Invisible String

Labor Day morning, and I feel rested. I’ve not felt this good in quite some time, frankly–I am sure ignoring my emails and staying away from social media over the course of the long weekend has something to do with that, indubitably–and now I am having my morning coffee and slowly coming alive. May as well enjoy it while I can, since tomorrow I have to get up unbearably early, but we only have one clinic day this week and it’s also a four-day work week, so maybe it won’t be so bad on my physically.

I worked on the book for a little while yesterday; not very much, not nearly as much writing as needed to be done over the long weekend–which is inevitably always the lament, is it not? But getting rest–both physical and mental–is also inevitably necessary and a necessity. I did manage to not only finish reading Little Fires Everywhere over the course of the weekend, but I also finished The Coyotes of Carthage (which will be getting its own entry eventually) and started reading Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is not only extraordinary but nothing like I was expecting–and I was also going in blind, knowing nothing about the book other than I had read his earlier novel A Head Full of Ghosts and really enjoyed it. It features and centers, for example, a happily married gay couple and their adopted child; didn’t see or expect that coming. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I certainly don’t want to give anything away, I am already planning on spending some more time with it today. Reading is such an escape (always has been) and a pleasure for me my entire life; I never really understand what it’s like for people who don’t read, or who don’t like to read–its so outside of my own experience I’m not sure I could ever understand choosing not to read.

The work I did on the book yesterday, while not a lot, was also quite good work, and I am certain that the rising quality of this novel I am writing has everything to do with the high quality of what I am reading these days. I mean, between Matt Ruff, Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay, one really cannot go wrong, can one? I’ve also come to understand that my deadlines–while arbitrarily set–are also set up to maximize time, and are also predicated on the idea that I can actually have the energy–both physical and creative–to do good work every day. I’m not sure that I can anymore–not sure that I ever could–but the mindset is the key, and I know after seeing clients for eight hours, I really don’t have the bandwidth to write anymore the way I used to; which inevitably, I am sure, has something to do with the malaise this current world in which we live has created. Malaise is probably not the right word; depression is probably closer to what I really mean–there’s this weird depressive thing going on in my subconscious that makes macro issues I would ordinarily blow off or ignore or brush off much more micro and much more draining on me.

So, what is a writer to do in these days? Self-care, as I have noted before, is more important than ever. I am going to use the massage roller this morning, and possibly do some stretching exercises as I get ready to face this day–I intend to write today; it’s been lovely dipping my toe into it most of the weekend but I really need to dive into the pool today–and I’d also like to get some more cleaning done at some point. There are electronic files to sort as well, and filing to be done; floors to be cleaned and laundry to fold; all the endless minutiae I always intend to keep up with as I go but inevitably push the back of the priority list and do nothing about until they reach a point like the one they are at now: a literal mess that requires more focused work than ordinarily they would. And while my energies are frequently scattered…I have found that the binge reading I’ve been doing has done a lot to create a sort of inner peace that I’ve been missing lately. I also think I’ve sort of been in mourning about the loss of football season–yes, I know they are going to try to have a season, but it’s not a real season and thus not the same thing; this will be the first year since 2010 that Paul and I have not gone to at least one game in Tiger Stadium–but at the same time, that has also freed up my weekends. My goal for this week is to read a short story a day, as well as a chapter or two per day of whatever book I am currently reading–I suspect I may finish the Tremblay today, it’s that good and that unputdownable–as well as to do some stretches every morning after I get up and before I take my shower. I think regimenting my days into a sort of routine–since I clearly love routines when I can manage to stick to them–is perhaps the smartest way to go.

We watched the new episode of The Vow last night, and it’s getting more and more chilling the deeper into the series we go; I’m glad it’s currently not binge-able, because watching one episode per week makes it more easily digestible. They are doing a most excellent job as well of showing how attractive NXIVM was; a lot of the things they talk about, when it comes to taking responsibility for yourself and changing your mentality and behavior to become more successful, sounds like practical advice you can apply to improve your life–but there’s certainly a dark side to the whole thing. Last night’s episode, which brought up the branding and master/slave “sorority” within the organization, was positively chilling.

We also started watching the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, Raised by Wolves, which is extraordinary. We watched all three episodes that were made available immediately, and it’s quite an accomplishment; it looks very expensive, with no expense spared on production design and special effects. The story itself is also interesting, if a bit hard to understand to begin with; it’s set in 2145, and Earth has been ravaged to the point of becoming unlivable because of a religious war, between Mithraic religion (worship of the sun) and atheists. Since Earth was becoming uninhabitable, both sides launched space ships to another Earth-like planet to save humanity; and it gets a lot more complicated from there. It’s a very high-concept show, and I am curious to see how it all plays out going forward. If you’re a science fiction fan, I’d recommend it; I don’t know if people who generally don’t watch sci-fi would like it as much–I could be wrong. I would have never guessed, for example, that Game of Thrones would have become the cultural phenomenon that it was.

And I still haven’t decided what short stories to focus on writing, although I am leaning towards “After the Party”, “The Flagellants”, “Waking the Saints”, “Please Die Soon,” and “He Didn’t Kill Her.”

And on that note, tis back into the spice mines with me.

Starlight

And so now it’s Sunday.

I won’t lie; I’ve lost my sense of time and date and day already this weekend and I’m perfectly fine with it. I hope everyone who has the good fortune to have the weekend off–I know there are many who do not–are in the same state of what day is this that I found myself in most of yesterday and when i woke up this morning–I overslept again, which was amazingly lovely, but i really need to stop indulging myself this way–and am now awake, on my first cup of coffee, and ready to get shit done today. I did get shit done yesterday–I cleaned and organized quite a bit (not enough, it’s never enough) and while I do have some little bit of cleaning and a lot of organizing left to get done, at least I made a start on it yesterday. My desk, for example, this morning is clean and clear; which will make writing later much easier.

I finished Little Fires Everywhere yesterday–I blogged about it already, so I won’t repeat anything other than that it’s a fantastic book I encourage you all to read–and started reading The Coyotes of Carthage, which was originally recommended to me by my friend Laura, who was lucky enough to receive an advance copy. It, too, is fantastic and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I am really looking forward to getting more into it–I will undoubtedly take a reading break or two at some point today. It seems to be a political thriller about dark money and political consultants in a very rural county in South Carolina, with a Black male protagonist, so I am sure it’s going to be quite interesting to read.

But I really also need to write today; I’ve not looked at the manuscript since last weekend, and this “only writing on the weekends for one day” simply cannot continue to stand, really. I have too much to write, and I need to stop giving into the laziness or the tiredness or self-destructive patterns or whatever the hell it is that keeps me from finishing this damned book. Heavy sigh. I also have any number of short stories I need to wade through to pick out some to work on for submission calls.

Again, I think there’s something to that I am so overwhelmed believing I’ll never get everything done so why bother doing any of it thing.

Repeat after me: SELF-DEFEATING.

While I waited for Paul to finish working on a grant last night I watched, or rather, rewatched (although I didn’t really remember watching it before, and I figured, meh, if I’ve already seen it I can do stuff on my iPad while it’s on in the background) a documentary called Master of Dark Shadows, about Dan Curtis and how the show came about, and its legacy (I’m sure most people don’t remember Curtis also produced and directed the mini-series based on Herman Wouk’s novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). I was one of those kids who watched Dark Shadows only in the summertime, because my elementary school didn’t get out until 3:15; even though we lived only a block away from the school I couldn’t ever get home fast enough to watch even the end. I did love Dark Shadows–our sitter/caregiver, Mrs. Harris, also watched One Life to Live and General Hospital, which were my first exposures to soaps–and it always stuck in my mind; I always give it credit for my interest in horror and the supernatural. I enjoyed watching the documentary (and for the record, I loved the NBC reboot of the series in prime time in the early 1990’s, and was crushed when it was canceled; I rewatched it with Paul and he too was disappointed it ended on its cliff-hanger) and then we started watching a documentary about a double murder in India called Behind Closed Doors, in which the investigation was so incredibly fucked up–I mean, if the primary take-away from all the other true crime documentaries we’ve been watching has been man is our system seriously fucked up, the takeaway from this one is yeah, but ours is clearly better than others.

