Texas Home

Leaving New Orleans in the early morning hours, the fog lifts from the water and hangs among the trees like the children of clouds, hiding from the rising day. We stop for beignets for the road, dropping powdered sugar over our laps and drinking black coffee. No sugar, the way we both like it. There’s enough sugar in the pastry, isn’t there?

 
I-10 begins to straighten, its shoulders rising towards its ears as the promise of a wide-open land lies over the broadening road. Through Lafayette and Beaumont, the French names stamped on the utilitarian green road signs like exotic names on 4-door sedans. The factories and shipyards of Houston beckon on the horizon, Come West here’s where the money is. From the freeway there is nothing to see, the smog and the grey of the Gulf and the reflective buildings downtown winking like the glinting eyes of the Texas billionaires who built them.

 
Before he was my husband, Nate and I drove through the back roads every weekend we could when we lived in Austin, driving in his work truck with the free gas and stopping at small stores among the fields of wildflowers to buy a beer in a paper sack. No one was watching out here, besides the eyes of farm workers that would take a break and squint at us through the bright sunlight from eyes dark as their dark faces.

 
Out there was peace, and Texas felt like home. The green wooed us with its promise of growth and spring, teasing us with its excess after so many years in the brown desert with its rocky bones exposed and its dry, bleached skies. In Texas water flowed even in the drought, and the rains wakened the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush like watercolor paintings. We made a plan to go back there, though it hasn’t happened yet we feel the pull of our adopted home. It’s the only state I’ve lived in, of all the states, where people were so proud to be from where they were. Texas is a world unto itself, and though I snorted at the idea before, you really do have to live there to get it.

 
I accepted it so fully as home because I had not found one yet. Growing up on the road gives you free will in where you choose to be from. I feel formed from many places, fingerprints of forests and sea and wilderness imprinted on my skin. Home is where I make it, and that feels like a gift and a curse. So much responsibility, and so little accountability. It would be so easy to keep running, keep flowing with the days and the roads in all directions, no direction.

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Swamp Things

In the swamps the roads grow even closer, and the shrieks of strange birds deep in the prehistoric mangroves seem like creatures from a thousand years ago. Louisiana beckons from deep within, like a rising from the gut of my animal nature.

 We are quiet, watching the primordial from our windows. The darkness of the past seems to crowd close, panting and steaming up the glass.

I-65 becomes the never-ending Interstate 10 south of Mobile, and the salt smell of the sea rides the breeze. Nearly two hours along the toe of Mississippi, then at the border between Alabama and Louisiana near Slidell a wooden pier walks out into the water and signs tell you to watch for the alligators. I see many ominous lumpy logs, with mud-colored scales barely rippling the surface. The water is stained the color of sweet tea, and in towns the sounds of music older than time echo from the voices of the residents and the doors of bars, where zydeco and jazz and laughter have settled into the soil and the laughing eyes of the people there who greet you with a handshake and a smile.

The graves sit stolid above the ever-leaking, crying ground, the damp seeping in and rotting all flesh and trash and once-living things. The dead are on display here, and no one seems to mind that death presides over all with a toothy alligator grin.

In college I rode for hours in a car that smelled of the fetid slippers of a blonde-haired friend and her evil feet, to see the vomit-soaked streets of Mardi Gras and find some memories to haunt us all into our old, boring years. I remember fragmented visions of the weekend – flashing our nascent breasts at old men and Asian guys with SpongeBob beads. The wet breath of a man in my ear as I hid behind my mask, feeling safe with the liquor in my veins, turning around holding the hand of my roommate and noticing the naked crowd around us in this bar above the hordes in the street. Someone was getting a blowjob and others gathered around to smile at them. Another man wore chains and his girlfriend held the whip. I wondered what the normal citizens of the city imagined was happening here, as they sat around dinner tables or watched late-night TV and avoided downtown for the entire week. Something like this scene, probably. At the end of the French Quarter a man picked my back pocket in the shadowed streets, slid his hand down my ass and I didn’t feel a thing. Silly country girl, or nomad girl, whatever I am- here in the city pressed against the masses with their flashing teeth and metallic beads. Another man grabbed him by the back of the shirt and shook him until he released the bills in his wallet, a wad of bills I hadn’t had in the first place. I accepted the extra cash and the man disappeared to pick unsuspecting pockets farther down the avenue.

The gay men kissed for us when we asked them to at the end of the street in the dark, and the rainbow-lit bars there made us feel welcomed and safe. Among family.

“The Rat Who Didn’t Know He Was King” to be featured at the Tucson Festival of Books

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King Rat will be a participant at the Spring 2017 Festival of Books on March 12! I’ll be in the Author’s Pavilion signing and selling copies from 12:15 to 2:15. I’ll add a post here as soon as Amazon has the paperback copies for sale. Working on the hardcover next – and a couple more merch ideas 😉

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Creative People

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Ira Glass