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.

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

Well, one of my New Year’s resolutions (besides flossing more often) was not to argue politics as much.  We’ll see how long that one lasts.  I have a feeling it will go the way of that other resolution to spend a half hour on my elliptical every day.  Obviously, when I break my resolution (when, not if) I will do it here.

Still, I’ve bought myself several nice boxes of art supplies and am going to attempt to make this year more about creativity and less about debating.  And it’s not just because it will keep my blood pressure low and help me live longer.  It’s because the political debates I’m seeing out there are scaring me.  The discussion has gotten more polarized since the election, not less.  I would have thought the election results would have settled some things (“hey, maybe the people of this country don’t despise that Obama guy”) but the fight to prove that he is somehow illegitimate and wrong has only intensified.  There is genuine hatred in the conversations.  It really sounds like people are about to start shooting each other, or start shipping off those they disagree with to labor camps.

And like many mild-mannered individuals have done throughout history, this makes me want to drop out and tune out of the politics thing completely.  In fact, it makes me want to curl up and hide somewhere.  I thought I was tougher than this, but it doesn’t feel so great when you are classified as the evil Other to be eliminated.  (It also makes me think my boyfriend was right when he said the Interwebs are full of right-wing crazies who might be out to get me.)

So, it’s off to draw some cute woodland creatures holding hands and singing, for the sake of my own sanity.  I know perfectly well that I can’t resist a good fight–as long as it remains verbal–so I’m sure I’ll be back.  But what is happening to the political scene right now…it’s not good, it’s just not good.  I have a very bad feeling about all this.

When I got home from work, Julian and Nova were building a giant replica of a teddy bear.  Nova thought that this childhood toy was the source of her obsession with bear costumes.  So she was working through that.  Also, it made for a good conceptual art project.

The bear was made out of recycled newspaper and was kind of unstable.  It loomed over me as I walked into the living room.

Nova was standing on a chair, applying extra texture to the ears.

“You poor thing!”  she cooed when she saw me.  “Did you get through your day at the office?  Would you like some tea?”

“I’m doing okay.  What have you guys been doing?”

“We’ve been gluing and painting all day!”  Nova said.  Julian emerged from the belly of the bear, covered in glitter.

Nova climbed down from the chair.  She gave me a hug and I got stuck to her.  “I wish you could have spent your time with us.  You would have had so much fun.”  She was right.

For a long time, I had a feeling of guilt over being employed.  I couldn’t see how my work was helping anyone.  In fact, more often than not, I made my customers’ lives worse, delaying or denying their requests for services.

Nova created art.  That at least sounded meaningful.  Julian worked for a co-op.  I was never quite sure what it was they produced, exactly, but it seemed important.

Maybe I should try doing something creative myself, I thought.  Something that would make me feel like I wasn’t just a machine for paying the bills.  I never had much of a talent for anything except ranting, but….

RedGirl no longer performed superhero deeds, so she had become involved in endless hobbies instead.  She was always doing something, making one thing after another, embroidering, scrapbooking, carving, baking.

It had been a long time since I’d been in her bedroom.  I didn’t recognize it.  It was overflowing with her projects.  They were stuffed on her shelves and piling up at my feet.

She sized up my confused face.  “Paper sculptures,”  she decided.  “They don’t last long, but they’re very easy.  You can make animals, or you can make folk art patterns—that would fit your political issues.”

She handed me a book titled Paper Miracles.  Apparently this was a volume for the remedial crafter, with an undertone of “even you can make something pretty!”

On my way out of the house, I stopped by the kitchen, where my parents were sitting at the table.

“Have you seen what’s happened to her bedroom?”  I asked.

“I don’t ever go there anymore,”  Mother replied.  Father hid his face behind a magazine.

I spent the next few evenings swearing loudly and gluing myself to multicolored strips of paper.  It was hard for me to imagine why people would choose to torture themselves like this in their spare time.

But I was determined to finish my project.  The book contained a menagerie of paper critters, and I wanted to make the complete set, so that I could display them in a neat row for everyone to admire.

Unfortunately, all my animals looked like they were dying or severely disabled.  They were lopsided, one eye larger than the other and one leg shorter than the other, collapsing and folding in on themselves, their tails broken.  When I arranged them on the shelf, they looked like a cross between a zoo and a psychiatric ward.

I sighed as I regarded my line of crippled children.  Still, this would prove that I was more than just a cubicle monkey.

***

As I was getting ready to go to work, I found Nova in front of my paper menagerie.  Her chest was heaving.

“I know they are not very…”  I said.

