Texas Observer Columns

Edsel U.

We are sure you are well aware of high-rent, higher-education apologists calling for you to give your child a “Cadillac” or a “BelAir” or an “Oldsmobile” college education. This just shows you how out of touch and elitist our state’s leaders have become!

-- The Texas Observer, June 07, 2011

Shut My Mouth

IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF THE GREAT TAMMY WYNETTE, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Anyway, that’s the tune I’ve been humming — “Stand by Your Man,” to be precise — while a torrent of anti-female legislation sweeps across national and state capitols like an Old Testament pestilence. De-fund Planned Parenthood! Forget family planning! Teach abstinence even though it doesn’t work! Give extra lectures and bonus sonograms to women who seek abortions!

-- The Texas Observer, May 11, 2011

Bringing Up Baby

ON A WINTRY DAY IN FEBRUARY, I went to the Texas Senate to hear citizens and medical and legal experts testify about the sonogram bill. You know, the bill we’ve all been hearing about that requires a doctor to give a woman both a sonogram and an oral description of the fetus she’s carrying before she can secure an abortion. That bill.
-- The Texas Observer, March 30, 2011

Unearthing Aurora

"TERMS OF ENDEARMENT IS A BOOK?” a well-read friend asked recently. “I didn’t know that. I thought it was just a movie.”

Hell yes it’s a book, I said, and told her she should read it immediately. It’s one of my favorite Larry McMurtry novels, published in 1975. Terms of Endearment doesn’t quite qualify as a “lost book” since it’s written by the renowned McMurtry. But Aurora Greenway is one of the greatest characters to get lost between the page and the big screen.
-- The Texas Observer, March 28, 2011

What's in a Nombre?

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS MOVE AND YOU GET THIS QUESTION 600 times a day: “What’s your new address?” Funny they—the friends, the bankers, the credit-card callers, the movers, the shakers—should ask. Our new address is on San Jacinto Boulevard. San Jacinto! The name of the battle that won the Texas Revolution. The name of the 567-foot Houston ship channel column that’s taller than the Washington Monument (Texans love to measure). The name of my husband’s junior high school in Midland.
-- The Texas Observer, March 01, 2011

Home Soul

WE’VE LIVED IN OUR HOUSE IN WEST AUSTIN for almost 14 years—the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere. Our kids finished school here, brooding and backtalking through the sullen years of adolescence. We hosted annual holiday parties here, and almost always something memorable happened—like the year a poet tried to attack my husband with a butter knife, or the time one woman loudly confronted another about writing a semi-romantic newspaper column about her twenty-something son. And there was the unforgettable night when four teenage girls slept off their first drunks in the house after projectile vomiting in my husband’s car.
-- The Texas Observer, February 01, 2011

Bloody Bloody Tea Party

WHEN I WASN'T WORKING ON A MIGRAINE, when I wasn't despondent about the future of the world, when I was feeling halfway brave, I occasionally tuned in to TV coverage of the elections this fall. I watched the Tea Partiers with their shrill denunciations and ragged signs. I listened to how they wanted to take back their country. I studied their flushed faces and gaping mouths.
-- The Texas Observer, November 23, 2010

The Textbook Plot

The State Board of Education today instructed publishers to curtail positive coverage of Islam and include more favorable treatment of Christianity in future world history textbooks. . The resolution states that "diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts" across the United States, and that past social studies textbooks in Texas have been 'tainted' with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views."
-- The Texas Observer, October 26, 2010

The Road to Compromise

A FORMER BUS DRIVER HAS SUED THE Capital Area Rural Transportation System, charging that the nine-county transit service discriminated against him based on his religion when he was fired for refusing to drive a woman to a Planned Parenthood clinic in January.
-- The Texas Observer, September 14, 2010

Irrevocable Acts

THIS STORY STARTS WITH DEATH. THEN IT GETS WORSE. But I'm getting ahead of myself. My father died on May 15. He was 85 and he'd suffered from Alzheimer's for years. His illness, even more than his death, was a tragedy. He was a retired accountant, mild-mannered and soft-spoken, and he'd led a quiet life. That's why it's so strange the aftermath of his death deteriorated into a series of botched events that shouldn't happen to the quick or the dead. That brings me to the House of Death, my affectionate nickname for the Austin funeral home that handled and mishandled my father's remains. Let me recount the ways.
-- The Texas Observer, August 16, 2010

The Better Half

So I've come to the point in my life that I read a book and talk back to it. That's what Laura Bush's autobiography, Spoken From the Heart, made me do, anyway. I read it with a divided mind, talking out of both sides of my mouth. What is a first lady's job? I kept wondering. What, specifically, did Laura Bush owe us?
-- The Texas Observer, July 06, 2010

Taking the Reins

FIFTEEN OR SO YEARS AGO, I SAT ACROSS A DINNER TABLE FROM A Dallas state district court judge who delighted in the sound of his own reedy tenor. When abortion came up, he told me and my fellow dinner-table hostages he had "never met a woman yet who didn't regret having an abortion." I didn't trust myself with my fork, so I put it down. "Well, you've met one now," I told him.
-- The Texas Observer, July 06, 2010

Bushed on Broadway

LAURA BUSH AND I WENT TO SEE THE MUSICAL ENRON TOGETHER BEFORE it closed on Broadway. Well, that's an exaggeration. To begin with, I'm not sure Enron is exactly a musical, which is what the woman next to me was grumbling about. "Not a musical, not a comedy, not a drama," she said. "That's why it's closing so soon. It's not in a category." Also, as long as I'm leveling, I should be clear that I was palling around with Laura Bush's newly published autobiography, Spoken from the Heart, and not Laura herself. It's a very attractive book, with a photo of smiling Laura on the cover. Since my husband and I are living temporarily in Manhattan, I'd had the bright idea to schlep it around the city so people would engage me in heated conversations and maybe try to beat me up or something...
-- The Texas Observer, June 08, 2010

Space Politics

YEARS AGO, WHEN I INTERVIEWED WITH A NEW YORK LAW FIRM, ONE of the partners told me he’d always thought New Yorkers and Texans were quite similar. Both were arrogant, convinced they lived in the center of the universe, and unpopular with the rest of the world. (This was the same guy who complimented me on my “great” personality after he’d spent the entire time talking while I listened. But, hey: You take your nuggets of wisdom wherever you find them.)
-- The Texas Observer, May 12, 2010

Twilight of the Super-Americans

MORE THAN 50 YEARS AGO, NEW YORKER WRITER JOHN Bainbridge came to Texas and stayed nine months. He traveled across the state. He hung out at lavish cocktail parties. He listened to oilmen. He braved the frigid northers, the scorching heat, the fierce winds. He took lots of notes.
-- The Texas Observer, March 30, 2010

Still Dancing With Who Brung Me

In New York, I often get "the look" when I talk to people I don’t know well. "Oh!" they say. "You're from ... Texas." Their eyes sweep over me, as if they’re examining the contents of my mind and heart. "Texas," they repeat and nod. "Well. Texas." Yes, I’m from Texas. Being a Southern female of a certain age, I'm polite and tactful. I can't shake those qualities. Truth is, I don't want to shake them. So I don't say what I'm thinking. Which is: Isn't it odd that the last acceptable prejudice in this country is toward white Southerners?
-- The Texas Observer, March 30, 2010

Just for Today, I am Pat Robertson

You know the old saying: You can't begin to understand another person until you've spent some time in his shoes.

Today, I'm casting off my usual self - that tired, old liberal whose heart leaks blood and oozes sympathy, the woman who plans to send money to the disaster in Haiti and has never managed to vote her pocketbook in decades of elections. Enough with her.

Today, I am Pat Robertson. I am wearing his shoes. They are Ferragamos.
-- The Texas Observer, February 16, 2010

Have You Ever Seen SMU from a DC-9 at Night?

If you were shocked when George W. Bush chose Southern Methodist University in Dallas for his presidential center, you must have been nearly comatose after his two long terms in office. After all, most rumors reported the Bushes would be settling in Dallas, which they preferred to Austin. Laura Bush is an SMU alumna. And-come on now-would any Ivy League graduate really locate a presidential library and museum way off in the desolate prairies of Midland or Lubbock or Waco? Most important, though, wasn't SMU-a well-heeled, conservative campus in swanky University Park-the perfect right-wing tinderbox to re­ignite belief in the 43rd president's tattered "Mission Accomplished" banner?
-- The Texas Observer, January 22, 2010

Urban Cowgirl

Most of my life, I've lived in a car. That's because I grew up in West Texas and got my driver's license in 1964, when I was 14. What else are you going to do when you're that age and your face is blossoming in pimples and your smile glints silver with braces and you live in Abilene? You drive, circling some of the popular hangouts, lurking slowly past your boyfriend's house and your best friend's boyfriend's house (who, in fact, have no idea they are your boyfriends, which is part of your problem).
-- The Texas Observer, November 13, 2009

If the Revolution is Over, Does That Mean We Won?

People of a certain age are always talking, sadly and nostalgically, about the bright, unfulfilled dreams of their youth.

I'm of a certain age myself-59, to be precise. But I usually draw a blank when the stories about lost youth, failed dreams and tarnished idealism come to the table and claim a chair and the eyes start to fill and the voices break.
-- The Texas Observer, September 18, 2009

Lost in the Reads

You get rid of ... your books?" one of my younger friends asked.

She looked aghast-as if I'd just announced that I ate my young or drove a Hummer.

"I would never, ever give away a book," she announced. "I keep every one of them."
-- The Texas Observer, July 10, 2009

The Big O

ODESSA-Oh, sure. You can laugh about this flat, dry part of the world, where the streets are broad and peppered with pickup trucks and SUVs. But it grows on you. Who needs trees and hills and water when the sky is this big and you can see forever?

Stay here long enough, see enough incandescent sunsets, talk to enough people, and you begin to understand some eternal West Texas truths that flourish in a land where nothing ever came easy except wind and dust and heat...
-- The Texas Observer, May 29, 2009

A Teacher's Mea Culpa

Betty Jo Harper, a silver-haired, bespectacled teacher from tiny Paint Creek, Texas, has numbered many successes in her 83 years.
-- The Texas Observer, May 01, 2009

Ask Miss Abstinence

Dear Miss Abstinence: My husband, Elvis, and I are disturbed by rumors abstinence-only education does not work. In our small town, we know of three pregnant teenagers (half our cheerleading squad!). What's wrong? - Puzzled

Dear Puzzled: No matter how well abstinence-only education is taught, our young people live in a dangerous, deranged culture. Everywhere Miss Abstinence looks, she sees sex, sex, sex. Athletic shoe companies tell our youth to "Just do it!" Young men "rap" about filthy acts. Young women dress like harlots. Miss Abstinence grieves for a simpler, more wholesome time when sex was considered to be a dirty little secret.
-- The Texas Observer, April 03, 2009

25 Random Things About Texas

So you think you know everything about Texas since you live here and went to school here and took two years of Texas history (probably from a football coach)? But this is a big state, a deeply strange state-and coach what's-his-name might have neglected these highlights and low points of All Things Texan:

1. According to americanprofile.com, Texas ranks last in the country in the percentage of drivers who buy vanity license tags, fewer than 1 percent. As you may have noticed, it's the wrong fewer than 1 percent.
-- The Texas Observer, March 20, 2009

They're Just Not That Into Us Anymore

The week before the inauguration, my 26-year-old daughter and I began a road trip to California. She was headed to a new job in Palo Alto. I went along to offer worldly advice, insightful commentary and a treasure trove of hard-won wisdom that would be helpful to her. You know, the usual mother-daughter trip. If we didn't strangle each other at a truck stop somewhere in the middle of Arizona, we'd have a fine time.

"We're driving in a car with Texas tags," I mentioned to her before we left. "Can you imagine all the nasty comments we're going to get along the way, with Bush's approval ratings in the toilet? It's going to be intense."
-- The Texas Observer, February 06, 2009

The Writers' Super Bowl

BOB: Good afternoon, folks! Welcome to our annual coverage of the Writers' Super Bowl. I'm Bob Arnold, here with my sidekick, Chris Edwards, to bring you coverage of this unusual event. Chris, what can you tell me about our competitor?

CHRIS: Hi, Bob. Hello, ladies and gentlemen. First up is a writer from Austin, Texas.

BOB: Let's see what kind of background we've got on her, Chris. Hmmm. Well, she's never won anything. Not even a Pulitzer. Not even nominated for a Pulitzer! No bestsellers, either. And she's 58. But you don't have to be young to be a writer. In fact, you don't even have to be sober.
-- The Texas Observer, January 09, 2009

Go Hornets!

Dear Faculty and Parents:
Even though it was 118 degrees last week, I think we could all feel a nip in the air. Fall has arrived and the Harrold Independent School District is beginning its 2008-09 school year. Go Hornets!

These are busy times, and I just wanted to catch you all up about the goings-on in your school district. As you may have heard, Harrold ISD received Recognized School status for the 2007-08 TAKS tests. We are proud of our teachers and students for all their hard work! And you parents deserve a lot of credit, too, for turning off the TV and getting your kids to study!

I'm also proud to say that, unlike that school in liberal Massachusetts, we at HISD have found no evidence of a pregnancy pact in our high school.
-- The Texas Observer, September 19, 2008

The Year Nothing Changed

You remember 1968. That was the year everything changed.

The North Vietnamese began the Tet offensive, widely regarded as a turning point in the Vietnam War, and turned out to be the last gasp of American support for that doomed, faraway war. Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn't seek re-election. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Students rioted across the globe, occupying campus buildings and storming city streets, burning their draft cards in the United States. Feminists, then known as women's libbers, threatened to burn their undergarments. Evidently no lingerie was actually singed, but that didn't stop people from calling the libbers "bra-burners." Women who threatened to burn perfectly good underwear were clearly capable of anything.
-- The Texas Observer, August 22, 2008

Ulterior Designs

In the fall of 2005, a camera-toting, microphone-wielding crowd of international media descended on the federal courthouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They came to cover Kitzmiller v. Dover, the most recent court battle about teaching evolution in America's public schools. Eleven parents had sued the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board for mandating instruction about intelligent design in the district's ninth-grade biology classes.
-- The Texas Observer, June 13, 2008

Sledding Through a Bush Family Fantasy

Growing up in West Texas marks you forever.

Mountain ranges give me the creeps. Rain was such a stranger that I still can barely manage to open and close an umbrella without a nervous breakdown. Even after all these years, my idea of pure freedom remains driving fast along a flat, straight road, drinking beer and playing country music so loud my eardrums almost burst.
-- The Texas Observer, January 25, 2008

Back in the UAE

We are a strange family when it comes to travel. My husband and I were almost deported from England years ago. We once hired a taxi to get us out of Albania. And we rarely make plans or hotel reservations. We like to think we're serendipitous.
-- The Texas Observer, November 02, 2007


"His and Hers," a selection from A Texas Family Time Capsule, was performed at Arts & Letters Live's Texas Bound Series in Dallas in 2003

"Mediation," a short story from a novel in progress, was performed at Arts & Letters Live's Texas Bound Series in Dallas in 2005


Don't Think Twice:

* BookSense 76 choice
* American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults
* Finalist, Texas Institute of Letters, Young Adult Category

Conditions of Love

* Blue Ribbon title for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
* Teen Book of the Month Club
* Finalist for the Book Publishers of Texas Award for the Best Book for Children and Young People,Texas Institute of Letters

Both Sides Now

* Recommended by Hurricane Voices, website for families dealing with cancer
* Random House Readers Circle selection

A Texas Family Time Capsule

* Finalist, John Bloom Humor Award, Texas Institute of Letters