Dreaming of a White Christmas

Waking on Christmas morning, I find white in the corners of my mouth.

“Just a dream,” I whisper to no one in particular.

It was not so long ago, when the visions of you-know-what danced in my head, and I drooled

over their divine
ovum shape — a lake of
self-satisfied hunger.


Now an adult in bad drag as a child, I want for nothing and everything, walking the tension between

my belief that home is a habit of mind and five years of unshakeable homesickness.

At 10am, I already have an appetite for productivity, and have not yet made much of myself. On a typical day, I know that I am an adult by the way that I make breakfast.

Hot water over old fashioned oats. Cover and let stand for 2 minutes. Chopped apple, cinnamon, and sage in the sautee pan. Honey and salt in levelled teaspoons. Stir to combine.

For today everything is made-ahead, to endow ourselves with the notion of earned leisure. There is more leisure built into my generation’s adulthood than we imagined.

Thereby, adulting is our favorite word. It is a catchall for the small acts of mental and physical fitness, which should just be done but not spoken about; such as calling to make an appointment or taking out the trash.

I know that I am adulting wrong by the story someone’s grandmother is telling me.  

“When I was kid, there was no instant oatmeal. Grains had to be cooked for many hours, in water that had to be drawn from a well, and for all that extra effort, they still turned out bland as hell.”

Christmas 2009 was the last one that I spent with my grandmother. What I remember most about her is her deftness with Marshmallow Fluff, a sticky, yet spreadable marshmallow batter that looks remarkably like styrofoam.

It was invented in the early 1900s in New England, where my family has lived for three-odd generations; and went mainstream in the ‘30s, during a boom of new convenience foods that contributed to a significant uptick in leisure time for women.

What would she think of my boredom? I try to sink into the feeling of contentment in sinking my ass into the couch, and therein find a vision of my

grandmother, planting
bulbs in November. Inside,
beans in the crockpot.

I thank someone’s grandmother for catalyzing this backwards knowing. She thanks me for listening

and, for a moment,
sees me for more than a mooch
of their family time.

Later, someone is chiding me for not saying “thank you” enough.

“You are supposed to be a ‘poet’ why…[aren’t you overflowing with powerful feelings]?”

What power does “thank you” have, anyway, when used like punctuation? Thank you, I didn’t expect anything, you shouldn’t have, etc.

How quickly it evolves to mean so many different things, to so many different people, and then

devolves to nothing.
Now that’s a powerful thought…
Keep it to yourself.

I offer to take the photo so all the members present can be in the picture. They’re grateful for the offer, and I do so as expertly as possible.

This is the sort of connective gratitude that I was raised to express. Silently crafting a spiritual relationship with my benefactors, through shows of understanding and deference to their deepest dreams.  

They dream

to dissolve into
Christmas, and another year;
this moment, it will.

“Just see if you can understand that there’s another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality.” – Esther Perel

see the moment for
what it is — momentary
glitter, a ripple

in the above-ground pool for field mice. When did they stop coming indoors for winter?

“Say cheese!”

I keep my teeth to myself, behind a closed-mouth smile. It guards a thousand stories of summer lightning storms back East.

A child in bad drag as an adult, I used to pretend contempt for Christmas in July, but

when the sky opened
I danced pirouettes like Sugar
Plum Fairy — in Keds.

Someone needs to go to the store for powdered sugar or else there will be no peanut butter fudge this year.

Later, someone is chiding me like “What the hell happened?”

Everyone looks back and forth at each other while the glorious jar of Marshmallow Fluff sits on the counter.

“This is how we did it when I was a kid.”

Concrete gratitude is when children offer something in repayment that is valuable to themselves rather than the other person, like giving a toy to a parent.

It is a lesser form of gratitude, but it should be understood here in its intention, which is to make an offering of myself.

I want to show them

the ones that set up
the ones that broke like ganache
my dreams — baking.

“The trick is to first stir the fluff a bit to release some of the air. And as the air cools, the moisture within it should condense to form clouds. If it is too warm, the batter will seize into sticky clumps, much like snow when the temperature rises above freezing.”

She is making a special effort to give me

an up-and-down nod
as good as a wink, I think
I’m doing it right.

She says

“Our first White Christmas in 15 years – who could’ve dreamt it?”

 

If the shoe fits, wear it.

My precocious start at poetry writing was inspired by Little House on the Prairie, The Secret Garden, and other stories of girls living in isolated childhoods, and surviving, by the strength of their inner voices. Through writing, I could transcend the mundane exterior of my experience, and be a very, very deep person. It was and remains the foundation of my confidence.

At the same time, it was and remains what makes me odd. As a writer, and especially as poet, I have always found myself rejecting those labels. No one wants to be accused of comparing themselves to Shakespeare or Sylvia Plath*, which can feel inevitable given the scant number of poets with a foot in popular culture. And so, my response to “Are you a poet?” still sounds something like:

“Oh. Me? Um…yea, I guess.”

To an extent, I am still trying to hide from my father that I did not earn a certificate in plumbing, per his advice, but, rather, a four-year degree in English, and $20k in debt. Yet, that degree has been my ticket from the town to the city, from walking in the rain to, well, more walking in the rain; to becoming the extraordinary YA heroine that I envisioned myself to be. Now that my bildungsroman is complete, my story is looking for supporting characters in the form of friends, mentors, and chosen family.

What most drew me to Portland is its creative community, which appears to have a unique ability to generate grassroots support, and the tenacity to get things done. In two years of living here, I have taken my first steps into professional writing, as opposed to writing for school or for this blog. I have written an article for my neighborhood newsletter, managed communications around school scandals, landed a side-hustle in freelance copywriting, signed a contract with Microcosm Publishing, and was accepted into the Poetry Certificate Program at the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

What’s next is the history of a real poet in progress.

*Unless she is, like me, SP reincarnate.

Do You See What I See? A Rural Transplant Guides Urban Youth into the Beauty of Their Place

Originally printed in the Fall 2017 issue of Overlook Views. Download it here.

What is a neighborhood?

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At the end of the unit, students added terms like tiny house, Biketown station, and community square to this list.

Houses. Families. Friends. Pets. Trees. Flowers. Shops. These were the most common responses by the 2nd and 3rd grade students of Trillium Charter School, at the beginning of an 8-week Geography unit centered on this question.

When I was their age, my teachers posed more straightforward questions like “What are the 50 states and their capitals?” AL – Montgomery,  AK – Juneau, AZ – Phoenix. Yet, I did not have the frame of reference to comprehend the totality of a city, let alone a whole state or nation.

Kids these days aren’t much different, because comprehension of size, scale, and spatial relations is more developmental than generational.  At ages 7-9, our world’s center is the place where we live, while its outermost limit is about a 1 mile radius, or the length of the route from home to school. Studying national or global geography, then, means matching unfamiliar names to unfamiliar flags, flowers, and animals.

By centering our curriculum on the neighborhood, I was able to teach concepts rather than facts, guiding students into the weeds of new urbanism. Examples of transit-oriented development, mixed-use development, creative placemaking, and urban farming lay just outside our doors, and so we went. Enter – the Overlook neighborhood. The best case study we could have asked for. No membership to Oregon Historical Society or Nat Geo required.

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This is a map of the points of interest students identified during the Green Space themed week of our study.

What made the unit all the more appropriate was the coincidence of its timing with May Bike/Walk to School Month. It kicked off with a pedestrian safety assembly with prizes provided by PBOT. Each of 3 classes took five walking field trips in Overlook, themed on Infrastructure, Green Space, Goods, Services, and Arts & Entertainment. At the end of the unit, students had identified 30 points of interest within walking distance of Trillium.

During the Infrastructure themed week, I instructed students to keep a tally of hazards specific to heavy congestion areas, such as cars parked on the sidewalk, construction zones, and any other factor that they felt threatened their safety. Ultimately, the most noted offender was litter, particularly broken glass and cigarette butts.

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Did you know that Trillium PTA meetings have free pizza? We saved this treasure for his exploration station.

This prompted an in-class discussion about public health and a brainstorm of ways to take it into our own hands. In partnership with the high school Leadership class, we organized Trillium Cleanup Day, timed to benefit attendees of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, hosted by our neighbor, the IFCC.

From our Green Space themed week, emerged the distinction between public and private land, thanks to Overlook residents Marci Macfarlane and Jan-Marc Baker. Marci described the process of transforming Portland Water Bureau property to park space, through a commitment to stewardship by artists in residence, herself included; which planted seeds of a Patton Square HydoPark in our minds. Jan Marc explained why he puts as much effort into tending the right of way as his

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The green space between the sidewalk and the street is city property, but adjacent homeowners often tend it.

front yard – because it provides public and environmental benefits, inviting hungry passersby and pollinators rather than let it lay dormant.

Next, we learned about land for commercial use, spending 2 weeks surveying Overlook businesses, separating them into goods and services, and categories within each. ICYMI, home goods predominate (Miller Paint, Harbor Freight Tools, Interstate Flooring), as do medical and educational services (Providence, Kaiser, Carpe Diem, Sensory Kids).

Students identified Hobbies Unlimited and Patton Maryland as the best businesses for families. Gree, who lives in the neighborhood, goes to Hobbies Unlimited all the time. In his final reflection, he wrote: “I once got an agate rock that is from the Columbia River. It is really big and has flat parts.”

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Rick explained that the store has had an ongoing problem with theft which is why they utilize several security cameras.

After a long career driving for Trimet, Hobbies’ new owner, Rick, was glad to step in at a critical moment in its eighty year history. He used to visit when he was a child, and knows that community engagement, particularly with youth groups, will be key to keeping the lights on for the decades to come.

Molly, Irma and Mihai wrote about Patton Maryland. “It is not one of those big restaurants like McDonald’s. They have food for all eaters, vegans, and vegetarians. The menu is inspired by the foods the manager

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Patton Maryland features an outdoor patio with fire pits and corn hole. These amenities cater to patrons with children.

 remembers his mom making when he was a kid. He gave us each a pork sandwich and chocolate milk to try. We rated it five stars.” General Manager, Mark Hernandez, was kind enough to send students back with coupons for staff. Now, I can say that I rate it five stars, too!

In the absence of theaters and music venues, our Arts & Entertainment themed week focused on public art. Pascale, who lives in the neighborhood, reflected “My neighborhood has a lot of public art, which is great, because it brings community together. People sometimes need a reason to come together.” I sent one group North on Interstate, to view pieces in the Trimet Public Art Program at Killingsworth Station, Ockley Green Middle School, and Rosa Parks Station.

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Adriene Cruz and Valerie Otani celebrated the vibrant multiculturalism of the community with colorful patterns that recall African cloth.

On their way, the once community hub now construction zone, Interstate Lanes, stopped everyone in their [Max] tracks. Many had had birthday parties and other family memories at the lanes. We looked at the NO TRESPASSING signs and couldn’t help but chuckle at where someone had written I LOVE BOWLING. Back in class, a debate on the differences between graffiti and public art would ensue. It would not be the last. At the end of the unit, I divided students into groups and asked them to design their own “great” neighborhoods.

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Today’s fans of bowling, tomorrow’s fans of Bowling Alone. Thankfully, the community engagement of Portland youth is thriving.

Just like a real neighborhood association, they were asked to strike a balance between what their community members would need and what they would want, before making final development decisions. Ultimately, there were still a handful of candy and toy stores. What makes a great neighborhood? Tiny House. Biketown Station. Community Square. Weird Stuff. Can you tell they go to school in Overlook?