“A secular spirituality from the seasons?”

Wheel of the Year

EVENT: Sunday, July 9, 2017, 4-6pm at The Venue, 114 S Grant, Bloomington, Indiana

This summer, join me for a community discussion on the question, “Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons?” Held at The Venue in Bloomington, Indiana, the event will be moderated by longtime local journalist Mike Leonard. Light refreshments will be served.

The discussion will revolve around the same ideas which inspired my book, Spinning in Place, outlining a worldly approach to spirituality for the scientifically-minded.

As a longtime atheist, I’m skeptical of many expressions of religiosity. But over the years I’ve learned to see much of value in religion as well. To be fully human, we must be open to the full range of human experience. I wrote this book to show one way that humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and skeptics might celebrate what it means to be alive here on this planet. Further, by placing a focus on the natural world, we can learn to be better citizens of the Earth.

I’m known in the Bloomington area for my role in the controversial television series, Rox, which debuted on cable there 25 years ago this summer and became the first TV show on the internet shortly thereafter. Rox was honored by a mayoral proclamation from Mark Kruzan in 2013. Now, I’m honored by the opportunity to return to Bloomington and speak about eco-spiritual practices.

I hope you can join me!

PS: Listed on Facebook.

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A Jazz Funeral in Greenfield, Indiana

I’m still in touch with a number of friends back in Indiana. Last week I heard some sad news from one of these friends: His mother had passed away. She was advanced in years, but it was still rather sudden and unexpected. Yet what he asked the next day brought a smile to my face. He wondered what it would take, at a bare minimum, to put together a New Orleans-style jazz funeral in a small town in Indiana.

Here’s how I advised him, more or less. I said he needed a brass band. What would be the minimal instrumentation? I’m guessing a trumpet or trombone, a tuba and drum. The players should know at least one slow sad song and one fast upbeat number. You play the dirges on the way to the cemetery and the happy songs on the way back home.

A mutual friend, who is a musician, hooked him up with some players from Indianapolis who were available at a reasonable rate. Two on percussion, one banjo, tuba, trombone and trumpet. Plus a clarinet. He described them as “a smaller, if slightly less cinematic, version of what you’ve seen on Treme.”

And what do you know? It all came together very nicely, or so I gather. The musicians arrived on time, dressed in black and looking good. I don’t know the whole playlist, but the music was reverent and mournful on the way in, and joyous and celebratory on the way out.

But of all the details my friend reported, this one stands out to me as extraordinary.

The funeral director said it was like nothing he’d ever seen and he was going to let his family know that he wants this when he dies.

Says it all.

Junior Portrait

Greenwood, Indiana, 1983 or ’84: I took my glasses off for this high school yearbook photo. Note the acne. Note the haircut. Note the enigmatic expression. I’m not smiling — not quite.

Junior Portrait

It’s hard not to smile when you’re having such a photo taken. I imagine I was pretty pleased with myself for resisting the photographer’s instructions.

I was 16 or 17 years of age.

Indiana?

I guess what amazes me the most is that Indiana went for Obama. Indiana, which in the 1920s had “the largest, most enthusiastic, and most politically powerful Klan in the country.” Indiana, where I went to high school in the 1980s with active robe-wearing Klansmen. Indiana, home of the Humanoid Artifact. Indiana, which hasn’t gone for a Democrat in my lifetime.

This just blows my mind.

As for Louisiana, it’s astonishing and a bit sickening that we went for McCain in such a big way. After the Katrina debacle, this state should have punished the Republicans harshly.

It’s a long way from now until the inauguration. I’m sure there are some crazy racists out there who would do anything to prevent the “darkening” of the Oval Office. I know many people are praying already for Obama’s safety. I can only hope the Secret Service is up to the task.

McCain’s concession was gracious. But I couldn’t help but notice the spin on what Obama’s victory means.

Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

Contrast this with Obama’s words:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Similar sentiments but a very different spin. For McCain, all these racial injustices are in the past, so we should shut up and quit whining about equality. This will be the refrain from the hard right in the days and months ahead.

Now pardon me while I celebrate with my co-workers. As you might imagine, today’s a happy day to be working at an historically black college.

More Ike Madness

My cousin Leslie and her family in Houston went to Austin for a wedding around the time of Ike; they are still waiting for power so they can return. But this news from Mom in Indiana threw me for a loop:

The remnants of Ike hit Indiana pretty hard. Nothing compared to Texas, of course. The devastation in Galveston and surrounding areas is hard to comprehend from a distance. Last Sunday we had high winds and rain. In fact, Indiana had the second highest death toll after Texas as a result of Ike. Five people died from falling trees and two others from other reasons. A number of schools were closed on Monday and some for another day or two. People were out of power too. Most of this was south of where we live. We only had small branches and twigs to pick up.

