Please Forward

Please ForwardI know I shouldn’t be excited about something so grim but nevertheless I am happy to announce that Please Forward will soon be available in bookstores (officially on August 15) and is now available for pre-order at all the usual places, including my favorite bookstore.

This anthology collects online writings that erupted in the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans in 2005. As such, it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, upon which I have expounded at some length.

Continue reading Please Forward

Red Rock Review

Red Rock Review

I’m holding in my hot little hands the Spring 2015 issue (#35) of the Red Rock Review, a literary journal from the College of Southern Nevada. Red Rock Review is notable for publishing such luminaries as Marge Piercy and now yours truly. Check it out, page 71, “Dreams,” a short piece of what might be called fiction. Long-time readers of this blog may be intrigued to know this story/essay had its genesis back in 2006, during a two-week inner vacation which I wrote about in somewhat vague and mysterious terms. It took over eight years to bear fruit, a long gestation. This is my first time in print, I think, and certainly in a literary journal of this caliber. I’ve also got work coming out in a couple anthologies later this year. The question remains, how best to leverage this into something more? What next?

PS: You can get a copy of the Red Rock Review from their website. Copies of “Dreams” are available from the author for a song.

PPS: Uploaded to



I wanted to know more about the historical context of the faith in which I was raised. So I got hold of A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch. It offered a bit more detail than I needed, so that I ended up skimming large sections, but nonetheless I found it a fascinating volume, and I think my understanding has been enriched.

The book covers the birth of a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century, its growth and consolidation in the years that followed, and the eventual emergence of a distinct Lutheran identity. The book goes on to detail Lutheran orthodoxy in the 17th century, the subsequent swing toward Pietism throughout the 18th century, the diversification of the movement, and a summation of developments in the last hundred years.

Some of the lurid details of Pietism are especially riveting; I’m making a note to myself to learn more about the Moravian Brethren and the Seitenhöhlchen-Kult. This is some weird wild stuff.

While such subjects have a certain sensationalistic appeal, the opposite end of the spectrum is much more relevant to me personally. I was particularly struck by the “quest for pure doctrine,” a driving force in Lutheran orthodoxy which continues today. It’s stunning to realize how much human time and effort have been expended on theological disputes. While many of these quarrels seem like hair-splitting, I can recognize this fervid thirst for truth and correctness in my own self even now.

This connection runs through the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (aka LCMS) which was formed in 1847 right here in North America. This is the denomination in which I was raised, noted for its “aggressive Lutheran confessional and biblicist stance,” a doctrinal conservatism which I now understand goes back for centuries. How conservative? According to Gritsch, LCMS journals have contended that “there is no development of doctrine since the Reformation.”

If contemporary Lutheranism has any image in the popular mind at all, it’s probably of a gloomy blandness derived from Garrison Keillor’s stories of Lake Wobegon. I hasten to point out that those are Scandinavian Lutherans, probably Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Though I have Norwegian heritage and a deep affinity for Nordic culture, my sense of the LCMS is much more Germanic, and the corresponding emphasis is on precision rather than gloom.

This desire for precision manifests in the quest for pure doctrine. “By 1929,” Gritsch writes, “it had become clear that the Missouri Synod suspected all other Lutheran synods of false teaching.” The divide between ELCA and LCMS represents the biggest rift in American Lutheran tradition. ELCA is distinctly more liberal than LCMS. I gather Dr. Gritsch was ELCA, so I’m sure the LCMS is untroubled when he writes that “Lutheran unity, fifty years overdue, will come eventually because Missouri cannot forever escape the implications of its own confession.”

According to the LCMS perspective, it’s an open question whether ELCA is even a real Lutheran church. After all, the ELCA holds that the Bible may contain historical and scientific errors. They tolerate homosexuality, and they even ordain women! That would never fly in the LCMS of my youth.

That’s why it was so surprising for me to learn of a movement in the LCMS called Ordain Women Now (OWN). This is an effort to promote discussion within the LCMS about the ordination of women, and as the name suggests, they are actively advocating for the same. Female pastors — in the LCMS? My mind boggles.

In fact, OWN is just part of a broader movement for gender justice in a number of faith traditions, including Roman Catholicism and the Latter-Day Saints. There’s an interfaith coalition called Equal in Faith that’s gotten organized to call attention to these efforts. They are all working to transform their traditions into something more just and equitable.

