A Fresh Oxymoron: Fat Middle-Aged Hipster

I’ve heard a lot of opinions about Portland being thrown around.  But the majority opinion is that Portlanders are smug, snobby, unfriendly, and obsessed with their own scenes.  It’s a city filled with hipsters and some people I know purposefully avoid hanging out in the areas most frequented by them.

I have such a different take on Portland and the hipster crowd.  I have been met with friendliness by most of the people I’ve interacted with in Portland.  It’s a much friendlier city to me than San Francisco, a city I still love.  Way more friendly than anywhere in Marin County or in the East Bay.  They’re certainly friendlier to me than the people in McMinnville.  While I have heard them described as being snobby I don’t see it.

I think there’s plenty to laugh about when a city is full of young people who take their scenes and ideals really seriously and I feel free to make fun of hipsters the way people felt free to make fun of me when I was a young (obviously super cool) fashion designer in San Francisco running around in my 1950’s bathing suit and a man’s silk smoking robe.  However, after almost 6 years living in a blue collar town full of conservative non-hipster people who dress like there’s nothing to hope for and no one to impress, I love nothing more than to go to downtown Portland or to 23 rd Street and hang out.  I feel comfortable where the young fashionable people are bustling around.  There is no better place to enjoy such people than at Powell’s Books.

I just realized yesterday that that’s because I’m one of them.  Right, I know, you’re seeing a fat middle aged woman who dresses like there’s no one to impress and nothing to hope for.  And you’re right, I’ve been worn down and out and I dress with only one objective now and that’s to not stand out too much so people won’t feel so inclined to notice my rotundity.  But this isn’t who I really am.  If I wasn’t fat I would wear such different clothes than anyone’s seen me in in years and you would understand how I feel so at home with all those “too cool for themselves” people with their interesting fashion and their piercings and their tattoos and their interest in sustainable living and eating locally and organically and doing everything themselves, and bicycling to work.

How did having ideals and fun with fashion and having a vision of the world you want to live in become equivalent to being smug?  If so, then I’m smug too.  I suppose people have accused me of that behind my back.  That’s alright.  I’ve been called worse things than that before that weren’t true either.

If I were to ever move to Portland I would either move to my mom’s old neighborhood near 23rd street (a walk to TJ’s and Powell’s and the public library) or I’d live around the Alberta area where all the interesting looking people run around.  Because if I ever get out of this godforsaken town I’m not going to ever live in another place where people are dreary and just fine with the status-quo and where going to the grocery store with all five of your kids in your pyjama flannels is considered de rigueur.

I love Portland.  I LOVE IT.  I love the energy there, the people, and it’s the cleanest city I’ve ever walked.  I love the fashion and the stores (which I don’t shop in because I can’t afford to but I still love to look at them) and the buildings.  I love the Lucky Lab and The Kennedy School and I love the farmer’s markets.  I love the fact that I see Vespas and other scooters all over Portland streets.  I love that every neighborhood has at least 2 dog parks.  I love that the city is overwhelmingly politically liberal, that people are having new ideas and living what they preach.

Here in McMinnville it’s all about the huge trucks, good ol’ minivans to tote around your huge family in, hunting, praying, going to church events, caring for your lawns by soaking the ground in poison, and dreaming of job promotions at Safeway.  No, not all McMinnvillains are like this.  There are some cool people here who are passionate about sustainable living and buying local and trading out the gas guzzling vehicles for small fuel efficient cars and there are definitely a few people ripping out there lawns to grow food and some of them are also passionate about doing it organically, but that’s just a very small proportion of this town’s people.

In thinking about how people have different views of cities I have to admit that quite a few people I’ve talked to here disagree with me about McMinnville.  They see it as a liberal town with lots of cool people in it who aren’t bible thumpers.  So I know we’re seeing from different perspectives and we’re all judging based on our relative experiences of other places we’ve lived too.  I came up from California, from one of the most liberal areas in that state so my idea of liberal is going to be different than someone who’s always lived in more conservative places.  I also had a kinder view of this town when I had more close friends who I really understood – who were so much like us and felt like family.  It made this town’s darker side more amusing but they’ve moved away and it’s definitely stripped away my comfort and my ability to find amusement in brass testicles hanging from two story trucks.

So when I go to Portland I want to go where there’s color and life and people dressing up and having fun and being into their scenes.  Hanging out in Powell’s Books is like going to the hipster’s church and it’s also mine.  Going there reminds me that there are still cool people out there in the world, outside of my weird-ass little community.  Maybe I’m not so cool now but that doesn’t bother me.  I want the energy of the young idealists around me.  I think it’s pretty great that my mom loves the same areas of Portland and for the same reasons.  That’s why she chose to live in the 23rd street neighborhood which gave me somewhere to explore from.

Sometimes you have to make dreadful mistakes and wrong turns in life to find out what will kill you inside, to find out just how far outside of your comfort zone you can live.  I love my house and my garden here.  I have made some connections with good people here and I have some acquaintances slowly becoming friends and I have my two really close friends who haven’t moved away yet (though I don’t see either of them more than once a month usually which is not so great) so it isn’t as if I hate everything and everyone in this town.

But I’ve never had such a non-stop run with depression as I have since moving here.  That’s the bald truth.  I’ve been broke as shit in San Francisco and was much happier in general.  As a person with clinical depression I’ve never been free of the cycles of depression but when I’m happy with where I am and with my life in general the depression is an actual cycle that fluctuates giving me breathers between bouts.  I have recently realized that I’ve been solidly depressed for the past six years.  I have worked so hard against it.  Some things have improved and some things have worsened.

I think this town is slowly killing me inside.

That’s the thought that’s been rudely shouting itself out in my head all week.  A thought I’ve been suppressing for a long time, not allowing myself to say it, to think it, or to believe it.  It finally found voice and it won’t shut up.

But this is where I live.

This is where Philip has work and we have a house.

So here we are.


  1. fala says:

    How you feel about McMinnville is how I felt about Humboldt — I was so incredibly depressed and hopeless there. I ended up in Portland purely by chance but I am SO THANKFUL every day that I did.

    If you need to get out of McMinnville, you’ll find a way — you’re smart & resourceful. And Portland is pretty cheap to live in, for a city. You wouldn’t need a giant leap in income to live here. For me, one of the most awesome things about the city is its great love of The Second Hand and all the great thrift stores! And second hand book stores, junk shops, etc.

    Another area you might check out is SE Division/Clinton Street. Personally, I love that area because it’s funky, with odd little shops and stuff like those other neighborhoods, but it’s still got the old-school indie feeling that areas like NW 23rd and Hawthorne had 15 years ago.

  2. fala says:

    I forgot to mention, too, that I think my definition of “hipster” is verrrry different than what you describe here.

  3. angelina says:

    Fala – our definition of hipsters might be different. But I also think that you and I have different comfort zones at play too. I don’t see us leaving McMinnville for a long time. Like we talked about yesterday – the complications of our situation suggest I need a long term plan. I’m getting into my garden more often and that gives me great pleasure and takes the sting out of my feelings for this town a little.

  4. IzzyMom says:

    I know the feeling. I’m stuck in a very red city, thanks to my husband’s job, and a house worth a fraction of the modest price we paid for it ten years ago. It can be soul crushing, at times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.