Friday, November 28, 2008

The New Digs

My first day-after-Thanksgiving carb-hangover in the new apartment. Feels like home. This is my first apartment in umm...6 years? I've been "the roommate" or "the housesitter" for the past 6 years, most of that time really living on the road. For the past 2 years, I've been settled in New Orleans, renting the big room from Miss Gloria in the Bywater. Now I'm ready to move on to my own apartment.

Day-after-Thanksgiving in my new digs. I'm avoiding the refrigerator. Instead, I walked to Cafe Flora, which is close to my apartment and open, to buy incense and a coffee. Sidewalks are wet from an early morning storm. The few folks outside have the same bleary looks as me. Carb-hangover. Must find coffee.

I moved in 2 weekends ago, but "officially" occupied the place 2 nights ago, when I cooked. I made the oyster dressing for the T Day table, a Southern tradition made with paper-light baguettes. My kitchen is bright with a LOT of counter space and a window that overlooks rooftops.

The whole apartment is called the Camel Back of a Shotgun. A Shotgun house is long and narrow, with no hallways, just one room behind the next. If you open all the doors, you can shoot a shotgun straight through. The Camel Back is a second story that extends only half the length of the Shotgun. A half-story, I guess. The Camel Back was popular in New Orleans because home owners could avoid tax on second stories by only building half a second story. Imagine me in my upper half-story, relaxing on my elevated wooden deck, drinking beer at sunset.

The Mississippi River is only a block away, but except for the sky my view is obstructed by wharf warehouses. I see smoke stacks on passing ships, and the peaks of the Crescent City Bridge lit up at night. My view is rather industrial on the river side. I'm glad the river is there, but prefer the kitchen view and the deck.

I live on Marigny Street, which also lends its name to the entire neighborhood. The Marigny (pronounced merry-knee) is the 3rd oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, directly adjacent to the French Quarter. I walk 3 blocks from my apartment to the Quarter. Named after the Baron de Marigny, who parceled out his estate to pay gambling debts and to house his numerous mistresses, the Faubourg (faux town) Marigny is historic, quaint, quite Gay, relatively middle class, and liberal. Bed-and-breakfast abounds, and KEE-YOOT cottages side-by-side, up and down the blocks, painted bright colors with filigree millwork. Balcony gardens, sweet olive trees, the occasional cobblestone sidewalk, decay.

You could say I moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chicago Deep Dish

Boy, was I bitchy about being chilly in Chicago. Low 30s at night. I slept in my clothes and wore everything in my suitcase during the day. Road crews put up "snow fences". Although I love a lot of things about Chicago, like my dear friend Daniel, ethnic foods, and architecture, I don't love the weather. I'm a hot-house flower, Ya'll. I bloom in humidity.

Had a great visit with Daniel in the windy city. We always have stimulating conversations about spirituality and art. He's a very calm, sober-minded man with a deep appetite for contemplation. Our friendship goes pretty far back. To Seattle, where we both volunteered for a queer youth drop-in center, called Lambert House.

I made a point of filling up on foods I can't get in New Orleans. Although we have more restaurants than churches (and there's a LOT of churches), most restaurants specialize in "New Orleans food". If you want variety, take a road trip like me. My first night in Chicago, we ate Pakistani. Then great Mediterranean and real Mexican (not a burrito in sight, which is actually an American food, like fortune cookies). And of course, we ate Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

One night I made dinner, Pasta Putanesca, for Daniel and 2 of his friends, one of whom is quite cute (and may visit me in New Orleans this year. Hee hee. Boyfriends everywhere!) After dinner, they read a script out loud for me in the livingroom while I took notes. After the new year, I hope to direct a play in New Orleans. The title is secret until I'm sure I've secured the rights, which is difficult because the author is dead and the play unlisted with Dramatist Play Service.

The peak of my trip was the Russian Banya, an authentic bath house. Not a gay sex club type of bath house, but the real deal Russian spa for men. For an extra price, they offered to beat me with birch sticks, but I declined. I do want to return some day and be scrubbed down in the sauna by an attendant with a broom of oak leaves. I definitely sweated out my chill. The cold plunge made me "buzzy".

I culminated my wonderful 2-month journey by riding a train they call the City of New Orleans. I even recorded myself singing the Arlo Guthrie chorus, with train sounds rumbling in the background, and sent that recording to a few friends via my cell phone. "Good morning, America. How are ya?"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Writing Retreat

This short poem is my first attempt at "meter" in poetry.

Twisting, yearning Madrona peels
back his own red foreskin, exposing
the raw
desire need of the Earth and a sleek
skin of green beneath.

Seems a trifle to belabor for 2 weeks, but the poem's been a learning tool. And once again, I'm attempting to express something about my relationship to desire.

During my 2-week creative residency at Port Townsend, WA, I wrote 3 poems and started a couple others, but primarily worked on my novel, Goodfriend, now 3 years in the making (and officially my longest relationship.) I'm very happy with my progress. In addition to increased wordcount (2 chapters, neither done but both very well-developed), I found my way out of the wilderness. For several months now I've complained of being lost in "Deep Middle Territory," groping my way blindly forward with my story. Or so it felt. But I did some problem solving in Port Townsend. I now believe I'm only 6 chapters away from FINISHED! With Draft 1, that is. I've written 15 chapters so far; only 6 more to go. Not so lost. I have crested the summit and can see the River Jordan.

That's wonderful news to me. I'm happy to leave Port Townsend with a plan of action, re-energized, and re-focused. Time away is a good thing.

I had a 3-bedroom apartment all to myself, with panoramic water view. On clear days, Mount Rainier is visible, plus the Cascade range and the Olympic range on opposite sides of me. If you've never experienced the Pacific Northwest, the landscape is dramatic. We had a peak Autumn this year too. Nothing to rival Vermont, but impressive for this area. The foliage has been a frequent topic of local news. I had sunny days with crisp air and then a few misty, moody days toward the end. Each morning I walked in the woods or on the beach, muttering lines to myself. I sketched. Daydreamed considerbly, and deeply imagined the lives of my characters. Did a lot of soul searching.

The facility is top-rate. There's yoga onsite, an Internet cafe, ok cell coverage, laundry and ATM. On Saturdays I rode a door-to-door bus to the Farmer's Market in town. And on Halloween, I costumed as a dead poet and walked to the waterfront. At some straight bar in town, I danced to a surprisingly great funk band and got as drunk as a living poet on payday. Women hit on me HARD. I'm not used to that.

I reserved the apartment again for this summer, an entire MONTH. Mid-August to mid-September, the peak of New Orleans hurricane season. Yay! I have a hurrication plan! A month is a long time to maintain momentum or to be alone, so I put out the word to 20 writers I know around the country to join me for some portion to write. A 3-day weekend, a week, two weeks. Several writers have replied already. Perhaps by this summer I'll be writing my LAST chapter, or better yet, Draft 2.