And to think Indiana is where we’ve taken refuge from two hurricanes. I always figured Indiana was so far inland as to be immune to serious damage from tropical systems, but obviously not. And there are still thousands of people in Indiana without electricity.

The Lure of Bloomington

When we were stranded here three years ago, I was somewhat immune to the lure of Bloomington. I was focused on getting back to New Orleans and the tasks of rebuilding.

This time, though, I felt the attraction of the place as soon as we rolled into town. It’s an old familiar place that I love, a place I never wanted to leave. I know that in many ways, if we lived here, we might enjoy a higher quality of life than we do in New Orleans. We wouldn’t have to deal with this evacuation nonsense. The city has much to recommend it: great public schools, a great library, a great community radio station. The local paper has a section dedicated to “Eco News” every Friday. How cool is that? Seems like half the people I talked to were trying to gently twist my arm into finding a way back here. I found myself thinking that I could make it through the Indiana winters if I had a sauna.

I never wanted to leave Bloomington in the first place. But the general lack of economic opportunity drove us out. Bloomington’s labor market is dominated by Indiana University. There is a huge surplus of well-educated people. If Xy wanted to teach here, she’d literally have to wait around for someone to die. I suppose the main thing that keeps us in New Orleans is my job, which is the reason we moved there in the first place. I love my job, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway. We are beginning our drive back home to New Orleans today. I hope we don’t have to turn around and evacuate again for Ike next week.

Thanks to everyone for their kindness and hospitality.

Revelations

I’ve been catching up with various friends and relations here in Bloomington. Met up with some roxlysters. Met up with Laura Dedelow, a fellow Gustavacuee. It was especially cool to meet Josh (goodhands) in person. And supercool to finally meet Lee (magic) in the flesh. Lee and I had a very near encounter three years ago, on the last day of our Katrina exile; we were thwarted by a tornado. He’s been working on the ROX 666 DVD project ever since.

But the biggest surprise came from my parents, who treated us to lunch today. They were here in Bloomington for a mysterious appointment. Turns out they’re selling their house in Morgan County and joining the Peace Corps. (Pending acceptance to the program.) I’m stunned and proud. My parents, the hippies.

Bloomington

Part of me wanted to get back home to New Orleans and gloat over the fact that we appear to have power while most of the city does not.

But I didn’t relish the idea of sitting in traffic with two million other evacuees all trying to get back home at the same time.

So when we got the news yesterday that neither Xy’s school nor mine will reopen until Monday, our evacuation turned into an evacucation. We decided to run up to Indiana for a few days and visit family. What the hell, it’s only 522 miles from Tuscaloosa, and we have four new tires.

So now we’re here. This is the first time I’ve been back to Indiana since we returned to New Orleans in November of 2005. Thus ends my life’s longest absence from the Mystical State.

If you’re game, meet us at the Upland Thursday night around 8 PM.

Not Laughing Anymore

When I first heard about flooding in Indiana last week, and saw some pictures of IU students frolicking in the high water in Bloomington, with little indication of property damage or loss of life, I’ll admit I laughed. I used to live there, I’d seen canoes on Kirkwood before — I didn’t think much of it.

But now the situation has changed, as the rains keep coming. Seven or eight people have died, 29 counties have been declared disaster areas.

Suffice it to say I’m not laughing anymore.

Here’s a picture of my Dad wading. The water in this small lake on my parents’ property is overflowing the dam.

Walking the dam

Thankfully I don’t think they’re sustaining any real damage, but many others are not so lucky. Since we found refuge in Indiana when we were flooded out of our home in New Orleans, my heart really goes out to the Hoosier State now.

The Quake of ’89

All my friends and relations up in Indiana are talking about the earthquake last night.

None of them seem to remember the Quake of ’89 as well as I do. Mom thought it was 87, JB thought it was 86, and Lee doesn’t recall a quake in his lifetime. But I remember it like it was yesterday. I was home from college for the summer, losing my mind, and so I was on the phone talking to the police in preparation for hitchhiking around the country. In the middle of our conversation the whole house started shaking.

“Hey,” I said, “is it shaking over there too?”

“Yes,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I think it’s an earthquake.” Then the switchboard lit up and she had to go.

But I guess the quake of 89 doesn’t hold a candle to this one. Still, this wasn’t the Big One. I’m glad for that. As I e-mailed to Mom this morning:

Let’s hope we never see a bigger one, at least not anytime soon. I know the Midwest would fare better than New Orleans for many different reasons, but believe me when I say our government is not ready for a major disaster. Glad this wasn’t one and that you’re all right.

The USGS has a great graphic showing the Midwest Earthquake Hotspot.

Black ‘Em Out Day

Many people on campus today are wearing black in support of the Jena Six.

I’m reminded of my high school days in Greenwood, Indiana. We often had “Spirit Weeks” to support the football team with different dress-up days. One time we had something called “Black ‘Em Out” day. Everybody was supposed to wear black.

One guy thought it would be funny to come in blackface, with a doo-rag, to look like a “mammy.” One of his friends got wind of this and thought it would be even funnier to come dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

The amazing thing was, to get the robe, all he had to do was reach into his closet and pull it out.

Both boys were sent home. They may have been suspended. I don’t know. A picture of the boy in blackface was published in the yearbook.

I remember Greenwood as a mostly white community — almost completely white. According to the 2000 census, that’s still the case. Greenwood is 96.54% white. The African-American population is 0.44%.

Greenwood is a suburb of Indianapolis, which is 25% black. The only thing separating Greenwood from Indianapolis is County Line Road. So how to account for the disparity? How does Greenwood stay so very white?

I never heard of nooses hanging from trees there, but I do remember when the Klan handed out leaflets at the Greenwood Park Mall. That certainly sends a message. But I believe that event and “Black ‘Em Out Day” were just the tip of the iceberg, overt examples of a racial hatred that is mostly under cover.

Eyes are focused on Jena, Louisiana, today, as thousands converge in what may be the largest civil rights protest in recent memory. I think that’s a good thing. Racism must be confronted.

But I’m also given pause to think about the town where I grew up, and to reflect on the fact that racism is not limited to Jena.

Hoosier Car

As I’ve mentioned before, a white Honda Prelude has been sitting on our block for over three months. It’s had debris piled on it. It’s been jacked up and cannibalized for parts. It’s had the rear window smashed out. The police came and looked at it on several occasions. But still it remained.

I was pleasantly surprised this weekend to see the owner return and haul the damn thing back to Munster, Indiana.

I talked to them about it, but I didn’t learn much. It seems they had a small problem with the transmission. I didn’t ask why it took three months to remove the vehicle.

Herewith, a pictorial retrospective of this derelict automobile’s tenure on North Salcedo.

Indiana Plate

Car Under Debris

Smashed

It’s gone now. Good riddance.

Car

In April I looked out my window and saw three white kids pushing a white car. They stopped just down the street from our house. I thought to myself, “Oh, they’re having car trouble.” An hour later I noticed they were gone but the car was still there, and it dawned on me: That car’s gonna be there for a while.

Indiana Plate

It’s a white Honda Prelude with an Indiana plate, #96 C 3139. That’s Lake County, I think. No good, dirty, rotten Hoosiers.

It’s three months later and the car is still there. A couple weeks ago someone jacked it up and helped themselves to some parts. Last week another house was gutted and the debris was partially piled on top of the car.

Car Under Debris

I’ve faxed and phoned about this vehicle repeatedly. I’ve seen the police come out in response to my calls and take note of the vehicle. Yup, that’s an abandoned car all right. They even appear to write stuff down. But it’s still there. I wonder how long it will stay?

Update: An anonymous tipster tells me that this plate is registered to one Kevin Trotman out of Munster, Indiana — who should not be confused with this Flickr user of the same name.

Proto-Borat

Back in the late 80s, when I was just getting interested in video production, I shot some stuff at the County Line Mall in Indianapolis with my friend, Butt. (Yes, yes, that’s his real name, his last name. I will refrain from telling his first name in order to spare him potential Google embarrassment.) He’s from Pakistan, and he was one of the first people I met at Indiana University.

We thought it would be funny to go to the shopping mall and interview people as if Butt was a journalist from Pakistan. We hoped we might draw out some unintentionally hilarious comments from American mall-goers. The results were disappointing. For one thing, we could barely figure out how to operate the camera. For another, people were a bit nicer than we expected and we ended up feeling like assholes.

Warning: The following video clip is neither funny nor particularly interesting, and is provided for the sole purpose of making a point.

(This video ended up being featured in Milk ‘Em All, which was one of the first videos I ever edited, using my parents’ VCR.)

I’m posting this mall Butt video only because the movie Borat (in theaters now) seemed vaguely familiar to me, and I finally realized why. Foreign pseudo-journalist attempting to make fools of Middle Americans? Yes, we did it first, almost twenty years earlier. Sascha Baron Whatshisname ripped us off!

