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In an effort to re-start my personal blog, and to focus my mind for the coming year, I’ve joined the #Reverb10 project, in which bloggers write on a prompt for every day of December. I’m posting right before I go to bed at the end of my December 1, even though it’s past midnight and the calendar says December 2. I plan to write every night this month before bed—maybe earlier sometimes, but #Reverb10 is likely to be my bedtime musing most nights.

December first’s #Reverb 10 prompt is: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2010: Testing

This was a year of trying things out. In 2010, I’d come to see that my plan of living from house sit to house sit, rent-free, living on very low income, had become more a form of hiding than a way of exploring what life had to offer. The fully nomadic, low-money-usage life may have had things to teach me, but it had outlived its purpose. It was time to try something new.

On the other hand, I knew I still didn’t want a conventional life. Near the end of 2009, I turned down a full-time ad-agency proofreading job (at the height of the recession!) because it didn’t offer to teach me anything I needed to learn—but also because, I realized, I really couldn’t imagine working a standard, 9 to 5, office job ever again. I wanted to expand my career(s) and be part of the economy, rather than avoiding needing or using money.

To that end, I spent 2010 trying things out. I found wonderful mentors in two of my major writing clients, and now I’ve learned corporate ghost blogging, taking my freelance writing career in an entirely new, constantly educational, far more lucrative direction.

I tried living in one place, sharing a cabin in Evergreen (a gorgeous small town in Colorado’s foothills) with the boyfriend I met in the second half of 2009. From that, I learned that Evergreen was too far from the hustle and bustle of Denver city life for my taste, and my romantic relationship worked better when we lived in separate homes.

I slowly tested my acting skills in new directions, too. The start of 2010 found me in Chicago auditioning for MFA acting programs . . . to no avail. I learned that my lack of formal theater education, and probably my age, make it extremely unlikely that I’ll ever be accepted into such a program. I’ll have to find other ways to take my acting to a higher level. Back home in Denver, I experimented: I acted in my first scripted stage show in three years. I became a regular in children’s murder mystery shows. (Yes, there are such things. Don’t worry—we murder fictional adults and let the kids solve the cases. No children are murdered.) Most amazingly, I learned how to help train police officers by playing realistic characters in crisis—mentally ill people, the developmentally disabled, and people who were very angry or severely traumatized.

I spent the 2010 trying new things in all kinds of directions, still not sure what was the right path to focus on.

2011 Direction

On New Year’s Day, 2011, I’ll already be at Shakespeare & Company, a Shakespeare festival theater company in the Berkshires, working my ass of in their month-long intensive training program for professional actors. I’ve known for three years now that this is what I most want to do with my acting career: perform live, on stage, in the classical and other brilliant plays done by Shakespeare festivals. Giving up on MFAs, I’ve chosen the most direct route I can find: the highly-respected, Shakespeare-specific training of Shakespeare & Company’s 40-year-old Month-Long Intensive program. I still don’t know exactly where my acting will go when I finish this “acting boot camp” and return to my regular life, but I’m confident that what I learn in the Berkshires will help me map my course.

Corporate blogging will continue to be my bread and butter from February on. I’ve already arranged with my best client to pre-write the blogs that will go live while I’m at business further as soon as I’m back home. I also plan to start writing fiction again—once my favorite art form, but one I’ve neglected since college. I haven’t felt I had the concentration to write my own stories these past . . . too many years. It’s time to find my focus again.

As for my home, when I finish my actor training, I will still have a home to come back to. I’ve been renting a room in the house of an old friend from high school, and I love it here. I’ve actually unpacked and set up furniture. I have a home base to help me focus on my next direction . . . or directions.

 

And my love life? That’s the one area of my life I don’t think I have the power, or good reason, to try to direct.

I’m a big fan of both writer/director Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines, so I was sad to hear about the online battle that’s been raging between them since last Saturday. Because I love them both so, I’ve made it a point to dig deeper and find out as much of the whole story as I can, and knowing more makes the story that much sadder: It’s clear that this whole mess could have easily been avoided.

If you haven’t heard yet, here’s a summary of the basic story as reported by the Los Angeles Times: Last Saturday, Smith was escorted off a Southwest flight because, Southwest employees told him, the captain had determined that his size posed a “safety risk” to other passengers. Smith politely left the plane when he was asked to, but he didn’t buy their explanation, and was particularly peeved because he saw this as a sign of systematic mistreatment of larger passengers. He shared his displeasure with his Twitter readership—which, unfortunately for Southwest, amounts to over 1.6 million people.

