New Romantics

Despite my enormous sense of cynicism, at the same time I’m kind of a hopeless romantic. I want to believe that people are mostly good, that kindness is the way to change the world, and that selfishness is much rarer than we think it is, or despite all the evidence to the contrary. While deliberate cruelty no longer surprises me, it will always disappoint me.

And I will go to my grave, bitter to the very end, about the bill of goods I was sold as a child, about everything.

Yesterday was nice and relaxing, despite the LSU loss. Having the winning streak snapped– as well as being the first defending national champion to lose their season opener in almost forty years–was disappointing. Not to write the team off, either–there were some flashes of brilliance yesterday, and definitely, there’s potential there–but historically, LSU has followed up championship seasons with disappointing ones. LSU has also lost games early in the season they maybe shouldn’t have, only to pull it together and have a pretty decent season the rest of the way. I just feel bad for the players and the coaches; yesterday had to be horribly sobering, and the loss of the glow of being one of the best teams of all time last year to losing the opener to Mississippi State was a wake-up call. However, who knows? It’s early in the season, and maybe the Bulldogs are going to have a year. (I did watch, and enjoy, the end of the Kansas State upset of Oklahoma. What a terrific comeback! Go State!)

After that disappointment, however, we queued up Enola Holmes on Netflix, and what a delight it turned out to be. The previews I’d seen looked marvelous, and what a delightful cast as well. (I mean, you can never go wrong with Helena Bonham Carter, and Henry Cavill is a delight to look at, even if he never takes off his shirt.) It was also rather delightfully cleverly written, well produced, and Millie Bobby Brown has certainly proved herself to be more than just the girl from Stranger Things; even with the stellar cast, this is her show. She carries the movie from start to finish, and without being charismatic, charming, and giving a great performance as well, the movie would have sunk like a stone. And Henry Cavill makes a marvelous Sherlock; maybe not Benedict Cumberbatch-worthy, but it’s a terrific role for him and he did pretty well in it. I now want to read the entire Enola Holmes series–so the film served as an excellent marketing device for the novels, and watching it reminded me, yet again, how much fun I had writing that Sherlock pastiche earlier this year, and started thinking about perhaps doing another. The 1910’s and 1920’s are such a rich period in New Orleans history to draw from, for one thing, and as I watched I realized I didn’t include either Inspector Lestrade (the name works for a New Orleans police investigator, doesn’t it?) or Mycroft; and it was a fun world to inhabit for a while. I am not at the point where I feel like a true Sherlockian or anything; but it would be fun to revisit my Sherlock Holmes 1916 New Orleans again. Perhaps “A Scandal in Baton Rouge”? “Murder in Milneburg”? The possibilities are, as they say, endless.

Scooter is adapting to the new wet food, as well as slowly getting used to the idea that treats are no longer forthcoming. He still goes to the coffee table, stands where he used to when I would give them to him, and whines; but instead I put the wet food in his bowl and he goes and eats it. I managed to surprise him with his morning insulin shot while he was eating–he’s still not fond of being stuck, but he’s getting better about it. And with each successive shot, I felt better about giving it to him, and it becomes less of a big deal. The one thing that does bother me about it is the disposal of the syringes; if I didn’t work somewhere that did syringe access and return, I would probably just throw the damned things in the garbage, and while they aren’t really a huge risk of any kind to anyone–I also recap them–if a garbage man was to get stuck accidentally with one of them, they wouldn’t know it was an insulin syringe, and of course they would then have the stress of worrying about Hepatitis C or HIV infection, and rounds of testing.

And that’s not something I’d want to put anyone through, you know?

I also decided to set aside The Heavenly Table for now. It’s quite good, and so exceptionally well written; I will definitely come back to it, but it’s just so unrelentingly dark, and I don’t think I can handle anything like that right now. I just found myself reaching for it yesterday before pulling my hand back like I’d been burned, and realized that part of the reason I’d not been reading it on weeknights was because I was already in a dark place and reading something so dark wasn’t going to help matters any. When I finally finished that entry from yesterday about writing young adult fiction, and queer desire in it, I had to go reread the links I posted in it–and was reminded of a book called Release, by Patrick Ness, which I thought I remembered purchasing in support because of the criticism it was receiving at the time (I have a tendency to do that–buy books in support when controversy envelopes them–but feel it important to note that it depends on the controversy. I shall never, for example, buy American Dirt), and I started reading it, immediately becoming entranced by the writing style, which I liked very much, and also found myself liking the point of view character very much as well. So, I think I will most likely spend some more time with it today.

I also need to spend some time with Bury Me in Shadows–there’s really no excuse other than laziness for my reluctance thus far to tackle the revision of Chapter 11. Yes, it’s a poorly written mess that will require blood, sweat, and tears to repair and revise and make readable, but it is also not likely to rewrite itself, and the longer I put off working on it and making the all-too-necessary repairs, the longer it is going to take me to finish the book and turn it in–and that is simply not an option. I also want to work on a short story today, and I have to start writing an essay I promised to do with very little turnaround time.

I did manage to get come cleaning and organizing done yesterday, which was lovely.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you either later today (should I finish one of the drafts in the post draft folder) or tomorrow morning when I have to get up insanely early in order to go to the office.

Amarillo by Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how the chapter opens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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