Thank you for joining NOLA DIASPORA. This issue commemorates the journal’s fifth year of publishing and—more importantly—the tenth anniversary of the hurricane/levee break in New Orleans and the Gulf South.
I envisioned this issue after viewing Trine Wilson’s photograph “Silver Linings” in our Mardi Gras 2015 issue. By March, I had already started a subtle Katrina count-down, and I wanted this year to focus on the positive(s)--not just the positive actions and outcomes of reclamation, but on outright beauty and joy. The concept of silver linings entranced me. I tried to think of the positive things that had developed—not because of the storm, despite it. Maybe, just maybe because of it. This would be looking on the bright side of life. That would be seeing the sunny side of things.
Before I could even start my silver linings list, I stumbled across Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. The writer reveals that she considers herself someone who can always find the upside of things. This chronicle of the writer’s year struggle with her daughter’s critical illness and her husband’s death was published in 2005, so, because of my own displacements, I missed its release. Fortunately. At the time, I don’t think I could have borne her derogation. Didion derides the very notion of silver linings. She suggests that sentiment reflects the zeitgeist of the generation before her own and condemns such mawkishness as self-pity (171).
As it turns out, B. G. Da Sylva wrote “Silver Linings” in 1916 for a failed musical, an inauspicious beginning indeed. The song was used in the 1920 Broadway play, Sally, and was covered by several famous artists, including Judy Garland.
Suddenly, the silver linings I saw around me were not all that positive. One of my closest friends noted the silvering of all of our hair. A mutual friend mocked her optimism, noting that our locks looked dull-gray, not shining-silver. I noticed silver rings around my Chihuahua’s dark-brown eyes and feared that they indicate cataracts. Originally my daughter’s dog, he despised me until the storm. She had left for college the week before the levees broke, and he had not eaten for those seven days. When I evacuated to Shreveport one hour before the mandatory evacuation order, I took him and two other dogs. I know I fed them daily, but I don’t know how much he ate. He was the smallest and thus most portable of my rag-tag bunch of pets; and for the next four months, he was my constant companion on trips back to and from the city. Those trips and that responsibility took its toll. Although he was only a year and a half old at the time, his muzzle grizzled. The grey, or silver, continues to spread as he ages, and I both cherish and worry about every inch of his being.
The place to which I had moved has not turned out to be the refuge I originally thought. My current place of employment is on SACS warning, and during the past three years, there has been a rash of violence on and off campus that has ranged from brawls, to hazing and shooting deaths. Already, in our first week back, a sexual assault has been reported. A group of individuals from my small town organized a Confederate Flag truck-run through neighboring Petersburg.
And relationships. I have found the past several years difficult. I have lost many old friends and have found it hard to find and sustain new ones. One colleague (who rebuilds cars) recently suggested I buy a truck so that I would stop borrowing his. I realized that this was a walkaway gesture, but I was grateful that he helped me find one and surprised that its air-conditioning broke two days after the purchase. “Ah, I thought that compressor was making a lot of noise when we test-drove,” was his shrugged comment. A compressor replacement would cost more than the truck is worth; so I spun around town with windows rolled down in the hottest July on record. This Virginia August has had New Orleans-grade humidity too, but I have to note that I’ve remained happy—albeit hot--and that the small truck’s silver hubcaps glisten as they whirl.
And decisions. I have never before bought so many broken or unwieldly pieces of furniture or so many wrong-size-or-style apparel items: clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. The physical problems and writing block that had decimated me for several years after the storm have finally eased, but I have not able to place two manuscripts that I feel are timely.
As I reviewed and updated my status in each of these areas, I realized that much of my life is not what I had hoped it would be at this stage. Many things about my life seem undesirable, in fact. Instead of looking for silver linings, I often feel as if I am dodging a small silver ball on a complicated triple-level pinball playing field, while loud bings, bangs, and strident bells sound off and the back-glass lights up with luridly low scores. Things often seem set in motion by an anonymous and uncaring wizard.
However, despite this, I think my life is somehow better, more cohesive, and more meaningful than the life I led before the storm; so I’m going to share a secret.
When I was an exchange student in 1976, I was thrust into the coercive and cruel amphitheater of South Africa’s apartheid system; it exploded into the Soweto riots. That brief chaos marked the beginning of the end of that system. It was while I was in there that a palm reader told me an unavoidable mid-life event would change me forever. Even though other students assured me that the woman knew I was a foreigner by my accent, that she made money by selling fear, that her prophecy was really just a guess, I believed her. Always one for security, I began to work even harder for certainty and stability. All of my decisions had that determining factor at their base. But whatever happened at Katrina’s landfall and in her aftermath broke everything asunder. It was the beginning of the ending of that way of being.
As I tried to recover my life, I realized I couldn’t control everything. I couldn’t control anything. Although I cannot always do so, now much of the time, most of it, I trust the future and do not feel the need to fight for the status quo or the outcome that feels safest.
While, of course, there’s reckoning and tallying, recording and judging, I want to emphasize the full-stop moments of appreciation and reassurance amidst the constant change. I want to affirm the potential for transformation and unity that the ten-year anniversary of New Orleans’ melee with ruin and dereliction depicts and inspires. For this issue of NOLA DIASPORA, appreciation and inspiration and reassurance came in waves:
1) The night of July 31st when no friends could join me, and I found myself on a whim on the deck of the too-touristy Riverwalk, eating Mike Anderson’s jambalaya and admiring the full moon and its accompanying lightning storm.
2) The evening of August 11th when, after an extra-long day workday, the still-small but always-fiercely-loving Chihuahua greeted me with a tap-danced invitation to play, front feet tap, jump back, front feet tap, tap--his special spondee of delight.
3) The afternoon of August 15th when, still facing complications with the issue and this piece, I threw up my hands, grabbed my second rescue, an English bulldog, and ran down the slope to the Appomattox, where the two of use waded in the rapids—my first foray into the river this sweltry summer.
4) This afternoon, August 22nd, when once all contributors’ pieces were completed and posted, ready to be read by you, I took time out to walk both pups a long way and stopped to notice that the crispate edges of the green moss on my neighbor’s Zen temple garden statuette were soft silver.
As I finished this piece, I continued to trace the idea of silver linings—all the way back to Milton’s masque Comus, perhaps the term’s original usage, “Was I deceived? Or did a sable cloud/Turn forth her silver lining on the night?” The personae concludes that he did not ere: the moon behind the clouds does indeed “cast a gleam over this tufted grove.” Perhaps it is no accident that the tenth anniversary of Katrina comes at August’s full moon. May we all experience the moon’s soft affirmation. Maybe we already have. Now is the time of heartening up.
In this issue, you will find the pieces from four original contributors as well as new pieces by each of them. NOLA DIASPORA decided to check in with contributors from our first issue. We asked them to update their status—a common activity for those on Facebook and Twitter, but one that holds a slightly different connotation when the update concerns recovery from disaster, from personal devastation, public wreckage. Although we did not ask writers to relate their works, as editor, I am making some (possible personal or idiosyncratic) connections. In both issues, Sally Cole’s work juxtaposes goings and comings (of people and places). Katheryn Krotzer Laborde’s first reflection depicted the sense of being an outsider, while this one resonates satisfaction and humor. The stark loss of Biljana Obradovic’s 2010 poem has been transformed into a harsh tribute to beauty. The empty stage and theater references of Christine Murphey’s first piece, which alluded to Shakespeare’s Tempest and emphasized the fear of starting over, has transformed into a nature poem that balances the fugacious with fortitude. Finally, Catherine Loomis’ first piece was titled “X,” a mark both negative and positive. In her current piece, she traces the same past in the present and into the future. Please peruse the issue, then read these offerings carefully, enjoying their artistry and forming your own connections.
I am all for silver linings, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am for the gleams and beams of contentedness and connection. Thank you for reading this issue; thank you for sharing a time of heartening up.
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