I have a recurring feature on my personal blog I call “Morning Meditation”. Today’s meditation was inspired by the writings of Pema Chodron, particularly the passage titled Unconditional well-being from “The Pocket Pema Chodron”.
The theme that emerged from this edition of Hot Reads is women who know who they are and are unapologetic. I love that. I love a woman who doesn’t follow the crowd, who goes her own way. Women like New Orleanian Dawn DeDeaux, actor Frances McDormand, and the iconic Janis Joplin.
From the New York Times: A Star Who Has No Time for Vanity
Tagline: Frances McDormand, True to Herself in HBO’s ‘Olive Kitteridge’
Favorite quote: “We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species,” she said. “There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal.”
Note: I like this woman’s attitude; she’s fierce and definitely her own woman. Her acting skills belong in an elite league of strong women actors that, for me, include Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, and Lupita Nyong’o. If you haven’t seen Laurel Canyon, you must!
From Flavorwire: The Shocking True Story of My Life With a Flip Phone
Favorite quote: “And ultimately, not everybody has a smartphone. For one thing: they’re really expensive. I’ve been looking into it, and the initial expenditure is shocking to me. How do people afford and/or justify it? Then, regarding Apple products, it’s a lose-lose situation of predetermined obsolescence and keeping up with the Joneses, every year.” and “I find the addictive qualities of the smartphone, and how they’ve changed the way that people are present in public in cities to be somewhat disconcerting.” and…….THE WHOLE ENTIRE ARTICLE.
Note: I really liked this piece because I now know there are other anti-iPhone people like me out there. And, of course, I love that this young woman feels absolutely no peer pressure to have the latest technology.
And speaking of phone addictions…..
From HuffPo: 7 Reasons to Banish Your Phone From the Bedroom
Favorite quote: “A study published in the journal Nature last summer by Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, M.D., Ph.D., revealed how the artificial blue light emitted from electronic devices like cell phones, smartphones and tablets activates arousing neurons within the brain, preventing us from feeling sleepy.”
Note: I love my iPad mini and I often take it to bed with me at night and read. There’s no doubt in my mind that the longer I read the less I feel like sleeping. Lately, I’ve been choosing to read a real paper and ink book instead because I don’t want to become addicted to my iPad anymore than I want to be addicted to a phone. Plus, reading a real book at bedtime always makes me sleepy.
You really have to make a conscious decision to step away from the glowing screen.
From The New York Times: Between Apocalypses (Interview with New Orleanian Dawn DeDeaux about her Prospect .3 installation, Mothership)
Favorite quote: “At 15, Ms. DeDeaux considered herself an old master; by her early 20s, she was making installations out of telephone booths hooked up to CB radio channels. She was also part of the group that founded the Contemporary Arts Center here in 1976, she said, a year after she won the demolition derby in the Superdome.”
Note: This interview was so interesting and really sparked my interest to see Mothership. Yet another unique, independent woman!
The featured Book List is from Book Riot: Peek Over Our Shoulders: What Rioters Are Reading
When I saw Bird Box on this list it gave me the extra push to download and read it. What they said about it: “Bird Box by Josh Malerman: When a bunch of Rioters say a book is so scary that you have to put it in the freezer, you buy the book and gird your girdable parts.” What I say about it: I slept with a light on. If you like apocalyptic stories, this one is for you.
Featured poem is by Dorianne Laux whose work I’ve become somewhat obsessed with over the summer. I’m a Janis Joplin fan so when I read her poem “Pearl” from her book, Smoke, I immediately emailed and asked permission to post it here. She graciously agreed. This poem is so good it makes me shiver. Reading this, I feel like I’m right there in the audience at Monterey in 1967. When a poem, or any piece of writing, can transport you to a different place and time so easily and so convincingly, well, you know it’s exceptional.
Here is an MP3 of Dorianne reading “Pearl” and talking about the writing of the poem. Enjoy!
She was a headlong assault, a hysterical
an act of total extermination.
