Year in Review

Lots of people write newsletters at the holiday season, and in that tradition I thought I would take some time to reflect on the things that happened to Xy and me in 2004.

The year seemed to begin and end with tooth problems. In January I had most of my lower right wisdom tooth removed. The dentist couldn’t get it all out, so he sent me to a specialist who used a giant drill to take out a chunk of my jawbone. Now Xy has been having a pain in a troublesome tooth that’s been making her miserable, and she’s scheduled for a root canal some time next month.

Speaking of pain, Xy is still teaching in the public schools here in New Orleans. Since the teachers loop at Xy’s school, she’s teaching the same kids she had last school year, only now they’ve moved up from 5th grade to 6th grade. As for me, I completed my fifth year as a multimedia artist at Xavier University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

We finished ROX #90, “Fat,” the longest and most expansive episode in the ROX series so far.

I started blogging in late March and I’ve been hooked ever since.

In April the Canal Streetcar line started back up after a forty year interruption in service. The first car started off at 3:00 AM on a Sunday morning, just a block from our house. I was there but I didn’t ride the thing; it was just too crowded.

In May, I predicted that Bush would win the presidential election six months in advance! I must be psychic.

In late June, Xy and I had a fabulous excursion to the Midwest. We stayed for a few days in the Springs Valley area of southern Indiana. It’s a sentimental area for us, because we had our honeymoon in French Lick; in fact, this visit was intended to commemorate our tenth anniversary, but it came almost a year late. On the same trip, I took the train from Indianapolis to Milwaukee. Despite my prediction about President Bush, I’m not a Republican. I’m a Green, and I was one of the Louisiana delegates to the National Green Party Convention.

It seems like we did a lot of work on the house this year, but it was really nothing major — just the standard amount of fixing and whatnot that goes into an old house like this. My boss helped me wrangle a leaky toilet, we had some plumbers fix a leaky pipe, I painted some walls inside and out… Xy tried a porcelain crackle effect on the alcove in our hallway, but that was pretty much a disaster.

Xy seemed to get her face scratched an inordinate number of times by one of our adopted cats, Folds; I evicted the cat for a few months but she has eventually wormed her way back into our life.

Xy’s parents visited us in August — a great time to visit New Orleans! — because her father was in the National Scrabble Championship. We had fun with them, and Mike made a very respectable finish at #118 in Division 1.

Florida got beat up pretty bad by hurricanes this year, but Ivan came awfully close to New Orleans in September. All the smart people left; we were stupid and stayed, but we got lucky. The devastation that we’re now reading about in Indonesia and other parts of Asia? That could happen in New Orleans if we got hit by a big hurricane.

After Ivan missed us, I got a Big Green Egg. It’s the world’s best grill and smoker. I cook about half our meals on it.

I tried writing a novel in November for National Novel Writing month. It was hard. And you won’t be reading it anytime soon, because it sucks. Big time.

We just finished our other big trip of the year, which was to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, for the 9th Seddelmeyer Family Reunion.

Throughout the year, there were unfortunately lots of murders here in New Orleans. Two in particular touched our lives. A guy from the D.A. asked me to enhance a video of a Vietnamese grocery clerk getting killed in her store. And a boy nick-named Pissy was killed just a block from our house by a another teenaged boy who once helped Xy with her groceries.

On a somewhat more positive note, every single couple we know has a baby now, and most were born in 2004.

Our love affair with the culinary delights of New Orleans continued this year. Our favorite meals were eaten at Ralph’s on the Park, Restaurant August, La Crépe Nanou and the Parkway.

We watched more movies on DVD this year than ever before. Our favorites: Birdman of Alcatraz, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, City of God, The Deer Hunter, The Dresser, The Duellists, Fail-Safe, Fitzcarraldo. We’re proceeding from A to Z through an alphabetical list I’ve compiled, and right now we’re halfway through the letter H.

We also saw a few movies in the theater; the only one we really liked was Sideways.

And then there were the books. I read thirty-odd books in 2004, some good, some bad, some short, some long, some I didn’t even finish. About half of them I read aloud to Xy. I think the ones we liked the most were Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux (both written in 2003) and A Widow for One Year by John Irving (a couple chapters left, actually). I also really liked The Scar by China Miéville, which I read for the Octavia Books Science Fiction Club. (I still haven’t missed a meeting after three and a half years.) I found the character of Bellis Coldwine oddly compelling, despite the fact that she might best be described as a “pretentious bitch.” I guess I can identify with that!

Xy = Thirtysomething

Today is Xy’s birthday. She thought she was turning 37 for a while, and was relieved to discover she’s only 36. Yup, she’s old enough that she forgot how old she was. I reached that point a few years ago. I have to stop and do the math.

Last night we celebrated with dinner at Restaurant August, which just might be the best place in town right now. When the local restaurant critic gave August a five-star review last summer, it was front-page news. Zagat says John Besh is the “hottest talent in New Orleans.” A mention in the esteemed USA Today, seen over Christmas, goaded us into action. I just had to find out what this hype was about.

It was an amazing meal. I’m still amazed by the bill. Would it be less gauche if I put it in Roman numerals? With tip, it came to $CDXXV for four people. Damn. At that price, you expect everything to be absolutely perfect. Amazingly enough, everything was.

After a couple Sazeracs, I had the warm goat’s cheese salad with frisé, Serrano ham & sour cherries. It may have been the tastiest salad I’ve ever eaten, and it was so beautiful I wish I’d taken a picture. My venison was damn good, too; for dessert I had a plate of five different chocolate things and some Irish coffee.

We took along our friend Jason, who looked after our house and cats while we were in South Carolina, and his date, Megan. They were great company, and everyone had a good time. We took the streetcar there and back, and marveled at Jason’s larger-than-life appearance on a couple billboards on Canal Street, advertising Southern Comfort. After dinner, Jason said it was the best meal he’d ever eaten.

I’d have to agree, if only I could shake this funk.


I walked to work this morning because my bike had a flat; the tube ripped at the place where you attach the pump (what do you call that thing?) and the bike shop doesn’t open until 10:00 AM.

So I walked, which was pleasant, because it’s a beautiful day. And I saw some things, like a smashed up car on Canal Street.

I also saw that someone hit the Jefferson Davis statue again, with brown paint this time:

Brown Davis

And then there’s this mattress that has been sitting on the bike path for about a month now:


The Act of Coming Together Again

Getting there was hellacious. We faced two major traffic blockages and two major downpours. We were rear-ended — just a tap, no damage. We ran over a large mysterious object. Our windshield wipers stopped working midway through the second downpour.

And, quite frankly, Xy is not a great traveling companion. We had a number of arguments, including a highly comical fight about the merits of Christmas music. Xy despises such music, but I’d made four tapes (six hours) of weird Christmas music to listen to on the trip. (I was inspired by Liza.) This conversation ended with an agreement to skip any Christmas celebration entirely in 2005. We’ll see how that goes.

We had a really good Vietnamese meal in Jacksonville, Florida, and stayed at a Days Inn north of town where the water stank to high heaven. I took a shower and it made my hair stink.

Reunion Logo 2004

The next day we made it to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. It’s a posh resort island. You can’t just drive in; there’s a gatehouse, and you need a pass. There weren’t many people there at Christmas time, so it was an island full of empty summer homes. As my dad said, it’s a place for people who don’t have to worry about money.

But the ocean is the ocean, and when I stood on the beach staring out at it, I knew I was looking at a vista that hasn’t really changed for thousands of years. That did my heart good. Being on the Atlantic beach in winter reminded me of scenes from one of my favorite books, Mockingbird by Walter Tevis. Xy was keen to go down to the beach at every opportunity, day or night, rain or shine. She collected shells, starfish, sand dollars, sponges and driftwood. We saw one or two tremendously large horseshoe crabs, still alive at the waters’ edge.

The weather sucked. It was wet and cold and damp and nasty. But, of course, we didn’t come for the beaches or the weather. We came to be with each other. Despite my trepidations, that did my heart good too. Not because I love all these people so much — I don’t really know them, seeing them so infrequently — but because of the sense of continuity and shared history.

My cousin Tami said it well: “I always dread these things beforehand, but then when I get there, I remember how nice it is just to be with the family.” Something like that.

Being surrounded by family gave me a renewed sense of who I am and where I come from. I’d like to say it helped me understand where I might be going as well, but that would be pushing it.

Family Portrait

Other people had more trouble getting there than we did, because when the rain that we encountered coming off the Gulf hit the cold air coming down from Canada, it became the Blizzard of 2004. My sister and her family couldn’t get out of Indianapolis at all; she was very disappointed.

But thirty of us made it there. Eleven households — three major branches of the Seddelmeyer family. We stayed in three separate villas, all a short distance apart. And we cooked for each other, which was a great way for people to come together. My jambalaya was consumed with apparent gusto.

Everyone went to Charleston for church on Christmas Eve, except for Xy and me. I still don’t feel comfortable participating in worship services for a religion I don’t believe in. I enjoy seeing old traditions in practice, but there is little provision made for nonbelievers in such churches. It seems supremely disrespectful to gawk at the sacred observances of other people. So I choose to stay away.

On the secular front, I discovered to my delight that I have at least a few relatives who share my political perspective. In fact we seem to be a substantial minority, perhaps a third or a quarter of the adults. I actually heard someone mention, as a casual aside, that all drugs should be legalized. Another person asserted that he was (gasp!) not a capitalist.

My favorite remark came when my cousin’s husband was describing the lack of Bush signs in Portland during the recent election season. My aunt (his mother-in-law) said, “Yes, but all the best houses had Bush signs — the people who keep the economy going.” There may have been a fair amount of intentional irony in this comment, but I believe the underlying sentiment was genuine, and it indicates the orientation of the family’s other faction. It also underlines the fact that this is, by and large, a very prosperous family; some branches of the family are wealthier than others, and this will be an increasing source of tension for future reunions.

But I don’t want to overemphasize the political aspect. Most of my family is pretty apolitical and would prefer not to talk about such matters. But perhaps for those very reasons it felt liberating to me to realize I was not the only one skeptical of global capitalism.

Xy won a bet with me: The family did indeed sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” before Christmas dinner, just as she remembered from ten years ago in Jackson Hole. I seem to have blocked that memory. It conjures images of Full Metal Jacket.

On the way home, Xy and I finally got to eat some South Carolina Barbecue, at Duke’s in Summerville. Perfectly delicious. We also made a stop in Athens, Georgia, to visit the Tree That Owns Itself. Then we drove like demons to get back to New Orleans before one o’clock the next morning. Turns out we missed the first Christmas snowfall here for over fifty years!

Reunion 9

On New Year’s Eve, 1963, my grandparents’ house burned down.

They rebuilt. Their three daughters (and their husbands) came from around the country to join them in Fort Wayne, Indiana for Christmas, 1964, in their new, three-story farmhouse. I hadn’t been born yet, but I think one or two of my older cousins may have been there. Apparently my grandfather, Rudy Seddelmeyer, enjoyed the holiday so much that he said we should repeat the experience in five years.

And so, in 1969, we did. I was only two years old, so I don’t remember it. But I had more cousins to play with. By this time my family had moved back to Indiana, so we were now much closer to the farm on Tillmann Road in Fort Wayne than anyone else. We visited frequently, and I have many fond memories of playing in that farmhouse, which seemed so huge to me. And of course the farm itself seemed to be almost infinite.

In the summer of 1973, all three daughters and their children (numbering six now) visited the farm. My mom made a Super 8 film of the grandkids helping milk the cows.

In 1974 we did the Christmas reunion again. I was seven. I think this may have been the time when Grandpa Rudy made a tape recording of the event. He interviewed everybody there. I haven’t heard it for years, but I remember my cousin Tami, who had been adopted that year and was still just a baby, reciting a prayer in Korean. Had Stuart been born yet? I’m not sure.

In 1979, Grandpa Rudy was killed in a terrible farming accident. He was seventy. That Christmas, we continued the tradition and had our reunion. It must have been a bittersweet event, but I can’t say I really recall much of it. I was twelve. All eight grandkids were definitely there; my generation was complete.

In 1984, we had another reunion. I was seventeen. I was going through my high school Thespian phase and I guess I was a bit of a ham, because I emulated Grandpa Rudy and made a tape recording. We had our first in-law at this reunion, as my cousin Ross was married.

1989 was the last time we celebrated Christmas together in the old farmhouse on Tillmann Road. My memories of the event are indistinct, but I think that we now had too many family members to all fit comfortably in the farmhouse, so some of us had to bed down in a nearby motel.

Some time shortly thereafter, Grandma Mildred sold the farm and moved into the Lutheran Home.

Mildred at Cut-up Acres

In the fall of 1994, my mom and I shot some interviews with Mildred, walking around the cemetery of Concordia Lutheran Church, looking through old photos, visiting the farm on Tillmann Road, and the older farm where she’d grown up (known in the family as Cut-up Acres when Ferguson Road was put right through the middle of it). Unfortunately there was a problem with the camera, so the video flickers a bit and the audio has an annoying buzz.

For Christmas, 1994, we had our seventh reunion in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where my aunt and uncle have a winter home. We rented condos. There were now 25 people in attendance — plenty of great-grandkids. We went for a giant sleigh-ride. We snowmobiled in Yellowstone. I was in my full ROX phase, so of course I shot a video about it.

Mildred died in 1997. When I attended her funeral in Fort Wayne, I thought to myself, I will probably never visit this city again. And I haven’t.

Xy and I moved to New Orleans in 1999. But just before I left Bloomington, one of my last acts at the Daisybrain Media Center was to edit the video I’d shot in Jackson Hole. For Christmas that year we reunited in Scottsdale, Arizona. No one in the family lives in Scottsdale, which was the whole point: Neutral territory meant no one would have to bear the burden of playing host to such a large group. Dealing with eleven households can be a bit of a strain! So we all stayed in a hotel, but everyone agreed this was not conducive to visiting with one another. It was also our first Seddelmeyer Family Reunion without a living Seddelmeyer present. I showed my video and gave everyone a copy on VHS.

In a couple days Xy & I will depart for Kiawah, South Carolina, for the Ninth Seddelmeyer Family Reunion. We’re renting condos, and the plan is to dine together each night, taking turns providing meals for each other. I’m cooking Jambalaya for Thursday.

My mom prodded me to finally get off my ass and do something with the video that I shot of Mildred ten years ago. I’ve been working on that, off and on, for the past couple weeks. And now I’ve got a stack of DVDs to hand around. The DVD contains not only the interviews with Grandma, but also the Super 8 film from 1973 and the Jackson Hole video from 1994. I’m pretty happy with the final product, even though the Mildred interviews are marred by technical problems.

All this family history might make it seem like I’m looking forward to the reunion with rapt anticipation. But I’m not. My feelings are complicated and hard for me to understand myself, much less put into writing. I can’t contemplate my family without an overwhelming sense of melancholy detachment; I face this reunion with anticipation and dread.

I’m not really that close to my immediate family; my extended family is so geographically dispersed and so seldom seen that they are almost strangers. Many of them seem to be devout, church-going Lutherans; I am not. Many of them seem to be conservative Republicans; I am not. All of them have kids, except for Cousin Stu, who’s single. Xy and I will be the only child-free couple there. I think that, in my mind, my family is emblematic of an America from which I feel deeply alienated.

(While working on this DVD, it struck me that, as marginal as I may feel, I am also playing a central role as a sort of family historian. There’s an attractive power in such a role. The pale ghosts of memory can’t compete with the vivid images of video. What do I remember from all the reunions past? Mainly, I remember what was recorded. Everything else fades.)

But what, exactly, am I afraid of? This is the question I’ve been asking myself lately, attempting to plumb the depths of my soul. I don’t really like what I find, because it suggests I’m a somewhat shallow and selfish person. But in the spirit of radical honesty, here goes: I think I’m afraid of not being known and loved for who I really am.

This reunion is not all about me, but even if it was, we might still not have enough time, over the course of three or four days together, to fully explore and examine all the nuances of my personal anguish and resentment. Yet, strangely, that’s what some part of me wants. I want them to know my pain. Perhaps that’s infantile; I don’t really know. I’d be more than happy to return the favor, to listen as each member of the family bares his or her soul. Only then could we really come to know and love each other. Or so it seems to me.

I did this with my father in 1997, and it was hell, and it took a whole year, but our relationship is so much the better for it.

I need to face up to the fact this sort of deep encounter is not going to take place with my extended family. Even if everyone was game — and they’re not — it would be impossible to achieve such a level of intimacy with so many people at once. But it might be realistic to have just a few heart-to-heart exchanges with just a few relatives. If I could leave feeling that I’d come to better know a few of my relatives, and they me, I think I’d be satisfied.

Still, it is a daunting prospect.

Whitewashed Earthsea

I’m sure by now, anyone who cares has seen this article: “A Whitewashed Earthsea – How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books” by Ursula K. Le Guin. But there’s the link in case you missed it.

I read A Wizard of Earthsea to Xy this summer, in anticipation of the miniseries. Yet somehow I overlooked the fact, painfully obvious in retrospect, that the SciFi Channel adaptation would suck. And suck it did.

Frankly, I’m dumbfounded. They licensed a killer story, then disregarded almost everything unique and interesting about it. Why would they do that? I thought the Rings movies proved that faithful is best when you’re adapting a powerful work of the imagination.

But it was the top-rated show on cable this past Monday and Tuesday evening, so I imagine the execs at SciFi HQ are happy.

Xmas: Meaning and Origins

MAD’s posted a great rant about the True Meaning of Christmas. I’ve long subscribed to the notion that the particular date for the celebration of Christmas was chosen because of pre-existing solstice festivals, but Wikipedia suggests a number of other theories. (Thanks to Anne for recommending the article. I turned her on to Wikipedia in the first place; apparently she printed out this particular article and posted it at the prison where she works.)


Today we’ve got the first really cold weather of the season. This morning as I rode to work it was in the 40s. I wore five layers on my upper body: undershirt, tee shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater, sweatshirt. And of course I wore a cap. Two, actually. No long underwear, though, and no coat. I save that for mornings below 40 — which could come as early as tomorrow. It’s supposed to get down to the lower 30s tonight!


There were not too many films starting with “G” on my to-watch list. I’ve already seen Giant and Gandhi years ago, not to mention many lesser films.

I liked these pretty much:

Then there was Gigi. It was fun, but not quite as much fun as I’d hoped. Actually I enjoyed the film a good deal: it was colorful and nice to look at, some of the songs were fun, and especially I liked the spirit of cheerful amorality that pervaded the story. Maybe it ran a bit long. But I was severely disappointed with the final plot twist.

I’d actually already seen The Guns of Navarone but found it so boring that I’d blocked it from my mind; it all came crashing back after the first five minutes…


Yestereen Xy and I rode our bikes down Canal Street and took the ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers Point for the annual Christmas bonfire.

This is without a doubt the biggest fire that most people will ever see in their lives. It is quite impressive. Imagine a large wooden house on the bank of the river, constructed entirely of wood; but where a house would have big empty rooms, this thing is full of more wood. Then imagine that house set on fire and allowed to burn freely.

People line up along the levee to watch the fire, but when it is lit, they quickly retreat, because even from many yards away, it’s like standing in front of a blast furnace. The fire department stands by and regularly hoses down the grassy slope of the levee and the metal police barricades. The water turns to steam.

When I first went to the bonfire two or three years ago, I chastised myself for not bringing a camera. And yet this year, I once again failed to bring a camera. But perhaps that’s a good thing. The heat might have melted the lens.

We met some friends there and, after the fire, we walked over to the Crown & Anchor and drank some good beer.

On the ride home, my bike tire got caught in the groove of the streetcar, and I almost went down. Somehow I retained my balance; the chain came off my bike, but I got it back on easily enough and we got home without further incident.

Yet I woke up this morning to find my knee was fucked up. (No, not the knee I fucked up a couple months ago — the other one.) I can’t fully extend my right leg without pain. I can get around pretty easily, but mainly I’m using it as an excuse to be lazy and spend the day reading and listening to music instead of shopping for groceries or painting the hallway ceiling.

Urban Warfare

I finally found out why there have been so many jets and helicopters flying around this past week. Apparently I missed this story in the paper last week: Marines train for urban warfare. Thursday night, in particular, was just crazy. These things are so loud you’d think they were flying a few feet over the rooftops, but in reality they’re way high up in the sky.

I’m glad I don’t live in a real war zone, with bombs going off and stuff.

Out of Sorts

For the last several days I’ve been feeling tired, listless, depressed, irritable and grumpy. Not to mention a little morose. I wonder why?

Maybe I haven’t been getting enough sleep.

Or maybe I haven’t been getting enough exercise.

Or maybe I haven’t been eating right.

Or maybe I’ve been drinking too much coffee.

Or maybe I’ve been drinking too much alcohol.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve been procrastinating on a couple extracurricular projects.

Or maybe it’s because of the impending holiday season and the attendant family reunion.

Or maybe it’s because the end of the year is approaching and I’m thinking of all the shit I didn’t accomplish this year.

Or maybe it’s because my birthday is approaching and I’m thinking of all the shit I didn’t accomplish in my life.

Or maybe I’m in a rut at work.

Or maybe it’s all these jets and helicopters that have been flying overhead lately.

Or maybe it’s because America is devolving.

Or maybe it’s because I’m spending too much time obsessively downloading MP3s via peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

Or maybe I’m spending too much time on the Internet.

Or maybe I’m just spending too much time in front of a computer.

Or maybe it’s because I’m not really enjoying the novel I’m reading right now, but I feel duty-bound to read it for my club.

Or maybe it’s for no reason at all.

Or maybe it’s some kind of cyclical thing.

Or maybe I’m just overwhelmed by the sheer emptiness of existence.

Yeah, I think that’s it.

Virgin Birth

I’m astonished to read a Newsweek poll that says 79% of Americans believe in the miracle of the virgin birth. That means you get five Americans together, and four will believe Jesus was born of a virgin. That just seems incredible.

And to think I just ordered my solstice cards.

According to the same poll, 55% of Americans say every word of the Bible is literally true. Christ almighty! I am not a Newsweek fundamentalist; I’m skeptical of these numbers. But perhaps that’s only wishful thinking on my part. America is full of people who believe stuff I think is just plain crazy.

No Quiet

Yesterday was the last day of classes here at the university, and today is the first day of finals. Usually there’s a quiet day in between, but not this semester. I guess it was another casualty of Hurricane Ivan.

I recall one particular finals week when I was a college student, back in the late eighties at Indiana University. A group of us were sitting in the lounge of the dormitory; we had eaten breakfast and were waiting to go to our various final exams. A pall of gloom hung over us, a palpable aura of impending disaster.

An older janitor walked through the room, saw our long faces, and without breaking stride, he cracked, “Might as well smile, kids — there ain’t shit you can do about it now.”

What sublime wisdom! I have tried to live my life by that philosophy.

F is for Film

I love the letter F. Many of my favorite words seem to start with this letter: fuck, fornicate, freedom, flesh, fez, fiorde, fiacre, fleer, frusturbate. And it turns out the F films we watched were pretty good too.

Top billing:

  • Fail-Safe — This was made at the same time as Dr. Strangelove?!?
  • Fitzcarraldo — Damn, this is just a great film.

Good, but not great:


Bad, but not terrible:

  • Fathom — Raquel Welch in a bikini makes this watchable, barely.


Our friend Scott Brown, a teacher at Xy’s school, had his apartment burglarized today. The thief took his computer and all his CDs and a few other things. Not a great loss financially, but he felt really violated and freaked out and scared. He’s already gotten out of his lease and will start looking for another place this weekend. He came over and hung out with us just because he didn’t want to be alone.

Funny, one of my favorite guides to the city, Access New Orleans, has this to say about Uptown (where Scott lives):

Residents are bedeviled by an active criminal underclass (burglars, mostly)…

And Xy observed earlier this evening that just about everyone we know who’s lived Uptown has been robbed at some point. My bike was stolen when we were living on Palmer. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that everyone Uptown seems to hide away in their houses. In our neighborhood in Mid-City, there are always people hanging out on the street, which can be annoying sometimes, but there are plenty of witnesses. You might get shot, but maybe you’re less likely to get burglarized.

I don’t know, this is the sort of vague generalizing that I usually criticize in others. So, never mind.