The 1

November 1st, or All Saints’ Day; which is the perfect day for a Saints game, don’t you think? LSU lost yesterday, badly, and while it was incredibly disappointing to watch, I felt worse for the players. We always forget, regardless of how talented they are, they’re really little more than kids. And since so many starters are either true freshman or sophomores…I think they’ll be really good next year…if they can survive what looks to be a season on par with the late 1990’s. Yeesh.

I am up ridiculously early because of Daylight Savings time; I’d be up early regardless, but I am wide awake and decided, since I have to get up early the next three mornings, that it made sense to go ahead and get up now–one advantage of the so-called “extra hour” (because if 2020 needs anything, it’s more time) is that by not using that hour to get extra sleep, I can recalibrate my body clock to my own advantage for the next few mornings. The sun isn’t up yet completely, but the cutting down of the crepe myrtles next door–many of them, but not all–means that my workspace and kitchen are going to be flooded with a lot more direct sunlight, which is going to make it unbearable in here once it gets hot again; which means I am going to need to do something about window coverings, whether it’s curtains or blinds. We’ll see how much time I have before that becomes a massive priority–hell, it might become one later this morning.

I was still very tired and physically exhausted yesterday. I ran my errands, and then working on cleaning up our side of the house–leaves, branches, debris–and so I watched the LSU game, doing some cleaning and organizing around here in the meantime, and then for Halloween watched House of Dark Shadows on Hulu. I originally saw this movie in the theater–my grandmother, who got me started watching the soap in the first place–took me, and it was a very different take on the Barnabas Collins story. For one thing, there was no redemption of the character; he remained an evil, cruel vampire till the end, when he was killed for his crimes, and he also kind of killed off the entire family, other than Elizabeth and David, by the end. It was straight up more horror than melodrama, and the movie did well enough to inspire a sequel (with none of the same characters or actors), but it really wasn’t as good a story as the redemption of the vampire arc the show did.

I also took the time to read four novellas of Cornell Woolrich, collected together in one volume with the name Four Novellas of Fear (which is really not the best title, as it gives the impression that the novellas are more horror than suspense/crime; which is what they really are). The novellas are all interesting takes, some of which are dated and wouldn’t work today, alas: “Eyes That Watch You”, the first, was my favorite, in which a woman who is completely paralyzed and cannot speak overhears her daughter-in-law and her lover plotting to kill the woman’s son. Unable to communicate and warn him, the crime takes place…and then she becomes determined, somehow, to expose the murderers to the cops and send them to the chair. Great concept, marvelously handled. The next, “The Day I Died,” is about a man who finds out his wife is planning to kill him for the insurance; he comes home early from work and surprises her with the man she has hired to kill him. The hired assassin winds up dead, and the hard-boiled heroine convinces her husband to go through with the plan–they have a ready made corpse whose face they can disfigure and claim it’s suicide. But as he leaves town he runs into a co-worker on the bus…and now he has to kill the co-worker somehow. It’s very noir, very well done–but again, wouldn’t work in a modern setting because of technology and the difficulty of disappearing in the modern world. The third story, “You Won’t See Me Again,” is about a young newly married couple who have an argument, and she walks out–storming home to mother. When she doesn’t return–as he suspects and expects her to, after a day or so–it becomes a missing persons case and of course, the husband is always the prime suspect in those cases. So now he has to find not only the wife he loves to make sure she’s safe, but also to clear her name. It’s yet another story that wouldn’t work in today’s world because of technology, but it’s a charming time capsule. Likewise, “Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is about the slow descent into crime of a person who is broke and desperate and owed money he was cheated out of; rather than confronting the man and asking for his money he decides instead to break into his house and steal it. He’s caught, commits murder, realizes how easy it is to become a criminal, and starts killing people to cover his initial crime….(this is very similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, in which Dame Agatha and Miss Marple also explored the idea that once you’ve killed, it becomes easier to keep killing) and there’s a terrific ironic twist at the end, worthy of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Despite being dated, I enjoyed all four novellas–which were all very distinct and different, and cynical in their own ways. I certainly enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Night Has a Thousand Eyes, that’s for certain, and my own curiosity about Woolrich–who was a gay man, an alcoholic, and horribly unhappy in his personal life–deepened. (Just as watching The Other the other day, and thinking about the author of the book, Thomas Tryon–a closeted gay actor of the 1960’s who turned to writing novels in the 1970’s–reminded me that I had once thought him worthy of a biography, and I still kind of think that way; I just wish I had the time to devote to doing the research and traveling to Connecticut to examine his papers and so forth; he was also the long-time lover of the first gay porn star, Cal Culver, which is also an interesting footnote to his interesting life as well as of gay historical interest.)

