October greetings. I hope you will take a few moments to read the latest installment of my column, “The New Spooky.”
What, me a hero? I am not much afflicted with the infamous vice of false modesty, but I have to admit this makes me blush just a little.
Yes, the Lafitte Greenway in now under construction, but after all, I am not the one pouring asphalt and concrete, erecting lampposts and so forth.
The award comes for my work with FOLC, of course. FOLC has played a vital role in advocating for the greenway. I think it’s safe to say that this work would not be underway presently if it wasn’t for FOLC’s advocacy.
I’m a founding member of FOLC, and I served as president of the group for three years. It’s because of that intimate involvement that I know just how much of a team effort this has been.
So while I will indeed revel in this little slice o’ glory, I’m mindful of the following fact: all I did was help start something.
That’s right, I’m referencing Michael Jackson. I can do that because a) we’re both from Indiana and b) what with this Urban Hero designation I’m almost as famous as him now.
Look: starting something is actually the easiest part. Anyone can start something. People start things all the time, things that don’t last, things that fail to launch. The difficult part is keeping it going — sustaining the effort past the first initial blush of enthusiasm. That’s where the hard work comes in. After the inspiration, perspiration.
That’s where the team effort comes in. This project was blessed with the attention and support of a diverse group of people who brought an array of strengths with them to the table. If it had just been me, the project would have gone nowhere. I’ve piled up a few projects like that over the years. But instead, this project bloomed because people wanted it, and they pursued it with patience, focus, passion, and an attention to detail I could certainly never have mustered on my own.
To those many people who contributed their precious time and effort over the last nine years, I am extremely grateful.
It’s about that time. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: the equinox. No, not that equinox — the other one.
I thought I had little or nothing to say about the subject. As is so often the case, once I got to writing, I discovered how wrong I was. The result is a column so monstrously large, it had to be split in two.
And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also put together a mix of autumnal equinox music.
It’s time once again for Rising Tide. This will be the ninth iteration of this “conference on the future of New Orleans” which was launched by a bunch of local bloggers and concerned citizens on the first anniversary of Katrina.
I think what I like most about this event is its grassroots nature. Even though it is hosted at Xavier University of Louisiana (thanks to the sponsorship of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching) the event itself is entirely organized by volunteers. All the work that goes into it is done for sheer passion. The consistent quality of the event itself is a testimony to the power of that approach.
Of course, that means there is no big advertising budget. The only way most people learn of the conference is through that modern equivalent to word-of-mouth: social media.
So please take a moment and register for the conference, and then use Facebook or Twitter or email to help spread the word.
What’s that? You remain unconvinced? It’s gonna take more persuasion to get you to part with ten bucks? Fine, check the conference schedule. Look at that keynote on school reform by Andre Perry. Surely you’re curious as to why the former CEO of the Capital One-UNO Charter Network is saying that charter schools “aren’t the proper tools to deal with the root problems of New Orleans education.”
If that’s not enough to get you in the door, check out any of the other panels. I’d like especially to draw your attention to the final one, “Religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” which I am helping to organize in cooperation with Jimmy Huck.
Last but not least, there’s the added enticement of a delicious lunch. Please register now.
When is Lammas anyhow? Though usually observed on August 1, I recently learned that August 6 is known as “Old Lammas.” I think that might be because the midway point between solstice and equinox tends to fall on this day, though technically this year it’s on August 7 at 9:05 AM, Central Time. Further complicating matters is the old tradition of beginning a holiday observance at sundown the night before, which means you could get started as early as July 31.
As for me, I got started even earlier than that, working on this essay: “How Lammas Changed My Life.” Please give it a read.
The confusion of dates should really present no problem. It allows a full week to celebrate. Keep trying until you get it right!
A fresh mix for that most obscure of holidays. You should listen to this sometime in the next week or so, preferably whilst fashioning corn dollies, baking bread or imbibing your favorite malted barley beverage.
Just in time for the summer solstice, my article “Flowers to Flame” has been published on Humanistic Paganism. I think this may the best thing I’ve written. If you’ve got a moment, please give it a read; if you’re rushed, just take a look at the pretty pictures, and you’ll get the basic point.
As I researched the Haymarket Affair and the history of May Day in America, it was interesting to learn that Bohemian anarchists played a prominent role in the campaign for an eight-hour day and other labor struggles of the late 19th century. That caught my eye because I recently learned that one of my Bohemian immigrant ancestors had to sign a loyalty oath vouching that he was not an anarchist. (This puts me in mind of a conversation I had with my father some 17 years ago… but I digress.)
Tomorrow is May Day, so I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday.
Also, for the occasion, I have an essay on the topic, examining the connection between politics and spirituality through my own highly idiosyncratic lens, which you can read here:
Five years ago I wrote an account of my typical day. A lot has changed since then, so I thought I’d revisit the topic. Here’s what my typical day looks like now.
We wake up to the sound of music, a long slow fade-in that starts at 5:45 AM. Sometimes I set my phone alarm even earlier so I can jog, but if not I tend to lie in bed zoning in and out of consciousness for about half an hour, listening to the morning mix. If I recall any dreams I write them down, though I don’t seem to remember many dreams these days. Meanwhile Xy has gotten up and gone downstairs. She’s usually still drinking her morning coffee and watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report on her laptop by the time I get down there. I’d rather not see (or hear) any video in the morning, but you gotta pick your battles, people.
I’m responsible for breakfast — and lunch. I slice some bread for sandwiches, and cook up a mess of scrambled eggs with baby kale or spinach. Once Xy gets her hair in rollers, she runs back upstairs to get the girl. The three of us eat breakfast together, listening to music and talking about whatever’s in the newspaper and our plans for the day.
Eventually we’re all dressed and ready. Xy almost always departs first; the girl and I get on the bike shortly thereafter, unless it’s raining, in which case she gets a ride with a neighboring schoolmate.
As we ride through the streets of Mid-City, at some point, the girl almost always asks me the same question: “So, what do you want to play?” We might pretend to be almost anything, usually fantastical imaginary creatures of some sort.
We always greet “our” tree as we pass it along Bayou St. John. As we pass the post office, the girl often pretends to retrieve a letter, which invariably proves to be from the principal of her school, inviting her to attend a fantastical imaginary academy of some sort. It might be a school for animals of every variety, for example. Lately there’s been a big emphasis on potion classes.
Once we get to school I brush out her hair, which has gotten tangled on the ride, and install her headband. We say farewell to each other with a hug and a kiss. If the weather permits, there’s a big all-school morning meeting outside. If my schedule permits, I stick around for this. I listen to the students sing their weekly song together, as well as other announcements and awards. When they get ready to pledge the flag I take that as my cue to depart.
As I ride along the bayou toward campus, often something will catch my eye. I’ll take a photo and share it to various social networks.
I make a point to stop by “our” tree as I pass it again. This is where the girl got her name back in 2008, the tree we blessed last November. I’ve been stopping here for a morning reflection for years now, as permitted by my varying routine. Sometimes I’ll do a formal meditation, but often I’ll just commune with the tree, noting its presence, noting any changes, maybe giving it a squeeze. Yes, I’m one of those “tree huggers” you’ve heard about. If there’s trash around, I pick it up.
At last I make it to campus. When I walk in the door, Olivia always asks me, “How are you?” It sounds ridiculous, but I have to remind myself that this is something humans call “small talk” and that I am not required to do a deep soul-searching analysis in response.
I have a couple floor pillows in my office which I use for a brief meditation. I’ve got iTunes rigged to play the stream from home after ten minutes.
If I’m drinking coffee, I have a cup. Generally I drink coffee only during the cold half of the year. I never make coffee these days; Olivia handles that. If I’m not drinking coffee, I’ll make myself a cup of tea.
This year I’m spending a few minutes each morning recalling and reviewing what I’ve done on this particular day in the past. I find it to be an interesting exercise.
I spend a fair amount of time sitting in front of a computer, staring at this giant monitor. Often I’ll don headphones and listen to the stream from home. Yes, it’s the same stream that started my day, but it’s hardly the same music. The program is constantly shifting. By the time I’ve left the house it’s strictly ambient. Around 10 AM it switches over to an eclectic mix. Around noon some longer pieces come on, followed by a series of programs which might be called “Anything but Pop/Rock!”, “World Folk Tribe,” and “Pop Exploration.” I’ve got this all automated now, through a combination of iTunes smart playlists, wifi, Koingo Alarm Clock Pro, and some gnarly AppleScript.
OK, but what about work itself? I’m still working the same job, in the same office, as I was five years ago, or ten years ago for that matter. I’ve been at this almost 15 years now, but a lot has changed. Over the last five years I’ve come to embrace the idea of faculty development in the broadest possible sense, rather than the more narrow approach which marked my first ten years on the job. I still do a lot of technology-related stuff, but these days I also pay a lot of attention to ideas like contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I generally advocate for a holistic or integral approach to faculty development.
My time is mostly spent in reading, writing, meeting, talking, listening, researching, learning, and preparing for workshops or presentations. I’m not doing nearly as much production work these days as I used to once upon a time. I’d like to get back to that. Some parts of my job are a little tedious, but the drudgery tends to open up the most interesting parts of my work. For example, lately I’ve been wrapping up the final report on a recent grant and working on an application for a new grant. These documents aren’t exactly gripping, but the grants have enabled faculty here to explore contemplative practices in relation to teaching and learning. Thus they’ve enabled me to focus on the same.
I still have my same lunch — a carrot, a sandwich, an apple — the main difference being that now my sandwiches are on homemade bread. Also, for the better part of the past year I ramped up to two lunches daily in an effort to gain weight. That effort was successful, and I’m back to one lunch.
After work I might hit the gym. That’s another change. Five years ago I didn’t have a membership.
Xy usually picks the girl up on her way home from school. If it’s a nice day the girl might take a bike ride around the block, or maybe just a walk. Xy will usually have a beer or two, but I’m off the booze these days as a rule. We might visit with some neighbors. One of us will prepare dinner. These days we are generally trying to embrace a pescatarian diet. Sometimes “Uncle” James will join us. We say grace to Mother Earth together, and as we eat we talk about our day.
After dinner the girl will have a bath. I’m generally the one who tucks her in with a bedtime story. Somewhere in there I’ll usually squeeze in a bath myself. Xy and I might watch a DVD from Netflix. Xy often has homework, but she is not quite so busy these days as she used to be.
During this calendar year I’m making an effort to write in my journal every night without fail. Ninety-one days so far and counting.
And to sleep.
What’s missing from this account is the affective dimension. I should add that my days are full of beauty and meaning. For this, I am grateful.
Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.
I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.
In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.
I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.
One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.
My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.
It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.
And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.
Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.
Today we are celebrating a Spring in the Subtropics and a Spring in the Self.
The New Orleans Advocate has a nice story by Andrew Vanacore on the greenway, including a couple quote from yours truly.
Also, Here are a a couple items which I should have noted when I posted last week:
- Yes, they are about to start work on the greenway. At last. As the Advocate article notes, it’s been almost nine years since I took my first hike along the Lafitte Corridor. Over the years the project has encountered many setbacks and challenges. I keep pinching myself, but this seems to be really happening.
- Not too long ago, Friends of Lafitte Corridor had their annual board elections. It was a historic moment, as the last of the founding board members rotated off at last because of term limits. I was deeply impressed by the slate of high-quality candidates. In a nutshell, it seems that FOLC is in good hands and there’s a lot of energy and momentum there.
Even more than winning that Hero award, this development has me feeling that FOLC will be around for a while. It’s stunning to me, not to mention gratifying, that something I helped start has taken on a life of its own. Sure, the physical infrastructure of the greenway will be great, but without a living, breathing friends group, it will never reach its full potential. Plenty to do. Rock on, FOLC.
I’ve got a new essay up at Friends of Lafitte Corridor.
Most if not all of the major spiritual traditions on our planet seem to embrace the path as a metaphor. Maybe that’s why I’ve found the prospect of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor so inspiring over the years. There’s been something very compelling about imagining a trail in what is currently fallow, empty land — and treading that ground with others who share the dream each year.
Today I led a discussion centered around the topic of our passions and desires. “By what star do we navigate our journey on the earth? What we love will shape our days and provide the texture of our inner and outer life. How can we plant what we love in the garden of this life?” (I’m quoting here from Wayne Muller’s How, Then, Shall We Live?) We started with one basic question: “What do you love?” I invited participants contemplate this question, to “sift through a variety of disparate impulses,” and draw up a list.
Earlier this week I was feeling down, disconnected, unloving. I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to write on my list.
I was extremely grateful to discover myself wrong.
- My family
- My job
- My body
- The Earth
- The image of Gaia
- (Neo) Paganism
- The elements
- The Sun
- The Stars
- The Moon
- The Academy
- Green Party
- Contemplative practices
- The people in this room
- My journal
- My fiction
This list is by no means exhaustive. I stopped the clock at five minutes. As Muller promises, “this is a fruitful and nourishing practice.”
When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.
My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?
Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”
Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.
Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.
She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.
My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.
As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.
I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.
She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.
I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.
It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.
The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.
Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.
As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.
