Thursday, September 09, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, I observed a couple of anniversaries that raised some mixed feelings. It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina devastated our beloved New Orleans and Gulf South, and it’s been one year since I joined the ranks of America’s unemployed.

(If anyone wants to know our Katrina story, it can be found in the archives of that time. Go to August 2005 in the archives in the sidebar of the blog, and then work your way up into September and beyond.)

About a year after the storm, we decided to move away from South Louisiana because the sparse services our son was getting before Katrina were nonexistent after. I left the practice of law and embarked on a new career path, working as a claims professional for a major insurance carrier. There was no reason to study for and sit through the bar exam up here; I had a good job in a related field.

Things went pretty well for a while, but then the economic collapse hit. It was a bad time to be employed in the financial services sector. When my position was eliminated, I thought my down time would be relatively short. After all, I lived in an area with lots of major offices for insurers, consulting companies, and other large corporations. What I hadn’t counted on was that my employer was not alone in scaling back. As one prospective employer told me on during an interview, “when we posted this position we had no idea there were so many of you guys out there.” I’ve lost count of the résumés that have gone out, but the result has been damn few interviews and no solid offers.

So lately I’ve had a lot to think about on the job front. Do I separate the family and return to Louisiana to practice law, while my wife and son remain here to continue the healing process? Do I invest time and money I don’t have into bar admission up here, with questionable job prospects for someone with no major connections and who’s been out of the game for a few years? Or do I look into yet another new career path?

Through it all, I have been able to maintain a sense of hope. Perhaps that is by virtue of being a New Orleanian in exile.

When we left Louisiana, we thought we could no longer call that part of the world our “home,” but we were wrong. We love living in the Chicago area, and we don’t picture pourselves moving back. But as the last few years have passed, we have realized what is meant by the expression that one is not “from” New Orleans, but rather one is “of” New Orleans. We miss the food, we miss the music, we miss the events, we miss the people, and we miss all of the little things that made it possible to live in what a truthful person has to admit was a banana republic (and please note my use of the past tense there).

We find ourselves reconnecting through television. Spike Lee’s documentaries on the disaster were spot-on. With Treme, the entertainment world finally got it right. Seeing our Saints’ journey last football season, along with the post-Super Bowl partying, made us yearn for home. And then there was the abundance of Katrina-related programming on television to commemorate the anniversary.

On occasional trips back home, we’ve done more than just fill up on the cuisine and listen to a few tunes. We’ve been able to see first-hand how the area is moving forward with its recovery. For a long time, it seemed like the entire populace still had the communal case of PTSD we saw in the year between the storm and when we moved away. Over time, though, we began to see and hear about changes we didn’t think possible.

Last spring, we saw for ourselves what Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation is doing to encourage affordable and sustainable housing in the Lower Ninth Ward. We’ve heard about Wendell Pierce’s Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation, and how it’s working to restore a historic neighborhood that the government was ready to write off. Now, the City is starting over with a new mayor who brings an added optimism for the future even as he honestly acknowledges the problems.

What we see in New Orleans is a place that is reinventing itself to preserve what’s worth saving by reinventing the way it does things.

And so it goes with me. If my old career paths aren’t working, I’ll find a new one. I’m searching for a position that can use the talents and skills (analysis and writing) I’ve worked hard to hone. (Any prospective employers are encouraged to use the email link in the sidebar on the right.)

Like New Orleans, I am embracing change to shape my future.