The Phish Fest at The Gorge

“We’re like on a big hill right now!” Taylor says, referring to the thousands of people grooving on a grassy hill overlooking the Gorge amphitheater, the band Phish inducing musical waves upon us, the sea of heads drowning in dopamine. “We’re all being pulled towards the sound! No one is in the same place that they were before!” Taylor continues, in awe of the obvious.
“Gravity, dude!” I say, lightheartedly mocking the absurd pot-friendly hippie world we entered two days ago, like an alternate reality soaked in tie dye. Despite our state of mind, Taylor is right. No one in the crowd is in the same place they were before. Before the song, before the set, before the weekend. A weekend I can only describe as spectacular and extreme, from sweltering white heat to chilly darkness, relaxed bum-nothing days to sensory explosive nights, from who we are outside the Phish fest to who we are during. It’s the fourth and last set, and with the cotton candy sunset swallowed by nightfall, all I see are stage lights, blinking and twirling, stunning me into slack jawed amazement.

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Two days ago we entered the Gorge, leaving a part of ourselves behind. Our jobs and responsibilities, any conservative inkling or inhibition. Everyone brought their best hippie selves and hit refresh. The Gorge is in George, Washington, a desert town containing nothing, I’m assuming, except the amphitheater and cows. Taylor and I were directed to our campsite, a patch of grass in a huge field, and parked in a row of other cars and tents. Our neighbors were from Colorado, a group our age, who hit a deer on their way up, denting the front bumper, and forgot to bring a shade structure. Nonetheless they were kind and generous.

There was no natural shade at the Gorge. Festival goers set up tents and canopies and RV’s and trailers. Taylor and I were proud of our Walmart brand shade structure we purchased for the purpose of this weekend, along with our mini grill, only to be mildly shamed by the hundreds of groups who essentially brought Lazy Boy living rooms and Gordon Ramsay kitchens.

At the top of the field was Shakedown Street, a migrating and ever-changing street of vendors to be found at every Phish fest. There were pretty established artists selling handmade clothing, jewelry, pottery and glassware, mixed with the less established, perfunctory vendors. A woman in a bikini selling vegan hot tamales. A red faced bro next to an open cooler of sports drinks with a sign, “WHAT THE FUCK IT’S JUST A BUCK!” A skinny white t-shirted dude slithering through the crowd muttering, “Doses.”

We spent the whole first day wondering where the hell the stage was. We were also shocked that no vendor was selling ice cream. It was gloriously hot, everyone walked around like sunburned slug zombies. But when the doors opened at 6 PM, energy was restored, the temperature favorable. The walk to the stage was impossibly long – tension building – until we crested the hill and emerged at the edge of the natural Gorge amphitheater in all its drama. After the first night Taylor accurately noted, “And we get to do it all again tomorrow!”

Really, could life get any better?

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So the next night around 8 PM, we stood up with the crowd on the grassy hill and cheered. The smell of herb hung in the air. Bets were placed on what songs they would play. The members of Phish walked on stage, picked up their instruments and began. No words said. No time wasted. When the sun went down, the energy morphed from an epic afternoon picnic to a radical, high voltage, boundless rage.

So here I am, for the second night, feeling Phish like never before. The music prickly on my skin. It’s like I can feel my synapses connecting or diffusing or whatever they do. Science! Oh axons and dendrites! I feel you clearly now, underneath my skin, and how happy you make me. How happy I am to be alive! I look up and see glow sticks raining through the air like rainbow sprinkles. Streaks of colorful residue soaring and landing on the ground, lighting up the paths between people’s feet. At the start of a new song or a key change or an ingenious downbeat, the glow sticks explode in the air again and again, in perpetual motion, continuing for so long I wonder how many glow sticks there are and how people gather them so fast. I pick up the ones around my feet and toss them in the air.

I no longer feel like an individual. An hour ago the crowd was all strangers and I didn’t want to get too close. But now we are like bubbles in a bubble bath, connected and the same. The girl next to me, who at the start had her hands in her pockets, was now a musical body romping puppet. The nerve is no longer in you – you are the nerve, among thousands of other nerves inside of an acid trip. Suddenly everything is wonderful and my prior fear abandoned me. The fear that I’m not the rager type. The fear that the weekend wouldn’t live up to my expectations nor the money I paid for it. The fear that I wouldn’t be able to just let go and get out of my own head. My head that carries an air raid of thoughts such as these: I don’t like conversations with strangers. I don’t like crowds and I’m not a hugger. While several people consider me a hippie, inside I am skeptical of that peace and love crap. I’m not a very good sharer and never have been, ask my elementary school friends. I am an introvert and put a lot of pressure on myself. I realize it’s easier to know what you’re not than to know what you are. And equally as scary as realizing you need someone is to realize you don’t. Lately most people annoy me and I still don’t like dogs. I moved across the country on a whim and dearly miss my sisters and college friends. I change what I want every five minutes and have no life plan after March 2017. My feet always hurt and I have weak wrists.

All these things and more had me doubting whether I would have a good time at the Phish fest or whether a certain percentage of myself would be faking it, bopping along but emotionally dismissive. What actually happened was the opposite. Sharing music is the truest power I know. The Phish fest reminded me that life is an adventure and to not get bottled up in adult politics of what you should be, according to someone else. After the festival I seriously considered for about an hour living in a trailer. How fun would a house on wheels be?! Taylor and I could tour next summer and sell ice cream out of a truck! I’m still not over the idea. Neither is he.

Shockingly, the weekend surpassed expectations. In the middle of that crowd, I let go. One with the hippies. And I wished the moment lasted forever. In a sea of joyful expressions and absurd unpredictable music, it was almost too much—the nerves, the lights, the sound. My body sent into sensory overdrive as I tried to keep my heart and mind contained. It was impossible though. It was pulled right out.

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Checking In, Stretching Out

It has been a while since I last posted, sorry about that. Not that anyone cares except my guilt and ego. Anyway, it will be a short post because I don’t have a lot to say. Actually, that’s a lie, I have so much to say but nothing that applies to the theme of my blog. I simply want to check in with the blogging muscles, like doing yoga after a long time without. My muscles might be tight, my breath shallow and unsteady, but we’ll work it out. The reason I haven’t been blogging, well, there are a few. One is that I am doing so much writing in other genres (yay!) This is good. Working in the evenings gives me all day to write in the solitude of my one room apartment or read in the sun at the park.

I have done more writing than I ever thought possible, remembering things I never thought I would. I am finishing books like an addict, and it feels really good after years of being force fed mandatory reading that I would always spit up and cry over. I feel like a child again, when I would read Junie B. Jones out loud every night in my bed because I didn’t know how to read in my head yet. That’s how I feel about my books lately. The characters dance around my room and follow me everywhere like imaginary friends. I am learning so much from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cheryl Strayed, Steven Koch, John Krakauer, and Jeanette Walls, as I dive into short story writing, finding a few sincere endings to my several beginnings.

Of course, writing is hard, and some days I’ll find any excuse not to open my laptop; but I am adequately pleased by this elongated burst of motivation. I think it’s because if I didn’t write, there would be no reason to ever get out of bed before 4 PM. Writing forces my ass awake and makes me be a person, an artist. It gives me a goal and an outlet for self improvement. To nourish this good habit, I attend a writing class once a week. It’s the most exhilarating feeling in the world, to have your youth and mediocrity and ignorance and arrogance and entitlement thrown in your face for two hours each week. That’s not sarcasm – it’s so fun learning new ways to think about writing that I never would have thought on my own. It’s like discovering the magician’s secret. Readers have no idea that the writer is playing tricks right before their eyes, and only when the writer pulls back the veil do we see the mechanics and realize, We’ve been tricked! in the giddiest way.

When I get carried away with my dreams of being published for real, or writing like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie one day, the writing class reminds me of what’s real. How far I have to go and how much work there is to do. As Cheryl Strayed wrote, “The best possible thing you can do is get your ass down onto the floor. Write so blazingly good that you can’t be framed.” After reading Tiny Beautiful Things, I typed, printed, and taped my favorite quotes on the wall of my apartment. That quote is up there. Another one says this: “Writing is hard for every last one of us – straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

This blog has not deceased, but it is on a temporary leave of absence. Maternity leave, if you will, having recently birthed messy drafts that I must nurture to proper greatness. Maybe Donald Trump will become president and I’ll blog about my adventure moving to a different country. Just kidding, I don’t want to even joke about that. My blog will pick up again in time and perhaps die down, who knows. All I know is that I want to delete my social media, but I have this blog, so I hold on, meagerly. I am sick of Facebook and Twitter and putting pressure on myself to be something great when so few are actually great at this age. Would I rather be famous because of an internet fluke or because I actually earned my title and contributed valuable words to society? The latter, please. Which means it won’t happen anytime soon. Keep in mind my idea of “famous” means writing a book that has pages and a spine and a New York Times review declaring it “Dazzling!” and makes people think in ways they never thought before, or fall in love with a character so profoundly their knees buckle in real life thinking about them. Honestly, I don’t care about fame, I only care about improving myself as a writer. Humility brings me home to the page.

