Spring Break

I don’t seem to have been writing much here lately, and I’m not sure why.

It could be that mentally I’m on spring break, and so I have prepared this mix for your enjoyment.

The University is actually on spring break this week, but poor slobs like me are working anyway. As one (faculty) friend of mine teased, “So that means you have to surf the web all day at your office instead of at home.” I laughed, but I really don’t get that kind of humor.

We do have Maundy Thursday and Good Friday off. In this Catholic town most people call it Holy Thursday but I think Maundy is a much cooler name. Plus it’s how I was raised. In fact, I’ve been recalling the Tenebrae services I sued to attend when I was growing up. This was surely the most dramatic service of the church year. The candles were gradually extinguished until the sanctuary was almost completely dark. The music was haunting and mournful. The pastor slammed the bible shut making a huge and scary noise. The congregation left the dark church in silence. I’ve kind of got the itch to experience that again, but my daughter might still be a bit too young to appreciate it.

My mother-in-law has come to visit. She’s fattening us up with her good home-cooking and buying all sorts of housewares and whatnots. I think she may be caulking our bathtub right now. Her original plan was to stay for the week of Xy’s spring break, but then we realized P’s spring break is the following week, so she’s staying two weeks in order that I don’t have to blow a whole week’s worth of vacation.

But why have I been so “quiet” here? I don’t know. Maybe I’m in a funk with the changing of the seasons. It is finally warming up after a long, cold winter, and I’m happy about that. But I have also been going through various permutations of a sore throat and cough. Perhaps it’s allergies, though I normally associate allergies with nasal congestion, which I don’t have.

Or maybe it’s something completely different. I get the feeling the whole city is kind of collectively holding its breath in anticipation of the impending change in the administration.

Invested

Abstract abstract of an abstract

A dream I had over the weekend:

It was back a couple years ago when we were in the process of hiring my boss. She’d just been offered the job here. In fact I think she’d accepted it, but hadn’t actually started yet.

Then she got an offer from Loyola. That doesn’t really make sense since she was already at Loyola at the time, but such is the logic of dreams. Somehow, even though she hadn’t started here, she had the opportunity to take me there with her, to Loyola, and not just me, but all my co-workers as well. I know, I know, it doesn’t make sense.

I considered it. I went to Loyola and walked around campus for a while. I had it in my mind that working there would require moving uptown, so I was considering moving as well.

Finally I went to my would-be boss, and I told her I couldn’t do it. I was too invested here at the University, and too invested in Mid-City.


I understand we dream every night, whether we remember them or not. I used to keep a journal of my dreams in the early 90s. It’s rare for me to remember any dreams these days. What I do remember tends to be fragmentary. This felt like a complete narrative, and it was very vivid, so quite rare for me anymore.

A ROX Sonnet

My old friend Erik B. wrote this fabulous sonnet about ROX and stuff.

In Blooming Town a young man cast his fate
A TV show he’d wring from force of will
For lighting rigs and soundboards he’d not wait
His friends and he demanded not a frill

The substance of the thing, aye there’s the rub
And substances and larks they’d oversee
But then one went toward mounts, one toward the hub
Of Cath’lic tweaks, and gaslit warm-night sprees

One day this gas and warmth plied atmosphere
The land was smote, its people were made sick
A man, impelled, returned to help rebuild
And try his hand at civic rhetoric

Another one he’s brought into the show
She’ll walk in footsteps, wander, learn, and grow

Twenty-Five Months

Cemetery Gate

Dear Persephone,

I’ve set it in my mind that I’d write you a letter every month for the first hundred months of your life. It amazes me to realize we’re a quarter of the way there already.

You are now more or less capable of carrying on a conversation. This was brought home to me when circumstances required us to have dinner together at Mandina’s one night, just you and me. You were a fantastic dinner date and a great conversationalist.

Though you seem to have memorized your alphabet, numbers and counting still seem to be a bit of a challenge. Often when you see a group of like objects you will “count” them but your methodology is far from accurate. Your favorite sequence seems to be, “3, 5, 6, 7, 8.” I’ve been trying to teach you to start at one and count up from there. Yesterday I think I heard you count to four, on your own, unprompted, for the first time. Tonight you counted eight shells in a book. You are learning a lot every day.

You’ve also begun to differentiate more actively between boys and girls. Really, I’m surprised it’s taken you this long since our culture emphasizes these differences rather aggressively. For instance, most of your clothing advertises you’re a girl quite clearly through colors and other codes. (We haven’t bought any clothes for you, hardly, since our friends and family keep us well-supplied in that regard.) I’ve certainly noticed, since your birth, how gender plays such a primary role in how we classify people. We tend to categorize human beings as girls and boys and men and women, rather than simply as people. For example, I’m likely to say, “I saw a woman walking a dog this morning,” rather than “I saw a person walking a dog this morning.” We are constantly differentiating on the basis of sex, and so now you are learning to do that, which is to be expected, I suppose.

As you grow up you’ll have to contend with our heavily gendered world. I hope you’re happy being a girl. Personally I was very glad, somewhat relieved even, when we learned you would be female. I grew up male, of course, but I’ve always liked girls more. On the other hand, I’m not really a fan of all this girlie pink princess stuff that seems to be popular these days.

Let me see, what else have you done over the past month?

One night, while getting ready for your bath, you suddenly crouched down, said “On your mark, set, go!” and then ran down the hall. You repeated this a good twenty times. I had no idea where you picked that up. Of course, it turned out to be day care. Later I realized this was the longest phrase I’d heard you say. Since then your grammatical abilities have ramped up, and you utter fully formed sentences on a routine basis. Your diction is not always immediately comprehensible. One overcast night you pointed out the window and said, “Sissa moon bind tloud.” It took me a while to translate: “Sister moon is behind a cloud.”

However, you can say “semicircle” with relative clarity. You even know what it means.

You’ve begun to issue requests for specific songs at bedtime. I believe you may be the first toddler in history to request “The Frozen Ones” by Ultravox for a lullaby. Certainly you’re the first to ask for “I Am a Pilgrim” afterward.

When asked, you will deny being a “little baby” anymore, except when you’re in a certain mood. Most of the time you’ll insist that you’re a “big girl.” One night I was singing you a popular lullaby that ends with the lines:

And if that horse and cart fall down
You’ll still be the sweetest baby in town

You took exception to this verse. “Big girl!” So I sang it again and changed the words:

And if that horse and cart fall down
You’ll still be the sweetest big girl in town

You liked that a lot. In fact, you still squeal with delight every time I sing it.

We had to have Folds put to sleep a couple weeks ago. I explained it all to you, but I’m not sure how much you understood. Death is not a completely alien concept to you, though. It comes up from time to time. For example, we saw a dead frog on the street a while ago, and you asked about it. But as for Folds, she’s just not around any longer, and I don’t think you have taken much notice.

I am starting to think the vernal equinox may develop into a very special day for you, given your namesake. This year we planted a pomegranate tree. I wonder what we’ll do to celebrate next year?

Arboreal Equinox

We decided to celebrate the vernal equinox by planting a tree. We just so happened to have a pomegranate tree which was a gift from M. Homan and family for Persephone’s second birthday.

Of course, the vernal equinox is traditionally regarded as the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s a time of year positively fraught with significance. In Greek mythology, spring begins when the goddess Persephone returns to the upper realms and is reunited with her mother Demeter. So this seemed perfect.

The equinox fell at a most convenient time, about half past noon Saturday, and that’s when we planted the tree. I had Persephone throw a few rosemary leaves into the hole before we put the tree in, symbolizing our wishes for luck, rejuvenation, cleansing and energy.

Persephone's Tree

We are still concerned about the toxic levels of lead (and who knows what else) in the soil around here, so we took pains to make sure the girl didn’t touch any dirt and we cleaned up carefully afterward. I was skeptical about planting a fruit tree in soil that may be contaminated, but my reading on the subject indicates that while toxins accumulate in the roots, they don’t tend to make it up to the fruit.

The Homan family was unable to join us for this little celebration, but they loaned us a shovel. When we passed by their house this morning, the entire family was planting trees. I also have it on good authority that a bunch of students from the University planted 200 trees yesterday. All in all, a good weekend for trees in New Orleans.

The Wizard vs. Cities on Flame: Comparative Lyrical Analysis



My friend Brad W. once made an offhand remark in an online discussion that has been preying on me for years now.

We were discussing early heavy metal, in particular Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult, in particular a certain riff that shows up on both bands’ debut albums. Who was copying who, I wondered? It now seems clear that Black Sabbath originated the riff, but that’s beside my point here. Brad mentioned that one reason he liked BÖC was their sense of humor, something he felt Black Sabbath lacked.

I’m a huge BÖC fan, but I’d never appreciated their humor before. I believe Brad’s right, in the main, and I thank him for giving me cause to revisit some old familiar music and hear it afresh.

And yet…. and yet… something has been nagging at the back of my mind, lo these many years — namely, the lyrics to those two songs we were discussing.

First let’s consider the lyrics of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Cities on Flame with Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

My heart is black, and my lips are cold
Cities on flame with rock and roll
Three thousand guitars they seem to cry
My ears will melt, and then my eyes

CHORUS
Oh, let the girl, let that girl, rock and roll
Cities on flame now, with rock and roll

Gardens of nocturne, forbidden delights
Reins of steel, and it’s alright
Cities on flame, with rock and roll
Marshal will buoy, but Fender control

I will be the first to admit that as a teenager I didn’t see the humor there. I just thought it was badass. The song has a murky, sinister sound, and that riff is heavy and baroque. But now I see, in the lyrics, a bit of ironic detachment, a faint tongue-in-cheek mockery, a send-up of rock-god hubris that lends the musical bombast an intellectual edge. That’s awesome, and I’m grateful to Brad for opening my eyes, which were previously only melted.

So far so good. BÖC’s humor checks out. It’s not exactly a laugh riot, but it’s there.

Now let us turn our attention to “The Wizard.” Here’s the same riff, apparently the original, blown through a harmonica. Consider the lyrics.

Misty morning, clouds in the sky
Without warning, the wizard walks by
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell
Funny clothes, tinkling bell

CHORUS
Never talking
Just keeps walking
Spreading his magic

Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by

Sun is shining, clouds have gone by
All the people give a happy sigh
He has passed by, giving his sign
Left all the people feeling so fine

OK, did you get the joke? The wizard is clearly your friendly neighborhood dope peddler. And that’s my point. At a casual first listen, this song seems like some Tolkeinesque fantasy, but upon closer examination it’s about some hippie dude selling dime bags, a committed stoner with a Gandalf fetish. And that, my friends, is frickin’ hilarious. Anyone who has lived in Bloomington, Indiana, of all places, should have no trouble cuing in to this one. We’ve all bumped into this guy in front of the Eye, or maybe hanging out at Lothlorien.

Now perhaps this song is an exception. Perhaps it is a rare example of humor in the otherwise dour universe of Black Sabbath. Perhaps as a rule BÖC is funnier. But if you compare these two particular songs, BÖC gets the points for sinister rock stylings, while Sabbath comes out ahead in the funny department. Furthermore, since the riff was stolen, I think the only possible conclusion in comparing these two songs is: Advantage Sabbath.

Sorry Brad!

Honoring My Mother

Dinner

Today’s the birthday of a very special woman in my life. I call her Mom.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that I owe Mom for whatever sense I may have for the importance of ethics, morality and social justice. I don’t know if it was learned or simply inherited, but I’m pretty sure it comes from her — and I’m pretty sure Dad would agree and not be insulted by that assessment.

The same goes for spirituality and religion; though we’ve had some divergent views, I take such matters to heart, and I credit Mom for that.

However, it’s only recently that I realized another maternal legacy which is perhaps even more central in terms of who I am and my sense of self-identity.

It was at a recent social hour sponsored by my office here at the University. I was showing off a calendar Mom had made to a co-worker from the library. She was quite impressed and exclaimed, “So now we know where you get your creativity!”

And it dawned on me that she was absolutely correct. I’ve always felt a strong urge to create, to make things, to express myself, to communicate. It’s one of the driving forces of my life, even though it is often frustrated or sublimated or corrupted or diverted in various ways. Now that I’ve been given pause to reflect on it, I recognize the same impetus at work in Mom’s life. She takes photos and makes calendars and greeting cards and a host of other projects large and small.

So there you have it. Almost everything I am I owe to my mother.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Lower Left Blues

keep left

As previously noted: I sprained my ankle a couple years ago. In December I broke a toe. Also, something seems to be wrong with my heel. This is all on the same foot, the left one.

On Mardi Gras, a pit bull sunk his teeth into my calf. I can still see the marks. It wasn’t a serious injury, but since it was my left calf, it seemed to add to the general drama on that side of my body.

Then, over the last week or two, my knee has been giving occasional flare-ups of severe pain, the kind of sudden pain that make you shout obscenities at the top of your lungs. This seems to happen almost exclusively on stairs. I’m not sure, but I think this is probably the same knee that gave me trouble eleven years ago, just around the time I moved from Bloomington to New Orleans. Which may be the same knee that gave me trouble in high school.

Need I mention that it’s my left knee? It’s as if my lower left limb is under a curse.

Getting back to the foot: I recently bought new shoes in size fifteen. That’s two or three sizes bigger than what I usually wear. Anything smaller just seemed to be uncomfortable. I think it has something to do with the broken toe. I’d have thought it would be healed by now. Maybe it has. Maybe it’s healed funny.

I know of course that wearing a shoe that’s too big might cause other problems, but I really didn’t know what else to do.

The bigger shoe size seemed to help, or so I thought. I took my first long walk yesterday. It became clear that I’ve still got serious issues. I wouldn’t describe it as pain. Rather, I’d say that the front portion of my foot feels swollen and uncomfortable — but only when I walk around wearing a shoe. I haven’t observed any actual swelling.

My orthopedist prescribed an orthotic to help with my heel. It’s like an insole, but it’s custom-made, and it’s supposed to give more support. It’s also expensive, and not covered by my health insurance unless I’m diabetic. I had the mold made a while back; I’m supposed to go get the thing fitted this afternoon. Maybe that will help, but I kind of doubt it. Right now my heel is bothering me less than the front of my foot. I don’t think they’re related, but I suppose it’s possible. Ironically, the orthotic requires me to wear a shoe, and I’d rather not wear shoes right now. Sandals are more comfortable, but incompatible with the orthotic. I’m not even sure what’s wrong with my heel. I’m not sure the doctor told me. I was so distracted with my toe and ankle that I didn’t ask more questions about my heel.

I’m not the world’s most athletic guy, but I do enjoy getting around on my own two feet. I ride my bike to work most days, but I like to walk sometimes as well. So these problems are really bothering me. The confusion is almost as aggravating as the discomfort — perhaps more so. I don’t understand what’s going on or how to fix it. I guess I need to get back to the doctor.

Bye Bye Folds

Bye Folds

Folds seemed to be doing better immediately after her surgery. But a week or so later she took a turn for the worse. She was lethargic. Then she got more lethargic. She couldn’t make it to the litter box. She didn’t have the strength to eat. She could barely take a drink of water. She was losing weight almost before our eyes.

We took her back to the vet. They gave her fluids intravenously for a couple days but she didn’t really improve much. It seems her kidneys were giving out. I guess this might have been triggered by the surgery. In any event, when I talked to the vet today he made the point that if she was a human being she’d be getting dialysis and would be on the list for a kidney transplant. But since she’s a cat such treatment options don’t exist.