Update: It should be further noted that I haven’t actually seen Borat and thus don’t know what I’m talking about and might reasonably be classified as an idiot.

Meet the Neighbors

Xy talked to some of our new Mexican neighbors. Turns out they’re from — drum roll, please — Indiana!

We’re from Indiana too, in case you didn’t know. What are the chances? It’s like this little block in Mid-City New Orleans is being taken over by Hoosiers.

I talked to one of the guys, Antonio. He said he graduated from a high school in Indianapolis (on 38th Street?) five years ago. I was surprised, considering his shaky command of English.

I’m not sure if they’re American citizens or not. I didn’t ask. But I’m guessing they are here legally.

As for the family living on the other side of the Mexicans, it turns out they’re Guatemalans. We met a guy named Benito, a woman named Maria, and some others whose names I didn’t catch.

Xy Meets the Neighbors

Xy brought some toys and school supplies, rescued from Habans, for the kids. They especially appreciated the bilingual books.

They’ve been good neighbors thus far. Early to bed and early to rise. Hurricane Katrina brought them here, just as it dispersed our neighbors. They came for the rebuilding work. And the Mexican guys were listening to some Latin hip-hop the other day that I thought was really cool.

Xy knows just enough Spanish to communicate. I’ve been thinking I should learn the language ever since we moved here six years ago and were befriended by Hondurans. It seems like an even better idea in Nuevo Orleans.

Time

My computer still thinks it’s in New Orleans, and so its clock has “fallen back” an hour.

But here in Indiana, clocks never change — as I well know, since I grew up here. Most Indiana clocks stay the same year ’round. The television schedule shifts an hour, just to remind us the rest of the country does things differently.

But that era is drawing to a close. Recent legislation means that Indiana’s getting in synch with the Daylight Saving Madness. (And make no mistake, it is pure foolishness.) Next time the country changes its clocks, so will Indiana.

What a shame.

If you’re interested in the issues at hand, check out What Time Is It in Indiana? I was impressed with this webpage years ago. It was started by a group of 8th graders right here in Bloomington. I’m happy to see it’s been maintained and has information that appears to be up to the minute.

Farmhouse

Xy & I inherited the Seddelmeyer family farmhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We promptly moved in. It was huge, much bigger than I remembered, covering acres. We bedded down in a small room early in the evening, but I was restless, and soon we ventured forth to explore the house. From a window I saw the Klotzes, friends of my family from Indianapolis, approaching the door. Xy didn’t want to talk to anyone, so we crouched down and tried to hide beneath the window. But they knew we were there, and they wouldn’t go away until they’d delivered their housewarming fruitcake. So I got up and greeted them, and before I knew it I was playing host to a large party on the front porch. My parents were there. An uncle of mine was poking my dad’s stomach and making fun of his hemorrhoids. He had astonishingly thick fingers.

Springs Valley

Xy and I spent the last two nights in French Lick. I highly recommend it. French Lick is about 45 minutes south of Bloomington, and it sits right next to its twin city, West Baden. The area is sometimes called Springs Valley because of the abundance of mineral springs. Those same springs, and the seven casinos that used to be there, made this area the party hotspot of the Midwest back in the early twentieth century.

We went there for our honeymoon ten and a half years ago, and we saw the ruin of the West Baden Springs Hotel. It was the largest free-standing dome in the world until the Astrodome was built, and it was spectacular. We also visited five and a half years ago and saw the dome in partial restoration, a massive project funded by Historic Landmarks of Indiana and the Cook Group. Now we saw it complete, and it is stunning. Tours are given every hour between 10am and 3pm. It’s worth the trip.

Of course, French Lick Springs Hotel is also worth checking out. That’s where Xy & I stayed on our honeymoon, as seen briefly at the end of a certain episode of ROX. It’s simply massive. Visitors are advised to seek out the historical display hidden in the basement. (Why do they hide this stuff in the basement?) Also keep an eye out for all the cool devil imagery, produced by a confusion of the Christian conception of the devil with the Roman god of the underworld, Pluto — patron of the mineral spring here.

I took a mineral bath. Not because I believe the waters have any curative powers, but simply for the experience, since that (and the gambling) was what so many people did a hundred or so years ago. It only cost $20, and it was kind of fun.


And, as we drove north to Monrovia today to visit my parents, we stopped by Orangeville to check out the Orangeville Rise. That’s where Lost River pops back up again after traveling underground for ten miles or so. It’s a Registered Natural Landmark!