why i don’t live in portland

i have been kind of sad since i got home from portland. this may be because i have been really tired since i got home from portland. i was splitting a hotel room with ericka all weekend, & ericka did not seem to be capable of sleeping past 7:30am, even if we didn’t go to bed until 2:30am. i can get by on five hours of sleep with enough coffee, but it’s definitely not my usual way of doing things. but it’s what i did pretty much every day while i was in portland. i slept for ten hours my first night back in kansas, but it wasn’t enough & i was still exhausted all day yesterday. i slept for nine hours last night. i think i might be caught up now.

ailecia made the last-minute decision to get a plane ticket & join me in portland for the weekend. she stayed with her friend laura in northeast portland. ailecia had been to portland before, but i guess this trip was especially awesome because now she wants to move there. i can understand the impulse. ailecia was drawn in by go-go dancers of all genders & body shapes at a queer dance night, the fact that there was an awesome queer dance night, & other especially awesome queer/fat-positive aspects of portland. these are the kinds of things that draw a lot of people to portland. she was always impressed by the fact that people often said things like, “i communicated my concerns to her…” or, “i hope he can accept accountability for this mistake…” etc. lawrence has its good qualities, & i always say that it’s the place to be if you have to live in kansas…but it’s still kansas. there are queer dance nights & such forth, but it’s not exactly a radical fat kid queer mecca like portland.

i’m not going to lie though. the idea of someone choosing to move to portland at the age of 34 BLOWS MY MIND. in a bad way. i was only 21 when i had to get the fuck out of there, & i’m not exactly claiming that i was an especially mature 21-year-old. there’s such an intense neverland aspect to portland. so many people move there specifically because they never have to grow up: they can get cheap rent & try to cover their bills with their weirdo art projects & they can eat all their meals from food trucks & go on lots of dates & make zines & have dance parties & ride bikes, & i guess i can understand the appeal in an abstract kind of way, but in no way does any of it appeal to me personally AT ALL. i really like being a grown-up.

i lived in portland for two years, between the ages of 20 & 22. the things that really drew me in at first are the exact same things that i came to detest before too long. i am a really private person in a lot of ways, & i started to hate that i couldn’t go on a date with someone or have an argument with a friend without everyone across town knowing about it within an hour. at first, this level of personal scrutiny made me feel like a rock star, or at least like a more interesting person than i probably am, but within a year, i hated it & i just wanted people to stop talking about me. because it’s not like all the talk was just positive sharing of news. a lot of it was mean-spirited, petty gossip. i can handle that shit if i have to…but i’d rather not have to, you know? but i know people with personalities that are different from mine thrive on that shit. quite a few people who moved to portland around the same time i did are still there & seem to be loving it.

also, portland is a town where everyone documents their own lives & the lives of everyone around them. people do zines, make comics, do photography or other artwork, write songs & play in bands, etc. i definitely (inadvertently) contributed to the idea of portland as a zine mecca in my zines by name-checking my zine friends & their projects, & being name-checked in their zines. i played in friends’ bands & people wrote songs about me & i put on art shows, etc. it seems so awesome at first…& it wore me down so quickly. just all that documentation, which turns into drudgery & consumption…yuck. ailecia said that this is one thing she loves about portland. she wants to put her photography skills to work by shooting party pics & selling people’s images back to them. “so she wants to slave for the most narcissistic assholes in town,” jared said. maybe this seems like fun to someone like ailecia, who is more social & gregarious than i am. it sounds like a living nightmare to me.

but the real saddest part of all is that if ailecia moves to portland, i don’t know what i will do with myself in lawrence. obviously jared will still be here, but when school is in session, i may as well not have a boyfriend. especially now that he’s teaching. there are other people i’m acquainted with in town, but no one i feel as comfortable with as i feel with ailecia. ailecia is closer to me in age than anyone else i know here, which…that does actually make a difference to me. i do think life experience matters, & someone who is ten years younger than me may be awesome, but is difficult to relate to on a life experience level. plus i am not so sure about the younger kids & where they are with their political ideas. i am willing to give them a chance, but i already know where ailecia stands.

i am trying to tell myself that we still have a year (at least) before she leaves & to make the most of it. & this gives me a year to build stronger friendships with other people. & who knows, maybe this portland thing won’t even happen. but it still makes me kind of sad.

