Monday, April 26, 2010

Things are happening

On Friday, some friends and I went to the event blogged about here, our friend's solo show and the kickoff party for the Stumptown Comics Festival. The next day, four of us were sitting at a kitchen table, after dinner, talking. We had eaten greens cooked with preserved lemons and Varanasi Dal (which has green mango in it; I wasn't a fan and I think I just had too heavy of a hand with the asafetida when I made it. The greens-and-lemons, on the other hand, were fabulous.)

We talked about the show; another friend showed me a book with one of her stories in it. All four of us talked about our work and how it was improving and increasing. We talked about things that were going well socially. We talked about how Portland was turning into home.

"Things are happening!" my friend exclaimed.

Three pairs of eyes lit up and, as we were about to exclaim, "You're right!", he finished his sentence.

"...on the stove!"

Behind us, the fussing of a pot of boiling beets had grown from a low grumble to loud muttering. The lid was beginning to bounce and clang. Things were happening on the stove. The beets' owner sprang to the stove to remedy the situation.

Only momentarily let down, the three of us insisted, "But things are happening in Portland, too. They are."

As an example of things that are happening, I will be blogging soon about the thing in this picture.


Short, but too long for Twitter.

I've heard the belief expressed that each individual has a set level of happiness from which they cannot, outside of a small margin, waver. These people adapt to their situations to be just as content whether something drastically good or drastically bad happens. Using the past twelve months of my life as evidence, I disagree. These thoughts are similar to those expressed here.

The things I love here haven't replaced the things I loved from the East Coast. There are just new things in my life. It's the geography and the everyday that I am in love with here in Oregon.

Someone told me in February that I didn't know spring until I'd seen spring in Oregon. Until last week, spring in Oregon just looked like spring in NJ, but a little earlier. I disagree, but I see why he said that.

Last week, I saw the horse chestnut trees along 39th burst into bloom; I also began to see, throughout the city, a deciduous rhododendron previously unknown to me. It is yellow. The petals are the color of the inside of a peach. Because it is deciduous, the leaves are thin, soft, and bright, rather than dark, thick, and waxy. These rhododendrons brighten the cloudy days for which this city is known.

This morning, driving south through the city, passing places like Laurelhurst Park, I thought (and this is what this post is really about), How can I ever be unhappy here? No matter what small inconveniences I face, how can I be unhappy in this city, with these amazing people, with these horse chestnuts above me and with these inside-of-a-peach-yellow, deciduous rhododendrons on my way home?

Where have I been?

It's been a week since I posted, and it wasn't even a good post but something odd. I've been pretty busy. I've been at work, at my friend's solo show, and at a Camera Obscura show. They are really great live! I've been at Screen Door again, for brioche French toast and praline bacon, and I've been in my garden. I have more tomato seedlings now than I can count and some hot peppers, too. I've started dwarf sunflowers in toilet paper roll seed starts. I have two drawers from a broken dresser with smaller vegetables planted in them - kale, chard, sorrel, carrots, beets, radishes, watercress, and lettuce.

I have stories, as always, but for now, just a post to say that I'm alive and will be writing soon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Post script

I guess I should write the PS/Part Two to my last post NOW before it invokes a bunch of talking-off-the-ledge e-mails and phone calls from my friends and family. Who will find me taking on assorted cleaning and organizational projects listening to endless Interpol. I'll probably bake a cake later.

A part two, which is totally full of loose ends and not clear or coherent, is that I'm collecting stories of marriages of men and women where the woman was independent, driven, and successful. You see, when I read My Life in France, Julia and Paul Child's marriage is one of the things from that book that had the strongest impression on me. I really loved that Julia and Paul Child had adventures together; they traveled the world together. I think when I read that book, I thought, "I'll settle for no less than a Paul."

Now I'm reading a biography of a botanist from the Portland area, Lilla Leach. So far, her story is also pretty inspiring. Lilla didn't marry her husband until she was in her late 20's, well past her era's standard for spinsterhood. When her beau went to Oregon State in Corvallis, she went to U of O in Eugene. He lived in Nevada for some time while she stayed in Oregon. She was focused on her own goals and did not follow him. From page 19 of The Botanist and Her Muleskinner, the following stands out to me. John Leach is quoted as describing how he finally got Lilla to marry him; when he told her that "I could tie the diamond hitch, talk mule talk, reason with mule logic and take her into the wildest country, where college professors could not get, she fell on my neck so hard that I never recovered."

I haven't gotten much farther than this, but so far, John Leach sounds like a Paul.

The beginning of a post

If I tried to save these notes until a finished draft was ready, they'd never get published. Here's what I have so far.

I watched Coco Before Chanel last night, which is part of what got me thinking on this subject. At the end of the movie, a line of text appears informing the reader that Coco Chanel never married. This is followed by information about her career and about how she successfully broke into a male-dominated world. I felt a flash of annoyance like, "Where in this text does it fit in that she never married? Why is that the first line?" Because to a lot of movie watchers, that's important. When I first heard a friend talk about the movie, she told me it was a sad movie because Coco does not marry her lover. If she did marry her lover, but her career tanked, would we still call it a sad movie?

I am not sure at which point in my life I stopped identifying with Disney princesses (have I ever blogged about how I also wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed when I grew up?), but at some point I crossed over to where I identified with characters like Audrey Tautou's portrayal of Coco Chanel. Successful, driven women who say things like, "I don't intend to ever marry."

When I was 22, I wrote a term paper about The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and a second Victorian novel, whose name and author I won't name so that I don't spoil the story for anyone. The title of the term paper was "A World Outside of Loving." The title came from the following passage, spoken by George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver:
I don't know what may be in years to come. But I begin to think there can never come much happiness to me from loving; I have always had so much pain mingled with it. I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do.

In the second Victorian novel covered by this term paper, the author does everything she can to marginalize her main character. Which Victorian authors seemed to love doing. Make the character a woman, make her an orphan, make her a feminist ahead of her time, make her homely, make her poor. If these authors were writing today, their heroines would be biracial and growing up someplace like rural Kansas.

Toward the end of the novel in question, the marginalized heroine experiences a miracle; she finds a man who can love her and whom she loves back. But he has to go on a voyage before they can get married.

The novel ends with a cryptic description of a storm at sea and something dramatic like, "Oh, the tragedy!" Most readers use this as evidence that the heroine's love died at sea, leaving her further marginalized and reinforcing the point that misfits like this character are doomed to be lonely.

One of the key points of my term paper was this: Maybe the heroine's lover did not die at sea but returned safely and married her. I argued that the tragedy was the heroine's loss of independence. For if there's one strength these poor, homely, orphaned, marginalized characters have, it's the incredible independence and resourcefulness that they gain as a result of having no one to depend on.

I have more to say on this topic, but that's all for now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gone Coastal, Part 3-ish: I Paid 75 Cents For This Story

Where are "Gone Coastal" parts 1 and 2? They will be written later, once the photos get developed.

Coming back from the Oregon coast on Monday, I was in desperate need of a restroom. Coffee, cafe soup, and buckets of rain will do that to you. "It's OK," I told my traveling companion. "I can make it to the Elderberry Inn, if we don't see something sooner."

We continued toward Portland on US-26, a paved hallway that wound between walls of massive, dark fir trees. Soon, we came upon an intersection with another highway. In the crook created by the two roads sat a parking lot. In the parking lot, a sprawling building reclined, with two small gas pumps standing sentry. Large signs hung above the door reading, "GAS" and "ESPRESSO."

"I don't remember seeing this place before!" I exclaimed joyously, turning the car sharply to the right.

"Me either," said Julianna, less joyously.

I believed that this rundown country store had the potential to be quaintly cute. I parked next to a pickup truck and announced my decision to use the restroom and buy a coffee. Julianna announced her decision to stay in the car.

