Of Thee I Sing

This is a weird 4th of July for me.

It’s always been a strange holiday for me, having grown up as an outsider drenched in Americana and taught American mythology rather than US history. (The more I use the word American to describe things that really only involve the US the less comfortable I am with it, particularly as I grow older. It’s simply a shorthand, obviously, for the much more awkward “US citizens,” but its use erases the fact that Canadians, Mexicans, and those from Central and South America are also Americans, and others them to US citizens. USAmericans also is an awkward construction. And can people of non-indigenous descent have a right to call themselves Americans in the first place? Once you start parsing, it’s a bottomless well.) It isn’t really our nation’s birthday, either–it’s Independence Day; the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Our actual national birthday is the date the Constitution was ratified and we actually became the United States from the thirteen colonies–and after the British defeat at Yorktown and the Peace of Paris, we actually were thirteen independent states in a loose alliance with each other for self-protection, and it was entirely possible those states might not have ever unified into a single nation. That was the real miracle of our nation’s founding–that, and the fact that thirteen disunited colonies who agreed on very little somehow took on the largest and most powerful global empire the world have ever seen and managed to defeat them–without checking I cannot be entirely sure, but it might be the only war the British Empire lost before it’s post-World War II collapse.

So, this year’s celebration is a bit muted. We are losing our freedoms and our rights–losing them to a bizarre political coalition that claims they are the real Americans, what they believe is the only way to believe and/or think about politics and the country, who scream and whine and protest about their freedoms and their liberties as cover for the fact they want to steal the freedoms and liberties–and citizenship–of people who do not agree with them. We have a “supreme court” that uses the Constitution, and almost 250 years of precedent and decided law, to wipe their asses with because it doesn’t really fit their vision of a theocratic nation ruled by a minority that forces the majority to put up with their bullshit because they have gerrymandered, legislated, and ruled in such a way as to entrench their power. This has happened before, of course–it always has happened before (which is why our lack of interest and education about our short national history is so deliberately encouraged; so we won’t learn from the mistakes of the past)–and I feel like we are living in a situation very similar to that in which the country was in between 1850 and 1861: an extremely loud and belligerent minority had been controlling and running the country since almost the beginning, in defense of a completely indefensible belief that it was okay for white Americans to either own people with differently hued skin, or to kill them with impunity. The slavery supporters had packed the Supreme Court with their supporters, and the compromises over the admissions of MIssouri and Kansas to the union were fraught because the slave states saw they were in danger of being outnumbered and thus losing their hold on the government.

And now this illegitimate body currently sitting on our highest court–deciding law for a majority even though most of them were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote–has started legislating from the bench under the guiding conservative principle that “it’s for each state to decide”–abortion rights, same sex marriage, racial equality, etc.

Because that worked so well with slavery?

The entire point of a federal, centralized government is to have the final say on law and rights; the Constitution also makes it very clear that the laws of one state should be honored by the others. But the framers of the Constitution also knew that there would be times when one state’s laws would come into conflict with another’s, and the federal government would have to decide which law was Constitutional–as they both might or might not be; but the idea was the law that restricted or prohibited rights more would be the one thrown out. This balancing act, naturally, was already in trouble because of slavery; a free state could not be forced to recognize the property rights laws of a slave state, and a slave state would never recognize the laws of a free state that outlawed slavery outright. The conflict and battle between states’ rights and the Federal government was baked into the document from the beginning, because the Southern states refused to give up their right to own people in a nation that was predicated on freedom and equality of all men.

The notion that a state like Texas could criminalize abortion (or anything) to the extent they have, and that they expect pro-choice states to not only comply with their laws but turn over documents and accused violators of said law is just the Fugitive Slave Act all over again: conservative states are all about federalism when it comes to enforcing their own laws…but will scream “States’ rights!” to protect their own.

The cognitive dissonance it must require to be a conservative astounds me sometimes.

