Marathon Mothership Day 3: Ramping It Up on the River (New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2014)


Day 3: Wednesday

At the morning session, Writer-in-Residence Kim Stafford teaches us a four-step process for writing taught to him by his father, the poet William Stafford.  The four steps are these:

  1. Date, time, place
  2. Random journal writing
  3. A line of insight
  4. A meditation on that insight

20140714_181946I write,

  1. 10:15 a.m. The Gallier House. New Orleans
  2. Terribly tired after getting up way too early to work on my revision of the Wink’s piece. Craving serious breakfast.  Last night is a dream now, a haze of fried chicken and neon and rum.  Probably too much rum.  Starting to do too much planning.  Must stop.
  3. We imprison ourselves trying to make sense of the day. More gets done with less consideration and more exploration.
  4. Never read email before sleeping. Even our modern habit of checking Facebook in the dark before closing our eyes traps our mind for the night in the blue rectangle of light.  Locked in a dimension apart, our consciousness fights, all elbows, to free itself like the Superman villains trapped in that flat, spinning dimensional prison, arcing forever into space.  Rather we should ease ourselves into fade-to-black in soft, open fields behind our eyes, random thoughts passing through unfettered, free to flood in and out of our dreaming eye.

After a long moment of gathering silence after the writing, Kim says, “This is the ritual to enter the French Quarter of your soul.”


Soon I am off with Jeff and Kelly, our marathon day framed around a loose plan to find brunch and then board the riverboat Creole Queen and write on the Chalmette Battlefield.

20140716_12122512:00 P.M.  The Original Café Maspero

I came for the Eggs Sardou but found shrimp and grits instead.  And they haven’t quite righted everything, but I am much, much better.  The fresh herbs and bits of ham in there have healed a hole in my spirit.  Or at least plugged it for now.  Almost.

“Almost” is an ok place to be. Missed the mark but landed somewhere close, at least.  In a lively, lovely place where the gaslights stay on all day.  Rising up in my caffeine elevator, ready to peer down a bit from wherever we were, ready to look up at where we’re going.

3:05 Chalmette Battlefield

Martens photo 5 Writing on Chalmette BattlefieldThe National Park Ranger is going on about the battle of New Orleans, but I just want to sit here under the biggest live oak I’ve ever seen.  With its hanging moss, this tree could be my Hair Sister, dark and sprawling and unkempt and all over the place.  I love you and your gorgeous, voluptuous body.  I will come back for you and your sisters, I promise.

3:35 Aboard the Creole Queen

Martens photo 3 Kelly Lock McMillen on riverboat Creole QueenWe cruise along, cradled in Mother Mississippi’s brown arms as the riverbanks slide past through the big windows on either side of the riverboat interior.  A hulking Polish oil tanker looms and then fades under the gold-tasseled fringe of heavy curtains.  Then the Domino Sugar factory, with the rusting metal docks trailing past in the molasses-sweet air. A young girl in a lime-green t-shirt with white-rimmed sunglasses makes her slow way along the outer deck.  Then a long, red grain barge slinks by, nudged by a striped little boat called the “Belle Chase.”

The big rack of glassware sways above the calm head of the bartender mixing cup after cup of rum punch.  Two long columns of passenger heads sways, too, all of us pulled together into the rhythm of the rocking current whether we want to or not.  Behind us, the huge red paddlewheel thunders into the water, sweeping us back home to New Orleans, back to where everything washes down, back to where it all comes from.

20140716_1652154:50 Riverwalk Streetcar

We’re outnumbered on a streetcar full of Elks making their way upriver from the Convention Center.  They’re all sporting their proud red vests, emblazoned with their lodge numbers and hometowns underneath all the badges and pins.  Elks from Wisconsin.  Elks from Arizona. Elks from Ohio.  They tell us they love the streetcar and have been riding it all week.  Through the open windows, I realize that I can stick my head out to a scary degree and be killed instantly by any number of poles, signs, and structures.  I decide to keep my hands and feet inside the ride at all times, safe with the Elks.

Back at the evening open mic, I read the piece I’d worked up that morning about our encounter with Dwight Henry at Wink’s, then we treat ourselves to dinner at Café Amelie, topping up the day with a gorgeous stroll back through the Quarter at night.


One comment

  1. I love your words! They are descriptive and flowing and have the effect of calming me and making me feel like I am there–at the cafe eating food I can only imagine, sitting under the battlefield tree, swaying on the boat, rocking on the streetcar, and strolling through the Quarter–not wanting to end the day! The pictures enhance the experience. Combining your words with the photos makes me want to go there!

    After the introductory picture of someone standing by the ship’s railing, I notice you use chronological order as you move through the day. I noticed your insight revolved around how to end your day, and you show us how beautiful it is to end with an evening walk! I notice your first picture is bright and the last is dark, bringing the day to an end. I notice you have the same man in two of your pictures.

    I wonder who that man is in both pictures. I think you told us at SI14, but I don’t remember. I absolutely love your insight about facebook not being the way to end your day! I wonder about effective ways to teach students about “insight” and “meditating on insight.” I think this would lead to deeper writing for some of our students.

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