Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Orleans or Bust

I’m writing this from an airplane. About 4 or 5 months ago, things in my life were so frustrating and intermittently painful that I felt like I had to get away. I had to get out of town. Not just for a weekend or a week, but with enough time to really absorb my new surroundings. With enough time to develop a new facet of myself, the new me that seemed to want desperately to get born, but that couldn’t, surrounded by the same conflicts, friendships, job, house, weather; the same entertainments, the same rituals, the same chores.

the Ninth Ward, courtesy of Brad Pitt
For awhile I’d been waking up bored. Bored with the same schedule, the same pattern. Bored with taking a shower, with feeding the cats, with getting dressed, bored with the same clothes and the same drive to work, and the same tasks once I got there. Don’t get me wrong, I feel extraordinarily lucky in my life. I have a wonderful job, supportive coworkers, a fabulous, supportive, fun family, amazing friends, a great house. Nothing in my life is wrong. But the wanderlust that I used to feel more when I was younger just kept popping up, and going somewhere for a week just didn’t seem like it would cut it. I wanted warm weather. I wanted new faces. I wanted time to settle, time to think. I wanted to get away from certain triggers that reminded me of a difficult time in my life, triggers that I saw every day.

And I finally had a book idea that spoke to me, that sung of my soul. I wanted to have space to work on that project. Finally, something to write that seemed like it could plumb that deep river that flows through me. Something I could sink my teeth into. For over ten years I’d midwived other peoples’ books. Now it was time to birth my own.

For years, my mom and I have talked about renting an apartment for a month or more in New Orleans, one of our favorite places on earth. The first time I visited New Orleans, with my mom, I fell in love with it immediately, as she had. There’s something about the balmy air, the tragic history, the celebratory atmosphere coupled with an absolute, no-bullshit understanding of the fragility of life, that speaks to me. The air breathes music. Spirits inhabit the dark corners. The toxic Mississippi meanders past, telling stories to anyone who will listen, as do many of the people. There are artists here, freaks who could find no other place to call home. The buildings are gorgeous – yet most of them are falling down. Even the most well-kept places have ferns growing out of the walls. It’s like in New Orleans, nature reminds us every day that we’re just specks on Mother Earth’s back. New Orleans reminds us not to get too cocky.
Ninth ward foundation, 2010
When I thought about where I might like to hang my hat, a place that might welcome me – the true me, not just the me I’d learned to show in my familiar haunts – I thought of New Orleans. Of course! A city that could absorb anything, a city where you could always find someone to talk to, even if you would be smart to keep your hand on your wallet during the entire conversation. I’d been visiting New Orleans once or twice a year for about ten years, had come to town to help rebuild after Katrina, in fact, I wrote a love letter to the city here and another one, after Katrina, here. But even though our relationship has changed over time, New Orleans has never grown boring. There’s still so much to learn, like a fascinating lover who never ceases to surprise.

So there it was: my escape plan. I would spend a month in New Orleans. I rented an apartment in the middle of the French Quarter, outside of the tourist path, if that’s even possible in the Quarter. I’ve been talking about and planning the trip for five months. Yesterday, I cleaned my place, watered the plants and the cats. Spoke to my house/catsitters, put everything in its place, tied up loose ends at the office, and when I left my house, taking one last look around to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I experienced what I always do before a trip: at the last minute, I thought “Wait, why am I leaving, again? This is such a nice place and a nice life.” Maybe that’s one reason why we travel. To appreciate the places we leave.

Now that it’s really here, I hardly believe it. I’m sitting in a first-class plane seat – the first time I’ve ever done that. I got my first-ever manicure-pedicure yesterday. It’s a week of firsts. Perhaps these will be the firsts of many adventures to come in the next month. I’ll keep you posted. And if any of my readers know of great places (music, food, art, dancing, or just general freakiness) to visit that are off the beaten path, please let me know! I’ll be here until the first week of June.

1 comment:

Dann said...

You are doing what all of us out here pine to experience; the unknown and freshness and newness of life. Harrah for you Melissa, you are my hero.