…and miss it each night and day

IMG_1143

I’ve returned to my beloved hometown. Sharing what I wrote in the wee small hours of the morning, when the whole wide world was fast asleep and I didn’t have wifi:

Gearing up to leave New Orleans for the time being; I will be back in September. I love this place, and though I’m admittedly a tourist, or “an amateur”, as I’ve been called, the more I visit the less tourist/amateur I feel. I had a tiny stable of friends here to begin with, and each time I visit my circle builds which, if you know me, you know I love.

As I write this I am sitting on the porch of a beautiful home in the Bywater, on the market and owned by a friend I made in May who graciously offered it to me for my visit.

I’ve met some likeminded souls down here.

This, my twelfth visit to this place, has offered me many firsts. I had dinner at someone’s home, red beans and rice on a Monday, as is the tradition, apparently. I was taken on a road trip to points south of here, to Cajun territory on Bayous where people fish and shrimp and crab – and, naïve little city gal that I am, this was exotic and beautiful.

As I’m thinking it through, I’m realizing I’ve actually been in six people’s homes this time around.

Other firsts … let’s see … I ate borscht. I grew up eating the stuff, but I’ve never had it in New Orleans. I went to the Country Club (it’s not a country club). I stayed by myself in a reputedly haunted house. I walked a dog. I held my own at the breakfast roundtable I’ve been observing for years. I spoke French. In Whole Foods.

Friends at home ask me what I love about this place and the answers were once, probably in order, “the food, the music, the culture and history”. Now they are all of those things as well as the people, the architecture, the crepe myrtles and live oaks and Spanish moss and satsuma trees. (there is a satsuma tree behind me as we speak; I need to google “satsuma” but I’m assuming it’s not the only one in town.)

I could go on and on about why I love this town. I could talk about the most perfect iced coffee I’ve ever had, and the friendliness of the Lantern, and the fact that I’ve started to recognize familiar faces. That I’ve had some of the easiest conversations of my life here, as well as some of the more challenging. I could talk about the people I’ve just met and look forward to knowing, the animals I’ve encountered, the dog-friendliness, the sudden, perfect rainstorms (and yes, I’m well aware that rain and this town have a checkered and tragic past), I could talk about the much more logical cost of existing down here, and about the fact that the humidity makes my adamantly straight hair kind of wavy and full and what-I’ve-always-wanted-my-hair-to-look-like. And, I could talk about the fact that my writing schedule down here has been unorthodox and yet, I think I might have done some of the best writing/editing on Book that I’ve done thus far.

I could talk about all of this. And I could talk about the fact that so many horrible fucking things have happened in the world since I’ve been here, from Alton Sterling to Dallas to Nice to Turkey to Mike Pence.

Apparently the world goes even more haywire when I follow my bliss and leave New York. Hashtag magical thinking.

On a personal level, a friend died. Someone I did not know well but with whom I shared a lot, and without whom I would not have met some of the most important people in my life. I am in no way trying to take ownership of this loss and its accompanying grief; many of our mutual friends know her much better than I did. But again, if you know me, you know that I don’t really have casual friendships. I get into it, I spill my soul and I look for yours. And this friend and I talked about some fairly heavy stuff in the short time we knew each other.

This is one of the ones that will continue to sink in as time goes by.

Rest, girl. You’ve earned it, and you’re missed.

I can not move down here yet, but I will always be connected to this place.

And though I am a starry-eyed tourist and an “amateur”,  I’m not THAT bad. I mean, I spend zero time on Bourbon Street and I don’t stand in line at Café du Monde, so there’s that.

I like lists. They’re orderly and tangible. This is why I can tell you how many times I’ve been to New Orleans, and to France. This is also why I can tell you the animals I’ve encountered on this trip. In no particular order, I’ve seen or met:

Many dogs,

Many cats.

At least three buzzards.

An emu.

A potbellied pig named Snuffleupagus.

A chicken.

Two toads.

Four giraffes.

A brazen squirrel.

A porpoise.

List #2—advice/wisdom I’ve gained in the past ten days:

Don’t get caught with shrimp dust.

Don’t feed oleander to a llama.

Red fish bite best on purple plastic.

There is a breed of goats that is narcoleptic.

Purple can’t hurt purple.

I have so much more to say about the past ten days. But right now I must eat Italian food.

I love you, New Orleans. Thanks for letting me in.

Where did all the blue skies go

IMG_0940

I started to write a post on the 4th of July and decided not to publish it, didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, couldn’t quite figure out how to acknowledge a celebration of our country’s freedom when so much of the world is not free. I don’t usually get political here and it felt inauthentic somehow, though my feelings were 100% sincere.

That was four days ago, and I think had a fair amount to do with a new friend I’ve made, through my cousin – a fellow who lives in Iraq. I reached out to him after the latest spate of suicide bombings in Baghdad and he was, of course, devastated and angry. He asked to see photos of the mountains and woods where I spent the long weekend; he wanted to see beauty and positivity and freedom. He sent me a photo collage of the victims of Sunday’s attacks, and it was a collection of beautiful, young, vibrant faces.

The next day there were attacks in Saudi Arabia. This week two young black men in the US have been killed by police for the “crimes” of selling music and driving with an allegedly busted tail light. Last night, snipers shot and killed five police officers in Dallas and wounded several others.

I do not know how to react to any of this. I am infuriated and saddened and tired of feeling helpless and I don’t know what my recourse is.

I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump is not the answer to any of this. Hate begets hate. Intolerance begets intolerance. Ignorance is dangerous and hubris does not a successful leader make. And I do not want to speak his name more than absolutely necessary, so that’s that for now.

I am in New Orleans again, working through the final third of the book. And it is hard to concentrate on what at times seems such a trivial pursuit in light of all that is happening in the world around us. But this is my job, and so I will do it.

Since I was last here about six weeks ago, there have been terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan–and that’s just off the top of my not-terribly-informed head. Since I was here, a monster shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There is so much to grieve in this world. And there is so much to love and admire, to those of us who are fortunate enough to live in places where we are allowed to love and admire who, what, and when we choose to.

I’ve been accused of having a Pollyanna-like outlook on things. I don’t. I’m more realistic than I let on. But there are many people who can speak of the world’s atrocities much more eloquently than I can, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these people and their words.

I have long been saddled with a need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that people are inherently good. I am fortunate to have many good people in my life.

But it’s a scary, uncertain world, and I am aware of this. So if I veer toward light and love in the things I write and post and choose to talk about, do not mistake it for blindness. I can’t fix all the bad, and so I choose to try my best to contribute more good.

Time for coffee and Chapter Ten.

Stuck in the middle with you

IMG_0660

My friend (Michel) sent me a meme (don’t love that word) that said: Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. That sums it up fairly well. Mine are talking to me, but they’re all talking at once and it’s very hard to decipher their individual voices. I need someone to work crowd control, but then he or she would need a storyline, and I’d be right back where I started (from).

In college I read the Luigi Pirandello play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in which six unfinished characters interrupt the rehearsal of a play because they’re desperate to find a writer to finish their stories. They’re in a sort of purgatory until they do. I wrote a little piece for writing group last year based on this concept; my characters gathered in the bar (my characters spend an awful lot of time in the bar) discussing where I’d left them. The ones with marked characteristics and clear voices were relatively okay, but the others were pissed.

I’d always heard that, when writing fiction, characters can come to life and drive the story. This is my experience with this novel; I’d thought I knew who my main character was until the person who became my main character claimed the spotlight; it took me a while to fully realize that this is her story.

Her name is Josie, short for Josephine. About a year and a half ago I met a Josephine at a party; I commented that that was my protagonist’s name, and she asked what she was like. So I told her that she wasn’t always my protag, but eventually she became the most important character in the story. Non-fiction Josephine laughed and said, “That sounds about right.” A year and a half later she is one of the most important people in my life.

Lots of synchronicity in the long, drawn-out writing of this book …

Most exciting development of late … I might finally have my title. I need to mull it over extensively before I commit, though. Titles are hard.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m also writing a pilot with my oldest (in longevity of relationship) friend Tara. It’s been really interesting working on these projects simultaneously, and as different as they are, there have been a lot of parallels in the process. Both stories needed extensive backstory written and then cast aside in order to get to the heart – or the bloodline, as my coach says – of the plot.

Tara has been invaluable in the novel-in-progress as well. She’s a voracious and careful reader and has read my chapters and given me excellent feedback. This is crucial. Without her, and my coach, and my writing group, and other helpful sets of eyes, I would be operating without a net. With the village that is helping and encouraging me in this project (and you know who you are, even those who don’t wish to be named in this forum), I feel fairly confident that I will not leave gaping plot holes and red herrings and guns in act one that don’t go off by act three. Can’t remember who said that – feel free to comment if you know (Mom).

I am going back to my muse city, as JC calls it, in a couple of weeks. I’ve been warned and warned again about the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but never having experiences Nola in the summer, I know that this is something I must do. For the book’s sake. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will spend the week slathered in sunscreen and bug spray and depending on the kindness of strangers’ air conditioners.

Much more to say on the subject of this upcoming trip, but I shall save it for another post.

I travel extensively in my dreams. While asleep the other night I visited New Orleans, India (there were sharks in the Ganges!) and a cross between Marrakesh and Namibia. Been trying to keep track of my dreams by writing them down. 3AM handwriting aside, this is an interesting process. By writing them down when they’re fresh in my insomniac mind, I am able to recall the emotional imprint of the dreams, not just the storyline.

I will leave you with this. I was watching something late, late one night in which a psychiatrist and a few other professionals were discussing the basic rules to human interaction – what one or two guiding principles help us get along with others. So I wrote down some thoughts and came up with this: meet people where they are. I mean this figuratively, though if you’re my friend in real life you know this also applies to my love of proximity to my home. But really, meet people where they are, accept their limitations, and don’t hold them up to improbable standards. You can expect the best from someone while still embracing imperfection.

And now back to my possibly titled book.

Looking over my yesterdays

Scan 2

Continuing my trip down memory lane, I went through that last box that had been in storage. I found this masterpiece as well as three books that I wrote when I was somewhere between the ages of six and eight. There was a Torah-style Halloween story, written before I learned which way to staple the pages, a first-person narrative about a 12-year-old boy who had a run of great luck, called “Yeah for Today”, and my favorite, the riveting tale of a group of feline musicians called “The Cat Band”.

In Chapter One, a cat named Lenard [sic] decides to “have a band”. He phones his friends Pierre, Fuzzy, Arthur, and Montecon, and all agree that having a band is a fine idea. Rehearsal is going swimmingly until two of the band members clash over the hour; apparently it’s midnight and the neigbors [sic sic] are sleeping.

Things look tense for a moment until Pierre opens Chapter Two with a witty anecdote from his days “back at France”; laughter ensues.

Enter: Wendy, a “very, very, very pretty cat” who walks into our boys’ lives at the start of Chapter Three and promises them a gig at the Cat Rock And Roll Meowy Theatre. The boys head down, sign a contract (yep, I’m an agent’s daughter), and perform to a packed room, with Wendy as backup dancer. The book ends on a high note, with the promise of many more shows to come.

Somewhere along the line the artist formerly known as Fuzzy changes his name to Fluffy.

 

Speaking of hep cats, I’m learning a new song with my voice teacher: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? That was on the roster of songs we were going to learn even before I went back down in March. It’s a challenging one, and I love it.

And since I do know … hoping to get back down in July, when it will be humid and sultry (it’s always sultry) … the New Orleans chapters of the book I’m avoiding writing take place in summer, so I must ignore my aversion to being uncomfortably hot and embrace it instead.

Next Saturday there will be a Second Line to honor pets, those who have passed and those who are still with us. My Louie will be represented in poster form … Lou-on-a-stick. Photos TK.

