My summer in Portland is about to come to an end. Tomorrow morning, I will arrive at the Portland Airport, with all of my liquids carefully packed in my checked luggage (and all of the books I bought--why did I buy books again???--carefully placed in my carryon so that I don't go over the weight limits) and head back to the midwest.
K and C took really good care of me in my one week post-Institute. I've been having a good, restful time. I'm ready to go back because I miss J, and I miss my C, but I'm not totally ready to go back to all of the dealings of my regular, day to day life. My feet will likely move a little bit slow on the way to the gate tomorrow morning.
I like Portland--I love Portland. I like that on a mid-August day I might need a sweatshirt while I walk around the farmer's market. I like that people don't have to separate their recyclables. I like the rain, even though it only rained once while I was here, and I like that people ride bikes and public transportation. People buy organic food like crazy here, and the grocery stores and nice and clean.
I like Portland, but it doesn't really feel like home like it used to. I used to feel like I was less myself in Minneapolis, and while it's still true that there might be more essence of true me in Portland, there's more of me in Minneapolis than ever before. I used to feel like all of my friends were in Portland, and I was not. I still have really good friends in Portland. Friends so close I consider them more like family than like friends. But, it has been more than a few years and I've learned these friendship bonds are strong; strong enough to weather miles and time and reliance upon email and cell phone calls that happen all too infrequently.
A few years ago, I left Portland to go to school in Minneapolis. I wasn't sure what the future would bring, but when our car rounded the bend onto the first mile of the highway headed out of town, I remember thinking--I am leaving a place I love. A place that has been good to me. I may not be able to ever really come back again.
People tell me now, move back to Portland. You'll move back someday, they say. I tell them I might want to, but wanting isn't going to get me a job here. Things are moving in my direction in Minneapolis. I'm finishing my degree. I'm feeling a little more settled. I have a good feeling about where things are headed. There may be some changes in my short term future--good changes for me and my family.
There'll always be a little bit of my heart in Portland. I love this city, and I'm glad to have had the experience of living here. But, it's time to head home. The Twin Cities are home.
Most people who know me know that I'm not much of a coffee drinker, although I've been becoming more of one lately. My dissertation support group meets at a very nice coffee shop every Sunday, and most of the time, I indulge in a little cup of coffee. But, Portland....Portland has good coffee. Really good coffee. There's lots of coffee here, different kinds suited to different palates...the requisite Starbucks and Seattle's Best (is it really the best Seattle has to offer). There's Coffee People, one of my favorites. And Peet's Coffee, not one of my favorite tastes, but I like the atmosphere. There's lots of local coffee shops, too, and I honestly don't remember them all, but over the years, I've visisted many of them. But finally, I have found the best of the NW: Stumptown Coffee. It turns out that there's Stumptown Coffee, a small chain of shops scattered around the metro. These have long lines and crowded tables and good coffee. Then, there's the small coffeeshop that sells Stumptown. These have short lines and waiting tables and good coffee. Really good coffee. Coffee that's like oozing chocolate on a hot summer day. Coffee that's like sitting in a dark corner, listening to John Coultrane or Miles Davis. Cold press iced coffee with just a little bit of hazelnut syrup. That's the way I like my coffee, I found out this week.
The Summer Institute is over, I've come down with a cold, and I'm spending part of my reentry at my friends' K and C's house. They've got a great place in SE, with a beautiful flowering tree in the back and a lovely windy row of roses on the way up the steps in the front. It's been truly relaxing. In fact, on Monday, C and I stayed in our jammies until 4:30 or so, just chatting about life and stuff. I learned that C isn't good at talking and doing something else at the same time, so mostly we just talked and didn't worry about the fact that we couldn't really do anything else because quite frankly, nothing else was really pressing.
In the meantime, I've been recovering some of the layers of what I learned at the institute, and one of those things was about intellectual freedom and intellectual responsibility. In one session I attended, we talked at length about how in US higher education, more and more students are coming to expect that they don't have to engage with ideas/texts/etc that are challenging to their own espoused core values. Examples of this abound, including in Arizona where a woman basically refused to read a required text and somehow the instructor was pressured to give her an alternative assignment. In my workshop, we talked about these kinds of situations and how they reflect the intellectual development of college students, according to the Perry scheme. (Dualism--Multiplicity--Contextual Relativism). I'm still unpeeling the onion, so I'll say more as it becomes more clear.
On Sunday morning, I was flipping channels and saw Ann Coulter on Book TV. Mostly, I shy away from the empty rhetoric of hate-tv people, but I was drawn in, waiting to hear the next crazy thing she might say. I think that she would likely be in support of the woman who didn't want to read Snow Falling on Cedars. Coulter's ultimate suggestions is that conservatives should take over the public school system and higher education. As she says this, I'm realizing just how deep the gulf is between dualism and contextual relativism. I'm not sure how we can really bridge this expanse--to forge understanding, if that's even a worthy goal. But, as a mother of a near-school-aged child, I'm nervous about sending my own child forth into a school system that is becoming more conservative and simulataneously less solid. My head hurts, but I'm giving it some time, as I continue in this reentry process, knowing that there'll be more to say as I keep peeling back another layer of the onion.
Question: How many days can you eat chickpeas and spinach for lunch and still be satisfied?
Answer: I didn't come here for the food.
I'm never sure what I'm coming to the summer institute for intercultural communication for. Some people come because their institution has some ill-fated strategic plan, and they have money in the budget for a week away at a place where people can offer sympathy, empathy, and a little support or space to not think about that futility of a strategic plan. Some people come to learn skills and strategies. It's not that I have low expectations, but I come to see what might reveal itself to me.
So, it seems like one thing I've been learning is about essentialism in practice. Or, something like that. Case in point: how do you use information about core values of a culture? Information that says US-American core values include speed and capitalism. I'm a US-American. Do I value speed? I don't wear a watch. Do I value capitalism? I don't think I do, at least not in the corporate dominant way (I write this on my Dell laptop with my Microsoft windows software, while drinking a Diet Coke....I can't really say I'm not positively affected by capitallism, now can I?) Sure, I might give it up for some good socialized healthcare, where I wouldn't be getting these occasional letters from my insurance--"we need more information before we can process your claim." But, even in my poor attempts at resistance, I'm still seeing the world through a lens influenced by capitalism.
Essentialism. I am not my culture's core values. But, if you're going to interact with me, you might be able to use US core values to predict some things about me. It might be a start of a conversation or a place to begin to build a bridge. I don't think we should avoid the conversation at the risk of confusing me with my cultural core values. It seems like if we're avoiding the conversation, the best we can do is to assume we know each other's core values, or fail to acknowledge what we don't know. Where's the conversation? I don't think I'm willing to forego that conversation.