Forty-Six Months


Dear Persephone,

It’s the holiday season. But and also (to paraphrase David Foster Wallace) you are 46 months old today.

On this night, the longest night of the year, you are fully expecting Santa to pay us a visit. Santa is tricky for me, as a parent. He reveals certain weaknesses in my ontology. How do we relate to and understand mythical beings? On the one hand, Santa is fun, and a good story. On the other hand, the very way we define “real” vs. “imaginary” in our culture seems a little messed up. It doesn’t leave room for myth and other ways of being that are, perhaps, somewhere in-between, or something else entirely. I’m still thinking through this. Tonight I told you a story, inspired by my old friend Brad Wilhelm, about a man who played Santa and visited a family in need. The point, I think, is that Santa is a spirit we can all enter, a spirit which can enter into any of us. In other words: Thou art Santa.

On a related note: One month ago we were celebrating Thanksgiving. This is a holiday which has troubled me for years, but this time round we offset that by delivering meals to people in need, on behalf of the West Jefferson YMCA. Your mother even got in to the act. I’m not trying to imply that we saved the world, but I do hope we did some good, and I hope we’ve taken a first step toward something more meaningful.

Also on Thanksgiving, you saw the 610 Stompers in the Macy’s parade on television. A few days later you put on a headband and said, “I’m gonna be a Stomper, aren’t you?”

Forthwith, a random sampling of memories from the past month. I’m sorry if this seems a little scattered. It’s the holidays, and my mental fabric inevitably gets frayed.

You had your first taste of mustard. You liked it so much, you swore off ketchup – forever!

Here’s something I never wanted to hear my daughter say: “Dada, can you shave your butt?” That one took me by surprise. “Can you put shaving cream on it?” Upon further investigation, I learned you were repeating something you’d heard on the radio, some morning drive-time shock jockery.

One night you drew a picture for your mama. “These are ornaments for our mind.”

Your friend Lily had fake snow at her fifth birthday party. It was so bizarre to me to see kids (and adults) have to be taught how to make a snow angel. That’s just something I take for granted, having grown up some 800 miles north of here. Kids love snow, and I sometimes feel bad that you will grow up with a snow deficit. Nevertheless on cold days here lately you have said, “I don’t like winter. I can’t wait for summer.” You take after me that way.

You spent a few perplexed minutes one evening trying to look at your teeth without a mirror.

I am reading you The Magician’s Nephew, chapter by chapter, as a bedtime story. I tried The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe about half a year ago, I think, but it was over your head, and we gave up after just one chapter. I wasn’t really sure you were ready for this now, but you seem to understand just enough to stay interested. Now we’re more than halfway through.

You’re almost finished with your Halloween candy. I think your favorites have been Dum-Dum suckers, Sour Patch gummies, and small boxes of Nerds. Your parents are not such big fans of these last, because a lot of them inevitably end up scattered across the floor. Upon eating your last box the other night you offered the following statement: “The Nerds are dancing in my mouth. It’s like there’s a fairy in there. Every Nerd has a fairy inside, and if you drop it on the floor it dies.

And then tonight just before bed you asked: “Dada, can I call you Big Goofy Face?” Uh, OK.

Finally, here is my solstice present to you and your mother and myself — a family portrait from the incredibly weird imagination of Matthew Allison.

Family Monster (color)

Why Solstice Matters

Winter sun through rolling clouds - 1

Warning: What follows is not a well-researched authoritative statement. It’s unfettered speculation. Take it with a grain of salt.

The Oldest Holiday

Surely the winter solstice must be the oldest holiday, or one of the oldest. Early humans noticed that the days would get shorter and longer, and it’s fairly easy to determine the solstice if you’re paying attention. There’s no need for telescopes or advanced astronomical models. Just put a stick in the ground and measure its shadow each day.

I just finished reading Farnham’s Freehold (Heinlein, 1964) for my book club, and though I can’t exactly recommend the book, there is a short scene that illustrates the point. A nuclear blast has transported the characters into a strange version of earth. They are homesteading in a vast wilderness; they don’t know if they are in the distant past, the far future, or some alternate reality. They don’t even know what time of year it is.

Shortly after we got here Hugh picked a small tree with a flat boulder due north of it and sawed it off so that it placed a sharp shadow on the boulder at noon. As “Keeper of the Flame” it has been my duty to sit by that boulder from before apparent noon and note the shortest shadow — follow it down, mark the shortest position and date it.

That shadow had been growing longer and the days shorter. A week ago it began to be hard to see any change and I told Hugh. So we watched together and three days ago was the turning point… so that day became December 22nd…

It stands to reason that early humans would have noticed this phenomenon, marked it, and celebrated it. In fact I’d suspect that discovery of the solstice would lead to the idea of the solar year and a calendar resembling our own, thus leading to the very idea of annual recurrence.

