Random Encounters

Not often that I have a meaningful conversation while waiting for the bus. Usually I am approached by people who want a cigarette (I don’t smoke), to know how long until the next bus (because I am either psychic or they are too lazy to stop texting and check on their own smart phone), or if I have found Jesus (pretty sure he is dead, not a missing person, but then again it’s been a while since I’ve seen a milk carton with missing person ads printed on the side). So I wasn’t expecting the talk I had Saturday night.

Shawna and I were running a few minutes late, just getting out to the 21st and Irving bus stop in time to find out the one before us had gone by a few moments ahead of schedule. Ross’s 9th Bone Tax Press poetry reading was happening across town in a bit less than an hour, and we hadn’t wanted to be too late.

The lady who joined us in waiting broke into conversation after a moment, talking about an encounter she’d had on the bus earlier where she called the driver to the carpet on first his complaints about gentrification, then his inability to explain what the term meant, and finally how he was a hypocrite who just spent the last hour half complaining only to then claim it was “good gentrification” just because he’d sold his house at a profit.

She was just up from Austin, TX (the city Portland stole the “Keep Portland Weird” idea from), and was pondering moving here. She liked the city, getting around on the bus for only $1 as an Honored Citizen (a euphemism we both thought was silly, she liked telling the bus driver it was because she was old), and the manners and politeness of Portland. She told me about the books she was reading, a biography of David Foster Wallace, and Steven Pinker’s “The Sense of Style” (which I will be buying as soon as I have the spare change to do so), and asked me what we were doing that night.

We mentioned going to a poetry reading and she thought a moment about coming, but she was under a deadline and had writing to do. She was a writer, with thirteen books and a number of articles out, at least one of which was a bestseller. She asked me what I did and I mentioned going to college out at Marylhurst for writing. At which point she got a funny look on her face, as if I was something now that she’d found stuck upon the bottom of her boot, and asked how much writing I was doing.

At which point I was stuck. Because really, I haven’t written much lately. Aside from within the creative writing classes I have taken, I haven’t had time to write much of anything else. Which got me wondering: what exactly am I doing?

I stumbled over that question, but at least could answer her question about how much I’d been reading (I do average about 3 books a week). But for her the conversation was through, I “wanted to be a writer” but I “wasn’t writing” which I think made me an utter fraud in her eyes.

The conversation ended somewhat abruptly, she moved to another seat further forward in the bus (sitting down next to someone, instead of taking an empty seat, not sure whether she enjoys talking to random strangers or it was someone she knew). She got off the stop before Shawna and I, but I barely noticed as I was still a bit in a daze.

The #4 bus pulled away as we got to the stop, so we had to wait for the #9 and intended to walk the couple blocks between Powell and Division. As it was, neither of us noticed the stop go by and we got off at 26th instead and had to walk the fourteen blocks back to 12th as well as the couple blocks north to Division.

We missed the first half of the first of four readers at the poetry reading, and I was still in a daze and busy ordering a drink and dinner at the bar so I don’t really remember that half. Of the three we did hear, the third reader, Claire, was to me the most impressive. Though I wonder how much of that was her stage presence, her reading of the poetry, and how much of it was the words.

I wasn’t all the way there though, not entirely noticing what was going on. Shawna had her phone out, recording bits of the reading to playback later so she could write about it for a writing class she was taking this term.

I still can’t come up with a good answer. What am I doing? I am enjoying Marylhurst, but I am not sure yet what I am getting out of my classes. Meeting good people, but am I doing anything or learning anything more than what I could get from a good book club or a circle of active writing friends?

I don’t have a good answer.

I do wish I had gotten her name. I am always curious about putting a face to an author’s name, seeing if that changes the way I read or appreciate a work, but also so that I can thank her for poking me and making me think about what I am doing. I need that at times, I think everyone does, a kick in the seat of the pants to make us look at the patterns we have fallen into.

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