I’ve spent most of my life with my sex life making me a criminal in almost every state in which I lived. Lawrence v. Texas guaranteed that the government had no right to tell me who I could sleep with and what I could do in my bedroom with that consenting adult. I remember the day that decision came down; it was something I never thought I would see in my own lifetime. One of the things I was trying to recapture (am trying to recapture, really) in “Never Kiss a Stranger” is that sense of criminality; of how it felt to be a sexual outlaw; how every time you went into a gay bar you knew there was a chance the place would be raided by the police–or that every time you left a gay bar you were in danger from the police until you made it safely home. It wasn’t something conscious you’d think about back in those days, but it was always there in the back of your mind. Gay bars inevitably (with the exception of the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Castro on San Francisco, West Hollywood, and the village, among others) were in a sketchy part of town, and often they were own by the Mob for money-laundering purposes. The marriage between the gay bars and the Mob was an uneasy one, of course–a marriage of convenience. The Mob needed to launder their money, bars are an excellent way to do so, and the Mob could also pay off the cops to prevent raids–a corruption-go-round, if you will. (Gay bar raids inevitably wound up being extortion for corrupt cops to get more bribe money from the mob…this weird marriage between criminals–gay men and the Mob–is something I want to explore in fiction more. And the police, for the record, have never been friends or allies to my community; quite the obverse, in fact.)

I should make a note to reread this next year on the 4th of July. Will things be better or worse? My money’s on worse.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Edge of Seventeen

Just like the white winged dove….

Sing it, Stevie!

So I managed to get some writing done yesterday–not only did I get some writing done yesterday but it actually flowed; it wasn’t nearly as painful or forced as it has been when I’ve been writing lately, which is lovely. I also read for a little while yesterday; I am moving into the final act of The Savage Kind and am really enjoying it; I hated put it aside yesterday when my allotted reading time had finally run out. I slept very well last night–didn’t want to get up this morning, or more precisely, didn’t want to get out of bed which felt unusually comfortable to me this morning–but I do feel well rested. I am working at home today, which is nice–I really don’t want to go out into the heat–but things change. We watched the first few episodes of Condor last night–it’s not bad, a more modern-day version of Three Days of the Condor, which was one of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival movies during the pandemic–and I do feel relaxed this morning….probably because I am still in denial about everything I have to do and get done.It just keeps building….

My anger has finally cooled over the so-called “supreme court” rulings of last week; but I still have a lot of righteous indignation and outrage left that can easily be fanned into red-hot flames. Louisiana, of course, had just passed its very own trigger law, which our piece-of-shit governor signed. Of course, my own rights will soon be overturned by this joke of a court; as I tweeted on Friday, “Somewhere in hell Roger Taney is smiling because his supreme court may no longer be the worst in our history.” I mean, when you are passing out rulings that are about on the same level as Dred Scott, you really should sit back and reflect on your life choices. It’s bad enough we have four perjurers on the court along with a sexual harasser, a probable rapist, and a woman whose religion has brainwashed her into a Stepford wife–someone on Twitter said yesterday “if the founding fathers could see us now they’d say ‘You let Catholics on the court?'” I love to point out that despite all evangelical claims that this is a Christian country, they never specify which brand of Christianity they mean. Pentecostal? Quaker? Lutheran? Catholic? Missouri Synod? Latter Day Saints? No two sects of Christianity agree on anything; it was precisely this division of belief within the same theoretical faith that led to centuries of war and oppression in Europe, and the very American standard of the separation of church and state. You also have to remember that originally nearly every colony since the Europeans decided they were taking over this continent from its natives followed a different sect: Maryland was Catholic; Massachusetts Puritan; Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams upon the very principle of religious freedom and became a haven for persecuted religious minorities; Virginia was Episcopal; and so on. Christianity isn’t a monolith where everyone believes the same thing–they can’t even agree on the basic principles of their religion or how to pray or who can preach or teach.

Although they do all have the symbolic cannibalism ritual–but again, all different versions.

But the “supreme court” has a long and tragic history of incredibly bad and damaging rulings–see Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Citizens United, etc.

