Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Family Reunions

We just had a family reunion. It's an interesting concept. A bunch of people gathering due to their linked bloodlines. I'd arrived by train the day before the event, looking forward to seeing my cousins, aunts and uncles who I haven't seen in years. Instead, I spoke mostly with people I barely knew and will probably never see again.

It was nice. But.

I guess I think that we are all interrelated if you look back far enough. So why do we bother to gather with a bunch of long-lost relatives and try to make relationships that will probably never exist? It's not like I personally need to find more friends or more people who are like me. But maybe others do.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's a mishmash- missing Oatie, trains, my new niece, and the old farmhouse.

I have to start with pictures of Oatie. Since I have this urge to call Molly's beautiful baby girl, Lily, by his name on occasion. Yes, I am getting that senile. I do think that Oatie is the cutest chihuahua on the face of this Earth. But I will stop now before I risk sounding like one of those annoying mothers.

Lil' sweetie...

Leaving the on the Portland train... see that guy in the green on the left? He had ridden his BMW motorcycle from Alaska down to the states but had some sort of mechanical breakdown and was taking the train home.

Me and the ceiling. If only they still made train stations like this, I think more people would travel.

Cute old man who was taking the train from Los Angeles to Fargo!

My happy new birthday present. I-pod which is larger than 4GB (replacing my five year old model.) And of course the pink sock camera case and hedonism notebook.

Stopping in Havre, Montana. My fellow passengers. Slightly different than Asia.

Neato sign.

Arrival into North Dakota. See, I wasn't lying when I said it was beautiful.

Lily. My little niece. We were hanging out in the backseat together. I tried to teach her to raise her eyebrows like I taught Molly but she hasn't quite caught on yet.
Here's the house where my mom lived until she was fifteen (no running water)- about 45 minutes northwest of Minot. The last time anyone lived here was in the 1960s, but my mom has been visiting the house with my sisters and me since the 1980s. It's still quite structurally sound, but time has taken its toll on the interior. Still a fun place to visit and envision the early life on the farm and not as spooky as when I was little.
I just like the silos. These, of course, are new.
Moving inside and upstairs to one of the bedrooms.
Just a little creepy doll on the floor upstairs.

Hmm. What sort of things did they REALLY do on the prairie?

Oh, then you go and confess it. And everything's just fine.

Perhaps the dress to wear to church?

No more pathetic stories. The only thing no one's carted away is that massive old stove.

It was a Fridgidare.

The view out the living room window, which you could see on the left hand side from the front.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Riding the rails home

I’m having trouble staying awake. The sun’s shining in the other side of the train. I realize looking at all my stuff that I’ve developed an obsession with orange somewhere along the line. I have an orange fleece, orange raincoat, orange sleeping bag and orange travel towel all in front of me. Plus I packed two orange t-shirts and a pair of orange plastic sunglasses. If you asked me, I would tell you my favorite color is blue. But now I am not so sure.

This is the sort of thinking that takes place after yay so many hours on the train, lulling along at a peacefully slow pace, the cabin as quiet as a library. It’s just about seventeen hours into the trip- eleven hours remain. No wonder I feel sedated. Or perhaps it’s the Ativan I took at 2:38 in the morning after waking up with painful lower teeth. Now that’s some heavy jaw clenching.

I’m sharing a two seat with a heavy smoker from Portland. I’d hazard a guess he’s about fifty-five, but I’m terrible at guessing once people are out of the single digits. He’s shaved his head and looks like he’s about seven months pregnant. I didn’t ask if he was the second male in Oregon with child. He’s wearing a grey hole-filled t-shirt under a blazer and jeans. I am clenching my jaws again. He just returned to our happy enclave and said, “Are you writing your novel? You’re too young to be writing your memoirs.” I thought about saying, “I’m older than I look” but then thirty three isn’t very old, even if I am old thirty-three, life-experience wise. Plus I just don’t want to have the conversation. Perhaps he’ll go away again for a while. I have my fingers and toes crossed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Keeping dads alive

This morning, while reading the New York Times Magazine, I came across the article, "Sidewalk Phantom" on the back page "Lives" column. The author, Austin Ratner, a cousin of Harvey Pekar (who writes comics and also had a film, American Splendor, written about him) writes about his father who died at 29 of lymphoma and how he's always trying to figure out a way to work his dad into conversation, including one with his neighbour, Paul Giamatti, who played his uncle Harvey Pekar in American Splendor.

It's not a sappy essay nor a celebrity-stalking recountment, but rather a very honest description of the mental process of a child who lost his father at a young age and the internal and external dialogues he's created in order to keep his dad alive. Reading it was like reading my own mind.

On this Father's day, I thank my dad, Keith, for being a presence in my life. There'll always be a part of him to be alive inside my mind and outside it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

PDX and continuing ed fun

Store for special people.

Lulu's adorable sleeping boy.

My cabbie. Kyle.

The abstract Camry.

Nicole, walking the streets of Forest Grove, where I spent 1997 to 2001 in optometry school. You can tell she is from North Dakota too. She walks with purpose.

The Happy Shopper.

The Happy Shopper II.

Pacific Univ uses corn glasses. We are that enviro-advanced.

We were trying to pretend we were at the movies. I don't think we drank enough.

Nicole's self photos. I think this one was particularly nice with Nicole centered with people on either side of her.

She's a hottie. Did I mention she's from Fargo? That explains a lot.

How to lap your wine. In class.

Discreet disgust.

Crazy Fargo people. You saw the movie didn't you?

Abstract happiness.

Dear lord, help ,me.

ET phone us and beam us up!

Action shot.

Poor little Laotian boy. With eyelid infection. Preseptal Cellulitis.

Take us away! Please! How did I ever get through optometry school?

The answer is D. In case you didn't know.

Filling out the survey.

Optometrists learning. Look at the eagerness! The zest for new information! The thrill!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Barking Man

Oatie, also known as Barking Man, is my best friend in Portland. I take him everywhere with me. He's Mr. Casual, looking like he's riding a rollercoaster, rather than hanging over my orange-fleece-covered arm, not even bothering to feel nervous by the thought that with a little slip he could be on the floor. Nah, he trusts me. We are buds like that.

We go way back. Back to when I first visited Carrie in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She'd told me that she got a chihuahua. I thought, "Why in God's name would you ever get one of those ugly things?" I went to visit at Christmas, braving the death-welcoming tundra that is December in North Dakota. At Carrie's house, she tried to get me to hold The Dog. I have never liked dogs, ever since they chased me down the street in Alexandria, trying to eat me alive. I know that's what they were thinking. Anyway. I said, "What if he pees on me?"

"Oh, he's never peed on anyone!" Carrie pushed him at me. She's like that sometimes.

What could a little rat dog like this do, anyway? I tried fake like him. But he knew I was lying. He peed on me. At end of the visit, my sister insisted on photodocumentation of me holding the dogs, pretending I thought they were cute. I did not think they were cute.

I flew home, happy to return to my solitary existence.

A couple years later, I agreed to let Carrie move in with me. Well I was VERY HAPPY to have Carrie move in with me. I decided I could PUT UP with The Dog.

For three months, I hated him. I ignored him. He peed on things. I got mad. I wanted him to move out.

I decided I should fake like him again. So I started to pick him up and hug him and tell him, "I love you." This is where the psych degree comes in handy. I started to LOVE the dog. It must have been that mind training that I was doing on him. It backfired.

So I moved to NZ. And I missed The Dog. I would think of him jumping up and down when I came in the door. I was sad.

I returned home to Portland and the first person who I saw was Oatie. He squealed in his kennel and jiggled the door. It was a fantastic reunion, complete with smelly dog breath licking on my face. (Of which I am still not a fan.)

We've settled into our routine. Walks every other day to the coffee shop. Picking up strangers everywhere. Peeing on everything that looks like it could be a tree or bush (that's just Oatie, not me!) I jump into the car. Oatie jumps into the car. (Okay, sometimes he's too lazy to jump into the car and just looks at me pathetically until I pick him up.) We cruise the streets of Portland, hanging out the windows.

Sometimes when I'm not looking, he sneaks a lick on my face, aiming for the lips. Sometimes he misses the mark and gets his tooth caught in my nose in his fervor. He knows I don't like it, but he does it anyway. He's a man like that.

Today we dressed him up in his Gap sweatshirt. He abruptly became comatose with warmth.

I took him to our coffeeshop. The one that lets the dog come in and sit on my lap. Yes I am now one of THOSE people. A dog person.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

PDX observations

Up and down, round and round.

The rollercoaster of life.

I've gotten stuck in a philosophical bent these days. It seems to be my default mode when I am a resting stone, rather than rolling along. I like rolling. But it's nice to be back in familiar territory with old friends at my side.

However, I've also been surveying the Portland scene and it's pretty much the same as it was before I left. I think Portland is too cool for me. Right now anyway. I am too simple. Somewhere along the line, I became okay with only having four pairs of underwear, wearing the same fisherman's pants nearly every day and having less belongings than I could carry in a pack on my back.

"Playing it safe is the most popular way to fail." -Portlander, the late Elliott Smith

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New plans=No plans

God may know the plan for me. But I'm not religious, so I don't go to church or ask to find out. I just wander through each day waiting to see what sort of crazy bolt of an idea pops into my head and then decide if it's wild enough to consider.

That's how I moved to New Zealand, backpacked SE Asia and ended up an unemployed, I mean on sabbatical, squatter at my little sister's house in Portland. It all seems like it was in the plan.

Just the other day, I was walking aimlessly around downtown Portland, mulling over options for the next step. The thought that the stress of attempting to plan and hike a section of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail at this time are too great popped into my head. What if I skip it? For now at least? I can do it later. It felt nice. Calm. Peaceful. Freeing.

So now I have a little more time in Portland, to see friends, work on Carrie's house and fix up my old yard that's being cared for by renters. I can leisurely make my way to Nodak, and enjoy the scenery on the way, rather than rush along in the American way.

What is it about the States that makes us all feel like we must be productive all the time? We must hurry? We must be accountable?

Though I've been back only two weeks, I've been busy nearly every day. I could make a list of all the things I've done (and I sort of want to, me with my love of lists.). It's considerable. People ask me, "What have you done today?" with the expectation that I will provide them with an adequate answer. I've been asked how can I be unemployed, wandering and thinking and working on whatever project I deem needs to be done.

It's not hard. Ask a teacher who has the summers off. I'm sure they're not sitting around twiddling their thumbs thinking, "Woe is me. I'm so bored." No, I think not.

I'm having the time of my life doing whatever I want.

Somedays, it's just simply noticing that there are birds in Portland. Or seeing the layers of bluish clouds in the sky highlighting the greenness of the hills and the colors of the downtown bridges.

Visiting Portland is like visiting an old lover. I know why I was here for so long and why it was so hard to leave. I don't know if I'll ever move back, but forever Portland is me.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I am perhaps a loser.

I mull things over too much.
I get too excited.
I have too many ideas.
I fear love.
I hold my breath.
I keep life at arm's length.
I spin.
I flit.
I walk and walk til it all makes sense.
It never makes sense.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Traces of the past

"I'm still here," I thought, while patiently hiding in my old office waiting to surprise my friends who were finishing eye exams. Two quotes I'd taped to the computer screen, my handwriting on the wall- all the phone numbers I'd collected through the years, my name on the ophthalmology call list. It was nice to know I hadn't been erased.

We never really leave a place. We always leave a part of us, wherever we go, whoever we touch along the way. Maybe that's part of eternal life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Returning home - Kaiser

How do I say what today was like?

It started with a sunrise the color of orange sherbet. It's ending with dinner at Shanta's.

In between I saw Lourdes and her new addition, Calvin. How strange that one of my very best friends has a baby. It's like she's the same, but different. Kind of like me. We drank cinnamon tea in Carrie's living room and talked about life before she had to zip to the airport to pick up her sister. Calvin was sweet and slept most of the time or made funny faces with his tongue, not even crying when Oatie decided to bark at him.

After seeing Lourdes, I had the urge to go to Kaiser and see my old work friends, so I jumped in my borrowed red 1995 Passport and hauled myself over to work. I snuck up the back stairs and in the back door. Since I've still not mastered the inside voice, it wasn't too long before everyone knew I was there. I got lots of hugs and couldn't stop smiling. Even was a little shaky- it was strange to be there and yet everything seemed just as it was before I left. It's a funny feeling to return. I felt like I was home. For six years, they were my family in Portland.

Questions about my plans- "Are you coming back?" "What's next?" abounded. Not entirely sure myself what is around the next corner, I outlined my life plan rough draft, with the disclosure that nothing is set in stone.

I don't really know what is next. But as long as I am still happy, learning every day and sharing myself with the world, that is enough.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Sun Magazine | Saving The Indigenous Soul

I came across this article in my monthly email from The Sun Magazine. It's free to sign up and contains some of the best writing out there.

The Sun Magazine Saving The Indigenous Soul: An Interview with Martin Prechtel
"If this world were a tree, then the other world would be the roots — the part of the plant we can’t see, but that puts the sap into the tree’s veins. The other world feeds this tangible world — the world that can feel pain, that can eat and drink, that can fail; the world that goes around in cycles; the world where we die. The other world is what makes this world work. And the way we help the other world continue is by feeding it with our beauty.

All human beings come from the other world, but we forget it a few months after we’re born. This amnesia occurs because we are dazzled by the beauty and physicality of this world. We spend the rest of our lives putting back together our memories of the other world, enough to serve the greater good and to teach the new amnesiacs — the children — how to remember. Often, this lesson is taught during the initiation into adulthood.

The Mayans say that the other world sings us into being. We are its song. We’re made of sound, and as the sound passes through the sieve between this world and the other world, it takes the shape of birds, grass, tables — all these things are made of sound. Human beings, with our own sounds, can feed the other world in return, to fatten those in the other world up, so they can continue to sing."

This article seems timely as we've recently welcomed Lily into our family. A family of women welcomes its first granddaughter, its first niece. My mom says Lily makes all sorts of faces- she's busy thinking and dreaming. Perhaps transitioning into this world.

An old Aztec saying is, "That we come to this earth to live is untrue. We come to sleep and to dream." Maybe I was also drawn to this article after vivid dreams of New Zealand friends last night. This morning I woke up wondering where I was and what had happened. And then became a little sad to realise it was just a dream. But the feelings were real.

I like the idea of roots to the other world, of reincarnation, of connectedness. If we are not connected, then why are we all here together? How is it possible to just meet someone and feel you've known them forever? Couldn't that be that we actually have met?

When do you feel most alive? Is it when you're accomplishing something? Or is it when you've gotten yourself out of the usual, into a transition area, a place where time feels slow, light appears altered and life is not what it seems?

I know how I am. Which may explain why I'm content to travel, to sow no roots and to let belongings slide off my back, so that I am free to keep walking. Walking through this earth, contributing to the song, and making connections every day.