A high-pressure system of media attention began developing months ago, a natural side-effect of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina. At first I read each new essay or before-and-after list eagerly, to see if any wisdom from our suffering then had left marks like a waterline throughout the wider cultural memory. But as I write this, two days before Katrina's ghost comes ashore yet again, I've found myself bogged down in the depression and futility we felt in the aftermath of the original storm, and it's taken all my strength just to scroll faster past the Category 5 think-pieces as they surge from the globally-warmed media companies and social media pundits.
One bright spot in the clouds, and one that I'm proud to have contributed to, is Cynthia Joyce's curated collection of blogging and citizen reporting from the time of the storm (and after.) It's called "Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina" and if you're looking to get a feel for what life was actually like for those of us in the middle of it then, this is the book you want to read.
I was asked to contribute a post in which my mom gets injured while toiling to clear debris from her property, and, well, I'll post it here along with the original photos:
Sour Times, Operation Eden, September 18, 2005
I want so desperately to have good news for you. Trust me, this is not for your benefit, but for mine, for my family, for my mom, for the hundreds of pitiful and proud people I’ve talked to here. Some good news, some hope, even just a little thimble full, would save some lives. But there is none. Not even a thimble full. No, I take that back, occasionally good news travels in from outside, like a birdsong though an open window. It’s as if Katrina left in her wake a huge zone of Bad, where no new Good can gain a foothold.
All the Good we get has to be imported from exotic far away lands, like Missouri, or New York. Places where people have homes, and electricity, and phones, and running water, and a future. Those of you who’ve given, who’ve bought prints from me, or donated money, you’ve sent us some good news. That’s what we’re surviving on. Thank you.
But down here, the Bad just keeps lingering. While I was in what’s left of my mom’s Eden, photographing what happened to her few belongings, she tripped over a fallen tree in the backyard and fell on her face. Katrina did this to her.
We rushed her to the motor home medical clinic at the local distribution center, and a nice volunteer doctor from Florida checked her out, after he was done checking out the little fat kid who had accidentally split his foot wide open with an ax while trying to clear his dad’s yard.
In 100-degree heat she sat there, and I watched as what was left of her dignity and pride slowly drained out of her. I could see it happen, right as she apologized to the doctor for having unshaven legs, but we haven’t had running water this whole time, so I feel bad you have to touch them. The doctor was charming and said nonsense, don’t apologize, but it was too late, and Katrina and the 100 degree heat evaporated my mom’s reserve of dignity and all I could do was watch, because dignity drains much faster than you can fill it back up.
We listened to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” on the way back to our shelter, and my mom silently cried a little, and I put my hand on her shoulder and couldn’t say anything, because Johnny already said all that needed saying.
I also contributed a spoken-word version of this post, to air as part of Thacker Mountain Radio Hour's (Mississippi Public Radio) Katrina episode, recorded with Cynthia Joyce in front of a live audience in Ocean Springs, MS. That show airs in Mississippi and Louisiana on August 29th, 2015, and can be listened to live or later online here.