My life is a daily battle against pessimism. This is not because I’ve had it that hard–in fact, I’ve probably had it easier and have been luckier than most people on this planet. It’s simply because my mind has a natural tendency to move in that direction, to sink into negativity and worry. This means it’s a constant, moment by moment, day by day effort to refocus myself on positive actions and thoughts. Frequently, this effort fails, and then I get back up and start over.

That’s why if I come to you because I’m sad and depressed, it really doesn’t help to tell me to “think positive!” or “choose to be happy!” Because chances are, I’ve already been working on that. I’ve been trying and trying and trying to do that, and it’s likely that by the time I’m coming to you for help, I’m ready to give up. So just give me a sympathetic listening ear. Let me talk about how I feel for a while. It will be a relief for me, and then I’ll be ready to go back to fighting my mind again.

It’s been a nice change to hear depression and mental illness discussed so openly and matter of factly over the past couple of days. It’s sad that it took the death of a wonderful and creative person for us to get here. But this might be a good first step to understanding that there are real ways to treat and address these problems–and that it’s not enough to tell people to smile.

There is a race going on in this country right now which I’m following with great interest, and I’m not talking about any of the 2014 political contests, although I’m sure I’ll do plenty of grumbling about those later. No, I’m thinking of the race to open the first cat cafe in North America.

The idea for the cat cafe started in that home of the strange and bizarre, Japan, and they are wildly popular there–along with other novelty cafes, like ones where you can have lunch with stuffed animals if you’re feeling lonely. The cat cafe trend has since spread to Europe and Australia as well. It’s such an addictive concept that I’m surprised it hasn’t popped up earlier here in the States–you can sip your favorite caffeinated beverage in the company of anywhere between 10 and 30 kitties which you can pet and interact with. Most of the American cafes which are being planned intend to have the cats up for adoption, so they will serve a good cause as well.

Naturally, when it comes to the cat cafe race, I am rooting for Purringtons Cat Lounge, which is tentatively scheduled to open here in the Portland area sometime in the fall. But Purringtons has fierce competition. There are ideas being bounced around for cat cafes in Seattle, Reno and South Florida. And if I were to bet on the winner of the race, my money would be on the San Francisco area–either KitTea, which is trying to open its doors this summer, or the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, which already has a location and a possible September opening date. I should add that all of these cafes have Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns going, so if you want to support your hometown’s cat cafe bid, you can help make the dream happen.

The hilarious part about all of this is that I love cats, but am very allergic to them, so I will probably choke to death as soon as I step foot in one of these fabulous places. But no matter–it will be worth it. A glorious death, surrounded by all those cute cats! If I don’t make it back out alive, remember me as one who adored the kittehz. And best of luck to Purringtons!

I’m not sure to what degree I can trust a magazine called Monocle. But for what it’s worth, my hometown of Portland has landed on Monocle’s annual list of the world’s most livable cities, and it’s the only American city the London magazine has deemed worthy of its attention. Mind you, Portland is number 23 on the list, so America still doesn’t rank very high when it comes to Brits with monocles.

But what’s much more interesting than this supposed honor–we’ve been on plenty of lists, both good and bad–is the reaction of my fellow townfolk to it. Our local weekly posted about the Monocle article on its Facebook page, and here’s just a sampling of the comments:

Put a muzzle on it for feck sake! It’s getting ridiculous around here. Most nights I can’t even park on my own street. We need immigration control in Oregon!

Can we find who is the monstrous PR machine pushing Portland as the fucking mecca and stop them??!! Please! Can we do something to stop all the greedy developers and landlords?? I can’t fucking afford anything now. Kindly fuck off and give it a break with moving here already.

JUST STOP IT FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!! I already don’t even recognize streets from 15 years ago… STOP MOVING HERE!!!!

I get the sense that Portlanders are not crazy about change. Maybe we love our town so much, we want to freeze it in time and keep it just the way we imagine it is or was in the past.

But I’d like to send a completely different message out to all the interesting people of the universe. What you’ve heard is true! Portland is awesome. Come on over, you’ll love it! Help make this place into the dynamic, thriving metropolis it deserves to be. It’s wonderful now, but it has the potential to be so much more. Yeah, I know prices will rise in the process, but if things work the way they usually do, we should be able to make more money too. And I trust that all of you new residents will help expand and improve the art scene and the nightlife, as well. Stagnation is never good, not even when it’s cutesy Portlandia stagnation.

So like the anti-Tom McCall, I’m here to say “Don’t just visit, stay!” I did, over 20 years ago, and I haven’t regretted it. The first rule of Portland, as far as I’m concerned: tell everyone how fantastic Portland is.

What troubled times we live in. Threats and dangers coming at us from every direction, and we seem to be bumbling about in response. Where is that leader, strong and decisive enough to handle Vladimir Putin, the Israel conflict, the disaster in Iraq, immigrant kids and gang violence?

