I’m super pumped to announce that I’m having my first solo exhibition.
Nope, this photo won’t be part of it. It didn’t quite meet my exacting standards of quality. However several other photos from the same site and other locations in Louisiana and Indiana will be featured. Come on down to the Lower Nine and take a gander. It’s at the Martin Luther King Library, 1611 Caffin Ave., and it’ll be up for the entire month of December.
The name of the show is After the Peak, and it’s a fantasy about post-oil America. Every schoolchild knows that fossil fuels are not renewable resources. Someday, we will run out. The question is when. Some say we’ve already passed the peak of production, while others say we haven’t reached it yet. Currently our species seems hellbent on extracting all the petrochemical deposits from the Earth’s crust as quickly as possible. That only hastens our approach to depletion. As I photographed abandoned gas stations and automobile dealerships, I imagined a future when all such sites are neglected and left to fall into ruin.
As I draw on to the end of my fifth decade, I’m feeling reflective. Indulge me in a little reminiscence, and by all means come to my birthday party. What follows is part four in a series; read about my first, second, and third decades on Mid-City Messenger.
Stone Cold 97
My fourth decade kicked off with a knock-down, drag-out, protracted dispute between my father and me. We worked through many longstanding resentments and misunderstandings in counseling sessions that went on for the better part of a year. As part of the deal, we both agreed to swear off drugs, including alcohol and tobacco but not caffeine or cough syrup, thankfully.
And so it was that I found myself stone cold sober at my 30th birthday party.
Somehow I convinced my father to join me in publishing an online journal over the course of 1997. We posted our intimate thoughts on drugs, alcohol, and our relationship. It was, in fact, a blog — though that word wasn’t coined until a year or two later. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.
After much effort, my father and I managed to salvage our relationship. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. We’re still friends.
My grandmother passed away that summer, the last of my grandparents.
In the fall, Christy got a job teaching in Indianapolis, and we moved out of the garage. I got wind of a new graduate program at Indiana University, through the Department of Telecommunications: the Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments, or MIME for short. My work with ROX got me in the door.
MIME offered a wide-open approach to new media. For my master’s project I combined forces with my wife to launch The All New Christy Paxson Show, a transmedia spectacular which included a series of web animations detailing “The Life of Christy.” It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.
Meanwhile, I filed a personal bankruptcy. I’d acquired $24,000 of credit card debt, covering basic living expenses during the ROX years.
Around this time I was in conversations with some folks at Free Speech TV about the idea of launching a website which would allow users to upload their own videos. Basically, our idea was YouTube — but we never launched.
Things were pretty rough for Christy in Indianapolis. One of her students died in a house fire. We sent out a card that December with the grim inscription, “Unhappy Holidays.”
Before I knew it, graduation loomed. I asked Christy if I should look for work globally. We both loved Bloomington, so this was a tough call, but in the end I applied for jobs all over the country.
I scored exactly one interview, and it changed my life. In February of 1999, I flew down to New Orleans for an interview at a certain HBCU. I had purchased a pair of shoes for the occasion, only they weren’t brand new. They were from the Salvation Army. Much to my chagrin, they began to disintegrate during the day of interviews and meetings. Little chunks of sole were crumbling off and littering the carpet. I was probably hired because they felt sorry for me.
We moved down here in May, and nothing’s been the same for us since.
To me, the experience of being in NOLA is inextricably intertwined with the experience of working at that HBCU that hired me, and of riding my bike to campus every day. All three have been very good for me. I immediately felt “at home” even though I was an outsider.
Things haven’t been so good for my long-suffering wife. She thought the Indianapolis public schools were rough, but here in New Orleans she discovered a whole ‘nother level. I was stunned when she came home from a meeting where teachers were advised to use the Bible to solve their discipline issues. Make sure you got a big thick edition, so when you hit your students they can really feel it!
The world population hit six billion in late 1999. Fears of a “Y2K bug” apocalypse proved unfounded. We moved from our pricey apartment in the Warehouse District to a cheaper rental uptown. I left some frozen chicken in the trunk one day, but that’s another story. I started producing an experimental TV series called no.rox.
The Nader campaign was ramping up and I got involved with a group of people trying to form a Green Party of Louisiana. We eventually held our founding convention in 2002 and officially qualified with the Secretary of State in August of 2005, just weeks before you-know-what.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A new millennium
Technically the 21st century began in 2001. I made a return trip to Scandinavia, for a conference in Finland. Terrorists flew planes like bombs into buildings that September, in a ploy to provoke war between Islam and the West. ROX went back into production, albeit at a much slower pace.
We bought a house in Mid-City. I’d feared my bankruptcy would be an obstacle, but it wasn’t. The financial system was more than happy to welcome me back to a lifetime of debt.
Blogs became a thing. My employer implemented a new electronic timekeeping system, prompting me to start my first blog (as such), Pride Before Kronos. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious. I’ve been told it played a role in changing our policy. The experience was so powerful it motivated me to start my personal blog, b.rox, in the spring of 2004.
Service was restored to the Canal Streetcar line after a forty-year interruption, and the first car rolled just two blocks from our new house. There were also a number of street murders nearby that year. In once case we knew the accused shooter, who later turned himself in.
In May of 2005, I hiked the length of the Lafitte Corridor with a couple friends. I was stunned by the potential of this abandoned rail-line, and I started researching how to spearhead the a project of turning it into a trail.
We declared that summer to be “The Summer of Christy” and we celebrated all summer long. As we vacationed in the Ozarks, we tackled the question of reproducing. We decided to give it a whirl. Christy went off the pill, and we even planned our first official go at conception. It was to be at our friends’ wedding under the Brooklyn Bridge on Labor Day weekend. Well, not at the wedding ceremony itself, of course.
But we never made that trip.
Katrina and what came after
I used to think of the year I lived in Sweden as the worst in my life, wrought as it was with teen angst and personal conflicts and the pain of apostasy, not to mention that cold dark winter near the arctic circle. However, the next sixteen months were worse — from when Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, right up to the end of my fourth decade on this planet.
We ended up spending almost three months in Indiana, and I’m ever grateful to the community of Bloomington for their hospitality. I made a couple trips back to New Orleans during that time, sneaking into a closed city on the first trip, gutting the lower floor of our house on the second. When Christy joined me for our final return, tornadoes and snow flurries chased us away from the Midwest — as if to say, get back down there to New Orleans.
We crashed for a while on a friend’s couch in the Irish Channel. But what I remember most is when we moved back into our house in Mid-City. We were the only people living in the immediate area. In that dark December, the only lights for blocks around were the oil lamps we used to play Scrabble.
In January of 2006, on my 39th birthday, all the universities re-opened. For my money, this was the single most hopeful moment in the recovery of the city.
It was a long hard slog. Living in the flood zone, surrounded by devastation, we lost all touch with what might be considered normality. I drank heavily. And participated in endless planning processes.
There were bright spots along the way, and I clung to each one. Seventeen people showed up for something I billed as the “second annual hike” of the Lafitte Corridor, and the group known as Friends of Lafitte Greenway was born that day.
Picking up our discussions before the storm, Christy and I decided to start trying. She got pregnant almost immediately but then suffered a painful miscarriage. That was surely one of the worst days.
Though it all, I kept at my blog, writing as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Before the storm I read people from around the world; now I wanted only to read locals, and I discovered I was not alone. A community of bloggers emerged. On the first anniversary of Katrina there was a conference put on by the local blogging community, Rising Tide, the first of ten annual meetings to consider the future of New Orleans.
And then the worst thing ever happened, a tragedy so cruel I can still hardly wrap my head around it. On the fourth day of 2007, Helen Hill was murdered in her own home. A talented artist and the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet, Helen was also a personal friend. The murderer was never publicly identified, and no one was ever arrested for this heinous crime.
I grieved for Helen deeply, and I still do, but her untimely passing affected me in another, very unexpected way. The murder of Dinerral Shavers combined with Helen Hill to produce an unprecedented level of community outrage, and the largest protest in the history of the city was organized. I found myself invited to join a dozen speakers at a massive rally at City Hall.
This experience changed me forever, but that would only become evident in my next decade. As my 40th birthday approached, I found myself in a distinctly non-celebratory mood, questioning why I’d moved back to New Orleans.
Stay tuned for the surprising twists and turns of my fifth decade.
