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I’ll give this a shot, as a Texan.

  1. Our mythology is openly embraced and it’s fun and embarrassing all at the same time.I actually had a friend in college who joked about having border guards at the state line, so that each Texan could get a hat and boots or whatever, and uphold the mystique throughout the world. It was even stranger to be from Dallas, of all places. Literally everyone I ever met traveling, from New York to Paris and parts in between knows about the show Dallas and would ask me questions about cows and oil. I was asked if I rode a horse to school. It’s really kind of a fun perk and that’s good because…

2. There’s a lot of stuff that embarrasses me as a Texan who is also progressive. As an example, when I moved out of state to San Francisco, my husband and I thought it would be fun to see Hell House, an independent movie made about a church run haunted house near where I grew up. Now, we actually knew some about the place and it had been a perennial story in the news, because Dallas was already shifting blue at that point. The local papers would cover the way these kids lovingly dramatized the damnation of gay people and girls who got abortions and people would just kind of sigh and shake their heads.

Planet Cedar Hill

I was not prepared for the experience of seeing that in the midst of liberal San Franciscans. It was a very weird experience to hear all the comments about how backwards the whole state was.

3. At the same time, there are a lot of strong women in the history of Texas. I see people now talking about Ann Richards and passing around Molly Ivins memes and I feel a very deep kinship with her. Because to grow up in Texas is still to be steeped in some fairly oppressive traditions. Particularly if you’re not white or male. You note the cheerleaders, and I was not a cheerleader. I did have to go to a Miss Manners class where I wore little white gloves and cotillion, where they make junior high kids dance with each other for weeks. I say sir and ma’am which pisses off many Californians. What I’m getting at is that if you weren’t into all that, you probably had to do it anyway. And that gives you a great deal of background for talking to Republicans and also the grit to tell them to fuck right off. You don’t want to dance with me, asshole? Don’t expect to live that one down any time soon.

4. The stars at night are indeed big and bright. And very relevant to the state history. It’s interesting that you didn’t bring up NASA as one of the Texas tropes. And maybe that’s just how old I am, that this looms so large in my legend.

“Planet Houston”

We had a very similar experience leaving Texas, getting pulled over by some small town officer who asked us where we were going. When he heard California, he literally said, “What would you wanna do a goldurned thing like that for?”

And tons of movies are filmed in Texas. Austin and Dallas and Houston have spent years positioning themselves as very industry friendly places to film. So I see a lot of Texas in the movies, even when the movie isn’t supposed to be in Texas.

5. It is huge. I imagine your aversion to open roads must be a little bit like my aversion to mountain roads: I hate driving in the mountains here. I’m ok on highways, but little windy ones with no guardrails freak my shit out. I did not grow up with mountains, I grew up with freeways and miles and miles of nothing. When I started college, I didn’t have a car and I wanted to visit my boyfriend. I was in Austin and he was in College Station: about 120 miles apart. I hitched rides on ride boards to visit him, just like an incredibly stupid girl in a movie about people with chainsaws. I survived! I also memorably took a bus. There was only one bus that traveled between Austin and College Station, and that sucker went the wrong way for 2 hours. And eventually I did get a car, which meant I was driving alone to see him, through small towns and emptiness. Or driving to see my family, 290 miles away, through bigger towns, like Waco and Arlington. There was a small place called “Carl’s Corner” which was almost entirely a truck stop with two dancing frogs on top. And then there are these weirdos.

6. There are tons of guns.

It wasn’t always so aggressively ammosexual. I left in 2002, and I can’t really say that I saw lots of people carrying AR-15s at Kmart or anything. That’s new. But there were guns everywhere. My uncles hunted and my mom had hunted (they were from Louisiana), but my dad was very opposed to hunting. We didn’t have a gun in the house. But I met soooo many people who did. When we went to girl scout camp my mother chewed out another mom for bringing a loaded gun. I remember going to see a movie with a guy, and when I got in the car he told me to watch out for “his piece” under the passenger seat. One of my college roommates worked for a store that supplied the Austin Police Department and he routinely just had guns around. And of all people, my grandmother tried for years to convince me to carry a gun, because I had a class that got out at 10 pm.

I think that was right on the cusp of the paranoid age I now see my home state in. Growing up, guns seemed more like an accessory, somewhere between a toy and a fashion statement. If you were a boy growing up in Texas, someone in your family would probably give you a gun at some point. As I said earlier, my mother had hunted with her brothers, but was excluded from those trips as she was taught to be a lady. It seems significant to me now that my grandmother, her mother, who had never really said much about firearms in my life, suddenly freaked out that I might be walking alone at night. And it’s funny to think about, but growing up with that has given me a good resistance to 2nd Amendment nonsense about a band of “patriots” standing up to the marines with legally purchased firearms. I remember kids from my high school skipping class to go watch Waco burn. How other Texans missed that memo is beyond me.

7. I was a lot more afraid of tornadoes than I was of anything I could ward off with a gun.

Frankly, those memories feel like a goldmine for Texas mythology in film. Something about trying to convince the dog to hide with me in the bathroom while the storm sirens went off and my mom and dad yelled at me to chill out and kept doing whatever they were doing feels very Texas to me.

Bonus! Talking to strangers:

That’s the most authentically Texan thing I have ever seen.

I grew up chasing model rockets at my dad’s company picnic with my sister and we passed a giant buried donut regularly on the way to the local renaissance fair, which itself was almost the size of a real city. I dug up real fossils at a construction site near my grandparents house and when I went to college, I had the privilege of getting to work as an installation artist in the University of Texas tokamak: an old fusion reactor under one of the science buildings. My memories of Texas are vividly colored by the scientists and creatives in my life. And a part of me will always grasp the complaints made by conservatives, about government getting in the way of fun, because there is a kind of broad celebration of creativity and opportunity, amongst the repression and toxic masculinity. But as the years have gone by I have had less empathy for all the bullshit.

Thank you for the opportunity to remember.

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