Sunday, May 11th 12:28a.m.
Houston, Texas is going to be the next big thing. You heard it from me first.
A year ago I was playing violin on the streets of Paris and met a killer guitar player who ended up crashing on the tiny fold out couch in my tiny 6th floor closet apartment. Fast forward a year and I’m crashing on his couch in a city largely known for being large and for lacking personality.
Houston is a hotbed for artists. You heard it from me because I heard it from my host. And then from the friendly artist/drug addict at the coffee shop. And they’re probably right. Houston is pretty cool. Probably because in order to be an artist in this town, you have to be prepared to suffer and take a lot of shit for it.
A few nights ago I was bawling my eyes out on a couch in Austin, Texas, which you’ve probably heard great things about. It’s probably great. I wouldn’t know because I spent much of the time writing about the Keystone XL pipeline, reading about the genocide of Native Americans, and trying not to lose my mind.
But on Thursday I spoke with a good friend of mine who is also an organizer fighting the eviction of the Albany Bulb, the encampment/repurposed landfill/art oasis where she lives. When I started fighting for the Bulb in September, more than 60 people lived there. Now she and her partner are the only residents left. Despite all the loss, she is still fighting as hard as she can, but her days on the Bulb, where she has been for almost a decade, are almost up. Her positivity and optimism put me over the edge, and I did lose it. When we got off the phone I cried and cried and cried, for hours. Because when I get home, what for so many months was the center of my life will probably no longer exist.
And also climate change. And state oppression. And genocide. It’s all just a lot to take in.
I barely slept that night, but when I woke up early the next morning, I knew I needed to get out of town (even though one of my favorite musicians, Kishi Bashi, was playing a show in town that night). So I hopped on a bus and headed out to the highway onramp. In the hot sun I walked two miles to find a spot to wait for a ride, by which time my water bottle was empty and I was parched. I was resigning myself to a miserable morning, but after about five minutes of waiting a truck pulled over and drove me straight to Houston.
My ride was a welder who had hopped trains from Honduras to come work in Texas. His English wasn’t great, so we couldn’t share much, but one thing he did tell me was that he was happy he was able to make so much more money in the United States, but that in Honduras people are much happier because they work much less and celebrate together much more. It sounded nice.
He dropped me at one of those identical box store complexes, and I walked into the Best Buy that looked so much like every Best Buy I’ve ever been to to pick up some needed gear. My host met me there and drove me back to his place, fed me pizza, got me stoned, and replaced my broken banjo string. He and his roommate live in an old house in downtown Houston with a striking view of the city skyline behind chainlink fence and freight train rails. The wave of condo apartments crested at his neighborhood, which he says is the first in Houston to be preserved as ‘historic’.
This morning I set off into town to lurk at a cafe and do some work. I had settled into my seat when I realized I forgot my laptop charger. So instead of working I pulled out Road Dahl’s ghost story collection and started into a much-need fiction interlude. Then Kishi Bashi walked in. I ran over and awkwardly introduced myself, which clearly made him uncomfortable. I explained I’d met him at his show in San Francisco , that I was a fiddle player too, that I loved his music. We both only got more uncomfortable, so I decided not to try and talk him into letting me see his show for free, and went back to my coffee and ghost stories, still blushing pretty hard.
You know how sometimes it feels like the universe speaks to you through other people? I feel like the universe has sent people to me to guide me as I go along this journey, and I was not far back into the stories when this strange new person sat down across from me and struck up a conversation. My new friend is an artist and a self-described empath (someone who feels a lot) with scars down his arms from a suicide attempt, scars he once tried to hide with sleeves but now wears as tattoos of his life and experience. Immediately we launched into an open and honest discussion of suffering and pain, of drug addiction, of learning to love oneself. He drew me a beautiful drawing while we sat together. I sat with him while he shook from withdrawal from cocaine, trying to fight his urge to use. He held out for a few lovely hours, and split his sandwich and juice with me while we shared stories and struggles. Then he finally said he absolutely needed to go, and we parted ways.
Nearly everyone I’ve met on this trip is fighting some demons. So many people are strapped with debt, stressed about their appearances, surviving sexual assault, suffering from oppression. And so many self medicate, with pharmaceuticals, eating disorders, self-mutilation, alcohol, or other drugs. I’m starting to see the workaholic tendencies I create in my life around activism as a particularly socially encouraged form of self-abuse.
One thing my new friend told me is that there is something about me in particular that invites people to open themselves to me and share their secrets, and I think that’s true. On this trip alone, I had someone tell me about being abused by their partner, someone tell me about watching her father abuse her mother, someone cry on my shoulder talking about the death of her son, someone yell to me about the racism Native people endure on a daily basis, someone tell me about being repeatedly molested by a family member, someone cry with me about their incarcerated baby daddy, someone admit to me that they are hooked on drugs. People everywhere are suffering so much, and I feel blessed to be someone that can make people feel safe enough to openly discuss these difficult things.
But I guess I also feel like everyone could have that power. All it takes is asking questions and listening. People are usually happy just to have someone who can listen. And maybe if we all treated each other like we really needed each other and put time into being therapists for each other we wouldn’t be suffering so much. But again and again we’re told that openly expressing our emotions is weakness, and we’re so set on seeming strong, even or especially when we aren’t.
Everyone who has been mistreated knows how to mistreat others. And we all do mistreat others to varying degrees. In order to heal, we need to be able to talk about it. If we don’t, then we are going be the ones assaulting and molesting and punishing and disempowering and harming and incarcerating each other. Even (and sometimes especially) the perpetrators need healing. It can be hard. It can be easy. It can be impossible.
In my last blog post I wrote about trusting and loving strangers. Immediately after I published that post I was aggressively and coercively hit on by two older men. I was hurt, angry, and disappointed. And the anger was justified, and really important to my healing from those encounters. My anger was also tempered by pity. These were broken, misogynistic, lonely people who have never learned how to respectfully interact with other human beings. One of them was homeless and drunk in the middle of the day. They needed healing too. I’m not going to be the one to be there for them, but I hope someday someone can be. Because they are really missing out on the solidarity and trust and respect that so many people do find with each other. And it’s sad. The only thing society offers for healing is prison, and that does that exact opposite.
We can do so much better. My take anyway, for what it’s worth.