6.04.2017

denial (population: millions)

tulip with insects (April 2017)

The Portland metro area is still mourning last week's MAX attack, the murder of two white men defending two young women of color, one of whom was a Muslim wearing a hijab, against a racist neo-Nazi thug with a miles-long criminal record. Yesterday was another car-on-a-bridge terrorist attack in London, the city where I spent last summer during Brexit. Today in downtown Portland there will be an alt-right protest and an even larger counter-protest by the masked leftist antifa. I considered photographing the fascist and antifa protests today, and yet after spending the last couple of years fighting off cancer, why would I want to risk getting whacked like a piñata by fake-Nazis with sticks?

Lately I've been reading up more on these American white-supremacist groups, these squeaky racist wheels getting more and more grease from the media as far-right groups pop up like zits across the U.S. landscape (and yes, I'm purposefully mixing disgusting metaphors). I stand by what I said in January about this period being the start of white patriarchy's last gasp. And yet, I'm only now beginning to feel, like crunching on grit in a sandwich at the beach, just how nasty and brutish this era may become. Trump, xenophobic con-man-in-chief and tool of Russian operatives, has opened Pandora's box of Nazis and let all the crazed, leftover (overt) racists come tumbling out.


broken tulip, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (April 2017)


tulip petals in mud, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (April 2017)


muddy tulip, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (April 2017)


girl with hat in mud, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (April 2017)

At least some of the white supremacists are Holocaust deniers, unsurprising for the far-right, people who tend to be averse to science in particular and facts in general. I've actually toured Auschwitz in Poland and witnessed the large museum cases that, at least in 1994, were filled with piles of tangled eyeglasses, piles of human hair, and piles of jumbled suitcases labeled with names and addresses of people who thought they were coming back. I've seen the crematory ovens built for perfectly healthy people. Auschwitz, even half a century after WWII, seemed surrounded by a heavy cloud of dark energy, enough to chill the skin—and I'm not one who believes in the supernatural.

Because of Auschwitz and war and murder and misogyny and racism, humans deserve the prize for being the worst mammals, the worst of all apes. How much better life would be if we were like our cousins, the bonobos, who have copious sex with all types to diffuse tribal tension, rather than like chimps with alpha-males who beat each other up and shriek for battle. Bonobos embody the motto, Make love, not war.


crowd scene, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (April 2017)

Go suck eggs, fake-Nazis. I want a future where humans learn how to get along. I believe it's possible and the only viable future. So I'm headed to the farmers market today to support the people growing and picking our food. And on Monday I'll return to my job teaching poor children—Latino and African-American and white—to read.


4.29.2017

French market tote bags

metro shelving display with tulips and hanging French market bag

Next door to Pomarius in Northwest Portland is Versailles Gardens, owned by a Frenchman, where you can buy traditional French garden statuary, plant pots, and woven market bags in various sizes, the latter friendlier to the budget (around $40 for the bags, compared to $20,000 for a large fountain).

Funny thing is, my American friend in London, who lived for years in Paris, has a half-French child, and has frequently traveled through the south of France, had never heard of "French market bags" till I mentioned how much I loved mine—the natural straw, the herringbone weave, the plump leather handles, the light weight, the carrying capacity!

Even in Greece, market bags, to my dismay—since you would think Europeans would know better—were simply the ubiquitous, standard, single-use plastic grocery bags carried around the world, just as in London, just as in any American suburb or small town, pushed upon us decades ago by the petroleum industry. France only last year banned plastic grocery bags, as a growing number of progressive U.S. cities like San Francisco and Portland have already done.


woven French market tote bag, detail

However, Tilda Swinton's character in A Bigger Splash, shopping while vacationing in Pantelleria, a volcanic island near Sicily, carries on her long alabaster arm one of the woven bags that Americans call "French market totes". So the bags do exist in the Mediterranean, at least on film. Such bags in the hands of Western elites, yuppies, hipsters, and environmentalists become a status symbol, the natural materials and ancient craft both a reclamation of heritage and a rejection of the cheap plastic bags of the poor and of conservative suburbia. (For why spend a good chunk of a meager grocery budget on a handmade heritage shopping bag when stores give plastic ones away for free?)

Maybe "French market bags" are called something else in France (just as they don't call their pommes frites "French fries"), especially since the bags are typically made in Morocco or other parts of North Africa. If anyone knows what the French themselves call woven "French market bags" or "French market totes" with leather carrying handles, and where (or whether) they were traditionally used, let me know.

In any case, soon it will be farmers market season and the end of Portland's incessant rain. Time to pull out and dust off the straw totes and canvas bags and fill them with fresh vegetables.