“Oh, those are perfect,”  she sighed.  “They take me right to that place…all the ugliness and the sadness…”

“Well, I’ve never crafted anything before, so…”

“I love them.  I don’t need my teddy bear anymore,”  she said.  “I feel so traumatized…in a good way.”

“Thank you.”  I supposed I should accept the compliment.

“Would you like to be in an art show?”

“With paper animals…?”

“We’re setting something up in my friend’s pizza restaurant.  It’s going to be lunchtime experimental art.  It will remind the businesspeople of how miserable they are.”

“I gotta run to work, or I’ll be late.”  I moved towards the door.

Nova stretched her arm out to me.  “Call in sick.  You’re an artist.”

***

My family mocked me when they found out I was in an art show.

“A pizza restaurant, huh?”  Mother asked.  “I guess all the starving artists have to start out somewhere. Haha.”

At the opening day of the show, the artists got free pizza.  When the customers entered the restaurant, the newspaper bear wobbled over their heads, and when they sat down to eat, they were confronted with a display of my misshapen animals.

Nova and I ate our pizza and tried to pretend we weren’t eavesdropping on the reactions to our work.

“Those are so cute!  They must have been made by kids.  Look, that one’s a giraffe!”

“Ha, have you seen these fucked up animals?  They’re hilarious!”

“Hmmm, this is not what I expected,”  Nova said.  “I was hoping for something more like, I didn’t realize my life is so futile.  It’s like they think this is entertaining.”

RedGirl came too.  “I don’t understand.  You did them wrong,”  she said.  “This is not how the book says to do it.”

“I think that if you want to be artistic, you have to do things differently from what the book says,”  I offered.  “That’s what it seems like, anyway.”

“But I thought you had to have skills.  So does this mean art doesn’t have to be good anymore?”

I was already slightly embarrassed, and this wasn’t helping.  I went out of the dining room and hid in the back, in between the empty pizza boxes.

Nova came searching for me.  “Why aren’t you out there?  The question and answer session is about to start.”

I shook my head.  “Nova, we both suck at this.  What are we doing here?”

She sat down next to me.  “The art reviewer from the weekly is here.  He thinks we’re refreshing in our simplicity.  What are you talking about?”  She put her hand on my shoulder.  “Stop worrying about unimportant crap.  You could get to spend the rest of your life doing this—you’d never have to have a stupid customer service job again.”

I leaned back against the boxes.  I would have loved to give up my soul-draining job.  When I thought about it that way, I had no problem picturing myself making ugly paper toys until the end of my days.

I got up.  “All right.  I better go talk to them about what inspires me.”

***

Leah was not pleased with my activities outside of the office.  She was at my desk the morning after the show.  “Silly bourgeois hobbies,”  she said.  “What a waste of your time…  We have serious problems to deal with.”

“The reviewers liked it, and they were all progressives…”

“Reviewers,”  Leah snorted.  “Yes, I heard you were a success.  Who knows, you might have a good chance of getting an arts grant from the city.  You probably don’t need this job anymore.”

“Hold on,”  I called out after her as she left.

I felt the cold sweat on my neck.  The experts at the restaurant had hailed my new and exciting perspective, but they had not paid me.  I couldn’t afford to lose my job.

All that I had been given was a positive review—words on paper.  I tore it to pieces in a bathroom stall.

***

“Nova, I’ve got it.  I know how we can pull this off.”

“Hrrrmmmf.”  Nova stirred underneath her blanket on the sofa.  “What…do you have an idea for your next project?  Is this that midnight inspiration thing?”

“No, I have an idea for how I can be an artist and still make it financially.”

“How’s that?”

“You should get a regular job.  Then I could quit mine and make my paper animals full-time.”

“Huh…no!  Where will I find a job that fast?  And what about my art?”

“You can get a job at a coffee shop like before.  I’ve worked for a couple of years—now it’s my turn for a break.  Besides, it sounds from the weekly article like I’m the one with the destiny, if you know what I mean.”

Nova stood up, shaking.  “I’m so sorry, Blue, but I can’t do this for you.  I’m going to have to leave.”

“But I need your help…”

“I’m sorry.”  She pulled on her shirt and jeans and shoved the blanket into her backpack.  “Bye.  Tell Julian I’ll call him.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have places I can go,”  she said as she walked out.  She was going to knock on somebody’s door in the middle of the night, the way she had knocked on ours.

I sprawled out on the abandoned sofa and smiled.  I would never be an artist, and I didn’t want to fake being one.  I would stick to the familiar art of getting rid of people.

I wondered what I was going to do with the extra money I would have now that I was no longer helping support Nova.

Maybe I’d become a patron of the arts and buy myself a giant stuffed teddy bear.