Daisy Pignetti: Blogging the Unfinished Story in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Daisy Pignetti* is participating on a panel at the Oxford Internet Institute symposium at Oxford University in England and is presenting her paper “Blogging the Unfinished Story in post-Katrina New Orleans” on Friday. Her paper features my writing from my personal blog, TravelingMermaid,  in the months after the storm and up to 2009. I am honored that Daisy felt my frustrated scribbles was worthy to include in her paper so I wanted to share this news with y’all.

Daisy contacted the “NOLA Bloggers”, a group of people who blogged and networked after the storm, through Think NOLA in 2006 asking for volunteers to talk about their blogging experiences for a research project. I think it’s important to note that Think NOLA, the New Orleans Wiki (both now defunct) and Alan Gutierrez were instrumental in organizing the Nola blogosphere into a cohesive group and deserves a lot of credit for doing so.

The abstract from Daisy’s paper reads as follows:

“With the growing familiarity of the blog genre, much has been published about the use of information and communication technologies for grassroots and community endeavors, but there is still research to be done, particularly of placeblogs that coincide with sites of natural and/or national disaster. Unlike other scholarly Internet inquiries where issues of identity might influence the structures and processes of the research, the population discussed here stands out in its transparent use of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies.

The New Orleans blogger community proves to be one built upon the shared experience of Hurricane Katrina and is thereby focused on reporting the facts surrounding and actions needed for recovery to take place. While their individual blog audiences may be small, their disclosing details about their lives ‘after the levees broke’ allows these ‘NOLA Bloggers’ to be in control of their storm stories and potentially receive feedback within minutes of sharing, which is fundamental during times of crisis.

After a brief overview of my autoethnographic research methods, I present a profile of a blogger whose writing presents readers with a truer understanding of what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans. Since the hurricane hit in 2005, Charlotte’s writing has progressed from emotional outpourings of survivor’s guilt to reflective posts illustrating the way web 2.0 technologies have empowered her local identity since the storm. “

Several bloggers and/or blogs from the NOLA blogosphere who were posting immediately after the storm are mentioned in the paper, including:

Humid City
NOLA Slate (Sam recently guest posted for NOLAFemmes – you may read her post here.)
DotCalm
Polimom
Wetbank Guide
Maitri’s Vatulblog
Think NOLA

Also mentioned is the list of New Orleans Bloggers and the Rising Tide Conference.

After the success of last year’s 5th anniversary project on this blog, I had hoped to publish a series for the 6th anniversary featuring some of the NOLA bloggers that I personally read after the storm, people who came to mean so much to me, but personal issues prevented me from seeing that project through. Maybe next year.

There’s really nothing more I can add except, read this paper. Scroll down the programme to Friday and click on Daisy Pignetti’s name after which you can download the paper. It’s fascinating reading and gratifying to realize that all our ranting and kvetching about life post-Katrina was heard and really is a little piece of history.

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*Daisy Pignetti is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. A proud New Orleans native, her research into the rebuilding of New Orleans through new media endeavors can be read in scholarly journals such as Computers and Composition Online and Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy as well as on prominent blog sites such as the Open Society Institute’s Katrina: An UnNatural Disaster and the Harvard University hosted Publius Project. She credits these publications and opportunities to the wonderful group of Internet researchers, faculty, and staff she met during the 2007 Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme.

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Guest Blogger Sam Jasper: On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

I watched CNN on Sunday for a long time, following the path of Hurricane Irene, worrying about relatives and friends who were in various states along the storm’s expected travels. As it became clear that the inland flooding from overflowing riverbanks would be by far the greatest danger to them, a tiny part of me jumped into a familiar anxiety mode, while another was outraged by the screaming coverage on television. While I pray for the families who lost loved ones, and I do empathize with the people, and there are many, who lost their homes, I was nevertheless annoyed by the continuous loop of video showing a lifeguard station in New Jersey coming off the sand and running into the boardwalk. That video was followed, on a fairly regular basis, by a photograph of a park bench, half hidden by water perhaps 3 ft deep, that the anchors kept looking at in amazement remarking that it had moved—all the way across the street. They were nearly dumbstruck with awe. I meanwhile remembered the endless loop of people on roofs, helicopters with little kids hanging in baskets and, of course, one bit of footage of a looter that was looped like the yarn on my grandmother’s crochet hooks around every other bit of footage as the levees broke six years ago. The coverage was frustrating and more than a little infuriating.

Doubtless there is someone in one of those states looking at the destruction Irene left behind and screaming with fury at the looping footage that doesn’t tell even a tenth of the story.

As Katrina headed in towards land, we had left on the Sunday afternoon before the storm after flipping a coin. Not the best way to make a decision, but one that we admit to as it is true. Under a sound roof in Alabama, we watched that looping footage, switching stations frantically to get more information, maybe better information. What was happening to our city, to the people in it? As the video of water coursing through neighborhoods started, we were shocked.

Then came the reports of what was happening in the Superdome, at the Convention Center, on roofs and overpasses. People. Lots and lots of people waiting for help. Some asking for water, just some drinking water. Reporters saying there were bodies floating near the overpasses. This in our city. Our country. Another couple days went by and we decided to return home after scouring nola.com for other news, connecting with some people, finding comfort in communication, being told we were crazy to go back. We were told it was the Wild West, it was a catastrophe of monumental proportions, it was illegal. We put the map on the dining room table, plotted a route home that would take us north through Hattiesburg and Bogalusa, a route that took us about 150 miles out of our way. We’d buy gas along the way wherever we could find it. We couldn’t sit watching the video loops another minute. We felt compelled to come back and at least make an attempt to help.

As we headed south to the Sunshine Bridge in order to come up 90, we hooked up with some other New Orleans-bound travelers. All of us with the same compulsion to get back, to pitch in. We talked a lot when we stopped for gas or supplies about what we’d do if we couldn’t get into town. What if all the exits were blocked by Guardsmen? We all decided to risk it. As we came north, the southbound lanes looked like something out of a Steinbeck novel. People with furniture tied to the roofs of their cars, passengers sitting on tied down mattresses in the beds of pickup trucks. Not a vehicle was moving. A giant parking lot full of frantic people and a few of their possessions. We wondered where they were planning to go, but we kept heading up toward the city. In the lanes next to us were a few National Guard trucks, humvees, and some personnel. We and the other couple traveling in their car were the only civilians we saw. We got to our exit and miraculously it wasn’t blocked. There was no one around as we approached our house. It appeared that there was no one anywhere. We saw no chaos other than a house in the middle of an intersection and downed trees and power lines everywhere. We lived on the Westbank at that time. We had been lucky. Just the other side of the river it was an entirely different story.

After a quick recon around the neighborhood, we found out who was home, and there were several. We gathered all the news we could, but the information void put us into an alternate reality: we only knew what we saw or what we heard in our little area. It was that way for people in other neighborhoods as well we found out later. We found out that a food distribution point was going to be set up at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world so the next day we went to offer our services. The people on Powder Street needed medication. The lady by the levee was hooking up with animal rescue folks and needed our dog crate.

Our power was out but the phone line miraculously still worked. We had brought enough gasoline in with us to get us back out if that’s what we thought we should do. Instead we poured it into a generator that our neighbor had and we shared that generator one hour a day. I still had a dial up modem in my computer so I rigged a connection to a dial up number for AOL in New Mexico. It worked. On September 12, 2005 I wrote my first mass email explaining what we were seeing here at that time. I wrote every couple days after that well into March of 2006.

I was asked what it felt like to write during that time. Necessary. That’s how it felt. It was necessary. It was eminently clear that news coverage was limited at best. That people in other parts of the country were getting barely a piece of the story. While I certainly couldn’t give a view of the entire city, I could absolutely tell people what was going on in my neck of New Orleans: what we had, what we didn’t have, when the power was expected to come on, where the food distribution was and who was distributing it.

After one week my mailing list swelled to over 200 as people forwarded my emails to each other and dropped me a line asking to be included on any future updates. AOL was convinced that I was running a gigantic spam operation, so I wrote them and explained where I was and what I was doing. They relented, allowing the emails to go out, and eventually the mailing list grew by another 50. I was getting emails from locals asking if we could check on their houses and post photos, I was getting emails from people outside of the country asking what they could do, I got emails from friends and others asking what they could send and how to send it as the post office wasn’t in service. I was getting emails from people saying that the original mail had been forwarded ten times until it reached them and that their thoughts and prayers were with us.

