Rest Easy, Ms. Foxworth

When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.

My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?

Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”

Ready for 2013

Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.

Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.

She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.

Ms. Foxworth

My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.

As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.


I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.

She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.

I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.

It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.

The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.


Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.

As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.

See also a far more eloquent tribute from Joie d’Eve. It’s funny how we hit the same themes.

Tree Blessing

Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading “Tree Blessing”

Preacher’s Cart

How did this shopping cart full of miscellaneous hardware come to be parked in our yard for three months?

Preacher's Cart

Therein lies a tale.

One day in late May, a guy came walking down our street. He started talking to Xy and somehow convinced her to hire him to cut our grass. Before I knew it she had him in the house and she was showing him a broken window pane. Could he fix it?

I scoffed, but I guess he had a way with words because the next thing I knew we’d agreed to hire him to fix the window pane and the drainage under our kitchen sink to boot.

The guy was a bit of a character. Called himself Preacher because he’s a man of God. A fast-talker, but likeable. Charismatic. Slightly tenuous grasp of what is laughingly referred to as “reality.” Seems like I’ve known a few guys like Preacher over the years. I drove him to his house, just a few blocks away, so he could get his tools.

He did fix our drainage, and he cut our grass once or twice. But he also seemed to keep asking for more money, and between Xy and I being generous and not communicating with each other, we ended up paying him more than we should have. He was still “working” on the the window pane project when he showed up one day with this cart load of stuff he got on discount somewhere. He asked if he could stow it in our yard while he ran some other errand.

Then he disappeared.

After three months we were really getting tired of having this cart around. I took this photo with plans of posting it to Freecycle.

But lo and behold, Preacher showed up the very next day. He had been in the hospital. He took the cart with a promise to come back and trim our grass one more time. No charge. He seemed to have forgotten about the window pane entirely.

But that’s fine by me. I wish him well.

How Long the Storm?

Street Salad

Isaac is gone, but his odor lingers on.

Seriously. There’s a smell in the air, a certain peculiar smell I can’t describe. I’m not sensitive to smells. I often think if I was more tuned in to my sense of smell, I’d have a radically different way of being in the world, more animalistic perhaps and less hyper-rational. I don’t notice many smells. But this smell I do notice. It reminds me of the smell after Katrina, which at the time I thought was all mold and rot. Now I’m not so sure. There was plenty of mold and rot, to be sure, but this is maybe something else that was also in the mix. It sprang up almost immediately after Isaac’s winds died down. There were massive amounts of live oak leaves scattered all over, damp with rain. Could that be the source of the smell? Those leaves don’t decay quickly. But perhaps they have some kind of mold growing on them, there already before they fell. Who knows.

It’s not an unpleasant smell. Not entirely pleasant either. I might say it smells like mold without any mustiness if that makes sense. Fresh mold. I’m trying to invent terms to describe a sensation for which my vocabulary is inadequate. But every time I catch a whiff, it brings back memories from 2005.

How long does a storm last? My boss speculated that people who haven’t lived through such storms don’t understand. The storm itself was only on us for a day and a half, right? But we were watching Isaac since August 21st. Most people around New Orleans lost at least a week of work to Isaac, factoring in the preparation and the subsequent power outages. When I got back in my office, it took a full week of rescheduling and catching up before things got back to what is laughably referred to as “normal” around here. For some, though, “normal” is still a long way off; some offices were compromised by the wind and rain and mold has set in. Remediation is under way.

As of today, two full weeks after Isaac’s landfall, our city streets are still lined with piles of debris, mostly branches and sometimes whole trees that have been cut down to size, stacked and bundled. They sit waiting to be carted off somewhere. (Probably a landfill, more’s the pity.) It’s a massive task and the city just doesn’t have enough crews to get it done quickly. I fully expect there will still be plenty of work remaining to be done in a week’s time. At that point, Isaac will have dominated our attention, or at least impinged upon our collective consciousness, for a full month.

I’m talking about those who weathered the hurricane with minimal impact. For some individuals, some families, some communities, the road to recovery is much longer. For those folks, the consequences of Isaac will linger long after his smell has faded from the street of New Orleans.

Tree

It wasn’t until after Labor Day that I passed by the bayou and saw what Isaac had done to my favorite tree.

Tree

This is the tree where my daughter got her name back in 2008. Throughout the 2010-2011 school year I stopped at this tree almost daily for a moment of contemplation. This tree survived a lightning strike last year. But I’m afraid Isaac may have dealt the death blow.

When I saw the damage, I was devastated. I embraced the tree and my tears flowed freely.