A sign caught my eye as I entered the store. It was a flattened cardboard box labeled in black Sharpie and propped against the magazine display. It read, "No reading. No looking. Just buying." It was a display of porn magazines. As I looked around, searching for the coffee machine, I took in more magazine racks with MORE porn magazines. Straight ahead of me was a doorway to another room, above which hung cute pastel letters spelling the words, "COFFEE SHOP." What I saw through the doorway looked like anything but my Portland/East Coast definition of a coffee shop—bearded men in work boots, sweatshirts, and hunting pants seated at folding tables, drinking from beer bottles. No one was behind the register. A sense of alarm began to creep into my conscience, until a man approached the register and said, in a perfectly friendly voice, "What you would like, miss?"

"A coffee and the bathroom key, please," I said, before contemplating the wisdom of disguising my heavy Jersey accent on the word, "coffee."

"Which would you like first?" he asked.

"The bathroom key!" I replied.

"It's right there," he said, waving to the side of his counter. Hanging from a nail was a long chain attached to a hubcap. I slowly realized that the key was also attached to this hubcap.

After I unlocked the bathroom door, I took in the scene before me. Even in its dim lighting, I could see that it was filthy. A panoply of obscene messages and drawings adorned the walls. My eyes took in a lack of paper towels; in their place was a rotating cloth towel dispenser jammed stuck so that, should I wish to dry my hands, I'd have to do so in someone else's dirt. The toilet seat had been left up, leaving me to fear the worst. I could see that the trashcan contained a miscellany of unusual waste—receipts, a coffee up, and the pièce de résistance. (Or repulsiveness.) Lady's underwear. Bloodstained. Thong.

I thought about running like hell back to the car. But my deeply ingrained pedantry forced me to return the key and buy my coffee, making me an official "customer."

When I re-entered the store, walking toward me was a vision. He looked like a deranged lumberjack Santa Claus. He was tall and wide, white-haired, with a long white beard and overalls. Only the bottom quarter of his shirt buttons were buttoned. The top three-quarters opened to reveal a torso like the trunk of a tree, a true Oregonian Coastal Range tree covered in Usnea longissima*.

I had never felt more like City Folk in my life, and I am from the country. I have also traveled extensively throughout North America, including plenty of remote, "country" places.

The coffee machine was located under the television that the beer-drinking men in the "Coffee Shop" were watching. With my back to them, I tried to retrieve my coffee as quickly as possible. The hood of my rain jacket fell down and revealed my pinned-up long hair and gold hoop earrings. I bristled, then tried not to, as I didn't want to seem judgmental toward the country. But I couldn't stop thinking about the excessive porno magazine displays; fears of beer-drunk porn-obsesed perverts raced through my mind as the dispenser spit coffee into my styrofoam cup.

In front of me on the checkout line was a long-haired woman. Standing to the side of the line was Scary Santa. They seemed to know each other.

"You're looking real nice today!" said Santa to the woman.

Thanking him, she explained, "I went to the dentist today."

I could not hear his reply over the shouting of my inner monologue, which was saying, "Why am I in Stereotype-Land and how did I get here!?"

When it was my turn, I approached the register with two singles in hand. "Seventy-five cents for the coffee," said the cashier.

Please and startled, I put the second single back in my wallet. A good minute passed as I paid and collected my change. As my receipt printed, Scary Santa proclaimed loudly, "Well, look at that! She just stepped right in front of me!"

I turned to him was a baffled smile that I attempted to make friendly. A cluster of beef jerky had appeared in his hands, which had previously been empty of merchandise. "Oh!" I said, trying to maintain the smile. At this point, I was also growing annoyed, because Scary Santa had been standing next to the line. Not in the line. And I was sure that beef jerky hadn't been in his hand before!

"I didn't realize you were waiting!" I said. "I'm sorry!"

I picked up my coffee and rushed outside. As the door shut behind me, I heard Scary Santa say, "I'll take that bean burrito too, and also I'll take--"

I was just paying for a coffee, I thought with indignance. And I was actually on the line. I had a right to check out first!

I set out toward the car at a normal pace, but as the rain and the memories of the store—from the bathroom to Scary Santa—caught up to me, my pace quickened. I began to jog across the parking lot. I broke into a full-on run, which I hoped the locals would think was from the rain alone, and, laughing as I saw Julianna's face, flung open the car door and jumped in. I shut and locked the door in one motion and said, "Let's get the hell out of here!"

"What happened?" she asked.

I sat for a moment, catching my breath before I could start to drive away.

We both heard a sound and turned to look. The door to the convenience store had opened. Scary Santa was standing in the parking lot, staring at our car and grinning.

"That guy..." I said, and trailed off.

I put the car into gear. "When we drive by his truck, take a look at him!"

"I just did, and I noticed he was looking at you," said Julianna quizzically.

"Take a his chest hair!" I exhaled these cryptic last words.

As we turned onto 26 East, toward Portland, I recounted for Julianna the events that had transpired inside the country store. "For 75 cents," Julianna noted, "you got a story!"

It was like the spooky country store, which we had not seen on our way from Portland to the coast, had materialized from the Oregon fog. The experience was surreal, perhaps supernatural. Maybe the next time we take the 26, this country store won't be there at all; maybe the entire intersection will be gone as though it never existed at all. I wonder, if we'd continued on that other highway, where it would have taken us. Maybe it's better we don't know.

* Usnea longissima is a type of lichen which grows in the Pacific Northwest, especially the Coastal Range. The common name is Old Man's Beard, which is appropriate, as it did kind of look like an extra beard was sticking out of Scary Santa's unbuttoned shirt.

The Whole Story
Part One - The Road
Part Two - The Elderberry Inn
Part Two and a Half - The Coast
Part Three - I Paid Seventy-Five Cents for This Story

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quick post on birthdays

A year ago, I spent my birthday cleaning my refrigerator—removing and scrubbing every piece. At midnight—the beginning of my actual birthday—I was at a bar with one very dear friend.

On my 26th birthday, I went for a nice walk and brunch with a new dear friend. Again, I undertook a cleaning project, but it was less yucky; I sorted the papers and sewing materials in my room. In the evening, we went to one of my favorite Portland bars, the same I chose for my "last night in Portland" before going back to NJ for the holidays. A crowd came out—fifteen or twenty people. Everyone had a great time. It was so different from my last birthday in New Jersey.

I'm not worried about 26 anymore. It is going to be just fine.

More writing later. The soonest post you should expect is most likely going to be about adventures my friend and I had at a convenience store in rural Oregon.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

There is a man.

He knows so many things about you.

Intimate things.

He knows what your pajamas look like. He's familiar with the way mascara collects in the lines under your eyes. He sees your bathroom trash before you empty it, and he knows how much time you spend in that room. He probably even knows which book you bring in there with you.

He sees your underwear—the granny panties with the worn-out seams restitched by hand—drying on the laundry rack. He sees you before you brush your teeth. He sees your morning hair.

He knows things about you that the man you are dating does not. He is not the man you are dating. He is the man your roommate is dating.

Dedicated to some special men I've known. Awwwwwww.

The Thing You Didn't Know You Needed

When you are happy, sometimes you can be even happier.

This post has been pieced together from notes made about four weeks ago, when this was written and this happened. The end result may seem a bit disjointed, but it's still something I want to say.

