Jenny Zhang

The Diner Drawing

One morning during our first week in New Orleans, when I was having trouble going back to sleep after waking up too early, I tried to inspire myself by walking around the city for an hour. On a whim, I decided to eat breakfast at Commerce Restaurant, a local diner in the business district. Mornings like these happen to me often, no matter where in the world I am. I frequently go days in a row running on three or four hours of sleep, but I’ve learned to embrace my restlessness. We’re back from Cajun country to rest in New Orleans for a few days now before heading back to California. I’m having a bout of sleepless mornings again. I’m starting to suppose this is some sort of mental menstrual cycle, but in any case, I’ve decided to visit Commerce again to eat eggs (hoping I can encourage spiritual and intellectual fecundity by ingesting them) and write this. The servers think I’m funny because I keep declining coffee. Truth be told, I don’t need it. I’m very awake. It is 7:30am. I’m going to share two very permanent stories: one is about a tattoo, and one is about this place I’m in right now.

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In my most recent blog, I described a sense of restlessness in New Orleans, its capacity for ennui and malaise, and its ability to dwell and distract itself as an antidote. After getting out of the city, I’m starting to see that it’s not just New Orleans. It’s Baton Rouge, too. I went on a run along the Mississippi one evening and saw at least ten different couples sitting along the water together, watching the river flow out of sight, letting romance settle. Funnier yet, I think Breaux Bridge, Louisiana dwells and distracts itself too. In fact, I know it does because I was playfully invited to play the washtub bass in a Cajun band jam session at the Joie de Vivre café for two whole songs, and then later enjoyed similarly delightful music at a local brewery while I sipped a couple beers and read The Moviegoer. Loving these curious distractions and dwelling in a moment is not just an antidote to some malady of discontentment. I’m learning that it’s a vitamin for happiness. A true gift.

Five years ago, I was in Paraguay for the summer on an exchange trip in a rural community. During that summer of speaking a language I barely knew in a country I knew even less, I read a book called A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It changed my life profoundly. I knew it was an important book for me. I remember highlighting parts that I knew were especially important, even though I couldn’t pinpoint why. Below is a passage that has kept coming to mind these past mornings. I have been trying to understand it for a long time. Owen Meany has a weird voice so Irving writes his dialogue in all caps:

“I want to go on being a student,” I told him. “I want to be a teacher. I’m just a reader,” I said.

”DON’T SOUND SO ASHAMED,” he said. “READING IS A GIFT.”

”I learned it from you,” I told him.

”IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU LEARNED IT—IT’S A GIFT. IF YOU CARE ABOUT SOMETHING, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT IT. IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND A WAY OF LIFE YOU LOVE, YOU HAVE TO FIND THE COURAGE TO LIVE IT.”
— John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time recently reading astrology, religious texts, histories, and now fiction, dwelling on the design of how time or imagination or God has played out before. Here I’ve studied both the motivations of a past culture and spent generously on future visions of psychics, trying to entertain my own desires, how I can interpret where I am. These stories have made me aware of different ways to live—the distractions—all the ways we might find design and meaning in our own lives. (I want to avoid using the word coincidence, but basically dwelling and distracting yourself is like using art and intuition to become aware of the coincidences in your life, or why certain events or conversations or books are important to you.)

My very first blog post on this Louisiana trip was about the confusing estuary I was in. I’m still in it, but I’m much more aware now, and I have a better idea of how it’s flowing. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why then, but I just knew that what I was feeling, thinking, and reading at the time—May 12, 13, and 14 of 2018—was important. I was entertaining myself, pretending I was Edna Pontellier, getting distracted by stilted homes, dwelling on lone flowers on the beach. I was floating between dots of past and present.

But I knew this trip was a gift I couldn’t understand yet. I could feel it held some permanent lesson for me, yet to be articulated. I knew meaning was coming. This is the start of my first story: I decided to get the lone flower that entranced me from the beach tattooed on my arm. I get tattoos like a first step in the creation of art. I draw on my body like I write—it all begins with some thought that seems important, some impulse of meaning at first that I want to document. So I do. I know that through dwelling and dwelling (what others may call the creative process), deeper meaning will unveil itself. I still haven’t discovered the full meaning of my other tattoos, and so when people ask for the story, sometimes I just make up the gist of one. Not that that’s wrong, but there are plenty of interpretations and stories I have yet to unveil. As I grow, I’m slowly understanding why I acted on the notion to get them, why something was so important to commemorate permanently. I’m getting better at paying attention to these moments and urges in my life. When I make a bold connection, I let it dwell. The flower I got here was a morning glory, the same one I drew in my first blog, the one that could mean love in vain, tenacity to follow your dreams, or lasting love. My hunch is it that this tattoo will mean all three of these things eventually. This ink marks the start of a story, a journey full of coming meaning. I’ll read into the tattoo as it starts to manifest its importance, when I can begin to understand how those mid-May moments come back to my past or my future.

