(no subject)

This is basically a writing diary where I write all kinds of stuff that will be immensely boring to anyone who stumbles across it.

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Snubbed in Dreams. Gifted in Life

All night long, I dreamed of being snubbed and abandoned.

First, Stephen had invited me somewhere, but then he ran into Erica and decided to go with her instead. And when I kept furiously saying, But you invited me, he and Erica exchanged Glances as if to say, Boy. Someone’s being terminally un-cool!

Then R was going on a cruise with all her friends except she hadn’t invited me. And when I said, But I’m your friend, too!, she said, Well, yes. But

Khadija bought me a present! A collection of bath products. Considering Khadija’s financial situation, this was the equivalent of receiving the Hope Diamond.

I was very touched, and even more touched by the note because I know for a fact that she cannot write and, thus, must have gotten one of her kids to write the words out for her.

She is quite the inspiration.

When I think about the petty frustrations and annoyances of my own life and then think about what Khadija has gone through and continues to go through on a daily basis, it is quite tempering.

Yesterday was our last tutoring session.

I won’t miss her as such. We didn’t form the emotional bond I had with my beloved Summer—now back in China and lost forever—or even with Samir, who used to tell me stories of riding his motorcycle through the lost Roman city of Timgad.

But I will think about her from time to time.


The Dreary, Burdensome Official Matter has been successfully concluded. The damage to my pocketbook isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be, and I’m actually proud of the fact that I managed to conduct myself like a grownup instead of piling pillows on my head and chanting La, la la! I’m not listening! I’m not listening! which is generally my inclination when confronted with Dreary, Burdensome Official Matters.


Else? Max had his (second) surgery. Hopefully, he won’t sprint drunkenly across any San Francisco boulevards again until his Achilles’ tendon is fully healed.

“Will you have time to read?” I asked him hopefully.

Yes,” he answered glumly.

“Oh, good!” I said. And immediately sent him Sapiens!

I want to send all my friends Sapiens! It is such a great book, so well written, so thought-provoking, even when one disagrees with one of the author’s many speculative premises.

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Animal Dream Plus Just Mercy

Dreamed I was living with B in this ramshackle house in a poor part of town. RTT was there, too; he was a little boy. And all these animals kept appearing, and I couldn’t bear to part with them; I wanted to give them a good home. First it was two cats, a mother and her kitten, grey and white like Sybyl. Then it was more cats, except I noticed that several of the cats were actually rabbits.

The animals just kept multiplying. But no dogs. Which upset RTT. “I want a dog,” he pouted.

“But Robin,” I pointed out, reasonably enough. “We aren’t going out of our way to acquire these animals. They’re just appearing. And no dogs have shown up.”

The scene was becoming quite chaotic with more and more animals.

I felt a tickle in my throat and spit up something—which turned out to be a tiny snake, maybe six inches long. How did that get inside me? I wondered. You’d think I’d notice if I swallowed something like that.

Then the snake bit me on my forefinger. I wondered whether it was poisonous, whether I would die. And began calling for B. He was the big snake expert.

And woke up.


It was 5° when I woke up yesterday. (It is only 7° right now.) Temps never did rise much above 20°, so I stuck very close to the casa all day though obviously it would have benefited me to get up and about.

In the afternoon, I did go to the movies. Roosevelt Theater! Six bucks for a first-run film! Can’t beat that.

I saw Just Mercy, which asks its audience to consider the important question, Are all white people sleazy pieces of shit or just white people from Monroe County, Alabama?

The movie seems to go with the second answer. But leaves some wiggle room.

Race is not a biological reality. It’s completely a social construct, born in the collective imagination. That doesn’t lessen its destructive impact, of course. Money, religion, politics, human rights—these things are all manifestations of the collective imagination as well.

When the New World needed slaves to build out its agricultural economy, it would have been just as easy to kidnap East Asians. Except Arab slave traders had already lay the groundwork for a profitable industry in Africa.

I wanted to like Just Mercy, but I just couldn’t. Inspiring real-life point of departure for the story but really lame script.

