Every morning and every afternoon I walk toward the river. The river flows past the oversized window at the end of our hallway. Sometimes when I walk, a behometh ship passes, rusty hull slicing the air. At other times it’s the train passing, the cars laden with graffiti. On the rarest of occasions, the train runs in front of a ship and even though the train is raised on a concrete retaining wall, the ship behind it is higher still, because this is New Orleans and we are almost underwater.
I am now five weeks post-surgery. I have a new hip, and diminished resolve. My sense of need to accomplish, which usually flares like a coke-stoked oven, has died into embers. Only yesterday was I able to pick up a Reader’s Report on Jazzy, my New Orleans novel, and begin to revise. Yes, I read 17 mysteries and watched many episodes of Perry Mason in preparation for the homeless mystery I intend to write next, but those are passive activities. When it comes to writing, I’ve been underwater.
Maybe that’s an overstatement. I’ve revised a handful of short stories and submitted them to journals, an activity I let fall by the wayside as I focused so completely on perfecting (ha!) the novels. Two journals—Missouri Review and American Short Fiction—want more work. I’m trying to send them more work, good work. But I’m kind of treading water (see, I can learn, adapt, quit exaggerating).
Baby steps, that’s probably the answer. Baby steps down the hallway towards the river. Baby steps back into my normal life. When I go to physical therapy they zip me into an anti-gravity treadmill. Oxygen puffs the rubber and carries about twenty-five percent of my weight for me as I walk. It’s funky as hell, but for now it enables me to take long, strong strides. Soon, this too will be in my past. I keep this in mind as I walk toward the river.
William and I began our lessons on “How to Play Bridge.” We established that you arrange your hand by suit; you must follow suit; the higher card in a suit wins; ace is the highest card. The rules called the winning process taking “tricks.” William called them books. We played. We made books. William made more books than I did. Next week, what are trump cards?
* We made tiny books to hand out at church this morning. The tiny books were inspired by ‘Tit RƏx, a New Orleans micro-krewe (the floats are shoe boxes). The folks at church accepted the tiny books. One man, a newcomer to Memphis, chose a book with the word Saint on the front cover. He wrote a poem in the book. He gave me the book. Guess where he’s from? New Orleans.
* The contract with Triton Press to publish our book, “Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness” is (mostly) signed—we have one writer who didn’t make the meeting. We’re tracking him down. When he’s found, the contract will be (all the way) signed. The manuscript will be submitted to the publisher and, soon, we’ll have a book.
It’s been a great book day.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
A blog on God that gives me words to help me feel my way through life, like a woman blinded by the dark, touching the walls, groping her way down the long corridor, and feeling, every so often, a brick that helps her move forward. That’s what I find at A Pastor’s Thoughts by Irvin Boudreaux.
Like the other blogs I’ll be mentioning in this series on blogs by strangers, I found the Reverend’s blog because he found mine. I don’t know Rev. Boudreaux even though we spend time in the same city (with a name like that you know he has to be from Louisiana, and he is). Nor do all of his posts resonate with my journey. But for me, a woman with a complicated, unorthodox belief in the presence of God on this earth, his posts provide guidance often enough that I read them when they arrive in my email box.
Coming tomorrow: from the sacred to the profane: a blog with Satan in the title
On the sidewalk, we pass a busker clutching a tuba telling his friend he wanted a machete. My gait causes me to lag behind Tom, and a man on a weaving bicycle calls, “Hey, darling. Out for a morning stroll?”
I twist my head, thinking I know him—who would I know in the Bywater in New Orleans?—because it’s been so long since it’s happened I’d forgotten: strangers will hit on you. When the grinning man realizes I’m with Tom, he limps on by. “I have a flat tire,” he says over the shoulder of his wobbly departure.
We cross the street and, using her own indiscernible standards, Evangeline yaps at some dogs, leaves others alone. It’s supposed to be fall, but it’s hot as hell, and she wants some water. I seem to remember the Healing Center used to have water bowls for dogs, but it does no more. Tom disappears—I forget where he goes—and reappears to unbridled enthusiasm. Whether it’s been five minutes or five hours, the dog loves to see him return. Me, too.
The trip back home, I lead Evangeline. We divide our duties that way: Tom led on the way to, I lead on the return from. When we get back to the apartment, the dog’s hair is full of burrs, small buff-colored razor balls that embed themselves and hold on for dear life. Beggar lice, too, fellow travelers on this road of life. She watches me pluck them from her hair, then looks up and licks my nose, grateful. Tomorrow, we will return from an afternoon on Magazine Street and I will have such bad give-downs I’ll get in the bed and sleep until 11:00 the next morning. But, today, I walk to the Healing Center and back, in love with life.
here’s to Creative Synthesis . . .
