Austin rarely disappoints, thanks to God leading my family to Aunts Denise, Amy, and Nancy. My Mom was adopted, and after my sweet grandmother passed away, my Mom searched for her biological Mom. Via this process, Mama discovered she had three sisters living in Texas! As an only child, she was thrilled. I happily grew up with my Dad's sister Pat, so I, too, was thrilled to receive three more Aunts which I never expected. As kids, my brother and I were often dropped off to Pat's Waco, TX, apartment for weekend adventures. Pat's apartment was fabulous - blue and green color scheme; food-shaped magnets on the fridge; a jar full of stones imprinted with inspirational vocabulary - joy, hope, faith, love...; a picture of Willie Nelson hanging in the hallway; and slumbering on our grandmother's bedroom furniture in the guest bedroom. Fun outings to wear us out included visits to the regal Baylor bears in their cages; wandering the empty, dry bayou for hours; and a stop by Pico's for soft tacos. We also learned how to tell time on a clock (not a digital) under her watch, and when my brother and I acted like idiots, she instilled healthy fear into our souls.
Who knew that in adulthood I would have equally fun expeditions in another Texas city with another Aunt? Denise and I bonded over books, music, strong coffee, and other artistic leanings, so much so that I ponder the probability of our similarities as genetic. I dropped myself off at Denise's house yet again last Friday while Johnny drummed in Frisco, TX. We hopped in the car, raced the clock and traffic to make happy hour at Z' Tejas for half price margaritas and gourmet appetizers: catfish beignets, shrimp and guacamole mini-tostadas, and seared tuna in a raspberry-wasabi sauce. I imbibed only one margarita this time as to not repeat a previous near-drunken fiasco. I once believed my lightweight self could handle two margaritas in a row. Suddenly, the time-space continuum trickled slow like molasses, the bathroom seemed miles away, and walking down steps was an accomplishment. I sheepishly asked Denise to drive us to a Ryan Adams concert only blocks away. After bottles of water and profuse sweating outside, I sobered up.
After Z' Tejas, we saw Sally Jacques' Requiem. The modern dance troupe performed graceful, ethereal, death-defying feats on the incomplete Intel building abandoned after 9/11. Blue light highlighted the geometric frame. Pouffy blondes cascaded and climbed gauze strips, flipping and twirling despite gravity. Otherworldly light-bearers glided on the roof. Men walked down 80-feet concrete columns backwards, as if that were completely normal. Others leaped and bounded, feet pushing off the building with joy. Another ensemble danced too near the edge for my comfort, one of them lying down, windmilling his arms across the entire length. One of the pouffy blondes on a swing angrily ran out into the air and I prepared to witness her death. I found myself praying for the group's safety, and Denise gasped aloud. The soundtrack included Eliza Gilkyson and Puccini, accompanied by traffic horns and the night breeze blowing our hair. As Denise said, Requiem was the perfect artistic use for trash. I also found it worshipful. I watched, listened, gazed up at the night sky and thanked Jesus - for beauty, for art, and the possibility that our bodies may be able to dance in the air at His return to earth, our bodies restored to fall no more.
The next day we hopped on my very first bus ride for our annual Texas Book Festival experience. Denise and I have no concept of "hurry," so we actually only heard three readings this year: Frank McCourt, Melissa Fay Greene, and a funny joint panel on dating by authors Stephanie Klein and Maria Dahvana Headley. But we had sincere plans to hear two of my favorites: Thomas Cahill and Rod Dreher. They read around 11:00 am which is entirely too early after leisurely mornings of coffee and radio-listening, or a long wait at Kerbey Lane for miga tacos and pumpkin pancakes.
Kerbey Lane revealed to Denise one of my not so secret fears - swarms of bees. I did very well while we waited outside. One bee flew by and I remembered the old adage, "Just be still and they won't sting you." I was very proud of my stoicism, calm breathing, and smirking at the solitary bee. When we were seated outside however, and our pancakes with cups of warm maple syrup arrived, the lone bee turned into four or five or six and I started breathing quickly. I even got up from the table, no longer blending in with cool, laid-back Austinites. Denise was very kind, and also very fascinated by the depth of my fear. I begged to grab a seat at the bar to finish our pancakes which tasted exactly like pumpkin pie. The seats were occupied. I tried my very best to sit outside, eyes shut, while Denise said she was proud of me. It was too much!
We asked for a to-go box and doused the pancakes with syrup. Denise then transformed into the Bee Whisperer. She took the empty syrup cups, a bee sitting on both, walked slowly, and placed the containers on the ground far away from the patio. It worked! They were not killer bees after all, they just had a sweet-tooth. We concealed our pancake box in my book bag, gleefully walking through the Capitol with a delectable secret. After we discovered Charles J. Shields (author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee) missed his flight, we shrugged our shoulders and ran outside to eat pancakes on a tree-covered bench, people-watched, admired the Capitol's architecture, and tried to figure out which authors scooted by on golf carts headed to a reading or book-signing.
A disclaimer: my bee fear is irrational, I know. I was stung in middle school and lived. It is just that I've always struggled stubbornly with a fear of pain. No one seeks out pain except your average freak, but pain is not the end of the world, especially for me, a Christian. Not to mention God created bees. I love honey! I want to garden at our house one day, so I better spend time on my knees in prayer. Denise thinks I should intern with Wendy Reed who sells honey at the Farmers' Market to overcome my fear. Working with a honey farmer would be excellent therapy, but I will start with prayer. Baby steps.
The book festival is always fun, and the highlight for 2006 was Melissa Fay Greene, author of There Is No Me Without You. She and her husband have seven children - four of their own blood, one adopted from Bulgaria, and two adopted from Ethiopia. Her book tells the story of an amazing woman, Haregewoin Teferra. While a widow, her daughter died of AIDS and she went into reclusion, not wanting to live in the world any longer. Then a priest delivered one orphan, a second, a third child, and so on, and now Haregewoin cares for 60 Ethiopian children in her two homes - one home for healthy children and one home for children with HIV/AIDS; all orphans of parents killed by AIDS. Melissa Fay Greene read an excerpt from her book informing the audience there are 12 million such orphans in Africa. 12 million.
Greene and her husband rescued two, Haregewoin rescued sixty, and I thought, I would love to rescue one or two. I'm not trying to mimic Angelina Jolie or God forbid, Madonna, but if Johnny and I could adopt a few orphans and have a few children of our own blood, I would be the happiest, most blessed woman in the world. Due to my Mom, I am an avid fan of adoption, and as I listened to Greene, I beamed with joy. She and Haregewoin Teferra are the exact type of people that become my heroes. After the reading I called Johnny, "I want to adopt an Ethiopian baby." Did he freak out? Nope. He said, "OK." Not indifferent, not scared, just a great idea to him as well. We obviously need to pray about the idea, but why not? I dream of Genevieve, of Calvin, and my recent dream has been to also adopt. Dreams are very often prayers in our hearts waiting to be fleshed out by God. We shall see.
Another highlight was the loot:
1. There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene, a hardback even, and the next book I will read after I finish Against Gravity.
2. In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind with an introduction of stellar writing advice from another heroine of mine, Annie Dillard.
3. Creative Nonfiction journal #29 with issue #22 thrown in for free! And yes, the journal and the book are related to each other.
4. American Short Fiction journal #35.
5. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby. It is a collection of his monthly columns for The Believer magazine wherein he lists which books he purchased that month, which books he read that month, and why, plus other mental meanderings and humor. How could I not purchase such a book?
6. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt also by Nick Hornby, the sequel to my fifth purchase. When I bought the first Hornby book, the cool and kind people at the McSweeney's table said, "When you look through this book tonight you will come back and buy the sequel." They were right! Smarties.
7. The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers edited by Vendela Vida - I think she is Dave Eggers' wife. I was very excited to see an interview with Marilynne Robinson (Gilead and Housekeeping).
8. The Believer magazine, June/July 2006 issue - the 2006 Music Issue with a CD included! I should say here that not only is Dave Eggers one of my favorite authors, but everything related to him and McSweeney's is damn cool, right down to the design of their journals, books and magazines. Did I mention I got everything at the McSweeney's table on sale?
9. The First Line journal, Summer 2004 issue. I plan to submit to them for fun. They also run Blue Cubicle Press and Workers Write!.
I really did well since I wanted four other books; I added them to my trusty Amazon wish list. And I behaved when we saw the hilarious Amy Sedaris at BookPeople promoting her new book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. That is on the wish list as well. I simply cannot buy every book though I try.
All in all (yes, even the hungry, diving bees), I enjoyed myself, in large part due to "new" Aunt Denise. As we ate our maple-soaked pancakes outside, we spied one of Denise's friends. I shook her hand and she said, "Nice to meet you, and there is definitely a family resemblance." I was flattered; to be a little like all of my Aunts will make me a better woman, and a fun Aunt myself one day.
Posted by jenni at 8:47 PM