If You Want Me to Stay

Well, here it is Thursday afternoon, I’ve got a load of laundry to fold and another in the dryer, the dishwasher is running and on my way home I made groceries. The past two days have been remarkably pleasant in New Orleans; low eighties and little to no humidity–so low that if there is any it isn’t noticeable, and anyone who’s been to New Orleans in July/August knows just how remarkable that actually is. I’ve not gotten very much writing done thus far this week–and I am debating whether to call it a night and just go relax in my easy chair, or try to get some writing done. I am in the midst of an enormous project that landed in my lap this week (or was it late last week? I don’t remember) and focusing on that has kind of knocked me out of writing mode.

Granted, it doesn’t take much to do this to me, but there you have it.

As much as I love writing, it’s amazing how little desire I usually have to do it. I always have to make myself do it, which is beyond bizarre.

Okay, I just spent some time doing chores, and am now listening to the Pet Shop Boys on Spotify. I’ve cleaned the kitchen, done some more laundry, straightened the rugs, and swept the living room. It really is disgraceful how slovenly I live; it’s at the point now where I am too ashamed to hire a cleaner. But in my own defense, eighteen foot ceilings make things incredibly difficult for cleaning purposes, especially when you have a ladder phobia and the floors aren’t level. I’ve always thought that the perfect metaphor for New Orleans; so many of us live here in a world that isn’t quite level. The ground is always shifting and sinking; houses always begin to lean and tilt as their foundations settle. There are very few streets or sidewalks in this city that are perfectly level; therefore it’s not so hard to understand that those of us who live here and no longer notice that things aren’t perfectly level are a little off-balance when we go somewhere else. The beautiful crepe myrtles that line the other side of the fence shower our sidewalk with beautiful , tiny pink and white blossoms…that turn to sludge when they get wet. They also attach themselves to your shoes and you track them inside, along with other assorted tree and bush and floral debris. I could sweep the sidewalk every morning and it would need to be swept again in two hours.

There’s also more dust here than anywhere I’ve ever lived before, and I’ve lived in desert climates. One would think the damp and rain would cleanse the air and remove all the dust and dirt, but it doesn’t. I can take my car to be cleaned, and by the next day there’s a thin layer of dust/dirt on my car. I’m not even sure where it comes from, to be honest. Maybe the crumbling of the houses and sidewalks and streets cough it up. Back when I worked at home I did the windows of my office every week, because the light was so much better and everything looked so much crisper and nicer with the glass cleaned. Now,  I don’t have the time, and I think that also might contribute to the general sense of dinginess. I need to take down all the pictures and dust them, the baseboards are in really poor shape, and of course, I should take the rugs in to be thoroughly cleansed.

I do enjoy cleaning though, and I do tend to think a lot about my writing when I’m cleaning. I have to write an essay/introduction to a new edition of a novel by an author who died of AIDS before the book was even published, and it is quite a good book; I loved his other book as well, and so I’ve been trying to think of a way to write an appropriate appreciation of the work he left behind; while also talking about the potential work we lost when he died so young. I knew there was a way to do it tastefully and respectfully, but every time I reached for it, it danced away out of reach inside my mind. While I was sweeping the living room, I realized what the theme of the book actually was, and that it would also make a perfect theme for my piece.

So, yay, thank you for that, dirty apartment.

I’ve also got my desk all cleaned and organized and ready for the weekend; I still need to file or find some places for things that I’m working on–I am really working on too much; I have certainly outgrown this little cubby I used as an office, and yes, I know, it’s better for the world and more convenient for me to go all digital and paperless….but I’m old and I’ve lost too much data over the years to ever completely be comfortable with a digital office. I’m excited; I want to write my essay, I am going to dig back into the WIP, and I also get to read Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which is such a great title; it reminds me of my favorite ever-theater poster for Romeo and Juliet; I think Tulane was doing it and the poster was just red and yellow flames on a stark black background, and across the top in red letters outline in yellow were the words A plague upon both your houses.

Isn’t that great? Someone should really write an essay exploring Romeo and Juliet as a teen noir; it’s probably the only take on the play that hasn’t been taken–and even as I type that, I’m thinking, don’t be so sure.

And now it’s almost time for The Real Housewives of New York, after which I’ll probably write for a little while.

Have a lovely evening, Constant Reader!

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Loverboy

The ballet last night was exquisite.

I’ve seen ballets–or parts of them–on television or Youtube; and I remember, as a child, being taken to see The Nutcracker (isn’t everyone dragged to that as a child?), which I hated (interestingly enough, many things that most children love are things that I didn’t; The Nutcracker is one; The Wizard of Oz another). But as lovely and awe-inspiring as seeing ballets on Youtube or on television can be, there is nothing like being in an auditorium and watching one being performed live on the stage in front of you. I liken it to the difference between watching figure skating on television and then watching it in person; it’s very different, and you never watch it on television in quite the same way again. Romeo and Juliet is, of course, an ubiquitous story; everyone knows it, to the point that it has become almost trite and hackneyed; it’s been adapted for everything imaginable–opera, ballet, film, and of course West Side Story–but, at its heart, it is still a beautiful and sad story.

The opening sequence of the ballet reminded me so much of the opening of West Side Story that I couldn’t help wonder how much the ballet influenced the musical’s choreography, or vice versa.

