Tag Archives: Portland

Useless Fears About Reading One’s Work

in other words bookstore frontI’m reading this afternoon at In Other Words, the last nonprofit feminist bookstore in the country. The one featured in Portlandia, but I won’t mention that today when I’m there, in case they’re sore about it. As is typical for me and my neuroses, I have some worst-case scenarios in my head that won’t leave me alone, even though I know they’re extremely improbable. Here is the list of “what ifs” that I’ve dwelt on so far:

1. I will get motion sickness from trying to figure out how to use my new bifocals that I throw up on myself or the audience.

2. A recent rain in Portland will create a puddle over by the electrical panel and my mic will electrocute me when I’m talking about intimate like packing or breasts.

3. My ex will show up to challenge everything I wrote about him like I’m the next and more disappointing version of James Frey.

4. My bow tie will be too tight and my head will explode.

5. Everyone will realize that they’re so tired of my announcements about this reading they’ll decide not to show up after all. The coffee shop on the next block, however, will be swamped with an impromptu open mic event.

None of these are likely to happen, I know. But neither are they impossible. At least I haven’t envisioned the zombie apocalypse beginning at this very event.

Damn it!

Mission Extremely Challenging, If Not Impossible

cramped hotel room as exemplified by squished catFive days we’re here in Portland, ostensibly for Susanne’s participation in a work conference, but I managed to finagle a reading on our last day, so both of us have a career moment or two while we’re in town. The rest of our visit we get to see friends and some family, and take in the riches of urban life. While there are several nice upsides to living in Walla Walla, like no traffic or smog, cheap rent, and gorgeous sunny skies on most days, we’ve discovered we need frequent small breaks to nearby cities. Portland is three-and-a-half hours away by car, most of the drive along the picturesque Columbia River, the gem blue water reflecting the rusty, hard etched hills until the Cascade Mountains take over and pepper the terrain with thousands of evergreens. Leaving southeast Washington is a joy when the weather is agreeable.

On the downside, all three of us are crammed into a decidedly not large hotel room, and nowhere in the complimentary Book of Mormon is there any advice on sudden downsizing of life and provisions with baby. I’ve looked. Read More…

Long writing journey into something

Ever since I read in Stuff White People Like that Moleskines are a staple of white pretentiousness and posturing, I’ve been self-conscious about mine. Christian Lander had me nailed, right down to the MacBook Pro sitting next to it as I sipped at a non-fat latte in an overpriced coffee house. At least I hadn’t procured mine with a credit card—I’d scraped together cash from around the house, on the premise that if I only used loose change, it was like a free purchase, like how sucking on a mint after an outing to Sonic is free of calories. How idiotically white of me.

mocha latteTo make matters worse, this is not my first Moleskine. It is, in fact, my second. And if anyone cared to study this little black ruled book, they would discover a “2” written  in on the bottom, where the gold leaf should be, I guess.

Perhaps it’s better that I used up a whole book already, because at least I write in them, and no, they’re not just full of grocery lists and directions to IKEA.

I also don’t have anything in here worthy of da Vinci or Hemingway, two of the Moleskine’s more famous users, and Hemingway was a stuck up misogynist anyway. His best short story is six words long (his assertion, not mine).

No, I write in this notebook to keep track of query letter submissions, the inevitable rejections, submissions to journals, and the places I might submit to someday but for what I consider exorbitant submission fees (read, $10). I also keep track of my work in progress’ progress, scheduling deadlines for myself like an agent or editor would. That way I can have arguments with myself over why I’m giving excuses on missing important dates and don’t I know what this is doing to my career, and who is going to want to work with me after this?

I’m sure I still have my mind. It’s right in a box over there.

All of this ponderance about Moleskine notebooks comes because I’m sitting at PDX airport waiting to meet my mother who will be visiting us or a week. A technology professional is at the table next to mine, speaking loudly into his cell phone describing the apparently delicious and speciously nutritious drink he’s just purchased from Jamba Juice: a little bit of banana, strawberry, and mango, he declares loudly to his wife, plus some SOY PROTEIN! and ESSENCE OF WHEATGRASS! It sounds particularly disgusting to me, but then I’m the schmuck with a $4 nonfat mocha in a world-preserving, 100% recycled cup, so what do I know? And writing in a Moleskine. Damn Moleskine.

I don’t feel particularly pretentious, but then again, white people never do. We’re pretty much blind to it, save the very extreme examples—here I’m thinking of German avant garde artists from the 1980s, or say, people from Massachusetts named Biff Wellesley or Chauncy Milton who wear plaid shorts unironically and race in regattas around the Cape. Maybe I feel a bit incognito partly because I am sans my titanium Apple accessory this evening, and partly because I am in green cargo pants and a black hoodie. I fit right in to PDX, the city, not the airport. Come to think of it, who nicknames their city after their airport? I bet if I asked everyone in earshot who had a Moleskine to whip it out and wave it like they just don’t care, 39 percent of the folks here would be showing off their pretentiousness inside of 16 seconds.

The airport announcer is saying, for the fourth time, that Jesse Bauer really needs to meet his party at the Panda Express. Jesus, Jesse, get moving, their dinners are going to get cold.

I left Walla2 right after receiving notice from an agent in Seattle that they just didn’t quite connect to my manuscript, so they won’t be moving forward with me on this project. Moving forward. I note that they didn’t rule out moving left, or upward. Perhaps those options are still open.

My mind reads this rejection sentence and immediately thinks of a shoreline. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it goes back to that oft-repeated line about the footprints of Jesus as he carries his ignorant follower who somehow doesn’t get that hello, JESUS IS CARRYING YOUR DUMB ASS. I’m not sure with whom I’ll be moving forward, but if Jesus is doing any agenting, I’m open to the idea. I bet he could work wonders with publishers, yuk yuk.

She went on to say in her letter that it wasn’t me, it was her, and just, perhaps, a matter of taste. This Dear John letter tone didn’t sit well with me. A matter of taste? She was looking for a Prada clutch, and I was a Jacqueline Smith pocketbook on the clearance rack at KMart? Or perhaps it just wasn’t what she was looking for right now. Maybe three years from now humorous memoirs about klutzes who get sex changes will be all the rage. But why say perhaps? Doesn’t she know? It’s her opinion she’s offering.

Well, it comes down to platform, I get that. Mr. Dan Savage of the Stranger, another GLBT author working with a Seattle agent, has readership. So okay, I’ll work on having a platform and see if my words suddenly sound better, or become more connectable to people.

The second paragraph of her letter was just as brief. She wanted to encourage me to continue trying. I genuinely appreciate that. But why? Or more to the point, how? She said there was much to recommend about my writing. What, specifically? The font? The careful avoidance of split infinitives? The witty banter among urban dwelling queers? What? I’m left, as after my other rejections, in the middle of a guessing game. So far, my guesses have been wrong, if success is measured in contract proposals.

But I’ll tally ho and try again, because I am a writer with nothing to lose. JK Rowling got 13 rejections of her original Harry Potter book. I have just surpassed her with this 14th rejection.

Take that, JK!

East side, west side, all around the state

I got up early today, well, early for me, meaning 7:30, well after sunrise but hours before the sun would reach its peak in the spring sky. I got in the car for a long ride to Portland, first following the Columbia River and then dipping down to the interstate. I had plugged in my iPod which is bursting at the seams with 18 gigs of music, I had made a fresh thermos of coffee, and had downed a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. I had brought with me a banana, directions, my cell phone, and not much else. 

The road from here, Walla Walla, to there is filled with microclimates. East of the Cascade Mountains one will observe magpies; west of them there are none to be found. Out here in eastern Washington/Oregon there are many rolling hills as part of the scrubland landscape–red-brown rocks and outcroppings share space with tan brush that gives the effect of looking like sheep that need to be shorn for the year. Thirty miles west of Walla Walla the gorges begin, and the royal blue river winds through the high hills as if to thumb its nose at the typically pale blue sky up ahead. And that sky is empty; only the long series of enormous windmills dare to drive up that high, standing over the scene like silent giants, spinning slowly and methodically as I zipped by. (Note to Oregon State Patrol: “zipped” means under or at the speed limit.) 

The rolling hills slowly begin to grow, and as they acquire the status of height, they pick up other things: taller scrub brush, small evergreen trees, fine dustings of snow. These, in turn, evolve to another status as deciduous trees appear on the side of the road, the evergreens get taller and taller, and the dust gives way to a thickening green carpet of moss and wild grasses. Now the blue river cutting through the rock looks complementary to the other Mother Earth colors, and then the dams begin, controlling and harnessing its flow.

The dams are not without their controversy. Fishermen wail that their harvests are at all-time lows, just 40 years after the dams were installed. Farmers cry out to keep the dams because they rely on the steady irrigation. Conservationists fret about the livelihood of the salmon spawning capability, tourist guides in Idaho bemoan what the dams are doing to their industry, and security experts talk quietly about risk assessments. I, however, am single-minded in my quest to reach my destination, and decide to defer the arguments for another moment. Such is my luxury.

