Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

I Don’t Wanna Live Forever

This week’s unnecessary blow (fuck you, 2020, seriously) is that Scooter has developed feline diabetes. And while it has turned out to not be that big of a deal–it’s apparently fairly common, and easily treatable–it was nevertheless 24 hours of stress and distress I didn’t need; I really didn’t want to think about the possibility of losing our cat so close to the ten year anniversary of the loss of our first cat, frankly, and being told that I need to give my cat insulin injections at least once a day (Paul will do evenings, I will do mornings), given how I feel about needles–yeah, that was a stress/depression ride I didn’t really need this week. But I’ve been shown how to do it, it doesn’t seem that terrible, and the biggest issue is going to be transitioning him from his old food to his new low carb food–and it’s also going from dry to wet. He seems okay with the new, wet food–but denying him kitty treats is the primary outrage he is experiencing now. He doesn’t seem to give two shits about the shot, and at least I work somewhere I can safely dispose of the used needles.

Still. There was no need to scare me to death on Thursday.

I did manage to get both my flu shot and the second shingles vaccine this week, and both shoulders still fucking hurt. I took Thursday off because certain activities that I can do at home required using my arms in ways that made me aware that my shoulders ached, and well–that’s what my sick time is for, isn’t it? (Plus, see above: cat and vet.)I really feel like I’ve turned into such a ridiculously delicate flower somehow as I’ve aged; going from a crabgrass to an orchid, as it were, for some reason. I mean, I played football. I was a gymnast. I was a wrestler. I played tennis for years (never well). I used to teach twelve aerobics classes and lift weights a minimum of three times every week. I used to have abrasions and bruises and scrapes and callouses from working my body, blisters and bumps and lumps and muscle pulls and strains and God only knows what I did to my right shoulder–but at least it has stopped making that strange clicking sound whenever I rotate my arm. My right index finger hasn’t bent properly since it got caught in the treads of a trampoline as I practiced back handsprings when I was nineteen. I am used to aches and pains and soreness and tired muscle. And yet, somehow, now whenever I get my blood drawn, I develop this enormous and hideous looking bruise on the arm it was drawn from; it never hurts and it doesn’t bother me–I can even watch now–and yet–the bruise. I always used to think I got that bruise because my veins rolled and they had to dig for it; but now the needle goes right in every time and there’s no pain. But I still get the bruise.

And shots? I never liked them, ever, under even the best of circumstances. But now they don’t bother me at all and I don’t think they hurt at all. I don’t wince or flinch or even turn my head anymore. But whereas before–when I suffered through a shot–within moments it was like I’d never had one in the first place. But now that they no longer bother me, my shoulders are sore for days.

I don’t get it, nor do I understand it, nor do I like it.

But it’s also my new reality, so I get to live with it, like it or not.

So I get to look forward to training my cat–who is really the sweetest thing ever, even the vet is amazed at how good-natured and sweet he is–to eat wet food instead of dry, and give him a shot every morning. Hopefully around this I can also get some work done–I really need to get moving on the book, which has stalled this week yet again–but it’s also to do with dealing with depression; I always forget that when I am in a depressive state, there will be some days where I feel like a million dollars and can conquer the world, before slipping back into a lethargic, low-energy place where I get nothing done and my life continues to burn to the ground all around me. (An exaggeration. I am very well aware that I am very privileged and luckier than a shit ton of the American population…)

I mean, usually I would be excited about the start of LSU’s football season today, and all excited about the game. Now…I am not so sure. I don’t know how I feel about the athletes playing, or whether having fans in the stadium (25% of capacity) is smart or not, and I just have this horrible, nagging feeling that it’s really a bad idea and watching the games and rooting them on and everything that goes along with fandom is encouraging this if it’s a bad decision. But then this system has always exploited the athletes and I always turned a blind eye to that before…which kind of means I’m a bit of a shit person, doesn’t it?

Constantly reevaluating everything these days, and I never come out of the reevaluations looking good, I might add. Never.

I also got a lovely rejection letter for a market that my work isn’t really right for, but I also didn’t think I stuck the landing on that story and need to rewrite it anyway. But like I always say, it was worth a try; sometimes you have to shoot for the stars even if you only have a bow-and-arrow.

