I broke myself in Portland

She was sprinting through the house, wearing grey sweatpants and a towel on her head.  It was our last day together.

 

“I always think that the bus is waiting for me,” she said, grabbing her makeup bag and cell phone in one swift movement, “but it’s actually me who’s waiting for the bus.”

 

“That’s really insightful,” I called out from the couch, my right foot propped up on a three-tiered cake of pillow. “On so many levels…”

 

She laughed, and then I heard the bathroom door slam shut.

 

***

 

I spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon. It was a solo trip taken for the sheer hell of it; I wanted to try the coffee, and the vegan food, and take in all of the views — from tall trees, soul-soothing waterfalls, and soft old clothes to some of the most notoriously peculiar human beings on the planet.

 

But I had to tweak my plans early on in the trip.

On day two, I was riding the #20 in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park. As we neared the next stop, I readjusted my backpack, tugged on the yellow rope running along the interior of the bus, and went to stand up. Nothing weird — just, you know; rising up onto my feet, like usual.

But when I did so, I felt something like a ball explode inside of my foot — it was insanely jarring, took me completely by surprise, and every single step I took afterwards was more excruciating than I can properly describe. 

Sidebar History Lesson: The previous week, I was training new hires up in northern Alabama and spent my evenings walking several miles in unsupportive sandals, which I could tell – afterwards – stressed my feet out… and I suspect that THIS is what primed me for the explosion. 

And regardless of what was supposed to happen next, what I did was grit my teeth, hobble through the park, and then limp up and down the city’s bustling streets for the next two and a half days, chasing food and coffee and books and scarves.

 

 

 

 

Hover over pics above for deets. 

 

***

 

My favorite memories of Portland: 

One afternoon, a young man (20s) and his dad boarded the bus together and seated themselves near the front. I’d been engrossed in scenes beyond the window, so I heard the young man before I actually saw him.

Why? He was making the most interesting noises: deep grunts, sharp exhalations, gleeful laughs and high-pitched siren sounds. His dad, I noticed, communicated with him by clicking his thumb and pointer finger together, slapping him on the knee, and making intricate movements with his wrists. It didn’t look like formal sign language, but I definitely understood that this was their language.

The young man made one noise, in particular, that I found so beautiful it almost moved me to tears… it was a lovely trill, sort of like a bird’s. He did it once, twice, maybe four times; every now and then, it would magically reappear, and I wanted to hear it nonstop forever.

After about ten minutes, I noticed the father gathering their things together. I wish he’d trill one more time before leaving, I thought to myself; I’d appreciated hearing it before, but I wanted to really record the sound in my mind before he disappeared from me forever.

And then as the door opened and he began descending the stairs, there it was — that sweet, rolling trill, tumbling backwards through the air. I closed my eyes then. I can still hear it now.

*

Early one morning, it was finally on the cusp of being overcast (it didn’t rain AT ALL while I was there — what the heck!) and I was on the bus again. We were passing through the city, bumping over downtown Portland’s uneven roads.

To my right, I suddenly saw a narrow and dark patch between two buildings — and there in that shadowy space was a man, sitting between this wall and that one; he was wearing a blanket and quietly staring down at the flame on a lighter. It was strikingly beautiful.

*

At the bus stop (YES, I practically lived on or near the bus!) on Monday, I sat waiting beside a man who looked like a rock star — wearing a leather vest, leather pants, a jet-black faux hawk and silver hoops in his ears. A girl approached us, and then there were three of us waiting for the bus — possibly four, but the other lady was standing pretty far off in the distance, staring down at the asphalt and cursing at it, so she might have just been hanging out.

I heard the rock star fidgeting to my left, but didn’t look over at him.

“Need a lighter?” the girl asked suddenly.

He laughed. “Yeah.”

“Hey, I’ve been there before — it’s hard to light a joint from a cigarette.” I heard the click of it, and then a sizzle.

I was staring after a plastic bag blowing down the street, feeling puzzled; if he was able to light the cigarette, why can’t he light the joint? I wondered. Maybe he lost the lighter, or it stopped working, I reasoned afterwards.

