Big City, Little City
The Portland skyline viewed from the esplanade outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Portland has tall buildings, crowded streets, and so much to see, like this view from OMSI.
Portland vs. Gold beach
In February, I had the opportunity to see two very different sides of Oregon. I visited Gold Beach to teach at the Southern Oregon Writers Conference. Four days later Fred and I joined our son Michael and daughter Gretchen for a couple days in Portland. Gold Beach, population 2,445, is a small coastal town, much like where we live near Newport, but even smaller. The buildings that line Highway 101 are two stories at the tallest, with the beach just beyond them on the west side and hills a couple blocks to the east. The fairgrounds, where we did our readings and enjoyed a community fish fry, are basically two buildings and a fenced yard. Our workshops took place at the high school, not at a four-star hotel. The opening night authors' dinner, cooked by the Soroptimists, was served upstairs in the rare book room at the Gold Beach bookstore. The same weekend, a book and bake sale was going on at the new library. In Gold Beach, most of the casually dressed attendees and volunteers were middle-aged or older. It was difficult to find someplace to eat at night, with restaurants either closed or full of tourists, but you couldn't get lost and there was always a place to park. There were also dogs everywhere, including the one who said howdy by planting his muddy feet on my best jeans right after I arrived. But it didn't matter. People were friendly, easy-going, warmly dressed and well fed. For us teachers, the conference offered spacious ocean-view rooms in a wonderful hotel that provided a full breakfast, including my favorite entree, biscuits and gravy. Portland, with more than half a million residents, was a different story. We got lost trying to get to the hotel. I had the Mapquest directions printed out and memorized, but when I got to the exits, I was never in the correct lane. Finally I tried to just go up the numbered streets until I got to 11th Avenue, but they were all one-way the wrong way, or had signs that said "no turns." I got myself to a dead end on other side of town, where workers were putting up tents for Cirque du Soleil. We probably passed our hotel a couple times before we actually saw it. People are in a hurry, traffic is frightening, parking is impossible. The locals walk, ride bikes or use the buses and streetcars. Luckily Michael did all the driving once we arrived. From our tiny but spendy hotel room on the sixth floor of the Mark Spencer Hotel, our view was an alley between wings of the building. The place was old-fashioned and elegant, but again, tiny, and the "continental breakfast" was bagels and aging apples. The floors creaked, and you could hear everything through the walls. In fact, we had a verbal battle with some folks who were partying in the hall. "But it's only 11:00," one of them said. But outside, Portland was exciting. So many old buildings and interesting people. I kept snapping pictures. Stores sold top-of-the-line goods, not the cheap souvenirs and secondhand stuff offered on the coast. Headline entertainers played in the theaters there. We saw lots of young people, many dressed in black. The big city is hip, it's happening, it's diverse. On the same streets where the well-off sipped $8 cocktails, homeless people slept in doorways and along the sides of buildings. It's a place where you never run out of restaurants and nightclubs. We visited Powell's City of Books, mecca for readers with room after color-coded room filled with new and used books about anything you could think of. Of course I had to hunt down my latest book and show the kids. They were suitably impressed. And we saw one of the new silver trams that go up to Oregon Health Sciences University, OHSU, one of the nation's best research hospitals. We also visited OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It's an amazing place, one of the best tech museums in the country. Our kids, ages 31 and 39, had a great time playing the many brain-teasing games. Gretchen and I were awed by a display of actual human festuses from conception to birth. I don't know how they got them, but it was mind-blowing to see them. Michael previously visited an exhibit of cut-open dead people that showed what we look like inside. Glad I missed that one. Oh, and we saw a planetarium show nothing like the ones I remember from college. Meteors, planets and moons came right at us, so big and bright I ducked down in my seat. It was thrilling. OMSI is right on the Willamette River, where I took the photo you see above. It was sunny, with a stunnning view of the skyline and Portland's many bridges. Back at Gold Beach, noshing on biscuits and gravy, they still hadn't gotten their Sunday newspapers at 9:00 because they come from somewhere hundreds of miles away. In Portland, we woke up to find the New York Times at our doors. Which is better? It's all good. Oregon has coastal towns, big cities, farm country and desert. It has snow-covered peaks and glorious rivers. As a Californian turned Oregonian, I'm still discovering the many faces of this wonderful state. Come on up and join us. Just don't make me drive in Portland.
Then there's the view of the Oregon Coast near Gold Beach on a sunny day
Have you made your movie yet?
