TOUR Day 2 - Austin and Vanessa

I’m in the way back of a van driving through Texas after a big, full show in Austin last night. Austin has all the day-cool of Portland and all the night-cool of Los Angeles, and it’s unbelievably intimidating. Austin feels like the city that’s going to tell me that I haven’t earned my bird tattoos yet, and I’ll have to start an organic energy bar-making company before I can show my face in public. This is not to say that anyone in Austin has ever been anything but kind and loving toward me (they have even complimented my bird tattoos, so there goes that theory). It’s to say that I am innately paranoid, and my decision to stay inside every night no matter where I am is thereby justified. 

Yesterday morning I woke up in my friend Vanessa’s studio apartment in Austin. She was up early because she had to rehearse for a big sketch show she was performing in that night. I met Vanessa two years ago when I went on the Air Sex tour. That time, we walked around city landmarks and talked about boys; shared fail-proof mascara and hair straighteners; did all your basic girls-on-a-tour-type activities. It didn’t take me long to understand that Vanessa was a badass and a genius. Specifically, I remember this night that she tore down a racist heckler at a show we did in DC so swiftly and with such intelligence that the entire room erupted in crazy applause.

But it’s been about two years since then, and we haven’t had the chance to really talk in that time. A lot has changed since then, even though Vanessa appears to be the same beautiful, talented, smart person she was on our first tour. She is all of those things, but also, she has done a lot of work on falling in love with herself.

It’s a funny thing to write: “done a lot of work on falling in love.” The word “falling” implies something beyond one’s control — it comes from the Old Norse Germanic feallan, which has to do with irrepressible sin (“downfall”). We think about falling in love as something that happens to you; not something that you try to do; certainly not something you work at. But I believe all acts of real love are at once principled and intentional commitments to work. You decide that something matters to you so much that you are going to spend time with it; learn it; hold it softly; cherish it.

This is especially true when it comes to the work of loving oneself. Before I move on, I want to write that I guess I know that writing about self-love is not a super-cool or hip thing to do. People scoff when you start to talk about trying in earnest to love yourself. My suspicion is that this attitude is grounded in fear: it’s not an easy thing to do, and most people don’t do it. It takes constant commitment and dedication. Sort of like adopting a dog, but more.

Vanessa told me this story about a time in the past year when she went to a bar to hang out, and noticed a man drunkenly harassing a bunch of her female friends. She asked him to leave nicely at first, and when he wouldn’t, she turned up the volume and insisted. He called her a bitch and left. But then later, as the night wound down, the guy came up to Vanessa and stood over her and said some pretty nasty and terrible things to her face. (They are not worth printing here, just imagine someone saying exactly what you are most self-conscious about out loud in front of all your friends. It was like that.) She chased him out of the bar and grabbed him, telling him off until he eventually ran away; everyone in the bar who’d come out to watch cheered. 

Then Vanessa told me, “I realized that if I could get that mad at some guy for saying that shit to me, why did I let myself say it?” She’s right, of course: at our worst, we put forth a great deal of energy telling ourselves everything that is wrong with us. Those voices are loud and unapologetic; it becomes difficult to talk back. Hence the work: You are perfect exactly as you are, self. If you tell you otherwise, don’t listen.

This morning, I left Vanessa’s house before she woke up. Like a creep, I watched her sleep for a while and thought about how inspiring it was that she was refusing to depend on negative self-talk to improve herself.

Now we are driving through these long stretches of Texas. I remember someone telling me once that the sky was so much bigger here; that it stretched wider. In one small town we passed two taxidermy shops. I wondered which came first; and who said, “The first taxidermy shop in this small town is not satisfying our population's dead animal preservation needs. I think we could make a killing with a second one. Pun intended.” The junque shops (their spelling, not mine) and corner salons have all made unfortunate font choices for their storefronts.

The birds that swoop around the desert are grackles and vultures. And yes, the sky is bigger. It's way bigger.