–Myra Friedma, Buried Alive:
The Biography of Janis Joplin
She was nothing much, this plain-faced girl from Texas,
this moonfaced child who opened her mouth
to the gravel pit churning in her belly, acne-faced
daughter of Leadbelly, Bessie, Otis, and the booze-
filled moon, child of the honky-tonk bar-talk crowd
who cackled like a bird of prey, velvet cape blown
open in the Monterey wind, ringed fingers fisted
at her throat, howling the slagheap up and out
into the sawdusted air. Barefaced, mouth warped
and wailing like giving birth, like being eaten alive
from the inside, or crooning like the first child
abandoned by God, trying to woo him back,
down on her knees and pleading for a second chance.
When she sang she danced a stand-in-place dance,
one foot stamping at that fire, that bed of coals;
one leg locked at the knee and quivering, the other
pumping its oil-rig rhythm, her bony hip jigging
so the beaded belt slapped her thigh.
Didn’t she give it to us? So loud so hard so furious,
hurling heat-seeking balls of lightning
down the long human aisles, her voice crashing
into us-sonic booms to the heart-this little white girl
who showed us what it was like to die
for love, to jump right up and die for it night after
drumbeaten night, going down shrieking – hair
feathered, frayed, eyes glazed, addicted to the song -
a one-woman let me show you how it’s done, how it is,
where it goes when you can’t hold it in anymore.
Child of everything gone wrong, gone bad, gone down,
gone. Girl with the girlish breasts and woman hips,
thick-necked, sweat misting her upper lip, hooded eyes
raining a wild blue light, hands reaching out
to the ocean we made, all that anguish and longing
swelling and rising at her feet. Didn’t she burn
herself up for us, shaking us alive? That child,
that girl, that rawboned woman, stranded
in a storm on a blackened stage like a house
Damn, that’s good!
Don’t forget to follow our Hot Reads board on Pinterest and have a great reading week!
If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d get some of the best writing advice of my life at a hotel out by the airport, I’d have been suitably skeptical. It’s just that when one imagines a scene filled with award-winning authors, aspiring wordsmiths, and a sizeable contingent of steampunks and Chewbacchanalians, the Hilton on Airline Highway is probably not going to be the first place she thinks of. Not that the Hilton isn’t a great hotel, of course – just that it’s not that high in the list of wretched hives of scum and villainy. That fact notwithstanding, it turns out that the organizers couldn’t have picked a better spot to house the odd and amazing convergence known as CONtraflow.
Now in its fourth year, CONtraflow is a fan-organized, volunteer-run convention that focuses on science fiction and fantasy in literature and art. It’s a small convention (for right now, at least), but a robust one. This year the gathering boasted 100+ educational panels, parties, and concerts, featuring over 55 well-known names in the sci-fi and fantasy community. The gathering attracts writers, artists, vendors and fans (and everything in between), who mingle and bond over a shared love of geekdom.
At 32, until very recently it was a necessity to keep my geeky interests a secret, lest I be branded a weirdo. Even though pop culture has thoroughly embraced gaming, comic book heroes, and various sci-fi franchises over the last decade, if you’re my age (and especially if you’re female) you probably remember a time when it was just not possible to admit that you read fantasy novels and knew a smattering of Klingon without being ostracized. It’s only within the last couple of years that I started meeting geeks who were proud to share their interests with others, and started to realize that it was OK to be geeky. Meanwhile though, old habits die hard, and I’m still getting used to not being ashamed to buy comic books or profess my love for Settlers of Catan.
So while a large contingent of my comic book-loving, RPG-playing, sci-fi movie quoting friends regularly attend huge and hallowed conventions like Dragoncon and San Diego Comic-Con International, the bulk of my con experience begins and ends with Star Trek conventions with my mother, circa 1990. As you can imagine, I hadn’t revealed my secret to any of my friends – how embarrassing to basically be a con virgin! I was hoping that CONtraflow would give me a decent taste of what it’s like to go to a convention, without the huge crowds and overstimulation. I figured I could work my way up to the crazy stuff if the basics seemed interesting enough.
Luckily, my expectations were right on the money. From the moment the Hilton’s automatic doors sluiced open, enveloping me in brightly printed carpet and the sweet, sweet caress of over-conditioned air, I knew I was home. Two steampunk pirate wenches and an excellent Maleficent walked in with me from the parking lot, and I followed them through the hotel to the registration desk.
I had hoped to attend all three days, but as it turned out, Sunday was my only opening to check out the panels. I explained this to the lovely volunteer at registration, and she gamely recommended the best panels that day, based on my interests. While we were talking, I explained that I was new to this whole “being vocal about being a geek” thing. Without missing a beat, she reassured me that there’s nothing like going to a con – in fact, she’d met her husband at one! I made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled, just in case Destiny happened to be cosplaying that day.
The first panel on my list was “How to Write a Great First Line”, with author and radio talk show host M. B. Weston. Weston’s specialties are fantasy, YA, steampunk and paranormal fiction, and her enthusiasm for her craft was immediately evident as the panel got underway. “Punch, and punch hard!” was the message of the day. During the hour-long open Q&A, Weston shared her experience in crafting first lines made to immediately reel a reader in, and keep them hungry for more. The author explained that first lines were a kind of bait, or a drug, if you will. Keep adjusting the formula as you get to know your readers more. Introducing sensory details, inciting curiosity, and creating a sense of urgency are all ways to get the reader hooked. Most importantly, don’t get caught up on the first line. Keep writing, and let that perfect introduction come to you as you build the rest of the story. You can always go back and edit.
Weston’s talk was so engaging that I found myself staying put through the break to chat with other members of the crowd who’d stuck around to talk about first lines. Before I knew it, the next panel was getting under way. During “How to Promote Yourself & Your Writing”, independent author Ben Herr and author/actor/publisher Allan Gilbreath encouraged the writers in the crowd to start thinking of themselves as brands, and to start getting their messaging out to the right target market. Herr, creator of YA fantasy series Alynia Sky, is a fascinating example of how to be your own best brand ambassador. He shared valuable lessons on what’s worked – and what hasn’t – for him as he’s made it his mission to see his stories travel the globe. Gilbreath’s advice was even more interesting, as he’s had the opportunity to view the process from the writer’s chair as well as from the publisher’s point of view. His tips on how to succeed (and avoid screwing up) were useful and frequently hilarious, including the best thing I heard all day: “Interns are an invaluable resource – and they compost well!”
Despite the great advice had in the first two panels, the next panel I attended was definitely my favorite. Authors J. L. Mulvihill, Rob Cerio, and Kimberly Daniels led a very engaged crowd through an active discussion on “Writing Good Villains”. Between the three panelists, they covered a diverse set of genres, including YA, steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and comedy, but also were able to reference villains and plot points from TV, movies, comic books, classic fiction and even non-fiction sources. This created a rich and very accepting conversation, where the crowd felt encouraged to bring up ideas and share their struggles and successes with writing villainous characters. We even talked about how societal norms change our concept of villainy, and how to build a story where the villain is the landscape, or the society, or even the protagonist. Best of all, during the panel, I felt a light bulb switch on in my mind, as a story character I’d been writing and rewriting for a couple of years now suddenly completely made sense.
Afterward the day of awesome panels, I realized that it was pointless to try avoiding the siren song of geeky baubles any longer. As I wound my way through the serpentine field of merch tables, exploring my options, I could almost hear my bank account groaning. Bags laden with new books, I wandered back out to the parking lot, mentally signing myself up for next year’s CONtraflow. Wonder if the Hilton takes Vulcans?
Anna Harris is a New Orleans-based marketing consultant and blogger. You can find her online at Compass & Quill and The Camino Plan.
Hunger in New Orleans
Questions and Answers for Second Harvest Food Bank New Orleans
by Laura Bergerol
October 1, 2014
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Terri Kaupp of Second Harvest New Orleans, about hunger in New Orleans. Full disclosure, because we live in a technology driven world, the discussion wasn’t verbal, but was instead done electronically by me asking questions about hunger, and by Terri, answering them. While not the same as a discussion in person, it was the easiest way to make this happen, since our lives tend to be hectic and over busy. Additionally, Second Harvest of New Orleans and Acadiana does not have the ability to break out the numbers for New Orleans vs South Louisiana. So not only do they cover the New Orleans metro area, but they also cover 23 parishes in South Louisiana up to the state lines of Texas and Mississippi.
In asking questions of Second Harvest, I wanted to
1) Understand if hunger in New Orleans is different than in other communities,
2) Assess the impact that Second Harvest has on the problem of hunger in New Orleans. and
3) Find ways that individuals and businesses can help Second Harvest.
