What this post is really about is the third annual Rising Tide Conference in New Orleans, set to happen this weekend.
But first I want to talk about a dream I had last week, most of which was forgotten the instant I woke up. The part I do remember has stuck with me ever since, and yes, it is related to Rising Tide, so bear with me.
Ashley Morris was in that dream, the part I remember. I say he was in the dream to emphasize that it was not a dream about Ashley. In the spirit of “a vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend,” let me just say up front: I never met Ashley, and I intend no misappropriation or trivialization of his memory. The extent to which I knew him, compared to that of others who knew, loved, worked and fought alongside, him was fairly slight. It centered around a shared obsession that we two and a few others blogged about for an all too brief bit of time. As it happened, that brief bit of time was at the very end of Ashley’s life, which amplified my experience of knowing him. In that Internet relationship way of valid but skewed immediacy, our friendship was 5 miles deep and about 3 feet wide.
That said, that slice, that appetizer, of Ashley, was enough to get me hooked. It was strong-tasting stuff, Ashley was nothing if not intense. It was evident even from a distance. A good man with a big heart and a lot of righteous zeal, and not a little bit of anger at the ready to smite the fucking fuckmook fuckers who betrayed anyone and anything to which he was devoted; he was all that, and a little twisted.
And now that he’s gone, he remains, for me anyway, a symbol. I have one of those iconic pictures of him (taken by his brother-in-arms Ray Shea) tacked on the wall in my office.
I put it up there during a bad patch. I had to fight my share of fuckmooks this year. It sucked and it earned me no popularity points but I was right, I knew it, and I persevered and ultimately won my tiny little war. That photo, in a little “power corner” with some other totemic objects and images, helped me keep my focus.
The picture also always reminded me of something or someone…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, then one day I realized what it was. The pose, the striped shirt! It was Artie. The Strongest Man in the World! from that long-gone gem, The Adventures of Pete and Pete. A more (or less) ordinary looking guy, kind of a spaz really, that just happened to be a superhero, Artie was on the lookout to protect kids everywhere with his odd assortment of superhuman powers. He once helped Pete beat up the Atlantic Ocean, revenge for allowing summer to end.
And that’s what Ashley remains for me, a bit of a legend, an ordinary superhero, a motivator to fight the good fight, to remember that people do have the power, we can be heroes, a call to action. Which brings me to the dream.
It was one of those tedious dreams full of seemingly pointless details, things I had been worried about in waking life, which in the dream seemed critically important and loaded with portent, but tedious and neverending at the same time, sort of like a loop of worrying. Then I looked out my window and saw a man in my back yard. I walked out onto the porch and recognized Ashley. In the dream, I knew he was dead, I assumed he was a ghost, but he looked pretty damned corporeal. He was holding something in his arms, clear in the dream but I can’t remember what it was. Maybe a child, or a cat or dog? I ran down the steps toward him, to give him a hug. As I got closer, from out of nowhere, in the way dream action can happen, he pulled out a shovel. One of those big square flat ones, for shoveling snow, or manure. I remember wondering in the slowmotion climax of the dream…just maybe, since he was a ghost, maybe that shovel he was swinging wasn’t really real.
It was. And he hit me in the face with it.
There wasn’t an iota of real violence or aggression implied, even in the dream. It was very cartoonlike, ala Coyote and Roadrunner. Or Tom and Jerry. Complete with sound effects.
Then, I woke up. Entirely appropriate because that’s what I take Ashley’s appearance in the dream to be: a wake up call. My subconscious’ way of saying, “Whatever all this is supposed to mean, fuck it. This stuff isn’t what’s important. Wake the fuck up!”
There’s a Buddhist story about a rich, vain woman seeking enlightenment. She tries all the usual shortcuts, then eventually someone tells her about the inevitable old guru on the top of the mountain. She clambers and climbs up the mountain in her finery and finds herself standing in front a wise old woman. She begs the old crone for the key to enlightenment. “Are you sure?” the old woman asked. Of course, the seeker vigorously assures her, she is ready to receive enlightenment. The crone shrugs, then instantly turns into a screeching demon, shrieking, “Now! Now! Now!” She chases the terrified pilgrim down the mountain, hollering, “Now! Now! Now!” every step of the way. The point being that true enlightenment is always right in front of us. Right now is where we can start. Right now, in this minute, there’s much to do.
Which brings me back to Rising Tide. Katrina hit the Gulf Coast three years ago. To most people going about their lives, sitting in front of their televisions, worrying about their own stuff, the disaster was over after a few weeks, when the water finally went down, when the news cameras left. In New Orleans, Katrina is still right now. Even after the changes that three years have brought, right now is a disaster. Entire communities disappeared. Families torn apart, spread all over the country. Schools, housing, crime, corruption, failure of government. The levees. The fucking levees, inadequate before, being rebuilt at great cost, still inadequate.
There is much to do now, and when tomorrow and next month, and next year are now, in New Orleans there will still be much to do, and there will still be people in New Orleans doing it. Mostly all by themselves. Ordinary superheroes, like Ashley was, getting up every day and facing now. Some of them are part of the amazing NOLA blogging community.
Rising Tide started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the city when a small group of New Orleans, La.-based bloggers decided to expand their on-line advocacy for the rebirth of New Orleans into a public event.
Easier said than done, but they did it. And this year, they’re doing it again. Without Ashley this time — I’ve heard through the grapevine that his absence has been keenly felt.
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re interested in Internet community, the netroots, online activism. That’s what Rising Tide is about. So, in Ashley’s honor, in his memory, if you haven’t thought much about New Orleans lately, please allow the NOLA bloggers to hit you in the face with a big cartoon shovel.
We will come together to dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a “real life” demonstration of internet activism as we continue to recover from a massive failure of government on all levels
Especially if you’re not in New Orleans, pay attention to what happens there this weekend, what comes after that. Watch the videos, bookmark the blog, drop them some cash, go get John Barry’s book, get familiar with the NOLA blogroll. They are on the front lines, hitting the world in the face with their shovels, trying to make it wake up and see that things are not over down in New Orleans.
You’re not going to get this stuff from Anderson Cooper, folks. This is happening right now. Three years high and rising.