History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiér would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday and I have survived yet another Monday, which I am putting in the “win” column.

It was a grim, gray, rainy Monday yesterday in New Orleans, and all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and nap. But I managed to get quite a bit done yesterday, which is always a joy–I actually had my email inbox down to almost completely empty at one point–and didn’t start getting sleepy until after lunch, when the caffeine from my morning cappuccinos wore off.

Meh, it happens.

It’s raining again–it started last night while I was sort of sleeping (yes, another one of those nights again)–and parts of the city are in a flood warning; eastern New Orleans, which I assume means the East (but then again, compass directions are so completely useless here) and frankly I’m really not looking forward to going out to the car this morning, or the drive to work; rain makes the horrible New Orleans drivers even worse than they normally are…which is pretty fucking bad. I’m also having dinner with a friend in from out of town tonight after work–hoping it doesn’t get canceled because of this weather–but on the bright side, my car will look pretty clean thanks to this non-stop downpour.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and my, what an intense and twisty episode this was! Certain shifts and twists we certainly didn’t see coming; and then it was over, all too soon. Kate Winslet and Jean Smart are killing it in this (Smart is also killing it in Hacks, I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to predict two Emmy nominations for Smart, one for each show; she could quite easily win both as well–although the actress who played Liza in Halston is going to be hard to beat), and the writing is quite extraordinary. It’s the best crime show I’ve seen in quite some time that isn’t based on a novel.

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing any lately of note. I think I’ve started a couple of short stories, as well as a personal essay about being a sixty-year-old Swiftie; but there’s simply no motivation there. It’s entirely possible I’ve fried my writing machine by writing two books back to back; I also know there are more revisions to come on Bury Me in Shadows as well as the initial ones for the Kansas book, so perhaps my subconscious knows better than for me to get going or involved in writing something else before those are completely out of the way. But it’s frustrating as well as worrisome; although I did at least get the outline of the first act of Chlorine written last week. I know I won’t get any writing done while on my trip this week–hopefully From Here to Eternity will engage my mind and keep me entertained; I think I am going to take the iPad with me as well so I have access to all the ebooks I own in case I either hate the book so much I stop reading, or it engages me so much that I tear through it till the end. I’d rather not take another hard copy with me on the trip, but I’ll probably end up doing so because I always need options for reading when I travel. The question is what to take? I certainly don’t want to be at the mercy of the airport bookshops.

Oh yes–Stephen King’s Fever, his latest work for Hard Case Crime. That should do nicely; and I’ve not read any King since I finished the Hodges Trilogy, which is kind of strange for someone who is such a big fan of King’s. I’ve somehow managed to fall way behind on his books–still buying copies, of course–but they are so big and long and daunting I’ve not been able to face one of his big books with my addled, short attention span brain lately–and most of his books are extremely long these days. Perhaps I should make getting caught up on King a project for the summer; after all,. reading King is always inspiring to me; I love how he creates characters and relationships; I don’t think I have ever been bored reading a King book–because he just draws me into the world he creates so easily and effortlessly.

Last night as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed in the dark listening to the rain, my brain dredged up yet another memory of a horrible writing experience I had in college–it really is astonishing how little I was encouraged, and how hard my writing professors tried to extinguish the desire to write in me. I took the basic English course all incoming students take my first semester; it was an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday. On the first day, we had to do one of those incredibly tedious writing assignments: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? or something along those lines. I don’t remember what three things I took; but I can assume they included music and books–because quite frankly I could easily go the rest of my life without human contact if I had both of those and a computer (there were no computers in 1978, obviously, so that wasn’t one of my three things). When I went back to class on Thursday, the professor pulled me aside and told me the assignment was really for him to assess our writing abilities, our grasp of grammar and paragraph construction, etc. etc. etc., and that my skills were too advanced (at sixteen!) for his class and he feared it wouldn’t challenge me enough; he had talked to an Honors English professor, showed her my essay, and she agreed to allow me to enroll in her class late. So after class, he and I walked to the Admin building and effected the shifting of classes, and you can imagine how thrilled I was at this turn of events–a college professor thought I was a good writer!

