I took two weeks off. During that time I barely left Orleans Parish, except for a couple errands. I rode my bike into Metairie via Veteran’s Boulevard. Don’t ever try that; you’re taking your life into your own hands with the traffic and the lack of any provision for bicycles. Mostly, I spent most of my time at home or in the surrounding few blocks.
And yet, despite my geographical stasis, this was an odyssey of epic proportions. A spiritual odyssey. Hell, that trip to Metairie felt like an epic journey, but that’s a story for another day. I encountered a broken lamp post on Veteran’s Boulevard:
It was an icon of things to come. The whole excursion to the suburbs was really only a prelude to a descent into the Abyss of the Self. I feel like I’ve been torn down and put back together over the past fifteen days.
I’ve heard plenty about the stresses we’re under here, how we’re all on edge in this devastated region, how our mental health is fragile. Personally, though, I’ve felt pretty good. After all, only half our house was destroyed, we didn’t lose any loved ones, we still have our jobs, we are actually living in our home, we had adequate insurance coverage and no real hassles with our insurer, we are working with a contractor we know and trust to renovate our home, and our neighborhood appears to be coming back in some form. In short, we count ourselves lucky. And happy. And healthy.
And yet. Since returning to New Orleans I’ve been extraordinarily busy, not just at work, but going to all sorts of neighborhood and community meanings. Everything around here is broken, and it all needs to be fixed simultaneously, so the impulse is to pour all one’s heart and soul into every aspect of rebuilding. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are living in very weird, stressful, screwed up circumstances. By keeping so busy, might we be neglecting our own psychic needs? Could it be a form of escapism, a way of not having to deal with reality?
Of course, civic over-involvement is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other escape strategies. Case in point, on my way back from that ill-advised bike ride, I stopped for lunch at the Bulldog on Canal Boulevard. Two guys came in and ordered a pair of Irish Car Bombs with beer chasers. They had to drink ’em fast to get back to work.
I’ve been doing things like that too, though not quite as extreme. Yet these escapes may not be effective. They may not be escapes at all, but dead ends, traps.
Without time to pause and reflect, who’s to say?
In retrospect it feels like that is what my “vacation” was really about. I took some time off from most of my daily routines and gave myself some room for reflection, contemplation, rumination, and other Latinate words that end with “-tion.”
What I found was not always pretty. There’s a lot of weird, stressful, screwed up stuff going on inside. I think this became most evident when I engaged in a creative writing project of sorts: I decided to spend a little time each morning writing down my dreams. Not the dreams I had when I was asleep, mind you, (though I did keep a dream journal back in the early ’90s) but waking dreams, daydreams, the thoughts and fantasies and speculations running through my head. Most of my writing lately has gone into very straightforward journaling (like this blog) and I thought it would be good to spend some time writing down my dreams instead. But I was surprised at how dark and depressing these dreams turned out to be. I’ve always had a morbid streak, but damn. The fear of aging and death and dying kept coming up again and again.
Again, twisted dreams are just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from these writing experiments I had some plain-old blues. And (mild) anxiety attacks. And sleepless nights. And so forth. Changing up my routine brought a lot of personal issues to the surface. These aren’t Katrina issues per se, not for me anyway. A lot of it is good old-fashioned existential angst, the dues we pay for being alive. But Katrina has provided many excuses to let these issues fester and take on a decidedly unpleasant odor.
I was surprised, but not shocked. Any journey into the Self is bound to have some difficult twists and turns. Of course, recognizing fears and problems is the first step to confronting them. These developments were incredibly positive in my mind. Yes, there are cracks in my foundation, fissures in the edifice of my soul, but I’m working on it.
A cautionary note to my fellow travelers: Make sure you deal with this stuff before it deals with you. The holidays are approaching and stress levels will be on the rise. Don’t forget to attend to your spiritual well-being, whatever that entails.
Lest this all seems too too heavy and hopelessly confused, here’s some other things from my vacation:
We had maybe eight or ten kids come by, and one even wore a costume. Xy got some dry ice (from the local Airgas) for a science lesson at school, then brought the leftovers home for spooky yet educational experiments on our front porch.
- Alexis and Loki’s wedding was the coolest.
(photo by Maitri)
The highlight for me was hearing Sandra Dolby sing. You can hear some of her music here, unfortunately limited to 30 second samples from a CD that appears to be sold out, but it gives a notion of how haunting and beautiful her voice and guitar are. The CD is for her mother, but the songs at the wedding were for her daughter, who just happens to be Alexis.
- I voted.
- I took Milo and Biggs to the vet.
They didn’t like being boxed up, but they were extraordinarily well-behaved when they got there.
- I spent five hours at the Saturn dealership on the West Bank while they worked on our car. At least it gave me time to finish up Justina Robson’s Living Next Door to the God of Love.
- I went to some planning and community meetings. Yes, even on vacation. I can’t stop myself. I told you I had issues. In fact they seemed to ramp up to two a night instead of just one.
At one meeting I heard John Norquist extol the virtues of tearing down inner city interstates. (But at least the Monday night Mid-City Recovery Planning meetings have come to an end.)
- I cleaned up my home office and rearranged our living room. Doesn’t sound like much, but the mess in my office was years in the making. Cleaning that up was a spiritual experience in and of itself. But like most profound spiritual experiences, it’s totally boring to anyone else but fascinating to me.
I visited Xy’s school and videotaped some girls doing a song they wrote to send to a class in New York City… it’s a long story, but I’ll post the video eventually, when it’s edited. What was really cool was I got to see Xy teaching and she is definitely at the top of her game.
I went to see Mark Mothersbaugh‘s “Beautiful Mutants” show with MaPó at l’Art Noir in the Bywater.
And to round it all out, since I can no longer aspire to brevity, here’s the latest article on our renovation by Stephanie Bruno, which appeared in Saturday’s paper with a very nice photo.
WASHING AND WARMING AND WAITING
Saturday, November 11, 2006
By Stephanie Bruno
NOTE: In the weeks since we have visited Bart Everson and Christy Paxson in their Mid-City home, work has been on hold while the couple’s trusted contractor completed other jobs. But the advent of windy, cooler nights finally prompted the couple to call, and now their contractor is poised to return.
At 6-foot-4, Bart Everson might seem like an unlikely candidate to enjoy tub baths. But one of his Top 10 criteria when shopping for a house with his wife, Christy Paxson, was a roomy claw-foot tub, and that’s one of the many advantages that the house on North Salcedo Street offered.
The house had a shower, too, but “our shower was in the basement, and that’s the area that filled with floodwaters,” Everson said. With work on repairing the couple’s downstairs living area suspended while contractor Mike Kaplan dealt with other clients’ needs, tub baths have been the only option.
“In fact, I prefer tub baths, but it depends on the season,” Everson said. “It’s been so long now since I’ve had a choice, I’ve almost forgotten. Oh, yes, it’s showers in the summer and baths in the winter. Slipping into a steaming tub of water on a hot summer day just isn’t that enjoyable.”
Everson contacted Kaplan recently and expects that work on the second bath as well as the guest room, laundry area and den, which also are downstairs, will soon resume.
“I know how busy Mike has been and how difficult it’s been to juggle jobs and help as many people as he could,” Everson said. “He’s like every other contractor in town in that he has also had to deal with an unstable labor force. So because our situation wasn’t as urgent as some others’, I held off calling him. I never doubted for a minute he’d be back sooner or later.”
“Sooner” started sounding a lot better than “later” a week or two ago, when a few windy cold fronts blew through town.
“At the time, there was no trim installed on the basement windows on the inside, so when the hard gusts ripped through, the windows would swing on their ropes and bang against the frames,” Everson said. “Let me tell you, it’s pretty spooky trying to sleep upstairs with those sudden loud crashes coming from the basement.”
The downstairs doors caused a similar problem. “They were in place but not secure, so this week I took vacation and have a list of things to get done on the house,” Everson said. “One was to buy knobs and deadbolts for the downstairs doors. We weren’t worried about the windows as a security risk, because they’re protected with sturdy burglar bars. But the doors needed attention, and now the new knobs and the dead bolts are in place, and we can sleep better at night.”
The couple has accepted a few more inconveniences while awaiting the return of their contractor. For one thing, their laundry area was in the basement, so they’ve been visiting the Laundromat since their return home last fall. For another, they have needed to use flashlights from time to time to see things upstairs in their living area.
“That’s because none of our ceiling lights work,” Everson said. “It’s not just a matter of bulbs, it’s the wiring. When Mike came last fall to work on the electrical and get us up and running, he worked from below to repair the wiring that goes to our base outlets and light switches upstairs. But the wiring for our overhead lights is all the old knob-and-tube, and we agreed it would be best to disconnect it from the system and then replace it. Without those overhead lights, it can get pretty dark upstairs, and sometimes flashlights are in order.”
Once Everson finally called Kaplan, the contractor committed to returning in a few weeks, which Everson translates as “after Thanksgiving,” a holiday Everson and Paxson plan to share with Kaplan and his wife.
On Kaplan’s return visit to the house, the wiring issues will be addressed and other critical items — like the freely swinging window sashes — tended to.
About the same time, Everson and Paxson expect to welcome to town their friend Joe Nickel [sic] from Missoula, Mont. Nickel is a journalist for the Missoula newspaper, a co-producer of Everson’s television show and also, as luck would have it, a tile setter.
“Joe is coming down to set the tile in our downstairs shower. We’ve been planning this ever since the storm, but now Joe’s wife is expecting, so he either comes now or it’s never.”
With the doors and windows secure, the contractor scheduled, and the tile setter almost en route, Everson has one more chore to tend to this week, a cleansing of sorts that he likens to a ritual.
“I’m going to clean the basement windows. It’s a little thing, but they are still covered in dirt that the flood waters left behind. I’m going to wash that all away.”
. . . . . . .
Stephanie Bruno can be reached at [email protected]
The picture for this article isn’t online, I don’t think, but it showed me washing one of the basement windows. It should be noted that I cleaned only one window, for the benefit of the photographer. Also, Mike isn’t married, and Xy will be visiting Bloomington for Thanksgiving. Also, J’s trip to New Orleans has been delayed until early January. And I’m proud to report they posted this article on the board at Bayou Coffee House.
Anyway, that was my vacation. Damn. Vacationing is hard work. So I’ve come back to the University for a while, just to give myself a break.