As someone who has spent the last 14 years firmly rooted in all the culture, friendships, and environment that is Portland Oregon, there have been no small number of shrugs, confused looks, accusations of diminished sanity, and a large amount of pleading on the behalf of all that is cool in the world, with regards to our firm decision to head south and set up camp in the remote village of Salem. After the initial Witch Trial jokes had been pitched, punched up, and delivered in every possible permutation, the genuine queries – ‘No, really, why?’ – began to roll, in.
Most folks adamantly refused to believe that we really were moving, and this was only aggravated by the fact that much of our announcement period immediately preceded (and then followed) April 1st. Still others expressed anger and confusion over a decision that seemed preposterous and downright illogical. After all, who in their right mind would want to move away from Portland? Not that they don’t have every reason to ask. I’m still trying to make sense of that, myself.
Certainly there is no one reason, and obviously the reasons we do have for this transition are more nuanced and complex than can be addressed in any kind of simple answer. It is my hope that I can record my thoughts as I am in the midst of this transition, and make some sense of them as I try to explain them to myself. I can say with utmost certainty that the decision was ours, together. Both M and I came to this decision, agreed to every part of it, and knew full well that the decision to move several miles beyond the outside edge of the furthest possible place anyone in the “Portland Metro Area” would consider moving to does come across as being a little daffy. Hopefully, as I pursue this experience through posts about life in this remote Outpost, some of the answers will come together in a way that we can both understand.
The desire to move had been brewing within us for some time, as we began to grapple with a confluence of events that happened in the space of about six months. Our apartment was already bursting at the seams with regards to space, and while it served us very well in the initial phases of our budding relationship, as our lives began to become more integrated, the observation that we did not have enough space became incredibly apparent. Our living room, kitchen and bathroom were incredibly small, and entertaining more than a few guests at once was just inconvenient. There just weren’t enough places to sit, for one, and being on the corner of a busy intersection did not make the place much more appealing in the long run. Even the cat mewled regularly with a concern about space (and the lack thereof), bringing the subject of moving to the forefront of our conversations. We designated a jar to contain our moving funds, and put anything we could find into it.
The space soon became an emotional concern, too. In November I asked M to marry me, and as we would plan this event and look around at our “home,” the constraining nature of our lives in the apartment seemed to embody the concerns that we had about marriage. We shared a bedroom and an office, but these spaces were so close to each other that even when we were alone in separate rooms we could practically reach out and physically touch each other, so matter which side of the apartment we were on. There was no place we could spend time by ourselves, and while being alone was not the end goal, the need for our own spaces was accentuated by the fact that we did not have any rooms of our own. It was the act of merging our lives together that, ironically, solidified our need to not only expand the space that we shared, but to stake out our own space of which we could each take ownership.
We began to create a mental checklist of things that we would need in order to find a place we could now call our home: it must be a house, it must have at least three bedrooms minimum, there must be either an additional space in the form of a basement or attached garage, and hopefully some amount of yard in either the front our back. Cumulatively, we needed to have more space than we had in or apartment, and it had to be in a neighborhood that we both wanted to live in. (No point in moving to a place you are just going to hate.) We also wanted to live in a place that would allow our life together to grow, rather than stagnate. M wanted a space where she could set up a sewing machine, display her collections, and work in peace when she needed to. I wanted a space where I can build a recording studio, store my books and comics, and have a workspace for writing and producing ‘zines. As we began to develop a mental picture of what we needed, we were able to create a picture of the kinds of things about which we were and weren’t able to compromise.
As we began searching for something that fit these needs, we immediately hit a pay wall. Even shitty rentals that needed a fair amount of work were coming up around $1900 and $2000 a month, well outside of our price range. As we widened our search to find something a little more reasonable, the prospects seemed worse and worse. We trolled online listings and used every word of mouth resource we could find, but the likelihood of finding what we wanted, in the Portland area, were getting smaller and smaller.
One problem we suffered from was our age and the length of our relationship. As an older couple with fewer years together under our belts, we’d each spent most of our adult lives living with roommates and compromising our living arrangements in an effort to reduce our overall costs. This was extremely beneficial to us as single, partially employed youths, but now that we were looking to expand our space, the options were extremely limited. While our friends all bought houses when the market was still reasonable, neither of us would have the resources to even consider such a purchase in the market that currently exists.
The relative coolness / hipness of the Portland area cannot be factored into this decision enough, either. The Portlandification of everything has not only made this place a destination for second-tier comedians, metal bands of every variety, artists and weirdoes all looking for a place to ply their trade, and film nerds hoping to make their first inroads into the industry. Portland’s desire to keep everything as “weird” as possible has backfired against itself, and now anyone in America who is under 40 and with an interest in current left-of-center cultural trends wants to make the five oh tree their home. When a new development of empty apartments went up in our neighborhood, and the asking price for these rentals was above what we paid for even less space, the city itself made it very clear to us that the salad days of a cheap Portland were long since gone.