Unfortunately for me, I was not to experience that feeling again for many years–at least, that was the way I remembered it….

The Honors English class wasn’t hard, but the professor was horrible, absolutely horrible. There were only ten of us in the class, and we all bonded over how awful we thought she was. She had no sense of humor, and we had to construct our essays only in the way she believed essays must be written; she was constantly assigning us to read boring, uninteresting essays “so (we) could learn how to properly write one.” She never gave me higher than a C on anything I wrote for her, and she seemed to take particular relish in ripping my essays apart in class as an example of what not to do for the others. Lord, I despised that woman. The other students would often grab me after class for a soda or coffee or something and try to make me feel better; that is how awful she was. I was just grateful to get out of that class alive with a passing grade, but alas…the second semester of Freshman Honors English wasn’t much better. The professor was much nicer than the first, but she had absolutely no qualms with letting me know how bad of a writer I was–and clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it. Towards the end of the semester, as we had one final paper to do for the class, she called me into her office and told me she was regretfully going to have to fail me. “The only way you can pass this course is if you get an A on your final paper, and frankly, I don’t believe you can do that. But if you retake the class in the fall, it will erase your F for this semester–or I will sign off on you dropping the class.” I had already selected Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes as the subject for my paper, so I told her I was willing to take my chances and write the paper anyway. She was clearly not happy–I will give her credit, she clearly hated failing people and didn’t want to fail me–but I was determined.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I had read a biography of Bette Davis (Mother Goddam), and the author actually used her films as a way to write her biography and even gave her the opportunity to comment on her performances. It was a great biography–I’ve always thought that was the best way to do one of a film star, if the star was still alive and able and willing to participate–and Davis had played Regina in the film version of the play (and was nominated for an Oscar). I had never seen the film, but I had read the play and the biography, and Davis’ insights into who Regina was served as the launching pad for my essay.

I got an A on the paper, and the professor actually wrote on it, “Well, I’ll be damned if you didn’t pull this off. Congratulations.”

But given this past history, and my psyche’s uncanny ability to keep the negative and not remember the positive, is it any wonder I have little to no confidence about writing essays? But now I do remember that I finished Honors English with an impressive triumph–the highest grade in the class on the final paper–and with that knowledge, perhaps I will be a little less hard on myself when it comes to writing essays in the future.

And on that note, I need to take a shower and head for the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

Crystal

Friday!

It’s gray outside this morning; and the temperature has dropped since the rain of the other night. Yesterday’s high was in the 60’s; today’s apparently will be as well. I don’t mind this–surprise!–because I was a bit concerned about it already climbing into the 80’s in March already, which didn’t bode well for this coming summer. So this cool break is a bit nice–and it’s also nice to not go get into my car and start sweating because the sun’s been shining into it all day plus it being hot outside. Yesterday was also a bit nice because 1) Paul was able to get his second vaccination for COVID-19, and I spent the day making condom packs and doing other, various work-at-home duties. As my fingers and hands worked through the condom packing, I spent some time thinking through what I need to do with the book this weekend, which is always helpful. I also got caught cup with this week’s episode of Superman and Lois, which I am greatly enjoying; the television adaptations of DC Comics continues to outshine the film universe. I am debating where I want to spend four hours watching the Snyder cut of Justice League–four hours is a big commitment–and I also discovered, browsing through my many streaming apps last night, any number of films to add to my watchlists.

(Aside–they are hanging new gutters on the house next door and I can see them going up and down those shaky, rickety extension ladders–whose bases are braced against the wooden fence between the properties. As they go up and down the ladders shake–which is one of many reasons I will never climb an extension ladder–and watching the corresponding movements/shaking of the wooden planks in the fence. I should also add that Michael, our neighbor to the front with his partner John, has retired from his job and has started working on the flower beds that run alongside the fence, which have been disaster areas ever since Katrina, and is doing a very nice job making them look pleasant and appealing and all cleaned up.)

