I haven’t written nearly enough as of late. I can feel the guilt rising up from the pit of my stomach and into my chest like the acid reflux that accompanies my anxiety attacks. By this time I was supposed to be well into a novel, but the parsimony of words is as unpredictable as desert rain. Coincidentally, I should have also finished reading a novel, Ulysses, that has become my “White Whale,” or at the very least, my “albatross.” Yet, as I sit here typing this, I haven’t done either. My inspiration is dried up spring, and even in a city of Muses, I’m having a difficult time summoning one.
This isn’t to say I haven’t been working. I have. I’ve been working before I ever set foot in New Orleans, and have continued to work assiduously at creating a creative network. In some regard, I feel like a master mason, laying an endless foundation, block by block; a sturdy foundation full of solid people and connections. However, somehow my building never seems to rise off the ground. I’ve been perpetually stuck on the first floor.
Sandy has not helped to assuage my frayed nerves either. The thought of my family and friends sitting cold and powerless while temperatures continue to plummet has me on edge. I’ve sent clothes; I’ve sent money. What I’d rather send is myself, but unfortunately that isn’t feasible. The northeast, so densely populated and ill prepared for a storm of this intensity, is also beginning to run out of patience. My good friend and former business partner called me yesterday and likened the situation to “Mad Max.” And he lives in Westfield, one of the nicest towns around. My parents, who live in rural New Jersey, haven’t had power in eleven days, but are taking it in stride. My brother and sister in law just returned home with their two kids. And my son will finally resume school, although at a temporary location in Jersey City until his building in Hoboken can be repaired.
There is a great deal of anger being expressed on social media, mostly directed at the utilities, but I figure that if you have access to social media you probably haven’t lost too much (and I empathize with anyone who’s been inconvenienced or worse). However, having a father that spent forty years working in the electrical industry probably gives me a very different perspective on the nature and timeframes associated with power restoration. Being a lineman is an incredibly dangerous job. There is no room for whoops. A mistake likely means death or serious injury for either the worker or the customer downstream. Not to mention the potential for property damage. The other thing that most people don’t know is that utilities have cut back drastically on the size of their crews over the years. Much of this has to do with the ability of consumers to buy electricity “more inexpensively” from non-local providers. While this seems good in theory, what it does is it weakens the revenue streams of the local providers, who are still responsible for line maintenance, and who respond by doing less of it. Thus, when a storm of this nature hits, the infrastructure is already compromised, and the response crews much smaller than in the past. That is part of the reason so many out-of-state crews are now called in to help. Unfortunately, they lack familiarity with the grid and geography, so restoration occurs much more slowly. And don’t even get me started on the lawsuits.
As evidenced from this post, in which I’ve strayed from writing to electrical utilities, I’m having a hard time concentrating. I think much of this has to do with the various directions I’ve been pulled in these past few weeks. I’m constantly changing gears – hell changing vehicles. One minute I’m doing interviews, pounding the keys, and the next I’m cooking for one hundred people at a tailgate, hustling it every way I know. I went on the road to work for my friend’s contracting company up in NJ. I’ve been pitching to editors everywhere. And I’m happy to have the skills to always come up with cash when I need it, but after awhile, it’s draining, and unsettling. I have been here almost eight months and feel as unsettled and uncertain as the day I arrived. Hell, I’m still living out of boxes, on some level.
I’m not complaining though. Because I can’t really complain about living in a city of ineffable beauty and constant melody. I can’t complain about the uncanny feeling that somehow I was meant to find my way here. Here, where the river brings every last promise and possibility before sinking into the Gulf. I’m supposed to find something here… I just don’t know what it is yet.
Truth can only be revealed. I never really understood what this meant when I was younger, but it makes perfect sense to me now. And truth will only reveal itself to you when you are ready to receive it. I also believe truth reveals itself to itinerants. And probably coffee drinkers as well.
I have no proof of this other than the events of last night. I was buying coffee at CC’s on Royal and St. Phillip when I heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band: it was Roots of Music, practicing for the Rose Bowl. They had already turned the corner by the time I’d gotten outside, and were about twenty yards ahead. So I followed them. Me and about five other people. It was the most out-of-proportion second line I’d ever been on. I think they were playing “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson. I just kept walking along with them as they wound through the French Quarter and eventually into the Cabildo, where I stood in Pirate’s Alley listening until the music stopped. It was breathtaking.
I spent the rest of the night walking the streets of the Vieux Carre like a wraith, floating on the fumes of flickering gas lamps and melody and syncopation. I know in my heart, that just like that brass band, something is coming round the corner, waiting to meet me head on… it just hasn’t, as of yet, revealed itself.