This actually started out as yesterday’s blog entry, but I never got around to finishing and posting it–indicative of my state of mind these last few days–but also makes writing a blog entry this morning a bit easier. After I got home from the office yesterday, I tried to read yet couldn’t focus, and so went to comfort television–I rewatched a couple of Ted Lasso episodes from earlier in the season, preparatory to the new episode dropping last night; and also went back and rewatched a favorite episode of Elite–and then of course we watched this week’s Ted Lasso and Archer–which sadly isn’t as funny in its final season as it could have been. I went to bed relatively early, slept like a stone all night, and am still kind of groggy this morning–and it’s my turn to give Scooter his morning insulin injection. Yikes. He seems to be adapting to the wet food okay, but he’s really not happy about not getting treats anymore. He wasn’t too thrilled to get his injection last night either–but I think, like with his flea treatments and so forth, he’ll eventually get to the point where he doesn’t care anymore and it’s not a big deal to him.

My plan for today is to try to have as normal an LSU game day as possible, and, horrible as it is, to try to get as much joy from the game as I can. Joy these days is not in plentiful supply, and even typing that made me feel sort of like a terrible person because of the risks to the athletes and the fans in the stands. I am also going to try to get some writing done today, some cleaning and organizing once my coffee kicks in–as I mentioned earlier, the worst part of the depressive state is the exhaustion, and this morning I am feeling it in my muscles. My mind is getting probably caffeinated and is waking up–and maybe I should do some stretching to warm up my muscles and get them doing something rather than just stagnating the way they have been ever since St. Charles Athletic Club closed down.

But emotionally I feel fine–at least in my conscious brain, at any rate–and since I am an entry behind because I never finished nor posted this yesterday, maybe I’ll go back and finish one of those “not a daily update on Gregalicious” message posts I’ve started and never finished; which are, as mentioned before, kind of abstracts for essays I want to write.

Anyway, enough whining and complaining and off to the spice mines with me.

GEAUX TIGERS!

You Choose

So, we finished watching Dark last night.

It is, quite frankly, superb.

Netflix is, frankly, killing it with their original programming, and since I’ve finally conquered my issues with subtitles, the foreign language Netflix shows we’ve been watching–from Boy Toy to Elite to Dark–are far superior to the shows from American Netflix (with, of course, the exception of the magnificent Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the original seasons of Stranger Things).

Dark was being suggested to me regularly by Netflix–because it’s the kind of thing I would enjoy, obviously–for years now; but the German language/subtitles thing always made me choose not to watch. The premise of the show also seemed, well, a bit on the cliche side, frankly; a small German town where kids disappear in the woods. Was it a mystery show about a serial killer? A horror show, like Stranger Things? What precisely was it? Finally, last week Paul and I decided to give it the old “one or two episodes” rule, and within minutes, we were completely sucked into it.

It begins as a mystery; a teenage boy has gone missing without a trace in the small south German town of Winden. Our main character, Jonas, has recently returned home from what was essentially a brief stay in a mental hospital after having a breakdown upon finding his father’s dead body earlier that same year (his father hung himself). While Jonas has been gone, his girlfriend Martha has started dating another guy in their friend group, Bartosz. One night, the group of friends decide to sneak into the woods nearby; the missing boy Erik was a drug dealer and Magnus (Martha’s brother) and Bartosz believe they know where Erik kept his stash; stuffed into an abandoned reclining chair near the cave. The town main industry is a nuclear power plant. Magnus and Martha’s parents are a police detective and the school principal; there is also a parents’ meeting townhall at the school on the same night; the babysitter is sick, so Magnus and Martha are forced to take their younger brother Mikkel with them into the woods. They find the drugs; there’s a weird, scary sound from inside the cave and their flashlights go on the blink. They all take off running–but eventually discover Mikkel isn’t with them, and they can’t find him anywhere.

Is there a serial killer out there preying on young boys, or is something even creepier going on?

It also rains a lot in Winden. An awful lot, and no one ever seems to mind being caught out in it–so much so that I started commenting on it.

Jonas, Martha and Bartosz

But the problem with talking about Dark is the issue of spoilers; part of the joy of the show is being surprised when the twists come–and they literally are so surprising that each one completely changes the show and how you watch it. It turns out, of course, that there is a thirty-three cycle of young boys disappearing–kind of like It–and it is all connected. It’s confusing in the first episode or two because there are so many characters and so much going and two different timelines, but once you get used to it, it’s fascinating to follow.

Everything is connected, so you really do have to pay attention.

One of the things I love the most about the show is how it depicts small town life–how grudges from childhood can last for decades; how everyone’s lives are interconnected; and all the dark secrets everyone is keeping. It’s also filmed and scored beautifully; the camera angles are surprising but visually stunning, and the writing is incredibly smart. The acting is also terrific, and so is the casting. It’s amazing how they were able to find talented actors to play the same roles as younger and older who actually looked like the older version of the younger character and the younger version of the older character. I do highly recommend the show; it lasts for three amazing seasons, which is precisely how long it takes to wrap up the story.

