Here in Marfa, Texas with Those Desert Eyes: THO
by Luke B. Goebel
I've been living in east Texas for five years and as bad as it is, Austin can kiss my camel toe (moose knuckle), as can Portland, Brooklyn, SF, everywhere you have to work to pay insane rents to go to work and afterwards buy drinks.
When I came to Texas, a friend told me about the Marfa lights—telling me how they are unexplainable, illegal to go near at risk of federal felony trespassing, how they blink colors as messages to one another. Later, I read the newsprint. El Cosmico. Yeah, yawn. Rent a trailer! How many hipsters does it take to screw in a hotel where James Dean made a movie, which would now be made by James Franco, please, please me, who hasn't?
New York Times me, hold, please, asshole. Rather: Instagram DM me. Fashion. Magazine aisle. Squats. Tho booty. Caitlyn Jenner who we love, rightly so, as she gives us some hope of our evolution as a society and for other reasons. But…she’s KardAsh. Empire. Gym body-ie me. Oh, but… Is this all too defeated?
I am in Marfa and again I am speculating—asking what in the Texas’ God’s name is happening with culture, cities, work, the climate, police murder of black people, war, Isis, global warming, and why is everyone just talking about Marfa the way they talk about Portland, Austin, etc.? Have you been to MARFA? Suck any part of anyone! Why is everyone talking like a valley girl hipster fetishizing the new hip locales? Where is the new imagination and drive to find and build something? Do we need to find something new—utopia? Why is everyone spectator-ing? Is this about Instagram?
Plus, there's a new story in Marfa. What? Why? There's a film festival this time. Ha ha ha ha. Make me choke laughing. Also, James Franco has a Malibu standing on end in a reflecting pool outside Marfa’s Contemporary Gallery, the gallery with its drool over nostalgia font, and okay it isn’t Franco’s sculpture, it’s someone else’s sculpture I thought was Franco’s, since Franco is doing vintage cars standing on end in pits like presidential monuments to the futility of the American movie and art dream—or are they someone else’s statues that he featured in his recent curating gig at Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, with his show: Rebel Without a Cause?
Do I have to make a hard-on dick joke about the cars standing on end in pits? Dick in pussy joke? Dick in ass? Do I have to admit I have a hard-on for James Franco? Who doesn’t? Oh, I don’t. Wait…okay, we all do! I am admitting that I am captivated by the spectacle, in love with a Malibu standing on end in a reflecting pool—but I keep humming the one word: NOSTALGIA.
I am drawn in by the expansive terrain of desert married with the horizon and the wide streets in MARFA that remind me of something beautiful and simply profound about childhood and art. Truth out in the desert teeters into establishment right to meaningless commerce again; I am teetering with Marfa, a place that offers the invigorating liminal dream state of being outside of NOW HELL and being a place that is rising in fame, and must therefore soon fall and be seen for what it is…nostalgia, art that is really fashion, art chic minimalism, art galleries that are old boy clubs for the establishment artists, as JUDD was, too—his funding came from Dia Art Foundation, which was leaked from an oil baroness.
But, still, why are we drawn in? I wonder. Why do I keep coming back on every road trip through Texas? Back west in car, truck, RV, now in a Ford towing dolly with car, everything ~ my whole life ~ packed window to wall, nose to heel. Elbow to asshole. EXCUSE ME. I am a consumer paying 178 dollars to stay in a room that was the last room in town. I am complicit and I like the Malibu dick installation. Why? More so I feel an invocation in Marfa, a stepping out of time and society, out of the professional world—a call to make a utopia for myself and invite others to stay, both a physical place like an art colony and a utopia of how I live. My moments of peace in an otherwise tripped out, anxious, and too fast life, are moments of feeling, sensory experience, environment, dream, imagination, slow time spent with self and landscape. Marfa offers each visitor a checkpoint far different from the one waiting on the outskirts of town. Marfa allows each visitor to engage with minimalist art, architecture, and to enter a liminal space of wonder.
Before Marfa bloats, tho, and farts into a reproduction of itself as it's doing rapidly, it's still worth something as cultural moniker, and we will explore further, hold, let's build the elements, and see it a last time. I did insta the best salad of my life here today. And TMZ-me everything here looks like the 50's, 60’s, a few modernist pieces of cultural remains in a sea of minimalist white, and all is analog and real and and and the food truck music is so good being played through an eight track player with a tape cassette adapter with iPod run into the cassette adapter. I’m not being coy. It sounds really good. Also, also, everyone has such cool style rockabilly artist hairgrease skinny black jeans raybans and a dog. Motorcycles, panheads especially, tattoo sleeves, emblems.
I’m not kidding. We all eye each other at the food carts with contempt…we each want to be autonomous in OUR Marfa: We exist in the mirage of timeless throwback, sneaking our salad selfies for instagram and sniffing the nostalgia like hounds, spectating. We are on the artistic frontier! We imagine, and imagine moving into Marfa, working at or even, gasp, owning a food cart. Maybe we just see too many people on our screens—Instagram, Facefuck, and need to take a step into pure living—less people—and celebrate the sum effect of the industrial revolution and technical revolution by experiencing directly how vast we have become, more open, and feel more freedom, less rent, more life spent making a new world instead of slaving for the old ones! Maybe this is just me! A manifesto?
After a food-cart lunch, I drive lost for two hours into the foothills of Mexico before I turn around. I have a gun and want to shoot it off to release my frustrations at being unable, after four years, to get out of Texas and now I am four hours lost still not on track to exit. I can’t go driving off into the cut to shoot with the Honda towing behind me dragging my piles full of teaching blazers, computer monitors, ties! Also, I have no ear protection. Fake ass cowboy!
There's a rock out here on highway 67 on the highway I took the wrong way down that looks like an elephant and is called Elephant Rock. There's a formation called Lincoln's profile. Looks like Abe lying on his back staring up into the chunky pixels of the bluest desert sky nothingness utopia death. The term utopia was invented by Thomas Mann. He combined two linguistic bits that together mean NO PLACE. Okay, I admit I want a NO PLACE. That Marfa was a no place, a dream, a vision, for an artist who found his space to carve out a new world, and I want too to find a place to drop out of cities, the hustle, the evils of our time. I want a place to slow down, unplug from devices, stop comparing myself to everyone, and have a more immediate engagement with time, space, and self. But I must not be the only one!
Why are we so nostalgic for the times before ours? Is this some deep psychic sense that we have no future, can have no dream, living in the current paradigm? Or is it how we identify with the outlaw totems of the past to make a stand now? We do yearn for the past, for physicality and aura of objects, for the sensation Marfa gives us of another time, a pre-global lockdown, a time before the planet seemed doomed, a time before and so on. Hold on!
I'm making notes speaking into my phone about to go through Federal checkpoint and hope they don't find my pistol.
I don't nice chat with the federales but my god that man had the cleanest whitest teeth I've ever seen. Beautiful Mexican-American I told how I ended up in goddamn nowhere and we laughed about it. At the end he asked me, “You are a U.S. citizen, right?” “Yes,” I tell him, “I am part of a U.S. that no longer exists and perhaps never existed.” I am part of the monster and the happiest times of my life I've spent driving through the deserts of the Southwest looking at the great feet of telephone poles and electric wire stretched across the great expanse.
If this next book of mine succeeds, it could very well lead to attacks at home, in the U.S., I dream, delusional. As I drive, I worry about it leading to domestic terrorism.
"I’m heading to write a book about destroying Los Angeles. About there being no place to go with art to compete with the world of violence but to finally call the game and blow it all up, domestic terrorist kids in America, blowing up the establishment to fill the game with magic. But why?"
I am interested in Marfa because, aside from the spiritual heritage of the land, and the unexplainable phenomenon of the Marfa lights (more on this later), the landscape, I want to find a plot of cheap desert to make art, drop out, leave the society that I can neither endorse nor want to afford—no, it isn’t that…I feel the effects of the current time making me feel something…what is it? BROKE! Hurried! Insecure! Lonely! I also feel the magic of something happening that I trust as a rapid evolution of a huge group of strange human beings who are radicalizing themselves out of old beliefs, trappings, and becoming increasingly psychedelic, free, and strange.
