Back in March I was fortunate enough to travel to New Orleans, partially on the University of Oregon’s dime, to conduct research towards the book proposal I’m working on. My objective:
Folks like my buddy Phillip, here.
The Crescent City is a sort of spiritual home for our family. Some early Ragan-Fore courtship rituals transpired there, and we even considered getting married in the Musée Conti Wax Museum. After all, nothing says “I want to spend the rest of my life with you” like a six-foot sculpture of Cyclops. So in many ways, traveling to New Orleans meant coming home, or at least, coming to a home.
I knew I’d be hoofing it to and fro through the French Quarter for most of the week, so in preparation, I built myself an iPod mix to carry me up and down the Rue Royal, songs about New Orleans and by New Orleanians. A little Shelley King, a little Hank Williams Jr., a little Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and a whole lot of Louis Armstrong.
On the two flight legs on the way into le bayou, I didn’t have time to listen to my music. My patented blend of Dramamine and whining distracted me from the acute air-sickness that’s practically a personal trademark. And for the first few days once I’d hit the Quarter, I was too focused on work to plug in.
By Day 3 I was getting frustrated with myself. I’d been so excited by the playlist at first, and I was certainly walking to and from interviews enough to make time for it. Why hadn’t I strapped on my headphones? But I just wasn’t in the mood.
But sometime around Day 4, I realized what was going on: I was too engaged in my surroundings. As I strolled through town, the writer in me was soaking up snatches of southern-fried conversation, the refrains of zydeco tunes floating from greasy bar entryways, tourist trap hawkers luring folks into their attractions… the life and color of an American city, in its full audio glory, the gumbo gestalt of “sense of place” so very necessary to the production of good writing.
As an inmate of the 21st century, I can’t help but heed the siren call of electronics, media, anything that keeps me ensconced in a womblike bubble, separated from my environment. But as a writer, as an observer, I have to pierce the veil, divine the secrets, of my world, whether they be visual, tactile, gustatory… or audile.
You know, it’s funny. I never did listen to that New Orleans mix while I was actually in New Orleans. I waited until I was back in the clean green of Eugene. But that’s okay. At home in my own backyard, investing twenty minutes here and there into watering the plants with the garden hose, my playlist has come in quite handy in reminiscing about my adventures in New Orleans, and about the city’s significance to my work, my life, and my relationship.
One particular line from one particular Shelley King song stands out to me, giving voice to my own thoughts about the Big Easy:
“I only have this one regret, I can’t believe I ever left ya.”