Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Portland

Group therapy

A friend of mine invited me to attend a Write Around Portland writing work shop this morning.  It was in response to a comment I’d made about how much I love writing.  So I felt like maybe I should try the exercise in group writing, and not run away and cry in the corner, remembering the decades of rejection that I have stored in the back of my consciousness from other group writing experiences.

Seventh grade English, for example.  Or college.

I chose Business as a major, yes because it was a “marketable degree” but also because it was one of two majors that didn’t require the writing of a thesis.

Law School was fine when I was able to write by formula, but the heartbreak that came from undeveloped ideas and half-formed theories tossed onto a page and desperately rearranged in an attempt to make something, anything coherent still makes me cringe when I think about group writing and the feedback process.

But I’m not one to run from discomfort.  Oh no.  So I put my little laptop in my bike bag, knowing that I’d probably have to write by hand, but wanting a reminder of my new, comfortable writing near me.

I walked into the back room of the restaurant where the group was meeting a couple of minutes late.  I smiled at my friend, and grabbed a cup of coffee, pastry and a journal.

The little spiral notebook made me laugh.  The other writers had fancy journals and favorite pens.  I had the ballpoint I’d stolen from the US passport office a year ago.

Over the next two hours, the 14 of us wrote three, timed, freewrite pieces.  The kind of thing that is supposed to flow freely from your deepest, darkest inside.  The kind of thing where you don’t take your pen off of the paper.  The kind of thing where you write the entire time, no matter what.

The only thing is that I don’t write like that.  I type.  Partially because I can’t read my own handwriting.  It’s the only thing I ever got below an “A” in while I was in elementary school.  Handwriting, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I practiced in the books with the guidelines like miniature roadways, the dotted lines marking the approved mid-way of the letters, no matter, all I ever got was a “C”.

The other thing is the fluidity with which I type.  I’ve had more than one person note the flourish I put on the end of a well crafted sentence.  The upstroke of my right hand as I type a period with my ring finger, and a return with my pinky.  It’s musical.  Evocative of a certain fabulous pianist.  I love to write, and I love to type.  In fact, typing games have long been my favorites on computers, from the Texas Instruments keyboard through Facebook.

So I found myself this morning, without keyboard, in a group writing workshop.  It was my love of workshops, and my love of writing that kept me seated, even as my hands and voice shook while I read through the bits of dialogue that I was able to scrape together during the 5 minute writing sprints.

“We believe in positive feedback.”  That was one of the guidelines we were given.  And there was much of that.  We were gentle with each other, and with ourselves.  The self-imposed vulnerability of the exercise was remarkable.  The group of 13 women was joined by one lone man halfway through.  Someone who chose the “other” prompt when we were given two at the beginning of each write.  The absence of men was noticeable.  Something I’d planned to write about before he appeared.

Instead, I sat tight and wrote using the prompts – simple phrases designed to open us up and get us writing.  From the time our facilitator said, “go” until she said, “finish up the thought you’re working on,” I wrote.  In my barely intelligible scrawl, I wrote.  It was like seeing myself in an old photo.  The lines were familiar, friendly.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy the freewrite.  Although my typing is similar.  I rarely edit, more than moving paragraphs around.  Maybe that’s a mistake, but I enjoy sharing what comes to the surface without the polish that fear of exposure can bring.  It’s a kind of therapy for me to allow myself that level of authenticity.  And in that spirit I’m sharing the three pieces from today’s workshop.  The first two were 5-minute writes.  The last one-minute.

Today’s writings were unpolished.  And familiar.  I hope they are as enjoyable for you as they are for me.

Prompt:  The look on her face…

The look on her face when I told her must have been priceless.

“She asked if you and I were dating.”

“What did you tell her?”

We were riding next to each other, our bikes singing in unison.

“I told her that you’re my friend.”

There was the awkward silence that always signals discord, misunderstanding, fear.

“Well, I thought we were.”  Her disappointment was palpably masked.

“Oh!”  I wasn’t sure where to go.  The bikes seemed to be running faster, hurtling along the river-side trail.

“I was actually going to ask if the two of you were dating,” she was laughing a little.

“Not sure,” was about all I could come up with.  Truthfully, I didn’t know.  I didn’t know what it meant, what the rules were, when it moved from biking buddies to more.

I turned to her for a moment.  “Funny.  I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Prompt:  Once the fire was out

“Where were you?  We’ve been trying to reach you?”

My mother’s voice was the kind of panicky usually reserved for the middle-of-the-night phone calls.

“I was in nature.  I’m sorry.”

The voicemails were stacked thick when I reached the parking-lot after the weekend gathering mushrooms on forest service land.

“Kristin, please call us.”

“Kristin, where are you?  Mom’s trying to reach you.”

“Kristin, there’s been a fire.”

My entire family was calling, thinking that I was simply on a binge of self-absorption, ignoring the pestering buzzing of my phone.

“I was gone for one day, Mom.”

“But we didn’t know where you were, and the fire almost took the cabin.  We had one hour to clear out.”

Thoughts raged as I shoved aside my defensiveness and tried to comfort my mother through the phone.

“How can I help, Mom?  Should I drive over?  I’ll leave now.”

“No.”  She was breathing again, her words heavy.  “No, it’ll be fine once the fire is out.  I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Prompt:  Summer didn’t…

Summer didn’t know if she was dating either of the women.

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August 19, 2010   3 Comments


Portland is my home base.  In between travels, I find myself back here, staying with or housesitting for friends.  This return trip to Portland has been a string of housesitting gigs, punctuated by forays out into the exciting and quirky spots that Portland has to offer.

Last night I had a free night in between gigs, so I decided to get a room at one of Portland’s landmarks, the Kennedy School.  Part of the venerable McMenamins family, the Kennedy School is housed in a 1915 schoolhouse that was once part of the Portland school system.  In addition to 23 classroom/guest rooms, the property includes a soaking pool, 5 bars, a huge, interesting restaurant and a theater pub.

If you haven’t experienced McMenamins, here’s the skinny:  many of the bars, restaurants and hotels are located on historic properties in the Northwest.  The properties are restored and revitalized, filled with artwork based on the history of the properties.  The feel of the locations is one of history and carnival all in one.  Reality alert:  the restaurants are notoriously understaffed, making for an often challenging service experience, but the overall atmosphere almost always makes up for this.

Yesterday, I checked in to my room – Originally “classroom 4” and now the “Mirror Mirror” room, and headed to the theater for some dinner and a movie.  Along with lodging, the room rate includes free movies in the old auditorium and unlimited soaking in the soaking pool.

The theater is located in the school’s auditorium.

Movie-goers can order pizza, calzones, and a variety of other pub food – as well as beer and wine – to be delivered to the sofas and tables that serve as theater seats.

Yesterday was Wednesday, the day that the Kennedy School holds “Mommy Matinees,” movies for parents to bring their kids without concern for the running, talking and screaming discouraged in other theaters.  I ordered a veggie calzone, staked out a velvet sofa, and turned on my computer to check email while I waited for “The Princess and the Frog” to start.

The movie was completely enjoyable and the surroundings delightful.  And it was great to walk down the hall to my classroom bedroom when it was over.

The room itself was pretty darn cool.  The walls were lined with the original chalkboards, some of which were sliding panels enclosing old-school  coat racks doubling as a closet.  Too cool.

The room was decorated with phrases from the fairy tale “Snowdrop” (you might know it better as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).  The “Mirror, mirror on the wall” sequence was cleverly written backward on the bathroom wall.

The thing I was most looking forward to was the soaking pool.  Located where the teacher’s lounge used to be, the soaking pool is a beautiful, tiled courtyard area.  The water is the right level of hot, with bubbles running down one length of the pool.  Last night it was a good mix of Portland-style, tri-athlete-looking folks, Rastafarians, steam rising from their hats and dreads, and young families sporting matching racing goggles (kids are allowed in the pool until 8PM, so plan to go later if you aren’t willing to move aside for them).

One of the great things about the Kennedy School is that it feels like one big living room.  It’s almost like visiting a friend’s big, old house.  There’s a lot of room to kick back and relax.  Like when I decided I wanted a brownie and ice cream at 10:00 at night.  I grabbed my computer and trotted down to the Courtyard Restaurant to eat and write.

