There are lots of reasons to travel: visiting family or friends, work, exploring sights, experiencing a new place, listening to music, shopping, eating and drinking, running away from something, running to something, chasing love, mending a broken heart, getting to know yourself better, escaping yourself, or just being you somewhere else. I have done all of these in Portland, so the city and I are already intimately acquainted after only a couple of visits. I honestly cannot think of another place where I have such a sorted history, but despite all of that (or maybe because of it), I find myself drawn there. It is like it holds some secret that I am hoping to uncover in the bizarre scavenger hunt of self discovery or some love that is yet to bloom.
The first time I fell in love with a place was in my twenties, about three months after moving to San Francisco. I was walking down Market Street with the bustle of the city around me and The White Stripes playing on my very basic phone that held maybe three albums at a time, and it just hit me. I was just where I was supposed to be. This was my place, my home, and I was in love with it. San Francisco was the first place I had ever chosen for myself and I still love it to this day for that reason and more. Walking around the streets of Portland, I didn’t feel that I was meant to stay, but I had that same feeling that I was meant to be there, that this was the place I needed to be in just that moment.
Lately, I have been reflecting on how to stay open to experiences, the good and the painful. As an introverted person, I usually shut down when things get hard or personal. I jump into work, business, or indulging in vices and seeking validation or advice from people who have known me most of my life. People who, while well intentioned, are not going to help me change my patterns, because they love me as I am. Last year I met someone who challenged me to be more open and vulnerable than I have been with many of the friends I have known for decades (and I am someone who keeps friends around for decades). Everytime I second guessed myself and felt fear and discomfort of letting someone in, I stopped myself and then leapt-fully and with all of me. This feeling of trusting my intuition, of opening my heart and facing my fears, of taking chances, is how I want to live. It allowed me to cultivate a real connection with someone who I hope to keep in my life for years to come, though we are now on different paths.
That relationship and the realization of what is possible when we live with an open heart shifted many things for me. It is, in many ways, why I have started this journal, why I am letting the world in to my thoughts, my experiences, and why I chose Portland as my first trip this year. To see what the city held for me on my own. Like loving a person, loving a place has so much nuance. There are the places we share and those we save for when we are alone. I love sharing the streets with crowds of people at the end of the day, eating delicious food in bustling restaurants, or talking David Bowie with the people working at the record store. I also love my tradition of taking a coffee to Cathedral Park and being alone: Where I feel so small under that huge bridge. Where once the sky opened up on me and poured rain so heavy I could not see and the next time the clouds parted to show me a rare patch of blue sky.
It is fascinating how we can have all of these different versions of ourselves in different places, but they are still an authentic version of us. Portland feels like a place I could be. Perhaps a place I would have ended up if I had not left San Francisco to return home to Albuquerque and start a family. If I had made the choice to live the life I expected to live when I was younger, before marriage and family became the thing to do. Sometimes when you travel you stuck out like a sore thumb, but in Portland I have always been treated like I belong; From the shuttle driver giving everyone but me a map of the city, to the barista who asked me no less than five approving questions about how I make my coffee in order to grind my beans properly, to the incredibly sad and unstable man on the MAX who simultaneously wanted me to give him directions and love advice while slightly scaring the crap out of me.
The first time I visited Portland was last autumn and I just happened on all of the stuff I wanted to do and people I knew in the most magical way. From driving past the street I was looking for by complete coincidence to literally running into my cousin at the exact moment she needed a hug. Returning, I had low hopes that the magic would still be there since I was nursing a broken heart and visiting on a bit of an escapist fluke, but it was just the same. The city just opened up and welcomed me in with among other things: good parking places, excellent company, and no wait at popular restaurants--hazzah!. And while I have yet to be won over by the local music scene (everything kinda sounds the same, but please prove me wrong) or to eat delicious seafood (next time!), everything else just fell into place.
On this trip I decided to avoid most of the “tourist stuff” and do the same things I would do at home: listen to music at a bar, have drinks with friends, shop for music and books, find a coffee shop or garden to sit and read or write in. I even went to community meditation on Sunday and sat for a couple hours trying to just pay attention to my breath and the moment. I did want to get out of the city and spend some time with my family, so we trekked out of town to see the waterfalls that make Oregon so unique. Like all of my magical experiences in Portland, we happened to get there when the weather was perfect and there were no crowds.
Maybe part of the magic of Portland is that things are easier to navigate without a six year old. My thoughts are not as jumbled. But between the company and my state of mind, this trip was a perfect reset for the year. I have always thought it was silly to say that you have “found yourself” somewhere, but being on my own and doing the things I like in a new place, reminded me who I am. I will always appreciate Portland for helping me do that. I have remembered that I can be both fearless and compassionate, that putting my heart out in the world, trusting my intuition, and taking a chance is always the right thing to do.
So my journey will continue to take me to other places and connecting with other people. I don’t know when, or if, I will be back in Portland again, but it will always have a special place in my heart. And maybe, just maybe, I will be back again for more than a short exploration and find a deeper connection there. I hope so.