I grew up in New Orleans before living there was a pop cultural exotic, magical act. The place so many now go to eat, pray, and love was home. Its energy was normal – expected even. I believed everyone lived in a place where they would stumble upon an internationally known recording artist giving a free concert. Who hasn’t stumbled across a Marsalis? What kid didn’t get to jump the line in front of Charmaine Neville, who said, “Go head, baby,” because you only had two items? New Orleans was a very flawed city. Its children were vulnerable to those flaws because of the ease in which we could exist in our bubble. Our family, friends, and neighbors kept us enveloped in love so much that when harsh realities came calling, they jarred us. As I got older, my family and beautiful circle of homegirls were always around never too busy for a phone call or to bring or receive a plate.
When the climate (both literal and figurative) that followed Hurricane Katrina exposed our city’s worst parts, we were left wounded and scattered. The neglect that we danced around could not be healed overnight, or the subsequent eleven years. The old residents of New Orleans, regardless of where we are, carry a void in our hearts. Those of us who have moved back miss the people who didn’t. Those of us who stayed away mourn that every time we visit, the place is just a little less “home.” Eleven years later, most of us have not healed sufficiently, relying mostly on memory and the comfort we find through one another.
Two years ago, I resolved to share our stories. Not just mine or people like me, but the story of all of us who lived, loved, and grew in a city that, even now, borders the surreal. I interviewed my first story teller this weekend – my dear friend Cliff. He’s one of the most honest writers I know and one of New Orleans’ most faithful sons. He’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about this project. After he recounted his story, there was so much of my story that bubbled to the surface.
I spent the rest of my evening remembering what my life was. Sundays belonged to the lake and then the daiquiri shop. My red beans went in the crockpot on Monday morning, so that when I came home, my house would smell like dinner. That’s how I started my week. When I moved away, I traditions got jumbled, but some things don’t change. I only cook my red beans on Mondays. It’s the only way they work. When I try it any other way or any other day, something goes wrong. The beans scorch at the bottom, or the rice is mushy. (To know me is to know that I would put my rice up against any motherfuckin’ contender. Word to Masta Killa.) I still play DJ Jubilee when I’m home getting dressed to go out. I believe a baldheaded man with fat sharpies was more accurate than any storm radar, and since his passing, all direction is lost.
We haven’t healed, but we can. Let it start with telling people who we were before New Orleans was catchy and hip. Once the storm scattered us, it opened the opportunity for transplants trek to the most unique city in the nation (this is neither a poll, nor a debate) and “fix” it. Well meaning people have trickled in, bent on siphoning the magic of New Orleans, while bringing none of their own, making it someplace altogether different. So even those who have moved back know this place is not home. This commodified joy is not what nurtured us. So those of you who remember when joy was our birthright, it would honor me if you would make your story part of this project. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, for intake information.