Blake Bailey, Roth, and the real reason sexual predators are on the streets

Explosive news in the literary world this week, when literary biographer Blake Bailey, in the midst of almost universally laudatory praise for his new biography of Philip Roth, was revealed to be a sexual predator and accused rapist. Women who’d been middle-school students of his back in the 90s came forward, revealing the ways he’d “groomed” them as children and then made sexual moves as soon as they’d turned 18 – the “age of consent.” One former student has accused him of rape.

Roth, of course, had a reputation for treating women abhorrently. The nice term would be “playboy,” I suppose, which, depending on the degree and whether or not it was mutual, is often dismissed with a wave and a chuckle. “Boys will be boys,” right?

Because Roth chose Bailey as his biographer, the inevitable parallels are being drawn.

Publisher WW Norton temporarily suspended shipment of the book, pulling the plug on publicity. Bailey’s literary agent dropped him. The much-anticipated literary biography of Roth, already considered a strong contender for the Pulitzer, became a pariah in the course of a week.

I question if the allegations against Bailey would have exploded prior to the #metoo movement, before women found their voice, organizing to march against sexually-abusive men in the wake of Donald Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comment caught on tape. I don’t believe it would have. It never has before, when sexually violent men have become successful. Before women found their voice, victims had to remain silent, looking on while the men who assaulted them accepted adulation.

I went searching for articles about the controversy this morning. Unsurprisingly, there is no lack. I also stopped by the Philip Roth Facebook page, where the comments are not astonishing but definitely disappointing. Given an opportunity for debate on the topic of sexual violence against women and systemic mysogyny, the group of mostly men were foaming at the mouth about the women dragging both Blake Bailey and Philip Roth through the mud. Here lies the problem: given a real-life example of the issue, we cannot engage in conversation about the real victims of sexually-predatory men. Instead, a group of readers chooses posturing in order to argue about “cancel culture.”

Really? Is that the takeaway? Guess what: this is precisely the reason women hesitate coming forward to report sex crimes against them. The minute we do, the public at large swoops in to savage us for ruining reputations of these poor, misunderstood men. Are men sometimes wrongfully accused? Of course! But women who come forward deserve to be heard.

I cannot believe I even have to say this.

The “other” position is hardly better. Those who sympathize with the women, instead of rising up to say let’s work on fixing the reason women don’t feel free to talk, instead start ripping apart Philip Roth’s life (which is over) and fiction (which is generally brilliant) for examples of terrible things he’s done. That ship has sailed. You know what ship hasn’t?

Violence against women.

I sympathize with readers who cannot stomach the idea of reading the work of men who’ve done abhorrent things. But you’re not getting it. If you want to examine topics such as racism, sexism, and glorification of violence against women in the writings of specific authors, do so! Just don’t put that ahead of advocacy for the root cause.

I’m a life-long student of literature. I get it. I enjoy rousing debate, as well, however, what infuriates me is not how fictional women are treated. It’s how actual women are.

FFS, would you take a step back and listen to yourselves.

The joy of avoidance: what I think about when I think about not writing

Excuse number 85 to avoid writing: Spring Cleaning. I have four ASAP review books in the queue; avoidance is strong with this one.

How many believe writing is exciting and invigorating, a joy like no other? You people are messed up. How quickly the adrenaline rush fades once the review copy arrives or project is given the green light. Sitting down to the computer, I question all the life choices leading up to this moment. WTF was I even thinking. It is a misery! A scourge! Ten cups of coffee and a few days (okay, weeks, shut it) later, piece submitted and turned around, it’s only then the heart of the Grinch grows three sizes.

Show me a man who declares an undying love of writing and I’ll point accusingly at James Patterson, whore of the printed page. He loves it because he doesn’t write his own shit. I could love that, too. You write it, then give me the money. Just put my name in the larger font.

Writing sucks, my friend. Two-thirds of the furrows on my brow come from the agony of forcibly pulling words out of my brain. There are rope burns on my fingers, scratches in the corners of rooms streaked with blood from my clawing, wails of despair echoing.

Save yourselves! Fly, fools!

Thus, the appeal of distraction. The pit known as my walk-in closet has been taunting and jeering, its great dark maw exhaling humid breath, uttering guttural and menacing strangling sounds. That, or I have apnea.

In another deep storage closet sit seven huge plastic bins containing my books, hundreds of them absorbing toxic plastic odors. The plan is to line one wall in my walk-in bedroom closet with bookshelves – three six-foot tall, five-shelf units. I may stick a chair in there once it’s done, roll out a carpet and imagine it’s my stately manor house. I need only a print of a roaring fire in a stone hearth that rolls down from the ceiling. I shall loftily refer to it as my Library, gesturing vaguely and gazing into the distance like an 18th-century fop. A 21st Century bluestocking squirelled away, admiring her wealth.

Fop, looking on.

Pulling out all the clothing and miscellany from the walk-in triggered overwhelming anxiety, as nearly everything does in The Time of the Pestilence. My bed positively sagging from the weight, hangers and bags spilled onto the floor. I had to have a lie down on my grievously short loveseat, bought sight-unseen and in a rush, to plot my course. I decided to approach it scientifically. Pick up one item, decide what to do with it, then do the thing.

Brilliance.

Hanging and arranging all the clothes, I realized it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. I’m still doubtful I have need of so many things but, in my defense, I culled two garbage bags’ worth of clothing for donation. Once I’d hauled out the laundry, I was able to measure for a dresser and aforementioned bookshelves. Three white particle board units, one cloth-drawered and metal framed dresser.

Thanks, internet!

Small-space organizing is fast becoming my forte; I thrive in these impossibly-small apartments, not that I don’t long for space. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t covet a spare room office. But if there’s an award for cramming crap I’d run away with it. Moving from my last place was a clown car gag personified. I never studied physics but I’m pretty sure I defied all its laws.

It takes ingenuity but there are ways to fit an enormous amount of unnecessary crap into the smallest of spaces. I should start my own HGTV show, a companion series to my earlier idea for a program about decorating I called ‘Good Enough’. Screw sticking out of that shelf on your cheap-ass bookcase? Bedframe duct taped to the headboard?

GOOD ENOUGH! Filmed in front of a live audience.

I never took home repair and improvement that seriously, partly because I used to think I’d eventually find some poor sod to shack up with, a man to rescue me from Herculean tasks – like putting up curtains and leveling pictures. Now I just gouge holes in the wall and slap shit up; spackle is my best friend. Post-pandemic, the idea of pursuing a relationship shifted. Not only have I become completely intolerant of other people, my life’s settling into a fixed routine I don’t want anyone else disturbing. Ironic I’ve had relationships end for exactly that reason.

The irony boggles.

Relationships just plain suck. They’re as bad as writing, just more agonizing. In theory, two people meet and join hands then run through a field of flowers together, laughing in warm-fuzzy joy. In practice, all sours and goes south, ending in a fiery ball of hatred and resentment. The same people who believe writing is a gift from the heavens probably think the same of love.

I’ve become a grumpy spinster. Does it show? I am Miss Havisham, without the rats. (Note: I’ve moved beyond High Lockdown protocol. I now shower regularly and since my hair has finally met professional scissors it’s not a knotted mess. I don’t wear the same clothing through the day, overnight, then through the next day nearly as often. And this hardly sounds redeeming, does it). I like some things a certain way and it is driving me mad not everything has its place but, as this weekend illustrates, I’m accomplishing fixes.

There are rent-a-husbands now, apps you can use to hire people to do annoying crap like hang curtains and fix walls after you’ve tunneled into the drywall, leaving gaping holes and generally making a royal of mess of things. The money you pay is justified by the satisfaction of shit getting done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Best of all, when it’s over you wave them goodbye. All the muscle, none of the irritation of stumbling over them the rest of the time.

Bitter? Me? Why yes. Yes, I am. Unashamedly and justifiably so.

I may not have actively chosen the life I have, but I do now embrace it. That’s much healthier than railing against it, trying to force fate into conforming with my idea of how things should be. Relationships don’t come naturally to me. I’m introverted, raised without benefit of an example of how healthy relationships work. Ask anyone who’s tried getting close to me – they’ll tell you gladly and with great animation. Probably swear-ily. Definitely swear-ily.

In my defense, lack of good judgement paired me with some outrageously incompatible partners. Destined for failure, each of them. I can see that, in hindsight. For better or worse, I am an introverted creative. Like a lot of introverted creatives, my early years were staggeringly dysfunctional. It’s how I came to be what I am, though I hate hearing creativity is worth the trade-off of a stable early life.

Is it? Is it really? That’s a high price.

When you’re given a set of circumstances, acceptance is the key to contentment. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Bad relationships are toxic, far more damaging than no relationship at all. The pandemic reinforced what I already knew: I prefer the world to remain OUT THERE, to visit it when I feel like it but otherwise lock my door against it. It’s rich inside; I have all I need. Stuff gets a little crazy, often haphazard, but I built it to my own specifications.

All that matters is it has good bones.

Duty calls. I have a review that needs writing; this diversion has reached its end, like all good things.

Ah, to leave the house, now that April’s here

Welcome to April. Mid-April, by now. Blink and a month’s gone by – so different from 2020, when every day was a slow slog through molasses. Have you noticed the shift? By the time I noted it, four months had passed. I didn’t even start my 2021 journal until February, what with the move back to my previous apartment complex and nervously breaking down and all.

Always budget time for hysteria. It’s so much more efficient than winging it.

