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Space Farce

I marched with the Leijorettes in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade this past weekend. There’s an “only in New Orleans” kind of sentence, if I ever heard one! For the uninitiated, Chewbacchus is a Mardi Gras parade with a science fiction theme. But that feels like an oversimplification. Chewbacchus really incorporates all the best elements of a Mardi Gras parade — satire, alcohol, grand pageantry, an overall over-the-topness — with a wide spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy fandom.

The Leijorettes are a “sub krewe,” honoring Princess Leia. (Yes, of Star Wars). This was my fifth year with the Leijorettes, and I’ve written about the experience a few times before: in Chewbacchus from 2017, and My Kind of Mardi Gras in 2016.

Everything seemed to click this year. The 2019 parade theme was one I thoroughly endorsed: “Space Farce.” Saturday night was clear and cool to cold-ish, with no wind to speak of. The spectating crowd was big and happy, as it was the only Mardi Gras parade happening in the city at the time. We’re still about two weeks away from the full, head-on Mardi Gras season, and I got the sense that New Orleans was ready to start the party a little early. (NOLA as a collective is still smarting from the Saints’ NFC Championship loss.)

I’ll conclude with a few photos, in an attempt to underscore my point:

Melding Saints fandom with Star Wars. The Sith Lord had “Goodell” emblazoned on the back of his evil sith robe.
Panda drummer from the Browncoat Brass Band.
Me holding the banner (temporarily).
Leijorettes in the foreground, downtown New Orleans and the moon in the background.

 

Copyright Allen Boudreaux
Credit for this amazing photo goes to Allen Boudreaux

 

Laborde Mountain

The Climb

On a quick jaunt into New Orleans City Park’s Couturie Forest, I thought of a term I remember hearing in my youth: riprap. Riprap is “loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.” That’s what my dad called the broken concrete that lines the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The levee that rings the south shore of this brackish lake was just a two-block walk from the house where I grew up, so I spent much of my childhood around riprap.

I think the word is still in use, I just don’t hear it much anymore. Perhaps because my day-to-day life does not involve constructing shoreline structures. (More’s the pity.) And the purpose of this post is not to share any deep observation about figurative, or metaphoric, riprap. I’m coming up empty, there. So instead, I thought I might share a few details about Laborde Mountain.

Laborde Mountain sits within City Park’s Couturie Forest, and the Internet tells me it was made from riprap derived from the construction of nearby Interstate 610. (Which, coincidentally, is the Interstate that is overpassing in the title of my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass.) The peak of Laborde Mountain is 43 feet above sea level, and is the highest point in the city of New Orleans.

Here are some pictures, where you can see the interesting composition of riprap around here. That’s it for today!

The Summit
The View from the Top
The visible riprap: oyster shells

Starbuck

The name Starbuck fascinates me. I’ve mentioned in this space before the first time I encountered Starbucks coffee, circa mid-1980s in New York City. (see Ode to the Starbucks on Upstream) For those who remember the 1980s, you’ll know it was a time when the coffee chain was not as ubiquitous as it is today.

I was excited by the name because of Lieutenant Starbuck, the character played by Dirk Benedict in the original Battlestar Galactica. At the time, I thought the name was a great fiction, like Luke Skywalker or Derek Wildstar. (Yes, I’m going full-geek with a Star Blazers reference. One day, I’ll expound upon how influential this animated series has been to me.)

It was probably young adulthood before I realized that Starbuck is a bona fide surname. And then not long after, that a famous fictional character held the name a century before Dirk Benedict suited up in his 70s-era space opera attire. I’m referring, of course, to Starbuck from Moby-Dick. Since I’m now 37% into that tome, I’ll share with you what I’ve discovered about the surname Starbuck.

The Internet tells me there was a renowned whaling family in Nantucket named Starbuck, who likely inspired Melville in naming the first mate of the Pequod. And that the name hails from the village of Starbeck in Yorkshire. Which dates at least as far back as the 1086 Domesday Book, where it appears as Starbok, a name likely derived from the Norse-Viking “Stor-Bokki.” There’s some Internet consensus that “Stor” means great, or large in size. “Bokki” is a little less clear — it either means “man” or “river.”

Whatever it’s supposed to mean, I think it’s pretty cool that Starbuck (or some variation thereof) appears in the Domesday Book. And it kind of blows my mind that almost exactly 900 years later, I see my first Starbucks coffee shop.

