I’m Still Here (Kind Of)

I haven’t been updating, mostly because there isn’t much of interest to impart. We were last out in the world, in a “normal” capacity, on March 14. Pi(e) Day. Also the 8th anniversary of our move to California. That day we went to an escape room and then to In-N-Out Burger. We already knew that the kids would be “distance learning” the following week. We knew that the Japanese students that were supposed to come stay with us wouldn’t be coming after all. Still, on the 16th I went to get fingerprinted so that I’d be able to attend a school camping trip in May. That was my last time out before shelter-in-place took effect at midnight. (We are one of the six East Bay counties that first moved to do that, a couple days before our governor did it for the whole state.)

Since then, we’ve mostly had necessities delivered to the house. I’ve had to go a couple times to the pharmacy, and I had to take my son to the orthodontist at one point, but other than that, aside from short walks around the neighborhood, we’ve stayed home. In the house or in the back yard. Thank goodness for our swimming pool, and the concrete the kids can chalk on, and the fig tree that is good for climbing, and the lawn that we can use the bocce set on. We are, I know, way more fortunate than many at the moment.

Still, it’s hard. I’ve been sick for about eight weeks and my options for health care are currently limited, partly by the system and partly by what I’m willing to risk. I will be going for blood testing next week after having put it off for a couple months now. I’ll wear my mask and bring my gloves and hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, I am still trying to make sure all the kids get their school work done, and I’m trying to do laundry, and make sure they get some fresh air, and keep them relatively quiet so my husband can work… Sometimes I’m able to do a little writing or reading, but it’s mostly difficult to find the time and focus. I never know when a child will need something. Even when I can be relatively assured of quiet, it’s so hard to feel motivated and concentrate. I find myself mostly watching YouTube and doing sudoku puzzles.

I had so much to look forward to this year, and now… it’s tough not to feel sad, angry, a whole mixture of emotions. I guess I—and I’m sure many others—feel robbed. Of life. I mean, obviously I’m still alive and better off than many, but… My eighth-grade son won’t get all the graduation activities he was looking forward to, and who knows what his freshman high school experience will look like? That school camping trip… Well, the school is hoping to do it in the fall instead, but again, who knows? I was going to return to the stage at Winedale for its 50th anniversary in August, but… ??? My trip to Japan in September? Seems less and less likely. My daughter’s horse shows, her choir performances, my son’s band performances, his track season… Just all gone. And yes, I understand why we’re doing all this, and I agree it’s best to be safe. I’m a terribly risk averse person, and I don’t mind being a homebody most of the time. But it will be a long time before I complain about having to go somewhere or do something outside of the house again… At least once it feels mostly safe to do so. Not knowing when that will be is a big part of the burden. If I knew where the end was, if I could see that light at the end of the tunnel (and know for sure there isn’t another tunnel up ahead on the track), that would definitely help my spirits overall, I think. But no one knows. Even experts are mostly guessing, though their guesses are educated, which is better than a lot of other [mis]information being spread. The problem is, a solution is going to take time, and we’re a world that’s become used to things being instantaneous. We’re an impatient planet. We don’t like being told we have to wait.

Because time is something we all have, but also don’t know how much we have. We don’t like to feel like we’re wasting it.

“It’s not a waste of time to spend this time with your family,” I can hear some people saying. “Be glad you have this opportunity.” Things of that ilk. I am aware of my good fortune. I love my family. But I’m also feeling beat down, worn out by the long drag of hours and illness and the unknown. These things can be true simultaneously: that I value this time with my family and that I wish it would break. By which I mean, I don’t want it to end, but to change in some way. I don’t know how else to phrase it. This isn’t vacation; we’re not out having fun. We are doing things like board games and karaoke and family meals and movie nights, but these are things we used to do even before we were all stuck inside together. We’ve always been a fairly close clan. So… in some ways, this is more of the same, or maybe too much of a good thing.

As someone who has generally kept her sanity by always having something to look forward to, something on her schedule to plan towards, this is very much a struggle for me. Because I can’t plan anything. I feel like I have very little hope. There is no light, just tunnel. This is where I am, and I’m sorry if it’s a downer. Eventually I’ll be able to sit and read a book and make a new YouTube video. Or maybe I’ll finally get clear enough to write some more. Until then… I will keep doing sudoku. Though I think I’ll need to order a new puzzle book as I’ve almost finished this one…

Movies: The Gentlemen

I’ve liked many of the Guy Ritchie movies I’ve seen, and this one seems to be typical of his work, particularly akin to such others as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It has the same quirky, action-comedy tone and the same kind of ensemble cast designed to light up a marquee. It likewise deals in the world of crime, both underworld and upper class.

And yet.

While I did enjoy it, I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. I think this is largely due to how much slower it was to get moving. The Gentlemen takes quite a bit of setup, which is done via extended dialogue between two characters as one tells the other what he knows. Oh, the scene isn’t just two people talking, of course—we get the actual film version of this background. But it’s a conceit not quite clever enough to make up for the lack of action that occurs early on.

The setup is that Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a successful marijuana producer in the UK. But now he wants to sell his business and retire. He offers said business to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but then things start to go south before the deal can be finalized. Another interested party is Dry Eye (Henry Golding), which throws another wrench into the works. And so on and so forth in a kind of whack-a-mole of squashing all the problems that keep arising.

It isn’t as funny as it maybe could have and should have been? Colin Farrell turns up and is one of the best things about the movie, but he’s not in it much. And it was far too easy, far too early on, to figure out what was at the root of everything. So by the time we got to the reveal… ::shrug::

In short, I’m glad I saw it but also glad I didn’t pay to see it at the cinema. It’s not terrible by any means, but not as entertaining as I’d hoped.

Books (Manga): Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori

Mori, Hunny, Kyoya, Tamaki, Kaoru, Hikaru & Haruhi (center)

I found the anime first, on one of the bazillion streaming sites we now have. The show reminded me a bit of Utena, not in content but in style. Since I love Utena, I was excited to try this show out, even though it lacks the magical realism of Utena.

At the center of Ouran High School Host Club (OHSHC) is Haruhi, a “poor” scholarship student to this prestigious school filled with the offspring of the rich and sometimes (or in certain circles) famous. Because she cannot afford the $3000 uniform, Haruhi attends her first day of school in one of her dad’s old sweaters, which is oversized on her underdeveloped frame. You can probably see where this is going. With her moppy short hair and her indeterminate clothing, Haruhi is mistaken for a boy. She doesn’t much care either way (her dad is a transvestite), but when she stumbles by accident into the Host Club and breaks an expensive vase, she’s told she will need to join the club to work off the debt.

It’s a fairly flimsy excuse for a rom-com, but at least the author doesn’t attempt to stretch the fiction too far or thin; the host club members figure out pretty quickly that Haruhi is female. The key is to keep the clientele in the dark.

For those who are wondering, a host club is a place where beautiful people entertain and flirt with customers. In the usual sense, the women are the employees and men visit host clubs to feel special as these women give them their full attention. (Also, host clubs are typically for adults.) But OHSHC is clearly a reverse harem fantasy, and here the beautiful, rich boys flirt with female students and melt their hearts.

There are seven main characters. Haruhi, as previously described; Tamaki, the idiot “king” of the club; Kyoya, the scheming VP; mischievous twins Hikaru and Kaoru; cake-loving Hunny (who hides great martial arts power within his tiny frame); and strong, silent Mori. Something for everyone, right? Wouldn’t that be the point of such a club anyway—to have the right kind of guy for any possible occasion?

The result is largely predictable fluff. There are 18 total volumes of manga, and the first half of them are fun but largely nothing special. Things take a more serious turn in the second half of the series as family dynamics and other relationships are explored.

As someone who mostly enjoys deep characters, this manga didn’t completely serve my interests. Mori and Kyoya are the closest things to “deep” that we’re given, and they aren’t examined all that closely. Kyoya does get a bit more page time (if that’s a thing) than Mori.

Haruhi is blunt and practical, but overall I was mostly indifferent to her. Tamaki is too over the top for me; I found him to be too much of an idiot to like him, despite his good nature. Since he ends up the focus of a lot of the story, I found myself wishing the spotlight would fall elsewhere. But when it sometimes did, those stories highlighting the other characters often fell flat for me. I guess it’s clear where the author’s heart was, and that’s fair. It’s just that my heart was not in the same place.

Still, this is a fun, fluffy series and a fair way to bide time. I have a video review with more details on my YouTube channel if you’re interested.

Movies: Jojo Rabbit

Finally, after so many people telling me I had to see it (and I did want to, just hadn’t gotten around to it), I’ve watched Jojo Rabbit. I mean, I typically enjoy Taika Waititi’s work; Thor: Ragnarok is my favorite of the Marvel movies, and I thought What We Do in the Shadows was amazingly funny. So I was eager to see this and not surprised that I liked it.

Jojo Rabbit is about 10-year-old Jojo, a German boy aspiring to join the Hitler Youth. He has Hitler as an imaginary friend and advisor. And then he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. It’s based on a book by Christine Leunens, which I haven’t read, so I can’t compare the film to the source material. But the whole thing is somewhat Wes Andersen in style and tone—the bright sets, the serious backdrop, the comedy masking the darker themes. I love Wes Andersen, too, so this all appealed to me.

I will say there was possibly not quite enough going on to completely hold my interest. Andersen’s movies are usually full of odd characters so that there are many people and side plots to pay attention to; that doesn’t happen as much here. Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen have something going on that, I think, had it been expanded would have been a lot of fun, and Rebel Wilson, likewise, adds quite a few comedic touches, but she’s mostly punctuation. I understand that the focus should stay on Jojo and his dilemma, but his problem is fairly straightforward and one note: Jew girl in the house! But if I rat her out, we’ll all be in trouble! This story takes a predictable path of “learning the other is not so different.” And therefore is possibly the least interesting part of the movie, even though it’s packaged nicely with visual interest and comedy. It’s cute but nothing groundbreaking.

In short, the main story is the least interesting story. But any side interests are so far to the side that they almost don’t matter.

That said, it’s all very well acted, beautifully filmed, and still a cute movie. Certainly worthy of one’s time. I think I anticipated more after so much hype from everyone around me. To others who are interested but haven’t seen it, I’d say it’s a solid film but don’t expect to be overly wowed.

Notes from an Editor

Recently, someone asked for help editing something. It was a small thing, so I gave my feedback and suggested changes and left it at that. But then the small thing returned with additional changes. Yet many of my suggestions had been rejected.

That’s fine. As an editor, I know not everyone is going to agree with my revisions. Some of it is a matter of personal taste. Sometimes the author sees the need for changes but doesn’t like my particular rewording, so they go make different changes on their own, something more in their own voice. Some authors are simply too married to their own works to truly want an editor; they want the editor to simply say, “Yes, this is perfect.” (I won’t do that, so if that’s what you really want, please hire someone else, or better yet, save your money and ask friends and family to cheerlead for you.)

Edits, after all, come in two flavors: necessary and recommended. Necessary changes are, say, problems with grammar or big flaws that can’t be ignored. Massive plot holes, for example. I’ve read drafts where some characters completely disappear halfway through the book for no clear reason. Or even appear and disappear mid-scene! Those are necessary fixes. And then some edits are recommended for things like clarity or flow. Notes might say something like, “This seems out of character for So-and-So.” At which point the author can change it, or add more motivation for the character to behave that way, or whatever. (If I have an idea for that, I’ll usually note it with my feedback.)

This small thing, though. It returned with mostly the same verbiage as the original. The author had added a couple lines is all and hadn’t seemed to take many of my suggested rewordings for the rest. So I had to wonder… Why? Why would you continue to send something to an editor if you don’t intend to take any of the advice? I’m not offended that this author didn’t make those changes; that’s up to him. But it feels like a waste of time on both sides to keep doing this. He seems to already have decided he has it written the way he wants. What good is my input then?

As an editor, I won’t keep suggesting the same changes. But I also refuse to go over the same ground multiple times if the author keeps going back to their original choice of words, or plot point, or whatever. In other words, DON’T send me the same thing over and over again. Please. If I try to help you once, and it turns out I can’t (either because I don’t have the expertise or you don’t like my style), there’s nothing to gain from continuing to go rounds with it. Find someone whose suggestions resonate more with you, someone whose experience you trust more than mine, or someone who will tell you it’s all good if that’s what you really want to hear. And if you are an author looking for an editor, be clear and honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you do and don’t consider acceptable, before ever hiring someone. Because you’ll need to be clear with the editor, too, about what you’re looking for in terms of feedback. Don’t waste time and/or money on advice you’re not willing to take.

Television: Picard

Finally sat down and watched the first season of this show. Just so you know where I’m coming from, Star Trek: The Next Generation was a big deal for me when I was in middle and high school. It meant more, perhaps, because it began the year I moved and ended the year I graduated from high school and went off to college. So it neatly bookended a very specific time in my life. Also, my classmates at my private school nicknamed me “Data.” I like to think they meant it in a good way?

Data is kind of present in this show, which picks up many years later and hauls Picard out of retirement. (I’m going to write this under the assumption you know who Picard, Data, and the other old characters are, otherwise I’m not sure why you’d watch the show… I’m not sure the show would make sense to people who don’t have that fundamental knowledge?) Basically, Data died to save Picard, but it turns out he has “daughters” in the form of other synthetic beings—women who don’t know they’re not real. And there are some Romulans out to kill these women because Romulans hate “synths” (as they’re called) for… religious or superstitious or some kind of reason?

Okay, so I loved ST:TNG. I only intermittently watched Voyager or Deep Space 9. I gave up on Enterprise pretty early and haven’t watched Discovery. So I can only talk about this show in the sense of not feeling connected to much other Star Trek stuff since TNG. Like, nothing else that’s been produced has really grabbed me since then. So, relatively, I liked Picard a lot. Like, the most since TNG. But is that really saying much?

There’s a lot to wonder about. The character of Picard now seems a lot more feeble than before but, well, he’s older now, too. The new characters are more in the vein of Firefly than traditional Trek. Just an odd conglomeration of personalities and backgrounds. Plus, they threw in some LotR for fun? Like, one character is just a version of Legolas, really. Meanwhile, the chief villain chews scenery like she’s starving for the attention. It comes very close to parody. And there’s one episode in which everyone more or less cosplays and it’s just silly. It’s practically their version of a Holodeck episode. Another episode feels a bit like Little House on the Prairie

Instead of being episodic, this is a 10-part arc. Instead of the Federation being the shining beacon, it’s a kind of villain in its own right. I feel like Roddenberry wouldn’t have liked that. And the final resolution to everything is… Uh… I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just call it “rushed.”

All that said, I still somehow enjoyed it. Despite the flaws and weirdness. I’d have done some things differently, but overall it was entertaining. And though it came close to beating viewers over the head with its messages, it was nowhere near as obvious and preachy about it as TNG used to be. Maybe because it didn’t feel like it had to make the point in just under an hour; it had 10 episodes to make itself clear.

I’ll watch another season. Might even go try Discovery.

Cult of Personality

I just took a personality quiz to match me to fictional characters. I’m apparently mostly a match for Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (82% match). But here are some other characters I’m “most like” in various fictional universes:

78% Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks)
77% Abed (Community)
75% Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
75% The Oracle (The Matrix)
74% Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)
73% Doctor Strange (MCU)
70% Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice)
70% Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
70% Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock)
68% Sun (LOST)
66% Princess Leia (Star Wars)
66% Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)
65% Pam (The Office)
65% Dana Scully (The X-Files)
56% Rust Cohle (True Detective)

I’d say the through line here is a lot of people who are both analytical/practical/smart and a bit… odd? They have a streak of being fanciful or spiritual or??? Even maybe a tad romantic, though that seems to go against their better judgement? I dunno. I definitely get that I’m a Willow and an Abed and a Leslie Knope. Not sure about the rest.

ETA: I’m only Rusty when I’ve been drinking…

IWSG: April 2020

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What’s not to be insecure about these days? As far as writing goes, I’m insecure because (a) I’m not getting any done, and (b) none of my books are getting sales or page reads either. I think, as the economy tanks, people aren’t buying books. I did run a freebie last week that got many, many downloads. So… that’s something?

Question of the Month: How are things in your world?

We’re very fortunate. My husband is able to work from home with not much trouble. I’m staying on top of all three kids’ school work as best I can, plus I’m introducing them to French and making sure they get outside each afternoon. Just in the backyard, but still: fresh air. I’d like to be able to write more, but it’s tough to focus. Even reading has been a challenge. (But if you want to see what I’ve been reading, please check out my YouTube channel, where I do post review videos!) I’ve done Zoom with writer friends once a week, just to chat and see faces other than the ones I live with. We’re getting most things delivered to limit exposure and going out. They’re almost certainly about to announce that kids will not return to school campuses this school year, but that distance learning will continue… My kids are super sad about that, especially my 8th grader, who was looking forward to all the “graduation” stuff: 8th grade dance, field trip, promotion ceremony. They didn’t even get the class picture. My heart is breaking for him, even though I know this is the safe and better choice. So I’m counting my blessings but there are still struggles, especially of the mental and emotional kind. I have the right temperament for staying home indefinitely, but my husband and kids are getting restless. We do lots of board games, karaoke, etc. Looking at another month of this at least (our shelter in place goes through May 3 right now), so…