A couple of days ago, I called Venice, Louisiana the end of the earth. It’s not. It’s the end of the world.
At the time, I did not know Venice’s official nickname was “The End of the World.” Now, having gone and returned, the REM song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” keeps looping through my brain.
We went to the last community on the Mississippi River you can reach by automobile because of a Eudora Welty short story I read before I turned twenty years old. Thus focused, I did not know we were also traveling to the proximate area of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. In more ways than linguistically, when I said we were driving to the end of the earth, I underestimated what we were doing.
The drive to Venice begins on an ordinary highway into Belle Chasse and Jefferson Parish. You emerge from the Belle Chasse tunnel and feel you’re underway. The levee appears rather suddenly on the left side of the road, the green hump clearly defined by the boats that rise above it, traveling the river. The Chevron Oak Pointe Plant is precursor of the oil dominance to come. It stinks.
Most of the business signs point to the oil rig support system: welders, pipe shops, culverts. Most of the trees are planted in rows, not just the citrus groves but the pecans, crepe myrtles, even the clumps of banana plants. Occasionally, small above-ground cemeteries slide between the houses. Just past the Phillips 66 Refinery, the marsh spreads to the right, a flat alluvial plain.
After Port Sulphur the levee curves so close you feel as if you could reach out and touch it. The levee appears on the right side as well, and you begin that narrowing that indicates you’re traveling a spit of land. Top the bridge and you can see the water, dotted everywhere by tall cranes.
Patches of Tara-look-alike houses spring up for no reason discernible to outsiders. The rest of the homes are trailers. The mobile homes are permanent residences with curving brick front steps, screened back porches, and brick porticos added thereto. The bars advertise Lingerie Night. Every vehicle on the road-except ours-is a truck.
Gradually the road dips so that it rises no more than inches from the shoreline. The asphalt gives way to dirt. Large elephant ears mound along the shoulder, alternating with water grass, scrub bushes, and flowering hydrangea. When the road ends we take a left, circle around, and take a right. I’m still not sure if we made it to the end or not.
Maybe one day I’ll go back. Knowing what to expect, I’ll be a better observer. Less blinded by how industrial it all is, how ubiquitous the refineries and oil companies are. Aware of the present-day reality, maybe I can do a better job of seeing the beauty there to be seen.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
With my new novel, Jazzy, I’m writing about the destruction of New Orleans following Katrina. Yesterday, I traveled to Plaquemines Parish where Katrina made landfall. Now I’m writing about the destruction of Venice, the last point in Louisiana reachable by road before the Mississippi River pours into the Gulf. The community, “protected” by ring levees, was inundated by Katrina’s surge. Like a filled bathtub, the water couldn’t recede. Everything was underwater. My protagonist, a nine-year old girl who recently lost her father and is now losing every place that contains memories of her dad, is having a hard time with this. So am I.
Our apartment in New Orleans overlooks the Mississippi River. At least that’s the way I remember it. For the last two days, the fog has been so heavy we might as well have been in 19th century London. That’s been fun, the rolling patches of fog, the slightly eerie sensation of driving through a deserted Quarter, a lone tourist hurrying across the street. Today, I learned the fog is a harbinger. We don’t have fog in Memphis, but I’m familiar with the situation: the weather turns warm, the dreaded cold front blows in, tornado warnings issue.
Last August, when we “sheltered in place” for Hurricane Isaac, I decided a hurricane wasn’t as bad as a tornado. With a hurricane, you get a lengthy warning. For those with the ability to leave, a choice to stay—we had children and grandchildren in the city who weren’t leaving—is just that: a choice. A tornado runs up on you before you know it.
My tornado warning arrived this morning courtesy of NOLA.com. They send emails when the weather sours. Now, as the view from my window worsens, I’m here alone. I watch out the window.
The rain arrives so thickly it’s as if someone erected a white screen—no sense of something falling at all. After a bit, it occurs to me that I might have to evacuate. I rise from the sofa to find some shoes. The dog follows me everywhere I go. I don’t know if New Orleans has tornado sirens, or if I could hear them from inside this ancient rice mill that houses our apartment. With the windows shut against the rain, it is very quiet.
When I return to the living room, the white screen has lifted. I can see the river. The rain has diminished to a sprinkle. Lightening strikes repeatedly. In Memphis, the end of rain is good, but lightening erupts before the rain. I don’t know anything about this weather pattern. I research online for the national weather channel. The Southeastern Louisiana tornado warning is in place for another hour and a half, but students are walking in and out of NOCCA, the creative arts high school across the parking lot. Surely if danger existed they’d be hunkered beneath their desks, protective arms wrapped around their heads.
I’ve lived through three hurricanes. I’ve never seen a tornado. I don’t want to see a tornado. Soon, the tornado warning will lift, hopefully with my non-tornado-sighting record intact.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .