Tuesday, October 28, 2008

City of New Orleans

Do I give over heart and dreams?
Do I sink them in the river
Baptize them, watch them come up new.
Do I call this home
And wrap it around my soul?
A quick flip of fin or feather
A dark shape slides into the depths
Slipping into narrow streets
I offer heart and soul and dreams.
I lose myself.
I always do.

I landed in New Orleans after dark, cabbed to the hotel and settled in. The Quarter called to me, but I shied at first. I got as far as the Walgreen's on Canal Street and Baronne, and chatted and laughed with the cashier over my purchases (cookies, pencils, chips, and a map).

I'd planned at first to scout apartments, but I didn't do enough research to be ready for that. Ditto on my second plan, to ride all of the streetcar routes. I finally decided to do the things I'd always wanted to do, but hadn't done.

I'd never visited the Riverwalk Mall. I went there and found the most amazing food court, with pizzas and calzones and a tray of enormous turkey legs. I walked down the river longer than ever before, from the mall to Governor Nicholls wharf. The sky was as gray as the river below and I watched the waves as the Natchez steam calliope began to warm up. I leaned on the railing and watched a snail, a strange little jewel against the steel, as it pushed out into a rain drop, then pulled back into its home. I turned my back on the water and looked down into the streets. Could this be home for me?

Up and down the streets in a fairly aimless wander, I found myself beneath the convent walls. It had just run through my mind how I'd always wanted to go on the tour, and they'd never been running them, when I passed an open doorway and a sign announcing tours from 10am to 4pm. I nearly fell sideways into the archway out of surprise. Two ladies were standing in a little giftshop. I took the tour and asked the poor docent all sorts of questions she didn't know answers to. Then I chatted for several minutes with the lady in the gift shop. When I told her I'd be moving there, she was so excited for me, and made me promise to stop by and see her sometime. I made a friend. :-)

Fried chicken at Fiorella's, then I took a bus tour, something else I've never done. I saw some of Frenchman's Street, St. Louis Cemetery number 3, the spot where the 17th Street Canal failed, the Garden District, and the house Payton and Eli Manning grew up in.

Later that night I decided that while it wasn't something new, I'd like to take the Haunted History vampire tour again. The tour guide last December, Jonathan, had been a great story teller, and had been quite nice to look at, too. I walked to the cathedral where the tour gathered, and saw none other than Jonathan himself. I paid for my tour, and after glancing at me a few times as I milled around, he turned to me and said, "You've been on my tour before." I agreed that I had! "Towards the end of last year?" Yes!

Now, I know exactly why I remember him, and at any rate, I'd only had one vampire tour guide. But he gives these tours all the time, and I have to say I'm pretty flattered that ten months after giving me that one tour, he recognized me. I might have to look him up when I move. It's nice to think a good-looking guy finds me, if nothing else, memorable. :-)

Oh. The next day there was a football game. Rice won. Yay!

I took the ghost tour after dinner on Saturday. My tour guide had a black German Shepherd named Sarah, and I made friends with her. Then I did something else I'd never done. I had my palm read in Jackson Square. I watched Jerik read four other people while I was waiting. They were all so similar that I wondered if he just always said the same things. But he seemed to be indicating the right parts of their hands as he spoke, from what I know about palmistry.

Then he got to my hand, and I was pretty different from all of them. Let's see. I have an earth hand, meaning I am a practical and down to earth person. (That I'm not so sure of.) My intellect line is a full six out of six. "My dear, you are *very* bright, with incredibly good reasoning skills." I have artistic fingers, tapered from base to tip, with a managerial spread to my four fingers, "and about as independent a thumb as you can have and still function when working with others." Some part of my hand indicates that I'm as stubborn as "two Missouri mules, a wooly mammoth, and a house cat, for good measure." Unlike all of the indented mounds of Saturn before me, indicating people who never want to grow up, my mound of Saturn is flat. "You, my dear, really are an adult, though indicates that you will age only slowly, and will probably always look ten years younger than you really are." I have an extensive heart line, and will maintain friendships for a lifetime. I have good triangulation of Neptune, indicating strong people skills. My fertility line is pretty productive, "My dear, you could people a small village if you wanted to. You have the potential for seven children if you care to have that many." And as for my life line, I had the longest one he'd seen all evening, and could easily live into my nineties with none of the serious ailments attending age, like Alzheimers. Of course, I don't believe any of it, but it's kinda fun!

After that, I met up with Chuck and we walked up and down Bourbon Street a bit. A woman with a cooler actually offered to sell Chuck a Miller Lite. One can't really expect her to understand why I doubled over laughing. Chuck got himself a real beer and we wound our way through the crowd. At the Halloween party inside and outside of a GLBT bar, we saw a six-foot Dorothy in ruby combat boots. AWESOME.

The next morning I had the pleasure of introducing Chuck to my favorite bakery, the Croissant D'Or. He quite approved. When he headed back to the hotel to load the buses, I took myself back to Jackson Square. Something else I've always wanted to do but hadn't was go through the history museum in the Cabildo, next to the cathedral, so I did that, wandering through the exhibits and reading the placards while a solo trumpet played full and rich out in the sunlit square.

