Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Number Two...

It was two years and a lifetime ago that HK hit NOLA and I am too tired to process all of the information that's been coming at us from all sides this week. (Maybe this is the year I'll call her HK, 'cause we're tight like that, now). Anyways, Wednesday is also my busiest teaching day. I have classes from 9:30am until almost 9pm.

We did have a power outage on campus this afternoon, which brought the days of our early post-storm livin' back. Yeah--that made me feel hurricaney. That brought a lot back.

But right now I am too tired to process this anniversary-bit, so I will just say goodnight to it and to all things Number Two. Tomorrow, after I help my best friends pack their U-Haul so they can leave the city, maybe I'll be sad and inspired and ready to write.


Monday, August 27, 2007

So many hurricane recovery summits, so little time...

As I drove to school this morning, I listened to local columnist Chris Rose on NPR. It was a nice enough piece. I liked that he was defiantly explaining why we stay. He said that here, one is necessarily living a meaningful life, and I think he's right; this recovery makes everything you do, say, hear, think, and feel "mean more," somehow.

I worry, though, that the rest of the country tires of hearing romantic tributes to our home--especially because those romantic tributes rely not just on what New Orleans is, but on what the rest of the country is not. How long can we tell the rest of the country that "You just don't get it" before the rest of the country says, "You're right! And not only don't we get it, but we also don't want to hear no mo' about how you think you DO!"?

I worry that they tire of our stories, of our musings on food and culture and whatnot. It's like how we down here tire of listening to New Yorkers go on and on about New York. (Actually, I kind of think everyone tires of New York-nationalism, no?)

Anyways, the inability to explain "Why New Orleans" is an ongoing theme in many-a-writer's coffer down here. Strangely (or perhaps not so), it was an outsider who did it best for me: Dan Baum for The New Yorker. Read it. It's good.

In some ways, the way New Orleans was before is dead not because of the loss of housing or culture or even the loss of life, but because the meaning that is attached to everything has altered our ability to Just Live. Now, there is the national attention. Now, there's recovery summit after recovery summit after recovery summit . There's march after march after march. There are media events (I like how the city's media schedule brief has "Celebrity Holds" scheduled.) To commemorate the Katrina, two years later, there are vigils, memorials, bell-ringing ceremonies, and even a "hands around the Superdome" event. There is so much darn meaning being made that it's hard to make sense of it all. And anyway, do all these meaning-makers, summit-havers, and celebrity so-and-so's know what it all means anymore than we do? I doubt it. I doubt it...

So, today at UNO, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mary Landrieu, and others are discussing our recovery right this very minute. I wish I could go. I hope there are some disgruntled residents who will raise a stink. A streaker would be nice.

Me, I'm here, blogging, teaching. My students are student-ing. The city is being. Meaning? Meaning, meaning...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lucky Us.

So by now you all know that Dean missed us, thankfully. Thankfully. I've been mired in the whatnot of the first week of school: faculty meetings, first day introductions, syllabus design and distribution, getting stuck in traffic on my way to teach on the Westbank, missing my officemate, reading, writing--whatnot.

There is some excitement to report (not that the first week of school isn't exciting, 'cause I think it is and in fact I still can't sleep before the first day each semester). For instance, there's Tuesday: the day I almost met Brad Pitt. As you may or may not know, he and Angelina are part-time residents of New Orleans. Also, you may or may not know that I am happy about that fact. We can use all the help we can get, and having arguably the most famous people on the planet loving your limping city--and doing something about it--is a very good thing, indeed.

Anyways, I am in the process of writing both about the Global Green Project in Holy Cross, and about my almost-meeting Brad Pitt. Until I finish that piece, here's the short version:

I was touring the beginnings of the Global Green prototype house with another member of the HCNA, and when we left, there was Brad. The VIP-group was coming in to tour, and because I was wearing my HCNA T-shirt, I was able to see the house with the president of Global Green, the Home-Depot lady who's spearheaded the material-stuff, and Brad. Oh, and one scary dude in a suit and a few choice reporters.

I realized pretty quickly that I wasn't "supposed" to be in there, and that my shirt was my ticket. So I listened. Raptly. And tried very hard not to look at Brad. Luckily, the reporters were snapping pictures, and so I felt okay snapping away with my dinky Powershot. I felt almost as though Mr. Pitt wanted to align himself with me because of my shirt. He stood close. Like, close. I'd had this plan to get him to sign the back of my Holy Cross T-shirt. I had the Sharpie and all. In my plan, I would thank him for his work, tell him how the project helped seal the deal for two teachers who couldn't afford to buy elsewhere to take the plunge into the Lower Nine. He would sign my shirt, "I HEART HOLY CROSS--Brad Pitt," and I would wear that mofo with pride.

Instead: I could barely breathe.

Instead: I stood right... next... to... him... and took his picture with my dinky Powershot. He looked at me and I said, meekly, "Thank you." I'm pretty sure he said "No problem."

Ever since then, I have been hating on myself for being like everyone else. I have been hating myself for not being me. WHY did I take an f-ing PICTURE? WHY didn't I introduce myself?

Anyways, I am a retard, as I told Pam Daschiell (the past-president of the HCNA and a veritable buddy of Brad's in this Global-Green Holy-Cross project) at last night's HCNA meeting. She laughed and said he's a nice guy.

"I know," I said. "So why couldn't I be me? I'm a nice girl!"

"Yes, you are," she said.

Yes, I am.

So, I guess the lesson is that I am a bona fide product of American popular culture. However much I may ignore the Dan Akroyd's of the world so they can have their lives (Liv Tyler, too, and Roman Polanski, and Mos Def... all of them I've "left alone"), when I come face-to-face with Brad Pitt--someone with whom I share a genuine interest and actual common ground, I do What We Do: I take a picture and say, "thank you."


I know you are dying to see my pictures, and they ARE spectacular! I can say two things of Brad in Real Life: 1) he is not shorter than he looks, and 2) dude can wear a hard hat. But I am saving the pictures for my piece. After all, I know there are forreal freaks out there, who will re-publish my pics all over (right?--I mean what would you do with really great pictures of Brad Pitt in a hard hat? And don't say sell them). Since I plan to write about the event for, I'm going to publish the pictures there. That way they can get all the hits and this blog can cruise along in relative anonymity.

So: that's how I almost met Brad Pitt. Now, I am going to have a margarita. Happy Friday.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dean-watch, Day Two.

Here's Dean's probability cone:

Bob Breck (my favorite local meteorlogist) is doing less shrugging and more sideways glancing, which means we now really need to watch. Yesterday I failed to get a cat carrier, so it's on tomorrow's shopping list.

I was in a BAD MOOD yesterday until we went to church--the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association meeting, that is. There's nothing like a group of people banding together to get things done to make you feel better. Among my favorite moments from last night's meeting:

--A young black mother asking that we help each other out with home renovations. She was holding her antsy four-year old, and when she announced that this weekend she'd like volunteers to help her "mud her drywall," her daughter squealed, "MUD?!" before wriggling free to bang on the gospel church drum set.

--An older man who's bought a large building that he plans to call "The Village" (after the phrase, "It takes a village..."). He stood at the pulpit and said, "I'm not gonna lie. Originally I bought the building because I like to work on cars. But then God gave me a mission, and I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna fight God." He was asking for help with the project, which he plans to be a community center for neighborhood kids.

"I grew up in the village, if you know what I mean," he said. "When I was a kid, if you got into something, the whole village knew before you got back home. You couldn't get away with stuff like these kids do now, and I'm here to tell you that it's our fault that they're going wrong."

The attendees (mostly women) nodded in agreement. Then, eighty-something year old Miss Maybell got up and said she could help teach kids how to sew. Warenetta passed around a survey form and Simon and I offered to work with kids with reading and writing.