I guess this is what I do because I like to think I’m a designer. I live by design, for metaphors, to connect the dots. I think I’m understanding now the way of life I love. All this conversation, all this reading, all this reading into things—I think that’s what bookpacking is. We’re always bookpacking, always dwelling and distracting ourselves with good discussion of both fact and fiction, packing our personal stories and every learned tale with us, whether we’re visiting plantations with abominable pasts or stepping into a diner for a simple breakfast. This is the way of life I love. I’m supposed to dwell on things I find beautiful and distract myself with them, read meaning into those beautiful things, and live the most beautiful ones into existence. It doesn’t matter where I find them or where I learned them necessarily, just like how if you have faith or believe, it doesn’t really matter why. I’m just supposed to connect the dots. Each time and place has meaning—what brought me there? I did! This book did! This dream did! These feelings did!—and psychic intuition and fiction and 9am class sessions all have me in common. I’m meant to relate the philosophical discussion about goodness I had with Claire over dinner to my own intentions in relationships. When the tarot cards tell me I’m set up for success but have to let go of some grief first, I need to think deeply about how I can move on from what’s bothering me. I’m supposed to take the books I realized were important from five years ago—the ones that are popping into my head on restless mornings as I pace a new city—and read into why I can’t stop thinking about its meaning now. When our professor Andrew tells us the secret to a lasting love is to love the person your lover is going to be, I’m supposed to dream a little about the loves I experience in my own life. I’m meant to understand that I have the choice and the courage to follow dots of serendipity into meaningful stories for my own life. I can believe every cliché if I pay attention, I can treat every lyric or encounter like a prophecy if I want. I accept the gifts I’m aware of, so I can indulge in connections when they come. We’re always bookpacking, moviepacking, songpacking, conversationpacking... We're distracting ourselves and dwelling. I think this is my happy place. Reading books and drawing pictures and enjoying music are all forms of having good conversations. Through them, we’re meant to be searching for the ways we want our lives to be. Dwelling on dreams and distractions, getting swept up in their meanings, and being grateful for them every single day.

So here I am at Commerce, typing all of this out. This is my second story: when I came into this restaurant the first time, I didn’t expect to come back. I strolled in on a whim with my sketchbook on me. Because my illustration inventory was running low, and I decided to sketch the scene ahead of me while I waited for my omelet. I could tell the owner and servers were curious about me, the girl who didn’t need coffee at 7am, but they left me alone to draw. I drew, I ate, and I realized I didn’t have enough cash to leave a tip. So I took a photo of my drawing, ripped it out of my sketchbook, and tucked it under my plate as gratuity and left.

This morning, I wake up with a feeling that I should return to this restaurant to do some writing. I knew to trust this feeling because I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else, and I was hungry. When I walk in, the owner and I make eye contact. I know he recognizes me. I look at the shelf on the wall behind him and see my drawing. Without a word, I smile and take a seat.

“He wants you to sign this, queen.” A familiar server brings over my drawing and a menu. “Can I get you coffee, darling?”

I’m beaming. I gently refuse coffee but ask for my eggs. This is a beautiful diner, I am a queen, I sign, and we dwell in this moment together. We’re distracted by the drawing and the exchange, the smile and the nod.

“Hey, Jenny,” the owner of the restaurant calls from behind the counter, after I’m already halfway done with my food. “I’m going to frame it and hang it up. Are you an artist?”

“Kind of, I would like to be an artist,” I nod in his direction.

“I love that drawing,” he gestures to the shelf behind him where my picture takes its throne.

“I’m so happy. I love this place,” I grin into my omelet.

And I do love this place I’m in. I always have, even before I was able to write all of this down, even before the first morning I came to Commerce. I’ve loved it since at least five years ago, when I first discovered that Owen Meany book and realized for whatever reason that passage would be important. Maybe I’ve loved it even before that, because there might be dots from my past I’ve yet to connect, gifts I’ve yet to receive. It was serendipitous that I walked in that first time, but not a coincidence. It was self-awareness that brought me in this morning, so I could sit here now and begin to understand, through every conversation and story—through Edna and Binx and Louis and Ignatius and Jefferson and Wiggins and Buddy Bolden—where I am and why.

Andrew told us to find our happy place on this trip, to look for that special spot in Louisiana. I was expecting to choose some comfortable café simply because I liked the beignets, but I’ve distracted myself with a beauty much sweeter than sugar now. I’m dwelling in this diner, and it’s nearly 10am. The servers are still offering me coffee, but mostly just to tease me and peek at what I’m writing on my laptop. They come around with their coffee pots, they call me queen and Jenny darling. Queen, they ask me, you all good, Jenny darling? We just share smiles and nods. They know I’m happy where I am, and that though I’m in this diner, I’m also dwelling somewhere outside of it, too. The art of life. I hope they’ve also been here. Nothing is meaningless because everything is full of meaning. We just have to read into things a bit, and I think it’s natural to be a bit restless on that journey. I am charmed. I want to thank Andrew for bringing this specific place and these specific characters into my awareness. This is an important gift to my life. I will let you know just how important soon, when I’ve connected all the dots.

Blue Carnival

I’m in Baton Rouge now, and the distance from New Orleans is just enough space to do some thinking uninterrupted by the wailing of a saxophone. Is it disrespectful to say wailing?

Don’t get me wrong, the wailing is beautiful. I heard some of the most musically wondrous moments of my life in New Orleans. The city’s historical and cultural hodgepodge is very inspiring (apartments with French latticing and hole-in-the-wall po-boy restaurants on the same avenue? What? Is this Vegas’ dream ego? If Vegas were actually real and more well-read?), and my eclectic soul is wowed by just about everything. But I was there long enough to see the same buskers days in a row. The crowds followed the same songs, stopping to reflect on a stranger’s sonic heartache or fleeting harmonica happiness on pretty streets four or five times a day.

Who needs the south of France when you have France in the South?

Who needs the south of France when you have France in the South?

This was why I found New Orleans a bit overwhelming at first. There were so many expressions of emotions being evoked, conjured, aroused—and so often. After a while, though, through the carnival-esque noise, I could sense something missing. Some unmet wishes, or yearning for elsewhere, some tough crowds, unfilled tip buckets on the sidewalk. Some returning the next day, and the next, to the same corners on Royal Street, same signs as last time.

I guess I started to realize that even inspiring momentary splendor for others in the form of a cornet, or masked and beaded dancing, or precious local trinkets at the nightly art market, is a profession. It’s someone’s practice of seeking fulfillment. People do this because this is what they can do to make strangers happy, or part of themselves happy, or at least a living. These are the city’s pretty offerings to its visitors—songs as sweet as powdered sugar—but sweet things so often can make you tired and restless.

So that’s how a city so happy can wail. Like the rest of us, the city is looking for the best time all the time. The incessant searching—on Frenchman St, on Bourbon St, in every lounge and bar in the evening—has made a festive and fun tradition of the art of finding meaningful delight. Second lines and krewe parades on the weekends are expressions of pride and sweet sugar—New Orleans has been through a lot, but it still knows how to try and be joyful by referencing the past. The medieval influences in the Mardi Gras and parade culture, tied with Catholic antiquity, tied with African spirituality, tied with the graciousness of an old American South all sing and dance together in the humidity. This is what history looks like finding happy hobbies today: their arts confess love, relive histories, and sustain livelihoods. That’s just the way of life in New Orleans. A daily carnival, a medieval fair, seeking the holy grail of elsewhere, somewhere in its history.

We went to the second line parade of The Divine Ladies, a Social and Pleasure Club in Mid City. It was so much fun. Also, they played Drake’s Nice For What and I wasn’t able to get it out of my head for a week and a half. On Melissa’s blog there’s a fun video of the festivities.

We went to the second line parade of The Divine Ladies, a Social and Pleasure Club in Mid City. It was so much fun. Also, they played Drake’s Nice For What and I wasn’t able to get it out of my head for a week and a half. On Melissa’s blog there’s a fun video of the festivities.

