Red

Getting up early is the bane of my existence, and has been for nearly my entire life. I think alarms are evil, frankly–necessary sometimes, admittedly, but there’s nothing worse than being ripped out of a deep sleep by the incessant braying of a fucking alarm clock. My preference would be to wake up naturally every morning; those are the days when I never feel tired the rest of the day–waking up to an alarm inevitably means being tired at some point, and depending on how difficult it is for me to wake up after said alarm goes off, I could quite easily be tired for the rest of the day.

We’re not enjoying The Vow nearly as much as we did in the earlier episodes, and with no offense to Catherine Oxenberg, the documentary’s shift from being about what the cult (NXIVM) is doing and how it hounds people who try to leave–and their attempts to bring it down–and to a focus on her attempts to rescue her daughter was jarring; those original episodes were a lot more interesting than these last few focusing on Oxenberg and her daughter. It’s like the series shifted focus in mid-stream, and while I know Oxenberg played a very important role in bringing NXIVM down, this shift felt strange, awkward, and weird–almost inorganic.

There’s another storm out in the Caribbean Sea, and New Orleans is almost entirely the cone of uncertainty. When I looked at it last night, it looked like it could become a category 2 by the time it makes it ashore at the end of this week. This is Delta–an ominous name for people who live in the Mississippi Delta, or rather just above it–and while I am not necessarily feeling any stress about this storm just yet (give it another day or so, or another cup of cappuccino) it’s definitely not pleasing to have such a thing out there, looming and lurking and slowly making its way towards us. It’s projection right now is a dead-center hit on New Orleans as a Category 2, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will be another near-miss or a big old nothing.

This morning, Delta seems to be strengthening in the Caribbean Sea, with it possibly getting up to Category 4 in the Gulf, but only coming ashore as a 2. A 2 is still rough, mind you; that’s what Laura was in western Louisiana and she wrought havoc and destruction; so am I getting a little unsettled and unnerved by the presence of this storm lurking out there, with almost two full months left in the season? Damned straight I am. I don’t seem to be having any PTSD at the moment, unlike the previous storms that threatened here this year, so that’s a good thing–unless I am so beaten down already by the year that I no longer have the bandwidth to spare any emotion anymore, which is probably a very strong possibility.

But it will certainly make the end of the week interesting, at any rate.

We started watching the new Gillian Flynn show–she’s producer, writer and show-runner, I guess–on Prime, Utopia. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it, but it’s pretty amazing. Very hard-boiled, very realistic, very interesting, surprising twists, and boy is it ever dark. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot adequately enough to do it justice–it’s like trying to figure out how to explain Orphan Black to someone; you inevitably give up and say, “you have to watch. It’s marvelous.” The acting and writing are top notch, the direction and editing and overall visual aesthetic are cinematic at the best of the meaning of the word, and you can’t really look away from it. It’s very violent. But I really hated to stop watching when it was time for bed last night. Oh, and John Cusack is in it. There’s this amazing sense of paranoia that runs through it, that is also reminiscent of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the decade of conspiracies and theories and cults.

Note to self: rewatch the original Fame movie. It’s very dark, as I recall, as was Saturday Night Fever.

Paul actually got home early last night so I wasn’t able to get any writing done–or reading, for that matter–which of course has me still behind the 8-ball with everything I need to get done. I did make some progress yesterday; I got a lot of my emails responded to, which was lovely, and hopefully I can get the rest of them cleaned up and cleaned out today and tomorrow. I also need to clean the kitchen this evening; I kind of let things slide last night because I wasn’t expecting Paul to be home so early and then we started watching Utopia. I also want to start wading into Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories; I’d hoped to be able to get that started yesterday. Since I’m having so much trouble focusing enough to read novels, it might be time to get back to the Short Story Project, and there are certainly enough single-author collections and anthologies lying around the Lost Apartment to keep me reading for quite some time. I also realized that I do have two short stories that are almost completed; “This Thing of Darkness” and “Moves in the Field”–the two stories that were rejected by the markets I sent them to–that can be reread, revised, and sent back out into the world, which I’ve been thinking about again lately–the need to get some more short stories out on submission again. I need to be writing more–scheduling and exhaustion (both mental, emotional and physical) cannot be allowed to defeat me and keep me from writing. Writing is what keeps me level and sane (or what passes for it around here), and it’s when I am not writing something, anything, that things tend to go off the rails around here.

And more than anything else, I need to keep things on the rails as much as possible.

