Betty Duffy

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sitting in a Chinese Restaurant in New Orleans

Saturday afternoon, once Dorian and I presented our paper at the Walker Percy Conference, and after Dittmar, our moderator, offered us up for questions, and none were asked, I started to feel what Joni Mitchell calls the "Urge for Going." I needed to retreat from the group, yes to pray, but this wasn't a look-at-me-acting-like-Jesus moment.

I did my prayers as I was able, and they amounted to a swirl of adrenaline tossed to the Lord, and then a complete crash at a Chinese restaurant Happy Hour in front of a pot of green tea and 2 for 1 glasses of Chardonnay. I needed to return to the conference by six, and so had a bit of trouble discerning how I should spend these hours, which I settled by eating Sushi and staring at the TV. The show was not so much a football game as a series of light fluctuations that were very effective in keeping me awake.

I'd call this malaise, the empty restaurant, the lonely drinks, the vacant stare, but I was enjoying it too much. I can't be too disheartened by malaise in general because it means that I have time.

Everything that I had done and failed to do for my body over the weekend had caught up to me, the late nights, long sitting in car and conference, the failure to feed on green foods, and the supplication to coffee as a means of filling in where fatigue dropped me.

I couldn't tell if my leaving the conference in the afternoon to be alone was a symptom of extreme posturing or extreme need--to have at least one Binxian moment in New Orleans--to experience the city unfettered by anyone else's desires or plans. I'm far from an introvert--I don't need time alone to regain social stamina. I'm also far from selfless, so it probably stemmed more from my fallen inclination to seize the hours and make them my own. There were so few of them.

Only half joking the night before, I'd asked Dorian to be my accountability partner; let me know if my underwear's showing, if I have boogers coming out my nose, if I'm talking too loud, or drinking too much, flirting, or making double entendres. Who's looking out for me? It took only half a minute away from home to note that it sure as heck wasn't me.

I'm a parent to my children, but with parenting mode in temporary hibernation, could I trust myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour, to eat my green veggies? I wouldn't even stop to use the potty if a good time was going on. Steal time from school (the conference), not from recess, which happened late at night in the courtyard of the hotel, song singing, merriment, drawing out the writing, drawing out the personalities.

Who are you people? It was a pursuit on which I didn't want to miss out: Mrs. Darwin's swanlike neck extended as she sang the Ave Maria at Walker Percy's grave and Darwin's sharp wit; The Lickonas as life of the party and wife the party, together a solid bulwark on which all singletons and stragglers sought refuge; Dorian's smart and solemn hilarity, Potter's monk-like mischief, Jobe's friendliest of faces, even as we put him on the rack about his novel, and Webb's grandfatherly presence in the corner.

Bring together people with shared preferences for God, song, and literature; it's a thousand times better than college, more than academia or a salon. In fact, when Potter called us all to join hands at the end of the night to sing the Doxology, it crossed my mind that this gathering was very like Church. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."

I've been on enough retreats in my lifetime to know that at some point you've got to descend from the mountaintop. No one REALLY wants to hear about all that you've learned, how things will never be the same again. In truth, they will be the same again, probably within an hour of your return.

I could feel a zit looming on the edge of my lower lip as I drove the thirteen hours home, and sure enough, it was the first thing my husband noticed on my return, my kids too. I saw my parents the next day, and they too leaned in with squinting eyes to get a closer look at it. "Are you under stress? Are you over tired? Is that the kissing virus on your mouth?" I am parent and parented, brought back into the fold of my domestic Church, looking out, and looked after.

Let's say one church is not in conflict with the other, but that they are different parts of the same whole, that time is never really mine to steal (though I attempt it everywhere I go), and Mother Church is the safe harbor for anyone who will have her.


BettyDuffy said...

I just realized that "urge for going" takes on a whole different meaning when one's talking about bodily things. Where's Dorian when I need her? There's a double entendre here that needs attending to.

Dorian Speed said...

I am so confused by my role here as accountability partner. I mean, at a certain point, discussion of the bowels really undoes the effects of any inadvertent flirting.

BettyDuffy said...

How true.

I release you from your dooties.

Jonathan Potter said...

Beautiful, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" is a great song. Especially at this time of year. "Winter closing in" and all that. But your post made me think of her song "Chinese Cafe."



BettyDuffy said...

Probably not a good thing to get the urge for going from the place to which you've just gone.

Delhi Food said...

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