So, what does this all mean?
In Australia today children are joining ISIS from the Internet and attempting to blow things up. Last month in Texas Muslim extremists tried to shoot members of the Muhammad cartoon-drawing contest. My dog is sighing next to me.
Rocks get named and renamed. A hundred two hundred two thousand years. Who had seen an elephant in the time of Apaches or Comanche? Abe Lincoln in Mexico!? You can see his goatee and nose. How long does a person get to be alive? Maybe I am just approaching middle age—feeling drawn to the Walden thing of Thoreau or the desert thing of Abbey, but I am feeling how soon the rocks are renamed, the life is over, the body is spent.
In creative writing classes I teach, or used to as I’m driving back to Portland, Oregon having quit the job in Texas, quit academia, quit GOD FORBID QUIT TENURE, early on students write very very short flash fictions that don't go anywhere; no one knows what to say anymore; there's a great crackling of silence across the wires of the dominant collective consciousness. Lots of talk and art about total apocalypse. Little vision for utopia—but on the sides, in the secret caverns, nuggets of wild genius abound! Actually I was non-renewed. Think: getting fired, with an extra year to work.
This reminds me of an installation I saw in Marfa today of record players that say now over and over. I pretend now that I’m not impressed but I was impressed until I thought of how much money is behind the exhibit, how much competition, the politics, the professionalism, the fact that the collective consciousness of now, to me, of condos and commercial spaces, is my enemy.
In Marfa, I’m struggling with a decision. I want my time free from high rent, from professional life, from Portland, Oregon, the city I am from and can’t afford as an artist. I have been planning to drop out and am heading with all my things to write my next book—to a cheap desert in California.
I’m heading to write a book about destroying Los Angeles. About there being no place to go with art to compete with the world of violence but to finally call the game and blow it all up, domestic terrorist kids in America, blowing up the establishment to fill the game with magic. But why? Have I gotten so far out, so bent, so warped? I want aura again. We all do. I want glamour. I want a world that looks like Marfa. I don’t want to see another Ikea as long as I fucking live! I sleep on an Ikea bed! Aghhhh. Actually, I gave it away. I have no bed! My next bed will be Ikea-free! Not Ikea! Probably USED! Hooray! I had a used bed in my early twenties in SF. It had a ghost of an old woman who would wake me up shaking me. I liked her. We slept together.
I met a man with a green card and pink eye—a Turkish fellow—standing out front of the hotel I stayed last night where, yeah, yeah, James Dean made the movie GIANT. Hotel Paisano. Picture the film name in giant lights. When I told him about the job I just left,/been forced out of,/may still be hired back but don't know if I'd ever return, he said, “I would die for a job like that.” Die for a job.
The great depression is upon us only it's a depression of spirit and mind. I surely assured him he would die for a job like that as it would kill him in every way but in terms of the basic functioning of his body and brain. (They will, it turns out, offer the job back. In writing this essay I realize I have to refuse it and I do.)
It's not the teaching that would kill him. It's the forced removal of personalities, artists, and selfhood from the academic corporate hell administration take over. It's the same all over I hear. What do you do? How bad is it? In the academic and professional world today? It's another essay. But the suckers have smeared us all over. But have you been to Marfa? El Cosmico? Sorry Liz Lambert!
The Creeping Garden.
They are showing a film at 10 about microcosms of vegetal action! It's supposed to be the most!
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Fiction writer Luke B. Goebel is armed with wit and dangerous. He also carries a colt 45 pistol but that's the least of your worries. With an insatiable appetite for the dark, mystical phenomena of the American West, Goebel's writing has found him living for stretches in Marfa, Texas; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and many more landscapes that nourish his writing. Last year Goebel published his first novel, entitled Fourteen Stories: None of Them Are Yours, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction.