I marched with the Leijorettes in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade this past weekend. There’s an “only in New Orleans” kind of sentence, if I ever heard one! For the uninitiated, Chewbacchus is a Mardi Gras parade with a science fiction theme. But that feels like an oversimplification. Chewbacchus really incorporates all the best elements of a Mardi Gras parade — satire, alcohol, grand pageantry, an overall over-the-topness — with a wide spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy fandom.
The Leijorettes are a “sub krewe,” honoring Princess Leia. (Yes, of Star Wars). This was my fifth year with the Leijorettes, and I’ve written about the experience a few times before: in Chewbacchus from 2017, and My Kind of Mardi Gras in 2016.
Everything seemed to click this year. The 2019 parade theme was one I thoroughly endorsed: “Space Farce.” Saturday night was clear and cool to cold-ish, with no wind to speak of. The spectating crowd was big and happy, as it was the only Mardi Gras parade happening in the city at the time. We’re still about two weeks away from the full, head-on Mardi Gras season, and I got the sense that New Orleans was ready to start the party a little early. (NOLA as a collective is still smarting from the Saints’ NFC Championship loss.)
I’ll conclude with a few photos, in an attempt to underscore my point:
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. 😦
So, on Monday I saw the International Space Station for the first time this year. I qualify this year—2018—because I’ve been looking for (and usually finding) the ISS in the sky for a couple of years, now. And I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, too, but something else always seems to bump it back in line.
I began this exercise two years ago, when a friend from work told me you could sign up for alerts, to let you know when the Space Station is visible in your corner of the sky. The alerts are super convenient, because they take all these factors into account:
It has to be dawn or dusk, because the ISS reflects the light of the rising or setting sun. It’s not visible in the middle of the day or night.
The ISS must be 40 degrees or more above the horizon.
It also travels at roughly 17,500 miles (28,000 km) per hour, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. So it’s visible in a pretty tight window, usually anywhere from two to six minutes.
NASA does a good job of tabulating all these things, and sending a text about twelve hours before your next viewing opportunity. Here’s the website where you can sign up, if you’re interested: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/
For any given opportunity, the only things that keep me from spotting the Station are timing and weather. If it passes overhead while I’m still asleep, or when I’m in the car on my way somewhere, then I’ll miss it. And weather is about the only thing NASA doesn’t include in the alerts—you can’t see the ISS if there’s too much cloud cover.
It was supposed to be visible a bunch of times in late December, at the end of 2017, but I came up empty several days running because it was too cloudy. I took it as a good omen for 2018 that everything was perfect for Monday morning’s sighting—the sky was crystal clear, the air was cold but not too windy, and it wasn’t so terribly early as to be obnoxious. The city of New Orleans needed a good omen, as our beloved Saints just suffered a devastating loss the day before, taking us out of the playoffs.
And here’s the thing (or things), the reasons I keep going outside and looking at the sky to spot our friends in the Space Station. One, it’s a great perspective check: whatever’s going on in my world, whatever’s causing me anxiety or drama (like the collective misery of a city with dashed Super Bowl hopes), those alerts are a reminder to look up. Up in the sky, I know there are six people who are an orbit away from their homes and loved ones, who’ve given up their time and Earth’s gravity for science, for progress, for adventure—I’m sure their reasons are plentiful. It reminds me of the reasons I wake up early to pursue my writing.
Two, it’s an opportunity for a quick meditation. About whatever—perspective, gratitude, ambition. And faith. Faith that even if the sky is cloudy, and I can’t see them, the Space Station and its occupants are still up there. Faith that the next time the weather will be clear and I’ll get to track that little point of light as it zooms across the sky. And if not the next time, then maybe the time after that.
And finally, I’m not only a sci-fi geek, I’m a science geek. Astronomy, geography, geology. The very first thing I ever wanted to be was a cartographer (I’d say “map maker” when I was little). I imagine the occupants of the Space Station, looking down on me as I look up at them, a tiny speck way down in the boot of Louisiana. Each of us thinking how valuable, how fragile, and how momentous our endeavors are. As troubled as things may be, all over the map of the Earth, if we ever stop reaching for the stars, then hope is truly lost.