Monday, August 20, 2012

Just because you can't hear them, doesn't mean they're not partying.

The Marfanoia began the weekend of July 4th, which also happened to be my first official weekend in town; I went to the Pueblo for some milk and there were throngs of young, hip people filling baskets with salsa, beer and meats. Aisle after aisle people were preparing for a good time and all I had was my scheduled was my organic milk purchase and a date with my couch.

The next day while getting a latte at the laundromat/coffee shop/ice cream parlor, a stream of people stumbled in hungover and over and over again told the tale of THE MOST EPIC PARTY EVER TO TAKE PLACE held at a house known locally as "the chicken coop" in which Beyonce and her crew showed up and danced with the locals until the cop (not a typo) showed up and tried to bust up the crowd, at which point the drunken party guests threatened to turn the guy into sausage.



Marfanoia, I should explain, is a term coined by a local guy named J.P. to describe the feeling a Marfa resident gets when they just know there's a cool party going on somewhere and you weren't told about it and have no way of finding out.

Marfanoia happens to the best of us (and probably plagues the worst of us). But it goes beyond parties and openings and, for me, digs a little deeper.

See, it's really not all that rare to casually bump into a guy in his 20s who is from California but currently living in Denmark, back in town to finish up his newest show, a series of handmade chapbooks exploring the cultural relativism of rural West Texas Latinos. And he's good looking.

In fact, I would say that's probably the most common thing that can happen to you here in Marfa.

Because right after you meet him, you'll meet a woman in her 40s who quite recently retired from a modern dance career, made name for herself styling movie sets and now is planning to open her own business. Plus, she's good looking. Or you'll meet a nice guy in his 30s, in town via a MacArthur Genius Grant shooting a documentary that will air on HBO. And you know what? He's pretty good looking. Or, hey, the people moving across the street from you? Don't be surprised when you find out they are the designers behind a well-known indie fashion brand. And happen to be good looking.

My point is that there are a lot of accomplished people in this town (incredibly good-looking, accomplished people) and I think part of the Marfanoia stems from an awe of the general prolificness of work here. (That's a word. I looked it up.)

Like when Fiest was here, I don't know if she was kidding or not, but she said she spent the day in Marfa writing songs and then performed one for us-- with full band and backup singers. She did that in less than 8 hours. I leaned to my friend and said, "That's nothing. Today I took a three-hour nap." I know when I said that I was not kidding.

Look, I understand now that when I moved out here originally, I needed a break. I was fried to the end of my fingertips; utterly spent. I went into hibernation. I needed to. You know what happens when you've had your heart broken 8 ways to Sunday? You want to sleep. You want to curl up like a fat, smelly bear in a cave and eat burritos and watch costume dramas while you look at the mountains. And then you want to climb those mountains, a lot of them, over and over, and celebrate with a burrito.

Thank god I moved to Alpine first and not to Marfa. Marfa is not where you go when you need to hibernate.

In Alpine I was at my least creative, but I was content. For some reason, 8 months curled on my side watching costume dramas didn't bother me one bit. I had to detox from toxic people, toxic places, toxic air. Meanwhile I hiked, I met people, I observed. Did I mention the costume dramas? Because, honest to God, I've seen every single one catalogued on Netflix.

Then, slowly, I began to wake up.

So many people I meet here blew up their life and headed for the Far West Texas desert. This place really does call to people. I am not the only one that dropped everything and moved to the desert because it felt right. People are here because their spouses died suddenly or they had scandalous affairs with the true loves of their lives and had to book it out of town. People come to the desert on dares from stupid ex-boyfriends who said they weren't brave and end up staying. People come here because they don't fit anywhere else. People come here because they fit in too well everywhere else and want to be left alone. But most of all, in Marfa, people come to produce work; some of it extraordinary.

So, right now my particular strain of Marfanoia is that I will never live up to my fellow citizens' talents. I feel like I'm the Gap version of a Peter Beard photograph; maybe instead of half-naked Peter, furiously writing while inside the carcass of a crocodile, I'm Sarah Jessica Parker with a cutesy stuffed snake and a hair bow, giggling. The people here get shit done. They get published. They record. They go to Africa and come back EVEN BETTER LOOKING. Meanwhile, I've learned to cook tagine meatballs and desperately need a facial.

But I'm trying not to beat myself up too much (which I am really, really good at, btw. I wish that was considered a legitimate talent because I'd win).

Did you know that bears take three weeks to wake up from hibernation? And that is totally without the added fat and lard of copious breakfast burritos, which probably adds weeks or months to grogginess. One study by a guy who I'm pretty sure is the Swedish Chef said this of awakening bears, which I think is pretty apropos:

Øivind Tøien, author of the study, said: "[Bears] have an almost-normal heartbeat when they take a breath. But, between breaths, the bears' hearts beat very slowly. Sometimes, there is as much as 20 seconds between beats."

My heart is still beating slowly too. Some days I'm sure there are more than 20 seconds between the time I breathe in all the darkness, cynicism and anxiety and remind myself to be present and content and that I am loved, and then exhale. But here I am, still breathing.

I have a long way to go before I'll be fully awake. And some days lately I just feel old. But I am waking up. I am. I'm even pretty sure the GREAT EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF 2009-2011 has closed up shop. Finally. It's been at least a few months (OK, weeks) since I've smashed a bug then ruminated over the meaning of life and what constitutes a sentient being. Progress!

I'm glad I moved to Marfa. This place will be good for me, I think.

I hope.

Now I'm just waiting patiently for my creativity to reappear, my thoughts clear up and for someone to invite me to a really sick party that ends up told and retold as local lore.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A natural resilience to fire, and other things I learned about myself this weekend.

I am a writer.

Or, I guess I should say I was a writer.

I was a journalist for years back in Dallas and I loved it. I loved meeting people and hearing their stories, sometimes good, sometimes bad. As a friend of mine from college said, “everyone has a book inside of them” adding, “it’s just that most of them you’d rather not read.”

I loved finding threads of meaning in seemingly innocuous details (hey, I have a BFA in theatre, I’m dramatic; it’s what I do). Like when a copywriter asked me why I liked being the home and garden reporter. “Because the way you decorate your house is a clue to who you are and who you want to be when you’re totally alone.”

“God, I’m never inviting you over for dinner. I’m color blind,” he said.

But I got laid off four years ago, and I’m not exactly known for my discipline, so here I am: a sometimes-writer who has forgotten what to say.

My creativity, even while surrounded by the majesty of this high desert, seems to have taken that long-past pink slip and decided it was a ticket to watch as much Masterpiece Theatre while eating burritos as humanly possible. That is to say, my muse abandoned me. Even selling my TV didn’t bring her back (because, let’s be honest here, everyone in Big Bend says they don’t have TV, but you all know everyone’s hunkered down anyway watching Netflix and Hulu on their computer screens. Same diff, people.)

Thank god I was accepted into Tierra Grande Texas Master Naturalist class of 2012. It has helped me remember that I don’t have to say anything at all.

"In a fire, not everything burns," we were taught. Along with, “not every tree gets to grow up.”
Over the course of the weekend we hiked Mt. Livermore and tried desperately to soak up the knowledge of The Nature Conservancy’s Associate Director of Field Science John Karges, Texas Parks and Wildlife Botanist Jackie Poole and CDRI Executive Director Dr. Catherine Hoyt. And what we learned from them sounded like prose flowing effortlessly to the page:

"Rattlesnakes can taste the air."
"Trees have living libraries, you just have to know how to read them."
"A worry of ravens is the same as a murder of crows."

Through these lectures I suddenly remembered that Mother Nature has her own language that hangs like fruit all around us. Everything she does serves as the template we use inside our own private worlds. Love and heartbreak, fear, vice, narcissism, humiliation, triumph, and perseverance, it’s all there, playing out in the natural world over and over serving as a sentinel for us, like the play inside the play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

"This 'Tripod Tree' is an Alligator Juniper that has had its heart burned out and is still alive” or “males in the lizard family heighten their colors and/or do push-ups to attract the females” and "Most Texas rivers are dammed." (Remind you of anyone?)

What’s the old quote? “There are no new ideas, there are only new ways of making them felt.” Well, did you know that, like the wolf, the Grasshopper Mouse howls at the moon? Or that a female frog of one species will never respond to the calls of male frogs from different species?

The window into our behavior doesn’t come from laying on a couch endlessly answering, “Tell me about your mother.” In fact mysteries are revealed everyday inside the biologies of wind, rain, fire, plants and animals. "Fire makes its own weather, makes its own wind."

I’d forgotten that somehow.

So thank you Master Naturalist class of 2012. I am awake and aware again. I await your next move.

After all, “nature bats last.”

This essay appears in the August edition of The Big Bend Gazette.