If You Ever Go

Thursday, Thursday. A work at home day, hurray!

It rained again yesterday, which was more than a little bit irritating (in theory, it’s going to rain every day for a while now; including scattered thunderstorms in Baton Rouge Saturday night DURING THE GAME), but it’s okay. Rain makes me sleepy and I was tired yesterday from Tuesday night’s weird sleep, so the combination of the two helped me run out of steam by the afternoon. It kind of sucked, because I wanted to go to the gym and do some things last night, but by the time my shift ended and it was time to go home…all I wanted to do was go home, get under the blanket in my easy chair with a purring kitty in my lap, and mindlessly zone out while falling into some insane Youtube wormhole. However, I had advance warning that Paul would be late getting home (the grant he’s been working on was due at midnight), so after a few times around with history videos, I decided to watch a movie. I opened the TCM app on my AppleTV, and started looking through the vast riches there. I was delighted to see Pillow Talk was available to stream–a few weeks ago I’d looked for it, settling for the follow up, Lover Come Back, instead; which isn’t settling because it’s also a fun, if dated movie–and so queued it up. I’ve always loved Pillow Talk, and it always has made me laugh; but I’ve also not seen it in years, and I am a lot more aware about things that can be seen today as problematic. A sex comedy from the days of the Hays Code, made in 1959? Yes, all kinds of things were played for comedy back then that are not only no longer funny, but absolutely cringey today. And yes–there were parts that really made me cringe a bit; the entire “Rex Stetson” deception, which is actually quite cruel, being at the top of the list. But the only reason it even works in the first place is because Rock Hudson is so utterly likable, charismatic, and charming; even though he’s a complete cad, you can’t help but like him. Doris Day is stunningly beautiful, and that singing voice! The chemistry between the two is also powerful; you know from the beginning they’re going to wind up together (it’s a romantic comedy, after all), and Hudson–dismissed as just being handsome rather than actually having any talent–deserved an Oscar. Knowing Hudson is a gay man, playing a straight man with a steady parade of women through his life and is so completely convincing that he not only is falling for Doris Day but you actually believe he wants to fuck her.

That–given his reality–was definitely Oscar worthy. The film absolutely couldn’t be made today–the idea that a woman in her late twenties/early thirties would be an almost prudish virgin would never fly today–but it holds up better than Lover Come Back, in that Day’s character has some great scenes with other characters about how she wants to be in love, wants to fall in love, and dreams of finding the right man who will sweep her off her feet and romance her and love her; the relationship between her character and the neurotic millionaire who loves her (Tony Randall) is so incredibly sweet–she doesn’t love him but she likes him a lot, and how she gently lets him down after his umpteenth wedding proposal–and how he accepts the defeat gracefully, saying he just wants her to be happy above-all, was lovely; there was some great chemistry between Day and Randall as well. And that apartment she has! And New York just looks marvelous and wonderful and exciting and fun and everything you could ever imagine it could be. It’s a fantasy, of course, but that’s what movies were back then; and of course, the movie never shames Day for being a single career-woman in the big city–Lover Come Back’s message was a lot cruder–“she just needs a good fuck”–but it doesn’t play that way in Pillow Talk, which remains somewhat charming, if unrealistic.

And it’s actually a rather clever window into that time period.

As always, I have lots to do today. I am working at home, as per the usual, on a Thursday; which is nice. I slept well last night, which was also lovely; I don’t even think I got up once during the night. Paul had a meeting this evening but will be home shortly thereafter, so we can get caught up on our shows and actually spend some time together. I am getting excited and nervous about the game this weekend; I am delighted that we are returning to Tiger Stadium for the first time since the 2019 season, but at the same time I am a bit nervous about being in a stadium with over a hundred thousand people crammed into it; with thousands more partying on the university grounds around the stadium. This will be a sort of trial run for a return to normal after the pandemic is completely over, but at the same time I can’t get that voice in my head whispering super spreader event to stop. The game is at eight, which means not getting home until after midnight–not optimal–but I can sleep in on Sunday and get rested. (But I also need to check to see what time the Saints play on Sunday as well.)

And on that note, I am putting on my helmet and heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

That’ll Be The Day

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

The thing I always get wrong about depression is I never can identify it until it’s passed–or is in the process of passing–through my mind. I’m not sure why i have so much difficulty in recognizing it when I am experiencing it; I guess because I am sort of able to function (“sort of” being the key words there), and I always tend to think of depression as being so overwhelming that you cannot function when you are going through it–to the point of being almost even suicidal. I almost always, once I am no longer in its grasp, recognize it afterwards–oh yes you were in a heavy depression–but for some reason I never can understand that is what is wrong while it is wrong. I suffer from it periodically–I think everyone does, to some degree–and while mine never goes as deep anymore as it used to (thank GOD for medication and health insurance), I’ve been lost in its throes probably ever since the power went out on the morning of August 29th. The true, tell-tale sign is that once I was in an environment with power again–the flight into Alabama–I wasn’t able to write and I haven’t been even able to do much reading. The loss of my ability to focus on something is always a telltale sign that something is wrong in my brain; and when I spend hours at the computer (like I did last night) going through hundreds and hundreds of picture files to file, name or delete them, because it is rather soothing to me…yeah, that’s really a sign. Today I feel better about things in general–even though it’s kind of an icky day outside–and have been able to get some things finished today. I still haven’t been able to get through my emails, but I am going to try to work on that once I am finished with work today.

And hopefully, this weekend I can start writing again.

My choice for the movie to watch yesterday while working from home was Coma, starring a very young Micharl Douglas, Genevieve Bujold, and Richard Widmark, with Rip Torn and Elizabeth Ashley in supporting roles (also in brief cameos were pre-fame Tom Selleck and pre-bald/pre-fame Ed Harris). This was an excellent choice for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; Coma was yet another film of the time that took a cynical, jaundiced eye at one of the pillars of modern society/civilization: medicine. The book was a phenomenon at the time. It was Robin Cook’s debut thriller, and caught fire, like lightning in a bottle. EVERYONE was reading and talked about Coma; it was an “event book”, like Jaws had been a few years earlier. I read the book when it was released in paperback. I didn’t love it, but it was interesting; my primary problem with reading it was that Cook–a physician in real life–put too much medical detail into the book for the lay reader; paragraphs upon paragraphs about medical information which really wasn’t necessary to follow or understand the story…if anything, these medical moments pulled me out of the story completely. It’s actually ripe for a remake, honestly; I bet it could be done and made much more suspenseful and scary than the original film was. The film was a hit–it’s weird looking at young Michael Douglas, in the process of trying to transition from television star to movie star and not quite there yet–but as a thriller, it left a lot to be desired.

The story is focused on a female resident at “Boston General Hospital,” Dr. Susan Wheeler. While this book and movie was set not that long ago–within my lifetime, certainly, and around forty years ago–the rampant sexism and misogyny of that period is sometimes hard to take. Susan was dealing with it on a regular basis; she was a strong, accomplished, hardworking doctor–but she was still a woman trying to make it in what was still primarily a man’s world/profession. The way the men–especially the older ones–condescend to her and talk down to her like she’s a child is almost infuriating to watch…but that misogyny and sexism are integral to the story: no one will believe her and she is dismissed as a hysterical woman. Susan’s best friend comes into Boston General for a routine D&C–a medically necessary abortion–but never regains consciousness; slipping into an unexplained coma. While all the men agree with Susan that what happened was a tragedy, they are all too willing to write it off as a medical anomaly and drop the subject. Susan won’t, however, and keeps looking into it–Boston General has had, over the past year, a remarkably high amount of patients who went into comas after a routine procedure (eight in total–up to ten by the middle of the book, including her friend and another patient shortly thereafter; and yes, given the amount of surgeries performed in the hospital annually, eight isn’t much…but as Susan retorts when her mentor and the hospital’s chief of staff says that to her, “Isn’t one too many?” Susan keeps digging, and the further she goes it soon becomes apparent that she isn’t just risking her career–she’s onto something that could put her life at risk. The book had an ambiguous ending which, even though it’s been forty years, I won’t spoil here–but they changed the ending for the movie, which I felt cheated the story and the audience–but the book’s ending was vastly better than the film’s. I wouldn’t seek the movie out unless you have a high tolerance for misogyny; and now that I think about, the misogyny was so important to the plot that I don’t think it could be remade today–Susan would have gone straight to HR and/or gotten a lawyer and sued the fuck out of that hospital in today’s world.