Even its future-seeking comes from the past. I knew I had to visit at least one psychic in New Orleans. Fortunetellers, who typically use tarot cards that borrow from medieval tropes, line Jackson Square and have offices in every plaza. Though scary or silly for some, psychic readings are fun conversations about intuition, trying to read what we know. Just for fun, here’s a generic reading of my next six months. We talked through the possibilities the cards presented, and my personal reflection and meditation has enjoyed the information. I got a specific love reading and career reading too, but I can’t give all my secrets away on the internet.

Drawn from memory. My psychic told me my spread was very positive—a nice confidence boost!

Drawn from memory. My psychic told me my spread was very positive—a nice confidence boost!

From tarot to voodoo, the sheer abundance of fortunetellers in New Orleans is a symptom of restlessness. Knowing—or trying hard to know—what’s next and what’s sweet and how to fill the tip buckets every day seems never-ending. The books we’ve read recently entertain the idea of ennui while seeking meaning in the past, present, and future: from Ignatius’ medieval fetish to his job hunt, John Kennedy Toole paints a perfect picture of a strange man with impossible ideals, settling in Confederacy of Dunces. Ignatius, like Binx in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, turns to movies to indulge in some form of temporary fulfillment: only during movies can Ignatius feel superior to life and ridicule its manifestation as film. Binx is quite unlikeable and quite bored, but his internal torment and yearning for elsewhere is contented when he’s in a “neighborhood theater out there in the sticks without a car.”

When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.
— Ignatius, Confederacy of Dunces

So that’s how a city so seemingly happy can wail—because in reality, it’s quite blue. On the surface, New Orleans’ eclectic curiosities might seem fleeting. But really, the city knows how to do two things very well: dwell, and distract itself.

Not that that’s a bad thing at all. Maybe that is just what we’re supposed to do. And though I’m in Baton Rouge now, I still smell like its quirky, nostalgic glamour. I think I will see beads in trees for a long time.

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Syncopated City

If Paris is the City of Love, then New Orleans is the City of Careless Love.

It’s currently 1am on a Tuesday and I just got back from the Maple Leaf Bar, where I was caffeinated by live jazz. I’ve been in New Orleans for a week now and have walked a total of 110,397 steps in many different neighborhoods, which is just enough to offset (most of) the beignets and fried food. It’s still not enough to really understand where I am, though. There’s just so much going on in this city.

I walked around the French Quarter on my first morning in New Orleans. This was the first thing I saw on the ground.

I walked around the French Quarter on my first morning in New Orleans. This was the first thing I saw on the ground.

Careless Love is a staple jazz song played by the famed Buddy Bolden Band of New Orleans. They don’t have a day-to-day fame, though, because when people on the trolley ask me what book I’m reading and I tell them it’s about the Buddy Bolden Band, they don’t recognize the name. Their fame is a secret veneration, kept alive by scattered jazz connoisseurs, those who know the history.

Honestly, I was expecting the culture here to be more… consistent. By that, I mean I naively expected almost everyone in New Orleans to love gumbo and appreciate jazz and have a fantastically costumed story ready to tell at the slightest mention of Mardi Gras. Obviously, no culture can be truly reduced to its stereotypes, but I’ve realized New Orleans seems to have the quirkiest conjunction of interests and pasts that make it an impossible postcard.

An artist I met told me that as the city branches out from the French Quarter into different neighborhoods, it becomes distinctly less Creole, less structured. New Orleans unfolds irregularly into fusions of tradition and eccentricity, from genteel Garden District to notorious Central City to artsy Marigny. The histories of the city are scattered along the Mississippi this way, and each of these river bank improvisations tell their part in New Orleans’ offbeat, multicultural biography. If Paris is the City of Light, then New Orleans is the City of Voodoo Candles, too.

The great thing about illustration is that I can capture people discreetly.

The great thing about illustration is that I can capture people discreetly.

Its belief systems are as syncopated as its jazz. I listened curiously to Careless Love at Preservation Hall the other evening: like the city, it was funky to parse at first too. Uneven movement from bar to bar, each neighborhood is its own melodic venture, self-aware of both its echoes of the aristocracy and the escape of it. Buddy Bolden and his friends improvised new traditions. Less Creole, less structured, in every direction.

