Regarding a Trip to West Texas

Several friends requested a report of sorts about my recent trip to one of my beloved places, West Texas, on the occasion of going out and participating in one of my favorite art shows. I decided to respond via Queenie, seeing as I can’t help but be political about this, and some might rather avoid this slant on things when they see it on Facebook. Perhaps my Republican friends can be advised to “Move along now; nothing to see here,” or just read at your own risk.

This is no time to avoid our various voices. Even the opposing ones. I found out this week that it’s good to know where your friends stand, for many reasons. There were a couple of jaw dropping moments, more than a few tears, and a coming together of  souls that sustains us all. These are interesting, and terrifying times.

It’s always hard to leave the Queen Mum and the critters. The QM is shaky at best, and but a fall away from some sort of catastrophe. I rely on her judgment about what she can do and the kindness of my wonderful neighbors who keep an eye out and will be available if something befalls her, or she befalls herself. All went well on that front, except that she twisted her knee right before my return. At least it was reasonable timing, but she’s hurting and way incapacitated, and not happy about the whole thing. We stumble on.

As for the art show, we began Artwalk with high hopes, with what positive feelings we could bring up in the face of change and tragedy. Alpine, Texas is a small town dealing with big problems. There was a trifecta of sorts affecting all manner of things. Probably freshest in the minds of my like minded friends was of course the election. To those in the same camp, you understand the pall that covers all our landscapes. We have experienced what feels like a death of immense proportions, and the funeral seems never ending. We are, simply, in grief. To those who are in the same state of mind, I needn’t explain. To those who are made of different stuff, you do not comprehend. The gulf between us is unfathomable, and it has been written about and explored by far greater minds than my own. The ongoing funeral does have a function — it brings us together. We cling to each other. We cry. We wail. We cannot believe what has happened. We have to talk about it, even though we are weary of just that. But the common shot to the heart that unites us is ever present. Is it like living with a terminal illness? It’s just there, and we have to live around it, with it, despite it. If a laugh escapes we feel guilty. It’s still raw, and we’re still learning to cope. But I’m not sure that can happen, really.

And so we tried to have a weekend filled with beauty and art. The beauty was there, but so was the black crepe. We tried. The dark “other” was an unwelcome participant in the festivities. We talked, we clung, we tried not to talk about it, but we couldn’t not talk about it. We needed each other. I left the hotel exhibit the last night late, and then began a conversation with a young couple outside the room as I locked up. We stood in the lobby for an hour, relating our beliefs and experiences, and where to go from here. We talked conspiracy theories, loss of innocence, assassinations, and various causes for what just didn’t feel right in town. And now we discuss another source of the heaviness: the pipeline.

Past the western edge of town and then running south is another assault on the psyche. They are running a gas pipeline through the fragile ecosystem  of the high desert. There was no choice. They began before permits were granted; they grabbed the land of protesting and opposing landowners through misuse of eminent domain, and now it just is. In sublime support, Native Americans have come to stand with the people – many of the same who are fighting the same battle in North Dakota. The arrests will come. This pipeline is owned by the same man who owns the desecration in North Dakota, and he sits on the board of Texas Parks and Wildlife. A little conflict of interest, wouldn’t you say, but now we see that playing out on a national level. It’s yet another of our new normals, inflicted upon us now with water cannons and rubber bullets and dogs trained to attack. America as we knew it is gone now. Evidence is amounting for another stolen election. We have no one left to fight for us. But us. And here we are. Strangers have come to town, to live, for a while, and they are not of the city. They are not community, and they are bringing petty crime, and an unwelcome uneasiness. They are doing damage, and then they will leave. It is another pervading sadness.

And then there is Zuzu. In October a young student disappeared. Alpine is a college town, and it is a positive addition for art, the land, animals, and conservation. Zuzu was a part of that scene, an active participant in many things, with plans to work for the betterment of the land. She’s gone. Neighbors heard an argument, loud thumps in the dark hours of the night, and then she was vanished. The one time boyfriend is implicated, but….there is no body. Searches have been ongoing, for hundreds of miles around. My friends have helped look for her. The parents come and go in town, their lives forever changed. The air is leadened with more grief. When you enter town from either direction, you see a sign offering a huge reward for information about the return of Zuzu. It’s personal in a small town. They are not letting it go, but she is gone. General consensus is that she was taken out in the desert where, with Nature being what it is, not a trace will remain, not even the bones. It’s a big desert. Vast, and uncompromising. Zuzu was a bubbly sprite, named after that little girl in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She was special. She’s gone. And the town hurts for her, and her grieving family. There are signs everywhere. There are no answers, only sadness.

Artwalk was just not the same this year. Many regulars didn’t come. Not so many bought. Contradictions abounded. I met incredible “new” friends in the flesh with whom I had been connected on Facebook for years. They are wondrous souls. That was so good. I spent quality time with others I don’t see nearly enough, and got to know them better. And in the next moment I talked with customers I knew to some degree, only to find out they were in the camp that believes that Sandy Hook never happened, and it was all staged with paid actors. I could hardly form words. I felt a little mad, (like crazy mad), all weekend. I made some money, not as much as usual, but a few subsequent sales afterwards brought the total up to reasonable levels. Perhaps I felt unfocused and unbalanced all weekend, going through the motions. There was so little Joy.

That’s it. That’s what was missing. Joy. I found Gratitude in so many moments, but so little Joy. They are not the same thing.

I related earlier today the story of meeting a woman in the place I come to for solace and friendship after the show. A new family has moved to town. Eventually they will settle down in the Terlingua area, but for now they are the only black family in town. She was remarkable…inspirational. She had the darkest skin I’d seen in a long time, and it glowed beautifully. She is a new mother, and being away from her son was a new thing for her, and she is madly in love with her child. She is intelligent, well spoken, and talked freely and definitively about her blackness and her experiences in these days. She, frankly, is tired of the bullshit. Don’t lie to me, she says. Speak your truth to me. She was a shining light in a season of darkness. I envy her her strength and resilience. She doesn’t have room for fear. Yet today I see the report of the new Neo Nazis now activated across the country, talking about the “children of the sun.” What the actual f**k? They ended their meeting with Sieg Heils. What have we allowed to fester in this my country? Where do we go from here?

I don’t intend to give my little home away from home a bad rap. I still love Alpine and the people who live there. I still give thought to making that area my final last moving adventure. It’s not so much about the place as spirit wounded. You talk to folks in town and they have no intention of leaving. They just want the hurt to stop. I wondered as I packed up what the show would be like next year. What will we all be like a year from now? In what state will we find our government? What freedoms will have been hacked away? How much more hurt inflicted? Will people still want art? Will they still have the money for it? Will we be still be huddling together, holding each other, seeking comfort?

I wish my little favorite town some great healing. The hurt isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s hard to heal when the wound is still open and bleeding. It’s hard to hug a town. But Alpine, I love you. I wish all of us some better times, no matter which community we inhabit. The love starts in our hearts, then we have to let it out. We have to help. We have to care. Let us all care. Let us all love each other. Kumbaya starts here.


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