What started as a simple “we’re okay don’t worry” email had morphed into an on the ground news dissemination system and people wanted the information, not the stuff they were seeing on the news. They wanted the stories of what we were doing, who we had met, the incredible generosity of some guys who drove through the night to deliver much needed goods. We eventually managed to photograph several houses for people who couldn’t get back, and although it was slow going on dial up, we sent them out. It eventually got to a point where we could no longer send individual thank you emails, there were too many and our generator time was too short.

I said earlier that it was necessary to write at that time. It was. Not just because the news coverage was initially so bad, but because once that first email went out the responses we got sustained us. I am not sure how we would have managed those first few weeks without the support of all those emails. People we didn’t know were keeping us going when all we wanted to do was cry. A bond was forged with those strangers on my computer screen. I kept writing. They kept responding, and I felt a duty to continue sending out updates.

Many people sent boxes of supplies. Others sent vitamins and tasty things. They all came with notes of support, often with cash in them, and all with a comment about the frustration of trying to find a tangible way to help in that moment. So many kindnesses to balance the unfathomable cruelty of Katrina. It still chokes me up.

I had always written, an article here, a story there but nothing as regular as the emails written at that time. As the anger mounted and the sadness dropped us into pits of despair, the words were there being read somewhere by someone who cared even if we didn’t know their name. They met the people in my neighborhood, the people helping out. They heard the stories of the noble sons who’d stayed with their elderly, ill mothers. They heard the stories of lost people and our panic over their whereabouts. They heard about little triumphs and major hurdles. They heard about the heat and the exhaustion, the jubilation of power being turned back on, our first sight of Jackson Square covered in satellite trucks and humvees and old bandages instead of artists, and how many nails a tire can absorb before it becomes unusable.

In the writing of those missives I found the strength to cope with what I was seeing around me, and if the responses were to be believed, I was giving the people who read them a more realistic view of what was happening here during that time. Interestingly enough, six years later, sometimes those emails swirl through my consciousness with the tenacity of a CNN video loop.

~

Sam blogs at New Orleans Slate and is a contributing author and co-editor of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans. Her emails chronicling the days after Katrina can be read at Katrina Refrigerator.

LadyFest New Orleans’ 3rd Year

ladyfestposter

LadyFest New Orleans is a non-profit music, spoken word and arts festival organized by local women to showcase, celebrate and encourage activism through the arts for and by New Orleans women. It also serves as a benefit for local organizations that support women.

The festival runs for five days at five different venues. It will begin on Wed., Nov. 4, 6 pm at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade, New Orleans, with a Homily by Deacon Joyce Jackson, the first and only black woman Episcopal deacon in New Orleans. This will be followed by gospel music from Tonia Scott and the Anointed Voices who were the featured choir in “Skeleton Key”. The Queen Clarinet of Louisiana, Doreen Ketchens, will close out the evening with lots of hot music from Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans.

The festival moves to Snug Harbor on Thur., Nov 5 with two shows 8 and 10 pm at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, 626 Frenchmen, featuring Cindy Scott, Leah Chase, Megan Swartz on piano, Cori Waters on drums and Cassandra Falconer on bass.

On Friday, Nov. 6, Sweet Lorraine’s, 1931 St. Claude is the place to be with Charmaine Neville, David & Roselyn, Estelle Compagne on flute, GaBrilla Ballard, Lynn Drury & the Pfister sisters accompanied by Amassa Miller on Piano, Cori Waters on drums and Cassandra Falconer on bass.
Poet Valentine Pierce will be reading from her work also.

Sat, Nov. 7th the show moves to the Marigny Theatre, 1030 Marigny at St. Claude to enjoy blues with Beth Trepagnier, hear Gina Forsyth, dynamite on guitar or fiddle, and be amazed by Kayne Reznick‘s lusty irreverent folk songs, Lindsay Mendez performing music from her new CD, Olivia Greene bringing a fresh slant to jazz accompanied by Cori, Cassandra and Estelle. Then Some Like It Hot tears up the evening.

Sun., Nov. 8th, LadyFest New Orleans 2009 has its final performance at the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., from 11 am to 6 pm with 30 X 90, Dixie Rose, Hazel and the Delta Ramblers, Kelcy Mae, Margie Perez, Olga and Troi Bechet with Mimi Geste on Piano, Cori Waters on Drums, Cassandra Falconer on Bass and Estelle Campagne on Flute.

For more info, including some great photos, visit LadyFest New Orleans.org