Dead ahead of drivers on I-84, all of a sudden, is Mount Hood. It looms in the background like a gigantic screen saver and I have to blink many times before I realize it’s the real deal. Snow-covered as far as I can see, top to bottom. A sign that flashes by on my right tells me that it is 11,000 feet tall. That’s two or so miles high, I calculate vaguely. I see the hillsides around it; now they look like a velvet cloth has been cast over them, with the soft grass and moss and the dry patches of sand worked in. I bet this is the doing of the giant windmills. I see parts of two or three windmills passing me on the highway, dismembered on a series of WIDE LOAD-marked semis. Each truck comes with its own pacer car that alerts other drivers to the mystery of the cargo — it can take two or three trucks to figure out what these very very large pieces of white metal are, until you’ve figured it out the first time. 

Eventually I hit actual traffic, and by traffic, I mean more than one tractor-trailer and a nervous-looking woman in a 1990 Ford Escort. I have a moment where my sense memory comes back to me, so I change my distance to the car ahead, lest some jerky driver try to cut me off. I tell myself this is one of the good things about Walla Walla. 

I finally make it to my goal, shut off the car, and walk inside the building, my legs having stiffened up during the long drive and barking at me for neglecting their care. One hour later, I’m back in the car, heading home, to go through the process in reverse, and this time, with the setting sun behind me, gradually turning to a burnt umber and snuffing itself out just as I pull in to the driveway.

And away we go! And . . . away we go! Away we go!


Witch Hazel -- away she goes!

Witch Hazel -- away she goes!



The logic behind spending the night in a hotel near the Portland airport was obvious — we would be near the airport for our flight the next day. For while Susanne and I consider ourselves to be above average intelligence, we surely enjoy a good obvious moment. Sometimes what is right in front of one’s face proves elusive anyway, after all, despite the best intentions. Or road map.

Here is where our careful planning went wrong. More precisely, my careful planning. For while I traced our route from home to Powell’s bookstore, and from Powell’s to the nearest Burgerville, and from there to our airport hotel, I did not plan the route to the actual airport for the next morning. I figured, lazily, “it’s an airport hotel! How far will we have to go!”

Far, it seems, when one winds up driving around in circles. We could actually hear planes landing and taking off while we drove around a dark warehouse district. It would make sense for warehouses to set up near a hub of transportation, it’s true, but can’t these folks plant an airport sign or two?

We started off with a wakeup call at 5 a.m. that wouldn’t stop ringing until we’d picked up both phones in the room. Not sure if that’s brilliant or sadistic. We were operating on the premise that our flight was leaving at 6:45. Now I know the adage, since 9/11, that you’re supposed to leave two hours at the airport to get on your domestic flight, but come on, really?

Yes, Ev. Really.

So we’re driving around clueless at 5:48, knowing we’re right next to the darn airport. 

I come to a T intersection. There’s no street sign. We don’t know which way to go. So we try both options. I thought Susanne would know how to get there. She thought I would know how to get there. To say we were annoyed would be to grossly understate the situation.

I pull into a Howard Johnson’s, hoping I’m still in the city of Portland and haven’t somehow made my way down to Eugene. I hop inside and ask the concierge for the directions to the airport, in a way that clearly identifies me as a harried, stressed out, idiot of a person who is also not from this area. I brace for his answer, thinking the directions will look something like this:


He tells me to take a right out of the parking lot, go down three lights, and make a left.

That’s it?

Even better, the name of the road just outside the parking lot is Airport Way.

I could hear giggling from somewhere. I’m not sure it’s real or not. Or if it’s coming from me.

We make our way to the airport, find the extended parking, and scramble to the shuttle, grabbing our bags and coats. I press blindly at the car lock thingie on my keychain, locking it up as I run to the shuttle.

We made it! Susanne pulls out our itinerary. Our flight’s at 6:30. Not 6:45. 6:30 is in 20 minutes.

We didn’t make it. The Northwest computer laughs at us as we try to check in. The Northwest rep at the counter is really helpful though, and books us on a nonstop flight, getting us into Detroit about half an hour earlier than we would have with our original itinerary. Which, for $200 in changing flights fees . . . is nice?

