Nature writing with my students

By Neva Knott

Prompt: The image of an owl soaring through the night.

I love the darkness and the damp wonder of fall in the Pacific NW–it’s a time of secrets, not those we fear to tell but a time nature reveals her secrets in the details of changing color. Soft grays of dawn unfold to misty mornings that eventually dry and the crayon blue sky of October carries the day to the evening. In the evening, the day birds in the holly tree near my house stop, suddenly. The sky fades back to grey and the temperature drops as the dogs andI take our last walk before dark. Even down town, with the city’s lights ablaze, a fall night is deep and solid and black.

This is the time of deer and coyote and owls. To see an owl in the urban wilderness is a rare gift. I have known this secret only once, in another Pacific NW night. December, in Portland, and that owl found refuge from the snow storm on the branch outside my window. I found him there, feathers aflutter and neck swiveling, leaning toward my secrets as I considered his.

Walking…

By Neva Knott

That one day, the day after a series of grueling migraines, I yearned toward water. We left the apartment, Ted and I. It was a Sunday, just a few weeks ago. A soft hint of rain fell from the sky as we turned the bend at the corner of the state patrol building off 12th and onto Columbia, the street we’d beeline down to the marina. We walked, all the way to the point. It was low tide and I stood, calm, and in synesthesia, taking in the landscape.

As we headed back, it began to rain. We were just down town, right by the apartments a couple of friends lived in in college. At first a drizzle and then a down pour, and by the time we got a block from the apartment, Ted was pulling to hide under trees.

I got my water that Sunday. In Hawaii, a cleansing rain is called a meele meele rain. On our route, we’d come to the southern most reach of the Salish Sea, had walked through puddles and felt the Hawaiian spirts fall from the sky. As we crossed the rail tracks below Jefferson, I notices the horsetail plants and knew there’d once been water there, too.

The week before, again on a post-migraine day, we walked far on a different route, west from the apartment and toward the capitol grounds. I couldn’t think in words that day. I wanted to take photographs, to put my mind on its other channel, so our walk was slow.

Often, daily mostly, we walk past my grandparents’ church; it’s just a few blocks up from the apartment.

Today, though, I don’t know where to walk. I stood outside with Ted and thought, I just want to walk at home; when walking in Olympia, I glimpse and feel my familial history, but not my personal history. Today, I want to walk somewhere deeply familiar, in a place that holds my history and has been solace throughout time. Along the Columbia river, in Forest Park, across the Burnside bridge and on the esplanade along the Willamette, at Little Crater Lake on that section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I love, among the trees that make Ted look so small.

Or maybe I just want to walk my path.

The email came on Friday; low enrollments, cutting classes, undetermined forecast for fall.

Ten years ago, the announcement came in a Friday faculty meeting; budget cuts, next year doesn’t look good, we’ll try to save jobs, and they did–for a year, and then another faculty meeting, and then the day our principal came to each of us, and the look on his face made me understand just how hard it was for him to tell me I didn’t have a job next year.

And just about 10 years before that, April, and the principal explains that she is going to try to keep me in the position, but since I am not yet permanent, I could get bumped, and my hiring round doesn’t start until August. The next year, same thing…but that year they wrote the job description so it only fit my experience.

And before I was in those April-wait-to-know-if-you’re-cut to August-you-made-it-through rounds, I was a new graduate of my teaching program and there were no jobs. It was the year Oregon passed the infamous Measure 5, meant to fix school funding, but it did the opposite. Our professors had talked to us about hiring cycles, and had admitted that the current outlook was bleak.

So the year I graduated with my teaching degree, I was 34, and there were two jobs in Oregon. One person in my cohort took the one hella way out in who knows where, Oregon. The other was in Astoria, which was crack alley back then–no way. So I kept bartending. I did the pub-and-sub circuit, and then got a short term sub gig, and then they cut the position. And I slung some more beer and got up to the 5 AM sub calls and got another short term sub gig and the position was again dissolved.

I decided in the second grade that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I wrote out my goals when I turned 22: teach at a small college like Evergreen; write and photograph alongside teaching; money to come through investments (the buffer against my mom’s constant warning that teachers don’t make enough money); buy a barn and remodel it into a house (it was a thing in the 1980s when I wrote the list); have a small, self-sustaining farm.

