5.28.2012

gone to seed

red and olive graffiti

A friend said the other day I'm capturing a bit of "the seedy underbelly of Portland" in this blog, in addition to the small domestic and thrifting adventures I call my life, because of all the shots of vines climbing over rusty, graffiti-ed buildings and such. What can I say? We're headed down, roller-coaster-like, the steep incline of a global environmental collapse. And I live in a half-industrial part of town. And I have an off-norm, run-down, lived-in, used-and-abused aesthetic streak. What's old, worn, and experienced are what catches my eye, captivates my attention.


SE PDX shed

But this isn't the place for outright seedy. For seedy, check out Philadelphia-based poet Linh Dinh's photo-essay blog, State of the Union. That's some seedy.

I've considered taking shots of the homeless camps under the Hawthorne Bridge, but it seems an invasion of privacy, the little they have. Yet people who live in public are performance artists of a kind, reminding the rest of us daily, with their cardboard, sleeping bags, walnut faces, and shopping carts, of the thin line between shelter and street, so I might reconsider.

A block down the street yesterday on a walk, I was checking my phone when a man crossed the street towards me, saying, "Ma'am, could I ask you a favor? I don't mean any harm." He looked homeless, probably late-stage alcoholic by his wavering gait, and his eyes were blue, scared, and sad. He asked if I could give him a dollar fifty. I told him I was sorry but had no money on me (the truth). He mumbled something like "Thank you" and wandered off.

One of my uncles died a homeless, bipolar alcoholic. The homeless issue is complex and emotionally loaded. They are the outcasts, rejects, misfits, crazies, addicts—the vulnerable. We fear what they represent—failure, loss. We fear the mirror they hold up: This could happen to you. So passersby feign blindness, toss bills in guilty bribe (go away, leave me alone), or tell them to get a job.


homeless camp, Springwater Corridor, PDX

In any case, Portland's not exactly known for seedy. Portland's gone and gentrified, say all the folks who've grown up here, at least west of 82nd Avenue. Portlanders are known for being overeducated and underemployed service-industry workers who tweak their art or music in their off hours (and most of their hours are off), while turning up a lip or eyebrow at the tech yuppies whose sweet-potato hash, free-range oxtail, and organic coffee they're slinging. Or else they're viewed from across the country as the urban-gardening, backyard-chickens-raising, blackberry-jam-from-alley-vines-making, neo-hippy crowd, something along the lines of Sara Tetreault's GoGingham.com, a Portland blog I recently heard about on the Multnomah County Library's Web site, promoting a talk on "Stylishly Frugal Living." There's a reason for the TV show Portlandia. Portland's only weird to those who don't own canning equipment, bike to work, or keep a set of amplifiers in the basement.


view of Ross Island Bridge & downtown Portland

Sorry, but I can't do straight frugal-family living, lacking the requisite two kids plus husband, and I'm not into the music-and-beer scene because half my extended family are alcoholics (see future memoir). What interests me in this blogging practice are the cracks in any attempts to live more simply, the misses, the partial successes and outright failures, and the will to keep trying, despite all the flaws. I guess you could say I'm a little seedy myself, and that's okay. When plants go to seed, they are preparing for transformation.  

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