Lux et Veritas

I had the good fortune to attend Yale’s commencement ceremony a few days ago; and also visit the campus for the first time. I saw “Lux et Veritas” pretty much everywhere. “Veritas” was my high school’s motto, so I knew the meaning of that word straight away: veritas means truth. I wanted to believe “lux et veritas” was “luxury and truth,” but somehow, I knew that would never pass muster as a traditional college motto. Much less a college with a history as long as Yale’s. After a bit more thinking, I figured it out: it’s “light and truth.”

Light and truth: I’m a big fan of both. I’m also a big fan of Niece Emilie, who was receiving her master of public health in environmental health sciences. It feels very appropriate that the place she chose to advance her studies has a motto that speaks to both the brightness and integrity she holds in spades.

Yesterday, I traveled south from Connecticut (technically, New York, where I spent the night after the graduation) to Baltimore. That’s where I am now, for work. I go home tonight, but then I leave again Saturday. To spend a week in Ireland with Husband Tim! Telling you this as a means of explaining the brevity of this post, and also to let you know that I’m taking next week off from blogging. I’ll post about the Ireland trip after I’m back.

In the meantime, here are some photos from Yale!

Statue of former Yale president Theodore Dwight Woolsey. His foot has been burnished gold from people rubbing it for good luck.

Double Cardinal Sighting

The cemetery at Saint Joseph Abbey, May 11, 2019.

I’ve written in this space before about red birds, and the meaning that is often attributed to them. Depending on which Internet rabbit hole you travel down, there are a slew of different meanings. But the meaning I mean to be about here is: the belief that when you see a cardinal, or red bird, it’s a sign from a loved one who’s passed on, letting you know their spirit is still with you.

The last cardinal I saw was in March, and I wrote about it in the post titled “Cardinal Sighting.” I saw two more, possibly three, just this past Saturday. But the circumstance in which I saw them feels almost too unbelievable. If this blog were fiction, I might feel that the scene I’m about to describe is a touch too forced.

I was part of a quorum of my siblings that visited our parents’ graves, a sort of “day-before-Mother’s-Day” gathering. Two of my nieces were also with us. We said a few prayers together, and then wandered the grounds a bit. Saint Joseph Abbey is a remarkable place. It just exudes this specific sort of peacefulness.

Looking up, I saw two cardinals in flight. One seemed to be pursuing the other. I might have even seen a third one, or it could have been one of the two performing an acrobatic loop. While seeing birds flying about in a wooded place is not unusual, there was no mistaking their color. They were definitely red.

I couldn’t help but think of the Gospel passage (Matthew 18, verse 20): “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Now, I’m not saying my parents are God (the “I” from that passage). But it was my parents who steered the whole lot of us gathered there to the Believing persuasion.

And if a third cardinal was indeed flitting about, my paternal grandfather also has his eternal rest at that cemetery.

Just sayin’.

Moby-Dick: 99%

Okay, well, really 100%. Though my final issue of Moby-Dick from Serial Reader won’t arrive until later this morning; as luck would have it, I managed to read to the end using an analog copy.

And luck, or chance, did seem to have something to do with it. I’ve been tidying up (no, I have not watched Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. My current tidying initiative is the consequence of a need, long-neglected, and a Lenten resolution). So, anyway, I was clearing a shelf on a bookcase, and happened across the copy of Moby Dick pictured above.

The copyright is 1948, and this edition is a fifth printing, dated June 1953. My father’s name is inscribed on the title page. Given the timing, I have to think he acquired the book toward the end of his college days. And I acquired it roughly three years ago, when we were doing the final clearing of my parents’ house before selling it.

Talk about a long-neglected need. When I subscribed to Moby-Dick on Serial Reader, I wasn’t aware that this copy was sitting on a shelf in my house. I don’t regret reading Moby-Dick on my phone — the print copy is yellowing and would have been much the worse for wear, had I toted it everywhere with me and read eight pages a day for the last eighty days.

I just wish I had been a bit more cognizant of my belongings.

There’s so much I could write about Moby Dick as literature: how Melville spends a lot of time on whales, how he introduces compelling characters in the final third of the book (something I thought I wasn’t supposed to do as a writer), how he telegraphs the ending. But it’s getting late, and I want to wrap this up.

One of the benefits of reading on my phone: I can take screen captures of passages that speak to me. There are about sixteen screen captures from Moby-Dick sitting in my favorites right now. Many of the passages are pretty dark, and I’d hate to conclude my post that way. So instead I’ll end with a quote that strikes a nice balance:

“Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolesence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.”

 

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. 😦

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.

Anticipating My Birthday


Today is my birthday. I endeavor to post to this blog on Wednesday of each week, and my birthday just so happens to fall on a Wednesday this year. Thus, I find myself composing a birthday post.

This occasion seems an appropriate time to share something my mom put together, way back when she was expecting me. She and my father celebrated their fifteenth anniversary with a trip to San Francisco, about two and a half months before I was born.

My mom was a scrapbooker extraordinaire. About two years ago, when my siblings and I were clearing her house, I was fortunate enough to find her scrapbook documenting the San Francisco trip. (I wrote about the monumental task of going through my parents’ house here: Clay.)

I really dig that I got to make this trip with my parents, even though I have no memory of it. (It would be pretty remarkable if I did.) Seeing my mom’s distinctive handwriting makes me wistful, but also so very grateful to have such a concrete and indelible memory of her.

Here are a few snapshots from the scrapbook. But first, here’s some context:

Mom refers to herself in the third person (Ida). Ger is my dad.

Carmel: she’s my godmother. She looked after my six siblings, ranging in age from fourteen (Debby) to three (Stephen), while my parents were in San Francisco. God bless her. A remarkable woman I’ve been meaning to write about forever.

The Herberts: my parents’ first neighbors, when they were newly married and living in an Army barracks. I’ve always heard that they were not neighbors for long…six weeks? six months? Yet my parents maintained a lifelong friendship with the Herberts that saw many reciprocal visits between California and Louisiana.

The trip began to materialize in May, when Ger asked Carmel if she would stay with the children — and she agreed! This was to be a surprise, but Carmel convinced Ger he should tell Ida enough in advance to give her time to think about what she should take. (Dear Carmel!)
So on June 15, 1969 we left via National Airlines for San Francisco! Ger rode the jump seat & Ida was in the other end of the plane. Had one stop in Houston…
…then landed smoggily in San Francisco. After some looking around we found the Herberts & vice versa…got our baggage and drove out to Portola Valley to visit our first neighbors — the Herberts! Tom & Mary Ann; Tommy, Suzanne, Terry
Dad looking like he has a top knot; Tommy, Terry & Suzanne bring to mind the saying “the coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”

Carmel’s epilogue: Welcome Home, I had a grand time. Hope you did too. I apologize for Stephen. Very pink back. He didn’t seem to care, but I was guilt ridden. Except for dinner time which became hazardous for hearing, we had an uneventful interlude.

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!

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.

 

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