Don’t Call Portland “Weird”
My thoughts on Portland’s recent rise to fame.
As a once and always Oregonian, I have to admit that Portland’s recent rise to fame can sometimes get on my nerves. It’s a little bit like the feeling you might have when your favorite kind-of-secret and kind-of-all-yours band, who you’ve always been able to see up close and personal in the tiniest venues, signs a big fat record deal and sells out in 5 seconds so you can’t even see them at all… the band just doesn’t feel quite like it’s yours anymore… now its identity is shaped by seemingly everyone on earth… people you don’t really feel know the band like you do… who might not have as deep a connection.
It’s the height of selfishness, this feeling, but it happens… and every time I see some new Portland love, I have to admit… it happens to me.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. The happy, not-so-selfish side of the story is that it’s a really good thing that so many more people get to enjoy the awesomeness that is my favorite place in the world… and that makes me crazy happy and proud. I love to see all of the love out there for the beauty of Oregon, its talented artists and makers, and its insanely awesome, down-to-earth, quirky, confident, friendly people — the only people I know who will honk at you at an intersection, then lean out their window to apologize after they realize that you’re not just being a lazy asshole, you can’t start your car (true story).
There’s a reason my now husband flew me to Portland and met me at Powell’s to propose… I spent a big chunk of my childhood there, combing those shelves, visiting the tiniest city park and talking to the guy in the wig (who I seem to remember crawling out of an attic… ?) at the 24 hour church of Elvis. It wasn’t quirky or weird, it was just Oregon… and not just Portland. Eugene, Coos Bay… it was the Oregon I knew.
It was my mom, who, in addition to teaching preschool, made a living traveling to craft fairs up and down the west coast and wrote poetry in her spare time. It was my dad, in his leather jacket and torn jeans with a motorcycle in the living room that never went outside… who taught me to love the Ramones at 4 years old and has never gone a day that I’ve known him without a full beard. It was my sister, who studied naturopathic medicine at Oregon’s National College of Natural Medicine and today, in addition to being my go-to on all things holistic, is one of the most devout Catholics, best moms, and most rebellious little punks (at heart) that I know.
Chuck Palahniuk says that everyone in Oregon has at least 3 identities, and growing up… that kind of enigma is all I knew.
Now, after Portlandia (and let’s face it, the rise of pretty much everything hipster) the only world I ever knew suddenly feels like a novelty… and I can’t help but feel a little sad.
Maybe I feel sad because the longer I live far away, the more I see how special Oregon is… how much it really deserves to be called out as the fucking fantastic place that it is… and I really don’t ever, under any circumstances, want it to change (especially not before I get the chance to move back). Maybe I feel sad because I am selfish, and I wanted it to always be mine.
But I feel happy too.
The world should love what Oregon is… it should get to know all of the great things I’ve loved all my life… and it should embrace them in the way that it has.
That is, just as long as what we’re really all doing here is embracing the strong, creative, passionate spirit that exists in the state I still call home… because I’m pretty sure calling it ‘weird’ is something only we get to do.
And that’s because we’re damn proud of it.
P.S. The picture that accompanies this post is from Kirk Crippens’ project “Portraitlandia” — which despite the silly title (the photographer admits it himself) I’m feeling pretty good about. You can read a great article on the project here.