[Welcome to our "Say Nice Things About Portland" guide to the city! Did you know that this feature package is also in PRINT?? That's right, this is our first print product since the start of the pandemic, and we're psyched to produce a lot more. Find the "Say Nice Things" guide in over 500 locations around the city, and if you'd like to see more guides you can hold, please consider making a small contribution to the Mercury, please and thank you!—eds]
A year ago, I pulled up for the first time in front of a cream and forest green-colored house perched on the side of a hill in Goose Hollow. I climbed on top of my SUV’s center console and popped through the sunroof, asking my new roommate to take a photo of me in front of my first home in Portland, in the car I had driven more than 3,000 miles from Saint Petersburg, Florida.
Portland has resemblances to St. Pete: street-side murals, tattoos, vegan options, sexy queers. A coastal city south of Tampa, “The Sunshine City” still holds a Guinness World Record for drenching Floridians in the most consecutive days of sunshine—768 days—starting in 1967. While I delighted in the good weather and beach access, I felt stagnant at my job. I craved good Chinese food and people who looked like me. I entangled myself with someone whose presence eventually plagued the city, making anywhere else sound better.
I had resisted the idea of Portland—I hardly knew anyone on the West Coast and I hated the rain. A 2015 Quora response to “What is it like to live in Portland?” wrote: “The weather sucks. It’s not just “rainy” or “misty”; it’s a soul-killing suck. Imagine looking out your window and beholding a scene that is basically all one color; a numbing, bruised gray-blue that I can only describe as the color of wet pavement. That’s what you see. That’s all you see… The people are this color.”
I read this quote to my journalism mentor on FaceTime, expressing my qualms of living in a city full of gray-blue-colored people or potentially becoming one myself. But I had been offered a promising job to cover early education at The Oregonian, and I was desperate for a change.
I arrived at the perfect time. Portland summer was in early bloom. Everywhere I looked, evergreen trees spiraled into an infinite cerulean blue. Yellow light rained down and filtered through tall branches of dark leaves, casting a warm glow through the early summer. On clear days, I could see Mount Rainier and St. Helen’s from my bedroom window. In traffic on Marquam Bridge, I gazed on the snow-capped summits and the light sparkling on the surface of the Willamette River. I thought about how grateful and proud I was to have taken this leap of faith and get to experience such beauty, until cars behind me honked and snapped me out of my happy trance.
I moved in with Savannah, public safety reporter at The Oregonian and Midwest transplant. We ate pancakes at the wooden dining table-and-bench-set she found on Facebook Marketplace, admiring a distant Mount Hood through our kitchen window. We shared who we missed thousands of miles away and hit our first strip club together. She joined me as I slurped down the city’s array of soup noodles and dumplings.
At work, I dove into a new beat, guided by a woman editor who demanded excellence from herself and her reporters but centered compassion and humility at the most critical hour. The big newsroom window overlooked the Willamette and Hawthorne Bridge. When the clouds parted, I marveled at a sweeping view of Mount Hood.
The rain did come. “Wet pavement” was not a bad description of the sky on most fall and winter days. I felt myself starting to drown in the downpour. I asked for advice. One piece of wisdom I held onto most: “Keep doing things.”
I watched obscure VHS films at Cinemagic and learned about black holes at the OMSI Planetarium. I stepped further into the Ghibli Universe at Empirical Theater and fell for Haley Heynderickx when she opened for Lucy Dacus at the Roseland. I competed in an adult spelling bee at Rose City Book Pub (damn you, ignominious) and attended my first porn film fest at Revolution Hall. I ate up the local arts and culture coverage. In a city that invests in its artists, I began to see myself as one.
From hours spent in a department store-sized bookstore to evenings popping into indie theaters across town, Portland had been stripping me down to my most creative self. Through a Literary Arts writing course, I started to write out the words that had been clamoring in my chest. Pages poured out. When the pace eased, creative discipline kicked in. I wanted more and more time to write.
When an oncologist at OHSU told me the prognosis for metastatic synovial sarcoma, I realized I wanted to spend every day of the rest of my life making art and gazing up at tall trees.
In the week before I quit my job in January, I became catatonically consumed by what people might think. I was afraid to let my editor and mentors down. I thought my colleagues would stop taking me seriously as a person. I didn’t know who I was if I couldn’t say I was a jOuRnaLiSt.
At a Halloween party months earlier, I met a Jesus who asked if I wanted to make out in the middle of our mutual acquaintance’s living room. I thought there were a lot of people, but he was hot so I said yes.
When I shared with Tom my fears of leaving the news business, he looked at me with soft eyes and stretched his palm toward me. He told me anyone who cared about me, and therefore whose opinion mattered, wouldn’t view me differently. I am not my job title.
It’s May again. The promise of summer buoys me through the final stretch of a wet, mercurial spring. Dogwood trees, camellia bushes, and their carpet of fuchsia petals brighten neighborhood streets, as days of gray drizzle are followed by lengthening stretches of sun.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing and devouring books. I interviewed Michelle Zauner last month about her memoir while deathly hungover from my 25th birthday party the night before. I nanny two girls in Beaverton to supplement my income. Through it all, I’m dating someone who loves me as I am, echoing the city he’s lived in for more than a decade.
I feel, finally, that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.