Louisiana

10 February 2017

I was moving from New Orleans, Louisiana to San Ramon, California. After a week of forced social activity, the four-day solo road trip was heavenly. En route, I decided to cap Louisiana’s highpoint. I had lived in the state for six months, but had not yet made the drive from New Orleans.

 

As far as elevation goes, Louisiana was flat. Much of the southern part of the state was at or below sea level. I was half-expecting the highpoint to be a pile of rocks on the edge of a swamp. I was pleasantly mistaken (although there was still a pile of rocks at the summit). In the northwest corner of the state, Mount Driskill was a somewhat prominent peak with visible surface relief. I arrived to the cemetery parking lot around 17:30–just before sunset–and surprisingly found a trail to the summit. I had expected to hop out of the car, snap a picture, and keep trucking.

 

After I took the mile-long trail to the peak and photographed myself, darkness had fallen. The hardwood forest covering the mountain was quite lovely–the trees tall and straight, quite unlike the gnarly swamp trees I had become accustomed to. Critters scurried through the fallen leaves and brush around me, invisible to the eye but clear to the ear. It was both calming and eerie. Natural environments like this typically relax me, but something about this situation made me uneasy. Whenever I left my truck in sparsely populated areas, I always had the unsettling feeling that something would be waiting for me when I got back. So I hastened my stride and began running. The unfamiliar ground seemed to lash out with hidden roots. The invisible critters grew claws and fangs in my imagination. Hair bristled on the back of my neck, as if triggered by watching eyes. As I emerged from the forest, my worries were justified. I saw a red truck running next to mine. My first thought was police, followed by annoyance. My second thought was vandals/thieves, followed by anger. My third thought was murderers, followed by fear. By the time I burst out of the trees, I hadn’t thought the third. As I ran across the cemetery, the truck reversed and peeled out to the road. I heard the sound of a woman screaming “Stop! Help!” Then the third thought entered my mind. I couldn’t see through the windows of the truck, but the screams continued as it sped down the road. Panicked, I fumbled for my keys and unlocked my truck. I didn’t want to get involved, but I couldn’t turn a blind eye. Igniting the engine and reversing, I headed down the road after the red truck.

 

Unfortunately, I was too late. The tail-lights had disappeared. The road had diverged into several smaller roads, like a river breaking into a dozen tributaries. Almost every driveway I saw had a red truck parked in it. I heard no more screams and there was nothing left to chase. Stricken with guilt and helplessness, I turned around and headed to the border. Goodbye, Louisiana.

 

Mount Driskill. 535 ft / 163 m. 4 February 2017.

 

Louisiana

January 2017

9 February 2017

The first month of 2017 was dead. Deader than a doornail.

 

It started with the bang of a hundred amateur fireworks in New Orleans and ended quietly in Schenectady. January always seemed to move quick. Although short-lived, the month was amok with activity and change, as these were my final days working in Louisiana.

 

I finally visited the WWII Museum and learned how little I knew about the War. The establishment was impressive–architecturally staggering, historically rich, and crafted to elicit the immensity of events in the not-so-distant past. The displays walked you through countless stories and the theatre left you in awe. To say the least, my perspective on contemporary American life changed after the visit. As much as I hate prescribing “must do” activities, the WWII Museum is certainly a must do in New Orleans.

 

In my last month, I also made several trips across the river. One with family to eat at a restaurant. One alone to bike around. One to hand-deliver a t-shirt I sold on Etsy. And another with a friend. The last trip was the last ride of the night, and we got trapped in Algiers. The bridge was inaccessible to walkers, sadly, and we had to get a Uber.

 

When this same friend was visiting, we took a day trip to Biloxi, MS to swim in the Gulf. The water was surprisingly warm (for Michiganders), and seagulls and contraband littered the beach. We almost stepped on a syringe.

 

The tailgate of my truck had rusted beyond repair, so I buried it in a dumpster. It was oddly sad leaving it behind–felt as though I was abandoning a piece of me, like a severed arm. I imagine that if my arm was ever chopped off, I’d like to keep it. Seeing that it’s not a renewable resource, like hair or fingernails, it would be weird to throw it away forever. Nonetheless, the severed tailgate made reversing my truck easier.

 

A Year of Daily Videos

7 January 2017

I’ve completed my 2016 resolution: record a daily 2-second video. The result is a 12-minute movie that encapsulates my year one day at a time. Personally, it’s quite beneficial–the short clips elicit flashbulb memories of days and events that would otherwise be forgotten. This is especially true for mundane activities like driving, cleaning, and shaving.

 

This project was inspired by Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Everyday, where he recorded a one-second video each day for several years. Watching these videos give a look into his life that photos or journal entries can’t quite capture. Building off Cesar’s idea, my creative contribution was adding an extra second to each video and releasing in monthly increments. Two-seconds allowed for a longer glimpse of each day and made for more elegant time-boxes–each month was a minute and the year twelve. Releasing monthly helped me keep up the discipline, as it broke a large project into more achievable chunks. Sharing the videos on Facebook and Twitter offered more opportunities for feedback and gratification, as it would spark conversations with friends and motivate me to keep filming. A few of my friends now film “minutes months” too.

 

Overall, 2016 was a good year to film. It started with a painting of God on the streets of Manhattan and ended in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Along the way, I moved from New York to South Carolina to Louisiana, started an independent press (Ugly Sapling), rode motorcycles, toured Europe, won NaNoWriMo, and learned to sleep on airplanes. Living in three very different places doing very different work and spending time with very different groups taught me that many things are very similar. For better or worse, this view has changed me. Here’s 2016 through my eyes:

 

 

 

So what’s next?

 

Besides filing 3 state tax returns (yay…), I’ll be running more experiments with Ugly Sapling, publishing a novel, and moving to California to finish my rotational program. There’s a lot I’m excited for in 2017. And I’m filming it all, with no intention of stopping.

 

Happy New Year!

December 2016

7 January 2017

December began with a flight back to New Orleans from Greenville. Christmas was around the corner, and the city was sure to recognize it with its vast display of light and decorations. I visited an impressive light show in City Park–acres upon acres of themed light displays and even some fake snow. Luna Fête, an arts and light festival, materialized downtown and I was awestruck by the video projected onto the pillars of the art museum. The fifteen-minute show depicted a colorful history of the resilient spirit of New Orleans and seemed to transform the building it was projected upon. In addition, a few friends came to visit before I was back in Greenville to deploy software in the shop. To our relief, it was a successful Go-Live.

 

After hassling with poor Delta policies on flight changes and cancellations (they charge you to cancel one leg of your trip and keep the second, FYI), I returned home to Grand Rapids. Through visiting friends and family, I got to see snow, go skiing, and witness the changing urban landscape of downtown. A week was plenty of time for a Christmas visit, but it was, as always, welcomed. As much as I like Christmas, I did notice a lot of stress and discomfort among the people celebrating it. Personally, I’d like to reduce the holiday to its core–lose the presents and decorations and focus on giving oneself to others and sharing good spirits. Unfortunately, it’s hard to change tradition. Un dulce resignación.

 

After Christmas, my parents and sister flew back with me to New Orleans. I played tour guide and we got to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the French Quarter. Despite the rain, it was fun to break our traditions and explore a new place. As we welcomed 2017 from my roof, we watched countless professional and amateur fireworks explode around the city. The smoke of Louisiana freedom filled the wet air until the lights and buildings blurred into obscurity.

 

It was great end to 2016.

 

November 2016

3 December 2016

November is one of my favorite months of the year. It’s cool, the trees naked, prep for winter underway, the holiday season begins, and I get a lot of writing done. Albeit the excitement, it’s certainly a busy time. National Novel Writing Month kicked off on the first of November and concluded on the thirtieth. I participated for my third year and “won” (a.k.a “wrote 50,000 words for a future novel”). The book is certainly far from complete–the first draft is only half done and I need to run a mop through the word vomit of that first half. But, I produced the words and that’s all that matters.

 

In addition to writing, I had my fair share of truck troubles–battery connection failures, oil leaks, dents, and more. Whatever I couldn’t fix, I brought to a mechanic across town. It was a good use for my new bike–having to ride ten miles across town several times between appointments, at night. After dropping some of my emergency funds on the repairs, I hope to squeeze another year out of the truck.

 

On a more positive note, I had the opportunity to attend GE’s Minds+Machines conference–a two-day event in San Francisco, showcasing the company’s digital industrial journey. I helped out with the Renewable Energy display and got to talk to many minds about the machines they work with. Shortly after the event, I headed home to Grand Rapids for Thanksgiving, so I visited family and a few close friends. Immediately after that, I flew back to Greenville for work stuff. For whatever reason, all but one of these dozen flights had me in a middle seat. The good news? I learned to sleep sitting up.

 

October 2016

15 November 2016

Alligators really like marshmallows and chicken necks. Feeding wild gators was the perfect start to a month of tourism. A handful of friends and acquaintances visited New Orleans as well, which gave me an excuse to experience the gamut of local activities–air boat rides through the bayou, a tour of Oak Alley Plantation, and stops at famous greasy spoons. Amidst the bits of local tourism, I had a few work-related trips: a day in Greenville and a half-week in Detroit for ScrumMaster certification. While back, I visited Grand Rapids with my parents and East Lansing to see my sister. Speaking of Michigan, my absentee vote retrospectively mattered this election.

 

After returning to New Orleans, I bought a watch and a mountain bike. I now spend much less time checking my phone without recalling the time. The analog face forces my mind to do a small translation, thus making me react to the time as opposed to just getting distracted with app notifications. Also, being a flat and relatively small city, New Orleans is a bike-friendly place that enables me to have a backup form of transportation. This is useful, given the current condition of my truck.

 

I also explored the other side of Pontchartrain. After a marathon-long bridge, Fountainebleau State Park offered a remarkable sunset beach amidst cypress pines. I also found the remnants of the illegal Pikachu statue that sat in Garden District during late summer. Drawn in the concrete base was a QR code and #pokegone.

 

September 2016

7 October 2016

A native Louisianan told me that New Orleans has four seasons: Football, Mardi Gras, Crawfish, and Hurricane. This month, I got a mild dose of the latter. A paddle-boarding trip turned into hiding beneath a low overpass while thunder, lightning, rain, and wind came–quite literally–out of the blue. Grocery store trips turned into unexpected, soap-less showers. Evening strolls…you get the idea.

 

The interesting thing about the weather was the local variability. One section of the sky was blue and cloudless, another dark and stormy. You could stand beneath bawling clouds on one side of the street or be high and dry on the other. If you waited a minute, you’d have the inverse. Weather doesn’t bother me, but the unpredictably sure made planning difficult (for outdoor activities).

 

In addition to unplanned rain, I had some unplanned truck issues. The battery in my pickup was old, so it died. Unfortunately, my parking spot was on the fifth floor of a downtown garage. Long story short; I taxied to an auto store with the dead battery, got a new one, put it in, and everything was fine. Despite the wasted time and cost of a new battery, it wasn’t a big deal. On the bright side, I got to experience the weird concept of taxiing to an auto store.

 

This month, I also had the pleasure of visiting a Renaissance Festival and playing tourist on Bourbon Street. I’d do the former again, but likely won’t for some time. I’d prefer not to do the latter again, but likely will soon. To expand my mental map of the city, I joined a few meet-up groups in different parts of town and discovered new public parks.

 

If the month was a dream, it has surely ended in October. Didn’t have to tell work to wake me up when September ends.