Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Obama

This morning when Simon woke me up at seven, I had the same feeling I did on the morning it snowed. I felt like I had to get out of bed or else I'd miss something.

My descriptive powers elude me. And anyways, I spent most of the day trying to record lectures for my online class in audio files, which is not worth describing (although it is amusing, I guess--how I was trying to figure out whether to "sound smart" or just like me... I went with me). But before the file-recording, I baked Michelle Obama's shortbread cookies (mine had pine nuts instead of almonds on top) and took them to the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association meetings are, and where many in the neighborhood gathered to watch CNN's streaming projected on a big screen.

I took this video of the moment when Obama took the oath of office (sorry for the wobbly/shifty camera work--I am new with my Flip video camera). The people I kept coming back to are Charles Allen, our neighborhood association president, and Kathy Muse, who is my neighbor.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year, Old Blog

It's obvious: I've given up on this blog.

I thought I'd try to retire it in some sort of official way, but allowing it to peter out over time seemed somehow more appropriate--in keeping with the way the nation has handled New Orleans, post-Katrina.

Part of me feels like I can't just STOP writing on this blog altogether, but the other part of me is all, "Girl, you crazy. Your job is madness and you don't have TIME to blog, and anyway, you give yourself guilt trips about it, so what's the use in pretending you are a 'real blogger'?"

I'm not a "real blogger."

I am, however, someone who finds that writing things down is an act of thinking--a helpful one at that--and in light of that, I thought I'd post this "To Do List" for the New Year. These are not resolutions, but just things I'd like to accomplish. Sometime.

--Install a raingarden to deal with drainage problems at our new house (Simon had to give me a piggy back to the door on Saturday because of the "moat.")

--Garden more.

--Sort out my feelings about my job (and be proactive about what comes next.)

--Survive the retention process in one piece (if not with my job still intact).

--Teach a successful "Early College" course at Rabouin High School (which I've just read is a struggling school, indeed).

--Make more time for creative endeavors.

--Endeavor, creatively.

--Sort out how and what I want to write about Holy Cross.

--Be more active in my neighborhood association.

--Be kind as all getout to my students and coworkers.

--Whine less.

--Walk more.

--Sort out what to do with this blog.

--Forgive myself for being less than perfect.

One reason I haven't been writing is that I am really HOME now. Our house is beautiful and makes me feel heart-whole. The things that have been giving me pain (which are usually the things that drive me to write) are work-related these days, and the public airing of my teaching grievances seems to be a bad idea. I guess I could find ways of writing through the problems I am having, but part of the problem I am having is that my students seem to be more confrontational these days, and I have already heard from one supervisor that a student read some entry on my blog and complained. (This act is representative of a larger problem I'm seeing: the student-as-customer and teacher-as-customer-service-agent ethos. Don't get me started.)

Hmm... it looks like maybe I do need to write about my work.

Bottom line: happy new year. I'll write or I won't and I am going to be okay with either choice, dammit.


To close: a picture of our home in NOLA snow...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Our New Garden and Other Fall Delights

First of all, I know I haven't written lately, and there's a good reason for it: work. Because I am a writing teacher, I spend a LOT of time responding to student writing. When school is in session, the notion of doing any other kind of writing seems both absurd and an incredible burden.

Of course, life has kept on happening, and I don't want the cobwebs of this blog to grow too thick. So I thought I'd post some pictures of progress at our new home in Holy Cross.
We hired some neighbors to plant us a garden. Lisa and Paul are "La La Landscaping," and they are as kooky as their company-name implies. Lisa is a ball of happy energy. She flits. She giggles. She has an idea to create "high heeled gardening shoes" that will make weeding a less-backbreaking chore. She says the queens in the Quarter would love her idea.

Her boyfriend and business-partner, Paul, is her exact opposite. He rarely speaks, and when he does it's a mumble. He weeds slowly and methodically, getting even the most hidden seeds, a cigarette drips smoke all the while. He tells Lisa she shouldn't tell everyone about her shoe idea or someone might steal it. He also doesn't drink a drop, but he makes persimmon wine and he's promised to show me how.

