Goodbye to Joelle’s Houston

 

h-town 2We moved from Houston back to the Boston area in early August: before the hurricane, before the world series. Unexpected and serendipitous (everyone’s okay). After trying to write about leaving Houston in a few different ways, I figured that all I want to express, really, is a series of memories and forever-affiliations I will have as my own crummy personal souvenir. 

F*** You, Houston’s Awesome

Mosquito bites have finally faded
I no longer brace myself for cockroaches in empty beer cans
Excessive sweating is reserved for biking up hills
I’ve moved from Houston back to Somerville

Farewell, sweet lizards skittering on mangled sidewalks
Oranges and avocados on the landlord’s tree
Goodbye Gene Wu and Sheila Jackson Lee
Goodbye Wendy Davis and her good emails
And Jef Rouner, who I will still read, and breathless theater critics, who I won’t
Marvelous art scene sliding by on oil money

Goodbye rodeo and the wasted Astrodome
When I heard about the rodeo I joked about children riding goats
Then learned that they actually ride sheep (mutton busting)
Goodbye any opportunity for my hypothetical future children to be thrown from a sheep
Safely, to appreciate animal husbandry from a very specific point of view
The view from the back of a stumpy woolen escapee
Goodbye shiny new light rail that is better than the green line
And tense raids to check fares because there’s no turnstiles
Bus drivers who stop at McDonald’s to get a coffee while the passengers wait
And wave to people they recognize, in case they need a ride
Goodbye well-meaning men who slowed down, genuinely concerned that I was walking
Because no one walks in this neighborhood, something must be wrong

mutton busting

Mutton busting

Shoutout to dog families stopping traffic in East End and Third Ward
The mutt wearing a child’s rugby shirt that chased me on my bike that one time
Migration patterns spectacularly glooming city skies
Grackles with their wide-open beaks in baked parking lots
That scary taco raptor should be the Texas state bird
I’ll stop reaching for the feral cats next door
Pink nose, black nose, mom cat, Mr. Moustache, Mr. Bibs
Bandit cat, dreamy cat, friend cat, basic tabby, feral gray
Running like water in the streets that flood every time it rains
Flashing affection like the stoplights that always go out in a storm

grackles

Grackles on the train platform

Goodbye, aggressive pride in place
So much that the title of this poem is a clothing brand
Goodbye al-fresco dining in winter, crawdads in a kiddie pool in March
Hose flowing in washing out to flat streets, claws waving
Goodbye dead downtown and transcendent queso
Gayborhood where our queer Spanish landlords added “NO HUSTLERS NO PIMPS” to the lease
Farewell ice houses with your basketball hoops and sandy ground, dogs running free
We have actual ice on our houses here

Goodbye Shasta, superior live mascot, and your birthday meat cake
Shotgun houses with backyards, bracing yourselves for developers
You could fit at least two luxury units if you pave over every inch of soil
Goodbye to the normalcy of non-white bosses and non-white spaces
Goodbye phantom of bilingual education
Goodbye blue island in a red cesspool
Hello taxes, my favorite joke to “let the whales marry”

Hello winter I’m not tired of yet
Numb legs and wet leaves, burning torso barreling down the bike lane
I can’t wait for snow, what’s wrong with me? I want it so
I’ll snatch the heat from the downstairs apartment
Let tears of shock stream when the cold air hits
Goodbye streets on a grid, hello architecture

Goodbye meritocracy—big Texas talk
(It’s the best state, just ask a Texan)
An illusion, I know
But a sometimes convincing one. I see your businesses, young women,
Your getting-it-done, putting-it-up
Fuck you, Houston’s awesome
New security, new career
Launch pad to combat gatekeepers here
I’m not the only person who has said so
Back now to close friends and bus routes I still remember
God, it’s good to be back
If I can get through the feeling that I’m not who I was
When I last lived here
It will be very, very good.

Part 2: Houston haunts I will always treasure—not a best-of list, just retracing our most well-tread paths.

Restaurants
Barnaby’s on Fairview, especially for $2 wine/beer night on Tuesdays
BB’s Tex-Orleans Cafe
Torchy’s Tacos (Heights)
Ninja Ramen
Down House
Brasil
Ninfa’s on Navigation
Flakey’s Pizza

Food trucks
Waffle Bus
Moon Rooster Tacos

Bars/Ice Houses
Moon Tower
Lei Low
Poison Girl

Cafés for working
Mercantile Montrose
Ahh! Coffee
EQ Heights

Cafés for eating and getting out
Blacksmith

Café that is more of a vehicle for cat snuggles than coffee
El Gato Cat Café

Cookies and hugs
Crumbville

Arts Organizations
WriteSpace
Houston Scriptwriters
DiverseWorks Gallery

Best haircut
Ciao Salon

Best building sign
Birth & Death Records near the Blood Donation Center

brith & death records

It’s hard to tell, but these letters are sunken into the concrete. Always struck me as weirdly cool and creepy.

Plays (scroll down here)
“The Nether” – Alley Theatre
“The Hunchback Variations” – Catastrophic Theatre
“Intimate Apparel” – University of Houston
“The Judgment of Fools” – Horsehead Theatre Company

Art exhibits
School for the Movement of the Technicolor People
The Propeller Group
The City

Most treasured piece of art acquired
Refresh zine

Best feral cat
Pinknose

pink nose black nose

Pink Nose and Black Nose

Second only because he disappeared/got adopted: Friend cat

friend cat

Friend cat allowed pats, so he *must* have found a home.

Cat I respect most and am most worried about
Dreamy cat, who is looking worse for wear every time he wanders back

dreamy cat

Dreamy cat as I remember him

June 2017: The Pixel Forest

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Collage by Sarah Gerard, accompanying her excellent “Mouthful” column on Hazlitt

This summer, the MFAH continues its series of grand-scale, immersive exhibitions. Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish brings together two mesmerizing works newly acquired by the Museum. Under the direction of the artist, these light-based and video-based installations transform the vast, central gallery of Cullinan Hall into a cosmic journey through time and space. —MFAH website

My review: I’ve been having a lot of fun imagining the entire internet as “the pixel forest” since experiencing this exhibition. Except, it’s much more magical to get lost in this installation than the internet.

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“The Pixel Forest” with “Worry Will Vanish” playing in the background, by Piplotti Rist

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Even more dreamy than the pixel forest? The Propeller Group at Blaffer Art Museum, as they rebrand communism, journey beyond death and write a cross-cultural narrative for Vietnam. I wrote a full review for Aeqaiand I really did hear a song from “Miss Saigon” on the way to the show.

light_ophelia

Still from “The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music” – film by The Propeller Group

 

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“Homebodies: Coverature” – gut-punch comic by Arwen Donahue on The Rumpus:

coverature

From “Homebodies: Coverature” by Arwen Donahue via The Rumpus

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What do many lone attackers have in common? Domestic violence – The Guardian

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Why eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts would hurt rural Americans the most – Hyperallergic

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On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate why a comedian might look at the score awarded to their latest comedy special by a particular publication and complain that it’s a reductive way to summarize years of their work, and yet I also understand why an outlet like The A.V. Club—one which is in the business of art criticism—might not see it as a huge stretch to attempt to evaluate comedy using the same metrics that they apply to other art forms.

Hershal Pandya for Splitsider

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After 49 days, the cat couldn’t take it anymore, bit his tongue, and bled to death on [his owner’s] grave. Leave it to a cat to take the most metal route to death.

—Louise Hung for The Order of the Good Death

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And then she said something that kind of blew my mind: “You know, [Mary Magdalene] was the first one to whom our Lord appeared on Easter Sunday morning. In that time, a woman’s witness was worth nothing — so that Jesus would choose to appear to her and say ‘go and tell the others’ is huge! Of course, they didn’t believe her, but Jesus was making a point about the importance of believing women.” —Anne Therieux for The Establishment, speaking with Sister Bernadette and other nuns about feminism and their calling. Consider my mind also blown.

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“In Other Words” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Memoir
2016, Alfred A. Knopf

I think that my new language, more limited, more immature, gives me a more extensive, more adult gaze. That’s the reason I continue, for now, to write in Italian…. When I began to write, I thought it was more virtuous to talk about others. I was afraid that autobiographical material was of less creative value, even a form of laziness on my part. I was afraid that it was egocentric to relate one’s own experiences. In this book I am the protagonist for the first time…. A little like Matisse’s “Blue Nudes,” groups of cutout, reassembled female figures, I feel naked in this book, pasted to a new language, disjointed.  215-6

Jhumpa Lahiri’s memoir of life in another language — Italian — is a work of art in itself. Lahiri is most comfortable in English, but also speaks Bengali with her parents, and began learning Italian later in life. This memoir was written in Italian, with her original text flowering from the left side of the page; employing a translator removed temptation to revise or correct.

The book is a beautiful exploration of identity, intention and vulnerability. Her ruminations will resonate with anyone who has studied another language:

When I read in Italian, I’m a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort, I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me. 43

Behgali is my past, Italian, maybe, a new road into the future. In both I feel like a child, a little clumsy. 157

Beckett said that writing in French allowed him to write without style. On the one hand I agree: one could say that my writing in Italian is a type of unsalted bread. It works, but the usual flavor is missing. 179

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Last but not least: I’m so happy that Sasha Velour won RuPaul’s Drag Race! Loved this “magical bitch” all season—all of the final four queens were fantastic, but I’m glad an art weirdo has been crowned. From the sound of this article, she is going to do great things.

sasha velour