Dancing With Our Hands Tied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your Funny Uncle

And just like that, it is Monday again; another week, the first full week of August, the month during which I will actually turn fifty-nine (although I always add a year to my age on New Year’s Day; so on 1/1/21 I will start copping to being sixty). It’s sometimes hard to believe I’ve made it this far–when I was younger I always assumed I’d never make it to forty, then fifty, and look: here I am slipping inexorably downhill to sixty.

Surprise!

As Paul says, “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.”

I managed to get through Chapter Ten of Bury Me in Shadows as planned yesterday–so much bad writing to fix–and now I intend to spend this week repairing the first ten chapters, and really building the character of Jake Chapman now that I know who he is, where he came from, and what he wants, and how he is going to react to everything going on at his grandmother’s house in the deep woods. I have the potential love interest all set up nicely–he needs a little more fleshing out–and of course, eye candy straight boy, who needs more edges. It never ceases to amaze me how much filler goes into an early draft of mine, and sometimes working by the chapter rather than by the page count results in repetition and contradiction.

Heavy sigh.

I slept really well last night–I have been for the last week or so–and this morning I didn’t really want to get out of bed, either. I’ve also been having really strange and vivid dreams lately; I usually don’t dream, or don’t remember them once I awake. The ones I’ve been having these last few days don’t completely fade on awakening, but generally by the time I finish my morning coffee they are gone like a will o’ the wisp. They aren’t nightmares, I can remember that much, but they are just very strange; me being a very different strangely altered world than the one in which we already live, which is kind of bad enough as it is.

We watched The Old Guard on Netflix last night, which was entertaining and also had my mind wandering about the Colin novel I’ve always wanted to write. I always thought it would be fun to give Colin his own series, almost completely independent of the Scotty series, but always held back–mainly because it was kind of fun having Colin be a man of mystery; a series of his own would kind of take that away, and it would have to be more of an action/adventure type thriller series, set in exotic locales I have never been to–and I’ve always kind of been hesitant to try writing about places I’ve never been, or to make it all up and hope that none of the readers had ever been there. I’ve been toying with an idea for an action/adventure type thriller for decades, interweaving the fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the Fourth Crusade; some ancient Biblical secret held by the Patriarch of Constantinople in hiding for centuries; the Old Man of the Mountain and his assassins; and a fabulous jewel known as the Star of Irene (a former Empress of the eastern Roman Empire). I’ve had this idea since the 1990’s–and no doubt it was slightly influenced/inspired by the Indiana Jones movies–and it was, oh, about 2004 I thought about turning the idea into a stand-alone Colin adventure. I just am shit at choreographing fights and action sequences, frankly; and that would kind of be important to such a story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Happy Monday, Constant Reader.

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

I fell into an Internet wormhole the other day–history, of course, was involved–and now, with my scattered ADHD mind, I can’t stop thinking about the unintended research I was doing. An ad popped up on the evil Facebook (or the even more evil Twitter) about the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453; and yes, that triggered me going into a search about the fall of the city, why it happened, who was the last patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church at the time of the fall, what was the last Byzantine Emperor’s story, and so forth.

I’ve always had a Colin stand-alone adventure novel in the back of my head, going all the way back to Bourbon Street Blues when I first introduced the character. My original plan, as you know, Constant Reader, was to make Bourbon Street Blues a stand-alone as well; when I introduced Colin and came up with his backstory, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a series about a gay undercover op for hire? I had always had this idea for a treasure hunt novel–yes, inspired by Indiana Jones, if you must know, go ahead and judge me–but it had to do with something smuggled out of Hagia Sophia before Constantinople fell to the Venetians and the Crusaders in 1204; but having researched that actual event, it doesn’t really work for the story. But the final fall of the city–turning it from the Christian capital of the East to the capital of an Islamic empire, and also ending the Roman Empire once and for all–actually would work for this story, based on what I read yesterday. The thing that was smuggled out was a document, or an original manuscript, of a secret book of the new Testament that challenged the very nature of Christianity as it was known then; Catholicism and Orthodoxy–which means the stakes in the current day would also be pretty high.

Will I ever write a Colin stand-alone novel? Probably not, but you never know. I have so many other things to write. I’ll never be able to write everything I want to write before i die, I fear.

Such is life. There’s never enough time, and of course, I am horrifically lazy, which doesn’t help on any level.

And of course, now that it’s around four in the afternoon I am getting tired. I woke up at six this morning, stayed in bed until seven, and then got started on my day. I drank coffee and cleared out my email inbox; I wrote a bunch of emails and saved them in the drafts folder to send first thing in the morning; and then I went to the grocery store. After putting the groceries away, I started making a birthday cake for a co-worked–a new red velvet cheesecake recipe I’d been wanting to try–and of course, while I was working on the cheesecake layer my hand mixer burned out. Complete with burning electrical smell and smoke coming out of the motor (three hours later the kitchen still smells like an electrical fire) and so, not wanting to go to Walmart on a Sunday, I walked over to the Walgreens on the corner, vaguely having seen that they sell kitchen appliances. I rarely go there–and usually only in case of an emergency, which this certainly was–and of course, they’ve rearranged the entire store since the last time I was there. And of course there are aisles of Christmas stuff where other things ought to be. But I persisted, because I really didn’t want to go to Wal-mart on a Sunday afternoon just to buy a hand mixer, and I found one. It seemed a bit pricey, but then I figured you bought the last one twelve years ago so prices may have gone up since then besides you’re paying a premium for convenience. 

So I bought it.

Constant Reader, that was the best money I could have spent on a hand mixer. It’s so much better than my old one it’s not even funny; on the slowest setting it mixes with more power than the old one–a BLACK AND DECKER–did on it’s highest setting. In other words, that cheesecake was beaten and ready to go in the oven in no time. And who knew whipped cream was so easy to make?

Well, it is with my new mixer, at any rate.

So the red velvet cheesecake is now chilling in my refrigerator. I tried working on the book but I am tired and my brain is tired too. I am even too tired to read, methinks. So, I am going to go try to find something to watch on the television while I relax in my easy chair.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll have the energy to write later.

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