Cross-posted at Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster:
Last week I was interviewed by the communications staff here at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. They contacted me, saying they had heard about my research into the post-Katrina blogosphere, and the result of our conversation is this press release, which was sent out to 50 local and regional reporters. I guess you could say that my new media efforts are about to make waves through the old media channels.
On a more serious note, the blog post that accompanied this news story has reminded me of my ever-conflicted feelings of trauma and loss. It features a picture of me that they describe as follows: “Pignetti is shown here in a February 2006 photo as she sits on the front steps of her childhood home in New Orleans, which was devastated during Hurricane Katrina.”
Anyone viewing the picture can clearly see that it was taken on a sunny day, with my house gleaming white. The only visible indication of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath is the spray paint on the front door. Because of this, I felt I should immediately share a link to pictures of the house’s interior, which truly shows the damage 10-feet of water can do.
The urgency with which I left that comment proves that I still wrestle with feelings of being misunderstood. After all, I was living in Tampa in August of 2005 and didn’t have to physically endure anything other than frustration at not having any precise information about which levees breached and what that even meant. Yet, three years later, I am still traumatized by what happened to my house, on my street, and to my city. I experience survivor’s guilt on a daily basis, with my feelings of doubt only increasing with the passage of time, making me wonder, how am I justified in feeling as sad as I do?
For instance, when I meet people face-to-face for the first time, I still proudly proclaim that I’m from New Orleans, but often only respond with, “We lost everything” to their question of “How’d you make out after Katrina hit?” Why is that all I say? I certainly am annoyed if no one bothers to ask, so why, when given the chance, do I truncate my story to a three-word response?
I think it is because I figure that if I respond, “I couldn’t find my parents for almost a week,” they will think that my mother and father were like the people they saw stranded either at the Superdome or Convention Center. I am convinced that when they find out my parents are better off than most “victims” due to their relocation to a second home we already owned in Picayune, Mississippi, any sympathy they had for us will diminish.
Writer and scholar Louise DeSalvo states the following in her book Writing as a Way of Healing, and I believe it explains my situation as a transplanted New Orleanian exactly:
Often…trauma remains undisclosed because, though people would like to discuss it, they can’t or won’t because they fear punishment, embarrassment, or disapproval or because they can’t find an appropriate audience. So, many people actively stop themselves from telling their stories; they inhibit the need to tell their traumatic narratives.
But, to quote Loki’s most recent post, “that is one of the reasons why I blog.”
By directing my writing to an invisible, nonjudgmental audience, I have used this blog to cultivate a more emotional persona and, as a result, have embarked on a journey of healing. When I find an image of a now-destroyed familiar place or a news story that disturbs me to the point of again unleashing the sorrow of that week of national and man-made disaster, I know I can blog about it. Not only will I feel better as a result, others will recognize that I am not OK that New Orleans is nowhere close to being recovered, and that the world should not deny us its sympathy.