I’d like to present a pertinent letter from an old friend of mine.
Six Questions for the NRA on Scribd
Note: I met Jeff Moebus back in pre-Katrina New Orleans through the Green Party.
I’d like to present a pertinent letter from an old friend of mine.
Six Questions for the NRA on Scribd
Note: I met Jeff Moebus back in pre-Katrina New Orleans through the Green Party.
(Since people always ask, I feel obligated to note that no one has ever been charged in her murder.)
Recently I got some good news from Dr. Paul G.: In collaboration with Colorlab of Maryland (and with assistance from Trixy and Randall, Lecie, Becky Lewis, and Courtney Egan) a bunch of Helen’s films have been transferred to a digital format and are now available for online viewing. The set even includes the first film she ever made on her own, at age 12 (1982), “The House of Sweet Magic”.
You can see ’em here:
I rented a car and drove west. All by myself. I drove and drove and drove until I got to Austin, Texas. And I thought to myself, how uncharacteristic. I felt like I hadn’t done anything like this before, at least not for a very long time.
There was a reason for this pilgrimage, of course. Over thirty years ago, a woman named Lisa and a man named Brendan began a musical collaboration in Melbourne, Australia. Later they moved to London. For the better part of two decades they made amazing music together under the name Dead Can Dance. Then they broke up in 1998. During all that time, I never heard them, never even knew of them. They got back together for a world tour in 2005, but I was still entirely ignorant. I only discovered them around the time my daughter was born. To say I found their music transformative would be an understatement. They’re the only act in recent memory that I would actually want to see live — and they aren’t even together anymore.
Except now they are. When they announced a new album and a new tour, I bought tickets at the first opportunity. The closest they got to New Orleans was Atlanta. I opted for Austin, which is almost as close, but home to many more friends, even some relatives.
That was some six months ago. Xy thought I was crazy and vehemently disapproved. If Hurricane Isaac had come a week later, we might have evacuated to Austin and everything would have worked out nicely. As it was, we were just getting back to normal and it didn’t feel quite right to run off. I mailed my tickets to PJ in Austin. Then I talked to Xy; she’d had a change of heart and wanted me to go, with her blessing.
So I went. PJ came to see the show with me.
And the show was really good.
After the show we stopped to see some of PJ’s friends and jammed until the wee hours of the morning.
I spent the night at PJ’s house. It was great to see Andrea and the kids.
The next day I drove back home. In total I was only gone 32 hours, I think. I felt bad about burning all that gas just to move my body a thousand miles. If I’d had my act together I might have car-pooled with some other fans. But I’m glad I made the trip.
If my recent posts have made it seem like Isaac was all fun and games, well, that only reflects my own personal experience. Other people experienced it differently. If your house flooded or a tree fell on you, for example, your experience was probably pretty negative. Even in our house, we had different experiences. Xy was pretty aggravated by the whole thing.
To honor these divergent experiences, I offer a text message I got from our friend James, after three days without electricity.
Sent: Aug 31, 2012 7:33 PM
I had some punks try 2 break in2 my car last night, then the bar across from me was robbed-where’s the damn power-this city blows-ineptness everywhere! Screw it!
The next evening, a few minutes after we got our power back, we exchanged texts again, and I asked him if he had electricity yet. His reply:
Sent: Sep 1, 2012 9:13 PM
Of course not-maybe by Christmas & I’m sure those cretins @ Entershitgy will charge me an extra fee somehow-they probably will call it a not having power service fee-they suck!
I think his sense of exasperation comes through quite clearly.
Even more succinctly, Karen Gadbois summed up the experience for many:
Time for my nightly shower in the dark then dousing with bug repellant, later I will listen to the drone of a neighbors generator
— Karen Gadbois (@kareng) September 1, 2012
Lots of people had a perfectly miserable time. Some of them still are. And I haven’t even mentioned the flooding.
So remember how I said we were heading out — buggin’ — evacuating?
That didn’t happen.
We were planning to go, but the hurricane parties here were just too good to resist.
