You Are In Love

Wednesday, and technically the last day of my vacation; even though tomorrow I am working from home before a three day weekend–so at least tomorrow I won’t have to leave the house, other than getting my first COVID-19 vaccination, with another to come 28 days later. That’s a good reason to leave the house, frankly–I can’t think of a better one, to be honest. I’m incredibly lucky to have not gotten it already, frankly–still not entirely convinced I didn’t have it back when I was sick last spring, but the test was negative. I will continue to wear a mask whenever I am out in public–don’t want to set a bad example–and besides, as I have noted before, I haven’t even caught a cold this winter thus far; and that’s a rarity and clearly a benefit of the mask. I may wear one during cold-and-flu season from now on.

Yesterday was an utter waste of time, thanks again to Apple Support. I wanted to print out the latest chapters I’d finished and reread them before I moved on to yesterday’s writing–but when I tried to open one of the files from the Cloud my piece of shit MacBook Air told me that Word was “damaged” and thus couldn’t be opened. I had to delete it from my computer and then re-download it…and guess what? NOT ENOUGH FUCKING STORAGE AGAIN. Um, it was JUST on my computer, but now there’s no room for it? So yes, I spent the entire afternoon fucking with Apple support; eventually having to take my computer back to factory settings and start it over like it was brand new. Hurray! I could download Word again! But the Cloud? Ha ha ha ha! Oh, how cute you are to think that this would help my computer to function. Just like when I bought it, I could not access the Cloud through my Finder window–I mean, I could, but the Finder window kept telling me THERE WAS NOTHING STORED THERE. I even manually went to the iCloud website to sign in–yep, there it all was. So back to working with Apple support. After forty-five minutes of waiting for “Iselda” or whatever the fuck her name was to figure out how to fix it….to no avail, and often telling me to try things I already had done, etc–she had the nerve to say, “Well, maybe it’s still syncing and everything will show up later.” Yeah, thanks for nothing, you incompetent bitch. So, looks like I’ll be taking the piece of shit to the Apple Store in Metairie.

I really do NOT understand why this has to be so hard, you know?

Yeah, I’m bitter. You would be, too. Now I have to try to play catch up.

But I did stop by the library yesterday to pick up Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans by Howard Philips Smith, and wow! It must weigh five to ten pounds; it’s enormous. I may have to eventually get my own copy, simply because as a resource it is simply too good to not always have on hand. It has all the histories of the gay krewes and balls, pictures going back decades–and details about gay clubs and not-gay-clubs that gays hung out in; and so many pictures! It was also fun seeing people I know (or knew) pictured within its pages. I really wish I had kept a better diary/journal back in the days when we first moved here; so many friends and acquaintances have come and gone since then. Looking through the book was quite a lovely trip down Memory Lane for me–remembering people I’ve not seen or thought about in years, some of whom I simply knew from the bars and who knew? Some of them were major players in the queer rights movement here in New Orleans. This book is definitely going to come in handy for me with writing fiction about the gay New Orleans past.

It looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day here in New Orleans. I am going to be going to the gym later this morning, and then I am taking Paul to work–we’re stopping at Office Depot to get supplies for his office, and I need paper and an ink cartridge for my printer–and he has a book for me at his office, and then it’s back home to desperately try to get caught up on the book. Gah, yesterday was so damned frustrating.

I was also thinking back over the year (not as effective as one might think, as my memory has really declined over the last few years), trying to remember things that gave me pleasure in 2020. There was an awful lot of good television programs we watched, and of course I have enjoyed the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which will be rolling over into the new year. I know I read some wonderful books over the course of the year–and I also reread some that I greatly enjoyed and seemed new to me. I also recall reading a lot of pandemic literature in the early days of the shutdown; histories of the Black Death and the Spanish flu, short stories and novels about epidemics…I finally got around to reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, along with a reread of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” but I don’t think I got around to Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend…but really should have. I also didn’t reread Stephen King’s The Stand, but once I get my own writing needs under control around here, maybe I’ll give the abridged, originally published version a go.

I know I also started writing a pandemic story that I never managed to finish: “The Flagellants,” and finishing it is at the top of my list of things to get done once this book is finished. I kind of also have to go directly into the next book, without much of a break between, but once it is finished on March 1 and turned in, I’ll have some breathing space for a moment or two before I need to get going on Chlorine. I’d really like to have a good working first draft of Chlorine finished by May 1. My main characters is starting to come to me in bits and pieces–he served in the Navy, he escaped Kansas into the Navy when he was eighteen; he comes to Hollywood after he musters out to become a movie star, which is when he meets his “starmaker” agent, and while he is very good-looking and charismatic…he’s not especially talented as an actor, and so gets some supporting roles in A-list movies and leads in B-list movies, but his”star” never really takes off. His agent is of course inspired by Henry Willson; and the plot of the book revolves around blackmail, murder, and survival.

And on that note, I should get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Delusions of Grandeur

So, we survived yet another manic quarantine Monday, did we not? And here we are, ready to get on with our week with another Tuesday. Huzzah! Or so I think. The jury may still be out on this week.

