Most of my reading the past week has been flash fiction aka short-shorts or micro-fiction. I don’t think there’s a universally agreed upon definition of flash fiction but I consider it flash if I can read it in under about 5 minutes. I really like flash – it fits in with my minimalist sensibilities and I think it takes a certain kind of talent to strip a story down to as few words as possible but still pack a punch. I like that I can read a story or two in small chunks of time throughout the day. I like the variety and the challenge of reading different voices and styles. So today I’m sharing some great flash pieces I read over the past week, many of which are from Fictionaut which is a good resource for flash and poetry as well as some longer pieces. New pieces are posted there every day so there’s no lag-time like there is with more traditional journals. Here are my picks:
Touching Jim by Juhi Kalra
Grandma by Donnie Wesley Baines (Don’t let the title fool you.)
At the Lip of the Swimming Lake by Meg Pokrass
Black Purse by Lucinda Kempe
The Piano Player’s Dead Rejoice by Nonnie Augustine
From WhiskeyPaper: Wild Hearts by Amanda Miska and Leesa Cross Smith
From James Claffey: The Chirr of the Cicada
From New World Writing: Strings by Kathy Fish
From Connotation Press: Comings and Goings and Solstice by Gary Percesepe, preceded by a great interview by Meg Tuite. This is a quote from Gary that I really like: “I love that flash fiction is thriving, as a kind of middle finger to the publishing powers-that-be, a kind of quiet desperation that would please the slumbering Thoreau in Walden, the most un-marketable thing imaginable, and a harbinger (the dreamer in me wants to say) to the writerly/readerly democracy which is yet to come.”
And our book list of the week comes from Book Riot: Book Club Suggestions If Your Most Diverse Pick Was “The Help”
Poem of the week is by Sam Rasnake who has graciously given permission to post here in its entirety. Thanks, Sam!
by Sam Rasnake
I’m the one-eyed troll,
wet, muddy, long nails scratching
stone from dirt below the bridge
while I wait for the boards to creak.
I’m the bridge or the cold
impatient river, or the sky
upside down, blue and white on water.
Mostly, I’m the goat,
my teeth full of grass,
wanting only mountains,
and time to lift my puzzled chin
to what must happen next.
I just love this poem because I’ve felt like the troll, the water, the goat at one time or another. Also, The Three Billy Goats Gruff gave me nightmares as a child and that’s a memory that’s stayed with me through life. Isn’t it funny how that happens?
Remember to check our Pinterest Board throughout the week for more Hot Reads and have a great reading week!
HOMELESS IN NEW ORLEANS
In New Orleans, a city that has seen more than its share of destruction, devastation, and upheaval in the last nine years, “being homeless” is decidedly different than in other major cities in the US. After Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, many residents living in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard, became “homeless” (“storm displaced homeless”) due to the destruction of houses and rental properties. Katrina displaced over a million people from the gulf coast across the United States. The number of “storm displaced homeless” dropped as people were able to fix their homes (as money from the “Road Home program” and insurance companies became available) and reestablish their lives. It is estimated that the number of “chronically homeless” people living in New Orleans prior to Katrina was 6,000. That number doubled between August 29, 2005 and mid-2007. At that time, with a post-Katrina population of 300,000 people, one in twenty five (1 in 25) people were homeless, (a number three times that of any US city.) A “chronically homeless” individual is defined by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) as someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability.
Some of the first businesses to re-open in New Orleans after Katrina were restaurants, bars, and hotels (“hospitality industry”) and the demand for minimum wage workers became great. Many workers that took these jobs found it difficult to find a place to live in New Orleans, since rentals were extremely scarce after Katrina. Some got FEMA trailer’s that they could use on their land, until their houses were fixed, though life was not easy, living in FEMA trailers. In fact, it was later determined that the FEMA trailers had significant issues with formaldehyde, causing multiple health issues for people living in the trailers. A class action lawsuit resulted in a $42.6 million settlement in 2012.
In 2007, a large group of homeless residents moved to Duncan Plaza (across the street from New Orleans City Hall) to draw attention to the difficulties that people with low incomes and the homeless in New Orleans faced daily. Since Katrina and Rita destroyed much of New Orleans’s affordable housing, housing that previously might have been available to people with low incomes, was not. Further, rents that might have been affordable in “pre-Katrina” New Orleans had often doubled and tripled, leaving the working poor without alternatives. Additionally, the City of New Orleans seemed disinclined to help the “working poor” in New Orleans, even though the city badly needed the income and revenues that the hospitality industry, and its workers could bring. In fact, Mayor Ray Nagin suggested that a way to reduce the City of New Orleans post-Katrina homeless population, was to give them one-way bus tickets out of town. Nagin, of course, later recanted his comments, insisting that it was simply an “off the cuff joke” (see New York Times article dated May 28, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/us/28tent.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&) but the day-to-day reality was that Mayor Nagin and the City of New Orleans, never appeared to have a plan to deal with the homeless, much less implementation, if such a plan even existed. Mayor Nagin believed that the homeless in New Orleans after Katrina were alcoholic, drug abusing, transients who refused shelter; and that belief was pervasive throughout the eight years of his tenure as mayor of New Orleans. In actuality, a survey by local advocacy groups in 2008, showed that 86% of the homeless on the streets of New Orleans, were from New Orleans, 60% were homeless due to Katrina, and 30% had received some form of rental assistance from FEMA since Katrina.
Sadly, as time passed (and administrations changed,) the homeless of New Orleans have received mediocre treatment at best, from the City of New Orleans. Life on the streets of New Orleans is decidedly unsafe for the homeless and there have been numerous attacks on the homeless, including robbery, beatings, battery, rape, and murder. After the Duncan Plaza encampment was forced to move in January 2008, similar sites continued to surface in New Orleans which was not surprising. By forcing people to move from a camp site, the City of New Orleans began a dangerous game of “cat and mouse” that ignored the real issue that there was simply not enough affordable rental housing available. From 2008 to present, homeless camps continue to appear in various locations in New Orleans, often underneath overpasses including under the I-10 overpass on N. Claiborne Avenue, near Canal Street, and beneath Pontchartrain Expressway, near Calliope and Baronne Street. By my count, after reviewing numerous newspaper stories from 2008 to present, there have been at least fifteen (15) times that the City of New Orleans have forced these homeless sites to move. In October 2011, the Occupy movement came to New Orleans to express their displeasure with the disparate wealth distribution. They began their stay by peacefully marching through New Orleans, and then took up residence in Duncan Plaza in New Orleans. Their stay in Duncan Plaza was relatively calm and without incident during the months of October and November 2011, though a homeless man was found dead in his tent early November 2011, due to alcohol poisoning. On December 6, 2011, the City of New Orleans evicted the Occupy NOLA protesters from Duncan Plaza via a pre-dawn visit from the NOPD. Twelve hours later, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted the Occupy New Orleans group a temporary restraining order allowing it to move back into the park, directly across from City Hall where it had been for approximately two months. The restraining order was overturned a week later, and Duncan Plaza was once again cleared.
In fairness to the City of New Orleans, there have been numerous initiatives that the City of New Orleans has introduced and touted as “cures” for the homeless issues in New Orleans. On July 4, 2014, Mayor Landrieu announced a goal to end homelessness among veterans in New Orleans by end of 2014. In September 2013 Mayor Landrieu announced the successful placement of 244 chronically homeless and vulnerable homeless individuals in 100 days as part of the 200 Homes in 100 Days Campaign. In fact there appears to be at least one initiative per year that claims to help the homeless, but what these plans fail to address over and over, is the dire need for affordable housing, so that people in vulnerable financial situations do not end up having to live on the streets of New Orleans.
On August 12, 2014, the NOPD, the City of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Department of Health, began yet another campaign of forcing the current homeless camp under Pontchartrain Expressway to move (by 8/14/14.) The City of New Orleans used the terms public health hazard as it’s reason for forcing the move, but there was a rumor that the real reason for this particular campaign was that the Saints first exhibition game at home was on 8/15/14, and the city didn’t want people to see the eyesore that the homeless camp represented. Whatever the reason, the homeless were moved out by the end of the day on 8/14/14, and the city’s health director said the area was closed due to trash and filth that attracted rats which the city couldn’t clean and put out rat poison, with homeless living there. On Saturday, August 16th, I was in the area around Calliope and Baronne, so I went to see what had changed. There were numerous signs stating that the area had been declared a health hazard by the New Orleans Department of Health; further the signs said that anyone who parked in that area would be towed. There were also numerous barricades everywhere. But as I drove by, I saw just as many homeless as before; they had simply moved a couple blocks further towards Tchoupitoulas. I took photos and talked to a few of the people who said they were “resigned” to what had happened; they thought it made no sense, but felt they had no say in how things go in New Orleans. I went back again Wednesday August 20th, to see if things were different; it was 90 degrees and 90% humidity at 4:30 that day, so I brought bananas, water, and chips. As I handed the water out, I asked how things had changed. Most people simply smiled at me and said thank you for the water, but when I asked if the NOPD were bothering them, I finally got a response from a man who told me “No ma’am, as long as we stay on our spot, they are ok.” When I asked what he meant by spot, he pointed to the sidewalk outside of the areas that were barricaded. Apparently, as long as they stay on the sidewalk and don’t try to move inside the barricades, they have a “right” to be there, and the NOPD will leave them alone. I shook my head and told him I was sorry. But I was truly appalled that on a day that was unbearably hot, even in the shade, that the City of New Orleans was forcing the homeless to stand or sit in the sun, rather than allowing them to move to the shadier area inside the barricades. I know that there are no easy answers, but it seems to me that the City of New Orleans badly needs to re-examine its plans for dealing with the homeless to try to figure out a way to help its most vulnerable residents.
It’s a hot, humid Sunday so sit back and take a look at what we read this week while you sip your beverage of choice. All this and more can be found on our Hot Reads From NOLAFemmes.com Pinterest board.
Have a great reading week, y’all!
From NPR: “As Kids Head To Campus, Parents Broach The Subject Of Sexual Assault”
Favorite Quote: “And he may hear all kinds of justifications while at school, she tells him. “I think what concerns me the most is not falling into that group mentality,” she says, “Like, ‘Oh, she’s a slut,’ or, ‘She came wearing a short skirt,’ or, ‘[She] already had sex with one of the guys, therefore it’s OK if everybody does.'”
Least favorite quote: “”That’s one thing I might be relying more on the college orientation helping them through, and giving them some guidelines and things to look out for,” says Gail.”
Note: It’s called sticking your head in the sand syndrome.
From Bloomberg: Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Wanes Amid Assault Alarm
Favorite quote: ““This is the only crime where people blame the victim,” said Annie E. Clark, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, based in Los Angeles. “Regardless of what you do, you don’t ask for a crime to be committed.” “
From the U.K.’s Mirror: Crack unit of female soldiers hunting Islamic State kidnappers.
Tagline: Heavily armed women from the Turkish PKK have gone into Iraq to tackle the jihadists.
Favorite quote: ““Our support is just as important for the peshmerga as these US strikes – bombings alone cannot get rid of guerrilla groups,” said Sedar Botan, a female PKK veteran commander.”
And, on a lighter note, from Slate: Musical nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?
Favorite quote: “The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.”
Book list of the week: Awkward Paper Cut 2014 summer book list – “Summer is synonymous with reading. Wherever you may find yourself, the books below will take you to new places, teach you new things, nudge you to see the world in a different way. Brief, but well-culled, a mix of new work and work that we believe should find a larger audience.”
And our poem for the week is by Luci Tapahonso, This is How They Were Placed for Us.
Note: The audio of this is beautifully read by the poet.
Art in Ruin is a new personal photography project by Laura Bergerol. It is timed to be ready by 8/29/14 (the ninth anniversary of Katrina making land in New Orleans.) My inspiration for this project began with a house that I noticed several weeks ago on Earhart Expressway, that was colorful and cheerful. When I went back to investigate, I realized that though the house was decaying, someone had painted wonderful things on it; and it looked as if it was ready to dance on Mardi Gras day. After I noticed the first house, I did more research and realized that there are many houses and buildings in New Orleans, that have also been “made beautiful” both by human hands, and by nature. When I went to photograph them, I realized that there was a “strong chance” that many of these houses will disappear into dust (some sooner than others) as their structures are less than stable, so the need to document them became more urgent. I suspect that this project may eventually expand to other cities, other than New Orleans, but for now, New Orleans gets my attention. I plan to offer a book of the photos, and all profits after cost will go to Animal Rescue New Orleans (www.animalrescueneworleans.org) who have been rescuing and finding homes for the dogs and cats of New Orleans since Katrina. Eventually, there will be a website (http://artinruin.org) but for now the photos live on my photography site; Art in Ruin and on the Art in Ruin Facebook page; Facebook page.
In 2010 I sent out my first poetry submission to an online literary journal. It was The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, a journal I identified with as a Southerner and a Southern writer,and read regularly. I was thrilled that my very first submission had been accepted and I still have a special place in my heart for The Mule. In the years since, I’ve submitted to a variety of print and online journals. I rarely send out simultaneous submissions and I only submit to ones I actually read and that I think match my aesthetic. For me, sending out my work to a gazillion zines is a waste of time and doesn’t make sense. I carefully consider if I want to be a part of the journals I choose, if I will be proud and happy to get accepted or just ho-hum about it. I’ve been lucky to have been accepted more than rejected and I think it’s because I’m thoughtful about where I submit. I’ve also been lucky to receive advice on tweaking particular pieces that the editor felt was almost right but needed a little more expanding. In both of the cases, I felt they were right and I appreciated their POV and that they took the time to work with me on those pieces. So, thank you Mike Joyce and Meg Tuite, for your support and time and for sharing the wisdom of your experience. It was greatly appreciated.
So it was with some consternation that I finally realized more than three months after submission that a certain journal has ignored me. I submitted several poems to a journal back in early May that I read and really like. It has published some of my favorite writers and I like that it has a strong bent toward women writers. I was excited when I received an acknowledgement of my submission and settled down for a 90 day wait for a decision, as noted might be the case in the guidelines. About 10 days ago I went on the journal website and saw that a new issue had been published six days previously. What? But I haven’t heard from them, not a word. I immediately sent an email inquiring as to the status of my submission. It’s been over a week and they have not replied. Now I’m pissed. And I’m pissed that I’m in a position that pisses me off. I know this happens to writers on occasion but it’s never happened to me. Obviously, they didn’t want my work and that’s O.K. I don’t get bent out of shape when I get a rejection. People have differing opinions, differing aesthetics. I don’t take it personally, my stuff just wasn’t a fit for whatever reason. What pisses me off is the feeling that I didn’t even rate a form letter rejection. That’s just not right. It’s rude. It’s not good P.R. nor good business. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth and makes me not want to read this journal ever again. But, you know what? I will read it again because it’s a fine journal that publishes some fine women (and men) writers and I won’t deprive myself of reading their words. In fact, I recommend you read Stone Highway Review yourself and see if I’m not right.
Just don’t submit to it unless you’re OK with being ignored if you’re not accepted.
Another week has passed and another list of great reading to share with you. First up are three essays about New Orleans. Well, we can never get in enough reading about our city, now can we? One is about cocktails and culture, one has all the color and flair of the French Quarter and one of its legendary characters, and another features one woman’s unique way of coping after Katrina and how it changed her life. All three are wonderful in different ways.
First up, from The Bitter Southerner (an online journal I just love): “No.4″ in their Cocktail Series featuring SoBou bartender Abigail Gullo.
Favorite quote: “Steen’s Cane Syrup is such an integral part of my own life that I’ve often worried that eventually I’ll be drowned in a great wave of the sticky-sweet cane juice, preserved forever like a gluttonous bug in amber.”
Note: True dat! If you grew up in Louisiana or Mississippi and didn’t have Steen’s in the house, what was wrong with your family?
From The Oxford American: “The Chess King of Decatur Street”
Favorite Quote: “Acers pushed his plastic chair back, stood, and made a grand bow, sweeping his arm from high above his head to down around his ankles. “Dear sir,” he cried, “we shall not speak of things that cannot come to pass.””
From The New York Times: “What the Sparrows Told Me”
Favorite Quote: ” My father had been told that he had terminal cancer 40 days after Katrina. He didn’t know a Mugimaki flycatcher from a Hudsonian godwit. But during his last days he loved to watch the birds come to his feeders. If watching birds could help my father die, maybe it could help me live and teach.”
Note: I remember well the eerie quiet after the storm, the absence of birdsong. It was a sweet moment when I realized I was hearing the tweets of the first returned birds.
From Unclutterer blog: Modified Principals of Sanitary Design
Favorite quote: “This list may seem restrictive, but we have found when items do pass the test, they last longer, we use them more often, and we have very little mess to clean up afterwards.”
Note: Despite the dry, textbook title of this piece, it has some good ideas about what to take into consideration when you’re about to make a purchase. This was a timely article for me because lately I find myself thinking, “I wouldn’t have bought this if I’d realized what a chore it would be to keep clean”!
From HuffPo: “Photographer Documents The Men And Women Who Choose To Live Off The Grid”
Favorite quote: “These are, in some ways, spontaneous responses to the societies these men and women have left behind. This documentary project is an attempt to make a kind of contemporary tale and to give back a little bit of magic to our modern civilization.”
From Women Writers, Women’s Books: “5 Life Lessons From Women Writers”
Favorite Quote: “And finally, Maya Angelou, Pam Houston, and Amy Tan taught me that laughter, and in particular the ability to laugh at yourself and life’s absurdities, is key to moving from merely surviving to thriving.”
From The New York Times: “The Millennials Are Generation Nice”
Favorite Quote: “Taken together, these habits and tastes look less like narcissism than communalism. And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.”
Note: This piece made me look at Millennials in a deeper way, as more than social media addicts and narcissists.
Our book list of the week comes from Bitch Media: “Hot Off the Small Press”, “As summer is quickly coming to a close, take some time to bask in the sun and soak in a good book. Here are some short, sweet, stellar reads for the rest of August, all works are recent releases from independent publishers.”
“a soldier in fatigues, just back from deployment
tattoos on his knuckles, his face a mask
of sorrows and regrets”
Have a great reading week, y’all. Don’t forget to check in with our Hot Reads From NOLAFemmes.com Pinterest board.
I was offered a place at an artist’s residency called Soaring Gardens for the month of September. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to finance a month of writing without a source of income, so I launched a GoFundMe campaign. While I haven’t yet hit my goal amount, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the generosity and support of everyone who’s donated and that has made me more determined than ever that this is going to happen.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a list of what I’ll miss about New Orleans while I’m gone for the month. I’ve picked 6 things for the 6 days left of the fundraiser, which wraps up next Wednesday, August 20th.
1. My communities of friends, fellow writers and artists and other tango dancers. All the coffee dates, writing meetings and tango events that I would otherwise attend were I here. This includes one regular Peauxdunque Writers Alliance meeting and a special tango workshop with amazing teachers.
2. Saints games! I’ll miss the first 4 regular season games, unless I can find a local bar and convince them to show the games. The house is very rural, so this could be touch and go. But even if I do manage to watch them while I’m gone, I’ll miss the experience of watching them with friends *here* at places like Pelican Bay.
3. Speaking of Pelican Bay, one of my favorite things to do lately is pick up one of their daiquiris and take it to Indywood Theater (they’re close to each other on Elysian Fields and Indywood is BYOB). I’ve seen so many amazing movies there recently and their August calendar looks great. I’m afraid to even see what I’ll miss in September.
4. While this isn’t technically a New Orleans thing (or in Sept), I’m going to miss the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Saenger on October 1st. I’ll be driving back from the residency then, unfortunately. Darn!
5. Whenever I’ve left Louisiana in the past, I’ve craved good red beans and rice as soon as I cross the state line. So I’m sure that will happen now. And I’ll miss the roast beef po’boy at Parkway Bakery. I’ll miss a lot of other favorite restaurants/dishes, too many to name, but I know I’ll miss being able to get those red beans and that roast beef po’boy. It’s only a matter of time.
6. I’m not sure what I’ll do without the New Orleans Public Library. While the house has a library, I have been so spoiled by our wonderful library system and librarians. Books, movies, music, all at my fingertips. They just had a wrap party for their summer reading program and had adult summer reading activities all summer as well. But, in any season, the library is my mainstay. I’m going to be very sad when I take all my borrowed books back, and when I suspend all my holds. That will be the moment when I’ll know this dream I’ve been working toward has become a reality.
I know I’ll miss so much more than this (and people will be the biggest part), but I think I’ll be surprised by what I’ll miss once I’m at the residency. Luckily, it’s only a month and I’ll be back for the Louisiana Book Festival and Words & Music and… It will be a lot of fun to enjoy those six things (and everything else) once I’m back, having missed them for a little while. I hope you’ll enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer in the meantime.
There will be a going away party/celebration this coming Sunday the 17th, starting at 2 p.m. at Pelican Bay. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, send me off or just enjoy brunch and daiquiris, you should swing by.