I’ve never been good at saying goodbye but I have always admired those who are. There is something magnanimous in the person who knows how to leave correctly, to say the appropriate parting words and then walk away without looking back. Perhaps our true character is revealed in the way we say goodbye? How I’d love to be the steadfast type, the stoic, a man of his word, of principle. I am not especially principled. I’m a flip-flopper. When I try to leave a place or a person or whatever, I often have to do it many times. It is a kind of compulsion, and it likely says something about my own character, which is that of a neurotic, a child who despairs over endings, a sentimentalist who masquerades as a cynic. Or perhaps it is that I am afraid of being forgotten? Of death. For me, every goodbye is a little death, much like the orgasm is for the French. They are coming and dying. I am going and dying.
Nonetheless, I must return to where I came from, to Washington State, where I’ve taken a job teaching Creative Writing. Thus, the hour for my final words is upon us. So I will try to say goodbye right this time. Plus, I imagine the other editors at The Phoenix would frown on me writing a series of farewells. There are limits, after all, and some limits must be respected. But where to begin? What to say? How to convey the irascible love I have developed for this odd town? How to show my many thanks for the good times, and the bad?
I know Portland through writing about it. Which is, in many ways, to say I know Portland as an outsider. It never really felt like home. In the end, I suppose, few places do. But feeling out of place is good, I think, because it forces one to feel less certain about one’s self, to feel a little unstable, a little out of sorts, a little strange. We are in dangerous waters when we are certain of who we are. When we are certain, we become too serious to laugh, to forget a little. Just the other day, my wonderful girlfriend told me I don’t laugh at myself enough. She thinks it’s because I have a big ego. Immediately I denied it. How dare she! I laugh at myself. Ha! Ha! But my denial, of course, proved her point. Only a man who needs to laugh at himself more would get defensive at someone saying he doesn’t laugh at himself enough. Plus, how often I check myself out in storefront windows that offer my reflection, just to make sure I am who I think I am. Such are the preoccupations of a man who needs to laugh more.
But this is why feeling like an outsider is good. It’s like looking for one’s reflection in store front windows and not finding it, or finding it there, but finding it distorted and strange looking. It forces one to ask: “Who the fuck is that stranger?” And so this is what Portland has done for me. It made me feel weird and uncomfortable and uncertain of myself, and for this I am very grateful. I came here seeking refuge, refuge, as I said in my very first article — almost one year ago, today — from the freight of failed relationships, from the ruts we can find ourselves in, from the disappointments we struggle to make sense of but sometimes can’t. It’s a cliché, but the illusion that propels the idea that some other place offers relief from such disappointments is, in a way, no different than the illusion that one “finds one’s self” out there in the world, and that, in time, we arrive at conclusions, at closure. These days I am thinking there is no such thing as either conclusions or closure. Hence the problem with goodbyes. Hence the problem with writing.
Writers write, the platitude goes, because we think we have something to say. There is truth in this, and it’s a fine reason to write. So much good writing is driven by this, and much of what I have written over the last year (you may very well think none of it was any good) has been driven by the belief that I had something to say, and that out there, somebody would hear it, listen, and it would matter, even if only slightly. But as I am writing this now, I confess, I am not sure, exactly, how to say what I am trying to say. And yet, I must say something. This is goodbye, after all.
So I will leave with this and hope that it makes sense: Feeling out of place, not knowing exactly what the point is, why we are here, what we are doing, who the hell we are—if this can all somehow be embraced, maybe it forces us to live from a more open place, a place of curiosity rather than dogma, a place where dialogue, discussion, sharing, and, if we’re lucky, insight into the lives of others, is possible. But living with this kind of uncertainty, accepting the possibility that we might know less than we think, about ourselves and about others, it's so damn hard. So often I haven’t been able to do it. So often I have insisted on some kind of false certainty. So ... I guess I'm saying that those moments when we go looking for ourselves and instead find a freak reflection in storefront windows staring back at us, those moments when we are forced to ask ourselves, “Who the fuck is that stranger?” those are valuable reminders that we maybe don't know as much as we think we do. So thank you for the reminder, Portland. And remember, you, too, can be a stranger. All you have to do is ... ask.
In the meantime, friends and critics alike, to use Beethoven’s dying words — as we are all dying, whether we are coming or going: “Applaud … the comedy is over.”
Farewell. I will miss you all.