Tag Archives: Portland

Inspiration and Giant Jellyfish at Press Publish

Some WordPress Bling

On Saturday I had the immense fortune of attending Press Publish, an event organized by the staff at Automattic.

“What is Automattic?” you ask, because you didn’t click the link. In short, Automattic is the company that runs WordPress.com. (News flash: you’re looking at a WordPress.com site right now!)

Basking in the morning sun while walking to MAX, I quietly lamented that I’d be spending my day inside, sedentary, and largely unengaged.

Boy, was I mistaken.

The schedule was packed, ensuring there was something for everyone. Between hopping from room to room every 15-30 minutes, taking a breather in the Happiness Lounge, and marveling at the delectable food, my expectations were blown out of the water. I came away feeling energized, particularly excited to get back to the blog I run for work.

Here are a few of the reasons Press Publish was so great.

On the Embassy Suites carpet! Oh wait, that's not a thing? #presspublish #snerk

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Interesting People

As a shirker of social events and “networking opportunities,” I didn’t expect to talk to anyone during the day beyond asking for basic assistance. This notion began melting when Ananda Leeke started her presentation with a round of group yoga breath and a moment without digital devices. A yoga practitioner myself, Ananda won my heart over instantly with this simple start. Toward the end of her presentation, she tossed out the following thought in response to an audience question:

The immense popularity of Facebook means that many people around me are currently learning the down side of the internet for the first time—the stuff I learned (the hard way!) back in around 1997. Ananda’s statement summed up my philosophy in a succinct way.

Meeting the Automattic Staff

At Portland WordPress meetups, I had heard that Automattic’s staff members live all over the place, and there were several Portlanders in the bunch. Press Publish gave me a chance to meet them.

Turns out, they’re really fabulous!

Press Publish gave attendees an opportunity to mix with staff from Portland and beyond, who were presenting material, providing individualized assistance in the Happiness Lounge, setting attendees up with their conference packets, and more. They invited people to contact them via Twitter or directly at their work email.

Deepening Knowledge

You can only retain so much new knowledge at a time. If you attend a class for a piece of software you’ve never used before, the knowledge you come away with will be at a more basic level than if you were to take the exact same class after you’ve been using the product for a couple of years. This is why I sometimes take classes that are below my skill level—so I can listen for details I didn’t know before, or just as a refresher on the basics.

At Press Publish I deliberately attended a couple of sessions about things I had experience doing, but I deepened my knowledge by going. In Sheri Bigelow’s class that walked through the WordPress dashboard, I learned the importance of setting a featured image even if it’s not used by your theme. (The only trouble: I frequently embed images via other sites, and featured images need to be on the server.) Watching a presentation about podcasting basics, I confirmed that I was using well-regarded plugins, and even one of the recommended microphones.

Problem Solving

In addition to my personal WordPress.com use, part of my job involves running a self-hosted WordPress site. Our site started experiencing a very curious issue a couple of years ago. After consulting many sources and unsuccessfully trying fixes over many months, I was again at a dead end.

Cue the Automattic staff available for one-on-one assistance inside the Happiness Lounge. Carolyn Sonnek listened to my sob story and gave me new hope! Since the new things to try involve a site outage, I haven’t tried it quite yet—but I feel confident that I got solid advice from someone who knows the product and who I know I can reach out to if the problem remains unresolved.

I also got to give advice as well as receive it. At the end of Carolyn’s presentation about WordPress Stats and Jetpack, I asked a question and after the session, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked for my help. During that conversation, I got to draw upon knowledge of a detail I had learned just that morning, about how Facebook decides what information to pull from a WordPress post.

Giant Jellyfish Chandelier in Gevurtz #presspublish

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If all that wasn’t enough, I got to take a photo of a chandelier that looked like a giant jellyfish!

Press Publish is an excellent event for someone creating content and publishing work online. If you get a chance to attend one of these conferences, either in person in Phoenix or through the free live stream, do it. You never know what delightful surprises may be in store!

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Portland: A Victim of Its Own Popularity

Edited to add: “Rewriting Portlandia” by Carl Alviani

Oh Portland, my Portland. Land of my birth.

In the 1990s, city planners took the pulse of residents. After talking to our outdoorsy, environmentally minded citizens, city officials decided that we treasure our natural areas so highly we needed to actively combat urban sprawl. Transportation planning was directed for the next few decades. We had a top-notch public transit system and major steps were taken to support alternative transportation and multi-modalism. At this point, we were essentially attempting to stem the tide of “all the Californians” that had been moving to Oregon. (Governor Tom McCall perhaps said it best.)

