Saturday, September 30, 2023

September Words of Wisdom

Slow month...
There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness. --Edgar Allan Poe
Everybody has these grandiose dreams and these daydreams about success and fame and power, and I always say winning never visits you in your daydreams. It sees you in your nightmares. --Unknown
It's interesting how incurious our corporate media is about what happened in Maui. I don't see them interviewing parents who can't find their kids. --Ron DeSantis
And finally...

Personally, I dig this shit...Noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It's the long drop off the short pier, and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It's the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams, and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad. Noir is opportunity, it's fatality, social justice as a sanctified shuck, and sexual love as a one-way ticket to hell. --James Ellroy Note: I'm currently taking a film noir class, and check out this (which is where this quote came from): LA Film Noir: The Capital of Hollywood's Most Pessimistic Era.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Things we lost in the fire

I've been reluctant to blog this because it really was a traumatic experience that I've had no desire to relive, but this blog often serves as an online journal, so it really should be marked. Also, I think I have some valuable advice to offer at the end.

On Thursday, September 14, we had a fire at my apartment complex. It's a huge complex made up of many buildings. At around 3pm I was sitting at my desk watching something online (I think it was a YouTube video critiquing the ongoing WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes) when I heard a woman screaming outside my building at the top of her lungs. I couldn't make out what she was saying, but I got the impression that a couple was about to have a major fight out in the parking/common area, and I had a quick thought about how tacky that was. If only. I turned the volume down and heard her and a couple other people outside bellowing "FIRE!" and "GET OUT!" Before I could even process that, someone came running down my hallway pounding on doors and yelling the same thing: 'FIRE!!! GET OUT!!!

I hadn't planned on going out that day, so I hadn't even dressed. I was wearing a crappy t-shirt and pajama shorts. I hadn't taken a shower or put makeup on. I opened the door and couldn't see any smoke or flame, so I ran into my bedroom to change quickly. If I was only going to be left with the clothes on my back, I needed something substantial. Jeans, blouse, flip-flops. Then I had to see if I could get to Sophie; luckily she hadn't reacted to the fuss and was just curled up on her favorite chair. I grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and apparently I hit the exact right spot - she never moved. I ran back to where I store the cat carrier, pulled it out, and stuffed her into it.
The whole time this was going on I was shaking like crazy and trying to process that this was happening: my building was on fire. I might lose everything. I managed to grab my phone, my purse, and my keys. I didn't even stop to grab the laptop. Then I bolted out. 
Once outside the building, I called The Brother and told his voice mail, "My building's on fire. Call me." Then I headed further into the complex, away from the fire. Here's what I could see at this point: No flames anywhere, but a huge, dark column of smoke belching up from an area that appeared to be the far end of my building (it's a rectangular shaped building, three stories with ten units on each floor, and I'm in an end unit furthest away from the street) although off to the side. I started to wonder if they could stop it before it got to my place, and if so would I be allowed to go inside and get some of my stuff - more clothes, my laptop, and other things I'd forgotten to grab. I had my phone but not the charger. I thought my credit cards were in my purse (I keep them in a separate RFID case, not in my wallet) but I'd signed up for a webinar earlier that day and I hadn't put them back in my purse. They were sitting on my desk. I also couldn't get to my car, since our parking garage is under the building. 

Eventually a boatload of fire trucks showed up. When I looked down the driveway I could see a ladder going up to the roof where my building connects via bridge to the building in front of us, the one that fronts the street. I couldn't tell if they were working on my building or the other one. 

I kept milling around with other tenants trying to get some info, and about an hour and a half to two hours after it started, I learned that the fire had actually been in the front building, not mine, that it was at the far end of that building furthest away from us, and that firefighters had managed to contain the fire to that building. That is miraculous in that the breeze was blowing back into the complex (the smoke and ash were so bad people had to put on masks) and there are multiple buildings adjacent to the one that burned. If embers had blown onto any of them we would have had a huge catastrophe. As it was, several units in the other building were total losses - those people lost everything - and the remaining tenants had to vacate. The Red Cross showed up and they were eventually put into a hotel down the street. The following day management began placing them in vacant units. I don't know if they're all settled or what's going on, but apparently they aren't going to be able to go back in that building any time soon. I did see a number of people over the past week bringing bags out of there and the other day they were taking out furniture. 

Later that evening everyone except the residents of the burned building were cleared to go home. We were told the gas had been shut off, but I didn't care. I was so grateful to have my home to go back to that I really don't care about any inconveniences. When I ran out of here that afternoon, I believed my building was in flames and that I really might be left with only what I'd grabbed before I left. I still think it's miraculous that only one building was damaged, but I feel sick for the tenants in that building. As traumatic as the experience was for me, it's a thousand times worse for them. We also haven't heard so far what caused the fire.

Minor inconveniences: The gas in my building didn't come back on until late Tuesday afternoon. Pretty much everything in the apartment is electric, so the only thing I was really missing was hot water, and again, after thinking my home was going to go up in smoke, it wasn't something I could get worked up about. We eventually got our cars out but they vacated the garage (which is under both my and the front building) but they parked me in the next building over, so it's not really any sort of inconvenience. We shared a bank of mailboxes with the other building, just outside their door, so we have to go to the post office in Venice to pick up our mail. With the area between our buildings taped off (with security guards) the elevator isn't available, although I think it's okay since it's technically in my building. And I just don't care about any of this. All I can think of is how different (and awful) the past week would have been had the fire really been in my building, or if it had spread. 

One of the things you always hear in a situation like this is that the important thing is getting people and pets out, which is true, and that everything else is just "stuff", which is partially true. There are things I could replace, and others I couldn't. It would suck to lose all my books, my cookbooks, my notes from culinary school. All my CDs and DVDs, all my kitchen and cooking stuff. All my clothes. I wouldn't even have a change of clothes. The idea of having to go out and rebuild a wardrobe, get all new bras, underwear, socks, shoes, coats, is daunting to think about. 
Then there are the items with sentimental value. I have my Grandmother's wedding ring and my Mom's wedding ring from when she and my Dad remarried. Items from their homes. And pictures - both of my parents are deceased. There aren't going to be any more pictures of them. Gifts from them that mean a lot to me. Some things really aren't replaceable. 

If there's one thing I learned from this experience is how unprepared I was for it. I have an emergency kit, but I'd always thought of it more in terms of having a major earthquake and having to go an extended period of time without electricity. I have canned goods, cat food, water, and a boatload of first aid and other emergency supplies that came with the earthquake kit I bought ages ago. Some of this stuff expired and I replaced it with current supplies. I have cash stashed in there in case I need to buy stuff and the electronic payment system is down. What I never thought about was having a bag ready to go if I had to leave immediately. In fact, I didn't even think of grabbing it on my way out. It didn't even occur to me. I was so terrified and rushed that I couldn't think straight. I had the cat and my phone and wallet, and that seemed sufficient at the time, because what I really didn't want to do was be stuck in a burning building because I was too busy getting my "stuff". There really is a surreal sense of disbelief that, "this is actually happening" and it's hard to know what to do.

So I'm in the process of putting together what I think of as a "bugout bag", something I can grab (in addition to what I did take). Here are some of the items on the list so far:
  • A list of accounts, account numbers, usernames, passwords, phone numbers, contact info. Things like credit cards, insurance companies, any organization I deal with. I also forgot to grab the Day Timer that has all this info in it (I'm old and don't store this info on my phone.)
  • Cash. It's coming out of the earthquake kit and into the bugout bag. As a rule I don't carry large amounts, and on the day of the fire I had all of $4 on me. And my ATM card was in the RFID case left on my desk along with the credit cards.
  • An extra credit card. I have one that I use so rarely that I don't carry it. Guess where I'll be storing it now.
  • A disposable catbox and catfood.
  • Extra clothes, including socks and underwear. 
  • Spare toothpaste, deodorant, and soap.
  • A spare phone charger.
  • A case that I can quickly load the laptop, mouse, and charging cord into.
  • Scanned family photos on a jump drive. Backups of my writing projects on a jump drive in case I don't get to the laptop.
  • Copies of important documents like my birth certificate and insurance policies (auto and renters); also my social security card and passport.
The fire alarm in my building has gone off a couple of times since the fire, only for a few seconds each time, but if they're testing them it would be nice if they'd warn us. It's really unnerving. I've noticed that seeing fire trucks and hearing sirens has the same distressing effect; I assume that will fade with time.