See also a far more eloquent tribute from Joie d’Eve. It’s funny how we hit the same themes.
There is no new beginning, only constant renewal. Therefore, let us be always beginning again.
Over the past couple weeks, volunteers (including yours truly) have attempted to call every registered Green in the state of Lousiana, just to let people know that we’re organizing this convention on January 25. Our 2012 presidential candidate Jill Stein will be there.
Don’t let the slick graphics fool you: This is a grassroots, seat-of-the-pants effort. We value each and every person’s participation.
I should perhaps mention what the Green Party is about. A lot of people think it’s an environmental group. It’s not. It’s a political party which holds ecological wisdom as a core value. Social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence are the other pillars of the party. Obviously our efforts are focused on Louisiana, but the Green Party is an international movement.
Frankly the party needs an infusion of fresh blood. If you’re at all interested in these things, you should most certainly come and learn more. Please register at lagreens.org.
Read the rest of this entry »
At year’s end, my thoughts.
It was, for me personally, a very full year. It was full not just with busy-business (though there was some of that to be sure) but full of value and purpose, full of meaningful engagement.
I look back on several accomplishments with some pride. So, with no further humility…
- I wrote my first grant, and it was successful. Actually, I wrote the application in late 2012, but the award wasn’t announced until 2013. It’s enabled a new initiative I call Sustaining the Dialog, which sent three Xavier faculty to Smith College this summer to learn about contemplative pedagogy. Many thanks to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society for funding this work, which continues into the next semester at least.
- I brought two speakers on to campus for workshop sessions in a series which I’m calling “Contemplative Practices in Diverse Traditions.” In January we learned about lectio divina with Rev. William Thiele. In December, we learned about Zen meditation with Rev. Michaela Bono. It has been a great blessing and a privilege to work with spiritual practitioners in the local community, and to help them share their practices with teachers at Xavier.
- Continuing the work-related theme, I went all the way up to Amherst to deliver a presentation on “Contemplative Faculty Development: From Spiritual Emergency to Visions of Wholeness.
- On a more personal note, I stopped drinking. Kinda sorta. I guess it would be more accurate to say I cut way, way back on my drinking. About every couple months or so, I’ll still indulge in a few libations. But it’s so much more dramatic to say “I quit drinking.” And from a New Orleanian perspective, I am practically a teetotaller. This is just what I felt i need to do to maximize my health and happiness.
- After having lost 20 lbs. over two years, this summer I started pumping iron and bulking up. I’ve gained 25 lbs. since then. I wish I could say it was all muscle. It’s not, quite. But I feel like I’m ending 2013 in better shape then I started it, and considering I started the year in fine health, that’s an accomplishment.
- The Mayor of Bloomington proclaimed July 7 as National ROX Day. There’s a tale to tell there, but it will have to wait until I get some choice video edited. Thanks to Councilmember Steve Volan for his advocacy.
- I was nominated for a Cox Conserves Hero award. And I won! The $100,000 prize went to the local nonprofit of which I was a founding member and president for three years. Many thanks to all those who voted for me and promoted my cause.
- I officiated a civic tree blessing ceremony on the banks of Bayou St. John.
But wait, there’s more!
It was recently revealed that Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, loves to sing carols at Christmas time. But the songs he loves the most are not the modern secular ones. Dawkins writes: “I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols.” He prefers the older songs, which tend to have explicitly Christian religious themes.
This makes perfect sense to me. As a child, those old songs were one of my few direct connections to an older time and an older culture. Many of the carols I grew up singing were authored in the 1800s. The lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” go back to at least 1739. The tune to “Adeste Fideles” may well go back to the 13th century.
It’s not only the music. I was enchanted by the old customs. Bringing a tree inside the house seemed unaccountably weird and magical and very much out of character for my sedate middle-class parents in our standard-issue suburban home. I didn’t understand it — but I liked it.
Something about all this archaic stuff resonated deeply with me as a child. It filled an inner yearning which I could not identify, but which I now recognize as a need to connect to a larger whole: to previous generations of humanity, and to Mother Earth.
That yearning need remains with me as an adult. You can read more about how I’ve come to understand the meaning of this holiday season in an essay, “Solstice Connections,” which is the first installment of a regular column called A Pedagogy of Gaia which I’m writing for Humanistic Paganism.
I offer these intimate and highly personal thoughts with love and respect to people of all faiths and no faith, and hope that they will be received in the same spirit.
Wishing you a Blessed Solstice, a Joyful Yule, and a Happy New Year.