I’m of a divided mind about all this. I’m absolutely in support of gender equity, which is a crucially important issue, but I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to stay in a tradition where they didn’t feel fully respected. Then again, I left the LCMS a long time ago; I have too many fundamental disagreements, and separation was the only option for me. I’m very happy to be a member of a local group in which gender equity is a bedrock assumption, but it’s a long way from LCMS to Lamplight Circle.

Anyhow, even though I may not fully comprehend it, I want to express my solidarity with this movement. Therefore I hope to participate in the 2015 Fast for Gender Equality, which is taking place on International Women’s Day. That’s this Sunday, 8 March, 2015. There are interfaith gatherings scheduled in at least twenty cities across three continents, and one’s right here in New Orleans. (Here’s a flyer for the local event.)

Good luck to those on the front lines of this struggle. From everything I know about patriarchy, you’ll need it. But your cause is just, and I’m pulling for you.


A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch

Ordain Women Now (LCMS)

Ordain Women (LDS)

Women’s Ordination Conference (RC)

Equal in Faith (interfaith)

Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod by Mary Todd

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 for first publishing this epistle.
Continue reading Epistle to the Ecotopians

Context Clues

Bayou Conversation

What’s in an Acronym

I work at an HBCU. That acronym is not recognized by my spellchecker, nor was it in my vocabulary until I came to work here. It stands for “Historically Black College or University,” a term which requires even more unpacking.

In a nutshell, the story is this. Once upon a time in America, people of color had virtually no educational opportunities. Even after slavery was abolished, institutions of learning were for white people only, and remained so for generations, especially in the American South. And so eventually HBCUs were established, and over a hundred are still operating today.

Like me, most Americans don’t know about HBCUs, their role in our history, or their continued relevance. To understand this, you have to come to terms with certain painful aspects of our history, which seem to be subject to a peculiar and selective cultural amnesia. Sometimes we’d rather forget about slavery and its legacy. Or perhaps we’d like to pretend that’s all well behind us, old dead history of purely academic interest. Such a view relegates HBCUs to the status of relics, anachronisms, survivals of a bygone age. The truth is that while we’ve made progress we are still living that history, and racial disparities are still significant. HBCUs still have a role to play. I’ve been learning about all this, and more, on the job.

Book Club

I work in faculty development. It’s part of my job to think and grow together with the people who are actually in the classroom teaching.

One avenue to that end is our Fall Faculty Book Club, which has been running for several years now. This time around, we are reading How Black Colleges Empower Black Students, an anthology edited by Frank Hale Jr. The response has been phenomenal. We had so many faculty wanting to participate that we had to split into two groups.

As I read through the very first essay, “HBCUs in the Old South and the New South,” by Samuel DuBois Cook, I learned a lot. I did not know, for example, that HBCUs were at the forefront of the movement toward diversity and inclusion. Most modern educational institutions now embrace these values — or at least pay them lip service. But in the Old South, this was a radical commitment that went against the grain of the dominant culture, and there were consequences. I’ll cite just one instance: The state of Georgia cut off funding to Atlanta University because they had accepted some white students. Read that again if you have to. Atlanta University had been established as an HBCU, and the idea that white students would be attending classes and rubbing elbows with Black students was unacceptable to the establishment. The university administration held their ground and lost state funding. This was in 1885. The university survives to this day, in the form of Clark Atlanta, but it could not have been easy. This is a dramatic illustration of a general principle. HBCUs have always been inclusive and multiracial, long before the contemporary notion of diversity became popular.

Sacred Work

The religious themes in this essay were also striking. These are by no means incidental, as the very first HBCUs were private institutions founded by religious groups. As Dr. Cook notes at the outset,

It was neither accidental nor an experience of minor and fleeting importance and relevance that virtually all of the educational institutions founded to educate freedmen were church-related. Indeed, the church-relatedness of their origin was of overwhelming and enduring significance, meaning, and value. Involved were a theological worldview, formal commitment to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and a belief — however insufficient — that ex-slaves and their descendants were human persons endowed by God with intrinsic dignity, value, and worth and were equal in God’s sight.

Furthermore, Dr. Cook refers to the founding and operation of these institutions as “sacred work.” He writes of teaching as a “sacred commitment,” a “divine art and enterprise.” That language gave me pause.

I work at an institution which is not only “church-related” but which was founded by a saint, now canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The cornerstone of the oldest building here, dedicated in 1932 and built with Indiana limestone, bears this inscription:

God’s greatest work on earth is man.
Man’s master art is the leading of man to God.

