Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Better Than Revenge

I have to admit–and I know precisely what it says about me as a person–that I love revenge.

I love a good revenge story, in particular. The Count of Monte Cristo–despite the flowery writing and being way too long–is a terrific story of revenge; it set the bar for every revenge tale that has come after it. The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon remains one of my favorites of his fun reads (I really need to go back to it at some point) because it, too, centered vengeance at its heart; my other favorite of his, If Tomorrow Comes, was even more centered on revenge and thus I loved it.

I think it comes from a place of wanting to see people punished for their sins, really; there’s nothing more aggravating than seeing evil flourish and no intervention, no divine wrath, no nothing. Revenge is really about, at its true base, justice; and isn’t that what the point of all crime writing is, really? The search for justice? And I am not ashamed to admit that, while I never really wish ill on anyone who’s done me a bad turn or fucked me over, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it when something bad happens to said person. (I never celebrate death or severe illness; I’m horrible, but not that horrible. In fact, generally, after a smirk and eyebrow raise upon hearing bad news about someone I detest, and after the first adrenaline rush of what a pity, I generally empathize with said person. Empathy is really not hard, you know? I’ve never understood the inability to think, wow, if that happened to me it would really be awful. Then again, if someone’s a sociopath or a narcissist, or a combination of the two…)

Today is my work at home day, and it seems weird that it’s Friday again, and it’s also the first Friday of October. The light changes in October; there’s a more golden glow to it now, and it feels very weird to come home from work on a muggy afternoon like yesterday, after stopping at the grocery store, and within a few hours of sundown have the apartment feel so cold. As beautiful as it is, sometimes the humidity hasn’t gone away completely, so it’s cool but humid–so you still sweat even though it doesn’t feel like you should be, and that dampness makes the after-sundown temperature drop feel even more extreme than it actually is. I was, in a word, exhausted yesterday; I made kit bags for the syringe access program yesterday afternoon, which is a menial task which also requires me to be on my feet, and constantly bending over and so forth, and after four and a half hours of that I am always achy and tired. (I should have stretched when I got home; idiot.) Today I am working from home, trying to get caught up on things, and later on of course will be in the easy chair making condom packs again. But I slept deeply and well and feel rested this morning; once I get my stretches done I should be able to face the world and get things finished and accomplished and get on with things.

Or so one would think and/or hope.

It looks like we got the go-ahead to add another day of clinic services at work, which is fine, even if it means I have another day where I have to get up early. I love working with my clients–that’s always been the best part of my day job–and I certainly welcome the opportunity to see more people. The thought of a third day of getting up at six is, of course, daunting and unappealing, but I have to also get used to it. I think that’s been part of the entire problem of everything since March; as someone who becomes addicted to routine and also draws comfort from it, the constant readjustments and changes to everything in my life on an almost weekly basis has been challenging and also part of the exhaustion/depression issues I’ve been dealing with, particularly in the last few months. As I mentioned the other day when talking about stretching and flexibility, those words also work as a metaphor for my life these last few months. I still clearly need to work on my flexibility when it comes to working and planning and getting things done, and I need to get that under control otherwise I will sink, rather than swim.

Lately I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed it’s been defeating. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that needs to be gotten done, and there are so many demands on my time that sometimes I get overwhelmed and need to back away and get my head together. I am remarkably self-aware in some ways and completely clueless in still others; but one thing I do know is that when I am drowning and overwhelmed–it’s better to let things sit for a day or so rather than try to put my head down and try to bull my way through; that will inevitably lead to frustration and anger and neither are the proper place to start when dealing with, and working with, other people. I have to finish that essay today, and read/edit another. I need to get those contracts signed, and answer about a million emails at some point. And while it is enormously satisfying to check things off a list and work your way through things–it’s still incredibly stressful, can take a long time, and is, in general, exhausting.

