We are moving everything inside. Even the really dirty things -- the rusted-out pots full of grime and brick, and the front porch desk whose lid flaps around like a tongue -- are coming. It feels like we're taking on a bevy of unwanted out-of-town guests.
I'm not going to act like I know a lot about hurricanes. People who are from New Orleans know a lot about hurricanes. I know a lot about bird decorations and vegan, gluten-free brownies. But here I am in New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Katrina (which I only know about because of the pictures and because of what the neighbors say about it, and what the parents of my students say about it, and the way people get glassy-eyed and frightened, even now [or, more accurately, especially now]), and another hurricane is coming.
We are staying. When I was in college I couldn't understand why anyone would stick around when they knew cataclysmic weather was going to be passing through. But here's why: the traffic is terrible, all the grocery stores run out all the provisions you want really early on, where are you supposed to take your cats?, everybody who lives in any city nearby gets bogged down with more requests than there are sofas, and you so easily might have to go right back to work the next day. And also, when you leave, you actually CAN'T know that cataclysmic weather is going to be passing through. There is not much that we can know about weather. You sit outside chaos, wondering how you're going to plan for it, and you realize that it's entirely unpredictable.
I have a hurricane story, albeit a small, insignificant one. I haven't written it down yet, and since we're all shut up indoors for the next two days, this seems like a good time to tell it.
I moved to New Orleans in 2008. A lot of bad things happened all in a row that year: Alexis and I very nearly died in a tremendous car accident, I got a nasty bout of bronchitis, one of my students got shot and killed within a week of my tenure at a high school downtown, and then they announced that this big hurricane was coming.
My boyfriend at the time (let's call him Alex, because that's his name) was visiting, and my downstairs neighbor had taken a week-long trip to Chicago and had asked me to watch her dog. This hurricane had the kind of profoundly bad timing that B movies invent as a plot device. I had a tiny red car that made a loud growling noise when the ignition was on, and peeling, low-to-the-ground seats. I was pretty sure that if we had to evacuate in that thing (we called it "The Cardinal"), that it would blow up for sure. So I decided not to evacuate.
That was stupid of me, because Gustav was projected to be Category 3 hurricane, and people were panicked, so the entire city eptied out like a pool with a crocodile. Everything shut down and off and closed up. What I remember the best is that somehow the flies knew. They all congregated in our uptown living room and swarmed all the windows in our house. There must have been thousands of flies. Alex sprayed soapy water and vinegar at them as if he was trying to remove inch-thick dirt from the back of a pick-up truck, and they let out wild, buzzing gasps in unison and shifted around the window in a grotesque ballet until we finally sacrificed a dish towel and Alex smashed them up by the hundred and scooped them outside.
Then at some point, there was a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans, so we loaded up the cat, and the dog, and a few gallons of water and a box of granola bars and set out for Baton Rouge. Or, we tried to. But just before we were going to try our luck with The Cardinal and pull out, someone stole the car keys off the roof of the car. (I don't know why I left my car keys on the roof of the car. I'm an idiot.)
I smoked an entire pack of Lucky Strikes (mostly because I thought that made me look like I was doing something about this dire situation) and called everyone I knew in the city. At this point in my life, everyone I knew in the city consisted of my roommates (who had left three days before because they were Ivy League-educated and NOT idiots), and the Teach for America regional staff. Eventually we found perhaps the last remaining person with a car in New Orleans headed toward Baton Rouge, and she agreed to take us. I swear, for the entire 11-hour drive in stopped traffic, I must have said, "Thank you" and "I'm so, so sorry" to this girl about 150,000 times. I had never felt so simultaneously grateful and guilty in my entire life.
My parent's family friends John and June had agreed to let us stay with them. John gets a lot of pleasure from home-cooked meals that look and taste like they come from five-star restaurants, so this was initially a sort of heavenly turn-of-events. For the first few days we were in Baton Rouge, we watched the fist-sized banana spiders build webs out the window of the big air-conditioned living room and played gin rummy late into the night. As a side note, John and June collected paperweights. You could sit in their living room for an hour just wondering about their heavy balls of glass and head-shaped bits of granite.
But that was all short-lived. Gustav ended up bypassing New Orleans for the most part and veering west into Baton Rouge instead. On the day of the storm we lay on the bed with the covers underneath us and listened to the water oaks crack in half.
We lost power around noon. John tried to use the generator to cook up everything that was going to rot, so there was slightly-putrid pasta for days. As the storm passed over us, I thought, "Damn. We've got nothing on Nature. She's gonna win every battle every time." Something about that thought was profoundly beautiful to me.
After, there was no way to get out because trees were down all over the place and you couldn't drive a car. We spent the days eating dry cereal, lying on the ground in the dark reading The Golden Compass out loud, and diving to the bottom of John and June's pool to pull tree limbs out. I remember it as a perfect calm. There was nothing you could do. So you did nothing.
This is what I mean when I say, "It's entirely unpredictable." You can plan and plan and plan, but then, you can't. You can only be here now, watching and listening, feeling the moments as they pass.
Alexis moved just in time for Isaac and then promptly got into a nasty bike wreck, with the kind of profoundly bad timing that B movies invent as a plot device. But here we are, together, sitting at the kitchen table and listening to the winds intensify. We have gallons of water and gas in the Volvo and all three kinds of Nut Thins. Last night we went to Sam and Deepa's house and played music and ate Indian dal, then to Stefin and Carrie's house to play a tricked-out version of Celebrity and drink beer. When your routines get disrupted, you have these holy opportunities to remember how important it is to be a part of a community, and to fill your life with the people that you love.
Maybe it's near-sighted of me to feel only grateful as I sit waiting for a hurricane to pass through this city I've grown to love. But for now, I am content to let it pass over me. I look forward to saying, "Damn, Nature. Girl, you look powerful."
Ah! I have posted a new bike tour!
Before we start, let's talk about this neighborhood, and how I am not sure what to call it. You will notice that this particular tour begins and ends in the touristy part of New Orleans that is called The French Quarter. When you cross Esplanade, that's ostensibly called The Marigny (when I first moved to New Orleans the boy I had a crush on said, "Oh man, I'm totally moving to THE MARIGNY. That is where all the artists live. That's the cool part of town." I remember visiting him at his house there, and it was right across the street from some gallery that always had blown glass in the window, and I remember thinking "This IS super-artsy." And I guess it kind of is. But what part of New Orleans isn't? Anyway, it's possible that a lot of people like that boy moved to The Marigny with that kind of assumption, and it has that air, maybe as a result).
This tour DOES NOT take you to everything cool in The Marigny by a longshot. It just doesn't. I'm sorry about that. I'm thinking of like eleven other things that could be on this list but are not. Instead it takes you to a few places, and should take about two hours to relish (and longer if you go on certain days or at certain times). My sincerest hope is that this will not be my only bike tour of the Marigny.
I decided to start a vlog. Before you say, "Sophie, you are taking on too many tasks and not following through with enough of them," I want you to know that I have been meaning to start a vlog for two years. That is how long it has been since I got my handheld camera. It's now an obscelete handheld camera, but that's OK. It does basically what I need it to do, with mediocre quality. So this is not on a whim.
This vlog will chronicle the things I do on the weekends. This is important because I usually embark on epic failed adventures by myself on the weekends. These will be lost to the sands of time if I don't make a vlog about them. This weekend I tried to make a screen print. And I just failed A TON. I think this is a good lesson, then, for those of you who also are interested in making a screen print and need to know what not to do.
So here is "Sophie on Saturdays Episode One: Screenprinting." I hope you are crazy about it and subscribe to its YouTube channel (which will be a thing someday I promise.)
Mid-July in New Orleans is a challenge. The air is so humid that even my cats won't go outside. The sky is usually dark-dark-dark, and the streets flood, and for all the heat you really can't go swimming because the windy rainstorms fill all the pools with sticks and twigs and oak leaves. And then there is the whole matter of school starting again, and everything that comes with that.
I returned from my summer adventures two weeks ago. Satchmo (the cat, not the late jazz legend) was so mad at me for leaving for a month that he started peeing in the bathtub a lot. (To be fair, he is probably also mad that I recently adopted ANOTHER cat -- Coltrane -- who is just a huge bully and very mean-spirited. Since I left, Coltrane has quadrupled in size. He is twice as bit as Satchmo is now. When Satchmo goes slinking by, Coltrane jumps on top of him and crushes him and bits his ears. I adopted Coltrane to be Satchmo's friend. This is the kind of mentality parents of only children have when they decide to have another baby. It's completely incomprehensible to the one who was there all along, previously enjoying all the attention. "WHAT KIND OF SENSE DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE!? YOU ARE HORRIBLE PARENTS. I'M RUNNING AWAY AND PEEING IN THE TUB.")
I spent the first week in a kind of haze, settling back into everything. There were long, winding hours just sitting out in the garden trying to chart the growth of this huge sunflower that has gotten out of control in the last month.
And then last week we started professional development for the 2012-2013 school year. It's fascinating how my attitudes about teaching and schools and What Is Important For Kids and What Is Not Important For Kids changes fundamentally with each passing year. I am not going to say it's surprising -- change is one of those inevitable things. But you can never anticipate what it will be. You just have to know it will happen.
Then it's amazing, too, how stubborn we are. This is something I need to remember right now, maybe more than anything: in a year I will believe something completely different. Right now I believe that I know exactly what is right for the children I work with and I have strong convictions about emotional literacy and art and how those things can work together. I have ideas about common language and about restorative practices. I have ideas about keeping teachers around and unions and charter organizations and families and reading intervention programs and the benefits of RTI and special education and everything. I feel like I could write a book about all of it, that's how sure I am about it.
But the only thing I know for sure is that in a year nothing that I believe right now -- I mean, almost nothing -- will match what I believe then.
So, my Back To School Supply List is necessarily a little bit hokey and metaphorical. Here goes.
Be Sure To Get One Of Each, Plus A Back-Up In Case You Run Out In November:
1. Some Play Doh or pipe cleaners or something to move around in your hands. Listening is difficult, but important. It can help when you have something for your thumbs to do while your ears and your brain are so busy being actively still.
2. Felt Tip Markers. Obviously.
3. Whatever it takes to spend a while breathing. Breathing in and breathing out are so often overlooked. I like to sit on the floor in the morning and spend some time just focused on breaths. Which is called "meditating" in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. I wish it wasn't, because there's a stigma to that word which is difficult for people to shake. I read a "Choose Your Own Adventure" once that caused me to conflate meditating and levitating. I think actually a lot of people do that. Meditating does not mean that you come off the ground, ever, at all. Just FYI. In any case, I always think, "How lucky those breaths are, to have all this attention... and how deserving, too." It's a beautiful, useful strategy.
4. Pie. When Hannah came home, she started making gluten free vegan raw key lime pies from the tree in the back yard (it is just BOWING from the weight of fruit right now). We've had neighbors over for pie afternoons. This is my life right now. I have no complaints whatsoever.
(Fail-proof gluten free raw vegan pie crust: 2 Cups of almonds, 1/2 cups of dates, 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut, 2 T coconut oil, sea salt, a little agave nectar. Throw it all in a food processor, make sure it is good and tacky, press it into a pie crust, and put your filling in there, and throw it in the fridge for a few hours.)
5. Gouache. MAN! Gouache is such a fun art supply. Someone should have told me that when I was younger. I can't stop using it. I'm addicted to gouache.
6. A Change On Purpose. I think you should purposely change things regularly, just to keep yourself in check. You should give away the clothes that don't look that good on you, you should buy a new kind of perfume, you should change your curtains (do you have curtains? Maybe you should get curtains). I cut all my hair off. I did it just because sometimes you have to move yourself along. There is a danger of getting stuck if you don't change enough things in your life.
I wish MySpace was still a thing because I have Taking A Myspace Picture Of Myself nailed down. See how I didn't even bother to take out my headphones? And BONUS: I took most of thos pictures of myself in a coffee shop. I'm ready for 2001!
Let's talk again soon.
Hey guys. This is going to a FANTASTIC show. Really. It's going to KILL. Starts at 9 p.m., ends at 2 a.m.; stay as long as you want; leave, come, back, tough it out, WHATEVER.
I will be performing with the inimitable Fight Cat at 10 p.m. tonight and with the brand new and fearless Principals List performing at 1:40 a.m. tomorrow night. It's at Cafe Istanbul. And it's an amazing, harrowing experience. Your life will be changed, I promise.
If you have missed the last two Shipwrecked! shows, then you don't know what you're missing. My good friend James and I have been working on this show for a few months and it has been profoundly special each time we have done it. The next show is Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Arrive early. Bring a sense of whimsy.
(1919 Burgundy, $5 at the door)
I have launched a new section of the website that will feature self-guided bike tours of places in New Orleans. There's a button that you can push over there labeled "Bikes," or check out the first adventure: Bayou St. John. Also, the basics.
It's important for you to know my history with bicycles. Historically, I have hated them. They were VERY scary to me for a VERY long time. I think it might be because my well-meaning friends who liked to ride bikes were very fast bike riders and careened around semi-trucks in the street a lot on their bikes. When I first started riding -- and I am not naming names here -- someone accidentally got us on the highway when we were biking together. Which is NOT AWESOME, I promise.
Also, I am not good at riding a bike. I have terrible natural balance, which is coupled with an innate tendency to collide with stuff even while just walking around. One time my friend Jessica took me on a bike ride, and I complained that I would crash, and she said no I wouldn't crash, and I said OK; then she stopped, like, 300 feet in front of me and I didn't have the common sense to do anything but yell loudly, and so I crashed right into her. I said, "That shows you, Jessica. I don't mix with bikes."