Teaching is surely one of those arts that can lead “man to God.” I’ll leave aside my reservations about theological doctrine for the moment, though they are many. As I read Dr. Cook’s essay, I realized that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to participate in this “sacred work.” One doesn’t even have to be Christian. One doesn’t even have to be a theist.

So, in a very real way, I might assert that my job is my religion. Or at least a part of it.

Discussion Group

As I mentioned, interest in this book was so high we had to split into two discussion groups, with my boss facilitating one while I took the other. We had our first meeting on Monday.

In aiming to foster a good discussion, I drew upon a key lesson from last year’s book club selection, The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc: Start with a story.

We began by going around the table, introducing ourselves, and telling a bit of our story. “Tell us how you got here,” I said. “Tell us the story of why you are here, both on this campus generally and in this particular room. Tell us how you came to be at this HBCU, and also why you wanted to be here reading this book about HBCUs.”

I began with my own story, in order to model the sort of openness I wanted to hear from the others. I won’t repeat that in detail here, as I’ve written about all this before: How my grandfather was a Klansman, how I went to high school with Klansmen. Despite growing up north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in a virtually monocultural suburb where Black people were rarely seen. My point was that the very notion of an HBCU was completely off my radar. I never heard of such a thing until I was searching for a job back in ’99.

Though I’ve picked up some bits and pieces over the past twelve years, I never got a formal orientation to HBCUs, what they represent, and what it means to work at one. Furthermore, my department is responsible for orienting new faculty each year. So by reading this book, I’m hoping to deepen my understanding, to finally get that orientation, and learn how to orient others.

Around the Table

As we went around the table, a couple interesting things happened. First, people really did open up. The stories people told were heartfelt, candid, and emotional. Second, I experienced a sense of humility and honor and interconnection and respect that seemed quite profound — and I’m certain I was not alone in this. I felt some intangible essence reflected back to me from the face of each participant.

I was reminded that dialog can be a spiritual practice.

On my door to my office I have posted a copy of the Tree of Contemplative Practices. After the meeting was over, I consulted it.

Tree of Contemplative Practices

Sure enough, listed under relational practices one finds dialog, deep listening, and storytelling.

How does it work? Just off the cuff, my impression is that when you really open up to dialog you become part of something bigger than yourself. Sitting in that room, listening to my colleagues and co-workers, we became more than just ten individuals around a table. Some sense of shared purpose and identity began to emerge, however tenuous, however briefly. Most every spiritual path seems to acknowledge the idea of being a part of a larger whole.

We had that sense of expanded context doubly Monday, as we experienced a communion of sorts with one another, and also felt our sense of shared mission within the larger scope of history.

Context is everything.

Tangents & Foonotes: In the process of writing this I discovered the Spirituality & Practice website, which appears to be a great resource. For example, check out the section on listening as a spiritual practice, and make sure to use the listed links for related quotations, books, films, art and much, much more.

I am trying to keep these posts under a thousand words. Trying, and failing.

Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom!Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a good long while, but I finally finished a book by William Faulkner. I’d read a few pages from The Sound and the Fury a few decades ago, gave up, and avoided him like pellagra ever since. It took me almost half a year to finish Absalom, Absalom! but mainly that’s because I was reading with a support group that only met once a month.

Consider this description of language buried in the middle of Chapter VII:

that meager and fragile thread… by which the little surface corners and edges of men’s secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness where the spirit cried for the first time and was not heard and will cry for the last time and not be heard then either

Grim, eh? Now imagine a cast of characters pacing back and forth inside of this thing called language like animals in their cages. That’s how this narrative struck me.

It’s a dark and difficult book to be sure. In fact I read this for a group called “The Difficult Book Club.” One has to figure out how to read it. I recommend a slow but steady pace. This prose can’t be rushed; but if left too long, one loses the thread. When in doubt, try reading a passage aloud. It’s like poetry. It should not be a chore, though it can easily become one. Find the pleasure. Insist upon it.

Ultimately the book gives up its secrets in a most rewarding fashion. Upon finishing I turned back to Chapter I and it read like a completely different book. The words had not changed, only I had. What had previously seemed incomprehensible now made perfect sense. Moreover, I felt some of the mysteries of the Deep South had been illuminated, and that I now have a better and deeper understanding of this place where I live but was neither born nor bred.

Highly recommended, but not for everyone.