Robin Cook went on to have quite the career writing medical thrillers–although my favorite of his novels was Sphinx, his second, which was set in Egypt and was an archaeological thriller–and I kept reading him for a while. I think I read his first four books, but I cannot think of the name of one of them, but I am pretty sure the last one I read was Fever, and then I just kind of stopped reading him. Not because I wasn’t enjoying them still, I think I just kind of forgot about him…but I still love Sphinx, which I would love to reread sometime.

Heavy sigh. So much to read and reread, so little time.

Chosen Time

Monday, Monday–can’t trust that day.

It was seventy one degrees yesterday morning when I started writing this post–I just deleted an entire paragraph about how lovely the weather has been lately; needless to say, the weather yesterday has turned on me; it wasn’t cold or anything, but rather chilly-damp and overcast, and the wind had a cold bite to it. The highs apparently for the next few days are in the low 60’s, dipping into the 40’s at night. Yay. But it will, I suppose, give us an opportunity to try out the new HVAC system’s heat. The air conditioning has dramatically improved quality of life in the Lost Apartment–the downstairs gets actually cold with the air on now–so we shall see how the heating works–if it becomes necessary. If it’s not going to drop other than when I am actually sleeping–who cares? I sleep better in the cold anyway. I certainly didn’t want to get out of my blanket cocoon this morning.

I’ve been watching Allen v. Farrow on HBO Max, and it’s harrowing. I didn’t really follow the case at the time–it was the early 90’s, and while we had 24/7 cable news channels already, our primary source of “going viral” was stories on those news channels and the tabloids in the supermarket checkout line. I knew one of Mia Farrow’s younger children had accused him of molestation; I also knew he had become involved with one of her adopted children who was in high school at the time the relationship started. I also knew that Woody Allen dismissed everything as “the rantings of a jealous and vindictive woman”, and continued to have a career in Hollywood. I was never a big fan of his in the first place–my favorite Allen film was Bullets over Broadway, which is one of the few films in which he himself didn’t appear–and so it wasn’t really a sacrifice to stop watching. But watching this documentary is…much more horrifying. This week’s episode, in which Farrow admits she didn’t have an agent during the period in which she starred in every movie he made, “I didn’t need an agent…I was working with Woody and he said, just use mine….I didn’t think I could get an agent, who’d want to represent me? I was in my thirties”–that was jarring. Ageism in Hollywood right there–and I also do remember that people did say things like “she’s only in his movies because she’s sleeping with him”–despite the fact she was actually a very gifted actress–she was convinced that because she was in her thirties, she’d have no career except for the opportunities Woody Allen was giving her…and he undermined her, gaslit her, to keep her under his control. The show is quite disturbing on every level–and we’re only two episodes in. (I also kept thinking, as I watched, “I bet every minute of this documentary has been viewed, scrutinized, and vetted by HBO’s lawyers.”)

Just chilling.

Although I have to admit in watching the clips from his films in the documentary, I started actually thinking, maybe I should watch some of these older films…and then backed away from that thought very quickly.

My education in American film project doesn’t need to include Woody Allen’s canon.

As I sit here looking out into the gray of the morning, I can see that it’s windy outside. The sky is concealed behind a layer of gray clouds, so I don’t think there will be any sun today; it’s going to be gloomy and unpleasant, methinks, for most of the day. I need to go to the gym this evening after work–getting back into the swing of the routine after the cold spell interrupted me for about a week–and I do enjoy going to the gym; I am hoping that as long as I keep up my thrice-weekly visits, I will eventually get to the point where I am doing a more intense workout focusing on body parts, which means, of course, a return of Leg Day, which isn’t something I am looking forward to doing again, frankly. I do find the gym therapeutic in some ways, and I also like the rush of the endorphins that comes afterwards, as I walk back home through the neighborhood. And yet I always have to make myself go–just like I always have to force myself to sit down and write. Why do I have to make myself do things I enjoy thoroughly? I may never know the answer to that, I fear.

