by Mary Bolton
When the going gets tough, I dream of packing up everything I own into my car, driving through the night across the south’s Bible Belt and settling in Texas.
Texas becoming the home of my escapist fantasies is a recent development. Like many Americans who have creative aspirations, I believed that there were only two viable options for pursuing a creative career: New York or Los Angeles. I could see myself in both cities, or at least a version of myself. New York Mary was a more sophisticated version of myself, attending readings in mildewed bookstores in black turtlenecks; Los Angeles Mary drove a Prius. Texas started to manifest as an option when I started feeling claustrophobic in my own life. In Texas, I’d have an excess of space. In Texas, I could reinvent myself totally. I could run away from my shame and my humiliation, shedding my life here like a skin.
I’ve only ever been to Texas once – Dallas to be exact – tagging along with my mother on one of her work trips. I must have been ten, eleven. Old enough to appreciate that I was in a different state. Once you got out of the city, it felt like you could see forever, vast desert stretching across to the vanishing point of the horizon, and then beyond that.
But other than that brief time in Texas, I have no real reference point for it. I see it only as it is projected back in movies, a simulated amalgam of Texas created by filmmakers to look equally beautiful and devastating on screen. Desolate wastelands of watercolour oranges and blues. Dust covering everything. Rugged men and women in cowboy boots, squinting against the harsh sunlight.
Yet, every movie set in Texas that I love is about the overwhelming desire to leave. The inverse of my Texas daydreams. Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show follows teenagers from rural Texas that are as aimless as the dust that blows across the street, the only thing moving ’round these parts. The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men shows how Texas can feel infinite and yet still small enough to be tracked down and killed like an animal. Even lighter fare like Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back underlines how small and yet unattainable dreams can feel there. Its stoned teenage protagonists just want to go to the beach, and yet it is an ordeal. Their town continues to suck them in.
Friday Night Lights‘ refrain was ‘Texas forever’. An earnest, empathetic show, it was meant as a small prayer. But lately, I wonder if it was an admission that this was all there is. How small Texas can feel, even in its vastness. (How any place can feel small once you know its nooks and crannies.)
“Nowadays, I feel myself pushing against the boundaries of my life, as if I am outgrowing it.”
Lately, I have forgotten what it feels like to be small. Nowadays, I feel myself pushing against the boundaries of my life, as if I am outgrowing it. I think the monotony is getting me down; how many times can you run headlong into a wall before it starts to wear you down? I dream of orange dirt and neon sunsets, stretched to their horizontal limits. I think about being in the wide-open unknown, to unstick myself from the walls I have built and the walls that have been built for me. I have at times, shamefully, whispered that I want to go where nobody knows my name. My recurring escapist daydream.
In flight or fight scenarios, I seem to always chose flight. I pretend that it is easier. Maybe it is – running away from something rather than toward something.
(I have a Google alert on my phone for flights to Austin. It pops up occasionally, notifying me of price drops in one-way airfare – almost as a dare. An inverse of Before Sunset: Baby, don’t miss that plane. I always do.)
I know Texas is just a place on which I can project my fantasies. I create my own fantasy Texas, far removed from never-ending email chains and drama (ignoring the fact that, of course, there would be email chains and drama in Texas). I imagine what it would be like to live there and know that I am drawing something that is not based in reality. The Texas I dream of is just a salve for my world-weariness, for my boredom. In Texas, I convince myself that everything would be easier. I’d buy cowboy boots and drink Lone Star beer; I’d listen to sad country queens croon songs of lost love. Maybe I could learn to ride a horse – facing my fear in a concrete way. I convince myself that in Texas I could erase the vestiges of my previous life and sketch something – someone – new.
And then I get an alert from my work email account and the fantasy dissipates. The escape plan is put on hold as I enumerate the reasons to stay. My job is here. My social life is here. My family is here. All the things I have wanted to escape are the reasons to stay. And perhaps escaping is a kind of erasure that I wouldn’t be able to live with after all.
Still, I can’t seem to bring myself to turn off my Google alert for one-way flights to Austin, Texas.
Mary Bolton | @marybolton_
Mary Bolton is an essayist focusing on film and television. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but just might move to Texas one day, if pushed.