The Writing Hour: Happy vs. Whole

By Neva Knott

Two nights ago, a friend posted on Facebook a list entitled “Rules for my Daughter.” Number 10 struck me, stood out, stuck in my brain, has become an epiphany, “Happiness is not a permanent state. Wholeness is. Don’t confuse these.”

I hear often, in support and response to me lamenting a shift in my life, “but you weren’t happy.” I often reply, “but that’s not the point–I’m not trying to just be happy.” And in general, I am happy with my life; there has just been a lot of situation chaos in the last five years.

Wholeness is what I seek, what I have always sought. For me, wholeness is selfless in that it allows me to make a contribution and to feel fulfilled, to feel that I am working with my intellect, strengths and talents and within my boundaries of energy (I often struggle with exhaustion). Living wholeness is the expression of who I am at my core.

We all need role models and I’ve often found mine in literature, or some form of story–movies, TV shows or in the storytellers–musicians, artists, other writers. Within this context, I often ponder why I am drawn to serial TV shows in small towns: Everwood, Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, Hart of Dixie, Murder, She Wrote, or TV shows with a strong professional team: Bones, NCIS, or classics steeped in a strong sense of right and wrong: Perry Mason. Episode after episode, regardless of the show, I see wholeness come through characters that have found meaningful work and a complementary life, full of purpose, community, interpersonal relationships, and individuality.

I also think wholeness gets swallowed in the fast pace of life as we live it now.

When I think of wholeness I also think of adages left to me by my father: finish what you start, stick to your principles, put a little elbow grease into it.¬†Sometimes I go long on the elbow grease… striving past my principles, losing track of what I started. I think it’s in these moments I fail to feel whole.

Yesterday I wrote about living a lifestyle life, a type of life synonymous with a whole life.

 

 

 

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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.

Rhythm and Fade: A Night Walk in Cork, Ireland

By Neva Knott

The Ovens Bar in Cork on a Tuesday in July. Older couples, men and women who looked like they’d worked a day in their lives, sat side by side in booths, facing into the room, backs at the wall. Each he, a full pint of dark beer, each she, a half. The booths were red and the walls dark and trimmed with heavy wood. Eyes followed us as we entered. Low words marked our presence, foreigners in a common place at day’s end.

The nine of us took a table and struck up little conversations in clusters of twos and threes. The World Cup was on the screen. Two happy Irish men tuned, violin and banjo, and made ready to play music. A third man, younger, muscular, jovial, carefully unpacked his tap dancing shoes.

My eyes on it all–the projected energy of the game, the enthusiasm of the band, the constant smile of the dancing man, the contemplation of the drinking couples, the random conversations of my company, the movement at the bar. Unwilling to drink more and unable to sit still any longer, I knew I had to take my leave.

How to explain I had to go, to walk? Not wanting to appear rude or disinterested, but as I watched the soccer players run and watched the dancer click and step, I couldn’t keep my place on that barstool. It was late evening, the best time to walk. I told my friends good-bye and left the bar.

Outside, the city was aswarm. The sky was still blue. As I walked it began to pale to grey, but a brightness remained behind buildings, and the sun still projected light above the church-tops and shop roofs. I walked along Oliver Plunkett Street to the rhythm of footsteps, the beat of young couples going to the pub, of overly made-up girls going for a drink, of tourists seeking entertainment, of shop workers going home. Buildings and shapes and languages.

Two blocks up, a man with a red electric guitar. He was an aging rock star, dressed in hippy-style motley, a man whose musical generation was fading in the same way the light dropped behind the buildings. His guitar shone, the sound amplified down the side-alley and along Plunkett Street, and his voice–mellow and strong, clear and convicted, gave to the fading light the words of a ballad, “Stairway to Heaven.”

The notes from the red guitar, the familiarity of the song, and the walking beat blended into me. I wondered, what, for me, glitters with gold?

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The rhythm of the city’s dusk carried me past the closed shops, past the pubs with the noise of the World Cup spilling out of each doorway, across the bus mall, and onto Washington Avenue. Half a mile down, the avenue began to parallel the River Lee. I could see the day’s end reflected on the cool glass of the water.

The street was quieter now, though still populated. Shapes and textures of the city took my eye–the glass-scapes of modern hotels layered upon stone-built old churches. The Records and Relics shop with its mannequins in a shoot ’em up western motif. The quick-mart, still open for snacks and liquor, the forgotten milk, cigarettes, a sandwich. Row houses with iron gates, mild-mannered graffiti on cement garden walls, the flora of the college grounds. The ever-present, soft-flowing River Lee.

I felt alive and part of it all; I was walking.

 

 

 

The Frogs’ Melodies Tonight

By Neva Knott

Full moon. That majestic golden orb shines through the still-bare boughs of the maple tree just at the edge of my yard. This morning, even, while I was walking the dog at dawn, I saw it in the sky, too full yet to move on to the other side of the world. Since, it has made its rotation, and brightens my night.

My dog Josh is on the deck, listening to the frog orchestra that began a week or two ago. The field below our house floods in the spring rain, bringing these amphibians that, night after star-bright night, vocalize their passionate search for a mate and signal the change in temperature as the world shifts toward spring.

Each spring evening I’ve heard the frog-song, I’ve thought of my father, of a particular memory of him. When I was a very little girl, three or four, we lived on the shores of Chambers Lake, on the other side of town. Across the lake, coyotes roamed along the railroad tracks. They howled, and on those nights, my father would awaken me, wrap me in a blanket, and carry me to the porch to listen, to nature, to the universe. This memory has become emblematic of the legacy my father left me. He died when I was fifteen, but before passing, instilled in me a deep understanding of the connection between humans and the natural world.

In the 1970s my father worked as a zoologist for the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand, where I attended seventh grade at the International School. He gave a lecture to my class, “Man and the Natural Environment.” I have his notes, dated September 17, 1973, in front of me this evening:

The natural environment surrounds us with geography–mountain vistas, high plateaus, low hills used for farming, river valley deltas made into rice paddies, the land itself. The natural environment includes seasons and sunlight and the rainy season and typhoons and all of it culminates in soil quality.

Humans need the soil to grow food. Without good soil, there is no rice, no fruit. Work animals–yak, buffalo, horse, and elephant–live off the land, too.

Humans influence the natural environment. We make our mark by building houses, planting crops, keeping livestock, and using resources to make clothes, travel, and build cities.

Humans need nature, the good environment–clean air, clean water, green scenery, and wildlife. The bad environment is dirty air, dirty water, no green, no wildlife but rats. The bad environment is caused by too many people, ignorance, and the desire for wealth now.

The warning bells are loss of wildlife, loss of green across the landscape.

His endnote reads, “If they can’t live–can man????” On this part of the note page, it is clear my dad pressed his pencil hard into the paper.

As I read these notes I realize my dad’s schema of “Man and the Natural Environment” is the same as the ecologists’ schema today. If they can’t live–can man???? is the still the biggest environmental question.

These are the notes of the man who instilled in me my love of nature. Even though the last decade of my life has been rife with crises, I live as a dreamer who walks often along the river, listening to the muted splash and caress of water on rocks. I listen to the softly ensconced echo of the world’s sounds as the trees pull sound down and drop it into the river’s flow. I take these walks with Josh, who also lives to walk along streams, to find himself tangled in long grass along the banks, and then goes splashing with a distinct surge into the river’s tumult and flow.

Nature allows me to I survive.

I return my father’s notes to his desk. The moon illuminates my thoughts and I realize the frogs’ melodies tonight are the beating of my father’s heart as he held me close, listening to the coyotes.