I met someone last night who lives in Billie Holiday’s old apartment in Sheridan Square. Apparently the building used to house the jazz club Café Society, reputedly the first integrated jazz club in the country, and artists lived upstairs. Very cool. All roads lead to New Orleans.

Back to book …

Down in New Orleans

13244899_10154259475279903_7661912383271813379_n-1

This’ll be a quickie as the day’s gotten away from me … but I’m back in this lovely town for a short writing retreat. I had every intention of writing between visits, and it just didn’t work out that way … all of my writing energy went into the book and another project, about which more later, as my mama would say.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here in May and this is my first time visiting during “termite-swarming season”. According to my dear host, said swarming takes place around 8pm, but doesn’t last too long. At 8pm last night I was blissfully tucked away at Three Muses, on Frenchmen Street, eating dinner and hearing great music … can’t recall the name of the trio and don’t want to break the momentum to look it up but I’ll get back to you on that detail.

The good news is I’ve missed “Bucket Moth Caterpillar season” wherein, according to the aforementioned host, large caterpillars spin and drop from the trees, stinging whomever they land upon in the process.

It’s a town full of colorful characters, of the two- four- and 600-legged varieties.

Every season is cat season, and one can easily get turned around should one decide to follow a group of stray cats and take photos. Happened to a friend of mine.

So  the book … major changes are in the works, which is daunting and exciting. I won’t bog you down with the  details but there is going to be extensive chopping and moving and killing of darlings before this draft is through. Turns out my story begins much further into the current plot than I’d intended … and according to my coach this is often the case, that first-parts-of-books wind up on the cutting room floor.

I am attending a writing conference in August, my first ever, and will have the terrifying opportunity to pitch the book in what is essentially speed-dating with literary agents. So I will  be immersed in it between now and then and will probably babble about it a fair amount.

I had lunch at the friendly and haunted Muriel’s yesterday . Dined at the bar and chatted with the same bartender I met last time around, the one who filled me in on the ghostly happenings there, including one involving her departed mother. She remembered me and I told her that I’ve thought of the story about her mom a bunch since then. A few minutes into our conversation, one of her mom’s favorite songs came on the radio—an obscure tune by a one-hit wonder (her words) whom her mother loved and saw live once. I assumed it was her own playlist but no, she explained calmly,  it was the radio—her mom had been around a lot lately, to the point of occasional distraction. Still, she said, her worst fear is not being able to feel her anymore—a line that went straight into the book. Not being an expert on these matters I don’t know what the chances of this happening are, but I hope for her sake that it doesn’t.

The gentleman sitting next to me told me that he, too, had a ghost story from Muriel’s. Seems this fellow’s sister was in town and he took her there for lunch and showed her the seance room upstairs. They took photos of one another and in all the photos of him, there was a mysterious glowing orb hovering, which was likely Antoine, the restaurant’s shimmering resident ghost. I asked to see one of the photos and didn’t have the heart to point out that it was a selfie he’d taken in the mirror. With flash.

Whatever gets you through the night.

 

Arm-in-arm down Burgundy

IMG_0595

That’s a line from Tom Waits’ “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” … I’m posting this from my writer’s bungalow on Burgundy Street (pronounced burGUNdy). There are so many songs, great ones, written about this town. And so many wind chimes in this neighborhood; that’s the soundtrack to my writing, wind chimes and ceiling fans.

My local breakfast joint (as my dad would say) is in a former bank that was allegedly robbed by Bonnie and Clyde back when Bonnie and Clyde were robbing banks.

I love the history of this town, the good, the bad, the macabre. I lunched at Muriel’s on Jackson Square, which plays a role in my book through the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires; my book is set in 1999 and Muriel’s wasn’t Muriel’s until 2001. I need to get past that … can’t be a perfectionist in fiction. Right? Right.

Muriel’s is haunted. The building was a grand mansion that was partially destroyed in the Good Friday Fire of 1788. After that it was a private residence owned by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who now goes by Antoine. In 1814 Antoine wagered his house in a poker game … and lost. Before he was to move out, he hung himself in one of the upstairs lounges—now Muriel’s séance lounge:

IMG_0646

The restaurant keeps a table set for Antoine and a guest:

IMG_0650

I spoke with bartenders and diners who’ve had experiences here. Glasses hurled across the room, glowing orbs, that cold feeling that shoots up the back of your neck when you are in the presence of a ghost. Disembodied voices.

You feel something when you’re standing at Antoine’s table. And the room where he died is colder than the rest, though that may very well be the restaurant’s doing. If owned a restaurant with a resident ghost, I’d probably make his room a bit colder to toy with the nonbelievers.

I wasn’t sure how traveling alone would be for me … as you know, I don’t like to do many things alone … but this has been wonderful. With the exception of the plans I’ve made with friends here, my agenda has been entirely my own. Traveling this way has also given me the opportunity to talk to people I’d probably not meet otherwise, like the theremin player with the Louisiana Philharmonic who was at the breakfast roundtable I joined on Monday. I resisted the urge to regale him with this gem: I’m thinking of selling my theremin; I haven’t touched it in years. 

Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

 

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

IMG_3324
I have not had this particular type of insomnia in a very long time – I feel ill and wide awake and physically and emotionally exhausted. Not fun, but this too shall pass.

Our friend Phil left us yesterday morning and this makes me very blue. Phil was a wise and wild man, a sweet slip of a thing who could build, fix, or refurbish anything. We enjoyed one another’s company and it had been a couple of summers since I’d seen him – but we have many mutual friends and I knew what was going on with him, health-wise. As such matters do, this has led to a deluge of love and memories and people coming together and all those things that are supposed to ease the crushing blow of grief ever so slightly and leave in its place a bittersweet ache.

I don’t know what more to say about Phil right now – I’ve said a lot in the past 48 hours – and nothing I write here will do justice to this being who was the essence of vitality, an absolutely straight shooter who lived fast and hard and with utter authenticity every moment of every day. There is much to be learned from a person like him. And as these matters also do, as I’ve had the great misfortune to write about a couple of times since I started this thing last spring, I realize in his absence the strong hold he has on a piece of my heart. Through loss we realize our capacity to love.

Damn it.

There are a great many others for whom this is an acute loss, and I always feel self-conscious about “owning” grief when it comes to people I’ve not seen in a while, like Phil, or people I hadn’t spent all that much time with, not like Phil. It is such an intensely personal experience.

The passage of my book I’ve been stuck on for many days (please excuse grammatical and syntactical errors in this post it’s late and I feel like my brain is in aspic) is actually about grief – my goodness I sound maudlin and macabre and something-else-that-begins-with “m”, though I suppose one can’t really write a ghost story without touching upon death. Contrary to how it might seem, I need to think and talk about these things in order to live life more lightly. Talking about it doesn’t make it harder for me, au contraire mon frere, it helps me to release some of the sadness – a pressure valve situation if you will, and really if you’re reading this you have no choice in the matter. I needn’t dwell but I do need to purge. I promise this isn’t all I’m going to talk about, ever. Promise promise promise.

Went to beautiful music on Monday night, to Buckwheat Zydeco at City Winery and WOW do I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I have to get myself back down there soon. One of my main characters is from New Orleans, so perhaps I can justify it as research. Which it would be, in part. In large part actually – wait – what am I talking about?! I HAVE to go down there soon for that very reason. Though the music, food, magic, and dear friends there might play a tiny role in this desire.

Wanderlust. Such an overused word for such a perfect concept. Travel bug doesn’t have the same ring.

I want to keep writing – I feel like I could go on and on and on about many many things – but I should attempt to sleep. Not gonna happen, but I should try.

Friend-I-spoke-with-yesterday, yes, dear girl, I will write about the things we discussed in the very near future I promise. Now hush and start writing, too. You can do it. You have the life experience and we know you’ve plenty of fodder. Start somewhere. I’ll help. Just … make it happen.

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Rest, sweet one. Your light is eternal.