These Past Years

Self Collage Prototype 1

It’s 2015, and we’re halfway through this decade. My 48th birthday has come and gone. Having been born in January, my years have always lined up with the calendar. I find myself reflecting on my last five years.

My body has begun to show signs of wear and tear. When I turned 43, my body still felt young, but shortly thereafter the long slow decline into decrepitude began. I would still qualify myself as fairly fit, and I’m grateful for my good health. But there’s no denying that I ain’t what I used to be. My thinning hair is proof enough.

It’s been a time of spiritual reawakening for me. I’ve written about this process extensively, yet I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s also been a time of artistic renewal. I’m finally writing some long-deferred projects, and I’ve actually got three pieces coming out in print this year. I’ve also been exhibiting photography: you can see my work on the wall of Skewer Gallery at Kebab.

My favorite so far is a collage I call “Native/Non-Native.”


The years have started to run together. Ask me about any year from 1985 to 2010 and I could tell you exactly what was going on in my life. Ask me about one of these recent years and I have to think for a moment. My memory’s changing, yes, but also it’s matter of settling into some rhythms and patterns. It’s a good thing, I think, but it confounds calendrical differentiation.

Which is kind of funny, because in fact 2014 was perhaps the most well-defined and documented year of my entire life. I started keeping a journal on the first day of 1984. On the first day of 2014, I realized I’d never been as consistent in my journal-writing as I was that first year. I’ll be damned if I let that 17-year-old punk get the better of me. I vowed to do better in 2014, and I did — 364 journal entries. I missed only one day.

Over the year of 2014 I also reviewed what I’d written on each day in past years. It was a year of intensive introspection and retrospection. I know myself better. Or perhaps I should say “myselves,” as despite my ardent desire for continuity, I can no longer deny it: I’m not the same person I was. These collages represent my multiplicity of selves.

Self Collage Prototype 2

Which do you prefer: the one at the top or the one at the bottom? (The one in the middle has a different raison d’être entirely.) Which is the better self-portrait?

It’s been an amazing journey, this life, and especially these last five years, and if it ended tomorrow I would die happy, but I certainly don’t want to die tomorrow. I’ve got a lot left to do.

Eight Things I’m Proud to Have Accomplished This Year

At year’s end, my thoughts.

It was, for me personally, a very full year. It was full not just with busy-business (though there was some of that to be sure) but full of value and purpose, full of meaningful engagement.

I look back on several accomplishments with some pride. So, with no further humility…

  1. I wrote my first grant, and it was successful. Actually, I wrote the application in late 2012, but the award wasn’t announced until 2013. It’s enabled a new initiative I call Sustaining the Dialog, which sent three Xavier faculty to Smith College this summer to learn about contemplative pedagogy. Many thanks to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society for funding this work, which continues into the next semester at least.
  2. I brought two speakers on to campus for workshop sessions in a series which I’m calling “Contemplative Practices in Diverse Traditions.” In January we learned about lectio divina with Rev. William Thiele. In December, we learned about Zen meditation with Rev. Michaela Bono. It has been a great blessing and a privilege to work with spiritual practitioners in the local community, and to help them share their practices with teachers at Xavier.
  3. Continuing the work-related theme, I went all the way up to Amherst to deliver a presentation on “Contemplative Faculty Development: From Spiritual Emergency to Visions of Wholeness.
  4. On a more personal note, I stopped drinking. Kinda sorta. I guess it would be more accurate to say I cut way, way back on my drinking. About every couple months or so, I’ll still indulge in a few libations. But it’s so much more dramatic to say “I quit drinking.” And from a New Orleanian perspective, I am practically a teetotaller. This is just what I felt i need to do to maximize my health and happiness.
  5. After having lost 20 lbs. over two years, this summer I started pumping iron and bulking up. I’ve gained 25 lbs. since then. I wish I could say it was all muscle. It’s not, quite. But I feel like I’m ending 2013 in better shape then I started it, and considering I started the year in fine health, that’s an accomplishment.
  6. The Mayor of Bloomington proclaimed July 7 as National ROX Day. There’s a tale to tell there, but it will have to wait until I get some choice video edited. Thanks to Councilmember Steve Volan for his advocacy.
  7. I was nominated for a Cox Conserves Hero award. And I won! The $100,000 prize went to the local nonprofit of which I was a founding member and president for three years. Many thanks to all those who voted for me and promoted my cause.
  8. I officiated a civic tree blessing ceremony on the banks of Bayou St. John.

But wait, there’s more!

Continue reading “Eight Things I’m Proud to Have Accomplished This Year”

Revelations in Blackout

Revelations in Blackout

We lost electrical service to our house for 98 hours. That’s just over four days. And during these four days I discovered something odd.

I sort of liked it.

It feels wrong, saying that when over a hundred thousand of my fellow citizens are still without power. The constant question around the city these days is, “Your lights on yet?” I was at a meeting Sunday, a small group of parents; of the eight of us, five had power; to those other three, I hardly felt like reflecting on how much fun a power outage can be.

And yet.

Life without electricity is not exactly the Stone Age. We still had running, potable water. We still had gas. Of course, the electrical starter mechanism for our range was out of commission, but most people still know how to light those things manually. Ironically, no electricity means no hot water for us because our tankless water heater depends on it. But cold showers felt better in the heat anyhow.

Ah yes, the heat. That is the biggest complaint for most people. Yet my barber said it best, when he came to remove the plywood from his windows this morning. “Us Americans, we’re used to the AC. But people used to live without it. We’ve just gotten soft.”

I read today about a 90 year old man who died of heat stroke over the holiday weekend. He was in a house in the suburbs without power. I don’t wish to imply that he’d “just gotten soft.” The heat can be dangerous, and any time the power goes out it’s the sick and the elderly who are most at risk.

Still I wonder. Would that man in Marrero still be alive if he’d been living a hundred years ago, before air conditioning?

Much of our old building stock reflects a different way of living, designed for comfort in this warm climate. We now say these buildings are energy inefficient, but actually people consumed far less energy a century ago. Contemporary architecture strives for efficiency of a different sort. The modern ideal is to consume massive amounts, then reduce by 10% and call that efficiency.

In a blackout we recover some of the efficiency built into our older homes. I experienced this during our days without power. It was markedly more comfortable in our living-dining rooms, where the ceilings are super high by modern standards.

I often hear people say they don’t like to eat as much in the summer when it’s blazing hot. I’ve said it myself. Yet I’ve noticed my actions rarely match this assertion. With constant climate control, we hardly feel the heat. Our so-called epidemic of obesity — could that be another electrically powered way we’re getting soft?

No electricity means taking the night more seriously. It gets dark, probably a good time to go to bed. Modern urbanites are chronically sleep-deprived. Getting into the natural rhythm of the sun is not such a bad idea. Besides, reading by oil lamp is kind of romantic. Over our four days of blackout I read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Reading about an icy cold planet helped take my mind off the heat. But I digress.

An interesting thing about this outage was that we still enjoyed some benefits of electricity. We lived in walking distance of several electrical “islands.” We visited Brocato’s for a treat one night, and I spent an afternoon drinking beer at the Mid-City Yacht Club while Michael Homan watched the Nebraska game. Also the cell towers were still up, so I was able to use my phone to access the web. Twitter is a great source of info in disasters. When the battery ran out, I recharged it in the car. I’m sure that charging batteries off a combustion vehicle is not the most efficient means, but it worked.

Operation: Cliff Clavin - Who Needs Electricity?

One of my favorite albums is “Who Needs Electricity?” by Operation: Cliff Clavin. It’s essentially an acoustic album for a band with an amped-up electric sound, made as the principle players transitioned into more of a folk-punk thing. Rather than call it “unplugged” or some derivative of MTV’s famous series, they frame the album as campfire songs for after the collapse of civilization. It’s a brilliant conceit, and the songs ain’t bad either.

I’ve always regarded anarcho-primitivism with a jaundiced eye, while at the same time feeling they’re right about some things. The revelations of the week just past seem to bear that out.

I’m not against electricity. I like it. But the truth is we could get by using a lot less of it, and still maintain a high quality of life. In many ways we’d be better off.

Mindfulness, Meditation


Back in August when Persephone started school my morning routine changed severely. Instead of being responsible for bundling a toddler off to daycare, suddenly I was seeing wife and daughter on their way. I waved goodbye and then they were gone.

And there I was, with the house to myself, and at least an hour before I needed to leave for work.

What to do?

After a couple weeks I’d exhausted the more obvious possibilities. I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to establish a regular contemplative practice, to fit meditation into my daily routine. This was something I’d been wanting to do for at least a year, since reading Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry and attending the Contemplative Academy.

OK, great idea, but again: What to do? There are many types of meditation. Hmm, well, how about mindfulness meditation? That’s something I’ve heard about repeatedly. Sounds interesting. Maybe I could try it.

I found a short article in Psychology Today, titled “How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation” by Karen Kissel Wegela. She made it sound so damned easy.

So I decided to start, just five minutes a day.

I didn’t really know what I was doing. It must have felt good or something because I kept on doing it. In those first few weeks I got some of my most dramatic results. They are hard to describe. The practice seemed to induce an altered state of consciousness, a subtle euphoria, a feeling of mystery. I might say that it evoked a sense of the numinous. After my brief sessions, I tended to want to listen to ambient music rather than my regular eclectic mix, because that seemed to keep the mood better. I also noticed a slight increase in impulse control, and a corresponding negative correlation with alcohol consumption. When I meditated in the morning, as a rule, I seemed to drink less in the evening.

However, as I kept at it, these effects seemed to wear off a bit. The shock of the new practice was over, and my mind was reverting to form. After a time I realized I didn’t even know what “mindfulness” meant. I decided if I wanted to deepen and strengthen my practice I would need to learn more.

I cast about the net looking for resources. They are plentiful, but the diversity of perspectives was a bit confusing. For example, one guy says mindfulness meditation should be limited to five minutes, whereas others talked of sessions lasting for hours.

I needed something deeper than short web articles. I found Mindfulness in Plain English by the Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera. It’s a full-length book, available in print but also floating around on the web in various forms.

