I have been slogging through hip-deep mud, grateful for something so small as the sight of a sleeping baby in a shopping cart, or so large as a startling moon melting like golden butter into the surrounding cosmic fuzz. I have been looking for signs, things that make my heart jump, and my brain whirr, and let me imagine a life on high, dry ground. I require not a paved path, but something firm and passable with rocks small enough to kick away, or pocket for later examination. I am not asking for much.
I might need a vacation, but not the usual kind. I am not interested in lying on a beach, which bores me to tears and burns me scarlet, nor in Action! Adventures!, historical sights, days of shopping or even museums and restaurants. I want a perspective shift, new experiences, meaningful work, different surroundings, baptism by immersion in the soul of a new place. I want to come back to my home, my family, my life, but I want to come back seeing it all without sorrow, fatigue, and the sucking, killing weight of mud with every step.
The signs point me to Austin, a place where I have never been. I want a clean slate of a week in which I slide into a pinon-scented sonnet of hard work and fresh confidences. I will rise before the sun, drink three shots of espresso with a swirling hit of heavy cream, and go to work in a bakery, baking pies. I will roll out the shortest, richest crust anyone has ever tasted, and fill it with fresh berries, intoxicating banana and coconut cream, and astonishing Texas pecans. I will make lattice tops, crumb tops, and blankets of brown-tinged meringue. When my offerings are finished, sitting pretty on Fiestaware pie stands behind a barrier of thick, clean glass, I will hang up my vintage apron and head home to sleep.
In the late afternoon I will walk through the crowds who have come to inhale the music and funk of South by Southwest. Every sound check, every practiced riff, every street musician with an open case and big, hungry eyes will be an infusion of life and hope. It will be humid, my hair will frizz and my face will be perpetually covered with a thin film of sweat, but it will be all right because everyone will understand. The girl selling real green chiles from an air stream trailer will have her own puffed, blonde hair held off her neck with a silver clasp garnished with a chunk of turquoise, and she’ll smile at me in recognition because my own red curls are held up with a single, purloined chopstick.
After hours of music, and colors and sound, I will retreat again to make myself into a new thing, someone in a flowered skirt, Doc Martens and crazy curls set free. I will wheel my bass to some small, dark club with a dartboard and a tiny dance floor, and play with a band. It doesn’t matter that I can’t really play a standup bass; I can play the bejazus out of a cello, and it can’t be that different. I’ll sway, and slap, close my eyes and float on the current of “You Cast a Spell On Me,” and fall a little bit in love with the lead singer whose words break open my cold, closed heart. By the last night, I will be thinking of home, missing my family, sure that I am once again on ground solid enough to allow me to stride with purpose in my new, red cowboy boots.
I am not going to Austin, not today, and probably not tomorrow. I am probably not even going so far as an adjacent zip code. I can bake pies, though, and listen to music as potent as any drug, letting my hair go wild and looking for kindred spirits behind every face I see. The signs point to Austin, and even if my Austin exists only in my own, weary mind, I’m planning to travel. I hear the roads are clear, and dry, and I know the bright spring moon will light my way so I won’t even have to stop for sleep.