To my disappointment, neither the news reports, nor Smith’s Twitter feed, nor even the vague apologetic post written on Southwest’s blog by their representative, Linda Rutherford, makes clear what, exactly, happened. My fan-girl brain was spinning with questions: Was Smith posing a safety risk, or pushing another passenger out of his or her seat space? Was he violating an FAA regulation or posted Southwest policy? Who decided to eject him from the plane, and what reason did they give? And why was a Hollywood star flying on a discount airline that has only cramped, economy-class seats?

I wanted to know more because, as I’ve said, I’m a fan of both Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. I love Smith’s work: his smart, sometimes satirical, but often just goofy comedy. I think Dogma, in particular, is brilliant, and Smith himself is a great storyteller. On the other hand, I’ve flown Southwest for five of the six flights I’ve taken this year. I love that they’re cheap (because so am I), but I’ve also found their attitude towards passengers to be fun, courteous, and friendly. On my last trip, a baggage checking agent went far out of her way to help me avoid a $50 overweight baggage fee, even though the problem was entirely my fault. I have always thought highly of both parties in this argument, and I’d like to continue to do so. So I wanted to know: What really happened?

Because Southwest is being very careful about what they say, (They are in the middle of a PR nightmare, after all.) the best source I could find for the full story was Smith’s own podcast, Smodcast. As soon as he arrived home on Saturday, Smith recorded the hour-and-a-half-long episode #106, entitled “Go Fuck Yourself, Southwest Airlines,” in which he discusses the incident with his wife, journalist Jennifer Schwalbach Smith. Yes, it’s clearly just one side of a heated argument, but Southwest has not questioned Smith’s version of the events that went down, and some bloggers have praised Smith for his honestly. The podcast answered all of my questions:

Smith was flying Southwest because it’s a very convenient way to get from the Bay Area, where he had business, to Burbank, an airport that he loves and that is near his home. He has flown Southwest often, many times a week in some cases, because loved their corporate attitude and friendly service—until last Saturday, that is. He usually buys two seats for himself because a) he’s rolling in dough and can afford to, b) he jokes, “I just don’t like people!” so he avoids being crammed up against strangers, and c) as he puts it, “I’m fat! I know I’m fat!” and while he proudly and repeatedly insists that he has always been able to fit in an airline seat with the armrests down and buckle his seatbelt without an extender, he is more comfortable with more space. On Saturday evening, though, Smith was in a hurry because he’d been away from home for days and he missed his beautiful wife (He put it a bit more graphically in his podcast.) and so he asked to switch to an earlier flight. The early flight had only one seat left.

Rather than assigning seats, Southwest lets passengers pick their own. Smith chose a seat in the center of a row, between (as he tells it) two adorable, tiny ladies who were very polite and gave no complaints about having him between them. He was about to fasten his seat belt when a flight attendant told him that the captain had asked her to remove him due to “safety concerns.” It took him a moment to figure out that she was talking about his size. He pulled down the armrests to show that he could fit between them, and asked the other passengers in his row if they were uncomfortable. Both said they were fine. The flight attendant still insisted on escorting him from the plane.

Smith went calmly and politely, not wanting to cause a stir and get arrested by Homeland Security, but once back inside the airport, he began arguing (in a calm voice, he insists) with the gate agent, demanding to know on what grounds he was ejected, and who made the decision. The captain could not have made the call, he argued, as the captain could not possibly have seen him. (Rutherford’s post on Southwest’s blog later admitted that it was not the captain who made the call.) After getting the same unsatisfying reply over and over, Smith then spent the two-plus hours he had to wait for his next flight telling his 1.6 million Twitter followers exactly what he thought of Southwest Airlines. As the enormity of Southwest’s PR problem became clear, a manager walked over to Smith where he sat by the gate, apologized profusely, and offered him a voucher for $100 in credit to be used when (if!) he flys Southwest again. Smith accepted the voucher, but assured the manager that this was far from making things right.

That’s where most of the news coverage ends, but I think the best part of the story—and the most damning for Southwest—is what happened on that later flight. This flight was not crowded, so Smith used the two seats he had originally paid for, taking a window seat towards the front of the plane and setting his voucher as a placeholder in the middle seat. A pleasant young lady sat down in the aisle seat, and Smith noticed that she was about his size, perhaps a bit larger. A few minutes later, a Southwest customer service agent escorted her off the plane while Smith watched, thinking to himself, “Are you kidding me? Not again!”

The young lady did return to her seat before the plane took off, but she was noticeably upset and fighting back tears. At this point, Smith says, his previous anger at Southwest seemed petty and small. Now he was far angrier because, among so many other things, Kevin Smith is a little girl’s dad. “I just kept thinking of our daughter,” Smith told his wife on the podcast. “If that were my daughter, I would have punched somebody’s lights out!”

Late in the flight, the young lady introduced herself as Natali, and told Smith what had happened to her. He later invited her to tell her full story on Smodcast episode #107, “Thinnicism,” posted today. Natali tells listeners that she flies all the time, on Southwest and on other airlines. Although she was always nervous about her size and careful to pick a seat where she’d be most comfortable and least likely to scrunch anyone else, her size had not been a problem up until that flight.

On the flight from Oakland to Burbank, however, a flight attendant pulled her aside and told her she must sit in the aisle seat of Smith’s row. Then a customer service agent boarded the plane to tell Natali that there was a problem and she would have to step off. Back inside the airport, the agent told her that she had to buy a second seat—something she had never done before because she, like Smith, had always been able to fit in one seat with the armrests down and a non-extended seatbelt fastened. Natali pointed out to the agent that the seat next to her was already empty, but the was told that it belonged to Mr. Smith, and it would be unfair to him if she used it.

Natali continued the debate until she was finally allowed to get back on the plane, now very upset and very much aware of the dirty looks she was getting from some passengers. She has since left phone and internet messages for Southwest, with no response from them. “Believe me, you’ll hear from them now!” Smith declared. The pair went on to speculate that maybe Southwest was putting on a show for Smith, trying to prove that they treated all large people equally.

If it was a staged show, I’d have to say that it backfired completely, adding paternal rage to Smith’s personal indignation, and showing that Smith’s ejection was not an isolated case of poor judgment, but rather a sign of a systemic problem. After reading through Southwest’s web site, Smith says he’s found no clear guidelines about when a passenger’s size is or isn’t a problem. Fitting between armrests is a suggested test, but this was not used in Smith’s case or Natali’s: Both of them did fit between armrests. The site also suggests that the captain can decide, based on his or her judgment, but Southwest’s blog post admits that the captain did not actually make the call in Smith’s case, and the captain wasn’t even mentioned in Natali’s case. As of now, there is no way for a passenger to know what will or won’t be a problem, and the rules can change from flight to flight. In fact, Natali was on a connecting flight, having just made the much longer trip from Des Moines to Oakland in one seat with no problems. Smith concludes that, when flying Southwest, “If you’re over 200 pounds, I would think twice, because they could grab you at any time.”

This nightmare—for larger airline passengers and for Southwest—could have been avoided if Southwest had set solid, clear policies, shared them with their customers, and stuck to them. Of course airline employees have an obligation to look out for safety, and to provide an entire seat to every passenger who pays for one, and it’s true some people just don’t fit in one seat (many people, actually, since the CDC estimates that 67% percent of American adults are overweight and airplane seats are designed to stuff as many customers into a plane as possible). But these should not be subjective judgment calls. A person is either overflowing into someone else’s seat, or he’s not. A person is either getting in the way of safe flying procedures (buckling seatbelts, keeping the aisle clear, etc.), or she’s not. Airlines can tell us clearly what size bags fit as carry-ons. Why can’t they tell us what size bodies fit in their seats?

I’m not suggesting that they set boxes by the gate with signs that say, “If your butt doesn’t fit in this box, you’ll need to check it as baggage,” or that airline employees should measure passengers’ waists as they board the plane. Instead, airlines could simply set clear, common-sense rules, enforce them to the letter on every flight, and post them on their web sites and ticket envelopes so that passengers could plan accordingly. For example, if the web site said, “Our seats are 17 inches wide. If your body does not fit in a space this size, you’ll need to buy a second seat. If you do fit in this space, but would be uncomfortable in it, please consider buying a second seat. If you cannot sit in one seat with the armrests down, you will be asked to purchase another seat or to leave the plane.”

Of course this won’t make everyone happy, and some passengers will still be humiliated and inconvenienced by being removed from planes when they simply can’t fit and can’t afford a second seat. Still, clear, objective policies would go a long way towards decreasing the embarrassment for everyone concerned. Passengers would know exactly what to expect, and airline staff be able to explain—in a completely factual, non-euphemistic, non-insulting way—the rare occasions when they really must take someone off the plane. Most importantly, no more Kevin Smiths and Natalis would be humiliated when there really isn’t a problem, and nobody would have to live in fear of being suddenly singled out because some hidden, unnamed person arbitrarily decides that they are (as so many headlines have called Smith) “too fat to fly.”

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

I haven’t blogged for three and a half months. I think I had a good reason: I put my entire life on hold to pursue a dream. I told my freelance and pet sitting clients I’d be away, I let my awesome roommate/landlady find a new renter, I put even more of my stuff in storage, loaned my car to my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and headed off to San Francisco for the summer. Why? Following my stated goal of kicking up my acting career, I applied for the 2009 Summer Training Congress, a seven-week professional actor training program through San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. To my great surprise, I actually got in! I set off for two months in a huge, new city, to spend my days steeped in what I love most: acting. For me, it was a dream come true, and a life so different from my usual Colorado ramblings that it felt like a dream.

Knowing that, with nine-hour days of extremely active training, plus rehearsals, plus getting lost and overwhelmed in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I let the Nomad blog slide all summer. Instead, I kept those friends who were interested updated with Facebook and Twitter updates (I could handle 140 characters occasionally, but not a whole essay). As with my trip to Portland, this adventure brought out the paradox of blogging an unusual life: When life is at its most interesting, I’m too busy living to blog about it.

It was an amazing summer. I made wonderful new friends and impressive contacts, learned more about acting and Shakespeare and voice and speech and text and the power of movement to communicate than I ever thought I could cram into my being in two months, fell head over heels for a San Francisco novelist, lived in two fantastic apartments and one awful one, got to know San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, marched as Batgirl in America’s biggest Gay Pride Parade… and I may someday write about some or all of these adventures.

For now, though, I’d like to start processing my challenge of the moment: Having put one’s life on hold, how does one ever get it going again? After a summer of tuition and San Francisco prices, my non-retirement savings are nearly gone (and I’m still not touching my retirement funds, no way, no how!). My freelance and pet sitting clients have learned how to live without me for two months. I’m now sleeping in the storage-stuffed guest bedroom at my mother’s house. My car has been diagnosed with a terminal case of “Chevy Metros weren’t designed to last for more than 188,000 miles. It’s time to let it go.” I haven’t knitted in months (!) and I’ve lost my guitar callouses. I still don’t have a play to act in. Some of my Colorado friends know I’m back in their state, some don’t. My long-distance friends have fallen out of touch while I was overwhelmed with theatre thoughts. For the first time in years, I actually have a steady, fairly awesome love life, but it’s a long-distance one—as my mom likes to sing while giggling at me, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

Still, life looks good to me, not just because I’m still high from my summer of acting and adventure, but because this life is full of possibilities. In the next few months, I will have to find new work, a new home (or rebuild my house sitting lifestyle), and a new (to me) car. I plan to jump start my art life: land some acting roles; publish more articles, stories, and knitting designs; and finally learn to jam on my guitar. I plan to reconnect with and better appreciate the people I hold dear, and keep in touch with all of the new friends and admired acquaintances I met in San Francisco. Oh, and I plan to convince one adorable novelist that, once he finishes his MFA in San Francisco this fall, what he really wants to do is move to Colorado. Hey, it can all be done, and given my list and my life so far, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

Intrigued? Welcome back to the blog. I promise to post about updated on my life’s reconstruction, plus some related (or not so) great ideas from the rest of the world, with new posts coming at least once a week, and usually more often. Thanks for reading.

The Eye of the Tiger

The Eye of the Tiger

I spent this weekend cat sitting again. No, I’m not on the move already. It’s just that I miss having cats around, since we have no pets here in my comfy home. My roommate/landlady tells me I can get a cat if I like, though she’s not a fan, herself, and so I’ve been thinking and reading web sites about getting a foster cat. That would mean taking in a kitty who lives at an animal shelter, but for some reason is not ready for adoption—she has an illness or injury to recover from, or he’s been in the shelter so long he’s forgotten how to play with people—and loving him or her until it’s time to go back and find a forever home. I’m also still open to sitting for local clients, especially those I know well. Besides, I could use some extra money, as well as the extra fur.