Leave it to the Germans to do a crime/suspense/thriller/horror/scifi show based in logic, reason, science and philosophy that is compelling and impossible to stop watching.

The View from Your Balcony

And here we go, Sunday and a new week. Huzzah, I suppose.

Yesterday was actually a very good day. Not only did I manage to get some work done on the Secret Project, I got some excellent work done on the Secret Project. It was quite a relief, actually; I’ve tried this first fucking chapter I don’t know how many times and could never get it right; plus I could never get the voice right, it seemed. I despaired, in fact, that I would ever get this under control. But yesterday I opened the most recent draft of the first chapter, started reading it, and thought oh no this will NOT do at all and started fixing it; reordering things, and finding the character’s voice in the process. Before I knew it several hours had passed and not only had I gotten the first chapter under control and whipped into shape, I’d managed to do the same with the second.

This was, as you can imagine, an enormous relief. I can’t speak for other authors, but I always fear it’s going to go away–the ability to construct decent stories and realistic characters and how to write something good, quite frankly. It’s why lovely feedback, like I got recently with the two short stories I sold, is so beneficial and helpful; it also always seems to come around when I need it the most.

It also helps that I wasn’t distracted, and could absolutely focus on what I was doing. Focus is so crucially important, and I have so little time where I can actually sit at my computer, ignore the cat’s whines for attention, and focus on what I’m doing; whenever I can I see everything so clearly and the work is so much better. The times, alas, this year when I have that ability, that clarity of focus, to write, seem to be few and far between.

I did also realize this morning as I lay in bed lazily waiting for the mood to get up to strike, that I am well on my way to having another collection of previous published short stories ready. Granted, some of them haven’t seen print yet–and might not until next year–but some of them have: “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”,”This Town”, “The Carriage House”, “Night Follows Night”, “The Dreadful Scott Decision”–and there are three more still out on submission, although one has already been accepted, but I have no idea when that will ever see print–“A Whisper from the Graveyard”–and the other two–“Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness” will inevitably and undoubtedly be rejected; those two were submitted to literary fiction markets and we’ve already ascertained , numerous times throughout my life, that I am not a literary writer. There may even be more that I am not even thinking about right now–I’m still on my first cappuccino, don’t you dare judge me–but that’s nearly ten stories, and I generally think of a collection being somewhere between sixteen to twenty; unless there’s a novella included. (I’ve decided that “Once a Tiger,” the Chanse short story, is really a novella, and if I ever do finish writing it–and the other novellas–I’ll probably just bind them all into one volume.)

Last night we finished watching Dark, which is superb (it’s so good it deserves its own entry) and then we watch Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs on Hulu, which was a cute little piece of fluff with some truly funny moments, and then moved onto another Mexican crime show, Dark Desire, which also stars Alejandro Spietzer, the gorgeous actor (pictured below) who was also the star of The Club–and is also dating Ester Exposito, who played Carla so superbly in Elite. It’s quite interesting so far–we’re two episodes in–and will continue with it. It’s so weird how we pay more attention to foreign language shows because of having to read the subtitles, while if whatever we are watching is in English, I’ll periodically reach for the iPad.

I’m also having dinner with a writer friend tonight who is in from out of town; so I need to make sure I get all the chores finished and get the rest of these chapters done on the Secret Project, so I can start writing the proposal and then it’s out of my damned hair.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Receta-HOT-Ensalada-de-manzana-al-estilo-Alejandro-.jpg

One Thing Leads to Another

Oh, Elite, what a magnificent ride you were. And how I hate having to wait indefinitely for season four.

For a very long time, I resisted watching shows or films with subtitles. I tried once, many years ago–I went to an “art house” theater, to see a rerelease of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and it just didn’t work for me. So, since then, I’ve pretty much avoided anything subtitled–which, of course, was robbing me of a lot of enjoyable film and television viewing. Ironically, my addiction to British crime television programs was what got me past the hurdle of subtitles; my hearing isn’t that great–never has been–and as I continue my slow descent into the grave it’s gotten progressively worse. I was having trouble understanding what was going on with a British show due to the accents–perhaps Broadchurch, or maybe Torchwood–so I turned on the closed captioning. Not only wasn’t it an issue, it was enormously helpful; and this was able to follow what was going on. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on that hey, if you don’t have a problem with closed captioning, you can probably handle subtitles–which led us to the marvels that are Spanish Netflix series. Toy Boy was amazingly fun; White Lines a little less so; and after we finished the final, incredibly disappointing season of 13 Reasons Why, someone suggested Elite to me. I know the kids at work watch–it pops on my Continue Watching queue all the time (they use my Netflix account on the big television in the meeting space), and so I suggested it to Paul; we decided we’d give it our old “one or two episodes” rule.

