Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fear: Now with solar flares!

Two nights ago I settled myself into bed, exhausted and ready for sleep. And just as my head hit my pillow, I realized I'm actually doing this. By "this" I mean, leaving my family and a group of friends it took me seven years to accumulate to move to a place I've been to once. And then I almost threw up.

So much for sleep.

This also happened last weekend. I was in Deep Ellum and my group walked to a bar through the urban setting, I looked up at the Dallas skyline lit up and framing everything I know, everything I'm used to, and for a millisecond I couldn't breathe. My heart skipped a beat and I felt like I was drowning.

Tonight my mother asked me, "So, have you had any 'what am I doing?' moments yet?"

I just laughed maniacally. I guess this is what it feels like to run away with the circus.

Listen, I am full-steam ahead on this decision to point my wagons west but still, I can't help but be occasionally and violently felled by waves of fear.

But that's to be expected, right? (Can I get an amen?)

And yet I don't remember these stomach drops I'm experiencing, the kind you get when you ride over that first crest of a roller coaster, back when I moved to Atlanta or New York, even London. So what the F, already? I love to sleep! And, additionally, I hate to throw up! So....?

Welcome to my life. This has been happening to me pretty much since my new boss told me I got the job a few weeks ago. "I guess you feel like the dog that caught the car, huh?" He said with a laugh over the phone, and I looked down and noticed my hands were shaking.

"Do you think it's because I'm older now, that's why I'm so fearful?" I asked my friend Genie.

"Well, I do think as we age, we tend to have a greater understanding of risk," she said.

As a teen I couldn't wait to go on roller coasters. I spent entire summers at Six Flags upside down and backward, in the air and plummeting back to dirt. And my absolute favorite was the tower that took you up to the top and paused, then with a click, dropped you straight down. And Lord, if I didn't love a spinning pit that stuck you to the wall.

Well, guess what? I hate that shit now. In fact, a couple years ago I went to the State Fair with my friend and her boyfriend and the b.f. convinced me to go on this horrible loop roller coaster, kind of like the pirate's ship that swings back and forth, but this one went upside down. There was nothing cute about the heaving yell that rose like a dark incubus from my gut. Instead of a light and giddy feminine "squeeeeeee!" the sound that I emitted was more like a flat and sustained "gahuhuhhhhhuuuh." I couldn't look at my friend's boyfriend in the eye after that. I don't think he could look at me either.

Look, at some point my adult risk-analysis gene kicked in, and it would really rather prefer a nice Malbec than dance with death in the hands of a carny.

And yet, that's exactly what I've done, isn't it?

So everytime my mind settles down, I have those weird Dr. Who moments again, when I feel the past and present and future colliding inside my brain and I realize that I'm moving, as my sweet niece says,"far, far away." Then my head spins and I feel incredibly mortal and I hold my breath so that I don't freak out. And it's terrifying.

What the hell am I doing? Where the heck am I going? Will my dog be bitten by a rattlesnake?!

And I hear my mother's voice again, "I mean, you've only been out there once."

It's in these moments I like to blame the solar flares.

Let me explain.

Genie says she first learned about solar flares in elementary life science class, which makes me a little sad because my own children's life science class will learn about how dinosaurs walked with man on an earth that is only 5,000 years old and be taught that Adam and Eve were always fully clothed, even when bathing, because of Jesus. But I digress.

Now, what we know about solar flares is that they emit something like 1/6 of the energy of the sun and after a couple of days of bouncing around in space, that energy hits our atmosphere and screws up electronics and satellites and stuff.

But let's all put on our hippie-dippy do-rags for a moment (the one you haven't washed since Woodstock, and not the lame Woodstock from the 90s. The real deal, dude. You know the one.) and pretend crystal deodorant works and the smell of  nag champa doesn't automatically put a drug-sniffing dog on edge. Basically, let's be one with the earth, if you will.

Because, lookit, solar flares will blow your mind!

Take this paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta that says, in a nutshell, solar flares make people feel bad, then people decide to dump their stocks because they "attribute their feelings and emotions to the wrong source... Specifically, people affected by geomagnetic storms may be more inclined to sell stocks on stormy days because they attribute their bad mood to negative economic prospects rather than bad environmental conditions." Basically, people thought they were sensing something was afoot in the market and they dumped their risky shares. But they were wrong, it was the solar flares jamming up their systems.
A geomagnetic storm can make people feel bad enough to shake up the system around them permantely. For example, the rates of heart attacks and stroke after a flare increase-- that'll shake you up. And the number of people admitted to hospitals for depression rises as well. Solar flares make people feel sad, or at least pretty icky; enough so they'll actually try to do something about it.

Case in point: February 17 saw the biggest sun storm in four years hit us. Less than 10 days later, a street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire protesting his government. The Middle East blew up in revolution and I crawled out of my skin and decided to uproot and move to a dusty, West Texas town. Coinicidence? Yes. BUT STILL.

Solar flares.

Think about it.

But it's not over yet..."The sun's 11-year cycle of activity, driven by tangled surface magnetic fields, will hit its maximum in late 2013 or early 2014. Magnetic messiness will peak around that time and prompt nasty solar storms," writes National Geographic.

So for the next few years, don't worry! Just go ahead and bet on the fact that you're going to feel itchy for change and that might lead you to do something radical and somewhat irrational. S'coo. It's the sun's fault. Ride the waves, man. Or as my freshman theatre professor always said, "let it wash."

And when the panic of your future freaks you out, that's OK too. Think of it as a forced meditation. We're supposed to live in the moment, right? Well, nothing puts you squarely in the moment like never having seen the town you're moving to and being too busy to ruminate about the past you're leaving behind.

In Eat, Pray, Love that girl took almost an entire year to center herself, learn to be fully present, and move forward. All this has happened to me in the span of  one month. Bish, please. I got this. Bring it on.

But I will say this, folks: thank god for Epsom salt baths and liquor. Because, let's be honest here, those are pretty much the best things going for keepin' me afloat.

Please do NOT tell that to the sun.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Context is everything.

Let's play a game.

What is this?

OK, how about this?

Give up? I bet it'll all become clear with this:

You guessed it! It's my new home for the next year!

This is pretty much the most I've seen of it. Unless you count this guy:

You may ask yourself, what room is that? Or, where is that built-in located? Or, perhaps, that giant wall of windows, what does that divide? And you would be right to ask those questions and I would also tell you, you've got to stop asking so many questions.

West Texas is on island time, mon. And you've got to go with the flow.

It's like this: I got my job, which I'm super excited about btw, and now I need to find a place to live. But the amount of time I've been given to pack up my life and move to a remote, dusty town is so limited, I have to just pick a place based on pics from the Interweb. Except that most places in Alpine and Marfa don't really post their pictures on the Interweb.

So I ask a local, hey, where do I go to find a good apartment? And she points me to the Alpine Avalanche, which rocks, and I find this listing for a two bedroom apartment, $500 a month. Listen, at that price I'm already sold. So I ask my friend, "Will you go take pictures for me? I'll bribe you with anything you want." "Yeah, sure, no problem!" And a couple days go by and back in Dallas, some thirty-thousand dollar millionaire has already lost and regained his fortune and now has an Astin Martin and a prostitute, but I still don't have pictures.

"Hey, so, any chance you got to take those pictures?" "Oh! Yeah, totally gonna do it."

But this woman is an artist and she's busy in her studio, as she should be, so that's her priority- which I totally get. And a few days go by and we have a tornado warning here in Dallas and a wall cloud pretty much forms over my house so I have to take my dog to the Equinox gym, where the VIP locker men's locker room has retina scanning technology (thank god! When, I ask you, will they install DNA testing technology?? That inner sanctum must be protected!), and I huddled with strangers in the women's locker room as the power went out and they told us to cover ourselves with the hand towels. But-- exciting news!-- we survived.

And yet, still no pictures.

So now I turn to my future co-worker, who is also so awesome and willing to help and he says "no problem!" But a couple days go by and there's no pictures and I ask again, so he goes out and shoots the front of the place for me.

Hey! It's cute! An adobe duplex, not so bad. But what about the inside?

"Well, the landlord's phone was down all day, so I couldn't get in."

Oh well! My pal Nancy inspects the photo and declares it perfect. I'm at peace... sorta. I still would really like to see that interior.

So I ask the landlord to take pictures. He's so nice, and he goes to do it, but when he gets to the house, his camera's not working. I get a call, "Hey Paige, I tried to take pictures for ya, but my camera was out of batteries." His son is totally going to take the photos for me though, he says.

So days go by and I write to my future co-worker "I'm never going to see this place, am I?" And he says, "Oh ye of little faith, I'm sending you photos right now!" WHAT?! I'm nervous and excited (which seems to be my perpetual state of being at the moment) and in come the photos.

