September 09, 2005

and all the king's men

Enough is enough.

I thought I hit my limit yesterday at the gym. During the lunch hour rush, there were two empty treadmills: one, in front of a TV monitor covering US Open and the other, news on Hurricane Katrina. I chose the news. I couldnít care less for tennis.

I chose poorly.

The feature was on mothers being separated from their newborns during the evacuation of New Orleans. One moment I was running at a steady pace, jaw clenched, eyes transfixed on the screen above me and the next, feet planted on the sides of the treadmill, doubled over, hand covering my mouth sobbing. Right there in front of everyone. I hit the emergency stop button and ran for the locker room.

In the face of all the media coverage, Iíve felt overwhelmed, angry, heartbroken and helpless. Mostly helpless. And I am consumed by it. Get me in front of a computer and I will refresh until my index finger goes numb. I will stop in front of every TV screen and stare. I will be unable to go to a party and talk about anything else. I will have nightmares about drowning babies.

After yesterdayís breakdown at the gym, I thought I had learned my lesson about over consumption. But this morning, I was back to my old ways. First thing, I fired up the laptop and started watching CNN news clips. Cue the nausea. I made a dash for the bathroom and as I hovered over the toilet, I decided that enough was finally enough. It is one thing to be informed, but it is quite another to be obsessed -- especially with something so powerful and disturbing. Itís taking its toll.

Like most people who are concerned, but so far removed, Iíve struggled with the What can I do? question. The answer has been, Donate. I donít live an extravagant lifestyle -- despite any misinformation to the contrary. Iím a fierce budgeter. So, when news of Hurricane Katrina rolled in, I did some fierce re-budgeting and parted with what few indulgences made up the left-hand column of my excel spreadsheet. I gave up my cab money (I have a MetroCard, I should use it) and then my bi-monthly pedicure fund. Itís not a lot, but itís something.

Still, I donít feel any less helpless. And I know that my own unrest is only a fraction of what others are feeling. My recent CNN obsession hasnít been any help to alleviate it, so Iíve begun making plans. Plans that no longer involve places like Barcelona in the fall. Instead, when Habitat for Humanity sees fit to open the area to volunteers, I hope to be there. Will physical labor make me feel any more helpful? I donít know for certain.

But even if all I do is drive a few nails, it will be one concrete step toward making a difference.

Posted by This Fish at September 9, 2005 10:28 AM

Hi, Fish. Bravo on helping others and for rebudgeting. If we all did what we could, imagine the impact!

You don't have to wait until "all's clear" to volunteer--volunteer in your local community. Work on a literacy project or do Habitat for Humanity in your hometown--make your own piece of NYC better--build hope local to make others stronger, who in turn can pay it forward. Poverty is a nationwide epidemic, and the struggle in the Gulf states a glaring reminder.

That's what I do--volunteer local to make my home community of Philly a better place to live.

Enjoy reading your blog.

Posted by: Rachel at September 9, 2005 10:35 AM

Good for you Fish. Every bit, whether big or little, can make a difference.

Posted by: Wicked H at September 9, 2005 10:40 AM

Hey, Fish:

At the risk of ruining your mascara again today, I wanted to post this from a listserv I subscribe to - it was sent out by a Southern Louisiana resident, and I wanted to pass it along:

For the many out of staters, even Yankees, who have helped us Cajuns:

Dear America,

I suppose we should introduce ourselves: We're South Louisiana.

We have arrived on your doorstep on short notice and we apologize for that, but we never were much for waiting around for invitations. We're not much on formalities like that.

And we might be staying around your town for a while, enrolling in your schools and looking for jobs, so we wanted to tell you a few things about us. We know you didn't ask for this and neither did we, so we're just going to have to make the best of it.

First of all, we thank you. For your money, your water, your food, your prayers, your boats and buses and the men and women of your National Guards, fire departments, hospitals and everyone else who has come to our rescue.

We're a fiercely proud and independent people, and we don't cotton much to outside interference, but we're not ashamed to accept help when we need it.

And right now, we need it.

Just don't get carried away. For instance, once we get around to fishing again, don't try to tell us what kind of lures work best in your waters.

We're not going to listen. We're stubborn that way.

You probably already know that we talk funny and listen to strange music and eat things you'd probably hire an exterminator to get out of your yard.

We dance even if there's no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we're suspicious of others who don't.

But we'll try not to judge you while we're in your town.

Everybody loves their home, we know that. But we love South Louisiana with a ferocity that borders on the pathological. Sometimes we bury our dead in LSU sweatshirts.

Often we don't make sense. You may wonder why, for instance - if we could only carry one small bag of belongings with us on our journey to your state - why in God's name did we bring a pair of shrimp boots?

We can't really explain that. It is what it is.

You've probably heard that many of us stayed behind. As bad as it is, many of us cannot fathom a life outside of our border, out in that place we call Elsewhere.

The only way you could understand that is if you have been there, and so many of you have. So you realize that when you strip away all the craziness and bars and parades and music and architecture and all that hooey, really, the best thing about where we come from is us.

We are what made this place a national treasure. We're good people. And don't be afraid to ask us how to pronounce our names. It happens all the time.

When you meet us now and you look into our eyes, you will see the saddest story ever told. Our hearts are broken into a thousand pieces.

But don't pity us. We're gonna make it. We're resilient. After all, we've been rooting for the Saints for 35 years. That's got to count for something.

OK, maybe something else you should know is that we make jokes at inappropriate times. But what the hell.

And one more thing: In our part of the country, we're used to having visitors. It's our way of life.

So when all this is over and we move back home, we will repay to you the hospitality and generosity of spirit you offer to us in this season of our despair.

That is our promise. That is our faith.

How's that? ;)

Have a great weekend, Fish!!

Posted by: lawyerchik1 at September 9, 2005 10:41 AM

i know what you mean. i think katrina and its aftermath have traumatized people all over the country. we called in a donation very early on, and now our son has said that instead of buying him a birthday present (his birthday's tomorrow) this year we should make another donation. bless you for caring so much. and in the midst of all this to have the president's mother make the comment she did the other day, well, it just sickened me. she might as well have said 'let them eat cake.' but i digress. anyway. i hope you do get to participate in the habit for humanit'y rebuilding project, and i hope it does ease your pain. again. bless you.

Posted by: ropedancer at September 9, 2005 10:42 AM

It's times like these that really make us feel helpless as indidviduals. I felt the same as you during 911. I wanted to help, but I'm in Texas and I couldn't come home to Jersey. How could I . . . do anything that would make an impact? It's then you realize the power of the individual. It really is the small things that assist the consolidated effort. We all do our part with the tools we have available at the time.

It sounds so cliche to say, "every little bit helps" but, tis true

Posted by: Sass at September 9, 2005 10:44 AM

from those of us down here trying to physically house and help those displaced...thank you. most of all, though, thank you for caring. for five days, it felt like no one cared. five.days.

Posted by: RazDreams at September 9, 2005 10:45 AM

I almost choked on my granola when I read Harry's comment. It so came outta left field.

I think that you have made a good choice. Sometmes you just need to peel yourself away from being that passive bystander and take action. It won't make the situation any less sad, but know that you have a good heart and I think you stand to gain a lot by making that monetary donation, and if possible, donating your time.

Posted by: rachel at September 9, 2005 10:54 AM

Being in the city, I feel like there is so little I can do to help. Honestly, I could donate money, but I don't because I feel like there is so much more that these people need. Money is definitely needed, but it isn't going to solve all of their problems. These people don't have homes and have lost loved ones. Their lives are forever changed and I don't feel like my dollar is going to help much. I wish there was more to offer.

Posted by: aw at September 9, 2005 11:03 AM

This is a great sentiment, and I applaud your intentions, but I have to point this out:

Nails aren't concrete. They're metal.

Hee hee.

Hello, Heather.

Posted by: scott at September 9, 2005 11:06 AM

I think most of the nation is consumed with this tragedy right along with you. The difference between you and too many others is, you are actually going to make a difference. I think it's great that you gave up a few things you can live without...we should all do that.

Great blog.

Posted by: networkchic at September 9, 2005 11:14 AM

Are you sure you're not pregnant?

Posted by: aliastaken at September 9, 2005 11:25 AM

You budget your mani/pedis? In a spreadsheet? Holy crap. I thought *I* was a control freak.

Posted by: Tanya at September 9, 2005 11:46 AM

I was all set to fly out with the Red Cross today to Alabama, but travel plans got mixed up, and they can't have me back by the date my professors have given me in order to stay enrolled in all my classes (I'm a full-time student).

I decided I wanted to go because I felt like I didn't have enough money to match what it was that I wanted to give. But when I was talking to the staff at my local Red Cross chapter yesterday, they were saying that money really is what they need. A lot of people are making donations of baby clothes and toys, books and sundry items, but they can't distribute them equally right now and these evacuees can't transport all of the things they're given at the shelter. Money helps them coordinate reunion efforts and helps to get people back on their feet.

All that to say, aw's money will go to good use if he/she gives it, and your money is mattering to people down there.

Also, I don't know if you've been to your local Red Cross chapter, but mine is absolutely drowning in phone calls and paper-work. I'll be volunteering there next week rather than being in Alabama; I'm disappointed, but I really do think help is help, no matter where it is.

Posted by: Lauren at September 9, 2005 11:51 AM

I can totally relate. I am obsessed with the coverage. So I'm constantly flipping back and forth between ITV, CNN, BBC, etc. However, as the days pass, coverage has become less intense over here in London, so I've turned to the Internet for coverage on the homefront. It's all so tragic yet I can't turn away.

Posted by: Ursula at September 9, 2005 12:34 PM


Posted by: kris at September 9, 2005 12:47 PM

thanks, fish, for this. i too have been obsessed with coverage of the katrina aftermath and have been thinking of doing the same thing in the coming months re going down to nola to volunteer.

keep the excellent writing coming. it's tough out there right now, but some things can still be so beautiful.

Posted by: Christina at September 9, 2005 01:03 PM

every little bit, whether monetary or compassionate, does help. the sentiment expressed in the letter that lawyerchik1 posted is so true of my friends from that area. they are resilient and determined and funny. and they do appreciate the little things that everyone is doing to help them.

Posted by: rg at September 9, 2005 01:09 PM

I am also obsessed. My husband put a ban on CNN and Fox news on our bedroom tv. He can not take it. I thought, I had done a good job at blocking the news from my 4 year old daughter. She has a tv in her room but, it is set to children's networks only. Last night when we were saying her prayers at the end she said "And Mommy, don't forget.. please watch over the people in the flood. AMEN"

Posted by: Brandy at September 9, 2005 01:35 PM

I am thinking about you Fish. My breakdown came with the footage of the nursing homes and the pets left behind. For whatever reason, they both made me sob. I just cannot imagine.

Posted by: africankelli at September 9, 2005 01:47 PM

For those who wanted to know the author of the "Dear America" letter, it appears to have been Chris Rose of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Also, africankelli - I totally agree. I was OK reading and occasionally glancing at news reports, but the segments on pets and children just ripped my heart out..... I cannot imagine what they must be going through!!

Posted by: lawyerchik1 at September 9, 2005 02:35 PM

I have been there...not so much for this (not because its not overwhelming and awful) but it was for a more personal situation. Every single day for weeks and weeks, I was online looking for photos, new stories, updates. I couldnt sleep at night. The local news was on at all times and everything else going on in the world seemed mundane and wasteful. There were times when I felt so alone. Like I thought I was the only person who had fallen into this extreme obsession. The only person that this had such an incredible affect on. You want to pry yourself away because it makes you frustrated that nothing you can do alone is big enough, important enough, and you cant do anything to make it go away.

If everyone did just what youre doing, not only Louisiana but the entire world would be better, bigger, more beautiful.

Posted by: jasika at September 9, 2005 03:01 PM

I was thinking that it would be wonderful if there was somewhere we could send postcards and notes to the evacuees saying "We love you," "we're thinking of you" and all those sorts of things. Maybe addressed to "Any Evacuee" at the Astrodome.

But I think it is true what someone said about reaching out in a local way. Because it sounds like what you want to do is connect and to feel like you're helping someone. I think it feels good to do that in any arena and when you do it you believe in all the goodness in people and you know that people are doing it all over the region near the disaster.

Maybe we should all just send cards and notes to each other or to people we haven't spoken to in ages saying "I love you" "I miss you" "I'm thinking of you." Any opportunity is a good one.

Posted by: Michael at September 9, 2005 04:13 PM

Fishy Fish - it was a joy to finally meet you in person last night. You'ze one lovely chica!

Posted by: Kat at September 9, 2005 05:26 PM

Yes, physical work WILL make you feel better - and make a tangible difference, whether in NO or in your own backyard. I participated on two Habitat for Humanity houses in Houston while in architecture school - what started out as just a learning exercise turned into a life-altering experience that has motivated me to be a frequent volunteer in many capacities in all of the communities I've lived in.

So, channel that frustrated energy, and start in your own neighborhood. You'll reap the benefits as much as the organizations you help will, too.

Posted by: TallGlassOfVino at September 9, 2005 06:19 PM

I turned it all off this morning.

Beyond the images, I just can't handle the media. It's become their game, now. And I can't take it.

Habitat for Humanity is a fabulous organization. The Husband and I just spoke of this last night - when they are ready, we will go.

10 years ago I traveled for a week helping a Habitat group, it was life changing.

Best to you.

Posted by: The Food Whore at September 9, 2005 06:46 PM

Awww, don't cry Fish. It'll be okay. And New Orleans and surrounding areas will be back on its feet a lot quicker than the media and the gubmint are thinking. (And as a Louisiana native, I'm going to resist the urge to poke fun at Chris Rose's column, which I've received about sixty times in the last two days. I like the line about eating pests... I'm a big fan of squirrel... but he seems to forget a certain element of South Louisiana that would stab you in the neck and shoot at rescue helicopters)

And to everyone else, since obviously I've upset Fish who refuses every to link to me again ... for those of you who might want to help out evacuees at a specific shelter--do something a little more than just send cash or go booze up in a bar (not that there's anything wrong with that)--those holed up in St. Landry Parish could use your support.

Posted by: ken at September 9, 2005 06:50 PM

Fish, I had the same reaction, I was planning on going down Tuesday night for a few days. I was going to go down and help with some of the animal rescue stuff. But plans fell through.

I know what you mean with the sobbing and crying, seems to be all I do lately... but I can not stop watching the coverage. Hell, if I had a dollar for everytime I have refreshed from work since this all happened I could save everyone.

Posted by: Crystal at September 9, 2005 06:59 PM

Very well put, This Fish. The coverage is overwhelming, but somehow I think helping in a physical way could make it more real and thus not just a 'story on the news'...

Posted by: la.dauphine at September 9, 2005 07:44 PM

Fish, you are a champion of the human spirit. One of
the few true role models left in the world. If there was ever a reason to promote and legalize human cloning it would be to replicate your blessed, beating heart a million times. (If only they all could help pump that yucky water out of NOLA.) You're a modern day Joan of Arc. I wish I had half the strength, courage, and care that you exhibit. I bow my head to you.

Posted by: marcus at September 9, 2005 08:13 PM

Oh so impressed with your decision make a "concrete" difference in society. You're good people, Fish.

Posted by: Arctic Teacher at September 9, 2005 08:17 PM

Thank you for being tender hearted, and doing whatever you can. Even with all the devastation, there are some whose hearts haven't been tugged enough to help. I was next in the checkout line of a clothing store today when the cashier asked the girl in front of me if she'd like to donate a dollar to help the victims of hurricane Katrina. She said no. This made something deep down inside of me ache... because although it was just one, every little bit helps.

Thank you for making the sacrifices... you have the attitude that more Americans should exude... you give what you can.


Posted by: amber at September 9, 2005 10:49 PM

it is amazing how u express ur emotion without being melodramatic. natural disaster broadcast could go over the top. i was obsessed with the tsunami coverage. i narrowly missed the waves and saw death. i'm still part of a rehab project and although it breaks my heart to see the little orphaned kids i have learnt so much from them. their spirit to go fight the odds, their determination to "make it" gives me so much hope.

i hope u feel better soon.

Posted by: athena at September 9, 2005 11:27 PM

Dear Fish; you feel like I feel. I too have redone the budget and cut out the treats for a month or so. I'm a a Canadian and even though the disaster is across the border this type of tragedy doesn't have borders. Our Canadian Red Cross is busy collecting cash for Katrina victims, our gov't sent it's largest peacetime troop of ships and somehow 1000 teddies for kids went along for the ride.

Read this one.

I think this is very well said.

