Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

Deconstructing in a Breakdown

In Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I realized tonight that I am technically not a great writer. This would not chafe much were I a chemist, but since I have fancied myself a writer since my first head swelling feedback on a 7th grade creative writing assignment, wherein a anthropomorphized refrigerator wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting household, this is a let down. (Diagram that sentence, nerds!)

I’ve been unwittingly making excuses for my faults. “Oh, professors tell me I write in a more French, lyrical way. I don’t need your American sense of order <spit>.” Until today, I did not connect other feedback, including my need to “summarize the literature more, critique less,” or “get closer to the texts” with my actual deficiency. No, the cartoon coyote in my brain dropped the TNT tonight while working on a research proposal—a dangerous space for me since without the original research, I have few props with which to embellish my own exciting ideas. No, I have to review the literature that came before–a vital step, but one that requires, much to my horror, topic sentences and transitions.

I shant transition here; you see I wonder if my shortcomings are similar to the brilliant mathematicians who struggle to calculate the tip at dinner. There are such Einsteins, yes? I’m not saying I am Margaret Atwood, or even J.K. Rowling. Hubris is not my issue; it’s crankiness. I used to know this stuff because, much like sentence diagramming, I had to number the parts of a paragraph within the context of an essay. Like James Brown, I used to break it down. THEN, I brought back the fridge funk. I had game.

Maybe I should give myself a grammar and structure camp over the summer. Get back to my roots. Oh, but that sounds tedious, like picking up the socks strewn about my apartment right now, only much worse. I don’t have this lazy tendency elsewhere. (By the way, I added that last transition after I finished the post. Doh.) Whenever I get the notion to take up tennis again, a biannual event since age eight, I start with the mechanics of my swing. I now hear the voice of my last instructor (my first being my dear dad): “Swing UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood.” My swing secured, I then pay attention to my footwork, trying hard not to overrun the ball (good God, that is a metaphor for my life!). Finally, I get to my favorite part: crushing the ball. THWACK! That felt good.

Now if only I could muster the same patience and dedication to fixing my writing issues. At least I can finally be honest with myself about my GRE writing scores. Turns out, I wasn’t misunderstood. No Van Gough here. For now, I will crack open another Red Bull, and ponder it no more. In the immortal words of Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Today, and until about 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, I must finish this paper with a stylish thwump.

Portland, Oregon skyline and the swinging Mt. Hood



In Misc on September 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Staring at the six feet tall pile of junk and debris, including a door, festering in my Portland backyard, I began to weep.  The gallons of curdled milk seemed particularly rude.  My dear friend Zoey, always with the eye for detail, spotted a gap in my nearby shed.  This shed contained most of my worldly possessions.  “You know rodents could get through this,” she said with concern.  “Not now, Zoey, not now,” I cracked with a nasty cocktail of fear and anger.  At least she was there to keep me from crumpling in the grass.

When I bought the house in 2006, it was a no brainer.  The real estate market was smoking in the little NW city the New York Times can’t seem to ignore.  I’d ventured cross country in my little VW convertible from Florida in 2004 as much to embrace the emerald wonderland as to flee a crippling depression (btdubs, it follows you, but movement helps a lot).

When I found the little 1919 bungalow on a side street a couple of blocks from a Trader Joe’s, I thought it had potential.  Nevermind that I have trouble changing a lightbulb, much less dealing with the daily upkeep of an old house and a yard the size of Delaware.  The basement was tricked out, completely ready to rent, while the owner lived upstairs.  At the time, I was living at an apartment complex in NE.

My property manager had an apartment down the hall.  Upon looking at the flyer, she said she and her daughter would be my first renters.  I would pay less on the mortgage than on my posh, pre-war Irvington rental.  Done.  I made an offer that night.

And the story would have been financial puppies and butterflies if I hadn’t decided to go back to school…for YEARS, over 3,000 MILES away.  No regrets.  But the summer of 2011 would be filled with more than just evil renters and their crazy junk piles.  The college kids managed to rack up almost $1,500. in damages.  I spent the month of June managing the various repairs around the house, building a spreadsheet and generally trying to fence my anger as my house became my full-time job.   When the handy man re-painted the basement floor however, I entered new emotional territory.  Friend Alice and I walked down to check out the spiffy-looking space.  Apparently, the oil-based paint reacted with some previously unseen adhesive residue on the floor.

“Alice, are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“Uh, yes.”

“I’m not crazy right?  That’s a pentagram!”

“Uh, yes.”

Cue maniacal laughter from me.

Indeed, the outline of a previously taped pentagram shone clearly on my otherwise heavenly beige concrete floor.  I could see the Craigslist ad in my head.  “Charming SE Bungalow Complete with Pentagram in Basement.  Devil Worshiper Friendly.  $666 a month.”

Thankfully, the handyman was able to power sand the offending symbol off the floor.  And my shed was rodent free.  Good times.  Good times.

The Decemberists Warm January

In Culture, Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 12:10 am

A monument to build beneath the arbors

Upon a plinth that towers t’wards the trees

Let every vessel pitching hard to starboard

Lay its head on summer’s freckled knees

-Don’t Carry It All, The Decemberists

How many “pop” songs are this eloquent and evocative?  This is just one verse, but it sums up the gorgeous lyrics typical of any Decemberists song.  I saw the band, five members strong, play the first night of many sold out shows at the Beacon in New York last night.

I’d seen them previously three times in Portland, Oregon, where the band lives.  The day their instruments were stolen out of a van, it made local headlines.  No one fucks with the Decemberists, especially in Portland.  Even Mayor Sam Adams recorded the band’s intro for the current tour supporting the wonderful album, The King is Dead.  The mayoral salute was bizarre, but fitting for a quirky band (celebrating ten years together) madly attached to their Northwest roots.

Their tuneful terroir was especially evident this go around.  Bespectacled lead singer Colin Meloy was clad in a red flannel shirt, and the backdrop was a forest of evergreens (like the album cover—where is Carson Ellis?).  They are all gifted musicians, switching from fiddle, to guitar to upright bass.  Keyboardist Jenny Conlee frequently played the keys with one hand, and a xylophone with the other, throwing a harmonica in every now and then to really rub it in.  She’s almost as entertaining as Tori Amos, and she doesn’t even make mad love to her piano bench.

The new album has a roots or bluegrass flavor, but I hear a lot of REM from Document days and old New Order in the hooks.  In a potent encore of The Island, they also channeled a prog rock frenzy worthy of Yes.  This is not to say they are derivative.  In fact, they treat each new record as a unique experience.  I enjoy the ride every time, although I must confess I still miss the horn section smuggling my heart throughout Picaresque (2005).

They played my favorite song, Engine Driver, a painful ballad about unrequited love.  They eschewed the crowd favorite Mariner’s Song.  Since my neighbor was drunk and rude, I was relieved to miss her pitching back and forth with the faux boat on that one.  My only unsatisfied, secret request was to hear I Was Meant for the Stage.  Is there any performer who does not adore that song?

They transported me back to Portland for a spell, spinning a sonic valentine to my adopted hometown.  I could almost imagine the bouncy spring board floor at the Crystal.

I was meant for the stage,

I was meant for the curtain.

I was meant to tread these boards,

Of this much I am certain.

Oh, Colin.

A Sense of Place

In Culture, Travel on January 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

My Lost City by F. Scott Fitzgerald

From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood — everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora’s box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits — from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground. –F. Scott  Fitzgerald


The poem is a melancholy ode, one of haunting beauty.  Yet, I look upon this city with eyes not jaded, hopes not dashed.  When I look down from the Empire State I see no limits.  The booms and busts never cease, no matter how high one climbs atop the masterpieces.  The shore might disturb the urban canyons, but I see endless yearning, the potential of a teeming humanity, the indomitable spirit of New York.  This place is still a universe to me.  And though I remember fondly the snowy peak of Mt. Hood, I do not yet tire of my steel fortresses, the wild energy pulsing through their girders.  I wonder if I ever shall.

If I do grow weary of the roar, I hope I’ll have the good sense to return to the Columbia River Gorge and bathe my eyes in the quiet beauty, the wonder of my adopted home, my Portland.  Sitting alone at the edge of Punch Bowl falls, I decided there, in the middle of Eagle Creek trail, that I would someday drive 3,021 miles to settle nearby, to view it in every season.  I kept my promise, and nature kept hers.

Before I return to the land of impossible green however, I dream, as only a New Yorker can, of capturing words filled with such exquisite pain as Fitzgerald’s.  I want to write Gatsby sentences constructed out of platinum stardust.  This is the place to do it.  This is where he did it.  From his glorious rubble, I will imagine pages on new palimpsests, always holding close his egg, this city, and my Western home.