Make Me a Hero

September 9th, 2013 by Editor B

Me

Friends,

A nonprofit I helped found, the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, has a shot at $10,000. Here’s how: You have to vote for me.

FOLC nominated me for the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes program. Now I’m a finalist.

While I’m deeply honored to have gotten this far, I really want to see us win this thing. And that’s a tough challenge. Because I’m competing against some pretty awesome people.

So vote. Sure. That’s the first step.

Then share this link with everyone you can. Use your fancy social media networks or send a good old-fashioned email.

http://coxconservesheroes.com/louisiana/vote.aspx

If you know anyone who supports the recovery of New Orleans — anyone who like the idea of a multiuse urban greenway — anyone who likes bicycles and walking — anyone who wants a greener future for our children — please share this with them.

Thanks for your support. And check back here next week for a real update on me and my life.

Step into the Dark

September 26th, 2012 by Editor B

Equinox Sculpture

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.

For me, it’s been a year of baking bread and meditating and writing.

With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.

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.

Fifty-Five Months

September 21st, 2012 by Editor B

My Family

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-five months old today.

In the past month you rode out your first hurricane. When we decided to stay in place for Isaac, my main worry was that you might have some sort of traumatic experience. We had an interesting talk about about the many faces of Gaia. But the only real tragedy in your mind was that you missed cartoons Saturday morning because we still didn’t have power.

You had a much worse experience one week later. It was just a typical Friday morning, but for some reason you were out of sorts. You didn’t want to get out of bed. You didn’t want to eat breakfast. You didn’t want to go to school. Your mother and I could not discern any cause for your foul mood. You were grumpy and uncooperative. It got ugly. It was truly a morning from hell.

Such moments highlight your usually sunny disposition.

By contrast, allow me to mention one of your finest moments. Our neighbor Olivia Rose turned two recently. You attended her party and gave her a small gift. A short while later you got a thank-you card from Olivia Rose. This inspired you to make her a thank-you card in turn — a thank-you for the thank-you. “And then she’ll send me a thank-you card for that, and then I will send her a thank-you card, and she will send me one and I will send her one and back and forth and back and forth until it runs out.” Meaning the ink in your respective markers.

Oh, and I just wanted to note you are still in the “why” phase. I thought you’d have outgrown it by now, but no. Sometimes I think “why” is your favorite word. It’s not even a question anymore; it’s just something you state in reply to virtually anything. “It’s Tuesday.” Why. “Look, it’s raining.” Why. “Good morning.” Why. And so on.

And now some assorted tidbits.

  • “I can tell what people are feeling. Just by touching them. I have more power than grownups.”
  • “That lightning made my heart jump!”
  • We were listening to a scratchy old Thelemic chant one morning, a recording from 1914: “The Call of the Second Æthyr.” You thought the voice sounded familiar. “That’s you, right Daddy?” No, babe, that’s Aleister Crowley.
  • We caught our first flat ont he way to school one morning. We still made it to on time, though, as we got a lift from a neighbor who’s daughter happens to be in the classroom next door to you. Funny thing is we’d never met these folks before, but they live just a couple blocks up the street from us.
  • The Saints lost their first game of the season. I said, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints.” You said, “The Redskins bwhahaha!”
  • A morning question: “What do clouds taste like?”
  • You invented a new word, “indecorgeous,” but you aren’t sure what it means.

Uncharacteristic Behavior

September 18th, 2012 by Editor B

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.

PJ

And the show was really good.

Brendan

Lisa

After the show we stopped to see some of PJ’s friends and jammed until the wee hours of the morning.

Club Pesky

I spent the night at PJ’s house. It was great to see Andrea and the kids.

Christies

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.

Parenting Panels

September 17th, 2012 by Editor B

I recently facilitated a roundtable discussion on parenting, and now I’m gearing up to moderate a parenting panel next Saturday.
Read the rest of this entry »

How Long the Storm?

September 12th, 2012 by Editor B

Street Salad

Isaac is gone, but his odor lingers on.

Seriously. There’s a smell in the air, a certain peculiar smell I can’t describe. I’m not sensitive to smells. I often think if I was more tuned in to my sense of smell, I’d have a radically different way of being in the world, more animalistic perhaps and less hyper-rational. I don’t notice many smells. But this smell I do notice. It reminds me of the smell after Katrina, which at the time I thought was all mold and rot. Now I’m not so sure. There was plenty of mold and rot, to be sure, but this is maybe something else that was also in the mix. It sprang up almost immediately after Isaac’s winds died down. There were massive amounts of live oak leaves scattered all over, damp with rain. Could that be the source of the smell? Those leaves don’t decay quickly. But perhaps they have some kind of mold growing on them, there already before they fell. Who knows.

