Tag: Portland

Half a Week in the Rear View Mirror

Highlights from the last few days:

  • Tax man (the Feds) have notified us that there was an error in our filing last year and we owe them $2800 in self employment tax (that’s on top of the taxes we paid on the dollars I earned).  As it stands that means I’m paying an almost 40% tax rate on a very small income.  Obviously we now must meet with our CPA to help us clean this mess up.  (He didn’t do our taxes last year, we did)  The state is also expecting us to cough up the remaining $1200 we owe them from last year but didn’t finish paying because we started paying our mortgage again.  The last two years have been like this: we can afford to pay our taxes or we can afford to pay our mortgage, but not both.*
  • I learned that sharing such details out loud and then asking the wrong questions about the situation with the wrong people (people not my CPA) can result in people freaking out and me having the worst day ever.  I am calling Friday a lost day.  It was so bad that for the first time in a long time my kid kept coming into my office where I was trying not to cry to give me spontaneous hugs and to ask me if I needed cheering up.  His version of cheering up is to watch thirty episodes of Avatar.  Which we did.  The last time he was worried about me he cheered me up by picking me flowers from the garden with my mom.  He’s really a sweet kid to the people he respects and loves.  I’m just sorry to have caused my son to worry about me.  Kids should not have to worry about the well being of their parental units.
  • We took two boxes of books to Powell’s in Portland and made a little over a hundred dollars which I then spent on two very expensive cookbooks I’ve been coveting (Plenty and Culinaria China).  2 boxes of books turned into 2 books isn’t bad!  I also gave a box of fabric to a friend in Portland.  That’s 3 boxes of crap out of my house!
  • Spent over an hour in the Powell’s cafe reading Culinaria China while drinking a decaf latte and watching the partiers drifting by wearing various combinations of green attire (it was St. Patrick’s Day) and being silly.  After the previous day’s disaster of emotions I really enjoyed my quiet respite in my favorite environment.  My guys were off selling CD’s and eating the perfect french fries down the street.
  • I discovered that my kid hates crowds as much as his father does.  He had a grade B** panic attack which was set off by us going to The Kennedy School for dinner before heading home.  It was crammed full of people.  Crazy amounts of people in stupid green hats collecting in doorways and in the hallways.  There was a two and a half hour wait for a dinner table.  Needless to say, we left.  But not before getting trapped in a packed crowd to hear the bagpiper play near the front entrance.  My child, by this time, was pushing at people to get out of there and was ranting about the pointless stupid holiday and how much he hates it when everyone wears green.  He was still ranting about it five minutes later as we sped away in the car.  He ranted so effectively that he got Philip’s anxiety ramped up and I had two people in the car with me in panic mode.  I am skilled at bringing panic levels down.  At last we headed home in peace.
  • We were very lucky that our favorite pub in town was relatively quiet and there was a booth available for us when we got there.  We had a lovely dinner at Golden Valley (paid for with the money Philip made from selling his CD’s) during which we played one of Max’s favorite games: ask him lots of questions about the video games he plays.  It was a good ending to a long day.
  • I got a cold on Friday.  It is good to note that this is only the second cold I’ve had this season.  Last year I had at least six.  Or at least, it felt that way.  So Sunday I made soup and couscous.
  • I am still stubbornly trying to get Baby Girl Six started and it is stubbornly not revealing itself to me.  I think it may be a first person perspective story but I can’t find the rhythm or the voice.  I may have to shelve it and work on something else for a while.  I also considered giving up this whole writing fiction gig.  For about five minutes.  Then I considered just publishing Cricket and Grey on my own and trying the traditional route for The Winter Room.  For about five minutes.  I also realized that the names of these books might not be right but anyone reading this blog will get used to them and then it will be an annoyance to them to see it change.  Then I realized this is one of those small details you worry about when your writing has completely stalled.
  • For the first time in a long time I admitted out loud (to Philip) that if it weren’t for him and Max I would be planning my suicide right now.  He understood.  I won’t do it, of course.  I would never do that to the two people I love best in the world.  But it’s very revealing of my mental and emotional state that I’m even thinking about it.  It isn’t even a wish to do violence to myself.  It’s a quiet ardent desire to not exist.  I’ve actually been thinking about this incessantly for months now.  But I wasn’t calling it a wish for death and I let myself remain in denial about how bad things have become in my head.  The fact that I’m saying this out loud to you is evidence that I’m not going to act on my desires.  (In case you were worried.)  I can promise you that if I really was going to kill myself I wouldn’t announce my intentions to anyone.

So here we are.  It’s Tuesday.

*Please note that this piece of information is being shared only for an illustration of how much the universe still hates me and is NOT an invitation to discuss my taxes in depth.

**Grade A involves hyperventilating and passing out.  Grade B is working up to Grade A.

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.

The kid turns 11, virgins in books, and stormy weather.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting at my desk writing during a wailing pounding rain storm with a purring cat in my lap.  I’m almost not even worrying about the enthusiastic leak in the living room window caused by over 10 hours of rain pummeling all the south facing windows in the house.

Max turned 11 years old on Monday.  I’m not going to wax nostalgic at his disappearing little kid years cause, as most of you know, I enjoy seeing him grow older and don’t miss stages we’ve passed.  I’m enjoying my kid in the present and trying to stay there.  I try not to project into the future either because I find it unproductive.  I’m very zen about parenting at least five minutes a day.

Max requested that I make sure he doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer.  So we had a discussion about why I already know he isn’t going to be a serial killer.  It’s funny because back before I was staying in the present with my kid I used to worry about that exact same thing.  Raising a boy really scared me.  I’m still kind of scared of messing him up, obviously, but I work much harder not to focus on it.

He had a checkup last Friday and he’s doing well.  His medication is still working, his vitals are all good, and we’re not to worry about his weight gain because he’s “at that age” where boys apparently experience a lot of physical changes.  In other words the doctor was warning me that he’s about to hit THE HORMONAL STAGE.  Damn.  For his birthday he had his two best buddies for a sleepover (something I never let him do because it makes me hate all children to have three young boys in my house for more than 2 hours at a time, he’s usually only allowed one friend at a time for a sleepover) – anyway – I noticed one of his friends had B.O.  He’s 11 years old and his sweat is stinking!  Max’s still hasn’t started to smell “manly” but I get it – it’s what’s coming.

I’m reading a book right now that has made me realize that if a make-out session lasts more than one page I find it incredibly tedious.  I already knew I didn’t care for all the details of a character’s sexual encounters to be painted out for me, but I was reminded of this fact last night.  I will not read this author again because she has used the word “throbbing” in her sex scenes.  So now I just want to get the book over with.  If there’s another 3 page description of the “innocent” but eager virgin getting taught the glories and delights of being almost deflowered (manually, if you catch my drift) this indicates that I’m going to be treated to the ACTUAL deflowering event (oh joy) and I may just abandon the book.   I want to know what happens and until the word “swelling” was used to describe the state of the hero’s trousers the writing wasn’t bad and the story was interesting.   Bummer.  I’m branching out and trying new authors and new books.  I’m bound to find myself disappointed plenty.

-The Next Day-

My sister suggested I skip pages in books to avoid the shit I don’t want to read.  Brilliant-it has never occurred to me that I can do this.  I will try it.  Even so, I prefer not to read authors who write in a manner I find distasteful so I will not read more of this one.  At least I can finish this book without being further assaulted by the adventures of virginal nipples.

On our way to Portland we (my mom, sister, and I) engaged in a book discussion which was really interesting.  I have realized for some time that I work very hard to protect myself from the kinds of stories that make me angry or that go on to live uncomfortably in my head.  I used to read everything.  Everything.  Just trying new authors at this point is going out on a limb for me.  I have mixed feelings about this.  It makes me feel weak and stupid to only read books that I know will be enjoyable without depressing me or riling me up.  Like back when I chose to not watch the news anymore.  I did it for my mental health but it still made me feel stupid that I would have nightmares about the news all the time and be sunk ever-deeper into my already established state of depression and anxiety.

There is another side to choosing the limitations I do on my reading: ever since starting to write “The Winter Room” I have felt it is important not to allow much influence of other words in my head.  I’ve been re-reading all my favorites over and over because they are known and will introduce nothing to my psyche that wasn’t already there for a long time.  I feel it’s more important to keep my moods neutral as I read, keeping my reading enjoyable rather than life-changing.  That’s truly only a minor issue to me but still, it’s there.

I’m off to Portland again today.  I’m going with my sister, Max, Philip, and we’re meeting my brother there.  Max hasn’t seen his uncle in about five years.  We’re going to Powell’s books and then to the Kennedy School for lunch.  It’s still raining but not storming like it was yesterday.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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.