Which is kind of scary, really.

While I was also bored yesterday waiting for Paul–and only really sort of watching Master of Dark Shadows–I was right, I’d seen it before–I started looking things up on-line; which was an absolutely lovely example of how one can fall into a wormhole on the Internet. As you know, I’ve been having this Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and thinking about the rise, and proliferation of, conspiracy theories in that suspicious, paranoid decade, and one that I hadn’t remembered until yesterday sprang up into my min, completely unbidden, while I was reading about the Bermuda Triangle: Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Does anyone else remember von Daniken and his theories, which were based in nothing scientific or archaeological? Von Daniken believed that ancient texts–the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi, etc.–all contained evidence that in Ancient Times the Earth was visited by space aliens–Alien Astronauts, as he called them–who brought knowledge and information with them to the primitive creatures of our planet at the time, and also assisted them in the massive building projects that modern man cannot conceive of them building back then–the pyramids, for one thing, and the lines on the plains of Nazca (which I first read about in the Nancy Drew volume The Clue in the Crossword Cipher)–and those aliens with their vastly superior technology, were seen as gods by the primitives and those visits have come down to us in the form of mythology. It’s an interesting idea for sure–but it was all conjecture, with no proof. I read all of von Daniken’s books back in the day; others included The Gold of the Gods, and were simply further conjectures, but he developed quite a following, and set the stage for what is called the pseudo-science of Graham Hancock, his modern day successor. (I’ve also read some of Hancock’s work; his theory that the Sphinx is far older than we suspect based on water wear on its base is interesting, as is his other theory that the Ark of the Covenant’s final resting place is in Ethiopia; before reading that book I had no idea that Christianity was so firmly entrenched there) So, I spent some time looking up von Daniken’s theories yesterday, as well as some other conspiracy theories of the time–I also did a deep dive into the entire Holy Grail Holy Blood thing which provided the basis for The Da Vinci Code and Dan Brown’s entire career; and of course we certainly cannot forget the apocryphal writings of Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth–which, really, is where The Omen came from; we forget how “end times” theory truly began flourishing in the 1970’s.

I’ve always been interested in stories about lost books of the Bible, or lost Biblical theory, along with the end-times prophecies Lindsay wrote about; Irving Wallace’s The Word, which was built around the rediscovery of a lost testament of Jesus which would revolutionize and make-over the Christian theology was one of the first novels of this type I read; it was also made into a mini-series, which made me aware of it in the first place (Irving Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he was a huge bestseller back in the day, and he wrote incredibly thick novels, mostly about international conspiracies or legal issues–The Seven Minutes, for example, was about censorship and “blue laws”; The Second Lady was about a Soviet conspiracy to replace the First Lady with a lookalike imposter who was a Soviet spy; The Prize was about the machinations around how the Nobel Prize was given out; etc etc etc). The Da Vinci Code fits clearly into this category, as does The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum and The Fourth Secret by Steve Berry (which is about the fourth secret Our Lady of Lourdes–or was it Fatima?–revealed to either Bernadette or the peasant children; Irving Wallace also covered this in The Miracle); Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade also kind of fit here, as both films are about the search for Biblical relics. I’ve always, always, wanted to write one of these. Years ago I had the idea for one, in which there was a secret document or testament hidden in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for years, and that part of the reason the 4th Crusade sacked the city was the Pope’s desire to get his hands on those documents, which were thus smuggled out of the city by the Patriarch and lost forever…this is the idea I always come around to for a Colin stand-alone (I also realize I could do Colin stand-alones set at various times throughout the last twenty years or so of Scotty books, as he is gone a lot of the time on missions), and the working title for it always is Star of Irene, because the Byzantine Empress Irene–contemporary of Charlemagne–has always fascinated me.

But I will never write a Colin stand-alone, or series, unless I get this fucking book finished, so I suppose it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Look What You Made Me Do

It probably goes without saying that I wasn’t a typical boy-child; a complete mystery and disappointment to my parents. For years, I attributed the disappointment and confusion to my complete inability, and resistance, to conform to gender expectations of how little boys were expected to behave and what they were supposed to be interested in because I was not born heterosexual despite being born into a overwhelmingly heterosexual society, country, and culture. It took many years for me to recognize and understand that even had I not been innately attracted to males romantically and sexually and emotionally I still would have been an unfathomable mystery to my parents because I was an artistic child born into a family where an interest in the arts was just as foreign to them as if I had been a foundling from another planet they discovered on their doorstep one morning. We were a family of readers–everyone in my family was a reader–but no one was as voracious a reader as I was; because I was interested in stories and fictions, and because I felt like such an outsider in my own life that I was more interested in escaping it into the different worlds that books offered me.

Even when my parents, mystified, encouraged my reading habit (it was really more of an addiction more than anything else; the most effective punishment was denying me books) they were also mystified by what I wanted to read; I was interested more in books by and about women than I was in books by and about men. I’ve always wondered if their violent reaction to this interest in women pushed me further, in my innate stubbornness, along that path; why the forbidden Nancy Drew books were of greater interest than the Hardy Boys–the greatest irony, of course, being that my favorite series, in truth, were always books about boys (the Three Investigators, Rick Brant, Ken Holt) rather than girls. This preference for books by women over men continued into my adulthood; I inevitably read more books by and about women than I do by and about men. I am digressing a bit from the point of this entry, but one thing I’ve always rebelled against is this notion that men’s stories are universal while women’s are more micro and intimate; I prefer more micro, intimate stories to universal ones, and there is often more universal truths and intellectual honesty and curiosity in an intimate story than in what is supposedly a more universal one.

Take, for example, Celeste Ng’s brilliant Little Fires Everywhere.

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough–or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow–and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss. A little after noon on that Saturday in May, the shoppers pushing their grocery carts in Heinen’s heard the fire engines wail to life and careen away, toward the duck pond. By a quarter after twelve there were four of them parked in a haphazard red line along Parkland Drive, where all six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud. Later people would say that the signs had been there all along: that Izzy was a little lunatic, that there had always been something off about the Richardson family, that as soon as they heard the sirens that they knew something terrible had happened. By then, of course, Izzy would be long gone, leaving no one to defend her, and people could–and did–say whatever they liked. At the moment the fire trucks arrived, though, and for quite a while afterward, no one knew what was happening. Neighbors clustered as close to the makeshift barrier–a police cruiser, parked crosswise a few hundred yards away–as they could and watched the firefighters unreel their hoses with the grime faces of men who recognized a hopeless cause. Across the street, the geese at the pond ducked their heads underwater for weeds, wholly unruffled by the commotion.

Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had been still asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house. The driveway was long and circular, a deep horseshoe arc bending from the curb to the front door and back–so the street was a good hundred feet away, too far for her to see clearly, and even in May, at eight o’clock it was almost dark, besides. But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl. The dome light lit the inside of the car like a shadow box, but the car was packed with bags nearly to the ceiling and Mrs. Richardson could only just make out the faint silhouette of Mia’s head, the messy topknot perched at the crown of her head. Pearl bent over the mailbox, and Mrs. Richardson imagined the faint squeak of the mailbox door opened, then shut. Then Pearly hopped back into the car and closed the door. The brake lights flared red, then winked out, and the car puttered off into the growing night. With a sense of relief, Mrs. Richardson had gone down to the mailbox and found a set of keys on a plain ring, with no note. She had planned to go over in the morning and check the rental house on Winslow Road, even though she already knew that they would be gone.

