So, I’ve had these quotes appear in front of me in the span of just a few days:
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer
Kinda getting the feeling, maybe I might be due for a lens change?
I’ve been nearsighted most of my life. I think I was 10 years old when I first got glasses. I had Lasik surgery about 12 years ago, but its effectiveness is beginning to wane as my eyes age along with the rest of me.
And it feels like nearsightedness is a pretty big issue right now. The path forward seems very blurry. What is the world going to look like tomorrow, next week, next month? In non-pandemic times, many of us can make reasonable assumptions about the future and its shape. Not so much right now.
So I’m going to try to quiet down and stop asking those questions for a while. Maybe in the silence, a different kind of question will present itself. A new way of seeing things.
So, I had lots of ideas for today’s post, like: sharing some of the nicer and/or funnier COVID-19 communications I’ve received from a myriad of sources; or a Quarter Report, since today is the start of the second quarter of 2020; or a handful of other thoughts not worth mentioning.
But, for many reasons, none of these ideas materialized. Instead, I’ll share these pictures of the sunrise on Monday, March 30. Captured at 6:54 a.m. Central Time. Not shared on any other social media (until now).
And also, this quote, which has been in my head a bit, that I remember as such:
“For this command I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious or remote; it is already in your head, and in your heart — you have only to carry it out.”
(If you’re curious, it’s from the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 30, Verse 11. I couldn’t find a Bible excerpt that matches those words exactly, [they’re closest to the New American Bible], but they definitely carry the gist.)
So, I did a thing. I signed up for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. November 1. About eight months away.
Marathons are tough. I’ve run three of them. All in the decade between thirty and forty years old. In the decade between forty and fifty, the mechanics of my mortal coil started complaining, more loudly. A case of sciatica, or something like it, sidelined my running for a few years. I have long had the New York City Marathon in my sights — something about running through all five buroughs really appeals to me. I even mentioned it in this blog four years ago, in “Writing and Running” (click here). But that post was written before I temporarily gave up running. In the years since, I wasn’t sure another marathon would be possible. I’m certainly not getting any younger.
My running expectations were in need of an edit.
Nieces Nicole and Cece have helped that editing process. I wrote about a 10K race we ran together at the end of last year (click here), which was in preparation for a half marathon we are running together in April. For that upcoming race, I knew I had to get my legs used to the miles again. And while I’ve been getting used to the miles, I realized that it would be quite possible to run another marathon.
Pictured above are the results of my run last Sunday. My average pace is a lot slower than it used to be. But I figure at that pace, which was very comfortable, I could finish the marathon in less than six hours. I’d be more than okay with that.
I feel like it’s no coincidence that the decade where my running got adjusted is the same decade when I began writing in earnest. There have been so many concurrent lessons about putting in the effort, adjusting expectations, and finally, doing something just because you love it (with all the joy and heartache that entails) and because it offers fulfillment.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Yesterday was the end of all the festivities that make up the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.
I’ve come to realize over the course of many years of adulthood that Lent fits into my lifestyle more easily than Mardi Gras does. Especially my writing lifestyle. When you work full-time, and focus on writing during your “margin” times, I look to the weekends to make progress on my works-in-progress. Or at least think about making progress while I’m doing laundry and other stuff I tend to save for the weekends.
This year, I made a conscious effort not to feel guilty or anxious about the writing I don’t do over Mardi Gras. I had some success; I certainly felt more at ease with the frivolity this year than I have in years past. That writing anxiety is pretty much antithetical to the whole spirit of Mardi Gras, and I would hate to be against the spirit of the season.
Making progress on positive, life-affirming goals — writing and otherwise — is what Lent is for, anyway.
This past Saturday marked the start of a new year. We ushered in the Year of the Rat by the Lunar, or Chinese, New Year. A few observations regarding this new year, from the past week or so:
I’ve been told the Chinese word for rat and mouse is the same — it does not differentiate the rodent the way our English words do. I’ve also been told that Disney, sensing a huge marketing opportunity, is going all in with “Year of the Mouse.” I’m headed to Disney World in April, so I’ll let you know how this manifests in the park.
This from the website Daily Om: the Year of the Rat “brings with it the promise of prosperity.” Also, “Since the rat sign is the first in the Chinese zodiac calendar, we may feel the energy of a cycle beginning. We may also feel a pioneering spirit that helps us to forge ahead with a completely new endeavor.” The “energy of a cycle beginning” ties in nicely with the start of this decade, and also coalesces with a certain hopeful vibe I’ve been feeling since the start of 2020. (Yes, I pay attention to vibes. This is a trait which I’ve found it’s useless to try to ignore. It also has a significant influence on my writing.)
Tying into hopeful vibes, the New Year’s holiday is celebrated as a week-long “Spring Festival” in China. (The company I work for has an office in China, and our global calendar has January 24-30 blocked out as Spring Festival for that location.)
I like the idea of heralding spring. We’re still about two months out from the official start, but we know it’s coming, sure as the Earth continues its annual loop around our star. And even though winter in New Orleans probably feels like spring to most of the rest of the country, we can still get wintry days, and things don’t grow like they do in spring and summer. I’m looking forward to seeing what blossoms this hopeful vibe the Year of the Rat (Mouse) produces.
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?”
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.
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.
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!
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.