Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer For The Exiles

Pardon me for a moment, my mind's split in several directions, and not feeling well. It's not new, this split, it started on the day Katrina washed ashore blowing past present and future into a heap of shit. That's when my mind split in two, one half maintaining my useless body here in New York, the other half trying to pull it to the Gulf to find and help my family. It then split into thirds, when my mom and little brother evacuated, and I was left with New York, the Gulf, and the new North Carolina.
Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts, thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison...
And I should be in the Gulf right now, with my mom and little brother, using the Thanksgiving break to dig through the months-dried mud, sifitng for scraps to salvage and be thankful for. My mom's really hoping she'll be able to save her old vinyl collection, now that it's not so swampy in her trailer, and maybe the mold's not quite so aggressive. And she thinks she could get a FEMA travel trailer now, and the government will bulldoze her Eden and haul it away, for free even. But then she feels sad, she knows she's better off staying settled for now in North Carolina with the wonderful people who've helped so much there. And even more she knows that my little brother is better off up there, and feels doubly guilty again. Guilty for one that she's not surviving, barnacle steadfast, Cajun stubborn, alongside the others in the muck and speculation and slow grinding dread in the Gulf. And then again she feels guilty for feeling that guilt, the guilt of the exile, that she should be thankful for the oasis she's found herself in, and she is thankful, so thankful, but also guilty for it.
Thanks for the American Dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through...
And I'm thankful for all that I've been able to accomplish with a few photographs and some words, but guilty that I'm so far away, on hold. So far away in New York, bidding for an advertising job so my photographs can lure teens into buying more jeans, so I can make a big paycheck, so I can pay off the debt I have on my mom's destroyed Eden, so we can get back to zero again. But my gut nags at me and tells me to get the fuck back down to where I started from, to make pictures, not money, because somehow that might help more. Or will it just help me to stop feeling guilty?
Thanks for all the memories... all right, let's see your arms... you always were a headache and you always were a bore. Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

-Excerpts from William S. Burroughs, Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986. Watch Gus Van Sant's short film here.


Anonymous said...

I have never really figured guilt out. I'm still in that life long process. In the end, you should do what makes you happy, but as long as you have your head above water; with money I mean. Though it is not important like family, it enables us to get by. Just do what you think is right and the guilt will go away because your truth in feeling will come through, whatever it may be.

Crack Head said...

In a word, Thanks.

Not have a happy thanksgiving, but thanks. Thank you. You have given us something no one else could ever provide.

A direct lifeline of the daily reality for which none of us have any clue as how to deal with the pain and suffering you have all been through, and the so many others who now sit in Femaville, trying to piece together their lives.

Thanks, for giving us the gift of reality, and making us humble.

Thanks for your compassion. Your commitment to your family and those around you. Your willingness to take action.

We thank you and your family for being strong enough to share their life, struggle, and past history of growing up in the New Orleans area and what it means to all of you.

Thank you for sharing your guilt and pain and your love and courage. A mix of emotions that have touched each of us who have read your blog from day one and who are here standing along side of you.

We hear your heartfelt words and we thank you. We see your images of truth and we thank you.

Living in our bloated, false sense of security, we see the truth, and we thank you. Living day by day oblivious to what really matters.

Each other!

Let go of the guilt. It eats at the soul of things that have strength and courage for greater things. Don't let it fester like a cancer, consuming your every thought.

Instead, feed off of it and let it be your strongest trait. It allows you to push forward and make the choices you will need to make in order for you to take care of your family, yourself, and the so many others who you have already helped.

You have done more for these people than you can see.

Looking from the outside as an observer, I can see the waves you have created. On the internet, in the media, and in the lives of all the people you have met while trying to bring attention to their needs.

Remember, not having done anything at all would be something to feel guilty about.

Doing all that you have done and have yet to do for these people is the greatest thing anyone could ever do.

Be thank full for each other, and we thank you for giving us the most important gift of all. Your love for one another.

Have a happy thanksgiving, becaue we are thankfull for having you!

Without people like you, we sometimes forget what it is we are thank full for in the first place.

Each other.

Anonymous said...

Feel your guilt then let it go. Feeling guilty makes us know we are human and, as humans, we know that the guilt can also push us into action. Use it as you have been doing to bring the stories of the Katrina survivors to the world. To bring the stories of the devestation in Miss and LA to the world. This could happen to anyone, anywhere. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. And now I too have guilt: survivor guilt. I don't know if it was luck, karma, fate or God's will but I survived. My home survived. My family survived. All my pets, save one, survived. I am now unemployed and my home needs repair, but I survived! It is not my place to ask why, but to use my survival as a catalyst for moving forward, thankfully, and to help restore my great city of New Orleans. I am alone today due to family circumstances but I am using this day to reflect and meditate and think of where I will go from here. I look out my front door and all I see is mountains of trash and debris. But I am so thankful to have a front door to look out of that is mine! Today I will think of all those who are without, who are still in shelters or living in Fema trailers in their front yards or living in tents. My blessings go to you all! And to the many, many volunteers, police officers, firefighters and emergency workers go my thanks and deep admiration for all you sacrificed for us! And to you, Clay, thanks for being there when I was in exile waiting to come home. Your photographs and words meant more than you will ever know! May God bless you and your family and may you continue to do the work that is your passion!
Bayou Babe

Foose said...

Guilt, is something you should not fee. You are doing what you do, making the best out of a mess, doing you thing. You are helping, maybe not by digging in mudd up to your knees, with a mask over your face. But you are taking what you are good at, and making money to support your mother and brother. You should feel no guilt, you have no reason!! You have have helped you family so much in you own way. You love your mother and brother and It shows, so very much!! You have showed the people who have not been effected by Hurrican Katrina, just how much we have to be thankfull for. You give us the real point of view, you open they eyes of many to expose, how quickly your life can be changed, and the fight in which you have to fight to get it back. We should be thankfull for you, and showing all this to us. I hope you have a great Thanks Giving, with out the guilt!!
You are amazing, dont ever for get that!!

lawanna said...

i am thankful that my parents and brother are safe and sound. they are gonna go pass a good time down at les families just outside of lafitte and have some good ol turducken! my momma was telling me about the guilt she and my dad have been feeling----they are the more fortunate and only lost their fence and a tree. it will be a long time before itll feel back to normal.
amen for life! amen for folks that have the decided to rebuild and stay and amen for people who have a better life in a town far away from the big easy. last month i went into lakeview, the 9th ward and st benard and saw some BAD SAD sites. i cried all over those neighbourhoods. now i will no longer ask refugees when i meet them if they are gonna go back. but im glad my momma and daddy-o are alive and well in algiers, bra!

Annette Burkett said...

When your heart first told you that you wanted to take pictures, it didn't matter how much money you just went and did it because that's what gave you happiness and a feeling of self worth. When your pictures made you money, you thought making more money for the pictures you still love to take would make you happy. I say...listen to your heart and do what it tells you to do.

Pamela said...

I am sure I can help your Mom replace her vinyl collection if she can let me know what was in it. My best friend has the BIGGEST collection ever...literlly thousands. Of course I can not replace the sentimental value of the records, but it would be my privilege to help physically replace it.

Adrienne's Sister said...


Hello! Giving thanks always goes hand in hand with regret. It's just the way it is. Rainbow and rain.

To see what you have helped build and are continuing to help build, go to They have all sorts of information about what they are doing for Pearlington first, Hancock County second, and the rest of MS third.

I'm still working on my state's universities to get them to send money, people and things down to continue the recovery.

I've also started contact with a lady who is initiating a recovery center - to help coordinate efforts in MS. She thinks she'll be located in Biloxi, only due to geography and more access to communications. It may move. BUT - she is expecting it to stay open for 10 years. Something the rest of the country just doesn't get. And FWIW - she's from further upstate NY than I - Geneseo area.

This next week is going to be centered on talking local school systems into doing book drives for Hancock County schools. All of the libraries were lost, even if only 2 of the 5 buildings were completely destroyed. Including the public libraries.

People don't GET that the teachers are often times living IN the schools because they have no homes. One of these days, I'm hoping it clicks in peoples' heads. Or explodes. Either way is fine by me.

So - thank you for your drive and following your heart.

And remember - do what you love and the money will follow.