On the Wagon

CC BY Dwight Burdette
CC BY Dwight Burdette

Wil Wheaton posted a list of Seven Things I Did To Reboot My Life which might as well be subtitled, Because Now I’m in My 40s. For this guy, all of them hit close to home:

Drink less beer.

I love beer. I mean, I really love it. I brew it, I write about it, I design recipes of my own, and I’ve structured entire meals around what food will pair with the beer I want to drink. The thing about beer, though, is that it’s really easy to just keep on drinking it until it’s all gone …

Like Wheaton, I’m invested in beer culture: I like to collect the glassware and I’m always DTF local craft creations (especially pilsners, which are a terribly underrepresented minority in a world of IPA privilege). But also like him, I’ve lately discovered that drinking alcohol isn’t as easy as it used to be. A good buddy of mine — a friend I used to drink with as a teenager — recently told me he started cutting back on his evening adult-beverage intake because just a couple of beers puts him in a bad mood the next day. I’ve had the same experience, though the following morning I’m not so much grumpy as I am groggy and addlebrained. The reason, Wheaton points out, is due to our metabolizing alcohol as sugar, which means drinking two or three beers at dinnertime is like chugging two or three bottles of Mountain Dew right before bed and then expecting a full night’s sleep to ensue. Even after a pair of seemingly innocuous low-APV drinks I don’t sleep as deeply. As Wheaton says, “it turns out that drinking alcohol to help you go to sleep does not result in good sleep, but does result in feeling like shit when you wake up.” Hence I’ve joined the temperance movement, at least on school nights.

Wheaton’s whole post feels semi-autobiographical for me, from the endorphins produced by writing, to trying to make more time to read, to his preference for running over lifting weights. This is 40, I guess.

It’s Over

The towns of Darien, Easton, Monroe, Trumbull and Wilton will pay Ronald Terebesi $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from a fatal 2008 police raid in Easton.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously denied an appeal by the five Connecticut police departments. The high court’s action meant a federal lawsuit by Terebesi, formerly of Dogwood Drive in Easton, could go forward against the Easton, Monroe, Trumbull, Darien, and Wilton police departments, the named police defendants in the case, and the municipalities of Easton and Monroe.

“Mr. Terebesi is satisfied,” according to Gary Mastronardi, Ronald Terebesi’s lawyer, a former member of the FBI. “Money is always important; what he feels is equally significant and quite impressive is that in order to get us to accept it they had to agree to allow judgments to enter against each and every one of the defendants, both the municipalities and the individual defendants, for multiple violation of his constitutional rights.”

Full story here.

My coverage of the whole saga here.

Short News, Literary Agency Edition

War of the Pamphlets. To promote the publication of a new, two-volume reprint collection of Revolutionary era pamphlets, the Library of America has posted an interview with editor Gordon S. Wood. Self-published luminaries Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and John Dickinson make appearances, as does Thomas Paine:

He was our first public intellectual, and unlike the other pamphleteers, he lived solely by his pen. As such, he aimed at a much broader audience than did the others, one encompassing the middling class of artisans, tradesmen, and tavern-goers. Unlike the elite writers who bolstered their arguments with legal citations and references to the whole of Western culture going back to the ancients, Paine did not expect his readers to know more than the Bible and the English Book of Common Prayer.

Run Your Own Race. I love running as a metaphor for writing. There are sprints and long slogs, uphills that burn your quads and downhills that kill your knees, and most of all, the work that no one sees, the runs you put in just to show up. Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the same analogy, arguing that every writer runs at his or her own pace:

I mentioned New York, which had 50,564 finishers in 2014, which made it the biggest marathon ever. Average “important” marathons usually have 35-40,000 finishers.

That’s a lot of runners, most of whom have no hope of crossing the finish line first.

Note I didn’t mention “winning,” because runners are very clear about the varied definitions of winning. Winning for a non-elite athlete might be a personal best.

Affordable Smith. Remember back in 2010 when I complained that inexpensive editions of Clark Ashton Smith’s work were largely unavailable to casual readers interested in learning more about him? Well, after years of financial troubles and improprieties — which finally ended with the company being bought by another publisher — Night Shade Books has begun releasing its five-volume collection of Smith’s work in paperback and for Kindle. Volume One is already out, with the next to appear in January.

NecronomiCon 2015

On Sunday I did something I swore I would never do: I attended a writerly convention.

I’ve mulled attending writers’ cons before but the programming — forums on television shows or movies I’ve never seen or academic panels hashing obtuse literary points — never appealed to me, and the current radioactive climate of genre writing is not an invitation to reconsider my apprehension. But when I learned of NecronomiCon 2015, a celebration of all things H.P. Lovecraft located in Providence, Rhode Island, just two hours up the highway from me, I was tempted. When I also realized NecronomiCon only happens every two years, and moreover 2015 was the 125th anniversary of HPL’s birth, I threw down $30 for a day pass and put gas in the car.

I don’t regret it. A panel on Clark Ashton Smith provided a wealth of biographical details I hadn’t known beforehand, and a later discussion on Lovecraft and philosophy, which ranged from existentialism to the Kantian sublime to Schopenhauer, was a hilarious high point of the day. A sure way to make a cynic laugh is to point out that Lovecraft’s monster-worshipping cultists were just millennialist Christians in bathrobes — the Rapture is great for them but a horror story for the rest of us.

Left to right: Jack Haringa, Phillip Gelatt, Scott Connors, and ST Joshi discuss Clark Ashton Smith's love of strange. And I mean that in the Urban Dictionary sense.
Left to right: Jack Haringa, Phillip Gelatt, Scott Connors, and S.T. Joshi discuss Clark Ashton Smith’s love of strange. And I mean that in the Urban Dictionary sense.

Over at the marketplace in the convention center, I met the super-nice artist Jason C. Eckhardt, who has done work for Chaosium as well as the illustration for the cans of Innsmouth Olde Ale. He said he had received enormous positive feedback at the con and was considering making prints of the Olde Ale artwork. Narragansett Beer also had a booth; their next offerings in the Lovecraft Series will be the Reanimator — a modification of their helles bock — and, in the winter, the I Am Providence stout. I bought some books and a T-shirt, which I suppose are connish things to do.

Reanimator Helles Lager

Yes, Lovecraft has his issues. But you know what else he has? Fun. As H.L. Mencken wrote,

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.

I love Lovecraft’s incredible descriptions of New England landscapes, I love his globetrotting mysteries, I love his Jazz Age atmospherics. Decades after first discovering him, I can crack open a Lovecraft story and still thrill as ordinary men become detectives, drawn to uncover dark secrets and cosmic conspiracies at the cost of their lives and sanity. There’s something powerful there, and it was worth $30 and a two-hour drive to reflect upon it for a day.

Declare the Pennies on Your Eyes

Last night I attended a public forum on taxes hosted by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. The forum panelists consisted of Institute experts and local Republicans and was moderated by Joe Scarborough, who ran the proceedings much like his radio show, which is to say he mostly talked over his guests in his excitement to hear his own voice. The event was a commercial for the Republican party (we were told that Democrat invitees declined) but nonetheless they made their point: Republicans in Connecticut are a toothless minority and our economic tailspin will continue as long as control of the state budget remains in the hands of our one-party junta.

Consider:

  • Based on wages, taxes, cost of living, unemployment, and workplace illnesses and injuries, Connecticut is among the top ten worst places to live and work in the US (MoneyRates.com).
  • In 2014, Connecticut was ranked the worst state for job creation (Gallup).
  • Though declining, Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains above the national average (CT News Junkie).
  • Connecticut has the fifth highest gas taxes in the country (Tax-Rates.org).
  • Connecticut was tied with New Jersey for having the latest Tax Freedom Day in 2015 (Tax Foundation).
  • Although US population is growing overall, the population in Connecticut is declining; in 2013–2014, CT was one of just six states to lose people  (US Census Bureau).
  • Forty-nine percent of Nutmeggers would move out of the state if they could (Gallup).

Now, just weeks after passing the second-largest tax increase in state history, General Electric is considering moving their headquarters from Connecticut to Georgia. Governor Malloy is reportedly negotiating a package with GE to keep them here, but as my state senator Tony Hwang said last night, this kind of piecemeal approach — special tax breaks and corporate welfare for big boys, nothing for others — is not only patently unfair, it’s also a bald admission that broad tax increases damage our economy. GE pays an estimated $3.5 million $1.8 million in local property taxes annually, and the vacuum created by their departure will suck the loose change from the pockets of everyone living in my town. In their fervor to blast their favorite bogeymen, the Democrats aim their drones at the Taliban corporations but instead the bombs and missiles, as usual, fall on us luckless citizens sitting in our mud huts.

It’s All Papier-Mache

True Detective 62If Twitter is any metric, viewers have been struggling with this season of HBO’s True Detective. I discovered the show halfway through its first season and was immediately ensorcelled by its reinvention of pulp luridness into a contemporary setting: writer Nic Pizzolatto had stripped the genre of its fedoras and ratatat James Cagney patter but retained the outré crimes, dysfunctional protagonists, and hardboiled dialogue — this last refashioned from purple Chandler metaphors into philosophical, albeit sometimes plagiarized, poesy. It seems much of the disappointment stems from wanting a repeat of season 1, wherein Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson prowled the landscape of a Southern Gothic, uncovering decadent families involved in ancient conspiracies. But rather than retread the tires of the old Dodge Charger, Pizzolatto has damned his S2 characters to the wasteland of the California noir, where the politicans are crooked, the dames dangerous, and the cast of characters byzantine. This in particular seems to confound the Tweeple, though so far all of the chauffeurs have been accounted for. Some people can’t handle the deep trip.

Upon landing, film noir so reverberated on Gallic shores that it was the French who christened the genre; and Albert Camus deliberately wrote the first half of The Stranger in what he called “the American style,” perhaps best exemplified by Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Noir reflected an existential awakening on two separate landmasses. We are taught in school that existentialism was a Continental movement of the 1940s and 50s, and so it’s strange to think of noir as an expression of an American variety. But as George Cotkin argues in his book Existential America, the official canon of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, et al. was selected by American academics smitten with postwar Europhilia who deliberately ignored a homegrown strain reaching at least as far back as Hawthorne and Melville. “Existence precedes essence,” quoth Sartre, by which he meant there is no such thing as destiny, that God has no plan for us; we are born and proceed to invent ourselves by the millions of choices we make during our lifetimes. But noir — both the cinematic and the literary kinds — had been saying a similar thing long before Sartre formalized it.

“Man is condemned to be free,” Sartre wrote in Existentialism and Human Emotions. We are brought into the world without our permission, free to do anything we want, unrestrained by determinism or “a fixed and given human nature.” This, our universe, is not so different from the amoral dimension of noir, where there is no afterlife to punish crimes or reward good deeds — the only law is what you get away with. One of these worlds might have more chiaroscuro than the other, but in both we are free to murder our husbands for the insurance money, just as in both we are free to become fraud investigators and bring murderers before juries. We decide.

In a very tense opening to a recent True Detective episode, detective Ray Velcoro (played by Colin Farrell) confronts gangster boss Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) over whether Semyon knew the name of a man he had given to Velcoro — a man Velcoro believed to have raped his wife and whom Velcoro subsequently killed in vengeance — was, in fact, not the name of the actual rapist. Velcoro accuses Semyon of manipulating him into the murder to gain leverage over a cop. Semyon replies:

I didn’t get you to do anything. I gave you a name and you made your choice. And that choice was in you before your wife or any of this other stuff. It was always there, waiting.

There was no coercion or con; Velcoro had already chosen to be the kind of man who prefers vigilantism over the justice system: his wife’s rape just gave him an outlet to express it. “And didn’t you use that man to be what you were always waiting to become?” Semyon asks. We don’t need to actually visit the African savannah to know whether we will shoot the endangered lion; we’ve already chosen beforehand to be big-game hunters or not to be big-game hunters. “The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion,” Sartre added. “He will never agree that a sweeping passion is a ravaging torrent which fatally leads a man to certain acts and is therefore an excuse.”

True Detective 53Velcoro later tells his partner-in-investigation Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) that he’s a bad man. This isn’t exactly true; though he has done bad things, it’s after his confrontation with Semyon that he begins living authentically — he realizes he is responsible for his choices, which can no longer be foisted onto Semyon or circumstances. He sacrifices his custodial rights to preserve his son’s well-being; he refuses to take advantage of a drugged Bezzerides. Velcoro chooses to do good. The same can’t be said of Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), whose terror at being outed as the closeted homosexual he is ends up getting him shot. “You’d just been honest about who you are, nobody’d be able to run you,” Woodrugh’s lover and blackmailer tells him. Inauthenticity can leave you dead on the pavement as the end credits roll.

I have no idea how it will fall out in Sunday night’s finale; I have two competing theories of whodunnit. Afterwards I will miss Pizzolatto’s wonderfully overwritten dialogue and my Monday mornings will be robbed of the mp3 shopping by which I recreate T Bone Burnett’s moody soundtrack. I will just have to sit back and wait for the flat circle of time to revolve to season 3.

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