By Guest Ranter Susan Leigh Tomlinson. In this excerpt from “Pentimento”, published in the literary journal Isotope, Susan describes her complicated relationship with the land around Lubbock, Texas, known locally as the Llano.
Normally this is the place where I would have an epiphany of sorts and come to realize that the beauty is indeed there, but hidden. But if you’ll permit me, I’m going to swing a little wide of the standard paean to the comeliness of nature. Because except for the brief moments I see this pentimento and I can convince myself that this landscape is visually pleasing, the rest of the time I have to own up to the bald-faced truth: The place I call home is, by most standards, butt-ugly. That fact simply will not go away, no matter how hard I try to stuff it in a Sunday suit and take it to the dance.
And it is beauty that we value, not the lack of it. I’m no different from anyone else in this. It takes grit to love an ugly landscape. Some days I feel I have it, and some days I don’t. But what is love anyway but a relationship that has its ups and downs? What is it but commitment? Real love, in a sense, transcends the simple emotions that are the result of aesthetic appeal. It has to, or the first time a spouse or child was less than beautiful or likeable (and it’s going to happen) we’d walk away.
Maybe it is more accurate to say that I don’t always find the Llano especially attractive, but I have decided to love it. And god help me, a place this ugly needs someone to love it. And that’s the other side of the story, isn’t it? Suppose I did live in a place that was easy to love? It might even have that mountain range, or seascape, or burbling brook. I could look out my window every morning, sip my tea, and say, “My, isn’t nature a pip?” And that would be a very nice life. I will not lie to you, if someone offered me the opportunity this very minute, I’d be hard pressed to turn my back on it.
It is easy—natural, even—to desire that which is beautiful. Beauty takes hardly any grit a’tall. But the unlovely place is like the odd girl in the schoolyard, with the bad haircut and the wrong clothes, to whom nobody ever talks. Perhaps it is a measure of character to choose to overlook these shortcomings. Perhaps we would be surprised at what we find beneath the surface. Perhaps I am sympathetic to the unlovely landscape because I was that girl in the schoolyard. I know what it feels like to be overlooked. I know what a mistake it is.