Thursday, September 22, 2005

Room 219

It is Thursday, the first day of the shorter light. A lot has been happening this week for me. The most astonishing thing is that on Tuesday there was a half page photograph in the Times-Picayune (c-5 in the sports/living section) of two soldiers in a second floor classroom at Douglass High School and IT IS MY CLASSROOM. Yes indeed. Two people besides me recognized it from the newspaper. Ellen said she just recognized my "touch." Richard figured it out because of the poem on the chalkboard, William Stafford's, "For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid." I'd copied that poem on the board Wednesday and talked with my students about it, and they understood, and then on Thursday and Friday I was in Bogalusa for the funeral of my brother in law, and then Sunday I came to Hammond, so it was the last thing we did in my classes. That poem. This poem:

For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid (William Stafford)

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot -- air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away; it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world and we all live there.

Then yesterday I snuck into New Orleans with my friend, Bonnie. Police were at every usual road into the city turning everyone back because of Hurricane Rita, so we snuck in by going the wrong way on a one way street (there was absolutely no one around) and onto the Palmetto Street overpass to Carrollton. The city, as everyone knows, is deserted. Bonnie's neighborhood is fine and so is mine. It was hard to leave, even without electricity. However, there are no people around and it's scary. I can imagine what it must be like at night, alone, black, soundless. The bar, Molly's on the Market (on Decatur Street), was open and I had a couple of beers in there. It was well-populated. An Orleans Parish school board member with whom I'm acquainted was in there and I told him about the picture in the paper and he told me that Douglass as we know it has probably had its last year of life. How amazing would that be if I were to end up being the one to sing Douglass's swan song? He told me there's talk of tearing it down and I argued its beauty and soul and he said soul is not in a building but in its people and I argued back that architecture is art and it has soul. I'm usually not the victor in debates like that, and I guess he'd say otherwise, that I was not the victor (not that there has to be a victor or loser, but in debates like that, that's usually the case). Anyway, he did concede that perhaps it would make a good condominium building. He said the thinking is that half the population of Douglass will return.
Then last night at a restaurant I saw a former student from Mandeville, from many years ago, and he wanted my email address so I could help him with a paper he has to work on and I thought, hmm, I wonder where my services are most useful?
Meanwhile, I gathered some names of literary agents and publishers and in the next few days intend to get a letter and some samples of the blog book out. I wonder if there are people to whom I should send the book that I hadn't thought about? It's definitely related to Katrina now.
I want to say that I cannot reply to comments posted on this blog and I don't have my computer address book here. Like for example, Clay, I wanted to respond to you about Tara, but don't have your address. Could you send it to me? And Julie, I don't have yours either.
Thank you.


Monday, September 12, 2005

hard to focus

I do not have my address book. And, Julie, I couldn't get to your web site.
I'm in PJ's at a wireless whatever, working on Dave's laptop. But I cannot think here. I guess the only thing to do is compose in the journal at home and type it in here.

Friday, September 09, 2005


I'm sitting on the second floor balcony of my friend Dave's apartment, writing and smoking and rueing the invention of the leaf blower which is being wielded below me on the last few little sticks of Katrina trash that is left here. I haven't been watching the TV or even listening to the radio, just reading the NY Times and the skinny little Times-Picayune, which is skinny because it's lacking most of its sections, most notably, the Living Section. I say this to say that really the only first hand knowledge I have of the results of the hurricane is what I see here, and here, in downtown Hammond, life is back to normal. It is so strange because I know about downtown 9th ward New Orleans where Douglass High School is located, specificaqlly Douglass because there was an article in one of the papers about the musician Charmaine Neville, whose house was deeply flooded. She lives across the street from Douglass. And the lower 9th ward, where a large number of our students lived, fared worse. God, where are they now? Where's Raymond and Monique and Whitney? Where's K who is theleldest child in her family and is raising the siblings? Where is R who has two babies, whose parents live in a crack house, whose father stole her rent money to buy crack, the young woman I wrote about some months ago for whom our beautiful school found the money to pay that rent?
Yesterday, or a week ago, time has so lost relevance, some woman in some line I was standing in, said she doesn't feel sympathy for those people who ended up in the Superdome because there were buses evacuating people and they chose not to go and so they caused their own problem. That's another one of those "if those people would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps" sentiments. At the moment I was too numb to react but as I think on it, I get sicker and sicker about it. I know she's just ignorant. I know she doesn't understand that these are not people who could be leading middle class lives if only they'd do a little something for themselves. Like it's easy or something. Like maybe my student, RM, the writer I loved so much, whom I cited and quoted so often, the one who wrote about keeping things real. His mother is a crack addict. Could he have just said, come on mother, let's leave this place, and gotten his addicted mother on the bus and out of New Orleans? Leave the ONLY thing they knew? That's been the issue all along. The people who live like that, who live in those poverty stricken areas, have not only no knowledge of the rest of the world, they can't even imagine it. I was getting around to really understanding that at the end of last school year.
The story of Douglass High School that I experienced last year and the first five days of this year has taken on a new relevance. Who they were and what they were, these people I knew in the 9th ward New Orleans, these peole who ended up on roofs and in sewage, walking to the Superdome. These people I knew before Katrina. The story is no longer simply about looking at the school system (though the connection between their school lives and how they ended up is obvious), it's about looking at them. I'm astonished, overwhelmed with gratitude, and in awe, that I had the chance last year to learn what I learned.
And what I know even more clearly than ever is that they, especially my children, need to have someone speak up for them.

Love, Melanie

Thursday, September 08, 2005

thursday, 8 september

Somehow I stumbled upon my password, but now my time is up at the machine so I must be brief. Next time I can get online I'll write a lot more. In fact, I'll write in my journal and just type that in here.
I thank you so much for your concern. I'm okay, as you heard, living in Hammond, unsure how to proceed.
I'm so happy to be able to be here again.
Love, Melanie