Winter is my favorite time of year. Partially because my birthday is in the new year, but mostly because the transition from December to January feels like a much-needed purge. This is when we let go of the old and believe transformation is possible.
At Christmas we dredge up old wounds with family. We think about the new year as a chance to be better. This is a period of resolution, renaissance and rebirth.
In the spirit of this, I want you to think of a person who has hurt you emotionally in the past. A person you have not been able to let go of for whatever reason.
Why do your memories of this still ache, and/or how were things left unresolved? Do you blame them or yourself? Or both?
I am asking you to go where you have refused to go before and to address this person/incident (and yourself) with the most honesty you can muster, even if it hurts.
Don’t specify who this person is or a specific incident, rather describe how they make/made you feel.
Use a minimum of 5 stanzas/paragraphs, OR, alternately, you can use 5 lines.
Doesn’t matter if you use a traditional form, free verse or prose blocks.
Address different questions/aspects in each paragraph/line.
Paragraph 1: Whose fault was it?
Paragraph 2: What were the results of the fallout?
Paragraph 3: Do you still think about them? Be honest.
Paragraph 4: How hard is/was it for you to love again?
Paragraph 5: What would you say to them now?
Does not have to be a romantic relationship. Supplement appropriate adjectives in the paragraph questions.
You may or may not be familiar with erasure poetry, but it’s essentially exactly what it sounds like. Taking pre-existing work, you mark out chunks of text to create a new poem. This process can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing writer’s block.
Mary Ruefle has a famous 42-page-erasure poem called A Little White Shadow that she created from Emily Malone Morgan’s Brown & Gross (1889). I believe I read an interview somewhere in which Ruefle claimed one of the main reasons she chose this text is because there are no copyright issues from a text this ancient. So bear that in mind before you spend too much time on this.
A former professor of mine, Ruth Ellen Kocher, took a different approach to erasure in her book domina Un/blued. While in Rome, she wrote tons of poems and later went back and erasured her own work. The results are absolutely breathtaking.
Many poets erasure their own work in the editing process without thinking of it as such. And many poets have difficulty letting words go. But this process is all about whittling down to the most precise language. You’d be surprised what can come out of that.
take a text you’ve either written or a text that you love and mark out chunks to create your own poem
Laura Theobald is one of the many writers incorporating modern technology into their work. Using iOS predictive text, Theobald wrote an entire collection of poems titled THE BEST THING EVER. You too can create an interesting story or prose poem through predictive text. You’ll also get a glimpse into your psyche when you see which words you use most frequently.
20-25 words minimum
start with “I died”
if predictive text repeats the same word(s) too often, hit a random letter for more vocabulary options
Here’s my attempt (I can’t stop laughing):
I died in the past, and it is literally just one of my favorite places. Yeah, that’s what I’m going through. Right after lunch, I’ll be a feeling. Like this, but so far away. I’m going home now. I’ll let y’all be good. I’ll talk tomorrow night. And love with him has no chance. I died in a good mood I guess. I died in the way you told me. I died in the world. Just let me remember that.
Plenty of people have written about the use of New Orleans as a dystopian setting over the last decade, which hits a little too close to home—literally. Yet, I cannot deny that my city does in fact make the perfect backdrop for political commentary. In the context of Hurricane Katrina, this statement makes sense, but does it still hold up?
From a local perspective, I would argue that it does for the following reasons:
1. Unwavering Weather Deathtraps
It’s hard to believe that a little over 12 years ago, Hurricane Katrina left 80% of the city flooded, at least 1,833 dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless—myself included.
While this event destroyed my 15-year-old world, it captivated the rest of the country through the national news circuit as the ultimate disaster porn for months, maybe even years.
The question on everyone’s mind—How could this level of devastation occur in 2005 in one of the most powerful countries in the world?
The images, more reminiscent of a third world country than that of a modern US city, forever shook the country’s self-view. People waiting on their roofs for days with rescue signs, houses upon houses filled with water, stragglers swimming in what was once a street, security footage of looters, the cajun navy out in their personal boats, the 27-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Bridge in ruins, my childhood theme park (Six Flags New Orleans, formerly named Jazzland) becoming a lake instead of just having one.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dissociate myself from these images the way the rest of the country did. I distinctly remember the people around me as well as the anchors on TV referring to us IDP’s (Internally Displaced People) as “refugees”—people who by definition have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
This semantic discrepancy spoke volumes and reflected the cognitive dissonance between what people were witnessing on television and what they believed possible in their own country.
The use of “refugee” framed the black bodies appearing on millions of white American screens as foreign. The media also fanned fears of looting and crime through exaggeration, bias, and racial stereotypes: Whites borrowed for survival, while blacks doing the same thing stole. But I digress.
Between August 29 and September 17, directly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, “dystopia” spiked worldwide on Google trends. If you look at this search trend between January 2004 all the way through September 2017, there is no other spike of this magnitude. In fact, when you look at this graph, dystopian YA is just beginning to surpass that spike in terms of popularity. That almost feels wrong, given the wave of Hunger Games, Maze Runners, and Divergents dominating publishing and film.
But if a world-ending event were to occur in America, people already picture it in our backyard thanks to Katrina, the Louisiana Floods of 2016, and even the occasional two-hour thunderstorms.
In 2017, we’ve had the strongest recorded tornado in LA since the 1950s, a biblical thunderstorm (that consequently trapped me in my car for five hours), and, at one point, there were three active hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico simultaneously, which, scared the absolute crap out of me. I’ve never witnessed such a thing in my lifetime, and, frankly, my list of close encounters with supposedly once-in-a-lifetime weather events is much too long for my liking.
To my surprise, New Orleans has resembled Seattle more than a Gulf Coast city this year. With newly formed tropical storms and hurricane upgrades every day, I finally muted my weather alerts before hurricane season ended. I won’t even get into to the daily tornado/waterspout watches I recieved while driving across the longest bridge in the world (not hyperbole) to get to and from work.
All of this is to say, we’re never far off from apocalyptic weather or an ecodisaster down here.
2. Refusal to Put the Past to Rest
Another reason New Orleans serves as a popular dystopian backdrop is because our residents don’t just live in the past, they also glorify it.
Until I left the south, I never realized just how bizarre, let alone common, it is for a classmate to receive a scholarship from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). My mind is still boggled by the self-proclaimed American patriots around me who tote the flag of the losing side.
The confederate flag is so prevalent here, you would think it’s the state flag. I may be desensitized to this symbol now, but, as a child, I knew exactly what it meant without any verbal explanation and felt anxious every time I saw it. Children are perceptive enough to notice the commonality between flag-wielders, some of whom’s ancestors never fought in the Civil War.
While the confederate monuments have come down, this continues to be a hot-button issue among residents. The statues are permanently gone and never coming back, but people here refuse to move on, blaming any and every issue from flooding to poor fund management on metal and stone.
Class and racial tensions aren’t going anywhere, which provides a great backdrop for political unrest, injustice, war, primitivism, violence, corruption, and all the things that makeup dystopian works.
Baton Rouge, the state capital located less than an hour way, has the highest wage gap between men and women in the entire country. Baton Rouge and New Orleans also have the highest rates of HIV in the country. With one out of every 55 people in Louisiana is behind bars, we are the prison capital of the world. Oh and don’t forget that we dance in and out of the top 10 murder capitals on a regular basis.
Throw in the fact that the majority of these prisoners are black men performing prison labor, and you can see a new form of slavery that isn’t far off from plantation days. Actually, some of this labor is performed in plantations.
3. Decrepitude and Corruption
A lot of people (aka tourists) find New Orleans’ infrastructure to be “charming.” However, I’m well aware that the abandoned hospital around corner still has flood water from Katrina filling the bottom floor and parking garage. The roads and foundations are sinking faster than we can fix them. Black mold and asbestus run rampant in schools, homes, and public spaces.
Because we rely almost exclusively on tourism, the French Quarter is the only area that keeps up with preservation and maintenance, while the areas populated by local residents continue to show scars from Hurricane Katrina. The job market is almost exclusively service industry for the same reason.
Corruption is also notorious in New Orleans. Show me a politician that hasn’t blatantly embezzled money from taxpayers, and I’ll show you a unicorn. The worst part it though, is that the entire country knows this about us.
Yes, parts of this city are lovely and interesting because of their history, but tourists shouldn’t be the only people in the city who experience upkeep. But, all of this just makes Nola a better candidate for said dystopia.
Bottom line: There are a million reasons to love New Orleans, but this city still reflects past atrocities and what is still broken in modern society. Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for this view on a national scale. However, the ingredients were there well before the storm and remain here today.
These are things we accept in New Orleans, and maybe that is in fact part of our charm. This is a city full of history, heartache, violence, ghosts, and tragedy. But it is also a place of love and magic, a place where people can express themselves without judgement.
There are things I would like to change, but the reality is that this colonial city is set in her ways. So, for now, you can either take it or leave it or just accept that nothing, including this crime-riddled city, is solely good or bad. Either way, no one in the US knows dystopia better than New Orleanians.
For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.
These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.
It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.
Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.
As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.
The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.
Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.
By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.
I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.
The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.
The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.
But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.
I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.
Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.
Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.
I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”
Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.
Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.
1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]↩
I’ve always been a massive horror geek. Naturally, I saw the IT remake last Saturday. Technically, it’s not a remake since the original IT (1990) is a miniseries, but we all know that this is the 2017 retelling of that miniseries/novel.
Ninety percent of the time remakes are a huge let down compared to the original, but that was not the case with the 2017 IT film. Can I tell you that I have not screamed that many times during a movie since the ripe age of 13? And I loved every second of it. My god, Pennywise will haunt my dreams for years to come and breed a whole new generation of coulrophobiacs. And I am here for it.
IT makes heavy use of the bus technique. If you’re not familiar with the “bus technique” made popular by the movie Cat People (1942), it’s essentially a false scare and usually occurs when a character feels like someone is about to get them, and right when this seems certain, something completely innocuous jars the character (and the audience). IT is full of “busses,” and every single one made me scream across the theater like a little girl (sorry, fellow movie goers).
Something else I really enjoyed about this film is the way “fear” changes for each child. In the original miniseries, It remains in clown form throughout the movie; the monster is universal. So if you’re not that scared of clowns, big whoop. In this 2017 version, It morphs into each child’s darkest fear – exactly like a boggart – switching from clown to leper to creepy-Picasso-painting woman to another character’s father.
I sort of have a unspoken rule when it comes to horror films that I think most people agree with: Don’t. Show. The. Monster. Cheap CGI and special effects are the fastest way to lose your audience and emasculate your monster. But that was not the case in this film. IT did not skimp on the animation budget, not one little bit.
I’m not going to spoil the movie plot anymore than I have, but I will say that this film is worth its salt.
Although the IT miniseries debuted in 1990, the book was released in 1986. The 2017 film is set in 1980s like the novel, which seems to fall in line with new wave 80s horror. It Follows (2015) is perhaps my favorite example of this genre; although, the director claims the film is anachronistic and inspired by one of his recurring nightmares. While Stranger Things (2016) isn’t technically horror, or a movie for that matter, it certainly says something for the popularity of the 80s resurgence in film. And I can’t wait to see what follows.
Whether you’re feeling a little stagnant or just want to try something new, it’s never too late to discover untapped facets of your city.
1. Swallow your pride
In a place like New Orleans (my city), it’s hard not to get defensive when a tourist shows us something we didn’t already know about. Down here, we really pride ourselves on our ability to recommend the best restaurants, bars and music spots. But, if you really want to learn something new about where you live, you have to let that pride go. Live with the curiosity of an explorer, and don’t shut people down just because they’re not from your city. They just may offer you something life-changing.
2. Take a tour
I used to roll my eyes at the tourists who went on alligator tours, but it’s hard to deny how amazing this experience is once you’ve seen a 12-foot alligator jump six feet in the air and snatch a chunk of raw chicken out of a man’s hand.
I thought I knew everything about the Treme until I took a Segway tour. While I knew all of the facts our docent listed off, I’d never gone “off-roading” in Louis Armstrong Park before. And it was one of the most fun experiences of my life, mostly because of the Segway. Learning how to ride that thing was hard at first, but it was such a unique way to see my city.
3. Change your route
I always notice new murals, restaurants, and popups when I take different routes. Yes, the same routes are comfortable, and probably have less congestion, but when you’re not in a hurry, change it up! You’ll be amazed at what you find.
4. Revisit your favorite childhood spots
You went to the zoo and aquarium a million times as a kid, right? Surely, it hasn’t changed that much? Think again. How old are you now? Believe it or not, you’re all grown up now and the zoo probably isn’t what you remember. More importantly, returning to these places can fill us with a sense of child-like wonder and leave us inspired for weeks.
5. Rent a hotel or bed & breakfast
Our mood can improve just by getting away from regular routines and environments. Find a place in your favorite part of town or an area you don’t know very well. While you’re there, go to an unfamiliar restaurant. Unplug from technology and responsibility over the weekend.
6. Find solace in nature
Nothing makes me feel happier than being on the water – it’s like coming home. The second I feel that salty breeze through my hair, the stress of the work week just melts away. But you don’t have to go on the water to find your happy place or discover a different side to your city. Try exploring local hiking trails and state parks in your area. For me, that means heading into the swamp and hurtling alligators!
For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary. Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.
Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?
The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.
Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.
I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.
As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.
It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.
I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.
Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that. If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.
My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.
The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.
It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.
Getting stuck in a cycle of anxiety/depression is the absolute worst. Food, socializing and everything that normally gives you pleasure, suddenly feels like a chore. But there are a few ways you can break the cycle and start enjoying life again.
1. Stop thinking about yourself.
Some people think of others so often that they neglect themselves, and some people have the opposite problem. Once you’re there, it feels nearly impossible to break out of this introspective, anxiety-fueled cycle (see that one time you smoked too much pot in college). Taking small steps to put that thought power toward someone or something else can help you break free from overanalyzing and the negative self-talk.
2. Quit boredom.
As children we’ve had all sorts of fantasies about the future. But did you ever imagine that one day we’d all be walking around with little hand-held devices? Devices with the ability to communicate instantaneously, with internet access, or devices that allow us to play games anywhere at anytime?
There’s really no excuse to be bored, ever. But if you find yourself feeling listless, try to find out why in this world of endless capabilities you can’t find a single thing to occupy your time. Start reading, blogging, running, cooking, or [insert passionate hobby] again. Try something new or learn an unfamiliar skill. You will discover things about yourself you wish you’d known years ago.
3. On that note, just put the phone down altogether.
Anxiety and depression without an outlet is exactly what leads to boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Spend hours online looking at other people’s lives. You see some of your friends hanging out without you, and now you feel slighted and sad. You see that random girl from high school just got engaged, and she looks so damn happy. Next, you open your sad Tinder app, stare at the list of underwhelming strangers, and begin typing.
Try texting that group of “traitorous” friends instead. Or catch up with your parents, skype a friend in another city, plan a much-needed vacation or day trip you can look forward to. Find ways to redirect your energy towards something that will reap real rewards.
4. Exercise (I’m sorry!).
Personally, this is my least favorite way to break the cycle, but it is also the most effective. The reason I dislike this one, or at least in the beginning, is because I immediately feel how long I’ve neglected my body.
Me running all of a sudden: Oh wow, yeah, I can barely run a mile without stopping or having an asthma attack in the middle of the street.
Me 2 hours later: Oh wow, I feel great. I am an actual goddess. Watch me conquer the world. Endorphhhhhhins.
It hurts at first, which is why you should set realistic, achievable goals. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a 5k. Just take it one day at a time and keep building on the foundation you create. The only one putting pressure on you, isyou.
Eventually, you’ll find your anxiety and depression taking a back seat to the work you put in. The important thing here is to create a routine and regimen you can stick with. If you have athletic friends, step outside of your comfort zone and ask to work out with them. More than likely they will be excited to see you making positive changes and offer guidance. Plus, the accountabil-a-buddy system goes a long way.
5. Get some sleep.
Sleep deprivation is the number one contributor to my shitty moods, that and a lack of routine. Without stability, your sleep schedule fluctuates along with your mood, which feels like playing the emotional lottery. Some days you wake up feeling great, others, you wish you could crawl under the desk with a human-proof shield. If you’re particularly prone to mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, it is crucial to get this part of your life under control. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body over time, and it’s not pretty.
Exercise acts as a natural sleep aid. Turn off your devices, throw on the white noise or a meditation track, turn the air down, read for a while, and wait to climb in the sack when you really feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Once you fix your sleep cycle, your mood should improve significantly.
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