Now, for my last quote by Cheryl Strayed, which every twenty-something should know, remember, memorize until it buries itself so deep in your marrow to manifest growth and sprout wings:

You are so goddamn young. Which means about eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in twenty years and howl.

The Homeless Man on 20th

A reflection on Portland’s homeless problem, the most visible crisis affecting every life.

It used to be much bigger, his tent. A month ago it was impossible to walk on the sidewalk. Five gallon buckets, shoes, sleeping bags, bottles, trash cans, a broom, a grocery cart, clothes, kitchen appliances, items collected from the street. Then one day it all disappeared, and so did the man. Only a dark, mysterious stain remained. Gradually items reappeared on the sidewalk. A tarp. A cart. A bucket. Then one day blended into the litter, I almost didn’t notice him sitting in a plaid button up shirt, cleaning his toes, red bites on his shins. He looked like something that shouldn’t be in sunlight. I saw him but didn’t really see him, reeled in by curiosity, deterred by fear and the social rule that it’s rude to stare.

One night I approached his tent on 20th avenue, a couple blocks from my home, with a hot piece of pizza in hand, oil pooled in the center fold. I felt his presence and my guard flew up, afraid he’d say something or jump out at me. But then I felt him withdraw into the tarp not wanting to be seen, and I felt sorry. I thought about giving him my piece of pizza, but instead took a giant bite. That’s not what he wants or needs, I told myself. Don’t be petty.

As I walked home I thought about what I read on the internet about homelessness in Portland. The shelters are full despite Portland’s effort to add more. There are problems with drugs, thefts, and fires at homeless camps. It’s understood that at this rate it’s not really a drug problem, it’s a housing problem. New apartments are being put up all over Portland but none of them are for poor people. The increasing rent pushes working people to the outskirts of the city and those who can no longer afford it onto the streets.

Along the Willamette river and under its bridges are tent circles, homeless inspired neighborhoods, a subculture commune, if you will, with door to door trails kicked through a carpet of trash. I’ve seen homeless couples holding hands in lawn chairs, watching the sun set over the river. They aren’t truly okay by society’s standards, but at least it’s not every man to himself. The more street junk they pile up into walls, the more security it provides.  The lonely man on 20th had his security stripped to a mere tarp and cart. Before, he owned the sidewalk, but that power and protection, however flawed, is gone.

You don’t need to read about Portland’s homeless problem on the internet to find out it exists. If you live in the city, you know. Tourists take notice and have sent letters to Travel Oregon stating they’re never coming back (KGW News).

The problem is expected to worsen when summer arrives.  Since word has spread about Portland’s acceptance of street camping, bums from surrounding areas will migrate.

Some homeless people live in their cars and spend their nights dodging tow trucks (Oregon Live). They collect recyclable products and deposit them for a nickle each, sometimes earning up to $7.50 a day. You know when a car is being lived in when the back seat is stuffed to the roof with cans. Homeless veterans sit at busy intersections holding a sign, anything helps.

Sometimes homeless people blend into society. The fashion choices of Portland folks makes it difficult to distinguish hipster from homeless. On Funday Monday, for example, homeless people make up probably three percent of the crowd. You might have a young shirtless man in patchwork shorts and blonde dreaded hair approach you at the park and start talking to you like normal. It’s not until you notice his teeth are rotten and he’s not making sense – the slurred affects and delusions of a drug much harder than weed – that you realize this man is unsafe. In an escalated moment his hand’s on your bare leg and you’re pushing him off.

As politically correct people try to be about homelessness, that doesn’t change the fact that most people do nothing. Most of us look the other way or pass silent judgments, however involuntary. Motivated by fear and a desire to keep unseeing, to keep the most visible problem in Portland under our radar rather than crawling all over our skin, we passively avoid. But the moment a dirty homeless man puts a swollen hand on your leg and murmurs what he wants to do to you, all the political correctness in the world won’t save you. It’s no longer the city’s problem, a problem of capitalism and social injustice you could fluently articulate thanks to your liberal arts degree – it’s your problem, and there is no room for the benefit of the doubt. The livable balance between keeping your distance and remaining an understanding, politically correct person shriveled up and died the second it got real. Judgments, accusations, stereotypes, sound inside like a fire alarm. He’s a drug addict, a bad man, a rapist, etc.

