Monday, August 24, 2015

For All the Things I Stole & All the Things I Gave Away

The more things change...with the current mainstream, national media fervor over the August 29 anniversary of She Who Shall Not Be Named, I once again have come to the point where I do not care to hear about New Orleans or the latter lady from anyone who has not met both (both)--the difference now being I no longer give a damn whether anyone finds that unfair.

The thing that has amazed me most, aside from the collective resilience* of us anniversary bearers, is the persistent tendency of people in this country to tell me about my own experience. It's hard to put into words how bizarre, dismissive and erasing I have found that over the past ten years.
*(I wrote this before seeing all this "resilience" sloganeering from the city of New Orleans; oh, well.)

Post-apocalypse, I have tried to do the telling, thanks, as I've been relieved and happy to see so many New Orleanians everywhere do.

It helps.

It helps with feeling like you've been talking & no sound is coming out

It helps with feeling like you've been talking & no sound is coming out

It helps with feeling like you've been talking & no sound is coming out

when people start telling you what this news station or this broadcaster said--and it's wrong just about every time, by the way, in the sense of being inaccurate, insensitive or both--without asking you, a person who was in Mississippi for the storm itself, if you even wanted to talk about it.

Or, if they did ask and you did want to talk about it, they did not ask you anything about what it was like--which could be construed as prying, granted, but what I kept picking up was this...distinct lack of curiosity or feeling and even the sense that on some level they thought if they let me talk about it for too long, I'd go crazy or become annoying or unpleasant. Probably part of the She Who Shall Not Be Named malady springs from our own defensiveness, our occasional too-harsh rants that we forget we've machine gunned out. However, there have been enough of these pursed lips and impatient stop-talking cues across American conversations, across American cities, that in this regard I've decided it's them, not me--not Us.

There are things no one who was not living in New Orleans from 2005 to 2007 knows, or will ever know, in part (in part) because there were enough times (to be eerie) that the non-anniversary-holders' reactions to hearing what little I did tell them were worse than mine while actually experiencing the events, just this gasping, this subconscious (I guess) attempt at distance: it can't happen to me, what happened to her, when what us anniversary holders know is it can and will happen to you, whether you think so or not. Two words: global warming. And another word: infrastructure.

Or later, there were those who'd take, with urgency, to telling you about some press coverage about "New Orleans and Katrina." No, well-meaning friend; No, passive-aggressive friend; No, media member: The chorus goes: Katrina and Mississippi; Levee failure and New Orleans: how many times have I said that? I understand this is an attempt to connect, but often these same people didn't read my writing on the experience, even when I sent it to them. Even though I reported for four publications in New Orleans at that time and kind of know some stuff. The larger narrative must be adhered to all costs for some, it would seem.

I'm from New York, but I was not around for September 11, though longstanding friends were and my father witnessed it. What I've always been interested in is not functioning as a spokesperson regarding something I did not experience, but hearing about it from people who were there and who wanted to talk about it-- most often in the form of the unfiltered emails I received from friends who described moments like walking the streets downtown and finding them lined with photos of missing or lost or dead citizens. I wasn't trolling for material, bro and so their secrets stayed safe with me: I won't be executive producing a single one.

It would not have even occurred to me to start telling anyone who went through September 11, on the ground, a damn thing about September 11.

It would not have even occurred to me

It would not have even occurred to me

Also, I can't help but notice this...schism in the near reverent tones people in Los Angeles spoke with me about September 11 and New York while I was in grad school here, versus the way people in every neighborhood I've lived in since She Who Shall Not Be Named have spoken to me about She Who Shall Not Be Named and New Orleans.

The devastation

The devastation

The devastation, the hushed aghast voice of a colleague back East once shuddered to me through the phone, New Orleans being sight unseen to her as I looked out the kitchen window at my own view of rubble and burned-down homes, a sight I had to accept to continue, for as long as I was able to continue, which was pressed to the limit in the brief-forever span of that year and a half, with burned views being the least of my fears. At any rate,

the media tarring of New Orleans really took for a lot of Americans who didn't have to accept either staying or leaving in order to continue at what became a base molecular level, taunted under the national spotlight all the while.

I guess.

The uglier components of it all are a vicious moat around the whole subject, the whole society.

These are just some thoughts on all this.
They'll probably be some more.

I'm reluctant to even post this in a way because people take it personally, like it's something they've said: no, it's ten years of accumulated...debris no one person could be responsible for, 'course, the volume being the issue. And for me, the difficulty has come from the consistency of these comments I talk about, of these media framings, of these American tendencies, say. As a culture, it seems to me we have this weird, almost puritanical and just unsustainable pattern of treating people like they're crazy for talking about these things or for showing emotions. Unless this talk is channeled through the removed, the hyper aghasts licking their lips behind desks behind cameras (I guess). But for a real live actual human, what's the alternative? Be talked about or at? It could all go in circles forever, which may be my greatest fear of all.


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