There is a lot to say about Texas, because there is a lot of Texas. It is a complicated and diverse state, marred by a big ego, stretches of ignorance, and some perhaps unlucky politics — but it is a beautiful state, expansive and surprising at least.
Texans like myself may still be asked, “Aren’t there cowboys there?” Anyone north of Kansas seems to expect the dusty romanticized towns of old Hollywood westerns, the stuff of saloons and gun stand-offs, towns where cowboys still ride horses and their mouths twang with southern sweat. But until my second winter term project drove me to the depths of the Chihuahua desert, I had never truly met a cowboy.
I was not born in Texas and for a long time I scorned the speech of my elementary-school friends, distrusting the stories of armadillos and the Alamo. What difference did these tales of grandeur make to seven-year-old me, who wasn’t from this bug-ridden dreadful prairie, who (vaguely) remembered the cold winters of Massachusetts? I had no Texas pride for a long time.
It took moving to Ohio to make me miss the heat, the cicada’s purr, the culture and drawl of the south. I had intended on going to school in the northeast, back to what I saw as my own true roots, and instead decided to spend my next four years in the Midwest — coincidentally, a mere four hours from the Ohio town that my mother grew up in (and my mother has some pride about that, I know). In any case, I started thinking a lot about my roots, trying to understand just what I felt loyal to, what was home now, what it meant to be a Texan, if anything at all.
My first year at Oberlin I got involved in the creative writing program, and was able to channel out some of these questions and experiences. Through poetry and workshops I began to realize just what the South meant to me — almost unwittingly I found I was writing only about Texas, and I developed a sort of symbolic obsession for scorpions, though I had only ever been stung once, in fifth grade.
Suddenly I was packing an old Ford Bronco to live the month of January in a hovel in Redford, a semi-ghost town on the border of Texas and Mexico, with my roommate from Oberlin. With the knowledge of the history that makes those northern folks think Texans are a slew of boot and spur wearin’ rednecks, Hannah and I were going to find the romantic vision of Texas — which I had never known — and film it, dust, cacti, and all.
Going into Oberlin, I knew that winter term had immense possibility. In addition to the co-ops, which reminded me of summer camp, winter term was one of the things that set the school apart from those in New England. Winter term, the month of January, gives students the chance to do something outside their comfort zones. It can be difficult to settle on a project that fulfills that goal while not costing an arm and a leg’s worth of cash, but if you can make it work, these experiences are more than worth it. A whole month to dedicate yourself to anything you can title as a project, and you can still convince your parents that it’s for the sake of your studies — when else do you get such an excuse for exploration? It’s full of valuable possibilities.
Indeed, the month of reveling in that desert’s barrenness, that isolation (in 2000, Redford’s population was 132, but when we visited we spoke to less than 10 people) and the mountains at every curve of the road, towering up, ushering you in — these are not images I am going to forget.
The film we shot is yet unedited, raw, and flickers as it runs through the old projector, threatening to overheat. My writing is often the same sort of struggle, but I have learned to edit with help from peers and writing workshops. These images come back again — the serene, half-treacherous beauty, the ocotillo reaching up with gently spiked arms, before the mountain crags, all that against a blue, unending sky — and they’ll remain, sere reflections, mirages in the dip of the arroyos, permanent fire for my writing. Oberlin has given me these opportunities within Ohio and more importantly beyond Ohio, into my own endeavors, widening my experience and giving me a greater understanding of worlds outside my daily comforts — something I feel is desperately important for the creative struggle and its triumph.