Chris Rose recently published a column entitled Hell and Back. Honestly, I've been struggling since March, perhaps earlier, with bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. As with my "Bushido" ways, I hold it all in and look as stoic as I can. But at times it "wins" and I find myself in incredible downs that take time to recover from. For me, Halloween marks the beginning of the "holiday" season in New Orleans, and this will be the second Halloween I will miss. We have Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Xmas, then New Year's, then 12th Night, then Mardi Gras, then the FQ Fest, then Jazzfest, and then we all hibrinate for a long summer's nap until Satchmofest and then Dirty Linen night. Last year, Devin, Susan and I spent Halloween at the East Knoxville Mall (Devin in costume) getting candy from the shops. What a bummer!!!
So, when Rose writes this piece, and I'm feeling in a funk already, it all comes together and strikes a chord in me. I felt compelled to write Chris Rose a letter. Here it is:
I really love your honesty. It takes courage to expose so much of what you are feeling over the past year. To a large extent, it makes me feel like I’m not alone in my feelings. The only difference is that you are really “lucky”—you are still in New Orleans, and I have had to remain away since the evacuation.
Honestly, a bad day in New Orleans is still better than a good day in (city of your choice—insert name here). Unfortunately, my family and I have not been able to return. We first evacuated to Tennessee where my in-laws lived, and then we relocated to Killeen, Texas, where I had been offered a tenure-track position at a small University in an area that serves primarily military and their dependents.
Oh, and did I say that I lost my job at UNO?
Things are very good for us here. I’ve got a full-time job (rather than the piecemeal adjunct positions I put together while a resident of New Orleans. Not a problem for me, though—I was only waiting for the opportunity to take a full-time job that I knew would someday open up. It finally came in August 2005 at UNO. One week into the semester, though, Katrina hit. The rest, as you know, is the Spike Lee film). My wife can now stay at home and take care of our three-year old son. The public schools up here are actually GOOD. And, when all else fails, we can head to Austin which is only one-hour away and see some New Orleans music when available (we saw Cyril Neville on Friday night at Threadgill’s—he’s still ANGRY about the Lower 9th Ward—I mean, A-N-G-R-Y!!!). As we say in New Orleans, “it’s all good.” But, in all honesty, it’s not New Orleans and I’ve had to beat off the depression with wine, madera, and living a fantasy at times that I’m still in New Orleans (www.live365.com/stations/banzaibill_wwoz).
I was talking with a fellow exile living in Austin recently. He is the co-founder of the Urban Conservancy in New Orleans. He feels the same way about Austin as I do about Killeen—overall, things have worked out for us pretty good. But as we both reflect on New Orleans, and how much it continues to attract us with dreams of returning home, we know that our relationship with New Orleans is like a dysfunctional relationship. We know all the bad about the city—the politics, the schools, the crime. But none of this outweighs the good of the city—the music, the culture, the “kicked back” quality of life, the friendliness, the neighborhoods, the architecture, and all the other things that makes New Orleans the kind of place that only some of us could (or should) enjoy.
I feel your pain, and, again, I am appreciative of your honesty. New Orleans is an extremely difficult place to be right now. At times, it must feel like you are swimming against a current of lethargy and apathy that only a non-responsive government could induce in the post-Katrina aftermath. I keep thinking about the great (and missed) opportunities New Orleans had to not only rebuild but to make it a much better city. It seems that New Orleans has fallen into not only it’s “old” culture of apathy—it has done so with a significantly reduced infrastructure that can only be rebuilt with an active city government and an active populace. People are rebuilding, but they are doing it on their own. As much as people applaud this “self-responsible” action, it will take decades, if not longer, for New Orleans to rebuild itself without significant outside help. Nagin… Well, I won’t go down that road. It’s just a pitiful situation, and I blame him specifically for not bringing leadership to the rebuilding effort.
Know that I appreciate your writing, and that my thoughts and spirit are with you. All things being equal, I’d rather be in New Orleans. Even if I were depressed beyond all hope, I know that I could walk down through the Quarter or Magazine Street, or be on the air at WWOZ and visit with my many friends who are there for me. We are here for you—and we will all weather this storm as we face our demons and work to rebuild the city we all love so much.
I’m doing my share from a distance—I’m keeping the music alive, and I’m buying all I can from New Orleans vendors on the internet. I’ll be back home in December, and I hope we can share a drink on your porch when I get into town.
Take care, and thanks again for all your honesty.
Banzai Bill White
In-Exile, Killeen, Texas