Plague Diary, 1.

And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. This situation continued [from May] until September. ~ Agnolo di Tura, Siena, 1348 

Plague_doctors'_beak_shaped_mask
A medieval Plague Doctor (Wikimedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Agnolo di Tura, called The Fat.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. In fact, I very strongly doubt the world in the grip of the Coronavirus Pandemicwill be anything like the graveyard that was Europe in the wake of the Black Death. Most things will go forward. There may even be opinion pieces written later about how it was all overblown.

One hopes, anyway.

I began with the passage above because this sentence is like a prose earworm in my brain, some days: “And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands.” If you read all of Agnolo’s narrative, you’ll see this is how it begins:

The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . . It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who did not see such horribleness can be called blessed. The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in the groin, and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. None could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship…

You can read the entire piece here.

There are other readings as well, but the image of Agnolo, a fat man struggling in the heat to bury his children under a merciless sun, has never quite left me. The simplicity of his narrative has always struck me as sorrowful in a timeless way. The kind of devastation that has no point in history because whatever the year on the calendar, it would be the same for anyone in similar circumstances. The words of a man writing nearly 700 years ago, and it’s almost as if you can still hear him sigh.

I’m mostly just following the brush with this post, which is being written on the kind of day that has always given me the creeps, because it is so like bad dreams I had as a child.

It is windy and a little chilly outside. Clouds are rushing by, white and gray, and the sun isn’t really out but I can see blue sky as well. The evergreens that rise behind the houses across the street are restless in the wind, which doesn’t moan so much as it murmurs.

I had a lot of wind-filled nightmares when I was a child.

One that I never forgot came shortly after watching the 1964 film version of Richard Matheson’s I Am LegendThe Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price. In that nightmare, I woke to a murmuring and constant wind pushing its way through my childhood home, which was in ruins. One of my sisters was just a mummy in a creaking swing on the back porch. I found myself outside then, and I stepped over two mounds in the driveway that I realized were my parents’ graves.

The wind never stopped, and I know I thought that whatever happened to everyone had come with the wind.

The dream ended at my elementary school, with me standing outside my kindergarten classroom, which was in shambles. I heard the distinctive ringing bounce of a red gym ball on the cement behind me, as if someone had just dropped one, and I turned to see a ball bouncing away, but there was no one there who could have dropped it.

And so I come back to this wind outside today, and all the coronavirus news skittering across my Twitter feeds, on my big-screen TV, and the Agnolo di Tura in my mind, hunched and sweating over the dead.

No one wants to know that kind of sorrow. No one wants to know how alone the man must have felt.

So I guess even the worst-case scenario imaginings in my mind regarding coronavirus are enough to shake me a bit, to rattle my cage.

There are probably many lessons to learn from Agnolo di Tura. The one that will not leave my thoughts today is something that first occurred to me after my brother committed suicide 20 years ago. Then again after my sister died from septic shock in 2016.

Sometimes it is a curse to survive.

Blogs out there in the ether

Blogs out there in the ether

I never use my personal blogs but I can’t let them go. That’s why I spend money on the damn things.

So I dropped one of my writing jobs to have extra room for stuff like this. Will I use it? I’m typing this on the physical keyboard that comes with the BlackBerry Key2 and thinking the crackberry combined with this easier to use keyboard–and I’m sorry, it is easier once you get used to it–I just might.

I’ve also said I won’t use social media so much. Why? Blogging like this feels like something of a lost art.

But I don’t know. I’m a flighty fucker and have done this before. I also have a Medium and a Blogger address. Time to experiment.

Huh

I should probably use this since I’m paying for the URL, huh?

I read a pretty good blog post today that said we should just blog for the hell of it. My job is blogging.

Still I rarely get to blog about whatever the hell I want to. And there are other things. So.

Thinking about it.

Redirect

I’ve taken too long to do this. For now, all my personal blogging on any subject will be here:

http://huffwire.com

A Medium-hosted blog. Years ago I understood it’s wisest to confine your non-paid blogging to one destination but my ADD-fueled curiosity about platforms stayed in control.

I’m going to try and just focus on the one site for now, though. So follow that link.

Hey there, Hi there, ho there…

I’m trying a new Twitter-like interface for my WordPress site to see if it encourages me to use it more.

Basically I’m typing this right on the web page–to me, visually (you obviously can’t see it). It’s partly because I own the URL and the WordPress account so I hate not using it more. It’s also because I like Twitter for the immediacy so I wanted to see how this felt from the writer’s perspective.

Additionally, Twitter is down now and work isn’t fast-paced at the moment so I need something to do with my hands.

#blah-blah #notes-to-self

True Crime Wire

In part to honor the memory of my friend, brilliant True Crime Diary author Michelle McNamara, I have created a new crime blog:

truecrimewire.com.

True Crime Wire will be modeled after Michelle’s work in many ways. Especially in taking a deliberate and measured approach to cases, not chasing clicks by covering high profile crimes or breaking crime news just because. I fell into that trap in the distant past as a crime blogger and don’t want to again.

I’ll try and update this blog more often now, with non-crime posts, but many posts will be directing readers to True Crime Wire.

I burned out on true crime six years ago. But re-reading my friend’s work, I realized I felt a compulsion to dive back in. I’d probably been feeling it for a while, but found it easy to set aside.

Not setting it aside anymore.

I am, gladly, a working writer, so I won’t update any personal project blogs daily — but I will update, and I’ll take time with what I write.

If you follow this blog and are interested in true crime, please follow True Crime Wire.

Let’s get it started.

 

Here’s a question…

I’m not sure anyone will answer: how are people finding this blog? 

I don’t update a ton, so having a pretty high number of followers surprises me. Did you find it through WordPress’s Reader from when they featured one of my posts?

I’m just curious and perhaps suspicious to some degree as WordPress has long had a multilayered spam issue coming from both scheming humans and bots. 

So, I wrote a book…

And it will be out in April.

I wrote it over the course of a month, in October, 2015. That’s almost all I can say about it right now. But tonight I realized my book coming out made me feel like I should update this site more often. That, and I’m paying for a domain name now. So might as well, right?

If you once knew me as a crime blogger, my book won’t be a total surprise—but it is not a true crime book. If I’m being totally honest, I’m glad. Like, really glad. True crime is in vogue right now, which is mostly great, yet there was a time when I’d lost my taste for it and didn’t want to be identified with it. I haven’t fully lost that feeling, though I would never say a true crime book is off the table for me. It’s just that if I do write one it’s going to be something I choose very carefully and do with a huge amount of attention to detail and writing. I will not half-ass it.

The book I wrote—and this is giving nothing away—was supposed to be funny, too, and I hope I succeeded. That’s one of those things I just won’t truly know for a while.

Anyway, it hit me that I care about how things go with the book and I want to write more, and the writers I enjoy the most online are serious about keeping digital presences up to and including active blogs as well. So hopefully, in spite of all the daily writing I do for work, I’ll be updating this more frequently too.