Wordstock – Portland, Oregon

We went to Wordstock today walking the mile and a half there in a steady drizzle. One umbrella between us, which I used because Duane has a hat. Just the one umbrella. I’ve lost too many of them to be trusted with one of my own. It really didn’t seem like that much of a rain, but we were damp by the time we got to the Convention Center. There were not many attending Wordstock. Not like in years past. Something a little depressing about it this year. I don’t know when they started charging for the event, but I think that has something to do with the lower turnout.

We cruised the booths. I had a nice chat with a couple of vendors. Duane and I went to our friend’s reading and there really wasn’t anyone else we were interested in hearing until much later in the afternoon and even though we paid $7 to get in, we left to find something to eat and go home. We talked about why Wordstock seemed so unsatisfying this year. We figured that most of the attendees were writers or people involved in the publishing industry in some way. The exhibitors were much the same–writers and publishers. Nothing wrong with that. Except that something is missing. It isn’t creative or exciting. It’s restrictive, traditional, stodgy.

Portland has a tendency to be stodgy in spite of all the young creatives everyone claims have moved here in droves, in spite all the tattoo parlors and micro-brew pubs, at heart Portland has always been the sort of city a little afraid to color outside the lines. At least on the surface and it is on the surface where Wordstock takes place. What Portland needs is an underground literary festival for all the fringe dwellers and marginalised folk, the ones who can’t afford the Writer’s Dojo or writing jaunts to Prague with their favorite author. It should take place on the streets and in the coffee houses and small bookstores. It should take place in the tattoo parlors and brew-pubs.

A proper literary festival would be a celebration. It would be a recognition of language as the primary medium of culture. It would explore the history of story, the politics and economics of literature, the state of the publishing industry, how literature has been shaped by invention–the printing press, the internet. There would be discussions on the impact of film on literature, the search for authentic voice, and translation. It would involve theater and meaningful workshops.

People would read their work, sell it, trade it, give it away. We might come to understand that the tradition of word is an endlessly evolving creative stream and we could walk away dazzled by our own dreams, which is how it should be.

even the dandelions are beautiful

The cherry tree across the street is thickly blooming. Heavy pink clusters wave in the slight breeze and contrast against the lush green lawn dotted with dandelions. Grape hyacinths edge along the base of the house. Trees all around are pushing out new leaves. Tulips of red, yellow, pink, pumpkin, purple, black, white, striped and spotted, abundant–Spring in Portland.

In Powell’s the thin white girl, in a thin white dress, with thin brown hair sits bent over her work. Her right arm forms a triangle, bent at the elbow back toward her body and her back bent the way it is forms another triangle with her legs. In her pale skin the blue veins glow. On her shoulder blade a tattoo is visible through the gauzy material of her white cotton dress. She is all angles and transparency.

You can’t sleep here

The old woman is sleeping. Her eyes are closed and her chin sits on the top of her bundle of possessions. Her hands dangle in her lap, arms rest on her thighs. She sits heavily on the blue metal bench. Her gray hair is neatly fashioned in a tight bun on the top of her head. The woman wears no makeup on her pale, slightly ruddy face. Her clothes have that washed-out no particular color look and fit loosely over her large body.

The green plastic chair is the first thing I see as I approach the transit station. It is overturned and tied to the top of her cart. Everything and nothing gives her away as someone who has nowhere to go. But mostly it is the cart or rather the possessions in the cart, which I can’t actually see. I can see several full plastic bags and something large and dark blue. It could be a blanket or a sleeping bag folded up. Everything in the cart is as tidy as her hair. The cart is not a grocery store cart. It is the kind of two-wheeled cart one can buy to tote groceries from the store.

This is what I see as I pass. I think how hard it is to just get enough sleep when you are homeless. You sleep in small frames of time never having enough to really recharge, to really give your body and your mind, particularly your mind, what it so needs to survive. Thriving is a wistful dream. Sleep deprivation kills. Even this kind of sleep deprivation shortens your life even if you have a place to live and plenty of nutritional food and exercise and love. If you don’t have these things, there is no reserve and sleep deprivation is more lethal.

While housed people are thinking about how to have healthier longer lives, the old woman just wants to sleep. And Christ, is that too much to ask? Apparantly so. As I board the train, I see two police, one on each side of her. I see her outstretched hand holds something. An identification? The train begins to move slowly out of the station and the woman stands up, begins pushing her cart, moves away from the bench, from sleep. Weariness in her every lumbering step.