Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads

And here we are, Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new week. I am still controlling things with copious amounts of DayQuil–it really works wonders.

I finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Menace” yesterday, and am not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest. It was very strange, and again, like “The Archduchess”, not your typical du Maurier story (if it can be said that there is such a thing as a typical du Maurier story), but I also wasn’t certain how it fit the supposed theme of the stories in The Breaking Point–people pushed to their breaking point, and how they react or behave once they break. But it was an interesting read, and I’m not sorry I read it. I may wait before moving onto the other stories in the collection I’ve not read yet–“The Limpet” and “The Lordly Ones”–because these last two seemed like lesser stories…but it’s also kind of nice to know that du Maurier didn’t always hit it out of the park, too.

Makes me feel a little better about myself, don’t you know.

I also started rereading my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home, which is just as charming, enchanting, and compulsively readable as it was the first time I read it, many many years ago when I was a just a child.

Yesterday was okay, health-wise, for the most part. It comes in waves, it seems, and I dosed myself regularly with DayQuil. At one point yesterday I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and  I could feel my nose starting to run and my temperature starting to go up, so I walked into the kitchen and dosed myself. I started shivering for a moment and then it kicked in and that was that. So, DayQuil, if you’re ever looking for testimonials…you know where to find me. The DayQuil seems to help keep the fever down, and to help with the coughing. There was a slight headache now and again, with several minor dry-coughing fits throughout the day, but no uncontrollable shivering, which for me was really the worst part of it other than feeling off. I am still sticking to my plan of getting tested tomorrow and self-quarantining for the rest of the week–it’s the only thing that makes sense and is responsible. I cannot assume that what I have isn’t the COVID-19 virus, and I cannot put other people at risk (any more than I already have–which is quite a lovely burden to shoulder, I might add). At worst, I’ll exhaust my sick and vacation time staying home for the week; at best, I’m getting better and not getting anyone else sick. I hate the thought that I put people at risk more than anything else, but I also didn’t know, so there’s that–but does that make it any better? Obviously, deliberately infecting people is worse, and now that I’ve been sick, I know better than to go to work every day until I know I don’t have it, or until I know I did have it and have taken the time to get over it completely.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely, but I did feel tired most of the day yesterday. Going up and down the stairs seemed to really tire out my legs. But my breathing seems to still be okay–no tightness in my lungs, no restriction to my breathing–and while there were a couple of dry coughing fits (which go on until my lungs ached), for the most part my respiratory system seems to be functioning properly. So far so good this morning–although I should probably take a shot of DayQuil pretty soon; certainly before my second cup of coffee.

We watched a lot of episodes of Kim’s Convenience last night, which is a really cute and charming show that occasionally takes on some interesting and topical subjects. It’s very well cast, and I think my favorite character is the mom, who is absolutely hilarious. After a few hours spent with the Kims, we decided to try something else, and I remembered that we have Apple TV Plus (yes, we have too many streaming services, and I know I really should take the time some time to sit down and figure out which ones we need and which ones we don’t), and so I clicked over to that app and saw that Stephen Spielberg’s reboot of Amazing Stories was available, so we watched the first two episodes. The show is aptly titles, by the way–it is amazing. The stories are what Harlan Ellison called speculative fiction–that terrific catch-all that covers horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with all the crossovers and gray spaces in between. The first episode dealt with time travel; the second with spirits trapped in limbo, and both were so incredibly well done. The writing and acting and directing were pinpoint sharp; and the production values made it very clear we were watching a Spielberg production. The first starred Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame, and despite being about time travel it never created the paradox issues that usually pop up with time travel and was entirely satisfying at the end, with everything wrapped up beautifully. The ghosts in limbo story was equally emotionally honest and strong, about the bond of love between two young girls of color who were track stars and best friends since they were children, until one dies in a tragic accident. The two episodes were so sharp and strongly written they reminded me of Ellison and one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was filmed as an episode of the mid-1908’s reboot of The Twilight Zone (that remains one of my favorite television episodes of all time as well); I am really looking forward to watching more of Amazing Stories–which reminded me I also pay for CBS All-Access, which means we can also watch Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which is also incredibly cool. It also made me think that the reboots of these shows should do what Rod Serling and the producers of other such shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s did–buy speculative fiction short stories from masters of the genre to film. Goddess knows there are plenty of them around these days.

And now I’m starting to fade a little bit, so I think I am going to repair to my easy chair and take it easy for a while. Have a lovely, and safe, Sunday, Constant Reader!

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Behind Closed Doors

Well, somehow we survived again until Friday. Sometimes survival is the best thing you can actually hope for, you know? Day in, day out, try to keep your head up and try to keep going forward, focusing on task after task until the sun goes down and you can somehow try to get to sleep again, to get up in the morning and get going again

I had to leave work early yesterday because I started feeling not well. It hit me suddenly after ten in the morning; nauseous and a really bad headache and my joints and muscles were so tired they were aching. Naturally, my first thought was oh fuck I’ve got it don’t I and then my second thought was, maybe not. I let my supervisors know, got in the car, and headed home.