I Knew You Were Trouble

And here we are, Wednesday, the midpoint of the week and somehow the last day of the month of September. The weather is changing in New Orleans, with the temperatures dropping into the mid to high sixties overnight but still getting up into the eighties during the day. The temperature, for example, dropped so suddenly last night that I became aware that the floor felt cold, and had to put on my slippers. (Slippers always sounds so weird to me; we always called them house shoes when I was growing up and so I still think of them that way; I merely used slippers in this instance because after originally typing house shoes, I thought, no one will know what that means and changed it. Likewise, as a kid, there were exactly two kinds of athletic shoes: gym shoes and tennis shoes; some people called them sneakers. I still say “gym shoes” or “tennis shoes”, in fact. I guess it’s one of my many many many eccentricities.) The colder night weather also makes sleep easier for me, unfortunately, it also makes the I don’t want to get out of bed feeling I have every morning more intensive and powerful.

I have a lot to get done today, and I also think it might be time to move on from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival today; I’m not sure there are any more of those types of films available on HBO MAX; I know there are more on some of the other streaming services; I know I added both The French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon to my watchlists somewhere, but what I really want to watch is Serpico. I also think I should probably rewatch The Godfather, and I’ve actually never seen The Godfather Part II. I was also thinking I should rewatch Chinatown, but then you get into that whole “artist vs. the art” thing. (At least I was never much of a Woody Allen fan.)

I was tired when I got home from work yesterday; Paul was finishing off a grant so I basically sat in my easy chair last night, physically tired and emotionally drained, and too mentally tired to engage with a new book, so I basically watched history videos on Youtube and wrote notes in my journal. I somehow managed to come up with some more ideas for stories yesterday; and also tried making sense of some of my notes in the journal–which isn’t always easy; sometimes I just scribble stuff down without context–for example, I wrote down the words targeted individual and when I looked at it last night I literally had no idea what I meant, what it was supposed to be, or why I wrote it down in the first place. This morning, in retrospect, I think it came from watching The Vow about the NXIVM cult; I seem to recall someone on the show talking about someone as being a “targeted individual,” which essentially means someone the cult actively pursued to get them to join, because they were important enough in some way–influential, financial, celebrity–that would lend the cult credibility and visibility if said person joined. Even as I typed that, the more right I think I am with that interpretation; I liked the whole chilling concept of the phrase to the point that I most likely thought it was something interesting enough to look into and explore fictionally, and that it would also make a great title. (I also googled it, and found that there’s an even more interesting definition of the term–loosely, people think they are ‘targeted individuals’ and think the government or some big organization is spying on them, including the planting of listening devices in their homes and bugging their phones.)

I also had some breakthroughs about both of the manuscripts I am still working on; how to make them better and even more stronger than they are and hopefully, I will be able to make those changes to the manuscripts and make them tighter, the characters more relatable and believable, and get the damned things finished once and for all.

I also got copy edits on a short story I sold; I need to give it another once-over at some point; I have an essay to finish revising and another one to edit, and some website writing to do. It never ends around here, really, and I shudder at the thought of checking my email inbox this morning. I also have some day job research to do this morning before moving on to my condom packing this afternoon; I also have to get organized and pay my bills this morning (yup, it’s Pay-the-Bills day, my favorite every two week cycle). I can’t believe tomorrow is actually October. October. As long as this year has been–this long, interminable March we’ve never seemed able to move beyond–it nevertheless is shocking to me that it’s October already somehow. September went by in a blur, and even now, looking back at it and recognizing the issues of depression and so forth I was dealing with all month–it still seems like Labor Day was just last week, and the entire month is shrouded in clouds in my memory banks.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader–you’ve got this.

Everything Has Changed

So, our appointments for this afternoon have been canceled as Sally draws near; so I have to run down to the office for a few hours and then come home to batten down the hatches, or at least whatever needs battening. Hopefully, we won’t get hit too hard; I’m more concerned with the rain and losing power more than anything else. Services have been canceled for Tuesday, so I get an extra day and a half this week of working at home. Not ideal, as I enjoy working with our clients and it’s lovely to get out of the house, but what can you do?

It will be an interesting few days, that’s for sure.

The weather looks weird outside the windows this morning; not the usual gray of the sun coming up through the darkness but a much weirder, unsettling kind of gray. As I said, I have to go in for a few hours this morning; clients and data entry that is due, and if I can’t get it all done before I leave to come home, I can do it at home as long as we have power. Sally seems to have slowed down in her approach to the coastline over night; it looks like the big hit will come tomorrow now rather than later today, but you never can really tell with these things, and the information weather channels and meteorologists share never is really helpful. When di we start getting the outer bands? When will the heavy rains start? When can we expect the high winds?

Instead, it’s all about the eye and when the center of the storm will come ashore, which isn’t really, you know, very helpful.

