Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Damage

A lot of people have been asking me how much my house was actually damaged. Here are some pics of my house taken in Oct/Nov 2005. Not much has changed since then, except that I had the roof replaced and the wiring redone.

The front of the house. Since this photo was taken, the front door (not the iron security door, but the custom-milled wooden door) has been stolen. Thieves have been stealing architectural details off people's houses since the storm hit and neighborhoods were left abandoned.

My house got at least 3-4 feet of flooding. The water tipped over the fridge in the kitchen. This appliance has since been removed from the house. Also, part of the ceiling fell in, as you can see.

Here's the gaping hole in the kitchen ceiling.

The floors were damaged a little, but I think they're salvageable. I just have to refinish them. They were painted before I bought the house, so that's part of the reason for the awful coloring.

This is the shed behind the house. The garage door was ripped off. There's lots of debris inside that still needs to be cleared out and I think it needs a new roof. I could use it as a garage, a washroom or maybe a studio of some sort. The previous owners put their music studio back there.

Hello, gross bathtub. I probably would've replaced you anyway. Why are you pink?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Milestone

Friday was my last day at work. A HUGE milestone for me. I've spent the past seven years of my life at that place. SEVEN long years of routine (9am to 6pm every day, except holidays, vacation and sick days). Seven years, three movies (and one in production), some good friends and tons of experience. I started out pretty much as a kid there, nearly fresh out of college. After a nightmare experience as a PA at Nick Digital, I was OVERJOYED to land a PA position at Blue Sky. But, then again, I would've done anything to get my foot in the door. I was hungry and that was my dream - to create computer animated films. Now seven years later, I feel that I've fulfilled that dream.

And I'm a different person. As driven as I was back then, I certainly feel more focused and wise today. Becoming a parent certainly accelerated that growth. Even though I'm not sure where I'm headed, I am more clear about what this life is about for me. I'm also calmer. The fiery spirit I had around political, racial, economic and environmental issues has been replaced with a more sensible (and authentic) desire to affect change in whatever way I can. I went through Doing and almost burning out, to just Being and now I'm at Doing through Being. And if that doesn't make any sense, check out Landmark Education. But, in essence, it just means that I am more sure about who I am and that what I do comes out of that... instead of defining who I am BY what I do. I just feel more like a grown-up.

I never thought that I might feel sadness about leaving work. In fact, I was thrilled when we were laid off in 2001 after Ice Age. I still refer to that time period as the best six months of my life. I was able to focus on all my outside projects. I traveled; I curated a provocative art show; I trained capoeira. But as my life became more about what happened at work than what happened outside of work, my attachments to the job and co-workers grew. And after I had my daughter (and accepted that I could not be a stay-at-home mom), the workplace became a bit of a respite in a way, a place where I could interact with grown-ups and be free of the immense responsibility of parenting. Something scary happened; I began looking forward to the routine of it. Before, I thought that true friendship was inherently inauthentic through the forced social setting of the office and I was also filled with insecurity and mistrust around being one of the few black people in a majority white company, but then I started really getting to know some people. I made some good friends. I'd always been afraid in a way to put my all into my job (because a company certainly doesn't give its all to the employee and I felt that my personal life was far more important), but then I started focusing more on improving my skills and even the environment at work. My job became a significant part of my life... and I wasn't horrified by that. And although that's one of the reasons I knew it was time to go, I will truly miss The Office and the familiar faces in it.

A large group of those familiar faces threw me a surprise party on Friday. Who knew... who knew that so many people cared. I guess I grew on them the same way they grew on me. And, even though it doesn't feel like it yet, I guess what I'm doing is really big and inspirational to some people. My co-workers pooled together their money to give me the best going away presents ever. So specific, so thoughtful. Books on New Orleans architecture and design; gift certificates to Home Depot and Target; a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll for my daughter; an IPOD!! I could not believe it. I had a clue that something was going to happen, but I had no idea it would be this big and involve so many people. I was stunned, speechless. I'd actually semi-prepared a speech to give to my department (because I thought it would just be a small thing among us), but I completely forgot every word of it when I walked into the conference room and saw 100+ faces staring at me. I stammered a few words... I'm not sure exactly what I said (I think KP has it all on video though!). I was overwhelmed, but I hope they all know how much that meant to me. I was really moved.

And then, after work, there was a gathering at a local bar. Another co-worker (our daughters are best friends) offered to babysit my daughter while I drank myself into oblivion. Just kidding. I only had two drinks (thanks Alena and KP!), stayed for about an hour and a half, hugged everybody, chatted, then hugged everybody again. What a nice way to say goodbye.

These days, goodbye isn't as final as it used to be, since there are SO many ways to keep in touch. But there is something special about being in the physical presence of another person, even if it's just to smile or say "Hi" as we pass each other in the hall. I will miss my co-workers. Thanks for seven years.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

In Earnest...

Here are some post-Katrina photos of the Lower 9th Ward, taken in November 2005 (3 months after the hurricanes hit). Some colleagues and I put together a photography exhibition called "In Earnest: Moments, Places, Events and Faces" in our office gallery. The opening was February 8, 2007 and this was my contribution:

My aunt in front of the house where she raised her 5 children.

Homeowners who are determined to stay in New Orleans inspire me.

I called this one "Katrina, Play Nice"... this whole scene is reminiscent of a child's room after a tantrum.

The Lower 9th Ward LEVELED...

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

No Historic Grant Money

Back in December, I applied for a grant aimed at restoring historic New Orleans homes that had been destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As my house in the historic Holy Cross neighborhood qualified, I thought I'd give it a shot and apply. My mother's house is in the same neighborhood, so we went through the application process together. She had a representative from Durable Slate, a company that specializes in historic restorations, assess our houses and provide detailed reports on the costs of repairing the damage. Mine surpassed $40,000, according to Durable Slate. My insurance money (I didn't have flood insurance... my house was not in a flood zone so I didn't think it was necessary... little did I, or anyone, know... I will have to write another blog about that) totals about $20,000. It would've been quite nice to win that grant money.

I'm not quite sure why my house was not chosen for funding. I thought that perhaps it was because I am not an owner-occupant, and priority is given to owner-occupants. But my mother's house was not chosen either and she meets that criteria. So, I guess the next step is to appeal... if only to find out why. Knowing my beloved New Orleans, all the grant money was probably given out to friends of the funding panel. And this is what they told everybody else (as per my letter, so nicely written):

"We certainly applaud the commitment you have shown to rebuild historic Louisiana and only wish we had better news for you concerning the outcome of this particular grants program. I have to say that we received a great many worthy projects but, unfortunately, funding was very limited. We hope that the confidence you have shown in bringing Louisiana back will continue in the future. I know that this department will be seeking additional monies from Congress so you may well have another opportunity to have your project funded in a future round of grants."

Saturday, February 3, 2007

25 days and counting

Things gotta change 'round here.

The year 1995 was the last time I made such a drastic change in my life. Nearly 12 years ago, I packed up and left New Orleans. Cried and said goodbye to the city that raised me. I hated New Orleans, as most teenagers hate their hometowns. I didn't appreciate it. I bit the hand that fed me. Now I'm crawling back. Not only to New Orleans, but to a part of myself that has yet to be uncovered. I suppose I'll learn more about myself through the work that I'll be doing, through spending large amounts of time with my extended family, through living my life in a different way... in a different place... with a different set of priorities. I am looking forward to it. I'm also scared and anxious. I'm mostly afraid that I won't find anything... that this is just a fantasy in my head... and, in reality, people can't just quit their cushy jobs when they feel they need to "explore life" and expect that everything will be okay. The other 90% of me knows that it will be okay and that I will learn something worth knowing and that I will find a new direction through this experience. I know myself well enough to know that I make things happen. No matter what my circumstances, I cannot fail. And I don't say that because I'm arrogant but because I know that even if I "fail", it's really not a failure if I learned something. To me, failure means that the battle is over and I lost. But if I learned from it and decide to fight again, then I don't feel like I failed.

ANYWAY, despite the content of that first paragraph, the intention of this blog is not to be a vessel for expressing my innermost thoughts and feelings. That ain't none of y'all business!! lol. The intention of this blog is to chart my journey, from beginning to end. I felt inspired to start it now, even though I haven't moved yet, because I'm just starting to feel within my body that I am leaving. I've begun to ship stuff home. Friends are pressing me for quality time... THEY know they ain't gonna see me for a while... even though I have been in a fog about it, living my life as if nothing's changing. The word is spreading at work that my end-date is approaching... and co-workers are asking me about what I'm doing. So I've been talking about it more; it's no longer only an internal conversation. It's becoming more real. So this is the beginning.

My one concrete goal in New Orleans is to restore my house. I bought a house in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward about a month before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit. I thought I'd rent it out and maybe one day move back to the Big Easy. Ha ha. Nature had a different plan. The house was damaged, but not completely destroyed. Somehow, I believe that I can fix it up with my own two hands. Have I done construction before? No. Have I ever fixed anything? Ummm... probably, but the fact that I don't remember obviously indicates that this does not happen often in my life. But I am dedicating the majority of my time to learning and working.... or working and learning, whichever comes first.... I'm sure they'll occur simultaneously. There are lots of books; there's tons of online information; there are countless television shows that focus specifically on home improvements. I have an uncle who's a contractor and a million cousins and extended family and family friends down there. I can do this. There are far more "impossible" feats made possible all the time. I can do this.

The more abstract goal is to catapult myself into a direction that leads to something fulfilling, revolutionary even... that makes my life worth living. I don't say that to mean that I might as well be dead if I continue living the way I'm living. My life is cool. I enjoy it. I say that to mean that everyone possesses within them the power to influence the future of our world. Though each individual's mere presence on this planet influences something, most of us never use our power consciously or harness it for greatest impact. I'd like to do that. I'd like not to just exist, to survive. I don't wanna be just another human taking up space. I'd like whatever influence my presence has had on Earth by the time I die to be worth more than I take from it. I want to die knowing that I gave my all, and that I got the most out of what I did here. I want to die smiling, as I think back on all the shit I did, the chances I took, my successes, my failures... I want to be able to say, "Yep, that was worth 90+ years." (or however long I live). I want to show my daughter that life can be lived any way you choose, but that she must know that her every action IS a choice. And that what she wants IS possible; she just has to CHOOSE it.

There I go venting my innermost thoughts and feelings again. Well, I guess it's okay, as this is the first entry and I gotta give some background. As long as I don't start talking about relationships and shit, using this as a substitute for therapy... then I'll be okay.

Anyway, so you can read about my progress right here. Now that I have my handy-dandy laptop, I will be posting regularly (probably not every day, but regularly enough). I'll be sharing photos of my achievements... or lack thereof. I'll be providing a unique window into my New Orleans, away from the French Quarter and the Garden District... into a reality that does not center around Mardi Gras or the Jazz Festival... where real people live their everyday lives. So I hope it doesn't end up being boring!

In 25 days, my journey begins.