Sunday, November 14, 2010

Squandered light

Saturday, November 13

I am having a bad morning.  This is my last day in New Orleans and I have been promising myself all week that I’d get up early and do some sunrise photography along the Mississippi River.  This requires significant effort since I am not an early morning person by nature, but as a photographer, I wanted to photograph sunrise over the river and the city waking up (or since this is New Orleans, going to bed) in the early morning light.  Today, for the third consecutive day, I slept too late and squandered my last opportunity to capture the soft pink light of dawn.


 I stayed up way too late last night and was just too tired to get up that early this morning.  As you can imagine, Agnes and Agatha, my twin internal critics, had plenty to say.

A&A:  So, how did those early morning sunrise photos turn out?
Me:  Well, I didn’t exactly get up in time. 
A&A: :  Why not?  You have been promising every day that you have been here.  This was your last chance.  What were you doing? 
Me(evasively):  Sleeping.  I was very tired.

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde= LOVE!
A&A:    Well, maybe we’ll cut you some slack.   Were you out at a late night jazz club? After all, you ARE in New Orleans. 
Me: No, that wasn’t it.
A&A:   A late night hurricane at the hotel bar with some friends?
Me:  Uh, no not that either.
A&A:   Did you have a big Cajun dinner?  Sometimes rich food keeps you awake.
Me: No, that wasn’t the problem.
A&A(clearly exasperated):  Did you stay up late reading again?

Try the shrimp remoulade- YUM!
Me: No.  I didn’t have anything to read. I somehow forgot to bring any books or my Kindle on this trip.
A&A:   Writing?  Were you working on your story for your writing group? Or your Sunday blog?
Me:  No.
A&A:   What then?  Did you find a late night movie on TV?
Me (sighing):  No.
A&A:  What on earth were you doing?
Me:  Well, if you must know, I was doing Sodoku puzzles on my cell phone. 
A&A: : WHAT?  You missed a chance for sunrise photos because you frittered away time and energy doing Sodoku puzzles on your cell phone?

I nod.

A&A: : You moron!  
Me:  I did improve my times….
A&A (dripping with sarcasm):  Congratulations.

Yeah.  That is what is happening in my head this morning.   I downloaded the Sodoku application to kill time in the airports, but somehow I spent several hours playing last night.  Maybe you can understand my frustration.  I lost an opportunity that I will not have again for a very long time because I wore myself out playing mindless games on a cell phone.  Every time I started a new puzzle, I’d promise myself that it would be the last one.  But I kept playing, one puzzle after the other, determined to set new records for completion time.


I have no idea.  I wasn’t even enjoying it, really.  It was like sitting down to watch an episode of “Design on a Dime” and staying for three consecutive episodes of “House Hunters.”    Suddenly the whole evening has passed and nothing got done.  Relaxation is one thing, catatonia is another.

This does not fill me with pride.  

Benjamin Franklin tried to organize his life around a “bold and arduous Project to achieve moral Perfection,” and developed a set of 13 ideal virtues.  He made a chart and evaluated his performance on each of the virtues each day.  He finally concluded that there was no way to achieve moral Perfection, but felt that he was "a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it."  If you check out his list, you’ll see why he never quite measured up.  I have given some thought to a philosophy of living and while my plan is still in development (and significantly more modest than Ben's) I do know two essential elements
  • I try to remember that it is not about me.
  • I try to live a life that I will someday be proud of having lived.

I don’t remember who the commencement speaker was at Al’s college graduation, but I do remember a story that he told.  A man was trying to get some reading done and his young son was pestering him endlessly.  Finally, the man tore out a page of a magazine that featured a picture of the earth.  He tore it into many pieces and told his son to reassemble the picture, like a jigsaw puzzle.  The man thought that the task would take the child a long time, but the little boy finished very quickly.  The father, quite impressed, asked how he had done this so quickly.  The boy replied, “On the back of the page, there was a picture of a person.  I put the person together and the world turned out just fine.”  For a long time, that story really resonated with me.  But, now, I tend to think the exact opposite; if I focus on the world, the person will turn out fine.  In fact, I am at my best- happiest, most satisfied, most productive- when I am focused outside myself.  Said another way, I am not my most important project.

It was an academic conference that brought me to New Orleans.  One of the keynote speakers was the president of Tulane University, a fellow UCONN alum as it turns out.  He was inspirational in discussing the transformation of both his University and the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, which the locals simply refer to as “the storm.”   In the immediate aftermath, the future of Tulane and New Orleans were inextricably linked.  Tulane had the resources and the responsibility to assist in the recovery.  Initially, it was a matter of necessity, but civic engagement  took on a life of its own at the university and is now  the foundational value of the institution.  As a condition of graduation, ALL students must participate in public engagement every year of their college careers.  It has had enormous effects.  For example, Tulane now runs nearly 100 community health centers that service the large indigent population of this city.   As President Cowen said,  “No one will ever remember you for what you do for yourself.  You are only remembered for what you do for others.”


In one of my blogs last summer, I lamented that the American cultural landscape is too homogeneous and cities and towns are eerily similar to each other.   That statement simply does not apply to New Orleans.  New Orleans is certainly not a place you could confuse with any other.  It is an assertive... no, aggressive city that assaults your senses all at once.  I found it simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.  New Orleans is an ever changing kaleidoscope of bright lights, shiny beads, masks, nearly naked women, loud music, bars, jazz, voodoo, the delicious aromas of Cajun cooking  mixed with the reek of vomit and urine.

 Talk about sensory overload. 

 New Orleans is a little rough.  It is more than a little seedy.  But, it is unapologetically its own place.  It is what it is.  Take it or leave it.  I have to admire a city like that.

It strikes me as ironic that the message of service and selflessness emerged in this particular city.  On the one hand, “the storm” forced everyone to reexamine their values and priorities.  On the other hand, the Big Easy relies on self-indulgent tourists and deals in excess and debauchery.  I guess there is a time and a place for everything.

Except squandering an opportunity for sunrise photographs on the Mississippi.  I am still mad about that.
And just for Nancy- SHINY THINGS!

Today I am grateful for those leaders who genuinely lead for the common good.  I wish that there were more of them in our cultural and political arenas.

1 comment:

  1. awww ... thanks for the shiny things!

    I just checked in to see if you'd done your Sunday post and got a lovely surprise. Delightful post!