Choice quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Gilles Deleuze:

Overlooking many important nuances, we can say that Deleuze’s basic notion is that in all realms of being intensive morphogenetic processes follow differential virtual multiplicities to produce localized and individuated actual substances with extensive properties. Simply put, the actualization of the virtual proceeds by way of intensive processes.

Say what?

Every now and then I like to read something that’s completely over my head. I used to view such material as evidence of my limited capacity for abstract thought. However, I’ve come to suspect that it’s an effect of jargon — highly specialized technical language. Since I have little schooling in philosophy, I don’t know the jargon, and therefore I can’t follow the argument. Thus my pride of intellect is restored.

Or maybe I’m just deleuzional.

Third Chimpanzee

What with all the bedrest I’ve been catching up on my reading.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human AnimalThe Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became aware of Jared Diamond while having lunch in Tampere in the summer of 2001. I was there in Finland for a conference, and one of my lunch companions was raving about Guns, Germs, and Steel. A quick glance at other reviews indicates that’s his most revered book; it seems to be an expansion of a single chapter in The Third Chimpanzee. Indeed many if not all of his subsequent books seem to expand on themes he first addressed here. That says a lot about the scope and ambition of Third Chimpanzee.

I was drawn to this book because of its focus on human origins. This is a subject about which I knew little, and I learned plenty here, which was gratifying. But I was surprised by how much more I found here, everything from ruminations on extraterrestrial life to an examination of genocide.

Diamond takes aim at the biggest questions of human existence, and attempts to explicate them with passion and honesty. Occasionally his reach exceeds his grasp, occasionally he doesn’t seem to deliver the goods he promises — but only very occasionally. And honestly, if he’s half-right about half the issues he takes on, it’s still an impressive effort. I found his outlining of the questions at least as valuable as the answers he provides.

Utterly fascinating.

(Thanks to Brother O’Mara for loaning this one to me.)

Midnight Robber

Midnight RobberMidnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like science fiction. I like Caribbean cultures. But I’ve never looked for the intersection of the two. Actually, now I think about it, I have encountered lots of science fictional themes in reggae lyrics. But certainly I never thought to look for a science fiction novel written from a Caribbean perspective.

So that was the first thing I liked about Midnight Robber. It begins on the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint during Carnival. We read this for my book club here in New Orleans just as our own Carnival season was coming to a climax — so I was immediately hooked by the setting and the voice.

The entire novel is written in what I guess might be described as creolized English. It was certainly easy for me to understand once I got the hang of it, so I’m guessing it’s a blend of English and perhaps several true creole languages. (As an aside, I love it when two books I’m reading at the same time illuminate each another in unexpected ways, and that happened here when I got to Jared Diamond‘s section on pidgins and creoles in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal — which also helped me understand why so many people in New Orleans ask questions like, “What that is?” That’s creole word order.) In any event, the “patwa” definitely gave the book a unique flavor that I enjoyed hugely. In my mind I kept hearing the voice of my favorite Dominican poet, Billy Jno Hope.

But as I read on I discovered a lot more than that initial hook to keep me interested and involved. The father-daughter relationship which is a key element of this story resonated with me, but I did not anticipate the direction it would ultimately take. To say more would be to risk spoiling, so I’ll shut up. The daughter emerges as the protagonist in the story. It’s a coming-of-age tale. I’ve read plenty of those from the male perspective, so it’s refreshing to get one from the female side.

Indeed, the perspective of this book is profoundly and vitally female. I would not hesitate to call it feminist, except that label might scare away people who have certain preconceived notions about the f-word. Forget all that. This is first and foremost a book about being human. But it’s hard to imagine it being written by anyone other than a woman of color. I suppose comparisons to Octavia Butler are inevitable, not just because of the identity of the author but also because of the themes addressed. I was also reminded of Marge Piercy‘s far more strident Woman on the Edge of Time.

I found the whole story deeply involving and stimulating to my imagination. Did I fail to mention this is unapologetic science fiction as well? In addition high technology we also have alien creatures. Blending these elements with Afro-Caribbean folklore is a powerful combination that really worked for me.

I’d knock off half a star for the ending which felt a trifle rushed and a little too “easy” for me. But endings are hard and I can’t begrudge the last few pages when the rest of the book is so accomplished.

Reading Frenzy

Absalom, Absalom!The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun, #2)The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human AnimalMidnight Robber

I seem to be reading more these days. I’m a slow reader, but nevertheless I persevere. I’m simultaneously working my way through no less than four books right now.

  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. I’m reading this for the aptly-named Difficult Book Club, which was formed here at the University as part of our Read Today, Lead Tomorrow program. We are only reading one chapter a month, then meeting to discuss it, so it’s slow going.
  • The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe. This might be the fifteenth time I’ve read through the four volumes of the Book of the New Sun, which is my favorite novel of all time. I’m reading this aloud to Xy, for the second time, so one chapter every few nights.
  • The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. I got this on loan from Brother O’Mara. It’s been on my to-read list for ages, actually a part of my top secret research agenda. Sorry, can’t tell say anything more at this juncture, except that I’m digging the book so far.
  • Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. Wow, a book not written by a white male. I took a break from the previous book to read this one for the Octavia SF Club. It is set on a Caribbean-colonized planet during Carnival, so it’s perfect thing to read right now in New Orleans. Hustle on over to Octavia Books, score a copy, and join us for our next meeting. Great fun.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some more reading to do.


Item #1: According to Editorial Anonymous (a blog of a children’s book editor):

Trend Watch: Persephone Is the New Zombies/Vampires
Well, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted this one. We’re seeing a lot of YA Persephone retellings. Maybe this is in part due to the greek myth renaissance effected by Mr. Riordan? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the appeal of the underworld? I just hope it’s not some nasty subconscious preference for kidnapping/rape stories. Whatever it is, between the undead, the walking dead, and the actually dead, there’s a hell of a lot of dead going around. Makes me a little wistful for the wizards and pirates.

(hat tip to Amøs Türnür)

Item #2: The theme for the first-ever New Orleans’ Witches Ball?

Persephone’s Descent

Persephone's Descent
(hat tip to Bartlett Meeks)

Don’t Fear the Epigraph

Throughout my childhood my family made regular visits to my grandfather’s place, a doublewide trailer at the dead end of a long rural road, secluded acreage at the edge of Pottawatomi State Park in scenic Door County, Wisconsin.

On one visit, I excavated (from a drawer in a nightstand in a guest bedroom) a remaindered paperback of The Stand by Steven King. I suppose it was purchased by one of my aunts, uncles or cousins.

I didn’t manage to read the book. Not sure if I even tried.

But what I do recall, with crystal clarity, is the epigraph. Strangely enough, the epigraphs from The Stand are mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on epigraphs, but not in the entry on The Stand.

Actually I gather there are several epigraphs for the various sections of the novel, but there was one at the beginning that caught my eye back those many years ago. (It must have been 1981 because the book came out in paperback only in 1980. Surely a remaindered edition wouldn’t have been available until then. My grandfather died in 1981, and I didn’t return to Sturgeon Bay until 1992.) With the front cover missing I suppose the epigraphs may have been visible without actually opening the book. There were some other quotations, but only one made a lasting impression.

And it was clear she couldn’t go on!
The door was opened and the wind appeared,
The candles blew and then disappeared,
The curtains flew and then he appeared,
Said, “Don’t be afraid,
Come on, Mary,”
And she had no fear
And she ran to him
And they started to fly…
She had taken his hand…
“Come on, Mary;
Don’t fear the reaper!”
— Blue Öyster Cult

At the time, I had no idea who the Blue Öyster Cult was. They sounded mysterious and intriguing, and the lyrical quotation was dark and chilling. The name and the lyrics combined to create an atmosphere that was both dreadful and delicious at the same time. Eventually Blue Öyster Cult became my favorite band of my high school years, based on the records they’d put out in the 70s. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” remains one of my favorite songs. But at the time, I didn’t even know they were a rock band. I thought they were some sort of religious group. Their name alone evoked a mysterious image that still haunts me today.

I don’t know why this memory came back so vividly today. Perhaps it’s because I recently read Earth Abides, a novel which inspired The Stand. I’ve still never read The Stand, and really have no desire to do so, but Earth Abides is a great book.

We’re Number 15

My friend Anne, with whom I’ve been in a book club for nearly ten years now, alerted me to the fact that Central Connecticut State University has released their annual rankings of America’s Most Literate Cities. What especially intrigued Anne, and me, is that New Orleans is ranked #15 (out of 75). We were #17 last year. There’s no ranking for New Orleans in 2008, 2007, or 2006 because of you-know-what. But in 2005, New Orleans was ranked (drum roll) #42.

That’s quite a come-up, and I’m trying to figure what to make of it. There seems to be a clear “Katrina effect.”

