03 April 2012

Taking Time to Slow Down

When SXSW comes to town, life in Austin seems to speed up. We are over the winter freezes, and everyone has come out from hibernation. There are more cars on the road, more people on the sidewalks, and more taxes to pay. It’s time once again to clean out the garage, wash all the curtains, and vacuum behind the furniture. It’s time to keep track of all the springtime happy hours, fundraisers, and festivals.

But it’s also time to turn off the heater, open up the windows, and turn on the ceiling fans. It’s time to sit out on the front porch or the back deck with a cold beverage. Read a book. Play music with your friends. Talk. Listen. Breathe. Sometimes, you have to throw out your long list of social to-do’s and slow down.

In Austin, we have to remind ourselves to do this. Slowing down is not a natural state of existence in this town – now a metropolitan city sprawling into Round Rock, Pflugerville, Buda and Kyle. That easygoing era ended in the late 1980s, as depicted in Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker, when it was possible to drift carefree through the day without any particular goal. When it was possible to walk down the street, randomly run into someone and engage in endless conversation about everything and nothing at the same time, without having to compulsively check your smart phone (or iPhone, if you're that cool). When it was possible to go days without having to work, because the cost of living was so cheap. When you didn’t have to worry about which concert or bar to hang out that night because there weren’t thousands to choose from.

Sometimes when life speeds up in Austin – I go to Terlingua, Texas, the off-the-beaten-path alternative to Marfa. When you mention Big Bend or West Texas, most people think of Marfa. It’s known for the Chinati Foundation, the Marfa Film Festival, and many up-and-coming art galleries and studios. It attracts notables from the New York and Los Angeles scenes. Terlingua, they ask – what’s out there? What do you do out there? Well, there’s nothing out there. But there’s so much to do.

Terlingua has four bars/music venues: La Kiva, Starlight Theatre, Ghost Town Saloon, and the High Sierra Bar & Grill. Five if you count the American Legion (and no, this place does not have a website). Mostly, Terlingua has a lot of open space. Once you get to someone’s house or property, you can be anywhere from 5-25 miles off the main highway on a rocky, dusty road. It’s not that easy to hop in your car and head into town. So you stay put and figure out other ways to entertain yourself.

Cooking in Terlingua
You collect twigs, kindling, and logs to prepare campfires. You talk for hours. You play guitars and fiddles, and you sing. You observe stars and constellations. You think a lot. You listen to the coyotes howl. You write. You take photographs. You make movies. You draw. You take walks and observe the hundreds of different kinds of cactus and plants and flowers. You have to empty out the composting potty toilet. You grind coffee beans with a hand-powered grinder. You chop with knives instead of using a food processor. You toast your bread on a cast iron skillet over flames. You boil water to wash your dishes or wash your face – every drop of water needs to work extra hard to do the job. Your water comes from the sky, not from the plumbing.

Some things take longer to do out there, without all the modern conveniences. But you save time on many other things. You don’t bother much with vacuuming because dust is part of life out there. You don’t waste time picking out an outfit or doing your hair – the jeans you’ve been wearing all week are just fine, and a bandana or a ponytail will do the trick. You don’t have to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic or pray for your life every time you cross a busy intersection. You don’t have to wait long lines at the grocery store or the restaurant.

Even if you can’t get away every now and then to remote parts of the world like Terlingua, remember that it’s still possible to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

Desert Biscuit Making 101 - with Biscuit Bill from anna banana on Vimeo.

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