Dispatch from Hurricane Ida

Shortest story: I’m back home, with my savings and my fridge contents a lot lighter.

This hurricane season is not over, and there are lessons in it for all of us — no matter where we live.

The thing about hurricane season is every storm is completely different, but all you can do is use what you know about every other storm to get through this one.

Hurricane Ida was not another Katrina — but that’s because the devastation of Katrina on New Orleans was about human failure (the levee system breach), and not the wrath of Mother Nature.

The wrath of Ida on South Louisiana — from the River Parishes to Down the Bayou — is huge. And devastating. And I will keep talking about that.

But In 2020, five named storms hit the coast of Louisiana. The last one hit on October 28. So this may only be the beginning of the 2021 season.

Storms are getting stronger, and more frequent.

This, my beloveds, may be our new normal.

If you are from New Orleans, the first part of this note is for you.

If you are not from New Orleans, the second part is for you.

You can read both, of course.

There’s an extra bit at the end for all of us. Because we all have a part to play.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Original Spiritual Gangster

My teacher wears an array of clever yoga t-shirts.  One says Spiritual Gangster.  I’ve often wondered what that actually means. Does he intimidate with his vast spirituality?  Takes karma as payment for not yoga-ing you to death? Or that being spiritual doesn’t automatically mean being well-behaved?

In the frame of Sankalpa, I have been meditating today on Rev. King and the work he did.  Sankalpa is a deep intention – if your dharma could talk, it would be a sankalpa.  If you’re a yoga nerd, that may make sense to you; but how many yoga nerds are really out there?

Each of us has a deep seated belief about who we are and what we are here to do.  It’s specific and unique to each of us, although on the surface it may seem similar.  Sometimes it’s possible to ferret out that purpose (or dharma), and to explain it in words.  Sometimes it’s so deep that we cannot find a way to express it verbally, and it only comes out in our actions and our values and the decisions we make.

One of the things that made MLK so very special was his ability to simply yet eloquently express his Sankalpa: “I have a dream.”  His dream, his belief, of black children and white children playing together with no knowledge of race was so important and so central to his own existence that he pursued it mercilessly.  

Marianne Williamson says, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  Dr. King was liberated.  He was liberated from any fear by this deep desire, this deep intention, his Sankalpa.  And by simply living, he liberated each of us — he inspires us to follow the deep knowledge we have about what is right and what is just.


So today, in his honor, ask yourself: What do I believe so deeply?  What is this deep desire that is so central to my existence?  And how can I use it to liberate myself from the fear of pursuing it?

Katrina + 6

It’s been a quiet week here in New Orleans, my home town…

That’s all I could think today, driving home from yoga.  “It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon, my home town…” I grew up listening to Garrison Keillor.  I grew up falling asleep to tapes of A Prairie Home Companion.  If you didn’t already realize I was raised by liberal recovering-hippies, well… now you know.

It’s been a quiet week.  And today just happened.  Again.  Six years ago there was The Thing that happened. On the Fifth Anniversary everybody still talked about it and did their mourning and mooning and moaning about how people should stop talking about the The Thing.  But today, on the Sixth Anniversary, nothing happened.

It’s been a quiet week in New Orleans, my home town… the girls and I got together on Saturday, with late brunch drinks (Champagne + Blueberry-Pomegranate is just as delightful as it sounds) and watched My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (which is actually far more disturbing than it sounds), and I got day drunk and fell asleep at 8pm.  Sunday I made groceries and went to the grand opening of the New Orleans Healing Center.

This morning, I woke up, stopped by the coffee shop, and went to work.  The air’s a little smoky, but other than that it was just another day.  Just another Monday.  It wasn’t even manic.  Our staff meeting was practically calm.

It’s been a quiet week.

And yet, today still feels like the beginning of a new year.  It’s been (whatever 365 times 6 is… 1900 or so) days since Katrina hit and then the levees and all that.  I wonder: will it always be like this?  Will today always be a sacred day, no matter what?  Is this what it feels like when you lose a child or a spouse and their death-day passes and you get mad at everybody who doesn’t remember? And will I always feel guilty about being angry about that?

When will I start measuring years again from January 1?  Or at least from my birthday? Will that ever happen?  My life is still divided into BK and AK.

As I drove to work this morning, I realized 80% of the people I work with didn’t live here during The Thing.  There’s one kid who was in college at the time… But otherwise, it’s a bunch of folks who all lived out of harm’s way who work there.  Even the handful that lived in New Orleans didn’t live *in it*.  I hate that I care about that.  I am on my way to becoming that 70 year-old lady who talks about The Big One, and how none of y’all kids really understand.

But in reality, they don’t really understand.

It was a quiet week in New Orleans, my home town… I suppose I should be thankful for that.

Five Years

nb: Yes, this is the obligatory K+5 post. Deal with it.

5 years ago today, at this moment, I was watching CNN on 2 hours of sleep after a 17 hour evacuate drive to Houston.  I got in at 5 am, and couldn’t sleep past 7 — I couldn’t stop listening to the news or hearing what was happening.  I watched in horror as the 17th Street canal breached.

My whole life, in every movie, at this moment – the critical moment – something came in and saved the day!  We watched it on the TV, and surely these enormous sandbags dropped by helicopter would close the breach and all would be well again.

I think I grew up in that moment.  In that moment that I felt betrayed, devastated, and in shock.  It wasn’t just betrayal by the Corps, who we know now built faulty levees.  It wasn’t just betrayal of the federal government response (or lack thereof) in the coming weeks.  It wasn’t only the devastation of seeing photo after photo, and video feeds of people stranded, radio interviews of my fellow citizens searching for their loved ones.  It’s not just the shock of watching a flawed local administration founder over how to manage this scale of disaster.

I felt betrayed because every other time in my life I had seen something horrible like this, it had a happy ending.  The Germans lost, and Hitler killed himself in the most shameful way possible.  Slavery was ended.  Keanu Reeves found a way to make the bus stop before it killed all the people on it.  But in New Orleans, nothing happened.  No super hero saved the day.  And in that moment, I watched horrified with the entire nation as my city filled with water and my people were left for dead on rooftops.  It was so senseless.  This is not how it’s supposed to go.

Four years ago, I honestly don’t remember what I was doing.  I was still working at my pre-K job, which I was grateful to have.  I had just bought a house, so I was probably painting or tearing out termite damage or tiling the kitchen.  The whole year after Katrina is pretty much a blur.  I attribute this to low-level PTSD and a whole lot of alcohol.

Three years ago, I had just left my safe job at the CAC to start a dream job at Broadway South.  I believed we could remake this city.  I was enamored with the idea of creating a theatre destination in a city that had never had real theatre.  After five weeks, my boss was an evil lunatic and I knew better than to go anywhere with him.

One year ago, we had finished the YLC Gala and closed the most successful season of YLC Wednesday at the Square to date.  Things had begun to be hopeful.  The city was changing.  FEMA and federal recovery money had changed from its trickle to a real flow.  Every major thoroughfare of New Orleans seemed to be under construction.  Ray Nagin was still mayor and had gone the way of so many other Louisiana politicians — if you didn’t laugh about him, you’d have to cry.

And now, today.  My dad told me right after Katrina, as he was leaving the city, that it takes ten years for a city to fully recover from this kind of disaster.  My stepmother had lived through that in Mexico City after the earthquake of 1983.  My dad has lived 76 years on the earth, so I think he knows some stuff.

I look back on the last five years, and am filled with hope.  Because we are only halfway there. In the first half, I became a homeowner.  I found an amazingly fulfilling job.  New Orleans got a new mayor, with a new team that seems to being doing something.  The Saints won the Superbowl.  And now, I have a new job, at Greater New Orleans, Inc. and I genuinely believe that we can change the economic landscape of this city and bring her to her full potential.  With a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  And help.

But even with the blasted Oil Disaster, and economic crisis, and all the cards stacked against us: I am hopeful.  None of this is worse than Katrina.  And look at where we have come since Katrina?

Five years ago today, I grew up.  I learned there is no super hero.  I learned that I had been lied to all these years about some deus ex machina that comes to save the day.  Over the last five years, I realized: the only person who saves the day is me. We. And we are saving New Orleans, one day at a time.

The Craziest Day in WhoDatVille

I managed to sleep in this morning, thanks to a certain sweet someone. But we started watching the pregame coverage, and my anxiety level began to grow. I wasn’t alone.

I went home, changed, and got some Ritz crackers (ht: Nabisco for sponsoring SB44) to make “white trash hors d’eouvres,” and went to my best friend’s house. Where I watch every game. Or at least, where I’ve watched every game that the Saints have WON this year.

The level of irrationality among otherwise very sane and reasonable people has been unreal. I am not a superstitious person. I owned a black cat. I’ve broken mirrors, walked under ladders. I don’t throw salt. But today, here I am in the same place I’ve watched every other winning game — not just for the gator chili — but because what if I didn’t come here and they lost? My best friend’s husband Jamie has already made the same s’mores confection that made us sick from nervous eating two weeks ago. Because, what if he didn’t and they lost? I’m wearing the same shirt I wore the last two wins, because what if I didn’t and they lost?