I expressed concern about her suffering and asked if he recommended euthanasia. He said yes.

After I hung up the phone, I thought to myself: This is surely the right thing to do, and I don’t even like this cat, so why am I crying?

So I went there, signed the necessary papers, and then got to hang out with Folds for a while while the doctor treated another patient. She was in a truly pathetic state, skinny as a rail, and unable to stand erect.

I wondered, of course, if I was doing the right thing. I wondered if I should consult with Xy first. She loved Folds more than me. I figured she might appreciate me dealing with this, but then again maybe she’d want to say goodbye? I remembered how she had cradled Folds in her arms for a good hour or more Wednesday night. So I figured she’d said her goodbyes already. Maybe she sensed what was coming.

I stroked Folds’ head. She tried to nuzzle my hand but she hardly had the strength.

When the doctor came in at last he was very apologetic that it had come to this, and he took pains to emphasize that this was the humane course of action, as she wouldn’t have much quality of life going forward.

Then he shaved her foreleg, found her vein which was shrunken due to anemia caused by her kidney failure, and he injected her with a fatal dose of some barbiturate. I thought I might look in her eyes and see if I could tell the moment of her passing, but she turned her head away slightly, and the drug acted so fast she was dead before the doctor withdrew the needle.

So then I gave the doctor a hug, got on my bike, and rode away to pick up my daughter.

Post Script: This makes six cats we’ve lost in nine years. And yet only the third confirmed death. (The other three cats just disappeared. In some ways that’s more difficult.) I believe this is the closest I’ve ever been to any actual death. I mean I’ve swatted bugs but that doesn’t seem the same.

Romancing the Void

Next to nothingness

It seems in our culture we are afraid of silence and emptiness. We fill our days with activities and rush about and chatter a lot, but underneath this superficial noise many of us feel somewhat hollow. If we pause we may get a glimpse of the yawning abyss which frightens us.

I believe that existence is inherently empty — devoid of intrinsic meaning. It’s part of the labor of life to create meaning and purpose. It’s something we have to invent, or let others invent for us.

But I think we should not be scared of the void. We should learn to embrace it when necessary. Perhaps we should even romance it.

I didn’t always feel this way. Here’s the lyrics of a song I wrote over twenty years ago.

It’s the curious nature of curious things
That leads me in the darkness that questioning brings
It seems my whole life I’ve been questioning things

And it takes all my time, it takes all my soul
Sucks it all down in a great big hole
The void of oblivion, the nothingness that I know

This snippet of doggerel is a little embarrassing in its awkwardness, but I think it does a good job of capturing the sentiment of a period in my life, when I was a young man coming through an existential crisis.

I feel differently now. Over the years I have made my peace with “the darkness that questioning brings.” I have come to thoroughly enjoy that “darkness.” And I’m no longer so frightened of the “void of oblivion.” It actually kind of turns me on. From time to time I take a moment to pause, draw breath, quiet myself, and think about nothing in particular. My mind tends to be so hyperactive that it’s actually a bit of a challenge to get to that state where the void presents itself. It can still be scary and disorienting, sometimes, but ultimately it is always refreshing.

The void is full of surprises.

Such a Brutal Lifestyle

Yesterday’s front page story really captured our attention. All credit to reporter Sarah Carr. I’d never heard of the school she focused on, but the parallels to Xy’s experience are striking. I’ve quoted the story at length below, interspersing some of my own thoughts where relevant.

Early every morning, Akili Academy’s teachers gather for a daily bonding ritual.

Clutching caffeinated beverages, they offer praise to one another for achievements large and small: calming down an upset student, teaching an outstanding lesson on “realistic fiction” to kindergarteners, sorting out unspecified “bathroom issues.”

For the finale, the charter school’s staff pulls in closer for a quick huddle, like a sports team preparing to take the field. “Who are we proud to be?” one teacher asks. “Akili Academy of New Orleans!” they shout in unison, sending their arms flying. They then head to class before the students arrive.

