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

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.

You Are A Tourist

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go
And you find your destination with so many different places to call home

Those are lyrics from “You Are A Tourist,” a song from alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie. It’s from their 2011 album Codes and Keys, and it’s quite possibly one of my favorite songs of this decade. Easily in the top ten.

The song has been in my head since this past weekend. My friend Stacey (featured in Greece 1 and Greece 2) was in town from Los Angeles. We spent the weekend dining, browsing (and shopping) in local spots, taking a French Quarter ghost tour, and marveling at New Orleans’ holiday decorations. That last part—the holiday part—is something I almost never do. More than anything, that might be what had me feeling like a tourist. It was fun!

Pictured at the top of this post is something that caught my eye at the Roosevelt Hotel in the French Quarter. This hotel always does an amazing holiday array, and the lights really set off this statue. It’s called the “Mystery Lady Timepiece,” and its nameplate indicates it was displayed at the Paris Exhibitions of 1867 and 1878.

Concluding with those opening lyrics, for a few days, I did feel like a tourist in the city where I was born. And at earlier times in my life, I definitely felt (and answered) the call to “go,” finding different destinations to call home. But I realize now, writing is the journey that calls to me. The different destinations exist only in my mind’s eye, and it’s up to me to bring them to fruition.

Who knows. . .the “Mystery Lady” seems like she might have an interesting story. What has she witnessed between Paris in 1867 and New Orleans in 2018? Enquiring minds want to know. . .

Thanks for reading!

Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans City Park

More photos from the Roosevelt

Gratitude

I have a heckuva lot to be grateful for. I try to remain mindful of that fact every day of the year, not just when I’m staring down the barrel of Thanksgiving.

Perusing my post history in this space, to see what I’ve written for the other three Thanksgiving Eves I’ve passed while writing this blog, I was a bit disappointed in myself. While I remembered my first: I’m Thankful for Godzilla, I could not recall the other two. That’s because I didn’t mark the approach of Thanksgiving in the past two years. Shame on me.

Last year, I wrote about attending the Texas Renaissance Festival; and the year before that, it was George Gershwin. Hopefully, my gratitude for spending time with family in Texas; and my appreciation of the contributions George and Ira Gershwin made to the world of music, were apparent, and sufficed as an expression of my thankfulness.

Now, into my third year of being published, and closing in on nine years since I first decided to give this fiction writing thing a go, it seems its high time to express some gratitude.

Especially for last night. I held a launch event for my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One, at the Garden District Book Shop on Prytania Street in New Orleans. I don’t think I can express sufficient appreciation—for everyone who came, for the good folks at the Garden District Book Shop, for all the kind words I received.

Becoming a published fiction writer—and the effort to reach out to new readers, in the hopes of offering something of value (entertainment, escape, anything)—has meant a personal stretch outside my comfort zone. In a big way. I am profoundly grateful for the reception I’ve received as I’ve entered this brave new world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

October Surprise

So, October 30 snuck up on me. October 30, yesterday, was the release day for my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One. I had intended to do more pre-promotion than I did. Send out an email blast. Take out more Facebook ads. Update the front page of this website. Alas, the best laid plans…

However, while my publicity efforts may be a tad lacking, or, at the very least, a tad behind; I feel the opposite way about the story itself. I’m very excited to get it out there, I feel it’s absolutely ready for the world. I had in my head that I did not want to push its release past October; and all my writing, editing and re-writing efforts were aimed toward that goal. So it made it on the last Tuesday in October.

Kind of like how I wanted to finish the last marathon I ran in under four and a half hours. I ran it in 4:29:29.

And speaking of running, I’m compelled to bring up Haruki Murakami. I just read an article that quoted the famed novelist (and avid runner). At an event in New York, just a few weeks ago, he shared his thoughts on what he could do—what he could offer—in light of all the suffering constantly around us.

He concluded that he could write good stories:

“…I thought, ‘What I can do is to write good fiction.’ After all, when I write a good story, good fiction, we can understand each other if you are a reader and I’m a writer. There is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other.”

I am by no means comparing myself, or my stories, to Murakami. Or even claiming that my fiction is “good” by his measure. But I am eager to share this latest story I’ve written. If for no other reason than the chance to provide some entertainment or diversion to those in need of it.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

Amsterdam

At the moment, I am in Amsterdam on a work trip. I had a little time for sightseeing after I arrived this past weekend, so this is going to be a pictorial post. I also had the great fortune of visiting with my friend Tamara, who came up from Paris for a few days. (It is a very good thing to have such a friend in Europe . . . we’ve met up in Geneva before, and last year in Paris.)

We started Sunday with a visit to the KattenKabinet, a museum with works of art depicting all manner of felines. There was a large painting of a celestial, potentially malevolent cat over Montmartre that we won’t soon forget.
Afternoon cocktails and bitterballen
Sunset in Vondelpark, Part 1
Sunset in Vondelpark, Part 2
Sunset in Vondelpark, Part 3
“Undergrowth”, 1889 (L) and “Avenue of poplars in autumn”, 1884, (R)

We concluded our visit with a trip to the Van Gogh Museum. I had been once before, about ten years ago. In reviewing my travel journals of the era, I saw where “. . . there is a painting he did — an avenue of poplars, that really spoke to me.” It didn’t take me long to spot it in the galleries, and then Tamara had the good eye to find the postcard in one of the countless gift shops in the museum.

Ten years on, I had another Van Gogh painting speak to me. This time, it was Undergrowth. It’s amazing to me what a transformation he made in just five years. Where Undergrowth is very Van Gogh-y, Poplars is not (at least not to my untrained eye). There’s definitely something nascent in Poplars, for sure, but it doesn’t yet have those indelible strokes that marked his last years.

Definitely don’t want to dwell on the emotional turmoil that marked his final years, and eventually claimed his life. So I’ll just say I’m glad his art is still around one hundred years on, speaking to countless others. I’m also glad he never felt the need to paint malevolent cats over Montmartre.

And finally, I’m very grateful for the time spent with a good friend.

 

 

 

Uncertainty

The International Space Station was orbiting about 256 miles above South Australia when a camera on board the orbital complex captured this celestial view of Earth’s atmospheric glow and the Milky Way. (iss057e035382 — Oct. 7, 2018) Photo and caption by NASA.

I don’t often write about the news in this space. It’s not because I don’t pay attention. I take a similar approach with my day job…while I spend at least a quarter of my time there, I devote very little of this real estate to it.

It’s not because I’m not affected by the goings-on in the world, or at my place of employment. I am affected by the goings-on, for sure. Probably a little too much. So much so, as it turns out, that I look to this blog as a bit of an escape.

But there was a news item from last week that I am compelled to write about. It might have easily slipped some folks’ attention, given the impending mid-term elections, and the horrible devastation Hurricane Michael unleashed on Florida’s panhandle and throughout the southeast.

What I’m compelled to write about is the October 11 failure of the Soyuz rocket that was powering a crewed mission to the International Space Station. Fortunately, the occupants of the capsule, astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin, survived the aborted mission, apparently no worse for the wear.

However, they were supposed to relieve the current three-person crew onboard the International Space Station. While that crew was set to stay on for another couple of months, the failed mission has put their planned December departure into question. Will they stay on for longer than originally intended? Or will they have to abandon the Space Station altogether? I have read that the station is equipped to fly unmanned for a period of time; but I’ve also read that it’s had a continuous stream of inhabitants for the past eighteen years.

I’m hearing that NASA expects to be able to launch another crewed mission by this December, which would make all these questions moot. However, until they figure out just what went wrong with the Soyuz rocket, the current occupants of the Space Station will have to live with a level of uncertainty more consistent with life down here on terra firma.

And that’s what I was thinking about, when I took a break from my writing this past weekend to watch the International Space Station make a six-minute trek across the sky. It was a clear, lovely evening, and the New Orleans weather had finally turned a touch cooler. But I felt a little melancholy, as I watched the bright reflection of the station carrying Commander Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency), astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA), and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev (ROSCOSMOS).

Watching the Space Station pass is like a talisman for me, reminding me to seek some perspective on, or away from, my worldly concerns. But this time, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for the three human beings up there. They have to deal with setbacks and uncertainty, just like the rest of us do. The perspective that is slowly dawning on me, is just how connected and similar we all are.

Even if you happen to be orbiting the earth 250 miles from its surface.

Anne McClane and the 1,000 Likes

A little over three years into this blog, and having written 168 posts, WordPress told me I’ve garnered 1,000 likes. I feel pretty good about that! Here’s why:

  • I don’t have a ton of followers on WordPress (less than 250). All those likes aren’t necessarily from followers, but if they were, it would mean followers have read and liked what I’ve written multiple times.
  • I only post once a week, on fairly random topics. I’m playing the long game here, and I’m thrilled to have reached this milestone at this early-ish stage of the game.
  • Links to these posts also appear on my Facebook page. But unlike Facebook, most of my WordPress likes are from people I don’t know personally. Same thing for the followers–most of those follows are from people I’ve encountered through the WordPress platform.

That last point underscores one of my favorite things about WordPress. I love having the freedom to write as much as I want about the topic at hand, in a user-friendly format. But more than that, I love following the posts of my favorite bloggers. There is such a wide range of voices I’ve been introduced to, just by being part of WordPress. Some of these folks feel like friends, even though we’ve never met.

Just like One Thousand and One Nights, the ancient collection of Middle Eastern stories that inspired the title of this post, the blogs I’ve found on WordPress are a treasure trove of different styles, themes, and fantastical ideas. I’m very grateful to be included in this vibrant community.

So long, and thanks for all the likes!!