Sad Beautiful Tragic

And here we are, Tuesday morning before the sun comes up. Huzzah?

I’m very pleased that I did manage to read three terrific books over the course of the Labor Day weekend, even if it meant not getting as much writing done as I would have liked. But sometimes, as I rationalize to myself fairly regularly, one has to allow the creative mind and batteries to rest and recharge, and it never hurts to read works by really gifted writers while allowing the creativity to recharge. I do, however, pity the author of the next book I read, as Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay have truly set the bar ridiculously high.

Ergo, I must choose wisely.

But I do believe I have chosen wisely: next up is Babylon Berlin. I loved the show, and from a glance over the first page it looks to be really well written (or should I say translated? I’m never really sure about these things), and I love the idea of going back in time with my reading.

I did work on a chapter yesterday, adding some important things to it, including a scene where my main character goes to the grocery store in town and is recognized by someone he doesn’t know; this happens to me every time I go back to where we are from in Alabama, without fail, and I was realizing, as I looked at the chapter yesterday, that several things were missing from the story thus far: him running into someone who recognizes him because of the family resemblance (including the unsettling “I changed your diapers!” which always bothers me, and I am only sorry I never said what I always think when someone says that to me, “Why do you want me to know you’ve seen my dick?”), any mention of guns or church; and more information about what the town is like. The book is already too long; the next draft/version will be about trimming the fat and making it more lean, but I am still pretty pleased with it and how it’s coming, even if it is coming more slowly than I would like.

When I get through this version, I think I am going to have to take some time off from work and spend like five concentrated days with it.

I am also still thinking about Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is really saying something; and I keep thinking about things I could have said in my review yet somehow didn’t. I am really looking forward to my next venture into reading Mr. Tremblay, which will most likely be Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He also has another one coming out soon, Survivor Song, which sounds absolutely terrifying.

I am treating myself to cappuccinos this morning, as a reward for having to get up so early. I do love my cappuccinos, even if they are made with a rather cheap machine I got somewhere as a kind of back-handed gift to myself, but I now have a really terrific milk frother that I love and does a truly terrific job on making my milk nice and warm and frothy. (Plus I need the extra kick from the concentrated caffeine to help me get underway with my day.) I had insomnia again last night–which seems to always inevitably happen the night before I have to get up early; I wonder if stress about oversleeping or sleeping through the alarm is part of the problem? If so, it’s not something I am consciously aware of, and perhaps something I should take some kind of initial steps to take care of–less caffeine the day before, etc.

We started watching a new crime show last night on Showtime, We Hunt Together, which seems to be rather clever; particularly in depicting the police team investigating the crimes as a mirror image of the couple committing the crimes; white woman, Black male immigrant. So far their victims have been pretty awful men who kind of had it coming, so there’s that, and it’s cast very well. We also watched the older Netflix film The Babysitter, which was interesting and funny in parts; we primarily watched because a sequel is being released soon that is highly recommended. You also can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless–he is absolutely beautiful, and he must have a Netflix contract because he shows up in a lot of their movies/shows…as do any number of other young actors and actresses; makes you wonder if the studio system is sort of coming back.

But this is a short week–feels like Monday, even though it’s really Tuesday–and so that’s also a win.

I’ve also decided not to stress too much about what I get done this week; I always have extremely high hopes going into the week every week, only to suffer crushing disappointment at my inability to get things done. Maybe it’s not the best thing to lower expectations, but it’s better to feel good about getting things finished rather than bashing yourself for not getting more things done, isn’t it?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

Cold As You

Politics has rarely interested me when it comes to fiction; the reality all too often reads like unbelievable fiction, and it’s also there to read in all its horror in history. I stopped reading political non-fiction back in the day, probably some time around or after Katrina–and when I became involved with the National Stonewall Democrats, I was actually living in that world part time, and had no desire to read about it any longer. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–only to become completely addicted to it when Bravo was running reruns, eventually renting the back seasons from Netflix and bingeing through its entire run, while watching the final seasons as they aired. It remains one of my favorite television programs of all time; sometimes I think it would be lovely to go back and rewatch it, but it was a balm for us during the Bush administration.

I used to, as I said, read political non-fiction from both sides of the aisle as well as from theoretically unbiased journalists; I used to read, believe it or not, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan, along with Al Franken and Matt Taibbi and others. I always felt it was important to read not only those who were in theory unbiased, but also to read the extremes of both sides–it’s always important, I thought, to know what both sides are saying and thinking to rev up their own extreme bases. While I always paid attention to politics I always considered myself more apolitical than anything else; my primary concerns were initially to stop people from dying from HIV and then to get some sort of legal recognition that my sexuality was not grounds for inequal treatment in the eyes of the law. The 2000 election debacle energized me; the country seemed to be veering off course and the results of that election changed the country and not for the better, which meant it was time to get to work.

I never read Allen Drury’s Washington novels; as I said, I was never all that interested in fiction based in politics. Robert Ludlum was the closest I ever came to reading political thrillers, and I was a huge fan of his throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s. But political thrillers can be terrific reads; my question is are they crime novels? Thrillers are a subgenre of crime fiction, but do political thrillers actually count as crime novels? I suppose, in theory, they are; this is the question I’ve been grappling with since I finished reading The Coyotes of Carthage yesterday.

Andre marvels, watching a kid, a stranger of maybe sixteen, pinch another wallet. This lift makes the kid’s fifth, at least that Andre’s seen this morning–two on the train, two on the underground platform, and now this one on the jam-packed escalator that climbs toward the surface. The kid’s got skills, mad skills. He makes his lift and keeps on moving. There. Right there. The kid picks up another, his sixth, with the practiced grace of a ballerino, this time the mark, some corporate chump, probably a lobbyist, with slicked-back hair and a shit-eating grin. No one suspects a thing, and why should they? This kid blends in, looks like a prep-school student–and , who knows, perhaps he is–his aesthetic complete with a bookbag, khakis, and a dog-ered copy of de Tocqueville tucked beneath his arm. The kid reminds Andre of himself at that age–lean, hungry, steel eyes with smooth skin–but Andre concedes that he never possessed this kid’s talent.

Aboveground the kid disappears into the big-city bustle, and Andre thinks, Good for you, li’l man. Go in peace. For sure, the kid has plenty of places to hide. Northwest this morning is a mess: snowy, busy, noisy, the perfect urban jungle in which to flee. Andre works around the corner, and a lifetime ago, his family made a home inside a boarded-up rathole six blocks over. Andre has, in fact, loved in the District his entire life, thirty-five years save a stint across the river, two years in juvie for a grift gone bad on a nearby street. Seventeen years ago, when he left kiddie correctional, he never imagined he’d work on K Street, or that he’d own a walk-in closet full of three-piece suits, and the sudden realization, that he might lose it all, cuts like shards of glass crushed into the lining of his stomach.

Dre, our main character in this exceptionally fine debut novel by Steven Wright, isn’t necessarily likable, but he is understandable, and really, that’s the key with unlikable and unpleasant characters: as long as the reader can understand and empathize with an unlikable character, they will come along for the ride and may even root for that character. (As I like to say, the best note on character I was ever given by an editor when I was writing an unlikable character: even Hitler loved his dogs. ) The key is to find their humanity, and even when the character is doing unlikable things, you won’t lose the reader. It’s a skill set to be sure, but Steven Wright does this extremely well in a debut novel, and that’s really saying something.

Dre is a Black man who works for a political consulting firm in Washington, and one who is very good at what he does. He went overboard on his last assignment and almost blew a slam-dunk election, so his job is in jeopardy and if he weren’t being mentored by one of the founding partners of the firm, he would definitely be out already. Instead, he is given a punishment assignment: to get an initiative passed in a rural backwoods South Carolina county that really isn’t in the best interests of the local electorate but rather that of a large corporation who will poison everything in the county but will inevitably suck it dry of its resources and then leave behind nothing but wreckage. Dre comes from a broken home and has a brother who was also an addict; as teens they were small-scale dealers in order to survive and a deal gone horribly wrong put Dre into juvie. But he came out of juvie determined to go on the straight and narrow and build a life for himself…so politics seemed like a natural place for him to go.

But now in his mid-thirties, his life is crumbling around him: he has self-destructed his career; his fiancee has just dumped him for another man; his brother has ALS and he’s having to pay for his care as well as support his brother’s caregiver/girlfriend; and he’s questioning the decisions he’s made throughout his life to bring him to this place where he is now stuck in a backwoods redneck part of South Carolina running a campaign with no staff other than a rather sweet young intern–who turns out to be his mentor’s grandson. This election is a microcosm of everything that is currently wrong with our political system, and its deep cynicism; and Dre is having to face all of that, along with questioning what he is doing with his life for money, while his world continues to crumble around him.

All of the characters, while seen through Dre’s cynical eyes, are well-developed and well-rounded and completely believable; he sees very clearly their worth and their value and yet is incapable, because of who he has become through this cynical work, of connecting with any of them because of his own loss of humanity. This ballot initiative, so important for him to win if he wants to keep his job, is symbolic of his life; what do you do when you realize that not only have your sold your soul, but it may be too late to buy it back?

I greatly enjoyed this book from start to finish, and it’s a very powerful debut. It says a lot about humanity, the state of politics in this country, and the influence of dark money and how that has further corrupted an already corrupt system. But Dre’s search for his own humanity, his dark night of the soul, is what drives this strongly written story, and through Dre, requires the reader to do the same. The book offers no answers, of course; because those answers have to come from us.