I spotted him a few nights later in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk with a toothless woman between his legs.

It’s estimated that 4,000 people sleep on the streets in Portland. And that’s just on the street, not counting shelters and cars. Last fall Mayor Hales told policeman to stop bothering homeless and let them sleep on the street. Protesters popped up outside City Hall accusing and shaming Mayor Hales for his decision (HuffPost). These protesters were homeless advocates angered by the Mayor’s decision to ignore the problem. Letting homeless sleep on the street doesn’t make the city safer for the homeless or anyone else. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

So every day I walk by the lonely man on 20th and try to fathom the life of someone completely unfathomable to me. And even though every day I fail and do nothing, I continue to wonder what Portland will become, how it will wiggle its way out of this mess. It’s an interesting time to be living here, watching the struggle with my own eyes, feeling the energy of a city living by the skin of its teeth. And if nothing else, I am thankful for having a roof and a door and a key and a lock and a job to pay the bills every month on my own.

Monday Funday at Summers Park

IMG_2215[1]Every Monday that the weather is nice, people gather at Summers Park to enjoy the last few hours of sunshine playing Frisbee, hula-hooping, slack-lining, juggling, doing yoga, smoking weed, standing on heads, and playing an adult version of Airplane. You know, that game you played as a kid when you’re dad would lie on his back, put the soles of his feet on your squishy belly and send you flying into the air. It’s essentially that, but between thirty year old hippies. Yes, Funday Monday or Monday Funday, never sure of the order, is a word-of-mouth event big enough to make drivers at the red light turn and stare.

The sight of Monday Funday is astonishing – the shear density of hippies being weird in a condensed about of green space. From the outside looking in, it seems like a bunch of people having a picnic. But zero in on individuals, you realize each is in their own world. It’s not a bunch of people juggling together—it’s a bunch of jugglers that happen to be three feet away from each other. They could stand alone or together.

Taylor and I attended Monday Funday for the first time on accident. We go to the park all the time, because it’s one block from our house. On the first beautiful Monday of Spring, we sat in the shade offered by a big spunky tree and wondered, what the hell is going on here?

Eventually some shirtless dude with nipple piercings approached us, probably having sensed our newbie vibes, and asked if we’d ever been to Monday Funday before in that slow, sleepy hippie voice.

Now that we’re in the loop (now that we’re cool) we attend Funday Monday when we can. We always observe from the outside and never stay too late. The nipple dude told us that when the sun goes down, everyone gathers on the tennis courts to play a giant game of dodge ball, which is something I don’t want to be present for.

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A Day at Colonel Summers Park
Portland is a city of lost toys. There are so many characters I witness daily doing something that can only be justified by shaking my head like, “Portland, man.” For example, there is a man that bikes with no arms. A stick-like apparatus connects his chin to the handlebars, and his long empty sleeves whip behind him in the wind like a superhero cape. It’s amazing.

Everyone in Portland is thirsty for something, even if that thing is a cold beer. For many it’s a place to be themselves. Portland is the most visibly queer city I’ve ever been to. Some might be here for the incredible music scene, to start a business, to smoke weed freely, to enjoy the outdoors scene, the beer scene, or the rain, but it all derives from a universal wanting. The thirst is contagious – if you aren’t a part of it, you aren’t Portland. Portland protesters want to stop the increasing rent, decreasing space, and failing infrastructure. Portland newspapers want Bernie Sanders, better bike lanes, and fewer cars. But not everyone agrees. There are still way too many cars and people who insist on driving them. Yesterday on my bike I was flipped off by a hot-pink fake finger-nailed woman in a passenger seat, who failed to communicate in a healthy way her contempt for bikers, and probably sucks at life.

Portland natives want everything to stop. Nostalgic for the prePortlandia days, the days Portland was weird but not Urban Outfitters weird. It pains them to watch their favorite dive bar be run over by another local brewery filled with drunk tweeting twenty-somethings. Their wanting is a sadness, a sticky resentment, deep in their bones.

I, of course, am new to it all, slowly sinking my teeth in, getting my feet wet. Still discovering whether I fit in, or whether the point of Portland is to not. Portland is not yet my home, and at times I still feel like a visitor. I’m not sure where my relationship with the city is going, but I am enjoying life here very much. Portland has a way of making it’s people feel like a part of something bigger, even if right now, the only thing I am a part of is weekly Monday Funday.

