I read a blog post this morning that sparked something for me, and I needed a spark. We're halfway into this trip and I can't stop thinking about what it's really about, and what the hell I'm going to do with it when we get back.
I left New Orleans at 18 and returned for summers, holidays and a couple brief stints where I couldn't make heads or tails of life. I wanted to work in fashion, and my young brain couldn't see a future in my tiny little home town. I needed out to succeed, so I ditched. But now, I'm coming back.
What changed? I did. The world did. New Orleans did. And nothing did.
My home town is still a place of mystery and magic, of decadence and decay, of history, of sacrifice, of culture and of death... and it's a place of rebirth, of innovation, of purpose and reinvention. I remember a time where our test scores were some of the lowest, our education system falling apart, our politics riddled with corruption, violent crime skyrocketing and the state just flat broke. I thought there was no future for this place, and certainly not for me here.
Now the hope is overwhelming. The possibility for what we are and what we could be is distinctly buzzing - and loud. Read anything about New Orleans these days, and you'll read about a city reimagined, a city astir with entrepreneurial activity, creation and the kind of special, authentic, honest growth that creates almost tangible magic.
The pull started a few years ago. I was glued to the TV watching the waters rise from my condo in Miami Beach, my whole family sleeping on the floor of my dad's Baton Rouge office not knowing if they'd be going home. I should have been there with them. And I was - my soul was stuck on that highway, on the floor in that office, crammed into the only room at Lod Cook, at Pete Maravich with the CDC and finally living from a Quality Suites with a couple buckets of photos, seven adults, a baby and a Boston Terrier. My heart was there when my brother got into the city early, with my dad when he got to the house for the first time, with my mom when she knew the photos she couldn't take were still there and with my grandmother when what little she still had was covered in mold and mildew and razed to the ground.
In that sorrow, that tragedy, there were stories - human stories of connection - that tied New Orleanians together. I wanted to be there, to rebuild, so badly, but I wasn't a part of their stories - of their connection - so I watched.
I watched my family struggle with depression. I watched my grandmother move to a double wide. Not long after, I watched the priest lay her to rest. I watched block after block of the city flattened - thrown out with the trash. I watched the rest of the country talk about whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt, whether the whole damn place should just become a memory.
And I watched a community determined that would not happen. They shared stories, they grew legs, they caught steam and they made sure New Orleans would not be erased from any map.
What's happened in the years since has been nothing short of magical. The innovation, the creativity, the passion, the drive, the fight - I read every single day how the story shifts, how it grows, how the connections deepen and the city strengthens.
I might not know specifically what I'm going to do when I get home, but I know I'll finally be part of the story, the connections, the city. I have my own to share, and with me I bring my own hopes, my own dreams, my own passion, drive and vision for a New Orleans reimagined - at once the same and also so very different. Instead of just watching, I will help to build a place little girls with big dreams embrace as a platform for their success. It's the spirit of the city that's calling me home, and it's that spirit that's never, ever changed. New Orleans is my muse, and what I've been looking for so far and so wide is exactly where my father said it might be, in (my) own backyard.