Solstice and Solnit

Sunrise / Moonset in San Luis Obispo. Around the time of summer’s end, last year.

Last night at 11:24 pm (Central Time), summer began. It feels a bit ironic that the point when we mark the most daylight in the Northern Hemisphere—the most we’re going to get in 2017—happens in the middle of the night here. I think this has something to do with New Orleans being five hours behind the prime meridian, but I could be wrong.

I wrote a few weeks ago about looking forward to the solstice. I’ve always been a summer person. Maybe the thing I like most about the summer is the sunlight. When things feel uncertain—and so much about everything feels uncertain right now—I’m grateful that abundant daylight can illuminate the shadows.

To mention a few geographically-specific uncertainties: there’s a tropical storm (named Cindy) currently headed for our coast. And one of southern Louisiana’s Congressmen lies in serious condition in a hospital in Washington, DC, after a horrific shooting. These are some bleak shadows. While I don’t need to hope that the sun will come out after this storm (because barring something catastrophic, it will); I am hoping that abundant light and goodwill will help Congressman Scalise to a rapid recovery.

There’s another thing I like about summer. It may be a holdover from my school days, but I still appreciate the freedom summer affords. To learn outside of textbooks or prescribed courses. I write this even though I’ve been out of school a really long time—by now, I’ve been out of school longer than I was ever in school. But I have a mighty long memory.

Speaking of learning and shining a light, an essay from the writer Rebecca Solnit popped up in my social media feeds last week. There’s a specific reason I hold Rebecca Solnit in high regard, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The piece that was making the rounds was a very eloquent essay on our President. Here’s a link to it, but fair warning: if you are pro-this-particular-President, it is not a complimentary assessment.

One of the reasons why I know of Rebecca Solnit: she co-wrote a book titled Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. I don’t own this book, but I have given it as a gift. But here’s the real source of my admiration: she wrote an essay last fall that I keep (permanently) on my phone’s browser. It’s called: “How to be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit.

I refer to it whenever I need to shine a light on my writing habits. Or just need a little encouragement. Every bit of advice in it is thoughtful, useful, and truthful. I’m hard-pressed to excerpt a “favorite,” but No. 9 feels particularly salient for a little-known writer with earnest intentions (guess who?)

What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love, or at least it is at best the result of love of the work and not of you, so don’t confuse the two. Cultivating love for others and maybe receiving some for yourself is another job and an important one. The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning rather than a consumer of meanings that may be at odds with your soul, your destiny, your humanity, so there’s another kind of success in becoming conscious that matters and that is up to you and nobody else and within your reach.”

Illuminating words, indeed.

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