Two Thousand Fourteen

“Heaven is reserved for people who like surprises.” Personal communication. Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B.

N.B. I add this particular note a couple of years later, November 9, 2016 to be precise. When I originally posted this, I did not know that Fr. Demetrius had just died a few weeks earlier. His death came as a surprise to me sometime in early 2014. Click here for his obituary and here for books written by him.

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The Misbelieve Tree

Watching the final episode of Treme last night on HBO reminded me of the richness and incomparability of New Orleans and the life-changing 5 years that my wife and I spent living, working, and redefining ourselves there from 2005 to 2010, roughly the same timeline that David Simon and Eric Overmyer followed in the creation of Treme. We had been there just under 6 months before Hurricane Katrina hit. That portion of my experience and memory will forever be eclipsed by the following 4 and a half years dedicated one way or another to one form or another of rebuilding.  Treme helped me begin to make sense of the fullness of that experience, which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. New Orleans is an incomparable city in so many ways, and it has an enormous lesson to teach the rest of the world; and Treme, if I may generalize, should be a central component of the curriculum.

Last night’s final episode of Treme coaxed out a pre-Katrina memory. I was reminded of one of the many trees that we had to have removed from our property in Algiers Point, one of the few things we got done BK (Before Katrina).  Some folks in the neighborhood called this tree a misbelieve tree or a misplease tree. It was, in fact, a Eriobotrya japonica or loquat tree, which some called a Japanese plum tree. Its trunk had been damaged, it leaned very much, and the arborist said it had to go.  Those names, I’ve read, are associated with the tree’s name in either French or Italian. I’m not sure. Any ideas out there?

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You’ll see this tree in living color 15 seconds into the following short video that I put together (images and terribly slow soundtrack) to celebrate our selling the property, which I’ve been told was the last house to sell in the Western Hemisphere in the summer of 2008!

Mr. Walter White, Substitute Teacher, Drivers Ed

J. P. Wynne High School Inter-Office Electronic Mail

TO: Mr. Walter White, Chemistry Department
FROM: Ms. Carmen Molina, Assistant Principal

Walter, I hate to ask you for this favor on such short notice and since, I know, you haven’t been feeling well lately, but Ted had to leave due to a family emergency, and I need you to take his last period Drivers Ed class today. Thanks, I owe you one! Carmen

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The More Things Change

As we prepare to move for the 6th time in 23 years, seven if you count our most recent move up from one upper-floor unit to another up even higher in this downtown loft building, we’ve been watching a lot of HGTV. We’ve been downtown lofters, something new for us, for nearly 4 years and have grown accustomed to panoramic views, elevators, and life without either Home Depot or Lowes. This will all change…or maybe it won’t.

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Che! This Pope!

Say what you will about him, but this pope seems to be shaking things up. Seems like every time he opens his mouth, he symbolically knocks over another money-changer’s table in the temple!  He has a way with words.  In his first public address he caught everybody by surprise by deviating from the traditional script and speaking directly from the heart.  Soon after we learned, that, naturally, as a Porteño, i.e., someone from Buenos Aires, Argentina – and a Tano to boot, a Porteño of Italian descent – he even threw out a word in Lunfardo for Christ’s Sake, Porteño street slang! He said, “God nos primerea!” which draws on a fútbol reference to convey the notion that God firsts us, bests us, will always have a hail mary pass up his sleeve!  Che, and that was code for something bigger, something more generalizable!  You name it, think of anything, and all of us, everybody, todo el mundo, we are all tied for second place, at best!! What a refreshing solidarity. “Who am I to judge?”

Sources close to Pope Francis recently reported that one day he looked out of his simple apartment’s window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, saw the multitude gathered there against the backdrop of the world he has been asked to shepherd, and uttered another common Argentine expression in sotto voce:

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Imagine the pope looking out his window and seeing all of us. For those who don’t already know what ¡Qué quilombo! means, check out Item #3 here. It’s no big, mysterious deal. It means something like, “What a mess!” Or my favorite translation is “What a shitstorm!”

Over time I’ll tell the story of how the pope used to be my boss…indirectly.

Reflecting on Winter Solstice

Dear friends of ours organized a Winter Solstice Feast last Saturday to honor the longest night of the year.  Invited guests were purposefully asked to show up before nightfall to enjoy what remained of the afternoon’s daylight.  Libations, delicacies, introductions, and dialogue intertwined, and before we knew it, daytime had become nighttime, and we were partially marinated and satiated works in progress.

We had been given a few questions in advance to reflect upon and instructed to bring a candle. The questions amounted to an invitation to embrace the winter solstice and to consider harnessing it as a potential turning point. The candle, my favorite part, served to dramatize the extinguishing of what hasn’t been working so well and the ignition of what might work better.  This is how I recall it.

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We have two lives – the one we learn with and the life we live after that.
Bernard Malamud

So much so

So many people nowadays begin their sentences with so! So much so that it’s almost easier to count the number of sentences that don’t begin with so. So what? So here’s what I think. So some time back in the 1980s, somebody got fed up with processes, declared them to be wasteful, and decided it was time to accentuate products over processes. So that was fine for a while, but it quickly caught on, and by then, naturally, people got carried away. So eventually it wasn’t enough for folks merely to favor products over processes; no, they had to declare their complete displeasure with all processes and be associated with nothing but products, results, and outcomes.

So at the same time scientific illiteracy was on the upswing because of all the frivolous emphasis on stuff like the scientific method, which everyone knows is just a fancy name for just another process, which in this case is nothing more than an unnecessarily elaborate and expensive gotcha game that elitists like to play to make hard-working Americans feel dumb.  So it’s like logic or something. So in order not to sound dumb or liberal and end up wasting everybody’s time beating around the bush instead of making a point, folks started beginning their sentences with SO, which is a conjunctive adverb like THEREFORE that pretty much used to be reserved for introducing the juicier clause in a compound sentence that delivered the intended, targeted punch line. So it’s like a preemptive strike this starting a sentence with so. So it’s like starting off with therefore.  So it helps everyone jump right to the conclusion and appear more scientific, more results-oriented without wasting all of their good moves on foreplay.

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So I believe there was an actual turning point in the 1980s when society as a whole came to the collective realization that accountability – as we knew it – was at stake and that each of us, each and every one of us, needed to take personal responsibility to say what we mean, mean what we say, and get to the point. So all it took was a simple, cost-effective, time-saving, performance-enhancing conjunctive adverb: so.  So this turning point, this moment of truth that I’m referring to came to life in the form of a simple question that continues to resonate in the hearts of genuine leaders:

More on Language and Grammar

I love language even though it’s my back-up medium; and even though I’m fascinated by grammar, what I love even more is how language keeps trying to escape from grammar, i.e., langue here parole there (See Ferdinand de Saussure). We’re all sorta’ bilingual in this regard. We’re code switchers, better yet. Under certain circumstances our grammar can let its hair down and play it by ear; but occasionally we gotta polish it up, comb its hair, and hope it’s as compliant as possible.

It’s like it is the way it is when the way it is says so, which means it could be this way or that way or this way and that way both rolled up into an overarching it is what it is-ness!

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Hit it Duke! Listen to a 1943 recording of It Don’t Mean a Thing, Duke Ellington (1931)