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.


Moving through Nostalgia

I do the same thing with my blog that I do with all my other creative endeavors–I let it live in my head, awaiting the time that I have “time” to do it completely and with quality assurance. I call bullshit on this…

I want to blog. I have shit to say.

Today what’s on my mind is all the people I love and have loved who have touched my life. For some reason, I always get nostalgic at this time of year–I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the changing of the light. As I sit here, I think of all those I’ve left behind in Redmond/Bend–even though I felt so lonely and isolated there so often, I loved the people I did meet there. Maybe it just takes more time when one is one’s 40s, and alcohol and a band are not the only things to have in common. I just called one of my friends there, Hilda. It’s her daughter’s 16th birthday, and they were just getting ready to have cake. What a great family; I could see them in my mind’s eye in their awesome house that they build on the banks of the Deschutes. A place I’ve gone many times in friendship, and it’s always bustling and warm and comfortable. Then I did a facebook search to find two of my best friends from middle/high school, Jim and Gail. Jimmy and I have been friends forever. We lived out on this long road and he’d pick me up every morning from the bus stop when he first learned to drive. That’s how we became friends. The boy with the big hair from school would stop to give me a ride. And then he started dating Gail, who was a friend of my little sisters. The rest is history. But I haven’t seen them for years. Decades, now, I guess. How did that happen? So I sent a facebook message to Dave; he was my boyfriend in HS, the boy in the puffy jacket with the locker next to mine who, all of Freshman year would say “Neva Knott” while we were at our lockers. I didn’t know who he was until we were Sophomores. Then he was my boyfriend. He was my boyfriend during the time my dad died. His dad had died too, and it was kinda weird for us. Even though we broke up–he’s actually married to the woman he broke up with me to go out with–we’ve been tight friends for life. He is always there for me–has pulled me out of a couple of the biggest jambs I’ve ever been in–even though I don’t see him much either. The price I pay for moving away.

There’s a hot topic. Me moving away, for some reason–to live some aspect of my destiny, to live out some dream, to get away. But every time there is a cost. When I moved to Portland in 1980, I left behind so many people that really mattered, and still matter, to me. And for about four or five years we made it work. Then, when I went to college, ironically in Olympia, we lost touch. I finally was on my way and I lost some people along the way. I wasn’t just always available for fun anymore. And that’s what our group in high school was about–fun. In college, I met some great people, and have good relationships with most of them, still. None of us live close. Judy, Pete, and Panacea are in New Orleans, a place I’ve gone a few times to hang with them. And when they do get up this way, they always find me. Predicated on a long phone conversation with Pete and then a very short breakfast with Judy, both last month, I’ve booked a flight there for Thanksgiving. These are the people I ate every meal with, spent every day with, and every evening with–sometimes sleeping in my clothes on a couch or in beds with together, every day for two of the most important years in my life; how do years go by now? And the song playing as I write this is Blues Traveler’s “The Heart Brings You Back.”

Before middle school, high school, I lived abroad for awhile (with my parents, of course). I think this is the time when I really began to know what friendship means. As a 6-year-old, 7-year-old, 8-year-old while living on Saipan I know I had a best friend. I can’t remember her name. I also know that some of the neighborhood kids were sometimes mean, and I’m pretty sensitive to that–even now. I don’t think my parents did much to help me out with any such thing. When I lived in Thailand, age 11, seventh grade, I had Jessie. She and I were inseparable, and as she says it, we were friends during that time when young girls become young women. She made indelible marks on my life. She taught me who The Beatles were, how to wear make-up, and bit about self-esteem, something I didn’t have on my own at that time. Jesse lives in NYC now. I’ve been there twice, and have not made connection with her. The first time, I went at Christmas to congregate with college friends; Jess and I spoke on the phone, but we couldn’t match up schedules. The last time, I didn’t try; I don’t know why. It was a rough time for me, and I need things to be safe.

Now Dave Matthews’s “My Grace is Gone” is playing. That song gets me every time. Mostly because of Adam, but also because of some other loves that have come and gone; the boy from Albuquerque in particular. Yeah, so without getting going on a tangent, I have to say, some really amazing people have come into my life. Some have stayed, some have gone, some I’ve booted. When Adam was in the hospital, those long couple of nights, my aunt stayed at my house. Every night, people would come by to feed me, to bring wine, to sit with me until I could fall asleep. My aunt told me how impressed she was with how many great friends I have; she said anyone is lucky to have one or two good friends, and that every night, I had a table full, and more who called to check in. She said, Neva, people really care about you.

It’s not about me; all of those people amaze me as they come into my life and populate it.

Losing Adam as I did has affected how I let people into my life; the ones who were already close I hold incredibly dear. New people, well, it’s sort of hit and miss. My veneer for getting close is a little thin. I’ve always been an if you’re in, you are IN type of person, and if you are out, well, that’s that. I’m discerning, and some would say a little too trusting, or even naive. That trust and naivete has been tarnished a bit…

And then there are students. So even though now I openly admit that teaching was hell for me, start to finish, and that I was a desperate fool to stay with it as long as I did, I have my collection of student-persons I love, and who seemingly love me. They are such amazing people to me. I love to see how they have blossomed and grown. Each one of them holds a special place in my heart, as cliche as that sounds. And from each of them, I gained or learned something. Bus stop angels, each.

Bus stop angels. A concept I got from a college room mate. She was one I eventually had to break away from. Always over-relying on me. At first interesting and fun. Then she started stealing my stuff, became clingy and whoa. That is a pattern, I have to admit. The female friend who is high maintenance and just plain creepy, eventually. One of them, Tami, I actually miss. We were each other’s side-kick in the early 90’s, back in the Hung Far Low/Satyricon days. The drugs eventually broke us apart. Seeing her high on heroin and lying to me about it was more than I could take.

Anyway, a Bus Stop Angel is a person who is in your life for a moment–at the bus stop, literally or metaphorically, who imparts upon you some wisdom–changes your life in some way.

Today, one such person contacted me. His name is Chris. I met him on Baldwin Beach on Maui. Adam and I had gone down for a swim on the way to the grocery. Adam had gone to the bathroom, and I was sitting on a log. Chris walked up and asked if I knew a place to say, that he’d just gotten off the plane and had spent all day driving around. He hadn’t booked a hotel, had just gotten on the plane. We invited him back to stay at our house, and to have dinner with us. He stayed for four days. We kept in touch with him, and he has kept in touch with me off and on since Adam died.

So yeah, there have been some who have gone by the wayside–Jodie, who taught me how to see Portland as a vibrant creative place. Lynn, who taught me how to make tofu pumpkin pie and smoke cigarettes. Various work friends who changed with the job. A couple who decided I just wasn’t cool enough to hang with them. Whatever–partying like that in our 40s isn’t glamorous, really.

And there are some I can’t track down–Jim and Gail, whose wedding I was in, and who I thought I’d know forever. People on Maui I feel I’m losing my grasp on. Adam. A couple of ex’s I’d like to know as people, and a couple of their friends I’d like to still see–mostly, just Roger, who was Jason’s best friend.

And the people in Portland who constantly say they value me as a friend, but whom I never see. And people in Redmond/Bend who I know will fade with time.

And there are the people who’ve always been around. I know I’ll see them as I move through my day in Portland. One of them, this woman Amy, came into the pub a couple of Saturday afternoons ago. She and I have known each other for probably 20 years–never have we done anything one-on-one. It was really good to see her, and she remarked (sincerely) the same.

And then there is solid–the people who I know I know. I have dinner with them regularly, or shoot the shit with them in the yard every day, or communicate with them via phone/facebook/email.

My friend Matt Love told me recently that what I do is connect people. I hope I do, cuz that’s the shit that matters. Taking dinner to a friend and his new wife because they just had a baby. Going over because my best friends’ in-laws are in town. Thinking to call Hilda and finding out it’s her daughter’s birthday. Showing up and being there. That’s what makes life good. From every endeavor in my life I’ve collected persons who matter–from 7th grade in Thailand; from North Thurston HS; from college; from working at Nordstrom, at McMenamins, Jefferson HS; Lincoln HS, King Kekaulike HS, International School of the Cascades, Alameda Brewhouse; paddling for Hawaiian Canoe Club; training martial arts; studying photography; founding Plazm magazine; being out and about in the art/music scene in Portland; living in the places I’ve lived; through friends of friends…

If you are my friend, you rock my world.