London, Paris, Rome… • 5 December 2007

Pendulum is on the swing again, these few weeks, for the elusive one. LondonParisIstanbulParisNew YorkBillings.

Aaahh, Billings. I'll tell you a little about it, since we got talking under the last post about how different it is in the redstates. The returns to Montana were so weird for so many years after I moved away, but now it just is what it is. I’m comfortable being uncomfortable about Billings. And then, after a few days outside its metastisizing edge, I always lose the sense of a reality beyond it. That is when I cave in to a weird, nostalgic, adolescent, totally myopic headspace.

AF inbound from Europe via New York, as is now his usual, reminds me of a T-shirt I wore to gym class (we played football and lifted weights, thus my surprise a decade later when I found out about stretching) in high school. It had four words followed by four little pictures:

London (Big Ben icon)

Paris (Eiffel icon)

Rome (Pisa icon)

Billings (buffalo silhouette)

Hmmm. Which one does not belong?

Billings is the only place with a 365-day a year rodeo. The only place, they say, where Exxon still hasn’t installed scrubbers on its refinery smokestacks (cancer rates downwind are off the charts). The only place I’ve smoked cloves or drunk Miller beer (both in large quantities). Laurel, which is the town closest to my folks' place, had the highest rate of alcoholism per capita nationwide when I was a high school heavy drinker. According to The Economist, five of the poorest counties in the US are in south-central Montana–though what the magazine ignores as much as the white residents is that it's the people on the Crow Reservation who are pulling those numbers.

Billings is an old cow town-turned-big box stopover on the plains, an hour from the Beartooth mountains and just over the shallow Pryor range from the Res. The Nez Perce got chased through what became my folks’ backyard on their doomed flight to Canada, and then German corn farmers settled the same black earth and farmed it dry until now all it makes is sileage, and that only with the seeds’ genes all tweaked and planes flying low over the yard to dump chemicals every few weeks.

Billings is several miles down the Yellowstone from the “Ranch” where we grew up, and a regular stop for Horizon Air, which nicely for me was bought out by Alaska. It’s always the 10:40 pm arrival and the 6:00 am departure to and from Seattle. 26-seat turboprop packed tight with Carhart canvas and ruddy faces I know from decades past. Free beer in flight, passed down the aisles with stale mini-breadsticks from Keebler.

Last year we all went for Christmas, and braved the icy wind to check out the Yoga Center alongside the old Burlington Northern train tracks downtown. Sign in the window of the gorgeous old hardfloored building said the center would close at the new year; and we were the only three in class besides the teacher. I had a nice practice, but it did not go at all well for the boys. They were too aware of the situation, which was not just a little awkward. Which is funny, because it was the boys and not me who set aside the same awkward awareness and represented last year as usual at Sunday church.

Which is one thing about Billings I’m not facing right now. I think about it often enough, but since the American flag was installed on the altar, the ante has been upped. A lot. I’m slowly easing up, though. Me and Jesus are working it out.

The night of awkward yoga was when the idea to write out my tangent on yoga and popular culture got planted. Though I did not know this consciously until a few weeks later. Almost a year of posting now; and it’s still not written out. 

I’m not sure what to think about what this blog-tangent has become. I thought I’d use it to articulate my question of what this practice is in the context of our political-cultural-economy. I guess I’ve found myself some vocabulary, and some sensibilities, to that end. But I haven’t put too fine a point on any conclusions and I haven’t run out of ruminations.

So I guess as a second year begins I’ll keep coming back here and having a look at what it brings up. Though maybe a design shift is a good idea.