The Man Who Invented Christmas

Having been ensconced with Dickens for the past month or so, I’ve had a renewed yen to see the 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas. I wanted to see it when it released two years ago, but never did. As luck would have it, there were a bunch of limited-time, free movie channels available on my TV this past weekend. It was playing on one of them, and, while I didn’t catch it cover-to-cover, I saw about two-thirds of it (including the ending).

The Man Who Invented Christmas stars British actor Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens, fairly early in his writing career. He races against time, and his own personal demons, to write and publish A Christmas Carol in time for the Christmas holiday in 1843.

I found the movie charming and clever. Here are the probable reasons why:

  • Dan Stevens’ portrayal of Charles Dickens reminded me an awful lot of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. The manic energy, the hair, the frightening turn when you disturb him. Since I’ve loved Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka for pretty much my whole life, it was hard for me to not be charmed by the similarity I saw in Dan Stevens.
  • As Dickens creates the characters, they appear “in real life.” In his study, and about London as they follow him as he goes wandering in search of inspiration. He bickers with them, and they bicker with each other. Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge was especially fun.
  • The struggle Dickens has with how to end the story felt very relatable. He wants Scrooge to remain irredeemable. It isn’t until he comes to some reconciliation in his personal life that he’s able to write the ending we all know. I have to think the story would not have achieved the popularity it did, if it ended with the visions of the ghost of Christmas future realized.

Who doesn’t love a redemption story? God bless us, everyone.

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.

The Fourth Age

Photo by Jeff Finley on Unsplash

I had some time to reflect this past weekend, and a phrase occurred to me: the fourth age. I applied it in very personal terms, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, the references.

The first thing that came to my mind was Tolkien. Though I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (many years ago); and I’ve seen the LOTR movies more times than I can count, I couldn’t tell you exactly what transpired in Tolkien’s “Fourth Age.” I just knew the term sounded very LOTR-ish.

The Internet tells me “the fourth age began when Sauron was vanquished and the One Ring destroyed.” Meaning the events depicted in the books (and movies) happened at the end of the third age.

But the Internet also revealed some meanings I was not aware of. There’s a book by Byron Reese that came out last year, titled The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity. It appears to be about the times in human history when technology has reshaped our world. Sounds interesting enough, but it’s not what I’m getting at.

There was also a search result that stated the fourth age is “an era for the final dependence, decrepitude, and death.” Yikes. Still not what I’m aiming for, but perhaps a little closer.

No, it occurred to me that I am entering my own, personal, Fourth Age. As I look back, I can identify two, roughly three-year periods, that encapsulated major personal transformation. The first, when I was 16 to 19-years-old, the time when I left home and headed west. The next, the years from 32 to 35, when I returned home for good. If that pivot to home was the start of my Third Age, I sense I am at the end of it.

So if I am smack-dab in the middle of my shift to the Fourth Age, what do I expect it will bring? I don’t anticipate a physical move, the return to New Orleans was always intended to be permanent. But I do hope it will contain as much reading as my first 1.5 “Ages” did. I also hope it will contain more of the special type of magic I always sensed around me, as a child growing up in this magical place. I still sense it, but the obligations of adulting (sorry to use that word) can deaden that faculty.

But most of all, I intend for my Fourth Age to contain more writing than any age that preceded it. I can think of no better way to tap into that magic and share its wonder with a weary world.

Stolen Time

Sunrise, Burlingame, California. 7:14 AM

Last week, I was in the San Francisco Bay area for my job. Said job has been keeping me pretty busy of late.

To put it mildly, it has been challenging to find the time to put the finishing touches on my third novel. I’ve discovered I need a certain type and amount of headspace to sit down to this work, and it’s been harder and harder to come by. It’s a temporary situation — I should get back to a better rhythm before the end of this year. So for now, I’m just trying to manage my own expectations (regarding my writing).

My last morning in the bay area, I did steal about 30 minutes for a sunrise walk. Herewith, some pictures from that jaunt.

It was low tide, and the rising sun caught the edge of it.

Three Years Later…

A group of competitors. That’s me and my teammates on the left.

I competed in a triathlon this past weekend, as part of a relay team. I’ve done this race as part of a relay twice before, the last time in 2016. I wrote about the experience here: Quarter Report 

So what’s changed in the past 36 months?

  • Despite ample preparation, I’ve gotten slower. I swam twice a week throughout this past summer, logging miles in the pool. While I noticed that my mile time had slowed from years past, I thought I could still get a quick time for the roughly 1/3 mile of this race course. Not so much. In 2016, I completed the swim course in 15:04; it took me an extra 42 seconds in 2019.
  • Luckily, my teammates have not gotten slower. We finished in 2nd place for coed teams, and 2nd place overall for relay teams. We were behind 1st place by a couple of minutes. I should probably work in more speed drills next time I train for this race.

Which brings me to a reflection on writing. Last time I did this race, it was less than six weeks after becoming a published novelist. Everything was so new, and I felt a great deal of uncertainty about how to continue to write and publish while still making a life and a living.

I still feel that uncertainty, but I think there’s less of it. I’ve published a second novel in the interim, and am very close to getting the third one out into the world. I still feel the pressure of self-imposed deadlines, but when making a living (my job) gets stressful, I try to ease up on myself in spots where I have some flexibility. That means my writing.

So I guess it comes to this: I’d like to be a faster swimmer, and it seems reasonable to expect modest improvements in that area with the right kind of preparation. But I don’t think I want to be a faster writer. If you’d asked three years ago, my answer would have been different. But 36 months of “working the balance” seems to have taught me that flexibility, not speed, is my key to making a long-term career as a writer.

I’ll finish this up with a few more pictures from the weekend in Pensacola:

My swimsuit decided to call it quits (part of the lining busted). I think it had a good last run.
After the race, Tim and I watched the LSU game at the Frisky Dolphin.
The morning after the race.

 

The Book of Tea: 100%

Last week, I shared two of my favorite quotes from Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea. Since that time, I’ve managed to have a few cups of Lady Grey tea. And I thought I’d wrap up my “return to tea” with more quotes that spoke to me from The Book of Tea:

  • Regarding Taoist ideas on art: “In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it.”
  • These next two, from a very long chapter all about flowers:
    • “Alas! The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer.”
    • “We boast that we have conquered Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us.”
  • This final quote, on the mystery of art appreciation, is perhaps my favorite: “At the magic touch of the beautiful the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognize, stand forth in new glory.”

That’s it for now!

The Book of Tea: 44%

Teapot
My beautiful, underused, teapot. A gift from my mom.

So, my latest serial on my Serial Reader app is Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, first published in 1906. It’s only six issues, so I should be finished by this weekend.

I haven’t been ready to commit to a long read since finishing The Count of Monte Cristo. In the coming weeks, I’m determined to finalize the manuscript for The Conclusion on the Causeway, the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. Thus, I’ve subscribed to some shorter serials in the interim. I’m hoping to pick up a longer story in another month.

Since Monte Cristo, I’ve finished The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was a chore at 14 issues. And also “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick, which was much easier, and only seven issues.

Reading The Book of Tea is making me long for my tea-drinking days. Many years ago, I drank tea exclusively, in place of coffee. But the convenience of a cold-brewed coffee concentrate has made it my go-to caffeinated beverage. It’s easy to make iced or hot, and one container lasts me a good while.

Once the weather turns colder, I’ll have the occasional cup of tea. One of my favorites is Twinings’ Lady Grey black tea. It has a much lighter flavor than Earl Grey.

Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from The Book of Tea so far:

  • One of the earliest ways of preparing tea was “Cake-tea.” Okakura Kakuzo has this to say about Cake-tea: “Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!” Call me crazy, but that description really makes me want to try it.
  • Second favorite quote so far: “It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
  • Favorite quote: “Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

‘Til next time!

Marconi in New Orleans

Marconi Drive New Orleans

Marconi Drive is a street in New Orleans that figures into my fiction with some frequency. (It’s early, and my alliterative bent is apparently in absolute overdrive.) It’s also a street I travel pretty often — write what you know, right?

Returning home from breakfast Sunday morning, Husband Tim asked if the street was named after the Marconi who invented the radio. Without hesitating, I answered, “yes.” But then I struggled to remember the circumstance that led to one of our streets being named after Guglielmo Marconi. I wanted to believe the Marconi Company had a radio relay station somewhere around these parts, because that’s just the type of stuff that gets my imagination going.

Alas, a ruined early-twentieth-century radio tower lives only in my imagination. Here’s what I discovered: Guglielmo Marconi visited New Orleans in 1917, six years after he won the Nobel Prize for physics, and was welcomed by big, adoring, crowds. Roughly twenty years later, part of Orleans Avenue was renamed in his honor. This information comes from Hope and New Orleans: A History of Crescent City Street Names, by the talented Sally Asher. (Thanks, Sally!)

Marconi died in 1937, and it seems he was pretty well thought-of. In 1938, the same year the City of New Orleans dubbed a thoroughfare after him, Franklin Roosevelt approved a memorial to Marconi in Washington, D.C. Even though Marconi had been aligned with Mussolini’s fascists since the 1920s. (This information courtesy of Mental Floss and Wikipedia.)

Pre-WWII America must have been a different place. Because my imagination kicks into overdrive again when I think of the inevitable backlash Marconi would have faced if he’d lived and invented and been a political animal in our current century.

Maybe the negative attention would have caused him to withdraw from society, and live a recluse life. In an abandoned radio tower somewhere in the vicinity of Marconi Drive in New Orleans. 🙂

 

48 Hours in Baltimore

Water tower space ship

Or rather, the outskirts of Baltimore. Have been on the run, more or less, since Sunday. I sent off a draft of The Conclusion on the Causeway (the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy, and my third novel) to an editor on Sunday evening, and then caught a flight to Baltimore. Attended meetings there (for my day job) Monday and Tuesday, and just returned home last night (late).

A few quick observations:

  • The water tower pictured above is in Hanover, Maryland, and is very near to the hotel where I stayed. I like how it looks like a propped-up flying saucer. This picture was taken at sunrise; at night, it has red lights around its perimeter, and looks even more like a flying saucer.
  • I was waiting until I sent off the above-mentioned manuscript before subscribing to another serial on my Serial Reader app. I’m now reading “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it’s a tough one. Full of dense language like: “The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.”
  • Related to bullet #2: I’ve learned Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Swiss. I was curious about this author’s provenance, because his name sounds French, and I know “The Social Contract” influenced a lot of the revolutions of that era. Including the French one.
  • Related to bullet #2, part 2: Speaking of revolutions, amidst the dense language, there is also stuff in there that seemed to influence our founding fathers. Lots of talk of unalienable rights and the common good. And “the people” as a sovereign state unto themselves. Kind of interesting to read this 250-year-old text in a spot so close to our nation’s capitol.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from “The Social Contract” so far: “Moreover, truth is no road to fortune, and the people dispenses neither ambassadorships, nor professorships, nor pensions.”

 

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.