01 June 2009


My ship has come in.

Or at least its arrival seems imminent.

My first few months in New Orleans my focus was less on the place than the community where I landed (the Common Ground Collective) and the stunning devastation of the landscape. I was falling in love with New Orleans but it was an indirect or filtered connection; like beautiful music playing in another room.

Since returning to NOLA last March, I've been keenly aware that my love is the love of a newcomer. An outsider. I'm not "from here." Lately, when someone asks, "Where are you from?" I answer "From here now." It's an honest, unpretentious response I think. I am here by choice. I have willingly surrendered to New Orleans.

But what do I know?

In the most recent NOLA Couch Surfing Digest, hosts shared the names of their favorite dive bars in town. There were some pretty long lists posted. I can't name three that aren't on Frenchman Street.

I don't get around much. And when I do, I return again and again to a handful of locales.

So my relationship with New Orleans is pure fantasy in some ways.

New Orleans is intimate. Glimpses of her naked heart are revealed everywhere: sunrise on the river, music on the streets, the colors of the houses, the lilt in natives' speech, the grandeur of trees along Carrollton or in Audubon Park, aromas wafting from backyards and restaurant back windows, the heat of summer... Even as a newcomer, I have New Orleans on and under my skin.

A week or so ago I landed a playing gig: pianist for the Crescent City Lights Youth Theater production of "Wanna Play?" A playing paying gig in New Orleans. I'm thrilled.

I opened my calendar tonight and noted how I'm spending my time: teaching piano, rehearsing for a show, playing a show, and rehearsing/playing four-hands piano music with a new partner. The bulk of my time now is music-related. I am a musician living in New Orleans, a role many have longed for and fantasized about. It feels a lot like arrival. Or arriving.

Or like New Orleans is letting me in.


When I'm broke, with no prospects in sight, Hopelessness hits. It struck most recently a couple of days before the theater gig presented. Two piano students had terminated their study with me. $250 gone from next month's resources.

I checked Craigslist for jobs in Indiana and Kentucky. I felt old and failed and unimaginative and scared.
Historically, "failed, unimaginative and scared" was one of my favorite Misery Cocktails. Sometime in the last year, I added "old" and, more recently, "fat" became the maraschino cherry in the mix.

When this frame of mind persists for a few days, my apartment begins to look "dirty, cramped and impoverished." I've learned from my European Couch Surf guests, however, that in their countries, my apartment--and especially the fact that I live in it alone--would be seen as luxurious, comfortable and welcoming. This insight is a gift that keeps giving--it interrupts me every time I complain about my house.

I know perspective and perception are neither fixed nor universal. It's crazy to try to attach to a particular feeling or outlook; but relative to my hopelessness, it's difficult to apply this awareness effectively. Getting a job is usually the cure. With money coming in, I no longer feel "failed", "unimaginative" or "scared." I feel "mature" instead of "old" and "ripe" rather than "fat".

Some of you know about my conflicted history with finding (and keeping) "a job". I'm beginning to see that new strategies and perspectives on how to find/keep a job are required here and now, in part due to my age/experience and in part in keeping with New Orleans culture. As with so many things here, working has a distinctively intimate, relational, and improvisational favor.

It's beginning to dawn on me that I can't go about this the way I did 10 years ago or in San Francisco, Denver or Louisville. None of the work I currently do was produced by sending out resumes. None required completing an application. And, in every case, an unabashedly personal interaction was the winning component. Conversation, eye contact, emotion, self-disclosure, risk were essential ingredients.

To live and survive in New Orleans, I must come out of my cave. Touch and be touched. Dance. Listen, Raise a glass. Tell a joke. I can't live in New Orleans as I lived in those other places. There is more spice, juice, danger and swing in New Orleans. To stay here takes faith. And energy. And a sense of humor. And patience. And willingness. And what might be defined as nuttiness in some parts of the U.S.

Do I have enough of all that to stay here? I think I do. Though my perspective occasionally takes on a decidedly negative tint, it's impossible to deny that my life is good right now, that I'm doing what I want to do and making it. The Earth is my home -- I have everything I need -- choosing Love over Fear succeeds.

For me, it's an ongoing process of peeling off layers of misconception....and artifice....and rigidity within myself. In the same way that the summer heat forces me to abandon closed-toe shoes and button collars, long sleeves and hiding my hair in head wraps, survival here demands I drop some psychological trappings I needed in cooler climates. My hair is permanently braided here -- and I go out in public that way! I would never have dreamed of going out this way in San Francisco.


The Adventurer seeks always a new road. I am Sojourner; traveling old roads with new eyes and a stronger heart matters more to my life.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the gig! I hope it leads to many more!


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