Of course there are other factors to consider. In the tropics, the seasonal shifting between day and night is not as pronounced as in the more temperate latitudes. Near the equator the length of day does not vary much if at all, though the solstice can still be observed by the angle of the sun. Other annual events may have been more important in particular regions, such as the flooding of a major river. And calendars were developed around the moon also.

Still, celebrating the solstice must be pretty ancient.

Timeless Resonance

Furthermore, as a global moment, it’s universal to all human cultures on every part of the planet. And, indeed, there have been midwinter festivals in virtually every part of the world throughout human history.

The summer solstice would have been known to early humans as well, but it seems to me that the winter event would have deeper meaning, especially to ancient people.

At this time of year, the days are getting shorter and shorter. Darkness encroaches, and the source of light and warmth is steadily more distant. Marking the time when that changed and the light returns must have been reassuring. The world will not be plunged into endless night. The sun returns, hooray, let’s party.

When we participate in traditions at this time of year, such as exchanging gifts or decorating our dwellings with festive luminous displays, we are repeating age-old observances. There’s a certain resonance in these rituals that echoes down the corridors of time, connecting us to the very dawn of humanity.

Universal and Natural

Most of us don’t explicitly celebrate the solstice any longer. This greeting was embedded in an e-mail I got yesterday.

Inclusive Holiday Greeting

It features Christmas (in four languages), Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. That’s nice. But consider what’s missing. Whatever happened to the Amaterasu celebration? What about the Beiwe Festival? Where is Brumalia, Chawmos, the Deygan Festival, the Dōngzhì Festival, Goru, Hogmanay, Inti Raymi, Junkanoo, Karachun, Koleda, Lá an Dreoilín, Lenæa, Lohri, Makara Sankranti, Maruaroa o Takurua, Midvinterblót, Midwinter, Modranicht, Mummer’s Day, the Perchta ritual, the Rozhanitsa Feast, Sanghamitta Day, the Saturnalia, Şewy Yelda, Sol Invictus, Soyal, We Tripantu, Zagmuk, and Ziemassvētki? To say nothing of Yule! And for the love of Mother Earth, what about the Solstice?

But it hardly matters. The old traditions live on. For most Americans they have been sublimated into the Christmas holiday. The actual date of Jesus’ birth being unknown, the early church probably fixed the day at this time of year to capitalize on an ancient pagan holiday like Sol Invictus. It makes a certain poetic sense, too; there’s a parallel between the rebirth of the Sun and the birth of the Son that extends beyond mere wordplay. The desire to participate in these celebrations is so strong that many completely secular people get into the “Christmas spirit.” Even prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins loves to go caroling. A paradoxical contradiction? Not at all.

Anyhow, I am happy to remember and the solstice and celebrate it explicitly. It’s about as universal and natural a holiday as one could ask for. It’s available to everyone, people of every religion or no religion, everywhere on the planet.

Footnote: Of course in southern hemisphere it’s the summer solstice that’s approaching, but if you’re going to celebrate one solstice you might as well celebrate them both. It’s all good.

Photo Credit: Winter sun through rolling clouds – 1 / Colin Campbell / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Saving Grace

Mid-City Community Dinner

It’s come to my attention that the Episcopal Diocese is planning to close Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street in the first Sunday in January. This would be a major blow in my opinion. Below is a letter to the bishop urging him to reconsider this decision. Though sent on behalf of my role in FOLC, I feel a strong personal connection to Grace as I’ve attended so many meetings there. My daughter had a wonderful time at Grace Child Center until it too was closed by the diocese under circumstances which I never fully understood. I find church politics very confusing. The Executive Board of the diocese is meeting this Wednesday; I sincerely hope they can find a way to keep Grace open.

Dear Reverend Morris Thompson,

As the President of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I am writing to you to express how important Grace Episcopal church is to my organization and to many other organizations across the City. This church is far more than a space for worship, it is a place that inspires residents to give back to the community. By hosting and advertising many community meetings and functions that contribute to the improvement of our society as a whole, Grace Episcopal is a true gem in New Orleans and should not be closed. My organization has had monthly meetings here for over three years. I have attended numerous citywide meetings and neighborhood meetings at this venue as well. This church brings communities together to help address societal issues, and if closed, would leave many residents and organizations at a loss for a gathering space. Therefore on behalf of the Board of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I am requesting that you reconsider your decision to close such an active and important church.


