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Valerie Fowler AFTERWORD Cheerleaders and Bull Semen On Writing My Way Out of the Lone Star State BY BETSY BERRY ust be something about this place. Every time I turn around someone else is “working on a novel.” A recent byline I submitted with a book review to the Dallas Morning News read, “Betsy Berry is a poet and teacher who lives in Austin where, like half the population there, she is working on her first novel,” and their relentless fact checker never blinked an eye. Many of these budding novelists are transplants, “snowbirds” down here to luxuriate in the searing heat and Austin’s lush greenery. \(Some of them never become allergic, of mine from Philly plans a story about a city-girl photographer who comes to Texas to shoot rodeos and falls in love with a livestock handler. An acquaintance from Houston, who hails from Pittsburgh, wants to write a book she tells me will be “part story and part truth,” titled “Reckless Love.” I think the two of them, who will have lots to talk about anyway, should get together on the project and call the thing “Reckless Texas Love.” How far wrong can you go with an idea like that? The truth is that “Texas”as a conceptis rarely on my mind. That is, unless I’m dreaming about winning the state Lotto, or longing for a temperate nonTexas clime where in September it dips below 90some misty, boggy, overcast landscape where we are not hammered down by the sun like nails in coffins. Otherwise I do not live and breathe “Texas.” I do not have Dallas’ big hair nor Austin’s political causes nor Houston’s can-do spirit nor, sadly, San Antonio’s old money. I do not know how to make a barbecue sauce or a King Ranch casserole. I don’t know what events comprise a gen-uwine rodeo, what it’s like to own a ranch, or an oil lease, or even a plot of land. The only cowboy hat I ever owned was when I was five years old and living in Ohio. I’m not sure I know how to be a writer in the Lone Star Stateor a Lone Star writer, which is, more frequently than not, one and the same. Texas is so big geographically and even bigger metaphorically that it’s pretty hard to live in Texas without being of Texas. We may be from Dallas or Houston or San Antonio or Midland or Lubbock, but in the end we are from Texas, plain and simple. Other people dislike us, and we don’t seem to mind. We are unmistakably Texans, but others are not so lucky. Our mythology is like a security blanket. And to be in the middle of Texas is to be so far from other places there’s hardly anyplace worth going. You’re trapped like an animal in Texasand from a writer’s perspective, the Lone Star state looms big and bad. Being from these parts in fact had every thing to do with why I decided to become a writer in the first place. Technically I am Texan, have had a long tenure here, but my peripatetic Air Force upbringing taught me early to identify more with the Texas tran sient than the native. I developed a clinging sense of myself as someone who was just passing through, if for no other reason than to allow me to kvetch about the heat. I was thrilled by what I came to define as a kind of West Coast free spirit, an East Coast intellectualism, a European eclecticism. To my mind, the avenues open to Texas women were narrow and prescribed at birth. The steps were cut from the state’s stone age: from high school cheerleader to prom queen, or if not queen then at least a gowned member of her court, on to middlin’ grades and minor mishapsall in good funat a university of the first or second class, to mar riage to an R.J. or a Tyler some large-necked type who had “played a little college ball” and then went to work for his father’s construction equipment company. There was money to be made and spent, kids to be had, society galas and charity benefits to be planned. By then it would be about time for rodeo resort wear and a makeover at Neiman-Marcus. But I skipped all that and went straightaway into the whining, malcontent mode of the writer manqu. My mother was horrified when I announced plans to “write.” But it would be a long time before she had anything to worry about. My first job as a “writer” was ghosting for none other than Tex Schramm, then president of the Dallas Cowboys Football Club. I interviewed for the job with hundreds of JULY 26, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21