one year later

hello blog, welcome back me.

One year later and I’m still in Baton Rouge and working with my planning team, now an order of magnitude larger. Plans out the door include the City of Port Allen Annexation Plan and the Comprehensive Coastal Protection and Restoration Master Plan for Louisiana. To reprise, I came down here a year and a half ago at the blind invitation of URS Corporation who I soon learned upon arriving was needing planners, civil engineers, economic development specialists, and the like to fill Parish Recovery Teams in a FEMA division called ESF-14 Long Term Community Recovery. Most of those parish teams were disbanded at the end of April, our reports and projects destined to live on as part of the massive Louisiana Speaks initiative. Andres Duany, Peter Calthorpe, and John Fregonese were all part of this effort too, as was the Coastal Protection and Restoration Master Plan for Louisiana. What once seemed to me to be a disparate collection of independent planning efforts loosely guided along parallel planning paths, has now come together in a somewhat elegant convergence under the direction of important civic groups like the Center for Planning Excellence and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Situated as I’ve been in the corporate planning world consulting on various aspect of these massive plans — and now looking back — I’m relieved that there has been so much collaboration where there could have been more fiasco.

What else is new? Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis from Flower Mound, Texas, came last weekend to Baton Rouge and spoke at length introducing a number of now obscure aspects of Judaism (angelology, animism, fantastic/cosmic beings such as the leviathan, behemoth, and ziz, etc.). Right up my darkened alley, I found these talks enlightening and inspirational. Enlightening because I don’t get to hear other scholars talk about these things ever so it helped me make all sorts of connections that I hadn’t before. Inspirational sinceit once again made me dream all romantic like that I could be a rabbi someday too and help resurrect animism as part of a wider environmental worldview within Jewish practice. Who knows when I’ll get to that… but I’m looking.

Molly F. introduced me to a reading circle and we’ve since read Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Hemingway’s Movable Feast. Hemingway urges writers hovering above their blank pages to just “write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” A very cool person I met over Passover in Cincinnati urged me to do so, so I did. And this is what I wrote:

when i write i
dodge words, not knowing
whether i’m
channeling truth or
arranging pawns

when i speak i
walk over cliffs,
over water,
into fire, then
remember and wish
telepathy could permeate
all our hearts

when i act i can’t see
except through mirrors
representing the image of
the likeness of myself,
my eyes imagining
possessing the eyes of others

so i write without walking
and speak with my eyes closed
and act with my heart
prepared for battle

and when a miracle occurs
and i am blinded by truth
and my heart is pierced
and my tongue is splintered like babel,
i am suspended (between worlds)
and take solace in simple presence,
in silence, and in wonder…

but if I’ve learned anything these years:
miracles only blossom
from preparation
and preparation develops
from a choreography
where the dancers
are a multitude of desires
who in patient discipline,
with love and with
humble recognition
of the limits of language and symbol
discover and express the ubiquity of hidden things
pointing the way.

Each of us an intervention
of the Other
each of us a miracle
of presence defying
recognition, pointing the way
improvising without choreography
in fearless moments.


Next we’ll be reading Young Werther by Goethe. I was hoping for Gogol’s Dead Souls but the reading is admittefly very lazy and likes short books!

I’ve been Netflixing more lately and I found a film that really surprised me. My queue is so long and I move through it so slowly so I am clueless where I got this recommendation from to see it. The film is My Son, The Fanatic and it offers a very nuanced vision of assimilation and the politics of ethnic and religious identity for Pakistani Muslims in England. Of course, the story will also resonate with anyone familiar with the embrace and dissonance of cultural influence, personal choices, conformity, and hypcorisy. I loved it.
Molly F. and I saw the entire Firefly series and Serenity. Now I know why so many people were in love with this. I join my voice with theirs in mourning the stupidity in cutting down this young series just as it was hitting its prime.

Speaking of good stories, I finally received my DVD of the complete Nowhere Man series. The dvd box surprised me with some trivia: the producers of this deeply wierd conspiracy serial, are the same producers of the very successful 24 series. 24 is a fun story but I’m a bit afraid that Cheney and his Bushies, look to the 24 scripts to nourish their own destructive agendas. The last pronoic story I’ve ever seen was the brilliant, They Might be Giants film from 1974. Julia S. saw tht with me and we both enjoyed it immensely.
Speaking of my friend Julia S., we took a trip to the Festival Internationale in Lafayette a few weeks ago. There I saw one of the best live shows in my life — that of a group from Guinea called Ba Cissoko. I pray someone recorded it and that I can hear it again since I missed the first 30 minutes. I made some 30 second recording with my cell phone I hope to have on youtube eventually.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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