As if. Within ten minutes we were completely addicted.

It literally has everything.

That’s my girl Carla there in the front.

And by everything, I don’t just mean beautiful young women and gorgeous young men–although it definitely has that.

I mean…

I love the serial form; soap operas are simply continuing stories, and so are mystery series. I’ve always preferred ones that followed characters as they grew and changed and lived their lives; I read every Perry Mason book cover to cover and loved them all–but Perry, Della and Paul Drake were always the same in every book, nothing ever changed, and there was never anything personal about them. Maybe that would have spoiled the books, I don’t know–but series books which also followed the personal lives of the series characters were always my favorites; why I think the first six Trixie Belden books are better than the ones that followed, and why I think, overall, the Judy Bolton series was superior to Nancy Drew.

Nancy Drew never had to juggle marriage to an FBI agent and child care with trying to solve a mystery–but Judy Bolton did it and did it well. Nancy was an ideal, while Judy was real.

So, I thought I would enjoy Elite going into it. Set at an extremely expensive excellent school for the rich in Spain called Las Encinas, I was expecting teen angst and high school drama; Riverdale in Spanish, maybe, or Gossip Girl, which I never had any interest in watching. Sure enough, the opening episode, the traditional prep school conflict was set up, one we’ve seen a million times: the poor scholarship students vs. their wealthy snob classmates. An added touch is the scholarship kids are there because their public school collapsed due to shoddy construction, and for public relations purposes the construction company responsible set up the scholarships. The owner of that criminally negligent company is the father of Guzman, the stunningly beautiful Big Man on Campus. His direct opposite is poor waiter Samuel (in Spanish Sam-OO-well, and Samu for short). I’ve seen this is so many teen movies and shows–storylines recycled over and over again, with the subliminal message rich spoiled kids bad, struggling poor kids heroes.

Both are beautiful young men, aren’t they?

Samu’s two friends, Nadia and Christian, are the other two scholarship students. Nadia is a Muslim; her family are Palestinian immigrants who own and operate a corner store. Christian is a very pretty, devil-may-care muscleboy who just wants to have a good time, and isn’t a very good student.

Nadia is forced to remove her hijab while she is at school–one of the rich kids, determined to make the new kids’ lives miserable, has complained–and Christian’s clothes are stolen while he showers…so he puts his hands over his genitals and walks down the school hallway looking for his clothes. It’s a great scene, and when someone throws his clothes at him, he uncovers his genitals and rather sassily says, “This is what you want to see?” before going back and getting dressed.

The only rich kid who is nice to the new kids is Guzman’s sister, Marina.

She looked familiar to me–but I couldn’t place her; Paul figured out–recognizing her voice–that she played Triana in Toy Boy. But Marina, who the other rich kids derisively call a “hippie”–has her own problems and issues, particularly with her family and her father’s responsibility for the school collapse. Eventually, she and Samu begin a romance, that is complicated by the fact she is also attracted to Samu’s older brother, Nano–who has just gotten out of prison for drug dealing.

Nano

Guzman’s two best friends are Ander, who is a tennis prodigy and whose mother is also the headmistress of the school, and Polo. Polo’s has two mothers–and this isn’t a big deal to anyone, which is quite refreshing. Ander is very introverted and doesn’t really want to play tennis anymore, but his father keeps pushing him and he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. Polo has some issues of his own…

Polo’s girlfriend since childhood is Carla, whose mother is a marquesa, a Spanish grandee, and their money comes from wineries. Both families are quite delighted that Polo and Carla are in love, and look forward to their eventual wedding. Despite being in love, Polo and Carla are looking to spice up their relationship–which they feel is getting a bit stale–and this launches one of the best storylines I’ve ever seen on a television show like this. Carla, who starts out kind of bland and undefined, soon became one of the most complex and brilliant female characters I’ve ever seen on television–the actress who plays her, Ester Exposito–is pitch perfect and amazing in the role.

The two remaining cast members are Lucrecia, who is Guzman’s long time girlfriend, and Nadia’s brother Omar, who is still going to a shitty public school.

