To Step Aside

AH, hello, Thursday, how are you doing?

Yesterday was a good day, despite paying the bills. I worked from home, made a lot of condom packs, and had some lovely, lovely phone calls. I also remembered why I stopped talking on the phone–I can talk for hours, and now that I used the headphones and can actually hear, yes, well, pity the poor fools I called to talk to yesterday. I talked endlessly.

The telephone–cell phone, whatever–is really a marvelous invention, truly.

See? Even a tired old Luddite like me can adapt and change and learn some new tricks.

We started watching a German series, Dark, last night on Netflix. It’s really quite good, even if we’re really not sure after one episode what it’s about. I suspected Germans would be particularly good with dark suspense shows, and the German language, as I said to Paul last night, is perfect for that creepiness because it’s such a guttural language. My German is so rusty as to be non-existent anymore, despite the years spent studying and learning it, but I was able to pick up a word every now and then. I was reading an article the other day that said the easiest way to learn another language was to watch a show in that language with English subtitles–that way you learn pronunciations and the rhythm of the language, and then watch shows in English with subtitles in that language–so you read the words in German while hearing them in English. It’s an interesting idea, and I’ve always regretted losing my German, so maybe I’ll give it a try. I tried learning Italian last year with Duolingo, and was doing their short lessons one per day, but then got behind during Carnival and never caught up. I’d love to be able to at least understand some Italian or German, in case we ever go to Europe ever again, but laziness and a lack of time will undoubtedly hold me back.

I’ve also slept well every night this week, which is lovely and undoubtedly a product of the lower levels of caffeine in my system every day. (I’ve probably jinxed it and that bitch Insomnia will probably return this evening.) But it’s lovely, and feeling actually rested this many days in a row has been wonderful. The Lost Apartment is also looking better, as I am trying to get the clutter decluttered and the house better organized. I’ve also decided to slowly begin to cull the books; it’s not easy and frequently, far too frequently, I will pull a book off the shelves, put it back, take it down, and so on and so forth for much longer than it needs to go on. But it’s also silly to keep hard copies of books I have electronically, no matter how much I may cherish the actual physical copy (it’s so much easier to take a book down off the shelf and page through it, find a scene I enjoy, and reread it; but I am also not doing that nearly as much as I used to and really, these books can find better, more deserving homes).

And the older I get, the far less likely it is that I will ever write the exploratory essays or non-fiction books to study a particular style of book/subgenre/writing. I’ve always wanted to do an in-depth look at the style and themes frequently explored in Gothics/romantic suspense novels; beginning with the Bronte sisters, Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. But the truth is there isn’t a market for that, really, and while it may be interesting to me, I don’t know that it would be interesting to readers. I’m also not an academic writer in any way shape or form; a bunch of literary writers did a live watch of the Anthony Minghella film of The Talented Mr. Ripley and while following it was interesting, a lot of the commentary was about things I never noticed in my many viewings of the film; themes and symbolism and so forth. Which, of course, is why I don’t write criticism; I always rolled my eyes in Lit classes when we studied these things and the professor would so condescendingly ‘explain’ the work to us; I’ve always rebelled against the academy and its mindset and how it tried to teach us how to re-learn how to read. Sure, I could play the game once I intuited what the professor was looking for in our essays and get good grades–I am, after all, a writer at heart and always have been–but as an adult and one who no longer needs to suck up to a professor and toe the line they’ve set for a grade, I have no desire to revisit that methodology and ruin the reading experience for myself–I don’t need to write lengthy articles delving into the themes and symbolism and so forth in fiction to publish for free in academic journals in order to get tenure; so why on earth would I waste my time doing so?

I write enough for free as it is, and every year I make the determination that I will stop–but inevitably, it always seems to happen anyway.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines for me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, be safe and may all your dreams come true.

Act Naturally

Monday morning and there’s still dark pressing against my windows this morning. Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst two days of my week; long hours spent at the office and most of the day gone before I can retreat, as quickly as I can, to the safety of the Lost Apartment.