Things You Didn't Know You Needed are what make you happier than you realized you ever could be, back when you were just content. They raise the bar; they teach you to expect more. The argument could be made that if you didn't know you needed it, you didn't need it. "Raising the bar" could be another phrase for "forgetting how to appreciate what you have." After all, you were functioning without it. But how do you define "functioning"? If you were waking up in the morning, breathing, eating, getting dressed, eating again, sleeping, and waking up the next day to do it all over again, weren't you functioning? Maybe, but without certain improvements or certain levels of happiness, you're only operating for the short term. You are running poorly, with a gear missing, so that even though you could perform procedures day to day, you were heading, in the long term, for premature breakdown—you were functioning poorly.

I realize now that Oregon was a Thing I Didn't Know I Needed. Here's an excerpt from something I wrote four weeks ago: I have been ridiculously happy these past few days. Aside from one low point—a Mean Girls Meetup (more on that later)—things have been great. All simple things are making me happy such as going to a farmers market, walking around a garden in the rain, making ice cream, or planting peas and radishes. After writing the Felony Flats post this afternoon, I really appreciate where I live now. I drove to the farmers market thinking, even saying out loud, "I love this place. I love this neighborhood. I love this city." I love my life! This is a big change from where I was a year ago. In NJ, I had a job and friends and a decent apartment, but I was unhappy. I was functioning, but just barely. Something about this place, something about going to farmers markets or planting radishes here in Oregon, is what was missing. It's indefinable, at least for the present, but it's what was missing—it is what I needed to function well.

The thing you didn't know you needed need not always be so intangible. It could stuff. This is where the line gets fuzzy, and I could see agreeing with the statement, "If you didn't know you needed it, you didn't need it." Some examples in my life are jeggings (as soon as I learned of their existence, I wanted a pair! but I don't need them), a camera strap (I went without one for years, knowing I should get one; having that one little $10 thing has truly improved my life), and a garbage disposal (love it, but I could live without it.)

When you spend time with someone who treats you well, you start to treat yourself well, too. When someone sees your good qualities and tells you so, you start to see them, too. When someone appreciates you, you appreciate yourself more, even if your self esteem wasn't half-bad to begin with. If this individual someday ceases to be in your life, you don't lose that positivity. You retain it forever; you know how you want people in your life to treat you from now on—friends, lovers, or anyone. The bar has been raised. For example, I once lived with a great friend. We'd talk about our days and ideas; we'd make each other dinner. When I was sick, he brought me tea in bed. When he was sick, I brought him botanical medicines. We bought each other unexpected gifts (typically food or beer). Once, he bought me a tarte aux framboises for no particular reason, so I canceled a date to share the tarte with him. One Friday evening, he and I went beer and grocery shopping together. I was wearing ballet flats. While we were inside the Korean market getting vegetables for dinner, it started to rain heavily. The potholes in the parking lot became ponds. When we stepped outside with our bags, my friend told me to wait on the curb. He took the bags from my hands, leaving me surprised and baffled. He jogged to his car, loaded the trunk while the rain fell on him, climbed into the driver's seat, and then drove to the curb where he'd left me. He explained that he knew my ballet flats would have soaked through and stayed wet for the rest of the evening. Until that moment, no other person except my father had driven to a curb for me in the rain. This friend anticipated my comfort and convenience before I did. In this moment, I recognized what I had, what I hadn't known I was missing. I knew I'd never in my life accept anything less.

This is what I mean about The Thing You Didn't Know You Needed. I didn't know I could be treated so well until it happened; subsequently I knew to expect this kind of respect not only from others, but from myself. The person who brings you tarte aux framboises is not necessarily The Thing You Didn't Know You Needed. The Thing is what you learn from the kind of people who drive to the sidewalk so that you don't have to ruin your shoes. The Thing is what you retain from having known such people. (Recently, a second non-relative drove to a sidewalk in the rain for me, reminding me of this first event.)

On a far less sappy note, what originally inspired this post was a falafel mold. I'd written, "Vegetarians, here's a Thing You Didn't Know You Needed!"

