Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's happened...we've made it to Year Six after the events of 8/29/2005 in the greater New Orleans area, and boy, are we tired. Honestly, I spent a good chunk of yesterday catching up on sleep when I wasn't checking Twitter obsessively, because my weekend was chock full of activity. Between the Rising Tide conference, my first day back teaching religious school in a long while, and taking the little guy and one of his friends out for a swim afterwards - not to mention our current troubles with a whole lot of smoke inundating the area - I had to sneak in some shut-eye sometime.

Not surprisingly, there are still a lot of problems here.

Lack of health care facilities in the city is a big one.

Yeah, our levees still aren't so hot...but hey, things on the face of it do look physically better in many parts of the city, and for folks like Athenae to see the changes and remark upon them does help us feel that perhaps we really aren't sitting still even though it may feel like it at times...perhaps the changes we are trying to push uphill in the manner of a latter-day Sisyphus won't roll back down on us and crush us, exposing our vulnerabilities for all to see.

What comes to mind most of all this anniversary time around for me, though, is more than just who can speak for us. I think so many of us have learned by now that if we don't raise our voices, at least make an effort to educate others on what and where the needs are, even raise our own hands to help as much as possible, then nothing will get done. If none of us stand for this city, it will fall. What I get concerned about still is a sense of scale that we must still constantly convey.

How best to illustrate this?

I don't have cable or satellite TV in my own home, but the place where I've been working out pretty regularly has it so that people aren't bored out of their gourds on the ellipticals, the stationary bikes, and the treadmills (I found an elliptical machine one morning that everyone was avoiding because its TV was out of order even though the machine itself was fine. Says a lot about how we regard the repetitive motions we do to keep ourselves in shape these days...). I caught an encore episode of No Reservations in Liberia while channel flipping and kept it there while I exercised. Coming attractions of Anthony Bourdain's show cropped up in the commercial break, and I found myself shocked into near-stillness when I saw where he was headed next. It took one quick clip to bring Chernobyl into a certain relief I'd never even considered before - or perhaps I'd refused to consider it. Photographs by folks such as Robert Polidori have a certain eerieness, to be sure: there's still something sad about such abandonment, but it somehow fails to sear the heart like suddenly seeing people right next to the source of such horror and pain - both of which are, in fact, ongoing. It's that feeling that brings a tragedy made distant by Time magazine and the passing of time itself right into your lap, the it could happen here that demands you look at it right now, see it for what it really is.

The levee breaches happened here. They really did. Those moments of scale won't ever leave us. The trick now is to live with those shocks and keep striving as we have all these years without beating ourselves and others over the head with the enormity of the tragedy that befell the Gulf Coast over half a decade ago, because we all have some living to do. That does not mean forgetting - it means continuing to rise above, turning the tragedies into lessons learned and making that work for us all.

Long way to go, indeed. But we are still here. And it's amazing how much of a difference that makes.

In this sixth year, the strength to stay is what must constantly be mustered. I for one look forward to helping keep that alive.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Schlock and Awe

I got asked through an email not too long ago if anything was seriously wrong, as I hadn't posted anything here since June 30th. To answer that question: aside from a low-speed wreck I got into that rearranged the passenger side of my old car and had me running to a Palestinian-run car repair place to get the car door temporarily closed while I solicited a bunch of estimates from auto body shops about town, I am fine.

I was simply out of town for a while on a family vacation to points west....one of those points being what is possibly the Cheap-Ass Kitsch Capital of the World in the midst of what is possibly the Spam Capital of the U.S. - Waikiki in Honolulu. Once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki is now home to some of the highest of the high-rise hotels and condos in any idyllic location anywhere on the planet, and when its malls aren't catering to the moneyed tourists who are ready to drop loads of dough on Prada accessories, Hermes scarves, or - my personal favorite - overpriced Ferrari-emblemed strollers and apparel, they are full of shops designed to sell you any amount of aloha shirts, cheap sarongs, Elvis-in-Hawaii-ana, kukui nut necklaces, ukuleles (both the higher-end, lovingly crafted instruments and the plastic kind of questionable quality), fake-flower and liquor leis, anything in pidgin, rubber slippers galore, coconut-shell brassieres with accompanying grass skirts, muumuus for any and all sizes of wahines, various snacks, and hula dolls of the islands' current favorite kama'aina, Barack Obama. It all makes French Quarter t-shirt shops look like kiddie lemonade stands making feeble stabs at the sales of such offerings - but then again, Hawaii's been participating in the tourist attraction game for much, much longer than New Orleans has, at least since the early part of the 20th century.

The marketing of the island culture there has achieved its zenith, and there is no greater indication of that than the all-inclusive resort hotels such as the Hilton Hawaiian Village that are little more than cruise ships on land: one could conceivably come to Waikiki and never leave the beachfront confines of such a place what with all their hula and surfing instruction and lei-making classes, as well as their own set of higher-end kitsch shops. I'm not going to say we didn't take advantage of any of that (the swimming pools at some of these hotels have to be experienced to be believed), but we did make more of an effort to get out of the hotels, with the assistance of Dan's Hawaiian-transplant cousins. Even if we didn't have that, I'm sure we would've still taken Oahu's TheBus system everywhere anyhow.

What I didn't expect to get a kick out of, though, was getting to meet Dan's cousin at one point at a site made famous by that bastion of 1980's TV, Magnum, P.I. - the fictional King Kamehameha Club. My son couldn't understand my glee as I grinned through dinner and couldn't wait to tell my dad, a huge fan of that TV series, where we'd just been that night. So here is my final query for you, dear reader, to get $5 off your Rising Tide VI registration.

Remember the rules, now, and pick up some of the Rising Tide schlock while you're dropping some funds for the conference. It's been beautifully designed by Greg Peters - no plastic coconuts or Spam there.

What is the actual site used for the King Kamehameha Club scenes in Magnum, P.I.'s first season?

Get me your answer before 8 AM tomorrow. See you at Tracey's tonight, or at the conference.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We have a winner from yesterday! Ms. Nola-Bolt got the correct answer and will receive $5 off her Rising Tide VI registration fee, straight from my hand to hers. Well done.

I've had glassworking on the brain lately, especially the story at the tail end of this post. I can say that there ain't much sadder than someone who still has her hot glass tools and pipes, even though the last time she got near a bench to do any glassblowing was February 14, 2004. In my sicker moments, I long for a mean trick like that exploding Price Rupert drop in Maya Lin's unsuspecting hand. Glass had a hold on me for a number of years, and it hasn't quite let me go. I found myself reminiscing about the things I'd seen to my husband's naturalized-Hawaiian cousin recently when I was on Oahu, but I think about getting back into it, and it's hard. My duties are different now, my body is unused to the extra heat from furnaces and glory holes, my hands are no longer calloused from turning turning turning steel pipes, and my arms are not tenderized by burns from hot waxed jack blades gained from looking at a vessel on the end of a punty rod and forgetting the tools that were just in contact with molten glass were still in my hand. The dough it takes just to build the equipment and keep the air-gas mixes and the molten glass flowing, not to mention the electricity, is enough to make me think very, very seriously about a new beginning, and about the ups and downs of operating my own business. The fact that I keep thinking about it is a torment in itself. One of these days, a reckoning is in the cards for me, I know. Until then, I will see news items such as the following and struggle a little with this internal crap each time:

...Jeremy Piven will follow the imminent end of HBO’s Entourage by producing a new reality show on the art of glass blowing, practically daring someone to make a “from sucking to blowing” joke, so there it is. Indeed the whole story reads like an open provocation, what with the series’ title, Blow, evoking a certain drug that Piven is often scurrilously rumored to be fond of, and the name of Piven’s production company, Luscious Mayhem, being the sort of phrase that triggers involuntary violent responses and/or nausea and blackouts. 
Anyway, for what it’s worth, Piven’s involvement is entirely behind the scenes, as Blow is really just your standard American Chopper/Cake Boss-style reality show about New Orleans glassblower Josh Cohen and his “band of misfits” squabbling as they attempt to please their “demanding clientele,” all of whom demand that their glass be blown in a very exacting way indeed.

It's making lemonade out of lemons time....Get ready for your next $5 off your Rising Tide registration question. Check the rules again. Get your registration/donation in. Here goes:

What else is the central subject of Piven's new show known for?

Leave your answer in the comments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Oxford American subscription dates from their first ever Southern music issue in 1997. Yeah, the CD that came with it was scratched all to hell, leaving me with small skipping snippets of Lucinda Williams' "Pineola" and Kate Campbell's "When Panthers Roamed In Arkansas" to listen to, but the writing on that music was pretty damned good. Our horrible thieving movers stole that and the OA CDs I'd accumulated up to 2001 when we went up to NYC for a bit, but the magazines made it. They still come out with some good stuff after all this time, and their Education Issue is something to read, savor, and contemplate. Where I began to take issue with the latest issue, though, was with Anne Gisleson's "The Lottery," in which she describes what New Orleans public school reform looks like from the standpoint of a parent (Gisleson) tired of paying private school tuition...who considers there to be only three "choices" for educating your child:
1) Enroll your children in a segregated public school*
2) Pay for them to attend a slightly less segregated private school.
3) Compete with thousands of other families in a lottery for limited spots in racially and socioeconomically integrated charters.
*Gisleson's note: Ninety percent of New Orleans public-school students are black; nearly a quarter of the public schools are a hundred percent black.
On my posting said choices by way of Twitter, someone informed me of the fourth choice Gisleson forgot to mention: get the hell out of the system entirely and homeschool. Which is true. But what I had a bone to pick with was #3: this assumption that the charters are racially and socioeconomically integrated.

Gisleson jumps through the hoops for her kids and ends up on seven waitlists. The schools she mentions by name: Lusher, Hynes, Audubon Charter, the International School - three out of those four are schools that, pre-8/29/2005, were the better performing ones in the corrupt and largely failing OPSD - and they are still there mostly because of their current selective admissions policies. She nails the cruelty of the Publisher's Clearing House-like ordeal of navigating these lotteries and then relying, in the end, on sheer luck to hopefully sweep her kids into the schools applied for, but presenting the 70-plus percent of charter schools that now make up the former Orleans Parish public school system as being integrated is misleading. If they truly were, she would probably be applying to many more of the charters here and actually getting into them, but we're not there yet. Lord knows, I wish we were, because even if all the schools here had reached that Racially And Socioeconomically Integrated Promised Land, we still wouldn't have enough room for all the kids that are of elementary and secondary school ages - nor would the state have the money.

It all gets in the way of having the exceptions become the rules. And it's pretty damned sad.

But enough of this kinda talk for now. I have my first Rising Tide trivia question to ask! Check the rules, folks, get your registration/donation in to Rising Tide, and get your best guesses ready:

The Oxford American has been through a lot in its history. An employee embezzled substantial amounts of its funds. It had to move from Oxford, MS, all the way to Arkansas not too far from the Toad Suck Bridge (once the passage for the Toad Suck Ferry). Things were hand-to-mouth for the OA for a time when it had to search for another publisher after this one decided not to fund the magazine anymore.

Who was that publisher?

$5.00 off Rising Tide admission to the first correct answer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Technical Difficulties 

Everyone can now rejoice, as, despite the need to run a line across the melting floor of our newly resurfaced balcony (a need which had the Cox installers walking across it with plastic grocery bags over their shoes), I now have internet access back in my house. What do I spend my time doing on my trusty laptop once I get that access? Oh, you know, the important stuff: checking the email, goofing off on Twitter, and, of course, playing lots of Zuma Blitz on Facebook, not to mention watching some Hulu shows. Blog? What blog?? Don't tell me I don't know what to do on the internets...well, some of you will tell me anyway. I can hear it now - hello? Internet porn??? Yes, it's out there. No, I don't look at any of it.

ANYway, having had no in-house internet access for over a month was akin to my first week without access to a glass studio after I took a six-week course in hot glassworking. The withdrawal symptoms were not good, and I was forced to haunt the local library or nurse a single caffeinated drink for hours at a time in coffee shops in which the wifi access was not guaranteed (What I would have given to toss a chair through a window without suffering consequences every time I got a "Connected - Local Access Only" message - a message that says you are on the net, you just can't do anything. I'd have gotten better connectivity with a tinfoil hat on the laptop.). Because I married a man who is intent on squeezing blood from pennies, it took a while for us to thoroughly research our options and conclude that Cox internet was the way for us to go. My mother-in-law shook her head when I told her about my travels with my laptop, and we discussed how much internet access is taken for granted by our spouses, not to mention ourselves.

The digital divide is quite real. An hour a day on a library computer, some texting on a cellular phone that is free with your wireless plan, perhaps some work-only emails - that's about the most interaction the general public has with the series of tubes pulsing with information each day. It suffices for most people. For those trying to get a job in these tough times, however, access to the internet can be the thing that gives one an edge when every little thing helps. Sure, there are times when vacations from being digital are sorely needed, but we no longer live in a world where we can completely ignore it all. 

When my eight-year-old little guy is having to sign netiquette forms issued by his school (and he hasn't even learned cursive yet, nor does he have his own email account), the net cannot be completely discounted. I wonder a great deal about these families that jump through the hoops and get their children into the good schools only to find that well-meaning measures that are meant to reduce the usage of paper for notes home from school and reduce the sheer volume of homework kids have to lug home in backpacks and book bags cannot be easily accessed at home. Possible results? Parents end up being out of certain loops due to lack of access to school listservs and general school emails, and opportunities for the kids to develop good study habits can go straight to hell. Yeah, I may be overstating all this as an admitted internet addict, but it's something I contemplate more as a result of my time spent bumming wifi.

And hey, speaking of internet addiction, this year's Rising Tide trivia contest is a truncated one due to my recent internet access odyssey. So it isn't a full week of queries. You'll just have to deal:  

Here's a heads-up on my third annual Rising Tide contest, in which, on the three days before the conference (that's August 24th through August 26th this year), I ask a different trivia question, the answer of which could get you $5 off your conference fee from li'l ol' me.

First off, the money for this is coming from me and only from me. Do not ask the Rising Tide website, blog, Facebook, or Twitter accounts for sympathy if you have any beef with this little exercise - just bring it on over to me.

The rules:

Ineligible participants are: the RT organizers, volunteers, panelists, and speakers. Sorry, folks, c'est la contest.

  • Register for and/or donate $10 or more to Rising Tide VI.
  • Check back on my blog each day during August 24-26.
  • There will be a new question each day for you all to answer. Leave your answer in the comments.
  • First correct answer to the question each day gets a five-note from li'l ol' me. If there's more than one correct answer each day, the first one in the chronology of comments left on this blog gets the five bucks. There can only be one winner each day.
  • If you have not registered or donated, there will be no dough for you, no matter how right the answer is.
So there you have it. Register now.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Have women always been likened to cats on a tear or is it just me? The movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help seems to take the serious issues of inequality among the races and put them into the context of a cat fight – or at least some seem to think so. Having read the book, I find that I don’t particularly want to see the movie. Fact is, there are varying degrees of selfishness within us all that can contribute to our being kind or our being mean – and although barriers to true civil rights have largely been lawfully put down, the meanness is in the loopholes. Times are more selfish now than they ever have been, as the loopholes threaten to overcome the laws. Wait, I said threaten? I think they’ve already been overcome. I also think this wasn’t what the civil rights workers had in mind when they were singing that song.

