I cannot begin to document the thousand little miracles that made up the 2015 New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat, July 13-17. I never thought that anything could be as good as the 2014 writing marathon. But here it was, again, stunning from the start, each day feeling like a lifetime. Threads of writing on this marathon have worked their way into several different pieces that I am still working on, but here I will pull out two pieces from the first day in the good company of new and old marathon friends, including my dear travel companions Jeff and Kelly.
A million thanks to Richard Louth, Kim Stafford, Tracy Ferrington Cunningham, Michelle Russo, and the whole retreat leadership team for creating the most magical and intense writing experience of my life. Anyone who wants to attend in 2016 should stay tuned to writingmarathon.com for updates.
11:15 a.m. Carousel Bar
Reveling in my triumph at scoring seats for my half-newbie group at the famous bar in the Monteleone Hotel, I celebrate with a Vieux Carré, the signature cocktail of the house, invented in 1938. It contains both kinds of bitters, Angostura and Peychaud’s. Blessed bitters, grounding the spirits of the glass and the city and the writer just the same, they draw the sweetness out, giving it something to stand on.
I’m watching a group of four carefully groomed and very tan young bros flirt with two brown-haired young women. The girls are seated at the bar, which is moving very, very slowly. The guys are standing, stationary. Very, very slowly, the girls drift away with their drinks.
Moments pass. Pages fill. My glass empties.
When I find the group again, I see that a thinner, blonder girl in a black crop top has anchored the young men, leaving the brunettes to float on.
Ten minutes later, I see that three of the bros, one of the brunettes, the crop top blonde, and a brand new blonde with beach waves have all formed a chatting fleet, moving as one in measured, steady shifts. They circumnavigate the carousel, carried in the boozy current beneath the bar’s circus lights, clown masks, and mirrors.
2:14 p.m. St. Louis Cathedral
In the opening session—on Bastille Day—Kim welcomes us to Day 1 of the marathon and says, “Let the doors of our reticence fly open!” Then he challenges us with a question that follows me all morning and all through lunch: “What is your freedom for?”
It’s easy to see how people become born again, turning themselves over to “the Lord” in seeking answers to this difficult question through religion. Today I realize that I have, instead, turned myself over to Lourdes, the Le Richelieu Hotel desk attendant who checked me in.
I wanted so much to have a room with a beautiful balcony over Charters Street. I’d had one last year, and one the year before that, with the bad boyfriend spoiling it a little but not enough for me to stop asking for the same kind of room, in the online reservation notes and in person, pleading.
But this year, Lordes said, “We couldn’t do that, but we do have you in a nice room with a balcony in back.”
She saw my disappointment. My hurt. “So it’s in back?” I asked.
“It overlooks the pool,” she said, smiling. “It’s very nice. You’re going to like it.”
I dragged my skepticism up to the room and flung open the doors of my balcony. From that moment my orientation to the room and to the marathon changed.
As Lordes predicted, I do like it. I like it so much, I am humbled and changed by it. It’s a spacious two bedroom suite with a huge, gorgeous bed and a little sitting room, part of the original McCartney suite where Paul and Linda stayed for several weeks while they were visiting New Orleans. Best of all, it faces inward, opening to the lush courtyard.
I realize now that this is what I need. A new room with a new view. A turning inward.
Reminded of the John Muir quote I like to put at the top of my own marathon handouts, I feel awed by the power of the marathon once again, quieted and grateful and even ready.
“For going out, I found, was really going in.”