As I looked through HBO MAX looking for something to watch for the rest of my condom packing, I came across Inside Daisy Clover, a film from the mid-60’s that is supposedly one of those “gritty insider looks at Hollywood”. It stars include Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Redford; and I vaguely remembered Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for it. I also had a vague memory that the character of Daisy Clover was, in theory, based on Judy Garland, so I thought what the hell and queued it up. This morning, I cannot believe I sat through the entire thing–it was really that dreadful and pointless–and it really was squirm-worthy. When the story opens Daisy is fifteen, leaving in a trailer along the boardwalk at Angel Beach with her not-quite-all-there mother (Ruth Gordon) who has a great natural singing voice, records it and sends it to Swan Studios. Daisy has basically, for all intents and purposes, been raised by wolves, has no manners or filters, and while she is quite pretty beneath the grime and strange haircut (those eyes! Natalie Wood was so beautiful), her getting signed by Swan Studios and being groomed by studio head (Ray Swan–played to odious perfection by Plummer) seems a bit of a stretch. She is marketed as “America’s Little Valentine” and immediately becomes hugely successful. She also becomes involved with another star, Wade Lewis (Redford), who is heir to a vast fortune and a completely one-dimensional cad–which becomes really creepy on two levels–first, she’s supposedly a teenager (Wood was at least in her late twenties by then) and Wade is in his late twenties/early thirties, which is creepy to say the least (studio head Swan refers to her as “America’s Little Jailbait” in one cringeworthy scenes), and then, after he deflowers her, is ordered to marry her or be arrested for corruption of a minor. (The second creepy part is Wade lives on a sailboat anchored just off the coast; seeing Wood on a sailboat or heading to and from one on a motorboat, given how she died, is foreboding and squirm-inducing) They do marry; they spend their wedding night in a motel in some remote location in Arizona, and when she wakes up he’s left her there without a word, stranded. After her mother’s death, she has a breakdown of sorts on set and is unable to continue working, which delays the picture and puts her at odds with the studio–which has spoiled and indulged her so far, but not anymore. The movie’s ending is neither a conclusion or an actual resolution, not a real end; it just….ends. We don’t know what Daisy is going to do–but again, it’s cringy. Inside Daisy Clover could have been a chilling and realistic exposé of the old studio system; it could have shown how an innocent but strong-minded young woman is corrupted and changed and turned into a monster by the system because of her talent–the film does none of these. Daisy is still the same impulsive, emotionally needy mess at the end that she was at the beginning, and such an incredible waste of Wood’s talent. She plays the character without any depth or interior; she plays her like an uncontrollable brat, and the performance doesn’t really ring true. All I kept thinking as I watched was that Wood was miscast–the lip-syncing was especially bad–and about half-way through I thought, this script is terrible and the direction equally bad, but Liza Minnelli could have killed in this part; it was perfect for her. The truth was the title was a misnomer–at the end of the movie we’ve not gotten “inside” Daisy at all but rather skimmed over the surface….and to make matters worse, by the end of the movie she is only seventeen.

America’s little jailbait, indeed.

It is a shame; Hollywood did some amazing films that exposed stardom and the Hollywood machine quite expertly; think of Sunset Boulevard and even though it was set in the theater world, All About Eve. Quite frankly, both book and movie of Valley of the Dolls handled the same subject–the coddling of talent resulting in the creation of a monster–much better.

I started reading The Russia House by John LeCarré yesterday while I waited for Paul to get his shot and then wait to make sure there was no reaction to it; it’s quite good–the writing in particular and voice are exceptional; it’s also world-weary, snarky and funny–and am really looking forward to getting back to spend some more time with it. It will depend on how the work goes, of course; my priority around my day job is going to have to be the book until April 1. (although…April 1 is the day before Good Friday and in theory, I could use that three-day weekend to finish the push to finishing the book; or I could finish on time and spend that weekend relaxing and preparing myself for the next project on the list)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow morning.

