Saturday, December 24, 2011


Pontotoc, Texas

Once I passed the turnoff to 281, just south of Marble Falls, I had officially gone as far west from Austin as I had ever gone, in the 10 years I've lived in Texas. Things were feeling unchartered. Well, they were plenty chartered, thanks to Google Maps and road signs, but the sense of adventure kicked in anyway. It was good to be alone, good to be on the road, good to be heading away from the familiar. The hills melted away into plains. Highway 71 stretched ever on.

I gassed up in Llano and checked my tire, which had been leaking air for months but seemed to be holding steady. Bought some bottled water and Pringles. I only ever eat Pringles on road trips. That morning I'd printed out sections of the trip from Austin to Santa Fe - 5 pages, 5 legs. It was 9 hours or so to Roswell, and I was worried that I would get tired before then, or bored, or restless, but none of those things happened. The more I drove the happier I felt.

In Pontotoc the earth was sandy and soft. I stopped at the Historic marker and took a picture of the abandoned school, and a stretch of the town. The whole town looked deserted and sad. There were signs posted saying "Stop the Mine" on a couple of ranch fences. I tried listening to my own music but my speakers were no match for the pavement, so I gave up and turned to the radio. Country Western and Golden Oldies would carry me through to New Mexico.

Eden marked the end of my first leg, and soon after I was driving past San Angelo -- a much bigger town than I expected, although I saw very little of it since I stayed on the loop. It was after that I first saw the wind farms. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but I don't think I could have captured it adequately on film anyway. The more I drove, the more these giant white towers seemed to appear on hillsides and ridges. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Silent and huge, blindingly white, and turning so methodically. I wondered what the locals thought of this disruption to their landscape. I wondered if they at least profited from it. They were everywhere. Whenever I thought maybe I'd left them behind, more would appear in the distance.

Gassed up again in Big Spring, at the intersection of US 20, which cuts across the state from Odessa to Shreveport. This is Bush territory. Ranches and oil drills, everywhere you look. The sun was slowly going down. Cattle slowly gave way to crops. It took me a while to figure out what "gin" meant, and what the puffs of white by the side of the road represented. Was this leftover snow on the ground? No, cotton. Flocks of birds swooped, descended, and rose again from the cotton fields. Geese in v-formations flew overhead. I was headed towards Brownfield, so named, presumably, for the brown fields of cotton surrounding it. This must have been cotton country for a long time.

I watched the sun with anxiety, because I thought I'd left my glasses at home (turns out I had them the whole time). I can drive at night without them, in a pinch, but I prefer not to, especially in unfamiliar territory.

Goodbye, sun
I pushed on in the dark. Someone had told me that the stars would be amazing when I got to the Texas/New Mexico border. There wasn't a moon and I kept looking for starlight, but it wasn't as spectacular as I had hoped. I had 100 miles to go in the dark, before stopping in Roswell.

It's true what they say about Texas being a very very big state. I gave a silent cheer when I crossed over the border. It was one lane from here all the way to town, and despite occasionally passing, and being passed, I had the road nearly to myself. About 10 miles outside of town I called Charles and had him book me a room at the La Quinta.

Roswell was bigger than I expected as well. It's home to the New Mexico Military Institute, which may partly account for its size. I don't know. Maybe it's the aliens. The McDonalds is shaped like a UFO, the Wendy's sign says "Aliens Welcome!" But I imagine all this alien crap gets a little old for the people who actually have to live here. I got out of the car after 500 miles and 9 hours of driving feeling a little wobbly but mostly alright. Foursquare and Yelp directed me to Big D's Downtown Dive, where I ate an enormous green chile cheeseburger. I headed back to the hotel, flipped aimlessly through the channels for an hour or so, and fell happily asleep, eager to see what New Mexico looked like in the morning.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My enemy is my teacher

The thing that gets me lately, the top of the list of things, is that as a Christian I am tasked with not just loving my neighbor, but loving my enemy. This is the teaching of Christ, the greatest teaching, the most demanding one. And I signed up for it as an adult (I was baptized and confirmed at the age of 31), so it's not like I didn't know the drill already. I can't play dumb and pretend to not have read the fine print on this one. But I'm happy to gloss over that section of the contract every Sunday, because it's HARD FREAKING WORK. Hell, it's hard enough loving my miserable, alcoholic neighbors, but I give it a shot. My enemy? No thanks.

So, it's fair to say that I've been doing a pretty shitty job of the whole "love your enemy" thing, despite 18 years of devoted religious practice, prayer, meditation, and whatnot. I've prayed for my enemy. I've examined my resentments toward my enemy. I've searched for ways in which I played a part in creating the enmity between us. I've sought forgiveness and redemption there. But I would still mostly like my enemy to be run over by a truck, thankyouverymuch, and I feel awful about that truth.

Anyway. Imagine my surprise when I got it right today, for at least an hour, maybe more. I did this little mental trick, when I felt the usual "oh God not him again" thought trying to worm its way into my brain, and I quickly did a mental gymnastic trick and gifted my brain with a different thought entirely. That thought was, "oh good, my teacher is here."

I don't even know where that came from*, but it made me smile. My teacher? Of course. And what does he teach me? Patience, with myself, with him, with God, for allowing things to unfold in His time and not in mine. Forgiveness for my own mistakes, for his. Love for everyone, including my teacher, all of us children of God. And selflessness -- stepping outside of myself and my own self-centered view of the world, and seeing everyone, all of us, as equal, and equally loved. My teacher is a gift, my teacher is grace itself.

“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.” 
-Desmond Tutu

A therapist once told me that the time would come when I would be grateful not just for the experience, but grateful to him. I think -- maybe -- I'm getting closer to that time.

*(God, duh)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Empty Sky

I stood in my mother's Woods Hole kitchen, watching the reports trickling in on the morning news show. I remember all that initial confusion, before the pieces fell together. What kind of plane? Was it an accident? On purpose? And then that sickening moment, that second-plane-shot.

I don't really know how to deal with this 10th Anniversary. It all feels far away and yet very very fresh. Extremely personal but writ large. Self indulgent to relive it, to write about it, but important, too. My memories are the same as your memories, but different, and it's all tied in with where I was then and where I am now and all that happened during, and just before, and in between then and now.

Remember that moment before you knew it was possible for that great big tower to collapse? And then remember that moment when it came down? And then the realization that the other one would, inevitably, too? And how you couldn't help but think of all the people trapped inside? Of course you do. On the Cape it was glorious early autumn, the air was crisp, birds were singing, and on the television -- Hell on earth.

I remember those eerie, empty skies above Cape Cod over the days that followed. And reflexively watching for con trails, for signs of danger. It was blue, beautiful, rainless, and cool, and I felt hollowed out and spent.

I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning
To an empty sky

People I knew died that day going into the towers. No one near and dear to me, but people I knew by name, who knew me by name. Brothers of friends. Other people I knew decided to take a later flight out of Logan and were miraculously, mysteriously spared. I was already in mourning for my stepmother who had died suddenly and young, just four months before. A friend from college died two years later from complications from AIDS -- specifically, a respiratory illness. He lived near the World Trade Center. I blamed Bin Laden.

My three-year-old pointed at our crushed oyster shell driveway just a few days after and said "Look, mama! Debris!" He had seen a lot of television by then. I cried a lot. He patted me on the head. My husband had already left for Texas to start his new job and our new life, to buy our new house. We talked on the phone maybe that day, maybe a day later. My panic and sense of urgency were met by his coolness and political analysis.

That life was already cracking for me, but September 11th didn't help. The gap between my experience and his was jarring and unresolvable. A few weeks later I flew with the boys to Austin, a stranger in a strange land, surrounded on the highway by pickup trucks with that same Jingoistic bumper sticker on them, purchased at Wal-Mart. I don't even remember what it said now. "These Colors Don't Run," maybe, or "Never Forget."

As if.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

this could be the place

Hello, original blogging platform. I wish to reclaim you.