on mardi gras, alcohol, photography, and honesty

For over two weeks I’ve been mulling over how to post my photos from Mardi Gras and kept hitting a wall. I wanted to post them, but I didn’t know what to write about. It is normally the other way around – I more or less know what I want to write and only later scrape together the photos in an attempt enhance my musings. But on Mardi Gras day, I took 643 photos and was left with no idea what to say about them.

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Sometimes photos can stand alone, of course, if they’re good enough. But for me, photos have mostly served as an adhesive to my writing, and a way for me to deepen my sense of scenery. I don’t really have the patience nor skill to master the technicalities of photo-making. I like to use my camera as a tool for observation; I don’t take photos to make art.*

The ironic thing about taking photos this past Mardi Gras, of course, is that I hardly used it to heighten my awareness and experience, because I was hardly capable of observing and internalizing what was happening around me, because I was copiously consuming this little substance called alcohol.

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This substance has actually been at the core of my dilemma when contemplating writing this post. How much am I willing to share? How much honesty and intensity do I want to dive into, versus something lighthearted, funny, simple? I didn’t really know until a few nights ago, when I was reading my friend Annie’s blog. She’s been writing about some pretty heavy personal stuff and it dawned on me that the best writing is always the most honest writing, whether it’s a novel or news story or letter or blog post, no matter the subject, no matter if it’s “heavier” hearted. At least it’s the stuff of the heart.

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So anyways, here goes a grand attempt at writing about my Mardi Gras honestly: I don’t remember taking half of those 643 photos; where they came from, who the people were, when it happened. Nothing. Haha, a lot of you are probably thinking. Yeah, it’s Mardi Gras, of course you drank yourself to oblivion. But somehow this time felt different and jarring in a way that others haven’t. Perhaps it’s because this time I was risking my EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE camera as I carted it around the French Quarter with my daiquiris and shots and free beers. (Reckless. Beyond. Belief.) But perhaps it’s also the nature of what the camera provided itself: Documentation. I had no idea how far gone I was until later when I scrolled through my photos and found faces and places that I felt like I had never seen before in my life. It scared me, and I wondered how many other times something like this happened but I didn’t have a camera, so I didn’t even know how much I had forgotten, if that makes sense.

DSC_4500DSC_4250DSC_4311DSC_4597.jpgDSC_4491Honestly (woo! the truth keeps coming), for a while now I have been very interested and concerned about my relationship with alcohol. Why do I feel like I need it? What benefits vs limitations do I incur from drinking it? How much of my consumption has been shaped by my culture and peers, versus a genuine desire to drink? What would I sacrifice versus gain if I gave up alcohol completely?

When I moved back to NOLA, I spent the first couple weeks hardly touching booze in an attempt to find answers to these questions. And I began to find them, because I was feeling so good – energized, engaged, healthy, happy, and like I was saving money. Okay, I thought. Sobriety is cool. I like this. I could maybe do this for an indefinite amount of time.

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But then… Mardi Gras happened. The weekends filled with friends and tall boys and tequila and parades, and I had a grand time, and actually kept things pretty in check leading up to Fat Tuesday – partaking in some drinking, but nothing crazy or out of control at all. It was just Mardi Gras day that everything unravelled, my control became undone. And though I’m not beating myself up about it, it has certainly got my mind whirring again, mostly on the question of, Quel est le point? Our culture has completely normalized this kind of behavior, and in New Orleans it’s especially normalized, not just for Mardi Gras but anytime, really; it’s acceptable and okay to drink heavily, frequently, for pretty much no reason. And I’m realizing more and more that I want nothing to do with it.

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So this is all to say that I’ve dedicated this month post-Gras to cultivating a very different lifestyle of ~mostly~ sobriety. Maybe someday I’ll go back to drinking drinking, but for now and the foreseeable future, I am enjoying this new habit of mine. When I say ~mostly~ sobriety I mean: Having a beer a party, or glass of wine with my roommates, infrequently (like one or maybe two nights a week). For example, last Saturday night I went out to Saturn Bar’s Mod Night and DJ Soul Sister at Hi Ho Lounge with my friend visiting from Florida, and I had half a Corona and a LOT of ice cream and a truly phenomenal time. Dancing has never felt so good, I went home at a reasonable hour, and I had meaningful conversations all night. Revolutionary! I know this might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but for me it’s exciting, and I feel like I’m on the brink of a big positive lifestyle shift.**

I could go on but I think that’s all I’ll say on this subject for now. Oh, I guess, just one last thing: If you live in NOLA and are interested in biking, running, rock climbing, cooking, checking out art shows, listening to live music, sitting in coffee shops, reading in a park somewhere, eating ice cream on a curb or DANCING of ANY kind please let me know… The goal of this new non-drinking lifestyle is not to sit alone in my house, believe it or not. One place in particular I’ve really enjoyed hanging out is a little urban farm in the Ninth Ward called Grow On, they host a ton of events and music and films and yoga etc and the people are wonderful, if you haven’t been you gotta check it out!

Thanks for reading this, whoever you are. And if for some reason you recognize yourself (or a friend) in these photos BY ALL MEANS let me know. For the record, beneath my shame for drinking myself into a wasteland, I do have one tiny glimmer of pride for being able to manually focus and compose these photos. There are lot more of these where they came from, too. I was having a good time apparently.

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*In fact, I don’t even have Lightroom or Photoshop. So far all of the photos I’ve posted have been unedited, save a few tweaks of brightness and contrast with Apple’s crappy editing software

**Note: I’ve heard the notion before of, “If you have to think about alcohol or if you’re hyper-aware of how many drinks you have, you’re an alcoholic.” I just do not believe this is true, mostly because I over-analyze and am hyper-aware of almost everything in life. For example: I usually count how many miles I go for on runs, how many hours of sleep I get, how many books I read in a year, how much money I spend on clothes, how much chocolate I ingest on a daily basis, etc etc. The list goes on, for better or for worse. It seems perfectly normal to actively think about how much I drink, when I actively think about most things I do.