Bringing it one step further, I doubt I ever would have made the connection, had it not been an affinity for the name.

Lucky 13

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Portentous. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of this past Sunday, January 20. The Saints played the NFC Championship game in the Superdome, there was a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon,” later that evening, AND Husband Tim and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.

First thing that comes to mind, honestly, is that I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for more than three years. I wrote about our tenth anniversary in this post: Notching a Decade. And, the second thing, is that thirteen has never been a big deal to me. Not to make light of it — I get that triskaidekaphobia is a very real thing. Every time I get on an airplane with no row 13, or in an elevator in a building with no apparent 13th floor, I understand that the number inspires a real enough fear in enough people that such decisions get made.

It’s just never been a big deal to me. My feelings are akin to Jim Lovell’s, in one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. His wife, Marilyn, expresses concern over the number of his mission: “Naturally, it’s 13. Why 13?” she asks. Jim Lovell’s reply: “It comes after 12, hon.”

The same thing goes for eclipses. I’m fascinated by the synchronized timing and alignment of these giant celestial bodies, and the tricks they play on us earth dwellers (click here for my observations of fireflies during a solar eclipse). But I don’t think they herald any particular play of luck: good, bad, or otherwise.

So, I did not feel any particular foreboding ahead of that NFC Championship game. Tim and I were there together, as part of our anniversary celebration. Our spirits, and optimism, were high. Yet, the Saints lost, in a particularly painful fashion. (A missed call by game officials in the last minutes of regulation play turned the tide against us.) For those not in New Orleans, let’s just say, to qualify the loss as heartbreaking is a grand understatement.

In retrospect, do I think the number of years we’ve been married, or the red moon, had any impact on the unfortunate turn of events for the Saints? No. I didn’t pre-game, and I still don’t. But as a fiction writer, these are the types of noteworthy details that add compelling dimension to any conflict.

And for the record, if I was writing this story, the Saints would have won. 😦

Moby-Dick: 18%

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

The first two weeks of 2019 have been busy. Busy for me, at least. I’ve been writing, working, following the Saints (we play in the NFC Championship game this Sunday). Was down for the count earlier this week with a migraine (not cool at all). But I’ve also been reading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, via an app named “Serial Reader.” (Thanks for the app recommendation, niece Cece!)

So far, my experience with this app has been very positive. Here’s how it works: Serial Reader contains a library of classics to select from — I think they are all works that are in the public domain. Then it parses out the tome to you in daily “issues,” that also show the average reading time. I’m currently awaiting Issue #16 (of 79), which has a reading time of 9 minutes.

My reading time usually takes a little longer, because, invariably, I’m conducting concurrent Internet searches to help ground me in Melville’s world of New England whalers, circa the mid-nineteenth century. Suffice it to say, my screen has seen a whole lot of info about Quakers, parmacetti (sperm whales), and stove boats (whaling ships), amongst various and sundry other archaic terms.

Two things to note: 1) That stated “reading time” seems to be key to me keeping up with this. Even in days that are jam-packed, I say to myself, “surely, I can find 9 minutes to see when they’re ever going to leave Nantucket!” And, 2) Melville wrote Moby-Dick in first person (I should have figured that out from “Call me Ishmael.”) And there’s a certain humor to his voice that I didn’t expect.

There’s a lot I could expound upon — like maybe offering up a few examples of that humor. And, my hankering to see In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a 2015 movie with Chris Hemsworth that I’ve half-watched before, and it’s based on the true story that inspired Moby-Dick. I really want to watch it again, in the context of my newly found nineteenth-century whaling knowledge.

Seeing as I’m going to be at this for at least the next 63 days, I’m sure there might be another blog post or two on this topic. 🙂

The Epiphany

Sunrise on January 6, 2019. Three kings in the foreground?

This past Sunday was the Epiphany, or King Cake Day as it’s known to some around these parts. January 6 marks the date the three wise kings visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. In New Orleans, it marks the start of the Mardi Gras season, and also the date when king cakes become available.

If you’re not familiar with king cakes, I wrote about them a few years back, in a post titled, appropriately enough, King Cakes. For the next two months, these sweet treats will be purveyed at bakeries all around town.

