The Very Next Day

Thursday, May 21, 6:03 am.

I witnessed a pretty remarkable sunrise in City Park the morning after I published that last post. I captured some photos over the course of roughly thirty minutes, and was very pleasantly surprised when I scrolled through those photos later.

The way the light and sky changed depending on where I pointed my iPhone, and the varied focal points — it all made me feel like I had covered far greater ground over a much longer time. I look at the photos now and still feel a certain sense of accomplishment, however unwarranted it might be. Hey, I’ll take it where I can get it!

This is my first time sharing these photos, and it’s also all I have for this post. I figure it’s the equivalent of 5,000 words…

Thursday, May 21, 6:04 am. Never mind the pond (rebel) scum.
Thursday, May 21, 6:11 am. I almost captured the full orb of the sun without tweaking the camera.
Thursday, May 21, 6:30 am.
Thursday, May 21, 6:34 am.

Within a Week

Saturday, May 16, 5:56 am. View of City Park’s Peristyle from across Bayou Metairie.

I considered titling this post “A Slice of Stay at Home,” but since only one of the pictures is from inside my home, I figured that might be misleading.

Maybe “A Slice of My New Normal” would be more appropriate. I was coming up empty on topics for this week — I haven’t read anything of note since Macbeth, and I’m taking a little break before diving into a new (for me) classic. It will most likely be The Canterbury Tales.

But I digress. In lieu of anything else, I figured I would share some photos from my iphone, captured over the course of a week. Most of them are from New Orleans City Park. I live a block away from City Park, and I’m very grateful for that!

Even pre-pandemic, I was in the park for exercise, maybe three times a week. Now, with no morning commute to contend with, and with the sun rising earlier as we move toward summer, I’m usually able to get out for a sunrise walk most days of the week. A bonus for heading outside that early: it’s very easy to maintain social distance.

I put my favorite photo of the bunch at the top of the post. The rest are in chronological order.

Monday, May 11, 1:50 pm. An uninvited visitor found his way to my home office.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:09 am. Sunrise over Bayou St. John.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:13 am. Still sunrise, still Bayou St. John, looking toward St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:22 am. Left the sunrise behind and headed home.
Monday, May 18, 7:27 am. Had to head to a different part of town for an early morning appointment. Got a view of the Mississippi River.

Macbeth: 100%

So, Macbeth had been on my TBR list for awhile. After plowing through Serial Reader’s 235 issues of War and Peace, I thought 10 issues of Macbeth would be a walk in the park. It was, mostly, thanks to a generous helping of internet assistance with the Elizabethan English. (The “litcharts” website was particularly helpful!)

I always enjoy discovering the context of famous quotes. For example, there’s the line that begins “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” and ends “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (I can easily picture and hear my Mom reciting this, especially the first part, even though she’s been gone over 5 years.) Well, this is Macbeth’s speech when he finds out his wife is dead. He pretty much says, “she was going to die sooner or later,” and then launches into that speech.

Kinda harsh. But this also comes in the last act of the play, when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were pretty far down the road to hell, anyway.

But one of the most interesting connections I made from reading Macbeth was one I wasn’t expecting. Very early on, in Scene 2 of Act 1, I encountered this quote:

“The multiplying villanies of nature / Do swarm upon him”

I immediately recognized it as something V says when he saves Evey in the beginning of V for Vendetta.

For the uninitiated, V for Vendetta (one of my favorite movies) is about a vigilante named “V” in a not-too-distant-future England, who dons a Guy Fawkes mask. Guy Fawkes is the best-remembered member of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic separatists attempted to assassinate King James and blow up Parliament. V in the movie, like a post-modern Guy Fawkes, attempts to overthrow the seriously oppressive government of this not-too-distant-future England.

So here’s what I wasn’t expecting: there’s possibly a much stronger connection between Macbeth and V for Vendetta than just the use of some quotes.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, and some believe he wrote it to remove any suspicion of connection between himself and the people behind the Gunpowder Plot. Shakespeare’s mother was Catholic, and his father might have been a covert Catholic. His father was also friends with the father of one of the main conspirators, Robert Catesby. And, Shakespeare frequented the Mermaid Tavern, where the plotters met (to plot, apparently).

There’s a lot of stuff in Macbeth that would have appealed to King James. Take the noble character Banquo, whom the witches say will never be king, but will beget kings. Banquo is supposed to represent King James’s ancestor Banquho, Thane of Lochquhaber. And then the witches themselves — King James wrote a book about witchcraft, so he was obviously pretty interested in the subject.

Now, just how much “c.y.a.” was involved in Shakespeare’s motivation for writing Macbeth, we’ll never know. But it’s got me examining my own motives for writing a little more closely.

War and Peace: 100%

I really wanted to add an exclamation point to the title of this post. But with the percent sign, it may look like I’m cursing (War and Peace: 100%! — though it probably needs a hashtag and an at symbol, too, to really look like I’m cursing…War and Peace: 100%@#!)

Anyway, I don’t want to curse, I just want to shout from the rooftops: I’ve finished War and Peace!!!

It was definitely a challenge, probably the most challenging thing I’ve read via Serial Reader. (Moby Dick was tough, too, but only about 1/3 as long. Rousseau’s The Social Contract was no picnic, either, but it was mercifully short — I was done within two weeks.)

War and Peace was challenging, but ultimately worth it. It wasn’t so much the language or story that was challenging; it was processing all the human experience that is packed into that book.

When I started out, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. In my first post about War and Peace (War and Peace: 19%), I complained about not liking the characters and not caring about the translation.

Fast forward to now. I wound up buying a hard copy, (pictured at the top of this post), mainly because I wanted to be able to reference chapters I’d already read more handily than the Serial Reader interface allows. But it’s also a more recent translation (by Anthony Briggs), and when Tolstoy gets into really deep and heavy stuff, I found this version helpful.

And speaking of deep and heavy stuff, I can no longer say that I don’t like the characters. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily like them now, either. What I can say is that I feel like I know the characters, inside and out, especially Pierre, Andrey, and Natasha. I’m having a hard time thinking of another book I’ve read where the interior life of multiple characters was so expertly portrayed.

On balance, it feels like the past four months was a very good time for me to read War and Peace. Even though the story takes place at a time 200 years in the past, it was so immersive, so much still rings true, and there’s so much that’s transcendent; that it offered a welcome, alternative, perspective on the current state of things. An escape, if you will.

I’ve leave you with a recent photo I took that makes me think of the character Andrey. He has several epiphanies in the story — one occurs while he’s laying wounded on the battlefield at Austerlitz, gazing at the sky. And a separate epiphany occurs as he passes an oak tree in a carriage. For an oak tree and sky — things I see and pass, literally, every day — to make me think of a character in a story…it feels notable, certainly. And maybe even a bit transcendent.

 

 

 

The Universe in Verse

This past Saturday, I watched a livestream. Perhaps my first ever. The event was The Universe in Verse, billed as “a charitable celebration of science and nature through poetry.” (Here’s a link with more info from Pioneer Works, the Brooklyn-based cultural center that puts on the show: The Universe in Verse.)

There were two names on the program that got me to tune in: Janna Levin and Rebecca Solnit. I saw Janna Levin speak at Tulane University several years ago, and picked up a copy of her book Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space. And Rebecca Solnit is a writer whom I greatly admire.

Oh, and these other names helped sell me on the prospect of spending Saturday afternoon in front of my laptop: Kip Thorne, Brian Greene, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, and Jad Abumrad.

At over three hours, I was glad I was watching a livestream versus an in-person event. I could carry my laptop around with me as I did stuff around the house. And by the end, I was happy to have experienced it. It helped get my head in a better place.

Some highlights for me: watching Rebecca Solnit read a lovely poem (I don’t remember which one) in front of an oak tree, somewhere out in California, I think. I’d never seen her before, I’ve only read her, and she had a very compelling presence. And Janna Levin, who opened the event (she’s on the Board of Directors for Pioneer Works) got me thinking back to an inspiration I had, when I saw her here 4 years ago. She told a story about something that happened during the construction of LIGO (the two observatories that detected gravitational waves — one of them just happens to be here in Louisiana). I’ve only just started getting that inspiration out of my head and onto the page, and this event reminded me that I’ve got to make the time for it.

I’ll leave you with one of the poems that stood out to me — it’s a short one. It was read by Krista Tippett of the radio program “On Being.”

The Peace of Wild Things
by
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Alternate Timelines

Souvenir from the Wookieeverse

The concept of alternate timelines, or alternate realities, has always been somewhat second nature for me. Or, alternate nature, perhaps.

When I first learned about the multiverse, the hypothesis that there is not only one universe, but an infinite number of universes, my first reaction was, “Of course! Why wouldn’t there be?”

I think I’m just wired that way. Space and time — time especially — has always felt like a construct to me. Something like scaffolding.

Why am I going on about alternate realities? They’ve been on my mind these past few days. In another timeline, I would have been in Disney World with nieces Nicole and Cece this past weekend. Running the Star Wars half-marathon. But that just may be a delayed timeline, since we’re planning to run this race next year, instead. And we still got medals for running a “virtual” half-marathon.

And if I had been in Florida this past weekend, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go through a long-neglected box of stuff. Where I found piles of evidence of my own alternate realities. (In reality: past realities.) Day planners, wall calendars — things I had no business hanging onto for as long as I had.

I disposed of most of them, but couldn’t bring myself to part with some of the very earliest ones. The most ancient artifact from that timeline is pictured below.

A couple of friends came immediately to mind as I found that 1981 Hallmark date book. Not friends I had back in that day, but friends I have now. One of whom would have been a wee bairn in April 1981, and the other who would not make her debut until October of that year. (I mean being born, not making her society debut.) I was 11 for most of 1981, and from my perspective, it was a good year to be 11. I’m glad to have memories of that year.

Even though they might just be a fabrication. 😉

Interesting how I marked the track meet. It would be years before I found my stride as a distance runner.

206 Years Ago

Sunrise, April 13, 2020.

On April 11, 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne of the French empire, and was sent off to exile. The first time he was exiled, it was to the relatively accessible island of Elba in the Mediterranean. (Those seeking to be done with him would not repeat the mistake — the second and final time he was exiled, it was to the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean. This place is exceedingly remote, even by today’s standards.)

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time with Napoleon in the past year. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle of 2019, and that book is set in the immediate aftermath of Napoleon’s reign. And Napoleon’s all over War and Peace. I’m 89% of the way through Tolstoy’s epic, and currently in the story, it’s October 1812 and Napoleon is hightailing it out of Russia.

Napoleon’s doings seemed to be the cause of a lot of uncertainty back in the day. I’d never really thought of it that way before, I think because I tend to look back at history as a concrete thing. “This happened, and then this happened because of it, and these were the effects.” But reading War and Peace has put me right back in that time, as only good fiction can. I felt the uncertainty of the characters as Napoleon’s army came into Moscow, and I feel it as the French abandon a burnt-out city and country.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with our current level of uncertainty.

So on Saturday, when I read that it was the 206th anniversary of Napoleon’s abdication, it had a little more impact than if I had not spent the better part of this past 12 months in Napoleon’s world. It was like a reminder of the fact that the French really did leave Russia, and Napoleon was forced from public life, eventually. And, oh yeah, he’s been dead for almost 200 years.

The live oak pictured at the top of this post could have been around 200 years ago. It’s not far from some oaks that are believed to be between 750 and 900 years old. While it may not be too long before we can all say, “this is what happened as a result of our 21st century pandemic, and these were the effects,” that’s little consolation for our immediate anxiety. Thinking of what that tree may have been around for, and seeing it still standing strong, makes it feel like a beacon of hope.

Nearsight

Noticed this tree for the first time yesterday, even though I’m sure I’ve passed it dozens of times. It seemed to be responding to the predominantly gray light in the sky.

So, I’ve had these quotes appear in front of me in the span of just a few days:

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer

Kinda getting the feeling, maybe I might be due for a lens change?

I’ve been nearsighted most of my life. I think I was 10 years old when I first got glasses. I had Lasik surgery about 12 years ago, but its effectiveness is beginning to wane as my eyes age along with the rest of me.

And it feels like nearsightedness is a pretty big issue right now. The path forward seems very blurry. What is the world going to look like tomorrow, next week, next month? In non-pandemic times, many of us can make reasonable assumptions about the future and its shape. Not so much right now.

So I’m going to try to quiet down and stop asking those questions for a while. Maybe in the silence, a different kind of question will present itself. A new way of seeing things.

One Sunrise, Three Ways

So, I had lots of ideas for today’s post, like: sharing some of the nicer and/or funnier COVID-19 communications I’ve received from a myriad of sources; or a Quarter Report, since today is the start of the second quarter of 2020; or a handful of other thoughts not worth mentioning.

But, for many reasons, none of these ideas materialized. Instead, I’ll share these pictures of the sunrise on Monday, March 30. Captured at 6:54 a.m. Central Time. Not shared on any other social media (until now).

And also, this quote, which has been in my head a bit, that I remember as such:

“For this command I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious or remote; it is already in your head, and in your heart — you have only to carry it out.”

(If you’re curious, it’s from the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 30, Verse 11. I couldn’t find a Bible excerpt that matches those words exactly, [they’re closest to the New American Bible], but they definitely carry the gist.)

Duck Life

Around this time every year, I usually see the duck couples. Waddling around in pairs, touring the local environs. I’ve always fancied they’re house hunting, or habitat hunting, or something.

Several years ago, I remember a pair walking down the sidewalk in my Mom’s neighborhood. Mom’s been gone more than 5 years now, so maybe this was 7 or 8 years ago? Her house was a good half block of paved street away from the nearest water source, a drainage canal.

This pair took a detour onto her lawn and perused her garden, then continued down the street. Why they chose to waddle, and not fly, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not fluent in duck-speak (though I kinda wish I was). I suppose you get a much better feel for a place when you’re on the ground, rather than many feet above it.

I had a surprisingly emotional reaction when I encountered a duck couple, just a few days ago. Yes, it’s the time of year I’d expect to see them. But so much is extraordinary about these times we find ourselves in, I was touched to happen upon something so ordinary and expected. I guess it’s business as usual for aquatic fowl.

Since I’m accustomed to practicing social distancing with wildlife, it was business as usual for me, too, as I observed the pair for a moment. I hope they find what they’re looking for. And I look forward to seeing more duck couples in the few weeks ahead, and then certainly again next year.

The couple from a few days ago is pictured above. Below are some other photos I captured on that solitary, sunrise walk.