Yesterday I went to Target to buy a new notebook because my latest journal is almost filled up. I have been keeping a journal for years: the misguided 20s, of which the best part was I was carried away from the soul-searching carnage with a great husband, one lovely baby and another on the way by 29, the find-yourself, be-yourself 30s—which are almost over and yes, I can say I’ve lived and learned. This next book might take me to my 40s, in two and a half months, or the next notebook will. Here is a wiser me. A figured-it-out me is my hope. My journals are everything that happens to me, everything I do and think, and sometimes people write things to me and it wounds up printed and taped in there. It’s a chronicle of my world, along with both snippets and lengthy excerpts of the way some people in the world see me. I like having the record. I write every morning and sometimes at night. Sometimes I read aloud passages to my husband. He laughs. He goes wide-eyed. The best is when I read to him from the older notebooks from when we were dating in 2003, about how I wanted to have babies with him and I wanted them to have his feet and eyes. Both my boys have daddy’s feet but only one got his eyes. I sort of have it all, I think.
I am stuck on this one brand notebook they only sell at Target. This time last year I thought I would never, ever write this: I rarely go to Target. It’s a few miles from my house in New Orleans and I have to get on a freeway. That’s if I can’t navigate the backroads… a separate issue is that I confuse Airline and Earhart, two roads that conceptually sound the same to me (airlines, airplanes, Amelia, would you like a bag of nuts?) and run parallel until they don’t. I’m a bad driver. I’m a day dreamer. Isn’t the levee supposed to be over there? Target is in the suburbs and having spent eight years in the suburbs in California (which this suburb near New Orleans sort of reminds me of) and having been choked by what I started to see as a vacant supply of chain restaurants and shopping centers, I prefer to stay in the city where I feel at home around the vagrants and noise and the notion of never knowing what will pass by my door. I met a lot of nice people in the California dream of picket fences. People who felt home there. The problem is I did not. And so it went. Now, usually, If I need something from Target I find it on Amazon and the UPS driver delivers it. City living. We live on a busy street. A most famous avenue and when I can, I walk everywhere or ride the streetcar. (Which. I. Love.) And… it’s safer for other drivers that way. Plus, David bought me an aircraft carrier of a vehicle to help get me over the potholes—driving on the moon, I say—and I am not that good at knowing how to drive this thing down the narrow streets. Parking is another story. Complications aside, it’s bliss here. Soon, I’ll stumble on another brand of notebook.
I wrote this poem this time last year. Actually, it was last spring. My last spring in that California suburb that—eight years into it—wasn’t for me. Our house was big and beautiful. It sold in a second. A cul de sac. Manicured lawns and gardens everywhere. Safe and good for kids. Nice school. Nice lovely everything. And I hated it.
Here’s my poem, from my journal:
Outside calm, inside chaos,
Outside chaos, inside calm.
In the suburbs I was either a fish flopping around on dry land or a bird with its head held under water, thrashing, grabbing for anything to save me. Anything. Any thing became another sort of noose… and then a storm. And then, yes, it came down to it: we have to get out of here. We got to reinvent ourselves and in a place that is more me. I became the fish in its ocean; the bird that is soaring. In New Orleans, of all places, with my love. David and I love it here. Before I moved here, in my research of everything New Orleans, I was reading Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, which I didn’t particularly like. But one concept stood out: everydayness. The character Binx spoke negatively of “everydayness,” what we as humans live through every day. A dull concept of going here and going there, bored and unhappy and bored, unhappy, unhappy, same people, same conversations—tiresome, sad Binx. I can say coming here to New Orleans David and I escaped everydayness and found something truly wonderful in our surroundings and in each other. A better understanding, I think. And bravery. That, too.
Funny. I recently found out that The Moviegoer competed with Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road for the 1962 National Book Award—Percy’s book won which is a shame because Yates’s book is fantastic. (Catch 22 was also up for the award that year) Revolutionary Road is in my top five, or ten or twenty—it’s tough for me to pick favorite books. We just moved into our new house and counted twenty or so small boxes of books I can’t get rid of.