In the 2000s, young college graduates from around the country heard the rents were cheap and you didn’t need to have a car. Former hippie havens in Portland gave way to hipster fare. Portland got a reputation for bikes, beer, and coffee.

In 2011, Portlandia premiered. Suddenly even more eyes were upon us. The people parodied in Portlandia are apparently too cool to watch themselves, but their friends around the country can’t help but be curious. (Yes, bike moves are really a thing, although their depiction is naturally exaggerated by Fred and Carrie.) And as one of the more thriving housing markets around the country, newbies looking for a house and residents who aren’t moving have created low housing inventory for Portland.

Displacement arguably started long ago, when Jim and Patty’s Coffee People was pushed out by Starbucks. When walking along Hawthorne meant smelling patchouli or incense as you passed open shop doors, instead of the smell of Aveda products.

Earlier this year I learned the auto shop repairing my vehicle would be moving to the outer limits of the metro area. Situated around the corner from Portland’s soon-to-be newest bridge, the owner had gotten an offer he could not refuse, considering the rising land values. It was centrally located for decades, a great plus for accessing via transit when your vehicle is in the shop.

More recently, The Oregonian ran a series about demolition in Portland (“Ten Years of Portland Home Demolitions in One GIF,” “Shortage of Lots in the Suburbs Drives Builders to Demolish and Build in the City“), exploring the problems home builders are having getting land in the suburbs. This ultimately leads them to buy perfectly good houses to demolish and either a build expensive luxury home in their place, or two or three “normal” homes on the same footprint.

Not too long after seeing the series about demolition in Portland, I read “Forced to Move when Rental Home Sold for Development, Division Street Residents Mourn Changes to Neighborhood.”

And then a more major announcement: one of the more heavily visited food cart pods, Cartopia, will be closing soon for redevelopment. And a recent battle over a historic house purchased by Google executive Kevin Rose, who planned to knock it down (thankfully that had a relatively happy ending).

It’s official: redevelopment is impacting the things people love about Portland. The beautiful houses (with yards well suited for gardening), the unique counterculture of the city, a particularly popular food cart pod.

One could potentially perceive these trends two ways:

First, Portland has been working toward urban density for close to two decades now. Eventually the infill phase turns into building upward. When I lived in Vancouver BC, I saw the net result of this type of directive—the sky thick with high-rises, but snowy mountains just across the waterway. Only problem? When you’re paying $1200 per month to live in a basement, you probably don’t have access to an easy way to get out of the city and into those pristine natural areas.

Second, just like the Amish who are starting to be pushed out by Amish Country tourism, Portland is starting to be a victim of its own popularity. Our mythos of quirk keeps attracting people, snowballing into problems for the people and features who made it so popular. This has happened elsewhere: in SoHo, where struggling artists found cheap spaces to work/live until the culture attracted corporate entities who priced the artists out of their own neighborhood; San Francisco, where tech workers have exorbitantly inflated housing prices and potentially started a class-war; and of course in our own NE Portland.

It’s quite disheartening.

What’s next in this process? Disbursement. Portlanders may eventually get pushed out, fed up with the dizzying pace of change. Our lives may take us to smaller towns in Oregon, or perhaps farther afield. And ideas we picked up in Portland will go with us.

Angela may move back to her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, and move herself and her three daughters around town by bike. Randy may move to Chicago to advance his career as an engineer and still dress like a pirate when he’s not at the office. Nickey may move to Minneapolis for a kick-ass job in media, and still sew her own clothes.

Angela, Randy, and Nickey will bring a little bit of Portland with them, inspiring their new neighbors, until people won’t move to Portland because they can get all those great things in their own town.

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Live-Tweeting The Doris Diaries

If you’re interested, I’ve been live-tweeting the latest volume of The Doris Diaries on Twitter (@wildsheepchase) as I read. Time is sparse these days so the live-tweeting has been happening in spurts, usually about an hour long, and at different times of day.

In this volume, Doris has a less-than-ethical relationship with “Dr. Abel Scott,” an intern who treated her at what is now Good Samaritan Hospital in NW Portland:

Dr. Scott is the one name in the book that has been changed. Perhaps it’s because he practiced in Portland for many years, or perhaps it was because he was married at the time. At any rate, it’s a tantalizing mystery and I wish I had asked Julia Park Tracey about it when she was in town for the Doris Diaries release party!

