“I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.”
For many years, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead has been a silent, yet palpable force emanating from my bookshelves. I’ve always wanted to read Ayn Rand for the same reason I wanted to read Moby Dick, and for the same reason I want to read Gone With The Wind and Infinite Jest. The Fountainhead was one of many white whales that I knew I had to conquer due to equal parts curiosity and necessity. Any epic American novel that important and that influential is unquestionably meant to be discovered and experienced, but the difficulty and sheer size both posed intimidating obstacles and for a long time, I opted to succumb to the distractions of newer, shorter, and more attractive books.
I don’t know what compulsion coerced me to finally pick it up and start reading it last week; I specifically remember my elated Reader’s High after finishing Meg Wolitzer’s excellent book The Interestings and being inspired to read another long, worthy book. And perhaps I was mindful of my New Year’s Resolution to read more Classics this year. Whatever the reason, whatever the impulse, I’m so glad I decided to read it.
Howard Roark, Architect – the protagonist, the hero – is an Outlier in the truest sense of the word. Talented, but misunderstood. Honest, but disliked. Smart, but unpopular. Respected, but feared. Unconventionally handsome. Notoriously different. Roark reminds me of Atticus Finch and Hester Prynne – strong, able characters who are easy to hate for all of the qualities that should make them likable. Isolated people who stick with their convictions in spite of popular opinion; people who are maddeningly unscathed by their damaged reputations; and people who are so purely good, independent and esteemed that the level of compassion they incite from the reader is borderline unbearable because of the impossibly unfair situations they wind up in.
Presumably, a 700-some odd page novel about architecture in the early 1900’s would be slow, dull and difficult to read. To my pleasant surprise, I found quite the opposite to be true. The book was well-paced, beautifully written and very digestible in spite of its length. The narrative spanned several decades, following Roark from the tail-end of his college career as a wide-eyed, idealistic student well into adulthood as a struggling professional. All of Rand’s characters from love interests to brutal enemies were well developed, brilliantly intertwined and polarizing. There was no neutral ground; there was no indifference. Readers inevitably chose sides and either loved or hated every character, interaction or plot point throughout the entire narrative.
As I was reading, I couldn’t help comparing The Fountainhead to one of my favorite long reads of all time – Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Though drastically different, taking place centuries apart, I couldn’t stop myself from drawing parallels between the two novels. After all, both Jack from Pillars and Roark from The Fountainhead are two unquestionably brilliant architects who undergo extenuating circumstances with unadulterated vision and ambition and have their sights set on the most coveted women in their respective societies. They both pour their lives into their craft and they both exhibit debilitating patience in light of the ugliest, most conniving and calculating of adversaries. Both novels were epic. Both spanned a few decades, and not to mention – both Roark and Jack have unforgivably red hair!
It’s not often that a subject as random as architecture can captivate a reader, but architecture is one of my favorite subjects because I love the idea of it, and Rand and Follett describe and humanize it in a gorgeous way. Architecture is the truest form of functional art; the result of left and right-brained genius; the combination of physics and poetry. The accuracy and necessity of pairing balance and engineering with finesse and creativity is just a beautiful concept to me. I only know one actual real-life architect and he might be the brightest mind I have the pleasure of knowing, but like Roark and like Jack, my friend The Architect is so independent and intelligent that he floats on a lonely wavelength that transcends everyone else in a weirdly tragic way.
I suppose I loved The Fountainhead so much because I relate to Roark and his plights on a deeply personal level. His impossiblely unattainable expectations, his standards of beauty, his inability to compromise, and his unwillingness to settle for anything less than perfection when it comes to anything from his sketches, his buildings or his relationships – I aspire to be like him. I could only wish my life and values were that definitive and pure, even though I know they’re not. Perhaps I can only compare the other worldly, transcendental experience and joy I feel when reading incredible books to how Dominique Francon feels when she looks at beautiful buildings.
Reading this novel made me feel depressed, lonely and quite despairing at times. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions – the love story in the Fountainhead was among the greatest, most passionate and heartbreaking I’ve ever read. Tumultuous, tempestuous – seemingly hopeless. Among the ranks of Jay Gatsby and Daisy. Jack and Aliena. Ygritte and Jon Snow. Peter Parker and Mary Jane.
However, this despair only made the contrasting uplift and inspirational components that much more powerful. I will always remember the catharsis and bright joy I felt at the climax of the tale – that magical pinnacle hidden in that massive brick of pages. I’ll never forget how unbelievably full and ebullient my heart was when I finished the last page of The Fountainhead, knowing that the world was a better place and though grossly unfair at times, life can be pretty damn beautiful.
So this brilliant little infographic has been circulating on the Interwebs and Austin social networks over the past few days in humorous response to the influx of people flocking to the city and boosting our ever growing population count and property values – UT graduates who squat; Silicon Valley techies who seek sunshine and cheaper rent; actors or models who can’t make it in LA; and your general free-spirited folks from colder, less exciting parts of the country who either caught the Austin bug on their first visit or through word-of-mouth, and then impulsively decided to pack up their cars and head South.
I try not to be a hater. It does unnerve me every time Austin makes another Top 10 List for Best Places for Young People or Top Tech Cities in the U.S. because I know the long-term consequences of our ever-increasing population – higher rent prices, insufferable traffic, skyscraper construction – but I too am an implant who sought employment and permanent residency in Austin because the evidence is undeniable – Austin is a great place for young people and creatives and music lovers and foodies and hipsters and vegans and runners and hikers and bikers and geeks and gays and pet owners; it’s warm, welcoming and non-representative of the rest of the state of Texas. We can’t blame people for wanting to relocate and plant roots in Austin any more than we can blame engineers and developers who want to move to San Francisco; bearded hipsters who want to move to Portland or cocaine-snorting finance folks who want to move to New York. (that last generalization may or may not have been influenced by recently watching The Wolf of Wall Street)
However, I think there are a few other things that this illustrator left off that would even further deter a prospective resident from moving here so I thought I’d list a few extra contributions:
- Heinous allergies: This time of year is absolutely miserable for a huge chunk of Austin residents and the dry weather in the winter months makes it worse and worse each year. The cedar pollen count levels are astronomically high and every morning I suffer from a terrible mix of symptoms that are impossible to abate. In fact, the clouds of pollen coming off the trees were so enormous that some residents thought there was a forest fire.
- Mopacalypse – the traffic on I-35 is included in the infographic, but I think the traffic on MoPac is worth mentioning. MoPac is the only other major freeway in the city, and traffic will get exponentially worse as construction workers plan to expand the freeway and transform it into a toll road. I believe a recent article stated that an Austinite with a 30-minute commute will spend an average of 83 hours a year in traffic, a soul-crushing, life-sucking data point and a truth that I’m realizing very slowly and painfully.
- Homeless people – Sure, there are homeless people everywhere; in a lot of sexy cities too – NY, Chicago, San Francisco – but many hobos migrate here during the winter months because of the warm weather. They are getting harder and harder to avoid.
- Franklin Barbecue – People wait in line 3 hours for barbecue, and don’t get me wrong it tastes fantastic and is probably the best barbecue in Austin. But three hours? THREE? Waiting that long for anything is so excessive and unnecessary and unappealing and I would never recommend that anyone go there unless they had a week day off and got there right when the restaurant opens. I’ve only ever tasted Franklin once in my life at a private rehearsal dinner that rented out the space, and I don’t ever plan on going back. (Which is a shame because it’s delicious)
- You’re still in Texas – Austin is the diamond in the rough and unrepresentative of the rest of the state. It is liberal and vibrant and there are always protests campaigning for Pro-Choice legislation and gay marriage and all sorts of politics that I support. BUT we are still in Texas. There are still TONS of rednecks, racists, Bible-thumpers, drunk Dodge Ram drivers and idiots in office (ahem Rick Perry and ahem Ted Cruz) that live in Texas. There is a smaller percentage of these folks in Austin per capita, but Texas is a proud state that tried to secede from the Union at one point – so there it isn’t completely fair to compare Austin to places that legalize gay marriage or marijuana or abortions. Plus other than lakes and hill country, Texas is flat, dry and ugly in a lot of places, and it takes about 13 hours to drive across from point to point. If I ever left Austin, I’d probably have to leave Texas. Though I’ve lived here my entire life and love being from Texas – the more populous cities like Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston and San Antonio have their own charm and personality, but are ultimately utterly uninhabitable.
I hope that dissuades any of you outsiders from entering our city limits. And I really do need to reiterate – it does get really fucking hot here.
I’d challenge anyone vaguely familiar with the concept of “fun” to find a more appropriately named event than Fun Fun Fun Fest. This was my third consecutive year attending and every year it continues outgrowing the societal norms of your stereotypical music festival. Akin to all music festivals, Fun Fun Fun Fest hosts multiple stages, food vendors and an impressive lineup of diverse artists – for example, Cut Copy (Australia), MIA (Sri Lanka), Snoop Dogg (Compton) and MGMT (Connecticut?) were among this year’s headliners. But what you won’t ever see at your ACLs or Coachellas are things like an entire stage dedicated to established comedians like Sarah Silverman and Doug Benson, a huge half pipe where skateboarders and BMXers of all ages and skill levels come to play, a photo booth in a porta potty and a hydraulic cannon that shoots out tacos and tamales at crowds of hungry, excitable festers. After a few years of following the music festival circuit, I’ve found Fun Fun Fun the most refreshing. It’s still relatively young and small compared to its elders, but it always improves and grows without losing its youthful spirit. For instance, you won’t see many kids or parents who go merely for the sake of going. No one brings blankets. No one brings lawn chairs. People just come to party. People just come to Fest.
This year was particularly special to me because some of my best friends from Wisconsin came down for the weekend in hopes of seeing some great music and escaping the miserable snow that accompanies their sad existence during those unforgiving Midwest winters. They were greeted by sunshine, live music juxtaposed against a gorgeous backdrop of the Austin skyline and lots and lots and lots of booze. Some highlights from this year’s festival include: A mechanical bull, a free after show with Twin Shadow, kimchi french fries from my favorite Korean food truck and exclusive access to a VIP tent sponsored by Jameson and Absolut. Here were some of my favorite snaps from the weekend:
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!
Halloween in Austin is one of the best times of the year – whether you’re the extroverted Life of the Party or the Observant Wallflower – Halloween in Austin is equal parts partying (i.e. a heightened probability of alcoholically influenced poor decision-making) and amusing people-watching (oftentimes, people-judging). On a typical week day in Austin, it is not at all uncommon to see sleeves full of tattoos or florescent hair pigments that cannot be found in nature – so imagine the opportunity Halloween presents for this pool of already weird, colorful and creative residents.
- Spirits: Whiskey – preferably mixed with 7-Up, ginger ale, water or occasionally, on the rocks. Vodka is the widely assumed go-to liquor choice because it’s clear and tasteless and therefore, mixes with virtually anything. But for starters, I don’t necessarily want my alcohol to taste like nothing. I think that makes it obsolete, frivolous almost. Even if I mix or dilute it, I still want my liquor to have some character. Secondly, vodka is cliche – almost every chick I know says vodka Sprite, vodka soda with lime or vodka tonic with lime is their go-to drink, and I can’t think of a more boring way to get wasted than essentially paying $6 for a loaded Topochico with a squeeze of citrus in it. Finally, whiskey mixes well with an abundance of substances – when you get creative, you’d be surprised by how many delicious concoctions you can come up with. For instance, whiskey coffee is delicious. Whiskey with iced tea is delicious; whiskey with lemonade is delicious and whiskey with tea AND lemonade is even more delicious. For you seasonal folks, whiskey-spiked apple cider and egg nog are some of the best ways to endure obnoxious family members and stay contently, yet discreetly buzzed during the holidays. Whiskey my friends, is the way to go.
- Beer (Good): I’m fortunate that Austin is brimming with local breweries, but it took me a while to nail down a signature beer, or at least a signature type of beer. It’s not uncommon for bars to feature 20, 50, 100+ drafts making the selection process a little overwhelming, but I usually fall back on Live Oak Hefeweizen – a light, medium-bodied brew that’s creamy enough to be smooth, but fruity and carbonated enough to be tart and refreshing.
- Beer (Trashy): When I’m feeling the urge to drink like a plebeian, I usually defer to something of the commercialized domestic variety that comes in cases of 24 or the 16-oz. Tall Boy form factor – ideal for bringing to the pool or for spilling on things. In college, I was a dedicated Coors Light drinker – I just thought those temperature-sensitive blue Rocky Mountains were so delightfully clever! Oddly enough, I usually prefer Bud Light and Miller Lite now – not sure why. For some reason, none of my friends seem to like the Silver Bullet much. I’m also a fan of Lone Star, the National Beer of Texas, which often is available at the $1 – $2 price point at several establishments.
- Wine: This is the only alcoholic substance I wish I was more knowledgeable about – I don’t want to be some snobby sommelier, but I do wish I wasn’t so clueless about wine. I do know I prefer red, I drink a glass or two almost every weeknight and usually buy reasonably priced bottles of Cab or Shiraz at the grocery store. I admittedly still have a lot to learn, and taste for wine is the biggest opportunity for growth for my alcoholic palate. I’m assuming it’s something to be accumulated as I grow older – after all, adults drink wine and one day I’ll be rich and classy enough to sniff and swirl and make sound choices.
Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!– The White Stripes, Icky Thump