And, while I realize the pandemic is far from over, being fully-vaxxed feels hopeful. Me. Feeling hopeful. What will be next? Keep your expectations low: I’m a curmugeonly, middle-aged crab and avowed singleton, disillusioned with relationships – Newsflash: DARCY ISN’T REAL – wondering if she’ll ever settle in one place longer than a year, unpacking and re-packing books and scattering belongings all over the Chicago metro area.

Hopeful about what, you may ask. That my share of life adventures isn’t depleted, maybe? That I’ll find the courage to travel again, within the States at first, then hopefully back to the UK for a visit in a year or two. Hell, I’d be happy with crossing the parking lot minus the need to mentally brace a day or two before. If the weather’s nice, I’d like to take short-hop getaways. One-hundred percent of therapists agree recovery is all about exposure to anxiety-provoking actions in a slow, measured way.

Or maybe I made it up. Whatever. Fight me.

First haircut and color in over a year! Huzzah!

Review pile is growing by leaps and bounds; it’s gotten way out of control. Hitting that “Request” button is the most exercise I’ve gotten in months; it’s intoxicating. I went a little nuts, now the FedEx man is like a family member. A family member I peer at though the blinds on my front door. Which is the best way to deal with all family members, to be fair.

I am a hermit: same pre-pandemic Lisa, now with more hysteria. I had to open the door to UPS last week to take delivery of a book, otherwise he’d have taken it to the local drop point. Learned my lesson last week when I had to go OUT THERE to fetch a package because apparently UPS is too good to leave it at my door.

W the actual F.

Last Friday I went to stock up on groceries. I’m surprised no one called the authorities on me – animal control, specifically. A hissing opposum in social situations, when my personal space is violated I growl GET AWAY FROM ME through my mask. Fair warning: my personal space extends to a 20-foot radius. Do you live in the Chicago metro area and have you had a rabies vaccine. Ask yourself these questions, plan accordingly

One man, insistent on reaching past me multiple times for his eggs or milk or whatever the hell I was blocking, nearly had his head gnawed off. Improbable I was in his way so many times. I mean, I shot across the store like a laser show at a Coldplay concert. This was no calm, orderly shopping trip. Either he’s as messed up as I am (in which case, he ought to be locked up) or mistook my bulging eyes and panting breaths for sexual attraction.

Not bloody likely, Skippy.

Never make eye contact. Ever. This is the first rule of Pestilence Etiquette, coming on the heels of stay the fuck away. He being In direct violation of same, I’d have been well within my rights to ram him with my cart. Instead, I retreated to the corner, hyperventilating, as I contemplated leaving my shopping behind and subsisting solely on the beans and other emergency food sitting in my pantry since last March. Only my desire for fresh produce and dairy prevented me bolting.

Reader, I made it out, but not before attracting the suspicion of every other person in the store.

I’d like to take this opportunity to brag a bit about my industry. To brag, and show off my pushing past a complete lack of spatial logic to assemble this:

Isn’t she lovely?

I took six months pulling out and shelving all my books in my last place and by that time I was halfway through my lease. Though I hope to stay here longer than a year, my track record suggests otherwise. Time is clearly of the essence. Two other identical bookshelves are in my LR, destined to bookend my bed. Shelving in my walk-in closet should make a cozy niche. Throw a chair in there and a bag of snacks and it’s a weekend destination. Then, the wall adjacent to my work desk should hold two six-footers.

And Bob’s your uncle, signalling time to pack up and move to the next place if the past is any indication.

I hope it’s no indication.

Meanwhile, the FedEx man circles the parking lot as a dog barks in the distance.

Slumber, Awakening, and Sylvia Plath

I don’t know what snapped within me, but I’ve undergone a sea change over the past week or two. Approaching the one-year anniversary of this pandemic shite raising its ugly head, looking back over almost 365 of the worst days of all our lives, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is here, it appears to be working. Is that precipitating the seismic shift?

Dunno.

Could also be running out of Xanax.

The phase I’m in is decidedly hypomanic: a period of increased interest and activity following a Disney-princess slumber – the duration of which I don’t even know, truthfully. I don’t keep track of moods. Maybe I should. I don’t.

When did books last provoke a lustful response beyond “that sounds mildly interesting, perhaps one day I’ll care enough to read it,” I have no answer. When was my last big Amazon book binge? Half Price Books trip?

Before this week, no idea. I haven’t given a shit in the longest time.

American poet Sylvia Plath with that absolute dick of an English poet, Ted Hughes.

Could be Sylvia Plath what done it. I picked up a bio of her at random and started reading. Astonished by the extent of her outrageously out-sized battles with mental illness, suddenly there was a spark where there hadn’t been in so, so long. I felt for her, in her crushing depression and suicidal ideation, her dark nights of the soul leading to multiple and nearly-successful attempts at self-destruction.

Her story resonates.

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Sylvia Plath lead, if not a wild life, at least one filled with love affairs and experimentation. While pursuing her education and building her CV, she swung from man to man looking for an appropriate husband. The one thing she held sacred in her soul was writing.

Then, god help her, Ted Hughes. I’m not sure I mentioned he was a bit of a prick? Because he was a bit of a prick. A genius poet, but a bit of a prick.

Who doesn’t know Plath committed suicide by asphyxiation, sticking her head in a gas oven? Distraught over that prick Ted Hughes (fight me) and his inability to keep his pants zipped, the blatant flaunting of his affair shattered whatever sanity she had in reserve. Left back in England with two small children to care for, while Ted was off in Spain screwing German poet Assia Wevill (who, and this is supremely ironic if you don’t already know, in turn committed suicide the exact same way Sylvia had, tragically taking their four-year-old daughter with her) Sylvia cracked in half for the last time.

Of course, this is all gross simplification of Sylva Plath’s life, influence, and what shoved her off the cliff. The point is, she made me care. Her life was short and she suffered terribly. But she left behind so much beauty, didn’t she?

I’m going to finish this biography, dip into her journals and poetry, and most likely read another recently-released biography of Sylvia Plath recommended by a friend. Then, if I’m still in the mood, read The Bell Jar, her thinly-fictionalized novel about a suicidal woman gone mad.

Then, I may read something else.

Good morning.

Sylvia Plath Quotes On Death. QuotesGram

Support for the writing-constipated

Battling the Black Dog of depression.

It’s not for lack of things to say. Rather the opposite, there’s a bottleneck of scattered throughts stuck where the words come out. Still unable to write anything of substance, barely able to read. Concentration shot, desire to create all but dead.

My 2021 journal has one page scribbled, front and back, and that pretty much garbage. Stuck in the middle is a list of things my therapist said should be first and foremost in my addled brain, advice on bare-minimum concepts of self care during stressful times:

Head

Mind

Body

Heart

She insisted I write these words down when she could see me do it, in last Saturday’s virtual session. I obeyed, did the things one or two days, then sat up this morning remembering SHIT, I have to account for that today. I bluffed my way through, distracting her with every other problem I could think of. She’s so easy to bump off topic. Not that it wasn’t all legit. It was all legit.

To be honest, I barely remember what things fall under the categories she dictated. Head is intellectual, natch. Or is that meditation and such. Oh, crap. Anyway, I watched an interesting series on English history and read a few paragraphs in a book and called that a day.

Body. I have a pulled bicep tendon, meaning I cannot lift anything or support weight with my left arm. Simple yoga stretches left me in excrutiating pain, unable to even lift that arm for a full day. Arctic temps (- 30 to -35 expected tonight) excuse me from walking. Got points for effort.

Heart. As long as that’s not love, I can work with it.

Considering the week before last I was hardly able to get out of bed when it wasn’t required, this past week was a hive of activity. Now that I have a kitchen, I’m cooking again. I baked bread, roasted chicken, made vegetable soup… Slap me upside the head and call me the Pioneer Woman.

Clementine marmalade!
Greek yoghurt muffins with clementine marmalade!
Chicken wings!

Since the last time I posted, I’ve gotten all settled in the new place. It’s good to be back to the land of mod cons. The Victorian-era building had its charm – well, my apartment did, but the building itself was filthy as hell – but a year without in-unit washer and dryer, dishwasher, and forced-air furnace was an exercise in consternation.

I love decorating and I’ve thrown myself into it here. The sofa arrived yesterday, completing the living room. Very happy with the look.

Mid-century influenced – love it.

A REAL KITCHEN.

Next up: the bedroom/office. Since I spend so much time in there, it deserves much more than its current state, which is basically a drab, grey bed and white walls. I’ve been looking at desks. The leading contender is a corner desk that converts from standing to sitting. Benefits are I wouldn’t be on my ass all day, plus the corner placement leaves more of the walls open.

Which side of the room do I put it on, that’s the burning question. My bed is currently under the window but having the desk in that corner would mean natural light, plus a room with a view. Downside is directly on the other side of that wall are my neighbors, who’d have to hear me yammering away on the phone all day. Sound-proofing? Maybe.

Decorating and arranging things keeps my spirits from crashing too far. I think I’m pretty decent at it. Ditto the cooking. I have big countertops now, a huge gas stove/oven and all the conveniences. I bought myself a knife block with actual sharp knives, not the cheapest stuff I could find. As of today, I have a Cuisinart.

I’m writing this post. And I ordered myself two books for a Valentine’s Day present to myself. Both are positive signs. These next few weeks will be tough on me emotionally, as I pass two milestone anniversaries that break my heart. So I’m filling my life with things I love doing, things that inspire.

Is the writing drought done, I don’t know.

I only know I’m moving forward, which is so much better than sitting stuck.

Election Day 2020: Throw the bastard out

November 3, 2020.

It’s here. Time for the People of the United States to vote out the single most vile president in the history of our nation. Four years of humiliation, despair, alienation of our allies, and the enabling and encouragement of racist hate groups will come to an end. I have little doubt of this. When called upon to do the right thing, I believe the American people will answer.

I won’t go into the grisly history of the man’s presidency. It’s too horrific and I don’t want to remember, to be honest. Neither will I refer to him by title. He has done nothing to earn it. The world knows the history and in the future I can only imagine what our descendants will make of it.

It is our national shame.

Voting him in once was a lapse of judgement. It was soul-crushing to those of us who believed it was a disastrous choice – though we can’t have known the extent of his depravity. Voting him in twice would be a damning indictment of the character of this nation.

That would be indefensible.

The last four years have been devastating to me personally. Outrageous behavior has become normalized; it’s been staggering ineptitude, narcissism, and just plain criminal behavior for four years. Unimaginable he’s gotten away with it all. I can’t explain it away without believing the soul of the country is completely without integrity.

The supporters of this outright tyranny are so insular they don’t even listen, pay no attention to his disturbing and dangerous actions. He grabs the flag, waves around a bible, spews hatred and blares out patriotic phrases and his people cheer.

His supporters are lost. Frankly, I’m happy to move forward without them. Damn them to hell for the part they’ve played in flirting with the downfall of our country.

It ends here, America. Going forward it’s a new day filled with hope for change.

Portnoy ain’t the only one complaining

Heyyy there, everything’s normal and nothing to see here!

The president has COVID-19 and continues to recklessly endanger lives, knowingly congregating with his constituents after testing positive for the virus. I think we’re up to nine infections traced from the same “super-spreader” event at the Rose Garden, at which we know for certain he was COVID-19 positive. The entire administration’s a circus, the GOP serial liars, and we cannot trust a goddamn thing they feed us.

Fantastic, thanks! And you?

I don’t really talk politics here. Vitriol spewed on social media leaves me so drained I prefer to keep Bluestalking a forum for books and salacious gossip. Not even a fraction of what I’m reading or writing or watching or thinking about makes it here as it is. Imagine if I spouted off about politics all the time. I’d write about nothing else.

The stresses of 2020 are taking a toll; my country is under seige from within and I am literally worried sick. Each day brings new shocks, and internalizing all this has left me and everyone I know shattered, complete nervous wrecks. I’ve let self care slide and didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until I turned off the news and looked within.

Despite a respectful fear of the virus, I did go to my doctor, who took blood and ran a panel. I’m aware all isn’t quite right. A couple of readings came back concerning enough she’s prescribed medication and requested re-testing in a month.

I’m not saying I have anything fatal; I am saying all the insomnia and constant flood of adrenaline and cortisol may have contributed to a disorder yet to be diagnosed. The doctor is targeting the testing, narrowing it to a couple of suspects, and I won’t be surprised if she sends me to specialists.

No doom and gloom. Chin up! I’m following doctor’s orders, overhauling the way I look at my health, and adjusting priorities bit by bit. I’ve grown cantankerous in middle age, grumpy and difficult, but I’m not completely stupid.

Shut it.

Outside of politics and health worries, my world is – SPOILER – almost entirely literary-focused. Aside from book reviewing miscellany, I’m working on bigger projects for two specific authors: Philip Roth and Camus. There’s a huge bio of Roth coming out next April I’m dying to lay hands on, plus the painting I bought from his estate auction watches me every time I walk through the foyer. A publisher sent me two essay compliations of Camus; it’s a secondary venture.

Since acquiring Roth’s Chinese reverse painting on glass I’ve intended to actually read his books – aside from Portnoy, which I read more than a decade ago and honestly disliked. Within the past couple of weeks I’ve bought multiple works of nonfiction by and about Roth, begun The Plot Against America, and started watching various documentaries and YouTube videos.

Chinese Painting on Glass, from the Philip Roth Estate

I’m falling madly for Philip Roth and I didn’t expect that. Based on a rushed read of Portnoy’s Complaint a lifetime ago, I mentally lumped him in with the School of Testosterone, my own personal and highly subjective classification for male writers I simply have not gotten along with, for various reasons. Most of them, frankly, have to do with an obsession with sex and sweaty man things. Can I be more specific: no.

I AM LOOKING AT YOU, HENRY MILLER.

For a good many years, I ostracized Hemingway. Weirdly enough, for a writer I’d formed an early dislike to – SEE: Forced march through The Old Man and the Sea book and film in high school – I made a concerted effort to see his homes in Oak Park, IL and Key West, FL. When in Rome?

Exactly when he snuck back in the parlor I can’t pinpoint but I had relegated him to the stables, where he’d been up to god knows. Visiting Shakespeare & Co. in Paris may have been his turning point, laying eyes on that iconic bookshop and imagining what they’d gotten up to endeared him to me.

If Sylvia Beach welcomed him, how bad could he be?

Shakespeare & Co., Paris, 2016

If you’ve read or know anything about The Plot Against America, it will be no surprise this is not an anxiety-lessening novel. Roth imagines an America overrun by facism, supposing what would have happened if the extreme right-wing leaning Charles Lindbergh had defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The best choice to be reading right now? Not so sure. A phenomenal read, yes.

Its concentration on the fictional Roth family has thus far kept me engaged without raising my already sky-high anxiety. I won’t hesitate to put it aside if it gets too intense but I don’t get the impression it will.

LOLLLZZZ – famous last words.

My health is, and will remain, first and foremost over any reading. Philip Roth wrote something on the order of 30 novels. I’m not lacking in material.

It’s Sunday evening. My brain and eyes are exhausted from spending the weekend staring at books and screens. I’m trotting off to find something entertaining to watch so I can unfocus my eyes and relax my brain. No documentaries, no heavy anything. Pity I don’t have a soaking tub or I’d end all my days in it.

Wait. That sounds off.

Waking up as September ends

Aspiring bloggers, take note! Sit down. Whip out your Moleskines and disposable fountain pens. I offer you the key to my Blogging Empire.

Write this next part on a fresh page. Memorize it. Eat it, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Your enemies surround you, preparing to dance ’round your smoking carcass. Drumbeats are so loud you feel it in your chest; one word from that guy wearing a big, feathery hat and they’ll step off. It’s like totally dramatic, I will not lie. You could have used all this in a story, only you didn’t heed my warning.

FFS, why do I even bother.

READ THIS SO YOU CAN LIVE. Record my words:

1). Fire off a flurry of posts of varying quality in a short space of time, generating interest and gaining followers.

2). Piss off a few months. Totally ignore the goddamn thing like that dusty, wrinkled sock under your bed next to the mechanical pencil you dropped when you fell asleep writing marginalia.

3). Misspend all your time posting political rants on Twitter, articles on Facebook, pictures of rando stuff on Instagram. Use lots of filters, apply vignette to everything.

4). Indulge in self-loathing – really dig in! Sketch out all the ways you’ve failed, opportunities lost and connections missed.

Make them up if you must!

What am I, your secretary?

THINK FOR YOURSELF, FFS!

5). Poke your face in after you’ve lost your old password and have to re-set it, and, THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT, SO CHANGE INK COLOR: promise to do better, then don’t.

6). Order pizza. This is hungry work!

7). Send me money for value provided. My Amazon cart will not buy itself.

Its simplicity is genius. You can, quite literally, pour your Dorito-swollen pandemibody onto the sofa, eat popcorn and binge British crime dramas, and achieve every bit as much as I have. Every. Last. Bit.

I feel waves of admiration radiating. I love you, too, and accept your thanks with open wallet.

Retreat – Stockton, IL – July 2020

Srsly, this last stage of pandemonium has been intellectually frenetic, following that cleansing week I spent off the grid. Over a hundred pages ink-vomited into an ironically optimistic dedicated 2020 journal left me dry heaving and spent. Clarity of mind lasted, oh, a week?

It’s been a trip, innit.

It was the summer of re-reading Faulkner, plowing back through As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. They ripped out my slimy guts, leaving them throbbing on the floor.

Say it with me: William Faulkner is the single greatest writer produced by the United States. Full stop.

I clawed my fingers into the words, drowned in the depths of their devastating perfection. Analytical skills cultivated from a lifetime passion for reading and writing about reading and extricating allusions and meaning reignited, like a thousand banshees screaming their fury.

It was as if I’d never deserted criticism.

So, yeah. There’s that.

In other news, five years into the divorce my ex-husband and I have begun sharing custody of the family Jack Russell Terrier. I took her in when he found himself in a bind, faced with possible cancellation of vacation plans with his current girlfriend turning him to his last resort – me. I accepted reluctantly. Having a cat who never seemed to play well with others, and a lease stipulating a one-pet limit, I wasn’t thrilled though I love her dearly.

Lo and behold, I felt tearful when he took her home.

At 14, she’s barely slowing down – not that she’s ever exhibited the full-blown JRT personality. Anxiety tempers the in-yo-face exhuberance she doesn’t realize she’s supposed to have, though she Tiggers at walkie time.

Mostly, she sleeps. And at night she grunts and dream woofs, curling up against my back and kicking me randomly. Reminds me an awful lot of marriage, only my ex-husband never peed on my down comforter.

Violet is besotted, rubbing against Lia violently. She stands on tip-toe, takes aim, and heaves herself like it’s a trust exercise at a business seminar. Lia generally takes it well, save two times she literally snapped. On the upside, Lia hasn’t caught her.

I didn’t realize my lard-ass cat could move that fast.

Lia gets me out of the house and walking the neighborhood. Painted lady Victorian-era homes proliferate here; there are hundreds. A sucker for their beauty, I take pictures no matter how stalky it looks. I cannot help myself.

Historic District, Elgin. Painted Ladies.

After a summer spent pandemidating, there’s been a sea change in my whole perspective on relationships. Fifteen men met scrutiny, none fit the suit. Visceral nausea, a literal struggle not to projectile vomit through a mask made me realize what I was doing and why it was wrong: I was looking to recreate my last relationship, to reincarnate that specific man. Each one of them had about three minutes to be him. At that point I hoped an anvil would fall on their heads.

My life is so full. I’m finding my joy again, and trying to meet society’s idea of what I should want is useless torture. Plus, toying with the emotions of other people. That’s wrong, saying sorry, but no, over and over.

There’s been little happening and much happening, depending on perspective. I don’t venture out many places. Only when absolutely necessary. Agoraphobia is an ever-present threat, the pull of the farmers market on Fridays desirable beyond the produce and freshly-baked bread. I pick up groceries, see my adult kids occasionally.

Forcing faith the world will reopen one day, a 2021 trip to homes of great writers is in the planning stages. Beyond that, possibly the UK in 2022. All the stuff I can do because there’s no need to take anyone else into account in scheduling my life.

It’s going well, two steps forward and one back as the November election looms. Barring civil war, the next milestone is the vaccine.

We’re all taking it day by day, aren’t we.

Exhausting. But hopeful. It springs eternally, as it must.

As I Lay Whining

Friends and exes still stalking me (as I am you, and you still look so pretty when you sleep), I am in a funk – at once bored out of my mind and so irritated the only thing stopping me from clawing my way out of my skin is the mess. Who needs the aggravation of no-contact carpet and upholstery cleaner rental right now?

Not this bish!

I’ve only just mastered grocery pick up, FFS, and even then I hesitate to abuse the term “mastered,” as I discovered today I left three frozen dinners in my trunk, in 90 degree heat, for two days. Particularly annoying when I’m gearing up for a “let’s get off the quarantine weight” initiative, my time-tested method consisting of protein shakes for breakfast and lunch, then strictly calorie-controlled frozen dinners – preferably frozen dinners that will not result in death by e-coli, and, though this would negate the need for future initiatives of any sort, upon further review the judges have turned thumbs down on this idea, in a rare show of a united front.

Is this current mood an improvement over anxiety? It’s a change. I’ve blown past insomnia to wake me and I will bitch-slap you, whore, which my doctor assures me is even worse than not sleeping. Yet, when I was not sleeping she was all furrowed brow and have you tried melatonin, and I was all yeah, but I ran out and I could put it on my grocery list but I’ll probably just leave it to rot in the trunk with my Healthy Choice protein bowls.

Summer heat helps nothing, the charm of my turn 100+ year old apartment tarnished by the lack of forced air. Not sure you’ve noticed, but little annoyances blow up when you’re sweaty and dehydrated. It took about three days of sweating myself into a dessicated pile of dust to jump online and splash out $ 400 for a window unit air conditioner – with remote, thanks very much.

Take my money! Just let me live again!

Impressive how easy the stores make it to spend your money while totally circumventing human interaction. You pay, they email you when your stuff is ready to be picked up, then some guy in a mask heaves it into your trunk like some kind of reverse robbery. It feels illegal, like a parking lot drug deal.

I’m left wondering why on earth I ever voluntarily interacted with another person, and if they’ll continue this even after the pandemic’s over.

Note to self: call Lowe’s Monday.

Where it falls short regarding modern conveniences, building management makes up for in superb maintenance service. Once I had the unit in my trunk, I texted my landlord I needed help putting the thing in my window. An aversion to squashing people having dogged me my whole life, I didn’t want anything disastrous to be my responsibility should the thing slip from my hands. Plus, when I rented the place he’d assured me installing said appliance would be no big whoop.

Two days later the maintenance guy came knocking, masked and carrying something that looked like an industrial-sized auger. Puzzled, I acknowledged I really had no idea what tools a person needed to install an air conditioner, and, obviously, a four-foot long metal spiral was necessary.

He pointed to the bathroom door, saying In there? Having already given my landlord the heads’ up I needed the a/c brought up the stairs because I couldn’t lift it from the trunk, I figured he just hadn’t relayed the message, so I replied, No, in my car trunk, at which point the poor man looked completely confused.

Your toilet is in your trunk?

No, my air conditioner is.

Him: blink.

Me: blink.

I need the window unit a/c installed.

Hilarity ensued, as he realized the clog in my toilet was actually a 50 lb. air conditioner. Ha and ha, the laughter becoming strained when I re-affirmed that, yes, my landlord had volunteered him, the maintenance guy, to not just install the unit but also wrangle the thing up three floors.

It was then the light in his eyes died.

I left him to the installation, having received a positive response to do you think it will fit in the kitchen window. All of fifteen minutes later, it was installed and running. He handed me the remote, even offering to put the box in the attic, to get it out of my way. I tipped him for what I considered over and above normal building maintenance, wishing him a good day and thanks so much.

Only once I’d wrapped up my work day did I take time to inspect the job. The little machine that could had restored my will to live, what more did I need to know? I’d sat at my desk all day pointing the remote over my shoulder, turning the air off and on. It most assuredly worked. A little loud, but my place is small and sound carries. No big whoop.

Dinner time rolled around and I was standing in front of the air conditioner, merrily cutting Brussels sprouts to roast. Like my entire apartment, my kitchen is compact. Sub-compact. Like, really, really small. The fact my hip was so close to the vent as to become frost-bit didn’t give me pause.

Until I went to shove the sprouts in the oven.

And the oven door hit the a/c, because there was zero clearance.

Because the sweet maintenance man had not, in assuring the unit would fit the window, taken into account I may actually go crazy and, I don’t know, WANT TO COOK FOOD.

Let’s stop this here while I tell you there are no good options for windows to virtually lose in my apartment. The sofa is in front of the living room window. The kitchen area has three beautiful bay windows I refuse to uglify with a huge appliance. Then there’s the bathroom and bedroom. The bathroom would be ridiculous, even if the window weren’t too small. And the bedroom? My headboard completely blocks it, plus, that window’s over-sized. It would require some sort of extension to fill the gap left by the expandable sides coming out of the air conditioning unit.

The kitchen window is not a good one to lose, but that’s basically it. I have the choice of eating hot food or burning to a crisp in my third floor charmer.

Are you even fucking kidding me.

I did what any sensible person would do. I spent another $ 150 on a combination toaster/convection oven, in which I hope to cook all food I cannot make on the stove top. The convection oven bumped the microwave from its perch, so now my microwave is sitting on the floor, while I studiously avoid thinking any further about any of this.

So. Yeah. I’m a little irritated at the moment.

How’s your pandemic going, month fifty-thousillion?

Do tell.

Pande-monium

Takes a pandemic to propel me back to blogging, apparently.

My mind had been on it prior to that, but disaster provides strong motivation to reach out. I’d have posted sooner, like two weeks ago when it began, only the practicalities of turning your life upside down pretty much overnight take one hell of a lot of time and energy.

Finding yourself tired all the time? I’m exhausted. I sleep like an angel at night, but the emotional impact of all this drains every ounce of energy. I don’t doubt you feel that, too.

I’ve been posting semi-regular daily journal entries on Facebook for the consumption of friends and family, then realized that’s not the best medium for more complex thoughts. Bluestalking’s been sitting idle a long while, waiting for me to make up my mind what to do with it. I’d rather it hadn’t taken a global crisis to nudge me back toward writing.

Thanks, but no thanks, COVID-19.

Writer’s block, a thing I’ve rolled my eyes at basically forever, hit me with a vengeance several months ago. I quit reviewing, keeping a journal, even reading. Moving away, in spitting distance of where I’d spent nearly 30 years of my life but far away in terms of culture, provoked such fear and panic and I can’t tell you why. I left the country with less anxiety – TWICE.

I lost touch with myself. It manifested itself in out-sized anxiety I struggled to control, succeeding by virtue of digging my fingernails into the ledge I nearly dropped from. The place I moved is packed with character, the apartment charming as hell, and the diversity of the area far removed from my blindingly white former home.

But I kind of fell apart.

Coming back to writing and reading will, I’m hoping, return me to myself.

I know no one who’s had COVID-19, or even knows anyone who’s fallen victim. Counting myself lucky on that score. Also fortunate my occupation allows me to work from home; I have a regular salary from a company that’s thriving – actually hiring in the midst of this dystopian nightmare, and full benefit of health insurance.

My pantries are so full, if pressed I could stay in place at least a couple of months – though, Christ, I hope it won’t be that long. I lack for nothing, save face to face contact with those I love, though that’s a huge, yawning gap. I’m thankful for video chatting. There’s that.

The State of Illinois has been under a shelter-in-place order a week now, and I abide by that strictly, leaving home only to pick up medication, so far. When I need eventually need groceries, I’ll either order for pick up or have them delivered.

Again, I’m fortunate.

But tired, and struggling to wriggle back into my skin. Pandemics just don’t show up at convenient times, do they?

We are in this together, and what we make of this time will define how future generations judge us, looking back. I, for one, want to be able to look at my future grandchildren and say I more than got through this. Not just “I learned 100 ways to cook beans,” but “I accomplished a thing” – then tell them about it.

We will get through this.