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Checking in on the Bright Side

A fall-ish scene in City Park.

It feels like I’m in the home stretch of this super-busy period for my day job. It also feels like I’ve been going on about it (read: complaining) for these past few weeks, so my apologies. As I see some light up ahead, I sense my default mindset — I’ll call it a blend of realism and optimism — returning.

Just another ten days or so, and I should be able to get back to my preferred pace, which is a lot less class-five rapids, a lot more babbling brook.

But I also find, while I should have lots of stuff to write about, I have nothing to write about this week. No spark of inspiration, no anchor to wrap a post around. In lieu of that, here are some pictures from this past weekend. The first two from a run in City Park, and the last from the new Louisiana Children’s Museum, which recently reopened in a new location (in City Park).

Come to think of it…if I didn’t have City Park so close by, I’m sure I’d have a harder time finding stuff to write about. I also wonder if my default mindset might not be a little less optimistic…thanks, City Park!

The remaining attractions from Scout Island Scream Park are visible across the bayou.
I’ve always loved butterflies. The optimism of rebirth and renewal.

The Fourth Age

Photo by Jeff Finley on Unsplash

I had some time to reflect this past weekend, and a phrase occurred to me: the fourth age. I applied it in very personal terms, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, the references.

The first thing that came to my mind was Tolkien. Though I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (many years ago); and I’ve seen the LOTR movies more times than I can count, I couldn’t tell you exactly what transpired in Tolkien’s “Fourth Age.” I just knew the term sounded very LOTR-ish.

The Internet tells me “the fourth age began when Sauron was vanquished and the One Ring destroyed.” Meaning the events depicted in the books (and movies) happened at the end of the third age.

But the Internet also revealed some meanings I was not aware of. There’s a book by Byron Reese that came out last year, titled The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity. It appears to be about the times in human history when technology has reshaped our world. Sounds interesting enough, but it’s not what I’m getting at.

There was also a search result that stated the fourth age is “an era for the final dependence, decrepitude, and death.” Yikes. Still not what I’m aiming for, but perhaps a little closer.

No, it occurred to me that I am entering my own, personal, Fourth Age. As I look back, I can identify two, roughly three-year periods, that encapsulated major personal transformation. The first, when I was 16 to 19-years-old, the time when I left home and headed west. The next, the years from 32 to 35, when I returned home for good. If that pivot to home was the start of my Third Age, I sense I am at the end of it.

So if I am smack-dab in the middle of my shift to the Fourth Age, what do I expect it will bring? I don’t anticipate a physical move, the return to New Orleans was always intended to be permanent. But I do hope it will contain as much reading as my first 1.5 “Ages” did. I also hope it will contain more of the special type of magic I always sensed around me, as a child growing up in this magical place. I still sense it, but the obligations of adulting (sorry to use that word) can deaden that faculty.

But most of all, I intend for my Fourth Age to contain more writing than any age that preceded it. I can think of no better way to tap into that magic and share its wonder with a weary world.

Great Expectations: 4%

“As soon as the great black velvet pall outside my little window was shot with gray, I got up and went downstairs” — Great Expectations, Chapter 2

So, not much has slowed down since I last posted here. I’m still struggling to find the time to put the finishing touches on The Conclusion on the Causeway, and my hopes of having it ready for public consumption before the holidays are dwindling.

But — I’ve started a new book on my Serial Reader app. I found I was missing the 15 to 20 minutes I put aside each day for the specific sort of reading Serial Reader enables. That little chunk of time is like an anchor, connecting me to my writing vocation, and helping me not drift too far on the currents of my day job and other obligations.

Up ’til now, the authors I’ve read via Serial Reader (Herman Melville, Alexandre Dumas, et al), were completely new to me. I’d never read any of their works before. I can’t say the same for Dickens. I remember enjoying A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school, and I remember really liking Sydney Carton.

I was considering David Copperfield, because it’s supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of “a young man’s journey to becoming a successful novelist.” (I’m hoping to pick up a few tips.) But Great Expectations is about half the length of David Copperfield in Serial Reader issues. So I can reasonably expect to finish Great Expectations by the end of this year.

My way of managing my own “great expectations” into at least one goal I’ll be able to reach by year’s end.

Stolen Time

Sunrise, Burlingame, California. 7:14 AM

Last week, I was in the San Francisco Bay area for my job. Said job has been keeping me pretty busy of late.

To put it mildly, it has been challenging to find the time to put the finishing touches on my third novel. I’ve discovered I need a certain type and amount of headspace to sit down to this work, and it’s been harder and harder to come by. It’s a temporary situation — I should get back to a better rhythm before the end of this year. So for now, I’m just trying to manage my own expectations (regarding my writing).

My last morning in the bay area, I did steal about 30 minutes for a sunrise walk. Herewith, some pictures from that jaunt.

It was low tide, and the rising sun caught the edge of it.

Three Years Later…

A group of competitors. That’s me and my teammates on the left.

I competed in a triathlon this past weekend, as part of a relay team. I’ve done this race as part of a relay twice before, the last time in 2016. I wrote about the experience here: Quarter Report 

So what’s changed in the past 36 months?

  • Despite ample preparation, I’ve gotten slower. I swam twice a week throughout this past summer, logging miles in the pool. While I noticed that my mile time had slowed from years past, I thought I could still get a quick time for the roughly 1/3 mile of this race course. Not so much. In 2016, I completed the swim course in 15:04; it took me an extra 42 seconds in 2019.
  • Luckily, my teammates have not gotten slower. We finished in 2nd place for coed teams, and 2nd place overall for relay teams. We were behind 1st place by a couple of minutes. I should probably work in more speed drills next time I train for this race.

Which brings me to a reflection on writing. Last time I did this race, it was less than six weeks after becoming a published novelist. Everything was so new, and I felt a great deal of uncertainty about how to continue to write and publish while still making a life and a living.

I still feel that uncertainty, but I think there’s less of it. I’ve published a second novel in the interim, and am very close to getting the third one out into the world. I still feel the pressure of self-imposed deadlines, but when making a living (my job) gets stressful, I try to ease up on myself in spots where I have some flexibility. That means my writing.

So I guess it comes to this: I’d like to be a faster swimmer, and it seems reasonable to expect modest improvements in that area with the right kind of preparation. But I don’t think I want to be a faster writer. If you’d asked three years ago, my answer would have been different. But 36 months of “working the balance” seems to have taught me that flexibility, not speed, is my key to making a long-term career as a writer.

I’ll finish this up with a few more pictures from the weekend in Pensacola:

My swimsuit decided to call it quits (part of the lining busted). I think it had a good last run.
After the race, Tim and I watched the LSU game at the Frisky Dolphin.
The morning after the race.

 

Happy Birthday, Ghost in the Machine!

The original (Christmas?) gift. Note the Invisible Sun in the upper right.

The Police released their fourth studio album, Ghost in the Machine, 38 years ago today. October 2, 1981.

I happened across this fun fact last weekend, when I had a yen to hear “Spirits in the Material World.” Spotify obliged, and even gave me the opportunity to listen to a few more favorite songs from The Police.

And then I got to thinking about when I first heard this music…the time in my life (and the world). Both Spotify and Google pegged the release date at October 2, 1981. I was in my final pre-teen year, and beginning to develop my own particular ear and tastes. But too young and unfunded to go shopping on my own. My guess is that I asked for (and received) the album as a Christmas gift that year.

While I occasionally post about music in this space, I feel like Pink Floyd makes the cut more often than most. But The Police were definitely my first favorite, and their music still holds significant resonance with me. I was pleased to discover I’ve referenced this album at least once before, waaaay back in the early days of this blog. (Frogs, Lizards, and the Ghost in the Machine)

I’ll conclude with a couple more fun facts:

  • The term “ghost in the machine” dates back to 1949, when philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined it to describe René Descartes’s concept of human consciousness existing separate from the human body, or brain.
  • It’s taken on additional meaning with computer programmers, to describe when a program appears to run independent of the commands it was designed with.
Vinyl. One of roughly a dozen I’ve hung onto through the years, even though I no longer own a record player.

Summer 2019 Wrap-up

Okay, so, I’m still working on the re-writes for my third novel, The Conclusion on the Causeway. Editing is taking longer than I’d like. Procrastination shares a good bit of the blame for that.

My current diversion? Writing this post. Now that it’s autumn, a new season, I thought I’d go through my pictures from this past summer, and share some photos that never made the leap from my phone to the social-media-sphere. Which, in my case, exclusively means Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.

The following photos are from the morning hours, my favorite time of day to get outside. Truthfully, during a New Orleans summer, I find it’s the only time of day when the temperature’s tolerable. All the pictures, save the last one, were taken in New Orleans City Park.

June 28, 6:02 a.m. Close to the earliest sunrise I’d see this summer.
July 3, 6:07 a.m. This summer not only marked my 50th birthday, but also the Apollo 11 mission’s. Folks practicing yoga at the Peristyle, beneath a banner which reads “The Eagle has Landed. City Park salutes the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.”
July 11, 6:10 a.m. Most mornings, I’d find this congregation just past the Peristyle. I dubbed them “The Duck Council.”
July 16, 5:55 a.m. Bayou St. John (right across the street from City Park). This spot became one of my favorites for sunrise viewings.
July 20, 8:26 am. On the anniversary of the moon landing, I happened across an event for STEM students getting set up in City Park’s Scout Island.
August 3, 7:18 a.m. Taken during the second workout I logged using the “Map My Run” app. I went exactly 4.56 miles.
August 31, 6:49 a.m. Lake Pontchartrain.

 

 

The Book of Tea: 100%

Last week, I shared two of my favorite quotes from Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea. Since that time, I’ve managed to have a few cups of Lady Grey tea. And I thought I’d wrap up my “return to tea” with more quotes that spoke to me from The Book of Tea:

  • Regarding Taoist ideas on art: “In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it.”
  • These next two, from a very long chapter all about flowers:
    • “Alas! The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer.”
    • “We boast that we have conquered Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us.”
  • This final quote, on the mystery of art appreciation, is perhaps my favorite: “At the magic touch of the beautiful the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognize, stand forth in new glory.”

That’s it for now!

The Book of Tea: 44%

Teapot
My beautiful, underused, teapot. A gift from my mom.

So, my latest serial on my Serial Reader app is Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, first published in 1906. It’s only six issues, so I should be finished by this weekend.

I haven’t been ready to commit to a long read since finishing The Count of Monte Cristo. In the coming weeks, I’m determined to finalize the manuscript for The Conclusion on the Causeway, the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. Thus, I’ve subscribed to some shorter serials in the interim. I’m hoping to pick up a longer story in another month.

Since Monte Cristo, I’ve finished The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was a chore at 14 issues. And also “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick, which was much easier, and only seven issues.

Reading The Book of Tea is making me long for my tea-drinking days. Many years ago, I drank tea exclusively, in place of coffee. But the convenience of a cold-brewed coffee concentrate has made it my go-to caffeinated beverage. It’s easy to make iced or hot, and one container lasts me a good while.

Once the weather turns colder, I’ll have the occasional cup of tea. One of my favorites is Twinings’ Lady Grey black tea. It has a much lighter flavor than Earl Grey.

Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from The Book of Tea so far:

  • One of the earliest ways of preparing tea was “Cake-tea.” Okakura Kakuzo has this to say about Cake-tea: “Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!” Call me crazy, but that description really makes me want to try it.
  • Second favorite quote so far: “It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
  • Favorite quote: “Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

‘Til next time!

On Turning 50: Misty Mountain Hop

Tavolino Pizza
Our table at Tavolino Pizza.

So, I had a milestone birthday last Thursday. I took that day and the next off from work, and celebrated my birthday during an extended five-day Labor Day holiday weekend.

I threw big parties when I turned 30, and again when I turned 40. I had no such desire this time around. The trip to Ireland with Tim, back in May, was an early 50th birthday present. That was the “big” celebration. I’ve learned enough so far to know that I’m better suited to smaller, more intimate gatherings. I like to think that my focus on writing, especially in the last five years or so, has had the beneficial side effect of an improved awareness.

The short work-week leading up to my birthday, and the extended holiday around it, afforded the opportunity for multiple mini-celebrations. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • My friend Carol was in town from Milwaukee, and we went to dinner at Meril. It’s one of Emeril Lagasse’s newer restaurants, in the Warehouse District. I’d been wanting to try it out, and both the food and the company provided an exceptional kick-off to my birthday week.
  • I had dinner with my Godfather at Superior Seafood the night before my birthday. Superior Seafood is in Uptown New Orleans, and it’s where he and I usually eat during our occasional lunches. We almost always say we should go during a time when we don’t have to go back to work, and this was the opportunity. We split a bottle of rosé, something we never do during lunch.
  • The night of my birthday, I had dinner at Tavolino Pizza and Lounge, in Algiers Point, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. My good friend Hillary opened the restaurant about two years ago, and I’ve been wanting to get there ever since. The food was AMAZING: handmade pizza, fresh toppings, an extensive wine list…I’m already planning my next visit.
  • Yes, there was a lot of eating and drinking — this is New Orleans, after all. But I also worked in some exercise. Saturday morning, I ran my favorite route: a seven-mile round trip to the Lake Pontchartrain lakeshore and back. It was the first time in years I had run that distance. I had thought age, and wear-and-tear, had closed it off to me for good. I was delighted to learn otherwise.

And so many other great moments, that I’ll keep a little closer to the vest (Nicole, Cece, and Sue: Godzilla; Julie and Jim: Sid, gnats, and the Mandela Effect).

Finally, on my birthday day, several songs entered my consciousness, ones that reside far down in the way-back. The one I’ll note here was in heavy personal rotation during my teen years.

For whatever reason, I really had a yen to hear the funky rhythm of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.” Maybe it was because of what Rolling Stone describes as: “Jones’ humid electric piano locking in with Page’s headlong riff and Bonham’s slippery avalanche of a groove…”

Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I could offer a (mostly) unequivocal “yes” to this question from the lyrics:

Why don’t you take a good look at yourself and describe what you see
And baby, baby, baby, do you like it?

Lake Pontchartrain
Lake Pontchartrain at sunrise, just about the halfway point of the run.