The Portland Diaries, Part One

So here I am in Portland, occupying a totally charming apartment courtesy of Tin House, whose offices are right next door.  (press release, which explains everything.) Actually, the magazine is on one side and the book publisher is on the other, so I am surrounded by literary wonderfulness.  On Tuesdays I teach a nonfiction workshop in Portland State University’s MFA program; that happened for the first time last night.  Damn, those students are fiercely smart and well-read.

The only book I could recommend to them that they hadn’t all read, hadn’t actually inhaled and absorbed and memorized and considered and reconsidered and probably ultimately rejected, was I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters, which I believe every memoirist should read and worship. It is a novel in which the protagonist attempts to write her memoir but can’t get past the first chapter. So she writes it over and over, each time from a wildly different perspective, a totally different version of herself.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, that’s all I’m sayin.

I have equipped the apartment with basic necessities such as bourbon.  The desk, pictured above, is just screaming at me to slam that bottle down upon it and pull up a chair and write a great literary work.  We worked out a compromise and I’m doing this blog post instead.

Attempted painting; wiped it off.

I brought my paints but it’s raining, raining, raining, which means I can’t set up the easel on the porch or leave paintings outside to dry.  Nonetheless I tried this one and it just Did Not Happen. I’ll take another run at it.

I am auditing a drawing class at PSU, which makes me wildly happy.  Hardly anyone in the class has ever drawn before.  I love the idea of going back to the basics, just a pencil and a piece of paper.  The students were shocked when they learned that no electronics would be allowed in class–cell phones off, screens down, earbuds not in ears.  I had somehow settled in with the other 40 year-olds in the class, and we all flashed a victory sign at each other at the thought of three hours without electronics.  Yes, please.

First assignment:  fill out a form with your email address and stuff, and draw a self-portrait on the back.  I cheated and used one of my author photos online.  It was that or stand over the bathroom sink with a sketchpad, looking in the mirror.

yeah well.

I’m also auditing a class on the French Revolution and Napoleon, because I have this particular interest related to this particular thing re: the French Revolution which shall remain nameless for now.  The professor thought the (undergraduate) class would be too basic for me, but he has no idea what a great lazy research technique this is.  When you go interview an expert in a field like French history, you quickly start to feel like you’re taking up too much of their time.  So then I realized–hey!  This guy’s getting paid to stand up there and explain this whole damn thing for three hours every week, and I can go sit there for FREE and soak it all up.

Brilliant. Way easier than reading a bunch of books, too. Plus, it gets me out of the house.

The French Revolution, by the way, is lost on twenty year-olds, who have neither faced their own mortality nor visited Paris.  So.  The five grey-haired women also auditing the class and I are having the times of our lives.  Robespierre, that bad boy! We laugh at all the professor’s jokes. We are the only ones.

So I pretty much have a full course load on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the time?  Well, that’s when I’m In Residence.  What does one do when one is In Residence, apart from blogging?  Stay tuned.  I know I will.

(Personal note to my husband:  In Portland there is a product called Kale Joy.  Don’t worry; I didn’t buy any.  I bought bourbon. Still your girl!)


13 thoughts on “The Portland Diaries, Part One”

  1. Havimg met and interviewed you, and heard your speech on ‘Plants I feel almost conspirtal (is that a word?) with you during your adventures. Knowing something about you already let me in on the secret too.

  2. Staying tuned. Glad the gig came thru and will be watching to see if that table has a bottle on it – sure evidence that the masterpiece is underway…

  3. Kale Joy sounds rather awesome to me. Shall I confess I purchased chocolate flavored kale crunchies on my recent SF trip? I haven’t yet developed the courage to try them. Maybe bourbon would help.

  4. I’ve lived in PDX for over 30 years and have never heard of kale joy. I’m afraid to google it. Once you figure out that “In Residence” thingy, and if you’re hankering for a garden/nursery/farmers market adventure, I’d be glad to take you around a few places, or suggest some to check out. There’s nothing quite so glorious as Portland in spring. It will stop raining, it will stop raining, it will stop raining….

  5. Hm. What about the French Revolution could spawn another garden book? Nah, must be a novel. On my third visit to Portland, I finally went to the Japanese Garden, which I’d been indifferent to, figuring it would be just another ersatz attempt at the real thing. OMG, Amy, it’s beyond beautiful. As soon as it stops raining—or even now, because they have umbrellas for wimpy visitors—visit it. I like the idea of you going from one side of the continent to another, from taxi cabs in New York to Portland’s dainty maples.

  6. Envious of you getting to go back to school for fun! Looking forward to what the marriage of desk and bourbon and MFA class bodes. P.s. kale is the new black.

  7. Hello! I’m just a PSU MFA fiction student using a recent MFA list email as an excuse to creep about your blog. I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog already, and welcome to PSU!

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