last night, ailecia (& other kids in lawrence) tried to sell jared & i on coming out to a new drag night in town tonight. i was like, “please. i’m not going to waste my time on a drag night. let me know when they’re doing karaoke.” everyone was like, “drag is awesome!” & i was like, “people wearing crazy outfits & being fanciful with their gender presentations? i get that from my friends every day of my life. i don’t need to pay money for it.” & they started being all, “we need to support the younger queer kids for whom this might be their only queer outlet in kansas, etc etc etc.” must we? more specifically, must I? i wish the younger queer kids all the best, but i don’t especially want to stand around on the sidelines, watching while they find themselves or whatever. & as an older person (older than the 19-year-olds anyway) who does not especially identify as queer (merely queer-supportive), i actually feel that it might be a little exploitative of me to hang around watching them come to terms with their identities. i always felt a little exploited by the older, more grounded queers in my community when i was a young queer. i have no conclusions here–just questions. it’s funny how i always felt so oppressed by older folks in my scene when i was, say, 15 through 25 or so, like they were just there to consume my struggles or something. & now i’m 31 & so uninterested in what 15- through 25-year-olds do, but i can see them eying me skeptically & either thinking i am consuming their struggles or feeling a sense of entitlement to my time, energy, & support. not sure how to strike a balance.

portland zine symposium wrap-up post forthcoming. & new zine information as well.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. e. says:

    Sorry dude. Not being able to sleep through the night + not being able to sleep in is a really awful combination of fuckery that has me feeling tired pretty much all of the time.

    1. ciara says:

      it’s okay. it didn’t really hit me until i got home & then i was SO TIRED. it’s good we didn’t stay an extra day or i might have had an attack of crabbiness, but i think it all worked out.

  2. Cait says:

    I have the same early-morning insomnia problem as Ericka, which explains why I’m commenting on this before 7 a.m. on a day when I don’t have any obligations until 2. Just so you know, this response is gonna be somewhat meaningless and rambly. I woke up at 5–now I’m partially entertaining the idea that if I stay slightly comatose, I might be able to get back in bed in a few and go for another round…

    Anyway, there’s a lot I could say about Portland, but I won’t. Really what I find most interesting here is the stuff about aging, especially considering we’re about the same age (31 for me) and presumably from similar subcultural backgrounds. I think this idea of supporting young queers by going to their events might be a new one, or maybe it only recently migrated inland to the Midwest? When I was a young queer in Lawrence, I definitely don’t remember having mentors or older queers around supporting my projects. Probably because there WEREN’T older queers around, nor were there more than a handful of younger queers, at least as far as I knew. It was a lot more mainstream rainbowy-gay back then, and there certainly wasn’t this current sense that all punks can just be assumed to be queer. I actually found the punks at that time to be just as homophobic and gay-bashing as the ubiquitous frat dudes, but Ailecia (maybe the only person to try to navigate those two groups with me back then) had a different experience.

    Somehow I now live in a city that seems to be stuck where Lawrence was when I lived there ten years ago. As far as I know, there really aren’t very many queers (young OR old, although there are quite a few baby rainbow-gays) here, although there seems to be a larger contingent of older gay-married lesbians with kids. I don’t think it’s ageist to say that at this point in my life, given the option, I’d much rather hang out with those 40-50 year-old ladies than 14-22 year-olds. I just don’t want to relive the whole coming-out narrative over and over again for the rest of my life, although that’s probably what I’d have to do if I wanted to get laid in this town. There is one person in this town age 25-45 I could conceivably date, and unfortunately we’re already good friends. So I’m leading this quiet, monastic life with my cat these days. Except when I go out with big groups of straight grad students, watching them flirt with each other and form new partnerships, then life-coaching them through their break-ups like a slightly bitter version of Mary Worth.

    So I don’t blame Ailecia for wanting to move to Portland because *I* want to move back to Portland… not just so I can continue to engage in all the fanciful behaviors you listed, but also because Portland is full of 30-something queers who moved there around the same time I did (8-9 years ago) from crappy Midwestern towns where they were the only homos in town and/or beat up for being queer. Does it get annoying being in that kind of homogenous environment? Well yes, yes it does. But there’s so much less explaining to do, and I finally get to be the kind of person who can have other identities and interests — who can flirt with someone at the grocery store — reveal my age without it causing shock and speculation — not feel guilty that I’m not married yet.

    I realize this is coming across as one of those NYT trend pieces about the “Millenials” being lazy and entitled. I love my friends ages 18-24, but I agree with you–when I was that age, I either tagged along quietly with groups of older friends or thought they were intensely creepy for hanging around with me and my friends. And now that I’m 31 and living in Missouri, I’d give anything to be in Portland. Or 18-22 and living in Kansas.

    1. ciara says:

      i definitely hear all that. i can understand why ailecia would want to move to portland. i don’t think you could pay me to move there at this stage in my life, but a) i already lived there once, b) i have a boyfriend & don’t care about dating other people, & c) i just don’t think i have the right personality to make portland work. i think you & ailecia have in common the fact that you are really gregarious & fun to be around & not really figures of controversy. i am pretty private & quiet & constantly a figure of controversy. this works for me in a small town where i can keep my head down & be anonymous, or in a big city like boston, where i can do what i want & stay fairly anonymous, but it’s just too much drama for a place like portland.

      i’m not going to fault anyone for wanting to move to a queer mecca in order to find people to date/get away from the rampant homophobia of their small towns. i am not really one of those people who thinks queers need to stay put to make things better for the next generation. that’s a lot of responsibility to lay on someone just because they are queer. lord knows i left my shitty small town the day after i turned 20 & never looked back.

      i guess my hesitation comes in when people say things like, “this awesome queer mecca has such a totally badass queer scene that is so completely different from the shitty/gossipy/drama-mongering/whatever queer scene in my crappy town.” the grass is always greener, you know? there are a lot of awesome things to recommend about portland, but i always think it’s a mistake to move somewhere, thinking it’s going to be the answer to all your problems. lawrence is a bit of a shithole at the moment, but portland isn’t necessarily a whole lot better in terms of gossip, shit-talk, etc, & it has some portland-specific problems that lawrence is too small to have (like snobbiness, cliqueishness, etc).

      though i wouldn’t put it past myself to actually be against portland because it is like the city of the neverending coming out narrative. just when you think you couldn’t possibly hear another without tearing your skin off & becoming a screaming skeleton…someone new moves to town & wants to tell you their tedious tale of oppression. maybe i’m an asshole for scoffing, but seriously. i hated that shit even when i was fifteen years old & it crossed my mind for the first time to kiss a girl. i actually decided AGAINST kissing the first girl i ever realized i wanted to kiss because she wouldn’t shut up with her boring coming out narrative. like, do you want to throw yourself a pity party or do you want to make out? sheesh.

  3. Cait says:

    Hahahaha word.

    I’m totally on the same page with you which is why, ironically, I chose to hang out with mostly straight people for a good five out of eight years that I lived in Portland. Portland can definitely be cliquey and weird, but I avoided most of that by sticking with straight people and queer nerds. There’s definitely the issue of insularity, though — people who spend too much time in the Portland bubble can totally lose a sense of the way the rest of the world lives. Which is fine, while you’re in it, but if you ever want to live anywhere else you better figure out how you’re gonna subsidize that Kinko’s card if you plan to stick up fliers every time someone tells an offensive joke. Aw, Portland. The emotions are so mixed that I don’t know what to do with them.

    Anyway, I would be way less whiny about where I live now if I was in a relationship. The only reason I’m bummed out on the Midwest right now is that I have no dating options — everything else is going swimmingly. Hoping to be in Lawrence this weekend, in fact!

    1. ciara says:

      yeah, i think it’s safe to say that i wouldn’t be in lawrence if it weren’t for jared. if we broke up (knock on wood), maybe i’d stay & see what i could do on my own, but this isn’t exactly my first choice for places i might like to live. i don’t mind sticking it out for a few years with jared here to keep me company though. (the bratty part of me is like, “i’m here & i’m awesome! everyone else who is awesome needs to stay until i’m ready to leave!” i know that’s not fair though.)

      you’re going to be in lawrence this weekend? when? why? i am psyched! we’re going to some history department BBQ tomorrow night, but we’re free the rest of the weekend, assuming i am not bored into an irreversible coma by history students chatting about their current research.

  4. bear says:

    how do we buy your new zine?

    1. ciara says:

      sorry! i have been dragging my feet letting people know because i sold/gave away my first batch of copies while i am in portland, & i haven’t managed to get myself to the copy shop to make more copies yet.

      but that will probably happen this week, & individuals can get a copy from me in the following ways:

      1) paypal $3 to learningtoleaveapapertrail@hotmail.com.

      2) mail $3 cash to ciara xyerra, 1126 tennessee st. #5, lawrence KS 66044.

      3) or get in touch to see about organizing a trade. i like feminist-y personal zines, mostly, but will consider other things.

      i still haven’t mailed off all the free copies i want to send to friends, so if someone like nicole w. or jessika rae is reading this–sit tight! your copies are coming!

      multiple copies are available to distros for $1.50 each. you can pay via cash, check (made out to ciara xyerra), or paypal to the above e-mail address. no consignment, please!

  5. first of all, let’s just say i’m bummed i let my social awkwardness get the best of me and i didn’t really hang out with any zine people AT ALL when i was in portland. but, it was a pleasure finally meeting you!

    anyway, after my dude and i were back in LA we kind of picked apart the reasons why we’re not super down with portland. when we went i was fully expecting to want to pack up my bags and peace out of LA. but the reasons you cited as to why you’re not that into it are pretty similar to ours. i love the anonymity that los angeles provides. and i also love being surrounded by people who couldn’t be more different from me most of the time. in LA, the majority of people you encounter on a day to day basis won’t be feminists or punks or artists or musicians — and i love that. i love having to deal with people who make me want to scream, or people who challenge my ideas and force me to re-examine them or explain them.

    and so then, when you DO find those people in LA who’s politics, interests, musical tastes, whatever, click with yours, it’s that much more amazing. LA sucks. it’s hard, it’s stressful, it’s big and endlessly frustrating. and that’s why i love it.

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