Lucrecia is the bitch of the show; and originally comes off as unlikable. She always has an insult at the ready, has no problem with being a bitch just to be a bitch, is a snob, and hates that these “riff raff” kids are now at her school. She also is a bit of an exhibitionist–and that tendency also kicks off one of the major stories on the show. She likes to have sex with Guzman in public places where they might get caught–and in the first episode, they are in the girls’ locker room showers doing it when Nadia walks in on them. Since this is an honor code violation–and Lu is the top student in the class, vying for a chance to win a year at a school in Florida, which goes to whoever the best student is–she comes up with a plan to keep Nadia quiet: Guzman will seduce Nadia, and unless she keeps quiet, they’ll tell everyone. At this point, I knew how this would go–this is a classic teen storyline–but Elite subverts and turns all of these cliched plots and characters and makes them entirely original, with twists and turns–there is literally no way to predict what is to come; it’s brilliant.

Omar, Nadia’s brother, is the one the entire family burdens with everything; from working in the store to expectations of marriage. Omar is dealing drugs so he can get enough money to move out and live his own life…and through the drug dealing (weed, mostly) to the rich kids and a hook-up app, he and Ander find themselves outing themselves to each other–which kicks off yet another major storyline for the show, and probably one of the best depictions of a gay romance I’ve ever seen on a television program.

Much like How to Get Away with Murder, each season deals with a crime the kids are all involved with. The first episode opens with a shot of a stunned Samu, spattered with blood, walking up to a glass window. On the other side of the window the police are dealing with a dead body, and he places his bloody hand up on the glass–which brings the cops running to him; and then the show flashes back to the beginning, when he, Christian, and Nadia first arrive at Las Encinas. Unlike American shows, we learn who the victim was about halfway through the first season, and it’s a complete and utter shock. I have never seen a show that was so cleverly and intricately plotted, that kept my attention so fully, and kept surprising me.

And the quality–and excellent casting choices–never let up. In the second season we get some new characters: Cayetana, Valerio, and Rebe (Rebeka).

Valerio is Lu’s half-brother; Cayetana is apparently a jet-setter with a ridiculous amount of Instagram followers, and Rebe is a rough-around-the-edges girl whose family won the lottery. But all three of them are hiding secrets they are desperately trying to keep from their classmates–but are also great characters and do not detract from the brilliance of the show but rather add to it.

And each season has a crime at the heart of the story; and does the terrific back-and-forth in time thing to ramp up the suspense and keep you hooked.

The show has everything, literally: murder, kidnapping, drug dealing, sex, polyamorous relationships, gay relationships, incest, parents pimping out their kids, blackmail, cover-ups…and it’s so beautifully done, so brilliantly acted, that you care about every character as you learn more about them and why they are how they are; the love triangles are heartbreaking because you actually feel guilty for rooting for one couple to come together because you know how much the left out one will be hurt. Even the ones who do bad things–you feel for them.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s amazing. It was literally the highlight of every day we watched; I looked forward to every evening sitting down in my easy chair with Paul on his couch and tuning into Elite. It’s already been renewed for another two seasons, and I frankly can’t wait.

Love, Etc.

Saturday morning and I am hoping to have a good writing day today. I usually don’t respond to emails on the weekends–read them, just don’t reply–because I try to spend the majority of my free time on weekends writing or reading and not getting sucked into the endless bottomless pit that is social media and/or emails.

It also kind of helps keep me my sanity (on which my grasp is often tenuous) going.

Yesterday was the first time in a very long time where I felt good, and felt like my brain was working clearly and not through a fog of some sort. I think that might be some kind of PTSD thing; it’s hard to describe but whenever I am dealing with something horrific, I am able to function but it’s like this dark curtain has dropped down over my mind, and I see myself actually functioning but from a distance, almost like I am watching someone else. I guess it might be a sort of dissociative state? But yesterday it felt like the veil had lifted and I could see things clearly; I also wasn’t tired at all and was able to go up and down the stairs without resting. I also slept really well the last few nights, so hopefully the insomnia stuff is a thing of the past.

Ha ha ha. As if.

I worked from home yesterday and actually was able to get a lot accomplished. I finished all my data entry work and then started folding inserts for condom packs–very exciting, I know, but it is what it is. Our STI clinic is open again on a limited basis–Mondays and Tuesdays only–so I am getting back into the swing of my regular work again. I think that helps me both emotionally and intellectually; routine is very key. Today I am going to work on the Secret Project for a little while–trying to get as much done as I can, to try to make up for the lost weekends when I was so exhausted and/or sick over the last few weeks or so; tomorrow I am going to polish and revise my Sherlock story again–it’s been a week since I revised it based on the edits I received, so I think it’s sat long enough for me to look at it clearly and divorced from attachment.

We did finish watching Elite last night, and I am still saddened that it’s over for now–no word on when Season 4 will drop, but it was actually renewed for another two seasons. I am literally obsessed with the show now; I am writing a very long blog entry about the show that I started writing last night after we finished watching, and even went into a deep Youtube wormhole about the show for a good long while. Heavy sigh.