What cost freedom?

Invisible String

Labor Day morning, and I feel rested. I’ve not felt this good in quite some time, frankly–I am sure ignoring my emails and staying away from social media over the course of the long weekend has something to do with that, indubitably–and now I am having my morning coffee and slowly coming alive. May as well enjoy it while I can, since tomorrow I have to get up unbearably early, but we only have one clinic day this week and it’s also a four-day work week, so maybe it won’t be so bad on my physically.

I worked on the book for a little while yesterday; not very much, not nearly as much writing as needed to be done over the long weekend–which is inevitably always the lament, is it not? But getting rest–both physical and mental–is also inevitably necessary and a necessity. I did manage to not only finish reading Little Fires Everywhere over the course of the weekend, but I also finished The Coyotes of Carthage (which will be getting its own entry eventually) and started reading Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is not only extraordinary but nothing like I was expecting–and I was also going in blind, knowing nothing about the book other than I had read his earlier novel A Head Full of Ghosts and really enjoyed it. It features and centers, for example, a happily married gay couple and their adopted child; didn’t see or expect that coming. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I certainly don’t want to give anything away, I am already planning on spending some more time with it today. Reading is such an escape (always has been) and a pleasure for me my entire life; I never really understand what it’s like for people who don’t read, or who don’t like to read–its so outside of my own experience I’m not sure I could ever understand choosing not to read.

The work I did on the book yesterday, while not a lot, was also quite good work, and I am certain that the rising quality of this novel I am writing has everything to do with the high quality of what I am reading these days. I mean, between Matt Ruff, Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay, one really cannot go wrong, can one? I’ve also come to understand that my deadlines–while arbitrarily set–are also set up to maximize time, and are also predicated on the idea that I can actually have the energy–both physical and creative–to do good work every day. I’m not sure that I can anymore–not sure that I ever could–but the mindset is the key, and I know after seeing clients for eight hours, I really don’t have the bandwidth to write anymore the way I used to; which inevitably, I am sure, has something to do with the malaise this current world in which we live has created. Malaise is probably not the right word; depression is probably closer to what I really mean–there’s this weird depressive thing going on in my subconscious that makes macro issues I would ordinarily blow off or ignore or brush off much more micro and much more draining on me.

So, what is a writer to do in these days? Self-care, as I have noted before, is more important than ever. I am going to use the massage roller this morning, and possibly do some stretching exercises as I get ready to face this day–I intend to write today; it’s been lovely dipping my toe into it most of the weekend but I really need to dive into the pool today–and I’d also like to get some more cleaning done at some point. There are electronic files to sort as well, and filing to be done; floors to be cleaned and laundry to fold; all the endless minutiae I always intend to keep up with as I go but inevitably push the back of the priority list and do nothing about until they reach a point like the one they are at now: a literal mess that requires more focused work than ordinarily they would. And while my energies are frequently scattered…I have found that the binge reading I’ve been doing has done a lot to create a sort of inner peace that I’ve been missing lately. I also think I’ve sort of been in mourning about the loss of football season–yes, I know they are going to try to have a season, but it’s not a real season and thus not the same thing; this will be the first year since 2010 that Paul and I have not gone to at least one game in Tiger Stadium–but at the same time, that has also freed up my weekends. My goal for this week is to read a short story a day, as well as a chapter or two per day of whatever book I am currently reading–I suspect I may finish the Tremblay today, it’s that good and that unputdownable–as well as to do some stretches every morning after I get up and before I take my shower. I think regimenting my days into a sort of routine–since I clearly love routines when I can manage to stick to them–is perhaps the smartest way to go.

We watched the new episode of The Vow last night, and it’s getting more and more chilling the deeper into the series we go; I’m glad it’s currently not binge-able, because watching one episode per week makes it more easily digestible. They are doing a most excellent job as well of showing how attractive NXIVM was; a lot of the things they talk about, when it comes to taking responsibility for yourself and changing your mentality and behavior to become more successful, sounds like practical advice you can apply to improve your life–but there’s certainly a dark side to the whole thing. Last night’s episode, which brought up the branding and master/slave “sorority” within the organization, was positively chilling.

We also started watching the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, Raised by Wolves, which is extraordinary. We watched all three episodes that were made available immediately, and it’s quite an accomplishment; it looks very expensive, with no expense spared on production design and special effects. The story itself is also interesting, if a bit hard to understand to begin with; it’s set in 2145, and Earth has been ravaged to the point of becoming unlivable because of a religious war, between Mithraic religion (worship of the sun) and atheists. Since Earth was becoming uninhabitable, both sides launched space ships to another Earth-like planet to save humanity; and it gets a lot more complicated from there. It’s a very high-concept show, and I am curious to see how it all plays out going forward. If you’re a science fiction fan, I’d recommend it; I don’t know if people who generally don’t watch sci-fi would like it as much–I could be wrong. I would have never guessed, for example, that Game of Thrones would have become the cultural phenomenon that it was.

And I still haven’t decided what short stories to focus on writing, although I am leaning towards “After the Party”, “The Flagellants”, “Waking the Saints”, “Please Die Soon,” and “He Didn’t Kill Her.”

And on that note, tis back into the spice mines with me.

Radiophonic

And somehow, another week is finished and here it is, Friday morning again.

This was a good book week–Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; Lot by Bryan Washington (Lammy winner); The Chill by Scott Carson; The Zimmerman Telegram By Barbara Tuchman; The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright; and If It Bleeds by Stephen King all are now in my hot little hands, and while I really didn’t need more books (as I will never finish all the ones I have on hand) I had points that were expiring and the only place they were valid where I had any use for them was the Evil Empire, much as I hate to give them anything–but they also didn’t cost me anything, so there’s that–thank you, credit card points. I’ve been wanting to read the Ng for awhile, and having greatly enjoyed the television adaptation, I am really looking forward to the book. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Lammy winner for Best Novel, Scott Carson is the name Michael Koryta is using now to write horror, and of course, one can never go wrong with Stephen King and Barbara Tuchman. The Steven Wright is a debut, and my friend Laura highly recommended it to me; now I need to finish the Woolrich so I can move on to some of these.

It’s truly unbearable how far behind I am on reading, and there’s nothing worse than being too tired (or exhausted) to read.

Perhaps this weekend, I shall have the time to get everything–oh, who am I trying to fool? I’ll get done this weekend what I have the energy to get done. I need to finish revising my Sherlock story, which I haven’t looked at this week, and of course the Secret Project glares at me from its file folder balefully every time I sit at my desk. I’m hopeful that since I’ve been relatively healthy all week–still drinking the electrolytes and the water every day carefully–that this weekend will be restful enough to give me the ability to power through everything, and head into next week fresh, happy and rested, while feeling powerful from getting everything done. It’s also a short week leading into a three-day weekend, which is even more lovely.

I cannot really decide what to read tonight for Queer Noir at the Bar. I don’t really get the opportunity to read from my work; and while on the one hand it’s lovely to do so, on the other it’s always quite stressful for me; and doing it on-line means that I can literally see myself doing it. I generally prefer not to spend much time looking at myself, and of course, on-line means it’s usually recorded and I loathe the sound of my voice. It’s strange, and I do think that once someone hears me speak the lightbulb goes on and, without me having to explicitly state it, most people tend to know I’m gay. That’s not why I don’t like my voice–I am gay, after all, and why not make it easy for others, after all; personally, I think my voice sounds strange. It’s deep, in a lower register, yet somehow high-pitched at the same time–like it cannot make up its mind which tone it wants to be, which probably doesn’t make sense because I don’t have a strong grasp of vocal terminology and cannot explain it more clearly. I also am always terrified I am going to make a poor showing of it; that people in the (virtual) audience will be clearing their throats, shifting in their seats, taking a drink or doing anything to help make the time pass so this hellish experience will end.

I feel like I slept well last night, and hopefully that rested feeling I am experiencing right now will last throughout the day and through the reading tonight. I also am a bit groggy this morning–I could have stayed in bed easily for another few hours at the very least, but I was also awake and Scooter was hungry and thirsty so I went ahead and got up. It’s weird looking outside again this morning–I guess the Saharan Dust Storm is here; I got an emergency alert about it yesterday, which explains the weird conditions out there and why I feel like I am smelling dust this morning.

Last night we started watching season one of Titans, on DC Universe. I had already watched it about a year or go or whenever it was originally current; Paul hadn’t, and since I didn’t really remember a whole lot about what happened and the story, I figured we needed something to watch and I wanted to watch the second season, so I may as well go ahead and watch it again. I like it; I think it’s very well done, fairly decently acted, and the production values are quite good. It’s also an excellent “origin” story for the Titans team; they were my favorite when I was a kid reading comic books back when they were the Teen Titans, which was kind of a junior version of Justice League only for the sidekicks. Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad were key members–eventually they started adding members who weren’t actually sidekicks for main heroes, and eventually they evolved into simply the Titans. Robin/Nightwing is probably one of my favorite heroes, and the young man they’ve cast to play him in the show is perfect for the part. He’s now ex-Robin on the show, and hasn’t evolved into Nightwing yet; I’m really looking forward to seeing Nightwings’s costume debut. Jason Todd, who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin, is also a character on the show–not a part of the regular cast, but someone who shows up now and again, and he’s just as big a dick on the show as he was in the comics back in the day.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.