There’s another Alabama story brewing inside my head–you know, that non-stop creative ADHD thing I have going–about a small town in Corinth County trapped and controlled by it’s radical fundamentalist religion. I know I had the idea for the town years ago–it’s called Star of Bethlehem–but this idea for using that town is vastly different than the original one I had (in which the town’s water supply was deliberately tampered with as a corporate experiment in which the townspeople began developing strange abilities; I can still make that work into this–imagine a small remote town in the grips of a maniacal controlling religious sect where this happens; are these miraculous abilities a gift from God or the work of the devil? Which, really, was kind of the point of the superb mini-series Midnight Mass) but it keeps nagging at me as I sit down to work on other things. I scribbled some notes in my journal last night while watching Condor–again, it’s an interesting modern take on the original story–and so we’ll see how it goes.

I also started writing Mississippi River Mischief yesterday. I was going back and forth, wondering how to open the book, and finally just decided to say fuck it and start writing it. I wrote 173 words on it, which while not much is certainly something. Hopefully after work today I can work on it some more. I’ve started figuring it out a bit more–I already know who the victim is, I already know what’s going to be going on in Scotty’s life during the course of this book–but there’s all kinds of things left for me to get figured out. But–as with every Scotty book–I usually tend to just jump into it headfirst and see what happens.

So, all in all, a relatively productive weekend and very few regrets. I still have a ridiculous amount of work to do, but…progress is all that matters and I refuse to allow myself to get stressed out.

And on that note, it’s Data Entry time. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader. Hope we all have a better week this time around.

Rock a Little

Well, here we are on Saturday after a rage-infested Friday during which my anger burned with the white hot heat of a dozen burning suns. I somehow managed to get things done–the world keeps turning, no matter how shitty whatever is going on that day might be–and yet succumbed to the need to rage-tweet and retweet; Twitter is such a horrible place and it just feeds on itself.

The other day I was talking about #shedeservedit and why I wasn’t entirely comfortable promoting the book–but the abomination of the ‘supreme court’ and its rulings of this past week have completely changed my position about that entirely. I am very glad that I wrote that book, because part of its story also addresses the need for legal abortion. YES I AM PRO-CHOICE AND I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, even when I was a child. I remember when the Roe decision originally came down; I was twelve years old, and everyone was talking about it. My sister wrote an anti-abortion piece for our high school newspaper, so I knew where she came down on the issue; my parents never really talked about it but I felt pretty safe in assuming, based on their upbringing and their faith, where they came down on the issue. It seemed kind of wrong to me, but the more I read about it and the more I understood the position of those who argued in favor of it, the more I came around to the pro-choice side. No one should have to carry a child to term against their will, period. I don’t know why that is so difficult for so many men to understand or grasp; if men could get pregnant Planned Parenthood would have drive-thru service. And the right to privacy these judicial activists just struck down? The ripples of government intervention into personal life choices that are none of the government’s or anybody else’s decisions is the epitome of government intervention and overreach that conservatives are always screaming about. The abominable sexual predator Clarence Thomas* even specifically named other decisions regarding privacy and government overreach he felt were ‘wrongly decided.’ Hey, if I was married to one of the biggest traitors in American history this side of Benedict Arnold I’d probably have all the seats and keep my mouth shut, but you do you, predator.

Sigh. I’ll probably never stop being angry about this.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I did my day job duties. I also took a short break to go wash and vacuum out my car (I finally found a do-it-yourself car wash that is easy to get to); I also got my brake tag renewed, which was marvelous. (It expired during the shutdown of 2020, and there were no places open to have it done. Naturally, I forgot all about it until a conversation at the office the other day.) I don’t have to worry about that again until 2024. I also picked up the mail and came back home to do more work. After my work duties were finished, I made three binders for working projects–yes, this is something that I do. I print out every draft, three hole punch it, and put into a three-ring binder used specifically for that purpose. I had recently emptied out the binder for A Streetcar Named Murder, and so I am reusing that one of Mississippi River Mischief. I also made a new one for Chlorine, one for “Never Kiss a Stranger ” (and the other novellas), and one for another project I am slowly but surely working on for some reason that doesn’t really make sense to me; someone has shown an interest in it and so I am writing it when I can’t make any progress on what I am currently focused on working on. Today I have an eye appointment in Metairie at noon; I’m debating as to whether to donate books to the library today to get the boxes out of the living room before heading out there. I am probably going to treat myself to Atomic Burger on the way home–I was thinking Sonic, but I’ve not had Atomic Burger since pre-pandemic times so that sounds like more of a treat for me than going to Sonic. (it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve had Five Guys…)

We watched this week’s episode of The Boys last night (thoroughly enjoyed the season finale of Obi-wan Kenobi the night before) before catching another episode of Loot (seriously, Maya Rudolph is killing it on this show; one of the best female comedy performances since Veep–she and Jean Smart will be definitely fighting it out for the Emmy this year, and the entire cast is actually quite good. Very sharp comedic writing, as well, and then once we were caught with that we moved on to First Kill, which we are still enjoying, weird as it is. I also want to spend some time today with The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver–it’s quite wonderful–before I head out to the burbs. (I also laundered the bed linens and got caught up on the dishes as well.) I do want to finish reading it this weekend, so I can find out where it’s going and enjoy every page as well as to move on to my next read before Pride Month runs out. I have all these marvelous books just collecting dust here in the Lost Apartment, and just begging to be read.

On that note, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee and head over to the easy chair with my book before I have to start getting ready to head out to the eye appointment. Have a great Saturday, and remember–channel your rage into action. To quote Game of Thrones, “there is no justice in this world unless we make it.” I intend to spend the rest of my life, as I have spent so much of it already, fighting for justice. I’d kind of hoped that I wouldn’t have to anymore, but letting your guard down just gives the Fascists an opportunity to regroup.

“Henceforth I shall only refer to him in this manner, just as Kavanaugh will always be “the rapist Brett Kavanaugh.”

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

Mr. Bojangles

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am kind of excited about the weekend if I am being honest. It’s nice, for one thing, to be able to sleep in a bit this morning and tomorrow; I do have some things to do today (one is doing something personal for myself; along the lines of important self-care) and of course, I am doing an on-line interview with Spirit of Ink’s Jaden Terrell as well (she’s actually quite lovely, too; I can’t believe how many years I’ve known her now). Tomorrow I have to probably go run some errands–I am hoping after my interview today I will make it to the gym, after which I will come home to curl up with Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages with an eye to finishing it. It really is good, y’all; I hate that it’s taking me so damned long to get it done, really. I also have some other blog posts I need to finish and post–I’ve got to stop starting blog entries and then not finishing and saving them as drafts and then never going back and finishing and/or posting them; every time I go to the draft page here those unfinished entries reproach me, and they’re getting MEANER the more time goes by. Like I really need to be shamed and mocked by unfinished blog posts?

Bastards, really.

So, as I mentioned, we finished watching Minx earlier this week. I had started this during my festival widowhood, had some initial issues with it (still kind of have those original issues, to be fair) but somewhere around the third or fourth episode the show hit its stride and I started to really enjoy it. (It’s also a stark reminder that women had little to no rights less than fifty years ago, and thanks to the fuckhead judicial activists on the “supreme Court”–which should now always be put in quotes as the fucking joke it actually is, as well as supreme should henceforth be in all lower-case–those rights are about to be taken away in the service of an incredibly anti-American authoritarian agenda by the party of “small government”…yeah) The premise behind the show is simple: an ardent feminist and journalist wants to launch a new magazine for feminists called The Matriarchy Awakens (yes, that is actually what she is calling it) while working the subscription line at a magazine for teen girls. She believes that women–once they are aware of what feminism is really about–want and need such a magazine, to enlighten them about their own oppression and to learn more about their own power and equality. The show opens with her going to a weird fair where magazine companies take pitches for new magazines (is this something that really used to happen?) and of course, none of the old white men take her seriously or see anything of potential in her magazine. While she is waiting to go inside, she meets a pig of a man who actually produces porn magazines…long story short he offers to publish her magazine with the catch that she needs photo spreads of nude male models inside–“why shouldn’t a woman get to look at a dong if they want to?” Naturally, she is horrified…and then the Burt Reynolds issue of Cosmopolitan comes out and she realizes that it could, indeed, be empowering for women to look at naked men–but the editorial content will have a very strong feminist bent, and that empowering female sexuality should also be a part of feminism. As I mentioned in my earliest commentary on the show, I disliked the trope of the uptight feminist woman who needs to loosen up and enjoy herself–and her own sexuality–more; but it was handled a lot better than I thought it would be; it wasn’t the tired old “she just needs to get laid” thing. There are also a lot of male dongs shown in this; I wasn’t expecting the parade of penises as they look for their first centerfold–but there was nothing salacious or even erotic about the dongs on this show; they were just…dicks. But the show continued to improve with each episode, and it–along with Physical, which we didn’t finish–is a stark reminder of just how shitty it was to be a woman in this country back then (somewhat better now, but not even remotely close to where it needs to be, frankly).

It also made me think it would be interesting to see a documentary about how Playgirl got started and its journey over the years until it finally ceased publication. (I have an idea about a noirish type thriller set in the 1970’s about the struggle against prohibitions on porn called Obscenity, which is part of what I call The Chlorine Quartet.)

We also started watching The Offer last night, which is about the making of The Godfather, from the point of view of producer Albert Ruddy. I knew a lot of this material already–Mario Puzo had already documented the writing and selling of the book, and then the making of the movie, in a long-forgotten book called The Godfather Papers back after the movie was released and hailed as an instant classic; which included his memories, diary entries, and correspondence. I read the book (I mean The Godfather) when I was about eleven or twelve years old; I don’t really remember. My father had the paperback edition with the black cover and the white print, with the image of the hand holding the puppeteer’s strings, and I also recall one summer while visiting relatives in the South one of my cousins had a copy that had all the “dirty parts” dog-eared–so I had read about Lucy Mancini’s bizarre vagina problems before I actually sat down and read the book. I’ve been meaning to go back and reread it; it’s been called a turgid potboiler melodrama, trash, you name it–but if nothing else, it was a really good read. Obviously this is one of the cases where the film was better than the book, and I’ve been meaning to watch the movies again at some point, but it’s such a time commitment…

We also got caught up on this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which is twisted and bizarre. I’ve never read the book, despite being a fan of Jon Krakauer, so I don’t know where this is going, and I am very tempted to go back and read the book now.

I slept well last night (as I am sure some of you are wondering about; like anyone really cares whether I can sleep or not) and so feel pretty good this morning. I have a lot of things to get done around here before my appointment at 11:15–the sink is full of dishes; the dishwasher is also full with clean dishes to put away; I am doing laundry; and at some point the trash needs to be taken out–and of course I need to make lists so I know what all I have to get done over the course of this weekend.

Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I’d best head into the spice mines and make another cup of coffee. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader.

I Don’t Know How to Love Him

Tuesday morning, up again before sunrise and heading back into the office for the first time since last Monday. Yesterday was a good working at home day; I managed to get quite a bit accomplished and even managed to get Scooter (the Lost Apartment certainly feels like the Lost Apartment again now that the cat is back and in full-throated you’re not paying enough attention to meeeeeeeee mode again) and the mail and even made a bit of groceries as well (I forgot things, of course, which means stopping on the way home from the office tonight, hurray) which is nice; I also made a very (relatively) thorough to-do list for me to work on for the rest of the week. I also finished a (very) rough first draft of the short story, which I am going to let sit for a day or so before marking up the fuck out of it before turning it in. I also spent some more time with Carol Goodman’s quite marvelous The Lake of Dead Languages, which really is magical–I don’t know how she manages that melancholy Gothic tone she pulled off in this book, but it’s really a master class–before making dinner and collapsing into my easy chair.

It did feel good to get the draft of the story done. It was at 2300 or so words, and now it is sitting at about 5500; and some of the original 2300 bit the dust, so I managed to write maybe about 4000 words yesterday in a couple of hours? It’s good to know that I can still do that I suppose; that’s always a part of the malaise I experience whenever I finish writing something major–the fear that the ability to write will go away in the future and can no longer be counted on. But it felt really good to write yesterday–when will I ever learn that writing, or rather, forcing myself to actually sit down and do it–always is the best way for me to alleviate stress. It’s the not writing that inevitably is at the root of all my anxieties and stress, and actually writing–no matter how bad the thing I am writing might be–always makes me feel better, always centers me, and is always the best cure for whatever ails me at any time. The secret is to write, of course, always.

Bearing that in mind, of course after I get home this evening I should spend some time writing before spending some more time with the Goodman before shutting my brain off and watching television. Paul and I started watching Minx–I’d only watched the first few episodes before stopping–and those earlier episodes were much funnier the second time around; but I think there’s still some issues I have with the show’s depiction of the main character, but I know I’m enjoying the show a lot more this time around. than I did the first time I tried to watch. I just have an issue with the entire trope of the fierce woman with no sexual experience (or much to speak of, at any rate) finally learning the joys of a vibrator or having really good sex to “lighten” up her point-of-view; the show really leans into the idea of the angry feminist trope and all the baggage that comes with it. On the other hand, it was an incredibly sexist and misogynist period (spousal rape was still considered not a crime at the time this show is set), and as the Supreme Court leak from yesterday showed…misogyny runs deep in this country. (I am still too filled with rage to go down that particular path right now, but I am deeply, deeply, furious about this prospective ruling.) But I like the show overall; and it’s good to have a reminder of just how fucking bad things used to be as a reminder of what the right wants us to return to…

I’ve also started looking over my story this morning and the opening is actually…not bad. Maybe this story isn’t going to need nearly as much work as perhaps I may have thought. This is, naturally, very exciting.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader–I’ll check with you again tomorrow.

(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.

Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

faking of the president cover

 

The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!

Talk to Me

I slept well last night, yet am still tired this morning; it’s the summer malaise, no doubt. It’s weird for me to drive around the city and still see hordes of tourists gamboling around; at this time of year New Orleans used to become a ghost town, locals fleeing the heat and humidity to beach houses (if they had them) and those who could not leave staying inside in the air conditioning as much as possible. It still concerns me, more than a little bit, that just going out into the heat on two separate occasions this weekend and then going to a dinner party on Monday had done such a thorough job of draining and depleting my energy, not to mention made it so difficult for the batteries to recharge. But I only have two days in the office next week before my 4th  of July based vacation; here’s hoping that somehow I’ll be able to get rested and manage to get things done in the meantime.

I spent nine hours yesterday testing in the CareVan; it was National HIV Testing Day and as usual, the day job partnered with Walgreens stores all over New Orleans for us to reach out and test people who might not otherwise get tested. I wasn’t, frankly, too thrilled about doing anything Walgreens-related, after the scandalous behavior of the Walgreens pharmacist in Arizona this past week, but as always in this life, one has to compromise one’s principles, and choose the battles one wants to fight. Identifying new HIV positives is my job and my calling; to help them get treatment and medical care so they don’t infect other people as well as so they remain healthy. I’ve seen too much death from HIV in my lifetime to choose moral principles over assisting those who may be in need.

It’s been, frankly, an incredibly tiresome week. First the Walgreens pharmacy nonsense, where a pharmacist was somehow allowed, by the company and the law, to put a person’s life at risk because of his “sincerely held religious beliefs”, to the Kennedy announcement and the other horrific Supreme Court decisions of this past week. I think the combination of spending so much time out in the heat did the physical damage while the other things did the emotional and intellectual draining. I slept well but still feel drained and tired, tired of having to fight, tired of having to stand up and be counted. It sometimes feels like I’ve been fighting–for my right to exist, to be who I am, to be heard–for most of my life.

It’s exhausting.

This blog began during the Bush administration after a truly terrible year that I didn’t know was simply the beginning of a run of a terrible few years; it was a way to get me to start writing again over on Livejournal and was never meant to be anything other than me being able to have a place to record my feelings, my thoughts, my observations. It was therapeutic, and it also helped to vent out a lot of anger about the injustice in the world that I saw every day; whether those injustices directly affected me or whether they did not. As I’ve gotten older I’ve stayed away from politics and policy; either from mellowing with time or just not wanting to waste the energy on arguing about things with, frankly, human garbage. I stay off Twitter most of the time because I already have to take medicine for high blood pressure; the horrible things I see on there often make my blood boil.

But while I continue to refuse to engage with the sewage, that neither makes it go away nor does it put a stop to it, and what I see going on in this country, as filtered through my marginalized gay eyes, is terrifying.

So, going forward, I will still talk about writing and books I love; about New Orleans and writers I admire. I will continue, I will go on. But I am also going to have what used to be called “Julia Sugarbaker moments”–and if that is going to offend your delicate little sensibilities, stop reading my blog and feel free to abandon me on social media.

My next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories was called “Son of a Preacher Man”:

The air was sticky, damp and hot as I carefully slid the screen out of my window. The only sounds in the night was the electrical humming from the street light out in front of my house and the every-present chirping of crickets. Before I climbed through the window, I stuck my head out to see if the light in my parents’ window was still out. They’d gone to bed about an hour before, but better safe than sorry. I’d been sneaking out all summer and they hadn’t caught me once. 

I jumped down into the damp grass and ran as quietly as I could down to the line of trees at the back of our property. I ducked into the trees and walked along the dry creek bed to the little dilapidated wood bridge behind the Burleson house, and sat down with my legs dangling over the side. It wasn’t midnight yet, and Andy was always late. My parents were strict, but his made mine look like—well, I didn’t know what, but something. His daddy was the preacher, and he thought his kids had to set an example for the rest of the Youth for Christ. Andy always had to help serve the Lord’s Supper at least once a week, and instead of playing summer baseball like the rest of us, he spent his summer days working on his grandpa’s farm out in the county. Preacher Burleson was a hard man whose eyes blazed with the power of the Lord who didn’t let his wife or daughters wear make-up or curl their hair.

Andy hated his daddy.

Nobody knew, except me. In front of everyone else, Andy was a good son, never contradicting his daddy, doing what he was told, minding. He studied and got good grades, knew his Bible inside and out, and had never been any trouble. But I was the only one who knew he cribbed cigarettes whenever he had the chance,  could swear like a sailor,  and hated every last adult in Corinth—probably in the whole state of Alabama, for that matter. All he ever talked about was running away, getting the hell out of Corinth, Alabama, the south. He never said where he wanted to go, but I was pretty sure anywhere else would do.

I sat there on the bridge, swatting at mosquitoes and listening to the sounds of the night. August in Alabama was like living in hell, I heard my mama say once, and she was right. The air was like a big hot wet towel pressing down on my moist skin. My armpits were already damp. I dangled my legs over the edge, swinging them like a little kid. My whole summer had revolved around sneaking out at night and meeting Andy. School was going to start in another month, football practice in two more weeks, and then these nights were going to end. I didn’t like to think about that. I wanted to believe that the summer would go on forever, and every night I’d be sneaking out to meet Andy again—

As you can tell, this was also written during that period of time when I was at war with the evangelical right. And what better way to tell them to fuck off than to write a gay erotica story about having sex with the preacher’s son? IN THE FUCKING CHURCH (literally)?

It’s another one of my Corinth stories, like “Smalltown Boy” and so many others I’ve written; even my main character in Dark Tide was from Corinth. But I love the voice of this character; the same voice I’ve used whenever I’ve written a first person short story about teens in that town, and I really think I should write an entire book using that voice.

And now back to the spice mines.

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