This – and other considerations – caused our gaze to migrate further and further south in our searches. It was after all of these realizations set in that M was able to find a place that offered nearly twice as much space as we currently occupy at a little less than the total cost we currently pay (all things considered). At that point, the fact that the house was in Salem seemed beside the point. Not only did it make practical sense, but as a soon-to-be-newlywed couple, the choice almost required no conversation.
Bluntly: our lives revolve around each other, and not the down we live in. Our interest in Portland made perfect sense when we were both single, both small-town outcasts looking to establish identity, and both wanting a place where we could pursue the lives of Country Mice inspired by Big City Life. But the extremes we had to go to in order to make this life possible was becoming silly to most reasonable people. We had already retreated as far away from the people and the places we liked in order to keep our rent reasonable, and as we began to experience commutes and quite nights at home as our way of life, the allure of the city around us became less and less important.
I look around and I see people half my age involved in things I have no interest in. I look around and I don’t recognize the bars and clubs anymore, and none of the patrons are people I know. I look at show listings and I can’t find a single band name I recognize, and when I do, their appearance at an overpriced bar on a Wednesday Night isn’t quite enough to want to earn a hangover for work the next day. As the town around me becomes far too cool for my own life, I look at M every day, and I realize that the only person I want to impress anymore is her, and I don’t have to be anywhere particular to do that.
This was really a moment of self-reflection, because as I considered the move more and more, it dawned on me that I have evolved into someone who is just not as cool as they used to be. There was a time, in those far-off days of the year 2000, when all I wanted to be was at a party, with a girl, at a show, going to bars, finding what – exactly – was up. But those days were long past, and to be honest, I was terrible at being cool. I always managed to say the wrong thing, or take the wrong position, or become enamored with something terribly uncool. The competition in Portland is absolutely fierce, and trying to be cool here is a full time job, and the end result is a fat a bloated beer-soaked ex-punk trying to eke out an existence in a town apathetic to anything but what is currently, and immediately hip-beyond-repair.
The fish and pond analogy comes to mind, in that moving to a small town at this stage in my life not only makes me one of the coolest people in the city of Salem, but takes me out of the PDX competition entirely.
The last element that really seemed to lock everything into place for us came down to the commute that we would have to inevitably face. Portland is only just beginning to develop the need to experience true commuting, and already I had experienced a job that required a nearly four hour commute both ways. (While living in Portland proper.) From our apartment to my office was already a 45 minute bus ride, and coming home could take up to an hour and a half, depending on traffic. On the other end of that commute was a cramped apartment with annoying neighbors, and not exactly the place I wanted to be when I was done with work. Compare that to the 50 minutes it takes us to get between my office and our house in Salem, which is the same length of time in either direction. If we were going to have to commute home anyway, when not drive to and from a house we want to live in, vs. an inconvenient apartment?
Of course, all of these rationales are entirely constructed to cover up for the very simple fact that we just wanted to move and we needed a good excuse to give our friends, okay? We went round and round discussing “pros” and “cons,” corroborating our stories and hoping that they all made sense when our friends began to tear these excuses apart with their own reason and logic. And the problem is: they are entirely right. We are leaving them. They have every reason to be upset. They are our friends. We will miss them, too. We don’t want to move, either. But we are in love. We are building a life together. And that life involves us living in one town, and having all that we love outside of each other in another town.
That is the hardest explanation to give, when you get right down to it. Because this answer acknowledges that the people and places in our lives are secondary to each other, and that’s a huge thing to state loudly and proudly. For our friends in long-term relationships, it speaks to a time when things are new and just beginning, and when something deeper and more intense is only just beginning. For those with kids, it suggests a time when the most important thing in your life wasn’t your child, and that is full of nostalgic and backward-looking perspectives that are also intensely emotional, and can churn up forgotten regrets, or paths not taken.
For us, it is terrifying, because it suggests the extremity of these feelings we have for each other, the intensity of taking a new path and going somewhere new alone and without the support we used to have. For everyone involved, making a statement like, “I am leaving this town,” is not only a challenge to the life you had before, but a declaration of new intentions you have in the future, which can possibly go wrong in many potential scenarios.
To stand tall and express how you feel on a very personal level to your friends and family is always very difficult, and it is always handy to come up with a number of reasons that seem practical and reasonable at the beginning to fall back on. But to look someone in the eye and say, “I will miss you, but I must go, because I am in love with this person, and we have a plan together.”
Well, shit. Are any of us ready for that?