4.23.2017

field trip: Pomarius Nursery

turquoise metal bistro set, Pomarius Nursery, Portland (May 2016)

One day last May, I stumbled upon Portland's Pomarius Nursery while walking from a bus stop in Slabtown up to an appointment in the Alphabet District. Pomarius is what the British would call posh, meaning not your average suburban-chain garden center but a nursery for dreamers and those in higher tax brackets. Sections of the nursery are set up like rooms, complete with bright-colored bistro sets and potted table décor atop neo-modernist rusted-metal occasional tables, the pea-gravel paths like textured rugs. Caged parakeets, tropical houseplants, and trickling fountains were tucked inside a humid enclosure. With plants staged in groupings in furnished rooms, the feeling is small-space intimate: a secret garden of topiary nestled within a former industrial district, now turned into high-end apartments and condos, cafés, and doggy-day-care centers with puns for names.

A few months later, feeling a bit homesick for green space in dense, sprawling London, a walking trip to London's Clifton Nurseries reminded me of Pomarius in Portland. In fact, I preferred Pomarius for its modern, casual, confident mixing of global styles—West Coast American, European, Asian—meaning the world has grown much smaller when a small, progressive Northwest American city can, at least in part, compete favorably with a former Empire capital, particularly when that capital is known for its garden culture. Portland is moving up in the world—or rather, the world is moving to Portland.


peachy-pink rose, Pomarius Nursery (May 2016)


Pomarius Nursery sign, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)


planter pots, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)


parakeets, Pomarius Nursery (May 2016)


indoor pond, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)


round metal table, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)


jade plant, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)

4.16.2017

waiting for summer

alligator lawn ornament, Gladstone

What do you do when you realize your hundreds of blog readers are mostly bots? Why spend all this time writing and curating photos for robots, unless it's really just for yourself—myself—a quiet, insignificant little hobby? Even so, I haven't seen the point the last few months. Plus, the natural light's been too dim for decent indoor photos (though that hasn't stopped me before). But this winter in Portland was extra long and extra cold on top of the usual wet and gray. It's long past time to move on from my teaching job and crazy-long commute, after which most evenings I feel numb and exhausted. Over half the year here (which seems a bit much?), I daydream of moving south where the sun is—if only I had the money and a car, if only I knew where to go, where home is.

All this dissatisfaction can't be good for my immune system, the body's defensive line against cancer recurrence (since it's the immune system's job to take out rogue, mutated cells—or not). So for Christmas I asked my boss for Fridays off for health reasons, gifting myself recurring three-day weekends for less pay, which helps. I still go swimming a couple times a week, the most joyful three hours of my week. I've been trying to meditate. I've been reading life-coaching self-help. I've been letting my hair grow. Through no effort on my part, I've happily become an aunt, though my nephew lives six hours away via the car I don't have. I've been eating lots of kale. I've been trying to find the point . . . or at least a personal road sign marking a different road less traveled, one smoother yet full of unexpected turns leading to long pauses for scenic vistas and adventures off-trail—because the one I'm on has been an unpaved dirt road full of rocks.


tree blooms, Gladstone


carved-wood yard statue of half-buried man, Gladstone

Fortunately, finally, my job ends in June. But I don't have a plan for after. I know I want to wake up slowly at a reasonable hour, smiling and stretching, ready for the day to begin, instead of groaning "Fuck!" to my phone alarm at 5 AM. I want to spend more time with friends and with my cat. I want more time to putter around at home and in the garden, moving around instead of sitting all day, tinkering with projects, being creative. There is eBay and Craigslist to keep playing with (aka selling on). I do know I'm happiest in summer and when I don't have a formal job. I'm not sure what to do with that information. But it's the truth. Will the truth set me free?

1.25.2017

civil war v. 2.0

Amtrak Coast Starlight observation car (December 2016)

Along with millions of people in cities around the world, I protested George W. Bush's Iraq invasion in San Francisco in 2003, media helicopters hanging overhead. On the Portland waterfront in 2011, I protested with Occupy against the 1%, a friend's baby strapped to my back. We legally and peacefully expressed our discontent. The media dutifully covered the protests as news. But nothing has changed: the rich are exponentially richer, the poor and middle-class even poorer, and soldiers and civilians (aka collateral damage) are still dying overseas. Like former-Occupy-co-founder-turned-Nehalem-resident Micah White, I feel disillusioned with protest marches.

So instead of protesting Trump's inauguration on Friday or marching in the rain with the pink pussies on Saturday, I went swimming. Protests seem mainly an outlet to blow off steam—a collective temper tantrum before we all go back to work (if we have jobs). And swimming, for me, worked just as well.

What we should have done on Friday and many more Fridays (and Mondays and Wednesdays)—those of us, at least, not in severe poverty—was go on strike from work (a hard thing to ask of poor people, admittedly, when there is no union backing you up) and do something other than consuming products—like joining a local group, reading a history book, playing an instrument, doing hobbies, or visiting friends and family. What history has shown is that the elites never grow scared until either their bank accounts are affected or their lives theoretically endangered by mobs with pitchforks and torches. Or as Aziz Ansari said on SNL the day after the inauguration, "Change doesn't come from presidents [but] large groups of angry people."

