I am on the Writer's Journey, and I am reminded of this truth every time I lapse back into some reminiscence, some nostalgia for times in my life where I feel as though I should have done more, where I should have been more engaged.
But I was already on the Writer's Journey at that point, drifting naturally into worlds of expression both related to and mutually exclusive from my own, shooting movies in my backyard, penning lyrics to a heartfelt song.
Merely a landmark of where I was on the Writer's Journey, a mile marker where others chose to exit and prosper, but where I had no choice but to continue on, a very part of the road itself.
I am still on the Writer's Journey, you see, and even though I may have visited your towns and took the name of your resident population, I have always considered myself something other than.
It is why the Writer's Journey has placed me here, aware of the growth of the settlements I've helped create, yet moving in a self-contained circle held together by something natural, something that is as real to me as anything could ever be.
And so here is a postcard from the Writer's Journey, sent from a place where the transience has stabilized, letting all of you know in the brotherhood and sisterhood of expression, that I'm still doing the best work that I can.
Today would have been the 71st birthday of my mother, Diane Cucinello Torres. It's been almost four years since her passing, and even now the thought of memorializing her seems otherworldly and strange. The idea that she's no longer with us is still shocking to me, and the realization that among other things, I'll never hear her generous laugh again from the other room is more than likely why I've waited so long to revisit this topic.
But as the story goes, six months before Hurricane Katrina, and one month to the day after my father's passing, my mother suffered a debilitating stroke that left her bedridden and in a state of mental regression. During this time, most of which was here in Alabama, there were good days and bad days, and the good days were almost always highlighted by stories of old New Orleans. My mother was a bit of an amateur historian when it came to the Crescent City, and as the few years we had together here went by, she would love to tell both myself and her nurses alike about how her and her friends would take the streetcar into downtown on a Saturday afternoon to shop at all the big department stores. And one doesn't have to think hard to imagine the scene with all of its period automobiles and wardrobe, the image of a group of young girls from the 1950s dressed in their best, huddled together at the malt shop with bags from D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche scattered at their feet. Yeah, that was my Mom. She knew about all the old restaurants, from Antoine's to Brennan's, from Court of Two Sisters to Tujague's (the latter of which I remember going to as a very young boy), and one always got the impression that she'd lived the New Orleans experience all of her life, was truly a resident of the city in every way.
And she would go on to tell the nurses and I about the family that we had who settled into the old Italian section of the French Quarter, and about how she used to visit them during her downtown shopping trips as a little girl. These particular stories always brought up conversations about her side of the family, which unlike my father's side, was scattered with aunts and uncles that lived until just about my own teenage years. And they populated her stories like something out of a historical novel, vivid and colloquial as she spoke with her heavy New Orleans accent. The nurses used to ask her, "Mrs. Diane, say 'New Orleans' for us," to which she'd smile up at them and say, "Nawlins!"
As a real estate agent through most of the late nineteen-seventies and early eighties, Diane was a member of the Business and Professional Women's Club in our home parish of St. Bernard for many years, and prior to that, she worked for the St. Bernard Parish courthouse under Sidney Torres, a position that would prove to be a fateful one as Sidney arranged for her and my Dad's first date. After that date, according to my godmother, Teddy and Diane were like teenagers. They were married in 1968, and four years later, I was born.
I've mentioned that I believe I've inherited certain real-life skills from my father, and it has been my longtime assumption that I've inherited a certain type of imaginative trait from my mother, one that is directly related to storytelling, and more so, to stories about New Orleans. It was my mother who I could talk to about movies, books, and music, about my favorite directors, writers, and rock stars alike, and it was my mother that took me to the movies and bought me the books and the records. She instilled a love of the city in me from very early on, one that has been a thread of fascination for me when thinking about her, all the way up to the point where we both discovered Anne Rice at right about the same time, loving the rich tapestry of the novelist's stories, and as always, prompting my mother to tell me more stories of her own. She always supported every endeavor into the arts that I undertook, and like the photo I've written about in my father's memoriam piece, one of the only surviving pictures that I have of my mother was one of her holding a copy of The Petrified Christ in Barnes & Noble, the picture almost a bookend to the one of my father doing the same thing.
They both now sit framed side-by-side in my office.
And it's those pictures that I look upon regularly when I need reminding, reminding that grief is always more of a personal process than anything else. The truth is, in no way would Teddy and Diane want me to live in a perpetual state of grief. My parents dedicated their lives to the sole purpose of protecting me from harm and pain, much in the same way I was devoted to protecting them from the same in their final years.
Why would any of us want to stop now?
Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you. And don't worry … I'll take the stories from here.
Almost a month has passed since I last posted, and many individual topics for this site have hovered in my mind without any actually anchoring. For example, I've been obsessed lately with the unrelenting genius that is Radiohead's "OK Computer" record, and I recently spent a week in Key West with my band, which was an amazing example of how easy it would be for any of us to go into some self-imposed, creative exile (I visited the home of Ernest Hemingway and peeked into his writing studio). But while both of these topics made it so far as to become entries on my daily work list, none of them actually made it to the site ... at least not yet.
What will make it to the site today, however, is what you see pictured here -- our living room at our house in Jemison, decorated beautifully by Jessica for the Christmas season. I first saw this picture the night before leaving Key West to come back home, and it has been a beacon of comfort and a symbol of "home" that I've cherished ever since. Jessica and I are busy people, and it's rare nowadays that we do get to spend much time in our own home together. Last night, for instance, I sat alone right where you see, wrapping presents next to the glow of the tree while listening to Christmas music on the seasonal digital music feed. And as a reminder, the tree and decorations were done by Jessica while I was away. Imagine what we can do under the same roof? On second thought, never mind. This is a family post. Bah-dum-pum.
Point is, I have been bitten by the Christmas spirit here, folks, and I owe it all to the people around me, especially Jessica and her family, who are now my family. They've given new meaning to this time of year for me, to the point where I was indeed sitting under a Christmas tree by myself wrapping presents, and I was enjoying every minute of it. Lots of sentimentality here, and a tremendous amount of thanks to everyone on Team Torres, both personal and professional, who have helped changed my life for the better.
November 30th holds a special place in my heart for various reasons. Not only would today have been my father's 84th birthday, but it was also the day that my mother and I settled into Alabama after months of displacement five years ago as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, on this same date, my father would receive the ultimate birthday gift as I would reunite him with his wife, placing her ashes alongside his casket in his crypt in New Orleans.
On February 3rd, 2007, seven months before my mother's own passing, I had written a piece commemorating my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., and with some slight modifications, what follows is that essay in its entirety:
Two years ago today, my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., passed away after a mercilessly long and drawn-out battle with cancer. He was 79.
In remembering my father, I recall first and foremost his almost encyclopedic intelligence, which he applied to everything in his life. A natural and life-long outdoorsman, my father was unmatched in the ways of the old-school New Orleans men who made their living in the marsh. Whether it be as a fisherman, a hunter, a trawler, or a trapper, Teddy was the last of a master generation who passed his knowledge down to the next. Since his passing, I've been told story after story about my father's vast reservoir of knowledge on topics ranging from rope tying to aerodynamics, from carpentry to electrical engineering. Having had me rather late in life, I was not privileged enough to have been a part of that consecutive generation, a group of men and women alike, now well into middle-age, who hold my father in the highest of regards as both mentor, innovator (I have been told that the first airboat in St. Bernard Parish was not only owned by my father, but made of his own hands), and in most ways, a father figure.
I struggled for a while with the idea that my father and I were opposites. There was no doubt in my mind that he wanted me to be the natural heir to his knowledge and skills. I was of a different mindset, however, far removed from the world of the marsh and instead naturally rooted in the arts. A perfect example of such a juxtaposition would have to be the time that he took me on my first duck hunt and handed me his childhood 4-10 double barrel shotgun to use. According to him, within the hour, he had turned to see me playing air guitar with the weapon. For some reason, I don't recall this event, although I know damn good and well that I more than likely did just that. I did, however, come away with a life-long fascination with guns, an interest that we truly did share, but the hunting I'm afraid stayed in that duck blind.
Our passions would cross again years later as he would in fact be my first editor. Intrigued and relentlessly curious about language in general, my father loved to play with words. I remember playing word games and sharing riddles, telling stories and inventing acronyms. It was my father who meticulously read through and proofread my first draft of The Petrified Christ, in awe that his son had such a skill with words, a skill that he rightfully felt he had cultivated. One of the only surviving pictures I have of my father in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is one in which he's holding a copy of that book in Barnes & Noble, grinning in profile as he admired the cover.
And such, I feel, was my relationship with my father. As father and son we were indeed opposites, yet forever in admiration of each other's abilities and motivations. Many life lessons were learned during those final years, some deliberate, and some acquired unconsciously though his spirit and task driven focus on the necessity of day-to-day life. It is his strength that guides me to this very day, his focus on work, and his protective "us verses the world" philosophy of family that insured I would keep it together and provide after what will more than likely go down as the most tragic year of my life, 2005, the year I lost everything.
And so, Pop, I'm thinking of you today up there in the blue, no doubt watching the clouds shift and morph in and out from one another to form those cloud pictures that we'd lie on our backs and spot, the ones that only you and I were able to see.
I love it when things are done for the right reasons, especially when it exposes things that are done to the contrary. There's a reason, for instance, why DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind" is still at the top of the box office this week: because it delivers what it promises -- an entertaining movie with brilliant 3-D effects put to use for the sake of the effect and not to fatten the wallets of the studio executives. I have to say that I was more than a little annoyed a few weeks ago when Warner Bros. announced that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I" would not be released in 3-D due to the studio's inability to make the 3-D transfer in time. Were they implying that Warner Bros. was willing to stoop so low as to use one of its most beloved movie franchises to squeeze out a few more bucks at the ticket window when the movie could have in fact been released in 2-D all along?
I'm at the point now where I believe that 3-D technology should be reserved for CGI animation only, where the effect can be used to its maximum potential to create a true virtual world from scratch on the screen. Otherwise, with the exception of movies like James Cameron's "Avatar," where the live-action film is shot using 3-D technology, I can't help but feel like I'm being ripped off over and over again. I'm talking to you, "Clash of the Titans," and to you, "Alice in Wonderland," and to you, Wes Craven's "My Soul to Take," where I spent most of the movie with the glasses on top of the same bald head I was scratching.
Going to a movie is always a gamble as far as whether or not you're going to get your money's worth. So why should we now have to add the side bet of whether or not the 3-D we paid to see is going to be worth a shit? Kudos to DreamWorks for keeping up the good and honest work, and shame on Warner Bros. for contributing to the corrosion of my sense of wonder.