On the way back to the hotel to pick up my bags and catch a cab to the airport, I stepped into the Jesuit church on Baronne. It was dim and cool inside, adorned with a heavier intricacy than St. Louis Cathedral in the square. It was still and empty and lovely, with the hum from the traffic outside like the sound of whispered prayers, like the hum of an ocean shell. In that church I prayed that I'd find a home here, and also find a great adventure. I had some hours in the airport ahead of me, but here I said good bye to New Orleans, for now.

And that night, landing in Houston, somehow it didn't feel like the homecoming it's always been before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Case for Literature

I have a friend who asked me an interesting question once, sitting at my dining table with his back to my (now even more full) bookshelves. He looked back over his shoulder, waved a hand, and said, "I've never understood, what's the point of... all this?"

I asked him if he meant... books? But it turns out he gets books. He reads plenty, but it's literature, fiction, that he doesn't get. To explain something that happened, to cast history in a new light, sure, but why spend as much time and money as I've obviously spent on... stories.

I'm not sure how well I explained it, but memoirs, histories... they can only shed light on what was. Fiction, stories, can explore what could be. Not just actualities. Not even probabilities. All the possibilities. Maybe it's just me, or people like me. Maybe that's why I'm such a reader and why I became a writer. Maybe that's why all writers are writers, and something not everyone can understand. I've read accounts of history that deepened my understanding and broadened my mind. But I've read novels that completely changed my life.

I wouldn't be the person I am if Charlotte Brontë hadn't written Jane Eyre. I read it when I was something like thirteen. I guess I fell in love with Victorian England, but more to the point, I met a young woman who was intelligent and intensely rational, but at the same time deeply passionate and loving. Incredibly gentle, and incredibly strong. Young, alone, poor, and a woman when a woman had so little power for self-determination, she was offered everything she loved on terms she considered dishonorable, and offered everything honorable without love. She demanded life on her own terms, and she made that life for herself because no one else could give it to her. Of course, the story ends happy, and that's because it's a story. In life it needn't have, but still it might.

More recently I've been changed again. I always meant to read Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, but I only got around to it this year. And after that I had to read the sequel, Valley of the Horses. Then the next book and the next. I devoured all five of the novels in the Earth's Children series. They present an incredibly deft portrait of civilizations like nothing I'd imagined. Of course, there's very little we know about those who really peopled those times and places, but it doesn't really matter that they may not have existed. They are evokative not because of strict factuality, but because of the possibility. If they don't show us what was, they show us what very well could have been, and by doing so, show us a surprising amount about what is and what could be, even now. These novels have made me feel and think in ways I never have before. I've changed in ways difficult to describe right now, because I continue to think on them, and to change.

So that's why. That's the point of literature, for me at least. It can change a person. It can change an ethos. Don't ask me to prove that in a blog. It's more of a doctoral thesis topic. And like I said, maybe that's just me.

But I wanted to ask you. Have you ever read a book that made you who you are today?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Alaska Photos Up!


Friday, October 03, 2008

It's My Move...

I've been talking about moving for almost a year now. I came to Houston at eighteen for college, and going to school here and living here with the wonderful friends I made then and continue to make has been an amazing experience for me. I've lived here now longer than I have in any other place, but this has never been where I wanted to spend my life.

I've chickened out on moving this year, because it would mean finding a new home and packing up this one in the next two months (my current lease is up on December 1). I don't want to spend Thanksgiving that busy, and I want one last Christmas playing with my band. So I've signed a six month lease, which puts me moving at the end of May. This gives me another basketball season and six more months to watch Dylan grow. This should also be a better time for finding a new place to live.

Last year in December I took a short vacation in New Orleans. I had business in the Big Easy, and decided since my flight was paid for, I'd tack on the weekend. I had borrowed Interview with a Vampire from a friend, and my goal was to read it while I was there, in the midst of its initial setting.

I fell in love.

Not with Bourbon Street, of course. And not even with Cafe du Monde or the touristy ghost, vampire, and voodoo tours, even though I love taking them.

I fell in love with the Mississippi River. With quiet courtyards behind wrought-iron gates. With the narrow old streets, steeped in history. With the pork chops at Fiorella's. With a ham and cheese croissant and a mille fois at Croissant D'Or. With beignets for breakfast on a bench in Jackson Square. With St. Louis cathedral, its choir, and the bishop who welcomed all the people in town for the St. Louis football game, but pointed out with a mischeivous, beatific smile, that God does love cardinals, but saints are even better.

I fell in love with the way this city haunts my heart and pulls at the edges of my mind like a memory out of a dream. I don't know if it's a call from the past or the future. I don't know if there's anything there for me but the adventure of starting out somewhere new completely on my own. But I'm ready for adventure. I know what is there for me. A town I'm eager to explore, and the security of a job I already hold.

There are downsides, of course, but Ike has reminded me that Houston isn't any safer as far as hurricanes go. I'll need to talk to my boss. I'll need to plan out a great apartment hunt. I'll need to remember, when fear makes me think maybe I should just stay put, that I can always come back, or move elsewhere if things don't work out. And I'll need to remember that I can't escape the things I want to leave behind just by moving. They'll follow me, and it's up to me to be stronger than they are, but I can hope that adventure and new experiences can weaken them, make them easier to shake. There are a lot of questions I still have, a lot of doubts.

I have eight months to hash them out, so here goes!