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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You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party

Good morning, Thursday, how it’s hanging?

It was bitterly cold in New Orleans yesterday, and of course our heater isn’t working. This tends to happen at least once a winter, and usually the first time we need to turn it on; I think the pilot light goes out? Anyway, the handyman guys should be coming by at some point to see what’s going on.

In the meantime, we shall suffer in silence.

Colder weather means deeper and more restful sleep; it also means not wanting to get out from the warmth of the bed in the morning. But I managed to drag myself out this morning, and the space heater is going next to my desk, and I feel fine–although I need to find my stocking cap.

I just finished paying the bills and, oh how I hate doing that, watching my bank balance drain and all of that, you know. Heavy heaving sigh.

We finished watching Catherine the Great last night, which was extremely well done, and of course Helen Mirren was spectacular in the role. One of the things about the show–and one of the most fascinating aspects of Catherine–was the fact that, as her son Paul kept mentioning, she had absolutely no right to the Russian throne. She wasn’t a Romanov–hell, even her husband wasn’t a Romanov; he was a Romanov only through his mother–and she staged a coup that overthrew him; he was later murdered. At first she was only theoretically a regent for her son; when he came of age she abandoned that pretense and refused to let go of power. She also was a great ruler, if oppressive; she made Russia a great power, and it was her grandson Alexander who toppled Napoleon, and as such, she is worthy of study. Russia today would not be what it is without Catherine, the minor German princess born into poverty who made a great marriage, educated herself, and played a long game when it came to seizing and maintaining power. Her son passed a law forbidding women to rule, so she was the last woman to rule Russia…despite the fact that the vast majority of Russian rules in the eighteenth century were women (Catherine I, Anna, the Regent Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II–it’s also worthy to note that Catherine I was also only a Romanov by marriage; she was a peasant who became the mistress of Peter I, who eventually married her and left her his throne).

Catherine, like all women who gained and maintained power in the past, has had her reputation vilified and her sexuality criminalized and stigmatized in the years since she died–it even went on while she was alive of course; her voracious sexual appetite and the hideously misogynistic rumor about the horse, which has come down through the centuries and is often quoted as an absolute fact. Other powerful women throughout history were vilified as sexually promiscuous; while Catherine never hid her passions and her love affairs, they weren’t as extreme as the rumors spread by her enemies made them seem. Eleanor of Aquitaine was also painted as a woman of loose morals, which may or may not have been true when she was young; after she married her second husband there was never any question about her fidelity; England’s Elizabeth I was also painted in sexually unflattering lights by her enemies, but her successes, and being queen of England, countered those rumors coming down through time as fact. Marie Antoinette was also accused of being a whore…sexuality has traditionally been used as a way to vilify and demean women, and despite societal changes, still is today.

I admire Catherine the Great for many reasons, but she was also a tyrant–and her concern for the poor and the serfs really came to nothing in the end.

The writing is still tragically stalled; I am hoping to kick start it into gear today. When I got home yesterday from the office and the grocery store, I was a bit frazzled and worn down; so I chose to sit in my easy chair and make notes in my journal and relax with some wine. I consider this, quite frankly, to be a viable use of my creative time. Prep work is important for writing; it’s much more difficult to write something you’ve not put any thought into. I am looking forward this week to get my contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder, which contains my story “Moist Money,” and I also got the cover art/contract for The Faking of the President, which contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I have two more stories out on submission; one which I hopefully know about by the end of the year, the other I’ll find out about sometime in the spring. Both, I think, are good stories, but I think I have–see? the time spend in my easy chair is often helpful and productive in the long run–figured out why I have so much trouble with short stories, and how I can correct that problem in the future, making the writing of them that much easier.

Well, we’ll see.

And since I am falling way behind again on everything, I am going to have to recalibrate my schedule to determine what I can–if I actually stick to the plan and do some work–get done by the end of the year.

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines.

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