At this point, writing about Little Fires Everywhere is probably a bit of overkill; it was a New York Times bestseller and selected by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and adapted by same into a critically acclaimed and highly watched mini-series on Hulu; Kerry Washington currently is an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her stunning personification of Mia, the photographer whose arrival in peaceful quiet Shaker Heights with her daughter sets into motion the story of both book and television series. But this entry is about the book and not the television series (which you should watch, if you haven’t already), and the book is a gem all by itself.

Little Fires Everywhere focuses, on the surface, on the interactions between two completely different women, and by extension, their families. One is Mrs. Richardson; easy to recognize in any number of women we all know–we’ve all known, at one time or another, a Mrs. Richardson: the uber-organized working wife-and-mother who has definite opinions on everything and sees the world in black-and-white with no shades of gray; the woman who is so certain of her ultimate rightness that she can shape reality, and interpret things that happen in her life, to fit her worldview rather than expanding her worldview to fit new data, new experience, new people. It seems cruel to suggest that these women have calcified, but there’s also an element of truth to that; they have constructed their lives in such a way that they must convince themselves that they’ve always made the right choice, because anything that might make them question anything about themselves and their lives would create a crack in that facade of perfection they’ve built to show the world–but they are more worthy of pity and compassion than judgment and contempt, if not for the damage they cause in their correctness.

Mia, whose choices were so different from all of Mrs. Richardson’s (and therefore wanting, which also makes Mia suspicious to Mrs. Richardson if fascinating at the same time), is a Dionysian force in peaceful, nothing-ever-happens Shaker Heights. (Mrs. Richardson is the embodiment of Shaker Heights: planned, perfect, progressive.) Mia is a vagabond, an artist who pulls up stakes and moves on, following her drive to create and make art, choosing the kind of life Mrs. Richardson once might have chosen–but ultimately didn’t; so of course Mrs. Richardson must judge Mia and find her wanting, otherwise she might start questioning and doubting herself. We are, of course, meant to identify with and like Mia, while holding Mrs. Richardson at a cold distance and judging her and her choices. Ng always refers to her as Mrs. Richardson and her husband as Mr. Richardson, very formal, just as they think themselves above judgment and disapproval, while Mia is simply Mia: companionable, likable, a peer.

Mia’s past has its own secrets and choices, some of them questionable, others causing pain to others–not the least of which are her own parents. Like Mrs. Richardson, Mia is convinced her decisions were the right ones, and so she is kind of her mirror image; reflecting back at each other who they might have become had they made other choices at those crossroads of their lives, when they set their feet down on their opposing paths. The two women are much more alike, certainly more than either wants to think, or believe; this is inevitably why they come into conflict, and their very different choices about what it means to be a mother and parent, is clearly reflected in their children; the Richardson children are very different from each other, and often accurately named, and how they are treated and react to their mother, and who they become, is very much because of how she mothers them. Pearl is very much Mia’s daughter; compassionate and understanding yet mysterious at the same time–she understands her mother and is much closer to her mother than any of the Richardson are to theirs. To the Richardsons, their mother is an abstract presence that is always there–supportive and loving with Lexi; sometimes exasperated but caring with Trip; absent with Moody and antagonistic with Izzy.

The trigger that drives them all into opposite corners is of course the custody battle over Mirabelle/May Ling; the Richardsons are friends of the McCulloughs; Mia is a friend of the birth mother, and the book really is, ultimately, who or what is a good mother?

How that could not be a universal story is a mystery to me, frankly.

Ng is also a brilliant writer; sentences and paragraphs constructed as beautifully and carefully as her characters, all of whom are realistic and believable, people we all know, or at least, think we do. The book left me wanting more; wanting to know what happened to them all (the book set twenty years into the past) and where they are now. Are they happy? What choices did they make? And the writing is so strong and poetic that as I read along, the truths and honesty inspired me–new stories, new ideas, new insights into the characters of my own creation.

And for me, that’s the sign of a masterful writer: one whose work inspires other writers to new ideas, new creations, and to do better.

Teardrops on My Guitar

Saturday, and the first blog entry of the three day Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day.

September.

Sep-fucking-tember.

I think the kindest thing anyone can say about this year is that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most people, and putting it that way is perhaps a bit of a stretch. I do feel bad for people who are actually having good things happen to them in this year of utter misery and repeated horror; as I said recently, this is why we  need to get our joy where we can find it. Adaptability is one strength (supposedly) of our species, and I do see people adapting left and right; on the other hand, I also see others desperately clinging to the past and resisting adaptation most stubbornly. This has been quite a year on every level–and it has been interesting seeing how people have adapted, and how people are handling it all so differently.

This is why it surprises me when I see authors talking about how they are going to handle the pandemic in their work–or rather, how they are not going to address the pandemic in their work. It’s so global and so intense and it’s affected everyone, changing how we do things and how we live our lives, from the most mundane things like picking up prescriptions to grocery shopping to going out to eat, to the big things like jobs and house payments and school attendance and daycare. It has affected every part of our lives, so how can we ignore it or pretend like it never happened? It’s very similar to the Katrina situation New Orleans writers found ourselves in afterwards; we couldn’t pretend like the city hadn’t been destroyed or that we’d all been through a horrible trauma. But when I, for example, started writing my post-Katrina work, we were over a year into the recovery and so I could write about what it had been like, rather then trying to figure out what it was going to be like. Pandemic writing, of course, will inevitably date your work, just like Katrina divided my career into before and after. I’m still, frankly, trying to decide how to deal with it in my own work–or if I even want to continue writing the series or not.

And let’s be honest: my first and thus far only attempt to write pandemic fiction, started in the first weeks of the quarantine/shutdown, quickly became dated; I am very glad I didn’t finish it because a lot of the work would have been wasted. I do want to finish the story, though, see if anyone wants to publish it.

Today is going to be my catch-up day; I am going to try to get a chapter revised today, but my primary concern is getting things caught up; I want to finish reading Little Fires Everywhere (I really got sucked into it for a few hours last night) and get started on The Coyotes of Carthage, and I also think I might spend some time today with some short story reading–that Sara Paretsky collection keeps giving me side-eye whenever I sit down in my easy chair–and of course, there’s always electronic files to sort and clean up as well as physical ones. The house really needs some serious cleaning, frankly, and I know I’ll feel much better once that chore is actually accomplished.

Then again, who knows? This could easily turn into another lazy day.

Yesterday during condom-packing time, I watched the season finale of Real Housewives of New York (Dorinda’s recently firing makes a lot more sense now) and moved on to the next on my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, All the President’s Men. To digress for a moment, can I just say how fucking ridiculously good-looking Robert Redford was? I know, I know, commenting on the almost insane beauty of Redford isn’t like anything new, but good lord. Dustin Hoffman was also never considered to be particularly good-looking, but he looks pretty good in this movie and isn’t completely overshadowed by Redford, which would have been expected. It’s a very good film, from top to bottom; everyone in the cast is superb (it was also interesting to see so many people in bit roles that would later become stars on television–Polly Holiday, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter Birney), and it also made me miss the heyday of the thriller featuring the intrepid, dogged, never say die investigative journalist. This is something we’ve lost with the rise of the Internet, 24 hours news channels, and the death of print: with magazines and newspapers either shuttering or cutting back staff, it’s really no longer realistic to have the crusading journalist as the heroic center of your book or movie; as I watched the show I kept thinking about the old Ed Asner series Lou Grant, and whether it was streaming anywhere.

