i’ve had so much on my mind that i’ve wanted to get out, written down, since i got back from fest that i’m just now getting around to absorbing the fact that the fifth anniversary of katrina and the levee failures is right around the corner. i haven’t really let myself think about it all that much yet.
i’m not exactly sure what i’ll be doing on the 29th, the actual date of the anniversary, which is a sunday this year. i do know on the 27th and 28th, i hope to be simultaneously engaged and distracted by the goings-on of the rising tide conference, the annual so-called nola blogger conference. i went last year for the first time and really enjoyed it; it made me feel more connected to the online community here in nola, even though i only knew a handful of people in attendance and i didn’t really do much to introduce myself or meet many new folks. but i did pick up a whole new bunch twitter followers, as i brought my laptop with me and live-tweeted for much of the day, and in turn added dozens to my follow list… many of whom i’ve really enjoyed interacting with over this past year and have since met in real life. i think this year’s event is going to be huge, and i’m hoping i will be motivated to come out of my shell a little bit more and actually meet more people.
what to say about new orleans, five years after? i never really know how to answer the questions of “how’s new orleans doing?” i got asked that a bunch of times at festival. it’s a complicated question with a complicated answer, that, unless you are living here, is difficult to understand.
i read recently somewhere that my part of town, mid-city, is considered to be 95% “back,” whatever exactly that means. and if i look around my neighborhood, the immediate streets around me, on the surface, that seems to be true – particularly in my part of mid-city, near the cemeteries. life seems pretty normal and well-adjusted. but upon closer inspection, which i had the opportunity to do in my time with the census, as the first block i was assigned was my own, things are not always what they seem. as i walked my block and knocked on every door, i was amazed to learn that there were 12 vacant houses – some which had been sitting up since the storm, some of which were in some state of being repaired – in just my city block alone. (a city block means not just the side of the street i live on, but walking clockwise around all four streets of the plot of land that constitutes my block until i end up back at my house.) i have lived here for two years and i had never noticed there were so many empty houses!
so yeah. “back” means something different in different parts of town. of course, if you are uptown on the “sliver by the river” which did not suffer flooding for the most part, things might not look all that different than they did before the storm. much like the french quarter, which also did not flood. but if you are driving around, say, gentilly, or lakeview, or hollygrove – all neighborhoods i spent a LOT of time in while doing the census – you realize, recovery is a block by block thing. some blocks look great, and others are wastelands. many many empty lots where houses used to stand; many many dilapidated structures that really ought to be demolished but struggle to remain standing, mostly untouched since the storm; and many in-progress and recent renovations, for the lucky.
is the city functional again? well, probably slightly more functional, actually, than it was before… what with the new mayor working hard and the DOJ working to try to rehabilitate the NOPD. there is reason to be hopeful, though we’ve got a LONG way to go. but it’s hard to say unequivocally that new orleans is mostly “back” or that things are largely back to “normal.” because it really does depend on who you are, where you live, and what your circumstances are.
for me personally, it’s a mixed bag. on the surface, yes, i am “back” in the physical sense, living in new orleans, even in mid-city, two blocks down from my old apartment. i have a lovely home, a loving girlfriend, two cute cats and a dog. i’ve been able to pursue my dream of making my living as an artist/crafter for the past few years and have made a pretty good go of it – well, until the economy tanked. i’ve reconnected a little with many old friends and am slowly figuring out ways to become a contributing member of the community again. all in all, it would seem like the traumas of katrina have faded from my life, five years out.
but dig a little deeper, and well, life has its ups and downs. i find myself at a crossroads about my work/career life and my relationship with money, and i have sadly come to the realization that i’m lonelier now, being here in new orleans and not feeling terribly connected to those who were previously my closest friends, than when i lived in louisville and didn’t know anyone. it’s that proverbial “alone in a crowd” feeling, where i know so many of the people around me to some degree, having been part of this community since 1990, but don’t feel close really to anyone.
so the answer to whether i am personally “back” or not is… depends on which day you ask me. i don’t feel like i’ve managed to crawl back into my pre-k skin entirely and i fear i never will… but i’m working hard right now to transform the journey i’ve been on in the past five years into a better, new version of me, just like the city is trying to reimagine itself not simply as the city it was before the floods, but a new and improved city deeply rooted in its past but looking to the future.
the trick is to not get bogged down in what used to be and what has been lost, but to envision what can be, and what there is to look forward to.
wish me/us luck.