We settle into the airport for some breakfast, since now we’ll have time for that instead of $3 trail mix and Sierra Mist on the plane. Portland airport has free Wi-Fi. How cool! We pass the time reading useless email and playing Facebook games. Ten minutes before boarding Susanne goes to get an iced tea, and I stress out again as folks are called to board and I don’t see her. Then, unlike in a romantic dream sequence, I see her walking down the corridor, carrying her tea, seeing the queue for the gate, and frowning. Apparently it is Training Day at Starbucks, and we all know how that movie ends. We get on the plane, promptly fall asleep with our necks in such a contorted position that we can not look directly ahead for the rest of the day, and wake up 3.7 hours later in the frigid tundra known as Michigan.

And away we go, on the hour-plus ride to my in-laws. They already knew the way there, fortunately for us.

City block of books

Because we’re frugal people, Susanne and I booked our Thanksgiving flights in and out of Portland. Okay, so “frugal” might be a bit of an exaggeration. Flights in and out of Walla Walla’s regional airport, after all, run about $500 more than in and out of Portland. So throw in gas and a one-night hotel stay, and we’re still netting a savings. It’s a no-brainer, really.

But Portland holds other interest for us as well. The first two recommendations we had were to go to Powell’s City Block of Books, and Burgerville. Not necessarily in that order. Although as it turns out, that is the order in which we drove. If I’d gotten $5 for each trip over the Morrison Street bridge — I guess I’d have $10. Okay, chalk that up to another money-making idea that won’t work.


Burgerville in SE

Burgerville in SE

Powell’s was pretty amazing. Books were arranged in that special way that only book nerds can manage — color-coded rooms housed major categories like social science, science fiction, etc. I think usability specialists would have a critique along the lines that the colors don’t actually have any intuitive connection to the organization, but maybe only Edward Tufte would care. If you know who Ed Tufte is, you can pay me $5. Hey, I’m looking for income wherever I can get it, and why should I have to send you money just because you can google the guy?

I limped through the orange section’s five aisles of cookbooks. Cookbooks by region. I discovered that fully a third of the Spanish cookbooks are unusable because there are so many fish and shellfish recipes, which Susanne can’t eat. I know it’s got a long coastline, but heck, does Spain think it’s the new Japan? Cookbooks for weddings. Okay, that’s the last thing anyone needs — you’re getting married and you think you should cook your own food? Don’t professional caterers have their own menus? Who’s buying these cookbooks, exactly? Celebrity cookbooks. “Celebrity” here means Food TV celebrities. Who cares? I can watch their shows for free and make what they make. Give me a real celebrity cookbook. Publish Kenny Roger’s cookbook. I want to see blackened, vodka chicken with jackass hangover sauce. I would make that chicken.

Susanne went upstairs to the politics section, looking for books to purchase so she can review them for future classes. So productive, that one. She bought nearly $300 worth, gleeful to be spending from her college allotment. She chatted up the cashier on how nice it is to spend someone else’s money. And of course the cashier quite agreed, growing dollar signs in her pupils that I found disturbing. I looked up at the chalkboard behind her head and saw that Powell’s takes a number of currencies — yen, euros, pounds — and has an updated exchange rate posted (hence the chalk). Let me get this straight — you happen to be in Portland, Oregon, and you see the sign and say hey, let me just pull out these 13,000 yen so I can get a copy of Toni Morrison’s latest! Thank goodness I walk around all day with foreign currency!

After taking our five sagging bags back to the car, we motored on over to Burgerville. There are multiple locations in the city, which I thought was something akin to there being multiple Lebanese Tavernas in the Washington, DC metro region. So I was thinking nice burger place. And then we drove up to the place in a section of town that looked a lot like west Baltimore. Let’s just say that there are a lot of air conditioner repairmen in SE Portland.

We were not expecting Burgerville to be a fast-food chain. It had the basic McDonald’s layout of front door, back door, drive through, and order counter. We sat down to a cheeseburger, a cheesebaconburger, a medium pile of sweet potato fries, and a Black Forest shake.


our Burgerville lunch

our Burgerville lunch

And it was very tasty. Indeed. It was just a bit empty, which made it depressing, especially in the midst of the closed-down auto parts shops and pockmarked street just outside. But still, a nearly perfect shake, even if I had to struggle to suck it up a bit, due to the chopped cherries in it. Bigger straw, please. It’s not like a bigger straw is going to make people think you’re trying to be Wendy’s, after all.

Next time we go to Portland we’ll have to find some other treasures. It looked like a fun city. Feel free to leave your recommendations here, and we’ll take them under advisement.


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