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Great Expectations: 100%

The collapsed Hard Rock hotel in New Orleans, January 11, 2020.

So, I finished Great Expectations at the very end of 2019. And I’m overdue in offering my appraisal of this book. So here goes:

Great Expectations has earned a pretty high spot amongst the ranks of my favorites, especially within the “classics.” Most likely because of Pip. He is such an identifiable character — everything from his fear when he first encounters Abel Magwitch as a child, to his shame and repulsion when he encounters him as a young adult, to his desire to become a gentleman all for the love of the unattainable Estella.

I figure Dickens was in his late forties when he wrote it, and I’m glad I first read it as a middle-ager. If I had read it as a younger woman, I’m sure I would have still identified with Pip, but I imagine I might have been sorely disappointed (spoiler alert) that Pip doesn’t wind up with Estella. Reading it when I did gave me more opportunity to identify with the storyteller, and the choices he made.

Because, let me tell ya, Dickens is no slouch when it comes to writing. I remember when I was reading Count of Monte Cristo, it gave me a yen to see the south of France. I didn’t get the same feeling with Great Expectations — because I felt like I was there, in the marshes of Kent, and then later in London. Dickens depicted those settings in such a way that I’ll never be able to see in real life, because time and place were so intricately linked in his descriptions. Unless time travel becomes feasible in my lifetime, I’ll never be able to see the Kent and London of the mid-19th century.

I’ll finish this up by tying in my choice to use the Hard Rock hotel as the image for this post. I saw it close-up for the first time this past weekend. There’s the obvious connection of great expectations dashed (and by no means am I trivializing the lives lost in this horrible accident, God rest their souls). But seeing it for the first time in real life, it reminded me of a Dali painting, especially the melty clocks in “The Persistence of Memory.” And with Great Expectations so fresh in my memory, it wasn’t too far a stretch to think of the stopped clocks in Miss Havisham’s house, and the ruined and rotted wedding cake in her dining room. Young Pip summed it up best, as he described Miss Havisham’s house:

“What could I become with these surroundings? How could my character fail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if my thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the natural light from the misty yellow rooms?”

That’s it for now.

Checking in: Sci Fi

Sister Julie, a cosplayer as Cara Dune, and me. Do you see The Child?

I’ve had a wealth of sci fi experiences — both viewing experiences, and “live” ones — in the past month or so, and yet I haven’t posted about a one of them. So herewith, in no particular order, is a brief assessment of the standouts:

  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order — Don’t think I’ve ever written about video games, because I don’t play them. But I will watch when my husband gets into a new game, because I like the narrative / storytelling aspect. Thus, I’m familiar with the storylines of Assassin’s Creed, and Red Dead Redemption. Jedi: Fallen Order is my hands-down favorite, most likely because I’m already very well-versed in the story milieu. But who can argue details when the m.c.’s droid is as cute as BD-1!
  • Speaking of cute — yes, I’ve watched The Mandalorian, and I’ve seen “the child” (aka Baby Yoda). It took me a little while to warm up to the show, but I feel like I was pretty into it by episode 6. (It didn’t hurt that Clancy Brown, one of my favorite actors, had a role in that one). And I was satisfied with how season 1 wrapped up.
  • Speaking of satisfactory conclusions — I thought Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stuck the landing. (One of the first reviews I heard, before I’d even seen the movie, used that phrase to describe the movie — “it sticks the landing.” Upon seeing it, I found it apt.) I didn’t love it, but I thought it was enjoyable, and I thought it made better use of its wonderful actors than the previous two movies. But the story wasn’t awe-inspiring. I’ve heard some awe-inspiring theories, one being that “Skywalker” isn’t just a family name. It’s a new brand of force-wielder, the yin-yang duality of Jedi and Sith together, embodied in the character of Rey. It would have been a great movie if I’d walked away with that conclusion proven by the story itself, rather than having a fan explain it to me the next day.
  • Someone who didn’t need to explain himself: Cary Elwes at Wizard World New Orleans, our annual comic con. I saw him in an on-stage interview, and he was a delightful story-teller. Most of his stories were from the set of The Princess Bride, but he’s had a long career, and he had some other gems to tell — from the first time he met Mel Brooks, to a prank the Duffer Brothers played on him on the set of Stranger Things. He was warm, authentic, and able to playfully engage with fans of all stripes. My admiration for this actor has definitely gone up a notch.

Here are a few more pictures from Wizard World, to wrap this up. Bye-bye, have fun storming the castle!

Niece Cece was Kayley from Quest for Camelot, and Niece Nicole was an absolutely brilliant Twister.

 

Happy 2020

The last sunrise of 2019, in New Orleans City Park.

It seems we all have a pre-programmed tendency to take stock of things, this time of year. Add to it the impending start of a brand new decade, and “taking stock” gets turbocharged.

I have just two personal reflections I’d like to share: one on the past decade, the other on the past year.

Regarding the decade: it will be forever inked in my memory as the decade I became a writer. And I mean that in the sense of finding my vocation. When I first put pen to paper, on March 27, 2010, little did I suspect the transformation that awaited me. There is something about giving my imagination a form, a shape into words, that has wholly changed me. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how I’ve changed, since there are multiple factors at work, and the cumulative effect of 10 years of living. The best way I can describe it is that I believe writing has made me both more of myself, and a better-defined version of myself.

And regarding 2019: it’s the year that reading finally resumed its rightful place in my life. I began Moby Dick on January 1, 2019, and actually finished it! (Sometime in March.) That experience, and the Serial Reader app, reawakened my appetite for reading. I read The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, the first two and a half volumes of the Wool series, and several shorter works, all digitally; and Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend as an old-fashioned book. This is pretty significant for me, since I’ve always been a slow, meditative-type reader. I plan to say more about Great Expectations and The Friend in future posts; I’ll just say here that they were my two favorite reads of this past year.

I’ll conclude with this: I feel well-positioned for the next decade. In the early days of my writing, something always nagged at me. I knew if I didn’t read more, my writing would never develop in the way that I want it to, the way I want it to improve. Some of that “not reading enough” was just not being able to make the time, and some of that was a fledging writer’s concern of being unduly influenced by another’s style. I feel like I might have finally arrived at a balance.

Happy 2020, y’all.

Merry Christmas

City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks, December 23, 2019

For the 4+ years I’ve been at this blog, this is the first time Christmas has fallen on a Wednesday. And since Wednesday is my posting day, I thought I would take this opportunity to say “thank you.”

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these musings.

Thank you for your generosity with likes and follows.

Thank you for coming back to this space, time and again.

I wish I could tell you that there are big plans ahead; that this blog will finally settle on a theme; that you’ll be amazed at the content you’ll see in 2020. But I can’t tell you that. There are plans, but they are small. The theme will continue to meander. Perhaps you’ll find some upcoming content amazing, but I firmly believe amazement is in the eye of the beholder. So I’m not comfortable making such a blanket statement.

Instead, I’ll just reiterate my gratitude, and wish everyone very happy and peaceful holidays.

City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks, December 23, 2019

The Holidays in New Orleans

For this week’s post, I’ll be light on narrative. Thought I’d share some pictures of a few uniquely-New Orleans holiday things. Not featured: the renowned Celebration in the Oaks in City Park. I won’t make my trip there until next Monday. Though I did post at least one picture last year, if you’re interested: Click here

Most of the pictures here are from “Lights on the Lake,” a boat parade on Lake Pontchartrain. Held this past Saturday, it was my first time attending. It got a bit chilly after the sun went down, but other than that, it was a lovely time.

Captions explain the non-lake pictures. Happy Holidays, everyone!

This is Mr. Bingle. He’s been a part of New Orleans holidays since 1947. He started as a holiday mascot for the department store Maison Blanche, with whom he shares his initials. Maison Blanche is long gone, but Mr. Bingle lives on!
Just seeing if you’re paying attention. This is not New Orleans, but New York. Got this picture 2 weeks ago, and I liked the wreath on Grand Central’s window.

Hadestown

“A deeply resonant and hopeful theatrical experience.” A Google search of Hadestown provides this description under the “About” tab. To me, it’s very apt.

Musicals don’t typically make my must-see list. I love music, and I enjoy theater, but it has to be something pretty special for me to want to see the two merged together. I’ve seen my share of operas, but I always think of Richard Gere’s quote, as Edward Lewis from Pretty Woman: “People’s reaction to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I definitely fall into the “I’ve learned to appreciate opera” category.

But I digress. This is supposed to be about Broadway musicals, not classic opera. Sometime over the summer, I heard an interview with the composer of Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell. Several things jumped out at me from the interview:

  1. Hadestown is about Hades and Persephone. (And Orpheus and Eurydice), but, Persephone is, hands-down, my favorite Greek goddess.
  2. It features a bass voice (specifically, Patrick Page as Hades). I love a bass, and when it’s more than just an accent, it can be tremendously powerful.
  3. Anaïs Mitchell has been working on some version of Hadestown for more than a decade, and I can really relate to that kind of commitment to an idea. That’s passion, for sure.

All of this added up to me thinking, “Hadestown sounds like something pretty special. I might need to make a point to see it.” And see it I did, this past weekend during a long weekend in New York.

It did not disappoint.

Patrick Page is absolutely mesmerizing. But the whole cast really shines. Amber Gray is brilliant as Persephone; she plays her as a goddess I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. And André De Shields is a new favorite. He plays Hermes, who is the narrator and guide to Hadestown.

And it was all part of such a lovely weekend. I saw Hadestown with my sister Julie, who traveled to New York from Houston for the weekend. We were both there to see sister Elizabeth play a delightful Mrs. Hudson in “Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Dying Detective.” It had been many years since either of us had seen Elizabeth in a play. And it was the first time we’d seen Elizabeth’s husband Quint perform. He made up for lost time by playing not one, but three, roles in the show.

All in all, a weekend that did not disappoint, on any front. Full of experiences that have become part of my soul. (Take that, Edward Lewis). 🙂

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Having been ensconced with Dickens for the past month or so, I’ve had a renewed yen to see the 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas. I wanted to see it when it released two years ago, but never did. As luck would have it, there were a bunch of limited-time, free movie channels available on my TV this past weekend. It was playing on one of them, and, while I didn’t catch it cover-to-cover, I saw about two-thirds of it (including the ending).

The Man Who Invented Christmas stars British actor Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens, fairly early in his writing career. He races against time, and his own personal demons, to write and publish A Christmas Carol in time for the Christmas holiday in 1843.

I found the movie charming and clever. Here are the probable reasons why:

  • Dan Stevens’ portrayal of Charles Dickens reminded me an awful lot of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. The manic energy, the hair, the frightening turn when you disturb him. Since I’ve loved Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka for pretty much my whole life, it was hard for me to not be charmed by the similarity I saw in Dan Stevens.
  • As Dickens creates the characters, they appear “in real life.” In his study, and about London as they follow him as he goes wandering in search of inspiration. He bickers with them, and they bicker with each other. Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge was especially fun.
  • The struggle Dickens has with how to end the story felt very relatable. He wants Scrooge to remain irredeemable. It isn’t until he comes to some reconciliation in his personal life that he’s able to write the ending we all know. I have to think the story would not have achieved the popularity it did, if it ended with the visions of the ghost of Christmas future realized.

Who doesn’t love a redemption story? God bless us, everyone.

Great Expectations: Thanksgiving Edition

So, I’m 53% of the way through Great Expectations. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I figured I’d focus on what I’m grateful for, regarding my reading of this work.

I’ve realized this year, 2019, has turned out to be my introduction to several 19th century classics. All published within a 20-year span during the mid-1800s. The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1844, Moby Dick in 1851, and Great Expectations just ten years later, in 1861. Monte Cristo and Moby Dick are both relatively fresh in my mind, so I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between the three in my “gratitude” list:

  • I’m enjoying Great Expectations more than the other two. It’s definitely funnier. Granted, I don’t think Dumas or Melville were going for comedy, but their stories could have withstood being a touch less self-serious.
  • Pip is certainly the most relatable character in the three novels. Written in the first person, it begins when Pip is just a child. So many of Pip’s experiences, as Dickens relates them, ring true and timeless. Check out this quote: “In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
  • Speaking of injustice and timelessness, my ire hasn’t been raised as much with Great Expectations, as with the other two. There’s no getting around Melville’s racism, especially in the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Or Dumas’s misogyny — in my numerous posts about Monte Cristo, I went on at length about how much I hated how Mercedes’s character and story line were handled. While Dickens is hardly a model of modern sensibilities — I’ve already read at least one dreadful depiction of a Jewish person — if I were to weigh the three works, I feel like Great Expectations has less to offend.
  • On a lighter note, I might be most grateful for the Serial Reader app. It’s reawakened my reading habit in more ways than one. I’ve found that I like reading on my phone so much, that I downloaded the Kindle app. I’m about halfway through Hugh Howey’s Wool series, all read on my phone. (Wool has been on my TBR list for years.)

I could go on, but I won’t. For everyone celebrating the holiday, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Bald Eagles in City Park

I saw the large bird of prey just minutes after snapping this photo.

I’m fairly certain I saw a bald eagle on Sunday. Either that, or I saw a pelican who’d dipped its head in something white. In any event, I saw a very large bird soaring not too high over my head, with a white head. The tree canopy at the spot where I witnessed it is the only thing causing my uncertainty.

Bald eagles, City Park, and me…we go back a ways. The first time I saw one — it has to be close to 10 years ago, now — it soared right over my head, and there was no mistaking its form. I think it might have tried to scoop me up, if I’d only been a touch smaller. I don’t remember it having quite the impressive wing span of the one I saw on Sunday, making me think (through faulty memory) that the first one might have been a juvenile.

There’s something about a bald eagle; they’re so imbued with meaning. For better or worse, in good times and in bad, they’re symbolic of the U.S.A. It’s nice that they are apolitical (elephants and donkeys don’t have it so easy). And there’s no getting around that bald eagles are just really majestic animals. My sightings stick with me.

Years after that first time, I saw another bald eagle while I was driving on Harrison Avenue. That’s the same road I was running on Sunday. There was no tree canopy in the spot where I was driving, and it was pretty clear — large, soaring, bird with dark feathers on its body and white feathers on its head. But since I was driving that time, there was no stopping to contemplate where it was headed.

There wasn’t much to contemplate about the one on Sunday. It was flying a straight shot to open water, and it would have taken me a backward, circuitous, route to head in its direction.

I’m not even sure what caused me to look up when I did. I’m just glad that the mire of my thoughts didn’t prevent me from turning my eyes skyward.

This would have been my view if I’d tried to follow the bird.

A Day of Firsts

So, I ran a 10K race this past weekend, and I think it ranks near the top of my favorite race experiences. Not because I ran a personal best — my fast times are several years in my past, now. And not because the course was  picturesque — outside of a short part along Lake Pontchartrain, with some pelicans flying about, the course was mostly along an access road.

What made this race such a stand-out was that it was the first 10K for my nieces Nicole and Cecelia. They are training for a series of races in Disney World in the months ahead. In April 2020, I’ll be running one of those races with them. This 10K was part of the prep.

Running, like writing, is a solitary endeavor. Also, running any distance over a few miles is something that bestows a certain patience upon any non-competitive runner (like myself). The effects and the benefits can be hard to elucidate. Running the same race is one of the best ways to share the experience, and it was a delight to share this experience with such bright lights as Nicole and Cece.

Plus, we went to Panda King for Hot Pot that evening. It was the first time trying the popular Asian dish for me, but not for them. I loved it! I also loved that we ended a day of firsts together.