Here's the house when the first group of plants went in.

Paul and Lisa planted zinnias, cosmos, ornamental peppers, rudbeckia, Mexican sunflowers, artemesia, butterfly weed, and jungle red hibiscus in the bed along the south side of the house. Simon and I have gradually been adding a Mississippi driftwood border, and I've been reading a lot about Louisiana gardening and getting excited about plants. I read that red hibiscus (also known as "red shield" or "jungle red" hibiscus) is and endangered plant, but I'm not sure I believe it. Lisa says when the plants flower, the blooms are the same color as the maroon foliage, and you can take the blooms and boil them to make hibiscus tea. Cosmos (the white flower whose foliage looks like dill weed) are scrappy buggers with paper-thin blooms. I'm not sure they're my favorite. I like the zinnias most of all. I cut several and made a lovely centerpiece for our dining room table.

The overall design of our garden is a bit more chaotic than I think I would have chosen. I had in mind several "levels" of plantings. Maybe some gold lantana or artemesia at the front, then some purple Mexican petunias in the middle and the red hibiscus at the back--like that. But Lisa and Paul gave us a ridiculously good deal for all the work they did, and they didn't use any gross chemicals (they even used eucalyptus mulch instead of cypress mulch). And I like the way the garden doesn't look too landscaped or like it belongs in a cul-de-sac in some Driftwood Manor place in everytown USA.

Here's the red hibiscus and butterfly weed when it was first planted. I'll have to take some "after" pictures this weekend.
A cosmos flower:

This morning I saw that a Monarch butterfly had landed on our butterfly weed. I read that the monarchs stop through here in early fall on their migratory path to Brazil.

The cats love the garden. Well, they like to pee in it. And our cat-harem has grown. Not only do we now have Miss Stripeypants hiding out in the backyard, but we also have three feral kittens (not hers) who we're trying to socialize. It's not working. Next up is trapping and neutering...

Here's Miss Stripeypants (who is very possibly, in fact, Mister Stripeypants), looking worried. She won't let me anywhere near her, although she comes running whenever she hears me come out onto the back deck:
This is Big Man (also known to Simon as "White Stockings"), Carrot Soup (the orange and white one), and Peebo (the black scaredy-cat in the background). They're not all that healthy, but they're getting better with more food and water...

In other house-news: a group of volunteers came to help us remove our Katrina-graffiti. Now there's no "1 DOA" next to our door. I miss the big white "0"s, but our home looks more like our home now, and that is a good thing. We used a product called "Graffiti Off" (or something like that) to scrub the spray paint from the vinyl siding. Earlier, Simon had tried to buy spray paint to match the siding, and he wound up making the "D" in "DOA" very defined. The volunteers also painted our front doors "cranberry bog," which I like a lot (I'll have to remember to photograph that, too). The whole house looks very "fall like" in its color-scheme. One day we'll peel the vinyl siding off and paint the wood, but for now it's looking better every day.

Oh: the appraisal got done without any major problems (since the volunteers helped us). The appraiser had been a real jerk the first time he showed up. He didn't get our of his car and essentially turned his nose up at our exterior. This time, he came inside, where he applauded the many choices I'd agonized over. ("So many custom features!") I was such a proud homeowner!

Now we are waiting for the refinancing paperwork to go through so we can start paying a monthly note that's more comfortable for us. We're still paying the construction loan rate, which is high, and I had thought we'd get a really good rate--maybe even the 5.4% George Soros proposed to help with the bailout--but it looks like the rates for 30 year fixed rates haven't gone down. Oh, well. At least we should get it down to 6%.

There's so, so much more to write about, but I need to get back to work, and I wanted this to be a happy-post, and a lot of the other stuff isn't as happy, so...

Well, happy weekend, anyway!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Blogging from the Classroom"

Here's an interesting piece on blogs by teachers. I don't know if I mentioned that my own blog was read by the parent of one of my summer students... I learned that she felt I had written inappropriately about her daughter from one of my colleagues. He'd had to deal with her wrath after her daughter didn't pass my course. I believe he said she called him an "f-ing a-hole."