But this is no casual competition or recreational game. It lasts at least 10 hours every weekday, often spills over into the weekends, and, at times, consumes the lives of the mostly young Akili staff.

“I’m totally tired, and if I’m still working this many hours next year, I maybe wouldn’t work a fourth year,” said Francis Giesler, an Akili teacher. Giesler, 24, a 2008 graduate of Loyola University, grew up in St. Louis.

While Giesler praises Akili for its supportive work environment, she gives voice to a nagging concern of school reformers and charter leaders across the city and the country. How can a movement predicated in part on superhuman exertions of time and effort sustain itself and grow in the long term?

As Giesler puts it: “How good a school are you if you have really strong results, but can’t take that model anywhere else because it was solely reliant on the bodies in the building, and kills people after two years?”

If the model kills people after two years, what do they become after, say, thirteen years? Do they become zombies? Or are they just miserable?

A growing number of schools, particularly charters, embrace a “no excuses” or “whatever it takes” attitude toward closing the achievement gap between poor, minority students and their wealthier peers. Poverty isn’t an excuse for school failure. Neither is bad parenting. Or insufficient school funding.

But to overcome these obstacles, a school’s staff and students must work harder — in the evenings, on weekends and through the summer — and give up some of their personal lives for their jobs.

Arguably nowhere is this trend so pronounced as in New Orleans, where charter schools mushroomed after Hurricane Katrina and hundreds of ambitious young educators like Giesler now live and teach. A looming question facing school leaders is how to maintain momentum as teachers and administrators inevitably grow up, burn out or move on.

Of course not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice.

“You’re going to run out of people willing to work an 80-hour week,” [principal Sean Gallagher] said. “Everyone here is single; no one has a kid. That’s just not (replicable). I want us to look like something any school in New Orleans could do. Right now, we’re not there.”

Gallagher said he tried to recruit a diverse teaching staff: young and old, novice and experienced, natives and transplants.

But the time commitment proved a deal-breaker with most veteran, New Orleans educators.

At one recruitment fair, a job-seeker stopped by Gallagher’s table.

“Longer school day? Longer school year?” the man asked.

When Gallagher nodded, the teacher quickly walked away, saying, “Don’t need to talk to you.”

We’re not sure but we think the job-seeker was our friend James. I remember when he did that.

Educators will probably always debate the importance of experience, some of which boils down to the contrasting philosophies of school leaders. Some emphasize the importance of building a family-like school culture, where children can develop lifelong relationships with teachers who attend their churches, live in the neighborhood and might even have taught their parents. Others say they care about continuity, but will do whatever it takes to build a high-performing school, even if that means higher teacher turnover.

A growing group of educators and policy wonks say they are not particularly concerned about chronic teacher turnover in urban schools, as long as there’s a pipeline of bright workaholics to fill the vacancies.

And with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.

“I don’t think turnover is inherently bad,” said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. “Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine.”

Translation: It’s OK to use and abuse people so long as there’s more fresh meat to victimize tomorrow.

Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. “It just seems inefficient,” he said.

Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that “teaching is a way of living” that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.”

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

The kicker came at the very end of the article.

Still, Giesler can’t imagine ever balancing her 31 students at Akili with a child of her own.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this job with a kid,” she says. “I really could not.”

And that is really what clinches the decision for Xy. She feels like she’s missing out on her daughter’s childhood.

And so that’s why Xy has decided to seek a new career after thirteen years in the classroom.

Needless to say, if you’re interested in this topic you really should read the whole story.

PS: It strikes me that this issue is appropriate to contemplate on International Women’s Day as the teaching and rearing of children has been historically deemed as “women’s work” in our culture. That teachers are chronically overworked and undervalued is perhaps not coincidental.

Volunteers

I just wanted to take a quick minute to salute my parents. They just finished another week of volunteer work, helping to rebuild New Orleans. As per usual they stayed at Camp Restore and kept busy, but I did manage to visit with them a couple times. This time they brought some friends with them from Indiana.

