Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What was this 'sposed to be?

A few weeks ago, I made the final decision to attend grad school this coming fall and quit, for the first time since I launched this blog in 2007, writing about New Orleans.

I wanted to take some time to enjoy my last month in New Orleans, to have a leisurely staycation in which I would slowly sell off my possessions to finance some restaurant goodbyes. I wanted to try to reevaluate my work here over the last couple of years, to try to paint a big picture in my mind.

What was this all about and what did I learn?

The reflection process has, so far, been way less successful than that which is forcing me to retire snug pairs of pants at an alarming rate.

My self-imposed rehabilitation and semi-retirement from writing has not stopped me from impulsively and compulsively reading the news about New Orleans, especially as it relates to the BP disaster. I just can't quite seem to quit it, at least not while I'm here experiencing the smell of it all and trying to pump up stories like this one with national media. It has been impossible to think cumulatively while simultaneously considering the daily intricacies of the unfixable oil catastrophe and coverage of it in the media.

I spent all weekend exiled in the woods to dry out a little bit. It did wonders for the soul. When I get to Philly and am at the ballpark, I think I'll be able to separate myself even more successfully.

I'm not sure I will now be able to successfully deliver to you a meaningful or interesting series that will review and revise this blog. There's too much to say.

A couple of people have said that I should write a book. It is probably true that I've got a few hundred pages worth of long-winded feelings, rants, and analysis about recovery from the failure of New Orleans' levee systems and the state of politics and governance in New Orleans more generally inside of me. But that doesn't mean it would be the least bit entertaining. Or even interesting or useful.

So what I thought I'd do, since I have resolved not to "blog" (in the sense that I refuse to "cover" anything anymore), is to try to get my own gears going by restating what I think my mission was back when I started We Could Be Famous right after the second anniversary of Katrina in 2007.

Let's see.

I was 22 years old and had just graduated Tulane University the previous spring. I was an enthusiastic student but was feeling kind of lost in terms of what to do next. I spent the entire summer backpacking through Mexico and if I knew anything it was that I wasn't ready to join the traditional 9-5 workforce in any field.

I certainly knew what my interests were and felt like I had pretty well-defined values. I care about helping beleaguered cities and knew that I would eventually find a "career" that allowed me to do that. But fresh out of college and full of that totally irritating combination of exuberance and ennui, I decided to feel out my own path.

I also saw an opportunity.

I was an early adopter of "blogs" (I still really really hate the word 'blog') as important sources of news and opinion. In Philly, I noticed the efforts of people who were starting to upset the traditional Democratic Party machine by mounting electoral challenges to ward leaders. I was amazed and inspired in 2004 as the long-shot Dean campaign, which I admired but never supported (not that I'd be ashamed to say if I did - I liked that liar John Edwards in '04), used the internet to get people organized in real life for real life purposes. I was amazed and inspired by the way it seemed like short video clips or short snarky comments by a few well positioned and widely read liberal curmudgeon outsiders could shake up the mainstream news. Even though the internet and the blogosphere (another word I detest) wasn't that different from what it is today, it kind of felt like the Wild West, especially at the local level. To put it crudely, it seemed like if you were funny and made consistent arguments, famous people would link to you and then you would be famous too.

(That inelegant conclusion was part of the thinking behind the tongue-in-cheek blog name of my blog. The other part was that I was very interested in the way that the characteristics we expected of entertainers were increasingly indistinguishable from those we expect from political leaders. I felt like 'fame' had basically become equivalent to 'success' and hoped to make snarky superficial commentary about this into a running theme. I pretty much abandoned this within the first few weeks of publication.)

I noticed and was troubled by the fact that it didn't seem like there was anybody talking about New Orleans regularly among the liberal/progressive/netroots bloggers I read. It seemed like a big hole to me since the correlation between the near-destruction of New Orleans, the deterioration of the Bush agenda, and the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 seemed so strongly correlated. It was clear to me that New Orleans was, in September of 2007, clearly not recovering - something I deduced from living here without a whole lot of reading - and I assumed that my fellow progressive liberals from around the country would be interested in finding out why and in helping. The other thing I deduced from living here was that local political leadership was totally and remarkably pathetic. I felt like an overwhelmingly awesome city overrun with liberals and Democrats ought to be able to organize itself to put really strong, articulate, and unwavering progressive leaders into City Council, the State Legislature, and Congress.

And so I set off to work on several things simultaneously. I wanted to use the internet to help other New Orleanians successfully build a progressive political movement on the local level. I wanted to use the internet to help New Orleanians explain the recovery process to a national audience. I wanted to find myself professionally and figure out where, within the wide world of beleaguered cities, I could be happiest and most helpful.

I was just talking the other day to Brad V. about the how ironic it is that, as proud as I am of my efforts and the "successes" that have resulted, I've essentially failed on every single front. I feel successful in that I am now going to an elite graduate school after having built up a tremendous network of friends and colleagues through my basically well-regarded work as a blogger/writer and political organizer. But those successes are really just a personal silver lining from what was really an across-the-board failure. I accomplished zero of the goals set forth in the previous paragraph. Maybe it's unrefined to put it that way since I feel like I've landed somewhere respectable on the success continuum and not simply at one pole or another but it is what it is.

I accomplished zero of the goals I set forth when I started this blog.

I have learned a lot of useful lessons though. Without making any promises, I'd love to figure out a way to share some of them. I'm not sure if I can get it together to put together a grand conclusion about New Orleans and the recovery but I figured I'd at least get started on sorting my thoughts by restating what I think I said or felt my mission was and going back over the assumptions that lead me to start this project. Maybe if you haven't purged WCBF from your reader, you have some questions or suggestions that might get me going.


oyster said...

Advice? Keep "failing" upwards.

Keep learning from your "delayed successes". It's un-fun, but the hardest and most worthy fights are not always "won" in the conventional sense. Energy and time is limited, so pick your fights wisely, and learn effective strategery so that apparent setbacks can be usefully transformed into the prologues for future victories.

Alan said...

- As the NYT quoted Orwell recently, “any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats."

All of your stated goals are of a scale far beyond any one person's ability. By nature, they require a community. All one person can hope to do is help move the ball down the field as far as can with the legs God gave you. The real measure of your efforts is in your contribution as perceived by your teammates and the public you serve.
If your colleagues have had similar experiences to those I have had, they are better people for it. You've been a big success in my book. I am legitimately proud.

Though we had different strategies and use different tactics, I like to think the ideals and ultimate ends are the same among us. The doubts and ambivalence toward personal success certainly are. I will be for the worse without your sharp perspective to keep me on the ball.

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