Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It was a happy weekend. Simon and I attended the "Look and Believe" tour in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower 9th, where we met many of our neighbors-to-be: Kathy who is renovating her around-the-block shotgun double where she's lived since 1978; Evelyn on Caffin who was born in her shotgun home 80 years ago; Katie and Peter, who bought their converted double from the PRC a month before the storm (Katie is also an England native, and when I pointed out the Union Jack license plate on the front of her car to Simon, he declared, "Now that's what I call diversity); and many, many others.

Later we went to the wedding of some dear friends. The ceremony was idyllic: the evening sun made the bride's veil glow, and the canopy of the Tree of Life in Audubon Park made us all feel protected and loved and so on.

Now, Simon is touring DC with his middle-schoolers, and I am discovering that I have a much harder time behaving myself like a respectable adult without my husband around. Yesterday I let a mountain of dishes stay that way, and I watched far too much TV. ("Dancing with the Stars," "The Hills," "Six Feet Under"... so much and so wrong.)

I'm putting off writing a very important paper that is based on my other, image-based blog, NolaFridge. I'll be presenting a paper on visual rhetoric at the Popular Culture Association's conference in Boston in just a week and a half, and so far, all I have are scribblings on Post-It notes. I have never been very self-disciplined when it comes to writing, which is why, I suspect, I am much better suited to teaching than I am to writing.

Still, even the teaching has been tough. As I think I've mentioned, my students have had TERRIBLE attendance issues this semester, and if I maintain my attendance policy (as I need to), classes with 20 will drop to 10. We are under pressure as instructors/faculty members to keep enrollment numbers up, to recruit, and to keep UNO alive, but we are also of course forced to maintain our standards.

And so yesterday I reminded my students of the attendance policy in preparation for the upcoming final drop date. One student mentioned she thought attendance was poor because "so many people are suffering from PTSD." Another guessed it was general depression and burnout. Yet another student pointed out that "teachers don't get to decide they're too depressed to teach" (saving me from pointing out the obvious). "Everyone just needs to get over it," he said. "It was, like, a year and a half ago."

But I can relate to that "burnt out" feeling. I want a vacation so badly! It's not that I've been doing anything particularly strenuous or demanding, either: it's generally life as usual here. Still, I feel tired a lot; it's a struggle to perform even the ordinary tasks. And my empathy for my students wears thin when I think about the number of days I've shown up and taught when I'd rather stay in bed, myself.

What I'd like is to have more days like Saturday. I'd like to meet new friends and neighbors, and I'd like to feel inspired to do something--especially those things (like the darn paper) that really need to get done. So I have a feeling I'll be neglecting this blog (sorry, Mom). Must. Get. Work. Done.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Well, I spent almost all of my day yesterday penning a letter to the editor that I don't think will be published--perhaps because I got so carried away with my research that I turned the letter into an "expose" of the City. So I'll publish it here my damn self:

Re: "Derelict Property Owners Warned" (Krupa, 3/20)
>Dear Editor,
>My husband and I-both teachers-recently went under contract to purchase a
>historic home in the lower Ninth Ward. We were disappointed to learn that
>the City's misnamed Good Neighbor Program is targeting homes like ours for
>demolition, even though its current owner has gutted and secured the
>property and regularly maintains the yard.
>According to the City's website, one of the Good Neighbor Program's "primary
>goals" is "to educate its citizens on the options that property owners may
>exercise to comply. and to provide guidance in the process of rehabilitating
>our community." But many of the demolition notices I've heard about offer
>no options, no guidance, and in fact no contact phone number to help
>property owners. Instead, the notices inform recipients that their homes
>will be demolished in 30 days without so much as a public hearing.
>The City also outlines an "alphabetical order" enforcement policy (beginning
>with District A) that makes no reference to first targeting the city's most
>ravaged neighborhoods. But the Good Neighbor Program has (according to
>Nagin's deputy assistant, Anthony Faciane) "position[ed] its resources to
>quickly demolish" homes in the 9th Ward, eastern New Orleans, Gentilly, and
>Many of our neighbors are already challenged with the full gamut of
>procedural hang-ups.
>After battling with insurers and state and federal bureaucrats, what they
>need is the support of a city administration that behaves like a "good neighbor"
>should. Violating published policies in favor of vague threats is very
>un-neighborly behavior, indeed.

After I submitted this letter, the T-P published this piece, which highlights some of the furor the demo-notices have caused amongst preservationists. While it does mystify me that our home--a beautiful diamond in the shotgun rough--would be targeted by the Good Neighbor Program, I'll have to admit that my own personal anger is selfish: I want a lovely block, and the slab-on-grade homes next door and across the street (both of which sport ragged FEMA tarps that are listed as a "health hazard" on the city's website) were spared the notice. They's ugly. Get rid of them, instead!

Really, though, the problem is once again a lack of clarity and communication on the part of the city administration. As of yesterday evening, the lists of homes slated for demolition or issued a citation were NOT available on the city website.

Instead, a "report a home" e-form (complete with a city disclaimer) allows disgruntled neighbors (who may be entirely ignorant of the criteria for "neglect" or "health hazard") to report their neighbor's homes for inspection by evidently undertrained or overzealous inspectors (the same ones who deemed our lovely shotgun a "health hazard." Puh-LEASE!)

Those disgruntled neighbors are ignorant precisely because the city has once again failed to communicate with its constituents. The standards inspectors are using to evaluate the homes are wholly unclear. In fact, one could report a home without even reading a list of the standards used to deem a property "derelict." The City Ordinance at issue lists "mold remediation, cleaning, gutting and properly securing the premises" among its criteria for compliance, but clear definitions or descriptions of those terms are a glaring omission--which means that the inspectors are using some measure that homeowners lack specific knowledge of.

Meanwhile, one need only glance at the map of properties slated for demolition to get a sense that certain 'hoods were targeted before others. As I mentioned in my letter to the editor, the policy published on the City's website clearly outlines an "alphabetical order" method of enforcement. The map tells a different story.

Finally, I find it REALLY troubling that the reason for the sudden onslaught of the demo-notices, for this apparent rush, is so the City can take advantage of FEMA funds and help from the corps. I don't know who I am madder at here: the City or the Feds. The pressure from the Feds threatens the fabric of the city: rushed demolitions stink of exactly the kind of "land-grab" that ACORN feared.

And the City? Well, to prioritize collecting federal aid over giving due process to homeowners strikes me as a cowardly move. Then again, those in power likely come equipped with enough privilege that this is simply Not Their Problem. (I was disappointed to learn that Arnie Fielkow, who both Simon and I have liked, was in full support of the recent [last month]--and unpublished--amendment that allows the city to quickly advance, foregoing those pesky public hearings.)

As anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows, I DO NOT LIKE NAGIN--nor do I like the way he's represented the city--but his recent speech that suggested that there is some plot to keep blacks from returning doesn't seem quite so far fetched when policies like those of the Good Neighbor Program erect even more hurdles for the historically undeprivileged and under-represented to climb in order to re-build their lives in New Orleans.

Then again, this is Nagin's policy--and so it appears that he, himself, has been an instrumental agent of this plot.

LONG have I argued that this clown is damaging our city's ability to recover. Long have I argued that no matter what stock locals may put into his intentions, his careless remarks and poor communication skills would be perceived as unworthy of aid. I believe I even blogged to this effect; (Yep, I did). Well, the T-P editorial board has finally caught on:

EDITORIAL: Represent us well
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Once upon a time, back before Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin could spout off without causing a national ripple.

In some ways, his freewheeling style was refreshing.

That time seems almost mythical now. A time when everything was intact -- our homes, our loved ones, our neighbors, our peace of mind. A time when the mayor of New Orleans was only vaguely interesting to outsiders.

Mayor Nagin of all people should know that time is over.

He so famously declared his frustration with the lethargic federal response to the flooding and devastation in New Orleans after Katrina that his words became a novelty item. And good for him for speaking up for his city. When you inspire a "Mayor In Your Pocket," though, you should realize that the world is listening to you very closely.

Yet Mayor Nagin seems to forget that when he stands in front of a microphone. Even after the notorious "chocolate city" speech last year, he hasn't become more circumspect.

Last week, the mayor reportedly suggested to the National Newspaper Publishers Association that there was a plot to keep black New Orleanians scattered across America. A story about his speech ended up in The Washington Post.

Mayor Nagin said Monday that his comments were mischaracterized and that he didn't "say anything racial." When he referred to the dispersal of "our people," he said, he wasn't only talking about African-Americans.

Perhaps that was his intent, but if so, he was misunderstood. Not only by a reporter, but by at least some of the audience members. The resulting divisiveness is not helpful to the city or any of its residents.

What New Orleanians need is for Mayor Nagin to be thoughtful when he talks about the city's recovery and to remember that he and we are on a national stage. Residents need to hear him speak up for everyone here and everyone who wants to be here, to represent us all with grace and wisdom.

This community is dependent upon the good will of the nation as it rebuilds and recovers from Katrina. As the city's most visible representative, what Mayor Nagin says matters.