So my plans for today clearly include writing, cleaning and getting organized, and relaxing for the most part. We need to find a new gym, but I am leaving that in Paul’s hands; I found St. Charles Athletic Club seventeen years ago, and since he pays for our gym memberships, his input is what matters the most. We are looking at a place in our neighborhood on Magazine Street, in the block just before the intersection at Jackson Avenue, and this will be a rather nice change in my usual regular routine if we do wind up joining there.

I really do need to explore this city more. I just wish I had more time.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

Only the Wind

While the official first day of the summer season isn’t here quite yet, it’s already summertime in New Orleans–with everything that means. The thick heavy wet air that clings to you like a warm wet wool blanket; the beautifully bright and yellow sunlight that burns your skin red as it pierces through the windows of your car; and the climbing electric bills as your air conditioning unit desperately tries–and only occasionally succeeds–to keep the temperature livable and breathable inside your home. Tourists who come to New Orleans often complain about the extreme difference in temperature from going inside to out and back inside again; how cold it is everywhere in doors; that the shorts and tank tops, soggy and wet from sweat, aren’t enough covering as the they dry in the cold frigid inside air. It is really impossible to know how to dress in New Orleans when it’s hot; but those of us who live here are used to it, but you never get used to how just existing and moving around outside sucks the energy right out of you, and sometimes–like when you’re lugging all the shit you bought at Costco in from the car–you have to just sit for a spell, chug some cold water or Gatorade (or a daiquiri if you planned ahead), and collect yourself.

That was my yesterday. As you may have noticed had you paid close attention, I had been unwell for a while; primarily from forgetting that I have to be more cautious dealing with heat and more careful and mindful of the maintenance required for my older body. This whole thing started with me being unable to sleep for several nights in a row, and the moved on to severe dehydration and exhaustion and stomach issues. This led to another COVID-19 test, being sent home from work, and a slow recovery. But after days of drinking lots of water, avoiding caffeine (much to my own detriment when it comes to productivity), and good sleep–as well as staying inside as much as possible–I am finally, this morning, feeling like myself once again; energetic and creative and ready to go. I took two more vacation days this week–Wednesday and Thursday–to continue my rest and recovery, and it seems to have done the trick (I was really worried about the Costco trip being a setback; but I am stubborn and I wanted to get it out of the way; but I downed lots of water before I went, took a Gatorade with me, and had another after I got home).

And this morning, yes, I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like an incredibly long time.

I’m working from home today, which means data entry and making condom packs while streaming things on the television; I should finish the first season of Jonny Quest today, since the episodes are only about twenty-four minutes long; which makes me wonder if that’s why it had such a short run on Saturday mornings when I was a child–not enough time left for commercials. Scooby Doo Where Are You? episodes are 21-22 minutes. Money is key, and despite some problematic issues with the show (it was produced in the 1960’s, after all) it still holds up pretty well. It did put me in mind of another kids’ book series I read when I was younger–the Rick Brant Science Adventures by John Blaine, which was yet another one of the many Grosset & Dunlap series. Like the Ken Holt series I talked about recently, the Rick Brant series was never as popular as the Hardy Boys (nothing ever achieved the popularity of Nancy Drew), but were much more interesting, more action-packed, involved actual detective work, and were far better written. The similarities between Jonny Quest and Rick Brant are staggering; the Quests live on an island; Rick and his family also lived on Spindrift Island, separated by tidal flats from the coast on New Jersey. The Quests sort of adopted Hadji, who became Jonny’s best friend; Rick’s best friend is Don Scott (Scotty), and the Brants unofficially adopt him into their family. Jonny and his family go all over the world having adventures and solving mysteries having to do with science, for the most part; Rick and Scotty do the same. Jonny’s father is world-famous scientific genius Benton Quest; Rick’s father is world-famous scientific genius Hartson Brant.

