Tag Archives: Portland

That’s all, I don’t think of you that often

While it might be really lame and cliche to write a “year end retrospective” post on this ole here bloggy thing, I’m going to do it anyway. Now that my time in Portland is being counted down (somewhat eagerly, I must admit), I can reflect back upon a few revelations I’ve had this year.

Despite a brief period of desperately wanting to go back to Austin, my wandering days are decidedly not over. Tom is applying to, I believe, 14 graduate programs, and about half of the places he’s applying, I’m pretty excited to potentially live in. We sort of made a tentative decision that if, for some reason, he doesn’t get into any of them, we will hightail it back to where our hearts lie, to our beloved Texas. And while I do want to end up in Austin, I’m not sure I’m totally ready to go back just yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

I hope he doesn’t mind my telling people this, but one of the schools where Tom is applying is University of Memphis. We both desperately hope that’s where we end up. I keep researching Memphis, and it sounds amazing. And a good high school friend of mine lives there. I went there a lot growing up, but I haven’t been as an adult. The idea of living someplace cheap is also very exciting.

Most of the schools where Tom is applying also have PhD programs I can apply to for the fall of 2011, which I’ve decided I want to do. I know a lot of people in doctorate programs right now, and I’m, like, a thousand times smarter than most of them are.

Inspired by this person, I have completed my first novel, and I’m working on the second draft right now. I have 2 more books in the pipeline as well that I want to write. One of which I’ll probably start on very soon.

Portland has, in my opinion, an unearned reputation. I am disillusioned. People here are mean. I’ve overheard more offensive conversations here than anyplace I’ve ever lived. I’ve had more shit (like “faggot” and “fucking idiot”) shouted at me from cars while I’m walking around than anyplace I’ve ever lived. People here speed up when you’re walking across the street. People are rude on the trains (and everywhere else). The weather is ungodly. It’s crime-ridden and drug use is completely out of control. Even nice people are flakes and non-committal. It has its positives too, though, I guess. It does have great public transit, even if it’s true that most people in the city hate it and complain about it and think it’s a waste of tax dollars and it’s annoying when it holds up traffic, and most people here are actually quite anti-density. Despite that, the density is nice. Even beyond the transit, I love that I can walk to almost everything I need from where I live: myriad bars, restaurants, coffee shops, 4 grocery stores, 2 movie theaters, a post office, 2 video stores. And that’s just in my immediate vicinity. There’s much more I can walk to in neighboring neighborhoods, within about 15 minutes. It’s a beautiful city, the prettiest I’ve ever seen, surrounded by the most awe-inspiring country that exists on this continent, I’m convinced. But I’m over it. Everytime I meet a new person here (at a party, say, or at work) and they learn I’m from Texas, I end up spending 20 minutes defending it, and usually they’ve never even been there, or they were in the Houston airport once. Which I both love and hate doing.

Now that I’m doing it, I’m no longer convinced counseling is something I want to do for a living. At least not full-time. I know, I’m never happy. Seriously.

I think I still want to move to Europe or Mexico. Maybe Tom and I can both become paid writers eventually and do that. In many ways I’m very grateful to be alive at this point in time, but there’s definitely a part of me that wishes I lived in the 1940’s or something. At least as it’s idealized in my head and through literature.

I kind of like having no idea where I’m going to be in 9 months, or even what part of the country I’ll be in. It’s exciting.

Happy New Year!! May 2010 be two thousand times better than 2009.



More on my Flickr page!

Only the beginning

Fall has officially arrived, but only barely. I can’t wait until the leaves burst into their true glory. These are some trees outside our living room window that have started to turn. I really noticed them this morning. The pictures don’t do them justice; they’re stunningly gorgeous, and a lot more pink than they appear in these pics. But they’re pretty anyway.



Compassion Fatigue

Everyone in the “helping professions” feels it from time to time. They warn us about it in school and make sure we take time for “self care.” People who don’t take time for themselves are the ones that burn out. I didn’t think I would start feeling it quite so soon, but I think my particular case has more to do with my job with the imprisoned children than with anything else. My reservoir of compassion for dealing with constant disrespect and violence (and getting bloodied in the line of duty) is running dry.

Or maybe I’m just feeling fatigued. Been having an extremely difficult time getting out of bed in the mornings. Maybe sleeping too much. Fighting off allergies so bad that I’m having sinus headaches for days that make me nauseous. I’m resisting the idea that maybe it’s a low-grade depression setting in. The days are already so short. It’s raining more. The sky has been gray, and the days chilly and windy. I love fall; I’m looking forward to the crisp air and leaves changing, but dreading the gray skies and rain. Conversations with long-time Portlanders has again started to turn to UV lamps installed in living rooms and above headboards. I’m so worried about healthcare reform that my stomach is in knots and it keeps me awake. Before there was the potential for anything to be better, it was tolerable (barely). But now that we’ve gotten so close to such a better world, having it slip away will be devastating.