That's something he's got to remember.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Last Friday, I took a trip down to our future neighborhood for a walk along the levee (something I or we do on a weekly basis). I always drive past our future address on Deslonde before parking by the levee, always hoping that construction/progress will have begun. It hasn't yet, and it hadn't on Friday.

What I found, instead, was a notice from the city, that I learned today is related to their new "Good Neighbor Program." The yellow notice notifies the owner that the home has been inspected and found to be a "threat to public health." It gives the owners 30 days to address the problem, at which time the city has full recourse to gut or demolish the home and relinquish the property rights. Here is a link to the story in the T-P, titled, ominously, "City Puts Owners of Dangerous Properties on Notice."

Now, the home we plan to buy (once its renovated--a process that, yes, has yet to begin and which, yes, we have been eager to see start) is NOT a danger to anyone. The doors are nailed shut. The house is entirely gutted. There is no debris piled about, or shards of glass on its porch. And darn it, the house is PRETTY, even gutted and boarded up! Plus, it's an historic home! The only other home on the block with a post: another historic home waiting for what must be a careful renovation (especially if it is to comply with Historic District codes).

So after reading this piece, I go to the city's website and find out that "our house" (I keep calling this our house, but it's not yet, and I should remind myself of that) is an "imminent health threat," and that, according to the "Good Neighbor Policy Timeline", the house we plan to buy is already officially under the city's authority to gut or demolish as they please. Yes, the wording of the policy makes some attempt at sensitivity (a lien on the property will be placed "only in extreme cases," but according to the T-P article, this sensitivity has now been replaced by aggression:

"This ordinance allows us to move faster in demolishing structures and removing the threat to the public health,” said Anthony Faciane, Deputy Chief for Development. “Our code enforcement officers are identifying properties everyday. We are positioning our resources to quickly demolish or remediate these structures after the 30-day waiting period."

Again, according to the timeline, a notice is posted only after 30 days have passed. So our little dream home is now threatened by the city.

I wish I could describe to you how the other homes on the block look--the ones that haven't received notices. Two are slab-on-grade brick homes that were built in the 60s and do nothing for the makeup of the neighborhood. I'm not a purist, and so I do believe that these homes have altered the makeup of the neighborhood rather than destroying it, but to target our home and the beautiful (and damaged, yes) shotgun across the street! It's just so AMPLY clear to me that the powers that be could not give a DAMN about preserving our historic housing stock... about preserving our history.

So I have contacted the PRC, and now we wait. I don't plan on doing so quietly, though. I think this has happened because of an administrative error (if one goes to www.velocityhall.com, one can do a search by address, and our address has never listed the new owner (the PRC). So it appears the women who survived the storm, and who sold to the PRC are still the "owners of record." And their address: 717 Deslonde... the house they opted not to demolish, but to sell to the Preservation Resource Center, instead.

I can't even imagine what would happen if this kind of administrative error were compounded by the illiteracy that is so common in our city... Again, the T-P:
"In order to notify property owners, notices will be sent by regular mail and will be posted on the property, on the city’s website and in the newspaper."

So I feel a special connection to this battle with the powers that be, and I hope that I can find the time to help the folks at Squandered Heritage, or the PRC to identify those homeowners--particularly those who own historic homes--before their homes are demolished. Me, I was just lucky, I guess, to be in New Orleans to see the notice, to have a computer to read about it, to read the Times-Pic, and to visit the city's website. All the rest of y'all's screwed. Thanks, City of N.O.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

After having a day full of conferences (And, Oh dear god the endless, endless questioning of my authority! The excuses! The pleas! The promises!), I was waiting for the light to change in my car at the corner of St. Anthony and Leon C. Simon (or Robert E. Lee--I always get them mixed up), taking my hair down.

When I looked up, I noticed that the pecan trees that once lined the street were gone. I'm sure they have been for weeks, too; they're were no limbs or leaves or evidence of the butchering, so it must've happened without my even taking notice.

This made me sad, the not-noticing. Who doesn't notice such a thing? Oh, WHAT HAS BECOME OF MEEEEE!?!?!? (Insert melodramatic falling to knees and throwing of hands to the heavens here).

I have been paying extra-special attention to trees these days because I've decided that when we move, I want to plant a live oak tree in our new yard. The one we have in our back yard now isn't the loveliest of all specimens, but a live oak is like a baby in that way--they don't have to try much to be lovely. Anyway, this tree has a canopy that covers the entire back yard, and in the Spring I like to sit back there and read sometimes.

Actually, this is not true: I can't sit back there very often because of a) the perpetual construction performed by perverts next door, and b) buckmoth caterpillars (who have not arrived yet this year... thank you be-jeezus).

Anyways, our live oak tree is romantic and the notion of sitting under it is, too, and I'll miss at least looking out the bedroom window and fantasizing about sitting under it once the construction stops.

I'd posted to a garden forum in order to find out about how to choose and plant a good live oak, and one very helpful poster gave me meticulous instructions to follow for both. He(?) also said that I needed to pick a specimen with "good form and healthy crotches," which of course made me giggle. After a margarita or three last weekend I laughed with friends about it: ain't that what we all look for in romance--good form and a healthy crotch? Hardeehar.

So: the pecan trees, I used to love. I remember smiling some Fall while sitting at the light at Elysian Fields and Whatever-The-Street-Is; some elderly man or lady from Gentilly would be out on the neutral ground, swinging at the branches with a cane and stooping down, creaky-style to gather the fallen nuts and collect them in their Sav-a-Center bag. To eat the pecan pie that holiday! Talk about some serious love in the cooking...

Those big ol' beautiful pecan trees--all of them--are gone, and it is an F-ING TRAGEDY. I'm not throwing my hands up to the heavens here, either. I feel letter-to-the-editor about it. I mean, what the F--k?!?!?! I remember that they were damaged, but they were alive, and old as dirt, and lovely (if a little less attractive or lopsided from their injuries). No one can taste ugly in a pecan pie. What the f...

I suppose what happened was someone would have to be paid to maintain the pecan trees. Someone would be responsible for making sure a limb didn't fall on Grandma's head when she was out readying for the great pie-bake. They'd need a somebody for that job, and who knows if there's someone to do it, or money to pay for it, and anyway, Grandma's probably gone, too, and so what's the point?

The chopping-down of those trees makes me think of how much of our physical history we are losing now. So many people are razing homes, clearing lots, throwing out furniture, and generally just getting rid of what could potentially be salvaged because, why? Will we one day regret that we did these things for money, for convenience? And why do we do it? Does it make the recovery easier, to forget?

And here I am, answering my own question: yes it does. Because I was figgidy-fine without the memory of those damn pecan trees. I was fine until I stopped, until I stopped just long enough to forget.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I am jumping on the bandwagon of those who love Angelina Jolie. I am so, so, so pleased that she and Brad are living in New Orleans, and I can't say enough about the importance of education-reform here in New Orleans (she mentions helping with schools in the excerpt from a Newsweek interview that I've posted below).

This weekend, I attended a fundraiser with Simon at St. George's Episcopal (where Simon teaches), and I was astounded as I watched parents bid hundred of dollars on student-made art... if only our public schools had those kinds of resources!

Anyway, I suspect that Angelina means Maddox's school when she says she loves the schools. I hope that she is planning to focus on helping us improve public--as opposed to private or charter--schools.

From an interview published in this week's Newsweek:

You're living in New Orleans right now. Is that just because you like the city or because you wanted to bring attention to New Orleans, too?
A bit of both. Brad was doing a film here and so we were going spend a month here. [We] realized it was a place we liked, we liked the people, I liked the school for the kids. They're very diverse. I liked the other parents. I feel very comfortable with them. We're happy having our children here. Brad is working on rebuilding here.... But for me, just as a mom, I love the other parents and the kids and the schools. I'm starting to work on the education here and the school system here. There's a lot of work to be done.

The neighborhood she mentions that Brad's working on rebuilding, by the way, is our future home: Holy Cross. Is it, like, so Whatever of me to dream that they'll come to our open house once our house is finished? Whatever!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On Thursdays, I am lucky enough to have the house and the day to myself. Usually I am busy preparing for my evening literature class out at UNO's Jeff Center, and today I was busy re-reading Huck Finn. It's been hard for me to feel very committed to my lit-students this semester because they are habitual Cliff's Notes readers. Also, they are far too busy to be in school. I got an email this week from a student about how she was aware that she'd bombed their first paper, and she was sorry and all for that, but the was she just didn't care about the assignment.

Oh, okay.

She explained that she was working 40 hours a week and then taking 18 hours at UNO. This is an ABSURD overload of work and school, and I can see why anyone would have a difficult time focusing on ANYTHING given that load, but really, I can't quite imagine why she would think it would be a good idea to tell me that she didn't care about my assignment. Sadly, this happens a lot. It's like the pandering and BS-ing I hated so much while teaching priveleged students at Tulane has been replaced by bald-faced confessions that what I have to teach them, well, just doesn't "matter."

As if an English teacher needs to be reminded that her students feel this way.

So off I go to teach this class.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ever since Simon and I put a deposit down on our house in Holy Cross, I have been spending an inordinate and really unacceptable amount of time looking at furniture and e-painting rooms online. According to this handy style-profiler, my furniture style is "eclectic." And I am most attracted to greens and whites. This may help explain why I've been dreaming of our "guacamole"-hued living room (the color is actually not very guacamole-y, but the Olympic paint manufacturers evidently seem to think so). Or why I love this couch. Or maybe not.

This is what I have been doing with most of my free time lately. I also discovered that a house down the street from us was requesting demolition for a parking lot, so I put on my persuasive-voice and emailed an HDLC board member and have since learned that, yay, the beautiful historic shotgun-double will NOT, in fact, become a parking lot. Still, it does gross one out to know that one's future neighbor would think that a good idea. The horror.

Speaking of horror...

Last night I went to see Justin Timberlake, and Pink opened. Pink was great. She's tough and foxy and I like how she mocks celebrity ("Stupid Girl"), and especially how she mocked the president last night in a song called "Dear Mr. President." The refrain went something like, "Let me tell you 'bout 'hard work.'" I was in stitches, and whooping, to boot, but the many North-shore-ites who'd travelled down from their McMansions in Mandeville were not impressed. Yet they had no problem bringing their tiara-clad 12-year-olds in for JT's "futureSEXlovesounds" tour. Again, the horror.

I'd not been to a big arena show like that since I was, myself, a young one at the U2 ZooTV tour. My, how things have changed. What struck me most was the presence of cell phone cameras. When Justin sidled up to one side of the stage, the girls were beaming and screaming, as they should be, but instead of grabbing at him, they pushed their cell-phone cameras toward him, trying to catch what promises to be a very grainy and crap-shot of JT's leg. It was as if the girls were more concerned with proving they'd had a brush with celebrity than in actually HAVING one. The record of the experience trumps the experience, itself.

The whole cell-phone affair made me think of two conversations I'd had recently. One was with some strange dude on Mardi Gras day who joined our walking bunch in the Marigny. He wanted to take my picture, and Simon's, and, well, EVERYONE'S, and he remarked that he felt as if he couldn't put his camera down. As a result, he'd have great pictures of Mardi Gras, minus the great memories that should accompany them. Them large memory cards and instant-delete-ability, he said, made it so he took endless, endless shots of, well, everything. We waxed nostalgic for a moment about the days of good ol' film, but both agreed that digital cameras are irresistible. Then, he found another subject and was off.

The other conversation is more of an on-going admonition from my bro. Both his fiancee and I take A LOT of digital pictures when we travel. Last summer we hiked together in the NC mountains, and when I reviewed my pictures, I realized that Paul had the same annoyed smirk on in many of the pictures. He's gotten on my case and Aalia's about over-documentation, and he and the Mardi Gras guy are on to something--we do seem to be missing out on actually LIVING life when we so obsessively try to document it. What is it about the relationship between memory and digital photography that has gotten us addicted to documentation? It's just weird, I tell you... weird. I'm sure there's a dissertation in all of this... just not mine.

In fact, here at school things have been looking and feeling rather bleak. My classes this semester are comprised of some of The Most disenchanted (and combative--a very bad combination) students I've ever had. I am ordinarily such a "Go Team" kind of teacher that I have really been struggling with keeping my own morale up as I try to get my students to come to life. I've decided to just devote myself to conferencing like crazy. It's easier to put on the charm and get my students engaged when I can question them individually.

Also depressing are the future prospects at UNO. I'm forever worrying about my future in spite of my boss's telling me not to. I was, after all, the last hired before the hiring freeze, so my head is always the closest to the chopping block. This morning I attended an English Department meeting where we generated ideas for student-recruitment. I love teaching and talking about education, so the discussions of guest-teaching at local high schools and marketing the English major actually do get me amped, but their undercurrent was nothing short of disturbing: we're having to have these meetings because the numbers are down (English majors are down by 1/3, post-K), and the falling numbers make my release all the more likely. I know that there will be other teaching jobs for me in New Orleans, but I love teaching at UNO, and after subbing for two of Simon's junior-high classes yesterday, I realized just how much teaching adults is a luxury. I'd do well with the JH kids--I don't take their crap--but I HATE having to deal with discipline issues. I'd rather take on disenchanted adults and find a way of inspiring them.

Anyhoo, I have many, many an essay to grade, and so I'm off...

Happy Friday.