Last week I posted a photo of the melee going on at the Capitol during what needs to be called an Insurrection. I have no other name for it, as “protesters” don’t smash windows, beat cops, and otherwise trash a hallowed temple of our democracy. Seeing that the War of 1812 ended over 200 years ago, I couldn’t see any other reason why they’d be there. So today, Speaker Pelosi was forced again to deal with the Insurrectionist-in-Chief the only way she could, by once again impeaching him. For those who disagree, you’re welcome to your point of view. That’s what First Amendment rights are all about. What they don’t concern is yelling louder than anyone else so you can punctuate your point with violence. We are free to disagree. We are not free to endanger the rights, the lives, the liberty, and the Constitution of this country. You live here, you have to play by the rules. If you disagree, there are legal avenues you are free to explore. But your right to disagree with me ends at the point of your fist. Because we are a republic, and we’re civilized. Right? Right?
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Has 2020 all been a bad dream? Or is this a reality I’ve actually been living through? I remember sitting on my sofa around mid-March, when someone on TV said we’d probably be sheltering in place for the foreseeable future. I actually laughed, finding that simply incredible. Well, it was no joke, because after a brief mirage called “summer,” we’re doing it again, and for who-knows-how-long.
And now we’ve come upon the holidays, and there’s nothing about them that seems normal. The only thing that does is the perennial hope the New Year brings, and I don’t think anyone will argue 2021 doesn’t carry extra weight. The next year carries equal measures of portent and potential, and I for one can’t wait to get on with it.
Here’s hoping it’s a good one as I remain, ever optimistic. See you on the next calendar page.
I haven’t said much about the virus in the months that we’ve been locked down and out of our normal lives. Mostly because I’m not one to give oxygen to something so disruptive, as maybe it’s best to ignore the worst and carry on. But it has been disruptive and it has been the worst. I haven’t been on campus since Spring Break, and teaching college remotely is a bullshit substitute, long lost of it’s novelty of biz-cahz uptown and yoga pants downtown. I miss the the color and variety of campus life, I miss the one-on-one interactions with my students, I miss my zany colleagues, and let me tell you, I even long for those interminable committee meetings. (Even shrinking my Zoom screen to play “Spelling Bee” or Free Cell is dull next to inter-departmental drama.) As bad as my campus being compressed to the confines of my 10 X 12 home office, that’s not the worst. Not by a major long shot. It’s the loss of my writing mojo.
One would think with the shrinking of my social life, I’d revel in the time left over to create. That all those evenings and afternoons I spent in exterior pursuits could now be devoted to the interior ramblings of my imagination. If it only were that easy. After spending the greater part of the spring and summer polishing off and perfecting my latest novel to send it out on the market, I’ve been made painfully aware of the dismal prospects of getting it sold. One would think that editors, locked out of the offices, the cocktail parties, the author events, etc., have nothing better to do than read and revel over each and every one of our magnum opi. But let me tell you, that is an assumption I was a fool to make. This business is tighter than ever, and with so many people self-publishing, mid-list books are no longer much of a priority. Not that I think selling isn’t still a possibility–oh don’t get me wrong. Persistence always pays out in the end. I’ve sold before, and I will sell again. But the unoccupied mind is a fertile playground for despair, and one imagines all kind of scenarios, and most of them hardly uplifting. And that wreaks havoc on creativity, especially when you’re trying to work on The Next Greatest Thing. You’d be surprised what a frenemy the Pandemic becomes, as a wholesale excuse to flee the dreaded Empty Page for Netflix. (Watched “Queen’s Gambit” in just two sittings last week!) So what does one do when the writer no longer feels like one?
You want answers? Comfort? Companionship? You’ll get none of it out of me. Well, maybe that’s not true–companionship maybe, as I have a feeling I’m not in this alone. Although most fiction writers pride themselves on the ability to build vibrant worlds out of nothing, they still need reality as an engine for creativity. And because of that, we’ve also been known to live too vividly inside our heads conjuring up all kinds of horribleness. I’ll never finish this book. Who am I to think I’m a writer? No one will ever buy this crap. If I send this out it’ll only get rejected. I have writer’s block. I’ve lost my imagination. I can’t write. I never could. I suck.
Yeah, that’s me, and I suppose that’s been you at one point or another, and never more than now. But maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. These are extraordinary times. I’ve even heard them compared to World War II in the sacrifices we’ve had to make, the pain we’ve had to endure, the doctors and nurses and essential workers our fighting men and women at the front. It’s hard to concentrate on fantasy when a trip to the grocery store has all the potential of making our worst nightmares come true. Maybe we need to give ourselves a break, redirect all that bad energy into good. Give grandma a phone call. Send a tray of cookies to the local ER. Drop a box of groceries at a food bank. Donate to your favorite charity. Your writing life will come back to you. There are others whose loss is much more concrete. In the meantime, between now and the vaccine, there’s still room enough in our heads for hope–and even perhaps a dream or two.
Movies are my favorite form of escapism, and when I first posted this list a while ago, the only diversion I needed was one from the over-commercialism of the season. How quaint that seems now. Without going into the reasons why, let’s just take these little gems for what they’re worth, a short vacation out of a reality that’s become too grim of late. So get cozy, grab the popcorn and lose yourself in these trifles of holiday storytelling.
1. The Shop Around the Corner ( 1940) – Must be my Eastern European blood calling to me, but I just love this sparkling Ernst Lubitsch romance set in a prewar Budapest gift shop. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two battling sales clerks who don’t know they’re falling in love via the post, as each other’s anonymous pen pal. Stellar secondary characters, including a priceless William Tracy as the cheeky delivery boy, Pepi. The Christmas Eve menu at the end had me salivating.
2. The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942) – After dining at a Ohio local’s home during a lecture tour, notoriously acerbic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on his hosts’ icy steps, and takes over not only their house but their lives. Starring Monty Woolley as The Man and Bette Davis as his aide-de-camp, the snark and sarcasm are so sharp and quick you’ll come away nicked but you’ll be laughing too hard to care. Still fresh over seventy years later, The Man is based on Algonquin Roundtable-er, Alexander Woolcott, his cronies thin veneers of Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence and all who were definitely in-crowd.
3. Holiday Affair (1949) – No one did heavy-lidded better than The Mitch, and the very fact that he actually made a holiday film piqued my curiosity enough to watch it. Just by the look of this poster you could see the only thing that remotely indicated that it had anything to do with Christmas was war-widow’s Janet Leigh’s sheer wrapping definitely promised presents for someone. Oh, somewhere among the movie’s a plot involving a department store clerk and a retail spy, a sassy kid, a train set, a jilted–oh who cares! Mitch smolders and Janet’s a brush fire waiting to happen.
4. A Christmas Story ((1983) – All nine-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a genuine Red Ryder BB gun, and he’ll do darn near anything to get it. Based on the recollections of storyteller Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, Peter Billingsley had the part of a lifetime that until this day loops every Christmas on cable channel TBS. Darren McGavin ought to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for one priceless part as Ralphie’s dad who spouts the immortal words, “It’s a major award!”
5. The Holiday (2006) – Don’t ask me why I like this story of American movie trailer maker Cameron Diaz, and English wedding column writer Kate Winslet who swap their respective Hollywood and Surrey homes for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s got something to do with Jude Law being tossed into the mix, I don’t know, but the whole thing sure sounds like a good idea to me.
Seriously. I mean, what else can happen? Haven’t we already been though the grinder–how many times this year? How much more fucked up can it get before 2020 calls it a day? How many people are afraid of the answer to that? All I know is it’s thirty-six days and counting until we can nail this bastard shut. Then it’s only twenty more days until, well, you know. Hanging on until then.
Happy Thanksgiving to all…well. What else can you call yourselves besides survivors?
I CANNOT believe it’s 18 November, and I forgot to give my annual plug for National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo! Maybe because I’m so swamped with grading and thesis reviewing I don’t have time to write myself. Fine writer I am! I still should find the time to jot down something (well, maybe that’s what THIS is. But still. NaNoWriMo is still the greatest thing ever, because even if you’re not planning on starting a new novel, you can still use it to continue on with your current work-in-progress, spiff up an old one, or give yourself a virtual kick in the pants. Or as they put it…
Every story matters.
Let’s start writing yours.
Writing a novel alone can be difficult, even for seasoned writers. NaNoWriMo helps you track your progress, set milestones, connect with other writers in a vast community, and participate in events that are designed to make sure you finish your novel. Oh, and best of all, it’s free!
Yes, free is always a good thing. And so is the sense of community you get . There are local chapters as well, so you can keep that community spirit all year long, with the great events they sponsor. There’s even Camp NaNoWriMo for the youngsters. In any event, it’s never too late to get started.
Now–get that butt in the chair and start creating some genius!
Yes, Biden won. He did. That’s reality. (YIPPEE!! btw). But at least for the present, I’m tired of being a pundit. I’d rather be a writer instead. But I’m too exhausted by the last few weeks to rub two coherent thoughts together (See? Even splitting infinitives). Then I saw this on a social media site, and it’s exactly what I need today. See how many of these words you’ve actually used in your writing. I for one have used several, but my absolute favorite of the list has to be cattywumpus. I have no idea what it means, maybe something akin to kerfluffle, but I’m definitely going to have to find an occasion to use it.