Alternate Timelines

Souvenir from the Wookieeverse

The concept of alternate timelines, or alternate realities, has always been somewhat second nature for me. Or, alternate nature, perhaps.

When I first learned about the multiverse, the hypothesis that there is not only one universe, but an infinite number of universes, my first reaction was, “Of course! Why wouldn’t there be?”

I think I’m just wired that way. Space and time — time especially — has always felt like a construct to me. Something like scaffolding.

Why am I going on about alternate realities? They’ve been on my mind these past few days. In another timeline, I would have been in Disney World with nieces Nicole and Cece this past weekend. Running the Star Wars half-marathon. But that just may be a delayed timeline, since we’re planning to run this race next year, instead. And we still got medals for running a “virtual” half-marathon.

And if I had been in Florida this past weekend, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go through a long-neglected box of stuff. Where I found piles of evidence of my own alternate realities. (In reality: past realities.) Day planners, wall calendars — things I had no business hanging onto for as long as I had.

I disposed of most of them, but couldn’t bring myself to part with some of the very earliest ones. The most ancient artifact from that timeline is pictured below.

A couple of friends came immediately to mind as I found that 1981 Hallmark date book. Not friends I had back in that day, but friends I have now. One of whom would have been a wee bairn in April 1981, and the other who would not make her debut until October of that year. (I mean being born, not making her society debut.) I was 11 for most of 1981, and from my perspective, it was a good year to be 11. I’m glad to have memories of that year.

Even though they might just be a fabrication. 😉

Interesting how I marked the track meet. It would be years before I found my stride as a distance runner.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon

So, I did a thing. I signed up for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. November 1. About eight months away.

Hmmm.

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.

In writing and running, I’m going the distance.

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.

On Turning 50: Misty Mountain Hop

Tavolino Pizza
Our table at Tavolino Pizza.

So, I had a milestone birthday last Thursday. I took that day and the next off from work, and celebrated my birthday during an extended five-day Labor Day holiday weekend.

I threw big parties when I turned 30, and again when I turned 40. I had no such desire this time around. The trip to Ireland with Tim, back in May, was an early 50th birthday present. That was the “big” celebration. I’ve learned enough so far to know that I’m better suited to smaller, more intimate gatherings. I like to think that my focus on writing, especially in the last five years or so, has had the beneficial side effect of an improved awareness.

The short work-week leading up to my birthday, and the extended holiday around it, afforded the opportunity for multiple mini-celebrations. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • My friend Carol was in town from Milwaukee, and we went to dinner at Meril. It’s one of Emeril Lagasse’s newer restaurants, in the Warehouse District. I’d been wanting to try it out, and both the food and the company provided an exceptional kick-off to my birthday week.
  • I had dinner with my Godfather at Superior Seafood the night before my birthday. Superior Seafood is in Uptown New Orleans, and it’s where he and I usually eat during our occasional lunches. We almost always say we should go during a time when we don’t have to go back to work, and this was the opportunity. We split a bottle of rosé, something we never do during lunch.
  • The night of my birthday, I had dinner at Tavolino Pizza and Lounge, in Algiers Point, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. My good friend Hillary opened the restaurant about two years ago, and I’ve been wanting to get there ever since. The food was AMAZING: handmade pizza, fresh toppings, an extensive wine list…I’m already planning my next visit.
  • Yes, there was a lot of eating and drinking — this is New Orleans, after all. But I also worked in some exercise. Saturday morning, I ran my favorite route: a seven-mile round trip to the Lake Pontchartrain lakeshore and back. It was the first time in years I had run that distance. I had thought age, and wear-and-tear, had closed it off to me for good. I was delighted to learn otherwise.

And so many other great moments, that I’ll keep a little closer to the vest (Nicole, Cece, and Sue: Godzilla; Julie and Jim: Sid, gnats, and the Mandela Effect).

Finally, on my birthday day, several songs entered my consciousness, ones that reside far down in the way-back. The one I’ll note here was in heavy personal rotation during my teen years.

For whatever reason, I really had a yen to hear the funky rhythm of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.” Maybe it was because of what Rolling Stone describes as: “Jones’ humid electric piano locking in with Page’s headlong riff and Bonham’s slippery avalanche of a groove…”

Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I could offer a (mostly) unequivocal “yes” to this question from the lyrics:

Why don’t you take a good look at yourself and describe what you see
And baby, baby, baby, do you like it?

Lake Pontchartrain
Lake Pontchartrain at sunrise, just about the halfway point of the run.

Silver, Blue and Gold

New Orleans morning
The color of the sky, I’m told

“Silver, Blue and Gold” is the sixth track from Bad Company’s 1976 album, Run with the Pack. Writing credit goes to Bad Company front man Paul Rodgers, whose distinctive vocals can be heard covering the lyrics.

It’s also a song that gets called up in my internal playlist under certain conditions. (If at all curious about my internal playlist, see also: While You See a Chance, or Pink Floyd.) Conditions this past Saturday were primed for a “Silver, Blue and Gold” appearance.

I headed out a little after 6am for some exercise. The sky ahead of me was clear, but a quick look over my shoulder revealed a threatening, dark grey, cloud. It looked ready to share, and it was moving in my same direction. Not one to be put off by a bit of rain — it’s usually welcome during a summer run in New Orleans, as long as there’s no lightning — I sallied forth.

Because the sky was uneven: gloomy in parts, dazzling in others, I was on the lookout for rainbows. Thus, the lyric popped into my head:

Give me silver, blue and gold,
The colour of the sky I’m told,
My ray-ay-ain-bow is overdue.

(Lyrics copied directly from Google, which had the British spelling of color. Also, that phoneticized version of rainbow. Which is exactly how Rodgers sings it: ray-ay-ain-bow.)

That last line, “my rainbow is overdue,” always gets me. I feel like it can apply to multiple situations. Any situation that feels like a constant struggle, with no easy button, and very faint signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, say like, writing a novel, anyone?

So the rain did catch me, right at the mid-point of the run. It was fairly light, and for the heavier bits, I was under a forest canopy, anyway. All in all, not too bad. I’ve definitely been caught in worse. And there was a rainbow waiting for me at the end. It’s pictured at the top of this post, a little faint, it’s the best I could do with my iPhone.

It wasn’t even overdue; I’d say it was right on time. I’ll take that as a good omen.

 

Does every picture tell a story?

There’s more to this thistle than meets the eye…

On a run through New Orleans City Park this past Saturday, something caught my eye. My runs these days are a sorta walk-run combo, so I’m not opposed to breaking my stride to satisfy my curiosity. I’m at a point in my life where finding the unexpected is more important to me than reaching some particular cardiovascular fitness milestone.

I was pleased to find a few thistles blooming, right at the shoreline of the lagoon. When you think of New Orleans flora, “thistle” is not one of the first plants to come to mind. Not for me, at least. So these prickly, lilac-colored-bloom beauties were a pleasant surprise.

They were in a fairly secluded area of City Park, set back about fifty yards from the nearest roadway, but only a few feet off the paved walking path. I don’t like to run with my phone, so I made an intention to return the next day for a more leisurely picture-taking expedition.

That’s where the story comes in.

I was out and about early on Sunday morning, so I cheated and drove to the thistle spot. Or rather, I parked near there as I made my way back home. Traipsing the fifty yards across the grass and fallen oak leaves, I could see someone was already there ahead of me. I first thought it was a photographer, setting up to get their own thistle pic. (Photographers are definitely not a rare sight in City Park.)

As I approached, I could see it was a man closing up a backpack. It looked like a nice, solid backpack, not something cobbled together. And he seemed pretty intent on his task—striking camp, I assumed—and not so interested in the nearby runners and / or amateurish iPhone photographers.

But still, I had to do one of those instant threat/need assessments. You know, all the questions and answers that run through your head in a split second. “Does this person look dangerous?” Maybe, but he’s behind and bent over his pack, so it’s not like he’s lying in wait. “Does this person look like they need help?” He does not look like he needs or wants help. “Is this person supposed to be camping here?” Probably not, but I’m not about to call him out on it.

So in that instant, I decided to proceed with a few quick thistle pictures, but not dally doing it. I told him “Good morning” as I approached the lagoon’s edge. He looked up, but didn’t respond. (That’s when I got the idea that he neither needed or wanted any kind of attention). I took the photos, and then hightailed it out of there.

Being a fiction writer, I’ve had nothing but possibilities running through my head ever since. Daylight savings time had begun just about seven hours earlier, so did backpack man think he was striking his camp earlier than he actually was? Was he wondering why so many runners, walkers, and just general people were out so blooming early?

And then, don’t get me started on the thistles. Are they a sign for off-the-grid backpackers, “Here You May Camp”? Kind of like the scarlet pimpernel? Or does some scout come and seed them for off-the-grid backpackers? Is there a Secret Society of the Thistle?

Reality still creeps in. I don’t want it to seem like I am making light of this person’s circumstances. I get the gravitas. Outdoor living is tough, and especially so if it’s not by choice. My sense was his was mostly by choice. But my sense has been wrong before.

Which brings me to one of those things I’ve learned about writing, my writing, in the eight or so years I’ve been at it. And here it is: ideas for fiction—even the zaniest ideas, especially the zaniest ideas—are rarely worth pursuing if they aren’t backed up somehow by the weight and gravity of the real world.

 

Back to Running

Photo credit: S.M. Frost

So, I’ve still been hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for The Trouble on Highway One, my second novel, and the follow-up to The Incident Under the Overpass. That’s how I spent the bulk of this past weekend, except for two breaks.

On Sunday, Husband Tim and I saw Black Panther. I really enjoyed it, and found it to be one of the better offerings in the Marvel movie franchise. And the character T’Challa as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman is a definite favorite. (I like to root for the good guys with a sense of humility. And for the record, I’m Team Cap all the way.)

On Saturday, I (mostly) ran the 504k race in Crescent Park. (504 is the area code for New Orleans. And this race is 5.04 kilometers long). For me, having run this race is worth noting for several reasons:

  • It’s the first race I’ve run in over two years. I really don’t remember the last race I ran. The years started catching up with my legs and lower back roughly two years ago, and I followed an orthopedist’s advice and took a break from running.
  • Strike that, I do remember the last race I ran. I (mostly) ran one of the two-mile races they hold in City Park over the summer. But that turned out to be an anomaly. Legs or knees or something started bothering me shortly thereafter.
  • This time around, I followed a physical therapist’s advice and got back into running s-l-o-w-l-y. Like build the miles slowly. Like try running for five minutes, then add a minute a week at a time.

Okay, didn’t mean to go so far into my wonky physiology. What I really wanted to say was how good it feels to be running again, and how much I missed it. And how much fun it was to run a race I’d never run before, in a park I had not yet been to.

Many thanks to my friend Samantha for the entry to the race. She’s on the Board of Directors for Youth Run NOLA, the organizers of the 504k. Youth Run NOLA partners with schools and the community to “help youth develop healthy habits for life through distance running.” All photo credits in this post go to Samantha, too.

Interestingly enough, it’s been about two years since I’ve written about running in this space (I think swimming has made more entries.) Take a look, if you’re interested, it still rings true for me: Writing and Running

Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost