This is what I’m doing right now. It’s almost 2:30 a.m., and I’m sitting on my couch, trying to tap back into what is the beginning of a much needed catharsis following the last nine months in New Orleans.  I sat down in my PhD office today, and wrote for six hours.  A lot of blogging, some proposed commentary for Foresight, and a To Do list of all the content I’m still trying to process and unload from my brain.  A long talk with the Undisputed World Champion of Listening, the M.A.S., propelled me out of bed to this late-night cross-legged position in an attempt to untangle further my thoughts.  (I know, exactly the outcome he hoped his empathizing might trigger!) 

The last couple years for me have been rife with drama and change.  Leaving New York, living in Tanzania, moving home to Massachusetts and for a time, my dad’s house, beginning a doctoral program, finding a loving relationship – this has taken a sizable emotional toll on me as I ran across the Twentysomething finish line, arms raised in victory at having survived the drinking and the backbreak and heartaches to reach 30.**  I remember saying to my friend Nikki in late 2004, as the latest failed romance left me crying nightly in my Ford Explorer in my dad’s driveway at the ripe old age of 29, “you know, if we were still teenagers, we could give in to this kind of dramatic pain.  When I was 17 and fighting with D- on New Year’s Eve, I laid down across the double yellow line [of a momentarily empty street] in the middle of the night!�  Now, we’re supposed to keep it together.  Hang in there.  Shoulders squared, hair washed, clothes changed daily.  Working in Lower Manhattan after September 11, while there were crying jags and a lot of boozy nights, having a crew with whom to weather it all made it a lot easier to process than it otherwise might have been.  (Not to mention the daily interactions with cranky business owners that led to my desensitization to their plight and eventual burn out.)  Nothing yet has prepared me for working in New Orleans.   Were it not for the occasional journal entry, semi-regular blog posts, and long, heartfelt talks with the MAS, by now I’d probably be wandering around the vacant Union Passenger [rail] Terminal in New Orleans, talking to myself and in need of one of the mental health beds that no longer exist in the city or state.  I am grieving.  I am mourning a collective loss of livelihood that is tantamount to the death of a city I never even knew before the storm but have still somehow managed to fall in love with from the few glimpses of its old glory that persist.  I am appalled and reeling, from witnessing a power struggle over the ghosts of these lives – the buildings and other shreds of the neighborhoods that remain – as old and new power elites compete to redevelop a city of their own imagining.  And I am infuriated, and endlessly frustrated by the widespread failure of government and non-profits to channel this energy to where these lives actually endure – in the new cities and homes of the now permanently displaced New Orleanians.  Rhetoric around “right of return� and efforts to build the housing stock of the city ultimately do nothing to address the realities of survival and recovery for the new residents of Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Dallas, and Atlanta, among the other locales in the 48 states to which evacuees scattered.  Am I whining?  A little bit.  Am I in with the wrong crowd – the real estate and community developers of the world?  Absolutely.  But I am desperately trying to find my voice to bear witness to what I’ve seen in the last nine months and haphazardly raising it here for lack of a better strategy.  Because if I don’t I’m going to lose my mind.  I don’t work with survivors in New Orleans, so I can’t find peace in taking on the burden of their experiences.   I can’t talk to my colleagues.  Whether their data generates useful insights or not, their work does not breathe, and the New Orleans they present exists only in journal articles, excel sheets and the lessons learned of program evaluation.  And I have to choose too carefully each time how to share concisely my experience during the brief attention span that follows the casual conversation question, “how’s New Orleans?�  (“Hanging on by a thread,� was my initial response to an acquaintance today, until I gauged how much he actually wanted to hear.) 

I’m not sure what will pour out of me in the coming weeks, as the anniversary not only of Katrina but September 11 approaches, as I finally get some breathing room on my couch to sit and process everything I’ve seen, and as I begin to realize some decisions about where I’m headed in the coming months, this fall, 2007, etc.  My desire to pop up in discussion forums beyond my own blog depends largely on my energy level, which is abysmally low these days.  (I’ve easily seen more movies in the last week than I have all year.)  All I know is that it seems likely that I now have to fall apart in order to pull myself back together and keep up my commitment to New Orleans, to where my heart and passion have relocated.  It’s 3:30 a.m.  At the moment, crawling into bed beside the MAS to dream of the Sox’s revenge tomorrow afternoon seems like my healthiest next step.  **See also: http://www.grahamad.com/blog/?page_id=60


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