2016 – a Kidney Stone of a Year

This is the first day of 2017, and I say, thank gods!

2016 was a kidney stone of a year. Yeah, it finally passed, but – Ow!! At times it seemed as if everyone who’d ever had their names in the paper for anything was on a list, and the guy with the sickle was collecting. And I’m still not ready to talk about the election.

So I’m delighted to see the new year in, though there’s really no reason to think it’ll be a whit better. But before I start looking ahead, I want to take a quick look back at the personal parts of the old year, which from that perspective had some great highlights.

Tori and I had a couple of great road trips. The long one took us to Virginia for the Blackbeard Festival, with stops in Jamestown, Yorktown and Harpers Ferry, and up to Maryland to see our niece, Jenny, then on to Pennsylvania for a book signing, and down to Baltimore for a book event (and a very, very disappointing dinner at the Silver Queen Cafe. If I never go back it’ll be too soon.) Then down to Knoxville for a couple of days with our friends Robyn and Dan and a couple more book events and then home. Our second trip was on the Talk Like a Pirate Day weekend, when we headed out to Cedar Key, Florida, the little town with the giant heart, for the Cedar Key Pirate Festival, followed by a drive home for the holiday itself and an appearance at the local Barnes & Noble.

Along the way, we met some great people who I now count as friends.

Besides the events themselves, it was just great to spend so much time with Tori, just the two of us. Max is getting ready for college (another highlight of the year, he’s near the top of his senior class and has been accepted at the University of New Orleans where he’ll study jazz guitar or computers are both.) That certainly suggests that we’ll have more time together – just the two of us – than we ever had before. Since the day we met we haven’t had a whole lot of that, we both had kids when we met, and then had a bunch more right away. So, while we miss the kids who are out making their own way, we have to admit the idea of being a couple is kind of enticing.

We also got some news Saturday that makes us even more excited about the new year, but I can’t talk about that quite yet. It’s not my news, and I have promised to wait a couple of weeks.

Speaking of the kids, Millie and her boyfriend, Kevin, spending the Christmas weekend with us was a treat. It also brought one of my favorite moments of the holiday, maybe of the year. A little thing, but sometimes those are the biggest.

I have used a coffee grinder for most of the last 27 years, but when we moved from the island in 2012, our latest coffee grinder did not make the move with us. So I’ve been buying ground coffee for four years. This Christmas Tori got me a new grinder and a pound of beans. As I opened it up, it opened a channel to a memory for Millie and Kate.

“Oh, yeah,” Millie said. “Every morning when I was lying in bed I’d hear the coffee grinder in the kitchen and know it was almost time for you to come wake me up.” “Yeah,” Kate said, “I remember that.”

You never know what’s going to spark a memory for your kids. You hope it’s something important, some way you’ve shaped their lives, or something fun, vacations to the coast or reading all the Harry Potter books out loud together.

But sometimes it’s going to be something as simple and homey as the whir of the coffee grinder from the kitchen stirring them from sleep, signaling that their day is about to start. A sound you associate with the comfort of sleep and the comfort of family life.

And of all the things that happened in 2016, that was the one that got me a little misty.

Monday I’ll talk about resolutions (spoiler alert, I’m not making any. I’m making something better, instead.) But for now, so long 2016. You were pretty awful, but you still brought us some light from time to time. It’s just a question of what you’re looking for, and where you look.

A Terrific Book

My family knows me.

My Christmas presents included four books. They all look good, but there was no question which one I was going to dive into first – head first. It was Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, “Born to Run.” In fact, I started reading it as soon as I opened it. I was hooked immediately.

My god! The man can write!

It’s not a surprise, of course, because he’s written some of the best songs of the last 40 years. But this is so much more – deeply personal, wry, open and often self-deprecating, colorful, sometimes hilarious. The words crackle and dance off the page. I’m still only about 80 pages in, he’s a teenager forming his first band. After teaching himself to play guitar, he started a band and, after their first disastrous gig, his fellow bandmates voted him out. Wouldn’t you love to find those guys now and ask them how they feel about being the guys who fired Bruce Springsteen from his own band?

“Writing about yourself is a funny business,” Springsteen says. “But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I’ve tried to do this.” Oh boy, does he! There are moments so poignant, so steeped in personal triumph and tragedy, longing and regret, that they cut right through the bone and into your soul.

In reviewing Springsteen’s first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” rock critic William Ruhlmann said the album “painted a portrait of teenagers cocksure of themselves, yet bowled over by their discovery of the world. It was saved from pretentiousness … by its sense of humor and by the careful eye for detail … that kept even the most high-flown language rooted.”

And that absolutely describes the book as well, at least as far as I’ve read so far. Since I started writing this I have gotten to the point where he’s given up on community college and is now a 19-year-old, on his own in the world and burning with a passion to make it in music. (Gosh, he’s such a likable character, I sure hope he makes it.)

As I said, I got four books for Christmas, and I will certainly be reading and enjoying the others. But “Born to Run” is the best book I’ve read in years.

Meanwhile, Life Goes On

It’s not all about the book. It certainly wasn’t supposed to be.

This blog was and is supposed to be about different factors in my life – writer, pirate, family man and guy trying to get into shape. Or as I put it – The writing life, the pirate life, family life and clinging to life. (Ha ha. Little hyperbole there.)

It’s just that for the last few weeks the book – Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter – has been my life. Going through the last weeks of constant editing, formatting it, getting it up online and setting up distribution so that I could eventually get it available to sell.

But of course, there’s so much more going on. So let me quickly catch up on the other things.

Family life – Unlike the rest of the civilized world, which begins school just after Labor Day, New Orleans schools have been in session since the beginning of August. Those are some damn hot days to be sitting in a classroom. It’s not clear to me what they’re thinking, other than to observe:

a) This allows the school to finish the first semester at the start of winter break, instead of having them come back after New Year’s Day and have to take finals;

b) It gives them a slightly longer winter break;

c) It gives them a pad if they lose significant time to a tropical storm;

d) And it lets them take both spring break and a week off for Mardi Gras.

Max has got his work cut out for him this school year. He’s a junior and this semester he’s got four classes – An honors class, an AP, and two “early start” classes that give him college credit. He’s taking it seriously, working harder than he’s had to in a few years. He knows what’s at stake.

On the pirate front, I’ve got my reservations for a trip to Los Angeles this Talk Like a Pirate Day. Our friend Clay – who in well known in the pirate community as Talderoy – is hosting his annual TLAPDay party at his shop, Studio City Tattoos. And Mark “Capn’ Slappy” Summers and I will be there. It’ll be the first time we’ve shared a stage – or even a time zone – in seven years. And that’s also the official release party for “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” although it’s already for sale and I certainly don’t want to stop people from buying a copy – or many copies! – right now. All they have to do is click this link!

Sorry – back to “other things” than the book.

In terms of health – Back in February I met with a doctor for the first time in ten years. We agreed that there wasn’t much wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed by me losing some weight and getting my cholesterol down. It’s been six months and I’m due to go back. I lost about twenty pounds, not doing anything radical, just exercising regularly and watching what I eat. But that was weeks ago, and I’ve been hung up, or plateaued, since then. I wanted to drop ten more pounds and it just wasn’t happening. I don’t step on the sca le every day, but when I do I like to see just a little progress. For weeks – nothing.

Until two days ago, the first time in weeks that I saw the needle on the scale creep down. Not much, but a start. (So naturally, I had an ice cream cone. Hmmmm.) I’ve got a few weeks before I go back to the doc, and that ought to give me enough time to move the needle down just a little further and then I’m right where I want to be in terms of my weight, and I can brag when I go back in.

So yeah, there’s other stuff going on. It’s called life, and all of it’s important. Just that sometimes different parts take the front seat for a while.