income, which puts her squarely into conflict with fun-loving extrovert David Addison, the private eye who enjoys life, takes nothing very seriously, and has a joke for everything, and is the primary boss at the agency. David Addison was played by Bruce Willis–this role, along with Die Hard, made him a star–and he and Shepherd had the most amazing chemistry. The writing was whip-crack smart, sometimes breaking the fourth wall, with the two characters always arguing and talking over each other, kind of like classic comedies like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby, and out of nowhere it became a huge smash hit. The first season was abbreviated–a spring replacement, with maybe four or five episodes–but season two was absolutely phenomenal. But the pressure on the writing and production staffs was incredibly difficult, the show always ran behind on filming, and it didn’t help that Willis and Shepherd hated each other. She also got pregnant during the run of the show, and they wrote the pregnancy into it.

Ironically, the chemistry between them was what drove the show’s success–kind of like Sam and Diane on Cheers–but once the show’s focus moved away from their cases and onto their relationship, the quality went down and so did the ratings. It’s a pity, because those first two seasons were pure gold.

One of my favorite things about the show was how every episode opened with David and Maddie arguing about something–and then over the course of the episode, the case made each other see the other’s side, and then at the end they had reversed themselves, arguing the opposite positions from the original argument….and sometimes, agreeing that they could the other’s point, and accepting that there’s another way of seeing everything.

I absolutely loved that. My goal, years ago, when I started the Chanse series was to make sure that Chanse learned something about himself by working on, and solving, whatever case came his way.

I really wish someone would buy the streaming rights to the show. I’d love to watch those first two seasons again. Like I said–all those episodes were pure gold.

I took yesterday afternoon off–I’d intended to work from home, after getting the mail and stopping at Rouse’s–and also started the lengthy process of trying to get my email inbox cleaned out, which is a Sisyphean task, to say the least. But progress was made indeed, and far now the rock is at least most of the way up the hill. I also sat down in my easy chair and read some more of Daphne du Maurier’s odd Gothic fairytale “The Archduchess” with Scooter purring in my lap and, as one is wont to do with a purring cat in your lap, fell asleep for about an hour. People rarely talk about how cats all possess that super-power; adorable little agents of Morpheus that they are. I did manage to read some more of the story, though–I’m interested to see where it’s going to go, since there’s such a dreamy, fairytale-like quality to the story, which is about the fall of the monarchy in a fictional little European county called Ronda. It’s weird that it’s taking me this long to read the story, but this is also my first full week of going to work at eight every morning, so there’s little wonder that it’s getting harder to wake up and harder to stay awake the further the week progresses.

But today is Thursday, and I only have one more day to get through before it’s the glorious weekend, and I really do need to get my shit together. I’ve got to get that Sherlock story done, I have to pay the bills, I need to get back to work on the Secret Project…there’s so much to do, so little time in which to do it, and I can’t keep wasting precious time.

On that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and stay safe out there.

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Coal Miner’s Daughter

Wednesday, and here we are, in the middle of the week suddenly. It’s also a new month; didn’t March seem to last forever, to the point where it actually felt like it wasn’t just March but Bataan Death March? Does anyone besides me even know what the Bataan Death March was? Americans’ grasp and knowledge of our own history is astonishingly slender and leaves a lot to be desired–which is why the same policies that have failed, repeatedly, throughout our history–“trickle down economics”, anyone–always end up coming back around and fucking us all over again, repeatedly, as new generations continue to be fooled by the desire of the rich and the corporations to fuck us repeatedly, counting on the knowledge that no one knows it has all happened before.

It is astonishing how no one studies the past so we can learn from mistakes made and not repeat them, isn’t it?

I’m actually not, as today’s title might suggest, a coal miner’s daughter but actually a coal miner’s grandson; my grandfather was a coal miner, and received disability until the day he died for the black lung disease he acquired as a result. Alabama isn’t known for coal mining, and I do know that he used to go away to work in the coal mines, so I’m not exactly sure where it was he went to do the work; as a child I didn’t really listen to the stories as closely as perhaps I should have, or it’s the old memory-sieve thing, but I do remember seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater when it was released, and thinking, when they showed the shack Loretta Lynn grew up in, how similar it was to my maternal grandmother’s house. The house my father grew up in–where my grandfather lived up till pretty close to when he died, I think–wasn’t as ramshackle as my maternal grandmother’s. It never dawned on me to think about how much poverty my parents grew up as children; my maternal grandfather died when my mother was around eleven, and so the only money they ever got was his military pension from serving in the Pacific during the war–and it wasn’t much. My grandmother used to make most of her children’s clothes as well as her own; when I was a kid I remember my mother had mad sewing skills, but they fell into disuse as we moved up the economic ladder as I got older. My parents were, in fact, a perfect example of the upward mobility, the American dream, as it used to exist in those decades that followed the second world war. They married young and moved to Chicago when they were barely twenty and had two small children; they both worked in factories while my dad went to school at night to finish his engineering degree. By the time they were thirty they owned a house in the suburbs and my father was on his way up the corporate ladder; my mom stopped working when he finally made it to management and we were transferred to Kansas. It was always ironic to me that when I was a small child my parents both worked while everyone else I knew’s mom was a housewife; when the economy shifted in my teens my mother became a housewife while most other families became two income.

