Odessa, Texas, where I lived for several years, is kind of a middle class paradise. Right in the middle of West Texas oil country, it's 20 miles from what might be considered its "twin city", Midland. People say that Midland is where the oil money goes and Odessa is where the people live who work on the wells and in the refineries, and that's pretty much true. It's not what you'd call a high class town, generally speaking. It's blue collar through and through.
I still live close enough to Odessa that I go there often for various errands and I think a lot about the town and the people who live there. I think about why they're there and how they feel about it, and about how all of them together make up the character of the city as a whole. And recently I started thinking about some things that they've built over the years, things that have become major landmarks.
In 1972 the proprietors of the popular, family-owned steakhouse called The Barn Door bought the main building from the old Pecos depot of the Panhandle-Santa Fe Railway and moved it to Odessa, right next to the restaurant. They restored it, added a solid mahogany bar that legend says is from an old house of ill repute, and opened it as a bar. (I wasn't able to get interior photos because it wasn't open when I was in town.) It's filled with local historical artifacts and, while it's obviously not entirely restored to its original state, it's about as close to an old railroad depot as a bar can be. But it makes me wonder... why?
In the 1960s*, a nonprofit group raised money to build a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It's not a perfect replica, the interior furnishings are a Texan's fantasy of Ye Olde Englande, and the ancillary buildings (ticket office, etc) are mediocre, but it's pretty cool just the same. Like the Pecos Depot, it wasn't open when I was there so I couldn't get any interior shots, but this website provides a pretty good idea of what it's like. Still, though, I can't get past the question: Why did they do it?
In 2004, the art department at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (in Odessa) built a near-exact replica of Stonehenge. It's about 85% vertical scale of the real thing but it is equal in size horizontally and, like the original, it is astronomically aligned and does mark the solstices. I understand that it's an educational tool for disciplines including art, math, astronomy, literature (for instance, I never think of Stonehenge without also thinking about Tess of the d'Urbervilles), and more, but beyond that... why here? What is it about historical structures that make people want to re-create them in the most unlikely of times and places?
As I was researching dates for this post, I noticed statements about each of these sites claiming that it was done just to draw in business or tourists. That's probably at least partly true, but if that's your only motive, why make a historical replica? Why not create something new and interesting, something that people can't find anywhere else? Is it laziness? A lack of creativity? Ignorance of the possibilities?
I don't think it's any of those things. I think people recreate the past in order to re-connect to it, and they do that because it just plain feels good. I mean, think about it.
The present is hard. There's work to do and headaches to have and bills to pay and people to interact with and a bologna sandwich for dinner and it just doesn't feel like any fun at all. Of course we'll look back on it later and think it was great, but that's only because we'll remember more of the fun, exciting times than we will of the boring, day to day routine. The present is a sleight of hand artist.
The future is scary. It's unknown and unknowable, and it's rushing toward us at breakneck speed. Will my investments make money or lose it? Will I stay healthy as I age? Will my kids be ok? Will I ever get the job I deserve? Will my marriage fail? Will people laugh at my new haircut? All questions and no answers, and every tiny thing can be fuel for worry if we let it be. Stress kills, and the future has basketfuls of it, just waiting to be picked up. The future is a bully.
But the past... oh man, the past is great, isn't it? Remember when we were young and strong and free and had nothing to do all day but laugh and play, and adults took care of us? And even when we got older and started school, most of us spent way more time with friends than we do now, and we stayed up all night listening to great music (wasn't the music GREAT back then?!), eating utter crap that wouldn't affect our bodies even a tiny bit, and talking about our crushes.
And as an adult, you can think back even further. Remember The Brady Bunch? Family Ties? Maybe Full House or Seventh Heaven? Don't their lives seem simple and happy compared with the complications of today? What about when our grandparents were young? When they went home from work in the evenings, they didn't have to worry about their bosses texting them with questions about the current project. They didn't have to juggle a schedule that requires a spreadsheet to organize or take every kid to practice for a different sport or clear dozens of emails out of their inboxes every day. It was an easier time, right?
How about the 18th century? Surely Jane Austen's life was quiet and simple. Or the ancient Greeks? All they did was sit around and feast while philosophers talked and entertainers performed, then it was off to an orgy, right? The further we go back in time, the less the average person knows about the everyday lives of the people who lived then. And since we forget the drudgery, the parts that remain sound exciting and stress free.
It wasn't, of course. Everyday life has always been everyday life, and it always will be. But the replicas and re-creations that we build transport our minds to that concept of a better time. When people in Odessa go to the Globe, their minds are filled with their own ideas of what it would have been like to attend the original Globe in Shakespeare's day, and it seems wonderfully exotic and scintillating. But they forget the stink and the mud and the fleas and the noise and the chaos. And that's ok! That's how it should be, I think.
If the past can't be a refuge, what hope do we have for the present and the future? After all, they both will someday be past, and I'd rather the trickster and the bully grow up to be a nurturer. Wouldn't you?
So that's my thoughts from my place. Remember to leave your questions and comments below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.
Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:
Jill, Frieda & Amy
And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3
*(I'm not being vague; it literally took nearly the whole decade because they built it little by little as they raised the money.)