Simon and I are off to the North Georgia Mountains for ten days, and so my already spotty-blogging will now screech to a halt for a while. Sorry, Mom!
I would like to amend an earlier post, while also responding to Anonymous, who hoped that I finished Josh Clark's book, Heart Like Water.
I've just got a few pages to go, now, and I am happy to report that in fact Clark does show remorse, does feel guilt for his early post-K days of celebration and blissful ignorance. (I don't know why I'd be happy for that fact--who wants to wish the crappy feeling of guilt on someone?)
Anyway, I am now quite a fan of the book, actually, which I don't think I am supposed to admit in my writerly circles. I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow MFA-graduates about Clark's career, which seems to have generated a good deal of envy among my cohorts. My friend said, "If anyone has a problem with Clark's book, they need to come off the sour grapes." When I'd asked what he meant, he said he thought our friends were just jealous of Clark's success. "I don't see none of y'all publishing no books!" (Not exactly true, but okay.)
I get the idea that jealousy can feed unwarranted criticism.
And since my own writing "career" took a nosedive straight the f-- down after the storm (unless you call sloppy-blogging real "writing," which I guess you probably don't, and I guess I probably shouldn't, though sometimes I actually do), maybe it was a bit of envy that had me criticizing Clark. Maybe. Okay.
But then my friend changed his tune when I told him that I didn't think it was envy, exactly, that fed most of the criticism of Clark's post-K writing. The beef has been his authenticity. Does someone like Clark--someone who moved here from elsewhere, who lives in the Pontalba apartments (read: well-to-do), and who hobnobs with the literary creme de la creme in New Orleans (his book jacket boasts a blurb by Pulitzer prize-winning Richard Ford, for Chrissakes)--does he have the "right" to speak for New Orleans?
What I now really like about Clark is that he doesn't seem to be bothered by what is arguably a really dumb question. Of course he has the right!
My friend rattled off reasons why those who need to tell The Real Stories of this post-K New Orleans are not the Josh Clark's of the city. The real storytellers understand poverty. The real storytellers have actual black neighbors and real live black friends. The real storytellers, I think my friend was saying, don't romanticize that sh*t because that sh*t ain't romantic.
But I don't think my friend is right.
And as I've continued reading Clark's book, I've seen his mood of drunken revelry sink into a stunned depression as he realizes all that he's been missing whilst living it up in the Compound. His sinking is well-paced. It's not some ta-da epiphany--the kind of redemption we so love in our American stories. It takes place over the course of many chapters--as he bemoans the fact that we evacuees will be coming back now, trying to act like we know, as he sees what happened in Gulf Coast Mississippi, and as he records the reactions of Ninth Ward residents in town to "look and leave."
What I think makes Clark's story actually wholly authentic is that he doesn't have a revelation. He doesn't join some volunteer crew, doesn't start gutting gutting houses, doesn't even keep the Quarter clean as he'd done earlier. Instead, he watches it, records its, and then, when it gets too uncomfortable (as it does when he enters the Ninth Ward to record some citizens Looking and Leaving,) he stifles a yawn. He turns away. He heads back to the Quarter and tries to capture some of that good feeling he'd once had.
Admitting to that sh*t--that wanting to turn away--ain't romantic, but it is authentic.
So I think Josh Clark has written a memoir that is actually The Transplant Story. He romanticizes the storm, revels in it, wakes up (hung over), begins to really see it--but only once it can no longer be ignored--and he writes, "From here on, finding beauty will be a complex thing."
More than anything else, I think this storm has put a hurt on the ability of us transplants to romanticize the very unromantic. The Sliver by the River, the Isle of Denial, isn't big, and it's impossible, now, to pay attention--to just be awake--without being reminded of what you have (stuff and privilege) and what you don't have (a single f-ing clue about what it's like not to be okay). And then the okayness becomes a problem, itself.
Here's a paragraph from Clark's book that I really like--that captures the conflicted grief he felt and that I think nicely suits the NOLA-transplant psyche, post-K. (Then I'm going to go eat some fish tacos at El Gato Negro, pack my bags, and head north, so this blog will sleep for a while. Bye.)
"I'd keep looking for the little details, hooks that the newspaper people seize upon, pretend they illustrate the whole: the tricycle, the Cabbage Patch Kid, the illustrated Bible, the photo of a newborn baby. They're there. But their essences is lost in the dinge. And then I'd cough to pretend I wasn't yawning, and wonder what to eat next--that breakfast burrito Ride made me that's still in the car or should I have one of those Honey Nut Cheerio cereal bars or should I go and get some Salvation Army food? And then I would realize I'm not even hungry. And I'll even have my routine back soon and then I won't have lost a single thing."