I grew up in a West Texas town called Andrews. There were no bookstores or coffee shops, but there was a dust-filled county library. That's where I fell in love with the written word. I remember Cindy Tochterman, the head librarian, reading Shel Silverstein poems out loud and encouraging me to delve into the classics. And although I did spend a good chunk of my childhood thumbing my way through imaginary worlds, I was an oil-patch kid. The bookishness was countered with football games and dirt clod wars and biking all over town with my hooligan friends.
Out on those mesquite-studded plains, hard work is more valued than literary prowess. I got my first job at fourteen, digging ditches for an ex-con with a forearm tattoo: a faded green rat flipping the bird. The next year I started crawling around in attics for the local electric company. I worked at Mustang Electric throughout high school and, after I went to college, came home every summer to pick up electrical work, which enabled me to travel abroad. It was a good trade to learn as a young man. I still occasionally wire houses or hang ceiling fans for friends.
After graduating from high school in 2007, I left dry West Texas for the cool waters of the Texas Hill Country. I accepted a full-ride scholarship to Texas State University, in San Marcos, to study English and History. I spent most weekends exploring the San Marcos River by kayak and devoted nights to sneaking beers and listening to music at Cheatham Street Warehouse, a ramshackle honky-tonk on the railroad tracks in the center of town. Cheatham became a kind of home away from home. I wrote a history of the legendary venue for my Honors Studies thesis. As a sophomore, I spent part of the summer studying abroad at Oxford University in England. It was surreal walking those cobblestones in my boots. I had never felt more out of place or closer to my literary heroes. Later that year, I got my first job as a writer, penning features for The University Star, the Texas State student newspaper founded by Lyndon Baines Johnson. In December 2010, I completed my degrees and became the first person in my family to graduate from college.
My next stop was Galway, Ireland. I spent two years at the National University of Ireland, where I wrote a full-length play, published a handful of poems, and compiled an oral history of Irish pubs in the fifties. While at NUIG, I produced my first radio show, Boots & Bones, a showcase of alt- and classic-country. I also fell in love with Ireland—its people, its pubs, its music, and its whiskey. Inspired by Chet Raymo's Honey from Stone, I spent ten days walking some 200 miles along the coast from Kinvara to Dingle and capped off this secular pilgrimage by climbing Mount Brandon at the end. I graduated with a Master of Arts in Writing in 2012.
I spent the following year working for an oilfield company in my hometown. They sent me to the frigid Northeast for the first couple of months, where it was my job to scrub radioactive sludge off of mulit-million-dollar Pipeline Inspection Gauges, or "PIGs," as we called them. (Don't worry; I have yet to sprout an eleventh toe.) The rest of my oilfield days were spent running tools all over the Permian Basin and Eastern New Mexico, at times leading a roustabout crew and sometimes roughnecking as a floorhand on a work-over rig. [I wrote about my year-long education for Texas Monthly: Learning to Roughneck]
In 2014, I returned to San Marcos to pursue an MA in Literature at Texas State—and to be near an anthropology student named Lauren. (Three years later, we exchanged wedding vows on a small island off the Irish coast.) As a grad student, I worked as a Teacher's Assistant for an American Literature class and presented a paper on Larry McMurtry's first novel at the annual Western Literature Association conference. I also served as a poetry editor for Southwestern American Literature, read Ulysses (one of the greatest pleasures of my life), relaunched Boots & Bones, and landed an internship at Texas Monthly, thanks to a recommendation from writer Joe Nick Patoski and the go-ahead from senior editor John Spong. I quit school in January 2016 to accept a full-time position at the magazine as a writer and fact-checker.
Since then I have written several features for TM, including the July 2018 cover story on Myrtis Dightman, the hall-of-fame bull rider who many consider "the Jackie Robinson of rodeo." I am now an Associate Editor and continue to work as a fact-checker and writer.
The subjects that most interest me as a writer include: music, Texas history, literature, film, cowboy heritage, and blue-collar grit. Travel remains a personal passion, and my love affair with Ireland has yet to wane. Mostly, I continue to get my kicks from well-arranged words. I still write and read poetry and sometimes try to draw a song out of my Alvarez, but I'm concentrated on nonfiction at the moment, which you can read at TexasMonthly.
Please feel free to email with your questions, comments, or pitches: settleyourdust[at]gmail.com.