The Global Green Project has started work on their Greenola project (the mixed-income housing and community center built from sustainable materials and focused on energy-efficiency--it's down at Forstall and Egania in Holy Cross). They announced a dinner at MLK Elementary on Monday. One neighbor, Ann, was worried about there being enough food and somehow the meeting turned into this funny critique of Global Green's not organizing an RSVP-list so we could be sure to get a seat (presumably next to Brad Pitt).

--Finally, there was a somber moment when HCNA president Charles Allen asked if everyone had a plan to evacuate. There were no No's, but plenty looks that said, "I dare you, Dean."

Anyways, I'm feeling better and renewed today. That neighborhood is home like nobody's business.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home... home.

[I apologize in advance to my small out-of-town readership for the "going off" that is to come in this entry... Your girl's on edge, as anyone would be looking at this:]
Ordinarily I swell with pride when we drive over the I-10 high rise into New Orleans, back from another of our trips back east to Atlanta. The high rise affords a spectacular view of the city, and even post-K I've seen that view and gotten goosebumps.

This time was different, and when we finally pulled up to our house, I switched off the car's ignition and said, "I don't want to be here."

The truth is, I don't want to be anywhere else, either. We found a good Mexican restaurant in Copperhill, Tennessee. We stopped for fried pork skins at "Carol Sue's Unique Funnel Cakes." We giggled at the sign in Ducktown, TN, endearing: "Welcome to Ducktown--A Quacking Good Place." There was evidence of a life we could enjoy in the N. Georgia and Tennessee mountains.

But what we missed were minorities. In fact, I'm always missing minorities when we go to whiter areas of the country. I don't get why on earth people would want to live around a whole bunch of people carbon copies of themselves, which may be one reason why I've loved New Orleans for so long--the people here who are just like me are just like me because they want the same things as I do: diversity, a joyful daily life, music.

It's just that now all of these things are what we have to fight for, and I find that I'm not feeling up to the whole push and struggle anymore. Two years later, it's still the push and struggle. Two years later things feel the same, only worse.

And then, two years later, we returned from vacation to learn that our local political hero, councilman Oliver Thomas, was guilty of accepting bribes. (Calling him a hero is a bit of an overstatement, but he was an excellent cheerleader for our city, and he had the rare support of both blacks and whites in the city. Any unifier these days makes you feel good.) We watched his speech on TV, dumbfounded. I wanted to cry.

Instead, I am diving back into my work. School starts on Monday, and I'm trying to get my syllabi revised and my new fiction-workshop planned without becoming too distracted by the movement of Hurricane Dean. Today I have an appointment for a haircut, and I plan to pick up an extra cat carrier at Petco just in case. Just in case, I'll fill up the gas tank.

In the meantime, the media has been doing its two-year bit, and relatives and friends are taking notice. No one notices when the Corps announces they've given up on Category Five levee protection--we get no angry letters to Congress written on our behalf. We are left to do these things for ourselves. Instead, when TIME magazine publishes a feature, when National Geographic publishes a feature, we get concerned emails and calls. No one comes right out and says it, but I can tell they are thinking, Why are you still there? Do you really think your city has any chance? Isn't it about time you gave up?

I get angry. I want to say: What do you care? What are you doing about it? Isn't it about time you started thinking about this city's recovery as YOUR problem, too?

I am sick, sick, sick of the way the rest of the U.S. is just tsk-tsking us and opening their worried motherly arms: come home, come here!

This is home. I know you can't understand that, but you don't need to: you just need to understand what a home is.

Sometimes, I suspect that what separates those who love New Orleans from the rest of the U.S. is our understanding of home.

And so even though I came home and felt a bit, myself, like (yes) giving, up, we will stay. We will stay because this is home. It sure would be nice if that mattered to the rest of the U.S.--enough that we didn't have to come home--every day for the past two years--to more push and struggle. That is not home. Or at least it shouldn't be.