Monday’s Sun

Sunshine through trees in field
© creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Mid-80s yesterday, and the dogs were happy to bask and even happier to go inside and spread out on the cool tiles of the dining room. I managed a great deal of gardening–never again will I allow stinking geranium to spread unchecked. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be good luck to carry, but there’s only so much of that smell I can take. Plus, it was choking what peas managed to ward off the slugs, and providing a lovely sunshade for said slugs and their snail cousins. Which would be fine if the slugs would eat the damn weeds and leave the damn peas alone, but that’s too much to hope for.

Anyway, I’ve a mild tan on my shoulders and I’m sure my body has no idea what to do with all the vitamin D it’s bathing in. We have reached the sunscreen half of the year, when I lather on layers of the stuff.1 Miss B had her daily brushing out on the deck, which means her coat picked up pollen and various other things as she rolled around in ecstasy. She really likes being brushed, and contorts herself in a variety of ways during the experience. Odd, of course, can’t roll onto his back without difficulty breathing, and he’s sensitive so brushing is kept to a minimum so as not to irritate his skin or make him tetchy.

A tetchy bulldog is a terrible thing. The groaning is long and involved, and the mournful looks are so heartbreaking, in fact, that one must laugh or be considered completely soulless.

Anyway, I finished my chores early yesterday and settled in to read Alexander Werth’s magisterial2 Russia at War. You can tell it was published in the early 60s; Eastern Front scholarship (and the opening of confidential archives after the Soviet Union dissolved) has advanced a long way since. Still, it’s an epic work, even if Werth was rather too inclined to believe the “official” Soviet versions of things. Part of it was that he didn’t know any better, since the archives were still closed; part of it is, no doubt, his fellow-feeling for the ally he was embedded with during the earthshaking events of WWII. He tends to ascribe to Stalin rather more charity and clarity than that fellow actually possessed, and I have Volume II of Kotkin’s new biography of the Iron Tsar on the docket next as somewhat of a corrective.

I’d have preferred for Gareth Jones to survive and write the definitive work, especially since Jones went walkabout in Ukraine during the Holodomor and did the only real reporting on that disaster.3 While reading Werth’s asides on Ukrainian nationalism, the swallowing of the “official” Soviet line (and its giveaway term, “Banderite” as a pejorative) is glaring. I’m glad I read Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine before attempting Werth. History is a puzzle, the pieces painstaking assembled and constantly reframed.

As a result of spilling onto the couch and reading for a few hours, I don’t have my usual feeling of “I need a weekend to recover from the weekend’s frantic activity.” It’s a nice change, but now I need to roll around in a few more layers of sunscreen and hit the pavement before the temperature climbs. Really, anything above seventy is Too Sweaty for my adapted-to-the-PNW-mushroom self. I’m already longing for more rain, and it’s only May.

Off to the races, then.

The Hang of Tuesdays

I took double the time I thought I needed off after finishing a zero, but I’m still stretched-thin and cranky. It always takes longer than I plan for, even if I plan for a ridiculous number of days. I should just give up planning and wallow.

Yeah, I can hear you laughing. It’s not gonna happen. Contact with the enemy throws all plans out the window but planning is indispensable, and all that. Maybe I’ll just revise the Nutless Kangaroo Shifter Story. It’s only 25k, and it’s fun. That might help ease me over the hill.

Otherwise, it’s all opera (yesterday I livetweeted the Met’s 2009 Lucia di Lammermoor, just for fun) and knocking off a bit of reading. I finished Leckie’s Strong Men Armed and have moved on to another Bolaño. The former is not perfect, I’ll admit–the casual racism is very much a product of its time–and Leckie struggles against the dehumanization of the “enemy” as much as anyone who had slogged through brutal combat can. It’s just what it says on the tin–the story told pretty much from the viewpoint of the Marines on the ground, of whom Leckie was one.

The Bolaño is…well, it’s pure Bolaño. Udo the narrator is a selfish piece of shit1, and Bolaño would have done better from a technical standpoint to do the book in the same close first person without trying for the epistolary feel of a diary. I keep thinking every time I read him that I’ll finish scratching that frustrating itch and be done with it, but like Jandek, sometimes I get in a mood and it’s the only thing that will do. Fortunately I have the rest of the TBR to get through when this is finished.

It would be nice if the dogs would stop trying to den in my TBR. In their defense, it’s in my office, where we all spend the majority of our days. And whenever they start, they get a reaction from me, which is probably the point of half their attempts. (Or more.)

I had a list of Serious Subjects for the post today, but any attempt to organize them makes me stare into the distance in self-defense. The part of recovery where you feel better but still have to be careful so you don’t tear something fragile and injure yourself even worse quite frankly sucks.