In the forest such a tree might continue to live for many years, but this tree is in an urban area, on public land, and highly visible. Some time in the last week, the tree was trimmed back and all the dead matter removed. Half the tree is gone now. The trunk remains and one major branch, giving it a lopsided, severely asymmetrical profile.

Will the humans allow it to live? I guess that’s the question. So I called Troy at the Orleans Levee District. He said their policy is not to cut down such a large oak, as long as there is life in it, without special authorization. I contacted his boss to say I want to help in whatever way I can, either to save the tree or to plant a new tree it if this one must be removed.

We Are OK

Hurricane Aftermath Party

So the storm came and lingered. Like us, Isaac dithered. Someone described him as the drunk Louisiana uncle who crashes on your couch when you were really thinking the party was over. Eventually he left.

We weathered the storm with no damage. Bit of a leak in the ceiling of our kitchen addition, but nothing to speak of. We lost power, and I’ll write more about that later.

Right now I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all who held us in their thoughts over the past week, and to the friends who offered up their homes to harbor us. I want to let you know we’re alright.

Addendum: I don’t mean to speak for anyone else. It bears remembering that over a hundred thousand people are still without power. Also, a bunch of towns were flooded by Isaac. When you’re home is underwater, things are generally not “OK.”

Rising Tide 7

For the last several months I’ve been embedded, ensnared, and otherwise entrapped in the planning process for Rising Tide 7. I haven’t actually done any work, but I’ve observed other people doing lots of work, and I’m happy to take credit for their efforts.

Rising Tide 7

The poster for Rising Tide 7 riffs on the demise of New Orleans’ daily paper. You can bet there will be a very interesting panel on this topic, and many others, including the subject I’ve been writing about over the past week: The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana.

I may even be moderating a panel on parenting, Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads, unless we can sucker someone else into doing it for me.

Register now and save a few bucks. The ticket price will go up soon.

Poster credit: Line drawing by Melissa Moore, graphic work by Lance Vargas.

Why We Pulled Our Daughter Out of a Private Suburban School and Enrolled Her in Public School in New Orleans

Why We Pulled Our Daughter Out of a Private Suburban School and Enrolled Her in Public School in New Orleans — a headline intended to provoke. New Orleans public schools have such a bad reputation. How on earth could we send our daughter there?

It’s an act of hope.

Also trust. And determination. And a lot of other things, I suppose, but let’s come back to hope.

Hope for our daughter. Of course we hope our daughter gets an excellent education. We all want what’s best for our children. This is trite but true. We would not send our daughter to a school which was not up to our standards. As we are educators ourselves, with some graduate education under our belts, our standards are pretty high.

Hope for our pocketbook. We are not so poor that money is the determining factor, but we’re not so rich that I can avoid considering it. We are stuck in the middle. We can afford private school tuition. We’ve paid it for the past year. But it would not be easy. Money is an object. The least of all objects, but still an object. We are already paying taxes after all. If we pay tuition we pay twice, and that offends my sense of economy.

Hope for our community. Ah, here’s the rub. In my lifetime I feel that local communities everywhere have been undermined and weakened, to the point that many of us don’t even know what a community is any more. Our sense of the public sphere is diminished. The common life and the common good have all but evaporated. And that is a shame.

It seems our national political discourse has framed the relevant issues in terms of a conflict between individualism and government control. Libertarian types refer to public schools as “government schools.” I’m somewhat sympathetic to this critique, in all honesty. But what is lost in this debate? There has to be a way to think about and talk about our commonalities without resorting to the authoritarian structures of the state or the private model. Recently, the Occupy movement returned some attention to the idea of public space. I found that heartening, even though I’m skeptical that any real progress has been made.

Schools are among the most important public institutions we have. While private values such as religion may get reproduced at home and in the church or temple, whatever shared public culture we have gets reproduced in the public schools.

But make no mistake. Sending our daughter to public school is not some sort of altruistic act. We are not sacrificing our child on some altar of ideology. That would be perverted and wrong.

Rather, as I see it, we are thinking ahead. We are thinking not just of our daughter’s education but her overall quality of life. What kind of city will the next generation inherit? We need more quality public schools here. Everybody says so. The health of this city depends on the health of its public schools, both of which have languished far too long.

By investing in the school, putting our lives into it, we are investing in our future, and our daughter’s future.

A school is not a clockwork toy that one can wind up and let go. It requires constant effort and constant renewal. Every year there is a new crop of kids, a new crop of families to bring into the mix. This year we are part of that new crop. We plan to do our part. I’m not sure exactly what form this will take, as we are still getting the lay of the land, so to speak. But we hope to find our roles and make meaningful contributions.

