First 24

When I talk about traveling between New Hampshire and New Orleans it gets confusing. I refer to both places as “home”. NH is my home in the sense that it is where I grew up, my people are here and I identify as a New Hampshireite. NOLA is my home because I have built my own life there, I also grew up (am growing up) and I identify as a New Orleanian.

It’s always confusing to have conversations like this:

“I’m going home for a month!”

“Cool when do you come back home?”

“I’ll be back home July 22nd”

“No, back here home?”

“Oh, I fly back home August 20th”

This has happened multiple times. I am proud to consider myself a local in both places. It’s as though my logical-organized-orderly-goal driven-task accomplishing-self is from New Hampshire, and my loud-flamboyant-socially conscious-slightly insane-self is from New Orleans.

Since I got back to New Hampshire 24 hours ago I have been taking note of all of the differences between the two places.

1. The Raised Reflectors

The first difference I noticed is that NH doesn’t use raised reflectors on the highway.

This isn’t from NOLA but you can see the reflectors (the square-looking things between the white lines)

The reflectors help show you the lines on the road and let you know when you are crossing the lane, because your whole car vibrates. NOLA doesn’t just use them on the highway, pretty much wherever there are multiple lanes there are raised reflectors. On Claiborne I like to try and switch lanes without running over any of them- so when Cole was driving on the highway in NH my first thought was “Damn he is really good at not hitting the reflectors”…then I realized there aren’t any reflectors to hit. I don’t like it.

2. The Radio

The second difference that I noticed is how shitty the radio stations are in NH. Where is the WOOZ?! What do you mean I can’t listen to NOLA-centric music in NH?! What do you mean93.3 plays country and not hip hop and R&B? What do you mean 102.9 is a classic rock station out of Maine and not…hip hop and R&B? At least NPR is the same station…but of course the content is different; rather than talking about music or history they talk about slaughter houses…Ok that isn’t a fair representation of NHPR, I only listened it for an hour. Anyway…I miss my NOLA radio stations!!

3. The Roads

The roads in New Orleans suck. They are terrible, words actually cannot express how awful they are. I used to think that potholes and frost-heaves were bad in New Hampshire, but there is no comparison. I am talking about literal holes (usually filled with water) in New Orleans.

This is by a hospital.

https://i0.wp.com/media.nola.com/traffic/photo/jena-street-potholesjpg-ef4387dd8fb8c466.jpg

Also, unlike most things in NOLA, terrible roads don’t discriminate, they are an equal opportunity screw-your-day-upper. I didn’t take any of these pictures, all I did was google image search “potholes in New Orleans”. The one thing I will say is that New Orleanians have a pretty good sense of humor considering how much damage these things can do to your car. (Now I understand why I have 3 popped tires in the last year…)

Yes those are oyster shells.

If you want to see more glorious potholes don’t fret, I’ll be doing a post on them when I get back.

As I was driving down the (empty) highway with my mom I told her that I was weirded out that the road is so smooth. It almost made me uneasy, for you see, we don’t only have potholes that could eat a small dog, but our highways are also made out of 9 different materials. Unlike in NH which recently re-did all of our highways so they are made out of the same material and wicked smooth. Please compare:

NH: please note that the road is smooth and freshly paved, the majority of the highway looks like this too.

NOLA: Please not that the road is two different colors (and materials) and both are old and bumpy, it feels like driving over a grate.

I-10

Now I’m not saying that NH has perfect roads because come winter and mud season all bets are off.

But the final point I would like to make about the roads is more about the way that NH is run in comparison to NOLA. In NH when there is road construction people are out there working everyday and the construction is completed within a logical time frame. In contrast, Claiborne (in 2 spots), St. Charles, Broadway, Carrollton, I-10 and many other roads, have been under construction anywhere from before the Superbowl to 4 months ago. Regardless I rarely see people working and there have been few changes…other than seriously mucking up traffic patterns.

4. Street Art

I love the street art in NOLA, it is vibrant, tells a story and creative. When I think of NH I don’t really think of street art…

However, I saw this little gem on the side of a local grocery store.

P1090555

P1090556

Then there is this mural from NOLA

P1090472

P1090475

I think that these two murals perfectly depict the stereotypical inhabitant of each location.

5. Noise

NOLA is filled with sounds of car horns, sirens, people and regular city sounds. NH is filled with sounds of rushing water, birds chirping and silence.

6. Smell

NOLA smells like shame, debauchery and standing water (especially on Bourbon). NH smells like nature. Simple as that.

These are the differences I have noticed in the first 24 hours of returning home and missing home. I’m sure more are to come.

