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"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

On the way home from work last night on the bus, I was listening to This American Life with Ira Glass on my iPod. One of the stories was told by a son, painfully watching his parents suffer in this economy. His parents had both recently lost their jobs, and were in a place in life I recognized. They were beginning to cut back on their expenses in ways that make sense to people who have enough. It’s that first stage of sacrifice, where one gives up the things that have always seemed like a little bit of luxury.

The father was contemplating environmental work in Iraq, and the son was horrified. We went through that too, when Mark first started talking about going to Afghanistan, people who heard about it were shocked. My mother flatly refuses to accept that it could ever happen. The mother in the story was going over a long list of possible job fields, trying them all out in her mind. Thinking about jobs in terms of what would suit her best.

It occurred to me that I’ve actually been granted a boon while the suffering is beginning to rage about me, affecting more and more people every day. We have already been in the stage where many are just now approaching.

We panicked already. We shed tears of despair. We’ve already gone through lists of desperate strategies in our minds, looking in vain for something we hadn’t thought of that will save us. We have stopped fantasizing about what jobs would be nice to have, and have started the humbling job search for anyone willing to hire Mark, on any terms. We have cut our coffee consumption in half because it’s one of our most expensive grocery items, and switched from Peets tea to Fred Meyer brand tea – 100 packets for $1.98. We already received the foreclosure letter from Wells Fargo, and got the letter from Bank of America taking my level of credit on the Master Card from $37,000 to $500. …and my balance is already zero. They’re just protecting themselves from me: a liability.

When so many more people are being forced to understand how bad our economy really is, and how it translates into innocent peoples’ lives, there is a growing sense of worry emanating from America. The boon is: we’re already on the bottom, and can see the uphill climb that will take us out of here. The despair and panic are in our history, which is a relief.

It’s a twisted way to feel grateful, but gratitude is always a good place to be.

There were a couple of days last week warm enough to put our clothes out on the line.

We first strung the clothesline halfway through last summer when our hand-me-down drier finally gave it up. We couldn’t afford major appliance-shopping, so we spent $7 or so on line and clothespins.

I was thinking poverty, poverty, poverty as I hung those first clothes out in 2008. Oh, how I hate reminders that I don’t have the income I wish for. It makes me extra-sensitive to signals, causing me to interpret them in a darker light than what is reality.

Turns out, when I got over feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I LOVE clothes on the line! There are plenty of fabulous reasons to hang clothes out, namely, that I’m not stealing energy from the Universe with my excessive use of electricity. I can do good for the planet. My clothes smell delicious when they’ve been out in the fresh air for a few hours.

I also love scratchy towels. When you line-dry terry cloth, each little nub of cotton is firmer. Drying off with one of these towels is as close to getting a massage as I usually get. I vigorously scrub my face, my legs, my back, my feet. It feels so good! The water wicks away instantly without the use of fabric softener I always throw in the drier. I feel good about myself, and I feel healthier. My skin gets all pink with blood pumping through and I’m ready to begin the day.

Miss T laughing with an egg

Easter Sunday, and we’re enjoying a moment of peace. A precious commodity: peace.

I was startled into an unexpected revelation the other day. Talking with my man, I commented on how I have more peace in my family, more happiness and contentment, in my own home, than I can recall ever having in my whole life. It’s remarkable to me because this is also the worst financial times I can recall since I was a child living in a two-room cabin with six people and no running water and no electricity.

In those days, I knew what it meant to be poor. As I grew through my teen years I vowed never to be poor again. I committed myself to accept any suffering but poverty. I refuse to go hungry again (ha ha, I picture Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, shaking her fist at the sky, “I will never go hungry again!”).

My partner also had difficult times as a child. To him, poverty is being cold. When money is the source of my fear, I fear hunger. When it’s the source of his fear, he fears being cold. That’s what a poor childhood and winters in New England will teach a boy.

Flash forward to 2009. Here we are, poor again. Possibly as poor as in those days, but it’s hard to tell, because in the 80s people didn’t have the option to live on credit cards. If they didn’t have money, they didn’t pay the heating bill, or buy food. If we don’t have the money, we sigh and pull out the plastic.

In the intervening years I forged ahead to rapid financial success. I was able to send money to my mother. I stopped telling my father when I got new promotions and made more money than he did. The paychecks were good, but my personal life was a disaster. It became more and more of a disaster as time went on. Turns out, though I didn’t know him at the time, my man was also doing very well financially. And his personal life was also a disaster.

Luckily both he and I have managed to do some learning, growing, maturing in those years. About the time our financial worlds began to fall apart, we were also making strides to become better partners to whomever we ended up with in the future. We’re far from where we want to be, but we are happy to be together.

I’ve been wanting money all my life. Now, when I don’t have it, I am happier with my partner than I’ve ever been. There must be a lesson in there.

Still. It must be possible to be happy with my man AND to buy groceries.

Hope tugs at me relentlessly as it has done to all humanity since Pandora’s egregious behavior. We will get through this together. At least we are together. And we’ll provide a beautiful loving home for our daughter. We will all eat enough and stay warm. Somehow.

eggs and kitty

It’s Easter Sunday and the tall young woman who used to be my baby sends sparkles of delight through the house with her childlike glee. She played with every single item in a heaping Easter basket, and went outside in the rain to find eggs. Like I did so many years ago, she’ll beg us to re-hide them for her all day long.

Now it’s after the egg-hunt. After breakfast. After calls to Daddy and Gramy. We’re content and safe and loved. And as much as we struggle, this truly is a beautiful life.

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