Anyways, I have felt very conflicted about writing about teaching, but lately I have felt that it is an important subject, and I have even thought of publicizing my blog to my students and colleagues. I'd love to hear your thoughts, Mom, on whether you think expanding beyond hurricanes to address the classroom is wise or foolish...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Tired Meets Mad

I have lots to write about and lots to say, but I'm exhausted. Spent the day loading and unloading debris from our renovation--debris the contractor should have disposed of but left in the name of preservation. Yeah, thanks for the mountain of termite-eaten hollow-board, dude.

Anyways, I can't write now because I really am exhausted, but I wanted to post a link to the Voice of the Wetlands site. Community activist Karen Gadbois posted a link to it on her Twitter account, and the sentiments expressed on the site are the same I've been hearing everywhere: IF WE DO NOT DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE WETLANDS NOW, COASTAL LOUISIANA IS IN REALLY BIG TROUBLE. And that, my family and friends in less threatened locales, spells trouble for you, too. (And not just because you'll have to hear from me about it.)

Gawd, I really have been asked a kabillion times, "Why do you STAY there?" to which I am forced to respond with the same romantic B.S. you have already heard (the people, the music, the culture, the food) and have likely grown tired of hearing. Because these comprise a good portion of my personal reasons for being here.

But that is really beside the point.

The point is that we are not asking our fellow Americans (and the world, sure, yes, the world) to save our wetlands and our hurricane protection systems because we are dumb enough to think that our reasons for wanting to live here are also yours. We know they are not.

But when you ask us this question, "How can you LIVE there?" you ask the wrong one. We feel the same sense of "What the F?!?"--the same dumbfounded incredulousness about your living where you do.

Last week I had a conversation with my friend Bill Loehfelm lately about making Why Coastal Louisiana Matters cards. They'd fit in your wallet, and we'd be able to pull them out whenever people ask that question: "Why do you LIVE there?"

When we got asked that question, we wouldn't have to blubber on about the sentimental crap that allows folks to tightfist their cash--to think, "Why should I save their asses just so they can eat and hang with their 'community' when I can take my vacation elsewhere?"

We'd be able to answer that question in terms that would impress you.

First on the "Why you should save our asses' list": we supply 30% of your gas and oil. You get our coffee and sugar because of our ports, too. As Bill put it, try living a day without gas, coffee, or sugar. Then we'll see how much people care about restoring our wetlands.

Okay, so I really AM exhausted, which evidently inspires ranting...

When I am not so tired, I will beef up this list. And then, when I have more money (and less important things to handle than actually dealing with the impacts of storms that would not have impacted us do terribly had our wetlands not been squandered--had our federal levees held)--I will make that "Why You Should Shut Up Talking and Save Our Asses, Already" card.

Really: good night. I promise to post a non-rant post soon. It really was a long and very eventful week, and I want to process it on the page and share with you, dear readers, even if I am mad at you sometimes for not understanding why we matter--really matter--and not just to our damn selves.

To prove that I love you anyways: big hug from my house (whose address is a heckuva lot closer to the Gulf than it was just a week ago.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

After We've Recovered from the Toxic Gumbo...

When I opened an email whose subject was "Electricity?" today, I realized I hadn't updated my blog since we'd been home. So here I go, back...

The drive back to New Orleans seemed interminable, although it was uneventful in comparison with the one on the way out. I saw several Louisiana families on both I-85/65 and I-10 who were also headed home. They looked tired, as I am sure I did. My cat Ray was so "over" the car ride that he jammed himself between a box and the rear passenger window and stared ahead so resolutely and pathetically--without sleeping or blinking--that I worried he was dead.

When I got to Mississippi, the adrenaline had worn off, and I was just f-ing ready to get home. I was tired of listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about how spiritually enlightened she was (I'd promised to finish Eat, Pray, Love, and could only manage to do it via audiobook), I was tired of eating gummy bears and drinking Diet Mountain Dew, and I was even tired of texting Twitter updates (which are now appearing in the margins of my blog). So I smoked cigarettes to stay awake, even though I am really and truly one of those "social smokers" that real smokers can't stand, and I reset the cruise control for 77mph. Poor Ray thought there was a fire, and he let out a howl to rival even the most feral and in-heat of cats, so I motored along with both the A/C on and the front windows cracked.

