Monday, September 29, 2014

relocation & redemption

testing, testing. is this thing on?

4,008 miles, one unabridged listening-through of the fellowship of the ring, a couple of albanys and a smattering of oaklands and maybe some springfields, one portland to another, about a bazillion stalks of corn, and it would appear that i have relocated to maine.

from all my debates about itchy feet versus staying put and facing a past and making the best of where you are and all that…well, i guess itchy feet won. either that, or someone in one of my two adopted other favorite states offered me my dream job. and so…

here i am. back in maine.

i lived here 14 years ago. when my older lad was just a pre-schooler. we tooled around in our VW bus, got stuck in the snow, admired the leaves, and just generally were bewildered by all the maine-ness where we lived - in a very small town (3,000 people) right in central maine. right where the 'rural forest' gives way to the 'industrial forest', as a publication i was perusing today informed me. where he gleefully sang for me one afternoon after preschool that he was "being swallowed by a bo-er constrictah…"

it was something to roll back into the state, young lad in the backseat, exhausted and so excited to be in maine, finally, after days and days driving across the country. at least three days, i think, were just in nebraska alone! there are so many things i had forgotten about maine that started coming back to me that day, and in the first days here…

there are no billboards. none. and the freeway basically goes through the woods the entire time. it's just miles and miles of beautiful trees and no billboards. it' surprisingly lovely.

i'm struck by how few fences there are. the houses are old and gorgeous and ramshackle and peeling and falling apart and majestic and quaint in that new england way and surprisingly unmarred by fence lines. it's quite striking once you start looking…so few fences. i can't help but wonder - does no one have dogs here?

don't be in a hurry, that's for sure. mainers can give oregonians a run for their money on leisurely driving. actually, in maine its more like perverse-ily driving. i mean, you have to be somewhat incredibly perversely stubborn to cruise 15 miles below the speed limit. this routinely happens here.

maine has a bottle bill too, just like oregon - a more comprehensive one than oregon's, in fact. every single drink bottle has a return - a redemption value. what's different is that you don't take them back to the grocery store - you take them to a redemption center. when i first moved to maine the first time, in 1998, i really thought these were places to become a born-again christian.

and so here i am. brand new job. new, yet familiar. a place i really liked living in, 15 years ago. those of you who know me know the past few years haven't always been easy - and there's a lot about being out here that isn't easy either. yet i don't think i'm just repeating an itchy-feet-running pattern - i really don't. this feels very different. but i have to say…i'm curious to see what redemption, if any, might await.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

missing you

the thing is, i love the desert. i love it almost to a ridiculous degree; i've loved it since the moment i set eyes on it, when i was 17.

i have to go there, it's like an itch that must be scratched. i try to go every year; right now is about the perfect time to go. i'm leaving in a week. i can't wait.

but i've never lived there. i've wanted to, so many times. i've made plans to, but things get in the way; other plans arise and i end up still in the northlands. maybe it's because i am meant to be up here, ultimately.

still, i imagine living there all the time. i imagine waking every day to the dry air, the uninterrupted sun. the open landscape, the beauty of the bleakness, the worship of the rain, the sudden storms.

truth is, i'm always missing - a little bit - something. i think it's just how i'm wired. i love the northwest, can't truly imagine living anywhere not defined by the ocean and the trees...and yet...

i miss the desert, too.

funnily enough, i know just what i'd miss if i lived there, too. i think i would miss most days like the ones we've had lately - wild and raw spring days in the northwest. the moody sky - grey and darker grey, shot with blue patches. the wind whipping the tree branches, both bare and needled. the threat of rain, and the damp, fecund smell of rapidly growing vegetation after the rain breaks. the fresh air. the smell of the rivers. the white-pink of the freshly budded cherry trees that makes me wonder, every year, without fail - have i been asleep? how did i not notice the trees were about to bloom?

i'm leaving in a week. i'll be back - i'm not moving there. i still just daydream about that. but i will soak up every dry, warm moment in the fresh air, in the blinding sun. and i'll come back, and relish the scent of fresh-cut grass, the visual cacophony of the flowers budding, the sound of the fresh spring rain rattling on the roof at night. i'll always miss something. but that's ok.

Friday, July 6, 2012

to oregon, love me. thanks for summer. SWAK!

ah oregon! my oregon! today is the first unabashedly lovely day of the summer, the day that fills my heart with an ever-expanding love and adoration of you! just when i thought i couldn't take one more week, one more day, one more minute of the damp and rain and clouds, summer arrives! in all its dry, clear, crisp-blue-skied glory. and when summer arrives, there's no better place in the world than oregon.

and what makes oregon such a great place? i've decided to write down my top 5 reasons why i love oregon so much. at least, i think it will be 5. i'm not planning this ahead at all. and it's not the reasons why oregon is weird - much of what makes portland the subject of portlandia applies to many other parts of the state, too - although there's much overlap. so, without prior planning, without real consideration, here's my favorite 5 things about oregon, off the top of my head.

