By Kelly Sauvage Angel
Tonight, I’m doing a bit of laundry and becoming reacquainted with my cats. After all, I rolled back into town just a couple of hours ago, having spent the weekend at The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I must admit, I already miss the spontaneous performance of music, the embraces of kind strangers, and the wide smile I carried upon my own face from the time I arrived in The Big Easy to the moment I left.
Beyond the hum of the dryer, my neighborhood is silent. There’s not a spontaneous act of creativity to be had tonight beyond the four walls that I and my cohorts can just barely afford—that is, until our rents increase at the end of our leases, when we’ll have no choice but to leave the neighborhood we once called home. Sure, a windfall for one becomes the displacement of another. I get that. But, it’s the loss of local flavor and the sacrificing of community that I mourn above all else, as well as the new-found air of civility that naturally accompanies gentrification, which sucks the fun—and honesty—out of just about everything, no matter how much money one drops on dinner.
My memories from the weekend include more laughter than I can recall in this lifetime. Even when tackling challenging topics, the panels at the conference remained warm, respectful and lively. While stowing our bags prior to check-in, the porter insisted on giving my shoes a quick polish after finding me and my road-brined boots to be nothing less than a “hot mess.” When my girlfriend received an impromptu backrub on the street, she reciprocated in kind.
Over several days, we heard the stories of those with whom we became acquainted through our mutual passion for the written word, advocacy, and an authentic way of being but more so through the serendipity of being at the same place at the same time. Simply breathing the same air was enough of a reason to establish meaningful connection. In fact, each and every moment provided an opportunity for the celebration of our humanity—the sharing of our struggles as well our successes, the indulgence in jokes as well as drinks. Mind you, I won’t be found stumbling down Bourbon Street with a fishbowl-sized Hurricane in my hands, but when on Frenchmen Street or anywhere else in the French Quarter, there’s no denying that I’ll be taking in the local music scene while enjoying a Pimm’s Cup or a well-crafted Cognac Sazerac.
Which brings me to the music. In a city that rings with the sounds of buskers, brass bands, and jazz/blues clubs, how can one possibly remain mired within the myopic fretting for oneself?
While listening to a musician (who likely can’t imagine the luxury of being approved for the mortgage that others wish they didn’t have to pay) pouring the contents of his or her soul into an instrument for the sheer passion of playing, surrounded by the diversity and camaraderie of so many others in the room, we begin to remember what it is to fully engage in shared experience, to enjoy the sensation of goosebumps rising from our skin, and to perceive all that is transpiring around us through a much broader lens.
Just to be clear, it’s not solely about having fun. Good Lord, let us need no reminder as to how resilient the people of New Orleans can be. Rather, those deeply-held values for self-expression and a vibrant community life serve as both a catalyst and a fruit borne of the same.
To name the celebration of life as uncivilized or frivolous when there’s money to be made is to promote the very way of being that has pushed the artists from my neighborhood, silenced the laughter as well as the dialogue, and made “homogenous” synonymous with worthy, correct and upstanding. Sure, it may get a little messy; life has a tendency to do that when it’s well-lived. But, if we turn a deaf ear to the music, how can we possibly hear the voices of others who also have something of import to say?
© 2017 Kelly Sauvage Angel
A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… (published under Kalyanii), a collection of poetry, two stage plays, dozens of short stories and hundreds of articles. After surrendering to the healing touch of her massage therapist and downing a couple anti-inflammatories after dance class, she most enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature.