Reverse Phoenix – Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years Later

by Angeliska on August 29, 2015

I started writing this three years ago, but I was so broken towards the end of summer in 2012 that the things I so desperately wanted to express wouldn’t come together. My whole life was falling apart, again. I was returning to an empty shell of house, after my relationship imploded. I thought it might help to try and write about everything that had lead me to this place, but it was too much to process, to hard to understand at the time. I sat alone on the cracked asphalt, a handful of disparate fragments of thoughts and words slipping through my fingers like mercury. Those mirrored globules have continued to roll around in a dusty drawer at the back of my mind, making a lot of noise. I have taken them out and looked and them again and again over the past few years, but never have been able to say the magic words that would help them coagulate into what I really wanted to express. It’s like a spell, a secret incantation – writing. Trying to dredge up the memory and knowledge and understanding from the seaweedy shipwreck groaning in the murky water of your own heart. Those silvery eels slip in and out through the wreckage: elusive, full of stories, truths, wisdom. I’m going to try to catch them here, and let them speak.

The 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this year is attracting all the expected media hullabaloo, of course. It’s a marker that some people want to examine, and some do not. I understand that. I need to, though – because I haven’t been able to write about it for so long, and in that time, I’ve come to understand more deeply all the ways that this event completely altered the course of my life, my entire reality. The effects of it altered me profoundly: body, mind and soul. A decade feels very heavy. It’s hard, to really look clearly at who I was, where I was, back in 2005. 26 years old, shell-shocked, about to begin my Saturn Return. I didn’t know myself. I was completely lost. It’s a lot to reckon with. Circles and loops, always returning to the place that my heart never left, this day when everything changed, forever.

The storm stole so much from us when she tore through the Gulf of Mexico, and crawled onto the land we called home. She stole lives, she stole homes, whole neighborhoods, communities, families, pets, lovers and friends. She stole a certain innocence, a trust that can never be regained. We say Katrina, a woman’s name. They call ships and cities and storms all: she. We have this tendency to anthropomorphize both the city and her destructor into larger than life females, brutally cat-fighting to the death. We call the monster she: storm goddess, mother nature’s wrath, Yemaya and Oya wrestling, unleashing the fury of the earth and ocean scorned by human hubris. But it was man’s neglect, greed, and uncaring that made the disaster so unbelievably devastating. The storm was bad, very bad. What happened after could have been avoided, could have been so different. Before August of 2005, I still had some reason to believe that the center could, and would hold. When things fell apart, I started to see, and could never un-see that harsh truth. The cracks had been there, for a long time – but I wanted so much to believe. I wanted to believe that the government truly cared for its people, its citizens – and would do whatever it took to protect them if disaster threatened their lives, their homes. I wanted to believe that houses were sturdy things, that wood and walls and windows could be enough to provide shelter from the storm. It was only after I saw these things dismantled, only after the chaos and confusion had settled, that I realized these structures were flimsy protection from any real threat, from nature, from chaos.

This was the hardest lesson, for me. That everything I believed in, trusted, depended on – could fall apart so horribly. Living with that, sitting with that knowledge: the truth of impermanence, the myth of security, has been at the root of my story for the past ten years.

Reverse Phoenix

This is the beloved taxidermied peacock that I lost in the storm. Reverse Phoenix. It lay sodden in the flotsam and debris of my bombed-out parlor, and I left it for dead – deemed it too wet and moldy to try and salvage. Someone else did, though. A dead thing, once revived, and revived again. I had given it up for good, and then came back to me, unexpectedly. I tried to make a new place for it in the home I’m creating, but it really is disintegrating now, at a rapid pace. A thick dust drifts from it, silting everything in its vicinity. The once proud plumage has lost its iridescent sheen, and the long tail-feathers fall to the floor in chunks. It might be time for this drowned phoenix to be laid to rest. Go home to the ground. Bury the bird and plant a tree. A creature of the air, conceived in fire, drowned in the water, consigned to the earth.

The first Mardi Gras after the storm, we came back – to dance and revel and reconnect in the streets we loved. I dressed as a phoenix in crimson and copper, rising from the ashes. It was a perfect day, and I saw so much joy on the faces of the friends I loved, faces I hadn’t seen since before the hurricane. It was a reunion, a homecoming. We ignored the judgments of the foolish pundits on the news who said that there should be no Mardi Gras that year. That to sing and dance and laugh in sequins and masks would be frivolous, disrespectful. How dare we be anything but beaten down? If New Orleans taught me anything (and she has taught me lots), it’s that in the face of death we must sing and dance. It’s all we have. Everything can be lost – it will all go away. What endures is love. The hokey-pokey is, in fact, what it’s all about.

For those who left the city, and even for many of those who stayed, the challenge has been to keep dancing – to keep that joy in our hearts, despite all the fear, all the sadness. The body count on the statistics for how many people died in the storm does not count the suicides, the people who could not take it anymore, and saw no way out. It doesn’t count the people who drank themselves to death, or overdosed, in desperation and despair. It does not count the people who were murdered by other people who were also traumatized, lost, had nothing else to lose of themselves. Hurt people hurt people. The struggle to survive, to endure, has gone on – these past ten years. The phoenix didn’t really rise from the ashes. There was no fiery triumphant burst, a wild and bright bird taking to the sky, rampant against dark clouds. No. The phoenix drowned in the dirty water. It had to go all the way down to the bottom and find what was lost there, before it could rise back up into the air. Survival sometimes means that we surrender, that we give ourselves over to forces larger and more ancient than we are. There is wisdom in the water of the heart, in the tears that flow down our faces, in facing the pain and the overwhelming tides of emotion that threatens to rise up and subsume us. The tidal waves and floodwaters of dark feeling: terror, loss, confusion. The dark water won’t begin to recede until we are willing to dive into its depths. We learned to swim by drowning.

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“If you set out in this world,
better be born seven times.
Once, in a house on fire,
once, in a freezing flood,
once, in a wild madhouse,
once, in a field of ripe wheat,
once, in an empty cloister,
and once among pigs in sty.
Six babes crying, not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.

When you must fight to survive,
let your enemy see seven.
One, away from work on Sunday,
one, starting his work on Monday,
one, who teaches without payment,
one, who learned to swim by drowning,
one, who is the seed of a forest,
and one, whom wild forefathers protect,
but all their tricks are not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.”

The Seventh (A hetedik), by Attila József

I look back now at a lot of the decisions I made after the hurricane about my life. 2005 had already been a very rough year for me, even before Katrina. There was a lot of death, a lot of heartbreak. I was feeling at a dead-end in New Orleans, and even though I had a great job, a sweet boyfriend, and a beautiful place to live, I felt like something was missing. I was stagnating, and still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no real prospects, no projects, and everyone around me seemed to be intent on unwittingly recreating drunken scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire. There was a lot of drama, sordid love affairs gone wrong, and way too much yelling. A month before Katrina, a minor hurricane named Cindy hit the city with 70mph winds and the worst blackout since Betsy, 40 years before. I wrote about that experience back in 2010, if you want to read the full account – but that storm brought an awakening for me. Sitting on my balcony in the morning amid the broken glass and oak branches, with the radiant dawn breaking over a miraculously calm city, I knew that it was time to go, time to leave the beloved city I had called home since 1999. I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t want to. Being afraid in a city constantly on the verge of natural disaster had taken a toll on me. That constant looking over your shoulder, the way you learn to do after many years there – ready for the next threat. Every hurricane season brought that inevitable question: to evacuate or not? Which option would be worse? It was always a crap-shoot, either way, and that roll of the dice brought stress and worry no matter how things landed. It was time to go, and I knew it. I wrote a letter to my folks saying that I was thinking I’d like to move back to Texas and go to school – maybe after one more Mardi Gras. Who knows if I actually would’ve done it, had Katrina not made my decision for me. I had moved to New Orleans a couple years after high school, thinking I might try and go to Tulane there – but I had no money, and no real idea of what to study. There was an attractive linguistics program in Austin at UT where I thought I might like to delve into Slavic Languages and study Romani culture in the amazing program there. I was desperate for something, anything that might lift me out of the doldrums where I’d gotten stuck. I had left Austin at the beginning of its boom, because my beloved hometown was beginning to change at a rapid pace. I wanted to live somewhere where things stayed the same, for a long time – where buildings weren’t torn down just because they were old and in disrepair. It took me seven years to realize that so much of the preservation in New Orleans had occurred because there was simply no money to build anything newer, shinier, uglier. Things stayed the same, sometimes in a beautiful way. Traditions went on, family names carried forward, buildings built before the turn of the century continued to endure. Until Katrina. She took a fat fist and slammed it into the belly of the city – sending all those pieces flying. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Half a house

I see now clearly, looking back at the story of my life, how dearly I clung to any kind of stability. I’ve never done all that well with change, though I learned to become “adaptable”. The thing was, I never really had much of choice. My childhood was a train-wreck of illness, death, and sudden moves. After the storm, I was set adrift in the deluge, clutching at the shattered shards of anything that might keep me afloat. I needed a life-raft, a piece of driftwood, someone to hold in the long dark night, and a home. I was so blindly hungry for safety, for security, I didn’t much question where I found it, or how much pressure I put on it to keep me above water. Two months after the storm I fell head over heels with someone who seemed to me to be the most solid, dependable, trust-worthy person I could ever wish for. To me, for a very long time, he was all of those things. But we see what we want to see. The irony is, looking back – I think he fell for me because he saw someone strong, an indomitable woman, a tough survivor. And I was that, sometimes. But even I couldn’t recognize how deeply broken I was at the time, how much help I needed. I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t go to therapy. I went and got acupuncture at the Academy of Oriental Medicine from a wonderful master who treated me (and anyone from New Orleans suffering from PTSD) for free. He taught me Qi Gong and advised me not to get another job right away, or quit smoking (I did both) and to try and laugh, to watch lots of funny movies (his recommendation: Steve Martin, The Jerk). Instead, I watched Sophie’s Choice. I cried a lot.

Helen Keller wrote that “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” This woman, who could neither see nor hear, understood something that the rest of us who happen to be blessed with functional senses rarely do. That safety is an illusion. We are all so eager to latch on to some kind of structure, something to depend on. I was intent on finding something that I could trust to be there, trust to exist. I thought I had found it.

After enough terrible experiences as a renter with no rights in New Orleans, (that culminated in being completely S.O.L. after the storm ripped my roof off), it occurred to me that buying a house was one of the only ways to ensure that I could never again be evicted by shady landlords who wanted to jack up the rent, or have to dwell in a state of dangerous disrepair, all the while paying somebody else’s mortgage. I won’t go into all the details that accompany the saga of buying a house, or the various vagaries of homeownership here, but let’s just say that I have learned a lot of things about what a house is really made of in the last ten years, and what it really takes to make a place a home. I don’t think I really understood what a house was before I saw mine taken apart, deconstructed by water, wind, and mold. All the houses I grew up in were for the most part, concrete slab pre-fab shit-shacks, though I doubt I really registered it at the time. I’ve always been attracted to old houses, to their steadiness, holding up through the decades, despite the inexorable march of time. I fall in love with Victorian houses, ones with long tall windows, with attics and gingerbread and widow’s walks. Shabby mansions with creaking cupolas, and storybook bungalows with stained glass and cedar shingles. I liked the idea of old houses, with their history embedded deep into their walls and floors. I lived in places that were falling apart, with no air-conditioning and leaks in the ceiling, but they had crystal chandeliers and marble fireplaces. They had a sense of grandeur. The first week I spent as a resident of New Orleans, barely 20 years old, staying in an old brick walled building that overlooked the French Market. It was a picturesque view, but you couldn’t see it from up on the top floor in the windowless loft of my new housemate, eccentric artist of some kind who had generously shared his last half-joint of skanky skunkweed with me. I remember that feeling of being suddenly uncomfortably high with a total stranger, one who was describing the history that had taken place just beyond his bedroom walls: shiploads of slaves being unloaded on the docks. He described to me the auctions had been held there, and it was as if I could hear the voices calling, crying, buying. I realized suddenly that I had just moved to a place where I was going to be constantly surrounded by reminders of the painful past, and the ghosts of those people who were kidnapped from their homeland and sold like animals, worse than animals. I had never been surrounded by that energy so viscerally before. Everything was so old, so saturated with the shades of a people heinously wronged. My eyes goggled, trying to focus in on the glowing tip of the roach my housemate was waving around trying to make a point. He handed it off to me, and scratched a finger along the brickwork behind my head: opening up his palm to show me a pile of dust, “Horsehair and mud. Human hair, dirt and moss. Whatever came to hand – that’s what this whole city is held together with, darlin’. This is the mortar that holds the bricks of all these old buildings together.” On so many different levels, my mind was blown. I had never really thought about any of this before. What a place is made of. The mud and blood soaked into all the cracks, the history in everything you can touch and so much you can’t.

What is a house made of? Plaster and wood, brick and nails, wires and pipes and lots and lots of insulation. What holds it together, keeps it standing upright, keeps it intact? A floor and walls and a ceiling. A roof. A house is what keeps you safe from the elements, from danger. It keeps the rain out and the warmth in. Until it doesn’t anymore. Seeing my house turned inside out, blackened fiberglass spilling from the where the plaster had slid of in sheets, like those ash snakes you get from the fireworks stand. You expect a house to withstand, to endure. At least I did, once. What is a relationship made of? It’s made of you and me and love and trust, fire and time, touch and tears and so many stories. I wanted to take an idea like home at face value. I took the idea of love for granted. Of course this house will keep us safe forever. It will always be here, until long after we are gone – and we will always be together. A person can be a home. The heart can be a house. I love you and you love me and that should be enough. Isn’t it? I didn’t question these things before. It didn’t occur to me to look deeper, to take more responsibility. Until I had to. I really thought that buying a house and getting married was going to save me, anchor and root me down to earth so I didn’t float away. I thought that this house and this man would keep me from drowning, keep me safe and sane. I jumped aboard that raft and clung on for dear life. I needed so much, and I had so little. I see now that there was no way for even the strongest, steadiest partner to be the savior, the knight in shining armor who would rescue me. The lost child in me wanted to be taken care of, protected. I know now that it wasn’t fair or realistic for me to expect that from anyone but myself. The pressure was too much, and eventually, cracks began to form. I put on a good face for everyone, including myself – but it’s only now that I can look back and see how truly lost I was then. There’s a lot of that period of my life that I have no memory of. I was so checked out when we bought the house that I couldn’t see what an enormous project we had taken on. It was insane, and I was completely naive about what it would take to make the huge abandoned crack-house we had just purchased into a proper home. It had walls, and ceilings and a roof – so, I thought that that was enough. I imagined that all it would take would be few coats of paint, some plaster in patches, and we’d be ready to decorate in no time. Or, you could just take a sledgehammer to those old walls, deconstruct the thing into an empty shell – and walk away, leaving it half finished, less than. Nearly ten years later, I’m still living in a half-gutted shell, alone. What will it take to make it whole? I’m learning, piece by piece. Nail by nail. Ten years later, and I’m still rebuilding. It’s done a number on me – not having the security of a finished home for so long. Trying to heal in a place where the vines grow inside in summer and the cold wind blows through the cracks in winter. Towards the end of our relationship, I tried to explain to my partner how badly it was affecting me, to live in such a state of chaos for so long – when all I wanted after Katrina was a home to feel safe and secure in. He responded by saying that he thought I’d be into living in a gutted old wreck – because after all, “It’s just like New Orleans.” We called off the wedding not long after.

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Intimacy – Kenne Gregoire, 2011

This painting came to me in the midst of all that pain and confusion, and it spoke to me deeply. That sense of clinging to each other, both unable to let go. The vulnerability of being so naked, so hungry. This image pierced through the fog of delusion I had been wandering in, and told me something about love. That it’s not what I thought it was. I thought that fantasy was what I needed – that it would save me. But that’s not how it works. You have to be ready. You have to be equal to it, approaching your partner with a full cup, and their’s full as well. To truly join forces, as allies, as equals. Not both walking wounded, looking to the other for some kind of solution, some kind of salvation. There are no quick fixes – and if you’re looking for security, another constantly changing, evolving, growing human being might not be your best bet.

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.

― Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

I fell in love again, after the apocalypse of that long relationship had ended. And, after many fits and starts and stops, that ended too – more or less. I had tried to do the same thing, made the same mistakes again. I didn’t know how to do anything else but beg, “Please fix me. Mend my heart. Put my house back together. Make me whole again.” He tried to, with some success – but that’s still not how it works, not really. It’s not somebody else’s job to fix me. It’s mine. Only I can put myself back together, supply all the missing pieces, forgive what’s lost forever. All we can do is try, and sometimes we fail. We huddle close together in the dark, and we learn things from each other.

That man said to me the other day, “I don’t think I understand what intimacy is.” So I tried to explain it to him, as I understood it. I said, “Intimacy is when you tell someone the truth about yourself, all the hardest truths, including your dark and scary secrets and the bad things you’ve done, and all the things that might make someone run away from you screaming – like you did the first night we ever talked alone, but instead I drew closer, and wanted to know you more. Intimacy is all the times we woke up curled around each other holding hands. It’s every time we cried together, or held each other’s gaze as our bodies moved together as one, every time we laughed loud and long at the same thing. It’s the kind of closeness that lets your nakedness be seen, in the bright light of day – every flaw, every scar, bump or errant hair is illuminated in that gaze – made holy. Intimacy is having someone see you as you truly are, and accepts what they see. It is laying in bed reading together, not needing to talk, but occasionally catching one other’s eyes, reaching out to stroke your hip under the quilt. This kind of closeness can happen with someone who knows you almost better than you know yourself, someone who is always turning towards you, even in the hardest moments, instead of pulling away.

A poem by Yehuda Amichai, for the Days of Awe. This came to me with a note from my friend Jonathan Tel that said:
“One of his I have by heart, in Hebrew. My translation.”

elohai, haneshama shenatata bi/ hi ashan/ mesrayfat tamid shel zikhronot ahava./ anu noladim umiyad matkhilim lisrof/ v’khakh ad sheha’ashan c’ashan yikhleh

My God, the soul You gave me
is smoke
from the never-ending burning of memories of love.
We are born and straight away we have them
to burn, and on and on
until the smoke like smoke dies.

Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_Millet_(II)_-_The_Gleaners_-_WGA15691

After Katrina, I had only the salvageable belongings that could fit in the smallest U-haul trailer. Books, mostly – miraculously unharmed, though I lost almost everything else. What else do you need? Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I have both, but all those books still live in boxes stacked to the ceiling, ten years later. I didn’t have much to hang on the walls, so it meant a lot when my Aunt Ruth brought me her print of The Gleaners, a painting by Jean-Francois Millet that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay. It depicts three peasant women gleaning what they could from the empty fields after the harvest. She said to me, “We come from a long line of tough old birds. Texas women who survived wars and the Great Depression, eking out an existence out of whatever they could cobble together. You are strong and resourceful. You will come through this.” I thought of that painting when I went back to New Orleans to sifting through the morass of my blasted bedroom, pulling the remnants of my jewelry box out of the rubble. I thought of those peasants, and the country women I come from, gleaning sustenance from the earth, treasures from the dirt, gems of wisdom from the sewer of experience.

Around the time my relationship was disintegrating, I consulted a $300 an hour astrologer in a frantic bid for answers, or anything she could tell me that might help me make sense of the awful mess my life had become. Over the phone from California, She told me: “It looks like in your last life, you lost everything.” Maybe that’s the reason why I had to go through so much loss again in this life. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I think I understand the lesson now. I’m getting better at reckoning with impermanence, with finally letting go. When everything falls apart, there’s a tendency to want to cling hard to whatever you can, whatever comes to hand. I did this, for years after the storm. Kept every little scrap, all the broken pieces, too scared to throw anything away. What if I needed it later? Many people who become hoarders have suffered a trauma, or some kind of major blow to their sense of stability. I could see myself becoming like the old ragpicker puppet lady in the movie Labyrinth – surrounded by bits and bobs and teetering piles of junk. My relationship to stuff, to objects is finally changing. I don’t need it anymore. I don’t want it. I’ll probably never be a minimalist, but I’m becoming a lot more intentional about what I choose to keep around me. I am changing, in ways I never imagined I could. I’m finally healing. There are so many stories from this storm. The only one I have is my own – but I encourage you to seek out others. There are people who lost it all, everything they own sunk deep in muddy water – people who lost not only their homes, but their families, their children. So much loss. Mine seems paltry in comparison, but I stand with them, in sorrow and with compassion.

The day after tomorrow, I have to get a tooth removed. Losing a tooth feels worrisome. Having it out feels like a failure. A week ago, it started to fall apart – a piece of the tooth got loose, wiggled disturbingly, and then came out. The day after that, I spit the amalgam filling into my hand. This was like having those bad dreams about your teeth falling out of your head come to life. Oh, shattered remnants of Molar #2, you poor old bastard – cowering hunched in my jaw towards the back and out of sight. I always called it my Katrina tooth. It had given me trouble since before the storm – getting infected after a filling went bad. I remember vividly, racing my bike down Esplanade, across Bayou St. John, trying to beat a massive summer storm on my way to LSU Dental School to get a root canal. The dark clouds loomed up over the ivy-tangled mansions like a behemoth. I had an appointment to get the crown placed on August 29th, 2005, the day Katrina hit. Exactly ten years ago, today. Needless to say, I didn’t make that appointment. I always imagined my dentist’s office underwater, and the little porcelain tooth with my name on it rolling around in the murk. I never had it replaced – just left the empty lot with a jagged stump that eventually became too small to attach anything to. It will be strange to have a smooth expanse of gum back there, instead of the little gravestone that my tongue visits often. An era is ending for me, and I’m ready for it. Ready to put some of this pain to bed, ready to not wake up with a metallic taste in my mouth, bitter dreams fading. When I go back to New Orleans, there is so much I don’t recognize. The city I thought would never change finally has. There are a lot of people who weren’t there before the storm. There are so many people who left and never came back, or who died, or who I never saw or heard from again. Displaced, dislocated – like an arm still out of socket. I walk into bars now and don’t recognize anyone. The easy familiarity that welcomed me home has shifted. There’s a strange territorialism, mostly from people who’ve only lived there a couple years – the ones who don’t get how it’s supposed to work. They give me a side-eyed glare like I’m some tourist, an interloper. It was always a transient town – people came and went, and you never took it too personally. It feels different now, people are less gentle with each other, strangely. More guarded. One of the most precious things to me about New Orleans was that people would always greet you on the street, take a minute to say “Hey, how you doin’?” – I hope the new people will learn how to do that, too. I hope that the people who didn’t come back have taught the folks in their new towns how it’s done. I know I try to always make a point of it. My friends who still live there have never, not once, stopped telling me how much what I am, what I do, is needed there. How much I’m missed. It’s hard to want to be in two places at once. It’s hard not to be able to contribute more. The ones who stayed, they’ve held down the fort these ten long years. Been through so much shit, unimaginable horror and nightmare and nonsense. They stuck it out from sheer stubbornness, badassery, and the knowledge that they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. On this full moon, I raise my glass to them, and their strong spirits. I’m hosting a gathering at my house tonight, the first in a long time: it’s a story circle with tales and music on the theme of homecoming, profundity, and migration. I want to gather together to honor and remember the lives lost and irrevocably changed by the storm and all that came after. There will be an altar for moon offerings, and for reverence to the spirit of New Orleans and all her children, lost and found. I’m co-hosting with my friend Olivia Pepper, a magical witch who wrote these wise words today:

“Tonight is the full moon in Pisces. The moon is close to the earth tonight, as if yearning for our company, as if leaning in to listen. The meaning of this moon is emotional overflow, a deluge, a profound depth of feeling, and also a homecoming, a cellular knowledge that is deep as bones and buried far down like diamonds in the heavy earth. The message from the moon says:’Somehow, my friends, you are going to have to save yourselves.’

Not save the world, mind you, as the world will persist without us: the fires will burn out by themselves, and the slow progress of unhindered eons will do the work of purifying the rivers, balancing the air, dissolving our traces from this good earth, birthing new flowers. What birds and butterflies survive our time and evolve in our wake won’t remember our sins; they’ll not recall our anger, our fear, our deep simmering resentment, our scornful apathy toward bloodshed and loss.

But if we want to see these new flowers bloom, if we want to chart the glorious unfolding of new life in our world, we are going to have to save ourselves. We are going to have to clean the muck of hatred from around our hearts like cleaning oil from a waterbird’s feathers. We are going to have to battle our ugly fury like those fighting the wildfires in the west (and later, just like them, find ways to allow the fires to burn cleanly, naturally, truthfully – your anger is a purifying force – you must use it carefully and reverently). We are going to have to contain our shame and self-hatred like containing a spill in a river, so that it doesn’t pollute the larger body. And we are going to have to make gentle preserves where love and vulnerability can flourish like rare plants and soft-bellied salamanders, places where we can show kindness and fraternity without fear.

Stewardship, of ourselves and of the larger world, is our only path to survival. Start with yourself, because you must do that first; but start soon, because time runs short.”


Ladybabymiss and the Tigermen – Answer The Call

“Some of us rise
like a moon,
like a tide.

Some of us rise,
like the sun,
like the heat from a fire.

Some of us fall,
Some of us answer the call
and some of us burn.

Some of us fight,
some of us crawl,
some of us learn,
and some of us shine.

We are all.
Here we are.”

☂ I was invited to share my story in a local magazine this month with six other Katrina survivors, including dear friends Paul Soileau and Arthur Simone: WEATHERING THE STORM from Austin Monthly

It’s the 10th anniversary of Katrina, and I don’t know how to feel by Anne Gisleson

Gentrification’s Ground Zero – In the ten years since Katrina, New Orleans has been remade into a neoliberal playground for young entrepreneurs.

SOUR TIMES REVISITED – by Clayton Cubitt in the preface to this piece, Clayton mentions an interesting book called Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina Paperback – by Cynthia Joyce. I met and became close with Clayton, and so many other New Orleans folks who I might never have connected with had blogging not become a way to share and exchange information after the storm. Writing here definitely became my lifeline, and I’ve talked to many people ove th years who have told me that they became aware of what was really happening down there from reading the pieces I wrote here. I’m happy that someone wrote a book about this phenomenon.

My friend Aubrey wrote and photographed this awesome article for Vice about How Katrina Sparked a Black Skateboarding Renaissance in New Orleans

☂ My friend and writing teacher, Abe Louise Young, created an incredible repository of stories gathered from Katrina survivors after the storm: Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project
The legacy of how this project came into being, and how it was almost lost forever was featured in an Austin Chronicle interview: Documenting Disaster – Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project

The UT Libraries Katrina Memory Map collects the memories of people who experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand. It was created in conjunction with the UT Libraries’ Katrina & Memory event commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. You are invited to share your memories on their map, and have the option of additionally sharing your memories with the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank.

☂ Here’s a source for even more collections of Katrina-Related Oral History Projects, more than I even knew existed. There is power and truth here, in all these stories. It is worth your time to sit with them.

If you’ve still got it in you, here’s some collected writings
about my experiences with Hurricane Katrina,
in reverse chronological order. Dig in:

6 YEARS ON – FRAGMENTS + WET FEATHERS

Storms – 5 Years

Hurricane Katrina: Four Years Later

New Orleans in August

One Year

Lower Ninth Aftermath

MARDI GRAS APRÈS L’ORAGE

AFTERMATH: REVELATIONS

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT CAN’T GET ANY WORSE

Calamity

The Triumph of Death

What can you do?

Katrina

5 comments

“We learned to swim by drowning.”

so, so powerful. thank you so much for sharing your story. i love you so much.

by lau on August 29, 2015 at 3:09 pm. #

Angeliska, I loved reading this and you write so well that I gobbled up all your words. Thank you for sharing it.

by Jennifer on August 29, 2015 at 6:30 pm. #

This is all so beautifully woven and written. Your telling of the moment when you realize that your partner is only able to imagine you in the state that they found you….oof. It is better to re-imagine yourself alone and move forward than to stagnate with someone else, no matter how dear they are or how strong your craving for stability may be. It moved me deeply and made me remember how that felt when I ended my child bride marriage. I have never been able to articulate it so well as you though.

by Erin Orr on August 29, 2015 at 10:55 pm. #

Beautiful piece, dear. I think you pulled your experiences of longing for security and all the fear that accompanies it together quite nicely. Thank you, it’s a common thread we all share and struggle against. This months moon was especially potent, I’m glad you mentioned it. We spent our last night at the beach gazing out at the impossibly high tide on the marsh under the luminous, low, full moon. I thought of you. Xo

by Dana on August 31, 2015 at 4:16 am. #

Thank you so much for writing this. <3!

by LP on September 5, 2015 at 7:06 am. #

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