The Writing Hour: Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s

By Neva Knott

First, a little writing process/challenge overview. A few days ago, I started this category of The Writing Hour because I’d grumbled to a friend I wasn’t getting any writing done…and he reminded me, just do it for an hour a day. Knowing he was/is right, I took up the challenge. Diligently, the first two days, making blog posts, too. The third day I wrote in my notebook while waiting to meet a friend for lunch, then it all devolved… the only writing I’ve done the past few days is professional, or email. Writing, still, but not getting my practice down on paper, not telling the stories of my life. So I took a hard look at my distractions and use of time. Like everything I set aside, I’ve been not writing these past few days because I’m tired, therefore “don’t feel like it.” What a bad habit… during graduate school I wrote all the time when I was tired and didn’t feel like it, and found it to be much like what my swim coach always said–getting in the pool is the hardest part of the work-out.

Onward…

Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I went there just now while waiting to meet Tom for lunch…for lunch at a place I ate almost daily when I worked at said Nordstrom, Aztec Taqueria on 10th, across from the parking garage.

Every time I ride up the store escalator I think of all the time I spent working there, at downtown Nordstrom… of how it was a job I loved. As I disembark the escalator and walk through my old department–Brass Plum–I think, the best summer of my life was spent working there and living my carefree life. I had a lifestyle life then. Some of you will know what I mean–a lifestyle life is what we now see blogged about by mostly millennials who have time to travel and write about it, time to do something other than start a career and settle down. During the era of my lifestyle life living, there was no internet, no cell phones to use for quick pics, no blogs.

My lifestyle life wasn’t much focused on travel. I’d done that extensively as a child, so any trip I took during that time was a roadtrip to see parts of the American landscape, or simply to run around the great wilderness of Oregon. Rather, my lifestyle life consisted of learning my creativity, hanging out in the music/art scene, and spending days off running with friends. I was fresh out of college, learning to write and developing my eye as a photographer.

As I sit writing this, I can’t think of any images to post… most of my photo work from that time was practice, and is likely to be found only in the deep recesses of my basement.

My lifestyle life felt whole, which is different than happy, and exists on a much grander scale. I had a steady and secure job that I enjoyed, and friendships amongst my coworkers. I had a college degree, finally, and new eyes on the world because of it. I had a fun, fast circle of friends that I’d made in my early twenties, and there was always something going on. I had a sweet little studio apartment. All of this sealed with hopeful optimism and direction that felt like purpose.

I’m riding down the Nordstrom escalator now, almost time for my lunch date. This place does always make me feel better, like Tiffany’s for Audrey Hepburn. In those days I felt a little like Holly Golightly, and a little like LulaMae…I was comfortable in my skin as a city girl with a plan and a career and a fancy-free life, and a little like I’d escaped something more constraining through the choices I’d made and was making for my future.

As I disembark the escalator, I ponder…what would my life have been like if I’d stayed there, career, full time?

I left Nordstrom when I started publishing Plazm magazine, and when I started to think that a less consumeristic life was a good thing. In that mix, it was also time to move myself toward my big goal of becoming a teacher, so I took my first bartending job, a little less serious, a little more flexible.

I still love fashion, though.

As I walk outside, up toward the taqueria, past Pederson’s Quick Mart–it’s been there this whole many decades… the ghosts begin to whisper. Jim. He worked at the record store around the corner on Taylor, I don’t remember its name. I’d walk up and visit him on my lunch hour, and we’d hang out at Virginia Cafe in the evenings. The following summer I went to LA to visit after he’d moved there, there also working in a record store. He died a bit after that, back in Portland, found dead on the Galleria bathroom floor–a downtown mall just a block away from Nordstrom–with a needle in his arm. I always feel cold when I imagine him lying there. He was such a sweet, sweet guy, always nice and caring; I don’t know what went wrong in his life, but today I say Hey Jim as I walk down the block.

The other ghosts are more friendships that became elusive as I moved my life forward. Tammy and Jan, the other two musketeers of Friday and Saturday nights, dancing, laughing, slopping souvlakia sauce on our cowboy boots at Taki’s at the end of the night. They were also members of the downtown work-a-day circuit. We all worked on that few-block radius hub and would circulate through each other’s days on breaks and meet for lunch, and we’d all wind up at VC at the end of the day.

