Friday, September 30, 2016

The Pirate

We live in downtown Portland, Oregon. It's wonderful to be able to step outside our door and walk to almost anything we need or want, to be right in it, to feel like part of the city. It's fun and frustrating, exciting and exhausting. City streets can make a person feel invisible, and yet, they're also like a big meandering stage, studded with spotlights aimed on a surprisingly constant cast of characters.

A lot of people live on the streets here, in varying degrees. We see a lot of young ones drift in and out, with dogs and guitars and sometimes weary looking girlfriends. Did they think it was worse at home with their families than it would be on the cold concrete, eating out of garbage cans? Older ones, almost always men, follow regular routines and daily circuits from bench to doorway to park to street corner. And mentally ill men and women are a regular part of our daily adventures in beautiful downtown Portland.

We know nothing about these people, any of them, but we allow ourselves to pretend that we do. We give them names, we make up stories, we wonder about them when they disappear. I imagine them to feel invisible, anonymous, but it isn't that easy. Not for them, and not for us.

There are some we only see or hear in passing. That young guy who shuffles as slowly as a 90 year old, head down, quiet, and looking to be in great pain. There's the fuck, Fuck, FUCK guy who makes his way up the street late at night, bellowing in a voice that scares me so much I don't even want to look out the window to see what he looks like. And there's the infrequent visitor to Archangel Michael's church, across the street, who stands at the bolted doors wearing a giant crucifix, shaking his head in disbelief at his denied entry, and crying, I love you Michael! Their stories? Lost? Crazy? Dangerous? Or merely... annoying?

Some we come a little bit closer to, like Blanket Man, who is often in Pettygrove Park, behind our building. He sits on a bench with a blanket over his head. He is completely still and quiet. He appears to pay no attention to the dogs, humans, bikes, skateboards, and Segway tours that whiz past him. My story on him is that the blanket is his room, his house, his place to be alone and separate from the street. I would never disturb him, but I have occasionally left food near him, so he can find it when he comes out.

An Asian woman wanders through Director Park every day at lunch time, at least in good weather, when hundreds of people come from nearby offices to enjoy their lunches and some sunshine by the fountain. She hovers at an uncomfortable closeness to people and their food. She stares at their plastic-boxed lunches until they start to squirm and look up. Then she says something. I never hear it clearly, but I assume she's asking for something to eat. They always shake their heads, she always walks away, makes the rounds, ends up at a trash can, digging for scraps and cold coffee in paper cups. I have no story for her yet. I can't make her being there make any sense to me.

There's a nice tree lined route to Riverplace that's off the main streets. We walk that way often, on our way down to sit by the water, look at boats, and have a beer or a coffee. There's are benches under the trees, and the one nearest a heating exhaust vent from the building next to it is occupied by a man we've been seeing there for over two years.

He might be in his fifties, but it's hard to tell. He's shaggy and skinny. He's kind of twitchy. He sometimes talks to someone we can't see. He sometimes looks up when we pass by and gives a nod of recognition. Sometimes he raises a hand in a subtle but friendly wave. Sometimes he ignores us completely, and we in turn, respect the fact that we're walking through his living room.

He always has food, so we stopped bringing him what he doesn't seem to need. But what does he need? I have no idea. My guess, my story, is he might be schizophrenic, and he's somehow tapped into the social services system, enough to have food, but not enough to live indoors. Of course I'm making that up. And while we've tried to name this man - something dignified like Robert or James or Howard - we can't agree on who he is. Maybe he doesn't know either.

Carl is different. I know his story. He used to spend every day on a bench in the park where I walk Heidi. Being a social girl, Heidi would tug her way over to say hello to him, and eventually Carl and I started having friendly conversations. I gave him a thermos to keep his coffee hot. He told me his name. I told him mine. I learned about his childhood in Montana, his years setting up and running carnival rides, and his unfaithful wife. He needed a tent, so I put the word out, and an online friend sent me the money to buy him one. He set it up under a freeway overpass for protection. He kept his site clean. He gave me a Bible.

Carl was gone all summer. He had told me that he likes to go to Montana in the summer months. Home, whatever that means by now. Family? He never mentioned any. I knew he was up for a subsidized apartment in the city, so I figured maybe he had moved on. The tent had gotten him through last winter, until he burned a big hole in it, trying to melt a loose thread with a match.

I saw him not long ago, sitting on his usual bench in the park. I walked right up and said hello. He was polite but guarded, and seemed not to recognize me. He's not around every day anymore, like he used to be, so I still assume that he has a place to stay now. But I really have no idea, and now I feel awkward approaching him. If I see him again, will I say hello, or will I avoid him? Maybe I've done all I can. Maybe he'd rather not get any closer. Maybe he's not as mentally stable as I thought he was. And of course, again, even though I sort of know Carl, I'm making up a story about him.

And then there's The Pirate. He's been in the neighborhood as long as we have, over two years, and I suppose probably much longer than that. When we first saw him, he was sort of terrifying to look at. He was a stocky man, maybe in his 60s, all dressed in dirty black, trench coat, boots, long dark hair and beard. His glasses had one dark lens and one open one - no glass at all. He stood hunched over an enormous mountain of stuff - things he'd found or traded maybe - all piled onto what looked like a Costco cart, buried deep below the treasures. We dubbed him The Pirate, because of his eye-patch glasses, and because of the "ship" he pushed around town, usually under cover of darkness. We never went near him. He looked too scary.

The Pirate disappeared for a long time. We didn't really think of him, but once or twice over the months we'd note that we hadn't seen him in a while. And then he came back. At first we weren't sure it was the same guy. He seemed smaller. And his ship was gone. In its place was a walker, aluminum and sturdy, just like the one my dad had, with a tray for carrying things. He had very few things now.

He had the same eye-patch glasses, and the same shaggy hair and beard, but his clothes were maybe a little bit newer and cleaner, and his ship had been downsized to a life raft. In place of his boots were sneakers, and sprouting out of the tops of his shoes were two shiny new prosthetic legs.

I see The Pirate every so often, always from a distance. He seems to keep himself at a distance from other people, and the name, The Pirate, still seems to suit him. He still looks intimidating.

This morning I took Heidi for her usual walk. None of the regular cast of characters were out there though. The weather is changing, and I guess maybe some of them move on in winter. But how? And to where? We rounded the corner going back home, and as I neared the door to the little convenience store in our building, out came The Pirate. There was no avoiding each other. We were both right there on the same sidewalk, heading straight for each other, he with his walker, and me with my little dog.

I'm not sure why, but I took a chance and looked him in the face. I even smiled. What was I thinking? Who smiles at a scary pirate? Well I do, apparently. And then... The Pirate said, Hi. In the split second I had left before I passed him, I smiled a little more for real and said good morning to him. His response was a cheerful, Good morning!, in a voice more fatherly than pirate-like, as if we had greeted each other this way every day for years.

The Pirate... who is this man? What is his story? Of course he has one. We all do, eye-patch or not, roof or not, legs or not... I might never know his story, or most of the others out there, but I did learn one big thing today.

We may not know a thing about these people who cross our paths every day, but they're still very much like those of us who pass them by without so much as a glance. We have no idea who they are, or how they came to be where they are now. And even when there's nothing obvious we can do to assist, the very least we can offer is some sign of recognition.

Hello. Good morning. A smile.
It's not that hard, and it probably pays off in bigger ways than we can ever imagine.
But that's another story...

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Glamorous World of Blogging

Blogging looks like a great way to make a living, doesn't it? You get to work when you want, where you want, wearing your jammies if you want, drinking martinis or coffee or whatever, and eating great snacks from your own kitchen. You get to take the dog out for a walk, meet friends in the middle of the day, take a vacation whenever you want to... Oh, and get paid buttloads of money for it. Right? Yeah? Really? Hmmm...

When the economy tanked and my bead business sputtered out like a 4th of July sparkler, I decided to reinvent myself as a food blogger. Positively Vegan was, and still is, my little vegan online home, while Long Way Home remains in the background as a not so secret hideout where I can talk about anything that interests me in the moment. I love PV, but there's more to life than food.