I sat and listened to a few other people who were chatting and snacking.  And I wrote about meeting a new friend in the soaking pool.  When I’d mopped up the last bit of ice cream I packed up and walked the 50 yards back to my room – where I passed out in a brownie-induced stupor.

My time at the Kennedy school was fantastic.  The property is amazing; the room was original, roomy, comfortable and spotless.  The movie was entertaining and the soaking pool was ultra-relaxing, even with kids walking the perimeters of both.  And the food was good.  I’d say I had one of the best service experiences I’ve ever had with a McMenamins property.  It was so enjoyable that I’ll be recommending the place to my parents next time they’re in town.  It really does offer a genuinely Portland experience.

It’s nice to find new places to have adventures, and nice to be reminded that adventures are in my back yard – wherever I am.

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February 25, 2010   4 Comments


There are things my parents have given me that I recognize every day.  My hands look exactly like my mother’s, and I see my dad’s mannerisms when I’m doing any type of business.

There are other things that sneak up on me.  Things that surprise me and make me grateful for what I’ve been given.  I know how to eat healthily.  I value good sentence structure.  And I recognize the benefit of physical activity.  I’m reminded of these things sporadically when I read a really badly written book or feel my body respond well to exercise.

Right now, I’m in Portland, housesitting for some friends.  In their living room, they have something that I grew up with – a piano.  Yesterday, when I walked in, it called to me like an old friend inviting me over to chat.  Like an old friend, I remembered some things, and forgot others.  I knew some of the things we used to chat about, and started through familiar territory, plunking out the first few bars of “The Entertainer”, something I used to play at parties and on dilapidated uprights everywhere.

I knew where my hands started; how the black keys felt on the sides of my fingers.  I remembered how to start.

I could feel my little, French great-grandmother sitting on the bench beside me, encouraging as she sang her songs.  She loved playing, but her hands were so small they couldn’t reach even a full octave.  She played anyway.

As the melody died away into a cacophony of unintended dissonance and hurried corrections, I reached up to open the beginner book on the music stand.  Working through the little book with the big notes, I smiled and laughed.  I played piano for years as a kid and then flute in high-school and college, as well as a plethora of other instruments, so I was able to read the top line of the music immediately.  The bass line was a challenge, though.  It took a full 5 minutes for me to remember all the mnemonic phrases that would help me identify the notes.

I’ve done this before, started over with the piano – on trips to my parent’s house, trying to re-learn Christmas songs.  It’s always been vaguely frustrating, trying to recreate something I used to have so fully; something that used to feel so natural.  It was like every missed-note was a confirmation that I wasn’t meant to be a musician, raising doubts;  taunting with unexpected sounds.  But over the last couple of days, I find myself gravitating toward the piano, the little upright that is so at odds with the perfectly tuned grand that I learned on, welcoming the learning that comes with rediscovery.

And I’m grateful.  I don’t need to start where I left off.  I don’t actually want to.  I remember how to start, and for now, that’s enough.  Actually, it’s more than enough.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful gift.

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February 10, 2010   2 Comments


I like traveling.  A lot.  I like seeing new things and meeting new people.  I like the actual travel, too.  I’m like a little kid every time I climb on the airplane.  I’d ask if I could say hi to the captain if they’d let me, and I have to refrain from asking for a set of wings – every time.

When I sold my house and decided to go traveling, I knew some of the things I was getting into.  I thought about the loss of language.  I agonized over leaving my house and also over leaving my home.  Traveling through Italy, I experienced the newness of a foreign environment and the challenge of not having my own place.  I rejoiced in the magic of timeless cities and grieved the aloneness of my experiences.

And I wrote.

When I returned, it was to a set of familiar places.  Places that had been mine, but that no longer were.  It’s a strange feeling not knowing how to answer the question, “where do you live?”  That’s something I hadn’t anticipated.  I know it’s pretty basic, but I didn’t really think about it until I booked a room in a hotel in the city I considered home.

And I stopped writing.

Yesterday, I packed for a trip to Hawaii.  (I’m tagging along with my parents again, so who knows what will happen this time.  Maybe I’ll decide to become an astronaut, or a professional surfer – though I should probably get insurance and take a few surfing lessons first.)  I’ve gone to Hawaii something like 20 times on family trips, and know exactly what I need to pack, so I left it until the day before my 6 AM departure.  Which was fine, except for the fact that, while I’d usually go to the closet or dresser to pack, this time I had to make a run to my storage unit.  I had plenty of icebreakers and jeans in my luggage, but my shorts, t-shirts and tank tops were locked safely away in a giant warehouse.  Odd.

I put my cold-weather clothes in a couple of big suitcases, and threw them in the truck that used to be mine.  I drove from the home that used to be mine, to the only physical space that I have any ownership interest in – a storage unit that houses the furniture, artwork and clothing that used to fill my life.

It was a strange experience, standing in the old warehouse, the thick wooden floors powdery from the decades of boxes dragged along, shoved into place.  I was able to find my clothes pretty darn quickly.  I labeled things well and must have anticipated that I’d need to get to my clothes at some point, so they were accessible.  I even ran across some of my super-soft scarves to replace the incredibly itchy one I’d picked up in Lucca.

I grabbed what I needed and traded out the suitcases of winter-clothes.  I lingered a moment with my hand on the saddle of my bike, an old Motobecane that belonged to a high-school teacher of mine, and was fixed up for me by a good friend.  A year ago, the bike was my greatest adventure.  Riding to work was exciting and liberating.  Like anyone who has ridden the same bike for 15 years, I’d take it with me everywhere if there was a practical way to do it.

It was strange, seeing the physical manifestation of my life that was, stacked up, covered in plastic.  It’s unsettling not having a single place that I live, but fascinating to see how little I’ve needed the things that I collected – the chairs and desk and bins of stuff.   I’m interested to see where it leads me.  Stripped of the ability to use language the way I was used to, I found a new voice in writing.  What will I find while I’m stripped of a home?  Right now I don’t have an answer to the question “where do I live?”

But maybe for a little while I can be content having an answer to the question “how do I live?”

In the mean time, it’s time to start writing again.

But maybe I can be content having an answer to the question “how do I live?”

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January 20, 2010   Comments Off on Transitional

Back in P-Land

After spending some time with my family in Idaho, I’m back in Portland for a bit.  You know Portland – the land of the super-yummy specialty restaurants.

Today, I had lunch with my friend Leo, who I hadn’t seen in months.  We planned to go to a deli for some grub and gab, but when we drove up to it, it was closed.  Fighting through the momentary fluster, Leo regrouped.  “How about the Red Bike?  You like fried egg sandwiches?”

Now, I’d never heard of the Little Red Bike Café but, as it so happens, I do enjoy fried egg sandwiches.  So, we made a course-correction and headed toward the smell of butter (always a safe option).

The café is cute.  Disguised as an unsophisticated walk-up counter kind of place, the café is anything but.

Red Bike counter

The first clue to this was the tea menu.  If a place has more than 10 types of tea on a special menu, it’s not unsophisticated.  If the tea comes in a tea press, it’s bordering on fancy.

Red Bike tea

We ordered a couple of sandwiches and sat down to talk about life.  (Leo and I always have a good time conspiring to find fantastic business ideas and meaningful spiritual journeys.)  But when they food arrived, I found myself totally distracted by the first bite.

Red Bike flat tire

I got something called the “flat tire”.  It had scrambled egg, cheese, aoli and veggie-bacon on a sesame bagel.  Super-yum.  When I ordered, I asked them to leave the bacon off.  Forgetting I was back in Portland, I was surprised when the guy behind the counter offered me veggie-bacon.  Yup, veggie-bacon.  That just about made my day, not because I like bacon, but because I was reminded of the coolness of Portland.  And, as the sandwich sat there, the aoli melted and coated the bread and egg.

Leo got something else – something with real bacon.

Red Bike ciabatta

This bad-boy was serious.  It had a fried egg, thick bacon and was on a ciabatta roll.  I didn’t even ask how it was, I was so consumed with mine, but it looked tasty and disappeared quickly.

The staff was extra-helpful and Portland-funky.  As I walked out, I looked back on the place and mused.

Little Red Bike Cafe

Every-so-often I forget how cool Portland is.  You don’t even have to look for incredible places to eat here.  I’ve never even heard of a restaurant that specializes in fried-egg sandwiches, but now I know where to go next time I’m craving one.

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January 13, 2010   2 Comments