I’m 25 years into teaching. I have four college degrees. I’m good at what I do–really good at it. People say, you could do something else, and their sentiments echo my mantra during the recession, saying time and time again that my whole career had been budget cuts and I was going to try something else. But after putting myself through two Master’s programs and sending hundreds of applications to job postings in my purported new field, a stint back to pub-ing, a stretch of time on unemployment, the only job offer I got was as adjunct faculty. I was happy to have it, even though part time, because it was a step into teaching college; I was finally achieving the top goal on my list.

But last Friday, the email came.

I don’t want to stop doing this work even though I am painfully under-employed at my current job; it is the walk I want to walk.

If COVID does to me what the recession did professionally and financially, I don’t know. I won’t know where to walk.

A robin, a church, a garden

By Neva Knott

March 15.

Yesterday, Saturday, we awoke to snow. Light flurries, swirling but not sticking. Dry snow and a cold wind coming up off the low end of the Salish Sea. Ted and I walked for an hour, through our neighborhood, up toward Trinity. A few people were cleaning brush at the church grounds and I greeted them. I am drawn to that place, Trinity Lutheran Church. I wanted to tell them I was baptized there, that it was my grandparents’ church, that everyone in my Cooper bloodline has walked up those steps and crossed the threshold into that church.

But, I didn’t. I kept my secret and we walked on to the field behind the school.

The snow kept falling. I let Ted loose of his leash and he ran quickly and was out of sight. Once I had my eye on him I paused to take a picture of the sign in the winter garden:

I stood and pondered; this garden embodies a life I’d like to live. The sign took me back to a college photo project I’d titled “Wisdom Comes from Watching Nature.” Just this morning, I’d been talking with my sister, restating my belief that we will all need to grow our own food in twenty years; we will need that level of self-reliance.

This garden, a visceral truth I feel walking past the church.

We walked on, traversing the school yard as the snow continued to swirl around us, melting before it landed on the grass. The robins were out. I counted at least twenty of them, moving in an arc, keeping forward of our approach, spanning out across the field to peck and forage.

March to April.

We walk past the church and to the school each day now, with the world shut down. No one is ever there, in the quiet and peace. On Sundays it’s sad to see the church closed and empty. On one of those holy days, I stood for a moment and let my mind recede into memories there of grandma in her Sunday church coat and gloves, and Grandpa–always a bit impatient as he pulled the car out of the garage. It was raining that day; nonetheless, I felt their love:

On another rainy day, and another, I find worms on the sidewalks. I pick up each one and return it to the grass, a habit I’ve since childhood. I think of the robins and of the circle of life.

April 21.

Today, as we made our way to Trinity and the garden and the school, the trees snowed, covering the ground with a flurry of cherry blossoms, pink and delicate. A man has been working in the garden; I’ve seen him I time or two, silent and solitary, dedicated. He does not look up as we pass by. Today I notice he’s left the door to the greenhouse open. Last year’s kale is shoulder high and going to flower.

The blossoms continue to fall and I look up, past the roof of the greenhouse and to the top of an apple tree in the garden. A robin perches there, red breasted, proud. And then, hearing birdsong from across the field, flies up to the top of a spruce and sits, watchful, on high.

April 22.

This evening, as we made our way, I found a cracked robin’s egg on the sidewalk. Blue and hatched. I found a robin’s egg in this same place last spring.

I remembered, and I hope.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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 that 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is my passion worth an hour a day?

By Neva Knott

My life has been a frazzled mess for a couple of years. Or five years, to be specific. Or the last decade since I made a huge career move not knowing the recession was coming and having not yet totally gotten back to full-time, professional employment. Or for the last twelve years since Adam died. He’s not the only one… my mom died in 2012 and left a messy house and decades worth of crap for me to deal with, and then my lover–the man I’d fallen in love with in 1984 and just recently entered a relationship with–was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2016. The glue that has been holding my life together is a toxic concoction of loss, grief, and despair.

Yet I believe in the future. I believe in positivity, and I struggle to put my belief in myself into action. In this messy timespan, I have completed two Master’s degrees, both of which I cherish. I finally got hired to teach at a college–my life-long dream. I keep adding amazing people to my life, and I have reconnected with long-lost, important friends and family members. I have learned to ask for help, I have learned a lot about my deeper, private self. There have been moments of extreme beauty in between all the big failings.

All of this is the backdrop for this hour this morning. A friend asked me yesterday, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I replied, “I don’t know… just home stuff I guess until I come to work. I keep trying to find time to write, but I don’t.” He said, “You just have to do it. Every day. One hour a day.” As an English teacher, I’ve told students that so many times. I’ve told myself that so many times. I’ve made that hour a day my practice so many times–when I feel settled, and until some next life tsunami knocks me ass over tea kettle. I told my friend that I’d read somewhere that no one made time for Wallace Stegner to write. Stegner was prolific in both fiction and non-fiction, founded the creative writing program at Stanford, taught full time for decades. And I’m sure he had his messy timespans; don’t we all?

So what do I want to write about today, in this hour?

1. I returned from Iceland on Thursday. A short trip, just four days, to celebrate my birthday. I met my aunt & two of my uncles there. We drove the southern coast, saw a varied and mesmerizing volcanic landscape–some of it barren, some of it lush. In Reykjavic, the urban forestry caught my eye. Here at home in Portland, Oregon, I volunteer for Friends of Trees, an organization that works to grow the urban tree canopy of our city. (I’ve written extensively about the science-y aspects of the program on my other blog, The Ecotone Exchange). Iceland is an un-forested country. What timber was originally there was cut for human settlement. The patterns of planting in Reykajavic are thoughtfully done. Stands or copses of a variety of species, a different pattern that the usual city streets lined with mono-species planted more for ornamentation than what trees have to offer. Along the countryside I noticed that farmers had surrounded their property with similar planting, stands of trees that can grow to accommodate lumber needs.

2. When I think of trees and air travel, and all of the natural disasters going on right now, I think of climate change. Ok, truth be told, I am constantly thinking of climate change. Not only do I think about it, I evaluate everything I do in relationship to it. Climate change is directly related to–caused by–human activity. Flying is a huge negative, and I am one who has been flying to travel my whole life. Iceland is my only plane trip this year, and I know soon I should stop flying all together.

When I travel, I practice what I call “trash-less travel,” (also the title of a post on The Ecotone Exchange). I refuse as many single-use plastic items as I can. I take a fork and spoon in my cosmetic bag, I carry a reusable drink bottle–that I used on this trip for in-flight wine, coffee, water, and tea. During my Iceland trip, I only wasted one plastic plate at the airport–I thought the food I ordered was going to come in a paper box like the display–and one plastic smoothy cup/lid/straw. Everything adds up.

3. The third thing on my mind this morning is why it is so hard to find this hour each and every day for my passion (s)–writing and photography. Simply, I get distracted. By the strong and ugly emotions that I awake to in my mess of a life, by the stress of not feeling settled, by the story I tell myself that I have to write something good and clear and meaningful, and sometimes I am distracted by sheer exhaustion. These are all bad habits, signaling that I don’t put myself or what I know to be my meaningful work as a priority in my life. I’m glad my friend gave me such a good reminder yesterday. Today, I put words and images on this page.

 

And so this is Christmas…

firstchristmassaipan1969

My sister and me (I’m in yellow), our first Christmas living abroad, 1969.

By Neva Knott

2016 has been a fucked up year yet as I say that I wonder what year in recent memory hasn’t been for me? This year began with our dear friend Jimmy Boyer dying, on January 21. I’d tried to reach him over the holidays and on New Year’s. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong until I saw the announcement of his death on Facebook, and woke Andrew to tell him. Less than two months later, Andrew died. Just days before, he’d told me he was done, and I asked him if he meant done with a particular procedure at the hospital or done like he wanted to go see Jimmy. He said he wanted to go see Jimmy now. On March 8, the love of my life and best friend to many, the man who changed my life thirty years ago, died. In the mix I didn’t work for 18 months after my return to Portland, firstly because it quickly became apparent that Andrew needed a lot of help with his health issues and then because I just couldn’t, after losing him. And I’m not rich, and Portland is hella expensive now.