The first few Rick Brants I read, like Ken Holt, I obtained off the sales table in the bargain basement at Goldblatt’s in Chicago: The Rocket’s Shadow, The Egyptian Cat Mystery, The Flying Stingaree, and The Flaming Mountain. Over the years, I found more of them at swap meets and flea markets and used bookstores; I think I met have an almost complete set of them now (I did acquire some via eBay after Katrina). Some of the books are now available for download on Project Gutenberg; several volumes from a variety of those old kids’ series–including Ken Holt, Judy Bolton, and Biff Brewster–are there (and yes, I downloaded all of them). I want to start revisiting some of these series, since they influenced me into becoming a mystery writer, and while scientific knowledge has proceeded incredibly rapidly since the Brant series were published and went out of print, it’s kind of fun to go back and revisit the world of cutting-edge science (or what was seen as futuristic science) at the time; The Rocket’s Shadow was basically about how the Spindrift Island scientists (other scientists and their families also lived on the island) were racing to build and launch a moon rocket–the case involved Rick trying to solve the mystery of who on the island was a traitor and leaking secret information about the rocket project to a competitor; Scotty rescues him from the bad guys in the first chapter. Scotty was a military veteran who lied about his age to enlist and fight in the war (World War II; the book was originally published in 1947)–which was glossed over and ignored as time passed and the series continued, which would have aged him. This was twenty-two years before the actual moon landing, so to kids reading this in 1947 and the years after, it was kind of science fiction.

We will finish the final two episodes of Elite that are available tonight, and then will have to wait for season four. They had started filming before the world shut down, alas, so there’s no telling how long it will be before we get another season to binge and love. I also am not sure how the show is going to continue; this season has them all graduating and the crime this season is focusing on occurs at the graduation party. I can’t praise this show enough; it’s completely addicting, and there are never any slow parts. The way they have developed the characters and their relationships with each other make total sense and are completely believable, despite the sometimes completely over-the-top situations they find themselves in. Once we finish watching, I will devote an entire entry to discussing the show. But seriously–you won’t be sorry if you watch.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, everyone.

One in a Million

I feel somewhat better this morning–still a bit off, but that’s okay. It’s something I can deal with, I think. I still need to work on hydration–an on-going process in New Orleans in the summer time, but this is the first year it’s ever affected me physically the way it has this year. I guess that’s another cost of getting old? The worst is having to do without caffeine, as it also dehydrates. I am braving a cup of coffee this morning to see how that plays out. Probably not the smartest thing in the world to do, but I’m not particularly known for being super-smart, so there’s that as well.

I’m working from home today, which I’ll miss when the world opens back up completely. It’s nice to sit in my easy chair with my work laptop or making condom packs or doing data entry in comfort with an old movie playing on the television (or Jonny Quest; I am still working my way through the first season) and being able to relax. We opened the STI clinic yesterday on a limited basis, and it was nice to see clients again. We are, of course, taking every precaution to safeguard me (ironic, since I’ve not been feeling well for going on almost a week; this is apparently my year of ill health). but it was lovely to connect with clients again, and it was even lovelier to see that my blood drawing skill had not gone away in the three (!) months since we closed the clinic; I think the reopening was actually three months to the day. And the lack of caffeine wasn’t exactly the most pleasant thing in the world to deal with at the same time, but I made it through the day. I came home and collapsed into my easy chair, watched some Jonny Quest until Paul got home, and then of course we finished off the second season of Elite, which continues to be absolutely amazing. We have only the third season left–I think there’s a fourth coming at some point–so we have decided to dole it out slowly to make it last longer.

Since I’m working at home today, once I’m finished I’m hoping I’ll be relaxed and rested enough to do some writing before Paul gets home. I hate that I am getting behind on everything, despite the realization that I am much too hard on myself about not writing–counting how many things I have in progress over the weekend was an eye opening experience, and at the same time knowing how much incomplete work I have on hand was also stress-inducing: how can you read or watch television when you have all that work to finish? Add to that all the books I have on hand that I haven’t finished reading, and it all adds up to stress and feelings of unworthiness. There’s also all those ebooks in my iPad, and I haven’t been able to focus on reading, so Night Has a Thousand Eyes continues to languish on my end table next my chair.

My sleep was also odd last night; while one would think two consecutive days of no caffeine plus interacting with clients would have tired me out so I would sleep like the dead, the truth was it took me a while to fall asleep and I also woke several times during the night, and it wasn’t easy to fall back asleep. But I feel–other than the oddness of being slightly ill still–better and rested; who knows? We shall see how the day goes.

My gym officially closed today; another victim of COVID-19, which makes me really sad–not least because of the incredible convenience that it was just around the corner and less than a five minute walk, but mostly because I was really starting to get back into working out again before this latest bout of whatever the fuck is wrong with me this year took over again. It was also relatively inexpensive; the nearest gym is a slightly longer walk down on Magazine Street, and it’s considerably more expensive. The longer walk also means that waiting to the last possible minute to go is really not the best option. I’m not really sure what we are going to do; in the over all scheme of things, with a pandemic and everything else that’s going on in the world (not the least of which being the country’s long overdue reckoning on racism), it’s really not that big of a deal; it’s not like I need to worry about my life ending or significantly changing for the worst because my gym closed. But damn, I hate the loss of the convenience, and damn this fucking pandemic.

