The occasion of Gambit Weekly’s moving back to its pre-Katrina office seemed like a good time to check in with those staffers who chose not to return to New Orleans. We weren’t able to reach everyone — rumor has it that Frank Etheridge is in Guatemala — but we did hear from Shala Carlson, Eric Coleman, Eileen Loh Harrist, Katy Reckdahl and Michael Tisserand. Their stories appear below.
Shala Carlson poses with Mark Karcher, Gambit’s administrative director, in March — the first time they had seen each other since the storm.
In the months since the storm (and my short stint in Washington D.C.), I have been freelancing regularly for a weekly newspaper and a design firm in Lafayette, La. I have just accepted a position with Habitat for Humanity International and am in the process of relocating to Americus, Ga. I will serve as assistant editor of Habitat World magazine, which chronicles the efforts of the organization across the globe (including projects all along the Gulf Coast) and goes out to more than a million readers each quarter. I’m looking forward to a happy mixture of writing and hammering.
How has the transition been? Great, horrible, joyous, sad. And then repeat. Every five seconds or so. The nicest part, truly, has been the support of friends — including oh-so-many AAN friends, both new and old.
At the beginning of March, I drove past the house I used to rent in New Orleans, and it looked pretty much the same as it did in early October when I finished salvaging stuff; the whole street did, really. Gutted to the studs and beams, windows out, tarp on the roof. But there were occasional signs of life in the neighborhood, and as painfully slow as some of them might seem, they were truly beautiful to behold.
Eric Coleman, left, with his new co-workers at the Memphis Flyer
I’m currently in Memphis, Tennessee working as the Sales Development Director for the Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent Magazine. While I’m here working in Memphis, my family is safely residing in Baton Rouge, La. Fortunately, Memphis is only a six-hour drive or an hour flight, so I’m able to commute home to see them on most weekends.
Although it’s been a challenge living in two places and spending nights away from my family, Ken Neill and the staff here at CMI have done all they can to make us feel welcome.
My family and fellow co-workers would like to thank AAN’s members for the kind words of support and financial generosity that y’all extended during some bleak times following Katrina. It meant a lot to know so many people cared.
Eileen Loh HarristHurricane Katrina was not the first tragedy that affected me in 2005, nor was it the worst. So I had a slightly different perspective when facing personal losses from the storm. I think I could more easily let go of things that had been so important — my possessions, my job, my home — than I could have at any other time in my life.
After the hurricane, I did freelance work in New Orleans and spent time with family in the Northeast. I developed a much deeper understanding of the impermanence of life, and of what really matters. (For instance, anything that can be bought or sold – doesn’t.) I became reacquainted with the things I can hold onto when everything else falls away. Family. Friends. My skills as a writer. My gut instinct. The things I have always been able to depend on and always will.
It’s with this understanding that I’m embarking on a different chapter. In April I will leave for the Philippines for a few months, to volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in the city of Tacloban. I am excited about living in this fantastic culture and more than a little nervous, to be honest. But if nothing else, the year 2005 showed me the value of a change in perspective. I know this experience will enhance me as a writer and as a human being. I can’t wait to learn what these kids have to teach me.
Katy Reckdahl with son Hector, whose birth during Katrina she chronicled for City Pages (Twin Cities).
Recently, I walked to the drugstore here in Phoenix, to get diapers for our 6-month-old son, Hector. But I couldn’t find any. So I asked the pharmacist. He pointed at a Depends display and said, “We don’t carry diapers .. for babies.”
Yes, we have made a drastic demographic switch, moving from Louisiana to the land of retirees. Fortunately, we’re not alone. Several members of the Treme Brass Band gathered here in early October and have been playing gigs here ever since. (My boyfriend, Merv Campbell, sings vocals and plays trumpet with Treme.) As a result, we spend nearly every Sunday afternoon eating good old New Orleans food and gossiping at the home of Jeffrey Hills, the Treme’s tuba player. We’ve all decided that — for now — Arizona is home, although we all miss the moist air, the green grass, and that easygoing New Orleans way.
Update: Katy sent us this second picture of Hector after hearing comments that he looks like “an enormously fat baby” in the other one.
In the beginning of March, a local social-services fund offered to foot the bill for Hector’s daycare for three months, allowing me to start reporting again. I’m now working on a couple of assignments for Phoenix New Times. Walking into their offices feels immediately comfortable to me — all of those alt-weekly knickknacks and posters and staffers in jeans.
I am itching to return to New Orleans and do some in-depth reporting, but not quite sure how that will happen yet.
(A special note to former Gambit edit folks — MTiss, Allen, Eileen, Franklin, Lil Katie, Alex, Shala, Kandace, and D.L. Can you imagine my enthusiasm when Michael’s daughter Cecilia named her pet mouse Katy? A few days later, Michael notified me that my namesake had perished due to an apparent exer-wheel accident. They buried her in a proper mouse funeral and she has now been replaced by a mouse known as Katie Jr., a.k.a. Lil Katie.)
Also, if anyone has been trying, futilely, to reach me, I apologize. I was in such a blur for months. Please try again: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tisserands at a family reunion last weekend
Photo taken by Rachel Roze
Because I’ve already written in some detail about my family’s post-flood actions for altweeklies.com, I’ll just say that we’re still reemerging in Evanston, Ill., where I’ve returned to writing and am finishing a book titled Sugarcane Academy, due out next spring from Harcourt. My wife, Tami Hinz, is in a private pediatric practice here. Cecilia celebrated her eighth birthday and Miles is on the road to kindergarten.
Michael Tisserand will also be hosting the AltWeekly Awards Luncheon at the AAN Annual Convention June 16.