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.

In times of war, disaster, epidemic, and illness

Spotted during a “socially distant” walk along the Mississippi River levee.

So, a couple of things. First, it’s rapidly becoming clear that New Orleans is a hot zone for the COVID-19 outbreak. While these are strange times all over, it feels extra strange and scary here. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to assume that this contagion was silently spreading among us as the city celebrated Mardi Gras, just three weeks ago.

Second, I continue to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Why wouldn’t I continue, now that isolation is the order of the day/week/month?) I’m at the spot in the story where Napoleon’s march on Moscow is imminent. This quote struck me in a particular way as I read it:

“As the enemy closed in on Moscow the attitude of the inhabitants to their situation, far from becoming all serious-minded, actually became more frivolous, as always happens with people who can see a terrible danger bearing down on them.”

Now, New Orleans is not Moscow, nor is this viral pandemic Napoleon. But New Orleans is no stranger to either war or epidemic. We had our own war in 1812, the same year Napoleon invaded Russia; and yellow fever was a major scourge to New Orleans for most of the 19th century.

Which brings me to the title of this post. It’s from a prayer, specific to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I’m pretty fond of this prayer. While I don’t know all the details of its provenance, I assume it was crafted with the intention of stemming the tide of gun violence in our city. Now feels like a good time to share it.

A few notes, regarding some very New-Orleans-Catholic references: Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Virgin Mary, a long-time patroness for the city. (Prompt succor means “quick aid.”) Mother Henriette DeLille was a woman of color who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family holy order in the 19th century.

Here’s the prayer. May you read it with the faith that we will get to the other side of all these scourges.

“Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. Mother Henriette DeLille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

More photos from the river levee walk.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon

So, I did a thing. I signed up for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. November 1. About eight months away.

Hmmm.

Marathons are tough. I’ve run three of them. All in the decade between thirty and forty years old. In the decade between forty and fifty, the mechanics of my mortal coil started complaining, more loudly. A case of sciatica, or something like it, sidelined my running for a few years. I have long had the New York City Marathon in my sights — something about running through all five buroughs really appeals to me. I even mentioned it in this blog four years ago, in “Writing and Running” (click here). But that post was written before I temporarily gave up running. In the years since, I wasn’t sure another marathon would be possible. I’m certainly not getting any younger.

My running expectations were in need of an edit.

Nieces Nicole and Cece have helped that editing process. I wrote about a 10K race we ran together at the end of last year (click here), which was in preparation for a half marathon we are running together in April. For that upcoming race, I knew I had to get my legs used to the miles again. And while I’ve been getting used to the miles, I realized that it would be quite possible to run another marathon.

Pictured above are the results of my run last Sunday. My average pace is a lot slower than it used to be. But I figure at that pace, which was very comfortable, I could finish the marathon in less than six hours. I’d be more than okay with that.

I feel like it’s no coincidence that the decade where my running got adjusted is the same decade when I began writing in earnest. There have been so many concurrent lessons about putting in the effort, adjusting expectations, and finally, doing something just because you love it (with all the joy and heartache that entails) and because it offers fulfillment.

In writing and running, I’m going the distance.

War and Peace: 54%

N for Napoleon? Photo by William Krause on Unsplash.

Okay, so, I can say this about Tolstoy’s War and Peace: it’s certainly immersive. And those privileged characters I found unsympathetic when I was roughly 20% through? I have a bit more sympathy for them now.

I feel like that immersion is definitely expanding my knowledge base. Right now in the novel, it’s the summer of 1812, and Napoleon has commenced his invasion of Russia. I don’t remember learning much about this in school, other than it was one of the times Russia employed a scorched-earth policy. When you grow up in New Orleans, and learn about the War of 1812, it’s about the one where the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. And inevitably, how Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans. Fought after the British has ratified a treaty ending the war. Reading about Napoleon’s campaign against the Russians, I’m getting the sense that things were pretty bad all over in 1812.

About my changing sympathies for the characters…I have to admit, I got caught up in the whole storyline of Natasha getting engaged to Prince Andrew, having to wait a year, getting impatient and almost running off with the louse Anatole. Melodramatic? Absolutely. Really engaging? For me, yes. Tolstoy had a way of capturing the inner life of his characters that is worth some attention.

And don’t get me started on the Freemasons! You’ve got Pierre, the same character who tied a bear to a policeman at the beginning of the story, becoming a Freemason. This might be the most I’ve learned about Freemasonry since the “Stonecutters” episode of The Simpsons. I have more sympathy for Pierre, now, too. The last chapter I read featuring Pierre showed him realizing he’s in love with the aforementioned Natasha (who’s in a love quadrangle?), but nothing’s happened between them yet. I get the feeling that things are going to get real messy when Napoleon starts making his way toward Moscow.

So, yeah, I guess I’m enjoying the reading experience a bit more than when I first began. I still wish War and Peace was a little shorter. 🙂

Mardi Gras and Lent

Marking the Mardi Gras season at our door.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Yesterday was the end of all the festivities that make up the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.

I’ve come to realize over the course of many years of adulthood that Lent fits into my lifestyle more easily than Mardi Gras does. Especially my writing lifestyle. When you work full-time, and focus on writing during your “margin” times, I look to the weekends to make progress on my works-in-progress. Or at least think about making progress while I’m doing laundry and other stuff I tend to save for the weekends.

This year, I made a conscious effort not to feel guilty or anxious about the writing I don’t do over Mardi Gras. I had some success; I certainly felt more at ease with the frivolity this year than I have in years past. That writing anxiety is pretty much antithetical to the whole spirit of Mardi Gras, and I would hate to be against the spirit of the season.

Making progress on positive, life-affirming goals — writing and otherwise — is what Lent is for, anyway.

Every Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Endymion parade turns our neighborhood into one big block party. Stared at this float while waiting for the parade to start.
Touring the neighborhood Saturday, captured this gorgeous tree in bloom. Not sure if it’s a Japanese Maple, Elm or other.
Early Mardi Gras morning, I watched the Clydesdales load up and head out toward the parades.

Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier

Photo by Trevor Kay on Unsplash

Alternate post title: How War and Peace introduced me to Corb Lund.

Corb Lund is a Western and Country singer-songwriter who’s been around awhile, but also someone I’d never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. His song “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” is a catchy yarn that encapsulates some epic battles throughout history, specifically ones where soldiers fought on horseback.

Just see the opening lines to the song:

“I’m a hussar, I’m a Hun, I’m a wretched Englishman
Routing Bonaparte at Waterloo
I’m a dragoon on a dun, I’m a Cossack on the run
I’m a horse soldier, timeless, through and through”

And here’s a YouTube link to the whole song, it’s worth a listen: “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier

So how does this relate to my reading of War and Peace? Keeping in mind that the story is chock full of hussars, Cossacks and Napoleon, there is much to correlate. As it happens, I came across a reference to this song when I was looking up a definition of “uhlan.” (Uhlans were Polish-Lithuanian cavalry armed with lances.) An entry for “uhlan alles uber” caught my eye. I discovered “uhlan alles uber” is from the lyrics of “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier:”

“With a crack flanking maneuver, I’m an uhlan alles uber
Striking terror into regiment of foot”

That bit of the lyrics also led me to a really great article by Jim Mundorf on Lonesome Lands. (Click this link to check it out.) Mundorf gives the details on all the references in the lyrics, so you don’t have to research them yourself. Thanks! Though I disagree with him on “alles uber” being turned around just to make it sound right. I think the term “uber alles” is just so fraught that maybe Corb Lund turned it around to make it less so.

Anyway, so that’s the story of how War and Peace introduced me to Corb Lund and a really cool song.