Morning Train

Thursday morning and the work-at-home portion of my work week begins. I slept really well last night, which was lovely–but it was humid when I got home from the errands I ran after work I simply couldn’t face walking the five blocks or so to the gym. It was a complete wimp-out, of course; and one I cannot continually use or I might as well cancel my membership. But I want to get back to working out regularly–the lapse in working out gained six pounds back, more or less, and that trend needs to be reversed–so I am hopefully going tonight after my event at 6 pm for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop, with J. M. Redmann and Traci Taylor. Should be interesting.

As always, I am behind on everything I need to get done–I don’t allow it to stress me out anymore, though, unless there are some major work deadlines for writing or something that really needs to get done–otherwise, those deadlines are merely arbitrary ones that I’ve set, and they don’t matter in the long run, other than personal satisfaction and why allow something for personal satisfaction to get me upset, seriously? I have some more reading I would like to get done this weekend, and of course, there’s always laundry and cleaning to get done. It never ends, says the hamster trying to get to the end of the wheel. But at least I do have things to keep me busy, and there’s never a reason for me to be bored unless I want to be bored, you know what I mean? I chose not to be bored–although even when I am too tired to really think or read or get absorbed into something, there’s always plenty of content on Youtube to keep me entertained at the very least.

I also should drag out my to-do list and see where that stands. While I wish I could rely on my memory, it has proven to be too unreliable for me to completely trust it–if I trust it at all, which is becoming a lot less likely the closer I get to sixty (yet another reason to never write a memoir; if I can’t trust my memory… how can I write them?). I used to think I had a great memory–another lie my memories told me–but I also believe, in many instances, that it isn’t so much that my memories are lies but more a matter of perspective. The way I experienced situations, how they affected me and therefore how I remember them, are colored by many other things, many other aspects–my own life experience, my own biases and prejudices and beliefs, are the prisms through which my memories are filtered; which is why witness testimony is so entirely unreliable. The way any two people can witness and see the same event can be radically different, depending on who they are as a person, their own experiences and beliefs and values, prejudices and biases. Think Rashomon.

I’ve also been thinking about the next Scotty–I think I am going to write something–maybe two books, for that matter–that is/are pre-pandemic. I hate anchoring the series in time, and who knows? Maybe I will never write a pandemic Scotty book; the beauty of fiction is you create your own alternative universe where you control all the events and everything else that happens there…although avoiding the pandemic entirely feels like cheating in some ways. I don’t know; the jury is still out on what to do, but I can easily get away with at least a book or maybe two that are pre-pandemic; hell, maybe even three. I still want to do a book about the cursed Carnival of 2020; the last gasp of the old order, as it were.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Y’all have a great day.

All I Want for Christmas

Joan Didion once wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” in her title essay in the collection The White Album. 

I have grown to love and appreciate Didion’s work over the last couple of years, but I’ve always puzzled over that particular quote. The full quote is “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

Often that first sentence is taken from its original context and used as a stand-alone quote; my first thought on seeing it somewhere (without having read Didion) was, yes, this is true. This is why our memories of the same event are all different; we interpret and remember that event through the prism of our personal experience and therefore it is colored by who we are as a people; we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives.

This is one of many reasons I am hesitant to even attempt to write personal essays or a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time. It was only recently that I realized, for example, that my recollection of when we moved from Chicago to the suburbs was in 1969; I’ve always believed that, but recently remembered wait, I was ten when we moved; I turned ten in 1971 and sure enough, looking at the dates on some old pictures, yup, it was December 1971 when we left the city for the burbs…so writing personal essays, or a memoir, would require me to research and fact check my own life.

Which would be bizarre, to say the least.

So, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Christmas is sort of like that, isn’t it? All of these Christmas stories, all these myths…all these stories and traditions that have absolutely nothing to do with what the actual holiday means and was originally intended to be; it’s also kind of amusing to me that something that theoretically began as a Christian religious holiday has been so thoroughly secularized; and at the very least, the majority of Christmas “traditions” are heavily Catholic; so much so that in the early days of the Reformation Protestants didn’t celebrate Christmas (or Easter); some still don’t to this very day. Santa Claus is derived from St. Nicholas; so evangelical children who are taught about Santa Claus are actually celebrating Catholicism–which is why I am always amused by the bumper stickers and billboards stating “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

Um, there’s no Rudolph or Frosty or Santa Claus or reindeer in the New Testament, so telling your children those stories, or letting them watch the specials or movies, or making that a part of their Christmas isn’t keeping the Christ in Christmas; if anything, it’s helping take the Christ out of Christmas. (And Christmas is a contraction of Christ Mass, so again, Catholic in the first place.) What do lights and a Christmas tree or any of that have to do with the birth of Jesus?

NOTHING

Most Christmas stories–novels or film or television–inevitably are predicated on a belief in Christianity; the stories always boil down to having faith in the unseen and having that faith reaffirmed, or developing that faith. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol probably did the most in popularizing and secularizing Christmas; it’s a morality tale which everyone knows by heart–how many fucking adaptations of that classic story have their been? (I think the first one I saw was with Mr. Magoo.) But it’s a ghost story–ghost stories have always been a part of Christmas, for some reason; the Holy Ghost, perhaps?–and it’s a classic story, even if repetition has made it cliche and tired. It’s also a compelling psychological breakdown of a desperately unhappy man, who takes out his misery on everyone else around him and doesn’t celebrate, or enjoy, Christmas; the ghosts of his past Christmases show him how he became the man he is today–and his future. It has been adapted so many times–even It’s A Wonderful Life is a variation on the story–that is, as I said, the hoariest of all the Christmas cliches; I think the vast majority of sitcoms when I was a child would always, inevitably, do a take on the story for a Christmas episode, to the point that I would cringe when it opened. I read the actual story about twenty years ago, and I was quite surprised to see the changes that were made to it in order to film it…changes that were incorporated into every version filmed ever since. (Bob Cratchit wasn’t Scrooge’s family in the original story; just an employee. Scrooge’s nephew is never in the story, except at the end when Scrooge joins his nephew’s family, not the Cratchits, for the holiday feast.)

But none of these traditional stories, as I’ve mentioned, center queer people–or even include them. A queer version of A Christmas Carol has probably been done by someone–I don’t keep up with queer publishing outside of mysteries the way I used to–but it would be incredibly difficult to do it well; making Scrooge a gay man wouldn’t be enough of a change to make it fresh and new…although the nineteenth century trope of the “broken hearted man who vowed to never love again and thus died a confirmed bachelor” has always read as code for “big old homo” to me (hello, James Buchanan?) because it is incredibly difficult for me to believe that a man of any time would go his entire life without having any sexual experience; although I suppose they wouldn’t have recorded “So instead of a loving marriage, Buchanan spent the rest of his life using prostitutes for his needs.”

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

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You Are The Sunshine of My Life

Sunday morning. It took me awhile to fall asleep last night; the last time I remember looking at the clock it was around three in the morning and I was still pretty much awake.  I did manage to doze off around that time, though, and while I still woke up around eight thirty, I feel somewhat rested this morning.

I didn’t do any writing yesterday; I wound up cleaning and organizing and doing that sort of thing for most of the day, interspersed with reading. It was, despite having to go out in the heat and humidity of the early afternoon, kind of a lovely day, really. It wasn’t as terribly hot as I feared it would be, and once I was back inside the cool of the inside of the Lost Apartment, I was able to get some things I needed to get done finished; I also need to finish the organizing I started yesterday but never quite finished. I also came up with some amazing and key things for the WIP, which technically I should be finishing up today–big surprise, it’s not finished nor will it be by midnight–so I am also trying to figure out what I want to do; should I follow my schedule and reluctantly put it to the side, to go back and spend the month revising the other I’d planned on working on for July, or should I go ahead and work my way through this first draft, trying to get it finished this week, and then diving back into the other?

Decisions, decisions.

I suspect I’ll keep working on the WIP, if I am going to be completely honest. Yes, it’s been horrible, like extracting teeth by gripping them with my fingers and yanking really hard, but also last night I had some more breakthroughs about the main character as well as the story I am telling. I also remembered some more things I need to go back and litter through the first sixteen chapters I’ve written–not that big of a deal, as they are all early draft and intended to be worked on more any way–but I am always feeling pressed for time, as is always the case.

Paul is departing to visit his mother for a week, starting tomorrow; I am taking a stay-cation of my own built around the 4th of July holiday. I am only working Monday and Tuesday this week before having a delightful five consecutive days off from work; suring which I have deeply ambitious plans to get a lot of cleaning, organizing, and writing done…as well as a lot of reading. I am going to step away from the Diversity Project with my next read–triggered by a Twitter conversation with the amazing Sarah Weinman–and am going to read Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury next. In a way, though, it’s really still a part of the Diversity Project, just not the way I’d originally seen it: a necessary adjunct, or rather, corollary to the Diversity Project should be reading, and examining, and critiquing, the crime genre’s long fascination with a particular type of masculinity; the Mike Hammer novels are certainly the perfect examples of that, almost to the nth degree.

And can I really call myself a student of my genre without reading Spillane?

I am sure the books themselves are problematic; almost everything from that time period is in some ways (I still remember reading a James Ellroy novel–I don’t remember which one–which had some incredibly horrible homophobia in it; it was painful and difficult to read, but absolutely in line with the thinking of cops in the 1950’s; and I do believe sometimes it’s necessary to read these problematic texts, to critique and understand them and the time period from whence they were originally written and published.

A conversation I had on Twitter with Rob Hart (whom you should also be reading; his next novel The Warehouse, sounds absolutely terrific and I am eagerly awaiting its release) also triggered a thought; that perhaps a non-fiction/memoir type book about me, my reading life, and queer representation in mainstream crime novels might be an interesting thing to write; whether or not there’s an audience or a publisher for such a work remains to be seen, of course, but it does sound like an interesting intellectual challenge.

It might also be horrifically difficult, but reading is about learning, isn’t it?

And on that note, none of this stuff is going to get done unless i start doing it, you know?

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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