Post Election: Finding Clarity in Books

When emotions and uncertainty take over, when social media fails, I remember the invaluable, soulful gifts that are novels.

I’m reading Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, and from the perspective of forty- year-old Patty, he wrote:

“There’s a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else’s work in the morning, it’s as if stillness experiences pain in being broken. The first minute of the workday reminds you of all the other minutes that a day consists of, and it’s never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals. Only after other minutes have joined the naked, lonely first minute, does the day become more safely integrated in its dayness.”

Reading can be that way. The first page feels daunting as you’re afraid you’ll lose focus and stop. But once other pages have joined the first page, you feel more comfortable in the rhythm of reading. Pages cease to be individuals and the story forms in your mind in a continues string. It feels complete and relaxing as it guides you through the author’s world. That’s a satisfaction I can only get from reading books. Social media, the other place where I “read,” makes me feel lost in a thick forest, blinded by sticks poking me in the eye and scratching my skin. It’s ironic that a novel would give me more clarity than things happening in real life. The longer I stay on Facebook, the more exhausted and frustrated I become, like I’m beating myself over the head at the same time saying, “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!” Like an obnoxious middle school bully, only I’m the bully and the victim. I go on Facebook because I want to educate myself about what is going on with my friends, in the world, in our country, since the election results. I want to know what Donald Trump is saying and what liberals and conservatives have to say about it and about each other. It seems important to be up-to-date on politics, but a few minutes on Social Media I somehow feel dumber. Even my long-time trusted sources like CNN and New York Times somehow feel compromised.

I don’t want to do this to myself, I wish I could stop. You must know what I’m talking about. Most articles I don’t have to read past the headline to get the point. Even the articles I manage to get through most of, however painful, are tossed aside when I inevitably think, OK I get it, heard it before, can’t stand this, or UGHHHHHHH! A voice inside my head is constantly screaming. Social Media is so murky, so swamped in hateful opinions and fake news, that after five minutes I feel the need to shower. I put my phone away and demand myself to open a book.

Reading books is escapism. It makes me feel productive when I don’t want to run or write or get out of bed yet. It’s better for my brain than TV. It’s better for me than most things.

The characters in my book feel all the same things people do in real life – they are complicated and flawed, feel anger, frustration, betrayal, ecstasy, remorse, guilt, pleasure, and so on, but in a far more poetic and concise world depicted in the power of the writing. In Freedom, there is the emotional eloquence and tight complexity and profound conclusiveness lacking in real life. The sense that I’m heading somewhere with intention, and I can see with confidence a little ways ahead. I trust the writer and the narrator to lead me down the right path. Contrarily, Social Media and our current political state is a world of millions of untrustworthy narrators luring you down a million different paths with no intention and to no end.

Unlike depressed forty-year-old Patty, most mornings I actually enjoy breaking the silence. I love the sound of Taylor making breakfast in the morning. My head fills with a whistling tune, the day’s begun! I look forward to my first sips of coffee and feel brief sadness when the moments over. I want all of life’s moments to be like the first sips of coffee.

But on the morning of November 9th, I woke to a silent apartment. Taylor had left for work at 5 AM and I’d slept through his departure. I woke to emptiness in and around me. I did not want to get out of bed, well aware of the pain and hazardous sadness that breaking the silence would entail. I could have stayed in bed all day, preserving the last moments of my round, glass globe that no sound could breach, that had been shattered but not yet fallen. It held a threatening, splintered shape. A slight disturbance would cause its crumble, and I knew I would have to be the one to break it. I knew there was no point in wallowing in denial so eventually I stood up, shattering the glass, and started my day. It was odd to see people at work, the construction men across the street, the baristas next door. Portland continued in laceration. Right now it’s like our country is stuck in the state where minutes remain individuals, November 9th marking the first minute. Since then, we remain counting. Counting minutes, counting days, counting pages, an unguided story. We are not yet safely integrated.

What’s amazing to me, though, is how the paragraph by Jonathon Franzen stood out above all the trying opinions and articles I’ve read on Social Media since the election. When I read it I stopped, looked up, and breathed. Then I read it again and again. I read it out loud. I wrote it down. And every time I read it it gave me clarity and filled me with hope. Hope that one day I’ll be able to write a sentence as true as that one. One day my writing will make someone else pause, look up and think – yes. Hope that I, as a writer and a human, can and will rise above the noise around me – all the meaningless noise – to notice and articulate such a small, nuanced part of our day that no one thinks about – no one who is stuck in the noise would bother to think about – and make it more important and beautiful and profound than anyone thought it could be.

From Stumbling to Stepping: Making Our Way in Portland

Before we knew our way around Portland, before the rain stuttered and summer passed and the rain returned in tsunamic downpours; before we had jobs and a mattress and a toilet of our own, Taylor and I sat on a bench in the Vancouver, Washington public library, a phone pressed to my ear as a reluctant voice told me we didn’t get the jobs we’d driven across the country for.

Three thousand miles from home in the middle of January, neither of us knew what to do. We didn’t want to drive back and we didn’t know where to go. We’d been living in a car. I was tired of driving and tired of fighting my tiredness. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to forget the whole trip happened, curl up in my warm, childhood bed and abandon adulthood.
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Camp Lake to Middle Sister

In the words of Miley Cyrus, it’s the climb.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned how to do in the past seven years it’s how to pack for a backpacking trip. I’m always packing that extra layer, thinking of everything, because I hate wishing I had something on the trail or forgetting something important. And yet that’s exactly what happened when I arrived at the Pole Creek trail head in Sisters, Oregon last weekend. I was all packed and ready to go, with the exception of one crucial item—boots. My boots were no where to be found. I swore I had them in my hand when I left, how could I forget something like boots? But it didn’t matter how much I swore, how much I repeated, “I put them right there!” They were not right there. They were no where. They were at home, three hours away, in our one room apartment. Luckily I had my Chacos. If I were to hike in anything else, it would be my Chacos.

The first eight miles of trail was a mix of flat and gentle ascent, consisting of soft dirt and sand. I was thankful for that. Beautiful surroundings of the North, Middle, and South Sister volcanoes. The trail came to an end at Camp Lake, where we’d spend a night. I wanted to sleep right next to the lake so we could watch the sun set and look up at the stars. Once our tent was up, we left everything but a water bottle and headed for the summit of Middle Sister.

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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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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.

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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.
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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.
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