Posted by: linda at September 10, 2005 12:25 AM

its super cool of u to donate.

but i had to laugh at the bi monthly pedicure and cab money! I'm sorry, not extravagant? I've never in my life had a pedicure, and a cab for a fifteen minute journey in the UK costs 10% of what i take home a week, and so u can imagine i dont get my feet off the ground too often! this is just a culture clash observation. don't get offended

volunteering is a good idea. i volunteered for oxfam for a while. u do meet some strange people tho....

Posted by: piu piu at September 10, 2005 09:18 AM

good for you.

Posted by: urbanBarbara at September 10, 2005 01:03 PM

That is so commendable of you, Fish. I'm doing the same thing...obsessed with this horrific event and stopping what I'm doing to watch it on TV. I am not sure what it is that is drawing me to it besides the obvious, but it's like a world-wide communal feeling and we're all experiencing it as if it's happening to us, I think.

Posted by: Dorothy at September 10, 2005 05:46 PM


I am organizing a Spring Break Service Bonanza in the Gulf. It would be a pleasure to meet you there, under devastating circumstances, but also with the purpose of regrowth.

Posted by: Emily at September 10, 2005 09:21 PM


It is SO admirable (and inspiring) that you are "re-budgeting" to help others. I hope it comes back into your life in the form of abundant blessing.

Regarding the nasty news coverage, I think the media secretly loves this stuff. It makes people tune in. I don't own a TV, is bad enough. Do yourself a favor and don't watch, just keep doing the next right thing.

You're awesome.

Posted by: Fancy Schmancy Anxiety Maven at September 11, 2005 12:40 AM

Giving up money for your nails so you can go pound them. Good trade.

Posted by: Randa at September 11, 2005 09:23 AM

i keep hoping i'll see something from new york folks today, which will at least make us new orleans folks feel a little bit better. just a little. it's loss and regrowth and change. i just stopped by to see if you had anything....

Posted by: RazDreams at September 11, 2005 03:20 PM

U have just impressed me

I'm going to check what can I do for them...

Posted by: nodnoly at September 11, 2005 05:57 PM

Great blog .. with you in spirit at least ... we went through the sensory overload from Boxing Day last year when the Tsunami hit just above Australia ... killing over 200,000 people .... there comes a point when, despite your despair and desire to help, you have to turn the media off and get on with life. Donate, help in any way you can, but do not feel guilty because you cannot do more ... as the South Louisiana letter above says, 'don't pity them' ... they are resilient, you are resilient, and you will all come through.

Posted by: Miss Lisa at September 11, 2005 07:54 PM

hi fish

u were in this morning's newspaper.. follow the link to read the article

Posted by: thisfish travels to india at September 11, 2005 11:33 PM

Maybe you are pregnant. Nasusea, moodswings....

Posted by: liz at September 12, 2005 01:04 PM

I'd be hard pressed to describe my reaction to a natural disaster as a... "mood swing."

Posted by: Fish at September 12, 2005 01:08 PM

I reached my point as well. I searched through all of my clothes and shoes, etc. and packed up several large boxes of stuff. (Good stuff, too, not just the stained t-shirts) My thought was that these folks are going to need this stuff, suits, nice clothes, etc. I mean, they lost everything.

So, I called Red Cross to figure out where to take this stuff. They didn't know and didn't want to accept it. Evacuees were being given debit cards. Called the United Way, no one knew anything. Called Salvation Army. Our local branches weren't taking anything. They had nothing decided. I spent a couple of hours calling churches and finally found one that was taking a caravan of stuff down and was able to get it there. It's tough. And it will take years to fully restore the lives of these families.


Posted by: DeadMike at September 12, 2005 01:50 PM

Regarding the nasty news coverage, I think the media secretly loves this stuff. It makes people tune in.

Uh, yeah. Dude, the people reporting down in New Orleans worked on like two hours of sleep for days in the worst of conditions. I guess they were fortunate -- they had a home to go back to -- but the bottom line was, it was a terrible, dangerous time. But they did it because they thought it was important to tell this story.

Posted by: derek rose at September 13, 2005 05:24 PM

Hi Fish,
I have been a sporadic reader for a while now, and I'm checking in because I have been transplaned to New York from New Orleans. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of all of us refugees (I do NOT take issue with the us of that word, as that is what I am).
Do you have any big city advice for me? We are living in Brooklyn for the time being and I could use some savy city girl pointers.
Keep writing,

Posted by: Donna at September 19, 2005 01:08 AM