Spring Awakening: Hiking Dog Mountain

Ten minutes on Interstate 84 East and the city is behind us. We ride along the crisp edge of the Columbia River Gorge, growing richer in color as the sun burns away the morning fog. A blue sky is the greatest gift on a Saturday morning. To my right are swelling hills of green, puckering up to the sun. Trees, relieved from winter rain, uncurl sulking spines and stretch their shoulders. Trickling down the hill crevices are gentle blue blades, shining rocks and lathering earth, evidence of snow coaxed by the sun.

Taylor and I cross the Bridge of the Gods and turn right, cruising another fourteen miles past fishing docks and crusty mountain towns.

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A sign reads, Dog Mountain Trail Head, and we turn left into a dirt parking lot. It’s full. So we drive to the overflow lot, near capacity. Groups of hikers gather at the trail head, fresh footed and eager.

Taylor and I bound up the first mile of switch backs, and I feel it in my legs already. I try not to think about the last time I really exerted myself. How long ago that was. The lower sides of my back, patches of bone and flesh, ache like a rusty bolt gripped by a strong hand twisted loose. My calves flinch with every step, pores tingle to life, and a pounding in my chest and thighs collide like blazing sound waves reverberating in a small space.

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At the top of the switchbacks, we reach a split in the trail. The sign on the left says, more difficult, and the sign on the right says, less difficult. I chuckle inside my head at the brutal honesty of the signs. The intentional avoidance of the word easy. We choose to go left, a more direct trail to the top,and take the less difficult trail down to save our knees.

Taylor calls from behind for me to slow down, and the next morning when I can barely move he will say, I told you so. But right now I desire a challenge. We pass families, friends, and dogs on leashes, give quick hellos and charge on. Eventually we rise into the wind and come to a clearing at the lip of the mountain. In the distance is Mount Rainier, a sugar kiss in the sky, and below, the Columbia Gorge splits Oregon and Washington, a river that ninety seven miles west joins the Pacific ocean.

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The chestnut colored trail weaves like a thin blade of hair up the grassy hill that in a few weeks will be covered in wild flowers. For now the clenched bulbs shake in the wind, which breaks through the threads of my jacket to my clammy skin.

The top is cold. People sit huddled together eating whatever snacks they brought. The view is blocked by passing clouds, and I think about what I often do on a mountain summit. Usually sitting on my bum, twiddling a piece of grass between my fingers, I think about how the plants and trees and rocks know nothing but the top of this mountain. They know nothing of the lives and systems that bustle over 1,000 feet below. In winter the mountain top freezes, all alone, otherwise daily disturbed by people that come and go from places it will never know and that to me, sounds sad. I would hate to have roots.

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When I grow too cold to stay, we descend down the less difficult path, far more pleasant. It is quiet as we exchange breaths with the thick trunks that totally surround me, transporting me to the place I love most in the whole world. The place of pure nature and nothing else. Taylor and I converse about something with a passion that rises the further we are lost in a hike.

The first hike of spring was an awakening. While it left me nearly sick with pain for a full day after, it made me even more excited for summer adventures to come.

Overcoming The Blogging Plagues

There are plagues in blogging. The plagues of meaningless jargon, exaggeration, cliches, and lazy writing. It’s contaminated the blogging world so deeply that we don’t even notice it anymore. If anything, we are convinced it’s the proper way to blog. In a world obsessed with numbers, the most viewed articles are often the ones in list form, easy to skim, with pictures that distract from the lazy writing. The entire point of the article is in the title or subtitle, followed by nothing but fluff. Ill thought out and unsupported opinion articles are offensive, choking journalistic integrity. After reading these articles I have changed in no way, learned nothing, and if anything I feel momentarily dejected and angry at the pervasive shallowness in the blogging world. It’s easy to write these articles, which means it’s easier for more people to blog – people who don’t care about writing as a craft, but who know how to formulate a blog post to get views.
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5 Reminders for a Recent College Grad in a New City

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Many recent grads leave their college town for a job or life elsewhere. A new place sounds exciting at first, until you realize you don’t know anyone, your job is shitty, you have less money than you thought, and you lack real life skills. Plenty of my friends got 4.0’s in college but don’t know how to file taxes or budget money. It’s impossible to prepare for this transition from the comfy college life to the real adult world.

On top of that, we are twenty two years old. Society, especially the media, bombards us with YOLO phrases and images telling us to be young, wild, and free. We desire that lifestyle even though the reality of our lives do not permit the time for both worlds. The YOLO burden, combined with student debt and working long hours at a shitty job, cancel each other out, leaving recent college grads stressed, disappointed, and anxious.
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