I feel like writing tonight. It won’t be very coherent, but let’s go with it:
The year is 2012. I am 30 years old. I am male. I am Caucasian. I happen to be straight. I live in Portland, Oregon USA.
I was recently pointed to this article written by John Scalzi, which I think goes a long way to describe what the above information equates to… “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is“.
Contrary to what the inactivity of this blog might lead you to believe, I’ve been contemplating life quite a bit over the past couple years. Our leap to Portland has been everything we hoped it would be: challenging, fulfilling, surprising, even confusing. In short, it’s been life-altering, but not in the sense of finding a “destination” – rather, engaging a needed journey. And, as the Scalzi article makes very clear, I’ve got it easy in this world. Not that I don’t have obstacles – it’s just important for folks like me to understand what difficulty setting we were born into.
So where am I with the big questions of life? You know, meaning… purpose… hope? Good question.
I am hopeful.
I am overflowing with love for my family and many people around me.
I have found the ongoing battle between contentment and ambition to be taxing but fruitful.
I feel as though I’ve rediscovered some of my childhood wonder of design over these past few years, and it comes alive for me in the context of the city and business.
The city. Where people are inspired and frustrated… where new deals are crafted while opportunity seems nonexistent… where progressive art happens in both galleries and alleyways… Maseratis and fixies… glass skyscrapers and homeless vomit. The paradox keeps me coming back day after day after day.
I want to play. I’m going to play. As in, deal me in. Because, while life is very uncertain, all of us have choices. Sit up straight, and make some decisions!
The city isn’t the only paradox around here. There’s one in the mirror at my house. I’m the same person as I’ve always been – but I’ve changed. A look back at the writings on this blog from 2009 and earlier will show you that I’ve changed. Isn’t it fascinating how we all have to decide what we do with and/or how we use the experiences of our past? They might fit us like an old shirt left in the dryer too long, but we’ve still got to decide if we’re going to try to wear it occasionally or just leave it at the back of the bottom drawer because we don’t have the heart to throw it away just yet. I’m not throwing it away just yet. But some significant chunks of my past are taking on a certain musty presence from too much time in the bottom drawer.
The sun rises, the sun sets. The day illuminates, the night rejuvenates.
We learn, we teach.
Will somebody please explain to me how we’re already halfway through August of 2011? (!)
Compared to last summer, life is different now… to say the least. At the most random times, I feel myself zoom out from whatever my present circumstances may be and ask,
“What just happened here?”
The question isn’t rooted in discomfort or frustration, but rather is born from the amount of change our family has experienced over a relatively short period of time. I don’t think I’ve quite figured out how to process it all.
Maybe it’s helpful to recount it all in simple terms:
+ After a few years of feeling like we were stuck in the Arizona desert (which was not where we wanted to raise our family), Tara & I resolved to do something about it in October of last year when we decided we would move to Portland, OR in early 2011. Our hope was to place ourselves in a more urban and more sustainable lifestyle. In the face of one of the worst job markets in recent history I was hopeful that, despite the significant risk, my job hunting would be most effective in-person. I’d get a job eventually, right?? ;]
+ During the first week of January, I made a solo trip out to Portland with the sole purpose of finding a place for our family to land in the new city. Our criteria were pretty straight-forward: as well-located in the city, as walkable, and as AFFORDABLE as possible. We ended up finding a small house built in 1910 in the heart of the historic Sellwood neighborhood of Portland. We didn’t know much about Sellwood at the time, but the price was right and the neighborhood looked pretty great so I signed it up for a Feb 1 move-in.
+ The next day I woke up and did some job searching online (a staple of my daily routine for well over a year at that point), and I came across an opening at a sustainability-focused architecture/urban design firm in downtown PDX… for various reasons, I was hooked. I paced the room as adrenaline shot ideas through my head about how to get a job there. The next day I spent my entire flight back to Phoenix writing out my strategy for my cover letter/resume for that specific company.
+ Three weeks later, we packed up our lives in AZ, went through a painful departure, and made our way west and north. Based on my planning, we had saved enough money to last 6-7 months without any work… not that we wanted to draw-out anywhere near that, but that was the structure we had in place.
+ We arrived at our 800 sq ft rental house with the help of some great family members and friends along the way. Sellwood has turned out to be an incredible little neighborhood: coffee, parks, food carts, library, local grocery, historic swimming pool, restaurants, shops, the Willamette River, a dedicated trail into downtown… seriously.
+ I launched into my job search. I’ll spare the gory details in this post, but suffice it to say that it was every bit as challenging as I expected it to be. I networked like I never knew I could, I went to countless gatherings and conferences, I leveraged any and all Portland contacts I had (which wasn’t much when I first arrived), and I ultimately spun those contacts into 60+ one-on-one meetings with business people all over the city. I got a couple interviews and was making some great connections, but job offers weren’t materializing and the weight of it all started to really weigh on me as the light didn’t really seem to be appearing at the end of the tunnel.
