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Being There June 4, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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By way of Twitter, direct from the online site of New York Magazine, which I began reading on my Blackberry but finished on my desktop while a mail and file search absorbed my laptop, which never the less managed to chime and pop up ghost summaries of emails as the Blackberry pulsed to warn me of my next meeting, and topped like a cherry on a sundae with a picture pulled via Google from Flikr, comes this interesting article on what digital multitasking is doing to our minds.

I defy you (as the author does in his opening paragraphs) to read it all the way through, online, without stopping to wonder if someone has answered that email or topped your clever comment on Facebook. ——————————— Sorry, I had to stop and check the chime on my Blackberry, reserved for certain important messages. I’m back. I swear.

These are our Modern Times. We live in a world in which The Man has figured out how to speed up the virtual assembly line, and if we wish to maintain the lives we have grown accustomed to–pay the mortgage, educate the children, enjoy our few pleasures–we have no choice but to deal.

Our modern times–if we were to remake the classic film Modern Times today it would be a single, fixed shot of the eyes of Chaplin, the story told by scenes on his computer screen reflected onto the spectacles of our modern anti-hero, the only real movement would be by his eyes. Perhaps his hand would rise up to touch his Bluetooth headset or push his glasses back up his sweaty nose, but nothing more. We would tell the entire story of our modern times projected a few small pieces of glass to one man, alone, flashing by in a fragmentary mosaic. (Cue score of Koyaanisqatsi.)

Pistolette , who found this article, is rightly concerned with how this is all impacting us. I have not gone fully offline in a long time, but I used to envy a woman I shared an office with once who would take a week off every summer and go to a secluded cabin sans husband and children with a big stack of books. That seems idyllic to me.

I don’t worry too much about how all of this obsessive multi-tasking and media overload is impacting me. I work with a scattered team at work and having a rich set of channels to manage that life–email, instant messaging, wireless phones–seems to help enormously. It does require that I shut down some channels when I really need to focus. I moan that the firewall blocks Facebook and Twitter but its probably for the best.

I feel scatterbrained lately but that has much more to do with stress unrelated to my online life. Most people in New Orleans seem more scattered than people elsewhere, but living here where It’s After the End of the World seems to have that effect on people. It is not caused by a rich digital life but by the stress on the streets, in our daily life, not precisely post-traumatic because the emergency never seems to completely end.

In this one central piece of my wired life on Toulouse Street, the serendipity of the moment often informs what I write, and that is why this one paragraph in the long article jumped out at me. Read it and judge for yourself, but I think I will continue to both walk the streets of my city as well as wander the virtual channels of the Internet, drinking it all in and waiting for the intuitive flash of that bright moment in which we know our doom.

The prophets of total attentional meltdown sometimes invoke, as an example of the great culture we’re going to lose as we succumb to e-thinking, the canonical French juggernaut Marcel Proust. And indeed, at seven volumes, several thousand pages, and 1.5 million words, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu is in many ways the anti-Twitter. (It would take, by the way, exactly 68,636 tweets to reproduce.) It’s important to remember, however, that the most famous moment in all of Proust, the moment that launches the entire monumental project, is a moment of pure distraction: when the narrator, Marcel, eats a spoonful of tea-soaked madeleine and finds himself instantly transported back to the world of his childhood. Proust makes it clear that conscious focus could never have yielded such profound magic: Marcel has to abandon the constraints of what he calls “voluntary memory”—the kind of narrow, purpose-driven attention that Adderall, say, might have allowed him to harness—in order to get to the deeper truths available only by distraction. That famous cookie is a kind of hyperlink: a little blip that launches an associative cascade of a million other subjects. This sort of free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process; one moment of judicious unmindfulness can inspire thousands of hours of mindfulness.

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Balance March 11, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, Citizen Journalism, New Orleans, NOLA.
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As part of our continuing campaign to keep this from turning into the Grandpa Elliot blog (wow but that guy can drive some traffic in), here’s another bit a lazy snipping from Pistolette. The same subject has been on my mind. There’s so much I could say about conditions in this city, but then others–E, Schroeder, Oyster,that Yellow Blog guy–who dedicate themselves to citizen journalism do such a fine job I’d just be an echo.

Anyway, Pistolette sums up my feelings on why I write about what I do write about here on Toulouse Street (and why I don’t write about the sort of things that used to fill up Wet Bank Guide long ago).

I don’t want to discuss politics or social issues here anymore. There is something disharmonious about having a whimsical cooking post backed up to a long rant about the mayor or city council. It just doesn’t feel right to me. So Pistolette will stick to personal and lifestyle posts. As I’ve mentioned many times, part of staying happy and sane in a place like Nola requires you to simultaneously face and tackle the destruction and corruption around you while remembering why you’re doing it – the good things – that familiar home culture of people, food, history, imagery, fests, family, architecture – a cocktail of physical and emotional beauty not found anywhere else. Too much of the good stuff and you’re in denial, too much of the bad stuff and you’re wallowing. You need to keep that balance going, and it’s not always easy. Yet another mental fee to pay if you want the privilege, not the right, to live here.

I promise to return from lazy cut-and-post behavior once I’ve finished my submission for the Finn McCool’s St. Patrick’s Day writing contest. I also plan to start writing about public affairs in the greater city and not just the insular world of Toulouse Street on the HumidCity.com platform, at least when the issue seems to call for comment and no one else on the HC team is stepping up.

Doing Exactly What You Said November 12, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I started off the day reading this cheerful piece on the Times-Picayune/NOLA>com site about the New Orleans City Council’s efforts to extract someone’s head from their ass (the Mayor’s, the Recovery Czar’s, their own) so they could figure out when the pretty signboards announcing progress in recovery might be replaced by something like actual progress on city-controlled recovery projects. Typical happy reading down here in Year Three.

Thankfully, I got over to read what Cliff of Cliff’s Crib said on a similar subject. Cliff does a better job of summing up what’s going down and going wrong (and right) than anybody else in this town. I wanted to call out this from his last post:

Brad Pitt had a radical idea for hurricane recovery. He presented a plan, people gave him money to do it, and then he did what he said he was going to do. Sometimes great plans are very simplistic. I was wondering. Has the city council or the mayor recognized this man for this work? Has he gotten a key to the city? Does he get to ride in the Zulu parade? What about a good pot of red beans? Maybe we can give him and Angelina a second line in their honor when they are in town. I would like to nominate Mr. Pitt for a new position in the city. He should be the Director of Doing Exactly What You Said You Were Going to Do.

And I nominate Cliff for Director of the Ministry of Speaking Truth to Power, for at least the salary the mayor’s half-dozen press hacks are getting.

Tiny Demons October 27, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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The New Orleans blogosphere is quiet about the news that that Chris Rose was arrested in some sort of alcohol-fueled domestic dispute. Rose is a frequent target of blogger jibes (the term “douchebag” and “Rose” being nearly synonymous), and he is annually brought up as a possible guest speaker at the NOLA Bloggers’ annual Rising Tide conference, and the suggestion is routinely and ritualistically hooted down.

We tend to pick on Rose because New Orleans’ blogosphere is full of people who think they could do Chris’ Rose job better than he does. I’ll admit there are days I read his column and I am one of those. Frankly, there are reporters and writers in the blog list at the side of this page I would hold up any day against anyone at the Picayune. Still, most of the bloggers have never written for a newspaper, have never had space to fill without an idea in their head, with a deadline bearing down on them. Sometimes you pound out some crap and if you have half a talent and more than a little luck, everybody is happy and gets to go home to dinner. Forced to fill the columns of a newspaper Living section, Rose does his 60 Second Interviews and slavers over Brittany Spears in a distasteful way most middle age men secretly understand.

He is certainly full of himself in spite of the crap he sometimes passes over to the copy desk, and so an easy target. Still, I tend not to pick at him in my own little space here. I’ve lived that life where the line a good editor can file any hole isn’t just a lewd jibe over after deadline drinks but a daily fact of life, so I give him some slack for the nonsense. Being the Angus Lind of the X-and-Y generation probably isn’t as great a gig as we all think it is.

I did write one slightly snarky piece when Rose discovered his fellow writers on New Orleans in the blog space after Ashley Morris’ untimely death. I suggested we were more like Rose than many of my colleagues in the NOLA Bloggers group would happily admit. The first time I gave Rose some notice was something I wrote long ago, when the weight of survivor guilt watching It all unfold in my city was almost unbearable. It was a letter to Rose, posted on Wet Bank Guide but also sent as an email. I never got a response, but I didn’t expect one. If you can find your way back to the original Rose column I referenced in Shadow of the Elephant, I think it explains in part at least why I find myself writing this today when something tells me I should just leave it alone.

Back in his post-K hey day, Rose often wrote about his family, in particular about taking his children out to experience everything New Orleans. My children were not raised here, and I have great sympathy for that experience. In fact he wrote so often about his family I was surprised to find that this weekend’s incident took place at an ex-girlfriend’s. It’s hard to feel complete empathy for Rose. If you live here long enough you’ll know enough stupid drunks or worse, and you start to lose patience for that sort of behavior. Maybe it’s just my age. But then I think of those kids.

Rose also wrote about his battle with depression. Down here where people pop Xanax like breath mints it wasn’t as important a story for us as it was for the rest of the world. They need to know that Living in a post-disaster landscape is not anyone’s idea of easy, much less Big and Easy. Of course people go though Zoloft like they’re Chee-Wees. At least the pills are better than the alternative: for example, finding yourself dead drunk at an ex-girlfriends trying to explain how fucked up your life is when she (and her new beau) don’t want to hear it.

It’s been three years since Rose sat on that stoop he wrote about in late 2005, in the middle of the post-Flood bedlam, trying to figure out what happened to his world. Back them I felt an immediate empathy for him which time and his own goofiness have not completely erased. He set himself up to be the poster child for New Orleans post-K but to do that he had to stay through it all, had to continue to find new ways to tell a story we all sometimes wish had an end.

I was immediately reminded when I read the Rose story of Picayune photog John McCusker’s own confrontation with the police. It has taken them a while to catch up, but the demons that chased McCusker like the police have finally caught up with Rose.

Somewhere deep inside my own demon is chuckling as I read about Rose’s mishap, but I shove him back down and tell him to be quiet. We’ve all seen the demons down here get the upper hand. McCusker’s story has always stood out in my memory, as did the story about the elderly gentleman who couldn’t hold on any longer waiting for his Road Home money and walked into the river to drown. We all know of the marriages ruined, the children still afraid of thunderstorms.

It’s best we all just let it go. We don’t want all of the demons let loose down here by the flood and its aftermath to think they’re getting the upper hand. Pay no attention to that guy perched on the edge of your night table in the checkered pants. Demons are like that crazy lady down the street. If you start to pay them too much attention, you’ll never be rid of them. Best we all mix a strong drink and flip on Rob Zombie’s Halloween horror movie festival on cable TV, pretend that demons are only in movies and always meet their well deserved end about the time the popcorn runs out.

{chirp chirp chirp chirp chirp} October 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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No, I haven’t gone over to laying beneath a tree in City Park with a cane pole, although I have to admit to a certain attraction to that idea. I’m tremendously jealous of the kids (and teachers) who have a summer vacation, even if they have to work odd jobs. There are days at the counting house where park ranger sounds like an untterly fascinating profession. Or pehaps fire watcher. You know, those guys who sit out in the wilderness somewhere in a tower watching for fires.

When there’s nothing going on here, maybe there’s something going on here. Or I might have must mosied over to my own little Briar County on the Bayou to sit down and calm myself. Now where’d I put that corn-cob pipe?

Flotsam and Jetsam September 1, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Here some bits of information coming back from the blogger embeds and others:

From Michael Homan in an email to our Mid-City Neighborhood Association mailing list: I walked S. Alexander to Banks Street and to Canal Street a short time ago. There are no powerlines down, no poles down, no cable/phone lines down, no roof tiles, just small oak branches. Winds have died down considerably. Very little rain. It looks very promising.

Pistolette has also kept internet Uptown, and offers a series of updates from the storm on her blog.

NOLASlate and Karen of Squandered Heritage are also embeds in the city, but both are offline. Karen has a working landlind at her friend’s house in the Riverbend section where Carrollton Meets St. Charles and called midday. Her assessment through midday would match up with Michael’s from Mid-City.

No updates from Morwen of Gentilly Girl and and Betz, but they built themselves a storm proof, elevetated bunker. They’re likely offline but they were the ones I was the least worried about, unless they came to blows over the remote.

Greg Peters of Suspect Device offers bulletins and an audio log (Stardate: 62134.8) and more from the capital of the Acadian Autonomous Region (aka Lafayette).

So far the city proper (the east bank) is fine. The West Bank, including the Algiers section of New Orleans and West Jefferson Parish are Ok after a drive through by the Times-Picayune. East Plaquemines, as I suggested last night, has water but so far it is only chest-high water. The forecast for their six-to-eight foot levees was an 18′ storm surge. The flooding at Braithwaite is to far south and east to threaten the city proper. Its too soon to tell if it could bleed up into St. Bernard Parish.

Entergy reports 101,000 customers out in their New Orleans service area, and a timeline of several days post storm just to estimate how long it will take to resume power. Now the almost 2 million people who evacuated begin to figure out how (and when) to get back home.

Follow the NOLA Bloggers on Twitter for real-time updates from the ground and the diaspora.

In spite of the dramatic splashing of water at the top of the floodwalls in the Industrial Canal, New Orleans has in fact escaped.

Three Years August 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I never thought I’d need so many people.”
–David Bowie, Five Years

Every day I drive slowly down rough and littered streets beneath sooty overpasses, through neighborhoods lined with hollow houses, the empty windows watching over the slow collapse of the roads into rubble, the rampant lawns and the vines claiming the roofs. Familiar landmarks are vanished into weed-choked lots even as new buildings rise up here and there. I tell myself this is not a disaster area, it is the New Orleans of memory, the postdiluvian city of shabby gentility slowly settling back into itself. It is the place I remember not transformed but instead amplified by the flood, the decay accelerated by the casual incompetence and common corruption of a government that would shame Haiti.

The streets and sidewalks still sag and heave as they did before, as if something beneath them were trying to break through and reclaim its place. There are more of these upheavals now, as if the flood had woken something that once moved slowly as in a dream, as if what lay below has grown hungry and anxious to completely crack the thin veneer of concrete we call civilization and begin to consume us in ernest. I can no longer be certain whether the roots that tear up the sidewalks run down from the trees, or if they are something clawing up from below, tossing up oaks and cypress to reclaim us for the swamp primeaval.

That is my city: not the delicate traceries of iron balconies or mossy-bricked patios at the end of a gas-lit carriageway in the Quarter–a postcard place for tourists–or the clean and quiet, manse-lined streets in the better parts of Uptown untouched by the flood. I live in the heart of the place, a section named Mid-City but called Back of Town by the cab dispatchers, rows of small houses crowded up to streets drapped in a tangle of overhead black wires, an early 20th century working class neighborhood made good (just), clinging desperately to gentility just a block from the railroad tracks.

Things mostly look good on our stretch of Toulouse Street three years after the levees failed and the city was drowned. Our biggest problem is that all of the rentals are full and its getting hard to park. I can drive to work up Orleans and tell myself it doesn’t look that different, until I get to the fields of sand and debris that were once the Lafitte Housing projects. Or I can take my son to school first, taking a part of my own boyhood route to school up Jefferson Davis and Nashville, and convince myself that things looks much the same as they did three years ago today, or twenty years ago when I left for the east coast.

I can make a point of not venturing into the heart of Gentilly Woods or New Orleans East. I can leave my newspaper folded on the porch, not reading of peoples homes demolished by mistake, or a building badly in need of demolition but ignored collapsing onto someone’s nearly restored house. I can pay no attention to the latest recovery scandal, the diversion of funds to help the elderly and poor into the pockets of the mayor’s brother-in-law. Instead I can make head out to any of a dozen of world’s finest restaurants in the country, then wander out into the night to listen to music you won’t find anywherre else in America, and tell myself everything is going to be alright.

Instead, I find myself getting up most mornings or coming home at night not to the daily paper but to a computer. I login and after vainly checking for comments and counts here, I pull up the writings of dozens of New Orleans bloggers who will not let us forget, who will not let you forget wherever you may be. They are a daily reminder of the ground truth of this place, that our recovery still struggles after three years and will continue for years to come. They remind me as well that I no longer have the time or energy to crusade as I did on Wet Bank Guide for the first two years after the flood, but that the battle goes on.

We are an odd bunch, the NOLA bloggers. I wrote not long ago:

“We are people who write about this city and the people in it… as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World…part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks [in City Hall] on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.

“[w]e’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

Our community is an on-line analog of the movement that blossomed two years ago when the government failed to step in to rebuild the city. Organizations rose up in the neighborhoods among those who came home first, and became a movement of civic engagement. Among the leaders that movement cast up were bloggers: Karen Gadbois and Bart Everson most prominently, with dozens of others in the ranks. When it became clear that the government would not save us, the people of New Orleans moved to save themselves and blogging became an important part of that movement.

What we all blog is important because we will not let the government write our story, or the out-of-town journalists with their own angle or even our local newspaper, beholden as it is to the lot of carpetbaggers and scaliwags who are swarming like flies around the recovery money that dribbles down like. We tell our own story, the real story of the drowning and slow rebirth of New Orleans, sometimes from the fly-over view of what might be called the big picture, but more often in the stories of our own neighborhood, our block, ourselves. The people who would write our history for their own ends must contend with us. They have their own reasons, their own agendas. We have only one purpose: the salvation of the city and our own post-traumitized selves in the bargain.

Who do I read? If I start to name names, I know I will leave someone out, but on the odd chance you have just stumbled in here from elsewhere, I have to call out at least a few. Karen’s Squandered Heritage, Eli’s We Could Be Famous, the anonymous bloggers David’s Moldy City and Dambala’s American Zombie do not just take apart yesterday’s news; they are a at least a day (if not months) ahead at least. Karen and Eli can take credit for breaking the most recent City Hall Scandal. For a taste of life in the postdiluvian city you should be reading Micheal Homan, Kim’s Dangerblond, Mominem’s Tin Can Trailer Trash, Gentilly Girl, Cliff’s Crib, author Poppy Brite’s Dispatches from Tanganyika or Ray in New Orleans (currently on a blogging sabatical, but read back through his story of working on gutting houses in New Orleans). If you want to see people get their snark on and find a way to laugh through the veil of tears, then visit Peter’s Adrastos or Jeffery’s Library Chronicles.

Ah, what a slippery slope this is. See, I’ve gone and left out Leigh, Derek, Deidre, Glen, Bart, Lisa, Greg and Oyster and bog only knows who else. If you come away from this list hurt, hit me up for a drink at Rising Tide III, the bloggers conference on the recovery of New Orleans. You see, we are not just a lot of computer-equipped malingerers and malcontents. Many individuals (Ray, Bart, Karen, and others) have gone great things for the city. As a group, we have mounted Rising Tide, an annual conference on the city’s slow reconstruction. We have been able to attract national authors for featured speakers and active locals to our panels because they too have learned that there is a force moving in the world called blogging. It is not just a spin-off phenomena of politics or the ugly murmurring of the mob you read below the stories on NOLA.COM. It is as powerful and as democratic as Tom Paine setting type and as powerful and as ethereal as William Blake carving visionary plates.

Three years is too soon to know if we will succeed or fail, whether we are writing small pieces of the history of a great beginning or a tragic ending. It is a tremendous task, not merely to rebuild a city but at the same time to try to correct a century of past mistakes that had led to the city I described when I began, the city already full of broken streets and broken dreams before the flood came. Will we collapse of our own internal contraditions like the revolutions of the 20th century, or be drowned beyond recovery by yet another storm? All I know for certain is that unless the Internet collapses or is suppressed you can watch it play out here. Or even play your own part. Blogging alone, we have learned, is not enough, but it is a start: a public declaration that you care about New Orleans, and will not let is fade away.

Cross-posted from Humid City, where this first went up as part of Loki’s Carnival of Blogging for the anniversary and Rising Tide.

NOLA Bloggers find missing cranes on city skyline August 11, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Cranes, you bastard. You promised us cranes. Well, we’re ready to deliver where Ed “Bicycle Pants” Blakely cannot. We got your cranes on the skyline.

Graphic by Greg Peters.

Here’s your rolling reminder about Rising Tide 3: John Barry, author of the definitive work on the 1927 Mississippi River flood; Lee Zurik together with the bloggers who broke the NOAH story; the inside dope on the massive uncontrolled experiment on involuntary child subjects called our post-Flood educational system, eats from the restaurateur/bloggers from J’Anita’s. Aren’t you registered yet? Social 8/22 in the evening at Buffa’s. Conference 8/23 a the Zeitgeist Cultural Center. Volunteer work 8/24.

Rising Tide III August 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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The Rising Tide organizers have been busy as hell while I was lazing in Destin and Miami. The schedule is finalized and it’s time to start banging pans together to build so momentum for this year’s conference.

If you are not familiar with this event, the NOLA Bloggers are organizing their third annual conference on the recovery of New Orleans. This year’s featured speaker is John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and commissioner for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East.

Last year’s feature speaker, author and blogger David Zirin, told me at lunch in all of his travels for work and book promotion, he has never seen as organized and integrated a blogging community as he found in New Orleans. The success of the last two Rising Tide conferences reflect that clearly. The organizing group has put together a fantastic array of speakers. So far, the only thing missing is you.

So why haven’t you registered yet? You can get more details and sign up at www.risingtidenola.net or on the Rising Tide Blog.

Normal Is The New Black July 10, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I don’t know when I stopped asking the hard questions. I routinely wrestled with them for over two years at Wet Bank Guide, but being angry all the time is wearing on a body. At some point, I think I just began to drift into that happy place the pollsters find us in.

Normal is a pretty tenuous concept from one end of Toulouse Street to the other. Still, just because every passing day makes it that much easier to get your New Orleans groove on does that mean we can all just forget about our unlivable Entergy bills and leaky levees, the broken streets and schools, the politicians who all seem to have a sense of decorum and propriety acquired on another planet?

Among my new regular reads is Cliff, who joins that honor roll of NOLA bloggers who stand ready to ask the questions that never seem to occur to Garland Robinette or the Times-Picayune columnists.

In his current post episode of Sitting On My Porch my favorite questions are: “Where are all the comments from angry suburban residents in Mandeville, LA threatening to leave the the Northshore because of all the corruptness in local government and law enforcement? Isn’t that why they all say they left New Orleans?” and “Mayor Ray Nagin has a 31% approval rating. His rating is 49% approval with blacks and 11% with whites. Judging by the quality of life these two groups have in the city right now, shouldn’t those numbers be reversed?”

If at least a few of Cliff’s questions don’t leave you squirming uncomfortably at your keyboard, the ones everyone in New Orleans should be asking regardless of race, then I think the new normal has gotten here just a little too soon. Remember two years ago, when there was some hope that washing the slate clean might, just might make things better?

Who am us, anyway? May 31, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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I write about myself with the same pencil
and in the same exercise book as about him.
It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.

— Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

I first posted this quote 8/31/06 without any comment, when this blog was lurking in a dark and lonely corner of the internets and only seen by spiders.

Who are we that write out our lives on these blogs? Some of us play out the Social Media or Citizen Journalist role, but what about those of us doing something at once much more personal and still very public? I once tossed out the term “narcissistic blogger” on a mailing list and recoiled in horror at the familiarity of the face in that mirror. Some treat these little stages we erect on the Internet as the set of the one person show of our fascinating lives (so we think, or why else would we be here?), while others take on a mask and become someone else, hiding behind the possibility of anonymity. In either event the act of public writing transforms us.

As actors of a sort who we are deep inside informs whoever we try to project on this stage–a public Self or a fabulous Character. (And our public Selves are certainly contrived Characters, keeping Mr. ID corralled and Dr. Ego’s social relationships in good trim, else the world would be littered with the bodies of murdered co-workers and a long trail of casually ravished lovers). Whoever we think we are in our blogs, the act of performing in words makes us someone new, something more than the simple sum of actor and character. “It is no longer I, but another who’s life is just beginning.”

As I said, I had posted this quote before without much comment almost two years ago. I found it online the other day while looking for something else, and chose to unearth and repost it. Do we repeat ourselves because we’ve exhausted other subjects, or because repetition is an irresistible part of life; not a circle necessarily but a spiral that clocks around an imperceptible center? I like to think the latter rather than consider myself a broken record, a tiresome bore sitting on the same stool day after day drinking the same stale beer and endlessly recycling the same stories.

I think Yeats had it wrong, at least in general. If the spiral gyre runs out from the center it is not a failure of gravity but instead the trajectory of something that has reached escape velocity, acting out a driving impulse but anchored by the mathematical center without which the curve becomes a line. Our personal trajectory through time and space is certain to be governed by some center as surely as the moon controls the tides. Toulouse Street itself is the center here, seems fairly fixed in space and time: an island in this stream we think we are admiring from the deck even as the current sweeps us away, the unseen captain spinning the unresponsive wheel and shouting frantic orders lost down the tube in the diabolical noise of engines run amok.

This is an adventure.

The Underground Man April 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“So long live the underground. I already carried the underground in my soul.”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

New Orleans Times-Picayune pop-culture columnist Chris Rose discovered the city’s digital underground, as he puts it, when he stumbled into the occult and hermetic bloggerhood of New Orleans, “…a massive community of underground writers, cranks and misanthropes who are keeping it real around here.”

Hmmm. I think he gets curmudgeon in there at some point as well. I don’t think we’re quite as far underground as he finds us to be. Certainly there are a lot of people who would recognize bloggers Karen Gadbois of Squandered Heritage or Bart Everson of b.rox. Karen was written up in the Wall Street Journal (with a picture, no less). Bart was one of the leaders of our neighborhood’s recovery process and before his daughter was borne sat on more committees than most know exist. Both spoke at the 2007 crime march. Not precisely misanthropic. Now we certainly can be the cantankerous bunch, especially when confronted with the class of people Ashley Morris liberated the movie line “fuckmooks” to describe.

Later, Rose is a bit kinder (possibly after he recovers from being called a douchebag by one local blogger, although I have to wonder how easily offended a guy is who calls his standup comedy routine “the Asshole Monologues.”) We are, Rose continues in a more positive vein, “…members of the vibrant New Orleans blogosphere, virtual warriors who lock and load for hours over their computers at night, driving legions of opinions, complaints, vitriol and humor out onto the Information Superhighway, giving both locals and outsiders alternative, sometimes insightful and always uncensored accounts of life in the Big Uneasy. ”

Damn. Well, that was nice enough, although I often write early in the morning. After a long day in the Big Uneasy its often difficult to put words together that would make any more sense than the drunken and incomprehensible speech I gave (or should I say attempted to give) rather late at Ashley Morris’ wake. And it’s certainly a bit nicer than his opening gambit. Still, on balance he makes us sound like 21st century variants of Dostoyevsky’s unpleasant character, well versed enough in modern technology to make our mark but consumed, at least some of us, with complaints and vitriol.

The Big Uneasy. Most people down here actively hate that trite bit of marketing nonsense Big Easy. But this play on it I rather like. It summarizes us all and where we live with a minimum of fuss. It fits in well with the neologisms of the NOLA Bloggers: Debrisville, Federal Flood, We Are Not OK. Rose has taken on for himself the stage role of Mr. Big Uneasy, beginning with a fabulous column he wrote back in the Fall of 2006 and later when he first dropped from the paper’s columns, then returned to publicly recount his struggle with depression.

In case you are not from around here, and fall into that group of fu——–, uh, I mean people who think that 1) New Orleans was wiped from the face of the earth two years ago by a vengeful god and is no longer your problem, or 2) everything down here in just peachy after Mardi Gras, the bowl championship game and NBA All-Stars, let me set the record straight: We Are Not OK. I am one of the few people I know not taking some sort of psychoactive meds to combat a condition I think strongly resembles combat fatigue as much as anything else. Chris Rose became the poster child for this condition, but he is one among tens upon tens of thousands.

Almost 1,000 days after the failure of the Federal levees life down here is still a struggle most Americans can’t imagine. For people who have invested themselves beyond just their own house and circle of friends and family, the people who have taken on in some small or large way the rebirth of the entire city, it can be as bleak at times as the denuded WWI battlescapes I believe the stage directions for Waiting for Godot were meant to invoke.

The thing is, Chris, you’re not unique; not in the way Ashley was unique. Most of us who write as you do, as we all do, about the city and our lives here share a common stage and read from the same script, function not as characters but as members of a chorus. We act from the same flaws and echo each other’s lines, waiting to share that moment of carthasis with the audience. Now Ashley, there was a character. When he walked onto the stage it was: cue the lights and orchestra (snare and kettledrum, fortissimo please). We’re glad you found him, sorry you missed knowing him, and appreciate that you helped to share his story to the larger world of newspaper readers.

He struggled as we all struggled, but as with everything else in his life he did it with more gusto that most. If he seemed at time cantankerous or misanthropic and downright cranky, he was entitled. We’re all entitled: you, too, Chris. The NOLA bloggers are not, however, the caricature of the cantankerous blogger: that 21st Century, Web. 2.0 version of the crank with a typewriter and a mimeo machine, guys who write and mass mail letters to every member of Congress, who litter coffee shops with uncollected petitions.

We are, as you admit in one moment, a lot like yourself. We are people who write about this city and the people in it, not for a living as you do but as a very important part of our lives, as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World. We are underground men (and women), but not in the Dostoyevskyan sense. We are in part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.

We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.

Welcome to the underground.