one thing: 1/13/17

Those were his own shoes, the jellies.

Don’t you just love Jeff Bridges? He played The Dude, of course, who was mighty close to his actual self (those were his own clothes that he wore in The Big Lebowski), but he’s always interesting in his movies, and he’s often the best part. I just listened to an interview with him on Fresh Air, and hadn’t realized how often he plays a Texan. His stand-in, who has worked with him on 70 films now, is a Texan and he said it has rubbed off on him, how to be a Texan. I have to agree.

So. Have you seen his latest movie Hell or High Water, which is set in Texas? I’m bringing this up for a reason I’ll come back to. Here’s the trailer:

I’d been wanting to see the movie since it first came out, and only saw it yesterday and of course the setting was extremely familiar . . . AND THEN in a scene Bridges asks someone to check with ’em over in Young County. I was born in Young County. This was an extraordinary experience, because I never see my place represented anywhere — at least not Young County. (Nearby Archer City was famously the setting of The Last Picture Show, which Bridges was in too.) It’s the kind of place where you indicate where you live by naming the county.

The action in Hell or High Water centers around a couple of brothers who rob the branches of a local bank, and in one scene the Texas Ranger (Bridges) talks to a bunch of old guys sitting in a diner, across the street from a branch that had just been robbed. The gist of it was that they weren’t too upset about the bank being robbed, because they all felt the bank had robbed them, or family, or folks they knew. The small towns, the people in them, had suffered terribly; the oil fields had shut down, no one was drilling, and there was no other work. They felt left behind, screwed by the bank and all it represented. It’s very easy to understand how people in places like Young County feel left behind; it isn’t that I don’t get that, I do. I just can’t figure out how they see an orange narcissist who literally sits in gold rooms, on gold chairs, in a penthouse in Manhattan, as their savior. Can’t go there.

Graham is in north Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Flat and dusty, tumbleweeds, cattle, pumpjacks

But the familiarity of the landscape, and the homes and trailers, and the people and their laconic ways of talkin, their easy droppin of their Gs, gosh it was so familiar. And so it led me to take a look at Graham, the little town where I was born, where Mom & Big Daddy lived, and where I spent summers when I was 5 and 6. (Thank you, Google Maps.)

When I was a kid, going to Boaz Department Store was such a huge thing — and I thought it was the biggest store I’d ever seen. IT HAD AN UPSTAIRS. That’s all of it, it doesn’t extend farther to the right. It looks exactly the same to this day, it’s just that I have changed. That sign above the BOAZ sign for Red Wing Shoes was definitely there when I was a little girl.
“Sassy Lady” carries ladies’ clothes. I’d bet they’re not at all sassy. Jeaneologie is a “men and womens premium denim boutique” that’s coming soon.

It’s a classic small Texas town, the county seat, with a courthouse in the middle of the square downtown (“America’s Largest Downtown Square”!). When I was born in 1958, there were 7,740 people in it. As of the 2010 census, it had 8,903 people. I was shocked to see that they’ve restored the town’s lone movie theater, built in 1919. When I was little, kids used to throw their Charms lollipops at the screen (not me of course….too terrified of my mother!).

There has never really been much to do in Graham, although it’s relatively close to a big lake (Possum Kingdom Lake), but kids mostly hang around and get into small-town trouble. My mother once told me that she and her brother and their friends broke into the courthouse one weekend night and one of them went to the bathroom in the corner of the lobby. #2. Scandalous.

201 Colorado, Big Daddy’s house. When I was a kid, the house was yellow and it had a garage instead of a carport. And giant cedar or junipers around the mailbox. An alley runs behind the houses, and there used to be a giant cottonwood tree in the back yard. I really did think Big Daddy’s house was kind of like a mansion — and clearly that’s not because of the size of it. It must’ve been because someone there loved me.
Big Daddy’s oilfield hardhat, inside and out. Must be from the 1940s.

In that way art can show you the truth of something more clearly than a plain representational photograph, I share the trailer for The Last Picture Show. It was shot in Archer City and it looks so familiar my teeth ache and my body is drawn into the shot because I’m from that place. There’s a scene where Timothy Bottoms’ hard hat gets knocked off, when Jeff Bridges hits him with the bottle, and that’s an oilfield hat for roughnecks. I have Big Daddy’s. One line from the movie is that nothing much changes there, and I would bet my bottom dollar it still looks the same (especially since Larry McMurtry sold off everything from his great big old bookstore — 300,000 books). That store was the only thing keeping the town alive.

Real people live in those places, and I know the way their homes smell. I know what their living rooms look like, their kitchens, their scrubby yards. I know what they eat, and what they say when they visit. They’re my people, fair and square, and they are so loud in me, they’re one reason I always feel like a stranger in Manhattan, shocked and surprised that I also belong there.

If you’re interested in the Fresh Air interview with drawly old Jeff Bridges, it was a great show:

 

exotica

While I am mute and trying to recover from the atomic bomb that hit me, I thought I’d pull a post or two from my previous blog, Thrums. This one was from this day, 2012:

When I was younger, I was always envious of nearly everyone else — it seemed like other people had interesting heritage (not me), interesting cultures (not me), or interesting places of origin (not me). I felt like the antithesis of exotic: a plain old white girl from Texas, mutt heritage, store brand white bread and store brand bologna. With Miracle Whip. I remember lying in the front yard watching planes fly overhead and just wishing, with all my heart, to be on any one of them, going wherever they were going; wherever they were going would be better than where I was.

