Heart of Two Homes

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

It was at the Portland International Airport.

Ten ‘til midnight on a snowy evening in mid-December, and I sat curled around my laptop, breathing in pumpkin spice and black-bean coffee from the Starbucks next door. My fingers swiped over the keyboard, filling in a graduate school application due the next day, while I trapped my cell phone between my ear and shoulder and talked a frantic friend through his first time driving uphill on ice. My back to the frost-glazed window, pressed against it from head to hips so that the bite and the cool seeped in through the worn patches in my jacket – kept me awake.

Four hours of sleep had left me like a frayed nerve, twitchy and raw. Held loosely together by plans and necessities and what seemed like a god-ordained level of stress, all bloodshot eyes and shuddering fingers and–

I just wanted to go home.

South Carolina was about a five-and-a-half hour flight from Portland, as the crow flies. Eight-and-a-half if the crow had to make exchanges in Chicago and Atlanta to get there. It would be a long red-eye capping off an even longer day, but I was at my gate and on time, waiting to take off so I could touch down in my hometown by the time my dad woke up the next morning. So I could step right out of the airport and into the fold of his huge, warm arms, his dopey grin shining down on me, all white teeth and crinkles around his eyes. I hadn’t seen him in person since last January, and the two-thousand miles between us – the three hour time difference – ached in my chest, low and throbbing. I wanted to see him.

But, even so, I kept thinking about it: a half-woken daydream of dropping everything and making my way down to the bottom floor of the airport. Catching the last Red Line train out and hopping on the 57 bus back to campus. Shoving open my dorm door and stumbling through the dark and the warmth and the scent of stale sausage burnt into the carpets. Slumping down onto my bed, face-first and starfished. Sleeping for weeks. For months.

I just wanted to go home.

And that was the problem. Oregon was steamy soup and plastic Christmas trees, rainy naps and a caramel mocha melting the chill off my fingers. South Carolina was golden wheat fields and mist-cool air, sunset silhouettes and a step-family I loved and feared. Home and not, home and not. Caught so perfectly between them that, at times, I felt like I had no home at all. Just waypoints.

I swayed to the right, side pressing into the stiff, navy nylon of my suitcase. The yellow polyester of my laptop bag, sandwiched between. My life and living, distilled down to two carry-ons. I could tuck them under my arms and walk for miles, if I had to.

Packing wasn’t hard anymore. I’d learned how to do it at age sixteen, after my parents divorced and I split the days of the week between their houses. I made a system for hedging a life between two places and lived it, every day, until I had everything whittled down into four bags that I toted between two houses.

And I remember that late-summer afternoon, the sun on my back and warm dust brushing my cheeks as I hovered in the open door of my car’s backseat. As I stared down at those four bags, barely filling half the bench, and realized that I could take them anywhere. That whatever place I stopped in could be my home just as much as either parents’ house. That my real home amounted to an armful of items tucked in canvas bags and the waving hands of my family as I once again drove out of sight.

The woman at the counter came over the gate’s PA system then, calling for the pre-boards and first class. I saved the application file and shut my laptop, telling my phone-friend to pull over and call his dad to come pick him up and bring him the rest of the way home. He’d come far enough.

With trembling hands, I tucked my laptop into its bag and fastened it closed. The black canvas straps slid threadbare beneath my fingers, a touch more familiar than the down of an old quilt or the burnished handle of a favorite skillet. It pulled the breath from my lungs; one part solace and two parts longing.

I wanted to go home.

Throwing the strap of my laptop bag over my shoulder, I grasped the handle of my suitcase and stood up, stretching.

Time had passed since I was sixteen and empty. I’d distilled those four bags down into two now. My second home was across the country. I only moved between twice a year, and only ever on planes. I know now what a home was not: South Carolina, Oregon, and the two bags I carried with me. Not the place you lived, nor the people you loved.

Something more than all of that. Something deeper, or something else.

I stepped out into that drafty jet bridge at midnight, a suitcase at my side and a bag on my shoulder. Breathed in the crisp smell of frost that swept the sleepy haze away, steadied my shudders as I braced against the chill. I remember looking out through the bridge window to see the stars and snowflakes studding the sky and thinking to myself:

I didn’t know what home was, then or now. But I knew that I would step onto this plane. I would keep fighting and working and searching for home.

And someday, weeks or months or years in the future, I’d be standing under this sky again. Staring up at stars and snow – chest full, hands steady, eyes clear. Looking up at this very same sky, and knowing that I’d finally found it.

 

By: Claire Pillsbury

The Difference a Smile Can Make

highway image

Credit: Gillian Reimann

When we think about different cultural perspectives, the regions of California versus Oregon, the Bay Area versus Portland and its greater area, rarely come to mind, but to me, they’re vastly different. Four years ago, I made a twelve hour drive up to Forest Grove, Oregon from Concord, California, to start my college experience and Pacific University, and I didn’t really expect anything to be that different. Well, I did expect more rain. But, a funny thing happened as I started to go to my classes and talk to local Oregonians, and I realized, there is a difference.