Last night we had dinner with an old friend and his new wife. When the topic turned to cycling in New Orleans, she confessed she was fearful for her safety, and she enumerated an appallingly long list of friends and acquaintances who have been severely injured when their bicycles collided with automobiles.
This morning a number of friends contacted me, concerned that I was perhaps no longer among the living. I’m still here, but a man about my age was killed at Jeff Davis and Canal Street. He was riding a bike and was struck by a car, or so I read.
I was not killed this morning, but it could have been me. Until the new year, I passed through this intersection at least twice a day. This is a dangerous intersection for bicyclists; there are not even stripes to designate where the Jeff Davis bike path crosses Canal Street.
This reminds me why I first got motivated to pursue the construction of a trail in the Lafitte Corridor ten years ago, and why the work of groups like FOLC and Bike Easy is so important. We need to do better by our cyclists and pedestrians.
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.
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.
It’s time once again for Rising Tide. This will be the ninth iteration of this “conference on the future of New Orleans” which was launched by a bunch of local bloggers and concerned citizens on the first anniversary of Katrina.
I think what I like most about this event is its grassroots nature. Even though it is hosted at Xavier University of Louisiana (thanks to the sponsorship of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching) the event itself is entirely organized by volunteers. All the work that goes into it is done for sheer passion. The consistent quality of the event itself is a testimony to the power of that approach.
Of course, that means there is no big advertising budget. The only way most people learn of the conference is through that modern equivalent to word-of-mouth: social media.
So please take a moment and register for the conference, and then use Facebook or Twitter or email to help spread the word.
What’s that? You remain unconvinced? It’s gonna take more persuasion to get you to part with ten bucks? Fine, check the conference schedule. Look at that keynote on school reform by Andre Perry. Surely you’re curious as to why the former CEO of the Capital One-UNO Charter Network is saying that charter schools “aren’t the proper tools to deal with the root problems of New Orleans education.”
If that’s not enough to get you in the door, check out any of the other panels. I’d like especially to draw your attention to the final one, “Religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” which I am helping to organize in cooperation with Jimmy Huck.
Last but not least, there’s the added enticement of a delicious lunch. Please register now.
Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.
I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.
In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.
I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.
One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.
My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.
It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.
And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.
Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.
When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.
My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?
Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”
Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.
Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.
She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.
My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.
As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.
I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.
She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.
I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.
It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.
The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.
Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.
As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.
Sitting thru my employer’s mandatory benefits workshop reconfirmed my belief that health insurance is institutionalized insanity. There must be a better way.
I’ve never liked the concept of health insurance. It seems wrong to me at the very core. It feels like a perverse form of gambling. You’re putting down all this money against the possibility that you might get sick. If you stay healthy, you lose, and all that money goes to the house. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get sick, and then the house pays out.
If you win, you lose; if you lose, you win. That just seems like a cruel and unusual system.
The chief virtue of group insurance, as far as I can see, is that it helps share the cost amongst the group. That’s great. However, I fail to see how having such insurance administered by a for-profit corporation adds any value to that equation. The profit would seem to derive from either one of two sources: 1) paying employees less than their labor is worth, or 2) taking in more premiums than are actually needed to cover healthcare costs. Both seem blatantly contrary to common sense, which is why I call it institutionalized insanity. It’s better than no coverage at all, better than having to bear the costs alone, but the model seems to have fundamental flaws.
Our current system has many problems. The insurance model is one of those problems.
And that brings me to Obamacare.
I can see that Obamacare might correct some of the most egregious problems with our system. For example, it aims for universal coverage. I was glad to learn via social media that at least one old friend from Bloomington is doing well by the new law, and that makes me happy. For the record, I should note that Obamacare has had no effect whatsoever on me and my family. Thus my musings here are strictly big-picture philosophical.
My chief concern with Obamacare is that it doesn’t seem to move us any closer to sanity. It seems to only invest us deeper in the madness, by mandating insurance for all.
I hasten to add that my impression is based on my admittedly limited understanding of this very complex bundle of legislation. Like with our tax code, that complexity is part of the problem. We’ve got fixes grafted on fixes producing a monster like Frankenstein’s. Few really understand it all.
Of course, simplifying this complex situation would be truly radical, and I’m not sure we have the stomach for it. Nevertheless, let me sketch out my simple idea: I kind of think we should provide a basic level of healthcare for everyone, sharing the cost amongst taxpayers, and then have insurance for whatever is above and beyond that basic level. Insurance should not be a necessity; it should be something extra.
Does Obamacare move us toward that in any way? I don’t see how. If anything, it seems to move us in the opposite direction. We won’t ever move ahead by taking half-steps backward. We won’t replace health insurance as the basic model for healthcare by mandating it for everyone.
Some apologists for Obamacare acknowledge its limitations but say this was the only viable solution. They quote Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible.” True enough, but here’s another way to phrase that same idea: “Politics is the art of creating possibilities.” When people can’t manage to create desirable possibilities, it’s a political failure.
Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos. Continue reading “Tree Blessing”
The nearest airport is in Connecticut, so when your plane lands you still have a good long drive to get to Amherst. You talk to the shuttle driver. She has an accent you can’t place, but she’s lived in Massachusetts for at least a decade.
She drops you off at Allen House, a little bed and breakfast you found online. It proves to be a lovingly-done Victorian-era restoration, cozy and charming. The place is booked full of people from all over the world who are here for the same purpose as you. An instant and easy camaraderie springs up between you.
You make your way up the street to a noodle shop with a couple fellow travelers for a quick dinner. It’s cold, much colder than New Orleans, but only outdoors. You’re surprised to find that it’s warm and toasty indoors wherever you go. Apparently central heating is to New England what air conditioning is to the Deep South.
Then you walk over to Amherst College campus. The conference begins this evening. After registering at Converse Hall you find your way to Stirn Auditorium.
The ACMHE conference is a little different from other conferences, and that’s evident from the start. The opening plenary begins with silent meditation. There are a couple hundred people packed into the auditorium. Though no one says a word, you feel the power of their presence all the more. You are aware of the potentialities that will unfold over the next 40 hours.
If that wasn’t enough to distinguish this conference as unique, what comes next certainly seals the deal. An extra space has been reserved on the keynote panel. An audience member is randomly selected to fill it.
And so the conference begins. The theme this year is “Integrity of Practice.” The panel considers questions that revolve around this theme. Then the audience members discuss the questions amongst themselves, and finally share their thoughts with the larger group.
The next morning you have breakfast at the Amherst Inn, owned by the same people who run Allen House. The breakfast table serves as an extension of the conference, the conversations of the night before continuing over pancakes and coffee.
Very soon, you’re back on campus for the first of the parallel sessions. There are nine sessions running at the same time, and all the topics look fascinating. How to choose? You find yourself drawn to a session by David Forbes of Brooklyn College/CUNY, with the provocative title, “Contemplative Education and Neoliberalism: A Perfect World Still Requires Radical Action.”
Forbes’ presentation is chock-full of ideas, far more than even a fast-talking New Yorker can cover in the allotted time. He is asking all the right questions. “What is the purpose of contemplative practices in education? Is it enlightenment/awakening and the elimination of greed, ill-will, and delusion for everyone and at all societal levels, or is it a relativistic technology used to improve attention, reduce stress, and gain personal success and productivity in a competitive society?” The conversation that follows is galvanizing.
The morning continues. All the sessions look so promising that you decide to take a cue from the previous night’s panel and select your next session randomly. You end up listening to Ed Sarath from the University of Michigan hold forth on “Integrity of Practice in Meditation and Improvisation Pedagogy.”
You’re stunned to realize that improvisation has been perhaps the most central musical practice throughout world history, except for a period of about 200 years in Europe. This seems to throw light on the state of the modern academy, which even in America tends to be both highly traditional and Eurocentric. But that is changing.
You’ve come here from a historically Black university, so it is with special interest that you attend your next session, “Contemplative Race Theory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Racial Discourse.” The presenters, Seth Schoen and Rev. Christopher Carter, seem very young. In fact, they are graduate students, and this is their first such presentation.
They present a “compassion practice” which they have developed together, a fairly advanced guided meditation that is grounded in critical race theory. It would seem to be a good way to prepare classes for difficult, sensitive or contentious discussions. They hope to publish on the practice soon. You make a note for future reference.
In the afternoon, there are open space sessions, organized around topics suggested by participants that very morning. You attend a discussion on race, class and gender.
The conversation is heartfelt, respectful yet challenging. You are taken by one participant’s observation that contemplation disrupts her “default modes of being,” which suggests the subtle potential of such practices for subverting engrained social structures.
The theme for the conference is “Integrity of Practice.” But your own personal theme is beginning to emerge. It might be called, “The Joy of Walking Slowly.” You find yourself walking often in the company of two women who walk slowly for different reasons. Karen is walking with a cane. Eileen simply seems to be the sort of person who is never rushed. You find you must make a conscious effort to slow down and stick with their pace, but this seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of the conference.
Before dinner on Saturday evening Karen reveals she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or a broken foot. She suffered a life-threatening stroke some while ago. You listen in awe to the story of her recovery, and how her 30-year practice of meditation helped her through a very difficult time.
It’s been a full day. You’re tired. You sleep like a rock that night, for about ten hours, disturbed only by a welcome nocturnal visitation from the B&B’s resident housecat.
Sunday morning begins in much the same manner as Saturday, with conversation around the breakfast table as stimulating as any one of the formal sessions. You walk to campus with Robert-Louis Abrahamson. When learning of your fascination with seasonal progress, he bestows upon you a touching gift: a copy of his own CD and accompanying booklet, Journey Through the Seasons, a cycle of meditations on the five Chinese healing energies.
You’re excited to attend a roundtable discussion on “The Role of Teaching Centers in Introducing and Supporting Contemplative Practices,” convened by your new friend Eileen Abrams.
A nascent faculty development network seems to be emerging. You know from previous experience how powerful this can be, and the exchange of ideas is invigorating. For example, one colleague suggests exploring the connection between contemplative pedagogy and retention rates. It seems like a promising line of inquiry.
But the best has, perhaps, been saved for last. The impromptu student panel was one of the most engaging sessions at the ACMHE conference. This was, in part, an opportunity for faculty to ask students, “What do we need to know from you?”
A number of new connections are made for you. For example: Metacognition is enhanced by meditation. We’ve sponsored workshops on both topics but never drawn that connection. You think to yourself: We should sponsor more student panels at CAT. We have much to learn from our students.
On the ride back to the airport, you find yourself once again conversing with the shuttle driver. He hails from Morocco and is a big fan of the Boston Celtics. As you describe the conference you discover what you’ve learned.
Pedagogy must connect course content to a larger whole; otherwise, we are merely conveying disassociated tidbits of information, quickly “crammed” into short-term memory and just as quickly forgotten. Pedagogy must be meaningful, purposeful, and connected to deep values in order to be effective and transformative. You’re struck by the awe-inspiring scope of this charge. You realize that this domain — the domain of meaning, purpose and values — provides a good working definition of spirituality. These issues are the main concern of many religions. Therefore, in order to be effective, teachers must be on a spiritual path or grounded in a spiritual practice. It’s not something extra, some “value added” proposition. It’s absolutely essential. It’s the core, the foundation of what we do. And it follows that a holistic faculty development program must provide support for the spiritual development of faculty members.
The implications are staggering. However will you communicate this to the folks back home?
How did this shopping cart full of miscellaneous hardware come to be parked in our yard for three months?
Therein lies a tale.
One day in late May, a guy came walking down our street. He started talking to Xy and somehow convinced her to hire him to cut our grass. Before I knew it she had him in the house and she was showing him a broken window pane. Could he fix it?
I scoffed, but I guess he had a way with words because the next thing I knew we’d agreed to hire him to fix the window pane and the drainage under our kitchen sink to boot.
The guy was a bit of a character. Called himself Preacher because he’s a man of God. A fast-talker, but likeable. Charismatic. Slightly tenuous grasp of what is laughingly referred to as “reality.” Seems like I’ve known a few guys like Preacher over the years. I drove him to his house, just a few blocks away, so he could get his tools.
He did fix our drainage, and he cut our grass once or twice. But he also seemed to keep asking for more money, and between Xy and I being generous and not communicating with each other, we ended up paying him more than we should have. He was still “working” on the the window pane project when he showed up one day with this cart load of stuff he got on discount somewhere. He asked if he could stow it in our yard while he ran some other errand.
