May 2014


It looks like my native country of Poland is just as politically divided right now as my adopted home country of the United States.  In last week’s EU parliamentary elections, the two main rival parties received the exact same number of seats–19.

The party which is the “winner” of the election–with only 32.8% of the popular vote–is Platforma Obywatelska (PO) or Civic Platform, a center right party.  And this may be the one time that I will be excited about the right winning an election.  Because PO is–there is no other way to put it–the sane party.  They are right wing in a very moderate sense–perhaps this is what the Republicans in America used to be like, or wish they could be like again.  They are interested in free markets, open to Poland being a part of the European community and the economic benefits that can bring to the country.  They have previously come out in favor of privatization and deregulation, but have been in charge for the last few years and privatization has only happened on a small scale.  They don’t seem to be interested in dismantling society.

On the other hand, there is the opposition.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS)–the Law and Justice party.  It’s a bit unclear to me if they would be considered left or right by American standards.  What they are, more than anything else, is religious.  PiS followers are fervent Catholics.  They are nostalgic people of the sort which wants to wind the clock back to a better time in the past, in this case possibly back to the Middle Ages, when the Church was safely in charge and the priest was the ultimate authority figure.  Hence their opposition to Poland’s involvement in the EU–they don’t want Polish culture to be influenced by all that Western moral decadence, with its pesky feminism and pride parades.  This would also be why some Catholic right talking heads have actually expressed support for Putin’s expanding influence.  Sure, Russia may endanger Polish sovereignty, but at least it doesn’t have gay rights.  The spiritual scene in Poland has become a lot more diverse since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with Buddhists and pagans popping up, and PiS followers are not big fans of that.  While we’re at it, they would also prefer it if women would step back into the kitchen where they belong, thank you very much.  This would mean no rights to abortion or contraceptives, and a proposed tax rebate for each successive child, to encourage Poles to continue following the Catholic big family model.  There is definitely a populist streak to the PiS platform–they are in favor of welfare programs and at one point made promises of a large-scale guaranteed housing project for Polish families.  This is where your average American observer might get confused.  PiS essentially combines social conservative values with some progressive safety net ideas.

Funny thing is, the Civic Platform party isn’t that terribly liberal about social issues either.  But they are closer to the middle, which has caused them to be accused by Law and Justice of being depraved and sinful heathens, ready to take Poland over the brink into heresy, which is enough to recommend PO to me.  And I guess there’s the similarity–whether in Poland or America, elections aren’t about voting for the party you love, they’re about picking the less crazy option of the two.

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One fine morning, I woke up and decided to love and accept myself just the way I am.  It was one of the worst decisions I ever made in my life.

I loved myself through long days of eating junk food and watching TV, until I became overweight and unhealthy.  I was too lazy to work out–well, what of it?  I was the type who liked to spend her day on the couch, and I accepted myself that way.  I accepted my unemployed self, too–not all of us are a good fit for a regular job, after all.  And who was I to force my special inner child to do things it didn’t want to do?  Anyway, I was going to be a writer.  Never mind that I wasn’t writing anything, forever waiting for inspiration to strike.  Truth is, I wasn’t doing a goddamn thing except mooching off my very patient family.  But to admit this would have meant being critical of myself.  And criticizing yourself was bad and mean.

So I loved myself right into sloppiness and mediocrity and low expectations.  And one day, I realized I didn’t like myself anymore.  And it was freeing.  I looked at my existence and thought “Um…I’m kind of a loser.”  It felt great to say this out loud.  Now that I was no longer delusional about who I was, I could start to work on my life and make it better.

I’ve come a long way since then, but I make sure to remind myself of that time once in a while, when it seems like my standards may be slipping again.  Not to get all New Age cheesy about it, but the Universe gave me a learning experience about just how pathetic I’m capable of being.  I have learned and I’ve moved on, but I will still say, in my best Grumpy Cat voice: “I don’t love myself…GOOD.”

You talk about science fiction, but you sneak novels with titles like “The Sheik’s Mistress” into your purse.

You listen to public radio in the morning, but you love your reality TV at night.

You say you like jazz and indie rock, but you sing Lady Gaga songs in the shower.

You support the Democrats, but you vote against higher property taxes.

You always eat your kale salad with a side of potato chips.

You’d kiss a girl for fun, but you dream of a man marrying you.

You still like to wear your old pair of Uggs around the house.

You’re not as cool as you think you are.  And admit it–when nobody’s watching, you’re okay with that.

So just as I decided to be whiny about it, I’ve been given a good reminder of why I should be grateful to live in Portland.  The entire Internet has been mocking the Idaho gubernatorial debate today, with its wacky Bible-quotin’ conspiracy-theory-spoutin’ candidates.  This brings back lovely memories, as I used to live in Idaho.  Only for a short time, but still, wow.

