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Lake Charles, Louisiana

Last weekend, I took a break from my City Park wanderings and attended “Signing in the South,” a meet-and-greet event matching up more than thirty local authors (myself included) with readers. Many, many thanks go to author Taylor Anne for launching this inaugural event. It was wonderful! I met new readers, handed out nearly all the bookmarks I had promoting my soon-to-be-relaunched novel, and met some other writers face-to-face. I definitely plan to reach out to these authors in the future.

And, not only was the weekend a nice boost to my career as a fiction writer, it also turned out to be a really fun and memorable road trip. Niece Nicole and Niece Cece accompanied me on the three-hour drive to Lake Charles, Louisiana. “Signing in the South” took place there, at the Isle of Capri Hotel and Casino. I feel really blessed to share so many interests with the younglings in my family. Not only does it make communication easier, it makes for a lot of good times. And since these two particular younglings are in their twenties, we could go about the casino at will.

A few memories from our time in Lake Charles:

This is where the gambling took place. I was the only one to partake. I lost $4.75.
Nicole observed that the carpet looked like the Cephalopods’ language in the movie “Arrival.” What’s the message here?
On our way home, we stopped for boudin balls in Iowa, Louisiana. Trust me, they’re delicious!

City Park Pictorial, Part 1: The Fishing Pier

On Memorial Day morning, I got up with the sunrise, with the intention of capturing some photos in City Park’s Couturie Forest. I visited there a few weeks ago (without a camera), and wrote about the experience here.

For the next several weeks, I intend to post more picture-heavy posts, rather than word-heavy posts. I’m going off the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Because I really need to get cranking on the third and final story of the trilogy I’ve been working on. For what feels like forever. Certainly longer than I’ve had this blog.

So anyway, the intention with the pictures, is that maybe I will channel the writing energy into the novel, while still sharing glimpses of the things I find compelling about this strange and wondrous city.

As it turns out, the Couturie Forest pictures will have to come at another time. A pad-locked chain link fence kept me from entering Monday morning. I suspect it doesn’t open until after 7 a.m., and I was a bit early. So I trekked about another half mile north to the City Park Fishing Pier. It was a beautiful morning, and early enough so that it was still cool.

I checked the Couturie Forest gate on my way back from the fishing pier–no joy. (It was still a few minutes before seven o’clock.) I will try again next weekend.

I was not the only one out that early
I think that’s the Couturie Forest in the distance
Looking toward City Park’s North Course

Communicating Distances

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Later this afternoon, I’ll return home to New Orleans from Orlando. I’ve been here since Sunday, attending the Society for Technical Communication’s annual Summit.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in the last thirty days (Los Angeles, New York, plus a few local trips I’ll get to shortly). One remarkable thing is that only this last bit of travel, to Florida, has been for my day job. That’s certainly a departure from years past.

And in another departure, this travel hasn’t been for a trade show. Which leads me to something I’ve meant to mention in this space earlier, but I don’t think I have yet. I’ve moved out of the marketing department and onto a new challenge with the company who’s been good enough to employ me for the past eleven years. I’ve been learning the ropes of technical writing, which is a change that suits me just fine.

Communication has been the focus the past three days at this conference — the 65th version of this meet-up! It’s been eye-opening and very educational. Part of me regrets that it’s taken me so long in my career to turn in this direction; but there’s another part of me that feels like now is just the right time to get involved. There’s been so much change — just in the past few years or so — in how we communicate as a society.

I’ve been thinking of the term “the medium is the message.” When Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan coined that phrase back in 1964, was there any way he could have possibly envisioned the vast proliferation of mediums that exist today?

What it all seems to boil down to is this: I don’t need to craft a different message for every different form of media I use. I just need to be clear enough in what I want to say, and fluent enough in the nuances of the different media, to be able to “translate” the message into all its appropriate forms.

Therein lies the rub.

And this doesn’t seem clear at all, but I mentioned above some local trips I made recently. Far be it from me to leave that dangling. In the span of about 24 hours, I made round trips to the following southern Louisiana towns: Baton Rouge, LaPlace, and Ponchatoula. And when that was all done, I flew to Orlando.

In the interest of concise communication, I’ve edited out the reasons for those three local trips, and the incontrovertible timing each bore. If my life were a fiction, I’d try to work in some theme about how the main character (me!) likes to travel, and likes to write, and likes to think about communication. But when they all happen at once, some major conflagration happens, the m.c. overcomes the conflict, and everyone is significantly changed at the end of it all.

But thankfully, my life isn’t a fiction. So I’ll just conclude by saying that I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that have been laid before me these past thirty days, opportunities to do things I find fulfilling. But I’ll also be very glad to get home, stay in one spot, and enjoy the silence for a little while.

 

 

39 Hours in New York

Photo by Hugh Stevenson on Unsplash

I had the opportunity to go to New York City last weekend. I went to attend a celebration—my long-time friend Hud was marking a certain milestone birthday. Jet Blue offers a direct flight to JFK airport from New Orleans, that happened to be very reasonably priced at the time I booked it. I stayed in New Rochelle with my Sister Elizabeth, who was kind enough to offer room and board for two nights. So when you come right down to it, it would have been shameful for me not to make the trip to see old friends and get in a family visit, too.

The party was Friday evening, so I caught the 7:05 pm train from New Rochelle into Grand Central Station. I assumed it wasn’t as crowded as the train going in the opposite direction. I like riding trains, and I wish I could utilize them more often. I wonder how different my habits might be if I could commute via riding versus driving. Would I daydream as much if a train ride was an everyday thing? Because, man, do I daydream. I watch the buildings and train stops go by, and I wonder what type of stories I’d be inspired to write. “There are eight million stories in the naked city. . .”

And then, Grand Central! Talk about stories. GCT is pretty impressive. For some reason, Frankfurt’s train station (the hauptbahnhof) sticks in my memory as bigger and more impressive. But for U.S. train stations, Grand Central gets the prize. I think of all those stories intersecting.

My own story was close to intersecting, or rather, reconnecting to threads from the past. Hud’s party was a quick walk from Grand Central. Hud was one of the friends I wrote about just a few weeks ago, friends from my Los Angeles days. (He moved to New York from California several years ago). I was not the only one to make the trip to New York; I was thrilled that friends Craig and Bart also traveled to attend the party. And I met friends of Hud from his Texas A&M days that I had only ever heard about.

Several days on, I still have one overriding feeling: gratitude. A profound sense of gratitude. My Los Angeles days were a remarkable time, and I’m grateful that I still feel so connected to the friends I made while there.

I’m going to conclude with a quote from Thor: Ragnarok, which may seem like a big game of mental leap-frog, but hear me out. Central to that movie’s storyline is this quote: “Asgard’s not a place, it’s a people.” I feel that way about Los Angeles. It’s not the place, but the people, the people who populated my life who helped me understand the difference. The difference between making a living and making a life.

 

The Summer Tanager

© Alex Burdo | Macaulay Library

Last Saturday began with no agenda, other than to get out and get some exercise. And to do this unplugged. I walked out my front door, maybe fifteen minutes after the official sunrise time of 6:14 a.m.

The next hour (plus) went a long way toward recharging my battery. Funny how unplugging can do that. The only reason I missed my phone was for its camera. It might have been nice to capture some photos of the eastern sky, which was awash in color for the first part of the walk. But I did get one shot before I left the house:

On the latter part of the walk, I took a detour into City Park’s Couturie Forest. It had been years since I’d ventured into this sylvan escape, even though I pass by it multiple times in any given week. Even on my more ambitious runs of days past (Saturday’s excursion was maybe 30% run, 70% walk), it didn’t make sense to venture into the forest. The paths there are definitely not meant for running, and I never felt I could spare the time to meander.

That feels foolish on my part, in retrospect.

Here’s a description of the Couturie Forest, from City Park’s website: “. . .the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town! Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.”

It really is magical: you cross a small bridge, step onto a path, and instantly, the canopy of trees overhead muffle the sound of the roadway, no more than forty yards away. Well, that’s a guesstimate. . .the road is close, I know that much.

The highest point in New Orleans lies within the Couturie Forest. Climb Laborde Mountain, and you’ll be 43 feet above sea level. That was my first stop. There’s not much of a view, because the spot is surrounded by trees. But it sure is quiet up there.

There’s a lot more to write about the Couturie Forest, and I plan to visit again soon (with a camera). In the interest of not getting too long-winded, I’ll skip to my sighting upon exiting the forest. Around the bridge that marks the entrance (and exit), I saw a bright red bird, pecking away at the ground. It was still early, so maybe there were worms.

“A cardinal!” I thought. ‘Round these parts, I see robins, and blue jays, and these very loquacious green parrots; but cardinals are a lot rarer. But this little one didn’t have the features I’d associate with a cardinal: no black markings on the face, nor the comb atop the head.

I thought of my mother. . .while she wasn’t a birder, she was always one to pick up on the details of flora and fauna. I also thought of fellow blogger Dr. Rex, who wrote a lovely post about the meaning behind red birds and cardinals. (I hope you don’t mind me linking here, Dr. Rex!)

After conducting some sleuthing when I got back home, I decided the little red bird was a Summer Tanager, a member of the Cardinal family. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a very robust online library, that’s where I picked up the picture at the top of this post. (I hope I covered all the proper photo credits).

As often happens, I want to tie some direct spiritual or metaphysical meaning to my sighting of the Summer Tanager. It’s an exercise I have to remind myself, just as often, that’s fraught with peril. Trying to correlate cause and effect to these types of things never works out like I think it might. So I’ll just tie it to feelings. The things I was thinking and feeling during my unplugged walk, and the things that jumped out at me as I looked for the bird on the Internet:

  • I’m anticipating a convergence of my family members, coming into town for an upcoming wedding. It’s my niece’s wedding, she’s the second one of the next generation to get married, but it’s the first one my mom won’t be around for.
  • The first person I thought of when I saw the Summer Tanager was my mother.
  • The first line in Dr. Rex’s post about red birds is: “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you.”

So without going any deeper, I’ll just say that I’ll take this as an article of faith: that my mother will be with all her family as they gather here in the next week or so, in our hearts and memories. May her gentle spirit bless all the proceedings.

 

Just A Minor Malfunction

While the title of this post could refer to some daily happenings in my life, it doesn’t. It’s the title of a science fiction anthology, where my stories have had the privilege of appearing. The fourth issue is available now on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CHCXPQQ

“The Holo-Spa,” a story I penned last year, is included in this issue. A few notable things about “The Holo-Spa”:

  • It takes place on the same space station featured in “Lucky Eight,” my short story that appeared in Just A Minor Malfunction Issue #2 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01NA9QRAY/ref=series_rw_dp_sw)
  • It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written (in recent memory) in the first person
  • First “person” POV is kinda stretching it, because it’s written from the POV of a plasma-energy-type-of-being

I’d like to give a big shout-out to Michael Alter (on Twitter: @Michael_S_Alter ), the writer and editor behind Just A Minor Malfunction. This is my third time working with him, and it’s always a pleasure. His dedication and vision regarding this anthology are worthy of emulation, and his editorial feedback is always top-notch.

You know, every day of my writing life, giving up is always an option. An option that’s a little too close for comfort. It would be so easy to give in to the annoying internal voice that asks me why I’m pouring so much of myself into an effort that yields absolutely no immediate results. (That part of me always looking for the easy button). Working with other writers like Michael, and having my stories included in an anthology like JAMM, are a real power boost that help me play the long game.

After all, I never paid much attention to my “easy button” voice anyway, (even when I probably should have!)

 

Los Angeles: The Old and New

Old: Breakfast at The Original Pantry

It’s been fifteen years since I’ve lived in Los Angeles. More than twice the time I spent making a living and making a life out there in the late ’90s and early ‘aughts.

Husband Tim and I just concluded a quick trip to Southern California, for my great nieces’ birthday celebrations (the elder turns three next week, and the younger turned one last week); and for the younger’s baptism (she does have a name, and it’s Hailey).

Tim and I stayed downtown for the first part of the trip, and I was struck by how much seemed new. During my L.A. days, I lived and worked on the west side, and did not spend much time downtown, so it all might have been new to me. Except for a few tell-tale signs:

  • The hotel we stayed in had just opened last year, and I’m pretty sure the high-rise building that housed it was also brand new
  • There were a lot of tower cranes downtown
  • Either I saw the same cement mixer truck caught in some sort of Möbius loop, or there is a fleet of mixer trucks with the same blue cab deployed all around L.A.

The Original Pantry was right around the corner from our hotel; I at least knew that diner has been around for a while. I remember going there once with friends, just to see what it was all about. I bought a coffee mug, that has been one of my go-to receptacles for go-juice in my own pantry ever since. As Tim and I waited in line to have breakfast Friday morning, I read a plaque on the wall outside, celebrating all the traditions around the place. The thing is, I never had a tradition associated with The Original Pantry. If there was any tradition, it was my friend Christine’s propensity to gather a select group of us willing to try something outside of our routine. I do miss this, and I miss Christine, too.

Since family was the reason for the trip, there wasn’t much time to catch up with old friends. I did see my friend Stacey, who I went to Greece with last fall. She’s been busy since I last saw her, she’d just purchased a home in Hollywood. There was much to catch up on; we got a quick tour of her wonderful new digs before walking to dinner at The Hearth and Hound, a “gastropub” in a spot I used to know as The Cat & Fiddle.

On balance, this trip really was about “new.” Nephew Jerry and Wife Lisa also just purchased a home; I got a tour of it, too (it’s currently gutted down to the studs, they plan to move in this summer). They’re pleased with the location and school district. . .when it comes time for little Madison (the three-year-old) and Hailey to start their schooling, they will be well-situated.

I remember, very distinctly, the reasoning and decision-making behind my choice to leave Los Angeles for New Orleans fifteen years ago. Family was a large part of it, but not the sole reason. Without going too deep, I’ll just say that I knew, on a visceral level—closer to the heart than the head—that my time for life-building in Los Angeles had come to an end. It is a wonderful thing that I am still so close to friends and family who have built vibrant, happy, lives there. I am truly grateful for that.

New: Breakfast at the hotel
Old and New: a glass of rose in the new kitchen of (long-time friend) Stacey’s newly-purchased home
New: Hailey

Tricentennial Trivia

April 14, 2018

For anyone who’s spent any time in New Orleans over the past several months, there’s been no escaping all the tricentennial coverage, signage, and just all-around hullaballoo over this city’s 3ooth birthday.

I spent this past Saturday in the French Quarter, amidst some volatile Spring weather. I think tornadoes hit in North Louisiana, but we were spared down in the Southeast corner of the state. Walking the streets, and getting soggy, I wasn’t necessarily soaking up history, but I was definitely thinking about it. (I’m a pretty sensitive sort, and there’s a lot of misery in this city’s history. Gotta be careful about what I soak up, for self-preservation.) Several questions came to mind, that Google and Wikipedia helped answer:

  • Is there an actual date for New Orleans’s founding? According to Wikipedia, yes and no. It was founded in the Spring of 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was heading up the French Mississippi Company at the time. The actual date has been lost to history, but someone apparently picked May 7 as a good springtime date to celebrate the anniversary. And as an aside, Bienville’s name has not been lost to history. He did a lot of settling all along the Gulf Coast.
  • Does the iconic St. Louis Cathedral predate the founding? Nope. There was a wooden church in the same location in 1718, not the big cathedral that stands today. It was upgraded in 1727, destroyed in the “Great New Orleans Fire” in 1788, and rebuilt by 1794. So the structure that stands there today is only 224 years old. It received its “cathedral” status in 1793, so it is, at least, one of the oldest, if not the oldest cathedral in the U.S.
  • What’s the big deal? Okay, well, neither Google nor Wikipedia could answer this question. But in the course of my searching, I discovered that New York City was founded in 1624 (as New Amsterdam). The English renamed it New York in 1664. So will New York go all woo-woo for 400 in six years? And then again in forty-six years? And what about St. Augustine, Florida? It’ll turn 500 in 2065. That seems like a big deal. (Yes, Brother David, it really is the oldest city in the U.S. The city of St. Augustine has been an inside joke between the two of us for roughly forty years, now. No way to make that long story short).

I don’t want to seem like I’m not supportive of all these celebratory efforts with that last bit of snark. It is a pretty cool thing to live in a city that’s been around longer than the United States. I guess I just feel that a celebration of that many years should be tempered with some recognition of all the things those years encompassed, the good and bad. And tempering, or temperance, is not one of the things this city is known for.

February 18, 2018