Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

The Other Portland

This morning, over a lovely breakfast of granola and yogurt at a quintessential Portland coffee shop, my friend Christina pointed out that I have a problem.  Looking down at my muted lime green (is there such a thing?) rain jacket, my muted lime green wallet, my muted lime green t-shirt, my muted lime green computer bag, and yes, even my muted lime green engagement ring (a yellow sapphire that turns green in the sun), I realized that she was probably right… 

Christina and I met in 2003 during a semester-long graduate certificate program in Portland, Maine.  We were both studying creative non-fiction writing at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, her seeking to understand life at a prison outside of the city and me focusing on how the last independent movie theater in southern Maine was surviving amongst the sea of multiplexes that was springing up at record rates.
Those short months in Maine were some of the best in my life.  I was surrounded by the most dynamic, engaging, creative people I’d ever met.  I was neck-deep in documentary writing, working at the intersection of storytelling and social change.  My friends and I would spend hours at our little safe haven on Exchange Street, an old union-hall-turned-school-house in the center of the Old Port, talking and thinking about and experiencing what life as a writer/photographer/radio producer could be.  And when I wasn’t working, I went hiking along the coast.  I ate organic food.  I practiced yoga.  I ran.  I learned to knit.  I taste-tested frozen yogurt.  I read good books.  I attempted to like good beer.  
Christina and our friend Mira stayed in Portland longer than I did, and when I went to visit them up there a year later, in the midst of my first semester of law school, a mini-life crisis ensued as I struggled to answer the question of why I’d abandoned my writing aspirations in favor of tax and property law and civil procedure.  Four months, a brief school hiatus, and a three-week stint as a staff writer for a local newspaper later, I was back into the swing of law school life in Philadelphia, still with the lingering uncertainty of the path I’d chosen.
Now, five and a half years later (holy cow), I’m still good friends with half a dozen of my fellow Salties and peripherally in touch with a handful more.  Most of them are scattered across the country, ardently pursuing careers in freelance writing, photography, radiomaking, and film.  I’ve visited them in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Tennessee, California, and now Oregon, and I’ve watched in awe as they work to tell people’s stories.
I’ve struggled with this a bit as I’ve made more and more decisions in my own life, following one path and seemingly closing the door on others.  But now, as I sit here in a different Portland coffee shop, attempting to get some work done and waiting for Christina to finish following her leads for the day, I’ve realized, maybe I’m doing the same thing.  
Sure, I’ve chosen a little bit of a more routed course, chasing law school with a PhD in history, getting married and owning a house in my favorite Philadelphia neighborhood.  But as I near the final chapter of my dissertation, I see I actually haven’t veered all that far from my lovely life in Maine.  I still spend my days sitting in coffee shops, listening to chatter and crafting narratives.  And while it might be a little bit more analytical than my documentary project on the sadly-defunct Movies on Exchange, through my dissertation on intentional integration and racial justice, I’m still reaching for what I was reaching for five years ago – to speak in stories.  
It’s a comforting realization.
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10 responses to “The Other Portland

  1. Kim May 16, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Wow…that’s a nice little wake up call to see that you’re still following your dream, just down a little different path. That was a great post. Very inspirational for people who may feel they’ve fallen off their path. It may give them another way of looking at where they are and see they are still doing what they wish-just in a different manner. Nice…

  2. RunToFinish May 16, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    so true that where we start or think we’ll go may change, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. how great to have friends that know your history.. and umm lime green tendencyhave a little shout out to you on my blog!

  3. Denise May 17, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Sounds like you’re right on track and doing what you like…even if it’s not on the expected path you thought you’d take.

  4. Amanda May 17, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    I love the descriptions in this post. We never know where our paths will lead, and I think in some way we always think about the paths we didn’t take. Now, what to do about your muted lime green loyalty…:)

  5. Angela and David Kidd May 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    What a cool path you’ve taken. You are certainly doing more interesting things with a law degree than I am!

  6. Frayed Laces May 17, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Cool entry! When I was reading it I thought it seemed exactly like a scene from a movie.

  7. Denise May 19, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Abby, thanks for the comment yesterday. I felt like such a tool putting that out there but in the end I’m glad I did. Everyone was so supportive. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  8. I Run for Fun May 19, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    That is some journey you’ve made! You are amazing. You’ve done more in your life so far than what most people do in a lifetime. And I can tell that whatever you choose to do, you will give it 200%. I really enjoyed reading about that part of your life. Your writing is captivating…don’t give it up!

  9. RunningLaur May 19, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I have the same neon / lime green addiction – it’s a good thing. Nice to hear your journey and it’s so fantastic that you still can hold on to your friends from that time!

  10. Nobel4Lit May 19, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    You are making excellent progress on your dissertation (sorry that I keep coming back to check that… guess I am nerd over runner)!

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