What Happens Next?

At a recent job interview, I was asked to describe my interests.  I was quick to list my passions for the outdoors, design, and education, but failed to mention music. I suppose I thought it pointless to tell someone that I love music. Who doesn’t love music? It’s like saying you’re a big fan of breathing and sunshine.

Still, I think music has had a profound influence on my life. Certain musicians have articulated aspects of the shared human condition so eloquently that they’ve shaped my perspective. Last night, at the historic Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland, Kim and I had the privilege of attending a concert of one such artist: Mr. Colin Hay.

Born in Scotland and transplanted to Australia in his formative years, Hay became the lead singer for the band Men @ Work. With the group, he penned “Down Under”, a song recognized around the world, and an anthem for Australia still beloved throughout the British Commonwealth. Before you laugh at me for claiming the artist who wrote one hit song (with one of the most ridiculous music videos of all time) as one of my favorites, I suggest listening to a few of his more recent albums. Hay’s career trajectory followed those of many popular 80s rock bands. Dissention and drug use derailed his band, and as a solo artist, his songs were either widely panned or ignored. By 1991, he was dropped by MCA records and left unsure of what to do with the rest of his life at age 38.

Unable to abandon music, Hay transitioned from rock to an acoustic guitar, gave up drugs and drinking, and continued to write and perform despite relative anonymity in his new life in California. Today Hay is experiencing a mini renaissance that began with a very unlikely source. A young actor and writer by the name Zach Braff (the goofball protagonists from TV’s Scrubs) included one of Hay’s songs on the soundtrack to his movie, Garden State. The album, highlighted by the stirring and heartfelt “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, went platinum. After hearing it, I accompanied thousands of college students in scouring iTunes for more of Hay’s unique sound.

Colin Hay’s songs resonate with me, and I suspect with his other fans, for a couple of reasons. First, his raspy, powerful voice, which blends Scottish and Australian accents, is incredibly unique. Second, Hay’s lyrics convey themes of self-conflict and uncertainty are as universal as they are personal. At one time or another, we’ve all felt the anxiety of not knowing what will happen next. It’s both exciting and terrifying. The song “Overkill” alludes to the mind’s tendency to wrestle with the implications of past decisions and the unforeseeable consequences of future ones. What Hay calls “overkill”, my father likes to call “analysis paralysis”.

As a twenty-five year old who just quit a good job in a middle of a recession and moved across the country because of a vague sense of restlessness, I can identify with the fear of the unknown. I often find myself wondering when it will all fall together for me. Grad school? Career change? Travel? It feels like these options are jockeying for position in my life’s master plan. This uncertainty causes to inaction, which in turn leads to unease.  The song, “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin”, written when Hay was at a crossroads after experiencing success as an early age, speaks to these feelings in a way I find strangely comforting.

By revealing his fears, as he does in early hits like “Who can it Be Now” (paranoia), and “Down Under” (looking for solidarity in strange places), Hay confides in his audience and assures us that we’re not alone in being scared from time to time. In his later work, Hay seems to arrive at peace through appreciation for life’s simple wonders. In “Beautiful World”, he explains describes how moments of quiet introspection, like swimming in the ocean or making a cup of tea can still offer a dose of calm and levity in an otherwise crazy world. For me, spending last night watching Hay’s intimate performance at the Crystal Ballroom was one of those rare moments. Watching an old man performing art born from a lifetime of questions was reassuring to a young man wondering which of a hundred paths to travel next.

I left the show feeling both grateful and serene. After all, I have Kim by my side to help navigate my life’s ups and downs, whatever they may be.  I’m making a home in a city bursting with artistic expression. I live in world filled with beautiful music. To borrow a line from Colin, for now, that’s good enough for me.

-Jay

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I have found me a home.

Things are going really well. Obviously we still need to settle some stuff  (grad school, making friends, getting a car… silly things) but I am absolutely feeling this city.  Ten things I love about Portland so far:

(PS- this started as FIVE thing but had to be extended!)