My questions for Second Harvest;
1) From what I have read, 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. How many in New Orleans?
Currently the statistics nationally matches the numbers in New Orleans; one in six households in Louisiana are at risk of hunger, and more worrisome is that 1 in 5 CHILDREN are at risk of hunger in Louisiana.
2) How many seniors are using food banks in New Orleans (and Lafayette) to subsidize their pantries? Where is Second Harvest most helpful for seniors? Adult day care facilities? Meals on Wheels for shut ins/disabled?
Approximately 42,000 seniors per year are served through food pantries and residential care centers. Most people don’t often realize just how vulnerable our seniors are. We also try to provide the types of foods they need due to diet/medical needs (low sodium, etc) We are not currently associated with the Meals on Wheels program – however that is something we would like to work with one day. Meals on Wheels currently has a yearly contract with a vendor – we at Second Harvest, hope that one day we can bid for this contract and provide meals to Seniors
3) Are there programs implemented in any of the New Orleans schools that send food home with children for the weekend? If not, are there plans to implement these programs?
Second Harvest Food Bank actually runs the Backpack Program – this is a program that sends backpacks with food/shelf stable milk/juice home with children identified by teachers/school administrators as “MOST AT-RISK” of not having enough food over the weekend. Currently 1700 children at 32 schools participate in this program that operates in 13 parishes.
4) Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011. 20.6 percent vs. 12.2 percent. How many families do you usually see monthly in New Orleans?
Approximately 22,400 households per month in our 23 parish service area.(we currently don’t have the ability to break out by parish.)
5) 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty. More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.What are the statistics in New Orleans? Is it hunger higher in African Americans homes, or in the Latino population?
Currently we serve: 33% White, 59% African American and 4% Latino clients in our 23 parish service area (the remaining 4% are of other ethnic backgrounds)
6) What happens in the summer? How does Second Harvest make up for smaller monetary donations during the summer?
This summer, Second Harvest once again provided breakfast, lunch and for some participating sites snacks for 4,270 children at 66 locations across the greater New Orleans area. This Summer Feeding Program provided 210,266 meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks) over the course of 9 weeks. We couldn’t run this program without the commitment from such wonderful partners as the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, ConAgra Foundation, USDA and Louisiana Department of Education. Second Harvest Food Bank runs the LARGEST summer feeding program in the state.
7) Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs. Does Second Harvest have a breakfast program for hungry children? How many can they help? What is your lunch program like in Orleans Parish? Explain more about your Backpack program?
Unfortunately, we don’t offer a breakfast program – that is already offered as part of the Federal free/reduced meal program. Second Harvest provides “supper” for children in after-school programs, after-care, etc – the program just launched on September 8 for the 2014-15 school year. Right now we have 33 afterschool sites enrolled (several more are pending approval from the state.) These children will receive a nutritious, hot meal prepared fresh every day. We do not FRY any of our items, all nutrition guidelines from the USDA are followed including using whole grain pasta, brown rice and wheat rolls. Every day the children get 2% milk and fresh fruit (apples/oranges) with their meals. We hope that we are able to introduce them to foods they may not be getting at home – baked Tilapia is one of their favorites.
8) 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children. Has it gotten worse in New Orleans and South Louisiana since Governor Jindal refused extra money as part of Obamacare programs?
No, these two programs are not directly related. However, November 1st the expiration of the ARRA funding did directly affect SNAP. A family of four saw a reduction of approximately $36 in SNAP benefits. Most people don’t think that $36 is a lot, however when your SNAP benefit is just over $100 – that $36 means several meals were taken away from families. Since that cut, our partner agencies and Second Harvest has seen an increase in need for emergency food assistance.
9) 40% percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans. What are the rules for restaurants in New Orleans?? Is there a worry about liability if food not ok? How many restaurants in New Orleans actually help with leftover foods? Could this program be extended? Does Second Harvest have partnerships with restaurants in New Orleans?
