RIchard Louth and Melanie Plesh writing in Molly's window.
By Richard Louth
The unofficial home of the New Orleans Writing Marathon is an Irish pub called Molly’s at the Market, and during a typical marathon 20-30 writers can be found drifting in and out over the course of a day, writing and sharing their work around small tables or in Molly’s famous window (an open ledge separating the bar from the sidewalk, wide enough to hold a beer and a notebook).
To celebrate the New Year, writers gathered at Molly’s to kick off a day of writing, and while others dispersed across the city, I took the opportunity to sit in its window for several hours over a Guinness and my journal. I never know what I am going to write when I sit in this window, which is part of the joy, a joy that may be missing from schools’ traditional approach to writing (as Robert P. Yagelski astutely argues in “Writing as Praxis”). While I will often find myself (pun intended) writing memoir or meditation, I’ve also found merit in simply trying to describe the world I see outside the window. Below are a few glimpses of New Orleans in words while writing in the world.
• A gray-haired man in horn-rimmed glasses passes in a pedicab with a small dog on his lap.
• A tribe of young women sashays by, one at the back wearing a sash that says “Birthday Girl.”
• An old man in a pale green hat and jacket rides against traffic on a bike of the same color.
• The balcony of Margaritaville across the street is decorated with green fabric woven through the grill work and red bows and large silver baubles and little white electric lights. Seventeen yellow umbrellas are folded against the rain.
• Last night I met two couples at the corner of the bar, and we all stared out Molly’s window. I told them it was a magic window, and they seemed to believe me.
• A mother and her two children, wearing Mardi Gras masks flipped back onto their foreheads, climb into a white Chevy.
• A woman approaches, leans in the window, looks at my journal and says, “Don’t you miss him now that he is gone away?” The natural thing to say would be, “Who?” but I don’t. She stares me in the eye. I finally say “Yes.” She stands there staring at me as if she knows me though I have never seen her before, then pats the ledge and says, “O’Reilly? Was it?” and nods before leaving.
• The white Chevy with the masked family leaves and a gray Chevy, same model, tries to take its place. The driver cannot parallel park and is four feet from the curb, going back and forth and getting no closer. The passenger opens the door, laughs and closes it, and the driver continues, getting no closer. Finally, the car sits in a light rain far from the curb, and they get out—the driver a tall gray man, the passenger a younger woman with shoulder length brown hair. As they pass, I want to ask him if this is how he does sex. I want to ask her too.
• A young man who looks like my student Marley walks beside his father. I wonder where Marley is right now, and where his writing group is. I imagine them—these fine young people—crossing the river to Algiers, gathered at the stern of the ferry, looking back at New Orleans and the brown water churning below, wondering about their lives, where they are going, and what they have to say to the world as writers.
• A handsome couple in love, her gloved hand cradled in his elbow, pass and smile at me a few minutes after the unhappy parallel parkers, who had passed with a scowl. This couple gives me faith. On the jukebox beneath Pope Pius XI, Dean Martin croons, “It’s Amore!”
My friend Kim Stafford is not here, though we’ve written together in this window often. I imagine if he were with me he’d say—
“Even when the words don’t come,
Even when the world will not speak to you,
Even when everything out the window looks meaningless and drab,
If you can just put your pen to paper
It will be OK.
The words will come.
Someone will stop at your window and ask a question.
You will not know the answer, but it is OK.
For you will answer something.
You will say ‘Yes,’
The answer to all questions
Especially if you are a writer.
• The traffic jam on Decatur eventually breaks. Yes.
• Two bikes, green and red, locked to balcony posts, their tires touching. I imagine lovers at night, touching like their bikes, unlocking their chains of self. Yes.
• A French family pauses outside my window. The father bends to tie his youngest son’s shoe, and the boy looks up at me through gray lenses. Oui.
Yagelski, R.P. (2012). Writing as praxis. English Education, 44 (2), 188-204.
Richard Louth is founder of the New Orleans Writing Marathon, professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University, and Director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project.