I named my blog’s address postkatrinastella, which for some people begs the question, “Who was prekatrinastella?” Well . . .
- WHO WAS I?
- WHAT IS THIS BLOG ABOUT? . . . (and how did postkatrinastella come about?)
- WHO AM I NOW ?
I was born into an old-line New Orleans family, here since 1763, and steeped from birth in Classical music, art and literature, foreign travel, and New Orleans culture. And by New Orleans culture, I mean as it was before tourism, when food, music, architecture and history, Catholic ritual, government scandal and mischief, and everyday sensuality the way the upper 48 1/2 don’t seem to grasp, were things we lived and breathed in our living rooms, and no one had ever thought of putting them on Bourbon Street t-shirts. It’s hard to describe to someone how formidable an identity comes of being a 250-year New Orleanian.
Then there are the 25 years in academia, first getting a BA and MS in psychology, with music and art always somewhere in the wings, which led to a great job at the VA hospital doing PTSD work with Vietnam veterans, then shifting gears, going about 3/4 of the way through a PhD in cultural anthropology after giving in to my love for French Louisiana’s complex culture and getting serious about documenting the life of my Cajun grandmother. Then of course, there are the swirling social circles and romances that go with campus life, largely spent (except during a 7 year marriage to a law professor) in New Orleans’ wonderful blues and R&B dives. I still don’t know how I made the grades I did.
Add to that a penchant for the kind of grand adventure that most girls don’t do, like finding a decrepit old mansion to restore and excavate and get put on the historic registry, and taking off to Nova Scotia in a live-in research vehicle, finding my grandmother’s ancestors in every archaeological museum, research facility and archive there was, camping beside creeks that ran through land that had once been their settlements, and writing, writing, writing.
Now, imagine as a foundation to all this, inspiring everything I became and accomplished, a magical grandmother whose great love for her only grandchild was marked not only by stability and joyful mayhem, but also protection from the train wreck that was my parents’ concept of parenting.
Then my grandmother died, Katrina hit, and the family’s financial portfolio disappeared with the swipe of a lawyer’s pen. And life as I had known it, together with my planned financial future, came to a close.
The ensuing string of deaths and losses took away many things, but pertinent to writing, it took away the space I needed for privacy to write in and keep my library of research materials in (put in storage, not ruined, thank goodness), and for 6 subsequent years of stressful post-Katrina construction management across 3 houses (1 mine, 2 my new husband’s) and two incompetent ‘contractors’, it took away the time and concentration to write, as well as the peace of a budding new marriage before it could even get off the ground. But it’s more than that. It’s hard to describe what it’s like, having your heart and soul, and the identity of what you thought your life’s purpose was supposed to be, freeze in suspended animation for so long that it doesn’t feel like a hiatus anymore, but more like the way things are gonna be til your life is done; to feel kinda dead except for the fact that the task at hand keeps putting your feet one in front of the other. I know my youth died, and my good will toward people was severely tested.
WHAT IS THIS BLOG ABOUT? . . . (and how did postkatrinastella come about?)
By the end of 2011, though, Post-Katrina Stella began to rise from the ashes as my life started to become my own again, my things came out of storage, and a good writing environment began to take shape around me once more. Katrina shifted the perspective of my writing, however, adding a new urgency to it. By shining a spotlight on my impermanence on this earth, it brought home the fact that, being an only child of an only child of an only child, and never having had kids, I was really, really the end of the line. And if I didn’t put our story out there, my life, my marvelous grandmother’s life, and our remarkable relationship, and the breath-taking body of family heirlooms, documents and stories I have inherited, things that tell my family’s story many generations back, would fade into the wind like so many other people’s lives and memories had faded into the flood waters.
So in 2012, I created a blog, started photographing the family pieces, and began putting my memories and my family’s South Louisiana world online, vignette at a time, in no particular order except as inspiration hit. It was meant to be an autobiography, a one-sided communication, at first.
. History meets art . It wasn’t long before my love of history combined with a second major theme in my life, the visual arts. My photos started looking like still-life groupings, assemblages that told a cohesive story. I had tried my hand at found-art wall sculptures twice before, when circumstances after Katrina put two collections of objects in front of me; the first in ’06 when my mother’s husband sent me a box of broken miscellany that I recognized as my grandfather’s, found in with my recently-deceased mother’s things, and the second in ’08 when I excavated the piles of dirt dug up by the foundation guys who were raising my husband’s 120-yr-old house.
Friends liked them, and liked how I wrote about them in my blog, and suggested that I use found-art as the venue for making my blog relevant to a wider audience, sharing the process of putting my things into works of art and encouraging others to do the same with theirs. Because, while the community of New Orleans history lovers is limited, it’s a much wider population of people who will one day, like I did, have to clean out their parents’ or grandparents’ home, attic, basement, barn, workshop, closets, drawers, etc. and find things that sweep them up onto a wave of nostalgia. Also, like myself, there are many who don’t have to inherit someone else’s things to have their own boxes of memorabilia in every closet of the house, things they never see but refuse to throw away. A craze of googling found-art pieces showed me something interesting. While there were some real masterpieces out there that required serious artistry, I was finding wonderful pieces that could be made by people with no more artistic training than how to use glue, a piece of wire, or a screw if they had just a little artistic guidance from someone with an eye, like me. You see, to my view, these are not so much traditional visual arts, products of artistic know-how and talent, as they are intellectual creations, products of our memories and cerebral associations. And frankly, I think these pieces look really sophisticated up on a wall, speaking as they do of the complex works of art that are the human beings whose stories they tell. As a conversation piece, how fun would it be for a doctor, lawyer, teacher, business person, working man or woman to be able to show the piece to friends and explain it as intimately as if they were the creator, because they were. And what a privilege it would be for me to help someone create such a piece of deep, personal meaning for themselves.
. ….. meets therapy . It was around this time that a third major theme in my life, psychological self-examination, found its way comfortably into the mix, as working with the memories of my life tapped into the occasional dark demon. Most people have… oh… one or two. Being afraid of all things ‘avoidance’, I relished the potential curative power that revisiting these demons now, in such a peaceful, solitary and non-confrontational setting, could hold for me, and decided to include in my blog a platform for art therapy, my own form of it anyway, sharing these thoughts with you and inviting you to do the same.
- WHO AM I NOW?
A new lifestyle has risen from the ashes of 2004/05, my 47th year. It doesn’t look the same, isn’t in the same house or with the same people, and doesn’t find me out and about in my beloved city as much. But I still have many of the family things I grew up with, my closest and oldest friend (the only one who never left New Orleans), my sense of purpose (back with a vengeance as something more deeply honorable than anything I ever thought I’d find after leaving my work with my beloved Vietnam veterans), and the space, time, and concentration to fulfill that purpose. Something I didn’t have before is a venue, my blog, that is instantaneously public, unlike the novel format I was previously working in, having no idea whether I would find an agent, get published, yada yada, and even if I did, be read and remembered. But foremost among what is new is my husband… my patient, kind husband… and my new home with him in old uptown New Orleans 2 blocks from the Mississippi River (and 10′ above sea level). We married during the months in between my grandmother’s death (yes, she did get to know him first, and adored him; flirted like there was no tomorrow) and Katrina (yes, she died peacefully in her own bed at 99 and was dancing in the clouds, safely back in Granddaddy’s arms again, by the time Katrina hit).
It is a fortunate life in a fascinating 1892 house with a lush sprawling garden where I write, set up photoshoots of the things I’m writing about, make found-art assemblages of mementoes, ancestral and current, and garden as the recluse that I am deliciously settling into being (what a social party creature I used to be!). My husband is an independent geologist who loves finding natural gas in the south Louisiana muck; a kind-hearted man who is patient with my artistic flights of self-absorption (look at that face; can’t you just see it?). A playful, gregarious man who loves cooking for friends, bicycling, fine cigars, and the 3 grown sons he lost all at once when they evacuated to Texas and forged new lives, he still manages to give me the solitude to write in my little moss-draped heaven under the oaks.
I tend the house as resident handyman, and when the mood strikes, take on a construction project around the house on a collection of table saws that, though ranking higher and higher on my I’m-Too-Old-For-This-Shit-o-meter (put up crown molding, hang a door, build a closet . . ), nevertheless give me great creative fulfillment.
I visit with my husband when his weavings in and out of his home office (brought home after Katrina put a 13-story crack up his downtown office building) coincide with mine, and jointly tend and commune with the five tuxedo cats we belong to. We have friends over for the occasional cookout, get kinda Saints nutty during football season, and do our best to keep in touch with my husband’s 3 sons and their families, the oldest of whom, with a little help from his wife, presented us with our first grandchild last year. And sometimes we travel.
But mostly, I write and work with the things that keep my grandmother alive and with me every day, bringing my laptop and photo shoots, and if possible, my found-art projects, to various comfy spots around the house and garden.
I hope to add to that . . . working with people I meet through my blog, getting to know them, and helping them create a piece of their own. So I invite you to join me. I am admittedly and unapologetically (well, maybe a little apologetically) a direct person who doesn’t see life through shallow glasses, as it were, but if you are willing, I will be so much the richer for knowing you, and will try to bring richness to your life.