I found myself in a fairly tough situation this past winter: Underemployed with an unpaid month off, alone in a giant empty Parkside apartment having recently been dumped by the person I thought I was going to spend my life with. Maybe. I was faced with the fact that I had to “start over” not too long after I kind of assumed I’d already done that, and at an age where many of my peers were, in my opinion “actual human beings with a strong foundation and a solid grasp on what a 401k is”. Me? I’ve seen every episode of the Vampire Diaries (twice) and I’m bragging about it in a very public forum.
Then one day I was staring out of my living room window which happened to look down on Deering Oaks Park. I was listening to my entire music library on shuffle as I watched happy families skate on the frozen duck pond. iTunes somehow managed to play “With Or Without You” twice in a row when I have more than 20 days worth of music that is NOT “With or Without You”. That’s when it hit me: I can’t do this anymore. I was a bummer. I’d bummed the person I loved most out, and I was seriously bumming me out. So, the next chance I got, I marched into a record store and bought a Taylor Swift record. Enough was enough.
Here’s the deal with the ends of things: It feels like there’s so much “no”, but what “the end” always turns out to be is a big pile of “yes”. I thought that I didn’t have any control over my life, but after some real talk from trusted friends, I realized that I was in my own way, and I had to say good-bye to being maudlin. I’m a former goth, my kind eats maudlin for breakfast (at midnight). I said “no” to alcohol and “yes” to going for walks (outside in the daylight!) while listening to wordy pop music, and I lost 45 pounds. Looking better made me feel better, and feeling better made me look better. I’d say that’s a win-win.
Portland is a lovely place to have an existential crisis. There’s no guaranteed way to avoid anyone or anything, including yourself. Especially yourself. It can be deeply isolating at times, and oppressively welcoming at others. Beyond that, Portland, like any romantic dalliance worth having or talking about, looks great on the outside, but to the people who actually live here, it can be a very different story.
I am lousy with free time these days. This is the slow season for arts organizations, so my schedule is wide open. I’m trying to see this as a positive. Someday I will, with any luck, have a job that sucks my will to live, and I will look back fondly on the summer weeks when I lived in a beautiful city and I had complete control over all of my time. “I didn’t owe any time to anyone but me! Those were the days!” Those are the days I’m having RIGHT NOW! Yay me! Yeah, I’m broke and have no clue what the next month will bring for me, but my life is pretty simple. I write. I drink too much coffee. I can run away to the harbor islands on a whim.
There are aspects of my life that make me feel very trapped, and very much like the adult that I am, but the truth is, I am free. I am free in a way that most of my peers aren’t: I don’t have a partner. I don’t have children. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t even have a full time job (again, and seriously, not by choice on that last one).
Freedom is terrifying. Freedom is a double-edged sword, and it’s taken me nearly five years to see it in a positive way. Every morning I have to say to myself (and I’m sure there’s been a point in your life, dear reader, that you’ve had to do this too) that someday soon, someone, some job, some place is going to say “yes” to us, and that will make all of the “no” in the world worth it. Better than that, we’ll be ready. We’re a weird generation of misfit toys who have fallen into the cracks and become invisible, but the “no’s” that keep putting us there, that keep saying that we’re too much, or too little? I don’t think they’re breaking us. I think all the “no” is making us stronger, and that very soon, we’re going to take this city, and maybe this whole world, and make it into the amazing place we always knew it could be.