How about Darth Vader?

According to a poll on the FiveThirtyEight website, Americans prefer Darth Vader to any of the potential 2016 presidential candidates. I can see the appeal. Darth could never be accused of being too diplomatic. He likes to resolve problems by blowing stuff up, and at this point many of us may be frustrated enough with the world to want to blow it up too. So what if we end up serving the Dark Side in the process? Do we care?

Well, I hope we do, and that this is just a momentary twitch of stress and bad news overload. If we take these poll results at face value, then the person who should win in 2016 is Dick Cheney. I gotta think that by then our tempers will cool and a more reasonable candidate will get elected.

So it seems we are now deep in the doldrums of a presidency. I guess this is what people mean when they say the second term is always a problem.

And a problem it is indeed. I’m not happy about a lot of things. I’m not happy about the situation with Russia. I’m not happy with the IRS losing e-mails. I’m not happy about the flood of kids coming across our border, although in that case I’m unhappy with both sides for a muddled immigration policy. And I’m very unhappy about the conditions at the VA.

And, with all that being said, I still don’t regret my vote for the President’s re-election. With all the things I’m unhappy about, would I have voted for Romney/Ryan? Nope. I would not have voted for someone who would’ve done his best to repeal the ACA–definitely not voted for someone whose budget plan would have cut Medicare and Social Security. And I would not have voted for someone who would possibly have gotten us involved in another war with Iran.

Politicians are flawed, so they will not always make me happy. As long as I’m less unhappy than I was during the W years, it’s all good. Happiness, after all, is the absence of pain. It will remain to be seen what Obama’s legacy will be in the end, and we will not be able to determine that until his presidency is over and some time has passed. All I know is that one day, when we have a Republican in the White House again? I will miss this guy soooooo much.

I hear a lot about the real America. I’m told it’s a very particular kind of place. It’s the heartland with its God-fearing and armed Christians which is the real America. Not the perverted coasts. Not elitist New York or liberal Hollywood.

Problem is, I love the fake America. I’m an immigrant–I know, we’re not quite as fashionable as we used to be–and I definitely didn’t come here for the real America. If I wanted to be surrounded by farms and church-goers, I could’ve stayed in rural Eastern Europe. Those of us around the world who dream of America dream of a glamorous and exciting place. I dreamed of the land of skyscrapers and city skylines, of jazz and rap. I didn’t think of Americans as people who followed conservative tradition, I thought of them as people who outraged their elders by doing inappropriate dances, and doing them with inappropriate dance partners. My parents imitated Americans with jeans and hippie hair and rock’n’roll. When we lived behind the Iron Curtain and we fantasized about the States, we didn’t fantasize about being a televangelist (except maybe for their wealth).

Our patriotic pundits like to remind us that America is exceptional. I agree that it is. But if it looked like they wish it did, it wouldn’t be exceptional at all. There are already plenty of narrow-minded and theocratic places on this planet–there’s no need for more. There’s not nearly enough of the mixed-up and the crazy and the sinful. Those are the parts of America I love the most. And I hope that God or Goddess will continue to bless them for many years to come.

An endless blue summer sky stretches over me. The only sound I hear is the birds chirping in the trees. Hardly a blade of grass is stirring on this quiet, peaceful day.

It’s…kind of terrifying, actually.

There are many days when I wonder how, exactly, I ended up in the suburbs. It must have been the lure of homeownership–and granted, that was a great investment. But I had always imagined myself in a red brick apartment building somewhere, suspended above hot concrete, preferably staring down at the world from a fire escape. As it turns out, the flow of life deposited me in a very different place than I had expected.

However, even on this stale summer’s day, something is stirring. Something is moving, like insects eating away at the insides of an old tree. A transformation is happening in my neighborhood. My town is growing, and we’re filling up.

Back in the 1970s, Oregon established an urban growth boundary requirement for its cities. It’s a strict zoning regulation–urban development is not allowed beyond the boundary. The Portland metro area can’t sprawl. This means there is rolling farmland right past our city limits. It also means that my suburb is running out of room, and so there are high-density three and four story condo developments cropping up in every nook and cranny.

A lot of Portland residents dislike this sort of growth. Some of my neighbors are worried about too many people, problems with too much traffic and too much noise. I’m secretly loving it. I like that there are more pedestrians walking the streets, bigger crowds at my train stop. The area is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse as well. I will miss the meadows I used to see from the train window, but let’s face it, I’m excited about the cafes and bars that will take their place. My house is going up in value, and I’m already eyeing the condos for when I’m ready to make the jump–I’m not into having a yard anyway.

Most days, the only sounds I hear are still the birds and those damned sprinklers. But more and more often, as I close my eyes and listen, I hear other sounds–honking horns, loud voices, motorcycles–drifting in my direction. Things are never going to be the same–and that’s wonderful.

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