Adrienne Shelly wrote, directed and acted in a wonderful movie called "Waitress," which we watched the other night on DVD. It's a gem, full of brightly colored pies, wry humor, love, sorrow and joy. One of my favorite lines comes from actress Cheryl Hines who constantly complains that her breasts are lopsided. "The right one is Maine and the left one is Florida," she says. The story revolves around Jenna, played by Keri Russell, who finds herself pregnant by her horrible husband Earl. In addition to being a waitress, Jenna is a skilled pie-maker. Her only hope for a better life is to win the $25,000 prize in this big pie contest so she can leave Earl. The other waitresses all have their own dramas going on, but things work out beautifully in the end, and it's one of the few Netflix films I really wanted to keep. The most striking thing about "Waitress" is that its creator, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered shortly before the film came out. She interrupted a burglary. The thief panicked and hung her by a sheet from the shower rod. She was only 40 years old, mother of a baby girl. On Shelly's resume, this movie is pretty much it. But not only did she write, direct and act in it, she wrote the lovely songs that Keri Russell sings as she makes her pies. As the movie ended, I kept thinking thank God she made her movie. Then I thought what is my movie? Have I made it yet? How about you? It doesn't have to literally be a movie, but what is that one thing that you were meant to do on this earth? Have you done it yet? What are you waiting for?
Publications and prizes
This month, we have my usual "Everything But Writing" column at www.thescriptorium.net and my monthly newspaper challenge in the Writers on the Rise e-zine. Also, please visit my Freelancing for Newspapers and Childless by Marriage blogs, updated weekly. Beyond that, I have been concentrating on my book about childless women. I am happy to report that the opening pages of that book received an honorable mention in Writing for Money's first-chapter contest. I wish I had won first place, but I am happy that C. Hope Clark, a terrific friend to writers and publisher of the Funds for Writers newsletter, took the top prize. At least it went to someone I like. The winning entries should be posted online by now.
Oregon Coast writing events
Monica Drake, author of the marvelous novel Clown Girl, is the guest speaker at the Oregon Coast chapter of Willamette Writers. We meet Tuesday, March 4 at the Newport library. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and admission is free. The Nye Beach Writers series moves to the Hatfield Marine Science Center auditorium this month for its March 15 program featuring comedian Jeff DeMark's latest one-man show. Admission is $10, and the program starts at 7 p.m. Get there early for a good seat.
The Renegade Writer by Linda Formicelli and Diana Burrell, Marion Street Press, 2005. What a great book! If you are trying to make a living as a freelancer article writer, buy this book. Easy to read, full of the real skinny, this book will move you out of the world of tiny checks and stalled careers and onto the road to the big time. Formicelli and Burrell write so well together that even they can't tell who wrote which parts, but it doesn't matter. The book lists all the rules writers are taught and then explains why, how and when we should break them. Chapters include developing ideas, "no-fear querying," contracts, research, interviews, writing, getting paid, developing a renegade attitude and "thriving, not just surviving". Several appendices offer useful connections to help writers move on beyond the book. I've been in this business for a long time, but I learned a lot from this book, and it's going into the tiny place just above my computer where I can grab it without leaving my chair. For more from these authors, check the Renegade.com blog.
Ford: the Men and the Machine by Robert Lacey, Little, Brown and Co., 1986. Nearly 700 pages long, Lacy's history of the men behind the Ford Motor Company is a bit Michneresque. We start with the early history of Detroit, which was to become the Motor City. However, Lacy has done a good job of portraying the quirky characters of the first Henry Ford and his descendents, beginning in the 1800s and ending in the 1980s with the retirement of Henry II, his grandson. These were men who blundered their way through life, bull-headed geniuses who succeeded greatly and failed in front of the whole world. Contrary to popular belief, Henry I didn't invent the automobile. What he did was start making them on an assembly line, every part alike, which enabled him to turn out Model T's by the thousand at a price the average American family could afford. This fat book holds many stories. We learn not only about the cars and the men who made them but World War I, the union movement, the civil rights struggles in Detroit, and more. It's not a new book or an easy one, but it's a terrific history lesson if you can find a copy and find time to devote to such a long and detailed biography.
Night Freight by Clyde Rice, Breitenbush Books, 1987. This is an old gem that is written so beautifully I read the last few pages aloud as I would do with poetry. The story is true, but it reads like fiction. Not a lot happens. It's more of a meditation than anything, but we are moving with the train south from the Siskyous toward Tiburon, near San Francisco, during the Great Depression. Rice, struck by a need to get out into nature, has gone gold prospecting mid-winter. Now, having collected little more than stories, he is coming home on the freight trains with the bums and hobos. He makes friends with an old retired sheriff who is on the lam from sons who want him to settle into his rocking chair, a young man who hopes to start a shoe business in Salt Lake City, and a sleazy grifter named Max. They are cold, wet, hungry, and sore from riding this bunking bronco of a train. At times the weather is so bad, they huddle together for warmth. At other times they hide from the train security men. As they doze, Rice remembers his trip, the people he met, and the experiences he had, and he wonders about the other men on the train. The thought of returning to his wife and son in their cozy home keeps him going, yet he knows there is something inside him that can only take so much civilization before he has to head out into the wilderness again. It's the kind of book that never grows old. Surprisingly, Rice, who built his home on Oregon's Clackamas River, started writing in his 80s. He published this book at age 84 and was still writing into his 90s. For more information, go to www.clyderice.org.
Well, that's it for now. The weather has gentled, and the daffodills are just about to bloom. The robins are back. It's not spring yet, but you can tell it's coming. Happy birthday to me, Mary Lee and Roy, and all the other March babies.
All contents copyright 2008 Sue Fagalde Lick
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