Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)

And a happy 4th of July to you, too, Constant Reader.

It’s always bothered me that people consider this our national birthday, when it’s really not. July 4th is actually Independence Day; when the Declaration of Independence began to be signed and we officially shrugged off the yoke of the British Empire. Independence was, of course, qualified; it was independence for white men, naturally; women still were second-class, and no slaves were freed with this declaration. It would take almost another hundred years before the abolition of slavery; 150 for women to get the right to vote; and full equality with the straight white man is still a dream to be fought for in our laws and courts and hearts. But we can celebrate the ideal that was established by the flawed founding fathers, who were, as are all men, imperfect–no matter what the mythology we are taught from birth claims.

And it cannot be denied that our country was built over the bones and blood of the indigenous people whose land was taken from them.

So, there will be political speeches, and fireworks displays, and firecrackers going off and scaring pets pretty much the entire day. There will be picnics and barbecues and no mail delivered. Flags and parades and patriotism on display wherever you look. Hell, even I’m going to light some charcoal and cook out later today. But the United States is generally incapable, as a nation, of self-reflection and critical analysis of its past, present, and future; such is seen by a segment of the population as a lack of patriotism (because somehow blind allegiance to a party and its members, as well as slavish devotion to the symbols of democracy, rather than to the democracy itself, is somehow seen as true patriotism) and derided. But it is only through self-criticism, critique, and reflection that the democracy grows stronger with mistakes corrected and the course reset.

For no one is truly free and equal until all are free and equal.

I took yesterday as a day of rest; I answered some pressing emails in the morning and then walked away from my computer. I watched Hamilton (see other blog post) which was truly delightful; we finished Season Two of Titans, which was also marvelous, and Dick Grayson finally emerged from the shadow of Robin and donned the Nightwing costume in the finale (Season 2 was so much better than Season 1, and I liked Season 1; cannot wait for Season 3); and then we moved onto a Mexican series called The Club, which was highly entertaining and fun. We’re not even halfway finished with it, either, so we have several more nights of cheesy fun as our heroes establish themselves as Ecstasy dealers to the upper class of Mexico City–and the lead, Pablo, is absolutely gorgeous.

It was lovely having a relaxing day, as it always is; one in which I cast aside my cares and worries, and simply get lost in being entertained. I slept well again last night–I have quite a streak of that going now, which is absolutely lovely–and so now today, I am going to spend the day the way I usually spend my second day of the weekend–reading, writing and cleaning. The sink is filled with dirty dishes, and the dishwasher is also full (of clean dishes, that must be put away) and at some point this weekend I need to buy a new broom, clean the filter in the vacuum cleaner, and actually clean the floors. Today I am going to work on some in-progress short stories, while tomorrow I am going to work on the Secret Project (it would be lovely to get it finished tomorrow, and sent off to the publisher, but you know how that usually winds up). I also want to spend some time with Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, perhaps even finishing it, which would be lovely; I really need to get back into the swing of reading every day, else I have no prayer of ever getting caught up on the always-growing TBR pile.

I’m not sure what stories I am going to work on today, to be honest. There are several which are finished in the first draft form and need to be revised, things added and changed; still others are incomplete and need to have a first draft finished in order to get things worked on a bit. I was thinking about trying to take on “Please Die Soon,” “Gossip,” and “You Won’t See Me”; but there are any number of others that are simply begging to be finished. I’ve also got those novellas in progress–four or five, at last count–and it would be lovely to make some sort of progress on some of those as well. I also am quite aware I am most likely being overly ambitious here; laziness will inevitably seep into my bones at some point and I’ll just say the hell with it and walk away from my computer.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Wish me luck.

The World Turned Upside Down

So, Hamilton.

Amazing.

I mean, wow.

I can’t think of many musicals that when I finished watching, I was simply awestruck. Oh, sure, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin both always make me cry (the animated film versions, natch) and I’ve enjoyed some others, but as a general rule I kind of missed out on the gay musical gene. My general lack of interest in musicals, particularly stage ones, generally catches people off-guard; the stereotype, indeed, runs that deep. Some of my friends were stunned that I wasn’t an enormous Sondheim fan, for example. (They did turn me on to Company and Sunday in the Park with George, but while I recognize the ability and talent involved…I haven’t sought out others.) In some queer genetic DNA mix-up, I got the football gene instead of the musical theater one.

Hamilton, though. I mean.

Alexander Hamilton was always one of my favorite founding fathers. He literally came from nothing and nowhere to become one of the most important US historical figures of the Revolution and the creation of the country–the American monetary and financial system was his work. (It is definitely flawed, and has become much more so with the passage of time; unchecked corruption inevitably seeped in and exploited, and continues to exploit, those flaws, but it was still an enormous achievement.) He was killed in a duel, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, aide-de-camp to Washington during the war…truly remarkable. He was flawed, of course, as all the Fathers were. The development of the need for a mythology in which our founding fathers’ flaws were erased and they were raised to God-like stature over the centuries to come has inevitably clouded the necessary truths of history and papered those cracks over with lies and myth. The history I was taught, and read, as a child, was fictional.

I remember being excited when the Chernow biography was published to great fanfare and acclaim; I had a copy, but I don’t recall if I read it or not. That was during the cloudy times, and I am not sure where my copy of it is today else I was have spent most of the rest of yesterday rereading it. When the stage show debuted, to great acclaim and quickly became a national sensation, I was again happy, but couldn’t believe all the buzz and rapture I was hearing. I listened to the cast show recording and, while some of the songs were definitely catchy and memorable, it’s really an opera–and out of the context of the show itself…you literally have to listen to the entire thing to get it and appreciate it.

But watching the film yesterday was a revelatory. In context, with the visuals and seeing it all together–the lighting, the staging, the choreography, the performance, the costumes–it is truly a rousing masterpiece. I was moved to tears several times…and at the very end the number “Who Will Tell Your Story” reveals that the true hero of the show (and his life) was Eliza Hamilton, his wife. And what an extraordinary woman she was! She outlived her husband by fifty years, preserved his legacy, founded the first orphanage in New York City, and launched the drive to raise money for the Washington Memorial (with Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams), not to mention losing her oldest son as well in a duel–and the humiliation of the public exposure of her husband’s affair. The performance by Philippa Soo was exceptional (as was the young woman playing her sister, Angelica–and that number, “Satisfied,” with the rewind? Amazing).

My friend Pat Brady, a historian who wrote a biography of Martha Washington, always says that “women were the secret weapon of the American Revolution,” and she was right. Those American women of that time were just as exceptional as their men.

Was it historically accurate? Not completely, but not as inaccurate as offerings such as The Tudors, Reign, and The White Queen.

Now, I get the mania and the fandom. From the opening notes, I knew I was watching something different than anything I’d ever seen before. An excellent, highly talented cast; terrific staging and choreography…and an appealing story. There is nothing quite as American as the rags-to-riches story; because in our heart of hearts, we always think of ourselves being that underdog who is somehow going to take the world by storm and not miss our shot.

I’ll probably watch again at some point, but I am going to bask for now in the pleasant afterglow of seeing it for the first time.

Now I regret not seeing the original cast performing it live on stage. It must have been amazing to witness.

Pandemonium

And yesterday morning I awoke to the delightful news that I sold another one of the three stories I sent out on submission on Monday; how splendid! So, “Night Follows Night” will be out in an anthology next year; I will of course keep you all posted on further developments.

So, that was a great twenty-four hours for my always desperately needy authorial ego, was it not? That, along with the excellent reception my reading for Timothy got last Friday night, was a lovely balm for me and my ever-tortured soul. This is what I mean when I talk about the bipolarity of writing; so much of the time it’s just you and the computer screen, the accusatory blank Word document open before you (or one with some words, not good, grouped together on it already) as you grimly search your mind for something intelligent, or at least semi-coherent, to start typing. And even when you manage to get something typed up and saved and rewrite and revise and polish…there’s still no guarantee you’ll eventually sell the story, and even when you do–no guarantee anyone reading it will like it, it will be included in reviews in a positive way, or there will ever be any feedback (and sometimes, awful as it is, I appreciate the negative because it means someone noticed, which is really, when you examine it more deeply, kind of sad.

“Night Follows Night” was actually inspired by my watching some documentary–I’m not sure what it was called–about a young man who had escaped from a religious cult his parents still belonged to; I think he and his brother had gotten away from it. It was horrifically sad, more than anything else–I want to say the cult was called the Children of God, but that wasn’t it, I don’t think–and all I could think about was how difficult it must have been to find the courage to run away from that and out into a cold, cruel world with just the clothes on your back and whatever money you were able to scrounge up. Around this same time I was reading one of Margaret Millar’s brilliant novels, How Like an Angel, which was also built around a religious cult, and I started thinking about it some more….the cult in the documentary also sexually abused its members, regardless of age or gender, and that also struck a chord in my head. When I started writing it I called it “This Thing of Darkness”–because, really, this backstory is incredibly dark, and carrying that around in your head would also be remarkably dark. But after the first draft or so, I chose to use that title for another story and changed this one’s title to “And The Walls Came Down.” While that kind of fit better, I still didn’t much care for it, and eventually came up with “Night Follows Night”–which I think truly fits; because for my poor main character, he never really gets to enjoy the daylight; it’s always night in his head.

Wouldn’t that be a horrible way to live?

And maybe–just maybe–I’m better at this writing thing than I ever give myself credit for?

Yes, I know–I need to stop that crazy talk right now!

This week for some reason seems to have lasted forever already; Paul and I both commented on this very strange occurrence after watching some episodes of season two of Titans, which is much better than Season One–and I really liked Season One. The boy candy is certainly there, and the women characters are enjoyable; and the fight scenes have yet to start seeming “I’ve seen this before”, which eventually killed Arrow for us; much as we loved the earlier seasons. I’m so delighted to see one of my favorite comic book super-hero teams done so well; there are too many members to do the Legion of Super-Heroes justice, so I’ll settle for Titans. I was also sorry to read that Krypton was cancelled after its second season; I have yet to watch it (I may get Paul to rewatch Season One with me), and am hoping it’s going to show up on DCUniverse or HBO MAX one of these days.

And there’s a delightful three day weekend looming. I am itching to get back to some of the short stories I have in progress, and I want to get the Secret Project completed. I actually have an extra day (HUZZAH!) so I can laze around for an entire day, gradually cleaning and so forth as I read Cottonmouths and perhaps do the floors (which are frankly disgusting) and I probably should clean the vacuum cleaner, and as always, so much to be done. But if I take that kind of a day on Friday, that means I have Saturday and Sunday to write (oh, and Hamilton is airing Friday night on something streaming–Disney Plus, perhaps?) and there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t get some great writing done.

Unless, of course, I undermine and defeat myself again as I am so prone to do.

Sometime during my first cup of coffee Entergy shut off our power–they were doing some work out there on the street for about thirty minutes–and this is, of course, one of the major flaws of the Keurig: what happens when the power goes off during your first cup? But it wasn’t as big a catastrophe as one might have thought; remember, I was cutting back on caffeine during the Great Dehydration Debacle of 2020, and I realized that I could survive a low caffeine morning–hell, there were mornings last week where I had zero caffeine, and there was no body count.

I also tried a new recipe Monday night–creamy pasta with shrimp and mushrooms (basically, it’s an Alfredo sauce, and who knew it was that fucking easy to make homemade Alfredo sauce?)–and it was actually quite delicious, despite the fact I forgot one of the ingredients. I added more cheese to the sauce then the recipe called for (because OF COURSE), and I will certainly make this again; and will eventually begin fiddling with the recipe to see if I can make it even better.

And on that note, tis time to return to the mines of spice. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

Misled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, to get some shit done.

IMG_1913

Honey Hi

The book is coming along nicely, if slowly, but I feel that this weekend (no college football) will be a MOST excellent time for me to get caught up on it. I am also making terrific progress on the revision of the short story, and I have another to revise on top of it, so my work–around errands and cleaning–this weekend is cut out for me indeed.

But as I always say, I’d rather be busy–and holiday weekends are coming, as well. I’ve done the majority of my Christmas shopping already; Paul is, as always, a challenge as he simply buys what he wants when he wants it, and he never really wants much in the first place.

We’ve started watching Ray Donovan on Showtime, and we’re enjoying it so far. I’ve always been fascinated by Hollywood ‘fixers’–albeit the ones in the days of the big studios–so it’s kind of interesting to see a fictional series about one in the present day.

I am almost finished reading Gore Vidal’s Empire; it’s slow going, as so much of Vidal’s work is (although I’d really love to reread Julian the Apostate again; and The City and the Pillar as well). It’s part of his fictional ‘American history’ series, which I’ve not read. Vidal was, as one of my co-workers said, the kind of American intellectual we will probably never see again in this country; I tried to think, and have been trying to think, of whom the current day American intellectuals are, without much success. I don’t know if that’s my failing, or that of our society; I don’t know who the current day equivalent of Vidal or William F. Buckley Jr. would be. Vidal was incredibly intelligent, but there was also a sneering, condescending superiority to him that I never particularly cared for (Buckley was much the same); a sense that “if you don’t agree with me you are clearly mentally inferior.” No one likes to be told they’re stupid or not as smart as someone else; that puts me off even when it’s someone I agree with. Vidal had a deeply cynical view of American history and of the country itself; I’ve not read his essays on American history and politics so I am not sure if that cynical contempt was of the country or how it mythologized its past and the hand-over-heart patriotism it promotes; the concept of American exceptionalism, which does bear much deeper scrutiny than it gets as a general rule. I do know that he was fascinated by Aaron Burr (his fictional biography, Burr, was the first book in his series about American history) and felt he was an unappreciated American hero unjustly vilified by his enemies, whose view of him has come down to us through the centuries.

I’ve actually never read Burr, or any biographies of him; what I know of Burr has primarily come from reading biographies of his political enemies (Hamilton and Jefferson) or histories of the period that are slanted towards his enemies; it only stands to reason if Hamilton and Jefferson are to be heroes, than their enemies must therefore be villains. Yet Hamilton and Jefferson were political enemies; throw John Adams into the mix and you have quite a confusing mishmash of who is the bad guy/who is the good guy. The truth, of course, is they were human and a mix of both the good and the bad, despite the mythology.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning; and not where I really wanted my blog entry this morning to go.

Then again, I’m listening to the Hamilton cast show album, and Burr is mentioned periodically in Empire, so perhaps there was an inevitability to this, after all.

(And now, of course, I want to reread both The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers, damn you, Hamilton cast show recording!)

All right, perhaps it’s time to return to the Spice Mines.

Here’s today’s hunk: