The corridor carved out by the greenway is almost as old as the city itself. Cutting through the center of the city, it connects Bayou St. John and the Mississippi River. It has always been used for transport, whether via portage by the first settlers to the region, via canal in the 18th century, or via railroad in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1970s, rail transport in the city shifted to other lines; the ties were pulled out, and soon, this strip of land became a vacant, overgrown field. Then a guy named Bart Everson came along.
One year after Katrina, catalyzed by a desire to revive a destroyed city, Everson and friends bushwhacked their way through the path. That homegrown effort coincided with a sudden surge of federal funding aimed at rebuilding New Orleans, and—importantly—making it smarter, greener, and more sustainable. The city got on board with the idea of turning the old railway into a trailway, and even repurchased some of the land that had been sold. With funds from city coffers and private donations, in 2015, 10 years after Katrina, and under the guidance of a contractor, design workshop, and extensive planning process, the Lafitte Greenway opened.
I have to say I’m honored to be known as an urban bushwhacker.
As flattering as it is to be singled out, my natural humility and modesty requires me to add that I didn’t do it alone. My “friends” included a diverse and numerous coalition of people and frankly they did all the hard work.
Truth be known, I’m more of a bushslacker than a bushwhacker.
I recently made a trip to Indiana, as is my wont in the summertime. While I’m up there I always try to stir up some trouble. Some of my attempts are more successful than others. International Flag-Burning Day was a bust, for example.
But there is evidence that some of my other provocations were more successful. Audio evidence. These two pieces aired on WFHB yesterday.
Bart Everson, from Local TV Slacker-Provocateur to Atheist Religion Author ~ less than ten minutes ~ “This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first episode of Rox, arguably the most controversial show ever to air on public access TV in Bloomington. The program generated outrage and calls for its removal during its heyday in the early and mid 1990s. It has also been one of the most popular programs on Community Access Television Services.WFHB News Director Joe Crawford caught up with one of the producers of Rox, Bart Everson, who recently returned to Bloomington in support of a new book.”
Standing Room Only: Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons? ~ almost an hour ~ “On July 7, Bart Everson spoke about eco-spiritual practices at The Venue in Bloomington. A longtime atheist, Everson emphasized the celebration of living on Earth and the process of becoming better citizens of the planet. Much of Everson’s talk revolved around ideas also found in his book Spinning in Place: A Secular Humanist Embraces the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year.”
EVENT: Sunday, July 9, 2017, 4-6pm at The Venue, 114 S Grant, Bloomington, Indiana
This summer, join me for a community discussion on the question, “Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons?” Held at The Venue in Bloomington, Indiana, the event will be moderated by longtime local journalist Mike Leonard. Light refreshments will be served.
The discussion will revolve around the same ideas which inspired my book, Spinning in Place, outlining a worldly approach to spirituality for the scientifically-minded.
As a longtime atheist, I’m skeptical of many expressions of religiosity. But over the years I’ve learned to see much of value in religion as well. To be fully human, we must be open to the full range of human experience. I wrote this book to show one way that humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and skeptics might celebrate what it means to be alive here on this planet. Further, by placing a focus on the natural world, we can learn to be better citizens of the Earth.
I’m known in the Bloomington area for my role in the controversial television series, Rox, which debuted on cable there 25 years ago this summer and became the first TV show on the internet shortly thereafter. Rox was honored by a mayoral proclamation from Mark Kruzan in 2013. Now, I’m honored by the opportunity to return to Bloomington and speak about eco-spiritual practices.
The composition process felt like torture. I fully expected it would require serious revision, but it was accepted and published as-is in the collection Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral: Men in Ritual, Community, and Service to the Goddess (2016, Immanion Press). It’s been a year, and now it can be republished electronically, so I’m gratified to share this via Return to Mago.
I’m super excited and frankly stunned to learn that I’m the winner of the Sherman Chaddlesone Flash Fiction Contest. My story, “Kerry Was in the Kitchen, Cooking” will appear in the next issue of the New Plains Review. It’s a great honor, only my second fiction publication, and the cash prize doesn’t hurt right now either.
It took my protagonist, Kerry, a while to get here. In fact, I wrote this 1000-word vignette 25 years ago. Maybe 26. As far as I can recall, only one other person ever read this story till now. Maybe two. I’m a little hazy on the details.
Anyhow, I’m sure glad I recovered that file from the Brother WP500 diskette on which it languished for so long.
There’s a lot more where Kerry came from…
Photo by Jeremey Keith, licensed under Creative Commons.
Just in time for May Day — I’m proud to announce the launch of NaturalPagans.com, a new site that aggregates relevant postings from various bloggers who share a naturalistic Pagan worldview.
I feel like those terms deserve some clarification. Bear with me. Last week, I was honored to give a guest lecture at Loyola on the topic of “Ecology & Religion: A Naturalistic Pagan Perspective.” It was my most concerted effort to date to communicate a worldview and spiritual approach that is not just an intersection of naturalism and Paganism, but a coherent whole, or at least a tightly-coupled integration of the two. So I’ve been mulling over basic terms and definitions.
There are many different definitions of naturalism, but one of my favorites is the shortest and pithiest. It’s the idea that nature is enough, to borrow from the title of a book by Loyal Rue. Nature is enough to account for the meaning of our existence. In the domain of religious expression, nature is sufficient for reverence. Naturalists tend to believe that science is one of the most reliable ways to learn about the world.
The term Pagan derives from a very old Latin term meaning “bumpkin” or “hick” and referred to people in the countryside who clung to the old ways long after urban centers had converted to Christianity. Today it’s used also to denote a family of religious orientations, many of which are described as “Earth-based,” “Earth-centered,” or “Earth-honoring” spiritual paths. While many of these hearken back to ancient traditions, they are mostly new. Some scholars date Neo-Paganism in North America to 1967, which makes it the same age as me.
You might think that these two things (naturalism and Paganism) fit together hand in glove. Perhaps they did, once, but these days there seem to be plenty of Pagans who relate to gods and goddesses as supernatural beings. There’s probably also plenty who just don’t think too much about such matters. For those of us associated with this project, however, naturalism is crucial.
So…. as a friend recently put it, I’m “basically a nature worshiper.” You could call me a devotee of Mother Earth or Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. But what does it mean to speak of a “goddess” anyhow, for a naturalist? I understand that language as nothing less than a powerful metaphor which expresses my hopes and desires for a more reverent way of living in peace with all my relations.
I’m honored to have work featured in Return to Mago. It’s an online magazine dedicated to “the Primordial Knowing originating from the Great Goddess, Mago.”
Here’s more about the Magoism mission:
Our vision and intention is to advocate for feminist and spiritually-based activism and to promote creative and scholarly work that supports the awareness of the oneness of all entities in the universe. Our hope is to reclaim the WE in S/HE, uniting all beings across differences of gender, culture, race, ethnicity, class, ability, and species. In doing so, we seek to create a world that is non-ethnocentric, non-racist, non-capitalist, non-imperialistic, and counter-patriarchal.
A tall order to be sure, but I’m fully on-board. I’m doubly honored to be one of the few male contributors to the magazine. You can find my contributions tagged under my name. Check it out.
Hopefully you’ve been following my column on Mid-City Messenger, now into its second year. I’m doing my best to keep up a regular weekly rhythm, with fresh content every Monday, alternating between prose and photos. I’ve now got my own tag on the site, so check it out.
As I draw on to the end of my fifth decade, I’m feeling reflective. Indulge me in a little reminiscence, and by all means come to my birthday party. What follows is part four in a series; read about my first, second, and third decades on Mid-City Messenger.
Stone Cold 97
My fourth decade kicked off with a knock-down, drag-out, protracted dispute between my father and me. We worked through many longstanding resentments and misunderstandings in counseling sessions that went on for the better part of a year. As part of the deal, we both agreed to swear off drugs, including alcohol and tobacco but not caffeine or cough syrup, thankfully.
And so it was that I found myself stone cold sober at my 30th birthday party.
Somehow I convinced my father to join me in publishing an online journal over the course of 1997. We posted our intimate thoughts on drugs, alcohol, and our relationship. It was, in fact, a blog — though that word wasn’t coined until a year or two later. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.
After much effort, my father and I managed to salvage our relationship. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. We’re still friends.
My grandmother passed away that summer, the last of my grandparents.
In the fall, Christy got a job teaching in Indianapolis, and we moved out of the garage. I got wind of a new graduate program at Indiana University, through the Department of Telecommunications: the Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments, or MIME for short. My work with ROX got me in the door.
MIME offered a wide-open approach to new media. For my master’s project I combined forces with my wife to launch The All New Christy Paxson Show, a transmedia spectacular which included a series of web animations detailing “The Life of Christy.” It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.
Meanwhile, I filed a personal bankruptcy. I’d acquired $24,000 of credit card debt, covering basic living expenses during the ROX years.
Around this time I was in conversations with some folks at Free Speech TV about the idea of launching a website which would allow users to upload their own videos. Basically, our idea was YouTube — but we never launched.
Things were pretty rough for Christy in Indianapolis. One of her students died in a house fire. We sent out a card that December with the grim inscription, “Unhappy Holidays.”
Before I knew it, graduation loomed. I asked Christy if I should look for work globally. We both loved Bloomington, so this was a tough call, but in the end I applied for jobs all over the country.
I scored exactly one interview, and it changed my life. In February of 1999, I flew down to New Orleans for an interview at a certain HBCU. I had purchased a pair of shoes for the occasion, only they weren’t brand new. They were from the Salvation Army. Much to my chagrin, they began to disintegrate during the day of interviews and meetings. Little chunks of sole were crumbling off and littering the carpet. I was probably hired because they felt sorry for me.
We moved down here in May, and nothing’s been the same for us since.
To me, the experience of being in NOLA is inextricably intertwined with the experience of working at that HBCU that hired me, and of riding my bike to campus every day. All three have been very good for me. I immediately felt “at home” even though I was an outsider.
Things haven’t been so good for my long-suffering wife. She thought the Indianapolis public schools were rough, but here in New Orleans she discovered a whole ‘nother level. I was stunned when she came home from a meeting where teachers were advised to use the Bible to solve their discipline issues. Make sure you got a big thick edition, so when you hit your students they can really feel it!
The world population hit six billion in late 1999. Fears of a “Y2K bug” apocalypse proved unfounded. We moved from our pricey apartment in the Warehouse District to a cheaper rental uptown. I left some frozen chicken in the trunk one day, but that’s another story. I started producing an experimental TV series called no.rox.
The Nader campaign was ramping up and I got involved with a group of people trying to form a Green Party of Louisiana. We eventually held our founding convention in 2002 and officially qualified with the Secretary of State in August of 2005, just weeks before you-know-what.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A new millennium
Technically the 21st century began in 2001. I made a return trip to Scandinavia, for a conference in Finland. Terrorists flew planes like bombs into buildings that September, in a ploy to provoke war between Islam and the West. ROX went back into production, albeit at a much slower pace.
We bought a house in Mid-City. I’d feared my bankruptcy would be an obstacle, but it wasn’t. The financial system was more than happy to welcome me back to a lifetime of debt.
Blogs became a thing. My employer implemented a new electronic timekeeping system, prompting me to start my first blog (as such), Pride Before Kronos. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious. I’ve been told it played a role in changing our policy. The experience was so powerful it motivated me to start my personal blog, b.rox, in the spring of 2004.
Service was restored to the Canal Streetcar line after a forty-year interruption, and the first car rolled just two blocks from our new house. There were also a number of street murders nearby that year. In once case we knew the accused shooter, who later turned himself in.
In May of 2005, I hiked the length of the Lafitte Corridor with a couple friends. I was stunned by the potential of this abandoned rail-line, and I started researching how to spearhead the a project of turning it into a trail.
We declared that summer to be “The Summer of Christy” and we celebrated all summer long. As we vacationed in the Ozarks, we tackled the question of reproducing. We decided to give it a whirl. Christy went off the pill, and we even planned our first official go at conception. It was to be at our friends’ wedding under the Brooklyn Bridge on Labor Day weekend. Well, not at the wedding ceremony itself, of course.
But we never made that trip.
Katrina and what came after
I used to think of the year I lived in Sweden as the worst in my life, wrought as it was with teen angst and personal conflicts and the pain of apostasy, not to mention that cold dark winter near the arctic circle. However, the next sixteen months were worse — from when Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, right up to the end of my fourth decade on this planet.
We ended up spending almost three months in Indiana, and I’m ever grateful to the community of Bloomington for their hospitality. I made a couple trips back to New Orleans during that time, sneaking into a closed city on the first trip, gutting the lower floor of our house on the second. When Christy joined me for our final return, tornadoes and snow flurries chased us away from the Midwest — as if to say, get back down there to New Orleans.
We crashed for a while on a friend’s couch in the Irish Channel. But what I remember most is when we moved back into our house in Mid-City. We were the only people living in the immediate area. In that dark December, the only lights for blocks around were the oil lamps we used to play Scrabble.
In January of 2006, on my 39th birthday, all the universities re-opened. For my money, this was the single most hopeful moment in the recovery of the city.
It was a long hard slog. Living in the flood zone, surrounded by devastation, we lost all touch with what might be considered normality. I drank heavily. And participated in endless planning processes.
There were bright spots along the way, and I clung to each one. Seventeen people showed up for something I billed as the “second annual hike” of the Lafitte Corridor, and the group known as Friends of Lafitte Greenway was born that day.
Picking up our discussions before the storm, Christy and I decided to start trying. She got pregnant almost immediately but then suffered a painful miscarriage. That was surely one of the worst days.
Though it all, I kept at my blog, writing as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Before the storm I read people from around the world; now I wanted only to read locals, and I discovered I was not alone. A community of bloggers emerged. On the first anniversary of Katrina there was a conference put on by the local blogging community, Rising Tide, the first of ten annual meetings to consider the future of New Orleans.
And then the worst thing ever happened, a tragedy so cruel I can still hardly wrap my head around it. On the fourth day of 2007, Helen Hill was murdered in her own home. A talented artist and the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet, Helen was also a personal friend. The murderer was never publicly identified, and no one was ever arrested for this heinous crime.
I grieved for Helen deeply, and I still do, but her untimely passing affected me in another, very unexpected way. The murder of Dinerral Shavers combined with Helen Hill to produce an unprecedented level of community outrage, and the largest protest in the history of the city was organized. I found myself invited to join a dozen speakers at a massive rally at City Hall.
This experience changed me forever, but that would only become evident in my next decade. As my 40th birthday approached, I found myself in a distinctly non-celebratory mood, questioning why I’d moved back to New Orleans.
Stay tuned for the surprising twists and turns of my fifth decade.
If you want to understand America, study Christmas. If you want to understand New Orleans, study Mardi Gras. Twelfth Night is the intersection of both of these. And tonight is Twelfth Night — if you know how to count like a New Orleanian.
Everybody’s heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but few people in 21st-century America know that these are the twelve days after Christmas, ending with Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas or Three Kings Day or Twelfthtide.
Increasing commercialization puts all the emphasis on the shopping season beforehand; when Christmas rolls around, many people have had their fill of holiday spirit. But our grandparents knew differently. Just a couple generations ago, the festivities began at Christmas, not weeks and months before.
In merrie olde England, Christmastide was a wild and wooly time, combining the Christian feast with elements of the ancient Germanic Yuletide and Roman Saturnalia. Everything was turned upside down, authority was mocked, people swapped genders, and so forth. It went on for twelve days, until Epiphany. In Latin America they go for forty days, until Candlemas on February 2nd.
Some say Carnival, and Halloween too, is a displacement of these old festivities. When the old ways were suppressed, they squished out on either side of the calendar, or so the story goes. I don’t know if that’s true or not.
The crucial question is when to start counting. You might think that Christmas Day would be included amongst the Twelve Days of Christmas. That would make the night of January 5th the Twelfth Night, which is indeed the date preferred by many. And then there’s Old Twelfth Night, which is January 17th if you calculate using the Julian calendar, and apparently some people in southwestern England still do. (I prefer to celebrate my birthday then, and it’s a big one this year, so please come to my birthday party.)
However, I live in New Orleans, and we count differently. We don’t count Christmas. Here Twelfth Night is observed on the evening of January 6th, and it marks the beginning, not the end, of a period of festivity. Meanwhile, my Serbian friend is telling me “Srecne Badnje Vece!” Happy Orthodox Christmas Eve! Could this get any more confusing?
Regardless, today is the first day of Carnival here in New Orleans. The season of king cakes, masked balls, cheap plastic beads and endless parades is upon us. My boss has promised a home-baked king cake next week. I just hope I don’t get the baby, as I always seem to do.
Tonight the Phunny Phorty Phellows come out of hiding. The spelling might seem like a modern innovation, but the Phellows are actually a revival of an institution going back to 1878. There’s been quite a few changes to their routine over the years. They used to follow Rex on Mardi Gras. Now they ride a streetcar on Twelfth Night.
This year they’re joined by a new krewe, the Societé du Champs Elysées, who are planning to pull a similar stunt on the new Rampart streetcar line. Tonight will also mark the 3rd annual 12th Night Bal Masque, an all ages show at the Civic Theatre, this year featuring a New York City noise/metal band named Gnaw. It seems like the sixth day of the year is regaining lost ground as a special day on our local calendar. (Unlike The Eighth which remains, perhaps deservedly, forgotten.)
January 6th is also Joan of Arc’s (apocryphal) birthday, and some folks capitalized on that, starting a new tradition in 2008: the Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc parade. We went for the first time in 2015, and my daughter became very interested in learning more about the life of Joan; we had a blast returning in 2016, and my daughter desperately wants to attend tonight. But it’s cold and getting colder; it’s wet and getting wetter; and I have been fighting some sort of virus since New Year’s Eve, so I’m not sure it’s in the cards for us this year.
The Carnival season culminates with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — which always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent and is forty days before Easter, and as everyone knows Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Elementary.
What this means is that the beginning of Carnival is fixed, but the end floats around. Some years it’s a long season, some years it’s short. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. This year we’ve got a moderately long season. Mardi Gras falls on February 28th.
How late is that? Well, in just a couple years, in 2019, it falls on March 5. The latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen was March 8, 2011, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.
Recently there’s been talk of fixing the date of Easter so that it would always be on the second Sunday in April. If that happened, Mardi Gras would generally fall in late February, but this year it would actually be bumped up a week to February 21.
Of course, the only way to fix the date for Easter would be to ignore the moon entirely. That’s just totally uncool. The moon is awesome. Factoring out the moon is the opposite of awesome. The moon is variable, constantly changing. Some associate the full moon with irrational behavior, from which we derive the word lunacy. All the variability and madness of the Carnival season flows from the silvery light of the moon. Don’t fall prey to the insidious threat of anti-Lunarism!
I still don’t have a costume, but my daughter has suggested an Egyptian theme this year. I can count like a New Orleanian, but can I walk like an Egyptian? Time to get working on that.
(Since people always ask, I feel obligated to note that no one has ever been charged in her murder.)
Recently I got some good news from Dr. Paul G.: In collaboration with Colorlab of Maryland (and with assistance from Trixy and Randall, Lecie, Becky Lewis, and Courtney Egan) a bunch of Helen’s films have been transferred to a digital format and are now available for online viewing. The set even includes the first film she ever made on her own, at age 12 (1982), “The House of Sweet Magic”.
I’m proud to have two essays in this collection, which was edited by John Halstead and features a ton of writing by many folks more talented and expressive than I could ever hope to be.
Ms. Manson calls the book “an essential contribution” and here are a couple more choice passages from her review.
Quite simply, they are Pagans who take great meaning and fulfillment from the nature-based and mystical aspects of Paganism, but want to reconcile this with 21st century rational, scientific outlooks on life.
Godless Paganism shows a very real solution to the very real problem of reconciling modernity with tradition, and spirituality with science: by putting science and naturalism at the heart of spirituality, and by giving people the freedom to define their spiritual experience however they see fit.
It’s almost that time of year again, so I thought I’d share this original song for the winter solstice. It may not be a genius composition, but it’s fun to sing around the bonfire with family and friend. Try it! And by all means make up your own lyrics. You can certainly do better than us.
Below you’ll find an audio snippet from our 2015 rendition, to give you an idea of the melody, as well as a copy of the lyrics suitable for printing.
“Pour” is not really the right verb, but it sounds so much more impressive than “Reviews trickle in.” Whatever the volume, I’m happy to report that Spinning in Place has garnered some reviews. Astonishingly enough, they are (mostly) from people I don’t even know.
Even more astonishing, so far they are all very positive.
Sweet little ebook on thoughts about the main pagan holidays, from a non-specific point of view. Anyone from a Wiccan to an atheist would probably enjoy it. Especially good if you’re new to the holidays.
This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. Many authors approach Wicca and Paganism as cookbooks of recipes for practice without ever presenting thought on the reasons to bother with it at all. Mr. Everson brings poetry and mystery to spiritual choices.
This charming book is a personal travelogue of time and the holidays that are milestones throughout the year. Everson provides fascinating historical insights into holidays as well has his personal take on celebrating with his family. I keep the book around as a reference, but I happily read it start to finish. The world needs more celebration. This books points the way.
Everson invites an open and fresh approach to ritual celebration. This will of course include the repetition of loved and familiar patterns, but not imprisonment within them. […] Spinning in Place shows how to create a wheel of the year which honours tradition, place and personal history. This approach allows fluidity and responsiveness to environment, community and culture both past and present. It clearly works for Bart Everson. Spinning in Place does not offer an off-the-peg set of rituals. Rather, it asks readers to wonder what we might do, in our place, using our histories and our forms of expression. That’s what makes it inspiring.
Most astonishing of all: I am kind of stunned that people are actually reading my book. I keep pinching myself, but yes, it seems I am awake.