Gay white people problems, am I right?

The coffee seems to be not upsetting my stomach, so I am going to risk a second cup. Yes, that’s me, living on the edge. (eye roll to infinity) But one of the things I’ve noticed–I got an email from a friend asking me what I’ve learned about myself in the last three months, which made me start thinking–is that my self-absorption, which I thought was always at a high peak and level, has become even more deeper. I’ve always been horribly selfish; and pretty damned self-absorbed. But over the last three months it’s become even more apparent, and deeper. The news has been so consistently horrible for so long that I–someone who has been a political junkie for a long time and followed the news avidly–have withdrawn from it completely. Each day, it seems, has brought more horror–I glanced through headlines yesterday when I got home from work and literally was incredibly grateful to disappear into the world of both Jonny Quest and Elite last night. I feel a little stymied with my career, which is part and parcel of the volumes of uncompleted work I have on hand, and the inability to focus and juggle things–which I used to be so very good at–doesn’t seem to be clearing up anytime soon. My usual go-to (making lists) doesn’t seem to be working because I’ll make a to-do list and then completely forget about it, thereby rendering it completely useless.

But I’m going to make one again this morning and see what happens. Hope springs eternal and all that, you know.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

More Than A Dream

Tuesday and our STI clinic is reopening on a limited schedule again, so I get to spend the day trying to remember how to draw blood from people efficiently and how to do paperwork I haven’t really thought about much at all since sometime in March. It’s hard to believe this has been going on since March–but on the other hand it seems like pre-pick-your-crisis was a million years ago.

My stomach is still messed up, but I’m trying to take in as much clear liquid as I can. I’ve pretty much concluded that I am dealing with dehydration-related exhaustion, and the answer to all my ails is hydration. I am also hopeful that this slow and gradual return to what I actually do for work during the day will help me stay centered and on course; I’ve felt very unanchored these last few months. We shall see, won’t we?

Yesterday as I worked from home I had Jonny Quest streaming on the television while I sat in my easy chair and worked. I loved this show when I was a kid, and it still holds up relatively all these years later–it’s also weird that Tim Matheson was Johnny’s voice–and it also was a formative part of my childhood; getting me interested in mysteries and the supernatural and espionage, and there’s also the complete absence of females. The family unit on Johnny Quest reads queer, queer, queer: the parents in Dr. Benton Quest, scientific genius and obviously wealthy beyond belief (like Tony Stark) and Race Bannon, former spy and world class athlete who is both bodyguard and tutor to the two boys; Benton’s son Johnny, and the Indian child they adopt off the streets of Calcutta, Hadji. (I also became extremely painfully aware as I watched at just how big of a stereotype Hadji was; and there are other problematic issues on the show…reminding me of that time period, the 1960’s, very viscerally). There’s also Jonny’s dog, Bandit, who is the comic relief on the show; but unlike Scooby Doo Where Are You?, Jonny Quest was serious–people were actually killed on this show. What humor there is, is fitted into little asides that literally serve as comic relief to the serious tone of the show (and yes, it was plenty serious for kids–as I said, there are any number of times in the episodes I watched where bad guys were killed when their car/boat/airplane crashed and exploded right in front of Jonny and Hadji, who nonchalantly just shrug off the deaths they’ve just witnesses). Dr. Quest is totally Tony Stark, the genius who knows everything–he literally is one of only two white men who speak the language of a remote indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest—and Race is a hot muscle daddy if I’ve ever seen one.

As I said earlier, it’s kind of problematic in some ways–the afore-mentioned indigenous tribe is described as “savages” repeatedly in that episode–but it’s still fairly entertaining, and it’s one of my earliest cartoons on Saturday morning memories; undoubtedly it helped push me along my path as a mystery fan and eventually a mystery writer.

Elite continues to enthrall us; the second season is even crazier than the first, with three new characters added: a party-hearty half-brother of one of the main characters who has a very weird relationship, bordering on incest, with his half-sister; a girl who works as a maid and whose mother is on the janitorial staff who is working very hard to convince the other kids she is just as rich as they are; and a gangster’s daughter. Paul and I are completely fascinated by Carla, whose mother is a marchioness and owns a wine company; she’s extremely manipulative, so much so that it’s difficult to figure out what she really wants and what she is really after. She’s fascinating. There’s also all kinds of queer characters and relationships on the show, and while the whole point of the show is star-crossed lovers…it’s nice seeing the queer storylines given equal importance to the straight ones. And it moves so fast! So much is constantly happening! It’s excellent.

And now I have to get ready for work, without having any coffee. It’s going to be an interesting day.