 I was exhausted, dehydrated, and having a sinus/allergy thing going on as well. After I got home I napped, off and on, for most of the afternoon. (Bear in mind that I never nap, and I not only was I  literally  in and out of naps from about eleven to six pm, I never nap. Ever. I always envy people who can nap–Paul can nap for like ten minutes and be completely revived; napping always just makes me tired, and always makes it harder for me to go to sleep at night. But yesterday there was no problem whatsoever with that; I sat down in the chair, got my copy of The Breaking Point by Daphne du Maurier out of my backpack, opened it up to the page I had left off on, and Scooter climbed into my lap. I started reading and within a few sentences had dozed off–and continued to doze off and wake up for like six or seven hours. This morning I feel much better–rested, not tired, nothing achy–but I decided that it would be best for me to not go to work and work from home instead. Paul and I both think we had the COVID-19 virus already; we were both fairly sick for about four or five days after the time change; we both thought it was part and parcel of the time change plus the start of sinus/allergy season. Now, we’re not so sure that’s what was wrong with us; and the symptoms we had–with the exception of t the shortness of breath, we pretty much had the symptoms as described–but I read a piece on the Mayo Clinic’s website that pretty much explained that it’s also possible to get an upper respiratory infection (congestion, sinuses, post nasal drip, wet cough) before it moves into the lungs, where the breathing issues come into play and the cough becomes dry. We never reached the lung portion–and it would make sense because I couldn’t understand why the combination of DayQuil and Claritin-D didn’t get rid of the post-nasal drip.

I’m also not 100% positive that you can’t get re-infected, either. So probably best that I stay at home today and do data entry and perhaps work on cleaning out my work emails, which are even more out of control than my personal ones.

 Between naps yesterday I finished reading du Maurier’s “The Archduchess” and started reading the next story in her collection The Breaking Point, which is called “The Menace,” and then we finished watching Tiger King. 

“The Archduchess” is an odd departure from Daphne du Maurier’s usual style and themes. I’m actually kind of curious how she decided to write this story and where it came from; it’s about a fictional small European country named Ronda, and in the story she traces the fall of the royal family of the country and how easy it is for manipulative people with something to gain (in this story, two greedy and ambitious men) can turn public opinion with lies, half-truths, and rumors to stir up a complacent population against their government and the governing system that has been in place for centuries. Ronda was a unique country with some unique properties–spring water that works as a kind of sedative, the royal family holds a secret formula that gives them eternal youth–and while it was an interesting read, again, it’s so weird and so unlike anything else of du Maurier’s I’ve ever read. The dark cynicism was there, of course, and the bleak outlook–the point of the story is how easy it is to convince people to go against their own interests in the name of progress, which may not be progress at all–but it was more of a dark fairy tale or fable than a short story. (Remember, fairy tales in their original form are much darker than the Disney adaptations we are all more familiar with) “The Menace” is also a bit different than the usual du Maurier fare; it’s about an actor, a star, but I’m only a page or so into the story so I don’t know what is going to happen or where the story is going to go.

As for Tiger King…well, it’s a viral smash on Netflix, and everyone seems to be talking about it, which is why we started watching it in the first place. It certainly isn’t something ordinary; and who knew the world of exotic animals was so crazy and competitive and could turn so dark? The real victims in this series are the animals. I don’t know whether Carole Baskin murdered her second husband or not (I am leaning towards “probably”), and I am also not convinced that Joe Exotic conspired to kill  her or was set up–I can see how it could go either way, but everyone involved is a shady person so it’s also entirely possible that both are true. The show certainly held my interest enough to keep watching to see where it would go next, but ultimately I felt bad for the animals. I joked on Facebook that I didn’t want to watch it because I was afraid I’d have “family reunion PTSD and flashbacks”, but having watched now, and remembering things I’ve seen posted on line and comments and so forth, there’s also an element to the show of “pointing and laughing at the uneducated redneck morons”. I’m not entirely sure there was a way of filming this without that coming into play, but it was also shocking to see the poverty and conditions in which some of these people lived. It was also an interesting look at how people can start out with good intentions (I want to save the tigers!) and slowly but surely that becomes subsumed within the person’s ego–it was certainly the case with all of them, including Carole Baskin. Maybe she was portrayed and edited to look like a hypocrite, I don’t know; but she came across very poorly.

Apparently she isn’t happy about how she was portrayed. I’d have been really surprised, actually, if she was happy with how she looked in the show.

