I went on a walk this morning, down in Crescent Park, down in New Orleans, a city with a large contingent of the down, but never out.
It’s good to go for a walk. It tends to center me, and reveal to me my feelings about me. Today for instance I realized that I might need to be a bit more aware of where I’m spending my emotional time. It turns out that there’s the internet, and then there’s life itself. While these two entities may occasionally intersect, in general the former simply serves as a distortion field for the latter.
I’ve tried my hand at several American cities, and came up empty every time. Seattle ended up being way too Seattle, for me. It’s fine I guess, for all those “Seattle People”, who no doubt take umbrage at that comment, but never miss a chance to take a dig at Tacoma.
Portland, by all means keep getting weirder, but seriously, sometimes you’re trying to hard. No, you’re not doing it ironically…for the love of God this is what I’m talking about. (See Also: Olympia, Boise, Austin, and eventually Tacoma.)
San Francisco I’m pretty sure doesn’t allow people of my economic stature in for anything other than maid and table services at this point.
And LA? Yeah that was never going to work. Maybe someday down the line, when I’m a grown-up, assuming I want to be an entertainer. I’ve never been 100% on that.
New Orleans does feel like home though, I mean, it kind of feels like an Alien Planet, but it feels like home. Seriously, here I am, spending my valuable time and effort crafting a creative work of no commercial value, and I don’t even feel bad about it. Moreover, I don’t expect anyone will try and make me feel bad about it. That really is something.
There’s always that nagging sensation when I write, or produce any creative work, that it needs to meet the expectation’s of it’s audience, that it should be valuable in the commercial sense. That it should build ‘my brand’ or some such cow excrement. This is by and large what we teach creatives people in this country: By all means, express yourself! Just long as it’s commercially viable.
The piece of writing I am most proud of, the piece that got the closest to putting me -my voice, my thoughts, my point of view, and my feelings- into words did not have that constraint. It was never even a consideration, just a love letter to the people in my life who’ve made it better by loving me. I feel like New Orleans is an enviromentent where I could write like that with some consistency.
New Orleans is…I’m going to say “rough”, but like a bad romance novel I’m going to say “rough, but gentle”.
“That’s a contradictions!” you declare, and I say “Yes, it is, and to me New Orleans has all the right contradictions.”
Contradictions are what make a city interesting. Redway California for instance. It’s made of of Strident Right Wing Hillbillies and Hippies! Dirty Berkley in the 60s run off Hippies! living right next to each other, sometimes with each other, yet somehow everyone more or less gets along. (It works because they all grow and smoke weed.)
Seattle and San Francisco, and Portland, and Austin, and Olympia all have groups of privileged while people who hang out and congratulate each other on how much they hate other privileged white people. (This happens via zoom on their iPad pros at this point, I assume…). What a fun little liberal-masochistic(™) puzzle to unpack!
Austin? Well, Austin is surrounded by the rest of Texas.
New York and LA are places where thousands of people a year relocate to, to be poor, in oder to take a one in a billion shot at becoming rich and or famous. Now there’s a contradiction. “You want to be famous? Sell everything you own and get an apartment in the valley with everyone else trying to do the same thing.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on LA. If you’re a creative person with some raw talent, a good work ethic, and some social skills, you can both grow as an artist and support yourself through your work there. Well, as long as you’re not an actor. There’s a bit of a surplus of acting talent there. But hey, even then at this point you can just be an “influencer”, which is a person who sells out to a corporation without saddling that corporation with the indignity of having to actually offer them a deal.
“I came here after getting a degree from the Oxford School of Drama, and a 2 year residency at the American Conservatory Theater, I went on a few auditions, but nothing was panning out. So then I started a YouTube channel lavishing praise upon the hair products I use, and now I fake enthusiasm for Sci-Fi and Comic Book film franchises, primarily Marvel and Star Wars, but I’ve never said a negative thing about any of the products or films I’ve reviewed, so you never know which corporation might pop up and for some reason write me a check or give me a thing to ‘review’.”
Anyway, what were we talking about while my roommate was sitting in the living room, shirtless, with a cigarette on his ear, listening to jazz, and I’m pretty sure meditating? Oh yeah, contradictions, the feel of New Orleans. And then I have to wrap the whole thing back around to taking a walk, emotional health, and the internet. Good thing I put that blurb about influencers in there. It’s the Big Lebowski Rug of the whole piece.
New Orleans has a lot of contradictions. Most of them are pretty easy to spot. For instance, the city is utterly enamored with both religion, and a naked celebration of various sorts of vice.
New Orleans is a beautiful mess. That’s probably it’s most visible and deepest contradiction. The architecture for instance is absolutely beautiful, but half of it is dilapidated, still visibly ravaged by the storm. There’s a strengthen and a beauty and a frailty to the city all at once, like a hard as nails little old lady, and New Orleans has it’s more than it’s fair share of them.
If we were capable of measuring such a thing I think we might find that New Orleans has a roughly equal amount of poverty and love. And wow is there a lot of poverty here. Poverty that a sheltered child of the West Coast such as myself would not have believed existed in the states if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. About 1 in 8 occupied structures on my side of the river looks to be in danger of collapse, and there’s evidence everywhere of ones that already have.
Everywhere you look here there are signs of trauma, but it’s coupled with a kind of defiant joy.
There’s a kind of vibe a here that says to you “yeah, it’s all fucked up, it might be getting worse even, but we are still here, and we can still love each other, and for now that’s just going to have to be enough”. Then a pot hole takes out your tire, and a homeless person holds an umbrella over you while you change it in monsoon like conditions.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about New Orleans is that it doesn’t judge those who wander. Which is good, I like to wander. That’s why I went on that walk this morning. Nothing makes me feel more centered than taking a look around purely to take a look around. There’s real value in that, doing something for the just experience of it, beholden to no one and nothing, to be one with a task that isn’t tied to a paycheck. That’s why people create art, enjoy art, skydive,
or do a bunch of molly and go to a rave or free-climb a cliff.
I pity anyone who doesn’t have something like that in their life. Sometimes I lose it in myself. This year especially, what with what all is going on, I’ve had a bit of trouble separating the signal from the noise. It’s not fair though, for me to inventory my emotional state, judge it negatively, and blame the virus, and the ever tightening grip of fascism on our government. I mean, yeah, it’s all fucked up, it might be getting worse even, but we are still here, and we can still love each other, and for now that’s just going to have to be enough. It’s become a bit hard for me lately to realize that, I think because of just how much time I’ve not been spending with my feet on the ground, but instead experiencing America through the distortion field we call the internet.
It’s funny the things you realize about yourself, when you go on a walk, down in New Orleans, just to do it.
I think I’m finally home.