Back to women – I’m not sure if another tale of Caribou Barbie was supposed to be in the making when a journalist asked me for permission to use this picture I took when I passed through Wasilla last summer:

…but if a Wasillan-on-the-street piece on the all-too-present Sarah Palin was supposed to be in the making, well, I responded too late for the picture to be used, and I found I was kind of glad about it. And I’m not glad because I am suddenly going all-in for hunting from helicopters and making speeches only Dadaist bebop jazz poets could snap their fingers in appreciation for, but because I am tired of women in power and/or grasping at power being so stupid that I cannot support them. I had a friend in college who once expressed a need for there to be an old-girl network in the art world, which is still a pretty damned sexist arena, in order to help us all break some glass ceilings. Well, the art world is very much the entire world, and I am still torn between the ever-present need for that old-girl network and the need to shake these idiotic women silly and try to impart to them how much they will be on the wrong side of history if this keeps up…but hey, we’re living in times where nobody thinks that far ahead. We don’t even think that far behind.

Which brings me to a fairly womanly thing that I never ever thought I’d feel – the longing to have my son back on a day-to-day basis again. This is the first time he’s been away from us longer than ten days, and it’ll be good to have him back from his Grand Grandparent Tour of 2011. Tomorrow he returns, and until he does something like spill the first glass of milk he pours – oh, hell, even then, I’ll be happy to have him back. Part of my recent crazy times have simply been born of this feeling of someone missing, of a vital role having been snatched away for a time, and it’s something I thought would never happen to me. Perhaps it’s a form of parental Stockholm syndrome, I tend to think in my darker moments, but then explain to me why a nice young man sidled up to me at a bar recently and, when he asked me what I do, I answered that I raise my son? I am a mom. It’s true what the ubiquitous “they” say: once a mom, always a mom. A new school year is ahead, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the little guy is nearing his ninth year on the planet. Can’t believe we all got this far without more than a hairline fracture, a sliced-open cranium, an ADHD diagnosis, and my particular neuroses. I still find it amazing that any human beings grow to adulthood.

I am also finding that there are no loopholes to true parenting – because if I knew what true parenting was, I’d box it up and sell it for beaucoup bucks. Sure, some things can be gleaned from books and from the experiences of others, but the practices are all one’s own. Practice well, everybody.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Med Check, Addiction Check

It's official, dammit. After months of being so ticked off at AT&T we couldn't see straight, figuring we could manage just fine with Verizon cell phones as our home numbers and the free wifi we were getting in our house anyhow, and then coming home from a two-week vacation in mid-July to discover that the wifi was no more, I'm here to say that my name is Leigh and I am highly dependent on the internet.

Oh, I have been denying this fact for some time now, but I had to face how truly upset I was when I had an antidepressant check today and turned into a blubbering mess. It's compounded by having to face another year in which I anticipate tussles over the little guy's consumption of medication to keep his ADHD in check, but it also cannot be denied that the internet has also become an essential tool in his schooling. My husband seems to be content to bum the wifi from coffee shops when he isn't working in the office, but I'm finding I cannot do that. It's everything I can do to write this post at the library, even...hence the strange paradox that's consuming me: I know, deep down, that once one is on the internet, the computer being used is not a form of one-way glass, but I don't feel comfortable using it for long periods of time anyplace but my own house.

It's a weird feeling that I'm hoping will be remedied by our finally biting the bullet and getting the services of Cox Communications, but my spouse wants to see how much blood he can squeeze out of the pounds of monetary flesh we will have to give them before we get started with them. Anybody got a line on cheap cable modems?

ANYway, this is to say that I did have a marvelous vacation despite my current distress...and I am, once again, assisting in the planning for this year's Rising Tide Conference, which promises to be a good one. Give the graphic below a click to check what we've got going this year for programming:

If you're too lazy to click on it, then perhaps telling you that David Simon, creator of Homicide: Life On The Streets, The Wire, and Treme will be there, as will Tulane professor and local geographer extraordinaire Richard Campanella, might get you to do something. The food panel this year promises to be a doozy...in fact, I'm finding that I don't want to miss a thing this year. You know you want to check it out. You know you do. And don't gimme that line that this is only a bloggers thing, because it isn't. I would LOVE to see you all there.

Seriously, until I can satisfy my internet jones, getting more people registered will have to suffice. Make this crazy Jewish mother happy and go for it.

Monday, August 01, 2011

This one's been in my head a lot lately:

Getting back to blogging soon. Promise.