I’ve become very contemplative lately, and I think it’s a combination of many things, not the least of which is turning sixty this year. My previous “landmark” birthdays were inevitably not a big deal; I never make a big deal of my birthday and reaching various ages–thirty, forty, fifty–weren’t traumatic or upsetting or anything like that for me; it was more like a “oh, well I’m thirty/forty/fifty now” and that was the end of it. But this sixty thing has taken root in my brain, and I’m not really certain why sixty seems like more of a landmark to me than the earlier ones. It isn’t that I am getting depressed or anything like that, or like I’m facing gym own mortality for the first time–that happened a long fucking time ago, thank you, HIV/AIDS pandemic–but this time is different. I’ve always–well, since I turned thirty-three–been of the mindset that nostalgia is pointless and wasted emotion, and regret is even more useless; you can’t change anything, after all, no matter how much you regret a choice or a behavior. But dissecting the past is an entirely different story; examining behaviors and decisions and actions. A long time ago I stopped trying to figure out why other people behave the way they do as a waste of time–I will never know why, so why waste my time trying to figure out motivations when I can simply take their behavior at face value? But my motivations–why I am the way I am–that is something I can deconstruct and decipher; and the assumption that my pre-33 past no longer has any impact on my life is short-sighted, to say the least.

Sigh. I don’t know.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I promise not to skip tomorrow.

Playground in My Mind

Wednesday morning, and the week is now on its downward slope into the weekend. Paul is going to visit his mother on Monday for a week; I am going on vacation myself starting a week from today through the following Monday–basically a long weekend around the 4th of July. With Paul absent, I am hoping to get a lot–as always–done.

We’ll see how that goes. My track record isn’t the best, after all. But in fairness to myself, I do–frequently–overestimate what I can get done when I am home by myself. But last night I managed another three thousand (terrible) words on the WIP–even though I’ve recognized that this is a story draft, I still wince at how awkward the scenes are and so forth, but the plot is moving forward and I think once I have it all down on paper and it holds together, I can actually make this into something truly terrific. Of course I’m absolutely terrified I am going to put a foot down wrong or something along those lines; it’s a very tight rope one walks when writing about race and homophobia in the South, particularly when one is white–it’s very easy to go wrong, and when one had always benefited from the systemic racism of our society and culture, when one has to retrain and unlearn so much…I’m always worried something will slip through, unnoticed and unrecognized…but I’m also not certain that my work gets enough attention from the world at large to merit a call-out Twitter-storm of fury, either.

There was an interesting discussion on Facebook the other day about sensitivity readers, and whether they are necessary; and what, if any, compensation is due them for reading the work in question. Should it be a professional courtesy, done as a favor and for the greater good, or is not compensating the sensitivity reader for their time and expertise another form of exploitation and devaluing not only their personhood but their experience? I’m hesitant to ask anyone to read my work as a sensitivity reader because I do believe people should be paid for expertise; the biggest mistake made on this issue was branding them as sensitivity readers–the term should be sensitivity editors. Editors, you see, get paid to read manuscripts and find problems, mistakes, errors, things to be corrected; the sense is that readers do it for free, because who gets paid to read? Readers are fans, editors are professionals; the terminology here has been wrong from the get-go (words matter, people!) and this is why the question has arisen in the first place. I can’t afford to pay someone to be a sensitivity editor for me; and I am not the kind of person who likes asking others for favors (the only thing worse than asking for a favor is asking for money), and I certainly would never ask someone to read an entire manuscript for free to give me advice and input. (I have, however, done this before; but I didn’t ask, I merely accepted when other authors have offered to read something for me–and yes, full disclosure, I probably hinted a lot until they offered. Yes, I am a capital H Hypocrite. I will come right out and ask someone to read a short story to get their input; I do this for others as well, so it’s kind of a circle-of-life kind of thing.)  I personally am not terribly comfortable being a sensitivity editor for other writers, to be completely honest; I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community and say with authority “no one will find this offensive” because my own level of offense is pretty low, and remember, I have been accused of writing gay stereotypes more than once.

So, how could I possibly be a sensitivity editor?

I am also reluctant to ask people for blurbs because I am aware that I am asking for an enormous favor; reading a manuscript takes time–time that could be spent doing something more beneficial to the person being asked–and usually, it’s an electronic file and I, for one, hate reading electronic files….I’m not big on reading print outs, either, to be honest. I don’t want to spend any more time staring at a screen–be it a monitor, a reading device, or a phone–than I already do, which is quite a lot.

Heavy heaving sigh.

This entry sure wound up all over the place, didn’t it?

It’s very strange, because as a gay man, I often get included in discussions about institutional diversity; I served on the board of Mystery Writers of America for four years (which I did specifically to try to make the organization more open to diversity–it was more open than I thought it was when I joined, frankly, and I’m not certain I had much of an impact there but it certainly was an enormous boon to me, personally and professionally); I currently serve on the Bouchercon board (which I joined for that reason and also to assist with the production of the anthologies); and of course, I write the diversity column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. So, diversity is on my mind a lot; it’s also why I chose to start the Diversity Project this year–alas, I am not reading as much this year as I have in previous years, burn out from being an Edgar judge last year I suspect–but I also cannot escape the fact I am white, with all the privilege that entails; if I were straight I’d have hit the American jackpot, you know: white straight cisgender male. (Which, of course, is infuriating to hear the  you chose to be gay bleatings of homophobes; why would anyone deliberately choose a more difficult path in life, particularly a more difficult path to being a published writer, which is fucking hard enough already as it is?)

I like to think my status as outside-the-status-quo, oh-so-close-but-not-quite-hitting-the-privilege-grand-slam, has made me more empathetic and sympathetic than I would be had I hit the grand slam; but I also believe in the butterfly effect; me being straight would have changed, certainly my life, but would have also dramatically altered the lives of everyone around me, and the ripples would have continued to flow outward from there.

I like my life, thank you very much, and I am most grateful for it.

And today’s three thousand words aren’t going to write themselves, so I’d best get back to it.

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Born This Way

Monday and we survived Weekend One of Carnival Parades. *whew*. I am exhausted, though, which is never a good thing for a Monday morning of a new work week. Heavy heaving sigh.

Now I know what ‘bone tired’ means. And speaking of ‘bone tired’….

As Constant Reader knows, I taught a session on writing LGBTQ characters at the SinC into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon this past September in New Orleans. It was an amazing experience, and it was enormously flattering to be asked to do so in the first place. I was also asked to write something for the Sisters newsletter, pretty much given carte blanche to write whatever I wanted to, and since I had an essay about being a gay writer on the backburner (I’ve been toying with it for almost a year) which I was calling “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” I said sure. As I was wrapping up deadlines and looking ahead to the glory days of NOT HAVING ANY DEADLINES, I started writing the essay again, whittling away things from the original unfinished draft that no longer fit my thesis and…I got about halfway through and stopped.

The reason why I stopped? Because it is next to impossible to write about the challenges of being a gay crime writer writing about gay characters without sounding like the biggest whiner in the world, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Then, a question posted on a list-serve I belong to for crime writers triggered some answers that were so horrific, so thoughtless, and so ignorant that I suddenly knew how to write the essay–or at least how to address it with a starting place.

One of the current ‘boiling points’, if you will, in our current society is the question of ‘cultural appropriation’ as well as ‘cultural insensitivity’, and how these questions apply in a broader sense with the American guarantee of First Amendment rights under the Constitution (without getting into the reality–which most people either don’t understand, or chose to ignore– that ‘freedom of speech’ is actually only guaranteed as a protection from persecution and prosecution from the state; not from other people, and certainly not from consequences. The example I always use is, “Well, when I worked at the ticket counter I couldn’t tell a passenger to go fuck himself, could I, without getting fired?”) Recently–I don’t remember where I saw this, but it was on Facebook; I don’t know if it was from an industry publication or a newspaper or something–I read a piece about the major publishers hiring what were called ‘sensitivity readers’ to read manuscripts dealing with characters who were out of the author’s experience to make sure the characters weren’t offensive. I am of two minds about this, and I can certainly understand why people would find this alarming/concerning; how much control/power would these ‘sensitivity readers’ have over the author’s work? Not to mention the fact that no one can speak for an entire community; what one gay man finds offensive the next three you ask may not.