Actually the real reason is that our anticipated path was looking worse and worse for a return drive. Of course we could have gone west, or east, but straight north was where we wanted to go, and that wasn’t looking very smart. Personally I was inclined to stay here anyhow. Xy was vacillating, changing her mind every twenty minutes or so. Realizing we’d need to drive back through the storm to return home sealed the decision.
Watching The Theologians this weekend reminded me: I finished work on another movie earlier this summer and never wrote about it. It’s a five minute animated version of the Old Testament.
Believe it or not, this took me five years to complete. If I’d cleared my desk and worked on nothing else it probably would have taken a month but of course I have other responsibilities. In fact this lay untouched for years at a time. So it felt really good to get this one done.
The script and voiceover are by that notorious maverick bible scholar, Dr. Michael Homan, author of The Bible for Dummies and chief dude over at BibleDudes.com. He also does more traditional scholarly work, primarily debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
In that vein, I’m sure Dr. Homan would shudder at my terminology. I refer to the “Old Testament” so Christians like my aunt will key in immediately. However that term is not really accurate. After all, the text is also sacred to the Jews, and I imagine they don’t appreciate calling it the Old Testament. But you have to admit the Old/New distinction was some brilliant marketing on the part of the early Christians — to say nothing of changing the order of the books.
Anyhow, the correct title of this movie is The Bible Dudes’ Like Way Cool Tanak Summary Movie Thingie.
This one’s got a lot of academic in-jokes that are over my untutored head, but if you watch carefully you’ll see me in one brief scene, along with Xy and Persephone who are particularly adorable.
I also provided vocals for the theme song. Please don’t hold that against me.
Michael said he values this movie mostly as a sort of elaborate snapshot, a time capsule if you will, capturing the essence of a circle of friends at a particular moment. A number of Bloomingtonians have described the first season of ROX same way.
It’s great to have creative friends.
Since I don’t get back to Bloomington often, I made a point of getting together with folks.
I was mighty excited to see the Transit of Venus this past Tuesday. I set up a tiny mirror on a tripod in our back yard, which reflected the image of the sun through our kitchen and down a short hall into my darkened office.
This is called the reflected pinhole method, which is a safe and simple way to observe solar events.
Just excavated an old paper, not by me but about me — check it out.
A few months ago I had the decidedly bittersweet pleasure of viewing Helen’s final film, The Florestine Collection, which was completed by her husband Paul Gailiunas. A true labor of love, the final product is a really fine piece of cinema. It was a trip to chat briefly with Paul at the screening, as I never thought I’d see him in this city again. I regret I wasn’t able to spend more time catching up with him, but parental responsibilities intervened.
I suppose this would be a fitting time to mention that ROX #96 is finally complete. (Read my production notes if you are not clear on the connection.) We’ve broken the episode into three parts for online viewing. Part 1 touches on Helen’s passing. Watch it now.
Meanwhile, what of the city and the persistence of violent crime? I can’t say it any better than this missive from SilenceIsViolence:
Today begins a month of somber reflection, and of focused rededication, for the community-led movement that has come to be known as SilenceIsViolence. Five years ago on this day, local musician Dinerral Shavers was murdered as he tried to protect his family — and a week of cruel, relentless killing took hold across our city. When another beloved local artist, filmmaker Helen Hill, was shot in her home one week after Dinerral’s death, the Times-Picayune declared that “Killings Bring the City to its Bloodied Knees.” For once, such a headline did not seem overly sensationalistic.
The city banded together after that week in early 2007, marching together by the thousands to City Hall, and demanding that city leadership do more to support victims, to fix a broken criminal justice system, and to partner with a population frankly desperate for a safer, more civil city. City leaders stood, and listened, and vowed to make the homicide crisis their #1 priority.
Five years later, where are we? Sadly, in a city that is, if anything, less safe than before. The homicide rate has climbed steadily over the past year, and for the first time since 2007 we risk losing 200 of our residents to murder this year. Beyond unacceptable, this situation in a city our size is actually insane.
From time to time, city leadership utters the same vows we heard in 2007: that safety is the #1 priority, that proactive services for vulnerable young people, and support for victims and their families, are a city-wide focus. But those vows are starting to sound pretty empty.
Certain families do receive support. They are the families of victims like Dinerral and Helen — victims who, for whatever reason, grip the public’s attention and the media’s concern. But in the five years SilenceIsViolence has spent working with victims outside that spotlight, we have seen hundreds more who never receive material, emotional, or basic logistical support in the aftermath of their loss. Most victim families have a hard time even reaching their own homicide detective or prosecutor by phone. Meanwhile, the first thing we now learn about victims of violence from the police and the media — and often the only thing these families will ever see in print about their loved one — is a prior arrest record. This without consideration of the severity or relevance of these records, or even of whether the arrests were ever tested in a court of law. And without the slightest compassion for the families that must read these postings, and whose sense of betrayal and further eroding trust in the system is eating away at any chance of constructive community/system collaboration.
Last week, many of you answered our call to support these forgotten victim families. You sent contributions that have purchased clothes and food for sisters and brothers of those lost; furniture for witnesses who must independently relocate; and childcare for parents who have lost a partner. Thank you for your unquestioning compassion for those in need. Tragically, this need only increases with each passing day, and we invite the support of every concerned citizen who is able to give something to a traumatized family. We are happy to connect you directly with those families, or you can make a tax-deductible contribution to SilenceIsViolence, and we will distribute 100% of the donation for you. Those who contribute $75 or more will be recognized as “Peace Agents” for 2012, and will be invited to participate in our annual second-line parade, to be held on April 1 of the coming year. You can donate or reach us for family contact information by visiting our website, www.silenceisviolence.org.
Over the coming month, as we approach the annual Strike Again Crime (January 23-28), SilenceIsViolence will seek to re-engage our city in remembrances and efforts on behalf of these who are victims of, or vulnerable to, violence. Each week, we will tell you individual stories about the families we serve, and the victims they mourn. These stories are compiled in a Victim Allies Project report to be released at the end of January, including data detailing our findings over the past year with respect to law enforcement, criminal justice, and other official civic interactions with these families.
Details about Strike Against Crime week activities will be forthcoming over the coming weeks, as well. Meanwhile, thank you once again for your support during a year that has been very difficult for all of those who desire a more respectful and safer New Orleans.
Please join me in supporting SilenceIsViolence.
On November 11, 2011, eleven of us gathered at The 1111 Building, in parking space #11, and at precisely eleven minutes and eleven seconds after eleven o’clock a.m., we raised a toast — the No. 11 Cup.
That’s eleven elevens, in case you weren’t keeping track.
Continue reading “Eleven Times Eleven”
A bit discombobulated and disconnected for this recent holiday. Perhaps that’s because I was traveling just before — the POD Network traditionally has their conference at the end of October, and this one was combined with the annual conference of the HBCU Faculty Development Network, and we mustered our biggest contingent (four) ever. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I got back to New Orleans last Sunday and immediately baked some pumpkin bread. Persephone came home from a friend’s with a Disney Snow White costume on. “Uh oh,” I thought. Sure enough, she refused to wear the costume lovingly made by hand by her grandmother (an Air Princess) because she was dead set on Snow White for Halloween. It’s amazing how much Disney princess stuff has infiltrated our lives even though we haven’t bought any. Truly, we live in the Age of Cheap Crap.
Even so, it was magical to follow my daughter around on a short jaunt through the neighborhood. It was her first night to ever do this and she was enchanted, as befits Snow White. Many of our neighbors were waiting on their porches, enjoying the flow of kids in costume. It’s a tradition to cherish, even as rampant commercialization threatens to spoil it and everything else we celebrate.
But I have to wonder: How many of my neighbors understand what Halloween really is? The “een” part gives us a clue. “E’en” is a contraction for “evening,” as in the evening before. So many of these ancient holidays begin the night before. The actual event is the next day. Christmas Eve has always seemed to me one of the most magical nights of the Christian calendar. How many of my neighbors celebrate the day after Halloween?
Well, actually, quite a few. This is New Orleans after all. The next day used to be a holiday at the University and dammit, I took the day off. It should still be a holiday in my opinion. When I passed by St. Patrick #1 on a quick errand that morning I saw plenty of people tending their family crypts.