Seconds later, I could smell it. Delicious.

“You know… I appreciate you not judging me, you know?” the guy said to the girl.

“Hey — I’d smoke it if I could,” she said.

Me too, I thought. But it isn’t legal back in bama… YET.

“It’s just… a lot of people judge me for it, you know?” he continued, and I heard him make a snorting sound. I couldn’t stop my head from turning a little and saw him batting at his nose.

“And it’s just like… some people need to be sober, and some people need to NOT be sober,” he concluded.

The girl murmured her assent.

The bus came and she and I got on it… I sat in the back, by the window again, and watched Rock Star fade away. Turned out he wasn’t waiting for the bus.

*

On Sunday, I purchased a scarf from a secondhand shop and then hobbled to the park across the street. Plopping down and leaning my back against a tree, I watched as — on a great, big court — several games of basketball occurred simultaneously.

There were four groups of older men — predominantly black, with one goofy-looking group of white boys — and two batches of young kids. Didn’t spot a single girl on the court, which was disappointing. I suddenly remembered getting hit in the face with a football during 7th grade PE. That dickhead — I couldn’t remember his name, but knew he was Ryan’s twin brother, and though he’d claimed it was an accident, I’d been standing just seven feet in front of him, counting as fast as I could: one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four… 

I noticed that one of the kid groups (composed of four members: a skinny kid, another skinny kid who was dressed really well, a toddler, and a chubby kid) had an all-star on their team: the chubby kid! He kept landing shot after shot, from all sorts of distances, and I loved watching him dribble, because you could tell that he felt good about it (and himself).

This one time, though, the skinny-and-not-dressed-well kid went to steal the ball and fell in the process; chubby kid kept on going with the ball, landed the shot, and then reared back around, approaching the kid who was still on the ground.

My heart to started to ache a little as it anticipated hurt feelings, but then, it soared; I watched as chubby kid walked over to skinny kid, held his hand out, and helped him back up onto his feet. Then, he slapped him on the back encouragingly, like nice try. It was freaking awesome, because the kid was like seven.

*

A strung-out, emaciated guy walked onto the bus late one afternoon and started chatting with the girl across from him; she was middle-aged, dressed well, and seemed kind. He rattled on about having just lost $3000 in poker (apparently trying to be impressive), and she told him that she’d stopped playing ten years ago… that it had nearly ruined her life. He bristled a little at the unsolicited advice and got off at the next stop, and then the guy beside her chimed in, saying that poker was like a drug.

“It really is,” she agreed. “I was a stripper for a while and used to blow the money on the game.”

“Oh… that makes sense; so that’s why you’re into such alternative stuff,” the guy said, nodding after the already-gone emaciated guy (who – seemingly affecting a feminine accent and wearing a women’s shirt – had appeared to be in the process of possibly transforming).

“Excuse me?” she said, narrowing her eyes as she considered the guy.

Good for you, lady, I thought at her, happy she’d stuck up for herself and the other guy. You fuckin’ jackass, I thought at the jackass.

 

A few things I learned in Portland:

How to use public transit. We’re sorta, kinda getting there in bham, but spots like Denver and Portland have got it goin’ ON in the public transit department.

It took me a few days (and several missed stops slash incorrect bus boardings) to get the hang of it, but MAN did I feel proud of myself once I figured out how to route myself from this spot to that one via buses, streetcars, and even trains.

I didn’t have to Uber — not even ONCE (although, at times, the public transit system was really freaking confusing and I was TEMPTED to Uber — persistence is key!), and with a 2.5 hour pass costing $2.50 and a full day public transit pass costing just $5, I spent a total of $17.50 on transportation the whole time I was there.

*

You can bring your own coffee mug to coffee shops! I watched hipster after hipster do it, and realizing that doing this was possible resolved a true dilemma of mine:

Coffee shop mugs are so homey, and I just love sipping coffee from them, but it takes me FOREVER to finish a latte, so I usually opt for paper to-go cups (which come with lids). However…

At the thrift store last month, I found this neato porcelain coffee mug and swore I’d start making coffee at home with it (because I liked it so much). I tried doing so, and my coffee didn’t compare to Red Cat’s, but GUESS WHAT? I can now bring this reusable coffee mug (which comes WITH a lid) to the coffee shop WITH me and vwahla: My latte will preserve its favorable temperature for a bit longer AND I’ll be helping the environment out. Double win.

Happily back home in bham, I brought my coffee mug w/me to Red Cat this AM, and look at how splendidly things went! (And there was a surprising third benefit, too: The barista gave me a $1 discount for bringing my own mug!)

 

IMG_1530
my current usual: a white chocolate caramel latte ❤

 

*

Socializing doesn’t have to be difficult (or weird). My AirBnB host (the girl with the towel on her head) was a super sociable person who invited me out for drinks twice — the first time, I politely declined, but the second time, I agreed… and it was fun! Easy, even!

She and I met up with two of her friends (a guy and his bro, who was visiting from Turkey) and we went to two different bars (I ordered a drink at one of them). At the first place, we watched a local emo band perform on an outdoor stage — the 2015 Oregonian Pinot Noir had me swaying in the audience beside three new friends — and when we made it over to the second joint (a smoky jazz bar), I could feel it — understand it, and I’m talking about jazz — for the first time in my life:

I was the piano solo, and he was the saxophone solo… the notes were our words. The bass was the feelings we felt inside of ourselves — grief, passion, fury; the heart skipping a beat, or beating too fast… the drums were the movements between and against us — embracing and repelling — and the singer’s sometimes smooth, sometimes shouting vocals were the eyes that we gave each other.

 

Duh! NOW I get it, I thought to myself.

 
My AirBnB host broke up with a guy three years ago but finds herself still obsessed with him — always catching herself looking for him in the bar, on the bus, and at the grocery store…

“And you can’t really do anything about it,” she said, elbowing me with a sweaty and hoppy IPA in her hand. She’d just commented on how sexy the guy with the saxophone was; his name was Taylor. He was hanging back in a dim corner of the room now, waiting for his next solo. “You just have to focus on something else.”

I nodded. I get that more than you’d possibly believe, I wanted to tell her… thinking about Spanish and caramel lattes and college and gigs and travel and novels and work and bike rides.

 

She held the IPA out for me to taste it. I took a single sip, wrinkled my nose, and gave it back to her, smiling anyways.

 

IMG-1552
me @ Red Cat this am, feeling positive-neutral while mulling over the topic of scarcity (see related NPR podcast here). There are different types of scarcity: lack of money, food, time, affection… these deficiencies do crazy shit to our brains, and I realize now that I’ve been OBSESSING over wanting a relationship because I feel fundamentally lacking without a companion…

 

But like AirBnB said: If you’re helplessly obsessed, focus on other things. So I’ll keep on doing that.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS: Oh yeah — the whole broke myself in Portland drama bit: Turns out that the bus mishap was me spraining my ankle! I paid a rare visit to the doctor when I returned to bham and am now wearing a fashionable medical boot for the next 13 days. Woohoooooooooooooo!

 

IMG-1558
I freakin love this boot. I even uploaded a vid of me walking in it to IG and referred to the scene as my “boot fashion show.”

 

I know this is a little extra for a PS, but I had to ask FOUR different medical personnel if I could please view images of my foot x-ray before it finally happened. And FYI, my foot looks REALLY cool in b&w.

“Guess I’ve got bones down there after all!” I laughed to the nurse (who’d begrudgingly escorted me to the viewing room).

“Yep…”

“Do people ask to see their x-rays often?” I asked as she led me toward the exit, curious.

“Not really.”

“Ahhhh…”

 

Well — I felt very fortunate to have been able to see mine, and I would have asked for a 4×6 print to-go, but… #vibes #sociallyperceptive #igetit #butitsMYfootxray.

 

 

 

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NO

Awwwww shit. 

 

“Hey girly!”

 

I was hanging out at a cafe, writing and wearing headphones, when this guy walked in — a regular who’s hit on me a few times in the last couple of weeks. He’s nice enough but came on a little too strong the last time we spoke, and when he greeted me and then sat down beside me last Sunday morning, I was already feeling beyond exhausted from finals, a forty-hour work week, and a weekend music gig.

 

He’s going to stay here and talk TO me for the next hour and A HALF if I don’t nip this in the bud RIGHT NOW, I warned myself.

I know, but what can I do?! 

Just… SAY something, I offered weakly.

Gee, THANKS, I grumbled inwardly.

 

So I smiled as I removed one of my earbuds. “Hey dude — look, I’d really love to chat with you, but my emotional and social reserves are right here,” I explained, lowering my left hand towards the cafe’s concrete floor and squinting over at him.

 

His eyebrows shot up. “Oh — well…” 

 

And then he picked up his things, seated himself at a table nearby, finished his coffee and meal very quickly and left.

 

I got the pretty distinct impression that he had been offended by my lack of niceness, but you know what? Go me.

 

***

Four Days Later

 

“So what’s the best part of your week been?”

 

I glanced over to my left. Audio (the boy who knows I like him but refuses to directly address the matter) had just pulled up alongside me (again) during a Thursday night bike ride. We were now rolling through an intersection together.

 

“The BEST part?” I repeated. “Wellllllllll…” I hesitated. “LOTS of nice things have happened this week!” I exclaimed finally, feeling frazzled.

 

“You can include the weekend,” he added encouragingly.

 

“Hmmmmm…” I thought about it some more. “You know, I feel like something really great happened on Tuesday — I just can’t recall what it was… but I DID stick up for myself on Sunday,” I said, telling the tale and expressing how proud of myself I was.

 

“You know what?” he laughed. “It’s funny you’d say that, because I stuck up for myself this week, too,” and then he related a work incident that he’d handled bravely and professionally. I noticed him really holding my gaze while he spoke, and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him — like REALLY, dude?! What the heckin’ HECK? 

Instead, I smiled over at him and his stupidly gorgeous gray eyeballs.

 

Soon after, we were rolling into the alley behind Redemptive Cycles and everybody was stepping off of their bikes, grabbing a beer or a water bottle and then finding a group of people to hang out with. I leaned my bike up against the chain link fence and, when I turned around, Audio had reappeared.

 

“So like I was saying earlier…” he continued, looking and being adorable. I love-hated watching and listening to him.

 

“Let’s go mingle,” he suggested eventually, nodding towards the others.

 

“Alrighty,” I sang out, leaving my bike to walk beside him, “but I don’t usually do this — just walk up to people and start chit chatting…” but then I spotted a guy I knew there in the crowd and ran over to him.

 

“Heya!” I greeted him. “I’ve been tasked to mingle, which is terrifying, so I decided to come over here and hang out with you,” I explained openly, hopping up onto the metal landing behind the back door.

 

“Ahhhhh — you know me, so I’m safe?” he laughed.

 

“YEP!” I grinned.

 

He leaned his back into the railing, crossing his feet and arms in front of him.  “Who here isn’t safe, Jace?”

 

His question surprised me. I looked around us. “I mean — nobody isn’t safe… all of these people seem safe…”

 

“But if you had to pick, who seems unsafe? In other words, who would you NOT feel comfortable walking up to and starting a conversation with?”

 

My eyes and ears traveled the crowd again, taking in shapes and colors and faces and voices. I saw Audio’s outline to my right and my heart lurched. He isn’t safe at all, I admitted to myself, because I like him too much, and too openly.

 

“Again — I really don’t find anyone here to be unsafe…” I hesitated. “I mean, maybe that girl over there.” I nodded toward her, a curly-haired brunette. “She isn’t DANGEROUS or anything, but I try to smile at her whenever I see her and she’s always kinda bristly… I’m afraid that she doesn’t like me.”

 

“Ahhhh… that’s Valerie,” my friend said, nodding. “She’s an introvert, like you.”

 

I nodded understandingly.

 

“Let’s go talk to her,” he clapped, grinning.

 

“NO WAY, Jose!” I protested, but he had already grabbed my hand and tugged me down from the landing and, suddenly, we were approaching Valerie and her group of friends. I felt queasy.

 

“Hello, all!” my friend greeted the group. Five pairs of eyes immediately settled on the two of us. “Valerie,” he continued, gesturing toward me, “this is Jace.”

“Hi,” I offered quietly, desperately hoping she didn’t think I was hitting on her, because while I totally wasn’t, I imagined that it might seem like I was (strolling over, uninvited, with a well-meaning wingman).

She nodded at me and then continued speaking to the group; they were discussing internet speeds and competitor pricing (AT&T versus Charter). I bounced on the balls of my feet while I listened along and smiled over at my friend every now and then — sincerely grateful for his interest in making me feel less like an outsider. 

 

***

 

After ten minutes of hanging around, I decided I’d had my fill for the evening.

“I’m heading home,” I told my friend. “I have to pee, and the back door’s locked.”

He laughed loudly. “Oh dear — well I’m sure we can find somewhere for you to go and use the restroom,” he protested.

 

“Nah, that’s okay — I’m also tired.” I smiled, bid him goodnight, and began walking back toward my bike.

 

“Jace — are you leaving?”

 

Audio.

 

“Yep!”

 

He hopped down from the metal landing (he’d taken my spot when I’d left) and ran over to hug me goodbye. I hugged him back, noticing him holding me a little closer than he had the previous week, and then I let him go, suspecting that a hug from me would never mean as much to him as a hug from him meant to me. How sad!

 

And then I hoisted my bike up onto the rack on my car and drove home, feeling proud of myself for being somewhat okay with that.
“There is no future that we’re supposed to have; there is the future that we create for ourselves every damn day.” –somebody

 

Aka, Audio and I aren’t destined to be together. Don’t be silly, reader! I just think that I might like for us to be together… might, because I don’t even know the guy! There’s just this magical something about him — this essence… 

 

***

 

I’m reading a fantastic book this week: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Here are some of the best things I’ve learned so far:

  • Be selective about the fucks you give. For example, caring deeply when the cashier is unfriendly, the guy in traffic’s being a dick, and your German Shepherd has eaten another pair of your fancy and expensive mountaineer socks could be indicative that you are lacking real meaning in your life. In other words, if you’re choosing to expend your energy and burn your emotions on trivial, petty shit (trivial and petty in the grand scheme of things), you must have nothing better to focus your attention on. And if that’s true, you might wanna take a closer look at your lifestyle, dreams, and values…
  • Stop trying to avoid suffering. We’re wired to do this: pursue pleasure and avoid pain — ignore all of the stuff that hurts and breaks out hearts and chase after pleasure highs instead (food, alcohol, cinema, parties, etc.). But the truth is that suffering is an essential part of this life process — and that while suffering isn’t pleasant, it’s actually good for us, because it’s instrumental in helping us grow! The slightly good news: You can often choose what you’re going to suffer for (and thereby choose to make it something worthwhile; for example: Instead of fretting over the fact that a coworker or could-be friend doesn’t like you and suffering from that sense of rejection, you could choose to nicely not give a fuck about that and – instead – suffer through tedious hours of practicing Spanish verb conjugations so that you can connect with a whole other group of people). I’d like to share this, too: The best moments of my life so far haven’t been those big ole highlights: graduating with a 2-year degree, performing on stage in front of 800 people, or getting married. My best and most defining moments were the ones that happened long before or after these “big” milestone events: spending four years’ worth of evenings and weekends attending classes and studying to get that puny degree; dedicating my free time, as a teenager, to earning callouses on my left hand as I learned the notes and scales and proper chord structure for the guitar; and collecting slash reassembling all of my broken pieces after an earth-shattering divorce and realizing – when I was neck-deep in that excruciatingly painful process – that I was WAY more resilient and brave and powerful than I’d EVER given myself credit for. 
  • Quit trying to be right all of the time. I know people like this; they do or say something that is plainly wrong but absolutely refuse to admit it. Annoying, right? But here’s the thing: WE ALL DO THAT! We ARE those annoying people! At least sometimes… and if your focus is always on being slash appearing to be right, you’re precluding the chance of learning something new about yourself and the world (plus, if you’re an “always righter”, you prob won’t come off as being very real or likable to others).A few tips:1. When you discover that you ARE wrong about something, realize that you go from being wrong about it to LESS wrong about it — not necessarily right. We’re all on an infinite journey of approaching truth and rightness, but I (personally) don’t believe that any of us ever actually make it all the way there.

    2. Don’t be afraid to be real with yourself. If you’re avoiding a person, confront yourself about it. Why am I avoiding them? Do they make me nervous? Make me feel bad about myself? Make me feel inferior? If so, why? And if so, why? If you’re avoiding a career or lifestyle change that’s always on your mind, why are you hanging back? Does the idea of taking action make you feel scared? Are you afraid to find out whether or not you can actually do the thing and would prefer to simply sit back and imagine that you could if you really tried? 

  • People may be to blame for your unhappiness, but they are NOT responsible. This one hit hard, because I’ve been through some shit, and I have (at least in part) blamed others for my deep, dark sadness… but you know what? All of us have been through shit AND put others through shit. People break our hearts and murder our pets and go and die on us, and in ways, we do the same mean shit to them. But here’s the thing: Though we like to believe that our suffering is special and that we are poor victimized targets of the world, we are not. And we are not helpless.The truth is, neither our talents nor our suffering are unique or special… our sadness isn’t something to be worn like a crown. So shake it off, and let it go — and if you aren’t sure how to do that, figure out how. One part of that “how” is asking yourself real questions and then being completely honest when you answer yourself.If someone has injured you in some way, shame on them, but don’t expect them to make it better. You are ultimately responsible for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, so figure out how to heal and take care of yourself. Placing the blame and burden on somebody else and waiting for them to come through on making amends is just foolish… and why hand off your control over something so vital — inner peace?

     

  • Reconsider your goals and values. In a nutshell, good goals are process-oriented, and good values are non-comparative… BAD goals and BAD values are just the opposite.Like:Instead of “lose twenty pounds”, try “treat my body well” — the latter is more of an ongoing and comprehensive/balanced kinda goal (that includes LOTS of things other than weight, like getting ample sleep + sunshine, eating a varied diet, and exercising).

    Instead of “make every person I meet like me” or “make people like me more than they like xyz person” (which is impossible and is NOT something you can directly control), adopt values like “express myself honestly” or “improve my social life” (by relating with others authentically and unswervingly practicing friendliness and compassion, even in the face of evil-troll-bitch-from-hell characters).

 

 

The next chapter in the book (which I’ve yet to read) is titled “The Importance of Saying No”. I’m especially looking forward to it, because saying no to cafe dude on Sunday was a monumental but terrifying step for me — a person who loves to make people feel happy and good about themselves at almost any expense to herself.

 

How about you?

  • Are you able to nicely say no when necessary to protect your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?
  • Are you fully conscious of how you’re spending your life energy, and are you happy with where it’s being channeled?
  • Are you deliberate about doling out your fucks or are they just spilling out everywhere?
  • Are you setting sustainable and good goals for yourself as well as measuring yourself and your personal success with metrics that are solid, honest, and worthy? Suggestion: Craft and adhere to your OWN values, because most of society’s generic ones (IE be the most attractive person; be the most wealthy person; be the most popular person) are fucking stupid. 

 

After careful thought, my three big goals in life are to:

  1. Empower + lessen the suffering of others (animals + humans, in that order)
  2. Create art that is honest and meaningful (stories and songs)
  3. Appreciate and savor beautiful experiences — like sipping on lattes, petting German Shepherds, going on adventures, and walking hand-in-hand with another human being. Could be Audio, but probably not. I wish Aziz Ansari was single and not quite so famous…

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS (a few hours later from a brewery I biked over to): Pic below = my fav page so far. Accurately describes why my 5-year relationship worked so well (he was the fire starter and I always loved putting them out).

C6519B87-14A5-42FF-B0DD-46144C6B948D2E4C0E73-7EFD-4E0E-8DBA-732A5B485865