The gym yesterday felt terrific. I upped the weights as it was time (every Sunday) and while I’ve felt the workout before–even with a light, practically nothing weight, you’ll feel three sets of twelve–yesterday I actually felt like I was pushing myself for the first time. I didn’t up the weights on legs–I do that every two weeks instead of every week, because I go up in increments of ninety pounds; whereas with everything else I go in ten pound increments–but it still felt pretty intense on the lower extremities. I also got back on the treadmill–only fifteen minutes after the five minute warm-up because it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done the treadmill–and that also felt good. I watched more of the Anthony Minghella The Talented Mr. Ripley film adaptation because I couldn’t get my Disney Plus app to work for some reason (I want to start watching the Clone Wars series while tread-milling) so I decided to finish watching Ripley. I still have about another forty-two minute to go, so I should finish watching it on the treadmill on Friday.

And hopefully by next Sunday I’ll have this Disney Plus mess straightened out.

I have chosen Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief as my next reread, for the Reread Project, and started reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls yesterday; I didn’t mean to get as far into it as I did, either–but once I started reading, the book was moving like a speeding Maserati and I couldn’t stop until it was time to make dinner. Damn you, Carol Goodman! I’d intended to use that time to write! But now that things are sort of normal again–the first normal, full work week since Carnival’s parade season began–I am hoping to get back into some sort of swing of normalcy and get back into my normal, regular routine.

I didn’t get as much writing done this weekend as I had wanted to; those short stories turned out to be like pulling teeth without novocaine or anesthesia, but some progress is always better than none, as I always like to say. I seem to have not had a really good, long writing day in quite some time; but here’s hoping now that things are back to some sort of normal and I can reestablish a routine, that the words will start flowing again soon. I need to get to work on the story due at the end of the month; I’ve got it vaguely shaped inside my head, and so now I need to get to work on putting the words to paper, preparatory to getting them in the proper sounding voice and so forth. I’m excited about the challenge, to be completely honest, and I am relatively certain I should be able to get it moving relatively soon, if not a good strong first draft completed in no time at all.

One can hope, at any rate.

My goal for March is finishing: finishing that story, finishing the Secret Project, finishing some of these short stories. April I will return to Bury Me in Shadows with a fresh eye, and I am also hopeful I can get it finished that month, so I can move back on to the Kansas book to finish in May, so I can get started on Chlorine in June, spending the summer writing a first draft, before turning to the next Scotty/Chanse or whatever the hell it is I intend to spend the fall writing. It isn’t going to be easy, and I am going to have to fight off the distractions that always seem to be trying to keep me from getting things done–and my own personal laziness; the default always being to go lie in my reclining chair with a book or to watch television.

We streamed the entire series of I Am Not Okay With This last night; which is another teen show oddly rooted in the 1980’s–musically, esthetically, and visually; which is an interesting if weird trend (both It’s The End of the Fucking World and Sex Education also have the same vibe, as does, obviously, Stranger Things; it’s almost like Netflix is targeting those who were kids/teens in the 1980’s…hmmmm). After we finished it–we really liked it–we started watching Harlan Coben’s new series on Netflix, The Stranger, and we are all in on it; the first episode was kind of strange, with all the different concurrent plot threads, but episode two began to seamlessly sew the threads all together, and we are completely hooked. It’s also fun seeing Jennifer Saunders playing someone besides Edina Monsoon. Not sure when we’ll finish it–probably an episode a night until the weekend–but it’s great fun. I recommend it.

And now it’s time to get ready for my work day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

 

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When You Say Nothing At All

Oh, Carnival. Every year you come into our lives and turn almost everything normal (gassing up the car; picking up the mail; making groceries) into an ordeal that has to be carefully planned with only slightly less reliance on timing as a Navy SEAL rescue attempt. Add in the fact that going to work after the first weekend of parades always feels surreal; why are we at work when it’s Carnival? But yesterday and tonight are the break nights of the non-stop madness; there are three parades every other night this week down the Avenue, with two Saturday afternoon and five pretty much running all day Sunday. Saturday night is Endymion, which comes down Canal Street and gives the Uptown route a much-needed breather.

Yesterday was quite strange; I felt like I wasn’t actually participating in my life; I was more like watching more than anything, which is always a weird feeling. I slept well, so that wasn’t it, I just felt…oddly disassociated, if that makes any sense? It sort of does to me, but I am not certain it adequately describes precisely the way I felt all day. I was able to do my job properly, and I was able to answer emails and function with everyone like I would normally….but I just felt…off.

It’s weird, and I think I am just going to go ahead and blame it on the parades this past weekend–which got me out of my normal routine.

I did do some writing, though, which was nice. Not on the Secret Project, but I did work on the two short stories that are in progress–but of course not the one that’s due on March 31st. I probably should get started on that sometime soon, probably.

But the voice and the character for “Festival of the Redeemer” AND “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop” are coming through, loud and clear! If I don’t do it now I may not find them when I need to write them!

And this–so you will know, and your children will someday know, is why Greg is not quite right in the head.

It also occurred to me that part of the reason I felt off yesterday was because of my body. I’m still getting used to how it feels to work out again regularly, and (spoiler alert!) I like how my body feels. Sure, the muscles are tired sometimes–and climbing the stairs at work remains challenging sometimes–but the truth of the matter is that I’d rather my muscles struggle with their stairs because they’re been worked out and are tired rather than just being tired from lethargy and lack of exercise.  It’s weird having to get used to sleeping well again; sleeping so restfully that I can wake up early and not be foggy and tired all day; and the way everything feels is just…a good feeling, you know?

And being stretched? Feeling the stretch and loss of tightness in my muscles, especially in my back? Is fucking fantastic.

And, truth be told, the writing went well yesterday–even if it wasn’t anything I should have been working on, working on something is working on something, and it’s kind of a cool thing, you know? “Festival” is a twisty story with a lot of turns and a lot of a kind of emotional release for me; the fact the story, which I’d been thinking about for years, kind of came to me from watching The Talented Mr. Ripley again was an added bonus. I know where the story is going and I know how it’s going to end, and I know how to structure it to get me there, which puts me a lot further ahead with it than I am with other stories.

Although I also finally figured out how to continue on with “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is also cool. Maybe the working out is helping clear my mind? One can hope, at any rate.

Tomorrow is the tricky day; I am not sure how to deal with when I am going to the gym. I’m not sure when the gym closes tomorrow, so I might have to suck it up, get up early, and go before work. Heavy heaving sigh. I guess I could call them today and find out.

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

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Good Hearted Woman

Thursday, and Parades Eve in New Orleans. I have to work tomorrow from 9-2 rather than my usual 12-5, so that I can get home in time to get a place to park before they close the streets and the hordes from the rest of the city and the outer parishes descend upon my neighborhood for beads and other throws.

The gym is going well, thanks for asking. I’m trying not to get anxious about not getting instant results (seriously, you’d think I of all people would  know better) but my sleep is improving–IMPORTANT–and I physically feel much better than I have in years. I am still trying to go slowly, pace myself, and work my way back into it better–I suspect my impatience is what led to the constant re-injuring of my back–and I am starting to feel better about myself in general. That has been a constant battle with myself my entire life, but now that I am on the fast, downward waterslide to sixty, I think I am finally finding some sort of inner peace with myself.

It may have only taken me nearly six decades, but I’m getting there. Better late than never, right?

I watched another twenty-five minutes of The Talented Mr.Ripley yesterday on the treadmill, and I have to say each additional scene I watch makes me appreciate the script and Matt Damon’s performance as Tom even more. This is the sequence of the film in which Tom finally snaps and kills Dickie on the boat–and while certainly I don’t think Dickie needed killing, I do think he was a pretty awful person. The film sets this up in ways that Highsmith did not in the novel–by establishing Dickie as a player with a roving eye; the creation of the local village girl, Silvana, that he’s having an affair with, who ends up killing herself when she finds herself pregnant (although on my initial two viewings, I thought it was implied that Dickie actually killed her rather than her killing herself); the women he’s constantly ogling and flirting with; Marge’s tolerant acceptance of Dickie’s many many flaws because she just sighs and says “well, that’s Dickie”, which essentially turns her into a doormat who doesn’t think she deserves better–which really hurts Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance–Dickie has led Tom on (certainly in Tom’s mind) and while this isn’t really established so much in the film as it was in the novel, Tom is lonely and looking for friends and love while being torn apart inside as to who he actually is; so Dickie’s turning on him and cruelty in finally telling him to go away is so nasty and vicious Tom strikes him with the oar to shut him up–which results in further rage on Dickie’s part and Tom finally has to finish him off.

I know watching this film, after reading the book, is what is driving me to write “Festival of the Redeemer”–instead of what I really should be doing.

Ugh, creative ADHD is the absolute WORST.

But I finally got stuck last night on “Festival”, which means I can put it aside now while i think about how I want to structure it better. I also realized yesterday that it’s not a short story, but it’s also not enough story to be a novel; so a novella it is. I also have a kind of subversive idea about it not being a linear story; flashing back and forth from the present to the past.  It’s hard to get into details about it without giving too much away, but that’s the nice thing about short stories and, I suppose, novellas: you can play with things like structure and form that you can’t get away with in a shorter story or might not actually work, so best not to try it in a novel first, because if it doesn’t work straightening out the mess is a lot more work. I am rather curious about trying out more novellas, frankly; primarily because, as I often like to remind myself, some of James M. Cain’s novels, like The Postman Always Rings Twice, were closer to novellas than novels.

All of this speculation, of course, keeps me from actually writing, you know.

I started watching a series on Netflix last night about the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman: The Rise of an Empire, which was pretty interesting. I got a little bored, frankly, in the second episode, but I’ve always been interested in the old Eastern Roman Empire (rebranded by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, but it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. Western European historians managed to try, and succeed, for the most part, to erase that history by teaching that the Roman Empire ended when Rome fell in the fifth century–but the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years until Constantinople fell in 1453. Westerners, attempting to claim themselves and their culture and civilization as the rightful heirs to Rome, began calling them the Byzantine Empire and referring to them as Greeks, but the Ottomans thought of them as the Romans. It was the Roman Empire. Lars Brownworth has done some wonderful histories of the eastern Roman empire and the history of the eastern Mediterranean; I highly recommend his work–he also appears with several other historians in the docuseries, which is a mixture of reenactment and documentary style filmmaking). The first episode was interesting, but my mind wandered during the second; so I shut it off about half-way through preparatory to going to bed.

So, here I am this morning with my first cup of coffee. The weather is supposed to be spectacular in New Orleans today and tomorrow–someone posted a picture of blooming flowers with the caption SPRING IN NEW ORLEANS and I wanted to comment um it’s February but then I realized, our spring IS in February and March and early April–and summer generally kicks into gear in late April and lasts till early October. This week has been hit-or-miss with rain and sunshine, but has been warm the entire time. I’ve not taken a jacket with me to work one day this week, and I’ve only carried my hats with me because my bald head gets cold in our building. (I forgot my hat yesterday and my head was cold all evening.)

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you later.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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Is There Life Out There

I slept well last night, so well that I didn’t want to get up this morning–yet these wasn’t another option, so here I am, with my first cup of coffee with darkness pressing against the windows as the sun slowly begins to rise in the east. It’s not terribly cold this morning in the Lost Apartment, so I assume it can’t be that cold outside. Stranger things have happened, though. And this is, of course, the first week that is going to end with parades this weekend on the Uptown route; the preview or prelude, if you will, to the six days of utter madness to come.

Thinking about it makes me feel very tired. I wonder which parade the LSU football team will be riding in? The last time they won the championship it was Rex; I wonder if that will hold true this year as well? I doubt Joe Burrow will be riding, though. I think he’s already departed from Baton Rouge.

It took me a while to decide what to read next, after finishing Tracy Clark’s sublime Broken Places. I finally settled on a reread of Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? I’d be meaning to reread it for quite some time–I originally read it in its first paperback release when I was a teenager; it was one of those “phenomenon books” of the 1970’s, as I mentioned the other day; everyone was talking about Where Are the Children? when it was released, and it wasn’t as easy for a book to go viral back then as it is now. My memories of it were relatively vague since it’s been forty years or so since I first read it; I simply remember who the real bad guy was, and that the woman had successfully disappeared after the first trial–which probably would never happen today,, of course; her face, and videos of her, would be plastered all over the 24 hour news networks and the tabloids, so her disappearance probably wouldn’t work today–but I was relatively certain that she was the only point-of-view character, which, as i discovered as I started the reread yesterday, wasn’t quite true. The villain’s point of view is there, as is Nancy’s new husband’s, and you know what else? It’s even better than I remembered it; the pacing is genius, and the way Clark writes is also genius. I’m glad I picked it up again; it wasn’t easy to put it down, frankly, and I am itching to get back to it.

We also watched The Pharmacist yesterday on Netflix. I’d seen some local chatter about it on social media, and I knew it was a true crime documentary set here in New Orleans (or close enough nearby). It’s exceptionally well done, and it’s primarily set in Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, which borders the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. (Chalmette is also where the Battle of New Orleans took place, and the historic park is there.) I remember the story of the pharmacist trying to get justice for his murdered son from back in the day, but I didn’t realize Dan Schneider’s story had gone beyond that, which it did; exposing a pill mill office in New Orleans East, which helped lead to the opioid crisis as well as the new heroin outbreak. I do remember having to test at a clinic in Chalmette or Arabi in St. Bernard Parish once a month for several  years, and I never really tested a lot of people out there for HIV/AIDS, but on the rare occasions when someone would want to get tested, they inevitably would talk to me about how bad the addiction problem in St. Bernard Parish was–I remember one man telling, sadly, that “nearly everyone in the parish is addicted to something” and “you see discarded needles everywhere–in every parking lot, along the side of the road, pretty much everywhere you look.” Watching The Pharmacist brought back a lot of those memories of Mondays, heading down St. Claude Avenue to where it becomes the St. Bernard highway, crossing the Industrial Canal into the lower 9th and so forth.

Remember how I said the other day I am hardly an expert on New Orleans or Louisiana? This is a case in point. I think somehow I have to figure out how to write about the Louisiana opioid crisis at some point…no one else seems to be doing so.

I also went to the gym yesterday afternoon, and it was wonderful. I don’t want a cookie, but I would like it stated for the record that I neither had to force myself to go, and that once I was there, I enjoyed myself. It’s kind of nice to work my muscles again, and they feel like they are adapting to regular exercise again–this morning they don’t feel either tight or tired, which is kind of cool. I’m glad I resisted the urge to pick up like I hadn’t worked out in years, remembering to start slowly and work my way back into the routine. Right now I am doing a full body workout three times a week; this week is two sets of 12 reps on everything; next will be three sets; and then the week after that raise the weights. If I can keep this going–and right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason not to–by about May I’ll be ready to go into a more concentrated, more difficult work out routine, focusing on specific body parts each time rather than the entire body.

I had started watching the Anthony Minghella version of  The Talented Mr. Ripley the last time I went, and so yesterday watched for another thirty minutes or so; I am close to halfway through the rewatch. The film is vastly different from the book, of course–a lot of the book was internal–and the homoeroticism, and Tom’s sexuality, are a lot more apparent in this film version than it was in the book. The book was more coded, the film, made in a freer, more accepting time, isn’t as afraid to delve deeply into the matter of Tom’s sexuality. In this second half hour of the film, the character of Freddy shows up, played perfectly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (he, along with Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, definitely give the strongest performances in the film), and it’s also remarkable how beautifully the movie was filmed; it’s hard to go wrong with shooting on location in Italy. Watching the fracturing relationship between Tom and Dickie also makes more sense in the film than in the book; again, Damon’s performance is remarkably nuanced and sympathetic; you can’t help but feel sorry for Tom, so dazzled by this glimpse into a world he never knew before, and as someone who has been the “poor friend tagalong who can’t afford to make his own way,” I understand completely how Tom must have felt. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about that, and when I got home I started work on a new short story–“Festival of the Redeemer,” set in Venice. I’ve always wanted to write a story set in Venice (I did Tuscany in “Don’t Look Down,” and will eventually do Florence as well, I am sure) and I’ll probably work on that story some more this week.

I also worked on the Secret Project yesterday, which is finally starting to take shape.

And now, it’s time for me to get ready to head into the office. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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I’d Better Off (In a Pine Box)

I love Patricia Highsmith, and one of the great joys of the last twenty years or so in my reading life has been slowly working my way through her canon.

Is there anything more fun and exciting than discovering a new writer whose work you enjoy? I think not! And it’s always fun to start working your way through their canon. I’m not even remotely close to being finished reading Highsmith; I’ve been enjoying my occasional forays into her work, and if you’ve not read her short stories….well, you’re really missing out. Her short stories are just as quirky and dark and pessimistic as her novels; although I’m really not so certain that I should use the pessimistic label with Highsmith. From everything I’ve read about her, she was a terribly unpleasant person with a cynical world view and a not particularly high opinion of her fellow human beings; although I think I can honestly say right there with you, Patricia! most of the time. Highsmith’s dark, cynical view of the world and her fellow human beings is partly what makes her books so terrific, so amazing, so suspenseful and so entertaining. I think the first of hers that I read was Strangers on a Train, which was a Hitchcock film I’d always loved; imagine my surprise to discover that it was based on a novel (as so many old films were; not many people knew, for example, that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was also a novel first, and it’s actually quite a good novel, at that). The book was amazing (and I should probably reread it as well), and I became aware of The Talented Mr. Ripley when the Anthony Minghella film version, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, was released. The same author as Strangers on a Train?

I was so in. I actually read the book before I saw the film–which I think we rented, or watched when it made its way to HBO–which I also really enjoyed; Matt Damon did a great job as Ripley. But as more time went by my memories of the novel became supplanted by memories of the film–and as I knew there were differences between the two, I always meant to get back to the book but never did. I also never read the other books in the so-called Ripleyad; I never saw any point. I thought the first novel stood perfectly well on its own with its self-contained story and I worried that reading the others might spoil the first. There are five novels about Tom Ripley in total; written over the course of twenty six years, from 1955 to 1991. (There’s a lovely but expensive boxed set of them available; I may treat myself to that for my birthday, but whether I do or not remains to be seen.)

Over the past few years (probably a decade, I literally have no concept of time anymore) I’ve read some other Highsmith novels; The Blunderer and The Cry of the Owl, neither of which are as well known as the Ripley books or Strangers on a Train, which is a pity; both are truly fantastic–I particularly love the way she flips the narrative in The Cry of the Owl and turns it into something completely different from what the reader is expecting at the beginning; it’s absolutely genius, and mandatory reading for anyone who wants to write suspense novels, frankly.

But I wanted to reread Ripley, and possibly even go on to the other four books in the Ripley series, primarily because I am now rereading some of these older works with an eye to how male sexuality is presented; Ripley  was published during the highly repressive 1950’s, which was a horrible decade in which to have an alternate sexuality as well as to write about them; often they were coded. (I also want to reread Strangers on a Train for that same reason) When the Minghella film was released, there was a lot of talk about Ripley’s sexuality and its possible repression; there’s probably a similarity there between it and A Separate Peace; books in which I recognized something when I read them about male relationships, friendship, and intimacy that resonated with me. And I also realized, as I said earlier, that my memories of the book had become blurred by my memories of the film–which I also want to watch again; I can never forget that image of Matt Damon’s so-pale-it-almost-glowed skin on the beach in his yellow bikini when he awkwardly meets the Jude Law/Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed characters, and I wanted to reread that scene again in particular, to see how Highsmith handled it.

the talented mr. ripley

Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eying him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.

At the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across Fifth Avenue. There was Raoul’s. Should he take a chance and go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him a few dark doorways? He went into Raoul’s.

Automatically, as he strolled to an empty space at the bar,  he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew. There was the big man with the red hair, whose name he always forgot, sitting at a table with a blonde girl. The red-haired man waved a hand, and Tom’s hand went up limply in response. He slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness.

“Gin and tonic, please,” he said to the barman.

The book opens differently than the Minghella film; which immediately changes the dynamic of who Tom Ripley is. In the film, Dickie Greenleaf’s spots Tom performing at a high society party with a music combo; he’s wearing a jacket that identifies him as an Ivy League alum–so Mr. Greenleaf, seeing that he’s about the same age as his son, thinks Tom might know Dickie and be amenable to an expenses-paid trip to Italy to retrieve him; only later do we learn he’d borrowed the jacket and probably doesn’t know Dickie at all.

As you can see from the above, Highsmith opens with suspense. Someone is following Tom, and it’s making him nervous–why? And why would someone be following him? We soon find out that he’s nervous because he’s been pulling a tax scam; he’s been calling random people, pretending he’s from the IRS and telling them they need to send more money because they didn’t pay enough taxes; it’s just for fun, as the checks aren’t made it out to him and he can do nothing with them. This is our first anticipation, as readers, that Our Hero may not exactly be your traditional-style suspense hero. But it’s only Mr. Greenleaf, not a treasury agent, and Mr. Greenleaf explains his situation to Tom–wanting Dickie to come home, as his mother is dying of leukemia and Dickie needs to get it together, give up his Bohemian life as a painter in Italy and come back to the US to take up his rightful place in the family business.

Soon Tom is on his way to Italy, funded by the Greenleafs, and tasked with bringing the recalcitrant heir home. He does find Dickie on the beach in Mongibello, and has to somehow make his acquaintance–and he doesn’t have a swimsuit:

He hadn’t brought a bathing suit with him, and he’d certainly have to have one here. Tom went into one of the little shops near the post office that had shirts and bathing shorts in its tiny front window, and after trying on several pairs of shorts that did not fit him, or at least not adequately enough to serve as a bathing suit, he bought a black-and-yellow thing hardly bigger than a G-string.

ripley

In the film, the awkwardness of the scene–and Tom in the bathing suit (which, in this case, is a lot more than a G-string; but then again, Tom has buried a lot of shame deep inside himself, and not just about his sexuality) he is clearly uncomfortable wearing, as well as the pasty whiteness of his skin amongst all the tan bodies on the beach, instantly induces sympathy for him–and in the book, it’s much the same. Highsmith takes us into Tom’s mind, in a tight third person point of view, so that we know what he is thinking and what he is feeling–but Highsmith is such a master writer, so good at making we the reader identify with Tom…that we soon forget that she is also dropping little hints along the way about just who he is. He is often refreshingly honest–he is very quick to tell people that he is good at forgery (he is) and mimicking other people (again, he is) and freely admits to many not quite moral talents; the great irony is that Tom has learned that you can quite often tell the absolute truth to people and they won’t believe you. He’s charming in his way, because he has learned that to get what he wants out of life, he has to be. Soon he is quite obsessive about Dickie–and disliking Marge, to the point of hating her for never letting him be alone with Dickie.

And this exchange:

“Marge and I are fine,” Dickie snapped in a way that shut Tom out from them. “Another thing I want to say, but clearly,” he said, looking at Tom, “I’m not queer. I don’t know if you have the idea that I am or not.”

“Queer?” Tom smiled faintly. “I never thought you were queer.”

Dickie started to say something else, and didn’t. He straightened up, the rubs showing in his dark chest. “Well, Marge thinks you are.”

Ah, some self-loathing a teenaged Greg can certainly identify with. Deny, deny, deny.

I loved the book even more than I did on the first read, and perhaps there’s a much longer, more in-depth piece I could write about this book (I certainly tagged a lot of pages as I read), but I am now interested in reading the rest of the Ripleyad; to see how Tom comes out–he certainly wound up ahead of the game at the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, having lied, forged, stolen, and killed his way to get there.

And I do want to watch the film again–it’s on Netflix. Maybe something to watch while on the treadmill at the gym? Perhaps.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

Wednesday, and Hump Day; whatever you prefer to call it. It’s the midway point of the week, at any rate, and it’s all downhill from here into the weekend.

I always regret the loss of Mondays and Tuesdays to twelve hour work days, to be completely honest; I generally can’t get anything done on either day rather than going into the office. I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday and Monday nights, and there’s also never a guarantee I’m going to sleep well, which is a terrifying prospect, particularly on Sunday nights as I head into the long stretch of the week. I slept extremely well last night–so much so that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; I could have easily slept another few hours or so, and as I drink my first cup of coffee, still feel a little bit on the foggy side. We’re also supposed to have terrible weather this morning–thunderstorms, etc; I got one of those damned bad weather notices on my phone last night–which is, of course, still possible. The ground is wet so it may have rained during the night, and it’s cloudy and grayish outside. Hopefully the rain will hold off until after I go to the gym later this morning

I decided yesterday that I didn’t care for the work I’d done on the Secret Project already–although it was an admirable attempt–so I decided to start over, at a different place, and change the opening completely. I wish I could explain in more detail, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? But one thing that is frequently true about me–and my work, all too frequently–is that I am very stubborn about openings. I envision an opening for a story or a book, and that’s where I start…and even though it may soon become readily apparent that isn’t the right place to start the story, I stubbornly cling to it because that’s the idea I originally had…despite knowing that I often start the story in the wrong place and changing the opening would most likely make the writing flow better. If you will recall, I have had a lot of trouble with writing this lately–I was lucky to get five hundred words a day for the longest time, until finally I was able to get about 1200 down in a day to get the first chapter finished. But it still dissatisfied me, and I began to wonder if maybe the problem was writing it in the first person rather than the third; perhaps a tight third point-of-view was what was actually called for. So, I exhaled a heavy sigh and decided to give that a try. I started last night–despite my exhaustion–and as I thought about it in the third person, I realized that if I was doing it in the third person, I should start it somewhere else…and as I thought about the words, decided to try it in the first with the new starting place, and it clicked. Which is helpful, I think? We shall see. But I am rather pleased with this new starting place, and I can get some good progress made on this now, methinks.

One would hope, anyway.

The fog in my own brain is beginning to clear a bit this morning, as I now have moved on to my second cup of coffee, and I am going to need to get started on activities that simply must be done; it’s Pay Day and thus Pay-the-Bills-Day, which is always a fun delight to see how little I have left to live on for the next two weeks or so. It can be depressing at times, or stressful at others, but what else can I do rather than try to figure out how to increase my income? Obviously, buying the car and taking on a car payment (and a tripling of the monthly car insurance bill) at the same time as taking a step back from my writing career to assess and think and decide what to do was probably poor timing; but I love having my car despite the enormous hole its blown in my budget, and if I could just get past all the various forms of whatever-it-is  that seem to preclude me from actually writing– this would cease to be a problem, you know?

Imposter Syndrome is probably the biggest contributor to this; and it’s very easy to get triggered into a downward spiral of it: a short story rejection, a one-star review, not being included in a list of gay writers, etc. etc. etc. This spiral generally comes to the fore with a message running through my brain: why do I bother, no one cares. (And for the record, I’m not bringing this up to get affirmation from people; I know all too well that affirmation doesn’t help much in these situations; you always think oh, I have such lovely and supportive friends rather than having some kind of self-worth renewal. It’s very, very true that belief in yourself has to start within you; and I’d love to know the reason why I am so self-defeating–which, for the record, is an entirely different thing from self-destructing.) It’s very easy to get into the mindset that the world is against you, that everyone is conspiring to bring or keep you down; when the real truth is the vast majority of people don’t think about you at all.

It’s kind of like that rampant insecurity I used to feel when I first started venturing into gay bars, hesitantly and nervous, absolutely certain that everyone was looking at me and judging me, not finding me attractive or interesting or worthy of even making eye contact with. It was all stuff and nonsense, of course. Nobody spends that much time looking at and judging total strangers, or laughing at them in gay bars; and if they do, they’re not worth knowing anyway. I finally reached the point where I neither cared what strangers thought–which was incredibly freeing–nor concerned myself with what other people do. I had no control over either, so why concern myself with it?

I saw the other day, for example, that someone had collected all the one and two star reviews from Amazon and Goodreads for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was kind of serendipitous; I had just finished rereading and enjoying the book for the Reread Project, and Highsmith is one of my favorite authors. It was kind of an eye-opening moment about writing and publishing: for fuck’s sake, if people are giving HIGHSMITH and probably one of her best titles one and two star reviews…why the fuck do worry about bad reviews? We all get them, and really, it doesn’t ever mean why do you bother (no matter how vitriolic), it just means your books and your writing and your story and your voice didn’t connect with that person. That’s really all it means, and should be viewed as such.

It’s getting gloomier outside, which means the predicted rain is coming. Ah, well, I shall simply have to take an umbrella with me to the gym. I’m actually not dreading the gym this morning, and I don’t think I’m going to have to make myself go. I have felt so much better physically just from going on Sunday; I’ve realized that my muscles are tired from the work, which is actually a good feeling. My goal is to go again today and Friday, and then again on Sunday. It won’t be easy maintaining this schedule during Parade Season–Parade Season is what finished me off and knocked me out of my routine the last time I started trying to get back into the gym, and that was last year? The year before? I don’t recall, but it ultimately doesn’t matter; I stopped going and I need to learn from that mistake this year.

And on that note, I should start paying the bills and getting things done. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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