Tag Archives: Road Trips

Marfa Part II: “It’s Inside You” or “Beyonce Went There”

I had a transformational experience in Marfa, Texas last summer. The combined elements of strong geographical energy (Marfa Lights), minimalist art, a film festival attracting interesting people from all over the world if not just Texas, the remote location, intensely beautiful scenery, and one of the best parties I ever attended, culminating in an emotional cry fest (with Lone Stars) before the flashing unexplained phenomena after a best friend squabble in Big Bend National Park, showed me things I had been sorely missing. I’ve already written about this, but it sent me down a minimalist life path that so far has made me much happier and brought more love into my life, and I hope in 2015 will help me dig myself out of my embarrassingly immature credit card debt. Despite my arrogant resolution blog post this time last year, I made ZERO PROGRESS financially in 2014.

But a shit ton emotionally.

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Digital zoom on a Marfa light last summer.

In addition to the trajectory I started when I left Marfa, begun as experiences that were reflected upon on the day’s drive home, I developed an immediate obsession to go back. I couldn’t imagine not feeling so good there as I had in the heat of summer sleeping in a safari tent and eating burritos or hamburgers for almost every meal. I needed to tour Donald Judd’s home, I needed to go in the art galleries I hadn’t seen, and damn it, I needed to go to Mexico and get some Mexican shit.

I emptied my home of extra possessions when I got back from Marfa in an attempt to copy the aesthetic of the artist Donald Judd (who started the Chinati Foundation and an art/minimalist legacy in Marfa), and, possibly to a greater extent, El Cosmico. As my space got cleaner and felt bigger, I realized I wanted more people in it. It seemed too big for me. I wanted to use things and I wanted to monetize what could be used. I started thinking about Air BnB and ended up with a temporary roommate. This temporary roommate basically financed my trip back to Marfa to celebrate my 37th birthday. (I know. 37.)

I couldn’t do another birthday, in Denver, when I worked that day and the next day and no one will go to karaoke with me and the only people trying to take me out to dinner are my parents. I deserved something more energetically appropriate for all I’ve done this year.

I became a lot braver in 2014. I mean, I’ve always been stupid brave, like, move every two years to a different city to avoid seeing ex boyfriends brave, or like, bad decisions of the late night partying kind of brave, running alone at night in Detroit brave, and, in my mid to um, late thirties, “I don’t care what anyone thinks and I will date a 23 year old if I want to” brave. But this year I became real brave, like, professional brave and confrontation brave and you can’t be friends with everyone all the time anymore brave. I needed to celebrate this dedication to being me.

I drove to Marfa from Roswell (my in between spot) three days after Thanksgiving. The scenery changed to Texas style, I got excited, and I kept wondering why I was getting so close to El Paso. Once the sign read 30 miles away and I had gone through a border checkpoint I was sure something was wrong. Some help from the border patrol as I crossed back through, a stop to use the bathroom and buy water at one of those odd little cafes in no place where some men were dressing a deer outdoors, and confirmation that I was 50 miles from Sierra Blanca (i.e., GAS, but still over an hour from Marfa) and I was off on a ranch road rushing towards a refill and cursing that I was missing two hours of a seventy degree day, as well as having forgotten the time difference (add an hour once you get there anyway). I was very aware that if my car broke down death was a potential outcome.

It just felt wrong. The magical arrival I’d hoped for was tarnished by the time I’d added to the easy and beautiful drive from Roswell. That night my host and I went to the closing night of Planet Marfa, were tortured by a Russian border guard with a million pictures of the Himalayas, and, though the bar was full of other interesting and attractive people (well, not full… but containing), I still lay in bed that night doubting my decision to come to Far West Texas alone in December.

The feeling stuck with me as I felt a cold coming on and the following day was blustery and cool. It was the day before my birthday and I felt awkward and lonely at karaoke, realizing I knew just enough people to feel kind of stupid, but not enough to belong. It was a horrible feeling. I remembered my massage therapist’s advice of “run into your fears” and decided to sing a song to break the ice for myself. It worked, and suddenly everyone in the bar remembered me from the summer and wondered where my sidekick was, and I began to make friends with some of the other travelers who were passing through that night. It ended, as other nights in Marfa did, at the Marfa Lights viewing platform. A guy from Oakland had asked me for a ride there, I told him my awkward dilemma in the car, at the lights two other guys wished me a happy birthday, and one gave me a quartz from Arkansas that had been gifted to him. It was starting to seem like Marfa again.

I dropped off my passenger who gave me a zine and a sticker with a drawing of pears that said “Grow a Pear”. “I don’t know what to give you,” I said. “All I have is this coyote bone we picked up off the road this summer.” He actually wanted it.

And the next day I was going to Mexico. A friend I’d kept in touch with since the summer graciously followed through on his promise to be my guide. I added a country on my birthday to start a trend for the year.

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Ojinaga, Mexico, my 37th birthday.

So once I had decided to go back to Marfa for my birthday, at some point not long after I decided to spread some of my Dad’s ashes there. My sister and I both kept small parts of my Dad’s physical body… and I’d begun to think I didn’t need them forever. There was a time I needed them very much. And now I thought I’d like a piece of him to live at the Marfa lights with the Apache spirits and where I was sure I’d visit many times for the rest of my life, and maybe even live someday.

Amongst things I decided to finally deal with and that I didn’t need anymore were my Dad’s drug box. It was living in a lockbox that originally housed the four jars of very strong Oregon weed his death bequeathed to me. That lockbox had been inside a cooler in his apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The weed was long gone to different recipients/customers, but the jars were finally scrubbed and repurposed as drinking glasses, and the box, a rusted tin I remember from my childhood (it had playing card kings and jacks on it) seemed better removed ceremonially. So, it was the perfect vehicle for getting the ashes to Texas once I dumped out the roach it was holding.

The drive to Presidio with my native Marfan friend was beautiful, and as we discussed the border I realized the cargo I had in the trunk. There was no way there weren’t some pot remnants in there that would hit on the way back from Mexico. “Well, they’ll just search your car and won’t find anything,” he said. But then I’d have to explain the ashes… I mean that box looked like a drug box. It just wasn’t going to be cool. We were meeting a friend of his for lunch, and I decided, I should just stash the box somewhere or even just toss it out the window before we crossed. My Dad would have loved it. Because he was bad too.

I didn’t have to throw him out the window though, because our lunch date offered to hold the tin until we came back from Ojinaga, and that she did. I got my poncho and my Mexican blanket, and on the way back to Marfa, after a secondary search at the border (Colorado plates, smart ass Mexican-American passenger – his words!) we stopped and picked up my Dad’s drug tin. It was memorable like all my trips should be.

My cold got worse over the next few days, so I didn’t party the way I had over the summer, but did see the galleries I’d missed, run on ranch roads, take pictures of my dog with tumbleweeds, and enjoy brief post jogging naps in hammocks in the warm winter sun. I ate at the restaurants I’d missed, became obsessed with Topo Chico, and toured “The Block”, Donald Judd’s city home in Marfa. This ended at sunset on a Friday night in the sparse and symmetrical world of that space, and I remembered why I’d come back. I am just very inspired by this place physically, and this aesthetic. Whatever one may think about Judd or his art, he is the reason I went to Marfa in the first place. I’m grateful for that. And the sunsets are unforgettable.

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My dog posing and my own camera timer self portrait.    

I visited the lights again and left my Dad there on a fence post, and a bracelet for my nephew Andrew, who passed away almost a year ago. A few lights flashed for me, and I went out for a bit to see some friends on my last night.

Leaving the “bubble” of Marfa the next day, I was amazed by how freaking good the public radio station was on my car radio. The scenery seems gorgeous for miles around, but it’s still not that specific town. The Davis Mountains were boring compared to Big Bend, and I ended up regretting that I’d left precious Marfa a couple hours early to hike there.

I’d achieved my goal of seeing a bit of what it might be like to live in Marfa all the time. It was much colder, of course, even with the very warm days, and it was demystifying to experience it in the winter. The light was still beautiful. I still met remarkable people every day. And I realized, especially that first night when I’d rescued myself at karaoke, that my life had just been different ever since the first time I’d been there. I’d been different, and had been living life more as me than I ever had. Marfa was inside me – that’s what I have to call it because that’s what is true for me. I was headed home only to leave for a week long business trip and couldn’t wait to really be home because there was someone I was actually excited to see there.

When I’m explaining it to people, I usually start by telling them, “Beyonce went there.” The rest of it, not everyone will understand. Which is fine.

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Who did Marfa better, me or Beyonce?

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Non-Marfa Bullshit


A few weeks ago I started eating yogurt again and this was the beginning. I’ve avoided dairy products for the last twelve or thirteen years due to my chronic sinus issues, with some exceptions (I did have a “Real Food” by Nina Planck phase, when I drank whole milk and ate Fage yogurt – unfortunately I was also smoking weed every night and eating peanut butter puffins out of the box washed down with hot chocolate. I also had an eating cheese fairly regularly “boyfriend who only ate crap” phase, lots of frozen pizzas in that one.) On Fridays we have pizza at work (yes, I have a great work environment!) and I pretty much have a dairy extravaganza after which I feel kind of bloated and gross. But that is probably because I end up eating four pieces of pizza in a day because that’s my big cheese day!

So a few weeks ago, I was trying, as I always do, to eat less, because, I guess, thinking about that every day seems extremely important to someone like me, and after my so healthy lunch of salad with grilled chicken and a client meeting after lunch, I was so fucking starving and only yogurt would do. I WANTED YOGURT. The building where my meeting was has a market, and I purchased two yogurts and ate one in the car on the way back to my office. It was exactly what my stomach wanted. My stomach had been having aches, pains, and various difficulties dealing with the food, beverages, and vitamins I put in it, even when those vitamins were “Digest-eaze” or something like that. But it loved the yogurt immediately. It NEEDED the yogurt. And it’s been different since then. It’s been better, and it’s like it knows who it is now, and it knows when it wants four slices of pizza and when it just wants one. It knows when it wants a couple Lone Stars and when one glass of wine will do.

I had a trip planned with a close many years friend from my past life, my very meaningful past life in Detroit. I was ecstatic to have a road trip partner after a few years of traveling alone. It was exhilarating at first – the solo South Dakota road trip to visit my Dad in 2012. Not as cool the next year when trips to Montana, Yellowstone, and the Finger Lakes of New York (for a wedding) just felt kind of… lonely. And we have all had the kind of vacation where you come back more stressed, more tired, like my “return to L.A.” trip a couple years ago. When you come home the “I tried to see twelve people in a five day time period and have a vacation too” kind of tired. Not fun. Not worth it, honestly.

Nothing does it for me like a road trip. I need to escape or feel like I am escaping from my urban professional first world problems. I can describe the same feeling everyone like me describes of getting in the car at 8:45am to go to work and wanting to merge on the nearest interstate and disappear. Isn’t this what being American is? We have boundless space to start over in, if only momentarily.

So this road trip was supposed to be all that American frontier escapism – national parks (my nerdy thirty-something obsession), “endless highway”, roadside attractions, cheap motels and potential camping, and, in the middle, a few days spent in Marfa, Texas, seeing the art of that town and the surrounding Big Bend area. It was going to be relaxing, recharging, and, I was pretty sure, my life was going to change. In the vacation planning period, I referred to our “Epic Life-Changing Road Trip”.

I knew I was going to love Marfa, but I didn’t know what the takeaway would be. One of our days there was to be spent at Big Bend National Park (a couple hours away), and my travel partner and I both agreed: “two days in Marfa will be enough.” After all, there are only two thousand twenty one people there.

So we’re going back. Like, as soon as possible.

I don’t want to tell you about Marfa. You can Google it and read the articles and watch the videos and YouTube it and if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll want to go there too. I wanted to go because I’d heard NPR stories about it and wanted to see Donald Judd’s art and stay in a tent camping hotel and the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean and Liz Taylor stayed when they were filming “Giant”, which I saw in my James Dean phase in high school.

I wanted to go to Texas. It seemed like a destination to rest out the middle of our road trip in peace and style, because we had New Mexico destinations on either end of the Marfa portion. Texas ended up feeling like another country. And thank god, because one of the largest themes in my life at the moment is the need to travel internationally.

Plus, everything here seems the same, doesn’t it?

I think of myself as a pretty chill person, I really do. I mean… I have high standards for myself and my lifestyle. I like my toenails painted. I like my hair shiny. I like to get up in the morning and have orange juice and coffee with almond milk and, ideally, something with syrup. These are the things in my life I like to control. And then when I walk out of my house with shiny hair and perfect nails I want the world to impress me and give me something new daily. I want adventure and I want intrigue and smiles and conversations with people I just met, and then I want to walk away from those conversations and go back to my orange juice and my almond milk. I don’t hold others in my life to my incredibly high standards for my self and my lifestyle, but I do prioritize those things above all else at times, to the occasional detriment of my own adventures.

At any rate, I have become a bit high maintenance.

I ate a burrito almost every day I was in Marfa. This included a fancy burrito from a food truck that had white beans and black rice, a burrito made by a dear Mexican woman in her kitchen, which was also a restaurant, and a burrito from the gas station. My eating a burrito from a gas station is major. That burrito was good.

There were limitations in Marfa that I enjoyed. It was comforting to know that I didn’t need to have access to restaurants and multiple bars every day of the week. Much of the town is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the famous art can only be viewed at certain times too. It created an atmosphere of not trying to cram everything in, and that was fine. I never thought I’d leave not having done and seen everything I wanted to do, but I did. The beautiful thing was that because I couldn’t view art, shop, and go to restaurants all day New York City style (and, let’s face it, Denver style), I met amazing people in Marfa who I spent time with when I was there. And that guaranteed that when we went to karaoke on Monday night we saw all the cool people we’d already met. Because Marfa is the only really small town I’ve ever been in with you know, a bunch of cool people. And therefore it wasn’t boring, or small-townie, at all.

Add to this that I had to share for the first time in several years because I decided to take a trip with a dear and wonderful friend. I know, I was on vacation, we were road tripping, economy style, but hey – I’m thirty-six and I live alone in an apartment with my choice of two beds. I’m not used to this. And it was good for me.

The day we got to Marfa we stopped to take photos at the famous Prada Marfa art installation that announces you’ve almost arrived. A young couple from El Paso on their way out of town stopped just after us, got in some of our pictures (annoying), and freaked me out about where we had chosen to stay for three days, where a film festival was right then taking place. They bemoaned the lack of open places to hang out, and mentioned that there was a Dairy Queen (which funnily was a landmark people used often as the only chain restaurant in town). I was worried about getting gas, eating, and the fact that I’d gotten a friend to fly out from Detroit to go to this place. “Why are you worried?” She said. “It’s going to be fine.” And we literally stepped out of the car in Marfa and it was so fine. Just slightly below the surface, it was completely amazing.

I’ve lived in New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn), Los Angeles (Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, oh, and… the valley), Detroit (Woodbridge and Hamtramck), and Denver since graduating from college. I’ve seen all kinds of cool kids acting cool, including myself, for years. This just doesn’t fly in Marfa. You can be cool, but you gotta be nice. You’ll probably end up with a goat at some point. That’s just how it is there. You’re in the desert, you’re isolated, you can’t get your dry cleaning done, you see the same people every day even if you’re visiting, and you just don’t stress about what my friend and I have begun to refer to as “Non-Marfa Bullshit”.

We had the hardest time leaving Marfa on our last day. Our new friends were letting us nap in their air conditioning, laying in the beds of their trucks under tin roofs with us, and engaging us in “we can’t leave this conversation” conversations over fries, inviting us to crash at their place for one more night. They were helping us solve what I’ll now refer to as the “Marfa Makeout Mystery” which involved me, a desert dance party in the dark, and a couple black-haired men. In Denver, my friends and I make dates to get drinks, play tennis, eat brunch, hike, go to the Eldorado Springs pool, the Underground Music Showcase, ride bikes to yet another event at another bar of which there is a choice of multiple events almost every night and for some reason it only seems as great as Marfa like once a quarter, etc., etc., etc. My life becomes a calendar blur and I forget what happened two days ago because the same kind of shit is happening all the time to me all over what is becoming a big city. I’m doing stuff all the time, but am I really here?

Marfa just felt like hanging out, the space to exist beautifully. And, I guess I didn’t mention the Donald Judd minimalist influence that makes Marfa the most perfectly curated place I’ve ever been – in an authentic and at once worldly and small-town fashion. Because, ultimately, I just don’t want people to move there and ruin it. Though I want to move there or at least vacation there three times a year. And I promise I won’t ruin it.

People think Denver is relaxed and everything; I mean, people dress casually here. But relaxed is the opposite of this town. Obsessively outdoorsy and active is more the deal in this area. Trying to move past Non-Marfa Bullshit, I wondered why I feel like it’s an important thing to try and run a 15K in the fall. If I’m being honest with myself I know that outside of setting a goal for myself (albeit a goal that doesn’t advance me in life at all and ultimately muscles up my thighs in a way that’s not always cool) I really hope that running that much will make me magically skinny and runners know that isn’t the case. Thinking about being skinny = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Not eating dairy = Non-Marfa Bullshit (unless you are legitimately lactose intolerant). Tinder = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Texting multiple dudes = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Getting involved in family drama = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Booking things two weeks in advance that are just happy hours = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Feeling like every event you have to attend requires making a dish or buying a bottle of wine = Non-Marfa Bullshit.

I know I was on vacation and maybe life in Marfa isn’t magical every day for the people who are from there, or who live there now. But I’ve been many places and I haven’t ever felt that way in a place like that. So I’ve learned something.

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I started tearing my apartment apart to go minimalist immediately when I got home. I want to clear the space to feel the way I felt in Texas. Like I could walk into it and be there.

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