On the first Saturday of the new year, I drove into a brisk and windy Austin for an opportunity to rest, write, and eat sugary dessert things whenever I wanted. Exactly one year before, I had visited the city for a “writing retreat” that ended up being more retreating than writing. This year I came back to the same cozy bungalow in the center of town. Presenting my reflections from the weekend:
Upon my arrival, I made a beeline (as yours-truly tends to make beelines in large metropolitan areas…with exceptionally scenic, unplanned detours) for Mount Bonnell, the highest natural point in the city. The view is stupendous, and I haven’t been up there since moving away twelve years ago. I was not feeling good (headache, heartache, all-over ache really) but I wanted to take in the vista of the curving Colorado River framed by scrubby evergreens and shiny blue sky.
While the view of the countryside was expectedly fab, I ended up way more entranced by all the peoples. The diversity of cities like Austin – all races, many languages, various forms of ethnic dress – fascinates me. For example…this man’s banana pants.
Be glad it’s only a shot of his backside.
Apparently one of my ancestors did some vintage zip-lining from the peak of Mount Bonnell. Must be from where I acquired my athletic prowess and risk-taking sense of adventure.
While chillaxing at a friend’s house on Saturday evening, I first-time watched “It Happened One Night”. LURRRRVED. When Peter Warne (aka Clark Gable) charmingly explains to Ellie Andrews (aka Claudette Colbert) how a man undresses and says, “…after that, the pants should be next. Here’s where I’m different! I go for the shoes”, I laughed out loud. Doesn’t take much.
Pumpkin pancakes, veggie omelet and grapefruit juice at Kerbey Lane? Why yes, I believe I will. “You are the Sunshine of My Life” playing in the background? Yes, of COURSE. Driving in circles around downtown trying to find a parking place? Yes, that too. Blasted one-way streets.
I cannot escape Central Market for under $50. Good thing I had Christmas cash with me. All digested into my belly via apple caramel cookies, gingersnaps, mascarpone cream cheese torte, and blueberry pie. I bought real food too. Gah.
Had to be done.
Yo. Prius. You parked way too close to my driver’s door. But I forgive since you appear to have a highly developed sense of humor.
The bungalow where I’ve stayed the past two years is, as Goldilocks might describe it, just right. Within walking distance of UT campus and oodles of restaurants, the secluded yard is adorned by bamboo, a hammock, a trampoline, and several Buddhist statues. The upstairs accommodation surrounded by timber makes me feel like I’m snug in a nest, waiting for a mama bird to fly nourishment my way.
My temporary nest amid the bamboo.
Except the mama bird is me. Such a strange sensation to be nestling in, with no wee ones waiting for me to drop bugs in their beaks. I acclimated within an hour 😉 For anyone who needs a getaway, whatever your reason, make a reservation HERE. All by your lonesome. Or take a friend, whatevs. Just make sure your friend is ME.
Having to text my out-of-town hostess asking 1) where the extra sheets were, 2) how to unhinge the screen door, and 3) for reassurance that I would not carbon-monoxide myself into the afterlife due to my ineptness at working a gas stove, made me wonder if she scribbled my name into the High-Maintenance Guest category.
There was absolutely zero plan to delve into the categorical history of the Beat Generation writers. But that sure IS what I did for well over an hour. Um, how did I get to 40 without reading Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and that whole posse? They pretty much pioneered the social revolution of the 1960s…HELLO?!?
Because I drove into town with a head and heart full of aches, I made it my subsequent mission to pursue head-clearing and heart-warming activities. I went for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine, stood silently at the lectern of the nearby seminary chapel, read Anne Lamott’s newest book, and did a little writing.
The giant contact lens used by God to watch humanity roam the earth, on display in Shelton Chapel.
Buechner, Lamott, journal, my laptop Claire.
I also jumped on the available trampoline. Of course I did. I mean, I HAD to. It was THERE. I then attempted the challenge of snapping a mid-jump, action-shot selfie. Which means I started laughing. The thing about a 40-year-old woman who has birthed three 9-lb babies bouncing on a trampoline while giggling uncontrollably is that her aptitude for pant-peeing goes up…waaaaaaay up. It might have happened two or five times.
What I look like while involuntarily relieving myself mid-air.
Spotting families-of-five about town made me really, REALLY miss my own. I could barely make eye contact with the children, much less the babies (!!!), without a huge swell of Love blasting my heart. I like my getaways but they make me miss my people, the ones who bring me joy AND drive me batty. Taking a break from my crew reminds me how much I like having them around.
I lived in Austin for three years and never ate at Bouldin Creek Cafe. HOW??? The coffee, hash browns, and veggie omelet were so on point that I went back the next day and ordered a lavender – yes, LAVENDER – mocha and a breakfast taco surely assembled in the heavenly realms.
See??? REAL food!
The friend who recommended Bouldin Creek mentioned that he used to live nearby so, just for kicks, I tracked down his old pad. It has blue sparkly spires and a moat. I wasn’t surprised. It’s Austin after all.
You can take a break from your outward circumstances (job, family, hometown) but grief, fear, Life will follow you everywhere. Heartache, brainache, backache will follow you everywhere. There’s just no leaving it behind. So…the self-medicating thing? I get it. Dealing with my own stress and grief usually entails chasing after 1) indulgent foodstuffs and 2) excessive affirmation (which I’ve pushed for to embarrassing measures with some people), but I see the appeal behind all the other things that give humans a temporary buzz or sense of control: shopping, neurotic cleaning, sex, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, extreme exercise, even violence. But they never address the root of one’s fear or anxiety. I’ve spent hours, dollars and so much energy obtaining things that only temporarily quell the ache. When the sugar or shopping or whatever buzz dwindles, when the momentary moment of a seeming sense of control fades away, the ache remains. What does genuinely heal a wound? Bandages only hide the trauma. What heals?
Being pensive about life and such.
On the way out of town, I stopped at the campus of Riverbend Church, where I once worked at the preschool. There’s a sweet chapel set apart from the main campus, behind it a memorial garden. The ashes of hundreds are buried there. Enveloped in trees and tranquility, a path winds down the hill through the garden and bottoms out at a creek forking off from the Colorado River. The sun was shining and the air was crisp so I moseyed down into the canyon, gravel crunching under my feet. I followed the trail through the woods, looking up through the naked branches at the gorgeous blue expanse, and all I could hear was water cascading through the creek bed. The experience was so otherworldly I felt a fluttering through my middle and half-expected some ancient being to materialize from the forest. (Tried not to dwell on the thought of a mountain lion materializing…) Compared to where I spend most of my days, I guess it WAS otherworldly. Just the deep, rustling quiet of creation. Highlight of my trip.
One of my fave bloggers often describes life as “brutiful”, equal parts brutal and beautiful. That’s just what the weekend was for me. Life is never either/or. It’s both. All the time. So was my getaway.
This final shot I snapped from a bridge in the memorial garden. It pretty much describes where I feel I am in the process of becoming myself, how to be me wholly and genuinely, transforming from a person of insecurity and resentment into one of compassion and contentment. I don’t know how long these sorts of journeys are – I suppose they’re different for everyone – and, let’s be honest, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow and game over. But as far as walking the path to spiritual health here in this world, this is kind of where I feel I am. Onward.