I started this blog in 2009, and Positively Vegan in 2011. I've written hundreds of posts, shared enough recipes to fill a cookbook, written an online cookbook and most recently, self published a printed sauce book. I created and self published a coloring book, and have done all the other things that tie it all together.

I work at home, when I want, usually in real clothes because that makes me feel more valid, and drinking lots of Earl Grey tea all day. I get good feedback, and those who like me are very encouraging. I'm often contacted by companies and authors, asking me to review their products and books. I've been approached by a book publisher. I get invited to cover fun events. I'm kind of well known. I'm doing the work, and I love it. And I know I'm good at it. But still, I'm nowhere near making a living at this.

I read all the stuff from the successful bloggers who want to tell the rest of the world how to do it. I read the free stuff that is. When it gets to the stuff I have to pay for, I'm done, because I already know that's how they're making their money. They're selling something. Yay! Brilliant! I've paid more than a few of them to share the secrets of the blogging universe, and not one has been at all helpful. As with most other things, I think I have to figure this shit out for myself.

Know what keeps me going most? Well two things, I guess. One is the feeling that I'm so close to getting it all worked out and making it a financial success that it would be stupid to stop now, after all this time and all this work. Yeah, maybe I should bag it and go get a real job. But know what? I'm too old and capable and entrepreneurial to work for someone else. They know it, and so do I.

As an experiment recently, I applied for a job as a cashier at the Good Will Store. I walked in and handed my resume to the manager, who took one look at it, then at me, and dismissed me instantly. He didn't say it, but I could see in his face that I was way too good for that stupid job. Maybe I just wanted to know how low I was willing to go. Thank God they wouldn't have me.

The other thing that keeps me writing is comments from my readers. I can look at stats all I want (which is very little), but knowing that a real live human reads my words and feels inspired or entertained or assisted in some way is like a lifeline connecting me to the rest of the world. I spend a lot of time alone. It's good - really good - to know someone is out there. And it doesn't happen often enough. Don't be shy please. Talk to me. I talk to myself quite enough already.

Here's my day today:

After Rick went to work, I drank tea, checked email, and poked around on Pinterest for small space decorating ideas. (We live in 571 square feet.) I washed my hair, got dried and dressed, and took Heidi out for a walk at around 11:00. She's an amazing little dog who almost never has to pee. Lucky me. After feeding Heidi (homemade dog food that I make for her every week), I revived an old pedicure with a quick soak, scrub, and trim, and dabbed-on gold glitter polish in the grown-out space between the old pink polish and my cuticle. (A lot of time saved on a home pedi, and $30 saved on a real one!)

I made a list of all the things I want to get done today. Writing for at least 30 minutes is at the top, so I made more tea, sat down to write, and an hour later, I'm still at it. (I love writing, and I still have to trick myself into getting started.) Later I'll work on a freebie project to add to the PV mailing list signup. (I see that all the cool kids offer something free in hopes of luring readers in to sign up for email updates. I've tried it both ways, freebie and no freebie, and honestly, I get about the same number of new subscribers either way. I'll try again anyway, because it's "how it's done.")

After writing this post, I'll work on my next book for a while. (I don't want to say what it is yet.) Then I'll go pick up my coat from the cleaners. Then I'll take Heidi out again, and maybe go over to Starbucks to see if the rumors of almond milk are true. Later, I'll soak and chop some kale, heat up some of the monster batch of pinto beans I made the other day, and pull it all together for a nice dinner with Rick.

I'll fold the load of whites I threw in the washer this morning. I'll look at real estate online. (We want to move.) I'll knit a little bit, while I wait for Rick to come home. I'll tell him all the things I did today, in a long and stupid list like this one, so I'll feel like I'm not a lazy waste of space. I'll have some wine, clean up the kitchen, watch a movie and knit some more.

I'll chat with my sweetie. He likes me even when I'm not making money. And behind the chitchat, my brain will be going a hundred miles an hour, trying to figure out what else I can do to make this thing work. I love my job. I want to get paid. And at the end of the day, I'll go to bed, with a new list in my head for tomorrow.

It's just too soon to give up.