My favorite part of the drive home is always when I make it over the top if the I-10 "high rise" in New Orleans East. You can't see the city until then, and so you climb and climb up this artificial hill (it's the only stationary bridge over the Industrial Canal), and then once you get to the top, there is the whole bowl of New Orleans all spread out before you. To the south, the lights on the Crescent City Connection dip and rise like Christmas lights strung between porch posts, and when the sun is setting--as it was when I drove in on Sunday--the Mississippi River undulates pink and orange and blue-Gulf-gray. I can remember seeing that view for the first time almost eleven years ago, how both my brother and I were like, "Holy shit," and my heart beat fast.

This time, I had a similar reaction, only my body wouldn't stop. My heart raced. My fingers tingled. I started to sweat from even my forearms, and I was sure I was about to either throw up or faint. The Franklin exit comes up quickly, so I begged my body to cooperate until I could exit the interstate. I drove the speed limit. I hung on.

At the bottom of the exit ramp, things felt better for a moment, and the cats, aware of the sudden stillness, started up with their cries. I had to get home. Had to had to.

On Franklin I saw dead tree limbs that'd been cleared from the road and piled onto the neutral ground. There was a power line down across from the home of a family who was all out gathered on the porch, the steps packed with sisters braiding brothers' hair. It was a typical Sunday picture, nothing much had changed.

When I finally got to the Judge Seaber (sp?) bridge, I looked left toward the back of town and saw the same canal walls that'd been on TV so much. The water'd gone down. On the lower-9 side of the bridge, I saw that Brad Pitt's houses had survived without a lick of damage--not a single solar panel was blown out. On Tennessee Street I took the potholes slow. I saw a big tree down just before Reynes. It'd already been cut up and its thick middle removed from the street. I passed by empty houses whose destruction was familiar, who had no new scars to show for Gustav. This made me sad for some reason.

As I passed the now-abandoned Holy Cross practice field, I saw black tar paper in peeled-back curls atop some of the old school buildings. I couldn't remember if this was new damage or old.

I turned onto Deslonde and saw that the CFLs on our front stoop were on. I was so shaky and vomitous-feeling when I pulled up by the house that I remember being very methodical: a) put in park; b) cut off ignition; c) open door; d) place one foot and then the other on the ground; e) retrieve cat carrier; f) go inside. Simon was unloading the back of his truck (he'd left an hour before me because his truck only goes 60), and Mr. Taylor was there, smiling, being our neighbor.

"How you derrin'?" he asked (this means "How you doin'," but people say "derrin" here).

"Oh, my nerves are shot," I said, the words falling out of me like I was drooling tacks.

"I'm tha same way," he said. "The same way."

I said to Simon, as low as I could, "I'm sick. I'll be inside." Then I went to the bathroom, stripped down naked, dry heaved, and took a cold shower.

I lay in bed for an hour before I felt better. Then Simon and I ate carry-out Mona's at our dining room table, only I didn't eat mine because it tasted sour and bad, like the hummus had been frozen and thawed too many times, the salad dressed in stale vinegar. We guessed their power had gone out, too.

I cracked open a beer from the freezer, and then took to the task of washing the few moldy spots that had grown in the fridge during the week we'd been without power. It was nothing, nothing, so bad as it was after Katrina, when the dried-up rice grains of coffin-fly carcasses peppered the refrigerator seals, when we had to have a group of roaming Scientologists help us carry the whole affair to the curb.

After dinner, Simon brought in more of our stuff: our art work, my wedding dress, the contents of our file cabinets, the new rug we'd bought at IKEA. I wanted Simon to take the boards off the windows and doors because it felt like we were living in a box, but there was too much else to do, and I was worthless for carrying stuff.