My main activity of the day was masking of a different sort: covering up some lead paint. There were two strips on either side of our porch, about one inch wide and maybe ten feet tall, which the painters missed. I’ve been meaning to address these areas for a couple years now, ever since I noticed them. I used duct tape to remove as many paint flakes as I could. Then I covered everything up with a thick coat of high-quality primer, and ultimately a topcoat of paint.
Given that these two strips face outward to the sides of the house, where we never spend any time, this was probably not a critical fix, but I certainly feel better now that it’s finally done. I’m confident the lead paint will stay contained for years, by which time Persephone will be past the most vulnerable phases of her development.
That night we shared a delicious family dinner. Corn and tomatoes with bread. Our special guest: Glenn Dee Petty, 1923-1990, Xy’s dear departed grandmother. The main dish was one which Xy remembers Glenn Dee preparing. We had a place set for her with a photo on display. As we ate, Xy shared various memories. Since Persephone never met any of her great-grandparents, this is the only way she can really come to know of them. For that matter I never met Glenn Dee either.
It was a festive and sweet moment. I think we will expand on this concept and do it again next year.
Several weeks ago, a friend and co-worker, Dr. Mark Gstohl, was planning to shut down his Facebook account. He was finding some of his interactions more aggravating than enlightening. He has a wide gamut of friends across the political spectrum, and he was experiencing a lot of negativity. I offered to swap accounts with him. At first I made the offer in jest, but I became more intrigued as I considered the idea, and so I offered again. We agreed to give it a try just for the month of October. We briefly discussed the ethics of such a maneuver, but the issues at stake didn’t seem very serious. So we went ahead. We continued to use Facebook as we usually did, but we were logged in to each others’ accounts. So, Mark (who is an ordained Baptist minister) was posting Bible verses in my name. Further muddying the waters is the fact that we both have numerous third party services tied into Facebook. We didn’t swap any other accounts, so both our Facebook feeds comprised a mix of items generated by one or other of us. At the end of the month we took off the masks and reverted back to our real selves. Most people laughed it off, or scratched their heads in confusion, but my old high school chum Georgie said she felt “betrayed and tricked.” Maybe we should have taken the ethical issues more seriously. For what it’s worth, I apologized to Georgie and I think she’s forgiven me. This episode raises some questions about identity and expectations in the age of social media.
Once again we interrupt our regularly scheduled investigations to draw your attention to a notable screening.
The Florestine Collection
Experimental animator Helen Hill found more than 100 handmade dresses in a trash pile on one Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans. She set out to make a film about the dressmaker, an elderly seamstress who had recently passed away. The dresses and much of the film footage were later flood-damaged by Hurricane Katrina while Helen was still working on the film. Helen was murdered in a home invasion in New Orleans in 2007. Her husband Paul Gailiunas has completed the film, which includes Helen’s original silhouette, cut-out, and puppet animation, as well as flood-damaged and restored home movies.
This film is screening tonight and Thursday. Details at the New Orleans Film Festival website.
Here’s Persephone’s directorial debut.
Xy — Snow White
Persephone — Nice Fairy
Michael — Grumpy
Therese — Dopey
Nicole — Flower
David — Prince
Cinematography by yours truly.
Obviously this was mostly improvised, but Persephone engineered the basic situation. She assigned roles and costumes. She didn’t want a Wicked Queen in her movie, for example, and she inserted the fairy and flower characters. She said she wanted to make a version of Snow White no one had ever seen before. Of course, with no Wicked Queen, she insisted that there would be no poisoned apple. I’m not sure how the story would have developed. But when the players started improvising, they couldn’t resist taking the story in that direction. Also, any student of folklore could tell you that the prince didn’t revive Snow White with a kiss. That was Sleeping Beauty. But who could argue with this prince’s roguish charm?
So I went down to Michael’s house last night to watch Treme. I fully expected to see a commemoration of Dinerral Shavers, and that is how the show began. The funeral scene was moving. Nakita Shavers, playing herself, gave a heartbreaking eulogy for her brother. I read that she had to do that scene four times.
What I did not expect, however, was a scene that came midway through the show. Suddenly we find ourselves at a crime scene in the Bywater. Hey, I recognize that house. I helped pack up those belongings into boxes. I remember finding a card someone had left behind, a professional crime scene cleaning service. But now we’re there before the cleanup. We’re seeing the police investigation. We can see them making a botch of it. (I never thought of it that way, but clearly that’s what it was: a botched investigation. Or so it seems to me, but I only know what I read in the papers and hear on the street.)
I’ve watched every episode of this damn show with a sense of detachment. Yes, it’s all very accurate. It captures some of the spirit of a time and place that I lived through, and that’s a trip. But all the same, it’s just a TV show. It’s just a story, safely trapped inside a frame of the TV set.
Until last night. That crime scene, and some of the follow-up, stripped away my detachment and made me feel grief anew. I shed a few tears. Hell, after Katrina I cried most every day for a year or three, but these days my composure is not so easily shaken. The scene showing the tributes of flowers and other offerings, piling up around the bicycle, was also fairly heartrending.
It was all so damnably accurate. It stirs painful memories. But at the same time I’m glad that Helen is not forgotten.
The scenes in which I was an extra, depicting the March for Survival, were very brief but inspiring. The message of unity was clear. It was fascinating to me to see how much went into the production to yield so little screen time. I was able to pick myself out in a crowd scene for one fraction of a second, but you’d have to know exactly where to look and I doubt anyone could recognize me.
I was prepared to hear Nakita’s speech at the rally, since I’d heard they were going to use archival footage of her alone. Then, a strange technical glitch occurred. We think it was due to the DVR kicking in to record another program. Anyway, I didn’t see the last 60-90 seconds of the program. That was highly ironic, because I’ve since heard that I got the last word.
In a way, it seems appropriate. Yes, I would have gotten a little thrill out of seeing myself on TV again, a little egotistical headrush. I’ve been on TV a lot, over the years, and I’m kind of addicted to it. But it’s a highly ambivalent feeling, too, considering the circumstances. Whatever narcissistic gratification I might derive is quickly blunted when I remember how we got here. I’d gladly trade this small fame to have my friends back whole again. I guess that goes without saying. Anyway, the ironic truncation of the episode seems almost just.
I still haven’t seen it, but a friend sent me a screenshot.
Life sure is a strange and sad affair.
I know opinions differ about the value of such storytelling. My friend Nevitate, a New Orleanian transplanted to Los Angeles, watched this episode, his first, and texted me.
Yeah, i was on the verge of tears. Strange to watch the show. So many personal events presented as ‘material’. Seems almost violative.
I was put in mind of the scene from last season, where a busload of tourists gawk at a Mardi Gras Indian ceremony. I never had a problem with the “disaster tours.” I welcomed them. I figured they would help get the word out, about what happened here. That scene made me see the other side of the argument, the objection to the objectification of our sorrow. And it was so much more than an intellectual exercise. I felt that one in my gut.
Ironically, Treme itself is something of a tourist bus, transforming New Orleans into a spectacle to be consumed. I understand all that, and I understand why people find it objectionable. And yet still, at the end of the day, I’m a fan. All I can say in defense of that is that we’re already well inside the spectacle economy, regardless, and that this show’s writing and (relatively) sophisticated viewership mean the essential humanity of the subject still has a chance to get communicated.
That was abundantly obvious to me when I gave a greenway tour to a bunch of out-of-town conventioneers. We walked past the old Winn-Dixie, still vacant but re-blazoned “Robideaux’s Market.”
I explained they may have seen this on HBO a few weeks ago. (Walking in the Tremé, talking about Treme.) Turned out there were several loyal viewers in my group, and as we talked it was clear their interest and curiosity about New Orleans was stoked by the show. I think that’s good for the city.
Moreover I think good art is good for us all, and I think Treme rises to that description.
Ultimately it’s still just a TV show, of course. It’s up to us to make our city vibrant and viable. That should go without saying. A TV show is no replacement for a decent economy, good educational opportunities and public safety. These three things are intimately connected, and it seems to me the writers of Treme clearly see that, and so again I think it’s all for the best. I feel they are telling our story and telling it well.
