Sometimes the brain needs a rest, a small vacation enjoyed with the night. Tonight the vacation is with Prince and his first album, “For You.” It’s a sweet groovy album and as he plays, I sew, my fingers darting with need and thread as my mind stills.
Now playing — So Blue by Prince
The difficulties loom large as I transition out of survival living and into a living where I am able to take the time to look around me. A large part of being a survivor is ignoring large swathes of life for sanity’s sake. The terrible occurrences and ongoing abuses are glossed over so that we can survive. A grave side affect to this is that slowly but surely the day to day annoyances are skimmed over too– the cooking, the cleaning, the self-care. Soon everything is lumped under horrible things to ignore and by then, everything is ignored and hardly any living is done at all. Surviving is happening. Reaction is happening. But not interaction. Nor action.
Even when the abuse and the abusers are left behind and the baggage has been unpacked, the half-living continues. It hurt to look at anything for so long, it was not possible to live and look and still function, and now the habit runs deep.
One way of lessening the fear of living is looking at art. Art can be like honey, it can be the healer, it can look when we’re too scared to look but would still like to. It takes what could could be an image of every day grimness and it can make the image sweet, make it worthy of examination.
This is Garrowby Hill by David Hockney. It is just another hill in Yorkshire, England, one that has to be driven along to get from Point A to Point B. It stands in the way for a lot of drivers who just want to get to their destination. The boredom of driving along this road day after day must be interminable and undeniable. But under Hockney’s gaze the road and landscape become joyful and alive. For Hockney, this is a view of rich possibilities. The possibilities here are endless, the life is endless, and the joy is endless. Hockney’s art teaches that looking with an open heart is worthwhile and can be a palliative to our sadness and pain. It’s scary to look so joyfully at anything with a wounded heart and so his art looks for us. The art beckons us forward to new kind of living.
The holidays have taken a back seat to the sky.
I peer up at the sky every chance I get, noting clouds, colors, and motions. The leaves lie forgotten in the ditches and without their leafy apparel, the tree branches spread overhead like crones’ fingers in the sky. I see through the fingers.
Summer is a claustrophobic time and winter is the great opening. We’re all exposed now, to the sun and wind and elements. Gracious green canopies no longer spread out in umbrella formations, bestowing dappled light and easier breathing. No, it’s time for sullen scolding winds and scudding clouds.
I position my fingers on the trunks of trees to hang on while I view skyward, nearly whisked away by the drama overhead. The great burr oaks are the best for holding. They have seen centuries and still chose to linger on in this world. They’re rooted vast and deep. While I hold onto one, burr oak reminds me that time is like a spool of thread and the spool can be wound or unwound. Time backward or forward. The clouds overhead whisk by on wings of dark intent and their colors etch into my eyes and race to the brain. We are grey together, sometimes closer to white, other times to blue.
The spool unwinds and I am younger and back on my parents’ farm and the clouds are racing there too and I am turning away from them while standing at window. I turn my head and my body follows and I crawl into bed under the quilt/or turn up Winter by Vivaldi/or listen to Tess Wiley’s electric guitar solo/or write stories about an insane family I invented but might as well be my own.
The spool winds and I am back in my town and I am back with the oak. There are no birds flying, the wind is too strong for that, but there are squirrels in the trees, chomping fiercely and their backs and tails are as grey as the sky.
I tossed my Tiny Travelogue to the side and succumbed to the pleasures of Portland, OR during my stay instead: roses, fountains in the parks, street food, Portland Art Museum, meeting new friends and catching up with a dear old ones, prowling through Powell’s Bookstore, riding the streetcars, and people watching all soaked up my days.
Portland surprised me with its impressive similarity to the Twin Cities back in Minnesota. Here were the same chill drivers, the same slower pace, the same type of architecture for single family houses, the same sort of river twisting through the middle of the city, and the same sort of friendliness. It was eerie—if weren’t for the backdrop of mountains, I could have sworn I was back in downtown Minneapolis or at other times, visiting my aunt’s neighborhood in St. Paul.
But Portland did deliver a note of randomness that the Twin Cities cannot encompass due its Midwest setting: Portland introduced me to the Power of True Tea Devotees. This came unexpected one morning when Jeff left early for a workshop and I ventured off to get breakfast on my own. I settled in at the hotel’s restaurant and ordered a pot of English Breakfast. The waiter brought my pot and gently inquired if I liked tea. I said I did and then he asked, “Loose leaf?” I replied, “Always.” He studied me for a second and then offered to bring out his own special brew of Zui Gui tea that he kept brewed in the back. I had no idea what Zui Gui tea was but I accepted. He hurried off and I wondered what I had gotten myself into but I enjoyed the idea of a hotel that allows its servers to keep their own special tea brews in the back.
He came back with a tiny pot and delicate glass cup. He poured the glass full and we breathed in the aroma together. It was a beautiful scent and I knew now I was committed. I was going to have to drink this cup—and I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.
After we inhaled, he told me that Zui Gui Tea translates to Drunken Concubine Tea. It would help the heart meridian and settle any stress I was feeling. I studied his face after he said this. Was this man flirting (and if so, my god, this could be the number one way to flirt with a woman) or was he sharing the Power of a True Tea Devotee?
We talked in-between my meal and as he served other people. He told me about the different tea shops I could visit in Portland but emphasized one in particular called Fly Awake. It was a half an hour by bus from the hotel but it was well worth the visit. The owner would greet me when I’d arrive and inquire after my health. After I told the owner how I was doing, he would find the teas that would suite me best. And I would leave home with a taster of teas, all suited to my constitution.
I finished my breakfast and my Drunken Concubine Tea and thanked him for everything. He smiled and nodded; I left. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened but one thing I knew for certain: Portland opened my eyes to the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about tea.
In the end, there wasn’t time enough to make it out to Fly Awake but the next time I get to Portland, that tea shop experience is at top of my list.
Stay Weird, Portland and may our Tea Adventures never end.
What strikes me most about this city is the lack of congestion: both people and traffic. I live near Chicago, and I’m used to bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hours and non-rush hours too. I’m used to angry drivers and pedestrians, each swearing and spitting at each other in red-faced rage.
Portland is closer vibe-wise to the Twin Cities. And just like the Twin Cities, faces aren’t so tight. People aren’t millimeters from slamming each other as they pass on the sidewalk. Sure, some white man nearly sat on me — because what? It’s too hard to look where you’re sitting down? I had to rapidly leap over before he sat On Me. But that’s white male privilege, and it operates in all regions, at all hours of the day.
Otherwise, there was no further crushing. No shouting. No screaming. No middle fingers waved at me or anyone else. No one tried to grab my attention — it was all extremely pleasurable.
Even better were the square parks that dotted my walk to the Pearl District. One park cradled a deep belly red brick amphitheater. The other flowed with water falls cleverly constructed out of cement platforms and pylons. Bushes and grasses were green and lush despite the late summer season. I had left a yellowing Midwest behind me to enter a serene verdure.
Life runs on a different frequency here. The waves scamper along the silvery blue Willamette River, twining beneath my hotel window, and then the vibrancy rises and falls further on, towards the evergreen clad mountains and hazy horizon line beyond. I can catch only single notes that make up a blazing chorus my mind cannot fathom yet.