At one point, Simon came in and told me to come outside, he had to show me something. There, a tiny orange and white kitten was curled up on the sidewalk, cushioned by our ridiculous weeds. There were two more, Simon said, and a mama and dad-cat, too.

Later, Simon came in to tell me that he'd seen Mr. Washington from across the street. Mr. Washington said he'd gone up to stay at his house in Shreveport for the storm, but he'd been home already for days. "You seen that movie, that 'Alice in Wonderland'?" he asked Simon. "What's that the girl says in it? 'No place like home'?" Simon nodded and Mr. Washington went on, "I took that shit serious."

I guess that's really the best way to put it, too, isn't it? Here in New Orleans, we take this home shit serious.

And so--thank God--now we are home.

Still, on Monday I felt empty and all shook up. I "taught" if you can call it that, but it felt like I was tripping over thinking, over picking up chalk, over talking about "the importance of description in fiction writing." I put my writing workshop students to work on a craft exercise in "showing versus telling," and I asked them to use their five senses to show readers their evacuation experience. One student described the sight of "clouds moving faster than cars," another, the discomfort of her foot being "wedged between the gear shift and a crock pot." I shared the sound of "love bugs banging against the radiator" (a detail I don't remember, really, from my own evacuation, but I had to offer something, and there are the love bugs now--the love bugs everywhere, like there were ladybugs when I lived in Ohio and fireflies when I was growing up in Georgia, only lovebugs lack the charm of either, save their name.) There was, of course, lots of "sweaty skin sticking to the seat."

Later in the day I started to feel a bit more human. My friend Kim came by my office to bring me a copy of the textbook we'd worked on all summer. I flipped through it and felt vaguely proud, vaguely remembering that we were concerned about textbooks once. I told her about how sick I'd felt when I came home the night before. She said it was probably some weird form of relief, of release. As in, I'd seen the city, finally--all okay like I'd been told it was. But then there it really was, and all the stress I'd been holding in all week came flooding out. It was toxic, that stress, and so it made me sick. Sick like I'd eaten a bowl of "toxic gumbo".

On Monday night, after my Intro to the Short Story and Novel class (which went wonderfully, thank you bejesus), I went to the Parkview to have a beer with some of my school comrades. We shared stories of this storm. AC and Bill had gotten eaten by ticks while hiking in Tennessee. Jenni had begged her way into an overpriced hotel after 18 hours of driving. Joseph and Amanda had weathered the storm in Baton Rouge, which turned out to be a mistake, and so they returned to New Orleans on Thursday to sit in the still heat of their own home, at the very least. We all talked about watching TV, about how the reporters got their geography wrong, how someone actually, for real, used that blasted Katrina-phrase again: "toxic gumbo." Then we laughed some and seemed generally glad to be home again (although we all seemed still to be doing a bit of sleep-walking, to be grinding our teeth).

I slept for ten hours Monday night, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I began--slowly--to feel human again.

Now I am sitting in my office, and outside the winds of Hurricane Ike--still two days from Texas--are whipping the leaves of the banana trees so they look like raggedy combs. I know that at home the wind chime is making so much noise that all the cats--Carrot Soup, White Stockings, Sammo, and the still-intact, still-kicking Miss Stripeypants are all huddled beneath the porch. I read on Jeff Master's weather blog that Ike will have surge bigger than Katrina's, and that there's already 5 feet of surge in the Industrial Canal.

But tonight I can't look at no stinkin' flooding in no stinkin' canal.

Tonight I will go to the neighborhood association meeting. Then I have a Ben and Jerry's ice cream cake party to attend at Markey's bar. Then I think I might just keep it going at Vaughn's, since I'm feeling like me again, finally, and since I am home, dammit, and since I, too, take that shit serious.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Heading Home...

Here's another piece in the Times-Pic on the nightmarish evacuation and re-entry that some experienced, and yet another from WWL-TV on the concerns of our clown/mayor that residents may not leave (should we be asked to) in advance of Ike.

We head home today. As we hug the necks of our hosts, we will hope not to see them again any time soon--not because we don't love them, but because we need Ike to leave us alone.