Love is a Catastrophe

Friday morning and I am home from work.

I got sent home yesterday; I started feeling bad on Tuesday afternoon, took a vacation day on Wednesday and got up yesterday morning to go to work. I felt terrible; dehydrated, exhausted, and some stomach issues I’d really rather not explain. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the entire day, but of course, once I got to work they recognized that some of what I was experiencing could be COVID-19; so I was sent to get tested and then sent home to wait for the results to come back. This morning I am not as exhausted; I slept really well last night, but going up and down the stairs makes my leg muscles ache, and my joints are all achy, so today I am going to continue to try to take in as many fluids as I can–still dehydrated this morning–and rest.

Since I was so tired I decided to just sit in my easy chair yesterday and watch movies–the streaming services to the rescue! I watched the film version of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners on Disney; they adapted it as a starring vehicle for a teenaged Hayley Mills, and thus had to make changes to the plot and story that didn’t really work as well as the original plot, plus having her be a teenager took away one of the main strengths of every Stewart story; the agency of the heroine. She was still pretty capable, but it came across as a watered down version of the kick-ass heroine I remembered from the book. But Crete looked absolutely beautiful.

I then moved on to a rewatch of Cabaret, which holds up really well. It’s a really chilling film, and visually it’s stunning; but the more times I watch the film the more I appreciate Michael York and Joel Grey, and the less impressed I am with Liza. Don’t get me wrong–she’s fantastic, and the musical numbers showcase what a powerful performer she is, but I don’t think she really brings as much depth and sadness to the character as is warranted; but she certainly has star power. I think that Sally is actually a rather sad character, and while Minnelli beautifully captures the vulnerability, the sadness isn’t really there…and I found myself not wondering, at the movie’s end, what happened to her from there on; which isn’t usually a good sign. But she probably didn’t wind up happily married with a brood of children, did she, and who wants to think about that?

From there I moved on to a rewatch of How the West Was Won, one of those sprawling epic pictures from the time when that was what the Hollywood studios churned out to compete with television. Even small parts have stars in it, and I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and being impressed by its sprawl and sweep. I decided to watch it again, partly because of the recent discussion about Gone with the Wind and its problematic depictions of the slave owning South, the Civil War, and its aftermath; so I wanted to rewatch this picture through a modern lens and as an adult. I remembered in the second half of the film there was a scene where a US Army officer, who negotiated with the natives (Indians, of course, in the film) being angry because the railroads kept breaking their promises–which was pretty progressive for the early 1960’s, and to see how that could be viewed through the modern lens. The movie doesn’t really hold up, plot-wise; it’s very cheesy and corny, but there are some good performances–particularly Debbie Reynolds–and Spencer Tracy’s narration is quite excellent. The scene I remembered was there, and plays very well through a modern lens; George Peppard in all his youthful beauty plays the officer. Just the title itself is problematic though; but this, you must remember, was how the white settlement of the western part of the continent was viewed: the west was won by white people. I suppose How the West Was Conquered doesn’t have the same ring, but “won” is essentially the same thing. Anyway, the story hinges on the Prescott family–Karl Malden, Agnes Moorhead, Carroll Baker, and Debbie Reynolds–setting out for the west and encountering the problems of the frontier as they go; mostly white people who prey on those moving west. The parents are drowned when their boat encounters rapids; Carroll Baker has fallen for James Stewart, playing a mountain trapper, and they decide to settle on the land where the parents are buried while Debbie Reynolds keeps going west, winding up in St. Louis, where she becomes an entertainer and eventually winds up in San Francisco. As an older, bankrupt widow she moves to a ranch she owns in Arizona, and invites her nephew (the George Peppard character) and his family to join her there…and so on. I think it was nominated for a lot of Oscars, primarily for its high production values and it was a big hit at the time…but yes, definitely doesn’t hold up.

Paul came home shortly thereafter, and we watched the finale of 13 Reasons Why, and the less said about that the better. The cast is appealing and talented, but the finale was so manipulative emotionally–it does work, by the way, because of the cast; I was teary–as was the entire season that it’s hard not to be angry. Plus there was some serious misinformation included…maybe I will post about it, but it needs its own entry.

And now I am going to go lie back down again because I am not feeling so hot again.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Wham Bam

So, I burned my upper lip over the weekend (my lower lip also, but not as bad as the upper) and this is something I’ve never done before, so am not really sure how to deal with it. My lips hurt, of course, and it’s not like you can bandage your lip. I just kept putting Blistex on them the last few days whenever it felt like they were cracking (yes, that’s a thing) but I ate pizza for dinner last night and must have burned the upper lip even more because this morning I woke up with it covered in dried blood and kind of scabby. I carefully washed it, clearing off the dried blood, and then of course it started bleeding again. It has since stopped, thanks to regular blotting with tissue, but nonetheless, it was a rather traumatic way to start the day, but there we are.

I set my alarm to get up at seven, allowing myself an extra hour’s sleep than Monday and Tuesday, but naturally hit snooze and wound up getting up at eight thirty. Not disgraceful, mind you, but not pleasing in my eyes.

I wound up not working on the book yesterday, after all; a review of Chapter Eleven showed me that writing it disjointedly the way I had meant that there are things in the first part of the chapter that I repeat in the second half, which means I need to revise it before moving on. This was actually fine with me; I used the day to start rewriting “The Snow Globe” based on the lovely notes I’d received from the editor who’d rejected it (thank you again and a big shout out to Sandra Kasturi!) and the story is better and more cohesive now; it actually makes sense, and again, returning to a story months after the last time I’d looked at it–yeah, clunky sentences and paragraphs that don’t flow into each other, etc., to the point that I was actually embarrassed I’d let Sandra read it in the first place as she is an editor I admire. Oh, well, I’m sure it was neither the first nor the last time an editor read something of mine and thought, how in the hell did he get published, and how the hell did he win those awards?

Sigh.

I decided to take Friday off so I have a four-day weekend to look forward to, which is, naturally, quite lovely. I hope to get a lot done–don’t I always–but if I don’t, I am fine with just getting rested and doing some writing and some cleaning. I will, of course, come up with an enormously lengthy list of the things I want to get done, but we’ll see how it goes. I made a to-do list for the week yesterday, which is a lovely and nice change–I really need to get back into the habit of doing that–and I also made an eye appointment so I can get new glasses/contact lenses. Look at me, getting things done!

We also watched the most recent episode of Fosse/Verdon last night. The show is amazing on every level, and not just for the stunning performances of Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams in the leads. Williams deserves an Emmy, but the Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category is going to be a tough one, I suspect, this coming year. But as I watched the original production of Chicago coming together, and Gwen baring her teeth–especially when she had to have surgery on her vocal chords and walk away from the show for six weeks, being replaced by Liza Minelli, who then turned the show into a huge hit–I couldn’t help thinking of Valley of the Dolls and Helen Lawson, which then led me down a primrose path in my head of imagine if this story was being told by Jacqueline Susann, a thought that’s still, obviously, lingering in my head this morning.

The other interesting thing I am taking away from watching the show is astonishment at realizing just how HUGE a star on Broadway Gwen Verdon actually was; I’d heard of her before, of course–who doesn’t know Damn Yankees, and we actually did it in high school–and Sweet Charity, but I’d literally no idea precisely how big a star she actually was. She was considered the best singer/dancer on Broadway in the 50’s/60’s–and you have to remember who the other women appearing on Broadway during that time were to realize how important she must have been: Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, and Chita Rivera, to name a few–and she won four Tonys. FOUR.

Damn it, now I am going to have to read the book the series is based on, Fosse.

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

188805_10150172081819050_46143324049_8551995_5026795_n