I understand the Narrator in Fight Club so much better now that I’m in my mid 30s living in Portland. I am not free.
When I finished the personal hell (starting with a false rape accusation by the president of the student body in front of my entire fraternity one week after I moved in and the weekend before school) that was Washington State University in 2003, I had a few goals:
1. Go to graduate school, get an advanced degree.
2. Write a novel.
3. Move to a city and live in a modern apartment with a coffee shop on the ground floor.
13 years after leaving the hayfields of the Palouse, I’m about six hours away from there. Goal #1 was attempted, failed, re-tried, blocked, and given up on — but not before saddling me with $60k more debt for a degree that would have been worthless had I bothered to finish it. Okay, so maybe that was a mistake, but at least I have other goals, right?
Goal #2 has been in the works since 2009, when I wrote 55k words worth of short stories based on recollections from my life. The manuscript has since been edited professionally and is now on a fourth rewrite. I’m no closer to publishing it since I moved to Portland over three years ago. So…not accomplished, but I haven’t given up on it.
Goal #3 was, in hindsight, should have been the easiest of the three and fraught with the fewest challenges or obstacles. I mean, besides finding a job that will pay for it, living in a nice apartment with a nearby coffee shop is pretty simple. When I first saw Burnside26 during our apartment tours, its aesthetic fit in perfectly with my dream — credit contact/kontakt magazine for this one — and I finally, FINALLY had an achievement I could show off that I was proud of.
Then came the backlash. Starting with a stupid marketing video and ending with me contemplating suicide (only to have this cycle repeat itself a few months later after an ill-advised tweet was repackaged as a direct threat and I was publicly shamed by the digital cycling advocates), goal #3 has been the worst of them all.
Sure, most people would probably say this is partly my fault. I should have predicted people would lash out at me for asking not to be blamed for rising housing prices. I should have assumed native Portlanders were a desperate people, “left out” of a new economy that valued education over physical labor. I should have understood that even joking about hitting a cyclist was a near-unforgivable crime. I shoulda, I coulda, I woulda…
But today, after a month away from Facebook and Twitter, I realize it was me who was mistaken here. I underestimated the toll popularity would take on Portland, I had too much faith in people’s ability to cope, and I was in no way prepared for the new leftist shaming parade. I had it coming, I was told, as I was a public figure — meaning slander/libel is more difficult to prove, allowing any failed Portland jackass to take as many shots at me as they wanted to without any sort of repercussions.
When I complained, I was called a pussy or blamed. If I responded, I was a bully. Never, ever have I felt so unwelcome in a place I thought was my home. Never, in any place I’ve ever lived, have I been directly told to die, leave, or some combination of the two. Hell, even Portland Mercury, a competitor of Willamette Week that I freelance with, has published one column and two articles ridiculing my choices. Not exactly the sort of city I’m looking forward to growing old with.
I made a mistake moving to Portland, and save for a few shining beacons — legal cannabis, its community (except for a former Oregon’s Finest manager who called WW and asked that I be “fired” because of my cyclist tweet), and me writing about it are a big one — I’m having a hard time loving anything about this place.
I don’t like who I am here, but I’m not sure how yet to deal with it.
I hope that happens soon.
(Also, Portland is not a progressive, accepting city. It’s a town filled with extremists from every interest who’ve forced others to accommodate them. Also, this place is a fuckton more racist than even rural AZ.)