Posted by: Shanna Germain | 09/25/2009

Pg. 167: Rising



I’m in Texas at the moment, near Forth Worth, a place I’ve only been once before. And if I were to tell the truth about where I am, I would say this: I’ve been in any number of countries, and Texas is the one that is knocking me hardest with culture shock (Yes, I know Texas is not a country, officially). Although, truly, I’m not sure how much of it is Texas, per se, and how much of it is the fact that I’ve jumped into the midst of American poverty, lack of opportunity and world of WalMart.

I’ve lived in the midst of Poorville before, of course. I moved out of my family’s house too young and landed smack dab in the middle of the kind of poverty that smells of mold and despair and hopelessness. I’ve been in countries where poverty was the only way of life, unless you were born a king.

But there’s something about this kind of head space, where there is no library within walking (or bussing) distance. Where the only available food places are WalMarts and donut shops and Taco Bell. Where recycling is not even an option. Where the streets don’t even have sidewalks because no one walks on them. Where there are no wild spaces.

If I had traveled here with a car of my own, I might have missed all of this. To get into an air conditioned vehicle and drive five miles to the nearest bookstore or coffee shop wouldn’t seem like a big deal. Not at all. To jump on the highway and go downtown to buy produce at the farmer’s market or see the latest production at the theater wouldn’t require a second thought.

But instead, I am walking five miles in the 90-plus degree heat to get coffee and see not a single soul the entire walk. I am waiting with pregnant women on bus benches in the blazing sun in order to go to a bookstore. I am hiding inside all day because there are no trees and the heat makes all the concrete shimmer. I am discovering small places of beauty inside this desolation: a walkable park that stretches for miles, a thunder storm in the night sky, a field full of monarchs. I am finding the kindness of strangers and of friends, and am being reminded of the fact that there are people who still read books — whole books! — on busses. I’m remembering what it is to be a minority, to be the only white person on a bus or in a building, to be the only female there as well.

Mostly, I am finding my own prejudices and expectations, and I am not always liking what I see. I walk around and I want to start a recycling program here, but I am not talking bottles and cans — people are throwing away couches and exercise machines and bed frames. I want to howl at the food choices, but how can you justify organic produce when there is no organic to buy, when there is barely produce to buy, when there isn’t any money anyway? I want to rage at the lack of libraries, at the lack of open spaces, at the way no one keeps their pit bulls leashed, at the mothers taking their overweight children to fast food lunches before they pile them back into the car.

But all I can really think is: How lucky most of us are. How lucky I’ve been.

I know that when I move on to the next place, it will be a place that makes me comfortable. Where I can choose local, organic produce and shop at small stores. Where there are recycle bins at the curb, piled high with glass and paper. Where my bike will take me anywhere I want to go. Where parks and libraries and coffee shops intersect and intermesh. Where I can pretend that the world thinks like I do. It’s the newest form of social class, isn’t it, to be able to be a snob about what you put in your mouth and on your body and in your home? Saving the world is a luxury most people can’t afford.

Is this desire to return to a place that shares my values…is this giving up? Running away? Or it is human nature, to surround ourselves with what we think matters? Or maybe it is merely the privilege of class and education, to keep on moving until we find the place that suits us best.

In the meantime, I am here, in Forth Worth. Eyes open. Ears open. Taking stock and taking store, and remembering at every moment how lucky I am to have a choice.

Far and fast, s.


“Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man’s starving.”  ~O. Henry, Heart of the West, 1907



  1. This all reminded me of one of my Zen Cards –

    The card is Community and it reads: Understand that you will be like those with whom you SURROUND yourself. Your environment is stronger that YOU are.

    I had mixed feelings about the message – like most things of the “enlightened” nature, just when I think I understand, I realize I still don’t have a clue.

    On a side note, I was in Wal-Mart with the SO this weekend and convinced him and everyone nearby that Halloween was soon and trick or treating was going to be this past Sunday.

    It wasn’t until I was home with the 25 lbs of candy that I realized I ahd the date right…but I was in the wrong month.

    Kit-Kat anyone?

  2. great picture.
    wonderful words.
    considering photography or writing??
    you could be a natural…

  3. “Where I can choose local, organic produce and shop at small stores. Where there are recycle bins at the curb, piled high with glass and paper. Where my bike will take me anywhere I want to go. Where parks and libraries and coffee shops intersect and intermesh.”

    Sounds like you should come back to Germany! : )

    I went home to US this summer and was shocked by how some sidewalks just end, you can’t walk there.

  4. I’m sorry you had that introduction to Texas (or sounds like maybe you’ve been elsewhere in the state)…it’s not like that everywhere, yet I’m sure what you experienced would have been Almost-Anywhere-USA as well.

    Not sure where you are now, but sending a big Texas wave to you from Houston today!

  5. love the the images…love to travel through your mind

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