Friday, September 30, 2011

Hey girl on the bus with lacerations all over your wrist,

Do you want to come over? I live really close by this bus route, so after we chilled for a bit you could get back on the same route and go home a little later. Or you could never go home, if that’s why you’re drawing all over yourself with knives. I bet you have a place to go even if you don't know it. I bet I know of a place where you can stay if you really have nowhere to go. Or maybe home isn't the problem, and you can just head back, and everything will be a little better. I'll never know until I ask.
We can do anything you want! Anything, seriously! I've learned not to judge. You could almost say I took a course in understanding that pain is not something anyone should be ashamed of, but I don't think any school could possibly offer that with any real amount of heart. We could watch Roman Holiday and eat grilled cheese sandwiches, which always makes me feel like tomorrow will be a little better. Or maybe you find Audrey Hepburn annoying instead of charming, and maybe you're lactose intolerant. It doesn't really matter to me, because we could just sit on my couch and swap stories and drink tea (without milk?) My couch is really comfortable! Seriously. I read the Ikea catalogue and it says that they designed it keeping in mind that people like to sit on the arms and may sleep on it, so really, you could sit however you wanted. We could have a beer together! The liquor store is right up the street and we could walk together in the cold night air and each grab our favourite tall boy and vent as we cracked the tops off, spilling foam all over our knuckles. If you wanted to smoke a joint, you could do it on our deck. Our landlord doesn't like that, but if he saw, I'd explain to him and he would understand. I know it doesn't seem that way sometimes, but people usually do. Actually. Really. I promise. People usually understand.
That's not to say that people pretend that they understand. Understanding is scary, because it means you have told someone something that is so deep and dark and meaningful that you are searching for a hint of relatability in their eyes. People are not always ready to admit that they can connect with something like that. Sometimes they are mean, and sometimes they are kind. The worst is when they pretend to be apathetic and unmoved, but between you and I, I know they are aching inside. See? I have secrets to tell too. So how about that beer on my versatile seating coach?
Maybe you've tried to talk to a professional before, and maybe you haven't because you're scared that they will be that apathetic person. Maybe they gave you drugs. Maybe they gave you drugs for those drugs. Maybe the symptoms seemed worse than the disease, and maybe you couldn't afford even one pill. Isn't it sad that in such a great country so many people have a hard time waking up and facing the day? Isn't it confusing that the lack of a pharmacare program in Canada means that so many of the most intelligent people in the country simply cannot contribute to the society, to the economy, to the community, in the way that they would like? I hope I am not being too political, but some day when you have a little less on your plate (and I promise that day will come!) you should probably remember how you feel today, and write a letter to make something happen.
Because something has to happen.
Because you're on this bus with lacerations all over your wrist.
I get it. I really get it.  And if I don't get it, someone else does, and I still care.  I've been there too. I mean, maybe not there. Or maybe our heres and our theres are different. But I've been there! Everyone's been there at least once. My there happened when my brain started screaming at me so loud it might drip out of my ear and into a puddle on the floor. I was so preoccupied with some stresser that I cannot remember now. I remember feeling like I might die, or that I was already not living. There was no way a brain could beat so hard against my skull and I would just... survive? Of course, I did. I'm here, sitting across the aisle from you, so I did. There was also the time I thought that every spoonful of food I put into my body would make me blow up into a balloon and no one would ever love me because of it. My body did not feel like mine. My mind felt like an echo in an ugly old house. In myself, I had never felt so alone.
People do care. People care so much they light up the sky with millions of candles all over the planet just so the people who took themselves away from us can see how beautiful they really were down here. People care in a way they can never put into words, even if they really, really try. People care so much that they notice when a graceful girl with beautiful shiny hair slinks onto the bus with wounds all over her wrist, even if she tries to cover it up with bracelets and wristbands. If you don't really want to have a beer with me, maybe you're more of a martini person. I can mix a mean one! I even have this special shaker! I got it at a nice home decor store because I really do believe my life will involve throwing fabulous dinner parties. Isn't that a silly wish for a twenty one year old? So let me play hostess. Oh, and we can sit on my kitchen floor if you're so inclined. I have half of a baguette. It's a little hard, but it's still tasty. So why don't you come home with me?
I'm rambling because I'm trying to be casual. I'm hoping this is a meaningful conversation, not an embarrasing penalty. I hope you think I'm funny, or a little kooky, or anything but creepy. I hope you will come with me. Of course, this is all in my head. I can't say a single thing. I'm overanalysing this situation across from you, and you will never know I exist. I can't tell you what I'm thinking, because then I'm scary or weird. You might roll your eyes. You might tell the bus driver to kick me off. You might text your friends. Omg! What a random weirdo. Whatever. Awwwkwarrrd.
What's so creepy about trying to save someone's life?
I wish that there was an easy way to tell you how much the idea of someone who has to hurt themselves to feel something means to me. I have fallen in love with your spirit, because I am human, and you are human, and I feel your pain. I can't say a word, so I write many here. Maybe you'll see this some day and know. Maybe one of your friends will post this on some social media website you check, and you will remember a fidgetty redhead who's always staring at you. Or maybe you'll never know. Ever. Which is a shame, because I know so much and so little about you. I hope you are okay. I hope I see you again and your wounds have healed. I hope I see you again and your spirit has mended a little too. Even if we never know each other, maybe we have created a bond. Me writing this. You maybe reading this. We are connecting. For minutes we are both less alone. We are creating something beautiful with our minds, and we are for one minute taking some of the complication out of this scary modern world. We are changing each other's lives. 
So...  how about that beer?

Inspired by Luke, my immensely loved boyfriend, who notices lacerations on wrists. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What it's like to be living in New Orleans after The Storm

There are many ways in which Alli differs from you. An enthusiastic & charming red head, she cheers on progressive ecological policies and the New Orleans Saints with the same delighted fervor. However, her unusual way of measuring time is more typical than you might think.

“Talk to someone from down here and I can guarantee they will begin a story by saying, ‘So this happened Before Katrina/After Katrina... B.K. and A.K.—learn it, live it, love it!’ she explains, with both gravity and lightheartedness. “Another acceptable story timetable is Before the Storm and After the Storm. The Storm. You know which one I’m talking about!”

Survivor doesn’t even begin to describe the mentality that Alli and those around her had to adopt. In 2005, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. As if the devastation of losing homes and loved ones wasn’t enough, the people of New Orleans, affectionately called NOLA, were also subjected to the kind of inappropriateness that caused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Michael Brown to resign. Although so much tragedy made the news at the time, and eventually many questions were asked about government responses, rebuilding New Orleans has almost disappeared from the news although challenges continue.

Being able to communicate with Alli is a bit like watching a big theatre rendition of the storm. Her rhetoric is honest and sincere, almost sounding like the narration of a movie screen heroine you want to be best friends with. She cannot say one thing without accompanying it with a few facts about Nola. Despite the difficulties she and so many others have endured, she starts by insisting “I was one of the lucky ones.” You can only sit back and think that no, you are, for being able to hear what she has to say.

My family and I evacuated before the storm. I was 15 years old at the time. We were originally planned to go to Arkansas to meet up with friends, but it took a good 10 hours just to get to Jackson, MS—a trip that usually only takes 3 hours. We had my two cats and my beta fish, so traveling was getting tricky. Watching one of your cats sink lower down in the stacked up cargo area of your Jeep is only cute for so long. We stopped at a rest stop in Jackson and booked the last hotel room at a Holiday Inn. The outer bands of Katrina reached to Jackson and the hotel’s electricity went out; everyone was locked out of their rooms because the key swiper went down. All the guests stayed in the lobby with a gourmet meal of crackers for dinner. The time in the lobby felt normal—sure we were with people we’ve literally never talked to before, but my sister and I annoyed each other, I spotted a cute boy, I got bored. Time passed.

The next day, we got electricity in the hotel. With that came both a dreaded and revered item: television. News. Images of Katrina flashed before us.
One woman shrieked, “Oh my God, that’s my house, that’s my neighborhood!”
Everything was underwater.
She broke down crying.
I was hopeful the government would be of assistance. The hope was dashed when the levee breaches happened. We trusted them to protect us, yet the ARMY Corp of Engineers couldn’t do that. The Corp claimed they didn’t have prior knowledge the levees were in danger of breaching, but they put their own study in 1986 that said separations in the I-Wall were possible. 1986. They clearly knew what the consequences of the storm could be. I was flummoxed that federal government was not prepared, that government officials were playing the blame game. Step up when your residents need you most. Don’t cower when there’s a problem; we elected y’all to protect us, so do what you’ve sworn you’ll do. What gave me back hope was residents doing their own rescue missions, people coming in from all over to lend a hand, charities and international countries donating to help out. They were doing what the local and federal government was scared of.

New Orleans is used to political corruptness (Hey Bill Jefferson! Nice stack of food containers in there, I heard that helps keep laundered money fresher, too!), but for an organization that is literally Federal Emergency Management Agency, they were woefully, embarrassingly unprepared. How could they not manage the aftermath? You prepare for the worst and pray for the best, not the other way around!
...I guess they didn’t get that memo.
It’s so sobering seeing ones you love not getting proper help because of failure in the emergency preparedness. When FEMA finally did help out, they distributed trailers that contained formaldehyde. This means not only did recipients not have a place to live, but they also had to inhale cancer-causing carcinogens! Pitiful all over.

The journalist, who in my opinion did the greatest job, is definitely Anderson Cooper. Journalists aren’t supposed to let the stories take them over, but his honest portrayal of emotions showed the country, “This is real.” You could see this wasn’t just another piece to cover to get new viewers. It wasn’t sensationalized. He honestly wanted all of the answers for the citizens when he let loose on Mary Landrieu, who thanked Bush for his “Great response.”
Anderson Cooper responded, “I got to tell you. There are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians . . . thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now. Because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats, because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there’s not enough facilities to take her up. Do you get the anger that is out here?