But every place is exotic to someone from another place; it’s just hard to see one’s own exotic context, because kind of by definition exotic means otherness. When you’re the default – a plain old white girl – very little feels otherly. Some time in my last decade, I realized that I may not be Moroccan (pick your exotic other of exotic choice), but I do actually have an interesting heritage that’s exotic to other people. Meet Molly.

molly lisle ribble, my great-great grandmother

Her name was Molly, but of course she was just known as Mrs. Sam Ribble. This photo accompanied her obituary, and you notice how she seems to be wearing a nightgown? I’ll get to that.

Molly was one of Young County’s oldest pioneer citizens, according to her obituary in the Graham Leader. She was the daughter of a pioneer family, born June 9, 1866 in Nebraska. She married Sam Ribble when she was 16, in a small church in Gooseneck, just outside Graham. They rented land for several years before Sam bought 160 acres of school land, and acquired 160 more that he traded for a wagon and horse and a six-shooter. They built a log cabin on the land — the lumber came by wagon train. When she died, she was survived by 4 daughters, 4 sons, 23 grandchildren, 39 great grandchildren, and 13 great great grandchildren.

So here’s the funny thing about the nightgown. Sam always wanted to have a baby in the house (as you see, they had 8 kids — actually, she had 11 but 3 died). I don’t think Molly was as keen on always having a baby in the house, but I also don’t think she had much say-so. The last baby, Etheline, had down’s syndrome (that’s how I’m referring to it; the family always just called her a mongoloid). So Molly delivered Etheline, handed her to Sam, and said “there you go, now you’ll always have a baby in the house. I’m tired and I’m going to bed.”

Molly stayed in bed for 50 years. She was just fine, perfect health (she lived to be 94, after all), I think she was just making a point and boy she stuck with it. She’d sit up if a visitor would take her picture — “a polaroid,” as she’d say — but otherwise she couldn’t be bothered. If any little thing happened to fluster her, she’d pat her chest over her heart, in a kind of circle, and say “get me an aspereen I’m having a heart attack.” She never did have a heart attack, of course, and she finally just died in her sleep of being 94 years old.

My great-aunt on my maternal grandfather’s side shot her husband as he was crawling through the kitchen window to kill her. My other great-aunt’s husband went to the store for smokes and never came home. I have a relative named Homer who was a hermit who lived in a hollow near the river outside of town (one of Molly’s sons); he’d be spotted now and then, skulking around the edges of town.

The Last Picture Show, Midnight Cowboy, those versions of old Texas are my old Texas. Unlike my kids, I spent a lot of time in very rural parts of the state. In the summers, when I’d stay with Mom and Big Daddy in Graham, they’d send me out to Bunger for a few days, to stay with Mom’s sister Mazie and her husband Ben. Bunger was just outside Graham, and comprised ~20 people, all kin. I’d ride out on horses with Ben early in the mornings to collect the livestock; we’d turn the calves in to their mamas before we’d milk them — by hand — and then we’d carry the pail of milk into the house. Mazie would strain it, and that’d be our milk. Once Mazie and I were in the kitchen and we heard a shotgun go off in the living room; Mazie hollered at Ben, asking him what happened, and he said a copperhead was in the living room and he just killed it. I always felt so bad for Uncle Ben because he had to ride out and check on these rusty old things that went up and down, old-looking machines. When I grew up I realized I didn’t have to feel so bad for him — they were pump jacks. Old Uncle Ben had oil. Now and then Uncle Ben would teach me how to shoot a rifle. I was 6.

That’s all pretty exotic. 🙂

up close and personal

I know, right? How much more personal could I be, than I already am?! I’m pretty open and share so much of myself and my life, because I am the boss of me and I get to decide those things. That hasn’t always been true, so I relish my freedom. This little post is a mash-up of several things, reflecting my fragmented head these days. A video, a bit of handwriting, a poem, and some links. Something for everyone. I’ll start with a little howdy-do:

 

Actually, what got this started today was that I got a handwritten letter and was so thrilled to see my friend’s handwriting, which I’d never seen. I’ve received typed letters from her, and lots of email, but this was the first time I ever saw her handwriting and I felt like it fit her so well, and also showed me something else about her.

photo

I don’t know if they even teach cursive any more. I learned the Palmer method, and I remember our teacher walking up and down the rows of desks, positioning our hands as they held the pencils. We were supposed to keep our hand curled so an orange could roll into our curved palm as we wrote, and the pencil was supposed to point over our left shoulders. We were supposed to move our whole arm, not just our fingers. I remember we practiced making loops, connected spiral-type rounds, and sharp up-and-down lines, before being taught the specific way to create the letters. I remember that the capital I and capital J had to begin just below the line. I remember wondering why the capital Q looked like a 2. I remember feeling like a secret rebel as I practiced different ways of writing the capital L, since my name begins with an L. I remember the beautiful special lined paper, with the pale red and pale blue lines, some dotted, showing us exactly where those upper and lower loops were supposed to hit. The rag-like texture of the paper, the Red Chief tablet, the yellow pencils. I remember all that like it was yesterday. Do you?

Here’s a poem I rediscovered this morning, and it makes me so happy. Read it out loud:

The Order of Things (Bob Hicok)

Then I stopped hearing from you. Then I thought
I was Beethoven’s cochlear implant. Then I listened
to deafness. Then I tacked a whisper
to the bulletin board. Then I liked dandelions
best in their afro stage. Then a breeze
held their soft beauty for ransom. Then no one
throws a Molotov cocktail better
than a buddhist monk. Then the abstractions
built a tree fort. Then I stopped hearing from you.
Then I stared at my life with the back of my head.
Then an earthquake somewhere every day.
Then I felt as foolish as a flip-flop
alone on a beach. Then as a beach
alone with a sea. Then as a sea
repeating itself to the moon. Then I stopped hearing
from the moon. Then I waved. Then I threw myself
into the work of throwing myself
as far as I can. Then I picked myself up
and wondered how many of us
get around this way. Then I carried
the infinity. Then I buried the phone.
Then the ground rang. Then I answered the ground.
Then the dial tone of dirt. Then I sat on a boulder
not hearing from you. Then I did jumping jacks
not hearing from you. Then I felt-up silence. Then silence
and I went all the way.

And finally, some links, just to complete the random potpourri of this crazy post:

Happy [excessively hot and humid] Tuesday, y’all. The year is more than halfway over, that’s so bizarre.

i get around

If you are lucky, life is long enough to surprise the hell out of you. If you are lucky, life drops beautiful little treats and treasures at your feet, gives you experiences that leave you slack-jawed and changed forever. Some of these will be terrible and some will be out of left field and some will be better than rubies. For me, one of these better-than-rubies surprises is that I’ve been lucky enough to travel. I left Texas for the first time when I was 22; my then-husband and I went to Cozumel for a long weekend.

yeah, my hair was platinum then. and i was out of my mind with joy.

The first time I left the United States  (except for that Cozumel trip) was when I was in graduate school, in 2002, and went to Paris and Glasgow. I was 43. That was the most amazing thing to me, since I love Paris with all my heart. I went immediately to Notre Dame and stood there just crying. I was jet lagged and goofy, but my joy and tears were real. As a literary location, Notre Dame has meant so much to me over my life, and I never thought I’d get to see it in person. I stood: across the Seine from it, in front of it, inside it, I walked around it, I touched it, I bowed my head and cried some more. I was in PARIS. Me. Me. I walked and wandered. I touched the old wall, I wandered in the great neighborhoods, I lounged at sidewalk cafes and drank many an espresso and watched elegant Parisians do their elegant Parisian thing. I went to the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Picasso Museum. I ate beautiful food. I was too shy to speak my Texas French. In my rental car, I drove through brilliant yellow fields to Chartres and cried in that rose-windowed cathedral. I was dazzled.

My people never traveled, except for their on-the-run life. All our moving was just around Texas, and we didn’t take vacations. My family did once, but I was living with my father and missed it (they told me it was so much better since I wasn’t there . . . jerks). They drove to LA, I think. That was their big travel. So I didn’t grow up with traveling, didn’t have it in my mind as something that could happen for me, not something I could even dream of. The Paris and Glasgow trip was a gift; the man I was seeing at the time had to travel for his work and invited me to come along. He dropped me off in Paris and he went on to Germany, so I had that glorious city all to myself. Still, that seemed like a one-off, a surprise present, not the beginning of a new way of thinking about the world.

When I met Marc in 2005, in March, I hadn’t done any traveling since that Paris trip and I was astonished by the world traveling he had done — but again, didn’t think it was in the cards for me and my life. That August we went to Vietnam and the die was cast for me. I can’t not travel now, I can’t not eat up the world, I can’t stay put while there is so much world to see. Traveling has been a whole treasure chest of gifts.

The world includes Marfa, and Palo Duro Canyon (“The Grand Canyon of Texas” and the next home state place I want to venture), and places I’ve already been and those still to be seen. Of all the ways my life is kind of strange and unimaginable to me, getting to see the world is the most mysterious. I often forget I have a PhD and got my education, and I don’t dismiss it but somehow it’s not as wondrous. It was a tremendous accomplishment, and it was very hard since I was doing it while raising three kids mostly by myself, and I’m grateful for it and never thought it would happen for me, but it’s this travel thing I can’t wrap my head around in terms of my good luck.

When we lived in Connecticut — right in the middle of the state — people in our neighborhood had never even been to the CT coast. Which, you know, in such a tiny state is practically within spitting distance. I know a woman who never left her hometown in PA because she’d have to go over a bridge and she didn’t like that idea. I know a lot of people who just have no interest in traveling, and a lot more who like traveling but don’t want to veer away from familiar comforts so they stick to Europe and the Caribbean. I wasn’t in any of those groups; travel was just not even conceivable. I didn’t have opinions about it because it wasn’t even among the possibilities I could think of. Now, though, in addition to my deep love of Paris I add my deep love of Hanoi, and Phnom Penh, and Luang Prabang, and Bagan and Nyaung Shwe, and Varanasi, and Cusco, and Ubud, and if only there were several of me, I’d send one copy to each of those places to live forever. And then I wonder how many other places there are in the world that I’d love just as much? And the people — oh, the energy of the Vietnamese, among my favorite people in the whole world, and the charm of Cambodians, and the gentle warmth of the Lao, and the wonder of the Balinese people. I might never have known about that.

Those places in the world now belong to me. When I hear terrible news from any one of them, it’s personal. I care very much and can now be heartbroken in a different way by tragedy that hits those people. Travel does so many things: it jolts you out of thinking that the way you live is the way people live; it shows you a lot of different ways people live and organize and think about life; it shows you how very lucky you are, and how rich (even if like me you aren’t rich at all by US standards); it shows you how impoverished you are by the limited ideas you started with about how life is meant to be lived. And you get to see beauty and ugliness and strength and courage and the effects of badly used power and cruelty. And you have to face the policies of your own country, and I promise you will hang your head as we did in Laos and Vietnam. Travel makes it a lot harder to keep your head in the sand, and that’s both good and bad of course.

Even though I’m terribly jet lagged and kind of goofy still from the Indonesia trip, I’m already scheming and planning for where to go next, what to see next. I’d love to go back to Marfa, or to Big Bend, but I’m really kind of thinking about going up to Palo Duro Canyon. It’s an 8-hour drive, more or less (like anywhere in Texas, it seems), and I haven’t seen it since 1980 so I think it’s time, don’t you? Maybe you’ll go along with me…..

snapshots of the trip home

the long and (not really) winding road
the long and (not really) winding road

You know how the trip home always seems to take so much longer than the trip to someplace exciting? That’s true for me, anyway. On the way, I’m so consumed by excitement, everything whizzing past is new and needs close examination — as close as possible, anyway, given the need to pay attention to the road. (In West Texas you don’t really need to pay attention to the road; if your car is properly aligned, you could practically crawl into the backseat and take a nap, if you’ve got cruise control and don’t need to press on the gas pedal.) And then . . . what? I’m there already? Seriously? That was 6.5 hours, 435 miles? WOW. I got kind of drunk on the big sky, drunk on the unimaginable landscape that in places could’ve been a movie set, drunk on the pleasure of a solitary road trip.

And then, drunk on the giant looming moon, drunk on the Milky Way, drunk on the wow of being in a place as different from New York City as possible, in this country, drunk on solitary thought, drunk on reading, drunk on pleasure. Drunk.

Yesterday I made coffee for my thermos, loaded up my car, ate one last bowl of oatmeal at Squeeze.

breakfast!
breakfast!

While I was waiting the couple of minutes for my breakfast yesterday, thinking about the really wonderful woman who’d taken my order (Swiss, maybe?), I smiled when she put the bowl in front of me because I realized it was like being at your favorite aunt’s house, the one who doesn’t ask you how you want your food prepared because she just knows how to do it, exactly right. Just the right amount of just the right ripe banana, just the right amount of brown sugar — no more, no less — just  the right amount of cinnamon. The cappuccino, exactly the right froth, exactly. And all with a ‘no big deal’ kind of hand-off.

The sky was overcast and the clouds never went away, not for a minute, which meant I got to watch the landscape in a different setting. No shadows, low-lit, lots of wind. Oh yeah, that “lots of wind bit” that’s an important part of the trip home. I spent four years in a small city in north Texas where they said “There’s nothing between Wichita Falls and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence.” And it really felt that way in the winter, too. Driving across that flat, flat land yesterday I was reminded of the saying because it felt like giant planet-sized winds pushing me from the left (North Pole direction) the whole way. And that’s kind of exhausting, steering against such a hard push, and then doing the quick recover when the wind pauses to take its next breath.

blockerSince I first saw it in 1980, I’ve loved Alpine, Texas, nestled in among beautiful mountains and home to Sul Ross State University, alma mater of Dan Blocker (“Hoss,” if you watched Bonanza as I did; he received a master’s degree in dramatic arts from Sul Ross). So there I was, toodling through Alpine, proud of myself for noticing that the speed limited had lowered from 80 to 55 — and monitoring the speedometer — but still looking around a lot and singing, when I saw the flashing lights of the cop car on the other side of the highway. Speed lowered, over in the right hand lane, monitoring the rear view mirror, yep . . . he’s making a U-turn and coming in my direction. Maybe it’s not me, though, I wasn’t speeding. Slower, breath-holding, yep. He got me. I pulled over to a stop, got out my driver’s license, NY still, should’ve gotten my Texas license mid-February by law, rats, hands on the wheel, waiting. Officer Navarette approached my car.

“Ma’am, do you know why I’ve stopped you?”
“Speed, I assume?”
“Yes ma’am, you were going a little fast. How are you doing today?”
“I’m OK, thanks, how are you?
“Just fine ma’am, thank you. Where are you going?”
“I’ve been in Marfa for a couple of days, I’m just heading home to Austin.”
“Oh, did you like Marfa?”
“Yeah, I loved it. It’s so beautiful. I love west Texas. I’ve been gone for the last 10 years in New York and . . . “
“Oh, New York, that’s about as different as can be. What a shock that must have been!”
“Yeah, it was in both directions. But I’m glad to be home.”
“What brought you back home? And are you from here?”
“Well, I’m from Texas, but not from Marfa or Alpine. I had a bunch of terrible things happen to me so I moved back home, to Austin. And that’s why I came to Marfa, to have some time to think.”
“Well, ma’am, it’s a good place to do that, it really is. I’m glad you’re back. Now, could I see your driver’s license and insurance? I’ll just call in your driver’s license, there won’t be anything coming up will there? [pause] [tipping his hat a little] I’ll be right back.”

While he was in his car and I was waiting, I started thinking about the terrible things and my eyes turned red and watery. I can’t hide it when I feel this way, I instantly look kind of terrible, the whites of my eyes get all red and the blue of my irises turn a pale watery blue, my nose gets all red and puffy, I just look awful. When he came back and handed me my license, he said, “Here you go, ma’am. Welcome home, just drive safely, OK?”

I felt instantly trembly and wanted to cry and thank him and tell him the terrible things that happened, and to thank him for letting me go without a ticket. I did thank him, and shook his hand, and he said, “I’m not here to make things worse, ma’am. Just be careful driving home, get there safely, OK?”

As I pulled back onto the highway, I was thinking about how easily I can tip over, still, despite how far I have come. It’s like I’m walking around on high heels, looking pretty good, dressed up and able to walk very well in my high heels, but now and then I’ll hit a pebble or an uneven spot on the road and fall over a little bit. Not all the way, not down, just wobbly. The rest of the drive home, I stayed in that semi-wobbly state, singing along but skipping the manic-happy songs and tending to listen to the quieter ones. Fighting the wind, stopping for gas, still only 150 miles into the trip? What, only 175 miles? How many still to go? That many more? Not even to Fredericksburg yet? And then stop and go traffic the last 1.5 hours, and a guy in a HUGE black pick-up truck with one of those stripper-girl decals on his back windshield kept pulling up next to me, speeding up when I did and slowing down when I did.

Pulled into my garage, unloaded all my stuff, drove over to the fancy car wash to get all the highway bugs scraped off the car and a bit of a handwax, then back home to not drive. I spent the rest of the evening not driving, and plan to not drive today. 🙂

It was such a great trip, I wish I’d stayed longer. I definitely want to go back, maybe the next time I’ll stay closer to Big Bend, but I’d be oh-so-happy to return to Marfa, to El Cosmico, to my sweet little Kozy Koach. I hope you have a beautiful weekend planned, whatever you’re up to. xoxo

adios, amigas!

cosmico
El Cosmico!
the road to Marfa
the road to Marfa
nighttime
my sweet trailer, nighttime
tables under the stars
tables under the stars
welcome to Marfa!
welcome to Marfa!
Prada Marfa
Prada Marfa

I may not be able to post here while I’m gone, but if we’re facebook friends I should be able to do a little here and there from my phone. I AM SO SO EXCITED! Even though I’m just staying two nights, I’ve got a big bunch of stuff accompanying me, including these essentials:

camera, binoculars, water bottle, exploration book, and poetry collections: Jack Gilbert and Louise Gluck
camera, binoculars, water bottle, exploration book, and poetry collections: Jack Gilbert and Louise Gluck

Plus my big camera bag full of lenses of all kinds and a tripod or two, and notebooks for writing, and a laptop for faster writing, and hats and clothes and shoes. And that’s all. And a thermos. No ordinary thermos, though. And my French press and some fresh ground coffee. Because come on, we don’t have to be heathens in the desert.

this crazy beautiful place

People who haven’t been here usually have one idea about what Texas looks like, and it usually includes a lot of cactus, a lot of flat, and rugged countryside. The deal is, this state is so huge it has that plus a whole lot more. Lots of rivers. Miles and miles of coastline. Desert mountains. Pine forests. Rolling green hills. Swamp. And yeah, also lots of flat and rugged countryside and cactus. (And 254 counties, demarcated in white here…and I’ve been to the county seat of all of them.)

texas
look at all those rivers, y’all! SERIOUSLY.

The landscape you probably have in mind is found in the far north and the west parts of the state. The panhandle, up at the top, is indeed flat as a pancake. There’s a saying about that part of the state: You can see 50 miles down the road, unless you stand on a tuna can. Then you can see 100 miles down the road. They get a lot of dust storms up there, a lot of western states blow in, in giant dark clouds.

The part on the left there, that’s where I’m headed. The lower border of Texas is bounded by the Rio Grande, which divides Texas from Mexico. That big bend in the river, where it makes a sharp turn and starts heading northwest again, that’s cleverly called Big Bend, and there’s a beautiful national park nestled in that curve of the river. As you see in the big map, it’s brown. Desert. Mountains (of the desert variety). It’s the northern part of the Chihuahua Desert that continues into Mexico. I’ll be in the fat pie-shaped county next to the wedge-shaped county that continues down to the big bend in the river, Presidio County. Stark desert beauty.

landscape marfa

Stark. Like the moon. That’s the terrain map from Google maps. A bit of light dirt dusted on the top of solid rock. Much of the bedrock of Texas is limestone, which is why we have so many caverns and aquifers.

austin to marfa

And a VERY nice drive, 435 miles door to door. The speed limit on the highway between Austin and Marfa is 85mph, the fastest in the country, but I don’t plan to drive that fast (on the way there, anyway). Once I get outside Austin I don’t imagine the highway will be too too busy, so I hope to be able to pull over, stand in the middle of the highway, and take a picture or two to show you.

I have my iPhone playlist set up with good singing music, a bunch of yodeling songs so I can practice at high voice (which is really how you have to practice yodeling, to be able to teach your voice how to break), and songs that make me really so happy. Katie & Marnie, you know this means a certain Spice Girls song. I imagine I’ll cry a lot while I drive, from that particular kind of free-riding bliss. Road trips like this always make me keenly aware of being on the face of our planet, and that kind of visual scale always touches me. Since I became a mother at such a young age, and have been responsible for the care and lives of my children for more than half my life, the experience of being beholden to no one, responsible for no one, is rare and weird and makes me kind of giddy. I love being beholden, responsible, connected, but brief little experiences where I put down that connection are like flying. Precious, of course, because they’re exceptions. I wouldn’t like it as my constant and only state, but in little bits those moments are fantastic, ecstatic.

