Saturday, July 22, 2006

This Year's Model

How did I manage to elect myself the model of anything? This week, an LA Times photographer came by to snap my family and I for a story on returning ex-pats, and next week I will have coffee with an NPR reporter on the same subject. Fellow blogger Schroeder has asked me to read a post for broadcast on WTUL's Community Gumbo radio show.

While I have publicly chronicled aspects of my return through the past year, I hardly expected to make a national stir. I appreciate it when people take interesting in what I write, as my readership slowly grows and prominent bloggers link back to my posts, when I found myself listed on the Radio France Katrina page--the only blogger--between the links to the BBC and FEMA.

The other day I found a link into the Wet Bank Guide from the TPM cafe, where I was once again quoted by Boyd Blondell of After the Levees . Boyd seems to fancy my angry, ranting side, the same approach that got me some notice from Will Pitt of Truthout back in January. I should have asked the photog if he could get a shot of my angry side. Then I could post it up in the gutter of the Wet Bank Guide; perhaps I could also have a wistful, thoughtful shot to chose from, a sort of avatar of the mood of the day's post.

The angry posts are the easiest to write and the hardest to publish. I don't want to tip over the edge in anger, and when there is so much to be angry about that's a highly springy tightrope I find myself crossing like a bear on a unicycle. Now that I'm about to go national, I think I will have to watch it even more closely. The angry tenor of political blogs, while it has been energizing the marginalized left, is not going to result in a rapid return to civic discourse. Angry sells, but I don't know that I want to be remembered as a footnote in this history of political talk radio and blogging as the angry voice of Katrina. (And, lets face it, I think Professor Morris does angry so much better).

Instead, I hope I can inspire. I'm glad that, through the agency of some former colleagues in journalism, I have this opportunity to tell my story to a wider audience, and to bring in the stories of another half-dozen returning ex-pats I know of. I hope that the outcome of Ashley (aka Professor Morris) and Ray and myself telling our stories is that we will discover we are not alone.

Even more important, I hope that there are hundreds if not thousands more in the ex-pat community who feel as I have since the unfolding of the flood and its aftermath last September: a powerful desire to come home, to plant their flag for the future of New Orleans, to be another spear in the host who are committed to the future of the city.

I'm reminded of the long, narrative anti-Vietnam war ballad Alice's Restaurant, which everyone in a certain Baby Boomer age bracket will remember. Toward the end, when Arlo Guthrie talks about singing the song to the draft board, he says this:

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

And that's what this is about--the blogs, the stories. It's about the Rebirth of New Orleans Movement. If the articles and the NPR story push even a couple of ex-pats or lingering evacuees over the edge and make them decide to come home, then I can lay aside my lingering doubts about my own suitability as poster child, the nagging fear that I have over taken the story, that the Gonzo Journalism Version 2.0 style that defines much of Citizen Journalism in the blogosphere has eclipsed the subject.

Bravo! Rant and keep the fire to their feet. All the stories need to be told so the passion can fuel the hands that will rebuild and heal.
I'm so proud of you!
I hope you'll still speak to us little people, o media star.
I guess they could tell over the phone that you were more photogenic than me.

When's the story coming out? I haven't heard a peep since we talked to them last weekend.
I love the idea of dueling avatars, depending on your mood. I think your stretch into wider distribution, both in terms of distance and media, is a great sign that the story is getting out, that the voices united are being heard. Yours is one that should be heard. I certainly hear it and it haunts me.

I haven't gotten your last post out of my head since first reading it. I don't want to. I think we're obligated to listen, if we can, and to speak, for those swept away and those who died slowly in the swelter. As you so eloquently said, "I can almost feel them crowd around me, the cliche of a haunting image made palpable, whispering as I type: Remember."

You must, because you can. Good for you!
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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