Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Mimi's Place

View of downtown Portland from Vera Katz esplanade
I suppose any valuable account of Portland, Oregon and my time within its city limits, may well be summed up with any one single experience. I could tell you about the birth of my son, or the day I paid off all my debts or even the day my first book was released. After all, these are three major facets of life and all three of these happened during my stay in Portland. However, big life changing events do not necessarily sum up a time. They do not sum up a mood. And they definitely do not explain the zeit geist.

I never saw a prevailing Portland attitude. There are many people who claim Portland is a “creative” or an “artistic” town. I did not see it. I met some creative types, and as long as it was food (the construction of, and sometimes the consumption of) or tattoo (the construction of, and sometimes the consumption of) then there were creative types. In my time in Portland I met wonderful people. I even met legitimately creative types. Musicians in Night Heir and Corner being great examples. Try as I might, I didn't meet other writers. Even those with whom I had former or common connections with alluded me at ever turn. Funny that after three years I remained closer to the Denver circle. But, let's face it, it was probably me. All said and done, I tried to connect with other writers, other poets and in final days of the Portland affair, I tried to connect with photographers.

My time instead I spent working quietly at home. For years leading up to the November 2010 move to Portland, I had been threatening to do so. I thought I would just move up to the woods somewhere near the northern coast and write a novel. This seems very Malcolm Lowery, no? If you don't know him, he wrote Under the Volcano in a small cabin in Canada. The book takes place in Mexico. I do not, nor have I ever longed to be Malcolm Lowery, but I did think I could, if given the chance, escape to Oregon and write a novel.

I wrote a novel in Oregon. A few novels really. It was not the Pacific Northwest air that did it. It was not the rain either. But rather, my training from Goddard College and all the experience I had beforehand. Rather than say it's a specific location to increase a writer's bounty, perhaps it's a writer's space. The move to Oregon in 2010 separated me from a rather large community in Denver. A community of writers and artists and filmmakers and musicians. The move from Denver also separated me from my community of service industry workers, baseball fanatics and drunks. Certainly being in Portland after years of life in Denver was a striking change. All said, I wrote just as much in Portland as I did in Denver. In Portland, I was definitely writing in the vacuum.

I do not know how one grows as a writer. Read voraciously, write constantly, seek the advice of those you admire and build a community of supportive writers. Do this for about twenty years and then you'll see, only in retrospect, how much you've grown. This is true for artists, and musicians and actors. So, when it comes down to the question of growth, did I grow as a writer in Portland? Indescribably so.

The change is this: leave your home, your family and your people for three years and pursue your work. Thing of it like a conscription or a mission. When you leave, you'll know no one. No one will know you. There are not common experiences with those you may see everyday. Anything that you did before will be a story to tell rather than a mutual reminisce. You have no past. You have only the work ahead of you. You have stories to tell, and you have new memories to create.

I wrote Sand and Asbestos as a serial for Sophia Ballou during my time in Wood Village, Oregon. Janice and I had all day to get very little done, and most days we were successful. We walked to the library midday. We walked to the Freddy's in the afternoon. We walked to Edgefield in the evenings. Sand and Asbestos consumed me during the waning months of 2010 and the early months of 2011 before I went back to work.

Those Wood Village months were magical. What we learned, I put to use for the remainder of my Portland stay. We lived in a cozy mother-in-law apartment at Mimi's place. We lived there for about 6 months. We'd been unemployed for close to 2/3 of that time. Mimi's place was really the Oregon experience I had been looking for. Mimi's place was quiet, out of the way, in the woods. It was exactly what I thought I could do in Oregon, a dry place to write a novel. Sand and Asbestos was only part of what I wrote. I finished Just Then the Moment at Mimi's Place. I wrote a dozen short stories. I read tons too. Mimi's place, was the little slice of heaven I was looking for, and that's the truth.

It's only the truth on one level. The deeper levels were this: we were broke. We were broke. We were in a heap of debt. And we, neither one of us, had gainful employment. Not only jobless, we had no prospects. The prevailing feeling during Wood Village was one of uncertainty and worry. My current warm feelings for Wood Village and Mimi's place have developed in recent months as my perspective has changed. Wood Village ended just as the spring was clothing the trees of Portland. We got jobs downtown: Portland City Grill for me, and The Oregonian for Janice. After a few months recess in the woods of Oregon we got jobs and moved downtown.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please support me by becoming a follower of this blog or purchasing a copy of my novel Dysphoric Notions.

The Chapbooks of Goose Hollow
“Reading the Library of Congress”
Where there was once 2 there are now 3
Ring of Fire

The Lovecraft

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