Greetings from the end of the world!

Okay, maybe things aren’t quite that bad. But there are certainly days when it feels that way.

So it turns out it’s been nearly a year since I posted an update or review here, and there’s a simple reason for that: I got bored. The truth is, my blog has never exactly caught fire, you know? I’m no Bloggess, after all. And I’ve decided that’s okay. For a long time, it wasn’t okay, but as I approach nearly 60 winters on this planet (if I’m lucky!) a lot of detritus has begun to fall away. Like competitiveness and jealousy. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this blog is also one of the things falling away.

I started the blog to promote my fiction and freelance writing, and since I’m no longer doing much writing for public consumption, a lot of the motivation is gone. Publishing two novels was a disillusioning experience, to put it mildly. Writing fiction for a very small publisher is even less lucrative than it is for the big pubs. And even freelance journalism is a hard gig these days, at least as far as income generating work goes. So I moved sideways into working in libraries. There’s a lot that’s good in libraries, but much of what makes them good is also what makes them a germaphobe’s nightmare. There will be a lot more to worry about in libraries in the post-COVID world when it finally gets here (and despite what all you fools frolicking on beaches without masks think, we’re a long way from POST-COVID). I, for one, do not envision myself trying to sanitize books (assuming any libraries will even have the budget to do something like that). Nor do I want to be the library associate who hears a customer utter those words I so often heard in the pre-COVID world: “She was too sick to go in to school, so I brought her to the library!”

My other recent gig has been acting as communications coordinator for a small defense contractor. Since most of our business involved traveling great distances to facilitate meetings and present workshops on information too sensitive to be shared via conference platforms like zoom, that biz is a lot less active now too.

So what to do next?

I’ve thought frequently about writing a new book, and that may yet happen. But in two months of semi-quarantine, it has yet to make it to the top of my things to do list. So don’t hold your breath waiting for that next chick lit suspense novel from me.

What have I been doing instead of writing? Here are a few things that have been keeping me busy. Maybe you’ll want to check some of them out.

  • READING. In the beginning of this semi-apocalypse, I truly could not concentrate well enough to read anything. It’s still a bit of a struggle. I found that revisiting some old favorite books was a great solution to Quarantine Brain. Short stories have also been a great option, since they don’t require sustained concentration. Two wildly different old faves I reread were: The Crystal Cave, the first in Mary Stewart’s absolutely stupendous retelling of the legend of King Arthur, from Merlin’s POV; and Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s masterful example of second-person narration, ending with one of the two* best last lines in all of fiction: You will have to go slowly. You will have to learn everything all over again.
  • WATCHING YOUTUBE. But not just any YouTube. There are so many good free things on YouTube, especially right now. You can watch all the great theatre companies of the world for FREE! Take your pick from Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre of Great Britain, or Canada’s Stratford Festival. You can watch The Solitary Rambler, an adorkable salt-of-the-earth British guy who takes you on tours through small towns and scenic rural bits of Great Britain. All free. Oh, and there are great workout videos there too!
  • PAINTING! Yeah, no one is more surprised than me that this made it onto the list. Blame Jim Parsons. I follow him on Instagram, and he casually mentioned he was keeping busy by doing an online drawing class via zoom. Two months and four courses** later and I’m actually producing stuff like this:

* The other great last line in literature is this, of course.

**If you too need a new hobby that makes a tremendous mess and gives you an excuse to spend money on a whole new category of stuff and say things like, “I think I need gesso for this,” visit The Art Studio NY. They have wonderful teachers who are doing an amazing job of teaching art from a distance.

So that’s all the news from my tiny corner of the universe. I hope those of you still sticking around to read these very occasional posts are all  keeping safe and healthy, and I hope we will all still be here on this messed up, wonderful, infuriating planet a year from now, when I might get around to updating again.

These days, everyone is saying “Stay safe, stay healthy,” but I prefer the Vulcan version of this. Live long and prosper, everyone.

Going Political

Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters
Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters

Yep, going political on the blog today. So if you think that might bug you, move along…

An open letter to my pro-Trump friends (and yes, I do have several) who have said, “This isn’t a ban on all Muslims. It’s only a ban on the seven countries that pose the greatest threat.”

You are partially correct. It’s not a ban on all Muslims.

However, it also does not ban immigrants from those countries which history shows us pose the greatest threat to the United States with regard to domestic terror attacks. The nations included in the ban are as follows:

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Where is Saudia Arabia, home of most of the 9-11 hijackers? What about Pakistan, birthplace of at least one of the San Bernardino shooters? How about Kyrgyzstan & Russia. birthplace and previous home of the Boston Marathon bombers?

Nope. None of them are on the list.

So you are indeed correct, it is NOT a ban on all Muslims.

However, this ill-thought-out, sloppily executed order has banned many already thoroughly vetted refugees from coming into this country. Many of them are coming from places like Syria, countries we have frankly helped to destabilize with our many years of half-hearted war in that region, our short-sighted diplomatic policies there, and our apparent complete lack of understanding regarding the various sects of Islam in that part of the world and how they do (or more often, don’t) fit together. 

Basically, we helped break a number of these countries. Surely the least we can do is to help clean up the mess by allowing those desperate to escape to come here and live with us.

You may say, “Well, my president isn’t the one that created their mess.” But yes, he was. The previous president was your president, whether you like it or not. Just as, although the majority of voters in this country did not actually vote for Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is in fact their president now. Either every U.S. President is the president for all of us, the spokesman for all of us, the man we employ to implement our will; or he has no authority at all and this great experiment in democracy is at its end.

If, as I believe, each president is the president for all of us, then each president carries the burden of all his predecessors. That’s essentially the definition of the job: volunteering to come in and clean up the mess you think the previous guy made in the office.

