Portland. This grungy hippie metropolis somehow always draws me back.
The first time I visited Portland, summer 2009, I knew I was an outsider. I thought that the Portlanders could spot my alienness; the palm trees lingering in my shadow; the potato fields stuck in the sole of my converse. I was too Southern California with a dash of Idaho. And it never rained.
Having visited Portland in January of 2010 and finally experiencing the Portland my Oregonian friends tried to describe--the grey-on-grey skies, the seemingly unwarranted depression, the coffee shops and coffee shops and coffee shops--and having spent a summer in Ketchikan, Alaska (bla bla bla the island averages 153 inches of rainfall each year bla bla bla), I better comprehend what a life narrated by the rain means.
All this to say, Portland is an old friend. I'm still an outsider and will be until I actually live there, but I am no longer alien.
I didn't really want to visit all the old haunts, however. Friends can't stay friends if they cling too diligently to the past; you have to build new memories together.
So when Garrett said he did not want to go to Voodoo Doughnuts, I didn't put up a fight. Yes, my mouth watered for a Bacon Maple and an Old Dirty Bastard. Yes, sometimes I feel the guilt of perhaps slighting the ghosts. No, I don't regret passing it up just this once. Yes, next time I'm in Portland, I'm definitely going to get me a doughnut.
Looks like hell. Tastes like heaven.
Old. Dirty. Bastard.
Worth almost all the calories.
I did, however, drag Garrett to Powell's City of Books on Burnside. Lit'rully a city of books. Obviously I could not pass up wandering around rows and stacks and shelves of books for two hours; not for all the new memories in the world.
A cheshire smile hijacked my face as I aimlessly ambled about, reading a few pages of a DIY urban gardening guide here, a children's book about bullying slugs there, new and shocking insights regarding my horoscope in the Red room, the true meaning of that song "Crash into Me" by Dave Matthews Band in the Pearl room.
The lyrics "hike up your skirt a little more/and show your world to me"
don't sound so cutsie-wootsie-romantique now, do they?
After lunch and some more aimless wandering, we found our way to a coffee shop and got some writing and reading done. Did I indulge in a delicious lavender steamer? You bet.
That evening we hit up an open mic at the Star E Rose Cafe, a hip little cafe if I e'er saw one.
Pretend it's dark, and that I took this picture.
I was very impressed by three poets in particular. A beautiful girl in a pink dress shared a funny-yet-heartbreaking poem about a break up. Sounds eye-roll worthy, right? But she wrote in such a way that was forgiving and empathetic to both herself and the ex-lover. She was honest and personal, yet didn't spill too many dirty details. In my notes I called her poetry "crisp as a golden apple."
The next impressive writer was a tall, voluptuous, raven-haired woman with some serious sass-attack in the swing of her hips. When she started walking toward the mic I thought "oh, here we go." I anticipated a rant of some sort. Instead, she shared a short fiction piece about how she is Keanu Reeves' secret lover. Albeit a smidge long, the piece was surprisingly quite funny. I almost found myself believing that the story was actually true. What a delight to be made such a fool for judging her before she got on the mic. Lesson learned.
Finally, the feature poet Robert Duncan Grey rocked my poetry lovin' socks.
He is a fantastic writer and just the exactly right kind of kooky. This bio might explain what I cannot:
ROBERT DUNCAN GRAY is an English writer, artist and musician who currently lives and works in Portland, OR. His maternal Grandmother once shot herself in the foot in Cyprus. In his free time, Rob does crimes. His favorite film is Bedknobs and Broomsticks. He likes the Wu Tang Clan. He is the proud owner of a Smokey Joe barbecue. He is friends with a rabbit named Stanley Kubrick and a cat named Owl.
Read more here.
He shared a poem about a man who had dementia and got lost one day. His wife mourns him. A new character enters and wishes to take over the man's old life and make the woman happy. Okay, I am obviously not doing this poem justice. Suffice to say, it smashed my heart to smithereens.
Listening to these poets helped me begin to pinpoint what I believe my writing has lacked in the past. I think good writing is honest and empathetic. I don't think I ever consciously try to make up something dishonest or cold, but I think sometimes I use poetry to say something honest in a masked way. Oh, the convenience of a metaphor! Mediocre writing, I've discovered from the open mic situation, uses honesty as a tool. Strong writing uses word-tools to to express something honest.
I don't know if that even made sense, but in essence I believe it was a worthy experience to go and listen, even if it frustrated/maybe confused? Garrett and Kelly that I didn't read.
All-in-all, a successful day.