They are terrific on detail, but detail of what I'm not quite sure. Does my kitchen actually have cabinets? That remains to be seen. How big is the living room? Who knows! Is there even a toilet? It'll have to be a surprise!

But none of that matters. Honestly, it doesn't. I'm sure it'll have all the requisite home amenities. No matter what it is, it's mine. Remember, I rented it sight unseen. "You know what? I've got to live a little!" I told my landlord when I pulled the trigger on my deposit. Hell, I'll make it cute. And my co-worker did tell me "it has a lot of potential, it just needs a woman's touch." Guess what? I'm a woman! I have a touch! As Tim Gunn has been known to say, "make it work." This apartment is just like I'm on Project Runway and I've been given three yards of felt and some duct tape and I have to make a dress for Pippa Middleton. GO! I can do it!

So, yeah, I have no clear picture of where I'm moving in a couple of weeks. But once I get it fixed up I'll take pics (preferably full room shots) and show you guys. Then the mystery of that glass wall will be solved, once and for all.

But my poor landlord. I've called him so many times so far. My fear is I've terrified him already. So I told him, "I'm so sorry to keep calling, but I'm really stressed out and the pace of life here in Dallas is just so much faster. I'm sure once I get down there I'll chill out."

He laughs and says, "OK." Which I'm finding is standard answer whenever someone like me baffles you down there.

So the moral of the story is this: despite the fact Far West Texas is in an extreme drought at the moment, and surrounded by raging wildfires from all sides, the people really are on island time. So chillax, won't you? Grab yourself a Lone Star. Shit'll get done when it needs to get done. And people are happy to do it for ya in the meantime.

Just don't expect it tomorrow. Or possibly ever.

But it's all good in the meantime, folks. Just look at that view.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The couch-surfing cowboy.

It all started with the cowboy on my couch.

Ty Mitchell, a complete stranger to me at the time, had told his friend Ginger, who told my friend Nancy, that he was headed to Dallas to audition for (yeah, I know) Dallas.

"Welp, I guess I'm gonna haveta get a motel room," he said.

But Ginger was having none of it. In West Texas friends bend over backward to help a guy out, and that's exactly what she did. Though backwards bending was really unnecessary in the case. Because Ginger called Nancy and then Nancy called me and she asked me if I wanted a cowboy on my couch. And when Nancy Newberry offers you a cowboy on your couch, you better damn well do it.

Only problem: the man was a complete stranger (city people are taught as children about "stranger danger," a lesson I have never forgotten, nor allowed me to move past my fear of windowless vans.)

Oh, and the other problem: I only had one bedroom. Hence the couch-crash idea. Which is really uncouth for a Southern hostess to allow. Guests, we are taught subliminally from the time we are tots, must be pampered just so; it is particularly lovely to set a carafe of water by their bedside, for example. Couch surfing does not offer itself up to chilled carafe-ing.

Nancy could tell my hesitation. After all, she's a nice, Southern girl too.

"Listen, he's a cowboy! Cowboys don't care! He'll be fine on your couch!"

*shudder* *crickets* What would the neighbors think?!? (P.S. My neighbors? A waitress, a truck driver, a hoarder of Whataburger sacks, and an emaciated skeleton man.)

"Paige. It'll be an adventure. You'll have a blast. Trust me. ...Besides, it's always a good thing to know a local in Marfa."

She added the last part as enticement. I had never been to Marfa, but Nancy had a house there and I'd always wanted to go. A real Marfan who could give me street cred (if there is such a thing in West Texas)? Now that sounded good. ...Besides, it's not really that hard to get me to do something. Carrot + Stick = you're golden. And most of the time you can leave out the carrot. Plus, quick backgrounder on Nancy: she rocks. So, you know what? Why the heck not!

Now, the way my brother, Craig, remembers it, I called him up and said I had a Marfa cowboy coming to crash at my place and would I like to meet him and grab a beer. He did. This is what he had to say:

"I've met a lot of cowboys in my life, but I've never known one as energetic as Ty."

This, of course, is hysterical. Ty is a tall, skinny thing who walks slow and talks slower. He rolls his own cigarettes almost without having to look and can sit in one spot for hours staring at the dogs sleeping in the dirt outside. He eats his BBQ with his pocket knife, tells a good story about gettin' drunk, and continues to be quietly exasperated by the idjits of the world. He can spin a good yarn and, boy, has he lived a life, but hmmm, "energetic?" Energetic is what I would use to describe a cowboy dancing backup in a Madonna video. That is definitely not Ty.

