Tag: cities

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.

Take Your Blessings with Your Salt

When I was growing up I knew Portland as the city that swallowed runaway teens up whole and spat them out on the streets as heroin addicts.

I also knew it as a city of lights and snaking twisting raised freeways that was gorgeous as you drove up to it from the south at night.

I knew it as a place of brick and mortar and the place my mother took us for a book signing for her cookbook that my dad and she printed themselves.  She dressed beautifully and I have a very small photo of her from that trip that I cherish.

I looked out over roof-tops and thought it a place of vast possibility and vast decay.

When you’re an adult you don’t hear about the runaway teens so much.  They don’t tell you things.  They don’t reach into your sleep.  There’s still heroin and runaways but it’s less personal now.  It isn’t myth and mist.

Now I see signs like this and I live in a different world where parents are trying to make a living to support children and the economy is smashed to bits in every personal kitchen except Donald Trump’s and who cares about men so clueless they insist on the ridiculous comb-over twenty years past its prime?

I almost cried when I saw this sign because it doesn’t matter if it’s a gimmick, it doesn’t matter if the dry cleaning company has a line to throw, I’ve been there.  I’ve been the person with the ratty clothes and no proper laundry soap but a harsh bar in the bathroom sink and that is so much more than many had or have now.  I didn’t have the polish needed to convince anyone but Wendy’s to hire me.

There are moments in a person’s life when an offer for free dry cleaning for your best outfit for job interviews is like winning the lottery.  I will never  be so jaded that I don’t applaud a business for an act of kindness so simple and so important.

I took Friday off from all work and personal responsibility.  I took the whole day off to see friends, to walk the city streets, to get out of bible town, to remember I belong to a larger community, to meet new friends and visit with old friends.  I centered my entire afternoon around Powell’s Books, my Mecca, my place of prayer, my imperfect yet magical place of peace.

Portland is San Francisco twenty years ago; rough, refurbishing, developing strong identity and conscience, rising, shouting out loud!

Except that Portland is full of lush trees and a lot less trash.

There is no perfect city.  There is no perfect place.  There’s only the place that calls to you the most loudly.  You listen if you’re smart.  Portland is my place right now.

I visited the public library in the Pearl for the first time.  It reminded me of a smaller gentler San Francisco library.  The old one, not the new one.  It was filled with marble stairs and columns, rose covered short pile carpets, and beautiful multi-light windows with rounded tops that let in the bright afternoon sun, muted like it should always be.

The best thing about it was a life-sized cast of a tree in the children’s section.  The metal tree trunk hides all kinds of things like birds and spiggots and everything at childrens’ level is shiny from the polishing of little touching hands.

There is a part of me that knows if I lived there I would cease to be lost, fat, and lonely.

Part of me knows that’s just its siren song.

I spent many hours touching books, inhaling them, coveting, perusing, filing them away for future dreams and in the end, after an entire day in Portland revolving around Powell’s I sat down in the cafe there with my flimsy two purchases and watched the sun sink slowly outside the window with my book propped against my bags, my feet tired, and my brain drifting from the pages I tried to read.  A young red headed girl sat two chairs down from me.  She was everything sweet, young, pretty, and stylish.  I enjoyed her beauty with detachment.

Except that I couldn’t not notice that she seemed really forlorn.  She reminded me of someone.  She stared out the same window I stared out of except that I felt a sharp contrast between us because while I stared out the window distractedly wondering what the passersby thought of the fat woman in the window who isn’t ugly but who is not an ideal person this young girl was staring out the same window with a dreadful weight, not of body but of spirit.  I realized that while I imagined passersby criticizing my fat distorted body I really am happy with most of my life.  Sure, there’s a lot of stress and a lot up in the air but I sat there anticipating the meet up between me and the two loves of my life who might wish me to be a healthier weight but who love me love me love me.

This young girl was looking out the same window like a person heartbroken and alone.  She was truly lovely.  The kind of girl I must think it impossible isn’t coveted and loved sincerely by at least five men (or maybe women- who cares?).   Loved she must be!

She turned her blue eyes to me and asked me if I liked boys or girls.

I asked her if she meant as friends or romantically.  She said “to go out with”.

I told her I preferred boys in that way.

She asked me if we should depend on anyone for our happiness?  Should we expect someone to make us happy and be dependable.  She was very grave and very calm the way heartbroken beautiful young women can be and the smallest tears escaped her careful watch though there wasn’t the least quiver in her voice to betray her agony.

She asked if I thought it important for everyone to have someone, to be paired up, or is it possible to be happy alone.

She wanted to know if I thought it was normal, or possible, to live a good life alone?

I told her that if she was really unhappy being alone then it’s okay if she doesn’t want to be but that if she feels better being alone that’s okay too.

She looked at me doubtfully, not quite the answer she was looking for.

My heart went out to her.  I saw myself in her though I doubt I ever had her delicate beauty to begin with.  How is not half of Portland in love with this lovely girl already?  I answered her.  I didn’t hesitate.  I told her that when I was a lot younger, around her age most likely, I dated a number of men who forced me to ask why I bothered pairing up with anyone at all.  I told her how I scoured myself for answers to my loneliness and I found it.

I decided that the thing to do was to not go out with anyone at all.  My plan was to be single for the rest of my life.  I told her how I realized that I could have plenty of fun by myself and that I set about learning to enjoy my own company more than anyone else’s and that it was really fantastic and for a few years it was great and then I got knocked in the heart by someone who broke through.

That’s how it goes.

I told her that if she’s hurt and sad right now she should spend time taking care of herself.  I told her that it’s natural to want to be paired up but that each of us has to be responsible for our own happiness.

She smiled weakly and looked out the window for a minute before thanking me gravely.

Like a reflection of myself.  She was even writing in a journal.

I wouldn’t give anything for such youth.

I would have hugged her if I didn’t have a lot of natural reticence about hugging complete strangers.

These are dark times.

It’s important to be good to ourselves.

It’s important to be good to those around us.

I felt momentarily guilty when a few minutes after this conversation with the lonely girl my son jumped out of our car exactly in front of me in the street and I was filled with complete joy at seeing his bright face.  Me, the fat middle aged lady, has so much happiness and so much love in her life that I feel flooded with it and I can choose to seek solitude all day but at the end of it is the very best company I could ask for in my husband, son, and at home my own mother.  I felt guilty to be filled with such happiness and to feel so loved when such a gorgeous young creature was obviously grappling with terribly heartbreak next to me.

It’s an unfair world.

So take your blessings with your salt and never count anything.