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.

5 thoughts on “k+5

  1. yes, i think the inability to connect with other people is one of the biggest hidden tolls of katrina. before the storm, i was so much more active in initiating contact with other people. and better able to have meaningful interactions. after the storm, luckily i had out-of-town friends to lend emotional support, because certainly none of my friends here were in a position to do so. only lately have i come out of this shell enough to even recognize the extent of the damage.

  2. i know we’ve talked about all this in person, but thanks for chiming in, kiki. and for getting me out of the house on friday night. let’s do more of that, ok? 🙂

  3. Mags,
    I really appreciate this post. As I travel for the farmers market, I get asked (well less and less) about New Orleans, I want to say a strong FINE but find myself shrugging and saying little.
    I think we faced a lot of old problems with this disaster, but some are so big we left them alone for fixing another time. Of course, having a fucked up mayor and dumber than dirt Council after K did not help. Maybe we lost a couple of years of activity with that asshole being in charge.
    As for my own life, I agree with the loneliness-Rebecca Solnit writes about the exuberance after disasters in her book “Paradise Built From Hell” which then means that when the original energy passes, it can be tough. and I recommend you read it (I have an extra copy if you’d like to borrow). The overwhelming work we had to do and still have to do to rebuild even the old messed up version is tremendous and you get tired of talking about it, so you just stop going out to talk about it.
    And the emotional baggage like Kiki talks about is still with us, yes.
    Add to that the amount of new people who are trying to build new stuff, much of which is good, but sometimes with little regard for the quality of life and old stuff that we want to try to regain and even more distance is created between. Cuz when you try to spend all of the money on infrastructure, people can get left out. Where is the help for artists, or farmers or fishers or backyard mechanics? Does every project HAVE to be about a new building or a new non-profit?
    So, I think it is a decade-long process for us to emerge from the initial mess and so that means we are only halfway through. And if you can, see it as a positive that we are all here and smiling. As we move forward, we’ll heal more and more.

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