Tag: Austin

Choosing the Back Porch

Choosing the Back Porch

At our last family gathering, my aunt asked me how life was going in Austin. I told her that traffic & increasing cost of living are pain points for me, but it’s still the lack of diversity that always bothers me most and keeps me from feeling totally at home here. Even though I grew up in a suburb, it was near Houston, which is the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S.  So as a white, middle-class kid, I was probably exposed to different races, religions, and perspectives more than my counterparts in other American cities. It was a stark contrast when I came to Austin. And it’s only getting worse.

Despite growing 20.4 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, (Austin) was the country’s only large, fast-growing city to record a decline in its black population.”

My aunt, who is my dad’s sister, reminded me that they (my dad, my aunt, their younger sister, and my grandparents), all lived in Austin in the 1960s. (Actually just two streets away from where I live now.) She said she remembers having a good friend from the neighborhood who was black, and they would walk a few blocks to a burger place nearby sometimes to grab sodas from the takeout window. One day, my aunt suggested they go inside for food instead and her friend shook her head and pointed to the door.

“That’s when I noticed the ‘Whites Only’ sign for the first time.”

She said she read it and then her mind started putting together all these instances that had felt weird to her over the years- times when her dad didn’t want her friend to come in their house, or when neighbors stared at them playing. She said she was sure there were other things, but they never really registered to her. She ate on the back porch with her friend that day, and then always ate on the back porch after that, until the signs came down and restaurants integrated a few years later.

It’s not a coincidence that my aunt now stands out in my family as a vocal supporter of equality and human rights. At ten years old she chose the right side when other adults around her did not. And if her choices had only been guided by what she saw in her own home, she would not have.

All the people that lived here back then: What did they pass down? What did they teach? Did they eat on the back porch, or did they go inside and leave their fellow citizens outside? Did they even think about it? Do they care? This is where we are now: Yesterday, Nazis rallied in Charlottesville and murdered and assaulted Americans. Changing a sign and changing a society are two very different things, and the work to stay aware, make the right choices, and be compassionate is constant.

Photo credit: Behind the Tower

Urban Jungle (not as cool as it sounds)

Urban Jungle (not as cool as it sounds)

I live very close to a main freeway, so every morning I wake up to the collective rumbling of commuter engines. At night, I often hear our neighbors opening/closing car doors, and driving in and out of our street until around midnight. Twice a week, the garbage and recycling trucks clunk loudly past my bedroom window around 5AM. And the sirens and people riding loud motorcycles (why are they so purposefully loud?) are consistent.

Austin is notorious for crowds, traffic, and construction (There is currently a major project going on around the building where I work –  jackhammers, diggers, the whole thing.), so these sounds have become an ubiquitous part of life, but increasingly harder to ignore. Lately I’ve noticed a constant sense of urgency in my brain, due to recent stress, that is heightened by all this urban buzzing. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Literally tired since I haven’t fully relaxed or gotten very good sleep in months (years?). It’s all making me want to pack a few bags and retire to an isolated cabin someplace where I can calm down and recharge. (Until I need a better internet connection.)

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I was recently reminded of some time I spent in northern California a few years ago, visiting my brother outside of Santa Rosa. His house was very isolated on top of a hill surrounded by trees, so every morning I woke up to the sounds of absolutely nothing. (The only exception was the occasional wild turkey gobbling around the backyard.) It was jarring, surreal, and wonderful. I could really use some silent mornings.

Photo Credits: Alan Levine via Flickr (cool tilt-shift featured image of Austin) & Jace Cooke via Flickr (above cabin in the woods)
A Matter of Time & Safety

A Matter of Time & Safety

In the wake of last week’s violence (Keep Dallas in your thoughts, y’all, and remember #BlackLivesMatter.), I’ve been struggling with what to think & feel, and how to get through my days.

In my lower moments, I’ve been wondering if I’m just waiting to be in the wrong place at the wrong time now. If it’s just a matter of time before I or someone close to me is shot. Is that crazy to think given… facts? But I know however valid those thoughts are, they aren’t part of the answer.

I’m determined to stay informed, to listen to people when they talk about their experiences, and to make my voice heard when I can. I signed a petition a few months ago to keep guns off the UT Austin campus, where I go to work most days. This past week, a group of professors brought a lawsuit against the university and the state of Texas to protest the new “Campus Carry” law, which would allow guns in classrooms.

UT is about to become one of very few schools that allow concealed weapons on campus, and I’m having a hard time seeing how this could be a good thing. It just feels scary.

Photo Credit: Bob Daemmrich via The Texas Tribune