So Long, For Now

New Orleans City Park Summer 2020
The sun sets behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, September 3, 2020.

So, this is my last regularly-scheduled post. For those who have been paying attention, I’ve written and posted something in this space every Wednesday for the past 5 years. There have only been a handful of weeks that I’ve missed — I didn’t keep count, but I’m fairly certain the missed posts only amount to a true handful, five or less.

This decision to go on hiatus was not caused by our pandemic, or any other big world considerations. Nor did it come about abruptly: it was always part of the plan. After I published my first post on August 19, 2015 (here’s a link to that post), I had a nebulous idea that I’d give blogging a shot for about 5 years. The timing remained hazy until my 134th post. Then, it became crystal clear to me that I had reached the halfway point. From there, it was simply a matter of math.

And the math added up to today.

A lot has happened in 5 years (another MASSIVE understatement from me). But bringing that statement inward, to reflect on my growth as a writer, a lot has happened, too. I’m much more confident when I now state, “I’m a writer.” When I first began this journey, I was hesitant, phrasing the statement more as a question. With all these contingent questions: will readers think I’m a good writer? How will I find stuff to write about for the next 5 years? Will my family question why I’m doing this?

The short answer to all those questions is: it didn’t really matter. Over the course of these 5 years, I’ve become a better writer — or, at least, a more confident one. Somehow, I came up with something to write about, 267 times. And, regarding the “why” question, the only answer that mattered was my own. The lessons I learned regarding establishing a writing discipline, the importance of intent, how the right words can enhance your intended message, and the wrong words detract. . .these are probably the biggest benefits I’ve gained from this effort.

Here are some fun facts from this blog’s history:

  • I’ve published over 149,000 words here. That’s nearly the combined length of my published novels.
  • It’s had over 18,000 views, and over 11,000 visitors.
  • The only time I ever topped 100 views in a single day was with my 2nd post, way back on August 26, 2015. (here’s a link to that post)
  • My most-used tags: writing, #amwriting, New Orleans, and New Orleans City Park.

But just to be clear — the only thing that’s changing is the frequency. This website and blog will still be here, and I will still post to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ll also post here, but the frequency will probably come closer to monthly, rather than weekly. I still have plenty of books to read, and seasons in City Park to capture, and novels to finish, and I will return here to provide updates on all those efforts.

Just not every Wednesday.

It’s only slightly bittersweet, and mostly exciting, to close out this blogging chapter and start a new one. Finally, I want to express a huge THANK YOU to all 11,000+ of you who have visited over the years. I hope you’ve found at least a little entertainment, or lightness, (or light entertainment) as you’ve stopped in. I look forward to hosting you again in the new phase.

 

Isn’t this where. . .

C. S. Lewis

When I flipped the page on my calendar yesterday, I was greeted by this very hopeful quote:

“There are far better things ahead than the things we leave behind.” — C. S. Lewis

Given that we’ve already gone through eight months of a very challenging year (“challenging” feels like a MASSIVE understatement), this is a nice bit of light shining down on me from the left side of my work station.

And it’s got me thinking about C. S. Lewis, one of the first writers I ever read — I read The Chronicles of Narnia as soon as I could read stories of any length. My admiration of him as a writer has remained pretty constant. Here are a few of my random thoughts about C. S. Lewis:

  • According to Wikipedia, C. S. Lewis favored the writings of Scottish author George MacDonald. I am also partial to George MacDonald. While most of my reading of C. S. Lewis occurred in my childhood, I got on a George MacDonald kick sometime in my mid-twenties. I was an adult when I read The Princess and Curdie, and am still struck by some of the ideas and themes posited in that story.
  • Tim and I saw a staged version of The Screwtape Letters several years ago. To this day, Tim will still randomly call out “Toadpipe!” around the house.
  • I’ve only seen Shadowlands, the movie with Anthony Hopkins as C. S. “Jack” Lewis, once. I’m afraid to watch it again because the movie reduced me to a gloppy puddle of tears.

I’ll conclude with a little background information on that quote. I didn’t dig too deeply to verify this, but it feels credible. Apparently, it’s from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3. He wrote a letter to someone named Mary Willis Shelburne, who was in the hospital at the time. I think he was urging her, in his way, to not fear death.

C. S. Lewis died just a few months after he wrote those words to her. I suspect the intended solace was as much for his peace of mind as hers. As for me, I’m satisfied to take that hopeful message to mean there’s a light at the end of the 2020 tunnel (that’s not an oncoming train). 🙂

Vigilance and Stevie Wonder

From Sunday’s walk. I believe those were clouds related to the first storm.

Note: this post has nothing to do with vigilantes, a noun whose meaning is significantly different from “vigilance.” It’s a pity the words look so similar.

No, I’m concerned with the state of vigilance: “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

And Stevie Wonder? I’ll get to him in a bit.

I have a propensity to be hyper-vigilant. Especially during hurricane season. This past weekend, with two storms headed toward Louisiana, my Hurricane Tracker app was definitely getting a workout. As of right now, the first storm has passed, with little to no impact on the area where I live. The second storm, Laura, is forecast to become a major hurricane and come ashore near the Louisiana-Texas border late Wednesday night, Aug. 26.

So I’m still hyper-vigilant right now. While the eye should pass well to the West, we are likely to see high winds and rain.

And in the midst of this, it occurred to me — I’ve been in a state of hyper-vigilance for the past six months. Checking the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 information site daily (but only during work days, I give myself a break on weekends). Watching the hospitalization trends, ventilator usage.

Here’s the crux: I’m not sure how this state of prolonged hyper-vigilance is affecting me. My guess is, it’s not a net-positive.

This is where Stevie Wonder comes in. On Sunday, I happened to hear a snippet of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” his #1 single from 1974. I queued it up on Spotify for a better listen, and it did NOT disappoint. It has everything I love about his particular style of funk. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you’d also like to take a listen:

But I also paid particular attention to the lyrics, probably for the first time. They really struck me. Catch the opening line:

“Ow
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do”

I wondered if he had written it about Richard Nixon, and Wikipedia proved my assumption correct. Apparently, Nixon resigned two days after the record’s release (though I’m pretty sure the record was not the reason).

Personally, I think the song translates very nicely to our current era, but Nixon is the only Republican politician I’ll reference in this post. Instead, I’ll take the song’s accusation and tie it back to my personal life.

What if my hyper-vigilance, against forces of nature (plagues and storms), has caused a paralysis? Six months ago, when I found myself home A LOT more, I thought it would be a boon to my writing. So far, that hasn’t panned out. Regarding the necessary re-writes and edits on my third novel, to quote Stevie, “I haven’t done nothin.”

So I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for what I’m reading as a fortuitous kick in the pants. While it’s not in my nature to lose the vigilance completely, I’m planning to be more mindful of its negative impacts.

The Celtic Twilight: 100%

View from our Dublin hotel room, at the end of May 2019. It was nearly 10pm, a much later twilight than I am accustomed to in Southern latitudes.

So, I finished W.B. Yeats’s The Celtic Twilight on my Serial Reader app a few weeks ago, but haven’t had the opportunity to share anything about it until now.

Overall, it was a mostly fun and light-hearted read, especially after slogging through ALL The Canterbury Tales. While most of The Tales felt undeniably real, the essays in The Celtic Twilight had an ephemeral quality to them. Case in point, in “The Friar’s Tale,” the devil in his green suit seemed like someone I could easily meet today. The faeries and “Sidhe” that Yeats wrote about felt as shimmery and fleeting as you’d expect such otherworldly creatures to be.

A few noteworthy items I took from The Celtic Twilight:

  • Yeats wrote about Ben Bulben, a mountain in County Sligo: “…the mountain in whose side the square white door swings open at nightfall to loose the faery riders on the world.” I love this idea. If I ever return to Ireland, I would love to go hiking there.
  • In an essay entitled “Dreams That Have No Moral,” Yeats lays out a rambling history of a young man named Jack and a series of giants who cry, “Fee-faw-fum, I smell the blood of an Irishman.” A little different from how I learned Jack’s story, and this tale had no beanstalk.
  • I’ll wrap this up with my favorite quote from The Celtic Twilight:

“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear.”

If the Path Be Beautiful

The quote on this month’s “Pathways” calendar page feels particularly poignant. One of the things that the stay-at-home guidance has afforded me is almost daily sunrise walks in New Orleans City Park. I have indeed seen some beautiful paths over the past 5+ months. And even though the paths are the same, the scenery does change, because the light hits differently as the Earth makes its way around our star. I’ve included a few of the more wondrous sights at the bottom of this post.

When I looked at the front of the calendar, to check its title, lo and behold, it features this quote: “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Attribution unknown. Could there be a better overarching hope for this singular year?

Just a few observations about the quote for August, before I share some of my beautiful paths. “If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads” is attributed to Anatole France. Although I couldn’t find which work it’s from. I’ve also been curious about his name — a French writer with the last name of France — and found out it’s an assumed name. He was born François-Anatole Thibault, which seems more likely for a child born in 1844.

Without further ado, here are some sunrise photos from the past several months.

April 13, 2020
April 24, 2020
June 2, 2020
July 4, 2020

Comet NEOWISE

I went looking for a comet last week. Didn’t have much luck.

Armed with my Sky Guide app and a telescope, I met up with three nieces at the Bonnabel Boat Launch on Lake Pontchartrain. Just a quick aside — the Bonnabel Boat Launch is just a few blocks from where I grew up. It has expanded quite a bit from the days when I used to run down there, looking for slate to skim on the typically placid lake.

While there were more people hanging out than I expected to see, we still had a clear view of the northwest sky. That’s where the Sky Guide app said to look for Comet NEOWISE. It came closest to Earth on July 22, and just a week or so had passed from that date, so I figured we should have had a pretty good shot at seeing it.

Except…we discovered the telescope was missing a critical component: the eyepiece. We were trying to look at Jupiter and Saturn, which were visible in the eastern sky. But without that additional lens, all we could see in the viewer were two dots, on a much smaller tableau.

The fair amount of light pollution in the New Orleans atmosphere, and my aging eyes, didn’t bode well for my chances of seeing it unassisted. My nieces thought they caught glimpses of it with their naked eyes. When I looked where they indicated, I think all I saw was a floater.

Having read War and Peace this year, where the Comet of 1812 plays a pivotal part in Pierre Bezukov’s epiphany, I took the Comet of 2020 to be a sign of some sort of modern-day pivot. What kind of pivot, I don’t know. And I wanted to see it while I still could.

Instead, I witnessed a beautiful sunset (pictured above) over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, with three of my most favorite and beloved people. I’d be good with more of those sort of pivots.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

Pre-pandemic, I was a fairly regular attendee of a weekly Catholic Mass. However, I was not as hard-core about it as my parents. These are folks who, on marathon family road trips across the U.S., would be sure to find whatever Catholic Church we might be passing in Wamsutter, Wyoming, on a Saturday evening or Sunday, so that we could meet our Mass obligation. (To be fair, I think my father was more hard-core about this than my mom.)

Anyway, one of the things I like best about Mass, and one of the things I miss most, is listening. Not necessarily to the homilies, which can be hit or miss depending on the orator. But I miss listening to the readings and the music. Between the Old Testament readings and the Epistles, many times, something new will strike my ears. Of course, there’s nothing new about the readings themselves; but with the passage of time, I gain new experiences that bring a different perspective. So maybe it’s more apropos to state that I bring a new set of ears.

Case in point, several years ago, I especially noticed one of the songs used during a Mass I attended. The song was “How Can I Keep From Singing.” Now, this song dates back to the 1860s, credited to a Baptist minister named Robert Wadsworth Lowry. And I also discovered that Enya covered this song in the 1990s. So there’s a pretty good chance that I had heard this song before I took special notice of it.

The new set of ears I brought to this song relates to being married to a man who likes to sing. Tim comes up with a song for everything. This usually works out well for the both of us, since I like to listen. But from hearing the very first verse — “My life flows on in endless song” — I thought, that’s Tim!

It’s really a lovely song, too. Here’s another sampling of the lyrics:

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

From a certain point of view, I can say I have Mass to thank for introducing me to a beautiful, hopeful, song, that always makes me think of my husband. I can live with that.

If you’re curious, here’s an appealing rendition from Audrey Assad:

Chaucer and Virginia Woolf

London was one thing they had in common. Photo by Hugo Sousa on Unsplash

So, I finished all The Canterbury Tales. And I did watch A Knight’s Tale again. Here are a few concluding thoughts:

  • The paperback version of Canterbury Tales had the following comment from Virginia Woolf regarding Chaucer (she was the only female amongst 21 commenters): “Chaucer was a poet; but he never flinched from the life that was being lived at the moment before his eyes. A farmyard, with its straw, its dung, its cocks and its hens, is not (we have come to think) a poetic subject; poets seem either to rule out the farmyard entirely or to require that it shall be a farmyard in Thessaly and its pigs of mythological origin. . . . He will tell you what his characters wore, how they looked, what they ate and drank, as if poetry could handle the common facts of this very moment of Tuesday, the sixteenth day of April, 1387, without dirtying her hands.” (from The Common Reader)
  • I love this idea of poetry handling the everyday “without dirtying her hands.” It made me think of another quote from Virginia Woolf, one of my favorites: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While I’m sure there are plenty of valid arguments to the contrary, I have found a certain personal truth to the statement. As long as writing fiction is not my sole livelihood, I feel a sense of freedom in it, whose absence might be suffocating.
  • Finally, in re-watching A Knight’s Tale, I had a better understanding of one of my favorite lines from the movie. It comes from Paul Bettany’s Chaucer: “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.” He says this to a pardoner and a summoner, neither of whom come off very well in the Tales.

All of this has had the effect of softening my memory of the experience of reading all The Canterbury Tales. Even if my only takeaway is a deeper knowledge of the state of our world over 600 years ago, I consider myself richer for that insight.

Marathon Update

Sunday’s first “hill.”

So, my last pre-pandemic post, in early March, was about how I had signed up to run the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. Wha wha wha.

Cutting to the chase, the marathon was officially canceled on June 24. But even prior to then, I had deferred my participation to 2021. The good news? All of this means I can put off my 20+miles-in-the-heat-of-the-summer training runs until next summer.

I’m still following my training plan, but on weekends when I’m supposed to do a long run, I’m fudging on the distance, and aiming for a total time, instead. Like, go out for a total of two hours. I’m hoping to get out for three hours total at least once this summer, but I’ll have to start super early.

A super early start was not in the cards this past weekend. I started 2 hours later than I had intended, when the heat index was already bumping up against 100 degrees. So I scrapped all expectations on total time (I managed to stay out about 90 minutes), and thought to challenge myself with some “hills.”

“Hills” get quote marks, because anyone who knows New Orleans, knows the city is about as flat as a place can be. Flat and sinking. Training for hills in this city usually means running up and down the levees, and working the Wisner overpass into your route.

Wisner passes over Interstate 610, right at the boundary of City Park. An upgrade a few years back included a nice pedestrian path. This overpass just so happens to fall within the perimeter of my typical routes, though I usually exclude it from my outings (I know how to get around it). On Sunday, I decided it would be penance for starting late.

Herewith some more pictures from my “hill” run. That’s it for now!

The view from the top (of the Wisner overpass).
My second hill — Laborde “mountain” in the Couturie Forest.
A nice benefit to not being fixated on time or distance is noticing nearly hidden things (look right below the bright green leaf).
The very next day, on a recovery walk, I got judged.

The Canterbury Tales: 82%

I’m on track to finish Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales via my Serial Reader app in just about a week’s time, so this is likely my last post regarding the collection of 14th century stories.

It’s been a slog, I have to admit. Serial Reader contains all the tales, including several that were omitted from the paperback version Tim and I have been sharing. I can understand the choice to omit. One tale in particular, “The Tale of Melibeus,” felt particularly long and boring. The teller of this tale is the narrator himself, named, coincidentally (or not), Chaucer. The whole thing is a drawn-out dialogue between Melibeus and his wife, Prudence, as she tries to convince him to take her advice regarding a matter of revenge against his rivals. I swear, she has to mention Solomon at least a hundred times. Yes, the Solomon from the bible, the guy who advised splitting a baby in two.

The tales all seem filled with biblical and medieval religious references. Two particular ones were recently familiar to me, meaning, I’ve encountered them in the past year or so (and not during my own ancient school days). They are both from “The Monk’s Tale,” another story that’s not in our paperback. It’s basically a laundry list of mighty folks through the ages who have fallen when fortune takes a turn against them.

  1. In recounting how Belshazzar of Babylon met his fate, “mene, mene, tekel” popped up. I wrote about this in a post last year: The Writing on the Wall. A quick recap of that post — it’s about this phrase’s original meaning, how Belshazzar had been weighed and measured by God, found wanting, and his kingdom would be divided. And how the phrase is referenced in Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, and, perhaps not surprisingly, in the movie A Knight’s Tale.
  2. There’s a bit about Ugolino, Count of Pisa, and how he and his children starved to death while imprisoned. But it gets more gruesome when Dante’s Inferno is referenced. Dante’s fiction puts Ugolino in the second circle of hell with his betrayer, Archbishop Ruggieri, the one who supposedly caused his starvation in real life. In Inferno, Ugolino gnaws on Ruggieri’s skull for all eternity. I remember this reference in The Count of Monte Cristo, it comes up when Edmond Dantes is held at Chateau d’If, before he meets Abbe Faria.

So, bottom line, I feel like I’m getting a better understanding of a lot of ancient stories and their contexts. And that feels worthwhile. But I’ll also be happy to take a break from all this heaviness soon.

Maybe it’s time to watch A Knight’s Tale again.