I know it’s all totally irrational. Between the four of us in this house, we easily have a combined IQ of over 500 (that includes the 3 yearold) — and yet, we are all COMPLETELY INSANE about this game. We’re anxious. We’re nervous eating. We’re doing anything to distract ourselves.

This morning at the coffeeshop, the man next to me ordered four shots of espresso in a small cup. He said he was a nervous wreck – so much so that he had woken up in a panic at 1am. He couldn’t sleep. “It’s been like this for days.”

Jamie admitted he had a nightmare that Drew Brees was injured, and they had replaced him with someone completely inept. He was heckling the stand-in, asking about McDaniel, when the player started chasing him. Their three yearold came into the bedroom this morning, half-asleep, saying “Hey mamma, guess what? Black and gold to the super bowl. Who dat.”

The city is electric today. We have a new mayor, but that’s not what anyone is talking about. Random chants of “WHODAT” chime through the streets.

When Jamie went to the grocery today to get usual Super Bowl grub, he was greeted with that chant. “This is why I love New Orleans,” he said. “As I left the store, the last ‘Whodat!’ I got was from a 300-pound black tranny in sequined fleur di lis.”

No matter what anybody has said about us before today, or will say about us after – today has been one of the most anxious, exhilarating, scary, exciting, craziest, best days in WhoDatVille.

Being That Person

As I find myself surrounded by people I think are really cool, I want to be like them.  So I’ve started doing the things they do because I secretly hope it might make me cool too.  Ergo: eponymous website.

I also applied to speak at a little web search conference-y thing through IgniteNOLA.  And it went ok.  People like me.  That’s always nice.

Video is coming.  So they tell me.  In the meanwhile, my slides are here:

Twitter and Democracy

I was explaining twitter to some non-tweeting friends over dinner the other day, as I often do of late.  (Anyone else ever puzzled how not everyone is as technically savvy as you are?)  There are a number of metaphors I enjoy, and I started the conversation with them that way.

Twitter is like your neighbor’s barbeque.  I like this metaphor.  You don’t say anything on Twitter you wouldn’t want near-strangers to hear.  Some of us will say too much at a barbeque.

Twitter is like a cocktail party.  A friend invites you to a cocktail party – everybody has a cocktail in hand.  This adds the “freedom” element that happens online when you can just say what you think and not be faced with the people you’re saying it to. (Again, this poses problems online as well as in real life – but that too is about the user, not the medium).

So there you are, at this cocktail party, sipping your gin and tonic, and chatting with your friend.  Then one of their colleagues walks up, and listens for a sec.  Before you know it, they’re talking too.  You may overhear an interesting conversation when someone mentions a thing you’re passionate about.  We all have those “keywords”, when overheard at a party, that our little ears perk up, and we need to go put in our two cents.  Well, I do at least.  That cocktail party – that is Twitter.  Except Twitter is better: if someone has had too much to drink at the cocktail party, or that creepy guy is hitting on you over and over, or the close talker corners you with some strange discussion of guacamole, you can’t remove them from the party.  On Twitter, you just hit “unfollow.”  Better yet, you can “block” the creepy guy.

I offset common fears:

Twitter is not… Facebook updates.
… too much information.
… invasive,  annoying, or “too public.”

People give too much information. People are nosy, annoying, voyeuristic and exhibitionistic.

As I was explaining this to my friends, I realized the reason I liked Twitter so much was related to this.  People come out as they “really are” on the internet.  And better than your Facebook profile, better than “I’m so much cooler online:” Twitter is too small, too short, too brief to be fake. It’s too hard to lie over and over again in 140 characters, unless you’re a liar in real life too.

Here’s the other thing I like about Twitter: everybody starts out even.  My tweet has no inherent higher value that your tweet.  Everybody’s equal.  It’s democratic.

And when I say democratic, I mean it in the true sense of the word. It’s not a meritocracy nor is it a plutocracy nor an oligarchy. True democracy gives every citizen a voice.  Practical democracy means that some voices are louder than others.  If you’ve got more followers than I do, your tweets have more value.  If you have a preëxisting brand, they mean more than mine too. But if your provide information that your audience isn’t getting from any other source – you’re going to get promoted and word will spread like wildfire – even if before that you were a lowly college student at a previously unheard of university in Tehran. That word spreads far faster than in a modern democracy. Ah, the magic of the internet.

Perhaps in our day and age, electronic media immediately take on the characteristics of the society.  The ol’ US of A is not a true democracy, although she’s got her bright spots.  Perhaps Twitter is this way too.  The good news: no elected twitterers, no term limits, no campaign spending.  And you can turn someone off whenever you want to.  Maybe that’s what IRL democracy needs: a “Block” button.