I read my way through this book slowly over several months. I’d never read anything quite like it — a practical meditation manual. It’s written from a Theravadin Buddhist perspective. I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I gather the Theravada branch claims to be closest to the original teachings of the Buddha. Despite this, or because of it, there was little religious baggage. There was some, however. I’m not sure I buy the talk of enlightenment and liberation and Nibbana. There were also some passages, such as a brief allusion to sign-objects, that I found mystifying. But for the most part the writing is admirably clear, and I found the practical advice very helpful.

My favorite passage:

We are learning here to escape into reality, rather than from it.

According to this author, the ecstasy I sometimes experience is not really the point of the practice. It’s a pleasant side effect, but just like the unpleasant side effects, one should not get distracted. Getting attached to any experience, however pleasurable, is a distraction. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a hedonist like me. But I do see the point.

Let me recount one particular experience I had somewhere along the way. This was several months ago. Like all such experiences it is hard if not impossible to describe. I’m foolish to try, probably. I will have to resort to metaphor because that’s all that I have.

So I’m sitting there, and I seem to become aware of a wind blowing through me, through the house, through the earth, through the entire cosmos. It’s blowing through all of us right now, and has been for our entire lives, through all time, only we don’t ordinarily perceive it. It not only pervades all but gives shape and motion to all.

I guess that’s a classic mystical experience. I find those kind of experiences compelling, but I also understand the need for detachment. If you sit down with a desire for some particular kind of experience, or any particular expectations, you won’t be fully alert and aware to what is actually going on.

There’s a paradox there, of course. We may be drawn to meditation because we perceive we’ll gain some benefit. And there are benefits. But the practice is worth doing for itself with no end in mind, and I suspect it’s more beneficial when it’s approached without anticipation or expectation.

But what do I know?

A truly wonderful thing about my job is that I’m able to explore so many divergent interests. And so it was that I found myself headed to Bryn Mawr College for the Fifth Annual Mindfulness in Education conference. It was a pleasant trip and an interesting experience. (I took some photos.) The conference concluded with a day of silent meditation. I’ve never done anything like that before. On the way home, I wasn’t sure what I’d really gotten out of the conference, but after a few days I realized I’d learned plenty. Sometimes it takes a while.

I’m now able to offer a definition of mindfulness off the cuff. Several definitions, in fact. Mindfulness is paying attention to your attention. Mindfulness is awareness of the present, moment to moment, without judging. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time; formal meditation is just one way to promote it.

I think virtually every human being values and practices mindfulness to some extent. It’s a basic part of being alive. But we also do plenty of things that run counter to mindfulness, sabotaging ourselves and our own best efforts without even realizing it. Formal practice can help us figure stuff like this out, and allows us to cultivate mindfulness in our whole lives.

Footnote: The license attached to Mindfulness in Plain English indicates it may be “freely copied and redistributed.” So I’m taking my first venture into e-book publishing. You can download a copy of the book, reformatted with minor corrections by yours truly, in EPUB format. I’ve not done this before, so if you run into trouble please let me know.


Here I am on my 20th birthday, with my mother and sister.

Birthday XX

My hair was thicker then.

That was 25 years ago today.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve contemplated my mortality on an almost daily basis, yet I’ve often behaved as if I think I’m immortal. I’ve frequently envisioned myself as an old man, while clinging to an extended adolescence.

Those aren’t really the contradictions they might seem to be at first. Nor do I think of myself as particularly morbid. In fact it makes perfect sense if you look at it the right way. Youth and age are linked. Life and death are not mutually exclusive. They are necessary correlates. You can’t have one without the other.

An acute sense of my own mortality has stimulated me to live life fully. It has given me the impetus to courage when I needed it.

Yet time marches on, and I’m no longer young. I’m somewhere in the middle of life, or so I hope. I’m happy to have made it this far, and with any luck I’ll have some ways to go before my inevitable demise.

A game I play at each birthday is to double my age and see what that sounds like, to think about what it means to be halfway there. So now I am halfway to 90, and for the first time I have to admit that’s a pretty intimidating number. For the first time, I have to admit I may not make it that far. My great-grandfather Paul Hollmann did, and then some. But you don’t see a lot of 90-year-olds over six feet tall. Maybe us tall types bump our heads too often. And so for the first time (ROX #88 notwithstanding) I have to admit, I may be past the halfway point of my natural lifespan.

On each birthday I have also gotten in to the habit of taking stock of how my body seems to be holding up, and generally congratulating myself on feeling young. When I turned forty, I said to myself that I felt like I could be thirty. I could be twenty. That era has ended. I’d mark the change as beginning around my 43rd birthday but as with any long slow process, it’s hard to be exact. I’ve never been especially robust; I’ve always had my aches and pains. But they have started to accumulate. The challenges faced to my lower left extremity are a case in point.

I’m getting my first hints of what life will look like through the other end of the telescope. When I was younger, I’d suffer sudden visions of my old age, almost overwhelming in their visceral clarity. When I am truly old, if I should live that long, perhaps I will be haunted by my youth, just as in my youth I was haunted by my dotage.

Right now, though, I’m in that gray middle place. Middle aged. Middle class. A little thicker in the middle from accumulating belly fat. That’s a lot of a middle for a guy who claims to value the periphery over the center.