I’m trying to decide what to read next, and have narrowed it down to four options (and may choose something else entirely): Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove; Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages (which I may have already read, but I don’t remember finishing it); The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; or The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. I am leaning toward to du Maurier because I am thinking it may be time to finish her canon; but the others all look tremendously good, which inevitably always makes choosing difficult. I also want to start reading short stories again–I still have two volumes, for example, of Shirley Jackson stories to read–and I need to get back to my writing–if I can only remember where I was. I know I was rereading Bury Me in Shadows in order to get a grasp of the story–I also have been thinking about the tweaks it needs–and the deadline looms. I also need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” there’s about a million emails to catch up on, and there’s also the bills to pay.

Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to make it to the gym this morning. One good thing that has happened in this past week is managing three workouts; my body feels wonderful, my muscles feel more stretched and better than they have since the pandemic closed my old gym (we belonged there for eighteen years) and that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? I think so, and I like that I am developing better workout habits. I’ll worry about correcting my diet and going full on Mediterranean diet after a few more weeks.

I’m also going to write a story–or rather, try to finish one–for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology. Getting a short story into one of those is on my bucket list, and I have two potential in-progress stories for this one; three, really: “Condos for Sale or Rent,” “Please Die Soon,” and “A Dirge in the Dark”. I guess I’ll need to read what’s been done on all four stories and then see about finishing any or all of them…it’s not a bad idea to get all three stories written, pick one to submit to the MWA anthology, and then send the others to other markets.

So many stories in progress.

The sun is rising and the loss of the trees has also made a significant difference to my view–which isn’t nearly as pretty or scenic as it was before, and will take some getting used to. The great irony is my landlady has been trying to get the property owner next door to trim the trees back for years–and trying to get her to trim them regularly, as they are problematic for hurricanes/tropical storms. It took Zeta for her to take the risk presented by the crepe myrtles seriously, with the end result that some were not only trimmed back dramatically, but others were removed entirely. I may have to hang up a small blanket or something in the meantime as a stopgap until I have the time and financial means to get curtains or blinds.

And on that note, I must head into the spice mines and start working on getting caught up, a Sisyphean task at best. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your Feast of All Saints.

King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Several years ago–more than I really care to recall, really–another writer told me he was “getting older and becoming more concerned with <his> legacy.” This took me aback. I’d never given a thought to such a thing, and to this day, it’s not something I give much thought or consideration to; I still don’t, really. I mean, it’s not really up to us as writers to worry about what legacy we leave behind, is it? I have always assumed once I am dead and gone both me and my work will eventually be forgotten; and even if by some weird, bizarre chance I should have some sort of revival or discovery by some future gay mystery scholar–who cares? I mean, won’t I be dead and beyond caring about such things?

Why should I be concerned about whether I’m just as unknown after death as I was when I was alive?

I became interested in Cornell Woolrich a few years ago; I don’t remember why exactly, or how he came to my attention; I just remember ordering this book and several others over the years. Woolrich has been dead for quite some time, and isn’t really remembered very much today outside of some enthusiasts of crime fiction history. I was very surprised to find out that some of his stories and novels had been filmed; “It Had to Be Murder,” for example, became Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which is something, right? Woolrich was gay and an alcoholic–so many writers of the period were (and frankly, I think using a typewriter for writing had a lot to do with it)–and he eventually died from complications from alcoholism. I thought it would be nice to read some of his work, particularly during Pride Month.

