In my room, the sun primarily does two things. It overheats the room, and it blinds me. Yet I am careful to avoid covering my two windows. I think of the light that comes through them as preicous. My desk is placed right below the windows, so that it is a kind of shrine to the light. My computer screen is in front of the bit of wall between the two windows, so that it does not block the windows, and so that the bright windows do not glare behind the screen. Yet when the sun does come out--the moment for which all of this is in preparation--I squint. Inside, the sunlight is a nuissance, but it seems worse to close the blinds. I feel compelled especially in this city to enjoy the sun. It's so rare. Spending time inside sheltered from the sun comes with a niggling sense of waste. Even reclining in a sunbeam on my bed feels like some kind of rebellion against the compulsion to go outside.
I spent most of the other day outside, in the most beautiful weather since I've moved here. Though, beautiful is not really the word for sunshine in this climate. Illicit, perhaps--the clear sky is so unfathomably blue that I feel that I both really should and really shouldn't be looking at it. It's as if the world's clothes have flown off, which is to say that aside from these conflicting pressures, a clear day is not much.
At the end of that day I found a west-facing porch where food and coffee were served. In a rocking chair I sat engrossed in a book. To be engrossed is as rare as the sun here.
Walking home, I attributed the relaxed state to having worked that day. Work tends to relieve anxiety, turning expansive, anxious free time into constrained, relaxed free time. Thinking this, I noticed that the sun had gone down, and that I was congratulating myself for the remission of anxiety--something I hadn't noticed was there until it wasn't. My thoughts soon began defensively claiming that they were not being defensive. I didn't want to admit that their jumbled, nervous character had returned. My pace hurried. My eyes darted. Surely, I thought, I couldn't blame my mood on the lack of sun?
Portland had returned to its presumed state of diffuse light.
At the end of the next day--another sunny day, which as someone living in Portland I can only hyperbolically call miraculous--I found myself willing the sun down. It's such a pain, enjoying it.
There is a comic, "Orygun," that is almost nothing but jokes about the rain. Its profusion of tired jokes about how much it rains here make a joke about how many tired jokes about how much it rains here can be made. It's attempting--exhaustively and exhaustingly--to make light of living under the dark clouds of a stereotype of dark clouds. Of course, those same clouds are a blanket to hide under.
They're the kind of jokes that you groan and roll your eyes at, but they can be oddly illuminating. Not because they're true, exactly, but because they extremely state things that are already thought to be true. I'm really just thinking of one joke: "People in Oregon don't sunburn. They rust." This malady of being drenched rather than overexposed sounds like a more recent commentary on Portland's relationship to ambition: Portlandia's "where young people go to retire." These quips ring awfully true, and, combined with the fact of the grey weather, a colorless puddle of truth congeals.
In an autobiographical story published in an old issue of Tin House, Katie Crouch tells her ex in New York--who is there because he's enlived by New York--that he "wouldn't like it here. You wouldn't like the sleepy way people drive." Another membrane that once read cannot be peeled off. The cars do proceed lacksadaisically, politely, as if their drivers are encased in another skin, and driving through a thick liquid.
As Crouch pitting the two places against each other speaks to, New York is perceived as having the opposite relationship to ambition. It's a city whose drives seem right up against the skin, whose drivers drive restlessly. They find Portlanders "so nice."
It's true, benignness is everywhere. People say hello passing on the street, they mythologize breakfast, and half of the pages of both of their popular weekly publications are filled with pot culture. Portland's persona is so laid back, it can't be. What's all that pot meant to counteract, anyway? Have you ever heard such discontented snark than from the retired?