This weekend, I was in Longmont with two cats in a home I’ve stayed in for many weeks during my full-on-nomad days. It was refreshing to pack for just a three-day trip, easily finding everything I might need in my own closet, dresser, and shelves. It felt like a vacation instead of a total home move. In fact, I was surprised to see how calm and productive I was all weekend.

I was more surprised at how irritable I was when I got home last night. My roommate was out for the evening, but I twitched at every little thing that had changed while I was gone. How dare she run the dishwasher (Quite nice of her, actually.) and not unload it immediately? What was a clothes drying rack doing in the office (folded neatly, right next to the washer and dryer)? Why was the door to the unheated basement left open, sucking warmth from the rest of the house? Then I took a moment to be surprised at myself. My roommate is wonderful, actually. She’s easy going, rarely home, and charming and interesting when she is around. After knowing me for a week and a half, this woman baked me a cake for my birthday. I couldn’t ask for a better roommate, and I wouldn’t trade her in for another…well, maybe for Christian Bale or Kal Penn, but it would take quite a lot.

After giving it some thought, I realized that I was bothered only because I have a roommate, any roommate. I’m not used to living without cats, but more than that, I’m really, really unused to living with people. Even the sweetest roommate is a lot to get used to. I’m not used to doors being open when I haven’t opened them, trash being created by anyone but me, tiny spills on the kitchen counter that I don’t recognize. I’ve been far too isolated for too long, and I’m still not used to all this humanity. That’s why packing an overnight bag and running away for the weekend felt, more than anything, like going home.

I’ve just discovered the marvelous blog “Mudflats: Tiptoeing Through the Muck of Alaskan Politics,” which, I think, has a lot to teach all American citizens who are trying to decide whether to elect Alaska’s governor as our understudy for a 72-year-old leader of the free world. I have to say that, while I want to thank Sarah Palin for all she’s done to prove that women with glasses can be sexy and fashionable (though my hero, Tina Fey, has done much more for myopic ladies like me), the more I learn about what Palin actually stands for politically, the more she scares the hell out of me. I’ve been hoping to hear more from the people who have real experience with Palin, though, so I was delighted to read Mudflats’ coverage of the “Alaska Women Reject Palin” rally, which immediately followed Palin’s “Welcome Home” rally in Anchorage on Sunday, September 14. It also kicked that rally’s butt, with a conservatively estimated 1400 supporters attending, compared to a generously estimated 900 at the pro-Palin shindig. [Note: The photos on this post are copied from the Mudflats blog, which gave permission to share them if I included links back to their blog. Thanks, Mudflats!]

As an Alaskan woman, I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to be there. Oh, you didn’t know I was Alaskan? Well, according to Sarah Palin, I am. You see, my parents met and married in Anchorage, and lived there until August of 1973, when they hopped a plane and moved straight to Colorado. I was born in Denver in January of 1974, so, according to Palin (and an upcoming resolution on Colorado’s ballot, which also scares me), my life had begun and I was a person in Alaska for about four months. I just didn’t get to enjoy the view.

Does this explanation sound ridiculous to you? Well, try charging rape victims for the “rape kit” procedures that collect the evidence of the crimes, as the city of Wasilla tried to do while Palin was mayor. How about a pregnant 17-year-old’s mother continuing to tell the country that abstinence-only education works? How about a person living in Alaska, watching the weather change and the glaciers shrink and the tundra melt, and telling the world that global warming isn’t a problem? Yes, Palin scares me. Apparently, the people who know her best are scared, too. I’d like to thank the majority of the women of Alaska for standing up for me, and to say: Even though I’m not really an Alaskan woman, and even though I’ve never been to your beautiful state, I wish I were there to stand beside you. Thank you for speaking up.

For more from outspoken Vagina-Americans (as Samantha Bee called us on The Daily Show‘s 8/29/08 episode), check out this essay by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler.

From Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, Oregon

From Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, Oregon

I try to collect small, interesting souvenirs. I’ve got quite a few smashed pennies, from the California redwood forests, Haight Ashbury, Disney World, the outer banks of North Carolina, and most recently from Twin Falls, Idaho. Since I’m addicted to knitting, I also like to collect some-assembly-required souvenirs, like the shawl I’ve finally finished knitting out of yarn hand dyed by a woman I met in Vermont. There’s a very interesting yarn shop here in my neighborhood in Portland. At Yarnia, I can choose colors and fibers and have a multi-ply yarn custom blended just for me. I think I’m going to end up with a hat in a few months, made, partly, in Portland.

This week, I came across a new souvenir idea, and one I quite like. The souvenirs would be practical, portable, adorable, quirky, and I wouldn’t have to show them to anybody I didn’t really, really like. They could make sharing a dressing room in a theatre a lot more fun. What’s the idea? See the picture, above. Cute, aren’t they? I picked these up at Portland’s own Voodoo Doughnut, which is famous for unusual flavors (like their maple-bacon bars) and for running afoul of the FDA by mixing doughnuts and drugs to create hangover cures like the Pepto-Bismol doughnut. No, you can’t get a Pepto doughnut there anymore, but you can get souvenir t-shirts with their logos “The magic is in the hole” and “Good things come in pink boxes.” Better yet, since everybody has too many t-shirts with silly sayings, ladies (or anyone who likes to wear bikinis, I suppose) can get their own souvenir, sweets-themed underpants. (Yes, the saying on my panties is about doughnuts. What were you thinking? Sicko.)

I love this idea. I wish I could find souvenir underpants in more places. The only other tourist-trap knickers I recall seeing, so far, were at a seafood restaurant in Baltimore, where I dined on steamed blue crab (a huge novelty to a lifelong Coloradoan like me) five years ago. Their logo went well on panties, too: “Got crabs?” Now I wish I’d bought a pair to add to my collection, and I sincerely hope that I’ll see more fancy panties as I go on with my travels. Surely there will be some Shakespearean knickers at Oregon Shakespeare Festival? I’ll be deeply disappointed if there aren’t. Ole’ Willy has far too many good dirty jokes to waste. And maybe I can get some hipsters that say, “Moab kicked my ass”? We’ll see. I hope I’ll be able to get a week’s worth soon. This is so much more interesting than “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday …”

I did, in fact, get to have lunch with my buddy’s buddy, Ted, and yep, I still have a crush on him. It’s not a dangerous sort of crush. I don’t feel the need to jump all over him. I don’t even mind that he’s happily married. I just feel all warm and comfortable when he’s around, and I so I want to hang out with him as much as possible. As I’ve said earlier, I think Ted has this effect on everyone, or at least on a great many people. I don’t think he’s even aware that it’s happening. (Unless, of course, Ted should start reading my blog. If so … er, hi, Ted. Please use your power for good, not evil. Well, of course you’ll use it for good. You’re Ted!) Ted, himself, clearly doesn’t always feel warm and cozy and comfortable. He has doubts and frustrations and worries and grief just like anyone else. It seems unfair, really. Ted deserves to have the Ted effect washing over him, too. If only he could turn his aura in, and enjoy having a mild, cozy crush on himself.

Our mutual friend, Brian, has a similar phenomenon going on: Brian radiates an aura of calm, at least to me. When I’m around Brian, my worries, my doubts, the big angry fight I’ve just had with someone else (this really has happened) all just wash away, and I feel calm and relaxed. For this reason, I like to drag Brian out to open mic nights: In addition to hearing Brian play, (He’s an excellent guitarist and songwriter.) I get to perform with his aura of calmness washing over me, so stage fright can’t touch me. With Brian around, I’m sure I can do anything! Sadly, Brian doesn’t have this effect on himself, at all. In fact, Brian is often very nervous. He worries a lot. He has trouble sleeping. I’ve decided that Brian is an anxiety absorber. If only Brian had another of himself around to calm him down …

Anyway, I’m gathering a lesson from all of this: One of my goals now is to be more like Ted, and more like Brian. I’d like to have a positive effect on everyone around me, to make people feel better, braver, more welcome, intelligent, and calm, just for being in my presence. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t think I could learn by asking Ted or Brian directly for, as I’ve said, I don’t think they even know that they’re doing this. Still, it warrants further study. And that’s a great excuse to go hang out with Ted again. Aaaaah … so warm and cozy …

Ah… I’m in my favorite Portland coffee shop, The Fine Grind. No more hair bands on the stereo. Gillian Welch is singing “Elvis Presley Blues” here.

