The new year is upon us, and many of my friends are preparing for an annual celebration of one kind of another, generally a drunken bacchanal at a club or bar, or a similar gathering at someone’s house. I’ve never particularly liked the festivities associated with New Years Eve, even when I was younger and more prone to the art of partying with my likeminded friends. It always struck me as dangerous to plan on going out somewhere to get loaded, and the whole idea of communally saying goodbye to one year and welcoming another never spoke to my sensibilities. At least not in the way that people tend to celebrate that yearly transition.
So instead, I will spend that evening somewhere less social, probably in a retrospective mood like the one I’m in now. We’re all like individual flames in a great dark void, and while humans are social creatures, almost to the point of being herd animals, that type of social structure can dilute our individual power, or at least keep many of us blind to it. We should be bright points of isolate consciousness, not just another voice lost in a screaming crowd. There is a time and place for that kind of thing. I used to spend too much time seeking it, now I prefer to Work on my goals, many of which have turned inward in recent years.
The herd is comforting, and being one among many provides a great feeling of safety, but that is an illusion that keeps us asleep. To me, it is far less appealing to cling to a belief that we are all somehow connected than it is to admit to myself that everything I experience is through a very personal subjective filter. We may indeed be “connected” in some way, but I prefer to seek out others like myself, rather than flocking to the same bright and shiny lure that others do, like a lemming.
Instead of taking shots or drowning myself in champagne at midnight in a crowd of strangers, I’ll be contemplating my place in this universe, and planning for the year ahead. I hope that you shine brighter this year, and that we can spend time together, celebrating the unique and potent power of each of ourSelves as individuals, not as nameless and unimportant components of a enormous and faceless herd.
Tis the holiday season all of a sudden. Seems to creep up on us around this same time every year, and with social media networks like Facebook, the holidays bring with them a lot of baggage that they didn’t always seem to have. As if they needed more of those.
Specifically, there seem to be more and more people who feel obligated to dictate what the rest of us should or shouldn’t think about them.
First on that list are the Facebook folks who spread around “clever” memes about Thanksgiving – generally taking a slam against white people being “illegal aliens” who took America from the Natives living here. There are variations on that theme, but that’s the basic model.
First of all, Thanksgiving seems to be celebrated by just about everyone in the U.S., it’s not some honky holiday where exclusively wealthy white people get together to congratulate themselves on past conquests from 200 plus years ago. A lot of people just use it as a reason to get together with family and friends, and maybe to pause and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. It’s also not a religious holiday for the most part, which makes it a nice secular way to enjoy the people we care about, and to eat like pigs without too much guilt. I guess I don’t get the desire some people feel to throw in a little angry jab at a basic holiday that has evolved to mean “eating with family and friends” for most of us.
It rubs me the wrong way, reminding me of the folks who feel it’s necessary to dictate what Christmas is all about.
So what IS Christmas all about anyway? Well, like many holidays, the way it’s celebrated has changed a lot over the years. Yes, if a person is a devout Christian, it’s the biggest religious holiday of the year for many of them. But it’s only been celebrated in the modern sense for a brief period of time, and was even suppressed by the church in the 1800s, because Christmas was celebrated in much the way Mardi Gras is today – with a lot of drunken street mobs and back alley buggery. Merry Christmas, y’all!
The modern American traditions are a mishmash of older ones borrowed from many cultures, and quite a few were essentially invented in the 20th century. My point is that Christmas is not exclusively a Christian religious holiday, nor is it the only religious tradition celebrated during the latter part of each year. This country has grown very diverse, as it was always intended to be, and Christmas as an exclusively religious Christian event is no longer the way things are. Heck, its roots are in pagan festivals, just as many Christian traditions are.
So when some creep with an agenda tells me to “Remember the reason for the season,” or tells me “Merry Christmas” like he’s looking for a fight, I want to tell him “My name is Chris, and I reject your religion. Hail Lucifer!”
But I (usually) don’t.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is simple: trying to politicize the holidays is bullshit. Enjoying a holiday meal with loved ones at Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that a person is ignorant of this country’s horrible record in regards to its treatment of native Americans, or that they support that legacy.
And possessive Christians should also realize that not everyone who celebrates Christmas believes the things they do, nor are us secular celebrants of the holiday trying to wage a ridiculous “War on Christmas.” The only thing that would completely destroy the religious celebration of Christmas is Christians deciding to give up the holiday. The rest of us can’t take that from them, nor are most of us trying to do so.
