Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A sense of limitless possibilities

I've spent most of the day walking around New Orleans, re-exploring. Although North Carolina has been good to me during the past seven years, I did miss the sense of unexpected possibilities that I always had in New Orleans.

After walking around my small town in North Carolina a few times, I had memorized it. Once I became that familiar with it, I started to forget what it was like to be surprised and excited by constant newness. I think in a way, it also limited my sense of my own possibilities. Walking around today, peeking down streets, into shops, I got that sensation of expansiveness that I remembered from my time here before.

I remember my very first night in New Orleans. I was twenty four, and I arrived at the hostel where I'd managed to get a job just as the daytime sky was fading into a gray blue evening. I remember standing outside the old house on Prytania breathing in the air. It had that thick, sweet nighttime in the South smell that I'd never noticed anywhere else before. I recognize it in other places now, but it always makes me feel as if I'm standing back in New Orleans on that first night. I imagine it's the smell of old oaks and palms and jasmine breathing out a sigh of  relief with the setting of the sun.

I was overwhelmed with excitement back then. I'd always wanted to visit the city, but I never imagined that I might live there. I'd grown up in a small town with a strong sense of expectation and duty. Striking out into the world alone hadn't been among my plans, and it was just a strange caprice that prompted me to pack everything up and leave what wouldn't be packed up behind. Standing there then, I was still surprised by what I'd done. I was still a little dizzy with a sense of the unreality of it.

That was probably what made New Orleans so special to me. My snap decision to break out of the limits that I imagined for myself seemed bound up with the city so that I attributed to it a surreal magical quality that continues to color my view of it. I get the same thrill now when I strike out on a long walk here that I got those fourteen years ago. That I'm on an adventure. That anything is possible. That I might still surprise even myself.

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