How can this city keep giving me such rich gifts? My gratitude overflows to the the spirits of place that dwell here and envelop me in their wisdom.
This year, I gained fresh insights from the St. Charles streetcar, the Columns Hotel, Lafayette Cemetery, the rangers at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, “G and the Swinging 3” at the Spotted Cat jazz club, and cajun dancing at both Mulate’s and the Bayou Club. I was also greeted warmly by old friends like Cafe Rose Nicaud, the window seat at Molly’s on the Market, St. Louis Cathedral, the crawfish and tasso pasta dish at Coop’s, the gracious and hospitable Gallier House, the Treme Brass Band at d.b.a., and the magical Andrew Wiseman.
My gratitude also overflows at the opportunity to be a retreat leader again at the 4th New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat. Many thanks, in particular, to Richard Louth, Tracy Cunningham, Michelle Russo, Marley Stuart, Kimberly Stuart, and all of the other wonderful teacher-writers at the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project.
The piece below includes bits and pieces from marathon writing through the week. I read it at the open mic and it was included in a radio show which draws on the readings from several retreat writers. You can listen to it here at about 17:30, but all of the pieces are really great.
Junior Ranger Pledge for the New Orleans Writing Marathon
In the gift shop of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, I watched the world’s most adorable swearing-in ceremony: a brother and sister team earning their 14th and 15th National Park badges. They raised their hands while a tall ranger with a crown of sleek, black curls administered the junior ranger oath, adding the park’s—and her own—special variations:
“As a junior ranger, I promise to teach others about what I learned today, explore other parks and historic sites, and help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them. I pledge to honor all the music I’ve learned about, including be-bop, swing, trans, traditional, gypsy, modern, fusion, and funk. I promise to enjoy life, to have fun, and to respect all things jazz.”
The scene sent me to my notebook, happy and musing. If we had a Junior Ranger badge for the New Orleans Writing Marathon, I wondered, what would our pledge be?
“I promise to support writers and writing marathons and the people and places that help them thrive, to be a writer myself, to teach others about marathons, and to help make the world a better place through our words. I promise to honor all forms of writing inspiration, including the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the rain and the wind, the sun and the sweat.
“I will respect the barbecue shrimp and the perfect Pimm’s Cup, the rattle-roar of streetcars and the blast of sirens in the night.
“I swear to lean into the slopes of balconies, eavesdropping on the street, on couples heading out for the night and packs of snarking hipsters, on the tipsy weaves of ladies in heels and the slouches of drunks in doorways.
“I promise to gather the cool cathedral marble and the brass band music blending into Gregorian chant, the frail ferns rooted in cemetery bricks and charbroiled oyster juice sopped up in bread.
“I will sit in windows of writers’ bars and watch the watermark fall in my whiskey glass, watch the passing river of folks, the street tribes trailing doggies and the light-up bicycle parades, the workday strides of servers and the ramble of ragtime gangs, the families with bags and beads, the wise men, the bards, and the queens.
“I swear to keep time by the clopping of hooves on cobblestones and the orbits of the Carousel Bar, by music calendars and festival times, by Bamboula beats and Cajun jigs and second lines.
“I will listen to the stories of street signs, of cocktail menus and passersby, stories of plaques and stones, of ironwork and taxi drivers and undertones. I will hear it all–the longing and love and loss, swirling and surging, so high and so much.
“Sometimes too much.
“But, I am a writer. I will see it all, and hear it all, feel it all and write it all, in courtyard pool glows and under swollen skies. I will write it on shadeless riverwalks and at dim hotel desks, by the glint of gaslights in manhole cover ponds, their hexagons holding late day rains long into the night.
“I promise to let all these things speak to me and through me, and to help others do the same, whenever I can.
“By the ink that is my blood and the pages of my heart, I offer this, my solemn New Orleans Writing Marathon pledge.”