Thursday, September 01, 2005

The story of life.

I have never been to New Orleans. Most of my adult life, it's been one of my top five US cities I've wanted to visit. The rich history alone makes it attractive, but along with that the jazz, the French Quarter, all those charming aspects of the Big Easy as seen in movies or through books have called to be enjoyed.

I have never been to New Orleans, and I now have to believe that should I finally get the chance, it will not be the New Orleans that drew me all these years. I have learned that in this modern age of instant images, it is best for me to leave the television off. The scenes shown on my local nightly news are more than enough to let me know the scope of the heartbreaking devastation to the area, and the hardship and suffering of those in the hurricane affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Watching our Green Bay Packer QB Brett Favre, whose childhood home was destroyed in the wrath that is Katrina, puts a personal face on the destruction. He is one of Wisconsin's icons, MVP many times, tough as nails, threw a touchdown after spraining his ankle---just stunned at the decimation of all the places he knew. He told of family going to the roof, of brothers trying to get his 90 year old grandma to rooftop safety.

There are other faces, thousands of them, equally affected with equally heartrending stories. Though I've avoided most of the telecoverage, I've heard of the images of looting and violence in the wake of the storm. We need stories also of strangers pulling together for someone whose story they hear. One story revolves around a woman I've never met, Jlyne Hanback. She and her family live near Biloxi, and they left when warned, but thought it would be short term and ran out of gas, leaving her stranded in her car with her husband and three kids. No food, nothing. At last report, Jlyne and family were finally out of Biloxi, on their way to Tennessee and safety. How did I hear Jlyne's story? She's a regular poster on a scrapbooking website I visit, two peas in a bucket.

Another story I've heard is one of indomitable spirit in the wake of utter destruction. Dianne de las Casas is a storyteller from New Orleans. I know Dianne from another internet community, the storytell listserv hosted by Texas Women's University. However, I've also had the pleasure of meeting Dianne, as she has attended the Northlands spring conference the last couple years. Dianne is full of energy, a dynamo of ideas about marketing what we can offer, and generous to a fault in sharing her ideas. She and her family had to evacuate New Orleans, leaving with only the bare essentials. She is being told not to expect to come back to her home, or whatever might be left of her home, until at least December. Her kids have enrolled in the schools where they are staying for now. Dianne, unlike me, earns her sole income as a storyteller. Most of her work is in the New Orleans area. Most of her bookings have obviously been cancelled. Through it all, Dianne continues to share her experiences, maintain her ArtsBiz e-newsletters, and look for the positives in a horrific situation.

The stories of both these women have touched people who don't even know them. The scrapbooking community has pulled together on behalf of Jlyne. People are searching through their magazines to set aside those with designs she's had published, since all of hers were lost. Collections are being taken to help them buy the basics they need. Companies with products are stepping forward to help her rebuild the studio in which she creates her art.

The storytelling community is working on behalf of Dianne and other tellers to help them keep on telling. Folks are offering to send cash donations to PTOs in the area she has resettled for now, to allow schools to book her for performances. Northlands Storytelling Network is looking into serving as a financial agent for any kind of donations or benefit performance monies that might be collected. In the generous spirit of the storytelling community, the Story Tsunami movement that raised relief funds through voluntary storytelling events all over the world after the tsunami last winter is being mobilized once again to raise funds.

Anytime disaster hits, most people allow their inherent goodness to kick in, once they find a way they can help. Instead of the stories of wanton looting, let's tell the stories of neighbor helping neighbor--even if those "neighbors" have never met and live in different states.


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