Bart Everson
Friends of Lafitte Corridor

Cc: Reverend Canon Mark Stevenson

Writing to Expand the Self

Blurred Reflection of a Dream

I promised to write about my three regular practices: meditation, baking, and writing. The last topic should be the easiest to address. I’ve been doing it the longest, and I feel as if I understand it somewhat.

And yet: Surely it’s foolish to write about writing. Hasn’t it all been said, or written, before?

Come to Think of It

When I was very young, I think I wanted to be a fireman and a garbage collector at various stages. Those are apparently common aspirational points for little boys.

As an adult, the only thing I’ve ever opened my mouth to say I wanted to “be” was a writer.

In fact, I have been writing, and writing, and writing for much of my life.

Yet I’ve scrupled to call myself a writer, because I’m self-published. I still remember the shock I felt when someone introduced me as a writer. And why not? She knew me primarily through my writing.

The vast bulk of my writing in recent years has been here, on this self-published website. I’ve dismissed this as “just a blog,” dismissed myself as “just a blogger.”

At some point over the past summer, I realized I was doing myself a huge disservice. I shouldn’t dismiss something that’s so important to who I am. The act of writing regularly has shaped my life.

It’s a transformative art. At the end of writing something, I’m a different person than when I began. The depth of change depends on the depth of the writing.

Released into the world, words can extend their power. Often they vanish, but occasionally they catch fire. Sometimes I get burned — my words come back to haunt me. But sometimes they open new opportunities. Sometimes they conjure portals.

I resolved, then, to take my writing more seriously.

Word Games

For the most part, I’ve stopped using the word “blogging” to describe this. I’ve stopped calling myself a blogger, except where there’s some strategic advantage. And, indeed, there are times when some advantage may accrue to identifying as a blogger, chiefly when joining with others who are working in the same medium. Strength in numbers, y’know.

The word “blog” is ungainly, even ugly. It has a kind of grotesque feel coming out the mouth. It’s the sound one makes before barfing.

So I accord myself a modicum of respect and call myself a writer. That’s not hubris. I’m not calling myself a good writer. But I am one who writes, and that’s all it means. Graffiti taggers call themselves writers too.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that for the last seven years most of the words I’ve written have appeared on this site, this web log, this blog.

The deeper issue is self-publishing. It’s great to have this freedom, but most of my favorite authors published through others. They engaged that editorial filter with glorious results. I’ve never even submitted a manuscript to a publishing venue. I’ve resolved to do so this school year. More on that later. For now I want to focus on what I’m doing here, on this site.

Frequency and Scope

I’ve kept a journal, off and on, since childhood, long before I wrote my first entry here. It’s a fine process for personal development. It’s listed on the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

For years I’ve aimed to write on this site daily, just as I would hope to do in a private journal or diary. I often fail, but that’s the guiding rhythm. It would be difficult to overstate the general effect of this rhythm on my consciousness, on my sense of identity.

So: If I change the rhythm of my writing, I change the rhythm of my life. For the last few months I’ve been aiming to write here weekly, more or less. This has given me time to mull my topics over, and to engage in a process of revision and expansion that lasts over several days. Some of the results, at least, should be obvious. I’ve been writing longer pieces. Too long perhaps.

In my daily rhythm, I tended to adopt a narrow scope, looking at just one incident or idea and riffing on that. Breaking life into little fragments like that was fine, but lately I’ve been wondering about the whole. I’ve been wanting to attend the endless interconnections.

I am trying to deepen my writing, to strengthen it, and to integrate the diverse aspects of my life through this process.


There are some problems with this approach, for the reader at least. I’m ending up with slabs of a thousand words, or maybe two thousand. They seem to make a coherent whole to me, but they may look like impenetrable thickets from the outside. In other words, my readership may be suffering. I’m sorry about that, and I am making an effort to exercise restraint, to write concisely. Unfortunately I am not succeeding quite yet.

Also, in trying to take writing more seriously, it may become too serious. Turgid. Dry. Boring, sanctimonious, presumptuous, arrogant, and self-important. I have some tendency toward all these traits, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see that reflected in my writing. It’s my dour Nordic heritage asserting itself, perhaps.


It’s great to “begin with the end in mind.” However, that’s not always possible with truly transformational processes. When you wrestle with angels there are unforeseen consequences.

How does it work? Writing constructs reality. Words have a power, when uttered, when written. In some sense all language is a lie. But also, words can become truth, overwhelming weak reality. “We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges.” (Props if you can identify that quote.) By writing I’m creating the myth of myself.

But there’s another way in which writing is transformational, more mundane but just as profound. In a word: research. For example, I encountered ideas about emergence as I wrote an account of what’s been going on in my life lately. Through these investigations I found my soul. One could say that writing is my religion.

Such are the fruits of the project I’m setting for myself.