Scooter is doing well. He seems livelier, more alert, and certainly more affectionate since we started him on the special diet wet food and giving him the twice-a-day shots; I seem to be the one giving the shots most of the time, but who realistically didn’t see that coming? I’m more comfortable giving it than I was in the beginning–of course you get used to things the more you do them–but I’m never entirely sure I’ve managed to actually puncture his skin and inject the little bit of insulin he needs into him. Sometimes he flinches, but he doesn’t flinch every time–but he’s also come to associate getting the shot with food, so insulin shock is no longer a concern for me. As soon as he gets the shot he heads to his food bowl and starts eating, so that’s one less thing to have anxiety over, thank God. Although seeing how much better Scooter is makes me feel like a shitty pet-owner; how bad did he feel before he started getting the insulin? It’s also weird that he wants to cuddle even more than he did before, which was already most of the time–and he’s very demanding about it. But with my work laptop and the condom packing, I can sit in the easy chair and let him curl up and sleep between my legs, or in the space between me and the arm of the chair, and of course, is there anything more calming and comforting than a sleeping, purring cat? Not likely.

But it’s Friday, which means there will be a new episode of Ted Lasso tonight–the season finale, alas, but it’s been renewed already–and right now I feel like I can untangle all the Gordian knots and get things finished that need to be finished; at least in time before the next set of knots arrive on my doorstep.

And on that note, have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

London

I’ve always wanted to go to London, and hopefully, one day before I die I’ll be in that former capitol of world empire; visit the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum; see the jewels in the Tower of London and the spot where Anne Boleyn died; stand at the side of the Thames and acknowledge all the history that sailed from its banks. I do love me some history, after all, and after I’d become incredibly familiar with American history I moved on to English, and eventually European (primarily French, to be honest); it was the time that PBS was airing first The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell, and later Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson (who is whom I always picture when I think about Elizabeth I, with due apologies to both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett); plus, the establishment of the Atlantic coastal colonies was directly, obviously, tied to English history. I read about the Wars of the Roses and the family split that led to them in Thomas B. Costain’s The Last Plantagenets, bought at a flea market for a dime; I eventually read his entire “Pageant of England” series: The Conquering Family, The Magnificent Century, and The Three Edwards; The Last Plantagenets was the final volume of that series (Costain also wrote terrific historical fiction, which I ate up with a spoon), and thus, Costain is responsible for my fascination with two of the most interesting women in English history–Eleanor of Aquitaine (total badass) and Isabella, aka the She-wolf of France; she who overthrew and murdered her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover…only to eventually have her lover murdered by her son’s adherents and wind up banished to Castle Rising for the rest of her life.

Someday, London. I know you’re waiting for me over there to come.

Yesterday was a good day as far as work was concerned; I managed to write almost three thousand words on the Secret Project (maybe even more, since i also revised the first chapter) and I’m feeling a lot more confident about it. I knew I would, once I dove back into work on it, but just wish I hadn’t pushed it off for so long; I could be done with it by now if I’d not wasted so much time, which is highly annoying, but also kind of par for the course, really.

But…there it is, you know? Why waste time with regrets?

White Lines continues to entertain us highly; I swear, people, if you’re not watching shows from Netflix Spain, you are missing out on some seriously bonkers drama. First Toy Boy, now this? A crime drama set on Ibiza, with feuding club families, cocaine and Ecstasy everywhere, and murder? I’m telling you, it’s like Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon got together and created a show–and it’s oddly compelling, for all of that (as was Toy Boy).

Tuesday and a short week staring us all down. I already feel off; as though my hard-won equilibrium has been stripped away somehow and I’m not even remotely sure where I am at and what I need to do.

Ah, well, back to the spice mines with me.

Why Can’t We Live Together

Wednesday! What a lovely day, as the countdown to my long birthday weekend begins. Just one full day at the office today, and then a partial day tomorrow, and then it’s vacation time for me. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

It’s funny–I am doing this Facebook challenge, where you share the cover of a book you enjoyed reading every day for seven days, with no comment, review or explanation. I am doing books I loved the hell out of reading, and started with Valley of the Dolls (of course) and The Other Side of Midnight, and yesterday’s was Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, which is long overdue for a reread. (For that matter, I should reread both Valley of the Dolls AND The Other Side of Midnight as well; I’ve not read a Sidney Sheldon novel since the 1980’s–I think the last of his I read was Windmills of the Gods.) Another book due for a reread is today’s choice, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is, quite simply, superb and remains one of my favorite books of all time to this day (maybe I’ll treat myself to a reread this coming long weekend?).