Then he disappeared.
After three months we were really getting tired of having this cart around. I took this photo with plans of posting it to Freecycle.
But lo and behold, Preacher showed up the very next day. He had been in the hospital. He took the cart with a promise to come back and trim our grass one more time. No charge. He seemed to have forgotten about the window pane entirely.
On the Friday before the equinox, I caught a ride with Daniel Samuels up to the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. It was built by Huey P. Long in 1930. There was a really cool version of the state seal carved into the fireplace in the library.
But I wasn’t there for the architectural details. I was there for an award luncheon. It was a special honor to meet for the first time the other two finalists in the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes contest, Landry Camardelle and Wilma Subra.
There were a lot of people there. Turned out it was also the culmination of the Keep Louisiana Beautiful conference. So we had a great lunch in a big fancy room and a bunch of people got a bunch of awards for a bunch of good work. Meanwhile, as they led up to the Cox Conserves Heroes Award, I was on pins and needles. Who would win?
Wilma and Landry certainly had inspiring stories of their own, but since the winner was chosen by an online vote, I knew that it would come down to who had waged the most effective internet campaign. I thought I had a good shot because understanding social media is part of my job. I’d been posting on on various networks daily, begging for votes and asking people to share the link in hopes of expanding my reach.
And, in the end, it worked. I won.
But really I should say: We won.
Sure, I got my little moment of glory, and that was sweet and euphoric and extremely gratifying to my always-hungry ego. But the big $10,000 check isn’t for me. It’s for Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Exactly how they’ll use the money, I don’t know. Perhaps it will go toward hiring an Executive Director. That would be a major boost toward FOLC’s mission of building, programming and promoting the Lafitte Greenway. The other finalists got some money for their causes as well, but they both agreed it will make an even bigger difference for FOLC.
So that’s a victory for all of us, especially for folks who live in the New Orleans area, but also for anyone who gives a damn about health, sustainability, and a greener future.
Thanks to Cox Communications and the Trust for Public Land for organizing and funding the contest.
Thank you for voting for me. And thank you for allowing me this opportunity to represent such important values as community, ecology, and good old-fashioned grassroots organizing.
A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.
And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.
So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.
I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.
It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.
But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.
While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.
Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.
I rented a car and drove west. All by myself. I drove and drove and drove until I got to Austin, Texas. And I thought to myself, how uncharacteristic. I felt like I hadn’t done anything like this before, at least not for a very long time.
There was a reason for this pilgrimage, of course. Over thirty years ago, a woman named Lisa and a man named Brendan began a musical collaboration in Melbourne, Australia. Later they moved to London. For the better part of two decades they made amazing music together under the name Dead Can Dance. Then they broke up in 1998. During all that time, I never heard them, never even knew of them. They got back together for a world tour in 2005, but I was still entirely ignorant. I only discovered them around the time my daughter was born. To say I found their music transformative would be an understatement. They’re the only act in recent memory that I would actually want to see live — and they aren’t even together anymore.
Except now they are. When they announced a new album and a new tour, I bought tickets at the first opportunity. The closest they got to New Orleans was Atlanta. I opted for Austin, which is almost as close, but home to many more friends, even some relatives.
That was some six months ago. Xy thought I was crazy and vehemently disapproved. If Hurricane Isaac had come a week later, we might have evacuated to Austin and everything would have worked out nicely. As it was, we were just getting back to normal and it didn’t feel quite right to run off. I mailed my tickets to PJ in Austin. Then I talked to Xy; she’d had a change of heart and wanted me to go, with her blessing.
So I went. PJ came to see the show with me.
And the show was really good.
After the show we stopped to see some of PJ’s friends and jammed until the wee hours of the morning.
I spent the night at PJ’s house. It was great to see Andrea and the kids.
The next day I drove back home. In total I was only gone 32 hours, I think. I felt bad about burning all that gas just to move my body a thousand miles. If I’d had my act together I might have car-pooled with some other fans. But I’m glad I made the trip.
Persephone and I took a photo of Xy raking up the “street salad” left behind by Hurricane Isaac. Then we drew our own interpretation based on the photo. Persephone drew the gusts and leaves; I drew the branches and the figure with rake, but Persephone drew the face.