In this volume the Baileys move to California, and Arizona shortly thereafter. Doris gets a horse named Mac, who she rides every morning if she can. Adventure at the corral:

Apart from her adventures and romantic liaisons, Doris does show the promise of being a decent writer. She’s also quite grateful for surviving a burst appendix:

We’ve got about half the book still left to go, and word on the street is the relationship with Dr. Scott gets even more interesting. We’ll also see Black Tuesday (aka the stock market crash of 1929). Join me for some Doris dispatches!

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October 5, 2013 · 12:00 PM

Kindness to Strangers at “a Convention for Introverts”: Wordstock 2012

Wordstock and I go way back. Portland’s annual literary festival introduced me to the MPub program, and it was at Wordstock I met Peter Sagal, for starters. I’ve been going pretty consistently since 2006, except the last two years when I was away from Portland. Naturally then, I was quite excited to get back to Wordstock this weekend!

The day was very nearly derailed before it even really began. In the morning I was feeling crummy, but that mostly dissipated while biking to the Oregon Convention Center. Once on site, I found the nearest ticket booth and started rifling around in my bag for my wallet.

It was soon my turn at the window, but I was still looking for my wallet. Where was my wallet? Teetering on the edge of a very bad day, I excused myself from the ticket area and walked toward a quiet area where I could keep looking, and start strategizing. Biking the hour back home and another hour back was not how I had planned to spend the day.

Behind me, a voice called out “excuse me…!”

Before I knew it, a random woman was offering me a ticket. She spoke of wishing more people would do nice things for strangers. Incredulous, I told her nobody had ever done any such thing for me and gave her a hug. She handed me the ticket and started walking back toward the crowd. When I finally did find my wallet (it had shifted to the back of my bag), I walked toward the crowd to see if I could catch her. I did! And I offered all the cash I had in my wallet—a paltry $3. I think sometime I shall try this “being nice to a random stranger” business—even though my wallet wasn’t actually back at home, her kindness completely floored me and turned my day around.

Inside, Wordstock was its lovely, literary self. Their theme this year seemed to be vice—describing the festival a “book-fueled bender.” The exhibit hall even sported a “red chair district” that was an 18-and-over area with romance writers, a hotel, and SheBop, the local sex toy/erotica store.

At the Friends of Multnomah County Library booth, I bought a copy of The Help for $1.50—paid by check because of course, I had given away all of my cash. At William Sullivan’s booth, I purchased the most revised edition of his 100 Hikes in Northwestern Oregon. I’ve been thinking about working through all the hikes in order to resurrect Adventure Saturday (shout out if you’d like to join me on any!). I also picked up a free arts preview magazine called Artslandia, which aims to provide a unified season guide for all the major performing arts organizations in Portland.

Then, there was the CNN truck, where I got angry at Anderson Cooper and threatened to deck him!

Okay, not really. But I did get a photo print and an electronic version of this photo to download. Visitors brave enough to step into an enormous truck at the back of the hall were offered to have a photo of them debating either presidential nominee. As Elly was later musing, people don’t generally want a photo of the nominee they don’t like, and indeed—I wanted Obama in my photo instead of Mittens.

Then I happened upon a vaguely familiar face in a Boston Red Sox cap, running a homey booth with a dining table, cookies, and shelves full of handmade books. As it turns out, it was my long-lost MHS classmate Jake Wasson! I think the best way to describe his project, The Storybank Exchange,  is literary conceptual art—he envisions a world where your work is your currency, tangible and made by each individual. He has made many books out of various found objects, and even constructed a homemade e-reader this way (in jest, of course)!

At the end of the day I snuggled into the Stealing Time Magazine booth to participate in their flash memoir contest. Headed by the lovely Sarah Gilbert and aimed at literary-minded parents, Stealing Time is just getting off the ground and features some notable parents in its first issue, including Steve Almond. As a non-parent, I chose to write my flash memoir about Atticus—I’m sure it won’t win, but in my world, Atticus is the closest thing to a child I’m ever going to get.

It turns out that wasn’t the only time I’d write about Atticus. The Attic Institute had a booth with another writing contest—a prompt was randomly selected, and the participant had nine minutes to create and submit a story on one of two of their provided laptops. Unfortunately the prompt I drew was ominous, so poor Atticus didn’t fare well in my story.

Year after year, I’ve come out of Wordstock energized and happy, even when I’ve gone in feeling low. Perhaps it’s the low-key energy combined with plenty of opportunity to show my nerdy side that keeps me coming back. As one of the Stealing Time staffers said, “it’s like a convention for introverts.”

See more photos from Wordstock 2012.

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Geeking Out on The Doris Diaries

Damn!! I’m beginning to rebel. I crave adventures. I want to live. Not merely exist. -Doris Bailey Murphy, age 17

One thing you may not know about me, at least through this blog, is that I am a bonafide history detective. (In fact, at one point I almost got to work as a researcher on History Detectives.) When presented with a historical question or problem, my brain can instantly achieve laser focus and not let up for hours. Days, even. This skill has been put to use on scads of educational projects, from Bridging World History to the Muhammad Ali Center. My favorite historical topics are social history (studying traditionally marginalized groups, such as women) and local history.

Meaning it was either fate that I discovered The Doris Diaries, or editor Julia Park Tracey’s worst nightmare.

Twitter suggested I follow @TheDorisDiaries one evening, and soon I was engrossed in short quotes from the diaries of Doris Bailey Murphy, a 17 year old girl who lived here in Portland in the 1920s. When she died, a lifetime’s worth of diaries were entrusted to her great-niece, Julia Park Tracey. When I discovered the feed was advance publicity for I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen 1925-1926, I was chomping at the bit to read the entire book. Doris has totally captivated my imagination.

Readers are introduced to a spunky teen in this volume. The daughter of a well-off Portland architect, Doris regularly skips school, bangs up the family’s car, and goes necking with a string of boys. She curses. Eventually she is plucked out of Lincoln High School for a more structured religious school, St. Helens Hall (now Oregon Episcopal School). Come summer she is wrangling at a dude ranch in Central Oregon, where she rescues a horse near death and sneaks into off-limits buildings. Naturally she keeps adding to a long list of infatuations which are enumerated and ranked in her diary.

One mystery man haunts these entries: Micky. He is the handsome classmate that Doris mentions again and again, melodramatically imagining his fate after he is expelled from Lincoln High School, and sighing wistfully over his whereabouts:

I’m never going to kiss another boy. I’m going to have nothing more to do with them, because I’ve discovered the only one. He is my aim in life. I shall keep my lips fresh and clean only for him, and SOMEDAY he’ll come back. -May 11, 1926

[Ed. note: five days later, on May 16, Doris was kissing another crush, Jack Hibbard, in the back seat of a car.]

One thing is lacking in the book: a confirmed photo of Micky. A mystery! Naturally then, at 5:00am I started hunting down an archive that would have a 1925 Lincoln High School yearbook. Surely it would have a photo of Micky, right? And this history detective could help close a case! Archives aren’t open before sunrise on Sunday though, but Ebay was—I found the listing linked above, shared it with the author, and shortly after receiving her enthusiastic response, noticed the listing is now sold. 🙂

While the diaries mostly revolve around Doris’ love life, a number of place references are sprinkled throughout. Doris regularly visits her best friend who lives in Oak Grove. She swims at The Oaks (now Oaks Park) and notices the traffic congestion due to the opening of the Hollywood Theater. Doris even visited my alma mater, Milwaukie High School, on April 12, 1926! That was when the main building was just one year old.

This volume only covers about a year and a half of Doris’ life, but I’m hooked. It sounds like she only got more interesting as she matured. Eventually Doris went to Reed College—my friendly neighborhood institution of higher learning. True to Reed form, she shocked the community by interviewing prostitutes for her thesis work, and graduated in 1938. Later she became involved with labor union issues and eventually married famous Wobbly Joe Murphy. Two years before her death she wrote a memoir, Love and Labor. (Reed ran a profile in their magazine with a photo!) Mature Doris was just as spunky as her younger self, known for owning a pair of condom earrings and being “blunt, interested to the point of intrusiveness” among her family. After an amazing life, Doris died in 2011 at age 101.

Julia Park Tracey will be presenting The Doris Diaries at History Pub on October 15th. Help me cheer her on that evening at Kennedy School from 7-9:30pm!

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A Readin’ Machine (Or, Squeezed Out)

Earlier this year I set a goal: as a participant in the Goodreads reading challenge, I would aim to read 12 books this year. On April 15th, I met my goal.

Over the last couple of months reading has been my primary downtime activity. I’ve read books in less than 24 hours while waiting for feedback on the latest draft of my project report, waiting for the Portland rain to subside, or just because I was so excited to finally read the thing.

I unloaded much of my library before my temporary move to Canada, but plenty of books remain that need to be read. I’ve read newly acquired books, borrowed books, and library books. I’ve sold a few back to Powell’s since reading them, and plan to continue paring down my library once I’ve read some more titles. This isn’t even including the magazines I’ve piled up, nor the scholarly articles about bikes I found on JStor a couple weeks ago that I want to read just for fun.

A few of the books I’ve read have inspired some wistful nostalgia. Ever since getting back to Portland it seems my brain has soured a fair amount on my hometown. (I’ve a half-written blog post about this, but it’s a weighty topic, likely to be unpopular with most of the transplants I know, so I’ve been keeping it to myself—for now.) Reading three books in a row that reminded me of Portland Past then, was enough to push me into a full-on nostalgia bender.

The first book was Dark Horse’s recent release The Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. Sure, this is a story primarily set in Seattle, but as a Pacific Northwesterner growing up in the 80s, Green River Killer news (also Diane Downs news) was pretty pervasive. When I was a kid, my mother’s favorite books were true crime novels, and I sometimes I picked up her books and browsed the photo plates in the center. Let me tell you something: you cannot un-see some of the photos in those books.

Next was Beverly Cleary’s memoir A Girl from Yamhill. Portland’s own literary hometown heroine, Beverly Cleary was born in the Willamette Valley south of the city but spent much of her childhood in NE Portland, the setting of her Ramona books (and current site of the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden). I picked up the memoir at Goodwill for a couple of bucks. So much time had passed since its original release I wasn’t expecting to find it as utterly engrossing as I did. In the book, I discovered that Ramona is essentially based on Cleary herself as a child, and the book includes some very specific incidents that I remember were written into Ramona the Pest.

The book also illuminates moments when Cleary was encouraged by teachers in specific ways that set her on course for her adult career. In one masterfully written passage, she talks about her mother often encouraging her to “try.” When she takes this message to heart and enters an essay contest at a local grocery store. She wins—because no other children entered the contest:

“This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying.” (p. 132)

Given the amount of care I spend on blog posts (and nearly everything else I write), often I wonder why I continue. This is the reason: I am trying. And even if nobody sees my online opining, I’m continuing to develop my writing for future professional writing opportunities.

Where does the nostalgia come in? In the beginning of the book, Cleary writes about Oregon weather masterfully, as if she too has patiently sat through as many Oregon winters as I have, waiting for the spring:

“I stood at the window watching the weather, the ever-changing Oregon clouds that sometimes hung so low they hid the Coast Range, rain that slanted endlessly on the bleak brown fields, stubble stiff with frost, and, sometimes, a world made clean and white by snow.” (p. 30)

Later in the book she paints a vivid picture of Depression-era Portland, peppering the text with references from the past. In fact, at two points she draws attention to phrases Portlanders say, and that’s where the real nostalgia set in. She remarked on Portlanders observing “the mountain is out today.” Of course, “the mountain” is Mt. Hood, being “out” refers to being able to see it on a non-overcast day, and that is a phrase I’ve neither heard, nor used myself, for years. It set my brain on a path of thinking about the ways in which Portland has changed over the past decade as the city has become more notable nationally and internationally.

Perhaps the area of Portland that has changed most in the past decade is NE Portland, and the next book I read just happened to take place there in the 1980s. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is the current Everybody Reads book at Multnomah County Library, and I wouldn’t have read it had there not been a free copy at the circulation desk of my local branch when I visited. At certain points this book described a place and time in the past that I personally experienced. When the 1988 death of Mulugeta Seraw was referenced as a current event, this book ignited some synapses that hadn’t been fired in years. (If you’re not familiar, read A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer.)

Since reading these three titles in a row (pure coincidence!) I’ve moved on to other fare. For a few days though, I was thinking about the Portland Past, both the one I have directly experienced and the one that belongs to my dead relatives’ memory. While I am glad I’ve gotten to know many of the transplants who have arrived in the last ten years, a small part of me feels like I’m being edged out by an invasive species. As the narrator in Said the Whale’s song “False Creek Change” laments about her hometown of Vancouver, BC, “there’s no room for me here anymore, anymore, there’s no room for me here anymore.”

If you’re interested in following my reading habits, this is my page on Goodreads.

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A Day Called X

An article appeared today on The Oregonian’s website about a cool video from the Cold War era, starring the City of Portland and its residents! There are cameos from Mayor Terry Schrunk, Harvey Scott School, and even Station 1 of what was then called the Portland Fire Bureau. Check it out!

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