I wrote nary a word yesterday–not one single word, unless you count yesterday morning’s blog, of course. I never count the blog in my daily writing totals, by the way; I always see it as more of a warm-up exercise for writing, any way, a tool I use to get the words flowing and forming in my head so that throughout the day I can, whenever I can, scribble some words down. I slept deeply and well again last night–huzzah!–and with two successful night’s sleep, should be able to get home and write tonight after work (I was exhausted again last night–the twelve hour days are becoming a bit much for my aged self, methinks). Paul and I relaxed last evening and watched “The 60’s” episode of the CNN docuseries The Movies, which is a very interesting decade of America history, particularly when you look at, for example, the path of American film in that decade. (I also recommend Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is about the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967, a true turning point for American film, where the last vestiges of the studio system were finally being swept away and a new, uncertain era for American film was set up.)

It’s an interesting journey from the days when Doris Day’s was the biggest box office star with her sex comedies to seeing Midnight Cowboy win Best Picture.

This morning, after I finish this, I need to do the dishes and I need to run get the mail on my way to the office. I have some books arriving, thanks to cashing in my health insurance points (it’s a long dull story; suffice it to say that my health insurance has a program where doing healthy stuff and taking care of yourself properly earns you points, and you can then use those points for gift cards; I chose Amazon so I can get books.) Some have already been delivered, others should be arriving today and hopefully will be there by the time I head down there–I got another copy of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, because I want to reread it and write an essay about the sexually fluid Ripley–along with the new Silvia Moreno-Garcia horror novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Richard Wright’s Native Son.  I read Native Son when I was in college for an American Lit class….and I’d really like to give it another read when I am not being constantly bombarded with foolish professorial pronouncements about its meaning and symbolism from an old white man and a bunch of racist white students.

I also need to read more James Baldwin, and I need to read these Chester Himes novels in the TBR stack as well. I also need to finish reading My Darkest Prayer. Perhaps today between clients? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Heavy heaving sigh. There’s simply never enough time to read.

I was thinking the other day that, in a perfect world for me, my days would be get up in the morning, answer emails and do other on-line duties, write for the rest of the morning and the early afternoon, run errands, go to the gym, and then come home to read. Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? It certainly does to me. But alas, this is not a perfect Greg-world and I have to go to a day job Monday through Friday, but at least my day job is one in which I help people every day, which does make it a lot more palatable. I can’t imagine how miserable I would be if I had a job that I hated. I actually don’t hate my job, and consider myself lucky as one of the few Americans who don’t; my only resentment is the time spent there could be time spent reading or writing, which would be my preference.

And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I need to get Chapter 23 written and be one step closer to finished with Bury Me in Shadows, and I’d also like to get some words written on “Moist Money” today–“The Spirit Tree” can wait.

Have a lovely Wednesday, all.

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Head over Heels

There was an article somewhere recently that described a new trend in literary fiction, inspired by Elena Ferrante: writing about women’s friendships. I literally did a double-take when I saw it; because there have been books, across all genres, about female friendships for many, many years–for example, the examination of women’s friendships and relationships with other women were at the root of every Rona Jaffe novel; the primary strengths of both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls lie in the friendships between the women; going back to Jane Eyre, there are always friendships between women at the heart of novels (hello, Jane Austen?). The point is this is nothing new, so to describe this as a ‘new trend’ is short-sighted to say the least, lazy writing at the worst.

Rebecca Chance novels kind of defy description, to be honest. They are called ‘bonkbusters’ in her native England (where they are runaway bestsellers); some call them ‘glamorous thrillers.’ She writes about what used to be called ‘the jet set’, or ‘the beautiful people’, or the ‘rich and beautiful’; territory that used to be mined by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, and Jacqueline Susann. And while I don’t mean to demean her predecessors in the field, who were quite good at what they did and wrote yarns you simply could not put down, Chance’s novels are different; in that they combine sharp social commentary, wit (at times, they are laugh out loud funny), and characters that you can’t help but like and identify with.

Her latest, Killer Affair, is no exception.

killer affair

It was an ocean liner come to rest in the heart of London, its glittering, prow-shaped facade jutting towards the Thames. From its terraces and balconies, the view was unparalleled: the beautiful curve of the Playhouse Theatre with its glowing lights, the flow of boats along the wide river, the sprawl of the South Bank beyond, London’s bounty spread like a fabulous offering of endless possibilities to the gilded, privileged guests who occupied the penthouse suites.

However, the young woman who was climbing out of the black cab outside the hotel entrance in Whitehall was in no mood for relaxing on a private balcony with a glass of champagne, resting her arms on the rail, gazing down over the glittering city as she made plans for that evening. Her jaw was set determinedly, her eyes hard. The liveried doorman, reaching into the can for her two suitcases, asked if she was a guest at the hotel, to which she responded curtly that no, she had a booking at the spa and needed to check her luggage.

If the doorman thought it was strange for a day spa visitor to arrive with a pair of large, battered suitcases, there was not a hint of that reaction on his face; his demeanour remained entirely polite and neutral as he carried them inside.

And so begins the latest Rebecca Chance novel–who is this woman, and what is she doing at the spa? The prologue ends with her discovering her target–another woman with whom she is angry–and dumping ice all over her recumbent figure as she spits out angrily, “You bitch! You’ve ruined my life!” (With hints of Shirley Conran’s brilliant, memorable opening to her novel, Lace: “Which one of you bitches is my mother?”)

The book then flashes back to the beginning of the story; how the two women met and became involved with each other’s lives. One of them is Lexy O’Brien, a reality television superstar in the UK who quite literally and ruthlessly climbed to the top of the pile of reality stars by carefully planning her every move, maximizing every bit of publicity she could gather, and is now quite happily married to a sexy former footballer who now is a TV commentator. The two live with their two children and various staff in a beautiful mansion in Sandbank, one of the most expensive places to buy property in the world, and Lexy is planning her next assault on the tabloids/entertainment journalism: writing a memoir. Of course, Lexy isn’t going to write it herself but needs a ghostwriter, which is where young, chubby Caroline comes in. Caroline works writing press releases and also writes a blog, shares a flat with four other broke young people, and dreams of becoming a successful novelist. She is quite dazzled at first by Lexy and her life; Lexy, while immensely narcissistic and self-absorbed (two vitally necessary personality traits for any reality star) is not a bad person–she just sees everyone around her as tools for her stardom and vehicles for publicity. She is actually quite generous with the bedazzled Caroline, and the young woman is grateful at first…but the more she writes, the less dazzled by Lexy she is…and the little nickname Lexy gives her at first–“Ghost Mouse”–begins to rankle…especially as Caroline, by being quiet, listening, and paying attention, learns a lot more than Lexy could ever imagine. And soon, she begins to not just envy Lexy her life, but to believe Lexy doesn’t deserve it.

To tell anymore would spoil the twisty, clever and wickedly funny plot (although it has strong elements of All About Eve), and despite all appearances to the contrary, neither Lexy nor Caroline is a villain. Chance, as always, has created three dimensional characters, strong women with good and bad sides, whose behavioral motivations make complete sense–and her keen insights into reality television, writing and publishing, and how intricate and delicate relationships between friends, family, and lovers can be, make the book completely un-put-down-able. I deeply resented having to put the book aside to work on my own writing, or go to work, or to go to bed. Yesterday I sat down in my easy chair to read for an hour before doing my own writing–and seven hours later put the book down with an enormously satisfied sigh.

Americans, you can either order the book from Amazon.co.uk; the Book Depository; or from Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s soooooo worth it, believe me.