Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Few Hours, A Couple Years Ago

August 29, 2005. We were awake early, watching the news.

Until the power went out. That was 6:32AM.

We would live our lives from sunrise to sunset for the next 8 days.

Monday was spent restlessly trying to nap or
read or in attempts at banal conversation.

The winds blew ceaselessly
- imagine the wax-paper-on-a-comb noise,
extrapolated to door-size shutters.

We dubbed the cacaphony "Satan's Harmonica."

After the worst of the storm had passed us,
we ventured outside to survey the devastation.

What we saw was bad - tree carnage,
mostly,and bits of the copper roof of
the Old US Mint strewn over ten blocks.

All the beautiful Magnolias in the St. Louis Cathedral
garden had succumbed to the force of the wind
- but in the midst of the wreckage,
the Mardi Gras Jesus still stood, unharmed.

(Forgive the sacrilege, please. The statue is of Jesus
with his arms raised up in the classic
"Throw Me Somthin', Mister!" pose.)

This was still hours before the levees gave way.

We had only sporadic radio reception,
but were inundated with rumors of the ugliest stripe.

We did not yet know the worst of it all.

And it was three days later before we finally left New Orleans.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Lessons in Gratitude

I want to say thanks.

It’ll never be enough, but I need to say it anyway.

Thank you to every single person in my life who reached out in the hours and days and months (and now years) since Katrina. Thank you,too, to all those folks who’s names I don’t, and will never, know.

Thank you to the lovely Red Cross mental health professional (with the Dickensian name of Mary Cope) who made a point to come and speak discreetly to our small band of evacuees - to ensure that we had access to specific services for our needs and to let us know that we were among family (wink).

Thank you to Jessica, the ever-vigilant front desk manager at the Residence Inn in Nashville - our home away from home for nearly 4 months. After the first week, Jessica would call up to our room to let us know when the important pieces of mail had arrived - and became our den mother, making sure we were eating enough and sleeping through the night. I still think she knew we often lied on both accounts. (To make her Sunday morning shifts a little more bearable, we’d slip down to the office with a homemade Irish Coffee for her...)

To Bobbi, my dear friend of 20 years now, I can never express my thanks and appreciation for taking over as my press agent in the days immediately following the storm. Until we reached Nashville, we had limited communication with the outside world - landlines (including pay phones!) in the French Quarter are insulated underground and continued to work, even after the levees gave way. I would call Mom and Bobbi, and between the two, they’d piece together what they perceived was the real story. Bobbi then took the initiative to email to all my friends and family what she thought was appropriate to share. (I’d sent a mass email the eve of the storm to nearly all my address book...I got so many comments later that it was Bobbi’s emails that helped them get through those first 10 days.) Thank you.

Allison. I know she’ll probably say this is not deserving of thanks, but she’s wrong and too modest. Very early on, it was my conversations with her that actually helped me begin the grieving process sooner and faster than I otherwise might have. She asked me the tough questions that only a close friend has right to...and allowed me think about them and answer in my own time. With her help, I began to face the reality of my immediate future and make plans for life if, in fact, I could not return to New Orleans. And. Oh, this is a big And. Allison kept after me in her not-entirely-subtle way to rejoin the blogdom...challenging me to tell the untold stories, in a from-the-trenches point of view. How do I ever begin to thank you? I love you.

Mom. Without ever meeting Mark or John, Mom offered to fly us all out to Washington (state), to give us a safe place and a quiet space in which to pull it all back together. Even though we didn’t/couldn’t take her up on the offer, it was beautiful in its timing and simplicity. Thank you. (Mom never asked the hard questions, but confessed to Bobbi that she was worried that I’d seen things that had changed me for good. I hadand they did...but I love that she could express that care and concern.)

I am so grateful for the amazing friend I made during my exile to Nashville - Shellie. Through a series of unlikely (but incredibly fortuitous) events, I landed a sweet job working for Shellie at the Nashville Zoo - doing almost exactly the same kind of job I'd had in New Orleans. Not only do Shellie and I share very similar work ethics and notions of what quality education is - but we got each other. I had not made a new great friend like that in some time - and as a boss, she let me use my time there to grow and recharge and use all my gifts - and in turn, I helped the Zoo sparkle. Thank you, my new friend!

Mark. I don’t write much about Mark here, but I must thank him. The phrase he uttered to me, the words he knew would help me through time and time again...from the moment we realized the city was filling with water, to the now-or-never trip over the Mississippi River out of the city with John and me riding in the bed of Mark's truck to guard our worldly possessions (yes, that's me wielding the Henkels), to our long cold nights in Nashville, so very far from home. We'll get through this together. We did and we have. And now this life is in a new chapter. We didn't get through the way we thought we would, but we got through anyhow. So, thank you...

I was about to write that I could go on thanking people forever - the choir director at the small Methodist Church who let me sit in on rehearsals for a month or so despite not having the time to actually sing with them on Sundays...Andrew & Elwyn, my boys in Britain, who kept my spirits up and offered me refuge on their distant shore...Tamara, my first fiancee (we were Ambrose and Ermengard in Hello, Dolly! oh, so many moons ago) who shared my gut-wrenching emails with friends and coworker who in turn reached out to a stranger...Amy, who did her damnedest to keep all of us now-former Audubon staff in touch...Dean in Houston who listened, really listened, and helped me fathom it all...

But no. I cannot write it all down yet. Someday.

For now, I can only hope that these wonderful people know how much it all means to me - that I do thank them - and that not a day goes by that I don't try to repay all that kindness in the way I live my life.

There's really nothing left to say.


Thank you.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


The anniversary retrospectives have begun again, essentially unavoidable this week. I gotta tell you, it’s exhausting.

I was scanning Saturday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, when I spotted the shorthand expression that is my post title today. And you know what? It really disturbs me...


Two years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and the levees broke, flooding 80% of New Orleans. Two years since so much of the Gulf South was devastated.

It is impossible to express some things in any terms other than “post-Katrina” - population centers, insurance rates, property values, etc.

But everything? I think what disturbs me most is this dangerous new identity. In years past, we hated how New Orleans was known to too many folks only for Bourbon Street, Girls Gone Wild and Mardi Gras. Anyone who’s ever visited this city for more than a day understands implicitly that it’s so much more than that.

And now? New Orleans has been shoehorned into this newer identity of ultimate victimhood. “How does it make you feel that the government is dragging its feet with recovery funding?” Umm, how do you think we feel? “Do you think the high murder rate will adversely affect the flow of tourists to New Orleans?” Do you really need me to answer that?

Oh...and please don’t ask if things are getting back to normal, because they never were to begin with.

Yes, as a city in recovery (sounds a bit like AA, eh?), we are not where we expected to be two years after this disaster of Republican proportions. Entire neighborhoods still lie in ruins. Our mental health services are non-existent. The levees still aren’t strong enough to hold back a surge of similar power. And, yes...the people here are getting more brittle and less likely to keep up the brave face.


There’s so much good happening here that will continue to go unreported by the media giants. So, I guess you’ll have to look for it here.

Not only has our church rebuilt its roof and sanctuary, we are less than six months away from opening a free medical clinic in a neighborhood where such services don’t exist.

How does a creative city respond to trauma of this nature? With laughter and tears and great parties. Jazz Fest saw record number in attendance and the local theatre community is burgeoning with new shows - not all of which are acts of catharsis. (To misquote Stephen King, gallows humor is only funny when its your neck.) The Louisiana Philharmonic and New Orleans Opera Company are playing to standing room only crowds.

Oh, and the predicted conflict and strife that city leaders anticipated in “accommodating” the influx of Latin American workers (and their families - many of whom are choosing to stay here and settle down) never materialized.

It’s not perfect. It never was before. Stop comparing years and dates and what’s back and what isn’t. We’re here and we’re working as much and as hard as we can, and some days, it really really hurts. I mean bad.

But. That’s only some days. Most days, just like anywhere else in the rest of the world, we wake up, we work, we love, we eat, we fight, we talk, we worry, we build, we wonder, we teach, we grow, we die, we hope, we leave, we blog, we pray, we put our heads back down on our pillows and drift off to sleep...only to wake up and do it all over again.

Just like everyone else.

Everyone else who isn’t measuring everything in terms of when their world came to an end.

And yet, somehow the world kept turning. And it's still turning. And so tomorrow, we will wake up and start all over again.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Picture's Worth...

I love my immensely creative friends. Not only are they clever and witty, cute and fun--they're also REALLY good photographers. And now they have a new place to play, er, show their stuff.

Soccer Mom in Denial and Jenn in Holland are way cool. And I'm not just saying that because they're letting me place with them tomorrow. I wanna be like them when I grow up...just without the kids.

No offense to all the moms and dads out there. Or any of the kids. (Declan, why are you reading over mommy's shoulder?!?)

That said, please go check out my fabulous friends at Looking Into. I think you'll dig it.

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