This is how a community uplifts and sustains itself. This is what we believe in. I hope this hope is not misplaced.

A Night with Desmond

Saturday night I found myself with a bunch of Pagans and other folks at an uptown synagogue, preparing food for the homeless. We whipped up some large batches of red beans and rice, salad, and watermelon. Then we took the food to a large encampment of homeless people and served it. I slopped out 130 or so helpings of beans.

I was frankly amazed at how long the line was, how evident the need.

Though my connection was with Lamplight Circle, this regular Saturday night effort is organized by the Desmond Project. I understand it was started by a Catholic priest; it now runs out of the kitchen of a synagogue; throw some occasional Pagans into the mix and it starts to look like an interfaith project. Strangely enough I don’t think I’ve ever been in a synagogue before. But I digress.

The Desmond Project website appears to be misconfigured but there is a cached version. There’s also a Facebook page which appears to have gone somewhat dormant, and a Youtube channel with a couple videos posted a two years ago; I also found a sign-up form for volunteers but don’t know if it’s functional. The group, however, is definitely functional, and I’m sure there are other similar organizations out there.

If you’ve never done something like this, I highly recommend it. I read plenty about the plight of the homeless, here in New Orleans and elsewhere. It’s easy to become calloused or indifferent. It’s easy to turn people into abstractions. Seeing the faces of the men and women living on the street is profoundly humanizing.

By the Light of the Moon

Moonrise

We gather by the side of the road on the edge of an urban forest. I know the others only because they are dressed like me, in white clothing. We talk amongst ourselves, getting to know each other.

The signal comes at twilight, just as the sun is setting and everything is growing dark. We walk into the woods along a gravel path. We can hear the sound of drumming.

Soon we come to a clearing. There’s a circle made of lit candles and strewn leaves. Inside the circle, an altar and a pentagram. There are two women here, also dressed in white. These two I know, a little. One is inside the circle, drumming. The other is outside the circle, singing. She strides toward us. Her voice is beautiful. She reaches out and takes my hand, leading me and all the rest toward the circle.

We are each in turn ritually purified with incense. When all are within the ring of light, the circle is cast by calling the quarters and invoking the elements. And within this sacred space the ritual unfolds, as the full moon slowly rises.

This is an esbat, not a seasonal celebration, and so something new and unfamiliar to me. The heart of the ritual I might describe as energy work and group therapy. H. Gunaratana Mahathera describes Buddhism as “much more akin to what we would call psychology than to what we would usually call religion.” This is not a Buddhist ritual, but I’m reminded of this nonetheless. We are invited to think of some area in our life where we’ve reached a plateau, some area of our personal or interpersonal development where things have stagnated, where we’ve grown complacent or are just plain stuck. We think about ways to release that energy, and we engage in a few activities to visualize that release. Strategic symbolism, perhaps.

This may all sound very solemn, but there was a lightness to it as well, and laughter. We also drink margaritas.

Later, we sit in the moonlight sharing food, drink, and conversation. I hear a voice through through the trees. Soon it comes again, and again, impossible to ignore because the unseen person is shouting. He sounds angry. Then another voice joins the first. A woman. Their exchange becomes a song. Then instruments kick in: accordion, double-bass, sousaphone. The music is lusty and uproarious. There’s a whole band back in the woods somewhere.

After a few verses and a rousing chorus, the song crashes to a halt, and there is a round of applause. Judging by the sound there must be at least fifty people there. A couple members of our party are dispatched to scout out the situation. They report that it’s a gypsy-punk interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Many strange and wonderful things happen by light of the moon.

Photo: Moonrise / Eric Miraglia / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Somber Reflections

It was five years ago today that I got the terrible news that Helen Hill had been murdered in her home. She will not be forgotten.

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.

Florestine

Once again we interrupt our regularly scheduled investigations to draw your attention to a notable screening.

The Florestine Collection

Florestine

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.

New Beginnings Require Old Endings

Chrysalis

I have a desire to make a new beginning. (Pardon the vagueness. I’ll expand on that later.) Paradoxically that has me thinking about endings as well. New beginnings require old endings.

Plant a sunflower seed and, with some water and sunlight, you start a new life. But there is no new life without death. Life implies death, requires it. Old dead plants make fertile soil for new fresh shoots. There’s no new beginning without an old ending.

Another example might be the Lafitte Corridor project I’ve been involved with for so long, which just completed the first phase of planning. The greenway will be a new public space amenity. It will be beautiful and a great asset to the community. But in order for this new use to blossom, the old uses had to die. If the railroad line hadn’t been pulled up, we wouldn’t be talking about a greenway now.

