She wasn’t sure she was up to the challenge. How could she look him in the eye and tell him that this dress, this hair, these shoes, none of it was her? How could she have possibly believed she would ever escape the casual cruelty of her mother, let alone though such fantastic means? Her cousin had lent her the outfit, amused at playing fairy godmother. “No one will even recognize you!” She would tell him. She had to. If she really loved him, she owed him the truth. Her resolution evaporated with the first stroke of midnight. She ran.
Katrina is a weird thing to talk about.
I have lived in New Orleans twice as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. I have a home and a job and a family and friends here. For the past 7 years, I’ve hosted a party for the Thoth parade. My husband and I sweated out the week with no air conditioning after Isaac came through. I know where I got dem shoes.
But in August of 2005, I didn’t have that. I was a senior in college with no specific plans of what to do after. I had a work study job with the newly revived marching band, and had just moved back on campus after subletting for the summer. I loved New Orleans, but I didn’t have roots here. I didn’t even know if I was staying past the following May.
Hurricanes were nothing new, either. My freshman year, we had Isidore and Lilli. I stayed in the dorm for the first and went home for the second (when really I should have done the opposite). Sophomore year was quiet. My junior year, my two roommates ad I fled Isaac by taking a week-long road trip to visit relatives of mine in Lake Jackson, Texas. Ivan, we’d been told, was The Big One. It was headed straight for the city. At the last minute, it turned and hit Pensacola instead. So when the university said to evacuate, I packed my laptop, a backpack’s worth of shorts and t-shirts, and went to Baton Rouge to stay with relatives of people I knew from church.
The storm hit. It passed. When we went to bed things were okay, and when we woke up, they weren’t. Finding out was surreal. The power had gone out, so there was no television coverage or internet. People in other states probably knew more and sooner than we did only 90 minutes away. I remember sitting in the car running the radio and tuning through the stations to hear static.
When the whirlwind of the next few days settled down, I was enrolled at Duke for the semester where my brother had just started college. My parents were stationed overseas. I had classes to take. Tulane was one of the first universities on Facebook, so I was able to connect with my friends. People were mostly warm and concerned and caring, but to a large extent, when they asked questions, I felt like an imposter.
No, I didn’t have family there.
No, I didn’t lose everything.
My dorm room was on the second floor, well above any campus flooding.
No, I didn’t know anyone in the Superdome.
No, I didn’t know anyone in the Convention Center.
No, I didn’t know anyone who died.
Those answers made me feel guilty and out of place. The storm’s direct impact on me was an life-altering, but not life-shattering. I didn’t belong to New Orleans. I wasn’t from there. But then the other questions started.
Why should we rebuild anyway?
Why should we help people who stayed?
Why should we care?
Why does anyone live there anyway if it’s so dangerous?
Doesn’t this seem like a sign from God?
Don’t you think those people deserve this?
The first questions made me guilty, but these made me furious. Half of California is regularly damaged by earthquakes. People in the midwest should know better than to build their house right in the path of tornadoes. No one questions their decisions to try and rebuild their lives and their homes and their cities. You should help people who stayed because they are human beings and it is the right thing to do. You should care because supposedly you are a human being with the emotional ability to understand tragedy and loss and crisis and pain and hope. People live there and have lived there for nearly 300 years; this wasn’t the first flood, it won’t be the last, but at least we live in an age with technology and innovation that should help us make sure when the next flood comes, it isn’t devastating. If it was a sign from God, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter would not remain relatively unscathed. And no. No one “deserved” this, and you are the worst kind of person for suggesting they do.
As furious as those questions made me, they also jolted me into a very determined line of thought. I was going back, and New Orleans was going to be my home.
So I’ve been in a bit of a writing desert recently. However, one thing that I never have a problem cranking out (though there’s rarely any call for it) is silly poetry in classical formats. Without further ado, I give you Goofy Poems About Friends, Installment 1.
Amanda has a doctorate in brains
and studies the effects of arbor growth
when dendrites are subjected to tests both
of stress and non-stress type. She takes great pains
to see her work brings scientific gains.
Indeed, regarding research, she is loath
to be sneaky, except in one case. Quoth
Amanda, “There are some quite specific strains
that — with some tinkering — could well improve
human performance. Add to that a bit
of DNA manipulation… tread
carefully, though. Folks don’t really approve
of messing ’round with living subjects. It’s
best to build your army from the dead.”
This beautiful instrument is my new Parker Sonnet. It is not my everyday pen. It is not the pen I use in my idealized author’s garret to write stories (I prefer pencil for that, anyway). This is the pen I use when I am writing letters to my friends or thank you notes or birthday cards. I’m still getting used to this particular pen, but I love the way ink flows from a Parker (I’ve had a couple others, including my grandmother’s Parker 51 and my very first fountain pen which was lost during a small bike accident a few months back). I love the weight of fountains pens in general, as if the weight of the pen somehow conveys something more to my words. For me, the paper has to be good, too. No notebook paper or stationery pads. Right now, I’ve got a mix of Cranes, Crown Mill (in grey and in yellow) and some from local stationers.
None of this is vital, of course. I’ve enjoyed postcards and notes scribbled on Texts From DS9 memes. there’s always great pleasure in receiving a letter from a friend. But for me, there is equal pleasure in the writing– in choosing the pen, the ink, the paper to suit the recipient. My mother made me practice handwriting until I reached high school, and I hated it. But now, there’s pleasure in the physical act of placing words on paper and knowing they don’t look out of place with the quality of the materials. And it’s always nice to think that you might make someone’s day better when in amid the bills and the junk, there’s a handwritten letter for them. Not an email or a text or something equally ephemeral, but a tangible, physical thing that says someone cared enough about them to spend some time considering language, considering news or stories, considering them.
This past Monday was my birthday. That, in and of itself, if not the exciting part. The exciting part is that I got an email. This particular exciting email informed me that a short story that I wrote two years ago and submitted on a whim (after many, many rejections) will be published this August in A Literation.
I realize this is a short post, but the words I have are inadequate to the excitement of my first real publication, and I do not believe anyone want to read lines and lines of the transcription of the high-pitched sound that echoed through my brain as it tried to comprehend the news.
In short: hooray for writing and hooray for A Literation!
So I finished writing a children’s story this week and sent it off to a publisher on Friday. It’s a different kind of story that I usually write, but that could be a good thing. I’m excited and optimistic, but realistically, there are at least a few more rejections in store. At least the current publisher I’ve submitted to actually responds to all submissions. Nothing’s worse than waiting 3-6 months to hear… nothing.
In the meantime, I’m trying to crank out some poetry and flash fics and submitting them where and when I can. Personally, I find the hardest part of writing is actually forcing myself to do it.
I loved the analytic writing in college, but not being an academic, there’s not much call for it anymore. So recently, with the encouragement of some very good friends, I’ve been doing more creative writing– poetry, flash fiction, and short stories. I’ll be honest, I haven’t done much of this sort of writing since high school, and lack of practice has not made it easier.
That being said, It has been nice to get back into the habit, even if I’m having to relearn a lot in the process. I’ve been reading essays and following blogs on writing and how to write and good tips and techniques and all that stuff. I have noticed something weird, though. There are a ton of posts on The Correct Way to Write. Now, I know I’m comparatively new to all this, but are you actually kidding me? It almost seems like a gimmick thing: “This One Weird Trick Will Make You a NY Times Bestseller!” I’m sure though, that there are some writers who honestly believe that there is a certain process you have to follow in order to create your best work. And I am also sure that for them, that is (mostly) true. But to claim that there is a Correct way to write is like saying there’s only one way to cook eggs.
Fellow newbie writers, I am here to tell you that there are lots of ways to cook eggs and pretty much all of them are delicious. You like going to a coffee shop and writing on your laptop? Awesome! You prefer to sit alone in a perfectly silent room and write everything longhand in Moleskine notebooks using your lucky pencil? Great! You do your best work when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars? Blast some Hair and get to work! It’s counterproductive to spend a ton of time worrying about whether your process is “right” or not. Just find what works for you, and then write. And when you do, make sure you’re not writing about how everyone else is doing it wrong.
So I’m working on a new short story in a genre I’ve never worked in before. I’m moving from mystery to horror for this one, but I’m having a bit of a difficult time switching gears. So really, I have some questions for anyone who would care to answer.
- Do you genre-hop when you write?
- If you do, does it take you a while to get in the swing of your new genre?
- How do you combat that?
- Does this mean I am doing writing ALL WRONG? (trick question)