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New Orleans Notes, No. 10

July 27th, 2009 (02:02 am)

current mood: indescribable

Back when I was a wee young teen reading books from my parents' library at a voracious rate, I loved any fiction or biographies that were about writers or artists or performers or crazy kids struggling to make it in the big city.

Everything seems romantic and exciting when your life experience is limited. Writers living in near poverty in Paris, gathering for drinks and conversation in a favorite little bar or bookstore. Artists bumping against each other in New York, competing for gallery space and reviews, little dreaming that together they were reshaping the entire concept of art. Actresses stunning the world in roles of a lifetime, then going mad for the love of great actors. Musical prodigies dying of disease and starvation at the hands of rivals who could never measure up to them. All of these brilliant, talented people with their connected lives, inspired and destroyed by one another--it was dazzling and enticing and larger than life to Wee Me.

Now that I'm older, I realize that most of those people--the real ones--probably had no idea what big lives they had. They probably got just as worn down by daily reality as anyone--the frustration of a colicky baby, the need to find enough fuel to get them through a harsh winter, the dozens of rejections that made them feel their work would never come to anything, physical limitations, familial obligations.

But sometimes the magic is so strong it breaks through our perspective of life as ordinary, mundane.

There's a crowded little bookstore in the Faubourg Marigny where creative voices are always welcomed and nurtured by the owner. A reading is scheduled for a sultry May night. The usual smells permeate the streets of New Orleans--the river, the bars, the sweat and urine and sick of tourists, the droppings of mules. Dough frying and crawfish simmering. I'm a little tired and overheated after a long day, so I persuade my friend and writing partner Timothy to take a cab with me to the bookstore. Earlier, we saw our friends walking. They decide to stop for drinks along the way, so we get there just before them.

The store is hot, even hotter because we all stand close among the stacks, or get brushed by people on their way to the back of the shop, where a few bottles of wine have been opened. A couple of red plastic plates hold crackers and pretzels. Most of those will be eaten by two or three men who probably missed lunch and are overdue for dinner.

The reading is kicked off by the dynamic Theresa Davis. She mesmerizes me. Others I can't hear because late arrivals whisper and rustle and cause people around me to shift, blocking the opening that allowed me to see and listen to the readers. A couple of writers reinforce my conviction that I should never read my work aloud--some of us just don't have the voice or the skill to do right by our stories. As the event ends, the air is so thick with humidity and performance anxiety that I have to get out of there. I can't breathe.

I stumble outside, inhaling, craving air conditioning, and hear someone call my name. Catty-cornered from the bookstore is a restaurant with benches on the sidewalk around it. Without my glasses and in the dim street light, only my familiarity with their voices enables me to recognize Rhonda and Lindsey. I cross to them. A waiter has come from the restaurant and persuaded them to accept a hookah. It's my first experience with this, though I decide it's really not that different from the water pipes of my distant youth. I don't smoke cigarettes, but I enjoy the scent and taste of the hookah's sour apple tobacco.

The mouthpiece is passed among us. Not all of us smoke. We're passing time, waiting for Trebor and Timothy. We decide we'll all meet at a Middle Eastern restaurant around the corner. I go with the first group, and once inside, I sit with Rob, Melissa, 'Nathan, and Dan. The restaurant is busy, but not too noisy, and it's easy to hear their banter. I'm laughing a lot, as anyone would be with this group.

Lindsey and Rhonda come in with Mike and Jeffrey. They put two tables together--close to us, but not close enough for our conversations to intersect. There are bursts of laughter from their table, and I feel utterly content to know that all these people I enjoy and admire are getting to know one another and form new friendships.

Trebor and Tim finally enter the restaurant. This is a dinner we've tried to have for two years, and I join the two of them at our table. I'm enchanted all over again by Trebor. We jump from subject to subject, and he always has something intelligent, provocative, or entertaining to share. Occasionally I throw in a comment, but really, I'm happy to sit back, savor my grilled vegetables and basmati rice topped with feta cheese, and listen to two people who make me think and laugh and feel wonderful life from the ends of my hair to the tips of my toes.

It's only later, much later, that I step outside the memory of those moments and realize that they are, in fact, made of that big magic that some biographer or storyteller of the future might put in a book. I have no idea which artist or writer or photographer or musician among us will be the principal and who makes up the supporting cast. But I dream that some young reader invited into this night will have lit within her the vision of a life made of creative work that she loves and gifted friends to illuminate the path to her dreams.

Performance artist and poet
Theresa Davis.

Poet and fiction writer Trebor Healey.

Poet, artist, and photographer
Lindsey Smolensky.

Writer Jeffrey Ricker.

Writers Mel Spenser and Timothy J. Lambert. Writer and photographer 'Nathan Burgoine with his husband, photographer Dan Smith.

Writer and photographer Michael Wallerstein. Writer Rob Byrnes. Photographer Rhonda Rubin.


If you own any of the books in the opposite side bar and would like them signed, mail them to:
P.O. Box 924104
Houston, TX 77292
Please include three dollars for return postage. Thank you.

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