After spending the summer documenting my observations of the East Coast, I now see my own Portland, Oregon, neighborhood with fresh eyes.

I live in an area of the city dubbed Nob Hill. It is in the Northwest quadrant, known to most as the uppety and probably the most expensive of the five quadrants (in Pdx, a quad = 5). My apartment is a skip away from the posh condo pocket called the Pearl, and minutes away from the fancy, centuries-old mansions in Hillside above the glorious rose gardens at Forest Park. Where I live on 21st Avenue, there are probably more bars and restaurants within an 8-block stretch than any other area in Portland. Two streets up from me is 23rd, or "Trendy Third," which was once Portland's premiere shopping district.

Once is the operative word.

It's time to rethink these nicknames. There's a Gap, a Levi's and a Paper Source on Trendy Third. Granted 21st's restaurant row has a handful of really good, really expensive restaurants but the ones that are within the Regular Portlander's budget (i.e. tacos and Thai takeout) aren't memorable and are pathetically un-ethnic. But these days, what seems most preposterous in relation to the neighborhood's supposed shi-shiness are the residents. There's nothing snooty about them. (Btw, let me mention how ironic it is that I'm just now noticing who lives here. While I don't get paid to blog, I do get paid to write about the goings on in my neighborhood. It is actually in my job description.)

Lately, when I wander around my hood during the day, what I see are early twenty-somethings that looked like they just got off Godsmack's tour bus--the bus for roadies and crew, mind you. The one that picked up these good ol' American slackers in northern Michigan or a suburb outside of Chicago and brought them straight to the dark, sketchy Marathon Taverna here on Burnside to drink High Life and play video poker. Everyone in my neighborhood has this early-2000 rock look about them, complete with that still-slightly-awkward-in-your-own-skin trace of adolescence. They wear a selection of less offensive T-shirts from Hot Topic and jeans that are ill-fitting, held up by studded belts. They sport wavy hair (longer for guys, shorter for girls; the more coiffed chicks have chunky black-versus-blonde highlights), and they always have a cigarette in hand. Or a dog.

Your typical couple: Guy in varying fades of black, some band logo on his T-shirt, backwards cap, sneakers; girl with chunk of blue in her hair, some naughty or supposedly clever saying on her baby tee; both of them very, very white.

The alterna-sporty look circa '94: A jersey, pleated white mini skirt and knee-high socks.

But then of course, these are the people who don't have real day jobs like me. For all I know, this could just be what college kids look like these days: outdated versions of what I looked like when I was a displaced freshman. (Note: PSU is nearby and if I were moving here from a small town, I too would think the words "Nob Hill" sound exciting.)

At night, however, it's harder to judge who actually lives on 21st or 23rd. Most who frequent the bars in my hood, especially during the weekend, have come from the bridges (ghetto Gresham) and tunnels (yuppie Beaverton). They all look like they're trying too hard, which is the exact opposite of the day crowd.

Which brings me back to the reputation of the Northwest. If the westside is supposed to be more "city" (in other words, it includes downtown), then the cool kids will tell you that the east is more laid back, honest, or "real" (in other words, cheaper, somewhat bohemian and spread out). However, I realize now that what makes the east more real isn't that my westside hood is pretentious. The guys in my neighborhood haven't changed their lip piercings and Camel cigarette tastes since 1992. What makes the eastside--the region dotted with hipster plaid and retro reading glasses--more real is that having a too-cool-for-school attitude really is what Portland's all about.



Once a month I feel like I'm sinking. Heavy. Weighted by what I expect from myself. I'm unable to get out of bed or make it to the store, let alone create anything of worth. My paralysis causes me to feel guilty, which then causes me to moan and grumble further. Gravity pulls the corners of my mouth toward the floor and smiling seems like punishment. My only consolation is that I know I'm useless, so trying to accomplish anything is a bad idea and will only lead to more disappointment. This is what I tell myself. I instead choose to lay on the couch and watch hours of bad television. But since I don't have cable, I have to get off the couch and go to the video store to get neatly packed discs of zone-worthy material. Digging for my car keys and driving for six blocks takes thirty minutes, not five.

When I finally get to collapse in front of the screen, draped in my flannel PJs, under the throw blanket, the churning in my gut is still there. I crave milk, like a little girl desperate to believe the old wives' tale that something borne from a mother figure will sooth what's upsetting me. Sometimes I stick my hand down the front of my drawstring pants and rub my rumbling tummy, hoping to melt into the cushions until that nonsense inside of me goes away.

Lord, I fucking hate PMS.



July 4, 2009: The Day The Thesis Died

What followed this somber Fourth of July were a few weeks of hope (some may call it denial) that my 100 pages of well-revised work could be recovered. No such luck. Instead of falling into a self pity stooper, a month later, I had a 134 pages of a very, very rough thesis recreated mostly from memory. Remarkable, you might say, but that initial recreation was nothing compared to the next 16 days of polishing. 

At one point last week, I realized the only words I uttered within a 48-hour period were "coffee refill, please." I became a hermit. I couldn't see straight. My only breaks were to go on runs or to play on the swings at the top of Washington Park. (For anyone who wants their brain to shut off momentarily, I recommend swinging high above a forest of pine trees to Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps" blasting in your ears.)

For intermittent mini-releases, I'd go to the bathroom, wash my water glass or walk to the fridge for a slice of cheese. I started to go through a pack and half of gum a day. 

Then I realized the best relief was a no-brainer: cigarettes. Now, I'm not a smoker (although I did dabble in college - I was goth; I smoked cloves at 80s nights). And I didn't walk into the gas station and buy a pack of Marlboro Lights (I told you I wasn't a smoker; I wasn't even cool enough to get American Spirits or Parliaments) thinking it'd be a stress reliever. Honestly. I'm the gal who waits in the bar by herself while everyone goes outside to light up. My theory was that a cigarette provided the perfect 5 to 7 minute break, or "little joy" that I needed to step outside and grab some air, or some polluted air I suppose. Hell, it worked. And it did kinda "feel" good too. Okay, it felt pretty damn good. 

So good I didn't even step outside for this one.

But in the end, I had 150 pages of thesis to turn into my advisor. Tada! 

One draft down, another revision due (and another thesis binge to occur) in the next month. Hooray.