Where I’m staying, I won’t have Internet access, and I’m really glad about that. The moon will be full while I’m there, and I’m planning to make another trip during the new moon, so I can see the Milky Way in all its glory. Maybe next time I’ll stay for a week, we’ll see.

I really need to be working, but I’m desert dreaming. Obviously. 🙂 Happy Monday, everyone.

sproing

Texas_BluebonnetsOur trees have been budded out with that brilliant yellow green for many long weeks, and while they’re not in full summer leaf yet, the branches are unmistakably green leafed. Except for a lone patch of maples (Lost Maples State Park), we don’t have the kind of deciduous trees that turn brilliant oranges and reds; in autumn, our leaves mostly fade and turn brown and fall off. But what we do have that makes up for it is our Texas wildflowers. Lady Bird Johnson — remember her campaign to beautify the US Highways, her wish that we all plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub? — really brought it home here in central Texas, exaggerating what we already had, which was a collection of brilliantly colored wildflowers. Thanks to her efforts, our highways are bordered by fields of bluebonnets, paintbrush, winecups, greenthreads, Indian blankets, primrose, verbena, yarrow, Mexican hats, and thistles. Of course (I’m sure you knew this already) the bluebonnet is our state flower, and when the rains have been right, driving through the Hill Country is like being in a car boat on a sea of blue. At a minimum, the bluebonnets clump in small groups, thick on the roadsides, but boy it’s not that rare to see fields thick and blue. We even have a bluebonnet trail to drive, through the Hill Country, during this beautiful time of year. Before everything burns up from the drought and heat. 🙂

Our spring brings hail storms and flash floods and tornadoes, all in preparation for the searing heat of summer. It can be kind of Biblical here on occasion. By mid-March, we’ve already had to turn on the air conditioner. As many generations as my blood and bones have existed in Texas, and I’m still and always unhappy with the intense heat. You’d think by now some kind of ease would’ve been bred into us, but no.

Today will feel kind of springy; I’m having brunch with a friend on an outdoor patio underneath the pecan trees, and then I’ll be grabbing my garden gloves and heading over to Katie’s. She and her husband are spending the day doing some intensive work in their yard, and I’m heading out to help in the late afternoon, along with a friend of theirs. Tree planting, grass seed spreading, flower planting, big stuff. And what a pleasure that will be, spending that time working with my family.

I hope it’s a nice spring day where you are; if you’re in Chicago, I hope that means a break from the freezing snow . . . which means a nice spring day in Chicago, I gather. Marnie, I’m looking at you honey. Let’s all look ahead to regrowth and beauty and coming back to life. I sure am. xoxo

wide-eyed and laughing

This morning at 9am I woke up with a huge smile on my face.

There’s something bizarrely wrong with my sleep — as in, I cannot do it. Last night I fell asleep at 3 and woke up at 4:45, so wide awake I seriously considered getting up. I have a lot of work to do today, why not get an early start. But I stayed in bed to keep trying, and finally fell asleep again at 6:15, only to have my alarm clock go off at 7. I must have accidentally hit the on button at some point yesterday. GRRRR could I go back go sleep? I did, around 8, and from 8 to 9 I had the most delicious and hilarious dream.

my guy
my guy

I was at some party at a HUGE huge huge mansion, and I didn’t seem to know anyone. But I was game, walking around the grounds, snagging a flute of champagne from passing tuxedo-clad waiters (stereotypes, anyone?), when I saw him. And he saw me.

We drifted toward each other and it was electric, oh, I knew he felt it too. We talked a little while, he got pulled away, I had no idea how old he was, he looked so very young, while I was/am 54. But who cares, the heart wants what it wants, right? As soon as he could, he came back to talk to me, and we walked around together. Moved our heads toward each other, grazing our hair together. I had fallen so hard in love with Jesse Eisenberg — but the guy I was with was just playing young Jesse Eisenberg. The ‘real’ Jesse Eisenberg was my age, and it was going to be OK. I was trying to figure out how old he was (the one playing the real one), and I thought I knew but then he told me he’d taken an advanced stats class in graduate school with Gauss (a very-long-dead famous statistician), and I’d taken a class with Gauss too, so he was at least old enough to have completed graduate school. But I didn’t care how old the young-one-playing-the-real-one was, we were so in love. It would be a scandal, we both knew it, and his parents would disown him and send him away with no money, but we didn’t care. We were in love!

And so, at 9am after an hour’s sleep, I woke up laughing. I jumped out of bed and hit the shower, laughing. I always play music loud enough that I can hear it over the shower, and this morning I sang along, loudly. I walked into my kitchen, towel drying my hair, and said “Hello, birds!” and they flew away but they came back. With a goldfinch, this morning. And I laughed.

I haven’t dreamed in so long, except for a couple of nightmares one night (one of which involved a dead bird), probably because I just haven’t been sleeping. I’ll get less than 2 hours, then a couple of hours of waiting for 1-2 more hours of sleep. And nothing is making me sleep. I’ve tried all the prescription sleep drugs, I’ve tried off-label drugs that always make people sleep (a very old school antidepressant that was retired from that use because it just made everyone fall right to sleep and stay asleep for hours (but not me!) and a drug that’s often used as an adjunct to antidepressants that has reliably zonked me into a coma (but not now)). Exercise, nope. Nothing is making me sleep, and it’s unnatural and having a bad effect, obviously. Last night in the middle of the night I was on my phone looking up grief counselors because it seems pretty obvious that I need some help, as my daughters also gently told me yesterday. I’ll see what I can do about that on Monday.

