In any environment, any city, someone creating a subjective form of art or artistic expression has to relegate themselves to quiet corners to concentrate on producing it, but in New Orleans, where I live, THE life here is (in no set order) food, sex, music, drugs and a high incidence of denied-yet-engaged alcoholism. So I might work and not be consumed by natural distractions of this city, the tidal going in and out of the scene that would kill before enlighten is its own art form.
I received terrific support both here and in New York City when my novel released in June 2012. The former is a habitual backbone of artists in general and the latter I historically considered to be a literary Mecca. It will likely always be to me, in a very romantic sense. But in New Orleans and beyond the glass windows and old wooden doorways of independent bookstores, I don’t feel that romance inasmuch as I experience trepidation in terms of “getting the work out there,” especially my two books of poems. My home boasts a very believable pride in all art created here, or elsewhere, in her name while at the same time really leaning toward the audible and visual elements of creation. And while I’ve tapped into those planes during a few book readings in bars and bookstores, thus attaching myself in small spaces to that energy, writers here seem to be the unnoticed camouflage in this party-centric city.
Perhaps it’s supposed to be this way. It isn’t that writers aren’t appreciated here. Considering the degree to which we’re ignored, it’s more a sign of respect than anything else. New Orleanians largely stay in their own ways, yet are completely aware (if asked) of their involvement in some observed and celebrated event in history. And the success of local artists is almost expected, so much so that when a new book comes out or a showing occurs at a gallery or a musician gets to play the Super Bowl with an international superstar, locals crowd the bars and art houses and bookstores and not only raise a glass in toast but say “I’m proud of him/her” by saying something else, something more familiar and playfully derogatory and rife with truisms of character and history while hinting at continuity:
Just think, just two years ago I remember he/she was doing lines of coke off a bar piano in the French Quarter, and look how far our baby has come!
The isolation required to be a writer in New Orleans is minimal, generously given and is indeed escapable in terms of what else lies on the other side of that silence needed to create. Paying one’s dues here really means just staying long enough to understand this is how it is and will always be.