Today I made a date with Portland. I thought it was time the two of us got reacquainted outside of the bar scene.

We met up at the Wildwood Trail at Forest Park. No headphones, no cigarettes. Just a trickling creek, fallen leaves and the mushy ground below us. It was a surprisingly sunny day and I questioned why I was so eager to break things off for good. Haven't we had a good time? Haven't you given me the peace and quiet to write? The refreshing air and clean streets to play on? Could this other city that I'd been courting for some time romance me with midday strolls through damp greens and mountaintop vistas?

I continued on the trail for several miles until I got to Pittock Mansion, a centuries-old home a thousand feet high in the air. No one was around and I went around the back, remembering there was a beautiful view of the city from the yard. I hadn't seen my date in its full glory in some time, probably since we first met, when our romance was new and I was excited to traipse around its every crevice, when every quirk was endearing and I was protective over its every flaw.

As I turned the corner of the house, I could hear the drizzle of rain. By the time I walked across the yard over to the edge of the cliff, it was pouring. I stood there for a minute, the release upon me. The city looked hazy, gray covering gray, gray muting green. Speckles of concrete peeked out through the clouds. The rain stopped as soon as I got back on the trail, but I was already running down.



Why life is cool: Put out there what you want, put a little effort into making it happen, and you you'll end up where you're supposed to be.

Case in point: A month ago I was broke, missing Hawaii, looking for temporary mindless work and vulnerable with PMS. What I got was a job at the Denny's of Hawaiian food (i.e. the Portland version of Zippy's).

Second case in point: Two days ago, after being laid off from scooping rice, I got on Craigslist, vowing never to wear another orange tee shirt for 10 percent tips, vowing to have some pride in my work (even if it is only temporary). I came across a posting that my former tutoring job was hiring. I put in an email and voila! A day later I was teaching sophomores how to write personal narratives and discussing with fifth graders why birds make stupid pets ("You can't even tell if it's a boy or girl," 10-year-old Akshat told me.) And most importantly, I make a lot more than minimum wage and I get to wear a blouse.


There are certain things I believe that we, as a society, should come to an understanding about when using.

For instance, when running on a track, let's all run in the same direction, counter clockwise. Who are the people (usually the one guy in elite running gear) who think they're above this?

Also, if you can see a staircase nearby, and you get into an elevator, you should only be: a) ascending four floors or more; b) ascending two or more floors and in a rush; or c) providing entertainment to whoever's stuck with you for the ride. People who meet these criteria do not have the time or patience to stop on every goddamn floor.

Today, I was late for class, so I jumped in the elevator in the basement of a very busy building. A guy singing along to his ipod got in with me. I pushed "3." He reached in front of me and I prepared for the worst. He hit "G" for ground. One measly floor.

"Yeah, that's right," he told me as he backed up into the far corner. "I'm lazy."

I couldn't help but chuckle.

"I know, I know," he continued. "I saw the way you looked at me."

According to my rules, he got a pass. Self deprecation and calling out fellow passengers' uptight bullshit also fall under option c).

As soon as he got out, I violently pushed the close door button, making sure none of the people waiting on the ground floor had a chance to get in.



I probably have no reason to admit this now that it's behind me but here it goes:

For the last month I've waited tables at a Hawaiian fast food restaurant.

Unfortunately, when I say "behind me," I don't mean that it was of my choosing to leave, but instead, I was taken off the schedule. My boss said she gave away my two shifts a week to servers who want to make scooping rice and mac salad "their careers." I hope they all live happily ever after in delusion.

Anywhoo, now that it's over we can all laugh about it, right? Many lifetimes ago I vowed never to wait another table, let alone do so for $25 a night, wearing a bright orange T-shirt and serving soda out of a can. It seems absurd that at 32, I was being bossed around by my 23-year-old coworkers, these same coworkers who'd ask me where I'd previously worked, ones I tried to tell without sounding arrogant or like a pathological liar that I write for the state paper and that I'll be soon graduating with my MFA. I could justify why I took the job (it's the recession, we're all taking crappy jobs to pay the bills; it was temporary until I move; I'd just come back from Hawaii and was nostalgic; I knew I wouldn't run into a single soul I knew there), but ultimately, the whole thing was a lesson in humility.

Here's what else I learned while serving salty meat products for $8 a plate:

1. I still hate haoles. Sure, I'm haole (or white) but when white people are juxtaposed against local Hawaiian people, it becomes very obvious why locals hate whities. Haoles think they know everything, especially haoles in their twenties, whereas locals never assume to know a damn thing. They're from an island for chrissakes. They know they don't know shit. Half of my former coworkers grew up in the islands and had humble positions at the restaurant like cooking and dishwashing. They smiled and showed me where things were; they treated me how they'd want to be treated. My haole coworkers were the servers who told me it was my turn to mop the floors and how I'd sprinkled coconut on the haupia pie the wrong way. This could obviously be a metaphor for how whites end up dominating indigenous people and getting ahead. But when it comes to making the perfect riceball, their ambition is being wasted. Haoles simply need to relax.

2. The perfect scoop of rice is all in the firm touchdown--when the scooper meets the plate or to-go container--before the release of the handle.

3. Free food shuts people up.

4. As much as I'd hate to admit it, mindless work from the hours of 5-9 is kinda the perfect break for someone who sits in front of her laptop, mulling over her life every other hour of the day.

5. Eating Kahula pig never gets old. Neither does mac salad. (Reason #3 also applies to grumpy servers who get shift meals.)

6. Every once in a while, you need to feel rejected by something you never really wanted. Puts into perspective who you think you are.

7. This will surely make great fodder for an essay one day.



Yesterday was my mother's birthday. She would have been 65. Yesterday was also the day that I turned in my thesis, much of which is about my mother's death. The day I will defend this thesis is Nov. 3, the day before my mother died seven years ago.

I don't write much about my mom except for the pages upon pages that I write about her nearly every day. That sounds like I'm being smug, but the truth is the more I write about her, the more I feel disconnected to her. My mother has been a character, or more so, an anomaly, for so long, and I, the narrator trying to figure herself out in relation to her mother, that I forget that the real Jessica and the real Sarah weren't some dramedy being played out on the page. I have to write from such a distance that days like yesterday come and go, and for a split second I stop to think "Do I miss her?" and then I shut off. My memory is full of scenes I've written, descriptions that make up my mother's profile--words which serve the greater good of the story I'm trying to tell--that I'm no longer sure what other memories I have of her.

So on this day after her birth, this afterthought of an afterthought, here's something my mother told me over and over again at age 9, age 15 and age 22, something that I didn't include in my thesis. She told me, "All I want for you is to be happy."

I've written lofty statements like "my mother made loneliness seem inevitable" or "to live with her reclusive side, I quickly realized I had to do my own thing," all attempts to explain away my own feelings at a given time. But it's my mother's valued "happiness," the way she cured things with laughter, that has been the real motivator is my life--whether it has taken the form of instant gratification or years of struggle to reach a single moment of pride. I've made mistakes, been slow to learn, acted selfishly, but I've never dwelled in misery. My mother's simple cliche is the greatest influence she's had on me.

Thank you, Mom.

I am.


For a brief, delusional period yesterday, I fancied myself one of those rare people who could sit alone on a park bench and actually take in the scenery. I didn't glance at my phone (I didn't even have it on me), nor did I peruse any reading material. Instead, I watched a couple split a burrito and a large woman wearing a sandwich board warn passersby about the dangers of the flu shot. I was ready to congratulate myself on my five minutes of purposeless observation, when I put a cigarette to my lips and exhaled a puff of smoke. That's when I realized I was no different than the other eaters, talkers and smartphoners who couldn't find a reason to sit alone and do nothing.

Worse than this is the 2.01 tendency to be doing two or three somethings at once. When I'm walking down the street, I cannot simply be walking. I have to have my earbuds in. I'm 32. If someone asked me when I was eight if I'd still be listening to my walkman on thrice daily basis when I was 32, I'd think he was crazy. I'd also think 32 was only a short ride away from my grave.

Also extinct: The art of cooly waiting at the bar alone. The company of a stiff drink is no longer enough. Guys, girls, parents even, have to be texting someone, or pretending to text someone, or playing a game on their iPhone. When I'm alone at a bar, I purposely stare off into middle space, concentrating really hard on looking cool with nothing in my hands. It's rather exhausting, really.

My newish, sometimes smoking habit is the closest tool I have to putting me in the moment. Sad, I know. But I think smoking is completely underrated. Which brings me to another benefit of lighting up: since people tend to look down on smokers these days, no one will come near you. You really are all alone in the middle of a wide, open world.