I still get the willies when I contemplate my mortality, but I have to admit it doesn’t thrill me like it used to. Part of that may be parenthood. There is now someone else to worry about and care for, someone for whom I’d lay down my life without hesitation. That’s represents a profound shift, and it’s dulled the edge of the old fear considerably. But I’d also like to think that I’ve grown somewhat more accepting of life’s natural cycle.

Enough of that. I’ve survived another year, and that is of course a cause to celebrate. I was in a bit of a slump for a few years there: My birthday tended to suck, and I didn’t care. But last year my birthday was a blast, and this year I’ve actually got presents. I baked myself a savory cake for dinner tonight and some clove cookies to share with my co-workers. I’ve got to work late, but it’s a meeting of the Saint Katharine Drexel Book Club, so that’s a pleasure.

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.

Question of Practice


I touched on the idea of dialog as a practice which I hope to cultivate.

Here are some other practices which I’m, um, practicing, with some regularity.

  • Mindfulness meditation.
  • Writing.
  • Baking bread.

I took yoga classes for about three months, but cut them as an austerity measure; now that our finances have stabilized I should pick that up again.

I’d like to address each of these in more depth going forward. That’s the plan, anyhow. For now I thought it might be good to pause and ask you, reader —

What else?

What practices do you find beneficial?

I’m interested especially in those practices which might not seem spiritual or religious at first glance. But anything goes.

What practices expand your sense of self, of connectedness, of context, of the numinous? What do you do on a regular basis that deepens your experience as a living being on this Earth? What you strengthens you as a person? What integrates the loose ends of your life?

And — how often do you do them?

Does this question even make sense?

Photo adapted from original love? / Federico Reiven / BY-NC-SA 2.0

What’s Been Going On

Perfect Toy

A Good Juicy Paradox

Since the birth of my daughter Persephone, life has been very interesting to say the least. That comes as no surprise, and yet it’s a huge surprise at the same time. Contradict myself much? I do love a good juicy paradox.

It’s no surprise because, after all, it’s blindingly obvious that having a child will change one’s life. On top of that, and despite it, I was warned repeatedly that this would happen, as apparently every parent-to-be is, as part of the hazing ritual. Welcome to the club. Thanks a lot.

Yet even though I knew I should expect some fairly massive changes, I couldn’t know what changes to expect. Nor could anyone else tell me what to expect. All I could expect was the unexpected. And, yes indeed, that’s what I got. For me, it was so subtle and so gradual and so (gosh darn it) unexpected that it crept up on me without notice. As recently as a year ago, I still claimed to feel more continuity than change.

I was in denial, stubbornly refusing to put two and two together. I could tell some fairly wonderful things were happening in my life, but I didn’t recognize them for what they were. I didn’t want to admit it. Change can be frightening after all. Even good changes can be scary if they run deep enough.

Even now, it is difficult to describe.

It’s been a process of unfolding, of opening, of becoming receptive, of waking to subtle realities. I have found myself more interested and excited about meaning, purpose, values. My interest in religion and spirituality has burgeoned, because that is the domain where meaning and purpose and values are most directly engaged. This has had direct impact on my personal and professional life, on my relationships with others and my experience of day-to-day life.

My life has changed forever.

And yes, I am surprised.


Maybe I should also take pains to explain what I am not experiencing.

Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling

I am not seeing visions or hearing voices. I am not walking around in a state of perpetual bliss. I am not ready to declare myself as an adherent to any particular path. Not yet, anyway.

Also, I don’t want to instrumentalize the procreation aspect. Having a child does not automatically propel everyone on the same journey; not every parent will experience what I have. Conversely, it is not necessary to have a child to have such an experience. I suspect that what I’m trying so ineptly to describe is universal and available to us all.

Clearly I had certain predispositions and proclivities, and my life was at such a point, that the birth of my daughter acted as a trigger or catalyst. After all, we decided to name her after an ancient Greek goddess, a symbol and archetype of transformation, before she was even born. That’s indicative of being primed and ready for something, I think.

Furthermore, other events might have triggered the same reaction. In fact, they kinda sorta have, in the past. Twenty-two years ago I had what I can only describe as an ecstatic experience. Such experiences can’t really be described, so I’m not going to bother trying, nor am I going to dwell on how it happened or what it meant to me at the time or even what it means to me now. Suffice it to say, it rocked my world. That was a soul-shattering experience, an almost complete disjuncture of the personality. What’s happening now is much gentler and slower. Yet it seems to me they are the same experience at the core.

And what is that core? It’s hard to say. I hope to return to this question later.

The Sleepening

After much dithering, I labeled the experience of these last few years as an awakening of sorts, though the trigger wasn’t entirely clear to me. I was still in denial. I still didn’t want to admit that all the people who had trotted out that tired annoying cliché were so very right. It’s not easy being a know-it-all.

Know It All Curve

The person who really nailed it for me was my boss. At the end of the last school year, she made a comment that I’d been on something of a spiritual quest since the birth of my daughter. Suddenly I reframed everything I’d been feeling. It made sense. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can impart a sense of wonder. Nurturing a life more important than your own can foster humility, which is a prerequisite to reverence.

(To expand briefly on that last, I learned about the “gateway of humility” and the “path of reverence” from Arthur Zajonc in Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. Obviously procreation is not the only way to humility. I’m reminded of my friend’s divorce, which forced him to “accept the smallness” of his existence.)

My boss went on to theorize that my quest might be something of a survival mechanism. Since the world can be a scary and threatening place, perhaps a shift in perspective is necessary to countenance bringing a child into it.

That made some sense to me as well. And yet something of the magic went out in that moment. I don’t blame my boss for that. I’d been coasting on a free ride for a good while. It had to end eventually. Suddenly I had an explanation, and it seemed vaguely disappointing. Is that all there is to this?

The natural momentum of my “awakening” had diminished. I was tempted to call this “the sleepening.” Some of the liveliness I’d been fortunate to enjoy was draining away. Life was becoming a bit more mundane. Maybe it’s only right and necessary and natural.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s possible to keep living in this same mode, to keep the magic alive. And this is the realization that is currently buoying me along: If I want to keep this going, if I want to keep this development developing, I will have to do so intentionally.

I still haven’t gotten around to specifying those intentions. I guess that will have to wait until after the equinox.

Image credits: Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling by CarbonNYC and Know It All Curve by Geoff S., licensed under Creative Commons

The High Value of Cheap Counsel

Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212)

Back when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, I availed myself of counseling services at the Center for Human Growth twice.

The first time was when I was an undergraduate living in the Collins LLC. The Center for Human Growth was nearby at that time, and at some point I became aware of them and decided it would be interesting to check it out. The Center offers low-cost counseling to anyone who needs it. I’m not sure if I had a pressing issue — that was twenty-some years ago, and my recollections are somewhat vague. I think I may have gone out of general principle. We could all use some counsel from time to time, as a matter of good mental hygiene. I might have been in the throes of breaking up with my girlfriend, or trying to quit smoking, or something else; I’m really don’t remember. I do recall feeling my series of sessions was extremely beneficial to my personal development, and I’ve been an advocate of counseling ever since.

A decade or so later, as my dad and I were struggling to come to terms, we sought counseling. First we went to a guy in private practice who was recommended by a friend. He was expensive. Probably his rates were standard, but he was much too expensive for me to share the cost, given my lack of income at the time. So my father was footing the bill. Dad didn’t like the guy much, and when the going got tough we almost foundered.

Fortunately we ended up back at the Center for Human Growth. Their fees were so low that I was able to pay a share, which felt much better. (I don’t remember what they charged in the 80s or 90s, but I see on their website it’s now $15 per session, which is extraordinarily cheap.) The sessions were not easy. It’s hard work to salvage a relationship. But the counselors were extremely helpful and very professional. I give a lot of credit to the Center for the fact that I’m still on speaking terms with my parents today.

I think this underlines the problem with counseling: It does tend to be expensive. It usually involves an educated person working with you one-on-one. The counselor has to charge a high fee to make a living. But for many people, spending a lot on counseling fees only adds an element of stress, at a time when they are likely most vulnerable and really don’t need that extra stress. So the benefits of counseling tend to be limited to the well-to-do, or those who are truly at the end of their rope. That’s my impression, anyhow.

In my utopian dreams, I imagine a world where we all visit counselors from time to time, from a very young age, and not just when we’re in crisis. Counseling is so beneficial that we should share the cost of underwriting it, to make it cheaply available to all. I think a proactive approach would have enormous benefits to society as a whole.

All these ruminations are a sort of preface to my query. Do we have anything like the Center for Human Growth in New Orleans? Given how often I’ve heard about the dearth of mental health services, I suspect that we do not. But if we do, I’d love to know about it.

Graphic: Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212) by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli, licensed under Creative Commons

Return Home

I got Persephone up at dawn to see the sunrise on our last morning at Vero. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as dramatic as on the morning of the solstice. But it was still beautiful.


Unfortunately I neglected to tell Xy I was getting our daughter up so early. I also neglected to inform her that we were out of coffee. As a result, she was not pleasant company that morning, or really any of the next 740 miles.


We headed out at a decent hour, with a tank full of gas, but I think we made our first pit stop about ten minutes down the road.

Later, at another pit stop, a certain someone had a bowel movement of a disconcerting fluorescent turquoise color. For a moment we thought she had some strange space alien disease, then we remembered the Superman cone she’d had the night before. Judging by Robyn’s comment yesterday, we are not the only parents to encounter the bizarre after-effects of the Superman.

Despite such distractions we made good time, and soon it was clear that we would be making the return trip in one day, not two. Just as I suspected. The return trip is always shorter.

Back Home

I felt sort of dizzy after driving thirteen hours, but I was glad to be back home.

Things I forgot to note:

  • This was my father-in-law’s first visit to our new house.
  • Somewhere in the vicinity of Madison County, where we bunked down on our first night, Mike and I were discussing where Ray Charles was born, but neither of us could remember. Turns out it was, coincidentally, Madison County.
  • Monday night we had dinner at a place called Mr. Manatee’s. Among other things they had excellent fried oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had.
  • While making the ceviche I listened to the world premiere of the new album from The Machine in the Garden via A Darker Shade of Pagan. Must have liked it because I bought the album upon getting back home.
  • Maybe next time I should try making escabeche instead. Just a thought.
  • We also saw Bon Iver on the Colbert Report and I bought their new album too, so a good week for new music.
  • We saw Ray Nagin hawking his new book on the Daily Show, and I felt sorry for the man — not because Jon Stewart skewered him, but because he didn’t.

And finally I should note that I don’t think I vacation well. The very idea of a vacation seems antithetical to my nature. Perhaps I’m more suited to quests — something more purpose-driven.

This concludes my travel recap. Tomorrow, it’s back to the present.

Thursday Off

Posting has been a little thin here lately, for good reason: I’ve been on vacation. My plan now is to back up in time and recreate these ten days in excruciating detail. So here we go. My in-laws rolled into town on Wednesday, June 15, but my vacation officially began the next day, when I took Thursday off.

Tearing It Up

My vacation got off to a cracking good start with these guys ripping up our sidewalk. They actually dug a smaller hole the day before, then came back on Thursday morning with bigger equipment for further excavations. Something to do with the gas line to the house next door, which is under renovation. (Eleven days later, the hole is still there.) I am hopeful that the repair include their crumbling driveway and that the whole situation will end better than it was before. Still, I’m a little irked cuz we just had that concrete poured nine months ago.

My first order of business for the day: a fresh haircut, which I got at my new barber shop, Loose Endz.


When I posted this photo online, I got an immediate reaction from my academic mentor, Thom G.:

Editor B I sure hope you aren’t paying someone for that hair cut. If it ain’t a Sears hedge and hair trimmer you been robbed. 😎

Ouch, Thom, you really know how to hurt a guy. Personally I was quite happy with the cut. I now felt ready for the beach.

But, of course, there was some more business to take care of before our departure. Xy insisted that we needed to run by the grocery, despite the fact that we would be hitting the road the next morning.

A fool’s errand, I thought. So naturally I volunteered.

I hopped on the bike. On the way to the store I took a gander at the Lafitte Corridor. I like to give it a look whenever I can, and I’ve been taking particular note of the section of the future greenway where the Mid-City Market is planned. It’s not looking too good. Some of the weeds are higher than my head, and junk is piling up at an alarming rate.

Red Couch

So that makes how many couches here now? Plus a gas tank and a lot of tires. Someone is using the greenway site as their personal dumping ground. All I know is the red couch wasn’t there a week earlier.

Back at home, my mother-in-law was unpacking a few heirlooms. We inherited a deluxe crucifix from Xy’s late grandmother Pauline. I quickly added it to our collection.

Crucifix Fest

This model features holy water and hosts in the secret compartment. (It’s my hope that having all these Catholic icons on display in our kitchen will inoculate Persephone against her coming year of Catholic school. With all respect due the Magisterium, there are certain dogmata down with which I cannot get. I don’t know if they touch on these in Pre-K3 but I’ll be monitoring the situation.)

That evening we went to Crescent Pie & Sausage for a fabulous dinner. I think this is one of the best restaurants in the city right now, and it’s just across the street. I’d love to eat there more frequently, but our budget don’t allow. Here’s my daughter and my father-in-law enjoying the mac & cheese and the mixed grill respectively.

Crescent Pie & Sausage

I had some sort of tomato and okra tart, a special, which was extraordinary.

Though we were sitting inside, they do have a large porch and ample outdoor seating. I noticed a jar suspended from a string, an elegant variation on the old plastic baggie trick.


We can see our house from their front porch. We could see our house from our table by the window, for that matter. Midway through dinner we saw a distinctive red truck pull up in front of our house. I ran out and said hi to DJ and snapped this picture.


He was dropping off a package of hair bands for Persephone.

What else? I guess that was it. So ended my first day of vacation. More to come!


A couple days ago Xy reported she had trouble with the car starting, and sure enough the next morning it was dead. We packed Xy off in a cab. (When she got to her school on the West Bank, she discovered the cab wasn’t equipped to take credit cards (although the dispatcher had assured me that it was) so he ran her to an ATM, but it was broken, so she had to borrow money from another teacher. But I digress.) I asked Tommie, who runs the station across the street, to take a look at our vehicle, but he forgot, until I came home from work at the end of the day and reminded him. The battery was dead, so he charged it up ($10) and everything seemed to be fine.

“If it happens again,” he said, “I’m going to suggest a new battery.”

Later that evening I was planning to ride my bike to a FOLC board meeting, but as a storm was moving in I decided to drive instead. Before I even put the key in the ignition I noticed all sorts of funny clicking noises coming from the dashboard. The car wouldn’t start. The antitheft indicator was blinking, even after I locked the car up, and I had a flashback to the huge aggravation of our previous car. I started to get the chills. We never were able to fix that problem.

That was yesterday. This morning, Xy got a ride with a co-worker, and I dithered about whether to grapple with getting the car fixed or wait until after the holiday weekend. I decided to grit my teeth and go for it. I figured there was some sort of esoteric electronic problem that was causing the battery to drain — something obscure and high-tech that Tommie wouldn’t be able to fix. I figured I needed to take it to the dealership. So I got Tommie to jump the car for me. Actually one of his employees did it. He claims to have written a “Who Dat” book which he’s now publishing. The title is Whodat-Lagniappe! and it would seem to be an inspirational Christian tome. Not what I expected from an older guy of indeterminate ethnicity in a Biohazard t-shirt.

After dropping Persephone off at daycare, I drove up to the North Shore on the world’s (seventh) longest bridge, to Mandeville, to the Banner Ford dealership, which is where I bought the car on the last day of 2009.

(Why so far when there’s a dealership in Metairie? I happened to glance at some reviews on Google and there was a vast disparity in customer satisfaction.)

On the ride there I listened to Democracy Now on WTUL, an interview with Eli Pariser about the filter bubble.

I don’t particularly like cars, and so dealing with automotive problems is anathema to me, and sitting in the waiting room at a car dealership has always seemed like purgatory to me. I was bracing myself for a long, long wait. I had a cup of coffee, took a crap, watched some daytime TV, and rated some songs. (Xy found an iPod about a year ago and gave it to me.) I didn’t even had a chance to crack open my book (Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg) when the mechanic came out and told me I had a bum battery. They just needed to replace it.

What? I remembered what Tommie said and kicked myself mentally. But all those weird clicking noises?

Relays, I was told.

OK, so they replaced it, I paid $136.51, and I tried to head back home. Problem: It’s a toll bridge. I knew that, but I wasn’t certain of the amount. You can’t discern the toll until you’re right up on the tollgate. I only had one dollar bill on me, and (just like Xy’s cab) they don’t take plastic. I had to take the exit of shame and head back to an ATM where I paid a $3.00 fee so I could get the necessary cash for the $3.00 toll.

While getting the cash, I received a text from Xy advising me to get a tuneup while I was at the dealership. Too late, I texted back. I’m on the causeway by the time I get her next text: Omg! Brakes bad 2!

And then she had the unmitigated nerve to call me and fuss about it.

On the ride back I listened to Tommy Tucker (sitting in for Garland Robinette) on WWL talking about the petition to recall Superintendent Serpas.

When I finally got back to Mid-City and turned down our street, another vehicle got caught in my blind spot and I very nearly sideswiped it when I turned into our driveway. The driver honked at me and then she stopped in the street and gave me a good long glare as I climbed out of the car. I shrugged a sheepish apology.

I gave Tommie five bucks for the jump, and walked to work. Somehow I made it there around half-past noon. So the day was not completely wasted.

Quake, Flood, Radiation, Moon


It really pains me to write it, but this situation in Japan seems horribly familiar. It’s like the Japanese people are getting hit with a combination of Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster — all at the same time, and quite clearly worse.

I don’t see a lot of television news these days, and so I’ve only glimpsed a few seconds of video, but that’s been more than enough to horrify and upset me and evoke the inevitable memories. Mostly I read news articles in the paper and online, which are just as alarming though not so visceral. I have had to explain some of the photographs to my three-year-old daughter. Why is that woman crying? What happened to her house. What’s an orthcake? She can now find Japan on the world map that serves as her place mat.

It seems clear this catastrophe will eclipse Katrina in the zeitgeist, so our stint as poster children for catastrophe and recovery may finally be at an end.

I don’t have anything new or profound to say, except to express my profound sadness and compassion, not only for the people of Japan but for the land itself, and the sea, and all the living creatures there.

As for the photo above, it was taken about an hour ago in Japan by a guy named Akira Kawamura. I assume he took this as the moon was at or near perigee, which is coinciding closely with the full moon for the first time in 18 years, creating a much bigger and brighter moon than we normally see — the biggest and brightest we’ll see for a long time.

I was reading about this last night and wondering where that moment would be visible. Turns out, I guess, to be Japan. The moon won’t rise here for several hours, but stumbling upon Akira’s photo reminds me that we’ll be gazing on the same moon here in North America as they are seeing in Japan. It reminds me of the interconnectedness we all share on this huge small planet.

Also, I can’t help but notice it kind of looks like the Japanese flag. It is also the Land of the Rising Moon. And so I hope this rare celestial event might provide a moment of respite and beauty for the people there. I hope the bright rays of this moon now shining on Japan might symbolize a bright future. Though I fear it will be a long hard journey.

Of course this would not be complete without a fundraising link. Doctors Without Borders is a well established and reputable group that does good work. You can donate as part of a collective pagan fundraising effort.

Super Moon / Akira Kawamura / CC BY-SA 2.0


I’m not much for resolutions but I do have some goals for this year.

  • Finish ROX #96. Really need to wrap this one up. It’s been four years since our last episode. Where has the time gone?
  • Prepare a presentation on “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans” for the AERA 2011 SIG IT. I mentioned this a couple months ago and I will be sharing my research as it progresses. Stay tuned.
  • Complete the Wheel of the Year. I don’t mean just surviving the calendar year, though I aim to do that as well. Rather I’m talking about completing a series of celebrations which began last year at Lammas or maybe Beltane. I’m not really sure. I don’t remember what, if anything, we did for Midsummer. Anyway, I want to complete the cycle and see where that gets me.

