Women Who Write: Cassie Pruyn

This is the second in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Cassie Pruyn

Cassie Pruyn

Today we feature Cassie Pruyn. Cassie is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is currently studying at The Bennington Writing Seminars. Her obsessions include geographic history, geographic mystery, and the impossible struggle to express place through language. Her poems have been featured in The Double Dealer, she placed second runner-up in the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize.

THE NEW ORLEANS AFFAIR

Poor Mississippi. 
Barge-laden, crowned with bluffs. 
She’s been scorned by this city, 
who once loved her enough 

to lay himself down along 
her S like a set 
of ribs (overeager stone- 
stacker, naive architect). 

Her lover’s put a wall up. 
He won’t touch her, won’t 
let her leave––he’s boarded shut 
the windows, girdled her, stripped 

her banks clear of “debris.” 
In the beginning, he smelled 
of blood and fresh pralines. 
She lapped at him nightly, cradling 

his churches and ridges, 
porches and cisterns; she flooded 
him yearly, tickled his drainage. 
Still he insisted 

on having her tamed. 
Planning her revenge, crisscrossed 
with tourniquets, she’ll claim 
him again––it’s his loss, 

she’ll make sure of it. For near 
the levees’ concrete bases,
small cracks have begun to appear. 
She strokes the crevices

with her long tongue, reminiscing: 
Remember those hand-dug canals?
Canoes made of cypresses? 
Even those vulgar sawmills 

she’d prefer to this half-sunk grime. 
Only muffled voices 
now, as she considers her choices; 
seagulls, girders, and plenty of time.


How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

I’ve been writing poetry, at least semi-consistently, for about fifteen years. Like many writers, I started out as an avid reader, but primarily of novels and stories. I’ve given a fair amount of thought, therefore, to the question “why poetry?” as opposed to any other genre or craft, and my best guess is that it comes out of a strong love of words––for the musicality and physicality of words in specific––and also for the compactness inherent in poetry as opposed to prose. I always loved a good story as a kid, but I also loved song lyrics. I loved the container of the song, the way a song can be used as a vehicle for expression. But I was not cut out to be a musician—the words would come, but never a melody.

I also think the way I experience and think about the world lends itself to writing poetry––or at least the desire to write poetry. Any writer has to be a keen observer, but I imagine for a fiction writer this act of observing has more to do with the way human beings relate to one another, or to themselves, as it pertains to the sustainment of a narrative. Well, really, I have no idea how fiction writers think—narrative and imagining characters is never something that has come naturally to me. Rather, I seem to experience the world as a series of atmospheric moments––a kind of holistic sensory impact, as encapsulated by specific moments in time. This is also why I love writing about space and place.


Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes; and not yet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted to write a story, and they were all in response to prompts given by teachers. As I mentioned above, I’m a reader of narrative but not yet a writer of narrative. At some point, I’d really love to expand that part of my brain (because they really do feel like separate mental faculties––the writing of poetry vs. the writing of narrative prose) and challenge myself to attempt a novel, but who knows when and if that will happen. I do love writing critical prose—reviews, close readings, and the like—however.


What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

I love this question! It’s been great to think back to those sentimental, angst-ridden poems of my adolescence. While I can’t remember my absolute first poem, I know I began writing them in earnest when I was 11, my first year in middle school and my first year in a new town. I grew up in an 18th century farmhouse in rural Maine, but when I was 11, after my parents had split up, we moved to the suburbs. If a new school, combined with the onslaught of puberty and a huge geographical/atmospheric change wouldn’t inspire a young poet-to-be to begin writing, I don’t know what would! I remember coming home from school, gazing out the window, and writing rhyming poems in my journal. I seem to remember a poem that revolved around the trope of  a red rose with prickly thorns (obviously!).

Is writing your full-time occupation? If not, how do you fit writing into your work and personal life?

I consider writing to be my full-time job at the moment, in part because I am finishing up my MFA this semester, but I also work as a full-time nanny. Right now, my schedule involves dropping the kids off at school, writing most of the day, and then picking them up and working until 7 o’clock. It’s a lucky little life I lead; I love my job and I love having a lot of structured time to write. At some point, I’d love to teach in some capacity, but I also feel inclined to hold onto the schedule I have. Aside from money, time seems to be that thing that professional (or non-professional) writers covet the most. I feel lucky to be able to have that right now.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I find it really difficult to talk about process, because I find my process is constantly shifting to accommodate whatever project I’m working on. And in general, I find the process of writing a poem/series of poems to be an often frustratingly fluid experience. I try to balance structure with inspiration, routine with spontaneity, in order to be the most productive I can be without at the same time choking my poems before they even have a chance to come out. I’ll say, “Ok, I’m going to start writing at 9:30 and stop at 1:00, I’m going to turn off my phone, I’m going to take one or two short breaks, I’m going to work on developing this part of my project,” etc. but then who knows what actually happens on any given day within the parameters I’ve set for myself. I might strike upon an entirely new idea, I might finish something I hadn’t planned on finishing, or I might get virtually no writing done and spend the day sighing and un-inspired. If I ever start to feel uninspired, though, I run to the bookshelf immediately!

The amazing essayist Jo Ann Beard, in a lecture I heard her give once, said that process is as unique as a fingerprint: it’s utterly different for everyone. I find that idea really liberating. She said, regardless of whatever form it takes, though, that it has to do with entering into and staying inside of––for as long as possible––that realm of imagination, with sustaining the imaginal logic of whatever the piece of writing may be. This is an insanely difficult thing to do. She likened it to trying to hold a beach ball underwater for hours at a time, without letting it bob back up to the surface. I think that analogy is really apt. Process is definitely an unwieldy beast.

I do know that I spend an incredible amount of time editing––or reimagining––every poem I write. I tend to work in series of poems, and so I spend a lot of time rearranging and re-conceiving how my poems relate to one another, as well as tweaking individual lines and words. Writing successfully, for me, has everything to do with editing, which is not to discredit the value of those momentary bursts of inspiration––but those, for me, can come at any time during the process of working on the poem, and not just when I’m first setting it down on the page.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with a new idea, I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. I like the buzz and the energy (although I’m always the dork in the corner with ear plugs in; I can’t write to music because it messes me up when I’m trying to “hear” my poems). But, because I tend to come up with long-term “project” ideas that often require research or printing a bunch of poems out and rearranging them, I do a lot of my writing at home. I’ll write anywhere in my apartment––on the couch, on the bed, at my standing desk, at the counter. I find when I’m really trying to sit with a poem or group of poems, really trying to “hold the beach ball under,” as it were, I like to be at home. As most writers seem to be, I am very introverted. While I enjoy being the fly on the wall sometimes, the occasional “flaneur” about town, at the end of the day I really just want to be alone in my little cave!

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

Don’t give up! Allow yourself to struggle! Sit with the discomfort of struggling. This is something I’ve learned the hard way, and will probably learn the hard way again. I’m a perfectionist, and I like to achieve––but this is something you have to both cultivate and push against as a writer. You have to want it enough to keep going, but be humble enough to understand that you’re going to have to mess it up to get it right. I’ve been circling about one project––one source of inspiration––for over five years now, and failed countless times in trying to give voice to this inspiration. Like, really failed. But, it’s like Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure.” It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Understand that you’re going to “fail,” but don’t let it demoralize you; learn from it instead. And, during those occasional moments of confusion and panic, if you come back to your essential love for writing, the reason you came to it in the first place, you’ll push through to the other side. At least this is what I tell myself literally every. single. day. It’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s the difference between writing and, well, not.


Who’s work has inspired yours?

There are many poets who’ve inspired me, but Elizabeth Bishop is someone I’m thinking a lot about right now. Bishop achieves this very real intimacy with the reader, but never by giving the reader information about herself directly. You get to know her by looking with her. She describes objects and landscapes with such detail and texture, and the way you end up feeling close to her is by getting to see these things too, in the way that she sees them. It’s about witnessing the rhythms of the poet’s unique mind, thinking the way she thinks for the duration of the poem. I am not what you would call a “confessional” poet. Even when I am writing on or from emotion, I am always fictionalizing it to a certain extent. I think I am an inherently private person. But a writer has to make the reader feel welcome, nonetheless; she has to let the reader get to know her in certain essential ways, even if it’s not the way she’d let, say, her best friend get to know her. Bishop really exemplifies this. Plus, she writes about geography too.


I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

I could never pick just one favorite either, but here are some poets I love:

Frank Bidart, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sarah Messer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Maggie Nelson, Frank Stanford, Lyn Hejinian, Donald Hall, Joan Ashbery, Joseph Brodsky, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare….and that’s just poetry! I could go on and on….


Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

It feels silly to try and predict what I might be working on in 5 years, although it seems as though I’ve got two projects going at the moment––I thought they belonged together at first, but now I don’t think they do. I’m working on a series of historically-based poems about Colonial America, and another series having to do with a particular relationship in my life. It’d be great if, say, I finished one of those projects and published it as my first book of poems, and were on my way into writing my next book in five years. Who knows how these plans will change, though. It may take considerably longer to achieve that. I also have an idea for a series of poems on the Mississippi River. I’d like to write a magical-realism history of the Mississippi River, in verse––go big or go home, right?!

Whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m making time to write and feeling inspired. That’s all I really want for myself, period––but it’d be nice if something got published here and there along the way….

Are there any online or print journals you read and recommend? Are there any venues for sharing/listening to poetry that you recommend?

I’m definitely in the beginning stages of combing through all the awesome journals available online or in print. As in, I’ve only been playing the trying-to-get-published game for about a year (although that’s not the only reason to read literary journals!), and not as consistently as I ought to be. I find the process pretty overwhelming. There is so much out there. And if I could afford to just buy subscriptions to all of the journals that look interesting, and had the time to read all of them, I really would. It seems really difficult, however, to put quality time into your writing and to also find enough time to really expose yourself to the world of published work. I don’t know how people do it!

