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.

 

The Writing on the Wall

A Knight’s Tale is one of those movies that I missed out on, for the first ten or so years of its existence. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to know and recognize some of its many charms.

Of course, I love the character of Geoff Chaucer (Paul Bettany). He’s a down-on-his-luck writer, who falls in with the rag-tag traveling crew of faux knight Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger). Geoff is able to concoct the papers Sir Ulrich needs to “prove” his lineage, and he also uses his mad word skills to hype up the crowds in favor of Sir Ulrich.

This imaginative portrayal of the author of the famed Canterbury Tales strikes me as a true depiction of #writerslife. Centuries before hash tags were a thing.

I could probably go on about Chaucer, but I have another intention for this post. There’s a theme that comes up between Sir Ulrich (really, a peasant named William Thatcher), and his nemesis, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). A “real” count with the bloodline to prove it, and a true villain. Adhemar suspects Sir Ulrich is a phony. When Adhemar takes top prize in their first tournament match-up, he serves Ulrich the very ungracious insult:

“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.”

This insult does eventually come around to bite Adhemar in the heinie. But again, I’m digressing.

The point I’m wanting to make: I hadn’t realized that “weighed and measured” was a biblical reference, until I encountered it both in Moby Dick, and The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s from the Book of Daniel, and the narrative account of Belshazzar’s feast. Apparently, everyone was enjoying themselves a little too much at this feast, when a mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the wall:

“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”

Well, no one knew what it meant, not even Belshazzar’s wise men, and he was beyond freaked out. He sent for Daniel, who interpreted it as such:

  • mene — “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end”
  • tekel —  “you have been weighed. . .and found wanting”
  • upharsin — this one’s a little less clear to me, but, essentially, “your kingdom’s gonna be broken up, dude”

Melville uses “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” to foreshadow the fate of the Pequod. Dumas uses it in reference to the letter that denounced Edmond Dantes. That he eventually gets his hands on and uses in service of his vengeance.

Two big lessons I take from all this:

  1. “The writing on the wall” is literally mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.
  2. In fiction, (as in real life), karma can be a bitch.

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.

Back to Work

Monday morning, June 24, 5:49 a.m.

Here’s something I might have mentioned in this space before: how I spent the first two months of 2019 racing to finish a draft of the third and final installment in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. I referenced this “big push” in this post: (Whirly) Word Milestones.

I received a comprehensive edit of the manuscript last month, and had a very productive call with the editor right before I left for Ireland. I had a loosely held intention of diving into the rewrites directly upon my return from the Emerald Isle. But the re-entry back into my day job, and my day-to-day life in general, made it very loose indeed.

So here I am, ensconced back home more than three weeks now, and I’ve finally started the work. Named a new file, and begun the process of combing through the line edits.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the day I started the work is the same day astronaut Anne McClain returned to Earth from the International Space Station.

A few notes about the picture at the top of this post, before I wrap this up. It’s not just another random sunrise photo I’m so fond of taking.

  • The picture is facing east. Just to the north, or the to left out of frame, is the eponymous overpass from The Incident Under the Overpass, the first book in the Lacey Becnel trilogy.
  • So if the northern tracks represent my first body of work, what do the southern tracks represent??
  • Up on the elevated track, the smell of creosote, or coal tar, was overwhelming. The railroad ties are treated with it. The aroma brought me back to my father’s camp on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain — a raised cabin resting on creosote-treated pilings.

The Internet tells me that creosote-treated wood has been banned in Europe since 2003, because creosote is a “probable” human carcinogen. I’ll try not to dwell on that, and instead focus on finishing up my third novel. 😮