One of the benefits of being a landscaper in New Orleans is that you have a thing called “rain days,” and or better yet “mud days,” i.e. when the sky and ground are too sloppy to plant trees or haul clay or perform any of our other Earthy activities. Sudden and surprising days off! It’s like having snow days again, only better because I’m an adult and don’t have to worry about homework and that cold wet feeling up my sleeves. Today was one of those days – too wet to work, and on a Monday too, which extended my weekend into spontaneous three-day luxury.
So what to do with this newfound freedom? I did some productive-ish things – bought a procrastinated plane ticket, drafted a procrastinated email, attempted to track down a W-2, failed to track down said W-2, picked up two paychecks, deposited said checks, agonized slightly over my finances, decided I don’t care about money, wrote a small poem, bought a couple groceries, ran five miles, read three Nabokov stories, edited some photos, wrote about 500 words of a crappy short story. All during the daylight! It’s amazing what you can accomplish, when you choose to ignore practical and fiscal responsibility and the land is encrusted in mud. By the time 6:15 rolled around I felt fatigued and a little bored of myself and contemplated an extremely early bedtime; but the light outside was beautiful and beckoned me and I decided to take a little photo-walk around my neighborhood. Here are some things I saw. Mud days are the best ya’ll.
A tornado tore through New Orleans yesterday, as if this city needed another hit, as if we needed another reminder that there are destructive forces beyond our control. Yesterday marked the end of my first week back in this damaged beautiful place and it’s been a whirlwind, a good New Orleans-style whirlwind: starting a new job, meeting new roommates, running into old friends on their bikes, buzzing the back of my head, getting yelled at by strangers, sitting on the back porch watching the sunset, calling an ambulance for a drugged-up man lying motionless on the sidewalk by a church Sunday morning, accidentally digging a grenade out of the ground and watching the NOPD and NOLA bomb squad evacuate a stretch of Magazine Street to extract the “potential explosive.” It’s been good, so so good. Truly, I feel euphoric here. I beam at the scenery, I’m lifted up by the familiar sounds and feels of the streets, I’m loving the return to physical work, I love the people I work with, I love the early mornings, I love how much I feel at home here. (It makes me feel like that girl Jessica on YouTube who chants into her mirror, I love my house! I love my haircuts! I can do anything good!!, except I’m not as cute and blonde and tiny.)
Of course, some of these feelings wear off over time, and I’m sure fatigue and confusion and existential crises etc will eventually take its place for at least a lil bit; but for now I am reveling in a genuine state of happiness that I haven’t experienced in a while. I also find it interesting that I feel so genuinely good having stopped (temporarily, but for now cold-turkey stopped) drinking alcohol. It is good to know that I love this city sober, and good to know that some combination of nature, physical work, this city and sobriety fill me with positive energy. Progress, this is progress.
It’s been strange moving back here amidst all the terrible, shameful atrocities currently plaguing our country, and another small yet devastating natural disaster, and starting a job that is very disconnected from it all. I feel a sense of moral obligation to keep tabs on, and connect to, what’s happening; but I also feel a sense of moral obligation to allow myself to be happy. I don’t want things to be wasted on me just because I am disheartened and angered by what’s going down politically, or because there are a million places my mind could be occupied other than here. I don’t want the oh-so-beautiful details that make this place magnificent to be wasted on me – the elegant balconies, the funky trim and chipping paints, the Mardi Gras beads strung on metal beams, the distant glitter of the bridge in the dark, the way the night sky is sometimes purple-orange. This is my city again. It hits me from time to time, as I am biking, or walking, or working, or looking at the people or houses or sky. And it feels good, so deeply good, and I can’t quite believe it.
So yet again I find myself blogging about moving, but this time it’s about moving BACK to a place: New Orleans. That’s right, dear WordPress readers, all five of you. I’m packing up my boxes in Florida – for real this time – and driving them to Louisiana on Monday. Saturday will be my last day of work at Satchel’s, and my new job at a landscape architecture company starts next week.
It feels crazy, uprooting again and returning again, doing something new yet old, progressing yet regressing, zigzagging back and forth across I-10 like a logger truck. It feels crazy, going back to a place that I had once needed to escape. It feels crazy, having to say goodbye to this place just as I’m beginning to get in the groove.
And perhaps I am just crazy. But I’m starting to think more and more that NOTHING in life goes according to plan, and it’s good – necessary, even – to abandon what’s not working. It’s good to embrace opportunities that spontaneously arise, the things that might be scary and difficult at first but serve well in the long run. Diving back into building and planting and physical labor is going to be HARD. Leaving here so quickly is going to be hard. But learning about sustainable and ecological design, waking up early and working in the elements, working in a community I love, living in a city I love — this, I believe, is a worthwhile investment of time and energy.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the nature of work, especially in light of the UTTER MADNESS going down in our country. More and more I think so much of living is about working – and what we do to feel useful, what we do to contribute, and what we put into and gain from our work. More and more I think that so much of what we work on defines our lives. “Constant work is the law of art as it is of life,” Balzac said, as Michael Dirda reminds us in one of his great essays, who adds: “If you hope to accomplish something worthwhile during your time on earth, you will have to work.”
No matter how much our country is founded on freedom and liberty, at the end of the day EVERYONE has to work to be a functional human; whether that’s showing up to a job, or cleaning a house, or contributing to a community project, or reaching out to people who need help, or suffering a little for the sake of something bigger than you. It’s all “work,” it all takes energy and time, and it all literally and physically shapes us.
And amidst all this political madness I’m finding myself more and more wanting to do good work – to do good work for my body and mind, to do good work for others, to do good work for our soil and water and planet. And I’m finding myself wanting to settle, plant some roots, and really invest in a community. Fortunately I know that I love New Orleans – time away from it, and visiting it in spurts, has confirmed this for me – and I can envision putting in work there for a couple years (at least). “You make sense here,” my sister told me when we visited NOLA together last winter. Somehow I think this is true. And it’s time to recognize I don’t make sense in Gainesville, and that’s okay.
The next four years under He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named — and perhaps beyond – are going to be exceedingly challenging, that much we all know. But I remain optimistic that we can and will put work into positive places – in combatting greed and oppression and inequality, in nourishing and nurturing our selves and land, in lifting each other up through focused, steady hands and hearts. It seems like there’s a great shift and priority toward this, beyond just me and my friends and family, and across the nation and even the globe. Let’s keep up this momentum, everybody. These times are crazy, and nothing is going according to plan, and we might have to take a few steps backwards before we can go forwards. But let’s launch ourselves into the places we know – or believe – we can thrive and make a difference. Let’s get to work.
p.s. For everyone who has made my life here in Gainesville as lovely as it’s been I THANK YOU and will wholeheartedly miss you. A final tribute to G-ville coming soon….