We, the people, are both the producers and the consumers. We are the economy. Without us, finance will fall. Financial elites like Trump desire to keep us distracted and divided amongst ourselves because that way they can keep acquiring and hoarding all the money. But if we continue divided beyond all fair proportion between the 99% and the 1%, the republic may fall. It is an ominous sign that the U.S. has been downgraded to a "flawed democracy" for the first time.

Trump, an effective salesman (of his own mythic self), has merely underscored the existing fault lines in American society between conservatives and progressives, between authoritarians and humanitarians, between the patriarchy and feminists. Yet if we look at the global picture, the clearest fault line is between those who believe white men should forever remain in charge (by way of a presumed natural order) versus those who believe in equal human rights. It's nearly impossible to view what's happening in European and American politics with the rise of far-right movements as anything but white patriarchy's last gasp: a brittle, angry refusal to relinquish global cultural power. As if at once, even more moderate conservative whites have realized the brown hordes are flooding North. Rural whites look around and fail to see the homogeneous towns and villages of their youth. This then, the white backlash, is the climax of post-colonial identity politics and increasing wealth disparity: a perfect political storm.

And yet this rise of the far-right may also give us hope—a candle to be lit during terrors ahead—because it is the beginning of the end of white power. The population numbers are against them (or us, rather). The white patriarchy will, of course, go down fighting, burning the planet down with them. Yet the future, if we survive as a species, is on the side of racial and gender equality. As science fiction has shown, the robots are the future, human consciousness evolved into AI. If we do not learn how to band together, white with brown and black, how will we ever fight our future electronic overlords?


1.13.2017

de-stressing: lavender oil

bottles of lavender oil, soap, & lotion

Being cold makes me cranky, so mostly I hate winter. Before Halloween even rolls around, I've already channeled my inner Dane (and I am part-Danish) to create a nest full of hygge—cozy comfort—by lighting candles, clicking on (all the) table lights, piling on blankets, fluffing up pillows, wearing thick socks and sweaters, pulling curtains closed, turning up the heat, cooking soups, making tea and hot chocolate, reading books, watching mysteries and comedies, stroking my sleepy cat.

At the same time, recurring anxieties about money and right livelihood don't exactly fit well into a cozy domestic scene. But this winter such thoughts have been pressing in even more than usual as I'm in the process of reconfiguring the big picture of my life and what direction to go from here, with the embodied knowledge as a cancer survivor that life really is short and there is still so much to do.

So in trying to figure all this out, I've been doing more yoga, journaling, brainstorming, and reading across genres for inspiration, including books about meditation (because that's much easier than actually meditating). But when coziness, self-help, and deep breathing are not enough, or even when all that is enough but I still need to go to sleep quickly or de-stress fast at work, I've been turning to the magical medicinal properties of lavender oil.

I have a big lavender plant growing in a pot outside, plus dried lavender stems in my closet and in floral sachets amid my sweaters. And this fall I had switched to using Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap in lavender (instead of unscented) as both body soap and shampoo, making my shower time extra fragrant and relaxing. Even my current hand lotion is scented with lavender oil. Just before bed, I've also been opening a bottle of lavender essential oil and dousing my wrists and neck for a burst of aromatherapy. The strong scent coming off my skin soothes me to sleep—aided by a dose of melatonin. 

And if you don't like the scent of lavender, maybe because it reminds you of old ladies with white hair, why not try a different essential oil? Sometimes all we need is to start a new daily ritual, a placebo action like applying body lotion or cracking open a book before bed. Whatever works to feel better, right?

1.12.2017

de-stressing: snow days

snowy trees on Clackamas River

Winter months are hard in the Northwest. Daylight hours are short—not as short as Norway or Alaska but short. It's chilly, damp, and dark here. These snowstorms we've been having remind me how much lighter a cloudy sky is when reflected by white snow than in rain when everything is gray and moody. (There's a reason Portland is known for craft beer, strip clubs, and coffee shops: people seek escape.)

During winter, I long for summer. I muse over past idyllic island vacations. I daydream about moving south. I get tired of wearing two coats at once and waiting for buses and trains out in the cold. But when it snows? Yes! Snow days are one of the perks of working at a public school. During the pause of daily life that is a snow day—no work, no commute—it's easier to be present in the moment.


mini-snowman


mini-rabbit snowman

And not one, not two, but three is exactly how many coats I wore on a walk to the grocery store yesterday—plus a sweatshirt layer, my handknit mittens, a wool hat, and two wool scarves. The usual walk took on a magical quality when everything was blanketed in snow. It also took twice as long, trudging through slushy and compacted snow in rain boots—meaning snow, like sand at the beach, makes for a better workout.


snowy riverbank, Clackamas River

Down by the river in the snow and muffled air, I could almost forget about the housing complex being developed over on the Oregon City side of the Clackamette Cove, an inlet pocket of the Clackamas River, and the fitness center and large parking lot going in across the street, blocking our view of the riverside. One must be anointed by natural beneficience when it comes, while it lasts.

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