I bought you two years ago last Sunday. Since moving out on my own, I had always wanted a pet, but my building at the time didn’t allow cats or dogs. A pet fish seemed like a suitable compromise, and I was right. Some might think “Henrietta” is a bit too fancy of a name for a fish. I admit, it is a tad unconventional. It goes against the grain of more common fish names, such as Flounder, Flipper, Bubbles, Dory, or my personal favorite: Sushi. But you are no ordinary fish. In fact, I think you are rather extraordinary. A very special and unique fish, and so, Henrietta seemed a fitting name. We’ve never really spoken. Our exchanges are a bit one-sided. I’ll often say hello and ask how your day was. You just sort of stare at me, bobbing mid-water, opening and closing your mouth. No words emerge, but often little air bubbles do. You also flick your fins. I like to think this is because you are communicating with me in your own fishy way, akin to sign language. One flick means “Hello.” Two flicks mean “How are you?” Three flicks mean “Shut up and feed me already.” Sometimes I convince myself that when I walk into the room, you dart enthusiastically back and forth upon seeing me. But then you try to attack the tank filter, and I wonder if I haven’t just misunderstood the signals. Are you only attacking it to throw me off? I may never know.
I don’t often mention being on the southwest coast of Thailand on December 26, 2004. In the rare instance that I do, or it inadvertently comes up, it’s with far more acceptance than my previous self, with still raw sensibilities, could sufficiently feign. I hold no allusions that the events of that day will be graspable to others. There is no universal language for the individual experience; no way to translate things in a way that encapsulates all the subtle nuances and bold complexities of subjectivity. There are emotions and memories that have burrowed themselves away deep, beyond reach of our impulse to generalize. Yet, I am far more welcoming of people’s efforts to do so. Of their efforts to empathize through the lens of their own experienced sorrows. Of the underlying humanity that motivates their gesture. Of the sincerity and openness that fuels their inherent desire to connect. And of the humbling instances where I am met with mirrored vulnerability.
Mr. P. was an eccentric. An intellectual. A philosophizing soul who was respected by staff and idolized by students. Broad-shouldered and tall, he had a lengthy beard matched by a pair of thick sideburns. When I first met him, I expected a deep, authoritative voice to emerge, but instead a far more tempered one spoke, with a candid hippie-like inflection reminiscent of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Though he evades description, if I were to venture one, physically, Mr. P. kind of resembled Santa Claus. Or rather, St. Nick’s maverick brother, who rebelled by rejecting the family business, and absconding to the Canadian West Coast, proclaiming, “To hell with snow and pine trees, man. I’m moving south and teaching the generation of tomorrow!”
Portland is wonderfully offbeat. Quirky. Odd. The city’s unofficial slogan of “Keep Portland Weird” is a tidy summation of what this metropolitan gem charmingly subscribes to. “Weird” is the term appropriate to this hub of eccentricities, which lays claim to endearing titles including host to the world’s largest bookstore and site of an inexplicably high number of bridges. (Seriously, Portland, why so many bridges? There are like, twelve of them). Though Portland offers an abundance of amazing locales, here are a handful of favourites, which fully lived up to their hype.
Our most insightful moments often arise during challenging periods, when things do not go according to plan, and we need to be our most resourceful and inventive selves—situations which lend credence to the tenet of tough times fueling our inner innovator. This isn’t to say that all pursuits need rise from the ashes of adversity (though it certainly does feed into the stereotype of the angst-ridden artist, doesn’t it?), but rather is meant to drive home the point that every moment possesses a measure of the inopportune. So, why not embrace the notion of it being the imperfect time by pursuing an aspiration or two in the enticingly flawed present?