By Susan Martens
Dear New Orleans,
I can’t thank you enough for your warm hospitality this week, especially for such a motley crew as a bunch of writers. But, then again, you’ve always been kind to writers.
Yesterday I had my beautiful writing marathon moment with Jeanne and Stephanie and Dee and Pacian and Pete in Algiers. But I forgot to thank you properly for my perfect New Orleans moment, which came to me as I sat with George and company at Harry’s Bar on Wednesday. George had expertly steered us into the shelter of Harry’s in perfect time to enjoy the afternoon downpour while we wrote and listened to his $5 worth of jukebox selections.
I have to tell you, after reading The Writing Marathon: In Good Company Revealed, writing at Harry’s Corner Bar with George was like stepping into a famous painting. Like walking into one of those gorgeous, hazy Monets with the footbridges and the water lilies.
The bar crowd was intensely interested in us writers, especially since another group had stopped there not long before. They wanted to know what the heck was going on. Thinking myself clever, I suggested that we were a conspiracy of writers. The entire row erupted at my mention of “the ‘C’ word.” One patron grumbled, “We already have too many conspiracies in this town,” and left.
A little later, the video poker player standing near us told his female companion that he was “watching the kids do their homework,” and we were again pulled into a bar-wide conversation about what we were doing. One red-faced man seemed unable to rest until we fully explained ourselves. So we gushed for a while about New Orleans as a Mecca for writers, about how people come from all over the country just to write here. As we spoke, his expression slowly softened and his eyes grew misty and bright. He told us, “Well, I’m glad y’all are here. I hope you enjoy yourselves.” He talked a bit about how friendly people in New Orleans are, how they actually talk to each other and about how they all, mostly, get along.
“I’m just a drunk,” he said, gently taking his leave of us, “but I know a few things. Good luck with the writing!” With that, he disappeared out into the wet sunlight.
So much more was happening in that little bar than I could ever possibly write down. But in that moment, I finally understood what Hemingway meant by those lines we quote at every writing marathon launch: “The story was writing itself, and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.”
New Orleans, I can’t keep up with you in the least. And I love that you don’t mind that at all. I love that you are what you are. And that you are here for me and for us all. You’re patient and funny and kind in ways that not everyone understands.
But we writers are working on that. It’s the least we can do.
If you’re ever up in Nebraska, be sure to give me a call. I’d love to get together and show you around Omaha. She’s definitely not you, but she has her moments.
Thanks again, so much, for everything! I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.
Susan Martens is an Assistant Professor of English at Missouri Western State University and Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project. Her research explores how writing marathons support students, teachers, and communities.