Despite all that has happened, New Orleans pride is something real. We may be a small-big city, but did you know our WWII Museum is the only museum that addresses all of the D-Days? We were gifted portions of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall! During Mardi Gras season there can be the biggest mess of beads and trash in the street at the end of the night, but you wake up in the morning and it’s like house elves paid us a visit because everything is spotless. Seriously. There’s also always something going on —jazz concert with Rebirth Brass Band, restaurants opening, crazy good small businesses being opened, and Saints games (Who Dat, y’all!). We're going to progress in the art scene, the restaurant scene, the medicine scene —we have really awesome hospital and animal research down here, which many people don’t realize. So come down here! Eat ‘til you swear you’ve had enough to eat to last ‘til next year and then eat some more. Get a hurricane —the drink, thank you very much— at Pat O’s & then walk out with your drink because NOLA doesn’t have an open container law. (It works. Honestly!) Just please, for the love of God, do not flash yourself on Bourbon St. It’s a bulls eye that you’re a tourist.

In the future, I see New Orleans thriving even more than we already are. The New Orleans that is now is not what you saw on TV 6 years ago. There’s still work to be done, but there always will be. Whether it’s now or 5 years down the line, we’ll still have Southern hospitality. New Orleans has been called the New York City of the South, but I think we’re our own city. No matter how many times this has been said, it will always be true: you can’t capture the atmosphere of New Orleans anywhere but here.

Some notes From Alli:
-Fleurty Girl is an amazing local store that has really taken off. Lauren Thom, owner of the store, has done so many amazing things for the city. She heard about a man in Tremé who was selling t-shirts with “I Heart Tremé” to try and raise enough money for rebuilding his house. She took over production and donated 100% of the sales so he could rebuild his house.
-The wetlands are being destroyed at such a fast rate and it's a danger to coastal cities, coastal wildlife, and the ecology system as a whole. They are a natural barrier to help slow down hurricanes before they approach us; if the wetlands devolve into nothing, we're pretty much messed up for good. Donate your (natural, undecorated) Christmas trees once you're through with them. It gets deposited in the wetlands to help regrow them.

& there's always something else... KK Projects, which are really visually striking /  Flakes, which is set in NOLA before the storm, is pretty charming & just what you'd want from a Zooey Deschanel movie / Jazz is narrated by Ken Burns. I'm one episode in, and it is so comprehensive but always interesting.

All images are from Alli, which was very appreciated.
What It’s Like to Be… is a series of interviews with people, especially young women, who have stories to tell about, well, being them! From a woman who’s had an abortion to growing up with two mothers to experiencing dementia, I am open minded about who I interview. If you would like to tell your story, please email me at alwaysalwayssomething (at) gmail (dot) com so we can start to talk!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why I'm Upset

There's something ingrained in you at a very young age that everything will always be okay in The End. The End, The End, is a magically denouement in books where nothing happens to the character after, but is somehow not always death. Even the critical or existential novels lavish in The End for the sake of a conslusion. In The Stranger, death is accepted. In The Great Gatsby, Nick decides he can go elsewhere and find better people. There is a conclusion. There is a happy ending, even if there is no happiness.

This is why I really thought that Troy Davis would not be put to death last night.

An innocent man is innocent, so why would they kill him? In every movie, some firecracker lawyer cuts in through the bullshit bureaucracy and yells a passionate speech about seeing people, seeing people, that brings everyone to their feet with applause. Last night, millions of people on the Internet filled that role, and no one budged. When I came to work this morning, only one or two people had heard what happened. They asked me if I was an American, as if what happens elsewhere in the world has no effect on anyone, as if we have to stay within our arbitrary political bubbles that are called countries.

I'm not as sad that Troy Davis was put to death as I am because I do not think anything will change. Another topic will trend on Twitter, and some other political issue will happen in the news. People make snide remarks about Casey Anthony deserving the chair, not him, and I burn inside screaming YOU ARE WHAT'S WRONG. As long as the death penalty exists anywhere, innocent people will die. Where something is permitted, there is room to do it wrong. There is no 100% success rate, if you can even look at murder as a success.

So prove me wrong, whoever you are. Start a movement, young Americans. I will help you, but right now, my heart is in protecting the liberties that make my country mine. Ensure that next time, no one has to sweep in at the last minute and convince a naive girl refreshing the Huffington Post every second that there is still good in the world. It was just as wrong when he was sentenced as it is when he was killed; one was just more talked about than the other.

Stop tolerating when people say "He just feels guilty" about a black man; you know what they mean. Stop assuming that The End is glorious; all the fairy tales were written, not lived. Stop expecting someone else to come and give that impassioned speech to make it all okay. If there is one thing I have learned from this horrendous act, it is that it is not about what's right as much as what's legal.

As long as this is true, we have all failed.
Stop accepting that.

Update: I forgot to credit this compelling picture. Thank you, and many apologies.