* * *

And here are some links I can’t seem to close (and such a telling reflection of the tenor of my week!), maybe one will be interesting to you!

So have a good Saturday, y’all, whether you’re buried in snow or not. xo

good thing of the day: sleep! If you can do it, count your lucky stars.

this wacky place

People outside Texas look at me with a worried expression, shake their heads, and ask some version of ‘Why would you want to go there?’ And they’re shocked that people here ask the same about their places. When I tell people I just moved back from New York City, right after they say ‘Welcome home!’ they say ‘You must be really glad to be out of that place.’ It’s really funny. Parochialism is not limited to small town rural people, as evidenced by New Yorkers, God bless ’em.

texas

My answer to my non-Texan friends always begins with a quick comment about it being Austin, which is in Texas but not at all like Texas. Austin is in the lone blue county in an otherwise-red state. That’s part of the answer, but it’s not the whole answer. When I look around at Texas I see the sheer beauty of the place, and so many kinds of beauty: the high desert of Marfa and Alpine and Big Bend; the long, long Gulf Coast; the piney woods of east Texas; the loneliness of the panhandle, on the high plains; the hilly, river-laden hill country of my central Texas. When I think about Texas I think about the food — TexMex for sure, but also good old Texas classics like chicken fried steak with cream gravy, and amazing barbecue, and juke joint divey bars with greasy food, and chili (chili!), and fried okra, and peach cobbler, and pecan pie.

I just have to not think about or pay attention to the politics. Rick Perry is speaking this morning, his “State of the State” speech and I’ll be studiously avoiding having to see his face, hear his voice, or pay attention to anything he says. Occasionally I listen to the local evening news and inevitably I get so pissed off I have to turn it off.

But what really makes me love Texas is our myth. Very few of us (except for the cowboys in the panhandle) have experience with dealing cattle, riding horses, braving the hard west. Not only is it not in our own experience, it’s not in our parents’ or our grandparents’ experiences. I have a bit of it in my family; my great-uncle Ben rode a horse every day of his life, tended to his small herd of cattle, tended to his pumpjacks, killed a man once and had to leave the country for a while, and I think I heard he died on his horse, an old man. Still, even Texans who didn’t have any kind of an Uncle Ben in their lives hold this myth of ourselves as rugged westerners, braving the hard west. Some boys play dress-up, wearing the cowboy hats and boots, with their professionally pressed jeans and starched shirts as they climb into the cab of their big fancy pickup truck, but they are just playing dress-up. If you go up into the panhandle, into a little small-town restaurant, you see the men who really do live that life. They don’t talk much. They set their hats upside down on the table. They call women ma’am. They don’t linger, they’ve got work to do.

Here’s the first verse of our state song, which I know by heart:

Texas, Our Texas! all hail the mighty State!
Texas, Our Texas! so wonderful so great!
Boldest and grandest, withstanding ev’ry test
O Empire wide and glorious, you stand supremely blest.

That’s why I love Texas. I love the myth, I love my connection to it through Uncle Ben, I love that it ties us all together, even those with absolutely none of it in their families. New Yorkers have a myth of themselves. And I love that too.

Happy Tuesday, y’all. Rainy here today, up to 80 degrees.

good thing of the day: friends who pay very close attention and hold you up when you need it.

onwards and upwards!

My dear friends and loved ones, I just have to thank you so much for all the kindnesses you’ve shown me, over the past month certainly but more generally too, and for this entire difficult year. The backchannel emails, notes in Ravelry, facebook messages, flowers, letters and things in the mail (including a perfectly lovely and soft cowl, handknit by my dear friend Kty in Paris, merino and silk and shades of gray with flecks of warm brown, intended to give me a soft warm hug), and a surprise phone call from a new friend in New Zealand. I feel utterly surrounded by your care, and it’s priceless. I want to say once again that I have a lovely guest room (well…..it will be lovely once I move in and get it fixed up!) and I’d love nothing more than to show you some real Texas hospitality. So if you can swing it, come to Austin and stay with me! I’ll pick you up at the airport, I’ll make you some delicious food, we’ll see what all Austin has to offer, and we can sit on my cozy couch in front of the fire (if it’s cool) or out on my patio. It’ll be so great, I promise.

You probably don’t know what my part of Texas is really like. Maybe you have visions of Dallas, with the glass buildings and freeways (and women with really big hair lacquered with Aqua Net); or Houston, with the freeways and oil and cowboys; or San Antonio and the Alamo and the riverwalk. Those aren’t my favorite places; for me, nothing beats central Texas (deep in the heart of Texas!), which we call the Hill Country, and then the high desert of west Texas. For instance, here’s the beauty of the area around the Frio River:

There’s a lot to see in this area of the Hill Country in central Texas, and once I get settled in and am ready to ramble, I’ll rent a little cabin out in that area for a weekend. You probably also don’t know that Texas is rich with rivers; in elementary school, I had to learn all of them, in order:

So please, come to Austin. You may or may not want to come during SXSW; it’s pretty crazy here that week, but if music and entertainment and technology is your thing, you’ve got a place to stay. Wherever I am, you’ve got a place to stay. If you want to bring someone — your husband or whomever — I’ll have a queen-sized bed for you so it’ll be fine. You can stay with me but go do your own thing, if you want! I’ll provide maps and directions, and ideas of things to see and places to go.