The point? NOLA & NH have both made me who I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unemployment Blues

Since getting my masters in 2012 I have had a rocky start to adult-hood. I have gone from being unemployed for three months to getting four jobs in three days, to quitting one job (Starbucks at Harrahs…who can really blame me for that one), to having “artistic differences” and being down to one part-time job and one full-time volunteer gig, to basically being unemployed for the entire summer. My days, nights and weekends are filled with job hunting. Hours of sitting on my computer weeding through jobs I don’t want, jobs I’m under qualified for, jobs I’m over qualified for and trying not to get kidnapped from Craigslist. My time is also filled with trying to sell myself in approximately 250 words. Then there is the seemly unending stream, check that, waterfall of rejection. I feel so played because I don’t even get to sell myself in person. Then I wonder did I spell something wrong? Did I write the wrong organization name? Do I not have enough experience? All of this really begins to take a toll on the ol’ self-esteem and it can easily land you feeling down in dumps and full of self-pity.

I know that this problem is not new and that I am not alone. I also know that nobody wants to hear somebody bitch about being unemployed and I don’t really want to bitch about being unemployed. You may be asking yourself “…ok…then what is your angle?” My angle is this: as I stress and search and write and send and follow-up and cry and repeat, I cannot help but think about all of the other people who are unemployed and have been for months, years, decades?

See, even though I am basically unemployed and literally (not figuratively, oh no, literally) drowning in higher-education induced debt, I am still incredibly lucky. I am lucky that I don’t have kids right now, I am lucky that I have a supportive (soon to be) spouse, I am lucky that I have a computer, that I have constant access to the internet, that I have time to job search, and that I have good reading and writing skills. I constantly wonder about the people who don’t have these things. What about the single mom who has three kids and can barely scrape by, who wants a higher paying job but doesn’t have the time (or energy) to search? What about the 20-something year old who didn’t get accepted to college (or didn’t apply- it’s not for everyone) and doesn’t have access to a computer, or the internet? What about the 40-something year old man who just got out jail, has no recent work history, has a criminal record, and doesn’t know how to read or write- let alone fill out an online application? What about the millions of people who have been marginalized for generations and told that they wont or can’t amount to anything, that they wont or can’t get a high paying job?

This, more than my current lack of employment, has been weighing on me constantly. I helped a young mother fill out a “scholarship” (read: voucher) application for her daughter. I was dumbfounded when I realized that she lacked basic computer skills. She didn’t know how to google, she didn’t know how to type, she didn’t capitalize any proper nouns, she had a hard time understanding the directions and prompts. I totally take my consistent internet and computer skills for granted.

Now imagine that almost everybody you have grown up around deals drugs, or had babies young, or doesn’t have a stable job, or has a drinking problem, or a drug problem, or lives with two other families in a shotgun, or is in an abusive relationship, or can’t read or write past a third grade level, or has a record, or didn’t finish high school, or has any combination therein. How can you believe that you will be the exception? Who do you turn to when you have a question or need help? Who do you list as references? Where do you begin to look for a job? Where do you have access to a computer? When do you have the time? What do you list as experience?

I don’t understand why there aren’t more programs out there to help adults learn how to use computers, learn how to write a resume, learn how to write a cover letter, learn how to interview, learn how to get an e-mail address, learn how to search for jobs, learn how to fill out online applications. I have no doubt that youth focused organizations are important and crucial in New Orleans; the whole point is to try to curb these problems before they become life habits. However, where are the programs that are adult centered? Are adults not interested in these types of programs? I find that hard to believe. I am willing to bet that adults, just like kids, need to be empowered to believe in themselves, to believe that they can accomplish things if they put their minds to it, to believe that asking for help is ok, to believe that they are worth more than they give themselves credit for. Just like kids adults need a support system and a champion in their corner pushing them to set the bar higher and go for it. Who knows, maybe I’ll start an adult resources center…anyone up for a challenge?

The point? So many people take so many seemingly simple things for granted, like being able to surf the net. Realizing that so many of us are so lucky is humbling and grounding.

Shell Shocked

Last Friday some friends and I went to Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center to watch the documentary Shell Shocked about the murder rate in New Orleans. It isn’t just statistics and crime scene photos. It is about the children, the families, the community that is plagued by the most terrible disease: murder. There are interviews with community and religious leaders, students, parents of murder victims and footage of news clips, all set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t personally know anybody who has been murdered, so it is very hard for me to try to relate or understand what the majority of New Orleanians have gone through. I have, however, seen the aftermath. Not the bloody, hysterical, anger filled aftermath, rather the apathetic, unhopeful, broken down aftermath.

Watching Shell Shocked was really interesting to me because I am fascinated by crime and gang culture. I have seen just about every documentary on the Bloods and the Crips, MS 13, LA Riots and the like, in addition to all of the episodes of Locked Up available on Netflix. But this was different. It was different because it is the same, and, because it is my city; it isn’t some far away West Coast city that has class and race issues that devolve into riots and gang violence. It is my backyard, it is my adopted home, it is my community, it is my neighbor.

It was also interesting because these are things that people who choose to live in New Orleans know. I know that murder happens all the time. I know that most of the time black, young adults are involved. I know that the 9th ward and 7th ward are some of the most dangerous areas. I know these things. But for some reason having someone show me, formally present me with the facts, is very upsetting. Maybe it’s because I know these things in the back of my mind; that I am always subconsciously aware of. But it is different to sit in a room with people and view your city from a person perspective for an hour.

One of the most jarring things to me was the ease and calm with which the youth discussed murder; not just murder, but the murder of their friends and family.

“I got two brothers who got shot. So yea, it’s a lo- it runs through my family, but that’s the closest, my brothers.”

“I know about ten people who have died to a violent death.”

“They all died before they even turned 17.”

“It’s almost natural that you know somebody who got shot. Like, if you don’t know nobody, somethin’ wrong wich’ya”

It is so upsetting to me that this is what the next generation thinks is natural. There is nothing natural about murder. Not only do they feel like it is natural, but they feel like there is no hope. This is a sentiment I have heard time and time again. “But Ms. Emily, what you think we can do?” “Not nobody gonna listen to me.” “Naw it’s too late for New Orleans.” When I hear students talk about murder like this my heart breaks. They should not be desensitized to such rampant violence at such a young age.

But then again, what can be done? What can be done to undo generations of marginalization, poverty, racism, and poor education? I don’t have the answer, but I refuse to think that nothing can be done. I firmly believe that the first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that it exists and opening a real dialogue about it. I believe that is what John Richie (the director) is working towards. As I see it there is a dichotomy between the way that “outsiders” view New Orleans and the way that New Orleans really is. I think that Shell Shocked is trying to show the human side of the New Orleans’ negative statistics. Like I have said so many times before, murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it affects all of us.

I hope that this will inspire you to purchase the documentary here. Richie has challenged us as a national community to reach 5,000 downloads by the end of July. If we reach this goal he will donate $1,000 to Youth Mentoring Connection NOLA.

The point? We need to do better for our next generation.

Herman’s House

A few weeks ago Dana and I (quick side note: while walking to Zeitgeist we ran into one of my students who was at a cookout with his pastor, who I met along with my student’s grandpa. Just goes to show you what a small town NOLA really is.) went to Zeitgeist to watch Herman’s House, a documentary about an artist, Jackie, who asks an Angola inmate, Herman, one simple question:

“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A 6′ X 9′ BOX FOR OVER 30 YEARS DREAM OF?” (Herman has actually been in solitary for over 40 years now)

Herman: In 1971 Herman was convicted of armed bank robbery. In 1972 he and two other prisoners (Albert Woodfox and Ronald Ailsworth) formed the Angola Chapter of the Black Panthers. The men worked towards improving the conditions at Angola; this made them targets for those who benefited from the poor conditions. Later in 1972 a guard named Brent Miller was murdered. By 1974 Herman and Albert were convicted of murdering Miller; there was no physical evidence. Herman has been in solitary confinement for 41 years; the longest of any US prisoner. In Spring 2013 Herman was diagnosed with cancer.

Herman Wallace April 2013

Herman Wallace, 2013

Letters from Herman to Jackie

Jackie: Born and raised in New York Jackie uses art to bring awareness and mobility to social issues. She is most well-known for her work The House that Herman Built. Jackie attended a seminar on solitary confinement, which is where she first learned about Herman’s story (Robert King, one of the Angola 3, was the speaker). After this she wrote a letter to Herman asking him what he would want in a dream house.

Jackie Sumell, New Orleans, LA

Herman’s House:

The idea for Herman’s House was born out of an unquenchable desire to share the experience of freedom. In 2003 Herman began designing his house, and entering the world outside of solitary confinement.”

One thing led to another and Jackie built a model of the house dreamed up by a man who has lived in a 6×8 cell for over 40 years. The House that Herman Built has gone on tour to over 12 countries. The exhibit consists of the model and a life-size wooden model of Herman’s cell. Jackie eventually moved down to the 7th ward, New Orleans, where she as continued her work with Herman’s House. Ultimately Herman wants Jackie to build his house in New Orleans and have it serve as a community center.

Model of Herman’s House

Scale model of Herman’s Cell

Here are some articles and sites about Herman’s House, Herman, and Jackie:

If you are interested in watching the documentary you can do so at PBS until August 9th. I strongly recommend it.

“I never thought this would become Herman’s only way to get out of prison”

The House that Herman Built

Angola 3

Herman’s House- The Film

And finally if anyone feels so inclined you can donate here.

The point? Everybody deserves to have a dream, and to have someone care about that dream.