Back in March, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in an amazing sanctuary space amidst a temporary art installation in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It's hard to explain what the Forest of the Future was, but for some background you can read the curator/producer Quito's statement about it here. It really gives a good background of how they just wanted to make a magical space to bring together a bunch of the visionaries they've met in their world travels, see what connections and catalyzing could happen, and that space was a forest.
I’ve been working on this post for a couple of weeks and I’m still not totally done with the sentiment. But in the efforts of not being a perfectionist, here it is! More thoughts on the hurricane to come, I’m sure.
I was just telling someone about my experience living through the Loma Prieta earthquake when I was 10 and that I was less scared during that than I was during Hurricane Sandy. I was raised with earthquakes and disaster drills so I knew what to expect from it and what to do. I was home alone and I weathered it pretty well and waited patiently for my mom to get home from class.
I didn’t grow up with crazy weather and last year’s preparation for Hurricane Irene was the first time I had ever prepared for a storm. I mean, a lot of it is similar to growing up with earthquakes. Having an emergency earthquake kit on hand is just something we did as California kids. I remember having to bring a separate one for school each year to keep in our homeroom. The addition of filling up the bathtub with water is new and interesting disaster preparedness.
So the hurricane came in and I left my house on Sunday before the MTA shut down and I wasn’t going to get to go anywhere. It was just to a coffee shop to work on my book but I figured it was better to stave off stir crazy if we did get stuck in bad weather. Thought I didn’t really believe we would, I’m glad I took that break.
I hunkered down alone. My wonderful roommate was off visiting her sweetie in Philly and I have three pets and my apartment isn’t in a flood zone so it seemed like a safe thing to do. I have all of this Girl Scout wilderness survival skill and I don’t worry about crises and emergencies. One of my favorite sayings is “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” This philosophy works for me about 90% of the time unless it’s about dating.
About 24 hours after the subways shut down the storm really settled in. Everything was rattling, windows, the kitchen cabinets. It was sort of terrifying. I also felt like I was starting to get sick so I just crawled into bed and tried to rest a lot and drink tea.
Eventually my internet went out which was awful because that was where I was feeling social support. Constant updates on my friends’ Ariel Speedwagon and Sarah Jenny’s awesome alternate news network plus other folks’ updates about their safety and sentiments in the storm.
So I was alone and feeling isolated in my apartment, calling my best friend in California periodically to get reassured and watching TV to distract myself.
The next morning in my neighborhood wasn’t so bad. Tons of branches and leaves everywhere, a couple of fallen trees but not much happened that was catastrophic. But something felt very unsettled.
The news began pouring in about the devastation throughout Brooklyn. Red Hook, the Rockaways, Lower Manhattan, New Jersey. Dis/abled and elderly folks stuck in high rise buildings with no electricity or running water. Disaster after disaster.
I couldn’t shake my anxiety for a couple of weeks afterward. I felt scattered and weird. It was awful. My roommate came back to town and shifted into full-on community organizing gear. She was coordinating donation pick-ups and drop offs, getting volunteers out to the Rockaways. It was incredible to experience. Ariel Speedwagon came over one day and kept creating amazing round-ups of where to donate money and where to volunteer. She’s a pro at information dissemination.
I could signal boost information and I could cook for people. So that’s what I did. Somehow pouring love into the universe in whatever way I could was how I could help.
I guess I’ve been slow to write this post because I was waiting for the aha moment of why I got so anxious after the storm. I think some of it was how connected human beings are–in Brooklyn we were literally surrounded by devastation. Some of it was the mistake I made of weathering the storm by myself. I can be confident and independent to a fault sometimes. I think having someone to be with during the storm I probably would have felt a lot more secure. It felt similar to the time I had emergency surgery when I was 22 years old and I told my mom not to bother coming out, but when I woke up from the surgery alone I knew it was a huge mistake.
I think some of it was feeling really trapped. The subways weren’t working yet, we were just able to go as far as we could walk (since I don’t have a bike). And the gas shortages were freaky. We were okay, thankfully, but we couldn’t really leave.
I gave up on Halloween entirely and went to bed at 8PM that night. The next week we had a Nor’Easter snowstorm and it just felt so weird.
Some things were so odd. Like how Park Slope seemed “Business as usual” within a week of the storm but folks were still without power in so many other places. And in spite of the gas shortage people were still driving around.
The gas stations stopped having gas, they just ran out. Then when they would get gas there would be these hours long lines to fill up. The NYPD started doing gas rationing at the stations–it was full-on martial law at the pump for a couple of weeks.
When we found out that the gas shortages were going to continue because so many refineries were affected by the storm and you could only buy gas every other day. I told Damien, “What if the Mayan calendar is right and it really is the end of the world?”
“Well, then I guess people should be having more sex,” she answered. I think it’s a good response. Go have more sex, folks!
Things aren’t back to normal yet. I was at a Butch Burlesque hurricane relief fundraiser this past Saturday night and someone who has been doing a ton of relief volunteering got up to talk about what is going on with the relief efforts. That the Red Cross was only just then getting to the Rockaways. That they really need day care services because kids can’t go to school. That they only just got power back. That’s three weeks after the storm, with no power, isolated in the aftermath.
That benefit was the first time I went into Manhattan since the storm. I hadn’t even gone further than Williamsburg prior to Wednesday. It’s been a slow recovery process. I’m still not sure what’s left to come.
You can donate money or time to Occupy Sandy. Grass-roots on the ground volunteers are really effective in the post-Sandy recovery.