So, yes, I do have a bit of a problem with the concept of sensitivity readers. However, if I were writing a character from a culture not my own; say, a New Orleanian of Vietnamese descent, wouldn’t I want to talk to a New Orleanian or two of Vietnamese descent? Wouldn’t I want my character to be as authentic and realistic as I can possibly make him or her? I’ve talked to cops, private eyes, and FBI agents to make my characters are grounded in reality as I can. So, why wouldn’t a heterosexual writer creating a gay character want to get some insight from a gay person? And so on, and so on, and so on. I don’t see a problem here, but again, that is the work that should be done before the manuscript is turned into the editor and publisher, and I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with that for myself.

Of course, there are those who, because of this, have pulled out the ‘censorship’ battleflag, thoroughly missing the point. The First Amendment does not guarantee anyone a publishing contract, nor does it guarantee a platform; if it does I’d like to be booked on both The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert when my next book comes out, thank you very much. Oh, wait, it doesn’t mean that, after all?

Blimey.

Which is my roundabout way of getting to the latest provocateur, Milo. People were rightly outraged when the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster gave him a book deal; people were rightly outraged when he started getting invitations to speak at colleges and universities; people were outraged when he got invited to go on Real Time with Bill Maher (whom I also have problems with, but we’re talking about Milo now). As loathsome as the things he says are, I will defend his right to say them against any attempt by the state to silence him. Simon & Schuster is a business; they have a right to give a book deal to anyone they think will make them money (although I seriously doubt this book will make them any money; I see it going onto the remainder table pretty damned quickly, and not even being released in paperback; unless, of course, conservative clubs and organizations buy it in bulk at a deep discount as giveaways for fundraising drives and so forth–which is often how people like Ann Coulter wind up on the bestseller lists), and likewise, college/university groups have a right to invite anyone they want to come speak to them…but rescinding those invitations (and promise of payments and expenses) when said invitations blow up in their faces is not censorship as defined by the law and the Constitution. The same law that gives Milo the right to say what he does also applies to those who oppose the things he says.

That’s um, kind of how our country works.

Being utterly uninterested in anything he has to say (I’ve never enjoyed listening to transphobia or racism), I didn’t watch Real Time with Bill Maher, only watching the clips of Larry Wilmore telling him to go fuck himself, which I will also admit to enjoying immensely. (Of course, now that clips of him talking approvingly of sex between children and adults have turned up–and really, who didn’t think something like this was going to come up; it was just a matter of time–he won’t be getting invited to speak anywhere anymore, and I suspect S&S will be cancelling their book contract.) But Milo–like Ann Coulter before him–fascinates me. (And for the record, I use ‘fascinate’ with the old meaning of like how a snake fascinates its prey; I do think he is kind of dangerous, and snake-like.) I always wonder how people like him come to be. I wrote eighty pages of a Paige novel in which the victim was a Coulter-like character, attempting to peel back the layers and see what could create someone like her/him (that manuscript is in a drawer, as no one had the slightest interest in publishing it). Coulter apparently sees herself as a comedian/performance artist; I sadly know people who know her, and they state she doesn’t really believe what she says but it makes her money; I suspect Milo is kind of similar to her in that regard, yet at the same time…

Take, for example, his appearance on Bill Maher. Milo is precisely the kind of gay stereotype that triggers homophobic reactions from the right, and even from some gay men: he isn’t particularly masculine, and wore enormous faux pearls around his neck on the show, which he played with as he spoke (damn it, I am going to have to watch); he is an effeminate gay man (think a conservative Jack from Will & Grace, or Emmett from Queer as Folk: the kind of gay man that ‘straight-acting’ gay men loathe and despise). The loathing of homophobes for effeminate gay men (and, let’s be honest, a number of GAY MEN as well) has everything to do with the culture of masculinity and the fear of ‘not being a man’; which, really, is where homophobia and sexism and transphobia comes from.

I just saw on Twitter that Milo may lose his job at Breitbart over the pedophilia comments; I am not holding my breath, nor will I hold my breath about losing the contract with S&S. He has, always, positioned himself as a spokesperson for the First Amendment; all of this should give him more material to work with, and of course, I am sure it’s the fault of the ‘politically correct’ who ‘want to silence him.’

So, I doubt he will go gently into that good night, and he will undoubtedly continue to fascinate me the way cobras fascinate their prey before they kill and eat them.

I always am curious at to what made these types of people what they are.