It’s not an unpleasant smell. Not entirely pleasant either. I might say it smells like mold without any mustiness if that makes sense. Fresh mold. I’m trying to invent terms to describe a sensation for which my vocabulary is inadequate. But every time I catch a whiff, it brings back memories from 2005.

How long does a storm last? My boss speculated that people who haven’t lived through such storms don’t understand. The storm itself was only on us for a day and a half, right? But we were watching Isaac since August 21st. Most people around New Orleans lost at least a week of work to Isaac, factoring in the preparation and the subsequent power outages. When I got back in my office, it took a full week of rescheduling and catching up before things got back to what is laughably referred to as “normal” around here. For some, though, “normal” is still a long way off; some offices were compromised by the wind and rain and mold has set in. Remediation is under way.

As of today, two full weeks after Isaac’s landfall, our city streets are still lined with piles of debris, mostly branches and sometimes whole trees that have been cut down to size, stacked and bundled. They sit waiting to be carted off somewhere. (Probably a landfill, more’s the pity.) It’s a massive task and the city just doesn’t have enough crews to get it done quickly. I fully expect there will still be plenty of work remaining to be done in a week’s time. At that point, Isaac will have dominated our attention, or at least impinged upon our collective consciousness, for a full month.

I’m talking about those who weathered the hurricane with minimal impact. For some individuals, some families, some communities, the road to recovery is much longer. For those folks, the consequences of Isaac will linger long after his smell has faded from the street of New Orleans.

Tree

September 11th, 2012 by Editor B

It wasn’t until after Labor Day that I passed by the bayou and saw what Isaac had done to my favorite tree.

Tree

This is the tree where my daughter got her name back in 2008. Throughout the 2010-2011 school year I stopped at this tree almost daily for a moment of contemplation. This tree survived a lightning strike last year. But I’m afraid Isaac may have dealt the death blow.

When I saw the damage, I was devastated. I embraced the tree and my tears flowed freely.

In the forest such a tree might continue to live for many years, but this tree is in an urban area, on public land, and highly visible. Some time in the last week, the tree was trimmed back and all the dead matter removed. Half the tree is gone now. The trunk remains and one major branch, giving it a lopsided, severely asymmetrical profile.

Will the humans allow it to live? I guess that’s the question. So I called Troy at the Orleans Levee District. He said their policy is not to cut down such a large oak, as long as there is life in it, without special authorization. I contacted his boss to say I want to help in whatever way I can, either to save the tree or to plant a new tree it if this one must be removed.

Second Guessing

September 9th, 2012 by Editor B

I’ve also been reflecting on our decision to stay in place for Isaac. Was it the right choice? There’s room for disagreement even in our house. Over the past week Xy has repeated “Never again!” whereas I’ve found myself saying I’m glad we stayed.

So what were the pros and cons of that decision? It’s tempting, though foolish, to look at what actually happened.

Sleeping Arrangement

For example: On the negative, the winds were kind of unsettling. None of us slept well that first night, when Isaac made his stumbling landfall not once but twice. Our whole house shook. Our house shakes whenever a truck rolls by, but sustained shaking for many hours is worrisome. Also, we were without power for four days. That was the worst of it.

Problem is, any analysis of our decision should be based on risk assessment, on what could have happened. To judge our judgment based on what actually happened is foolish — and irresistible, inevitable. Human nature, I suppose.

A tree could have fallen on our house. But it didn’t.

What’s the worst that might have happened? Here’s one nasty scenario: Hurricanes can spin off tornadoes faster than a late-70s sitcom. In fact Isaac was responsible for some tornadoes in Illinois. Tornadoes, to me, seem like tiny superfast hurricanes, much more unpredictable, highly destructive though much more limited in scope. So, a tornado could have hit our house in just such a way as to make it collapse and kill us all. I have no idea of the statistical likelihood of such an event. It would be interesting to compare that to the risk involved in, say, driving an automobile on the interstate.

In the end, though, it doesn’t come down to a rational analysis of statistical data. As I talked to people about their various plans to evacuate or not, I found a lot of it had to do with their previous experience. The authorities warn us that every storm is different, yet we can’t help comparing to the last one. Some people had a bad time in the evacuation for Ivan, which experience led them to stay for Katrina. Our Gustav evacuation informed our decision for Isaac.

I’m worried that going forward I’ll have an overly rosy memory of Isaac which will tempt me to stay at some point in the future when I really should go.

And so forth. There’s no escape from second-guessing.

Further Divergence

September 8th, 2012 by Editor B

I’m still thinking about Isaac. My writing hasn’t been able to keep pace.

They say every storm is unique, and certainly Isaac was very different from Katrina. Yet comparisons are inevitable, despite being problematic. One headline put it this way:

Drenched New Orleans passes big post-Katrina test

The US Army Corp of Engineers has done a lot of work since the floods of 2005. In monetary terms, it’s something in the neighborhood of $14 billion. I have no idea how many hours of human labor that represents. I still believe we should aim for a higher level of protection. We should build not for a so-called hundred year storm, but for 10,000 year storm, as the Dutch do. But that’s a separate gripe. One story coming out of Isaac is that the work the Corps has actually been tasked with appears to be effective. New Orleans was not flooded by Isaac’s surge.

But immediately outside of these federal flood protection structures, communities did flood. Braithwaite. LaPlace. Slidell. Lots of homes under water. (If you want to help the people who were flooded, please consider making a donation to Beacon of Hope.) A key question is, did our flood protection cause or exacerbate flooding elsewhere? It will take a while for that analysis. But if the answer comes back yes — if the system that keeps my home dry floods someone else’s home — what then, I wonder?

Experiential Divergence

September 6th, 2012 by Editor B

Banks Street Bar

If my recent posts have made it seem like Isaac was all fun and games, well, that only reflects my own personal experience. Other people experienced it differently. If your house flooded or a tree fell on you, for example, your experience was probably pretty negative. Even in our house, we had different experiences. Xy was pretty aggravated by the whole thing.

To honor these divergent experiences, I offer a text message I got from our friend James, after three days without electricity.

Sent: Aug 31, 2012 7:33 PM
I had some punks try 2 break in2 my car last night, then the bar across from me was robbed-where’s the damn power-this city blows-ineptness everywhere! Screw it!

The next evening, a few minutes after we got our power back, we exchanged texts again, and I asked him if he had electricity yet. His reply:

Sent: Sep 1, 2012 9:13 PM
Of course not-maybe by Christmas & I’m sure those cretins @ Entershitgy will charge me an extra fee somehow-they probably will call it a not having power service fee-they suck!

I think his sense of exasperation comes through quite clearly.

Even more succinctly, Karen Gadbois summed up the experience for many:

Lots of people had a perfectly miserable time. Some of them still are. And I haven’t even mentioned the flooding.

Isaac Art

September 5th, 2012 by Editor B

Mom Raking After Isaac

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.

Mom Raking After Isaac

Revelations in Blackout

September 4th, 2012 by Editor B

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.

We Are OK

September 3rd, 2012 by Editor B

Hurricane Aftermath Party

So the storm came and lingered. Like us, Isaac dithered. Someone described him as the drunk Louisiana uncle who crashes on your couch when you were really thinking the party was over. Eventually he left.

We weathered the storm with no damage. Bit of a leak in the ceiling of our kitchen addition, but nothing to speak of. We lost power, and I’ll write more about that later.

Right now I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all who held us in their thoughts over the past week, and to the friends who offered up their homes to harbor us. I want to let you know we’re alright.

Addendum: I don’t mean to speak for anyone else. It bears remembering that over a hundred thousand people are still without power. Also, a bunch of towns were flooded by Isaac. When you’re home is underwater, things are generally not “OK.”

Light

September 1st, 2012 by Editor B

Light

After four days in the dark, our porch light’s back on in Mid-City.

The Evacuation That Wasn’t

August 28th, 2012 by Editor B

So remember how I said we were heading out — buggin’ — evacuating?

That didn’t happen.

We were planning to go, but the hurricane parties here were just too good to resist.

Ride the Storm Out

Actually the real reason is that our anticipated path was looking worse and worse for a return drive. Of course we could have gone west, or east, but straight north was where we wanted to go, and that wasn’t looking very smart. Personally I was inclined to stay here anyhow. Xy was vacillating, changing her mind every twenty minutes or so. Realizing we’d need to drive back through the storm to return home sealed the decision.

Read the rest of this entry »

Isaac Calculus

August 27th, 2012 by Editor B

Isaac: Hurricane Force Wind Speed Probabilities - 120 Hours

Isaac cometh. Looks like he’s headed our way for sure. Forecasters say he won’t be superstrong, “only” a Category 1 hurricane when he makes landfall on the anniversary of Katrina. But then forecasters aren’t so adept at predicting hurricane strength. And it’s looking more like we’ll be on the wet side of this storm.

To bug out or hunker down, that’s the question. It’s not always easy to calculate the best course of action. A host of factors come into play, and for each person the calculus is slightly different. When I stated that there were actually many good reasons to stay in place, a friend of mine challenged me to name twenty. An intriguing challenge, but I won’t have time for that now, because our decision has been made.

We’re buggin’. I think we could have ridden this one out. Ultimately, though, our decision was made because of private external factors which I’m not at liberty to divulge. Not trying to be all mysterious, but there are certain things I just can’t put out there for public consumption.

This will be our third evacuation in the thirteen years we’ve lived here. Once for Katrina. Once for Gustav. And now for Isaac.

Sooo…. Catch you on the flip side. Good luck, New Orleans.

Happy (Belated) Lammas

August 24th, 2012 by Editor B

We had a wonderful Lammas. It has emerged as probably my favorite holiday, which is kind of funny considering I never heard of it until two years ago.

Lammas Embers

It’s taken a few weeks but I finally got some photos up. And as an unexpected bonus, we even have a short movie, which contains the very first video ever shot by Persephone.

It’s just a series of raw clips but it captures the spirit of our holiday. On Lammas Eve, we had a small bonfire to which we committed the Brigid’s Crosses we made at Candlemas. Normally I wouldn’t approve of burning crosses in the front lawn, but I don’t think the neighbors were too alarmed.

I took the day itself off work. We baked bread figures, as shown in the video. It was last Lammas that I started baking bread, which has become a weekly habit and devotional ritual for over a year now. (I’ve told my boss she can’t say I’m “on a kick” anymore.) The bread figures themselves were far from beautiful, and they were hard and tough, kind of like a bagel. But they tasted pretty good, chock full of jumbo raisins and dates.

We also made dollies.

Tropical Dollies

Like with the Brigid’s Crosses, we used the tropical ferns growing in our back yard for the raw material. It’s always more interesting to use locally grown stuff. The dollies are now hanging around the kitchen. In half a year’s time they will be dry and ready for burning next Candlemas. So the wheel turns.

Speaking of fire, we also learned a valuable lesson: Do not put fire pit on lawn, even for a little fire that doesn’t burn very long. We now have a nice dead patch right in the middle.

Aftermath

Rising Tide 7

August 23rd, 2012 by Editor B

For the last several months I’ve been embedded, ensnared, and otherwise entrapped in the planning process for Rising Tide 7. I haven’t actually done any work, but I’ve observed other people doing lots of work, and I’m happy to take credit for their efforts.

Rising Tide 7

The poster for Rising Tide 7 riffs on the demise of New Orleans’ daily paper. You can bet there will be a very interesting panel on this topic, and many others, including the subject I’ve been writing about over the past week: The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana.

I may even be moderating a panel on parenting, Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads, unless we can sucker someone else into doing it for me.

Register now and save a few bucks. The ticket price will go up soon.

Poster credit: Line drawing by Melissa Moore, graphic work by Lance Vargas.

How We Chose Our School

August 22nd, 2012 by Editor B

In the recovery planning efforts that followed the flooding of New Orleans, we often heard the mantra that we need to have “the community involved in the schools and the schools involved in the community.” I first heard this from Clifton James. I’m sure he was repeating an aphorism, but it made an impression on me, and I think it needs repeating some more.

At the same time we were working on recovery plans, the craze for chartering schools was gaining momentum. Leaving aside the significant controversy over charters for now, let me just observe that charter applications can be more or less community-driven. Typically an educational management company will partner with a local community group, or vice versa. The question of who’s driving is huge. I was on the periphery of an effort to charter Dibert Elementary that was definitely community-driven. That effort failed (twice) and left a lot of people frustrated.

But it was not the only game in town. For years now, I’ve had my eye on another community-driven charter effort. I knew some of the people involved. I knew they were people of integrity with values that I respect and share. I knew that if they were involved in chartering the school, then the community really would be involved in the school, and the school really would be involved in the community.

And, crucially, this would not just be a covert way to serve the “NPR crowd,” i.e. white middle-class liberals. A school that serves only one segment of the community, or even primarily that segment of the community, will not reflect the community as a whole. I’ve got nothing against NPR listeners. I used to be one myself. In fact, the involvement of the NPR crowd is essential. But it can’t be just about them. It has to be about the whole community.

Community, community, community. All this talk about community sounds nice, but what if the community is divided and dysfunctional? That’s the case here in New Orleans, in Orleans Parish. We are a diverse city, but most of us are African American. (It seems odd to type that, so I should probably note that I am not, in fact, African American.) While there are a lot of middle-class Black families here, most of the poverty is also found in Black families. There are really not many poor white people in Orleans Parish. In fact, an analysis of recent census data for Orleans Parish indicates that 65% of Black children under age five are living in poverty. The poverty rate for white kids? Less than 1%.

What’s more, let’s remember what poverty means. While it’s possible to be poor and educated and healthy, for most people poverty is associated with lower educational attainment, lower life expectancy, and a host of other things we generally regard as bad.

I mention these unpleasant realities to underscore what true diversity really means. It’s not just racial-ethnic but also economic. If a school is to truly serve the community, its population must reflect the community.

Let me be blunt. The question that emerges is this: Will middle-class white folks send their kids to school with poor Black kids? Too often, the answer has been a resounding “No.” I’m not casting aspersions on other people’s choices which may be a result of many complex factors. I acknowledge there’s more at work here than old-fashioned racism. (Still plenty of that, though.) Unfortunately, the end result is just the same, and our schools still suffer a de facto segregation. This is true not only here in the Deep South but across the nation. Don’t believe me? Read Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge, which provides evidence that “the U.S. continues to move backward toward increasing minority segregation in highly unequal schools.” If you missed this in the corporate media, well, that’s no surprise. It made #2 on Project Censored’s list: US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s.

And this hurts us all. When our community is divided, we all suffer. Can a school provide the ground for uniting a community? We seem to be asking a lot of our schools these days. Nevertheless, this seems to be part of what our daughter’s new school aims to do. And this is why we want to be there. I don’t know the demographic numbers, but everything I’ve seen and heard seems to bear out these values of inclusion and community. I’m only just getting to know the extended family of children and teachers and parents. So far, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the passion and determination I’ve seen. I’ve saw that same light come alive in other parents’ eyes, as recently as yesterday evening. They are impressed and inspired as well. Together, we can do this.

Four and a Half

August 21st, 2012 by Editor B

Donation

Dear Persephone,

You are four and half years old today. We have continued our tradition, now well-established, of giving away stuff for your half-birthday. This year you didn’t need any explanation; you’ve absorbed the concept from years past. Over the last few weeks you’ve been selecting from amongst your possessions. You filled up a bag, and this morning we dropped it off at Goodwill on the way to school.

Ah yes, school. That’s probably the biggest news in your life over the past month. You’ve started at a new school, a public school much closer to home than your old school. It’s my hope that this school works for you and us. If so you will be there for the next ten years. Wow an entire decade, that just dawned on me. I hope they are happy years.

Also of note, you were fascinated with the Olympics, and watched gymnastics, swimming, volleyball and sprints. I gather there were more women in these games than ever before. You certainly got into the spirit of competition. After watching the American gymnasts, you exclaimed, “When I grow up I want to do that, but I will be from New Lorlens.” (You still say it that way. You also say “lellow” instead on “yellow.”) After the first week of Olympics all week, you started saying things like:

  • “I may look small, but I’m very strong! My hands are very powerful!”
  • “Dada if you tickle me I will kick you in the face. Because I don’t like tickling.”
  • “I can see through walls. I can see through walls a hundred miles away. And you can’t.”
  • “I’m almost so powerful I can pull my hand off. I’m almost that strong.”

You’ve also asserted, more than once, that you grow more powerful each time you win a race. Far be it from me to point out that you’ve never really won a race. You talked about how you wanted to race your two best friends, Lala and Lily. You were certain of victory. “I’ll just get ahead of them.” They are both quite a bit bigger than you; getting ahead would be a challenge. I didn’t point this out either. Your confidence in your own abilities is inspiring.

One night before bed, you told me your stuffed tiger was going to race some Russian tigers after breakfast the next morning. “They’re very fast and mean,” but you were sure you’d win the gold. “I’ve got hundreds of gold medals, and twenty more. If the Russians don’t win I’m going to give them mine.”

At least once a day you amaze me with a bizarre or unusual idea. For example, one evening around dinnertime you asked me: “Dada, what if someone put on a mask that looked like their own face?”

Also, you’ve started to get into zombies lately. I’m not sure where you even learned about zombies. Anyhow, it’s quite amusing to see you lurching around the house, arms outstretched, moaning “Braaaaains…” One night all your stuffed animals became zombie animals. “They can help us look for brains.”