Quarter Report 2019

Lacey Cypress

Hoping to find the exact path and the exact target week over week, quarter over quarter, is simply impossible. Despite knowing how to read the stars, sailors had to tack with the wind, leaving a wake like a zig-zag.–David Schwarz

David Schwarz is a founding partner of the ad agency HUSH. I encountered this quote last week, in a brief article he wrote for AdAge: “If I knew then what I know now … I’d sail more than strategize

Of course, the quote struck me as hugely relevant, with my propensity to “live my life a quarter mile at a time,” just like Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto. And, the timing was good, as I had planned to post a special “Quarter Report” this week, anyway.

What’s so special, you may ask? The specialness concerns the cypress tree pictured above. It’s in City Park’s Couturie Forest, a spot I’ve featured in this space before (most prominently in The Summer Tanager, and City Park Pictorial, Part 3). That cypress is near a picnic table, and next to a very showy live oak — it’s in sort of a natural contemplation / stopping point.

Sometime last year, I really took notice of this cypress. Specifically, the texture of its leaves, or rather, its needles. They are lacy, and soft, just like every other tree of its kind — no revelation to anyone who’s paid attention. I suppose I had never paid such close attention before.

I contemplate my writing quite a bit during my walks in the Couturie Forest, and it was the laciness of the greenery that struck me. As I was trying to conclude a series featuring a protagonist named Lacey, it was a natural connection to make. I dubbed the cypress the “Lacey Tree,” and committed to capture all its deciduous glory over the course of the coming seasons.

So here you have product of that effort. There are a thousand correlations I could make. . . did I despair that I’d never finish the story as I gazed on its spindly, denuded limbs in December? Did the suspense of awaiting new growth in March threaten to distract me from writing?

The answers are probably yes and yes, but there’s a big difference between my writing and the Lacey Tree. I don’t know how old it is, but the Internet tells me bald cypress trees can live up to 600 years. So there’s a good chance the Lacey Tree has been shedding and regrowing its foliage for some years before I ever showed up. As well as a stellar chance it’ll keep doing its thing long after I’m gone.

My window of opportunity to write the stories I want to write is significantly shorter. And my seasons and their effects are not as reliable. Requiring me to do something the Lacey Tree, despite all its magnificent, seasonal, verdure, could never do: tack with the wind.

Quarter Report 2017: Star Trek TNG, Quanta, a New Year, and More

Chicago: I rode the L!

Annnnnnd, we’re back to The Fast and the Furious. I’ve written in these pages at least twice about the character Dom Toretto and his special brand of wisdom. When I first heard Vin Diesel utter the line “I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” I knew I had encountered a bit of cinematic brilliance. Something on the order of Patrick Swayze’s (as Johnny Castle) “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Or my own personal muse, John McClane’s “Yippee ki yay, *Mr. Falcon*” (as it appears in the censored version of Die Hard 2.)

Much like Dominic Toretto, I tend to think, and plan, in terms of quarters (yearly quarters, not miles). Discrete, three-month-sized chunks. As I reflect on the third quarter of 2017, I find it’s been pretty eventful. Some of the stuff I’ve written about (the eclipse, our visit to New Smyrna Beach, hurricanes, the release of my novel), but there’s plenty of other stuff I haven’t. Here, in no particular order, are some observations, tidbits, and events that have been swimming about in my particular cosmos in Q3:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outside In Makes It So releases today! This collection of essays covers every episode of Star Trek: TNG, plus the movies. It’s commemorating the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere. I’m thrilled that my piece about the episode “Time’s Arrow” is included. You can find the anthology on sale here.
  • More about discrete chunks: While on a recent Internet search into famed physicist Max Planck, I discovered what he is most known for, and it’s this: quanta. Quanta, the root of the term “quantum.” As in quantum physics, quantum theory, Quantum Leap. Planck is credited with the hypothesis that the very nature of nature itself is not continuous, that change occurs in discrete increments. Regarding electromagnetic waves, he termed these discrete packets of energy “quanta.” This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize nearly 100 years ago. All these years of being fascinated and confused by quantum physics, and I’d never thought about the meaning of “quantum” before. And I’m sure some of you who have read this far are hoping you never have to think about the word again.
  • U2: I saw U2 in concert for the first time ever a few weeks ago. They are on tour, promoting the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree” album. (Discrete chunks of thirty years seem to be a theme, here. I also attended my thirty year high school reunion this past quarter). Anyway, U2: during my heavy concert-going years (when I was between fifteen and twenty-five, roughly), I would have definitely bought tickets to see U2, if they had come to my town. (In those years, it was New Orleans and Tucson, Arizona). But they never did. I was glad the band opened the set with really old stuff, songs from “War.” The songs I would have wanted to hear, if our paths had crossed so many years ago. All in all, very worthwhile—plus, Beck opened for them, and he was fantastic.
  • Rosh Hashanah: I’m a little hesitant to write this, since I’m not Jewish, but I really don’t see this as cultural appropriation. I’m Catholic, which is a Judeo-Christian religion, and I’ve always been a bit ecumenical in my practice, anyway. So, Rosh Hashanah—about fifteen years ago, after a particularly rough twelve months (four quarters), I decided to start my new year’s resolutions at Rosh Hashanah. To give them a sort of beta test-run before January. With all this “30-year” backwards staring, I’m grateful that the arrival of Rosh Hashanah last week has me looking forward once again.
  • Chicago: And, oh yeah, I spent four days in Chicago last week with my job. It was a good time to be there, if a bit unseasonably warm. The pictures in this post are from that trip.

Spirit of Music statue, Grant Park
View of Lake Michigan and Adler Planetarium (I think) from Grant Park


Going home, connecting in Nashville

Quarter Report


I’ve written before about how I admire The Fast and the Furious’ Dom Toretto, and his ability to live his life a quarter mile at a time. And so we come to the last quarter of 2016, a year in which, by my account, it’s been easier to focus on each day, or quarter mile, as it comes. Because expectations any further out are likely to be blown out the water.

Water is a theme, here. In that Vin Diesel-y post from April, I wrote how I awoke at the stroke of midnight on April 1, 2016, the dawn of the second quarter. Oddly enough, the same thing happened on October 1, 2016, the dawn of the fourth quarter. While it seemed noteworthy that my phone read 12:00 on the nose the first time I awoke, it was not so unusual that I woke up several more times that night. Because I had pre-race jitters. I was due in the Gulf of Mexico in a few hours, as part of a triathlon relay team.

As much as I would love to write that the swim ahead of me was a quarter mile, 600 yards is actually closer to a third of a mile. Sure, I could take some literary license, but I tend to agonize over details, and it doesn’t feel right to fudge this one.

It was not my first time doing this race, the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon in Pensacola. I had done it once before, with the same team, four years ago. Or sixteen quarters ago.

I was excited—open water swims are a pretty big deal to me. I swim frequently, but not in open water. The stakes and the risks are too high. It’s a little like trick-or-treating.

Let me explain. As a kid, I wouldn’t go around on some random night soliciting candy. That’s almost asking for a trick. Instead, the activity is saved for a special occasion—Halloween—when everyone else is dressed up funny, hitting the streets, and begging for treats. Stakes lessened, risks mitigated.

Same for open water races. Everyone else is dressed funny, hitting the water, scaring away the man-eating sea creatures. And there are plenty of folks on jet skis and paddleboards to watch over you, and come to your rescue if needed.

All signs pointed to my swim being trick-free the day before the race. The water was clear and calm, and the flags were green. But then this happened the morning of the race, as I walked to the start:

A race volunteer, standing at the water’s edge, told me there were a lot of “moon jellyfish” in the water.

“What’s a moon jellyfish?” I asked.

“Really big, round, jellyfish. But they have short tentacles, so you should be fine,” he answered.

Great… I thought. Hope I’m not allergic to jellyfish stings.

Turns out, I’m not. I’m pretty sure I avoided the big ones, but I did finish the swim feeling itchy from the trillions of other tiny living things in the water.

So that’s the trick part. But there’s a treat, too. The best way for me to describe it is with a movie quote. At the end of The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery’s Captain Marko Ramius quotes a poem:

And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.

(A side note—Captain Ramius credits Christopher Columbus with the quote. But that’s a fiction—the Internet tells me the screenwriter, Larry Ferguson, wrote it for the movie). Anyway, whoever came up with it, it’s memorable and rings true. Because I come away with a sense of renewal every time I emerge from the surf; snotty and salty and covered with microscopic primordial creatures.

Renewal ain’t always pretty.

That feeling is the reason why I’ll do another open water race, hopefully sooner rather than later. I may attempt to live my life a quarter mile (or third mile, or even a full mile) at a time. But some quarter miles are more meaningful, more engaging, than others. Those are the ones I’m seeking.

P.S. – my time improved from the last time I did this race, and my team members crushed their ride and run, respectively. We placed 3rd in Coed teams! And yes, there were more than three Coed teams. 🙂