The overall rankings were determined by the rankings of each city in each of the six subcategories: bookstores, educational attainment, internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation, and periodical publication.

Poking around in the subcategories, I see that New Orleans doesn’t rank higher in most of them. Educational attainment, not so much. Libraries? No, that’s our worst showing: We’re #40. For internet resources we’re #13. But when it comes to booksellers, we are #12. This would seem to be our main strength.

These three variables were used to determine a total score and consequent ranking:
1. Number of retail bookstores per 10,000 population
2. Number of rare and used bookstores per 10,000 population
3. Number of members of the American Booksellers Association per 10,000 population

Where did the data come from?

Booksellers and Stores Data

For this database, information was gathered from Yellow Pages, Inc. ( for information on retail, rare, and used booksellers as of November, 2010. Also, the American Booksellers Association site ( was used for independent bookseller information. Please note that for figures reported for “retail”, these did not include any “specialty”, “adult”, or “religious” bookstores, and the stores were those listed at these database sites in November of 2010.

Could it be that our bookstores all came back even though our population shrank?

Well, all I can say is I patronize my favorite bookstore, Octavia Books, whenever I can. I no longer purchase books through Amazon. Octavia special orders anything I want. They’ve nurtured my intellectual life substantially over the years, most notably by playing host to the aforementioned book club. (We’re reading Mysterium right now; grab a copy and join us Feb. 12th.) So my loyalty is unflagging.

Maybe other New Orleanians feel the same way about their bookstores?

In any event, I’ve derived so much pleasure through the reading of books over the years that I would classify myself as an unabashed fan of literacy. Therefore I welcome any positive news on this front, and I hope this ranking serves to generate a little excitement in the culture of our city about the joys of reading.

Best of 2010

It’s entirely ridiculous for me to offer up an annual “best of” list. I don’t keep up with the latest and greatest. I’d rather plunder the riches of the past than fetishize the new.

Of the twenty or so books I read this past year, only one was published in 2010: The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc. I could, of course, compile lists of the titles I enjoyed most regardless of when they came out: add Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc (2008), Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002), and Dark Green Religion by Bron Taylor (2009) to the aforementioned Heart of Higher Education. These were those most interesting books I read this year. I can’t help but notice that nonfiction outnumbers fiction in this short list, and there’s not a novel in sight. That’s a first. But all these books came out in the past decade — so much for “plundering the riches of the past.”

For music, my “discovery” list would be a tad more cumbersome. There would be a slew of tracks to contend with, but who really cares? So I’m sticking with the standard concept: a mix of music and audio bits from 2010.

This is so random it’s not even funny. I’m almost completely ignorant of what trends might be taking place in music over the last year. The only thing I even heard about was witch house, a.k.a. drag, (you know, the artists with the crazy black triangles ▲ and other unpronounceable names) and for all I know that subgenre is dead and buried (no pun intended).

And what about pix? I myself published 1,200+ photos online over the past year. If I could pick out the top dozen or so that might be the most meaningful list of all… but the size of the task is daunting.

Oh, what the hell. I’m on vacation. I’ve got little better to do.
Continue reading Best of 2010


A package arrived at the office Friday containing the latest edition of a psych textbook, hot off the presses.

Psychology Applied to Modern Life

It’s Psychology Applied to Modern Life by Wayne Weiten, Dana S. Dunn and Elizabeth Yost Hammer. That’s right, my boss is one of the co-authors. We (meaning her staff) knew a little something about this book, because we were with her through every step of the writing process. No drama, however small, was left unexplored. We shared her pain at every excruciating deadline. But it’s all good, because look at the acknowledgments.


Famous at last. OK, there are too many “finallys,” but still it is always nice to be acknowledged, and even nicer in hardcover. When Olivia saw this she was so happy she showed it to everyone on our floor.

Note that I am listed as “challenging.”

Celebrating Saturday, Morning and Night

Saturday morning I was out early conducting a short tour of the Lafitte Corridor. I was skeptical about how many people would be up for a hike at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but pleasantly surprised when a dozen people showed up, plus a half dozen more who joined us in progress.

Edgar & Vance


Lindsay & Helen

We walked from Sojourner Truth Community Center to Bayou St. John and back. Actually we had to turn back before we reached the bayou. I was worried I wouldn’t have folks back to Sojourner Truth in time for the main event, namely the Walk and Roll Louisiana Summit 2010. I was supposed to be on a panel at the summit titled “Building successes from the ground up: The legacy of walking and cycling advocacy in Louisiana.” But thankfully I was able to get one of my esteemed FOLC board members, namely Edgar Chase, to represent us.

See, I couldn’t stick around for Walk & Roll because I had a prior commitment. The second Saturday of the month is my book club. Don’t get me wrong, I think Walk & Roll was a fantastic event, and bike/ped issues are near and dear to my heart. But I’ve been going to this book club for almost ten years now. I’ve missed a few meetings here and there because of levee failures and the like, but as a rule I do my best to be there. Second Saturdays are sort of sacred to me.

Drawing boundaries like this is important to maintaining my sanity and my sense of balance. There are many needs in this community, and I try to do my part, but in order to stay happy and healthy I have to know where to draw the line, to say “sorry” and enjoy my personal pleasures as opposed to serving the elusive public good.

(As another example, I was recently asked to serve on some neighborhood committees. I was on the verge of saying yes when I remembered that in 2008 I essentially made a vow, to my wife and my daughter and myself, to limit my involvement to one organization only. I chose Friends of Lafitte Corridor and resigned from two other boards. It was a good decision, one I need to continue to honor, so instead of serving on one of those committees I made a counter-offer. I’m going to recruit someone else as a Greenway Liaison for Mid-City. I suspect there’s a FOLC member living in Mid-City who’d like to get more active with FOLC and/or MCNO. This might be the perfect opportunity for getting started. I’m hoping that this will be a way to expand the circle of neighborhood involvement for a net gain.)

So that’s what I did Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed talking about Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others with my fellow club members. Even so, I felt slightly guilty about not being at Walk & Roll to show my support, and about not being home to help with chores and looking after my daughter, especially after being gone most of last week.

But only slightly.

Actually, that may have added to my enjoyment. I felt like I was getting away with something.

I’m still planning to write more about the trip to St. Louis, by the way.

Saturday night, Xy and I dropped Persephone off with a sitter and celebrated — I wasn’t sure exactly what we were celebrating, but we had a good time which included dinner at Crescent Pie & Sausage. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized it has been a year and a day since we closed on our new house. I wonder when we will stop calling it “new”?

Dark Green Religion

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.

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Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry

I recently finished Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc. Here are a few brief notes.

It’s rare for me to finish a book and immediately think I need to start over at the beginning and read it again. Yet that’s the case here. I found this book engaging and compelling yet increasingly challenging. I’m convinced there is real value here, but I am equally convinced that I have not assimilated it wholly.

Zajonc begins with some persuasive arguments in favor of contemplation, urging us to take (or make) the time for daily practice. He then gives an overview of the path as he sees it. This is given in simple terms so that even people unfamiliar with meditation can follow it. (By way of reference, perhaps I should mention that I have practiced only the simplest sort of breathing meditation, very erratically, for many years.) That accounts for the introduction and the first chapter. The remainder of the book is devoted to examining steps along the path in greater detail. Perhaps it is unavoidable that each chapter is more esoteric than the one before it. It is a credit to Zajonc’s lucid writing style that this never lapses into incomprehensibility, despite the increasing subtlety of the subject matter.

One of the most praiseworthy aspects of this book is the care the author takes to distinguish the essential nature of his subject from various religious traditions. This is a delicate balancing act. Zajonc connects various aspects of meditation to explicitly spiritual perspectives from around the world, including the “usual suspects” such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, but also Native American spirituality and anthroposophism — without ever committing to one of them. Zajonc also notes that religion “has become an obstacle to many.” It is left to the reader to locate his or her practice within a religious context — and a thoroughly secular reading is also possible.

I also appreciated the many connections drawn between contemplation and social justice. King, Mandela and Gandhi are cited repeatedly. Zajonc is a physicist, and we get some Einstein quotations as well. These were amongst my favorites.

I feel compelled to offer some sort of criticism so this review doesn’t seem overly gushing. All I can say is that, from my personal standpoint, Zajonc seems to articulate a very “solar” perspective. I feel that I need something somewhat more “lunar,” if that makes any sense. I’m sorry I can’t express it better than that. I don’t really know what I mean, as it’s just something I intuitively feel. But perhaps that’s just a matter of locating my practice in my proper religious context — once I figure out what that is.

Perhaps most importantly, this book is convincing. I am both persuaded and inspired to incorporate some form of contemplative practice into my daily life. I look forward to reading this book again.