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.

June in New Orleans

The fountain murmuring of sleep,
A drowsy tune;
The flickering green of leaves that keep
The light of June;
Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,
The peace of June.

 

A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,
The white curved moon;
June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I
Wait too, with June;
Come, through the lingering afternoon,
Soon, love, come soon.

 

–“In Fountain Court” by Arthur Symons

June is a magical time in New Orleans. But the magic is not in the temperature. June is definitely not the best weather month—it’s when the air becomes really laden; June 1 marks the start of hurricane season; and don’t get me started on either the mosquitos or flying cockroaches. (Some call them Palmetto bugs, but I prefer to get straight to the point—these things are giant roaches that fly.)

So maybe part of the magic is this: the promise of something beautiful amidst these more miserable aspects. Arthur Symons wrote about “the flickering green of leaves that keep / The light of June.” For me, the light of June in New Orleans is a big piece of its magic puzzle. Now, Symons was a Welsh poet who died in 1945. I have to guess the light of the Junes he knew was a little different from mine—more northern, I suppose. But I also have to believe that there’s something universal about June in the Northern hemisphere, those days leading up to and away from the summer solstice.

Symons also wrote about waiting. “June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I / Wait too, with June.” Was he referring to something specific, or maybe just the quality of waiting in and of itself? Maybe he was referring to the solstice—the one day a year when light gets the best of darkness.

There’s something about June’s magic that had me set The Incident Under the Overpass during this month. Maybe it was because of the light, or maybe it was because the quality of waiting can help the “build” in a narrative sense. Or maybe it was just because it gave me an excuse to write about Maxfield Parrish skies, and the abundant, colorful, crape myrtle that bloom all throughout New Orleans this time of year.

June is also a challenge—if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s something about the appeal of this month I find hard to articulate. Thus I explore it in fiction, in a blog post. Maybe if I keep trying, elucidation will come soon, love; come soon.

Alas, I’ve spent what time I had to spare today on those attempted articulations. Sorry for the disjointedness. But since I’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some photos I’ve taken over the past four years, all within a month of the summer solstice. All in New Orleans, except the one with the water/beach. That was in Pensacola, which is not so far from here, and less than half a degree north in latitude. 🙂

Oh, also, the picture at the top of this post: if you look closely, it even has “the white curved moon,” like Symons’s poem.