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Things fall apart

June 8, 2011

• it was unexpected;

• the person was unprepared; and

• there was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening

There are different kinds of trauma and there are a myriad of different causes of trauma, but those bullet points are the shared traits common to the experience of all psychological or emotional trauma. Some experts add a fourth bullet that almost seems unnecessary:

•it was overwhelming

To be traumatized is to be overwhelmed. Trauma is on the same continuum as stress, is often the culmination of multiple stresses, but where stress can be manageable, trauma is by definition unmanageable. Trauma is stress on steroids. I know I’m probably not telling anyone who went through Katrina and the aftermath anything they don’t already know.

The details of  how I ended up learning so much about trauma aren’t overly relevant here but the abbreviated version is that around five years ago, it blew my life apart, blew it up real good.  A fairly motley flock of mundane stressors in the life I shared with my then-spouse quietly began gaining on us both. Being the high-functioning overachievers we were, we managed the hell out of things. Till all of a sudden we got knocked down by something big. And then all of it, including all that crap we thought we were managing, caught up with us and that was it.

Last Mardi Gras, LaDonna was stressed, but managing. Really, really managing. Calling the shots and in control. Juggling bar, roof, kids, husband, ex-husband, search for Daymo, mother. Then they found Daymo. Still, she managed. Time, space, even the liturgical calendar would not get the best of LaDonna Batiste-Williams.

But then came the winter and the kid in the hoodie at the door.

LaDonna was only on screen for a few seconds this ep. Not surprisingly, since she doesn’t fit into these events anywhere. There’s no room for her out there. Like Ray’s friend said, “the world doesn’t grind to a halt because we got raped.”

I gasped out loud at this shot. She looks shrunken, aged, mentally ill, disabled even. Because she is.

via Julia Leyda’s Throw the Baby out The Window post:

The ultra-brief glimpses of Ladonna, ensconced in her comfy beige Baton Rouge sofa with her bucket-sized whiskey glass was all it took: I couldn’t get her out of my mind through the rest of the episode. She replaces Creighton as the embodiment of the city’s struggles this season.

Creighton was on that couch last year. I’ve been on that couch. So have you probably. Our various paths to that frozen spot don’t matter. We recognize that look, the fifty-yard stare, the sad attempt at trying to make your current state sound like a choice, like you have any choices left.

You don’t manage your way out of trauma. If you’re lucky, you get help to climb out of the hole. If you’re not, you stay in the hole. Or you die. Alcohol, drugs, suicide, heart attack, stroke, that’s just the top of the list of ways trauma kills. That shot, that blip in the midst of the moveable feast of Carnival Time, was the first time it hit me, like a ton of bricks, that LaDonna might not make it out of this.

  1. June 8, 2011 6:36 pm

    Larry thinks the same thing that you do. He left the boys with their father and went back to Baton Rouge to be with LaDonna.

    Very likely, among the other horrors eternally skittering on a wheel in her head is guilt — “It’s my own fault. Everybody told me to sell that bar and I wouldn’t. Look what I’m putting my family through now.” Along with, way down there, the knowledge that it is NOT her fault. These two are at war.

    The horror of these two is paralyzing. Only her glass puts it to sleep. But that doesn’t either.

    Love, C.

  2. June 8, 2011 7:59 pm

    You don’t manage your way out of trauma. If you’re lucky, you get help to climb out of the hole. If you’re not, you stay in the hole. Or you die.

    The harsh truth.

    This was brilliant, VT.

    I think a mid-season “Things Fall Apart” post should be an annual tradition .

  3. June 8, 2011 9:22 pm

    Time is weird on trauma. The distance offered by time helps sometimes. At others, it confuses. But, after a while, the bucket-sized whiskey glass doesn’t help, it doesn’t put you to sleep. It doesn’t work at all and causes other problems. And then you are left with yourself.

  4. Virgotex permalink
    June 8, 2011 9:56 pm

    Time becomes distorted because traumatic stress fucks up your cognitive functions.

    Therapist had me look up dates and construct a timeline on a roll of paper. That was trippy, compared to the memories of the events.

  5. Julia permalink
    June 8, 2011 11:22 pm

    hey i just came over here to leave y’all a link to my piece because i cited you! glad you dug my point about ladonna. she was really for me the absent center of the episode, along with toni / sofia at center stage.

  6. June 9, 2011 11:04 am

    Hello All
    I couldn’t readily find the contact information for the bloggers here, so I thought I would just post my question here and hope that some or all of you might respond to me. First, let me say that I just recently discovered your blog and I am really enjoying your coverage of the show. It’s smart and detailed.

    I teach film studies at East Carolina University and in the fall I am teaching a course on the American Film Musical. I will be devoting one class to the television musical and will have my students watch episodes of GLEE and TREME as two contrasting examples of how the television text can use music and successfully (or unsuccessfully) integrate it into the narrative. In order to have a useful discussion of TREME, I wanted to offer my students an accessible primer on New Orleans music, or at least New Orleans music as it is depicted in the show (they will only be watching a single episode of TREME).

    I know very little about music and even less about New Orleans music, so I was wondering if any of you could point me towards a useful article, blog post or website on the subject, that will help illuminate TREME’s music for them. That article may actually appear on this blog–if it does, my apologies! I haven’t been able to look through this entire site yet.

    Thanks in advance for any help you might offer. My e-mail address is:

    Thank you

  7. June 9, 2011 11:11 am


    The Sound Of Treme blog run by Tulane music professor, Matt Sakakeeny, is a good place to start as is NPR’s A Blog Supreme.

    Our contact information is in the page called The Krewe.

  8. June 9, 2011 11:30 am

    Amanda, also don’t miss Treme music supervisor Blake Leyh’s blog Ten Thousand Things. His email is listed on the blog, so reach out to him.

  9. June 9, 2011 11:32 am

    Thank you so much for the quick replies! These blogs will be very useful for both me and my students. Now for the difficult task of selecting the episode I want to show them!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  10. June 9, 2011 11:37 am

    Don’t be a stranger!

  11. June 9, 2011 12:42 pm

    Holy crap, why am I finding out about Blake Leyh’s musical treasure chest of a blog only now? Multiple versions of St. James Infirmary for download? Yeah yeah! Also putting it on our sidebar, even if the blog hasn’t been updated in forever. (Ahem, paging Blake Leyh. Come back to your blog, Mr. Leyh.)

  12. virgotex permalink*
    June 9, 2011 12:55 pm

    I could have sworn it WAS on our sidebar but apparently that was the crackpipe talking

  13. June 9, 2011 1:16 pm

    Wow. You’re right. Blake Leyh’s blog rocks. Interesting, first thing I saw there was him quoting his friend, Ned Sublette. Sublette’s book is just amazing. He’s been fast tracked to my list of top five people I’d love to have dinner with. And hey, anyone with multiple downloadable versions of St. James Infirmary has a blog I’ll have to visit daily.

    Thanks for the tip!

  14. brueso permalink
    June 9, 2011 1:50 pm

    Sweet- Blake had a Doc Watson version of St. James. The first time I heard that song, it was Doc playing it a show.

  15. June 10, 2011 6:01 pm

    Can’t get over your last two posts – one about Us and the other about I in all this. Earlier today, I was talking to someone who insinuated that the Dems supporting Weiner is equivalent to Bush’s positive response to Brownie and FEMA after the flood and I lost it. There’s enough of this crap to deal with after so many years and then there’s stuff that happens to us individually that we have to handle. No blogs, nobody who’s really going to get it, and even if they do who isn’t going to say, and rightfully so, “This is your problem, darling, and you have to work with it even if you don’t know how just yet.”

  16. June 10, 2011 6:48 pm

    Hey, Amanda, don’t forget to read through the Walkerpedia:

    Dave Walker is the TV columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, and he has the most fact-dense Treme postings anywhere. He does a full “explainer” post every Sunday after the show, and one-off explainers for big topics that merit more, uh, explaining. He typically has links for most of the musicians from that week’s episode and the more significant songs featured.

  17. June 10, 2011 9:44 pm

    Not to be a downer by returning to the subject, but I’m just catching up here. What a great post. What a great blog. What a great series. This is indeed a special time to be here.

    Trauma embosses the psyche. Unlike a physical scar which you can almost fondly touch and remember the now-gone pain, trauma re-patterns something inside much like a notary’s mark embosses a piece of paper. It’s not torn, it’s changed.

    Relatively mild trauma can be smoothed out a bit, like a crease in the paper. Severe trauma is more permanent and in some cases you can’t smooth it over. Some can learn to live with it and maintain a relatively normal life. Others…Creighton’s act was an all too common reality after the flood. Many of us knew people who checked out. In my case it was documentary filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, whose voice still rings in my head.

    Grasshopper’s mom spent the past few years counseling combat veterans at the ironically named Ft. Bliss. Unlike previous wars, we now send soldiers back again and again, embossing their psyches over and over until things don’t work anymore or their circuits get so re-routed that lots of things go awry. She did it longer than most therapists.

    I don’t know where they are going to take Ladonna. All I know is that despite my experiences with trauma, I am glad to be alive to bear witness to, and be touched by, the art, wisdom and love that this show conveys to me and which I feel when I spend time with this blog.

  18. DiasporElla permalink
    June 10, 2011 11:23 pm

    LaDonna isn’t just traumatized by the rape. She’s living through everything that happened to Daymo all over again. She most likely never got to process that (remember she hid the discovery of his body from her mother until after Mardi Gras) and so she’s grappling with two major life upheavals. She’s only going to come out of this if she gets some serious counseling that allows her to work through it all. I hope she will but right now, she is so depressed she’s unable to truly function.

  19. Breny permalink
    June 12, 2011 9:50 pm

    Spot on, Virgotex.

    That episode sucked me dry. I’ve been on that couch. Actually, that’s what I call it, being “on the couch.” I worry she’s not going to get up.

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