How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to (mostly) Love Oklahoma: A Tulsa Memoir Part 5

As noted, I tend to get going on a topic and then trail off (I never did wrap up my commentary on the Feminine Mystique; I never did follow through with all the Big Ideas I had for “This is Not a Lifestyle Blog” – but this is a blog, and there’s time!). Before it gets too far from my memory, I wanted to wrap up my series about growing up in the conservative south and my recent trip back “home.” (Read the rest here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

When I last wrote, I’d been pretty thoroughly alienated from mainstream culture in Tulsa by a series of extremely negative interactions with conservative Christianity. Between that and poky grass, I was pretty much planning to get out of this place as quickly as humanly possibly. I began to elevate and romanticize the Midwest as the ideal and preferable alternative to the south. By age 15, I was using road atlases to plot an escape route and writing romance stories set on farms.

So what changed?

First, my best friend in high school was an amateur photographer. Not only did this mean I had to dress in strange clothes and be the subject of a LOT of experimentation, it also meant being her go-to assistant. We hopped fences and walked down alleys to try and capture interesting images, and I got my first taste of Tulsa beyond 81st and Memorial.

Places like the Admiral Twin, a defunct-but-being-revived drive-in theater where The Outsiders was filmed.

And the Center of the Universe in Downtown Tulsa, an “acoustic anomaly” complete with a fabulous cloud sculpture.

Additionally, some family traditions introduced me to beautiful places within and without Tulsa’s city limits.

Also, having a much cooler younger sister helped, although by the time she and her friends were discovering Brookside and Cherry St. and all the awesome music fests, I was in college about 2 hours away, in Norman OK.

Image Credit: Jana J Designs

But being in college made a HUGE difference in my opinion about the state of Oklahoma, and that’s because I have an unabashed, pure affection for the town of Norman and the OU campus. During my first year, I dated a boy who lived off campus and refused to have anything to do with my dorm. This was awful for my social life (and self-esteem!) but it meant I spent about an hour every day walking to and from his place, through campus corner and the heart of OU, listening to fantastic Lou Reed and Neil Young bootlegs on my walkman. A few years later, my sis and I rented the second floor of a house just west of campus, with wood floors and a rickety deck.

The South Oval. Yeah, it really looks like this all the time.

Bizzell Library — fulfills every fantasy about a cool library you have ever had.

I loved the college town feel, and the beauty of campus: in Tulsa, I barely spent any time outdoors because I lived in a parched subdivision with no trees or recreation. In Norman, I could and did walk anywhere, all times of the year: bars, parks, grassy knolls, libraries, school.

Ahh, The Library: so many cheese and cracker platters consumed, so many packs of Marlboro Reds purchased at the bar.

Or I could take a bus! College was my happiest and most successful time in life to date, and Brian and I still wax nostalgic about it. If Norman could be awesome – and it’s even further south than Tulsa, with even hotter temps and crazier storms — then I couldn’t write off the whole state.

(To be continued with one more wrap up post!)

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