As for the second part of the question, I think any poetry event––readings, Slam performances, etc.––in New Orleans is worth going to. It’s such a welcoming (and relatively small) city, so going to these events is a great way to meet people, and to connect and reconnect with other local writers. I’m easy to please with this type of thing––I love just being around other people who also find it worthwhile to sit down and write every day, regardless in our potential aesthetic differences. I think New Orleans is a great place to be an artist right now, for many reasons. It’s a highly inspiring, highly stimulating place with delightfully low levels of pretentiousness, and you’ll start to hear it creeping in to everyone’s work, your own included, which just serves to create another connection between you and other local writers.

What are some of your favorite words and why?

This is even harder than picking a favorite author! In general, though, I like English words with more Germanic sounds, words with texture and punch. I also like single-syllabic words a lot.Straw. Gut. Hook. Orange. Those are my favorites tonight!

_________________________________

Thank you, Cassie, for sharing your interesting pov with us today!

peauxdunqueCassie will be reading at the upcoming literary event Yeah, You Write, a Word Rebellion: Readings and Music, on April 18 at Cafe Istanbul. For more info see the FaceBook page of Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, sponsors of the event.

 
To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Next Friday: Julie Kane

Morgus the Magnificent

Anyone who grew up here in New Orleans should remember watching our beloved Morgus the Magnificent. For over half a century, Morgus prefaced the weekend horror movies with his own New Orleans style horror vignettes. Morgus, along with his sidekick Chopsley would entertain us with his weekly scientific experiments gone wrong, dissecting and poking and prodding various New Orleans B-listers, with the week’s story line progressing during the commercial breaks of Godzilla or Mothra, or Godzilla-Mothra-King Kong end of the world movies. I swear, Morgus’ dry, morbid sense of humor has affected generations of New Orleanians, claiming his rightful place alongside the satire of Mardi Gras and the unique New Orleans musical soundtrack of our lives.

Well today, the ever elusive character has proverbially come out from hiding – behold the man behind our Morgus!

Allow me to present Sid Noel Rideau, a.k.a.  Momus Alexander Morgus. Sheila Stroup of the Times Picayune wrote a beautiful article profiling Mr. Rideau with his latest contribution to New Orleans culture, the New Orleans Public Library’s Internet Story Club of America. What an admirable endeavor, and it seals the deal that future generations will have the privilege of being entertained and enlightened by Morgus the Magnificent, now publically known as Mr. Rideau. Thank you sir for all you’ve done, and continue to do for our city.

Sandy Hook Elementary School’s Chorus & Jennifer Hudson sing of hope in nation’s murder capital

Via Rafael Delgadillo, shared with his permission. I very much admire Rafael’s thoughts, perspective, and clarity re: last night’s events:

Last night’s game will go down as one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever. For the great play, the blackout, and for coming back to NOLA for the first time in 11 years.

However, for me, the most memorable moment was before the game. To see the Sandy Hook Elementary School Choir pair up with Jennifer Hudson (whose mother, brother, and nephew were shot to death in 2008) in singing “America the Beautiful” literally in the middle of this country’s most violent city.

Perhaps I’m looking into it too deeply, but those of you who know me well will understand. That moment was moving. Though it is a great song, to me it had lost its meaning over time, like all songs do. But as I heard it last night, it struck me more as a song about the hope that we have for this country’s potential rather than a declaration of our exceptionalism.

The irony of it all. Jennifer Hudson and Sandy Hook’s community reminding us that we can do great things, like curb gun violence on one hand. On the other, the NFL used this city to put American overindulgence on display and quite literally sucked the energy out of one this nation’s poorest cities in the process.

Sorry if this is too personal, but sometimes… you just gotta…

#GoNOLA

Thank you, Rafa, for sharing these powerful thoughts and words.

Actor’s tweets misrepresent gesture of remembrance and respect by Kabuki Hats

It’s easy to understand how a gesture intended as a display of community love and respect can be misinterpreted. What’s not so easy to fathom is when the fallout can have unwarranted negative impact to a local, internationally-recognized craftswoman to the detriment of her business.

Actor Wendell Pierce tweeted the following regarding Kabuki Hats — created, owned, and operated by Tracy Thomson — on 7/14/12:

Image

 The link referenced is as follows: http://www.kabukihats.com/uncle_lionel_watch.pdf

ImageMr. Pierce adds the following subsequent comments via Twitter:

ImageWhat’s unfortunate is that, Mr. Pierce (who has 33,000+ followers on Twitter), sadly got the intent of this gesture completely wrong.

Tracy Thomson (who does not have a Twitter account) was alerted to these tweets today and offered the following in response via Facebook:

“Okay, I am horrified to understand that Wendell pierce has tweeted numerous awful things about the memorial watch that I made. I don’t tweet, but want him to understand that in NO WAY did I profit from these watches I GAVE AWAY as a tribute, at my expense, and with the permission of the photographer. The copyright I added says explicitly ‘this image may be distributed without compensation,’ which means I was GIVING it to the family to do what they want with it. There was NO PROFIT MADE from this gesture that was made in love of Uncle Lionel. Can someone help me set the record straight? Try to do something GOOD and have my reputation destroyed by a celebrity, that just ain’t right. Thanks for your help.”

She adds, “Mr Pierce, I want to set the record straight. I created these paper watches as a FREE tribute to our beloved Uncle Lionel, for the family, and for his huge extended worldwide family. It was NEVER my intention to sell or make a profit; in fact, when I was handing out dozens of them at the second line, in the rain, a guy offered me a dollar. I declined, telling him they were free for all. I have been asked by Markieth, Lionel’s nephew, to make memorial watches for the pallbearers at Lionel’s funeral. I have made beautiful tributes at many New Orleans funerals, from banners to flags to fans, and have never asked to be compensated. As you might notice, I do not even have my website printed on the watch. People wore them in the second line, proudly, on their left hand, as Lionel did. I hope your followers DO click on the link that you posted above, there is a full explanation of my intentions, and they can print one out for themselves, as a tribute, not a trinket. Have a great day in Paris.”

Mr. Pierce, I do believe that you owe Ms. Thomson a sincere apology. While your concern regarding the representation of Uncle Lionel’s image is laudable, I would hope that, in the future, you’ll exercise more care and consideration before causing genuine and unwarranted harm to the reputation of another local icon’s livelihood.

As one reader replied, “It’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black, since he [Pierce] actually does monetarily profit from the destruction of our city… ahem.” Another added, “Has anyone pointed out to him that [the television show] ‘Treme’ is a commercial exploitation of the deaths of all the victims of crime and disaster? And that he makes a paycheck from it?”

In loving memory of Charlie: LAST CALL…

Charlie Smith, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

We’d met on an intermittently drizzly day in the heart of  the Vieux Carré in January 1992, when I’d stopped to check out the poetry he was peddling at Jackson Square. He watched me reading, not saying a word, then turned and rummaged through a couple of banker’s boxes and pulled a short story he’d written titled “The Girl in the Black Trenchcoat” from a manila file folder which he handed to me with flourish as a greeting gift. The story obviously wasn’t about me (as we’d not yet met), but it resonated immediately. I still have those three type-written pages in a box of keepsakes, safely tucked away.

We were kindred — he’d recognized it from the get-go, and I’m still grateful that I was smart enough to roll with it (despite my New-to-New-Orleans wariness) until I eventually realized that he was absolutely right. I’ve never been good about keeping in touch with people as time passes and the scenery changes, but I somehow managed to keep in contact with Charlie over the years in between then and now, and he welcomed me back when I returned to New Orleans.

If love were enough to keep anybody on this side of the daisies, Charlie would have been a formidable, wry, growling, mischievous, and lively raconteur forever — a one-man court jester/Greek chorus hybrid who’d never pull a punch when he had something on his mind that needed to be said out loud. This man was family to me; he’s the reason why I took up deviling local politicians and community figures as my most favorite sport, and his ability to speak the oft-overlooked yet simple truth of a situation will continue to inspire me. I was delighted when he decided to throw his hat back into the lobbying ring and by the artful descriptions he’d craft for his most recent clientele; as the only lobbyist inducted to date in the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame, he was truly legendary, unforgettable, and unique.

I’m happy that the last time we kept lengthy company (blissfully grazing at a pig roast party at Pravda on Lower Decatur), he got to see me use my two minutes of  unanticipated and impromptu face time with Louisiana State Senator Edwin R. Murray to my best advantage… Charlie just smiled and looked proudly amused as I excused myself from the conversation we’d been enjoying to address Sen. Murray directly after he’d taken the seat at our table across from me. Sen. Murray was visibly stunned (as if he didn’t know what had just hit him), and one could also see my date’s brain cells colliding as he watched me snap from relaxed & casual to being a political creature with a three-bullet-point agenda in the blink of an eye, securing a follow-up meeting on the spot. The guy I’d been seeing back then is history for all the right reasons (I remember noticing Charlie watching him quietly and I could see that he’d thought that the guy couldn’t keep up with me), but Sen. Murray hasn’t forgotten my name since, most likely because I’d been in Charlie’s company that evening.

I only knew Charlie after he’d paid his dues and cleaned up his act, and I loved him as I found him — I can only imagine who he’d been in the years prior from the stories he’d occasionally share. I’m pretty sure that I’d have liked him, had I known him “back when,” but I also suspect that I respected and admired him more for his having learned how to live beyond all of that. I think what I loved the most about him was that his smile always reached his eyes and I believe that this was true because of everything he’d experienced, not in spite of.

Here’s who Charlie was, in his own words from the introduction to his first poetry collection, before he chose a different way to go about living his life:

I was sitting, actually I was lying — passed out — drunk and stupid, in this place called the “Copper Bar” next to the Las Vegas Hilton at about three in the morning when this hooker woke me up and handed me my wallet. “You’re sure lucky I’m an honest hooker,” she said. “Don’t bother to count it, you’ve got $1,400 in there; I didn’t touch a thing.”

I thanked her and she said, “Look, it’s obvious to me that you don’t know shit from beans about Vegas or your wouldn’t have been so dumb as to fall out in this place. I’m off duty so what say I show you the ropes around town and you can throw me a chip every now and then… I mean, I just saved your ass $1,400 and all.”

She was right on all counts so we had a drink, and she showed me around Vegas. During the course of the night, or morning (there’s not much difference in a city that doesn’t recognize time), she told me her story.

She said she was a housewife in one of the Carolinas and, having read one too many Vivas or Cosmopolitans, had decided that she wasn’t getting her share of Life’s multi-orgasmic climaxes so she got together all the green stamps she could from her checking and savings accounts, left her hubby a note (just said “Bye.”), checked on a Greyhound Bus and headed to Las Vegas.

On arriving, she discovered that she really loved gambling and had no marketable job skills. It didn’t take her long to run out of money, so she turned to hooking for a living. Life can be hard on you anywhere, but in Vegas you’re operating at a higher rate of speed than anywhere else, and she was due to leave town soon. But, she told me, “At least I’ll have enough material for my book.”

I told her I also wrote, not books but poetry, so she told me what her title was going to be (with some people, titles come first). She said, “Since it’s going to be based on my life, I’m going to call it I GOT OFF THE BUS TWO YEARS AGO, AND I’M STILL WAITING FOR LAST CALL.”

To me, that’s the best title for hard living I’ve ever heard. The people I know, the street people, politicians, entertainers, bartenders, etc., are all waiting for the last call. I haven’t seen her book out so maybe she won’t mind me using her idea. She probably won’t see this book, either, so I guess we’re even.

This is dedicated to all the people who think what I write. The poems were almost all written in some confused state of mind, and a drunk that thinks in iambic pentameter can feel awfully silly the next morning when he looks at what’s been scrawled on the napkins, but that goes with the territory. I thought some of the poems would make great songs and had a flirtation with that idea, but nothing ever came of it. Maybe something will develop sometime or another.

Or maybe it won’t, but as Mr. Vonnegut might say, “So it goes.”

(From Still Waiting For Last Call… © 1987 by Charlie Smith)

Charlie’s Jazz Fest Cape, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

Thanks to the magic of the ether and pixels, some of Charlie’s songs can be enjoyed here: Charlie Smith’s Songs.

Via a post from Charlie’s daughter on Facebook: “The service will be held at Jacob Schoen & Son funeral home [3827 Canal Street, New Orleans] on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, with visitation beginning at 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM, and then a service held in the chapel at 8:00 PM. Black is always the first choice at funerals, but we think LSU apparel would probably best honor Daddy, so please feel free to break out your purple and gold. This will be an obviously sad occasion, but it should also be a time to celebrate his life. We are not quite sure about the charity to donate to in lieu of flowers, but will post that when we know.” (Me? I’ll be wearing a Jazz Fest shirt, celebrating my memories of Charlie when he’d wear a flamboyant purple cape inscribed in gold lettering with “Defender of Arts / Pets / Historic Preservation / Coastal Restoration / King of Jazz Fest.”)

In closing, I offer this from the poignant-yet-funny write-up by political editor Clancy DuBos of The Gambit titled “Charlie’s Way”: “I once wrote that if Charlie didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. Suffice it to say that Louisiana politics is cleaning up its act, which makes Charlie’s exit from the stage timely — but the story will be a lot less fun to watch without him.”

His obituary can be viewed here: Charles Leslie Smith — September 9, 1942 – March 1, 2012.

Mike Ainsworth, Everyday Hero

Mike Ainsworth was a perpetually good-natured man with a long stride who would always make time to say “Hello” to me whenever our paths crossed. He was the kind of guy who was comfortable in his own skin; he smiled easily and always wanted to know how the people around him were doing, how life was going. He was a caring Dad, and when he spoke of his children, he glowed with quiet pride. He was chronically generous, frequently in a way that left him short on cash. He was was a man who’s daily actions reminded me that, sometimes, the people around us really aren’t too good to be true.

Mike perched on the ladder, working on the renovations to the NOPD 8th District Station. (Photo provided by B.B. St. Roman.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B.B. St. Roman of New Orleans’ Homeless Assistance Collaborative (based out of the NOPD 8th District Station) first met Mike Ainsworth and his brother, Bill, in 2009, when they were assisting one of her neighbors with his home renovation project.

B.B. remembers that Mike joined COPS 8 (Citizens’ Organization for Police Support), an organization over which B.B. currently presides, because he specifically wanted to help our city’s police force. On a visit to the NOPD 8th District Station, B.B. said that Mike “saw how terrible the walls were, started patching, got supplies donated, and he and Bill ended up renovating and repainting the whole interior of the station,” working  for about three months’ time. Speaking with a tone of admiration, B.B. noted that “Mike took the lead on the ideas of what to do, choosing colors for the different details and features, adding lots of beautiful touches. It was his decision to paint the counter tops navy and add the gold trim. At first Mike and Bill wanted to do it all for free, but we insisted on paying them.”

Mike (left) at the “Salute to the 8th District — Police Appreciation Day” benefit event. (Photo provided by B.B. St. Roman.)

B.B.’s stories of Mike’s hard work and his unwavering generosity are plentiful. “There were two generators just sitting out in the Station’s yard, in boxes, for about three years’ time. Mike looked at them one day and took it upon himself to organize getting them hooked up. He got the electrical work donated and arranged for the gas line hook-up. When the plumbing went out, he took care of it. The flooring on part of the second floor was rotten and he worked to repair that, too. He got cabinets from Home Depot and installed them.”

Mike also made improvements at the horse barns for the NOPD’s Mounted Unit. “If we were decorating the Station, he would come help, especially when we needed someone to climb up the tall ladder. He made a cabinet himself, to fit a particular space, for magazines at the station. When he saw that the remnants of the NOPD Homeless Assistance van’s wheelchair lift were still on the van, he made the arrangements to have them finally removed. He would call every few weeks and ask, ‘I’ve got a couple of hours — is there anything I can do at the Station?’ He’d say, ‘Miss B.B., Whatcha need?’ He’d find it and get it donated.

Mike and his longtime partner, Cheryl Conner, at a St. Peters Street “Kelly Marrione Night Out Against Crime” block party. (Photo provided by B.B. St. Roman.)

“He just kept seeing things that needed to be done, noticing things, pitching in, and helping. It was just amazing. He was always volunteering, always willing to help, always thinking of improvements… He’d wanted to put a star and crescent in the tile at the entrance to the Station. The tile needed to be replaced anyway, and he thought that adding these things would make it more interesting.” Mike also helped officers with repair work on their homes; he would accept money for the supplies, but refused to accept payment himself.

“The last project he happened to do was just a week or so ago. The light in the lamp post on the side of the Station was out, and the streetlight nearby happened to be out, too. When we took the Christmas lights down, it was really dark at the side entrance to the Station. He and his brother came over and discovered that the glass at the top of the lantern was broken and that rain was leaking in. It wouldn’t have made sense to just replace the bulb because it would short out whenever it rained again. They went and got the right kind of glass, had it cut to fit, and then replaced the bulb. As his last repair job at the station, Mike left a shining light.”

B.B. St. Roman at the Grand Opening of the New Orleans Healing Center on 8-28-11. (Photo by Kalen Wright.)

“If he had a little extra money at Christmas time, he’d get $5 bills and hand them out to needy people on the street. I’d tell him, ‘Maybe you should save this to take care of your own needs,’ and he’d say, ‘No, it’ll come back to me.’  For him, everything was in service to others, all the time. He considered it to be doing God’s work, doing what’s right.”

B.B. believes that Mike died while doing the right thing. “To me, he died in the line of duty — not as a police officer, but as a good Samaritan and a good citizen.”

Mike’s desire and enthusiasm for helping others was simply the core of his day-to-day life, every day. He didn’t have a life insurance policy, so now it’s our turn to give it back to him by helping his family. Memorial arrangements are in progress and his family has requested donations to help celebrate his life and commitment to our community. However, after the service, I ask that people consider that the needs of his family will continue. His sons are both good students who need our caring at this time — therapeutic support has been recommended and the family will benefit from any assistance that we can provide as they learn how to live with Mike’s absence. Please open your hearts and contribute what you can to help — it matters.

At the request of Mike’s family, B.B. St. Roman was honored to be asked to administer the Harry Michael Ainsworth Benefit Account. Donations can now be accepted at any Whitney Bank branch location and may also be mailed to Whitney Bank – Algiers Branch, 501 Verret St., New Orleans, LA 70114.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1/28/12 Update: The memorial service for Mike Ainsworth will be on Friday, February 3rd, at St. Louis Cathedral, with visitation from 9:00 to 11:00 AM and the service at 11:00 AM. Following the service, there will be a reception at the NOPD 8th District Station, 334 Royal Street.

NOLA Noteworthy

A random roundup of my personal picks of the best from local blogs and other NOLA-related news.

In Treme news, in response to the last episode, Sam Jasper at the Back of Town blog has written a beautiful and thoughtful post about the culture and tradition of  place and the inevitability of change, “It Just Don’t Smell Right Up In Here”.  Big Chief Albert Lambreaux is showing more of his cantankerous side while in New York recording Indian chants for a proposed record release. The title of the post comes directly from Big Chief’s mouth. Sam writes in part,

“His son has come around to the tradition in his way, but it’s not Albert’s way, and that’s mortality hitting ya in the face. Not just his own, but possibly the old ways, the culture he is so totally self-identified with and by. I know many elderly Native Americans who are terrified that their grandchildren won’t know any of the songs, traditions, creation stories, or medicine ways. In fact, several years ago, I believe it was the Shawnee who were given back sacred objects that had been held at the Smithsonian for a very long time. They let the Smithsonian keep them because no one alive knew what to do with them anymore.”

As an aside,in an earlier thread, Sam talked about the character Aunt MiMi, commenting as how she wanted to be Aunt MiMi. Huh. I’m acquainted with Sam and have heard a few of her stories. I think Aunt MiMi would be thrilled to be her. Sam is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She’s a born teacher and storyteller who shares her knowledge and life experiences with an open heart, bypassing the need to instruct. I highly recommend her personal blog, NOLA Slate, although she doesn’t post nearly enough to feed this starving reader. (Check out this amazing post.)

Former mayor Ray Nagin released his self-published Katrina memoir last week resulting in a frenzy of blog posts, opinions, tweets and grumblings all over town. The best thing I’ve read hands-down is Michael Homan’s post, “Pharaoh Nagin”. No spoilers here – you must go read it.

Local indie designer Kerry Fitts was featured in the Times-Picayune last Thursday. (Sorry I don’t have a link.) After the earthquake in Japan Kerry allocated a portion of her sales from her Etsy shop to ArkBark, a non-profit group that was rescuing pets left behind in the radiation zone. Shortly thereafter she began exchanging emails about a possible fund-raiser and is traveling to Japan in July to participate in that event. She is donating her original designs for dogs and seeking additional donations from other local crafters. For more info about this amazing woman see my interview with her here.

One of my favorite local blogs is “NOLA Details” where the blogger Carla shares a NOLA-related photo every day. My favorite reoccurring theme on this blog is “Fun Porches” and we surely have plenty of those  here in NOLA so I don’t anticipate she’ll run out of candidates any time soon! Here’s one of  my favorites. Carla has another blog, “Watching NOLA Nature”, described as “Explorations in the urban oasis of New Orleans”. I really like how she zeroes in on the little things that go unnoticed in our every day lives. She reminds us of the wonder of nature and the beauty that is all around us. It’s a great little Zen moment everyday that I really look forward to.

Are you a tweeter? If so, my pick for Tweeter To Follow is @gadboiselensnola for informative up-to-the-minute reports from many of our city services department meetings including the City Council meetings, the City Planning Commission meetings and the Housing and Human Needs Committee meetings (all in the last 12 days!), among many others. Karen has made it so easy for us to keep up with what’s happening it would be a shame not to follow her.

Finally, I want to give a little shout-out to local blog “New Orleans Write Spot” that currently has one of my pieces posted. Susan Prevost (whom I interviewed here) publishes local talent and has the welcome mat out for local writers who are interested in publishing there. It’s a great place to read a bit of poetry and prose and support local talent.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter and on Delicious to keep up with what we’re talking (also found in the sidebar) about or just wait for here for my random NOLA Noteworthy posts. Take care, y’all.

Update: I just want to add a post on NoLA Rising I read this morning (6/30) about the musical house that’s being created in  Bywater. Internationally known artist Swoon is involved along with many local artists. I recently viewed & photographed a scale model of the house from the street (seen below). Go to ReX’s website to read about it and view the video that details this community-minded event.

Bragalicious

Over at my personal blog (which has recently been re-named), Jill of All Genres, one of my most regular types of post is what I call the “bragging post,” where I take the opportunity to brag about the accomplishments of my talented friends. It’s one of my favorite things to do and luckily, there are no shortage of accomplishments to brag on.

Charlotte suggested that I post my most recent bragging on post, Bragalicious, here, since many of my shout outs are local New Orleanians (or Baton Rougeians). It’s been too long since I’ve written a post on NOLAFemmes, so I am happy to post Bragalicious here for you.

Speaking of NOLAFemmes and bragging…Judy’s post “Up, up and away!” was a “Freshly pressed” pick on the front page of WordPress yesterday (now page 2). That is totally bragalicious.

* * *

First and foremost, as we speak, pretty much all of The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance is gearing up for The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers. Four of our members are attending, including Maurice Ruffin, Terri Stoor, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston. That means something like 40% or so of our membership was accepted.

Jamey Hatley is also attending the Summit. Additionally, she’s won a prestigious waitership to Bread Loaf later in the summer.

Also, Maurice Ruffin‘s short story “And Then I Was Clean” will be published in UNO’s Ellipsis Journal.

Another Peauxdunque member, Joselyn Takacs has been accepted into the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University and is on her way.

A little birdie told me that Barb Johnson will be receiving the Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the ALA Conference tomorrow.

Sarah Morton is creating a graphic novel out of a short story written by Bobbi Perry, who attended the LSU MFA with me and Jamey. You can read it online!

Helen Krieger and Joseph Meissner are screening Flood Streets at the San Antonio Film Festival on Thursday.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s song “As for Now” was featured on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital.” You may still be able to download it for free if you like her Facebook page. Here’s an awesome photo of her, too:

Lindsay Rae Spurlock, photo credit Julia Henry

Congrats to all my phenomenally talented friends!

NOLA Noteworthy

Good morning, NOLA!

Here for your pleasure is another random (as in whenever I get around to it) post of links that impressed me from the NOLA blogosphere as well as articles of interest that are not local but are NOLA-related. Without further ado, you must click over to:

  • Karen Beninato wrote her review of episode 13 of HBO’s Treme, “On Your Way Down”. I’ve mentioned Karen’s reviews here before because I like her style of writing clearly and knowledgeably, as a local,  but without getting mired down in minutia. This episode drew upon the explosion of violence we experienced in the city in 2006 – a situation that was especially heart-wrenching to those of us who experienced the spirit soothing balm of a violence-free few months in the wake of the storm. Probably the only positive, however short-lived, that came out of the devastation. This episode depicted the robbery and rape of our feisty and strong LaDonna and I particularly like how Karen took the opportunity to educate her readers on  rape statistics in New Orleans and to recent political attempts to “reclassify rape victims as “rape accusers,” and  “efforts to split sexual assaults into two different terms, rape and “forcible rape”. Great job, Karen!
  • The rising of the river and threat of flooding was, and continues to be, a concern for New Orleanians and Southeast Louisiana residents. Several local bloggers and photographers have posted pictures of the rising water. Kate over at What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today blog posted what is a stunning photo of the engorged river from the Holy Cross community with the cityscape in the background. The tranquility of the scene belies the seriousness of the situation but, sweet baby Jesus, you cannot help but admire the beauty of it. Arthur over at Calliope Street blog has been watching people watching the river and posted several photos taken from the French Quarter area and Liprap posted a slide show of river photos that look like they were taken at The Fly.
  • Harry Shearer was on Real Time With Bill Mahr Friday night. I have to confess this was the first time I’d ever watched the show and I tuned in strictly to see Harry. I’m glad I did because I think I like Bill and his show but I know I love Harry who has worked his butt off trying to educate people about the great levee failure of 2005 and exactly who is responsible. He talked a bit about his film, The Big Uneasy, but didn’t get nearly the amount of time to expand on it that I would have liked. Not only did I like this episode because of Harry but also because of Bill’s commentary about Bin Laden’s death, Christians and the teachings of Jesus at the end of the show. Y’all must watch. But not if you’re an easily offended person who thinks you’re a Christian. Just sayin.
  • Dambala at American Zombie went to court Friday for a well-earned day of entertainment compliments of the Mark St. Pierre trial and, in turn, entertains us with a blow-by-blow. Eat your heart out, MSM.
  • If you’re into the local literary scene or just like to know who the hot poets and writers are and who are signing their books around town, check out Mark Folse’s weekly lit post, Odd Words, every Thursday.
  • Aura Fedora’s latest podcast on Backstage On The Bayou is an interview with NOLA’s own hip-hop artist, Truth Universal. Don’t miss it.

Well, it’s past midnight and I’m ready to visit la-la land so off I go. Remember, you can catch many of these stories, and more, weekly via NOLAFemmes on Twitter. Or, you can wait for the random post here. Until next time….

NOLA Noteworthy

OK, boys and girls, here is the next installment of NOLA Noteworthy, my personal picks of the best from local blogs and websites that I’ve read in the past week, in no particular order.

  • Season 2 of Treme begins April 24 and the Nola-based blog Back of Town is awakening from it’s between seasons slumber. If you haven’t read this blog you’re missing out on a nice forum for local chatter and background information that you won’t read anywhere else. Check it out.
  • Speaking of Treme, my choice for local blog quote of the week goes to  Cliff’s Crib (referring to this brouhaha):
    “I want to tell David Simon and the folks connected with Treme that even though the mayor went ahead and demolished the block of blighted houses featured on your promotion pictures that you shouldn’t worry. We have dozens of blocks like that. You can choose a new one for each individual episode if you want to. ”  Word.
  • Editor B. over at B.Rox gives an update about the design and construction of the Lafitte Corridor greenway, a project he’s been involved with for five years now. In the following post, Hike Report 2011, he gives a first-hand account of this years’ Lafitte Corridor hike.
  • Disenfranchised Citizen posted yet another of his hard-hitting, no holds barred opinion pieces on the continuing disaster that is the aftermath of the BP oil spill, And So It Begins: Year 2.  Drake has become the go-to man for late-breaking, well researched and concise  information regarding all issues related to the Macondo spill. Keep your eyes on that space.
  • Architecture Research posted an interesting piece, with photo,  about the Cultural Center for New Orleans that was proposed in 1963. In part it reads, “With an estimated cost of $18 million, the plaza was to extend from the Orleans-Basin Connection to St. Philip Street, and from N. Rampart to N. Villere Streets. Widespread site clearance began in 1966, after the relocation of 122 families. Hampered by financial shortfalls, the CC was delayed and eventually abandoned. “
  • That Cultural Center post puts me in mind of another not fully funded project that has relocated families in Nola. Inside The Footprint talks about and  links us to recent comments made by State Treasurer John Kennedy about the financing for the proposed University Medical Center hospital in lower mid-city.
  • I recently discovered a new blog – well, new to me – called Riverside and instantly fell in love. It has got to be one of the most complete resources I’ve ever seen for all things New Orleans. It has everything from where to eat in Nola to where to shop to a list of local blogs to local music, art and videos to upcoming events, etc, etc, etc. I particularly like a video he posted which is a great snapshot of life in One Square Mile (around 4th and St.Charles) of the city and the people who live there. So cool.

Do you have a favorite story from a local blog you’d like to share? Just email me at nolafemmes at gmail dot com and we’ll publish it on NOLA Noteworthy with your name.
Like what you’ve read here? Follow us on Twitter for daily tweets of everything we find interesting about NOLA and other subjects.