Is that all? I’m sure there should be some other stuff listed here, like our annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. But I like a short list.


I just unearthed an old post, incomplete and never published, about going to church with Xy. I dusted it off, fleshed it out to the best of my memory, and it’s now available in the archives under March 18, 2007, which is probably wrong but it’s my best guess.

Blank Screen

When I was a teenager, I used to read the comics section of the newspaper on a fairly regular basis. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit again over the last couple months. The comics have gotten smaller and my eyes have gotten worse. Some of the strips are mildly amusing, while others seem like a waste of paper. I like the form; I like how a miniature story can be conveyed so briefly, with just a few images and words. One thing I find interesting, these days, is how I see general themes of cultural commentary that are common across multiple strips. For example, social media and text massaging are popular targets. Every now and then, one strip or another will drop something that makes me do a double-take.

I have to admit that “Hi and Lois” is not, generally speaking, one of my favorites, but it is certainly familiar. This is a strip I grew up with, and the characters seem almost like distant family members.

So… that brings us to a certain strip that ran last week. Let me recreate the basic plot.

Hi Flagston walks into the living room. He sees his wife sitting in front of their flat-panel television. He asks her, “What are you watching?”

Lois replies, “Nothing!”

Hi seems mildly concerned: “You’re not just saying that, are you?” He notices something isn’t quite right.

Lois answers: “Staring at a blank screen is like meditating.”

That’s right, the television isn’t on.

"Staring at a blank screen is like meditating."

To top it off, Lois is wide-eyed and smiling, looking vaguely desperate or blissed-out — I’m not sure which.

I believe staring at a blank wall is a practice in Zen Buddhism. I would love to see Brian and Greg Walker explore this new direction for Lois. Maybe she could start busting out some koans (like Zippy the Pinhead) or startling Dawg with a particularly piercing katsu.

A Particular Day in 1999

Although I started this blog in 2004, I’ve added bits and pieces to extend the story back to May of 1999, when Xy and I first moved to New Orleans. I recently rediscovered a write-up from way back when, so in lieu of the present, I invite you to cast your mind back to August 2, 1999. Ah, those were younger and more innocent days. We were living in the Warehouse District, I’d only been working at the University for a scant two months, I hardly knew my way around town, I’d just given up on the bus but had not yet adopted the habit of riding my bike to work, and I could still be shocked by the summer heat.

Footnote: That entry was originally published in my friend Rachel’s zine Daybook, which also provided the impetus for actually writing the entry in the first place. (So, thank you Rachel.) I wrote a much more ambitious and detailed account of a day in October of 2000. I wanted to submit it to the second edition of Daybook but never got around to it. We are now coming up on the tenth anniversary of that otherwise unremarkable day. I’d like to publish it here for the sake of completeness, plus I think it’s interesting, but it may be just a little too detailed. There are just a few things in there that could get me in trouble. Yes, even after ten years.So I’m trying to figure out just how honest I’m really prepared to be.


I’m still a little “down in the mouth” from getting a temporary crown last week. In the meantime, please check out this link:

The Hypothetical Development Organization

I’m not really sure what this is all about. As near as I can figure, these folks aim to propose bizarre and fanciful re-developments of existing urban buildings and infrastructure, which will then be deployed as surreal “coming soon” installations in a weird pranky art-life statement. Like I said, I’m not really sure. But it looks plenty intriguing. And they’re planning to get started right here in New Orleans.

Life’s Too Good

Wall Boxes

I’ve been reflecting lately on how happy I am, and this makes me nervous.

I love my daughter and my wife, my health is fairly good, at work I’m pursuing a line of inquiry which is fresh and exciting to me, I’ve been reading some good books, we’re finally seeing some progress on the greenway, I’m finally making some progress on another long-stalled project, and so on and so forth.

In short, life is good, and this worries me.

The last time I felt this way, it was quickly followed by bad news.

The time before that, bad news.

In both cases, my personal distress was a trivial thing in the big picture, but it sure didn’t feel trivial to me. In both cases, the “bad news” left me feeling shattered and flattened and empty.

By contrast, today I feel full of life and energy; I feel a satisfying depth to my existence; I feel like an integrated whole. I’m far from perfect, and there’s much to be done, but I relish the work.

I’m riding high now, but am I headed toward a fall?

Of course. Of course I am. Nothing lasts forever, and bad things will happen eventually.

So I’m keeping that in mind and just hoping that this good stretch is a long one.

As I reflected on this further, I was struck by a passage in the book I’m reading wherein Arthur Zajonc notes that suffering “is intrinsic to a life rightly lived.” After all, I would never shed a tear if I didn’t care for those around me. These bad things would not upset me if I was some kind of heartless robot — but who wants to live like that? Suffering is indeed a part of life, which at times cannot be avoided. The important thing is to cultivate equanimity so that when the crisis inevitably comes, it can be confronted with compassion and reason.

Furthermore, “happiness is really not the goal of life.” It’s a side effect, not an end to itself. I will enjoy it while it’s here, and do my best to reflect what joy I can into the lives of others.

I think the anxiety I expressed above comes from forgetting these essential truths. I am feeling better already.