“You will always be in the process of change because every time you get born into a basilisk, that basilisk consumes itself so you can be born into another basilisk.” – Akwaeke Emezi, “Freshwater”
If there are any real spiritual portals on Earth, at least three of them are in New Orleans. When I close my eyes to teleport back to the multi-faceted, many-universe streets I just left, I am reminded of how my senses awakened. Palm leaves graze my face as I enfold a perfect spoonful of spice on my tongue. I could write multiple anthologies about the gumbo. Saxophone riffs rock my body so much that I absorb the notes through my feet and they course through my veins, spouting out the top of my head where their essence transforms into a colorful fountain of paint that then splashes back onto the ground, making street art. This is how I’m starting to picture the “circle of life.” I smell roses, powdered sugar, and vintage clothing.
My dear friend and fellow anarchist Amanda co-created this trip by planning and going on it with me. Jim co-created it by planting the idea of New Orleans in my mind to begin with and providing such fabulous pet care to my dog and cat that I think they were slightly disappointed when I came home. No, Jim, I’m not just saying that. Lilly also lovingly assisted with pet care. So, it took a small village for me and Amanda to be able to go and write this love letter to ourselves by way of our senses. Everything comes back to community. I can’t help but remember how vacant my heart felt a few years ago when I had no one in Bozeman could trust. I didn’t believe that I could trust myself, either, which is heartbreaking to remember. It was monotonous drudgery to be alive. Fast forward to now, to this trip, and it feels like I swam from the bottom of the ocean floor to resurface in stunningly blue waters, next to a beach serving $5 Cosmopolitans. Not because life is easy now but because I have comrades who will hold me so safely in their love when it is hard.
The weather was horrible most of the trip, but we didn’t mind. One morning, while on an odyssey for a bookstore named Octavia Books (if you know who that’s referencing, you know), we were granted shelter during a thunderous rainstorm. It does not rain like that where we’re from! Our rescuer was an old woman who lent us her awning with all the sweetness of blooming magnolias. She told us how she’s always wanted to see Montana and is trying to visit the area with her daughter but wasn’t sure if there would be anywhere accessible here for someone with mobility issues. We told her she should plan the trip and talked about some of the ways she could connect with nature that are not just for the physically fit. She felt kindred to us. When the rain dwindled, we went on our way and remarked to each other, “We haven’t had a conversation like that with a stranger in Montana in quite a while.” It surprised us a little every time we encountered Southern warmth. I suppose it’s called “Southern Hospitality,” but it wasn’t just hospitable; it was warm. We continued on our way and arrived at the mystical Octavia’s by riding the famous St. Charles streetcar. There, I purchased Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, and Amanda gifted me Akwaeke’s memoir. I was drawn to the memoir because I could sense that their take on personal identity, freedom, gender, love, and cultural beliefs would be revolutionary for me at this point in my life. I was drawn to Akwaeke’s fiction because their novels explored these beliefs on a level that isn’t necessarily deeper than the autobiography, but is complimentary to it. I had a hard time choosing between Freshwater and The Death of Vivek Oji, but ultimately chose the former because of the inscription at the beginning: “For those of us with one foot on the other side.” Chills! Once again, New Orleans felt like a portal to me. Maybe there is a portal, or many, within myself that I have been too afraid to nudge open until now.
Later that day after taking refuge in a coffee shop with a silly British barista who was totally on our vibe, I purchased my flower crown. We went into this particular vintage shop looking for a purple, sparkly, sequined jumpsuit for me, but I fervently believe in allowing my fashion whims to follow their flights of fancy in many directions. The crown was handmade by a girl who surely understood what it’s like to be shamelessly weird in this world and to want others to know from a distance how weird you are. I spent an amount on it that probably no one else would ever be able to justify for pieces of fabric glued to a headband, but once I deemed that it would stay on during dancing, I took it. A mere day later, I was told by one of our spontaneous local tour guides that I should “take it off because [I] would probably get shot for wearing that thing.” Happy to report that no one attempted to shoot us. Sad to report that quite a few people living in the city became more jaded and lonely directly because of the pandemic.
Realizing that you are an anarchist can feel like its own portal. For instance, I no longer look at abandoned buildings and vaguely think, “Hmm, odd that that building is empty.” I have to tell someone, “Isn’t it infuriating that it’s considered a crime for someone to sleep in that building when they need shelter and no one else is using it? Isn’t it unconscionable that anyone be forced to be unhoused when we have more than enough houses for them already in existence?” I can’t tell you how many iterations of this conversation were had between me and Amanda. We marveled at the architecture, gardens, and expressive decorations around us. But we sensed some of the same apathy in New Orleans that we knew too well from living in Bozeman. There were Black Lives Matter signs in affluent yards but no one visibly showing concern or support for the black community. We couldn’t find any protests or community meetings happening besides a lovely art talk that was put on by black artists. No one seemed concerned about the “No Sleeping on Benches” signs, which show that while rest is highly discouraged for most of us under capitalism, it is considered a punishable offence for others. We had an encouraging conversation with two volunteers for The Nature Conservancy who loved the concept of Bozeman Antifa Dance. We saw signs related to various community efforts and graffiti with anarchist messages. According to everyone, we were just visiting at a bad time. I won’t completely rag on NoLa for its lack of social action. But as there is so much potential there for local revolution (as there is everywhere), I’m not giving it a pass, either.
How could we have gone at a bad time when we were there for my 25th birthday? It was the perfect time. We made a lovely friend at our hostel who kept us company on rainy afternoons and told us where to get the best po’ boy. Both he and Amanda were perfect dancing partners on the eve of my birthday/eve of our departure. Was the dancing worth getting the Omicron variant? I can’t exactly say yes, as I don’t know if I gave it to anyone else before realizing I had it. But, we made the choice to go out in a way I hadn’t in two years, and it was one of the best nights of my life. I returned more solidly myself but with one foot still in New Orleans.