The Idaho of today seems at least slightly less homophobic, as one of the debaters opined that gay people love each other more than he does his motorcycle.  I can still remember the guy at my Boise school who told me that if he found out a person was gay, he would have no problem whatsoever with killing them (shudder).  Then there were the male students in my college class (a college class!) responding to a female professor’s lecture by saying that yes, in fact, women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.  While the boys were a bit more rude about it, the girls explained to me in a nice and polite way that they were going to submit to their husbands when they got married.  I think my jaw dropped to the ground and stayed there for the entire five years I lived in that state. 

In the end, it was too much for us.  We couldn’t handle Idaho.  Having just come from a stint in Holland and New York, the culture shock was too extreme to overcome.  We were singing on the day we packed up our U-Haul to leave.  And then it was time for our romance with Portland to begin.

I would like to add that there were a few wonderful and open-minded people I met in Idaho as well.  I feel for them–it’s not an easy life for those brave individuals.

Dear Portland…our relationship has been difficult lately.

There was the time when we went for a gallery walk on First Thursday and none of the art galleries were open, because it turns out you shut everything down super early.  The same thing happened when my friends and I decided to go out on a Wednesday evening.  The night was still young, but you were a ghost town.  As my mother so aptly put it, “Portlanders go to bed with the chickens…except that here, the chickens are wearing hand-knitted sweaters.”  Portland, you’re a city.  Part of the deal is that you’re supposed to entertain me after it gets dark.

And do I even have to bring up Cover Oregon?  You had such big plans–our health insurance exchange was going to be the most ambitious in the country.  Obviously, it did not work out that way.  It’s embarrassing when Kentucky does a better job at socialist health care than we do.  And now, the FBI might be investigating Cover Oregon to see where all that money went.  Portland, please leave corruption to the big boys like Chicago.  You are inept at it.

But in spite of it all, I still love you.  Even though you try way too hard to impress me with your weirdness–were the bearded men in tutus really necessary?  Even though you’re not very wealthy, not very good at sports or business.  Every time I think about walking away into the arms of New York City, I end up staying.  You’re just so damn pretty and intelligent.  And like you, I’m a failing dreamer.  Yeah, we’re stuck with each other.  I’m even willing to forgive you for that Unipiper guy.

Like any long-time lover in a worn relationship, all I ask for anymore are the simple things.  Please, would you give me sunny weather for my week off?  I know late May is when you bring back the rain, but will you make an exception for me?  I won’t complain when it rains in June, I promise.  I’ll post pictures of you on my Facebook and talk about how beautiful you are.  I know how much you like being flattered.

P.S. —  I’m also planning to see an art exhibit this Sunday.  I’m sure it will be empty and closed.

xoxo, Karolina

And possibly born into the wrong generation.  (I’m supposed to be either X or Y, don’t remember which letter of the alphabet).  The more I hear about the millennials, the more I see that I agree with their values–which are often portrayed in a negative light.

Millennials don’t think of owning a car as a necessity.  For those raised in our car-centric culture, this seems downright un-American.  I happen to love being a non-driver.  It all depends on what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for.  Living in an urban area where you can take the train–or better yet, walk!–everywhere is a beautiful thing.

Millennials also don’t consider homeownership to be as important as their parents and grandparents did.  Again, this is viewed as a failure of this generation, or as a sign that they are giving up on the American dream.  But maybe the dream is simply changing.  I am a homeowner at the moment, but as time goes on, downsizing to a condo or apartment is looking more and more attractive.  Taking care of a home with a yard is a hassle, and living in the suburbs is a screaming bore.

Millennials believe in a work/life balance, and they’re right about this one as well.  We exist with the delusion that our lives will be better if we sacrifice them on the altar of work.  But what’s the point of making the money if you don’t ever have the time to sit back and enjoy what you’ve earned?

They are also socially liberal and accepting of diversity.  I’ve always thought this was a no-brainer, but unfortunately, recent events in the news show us that it isn’t.  Maybe this new generation will finally get it.  And they tend to be spiritual rather than religious.  Religion adds structure to spiritual practice, which can be useful, but spirituality is where the true connection with God is found. So it seems the young have their priorities straight.

There is only one area in which I will have to part ways with the millennials–they are disillusioned when it comes to politics, and mostly not engaged in political activism or even voting.  I can’t blame them for feeling this way, considering the way our political system works these days.  But I still believe that it’s crucial to be active.  No matter how cynical you may be about it–and I am–it’s best to be alert and involved with your lawmakers, otherwise the day may come when your lawmakers decide to become involved with your life in ways you didn’t expect.

So I guess if nothing else, I’m younger in spirit than I am in body.  Now where’s my latest time-bending invention?  I have to make sure to be born in the correct year this time.