Portland, Oregon and Slow Gin Fizz

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was back in Portland for a week. The rain and the hipsters and the coffee and the beer felt like a warm blanket after a polar bear swim. I realized how much I had missed it.

I also noticed how quickly cities change. I noticed it in the way you don’t notice when you live in one. Like how your parents don’t really see how fast you grow but your Aunt Barb does. And we love cities not in spite of but because they change. Because they can change. Because they are like people that way.

Cities are like living, breathing organisms. Beautiful expanses of nature are eternal. And small towns are stagnant. That isn’t to say that stagnation is always bad, but it is somehow harder to love. You can love a person and you can love god but it is hard to love a stone. Not impossible, but the logistics are trickier.

As wonderful as it was to be back, to walk through the puddles along Alberta and grin at the scenes made of plastic green army soldiers glued to the dashes of cars parked on the street and run my fingers over moss covered fences, it was not without a twinge of disappointment. And disappointment is perhaps the most troubling of all emotions. Because it is born from a thwarted hope, from a dashed expectation. We are disappointed when we dare to find a happiness in a looking forward to. We expect to be sad sometimes, but to be sad when you expect to be happy, that is a melancholy all its own. What makes disappointment all the more troubling as a mode of being is that it seems to come necessarily from a situation with relatively low stakes. It is not how you would describe the way you feel after a devastating loss or in a moment of a great fear, even if neither was what you had planned on encountering at that particular moment. Disappointment is something smaller but somehow worse. And it’s seemingly cumulative. Like it builds up. In the way that great pain doesn’t seem to. Great pain or fear or sadness seem to come and go. But disappointment aggregates into a kind of despair. Perhaps because when you are disappointment so often you come to expect it, and then you are paradoxically disappointed whether you are disappointed or not. You enter a sort of infinite regress with the whole thing, and it is a regress that only descends.

And there was some disappointment in being back in Portland. Because I was once again reminded that a place qua place is not sufficient for happiness. I have deluded myself into thinking this so many times. If I could just find the right place, I tell myself, that is all I need to do. And of course that isn’t true. And of course I know that. But I don’t feel it. I feel like I could somehow find the right combination of lights left on in a skyline at night, or the right intersection at midday, or some certain happy hour in a place tucked away with exposed brick and the right lighting and a bartender who knows how to make the perfect Manhattan and ask me just the right number of questions then I could reach this place, this place I have no real sense about, of peace or tranquility or contentment. And while I love Portland, loving something is not enough to be okay, to make it through life, to be content. You have to be loved back for that, and cities, as much as it seems like maybe they just might, can’t do that.

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