Yesterday was an interesting day. I spent most of the day trying to get my emails drafted so they could be sent today, and by the time I was finished with all of that, it was time for the Saints game. They did win, 34-23, I think was the final score; but it’s odd. My relationship with my Saints fandom has shifted a bit; I will always be a fan, but I’m not quite as, I don’t know, as big a fan of Drew Brees as I used to be. The enormous disappointment of his collaboration with the horrifically homophobic Focus on the Family, and how angry he became when this was pointed out, rather than an “oops, my bad”, just didn’t really sit well with me, and it still doesn’t, to this day. He has course-corrected on anti-racism, after stepping in it and that was great; but yet…I don’t know. Hero worship inevitably leads to disappointment, because humans aren’t completely heroic; humans are often too human to be heroic.

The Lost Apartment is starting to look less like an abandoned crack den and more like a home, so that’s progress of a sort. The vacuum cleaner works better than it did, but it’s still not quite as good as it was when new; then again, we’re all getting older and not as good at doing things as we used to be, aren’t we? And if we don’t lose power, I can probably keep vacuuming until the floors look like they normally should.

We watched the new episodes of Lovecraft Country and The Vow last night; it’s hard to decide which was creepier and scarier. The Vow gets creepier and more disturbing with each and every episode, and it was strange seeing Catherine Oxenberg (who was the original Amanda on Dynasty) on last night’s episode, worried about how to get her daughter India out of the clutches of NXIVM. As Paul and I continue to watch, we marvel at how insidious it all actually is; and how attractive the things they say to draw people in were in actuality. One can never really go wrong with self-improvement. This week’s Lovecraft Country (spoiler) was really about passing for white, only in this case a very dark-skinned woman of color, Ruby (who is a great character) uses magic to turn herself into a white woman and get the job at Marshall Field’s that she has always coveted…which is an interesting look at the old trope of “passe blanc”, which is something I’ve also always wanted to write about. It was interesting to see how this was handled in the book and in the show; I have to say, the show is also diverging from the book in very interesting and smart ways.

We are also trying out a Netflix comedy series called The Duchess, but after two episodes we aren’t really sucked into it, so I don’t know if we’ll keep going. Raised by Wolves has also slowed down and we’re losing interest in it. Visually it’s amazing, still; the story is losing us.

I’ve also been reading about another great 1970’s conspiracy theory that still effects us today, and one that most Americans don’t particularly know about, but really should. A while back, I remembered there was a book published in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s that had to do with the end times, and it was an enormous bestseller, so I thought hey you should order a copy and read it. It was written by someone named George Lindsey, and was titled The Late Great Planet Earth. I’ve been reading it, off and on (wow, is it ever racist) and it’s all about Biblical prophecy, and how all these Biblical prophecies are coming true. (The most hilarious thing about it is how dated it now is; Lindsey, for example, didn’t find the Camp David accords bringing peace to Israel and Egypt in his Bible, and JFC, is it ever racist, and right-wing; you can almost hear him sneer the word liberal.) But what’s even more interesting (other than how wrong he has proven to be about so many things over the last four decades) is that the book, despite having been proven demonstrably wrong (the chapters about the Soviet Union and communism are especially cringeworthy) is that it is still in print, and this is a mindset that a lot more evangelicals actually believe in to this very day. When you look at their behavior and voting patterns in the light of what Lindsey claims in this book…it makes a lot more sense, and it’s also fucking scary. What else is interesting about this book is that it’s almost a complete blueprint for the movie The Omen (I can’t speak to the sequels or anything else since the first movie, as the movie and its novelization by Brian Seltzer are the only ones i am familiar with); almost everything in that movie (and the novelization) is directly lifted from Lindsey’s book–to the point where Lindsey should have gotten a story credit on the film. (And now, of course, I am going to have to look up Seltzer.)

This has also led me, in a roundabout way, back to the work of Elaine Pagels on early Christianity; I’ve been looking through her book The Gnostic Gospels, and like Dr. Pagels, I’ve always been interested in how Christianity was originally created as a religion rather than as a values system, and what was included from the New Testament and what wasn’t (it also interests me how evangelicals and other Christians literally believe what they read in their Bibles is the word of God, handed down over centuries yet never edited or wrongly translated from one language to another); this also ties into that Colin novel I’ve always wanted to write.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe in you’re in Sally’s path.

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.

Eyes Open

Well, it’s Tuesday and so far, we’re still here.

This time of year is always enervating, to say the least; one always wants to keep a close and careful eye on any and every storm that comes into the Gulf of Mexico, but at the same time it’s very easy to fall prey to panic and fear. It’s never easy, particularly around the anniversary of Katrina (fifteen years ago) and all those memories that entails, and while Marco fortunately fizzled somewhat, making landfall as a mere tropical depression (nothing to be sneezed at, in and of itself), one always has to remember Laura is still out there, and there’s yet another making its way across the Atlantic in our general direction–or at least there was; I’ve not heard a word about the system that will become the N storm, should it become organized.(I just looked for it on-line and can find nothing, so I am assuming it just fizzled out and died, which is, of course, good news for now). We’re going to be on the wet side of Laura, should she not continue tacking to the west, so we need to be braced for that, too.

