So Long, For Now

New Orleans City Park Summer 2020
The sun sets behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, September 3, 2020.

So, this is my last regularly-scheduled post. For those who have been paying attention, I’ve written and posted something in this space every Wednesday for the past 5 years. There have only been a handful of weeks that I’ve missed — I didn’t keep count, but I’m fairly certain the missed posts only amount to a true handful, five or less.

This decision to go on hiatus was not caused by our pandemic, or any other big world considerations. Nor did it come about abruptly: it was always part of the plan. After I published my first post on August 19, 2015 (here’s a link to that post), I had a nebulous idea that I’d give blogging a shot for about 5 years. The timing remained hazy until my 134th post. Then, it became crystal clear to me that I had reached the halfway point. From there, it was simply a matter of math.

And the math added up to today.

A lot has happened in 5 years (another MASSIVE understatement from me). But bringing that statement inward, to reflect on my growth as a writer, a lot has happened, too. I’m much more confident when I now state, “I’m a writer.” When I first began this journey, I was hesitant, phrasing the statement more as a question. With all these contingent questions: will readers think I’m a good writer? How will I find stuff to write about for the next 5 years? Will my family question why I’m doing this?

The short answer to all those questions is: it didn’t really matter. Over the course of these 5 years, I’ve become a better writer — or, at least, a more confident one. Somehow, I came up with something to write about, 267 times. And, regarding the “why” question, the only answer that mattered was my own. The lessons I learned regarding establishing a writing discipline, the importance of intent, how the right words can enhance your intended message, and the wrong words detract. . .these are probably the biggest benefits I’ve gained from this effort.

Here are some fun facts from this blog’s history:

  • I’ve published over 149,000 words here. That’s nearly the combined length of my published novels.
  • It’s had over 18,000 views, and over 11,000 visitors.
  • The only time I ever topped 100 views in a single day was with my 2nd post, way back on August 26, 2015. (here’s a link to that post)
  • My most-used tags: writing, #amwriting, New Orleans, and New Orleans City Park.

But just to be clear — the only thing that’s changing is the frequency. This website and blog will still be here, and I will still post to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ll also post here, but the frequency will probably come closer to monthly, rather than weekly. I still have plenty of books to read, and seasons in City Park to capture, and novels to finish, and I will return here to provide updates on all those efforts.

Just not every Wednesday.

It’s only slightly bittersweet, and mostly exciting, to close out this blogging chapter and start a new one. Finally, I want to express a huge THANK YOU to all 11,000+ of you who have visited over the years. I hope you’ve found at least a little entertainment, or lightness, (or light entertainment) as you’ve stopped in. I look forward to hosting you again in the new phase.

 

Isn’t this where. . .

Vigilance and Stevie Wonder

From Sunday’s walk. I believe those were clouds related to the first storm.

Note: this post has nothing to do with vigilantes, a noun whose meaning is significantly different from “vigilance.” It’s a pity the words look so similar.

No, I’m concerned with the state of vigilance: “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

And Stevie Wonder? I’ll get to him in a bit.

I have a propensity to be hyper-vigilant. Especially during hurricane season. This past weekend, with two storms headed toward Louisiana, my Hurricane Tracker app was definitely getting a workout. As of right now, the first storm has passed, with little to no impact on the area where I live. The second storm, Laura, is forecast to become a major hurricane and come ashore near the Louisiana-Texas border late Wednesday night, Aug. 26.

So I’m still hyper-vigilant right now. While the eye should pass well to the West, we are likely to see high winds and rain.

And in the midst of this, it occurred to me — I’ve been in a state of hyper-vigilance for the past six months. Checking the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 information site daily (but only during work days, I give myself a break on weekends). Watching the hospitalization trends, ventilator usage.

Here’s the crux: I’m not sure how this state of prolonged hyper-vigilance is affecting me. My guess is, it’s not a net-positive.

This is where Stevie Wonder comes in. On Sunday, I happened to hear a snippet of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” his #1 single from 1974. I queued it up on Spotify for a better listen, and it did NOT disappoint. It has everything I love about his particular style of funk. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you’d also like to take a listen:

But I also paid particular attention to the lyrics, probably for the first time. They really struck me. Catch the opening line:

“Ow
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do”

I wondered if he had written it about Richard Nixon, and Wikipedia proved my assumption correct. Apparently, Nixon resigned two days after the record’s release (though I’m pretty sure the record was not the reason).

Personally, I think the song translates very nicely to our current era, but Nixon is the only Republican politician I’ll reference in this post. Instead, I’ll take the song’s accusation and tie it back to my personal life.

What if my hyper-vigilance, against forces of nature (plagues and storms), has caused a paralysis? Six months ago, when I found myself home A LOT more, I thought it would be a boon to my writing. So far, that hasn’t panned out. Regarding the necessary re-writes and edits on my third novel, to quote Stevie, “I haven’t done nothin.”

So I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for what I’m reading as a fortuitous kick in the pants. While it’s not in my nature to lose the vigilance completely, I’m planning to be more mindful of its negative impacts.

Interpretations

This message was pretty clear.

So, I encounter messages all the time. At least hundreds, if not thousands, daily. Some of them are easy to quantify — like emails, text messages, social media messages, advertisements of all sorts. But the ones I’m concerned with here are the unexpected ones, out in the wild, or among the many rabbit holes of the internet. I saw the message featured at the top of this post for the first time this past weekend, in the Couturie Forest in New Orleans City Park.

These next two, below, are images I captured during a walk in City Park toward the end of April. The acid etch in the concrete is straightforward, no misunderstanding the intent there. But the figurine? No clue. Her missing arm is very disconcerting to me. It was a little after 6am, and I only saw her that one day, April 25. The best interpretation I could come up with was that she was part of some kind of treasure hunt, maybe a low-tech or no-tech geocache. Or maybe there was a tracker stashed up in that broken arm.

I’ll wrap this up with a quote I encountered for the first time this week, that I found really moving. I’ll leave the attribution blank, but that’s an interesting story of itself. At first glance, it appears to be from the Talmud, going by the memes that pop up around this quote. But digging a little deeper, it likely should be attributed to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, from his book, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot, which is out of print. I think he took some ancient text and shaped it to make it more accessible to a modern reader. At any rate, I’m glad he did, because it feels particularly salient now:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The Very Next Day

Thursday, May 21, 6:03 am.

I witnessed a pretty remarkable sunrise in City Park the morning after I published that last post. I captured some photos over the course of roughly thirty minutes, and was very pleasantly surprised when I scrolled through those photos later.

The way the light and sky changed depending on where I pointed my iPhone, and the varied focal points — it all made me feel like I had covered far greater ground over a much longer time. I look at the photos now and still feel a certain sense of accomplishment, however unwarranted it might be. Hey, I’ll take it where I can get it!

This is my first time sharing these photos, and it’s also all I have for this post. I figure it’s the equivalent of 5,000 words…

Thursday, May 21, 6:04 am. Never mind the pond (rebel) scum.
Thursday, May 21, 6:11 am. I almost captured the full orb of the sun without tweaking the camera.
Thursday, May 21, 6:30 am.
Thursday, May 21, 6:34 am.

The Universe in Verse

This past Saturday, I watched a livestream. Perhaps my first ever. The event was The Universe in Verse, billed as “a charitable celebration of science and nature through poetry.” (Here’s a link with more info from Pioneer Works, the Brooklyn-based cultural center that puts on the show: The Universe in Verse.)

There were two names on the program that got me to tune in: Janna Levin and Rebecca Solnit. I saw Janna Levin speak at Tulane University several years ago, and picked up a copy of her book Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space. And Rebecca Solnit is a writer whom I greatly admire.

Oh, and these other names helped sell me on the prospect of spending Saturday afternoon in front of my laptop: Kip Thorne, Brian Greene, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, and Jad Abumrad.

At over three hours, I was glad I was watching a livestream versus an in-person event. I could carry my laptop around with me as I did stuff around the house. And by the end, I was happy to have experienced it. It helped get my head in a better place.

Some highlights for me: watching Rebecca Solnit read a lovely poem (I don’t remember which one) in front of an oak tree, somewhere out in California, I think. I’d never seen her before, I’ve only read her, and she had a very compelling presence. And Janna Levin, who opened the event (she’s on the Board of Directors for Pioneer Works) got me thinking back to an inspiration I had, when I saw her here 4 years ago. She told a story about something that happened during the construction of LIGO (the two observatories that detected gravitational waves — one of them just happens to be here in Louisiana). I’ve only just started getting that inspiration out of my head and onto the page, and this event reminded me that I’ve got to make the time for it.

I’ll leave you with one of the poems that stood out to me — it’s a short one. It was read by Krista Tippett of the radio program “On Being.”

The Peace of Wild Things
by
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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.

Mardi Gras and Lent

Marking the Mardi Gras season at our door.

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.

Every Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Endymion parade turns our neighborhood into one big block party. Stared at this float while waiting for the parade to start.
Touring the neighborhood Saturday, captured this gorgeous tree in bloom. Not sure if it’s a Japanese Maple, Elm or other.
Early Mardi Gras morning, I watched the Clydesdales load up and head out toward the parades.

Spring Festival

Sunrise on January 25, 2020, New Orleans City Park

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.

Happy 2020

The last sunrise of 2019, in New Orleans City Park.

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.

Happy 2020, y’all.

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.