Beyond all those issues, there’s the question of representing details from lives we’ve lost. Real people, not fictional characters. This is sensitive stuff, and I’m sure different people will see it differently. If Nakita’s performance was any indication, it would seem Dinerral’s family has made their peace with his story being told in this venue. I hope Helen’s family feels the same way.
Post Scriptum: When I got home I found five or six loaves of really good bread in our refrigerator. I guess DJ came by and dropped them off while I was watching the show. I posted up a tweet about it. Then I started getting a barrage of marginally coherent expletive-laced mini-rants attacking Treme from a local blogger I’m not sure I’ve ever even met. I don’t have room for that kind of mess in my life, so I blocked him, or her, or whatever.
It’s the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo/BP blowout disaster catastrophe oil spill. I don’t know how much coverage it gets outside the Gulf Coast, but oil is still percolating up in marshes here, and it’s very discouraging.
Generally I have supported science and the scientific worldview, but this debacle has shown how science is just a tool to be used and abused by the powerful.
We should know exactly what happened a year ago, and why. We don’t. We should know how much oil flowed out into the Gulf. We don’t. We should know how bad the environmental consequences are. We don’t.
Our ignorance is appalling.
A while back I saw conflicting reports on the safety of seafood from the Gulf. One scientist sounded cautionary notes, while another scientist gave the all clear. They were funded by opposing sides in the ongoing legal battles that have emerged from this catastrophe. The best science money can buy! I wish I’d clipped the article so I could cite it properly now, but at the time I was just too depressed.
Since I can’t even cite my sources, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere for informed commentary. I highly recommend this brand new article by John Clark:
But what, in reality, have the dominant extractive and petrochemical industries, and especially oil, brought to Louisiana? We are one of the poorest states. We are one of the least educated states. We are one of the unhealthiest states. We are one of the states in which government is most abjectly subservient to industry. We are one of the states most scarred by rampant corruption. We are one of the most environmentally devastated states. And now, the oil industry has damaged coastal wetlands and Gulf ecosystems, quite possibly for a considerable period into the future, in the worst marine oil disaster in history.
It’s enough to make anyone crazy mad.
I suppose I should make the connection: It’s stuff like this that fires me up to work on a project like the greenway. Active transportation is one way to reduce consumption of oil. It’s a very small sling against a very big giant. I’m not trying to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just saying, do something. You’ll feel better, and it might just make a difference.
Oh, and by the way, some of my best friends are scientists.
I was just coming home from the first real parade of the carnival season, fired up and aglow with the love, and I get online and I check my e-mail and I find myself on Facebook, looking at a kindly invitation to enjoy the next night’s diversions, looking at the profile of a friend, and I can’t help but notice his significant other is not listed — and the reason is fairly obvious. Even in our present day and age, homosexual relationships are not acknowledged and accepted in many circles. So I go to the kitchen for a late snack, and skim the paper’s entertainment supplement, and read of a documentary about how gay carnival krewes pioneered gay rights in this country well before Stonewall. And ultimately I can’t help feeling a deep sense of outrage: What is wrong with people? I remain forever committed to the idea that all is permitted, so long as we’re not hurting anyone.
Just noticed I have exactly 666 “friends” on Facebook.
Damnation. Now I can’t add anymore friends unless someone unfriends me. Because, of course, I am an ardent hexakosioihexekontahexaphile.
Update: It took me a while to figure out how to save an image showing all 666 “friends.” (Abduction by Rowan Lewis proved to be the key.) The resultant image is over 14,000 pixels tall, so view at your peril.
Continue reading “Facebook = Beast”
I’ve gotta give some props to Eric Spears for continuing to excavate such gems from his personal video collection. Here’s Christy Paxson Behind the Scenes at the Making of the Latest John “Cougar” Mellencamp Video.
Eric sez: “Between episodes of her access TV series, The Christy Paxson Show, Christy made several video shorts, and this is one of them. I sent a copy to MTV, but they never responded.”
This particular video cracks me up so much I can only watch about three minutes at a time before I’m racked with convulsive hysterical sobbing.