So it’s tea, some revisions, reading, and playing with tetchy bored canines today. The Princess has something pastry-based she wants to experiment with on her day off, and the oven is already going.

Not bad for a Tuesday.

Prepared

Snowing hard this morning. The Prince went off to school with his Yule gloves, the scarf I knitted him, his down jacket–I could barely see his eyes peering out between scarf and hood. “I’m PREPARED,” he announced, before clattering out the door.

Odd Trundles moaned, groaned, and otherwise bitched until I dragged him (and B) out for a walk. And, again, he shook his delicate paws all the way and moaned at me. Clearly, as the goddess of everything as far as his wee canine self is concerned, I deliberately made it snow in order to inconvenience him and soak his nails. B, of course, was THRILLED with the falling white stuff and singing hosannas of praise, since clearly as the goddess of everything as far as her wee canine self is concerned, I deliberately made it snow to give her something to sniff at and play in.

It’s rough being a goddess.

I dreamed last night that I was twelve, Fezzik (Andre the Giant, natch) was my foster father, and I found out I could call shoggoths from the sea and obliterate the evil people using said shoggoths for their own nefarious purposes. Woke up wondering if the shoggoths would get indigestion from evil people, then fell back asleep and dreamed they carried me away to a city just thrust up from under the waves, and my biggest worry was convincing the big gelatinous blobs to bring me fruit or flotsam involving preserved limes so I didn’t get scurvy. Apparently reading all that Lovecraft did something to my subconscious, but on time-delay.

I finished Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives yesterday while waiting to pick up the Princess at the train station (thank goodness she was safely home before this weather moved in) and was furious at the betrayal of Cesárea and of Lupe. I shouldn’t be surprised; machismo authors transacting through the bodies of woman (oh, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick made it articulate for me) is nothing new at all. Still, there are some parts of that book–like Quim’s long discussion of the literature of desperation–that have burrowed in and will stay with me for a while.

*time passes*

I must look like death warmed over, because when the neighbor texted to ask if I wanted anything from the store and I went over to drop off some cash, said neighbor opened the door and said, “Silly girl…are you still sick?” Thankfully I did NOT breathe on/infect my neighbors. Normally I would have scolded them for thinking of traveling in this weather, since I’ve got the all-wheel drive, but the roads are pretty clear and I’m in no condition to go anywhere. I’ll be huddling next to the heater for a while.

I had somewhere I was going with this post, but it’s flown right out the window. Time to put some laundry in and take some decongestants.

*wanders away*

Ice Day, and Books

Last night’s snow is falling in melting clumps off branches and roof edges. I dragged both dogs out for Odd Trundles’s walkies, and wrestled with B’s bouncing glee at the white stuff and Odd’s “EW NO MY PAWS, MY DEWICATE PAWS! *snortwhistle*” Halfway through I started coughing and couldn’t stop, so it’s probably best I didn’t roll out of bed and into my running clothes.

*sigh*

I’m torn between taking today off for a holiday or just getting work done since I’m going to be stuck in a chair for most of the day anyway. I suppose I could settle on the couch and finish Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives; I knocked off a good chunk of it yesterday afternoon when the weather started turning filthy and I was filling tissues as fast as I could get them out of the box. Bolaño’s one of those authors who will induce a fever if you doesn’t already have one; I remember reading 2666 and feeling like the world was about to slip away on a greased plate, my forehead damp and my eyes gleaming. It’s the same sort of feeling I get from Murakami at his best, I remember 1Q84 and Hard-Boiled Wonderland both induced it, and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, too. Algernon Blackwood’s short stories sometimes give one, and Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Of course, there are some books one should never read while fevered. And some that one wants to read only when one is feeling a little unmoored. Kind of like Jandek‘s music is horrid the first time you hear it, then it grows on you and you end up craving it in certain conditions, scratching an itch until it bleeds. A painful relief.

*looks back over post* I suppose I’m not quite “well” yet. The sun has come out and is gilding every icy edge and corner; the dripdrops of melt are gold-tinged. The air is full of falling jewels, as if there’s damn Tolkien elves about. (At least it’s not chicken feathers, as Mia Sara once remembered about the filming of Legend.) A clear sky means a cold sky in February, so ice will no doubt make things iffy for traveling later, but for right now…well, a warm shower and some decongestant, since the cough has moved into my chest. Then, fever or no, it’s time for some work. If I don’t write today I’ll start to itch under my skin, and that’s unbearable.

If I can’t run, I must work, though of course both would be best. In any case, Odd, worn out by his morning walk, is snoring contentedly in his Fancy Dog Bed, and Miss B is likewise snoring in my office doorway. They’ll wake when I move.

Maybe I’ll just stay where I am for a while…

REVIEW: Stranger in the Woods

I was up late last night, despite exhaustion and Benadryl. (I blame my early-evening tea session.) I decided to use the time wisely by reading, and polished off The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. It’s the story of Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit. Or, in other words, a monograph about an extremely selfish man, by an extremely selfish man.

My writing partner loaned me the book for Roadtrip Z survivalist stuff, and it scratched that itch nicely, I suppose. But it raised in me the same feeling of disgust Into the Wild did. Knight wanted to opt out of society and its pressures while also feeding off its benefits. He didn’t hunt, or trap, or fish–he robbed cabins and park kitchens. The people I felt the most for were the victims, in particular one woman who went to her cabin to escape and yet was robbed of any feeling of safety by Knight’s repeated break-ins.

Finkel pays lip service to the victims, of course, being more interested in quoting from the books Knight read and propping up his own self-image as the Hermit Whisperer. I only actively began to dislike Finkel at the point where he starts pursuing the just-released-from-prison Knight despite his subject’s repeated “no”s. At one point, Finkel shows up with an apple pie for Knight’s mother (who hung up on him when he called) and a bunch of lilacs, and it was so stalkerrific I was actually a bit nauseous. (Men who won’t take no for an answer aren’t only horrid to women, go figure.)

Add to that an episode of Finkel reporting suicidal ideation in Knight and a mutual crying session–patently unbelievable, my story-sniffer whiffed bullshit all over that particular chapter–with his subject, and Finkel’s attempts to worm himself into contact with Knight’s case workers afterward under the guise of being worried about the man…well, Finkel, despite his efforts to portray himself as a reasonable journalist, misses by a mile and comes off as a creep. Knight’s behavior was massively selfish, but Finkel’s edges into complete entitled bullshit. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of either man while reading, but when the book closed, I pitied Christopher Knight.

TL;DR: One of those books that shows you more about the author than the subject, but there’s a couple of good survivalist things in it.

The Hundred Days

Last night I finished The Hundred Days: Napoleon’s Last Campaign from eye-witness accounts. It was, of course, weighted heavily towards the British and German; if you want the Hundred Days told from the French point of view you should look elsewhere. That said, Brett-James picked a good cross-section, and let them speak for themselves.

I realized near the end that I was putting off finishing the book, because I didn’t want to hear a nasty version of Napoleon’s surrender. I mean, the man was a friction’ misogynist–his Code is laughably woman-hating in parts–and yet I can’t help but admire his military record and his sheer bloody-mindedness. If he hadn’t invaded Russia like an idiot…well, but he did. In retrospect, “invading Russia” is probably Fate’s way of disposing of European autocrats who can’t be taken down by any other means.

However, I needn’t have worried, because that particular historical bit was handled very deftly. The British were not gracious in victory. (I mean, I can hardly blame them, but still.) And it says something for the Corsican that they feared him so much–and France loved his success so well–that they immured him on that awful island.

The other thing that struck me was the descriptions of the carnage at Waterloo. I suppose the horrors of modern warfare have numbed me, for I felt saddest for the horses. Nevertheless, war is a colossal fucking waste. The amount of care and energy that goes into creating a single human, or a single horse, gone in a flash or with protracted suffering. I am left with Sarah Connor’s “all you create is death, and destruction” speech in Terminator 2–the one her son chided her for, which makes me angry every time I watch it.

I’m currently interspersing Marcel Schwob short stories with Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and enjoying the latter the most. Tanith Lee did everything Schwob did, only better.

But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Hilaire, Unhilarious

I took a break from Upham to start Hilaire Belloc‘s The French Revolution. He blames Carnot for everything, really, and as a Frenchman I suppose he has the right. But his comments on Marat give me a great deal of thought.

“He was often right when he denounced a political intriguer: he often would have sacrificed a victim not unjustly condemned, he often discovered an agent partially responsible, and even the violent solutions that he suggested were not always impracticable. But it was the prime error of his tortured mind that beyond victims, and sudden violent clutches at the success of democracy, there was nothing else he could conceive. He was incapable of allowing for imperfections, for stupidities, for the misapprehension of mind by mind, for the mere action of time, and for all that renders human life infinitely complex and infinitely adjustable.”

Excerpt From: Hilaire Belloc. “The French Revolution”.

His two short portraits of Marat and Robespierre are bookends of a sort; they present personalities immediately recognizable in the age of social media as well. Plus ça change, and all that.

Belloc was a Catholic apologist, an anti-Semite, didn’t believe in evolution, and probably would be a Gamergater if alive today, so if you want to read, be warned. I find him funny, but it’s the raging bigots who have a gift for comedy you have to watch out for. That aside, I’m always game for French Revolution histories, and he’s witty enough in places to be a smooth read. When I finish it I’ll go back to Upham; it’s not quite a palate cleanser so much as a different taste to provide complexity.