Monday, February 23, 2009

Write what’s in front of you.

I'm sitting in my morning spot. I get up before the sun, make a cup of coffee and sit for hours, getting up only when nature calls. And even that I postpone as long as possible.

On my lap is a cool new 'lap desk' with a hole in the center that helps to keep my laptop from burning my left thigh as it did for the many months before I found the foam and cardboard wonder. I lean back, legs raised, in an Ethan Allen recliner. It has maroon cushions and cherry wood armrests wide enough to hold my cup of coffee. There are wooden slats on each side - arts and crafts style. It is one of six matching pieces of furniture in this, my living room.

As odd as it sounds this furniture, or the thought of this furniture, helped ground me during a difficult, sleepless night back in fall of 2005; I was trying to sleep on a cot in a giant, noisy tent that slept fifty or more. It was a tent city in Baton Rouge LA and it had been built by FEMA to house Katrina relief workers. The National Health and Human Services had picked me as one of the thousands who had volunteered. I felt like I had hit the lottery.

The summer before, Pat and I decided it was time to get rid of the collection of hand-me-downs and Goodwill treasures that had served us well for many years. We were both professionals, after all, and wasn’t it time we had a set of matching living room furniture? It was to be delivered while I was away.

As I lay there the first night, feeling silly in my nightgown, (how did everyone else know to bring pajamas?) I was sure I wanted to be there but oh, so unsure I’d be competent to the next day’s tasks. But, instead of fretting, I thought about what the furniture would look like in my living room. I placed and moved each piece in my head as I tried to fall asleep. It helped me remember I had a living room. A living. A room. A house and a home to return to. Gratefully, I fell asleep.

Gratefully I went to work the next day, and the day after that, sharing my skills and giving my heart to people of all ages, status, and genders in shelter after shelter full of grieving, newly homeless victims of devastation that was not only the result of the natural disaster named Katrina, but also local and federal government ineptitude.

I finished my stint, a peak experience in my life, but I was not the same person

when I returned home. I had a renewed appreciation for the vulnerability and preciousness

of life, a new found respect for the constant fight to prevent entropy and chaos and incompetence from reigning.

And in truth, I was almost surprised to find new furniture in my living room when I returned, so far from my past, from my life, had I roamed in those two short weeks.

My ten minutes are up. Interesting where the prompt to “write what’s in front of you” has taken me…


  1. I love this quick look into your time with the Katrina aftermath. And the connection with the living room furniture is great. I would love to hear more about this experience...what people did you help? Did you spend much time with them? Do you remember their names? Its so jolting to experience such loss and realize how much you actually have. The only positive in situations like that...

  2. This is interesting, Janice. I thought for sure that you'd end this piece with a reflection like, "And I felt so guilty for having nice things when victims of Katrina had nothing." Your conclusion was more fascinating than that. This focus on valuing your home helps you understand what the victims of Katrina have gone through. To have established a home, quite possibly with great living room furniture that comforted them in the same way it comforts you, and to have that home obliterated.

  3. Yes, I agree with Emily that the ending is what is the most interesting. I would love to have seen a vivid scene of your time down south as juxtaposition to what you came home to.

  4. It is interesting to see where the prompt took you. I think this could be a longer piece about your experience with Katrina and helping the people there. And I agree with the above comments--your conclusion is refreshing and interesting and worth exploring more.


Please feel free to jot down your thoughts. I would appreciate knowing your reaction if any, to what I've written, and/or your feedback on how I've written it. I am actively trying to be a better writer.