Those unappetizing-looking things are veggie burgers. The perfect disc-shaped patties were made with a falafel mold, the tool I'm holding in the photo. The mushy blobs are patties made by hand. The former cooked better and kept their shape better. Both were delicious. (I'll post my veggie burger recipe once I perfect it.) I got that falafel mold as a Christmas present in the mid-2000's. And then...I never made falafel. I never used that mold until four weeks ago. Who knows what made me move it across the country with me? but I'm glad I did. Like Oregon and self-respect, a falafel mold is The Thing I Didn't Know I Needed.

What are some things you feel belong in this category?

Almost twenty-six

In less than a week, I will be twenty-six. I will be leaving my mid-twenties for my mid-to-late twenties. And then in a year, I'll be in my late twenties.

What's wrong with me why am I not married yet after all I'm almost thirty!?

In all seriousness, I usually don't get upset about aging. I don't think that younger is better, that older is uglier, or even more tired and less interesting.

However, this year, 25, has been the best of my life. A year ago, I was crying on a couch e-mailing an ex boyfriend that I was sure I'd wasted Year 24 of My Life. (Being 30, he promptly, although nicely, told me I was being ridiculous.) I even wrote an e-mail to this IIF.

A year later, things have completely turned around. I'm following through with decisions I made myself; I am happy. I know that birthdays and new years are arbitrary, human-made distinctions, but it truly was a year ago that my life started to turn around. It was two days before my birthday that I received and accepted the job offer that brought me to Oregon. That was just the beginning.

So I guess what I'm saying is, even though I know that 26 could be an even better year, I feel sentimental about 25. It's like a dear friend.

I promise that this sadness about my impending birthday is not related to the fact that I just purchased my first container of eye creme.

Lesson Learned (and continuing to be learned)

I'm big on gut feelings. Some may refer to it as intuition instead of "gut feelings." It may sound rather mystical when I describe it, especially in offline, non-written, face-to-face life. And that probably seems out of character if you perceive me as a typically logical, literal, systematically scientific thinker. Where, in my collection of spreadsheets, my re-organizing-the-kitchen-cabinets hobby, my memorization of highway numbers, and my detailed to-do lists that begin with "unlock door and enter home", do gut feelings belong?

I believe gut feelings are nothing mystical at all. I believe they are totally rational; the product of fast-moving logic. A response to subtle signals, frequently nonverbal, linked up with memory and experience. (I am vaguely aware that there's a book with this thesis, although I've never read it.) In a sense, perhaps they are hyperlogical, an exhibit of supreme rationality.

I wrote this post on the topic not long ago.

Today, all I want to say on the topic is this. If you have a feeling something is wrong, something is wrong. But here's the thing—you may be wrong about what exactly is wrong. Something is wrong, but it may not be what you think it is. Identifying this may take some time and thinking.

The key is to avoid jumping to conclusions without ignoring that important, correct gut feeling.

This has come up quite a bit for me, especially since moving to my new home city across the continent from my friends and family and everything I've ever known—this place where the discourse is different and even the butter is not the same. This is really a topic for a separate post, but I'll state it here anyway. At the end of each misadventure, I've beat myself up verbally, reprimanding myself for either not trusting a gut instinct or wondering how the hell my gut instincts could have led me astray.

Gut feelings just point you in a direction. They don't give you all the information. There's still some thinking work that needs to be done. For example, to determine if someone who is acting angry is expressing their anger toward you or their anger with life in your general direction. Anyway, what I've learned from my misadventures is some of the elements that get in the way of gut feelings. One is information overload; that's what might make you choose the wrong option of the two listed above (ex: This person is mad at me vs. This person is upset about something else in their life and I am standing in front of them.) The second is desire. This post is getting wordy, and I wanted it to be short, so I am going to stop here. I will write about the connection between gut feelings and desire another time. I recently realized that it relates (and here's where I get MYSTICAL!) to the second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. (I looked at a few pages, and I decided that, of all things, this Wikipedia entry actually is worded most closely to the point I want to get across.)

Do you actually read these posts, or would you rather I stick to funny stories and musings on food?