Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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