I am working an early shift today, which is why I am awake while there is still dark pressing against my windows. But I’m on my first cappuccino (of the two I allow myself,  only on days when I have to get up this early) and so soon my mind will be dusted free of cobwebs and I can face looking at my email inbox…ha ha ha, just kidding! The only thing that would prepare me for my inbox is a good belt of bourbon, methinks–and one might not even be enough.

Focus.

I need to focus, for I have too much to do for me not to.  What else is new, though, right?

We started watching a dreadful new Netflix show, Outer Banks, last night. We’d finished the concluding chapter of Tales of the City on Sunday night, and thus needed something new to watch. It’s not good, but it was entertaining enough for us to watch the first three episodes (it’s really hard to decide based on a first episode alone–we made that mistake with Schitt’s Creek initially, and yes, it was a complete mistake)–it’s essentially set up as a locals vs. rich people struggle, Pogues against Kooks, and of course, as always, the poor scrappy law-breaking Pogues are who we’re supposed to root for; and there’s also a treasure hunt and murders involved–a ship carrying four hundred million dollars in gold sank off the Outer Banks back in the 1800’s, our hero’s missing father was looking for the ship, and so on. I doubt we’ll continue–when it was time for bed and turning off the television, we both decided, meh, it’s good as a back-up when we’ve exhausted every other possibility. 

And given how much I love me a treasure hunt story…yeah.

I also started reading Katherine Anne Porter’s story of the Spanish influenza, “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” and am reminded again how much I really dislike Katherine Anne Porter’s writing style. Several pages into the story, I don’t really give a shit about her characters, Miranda and Adam, because I don’t really know anything about them. Porter writes in a strange style, that follows Miranda’s thought processes, yet at the same time gives us nothing to make us care about Miranda. She comes across as relatively cold; living in her boarding house, worrying about money, dating Adam, with the war as a background in the distance that kind of always is in the back of everyone’s mind. The Spanish influenze pandemic is occurring at the same time yet it doesn’t seem real to Miranda; one thing I will give Porter is she does manage to capture precisely how self-absorbed we all are, and how that self-absorption blinds us to what is really going on all around us, but we ignore it until it directly affects us (writing this note in my journal last night I realized this is something du Maurier also does in her stories–distracting her characters with their own little personal dramas so that they don’t pay attention to what is going on right under their noses, especially in “Don’t Look Now”–and that also was a theme in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”). I don’t know that I’ll go back and finish reading the Porter story; as I said, I am not a fan, and yes, am aware that she won awards and was highly acclaimed as a writer. But…just not feeling it, frankly, not on this read nor on previous ones.

It’s funny that I am reading famous fiction about plagues and epidemics during a global pandemic, and it only just now occurred to me that I’ve not read any writing about HIV or AIDS in years. My novella “Never Kiss a Stranger” is, actually, my first attempt at writing this kind of fiction myself–and I am no longer so familiar with current gay literature that I don’t know if that’s something that has passed out of fashion with gay writers. I don’t think the m/m writers ever address it much; I’ve certainly never written about it before–for a number of reasons. When I first came to discover queer lit, there was a lot of it; almost every book or story about gay men being published, or that had been published since the mid-1980’s, involved it on some level or another. When I first started writing, it was still a question being debated in queer lit circles: was it irresponsible not to mention it, even in passing, in queer lit? Was it irresponsible to write erotica without the use of condoms? And while at the time I started publishing the drug cocktail had been discovered and the breakthroughs to extend life and lessen the impact of the diagnosis, when it came. I’ve very deliberately set “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the New Orleans of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was essentially wiping out the gay community in New Orleans, and I’m trying to capture that feeling of impending doom that hung over all of us back then, the sense of inevitability when it came to getting infected and dying, and how that felt to live through and experience.

The panel we did the other night for the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon was about writing during a pandemic; the interesting thing about that panel was two of us–J. M. Redmann and I–had both written during the previous HIV/AIDS epidemic; COVID-19 is our second time around. I think back to those days before I was a writer, when I was reading gay lit left and right, trying to familiarize myself with topics and themes; I think about the questions that we debated about our own work as we did panels and readings and so forth when my first book came out, and the other new writers doing the same. I remember that the big question then was whether or not we considered ourselves gay writers, or whether our books are gay (I distinctly remember Poppy Z. Brite replying to that question on a panel with “I don’t know, I’ve never asked my books if they were gay”); that all seems kind of silly now. (Frankly, it seemed silly then; it didn’t matter whether we considered ourselves gay authors or our books to be gay; that’s how they were going to be classified whether we liked it or not, and it was cute we thought we had come control over that–we had absolutely none.)

One of the things I am trying to do this week is determine how many things I have in some sort of progress–and I am not including the short stories that have lain unfinished in my files for years; I just want to get a handle on everything that’s in progress for now so I can get a better sense of where I stand on my next short story collection(s), and to see how many novellas there are that need completing–off the top of my under-caffeinated brain this morning, I can only think of three, but I think there are four in total–at least “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies,” and “Festival of the Redeemer” are the ones I can remember–perhaps later on I can remember more of them; there should be at least one more, because I remember thinking I could publish them all together in one book so there has to be one more–maybe it was “A Holler Full of Kudzu”? I don’t remember.

And on that note–my lack of memory–I’m going to dive back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

IMG_0529

Amarillo by Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how the chapter opens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexy-Shirtless-Guys-8

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears