From a few weeks back in Sanger, Texas, when it had been raining for days on end and I was craving some sunshine. You should have seen my face when this field of bright yellow flowers came into view. Utter delight.
It’s been a little quiet around here because life offline has been extra full.
Last week I moved from Dallas back to Houston. Depending on the person and their relationship to me, it was either an enormous surprise or a long time coming. Honestly, it was sometimes both, to myself, depending on the day.
When I moved to Houston the first time, it was more or less an escape from a nightmarish job in Austin. Interning for Kingsland turned out to be a dream position for me, and the people were incredible; but when I read back journals from that time, I’m reminded how set I was on it being just an interim gig while I figured out my next move. When I left a year and a half ago, I wanted to leave. I figured I’d never go back.
The only reason I didn’t go further than Dallas at the time was because I was dating someone there, and the move was a logical one. When that relationship ended two weeks later (more a surprise to others than either of us in it), a lot of people assumed I would move back home — but Houston wasn’t home then, and I certainly wasn’t sad to be in a new place with a job I could already tell I loved. The only thing I might have changed was to have gone a longer ways away; to Colorado Springs, maybe, or Charlotte or Santa Fe.
Over the next 17 months, I got to build RightNow Media’s social media marketing from scratch — overarching strategy, voice, branding, content plan, visual direction, everything — and, with the help of a wildly talented creative team, grow it to a healthy, steadily-growing community. I’m so proud of the work I got to do for the company, and excited to hand off a dynamic product to a new coordinator and see them run with it.
I got to sit under the teaching of The Village Church and be part of a small group of kind, vulnerable, and hilarious humans who pushed me to seek Christ in my everyday.
I made some of the best friends you can imagine, the kind of friends that should be once-in-a-lifetime but for some reason I get to have extra, because God is real and loves me.
I didn’t — and this sounds like an exaggeration, but I swear to you, it is not — go a single workday without full-on belly laughing. You would, too, if you got to share a workspace with Mike Marshall, Daniel Lu, Chase Martin, Jeff Smith, Jared Tohlen, Mateo Boyd, Charles Dew and Megan Kvalvik. (Some people measure their success in money or achievement. I think I might measure mine in laughter.)
I had the freedom to write and travel a lot. The Texas Water Safari story I produced is probably my favorite writing accomplishment to date, although the 254 Challenge is giving it a run for its money in pure enjoyment.
In short, I loved all that my time in Dallas held.
But something weird happened during my time there, too.
I started missing Houston.
When people asked where I was from, I felt it tug on my soul. I’d say Austin, but I’d always end up talking about Houston. I started driving back more frequently. I started sacrificing PTO to stay a little longer. I started crying, reliably, when I left. Suddenly, not only was I glad I hadn’t gone further than Dallas; I wished I wasn’t so far away.
In the hours on I-45 between the two cities, I spent a lot of time praying, thinking, debating. I wondered (to myself and others) if I was crazy to leave what I had in Dallas, and if I was crazy to miss out on what I had in Houston. I also wanted to wait until I was absolutely sure that what I felt was true and not just an itch.
Finally, the right conditions lined up. RightNow’s social media was at a good transition point. Kingsland needed a contract writer for a year to revise and rewrite their youth curriculum — a project with and for people I love. Three of my friends in the area all had leases up at the end of October and found a great four-bedroom house for rent. My roommate and I pretty easily found a subletter. It all worked, and I went ahead and took the leap.
Was it easy? Absolutely not. And what a privilege, right? To have two places, multiple opportunities, groups of people I love and who love me back to make decisions hard. But sometimes you just know something’s right, and this was.
I’m in Houston by choice now, with a unique community of people and the perfect place to try my hand at going completely freelance as a writer and marketing professional — something I’ve always wanted to do, but not felt confident I could pull off until this year. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s home, and I know that now.
As Tsh Oxenreider once said after an unexpected move back to her own hometown, “Going back isn’t the same as never leaving.”
Grateful to be grateful — to know what I have, and to have not gone so far that I couldn’t return.
Here’s to the move back down south!
I would like to take this moment to emphasize the word “alleged.”
A little editing practice on some photos I snapped last weekend in Driftwood (and at the creek in Wimberley for good measure, but it was too full and greened up not to).
I was staying with my grandparents, and the cloudy light was perfect after lunch on Sunday. I asked if they’d be up to drive by the old Texaco building and let me snap a few photos, and not only were they down, they kind of caught the bug — driving around to different places or pulling off because I should definitely get a photo of this or that. (The post office, for example, was entirely my grandad’s idea.)
I think my impulsive travel habits and the writing/photography that goes along with them have often felt a little like a rebellious streak to me — something that, if given the choice, my family might prefer I simmer down on a bit. This may or may not be true; and even if it is, depending on the situation, fair enough. But the moments that they encourage it or, better yet, get on board and participate? Those are my absolute happiest moments.
My parents drove to Colorado this summer, and on their way up, I called my mom to check in.
“Oh, we just passed through Amarillo,” she told me, then laughed. “It’s funny — we’re like, in the middle of nowhere in the panhandle, and your dad just said, ‘Ryley needs to come here. She would love this.’”
You can’t expect your quirks to be understood all the time. But when they are? That’s the best.
Someone asked me this week how “the driving thing” started for me — driving for the ramble of it, with no particular goal or destination in mind. It’s occupied my thoughts often since. The more I tried to remember when it started, the more I realized how long I’ve been doing it.
When I first got my license, my family lived at the south end of MoPac in Austin, where it meets FM 1826 and starts fading into Driftwood and Dripping Springs. It wasn’t uncommon for me to make up errands I needed to run, and instead take a few extra laps around the area, aimlessly humming with the radio and turning down unfamiliar roads.
The last day of my junior year of high school was a blue-sky dream. All my classmates stuck around campus for some sort of “welcome to summer” celebration. I lasted about five minutes before I split — I had a ‘99 single cab Chevy Silverado at the time, and I threw my shoes in the bed and drove it all the way to Wimberley with the speakers dangerously close to blowing out, for no reason at all. I remember thinking it was a way better celebration than theirs.
During my senior year of high school, I found solace on a particular hill in a yet-undeveloped Driftwood subdivision. Whenever I needed to think or pray or just be, I’d drive myself up top of it, roll the windows down, cut the engine and prop my feet on the dashboard; staring out at the hill country horizon until the sun went down. Years later, when I was living in Austin again after college, I offered to house- and dog-sit for a sweet family in my church. I arrived at the given address and found, in disbelief, that their house sat on the exact same hill, in almost the exact same spot. The two weeks I spent in their quiet house, taking early morning walks with their dog and drinking coffee on their porch, ended up being some of the most peaceful I had in what was a tough season. I made some big, important decisions there — to have a hard conversation with a good friend, to quit my job, to move to Katy for another — and the setting always felt poetic to me.
I drove miles of Virginia hills in college and started taking more road trips, too; and in Austin, Houston, and Dallas since, I’ve kept the habit up. Quiet roads with my thoughts and the radio cure what ails me — which is usually nothing more than a little restlessness. It satisfies my curiosity. It reminds me how free I am to leave, which always makes it easier to stay. It assures me that there’s a lot more room in the world than I sometimes feel. Room enough for me.
An evening drive on the backroads of Bonham a few weeks ago soothed my soul the same way it always does, and I snapped a photo that somehow almost captured the feeling for me. (Texas Monthly picked it up for their Photo Friday series a couple weeks ago — fun getting to share that feeling with others!)