There were also parades and parties on Sunday, of which I did not partake (I’ve been fighting a cold for the past week and a half). The weather was perfect, however, so I did get out for a nice long walk right after sunrise. A good opportunity to clear the lungs and nasal passages, (not a pretty picture) and, more suitable for this blog, capture a few photos (hopefully prettier pictures).

It’s a long Carnival season this year — Fat Tuesday isn’t until March 5 — so I’m confident I’ll have ample time to join in the festivities. In the meantime, here’s my own, simple, gentle epiphany: I’m happy to be part of a place that elevates food, music and frivolity to royal levels, but still allows me to escape into its sylvan expanses when needed.

Oracle of the New Year

I have a confession to make: I consult oracles. This might not be a huge shock. I’ve written about the Tarot deck in this space before, about a year ago, in a post titled “The Star.”

But I don’t think I’ve ever written about astrology or horoscopes. (I’m a Virgo). Even though I’ve read my horoscope my whole life through, pretty much for as long as I’ve been able to read. I used to read it in the daily paper; but now there’s an app for that.

Maybe it’s the imaginative aspect to divination that’s always appealed to me. Isn’t the Future, the Capital-F-Future, all about imagination? Our imagined hopes, fears, dreams?

It’s the same with imagination and fiction writing. For the past few years, approaching writing the way I have has meant a full-scale engagement of my imagination. It takes imagination to compose stories, sure, but it also takes imagination to find the time to write, to commit to the process of writing. Some necessary things in life I can do by rote. For instance, I don’t need to perform any visualization exercises to do things like brushing my teeth, driving a car, showing up at my job. Writing is not one of those things for me.

So, a few years back, I started a new New Year’s tradition: consulting an oracle on New Year’s Day morning, shortly after awakening. And the consultation has always been about my writing — what can I expect regarding the process, the process of writing, editing, and publishing — in the year ahead?

My New Year’s oracle of choice is The Book of Runes. My sister Elizabeth gave me this book, along with a set of twenty-five runes, when I was a teenager. They’ve followed me on the various pathways I’ve taken in the decades since. These runes are largely based on the ones devised by the Nordic ancients. I like how the symbols are like letters, how they denote words. Ties in nicely with the writing thing.

I pull what the book calls “Odin’s Rune” on New Year’s Day. The book describes it this way: “This is the most practical and simple use of the Oracle and consists of drawing one Rune for an overview of an entire situation. That single Rune encompasses the issue, present conditions and resolution.”

So what did Odin’s Rune tell me for 2019? As much as I would have loved for it to tell me that this will be the year I’ll write the thing everyone wants to read, that the world will clamor for, that will bring financial stability to my writing career. . .it was not to be. Truth be told, I don’t need an oracle to tell me that. My gut tells me that I have more work to do before I can begin to expect this type of success.

The rune I drew for 2019 is “Isa.” It means ice, or stillness. Hmmmm.

Determined to find the positive in “standstill” as it relates to my writing, I’m going to work with the following: a website called “runesecrets” tells me Isa “governs development of concentration, will and focus.” Okay, that’s good, my writing could use more of that. Also, The Book of Runes says this: “Shed, release, cleanse away the old. That will bring on the thaw.” Definitely in need of some shedding and releasing, too, after so many accumulated years on this planet.

The Book of Runes’s chapter on Isa concludes this way: “Trust your own process, and watch for signs of spring.”

Believe me, I’ll be watching. But trusting my process will require some concentration, will and focus.

Before the Solstice

Sunrise in the Couturie Forest, November 18, 2018

So, winter officially begins this Friday at 4:23 pm local NOLA time. According to an article I found on mentalfloss.com, this specific time corresponds to the moment the North Pole is pointed furthest away from the sun. It’s also the specific moment when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

I’m not a huge fan of winter. I’ve probably stated that here before. It doesn’t get super-cold in New Orleans, and we rarely have to deal with the problematic logistics of trying to get to places dealing with snow and ice, so I understand that there are worse places to winter. But it does get cold here. . .a windy and damp cold. And it still gets dark early.

But that leads me to the thing I love to celebrate about the solstice—it’s the turning point. After Friday at 4:34 pm, the nights will start getting shorter. Ever so gradually, until we all find ourselves at 10:54 am on Friday, June 21, 2019. (That’s the next summer solstice, when we’ll have the longest day and the shortest night).

The impending change of season has me reflecting on the one just past. Speaking for myself, the Fall of 2018 was a good one! I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with distant, long-time friends (Tamara, Stacey, Carol, and Christine); I traveled to Houston and Amsterdam; the Saints are having a phenomenal football season. And, oh yeah, MY SECOND NOVEL RELEASED.

Again, personally speaking, getting #2 out into the world was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer. Now, I’m sure I will still get in my own way, writing-wise, on a daily basis. But I also know what I can do—and continue to do— if I simply persevere.

Those feel like nice words to conclude my 2018 posts. . .I’m taking a break next week for the holiday, and will resume in the New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone, and thanks for reading!

In this post, I’ve shared some pictures from Fall 2018, that never made it to any social media outlet. . .

Superdome, November 18, 6:42 am
Red berries near City Park, November 18
Black and Gold carpet in the Couturie Forest, December 1
Sunrise in City Park, December 12
Everblooming Azaleas, December 12
Near Popp Fountain, December 16

Community Book Center Read-A-Thon

Vera Warren Williams opening the Read-A-Thon

I had the good fortune to participate in Community Book Center’s inaugural Read-A-Thon this past weekend. A little bit about this remarkable spot: Community Book Center’s Facebook page states it’s “more than a book store,” but that’s really an understatement.

This gathering place has been a part of New Orleans’s landscape for thirty-five years. I first entered its doors on Bayou Road, in the Gentilly neighborhood, about two years ago, and I’m always astounded by how enlightened I feel upon exiting. Earlier this year, I was there for Jan Miles’s presentation of her book, The Post-Racial Negro Green Book. The book is “based on the Jim Crow-era Negro Motorist Green Books, and chronicles contemporary racism in ‘post-racial’ America.”

Here’s what I wrote about it back in March, in a post titled The Writing Spectrum: the book “documents acts of racial bias against African Americans in the U.S., from 2013 to 2016. Jan Miles read from a list of incidents—some from the recent years captured in the book, and some from the Civil Rights era—and had the audience guess the century they occurred. We got many wrong; it was an amazingly eye-opening exercise. She compiled this archive ‘for the sake of review, consideration, discussion, and action.’ ”

Just a few months ago, I picked up a signed copy of Bernice L. McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies at Community Book Center. It’s currently #2 on my TBR list. (I had thought of going off on a tangent, about how slowly I read, about why I read slowly, what I’m currently reading. . .but it all felt awfully excuse-y. So suffice it to say I’m very excited to read this book.)

And then the readings on Friday night! I was enraptured by the selections from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. (This extraordinary playwright died very recently, at the end of October. I have to share this quote I found about her passing, from her sister, the playwright Ifa Bayeza: “It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”)

The heart and soul at the center of Community Book Center is Vera Warren Williams. She read from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls. . ., along with sisters Christine Jordan and JoAnn Minor. Their voices, along with others like Rose Bratcher, Sunni Patterson, and Christopher Williams, will resonate with me for a long while.

Thank you, Vera, for organizing this event!

 

Going to the Space Station

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Almost two months ago, I wrote about the failed mission to send new crew members to the International Space Station (link to the post, titled Uncertainty, here). At the time, people who watch these types of things were wondering how long the current Expedition 57 crew would need to prolong their stay. Or would they need to eventually abandon the Station altogether?

It turns out, they won’t need to worry about that. Expedition 58 launched earlier this week, carrying three crew members up to the orbiting platform, 250 miles up in the sky.

And one of those crew members is me!

Okay, not really me. But NASA Astronaut Anne McClain is now settling into her new home for the next six months. Along with David Saint-Jacques (Canadian Space Agency) and Oleg Konenenko (Roscosmos), they will share quarters with the Expedition 57 crew until December 20. That’s when Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency), Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA), and Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos) return to Earth.

I have to note a few things about Anne McClain. Talk about an inspirational human being! West Point graduate, Colonel in the U.S. Army, test pilot, rugby player, mother. She first announced her intention to become an astronaut when she was three years old. She became an astronaut in 2013, and Monday’s trip to the International Space Station was her first spaceflight.

When you’re a writer in this current digital / Amazon age, you pay attention to search results. So I’ve known for years that there was an astronaut named Anne McClain, and have always been thrilled by the name similarity. And now I’m delighted by this recent convergence.

Next time I watch the Space Station track across the sky, I will know that Anne McClain is up there, doing her astronaut thing. I can think of no better inspiration to keep doing my Anne McClane thing (that’s writing, to be clear) down here on terra firma.