All the President’s Men, of course, is the film version of the book Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward wrote about their investigation into the Watergate break-in in 1972, which was the tiny thread that was pulled and eventually brought down the Nixon presidency and almost destroyed the Republican party in the process. I read the book initially when I was in college–it was required reading for my Intro to Journalism class (I was torn between majoring in journalism or English; being unaware that I could have gone to college somewhere and majored in Creative Writing–but actually, I am very glad I never did that)–and it was my first real experience with understanding, for the first time, what Watergate was all about. It happened in real time during the course of my life, but I was also between the ages of 11 and 13 from the first reports of the break-in and the resignation of a president, and so I didn’t really understand what was going on and only had a vague idea as it infiltrated every aspect of the culture beyond the news. It certainly gave rise to the concept of conspiracy theories and the belief that the government couldn’t be trusted–which gave rise to Reaganism in the 1980’s–but reading the book was my first baby-step forward to shaking off the ideology with which I had been raised. I had never seen the film, and so it really seemed to be perfect for my Cynical 70’s Film Festival…although it was difficult for me to get up the desire to actually queue it up and click play, frankly; the utter failure of the 4th Estate to do its job properly in this century plays no small part in why we are where we are today. But it’s a good film, and it also depicts the back-room aspect of journalism–the battle for column inches, the struggle for the front page, the competition with other newspapers and television–which is really kind of a lost world now. (I had always wanted to write about a newspaper–which is partly why I made Paige a journalist, morphing her gradually into a magazine editor.) I will say watching this movie now made me think about writing about a modern-day journalist; the struggle between the print and on-line copy, etc. If I only had more time.

It’s also very sad to know that if Watergate was happening now, the story would be killed by an editor, and we’d never know the truth.

We also finished watching Outcry last night, which was terrific, and the latest episode of Lovecraft Country (it dropped early because of the holiday weekend), and its continued brilliance is really something. We also saw the preview for Raised by Wolves, the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, and it also looks terrific. A new season of The Boys also just dropped on Prime; so there’s a wealth of things for us to watch, and I rediscovered (oops) my Showtime watch list last night, which also has a cornucopia of delights on it.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into ye olde spice mines for the day. May you all have a lovely, lovely day today.

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Untouchable

And here we are at Friday again, with a three day holiday weekend looming over us. This would have been Southern Decadence in a normal year, and around four o’clock this afternoon I would be departing for the French Quarter to pass out condoms and people-watch. Instead, I will be at home in the air conditioning, making condom packs and doing other work-at-home duties while watching today’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choices.

I had another good night’s sleep last night, which was quite lovely, particularly as I have a bit of a busy day ahead of me before I can slip into my three-day weekend. The kitchen, well, the entire Lost Apartment, is a mess yet again; I try to keep it cleaned as I go, but inevitably at some point during the week I get too tired and let it go–and from that point on I just look at it and feel defeated, certainly too defeated to take care of it, and let t slide for the weekend. Perhaps not the smartest way to housekeep, and inevitably I resent the time I wind up spending on it on the weekend having to clean, but I do enjoy cleaning, and there’s something to the fact that cleaning helps me think.

I read some more on Little Fires Everywhere last night; it really is remarkably well written and interesting, and I am really looking forward to finishing reading it this weekend. We also are watching a Showtime documentary called Outcry, which is about the Greg Kelley case in Texas; to wit, Greg Kelley was a local football star in his small town and very well-liked, and then was accused, and convicted, of molesting a four-year-old child–and at every level, the justice system clearly failed, from the investigating officers and police department, to the prosecution AND the defense attorney, to the jury. I don’t know whether Greg Kelley actually molested that child or not–he of course claims he is innocent–but the mentality evident from every level of the justice system clearly wasn’t to give him a fair trial. Just like with Who Killed Garrett Phillips?, it was clear that very early on the police decided who was guilty and shaped their investigation, not to find the truth but to build a case that backed up their belief. It’s shocking, and horrifying, but this is the sad truth in most criminal prosecutions and investigations; I’ve even touched on this in some of my books–that the cops, who are generally overburdened with cases, decide on a suspect who is guilty early on and that decision impacts and directs their entire investigation–and they don’t rule out other suspects.

This systemic flaw in our criminal justice system is very terrifying; what could be scarier than knowing that you are innocent, not believed, and the full force of our system is being brought to bear on convicting you? Every American has a constitutional right to a fair trial, to due process…it’s the corner-store of our entire system. The Constitution provides for protecting the individual against the abuses of the state, and this is something people tend to forget frequently when it comes to criminal justice. The Constitution and our system specifically makes it difficult to convict people of crimes by making certain that individual rights aren’t being violated during the investigation and in court; but this only works when a judge is impartial and when prosecutors aren’t looking to make names for themselves but are actually looking for justice–not to get a win-loss record that their raises and futures are dependent on.

Quite frankly, I have reached a point where the thought of just being a witness in a criminal case is worrisome; you never know when the cops are going to decide that you are the actual criminal and are going to slant their investigation towards convicting you.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Outcry documentary is seeing the white people realize hey, if this can happen to a good-looking white football star in Texas, it could happen to ANYONE and then get involved in trying to make change.

I think part of the problem is that we elect judges and district attorneys; there’s always something political involved in their decision making, and the idea that justice is dependent on their reelection prospects (and further political ambitions) is kind of terrifying.

But it’s much easier to believe that our system works the way it’s supposed to rather than take a long, hard look at it, and try to make important reforms.

I also found it interesting that at least in the Greg Kelley case, the word of the victim–a four year old boy–was taken as gospel truth without question to the point it was literally the only evidence used to convict a nineteen-year-old and send him to jail for twenty-five years; why aren’t women who are sexually assaulted given that same courtesy?

Don’t get me wrong–I think child abuse (whether physical, sexual or mental) is one of the worst crimes out there and every effort should be made to protect them and convict those who are actually guilty; but it is in the entire best interest of society to ensure that those who are convicted of these crimes are actually guilty.

For every innocent person sent to prison, there’s a guilty person still walking around free, and that’s scary.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Picture to Burn

Thursday, Thursday, is today’s child full of woe? I used to know that rhyme when I was younger–one of those things that would pop out of my mouth and brain every now and then when I wasn’t expecting it to–and now I cannot seem to summon it from the depths of my memories. I think it was Tuesday’s child, anyway; was Thursday’s child full of grace or something like that? Possible, I suppose.

Another good night’s sleep was had yesterday evening, which is lovely. I have to go into the office today and run errands on the way in.  I’m just glad to be feeling more rested, to be honest, and then tomorrow is a work-at-home day, and then I slide into the three day weekend, which is kind of nice. I hope to finish reading  Little Fires Everywhere this weekend, start reading The Coyotes of Carthage, and perhaps dip my eyes back into the Short Story Project–I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the end table as well as the new Lawrence Block anthology, and so many others I’ve not finished reading–and of course, I want to get a lot of writing done. I want to spend some time on Bury Me in Shadows, as well as maybe get some short story writing done, which would be lovely.

One can certainly hope, can’t one?

But I’ve also learned my lesson about over-planning for the weekend; I know I need to just make a list of things to do that need to be done and not overly pressure myself to get it all done over the course of the long weekend, while recognizing that I also need to recharge my batteries and I also need to do some cleaning; perhaps even work on that damned file cabinet which I never finished working on.

Yesterday’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choice wound up being nothing I was considering. Instead, I choose to rewatch The Exorcist, which I’ve never seen other than the “edited for television” version. The Exorcist was a phenomenon at the time, and most people still, to this day, consider it the scariest film they’ve ever seen and it regularly pops up on lists of best horror films ever made. I read the book at the height of its popularity, when I was in junior high school, and while it didn’t precisely scare me, it was lurid–we all read it for the lurid parts, like the crucifix masturbation scene and so forth; there was something sacrilegious about reading it, like actually reading it was an act of subversion. The film broke all box office records of the time and was nominated for a lot of Oscars, and the soundtrack–Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”–always brings up mental associations with the film. It was the first outright horror film to get that many Oscar nominations, or to be nominated for any, really, other than Rosemary’s Baby, which wasn’t nominated for a lot; William Friedkin, fresh off his Oscar winning outing with The French Connection–which is also on my list–directed it. A more traditional entertainment, The Sting, wound up sweeping the Oscars that year. A few years ago, I reread the book to see how well it held up, and as an adult who is also now a writer and has been a reviewer, and has read thousands of other books in the interim, I can say it doesn’t hold up well at all–it really isn’t all that scary, either; it was a product of its time and it might not even get published were it written today. The characters were very cardboard and one-dimensional and behaved in ways that made no sense whatsoever; the focus was on the sacrilege, really, and the shock. I wondered if that would be true of the movie, as well, in its unedited version.

The acting was fine, really; Ellen Burstyn is never bad in anything, and Linda Blair was also fine; but the truth is the direction of the film doesn’t really develop the characters enough to make the viewer empathize with them, or identify with them. The scares weren’t as scary as they were; it’s hard to be scared when you know something is coming and you’ve already seen it, after all; part of the thrill of a horror film is not knowing when the scares are coming, so rewatches never have quite the same effect. I watched this time in a more analytic way, rather than as a viewer–but while others I’d seen before–Aliens comes to mind–really hold up incredibly well, The Exorcist doesn’t; I don’t feel like I got to know enough about Chris MacNeil or Father Karras enough to care about either one of them; and I found that I had more questions about them and who they were than I did when I viewed it as simply an entertainment. I think had the film been filmed more intimately, rather than from a cold distance, it would have held up a lot more; I don’t know, I am neither a filmmaker or a critic. But it didn’t trigger much of a reaction in me, and that’s rather telling. I think the problem, from a story-telling point of view, is that it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was about the MacNeils or Father Karras; although the title would tend to make you think the focus was on Father Karras; it should have been titled The Exorcism, really, and that, I think, was the end problem result for me: the book and film were really about Father Karras and his struggle with his faith, but only touched on that issue glancingly; because it also wanted to focus on how dismissive we are of spiritual issues in our modern scientific world, and wanted to show how an atheist, irreligious woman would try to get her child scientific treatment and slowly come around to the idea that in the modern world, something rooted in past superstition was the issue. Both are great stories, but for me, it failed in trying to tell both and wound up just skittering across the surface like a needle on a warped vinyl record.

Ultimately, though, The Exorcist–both book and film–are important works in both disciplines; along with Rosemary’s Baby, ushered in the 1970’s revival and rejuvenation of horror, in both film and literature, and that influence cannot be denied. Without either of those books, would Carrie have been published, or Peter Straub’s first horror novel? It was The Exorcist, after all, that first really introduced me to horror.

And I absolutely loved the television series inspired by it.

And on that note, tis time for me to return to ye old mines of spice. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow.

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This Is Me Trying

And so here we are, sliding into Wednesday like we’re stealing third base.

I just realized yesterday morning that this coming Monday is Labor Day. A three day weekend! Huzzah! And one that I completely forgot about until Facebook memories reminded me about past Southern Decadence weekends, which are always Labor Day weekend–except for this year, of course.

Maybe, at some point this weekend, I’ll curl up with Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith’s definitive history of the event, Southern Decadence in New Orleans. You should really consider getting a copy–and while you’re at it, you could get the e-book of Bourbon Street Blues, which is set during Southern Decadence. It’s so weird not having Decadence this year–this year has really sucked for everyone. I feel bad for the few people who are having a good year in some way, because the massive suckage has ruined everything–which really makes celebrating those successes all the more important for the rest of us, to claim a small victory over this shitty year whenever we can.

In my sad, almost desperate attempt to find something good in this year, I realized that, failing everything else, I’ve read some amazing books this year; have watched some excellent television shows; and the pandemic work-at-home-making-condom-packs has also enabled me to watch a lot of films I’ve never seen, which has also been not only educational but interesting. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival, for example, has been pretty awesome, and has reminded me a lot of what it was like growing up in that decade of earth tones and mood rings and disco balls and bell bottoms–just yesterday at the office between clients some of the kids and I–I wasn’t the one who brought it up either–started talking about the Bermuda Triangle, which was a thing in in the 1970’s (this was triggered by the storm system heading up the Atlantic coast, which startled both of my co-workers, who’d always thought Bermuda was in the Caribbean–I laughed and said, yes, I’d always thought the same until I read The Deep and this led into an entire discussion of Bermuda’s geographic location which led, as free form conversations tend to do, a lot of jumping around on the topic of Bermuda, which led to the Bermuda Triangle). It wasn’t a real thing, after all; just another one of the many weird conspiracies and so forth that existed and proliferated in that crazy decade–although Area 54 and UFO’s seem to be turning out to be an actual thing (both of which were very popular topics of discussion and wonder in the 1970’s–hence Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Maybe I should look into the Bermuda Triangle. Hmmmm.

Last night the Insomnia Curse was broken and I slept like the dead. I woke up at five, looked at my alarm, and rolled over and went back to sleep. My alarm–which I hadn’t set–went off  at seven this morning (maybe I dreamed it; it was set for six from the last two mornings) and so I was able to shut it off and sleep a bit more. I feel marvelously rested and awake this morning (despite the Internet outage; I am freeloading off the Cox Wi-fi–which I don’t understand; I have access to this as a Cox customer, but my home wireless is out; how can one work without the other? I don’t know and I don’t want to hurt my brain by trying to figure it out). Anyway, according to the Cox website our home wireless should be back up by around 1:30, so I am okay with using this until such time as ours comes back up. It’s okay; there’s any amount of on-line work stuff I can do until the wireless comes back up and I can stream movies whilst making condom packs again–today’s choices range from Bonnie and Clyde (technically a late 1960’s movie, but it was one of the films that signaled the change in Hollywood film), All the President’s Men, and Klute–but I am always amazed at how helpless we’ve become without the Internet or access to it, you know?

I was extremely tired last evening when I got home from the office; I was tired a lot during the day, but kept having these weird spurts of energy, and even had one after i got home from work. I sat down in the easy chair after doing the dishes and unpacking my backpack and rewatched this week’s episode of The Vow, which I kept dozing off while trying to watch on Monday night. It’s a very interesting show–cults have always been of interest to me (the 1970’s, by the way, was a big time for them) and I have always kind of wanted to write about one. When we were living in Kansas, there was actually a local one; the Way. There had used to be two colleges in Emporia, the county seat: Kansas State Teachers College (which evolved into Emporia Kansas State College and finally to what it is now, Emporia State University) and the College of Emporia. C of E was a religious school; Presbyterian, to be exact, but it had gone bankrupt and closed down in or around 1973, after which the campus was purchased by the Way International–which was a cult. When we first moved to Lyon County, since my sister and I were both teenagers, everyone warned us about the Way College of Emporia and to be careful. The members were easy to identify, really; for one thing, they always traveled in pairs, wore Polo-style shirts with name tags identifying them as members of the Way International, and they also wore khaki style pants. They also were always smiling and had a glazed look to their eyes. There were also all kinds of rumors about what went on at the campus; armed guards–and I remember seeing them–patrolled the grounds and the boundaries, keeping the curious away; and of course there were always stories about weird bonfires and ceremonies being seen from a distance, and “this guy I know is friends with a cop and they always get calls from the people who live around the campus about dogs disappearing and hearing screams from the campus and…” you know the type of thing; the story that has grown exponentially from what was originally said so you aren’t really sure what the kernel of truth in the story actually was; I actually have a file folder labeled The Cult in my file cabinet with some research I did about the Way International over the years, with an eye to writing a novel about it some day. (Obviously, The Cult is too obvious a title to actually use for such a book)

Who knew Kansas in the 1970’s was such a gold mine of material for a writer?

I’ve also been researching Chlorine while being too tired to focus on either reading or writing anything–I am definitely itching to get back to Little Fires Everywhere, and when I finish working today I am going to get Chapter Seven of Bury Me in Shadows whipped into shape for sure–and there’s such a glorious wealth of material about the closeted stars and closeted Hollywood of the time; I am kind of surprised no one has done a noir about underground gay Hollywood of the time already. (Of course, now that I’ve said that, there will probably be eighty-five million of them before I get this damned thing done) It was such an interesting period–obviously, there are biographies of the gay stars of the time (Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins, etc.) and there’s even a biography of Henry Willson, the gay agent played by Jim Parsons in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, who represented all the beefcakes male stars of the time–but I am also interested in the ones who never quite made it as movie stars, either, and the clients of Willson who were beefcakes but not gay–like Guy Madison, who was certainly gorgeous and hunky and eventually had a hit TV show. I bet their stories are just as interesting as Rock Hudson’s and the other big closeted stars.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.

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Stay Beautiful

I really do miss the gym.

All those years of inactivity, and of not going to the gym, and now of course I am becoming more acutely aware of how soft, saggy, and squishy my body has become. Heavy sigh. But, per my new mentality and outlook on life that I am trying to implement, I am not going to allow myself to regret said last time or anything of that nature, and simply will try to find time in each week to not only get a nice stretch done, but to do some crunches and possibly push-ups; based on the theory that some exercise is better than none. And I also know it helps make me feel better; I have one of those round ridged things that you can roll your back over to self-massage (I am describing this badly, well aware) and I used it yesterday, and felt exponentially better; I am going to try to use it as many days I can remember to do so. Self-care is always crucial, and during these difficult and strange times in which we find ourselves, even more so.

Yesterday morning I got up an hour earlier than I usually do on Mondays; something I was resisting doing because I am not now, nor have ever been, much of a morning person, and the thought of getting up at or around six in the morning was anathema to me. But I did it, and had coffee and breakfast and woke myself up a great deal more than usual, and I even managed to get to work early and have a jump on the day–and that was actually lovely. When I got home from work I was tired; very tired–partly from getting up so early and partly because there was some minor stress involved at work in the afternoon; I  was required to do some problem-solving, and while (he typed modestly) it’s something I am actually quite good at, it’s still draining and stressful and tiring while I am in the midst of it, and particularly when the adrenaline from the stress finally drains away. I came home and tucked myself up in my easy chair with Little Fires Everywhere (I cannot emphasize enough how much I am enjoying this book) and then did some organizing and cleaning in my office while the LSU-Texas A&M game from last season played on Youtube as delightful background noise while I waited for Paul to come home.

After Paul got home–and I read some more–we settled in to watch this week’s episode of The Vow, during which I kept dozing off, which I thought meant I had a lovely night’s sleep ahead of me. Alas, my old friend insomnia came back for a visit last evening, and so while I was enormously relaxed and comfortable in the bed, my mind never completely shut down, so I was partially awake for the majority, if not all, of the night, I’m not tired per se this morning as I drink my coffee, nor am I groggy; but I don’t have high hopes for a productive day other than seeing my clients. It’s definitely fine; I suppose–what other choice do I have, really–but a good night’s sleep would obviously have been more preferable. Ah, well, perhaps tonight that will happen–Lord knows I should be tired and sleepy tonight.

I also started working on a new short story for some reason last night instead of working on the book; reading Little Fires Everywhere started making me think of a new story–as good writing always does inspire me–and I wanted to write the opening down before I forgot it; it didn’t quite go the way I’d planned, as these things never really do, and it is definitely veering off the track I’d originally intended for it to go, but it’s called “Noblesse Oblige”–the relationship between Mrs. Richardson and Mia in the book made me start thinking about a certain kind of wealthy, or upper middle class, woman; whom I generally tend to refer to as “limousine liberals”–the kind who are all about the right causes and doing what they can to help those who aren’t as privileged as they are, but don’t want to get too close to those underprivileged people and are inevitably surprised and shocked when their “generosity” isn’t met with the worshipful adoration and gratitude they feel it should be–and become resentful. You know, the ones who say things like “after everything I’ve done for you”–which, to me, has become an incredibly loaded statement.

While the show Friends hasn’t aged terribly well, every so often there was an episode that was absolutely (and probably accidentally) insightful about the human condition; this was one in which Joey and Phoebe had an argument about doing charity work or doing things for other people; Joey’s position (which, ironically, was the same as Ayn Rand’s) was that there was no such thing as a selfless act, because even the most noble person gets a sense of satisfaction after doing something charitable. Phoebe, who “didn’t want to live in a world where Joey was right, desperately spent the entire episode trying, and failing, to prove Joey wrong. It was so strange to me, and jarring, to see a philosophy of Ayn Rand’s being illustrated so perfectly on a situation comedy on my television screen that I never forgot the episode (yes, I’ve read Ayn Rand; but unlike many who profess to be her devotees and acolytes I have read beyond Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; I also read her other novels–Anthem, We the Living–and most of her non-fiction as well–which is why I find the modern day political posturing of those who profess to be her followers revolting and a bastardization of her philosophy; because they clearly haven’t read anything beyond the two novels that she used to illustrate her beliefs and values. For the record, I believe her philosophy and theories were interesting, but ultimately would never truly work because they weren’t based in any sort of reality–however, the purpose of this entry is not to point out the fallacies in Randian philosophy and this is merely a sidebar); and I think about it every now and again whenever I am presented with someone’s “good works”.  One is never supposed to question someone’s motives for doing something charitable; it is always to be assumed they are doing it because they are a good, generous, kind and giving person; and it is cynical to question the motives behind charity: that the reason and motives behind the act aren’t important and shouldn’t be questions because the act is, in and of itself, such a good thing that it should be above reproach.

And while there is some truth to that, I always question motives, and if that makes me a cynic, so be it. I do a lot of volunteer work, and I’ve donated writing to charity anthologies over the years, and have edited, for free, others. Inevitably, though, I do gain something from all of this: self-satisfaction in helping others because I enjoy it, my name on the spine of a book is promotional even if I did the editing for free, and the same with the donated short stories–if someone who has never read my work before reads one of the donated stories and likes it, there’s always the possibility they will buy my other work–so inevitably the donation works as promotional material for my career. And I do get some satisfaction from helping people–it makes me feel good about myself, makes me feel like I am a better person than I probably am, and there’s also a sense of paying a cosmic, karmic debt in advance–the idea that doing something to help other people either repays people who’ve helped me, or will be banked so that someone will help me out in the future.

Which probably isn’t how that works, is it?

And on that philosophical note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

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Should’ve Said No

Well, we made it to another Monday, did we not? The end of August is nigh upon us as well; soon the Earth’s continuous shifting will have the northern hemisphere turning away from the sun and our days will continue to shorten and at some point, cooler weather will arrive in New Orleans, and the humidity will dissipate for a season. Fall is quite spectacular here, and when it isn’t gloomy so are our winters; the six or so months from mid-September through early May is when we remember how lucky we actually are to live in these climes.

As I said yesterday, I am making an effort to see positivity in life rather than negativity; to focus on  what I finished rather than what I haven’t completed yet. Yesterday I overslept again, which seems to be more of a thing these days; but it was fine. I got up, did some organizing, worked on my electronic files a bit more, and worked on Chapter Six of the book, while also preparing Chapter Seven to be worked on, which I am hoping I’ll be able to do this evening after work. I also spent some time with Little Fires Everywhere, which is actually quite marvelous; Celeste Ng is a terrific writer, and I am glad I have this gateway into her work;  so much truth and honesty and reality and insight in this book–I may even have to go back and rewatch the television show (like I have the time for that) once I finish reading the book.

I also realized, over the course of the weekend, that I only have one more short story still out there in the submission ether–this is another rather long shot, and one I suspect I’ll never hear from if they don’t choose my story, which is frankly quite a long shot as I’ve already mentioned–but that’s okay and I don’t mind. It’s kind of nice to take a long shot every once in a great while, just to see what happens and keep your dreams alive. I want to get some more short stories out there into the submission ether, and so I suspect I am going to have to either finish rewriting some or get something unfinished finished; I kind of am missing working on my short stories, if truth be told, and why not get something out there again? I’ve not tried either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock in a while; while also recognizing that I don’t really write mystery short stories in the traditional sense; I write crime stories that are also quite morbid. There are a couple of submission calls I’d like to write something for–or, rather, submit something for–which is also a matter of seeing if there’s anything on hand that might work if finished or revised; I really want to get “The Flagellants” finished and in some kind of shape to get out there, but am not really sure, to be honest, if it’s right for either market that currently has a call out; I am relatively certain it wouldn’t be right for either of the mystery magazines mentioned before.  But, between those magazines and the two other mystery magazines I submit to–that’s four potential stories to get out there, and then there’s the other two submission calls, so that’s a total of six stories I can get out there if I’d like to, and if I can get anything ready, or have something that’s close to being ready.

In other words, I kind of need to get my shit together and get back to putting nose to grindstone, or nothing will  happen. As it is, I already am going to go a second year now without a new book coming out; it’s unlikely even if I finish Bury Me in Shadows that it will be released in 2021 now.

I woke up earlier than I normally do on a Monday, primarily so I won’t have to be rushed this morning on my way out of the house to get to work, and in theory, will be more awake by the time I get to the office. That’s the theory, at any rate; I am already sort of groggy awake, and I am drinking cappuccinos this morning–that should also help, rather than the usual coffee–to help jolt my mind and body into wakefulness. It certainly can’t hurt anything to try something new, and while I abhor getting up at six the way I did this morning usually, so far it’s not been so bad.

We binged Cheer over the course of the weekend, and what a terrific documentary series it was. I remember when it was a thing and everyone was talking about it; it seemed so long ago that I was shocked to realize the show went viral in January of this year. But it was also that lost, pre-pandemic world, so of course it seemed like I was years behind the curve on watching it. Paul and I both got very into it–to the point that we were tense about how they’d do once they made it to nationals–and there were a few times during the series I was surprised to find myself moved to tears. I also don’t remember the last time I ever saw a docuseries of any kind that centered young gay Black men, and did so in such a moving, sympathetic way. We both fell kind of in love with both Jerry and La’Darius, as well as with Lexi and Morgan and Gabi as well. I kind of a had a love/hate thing going with their coach, Monica; and the routines they did were just kind of insane. The production team, who was already responsible for the junior college football series Last Chance U (which I am now thinking about watching), did an excellent job with it, and like everyone else who binged it back when it first aired, not only fell in love with the kids featured, but were bereft when it was over.

We also watched the new episode of Lovecraft Country, which was, as its two previous episodes, equally superb. Like the book, the central focus on this new section of the series centered Letitia; and the actress playing her, Jurnee Smollett, is absolutely killing it in the part. Again, there are monsters in the show, but again, the racists are the more palpable, and more horrifying, threat. It’s also lovely to see the horrible racist white people through the eyes of the Black people for a change, and there’s really no question about where the real threat primarily comes from for the characters. The show is also diverging from the book a bit, but it’s not harming the show in the least; if anything, the show is developing into its own thing, and that is actually a very good thing.

Ah, the cappuccino is starting to kick in, and yes, getting up earlier and drinking them instead of my regular morning coffee is certainly the smart way to go. I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding the idea of getting up at six since we reopened the STI clinic for Mondays and Tuesdays; but I have been, and it’s not been working–I wind up groggy all morning and I don’t get near as much done during my mornings at the office as I should. Here’s hoping that changes this morning, shall we?

I’m trying to shake off the lingering malaise of the pandemic–really, if I put my mind to it and think back through the fog, my productivity has been way down since my world basically shut down, and I also just realized, hey, this is a three day weekend because a week from today is Labor Day; this weekend would be my weekend to spend the evening Friday passing out condoms and taking pictures of hot boys with my phone. There’s no Southern Decadence this year, of course, despite my making thousands of condom packs thus far this summer; it’s another casualty of COVID-19, just as Halloween is likely to be as well. I’m not overwhelmingly confident that things will even been righted next year, and that 2021 won’t be second verse, same as the first.

And on that lovely note, perhaps it is time for me to head back into the spice mines and finish getting ready for work. I need to make my second cappuccino of the morning, pack my lunch, and get my backpack ready for imminent departure as well.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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You’re Not Sorry

There are few things I despise more than the non-apology.

These tumultuous times in which we find ourselves inhabiting now has, amongst its innumerable other crimes, introduced the world to the apology that really isn’t an apology; in which someone refuses to admit fault and isn’t sorry for what they said; they’re merely sorry you misinterpreted what they said. It generally runs along the lines of something like I’m sorry if my words offended anyone–which, to me, kind of places the blame on the people who were offended by the shitty thing said in the first place–and usually, for the record? What was originally said was pretty fucking offensive; insensitive to the point where I have to seriously question the empathy and humanity of the speaker, and generally leaves me feeling sorry for anyone related to said speaker, or who is forced to have to interact with them in any way, shape or form, because of work.

This happens constantly these days; it’s become sadly predictable: someone says something incredibly shitty, people are justifiably shocked, horrified and outraged, which inevitably leads to the person apologizing for their words, but at the same, they are also very careful not to take on any blame themselves. I don’t understand this mentality, but it’s a linguistic knot people are always very careful to tie with precision: I’m sorry what I said offended you, not I’m sorry I offended you by saying that. The difference is pretty clear; the first relieves the original speaker of any fault and places all blame on the people taking offense (really, it’s just gaslighting); while the second accepts blame and begs pardon and is actually a sincere attempt by a decent person to take responsibility and implies a promise to do better in the future.

And personally,  I don’t accept these non-apologies. I find them, frankly, to be worse than the original offense. My response? “Seriously, go fuck yourself. And yes, I fully intended to offend you and I am not sorry at all; in fact, you might to fuck off now before I really focus on hurting your feelings–because I can, and am quite good at it.”

I’m not sure when we as a people, society and culture ceased being able to admit we were wrong, admit fault, and promise to do better. What is so terrible about being wrong? We are all human, and we all make mistakes, don’t we? It’s inevitable; it’s embarrassing somewhat, but seriously–the world will not end if you ever admit you’re wrong. I’ve admitted I’m wrong and apologized even when I didn’t think I was wrong in the first place–because it isn’t about MY feelings.

I guess thinking about other people’s feelings isn’t something we do anymore? When, precisely, did that change? Or was the whole “care about others” thing just another part  of the massive gaslighting of me about everything else this life has turned out to be, from politics to history to religion?

I will admit it here, I will admit it there, I will admit it everywhere. I’ve been wrong many times in my life, and will probably be wrong quite a few more times before my ashes are sprinkled into the Mississippi (although I am beginning to think I may have some of them sprinkled there and some sprinkled into the Rigolets; I must remember to make provision for that in my will–and yes, now that I am in my sixtieth year, I need to start thinking about those things and taking them a lot more seriously than I have in the past). I see this bizarre “refusal to ever admit error” every day on social media–not as much as I used to, as I tend to unfriend and/or hide narcissistic sociopaths who have nothing better to do with their lives and their time than to troll people on the web as a way of making themselves feel superior to other people. To paraphrase  Sixteen Candles, “why do you want to be King of the Dipshits? Well, you can hold court without me, O Wise and All-Knowing One.”

I know I should be more tolerant, but I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with this kind of trash any longer, nor do I want to see it on my feeds. And as I grow more and more conscious of how little time I may have left in this world–I certainly don’t want to spend what there actually is left listening to this kind of nonsense anymore.

Enough! Life exposes me to enough toxicity that I cannot control; but I can control what I chose to see on my social media. And if you want to smugly assert that I am fooling and deluding myself by putting myself into an echo chamber–feel free to assume your moral and intellectual superiority. I, for one, am tired of being exposed to homophobia and racism and misogyny and bigotry and prejudice and ignorance; I’ve been around it my entire life and I’d really prefer not to be around it anymore.

Ugh.

I am also, in an effort to control this narrative that my life has become, trying to be more positive about things. Yes, I recognize the irony in that this entry began as a rant about awful people and their gaslighting ways; but cutting as much negativity as I can out of my life like the cancer it is will be the first step in looking at the world in a more positive light. It would be very easy to look at yesterday and think, ah, yes, started out the day terribly behind and after an enormously frustrating day where everything that could go wrong did, I am choosing to look at what I managed to get done, despite the endless frustrations, as a triumph. I did manage to get some organizing done. I got some research notes recorded for a future project. I got some chores around the Lost Apartment done, and tried to organize my computer files around a computer update that came out of nowhere and really annoyed the hell out of me at the time. It took a while–it always does after these things–for my computer to go back to functioning properly, but this morning it’s running better than it has in a while. So, I guess there’s that. I’m trying not to feel like I lost the day yesterday, and being frustrated and annoyed with the circumstances beyond my control isn’t going to help me get anything done today.

I started reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and as I got through the first two chapters I began remembering the show more. The book is so well-written, and I love how Ng puts these little touches of truth in to deftly set the narrative up very quickly; after a mere two chapters I know what Shaker Heights is like to live in, the kind of relationship Mia and Pearl have, and the entire family dynamic of the other family–parents with their children, the children with each other. I can’t stop wishing Id read the book along with the show, but that cannot be helped now, and I’m really enjoying the book.

I slept later than I wanted to this morning, but then again I stayed up later than I’d intended to last night as well. We watched another HBO MAX documentary show, in two parts, Who Killed Garrett Phillips? Coming hard on the heels of The Case Against Adnan Syed, Paul and I have been having good conversations about just how broken our criminal justice system is. I’ve also been seeing some great conversations on social media between crime writers about this very thing as well, and about how we, as crime writers, are also sort of complicit in the perpetuation of the mythology of the infallible police department. The enormously popular Law and Order franchises have done an excellent job of depicting criminals as scumbags and our Constitutional rights as essentially “get out of jail free” cards that keep the good, hardworking cops from putting away the dangerous criminals that prey on every day citizens. Obviously, it isn’t that black and white, and there are many more shades of gray involved; people also tend to forget the entire point of our Constitutional rights are to protect everyone against abusive conduct from the state. Is it incredibly frustrating when someone isn’t convicted of a crime? Sure, but how do we–how does anyone–ever know that someone actually is guilty if theres little to no evidence one way or the other? I am stunned, frankly, that Adnan Syed was convicted based on how little evidence there actually was against him, other than someone who was pretty much an unreliable witness who testified against him. The multiple years of the Potsdam police and district attorney’s office trying to hang the murder of Garrett Phillips on a black man when the only evidence of anything they had against him was that they were in the school parking lot at the same time was completely racist and insane; they didn’t even look at anyone else or at any other option. Within 24 hours, based on NOTHING, they became convinced that one of the few black men in the area, an ex of the child’s mother, was guilty and only looked for evidence that would put him behind bars. It was infuriating to watch, frankly.

And it does make you wonder how many people who didn’t do anything wrong are sitting in jail right now.

I’ve briefly touched on this from time to time in my books; I know for a fact that I said once–probably in a Chanse book, but I don’t remember which one–that the cops decide early on who’s guilty and stop looking for facts and information that don’t bolster the case they are building. The question I’ve seen a lot on social media lately is whether we, as crime writers, are complicit in building up a mythology of police work as opposed to the reality. It’s a difficult question, one that is very nuanced, and brings up many philosophical questions as well. J. M. Redmann always says that we as writers write about the search for justice in a world where justice is rarely found; I think about that a lot when I write. I know that I also prefer to end my books with a criminal caught and behind bars; even if the justice is Pyrrhic, at least for a time, at the end of my books, the bad guys are in jail and order of a sort has been restored to the worlds of my characters. I never talk about the trials; I’ve thought about using Chanse testifying at a trial as a framing device for one of his investigations, but it was something I never got around to doing; Chanse novels inevitably always follow the A leads to B leads to C structure Ive used since the beginning; Scotty books inevitably do that as well, even if the story skitters about a lot more in a more confused pattern than the Chanse one do.

As citizens, we don’t like to think that our justice system has become corrupted or broken, or that it operates in a way that isn’t fair to everyone; in order to maintain our semblance on sanity (or what passes for it) far too many of us are willing to look the other way or just believe what we are told. In Who Killed Garrett Phillips? so many of the people of that small town simply found it so easy to believe that the black guy must be a killer (and did so very quickly) and when the cops told the family he was the guy, they simply believed it and never questioned it–likewise, the Korean family of the victim in The Case Against Adnan Syed never questioned the police and district attorney’s viewpoint that Hae Min Lee’s ex-boyfriend was so jealous of her new relationship that he would, with no previous indication before or since that he was that kind of person, plan to kill her and then execute the plan; a grieving family will always believe what they are told by the police, and nobody ever wants to question why they are so quick and easy to believe what the police say mainly because we want to believe they are right, because if we ever stop believing that the police aren’t impartial, that their investigations aren’t carried out in a professional, unbiased, and impartial way, then what happens when we need them?

The abuses in the Garrett Phillips case carried out by the now-sanctioned former district attorney, Mary Rain, and her obvious racism and bias was appalling to see, and disheartening. We may never know who killed that boy now, and it’s partially her fault; her determination to convict an accused black man and absolute refusal to even consider for a moment that he might not have done it, to follow any of the myriad of other leads that were possible, is a horrifying abuse of justice and power. And never fool yourself that prosecutors don’t have a lot of power, or that they can abuse that power for any number of reasons, not the least of which is political power and furthering their own political careers.

I had an idea recently–time has no meaning any more, so it may have been any time during the past three years–about writing a book about Venus Casanova’s last case as a New Orleans police detective. Having put in for retirement already, in her last month she’s been assigned desk duty to ease her out of the workforce–obviously you don’t want to assign an active case to someone who might not be able to see it through–and she’s essentially catching up on all of her paperwork and interviewing suspects for other detectives’ cases in her remaining time. Her ritual has always been to go out to the neighborhood coffee shop before going to work and reading the paper over her coffee. With less than a month to go she reads about a shooting of a young Black man in a sketchy neighborhood–but soon realizes that the young man’s grandmother, who was raising him, was someone she went to high school with many years ago and lost touch with when she went away to college. She decides to check with the investigating officer, and he tells her “it’s just another random shooting.” (The book would be called that, Just Another Random Shooting.) He’s not going to look into it anymore, dismissing it as another drug related crime with no witnesses and no evidence, and so she asks if he minds if she talks to the grandmother–and it turns out to be something else entirely; and that lackadaisical response from the police–‘just another random shooting’– was something the killers planned on. It’s an interesting idea, and it worries at my brain from time to time, particularly when I see another local news report about another young Black man being killed for no apparent reason in a sketchy neighborhood. And then I wonder, am I the right person to tell this story? Who am I, as a gay white man, to write from the perspective of a straight Black woman in a city with a violent history of oppressing people of color?

I can think of any number of reasons to justify writing from Venus’ perspective; I’ve always loved the character, I’ve always wanted to write from her perspective; I’ve thought many times over the years of centering her in a book about her; I feel like I know her inside and out already.  But…on the other hand, sure, writers write and have a right to write about whatever they choose, but….

It is a good idea, though, and I also don’t see the story working from any other point of view. Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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