To My Aunt

BART, you probably haven’t read about this [forwarded message: Why Did Jesus Fold the Napkin?] ––––– you are so brilliant, and I understand how your mind was to reject Jesus, but He is the only way to salvation, He is the only God who died on the cross for our sins–––statues of buddah, baal and Hinduisms and islam and everything else is NOT the way to anything===go back to reading the Bible and before each reading ask God to help you understand. In these last days, you want to be prepared for heaven and the final judgement–––I am so serious, I really hope you understand that I love you and Christy and Persephone––––wouldn’t be much of an aunt if I didn’t at least tell you how important you are.

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Fifty-One Months

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-one months old today.

It feels like it’s been an epic month in your life. But aren’t they all epic at your age? And in this city?

Two big things: You finished your first year of school, and you got into a new school for the fall.

For the past year you’ve been attending Pre-K3 at a certain Catholic school in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank. Given that I’m not Catholic, and we live on the East Bank in Orleans Parish, I never dreamed that you’d be going to that particular school. However, that’s where your mama works, and Pre-K3 programs are in short supply. So it made sense for you to got there.

And it’s been good. The extra time with your mother has been nice for both of you. It seems you listen to the radio together and pick out favorite pop songs. And the school curriculum ain’t bad either. You’ve come home every day full of songs and rhymes and an endless number of hands-on projects and activities. Despite having been married to a teacher for the better part of two decades, I was frankly astonished by the work your teacher put into it, and I knew I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Before your last day we sat down and made “thank you” cards for your teacher and her assistant.

Thanks

Actually you made them yourself. I didn’t touch them. I did have to provide some coaching on how to write their names.

(Speaking of letters, you read a sign on the street, just a few blocks from home. It said, “No” and had a picture of a dog. I think that was a first.)

As that chapter of your life drew to a close, a new one has just been beginning. After your final half-day of school, your mother took you to enroll at your new school. You see, we won the lottery. No, not the state lottery. We won the lottery that allows us to enroll you in the school we wanted. I sincerely hope that by the time you read this we’ve found a better system, such as guaranteeing decent educational opportunities for all children, so that kids don’t have to compete in a lottery to get into a good school. But that seems unlikely.

Your class staged a performance on your final day of school. I wasn’t able to attend. I wasn’t able to make it to your old school once during the school year. With a single car and given the distances involved it just wasn’t possible. Your new school is closer to home, and I am looking forward to being more involved.

That’s plenty, but there have been some other interesting developments.

One morning you said to me, “I wish my stuffed animals were alive. I think maybe they come alive when I leave, like in Toy Story 3.” This filled me with a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. It reminded me of my childhood, and also of a yearning that suffused much of my childhood. Later that morning, at my book club, a friend described searching for “portals to Narnia” in a large decrepit mansion when she was young. That yearning again — a yearning for something, a yearning almost painful. Is it a yearning for companionship? Adventure? Transcendence? I don’t know.

Speaking of which, we finished Prince Caspian, then read Persephone the Phony, from the Goddess Girls series. We’re now reading The Voyage on the Dawn Treader. Every time there’s a reference to the poop, you grumble: “Oooh, yuck.” I explain it’s not that kind of poop, but you definitely prefer the forecastle.

You built an altar in your room.

And then there’s Devonte. He’s one of a trio of boys who’ve been stopping by on an almost daily basis. Together they can be kind of rowdy, but alone he is very well behaved. He even joined us for dinner one night, with his mother’s permission.

Devonte & Persephone

Devonte is five years old. He joined us when we were making the thank you cards, and he made some for his teachers. I was very impressed by his handwriting.

You like Devonte. The funny thing is, you think he’s a girl. When I told you he’s a boy, you disagreed with some vehemence. I think maybe you’re confused because he has braids. We argued about it a couple times. Finally you asked me, “Does Devonte sound like a boy’s name?” Well, yes, it does, but I didn’t push the issue. Wow, when you think you know something you can be very stubborn. Nobody can tell you otherwise.

I wonder where you inherited that trait?

Epistle to the Ecotopians

I don’t often do this, but here are some words written by someone else. I guess I should add a few words of my own. I read Ecotopia in the late 80s. Written by Ernest Callenbach, it’s an imaginative novel that speculates on what would happen if the west coast of the United States seceded from the union and established a country based on the radical idea of living sustainably. I read it in a class on utopian literature at Indiana University, taught by the amazing Edward Gubar. I loved that class. Incidentally, today I saw that Edward’s ex-wife Susan Gubar is on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is also a writer facing her own mortality, just as Ernest Callenbach has done. Callenbach died a few weeks ago, and this letter was found on his computer. It was obviously written as a final statement. Please, please read it. Also, many thanks to TomDispatch.com for first publishing this epistle.
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Happy May Day

Happy May Day

Workers of the world, take a break and celebrate International Workers’ Day or as I prefer to call it: May Day. It’s a day to remember the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. It’s good to recall that the eight-hour work day was not always a given, but something for which workers had to fight and even give their lives.

Absurdly, the US government has installed something you never heard of called Loyalty Day on the first of May, “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.” It’s a laughable attempt to undermine the celebration of May Day.

Of course, there’s an even older history to May Day that goes way beyond 1886. Europeans brought this tradition with them to the New World as early as 1627. It’s a cross-quarter day, halfway between the equinox and the solstice. Technically the halfway point falls on Friday evening, so maybe we should extend our celebrations all week long. There are a cluster of old traditional holidays around this time that have interesting stories. Many are seasonal observations with an emphasis on fertility and the coming of summer, and some are a little spooky, which I like. May Day — Beltane — Walpurgisnacht — Vappa — Roodmas — Whitsuntide — whatever you want to call it — I’d celebrate them all if I knew how. I’d like to combine the pagan and labor traditions, the “green root” and the “red root” into a single holiday. A protest, a party, a ritual — all in one.

Hopefully if you’re in New Orleans you can make one of the marches planned here. No matter where you are, there’s probably something going on near you. Get out there.

May Day 2012