Banning refugees who have already spent years having their credentials checked will not clean up that mess. Handcuffing Iraqi interpreters who worked with our soldiers won’t help clean up the mess. Separating a five-year-old child from his parents while checking his paperwork won’t clean up that mess. Sending a Cleveland Clinic doctor back to her homeland, where she had the nerve to go and visit family for a vacation – that will not clean up our mess in the Middle East. Detaining those who have Green Cards and other thorough documentation of their right to be here – that does nothing to clean up our mess in the Middle East.

In fact, nothing about this policy will clean up the mess made by the Obama, Bush or any other previous administration in the Middle East. It will merely add to the series of mistakes we’ve made in that region, mistakes which scream how little we understand the groups active there, the issues at play, and why the hell we are there in the first place. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world and gives a new recruiting tool to groups like ISIS.

Worst of all, this ban will do nothing to make any of us here in the United States safer.

Hibernation Mode

I’ve written before about my desire to spend January and February hibernating. I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I used to just love love love winter! But that was before I moved to Green Acres and getting anywhere after a big snow became a much bigger ordeal. Also, I think I’m just getting old. Lately, I want to be somewhere warmer and sunnier, even though I was never a beach-y person. I can only assume that dwindling hormones lead to an increase in susceptibility to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Truthfully, since the election, I’d probably even settle for moving somewhere colder and not sunnier, but it turns out fleeing to Canada isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I have friends — intelligent, kind-hearted friends — who voted for Donald Trump, and although their choice disappoints me, I respect their right to choose. So I’m trying to say as little publicly about this election as possible. Other than, as I pointed out, Canada turns out to not be a realistic option at all.

I’m spending a lot of time this winter repeating the words of Julian of Norwich to myself: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. Let us hope she was right, and let us all do what we can to make the future a better place for everyone of every class and every color.

And in the meantime, I’m all for avoiding reality as much as possible! Herewith, my suggestions for how to get through the Hibernation Season:

Listen to some great music!

What I’m listening to these days is still Hamilton, the original Broadway soundtrack album and Beyonce’s LemonadeMake sure to buy the actual CD of Lemonade,  so you can see the amazing videos that accompany the songs and hear the stunning, heart-rending poetry of Warshan Shire, which Beyonce recites in between each of the songs.

If Beyonce’s Lemonade isn’t lefty-liberal enough for you, or it’s just too rock-n-roll and rap, try her sister Solange’s beautiful album, A Seat at the Table. Solange explores many of the same themes Beyonce explores on Lemonade, but her music is more introspective and soulful.

Shearwater, a fave alt-rock band of mine, recorded a cover of David Bowie’s Lodger album. There are a limited number of vinyl and digital copies available. Get one if you can. It’s an excellent tribute to one of rock’s greatest innovators and my personal idol.

And of course, if you are still listening to Hamilton, you probably also want to listen to The Hamilton Mixtape, with great covers of songs from the soundtrack by artists like Sia, Queen Latifah and Regina Spector.

Watch some great television!

There’s so much good stuff out there now, thanks to streaming. Here are a few recent faves:

  • Sensitive Skin – a wonderful series on Netflix starring Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar, this dramedy charts a middle-aged couple’s move back to the big city (in this case Toronto) after years of parenting and being buried alive in the suburbs.  All kinds of things happen, a lot of them very sad and very real, but there are a lot of laughs too. Kind of like life. The two stars make every moment feel very real and very believable. I am in awe of Kim Cattrall, who just gets more beautiful and more accomplished as an actress with each passing year.
  • Under the Shadow – Oh, remember how I said I’d try not to be political? I lied. This is an awesome Iranian film set in the early days right after the revolution that put the Ayatollah in power. A young mother goes almost overnight from being a hip, with-it medical school student who watches Jane Fonda videos to living in terror of what will happen if she walks out of the house unveiled. Meanwhile, her husband is off fighting an endless war and her increasingly unstable little daughter is talking to someone who isn’t there and isn’t very friendly. Is it an angry imaginary friend, or is it, as a neighbor suggests, a djinn? Maybe it’s also a symbol of how quickly our lives can be upended when we put our trust in the wrong leaders? Or it’s just a really really good ghost story. You can decide when you watch it. Available on Amazon ($5 to rent and worth every penny).
  • The Man in the High Castle – the best thing Philip K. Dick never wrote.  Because let’s face it, while his ideas were awesome, the execution was frequently fairly addled thanks to all the drugs. I personally think Bladerunner is about ten million times better than the Dick book on which it’s based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And the same thing is true here. The creators of The Man in the High Castle took Dick’s idea of an America divvied up by Japan and Germany after WWII and they really ran with it. Dick’s book focused on some characters on the west coast, under Japanese rule. The TV series also spends time on the east coast, examining life under Nazi rule. Rufus Sewell blows my mind as a not-at-all nice Nazi commander, John Smith. Smith was an American Army officer before the war. Now it’s seventeen years post-war and he’s working for the Nazis pretty enthusiastically. Doing whatever he has to in order to keep his family alive and together, is how he justifies himself to his wife and his own conscience. But the truth is, he kind of enjoys the work entirely too much. This show does a masterful job of showing us how very easy it is to fall into a certain way of thinking when it’s the view pushed by the majority, or whenever it just seems easier to shut up and go along with things. Oops, did I just get political again??? Alexa Davalos and Luke Kleintank are great as a couple of weirdly star-crossed lovers, and Cary-Horyuki Tagawa is excellent as the mystical Mr. Tagomi, who somehow finds himself able to move between alternate realities.

That’s probably more than enough to keep you busy for awhile.

Next week I’ll tackle some reading suggestions. And just keep telling yourself — All shall be well. [A setting of Julian of Norwich’s prayer by Julia Tindall Bloom, with artwork by Kristen Kopp which I found on YouTube.]