I couldn't bring myself to take pictures during the fire, but this was the view looking down my driveway from inside the complex (although you can see white smoke from the fire in the first pic):

Three delivery trucks - Fed Ex, Amazon, and USPS - were delivering at the time and got stuck inside for hours because the driveway was roped off due to all the fire department vehicles. I don't think they got out until 8-9pm.

And here's Sophie, a couple of hours into her ordeal behind bars:

She was actually okay when we got home, hungry but surprisingly little worse for wear.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Recent reading: "Beware the Woman"


Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott, in my opinion, is one of the most talented writers alive right now. I loved her earlier stuff when she was writing period Los Angeles mysteries and seemed poised as the female James Ellroy. Then she switched to contemporary novels and has a great deal of success with them. 

I'd recently read a glowing review for her newest, Beware the Woman, and decided to give it a go. I'd only read one of her contemporary novels (You Will Know Me), but as good as it was, it didn't stick with me the way The Song is You and Queenpin had. 
Beware the Woman is the story of Jacy, recently married to Jed Ash and with a baby on the way, when her husband takes her to his family's remote estate in northern Michigan. At first Jed's widowed father, a retired doctor, dotes on Jacy, but as family secrets are exposed and Jacy experiences complications with her pregnancy, Dr. Ash's overreaching concern for her and his unborn grandchild, and his true attitude toward Jacy become frightening to the point where she feels the need to escape, and the fear only increases as both Dr. Ash and Jed try to prevent her from doing so.

I had a little trouble getting going with this one, but once I was locked in to the story, I flew through it, finishing it in only two days. I had a feeling Abbott wouldn't tack on the kind of ending one would typically expect from a story like this, and she didn't disappoint. There are a couple of things that happen at the end that I absolutely never saw coming that really blew the story out of the water. 

If this book has any weakness I think it's represented by the character of Jed, who is first presented as a man so excited to be a husband and father that his subsequent frequent lack of support for Jacy (which comes across as heartless indifference) is jarring. In this respect he also repeatedly seems to go in and out of a conscious focus that's never explained. The character of his father is much more fleshed out. And maybe it's the times we live in, but I could also see Beware the Woman as being construed as call against the dangers of "toxic masculinity" as Jacy is increasingly portrayed as a mere vessel to deliver the highly desired next Ash generation to the point where both fathers are deemed destructive in their own ways (Dr. Ash proactively versus Jed's frequent lack of action) while seeming to infer that women and their children are better off without husbands and fathers. I found that off-putting and a lot of that goes back to the problematic portrayal of Jed.

Having said all that, reading a Megan Abbott book is never a waste of time and well worth it. Jacy's heart-pounding finale wore me out, and watching the devolution of Dr. Ash and the evolution of Mrs. Brandt, the house-keeper, was fascinating.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Look! Up in the sky!

I headed over to Trader Joe's last night (pumpkin cheesecake is back, I'm doomed) and was struck how beautiful the sky was going in, and even more so after I got out of the store and was headed home. We got a few minutes of light rain, which apparently somehow entitled us to a pretty sweet rainbow. Pics from inside the car were taken while at stoplights.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

And I missed Sophie's birthday yesterday

I was so wrapped up in my Bouchercon drama that I completely forgot. Eighteen years old! She's legally an adult! 

And no, she didn't celebrate with a drink. Just lots of pets.

Monday, September 4, 2023

It was a really nice hotel, but DAAAAAAMMMMNNN

So while I'm wallowing in the total disaster that was Bouchercon for me, I wondered what it would cost to go back to the same hotel Wednesday through Sunday, and experience the stay I should have had (without, you know, the actual convention thingy), and I can tell you that won't be happening. I knew we got discounted rates through the convention, but I had no idea just how much they were discounted. The rate for Bouchercon was $199 per night. Behold their "normal" rate:

Damn, Marriott Marquis! You pricey. But apparently, also very generous as we got (and by we, I mean people who actually got to attend the damn thing) more than 50% off the going rate. Too bad I couldn't take advantage of that when I had the chance. Looks like I can stop entertaining any thoughts of returning.

The only good thing to come out of this whole disaster is that I have no appetite right now. Wonder how long that will last. If it works, I'll call it the Bouchercon Diet. Combine a couple years of anticipation and five days of massive disappointment and the fat just melts away!

I would rather have not tried the Bouchercon Diet.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

My non-Bouchercon

The last five days couldn't have been worse.
A while back I announced the awesomeness that was being put on a panel at Bouchercon, the mother of all annual mystery/crime reader/writer conventions. It had the added bonus of being the first time I would get to attend Bouchercon in person since 2019. Four freaking years since I went to crime writers Disneyland. I was really looking forward to it.
Let's just say the whole Bouchercon thing didn't really happen for me this year.

A little background: Sophie (my darling but aging cat) is about to turn eighteen, and given some of her medical issues in the past year or so, I didn't even know if she was still going to be around by the time Bouchercon came. That she is still alive and kicking and doing well is a blessing I am hugely grateful for. In the past when I went to conferences, I either had neighbors who I felt comfortable being in my apartment look after her, or I took her to The Brother's house. Unfortunately, the neighbors that I could lean on in the past have moved on, as did I for a few years when I moved to Arcadia, then back to Marina del Rey.
The good news about this year's Bouchercon was that it was in San Diego, close enough that I could drive to it. I hate flying and saving on airfare was an added bonus. Plus, a hotel on the water! Heavenly! The Brother also decided to go because he likes San Diego and hadn't been in years. 

This created the problem of what to do about Sophie. I didn't want to board her because I was concerned it would be too stressful for her, especially given her age. This was non-negotiable. She's been doing so well lately that I didn't want to do anything to her that would negatively affect her.

At first I thought I'd come up with a brilliant solution - The Brother and I could do a nearby AirBnB that was pet friendly instead of the hotel. We would have amenities the hotel rooms wouldn't have and have our darling Sophie with us to boot. But that idea went over like a lead balloon, so I let it go.
I then considered staying in San Diego every other night and coming home on the other nights. I figured Sophie would be okay with me being gone one night at a time, but as the event got closer, I realized it wasn't just her being left overnight. It would be the entire day before and the entire day after as well. She would be left alone for a period of about 36 hours straight. Even if I left tons of catfood out, it just seemed stressful for her, and not particularly the action of a loving and responsible pet owner.

With about a week to go before the convention, I had to make a decision. I had been put on a panel Friday afternoon and didn't want to flake out on it. I'd finally made a Bouchercon panel, the least I could do was show up for it. I looked at some more AirBnB's near the event but I got caught up in wondering how Sophie would fare on the drive to San Diego. It would be the longest amount of time she'd been in the carrier in one shot. I had visions of her yowling during most of the drive, splitting headache material, plus she wouldn't have access to her catbox during the drive, so that could get messy, although in retrospect I wish I'd pulled the trigger on the AirBnB. Sophie tends to bounce back quickly after being in the carrier, even when I've moved and she's in a strange place. I really wish I'd done the AirBnB. I'd be kicking back in it right now blogging about all the awesome panels and writers instead of raging over the wreckage that was my Bouchercon non-experience this year. I wish even more I could have been in the hotel on the water.

I had to make a decision in time to cancel the hotel room without being charged for it, so I finally came up with a plan to just go back and forth from home to San Diego and be there most of the days. Not ideal, but better than nothing. Wednesday is mainly check in and they had some afternoon panels and I thought I'd go to those, but I also had to meet up with The Brother, who was staying at the hotel, and he ran late and I had to leave the first panel early. I finally got one panel in later that afternoon, then headed back to L.A.

The drive to the hotel had gone pretty easily - two hours. Getting home not quite as well - two and a half hours. It sucked, but Bouchercon's worth it and I wasn't neglecting my elderly cat.

I took Thursday off as planned, then headed back Friday morning. I left a little later than planned and traffic was heavier. By the time I got there I missed the first morning panels, but went to the next one. Then there was a lunch break and then we headed down to my panel. I was a little intimidated because I'd looked up the other authors and they had all been published way more than I had, in both anthologies and all the big magazines in our genre. One author alone had published over 100 times, and they were all winners and nominees of all the major awards in the genre, including the Edgar. And then there was me, who has been published five times in themed anthologies that are restricted to members and needless to say, has yet to be nominated for anything, and it was painfully obvious that one of these things was not like the others. I don't know how they assign panels, but my presence on this one was a big misfire. It's kind of weird, because I don't remember ever seeing a panel where one of the panelists was so clearly out of place. Just my bad luck. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.
I will say this  - the other authors on the panel, as well as the moderator, were incredibly nice to me in spite of the fact that I was clearly out of place. After the panel, one of them gave me some advice about submitting to magazines. It went by pretty fast, thank God. I spent the next half hour in the signing room because I didn't want to look like I was flaking out after my disastrous performance. It also made me want to get out of the there to absorb the shock, so instead of afternoon panels we went over to Seaport Village, did a little shopping, and had a late lunch since I hadn't wanted to eat right before my panel and was starving. And by then it was late afternoon, so I left. That drive home - two hours and forty-five minutes, gave me plenty of time to wallow in the crapfest that was my first ever Bouchercon panel, as well as the fact that the conference was more than half over and I'd gotten to a grand total of two panels.

I had already mentioned to The Brother I didn't know if I'd make it back to San Diego on Saturday as planned, when I had a full day of panels I wanted to attend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was tired, still embarrassed by my panel, and very upset and disappointed about the whole thing. I should have gone out there again, but the idea of spending yet another five hours on the road was daunting, and I stayed home. I didn't go today because it 's only a half day of programming, although there were some really good-looking panels scheduled for Sunday morning that I would have gone to if I had stayed in San Diego for the whole event, which is what I should have done.

So instead of blogging about all the great panels and writers I got to see as I usually would, I'm upset, disappointed, and feeling deprived of the Bouchercon experience I wanted and should have had. In addition, I'm also feeling like a bit of a fraud writer-wise. I'm now leery of asking to be put on panels and right now am just feeling rather jaded about the whole conference thing. I shouldn't, because I've been to tons of them and have never been disappointed like this. But this was a total waste. I spent more time in my fucking car over the past few days than I did at the event. I missed tons of panels I would normally have gone to. I got less out of it than if I hadn't gone at all, and that's going to leave a mark. I am not going to get over this anytime soon.

I don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm flustered about the writing thing and angry about the Bouchercon thing. The location for the next four Bouchercons are set and none of them anywhere near driving distance (Nashville, New Orleans, Calgary, and Washington DC). I feel like I should reconsider the whole writing thing and how I approach it. Who am I fooling?

What I do know for sure is that this shouldn't have been my Bouchercon experience. I've been going to these things for years and have never been this disappointed, frustrated, and angry. Bouchercon is like Disneyland for people like me, and I rightfully expected five straight, glorious days at Disneyland as has been my experience in the past, but what I got this week was a day and a half of crap and two and a half days of nothing. And that is a massive disappointment. 

But hey, I did get to listen to an awesome audiobook! (see previous post). At least someone's a legit author! (hint: not me)

Recent reading: "I'm Glad My Mom Died"

 I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy 
I couldn't have told you who Jennette McCurdy was before I heard about this book (me not being of the Nickelodeon generation) and if you'd tried to explain, I would have written her off as the kind of precocious, not particularly talented child actors that populate Nick and Disney shows. But having read this book, I now know that couldn't be further from the truth. She is nothing if not deeply introspective.

I can't vouch for her acting, but she was a popular and successful child actor, so she must have had something going for her. Early on she booked shows including CSI, Law & Order SVU, Medium, Strong Medicine, Judging Amy, Malcolm in the Middle, and the feature Hollywood Homicide, which starred Harrison Ford. But her career apparently went into the stratosphere when she was cast as Sam Puckett in Nickelodeon's iCarly, billed second to Miranda Cosgrove as the title character. 

Unfortunately for Jennette, she also had the proverbial stage mother from hell. Debra McCurdy had acting aspirations of her own when she was younger, but was prevented from pursuing them by her parents. She pushed the then six-year-old Jennette into acting because it was her dream, not her daughter's. 
There were other issues. Debra McCurdy had been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer when Jennette, the only girl and youngest of four children, was only two years old. Debra went through chemo, radiation, mastectomy, and a bone marrow transplant before going into remission, and the agonizing possibility of a recurrence was a shadow that hung over the whole family for years. Add in constant money troubles and a loveless marriage between Debra and Mark McCurdy, and you have the basic dysfunctional family that wreaks havoc on a young child.

Jennette's relationship with her mother and her mother's health issues turned her into a people-pleaser even as a young child, and the person she wanted to please the most was Mommy. Regardless of how Jennette herself felt about her acting career and everything that went with it, she went along with everything she was subjected to in spite of the fact that she had zero enthusiasm for acting. When she booked jobs and worked her way up the ladder, it helped with the family's financial situation and made Mommy happy. One day, on the way home from an audition, Jennette blurted out that she didn't want to act anymore. Her mother's response was to burst into tears until Jennette backpedaled on the request. As Jennette observed, she wasn't the only one in the family who could cry on cue.

As Jennette matured (death for a child actor, and something she fought) her mother encouraged her to "calorie count" which led to anorexia, and as the years went on and Debra's health finally failed, would become bulemia and an unhealthy reliance on alcohol. Factor in some warped relationships (fueled by Mommy's disgust with men) and the result was a frustrated child actor with unhealthy habits that threatened to destroy her. Fortunately, today Jennette seems to have finally recovered from her demons while officially retiring from the acting career she never wanted.

This book is a great study of what child actors go through, and is also a fascinating study on how unhealthy (Mommy) and disinterested (Daddy) parents can affect a child. That Jennette, only in her twenties, was able to recognize her dysfunction and do something about it, represents a triumph over her damaging upbringing. As her grandfather once commented on, no child should carry the burden of supporting their family.

I'm not sure what she means by the book's title. Throughout her life Jennette lived to please her mother, and Debra's death shattered her. It was only later that she seemed to figure out how so much of what she was subjected to growing up was not only wrong, but seriously twisted. Whatever her reasons, the best part of this is that in spite of everything she's gone through, Jennette seems to have finally recognized what her mother did to her, and also seems to have dealt with and moved on from it. At least I hope so.

Note: I had the audiobook version of this, read by the author (always interesting to me) that I listened to when I was driving back and forth from L.A. to San Diego for this year's Bouchercon, a total disaster that the less said about, the better. We all have our disappointments, maybe this helped me sympathize with Jennette more than if I'd just read the book. That's a whole other story I don't even want to think about, so kudos to Jennette for facing the kind of professional and life disappointments that I'd rather not deal with right now. (Until I blogged about it later in the day.)