So people should lighten up. The Winter Solstice is coming, and this time of year is cold and dreary enough without bickering on social media about what various holidays should mean to the collective “us.”
Women get called crazy a lot in our culture. You have the “crazy ex” and the “psycho girlfriend,” sometimes shortened to “psycho chick” because of a supposed long history of nightmarishly psychotic dating behavior, and then you have the “crazy cat lady” designation, which seems to be reserved for a slightly different category of “crazy” woman.
But let’s examine that tendency to call females “crazy” first. Yes, there are lots of women out there who suffer from various mental or personality disorders, and they can often act erratically. Dating anyone who suffers from real mental problems can be incredibly difficult, and only a handful of people are probably up to the task.
And there are also women (although men are just as guilty of all of these behaviors) who have anger problems, or are extremely jealous or controlling. The types of people who instantly think of vengeance when they perceive they’ve been slighted. I can’t make any excuses for those people. Anyone whose just wired to be selfish and mean is going to have to work through their problems or face a life of diminishing returns. But in most cases, they’re probably not actually suffering from mental illnesses. If they are suffering from a mental condition, it may be the real reason they seem to be set off so easily.
It’s a difficult thing to say with certainty that a woman is “crazy,” and the real reason people do that is because it’s a way to marginalize that female, and to call into question all of her actions. It’s a strategy employed by people who will benefit from either silencing her, or by devaluing her opinion to the point that no one will take her seriously. Nine times out of ten, it’s not a valid warning that a female is actually suffering from a mental disorder, but a way of turning others against her because she has made a person’s life difficult in some way.
Then there’s the “Crazy Cat Lady”, a uniquely female designation, and a disparaging one, despite the fact that there are probably as many male animal hoarders as female. And yes, there are people who suffer from mental conditions that drive them to collect animals the same way someone else might accumulate aluminum cans. It’s usually a psychological disease, unless they’re some sort of twisted pet breeder who is just abusing animals through neglect.
But why is there a disparaging stereotype regarding “crazy cat ladies” and not men?
I think it’s a form of sexism for sure, but also a form of scapegoating and marginalization that goes back hundreds of years, maybe since the beginning of human society. People who, for whatever reason, don’t conform to society’s normal rules have always had a difficult time of things. As a male who doesn’t like sports, I get viewed with suspicion by many people. For what? Not enjoying watching ball games played by adults. Snoresville.
We’re all expected to grow up, and to walk a straight path, avoiding things that might cause disruptions in the status quo. Listen to boring music, stay in school, get a job, get married, have some kids, eventually die. Anyone who steps out of that expected course too much is looked at as potentially dangerous and irresponsible, despite some weird societal double standard that places rock stars and other “rebels” on a pedestal.
But as hard as it is being a weird guy who doesn’t always play by the rules or meet other people’s expectations, it’s got to be doubly hard for women.
A few hundred years ago, a woman who acted unconventionally might be accused of witchcraft. Maybe she just didn’t want to get married, and chose to live away from others, maybe she suffered from some minor form of antisocial disorder, or maybe she just hated Pilgrims. Who can blame her? But not all that long ago, being a female outsider was a good way to end up hanging from a tree.
Not to be dramatic, but I think we’re still devaluing and marginalizing women who step out of line, or who are “difficult” or antisocial today. They aren’t usually murdered by suspicious and superstitious neighbors anymore, but instead ostracized and ridiculed.
What’s a crazy cat lady anyway?
It seems to me that we lob that unflattering moniker at almost any woman beyond the age of 35 or so who doesn’t have or want kids, and who doesn’t have a man in her life for whatever reason. The joke is that the cats are just waiting for her 40th birthday before they’ll invade the house in droves. Har De Har Har.
But I know just as many males who are in the same boat. Middle aged, no mate, no kids, and a few pet cats that they care for. But you rarely if ever hear about “Crazy Cat Men.” No, it’s a way of poking mean spirited fun at women who haven’t conformed to society’s expectations of them.
We (and by “we” I mean other men and women, it’s not just guys who do this) treat women like they’re crazy when they’re young as a way to control them and to devalue them as people, and then when they hit a certain age, we’re just as happy to marginalize them as crazy ladies who have a bunch of cats because men won’t have them.
It’s fucking bleak and not right.
And on another note, there are plenty of single men and women who have a lot of pets because they work with animal rescue groups, and because they care about the welfare of animals. That doesn’t mean that they’re “crazy” or should be treated like mentally deficient outcasts.
I’m a very introverted person most of the time. Shy even. I have five dogs, should I be cast out of society because of those things, or because I’m “weird”?
Why should women be treated worse? It doesn’t make sense and it’s not fair.
My new Houston Press article is up.
I have been working as a freelance blogger for The Houston Press, and that’s why I haven’t updated anything really recently. I will be remedying that soon, and plan to get back on schedule.
Some of my recent material can be found here:
I guess city rivalries are a standard thing in almost every state of the U.S. I grew up in the Houston area, lived in Austin through most of the 1990’s, moved back to H-Town, and then recently back to Austin after living in Houston for many years. I like both cities a lot, for different reasons.
But there’s a lot of weird hard feelings and mean-spirited criticism of both cities by people that live in the other, and it seems dumb to me. Especially considering that there are a lot of ignorant fools from outside of Texas that think the whole state is populated with subhuman stereotypes, or that the whole area in unfit for human habitation. They think Texas sucks and that we’re unsophisticated and stupid. Those are the morons we should save our disdain for, not people living a little less than 200 miles apart.
Rather than determine that one city is “better” than the other, it would be far more accurate to just say that they’re very different in many key ways, and the things that make one place paradise for a person, might make it a Hell for a different individual.
There is a really REALLY tired slogan for Austin – “Keep Austin Weird.” Oddly enough, I generally see that bumper sticker or t-shirt being used by the most average-looking people you can imagine. Middle-aged dudes in khaki shorts and topsiders that look like they probably are executives at a bank somewhere, or their completely mainstream (but slightly different) equivalent.
When you’re really weird, you don’t generally need to advertise that. You just are.
That annoyance aside, Austin quit being un-self consciously weird years ago, perhaps decades ago. For good or bad, it went from being a magnet for oddballs from all over Texas and beyond to becoming a hip place to live. It went from being weird to being cool. And cool is only cool if you like it that way.
Yes, Austin is still a college town, and it still has a very lively local music scene. But its population has also boomed, with people from all over the world moving here in droves. That’s fine, but it’s killing a lot of the quirky, small town feel that Austin had been known for. Throw in gigantic music festivals like SXSW that seem to draw a mostly out of town audience while the locals avoid it, and this does not seem like the odd little college town with a great local music scene that it once was.
Yes, many of the local places and pastimes that seemed to mark Austin as a unique city are still around. You can still go cool down at Barton Springs, or see the bats on Congress, and there is live music happening all over town, but it seems more like a Disney World replication of the Austin of years ago. Seeing families with children all over town makes it seem like you’re in some sort of approximation of what a “cool college town” would be if it were sanitized for suburban consumption. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the spirit of this town has changed a lot, and I suspect that it will continue to.
Houston, on the other hand was never burdened by an image as a hip weird place where “anything goes!” It always seemed to be considered a good place to raise a family and make a living by Texans, but hip it was not.
I have to report that in the decades that I’ve bounced back and forth between these two cities, I’ve experienced just as many weird shenanigans in Houston as I did in Austin. It’s actually a lot more accurate to say “Keep Texas Weird” because Texas IS weird, an enormous state marked by its diversity of people and places. This state often gets snubbed by people from outside of it because…well, because people are stupid and mean, and because some will use anything they can to try to feel superior to others.
Austin is the sort of place where everyone you meet is an “artist” of some sort, and everyone is self consciously trying to broadcast how weird and edgy they are… While producing very little.
Houston wears it’s weird more secretly. It remains hidden, not self promoted as much, and then one day you realize that the quiet normal looking guy you work with has created art or music that’s really cool and strange without most people even knowing it.
I’ve known quite a few idiots that can’t conceive of living anywhere except for a small handful of cities. Places like San Francisco, Portland Oregon, New York City, Seattle, and unfortunately Austin also seems to be on that list.
We all like what we like, and that’s fine and dandy. Acting like anyone living outside those places is a cretin is both pretentious and shows a stilted elitism on the part of the moronic clowns who think that only those places matter. There’s a HUGE country outside of those cities, and it’s not all hillbillies and idjits occupying it. I’ve been all over this country multiple times, and discovered that, almost without exception, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, some cities and even states have a certain “feel” to them that sets them apart from others, but I’ve never found a place that just won over all the rest.
To the people that have found that place that is perfect to them, great. Please move there, enjoy your life, and shut the fuck up about how everywhere else sucks. No one wants to hear from people like you.
Anyway, while Austin has long attracted a certain dubious fame as a hip city, Houston never has. But let’s look a little closer at the things Houston has to offer a person.
1. Houston has Great museums and a good art scene.
Let’s just get that one out of the way first. Houston has many exceptional museums. I’ve been going to the Natural Science a museum and the Museum of Fine Arts since I was a kid. I took summer art classes at the Glassell School of Art, and have hung out at the Menil Collection museum since I was young. There’s a Printing Museum, the Children’s Museum, and countless galleries throughout the area. Then you have the Commerce Street Art Warehouse, and the Orange Show, two longtime havens for local artists of all types. Houstonians have the opportunity to see work by contemporary artists, or head to see work by artists like Andy Warhol and Van Gogh. The city has an enormous art presence. It’s also known as a hotbed of folk art, as places like The Orange Show, Beer Can House, and Art Car Museum demonstrate. Houston also has a vibrant street art scene, and if we’re talking about music, the often dissed city has had a huge impact of popular music, particularly the hip hop world.
Austin is full of artists of various types, and it would never seek to insult the creative people in this city, but its museum presence is negligible compared to Houston’s, which is world class. Musically it’s got a lot going for it, but a Austin can’t touch Houston in regards to museums or other artistic venues.
2. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in America.
Yes, even more so than New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. This is probably shocking news to some people outside of Texas, but would not surprise most Houstonians who’ve bothered to look around town in the last couple of decades. Houston is full of people from all over the world, and is truly an international city now. There are many areas of town that offer cultural experiences brought from places like Russia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most notable effect this has had on the average Houstonian is the emergence of one of the nation’s best food scenes, but more on that later. It is common to hear people conversing in many different languages, and this melting pot of nationalities has infused Houston with a wealth of multicultural experiences to enjoy. The idea that Houston is some sort of cultural wasteland populated by lily white faces with red necks is utter bullshit.
Austin, on the other hand, still has a majority white homogeneous population. In a brilliant recent article in Texas Monthly, writer Cecilia Balli brought up the fact that it’s one of, if not the top, most segregated major cities in Texas. Minorities still live behind certain invisible geographic lines in this city, and seeing anyone that’s an immigrant from another country is rare unless they’re in town visiting, or going to UT. It’s just not a diverse mixing pot of people.
What you see a lot of here are a cross-section of white people. Austin’s not even as influenced by Hispanic culture as many other Texas cities are. Austin seems to be full of youngish white folks, a lot of whom are pretty comfortable, having come from nice middle or upper middle class backgrounds. They tend to be more socially liberal than young people in some other Texas cities, and some may look “weirder” – getting a few tattoos, piercings and a weird haircut while they spend their parents’ money pursuing an Art Degree or whatever. They’ll hang out at Austin music clubs, and keep it all weird, until they hit their early thirties and clean up their acts to assume their entitled positions of privilege (that were waiting like the wings of an angel to catch them if they fell the whole time). Then they’ll have kids with whimsical names, and will trade in their Fuck Emos shirts for khaki shorts and flip flops.
One will hear a lot of political and social outrage from these young Austinites, it’s like a real life version of some pissy Facebook community. Of course, there are minorities and white working class people making this city roll along, but those Peter Pan type young Austinites sure are plentiful. A lot of time they’re just waiting tables and biding their time before they can cash in their trust funds and move to some other urban paradise like Portland, which strikes me as an even more affected “weird” city. Grow thy beards and ride thy unicycles. Please just do it somewhere outside of Austin. We’ve got enough of that crap here already.
I guess my point is that Austin seems full of entitled white kids play-acting at struggle, while the people that really ARE struggling (minorities and working poor whites) either can’t afford to live here anymore, or are too busy trying to survive to go check out some fucking music festival. Houston offers a lot more things for people of all types, and socio-economic groups to enjoy.
Which brings us to…
3. Houston is cheaper to live in.
Surprisingly, that’s NOT true over all. Houston is actually a little more expensive than Austin in most ways that people measure their cost of living, and that includes rent, utilities, and groceries. But the average income is also marginally higher in Houston, and where the disparity comes into play is in scale. Houston is a big freaking city, and when we’re talking about things like rent that’s important. Yeah, it’s expensive as fuck to rent a decent place in the previously quirky and affordable Montrose neighborhood, but a broke ass Houstonian can find reasonably priced places to live in many other not so in-demand neighborhoods. Austin is not as small as rumored – it’s currently the 11th largest city in America, and grows with a steady influx of new residents with every passing day. But there are fewer and fewer cheap places to live here. Unlike the mighty sprawl that is Houston, pretty much every neighborhood here is getting pricey, so those rent averages are less “average.” If every place available is $1200 a month, does that make it better when Houston’s average rent is say $1300, but that takes into account rents in the $1500 range AND places that cost much less? You just don’t have a wide range to choose from if you’re on a limited income. InHouston, you’re more likely to find something livable for less.
When it comes to home prices, that also seems to be the case. I live in a modest 1300 square foot home with a train track behind it. It’s nice, but far from palatial. For the same money in Houston, I’d have my pick of much bigger places in some nice neighborhoods. Your home buying money just goes a lot further in H-Town. It’s been weird seeing formerly affordable neighborhoods mutate into hip hotspots over the last twenty years. The run down homes that I once rented in a South Austin would cost close to half a million dollars to buy now. That’s no joke. Some of those places were selling for $80,000 back in the 1990’s.
But this one is somewhat of a draw when either city is compared to other places nationally. Texas cities are just far more affordable for the average person than many other cities across the USA. Neither Austin or Houston bury the other on value.
4. Food. Houston is one of the nation’s best food cities.
It just is. I think it’s pretty obvious to any Houstonian who eats out a lot that the city is pretty special in that regard. It’s part of that international and ethnically diverse trend that’s been happening in the Houston area for decades. You can easily find many different options when it comes to eating in Houston. Vietnamese Pho is everywhere, along with a Indian food, Tex Mex, Cajun, and everything else under the sun. There are thousands of restaurants ranging from four star affairs down to food trucks dotting the culinary landscape of Houston.
Austin, on the other hand, offers much less variety.
Sometimes it feels like Austin has three types of basic cuisines – (mostly watered down) Tex Mex, BBQ, and “Breakfast.”
Be prepared to have black beans and home fries with every fucking meal when you eat out. Also be prepared to encounter vegan and vegetarian options everywhere, including the BBQ joints. I’m not saying that’s a “bad” thing, just that eating out here is pretty homogenized and boring after maybe a year. Houston in comparison is a dining adventure that seems like it could take a lifetime to explore.
But hey! You want some black bean goo on that burger! Fuck it, we HAVE that here!
5. For all of the negative stereotyping, Houston is a tolerant town in general.
Maybe it’s all of that ethnic diversity, or the huge gay population, but Houston is a pretty tolerant place to live. There’s an openly gay Mayor, making it the city with the highest elected homosexual person in the nation. Houston has the Pride Parade, and just feels like there’s a “live and let live” attitude there. Not every place in the country can boast that. I work with two lesbians who came from New York, and both have told me that they encountered a lot less discrimination when living in Houston than either New York or Austin. Granted, that’s anecdotal, but I see no reason to doubt their experiences.
Austin is pretty friendly to gays too, but they don’t have the developed community or leadership here that Houston provides.
When it comes down to it, Houston and Austin are both great cities in their own way, and we should collectively hone our hatred for the miserable shit hole that is Dallas, home of thieves and villainous scum.
OK, maybe Dallas is alright. I’ve never spent a lot of time there.
Let’s get a couple f other things out of the way. Houston by and large is not a “beautiful city”, although it has a sort of spiraling urban charm that some people come to love. I certainly do. Austin is in a very pretty part of Texas, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from some pretty bit of nature.
BOTH cities have traffic issues if that’s really important. I routinely drive during rush hour across town in both Austin and Houston, and I don’t get what the ruckus is. If you live in a big fucking city, traffic is part of the price you pay. I somehow have learned to avoid the traffic hotspots, other people should learn that survival skill too before bitching about “bad traffic”.
When it comes down to it, neither Austin or Houston really “win” over the other. Both are cool places to make a home, depending on what is most important to a person. If growing a stupid looking beard and mustache, and scooting down the road on a unicycle playing your ukulele sounds like paradise to you, you might be happier in Austin. But please do us all a favor and just head straight to Portland with that shit.
Seriously. We’re sick of that crap around here.
OK, more seriously. A young liberal person that wants to be surrounded by people much like themselves, and who really likes things like frisbee golf and seeing bands every night might enjoy Austin more than Houston. Someone that likes living in a huge city, with the cultural activities that offers, while enjoying a diversity of people and neighborhoods would probably enjoy Houston more.
The coolest thing is that you can like both. These are two Texas cities, not warring city states. I love both for very different reasons.