16 years ago, my life changed when I accepted a job interview with a tech company in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a fly-in/fly-out interview, but what I saw was enough to risk moving across country for something that might turn back into pumpkins and mice at any moment. (That’s about what happened, and several former co-workers regularly re-apologize for my getting laid off just before Christmas. I tell them that they have nothing to apologize for: if not for those four months in Tally, my life would be drastically different today, and much less satisfying. Hell, I might have returned to writing for science fiction magazines.) I had a lot of entertaining encounters in both the Dallas and Tallahassee airports, but one of the most interesting was from a Miami native who was switching flights in Tally before heading home, and he asked why the HELL would I want to live in the Florida Panhandle. “South Florida: that’s where the action is!”
Years later, after visiting Tampa and making friends I still hold dear, I understood what he was getting at. At the same time, in this line of work, a bit of quiet is exactly what I need to get things done.
It’s the same situation with Austin. “Look at all of the events out here! Look at the clubs, and the galleries, and the bookstores! Why, Dallas doesn’t even HAVE bookstores! You stand around staring at two-story buildings and ask if they have those newfangled indoor toilets!” Okay, so we’re not as relentlessly exciting as Austin, but we’re not completely uncivilized: the Adolphus Hotel in downtown finally took down the big “Free HBO in your room!” sign about a week ago. And if we don’t use indoor toilets, it’s usually because we’re really angry with a neighbor.
This isn’t a slam against Austin (two decades ago, if you’d told me I’d be defending Austin instead of riding a nuke into downtown, I’d have questioned your sanity, but times change), but it’s just not a town conducive to what the Triffid Ranch is trying to do. The secret to Dallas is that we’re not the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud business city popularly presented: we’ve got a wide-ranging music community, one hell of an arts community, and a lot of unorthodoxy that’s not advertised. That’s for a reason: the longer we can keep the contingent of SMU brats away, the longer a venue, locale, or community can last. It starts with a few of them coming in seeing if anyone knows any good coke dealers, and like roaches discovering spilled sugar, they leave scent trails for their friends. Before you know it, developers discover that artistic sweat equity made a locale particularly desirable, and it’s gentrified out of existence. The SMU brats who wanted to live there because it was cool leave because they don’t have a place to slum, the developers follow, and everyone else tries to rebuild elsewhere. The longer we keep quiet, the longer what we have lasts.
This means that Dallas runs on a different artistic cycle than most cities. Nobody cares if you’re an aspiring writer or painter: the only people who think this matters are yuppies who assume that crowing “Well, I’M an artist!” will get them into loft spaces otherwise inaccessible to those with neither brains nor soul. Respect comes from finishing the projects you say you’re going to finish, no matter how lonely or bored you are in the interim, and then producing more. Dallas is a tough teacher in that regard, especially since the city in general only notices successful artists after they’ve become successful elsewhere, but it also produces people who don’t quit halfway through because they’re not getting enough attention. And for some of us, that lack of attention is a greater motivator than getting attention, because it makes us strive that much harder to prove we can do it. Distractions just prevent production.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I can’t live in Austin, or Houston, or New York, or New Orleans. Please note that I said nothing about dragging out enclosures and visiting.