Looking at it from the other side, so to speak, divorce is yet another example, much on my mind lately. It seems a lot of couples I know have gotten divorced in the past year, or are in the process right now, or wrestling with the possibility. Divorce is an ending, the end of a story, the end of a particular chapter in at least two lives. It can be painful and messy. It’s certainly awkward in cases where I’m friends with both parties, but I know my discomfort is a fraction of the mental anguish for those directly involved.

(And why this seeming rash of divorces over the past year? Perhaps it’s an illusion. Perhaps I’ve simply reached a certain age. And yet, ridiculous as it may sound, I can’t help but wonder if Al and Tipper Gore have something to do with it. They announced their divorce just over a year ago, and since then I’ve seen so many marriages on the rocks that I have lost count.)

But divorce is also a beginning, the beginning of a new story, a new chapter. Hopefully there’s some improvement. If the marriage was happy and healthy it would not have ended, or so I presume. New beginnings require old endings.

And yet truly new things are very rare indeed. According to one writer a couple millennia ago, there’s “nothing new under the sun.” The sunflower isn’t truly new, because the seed came from a previous generation of plants. The greenway will merely be the latest re-imagining of a transportation corridor that’s been in place for centuries. After divorce, the same people still exist; only their circumstances and relations have changed.

It might be better, then, to speak of transformations, rather than beginnings and endings. If one thinks of divorce as a transformation, rather than an ending, does that make it any less scary, less difficult? I honestly don’t know.

A friend of mine shared a story of transformation recently. He lives far from here; we communicate mostly via an electronic forum. We have wrangled often about the future of New Orleans, and it’s gotten downright ugly sometimes. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when he sent the following, which I’ve edited to remove identifying information. This may seem digressive at first, but I promise to tie it all together.

I’d like to jump on this thread again and talk about how my attitude towards New Orleans has changed given the time I’ve spent there over the past year.

After Katrina hit, it was hard for me to understand why so many people were so passionate about rebuilding a city that may very well suffer the same calamity and results in the future. After all, over the years, the city had sunk below sea level, and we would have to invest in fixing infrastructure that didn’t work when Katrina hit. Was the cost of not only replacing failed infrastructure, but engineering better infrastructure, worth it? Why would we take the risk? Would, or even “could,” it be done right?

If all you know of New Orleans is Bourbon Street, then you’d think as I did. Bourbon Street is a circus that, really, could happen anywhere. You could reproduce it ala Hollywood movie set, and as long as there were three-for-one drinks, cover bands, and girls showing their tits, you’d find ample people to visit.

But I’ve spent time wandering around, walking around, and finding places I didn’t think could exist. My last trip, I was alone, and I spent a few evenings walking an estimated four miles a night finding places that aren’t geared towards the tourists. I’ve watched Travel Channel, Food Channel, etc, and have even done online research on places of interested. The more I look, the more I want to see (and the more I want to eat).

I’ve watched the locals interact. And, I can honestly say that New Orleans is original. The locals move differently. I travel all over the country, and there aren’t locals like those in New Orleans anywhere else.

So, I’m glad New Orleans is recovering. I can’t wait to return.

When I read this, it brought a tear to my eye, not merely because I feel the same way, though of course I do, but because of the transformative aspect. It’s really so rare for adult people to “come around,” to change our minds on anything. But my friend has done it. He sees the power of actually coming to this place and being here awhile. (Incidentally, that’s why some very prominent activists made a concerted effort to get every member of Congress down here for a visit, though I doubt they get to ramble around like my friend.) Yet again, I have to stress, however cool or magical or real or soulful or unexpected or whatever this place is, how much cooler (et cetera) is the space where my friend is now. He seems to be in a transformational phase. He is opening up, coming alive to possibilities that were closed before.

Furthermore, I suspected this change of heart might have something to do with his recent divorce. Sure enough, he subsequently described the stresses and strains which led to a difficult but necessary revelation:

I had to let go. I had to throttle my ego. I had to accept the smallness of my existence and my influence. And, as a result, I’ve had to become an old dog willing to learn new tricks.

New beginning require old endings. We’re never the same person twice. We just resemble the person we were the day before, more or less. Usually more. But in periods of transformation we may seem to change radically, to become a new person. The old person, the person we were, has to die.

As a society, it seems to me, we desperately need a new beginning. We can’t get one because we’re chock-full. We’re too busy. Something’s gotta give. Something’s got to end, to die, to allow the transformation we require to live.