Out of the ashes, good has come into my life. I had the opportunity to camp on Mt. Hood this summer, a ritual that had slipped out of my life the last few. I have reacquainted with persons I hold dear here in the town I love, the place I’ve called home since I was 18. I’ve reconnected, through Andrew, with the community that was my world until I gave up on my fluid, creative lifestyle and joined adult professional life–note to self: huge mistake. In that mix, I’ve met many people who were, at first, nice to me because I was Andrew Loomis’s “new” girlfriend; then, they got to know me and I have several important new friendships. I had felt alone for several years, and now I don’t.

I finally gave up on teaching, a career I think gave up on me long ago. It is an odd thing to know you are good at something and simultaneously feel like a round peg in a square hole, day in and day out. I strove my whole novice adulthood to not sell out, yet I did, largely out of fear. I am afraid to fail, and given the family I am from–grandparents and a father who survived the Great Depression–I am afraid to be poor.

Once again this year my family has come together in strength and quirky little similarities that make Knotts Knotts and Coopers Coopers, and we’ve fallen apart and suffered losses. It seems to be our constant state of being.

Christmas started to die for me in 1977, the year my dad got sick with cancer at Thanksgiving, and was given only a few months to live. Still, we bought him presents–items on his list like work gloves and a chainsaw. We knew, as we wrapped them that he’d likely not make it a month more. He opened them with the same pretense, and on January 26th was gone.

Christmas really died for me in 1997, which is the last year I remember my grandmother Hazel alive and there, opening presents with us in the gift exchange fray at my mom’s. She’d wanted a doll that year, for some reason…grandma wanted a doll. She unwrapped it, and held it in her lap, and just looked out at the scramble and the mess and the piles of stuff and wrapping paper and the kids going crazy and hearing all the bursts of “look what I got,” and turned to me and said, “Neva, I wonder if any of them remember what this day is about.” I was raised Lutheran, my grandparents steadfast church goers, and kind people. I loved the candle light ceremony with them, and went to it at their church on Christmas Eve 2012, the first year I lived in Olympia after mom died. I felt my grandfather there with me, and saw my mom’s cousin a few rows over.

Now, Christmas is a day that I spend with my sister and her family. It’s nice that we have this one time in the year when we all get together, exchange gifts, laugh, eat, have drinks, and this year (it’s legal now and the kids are grown) smoked a few rounds of pot. Yesterday, we went to lunch at my tavern, opened gifts, then we played Monopoly, and I, the family vegan, made a prime rib and my sister and I got in a fight right before dinner because the meat wasn’t done and everything else was getting cold and she kept trying to make gravy out of Au Jus package mix and I didn’t have any flour for thickener because I am gluten free and we each thought the other was acting like neurotic mom, who was always a bit perfectionistic about holiday meals. Later, we watched TV, all of us crammed together on the couch and my nephews on the floor.

And so this is Christmas, another year older, what have you done (to quote John Lennon)?

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss Andrew. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get pissed at cancer and addiction and our lost time. A day doesn’t go by without some level of an anxiety attack, PTSD episode, or adrenal fatigue kicking my ass. But days do go by and I am alive and I laugh and joke and smile and strive. I do not have survivor’s guilt, only sorrow.

The big sea change in my personal life episode 2016 is that I let go of the biggest thing in my life that wasn’t working and that I held onto of some sort of fear-based logic, the thing that was taking up space in a way that disallowed me to move forward. I quit teaching, a career that never worked for me except for my two years teaching at a community college. My license expired on my birthday in September and I didn’t renew it. That same day, the day I realized I’d forgotten to send in the paperwork and simultaneously said fuck it, the bar I now own came for sale.

In 2016, I realized a dream come true. I’ve been saving and fantasizing and planning to buy my own business since I was 15. On Andrew’s birthday, I signed papers and became that business owner. I own a bar–four college degrees and a shit-ton of life-questioning and anguish later, I own a bar.

In 2016, I have survived yet another big loss, but because of it I have added many to my life, members of my tribe, new close friends, I’ve deepened my relationship with old friends, I’ve reconnected with some I thought were long-lost, and I have continued to live with a little help from my friends who’ve always been there for me.

My BFF Jimmy asked me a couple of years ago, “What’s important to you?” I said, people–my friends. He replied, “That’s obvious.” I hope it is, and that you all know how much you mean in my life.

Most importantly in 2016, I have come home. After feeling displaced for a decade, Portland is once again, firmly, happily, my home.