On Anniversaries and How We Remember

A Bywater house memorializes their Fema X by making it into an art piece.

Today, on the six-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve been thinking about when and how we choose to commemorate a tragic event. I’m reacting to the anniversary-ness of the anniversary on both a personal and professional level.

As a public relations professional, I understand that marking the anniversary of any event is a way to gain attention for it. If you every read a press release, or look on an organization’s website, they are always trying to capitalize on the “45 anniversary of this” or the “15 anniversary of this.” For example, this year you may have noticed a lot of news stories about the Civil War, because it’s the “150th anniversary of the Civil War.” Sometimes I feel cynical about these anniversaries, but they do serve a good purpose. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Freedom Riders, and I think it’s important to refresh discussion about these activists and consider the outcome of their efforts.

However, it seems that anniversaries only capture the public’s attention if they come in fives. Last year, the 5th anniversary of Katrina earned a lot of national attention and there were numerous city events to mark the occasion. This year there are still many events, but it’s more subdued. Is six years a lot different than five? This year marks a decade since Sept. 11. Yes, there are always ceremonies on that date, but I guarantee the Sept. 11 anniversary will gain a lot more national attention in 2011 then it did in 2010. I’m sure people directly affected by Sept. 11 will be thinking about it during the “off year” anniversaries, as well on October 11.

The water line at The Bean Gallery in Mid City.

On a personal note, anniversaries of sad events have always felt a little forced. My mom passed away when I was eight, and this event shaped most aspects of who I am today. I may not consciously think of her every day, but something about her and the effect of her death influences my behavior. Sometimes I think of my mom because someone brings her up. Or something reminds me of her. But what I have found most challenging is feeling like I am “supposed,” to feel sad or remember her more significantly than I do on other days.

Your personal history becomes a part of your daily life. I am most emotional and thoughtful about past experiences when I am caught off guard, and forced to remember these experiences. What I’ve found most moving with remembering Katrina¬† are the subtle reminders or personal memorials present throughout the city. Many businesses and homes have marked where the water line reached in the storm aftermath, such as at one of my favorite coffee shops, The Bean Gallery. It forces me to think, “Wow, here I am debating whether I want to use real sugar or Sweet and Low, and this entire place was once flooded.” You can actually see the water line at the house I am living in Mid City. Some of the most poignent reminders are of people who have chosen to keep the now infamous FEMA-X on their houses. You’ll see beautiful, landscaped New Orleans houses with this chilling X–a reminder of the first few days after the storm when the scale of the disaster necessitated the National Guard to go house to house to find the number of live and dead victims in the structure. These are the kind of reminders that stop me in my track and force me to consider the devastating effects of Katrina. And those can happen any day of the year.

The water line on the door of my Mid City house.

A view of my house from the street. The house is raised, so the water line going half way up the door is pretty dramatic.

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The Green Project that Turned Me Blue

In Which I am Impressed by the Resalvage Community and Depressed by a Closet
The house I’m living in has no closets. This is common in New Orleans. In “the old days,” (vague time before now) houses in New Orleans were taxed based on the number of rooms they had, and rooms were determined by number of closets. Thus, my three-room house has no rooms. Tricky, tricky builder from “the olden days.”

My boyfriend and I have made ample use of bookshelves and dressers for storage, but the bedroom has become an unsightly sea of clothes that we are drowning in. We’ve looked into armoires, but they are costly and we’d have to get a huge one to store our stuff. I read a few posts on Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy that encouraged me that my boyfriend and I could build something on our own.

I was eager to find closet-solution materials at one of the organizations that formed post-Katrina to sell salvaged materials. In fact, 23 of these groups have formed an organization called The Reuse District, which promotes the awareness and accessibility of reused materials. Most are located in the 7th Ward, Bywater, St. Roch and St. Claude neighborhoods–areas that were heavily affect by Katrina.

The Green Project
The Green Project operates a warehouse store and lumberyard to sell building materials that otherwise would go into New Orleans Area landfills. They also solicit materials from the public, businesses, agencies and individuals. I was both impressed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF at The Green Project. I wish I knew what to do with any of it. Fortunately, the Green Project does offer workshops where they teach you how to build various things–a friend showed us a bookshelf he made out of salvaged closet doors (oh the irony– we need both bookshelves and actual closets.)

Look at all of this stuff.

I wish I knew what to do with it.

How clever is this re-use?! Jealous of their creativity.

I stayed out. I did not want to get eaten.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any upcoming closet-building classes, but when I told one of the employees about the closet project, she suggested we buy brackets and a metal pole to lay within them. Easy enough, right?

Habitat for Humanity Restore
We also visited the Habitat for Humanity Restore. It was a bit smaller and cleaner than The Green Project. In addition to home goods it had the kind of items you’d find at a Goodwill: VHS tapes, books, etc. I was a little less intimidated by the space, simply because there were cute, hand-painted signs and ideas about what you could make with the materials.

“These murals are dedicated to all the citizens of New Orleans who are working to rebuild this great city and to everyone who has the courage to be the change they want to see in the world.” –sign by the murals.

Uncloseted
The closet rod project took a few day and a few errands:

We borrowed a hacksaw and (my boyfriend) cut the metal pole.
We painted the brackets and pole.
We tried mounting the brackets, only to learn that we needed things called molly/toggle bolts.
We bought these things.
We mounted the closet rod!

It was glorious hanging up the overflowing boxes of dresses and shirts! When I was nearly done, I called my boyfriend in to bask in the cleanliness of our room and to exchange high fives. We even had space under the clothes to store things. LIKE WE WOULD IF WE HAD AN ACTUAL CLOSET.

“Do you think thing will actually hold up?” I asked.
“Yeah! The bolts are supposed to support up to 150 pounds of weight,” said my boyfriend, giving the rod a slight tap.

The bedroom, as of this blog post. Notice the holes in the walls.

A few more dresses later and the project collapsed into my hands. The brackets bent. The rod clattered to the floor.

I tell you, I was actually kind of depressed. One week and one visit to a visit to a Craigslisted armoire later, this is how our room looks.

We are currently considering one of these DIY solutions.
DIYRolling Rack
Hanging Closet
Hanging Closet 2
Hanging Branch Closet

Suggestions welcome.
Suggestions BEGGED.