Monday, September 05, 2005

Poppy Z. Brite, a truly talented author of dark fiction who in recent years has begun to write in a less bloody vein, is, like Anne Rice, an author many strongly identify with the city of New Orleans. Like Rice, Ms. Brite has set some of her own vampire tales in that city, and has written a great deal of rich and evocative prose about the Big Easy.

Poppy's blog is Dispatches from Tanganyika, and if she were not a pretty well-known author, her blog at first glance could be the witty daily musings of any highly intelligent and creative young professional.

In light of the events of the last week or so, Poppy's blog is living proof available right on the worldwide web that a disaster of this magnitude touches everyone; the famous and wealthy, the poor and ignored. She and her partner Chris escaped the worst wrath of Hurricane Katrina, but they had to leave a number of pets and their home behind.

September 4, 2005, Poppy updated for the first time since September 1st. When someone has a gift of writing it is always worth quoting them at a time like this, because the beauty of the author's art sometimes is their ability to put what people less facile with our mother tongue feel into words and images.

From Poppy Z. Brite's Livejournal entry written September 4:

There is no way we can get to New Orleans in the foreseeable future, but various animal rescue organizations are trying to help the cats. We're incredibly grateful for that and for all the financial help you have given us. Chris has no livelihood for God knows how long, my eBay business is dead for God knows how long and may have no stock left, and I can still work but currently have no way to receive income other than Paypal, though I'm hoping my mom's mail service will resume soon. These donations will help us more than you all know.

We spend our days waiting in gas lines, picking up ice from FEMA and Red Cross sites, crying, and reading. At night we read by flashlight or candlelight...

I was long ago disabused of the romantic notion that the writing life, once it provides your means of living, was some sort of ideal existence of wealth and independence. Still, seeing just how an author who, to my eyes, has achieved a perfectly acceptable level of success -- as in, I'd be happy to have a career like hers -- has to deal with the same deprivations as everyone else, seeing how decimated her life has been by this storm brings home just how vast the swath cut through the lives of southerners really is. No one has been spared. Politician, writer, cop, accountant, computer genius, webmaster, blogger, garbageman, busker, homeless person, criminal, lawyer, infant, centenarian... all who still have voices do like Poppy Z. Brite, they wait, they get help, hopefully, and they cry.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"We Covet Your Prayers and Remembrance..."

The first story I've received via e-mail actually comes from a friend from high school who resides in the Jackson, Mississippi area. Sara was my date to senior prom, nearly 20 years ago. Now she has two blonde blue-eyed kids and an easygoing, soft-spoken husband, and is often the glue that bonds many of us who might have lost touch ages ago together, which is in and of itself testimony to how big her heart is. I've made minor changes, things like removing wherever applicable information Sara might deem too personal, and altering the structure of some sentences for clarity.

The convention for this blog will be that whenever I am posting the words of another, even if I have to paraphrase or edit, the writing will be in italics, but not off-set as blocked quote. My commentary, if any, will always be in non-italicized text.

We have been without power and phone service since Monday about 2:00. Everything came back up tonight (Friday) at 8:00. We are OK. We had a tree down in the back and are missing LOTS of shingles from the roof, but we are just fine. Civil unrest, tempers, stress-levels and heat are really making people crazy here. We are lucky. Over half the residents of Jackson are without power. The weather here has been better, though. 75% humidity instead of the usual 95%. At night it's gotten down to 65 this week! (Unseasonable cool for us, but a welcome relief!)

We had only 80-90 mph winds here at our house. An hour south is Hattiesburg, and they had 130 mph winds and the city is in ruins. The most unbelievable part is because Katrina was moving so slowly, we had sustained winds like that from before daybreak until right at 6:00 pm. It was just over 12 hours of being hammered! The sound was so loud you cannot imagine. It was eerie, exhilarating and terrifying. Even the trees still standing are severely misshapen from the winds coming at them all day from mostly the same side.

Our city has over 25,000 refugees from this storm and thousands of children misplaced. Now we are begging for teachers that will be needed for the extra children. This is in addition to no gas - long lines, a difficult housing market, economic uncertainty, and many personal tragedies, etc. Jobs around here were scarce before and now there are so many more needing jobs and housing. It is crazy.

What you don't hear much of (because of the atrocity in New Orleans) is how well Mississippi's hierarchy of government, infrastructure and emergency plans are working. Our governor (a Yazoo Co. native and republican that I did not vote for...) has really done an excellent job of giving leadership. The plans that they had in place -- and had practiced, the organization, even telling FEMA what MEMA has covered and what the state needed from FEMA, where they specifically needed help, etc is great.

Mississippians have an amazing amount of patience, an altruism -- helping others for no gain. There is an amazing character of MOST people that is really coming through. Literally what many in the outside world don't understand (and some here that don't have radio or television, but sit and wait for help) is that it is difficult for rescuers and samaritans with food to even reach many places still and it is 4 days after the storm. Roads that have finally "opened" are only cleared with one lane and tree limbs and debris pushed to the side so that there are no shoulders. Many rescue vehicles have had flat tires - news crews, too. It is unbelievable the magnitude of the destruction - and overwhelming the cleanup needed.

The plan and progress of the county and state government is running very smoothly here. On Sunday night before the storm even hit they had people called "scouts" positioned to ride out the storm to begin assessment as soon as the winds subsided. I am proud of what has been accomplished by the prepared, organized, well-led local governments here. Many in the country would do well to follow this state's example as far as that is concerned. Our economy is devastated, however. It is bad...and far-reaching. Many are just realizing HOW bad it is and how bad it is going to be before we get moving with some sense of normalcy again, albeit with much higher prices and fewer conveniences. Everything here is mostly still on a cash-only basis -until today. Banks are finally going again today, but the feelings of uncertainty, frustration and realization makes things everywhere a bit shaky, nonetheless. I don't think that many other cities realize yet that this is a permanent "evacuation" of "refugees" for most of them. It will impact their children in school and their economy as well.

All of the firefighters and police from communities above I-20 will soon begin taking mandatory shifts of 4 days to go for relief efforts on our coast. The first team left yesterday. They have been busy helping in their own communities and with their own families and now will help other areas. They are glad to do it, excited to "do" something about it, but getting tired, too. I have several friends who are local firefighters. It begins to take a toll on the families "giving" their dad or mom in these relief efforts, too.

We are fine. [Prayers] are still much needed for the many, many in this state separated from family, (lost children who cannot find parents), people in the Mississippi heat with no fan or water, and rescue workers worn out and wearing thin. We covet your prayers and remembrance.

I thank Sara for sharing so much of her experience with me. Hers is only one among millions of stories to be told. Some, hopefully many, like Sara's, will be uplifting, insightful. Others will be, to use Sara's word, "harrowing," like something out of a horror film. I will not shy away from posting it here, no matter what. Remember, if you have a story like Sara's, or a story that is radically different, you can e-mail it to me at

There was more in Sara's message, which I will make part of a different entry later. Her words were powerful, and inspiring.

I will edit what you mail as needed for clarity, sometimes for brevity, spelling and grammar, but I pledge to anyone who wants their tale to be known that you will recognize your own tragedy or triumph, or both, and your own voice.