The Best of It: Weekend in Austin Edition

1. Getting to spend time with my Austin Pilates people.

2. I was there in time to see bluebonnets!

3. I was also there in time for the buffalo ranch chicken strip sandwich and the Dr. Pepper shake at Whataburger.

4. Taking some time to walk in Mount Bonnell and Pease Park.

5. Easy travels coming and going.

Short Time Gone

Part 1

Some months ago, an acquaintance messaged me on Facebook asking if I’d ever published a blog or social media post about why I’d decided to leave Texas. She was considering leaving the state, and wanted to know what had compelled me to move away from a place I clearly loved so much, a place I believed I’d live for the rest of my life. I outlined some of the reasons why I decided to return to the Midwest, and made a note to actually write a full blog post about it.

Ultimately, although I love Texas deeply and will always consider it home, over the past few years, it became apparent that I was not going to be able to live the life I wanted, especially if I stayed in Austin. 1,000-square-foot 1960s bungalows in my neighborhood were selling for a million dollars, and they weren’t even in great shape. There was no way John and I would ever be able to afford the kind of home we wanted if we stayed. Nor was trying to buy a house in another city really an option. Neither of us cares for Dallas. After growing up in a remote rural area, John had no interest in moving to a small town farther west. I adore Houston, but given the way hurricane season seems to be getting worse every year, buying property anywhere on or adjacent to the Gulf Coast does not seem like a wise investment. We both think the Panhandle is depressing. That pretty much leaves San Antonio, and while we both like that city, neither of us loved it enough to resign from our jobs and totally start over. 

Then there’s the issue of infrastructure. The 2021 Snowpocalypse, which left virtually the entire state without power or water, was a contributing factor in our decision to leave. Before that, I hadn’t even known that Texas was on its own power grid (though I wasn’t surprised when I found out). Since then, there do not appear to have been any serious improvements to ERCOT. Austin also faced another crippling ice storm this past January, barely two years after the Snowpocalypse. Between that, Gulf Coast hurricanes, and the desertification of the Hill Country, it doesn’t feel like Texas is a safe place to live in the era of climate change. 

While Texas politics had a small impact on our decision, it was not the biggest factor. I mean, I moved to Missouri. It’s barely a step up. Saint Louis is an amazing city, but like Austin was 15 years ago, it’s a blue dot in a sea of red. But with cost of living being a factor, we were likely to end up in a red state anyway. Illinois is just 15 minutes across the river from our house, but our cost of living expenses would have a dramatic increase. Our options for housing would have been more limited. As it relates to Texas, politics was only a factor in the sense that it was clear that the state government is clearly unwilling to do anything to ensure its citizens are protected from weather disasters. Saint Louis has some of the oldest and well-maintained water and highway infrastructure. It’s not perfect, but it can handle a blizzard. 

I wanted to be able to buy a house with my partner. I wanted to live in a place where I was less likely to lose access to water and power in winter. I wanted to be in a place where I was well-positioned to have access to fresh water in the event of the desertification of the western portion of the country, as well as the potential for a serious environmental apocalypse in my lifetime. Even if there had been a mutually agreeable city in which we could have afforded our dream home, I would have been forever fearing the next big weather event. 

Part 2

Coffee at my favorite burrito place

My friend sent me the initial question sometime in August of 2022. We’re now into 2023, and I’m just now getting around to being able to put these thoughts down. As I type this, I’m actually on a plane flying from Austin to St. Louis, after a brief trip for a Pilates training. It’s the second time I’ve been back since moving; I was in Texas for the first part of my Level 3 teacher training in January. Both times, I’ve mainly been there to work, and haven’t done much socializing, or even let many people know that I’m in town. It’s honestly been painful to return, and with an intense training schedule, I don’t have much bandwidth for going out after. However, advanced teacher trainings in my Pilates program are few and far between; Texas is one of the only states where you can find them. So if I wanted to complete my advanced certification, it was inevitable that I’d be back, even if I wasn’t emotionally ready to return. However, I’m glad I got a few visits in before actually attempting to write this post. Each time I’m back in Austin, I’m caught between the competing feelings of How could I leave? and Thank goodness I left. As difficult as it is to hold both of those emotions at the same time, it’s provided useful reflection.

When I try to get from the airport into town without getting stuck on a toll road, I’m glad I left.

But I feel the sun and see the sky, and my heart aches to return.

When I try to find parking pretty much anywhere, I’m glad I left. 

But I have breakfast or dinner with a friend, and something in me begs to stay forever.

When I see that places I used to love have gone out of business since the last time i was here, I’m glad Ieft. 

But I go for an early morning hike before my flight home, and I wonder how I ever could have imagined being anywhere else.

When I see the downtown skyline, which now boasts some buildings that really should belong to Marvel villains, I’m glad I left. 

But I smell mountain laurel and see bluebonnets and feel like this is my true home. 

What it boils down to was that I had to reconcile two kinds of love: the place where I wanted to spend the rest of my days, and the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my days. 

Now, to be clear: if I had truly insisted on staying in Texas forever, John would have stayed with me. He would never have made me choose. 

But it’s also true that he wanted to leave. And the day he suggested we consider moving to Saint Louis, I readily agreed, and threw myself into the process of starting over. Because once I have made a decision, I will go all-in. 

In the romantic break-ups I’ve experienced, before the inevitable end, there was always a period in which I was struggling to reconcile who the person actually had become during our time together, versus who they used to be or who they might have been when we first got together. On this second trip to Austin, I realized that’s what I’d been doing with Texas before making the decision to leave. 

When I came to Austin in 2008, it was a particular kind of place: cheap, with decent job prospects, and great weather. As I explored more of the state as a whole, I fell further in love with the varied geography and culture. I loved being able to drive to Mexico. 

But Austin became more expensive and libertarian. The deep flaws in local and state infrastructure came to light. I still adored the west Texas landscape. I was still enchanted by Big Thicket. I still loved the friends I’d made. 

But let’s face it, there were still things I loved about ex-friends and ex-romantic partners even though those relationships were also clearly not going to work out. 

It was never really a choice between the place and the person. It was about recognizing that I could love this place with every single atom of my body, and still know that I couldn’t have the life I wanted if I stayed.

There are no easy conclusions. I will return to this topic again. For now, the plane is about to descend at Lambert International Airport. John will pick me up. We will take 170 to South City. I will keep my eyes open for the Arch, the sight of which tells me I am home. And yet I will still be yearning for my other home.

After tacos with one of my best friends

Support the Missouri Haiku Project

I’m excited to help spread the word about the Missouri Haiku Project, an initiative by Maryfrances Wagner, the poet laureate of Missouri. Maryfrances is accepting haiku from poets across the state to share on social media and in public venues. Many poets and teachers are offering workshops as well. The project runs until May of 2023, but why wait? Let’s spend the last of winter and all of spring celebrating haiku! Read on for Maryfrances’ guidelines, as well as all the other ways you can participate!

All information below comes from Maryfrances Wagner. If you want to send her your haiku or contact her about other ways to participate, her address is in the guidelines.

Making Room for New Words

While the details are still in progress, I’m excited to announce that I plan to release two new chapbooks in 2023! One will be a self-published collection of free verse, and the other will be my first haiku collection published by Cuttlefish Books, a small press out of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Both chapbooks are devoted to my last few years in Texas, and as I move through the processes for each, I feel more and more each day like I am really closing that chapter in my life.

As I plan for two new releases, and therefore lots of new copies, I want to make some space in my office for the new words coming through. So, for the month of February, you can get my first two chapbooks for just $8.00 each . . . and that price includes shipping!

While I’m definitely not a minimalist, Marie Kondo’s work has always spoken to me. I’ve also always just loved the way it feels to clear out the past to make more space for the present. Even something as simple as zeroing out my inbox leaves me feeling energized and inspired. My first two chapbooks will always be dear to me. I still believe in those poems, and I will always keep copies. Yet this June will be 10 years since the publication of We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are, and seven years since the publication of Come Into the World Like That. So much has changed in that time. Those books represent very different places in my life’s journey. I will always love them; I will always be proud of them. It’s also time to make more room on my shelf for this next phase of my poetic journey.

This sale will only last until February 28th, or until I sell out. So if you’ve always been eyeing a copy of either of these, grab one now!

New Year, New Home

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

The North American House Hippo is, as far as I can tell, not related to any specific kigo.

However, each of Mark’s blog entries ends with an invitation related to the micro-season that he is exploring. My plan is to use those to guide my explorations and writing for the course of the year. That will give me not just an opportunity for fresh poems, but also a way to help me connected to the geography of my new home. I look forward to seeing what transpires!

Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

This was one of the last poems I wrote before COVID. I composed it on December 24th, 2019. It previously appeared in the 2020 Poetry at Round Top Anthology. I chose to post it tonight because I’m missing three poetry friends who have died in the past few years, as well as my grandfathers, who both passed in 2020.

Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

This afternoon, while wrapping
gifts, I wept because my Uncle John
died three months before I was born,
and I’ve never heard him sing.

The barn cat hunts down the birds
that winter here. His coat spreads ropy
into the air. This year, he circles my legs,
grateful that I no longer have a dog.

In my head, we are slow-dancing
to Christmas songs in the kitchen. In reality,
you are cooking dinner, I am writing
at the table, and this is the loneliest I’ve felt all year.

Tonight I think of Sandra Cisneros
and Frank O’Hara. Of all the still-loves
lost, and all the flames gone out
while the houses still stand.

Persephone is in the underworld now,
but still alive. Sunlight lasted two minutes
longer than yesterday. Solstice always brings
the slow drip of honeyed light.

In Franklin, Illinois, the candles burn.
The chicken sizzles in cast iron.
Our ghosts stand steadfast
around the tree, and they love us.