Places: Portland, Oregon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My history with Portland:

August-December, 2007 -- I attended school in Portland while officially living in Hillsboro (a suburb of Portland).

2008-2011 -- I longed to go back to Portland and talked about it frequently. I sporadically looked for jobs and apartments/houses in the Portland area, wishfully thinking my way into a future there. My younger brother did missionary work in Portland for two years, and I was very jealous of him.

December 6th, 2011 -- I went back to Portland (with my husband) and stayed there for all of five hours. And that was enough.

Craig at Powell's City of Books, an enormous and fantastic bookstore in Portland

on campus at Portland State University

When Craig and I booked our trip to Cannon Beach (see here), most of my primary excitement came from knowing how close we'd be to Portland. "We have to spend an entire day in the city!" I proclaimed. "No, two! TWO days! And even then it won't be enough!" In the interest of spending some of our vacation actually relaxing rather than sightseeing, we decided to devote just one day to Portland. It will have to do, I thought. To me, Portland is the ultimate. It is the destination. It is the trumpet that calls me home. It's where I always want to be.

But here's the thing: we drove to Portland (the drive was beautiful, by the way), parked the car, and set off for our adventure. Our adventure didn't last all that long. A few hours after our arrival, we were both ready to leave. And so we did. It was anti-climactic, to say the least.

Here are some factors that contributed to the day's lackluster-ness:

I didn't plan activities. When I lived in Portland, nothing was planned; every new experience was a surprise. Or at least that's how I remember it. And so I was sure that this city just had fun around every corner, waiting to be discovered. But when you only have one day to explore, as opposed to several months, you should decide beforehand a few things you want to fit in and how you'll go about doing that. And you should know the parking/walking situation.

I didn't buy any books/wander around aimlessly at Powell's. Major oversight.

We were cold. The weather was yucky, which is fine and not much of a turn-off at all, provided one is dressed appropriately. I wasn't. So Craig lent me one of his sweater-y things, meaning that both of us were still mildly cold, and we didn't have gloves or beanies, and it was windy, and etc. It's not much fun to go exploring by foot when you are very, very cold and ducking into storefronts just to get your shivering under control.

Finally: My expectations were high, unfounded, and unrealistic. Because the city of Portland was only part of the reason I loved "Portland."
When I lived there in 2007, here are some of the reasons I loved Portland.

a beautiful day at The Chinese Gardens

fire escapes in sunlight

jogging at a tiny park with life-size friends

putting on life jackets, though the boat was not in danger of sinking

morning hair with lovely Chelsea and lovely Brittany

calls to repentance, on Post-It Notes

reading books in the leaves

Stumptown drinks and scones, artfully done

volunteering at a book festival in order to meet a graphic novelist

The fall of 2007 was maybe the most wonderful, happiest season of my entire life. I was in school, and let me be clear about at least this one thing: I love school. My classes were thought-provoking and new. I was living with my best friend. I was getting to know a new best friend, one whom I would eventually marry, and I had a faint sense of how important and magical our relationship would be in my life. At the same time, I was in love with someone else, and being in love is a wondrous thing, so it contributed hugely to my overall happiness. And, yes, I was living in Portland. It's a great place. I had never lived someplace so diverse in its population or its options. I had never lived someplace so green. I was on my first life adventure, and Portland was its location. I wasn't married, I didn't have a degree, I was living on small and rapidly-diminishing savings, I didn't have cool clothes or listen to cool music, but ... man, I was happy.

What I'm saying is this: I've never experienced a more well-rounded happiness than the happiness I had in Portland, and I'm realizing now that it wasn't because Portland is a magical place; it was because I was living in a magical season of my youth.

Nothing against Portland itself. Portland, you are still my favorite city. I will come to see you again. I will plan ahead, dress warmly, and take my time in the bookstore. I'll remember to visit Everyday Music and the Rose Garden. I'll get a henna tattoo at Saturday Market. I'll sip hot cocoa at Mill Ends Park, the smallest park in the world. I'll close the day at Pittock Mansion. Maybe I'll even venture out of the SW quadrant. But more than that, I'll pay tribute to you -- my charming, rosy city of bridges -- by seeking to replicate the joyful serenity that I'm still reminded of whenever I hear your name.


  1. awww portland. i have a love/hate relationship with that place. i love it in theory and in small doses, but living there was a bit to "portlandia" for my liking.

  2. What a great post. I have memories of the place I grew up & in my mind they are wonderful but realistically I'd never want to live there now or raise my kids there. Isn't it funny how those "young feelings" make something seem so appealing?

  3. Really loved this post. In 2008 I went back to Washington, DC to see the kids I had nannied for and the other people and places I loved. And I learned that bittersweet lesson, that you can never really go back. That place you inhabited doesn't exist anymore. It's changed. That feeling is obviously exacerbated when you left a 2 year old and a 4 year old and now they are 5 and 7 -- and so entirely different. It's bittersweet the way life works, that you can't literally carry along with you all your favorite people and things and places throughout life.


site design by designer blogs with floral elements by createthecut