Primary school children went back to school this week, I had a chance to channel my inner Philip Marlow, and authorities removed the blinking green signal of traffic lights. Quite a busy week.
Education is important
Especially if it’s in-person, for those who have yet to hone their social skills, at least. Not for me, I’m totally fine with remote everything, which is why this week I signed up for a Danish language course. With a language school. And a language teacher. And a textbook I will be guided through rather than find my way along on my own.
It pains me to say it but I’m not self-teaching material. I start strong and very motivated, then, as I begin to have questions that I’ve no one to ask, the motivation starts to wither and with it my pleasure in the experience. I know this because I tried learning Danish on my own a few years ago.
I started with Duolingo, which was a great disappointment for that particular language. Motivated by anger, I found materials online and continued on my own. I did learn a lot of stuff, to be honest. I just couldn’t retain it because although I got an A in my pedagogy exam in university a pedagogue I am not and never will be.
So I am now going to do this right — with the set hours for learning every week, with the teacher, with the homework, everything. I hope it goes better than my previous attempts at learning languages the organised way. In fairness, though, some of those attempts fell through because my heart wasn’t really into German and because Romanian is a case language, but others failed through no fault of mine (the company I worked with sacked our Dutch teacher because he regularly failed to show up for lessons.)
The virus that kills in silence
Hopping back on the language learning train has been a distraction tactic and I can confidently say that even before the course has begun, the tactic has produced results. After two weeks of writing pains because I was too preoccupied with the latest local pandemic trends and their effect on our daily schedule, I am once again writing almost as effortlessly as before March 2020. And I’ve found the best weapon for my villain.
Obviously, it was going to be some sort of a disease. You can try to escape from the dominant narrative but you can only escape so far when said dominant narrative is one of the two things the social media world is talking about. It’s not what the actual world is talking about — people in the actual world have other immediate problems besides the pandemic — but it is what social media froths about. So a virus it was.
This is the place to once again take pleasure in the benefits of book research. You don’t just learn new things such as the difference between Derbys and Oxfords (I didn’t know I prefer Derbys on Big C. but now I do and it makes me feel somehow classy).
You also learn things like the fact that you could display symptoms of rabies months and even a year after infection. And, even more fascinatingly, once the symptoms show, you’re almost certainly dead. I don’t know about you, but I have developed a new, heightened appreciation of life since I learned this, which was yesterday.
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.
I’ve come to distinguish between good writers and brilliant writers, and the distinction is in the storytelling. Brilliant writers are necessarily excellent storytellers. Good writers, not necessarily. Clearly, Raymond Chandler is of the former sort. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I just accidentally learned The Big Sleep is the first Philip Marlowe novel and a week ago it was Philip Marlowe I tried to channel while I sat in the car waiting for the Covid tests at Little C.’s school to finish.
The tests were supposed to take about half an hour at the beginning of the school day twice a week. So we had to get there half an hour earlier. Knowing that time management is not the most developed skill among my compatriots, I assumed it could take anywhere from half an hour to an hour. The reason I sat and waited was in case Little C.’s test turned out to be positive, obviously, not that I wanted to catch the teachers in the act of being bad at time management.
It was about seven-twenty in the morning, early November, with no sun to speak of and a sense of tension in the air above the cars streaming into the street to deposit kids at school. I was reading The Big Sleep because something in the latest Grady Hendrix didn’t agree with me and I was imagining, not for the first time, what it was like to be a private eye.
I knew it involved a lot of sitting and waiting and I’m not very good at that, but for five minutes I could try it so try it I did. Sadly, my observational experiment failed to produce anything particularly valuable. What happened was what I could have bet money would happen. In the space of the ten minutes between 7:20 and 7:30 (the kids being instructed to get to school by 7:20) there was a major jam in the street because apparently some people are simply incapable of forethought. Also time management.
The jam cleared in the next ten minutes, leaving dog owners walking their pets the only moving elements of the landscape. I spent 40 minutes on that street, reading and occasionally looking around, and I had a bad case of itchy feet by the time I finally decided to leave. That was a morning of important new knowledge: private detectives must have mountains of patience.
I, on the other hand, do not have mountains of patience and never will but I am accruing small amounts of it over time as I learn not to worry or get angry about this or that thing that used to give me anger hives a long time ago. Profoundly, we live and learn.
Welcome back to my book-peddling corner. This week, I have support in the book peddling because The Dreamer got its first professional review. Here’s a quote:
I felt drawn into the story as I reflected on what each character was experiencing and what they were thinking. After the moment where the situation came to a head, the result was quite a surprise for me and the characters.
As I like to say, a compliment from a stranger is worth a hundred from a friend because the stranger doesn’t know they’re making you a compliment. You can read the rest here.
So, for a thriller wrapped in a dream made of smoke, death and destruction, with a filling of tragedy and atonement sprinkled with drama and served with a side of a relatable villain, press The Dreamer.
For random scary stories, here’s a complete list of my published shorter fiction.