As for me, I want to make a new beginning too. No, Xy and I are not getting a divorce. But I’m feeling the need to make some changes. In fact I’m already making them.

Again, I apologize for the vagueness, but this has gotten far too lengthy already. I hope that next time I can write about my intentions, and so many other things. It may take a while. Be patient with me.

Tangents: There’s a soundtrack for this post. You may also want to take a look at my review of Last and First Men.

Unprepared

I’ve often thought there was some deep connection between what happened in NYC (and elsewhere) on Sept. 11th, 2001, and what happened in NOLA on August 29th, 2005. I’m sure the following idea is not original. But I still think it’s important.

After 9/11, Americans made a collective promise to ourselves: to take the safety and security of our citizens seriously. We would be prepared for the worst. The flooding of New Orleans four years later revealed that we had not kept that promise.

I wonder what the next big catastrophe will be, and will we do any better?

My sympathies to all those who lost friends, family, or peace of mind on 9/11.

If you’re looking for another connection, Alan Gerson will be signing the 9-11 Comic Book at Octavia Books this afternoon.

Update: Another connection, straight from New York City: We’re Not Forgetting.

Subject: New Orleans Streets to Avoid During a Storm

Hot on the heels of my “Streets of New Orleans” mix, I get this e-mail with the subject line, “New Orleans Streets to Avoid During a Storm.” Apparently this was released by the NOPD. I have to say in all my years of living here I’ve never seen such a list.

New Orleans Police Department Public Information Office
Streets in Greater New Orleans Area Prone to Flooding

(September 1, 2011)- The following is a list of streets where residents have reported significant flooding during past storms. Residents are advised to stay at home during the forecasted storm unless an emergency makes it absolutely necessary for them to get on the road.

Calliope @ Claiborne towards Tchoupitoulas St
Calliope & Tchoupitoulas St On-ramps
I-10 and Tulane Exit towards Claiborne
Airline & Tulane Ave intersection
4400 Block of Washington
Washington Ave. near Xavier
All surrounding streets to St. Charles flooded, Gravier/Tulane/S Dupre, S Claiborne/Washington.
Claiborne/Orleans Ave.
S Carrollton/Palmetto
Magazine/St Mary
Broad/Louisiana Ave./S.Claiborne
Josephine/Prytania,
Earhart/Jeff Davis-Carrollton
500 blk of Lake Marina
Canal Blvd/I-10/Navarre
Erato/S Genois/City Park/Carrollton
Washington Ave. near Xavier, Washington
Gravier/Tulane/S Dupre
S Claiborne/Washington
Simon Bolivar & Calliope coming from Loyola Ave under the overpass
Poland Ave from St Claude to N. Claiborne
S. Claiborne at Joseph
Holiday to the Crescent City Connection
Shirley and DeGaulle
DeGaulle under the Westbank Expressway
General Meyer from Pace to Shirley
Richland and General Meyer
MacArthur and Holiday
Tullis
Garden Oaks
Chelsea
Vespasian and Wall

Hmmm. We’re expecting Tropical Depression #13 (to be named a storm any moment now) to dump a bunch of rain on us over the Labor Day weekend, so this is timely information. However, I can think of a couple omissions just off the top of my head: Palmer near Claiborne, Banks near Jesuit.

Streets of New Orleans

Twelve tracks about the streets of New Orleans. One song about a street in New York, but the singers are from New Orleans. A field recording of some high school students rehearsing in the street right in front of my house. Including music by Earl King, Montezuma’s Revenge and Johnny Vidacovich.

play on 8tracks

Smokey Haze

I’d heard there was a marsh fire out east, but we didn’t smell anything until Monday morning. By the time I left for work, I was surprised to see the streets of Mid-City were shrouded in gray smokey haze. It was bad enough that I wore a bandana over my face as I rode to campus.

Bandana

When I got up to my office on the fifth floor I could see the smoke extended as far as the eye could see.

Smoky

I guess the wind changed direction or something because it cleared up later in the day. Tuesday morning was also clear, but by mid-day it was smokier than ever.

Smokier

The smokey haze reminds me of my encounter with Joe Horn last Monday at WWL-TV.

Joe Horn at WWL-TV

He was cooking up something and the studio was filled with a smokey haze. The difference was, his haze smelled good. The smoke from the marsh fire smells nasty. In fact it’s sending people to the hospital.

In this morning’s paper I read that the area on fire is twice the size of City Park, which is mind-boggling to me. City Park is 1300 acres.

I see NOLA Defender beat me to the obligatory Neville Brothers reference but neglected to post a video, so… enjoy.