I took a wee hiatus from the blog for …oh, about 8 months. Not that you were counting. But you missed me. Tell me you did. I missed me. I missed writing.
A lot has happened since my last post in September. In short, Bret and I quit our jobs at RSICA, left Amman, and we’re now living in Alpine, Texas. WTF, you ask?
In short, the film school in Jordan where Bret and I were both teaching, RSICA, was in dire financial shape. It was a precarious situation for us. So, after many hours of careful (often tearful) deliberation, Bret and I decided to cut our losses and quit. It was a painful decision, but ultimately the right one. We gave our two weeks notice, packed up our shit, and moved home to the states. That was in mid-February.
And the end of our Jordan adventure. Poof!
It was surreal coming home for good. Looking back on it now, our time in Jordan feels like a distant dream. I had always compared traveling there to tumbling through the wardrobe and finding ourselves in Narnia. When we would return to the US for vacation, nothing much had changed stateside. We would reappear as if we’d never been gone. Although, we felt different, even if only in perspective. And then vacation would end and we’d sift our way through the layers of the wardrobe and find ourselves back in Narnia.
This time, we were leaving Narnia for good.
In late February, Abby and I moved into my mom’s garage in Grass Valley while Bret went to Los Angeles in search of a temp gig.
There are few things in life more humbling than living in your mom’s garage. Abby and I slept on what was essentially a beach ball even though it was technically an “inflatable bed.” My mom did everything she could to make us comfortable. She gussied up the garage with shelving units, a rolling clothes rack, and a quaint turquoise trash can from Ikea.
But it was still a garage and I was still 36 and living in it. I had hit a low point.
But in many ways, my time in Grass Valley was an important interlude. A time to reflect and deal with my feelings about what had transpired in Jordan. It took me several weeks to process my feelings about our premature repatriation. When I finally did allow myself to feel, what I experienced was a mixture of sadness and relief.
Relief because we were finally coming home to the US! Land of the free, home of the brave. I could wear a tank top in public without being ogled and possibly groped. The drivers, more or less, follow the rules of the road here. Whole Foods! Trader Joe’s! In ‘N Out! Abundance! Equality for women! No more call to prayer waking me up at 5:30 every morning!
But sadness because I was leaving the people I’d met and grown to adore. My producing colleague with whom I’d developed a deep friendship and my wonderful students! The RSICA students and my Aqaba International students will forever hold a place in my heart. I’m so grateful for Skype and Facebook because if I never get the chance to see my students again in the flesh, at least I get to see them online.
And sadness that I had left behind this amazing adventure, this life of an expat; an identity to which I had grown attached. There was an intrigue to my life, a sexiness. I was the American woman living in the middle east. My friends and family and even strangers remarked on how brave I was to live and work in a muslim country surrounded by warn-torn Syria and Iraq and the instability of Egypt and Libya. How positively brave!
I knew the truth. Jordan was reasonably stable and living there was actually no riskier than living in Los Angeles. But the middle east was far away, exotic, unusual. And as a result, I felt special. I felt like people thought I was interesting. It’s taken me a few months to realize that I was no more interesting in Aqaba or Amman than I was in Pasadena. I’m still me. I had some cool experiences and certainly learned many things about the other side of the world. But wherever I go, there I am.
And here I am. In Alpine, Texas!
Yeah, it’s weird. Much like our move to Jordan, totally unexpected and yet singularly awesome. Bret got an assistant professorship at Sul Ross State University and so now we’re living in a different foreign country known as Texas. The Lone Star state. A state in which I never thought I’d live. A state that Louise from Thelma & Louise refused to even drive through while she was on the run from the law.
Alpine is a tiny (population < 7,000) West Texas town three and a half hours east of El Paso and six hours west of Austin. There is no Starbucks, no Target, and the nearest Wal-Mart is 45 minutes away. We do have a drive-thru liquor store though.
You may have seen the recent 60 Minutes piece on Marfa, Texas. It’s the artsy enclave 26 miles west of Alpine, and I kid you not when I say it puts Silverlake to shame in the hipster department. Marfa is so deeply hip that it has a state-of-the-art drive-in movie theater and a boot company that makes only one style of unisex vintage boot. These boots cost $500 a pair and are backordered 10 months due to popular demand. Here’s a link in case you want to up your hipster ante: www.cobrarock.com/
Marfa is also the place where No Country for Old Men, Giant, and There Will Be Blood were filmed. Very hip.
Alpine is less hipster-ish, although we do have a food truck. It’s called Cow Dog and it’s awesome. www.cowdogdog.com
Here’s the thing. I grew up in Northern California and then spent my entire adult life living in Los Angeles. Aside from our year and a half in Jordan I’ve only ever lived in the Golden State. I’ve traveled fairly extensively to Europe and around the continental U.S. but never actually lived anywhere else.
I’m being terribly blunt when I say that I’ve always believed California was the greatest state in the union. It’s beautiful, it has culture, and fabulous weather. It has Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the PCH! San Francisco and LA. And if you get tired of those places, you could always go to San Diego or Mendocino or Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz. California is beauty and more beauty. The Beach Boys wrote a song about its women and Jim Morrison too, although he was partial to the chicks in LA. My point is, California is amazing. Why would I ever leave?
Because it’s fucking expensive.
And if you don’t have a job, then it’s impossible to survive there. Unless you’re a trust fund baby. And while my parents have been more than generous with me throughout the years, trust fund baby I am not.
So, Bret and I were forced out of LA. Squeezed out like pus from a zit. Crass. Sorry. But it’s how I felt when we first left LA. I felt awful, pathetic, lame. I couldn’t hack it. I had tried and failed and was being kicked out of the club. A part of my brain still resides in the halls of junior high where I was the gawky new girl who didn’t belong.
But here’s what I’ve discovered since we moved here in April. I like Texas. At least, I like Alpine. It’s charming and interesting. It has yoga and pilates studios, some decent restaurants (albeit not many of them), a natural food store, and a park within walking distance from my house. There’s an ice cream and shaved ice shop called Murphy Street Raspa Company that my daughter adores and it’s housed in an old historical building made of wood and owned by a young woman with a dog named Rodeo. www.raspaland.com
Here are some photos of Murphy Street Raspa Co.
And here’s a picture of Rodeo in his “cave:”
There are train tracks that run through town, a volunteer fire department, and a tiny farmer’s market every Saturday morning. And I’m on a first-name basis with my local postmaster. She even stopped by our house to apologize in person when a package didn’t get delivered to us on time. This place has character. It’s unique and, while small, it has most of what one needs to get through the day. And then some.
There are also big-haired anchors on the local Odessa news channel. And bugs the size of my arm. But there are also intelligent, kind, generous people here who come from all walks of life. One of Bret’s colleagues is from Ireland, and a fellow mom I met at the toddler library group hails from India. I’ve also met people from California and other states in the US.
And the people actually born and raised in Texas aren’t all closed-minded redneck bigots. I’m going to tell you straight up that that was my prejudice before we moved here. I had a deep-seated fear of Texas. I thought most Texans wore cowboy hats and shit-kickers and chewed tobacco and beat their wives. I knew that Austin had a cool music scene and prided itself on being a liberal-ish town. But Alpine? What was I to find here? Would my free-spirited daughter turn into a big-haired debutante who believes in creationism? And what about me? What on earth would I do in Alpine? Who would my friends be? Big-haired former debutantes who believe in creationism?
As a matter of fact, no. Not at all.
I’ve met liberal artists, writers, teachers, lawyers, and small business owners. I’ve also met and befriended some conservative folks and they have invited me into their home for dinner and made me feel welcome. And none of them have big hair.
See, Alpine is a college town. And while it’s not Harvard Square it has a student body of 2,000 and a faculty count just shy of 200. And where there are universities there are liberals. Incidentally, Alpine is in Brewster County and Brewster County is one of six (or so) blue counties in Texas.
Alpine is also starkly beautiful. It sits at an altitude of 4800 feet and is surrounded by mountains. Huge white clouds billow in a blue sky that goes on for miles. We have electric thunderstorms and the wind is not shy about making her presence known. I’m listening to the wind right now as she rustles through the trees outside my bedroom window. It sounds like ocean waves.
One downside is that it’s really dry and dusty here. I drink gallons of water and apply face cream a million times a day. But April and May are apparently the driest months. I welcome the humidity of summer.
And admittedly, I’m a city mouse so living in Alpine is taking some adjustment. I’m used to more noise, more places to shop, more people, more options. Life moves faster in the city. But these days, I find a little less of all of that quite appealing. Sure, I miss Trader Joe’s and the Hollywood Bowl but I like that I can get to the grocery store in literally 3 minutes. And I don’t hear helicopters flying overhead every night. Sure, the train that runs through Alpine a few times a day (and night!) isn’t exactly quiet but it’s a beautiful sound. Haunting. Like something from a bygone era. And the starkness of the landscape here is a constant reminder that the world is big and I am small. And that’s a good thing.
So, I’m back.
The evolution of a blog. First Aqaba, then Amman, now Alpine. Each place unique, each its own little world.
I will keep you posted.