I rewatched Jaws yesterday for the first time since the summer of 1975, when we went to see it in the theater after church (we often went to see matinees after church on Sundays; kind of like a treat of sorts. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it was a bribe to get us not to complain about going to church in the first place? Ironically, I didn’t mind going to church once I’d met some of the other kids and got active in the Youth Group–how things have changed, eh?). The theater was so crowded the usher actually had to find us seats, and the only three together (Dad didn’t go to church with us) were in the center front row. IMAGINE watching Jaws on the big screen in the front row! It’s actually a very well-made movie, and it still holds up after all these years; it didn’t scare me at all the way it did that first time because, of course, I still remembered all the jump scares and all the shark attacks–which clearly means the movie had made an impression on me. I had already read the book before we went to see the film; and the changes made to the movie from the story of the book–Mrs. Brody didn’t have an affair with the oceanographer in the movie and the ending was different–actually improved the story; the ending of the book wouldn’t have played in the movie (the shark finally dies as its coming in for a final attack on Sheriff Brody–just stops moving and disappears into the depths, and he swims for shore) and I also liked that the oceanographer didn’t die in the movie (the shark kills him when he’s in the cage; Brody is conflicted about this because he knew his wife was fucking the kid), but the end of the movie is kind of anticlimactic. But Jaws was the movie that changed everything: it was the first summer blockbuster, which changed Hollywood and how movies are released; it started out national obsession with sharks–there would be no “Shark Week” without Jaws; it turned Stephen Spielberg from a nobody into an A-list director; and–this is just a theory–set the stage for the revival of horror films that was to come in a few years, with Halloween and Friday the 13th, because above all else that Jaws was, it was a monster movie that scared people. I bought a copy of the book a few years ago–I think the fortieth anniversary edition of it–and have always meant to get around to rereading it; I still haven’t.

Jaws was also a bestseller, and it also set the stage for the huge hit the movie was, and the success of the movie also brought the book back to the bestseller lists. Peter Benchley, who’d written a non-fiction book about the sea already, became a bankable author–his next novel, The Deep, which I would argue is a better book than Jaws, was an instant bestseller and of course became a huge hit film–but the movie wasn’t as good as the movie of Jaws, and the success of the film was largely driven by the images of Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt, her nipples clearly visible (I could be wrong, but those images might have started the wet T-shirt craze as well; who knows?), and I’d always meant to reread The Deep  as well. When I was acquiring Benchley novels, triggered by the anniversary of Jaws, I also got some of his other, later books–also successful, not to the level of the earlier books, which include The Island (which I liked) and The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, which is probably his best, and definitely the most literary, of his books.

Today all of our appointments were canceled, just in case, so it’s another work-at-home day for me; I do have to run over to the office to restock my condom packing supplies as well as drop off the boxes I made yesterday, and I am not really sure what movies I want to watch today. After I finished working yesterday I managed to get another chapter done in Bury Me in Shadows, which was pleasing, Ironically, I found myself doing precisely the thing I described yesterday–revising and editing without looking at the hard copy pages, only to remember and discover that I had input the changes exactly as detailed in the notes–but am also getting a little worried that I am not remembering things and am making continuity errors; so to ease that worry I’m probably going to sit down and reread the first five chapters again before I started on Chapter Six tonight–which means I probably won’t have time to read Lovecraft Country tonight, alas. I’m also planning on making dinner tonight–it’s been a hot minute, believe me–and so my time this evening will be very limited, sadly.

We also started watching the documentary series The Vow, currently airing on HBO MAX last night, and it’s absolutely fascinating. This first episode was all about the people who are telling the story of the documentary getting involved in NXIVM, and I have to say, listening to the leaders and their conversations about working on yourself and being honest with yourself and realizing your own potential and that you often set up your own roadblocks–I was frankly thinking there’s something to this and was thinking about the ways I often roadblock and self-defeat myself. Of course, it’s really just another “power of positive thinking/reaffirmations” thing, and there really is something to that methodology; of believing in yourself and having the confidence to really chase your dreams, and how so often the self-destruct mechanisms we all seem to have inevitably have something to do with negativity introduced into our psyches by someone else (example: I may not remember his name, but I will never forget that writing professor who told me I had no talent and would never be published, as long as I live), and why do we let those things fester in our minds and allow them to continue to affect us–in this case–some forty years later?

I’m really looking forward to the next episode.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone, and see you tomorrow.

IMG_4130