But the internship is going really well. I’m loving some of my clients, and doing really good work, which is pleasing me a great deal. There are some other organizations in town I’m super excited to maybe start getting involved with (like this one that I totally have a crush on, and that SMYRC is going to start working with in some capacity, and that thrills me) in all of my free time (*snort*). This city has such incredible social service agencies. It’s so inspiring. Too bad it’s totally fucked in almost every other capacity. The city can’t even pay schoolteachers anymore, so they’re just firing them all. During the last legislative session, the governor warned (perhaps somewhat hyperbolically) that if teachers want to keep schools open, they should start working for free. It’s incredibly depressing. Oregon is officially broke and jobless.

But I’m happy overall. With my internship. My clients. School. My little nest with my boyfriend and my kitten and my warm books. Leonard Cohen at the Isle of Wight in 1970 on the TV right now.

She rides the night next to me

We had a busy weekend. On Friday night we checked out a screening of Dirty Dancing, which also happened to be a “quote-along, sing-along, dance-along” performance. DD is one of my favorite movies (unironically) and Tom had never seen it. I was reticent to have him experience it for the first time in that environment, but as it turned out it was super fun, and it was maybe the perfect environment to experience such a ridiculous but also awesome movie for the first time.

Saturday we had to go get some renter’s insurance, then made a quick trip to the PSU farmer’s market, where we spent almost $20, and got the most delicious strawberries that ever existed. That evening we went to a friend’s housewarming party in the Pearl, and saw Food, Inc, which was shocking. Even after reading Michael Pollan, and Mark Bittman, and Eric Schlosser, there are images in that movie I’ll never forget. I’ve been toying lately with the idea of going vegetarian again anyway, and I think that movie finally pushed me over the edge. At least unless I buy the meat myself, and I get it from some friendly farmer at the farmer’s market. I can’t recommend the movie enough, even though it’s infuriating and depressing.

Today we had a leisurely morning and saw a $1 screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is one of Tom’s favorite movies, but I’d never seen it. How could I say no after he went to see Dirty Dancing with me? Plus, it sounded fun. Since we saw the extended version, I definitely thought it was too long, but I think most movies over 80 minutes are too long. I had a really good time, and thought it was hilarious, and that it looked gorgeous.

I realized today at one point when I was waiting for the train downtown that I feel really at home here. Strangely, what caused this epiphany is that I realized I know which trains are coming just by the way they’re color-coded, without having to read the signs, and I knew that the yellow train (“City Center”) coming my way wasn’t the one I needed. I can’t tell you how much I love living in a city that has “America’s Best Transit System” according to plaques on the trains. Despite all the rumors I’d heard about Portland’s great public transit, I was very nervous giving up my car, and felt like I was taking a real leap of faith, especially without ever even having been here. I’m glad it’s a leap that’s paid off (for the most part). Of course sometimes I still wish I had a car, but honestly, I rarely even think about it anymore, except when I want to leave town, and then it’s kind of a bummer. But then I think about how I don’t have to worry about gas prices (I saw a gas station yesterday as I was passing it in the streetcar, and was shocked to see that gas is up to $3 again), I don’t have to go get oil changes, I don’t have to pay insurance, and I don’t have to pay for costly repairs, or, even more importantly, freak out and panic when I realize I won’t have a car for days because it’s getting costly repairs. When I think about possibly leaving Portland in the next few years, I realize I will miss this aspect of this city more than anything else. And also maybe the fact that it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever set foot in, completely engulfed as it is, by nature.

But I’m thinking about composing a whole post here soon about how my life has changed since going car-less, so I’ll save it. Until then, go crazy for some Swayze.

Culture of Disaster

The “Good Friday” earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska is the largest earthquake in North American history, and the third largest earthquake in terms of richter size, in the history of the world (since earthquake records have been kept). It measured a 9.5 and shook the ground for over 4 straight minutes (compared to roughly 10 seconds or so for normal earthquakes).


It also caused tsunamis all the way down the coast to Northern California, where 12 people were killed; in Oregon, 4 children were swept off a beach; and a Canadian inlet, 55 houses were totally washed away.

Tsunami damage in Kodiak, Alaska

Tsunami damage in Kodiak, Alaska

The Alaska quake was a subduction zone earthquake, which occurs when an ocean plate slides beneath a continental plate or another ocean plate. These produce the deadliest quakes (think the 2004 Indian Ocean quake). As it turns out, there is a subduction zone 50 miles off the coast of Oregon. Last time it unleashed a massive tremblor was in 1700, where it reportedly caused tsunamis in Japan. According to seismologists quoted in The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith by David Ulin, which I’m obsessing over at the moment, this particular zone should blow off steam (i.e., produce a massive, devastating quake) every 200-500 years. If it were to happen now, it would completely wipe out the entire coast of Oregon.

As it turns out, there are three huge fault lines running underneath Portland, two of which are directly underneath downtown. One, the Portland Hills Fault, is about 6 blocks west of where Tom and I live. Scientists are unsure if any of these faults are even still active or have ever really produced substantial earthquakes, but they all agree that the Portland Hills Fault is the most likely to blow any time soon (in fact, they give it about a 10% chance of producing a sizable quake in the next 30 years). If it goes, the west hills would completely liquefy, and everything on them (all those million dollar homes precariously placed over the city on pencil-thin stilts) would come crashing into downtown, making a lot of people really unhappy. There was a fairly unpleasant earthquake in Portland in 1993, which shook residents out of their beds and damaged some buildings, but strangely, geologists aren’t sure where it came from. They all agree that there is a far greater chance of Portland being disturbed by earthquakes in Washington, as it was when Portland residents felt the richter 6.8 Seattle quake in 2001. And in 1949, there was a huge earthquake in Olympia that killed 11 residents there.

Damage from the 2001 Nisqually (Seattle) earthquake

Damage from the 2001 Nisqually (Seattle) earthquake

And God bless you.

Tom and I have this new thing we do, where anytime we see anything in our neighborhood that’s weird, or disturbing, or just annoying, we turn to each other and say, “We live downtown!” It is a bit like living in a different city from before, namely that our neighborhood has tons of homeless people in it. They live here just like we do, except we have a nice apartment to go into.

There is one lady, though, that hangs out at the front entrance of the Trader Joe’s right by our house. She doesn’t beg for money, she just sits on the sidewalk with a large sign that says, “God Bless You,” and she mostly looks like she’s praying. And she’ll also occasionally say, “God bless you,” as you walk by, but she’s never aggressive or even asks for anything. I made a comment to Tom the other night as we were leaving that having to step over homeless people with your arms full of bags of fresh, healthy food as you leave the grocery store adds new meaning to feeling guilty. But I try to acknowledge her when we walk by, either by nodding or saying hello.

The other night, though, we were standing in line checking out at the register closest to the door, when this lady swooped in angrily and practically crawled over us to complain to our cashier about this homeless lady outside. She practically demanded that he make her go away, because she made the lady feel “uncomfortable,” and freaked her out, and also “freaked out” her children. Then she stomped off and nestled her two young, obviously sort of upset looking boys to her and they walked into the store.

The three of us, Tom, myself, and the cashier, all just sort of stood there, stunned, looking at each other. We made the requisite jokes about going back to Hillsboro (a truly hideous and plastic suburb), and to stop slumming it in Portland. And that she was in a dense, old downtown area of a major city, what did she expect? The cashier told us, though, that the homeless lady had cancer and was dying, and continued to criticize the bitch that complained, saying, “That’s what happens when people have cancer. They waste away, and don’t look healthy like you and I do.”

When we left I made a point of looking the homeless lady in the eye and smiling at her, and she said, “You guys have a great night now.”

Mostly the situation made me sad (and this happened last Sunday or Monday, and I’ve been thinking about it all week) because it was such a wasted opportunity. That lady that complained could have used that as a chance to show her sons how some people have really shitty lives, but still deserve respect. And that some people are homeless and sick and have to beg for money on street corners. Why not use the situation to help your children foster a sense of compassion and empathy, rather than fear and revulsion?

The older I get, the more I appreciate so many things my parents did for me when I was growing up. The first time I recall seeing a homeless person was when we were on a family vacation in Florida, sometime when I was around 5 or 6. We were having breakfast at a McDonald’s and a homeless guy walked in and started digging through a trash can near us and pulled out pieces of food and ate them. As a child I was stunned and couldn’t stop staring at him. But did my parents freak out and go tell the manager to kick him out? No, they took that time to explain to me and my brothers that yes, sometimes in the world, people are starving and eat out of trashcans. We shouldn’t stare, but they wanted us to see it. They wanted us to know that we were lucky. They wanted us to be aware that these people existed, and it was sad.

I hope those two boys get that same kind of lesson someday.