One thing that did strike me, though, while I watched the movie is that Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan look absolutely nothing alike—except for the color of their skin. It’s kind of crazy to lump them together as a single phenotype.

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Why Would Anyone Want to Go into Therapy When They Could Use That Money to Take a Trip to Romania?

An offhand mention of that fateful cross-country ski trip sent me plummeting yesterday.

But I was primed to plummet.

Like I say, I’ve been isolating. Thought about hanging out with Lois Lane over the holiday weekend and decided against it. Why? I don’t know. Human contact has been difficult. I can sustain bright, brittle conversations with strangers but talking to people with whom I feel a real connection has been problematic.


Like on the phone with Max last night, five minutes into the conversation, I said, “I’m sorry. I just can’t think of anything to talk about—“

He was patient and good. “What movies have you seen? What books are you reading?”

And so, I rattled for a while about 1917 and Sapiens, and eventually began talking about the cross-country ski trip—

“So, someone asked me today why I don’t like snow. And I began talking about that incident, which I’m sure I’ve bored you with a thousand times before—“

“Oh, right. You got lost in the snow. In Yosemite.”

“Oh, it was a bit more intense than that. We were skiing into the Ostrander Ski Hut, and this blizzard came up out of nowhere. We got lost in the snow for three days and had to be airlifted out by helicopter. I almost died several times. We were snow blind, you see. And we had to keep tromping around. Once I stepped off a cliff and fell 20 feet. Got buried. Had to be dug out. Wanna know how I survived? Right before I left for the trip, I’d been reading a book about avalanches, so while I was falling, I knew enough to put my arms up in a circle around my head so there’d be an air pocket, and I wouldn’t suffocate.”

“Wow,” Max said. “No, I did not know that. Wow. I’m glad that you survived!”

“Well, yeah. Or else you wouldn’t be here. But you know what struck me the most? When I was telling that person about the trip—very briefly, of course—the first thing out of my mouth was, Joe lied to the park ranger about bringing a tent. Because, you know, you’re never supposed to start out on one of these expeditions without a tent. If we’d had a tent, we could have sheltered in place. It would have been a drag. But we wouldn’t have been in peril.

“Joe fucked up. But somehow, I became the goat. The whole situation was very weird, because you know what I was worried about throughout those whole three days? Not that we were in imminent danger of dying. But that I was losing face in front of Joe and Ann and Dan.

“I should have been fucking furious with Joe. But, I wasn’t. I was furious with myself.”

“When did this happen?” Max asked.

“January 3 through January 7, 1978,” I said.

I remember the dates quite clearly. Dan’s birthday was January 4, and we celebrated by eating liquid cake mix in a snow pit. Since we’d intended to ski into Ostrander and stay for three days, we had plenty of food.


Joe Zimmerman. What an asshole. If Norman Mailer had gone to medical school, he would have been Joe Zimmerman.

His girlfriend Ann Hathaway was a close friend, which is how I got invited along on the trip.

Ann was very plucky. Also, she had no problems with seeming invisible. These were two qualities that utterly fascinated whiny, attention-seeking moi. Plus the fact that she shared a name with Shakespeare’s wife but had no interest whatsoever in Shakespeare.

When I first met Ann, she was living with a slimy, manipulative economist called Dan Levy who was similarly fascinated by Ann’s self-possession.

Like me, Dan was a talker. Ann was not a talker. She obviously possessed great intelligence—she was in medical school, after all—but she saw no need to flaunt it.

When Ann eventually left Dan, he unraveled completely. Began stalking her and eventually killed himself. Very messy suicide. He hanged himself.

“Well, he was always talking about how well hung he was!” I remarked to a mutual pal.

But not to Ann.


I understood completely when she took up with Joe Zimmerman. Joe Zimmerman was the anti-Dan Zimmerman. He was not just a doctor, he was a surgeon. They did a lot of Third World travel together! Moldering in that San Francisco storage unit that I really need to get rid of are a few elaborately embroidered blouses that Ann brought me back from Guatemala.

Unlike me, Ann was very stoic throughout the disastrous cross-country ski trip. So stoic, Joe married her a year or so afterwards.


Ann and Joe’s divorce was absolutely awful. It happened 15 years or so after the cross-country ski fiasco. By that time, they were both upscale physicians practicing in Marin County. Joe was a surgeon at the San Raphael Kaiser center and had started catting around with the nurses there.

One of the nurses fell madly in love with him. Refused to be deterred by what I imagine were Joe’s blunt statements that he was never gonna leave his wife. I will give Joe that: He was always very frank. Brutally honest, one might say.

Any way, this nurse became so utterly distraught that she committed suicide in the creepiest way imaginable: She smuggled home phenobarbital ampules and IV equipment and rigged the apparatus up in her bathroom. I think they found her after three days after she repeatedly did not show up for work.

So, Ann and Joe! Dragging invisible corpses around in back of them.

You would not guess it if you met them. They are pleasant, affluent Marin County types.

And after a brief period of recrimination, Ann and Joe became BFF. They had two kids together, after all. I last saw them when I attended Ann’s 50th birthday party where we all laughed together and made jokes about the disastrous cross-country ski expedition.


“So, why do you think you got triggered?” Max asked me on the phone.


“Well, yeah. Obviously.”

Triggered. That’s a word in the psychobabble lexicon I loathe intensely.

“I dunno,” I said. “You know, when you’re my age, you spend a disproportionate amount of time wondering how you got to the place where you’ve gotten. I guess this reminiscence set something off.”

“What did it set off?”

I sighed. “I started wondering why I always used to blame myself for bad things other people did. I felt suddenly furious and impotent because I’m not able to travel back in time and tell that bright, sparkling young woman I once was: It wasn’t you; Joe Zimmerman really was an asshole.

“Have you ever thought about going into therapy?” Max asked.

“Therapy!” I said. “Why would I want to do that? Why would anyone want to go into therapy when they could use that money to take a trip to Romania or Turkey? Ooops—“

Because Max, of course, is a huge fan of therapy!

But he just laughed.

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One of the things that happens in winter is that you acclimatize. Thus, any temperatures above freezing actually feel warm to me.

Yesterday, temps were in the high 30°s, so I went for a tromp through the Vanderbilt park where I run in the warmer seasons. Had not been there since the first snowfall.

I hate snow, so I looked upon this tromp as a kind of conversion therapy.

It didn’t work. For the record, I still hate snow.

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Not-Fun With Logistics Plus the Youthful Winona Ryder at her Most Cloying

Figured out why it didn’t snow the day before yesterday!

It was because the day before yesterday wasn’t Saturday.

Yesterday was Saturday!


First time in my life I’ve ever lost track of what day it is.

I must say, it’s given me new sympathy for people with dementia.


Else? The hardest thing for me as a fiction writer is logistics: getting Character A to Point B without boring the imaginary reader with a long list of rooms Character A walks through, doors she closes behind her, car rides to the train station, surly conductors on the train station platforms, et-cetera.

Those transitions come easily enough when I’m writing autobiographically—like in my journal—but I really struggle with them when I’m pulling a story out of my imagination.

Like I spent three hours yesterday transporting Florrie from Atlantic City to Brooklyn so that Our Heroine could find Florrie in a bathtub filled with bloody water.

And then I started thinking: Why is Florrie even in Atlantic City? The whole point of having her in Atlantic City was so that she could go see the premature babies in their incubators. Premature babies in incubators were a popular freak show exhibit back in the 1920s. But they had premature babies in incubators in Coney Island, which is actually in Brooklyn.


I only need to get Florrie onto the BMT!

I guess I will be rewriting that scene today.

I hate it when that happens.


Anyway, I got so frustrated, I stopped writing and watched Martin Scorsese’s extremely lame adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence instead.

I will out myself here: Not a huge Martin Scorsese fan. Thought The Irishman was Zzzzzz-bor-r-r-r-ring-zzzzzZ. Liked Goodfellas. Admired Taxi Driver. (Did not like it.) All in all, though, I think Scorsese is terribly overrated.

The Age of Innocence is also my least favorite of Wharton’s novels. It’s about female sacrifice. That’s disappointing: I would have thought Wharton was waaaay too enlightened to write a novel about female sacrifice.

I prefer Wharton’s short stories—especially her ghost stories!—to her novels but if I had to choose a Wharton novel to like, it would be The Custom of the Country. Vulgar, self-absorbed Undine Spragg disassembles New York high society drawing room by drawing room, in the process, driving her patrician, Old-New-York-family husband to suicide. It’s quite the merry romp! Shows off Wharton’s vicious wit and satiric abilities to great affect.

I didn’t realize The Age of Innocence was published in 1920! That would make Wharton a contemporary of Fitzgerald’s, Hemingway’s, and T.S. Eliot’s, and that is a very strange thought indeed.

I chose The Age of Innocence for its art direction. I figure arriviste hotels in the 1920s mimicked millionaire’s homes in the 1870s.

And I did harvest quite a lot of status detail. Though I’m not sure it was worth having to watch the youthful Winona Ryder at her most cloying for two hours.

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Out of the Past Against All Odds

Continuing with the ever more exciting saga of What Movie Is Patrizia Watching Now?, we come to last night’s offering.

Which starred Jeff Bridges who once upon a time, before time, gravity and the Coen Brothers turned him into the Big Lebowski, was the most singularly drop-dead gorgeous male human being ever to be spawned upon this planet

(And y’know, Jeff, time and gravity does that to all of us, so, like call me.)

It also starred James Woods who was like the most perfect sleazy villain.

And Rachel Ward who, at the time this film was made, was the Most Beautiful Woman in the World even though she was a brunette.

In fact, Rachel Ward was so beautiful in this movie that she inspired me to get her haircut:

Who Wore It Better?

Rachel Ward

The movie was Against All Odds, and it’s exactly the kind of movie I love ‘cause it’s got loads of gorgeous scenery, lots of shirtless Jeff Bridges having passionate simulated sex, and a plot that makes no sense whatsoever but that really doesn’t matter because nobody cares about the plot.

I can even forgive the movie that awful Phil Collins song because it only plays over the closing credits, and by then you’ve turned off the movie.


Against All Odds, made in 1984, purports to be a remake of the classic noir thriller, Out of the Past.

I’ve seen both films, and the only thing they have in common is the basic romantic triangle framework. And actually, Out of the Past is more of a romantic parallelogram. It stars Robert Mitchum whose brooding deep-set eyes and clipped speech made him the living embodiment of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, the quintessential noir antihero. It also features Kirk Douglas in a rare turn as a sleazy villain.

Out of the Past is a movie about a man trying—and failing—to escape from his past. He can’t; his past comes looking for him. If Sophocles had had a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit and had been writing studio potboilers in the 1940s, he might have come up with this script because Out of the Past has exactly the feeling of relentlessness you find in Greek tragedies. The past is Sisyphus’s rock. When it starts rolling back down that hill, it will inevitably destroy you.

Against All Odds, on the other hand, is very glitzy, very ne plus ultra modern in that entirely irritating way the 80s had because people back then could never imagine anything would come after them. It’s entertaining. You don’t have to think while you’re watching this film. Taylor Hackford—a most underrated director, I’ve always thought, and Mr. Helen Mirren in real life—does all the heavy lifting for you.

Somehow Hackford managed to wrangle permission from the Mexican government to do actual filming in the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and the movie is worth seeing for those scenes alone—especially because Jeff Bridges gets naked a lot in Chichen Itza.


Else? It was really, really cold yesterday. Blue skies. Very sunny! So I tried to get wholesome, fresh-air exercise. But I lasted exactly five minutes on the track.

A major Snow Event had been scheduled but never materialized.

From the look of this morning’s skies, it will materialize today.

I had a good writing day. I’m up to Florrie’s death scene in the bathtub. Must keep a tight reign on my tendency to write paragraphs and paragraphs about the swirling patterns the blood makes in the water. Nobody reads descriptions.

I also generated a fair amount of revenue.

So, all in all, a good day.

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Westworld and Imaginary Hierarchies

So-o-o, continuing my life of perpetual Scut Factory toil and endless cinematic idyll, I watched the original, cheesy, 1970s movie Westworld last night.

I must say, the movie is quite a bit better than the pretentious HBO television series it inspired 45 years later. For one thing, it doesn’t use the robot malfunction as a turgid metaphor for race relations.

Robots don’t want to be free. Machines don’t have desires in any human sense of the word, so TV shows like Westworld that anthropomorphize them are no more profound than Lady and the Tramp.

Freedom is just another one of those imaginary hierarchies that only human beings can make up. I mean—it’s meaningful to us humans, of course. But then, we live in a world that’s entirely governed by imaginary constructs such as money, the superiority of men and the Presidency of Donald Trump. As Sapiens teaches, There are no gods, no nations, no money, and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.

Forget The King and I and The Magnificent Seven: Westworld is truly Yul Brynner’s defining cinematic moment. Oh, the relentlessness with which he stalks his prey! The musical click of his heels against the ground.

Westworld was the first movie to use the technology we now know as CGI. Interspersed amidst tracking shots of Yul Brynner’s inexorable pursuit of Richard Benjamin are brief flashes of the world as Yul Brynner’s circuitry sees it. Very clumsy, pixilated shots but effective: What would be the point, after all, of programming a Yul Brynner gunslinger to see the world as we see it? Yul Brynner does this small, catlike shift of his head when the gunslinger registers movement—which is how it senses its prey. Subtle and exactly right for the part.

Westworld was an hour and 48 minutes well spent, and as a complete nonsequitur, I must add here that Yul Brynner’s son is actually a professor who teaches American history at Marist, and one day, I really must work up the courage to audit one of his classes.


No other news as such to report. I am Socially Isolated, which I should try to change, I suppose. It’s not mentally healthy, though I’m not particularly lonely or anything, having many amusements, the cat and a medley of casual conversations at my disposal should I choose to partake in them.

Khadija passed her CNA exam, which means I will no longer be working with her. I did manage to convince her to go for her GED.

If you want to talk about imaginary human hierarchies, Khadijah would be an interesting place to start. That woman is crazy brilliant and yet the accident of her birth, a woman in a Tangiers slum in a male-dominated social order, meant she was never even taught to read. Un-fucking-believable.

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A Truth That Should Make Every Feminist Take Self-Inventory

This entry contains spoilers for the film Midsommar

And then there’s Midsommar, a really fucking strange movie, that’s probably best seen on streaming media.


Because if you see it in a movie theater with other people, you’ll laugh at it.

Don’t forget: Humor is primarily a way to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the contemplation of taboo subjects.

The film is intentionally funny, of course, if you accept it on its own terms. Like it’s even got a double-edged punchline: Sacrifice is necessary in every relationship.

I’d say Midsommar is the film you’d get if Ingmar Bergman had teamed up with, say, Wes Craven.

Florence Pugh—rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses—plays a woman whose life has just unraveled in the most horrifying manner imaginable. She’s desperate and needy, so she decides to tag along on a trip to northern Sweden with her Loutish Boyfriend and two of his loutish pals. They don’t want her. But the weird cultish commune they’re visiting wants her. It really, really wants her—and no, you can not imagine the rest.

On display throughout is fabulous faux-Swedish folk art that I think Midsommar’s art director entirely made up:

Really, Midsommar’s exclusion from the Academy’s Best Production Design nominations list is an outrage.

Oddly enough, the squirmiest scene is not one of the many scenes of ritual violence and mutilation, scattered like flower petals throughout the movie.

No, it’s a scene in which the Loutish Boyfriend has ritual sex with one of the commune denizens.

She lures him to her with a trail of flower petals and awaits him naked with her legs drawn up in what I guess is the Ritual Sex Hut.

Behind her stands a line of naked women, and the women are of all ages.

And this was just shocking, shocking, shocking! I mean, these were not females chosen to spark up the movie with a little tits-and-ass razzle-dazzle!

(I actually paused the movie at this point to stare at the older women’s naked bodies, strip off my own clothes, scurry to a mirror and do a compare and contrast.)

If you remember back to the classic horror movie The Shining, the most horrifying hallucination our flawed protagonist Jack Torrance has is of an old woman rising naked from a bathtub.

Ladies and gentlemen, our culture cannot conceive of anything more horrifying than the body of a naked old woman.

That is a truth that should make every feminist take self-inventory.

Anyway, very powerful movie, though not for everyone.

Although oddly enough, I saw it on Max’s recommendation. He kept texting, Mom, YOU will like this movie.

And he was right.


In other news, I passed the tax certification exam with flying colors. Tax season starts in a week, and by the time it ends, it will be spring!

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“Age before beauty,” said the old man with the cane for whom I held the door.

He was 90. Had decided to brave the elements on this particularly grey and gruesome day in an effort to figure out just why his father had decided to emigrate to the States in 1919.

“It was World War I,” he said. “You don’t hear very much about World War I, but it was devastating.”

About five minutes into 1917 when one of the two protagonists turns to the other and says, “Age before beauty,” I thought, OmyGAWD! The movie was talking to me!

I am fairly certain that future generations of historians will make no distinction between World War I and World War II. Just as historians today make no distinction between the various bloody battles that comprised the Hundred Years War in the 14th and 15th centuries. They will both be lumped together, periodicized if you will, as the "20th Century War" or some such nomenclature, though the two conflicts could not be more different, the one a fin de siècle, a bloody farewell to colonialism; the other, the lurching birth of the military industrial complex.

For all sorts of reasons, I can’t think very clearly about World War II. I suppose it’s the death camps. The contemplation of my own annihilation, my own repurposing into soap, a lampshade, a rotting corpse in a mass grave.

It’s much easier for me to think about World War I! With its strange embedded chivalries: In 1914, for instance, British and German troops spontaneously decided to take a few days off to celebrate Christmas. They sang carols to each other over the trenches. They exchanged presents. A few days later, they went back to slaughtering each other.

1917 takes place in far darker times, six months before the War ended when nobody could remember anymore why they were fighting.

1917 is simultaneously a throwback and extremely modern.

It’s a quest movie: Two soldiers are given what is essentially an impossible assignment, which is the basic 19th century swashbuckler format but also the basic first-person shooter video game formula. The film rather brilliantly fuses the two perspectives.

The plot? Two lance corporals must travel through enemy territory to deliver a message that will save the lives of 1,600 gallant British infantrymen—including one of the protagonist’s brothers. To do this, they must navigate the strange trench mazes; scramble across the desolate, barb-wired dreamscape strewn with bloated corpses, mud-filled craters and rats that was No Man’s Land; pick their way through the torched ruins of a French town; and then convince the bloodthirsty English command to call the offensive off!

The director, Sam Mendes, edits the film in such a way that the whole thing appears to be one extended camera take. There are no individual camera shots! Well, I mean, there are; there would have to be. But the scenes are welded together seamlessly, and the effect is that you are right there inside the protagonist’s mind.

This technique did not originate with Mendes. The very brilliant Birdman pioneered it, I believe. It’s perfect for a quest movie, structure mirroring substance, as it were. In a media universe that’s oversaturated with zombies and sensationalistic recapitulations of blood, gore, and chaos, horror can only be effective if it’s quiet and personal. By the end of 1917, you understand those legions of survivors who returned to their former lives too broken ever to do anything else again. You’re kind of shell-shocked yourself.

World War I has always existed in the cultural shadow of World War II. We’re disappointed in it somehow: It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, dammit! And it wasn’t!

Anyway, I thought 1917 was brilliant. And I’m not generally a big fan of war movies. It’s one of those films that’s gonna lose a lot of its scope and power when it’s transferred to Netflix, so if it sounds at all interesting to you, see it now while it’s in a theater.

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