But there was a discipline, it was just that we didn’t understand. We thought he was formless, but I think now he was tormented by order, what was outside it. He tore apart the plot—see his music was immediately on top of his own life. Echoing. As if, when he was playing he was lost and hunting for the right accidental notes… He would be describing something in 27 ways. There a was a pain and gentleness jammed into each number.

New Orleans’ personalities live a short walk from each other, and contradictions are split by single streets. Secret venerations, connoisseurs, and careless, syncopated loves all rub shoulders. Jazz and blues, voodoo, Creole festivities, and southern grace all claim their own regimes, transgressing a unified tradition and expected rhythm. I don’t think I’ll ever understand—there’s so much going on to know every history.

Players at Preservation Hall, where photos weren’t allowed anyway.

Players at Preservation Hall, where photos weren’t allowed anyway.

I have absolutely concluded, however, that New Orleans is passionate. Every neighborhood is powerful and hot and artful. If Paris is for the airy, accordion love ballad, then this city is for the romance of sweaty jazz and deep bass. New Orleans loves, but unconventionally, magically. Pass any bar and hear trumpets celebrating improvised love, abridged love, quick love. Offbeat, off-brand love. This city belches its odes to love in vain, a beautiful self-destruction. In humid heat, New Orleans fantasizes about a better romance.

The photograph moves and becomes a mirror. When I read he stood in front of mirrors and attacked himself, there was the shock of memory. For I had done that. Stood, and with a razor-blade cut into cheeks and forehead, shaved hair. Defiling people we did not wish to be.

In some way, that is what artists do. The crux of Buddy Bolden’s legacy is decadence. The labor of creating something worthy of secret veneration is a self-aware, even inconsistent or impossible process. Uneven movement from bar to bar, New Orleans is the oddly fused and syncopated art form. New Orleans exists for the scattered, passionate connoisseurs, for those who want to understand just how deep its eccentric histories go. It is not a careful story, but it is about love.

On Saturday night, I asked a typewriter poet on Frenchman Street to write a poem about me:

So I’ll keep looking and listening. An uneven movement from bar to bar. Which means you might find me with a drink in hand in Tremé tomorrow night.

Estuary

It was my full intention to bring a camera to take photos for these blog posts. Unfortunately, I’m quite forgetful and my iPhone is nearly out of space, so I’ve decided to invest in a mediocre in-house illustrator to supplement my reflections. I’m the mediocre in-house illustrator.

Luckily, my daily tasks on this 26-day trip include nothing more than to read, write, and observe. And sketching, luckily, is observation. Unlike photography, it takes a bit longer to develop and is much more reliant on my own memory. Because Louisiana is so noticeably different from what I’m used to, it leaves very distinct impressions in my mind and my sketchbook. I hope you enjoy its quirks, fortunes, and moods as much as I do.

The first book we read was The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It’s about Edna Pontellier, a woman who is unlike her Creole husband and companions because she is capricious, unmotherly, and fiercely self-aware. She is awakened by a doomed extramarital love. In this new estuary between her futile efforts for an independent future and her obligations to her rigid socialite past, she kills herself.

While reading on the beach, I noticed this morning glory flower popping up in the sand. There were a few sporadically along the shore, but they were always alone. I like reading into things, so I looked it up later: morning glories can signify love in vain, or unrequited love… Funny, right?

While reading on the beach, I noticed this morning glory flower popping up in the sand. There were a few sporadically along the shore, but they were always alone. I like reading into things, so I looked it up later: morning glories can signify love in vain, or unrequited love… Funny, right?

I read The Awakening for the first time in high school. It was during my interview weekend for USC in Los Angeles, actually. I began to brim with awareness of past lucks and future possibilities as I sat by the fountain for a few hours, in this brand new place. I was both confused and staunchly conscious of who and where I was in the world. Three years later, I’m in LA again. This time, LA is short for Louisiana, and this time, my preferred body of water is the Gulf of Mexico.

Our class stayed in a house in Grand Isle, Louisiana for three days.

Our class stayed in a house in Grand Isle, Louisiana for three days.

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The stilted house we’re staying in is a tall and empty place, but perhaps that’s just because I’m rather short and full right now. Not only did I just have a delicious po’ boy sandwich, which I ate too fast to draw, but my life recently has also been brimming with assorted expectations, plans, and visions for the future. As I prepare to enter my senior year of college, I’m trying my best to will whole dreams together, ground up, inch by inch, by design. My head is forming a thesis back in California.