1) Dogs. Everywhere. Sometimes I honestly feel like I’m the only one in this city without a dog. Even the homeless guys have at least one, if not three. In our 8-apartment building there are four at minimum, and they’ll come barreling out of their apartments to come get petted while you’re on your way out. So maybe once we get settled in having a dog might become a real possibility… for the sake of fitting in.

2) My new neighborhood. I’ll be the first to admit that our neighborhood in Portland isn’t exactly a departure from Cleveland Park. But I really, really love it and can’t wait to show it off to those of you who plan to visit. The area is basically a square ten-block radius of pubs, cafes, restaurants, parks, and moderately priced but amazing boutiques… not to mention a cafe that turns into a small speakeasy at night, complete with master bartender wearing a vest and muttonchops. There’s no end to things to do around here, although it’s dangerously tempting in terms of spending cash.

3) Happy hour is king. Portlanders seem to be obsessed with happy hour here. I know DC loved its HH too, but in PDX they have perfected the art of persuading starving, near-homeless artists and yuppies alike to eat and drink out almost every night. We’re talking $4 microbrew pints and $4 dinner-size plates until 10pm… to say nothing of the zero sales tax here. Again, wonderfully dangerous.

Forest Park

4) My new running route. In DC it’s hard to find a decent running route. There are hills in every direction, and even if you make it to Rock Creek you are swallowing gnats the entire time. Here in Portland I can choose to run up the single hill nearby (and check out the amazing mansions and their amazing views), or I can run to Forest Park about 3/4 mile away. Running in Forest Park is like running into Middle Earth. Once we take the time to walk through there I will post some pictures, but suffice to say it is just a giant fairy forest of moss and ferns and ancient trees. I love you.

5) A locavore’s dream! Oregon’s growing season is way longer than most of the country’s, so farmer’s markets are not only bigger and badder… they take place all over the city, almost every day of the week. Amazing vegetables, eggs, fruit, nuts, home-ground flour and free-range meats are sold by the people who grew them, less than 50 miles away. There’s even an organic, delicious bread made here in OR by a reformed drug addict (Dave’s Killer Bread– check it out immediately), and I’ll never go back. Since local production and consumption are huge here, so are CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), so Jay and I paid $500 today to meet our farmer every weekend and pick up 12 types of veggies and fruits of our choice. That’s less than $25 a week for delicious produce that has been grown locally, organically, and in season. Love it!

The New Metro

6) My New Commute. Ok, so it’s longer… a lot longer. My trip to work, door to door, took about 20 mins back in DC. However, the majority of that 20 minutes was spent in a hot, crowded hole in the ground. It could also easily be extended to about 45 minutes if and when someone lit a fire, or jumped on the tracks, or if the tracks themselves cracked apart. In Portland, I can take a real live street car to work and see the light of day the entire time. If it broke down, I could actually get out and walk away! Pretty appealing. I also bought a year-long pass for it, which costs a grand $9 a month. Sold!

7) Freakishly friendly people. It’s just bizarre, to be honest. The first time we visited people would approach us and ask if we needed directions, or would even offer them before we asked. They’d lean over on the bus and offer recommendations for bars. They’d smile and yell “How ARE YA?” on hiking trails. At first I eyed them with suspicion- are they trying to mug me? Nope… they’re just freakish. But I like it.

8) The weather. The weather right now is PERFECT. I love it. Some might find it too cool, but it’s about 60 early in the morning, and only 70-80 by afternoon. No humidity, perfect running weather. Ugh, gorgeous! (NOTE: this was supposed to be number 8, but that somehow got turned into an emoticon. I think it works better)

9) It really is Beervana. Enough said. There are are about 5 breweries in my neighborhood alone, and most bars serve their own specialty brews. Yum!! In July alone there is an organic brewfest, an international brewfest, and the mother of all– the Oregon brewers festival. Which leads in to #10!

10) Endless festivals. People here really take advantage of the summer months, plotting a number of festivals every weekend. These range from beer and street festivals  to Bastille Day Celebrations to the annual Unicorn Pub Crawl. Which is awesome because we’ve managed to stay busy since we arrived, and can spend most of our days outside.

Ok… things I dislike:

1) My friends aren’t here. This makes me sad. Like that scene in SATC 1 when Carrie’s walking around Paris and sees a group of girlfriends at a cafe laughing with each other, and realizes how much she misses her girls. Sooo… visit. ASAP!

2) People keep alluding to how awful winter will be. Honestly it’s like the big, literal cloud hanging over everything. Half of my optimistic comments are met with, “Yeah, well… just wait till it starts raining every day.” I get it. We’ll all get seasonal depression and hate life by March. Whatever, I’m enjoying it now and I have some killer rain boots. So cut it out.

3) The Trash Man. So this is a give-and-take situation. Portland is obviously huge on recycling and even collect compost if you request it. I think this is great. However, it leads to a hell of a lot of garbage pick up. As in, 3 mornings a week of being woken up by a garbage truck dumping trash and empty bottles. God only knows why they have to do it all separately… and so early. The other day there was a trash guy out front at FOUR A.M. I hope he gets paid a lot.

To be honest, I had to think pretty hard to come up with complaints. I really do love it here. So again– to reiterate– friends should come check it out soon!

-Kim

“Who moves there?”

First Hike

Multnomah Falls, OR

This was what at least three people asked us when we told them we were coming out to Oregon. And the answer is– US!! I’m so excited that Jay and I actually made it out here, after three years of just talking about it. And despite my initial reservations about how different Portland would be, I absolutely love it so far. I thought some of you might want an update on what has happened since then.

Jay and I are slowly settling in to our new place. Obviously we had sold almost all of our furniture (all but our bed and Jay’s drafting table), so we arrived needing to replace nearly everything. Since we didn’t have a car, and had the Penske for an extra day, we decided to spend our first day in Portland collecting all our new furniture from sellers on Craigslist all over the city. Around 9am Jay and I parked ourselves at Vivace, a café around the corner in a renovated Victorian with excellent coffee and free Wifi. We spent the next three hours looking up furniture on craigslist, emailing back and forth with sellers, and putting together a plan to pick up said items all over town. Needless to say, it was a rough day of bombing around the city, sitting in traffic, and getting lost in new neighborhoods. After hours of rendevouzs with strangers (some pretty cool, others just plain terrifying) we were happy to make our last stop out in a Portland suburb for our last item: a huge green couch and matching loveseat, the crowning glory of our new furniture collection. To top it all off, we decided to take advantage of our remaining hours with a car and stop by Bed Bath & Beyond for everything else—garbage cans, a toaster, coffee maker, bath mats, etc– AND to go to the nearby grocery store for all our food.

After running around through all four quadrants of the city we finally arrived back at home around 10 pm—dog tired, at the end of our ropes, but in possession of a new rug, coffee table, desk, desk chair, dresser, bookcase, an end table, and two couches. As we started to unload our new gear, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to handle the monstrous couch we had brought home. I’m not sure why we thought this would work out once we got home, but I couldn’t even wrap me arms around the thing… and that was just the loveseat, to say nothing of the matching 7-footer.

Then, like some angel from heaven, a guy walked out of the building next door. After watching us conspicuously struggle on the sidewalk he asked if we wanted help. Of course we offered some half-hearted refusal, but our new buddy (Jeff)—a complete stranger—proceeded to help Jay carry not one but TWO couches up the stairs to our apartment. Who does that?? Jeff was literally pouring sweat for about 30 minutes as he struggled to help Jay finagle the bigger of the couches up a flight of stairs and through the narrow doorway. Then he just said “no problem” and went on his merry way. Unbelievable.

So far I absolutely love not only the apartment itself, but also our building and the surrounding neighborhood. Once again we managed to snag a place with a lot of space and sunlight, and a huge enough kitchen that even I feel satisfied. After a few days of feverishly decorating and re-arranging I think we have hit that plateau where we don’t really care anymore… so the place is still a bit of a mess. But it has serious potential once I actually get around to finishing stuff up!

-Kim