Last semester, Slash Pine participated in an exchange which I found to be mostly fruitless. So it was highly gratifying to, this time around, on our trip to the University of New Orleans, experience what I would call a “successful” exchange. I am basing the success of this trip on how well it satisfied my own personal goals: to further development of myself as a writer and as a person. As most writers know, as writers, we are first and foremost people, people who are consumed by a need to make art on a level that sometimes obscures our very real need to live our own simple lives. Art can sometimes seem much more important than going to the grocery store, writing papers late into the night, going on walks, or having dogs, but our most recent trip to UNO made me come alive as both a writer and a person. It perfectly blended both worlds, and, as corny as it may sound, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of love. Love for New Orleans, a city to which I had never been, love for my home in Tuscaloosa, love for my Slash Pine compatriots, love for our New Orleans counterparts, and love for the written and the spoken word.
I wouldn’t feel the need to gush so much if hadn’t felt so truly enchanted by the city of New Orleans. There were so many moments that I consider to be magical, as in only magic could have been behind them, that I finally understand why magic (or voodoo) and New Orleans are so often equated. For example, one afternoon, after we had done our necessary touristy things: eaten at Café du Monde, bought books at Faulkner House books, bought masks in the French Quarter (it was the weekend of Halloween after all), and after we had suffered a flat tire, we returned to Joseph Wood’s friend’s house to wait for the next exciting thing. I noticed some coins and a book of I Ching on the mantle, and, just because I was vaguely interested, I proceeded to read everyone’s fortunes. Even the most skeptical among us allowed me to read their fortunes. Our group never talked about this, but a powerful, reverant hush fell over the room while everyone tossed the coins and they were deciphered. For those who may not know, the procedure of the I Ching is to think of a question to ask the universe, fall into a state of intense calm, and then toss the coins. The coins then correspond to a particular page of the I Ching. The moment that particularly sticks with me from this was reading the advice that the I Ching gave a UNO student, Alex Munster, who, at 17, was the youngest among us. His advice was something like “to wait for change and to sow the seeds one at a time.” After it was over, he told us that he had asked if he would ever become a great writer. I could see the hope and the relief spread across his face as he sat in front of us, grinning, realizing that he did not have to become famous today. I may never understand why, but at that moment, he needed to hear those words, even if they came from a ratty old book on a mantlepiece.
There were several similar instances that had the same sort of magic to them, one of which being that I bought a $0.25 fortune card from one of those Madame Zora machines that told me that I would “enjoy organ music today” immediately after I had played an organ. The greatest “magic” of the entire trip, however, must have been how much I felt completely at home as a writer and as a human with the UNO students, who we had known for less than a week in a city I had never been to before, causing me to ask myself “why is the impossible labeled as such? As writers, do we expect so little from the world that we are always surprised to find any sort of magic that comes from anywhere but our own heads? And I found that it’s actually the outside kind that’s the only sort of magic I like.