Okay, second week of Jazz Fest is here, and now it’s gone. Spring break and French Quarter Fest are like skeletons in your memory closet, and so are the Tennessee Williams, Gumbo, Strawberry, and Crawfish Festivals. All the things that you swore last year that you were going to make it to but didn’t, because you had a paper to write, a textbook to read, and/or a test to cram for. The school year’s end is looming like a sunset over the Isle of New Orleans, and you can just about taste the illusion of freedom that we all have felt when “time with no responsibility sunbeams upon us.”
School daze. All year long, it’s been “hurry up and have fun (!)”; “quick, jump in the car, we’re going someplace (!)”; or, “Just one more, tomorrow’s a school day,” and you’ve put your life on hold for the greater good of your future. Fool.
You need to crack open that bottle of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee; sprinkle some of that If Not Now, When? cologne under your armpits, and answer the Get-A-Clue phone: this is now the rest of your life. Have you realized that there is nothing after school but work and work for the rest of your foreseeable future, be it nine to five or five on, two off? The fact is that school has been the freedom that you believed waited for you after you graduated; consider going back for graduate studies because, according to me, there’s nothing out here but bubble bubble, toil and trouble. Consider the lilies of the field. And then consider you. I know a woman who has been going to school continuously for over 40 years. She’s garnered several study degrees and is not planning on stopping; she’s living happily ever after. They’ll never get back her student loan money (hurray for her, I say).
Have you found what’s going to allow you happiness, provide adequate income, and permit mobility in your life? Have you found a career that you can pursue with a degree of passion that includes the family that you will be ultimately responsible to/for? Have you considered that the American Way of Life is a box of Cracker Jacks where you have to eat all the corn before you get to the good stuff? Work until you’re old enough to retire and then be too old and tired to enjoy your time off? How do you spell pffft?
Step one on how to avoid that scenario: drink the Kool-Aid, stay in New Orleans, and become a true New Orleanian. This goes for any graduating folks making a foray into the real world where fantasy and fangs are the future, or even those who are considering extending their education. I’ve lived here, on and off, for over 30 years, and there’s still a boatload about this city that I don’t know, haven’t seen or tasted—300 years of history and mystery lie at your fingertips and all you have to do is open yourself up to it. There are a thousand things to do in and around New Orleans and an epidemic of guidebooks to tell you about them. Become a native and go out and explore, wander our neighborhoods, delve into our culture, and experience our myriad of subcultures. There are, of note, thousands of people who you haven’t met, a thousand nooks and crannies that you haven’t explored, 200 fried chicken outlets (none of which say “Colonel”) that you haven’t tried, Cajun and Creole gumbos you ain’t et yet, boat rides, trail hikes, farmers markets, musical experiences, art openings, theater performances, po-boys, and breweries. There are books to read, places to go, and people to see. And, you don’t need a lot of money!
Okay sure, you need some dough, but, you know, you never wanted to become rich, famous, or powerful right away. That was pabulum that was fed to you; you’re better than that. Work at something satisfying but not restricting. A couple of years on a construction crew might be good for that sagging body; a tour as a pedi-cab or buggy driver might sharpen your people skills. Busk on the street, volunteer with Habitat, lead history tours for the Cabildo, or sell beignets and coffee to nice families from Peoria, but, for Christmas’s sake, spread your wings before the real world clips them. Enjoy peace and quiet before you accept law and order. There’s plenty of time before reality rears its head; enjoy the now while you can. Adopt a storm drain, join NOMA, enjoy a sunset, get soaked in the rain, ride your bike just for the fun of it. Cook for friends. Fly a kite.
Did you know that there are swimming pools around the city (free and open to the public) that open at eight in the morning? Fitness classes and basketball courts? Do you know that NORDC (google this) has free piano lessons—beginner, intermediate, AND advanced? Have you ever made a yo-yo? Sold balloons? Taken photos of cemeteries, skylines, or drunks passed out on doorsteps? Have you baked a pie for your new neighbor? Danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
So, this is your advice from your Dutch Uncle: make your own parade; no matter how long you live, you will only be young once. No matter how long you live, you will never be able to take back any day that is past or even present. Make every day count, and remember what John Lennon said as a child when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up: “Happy.”