I didn’t grow up in Alabama, but I grew up thinking of Alabama as home and was raised to have a fierce, deep pride in not only being Southern but in Alabama. I grew up understanding the importance of both Alabama and Auburn football to the pride of the state, and pride in that the fierce rivalry between the two programs was one of the biggest and best in college football. My love for Alabama has grown more conflicted over the years, as I began to reexamine things I was raised to believe in as moral and right and developed my own code of ethics, morality, and right and wrong. Writing Bury Me in Shadows is, in some ways, an attempt to regurgitate and make sense of that through writing. The vast majority of my writing has always firmly centered New Orleans, and writing about New Orleans is probably what I’m best known for, if I am known at all. I have written bits and pieces here and there about other places I’ve lived; I turned Fresno into Polk for the frat boy books, and Tampa into Bay City for other stories, and of course, with the exception of Dark Tide, which was set in the panhandle of Alabama, I primarily fictionalize where I’m from in Alabama as Corinth County–which is where the main character of Dark Tide was from.

Bury Me in Shadows is my first book-length writing about Corinth County; and I decided to show it from the perspective of a native who didn’t grow up there, whose mother moved away before he was born, and has spent very little time there–and hasn’t, in fact, been there since he was eight years old. I am having some fun with it–you can’t go wrong with a meth lab, a burned out plantation house, and the rural woods in northwest Alabama–but it needs some work, and I think I’ve been away from it long enough now so that when I do have the time to go back and start revising and reworking and getting it ready to turn in, my eyes and perspective will be fresh.

I am starting to get more tired though, and it’s harder to get up in the morning than it was earlier in the week. I am only working the morning shift today; this afternoon I have some errands to run and I am going to do some work at home. I think that will help me with the tiredness–the screening process can be draining–and if I get my work done early, I can maybe spend some time reading or writing. I was too tired to read much more of “The Archduchess,” the du Maurier tale I am trying to get through this week, but it’s very interesting. The darkness that always imbues her work is there as the story goes on, which is about a very small European nation whose spring water has some kind of mystical rejuvenating power, but I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story as of yet. But it’s interesting, and I am curious to see where she is going with the story.

I also have a gazillion emails to try to get answered at some point today.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader.

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The Dance

Someone told me once, long ago, that life was a dance. You could either stand in a corner or off to the side and watch; you could find a partner and go out on the dance floor and participate, or…you could go out on the dance floor by yourself and celebrate your life. I spent the first thirty-three years of my life on the side, watching and envying the people out on the dance floor. At thirty-three was when I decided I’d dance with myself if I had to–and within a year I wasn’t alone out there, and haven’t been since.

The dancing metaphor has come in handy more than once–my lengthy essay in Love Bourbon Street  was titled “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”–and while I don’t actually go out dancing anymore–the noise! the people! the late nights!–I still think of myself as out on the dance floor of life, under the glittering, sparkling disco ball while the bass is thumping and some diva is holding a note for what seems like five minutes.

Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, all things considered–although I suppose a very strong case could be made for days being judged currently on a scale of degrees of bad would perhaps be the easiest way to do it–but I got through, as did we all, and that’s another day in the dustbin of history. I am currently in this bizarre space of being  in the midst of something–as is everyone, again to varying degrees of bad–that is so vast and overwhelming that it cannot be considered in its entirety, for that path is the darkest one and must be avoided at all costs so I have to keep it at as much arm’s length as I can in order to cope with what my little piece of its reality is.

As much as I tamp down on it, it bubbles up periodically and runs wild for a horrifying moment or two, before I can get the lid forced back on and held down with all my strength until it subsides again.

And then I get on with it, as one does.

I started reading another du Maurier short story yesterday, “The Archduchess,” which is interesting and different and quite unlike anything of hers I’ve ever read before–always part of the delight of reading her work for the first time–and so I read on warily, wondering what she has in store for me the reader. I also managed to burp up about 500 or so words on my short story “Condos For Sale or Rent,” my quarantine noir story that has come literally from nowhere and is currently demanding my attention, and its urgency is impossible to resist or ignore–despite having any number of other stories and various projects requiring, yet not receiving, said attention–and while I am generally fairly good at harnessing my creativity and making it do what I want it to do (with varying degrees of success, but it generally winds up doing what I want in some way), now I just don’t have either the will or the energy to wrestle my creativity into where it should be. Anyway, I like the voice and I like that it’s set in the NOW. It’s an isolation/quarantine story, yes, and it has some potential, quite frankly. But we’ll see where it goes and how it turns out–but for now, I am having some serious fun with it.

And isn’t that what matters?

We finished watching Season 3 of Ozark last night, which means tonight we are most likely going to either continue with the insanity of Tiger King or move on to something else; I am thinking either Locke and Key on Netflix, or perhaps His Dark Materials on HBO; or something else entirely. There is a lot of really great stuff out there, and so that makes it even harder to decide what to watch. Or I could just read some more. I have to finish reading the du Maurier story, and I would also like to start the reread of Ammie Come Home, which is, naturally, one of my favorite books of all time.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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I Will Always Love You

Constant Reader should know by now that one of my favorite writers is Daphne du Maurier. I was a teenager when I first got my hands on a copy of Rebecca, and I have reread the book every few years ever since. Around this same time–I think I was thirteen?–I also got a copy of her short story collection, Echoes from the Macabre, and become forever also enchanted by her story “Don’t Look Now.” These short stories were kind of a revelation to me; I hadn’t read many short stories at this point outside of the ones I had to read for English classes (and quite frankly, forcing teenagers to read “The Minister’s Black Veil”, with all due respect, should be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, as is making them read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), and her mastery of subtlety, and weaving small details that turn out to be hugely important later was one of the things I admired the most about du Maurier. Over the course of the next few years I would return to du Maurier, to read The Flight of the Falcon, Frenchmen’s Creek, The Winding Stair, Jamaica Inn, The King’s General, and Rule Britannia. I didn’t love these other novels as much as I loved (love) Rebecca, but I became an enormous fan of du Maurier and her writing style; I also loved how she subverted tropes and genre expectations with her novels. I also loved that she wrote across a broad range of genres and styles with her work; you never really know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of her novels.

I had gotten a copy of her short story collection The Breaking Point several years ago; it contains some of the same stories as Echoes from the Macabre (“The Pool,” “The Blue Lenses”–bloody fantastic story, and “The Chamois”), and opens with “The Alibi,” which I read as part of the Short Story Project a few years back (was it last year? The year before? Does time have any meaning anymore?) but the other day (was it last week? Two weeks ago? Time has no meaning anymore) when I was talking about “Death in Venice” in reference to du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” and someone asked had I read du Maurier’s “Ganymede”? I had not, so I looked it up and was most delighted to see it was included in The Breaking Point; I just hadn’t gotten into the book far enough, and it is sandwiched between “The Blue Lenses” (which you really must read) and “The Pool”; which explains when I never progressed further in the book, having already read those two stories.

So, having now read both “Don’t Look Now” and “Death in Venice”, I thought it was perhaps time for me to read “Ganymede,” which is the du Maurier tale most often academically associated with “Death in Venice”–but it is very different.

They call it Little Venice. That was what drew me here in the first place. And you have to admit that there is a curious resemblance–at least for people like myself, with imagination. There is a corner, for instance, where the canal takes a bend, fronted by a row of terraced houses, and the water has a particular stillness, especially at night, and hte glaring discordancies that are noticeable during the day, like the noise of the shunting from Paddington Station, the rattle of the trains, the ugliness, all that seems to vanish. Instead…the yellow light from the street lamps might be the mysterious glow you get from those old lanterns set in brackets on the corner of some crumbling palazzo, whose shuttered windows look blindly down upon the stagnant sweetness of a side-canal.

It is, and I must repeat this, essential to have imagination, and the house-agents are clever–they frame their advertisement to catch the eye of waverers like myself. “Two-roomed flat, with balcony, overlooking canal, in the quiet backwater known as Little Venice,” and instantly, to the famished mind, to the aching heart, comes a vision of another two-roomed flat, another balcony, where at the hour of waking the sun makes patterns on a flaking ceiling, water patterns, and the sour Venetian smell comes through the window with the murmur of Venetian voices, the poignant “Ohé!” as the gondola rounds the bend and disappears.

In Little Venice we have traffic too. Not sharp-nosed gondolas, of course, gently rocking from side to side, but barges pass my window carrying bricks, and sometimes coal–the coal-dust dirties the balcony; and if I shut my eyes, surprised by the sudden hooting, and listen to the rapid chug-chug of the barge’s engine, I can fancy myself, with my same shut eyes, waiting for a vaporetto at one of the landing-stages. I stand on the wooden planking, hemmed in by a chattering crowd, and there is a great surge and throbbing as the vessel goes hard astern. Then the vaporetto is alongside, and I, with my chattering crows, have gone aboard and we are off again, churning the water into wavelets with our wash, and I am trying to make up my mind whether to go direct to San Marco, and so to the piazza and my usual table, or to leave the vaporetto higher up the Grand Canal and thus prolong exquisite anticipation.

As Constant Reader knows, I spent a mere twenty-four hours in Venice on our trip to Italy back whenever that was (2014? 2015? Time has certainly ceased to have any meaning), and it was certainly not enough. Our trip was timed beautifully to avoid crowds of tourists I expected to see in Venice, Florence, and Pisa; it wasn’t planned that way but simply worked out for us. We arrived in the city on a bright sunny early afternoon; lugged our bags through the narrow streets to find our hotel, which was a charming family business on a back canal, not far from the Rialto Bridge and a very short walk to the Piazza San Marco. It did turn gray and start drizzling a bit as we walked around exploring the beautiful city, and I was completely enchanted by it; twenty four hours was certainly not enough. I did stand in the Piazza San Marco and say, quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “ah, Venice.”

I’ve also been writing a story set in Venice, which I’ve been wanting to do since I was there–and probably should have done before now. It’s called “Festival of the Redeemer,” and in some ways it’s yet another homage to “Don’t Look Now”, but it is also it’s own story–it was kind of inspired by “Don’t Look Now”, but as I write it it’s become something else entirely. So, I wanted to reread “Don’t Look Now”–and then of course moved on to “Death In Venice,” before coming around to “Ganymede.”

I can see why the latter two stories (“Death in Venice” and “Ganymede”) are academically linked; there are similarities between the stories: two older men coming to Venice on a holiday; the city wasn’t either’s first choice of vacation spot; and soon after their arrival they find themselves obsessed with a beautiful teenaged boy. In the Mann story, his main character is a rather stuffy and pompous author whose successes and literary brilliances have earned him an honorary nobility in Germany; in the du Maurier, he is a classics scholar, an utterly unbearable pretentious snob, and basically a pedophile with a taste for post-pubescent boys. In the Mann story, Aschenbach’s obsession with teenager Tadzio is portrayed as both something noble and pure and beautiful; no lust, nothing impure, nothing to see here; it’s an aesthetic and pure admiration for the young man’s classical and breathtaking beauty, which inevitably leads to Aschenbach’s death because he has become aware of the cholera outbreak but he cannot bear to leave his beautiful young man behind. The story has thus been embraced by academia as a classic–even though the entire story rings with a hollow inauthenticity that renders the entire thing a pointless masturbatory exercise on Mann’s part: by trying to make a bold sentence about aging and death and the pursuit of beauty and love in a pure form, it overlooks the simple, basic thesis that Aschenbach is drooling over the good looks of a fourteen year old. Aschenbach is nothing more than another Humbert Humbert, convinced that his “love” for a child is something noble and pure rather than its tawdry reality.

Du Maurier doesn’t have that same sentimentality and nobility of purpose than Mann apparently had when undertaking his tome; she saw right through it and saw the story for it was, and her pastiche–if it was indeed influenced by the Mann story, and not something she thought up herself–lacks sentimentality and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it actually is: the self-justification of a pedophile for what happened to him in Venice–and the damage his peculiarity of taste causes. But du Maurier’s unnamed narrator (another trick of which du Maurier was fond; not naming her main characters) reads much like Humbert Humbert; he is trying to justify his tastes, predilections, and desires for young boys as something noble–but du Maurier exposes the tawdriness underlying his unsavory tastes. The object of his obsession also goes without name other than Ganymede; which our pedophile starts calling him once he sees him waiting tables in the Piazza San Marco, and is reminded, not only by what he does for a living but by his youthful beauty, of the myth of Ganymede–the only time in Greek mythology in which the beauty of a young man so moved Zeus that he brought him to Olympus, made him divine, and replaced his female cupbearer, Hebe, with him. And so the young man becomes Ganymede in the myth being spun by our narrator.

Nor is our narrator the only villain in this tale; Ganymede’s uncle notes the narrator’s interest in Ganymede and thus prepares to exploit the attraction; one is never certain whether Ganymede himself is in on the scam, or is an unwitting prop in his uncle’s procuring. The story, of course, concludes with a tragedy–most du Maurier tales do–but unlike Aschenbach, our narrator does not die in Venice; but causes the death of his obsession. The story concludes with our narrator back in London, living in his two-room flat in Little Venice, remembering his experience and remembering his Ganymede and the tragedy that ensued…but the story closes with him talking about another young waiter at another restaurant, in this “little Venice”, one who reminds him of Ganymede and the delusions he built up around him; he is doing the same thing with this new shiny object that has crossed his path…it is clearly, as du Maurier makes plain, his pattern.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and while I can see the parallels, as I said, with “Death in Venice”, I feel du Maurier took a more honest and realistic approach to telling her story than Mann did with his. I will reread this story again–its a great story–and will probably dive into some more du Maurier this summer.

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