TOUR Day 3 - Marfa and the Butterfly Effect

We’re driving through New Mexico now — flat and cactusy. To my left there’s an enormous dairy farm with hundreds of sad-looking cows corralled around sadder-looking grain-feeding basins. To their left there’s Mexico. I can’t shake how weird it is to know that just beyond a fence as far away from me right now as my job in New Orleans is from my house in New Orleans, there’s serious poverty and violence and people who wish to get away from it, but aren’t allowed to. I am not equipped to write an essay about immigration and the sad state of affairs around human rights in our country, but there is certainly something profound and harrowing about the view.

Yesterday we stopped in Marfa, Texas. Marfa was founded in the 1880s as a railroad water stop, named “Marfa” at the suggestion of the railroad executive’s wife. Marfa was the name of a character in a French adventure novel from 1876 called “Michael Strogoff.” (It was one in a series — preceded by “The Survivors of the Chancellor” and followed by “Off on a Comet,” which are both much better names for adventure novels, I think.) Today, the city is well-known in the hipster-minimalist-art community as a modern phenomenon: in 1971, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City and began installing massive building-scale compositions in the city for cheap. Now there’s a writers-in-residence program there, a theater through the Crowley Foundation, and new gallery spaces. It’s a hipster mecca so hip that most hipsters don’t even know about it. I can’t stop thinking about that railroad executive’s wife, who just happened to like a character in a weird French adventure novel she’d read, and significantly influenced the lives of some of the coolest kids on the planet more than a century after she died.

Things ripple. 

I remember the first time someone suggested to me the enormous potential of small acts. It was in sixth grade, and he was my English teacher, Mr. Hagerman. I really liked him: he was wiry and wore glasses, like exactly 100% of the men I would grow up to date. (I’m just now realizing there may be a connection here. Hmmm. I wonder if Mr. Hagerman is single.) We had been studying “The Scarlet Letter,” and it was in no way related, but Mr. Hagerman got very excited about explaining the butterfly effect. 

The reason I remember this so vividly is because he used me as an example: he said, “Today, Sophie woke up and put on her green Italy sweatshirt, and the butterfly effect says that that decision could change her entire LIFE.” He probably should have come up with a few more details to hammer it home (“Sophie might meet someone who is from Italy because of that sweater, and that person might end up introducing her to her future husband”), but in a weird way, he kind of manifested his prediction. I mean, had I not worn the green Italy sweatshirt, he might not have picked me as an example, and I might never have thought about the butterfly effect ever again. Except when Ashton Kutcher made a movie about it.

Now it’s raining, which the van needed. A lot of bug journeys ended on our windshield, and no amount of gas station squeegeeing was going to fully erase that reality. 

Usually, my sweater choice doesn’t change anybody's entire life. But choosing to poke around in unfamiliar places — which is possible to do every single day, no matter where you are — does sometimes alter an overall life route. I never thought I would really do any standup comedy, for example, but one night I was on a date with a comic and he asked if I wanted to try the open mic down the street, and I wanted to get to third base with him, so I said “OK.” Now I’m on a nationwide tour with three of the comedians I respect most in the world. Thanks, date guy! Also, I did get to third base, for those keeping score.

Being on the road reminds me that adventures can be small. This morning, Rob and I stood up and walked to the hat shop across the street from the diner where we were having breakfast and found bins of knock-off concert T-shirts and misspelled baseball caps. Also a wall of bras for a dollar a piece. A dollar! For a bra! I don’t really need a bra (such is the one of the blessings of a having the rack of a common ten-year-old boy), but other ladies must REJOICE at that! Small adventures. Stop sometimes. Poke around.

So I’m looking across the border at Mexico again, and I guess the feeling I get deepest is to fully experience the moments when I feel most free. To appreciate what it is to be able to explore.