Every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one. You do that when you’re young; walk along beside the river, looking at the water, looking at the stars. Sometimes you do that even when you’re a detective, and strictly speaking, have nothing to do with stars.

He could have taken the bus, ridden home as all the others did, when he came off duty. It wasn’t even the shortest route to where he lived, this walk beside the river. It took him out of his way a little. He didn’t mind that. It sounded better when you whistled, with the water there beside you. It made the stars seem brighter, and it made you want to look at them more, when the water was there below them to catch them upside down. It made you dream better; those dreams you have in your head in your twenties. You can’t dream in a bus, with all your fellows around you.

And so–every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one, a little after.

It really took me awhile to get through this one, to be honest. I started it a few years ago, and it didn’t really grab me; this time I was determined to see my way through to the end. Sickness, and other things–it’s not like the world isn’t ablaze, after all–kept me from completing it, and in all honesty, even finishing it yesterday morning forced me to start skimming. It’s a great concept, but it’s got too much filler.

The concept behind it–a man who can see the future tells a rich man he knows when he is going to die, and the effect this has on the rich man and his daughter–is quite excellent; it’s in the execution that it falters. The opening is strong enough: Shawn, a young policeman, tends to walk home along the river after his shift is over. On this particular night he comes across a trail of things–money, a compact, a lipstick, things that might have fallen out of a woman’s purse; he eventually finds the purse, and the woman it belongs to is on a bridge, ready to jump. He stops her, takes her to an all-night diner, and she tells him the sad story of how her father and she became involved with this man who can see the future and how desperate she and her father have become as the man’s other predictions come true and they become convinced her father is going to die.

But the telling of the story is over half the length of the book, and Woolrich doesn’t take it into prose; he uses the device of her desperately telling her sad tale of woe precisely the way I just described it–she’s telling him the story, and the story drags precisely for that reason: it’s passive storytelling, not active, and certainly not how I would have told it. It’s a personal preference, and Woolrich IS a very good writer; I just don’t think he should have told it so passively. The suspense and drama comes from the question of whether the man with the gift of prophecy is actually a fraud or for real; but if it’s fraud, to what end? The second half of the book moves much faster, but also has a lot of dead weight/filler as well, hence the skimming; it may just be a more dated style. I also find it kind of hard to believe that the New York police would take this story seriously enough to put up to eight men on it–and there’s a horrific scene where the cops, needing access to an apartment so they can eavesdrop on the prophet, essentially set up the woman who lives there (and has been arrested for solicitation before, but not for over six years) for solicitation so they can use her apartment–and dismiss this horrifying abuse of power and her civil rights as just and necessary; and even laugh about her being sent away for at least thirty days!

But overall, it’s a good story and well-told, if a bit slow in places. Woolrich had a way with words, for sure, and sure, I think it’s worth a read; if for no other reason than to see how writers in the past handled suspense.

Paninaro

Apparently, this old dog can learn some new tricks.

Yesterday morning, after the relapses of the previous weekend, I decided that I was going to have to give up caffeine again, as well as call my doctor’s office to see if I could get in sooner rather than later. After all, this has been going on for far longer than I would like, and perhaps more drastic measures were called for then just drinking Gatorade and water while cutting caffeine out. A friend suggested that I drink some PediaLyte, so on my way into the office I stopped at CVS, bought some–and suddenly, I felt like Gregalicious again. I just had always assumed, I guess, that Gatorade had whatever you needed in it to get over dehydration, and was apparently wrong. I drank water the rest of my shift, and was feeling a little dry-mouthed when I got home so I had another Pedialyte. Electrolytes were what were called for, and I am going to continue to drink one of these a day (at least) until this dehydration issue is taken care of. It was never something I ever really had to concern myself with–even after dancing all night on Ecstasy–but now, alas, yet another sign that my body is decaying.

But at least I know what to do now, even if it took me two weeks to figure it out.

I do learn, even if it takes me awhile.

It was lovely, though, last night to just feel tired and now it was from not sleeping well, rather than that horrible physical exhaustion.

Of course, I’m also on night four of insomnia.

But I am getting by. I’m still way behind on everything, and keep hoping that today–maybe–I’ll start to dig out from under. One can dream at any rate, can’t one? I need to get the Sherlock story worked on this week–in my fever state the other day I realized something could be cut and something should be added–and of course, last night as I was thinking about it, I started thinking about how much more could be done with the story; how much more could be done around Sherlock in New Orleans in the 1910’s; and how rich and layered and textured such a period piece could be…so of course I started wondering if I should think about possibly doing a Sherlock pastiche in this time period.

Because of course.

I read some more of the Woolrich last night; the pacing has picked up dramatically, although I’m still not sure where it’s going or how it could possibly end; and after Paul got home we tried to find a new show to watch, without much luck. Love Victor lasted about fifteen minutes–I wasn’t a big fan of Love Simon–and we tried a few other things before finally landing on another Agatha Christie adaptation, Ordeal by Innocence, which isn’t quite as I remembered the book either, but it’s an intriguing story and very well filmed and acted–and there are only three one hour episodes, so it’s not much of a commitment.

And let’s face it, Elite is a very tough act to follow.

I am tired again this morning, but this is entirely due to the insomnia as opposed to anything else; I am trying a cup of coffee this morning (after which I am going to have some Pedialyte) and it’s not sitting well with me; it’s kind of stuffy and sticky in the Lost Apartment this morning, and that’s certainly not helping any. I have to run errands after I get off work this afternoon–I have packages waiting at the postal service, and I need to stop at the grocery store for a few things as well–and so I am hoping today will be a productive one. There’s a million emails to sort and answer–and I really need to find my to-do list from before I relapsed into whatever this was the last two weeks and make a new one.

Every day I’m juggling.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

One in a Million

I feel somewhat better this morning–still a bit off, but that’s okay. It’s something I can deal with, I think. I still need to work on hydration–an on-going process in New Orleans in the summer time, but this is the first year it’s ever affected me physically the way it has this year. I guess that’s another cost of getting old? The worst is having to do without caffeine, as it also dehydrates. I am braving a cup of coffee this morning to see how that plays out. Probably not the smartest thing in the world to do, but I’m not particularly known for being super-smart, so there’s that as well.

I’m working from home today, which I’ll miss when the world opens back up completely. It’s nice to sit in my easy chair with my work laptop or making condom packs or doing data entry in comfort with an old movie playing on the television (or Jonny Quest; I am still working my way through the first season) and being able to relax. We opened the STI clinic yesterday on a limited basis, and it was nice to see clients again. We are, of course, taking every precaution to safeguard me (ironic, since I’ve not been feeling well for going on almost a week; this is apparently my year of ill health). but it was lovely to connect with clients again, and it was even lovelier to see that my blood drawing skill had not gone away in the three (!) months since we closed the clinic; I think the reopening was actually three months to the day. And the lack of caffeine wasn’t exactly the most pleasant thing in the world to deal with at the same time, but I made it through the day. I came home and collapsed into my easy chair, watched some Jonny Quest until Paul got home, and then of course we finished off the second season of Elite, which continues to be absolutely amazing. We have only the third season left–I think there’s a fourth coming at some point–so we have decided to dole it out slowly to make it last longer.

Since I’m working at home today, once I’m finished I’m hoping I’ll be relaxed and rested enough to do some writing before Paul gets home. I hate that I am getting behind on everything, despite the realization that I am much too hard on myself about not writing–counting how many things I have in progress over the weekend was an eye opening experience, and at the same time knowing how much incomplete work I have on hand was also stress-inducing: how can you read or watch television when you have all that work to finish? Add to that all the books I have on hand that I haven’t finished reading, and it all adds up to stress and feelings of unworthiness. There’s also all those ebooks in my iPad, and I haven’t been able to focus on reading, so Night Has a Thousand Eyes continues to languish on my end table next my chair.

My sleep was also odd last night; while one would think two consecutive days of no caffeine plus interacting with clients would have tired me out so I would sleep like the dead, the truth was it took me a while to fall asleep and I also woke several times during the night, and it wasn’t easy to fall back asleep. But I feel–other than the oddness of being slightly ill still–better and rested; who knows? We shall see how the day goes.

My gym officially closed today; another victim of COVID-19, which makes me really sad–not least because of the incredible convenience that it was just around the corner and less than a five minute walk, but mostly because I was really starting to get back into working out again before this latest bout of whatever the fuck is wrong with me this year took over again. It was also relatively inexpensive; the nearest gym is a slightly longer walk down on Magazine Street, and it’s considerably more expensive. The longer walk also means that waiting to the last possible minute to go is really not the best option. I’m not really sure what we are going to do; in the over all scheme of things, with a pandemic and everything else that’s going on in the world (not the least of which being the country’s long overdue reckoning on racism), it’s really not that big of a deal; it’s not like I need to worry about my life ending or significantly changing for the worst because my gym closed. But damn, I hate the loss of the convenience, and damn this fucking pandemic.

Gay white people problems, am I right?

The coffee seems to be not upsetting my stomach, so I am going to risk a second cup. Yes, that’s me, living on the edge. (eye roll to infinity) But one of the things I’ve noticed–I got an email from a friend asking me what I’ve learned about myself in the last three months, which made me start thinking–is that my self-absorption, which I thought was always at a high peak and level, has become even more deeper. I’ve always been horribly selfish; and pretty damned self-absorbed. But over the last three months it’s become even more apparent, and deeper. The news has been so consistently horrible for so long that I–someone who has been a political junkie for a long time and followed the news avidly–have withdrawn from it completely. Each day, it seems, has brought more horror–I glanced through headlines yesterday when I got home from work and literally was incredibly grateful to disappear into the world of both Jonny Quest and Elite last night. I feel a little stymied with my career, which is part and parcel of the volumes of uncompleted work I have on hand, and the inability to focus and juggle things–which I used to be so very good at–doesn’t seem to be clearing up anytime soon. My usual go-to (making lists) doesn’t seem to be working because I’ll make a to-do list and then completely forget about it, thereby rendering it completely useless.

But I’m going to make one again this morning and see what happens. Hope springs eternal and all that, you know.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

Nervously

I didn’t get as much writing done yesterday as I would have liked; but I get some of it done. Yesterday was one of those days where I questioned everything I wrote–which is annoying, because it’s part and parcel with imposter syndrome. I hate doubting myself, but at the same time I think I want this to be good so badly that I am being much harsher with myself than I usually am; I guess being in the midst of a tropical storm didn’t help matters much, either.

I finally gave up–I did make some progress, which I’ll settle for–and retired to my easy chair to read around three. I made some good progress on Night Has a Thousand Eyes–Woolrich was a master at setting mood–and then last night we started watching the final season of 13 Reasons Why–which is kind of silly, as the actors playing the teenagers have all aged over the course of the series but haven’t on the show, and, as I said to Paul last night, “they should have called this season 13 Reasons Why: Grad School.” Not to mention the fact that over the course of the show’s run these kids have been involved in first, covering up a sexual assault; proceeding with charges for the sexual assault; another sexual assault; stopping a mass shooting and covering that up; a murder; and on and on and on….it seems to me like all of their parents would be a lot more deeply concerned about their mental health and their response to the trauma they faced; college is going to be an interesting experience for them all. But it’s entertaining–they certainly have dealt with a lot of issues for teens, including coming out; bullying; sexual assault; bodily autonomy; and suicide–which is what kicked the show off to begin with.

Tropical Storm Cristobal passed over us last night as well; it wasn’t so bad here around the Lost Apartment as we had feared it could be; it rained pretty steadily all day, and we certainly had off-and-on rain all day, but the walk and yard never filled up with water (we’ve had more rain from just a regular thunderstorm) and I don’t think any streets in our neighborhood flooded at all; I’ve not checked the news to see how bad it was in the city. I know the coastal parishes got some storm surge flooding, and I do hope those folks are all okay. That’s the thing about tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes–the mix of relief and guilt; relief that where you live didn’t get hit that hard; guilt because somewhere else did and you kind of wished it on by wishing it away from you.

Incidentally, it just started raining again, which will make the trip to and from work a lot of fun, he typed sarcastically.

I was tired pretty much the entire weekend; I’m not really sure what that is all about, but I didn’t sleep well any of the three nights of this past weekend, nor did I sleep well last night or most of last week, which is making me very tired and punchy, and also is contributing to my general sense of exhaustion, I think. I slept well last night–I only woke up a few times–and am a bit lethargic this morning (the endless cycle of ‘didn’t sleep-need caffeine to wake up–can’t sleep–more caffeine is draining, frankly); but am hopeful to be able to kick it into a relatively high gear soon.

And on that note, best to get to it, I suppose. Have a lovely Monday wherever you are–and stay safe.

In Denial

And now we enter that eerie period of waiting and anticipation; as a storm hovers over the overly warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and decides which way north to follow. It appears that the eye of Cristobal is going to pass over Houma on it’s way ashore; Houma is about an hour drive from here, but southeastern Louisiana geography and direction is confusing. You do, for example, have to drive west out of New Orleans, out past the airport, to get there; and you cross the river on the way (I have a horrible story about coming back from doing an HIV testing event out there, but I’ll save that for another time). It’s more due west and south of New Orleans, and it’s levee backs up to what used to be wetlands, but because of coastal erosion the Gulf is on the other side. There’s a native reservation out there as well–Houma is named after the Houma tribe–and it’s one of those places we will undoubtedly lose to the encroaching Gulf at some point. Nicholls State University is also there. Some day when I have time I would love to go out there and explore the town more; when we used to test at Nicholls State I used to think about writing a story set there a lot. There’s a lot of sugar cane fields in the surrounding area as well.

It’s gray outside my windows this morning, which is to be expected; it’s going to be periodically raining and of course, there is the potential for flash flooding as always. I stopped to make groceries on my way home from work last night so I wouldn’t have to go out in it this weekend at all; I am going to go to the gym (I’ve not gone once this week, which is terribly disgraceful, but I was exhausted on every level all week) in a little bit, after which I am going to come home and write and clean the kitchen. My kitchen is absolutely a disaster area–I cleaned up in here on Thursday night, and it’s shocking how quickly it can again look like a bomb went off in here.

We’re still watching London Kills, which I do recommend, and we’ll probably finish it off this evening. We tend to watch movies a lot on the weekends as well–last weekend we watched Dolemite Is My Name, and I have to say, Eddie Murphy should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for that; the fact he’s only gotten one nomination over his lengthy film career is a disgrace–and there’s some good stuff on HBO MAX, which, along with Disney Plus, is a treasure trove. I also keep forgetting we have CBS All Access, which means I have all those new Star Trek series to watch as well as Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, and we also have Apple Plus. THERE ARE SO MANY STREAMING SERVICES NOW.

And it’s been so long since I’ve had the energy to pick up a book I had to stop for a minute to remember what I am actually reading, which is Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do think it’s appropriate reading for Pride Month, and then when I finish that I am going to go back and reread Larry Kramer’s Book Whose Title Got Me a Facebook Ban. I am also thinking I might revisit one of my favorite Three Investigators stories this weekend as well.

I got an idea for two stories yesterday–because when don’t I get ideas for new stories, right? One is “Dance of the Burning Fools”, which is something that actually happened in history, as described by Barbara Tuchman in her seminal work A Distant Mirror; a party at the court of Charles VI of France, which descended into madness when some of the costumed revelers, dressed as animals in fur and pitch, caught fire and some of them burned to death; the King was one of the men in costume but was rescued. I’m not sure how the story will take shape, but I just thought that perhaps an investigation into the tragedy after the fact? I don’t know, it’s very amorphous right now.

The other is called “Happy Hour at the Hangover Bar,” which was inspired by my noticing on my way to work yesterday that there is a bar on Claiborne Avenue with that very name: the Hangover Bar, and yesterday they had a Happy Hour sign out on the sidewalk in front, and the title popped into my head, with a vague idea about a story told from the point of view of the bartender, watching something unfold in his bar during Happy Hour.

