I still am not able to really collect my thoughts about the murders and the march, but I need to say something, so while I'm trapped in Houston airport layover hell, I'll try to scratch out something vaguely coherent.
I spent a lot of the time after Christmas sick in bed, feeling very lonely and sorry for myself as my kids were at Grandma's in Austin and Gina was travelling some (although she turned around mid-journey on the 30th to come back to the city to haul my ass to Touro when my temperature approached 103, bless her rollergirl heart).
I'd been having a dicey time emotionally already for various reasons, and a long illness always comes intertwined with a little depression, so I had a lot of time to think and to second-guess everything going on in my life. The move and its affect on my kids. The wisdom (or lack of) of trying to buy a house in New Orleans this spring, and whether to pay through the nose to live uptown or take a risk in the flood zone of Fontainebleau or Broadmoor or Mid-City.
And then the murders happened.
And then people like Loki and Bart started talking about moving away.
And I say this with a pretty health dose of shame, but I spent my sick days pondering all this sadness as viewed through only one prism: how does this affect me, and my decision to move my family here and buy a house?
The first few killings of the year, I did my usual, googled the addresses so that I could safely classify them as "sad, but not something that would happen to me or my family".
Then Dick Shavers was shot, and that hit a little closer to home. I'd never met any of the Hot 8 and I've yet to see them play but I know the AWK has helped a few of them and Shiek talks about them all the time. But the first reports of the shooting made vague mentions of possible criminal activity in his past, and I thought it was tragic that it's so easy for even good and talented young black men to get caught up in that life, but again, it allowed my white Uptown self to put his murder in the "sad, but can't happen to me" file. And even when the real story came out, of this being an Uptown vs. Downtown thing between kids at John Mac, I thought, well, unless the Eastbank vs. Westbank thing at Lusher escalates to shooting, it's something that is not of my world.
And then Helen Hill was shot.
And I tried really hard. Again, I didn't know her, and didn't realize how many people knew her. But I tried hard to distance it from myself. They lived on N. Rampart, and hell, that street makes me nervous in the daylight some times. I waited, hoping for some news report that said that this wasn't just a random crime, that it was some grudge somebody had against Paul, that it was somebody they knew.
And the report never came.
And I had to face the reality. That I could just answer my front door some morning and watch half my family get shot down in front of me. Just because Ray was stuck in a rut in Austin, just because Ray was obsessed with his hometown since the storm, just because Ray felt compelled to be here to do...something...something important, but something I haven't found yet...it's all about me,and I've moved my family to a city where they could be taken from me at any moment.
And then people like Loki and Bart started talking about moving away.
I know the New Orleans blogosphere has been called a big echo chamber before, and in some ways it's true. We're a giant emotional echo chamber. If two or three of us get pissed off about something at the same time, we all get pissed off. If a bunch of us get really excited about something at the same time, we all get excited.
And when two or three of us get angry and depressed and scared enough to talk about leaving town, it spreads. Like a disease. And we all start feeling angry and depressed and scared, and we all start questioning why we're here and whether we wouldn't be better off somewhere else.
In a lot of ways, I have deeper roots here than many of you. I grew up here. I went to school here. I have family here. I have memories of a time before Krewe du Vieux and the House of Blues and the Moonwalk and the French Quarter Festival. But in other ways, my roots are very shallow. I'm only living here as an adult for the first time in my life (my 20-year-old self was not an adult by any reasonable definition). My kids are still very much Austinites. And let's face it, you really have to twist around and squint and shuck and jive and just close your eyes and hope if you want to make a coherent case for moving here. I was already having my doubts, and the murders and the subsequent epidemic of grief and fear just kicked the legs right out from under me. I had nothing to fall back on, nothing to encourage me, nobody to talk to. Just me and my self-doubt.
So I started to retreat. I started playing out scenarios. What if we don't buy a house? Maybe keep renting for another year. Maybe move into a cheaper rental. I put any career plans on hold for one more year. Just don't commit. Don't do anything we can't take back.
Maybe go get some lessons on handguns.
And I started looking at Austin real estate ads again. Just in case.
I don't really know when things changed, when my mood improved, when I started feeling optimistic again, but they did, it did, and I do. Part of it was being in Austin all week, and being reminded of how dead I felt there before I left. Part of it was being out of bed interacting with humans again. I think the Lee Brown thing today is finally a welcome measure of adult supervision that may hopefully lead to something productive. A few days of no dead bodies certainly helps.
But I think the best thing was the second epidemic that has gone around the blogosphere since yesterday. An epidemic of righteous anger has replaced cynicism. Optimism has replaced despair. This feeling is infectious, and even though I couldn't be there in person yesterday, I've caught a little of whatever bug y'all have been passing around since the march.
I feel better about this city than I have in weeks.
I wrote most of the above in the Houston airport while my connecting flight was delayed. I haven't proofread it or edited it, but now that I'm home and I've had a chance to finally watch the march videos, I fear that my sentiments above can be taken as so much white Uptown selfishness, navel-gazing, and self-absorbed thinking. That's not how I meant what I wrote. But I can't talk as movingly about Helen or Dinerral since I didn't know them, and I don't have anything intelligent to say about policy or organizing that wouldn't just be a "me too" piggybacking on the hard work that the rest of y'all have done this week while I've been AWOL. It's just a snapshot of the whirl of thoughts that have been going through my head. It may not make any sense, it may be easy to read stuff into it that I didn't intend. I don't know. Maybe I'm just a stupid yuppie.
At any rate, right now I feel like we're staying. I feel like things will get better.
But God help us if anybody gets shot at a parade.