This is a very tricky area – While there are many restaurants who would like to help and donate unused food to Second Harvest, this is something we have to be careful with due to food safety. Also, we need a higher volume in order to make this worthwhile. We do have a “Retail Pick up Program” that works with local grocery stores that picks up items that may not be bad but needs to be removed from the shelf such as milk close to the expiration date. Technically the milk is still good and we can pick up those items (milk, bakery items such as bread, cakes from grocery bakeries, yogurt, milk, cheese, juice and produce). We are able to put these items on our mobile pantry trucks (refrigerated) and distribute immediately. These monthly mobile pantries distribute about 3-5 days of food to 150-200 households – we do approximately 37 mobile pantries a month between the Greater New Orleans area and Lafayette. In FY 14 we picked up 9.9 MILLION pounds of food – this is approximately 1/3 of the food we distribute on an annual basis (25 million pounds in FY 14 equivalent to 22.5 million meals). Through Feeding America we also pick up the end of day bread/baked goods from Panera locations in our service area as well as Texas Toast ends from Raising Canes. These are given to agencies such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters who feed large amounts of people daily.
10) What new programs will Second Harvest implement this year? How can individuals help? How much do corporate sponsors contribute to the annual monies for Second Harvest?
We are about to launch a new School Pantry program in two schools in Orleans parish this fall – just finishing up the paper work to implement. This will put a pantry twice a month at two local schools in areas that have over 95% enrollment in the Federal Free/Reduced meal program. This program will have an actual pantry for parents to access on distribution day – they will be able to access it after-school when picking up their children and won’t have to worry about being off of work during distribution times that might be during the middle of the work day.
A way to help Second Harvest currently;
Currently Second Harvest is participating in a contest to win $60,000 for Second Harvest, as well as money for their partners; http://wm8.walmart.com/Hunger/# You can vote daily but the contest ends on October 5, 2014.
Volunteering with Second Harvest Food Bank; If you would like to volunteer with Second Harvest, call the main number 504-734-1322 and ask to speak to our volunteer services coordinators. We have opportunities during the week, some evening shifts, and shifts in the Community Kitchen plating and packing hot meals for the Kids Cafe program.
Facts about Second Harvest Food Bank:
Second Harvest Food Bank is leading the fight against hunger and building food security in South Louisiana by providing food access, advocacy, education and disaster response. Second Harvest provides food to 300 partner agencies and direct food access to community members in need across 23 parishes, from the Mississippi border to the Texas state line. Together, we make up the largest anti-hunger network in the state. With our community’s help, we can make food security a reality for every household in South Louisiana.
Second Harvest Food Bank is an affiliated ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, a member of Feeding America, and a United Way Partner Agency. To join us in the fight to end hunger, please visit www.no-hunger.org. Follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/2ndHarvestGNOA, fan us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/2ndHarvestGNOA or Instagram at @2ndHarvestGNOA.
Long time readers of Nola Femmes may remember my last guest blog post from 2013 when my partner and I were gearing up to print the first issue of our indie publication, Momma Tried magazine. Looking back on that piece now it seems like I wrote it a lifetime ago. So much has happened since then: we were super fortunate to raise the money for our printing costs thanks to hundreds of people via Kickstarter, our first printer dropped us because they said our content was “clearly intended to cause arousal” (but we found a new more progressive printer in Iceland!), we had the most wonderful launch party at Parse gallery, and to top it all off, one of our most exciting developments has been getting the magazine stocked internationally in Paris, London, and Amsterdam! International distribution was one of our most ambitious goals when we first started working on self publishing the magazine, so it’s incredible and surreal that our New Orleans nudie mag is now at the Tate Modern!
Creating the second issue of Momma Tried has been amazing and challenging, and we’re so proud of the finished result. As with Issue 1, I conceived of and art directed three nude photo editorials and recruited friends to join us in making them come to life, including the very talented photographers Daniel Ford, Josh Smith, and Sarrah Danziger. All of our our nude editorials feature people that are members of our New Orleans community: artists, teachers, bartenders, musicians, indie filmmakers, drag queens, activists, and contributors whose work appears elsewhere in the magazine, all collaborating in the creation of images that celebrate the body, gender expressions, and sexuality in a range of diverse forms. As part of our ethic of embracing the nuances of everyone’s varying identities, none of our model’s bodies have been digitally retouched in the photos that you’ll see in the magazine. It just seems so much more healthy, interesting, and artistically valuable to show how beautiful and charismatic people are without photoshop changing the way their bodies look. In addition to our amazing models, a number of our contributors are also New Orleans-based artists, such as photographer Xavier Juarez, whose candid approach to photography (seen in the layout sample above) is so dreamy and intimate that I feel like I was right beside him as he captured each photo.
We’ve come so far in the past year between sending Issue 1 off into the world and working so hard on bringing together a new group of over 60 artists and writers, and now we’re incredibly close to printing our second issue! The very last step of the process is underway: we’re raising money for our printing costs with a presale campaign (via Kickstarter) that allows our readers to purchase the issue at the normal retail price, and through everyone’s backing, we hope to have the funds needed to send the issue to our printer by mid-October! If you’d like to learn more about Momma Tried, are curious to see more samples of content for Issue 2, or want to preorder your copy, please check out our campaign, and share it with friends who might be interested in reading our next issue of Momma Tried! We hope you love it!!
The Momma Tried Issue 2 presale campaign will run from Tuesday Sept 8th – Wednesday Oct 9th
For more about Momma Tried: www.mommatriedmagazine.com
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.
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.
I first became aware of Becky Fos’s art on Twitter when she followed our page and her avatar caught my eye. I clicked on through to her website and was blown away by her vibrant, colorful paintings.(She’s also on FaceBook.) I had to know more and she was gracious enough to consent to an interview. Enjoy!
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I am Texan born, a former Austinitte! So, to some that would explain my sometimes “weird” clothes. The city’s motto has been, “Keep Austin weird” for as long as I’ve known it. I moved to New Orleans in 2002 and never once regretted it. New Orleans, with it’s heritage, history and culture have completely molded me into the person I am today. I could never imagine myself being anywhere else. One of my favorite songs growing up was by Fats Domino, “Walking to New Orleans” and now it all makes perfect sense.
I have been painting my whole life, for as long as I can possibly remember. I painted on the walls of my room growing up, doodled on notebook paper in school, and now canvas. My favorite times painting are when my son, Jude (age 6) and I set up shop in the kitchen and go to town!!!
I like to paint on canvas with pallet knives. I like to use a lot of paint to create texture and I love color. SOmetimes I’ve been told that I use too much color, but that’s just me. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
beginning, middle and ending in mind or does it evolve as you go?
I begin with a thought or a dream. Or sometimes a person. I’ve been inspired by going to concerts around the city and seeing the musician up close deeply inspires me and I must create. I see the passion on their face while creating their art, and this inspires me. I love to capture the magic that I’ve witnessed first-hand and that’s how it starts. So, I have a jumping off point and then it actually evolves. I paint backwards actually because I paint the focal point first and not the background. I know everybody is different, but that’s how I start. SOmetimes I change the background several times.
Yes, my art is a full-time gig for me. I also do some of the chalk art at Chef, John Besh’s Restaurant, Borgne along with the amazing, Lance Romano.
I’ve always loved art. I was always drawn to things sparkly and colorful. My mom use to call me her “crow” because a crow will always seem to find that burry treasure of sparkleness. My passion only grows.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
I feel so bad about saying who my favorite artists are because I have so many friends who are artists. But just to name a few, Keith Eccles and Terrance Osborne since they have both guided me on this path. Bansky, Bruni and Van Gogh of course.
If you find yourself losing interest in a project do you push yourself to finish or set it aside for later? Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a project?
Not all projects that we start do we stay 100% motivated throughout. There are actually a few pieces that I’ll be working on at a time. Sometimes I just have to put one down and walk away, especially when I’m feeling not motivated. Then I start to feel defeated so it actually motivates me to go back and finish. It’s these pieces that actually come out the absolute best and I never want to get rid of them and hold on to them.
Lozano & Barbuti Gallery at 313 Royal St in New Orleans carries my original artwork and I actually have a website that I sell my reproductions from: www.beckyfos.com
I have big goals that I’ve set for myself. I like to aim high. I plan on having my own art gallery in the french quarter right next to all the big dogs lol. I’m aiming for the moon! :-)
Bald Eagle – Pontchartrain Park, New Orleans
Photo by Bayou Creole