Back home in the Bay Area, everything is fast-paced. We don’t sit outside, reading books or listening to music as we take in the sunshine; because it’s always out in California, and there’s so much more to do. We don’t walk to restaurants in town, even if they are ten minutes away. And we certainly don’t stop and smile at people we vaguely recognize. Instead, we bustle along on our busy paths, we keep our heads down, we drive to get dinner, and we do our best to avoid the sun (since it’s always out and it’s always hot).

Honestly, life back home is abrupt, which has made the past four years in the Portland area a bit of an eye-opener for me. To be honest, not all of it is grand, starting with the rain—the endless downpour is annoying, and for a self-proclaimed sun-hater, even I’m happy on days when it’s out and there’s no precipitation in sight. The constant rain was a bit of a shock to try to adapt to, especially since I was going back home every few months for break. But even with the rain, when I’m in Forest Grove, I’m more likely to see people out walking around town and campus, stopping to talk and smile with one another, even in the rain. Back at home, I’d be hard pressed to see that kind of simple friendliness, and while I’m not saying that we’re all rude, there’s just not that level of comfort involved. Making the transition between the two states is difficult, especially because as soon as I get into the swing of smiling at people and asking how they are, I have to switch, going back to the head-ducking, antisocial attitude. And when I finally get used to sitting in traffic for hours and blaring music to entertain myself, I get thrown back into the fast lane where I’m constantly avoiding being cut off and going at least fifteen over the speed limit.

As a junior editor at Silk Road for the past three semesters, I’ve had the privilege of reading unique cultural perspectives and see various diverse tales across several genres, and so it’s difficult to see how my experience translates in comparison. But then, I remember that ‘unique’ and ‘diverse’ are subjective words, and they vary from case to case. My experiences from city life in the Bay Area and Portland, to the town life of Concord and Forest Grove illustrate a distinct gap in human contact and comfort. Back at home, people rush about, avoid eye contact, and set out for themselves. Contrastingly, when I’m here in Forest Grove, or the larger Portland area, people stop and start up conversations.

At a bookstore in Beaverton a couple weeks ago, I was stopped by an old man in the Science Fiction section who asked my opinion about some books. I stopped my perusal of the shelves, smiled at him, and offered up a few titles that I had read that were similar to the books in his hand. He grinned back at me and thanked me for my time, and I watched him go on to grab one of the books that I recommended, adding it to the pile. It was a

For me, the difference in culture between the Bay Area and Portland is just enough of a shock so that alternating and adapting between the two is difficult. Twelve hours of driving and a few mountain ranges separate the two states, making their differences subtle but certainly there, at least for this college student.

By: Gillian Reimann

Anthony Doerr and Artistic Failure

Image Credit: Portland Literary Arts. Anthony Doerr gives his presentation to a group of Portland middle school students.

Image Credit: Portland Literary Arts. Anthony Doerr gives his presentation to a group of Portland middle school students.

The Portland-based nonprofit Literary Arts invited  author Anthony Doerr  to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on November 19th. Pacific University’s MFA in Writing and Silk Road Review had the lucky privilege of supporting this event, and showcasing our magazine in the lobby.

Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, fully understands that during the writing process, failure is every bit as important as success. His hour-long presentation included several examples of his personal experiences with failure—experiences that ranged from childhood Halloween costume mishaps to entire deletion and rewriting of formerly treasured passages. His message was simple, yet elegant: failure—as long as it is purposeful in its nature—is just as formative, rewarding, and essential as accomplishment; it is crucial in facilitating progress, much as a torn muscle fiber is instrumental in creating a stronger bond.

2015 PA&L_Proctor and Doerr

Image Credit: Literary Arts. A moment during Doerr’s talk.

If Anthony Doerr taught us anything that years of writing through frustration and desperation hasn’t, it was that the best way to find success is to throw oneself after it, no matter the risk of embarrassment. It was that dedication to the concept of completion, that perseverance in the face of the knowledge that—try as we might—we will never be finished writing, and that’s what makes it so great. Revision is an ongoing process, with an indefinite number of stages and no end in sight. Write, develop, revise, develop some more, revise some more, and repeat as necessary—this is the cycle with which most writers are heavily experienced, and we are no exception. We cannot thank Anthony Doerr enough for reaffirming that this process, futile as it may appear, is completely normal and ultimately productive.

2015 PA&L_Quinton and Doerr

Image Credit: Literary Arts

We would also like to thank Anthony Doerr for his riveting, insightful, and—most of all—humorous testament to the struggle all writers face on a daily basis. Components such as accuracy down to the tiniest details—was it raining on November 23rd, 1946, and department stores have fire alarms yet?—transference of our innermost thoughts to the page, and ultimate satisfaction are all aspects of writing that we have grown to abhor every bit as much as we love. Doerr made a point to mention that he, a critically-acclaimed writer, still finds himself dissatisfied with his end product, simply because it can’t be as perfect on the page as it is in his head. Language is a beautiful thing, but it has its restrictions; by this logic, the potential for perfection is out of the equation, and the pressure of writing is subsequently diminished.

It’s always a relief when someone comes along to validate and assuage our deep-seated insecurities. In addition to delivering an incredible presentation in which he portrayed himself as down-to-earth, experienced, and accessible, Doerr created a connection with every writer in the sold-out concert hall by addressing these common problems with writing. To hear him struggling with the same things that plague us as undergrad students was perhaps the most inspirational message of the evening, and it couldn’t have come at a better point in time.