By Margaret Westmoreland
The New Orleans Writing Marathon is professional development for my soul. Yes, it's helped me become more adventurous as a writer, and yes, it's helped me be a better teacher of writing, but the greatest gift the New Orleans Writing Marathon has given me is a deeper appreciation for the city itself.
I was born in New Orleans, but my parents moved about 40 miles north of the city when I was two. New Orleans - referred to as just "The City" in my family - became that place with all the traffic we drove through to get to my grandmother's house. In high school, it held mythic status since none of our parents allowed us to drive the 24 miles across The Causeway alone. In college and throughout my twenties, New Orleans became a destination in itself - Mardi Gras parades, football games, festivals, concerts, plays, bachelorette parties.
And then there was my first New Orleans Writing Marathon in the very hot summer of 2002. I was 29-years-old and pregnant with what turned out to be our only child. Throughout the nine months of a difficult pregnancy, I was NOT sick for approximately one month, and the marathon fell within that window.
I walked (or waddled) the streets of the French Quarter visiting art galleries, park benches, the cathedral, coffee houses, restaurants, and even bars with the fresh (and sober) eyes of a writer. I remember wandering into a firehouse on Decatur Street and doing what writers do . . . listening as others tell you their stories hoping you'll give them a voice through your writing that they have yet to discover on their own.
At the end of the day, I soaked my swollen feet in the pool as the other writers made their way home to our hotel, and everyone told their adventures of the day over a cocktail. Or three.
A short time passed, and the bartender, dressed in the classic bartending uniform of all black with a white apron, handed me a pink cocktail that had an umbrella poking out.
"Oh, no!" I protested, shaking my head. "I can't . . ."
"No liquor. Made it jus fa you. Don't want nobody lef out da party."
That's New Orleans for ya. It may be called "The City That Care Forgot," but its people sure want you to have a great time. Later that night, I'd dance on the bar, five months pregnant, at Coyote Ugly, and the following day, with fresh writer's eyes, I'd write my first letter to my unborn child detailing the night and introducing myself as a woman, not yet his mother.
That first New Orleans Writing Marathon reintroduced me to my birthplace as a new city - not just a destination of decadence - my city. And after a dozen or so more marathons and many many weekend excursions with family and friends, we've bought a house here. It's a weekend retreat. (Yes, we "retreat" to the city.) Eventually, it will be our home.
I hesitate before calling myself a local. For now, I was born in New Orleans, I spend a good bit of time in the city, and I plan to retire here. The New Orleans Writing Marathon has played a significant part in my journey home.
Margaret Westmoreland is a former co-director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. She is a high school English teacher, writer, wife, mom, and friend—not necessarily in that order.