1. public beaches. this is, quite possibly, the greatest thing in the entire universe. i totally didn't appreciate it as a kid; i took it for granted that the beaches were the domain of the people, all the people, for free, and for eternity.  the beach is the ultimate equal opportunity recreation in oregon - anyone can go to it, access it, for free. as long as there's beach to walk on, it's all yours. and it's been like that for a long time, too. this wasn't legislation borne out of the environmental movement of the 60s. the drive for public beaches began when Oswald West was elected governor partly on his promise to reclaim our beaches as public lands. in 1913 the legislature declared the coast a state highway! and thus was state ownership borne. in 1966, when greedy developers once again tried to stake a claim to bits of the sand, our hero Tom McCall rallied public support for the Oregon Beach Bill that ensured "free and uninterrupted use of the beaches" to the public. that's us, all of us, no matter how small and insignificant we are. it's ours. and it's gorgeous. and freezing cold, but hey, it keeps the crowds away.

2. oregon driving. it's completely true that we don't honk - ever (see link above on non-ironically weird things about oregon). and it's absolutely rooted in this idea of rudeness. my mom, teaching me to drive, specifically told me that: 'it's rude to honk.' it means that i've almost been hit by cars merging with me in their blind spot - and even if it occurs to me to honk, it's a completely delayed reaction, and i end up merely ineffectually pounding different areas of the steering wheel, because i have no idea where the actual horn is on my car. because i never use it. you can use it to tap a hello to someone you know. that's the only permitted use. you think i'm joking, if you're not from here, but i'm completely serious.

also on the subject of driving, it's got to be the most laid-back and chill state in the country to drive in. everyone drives like we live - with a sort of lack of hurry for anything and an almost annoying at times regard for every other thing on the street, whether wheeled or not. the amazing tendency for oregonians to cruise in the left-hand lane on the freeway for miles and miles stems, i'm convinced, from a laziness about re-merging into the right hand lane. you can almost see them move left, pass someone, and then contemplate moving back over, but shrug and say: why bother? there's just another car up there in 5 miles that i'm going to want to pass. might as well stay here. thus the amazing sight of just as many people being passed on the right as on the left on our freeways (all 3 of them). and all without annoyed honking by other cars.

3. land use planning. a drive led by farmers, enthusiastically championed by city dwellers, oregon's famous land use planning laws have led to a much less sprawling landscape than most other states. it's a subtle difference, but one that you get used to over time, so that when you visit other states the blur of city to suburb to suburb grates on your sensibilities like sandpaper. it just seems somehow wrong. kind of distasteful, really.

4. brown, green, and grey. ok, other states can lay claim to these colors, but when i think of oregon, that's what i think of: brown, green, and grey. the grey is the color of the coast to me: the grey sky, the grey never ending pacific, the grey of the weathered shingles and driftwood. the green of the sea of conifer needles, viewed from a high point on a logging road in the coast range or cascade highway; the intense, almost neon green of the valley farmlands in spring (which somehow looks brighter on a cloudy day, the grey of the sky contrasting sharply with the green fields at the height of growing bloom). and the brown: the grey-brown of the doug-fir bark, the red-brown of the ponderosa bark, the velvety brown of the grass-covered hills of eastern oregon.

5. pumping your own gas. 'cause you can't. and it's really not about pumping your own gas: it's about some of our odder, more idiosyncratic laws. like that one, and the lack of sales tax, and the (original) bottle return bill to reduce littering and increase recycling. true, these are also things we share with other states - rumor has it that there's at least one more state where you can't pump your own gas, there's definitely 4 other states without sales tax, and there's any number of states with bottle returns now. still, i like our sometimes infuriating, often inexplicable, kind of quirky laws like this.

anyone else? what's the best about oregon?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

twas brilling, and the slithy toves...

it's april. i haven't posted since august.

i have no rhyme, nor reason, for such an absence. except that...

sometime, one just feels stifled, silenced, by life and everything in it. things just got too...busy all of a sudden, too overwhelming. i couldn't write about what i wanted to write about, what was really bubbling around in my soul, so....i couldn't write about anything. i lost my voice.

i lost some passion for analytically looking at place as a concept, and instead just sit around daydreaming about being in a different place (running away: always a viable option). i lost some passion for thinking about economics and how it interacts with society at large, and instead just concentrate on surviving my program of study, in the most inelegant and brute way imaginable. the last few months, all my energy has been focused inwards, trying to figure out the future trajectory of my life, and what it all means.

i guess sometimes this just happens. you could call it a mid-life thing, i don't know. seems strange to think about a mid-life crisis when you're still a college student, but hey, perhaps these things know no bounds.

tomorrow i'm headed out, with my mother, to visit my grandfather. i think he won't last much longer. he's 92, so in some sense, he's lived a full and completely adequate life. yet i will mourn his passing greatly. not because i have ever been close to him or felt supported by him, in any way. i'll mourn the passing from this world of his specific experience. sometimes i feel like he's the only person left who could explain to me my father's family - why they imploded so spectacularly, why they chose self-destruction over life. he's the last one left, you see - everyone else is dead.

but he would never talk anyway. he can't express whatever it is he feels. i know that. still, while he's alive, i had hope deep down that someday, we'd sit with a recorder between us, and i'd ask him all the questions that lie deep inside me, and he would provide all the answers, and the dark shadows that hovered over my father while he was alive would make sense, and finally i'd see where my sorrows and my person fit into the grand scheme of things...

daydreams. it's april. life is all about nonsense. sunburns and raincoats all in the same day. twas brillig, and the slithy toves...did gyre and gimbel in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe.

perhaps in the future things will make more sense.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the dismal science

finally watched a fantastic movie the other day: inside job, the oscar-winning best documentary of 2010, about the financial system crash that led to our recent great recession.

let's face it, most of the time beating up on economics or economists - even when i do it - feels a bit like kicking some poor old guy collapsed on the street. it's too damn easy, right? there are so many things wrong with economics and with the way it's used.

but economics survives as a discipline in large part because it is, ultimately, really freaking useful. not just the supply and demand, invisible hand type of things. these are just some applications of economic thought that, as they were being developed, were shaped by the personalities and the times of the people who developed them. sometimes these ideas stand the test of time, sometimes they don't. but that's not what economics is.

at it's very core, economics is a framework for understanding decision making, that works best on an individual level. and decision making is all about incentives. that's what was so great about the movie inside job. although in many ways the movie spent a fair bit of time bashing economists - particularly academic economists - they (we?) were redeemed by the presence of a few who never forgot what the discipline is all about: incentives.

markets are not systems that inherently drive themselves towards stability - something that people often forget. it's part of the base theory of economics that, over time, actors acting in their own interest will produce some outcomes that are stable - in the sense that, say, supply and demand will intersect at an appropriate price. but that is only if the incentives are correct and the actors are bit players. in the late 2000s, while most analysts and academics were all blinded by their own bed-sharing interests, a few clear-headed people looked at the system in place and could see where it was headed. could see that the rhetoric defending derivatives markets and other shady, unregulated financial services industry concepts was flawed.

for example, in 2005, raghuram rajan, the chief economist for IMF at the time, delivered a paper that clearly predicted that the crash would happen. he could see that the short-term incentives at play for the agents controlling the system were such that a crash was inevitable - and that, in fact, there was nothing that would stop it from happening.

or nouriel roubini, an economics professor who predicted a crisis as early as 2006, and was disparagingly referred to as 'Dr. Doom' for it. 

or charles morris, who delivered a book about an impending crisis to his publisher in late 2007. published in 2008, the trillion dollar meltdown erred only in underestimating the final cost we'd bear thanks to the financial market shenanigans then occurring.

anyway. a long time ago i had a post in mind bashing micro-economics to follow my earlier macro-economics bashing. it was one of those posts that formed in my head in the middle of the night and was dazzlingly clear and brilliant then that faded away come morning, but nonetheless, it's been sort of sitting on the back burner since then. i've been feeling very grouchy for the past two years about economics - seeing all that was wrong in it, seeing all that is flawed in the fundamentals of it.

oddly enough, watching inside job re-energized me slightly. because, while economics gave us the justification for actions that completely fucked a previously stable system, it also gave us - well, gave some people, anyway - the tools to be able to clearly see where we were headed. it's a powerful field, if we just remember to remove ourselves and our own incentives from our analysis of it. easier said than done, i realize that, but essential, if we want to recapture what's good about economics from what's dismal.

in other news, it would appear that i am the deloach distinguished graduate fellow in economics this coming year. which means, yep, they failed to kick me out of the program, again. oh well. they will surely wise up soon enough and send me packing. until then, it's good to head into the new year feeling slightly warmer towards my chosen field of study.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

and so goes twenty years...

i just got back from my 20-year high school reunion.

what an adventure.

i was a bit nervous - and worried - i admit it. i've changed somewhat, in what people see. i'm not nearly as skinny as i used to be, for starters. i was worried that people wouldn't recognize me, and i'd see it in their eyes as they searched for my name: "...(ohmygod-she's gained so much weight-who was she when she was thin)...oh hi, yes, of course!" but that didn't happen. or at least, not that i noticed. (i did, of course, go straight to bed and dream that it happened, that i showed up in my old black leather motorcycle jacket that i used to stomp around the halls in and someone grabbed my arm, saying 'boy, you've filled out, haven't you?' seriously, what a waste of a perfectly good dream-time, right?)

but at the reunion, one of the first conversations i had with old friends - and i mean OLD friends, like this was a group of people that i went to kindergarten with and went on family vacations with and went to junior high dances with and skipped class with in high school and saw again on our kids' first day of kindergarten - was somehow sort of telling.

"we're all sort of the same, you know?" said one friend.

i said, "you mean, deep down inside, we all have the same dreams and goals as each other?"

the group around the table laughed. "no," said the speaker, "i mean we're all the same, at the core, as we were back then."

the beauty of that few hours, for me, is that both interpretations of that were true. we were all the same - in our deepest core - as we once were. which means that all that striving and trying during those angst-filled years was for naught - and that we are nothing more or less than we always have been, for better or for worse.

but also, the other - at the end of the day, we are all the same. we were all there laughing together and remembering things and talking about struggles with kids and some of us divorced and some of us never married and some with many kids and some with no kids but there was a piece of us that was all the same - this piece that is the product of our place, our time, ourselves and each other - a mysterious alchemy of personality and environment that affected us all.

when i got home today, i dug out my senior yearbook. in one section we had been asked the standard sort of cheesy yearbook sound-bite question: where will you be in five years? and i didn't really have to look up my answer - i remember its general gist quite clearly - but i did anyway, and was struck for the first time just how still completely true it still was (note in particular the misuse of the word "hopefully"):

"MINDY CRANDALL: 'Hopefully I will be driving around the U.S. looking at everything and listening to everyone.' "

well, for fuck's sake. that's just who i am. i have no real higher goal, no loftier aspirations now, no matter what i dabbled with or proclaimed over the past 20 years. i am who i am, and always have been, no matter what shell i'm wrapped in, no matter where i am or what i'm doing, i'm still the same person that these people knew - and somewhat grudgingly accepted - all those years ago.

and that, my friends, is a pretty fucking sweet feeling. it is, in fact, what going home is all about.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

so, was it good for you?

well. it's july 31st. which means i've sort of survived my post-a-day-july. i say sort of survived, not conquered, because i certainly faltered. there were at least two, maybe three, days in which i failed to post, including yesterday! oh, to flail and falter at the very end of the race!

still, it was a good exercise. what did i learn?

- if i want to write more frequently, i've got to somehow let go of the need to write only complete, well-researched and thought out entire essays. that's essay writing, not blogging. all the 'tips' i read of blogging say the same thing: keep it short. which is very, very hard for me to do. so, trying to post every day has forced me, more often that not, to shorten the damn thing up, just because i don't have any choice.

- it's perfectly OK to post something not complete, not 100% perfect. that's the beauty of posting daily: necessity forces one to occasionally post crap. and you know what? the world keeps on freaking turning. this is a good lesson for those of us who don't want to do anything not perfect. or at least: nothing not completely vetted, proofread, and double or triple checked.

- if you  want to do something, just freaking do it. this is something i've learned before, and apparently i had to learn it again. back in the day, when i wanted to be an artist, i somehow knew that to draw i just had to draw - i had to draw every day, at every opportune moment. the same is really true for writing, although it's easy to overlook. if i want to write more, i just have to...write. more. that's it. just write, every day. doesn't matter what it's about, really - the focus should be on the activity, not necessarily the output.

so, was it good for me? yes, i think it was. it did get me out of my rut, and it did force me to expand myself a little bit; to post things that i wouldn't normally post. to force myself to write, even if normally i would have made excuses not to do it.

still, i do look forward to the upcoming months, where the expiration of post-a-day-july will mean that i don't have to post. i still plan to write every day, but i hope to spare folks the crap postings that such an arbitrary goal forces.

oh, what else did i learn? this whole facebook networked-blog things is a blessing and a curse. i think there's lots of people who read, but few comment. the funny thing about writing a blog is that you sort of live for comments, no matter WHAT they are. so, readers, don't be afraid to comment! otherwise, i don't know you're reading. and that's what really keeps me going, apart from random self-imposed goals.

and, whew. july is over. thanks, y'all. see you next month...sometime.