I recently read an article on NOLA.com that hints at the very real possibility that we may be losing the University of New Orleans. To say that I'm not at all happy about this, regardless of any admitted resilience that I may have sometimes toward change in general, is not even a strong enough emotion. To have this formative place in my writing life be taken away from me, especially now that I'm back in the city and have rekindled my relationship with its campus and library, is heartbreaking.
I'd like to describe an experience that I had recently during a visit to the campus, which I equate to the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming." Just to be clear, the term refers to an awareness that one has while still in the dream state to the point where they can actually navigate the course of the dream. I think this is the ultimate freedom that we as imaginative creatures can have, the ability to run around inside one's own mind, and I think I may have had one of these experiences while still in a waking state on the campus of UNO.
The Earl K. Long Library is one of those places that I consider the birth of me as a writer, the birth of "Blanket," a refuge that ever since my leaving has had no substitute. In that library was where the first chunks of dialogue between Judith Blair and the Funnyman from Scenes from the Blanket came to be, written on an old Brother word processor in a cubicle downstairs, and later I would retreat upstairs to the soothing tranquility of the nighttime window desks to edit those pages. The campus of UNO is where I modeled Daniel Foster's academic career as being and home to the R.S.I.C. from The Petrified Christ, and not the campus of Loyola as is stated in the book.
These among other characters that I've created either live as a result of that campus and those professors and that university, or still dwell there in some way today.
A few months ago back when it was warmer in New Orleans, I took a drive out on a Saturday evening right around dusk to do some writing in the library. I found some private study rooms and picked one of them out from the many that lined every floor. There I would sit and work undisturbed until well after the sun went down.
As I went outside after I was done, I thought about how cool it would be to take my bike out for a spin. And after only a little bit of apprehension as random students walked by me there in the parking lot, I pulled my bike out from the back of my Jeep, placed it on the ground and started peddling. After getting the gears all set, what followed was that lucid dream of a bike ride through the empty, nighttime campus.
I rode all of the sidewalks up to the Liberal Arts building, peeking into the windows as I held myself up on the bricks, only to pedal off again to discover both new and familiar landmarks. I stopped at one point near a student-meeting place between the Liberal Arts and Mathematics building, where for some reason whenever I think about UNO and the possibility of my having had become a career academic, this location always pops into my mind. I'm guessing that I had such thoughts while standing right there many years ago, and thus that little courtyard has been imprinted on my mind ever since.
Off I peddled, taking pictures and making sharp turns as I zoomed here and there, and I felt like a kid. It was amazing. At one point I stopped at an office window that had the blinds pulled up, and on the ledge among piles of papers and books was a book on Chaucer.
I went inside to check the door, and sure enough it was the office of Dr. Kevin Marti, the same professor of the Medieval Literature that I'm writing about now in my new manuscript. Dr. Marti was one of three professors at UNO that impacted me greatly, the others being Victorian literature professor Dr. Leslie White, and the enigmatic Romantic literature professor Dr. Peter Schock. I hope one day to reunite with these men, if only for a few moments of quiet conversation, just to let them know how much of an impact they had on me as I roamed the halls of this great university so many years ago.
It was all very much like being suspended as would an acrobat on wires inside of my own skull, kicking myself from wall to wall, grabbing hold of something so I could take a look around before flying someplace else again to explore some other dark corner of my past. And the campus was dark indeed, silent and vacant on this Saturday night, and it was all just so perfect as to be at certain times overwhelming. I did a similar nighttime visit when I first returned home to my childhood house in Arabi, and being an empty post-Katrina neighborhood, it allowed me to explore the ghosts of my past undisturbed.
My childhood home is still there, however, it's just on the market to be scooped-up by someone else here real soon. And no, it doesn't look the same as it once did on the inside, but neither does my UNO home. But UNO is still there and accessible for the time being, and I sure would like to claim that building as a forever place, proving the age-old adage that you can never go home again dead wrong.