Yes, folks, I’ve been in Portland for three days, and I have a favorite neighborhood coffee shop. Heck, I even have a neighborhood, a backyard, neighbors that I’ve met, housemates, and, for this week, a cat. I’m still doing a lot of touristy activities, like tours, museums, and getting lost on the bus (a required tourist activity, I think, for any big city), but I think I’m getting a taste of what it would be like to live in Portland. Right now, it tastes like a tomato, cheese, and avocado sandwich, washed down with a vanilla latté and Gillian Welch. Aaaaaah…

How did I get this lucky? I answered an ad on Craig’s List. I looked through the “sublets and temporary” section of the Portland Craig’s List, and I found a lady who wanted to rent out her attic bedroom while she was on a week-long business trip. She had a two fuzzy photos, which she admitted were taken before the room was redecorated and redone, and I couldn’t come see the place before renting, as I was in another state at the time. I was to send a $50 deposit by PayPal, and when I arrived in Portland three days later, to simply let myself in, as nobody ever locks the doors at this house.

I was nervous as I drove closer to Oregon. It seemed quite possible that the house, at the address she’d given me, wouldn’t exist at all, or the doors would be locked and the housemates behind them would have no idea who I was and no interest in letting me stay with them, and so I’d be without a place to sleep and out $50. I printed off Google Maps directions to the nearest Super 8 motel for a plan B, and tried to convince myself that gambling was fun.

A slightly worse worst-case scenario had also occurred to me. I didn’t know these people. If I were a serial killer, it might occur to me to use Craig’s List to lure people far from their homes and anyone who might miss them, into my house. Heck, in Colorado, if someone walks into your house without an invitation, and you feel threatened, you have a legal right to kill them. Really. It’s a controversial law, usually called “the make-my-day law,” but it’s on the books. I don’t know whether Oregon has a similar law. After I’m dead and buried in the back yard, how could I prove I was invited? And how would that help me?

I vented all of these fears on the phone with my dear friend Rachel while I was driving across Idaho, ever closer to Portland. (Ah, the miracles of cell phones, national call plans, and hands-free headsets! Hooray!) “I think it will be fine,” said Rachel. “In fact, I have a problem with people who see demons behind every door, especially when traveling.” She pointed out that it was by far most likely that these are nice, normal people who trust the world and would like to make a bit of extra money instead of leaving a comfy room vacant.

I knew that was most likely, but I was still quite nervous when I found the house at 9:30pm in the pouring rain. It did exist, the doors were unlocked, and to rattle my nerves more, nobody appeared to be home. My greatest fear was that I was walking into the wrong unlocked house, and some poor, terrified neighbor would be completely in her rights to shoot me. I carefully peeked around every door, as if I did expect demons to wait there. I felt a bit better when I got to the attic room: It looked a lot like the Craig’s List photos. I was in the right place.

Just then, two of my four housemates returned home from the grocery store. They were expecting me, and were gracious and welcoming. It’s been a beautiful setup ever since: I have a very quiet, comfortable, homey room in a cute, 100-year-old house, with use of a kitchen, living room, full bathroom, lovely back yard with an apple tree, and comfortable front porch, all for $35 a day. My four roommates are interesting, artistic people about my age. Having just moved here (one couple from Minneapolis, the other from the Washington, D.C. area), they tell me about all of the sights and tastes and interesting quirks they’ve discovered about Portland—and about this cute coffee shop a few blocks away, which has free wireless internet and acoustic folk music on the stereo.

I am so glad I took my chances with the demons. I realize the lady I rented the room from, along with her housemates, is more trusting than I was, to let this strange drifter into their home. I hope they’re as happy as I am with how the gamble turned out.

Look! I’ve finally updated my header photo! This is the waterfront of the Willamette River, of which Portlanders seem to be very proud. They should be, I suppose. Folks can run, bike, skate, or just eat lunch in a sidewalk cafe (It seems that the weather is almost always perfect for sidewalk dining here.) while watching picturesque sailboats float by. Being from dry, dry, Colorado, I’m particularly impressed. I haven’t seen so much water in one place for years and years … since my last road trip, actually.

While I’m in total road-trip mode, my header will probably always be a few days behind me. It will be in Portland while I’m at the seashore, on the beach while I’m watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Ashland, and in Ashland while I’m hiking in Moab.

