A World On Fire: Life And Death In A New Orleans Squat, my story that is in the current issue of The Boston Review, was featured on the WBUR program “Here and Now.” This was the only radio interview I did that included my daughter Marissa, and Marissa’s beautiful song “Windowsill.”
The interviewer Robin Young did a good job of blending the stories of the eight people who died in the warehouse squat fire, which is the centerpiece of this article, with her interest in what was happening between Marissa and me while she was traveling the county as essentially a young hobo. My daughter and I both heard in Ms. Young’s voice that was shocked by what she had read about the life of the young people who choose the rails over school and jobs. Many of Ms. Young’s questions were inflected by the sentiment of: How could you do this to your parents? or Why didn’t you stop her? It was surprising to be faced with those questions after all this time. Between my daughter and me, we’ve settled all of that.
The audio clip and a brief intro to the piece is still up on the WBUR website under the title “Inside The World of’ Travelers,’ Who Leave Home, Live As Squatters” The piece has stimulated a sparky conversation between those who have lived the way my daughter and her friends did, and people who disdain them.
Is this newsworthy because women are doing this now? Or is this just another helicopter-parenting freakout over “kids” who are legally adults?
That comment about helicopter parenting really gave me a laugh, as I bet it would anyone who knew me when I was raising my kids. My guess is the woman who commented didn’t read the story or she would have understood the very many things about this lifestyle that cause a parent to worry, even if that child is of legal age.
The comments I found the most interesting were from young people who are living this life, or used to. This one from Matthew Waldrop i caught my eye:
“I know that most of the people I have associated with that went down this destructive path were extremely passionate and intelligent people. I know that in this subculture there is a judgement and a general discontent for our society and a belief that the society itself is broken and a need to withdraw from it for whatever reason. A great number of people I have know however were extremely talented either musically, artistically and highly creative and yearning for a change in our world, wanting a better world. now whether living this type of lifestyle contributes to any type of recognized change I do not believe this to be the case. But in my own life my struggle to remain independent be myself and not conform to society or conform to another has left me better off. I am an entrepreneur, I am an artist and I have a thriving business that I raise my family from. I do not think that I would have the independence and freedom in my adult life that I now have if I did not come from the life I have led. I regret nothing.”
“I regret nothing,” is a comment I heard often when I was interviewing traveling kids in New Orleans. Disdain them if you will, my experience getting to know them showed me over and over again that this dangerous life is a choice they made freely.
Attaching here the interview with “Here and Now” and my daughter Marissa’s song “Windowsill.”
There was only a bit of “Windowsill” aired at the end of the interview. Of all the beautiful songs she’s written, this is one of my favorites. Evidently it has touched other people too. When she and I were walking in the French Quarter while we were working on this story, I often heard buskers playing “Windowsill” although I bet they didn’t know who wrote it. Marissa told me that one of the buskers in New Orleans loved the song so much, he hopped a train to Oakland and went directly to Marissa’s house to thank her for writing it.