+ Every time I wrote our rent check, paid our insurance, put gas in a car, etc., it felt like a fist to my gut. We were over three months into the journey, and my stress level was compounding as our savings drained. Our girls were having a tougher time with the move/transition than we anticipated, and Tara and I were facing challenges that had we had never dealt with in our marriage up to that point. One gapping hole in our home was our lack of a piano. Tara was a piano performance major in college and Shea was quickly following in her mama’s footsteps as she would take time to play piano everyday in AZ (on her own accord!). But that piano was borrowed and had to stay when we moved. In the midst of the heavy times, we took Shea to a nearby piano store to give her a little q.t. with the 88 keys.
We knew it was going to be a difficult “adventure,” and surprise! - it. was. rough.
+ In a recent conversation about those months with my buddy, Zac, he mentioned that I didn’t really communicate the weight of those burdens through my random social media updates or perhaps even in phone conversations. As I’ve tried to think through what took place in those months, I’m not sure I even knew what to do with the emotions in the moment. I got really familiar with waking up in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat, mind racing trying to figure out the next step.
I took quite a few walks by myself after we got the girls to sleep. I would go sit at the overlook of the wildlife refuge down the street or I would sit cross-legged at the end of the dock on the river and try to find focus… ideas… endurance. Tara was/is the most incredible partner, and yet, I think those months put both of us through our own individual trials. It was a lonely experience in a lot of ways – perhaps necessarily so.
+ And then I got a call. From somebody at that original design firm (think back to January). They wanted to meet me, so we did. And then more weeks went by. Another call. Another meeting. And another…
… and then, a job offer.
To this day (nearly three months into my work there), when folks ask me how I’m liking my job I tell them that it still hasn’t quite sunken in that I work there and that I do work that truly excites me. Even as it was all coming together at the end of May, I restrained myself from getting too excited about the possibility because it all sounded too “storybook” – too idyllic.
So, yes, life is very different now. Since I work in the heart of downtown, I bought a bike, sold my car, and now ride along the river everyday to and from the office. I am surrounded by really great colleagues in the Urban Design + Planning studio, and I’m learning a ton. Our old house in Arizona had a Walkscore of 32, and our current place is a new world with a score of 85. There’s now a great piano in the middle of our home that we rented mere days after I got the job offer (picture the happiest 4 year old face you can imagine). And as I type this, a 65 degree breeze slips through our open living room windows (a sensation I’m not used to experiencing in August).
So, life is perfect, right? We survived the Great Leap of 2011, and this is the part of the story where we ride off into the sunset, right?
Of course life’s not that simple. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to remind ourselves that this all really happened – that the outcome has generally been really good for us. But some of the most difficult times for our family actually came after I got the job (leave it to me to insert melancholy), and I’ll walk through some of that in Part 2…
How to recap the past five weeks that have slipped by since I last posted?
I have no idea. I, myself, have yet to fully realize/comprehend what just happened over those five weeks.
Planning. Managing. Stressing. Executing. Hurting. Terrible sleep. Adrenaline. Packing. Sick. Drowning. Keep going. Goodbye AZ. Leave. Drive. Excitement…
And then there’s this moment as we’re rolling down the highway through central Oregon in a stupidly huge, obscenely yellow Penske truck half-full of all our belongings and towing my Nissan… we’re winding up a mountainside, pines swishing by and creek running in the valley below, and I feel the first bit of our new chapter setting in.
We made the leap, and we were about to land.
So we’ve been here almost one month now [which is unreal]. A few scattered reflections…
More than a few times over the past weeks I have stopped to consider the fragility of what we were doing as a couple and as a family. I say fragile because that’s what I believe healthy relationships to be: something that needs to be handled with intention and care. I don’t mean it in the sense that the smallest bump in the road can cause it to crack [healthy marriages can withstand a lot of impact], but rather that embarking together on an adventure of risk and uncertainty requires a lot of delicate functions and actions to work in concert — not unlike a system of the human body. Encouragement, listening, communicating, physical presence, like-mindedness, disagreement… and if you somehow have all of those functions pumping in harmony, there are still a host of outside forces to consider: one of us could get hurt/sick, etc. If you have a version of this balance in your life, this is me encouraging you to be thankful and to embrace & foster it!
All of this to say that I am so grateful for our balance because a lot of it feels “outside” of us, if that makes sense. And I am mindful of this because we have definitely felt this balance tested by our new challenges – parenting woes in a new setting, financial stress that simmers in the background, job search uncertainties, blah blah blah.
* My Job Hunt/Rite of Passage
Every morning, I wake up before the sun and jog down to the bank of the Willamette River wearing only my boxer briefs. I ceremoniously kneel at the dark water, scrape my fingers across the ground and proceed to smear Portland mud across my face and chest. I then leap up, raise my fists, and howl at the city lights downstream from where I stand.
I am on a hunt. A job hunt.
None of that’s true [except the hunt part]… but you get the idea. More on all of this later.
* Portland is home. [This post is getting long so I'll make this brief.]
We are falling in love with this city.
This short film can be appreciated on many levels: the computer-generated animation work is ridiculously good, the direction of the storytelling is perfectly nuanced, and the subject matter, in and of itself, gives the viewer plenty to contemplate.
I hope you are as captivated as I was when I watched it for the first time…
[HT: The Fox is Black]
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
- William Stafford