Ah, the sad fact of blogging is that, the more interesting my life is, the less likely I am to write about it. Here’s how my past five days have gone:

Friday: Pack my Chevy Metro full of snacks and my iPod full of audiobooks, then drive out of Colorado and most of the Wyoming east to west. Sleep in the Metro in a tiny, truck-filled parking area by the side of I-80.

Saturday: Drive all day, across a sliver of Utah and into Idaho, while listening to Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Lullabye. Check into a Super 8 motel, which feels incredibly luxurious after the I-80 parking lot. Toss and turn through some very strange dreams. (Chuck Palahniuk can do that to a girl.)

Sunday: Visit Twin Falls, Idaho’s main attraction, Shoshone Falls. I’ve seen these waterfalls before, about ten years ago, when I was in Twin Falls for a college theatre conference. I think I’m more impressed now. I take lots of pictures and squash a souvenir penny before hitting the road again. Gaining an hour as I pass into the Pacific time zone, I pull up to my house (for this week) in Portland at 9:30pm. To my slight surprise, the roommates I found on Craig’s List do not kill me, roast me, and crunch my bones. Instead, they welcome me to Oregon.

Monday: I spend most of the day recovering from my drive (sleeping in) and sitting in a lovely mom-and-pop coffee shop, The Fine Grind, using their internet connection to plan the rest of my trip. I spend the evening drinking terrible beer with my four new roommates, all of whom have moved to Portland within the last month. I hear about their home states (Minnesota and Virginia), their plans, their job searches, and the best and worst things they’ve learned about Portland so far. I’m thinking this is much better than Super 8 motel.

Tuesday: Walking tours of downtown, two of them, about five hours worth, with two hours between—plenty of time for me to get lost on the busses and trains. I come home knowing all about Shanghai-ing and why this place is called Stumptown. I’m also wondering how the tour guide, who was the same bubbly young woman for both tours, can still stand up. I fall asleep, exhausted, at 7pm.

Wednesday: Now I’m at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, which my roommates tell me is Portland’s official coffee shop. (The tour guide told me yesterday that this place is called “Stumptown” because huge forests were chopped down to build Portland, so many trees that it wasn’t worth the trouble to dig out all of the stumps, so they just build on top of them. It’s kind of a graveyard for trees. Still, it’s lush and beautiful. I kinda like what they made of the place.) I don’t like this place as much as I did The Fine Grind. The music here is loud, hair-band rock, as opposed to The Fine Grind’s acoustic folk, and all of the people here so far, in front of the counter and behind it, stare vaguely at me as if they haven’t had their coffee yet today. Still, they roast their own coffee here, and the aroma is wonderful. There’s a spot near the counter where one can watch the coffee roasting while giant mixer arms stir the beans. I suppose this place just isn’t my style. It’s mostly the music.

My most exciting plan today is to do lunch with Ted, an old, dear friend of my relatively new, dear friend, Brian. Brian and Ted both hail from Saint Cloud, Minnesota, but Brian ended up in Boulder and Ted ended up in Portland. I’ve met Ted twice when he came out to Colorado to visit, and now I think everyone in the world must have a crush on Ted. It’s not just me. My happily married friends moon over him. Brian seems to have a heterosexual man-crush on him, as do a couple of other guys we’ve hung out with. Ted just has that effect on people. I imagine Ted’s lovely wife has a crush on him, too, and having met her once, I’m convinced that she matches him. So, no need to be flustered and girly. I just get to do lunch with a guy who makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy. That, and I get to ask a long-time Portland resident what I should go see, and what it’s like to really live here. I think that’s my favorite part of tourism: sampling different lives. How would a Portland-dwelling Anita be different from a Denver/Boulder-dwelling Anita?

I hope to blog more soon. I have tons of pictures from yesterday, alone, but I’m not sure just now where I packed the cable that lets me upload them to my computer. I have several thoughts to blog about, like why I’ve left Colorado just now, and the marvelous souvenir I got from Portland’s famous Voodoo Donuts, (I think it’s the beginning of a beautiful collection!) but all of that may have to wait until later in the trip—maybe sometime when the place I’m staying at has an internet connection, and I don’t have to endure hair-band shouting as I blog. More exciting entries are coming soon, I promise!