The night before we left for our return to Austin, David and I stayed up late talking about what it was like when we lived there. I started crying: it was so hard living there. We were absurdly young—twenty-two—and I had a devil of a time adjusting from the only life I had know—my family’s—to the only life he had known—his family’s. It made me miss home to eat or play cards at the table, so we ate and played cards on the floor for a year. My father was dying slowly thousands of miles away during that time. The only social life we had were the students in David’s graduate program, and none of them were married—in fact, no one in Austin seemed to be married—so they treated us as the oddities in an odd city and left us alone. David was in one of the most prestigious writing programs in the world where he wasn’t allowed to work and where they gave assignments like “go home and think more about yourself.” I felt lost at sea with no purpose.
But during time with no purpose, there developed in me the panic that drove me. It said, “Girl, if you want to be anything in this world, you’ve got to fight for yourself and make it happen. You are gonna die just sitting here spinning in the middle of the space you’re living in. You’re going to have to work harder than everyone around you to become something worthy of yourself.” So I got into a graduate program down the highway—one that would let me do radical things and not stop me—and from no financial aid, from nothing but an acceptance letter, I busted my ass until I had a teaching fellowship, and then busted my ass until I won the award for the Outstanding Graduate Student in the entire college, and then busted my ass until I won a fellowship to a Ph.D. program.
On my run around Lady Bird Lake in Austin this morning, I saw serious Lance Armstrong-type bicyclists whiz by me, saw old men doing serious t’ai chi, saw hippie cafés and bike/kayak/move-your-body-shops, saw so many men’s bare chests, saw blooming yucca and live oaks, and saw lots of guano. Austin: you haven’t changed a bit. But you changed me. I’ve always been too old for you, Austin.
A few months after we married, David and I moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Austin, Texas. It was the loneliest time in our lives—far away from anyone we knew—but we had each other. We haven’t been back to Austin since we moved in 2002. Tomorrow, David and I are going there for a conference. It feels strange for us to be going back.
This was our apartment in Austin—the first apartment we ever lived in. I’d wait for David on that balcony every day as he got off the bus from grad school—wait to see that bouncing walk and his smile.
"Hate to be so emotional.
I didn’t aim to get physical.
But when he pulled in and revved it up,
I said, ‘You call that a pickup truck?’
And in the moonlight I throwed him down—
kicking, screaming, and rolling around.
A little piece of a bloody tooth.
Just so you know, I was thinking of you.”
("Pickup Truck," Kings of Leon)
Kids’ soccer has everything I love: early mornings, sitting in direct sunlight, strangers who try to chit-chat with me, babies crying, and a woman who yells “Jax! Jax! Jax!” until I plan her murder.
Thoughts while being filmed playing roller derby:
"Am I supposed to look at the camera? What, like a mean face? A sexy face? Well…now I just look like a grumpy, horny old lady. Lovely."
"My belly better not look big. Ah, fuck it. He didn’t come out here because of how I look: he’s here because of who we are. This is us, bitchez. Round bellies."
"I should do some fancy move. …Shit. That fancy thing didn’t work out. Turned into ‘did an awkward thing.’"
"Wait…now he’s lying on the ground filming. I hope I don’t have visible nose hairs."
"I don’t really understand why people are fascinated by me pushing someone else. They’re not fascinated if I do that at Walmart."
"Hahaha! Mad Dog totally just messed up that girl’s life. Now I remember why people are fascinated by this. Sigh. Mad Dog is funny."
"How did I end up here? How did I even end up in Arkansas? Welp, I’m here either way. Better just get lower and slide on by that scared little lady up there."
"They see me rollin’, they hatin’…"
What the student says: “Whenever I go to post on the discussion board, the forum I need to post on is already closed. What should I do? I really need to do well in this course.”
What the student means: "I’ve fucked up and I expect you to treat me differently than the other 79 students in the class and just, like, give me ‘A’s for the things I missed."
What I say: “Try posting on the forum when I give the assignment, rather than weeks later. That will ensure that the forum is not closed when you need to post on it.”
What I mean: "Honestly, calling me on the phone like this is something you need special help with. It’s called getting your shit together, rather than acting like you’re a special snowflake who needs help with a basic understanding of how time works. Stop being a mess."
What the student says: “Thank you, professor! I will try that!”
What the student means: "You’ll be hearing from me again because I’m not gonna do shit but wait until the end of the semester, when I will expend all the energy I didn’t use learning to have a crying meltdown in your office. See you then!"
What I say: “Anytime.”
What I mean: "Like you’re the first person to pull this bullshit…"
It breaks my heart when a woman stops coming to derby practice because she’s frustrated with her progress or because she feels she’s not good enough yet. I know what it feels like to be frustrated with my body and with myself. I know what it feels like to have a long way to go and to feel the weight of that. I hate to see a woman give up on something she wants because the process is hard and slow.
On my team, you are allowed to suck. On my team, you are allowed to have more work to do. On my team, you are allowed to be exactly what you are today while working toward what you want to be. There is no “not good enough” on my team. There are only strong women who are getting stronger.
I tell them, in a way I hope they really hear, that when they want to come back, there will always be a place on my team for them…as they are.
The only time I really see my film students is when they’re taking exams: normally, they’re in the dark and I’m in the light (like a superstar!). Anyway, right now I’m seeing them all for the first time.
These people have been staring at me for eight weeks. That’s so weird.
He wants to find
where he was.
He tries to marry
he is not old.
He was hoping
to be happy
but the years froze.
I find him
in words I read;
that’s the only place
I need to find him.
"She was lovely as only an Irish woman can be, having that in her bearing that betokened quiet pride, having that in her eyes that betokened great longing, having that in her body that betokened happy promise" (Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness).
"Well babe, it’s building until it’s bound to burst.
I can’t forget I’ve been the best of your worst.
We’ll call it heaven, but it’s hell on earth.
Lucky her, she’s a curse” (Shakey Graves, “Call It Heaven”).