A Retroactive Lesson in Memory, Forgetting, and Waste

I had this idea in the beginning of the semester but never wrote a blog post about it because I forgot amid the whirlwind of a semester; a lesson of remembering and forgetting that hits close to home. Nonetheless, I have my own personal experience with New Orleans that I think applies to our course concepts. Last spring, three of my friends and I drove the 20 hours down to New Orleans. Yes, the ride was long but the seventy-degree weather in the Gulf was an appreciated change from a Geneseo winter. While in New Orleans, though, I wasn’t really thinking about the city as a place where the country’s waste passes through. I was more interested in the unique architecture, storied history, wonderful weather, music, and culture rich foods, like prawns, jambalaya, and beignets. All of these aspects stood out much more than any negative connotation that accompanies the city r the devastation that occurred there. In so few words, waste wasn’t really on my mind during the vacation. I was unfortunately doing more forgetting than remembering.

While taking this class, I found myself reflecting on my stay in the Crescent City and my mindset while there. Before going, I watched documentaries about Katrina and did some brief research on the storm. This was in an effort to remember the people whose lives were changed by the storm; I didn’t want to forget the loss while making my own positive memories in the city, even though this is what the city ultimately made me do. While there, though, it’s hard to remember Katrina’s devastation amid the lively street music, balmy weather, and busy cafes. All of this occurs on the same streets that you would see on any Katrina documentary; even our hotel was about a ten-minute walk from the Superdome.

Despite this being a retroactive reflection, it still shows the real relevance of the “both/and” our course concept highlights: the churning tension between memory and forgetting. In addition, the reflection also made me realize how society deals with waste. While it may seem like waste is hidden by society, it can actually permit growth. To me, it almost seemed like New Orleans tried to hide what happened during Katrina; it was easy to forget the destruction while in the city. After thinking about it though, this destruction actually permitted growth, showing how waste can be used for fertilizer. It proved the city could rebound, allowing for the catastrophe to inspire music, art, and other cultural components that New Orleans’s residents could cling to post the storm; the culture of New Orleans didn’t drown with Katrina, rather, it adapted and was refined. Again, while we remember the evolution of New Orleans culture, we must also remember the loss of life that prompted such a change and this is what our discussions taught me. As with anything, there is always a both/and.

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