There were other members of our crew–the other Jim, Andrew of course, Rodney, Alan, Barbara, and a cast of VC regulars whose names I’ve forgotten or possibly never knew. That summer, 1990, we had a good summer. Work, music, river trips, running around the city late night. We had a good summer, a good youth.

As I walk the final block to today’s lunch,   I see in my mind’s eye, the patterned brick of those downtown streets, and see the green curtains on the VC windows that only allowed passers-by to see the tops of patrons’ heads, I see the wood paneled booths, and the one round table by the brass rails of the bar where we’d all gather. I see the shimmer of the water at Sauvie’s Island, and the dark black of Satyricon, the punk club where we’d end up every night.

And I think, what’s a lifestyle life look like now?

For today, I am content to feel the comfort of my Tiffany’s, and to have lunch with a dear friend.

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The Daily Hour: a jumble of topics–medical insurance, friends, food

By Neva Knott

I’m writing at night for this hour. I’m tired today, keep waking up too early–at 7:30 AM, and I work as a bartender. By the time I get to the restaurant, I’ve put in a full day–sometimes, work administrative stuff, sometimes walking the dog, doing yoga, cleaning the house, grocery shopping. I’m tired tonight because we had an event at work last night.

Today was one of those jumbled mind days, a day I pondered much, but none of it wants to fall into words on a page.

Source Unknown

First little topic: I went to the doctor via my new insurance plan. This constant changing of doctors and systems and needing referrals for all the aspects of care and the go here and go there for different parts of care is just exhausting. No, I don’t want to see this specialist or that specialist…I want to see my old doctor, but your insurance company told me I had to establish care with you and then get a referral. In short, I don’t want you to be my doctor now, I want my doctor to still be my doctor. I am a person who has had great success with naturopaths and chiropractors and acupuncturists and massage therapists rather than with big-medical-complex types. And as we all know, the affordable care act is not affordable.

Second topic: I wanted some advice about my business, so over the weekend I texted a friend who lives on the other side of the country and is a career restauranteur. He is a friend I cherish–we met 17 years ago, have hardly spent time together in person given the bi-coastal thing, but feel a deep connection. He talked with me logically about the particulars of the situation, and then told me, “No matter what you decide, it will not change who you are at the core. You’ve dealt with other hard situations before fearlessly, you will do that again now.” I get by with a little help from my friends.

After speaking with him, another close friend called to tell me how her new job is going. She is having an experience similar to one I’ve had when changing schools or school districts as a teacher. Change is hard, and talking with her helped me put that old situation of mine into a clearer perspective, and, I think I was able to help her frame her situation a bit, too. We all get by with a little help from our friends. Thankfully.

And then there is food… on the large scale, I am disappointed in Amazon taking over Whole Foods–because A treats employees horribly, destroys small businesses (I know WF is not a small business), and completely disregards the impact of sourcing goods. WF, though it has become much more corporate/capitalistic than it was in its early (idealistic) days, until now has treated employees well, worked to source responsibly, and has programs within the supply chain that benefit humans and the environment. I read yesterday that the reasons A bought WF are 1. data so they can sell more to us 2. to step up their market share in the grocery game. So, a company that has been an example for following the Triple P (people, planet, and profits) business model was just swallowed by a company that espouses the One P model. Uhg.

On the small scale, I spent the evening, in between customers, discussing new menu options with my chef. We want fresh, local, sustainably sourced food that we can execute as closely to Zero Waste as possible. We want to develop relationships with local purveyors.

These issues–sourcing (of medical care and of food), social and environmental justice, and relationships are the stuff.

The Daily Writing Hour: Portland, not Portlandia

By Neva Knott

Two days ago, a friend reminded me to write for an hour a day…this is what I have to say today…

Last night, we hosted a band, The Screamin’ Geezers, at my bar. Two of the members fronted long-ago-known Portland punk bands, The Confidentials and Sado-Nation (early 1980s). These bands played the early punk clubs here, 13th Precinct and then Satyricon, and helped establish the city’s still-burgeoning music scene. So the bar was filled with 50-somethings, all familiar, all the grown-up version of what I jokingly told my bartender was my “misspent youth.” It wasn’t, though…those years opened my creativity and gave me voice.

Club Satyricon

(So yesterday in my post I mentioned being an English teacher, but in the last few years, post 2008 recession, I’ve worked off and on as a bartender. In 2015, I quit my job teaching college to be with and after the cancer diagnosis take care of my partner, Andrew. After his death, I returned to bartending, actually buying my own bar, Black Dog Lounge).

When I first moved to Portland in 1980, I was afraid of the smells and bustle of the city, of the street people and beggars and crime. The one corner on Third and Burnside where the hookers stood. When we’d go down town to Saturday Market or out to dinner, I’d cling to my boyfriend’s arm, afraid that I would be accosted. I don’t know why. It wasn’t as if I’d never been in a gritty city: Dehli, London, Bangkok, Saigon. But for some reason, Portland made me afraid.

In the early 80s, I moved in from the suburbs and I began to love the city. I learned the quadrants the make up its organizational pattern, and lived in one easy to know. I loved the old man bars and the funky drugstore and the old groceries. There were fewer coffee shops then, but there was one just down the hill from my Vista apartment on 23rd, and I learned to drink espresso there. I became adept at city life.

As I began to know the city, I began to meet people in the music scene, some of them the same people who played and danced at my bar last night. There’s talk often of Satyricon closing, of our city changing, of our youth disappearing into age, but what I find as the subtext of those mutterings is the voice and heartbeat of community, of creativity, the rhythm and strum of the meaning in life.

There was a time I hated Portland, sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. It was as if a switch flipped, and one day I just had to get out. I think my social circle had fallen apart. I think that was about the time when hipsters as we now call them flooded in. I know it was the period when all of a sudden traffic was bad, things were expensive, and people started to seem rude. Recently, I began to reconnect with friends from my early, naive, frightened-yet-inquisitive days there, long ago in the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, and began to love my city once again.

Sometimes I think of that Neil Young song, “Helpless.” The line about “all my changes were there,” resonates. All of my changes have been in Portland. I found my adulthood here, I continue to find myself here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collage of life…saving cards and reading them years later

By Neva Knott

I’ve been going through those boxes… you know, the boxes stuffed in a closet while moving or while reallocating space in your home. Today I found my basket of cards, overflowing and priceless. I picked it up and thought, do I still want these? Instead of making a snap decision, I sat down on my bed and read each card–its cover and the personal inscription.

The basket of cards I've saved over the past 10 years.

The basket of cards I’ve saved over the past 10 years.

Then I decided to use William Burroughs’s cut-up method, which allows for random order in arrangement of words–usually, the result is intriguing and somehow spot-on. I typed the key line inscribed in each card, determined to come up with a free-form poem.

Here’s my excerpted version:

I just love the blanket you gave Cora. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I LOVE the camera. Thank you so much for the notebook, I love it. Our room looks out over a snorkel cove and I am sitting on the balcony listening to Sophie read her Greek homework to the sound of the surf. You’ve weathered such a storm the last two years as gracefully as one could hope for–crying jags in Target notwithstanding.

You will always be in my heart.

I cherish our friendship–don’t know what I would have done without you in my life all of these years. I’m glad you moved back and look forward to spending more time with you. We love you and will always be by your side. A book should be arriving from Amazon soon. You are such a sweetheart and it’s been a pleasure working with you and getting to know you.

Wishing you strength in this difficult time. All the very best all the time on your journey. We’re here if you need us. There’s nothing like a home…especially a first one. Congratulations, you’re a grown up now. I got you a thank you card for your birthday–the picture reminded me of you.

We’ve come a long way from being a bunch of drunk kids to being a bunch of drunk adults. Thank you for the beautiful ornament and years of wonderful friendship.

I love you–Mom.

I am so glad you came home–you are my friend, cheerleader, adopted sister. It is better to stride with integrity as you’ve done. You are a fabulous, vibrant artist and I appreciate all that you do to brighten the world. Finally watched Gatsby and was thinking of you.

Free like a butterfly to visit.

Thank you for being an amazing friend who is kind, thoughtful, generous, and always up for my crazy ideas. Thank you so much for coming to teach girls’ self defense. Thanks for helping me set up my website and showing me those cool sites. My blog makes me very happy…thanks for helping me with it.

A special thanks for reading so beautifully the sensual excerpt from the Song of Songs at our wedding ceremony. Thank you Neva and Josh for the Wimpy Kid book. I wrote lots of stuff in it. Words can never really express the incredible gratitude I have for your friendship.

We can have a blast, and we can also dig into the shit and make shit-tastic lemonade.

Hope you had a good trip back and that Josh didn’t miss his portable bowl. Thank you so much for the awesome cookies. I know you don’t live in the islands anymore, but they still live in you. I miss you. We love you. The best part is having you back home. Thank you for the girls’ Valentine’s presents…Stella has worn her tights with overalls four days in a row.

You know, all of these years later, who’d have guessed we’d end up where we are if they’d seen us back then. We’ll have to go for a margarita or a piece of cake next time we see each other. I am staring at two elephants right now… I am proud of you, Neva, and you need to appreciate yourself for the warrior you are. Love getting little snippets from you on Facebook. It’s been so nice to be able to reconnect with you.

Love you much, my wonderful Seastar.

Thanks so much for the camel.

I’m a bit bashful about posting some of these comments; seen here they seem self-congratulatory. But that’s not what drew me to blogging about these cards…what I love about having kept them is the reminders of the depth of my relationships. Each card connects to a moment shared with others, documents the birth of a baby, the sharing of a weekend, my little cousin growing up, my friend’s son advancing from signing his portion of the card with a scribble to using his first-grader’s careful printing to thank me for a gift.

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Some of the comments are very personal exchanges of our co-joined lives and some are philosophical meanders. Several are hand-made Valentine’s from the children of friends. And, I received the same card twice from my mom, the cover reads, “More than anything else, I want you to be happy…”

The senders document the diversity of the people in my life: my seventh grade best friend from our time living in Thailand; my high school boyfriend and his wife; my eighth grade best friend and her “little” brother; my cousins, aunts, uncles; my sisters and their families; college friends; colleagues who became friends; mentors; friends gathered on my path of life; children of friends and family; intimate notes from lovers; seasonal cards from my mom.

Sometimes, the card’s text IS the message:

Life is like a roller coaster. It goes up and down, makes you scream, and costs a lot to ride.

It’s your birthday!!! I got you a card!!!

Now listen here…you don’t stay young by playin’ by the rules. You gotta party outside the lines, stir up a little trouble. Know what I’m sayin’? Now get out there and make me proud.

To stay young, the doctor says exercise and eat the right foods. What? I thought he said accessorize and buy nice shoes!

With the right heels and some junk in the trunk, you’ve got a ticket to ride!

I also love the imagery, color, and graphics of these cards. Sometimes, the medium IS the message:

Another gem in the mix was the collection of cards my mom sent to me on behalf of my dogs, cards expressing Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday, and one telling doggy Josh to take me out to lunch with the enclosed check, and intimating that he could bring some of his friends, too.

I don’t know why I began saving cards. I do know each card reminds me that, even in my toughest times, I am loved and appreciated and never alone. For all the sentimental reasons enveloped in each card, I will continue to fill my little basket.

 

 

 

Blog Post No. 1—Alabama Chanin, Textile Arts, Oral Tradition, and Celebrating the Everyday…

April 14, 2010
By Neva Knott

I.
I am a denizen of Powell’s Books. Last night, I attended the lecture about the vintage quilts hanging on the gallery wall there, given by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, a sustainable design firm.

In the hour that Chanin spoke, she warmed my heart with the reminder of the rich traditions we have in America, and that we can hold on to them when we practice sustainability, which is what my grandparents would have called “simple living.” Chanin’s presentation was so rich and deep and wandered nowhere near –isms (as in environmentalism), nor did she focus on the buzz words of social justice. But really, her work is just that: creative, historical, environmental, social justice. The words she used over and over again were “farm,” “tradition,” “cultural preservation,” “oral histories,” “generations,” and “forever.” This is the stuff of sustainability.

After a brief introduction of herself and her training and experience, Chanin state that, during a time when her job in the fashion industry required three-month stints in India, she had seen “things people should never see being done to another human–the greatest atrocities to mankind– for a garment.” Later, she commented that the fashion industry is the largest polluter on the planet.

The clothing she creates now is all done by hand. All of the cotton is 100 percent organic, grown in Texas, spun in Texas and Mississippi, and all of the garments are hand-sewn by quilters in Alabama and surrounding Southern states. Alabama Chanin is a zero waste business.

When I asked her about environmental issues, Chanin replied that she thinks of sustainability in terms of sustenance: food, shelter, clothing. If we can change how we get done these three things, we’ll meet [environmental obligations].

Chanin can tell you who made your garment, on what day, how long it took, where the raw material was grown, and a bit about the life and history of the woman who put needle to fiber.

In her work, Chanin has made a commitment to community and tradition, first showing up in a documentary film, Stitch, then as collected oral histories, in which she aims to “embrace all of it that is the history of the South, to sustain tradition, and to document beauty.” In her anecdote about the quilts on the wall at Powell’s she explained that, after making the film, quilts began showing up on her doorstep, like squash in the summer. These are “garbage quilts,” meaning they would have been used to cover stored furniture in the barn, or to lay upon while under a car changing the oil.

Chanin, in her return to Alabama from the fashion epicenter of NYC, found a community “decimated by NAFTA.” She found women who had worked their whole lives as proud, skilled factory workers. She contracted them. Today they produce hand-stitched, American-made garments that are, in the fashion world, considered couture. As she said, “It can be done in America; this is part of our national security.”

At the end of the hour, Chanin read a quotation about textiles and needles as the voice of women’s history in America, and sent us home with this thought, “making is human work…”.

II.
I came home, dug out my sewing machine, and hemmed the top I’ve been meaning to hem so that I can give it to a friend because it will look better on her than on me. I thought long and hard about my own love of clothes, and the piles of them I’ve thrown away over the years. I mean piles. I thought of my grandmother, my aunt, and my mom learning how to sew on polyester, and how so many of my clothes were home-made when I was little. Of how grandma Hazel made all my Barbie’s clothes—to include a pearl colored satin dress and mink stole. Of my Grandma Neva’s magical button box that I played with on every visit to her home when I was a little girl. And I remembered the big quilting frame in my sister Gayel’s guest room, for years and years of my childhood.

III.
And then I remembered this writing workshop exercise, given by one of my Lewis and Clark professors, Gail Black, at a teaching in-service. We were to read the following poem, locate the source of meaning within the poem, and then write for awhile. What follows is what I did that day…

“My Mother Pieced Quilts”
by Teresa Paloma Acosta, 1978. Source unknown.

they were just meant as covers
in winters
as weapons
against pounding January winds

but it was just that every morning I awoke to these
October ripened canvases
passed my hand across their cloth faces
and began to wonder how you pieced
all these together
these strips of gentle communion cotton and flannel
nightgowns
wedding organdies
dime store velvets
how you shaped patterns square and oblong and round
positioned
balanced
then cemented them
with your thread
a steel needle
a thimble

how the thread darted in and out
galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in
as you did us at night
oh how you stretched and turned and re-arranged
your michigan spring faded curtain pieces
my father’s santa fe work shirt
the summer denims, the tweeds of fall

in the evening you sat at your canvas
–our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board
me lounging on your arm
and you staking out the plan:
whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the red plaid of winter-going
into-spring
whether to mix a yellow with blue and white and paint the
corpus Christi noon when my father held your hand
whether to shape a five-point star from the
somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s funeral

you were the river current
carrying the roaring notes
forming them into pictures of a little boy reclining
a swallow flying
you were the caravan master at the reins
driving your threaded needle artillery across the mosaic cloth bridges
delivering yourself in separate testimonies
oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing
into our past
into the river crossing at five
into the spinach fields
into the plainview cotton rows
into tuberculosis wards
into braids and muslin dresses
sewn hard and taut to withstand the thrashings of twenty-five years

stretched out they lay
armed/ready/shouting/celebrating

knotted with love
the quilts sing on

My response, that day, which was probably about ten years ago, and was written while I was reading Henry Miller’s, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which may have informed my tone:

Where is the source of meaning? The essence of folk art. Glorification of the useful, the sturdy. Pre-consumerism, before the Nightmare, as Henry Miller would say, people had what was necessary. No disposability. Only sturdiness, durability, and purpose. These things, the things of life, took on lives of their own or became mirrors. What a drab world it would be without decoration. Eduardo Galeano speaks of memory as the truest form of history—and in parallel to his idea, quilts become the historical document of a family’s life–thoughtful, thorough, truthful. The thoroughness of the material as it was once new, worn in celebration, sorrow, toil. The piece that is left is the significance of those moments. The reality of the fabric mirrors the reality of living and when put together, these small things become life a family has lived. Folk art always tells of life.