"Yeah," my brother says. "Most cowboys say few words and when they do, they're well chosen."

Let me tell you about Ty's words. When he was 17 and he ran off to Marfa the first time to follow a girl going to Sul Ross, somewhere along the way he started running guns across the border, then he mended his ways, worked on ranches, construction, I'm guessing pretty much you-name-it, and along the way he married twice, and had (according to his stories) approximately 1100 girlfriends. He flirts relentlessly, referring to all pretty ladies as "darlin'" and he just shines when he's asked a million questions from city folk like me.

Ty currently runs the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa that might have the best damn BBQ I've ever tasted, ever, EVER, which I swear to god made a tourist weep (no lie, I was there). "I'm sorry," she said. "This is just the best barbecue I've had since my daddy died 7 years ago." And Ty thanked her kindly and invited her to sit with us. And did I happen to mention he's an actor? He's worked with some of the best, including being directed in a scene by the Cohen Brothers with all the stars of True Grit.

"I told them, there ain't no way cowboys ever annunciated their words like that, it wasn't natural. And Joel said to me, 'How many Oscars have you won?' So I shut up and annunciated them, all right," said Ty.

He's also lived in a haunted house. Yep, he said his daddy built a house from the ground up and would buy antiques and architectural remnants to finish it. Bad idea, apparently.

"That place just wasn't right, ever," he said. "I mean, you'd be standing there and plates would fly off the shelves and crash on the ground, or a chair would move across the room. One time, we looked on the wall and there was blood flowing from it. Bright red blood dripping down the wall."

"Oh my god! What did you do?"

"I mean, what can you do? We just put up a mirror to cover it up."

Which makes me believe it would really suck to haunt a cowboy. Poor evil ghost, eternally bound to terrify tenants only to find it's landed in Far West Texas where stoicism runs so deep, babies coming out with a shrug.

So Ty and my brother and I drank beer and laughed. And he smoked about a million rolled cigarettes and then it was time to leave the bar. Ty's truck was parked on the opposite side of the block from my car, but I noticed he started to follow me. All my radar systems went off. And it takes me until this cowboy is literally holding my car door open for me to realize that he was ACTUALLY WALKING ME TO MY CAR JUST TO BE NICE, which hasn't happened in quite some time (if you couldn't tell by the universal sign for astonishment: ALL CAPS).

And so yes, he crashed on my couch, in his jeans, no less --I don't think cowboys wear pajamas, but don't quote me on that just yet-- and in the morning when I asked him how he slept (in jeans, on the couch), he said, "Darlin' I'm used to sleeping in a bed roll, so that was about the most comfortable sleep I've had in a long time."

And when he called me later to tell me he was leaving town and thank me he says, "Now, anytime you need a place to stay in Marfa, you got it."

Which would be prophetic, since about two weeks later, randomly, I overheard my coworker talking about extra tickets she had to a concert in Marfa. And when I called up Ty to ask him if it'd be OK if I really did crash with him, he really was, as Craig said, energetic.

"Come on down, darlin'! I'd love to have ya!" He shouted into the phone.

And that turned out to be the weekend that changed the trajectory of my life.

So really, I've got to thank Ginger, who contacted Nancy, who contacted me, to ask if I could let a cowboy named Ty crash on my couch. And then I need to thank Ty for actually doing the couch-crashing.

And no, I'm not moving for Ty. I hope you didn't think that was the point of all this. But if it hadn't been for Ty, I wouldn't be moving and I can tell he's going to be an amazing friend. I'm not moving for anyone, I'm moving because I want something bigger- a new take on life, a new viewpoint, a slower pace and nicer people. Ty was just the first person I met from Marfa and then circumstances just fell into place. It was kizmet that way, I guess.

Jesus. I hate to think where I'd be right now if I hadn't said yes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Backstory: Life-changing moments happen when you're sipping wine in the fancy room.

It was a Saturday evening about five months ago and, once again, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go (world's smallest violin). I decided to hang out with my parents because they were having a guest over and dad said I would like her.

You could tell this guest was new to socializing with the Phelps, because after mom and dad filled her wine glass, they directed her to the fancy room: the living room with the expensive couches the dogs aren't allowed on, Limoges tigers and the silver matchboxes mom was so intent on becoming a collector of (does four make a collection?). And there we perched, awkwardly.

And we were chit-chatting blandly when suddenly I pop up as the topic of conversation as if I'm not in the room, though I am clearly in the room-- I'm right there by the brass floor lamp that magically turns on when you touch it.

"We never worry about Paige," said my father. "She's always got a plan."

"Yes," my mother chimed in. "She'll set her sights on a destination and she'll have a job lined up and an apartment and a way to get herself there without any help from us."

"As soon as she's got a plan, off she goes," dad laughed.

And bam! It's like the teal and purple pheasant decorative accent serving dish on the coffee table is speaking to me: Girl, you've gotta get a plan.

Get. A. Plan.

Before I continue, let's get something out of the way now: Effexor, Lithium, Pristique, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Abilify, Nortriptylene, Prozac, you name it I've been on it. But this is not about my brain's long-running sideshow. Hell to the no. I'm just pointing it out because at that time I was in a melencholy that I couldn't shake, god knows how I and my trusted Dr. Z tried.

And suddenly I realized it was because I had no plan. But I could change that.

Now we're going to jump back in time a bit, back to when I lived in New York in 2002. I had been living in Atlanta until 2000 and was bored witless. I got laid off from my weird, secretary/party planning job at a publishing company who's main title was a pub called Varmit Hunter and I knew it was time to go North. So I found a job in New York, found an apartment on Craigslist, found a guy named Bob who wanted to share a U-Haul with me, and landed in the Big Apple.

And it was there that I poured out my excitement about living in Manhattan to my new roommate, an Isreali agoraphobic chain-smoker named Inbal.

"I'm so excited! I've always wanted to live here! I mean, Broadway's here and the museums and there's so much to do and so many interesting people and it's always been my dream and..."

"You'll hate it in three years," she said, and exhaled smoke.

Thus, Paige's Rule #1 in Life: Never Live with an Israeli Roommate.

Granted, Inbal was freakishly good with her prediction. Two-and-a-half years in and I was toast with a side of bitter. But I have to say that 2001 wasn't exactly a banner year for anybody in the city (see: September 11) and then almost a year to the day later, August 10, 2002, my sister Brooke, who was 36, was killed in car wreck back in my hometown of Dallas.

Shit sort of soured for me after that.

I'd like to say I had an infinite amount of self-knowledge and poise and was able to accept that it might be time to abandon NYC to head back to a city where I could afford an apartment with windows. A place where I might be able to live without a revolving door of 14 roommates in three years, including the last one, whom I'm pretty sure was a prostitute. (Who, I'd like to point out, walked around the shoebox we called home completely nude. "Are you uncomfortable with me walking around naked?" the Prostitute asked. "Yes," I told her. So she started wearing a thong.) But I didn't.

Coming home finally came down to a phone call home where I was bawling (again) but this time instead of politely pleading with me to give up the NY ghost, my mother Ordered. Me. To. Come. Home. Right. Now. And as soon as she said it, it was like this well of relief opened up in my chest and I could breathe deeply for the first time in two years.

So I went home to Dallas and, after a hiatus to regain my sanity, I got a job as a society reporter with a weekly column. Later I worked at the city's shelter magazine as a contributing editor, and then moved on the big daily newspaper as a staff reporter.

But that's where my Dallas non-plan, that was working pretty OK as a plan, broke down. I was laid off in 2008 (death of the American newspaper, don't know if you've heard about it) and, despite all my protestations that "I was not my work and my work was not me," I found myself in an existential crisis that Bristol Meyers Squibb has yet to conquer.

Then I turned 35.

Thirty-five and I realized something that rocked my world: thirty-five was the age my sister was when she lived the last full year of her life.

I was living her last year.

This fucking hit me like a Mac truck. So I panicked. But once I stopped panicking, another semi was waiting for me: I looked around at my non-plan life in Dallas and realized that if I woke up on my birthday at 40 working at the same job with the same condo and the same melancholia, I was going to have a breakdown so epic it would make the lead on the local news. People named Krystal were going to win Emmys for reporting on that shit.

Luckily, I had just forgotten that I'm really, really good at making a plan.

So there you have it: the conversation I overheard that set me on this path.

Which, don't worry, I'll get into later. But right now it's midnight in Dallas in early June and my condo is a mess with boxes and packing table and bubble wrap because I'm packing up my entire life and moving to a part of the world that I've only been to once, and for which I have pretty much zero frame of reference.

I've never lived in a city with less than 1 million people, and now I've rented an apartment, sight unseen, in a town of 6,000.

But I'm excited! Because, you see, this is all according to my plan.