Volunteers

Of course we had to get my dad some appropriate attire for the trip back home.

I’ve lost track of how many stints they’ve done, how many hours they’ve logged. The scope of the cataclysm here is such that even as we approach the five year mark there is no lack of work to be done.

Cat Problems

Folds

Our cat Folds is going under the knife today. I feel ambivalent about this. The idea of cat surgery seems sort of ridiculous to me. How did we get to this point? Folds was living in the shed behind our previous house when we purchased it in 2002. She moved into our house in 2003. I evicted her in 2004 but she wormed her way back into the house later that year. We took her with us when we evacuated for Katrina; she disappeared for a month, hiding underneath my in-laws’ house. Her health has never been the same since. The vet says she has a hyperactive thyroid, so we started giving her methimazole in larger and larger doses. It seemed to help somewhat, but she’s hardly the picture of health and happiness. The vet eventually suggested surgery to remove one of her thyroid glands. I was surprised to calculate the cost of surgery to be equal to just about half a year’s worth of medication. From a strictly financial perspective, then, it would seem to make sense, assuming she lives another year. She must be at least ten years old. She looks about one hundred. (The photo above was taken before her health declined.) Of course there is always the possibility she might not survive the procedure. That would be a great relief to me, actually. I don’t particularly like Folds. She gets in the way around the house, constantly sneaking underfoot, and she tracks litter everywhere, especially into our bed. She’s got a nasty disposition and doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy being alive. Yet she seems so pathetic we can’t bring our selves to turn her out.

Indeed, our situation with all three of our cats raises ethical questions I have difficulty in resolving. What exactly is our obligation to Folds, and our two other cats? I don’t feel that we adopted any of them, exactly. It seems more like they adopted us. They were all volunteers. Archer, for example, was abandoned by her owners down the street back when we were living uptown. We started feeding her, and took her with us when we moved, and she’s been with us ever since. I don’t feel an obligation to care for every stray cat that comes down the street; that would be a full-time job. But at some point Folds and Archer and Crybaby crossed the line and became part of our household. At some point we felt obligated to care for them. It’s not a matter of personal attachment. I don’t care much for Archer, and I actively dislike Folds. Crybaby is OK, but to tell the truth I haven’t been able to love a cat since Lucy disappeared. Archer and Folds have not adapted well to life in our new house. Archer might be happier as an outdoor cat, but that raises other problems. Because these cats are old and have issues, I can’t imagine we’d find anyone who wants to adopt them. I couldn’t turn them out on the street. Euthanasia seems wrong. So in a sense I am waiting for them to die. It’s not really a good feeling.

Please Don’t Fret for My Immortal Soul

An Experiment

If there is, as you believe, a benevolent Creator who is all-knowing and all-powerful, then surely He wants me to be the best person I can be. Surely he wants me to be true to my heart and my reason. After all, if He exists, then He is Author of my cognitive faculties. It’s inconceivable that He would want me to go against the best and only lights I have. It’s beyond imagining that He would give me a rational intellect but wish me to go against it. It’s absolutely incomprehensible that He would create in me a sense of moral purpose and integrity and then demand that I ignore these on pain of death, indeed, under threat of eternal damnation. Preposterous!

And yet, I worry that you worry about me.

I was talking with a Theology prof here at the University. He said one thing he always respected about Martin Luther was his call for us to trust in God’s goodness. Perhaps that thought provides some solace, if indeed you fret over the ultimate disposition of my immortal soul. If God is good, then perhaps this is all a part of His plan.

Spontaneous Public Sculpture

Lafitte Corridor

This sculpture mysteriously appeared on the Lafitte Corridor last week, just in time for the Urban Pathways conference tour. I was surprised and touched. It’s worth nothing that Friends of Lafitte Corridor did not solicit or commission this sculpture, though in retrospect I’m pretty sure I know who made it. It is, quite simply, yet another indication of the community’s desire for the greenway project to move forward.

Revitalization

[Photos by Joseph Brock]