Revolutionary Road is a harrowing indictment of the American Dream of safe and unhappy living. Yates himself came up with that. In an interview about the book he said, of the title: “I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over the country, by no means only in the suburbs—a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.” I think I once was a lot like April. Dying not to get out of it but dying to get in. She wanted to move to Paris. I wanted to go anywhere where I could walk and see things and meet people and talk to strangers and strange people alike. I think April’s demise (if you’ve read the book) could have been avoided had her husband just said, let’s go to Paris—never mind how nuts it all sounds. I had been trying to leave the California suburb for years. Finally, when we packed up and drove out and arrived here on a rainy day in July, the sky seemed bluer. A different shade and it hasn’t changed for us. I continue to be wowed by my surroundings and the things we discover.
New Orleans is a writer’s paradise. I figured that out the first time I came here last spring. I walked everywhere and spoke to everyone. I immediately started collecting my little cache of what friend and longtime Times Picayune columnist Angus Lind called “New Orleans stories.” I owe Angus a phone call. Because I have more stories to tell him. Angus has his own stories, which I never get tired of. A while back I went to an event at Garden District Book Shop. It was for a book about New Orleans’ first 300 years. A bunch of writers contributed to the massive volume and a few spoke on this panel. One man wrote of the problems with New Orleans being below sea level and Katrina and how this could be an Atlantis one day. Next up: Angus spoke about all the characters here. His contribution to the book is full of crazy stories of funny, quirky people you find living below sea level. When I lined up to have my book signed I told the gentleman with the tales of woe that he told me why I shouldn’t live here. I pointed to Angus and said, and he told me why I should. If the world ends tomorrow I get to say, I lived.
New Orleans stories. That’s why I am writing this post today and will continue to blog more. I tend to write Facebook posts about funny things that happen and a few people have said, write a book, a blog, something! Here’s a Facebook post from last week:
“Reading on the porch. Just met Laura, who was walking by. High as a kite. Knew it before she told me. Very nice lady. Lots of high fives. Waitress from Maryland. I’m from Philly. East coast! High five! Loves dogs. Me too! High five! Asked me for a lighter. I had one in the house. High five! Said fire trucks make her nervous—there was an incident across the avenue. She smokes Marlboro reds... which is the real deal. Anywho. Before leaving she asked me if I was lactose intolerant. Nope. Says she’s gonna bring us some cupcakes. Tales from the porch continues....”
I am working on a new book—more on this in a minute—so I thought my blog would be a great place to write of who I meet and what happens. Because it’s never boring. I think I don’t blog as much, or ever, because I am a bit of a perfectionist. I worry about grammatical errors. Typos. Run-on sentences. Fragments. Seriously… that’s the reason. So, excuse all my typos and errors because this is just typing for me. Like letters to a friend. Dispatches are never perfect. The writing is saved for books. I’ll try to commit to blogging weekly.
On the topic of books. As some of you know I finished a novel in 2016. No publisher but there is hope. The book is historical fiction—WWII—and the market, I am told, is flooded so unless I want to revise heavily and make it “contemporary” it won’t see the light of day. Yet. Yet, I say, because the feedback has been amazing otherwise. I don’t write for the market, I tell you. I learned that with my first book; everybody in publishing told me no way. Vietnam books don’t sell, they said. Revise this and maybe. I turned down their advice and wrote it the way I wanted to, self-published and won a bunch of awards. And I am still getting notes from people who are discovering American Boys. It lives on and so does my passion for telling stories. I think I said this in my interview in Writer’s Digest: not a paycheck player. My supportive, saint husband lets me be, work on what I want to work on, with a ton of faith in me. Side note: sometimes I call David “Longsuffering Leonard.” Leonard was Virginia Woolf’s husband and he sort of weathered all her storms like a great man. I am not saying I’m crazy but there have been times…. Anywho, I’ll keep writing and someday you’ll see a book of mine somewhere. I just love the writing. When it all comes together. Right now I am still in research mode with this next novel. It never takes me long to write. I finished American Boys in three months (it took me three years to research). I finished Falling Toward Home, my first novel, in two months but it took me two years to research. This next novel takes place, in part, here in New Orleans. I think I ordered my first book about New Orleans in the fall of 2016. Where do I get my ideas? Why here? I think the ideas find me. I see something. I hear something. An old friend sends me a letter.
Right now I am still reading a lot and thinking a lot. That’s the other thing Longsuffering Leonard knows about me. I tend to stare into outer space a lot and he knows I am formulating this book in my head. Once I know where I am going with it and where to begin it’s a fun few months of burning dinner and misplacing car keys. Piles of laundry and forgetting to walk the dogs.