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I read Romeo and Juliet when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d taken a class called Dramatic Literature; a class in which we read plays. Romeo and Juliet was paired with West Side Story (it’s also the class where I first read Tennessee Williams; A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to be exact); we even watched the films (the version of Romeo and Juliet was the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey with the gorgeous score by Michel Legrand). Shakespeare’s language was, to me at fourteen, a mysterious puzzle I couldn’t unlock; archaic references I didn’t understand written in verse, yet somehow beautiful in how the words were put together. At the time, I didn’t understand how two families could feud so bitterly and violently in an Italian city during the Renaissance; of course, now that I’ve read so many Italian histories (I am still greatly enjoying The Black Prince of Florence), I am more than a little surprised that the feud between Capulet and Montague was so bloodless (see the Pazzi-Medici feud, circa fifteen century).

Yet, despite the overwhelming familiarity with the story, it was impossible not to be drawn into last night’s version of it; despite there being no dialogue, no words. The entire story was, as is typical with the ballet, acted out without words and through dance. The choreographer’s choices in telling the story were quite interesting; the stage setting was incredibly minimalist, with emotions and passions being evoked through the movement of the two curved walls that served as set pieces; the long rising ramp that served as not a way to exit the stage but as Juliet’s fabled balcony; and the use of costume and lighting.

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The friar was used as a connective device throughout each scene; he was, if anything, the true star of the show, and its emotional heart. The dancer who played the role was magnificent. The ballet was a thing of beauty; I couldn’t stop marveling at how fantastic the dancers were, the exceptional shapes and lines they could form with their bodies, the almost super-human stretches and leaps and twirls and spins, the intimacy of their lifts and how they could mold their bodies around one another’s.

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It was also my first time inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts since Katrina; ironically, it was also the first time the Ballet des Monte-Carlo performed there since 2005. Both the outgoing and incoming mayor were there; the Honorary Consul for Monaco, and the ambassador from Monaco were all introduced and thanked from the stage.

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And yet, as a crime writer, and someone with a vested interest in group dynamics and politics, who has viewed documentaries about ballet companies, with a knowledge of human nature and interaction,I couldn’t help wondering, as the company took its well-deserved bows to a long standing ovation last night,  what turmoils and temperaments boiled beneath the surface of the linked hands and bowing bodies; what slights and grudges boiled behind the smiling faces; which members of the company were friends and which were enemies; who were lovers and friends and who were enemies and rivals, who was gay and who was straight.

I definitely want to write a ballet noir.

And here are two short stories, for the continuation of the Short Story Project.

First up is “Split Second” by Daphne du Maurier,  from the New York Review of Books collection of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories:

Mrs. Ellis was methodical and tidy. Unanswered letters, unpaid bills, the litter and rummage of a slovenly writing-desk were things she abhorred. Today, more than usual, she was in what her late husband used to call her “clearing” mood. She had wakened to this mood; it remained with her throughout the morning. Besides, it was the first of the month, and as she ripped off the page of her daily calendar and saw the bright clean 1 staring at her, it seemed to symbolize a new start tom her day.

The hours ahead of her must somehow seem untarnished like the date; she must let nothing slide.

“Split Second” is an exceptional exercise in character. Du Maurier thoroughly examines and exposes Mrs. Ellis’ character from beginning to end, and while she doesn’t go into a great amount of detail, it isn’t hard to figure out exactly whom she is from what we are told as readers. She’s a widow and her entire world revolves around her daughter, who is off at school; she decides, after a thorough cleaning of her home to go for a walk and is almost run down by the laundry truck as she walks back home. But when she gets back to her house, things are different. It is her house, but it’s no longer the house she left behind; other people are living there, her neighbors are gone–the entire world has changed and shifted as she walked home. It’s a horrifying story, even as the reader begins to glean what has actually happened long before Mrs. Ellis does; not that she ever does, even by the end of the story, and that is part of what makes it so sad, so effective, so powerful; no one has ever quite captured that elegant, melancholy sadness the way du Maurier does.

I then moved on to “The Picture of the Lonely Diner” by Lee Child,  from the Mystery Writers of America anthology, Manhattan Mayhem:

Jack Reacher got out of the R train at Twenty-Third Street and found the nearest stairwell blocked off with plastic police tape. It was striped blue and white, tied between one handrail and the other, and it was moving in the subway wind. It said: POLICE DO NOT ENTER. Which, technically, Reacher didn’t want to do anyway. He wanted to exit. Although to exit, he would need to enter the stairwell. Which was a linguistic complexity. In which context, he sympathized with the cops. They didn’t have different kinds of tape for different situations. POLICE DO NOT ENTER IN ORDER TO EXIT was not in their inventory.

Lee Child is one of the most successful writers in our genre today; everything he publishes is a New York Times best seller, and his character, Jack Reacher, is one of those ubiquitous characters that will go down in the history of the genre, like Poirot, James Bond, and Kinsey Millhone. I am years behind on Lee’s novels; but if you’ve not read Lee Child, you simply must read The Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel. It is quite superb. This story isn’t Child at his best, but Reacher the character is at his best at novel-length, with the labyrinthian plots Child somehow concocts and manages to keep track of (one of my favorite fanboy moments was having lunch with him and Alafair Burke at the Green Goddess here in New Orleans several years ago; while I just sat there wide-eyed and listened to the two of them talk about writing and publishing, praying that I didn’t have sauce running down my chin), but this story does evoke the melancholy that Child evokes in his novels; the inevitability of fate and the powerlessness of humans to counteract it once the gears are moving. I do recommend the story; there is some amazing imagery in it as well.

And on that note, I am back to the spice mines. There are bed linens to launder, and short stories to edit, and a chapter to write; it is rainy and gloomy outside my windows this morning but I am well-rested and ready to work.

Or maybe it’s just the caffeine kicking in. Who knows?