I know it’s the birthday of John Irving. His narrative voice in The World According To Garp, The Cider-House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire, and A Prayer For Owen Meany is as close as we are ever going to get to having Charles Dickens back among us; yet, it’s also Texas Independence Day, and that puts me in the mood to give a shout-out to a few of those writers, living and dead, who have hailed from here:
J. Frank Dobie, Sandra Brown, James Lee Burke (a fine mystery writer who, like me, has one foot in Texas and one foot in Louisiana); Larry McMurtry, arguably the finest writer of westerns of the last fifty years; James Crumley (author of The Last Good Kiss and The Mexican Tree Duck, solid, hard-boiled detective novels); John Lee Hancock, both a screenwriter and an actor; literary historian and editor Hyder Rollins, Fred Gipson (Old Yeller); Donald Barthelme, Nic Pizzolatto (Galveston: A Novel), and Justin Cronin (The Passage).
Texas receives its fair share of criticism. One poor fool on Twitter this morning called it “the fifth or sixth worst state in the Union.” He was probably too drunk to state his criteria, and perhaps not bright enough to spell “criteria” but, nevertheless, that’s the kind of stuff Texans have to put up with. A lot–and I mean a lot–of the criticism of Texas comes from people who’ve never bothered to visit the place or even to talk to people from here. It is also true, I believe, that some of those who have criticized Texas and left the state simply didn’t stay long enough to let the place grow on them. It takes time. Texas is big enough, though, geographically and spiritually, to welcome and accommodate almost anyone, including those minority and marginalized groups the rest of the country thinks we’re too bigoted to care about.
What matters to most Texans is that those who live and work here earn their way. We’re less interested in seeing people acquire rights through a political process than most states, and a little more interested in seeing that neighborhoods will accept a social change before we impose it on them legislatively. Are we perfect? Are we good? Hell, no. But we’re aware of our shortcomings, and we have programs in place to ameliorate poverty, loneliness, and despair. We help each other. The crime that happens here makes us shake our heads, just as it does in every other state but, by and large, Texans take a dimmer view of violent crime than people do in other places. If you’re stupid enough or desperate enough to commit a violent crime in Texas, we’ve got a jail cell that’s just your size, and you’ll get a shot at redemption only if you earn it. This way of thinking makes us backward in the eyes of Bostonians or New Yorkers or Los Angelinos, but it’s thinking that has stood the test of time. It works. And most of the thousands of people who have migrated here over the last half century because they couldn’t find jobs anywhere else understand it perfectly well. Texas is a prosperous state because of all those people. It’s also prosperous because it has maintained its cantankerous, feisty sense of freedom even while it changes along with the rest of the country. Fifth or sixth worst state in the Union? No, not by economic criteria. Fifth or sixth best, maybe? Probably not, but we’re closer to the “Best” list than we are to the “Worst” list, and that suits most of us just fine.