And now here it is, quarter to three in the afternoon. I started feeling poorly right after I typed the above sentence, and went back to bed–I’ve now returned to my desk hours later, and my coffee cup, half full,  is still right there to my left. I started shivering as soon I got back in bed–shivering so hard the bed was shaking and it woke up Paul–so I moved downstairs with my blankets and curled up in my easy chair and slept again, on and off, for several hours, dosing myself with DayQuil and Claritin-D. I still don’t feel great, but I do feel better than I did, and I’m not really sure what’s going on with me. Is this a relapse, an initial infection, or something else entirely? I think I am going to have go into quarantine for sure, and see about getting tested at the office on Monday. I didn’t want to  have to go into COVID-19 exile completely, but if that is what this is…I can’t really take any chances on it. I just hope I don’t get Paul sick with whatever this is.

And on that note, now that I sort of am feeling human again, I think I’m going to try to get something done.

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I Will Always Love You

Constant Reader should know by now that one of my favorite writers is Daphne du Maurier. I was a teenager when I first got my hands on a copy of Rebecca, and I have reread the book every few years ever since. Around this same time–I think I was thirteen?–I also got a copy of her short story collection, Echoes from the Macabre, and become forever also enchanted by her story “Don’t Look Now.” These short stories were kind of a revelation to me; I hadn’t read many short stories at this point outside of the ones I had to read for English classes (and quite frankly, forcing teenagers to read “The Minister’s Black Veil”, with all due respect, should be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, as is making them read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), and her mastery of subtlety, and weaving small details that turn out to be hugely important later was one of the things I admired the most about du Maurier. Over the course of the next few years I would return to du Maurier, to read The Flight of the Falcon, Frenchmen’s Creek, The Winding Stair, Jamaica Inn, The King’s General, and Rule Britannia. I didn’t love these other novels as much as I loved (love) Rebecca, but I became an enormous fan of du Maurier and her writing style; I also loved how she subverted tropes and genre expectations with her novels. I also loved that she wrote across a broad range of genres and styles with her work; you never really know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of her novels.

I had gotten a copy of her short story collection The Breaking Point several years ago; it contains some of the same stories as Echoes from the Macabre (“The Pool,” “The Blue Lenses”–bloody fantastic story, and “The Chamois”), and opens with “The Alibi,” which I read as part of the Short Story Project a few years back (was it last year? The year before? Does time have any meaning anymore?) but the other day (was it last week? Two weeks ago? Time has no meaning anymore) when I was talking about “Death in Venice” in reference to du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” and someone asked had I read du Maurier’s “Ganymede”? I had not, so I looked it up and was most delighted to see it was included in The Breaking Point; I just hadn’t gotten into the book far enough, and it is sandwiched between “The Blue Lenses” (which you really must read) and “The Pool”; which explains when I never progressed further in the book, having already read those two stories.

So, having now read both “Don’t Look Now” and “Death in Venice”, I thought it was perhaps time for me to read “Ganymede,” which is the du Maurier tale most often academically associated with “Death in Venice”–but it is very different.

They call it Little Venice. That was what drew me here in the first place. And you have to admit that there is a curious resemblance–at least for people like myself, with imagination. There is a corner, for instance, where the canal takes a bend, fronted by a row of terraced houses, and the water has a particular stillness, especially at night, and hte glaring discordancies that are noticeable during the day, like the noise of the shunting from Paddington Station, the rattle of the trains, the ugliness, all that seems to vanish. Instead…the yellow light from the street lamps might be the mysterious glow you get from those old lanterns set in brackets on the corner of some crumbling palazzo, whose shuttered windows look blindly down upon the stagnant sweetness of a side-canal.

It is, and I must repeat this, essential to have imagination, and the house-agents are clever–they frame their advertisement to catch the eye of waverers like myself. “Two-roomed flat, with balcony, overlooking canal, in the quiet backwater known as Little Venice,” and instantly, to the famished mind, to the aching heart, comes a vision of another two-roomed flat, another balcony, where at the hour of waking the sun makes patterns on a flaking ceiling, water patterns, and the sour Venetian smell comes through the window with the murmur of Venetian voices, the poignant “Ohé!” as the gondola rounds the bend and disappears.

In Little Venice we have traffic too. Not sharp-nosed gondolas, of course, gently rocking from side to side, but barges pass my window carrying bricks, and sometimes coal–the coal-dust dirties the balcony; and if I shut my eyes, surprised by the sudden hooting, and listen to the rapid chug-chug of the barge’s engine, I can fancy myself, with my same shut eyes, waiting for a vaporetto at one of the landing-stages. I stand on the wooden planking, hemmed in by a chattering crowd, and there is a great surge and throbbing as the vessel goes hard astern. Then the vaporetto is alongside, and I, with my chattering crows, have gone aboard and we are off again, churning the water into wavelets with our wash, and I am trying to make up my mind whether to go direct to San Marco, and so to the piazza and my usual table, or to leave the vaporetto higher up the Grand Canal and thus prolong exquisite anticipation.

As Constant Reader knows, I spent a mere twenty-four hours in Venice on our trip to Italy back whenever that was (2014? 2015? Time has certainly ceased to have any meaning), and it was certainly not enough. Our trip was timed beautifully to avoid crowds of tourists I expected to see in Venice, Florence, and Pisa; it wasn’t planned that way but simply worked out for us. We arrived in the city on a bright sunny early afternoon; lugged our bags through the narrow streets to find our hotel, which was a charming family business on a back canal, not far from the Rialto Bridge and a very short walk to the Piazza San Marco. It did turn gray and start drizzling a bit as we walked around exploring the beautiful city, and I was completely enchanted by it; twenty four hours was certainly not enough. I did stand in the Piazza San Marco and say, quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “ah, Venice.”

I’ve also been writing a story set in Venice, which I’ve been wanting to do since I was there–and probably should have done before now. It’s called “Festival of the Redeemer,” and in some ways it’s yet another homage to “Don’t Look Now”, but it is also it’s own story–it was kind of inspired by “Don’t Look Now”, but as I write it it’s become something else entirely. So, I wanted to reread “Don’t Look Now”–and then of course moved on to “Death In Venice,” before coming around to “Ganymede.”

I can see why the latter two stories (“Death in Venice” and “Ganymede”) are academically linked; there are similarities between the stories: two older men coming to Venice on a holiday; the city wasn’t either’s first choice of vacation spot; and soon after their arrival they find themselves obsessed with a beautiful teenaged boy. In the Mann story, his main character is a rather stuffy and pompous author whose successes and literary brilliances have earned him an honorary nobility in Germany; in the du Maurier, he is a classics scholar, an utterly unbearable pretentious snob, and basically a pedophile with a taste for post-pubescent boys. In the Mann story, Aschenbach’s obsession with teenager Tadzio is portrayed as both something noble and pure and beautiful; no lust, nothing impure, nothing to see here; it’s an aesthetic and pure admiration for the young man’s classical and breathtaking beauty, which inevitably leads to Aschenbach’s death because he has become aware of the cholera outbreak but he cannot bear to leave his beautiful young man behind. The story has thus been embraced by academia as a classic–even though the entire story rings with a hollow inauthenticity that renders the entire thing a pointless masturbatory exercise on Mann’s part: by trying to make a bold sentence about aging and death and the pursuit of beauty and love in a pure form, it overlooks the simple, basic thesis that Aschenbach is drooling over the good looks of a fourteen year old. Aschenbach is nothing more than another Humbert Humbert, convinced that his “love” for a child is something noble and pure rather than its tawdry reality.

Du Maurier doesn’t have that same sentimentality and nobility of purpose than Mann apparently had when undertaking his tome; she saw right through it and saw the story for it was, and her pastiche–if it was indeed influenced by the Mann story, and not something she thought up herself–lacks sentimentality and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it actually is: the self-justification of a pedophile for what happened to him in Venice–and the damage his peculiarity of taste causes. But du Maurier’s unnamed narrator (another trick of which du Maurier was fond; not naming her main characters) reads much like Humbert Humbert; he is trying to justify his tastes, predilections, and desires for young boys as something noble–but du Maurier exposes the tawdriness underlying his unsavory tastes. The object of his obsession also goes without name other than Ganymede; which our pedophile starts calling him once he sees him waiting tables in the Piazza San Marco, and is reminded, not only by what he does for a living but by his youthful beauty, of the myth of Ganymede–the only time in Greek mythology in which the beauty of a young man so moved Zeus that he brought him to Olympus, made him divine, and replaced his female cupbearer, Hebe, with him. And so the young man becomes Ganymede in the myth being spun by our narrator.

Nor is our narrator the only villain in this tale; Ganymede’s uncle notes the narrator’s interest in Ganymede and thus prepares to exploit the attraction; one is never certain whether Ganymede himself is in on the scam, or is an unwitting prop in his uncle’s procuring. The story, of course, concludes with a tragedy–most du Maurier tales do–but unlike Aschenbach, our narrator does not die in Venice; but causes the death of his obsession. The story concludes with our narrator back in London, living in his two-room flat in Little Venice, remembering his experience and remembering his Ganymede and the tragedy that ensued…but the story closes with him talking about another young waiter at another restaurant, in this “little Venice”, one who reminds him of Ganymede and the delusions he built up around him; he is doing the same thing with this new shiny object that has crossed his path…it is clearly, as du Maurier makes plain, his pattern.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and while I can see the parallels, as I said, with “Death in Venice”, I feel du Maurier took a more honest and realistic approach to telling her story than Mann did with his. I will reread this story again–its a great story–and will probably dive into some more du Maurier this summer.

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