The Story of Us

Well, this has been an adventure. The power just now came back on.

It went out on Wednesday sometime between four and four-thirty; and of course, it’s fall, so it also starts getting dark around four-thirty/five every day. It is pitch black inside the Lost Apartment, by the way, when we don’t have power and night falls. Even the candles don’t help. I am so tired of disruptions, you know? It seems like every time I get centered and get ready to pull it all together, there’s another fucking life disruption. Wasn’t it just the other day I was talking about trying to focus on positivity, and figuring out how to get my act together, and so forth? Then along comes a hurricane out of literally fucking nowhere and everything is fucked again. Sure, the house survived, Paul and Scooter and I made it through without harm, and not having power is a very small thing in the overall scheme of things–but I’m just so tired. No power of course means everything in my refrigerator has to be thrown away–yay! because I can certainly afford to replace it all!–and it means no computer, no lights for reading, no internet, no stove, no food, no hot showers, and most heinous of all: NO FUCKING COFFEE.

The storm was bad enough to live through–the winds were literally one mile per hour lower than a Category 3 hurricane, so it was classified as a 2–and it was scary. The rain was coming down so hard and so fast I was certain that the streets would flood–and the howling of the wind was bone-chilling. I kept worrying about the roof, about trees and branches, about the car…and then of course the power went out, leaving us in pitch blackness. I lit some candles but it was way too dark to read, and just started dozing off a bit in my easy chair, off and on. I finally just went to bed at nine-thirty, after moving my car back to the street from the high ground, and I just spent Thursday reading, and when the daylight faded and the candles weren’t enough, grabbed a flashlight so I could finish reading. And of coure, Friday we were still without power. The office was also without power, and even though it was a work-at-home day for me–and I did have the option to stay home and count it as work, I decided to go into the office; just to be in the light and have power and be able to charge my phone again and…also, for some reason, it takes my phone forever to charge in my car now. I don’t know what that is all about, but I spent over an hour in the car yesterday charging my phone.

An effective use of gasoline.

Before we lost power on Wednesday, I decided to stream The Other while making condom packs. I had never actually seen the film, written and produced in 1972 by Thomas Tryon from his novel of the same name; the book is one of my all-time favorites and I also consider it to be a big influence, not just on my writing but in my reading tastes as well. The novel is fantastic, absolutely chilling, and has two big plot twists that completely change the complexion of the story, and the reader’s perception of what is going on at the Perry house just outside Pequot Landing, Connecticut. I have always avoided the film, primarily because I love the book so much, and secondly because, as much as I do love the novel, I’ve never really seen a way to film it effectively. The film is okay–the big surprise, for me, was seeing early in their careers John Ritter and Victor French in supporting roles–but the concept of the book itself, while not particularly original (identical twins, with one being good and the other being evil; it’s been explored in films, novels and soap operas going back decades)–in this case, though, the twins are young–only eleven–which also throws the book into the “bad children” category, along with The Bad Seed, The Exorcist, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and We Need To Talk About Kevin–as opposed to adults, the way the good twin/bad twin story is generally presented. The movie is flawed, and doesn’t necessarily hold your interest the entire time–but it did make me want to read the book again. It’s time, methinks.

But watching The Other drew me to a Daphne du Maurier novel I’d not read before, The Scapegoat. Du Maurier takes the twin concept and gives it a bit of a twist; rather than having her twins be related by blood, hers are merely look-alikes; total strangers (one British, one French) who happen to look exactly alike (people always used to say that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world; I always wondered about that because whenever I would visit New Orleans–and for about a year or so after we moved here–I used to get mistaken for someone else in gay bars. It was quite weird.), and run into each other by chance at a train station in Le Mans; they have a few drinks together only for the Englishman to wake up the next morning in a sleazy hotel room, and all of his things–passport, ID, wallet, car, etc.–are gone and the other man’s things in their place. So John becomes Jean…because who, after all, would believe his story? If he went to the police, would they not think him completely insane? So he takes the du Maurier step of deciding, okay, I’ll be Jean and live his life, despite knowing very little about his double. And yet no one in his family–neither wife, mother, brother, sister-in-law, daughter, mistress one and mistress two–suspect for even a moment that he isn’t Jean, the Comte de Gue; which is kind of weird–but then again, they do notice he isn’t acting quite the same. And much as I love du Maurier, the entire set-up of the story is quite contrived, yet somehow she makes it work, which is part of why I admire her so much. Literally, what John is doing is quite mad; and yet, as he gets to know the family and his counterpart’s relationships with each of them–there’s also a brilliant subplot about a feud between Jean and his younger sister, going back to the Nazi occupation and resistance–he begins to care for them, and tries to do better by them than their actual blood relative did. It definitely held my attention, and I kept reading, wondering how on earth she was going to end it–and she ended it with the typical du Maurier cynicism and disdain for the “happily ever after” that holds true for all of her stories, or at least the ones I have read.

And now I must figure out how far behind I am now on everything; the mind reels, quite frankly. I was very definitely behind before the storm came; I am absolutely unnerved at how terrifying it will be to take a look at my inbox and what has been going on while I have been, quite literally, powerless. But there’s really no sense in allowing myself to get overwhelmed, is there? There’s so much work that needs to be done around the Lost Apartment–cleaning and straightening and so forth–and of course there are football games this weekend. But at least the power is back so I can watch the LSU game. GEAUX TIGERS!

Heavy heaving sigh.

What a Difference You’ve Made In My Life

Tis the last Friday of 2019 and while I only have to work a short day today, I still have to work today. I also have to work Monday, and then again have Tuesday and Wednesday off. Tuesday is the annual New Year’s Eve luncheon at Commander’s with Jean and Gillian, with special guest star Susan Larson this year–which makes it even more lovely. Huzzah! Tomorrow is LSU’s playoff game against Oklahoma, which I am trying not to get overly stressed about. Yes, it would be WONDERFUL for the Tigers to win the national championship; but this past season has been such a terrific ride that anything additional at this point is just gravy, really.

I’ve not written a word since last week, and most likely won’t again until after the holidays are past. I’m not beating myself up over it–there’s no point, and I spend way too much of my time beating myself up over shit as it is–but if the opportunity or window presents itself, I’ll try to get some writing done when I can. I will most likely be too tense to write or do much of anything Saturday before the game, so I’ll most likely run errands, maybe even brave the horror of Costco on a Saturday. It’s been too long since I’ve been, and I have a reward certificate somewhere I can use to reduce the final horrifying bill at checkout. (I miss having a supply of Pellegrino in the house.)

I did start my reread of The Talented Mr. Ripley again this week, and one of the things that really is striking me on this read is Highsmith very subtly slips in references to Tom not being on the up-and-up from almost the start; I think the Minghella film missed a serious beat in how it opened; in the film Tom is part of a hired musical act at a party for wealthy people and is wearing a Yale jacket he borrowed–which is why Mr. Greenleaf approaches him about going to Italy to retrieve Dickie from his decadent, lazy life in Italy. That never really quite rang true to me, which started the film off on a strange note–hard to believe someone quite that wealthy could be so naive. In the book, Tom is leaving his job when he notices someone following him and he is paranoid, as he is running several scams that violate the law–including one where he calls people he’s picked out and tells them their taxes were filed incorrectly and they owe more money. He is doing this just for fun–the checks they send in are generally made out to the government and are completely useless to him; but again, he’s doing this primarily to see if he can get away with it. That missing piece from the film undermines Tom’s character for the audience, but in fairness I don’t see how that could have been conveyed on film. There are also off-hand references to Tom getting help from wealthy men and so forth–sly references to Tom’s ambiguous sexuality that most readers–especially of the time–wouldn’t catch.

I am also trying to decide what my reading project for 2020 should be. 2018 was the Short Story Project; 2019 the Diversity Project, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. I didn’t read as much this past year as I would have liked; but I read for an award all year in 2018 and that, I think, fried my reading brain a bit. I think 2020 might just be the year of rereads; obviously I will read new books too, but there are some titles I’ve been wanting to revisit and simply haven’t had the time to get to–and another goal is to continue working my way through the TBR pile. There’s some Ira Levin novels I’d like to revisit, and of course I want to reread Stephen King’s  Firestarter for a while now; and of course, the joy that is Highsmith…I also haven’t done my annual reread of Rebecca for two years now. SHAMEFUL–and I also should reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Perhaps I should make a list of the rereads I plan for the new year….hmmm.

I also have to write that Sherlock Holmes story.

And I need to get ready for work. Have a lovely last Friday of 2019, Constant Reader!

 

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You Keep Me Hanging On

LSU won big yesterday, beating Utah State 42-6 with their lowest point total of the year thus far–and it’s probably an indication of how quickly Joe Burrow and this offense is spoiling LSU fans this year that at one point in the game, I said aloud, they are really playing sloppy this game. The score was 28-6 in the third quarter–and even as the words came out of my mouth I thought, wow, Greg–they have a 22 point lead in the third quarter and you’re complaining that they are playing sloppy. Next week is the first big SEC test of many–Florida, fresh off a 24-13 win at home over Auburn (another future opponent)–and that will probably be a good read on how the rest of the season is going to go.

I was tired yesterday, very tired. I stayed in bed longer than I usually do and my sleep wasn’t that much more restless than usual, but by ten o’clock last night I was dragging. I finally went to be around ten thirty, and got up this morning just before nine. I feel very rested and refreshed this morning, which is lovely–because there’s a lot for me to do today on the agenda. It wasn’t that bad, all told–rather than writing as much as I wanted to do, I instead made some serious progress on cleaning around the Lost Apartment–reorganizing books and so forth. I also started rereading Bury Me in Shadows, which is actually a lot more complete than I thought it was; it’s also a lot more creepy than I thought–see what a different putting something away for a while can make? It still needs revising, though, and there’s more things that need to be added to it along the way, but I am overall pretty pleased with what I’ve gotten down on the page so far. I also did a little bit of work on “Never Kiss a Stranger”–now that I’ve decided it’s a novella more than a short story, it works a lot better because I’m not worried about keeping it to less than six thousand words. I was also thinking yesterday that maybe I could do a collection of novellas. Novellas are hard to place anywhere, after all, and while it’s not a bad idea to self-publish them on Amazon, maybe it does make more sense to put them together into a collection of four, like Stephen King does periodically.

I also started my annual Halloween reread of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson yesterday, and even as I marveled at her wonderful grasp of word usage, sentence structure, mood, and character, I couldn’t help but wonder, really, how one would classify Shirley Jackson’s work? It’s not really horror,  although the book is absolutely terrifying; and she didn’t really do much other work that could fall into the horror category. Her short stories are quite marvelous; and while We Have Always Lived in the Castle is also terrific, I don’t know that it could be called horror, either. Eleanor, our main character in The Haunting of Hill House, is probably one of the most fascinating and complex characters I’ve ever encountered in horror; the book is also an amazing character study. I would kill to be able to create the kind of mood Jackson created in this book…I am trying to create a mood in Bury Me in Shadows, and am not entirely certain I’ve succeeded. But just glancing through the pages yesterday, I definitely got the sense that the book is, as I said earlier, in much better shape than I originally thought; there’s definitely some revisions that need to be made and changes, but I am very pleased with it so far.

I am also glad I decided to try to get the revision of this squeezed into October rather than trying the Kansas book, which needs a lot more structured revision and needs to have a new ending. One of the things I’ve realized about the Kansas book is that I have crammed every conceivable stereotype into the book about high school you can imagine. Football players and cheerleaders? Check. Homecoming? Check. Mean girls and jock assholes? Check. Poor kids who see sports as their only way out of the stifling, dying small town they live in? Check. The primary problem with the book is that in trying to upend and subvert those stereotypes I unfortunately played into them, which is lazy writing. There were so many other things I wanted to examine in this book and somehow didn’t manage to do; class and poverty, the haves and the have nots, and so forth. I’ve also worked harder and longer on this fucking book than I have any other that was published, so there’s also that. But it’s that kind of authorial myopia that made me unable to see, all along, what I was doing, and of course there’s the innate stubbornness I always have about trying to make it work when it would be ever so much easier to scrap the shit and start over. There’s a short story I’ve been working on for a while–I’ve sent it out for submission and it’s been rejected every time. It’s called “The Problem with Autofill,” which I think is a genius title, but it’s also the problem with the story. I’ve been trying to make that story fit the title, and the only way to do so is to create a situation that literally makes no logical sense–even I have thought to myself why would anyone do anything so fucking stupid? The answer is obviously to change the title, eliminate the need to make it fit said title, and then turn it into something more creepy and dark and wicked….and yet why am I only now deciding/accepting/realizing this?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Ah, well. And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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