Big Easy Evolution

After spending the past two weeks in one of my favorite cities with family I love dearly, I returned home to New Orleans with the most peculiar feeling: It didn’t quite feel like home.

I stepped off the plane, and despite the familiar swoosh of thick, moldy air it was as if I’d just touched down at another vacation spot. Struck by what felt like a genuine “new to New Orleans” chord, I vowed to figure out why this was the case. Was it the odd conversation I had with the woman on the plane who told me she’d never live here because her anxiety levels are too high and the rich food would make her obese? Or was it merely the fact that I missed the family I’d just left and longed to stay near them permanently?

I’ve got to admit: I still haven’t identified why I felt so disconnected from NOLA upon returning. It’s the strangest thing. I’ve ruled out latent anxieties over the oil spill, hurricane season and our recent insurance quotes. I’ve also ruled out the idea that I’m simply too much of a worrywart to withstand the vicissitudes of Big Easy living. I refuse to believe this was the case.

But there’s no doubt; something was awry. For an entire day I questioned the notion of Big Easy living, asking myself, “Isn’t this moniker inherently paradoxical?” Given all that happens in this region on a daily basis, one would never associate “ease” with the long-term way of life here. It’s the strangest thing. As a decadent city with almost more unsavory rankings than any other (murder rate, corruption, etc.), New Orleans continues to amaze and disappoint. But its curative power resides mostly in its citizenry.  New Orleanians are creative, robust, resilient and relatively non-anxious. And as I lack the latter trait altogether, maybe it made sense that I’d entered a semi-fugue state of rootlessness.

This past weekend we rented the beautiful movie Away We Go.  Written by literary superstar of staggering genius Dave Eggers and directed by award-winning Sam Mendes, it wasn’t a blockbuster hit; in fact, it had a limited release before going straight to DVD. Even so, it’s a cinematic gem. The narrative centers on an eccentric couple that finds out they’re expecting a baby girl. Determined to find a place that “feels like home,” the couple travels to several cities to commune with friends and relatives, hoping that each stop feels like the right place to set down roots. After stops in Montreal, Phoenix and a few other cities, ultimately, they decide to live in an unlikely place. (No, not New Orleans.)

Away We Go resonated with me on many levels.  At the end I cried uncontrollably and scared my husband, prompting him to ask me a series of questions: “Are you unhappy?” “Do you hate your job?” “Do you want to leave New Orleans?” But I had no answers. Instead I went to bed with a pounding headache and a resounding question: “Why would a fictional Hollywood characterization of angst, insecurity and disconnection resonate so much?”

I still don’t have an answer. But I’ve certainly moved on. 

Regardless of whether New Orleans feels like home today or tomorrow, I find comfort in knowing that it’s OK to “not care” and “be easy” in the face of unresolved questions. At bedtime last night I turned to one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, for inspiration. I nestled Letters to a Young Poet in my lap and the pages, worn from frequent use in college, fell to one of Rilke’s most reassuring passages:

“As well as you can … have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Today I woke up feeling recharged and decided to sit on the porch at dawn to drink tea and set my intention for a positive week. As I breathed in the thick, moldy air, my senses came flooding back. To my delight, they were genuine. The porch, our house, New Orleans felt like home again.

It’s the strangest thing.

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