It’s been supremely weird being stuck here in upstate New York for the last nine days while the world falls apart. We’ve got spotty radio reception, no TV, only the occasional New York Times, and a slow dial-up connection, so my ability to comprehend the enormity of the Katrina disaster is severely curtailed.
I think I’m a bit of a disaster junkie, and the hurricane — like last year’s tsunami — is especially nightmarish: that idea of water — pure, live-giving, necessary — being the cause of so much death and destruction.
What’s especially frustrating for me is not being able to actually see footage of the flooding, to get a visceral sense of what is going on down there. Somehow the stories and the still photos in the paper and on the Internet don’t do it for me, don’t put me on the scene, where I can imagine it actually happening. There is a sort of scopophilic attraction to this, a perverse pleasure in seeing something awful, but I hope there’s something more as well. After all, I’ve been to New Orleans, I spent a week there, being a tourist and visiting friends. So I crave that kind of personal connection because it allows me a way to imagine myself there — now. Through that comes understanding, empathy, the drive to do something, to help in whatever way I can. Even if it’s something as mundane — and necessary — as donating money to a relief organization.
One advantage to this sort of isolation has been a refreshing absence of spin. Seems like there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, a lot of analogies between this situation and others in the world, a lot of metaphors being slung about. My friend Rob Walker (writer of Titans of Finance and New York Times Magazine columnist, as well as former New Orleans resident) addresses one of them in particular — looting — in a piece he just posted on his website. It’s powerful, affecting writing, and I encourage you to check it out.