Grand Isle, where my body is, doesn’t seem as intentional. The land is quite bare, and you can tell the houses here were made whimsically. Not that I don’t appreciate a good whim, but the whims here feel fragile. It’s not a confident whim of deciding to run into the ocean barefoot at once. Instead, the town seems undecided in whether or not it really wants to go near the water at all, tiptoeing insecure and hollow steps on the beach, planting colorful whims on toothpick stilts and calling them vacation homes. Grand Isle is an apprehensive estuary. Grand Isle has no plan.

Arriving here was a weird reality check. I started to equate my future plans to the pre-fab homes on the Isle. The story of Edna’s futility, in combination with the real, physical estuary where Louisiana meets the Gulf, unearthed some nerves. Again, I’m staunchly conscious of both my wills and my whims. I’m in a muddy middle place between them.

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her… But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!

Last time I read this book, I had similar visions about the apparently random decisions in my life that led me to my pending future. I just so happened to apply to this new-wave major I discovered last second; I just so happened to be liked enough by admissions to be interviewed. Ideas about love and career and personal purpose filled my eager sunglassed perspective, too, which seemed also to be crafted by “necessarily vague” verdicts of whim, not design. I comically marched around this college campus clutching this book with the word “awakening” in the title and a new self-awareness. I didn’t really know where I was going. Yet, it felt fitting then.

We were driving along the island and I was admiring all the colorful, pre-fab homes with quirky placards like “Franny’s Funhouse” and “Crawfish Corner.” This one stuck out to me. In complementary teal and orange, this house was called “Paradox." I had to draw it from memory, but I don't think I will ever forget it.

We were driving along the island and I was admiring all the colorful, pre-fab homes with quirky placards like “Franny’s Funhouse” and “Crawfish Corner.” This one stuck out to me. In complementary teal and orange, this house was called “Paradox." I had to draw it from memory, but I don't think I will ever forget it.

It feels fitting now, too. Though tenuous, the homes of Grand Isle are enthusiastic, if only by their exterior color and for the minute we drive by them. They remind me of the whims of my own adventure considering my post-high school future three years ago, when dreams met applications, which met new faces, then places, then beginnings. They also remind me of all my dabbling since then: the clubs I joined and dropped, month-long interests I tried on for size, projects I failed, and relationships I propelled into and evacuated just as quickly. Here I am again, painstakingly aware of each adventure that led me here. I want to curate a thesis from my chaos. Edna Pontellier knows what it’s like to try to fill what feels empty: I’m trying to design a future out of vacation homes and romantic happenstance, but sometimes it feels in vain. I’m so conscious of who and where I am now. The estuary confuses me. It makes me eager to be on concrete again, or to be submerged in the ocean completely.

We visited the cemetery on the Isle. This was the first cemetery I've ever visited. It was another weird middle place, this time between life and death. It was so obvious—there was a children's playground right next to it. The place felt suspended in a past century. 

We visited the cemetery on the Isle. This was the first cemetery I've ever visited. It was another weird middle place, this time between life and death. It was so obvious—there was a children's playground right next to it. The place felt suspended in a past century. 

I’m not saying I’m Edna. I know how this book ends. But my awakening understands hers: I want to will myself into a meaningful future, and time’s almost up for waiting and wading. There are a few places I’d like to head after USC. I’m thinking about the legacies with which I leave college and embrace my next worldwide adventure. I still don’t really know what’s after this estuary—the stilts barely help my vantage point—but I clutch this book with the word “awakening” in the title because its self-awareness meant something to me once before, and it just so happens that it’s in my life again.

We leave the shores of Grand Isle for New Orleans tomorrow, a city I still build in my head exclusively with scenes from The Princess and the Frog. I’m not sure what to expect. I am sure, though, that Edna will come with me along with every estuary I’ve ever waded, like sand that follows you from the beach for a month, for three years, or perhaps a lifetime.

Grand Isle is not ready to commit, and I’ve realized I can plan but not predict. Like the Isle, I have to be okay with choosing wavering over waves sometimes. So tonight, I’ll sleep on stilts in sinking sand.

Tomorrow, though, we’re off to the city. My future brims and I’m hungry for a coffee shop beignet, which are apparently the holy grail. Si tu savais!

beach