Many years ago, maybe in the late 1990’s, I had an idea for a series of short stories about gay men that were all interconnected through a central character of a nameless bartender at Cafe Lafitte in Exile; one of my best (in my opinion) short stories was one I wrote with that idea in mind; it eventually evolved and the bartender himself became the main character. The story was called “Unsent”, and in one of my proudest moments as a writer, a friend who’d arranged for a collection of my erotic stories to be published in Spanish (thanks again, Lawrence Schimel!) forwarded an email to me from the copy editor, who’d emailed him to tell him that the story had made her cry. I think about that collection–that I’d intended to call The Bartender–every now and again; but so many ideas, so little time, and so much laziness will leave it on the backburner probably forever.

And now, I have to depart for the gym. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and keep the people of Houma, Louisiana in your thoughts this weekend.

I Want a Lover

Sunday morning and I’m sipping away at my first cappuccino (the cappuccinos went so well yesterday morning that I decided to treat myself to them again this morning) and I feel pretty good. It’s absolutely lovely outside this morning–the temperature is in the low eighties–and bright, sunshine glowing everywhere. New Orleans has the most beautiful sky when the sun is shining, and the light here is exceptionally gorgeous.

It also occurs to me that cappuccinos are probably the most cost effective way for me to get my morning caffeine as well. If I used the Keurig, I can go through as many as four K-cups each day, and even the cheaper ones from off-brands aren’t exactly cheap. But cappuccinos require me to grind beans, and bags of beans are certainly cheaper than boxes of K-cups (I also have the reusable ones, but they don’t work that great; I always wind up with grounds in my coffee, grounds in my coffee and you’re so vain…oops, sorry for the musical interlude) and they also go further. I also only need two of these every morning, and they are kind of delicious.

Yesterday was kind of a nice day, really. I slept really well on Friday night, and so was rested, and of course, the cappuccinos gave me an awesome joly of caffeine that gave me the energy to power through some work I had to do yesterday. I finished that around two, and then went to the gym. I worked out very hard, which felt amazing, and then I came home to do the dishes and laundry. I also intended to do the floors, but my muscles were worn out and tired, and instead I repaired to my easy chair, where I watched the last two episodes of The Movies, and, being kind of mentally exhausted, just curled up with Barbara Tuchman’s essay collection, Practicing History. I do love Tuchman, and I also love that she didn’t really have any background in studying history, yet became a major historian.

I went to bed relatively early last night as well, and again, had yet another lovely night’s sleep. And here I am this morning, with a cup of cappuccino, preparing to answer some emails and try to get my inbox cleared out (for now, at any rate) and then I am going to try to work on the Secret Project for a while. My goal was to get it done and out of the way today, so I can send it off into the wilds tomorrow; wish me luck. Most of this is revising and rewriting, with very little new writing needing to be done. I actually enjoy revising and rewriting, surprisingly enough; it always seems easier to me than writing the first draft, which inevitably is a disastrously written horrible mess. I love making order out of chaos; which also explains why I let messes build in the house and the filing to pile up. I simply love making order out of a mess. I’m not sure what that says about me and who I am, but it’s true.

However, I’m also kind of hoping today that I’ll be able to dive into Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do want to reread Faggots for the Reread Project, but it can wait, and the Woolrich has been waiting far too long for me to get to. Besides, it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve read something new to me, and I really want to start reading more of the Woolrich canon. I’ve got one of his short story collections on my Kindle, and between reading one of his novels and adding him into the Short Story Collection (which reminds me, I need to read W. Somerset Maugham’s “Rain”, which I started reading a while back), I think I can start developing an appreciation for him, as well as an understanding for his work. I want to enjoy reading them for what they are, but I will also, of course, be looking for that elusive “gay sensibility” in his writing that is most likely there and has been ignored by critics for decades.

It was definitely there in “It Had to Be Murder.”

And on that note, I’m going to head back into the spice mines. The sooner I get the work finished, the sooner I can get back to my easy chair with a book, and is there any better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with a book?

I think not!

Left to My Own Devices

Thursday morning and here we are, with a mere two more days before we can call it the weekend again. I’m not really sure why I am looking so forward to it; I just have to write and clean and do shit all weekend. Yay? But I guess it’s lovely because I am on my own schedule, I suppose?

I didn’t sleep for shit last night, which was highly annoying. Also, convenient because I forgot to set my alarm. Fortunately, my eyes opened at promptly six this morning. Huzzah?

So, overnight my HBO app on my Apple TV magically converted to an HBO MAX app, and I got lost in there for hours last night, just exploring all the options. I doubt I’ll ever watch the eight or nine Harry Potter movies ever again, but they are there, along with all kinds of over things. Scooby Doo Where Are You in its original two series is there–I watched one last night, delighted, before making dinner–and of course TCM is there, and there are so many classic films I’ve either not seen, or haven’t seen in a very long time. One of my all time favorites, Body Heat, is also there; I can’t wait to rewatch, as I’ve been wanting to rewatch it for quite some time. Also a lot of classic Hitchcock films, many of which I’ve never seen, including North by Northwest and several others. Essentially, with HBO MAX, combined with Hulu and Netflix and Prime and Disney Plus, I really don’t think I ever will have an excuse to be bored ever again, as there’s always something I can watch on one of those streaming services. There’s also some very good classic Hollywood, thank to TCM (Mildred Pierce, Laura, Bringing Up Baby, etc.). In other words, I am quite pleased.

Alas, that will undoubtedly cut into my reading and writing time–but better that than Youtube black holes, right?

Larry Kramer died yesterday, and I thought, “you know, I’ve been meaning to reread Faggots for a really long time and perhaps this is the time to do so, as a tribute to Larry and everything he did for us all.” As I took the book from the stack, I also realized this meant pushing Night Has a Thousand Eyes back into the pile, and this was probably the kind of thing that has happened with far too great a frequency and why I’ve never gotten back to reading the Woolrich, so I decided to go ahead and read the Woolrich and then I’ll get back to the Kramer. Faggots was one of the first “gay” books I read after coming out officially (I had read Gordon Merrick and The Front Runner and The Swimming-Pool Library while in the closet. Faggots was recommended to me when I walked into my first gay bookstore, Tomes and Treasures, in Tampa in the early nineties; the incredibly sexy bookseller–on whom I had a major crush–told me I should read it and Dancer from the Dance, so I bought both and read them) and I sometimes joke that “it almost pushed me back into the closet.” The gay sexuality was so in in-your-face, and all the kinks and other variations depicted within the covers of that book–plus the clear misery and unhappiness of the main character, Fred Lemish–kind of was shocking to someone as na├»ve as I was when I first came out.

This also made me think about my life in those years prior to my thirty-third, which was when I stopped passively floating through my life and tried to take control of it–to start actively living instead of passively letting my life happen to me. I rarely talk about, or even think much about, my life between moving to the suburbs when I was ten and my thirty-third birthday; primarily because my existence was so completely miserable and tragic and pitiful. There was the duality of living as both a closet case in my more regular day-to-day life (and fooling no one, as I was quick to find out later), plus my hidden, furtive life on the edges of gay world. It’s difficult for me to look back at that twenty-three years and not wince or recoil in embarrassment at what a miserable life I was leading, and how desperately unhappy I was all the time. But that time was necessary, because it was also that same period where I was starting to recognize, and learn, that almost everything I was raised to believe was not just a lie but a horrible one. Unlearning those decidedly terrible values and lessons is an ongoing process to this very day, but it’s also terribly important and necessary to shed all that conditioning in American exceptionalism, evangelical Christianity with its bizarre morality and cognitive dissonance, and the true American legacy of white supremacy. As I thought about this last night–we watched the first episode of CNN’s docuseries The Movies on HBO MAX last night, and I was remembering, not only the unhappy first more-than-half of my life, but started unpacking the rest as well.

And it will inevitably show up in my writing at some point.

ANd now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.