What might we do when you visit? I’ll cook, but we’ll also go out to eat because Austin has some wonderful little restaurants. Live music? Oh yeah, lots of places for hearing live music — even at the grocery store. I’m not kidding. If it’s warm (which it usually is), we can go swimming at Barton Springs Pool, a real gem. If you like to sunbathe topless, you won’t be alone. Barton Springs is a spring-fed pool that is nearly 1,000 feet long, and maintains a yearly temperature of 68 degrees. Sweet.

I prefer swimming at Deep Eddy, but Barton Springs is always popular, and I’ll take you there, if you prefer.

After the misery of this past month, and the difficulty of the last two days, I am feeling ready to look ahead. The sorrows and grief are with me still, but I’m finding a way to carry them a little more lightly in my heart. It still catches me by the throat throughout the day (and it’s worst at night), but hell. I am alive, and life is everything…..including wonderful.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, it looks like this:

  • For now, I have plenty of work, which is good. I need to treat my business more like a business, and I suspect it’ll then start behaving like a business. Funny how that works.
  • I move in on December 1, and will have two weeks to work and get settled before it’s time to fly back to NYC because…
  • On Friday the 14th, my friends Temma and Yvonne are organizing a party at Temma’s lovely place, and many of my friends will come. It’s an opportunity for me to see people I didn’t see before I flew away so quickly, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ll return to Austin Monday night the 17th.
  • Then, the last couple of weeks of December, I’ll keep settling into my little place. I’ll keep working. I’ll celebrate my own quiet version of the holidays, I’ll pull into my home and find my way, and I suspect I’ll be happy (and sad). Thankfully, I’ve never been stuck on the details of the specific day; Christmas is whenever we’re together, there’s nothing magical about the 25th. At midnight of the new year, I’ll go stand outside and look at the moon, and smile at the new year of my life, so different than I imagined.
  • I look forward to finding a big cozy chair to put next to my fireplace. I look forward to sitting in my chair, by the fire, and knitting and watching movies. Marnie is helping me choose a bicycle, and I look forward to early morning or late night bike rides through my beautiful new neighborhood, with its quiet, gently rolling, tree-lined streets. I look forward to finding the rhythm of my days, to learning how to take possession of my life alone, and to being ready to start moving outwards again. I can see it coming, I really can.

It sounds sweet to me. It’s possible that in the spring, my husband and I will take a trip together, Costa Rica perhaps. We always traveled together so very well, it’s one of the best things we did together, and we’re hoping we can pull that off.

So once more, thank you for helping me through this extraordinarily difficult month, and for the incredible ways you have reached out to me. I’m so grateful for all the connections I have, big and small, in-person and online, near and far. What would I do without you. Really, I ask: what would I do without you?

things I forgot about Texas (Austin)

I forgot how lovely it is to interact with such friendly, friendly people. Nearly every person I encountered (even if all they did was hold the door open for me at the fast food joint) smiled and said hello, spoke to me like they saw me, and often stopped to have a very brief chat. Nothing big, nothing long, and not fake. It was jarring at first, and disorienting, but it was easy to remember this way of being, and to get back to it. Just try to make a quick run to the grocery store — it ain’t gonna happen. There will be short friendly conversations with a lot of people.

In the same vein, the interactions are not rote. For instance, whenever we ate out, the server would greet us with a big smile (and a y’all, of course, which slowed my pulse to a relaxed state) and ask how we were doing. We’d answer, he or she would listen and respond, we’d ask how he or she was doing, and the answer would always be “thanks for asking, I’m [whatever].”

It’s a little less true than it used to be, but if you need to merge in traffic, someone lets you in and you look in the rearview mirror and wave at them when you merge in front. And they either wave back, or lift a finger (and not the middle one!). Again, this falls under the friendly deal.

People don’t talk at the same time! This was really disorienting. They take turns talking, and they listen when you’re talking. If they interrupt, they usually apologize. And if they interrupt, after they say what they have to say, they then say, “But I interrupted. What were you about to say?” I miss this the most.

I forgot the fun of being in a place that values being weird. Austin is much less weird than it used to be, but it’s a place that pointedly values “weird.”

I didn’t forget at all the pleasures of sitting outdoors at a funky little place like Shady Grove or Chuy’s, eating good food in the sunny afternoon, and taking our time because people aren’t in a rush. 

My Austin is gone, the Austin of my childhood; I moved here in 1962 when I was 4, and we never locked our doors back then. All that over there? It wasn’t here then, it was just countryside. This stuff here? It used to be something else. Austinites complain about all the Silicon Valley Californians who have moved here, but before that in the 1980s they were complaining about all the people from Michigan who’d come here looking for jobs. (Shameful revelation: Back then, it was common to see a bumpersticker that said “Keep Texas beautiful, put a Yankee on a bus.”)

Like most places, I guess, this is a thing about living in Austin — the nostalgia for how it used to be. If you cobble together all the time I’ve lived in Austin over the years, I’ve lived here more than anywhere else. In a deep and true way it feels like my real home, the beating heart of me, deep inside. I’ve relaxed here, hearing people who sound like me, feeling the comfort of the familiar rhythms of life and people, I’ve relished being back home. And now it’s time to go back home, to the other place that feels like home in such a different way you’d think I must be crazy for them both to be home. But they are.

But no matter what else may ever be true, as long as my daughter lives here, it’s my home. It’s so hard to leave Katie and Trey, especially now, but it’s time to go. Bye y’all, I’ll be back as soon as I can. xo